This development was not entirely unexpected. By the late 1930s it had become clear that the United States needed a larger military force in case it found itself at war. On September 16, 1940, Congress passed the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, requiring all males between the ages of 18 to 65 to register for Selective Service.
Nationally, 50 million men between the ages of 18 and 64-about five-sevenths of the U.S. male population-registered for the draft during World War II. Texas Citians contributed to these numbers as well: By mid-October 1940, 1,500 Texas City men between the ages of 21 and 36 signed up for military service. Texas City boasted the most registrants in Galveston County.1
Unlike many other communities, more than half of the Texas City workforce was exempted from active military service because of employment in defense industries deemed critical to the war effort. Thus Texas City lost a lower percentage of its male workforce to armed service than some other communities and did not face the shortage of male workers that caused some American factories to consider hiring women and minorities for jobs previously held by white males.
Texas City did see an increase in women employees, following the national trend of more U.S. women entering the workforce in those years. In Texas City, that increase in women workers mainly showed up in office work, rather than in manufacturing or manual labor jobs. In 1940, 12 million American women held jobs; by 1944, that number rose to 18 million.2
1Benham, Priscilla. (1987). Texas City: Port of industrial opportunity. Houston, TX: University of Houston, 284.
2Lee, James Ward, Barnes, Carolyn N, Bowman, Ken A., and Crow, Laura. (Eds.). (1991). 1941: Texas goes to war. Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 184.
Thomas Sledge enlisted the day right after the attack on Pearl Harbor:
Thomas Sledge: Then my dad says, why don't I go to school. So I went to the University of Texas. And I was going to the University-I had one year in when Pearl Harbor happened. I dropped out of school that day, I came down to Houston, I got into the Air Force as an aviation cadet and went in at Ellington Field. This was in December 1941, right after Pearl Harbor.
So I left Texas City (laughs) when they sent me out to California to go through flying school. And then I was commissioned on the 4th of July 1942 on holiday. My flying class got our wings on the 4th of July. So then I was in the Air Force for the next 38 years.