Since Fort Stewart officially was named Camp Stewart in January 1941, it has blessed many families by providing good jobs to thousands of people in Liberty and surrounding counties.
It is important that all the people work together to try and keep it a vital and active fort in our area. I read a story in the Tattnall County Heritage Book about a family that was well-blessed with a job at the newly formed Camp Stewart.
Shirley Alice Jones and her grandson, Ronnie Heinkel, of Orlando, Florida, graciously agreed to share their story:
“The year is 1941, and World War II is well under way. Hitler and the Nazis are now fighting on two fronts and are quickly seizing total control of Europe. The Japanese are also quickly expanding their presence over the Pacific. On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese bomb the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, causing the United States to join what would become the bloodiest war in history. During this time, the U.S. was in the midst of the Great Depression, the most widespread economic recession in world history. Many historians credit WWII with lifting the United States out of the Great Depression by creating new and higher-paying jobs for Americans. WWII provided many people with higher-paying jobs in cities, improving their quality of life.
“Elmer and Irene Sands Jones lived in Mendes, a small rural community in Tattnall County. They were the parents of four children, two girls and two boys, in 1941. Elmer farmed 50 acres and the rest of the land was woodland. He mainly grew tobacco, corn and tomatoes. They worked very hard on the farm, and Irene and her family were very content living in the big house that is still standing today. But the Great Depression was a very difficult time for all farmers and money was becoming very tight.
“Camp Stewart had just opened and was hiring good workers. Elmer applied for a job and got it. He was very fortunate. He was now better able to support his family. Camp Stewart was the largest Army installation east of the Mississippi River. In 1943, Elmer decided to move his family to Hinesville to shorten his daily commute. He was a carpenter and received a weekly salary rather than living on credit and paying it back at harvest, which is what he had to do when he was a farmer.
“In late 1943, Camp Stewart became a holding area for German and Italian prisoners of war who had fallen into Allied hands during fighting in North Africa. The Germans were used as a labor force for base operations, construction projects and area farming. Elbert Jones, along with the German POWs, helped build the headquarters building at Camp Stewart.
“When Shirley Alice and her family lived in Mendes, there were no modern conveniences, like indoor plumbing, and no running water on their farm. In Hinesville, however, they no longer had to go outside to use the privy or use the hand pump to get water from the well. They had indoor plumbing for the first time. There was electricity in their home, and they did not have to use kerosene lamps. These modern conveniences greatly improved their quality of life.
“The Jones family soon learned that living in the city of Hinesville brought new and exciting opportunities. Now that they lived in the city, Irene was able to get a job in a dry-goods store. With this job came additional family income. In the summer prior to moving to Hinesville, Irene used chicken-feed sacks to make clothes for Shirley Alice and her brothers and sister, but now could afford to buy nicer dresses and clothes. In the winter, Shirley Alice was able to wear wool clothes, but there was no such thing back in Mendes. There were no after-school farm chores to be done, so she had more free time and money for recreation. When she lived on the farm, she spent countless hours in the fields, but now she was able to participate in activities she enjoyed, such as going to the movies and taking tap-dancing lessons. Even though they enjoyed all of these modern conveniences, they all still missed the farm and the small-town way of life.
“Elmer Jones and his family lived in Hinesville and he worked at Camp Stewart for three more years until WWII ended. They moved back to the farm and supplemented their income as a builder and farmed at night and on the weekends. Eventually, he bought a tractor to replace the mules which made farming much easier. Shirley Alice became the ‘tomboy’ as her brothers were both in service. She loved cutting the cornstalks with the mule, and her favorite thing was ‘burning off the woods,’ as she loved the smell of burning brush. She hated pulling the large, green worms off the tobacco stalks.
“Elmer and Irene sold their farm in 1960 and moved to Orlando, where he managed rental apartments for his son and ran the Expressway Motel. They built their retirement home there and lived until their deaths in 1990 and 1999. They were buried in Love’s Chapel Church Cemetery, which was near their farm in Mendes. The family never forgot the wonderful years they lived in Hinesville while their daddy worked at Camp Stewart. They truly thought they had gone from ‘poverty to riches.’”