Ms. Hendrix stresses while she prepared the information the members of the board needed, they made the decisions about who would be drafted into military service.
After graduating from Canton High School and taking a business course, she began her career with draft boards located in Marietta and in the marble courthouse in Canton.
Ms. Hendrix was familiar with that building since she had been there many times with her mother, a devout Christian. Ms. Hendrix laughingly says she cut her teeth on the church pews.
At that time, the jail was located on the top floor of the courthouse. Ms. Hendrix’s mother, Ms. O. E. Morgan Sr., was a member of a jailhouse mission. As usual, little Martha went with her.
She remembers that at first it was scary. One of the prisoners had killed someone, yet he was so nice and clean she felt that could not be true.
After it was apparent the United States might become involved in World War II, legislation was enacted establishing the Selective Service Training Act. Our country was preparing for war. Initially, men between the ages of 21 and 36 were required to register for the draft. As a result, approximately 20 million men registered right away.
Local draft boards were established. Ms. Hendrix remembers the first members of the Cherokee County board, all volunteers, were Weldon Owen, W. A. Whitmire and Dr. Bob Jones. “Mr. Owen knew all the people north of Canton, Mr. Whitmire knew everyone in Canton and Dr. Jones knew everybody.”
Everyone who registered was assigned a number from one to 17,836. The draft began when the Secretary of War, blindfolded, pulled a number. Nearby, President Franklin Roosevelt announced the number was 158. There were 6,175 American men across the country holding that number.
Ms. Hendrix describes what happened next. They were required to report to their local draft board to begin the process of entering military service. Next, they were given a physical and mental examination. Then, each was assigned a category with Class I-A being available to go into military service immediately.
Carl Zebrowski in “Your Number’s Up” wrote, “You had to be five feet tall and no taller than six and a half, be at least 105 pounds, have vision correctable with glasses, have at least half his teeth, and not have been convicted of a crime and be able to read and write.”
But, as Ms. Hendrix remembers, there was more than that involved. There were many reasons for lower classifications or deferments. Married men with children and those who were physically handicapped were not called. Neither were farmers, ministers, doctors, dentists, students nearing graduation and others needed at home.
It was not unusual for parents to come to her office pleading for their children not be drafted. It might be that their son was the only provider of support for his parents. In some cases, they were unable to care for themselves physically and their son was doing that.
Requests would be investigated. Other children, neighbors, etc. would be contacted. All information gathered was presented to the draft board for their decision.
It was the responsibility of conscientious objectors to prove that they were conscientious objectors. Ms. Hendrix remembers one case where the local draft board did not approve a man’s deferment. When he appealed their decision, she was called to Atlanta to testify at a hearing. “I was scared to death.”
The local draft board’s decision was upheld and the man was required to go for his examinations. After all of that, it was determined he was not eligible to serve.
When things would change about the legislation and statuses of those waiting for induction, all of those registered would be notified by mail, yet, it was not unusual for young men to go to her office to enquire about their status. She remembers that most were always nice to her.
There was a gigantic amount of paperwork involved. Huge boxes of draft cards, information sheets, etc., arrived regularly. Using a manual typewriter and carbon paper for copies, it was not unusual for her and others to be in the office on weekends.
On the days Cherokee men left for service, they would assemble at her office. She would go next door to the bus station and buy their tickets. After roll call, they boarded the bus and were on their way.
Yes, Martha Morgan Hendrix could write a book about her work during the dark days of World War II. Two things she would proudly include is that our local draft board treated everyone alike and that none of the boys who were inducted through her office were killed in battle.
Marguerite Cline is former mayor of Waleska.