Old Trails Museum History Highlight May 14

A group of Navajo and Hopi workers at the Navajo Ordnance Depot, circa 1942. Photo courtesy of NAU Cline Library Special Collections and Archives

A group of Navajo and Hopi workers at the Navajo Ordnance Depot, circa 1942. Photo courtesy of NAU Cline Library Special Collections and Archives

WINSLOW, Ariz. - The Old Trails Museum offers its 2016 Spring History Highlight May 14 at 2 p.m. at the Winslow Visitors Center/Hubbell Trading Post. Dr. John S. Westerlund will give a free presentation of Arizona's War Town: Flagstaff, Navajo Ordnance Depot, and World War II.

Using historic photographs, Westerlund will discuss how, just weeks after Pearl Harbor, the War Department announced the construction of a massive ammunition depot at Bellemont, located 10 miles west of Flagstaff on U.S. Route 66. The Army rushed the $17 million project to completion in a spasm of boom-town upheaval, and Flagstaff's population soon exploded from five to 20 thousand.

The struggling new depot was the key storage facility for the busy Port of Los Angeles. Several thousand Navajo and Hopi construction workers stayed on to run it, so the commander invited them to build an "Indian Village" for their families on the military base. For many, Navajo Depot was a key stopping point on their migration from tribal lands to Flagstaff and other urban areas.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy halted plummeting enrollment at what is now Northern Arizona University by shipping in one thousand sailors and marines to participate in its V-12 program, designed to produce officers for the largest navy in history.

In addition, in early 1945, the Florence prisoner-of-war camp sent 250 Austrian POWs to Bellemont. Working alongside the Navajo and Hopi staff, they remained until April 1946 and provided more than 50,000 man-days of labor vital to the Pacific Theater.

Flagstaff's wartime story illustrates the results of military expansion on economic, social, and community development in Arizona. The town became an "arsenal of democracy," where hard work and discipline were required and expected from all. It also illustrates the remarkable co-existence of sometimes contentious ethnic communities, an experience that reached the heart and soul of Flagstaff.

Westerlund served as a U.S. Army field artillery officer for 26 years, retiring in 1994 as a lieutenant colonel. He earned a master's and a docorate in American History from Utah State University and Northern Arizona University, respectively. Westerlund's presentation was drawn from his book of the same name, and he is a frequent contributor to the Journal of Arizona History. Westerlund was also a seasonal ranger with the National Park Service at the Flagstaff Area National Monuments for 11 summers.

The 2016 Spring History Highlight, a partnership program between the Old Trails Museum and the Winslow Chamber of Commerce, is made possible in part by Arizona Humanities

The Winslow Visitors Center/Hubbell Trading Post is located at 523 West Second Street.

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