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Iowa's Role During World War II

David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
Women's Army Corps and WAC African American Band scrapbook photograph from Fort Des Moines.

While schools are closed, we're creating a series of "Talk of Iowa" episodes that will be fun and educational for learners of all ages. Every Tuesday, we'll learn about Iowa wildlife, and every Thursday, we'll learn about Iowa history.

The history of World War II is enormous. This conflict defined a generation of Americans and reshaped our modern world. Its after-effects can still be felt today. Iowa's role in the war effort is equally vast and includes hundreds of stories and accounts of sacrifice. On this episode of Talk of Iowa, a snapshot of Iowa during World War II. 

Historians Leo Landis and Tim Walch join the show to help listeners unpack how Iowans contributed to the war effort, including the Women's Army Corp at Fort Des Moines. They also share many tales of heroism from the Sullivan brothers of Waterloo to Harold "Pie" Keller of Brooklyn and Meskwaki code talkers. Landis is State Curator at the State Historical Museum of Iowa and Walch is Director Emeritus of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.

Vocabulary & terms:

  • conscription; compulsory enlistment for state service, typically into the armed forces.
  • Women's Army Corp; United States army unit created during World War II to enable women to serve in noncombat positions. Fort Des Moines housed and trained hundreds of women during the war.
  • Manhattan project; a research and development project during World War II that produced the first nuclear weapons. The early research stages of this project took place in Ames, Iowa.

Discussion questions & activities:

  • Click HERE to view a scrapbook from an African American band member of the Women's Army Corp at Fort Des Moines.
  • Click HERE to view fragments of a Japanese balloon bomb, recovered in western Iowa in 1945.
  • How did the United States' motivations for entering World War II impact our actions?
  • How did World War II impact people's lives at home?


Rick Brewer is a producer for IPR's Talk of Iowa and River to River
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa