Civilians were important to Shaw Field


This week, Reflections looks back at the inception of Shaw Field, an important period of Sumter's history. The military base played an integral role in the economic growth and development of the Sumter community. Many contributions made by civilian employees who worked hard to expedite the arrival and development of the base have been nearly lost.

The Sumter Daily Item published several articles highlighting the names and contributions of Sumterites who worked at the base during and after World War II. Reflections has selected two stories to illustrate Sumter's involvement in establishing the base.

"One hundred and thirty-seven civilian employees were working at Shaw Field by December of 1941. One hundred and nineteen of these were under Civil Service and were employed either by the Air Corps at large, Quartermaster Corps, Air Corps Supply or the Medical Corps at large. Those not under Civil Service were employed by the Officer's Club, Mess Hall and the Post Exchange.

Of the 37 working for the Air Corps at large, 28 were from Sumter, two from Florence and one each from Rembert, Hartsville, Darlington, Columbia, Oswego, Orangeburg and Charlotte. These were employed at the headquarters building, Signal Corps or Operations. Seven young men were employed by the Air Corps at large at Shaw Field and moved to Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama, taking special courses to prepare them for their specific jobs. They were gone for about two and one-half weeks. These men were James C. Bryan, David B. Grubbs, William C. Harrison, Karl G. Kvaternik, Eddie B. Mathis Jr. and W.W. Parramore Jr. from Sumter and Charles E. Stafford of Oswego.

Sumterites employed by the Air Corps at large were Leona T. Adams, Anne Arthur, Ruth H. Barnett, Ellinor C. Barwick, Hassie F. Booth, Thomas E. Hardee, Mary Louise Lackey, Lydia D. Lee, Anne Lemmon, Elizabeth A. Manning, Jennie Merritt and Marianne E. Palmer. Also from Sumter were Annette Roddey, Clara E. Skinner, Virginia P. Williams, Eleanor P. Witherspoon and Mary E. Jennings. Others included Walter S. Allen, Rembert; Marguerite B. Baily, Hartsville; Ethel Dickson, Darlington; Grace L. Keisler and Elizabeth Spears, Florence; Carolyn E. Ross, Columbia; Carnelia Wolfe, Charlotte; and Dolores Sykes, Orangeburg. Black workers with the Air Corps at large included Robert Hampton, James McDaniel and Stephen Sargent.

"Much of the clerical work at Shaw Field was performed by an efficient force of civilian employees who worked tirelessly for six days each week and often on Sunday, too. Although they were not in uniform, these civilian workers were doing their part toward speeding the nation's war effort by keeping the routine business of the field moving along smoothly and systematically day in and day out. The first civilian employees reported to Shaw Field on Sept. 1, 1941, more than three months before flight training began. They were Mrs. Ellinor Barwick, civilian personnel clerk, and Miss Elizabeth Spears, special orders clerk."

"These veteran employees could remember when they all shared one typewriter and used nail kegs for chairs. They also recalled being served ice water from a canteen carried over a man's shoulder before water coolers were installed. The passage of time soon saw these hardships being overcome prior to the first class of cadets arriving for training in December. Many new buildings with new offices had been opened. The number of civilian employees at Shaw Field had continued to grow in proportion to the size of the post and its activities."

Information and photos from The Sumter Item archives.

Reach Sumter Item Archivist Sammy Way at or (803) 774-1294.