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- After the United States entered World War II in December 1941, Dr. Lester Cappon, an archivist at the University of Virginia, proposed the creation of a state agency to preserve "the records of Virginia's part in the war contemporaneously with the production of these records." Cappon wrote Douglas S. Freeman, chairman of the Virginia Council of Defense, editor of the Richmond News Leader and a former member of the Virginia War History Commission, about his proposed "Committee on Virginia Historical Records of the Second World War." Cappon wanted the scope of the Virginia Council of Defense expanded to include the collection and preservation of war records. He was unsuccessful.
- In September 1942 the Virginia Conservation Commission's Division of History and Archaeology, under the direction of Dr. Hamilton J. Eckenrode, began a war records collection program. Unable to continue the Division of History's historical marker program because of wartime rationing, Eckenrode sought to "record the history of the Old Dominion's war effort while the history is still fresh in the making, rather than wait until after the war when the events and details would be more obscured." The Conservation Commission began a correspondence program in which a non-salaried correspondent from each locality sent reports about local war activities and local effects and reaction to the war. In October 1942 the Commission began a newspaper file. War news articles related to Virginia were clipped/transcribed and sorted by time period and subject categories. In addition, the Commission published VIRGINIA IN WAR TIME, 1942-1943, a short sketch on how the war affected Virginia.
- In 1943 the Virginia Conservation Commission created the Historical Advisory Committee of the Virginia Conservation Commission to assist with the war records program. Members of the committee included: Dr. Cappon, Dr. Eckenrode, Dr. E.G. Swem, William and Mary College, Dr. Wilmer Hall, Virginia State Librarian and State Senator William Wright, Chairman of the Virginia Conservation Commission. The committee met in January 1944 to discuss the creation of a permanent agency for collecting war records.
- The Virginia World War II History Commission was established by an Act of the Virginia General Assembly approved on 8 March 1944. The commission was a policy-making body comprised of twelve non-salaried citizens appointed by the Governor. Its purpose was "to collect, assemble, edit, and publish. . . information and material with respect to the contribution to World War II made by Virginia and Virginians." The commission, headed by Senator Wright, hired Dr. Cappon as director and Dr. W. Edwin Hemphill of Mary Washington College as assistant director. Staff was assigned working quarters in the Alderman Library of the University of Virginia.
- To achieve their goal of collecting records and publishing histories concerning Virginia's participation in the war, the commission devised a two-phase plan. During the planning phase (1944-1946), the commission publicized its activities in two pamphlets: Your Communities War History: What Are You Doing to Preserve Its Records? and Writing Your Community's War History. These publications encouraged communities to create their own local war history commission branch and offered suggestions and advice. During this time, the Virginia Conservation Commission continued the newspaper-clipping file and turned it over to the commission in 1946. The Virginia Conservation Commission also assisted the commission with its' questionnaire, "Personal War Service Record of Virginia's Dead". The next of kin of Virginia's deceased servicemen completed the questionnaire. Dr. Cappon resigned at the end of 1945 and Dr. Hemphill replaced him as director.
- During the research and writing phase (1946-1950), the commission hired additional staff members and began publishing histories. The first book, Gold Star Honor Roll of Virginians in the Second World War, published in 1947, was a roster of Virginia's 9000 war dead. Other publications published or assisted by the commission included: Pursuits of War: People of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Virginia in the Second World War; Virginia's State Government During the Second World War: It's Constitutional, Legislative and Administrative Adaptations, 1942-1945; Virginia on Guard: Civilian Defense and the State Militia in the Second World War; Virginia Farmers at War: Essays on Agricultural Production in the Old Dominion During the Second World War; Conscripted City: Norfolk in World War II and Aerial Gunner from Virginia: the Letters of Don Moody to his Family During 1944.
- The commission operated as an independent agency until 1948 when the state government reorganization act approved by the General Assembly on 30 March 1948 placed it administratively under the Virginia State Library. After the transfer became effective on 1 July 1948, the commission was known as the World War II History Division. On 1 July 1950, as a result of a new reorganization of the state's historical offices, the World War II History Division was combined with the Division of History and Archaeology of the Virginia Conservation Commission, to become the History Division of the Virginia State Library. The new division ceased work on World War II publications.
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