The United States observed the anniversary of its independence in wartime for the first time since 1918.

While it was another day of fighting for American soldiers, war employees at home were required to work, and citizens respectfully limited their plans. Usually a joyous celebration full of fireworks and parades, this July 4th remained quieter in the home country compared to the loud intensity of the fighting in foreign lands.

President Franklin Roosevelt said it best when he said that Independence Day would be honored “not in the fireworks of make-believe, but in the death-dealing reality of tanks and planes and guns and ships.”

Even with humbled holiday plans at home, there was still a sharp contrast between the traditional celebration by average citizens and how American soldiers spent the day at war, “in the dark hour,” as Roosevelt described this wartime period of free men fighting and dying “to preserve the liberties and decencies of modern civilizations.” While Americans were reminded of freedom and democracy, soldiers abroad fought to preserve the very same ideals.

Philip Murray, Congress of Industrial Organizations leader, speaks at the “Little Steel” hearing held by the War Labor Board just three days before Independence Day, showing no signs of a July 4 break.

On the day that memorializes the United States’ violent separation from Britain, the U.S. Army Air Force joined the Royal Air Force in a raid on Nazis in Holland. Setting off a different kind of fireworks, the U.S. attacked Western Europe with bombs on German airdromes, planes, installations and patrol ships.

Roosevelt commented on the Allied troops’ efforts during the war in a statement. “On the desert sands of Africa, along the thousands of miles of battle lines in Russia, in New Zealand and Australia, and the islands of the Pacific, in war-torn China and all over the Seven Seas, free men are fighting desperately—and dying— to preserve the liberties and decencies of modern civilizations,” he said.

Roosevelt added that it was vital “not to waste one hour, not to stop one shot, not to hold back one blow — that is the way to mark our great national holiday in this year of 1942.”

War supporters at home remained steadfast in their patriotism by staying on the job. Thousands of government workers had to keep busy in Washington, D.C. in the War, Navy and Post Office Departments, the War Production Board, the Federal Security Agency, the Government Printing Office, Civil Service Commission and the Budget Bureau.

War plant workers also skipped the family gatherings to hustle at the factories due to shortages of gasoline and rubber, both essential resources for wartime fighting.

Americans switched to other methods of transportation to help protect and ration these resources. Although the automobile traffic across the country was reduced, there was reported heavy traffic by railroad, bus, and airplane. The Associated Press reported that 78 people died on highways this July 4th compared to last year’s 114 traffic fatalities.

U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull reminded Americans of how they should spend their Independence Day in a grim July 4th statement.

“The spirit of liberty and freedom, which inspired preceding generations to found and build up their present high state of development our free institutions is the spirit that will win this war,” he said of the American Revolution. “It should therefore be revitalized and cultivated to the fullest extent by all the United Nations and their peoples.”

Together, government officials’ and citizens’ efforts at home and abroad exemplified the importance of remaining devoted to the continued war effort, even during the time of annual celebration of patriotism for one’s country.


Gallagher, B.J. “U.S. Air Force Celebrates 4th By Joining R.A.F. Offensive.” The Associated Press, July 4, 1942, p. 1.

“Nation At War To Mark July 4th In Spirit Of Common Sacrifice.” The New York Times, July 3, 1942, p. 19.

Nicholson, Roland. “Fourth A Working Day For Many In D.C. At War: Work Marks Quiet Fourth In D.C. At War.” The Washington Post, July 5, 1942, p. 1.

Reynolds, Thomas F. “President Speaks Independence Day At White House Desk: President Spends Holiday At Work.” The Washington Post, July 5, 1942, p. 1.

“Roosevelt Spurs War For Freedom On ‘Grim’ Fourth.” The New York Times, July 5, 1942, p. 1.

“Roosevelt Hails Spirit Of Liberty.” The New York Times, July 5, 1942, p. 23.