Perspectives

It Came from the Archives: The tale of World War 2 newspaper ‘The Dixie’

February 28, 2020

In 2015, the Wiregrass Archives received a collection of newspapers published by the 31st “Dixie” Infantry Division beginning with issue 1, dated Jan. 10, 1941, and ending with issue 46, dated Nov. 24, 1941.  Only issue 35 is missing.

A search of library and archival catalogs reveals no other holding of this camp newspaper.

The Wiregrass Archives received “The Dixie” as one of the collections donated by the Dothan-Houston County Library System when it closed the Houston-Love Memorial Library and moved to a new facility in 2015.

The 31st Division was originally created from southern troops once the United States entered World War 1, giving it its nickname.  Troops adopted the motto “It Shall Be Done” and the division shoulder patch of a circle enclosing back-to-back Ds.  The Army deactivated the 31st in 1922 but reactivated it on paper in 1924, commanded by Floridian Lt. General Albert H. Blanding until his retirement in November 1940 when the 31st was activated into federal service.  Maj. General John C. Persons, an Alabama National Guard general and Birmingham banker, assumed command, leading the division through training and for a short time in Pacific combat in 1944.  Persons chose the name The Dixie for the division’s paper.

The Dixie newspaper

Interestingly, the 31st was stationed at Camp Blanding, named for Gen. Blanding, from its opening in November 1940 until moving to Camp Jackson, South Carolina, 13 months later.

“The Dixie” began publication as the division’s newspaper on Jan. 10, 1941.  It was four pages long, printed on 15 x 22-inch newsprint.  Its first editor, Second Lt. William Hodding Carter, Jr., had made a name for himself by publishing an anti-Huey Long newspaper in Louisiana in 1935, then as the founding editor of the Greenville (Miss.) “Delta Democrat-Times,” which was an anti-racist crusading paper.  He was also a public relations man for the Cotton Council and had received a Neiman Fellowship for journalism at Harvard.  After a serious illness and hospitalization in March, Carter transferred to Washington, DC where he worked first in Army public relations then in intelligence.

Carter, Hodding, Jr.
Carter in the 1960s.  Courtesy of the Mississippi Press Association.

On April 18, former associate editor Second Lieutenant O. C. McDavid replaced Carter and remained editor through “The Dixie”’s last issue in the Wiregrass Archives.  McDavid was a newspaperman, too, having been the city editor for the Jackson (Miss.) “Daily News.”  He wrote that he pulled most of the duty of putting out the weekly paper under Carter who was occupied with public relations and working on a book.  Both Carter and McDavid later served as presidents of the Mississippi Press Association.

O.C. McDavid
McDavid in the 1960s.  Courtesy of the Mississippi Press Association.

Within the month, and for reasons unknown, “The Dixie,” grew in size to 22 x 30 inches, effectively doubling its capacity.  McDavid had to increase the staff and improve its organization to keep up.  He formalized the editorial staff and created regimental reporters rather than using stringers alone.  He also instituted a sports section and began adding formal news stories about the division to the lighter fare of human-interest stories that had dominated coverage in “The Dixie”’s first months.

From August through September, that division hard news – and “The Dixie” – came from Louisiana where the 31st was sent for maneuvers.  Publication locations varied from Antonia to Pineville to “Somewhere in Louisiana, Just North of Breezy Hill” and others.  The relatively dry sands of Camp Blanding gave way to the swamps near Shreveport, but among all the complaints about conditions the troops performed well in the war games.  “The Dixie” reported not only those successes but the expertise of the quartermasters in moving over 20,000 soldiers, their camp, and equipment 800 miles each way.

The 31st had only a month back at Blanding after maneuvers until it moved to Camp Jackson, South Carolina, another quartermaster feat.  There, “The Dixie” grew again, this time to 35.5 x 22 inches.  Stories of small things and interesting or funny events continued to fill its columns, but its tone and major stories became increasingly formal and organized, as if the pages of “The Dixie” mirrored the changes in the division from interwar National Guard units into a unified command of soldiers capable of fighting the Axis.

The Wiregrass Archives’ last issue of “The Dixie” is from Nov. 24, 1941, the anniversary of the 31st’s mobilization and just two weeks before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  It was published “Just a Little Bit South of North Carolina” and contained eight pages with many photographs.

The 31st “Dixie” Division saw action in 1944 in the New Guinea campaign’s Battle of Driniumor River and in the liberation of the Philippines in 1945.  It was deactivated in December 1945 but recalled in January 1951 for service in the Korean War when it provided replacement troops to deployed units.

“The Dixie” is available for inspection at the Wiregrass Archives, and we hope to make digital copies available soon.

It Came from the Archives is an ongoing series spotlighting the fascinating collections at the Wiregrass Archives. To find out more, visit online at https://www.troy.edu/wiregrassarchives or in person in Everett Hall on the Dothan Campus.