Barbara Young

During the closing months of 1939, meatpackers were forced to face the facts of the war that was raging through Europe on the heels of the Great Depression, which had weakened the world economy. American meatpackers knew they were facing uncertainty, not only concerning expectations of their industry, but also about their own economic viability.

Immediately after the outbreak of hostilities, hog prices advanced $2.50 per cwt. Pork prices rose 2-5 cents per pound. Secretary of Agriculture Wallace warned farmers to move cautiously in expanding production. The National Provisioner predicted that pork imports from Poland and other northern European countries could cease. For the first time in history, pork imports had exceeded exports during 1937.

Moreover, war’s ferocity provoked fear and suspicion during World War II, and meat plants were forced to deal with the very real possibility of sabotage and enemy air raids. This magazine in 1942 published a report advising packers on how to guard their plants during war.

“No meat plant in the U.S. should consider itself free from danger of sabotage from within or air attack from the skies,” the report said. “Since the meat industry is so vital a sector of the nation’s war front, much work has been done to guard against sabotage or attack. Inspection of existing fire-fighting equipment is essential, since sabotage efforts already have been uncovered — fire extinguishers filled with gasoline, BB shot in the hose nozzle of extinguishers, sprinkler systems closed and automatic fire doors blocked open.”

Fast-forward to March 2003 — President Bush informed Americans of the bombing of Baghdad on March 19, two days after demanding that Saddam Hussein and his sons Uday and Qusay surrender and leave Iraq within 48 hours.

America once again was at war in a conflict called the Iraq War, also pegged the Second Persian Gulf War. The conflict came 30 years after the cease fire of the Vietnam War, the longest military conflict in U.S. history. The first combat troops arrived in 1965. It is reported that more than 58,000 Americans lost their lives over the life of the conflict — my 19-year-old brother, fresh out of high school, was among them in 1968.

Now five years after the onset of the war in Iraq, America and its allies continue to send armed troops to that region. Americans want their troops to come home. Indeed, the debate concerning troop withdrawal is an issue on the U.S. campaign trail as presidential hopefuls lay out their positions on the matter. It seems Americans are stuck far away from home in a country it cannot abandon.

Fast-forward, again, to May 2008 — This month marks the 140th year since Americans began paying respect to the men and women who died in the service of their country.

In 1866, surviving United States soldiers of the long and bloody Civil War between the North and the South began returning home after a life of hell on the battlefield. A drugstore owner in Waterloo, N.Y., spearheaded Decoration Day, an event to honor deceased soldiers. The observance expanded, becoming Memorial Day in 1882 and a federal holiday by presidential decree in 1971.

In terms of America’s participation in armed conflicts under whatever military agenda, the meat industry continues to do its part to feed consumers and our troops. Its ongoing sacrifice is in granting military leave to its employees, who leave their meat-industry jobs to face uncertainty on the battlefield.

We remember all the valiant members of the U.S. military forces who continue to serve and protect the United States of America.