Anoka County history: Black nylon thread spool mystery

To some of you this might sound political. To some others it might sound partisan. And yet to others it may sound comical.

Tom Ward's spool of black nylon thread from World War II. Submitted photo
Tom Ward’s spool of black nylon thread from World War II. Submitted photo

I think it is historic since the object of my story has been in Anoka for the last 67 years.

It is a spool of black nylon thread. Where did it come from? How did it get here? What was it used for?

Last October, I was watching “60 Minutes” on television. It reported a story about a huge new building just finished on a U.S. Air Base in Afghanistan.

It was not needed, not ordered by the military, and was not needed by the Afghans. It cost $34 million to build and the contractor was paid.

The story made me think about President Eisenhower’s farewell speech at the end of his second term in office.

He started his address as follows: “Three days from now, after half a century in the service of our country, I shall lay down the responsibilities of office as, in traditional and solemn ceremony; the authority of the Presidency is vested in my successor.”

There was so much more in this historical speech warning us and advising us about our future.

The part that hit home with me was when he said the following, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex.

“The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

Now, let’s get back to that large spool of black nylon thread.

I was a navigator on B-17s, training for our effort to win the war in Europe in 1945. We trained at the 3rd Air Force base in Dyersburg, Tenn.

We also had a large building where the Air Force made and repaired parachutes.

In May 1945, the war in Europe ended and the Air Force got orders to shut down the parachute repair complex and to destroy all the material and machinery.

To do this the Air Force set the building, and all of its contents, ablaze.

My co-pilot and I were driving by this burning heap and we saw many other military and civilian employees helping themselves to the pile of material and equipment.

I rescued the spool of thread, while my co-pilot took a large role of material and tossed it in his trunk.

We drove back to our barracks, where I tossed my spool of thread into my footlocker.

Just then, two military police officers came in and arrested my co-pilot. He was court martialed and I was called as a witness.

He was acquitted and the whole case was dropped. Of course, we cannot forget all the new jeeps, trucks, and tanks that were dropped in the sea after the war.

After that our crews were sent to train in the new, much larger, B29’s flying in the Pacific. Then came VJ Day and we were all sent home.

Of course, the spool of black nylon thread came with me to Anoka where it has been used for many sewing and button repairs on all the kids’ clothes as well as mine.

I’m very good at button repairs… they never come off even after the garment or shirt is not worth keeping.

Maybe I should start a button repair business in Anoka. We could call it “Button Button Whose Got The Button”

Editor’s note: Tom Ward serves on the board of the Anoka County Historical Society.

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