The Naval Ammunitions Depot in Hastings, Nebraska
Hastings, Nebraska, a small homogenous town in central Nebraska, experienced a great population influx as construction of the Naval Ammunitions Depot commenced on July 12,1942. More and more residents flocked to the town of 15,000 once the Depot opened and continued to expand throughout the war, eventually employing approximately 2,000 military personnel, 6,700 civilian production workers, and 2,000 civilians involved in ongoing construction at its peak in 1945 (Russell, 76). The Depot had a dramatic effect on the small town of Hastings, drawing in sailors and civilian employees from many different backgrounds and locations to the small homogenous town. The NAD functioned as an adjoining community, interacting with Hastings, but maintaining many of their own institutions and societal functions.
The form and function of Powder Keg
On September 17, 1943, the Depot began publishing Powder Keg, a weekly newspaper published by sailors for both enlisted men and civilian employees that reflected and cultivated the values of those involved with the base. The paper consisted of rougly equal parts administrative news, social activities, and gossip and jokes. Nearly all of the content in the paper was locally generated, with one or two news releases regarding the war and one or two syndicated cartoons in each issue being the only exceptions. The newspaper editors often reached out to the readers to submit gossip and jokes for publishing. The paper attempted to boost morale by making Depot employees and servicemen more aware of the social and administrative news, as well as building a sense of community at the Depot.
Powder Keg and the Construction of Manhood
The paper served as a factory to construct identities inside the community of the NAD, reflecting masculine anxieties and reasserting manhood. The gossip and joke section was often focused on sexuality, glorifying men for their sexual escapades and portraying women as nothing more than sexual objects. The relative size of the sports section illustrates the centrality of sport in the Depot community, while the coverage created physically superior heroes and ascribed manhood to the competitors. In addition, sailors were regularly profiled and introduced to the masses at the Depot, with the focus almost always on their military experience and past athletic successes. Through all of these avenues, men of the Depot constructed masculine images of sexual virility and physical strength to reassert their manhood in turbulent times.