A former Norfolk resident’s book about life on the home front during World War II is the 2021 One Book One Nebraska selection.
The announcement was made Friday by the Nebraska Center for the Book, Humanities Nebraska and the Nebraska Library Commission, which sponsors the competition.
James Kimble is the author of “Prairie Forge: The Extraordinary Story of the Nebraska Scrap Metal Drive of World War II,” which was published in 2014.
The selection is “most meaningful because it represents a chance to bring this incredible story about Nebraska’s past to a much wider group of readers,” said Kimble, the son of Lowell and Diane Kimble of Norfolk.
The 1984 graduate of Norfolk High School earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, his master’s degree from Kansas State University and his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. He is a professor of communications and the arts at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey.
When the United States entered World War II, there was an immediate need for metal to use in arms production. The book tells the story of Nebraska’s role in a scrap metal drive, specifically Henry Doorly’s plan to urge citizens to collect and donate scrap metal. His plan expanded to the entire state and was used as a model for a national scrap drive.
In the end, Nebraskans gathered 67,000 tons of scrap metal in three weeks.
Kimble came upon the scrap drive story quite by accident when doing research on the role of the advertising industry in World War II. He found a booklet about scrap drives during the war that led him “down the rabbit hole,” he said.
“No one I knew realized what a difference the so-called Nebraska Plan had made in the course of World War II,” Kimble said. “It was this great untold story about my grandparents’ generation of Nebraskans and the incredible model that they created for the nation, one that was grounded in good old-fashioned Midwestern determination and grit.”
Before writing the book, Kimble wrote several articles about the topic and co-produced a documentary called “Scrappers.”
“Each of those versions of the story told about important parts of the effort, but a full-length book seemed to me to still be the best way to establish, for the record, a definitive account of Henry Doorly’s Nebraska Plan,” he said. “The University of Nebraska Press, happily, agreed and enthusiastically backed the book proposal.”
According to a press release from the Nebraska Center for the Book, the readers who selected the book for the designation felt it would draw readers into good discussions about the entire state’s participation in the challenge to provide scrap metal.
They were also impressed that the book covered every county’s participation in the Nebraska Plan, and how this fit into the larger effort on a national level.
In spite of COVID, Kimble said he hopes to participate in book discussion, present programs and “do whatever else will spread the word about the scrappers,” — either in person or virtually.
After all, it’s a story that needs to be told.
“World War II was one of the most pivotal events in world history. I’m convinced that it was a hinge on which swung the fate of cultures and nations across the globe,” Kimble said. “With the greatest generation increasingly getting older and, sadly, passing on, we more and more have an impulse to remember what that generation did.”