The History of Alexandria During World War Two

The History of Alexandria During World War Two

Story by Warren P. Gunderman

In commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the end of World War Two, VIP Alexandria Magazine is proud to bring you a brief history of The City of Alexandria's service to our nation and a reminder of the sacrifices made by so many.

You will never be forgotten.

May 8, 2020 marked the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe and Aug 15, 2020 will mark the end of the war in the Pacific. The nation came together in defense of freedom and the town and residents of Alexandria did their part. Following are just three of the many stories of Alexandria's contributions to the war effort.


The Payne Brothers

During the war, all of America knew the story of the Sullivan brothers – five brothers who served together in the Navy and died together when their ship, the light cruiser USS Juneau was sunk on November 13, 1942. Alexandria also sent five brothers to war. Unlike the Sullivans, all five of the Payne brothers survived the war.

The oldest, Ralph, initially trained at Camp Wheeler in Georgia as part of the 4th Platoon, C Company, 8th Battalion, but by 1941 he was in the Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, GA. In 1942, he completed Parachute School, and was commissioned as a First Lieutenant and in the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.

In June, 1944, Ralph parachuted into Normandy. Fighting through the hedgerow country of northern France, he carried out a number of dangerous reconnaissance missions for which he received the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.

Ralph Payne died in 2008, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Francis joined the U.S. Navy shortly after Christmas. He was an Electrician’s Mate on the USS Randolph, an Essex-class aircraft carrier. In March, 1945, while the ship was anchored at Ulithi in the western Pacific, a Japanese kamikaze crashed into the stern of the ship, killing twenty-seven.

Francis spent a total of forty-two months in a combat zone, even manning an anti-aircraft gun at one point for an injured shipmate.

Francis Payne died in 1993, and is buried in Quantico National Cemetery, Prince William County, Virginia.

Harold enlisted in the Navy in 1942. He hoped to be either a pilot or to serve in the submarine service, but due to the needs of the Navy, he became an Aviation Electrician’s Mate. He eventually became Chief Petty Officer in charge of the electrical shop for VR-6, a transport squadron based at Dinner Key Naval Air Station near Miami, FL.

Near the end of 1945, he had enough points to be discharged from the service and returned to Alexandria.

Harold Payne died in 2005.

Grover Cleveland Payne, Jr. got the nickname “Jack” as a baby, and it stuck. Jack initially tried to join the Marines and then the Navy, but was rejected from both due to an eye condition. He then enlisted in the Army and trained at Camp Lee, outside Petersburg, Va.

Jack was deployed to Okinawa shortly before the Japanese surrender in 1945, and then to Korea as a member of the 382nd Station Hospital, 10th Army.

Jack Payne died in 2014, and he and his wife are buried together at Quantico National Cemetery.

David Lee Payne, the youngest of the brothers, enlisted as a Naval Aviation Cadet and participated in V-12 training programs at a variety of universities including Emory, Duke and the University of Miami. Unfortunately, David washed out of flight school for failing to pass the “vertigo test.” He then spent the remainder of his service in the Navy as an Air Traffic Controller and an Air Support Technician instead.

David Payne passed peacefully in his sleep on September 5, 2014

Click here to view an online exhibit about the Payne brothers, their life in Alexandria, and their service in World War II.


Alexandrians today know the Torpedo Factory as an Art Center on the Potomac River waterfront. However, during the Second World War, workers produced the Mark 14 submarine torpedo used by U.S. Navy personnel in the Pacific theater.

The Alexandria Naval Torpedo Station was built in 1918, just after the end of the First World War. In 1923, the factory ceased production of torpedoes and became a munitions storage facility for close to twenty years.

When the United States entered the Second World War, the factory began production of the Mark 14 submarine torpedo. With torpedoes in such short supply in the early stages of the war, Alexandria’s Naval Torpedo Station worked around the clock to produce ordnance for the war effort.

By the end of the war, Alexandria’s Torpedo Station had manufactured almost 10,000 torpedoes that were estimated to be responsible for damaging or sinking almost 1,500 ships.

You can visit The Torpedo Factory at 105 N. Union St. in Old Town Alexandria.


P.O. Box 1142 was both the code name and the actual Alexandria post office box number for the top secret Military Intelligence Service sections MIS-X (Escape and Evasion) and MIS-Y (Interrogation) programs at what is today Fort Hunt Park. 

At the beginning of WWII, the Army transformed the park into a military intelligence center division that operated from 1939 to 1945.  Most of the park was used to support the MIS-Y program, which interrogated several thousand German POWs during the course of the war. 

A smaller section of Fort Hunt Park was set aside for an even more secret operation involved with POW escape and evasion. The MIS-X program, which trained selected military personnel how to escape from Nazi prisoner of war camps, was so guarded that even the commander of Fort Hunt was kept unaware of their operations.   Only top Department of War officials and the President of the United States were aware of the operations of the MIS-X program. 

There were two main components of MIS-X, technical and correspondence, to aid American prisoners of war with their standing directive to attempt escape. MIS-X officers trained selected aircrew in the use of the secret letter codes. If captured, they could send coded messages with military intelligence or requests for materiel.

The technical section developed methods of cunningly concealing escape and evasion material such as compasses and documents inside seemingly innocuous objects like shaving brushes and chess pieces that could be sent to prisoners.

The MIS-X program ended immediately after Germany's surrender on May 8, 1945.  After Japan's surrender in August, all MIS-X records at Fort Hunt Park were destroyed, but it is known that the program aided in the escape of over 700 American POWs during World War II.

Today Fort Hunt Park is administered by the National Park Service as a unit of the George Washington Memorial Parkway.  For more information on upcoming events or to request a ranger program for a group, call 703-289-2553.

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