Return to Civilian Life
Returning to Groton in June, 1919, William Alexander was employed by the Navy as a civilian at the Navy Yard on the Thames River which just three years before had been designated a "submarine base." As an engineer at the power house his expertise with steam-powered and internal combustion engines, attested to by his ability to instruct in those fields and the engineering licenses he had qualified for in rigorous examinations, made him a natural fit for this responsibility.
Two historical events had a great impact on the Naval Submarine Base during the twenty-one years Mr. Alexander spent there: a) the huge expansion of its infrastructure through the national employment program instigated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s, and b) the Second World War, when the maintenance of the Navy's submarine fleet was an indispensable component of the "Arsenal of Democracy" supporting the war effort on sea and land.
During his years at the Submarine Base Mr. Alexander was also a member of the Groton Post of the American Legion, serving as commander in 1932, and of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. His most prominent community activity was as a Groton fireman and forest fire warden. Assisted by O. Pomeroy Robinson and Carl Franzen of the Electric Boat Co., he and his deputies mounted a water tank and pumps to a truck chassis to create a "homemade" fire engine to fight forest and house fires in rural Groton. (Fire engine account from a newspaper column, "The Day 50 Years Ago," published October 15, 1980)
William Douglass Alexander died on December 30, 1949, at age 59, shortly after receiving a gold medal award for two decades of civilian service to the Navy.
The papers and photographs from which most of this narrative has been drawn were made available to the Frank L. McGuire Maritime Library by Mr. Alexander's daughter, Iva Alexander Arpin. We are grateful to her for allowing us to present this account of her father's maritime career as the fourth in a series of historical online exhibits begun in 2017.
This exhibit was created in 2017, the centennial year of the entry of the United States into the First World War. It is dedicated to the memory of William Douglass Alexander and the tens of thousands of Americans from all walks of life who, like him, gave up their private lives to join the fight to "make the world safe for democracy," as President Woodrow Wilson famously said in his speech to Congress requesting a declaration of war.
Brian Rogers, Librarian