From Ohio History Central
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Burke-Wadsworth Act.
Beginning in the late 1930s, the United States government began to fear the actions of Germany, Japan, and Italy. These three nations began to expand their borders through the use of their respective militaries. By 1940, the Germans had already conquered a sizable part of Europe, the Italians had made inroads into North Africa, and the Japanese had seized a large amount of territory in Asia.
In September 1940, the United States Congress passed the Burke-Wadsworth Act. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt quickly signed this bill into law. The Burke-Wadsworth Act created the first peace-time draft in United States history. Both the Congress and the president were concerned with the military expansion of Germany, Japan, and Italy. By implementing a draft, the United States government would be better prepared if the nation became involved in the military conflicts raging in other parts of the world.
Under the Burke-Wadsworth Act, all American males between twenty-one and thirty-five years of age registered for the draft. The government selected men through a lottery system. If drafted, a man served for twelve months. According to the Burke-Wadsworth Act's provisions, drafted soldiers had to remain in the Western Hemisphere or in United States possessions or territories located in other parts of the world.
The draft began in October 1940. By the early summer of 1941, President Roosevelt asked the U.S. Congress to extend the term of duty for the draftees beyond twelve months. The United States House of Representatives approved the extension by a single vote. The Senate approved it by a wider margin, and Roosevelt signed the bill into law. Many of the soldiers drafted in October 1940 threatened to desert once the original twelve months of their service was up. Many of these men painted the letters "O," "H," "I," and "O" (OHIO) on the walls of their barracks in protest. These letters were an acronym for "Over the hill in October," which meant that the men intended to desert upon the end of their twelve months of duty. Desertions did occur, but they were not widespread. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, thousands of American men and women swelled the United States' military's ranks by volunteering for service.