November, 1917 in Gratiot County: “Patriotic Pressure: Pledge for the YMCA – Turn Out to Help the Red Cross- Use Food Conservation”


Above: Newspaper advertisements from the Alma Record and Gratiot County Herald, November, 1917.

       In late 1917, Gratiot County’s commitment to supporting its boys in the Great War continued. The Second Liberty Loan drive in the county proved to be another success. Gratiot was responsible for raising $715,200 in Liberty Bonds. Committees in each community were formed and recruited people to do their part. Ithaca aimed for $50,000 and appointed recruiters in all four of its wards. Advertisements urged that “To meet Gratiot’s quota, $25 worth of bonds is required for every man, woman, and child in the county. Let us not be slackers.” In the end, Gratiot County fell well below its goal (as did several other mid-Michigan counties), but Isabella County was above its target. The Republic Truck Company was the biggest subscriber and it bought $30,000 worth of bonds. At the same time in Ithaca, Francis Kellogg purchased $600 worth of bonds while J.L. Barden bought his share with $200. There would be even more bond drives in the county during and after the war.

       Better results in raising money took place in November regarding the YMCA. General John Pershing proclaimed to Americans that “You must have the YMCA to win the war.” The Young Men’s Christian Association offered various resources for soldiers at each camp and it would continue with the men as they went to Europe. At Fort Custer, supporters of the YMCA told how it was “a place for homesick boys to hear music and play games and read.” Families who went there also found a nice place where they could meet and visit. Former Alma Doctor Cyrus B. Gardner, now a Lieutenant at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, wrote a lengthy letter for publication that explained what he saw and experienced at the YMCA. He concluded that the YMCA “takes the place of home and church, and even the school.”

         With more American boys headed to France, Gratiot County was told that it needed to raise $10,000 for support – all within a week! Meetings were held in nearly every township, often with a public speaker to help gain public support. Advocates for the YMCA said that this drive “(was) the greatest movement before the American people today for it means home comforts and clean lives for the boys.” In Ithaca and Alma, Lieutenant T.A. Loughery, a Canadian soldier who was wounded at Vimy Ridge, France, was one of the key speakers.  Some of the smallest places in the county also had similar meetings. Locations like Rathbone, Sickels, Sethton, New Haven Center, Pompeii and Beebe had “Round Up Evenings,” all in the hope that Gratiot County would pledge and even raise more than their assigned amount. Support for the drive came from all walks of Gratiot’s society. Students at Alma College gave $1665, which was remarkable since only a few hundred students attended the college at that time. School teachers in Ithaca pledge $100. Ithaca students became involved as well. Each of Ithaca High School’s classes raised a minimum of $10 per grade (the school would ultimately raise $249.62). At Perrinton High School, students in the junior high gave $4 and also sold bottles, rubber, tin foil, rags, and magazines in order to also raise money. At the end of the week, Gratiot County had indeed gone “over the top” with this drive by raising upward of $15,000! Canvassers were praised by local newspapers who noted that they had sacrificed their time “and generally (had) found few slackers” who refused to pledge support.

     The Gratiot County Red Cross also continued its work in helping Gratiot County’s soldiers. At one point a call from the Gratiot County Herald urged more members to attend the work sessions in Ithaca. With a membership of almost 500, only 20 ladies showed up each week to knit. It was estimated that five times that amount was required in order to meet the needs of soldiers as winter approached. The ongoing need for socks, surgical dressings, and garments compelled members to complete as many articles as possible to get them to camps like Camp Custer by Christmas. For instance, a box of surgical dressings could quickly be used by one surgeon for one injured soldier, therefore, more were needed. Instructions were issued by the Red Cross for making knitted socks with a semi-double heel and a “Kitchener” toe design. Once completed, volunteers needed to wash each pair with Lux soap, keeping the foot fashioned down to stop shrinkage.

     More patriotic pressure was placed upon Gratiot County women regarding food conservation. They were encouraged to sign “Hoover Pledge Cards” and to give them to John T. Matthews, Gratiot County’s Food Conservation Chairman, in Ithaca. This program reminded women that “The people of the country have a moral duty to perform, and a patriotic duty also to perform.” The county kept track of all of those who promised to conserve food for the war effort through these cards. Public places got into food conservation. The Republic Restaurant in Alma advertised Tuesday as meatless day (only serving fish, macaroni with cheese and eggs) and Wednesday as a wheatless day (by serving rye, cornbread, and muffins). “Milkless days” had not been scheduled yet in Gratiot County, however, milk was becoming scarce in some places like Alma. All of the food conservation efforts were promoted as ways to assist the Sammies in their fight to defend liberty.

     More Gratiot men continued to be called into military service. By the middle of November, 200 more men appeared before the draft board. A total of 82 men and 5 alternates were chosen and within a week they were sent to Fort Custer. On the early morning that they departed the mood of the group was described as being “in high spirits.” As they left, each man was given a housewife kit complete with buttons, needles, and thread, courtesy of the Republic Motor Truck Company. Red Cross girls and ladies handed out the kits. However, the Alma Record castigated readers the next day for the poor public turnout that took place at the depot. It turned out that the few dozen supporters who showed up consisted largely of family members of those headed to Battle Creek. Even though some people attempted to advertise the need for public support for this goodbye, the Record lamented that “because of lack of (public) cooperation, the sendoff fell flat.” The question was asked, “Were too many Gratiot County residents more worried about making a living than in showing support for those who were placing their lives on the altar of patriotism?”

     Individual stories were received and printed in newspapers from those men who either were on their way to Fort Custer, who had been promoted, or who were headed to France. Robert Sawyer of Ithaca received a surprise send-off and a gift of a new fountain pen, courtesy of the “Goodfellow Club” in town. Lyle Smith from Perrinton quickly married his wife, the former Susie Fraker, and then had to leave for the Army. However, over 200 people from Perrinton met at the village hall in order to honor Smith, along with Elmer Fessler and Guy Baker, who had all been drafted. Lyle Smith would be one of Gratiot County’s men who later died in France in the summer of 1918. Three Alma College men were all given commissions at Fort Sheridan: Ralph Henning, Maurice Cole and John A. McAuley. Henning and Cole had attended the college; McAuley was an Alma College graduate. Howard Burchard was the first Ithaca boy to arrive in France as a gunner on a merchant ship. His letter home came approximately two weeks after he left the United States. Seven other Ithaca boys were on a convoy that was one day from arriving in France, but for some reason, the ship then turned around and came back. Another piece of news was not so good. Frederick J. Hagen of Breckenridge deserted his division at Camp Custer after being there less than one month. He was soon located and taken back to face trial. Hagen, originally a farmer, was then sentenced to ten years imprisonment at Fort Leavenworth, was dishonorably discharged, and forfeited all of his pay.

     Finally, those sending things to soldiers in France were now told that their packages that they sent could not weigh more than seven pounds. Little gifts and “eats” could be packed and as an example a group of Elwell women, led by Mrs. William Shong, all sent Christmas gifts to men at Camp Custer. An anonymous letter appeared in the Gratiot County Herald telling people that not all soldiers wanted to receive tobacco and some soldiers believed smoking to be unhealthy.  The ongoing, serialized story of “‘Over There’: The Thrill and the Hell of the Trenches, Described by an American Boy” had a large readership. Sergeant Alexander McClintock was from Kentucky and he had served in the Canadian Army.  His experience of being at war, his recovery after the Battle of the Somme (after being wounded with 22 pieces of shrapnel in one leg)  was the last of a six-part episode that appeared in the Gratiot County Herald.

Copyright 2017 James M. Goodspeed

Remembering Veterans Day: “When Ithaca Gave Its Best – D.C. Furgason, World War II”


Above: D.C. Furgason, somewhere in the Mediterranean Theater; on the day he left for the service on March 25, 1943; as a young boy at Furgason’s Store, east of Ithaca.

I was standing in a cemetery in Nettuno, Italy when I was struck with the loss of American life at a place in 1944 called the Anzio Beach Head. The Sicily-Rome Cemetery is one of many operated under the care of the American Battle Monuments Commission. The job of ABMC is to care for the graves of men and women who died in service to the United States and who remain buried overseas.  Unfortunately, for many of these men and women they are threatened with being forgotten.

During July, 2016, I was with a group of teachers who traveled under a program called “Understanding Sacrifice” that was sponsored by the American Battle Monuments Commission and National History Day. For almost one school year each of us researched one American who died during World War II and who was buried in one of four cemeteries in either North Africa, Italy or Southeast France. The man I chose, Raymond Wittbrodt from Flint, Michigan, was buried in the Sicily-Rome Cemetery. Although I was able to track down some of his family, found his grave and wrote a  biography about him and his unit (Wittbrodt served with 1st Special Service Forces), I was unable to figure out exactly where or when he died. There was much about him that remained unknown and unsolved even though he died somewhere on the Anzio Beach Head.

My maternal grandfather had also been at Anzio, albeit as one who worked on the Beach Head as an engineer. When I returned to my hotel in Rome on that night in July I was actually angry that I had been unable to learn about Wittbrodt’s death. Up until that night I really had not seriously thought about the first Ithaca man who also died there: David Chauncy Furgason, Jr. Although I carried the story with me during that year of research, I really had not given him serious research.

By using the information that I had with me in the hotel I was actually able to locate some of his family through With some luck, I actually talked to one of them that night from my hotel in Rome. What I learned encouraged me to set up a visit with them when I returned home in August.

Prior to all of this, I first learned about D.C. from one of his classmates, Mrs. Lois Barden, who graduated with him in the Ithaca High School Class of 1941. She remembered a small, thin boy who had reddish hair. She also remembered Furgason’s Store which was operated by his parents just east of Ithaca, along the curving road that came into town. Lois was also the first to tell me that D.C. tragically had an early premonition that his life would be shortlived. Indeed, D.C. was killed somewhere on the Anzio Beach Head.

Now, if you want a biography of D.C. Furgason, you need to pick up the November 8 issue of the Gratiot County Herald.

When I met in August 2016 with D.C.’s niece, Carolyn, she added to my knowledge of this young man who was talented, young, and likable. He was a gifted poet and writer. And on January 27, 1944, he was gone.

It was Furgason’s death and his return to Gratiot County that told me even more about him. Only eight days before he died he mailed his last letter home to his parents. He had also spent only five days in combat. On March 13, 1944, he was awarded the Purple Heart (which I got to see). Also, a memorial service that month was held in Wheeler where 200 people attended the service for four area men who had recently been killed in the war.

Furgason’s Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF) told a familiar story about how some of Gratiot County’s dead from World War II made their way back home. It was hard for families. It took time. Laying these men to rest in the county reopened old wounds and renewed grief.

Initially, Furgason was buried in Plot B, Row 9, Grave #252 in the Sicily-Rome Cemetery.  About two months after his death, his father wrote to have his few belongings sent back home. It was July 1944 before nine of these things arrived in Ithaca. The family was also given the remaining money that D.C. had with him at the time: a total of $11.36. In 1947, the Furgason family was sent a picture of the newly constructed cemetery at Nettuno.

Within two years of the end of the war, American families were given the chance to have their loved one sent home for burial. The Furgasons did not hesitate as they wanted their son to rest in Gratiot County. The initial process of bringing D.C. home started in late March 1948 with a request from the Furgasons to have him disinterred. On August 10, 1948, Train #51 from the Ann Arbor Railroad arrived in Ithaca. Three days later, on a Sunday afternoon, a funeral service was held for D.C. Furgason at the Sowers Methodist Church. Afterward, he was laid to rest in Breckenridge’s Ridge Lawn Cemetery. Reverend Don Warmouth, who met D.C. in Italy a short time before he died, helped to officiate the funeral.

D.C. Furgason was one of 130 Gratiot County men from World War II who paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we have today. Each of these men is a story. On Veterans Day we owe them, as well as our many living veterans in Gratiot County, as debt of thanks for their service.


Remembering Gratiot County on Veterans Day: “Not Too Old to Serve” – Craig Morrison, Iraq War Veteran

Craig Morrison in Iraq 2006.jpg

Above: Craig Morrison, 1st Cavalry Divison, Iraq, 2006

Craig Morrison once decided that he was unhappy with his job and that he needed a career change. In late 2004, he entered the Mt. Pleasant Army Recruiter’s office and within a short time he left for basic training – at the age of 33.

Morrison, a 1990 Fulton High School graduate, was also married with children. Recalling his decision to enter the Army at that time he said, “The pay was good and I needed a change in career. I was not happy with my job. I had tried to go back to school and study with online classes and this was all very hard.” There was also a key benefit for serving the country, free health care. He could later say with confidence, “They (the military) take care of you.”

Under the Delayed Entry Program he signed the papers in September, 2004 and he left for basic training on January 5, 2005.  Only four weeks into basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia he pulled two hamstrings, but was able to come home for 30 days. The downside of the injuries meant that he returned just in time to watch his unit graduate. After being in physical therapy for two months, he then had to go back and take his basic training over again.

His next assignment took him to Fort Gordon, Georgia where he took communication work through Advanced Individual Training. His training enabled him to work with computers, radios, antennas and cables. He eventually specialized in working on radios for tanks, Humvees and hand held radios. As this went on, Craig adjusted to the regimen and structure of military life. “It was fun. I later missed the heck out of it,” he now remembers.

By January, 2006 Morrison moved to his permanent duty station at Fort Hood, Texas. A month later, his wife and family moved there to be with him. Then came his deployment to Iraq that fall. On the day he left, his wife, Kristina, returned home to find that it had been broken into and vandalized. Before he flew to Iraq, he made a final call home from Maine and his wife gave him the bad news. There was nothing he could do to help her. However, his commanding officer made contact with individuals at Fort Hood who went to help his wife. After this, Kristina decided to bring the family back home to mid-Michigan. It was one of several moves that she made during her husband’s time in the service.

Morrison soon became assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division, 15 PSB (Personal Services Brigade), which was part of the 15 SB (Sustainment Battalion). In October, 2006 he arrived in Kuwait, then he was sent to Baghdad, serving as a replacement for 14-15 months. Upon entering the city Morrison thought then that “We had no idea where we were at.” Before landing, the plane he was on did a combat dive, a sudden aerial maneuver used to deter the enemy from shooting at American planes when they landed. Craig’s ears hurt for more than one day, but eventually the pain subsided. His base was located on the outskirts of Baghdad and it was fortunate that this unit only left the base via helicopter and did not have to do combat or patrol. During his deployment to Iraq, he never had to fire his weapon.

Morrison was stationed at the Victory Base Complex, which was made up of four or five connected bases. Signal Hill, the large tower at the base, was a target that the enemy often aimed for. On December 7, 2006, Signal Hill was hit for the first time in its then two year history. Indirect fire often occurred during Craig’s deployment, mainly during the day, but sometimes at night.

Life on the base became tolerable for him in his spare time partly due to his wife’s willingness to burn shows on DVDs and mail them to him. He received a package from her every few weeks and men in his unit often found their way to Morrison’s room to watch the shows. Other things to do included watching “bootleg” DVD movies, which almost all Soldiers bought and viewed. There was a basketball court and tennis courts on the base. Dial up internet was used to communicate with home, but the quality was often poor. Contact with TCN’s (“Third Country Nationals”) from a variety of different countries regularly took place. These individuals held jobs on the base like cleaning barracks, running the PX, taking care of trash or working at the nearby Burger King.

Morrison’s Army career took a big change in Iraq when he injured his back. He tried to deal with the pain through prescribed meds, but the pain only increased and got worse. Finally, his unit sent him to accompany another soldier to Germany. While there, Morrison received a MRI and a doctor told him he had two herniated disks. The doctor wondered how he could stand straight up, in addition to handling the pain. It was agreed that Morrison would be sent back to Iraq “on profile” to pick up his things and to make farewells. It was not easy to do and Morrison felt conflicted about his injury and his desire to stay in the Army in a combat zone.

After surgery at Fort Hood, Craig went through the “Med Boarding” process which was how he would have to leave the military. By 2008, Craig Morrison was out of the Army. He returned to Michigan and to the job he had at the Krapohl car dealership in Mt. Pleasant. The government promised that Soldiers would be able to return to the jobs they left behind when they joined up. After a while, Morrison moved to similar car dealership positions at Alma and in Ithaca (where he currently is employed).

Looking back at his Army career, Craig believes that if his health had been better he may have stayed in the Army and served twenty years. After some time at home, he eventually asked the Army Reserves and the National Guard about serving. Both turned him down due to the experience he had with his back.

Still, there are several things that he cannot forget, like losing a buddy in the combat zone, the smell of diesel fuel (which reminds him of Baghdad), and the image of seeing a severely injured female Soldier who was on the same flight he took to Germany. His analysis of his experience in the Army, as compared to many other Soldiers in the war zone, was that “My experience in Iraq overall was a much better one. I only served on one deployment – it was an experience. I came out better than I went in.”

I asked him what civilians today do not understand about the men and women who serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. He shared his observations. First, many of those in the military go on multiple deployments to the war zone (not just one). When Morrison sees groups of soldiers together like he sometimes does at a nearby McDonalds, he sees less and less combat badges on their uniforms, meaning that most of these volunteer soldiers have not been in combat. Also, many returning soldiers return home with psychological damage that they have to deal with. Finally, in the combat zone, comradery is a real and genuine thing for soldiers.

Today, I remember those Gratiot County men and women who, like Craig Morrison, have faithfully served our county, our state and our nation. Many of these veterans from Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, Gulf War II, and Gulf War II deserve their recognition. Join me on the blog as we visit these periods from Gratiot County’s past.