Gratiot County’s Finest Hour, October 1944: “Harvest Season During War Time”


Above,  from October 1944 Gratiot County newspapers: “Pipe Dream” from Alma Record and Alma Journal; Lt. Vern Salden paid the ultimate sacrifice for service to the county and the nation; Community War Fund advertisement; hunting season in the county; help was needed at the Lake Shore Sugar Company; Halloween and Coca-Cola.

         The harvest season in Gratiot County during October 1944 was a good one. Although parts of Michigan suffered from a severe drought during the summer, Gratiot County seemed to get the rain when it counted most. As a result, a bumper load of crops was coming in. However, it was hard to find enough farm help to get the crops harvested in a timely fashion as there was not enough farm labor. Some area farmers relied on  Mexican workers and also from a new source – German Prisoners of War.

        Over-optimism continued to run through Gratiot County about the state of the war, even though some residents started to understand that it would not end in 1944. Fighting remained particularly difficult in the South Pacific, even though the United States made progress. News from Europe remained positive that the Allies were making progress against Hitler, but things there could change. By late October 1944, it was estimated that 2,225 men and women left Gratiot County for service during the war,  and at least 50 had not come back alive.

        Gratiot County also continued to bear down on rationing as some items that had been readily available during the summer were now being rationed more tightly.  It was harvest season in Gratiot County.

Rationing Must Continue

      As Gratiot County went through October 1944, rationing continued to be an essential part of life. Shortages of individual items continued even though it was harvest season.

    The St. Louis Co-op Creamery placed a large advertisement in the Gratiot County Herald telling customers that the current butter shortages meant that not everyone who wanted the creamery’s butter could obtain it. Stockpiles of butter in the nation fell to the lowest levels in almost thirty years, causing people to have to rely on daily production of butter for months to come. It was estimated that October 1944 production was about ten percent lower than 1943 and that the process of separating butterfat from butter for the war effort was the main reason for the decline. At the start of October, butter reached its all-time high of twenty rationing points.  To calm the public, the OPA announced that it did not think that it would ration coffee because it had a four-month stockpile.

      Gratiot County residents continued to contribute items such as tin and paper for rationing drives. The War Production Board said the shortage of both items was critical. A few large paper manufacturers in the country stated that they were down to one day’s supply of paper to operate. On October 7, Ralph Paton announced that Boy Scout Troops Numbers 103, 109, and 112 would pick up the paper in St. Louis as long as people tied the paper into bundles and left it on the curb. The WPA also called on homemakers to save all tin cans that they had available. In Alma Schools, students were organized by grade level to help collect paper.  In Alma on October 24, another tin and paper drive took place. In Alma Schools, students were organized by grade level to help pick up tin. Junior high students went door to door a weekend ahead of time, encouraging people to prepare for the drive. When the day arrived for the pickup, senior high students arrived in trucks to pick up the donations, with each truck having a teacher in charge. Another tin pick up took place in St. Louis on November 6.

      One place in Alma that people could send their tin was the railroad siding where a railroad car accepted the donations. Other sites in the county where tin could be left included Sumner Hoxie Store in Elwell, Dodge Hardware in Middleton, Mike Sheridan’s barn in Perrinton, and Lanshaw Hardware in Wheeler. In Alma, the Office of Civilian Defense in the city hall basement answered questions about donations. City hall also had a display in its window on East Superior Street, which showed how war materials could be made from paper products.

      The entire scrap drive that October proved to be very successful. Alma students brought in approximately one half-ton of paper and 3,500 pounds of tin. A total of eight trucks in Alma brought in the items to the drop off location. The Fulton school also brought in a truckload of paper and tin, which C.M. Dodge hauled in from Middleton.

Tires also had to be rationed, even after three years of war. Twenty-three tire inspection stations in Gratiot County, each approved by the Office of Price Administration, had been announced in late September. Some specialized in auto tires, others dealt with truck tires. King’s Service Center and Bottom Brothers Oil Company in St. Louis were added to the list, as was Montgomery Ward Company in Alma. At one meeting, the Gratiot County Rationing Board approved the purchase of 175 tires and tubes. Most of them were classified as grade 1 tires, and the others were for small trucks and small implement tires.

Foods and other items were also in the news. Rationing boards could no longer accept applications for more canning sugar and families had to make their sugar coupons last until at least February 1, 1945. An easy way to store vegetables through the winter would be to consider bulk storage. A sketch of how to create a bulk storage unit for backyards appeared in the Gratiot County Herald.

       Those who collected and brought in grease drippings received two meat ration points and four cents. The OPA also announced that it wanted to see the return of two pants suits to a household in order to economize clothes. Also, a new shoe stamp would be available on November 1 and people had to get by with no more than two pairs of shoes each year. Homemakers also were asked to carefully consider how to mend, knit, and design new clothes for their families – all for the war effort.

Farming in Gratiot County

     Excellent weather and only light frosts helped the October harvest. While these conditions remained optimal farmers had to get their crops in to help with the war effort.

        The sugar beet harvest appeared to be the most newsworthy. Getting farmers to grow sugar beets had always been a goal from the government. Any sugar producer who worked on his farm for more than six months of the year received ration free sugar for home use, according to the Office of Price Administration. Sugar beet plants in Alma and St. Louis pleaded for help from farmers who completed their work in the fields. Beets appeared to be yielding more per acre in the county, and even more beets from fields near Lansing arrived at sugar beet plants in Gratiot County for processing. As the beets rolled into Alma and St. Louis, the plants begged people to work for them. Women too were asked to come, fill out an application, and work in the yards.

      Other ways of getting farm labor during October included Mexican workers. While many worked in the county and performed necessary labor,   news coverage sometimes was not favorable concerning them. Nine laborers were held in the Gratiot County jail in October because they did not have proof that they crossed legally into the United States from Mexico. Some of these men admitted that they paid $100 for illegal passports, while others confessed that they got into the United States by swimming across a river. Twelve investigators from the United States Immigration and Naturalization  Service spent three days checking beet workers in Gratiot County, and they had a big station truck in Ithaca ready to deport the illegal workers to Detroit, and then back to Mexico.

     However, the most significant help in the sugar factories came with the arrival of German Prisoners of War from Camp Freeland. Manager John Kelly of the St. Louis plant soon told the newspapers that the company contracted with the government to bring in German POWs. Busloads of POWs arrived at the Alma plant and provided labor for three shifts each day. After each shift, a bus returned to Camp Freeland, while another bus arrived to provide more POWs for the next shift in Alma.

      In other farm news, the students from Paul Andrews’ class at Perrinton helped to construct a new farm shop. Made of cinder block and measuring 40 x 60 feet, the building was intended to be used by farmers in the community to repair their machinery. Perrinton students asked for farm help to come and help put the building up at the end of the month. Rationing of farm equipment came to an end, except for corn pickers. Now farmers no longer needed a certificate to obtain machinery. The OPA also announced that it would release another 30 percent of tractor gasoline stamps to farmers who had not yet received them. Michigan State College offered tractor maintenance classes for one 4-H member from each county in the state with Standard Oil providing the funding for the program. The Agricultural Conservation Program sent committee members out to area farms to check on how farmers performed. Members went door to door to ask farmers about how much fertilizer they applied, if they plowed under sweet clover, or if they did any tiling in 1944.

      One of the more interesting side notes with farming in October 1944 had to deal with hunting, specifically hunting pheasants. Pheasant season in 1943 had been a bumper year for hunters in the county, and 1944 was expected to be just as good. If a hunter did not get his limit of two pheasants on opening day, he usually did the next time he was out in the field. The biggest challenge for hunters dealt with the lack of ammunition. Those dealers who had ammunition for sale only sold 10 to 15 shells at a time, and sometimes only one box to a hunter. Almost all of the shells for sale tended to be for 12 gauge shotguns;  no dealer in the county had enough to keep up with demands. Still, the anticipation for hunting proved to be so high that Ithaca schools did not have class on the first Monday in the season. Hunting on Sunday proved to be an issue for many folks, and some counties in Michigan even banned it. This did not stop people like Doctor Harvey Thompson of Ithaca who closed his practice in November to go hunting.

        Then there was the issue of the bad behavior of some hunters. Many complaints came from farmers on opening day concerning road hunting and trespassing on a property without permission. Frequently, bands of hunters, sometimes as many as nine in a group, strung out across fields in an attempt to hunt any birds in an area. At the time, only two hunting clubs existed in Gratiot County, and both existed in New Haven Township in the Culy and Sethton school districts.  Sometimes hunting accidents occurred, such as when a gun discharged, or when a young hunter shot another friend. In one case, a husband in east Gratiot County shot his wife as he chased a downed pheasant into the brush. When the husband dropped his gun, the gun went off accidentally, wounding his wife.

       During and after the season, groups sometimes held pheasant dinners. The William Fields American Legion Post held one, as did the Pine River Community Farm Bureau, which fed 35 members and guests on a Friday night. The Ithaca FFA chapter held a “pheasant feed,” along with help from the home economics club. Hunting captains, Richard Moomey and Jack Martin, headed two teams of fifteen hunters, each made sure that their group brought enough birds, rabbits, and squirrels to feed everyone. The team that brought in the least amount of game got to do the clean up afterward.

The Red Cross Continues Its Work

      A new Red Cross home service office opened in Ithaca inside the Cities Service Building. Miss Elizabeth Hunter, the Michigan field representative for the Red Cross, came to Ithaca for three days to see the facilities, which sat opposite the courthouse. For part of their work that month, the Ithaca Red Cross helped the young wife of a serviceman to find a home in the area. Blue Star Mothers also used the Ithaca office to pack 54 Christmas boxes, with a plan to pack another 24 to ship overseas.  Russell Gaffney sent a letter to the Ithaca Red Cross from New Guinea. Gaffney appreciated and praised the work of the Red Cross, where he was stationed. On a side note, the Ithaca Red Cross looked for a hard coal heating stove and wondered if anyone could donate one.

       Over in St. Louis, the chapter there completed its assignment of 12 convalescent robes, 36 bedpan covers, 36 bedside bags, and 23 hot water bag covers. They were also at work on 25 hospital bed shirts and 25 pairs of pajamas. Mrs. Fred Bennett and Mrs. Dines both cut 22-bed shirts themselves.

     A Prisoner of War display continued to make its rounds through the southern part of the county through the support of the Red Cross. The display told people what kinds of gifts could be mailed to POWs, such  underclothes, pajamas, socks, shoes, and toiletries.

Drives, Loans, Bonds

      The United War Fund Campaign started in early October with the theme “Be Ready and Dig Deep.” The county needed to raise its quota of $18,407. Organizations like Neighborhood War Clubs and the Boy Scouts prepared to go door to door to ask for support. In Alma, approximately 100 women there from its Neighborhood War Club lead that drive.  Lobdell Emery Company gave $1,000 to start, and Alma Trailer Company donated another $350. By the end of the month, St. Louis was struggling to raise its quota of $2750. Alma also was short of its $5750 goal.  In spite of this, groups like the Boy Scouts and the Elks Club continued to raise needed funds to support the work of USO entertainment units, which was a goal of the United War Fund Campaign.

The Draft

      Questionnaires went out to all 2-C registrants in the county. These men faced the expiration of their six-month classification, and after the harvest took place some men would not be as needed for farm work.

       A group of over 50 Gratiot men left from Alma on October 4 was inducted into the Army and Navy. Army inductees headed for Fort Sheridan, Illinois; Navy men went to the Sherman Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, for induction. Most of these men had taken their physicals back in March and now made up the most recent group of men to leave Gratiot County in many weeks. Robert Kent of Ashley, Paul Lehmkuhle of St. Louis, and Robert Blanck of Alma comprised a few of the men who left.

        Alma College planned a November 1 service to recognize 85 graduating seniors who left for the Navy or who had other assignments to complete their V-12 Service Program.  On Friday, October 27 Navy Day in Michigan took place. Governor Frank Kelly urged that all residents recognize the importance of the role of the United States Navy in defending the state and country.

In the Service

       Many names of men and women in the service of Gratiot County continued to appear in local newspapers. One of the October stories centered around the family of Mary Scramlin of Riverdale who had nine grandsons in the service.  The village of Bannister could also say that they sent several sons off to war. In the Gratiot County Herald,  Dale, Robert, and Ernest Boog had left. Robert and Ernest served in Italy in the Army; Dale was in the Navy Air Corps at Whidbey Island, Washington.

       Sergeant Earl Troub of Middleton had been in England for several months and now was in France. Troub sent home a box of linen handkerchiefs to his mother. Private Fred Hicks of St. Louis was in the 82nd Airborne and saw action in Holland, specifically at Nijmegen. The three Vanecek brothers from Ashley all served overseas: Emil in England, Charles in India, and Frank in Africa. Private Robert Gallant of Ithaca, a former star fullback on the football team, was a sheet metal mechanic who repaired airplanes in England. Gallant spent time training with other star high school, college, and professional athletes at an Aircraft Repair Depot somewhere in England. The athletes tried to introduce football to Englanders. Sergeant Mike Simonovic of St. Louis served with the 772nd Tank Destroyer Battalion. Private Clifford Gault, also of St. Louis, was an ordnance soldier in England who waterproofed armored vehicles, tanks, and jeeps. Sergeant Maynard Brewer got word home to St. Louis that he had spent several weeks in a hospital in Africa due to contracting malaria. However, Brewer now was up and moving around. Sergeant Melvin Smith of Alma was with the 60th Troop Carrier Group in the Mediterranean and helped drop supplies to partisans in Yugoslavia, as well as evacuating wounded fighters.

      Stewart Coleman and Clifford Peet enjoyed a short leave at their homes. Coleman spent 18 months on submarine duty in the Pacific; Peet did the same in the Atlantic on LST duty. Private John Chvojka entered the Marines and was stationed in San Diego, California. Chvojka eventually paid the ultimate sacrifice when he died in 1945 in the Pacific. Sergeant Leroy Dancer left Wheeler after a fifteen-day visit for Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Dancer had previously spent four months as an instructor at Camp Hood, Texas. Kenneth Harrier of St. Louis, a member of the Merchant Marines, came home from New York City on a three-week leave. Harrier had escorted ships across the Atlantic to England. Marvin Cole of Middleton, also a Merchant Marine, came home from being stationed in England, Ireland, and Scotland. Cole had many stories to tell about Hitler’s robot bombs. Cadet Calvin Haskett came back to convalesce after developing a heart condition during high altitude flight training in Tucson, Arizona. He would recover.  Sergeant James Hercik of Alma prepared to return to Fairbanks, Alaska, after an 18 day leave.

       Out in the Pacific, Allie and Lyle Inbody met in New Guinea. Allie operated cranes as a Seabee, and Lyle had been aboard ships going from California to New Guinea. Lyle Inbody initiated the meeting by surprising his brother in the chow line one Sunday. The two brothers spent a weekend on Lyle’s ship. Marine David Swigart of Alma completed his training and awaited deployment after enlisting in June. Norman Hearn, a Pharmacist Mate 2/C, hoped to be home for Christmas. Hearn was in the Hebrides Islands.

      Women from Gratiot County did their part. Private Thelma Whitcraft from Alma served in the Army Corps as a photographer. Eloise Harrier of St. Louis joined the WACS and prepared to be inducted while in Detroit. Harrier was the last of four children in her family to enter the military.

Letters to Home

      Ernest and Bob Boog of Ashley wrote to their parents that the two brothers found each other in a camp in Italy in mid-July. They had been near each other in North Africa and now were in Italy; they just had not been able to meet. The meeting took place when Bob walked into his brother’s camp.  Gayle Stellow wrote to his parents about fighting on Palau, which he said: “was no picnic.” Stellow sent home some Japanese souvenirs: paper money, writing paper, a pen, and ink. Although pinned down several times by Japanese snipers, Stellow had never been hit. He wrote that Guadalcanal had been tough, but the fighting on Palau was worse because the Japanese fought to the death from their caves. Sergeant Harlan Stahl had letters and correspondence sent home through an English family that he befriended. The two families then exchanged news while the Englanders described the “doodlebug” bombings taking place. Major Forest Acton wrote to his mother that while living in tents in France during the summertime was okay, it was beginning to get too cold to stay in them at night. Acton had already seen Paris. He wrote, “The war looks very good for us now. We are all hoping very much that we get this thing over with and are on our way home by spring.” Private Sonny Stewart sent a letter home to his parents in Ithaca describing what he had witnessed at sea: a whale, a shark, and flying fish. His ship had a PX on board, and the food was cheap. Candy bars only cost two cents each. Sergeant John Hoyt had visited Rome, the Vatican, and other sites. He had also been to Monte Cassino and could not believe how the bombings had turned it into “rubbish.” Although 14 stories high, the monastery now did not have a single block left standing. The attack and shelling of the monastery had been a result of rooting the Germans out of their high ground positions which they refused to give up.

Those Wounded in Action, Killed in Action, Missing in Action, Prisoners of War

       Area residents learned about those who were wounded in action through newspaper accounts. Private Robert Rich, whose parents formerly lived in St. Louis, lost his left arm in Italy.  His wife lived in a trailer home with their two children in St. Louis. A nurse wrote Rich’s first letter home to his wife as he was right-handed. Private Richard Fishbeck suffered a clean wound to his left foot while fighting in Germany. He was hospitalized and expected a good recovery. Sergeant Ed Yankie of Breckenridge suffered wounds while on duty at Anguar Island. Yankie was serving with the 81st Division.  In mid-October, news that Private George Erickson, Sergeant Donald McDonald, and Private Jesse Hanford had all been wounded in the South Pacific.  Without details, other names also came to Gratiot County that they had suffered injuries. These men included Corporal Albert Edgar (Breckenridge), Corporal JC Wheeler (Ithaca), Dan Campbell (Bannister), and Private Leland Perry (Alma). Private Watson of Alma was in the Marines and had been wounded. His family did not know details about his injuries. Corporal Eugene Randall of Breckenridge made it home after suffering chest wounds in July. Randall faced another surgery because of his condition. Sergeant Gordon Purdy of Alma was seriously wounded on October 1, just after receiving an increase in rank. Purdy saw action in Luxembourg and Belgium and he graduated from Alma High School. Private Leroy Shaver sent a letter to a friend in St. Louis indicating that he had been wounded in southern France, but he was getting proper medical attention. Private Merton Peacock was recovering after being injured in France on August 8. Peacock had been in several English hospitals, but he was improving. Sergeant Mike Moste of Breckenridge had been in Africa and Sicily and was recently wounded. Private William Lippert of Alma was seriously wounded in action in Italy on September 19. He served with the quartermaster supply company.

      Those who paid the ultimate price in the war made up the grimmest news and made up the lists in county newspapers. The Gratiot County Herald ran the names of 49 men from the county who died in service to the country as of October 26. The list continued to grow.

       The story of Lieutenant Vern Salden, who was with the 9th Air Force, made the headlines. He had completed 58 missions in Europe when he was killed over France on October 5. He was an Ithaca High School graduate, and his last letters home came in late September and early October. Salden was only 24 years old. Private Gerald Bradley of Elm Hall  who had been listed as missing in action, now was stated as killed in action on September 23.  Bradley saw action on the Anzio Beachhead. Private Jack Cooper’s memorial service appeared in the news. The 19-year-old was from Vestaburg, and his services took place in Riverdale. He became the fourth Richland Township boy to die from Montcalm County. The Elwell Methodist Church was the site of the memorial service for 21-year-old Earl Langworthy, who was wounded on July 18 in France and died one week later. Langworthy had been in Europe for about two months when he died in a hospital in England. The family of Lieutenant Kenneth Barton of Breckenridge traveled to Selfridge Air Force Base to receive Barton’s Air Medal and Oak Leaf Cluster award. Barton died over England on May 23, 1944.

       There continued to be a list of those Missing in Action. At least 16 men were missing as of November 1944. Private Anson Foster of St. Louis was missing since September 15 in France. Sergeant Edgar Walter, a tail gunner in the Army Air Force, was missing since September 11 over Germany. Walter was from Ashley. A day later, September 12, Sergeant Nolan Howe also was missing over Germany. Private Irwin Morey of Wheeler had been missing in France since almost the same time as Walter and Howe. Lieutenant R.N. Perry, whose mother lived in Middleton, was listed as missing in action after a flying mission between India and China.  President and Madame Chaing Kai-Shek of China cited Perry’s air wing for its role in the war.

       News and updates about Prisoners of War, primarily in Nazi Germany, also appeared in the news. Sixteen names now were listed in newspapers. Sergeant Benny Zamarron of Ashley sent a letter home to his parents. He had been a prisoner since May 8, 1944, and was uninjured after landing as a result of a mid-air crash. Zamarron claimed that he was in good health, and he was not even scratched when he landed. He requested that his family send him packages as well as the latest news. Some of the other POW names included: Tony Brzak, Dean Button, John L. Barden, Marshall Mockridge, Gale Ludwick and others. Private Ivan Monroe of Bethany Township was captured in France on August 11 and then escaped the German captors only a few days later. Monroe’s mother received the good news of her son’s escape precisely two months later on October 11.

And So We Do Not Forget

       Collection for the county-wide Milkweed drive was to take place November 2 at the 4-H Building on the Ithaca Fairgrounds. Children were told to bring only dry bags of pods for pickup. Washington District Number 4 at Bridgeville stated that “The collection of milkweed pods (here) was very satisfactory.”…Professor Robert Clack from Alma College gave a presentation to the St. Louis Lions Club. Clack, who had lived in China, believed that the Chinese would be able to hold Japan until the Allies arrived… According to the OWI, an estimated 500,000 workers were expected to change jobs after V-Day in Europe took place. However, jobs should be good for at least six months after the war ended…Reverend and Mrs. B.C. Avery and their daughter arrived in Ithaca and were installed as pastors at the Ithaca Church of God…Ithaca Blue Star Mothers Chapter Number 111 met at the Thompson Home Library. They were responsible for sending 126 Christmas boxes to men and women overseas…An unidentified World War I veteran wrote a letter to the Gratiot County Herald. He asked that instead of a memorial being built to current servicemen and women, the county should build a “living war memorial” for the entire public to use, such as an auditorium or recreation building…St. Louis had an honor roll installed in the window of Young’s Department Store. It was hoped that the framed honor roll would be displayed in the city hall after the war ended…With the shift to Central War Time, the Ithaca Post Office announced that all mail would leave for rural routes at 8:00 am slow time for delivery…The Alma Blue Star Mothers announced they had nearly reached their funding goal for the Gratiot County War Memorial…A severe shortage of teachers for Michigan colleges continued to go on despite an increase of yearly salary to $1,525  for those teaching in public schools. This was a raise from $1,200 in 1941.

       The Detroit Tigers played for the American League pennant and Tigers fans listened on their radios in homes across Gratiot County…University of Michigan football fans lamented the Wolverines’ loss to Indiana, which took place in Ann Arbor…Willard Davis of Alma invited people to see his Victory Garden on North Grove Avenue. Davis created a Victory Garden during World War I…Alma prepared for its Halloween Festival and costume judging would take place on Woodworth Avenue, between Superior and Downie streets, for those above the sixth grade…Miss Maurine Stovall of Alma won an award at the Professional Photographers Association of America convention in Cleveland, Ohio. “Bombardier,” a

photograph of the likeness of Lieutenant Wesley Hathaway of Alma, would be part of a traveling loan exhibit that would travel across the United States. Stovall was the owner of the Stovall Studio and Camera Shop…A frozen food locker plant received a permit to open in the basement of the Harris Milling Building on East Superior Street in Alma…Central Michigan Aviation, Incorporated acquired a lease for the Alma Airport. Clare Warren and Ray Joynt headed the company…The patching of state Trunkline between M57 and US27 was completed, however, the stone did not arrive in time for application for the non-skid surface…The supply of absentee voter ballots for Gratiot County voters for the November 7  presidential election was nearly exhausted, even though the number of ballots that had been made increased fifteen percent from the last election…and George Schleder was elected Chairman of the Emerson Farm Bureau Group at the Beebe Hall in Beebe. Eighty members belonged to the group.

And that was October 1944 during Gratiot County’s Finest Hour.

Copyright October 2019 James M Goodspeed






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