Gratiot County’s Finest Hour, November 1944: “Stay With It – This War Ain’t Over”

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Above – November 1944: Post-election news coverage – FDR gets 4th term; Private Ceo Bauer of Ithaca served his country and was wounded near Metz; bond sales lagged throughout the count in November 1944; Lake Shore Sugar Company ad to buy bonds.

      It was an election year in Gratiot County, and residents decided if Franklin Delano Roosevelt would serve an unprecedented fourth term as President of the United States. In the end, Gratiot elected Republican Thomas Dewey – and did so by over a two to one margin. It was the second election FDR lost in Gratiot County; however,  Roosevelt carried the nation decisively.

   Degrees of apathy and war-weariness went across Gratiot County when the government announced another loan drive. Some sales were quite weak in the county. Possibly people who thought the war would soon end did not have to buy more bonds?

      Citizens needed to contribute tin, paper, and even clothing – all for different acts of rationing and help for the war effort. Above all of this, more and more stories of men who were killed or wounded appeared in the news. Also, the number of prisoners of war in German and Japanese camps kept growing.

        It was November 1944.

The Draft, Letters to Home, In the Service

      During November, Michigan had over 1,000 men who were deemed “draft delinquents” (meaning that the draft board could not find them and the men would be immediately eligible for the draft).  Most of the reasons for these involved changes of address and the failure to inform draft boards about where these men could be located. Early in the month, the Gratiot County draft board urged men to come forward and correct the issues over their addresses. Most of the men in the group consisted of those in their mid to late 30s.

     Gratiot County gave generously of its sons for the war. Out in Riverdale, the community compiled a list of more than one hundred men who had entered the service so far. Two of the families, the Vallance and Langin families,  had at least five sons each in the service.

       Letters rolled into the county and appeared in the newspapers. Readers learned of the wishes and status of men and women who served the country in a time of war.

      In the Pacific, Corporal Rolland Miller wrote by candlelight to the Gratiot County Herald and asked why he had not seen a newspaper in over two months. He also wondered how people at home could forget about those fighting in the Pacific. Miller wrote, “Why do (people at home) think that they are working so hard not having time to write? What do they think we are doing, just spending a vacation on one of these tropical islands? I was through the battle of Palau Islands, and will gladly trade places with anyone.” Corporal Leland Thum of Ithaca also wrote that he was safe after the invasion of the Philippines. “I am where there is some civilization: it seems pretty good.” Private Ellsworth Tissue of Ithaca also wrote he too had arrived safely in the Philippine Islands. So had Robert Ode, a yeoman now on an LST Flotilla Eight. Ode watched the ships firing on the Philippine mainland in preparation for its invasion. Ode remarked that the first landings on the beaches went better than expected; however, Japanese airplanes targeted the beaches early in the mornings.  Sergeant Leo Morrison of Middleton arrived home on leave from New Guinea. He had been overseas for 34 months. Seaman John Boyd of St. Louis had been rescued at sea after his ship, the USS Abner Reed, sank while fighting the Japanese. He had not been home since July 4, 1943. Lieutenant James Alley of Alma served as a Navy chaplain in New Guinea. He had spent days in wet jungles, and he spent ten days in one foxhole while being bombarded by the Japanese artillery.

       Also out in Asia, Corporal Franklin Klein wrote home to Ithaca that he had received a newspaper, a crossword, and several letters. He wondered how the Blue Star Mothers were doing with getting a memorial built in Gratiot County.  Klein had just spent his second birthday in India. Nora Lewis of Ithaca also received a letter that her nephew, Corporal Clair Aldrich, wrote from “Somewhere in China” and had a slight cold. It was quite warm there, he and four other men lived in one tent.  Tom Horn II wrote to his parents in Ashley about service in India. Horn tried to teach his “barer” English, and the worker taught him Hindustani. Ten rupees a week proved to be an enormous income for those servants who helped Horn’s unit. Seeing a movie proved to be a big deal for Horn; men who had been in his part of India for 30 months found the entertainment a welcome relief. He missed eating fresh peaches and grew tired of eating CBI (corned beef indefinitely). He wrote, “Ma, can you send me some good old pickled herring and sandwich spread in my Christmas package?” William Kyes of Elwell received an appointment to Lieutenant Colonel in the 9th Bombardment Squadron. Kyes flew octane gas across “the Hump” to China. Corporal Robert Lobsinger of Alma kept his foxhole right next to his bed in the Netherlands East Indies. While the banana plantations were plentiful in his area, most of the fruit remained out of season, and the Japanese refused to stay away from attacking Lobsinger’s unit. They downed two Japanese airplanes in two nights.

       In Europe, Private Arthur Stead of Ithaca had been recommended for two Bronze Stars along with his unit, which had moved across Western Europe and was now in Holland. Stead lived in Ithaca for 25 years. Corporal Marion Howd of Wheeler was a member of the 94th Bomb Group and served as a flying control specialist, directing traffic on and off fields for bombing missions over Germany. Lieutenant George Townsend of Alma completed 63 missions over Europe in a B-26 Marauder. He received the Distinguished Flying  Cross for flying his Marauder over the English Channel on only one engine. Although he had to ditch the plane, all of his crew survived, and only one suffered injuries. An RAF unit rescued all of the crew.

      Rhinehart Burke of Alma wrote a long letter from Holland to his parents. Burke missed his church back home, and he observed how people dressed well as they headed to church services. While visiting an art store, Burke purchased a beautiful oil painting after finding a translator helped him to buy it. Burke also saw stark differences with the German villages he encountered: most suffered from bombings, and the German citizens looked sad and unfriendly. Sergeant Russell Larson of Ithaca and Private Robert Nelson of Emerson Township found each other while in Germany. The two friends learned of each other’s unit through letters from their parents, and the men met through a chance meeting. Russell served in the Medical Corps, while Nelson worked with Ordnance Evacuation Company. Sergeant Grant Marr served as a crewman on a B-17 bomber in England. His unit received recognition for maintaining aircraft that flew 60 missions without any mechanical problems.

      The war continued in places like Italy, where Corporal Leon Snyder served with the 53rd Signal Battalion on the Gothic Line. Snyder was in his 27th month overseas. Sergeant Elon Pratt came home on leave after 31 months in Alaska. His new station would be Belly Field, Texas. The Harrier Brothers, Ernest, and Norman, both had their pictures in the paper. Both men were still in a camp in the United States. Former Fulton Schools superintendent, Corporal Lloyd Eberly, helped soldiers at the Army Air Forces Convalescent Home in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. Eberly left his job at Fulton and entered the service in August 1942. Lieutenant Don McMullen of Ithaca addressed the Rotary Club about his service in Australia and New Guinea. He served in the antiaircraft and was in charge of operating 10-millimeter guns to protect harbors and airfields. McMullen soon headed for Florida and reassignment for service during the war.

       Major A.J. Anthony, a former local pastor in the county, now sought assignment as an Army chaplain. The two Mallory boys, Galon and Horton, were in the news. Lieutenant Horton Mallory headed for Miami Beach, Florida, to re-enter the Army Air Force after having a 30 day leave in Elwell. He was given a break after completing 50 bombing missions in Italy and surrounding territories. Lieutenant Galon Mallory,  also headed back to the service following a break from his duties as a bombardier in Europe. Sergeant Wallace Moore returned to Middleton to visit his mother and wife following a year as a radioman. He had completed 64 missions.  Ferris Slates of Alma came home on November 12 after serving 35 months in the  South Pacific. Corporal Slates served in the chemical warfare service. Word came to Breckenridge that Staff Sergeant Earl Luneack arrived home for reassignment processing because he had completed a tour of duty in Europe. Luneack flew 34 missions as a B-17 gunner. Ensign Warren Williams of Alma also came home after serving eight months in the Panama Canal Zone. Williams headed to Miami, Florida, with his wife as he anticipated reassignment duties. Both Maynard and Merle Peacock from St. Louis had been home on passes to visit their families. Maynard would return to New York City to the Fleet Post Office; Merle headed back to Texas for training at Pampa Air Field. Elizabeth Hanover told her mother in Ithaca that she had been transferred to a Red Cross hospital in Norman, Oklahoma.


      The most challenging news for families in Gratiot County came with the status of service members. Often the stories proved to be grim, incomplete, and sudden.

       Private John Trefil of Fulton Township received the Purple Heart for injuries suffered in the invasion of France. Trefil continued to serve in Belgium and now in Germany. Claude Coleman of Breckenridge came home after his ship was torpedoed in the Pacific. He received the Purple Heart. Sergeant Ronald Motz of Ashley, a tank operator,  wounded near Brest, France, was sent to a hospital in England to recover from shrapnel wounds. He was expected to recover and then return to his unit. Private Ceo Bauer, Jr. of Ithaca was reported wounded near Metz. He wrote home that he had been evacuated by a C-47, had a comfortable ride to England, and Bauer tried to be upbeat by saying the wound meant he got an increase in pay of $10 a month. The family of  Robert Sherwood of Ithaca rejoiced to hear that their son, who had previously been listed as killed in action, had only been wounded. His name had been accidentally listed as KIA in the daily newspapers.

       Then came the names in the newspapers of those listed as “wounded.” Private Oscar Russell’s wife in Alma received notice that he had bee wounded September 20 in France. Other WIA included Marvin Bish and William Freeman of Alma. Lieutenant Kenneth Delong of Alma returned to a Naval hospital in Oakland, California. He was listed as “resting” after being involved in the action at Tarawa, Kwajalein, Bougainville, and other places. Sergeant Gord Purdy had serious wounds suffered on October 1 in Germany. Private Melvin Bass of St. Louis sustained wounds in France on October 21, and his family just received the word. Private Leland Perry, formerly of Alma, received the Purple Heart for injuries suffered in Italy on October 1. St. Louis boys, Harry Struble and Donald Good, both had been injured in France and Germany, respectively.

        The news about the deaths of Gratiot County men continued to shock families and loved ones. Sergeant Howard Mahin of Elwell died in action in Germany on October 18. Mahin had served in Africa, Sicily, Italy, England, France, and Germany. Marine Levi Clark of Alma was killed on Peleliu Island on September 16, and news arrived that he had been buried there in the United States Cemetery. Clark, a 1936 Alma High School graduate, left behind a wife and a seven-month-old son. Private Timothy Long, a former St. Louis resident, was killed while serving with General Patton’s Third Army. Long had also served in the Aleutian Islands and left for Europe in February 1944. The family of Private Stuart Brown held a memorial service at the Edgewood Church of God. He died on August 11 in France. Another memorial service took place at the Breckenridge Congregational Church for Private Jack Cooper on November 5. Many people attended the ceremony. Awards and decorations went to the families of Ronald Nesen and Kenneth Barton, both of whom had been killed in action earlier in 1944. News also came to Alma confirming that Sergeant Robert Wellman, who had been listed as missing in action, was killed March 9, 1944, over Berlin, Germany. In his last letter, Wellman told his sister that he had been on fifteen bombing missions over Germany. Francis Stockwell of Alma died on an island in the Pacific on October 6. Sergeant John Kapustka of Middleton had been missing since October 1943. Now, he was pronounced dead.  Private Sidney Lennox of Alma died in Italy on October 26. Lennox had only been overseas for six months and previously worked for the Alma Trailer Company. John Detwiler of St. Louis was killed somewhere in the Pacific. The family believed that he participated in the invasion of the Philippines. He had been in the service for three years.

       Many in Gratiot County dealt with the whereabouts of missing and captured prisoners of war. Sergeant Louis Baker had been missing over France since October 6, and he left for Europe just before D-Day. The Germans had captured private Irwin Morey of Wheeler. He had been listed as MIA, as was Ray Bartlett of St. Louis. Lois Barden of Ithaca traveled to Selfridge Air Force Base to receive an Air Medal in honor of her husband, Lieutenant John Barden, who was captured as a POW earlier in the spring. The War Department sent word that Corporal Tony Brzak moved from a POW camp in the Philippines to Osaka, Japan.  That was all that the Brzak Family in Ashley knew about the whereabouts of their son and brother. Corporal Nolan Lamey also had been a prisoner of the Japanese since May 1942. Lamey was from Ithaca and had been in the Philippines for about six months when captured. Sergeant Dean Button sent a letter home from Germany that he was a POW after being listed as MIA on a June 24 flight over the Ploesti oilfields in Romania. So too was Sergeant Edmund Moreno of Alma, who had been missing since July 7. Ten days later, the family found out that Moreno was a POW.

      To keep the memory of those POWs in the minds of Gratiot people, the Red Cross offered special forms at its Ithaca headquarters so that families could write to their loved ones in camps. The letters need to be mailed by November 30. A collection of Nazi weapons, flags, and other items came to the county courtesy of Captain Charles Hanover. Lieutenant Don McMullen also sent a Japanese rifle home, and the Red Cross included it in its POW display.

Bond and Loan Sales

      The Sixth War Loan campaign started in Gratiot County on November 20 and ran through December 16. The campaign set a goal of raising $1,103,00.00 for the county, which was $279,000 less than the Fifth War Loan campaign that took place in July. An organizational meeting took place at the Park Hotel in St. Louis for workers who would furnish a “Dutch treat” (buy your meal). Leaders hoped that fifty volunteers would show up for the meeting. Each township had a quota to try and reach for the campaign – Ithaca’s goal was $43,100, while Pine River’s target was $26,900.

      Michigan Chemical Corporation of St. Louis ran a sizeable ad encouraging everyone to purchase at least one $100 war bond. Still, sales of bonds were deemed slow, and the newspapers described the attitude of many in Gratiot County as being “apathetic” when it came to sales. Leonard Refineries gave out bonds to workers for its Suggestion Contest, a reward for workers who came up with ways to improve safety and production.  Individuals heard that “Now is the time to remember Pearl Harbor” and buy a bond. President Roosevelt asked citizens to “stick to the plow” and to help continue paying for the war effort. At least 125 store owners in the county closed their businesses for one hour and attended a meeting at the Strand Theatre in Alma to learn how to encourage patrons to buy a bond. On the first Monday of their “push” to sell more bonds, the businessmen referred to it as “G-Day” or “Go Gettum Day.”  Also, the Strand Theatre had a special movie on December 7 to commemorate Pearl Harbor and bond sales.  “Going My Way” with Bing Crosby appeared for a single showing that evening and the only way a person could see it would be to buy a $25 bond. More intensive canvassing of homes in St. Louis, Ithaca, and Alma took place at the end of the month when bond sales lagged.

       One loan drive that seemed to have more success in November involved the United War Fund drive, which reached $15,000, or 82 percent of its goal early in November. Within a week, Gratiot County went over its target and even had a small surplus. One of the key selling points of this drive dealt with supporting the USO, both stateside and overseas.

Farming in Gratiot County

      With the harvest of the fall crops, farmers faced calls to come and help in beet factories as there was a shortage of workers. By November 9, the beet harvest almost finished in the county and would be completed by the end of November.  Some workers made their way to the sugar factories in the county. However, more workers were needed. The Alma plant had an urgent request for at least sixty workers early in the month.  One evening in the Alma plant, Earl Gladding of Riverdale severely injured his left arm when he fell asleep and got it caught in some machinery. Gladding luckily only suffered severe lacerations. A fire broke out at the Alma sugar refinery when a Mexican fell asleep while smoking in bed. If not for prompt fire service, the building might have been destroyed. The damage was termed relatively light. Food processing plants in Gratiot County wanted workers whether they wanted a short term or an all-winter job. If more people did not come in for work, the country agricultural agent warned that children might have to be employed.

      The absence of workers on farms sometimes led farmers to sell their property due to a lack of help. Carl Soule put his farm up for auction outside of Crystal because his son had been called to the Army, and he had no help. He also sold six cattle, four horses, and his implements. Mrs. Lenore Conklin of Vickeryville also sold her farm, which had been in the Conklin family for 77 years. She also faced a shortage of help.

      Alma Production Credit Association held its annual meetings at the Strand Theatre. Farmers from Gratiot, Isabella, Clare, Montcalm, and Mecosta counties attended the program, which lasted a full day. Between 300 and 400 farmers and their wives regularly participated in the meetings.  Also, those farmers who wanted their AAA milk subsidy payments now had to get an application through the mail, then fill it out and return it. Payments soon would be mailed to county farmers.

      Milkweed pick up reached its conclusion in November. Several Ithaca High School boys helped out at the Ithaca fairgrounds with sacks of milkweed that came in from across Gratiot County. A total of 4,637 bags arrived by November 9, which amounted to enough milkweed to make 2,500 life jackets. Youth who brought in bags were paid 20 cents each for a bag, and many of them picked six bags an hour. The Gratiot County Herald stated, “This is pretty good pay, and the work is neither difficult nor hard.”


    Different items remained rationed in November. Calls went out for more contributions for a tin shipment to get a complete carload at the Gratiot County Salvage Office. People who had tin to contribute went to collection centers like Moblo Hardware in Riverdale and Lanshaw Hardware in Wheeler to drop off their items. From there, the tin would go to Alma. The Gratiot County Rationing Board issued 189 tire certificates – most of them went for grade one passenger tires. The Office Price Administration told people that there would not be an increase in gasoline rations for people traveling South for the winter. Only people with permanent changes in residence, or those who had to move due to job relocation, would be given an increase in gas.

       The item most in need of conservation and rationing turned out to be paper. Michigan held a statewide campaign to conserve bags, wrappings, and paper in the wake of the holiday season. People were asked to eliminate gift wrappings as much as possible for Christmas. On Armistice Day, the St. Louis Boy Scouts held their paper pick up in St. Louis, and they asked contributors to make sure and tie up their paper and cardboard. Ralph Paton headed the Boy Scouts drive. Ithaca Boy Scouts, under the direction of A.O. Ensign,  also held a pickup of paper,  along with rags and tin cans.

      Collections of household fats in Gratiot County ranked in the bottom of Michigan counties that month.  It had collected less than half of its 3,875 pounds of fats. Dr. Thomas Carney, chairman of the Gratiot County Council of Civilian Defense, requested county newspapers to publish the need for more household fats for the war effort. Every pound of waste fat could be turned in for two meat ration points and four cents. Alma Public Schools held a clothing collection for child war victims, known as “The Bundle Day.”  Shipments of clothing went from the United States for war relief agencies in countries like Sweden and the Middle East.

      Grocer and meat dealers from the county attended a meeting in Mt. Pleasant to meet with OPA leaders about the topic of inflation.  The OPA stressed the importance of food costs, the rise of inflation, and the impact on the family budget. In another announcement, the OPA said that restaurants could not charge more than fifteen percent beyond the cost of a Sunday dinner when serving turkey and trimmings for Thanksgiving.

And So We Do Not Forget

       A showcase at St. Louis High School had a Japanese flag, money, and pictures from the Pacific Theater. The items were loaned by the family of Ed Malik, a Marine and graduate of the Class of 1942…Traffic from M-46 to US-27 grew significantly in early November as deer hunters began their pilgrimages north for the opening of firearm season…St. Louis residents were called to meet at a special town meeting to be held on November 29 to discuss a proposed Community Center. Interest was reported to be very high in the project…The William Fields American Legion Post prepared to host its annual venison feed. The post supplied potatoes – successful Legion hunters brought the venison…More neon signs started to appear in St. Louis as businesses discussed ways to draw people to the downtown area…”Hangar Tales” was a regular column in the Gratiot County Herald. News about what was going on at the Ithaca Airport kept readers informed of happenings there. The airport pledged to try and operate with consideration to church services and funerals – if ownership knew ahead of time…Sanburn and Johnson prepared to open a Sinclair Station in December, opposite the Court House…Consumers Power Company reduced gas and electric bills in December by 75 percent as a result of an order from the State Public Service Commission. This reduction applied to heat, light, and refrigeration for all-electric and gas items…Ashley High School sponsored a carnival on November 21. The carnival hoped to raise funds for its athletic teams…Gratiot residents could request a free copy of “Simplified Spanish.” It intended to bring people from both the North and South Hemisphere closer together by learning the Spanish language…Two Breckenridge men paid fines for a Halloween incident involving the tipping over of outhouses in Breckenridge. The owner waited for culprits to turn over his privy, then shot the boy when trying to scare him. Both were arrested and fined…Ed, John and Alfred Zelinski of Perrinton brought back their limits of bucks. Ed’s weighed 200 pounds…American Legion posts and auxiliaries called upon people in Gratiot County to help provide gifts for wounded, sick and disabled men women in government hospitals…Six-year-old Gladys Bendall of Elm Hall was seriously injured when a horse kicked her in the face. The child was injured while chasing a horse up the pasture. Dr. Guinand treated her nine stitch wound…Ithaca leaders planned activities for a proposed V-Day celebration when the war in Europe ended. Both the Ithaca Ministerial Association and the Ithaca Chamber of Commerce had plans about when and where the services would take. The places for services depended on the time of day when the German surrender was announced…A.A. Sprague of Ithaca wrote a letter asking that the county not build the proposed veterans memorial. Instead, he suggested the county build a community building as a lasting memorial…Harry Bolyard of Middleton purchased a new building downtown for his Shady Nook store, complete with showers, bath, and restrooms for his workers…Michigan Chemical Corporation wanted farmers to come and work in St. Louis during the winter.

     Reverend Peter Varnoff, a Russian refugee, spoke to the Ithaca Baptist Church about conditions in the Soviet Union. He told the audience about the current open window for religious freedom that existed there and that it may soon close…Blue Star Mothers filled cookie jars for the sick and injured men at Fort Custer…the Gratiot County Chapter of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis reelected its officers, held its meeting at the Commerical Bank in St. Louis and said it had $1,674.02 in its balance…A county-wide TB clinic took place in Alma at the Stilwell junior high building…Gratiot County muskrat, coon, and mink trappers prepared for the opening day of the season on December 1. Because of the dry fall, it was uncertain what trappers would find in ponds and marshes in the county…Channing Pollock, a noted lecturer and author, opened the Town Hall Series, sponsored by Rotary Clubs in the county…Doctor and Mrs. McWilliams of Maple Rapids were honored for their service to the village. Doctor McWilliams, raised in Gratiot County, was a World War I veteran and the only doctor in Maple Rapids…A total of 32 students from the county were currently enrolled at Michigan State College in Lansing…The city of Alma prepared to crack down on reckless bicyclists who were a menance to the public… Four Breckenridge gas stations had been targets of robberies. More than $100 was missing…Adult Education was the topic in Alma as discussions took place about creating a program for people in Alma. A speaker from the State Department of Public Instruction was present to speak at the Alma High School auditorium about the topic…The Alma Church Federation prepared for its annual Thanksgiving Service at the Alma Baptist Church…James Mertens, age 14 from Alma was killed another boy’s gun accidentally discharged. Mertens was pretending to be a dog and scared up the game on the Fitzgerald farm when the incident occurred…Ashley High School put on a play entitled “Everything Happens to Us.” The group had practiced for six weeks, and it showed as the play was deemed by viewers to be the best Ashley students had ever performed…The American Legion in Alma prepared to hold the Armistice Day program at the high school…Two Alma men, Lester Wood and Red Greenbough, claimed that they saw an albino buck inside the city limits on Bridge Street. They followed the deer early one morning until it disappeared in a swamp near Mid-West Refinery…Robert Haenke of Saginaw paid a fine of $33.85 for shooting a hen pheasant in Arcada Township…A Halloween prank north of Elwell resulted when a car ran over a set of stones placed in the road by pranksters. The stones, more than one foot in diameter, left drivers “severely jolted” and huge dents in the pan of the car…A record attendance took place at the Alma city Halloween party. A crowd of 1,011 came for a costume contest, cider, and doughnuts.

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

Copyright 2019 James M Goodspeed


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