We Remember 1920: “When John Barleycorn Died in Gratiot County”

Above: Gratiot County Herald Headline, October 1920

On January 17, 1920, many people in Gratiot County celebrated National Prohibition and its ban on producing, transporting, and importing alcohol. One Gratiot County newspaper wrote that “Old John Barleycorn, one of the nation’s greatest enemies, if not the greatest, was laid away without a tear or a pang of regret, and America has taken a great step forward.”  Unfortunately, not every Gratiot County resident agreed, and Prohibition led to some interesting events.

Most  Prohibition offender’s stories ranged from tragic to humorous; however, from 1917-1920 (the period of Michigan’s Prohibition of alcohol), only a handful of cases came to trial. In July 1918,  Alonzo Hart of Ithaca was among the first in the county to be prosecuted under Violation of the Liquor Laws.

                Although there had not been many cases of Prohibition brought to trial, things quickly changed starting in May 1920 when the first trial took place concerning Norman Boody of St. Louis, who attempted to brew raisin whiskey. Boody received what became a standard sentence for first offenders – six months to one year in Ionia Reformatory, along with a hefty fine. That summer,  Adolph Sykora got caught on the Edwards Farm, southeast of Alma, which marked the start of county “Still Hunts.” Sykora’s arrest would be the first time newspapers described a still, and with warm summer weather, the stills went into full operation. The Steele Swamp in Hamilton Township contained a still operated by Monta Coss, who planned to sell his booze at county fairs until he was arrested. Carl Bruer and his father also ran a still in Washington Township. However, Sheriff Willert grew suspicious of “a lot of half-drunken foreigners” hanging around Bruer’s shack. Willert caught Bruer, making raisin whiskey, corn whiskey, and wine.

By September, Gratiot County experienced the first murder during Prohibition. Four local men, returning from a fishing trip, stopped on the bridge over the Maple River in Bridgeville to examine the river bottoms. One man spotted a body along the riverbank, partly submerged in the water. After arriving at the scene, Sheriff Willert reviewed the contents of the body, who was identified as James Rossa.  Willert found $120 and a loaded Colt pistol. Rossa had a crushed skull, was believed to have been killed elsewhere, then dumped into the Maple River. Both the Lansing police and the sheriff’s department surmised that Rossa, an unemployed Italian from Lansing, had been killed as a result of receiving his money through dishonest means. Recent Italian gang activity in Detroit and Pontiac could also have been related to Rossa’s death.

The roles of foreigners (or the foreign-born) became a constant theme during Prohibition in Gratiot County. Two Belgians in Alma, Leo DeKiser and Barnard Fandell, both were caught in a large operation that involved 200 gallons of corn mash. The men were paid $11 a bottle for their product, which was pretty good money in 1920. There were many, like J. L. Thompson and Joseph Brennan of Detroit, the first downstate bootleggers to be arrested in Gratiot County, who sold alcohol in the county. The two men, who had 74 quarts of Canadian whiskey inside their Cadillac Roadster, arrived on a Saturday night and parked in front of Burkheiser’s Store in Alma. However, the nice car, their strange faces, and gossip in town soon led to their arrests during their delivery. Both offenders received six months to a year in Ionia, along with fines, and the police confiscated their car. These stories from 1920 marked just the beginning of Prohibition in Gratiot County.

Copyright 2021 James M. Goodspeed

Gratiot’s Finest Hour, March 1945: “Will the War Ever End?”

Above: American Red Cross poster in Gratiot County during March 1945; Paratrooper Bernard Marin of Alma was only one of several Gratiot County men who were MIA (missing in action); butter and oleo were controversial topics for creameries, dairy farmers, and the public; Private Donald Good is pictured in action near Whalerscheid, Germany. 

March 1945 seemed to be a mix of wartime feelings in Gratiot County. Could people have helped but been mixed up as the fifth-year of war continued?

The rationing board and the government told people to think about summer by growing more food through Victory Gardens. Yes, there would be more rationing.

Tin and paper were most in demand. Residents were urged to collect and contribute paper and tin to different drives in the county.

The war in Europe had turned a corner – or had it? One could read how towns and villages prepared for what life could be like in Gratiot County after the war ended. However, the war still dragged on, and fighting in the Pacific continued.

People read more about the consequences of the December 1944 fighting in Europe and the increase in Gratiot County casualties. The names of more men who died in Europe and the Pacific seemed to be growing. Among them, there were prisoners of war, as well as those who were missing in action.

Many hoped for an end to the war.

It was March 1945 in Gratiot County.

Farming in March 1945

Farmers that March appeared most concerned about losing their farm labor to the draft and facing the issue of raising sugar beets. Also, farmers were concerned about who would help in the fields by the time harvest took place in 1945.

Some farmers like C.L. Kent of Ashley sold his herd of fifteen head of cattle and all of his implements as he could not find help. The news told readers that more men could come back to the farms after working in the war plants during winter. However, there were concerns that many of these men would not return to their farm jobs as the money was better in the factories, and many disliked farm work. These men had until March 1 to return to the farm, or they faced the draft. As the date of reporting to the farms approached and the war took more of these men away from Gratiot County, voices like the one belonging to Edna Ropp spoke up regarding taking the young farmworkers. Ropp lamented, “Since most of the able-bodied young farmers have been drafted, how are we going to keep production on Gratiot  County farms up to par to feed our boys?” She also commented that men involved with local horse racing, night clubs, and pool rooms had been left alone. Now it would not hurt the Gratiot County Draft Board to start looking “to draft the loungers from local poolrooms and beer gardens for forced farm labor.”

It seemed that the state and the county urged farmers to come on board and raise sugar beets for the war effort. The War Food Administration warned farmers that labor would be available with Mexican nationals and  German prisoners of war. The WFA also said that the same payment of $17 per acre was to be paid for those who blocked, thinned, and hoed each acre of land planted with whole seed. The WFA recommended a harvesting bonus of $3 per job with a minimum of $7 per acre. Gratiot County had only reached 62% of its goal in beet contracts, and more farmers were urged to sign up.

There were other issues involving farmers that March as well. The OPA told farmers to make applications soon for non-highway gasoline due to rationing. Farmers had to state their anticipated use of gas from March 1, 1945, to March 1, 1946, then fill out a form and submit it for consideration at the OPA office. The first artificially inseminated calf in Michigan was born at the Darwin Munson farm in Newark Township. The calf, a bull from out of the Blythefield Mooie Triune Holstein bull, was born February 20. Farm get-togethers, like one held at the Beebe town hall on March 7, offered a free lunch that evening, with a talk on “Culling Poultry for Greater Profit.” There was no admission charge. The county agricultural agent, C.P. Milham, noted that Breckenridge was gaining ground for important certified seed production. Eight growers within a ten-mile radius were growing different types of certified seeds. Basil McKenzie of Breckenridge and Guy Federspiel of Wheeler were just two of those raising these seeds.

It was turning out to be a warm and dry March in Gratiot County. Farmers planted more oats and barely this month than in any other time in the county’s history. The dry soil did make it a challenge for farmers who plowed in anticipation of planting corn, beets, and beans.

Rationing in Gratiot County

There continued to be orders to observe rationing in the county during March 1945. L.J.Loesel of Alma served as the County Salvage chairman, and over at St. Louis, Fred E. Himes served as town chairman.

 Orders from the Office of Price Administration (OPA) forced the Gratiot County war price and rationing board to hold meetings at the Gratiot County courthouse. All retailers who dealt in apparel, dry goods, and home furnishings had to turn in three copies of a pricing chart that showed how much items cost them and what prices they charged the public. Starting in early May, every item covered by government regulation had to be charted and documented to comply with ceiling prices.

People could sense a new urgency to collect tin cans in the county. Tin now became as needed as paper, and both items were in short supply. Another problem was that the tin which citizens contributed often was not useable because it had not been cleaned and properly prepared. Over in Bay City, a compulsory city ordinance fined people as much as $100 or 90 days in jail if they did not comply with requested salvage drives.

The tin had to be thoroughly washed because leftover food formed a chemical that destroyed the can. People had to flatten each tin, leaving one-eighth of an inch of tin exposed on each side. To help with the shortage, the Alma Boy Scouts conducted Saturday drives, complete with eight supervising adults. Galo Chew led the operation on the last Saturday of March, and the group asked that a special tag be placed on each door in Alma, signifying that the household had tin or paper for pickup.

Paper collection was another area of concern for the war effort for flares, containers for blood plasma, and field rations. To combat the waste of paper, Alma passed Ordinance 123, which sought to curb the trash and clutter caused by loose papers that blew off of porches and yards.  A person could even be fined or imprisoned for posting or pasting things to telephone poles, trees, or alleys in town.  As a result of this ordinance, Alma sought to get residents to take better care of paper for rationing purposes.

Food rationing came with warnings that the civilian meat supply appeared to be headed to its lowest point in ten years. As a result, the government announced a twelve percent cut for meat supplies and wanted help in conserving fats. The  8,475  families in Gratiot County could take care of the medicinal needs of over 3,000 casualties if each home saved one tablespoon of waste kitchen fat. One pound of fat could process 260 quarts of blood plasma, and helped with burns, insulins for shock victims, and ointments for treating abrasions. Coinciding with this announcement, the Alma Freezer Company received permission to open on East Superior Street. A total of 628 lockers would be rented to store meat, fruit, and vegetables for people who wanted to take meat conservation seriously. The Gratiot County rationing board also announced that a twenty percent cut in the reduction of sugar would take place for home canning.

Everyone in Gratiot County was urged to create and maintain their own Victory Garden in 1945, as those who did so would be eligible for extra gasoline rations. Gardening plans appeared in the Alma Record courtesy of Michigan State College and the Victory Garden Section of the Michigan Office of Civilian Defense.

Other things faced rationing. The rationing board issued certificates for 110 tires, most going for grade one tires. Oleo margarine started to come into the news as places like the St. Louis Co-Operative Creamery warned customers that the creamery was not responsible for butter shortages. Dairy farmers were concerned about how the use of oleo affected the butter market. On a positive note, Alma businesses did very well in their observance of brown-out orders (the regulated use of outside and display lights). The Alma business community was said to be in 100 percent compliance. Finally, a notice appeared in the paper that young people collected 4,781 bags of milkweed in the county last fall.

The Red Cross at Work

It was March, and it was time for the annual Red Cross War Fund drive in Gratiot County.  On March 1, the campaign began with the goal of raising $27,500. Many of the ladies in the groups would call at residences as many as five or six times to ask Gratiot households to do their part and give to the Red Cross.

Over in Alma, neighborhood war clubs started fanning out into neighborhoods to raise over $8000 by March 15.

In Ashley, which was part of Red Cross district number five, Mrs. Ralph Tweedie acted as chairman and urged people to give to the goal of $4,000.

People worked in various ways to raise money for the Red Cross. In St. Louis, the Czechoslovak National Alliance Branch held a benefit that raised $477. Consumers Power Company employees pitched in $131.50, while employees at the Michigan Sugar Company ($70) and Swift and Company ($163.55) also gave. Alma Piston Company and its employees gave $510. Mid-West Refineries and its employees also gave $284 to the cause. Over at the Strand and Alma Theaters, collections took place each night for a week when Boy Scout collectors went through the aisles asking patrons for contributions, which raised $747.36.

 No effort was too small as the St. Louis Evening Extension Group met at Mrs. Louis Dines’ home. The group voted to donate $2 to the Red Cross. The Meet-a-While Club outside of St. Louis met at the Rose McLean home, and the ladies there voted to give $5. The Mission Circle in Emerson Township met at Bonnie Kozler’s home and donated $5.

A county-wide canvas outside of Alma and St. Louis took place from March 20-22. When giving stalled in St. Louis, the city considered a Tag Day to raise money. Going into the third week, Alma was still short of its $8000 goal. However, Alma raised its goal by March 22. The newspaper recorded that in one part of Alma, “clubs in which a small women’s army of canvassers of the residential districts (which) served with gallantry.” They exceeded their goal of over $500.

Although things looked tight, Gratiot County raised more than its target and ended up with more than $30,000. Alma and the townships of Sumner and Arcada raised well over $2000 beyond their aim. Elba Township oversubscribed, as did the village of Perrinton. St. Louis also eventually met its goal. The good news was that by March 29, the county raised $29,324, almost $2000 beyond its goal.

The Red Cross in Gratiot County also contributed to the war effort through its different works. By March 1945, the Alma branch had created 6,000 garment bags, 1,000 kit bags, and 181,000 surgical dressings. Volunteers there worked hard to reach their quota of 144 kit bags. Only $1 was all that was needed to equip a kit bag fully.

Students at the North Star School received a letter from an American Red Cross unit in Italy. The unit thanked the North Star students for the Christmas Card Menus that they made. The cards had been used for an enlisted men’s club where some of the soldiers wrote messages inside and sent them to friends for Christmas. The Red Cross club pointed out that cards were uncommon in Italy, and the donation had been used and much appreciated.

Over at Ithaca, the Red Cross Home Service widow displayed  Mrs. Roland Crawford’s artwork. The painting followed the theme, “Now more than ever, your Red Cross is at his side.” The Home Service also asked Gratiot residents to consider displaying war trophies sent home from the war front.

Letters Home to Gratiot County

Many men and women continued to write home to their families and loved ones during March. These letters showed that the war continued to be a worldwide event.

A pair of letters from the Pacific reflected American invasions in the Philippines. Corporal Paul Flowers from Breckenridge and Private Al Goodrich from Ithaca both wrote about their experiences. Flowers recorded that days were very hot with cold nights. Civilians appeared happy with the arrival of the Americans, yelling and asking for cigarettes. Flowers soon visited one family and enjoyed eating ham, eggs, and rice with them. Flowers wrote that it “Seemed strange to talk to girls again” and how the family invited them to come back the next day to play rummy. There were plenty of flies where he was at, but no mosquitoes. Private Goodrich also commented that on his 23rd birthday, he spent time at the nearby cub strip to watch airplanes. He pledged that “When I get to earning my own money, I’m getting me one of those crates (planes).” By reading newspapers, he kept up his interest in flying and what was happening at Johnson Field in Ithaca. Goodrich could not wait to return home, walk into an Ithaca restaurant and order a T-bone steak, complete with fries and vegetables. At his location, a Filipino served Goodrich as a valet and only cost a few pesos a week. Goodrich found that the native huts like the one he was staying in were incredibly cooler than any tent the army provided.

Private David Swigart, a Marine on Iwo Jima, was wounded on the eighteenth day of fighting on the island. Although Swigart had been in the Pacific since November 1944, Iwo Jima was his first combat experience. As a rifleman in the Second Platoon, Swigart wrote that “I saw all the horror of war, and it was not pleasant.” Near the front lines, Swigart had to dig a foxhole every time his platoon stopped for the night. At least two or three Marines stayed in each foxhole with at least one of them on the watch for concern that the Japanese would attack them. On the eighteenth day on the island, Swigart’s foxhole was hit by a Japanese mortar, allowing shrapnel to go through his helmet and lodging above his right eye and left temple. He rode in a jeep for the first time and was taken to the hospital, where a doctor took out the shrapnel, gave him a shot for lockjaw, ordered a warm meal, and put Swigart to bed. Swigart then went from the field hospital to a ship hospital, where he shaved off his thirteen day-old beard. Swigart then moved again to another base hospital on an island where each hut held twenty men. Although his jaw was sore and his cuts were numb, Swigart joined the rest of the men who mainly rested and awaited transportation back to Pearl Harbor.

Lieutenant Carl Sackett of Ithaca was another Marine who saw action on Iwo Jima, arriving at “D+1.” After giving his mother a vivid geographic description of the island, he told how the island was bombarded for three days straight  “to soften it up.”  Sackett wrote, “It is beyond doubt the best fortification in the whole Pacific, but we are taking it.” Sackett added that there were 13,000 Japanese on the island, hidden in caves below the surface. He had been a Marine for almost three years during his service, and he had been overseas for 18 months. As an engineer, Sackett worked on road construction. In the process, he had met four admirals, receiving recognition for devising a plan to lay a roadway on a beach at 100 feet a minute.  Sackett concluded, “It’s known pretty well throughout the Pacific right now by my name.”

Seaman Jim Howe, Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class, wrote to his mother in February about his experiences. Howe had been in New Guinea, Bora Bora, Guadalcanal, and Leyte in the Philippines. While serving in New Guinea, Howe became lost in the jungle for three days before finding his way. At the time of his writing, Seaman Howe commented about spending much of his time painting and touching up rust spots on his ship’s decks. He lamented that he did not receive enough mail and that it came to him via V-Mail, which resulted in reading letters in tiny print. Even Time Magazine copies came to his ship in reduced size. Howe did get to see the movie “It Started with Eve” until the machine burned up the picture’s last reel and shut down the film.

Lieutenant Carl Baney wrote a very long letter from Africa to his sister in Alma. When commenting about the African coast, Baney described the “faint misty shorelines,” which he liked most when seeing them from a distance. Plenty of lovely palm trees marked the roads that led to towns that he visited. When approaching Casba, it smelled of crowded homes with goats, cats, dogs, chickens, and the family. No bathrooms existed, sanitary conditions were deemed poor, and Arab women appeared to be dressed in American bedsheets, with only an eye peeking out. Tattoos on the face and legs of some women showed a blue sign indicating which tribe they belonged to. Black market traders quickly walked up to Baney and asked, “Business, Joe?”

Private Fred Snellenberger wrote to his parents from Germany. Snellenberger said he was in the United States Third Army, and he had been in Belgium. When payday came, Snellenberger rejoiced that he had just been paid 4,000 Francs ($101.00). Most of his money was headed home. He asked his parents to bank one half of it. After enjoying part of a friend’s package from home, Snellenberger asked his parents to send him Polish sausage and sardines in catsup sauce.

Many Served Gratiot County in March 1945

Stories, updates, and pictures made their way into county newspapers to remind the public about where Gratiot County’s men and women were at war.

Private Martin Walker of Alma appeared in a picture of three men conducting reconnaissance patrol in the Philippines. Along with forty other men, Walker stormed a Japanese bivouac area and found 24 Japanese soldiers dead from artillery fire. Russell Augustine, also of St. Louis, served with the 37th Infantry Division in Manilla. He earned the Bronze Star for heroic achievement during the battle on Luzon. Out in the Netherlands East Indies, Private John Cresswell from the 13th AAF was marooned on a tiny island. Cresswell, a radio operator, was stranded with three other men because of a hurricane. All of the men were reported to be in good condition. Robert L. Brown of Ithaca got the Bronze Medal for heroic achievement in Germany in late November. Brown helped to administer aid and remove wounded men while under fire.   

Private Donald Good of St. Louis appeared in a picture taken near Whalersheid, Germany. Good, holding his light machine gun, appeared with a collection of captured German material. He previously had been wounded in October near the city of Aachen. Over in England, Private Elliot Myer of Ithaca served in the United States Army General Hospital as a surgical technician. Sergeant Tom Cavanaugh from St. Louis was stationed at an ordnance depot located in southern England. Cavanaugh claimed to have seen London at least fifty times and proclaimed that the city had the best tube systems in the world. Private Henry Hein of Breckenridge served with the 3833rd Gasoline Supply Company in France. Keeping the motor vehicle units operating oil, grease, and lubricants was Hein’s job. Private William Boyd of St. Louis had been wounded in action while in Germany in late February. His brother, Seaman 1/C Donald Boyd, managed to get news home to his parents that he was okay. The Boyd parents were happy to hear that both sons were safe.

At Casablanca, North Africa, Sergeant Donald Breidinger of Alma served as a Air Transport Command Cadre member. Breidinger was part of a team that planned President Roosevelt’s air route to the Crimea Conference, a distance of 2698 miles along five different airbases. Staff Sergeant Max Turner from North Star received the Bronze Star for helping his fellow soldiers under mortar barrage in Italy with the 135th Infantry Regiment of the 34th Red Bull Division. Lieutenant Jack Eastman of Ithaca flew his first combat bombing mission to the Nazi oil refineries in Vienna, Austria. He was with the 15th Army Air Force. At far off Kiska, Private Mason Grossett of Alma served with the Army Quartermaster Corps. Grossett was in his second year of service at Kiska. Emerson House of Alma came home on a two-week leave after serving three years in Iceland. He was unsure what his next assignment would be

News came that Lester Eyer of Alma had been promoted to first lieutenant at Victorville Army Air Field in California. Pharmacist Mate Allen Vallance came home on a 30 day leave after seeing combat in the South Pacific. Luther Greening of Breckenridge was able to visit his family as he enjoyed leave from the Navy. He was the focus of a family dinner held in his honor. Private Charles Marrin of Alma was stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky with the armored division. He was able to get home for one weekend to visit his wife and two children. Private William Barnes of North Star came home to visit his wife and mother on a 24 hour pass. Barnes returned to the United States after being overseas three years in England and France. He also noted that he came home to America while accompanying a group of German prisoners of war.

Several Gratiot County women appeared in the news. Ruth Ostlund of Emerson Township joined the WAVES on her twentieth birthday in October. She was now stationed at Gunners Mate School Office Receiving Station at Navy Yard, Washington, D.C. The Ithaca IOOF Hall hosted a family dinner for Arlene and Margaret Fortney. The two sisters joined the WACs and prepared for their trip to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. A total of 46 people attended the dinner.  Doris Jean Hall was sworn into the Women Army Air Corps with the WAC Medical Technician Training Program. She left on March 15 for Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Marjorie Olie Street of Ithaca was a Pharmacist Mate Second Class as a member of the WAVES. Street was in the news as she married William Urban, Jr., in a ceremony Norfolk, Virginia. News came that Private Mary Cowles of Alma finished her training in the motor transport school of the First Women’s Army Corps Training Center at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Private Donna Eyer of Alma returned to Walker Field, Kansas, after an eight-day furlough. Mavis Bosley of Middleton came home to visit her family while serving as a WAVE in Washington, D.C. It was also announced that Dorothy Dionise of Ithaca was appointed to the Army Nurse Corps and was assigned to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. Dionise was a graduate of the St. Lawrence School of Nursing. Lauribelle Simmons, also of Ithaca, passed her entrance exam to the United States Marines and left for Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Sergeant Georgianne Peet from Ithaca continued her service in the WAC Group in Italy. Peet was now in her third country of duty.


The numbers of Prisoners of War continued to grow. Private Bruce Meade returned home to Riverdale after being held in both Italy and Germany for two years. News that Sergeant Joseph Thomas of Alma had been freed from a German POW camp reached his parents in Alma. This news was relayed home through the United States Military Mission in Moscow. Sergeant Duane Murdock was confirmed to be in a German POW camp after being listed as missing in action. His wife was living near Elwell. A card from Sergeant Ted Barton arrived in Ithaca on a Saturday in March. On the card, Barton said he was okay, and he was in good condition. Barton had been missing since December. The wife of Sergeant George Jenkins of Breckenridge received a letter from her husband. The letter was dated December 2. Jenkins commented on how cold it was and hoped his father would get a deer while hunting. A similar message also came to the parents of Sergeant Nolan Howe of Breckenridge.

Those who were wounded also were in the news. Private Howard Lord of St. Louis was in a hospital in North Carolina. Lord wrote that he would lose all of his toes and part of his right foot due to suffering frostbite in Europe. Private John Reed was at Percy Jones Hospital after being wounded in the arms and legs. Reed served with the 75th Division starting last October. Sergeant Walter Mutchler, former manager of the Miller-Jones Shoe Store in Alma, had to return to Percy Jones to treat trench foot. Mutchler was in the Saar Basin near Metz, Germany, when he contracted the illness. Also arriving at Percy Jones was Private Robert Wolfgang of Breckenridge, who was wounded near Metz, Germany, in early December. Family members drove to Battle Creek to see Wolfgang, who experienced wounds below his elbow and had his arm in a sling.

 Lieutenant Eldon Adams was wounded in Germany, but he recovered after a wound to his forehead and his fractured right arm. Even though Private Leroy Shaver returned to the front lines after being wounded, he faced a third operation now that he was in Italy. Shaver earlier suffered wounds to his stomach and hip while in France. Private Calvin Swett of Alma was wounded and hospitalized near Paris, France. Swett, who had been general superintendent of Lobdell-Emery Company, was said to be with Patton’s Third Army when he was wounded. Another Alma man, Private Victor Abbott, suffered severe wounds to his chest and kidneys while in Belgium. Still, doctors considered him lucky to have not experienced a fatal injury. An orphan, Abbott attended Alma Schools and worked at the Strand Theatre as an usher. Sergeant Warren Larry of Ithaca came home to New York after suffering shrapnel wounds to his left hand and fractures of the wrist. It was announced that Private Frank Galvin of Alma was wounded while fighting in Germany’s Rhine area.

Private Lyle Bouchy of Alma was wounded in his left arm while in Germany in late February, as was Sergeant Charles Humphrey of Alma, who was also wounded in Luxembourg in January. Humphrey’s exact condition was not known.  Lieutenant Frank Shimunek, who had been wounded in combat somewhere in Europe, came home to Alma to visit family after being released from a Chicago hospital. While Private Ivan Coleman of Breckenridge was wounded in France on Christmas Day and was taken to a hospital in England, he now had recovered and returned to his company. Another Breckenridge man, Private James Fookes, had been sent to a hospital in England for wounds to his right foot. Fookes was expected to be in the hospital until at least May.

Out in the Pacific Theater, Seaman 2/C Arthur Lover of Bannister contracted a severe form of acne, forcing him to hospitals in Hawaii, California, and then New York. Private Barney Knapp of Alma was the first Gratiot County casualty at Iwo Jima. A Marine, Knapp suffered shrapnel wounds to both legs and his right arm on February 21, the third day of battle. Still, Knapp wrote home that “I figure I have only God to thank for my being here (in the hospital).” Private Dan Davis of Pompeii also was wounded on Iwo Jima after being on the island for seven days and nights. Davis was hit by shrapnel in his left jaw, but it was healing. He now suffered from tonsillitis. Seaman 2nd Class Leman Ingalls of St. Louis, who served as a gunner aboard the USS Bunker Hill, was suffering from mumps.

There was another story about a Gratiot man who was wounded in the Pacific in 1943, Frank Chapman of  Alma. He had previously experienced severe wounds as a Fireman first class at Guadalcanal. After Chapman’s ship, the USS Strong was sunk, he was injured and in desperate need of a blood transfusion and was sent to a hospital. Another injured man in his ward, Corporal James Moss of Gary, Indiana, immediately offered to help Chapman with the transfusion. The two men had the same blood type. After their ordeal, Chapman and Moss agreed that when they either got out of the service or when the war ended, they would get together again. To seal the pact, the bet $5 to the man who traveled the longest distance to see the other. In mid-March, Frank Chapman received a mysterious phone call from a stranger – it was Corporal James Moss, who came to Alma to collect the bet. Although Frank Chapman had been home for over one year and worked at Leonard Refinery, he was exceedingly glad to see Corporal Moss. The two spent time in Alma recounting their time in the service and their friendship. The story of Chapman and Moss appeared on the front page of the St. Louis Leader.

Then there were the very sobering and sad stories of Gratiot County men who paid the ultimate price for serving the country during a time of war. These stories continued to remind people of the ultimate costs of war.

Private Fred Huntoon, Jr., of St. Louis, was pronounced killed in action on January 1, 1945, in Belgium. Previously, Huntoon was said to be missing in action. Corporal Pete Earegood, also from St. Louis, was killed in action in Germany. He had been in Europe since May 1944. His wife was a teletype at the 2135th Army Air Force in Panama City, Florida. Alma relatives of Captain Robert Greenhoe learned of his death in Belgium on December 21. Greenhoe was previously listed as MIA. Corporal Orin Patterson of Ithaca met death in Germany on March 10. In February after serving for over two years in the military police in Savannah, Georgia, Patterson was sent to Europe.  Private Richard Lover of Bannister was killed in action in Germany on March 3. Previously, Lover had been wounded in France in July, and he spent time in a hospital in England. A picture of Private Robert Lucas of St. Louis appeared on the front page of the Gratiot County Herald. Lucas had been killed on December 28 in Belgium when his jeep was fired upon at an enemy roadblock. Lucas tried to turn his jeep around when he was hit. News of the tragic death of Sergeant Edgar Lyon reached Ithaca. Lyon was killed in a plane crash on January 2 in Slaidburn, England. Lyon was headed to Scotland when the plane crashed into a mountain.

In an attempt to remember those former Ithaca High School students who had died in service to their country, a plaque was to hang in the gymnasium with their names. The names listed David Furgason, Russell Criswell, Edwin Salden, Miles Douglas, and Myrl Putnam. Another name would soon have to be added to the list: Ed Kalinowski.

On top of all of these casualties was the status of those Missing in Action (MIA). Francis Gall of St. Louis was missing in Europe since February 9. In an earlier letter to his sister, Gall said that he landed in France around January 24. Private Bernard Marrin of Alma, a paratrooper, was missing since February. Robert McCreery of Alma had also been listed as MIA since February 9 in Germany. So was Jack Colter of Breckenridge, the former Standard Oil dealer in the village, who was reported missing at the same time and area as Robert McCreery. Private Melvin Thrush of Alma was also reported as missing in Italy on March 7.

And So That We Do Not Forget…

Chester Robinson served as a full-time counselor for the Gratiot County Council of Veterans Affairs. His office was directly above the Ithaca Post Office…A column in the Alma Record entitled “Recognizing the Need for Prayer” mentioned a resolution out of Lansing that all schools begin the day of school asking for divine guidance. The column concluded that prayer united men of all creeds to combat foreign forces was a habit that no one in Gratiot County should be ashamed…A farm group meeting at the Beebe school house discussed items such as the drafting of farm workers, the outlook for livestock markets, and the market for sugar beet plantings…The Breckenridge Blue Star Mothers sponsored a St. Patrick’s Day party in the Breckenridge High School gymnasium. Proceeds went to the construction of a new community center…Tragedy took place in Wheeler when Theresa Ann Conklin, age four, died instantly from a home accident on the Conklin farm. The child climbed up a newly purchased cupboard when her parents stepped away from their porch. She died instantly when the cupboard fell on top of her, crushing her skull…The Betty Barry Shop opened as a new ladies store in St. Louis at 109 North Mill Street…Employees at the Alma Trailer Company for the third time voted down joining the CIO-UAW. The vote was 3-1 against forming a union…The new Fulton School farm shop repair opened each Monday and Wednesday morning in Perrinton for three hours. A class offered farmers help with welding, repair of farm machinery, and forge work. Walter Deitrich and Paul Andrews oversaw the work…Harold Putnam flew his plane solo on one Sunday. Putnam became the youngest solo pilot at Johnson’s airport…An Infantile Paralysis fund campaign in the county raised $1997.59. Mrs. Robert Johnson served as county chairman of the woman’s activities…Ithaca Public Schools announced a general salary increase of $100 for each teacher. A few teachers received another $50 for salaries that “were out of line.” Hiram Becker was hired to return as coach, along with Mable Sowle (mathematics) and Leah Frump (English), among others…Safe crackers who attempted to rob the safe at Breckenridge Bean and Grain Company met resistance one night when a concealed smoke bomb inside the safe went off in their faces. No money was stolen…Michigan Central Airlines announced that it would bypass Gratiot County. The closest stop would be Mt. Pleasant…The George Myers American Legion Post in Alma announced that widows and orphans of  World War I veterans were now entitled to pensions. Widows received $35 a month, those with one child would receive $45, and $5 each for every other child. However, childless widows were exempt if they had a yearly income topping $1000…Adams Grocery in St. Louis advertised that it paid the highest marker prices for eggs…Breckenridge High School’s basketball team won the district tournament held at Alma College. Breckenridge defeated Edmore by the score of 57-29.

For the first time since 1941, the R.L. Polk Company published a new city directory of 12,000 names in Gratiot County. One of the features of the directory was the name of all Gratiot’s men and women who were serving in the country’s service…Alma Freezer Company planned to soon open on the east side of the Harris Milling Company building on East Superior Street. A total of 628 lockers would be available for rent for those who wanted to store meat, fruit, or vegetables…In another sad story, Maude Aumaugher, age 58, drowned herself on the family farm east of Ithaca. The woman, who was a deaf mute, was in despair when her 87 year old father was forced to sell the family farm…Eight St. Louis High School students participated in a speech contest at Coleman. Donna Fisher, Phyllis Himes, and James Cavanaugh led the winning St. Louis team…Representative T. Jefferson Hoxie of St. Louis introduced a resolution in the Michigan House of Representatives to make it compulsory for state agencies and state sponsored schools to comply with slow time (Central Standard Time). School aid and vouchers were to be withheld from those who did not conform…Breckenridge had plans to build and open a new movie theater between the Chisolm Store and Village Hall. Most of the building was to be made of cinder blocks… The Dave Kirker gas station in Sumner burned to the ground.  The Ithaca Fire Department arrived too late to save any part of it…The American Legion hosted twenty legionnaires from county posts on one Monday night for the regular monthly meeting of the Gratiot County Council. After adjournment, the St. Louis Legion Post voted to help with local efforts to collect used clothing for shipment overseas to people in need in Europe…The twelfth annual Easter Seals campaign was about to start in Gratiot County…Representative Hoxie announced that the state of Michigan had many post-war highway improvements with goals of making improvements throughout Gratiot County. Widening of bridges, roads and pavements were mentioned in the report…Three St. Louis boys under the ages of fifteen all pled guilty to stealing $24 from the basement of the Alma JC Penney store. A purse was found by one of the boys as they cleaned the basement. The take? A total of 36 cents and two packs of cigarettes. However, the boys were linked to thefts from two local elevators in the county…Approximately 100 FFA members from five area chapters attended Alma High School to take part in FFA training. Subjects included public speaking, parliamentary procedure, and demonstrations about loss of livestock…Victory gardeners who could start growing plants indoors were urged to start doing so. County Agricultural Agent C.P. Milham published a column about how to get started and what seeds to plan in March…Blue Star Mothers Chapter 108 in North Star met in late March. The group read letters from local service boys and then voted to donate $10 to the Red Cross…

Sam Fortino became the first Michigan and Alma born basketball player to win the 1945 Detroit Free Press Trophy given to the most outstanding collegiate player in Michigan. Fortino played for Michigan State College after entering the V-12 Program and attending Central Michigan for one season…St. Louis Superintendent T.S. Nurnberger gave a message at the St. Louis Rotary about possible training programs for men when they returned home after the war ended. One aspect of the presentation dealt with the topic of compulsory military training once young men reached the age of 18…Twenty members of the Alma Veterans of Foreign Wars met in its monthly meeting in their hall above the Alma J.C. Penney store. Alva Cook was chosen as commander…The Alma Commission received a letter asking for Alma to establish a public honor role for those men and women who were in the service. Funding for building the honor role was the main issue…Miss Cecil Wolf, Alma’s public school nurse, might be deputized by the city. Wolf had found many local business owners to be opposed to her orders for cleaning up areas and operations after inspections had been made. Possible fines and jail sentences awaited those who continued to defy health orders…A column in the Alma Record warned readers that even though the war in Europe could end soon, the danger of war weariness could not stop the fight against Japan. While there might be a period of ease and rest after Nazi Germany surrendered, the war against Japan had to continue. Beware war weariness…Alma Air Raid Wardens organization had several hundred dollars left in their funds considered donating the money to a war memorial. While a dozen of the wardens would keep the organization together until the end of the war, any money donated to a memorial must be more than just a list of names…Abbot and Costello were on the way to the Strand Theatre starring in “Here Come the Co-Eds” on April 1-2…

The Michigan House of Representatives defeated a bill that proposed instituting the death penalty. It fell by a vote of 55-38 against the measure…Mrs. Simon Messinger, the wife of one of Alma’s pioneer families, died at the age of 86. Mrs. Messinger was one of the few remaining pioneers left in Alma and she had four grandchildren serving in the military…A pheasant caused a ruckus at the home of Doctor Kirschbaum’s home at 707 West Center Street in Alma. The bird broke a window and flew into the bedroom, then turned around and flew out the window again. Footmarks were left by the bird on the bed and dresser…St. Louis firemen received a pay raise to $2 an hour when on duty. This was a raise of fifty cents with the goal of attaining $2.50 an hour in the near future…The Redman Trailer Company received a contract fro the United States Ordnance Department to build one ton cargo trailers. Deliveries were to start in May…and Alma’s George Myers American Legion Post Number 164 celebrated its 26th birthday as a national organization with a family pot luck style dinner.

And that was Gratiot County’s Greatest Hour in March 1945.

Copyright 2021 James M Goodspeed