It was a hot summer in Gratiot County, and the fighting continued in the Pacific.
Bond sales slowed as people grew weary of being asked to support the war effort with their money. However, people in the county continued to observe rationing of many items, some of which were still hard to find, let alone purchase.
The number of men entering the service from Gratiot County continued even as veterans began coming home from Europe or on leave before going to the Pacific. Those wounded in battle also came home, and several came to visit their families before they returned to places like Percy Jones Hospital in Battle Creek for more surgeries, treatments, or rest.
One could read the letters from men and women in newspapers that told about the fighting they encountered and the new places they found along the war fronts.
It was July 1945 in Gratiot County.
Draft, Bonds, and Rationing
Even as the war with Japan seemed headed toward a climax, forty Gratiot County men went to Detroit to be inducted into the military on June 19. Donald Belles of Breckenridge and Nello Wolford of St. Louis later served as leaders and co-leaders. Two men headed to the Army included Daniel Zammarron of Ashley and Jack Humm of Ithaca. In July, the United States Marine Corps opened its ranks to seventeen-year-old me and hoped to accept one thousand volunteers. As a result, Marine Corps offices opened at the Bay City post office to welcome Gratiot County who wanted to join.
The Seventh War Loan drive in Gratiot County slowed during the summer and reached less than eighty percent of its assigned goal. The county sold only about sixty-five percent of its assigned E Bond quota, signifying that war fatigue was prevalent.
Rationing continued to be an important issue in the county during July. The county rationing board issued 361 certificates for tires, most going for grade one type tires. There was good news that more than ten million new leather shoes would be available with the following shoe coupon, airplane stamp Number 4, starting August 1. The coupon was good for nine months. In December, a new War Ration Book Five, which measured “smaller than a dollar bill,” would be issued through public schools. Because of the new design, it held half as many stamps as the previous book.
People received a reduction in points for butter as the civilian butter supply improved due to reduced military requirements. Purchases could now be made for 16 rationing points instead of 24 points.
To show public support and patriotism, women from several organizations in Alma all came together for two days to process 700 pounds of tin. This group included the Civic League, Blue Star Mothers, Lions Club, Neighborhood Club, Rebekahs, Monday Club, church groups, and city employees. The tin that they processed came from cans used by Swift and Company and was so successful that the county planned another tin and paper drive for August.
On a more serious note of rationing problems, state police set up a blockade on the corner of M-46 and US-27 to look for concealed deer meat. The blockade, one of three in the state, ran from 6:00 pm Sunday until 1:00 am Monday while police searched over 300 southbound and westbound cars, but they found no deer meat. However, officers found two vehicles not from Gratiot County to violate state fishing laws. One instance dealt with illegal trout, and the other had a person with too many pike in possession. The blockades went up in the state in anticipation of black market sales in Detroit and other cities and the increased illegal hunting of deer statewide.
Although it was not related to rationing, the St. Louis Co-Op Creamery celebrated the shipment of its first carload of sweet cream to the Atlantic seaboard. The cream went east in cans inside of refrigerated cars. If the Creamery continued to receive the type of milk needed for sweet cream, a market in the east meant that the company could make an extra $100,000 in the next year. The company also installed a fourth spray drier which could process 600 pounds of non-fat milk per hour. It had taken almost two years to obtain the drier, and up until then, army requirements meant that 70 percent of all products went to the military.
Gratiot County Farming during hot July
Early in the month, farmers received warnings to look out for potential problems with their crops. Stem rust, a fungus, attacked local wheat crops in the county. Spittlebugs could be affecting wheat, oats, and barley. With haying season taking place, farmers had a shortage of workers and needed to look out for defective haying equipment such as hay racks, ladders, ropes, pulleys, and hitches.
Crop conditions throughout the county varied from area to area. Higher grounds appeared to be doing well, while lowlands suffered from late planting. Beans across Gratiot County looked good in most places, despite a late start and the fear of maggot blight. The county produced a bumper wheat crop, and grain elevators told farmers that they might be overloaded. Farmers now had to store their harvest in their bins until more wheat could be shipped out of the county.
Sugar beets went in late in the spring – and farmers did not know then that they would face an incredibly tough fall harvest in 1945 due to bad weather. Plantings went up fifty percent from 1944 but were still short of the state’s goal for sugar beets. Many farmers needed more German prisoners of war to work the fields, and harvest crops and soon got help from some of the 1,000 POWs stationed at Camp Freeland at the Tri-City airport.
The state’s peach crop looked very good and was said to probably be the only fruit crop plentiful enough for home and community canning. The state agricultural commissioner estimated that the harvest of 2,340,000 bushels meant that peaches would be on sale starting August 15.
Farmers received a beef subsidy that paid fifty cents per hundredweight on dry-fed beef cattle. They collected payments at the AAA office in Ithaca. Milk producers in the county continued to do well. W.R. LeClear’s herd in Bannister topped milk production out of the 25 herds that were tested in June. Ralph Densmore of Elwell had one cow that yielded 2058 pounds of milk.
Accusations of black market activities among farmers in Gratiot County made many angry. One potato grower, Henry Albaugh of Vestaburg, wrote a stern letter to Federal Judge Frank A. Picard about comments the judge made about farmers in mid-Michigan. Picard sentenced two Gratiot County violators of meat rationing and called for closer monitoring by the OPA. In response, Albaugh believed he had the support of over 600 farmers, who thought that the judge wrongly blamed farmers for violations in the Gratiot County area. One of the problems that county farms faced involved the issue of price ceilings for things like poultry sales or even selling a truck. Because buyers quoted different prices for items, farmers had problems understanding what they could and could not sell at a specific price. Most farmers in Gratiot County wanted to follow the guidelines, even though people like Judge Picard stated otherwise.
In early July, an electrical storm with hailstones struck Gratiot County, and lightning hit Jay Brodebeck’s barn in Hamilton Township, causing $7,000 in damage. Over in North Star Township, lightning struck and killed a horse on the Lamey farm. The North Star Washed Sand and Gravel Company also suffered a significant loss when a lightning strike destroyed its electric gravel dredge, leaving only the steel pontoons. Damage was estimated to be $3,000. After the storm, 21 authorized agents sold Federal Crop Insurance in the county, including George Schleder, who represented area number three.
Letters Home to Gratiot County
Many servicemen and women continued to serve in the armies of occupation in Europe.
Sergeant Stuart Warnaar, an Alma College graduate, was an aviation mechanic on a B-24. Warnaar hoped that he would not be sent to the Pacific and told his parents that he saw Frank Sinatra and Phil Silvers at a USO show. Even though it was hot and dusty, Sinatra put on a lengthy performance, “even more than we expected to. He seemed like a regular fellow, I thought,” added Warnaar. Italy had a great fruit country with miles of grapes, cherries, walnuts, apricots, plums, and figs, which is what Lieutenant Elizabeth Sanford from Bannister wrote to her mother from Leghorn, Italy. Sanford had been in the service since late 1942, landing near Oran and moving with the troops to Anzio, Naples, and Leghorn. She wrote, “It (the war) hasn’t all been pleasant, but there have been some nice spots in these 2 ½ years. I’ve met a great many people. I’ve seen the horror of the war. The big question in each of our minds now is where do we go from here.” Sanford still hoped she would soon be sent home. William James Gallagher of Alma wrote that he had traveled all over Italy with his medical unit, the 35th Field Hospital, starting at the heel. Now he was at the “top of the boot” and had visited Pompeii and the Po Valley. In Northern Italy, Gallagher was shocked that most Italians moved on bicycles and one-horse carts. While many Italians dressed nicely, it was not uncommon to see people go barefooted. Gallagher commented that “…I say I wouldn’t take a million dollars for my experiences, yet I wouldn’t go through another twenty-two months like the past if I were given ten million dollars. Once is sufficient.” Kenneth Dancer of Wheeler served as a truck driver and now was in Garmisch Partenkirchen, deep in Bavaria. Located near the Alps, he shared an old house with twelve men, two radios, and even gave Dancer had a room. The area wa
was a great resort place, but Dancer had little time to explore the sights. He wrote that back in March, “…I saw some of the ruggedest days of my life. It’s something I will never forget. I am sure all of you folks back home do not realize what we fellows have gone through here. I hope it won’t be long till we’re all back home.” Another Dancer, Sergeant Leroy Dancer (Kenneth’s brother), also wrote to his sister from Hodomor, Germany. He reflected on Christmas and the box he received from home, complete with socks, which he got one day before his unit invaded Marseilles, France. His Christmas dinner in 1944 consisted of the hard candy his sister sent. On March 17, Leroy Dancer was wounded near Saarbrucken, Germany, while trying to fix a cut telephone line. Knocked on the ground face first, Dancer was hit in the back of the head and would have been killed had a piece of shrapnel not hit his knife on the back of his belt. With only 64 points, Dancer thought he would not be home for another five to six months.
Lester Hooper of Ithaca wrote home from Flossenburg, Germany, where he was helping to guard 4,400 SS troops at the Flossenburg concentration camp. Hooper saw the furnace used to cremate approximately 36 bodies at one time. Mainly Polish prisoners were left when Hooper arrived. However, he was struck by the large piles of shoes of all sizes that he saw on the ground. While Hooper was aware of the anger of American soldiers toward the Germans for what happened in the camps, he hoped for true justice for those Nazis who had been in charge. “This company has as much reason to hate the Germans as nearly anyone else. From D plus two until VE Day, it sustained a thousand casualties.”
In the Pacific, Chief Petty Officer Robert Ode, whose mother resided in St. Louis, had much to say about his experiences in the Philippines. Ode rode upon one of the first LSTs to land on the beaches at Manilla. He wrote about traveling past Corregidor and how vast Manilla Bay was (27 miles across). Fighting in Manilla was fierce, and Ode learned that the Japanese had fought for each part of the city, even fighting from room to room inside the Manila Hotel. The city’s destruction looked so depressing that Ode thought it would take years to rebuild. The black market freely operated in Manilla despite the smell of decaying bodies that could be found after the fighting. Ode paid 40 cents for Coke Cola, which turned out to be a local concoction that lacked carbonation. Still, he learned that American cigarettes remained in high demand and made excellent trade material.
Gratiot County Men and Women in the Service
Even though the war in Europe had been over for two months, news about Gratiot County’s men and women appeared in the newspapers.
Private Milton Klein of Ithaca, who went overseas on Christmas Day, 1944, now was in Bad Mergentheim, Germany. Milton was the oldest of six Klein sons to be in the service. Staff Sergeant Thomas Cavanaugh from St. Louis sent home two boxes containing German guns, rifles, a sword, and several bayonets. Cavanaugh included in his letter that seventy-five percent of the city of Munchen Gladbach lay in ruins. Corporal Stanley Nesen of Alma arrived home from Camp Grant, Illinois, on leave in preparation for a return to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Nesen served 14 months with General Patton’s Third Army with an ordinance company. Corporal Fred Terwilliger of St. Louis moved to Austria after a seven-day furlough in Nice, France. Terwilliger went overseas in 1943.
Dick Robinson sent a package of souvenirs from Germany to his father in St. Louis, Dr. B.N. Robinson. What was unusual was that the package arrived wrapped in old copies of the St. Louis Leader newspaper. Private Floyd Freed, Alma, was with Germany’s 3833rd Quartermaster Gas Supply. His company supplied vehicles worked on by Italian labor service and German POWs. Sergeant Lyle Smith of Ithaca was processed at Camp Atlanta in northeast France. Smith, who served with the 13th Armored Division in the Ruhr Pocket, was expected to be part of the first ETO armored division to go to the Pacific. The same was true for Private John Moffett of Elwell, also at Camp Atlanta. Moffett hoped to receive a furlough home before going to the Pacific. Private Burdette Coleman of Alma got to live in a building for only the second time in two years after being stationed near Munich, Germany. He now guarded German POWs but “felt no sympathy for them whatsoever.” Warrant Officer John Hoyt of St. Louis arrived in Germany with the Army of Occupation after being with the United States Rest Center for one year in Rome. He graduated from St. Louis High School in 1939. Staff Sergeant Clara Wolford came home from Namur, Belgium. She had served as a telephone operator for the past two years in England. Private Harry S. Murphy sent greetings and hello from Berchtesgaden, Germany. Murphy served with the 101st Airborne Glider Infantry. In March, Private Doris Hall of Ithaca joined the Women’s Army Corps and took her basic medical training at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. In June, Hall transferred to Percy Jones Hospital in Battle Creek.
Similar stories and updates came from men who served in Italy. Private Joseph Zigray of Alma came back to Miami, Florida, after serving 28 months in Italy. He partook in battles in Tunisia and Sicily, ending up in Italy. Corporal Norman Leach of Elwell was assigned to John H. Payne Field in Cairo, Egypt. Leach entered the service in 1943. During the Italian campaign, Sergeant Max Hagerman of Alma received the Bronze Star medal for action on the Fifth Army front. Hagerman served as an assistant squad leader with the 85th Mountain Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division. Private Louis DeRosia of Alma came home after being discharged at Fort Dix, New Jersey. A member of the Army Quartermaster Corps, DeRosia joined campaigns in Africa and Italy. Private Leland Perry of Alma transferred to a new division in Italy. Perry had been with the 88th Blue Devil Division. There also were those like Tech 4th Grade Dorwin Hagerman of Alma, who served 36 months in the Persian Gulf. Hagerman came home on leave on July 17 via an Air Transport command trans-Atlantic plane. Lieutenant Colonel William Kyes of Elwell, who had been in the India-Burman-China Theater, telegraphed his parents that he had arrived in New York City and expected to be home in Elwell within four days.
As the war continued in the Pacific, readers paid more attention to news about Gratiot County men who fought the Japanese. Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Austin of Riverdale heard that their three sons (Jack, Leon, and Lawrence) had seen each other at different places in the Pacific. Although never all together simultaneously, they managed to visit one or the other at places like Guam, Okinawa, and Hawaii. After serving in the Dutch East Indies, Private Gale Loomis of Ithaca received his discharge. Corporal Cutha Wymer of Ithaca also got his release after seeing action on Guadalcanal in the Northern Solomon Islands. Master Sergeant Gerald Housencamp served 19 months in the China Burma India Theater with the Air Corps Bomb Group and received four battle stars. Housencamp was now home. Sergeant Jarold Brawn of Ithaca received another Battle Star for serving aboard the 317th Troop Carrier Group in the Philippine Islands. Corporal Delbert Gould of St. Louis arrived safely in the Philippines and was stationed near Manilla. Two Ashley boys, Private Charles Vanecek and Private Tommy Horn met in the Pacific while aboard a ship headed for Guam, where both would be stationed. The two had their picture taken, and it appeared on the front page of the Gratiot County Herald. Over the last thirty days, reports stated that Lieutenant Alfred McCuaig led attacks on Japanese shipping lines in Korea four times. He and another pilot sank thirteen freighters during their runs off Korea’s west coast.
The WIA, KIA, MIA, and the POW
The terrible initials that families learned to fear and respect continued to appear with the stories of Gratiot County’s young men in July newspapers.
Those wounded in action were placed in hospitals at home and abroad. Private John Reed of Alma had his second operation on his right arm in Percy Jones Hospital. He had been injured by machine-gun fire while in Germany. Private Gordon Batchelder of Wheeler also spent time at Percy Jones Hospital after being wounded by a sniper’s bullet in Germany. He had previously been wounded at St. Lo after the D-Day invasion and originally spent six months in a hospital in England. Fireman 2nd Class George Shaw came home to Ashley for fifteen days after spending time in a convalescent hospital in Colorado. Shaw was seriously wounded in the battle for the Philippine Islands while onboard the St. Lo, an escort carrier. He received wounds on the right side of his body near his lung. While doctors did not know if he had damaged both lungs, Shaw faced another three to four months of hospital recovery. Lieutenant Mark Anderson of St. Louis also came home on a 21-day furlough after arriving in the United States. He spent time in overseas hospitals after being wounded on March 26 when his platoon came under intense cannon and machine gunfire. Anderson spent time in hospitals in France and England before being brought home in late June.
Then there were those who were killed in action (KIA). Lieutenant Kenneth Russell of Alma was killed in action in the Celebes Islands in the Pacific on June 19. He served as a radar navigator on a B-24 during a low-level bombing mission. Although he was killed in January, Sergeant John Townsend’s wife received his Bronze Star during a ceremony at Camp River Rouge. Townsend died in Luxembourg as a result of enemy machine gunfire. The parents of Private Anthony Bajena of St. Louis learned more about their son’s death due to tropical disease. Bajena died after being hospitalized for sixteen days somewhere in the Pacific. Marine Private John Chvojka was killed on Okinawa on June 15. Services for Chovojka took place at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in St. Louis, which had a large turnout of Blue Star Mothers and Legionnaires and Chovojka’s friends and relatives. Private Clyde Daymon of Riverdale had been listed as MIA and now was declared killed in action after a battle as part of the 15th Armored Division on December 15, 1944, in Germany. Daymon graduated from Riverdale High School in 1940. Before training for overseas duty, Daymon served for one year in the Coast Guard in Maine.
The term missing in action (MIA) could be equally stressful for families due to the uncertainty of what happened to their son or brother. Seaman First Class Charles Rule of Breckenridge was missing after being aboard a destroyer in the Pacific and seeing action in the Iwo Jima campaign. He was a Fulton Township High School graduate and entered the service on June 6, 1944. According to the International Red Cross, Private Gale Ludwick was now considered lost at sea on June 16. Ludwick became a prisoner of war after the Japanese captured Corregidor in the spring of 1942. Ludwick was aboard a Japanese transport ship that sank on October 20, 1944, in the South China Sea. Only nine prisoners escaped the ship’s sinking 200 miles from the South Chinese coast, but he was not one of them.
And So We Do Not Forget
The Ithaca Recreation Department hoped that the new community wading pool would open by July. The pool measured 34×24 feet with a depth of 9 to 18 inches. It would be painted green… On one Sunday, the Saginaw Products played against the Alma Navy team at Conservation Park. The game was a rematch after Alma gave Saginaw its first loss of the season…The death of Earl Chapman, a single man, aged 29, shocked the Middleton community. Chapman, who worked the family farm with his father, was a suicide. No reason could be determined for his death…Lewis Brothers Circus came and performed twice for one day in Alma. The circus set up south of the Superior Street bridge, just west of the river…Many people in Gratiot County took time to view an early morning eclipse as the moon slowly covered 73 percent of the sun. While some watched the eclipse with the naked eye, smoked glasses had been recommended for viewing the eclipse.
Caretaker Ray Scheib overhauled the clock in Alma’s clock tower. The clock also had its face lifted and cost $700 for the improvements…Harold A. Trower, who formerly managed the E.E Trower and Sons furniture business, returned to Alma from Oklahoma. Trower hoped to reopen another furniture business in Alma by the fall…Anyone needing help with their Social Security claim or account numbers could get help from Joseph Ramsey, the Saginaw field office manager. Ramsey promised to send a representative to Alma’s city hall to meet with people…Rademacher Motor Sales in Alma remodeled its sales building at 306 West Superior Street. The business planned on having its parts updated, new mechanics on duty, and it hoped to display new 1946 car models…Half-year license plates went on sale in Alma starting July 16…Gratiot County postal workers received an increase in their salaries to combat inflation. It was the first raise that postal workers received in 20 years…Extensive repairs had been completed on the Cheesman Bridge. A completely new approach to the bridge’s east side had new steel girders.
A total of 15 schools looked for teachers for the upcoming school year. County School Commissioner Donald L. Baker expected to fill all positions by August 20…Clarence Owen, age 24 and from Route 4, Ithaca, fell in a barn and fractured two ribs. After treatment at R.B. Smith Memorial Hospital, Owen was released that evening…Donald Wilkinson of St.Louis started a small crate manufacturing plant on North Mill Street in St. Louis. The company started making shipping containers for DDT compound produced by Michigan Chemical Company…A counselor for the Gratiot County Council of Veterans Affairs, C.R. Robinson, was available to help veterans apply for additional education under the G.I. Bill of Rights…The Alma city manager announced the blacktopping of Wright Avenue and Superior Street. The state highway department approved an improvement plan for the city. Parts of Michigan Avenue also would be blacktopped…The Alma Community Center held a reunion for 100 graduates. A total of 11 service members who had just returned from overseas were present. Maurine Stovall took a group picture of the men…Officials tried a new type of weed killer, dichlorophenoxacetic, on North Wright Avenue in Alma to combat the spread of bindweed.
Michigan Chemical also held tests with its DDT insect-killing spray on Mackinac Island. According to reports, afterward, there weren’t many flies on the island…A total of 93 men attended the annual stag day program at the Pine River Country Club. The men played golf, had entertainment, and ended the program with a pot-luck dinner…The Gratiot County Fair in Ithaca had excellent weather…Former teacher and principal Miss Annette McLaren of Alma passed away at her home. Miss McLaren moved to Alma at age 13, attended Alma school, and taught in different rural schools in the county. Miss McLaren previously resigned her duties due to a hip fracture after 40 years of teaching in Gratiot County…The Fulton baseball club defeated Ithaca on a Sunday by the score of 3-2. Fulton players Somers and Brauher had key hits and plays in the game…A pet parade took place during the Ithaca Playground program. All pets were leased, tied, boxed, or caged…The Alma Church Federation brought a resolution to the Alma City Commission concerning gambling devices and games of chance during upcoming carnivals. The ministers wanted the police chief to monitor said carnivals…Lightning struck the home of Lewis Briggs in Breckenridge, leaving a hole in the porch roof. The Breckenridge Bean and Grain elevator also were hit by lightning…If St. Louis residents did not have their weeds cut by July 5, city workers would cut them at the property owner’s expense and add the cost to their tax bill.
And that was life in July 1945 during Gratiot County’s Finest Hour.
Copyright 2022 James M Goodspeed