In the late summer of 1916, the city of Alma had a problem. The city needed to construct a new sewer and water system, and citizens voted to pass a bond to approve the project. In 1916, women were not allowed to vote in elections; however, in this case, they could vote on the bond issue.
Anti-suffragists in Alma (most likely men) had problems allowing women to vote. They feared women would move toward a larger goal, such as gaining full equal rights to vote in other elections. To keep Alma women from voting, they tried one tactic. Anti-suffragists cried that if women voted that morning, they were taking time away from home duties such as raising the children and keeping the house.
In response, women in Alma showed that they had had enough. On that election day, many women in the city organized and descended upon the voting precincts precisely at 3:00 pm. Anti-suffragists were so astonished at the women’s turn out that someone, or some people, tampered with ballots by incorrectly folding them. This move resulted in the disqualification of many of the votes. However, enough good ballots overcame the anti-suffragist scheme, and the Alma bond issue passed decisively, thanks to the large turnout of women.
While these Alma women made a statement about their right to vote in 1916, there was still a way to go for women in Gratiot County to gain the same right to vote that men had. However, women took a decisive step forward the following spring.
In April 1917, Frances Burns, a national women’s suffrage movement leader, was the key speaker at a meeting held at the Alma IOOF Hall. A total of 60 women came and signed up as National League for Women’s Service members. Together they raised $74.25 toward their $200 goal to establish a county chapter.
The women’s suffrage movement picked up more steam as state elections approached in the fall of 1918. By that September, it appeared more and more that Michigan was ready to grant women the right to vote. Another mass meeting at Alma High School featured Frances Burns and E.C. Warriner from Central Michigan Teachers College as speakers. At the same time, the state Republican Party began publishing advertisements in county newspapers stating that the party now endorsed a women’s suffrage amendment.
Suffragists set out across Gratiot County to find out just how many of Gratiot’s women wanted the right to vote. These canvassers reported that 90 percent of the women in the county wanted the right to vote and signed petitions. In many places in Gratiot County, the third Sunday in October 1918 became known as “Suffrage Sunday,” as local ministers were asked to use that Sunday to support women’s suffrage. Also, on that Sunday, Mrs. F.M. Harrington held a county rally at 2:30 pm in Ithaca. Probably the tiny turnout on that day occurred because of the existence of quarantine measures due to the Influenza Epidemic in Gratiot County. Even though only 40 women showed up, local merchants began sponsoring advertisements in the county newspapers saying that they too supported women’s right to vote.
Suffragists applied other pressure to how Gratiot County’s population should think about women’s suffrage. During each week in October, a large advertisement appeared in the Alma Record showing how many men voted in the last election and how many women petitioned for the right to vote. In Alma’s first ward, 254 women signed petitions demanding voting rights. Notices of women’s intentions in Alma’s other wards soon followed.
As the right to vote headed toward its goal in the fall of 1918, only one thing stood in its way – the Influenza Epidemic hit the county in October and now was spreading. Large meetings were discouraged, and women needed to postpone their plans. But would they?
On November 7, 1918, Gratiot County voted on the issue of women’s suffrage and the right to vote. A total of 2,349 residents said yes, while 1,496 said no. While a few of the county’s precincts had close votes, only Newark Township failed to support the issue of a woman’s right to vote.
It seemed that by the time of the state elections in 1918, Gratiot County and other counties got the message – it was time that women be allowed the right to vote the same as men. While it would be another two years before the United States passed the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, the issue of women’s suffrage by that time was a done deal in Gratiot County and Michigan.
Soon other things in the county came about due to the 1918 vote. The county’s Republican Party established the Women’s Republican Club and courted women to join the organization. In 1919, Gratiot County had its first trial in Ithaca, where the jury consisted only of women. A year later, Sara Brodebeck became the first woman to run for public office when she ran for the county clerk’s position as a Democrat in 1920. Brodebeck was soundly defeated. However, the number of votes she garnered appeared to many in the county to be a moral victory.
As the decade of the 1920s began, Gratiot County women now possessed something that many women labored nationwide for decades – the right to vote.
In January 2019, I started a journey of writing about Gratiot County during its watershed moment of the Twentieth Century, which was (and is) World War II.
Before starting this project in 2017-2019, I was completing a history of Gratiot County during World War I, as that war was commemorating its centennial. It was challenging to finish that project and shift gears, but I needed to do so. Technically the 75th anniversary of World War II had been underway, and the two wars overlapped with their respective anniversaries. Still, I wondered, who was paying attention to America’s involvement in these world wars and who cared?
Because the 75th anniversary of World War II was well underway, I decided to pick up Gratiot County’s involvement beginning in January 1944, leaving me with the task of covering the last twenty months of the war. Most of the writing you find here on the blog was based on our history, as seen from our county archives and newspapers such as the Gratiot County Herald, Alma Record, and St. Louis Leader-Press.
As time went on, it turned out that it took me 3 ½ years of my own life to cover 20 months of Gratiot County’s history during that time of war. Although I did not anticipate it, the world of COVID threw up roadblocks and challenges that none of us anticipated. Archives and libraries closed, which hampered this project while we dealt with the first pandemic to hit Gratiot County since 1918. With these shutdowns, I quickly fell behind my goal of finishing the history on time; hence here I am in the summer of 2022. The last six months of the war proved very taxing as more war coverage expanded in 1945. Still, I attempted to try and write about some of the events, issues, and people tied to Gratiot County during World War II.
And so, the project expanded as time went on. After writing a total of 96,111 words about Gratiot County during World War II (or an average of 4,805 words per chapter), there were some things that I wanted to highlight to readers:
-I hoped this project would be a start in preparing for the time when Gratiot County looks back at the centennial of World War II when the county gets to the 2040s. I hope I am here at that time, but right now, I have only had the grit and energy to cover the last two years of the war (1944-1945).
-What I wrote about here on the blog was a chronicle, drawing from what I believed to be the most important topics and themes during the war. Things like rationing, farming, the draft, who served and where they were stationed, and those who were wounded, killed, or missing in action – all of these were key to the war here on the home front in Gratiot County.
-No matter what events, places, and names were covered, there were more that should be mentioned. Similarly, no matter what letters of service members were published or stories of where our men and women were during the war, there were more. It became impossible to write about them all – and sometimes, I was asked why I missed a reader’s father or grandfather. I probably missed stories of those wounded in action, although I tried to recognize those we lost as killed in action.
-Looking back, Gratiot County pulled together and overcame the crisis we know today as World War II. However, it came with a high cost. A total of 116 men lost their lives defending Gratiot County and the nation, and their names appear on the All Wars Memorial in Ithaca. The war also did not ultimately end for some men who did come home. Veterans struggled to find work and how to support themselves and their families, even as economic problems came with inflation and the adjustment to a “peacetime economy.” Some of these men struggled in their marriages and with what we today know as a post-traumatic stress disorder. Still, these men went on and helped build the postwar county many of us inherited. The return home of these servicemen also triggered what became known as the “baby boom,” which affected schools and school enrollment for several decades.
-Probably the most important question from this look at Gratiot County during World War II remains this one: if a national emergency such as another world war took place, could Gratiot County (and America) come together as it did in the early 1940s? Members of that generation asked that question as we passed through the Cold War, Korea, and Vietnam, economic recessions, political scandals, good times, and bad. Could we, as residents of Gratiot County, come even close to what “The Greatest Generation” pulled off? I seriously wonder about trying to answer that question.
That generation and events made up “Gratiot’s Finest Hour.”
Private L.C. Whitford uses a Ford-Ferguson tractor for the Percy Jones hospital center agricultural school farms at Fort Custer. Whitford was recovering from wounds received while serving in the 26th Infantry Division in France.
The End of the Pacific War
The title of a county newspaper on August 9, 1945, read “Ruination is Visited on Japanese.” It had been three days since the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima; now, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The Soviet Union declared war on Japan, and just like that, the Second World War in the Pacific had ended. Signing a peace treaty and getting American troops into Japan would take a bit longer. Still, most in America heard and believed that the war was over. Gratiot County had officially been at war with the Axis Powers for almost exactly three years and eight months.
There had been warnings to the public that the Pacific War against Japan could go on until late 1946. Now, not only did the war end suddenly in August, but the atomic era began in human history. These new weapons would usher in new and dramatic changes across the world. It turned out that the official surrender of Japan was announced in Gratiot County during the early evening of Tuesday, August 14. In response, the county went wild.
Just how did V-J Day affect Gratiot County? Celebrations in the county caused businesses and factories to close. Most did so on Wednesday and some on Thursday because President Truman declared a two-day federal holiday. Still, it was unclear which day the community was supposed to celebrate – and many people celebrated both.
City sirens, horns, church bells, and factory whistles went off once the news arrived on Tuesday evening. Unorganized celebrations in Alma started that evening and continued into the next day. People took to their cars and trucks, plugging intersections and downtown streets. In Ithaca, Howard Goodspeed tried to bring in wheat that he had thrashed for farmers in Newark Township. When he pulled his wagon-load into the village, traffic was stuck and backed up toward the city park as people in Ithaca got out of their cars, honked their horns, danced, and celebrated. Across the county, a joyful celebration exploded that marked the end of the long war that started at Pearl Harbor.
During different celebrations, men in service uniforms stood out in the crowds. In Alma, an impromptu snake dance occurred throughout the downtown, causing the streets to become littered with scraps of paper. Some people in cars threw corn and grain into the air to simulate confetti while bystanders and automobile drivers thought they were being hit with stones. Michigan issued a state wide 24 hour shut down of all places selling liquor, starting Tuesday night. Yet, Alma police who tried to monitor the traffic sere were very lenient with those who appeared to be inebriated.
Alma had an official parade to end the war at 9:30 am on Wednesday. The Alma Chamber of Commerce, which had loosely planned for a victory parade in town whenever it happened, took charge and assembled those who wanted to participate. Moving down Superior Street from west to east, the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts led the parade. Then came the returned service members, V-12 apprentice seamen from Alma College appearing in white uniforms, followed by school children and numerous cars and trucks.
St. Louis also made noise as people spilled into Mill Street, but things appeared more orderly. On the previous Saturday, Representative T. Jefferson Hoxie distributed handbills on what St. Louis would do when the war’s official end took place. A parade quickly was assembled, led down the street by the St. Louis High School band. Snake dances broke out, led by sailors and other service members in uniform. Sirens, horns, yelling, and celebrations continued late into the night. At one point, the American Legion “shot” an effigy of Hirohito at Saginaw and Mill streets.
While many St. Louis churches had no plans for services like they did during D-Day, most were open to the public for prayer and meditation. The coming Sunday services in town were also meant to be a time of commemoration and thanksgiving.
However, people quickly wondered what stores, businesses, and factories were to close, and for how long? President Truman had announced legal holidays for Tuesday and Wednesday, but for federal employees only, which created confusion in Gratiot County. On Wednesday, in Alma, all stores and businesses shut down, as did many factories. The Gratiot County courthouse also closed for the entire day. The problem for some was how long to stay closed. Banks and city offices opened up on Thursday, as did most grocery stores which observed the summer ritual of operating on a half-day on Thursdays. Owners had to decide how long to stay closed due to nationwide confusion on what the holiday (or holidays) meant.
When it came to the end of the war it turned out that Gratiot County did play a small role in building the atomic bomb. The Alma Trailer Company built and trucked hundreds of three-section homes to Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Workers there used these homes while secretly working on the bomb.
Regardless, Gratiot County celebrated the longest and most costly war it had fought. Now, it was time to celebrate, rest, heal, and mourn. The Second World War was now over, even though it had cost Gratiot County well over one hundred of its young men who tried to defend the county and nation.
During the last month of the war, the main issues for Gratiot County farmers centered around potential problems with crops and how to enable returning service members to return to farming.
The corn, beet, and bean crops all looked like they had improved from a rough spring-early summer start. Some farmers feared that corn would be affected by a poor yield unless the county had a late summer.
One issue that the county did not have was harvesting enough wheat – which was turning out to be the largest crop in fifty years in Michigan. So much grain came in that elevators did not have enough train cars to haul the wheat. By early August, some shipping had improved as more freight cars arrived to take away the grain, but elevators in Michigan still needed 5,000 more cars. Farm leaders feared that if something did not happen in August, elevators would dump and pile wheat outside, leaving valuable wheat to spoil in bad weather. For the first time that summer, due to the largest oat crop in 25 years, the government offered loans on oats graded Number 3 or better. The loans averaged 48 cents per bushel.
Other problems like potato blight, corn borers, and coddling moths appeared. Another problem in the county dealt with the increased number of starlings, which became topics of conversation in towns. The Alma mayor took complaints from residents who complained about the large flocks of birds. In the end, the mayor admitted, “We will just have to take it (the problem with birds).”
Milk production continued to run well as 347 cows in 26 herds averaged over 740 pounds of milk and 30 pounds of fat. Over in Breckenridge, A. J. Neitzke had a brown swiss that produced 1,764 pounds of milk and 70.6 fat.
Another issue that Gratiot County farmers dealt with was migrant labor. During the war, Mexican labor became an essential part of the farm season as laborers started to appear early in the summer. The federal government again increased payments for farmers who contracted to grow more sugar beets in 1946. Farmers already received $12.50 a ton for beets, but who would help cultivate and harvest this critical crop? The answer involved Mexican workers.
The number of Mexican laborers and their families in Gratiot County and the Saginaw Valley grew each summer during the war. As a result, something needed to exist to allow both husbands and wives to work in the fields. Two centers, one in Breckenridge and another in Beebe, were places where Mexican children could be left while their parents worked. At these locations, Miss Katherine Andreas and Miss Christine Moreno worked under the Home Mission Board, holding Daily Vacation Bible School and weekly recreation programs for migrant children. The recreation programs were well attended, and in Breckenridge, as many as 145 migrant children participated. The Gratiot County Council of Churches paid $300, almost half of the anticipated budget, for the programs, while the Home Mission Board in Chicago made up the rest. The program provided Spanish and English classes, and trips for migrants.
Unfortunately, one of the issues that appeared in the news dealt with an occasional arrest of a Mexican worker. In early August in downtown Ashley, Antonio Fernandez assaulted another worker with a knife during a brawl. Geronimo Linares received a deep gash from his ear lobe to his upper lip, which took fourteen stitches to close. Fernandez stood trial in Ithaca for the assault. Despite this incident, the overwhelming number of migrant workers who came into the county to work each summer worked hard to support their families and caused few problems.
Other news items involving farmers included farm programs, plans for returning veterans, and other new methods of protecting crops. The Gratiot County Farm Bureau had its annual picnic at Conservation Park in Alma. Day Bigelow and Clarence Cornwell became new Farm Security Administration committee members. Their goal was to help returning veterans find work on county farms. Returning servicemen were eligible for forty-year, three percent loans under the Bankhead Jones Farm Tenant Act. The veteran needed to be an experienced farmer, and he received help if he could not get credit elsewhere.
Emerson Township became the focus of a farm inheritance study from the Michigan State College Farm Management Department. The purpose of the survey centered on helping farmers transfer their farms safely to the next generation. The program also stated that tenant farmers made up 31 percent of the farms in Gratiot County. Finally, weed killer 2-4D was applied to areas west of Alma on the Naffzinger farm for poison ivy. In Alma, other people like R.H. Mantey’s and Carl Vanderbeek’s home received the spray for bindweed, artichoke, ragweed, burdock, and catnip, as did the Thomas Home Garden west of Alma. Many people remained curious about how effective the spray would be and how it affected these locations in the next year.
Rationing Takes a Few Turns
The end of the war with Japan immediately changed how rationing affected Gratiot County. However, rationing had a way to go before it completely ended. Until V-J Day, county newspapers continued to urge citizens to conserve tin, paper, fats, oil, and sugar.
Meat rationing and distribution remained a hot topic in the county, even though cuts occurred in rationing points for beef, veal, and lamb. During the summer, Black Market operations and the public’s desire for more meat plagued the Office of Price Administration (OPA). In some places in Gratiot County there seemed to be confusion about how much meat one could purchase as well as rationing points. The issue about meat rationing was important enough that local Grange meetings invited OPA spokesmen to come and explain what was going on with meat rationing.
In August, the biggest news about rationing concerned what became known as the Bartley Trial, the first OPA case to take place in Gratiot County’s Circuit Court. Before this trial, individuals who faced charges regarding rationing violations faced the law in Bay City Federal Court. This time a court case involving rationing violations officially took place in the county. James A. Bartley, the proprietor of Bartley’s Market in Alma, several times sold meat above ceiling prices and the OPA warned the Bartley to stop doing so. Complaints about Bartley first started in 1943, and he received official written warnings by mail at least three times. Bartley was also accused of slaughtering cattle, calves, and hogs for over three months in 1945 without officially registering his slaughterhouse with the OPA. Because Bartley refused to heed the warnings, the OPA now took him to court and asked that his license be suspended for one year. At sentencing Bartley most likely benefited from the sudden end of the war in August as he only faced a sixty-day suspension of his license.
The end of the war improved rationing in some areas, while others remained unaffected. Varieties of men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing now required fewer points and lower retail prices. Tomato, orange, and grapefruit prices came off the rationing lists entirely. Shoe rationing was expected to end within two to three months, easing the anticipated need for fall and winter shoes. On the Wednesday after the Japanese surrender, rationing of gasoline, fuel oil, oil stoves, and blue point canned foods all officially ended. The printing of 187,000,000 newly designed ration books for the next year of the war suddenly halted. The OPA believed that enough ration stamps in the current books would last until 1946. The government told the automobile industry that it could return to total production with a goal of producing 5,000,000 new cars. The problem was that the companies needed more materials. In the mean time, the companies prepared to set their prices for new automobiles, which were expected to be above the old 1942 ceiling prices.
The tougher rationing news was that some items would still need to be rationed and collected. Sugar, fats, oils, and butter remained rationed until 1946. The OPA feared that bottlenecks in the supply chain would occur, even though the military now required less of these items. Tractor and implement tires came off the list, but not passenger and truck tires.
Still, as August ended, more news from the OPA came out with more reduction points for butter. The rationing office in Ithaca also began to cut hours back to a forty-hour work week and closed on Saturdays.
The United States Navy claimed it had 327,000 Navy men ready for immediate discharge, even though those with critical skills remained in the service. The first group targeted for early release involved those who were older and who had served longer during the war.
Despite the end of the war, the draft continued. The Gratiot County Draft Board followed orders to call those men ages 18 to 25, with 18-year-olds being the focus. Fifteen young men left Monday, August 13, for induction in Detroit; all but one went into the Army, while one entered the Marines. Franklin William Burke was the group leader of this contingent. Bernard Evey from Sumner and Marvin Gabrion from Ithaca headed into the Army. The lone Marine in the group was Young Hoyt from Alma.
In August, a final call went out for 17-year-olds who wanted to join the Army Specialized Training Reserve Program. These volunteers had to be high school graduates, and needed documentation of their parents’ consent and also proof of graduation. Residents in Ithaca received the Veteran’s Post War Community Survey. This survey asked Ithaca citizens what work opportunities existed for veterans who had no jobs when they came back home. The advertisement and survey form appeared in the Gratiot County Herald.
The Red Cross
While the Pacific War had no end in sight during the first week of August, the Gratiot County Red Cross requested the public’s help. To meet the needs of returning servicemen and veterans, a second Red Cross Home Service Office soon opened in Alma. Volunteers were needed as the chapter had no intention of closing down or reducing its hours.
Russell Gaffney, a former businessman and well-known figure from Alma, returned home after spending fourteen months as a Red Cross assistant field director in Caledonia in the Pacific. Upon his return, Gaffney took up his old duties as head of the Gratiot County Bureau of Social Aid in Ithaca. He replaced Grover Brenneman, who became a supervisor in Bay County.
Letters Home to Gratiot County
During August, letters from across the world found their way into county newspapers. These letters reminded readers that Gratiot County still had men in Europe and the Pacific.
Seaman Second Class Charles LeBaron of Alma wrote to his wife about his time aboard the USS Hale, which saw action in the Pacific. LeBaron made it as far as an atoll near Ulithi, where he became a part of Task Force 8. In March, the group headed toward the Japanese mainland in preparation for the Invasion of Okinawa. Within two weeks, the USS Hale was sending planes to attack the island of Shikoku and dodging Japanese dive bombers became more of an issue as the destroyer carried out its missions. One time a dive bomber narrowly missed the Hale. LeBaron recalled, “A Jap dive bomber picked us out while protecting a damaged destroyer and tried to get us. We fired everything in the book at him, but he kept coming g. We were all pretty scared since we thought he was a Kamikaze, but he wasn’t.” The plane missed the destroyer by 30 feet and shook the crew up, but no one was injured. LeBaron recorded lighter moments, such as the appreciation of receiving mail from home, which unfortunately was not frequent enough. Also, when he arrived in Guam he saw the first Red Cross girls and nurses in a long time, which reminded him of home. Arriving at Leyte in the Philippines, the crew rested, then headed toward the Japanese homeland. The USS Hale became the first American destroyer to bombard Japan and targeted the Kamasihi Steelworks.
Another shorter letter appeared in the newspapers from Private Bill Lator, who was from Ashley. Lator was now stationed in the Philippines, had a brother who was trying to get home from England and another brother stationed in Arkansas.
Doyle Plank wrote to his sister from the Mediterranean Theater, where he found a beautiful place in the aftermath of war. Plank served with the 798th Air Material Squadron as part of the 548th Air Service Group. Based on the Adriatic coast north of Rimini, he had to leave Florence, a place that he loved. Plank knew many Italian families from traveling the streets of Florence. Doyle wished that his sister could have seen the beautiful valley and sloping hills surrounding the city. As he concluded his letter, Private Doyle noted that he sat at a desk only 300 yards from the waterline of the Adriatic Sea.
More letters came from occupied Germany, where soldiers described the war’s end. Private Clare Ingersoll wrote from Stockstatd, Germany, after traveling 700 miles in a GI truck across the French Alps to the French Riviera. Arriving at Nice, an international resort, soldiers found places to stay that the Army now occupied which once charged $30 to $50 a night. Ingersoll wrote, “It is truly a wonderful place, but awfully hot – so hot that one could have gone around without anything on, and the only result would be a bad sunburn.” He also mentioned a bus trip to Grasse (which was a major perfume center), Cannes, and Monte Carlo. However, Monte Carlo was off-limits for all troops. Private Frank Masarik wrote to his parents from Austria. He had just received two letters from them and stated that he would soon be headed to France. After nine months in the Army, Masarik received four battle stars, but humbly felt
he never did anything too important. He commented, “Maybe I never wanted to do anything brave. After the first days of combat, I saw how it was. It’s very easy to get shot, which I came close to getting in Bastogne.” At one point, while attacking the town of Fay, Masarik was one of only ten men left in his platoon that held their position for several hours until German tanks entered the fray. After he and his fellow soldiers took out most of a 20-man German patrol with grenades, he and others retreated. The man closest to him was hit, while Masarik escaped with only bullet holes in his shovel and canteen. He was grateful to have lived through the encounter at Fay, and he pledged to tell his parents later in detail what else happened.
Major Albert Anthony, the former pastor of Alma Presbyterian Church, wrote from Austria. He described visiting Hitler’s lair in the Alps. Anthony saw Hitler’s home, which sat on the brow of a peak and had a gigantic picture window. Amazingly, no part of Hitler’s home, the surrounding guard posts, or other buildings could be seen from the valley. Hitler’s window measured fifteen feet high and twenty-five feet long, but it was completely shattered. The interior of the house was burned, and all he could see were remains of furniture, bed springs, and overstuffed chairs. Anthony also mentioned that Hitler’s lodge had been equipped with the latest movie picture equipment. He also noted that dugouts and tunnels with complete living quarters ran for six miles into the mountains.
Finally, Sergeant Fred Hicks of St. Louis wrote from Berlin, Germany, as part of the 82nd Airborne’s occupation of the city. Hicks had been promoted and made it to Berlin by mid-August. The billets in Berlin were the best Hicks and his fellow paratroopers ever had. He wrote, “There are approximately three men to the room, and we have Beds (capitalized and underscored) to sleep on and our own bathroom (underscored) which is just a few steps from this room. As soon as we get some fuse plugs, we will have hot water.” Even though the water was cold, he had electricity, and the place to stay was nice. Hicks also thought it was wonderful to have dressers and drawers. “It is a relief to pull a drawer open and pick up what we want instead of pulling everything out of a bag and finding what you want on the bottom.” Private Max Capen of Wheeler and Corporal Paul Rademacher of Alma were also in the 82nd Airborne.
Even though it was only August, families were urged to prepare now to get items mailed overseas to their service members for Christmas. An article in the Alma Record informed readers of the rules for packaging items and deadlines for mailing.
Those Who Served
News and updates about those who served Gratiot County continued in August 1945.
Lieutenant Avery Granger of Alma was part of a combined white and colored engineers who worked on the Ledo Road from Burma to China. Seaman 2/C Steve Plesko of Ashley had been aboard the USS Guam as it engaged the Japanese from Okinawa to the edge of the Sea of Japan. On March 18, the USS Guam made its debut in battle in the Ryukyu Islands. Also in the Pacific, Seaman 2/C Albert Camargo served aboard the USS Birmingham. The Birmingham had traveled over 121,000, starting with the Invasion of Sicily to the battle at Okinawa. Camargo’s wife lived in Alma. Lieutenant Colonel W.B. Keyes of Elwell was home to speak to the Ithaca Rotary Club. Keyes vividly remembered being present at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack and described how he was knocked out when a bomb hit his hanger. Keyes had a long list of places where he saw action as a pilot in the Pacific, which included Midway, Solomon Islands, Guadalcanal, and Burma. His service earned him four oak leaf clusters, the silver star, and the Purple Heart. Keyes also earned the nickname “Bridge Buster” for his successful attacks in the India-Burma Theater. Sergeant Virgil Nelson of Perrinton spent two days successfully doing reconnaissance work in the Benguet Mountains of Northern Luzon, Philippines. Nelson had one enemy encounter, which lasted 45 minutes, but left 15 Japanese soldiers dead. He later commented that “I never saw so much lead flying.” Technical Sergeant Ford Parling of North Star was stationed at Saipan. He had been overseas for more than three years. Pharmacist’s Mate, First Class Roland Mayes, Jr. of Alma, had several close escapes during the Battle of Okinawa. Besides swarms of flies and mosquitoes, water problems, and lack of food supplies, Mayes survived being blown out of his hole at least four times – all without a scratch. Okinawa was the most intense fighting Mayes experienced in 38 months of service. Felton Muscott, Seaman First Class aboard the USS Hornet, received a two-week leave to come home to see his wife and three children. It was the first time Muscott saw his youngest child named Patty. Muscott had been aboard the Hornet when it survived a typhoon off the coast of Japan. Also caught in the same typhoon, RM2C Paul Martin of the United States Submarine Trutta remembered encountering winds of 150 miles per hour. The Trutta sank seventeen Japanese trips at one point. Brothers and cousins surprisingly met on Okinawa when Wayne Flegel, Romaine Flegel, and Nyal Flegel. Wayne and Romaine were Marines; Nyal was aboard the USS Sou Barrisson. The three had leave and spent one day and night together after not being together for three years. Glen Reeb, Water tender 3/C of St. Louis, served aboard a destroyer in the Pacific. Reeb spent over 20 months in the Pacific and witnessed action at Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Carolines, New Guinea, Marianas, Philippines, and Okinawa. His ship shot down four Japanese planes and sank an enemy submarine off Truk Island. Reeb attended Ashley High School before his service. Private Harry Hill of Alma had his picture taken with two other Michigan soldiers at a rest camp on Okinawa. The three men had been together in the same company for two campaigns. Hill had been overseas since late July 1944.
Sergeant Leonard Kaslander had been in Iceland, England, Ireland, and France as part of the headquarters of the 5th Infantry Division. A teacher from Shepherd Schools, his wife lived with her parents in Alma. First Lieutenant William Barstow of St. Louis came home on thirty-day leave after being at Nuremberg, Germany. Barstow was executive officer of the Motor Battalion of the Chemical Warfare Division. Barstow’s battalion was the first to cross the Remagen Bridge on the Rhine River during the war. After spending nearly three years in England, Sergeant P. Snacker of Ashley came home for a thirty-day leave, including the last six months in the Army Air Force. As of August, Snacker had eight years and seven months of service for the United States. Lieutenant Frank Baker of Perrinton came home on thirty-day leave after serving with the 42nd Bombing Group. He had been overseas piloting his B-17, “Dream Girl,” and led a bombing mission over Berlin. Before coming home, Baker transported liberated prisoners from Austria to England. Both Corporal Joseph Koval of St. Louis and Sergeant Rudy Tilharik of Ashley reported to the West Coast in anticipation of deployment to the Pacific. Both men had been in the Mediterranean Theater. A group of eight Gratiot County men returned home after serving with the 772nd Tank Destroyer Battalion as part of the 75th Division. Although they only entered combat in late December, the battalion saw intense action in France, Holland, Belgium, and Germany. Among this group were: (Alma) Staff Sergeant Arthur Cole, Corporal Lyle Goward, Sergeant Paul Sapp, Corporal Maywood Morris, Private Harold showers; (Ashley) Staff Sergeant Rudy Tihlarick; (Carson City) Private Carroll Mann and Technical Sergeant Mervin Rinckey. After seven months in Italy, Private Arthur Courter of Forest Hill came home on a 34-day leave. Corporal Joseph Mikula of Elwell went many places with the 296th Signal Installation Company. Among his many stations included England, Scotland, Wales, Africa, Italy, France, Germany, and Austria. Mikula now was back in Italy and awaited transportation home. Carl Peterson of Alma earned his honorable discharge with 89 points and mustered out of the Army. Peterson served overseas for three years and was part of the 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion, First Armored Infantry. He saw action and went to places like Tunisia, Naples, Foggia, Rome-Arno, Upper Apennines, and the Po Valley. T/5 Milford Peacock of St. Louis, who had been part of the 35th Santa Fe Division, fought from the Elbe River to within 42 miles of Berlin. Peacock first touched European soil when he landed in France on July 7, 1944. He was now on his way home to St. Louis.
In the United States, Technical Sergeant Glen Langworthy, Jr. of Elwell, served as an instructor for nineteen months in the Army Air Forces engineering school at Marsh Field near Riverside, California. He recently moved to Boise, Idaho, to take a course for engineers of bomber crews. After completing paratrooper training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, Private Eugene Smaltz of Middleton came home on a 17-day leave. His next stop was Officers Candidate School in Fort Benning, Georgia.
Marine Private Laura Simmons of Ithaca first worked to make B-29s for Fisher Body Corporation in Lansing; she then joined the Marines in February 1945. A 1940 Ithaca High School graduate, Simmons completed boot camp at Camp Lejeune and now served at the Marine Corps air station in El Toro, California. Corporals Arlene and Margaret Fortney of Ithaca finished their schooling at Fort Oglethorpe and Percy Jones Hospital. Both girls managed to get one day of leave to visit their parents. The Fortney sisters liked their work and welcomed letters from friends. Lieutenant Dorothy McClintock, an Alma High School graduate, was stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and announced her engagement to Technical Sergeant Orlynn Eyer, also of Alma. Eyer spent two years in India with a signal corps service group.
Finally, a few of Gratiot County’s servicemen would bring home other people known as “war brides.” Kenneth Harrier, a member of the Maritime Service in England, married Miss Gladys Jones. They met while Harrier prepared for the D-Day Invasion, and three days after their wedding, he was back aboard his ship. In another instance, Corporal J. B. Guild of Ithaca married Miss Mable Miles of Brighton, England. Corporal Guild was a 1934 Ithaca High School graduate and worked at the Phillips 66 station until going into the Army in January 1942. Corporal Guild served in Iceland, England, and France. He eventually received a two-week leave to return to England to marry his English bride. After the wedding, Guild returned to the continent and was stationed in Germany while awaiting his discharge. Like the Harriers, Corporal Guild planned to have his bride come to Gratiot County – which ultimately happened!
Those Wounded, Killed, Missing
In August 1945, one saw the costs of defending Gratiot County by those who returned home but who had been wounded.
Private L.C. Whitford of Alma was sent to Percy Jones Hospital Center. Whitford appeared in a picture on the front page of the Alma Record driving a Ford-Ferguson tractor on the hospital’s agricultural school farm at Fort Custer. Whitford was expected to fully recover from injuries he suffered while with the 26th Infantry Division in France. After being wounded in the Pacific, Captain Michael Andrews of Alma came home with his wife and two sons from Fort Jackson, South Carolina, after having a third operation on his leg. After visiting his parents in Alma, Andrews had to return to Fort Jackson. Second Lieutenant John Skriba of Ithaca became a new patient at Vaughn Army Hospital in Hines, Illinois. Skriba had been in the service since 1941 and served as platoon infantry leader in the Pacific for 25 months. While it was not told how Skriba was wounded, he received a presidential citation and the Purple Heart after seeing action in the Marshalls and on Atter, Okinawa, and the Philipines. Private Marvin Haas, formerly of North Star, came home on a 30-day leave after being wounded on February 8 while crossing the Ruhr River. Haas had been part of the 6th Armored Division of Patton’s Third Army. After coming home, Haas returned to Bordens General Hospital in Chickasha, Oklahoma. The Gratiot County Veterans Counselor, C.R. Robinson, attended a conference in Lansing. Robinson learned that some men coming home to Michigan from the Pacific still suffered from return attacks of malaria.
Despite the ending of the war, more bad news arrived in the county regarding those who paid the ultimate price for service for the county. Private Clyde Damon of Riverdale had been reported wounded in action on December 14, 1944, near Strass, Germany. After months of uncertainty, Mrs. Alta Daymon was told that her son died the following day and was buried in Margraten Cemetery in Holland. It was a hard and bitter blow for the Daymon’s as they held out hope for over six months that Clyde would be found after being listed as missing in action. Private Ralph Rud of Merrill died in early May and memorial services took place at the Merrill Congregational Church. Rud, who was with the 32nd Rainbow Division, died on Luzon, and he had a brother living in St. Louis. Rud also left behind a wife and three children. More news came in regarding Private Melvin Thrush of St. Louis, who died in Italy in March. Thrush’s body had been found inside a house that served as an outpost. However, at the time of the confirmation of Thrush’s death, the Army still could not tell the family exactly where Thrush was buried. The town of Breckenridge took a double hit when two men died who were on the same ship while transporting the atomic bomb across the Pacific to Guam. The USS Indianapolis was torpedoed off of Leyte on July 30, and Seamen Dan Karpol and Wilbur Bott were among the 883 men killed or missing after the cruiser sank. An early report stated that ten officers and 305 enlisted men survived the sinking after five days at sea. Still, Karpol and Bott were not among the survivors. Other tragic deaths took place after the war ended. News of another sad ending reached Middleton as Seaman 2/C Charles Rule was officially declared lost at sea. Rule had been missing since June 16 when the destroyer Twiggs was hit and sunk by the Japanese during the fighting off of Okinawa.
Corporal Don Freeman died in a drowning accident in the Elbe River near Grippel, Germany. He was on his way to embarkation when his death occurred. In another loss, Sergeant Warren Clark of Alma drowned during a Victory Party near Spokane, Washington, at Silver Lake. Clark had been a middle school teacher before entering the service.
And Lest We Forget in August 1945
Fair premium checks were mailed to all Gratiot County fair exhibits. Some went to individual winners, and those who did not receive their checks were asked to contact their leaders…The M&S Flint Yellow Dogs played a softball game on the Rathbone Field on a Friday night. A note read that “This Flint team is one of the outstanding colored teams in the state.”…The Ithaca wading pool opened on August 4. Measuring 34 by 24 feet, it was the only water sports facility in the village. It held 6,000 gallons of water…Carson City defeated Fulton in baseball by the score of 2-1. Shortstop Brauher had two hits for the losing team…Donald Healey, age 13 of St. Louis, tragically broke his neck while diving at Turck’s Beach on the Pine River near Alma. He was taken to R.B. Smith Memorial Hospital in Alma…In another incident, Francisco Yadez, age 22 and a Mexican sugar beet worker, drowned at Turck’s Beach on July 31…Private Jack Ecklebarger of North Star wed Miss Joyce Clark, also of North Star. Ecklebarger had just returned from England and was on his way to Camp Grant, Illinois…Those who threw away tin cans in Clinton County now could be subject to a ten-dollar fine. All tin needed to be saved for salvage for the war effort…Merle Rhoads of Breckenridge planned on opening a Gamble Store. The Gamble Store would be one of more than 17,000 in Michigan…The Sickles and Barton schools held their annual reunion at the Grange Hall in Sickles…Talk of building a community swimming pool began in Alma. Most of this resulted from problems at Turck’s Park dealing with water quality and the safety of swimmers…Those who wanted to apply for jobs at the Alma Post Office as substitute clerks and carriers could do so. The introductory rate of pay was 84 cents an hour, and applicants had to be sixteen years old…The Alma Board of Education announced that it planned on closing the Alma East Side Library, which had been in operation since 1937…Captain Tom Crocker, a worker on Detroit’s Bowery, prepared to speak at the Salvation Army in Alma. Crocker had once been an inhabitant of the Bowery himself…Alma Recreation bowling alley was sold to Porter Field of Mason. The alley had operated since 1939.
A lack of building material held up the plan of building fifteen new residences in St. Louis. Although construction started on one house on Saginaw Street, a lack of lumber stopped all other building plans…A water shortage also continued in St. Louis as repairs continued on three city wells. Residents were told not to make unnecessary use of water…A Social Security manager from Saginaw planned on being at Alma’s city hall for anyone interested in discussing claims or account numbers…Having trouble with poison ivy? Buy Te-ol at any drug store in the county…Gratiot County supervisors eagerly entertained discussion about a proposition from the Alma City Commission that Alma airport property be conveyed to county government. Discussion also took place about a city swimming pool being part of a memorial to those who served in World War II. Alma’s Center Street continued to be a busy place on Saturday nights. Public dances in a State Street hall continued to filter out into the streets, causing “liquored patrons” to dance, yell, and utter profanities and left broken glass. Complaints were issued to the city commission…Swimming at Twin Bridges continued to increase as Turck’s beach was deemed unfit. The new swimming hole was located west of the Ely School…Leonard Refineries held its sixth annual picnic at Conservation League Park on a Saturday. It drew 350 people…Not to be outdone, the Gratiot County Farm Bureau held its annual picnic at Conservation Park one week later…The Orin Riker American Legion Post in Ithaca planned a new year of activities, had new officers, and welcomed the ideas of World War II service members. The meetings were open to all honorably discharged veterans from World War I and World War II…Doctor F.R
McNabb of Ithaca received a fractured collar bone after being thrown from his sulky in an accident at the Ionia Free Fair. McNabb was using his horse, Billie Breeze, in the race…Mrs. Grace Johnson of the Ithaca Airport took the engine from a Blue T aircraft back to Pontiac for repairs. Don Barden took a solo flight in early August…Buster Diaz and a fifteen-year-old friend were arrested for shooting dice for money on Breckenridge sidewalks. Diaz paid $6 to avoid jail and sentencing…A total of 175 people came to the reunion of seven schools at Bannister. The reunion took place at Holiciks Woods just north of Bannister. Mrs. Ella Hoover Bishop received flowers for being the oldest living pupil of the Bannister Scho l. She attended school there in 1880… Gratiot County got an oil well in Elba Township. Merrill Drilling Company hit oil on the Elmer Cook farm in Section 14 of Elba Township in early August. Oil was discovered at 2432 feet…A flower and vegetable show was sponsored by the Breckenridge Garden Club. The Methodist Church hosted the program in the basement…On a Wednesday afternoon, Mrs. Della Story of Wheeler hosted a Garden Club on her lawn.
“A Song to Remember,” starring Paul Muni and Merle Oberon, played at the Ideal Theatre in Ithaca on August 9…St. Louis Schools planned to open for the year on September 4. The Board of Education rented the Adventist School in southeast St. Louis for one grade…More news came to county newspapers that DDT produced by Michigan Chemical in St. Louis wiped out flies on Mackinac Island. A public bonfire took place to burn the many fly traps that were no longer needed…President Truman was expected to abolish the use of wartime. During the war, Gratiot County residents heard about slow time, wartime, and Eastern Standard Time. The Michigan Legislature needed to pass an act in order to adopt EST…An Army plane came to Gratiot County to pick up an emergency supply of DDT to fight an outbreak of polio in Rockford, Illinois. Combatting flies was believed to be the best way to fight the transmission of polio…Miss Maurine Stovall exhibited three photographs at the National Photographers headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio. Two of them were considered among the best fifty photographs in the country for the previous year…The ninth installment of moratorium taxes was due on October 1, according to the county treasurer. These taxes covered the years 1935, 1934, and 1935…An estimated 500 Lobdell-Emery workers went to Lumberjack Park in Riverdale for their first annual picnic. Participants enjoyed a full day of activities. The Alma Scots battled the Chippewas at Mt. Pleasant in what was billed as a heated rivalry that went back to 1897…North Star Township schools released the names of teachers for the upcoming year. They included Pauline Greer, Martha Neilson, Florence Pittman, Norine Peters, Reva Zancewicz, and Mozelle Pete s. The Barstow School still needed a teacher…Victor Manzullo’s grill at 224
East Superior in Alma was being remodeled for the new Jim Brown Store, which was attached to the Brown Fence and Wire Company of Cleveland, Ohio…Fulton Schools would open for school on September 4 at 9:00 am Central War Ti e. The school still needed a music teacher…Ithaca Schools would open on September 5…The Gratiot County superintendent announced that employment problems with the road commission, which had been a nagging problem for some time, no longer existed. The return of veterans looking for jobs solved the issue…A rat situation in certain portions of St. Louis caused city officials to be concerned about a potential health problem. No action had yet been taken…Joe Purdy, manager at the Alma Strand Theatre, gave a free Saturday afternoon show to 700 youngsters. Kids stood four abreast on the sidewalk eagerly waiting to watch the comedy feature and four cartoons…August 30 was the last day in which Alma stores would be closed on Thursday afternoons. Starting in September, stores would resume regular hours…The National Housing Agency gave approval for the building of fifteen new homes in Alma. Five of the homes could be sold to owners while the other ten had been offered as rentals at no more than $60 a month…Cars could no longer be parked on either side of Wright Avenue between Superior and Elwell streets. Those who did risked prosecution, and the city commission adopted the resolution.
And that was Gratiot County’s Finest Hour in August 1945.
Next time, a summary: “Lessons Learned, Men Lost, and Things Loved from a Journey Through Gratiot County in WWII from January 1944-August 1945.”