The Spectre at Gratiot’s Door, The Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919 – Part II: “They Came and Went to Camp Custer”

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Above: Doctors try to combat the influenza epidemic in the cantonments; notice of travel from Mid-Michigan to Camp Custer, dated September 18, 1918 – only ten days before Camp Custer experienced the epidemic.

     Soon after the declaration of war against Germany in April 1917, Gratiot County prepared for the first draft since the Civil War. Today, records of almost 1,000 Gratiot County men show that half of those who were drafted were farmers, and most draftees were sent for training to Camp Custer, near Battle Creek, Michigan.

     Built near scattered woods, rolling countryside, and a small creek only 800 feet from its buildings, Camp Custer quickly went up in 1917.  The camp had soldiers barracks that were each built in the shape of an “L.” For entertainment, bored and homesick soldiers attended the Liberty Theatre, which held up to 5,000 men. A library sat next door to the theatre, and the YMCA was there to help soldiers who needed to obtain writing material, books to read, or athletic equipment for games to pass the time.

    For the parents, wives, and loved ones of these soldiers, the directions about how to get to the camp became well known. County newspapers told how people could leave from Ithaca, then follow a route through Pompeii, St. Johns, Dewitt, Lansing, Charlotte, Bellevue and end up at Battle Creek. Although it was only 109 miles from Ithaca to Camp Custer, people could drive there in six hours, so day trips were possible. However,  this meant only being able to visit a soldier for a couple of hours. As long as Gratiot County drivers obtained a pass for each person in their car, they were let in and given instructions about how to find their way to the soldier’s barracks. Guards at the gate only seemed concerned about allowing illegal intoxicants into the camp. Anyone traveling by train to the camp would be dropped off a distance from the entrance, but the walk was not too long.  Thus, travel back and forth from Gratiot County to the cantonment was well established by the fall of 1918.

     Gratiot soldiers told their families about camp life through their letters. Most described the routine of becoming a soldier; the food wasn’t too bad, but many fought loneliness during their training. Sometimes a Gratiot County soldier came home on a pass to marry his sweetheart, have a short one or two day honeymoon, but then he had to head back to camp.

       By the end of August 1918, over 30,000 troops were stationed at Camp Custer, and that was the problem.  On September 15, 1918, 537 men were suddenly admitted to the camp hospital. Less than a week later, on September 21, a day that featured warm weather and pleasant skies, something else seemed wrong. Doctors observed that officers had colds and sore throats; a few suffered bronchitis, which turned to pneumonia.  More men now came in with little or no cough, but they had the sudden onset of high fevers, often reaching 102-105F, respiratory problems,  aching in the bones, and severe prostration. By September 29, a quarantine was declared when 503 men suffered from influenza and another 139 contracted pneumonia. One day later, the numbers jumped to a total of 1,771 sick. By October 3, a total of 952 men were again admitted, filling  2, 125 beds. These admissions marked the peak of the epidemic inside the camp.

      In response, doctors and nurses donned masks and placed sick soldiers in a cubicle system to separate the beds. Attempts were made to boil mess kits but this stopped and sterilized tubs were substituted for washbowls which sat near the sick.  Once the hospital filled up, the mess halls, classrooms, the nearby YMCA and Red Cross buildings, and ten wood barracks all held the sick. One had trouble walking through corridors of these buildings because they also filled up with the ill and dying.

     As conditions worsened, Camp Custer telegraphed Detroit for more nurses, and over 80 came. At this point, camp officials made another decision. Family members were contacted and told that their soldier was dying. These all rushed to the camp, where a Red Cross nurse met and escorted them to the bedside of their loved one.  Mothers and wives were allowed to be near their sons and husbands if they wore masks. Tragically, as a result of being exposed to the virus, a total of 35 family members had to be hospitalized, and four mothers died.

      The way that the doctors tried to treat the rest of the camp during the crisis showed how little they understood about the disease. Healthy soldiers were now told to stay out of other buildings, and they were stripped to the waist and inspected twice a day to see if they were sick. All of their bedding and clothing had to be aired for six hours each day, and spitting was not allowed.

      By the first week of October 1918, the camp reached its peak of deaths when a total of 96 men died on October 7. However, more symptoms appeared: severe malaise, complaints of body aches, pain behind the eyes, a deep desire to sleep, a slow pulse, and delirium. Doctors also observed that broncho-pneumonia was now killing more men. The sick also seemed to crave moist foods, so sugar, stews, prunes, and dried peaches were fed to those who could eat.

      By mid-October, pneumonia-related cases dropped down to less than 10 percent in the camp.  However, by the Armistice, the final totals of those admitted due to sickness were staggering. A total of 7,687 men had been admitted to the hospital with influenza, and another 2,365 entered due to pneumonia. From these groups, 672 men died. A camp doctor wrote in a final report, “All deaths were from pneumonia (none from Influenza alone).”  This doctor did not seem to cite influenza as a factor relating to why so many soldiers would die.

      For Gratiot County, there were direct ties to those in the military who died during the influenza epidemic. Of the thirty World War I dead listed on the All Wars Memorial in Ithaca, eight of them died due to influenza.  Some of these took place in military camps and some in Europe. At Camp Custer, three Gratiot County men died there: Floyd Allen, Earl St. John, and Glenn Heibeck.  Allen (from Alma) belonged to the 40th Infantry, got sick on September 26, and died on October 11. St. John ( from Breckenridge)  and Heibeck (from Hamilton Township)  both belonged to the 78th Infantry and died three days apart on October 8 and October 11. Allen and St. John were listed as victims of “b-p” (broncho-pneumonia). Heibeck’s official cause of death was not recorded.

      Today, there were two things that the military and the government did in 1918,  which seem strange given how influenza spread in 1918. First, once the Armistice was announced on November 11, Camp Custer started to release men in mass numbers to return to their homes across Michigan, as long as they stayed south of a line from Bay City to Muskegon. Also, during the onset of the epidemic at Camp Custer, there were instances where men left the camp to go into Battle Creek.  How many of these men were still infected with the influenza virus?

     Secondly, a misconception took place about influenza-related deaths. While many people in Michigan (and across the United States) suffered extreme bouts of influenza and survived it, many soon died from pneumonia. It happened that influenza attacked the body, causing so much damage to immunity levels that people could not recover in time to stave off a secondary infection. In many cases, secondary infection would be pneumonia. This “double wave attack” took place in Camp Custer, and it would happen in places like Gratiot County.

     By late September 1918, people had been coming and going from Gratiot County to Camp Custer for quite some time. What did it mean? In some way, the influenza epidemic made its arrival here by October 1, 1918, just as the epidemic appeared in Battle Creek.  A giant wave was coming to Gratiot County.

Copyright 2020 James M. Goodspeed

We remember those from Gratiot County who served  in the military and who died as a result of the Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919:

Floyd E. Allen – Camp  Custer

Reuben Root – Camp Hancock

Edward Peters – Camp in New York

Glenn Heibeck – Camp Custer

Earl St. John – Camp Custer

William Shippey – Germany

Clyde Hull – France

Clarence Ludwig – France

*Dwight Von Thurn – Camp Oglethorpe (died of influenza in February 1918)






The Spectre at Gratiot’s Door, The Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919 – Part I: “It Was Unlike Anything We Ever Experienced”


Above: Downtown Alma during World War I months before the arrival of the Influenza Epidemic.

      What happened in Gratiot County in the fall of 1918 was both an epidemic and a pandemic. It was the county’s worst encounter with influenza, but it was also a global problem.  In all, approximately one-quarter of all Americans got the flu, a total of 25 million people. More Americans would die from the Influenza Epidemic than did soldiers and sailors who died in the World War.

      Some people knew it as “The Grippe,” a term that had been used for the frequent waves of influenza that came seasonally to places like Gratiot County.  Others called it “The Spanish Influenza,” and in the fall, it arrived as the second of three waves. The first invasion came in the spring of 1918 and left little indication of how deadly this would be. Even after the terrible events of the fall of 1918, in the spring of 1919, influenza visited again.

       It was in September 1918 that the virus reached Gratiot County, and by early October, many became sick. Still, life went on, and patriotism was very much in swing. With the nation heavily involved in World War I, the fall of 1918 witnessed intense Liberty Loan or Bond sales, drives, meetings, and parades. People in Gratiot County were expected to contribute heavily to the war effort by buying bonds. There was a feeling that the war would end soon because the Germans were retreating in France. Loyalty and support for the war effort seemed to approach a fever pitch, and people who did not appear patriotic could be put on notice.  On the eve of this national health crisis, people were actively congregating, meeting, and working in support of the war -and they would soon encounter and spread the influenza virus.

      For many who became sick, it meant suffering through intense influenza and then succumbing to a secondary viral infection,  usually in the form of pneumonia.  Symptoms frequently included having a sore throat, a severe cough, experiencing muscle pains or pain in the joints, the feeling of being cold all the time, or experiencing a fever of 101-105 degrees.  For those who experienced viral pneumonia, they often had intense delirium, coughed up of blood,  bled out of their nose or ears, and  had their skin turn “as blue as berries.” For some people in Gratiot County, it meant feeling healthy in the morning and then being weak, confined to bed, and delirious in the evening. Others best described the sickness as if they were being hit with a club.

      This flu epidemic in 1918 was also unique in that adults in their twenties and thirties died, leaving their families and homes adrift.  People tried to counter the influenza epidemic by keeping different things clean. Instructions said: keep your house clean, keep your “bowels open,” get plenty of sleep, eat a light diet, and practice social distancing, a practice that went back to the Middle Ages.

     Churches and theaters closed. Businesses closed their doors as well. “Quarantine” in Gratiot County was the word that meant staying away from homes that had contracted influenza. Woe to those who broke the quarantine as they could find themselves facing the wrath of the health department, or end up in jail.

       The truth was in Gratiot County, as in countless numbers of cities and villages across the United States, no one knew how to combat this influenza virus. Doctors could not explain why some of their treatments seemed to work on some patients but failed with others.  Doctors experienced a sense of helplessness about what to do, as did nurses, clergymen, health department officials, and city governments.

     In the fall of 1918, these were some of the things that Gratiot County experienced at the time called the Influenza Epidemic. And it was a time in our county’s history that our ancestors would never openly discuss.

Copyright 2020 James M. Goodspeed

The Spectre at Gratiot’s Door, The Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919 – Prologue: “The Arrival of Palmer Gustin”

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Above: Portraits of Palmer Gustin before and during his service during World War I; Gustin’s headstone in Indiana; Fulton High School 2005 World Geography class.

     The papers, wallet, and American Flag did not appear to draw any interest. When I first saw the auction lot on eBay, I was interested in its contents and even more intrigued that no one seemed to want it. There was only a short time left on the auction, and the materials belonging to a World War I veteran from Anderson, Indiana, sat there.

    It was early 2005, the internet was buzzing, and the United States had not yet experienced the recession of 2008. Items about American military history could be found on the internet, and those from the World War I era, while fairly common, often did not draw that much attention. It was as if World War I was a forgotten war – and the items in this sale were available.

      After I won the contents of the lot and it arrived at my room at Fulton High School in Middleton, Michigan, I wondered just what the story was concerning a soldier named Private Palmer Starr Gustin. Among the stained contents were a slightly mildewed American flag from 1918, a billfold,  a Red Cross receipt for a $1 donation, a photograph of a girl, and a bank book. Other items included: the soldier’s registration card, conscription letter, General Orders, names of other soldiers on a notepad, a poem about Kaiser Wilhelm, and his draft board classification card. There was also a large, oval-shaped,  “fish-eye” type of photograph of a soldier. There was also a collection of condolence cards; one was signed “War Mothers.”

    Since I tended to be a part-time History teacher, and because I seldom got the opportunity to teach American history, I had been creative with ways to get history into the classes that I taught. During the fall 2005 semester, I had been assigned a World Geography class. I decided that I would do the unusual: let my small group of Geography students do the detective work on the internet to see what they could find out about this collection of World War I items, and just who this Palmer Gustin was. I could argue that I was teaching the geographic theme of “movement.” I just held my breath, did not tell my administrator what we were doing on Fridays, and let the students learn something about history.

     The internet in 2005 did not have all of the search engines and sites that exist today. Museums and archives were coming online with access to their collections, just started to digitize some of their holdings. Still, I was soon surprised at what my students discovered.

     It turned out that Private Gustin was the son of John and Nellie Mae Gustin and the family had lived in central Indiana for quite some time. Born in 1898, Palmer was the eldest son of five children. His only brother, Arthur, died in 2004 at the age of 97. Students learned that Palmer appeared before the local draft board in Madison County in August 1918, and he was sent to Camp Sheridan in Alabama. There he became a part of Company C, 67th Infantry. All of this happened after being rejected by the Army and Navy in 1917. Eventually, Gustin was accepted for Selective Service in 1918. It was then that the class found out that something very bad had happened to Palmer Gustin.

     Gustin had been at Camp Sheridan for a short time in the fall of 1918 (possibly eight weeks) when the Influenza Epidemic hit the camp. Camp Sheridan was not the only camp to experience the epidemic, and the virus had invaded military cantonments (camps) across the United States by September 1918 at the latest (as had Camp Custer in Battle Creek). Some camps encountered the virus earlier that spring. Soldiers quickly became sick with influenza,  and then frequently suffered pneumonia, which resulted in death. Palmer Gustin contracted influenza and died on October 24. A week before Palmer died,  a total of 2,367 cases of influenza were reported in his camp. This young man from Indiana, age 22, was one of those who were taken in the influenza epidemic.

      After my class tried to make sense of this puzzle, the question was asked, “What should happen to the remaining effects of Palmer Gustin?”  The next assignment was to find out if any family members were still alive and if they could tell us anything else about this soldier. We were lucky and we discovered that there was a niece still living in the Anderson, Indiana area. Of course, Mr. Goodspeed was nominated to try and make the initial contact. I did and I found Paula Bronnenberg, who was very interested in her great uncle’s belongings. Bronnenberg wanted to know why a bunch of students from another state found them. Mrs. Bronnenberg helped to fill in some of the pieces of her uncle’s life. Paula lived in the same farmhouse that Palmer Gustin had been born. She knew of his death in the flu epidemic and she also knew who the girl was in one of the pictures that I described: it was her grandmother, Mattie Palmer. Mattie’s first name was on the back of the photograph.

     Bronnenberg also explained that there had been an estate sale in the family and that she had failed to obtain Great Uncle Palmer Gustin’s military items. We decided as a class that these things belonged in Indiana, and we shipped them back to her. I took pictures and made copies of the items before we returned them, and the file disappeared into my crowded filing system until I remembered that I still had it. At the time, I was starting to investigate Gratiot County during World War I.

       As a teacher, my small group of Geography students had encountered a deadly event in history known as the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. I knew a little about this pandemic, but not very much. I began to ask what really happened in Gratiot County?

      It was over ten years before I really started to really look for the answers to the question, but I began to find some of them.

         Next time, Part I: “It Was Unlike Anything We Had Experienced”

Copyright 2020 James M. Goodspeed


Gratiot County’s Finest Hour – January 1945: The Bulge Extends the War; Landing in the Philippines

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Above: Rationing violations in Gratiot County and hunters; the Farm Bureau and county banks all urged support of the war effort; farming and farm products all stayed in the minds of people as the war went on into 1945.

    The surprise and the shock of the German attack in the Ardennes in December continued to make the headlines. Although the Western Allies slowly pushed the Germans back, the going was slow, and casualties continued to climb.

      Out in the Pacific, the United States landed in the Philippines and began the process of liberating the islands from Japanese control. For a while, the news about the war in the Pacific seemed brighter than what was happening in Europe. County newspaper columns now warned citizens that the war in Europe could take another year to win. No projections were made about how long the war against Japan would take.

      At home, the OPA cracked down on rations and rationing as a result of the Battle of the Bulge. Some foods that had been relatively easy to obtain now came under stricter guidelines. A group of Gratiot County hunters found themselves in trouble with the OPA for abusing their gasoline rations during deer season.

      The war was real, it was going to continue, and the consequences were harsh.

      It was January 1945 in Gratiot County.


The Red Cross

      The Red Cross announced at the start of the New Year that families and friends of prisoners of war in Germany could now write immediately to their loved ones. The International Red Cross in Switzerland now accepted the letters, which used to take at least two to three months to reach a captured POW. However, packages still could not be sent until it was determined the POW’s permanent address.

     School children in Gratiot County had their work displayed in the window of the county chapter’s window in Ithaca. Donations of afghans and bed slippers showed how school children supported the Red Cross. Mrs. W.L. Clise, who had worked as chairman of the Junior Red Cross for the past eight years, organized the window display.

      The 1945 Red Cross fund drive was set at a goal of $25,700, and March 20-22 was set aside as county canvass days to raise money. Stanley C. Brown served as county chairman, and six other men served on the board with him, each from the five districts in Gratiot County. For example, Mrs. Ralph Tweedie was chairman for District No. 5, which consisted of North Shade, Fulton, Washington, and Elba Townships.

     Different chapters in the county published their annual reports and the work they did in 1944. The St. Louis chapter published a long list of women who worked on things such as knitting for the Army and Navy, which the women there contributed 1168 hours total (Mrs. Emma Weston gave 211 hours of service). Items like sleeveless sweaters, gloves, helmets, mufflers, turtleneck sweaters, scarfs, and watch caps were many of the things that the group made. Mrs. Florence Marr submitted the report, which detailed which St. Louis women gave of their time.

     At the annual Alma Red Cross Chapter meeting, Mrs. G.A. Giles was re-elected as chairman. Some of the things that the Alma group did included the creation of kit bags, Army hospital garments, and surgical dressings. Loans totaling $596 had been made to servicemen from the unit. The chapter had a fund balance of  $2, 045.41 to work with to start the year

     Ithaca also had a meeting on January 26 and announced that the new service headquarters had been set up across from the courthouse.  Ottoway Marett, a father whose son was killed in the Pacific in 1941, spoke at its annual meeting in the Thompson Home Library. Marrett joined the American Red Cross immediately after his son’s death and went overseas in 1942. Mrs. Sarah Rasor acknowledged that 106 garments and 144 kits had been sent out in 1944.


Farming in Gratiot County

     Among the most important news that involved farmers concerned the drafting of farm laborers. The War Mobilization director announced that men now between 18 and 25 years of age who had agricultural deferments would now be drafted. These workers, who made up a farm pool of approximately 345,000 men in the nation, was the last large source of men for the war. The German offensive in the Ardennes in December pushed back expectations that the war in Europe would soon end, and more soldiers were needed. Once the drafting of deferred farmworkers was announced, farmers across the state voiced concerns that they could not meet the nation’s farm goals for 1945. Some farmers were livid when they heard that they would lose their farm help. In some places in Michigan, farmers went to the draft board meeting, walked in with farm animals such as chickens or a cow, and left them with the draft board. The farmers then told draft board members to figure out how to feed and take care of the animals.

      A group of about 350 young Gratiot farmers was called up for pre-induction physical exams. Five busses, consisting of 175 men, left early in January with another group scheduled to go in February. Usually, the examinations were given 30 to 40 days before induction, but the draft board could not confirm how soon these men would be inducted. Michigan was expected to send 35,000 men by July, with 10,000 of the men coming from deferred farmworkers.

       In other farm news concerning Gratiot County, St. Louis schools announced that it was offering adult classes in agriculture. Ithaca, grain market news, reported the following prices:   No. 2 White Wheat sold for $1.64 a bushel; Dark Red Kidney Beans were $7.25; live poultry went for 25 cents a pound; U.S. graded eggs sold between 24 to 40 cents a dozen. Arlan Sherman from Ithaca appeared in the January issue of Capper’s Farmer with his invention, which involved using an old inner tube as a tractor cushion. Sherman wrapped his cushion in an old burlap sack, shaped into the desired shape, then tied it to his tractor seat. Dairy feed payments for milk and cream subsidies became available in late January in four different towns to save farmers from driving long distances in Elwell, Middleton, Breckenridge, and Ashley starting January 1. St. Louis Beet Growers Association held its fourteenth annual meeting in the St. Louis High School auditorium. A free lunch was given to those who attended. The St. Louis Cooperative Creamery also planned its annual meeting for February and planned on having it in the high school as well. Farm families were urged to comply with the 1945 Census for Agriculture, and a call went out for help from people to enumerate the census. Farmers could also obtain certificates for lumber to be used for maintaining or repairing farm dwellings. While pumps and cellar drains were still rationed, household water systems, like sump pumps, were not.

     Another problem concerned the number of people who held auction sales because due to a lack of help. Or, farmers now were being drafted. Maynard Parrish of North Star, Paul Duski of Bannister, Robert Chaffin of Ithaca, and Ciril Tugen of Alma all were forced to sell because of military obligations. Joe Honus of Ashley had no pasture for his animals, so he had an auction sale. Allen and Orville Ropp quit farming “at the request of the draft board,” and so they sold their farm west of Alma.

    Some exciting developments occurred in the county concerning the hunting of red foxes by hunters and farmers. Gratiot, Clinton, Ionia, and Montcalm hunters all declared war on red fox as it was believed that the animal was decimating the pheasant population and preying on farm animals. On Christmas Eve, an organized fox hunt started in Maple Rapids, led by Conservation Officer Harold Barrow and fifty hunters, bagged five foxes. Not one of the hunters volunteered to turn in a fox for the $5 bounty for animals that were shot in North Star and Newark townships. One of the foxes had to be dug out of its burrow. Nineteen of the hunters had their picture taken which appeared on the front page of the Gratiot County Herald. There had been some debate in Gratiot County about the new $5 fox bounty.  Sheriff Nestle had to examine all fox pelts, and he then placed a unique perforated stamp in the ear of each hide. The mark prevented anyone from cheating and collecting twice on fox pelts.

     On a more promising note, Union Telephone Company said that it planned to expand rural telephone service “As soon as war demands are reduced…” The announcement encouraged many Gratiot County farm families as rural service did not extend to that many in the county.

Rationing Goes On

     As rationing continued in January, it seemed to be even more severe than it had in 1944. The Gratiot County rationing board issued certificates for 97 Grade 1 tires and 21 small truck tires.  Later in the month, the rationing board issued another 270 tire certificates. Another potentially rationed item dealt with a possible coal shortage.    Now, people were warned that they might have to obtain certificates indicating their need for coal. In January, the lack of coal had not hit. However, concerns over fuel started to appear. The anticipated coal shortage would lead to “brownouts” in St. Louis as the War Production Board wanted a drastic cut in the amount of electricity to be used after February 1. This rule meant no exterior lighting for display purposes, and only lights for public safety and directions to the downtown area would be allowed. The welcome sign to St. Louis also was turned off.

     The German December offensive affected rationing. Before Christmas, only one-third of meats had been rationed; now, 85 percent of beef on the ration list was rationed.

    Centers in the county continued to request tin can collections. Trucks went to ten places in the county starting January 15 and delivered tin to the Harris Milling Company in Alma. The Moblo Hardware Store in Riverdale and Sumner Hoxie Store in Elwell were just two of the places that tin could be taken locally. The tin from Gratiot County went to the Vulcan Detinning Company in Pennsylvania, and a total of over seven tons of tin were picked up from the back of Alma City Hall. When it was all done, Gratiot County sent over ten tons of tin from a year’s worth of tin drives.

     Superintendent F.R. Phillips of Alma Schools proclaimed that Alma students would help pick up the paper at the same time as the tin drive. During the day of the tin drive, Alma students took approximately one hour after school to pick up over one ton of tin that day. Eight trucks and drivers assisted the students.  Anyone who missed having their paper ready for the pickup only needed to call the Civilian Defense Agency at Telephone 103. Breckenridge also held a two-week tin drive, and tin was delivered to the Miller Implement Store. The Breckenridge Blue Star Mothers encouraged people there to help make an extensive tin collection in the village.

      The city of Alma already started a “paper holiday” after the holidays. The Chamber of Commerce urged shoppers to bring a bag for their purchased items instead of asking to be wrapped. One of the calls for the paper during the war now concerned cartons for shipping blood plasma to wounded soldiers. Over in St. Louis, the Boy Scouts planned another paper drive pickup in early February.

    Over at the Ithaca courthouse, a group of 27 Gratiot County deer hunters were summoned by the OPA authorities regarding the misuse of gas ration cards. Several Gratiot hunters exceeded their gasoline allotments in traveling to the Upper Penninsula to go deer hunting. Drivers had only 120 miles per month in gas rations, and they would have had to save over three month’s worth of rationing allotments to travel that far north to hunt (which amounted to 360 miles of travel). When the men were confronted with the fact that their travels exceeded 406 miles to and from the Straits of Mackinac things, plus mileage beyond the Straits, things did not seem to add up.  As a result of the hearings, the men received 90-day suspensions all gas rations. Some of these men included Archie Mates (Breckenridge), along with E.A. Cummings, Philip Becker,  and Joseph Kapral (Ithaca), who received 90-day gas ration suspensions. Another three men who did not appear in court got 180 day suspensions. The hearings , led by OPA officials, took place in the supervisors’ room in the courthouse.

A New Direction for the Draft

    The December German offensive sent ripples through Gratiot County because the military looked for more fighting men. Selective service looked for those previously classified as 4-F, as well as those who had deferments as farm help. President Roosevelt  admonished those who committed “job skipping” – those who left their designated jobs without approval from their draft board.

    One of the changes in Gratiot County dealt with men who previously had been classified as 2-A now had 1-A classifications. These included young business and professional men. Clerks and telephone operators – as well as postal carriers – all received the news that new draft orders were coming. County Farm Bureaus asked Draft Boards to slow down and carefully consider  who would now be drafted. The main argument for this centered around the effect that drafting farm boys had on the effectiveness of farm help and crops for 1945.

War Bonds and Loans

     The final report for December’s Sixth War Loan Drive showed that Gratiot County raised just over $449,427.00 or 64 percent of its goal for sales to individuals. Corporation sales, however, went above the target and raised $579,795.00, or 143 percent of its aim. Overall, Gratiot County raised over 93 percent of the assigned goal it had for selling war bonds in the drive, which turned out better than had been projected.  Why didn’t the county do better? County newspapers asked the same thing and reminded the public that there was no better duty than investing in the government as many hoped that the war in Europe would soon end.

     There had been other successes with bonds. A former St. Louis lady, Mrs. Clinton Bailey, now lived in Detroit. Bailey sold over $100,000 in bonds over the previous two years and gained headlines when she sold a $50,000 bond for the American Women’s Voluntary Services. Over in Pompeii, Miss Cheryl Lynn Fraker received a $25 bond as the firstborn child in 1945 in Gratiot County. “Miss Gratiot of 1945” was born at Smith Memorial Hospital at 3:15 a.m. on New Year’s Day. She weighed 8 pounds 3 ounces, and Dr. A.L. Aldrich attended the delivery, with help from Gertrude Kirby, the Registered Nurse.

Letters Home to Gratiot County

     Letters home to Gratiot County reminded readers who were defending the homeland. Private Berfield Acker wrote to his parents in Alma about being in the South Pacific. Now in the Philippine Islands, Acker said he had lost some weight.  He also had never been so unclean in his life. He had been living in dirt and mud holes for over a week. The dirt on his clothes made them very heavy and he had to clean them by beating them against a rock while standing in a creek. After being allowed to trade with the natives, he and his fellow men obtained bananas, chickens, and sweet potatoes. Although he had yet to receive Christmas presents from home, Acker enjoyed turkey for Thanksgiving. Orville Lippert, also from Alma and in the Pacific, got his letter and pictures from home in time for Christmas. Lippert visited a Catholic chaplain at one of his stops and was asked to paint an image on the altar for the chapel. He took pictures of where he was and hoped that they would arrive home by March. Lippert also wrote that he spent a lot of time interacting with the natives in his area by learning how to ride in a canoe, which he almost tipped over.

     Leland Lytle wrote home from Holland, asking for someone to send him cigarettes. Lyle served with the engineers and valued hearing from his mother – “Hearing from you is almost like hearing your voice.” Officer Clair Purdy of Alma told his voyage to England. Purdy said that the men only ate twice a day, and he was on a British ship. As an officer, he had excellent quarters, and he had a steward clean his room twice a day. Everyone on board took showers and baths in saltwater as freshwater was used only for shaving and drinking. English stewards gave table service to the officers while enlisted men had to eat out of their mess kits in the chow line. The seas could be rough, and when Purdy reached once for his coffee, “I found it wasn’t there but had slid halfway down the table. At the same time, a crash in the kitchen indicated a tray of broken dishes.” Several civilians also were on board, traveling under government authorization as foreign diplomats.

     “Somewhere in the Pacific,” Clarence Isles wrote to his parents in Ithaca that he had been on Saipan. Isles told his mother that he had not seen a window in so long that he forgot how curtains looked. On Saipan, Isles had to search enemy dwellings and also saw many dead Japanese after a battle. He estimated at least 5,000 enemy dead lay in a ten-acre area, having fallen three or four deep due to machine gunfire. A fellow soldier claimed to have killed 58 Japanese in one night attack. The Japanese ran in large numbers, yelling, and appearing to be drunk. Isles said that frequently the attackers got through the American lines because there were too many to shoot at one time.  Ronald Gross also told his parents in Ithaca that he just had not had time to write during the treacherous invasion of the Philippines. “The reason you haven’t heard from me is because I have been fighting and couldn’t write. I have had some buddies killed, but I can’t tell you how many or how,” Gross added. He did send home some Philippine money.

     Donald Peters told his parents that he received packages in Italy from the Blue Star Mothers and the Sowers Church. He said it was nice to be remembered. Sergeant Max Sias wrote to his parents in St. Louis after arriving in England. Sias was in France at Christmas and attended a Christmas Eve service in an old church filled with former soldiers and some French citizens. These were the first services in the church in four years. The people there had not attended services since being occupied by the Germans. A family that owned the building where Sias and other American soldiers were billeted gave Sias a basket of apples for Christmas, a wonderful Christmas present. Private Howard Comstock, also of St. Louis, also wrote to his parents about parachuting into Holland with the 82nd Airborne. Comstock said that he had too many things on him when he jumped out of the plane, causing him to almost fall headfirst. While Comstock safely landed, he found himself in the middle of a field; then he sought cover in a ditch. As Comstock sat there for a moment, Comstock saw three C-47s hit by enemy fire before they went down in flames. Upon hitting the road, he and other paratroopers ran across a bridge nine spans long, all while being shot at by the Germans. Private Orland Keefer of Alma wrote a heartfelt letter to his wife, explaining his Christmas Dream. Keefer dreamt of hearing his wife’s voice, entering his home, and seeing a Christmas tree inside. Keefer made it clear that “I know when I go home, I’ll be sure no children of mine will ever have to spend their Christmas in jungles, in fox holes, or beachheads.” Private Donald Kiter of St. Louis wrote that he was staying in an 18th-century chateau somewhere in France. Kiter was amazed by the cloth-like wallpaper, rug, fireplace, “and almost all of the comforts of home.”

Those in the Service

     Three Dancer boys from Wheeler were in Europe. Leroy (France), Kenneth (Germany), and Duane (Italy) were all involved in combat areas. Private Lowell Quidort wrote that he was now in Belgium. Corporal Mike Simonovic sent word to his wife that he was somewhere in France, possibly in Paris. Private Frank Wroe of Elwell served as an ammunition worker in the 8th Air Force B-17 Flying Fortress station in England.  Private Frank Raymond wrote to his mother in St. Louis from a foxhole in Germany with the Third Army. He said that his hole was not too wet. Corporal Alfred Gorringe of Alma was an MP with the Sixth Army Group Headquarters in France. He was involved with traffic patrol, headquarters guard duty, and town patrol work.  Private Donald Greening of St. Louis told his parents that his Christmas dinner in Belgium during the German offensive consisted of cold beans and some hard crackers. Greening served with the Cannon Company of the 290th Infantry.  Second Lieutenant Stanley Bailey, Jr., of Breckenridge, piloted the troop carrier “Dakota” over Cherbourg on the opening night of the invasion and now did so over Holland. He had worked for Greening Oil Company before entering the service in April 1942.

     In Italy, Private Matthew Horwath served as a carpenter with Peninsular Base Section Ordnance Depot. His unit serviced combat troops throughout the Mediterranean. Russell Isham of Middleton served in the signal company of the 100th Infantry Division in the 7th Army front. Isham’s unit was in charge of communications. He had gotten as close as the Rhine River. Private James Mills of North Star served in Italy with the 11th Bomb Group of the 42nd Bombardment Wing. He had been involved in five campaigns since going overseas two years ago. Private Leland Perry of Alma wrote from Italy, thanking his parents for the “swell” Christmas he had after receiving twelve Christmas packages. This was the second Christmas Perry spent in Italy. Private Glen Mutchler, also of Alma, served with the 339th Polar Bear Regiment in Italy, which broke the German Gothic Line at places like Highway Line and Futa Pass.

Robert C. Ode of St. Louis was serving on an LST in the South Pacific. Emery Bebow of St.      Louis returned to California to await his second deployment to the Pacific Theatre. Lorne Beard, who was inducted into the Navy before graduating from St. Louis, served aboard the USS Boise and saw action at New Guinea, Guadalcanal, and now in Leyte, Philippines. He had two brothers in the service as well. Sergeant G.D.Smith of Alma sent home a picture from a New Guinea jungle of a Papuan native doctor. The natives were very helpful during the invasion, and they helped fight the Japanese.  Harry Most of Lafayette Township finally got word home to his parents that he was okay. He landed in England, and his brother James made it safely to France. A third brother, Bert, saw a lot of action in New Guinea and wished he could see snow back home in Michigan. Nolan MacLaren of New Haven wrote from the South Pacific that he received his Christmas package and all of his cards. He commented on how the men he served with valued Christmas treats and how they shared them. MacLaren thought he was relatively safe and hoped to see Japan when the war ended. MacLaren also hoped he would return through New York so that he could say that he had been around the world.

     In the United States, Private Leonard Zinn was in Fort McClellan, Alabama, and “is very lonesome and would welcome letters from any of his friends.” Sergeant Elon Pratt went back to Jackson, Mississippi, with his wife after a fifteen-day furlough. Pratt had spent 30 months in Alaska with the 11th Air Force in the Army Air Corps before coming home. Private Reed Gould also came back on a three-week leave from India. It was his first furlough home since entering the service in 1941. Staff Sergeant Robert Duane came home from Italy after completing 50 missions in the Air Corps. He expected to be sent to Miami, Florida, after his two-week visit.  Technical Sergeant Richard Guernsey came home to Middleton after completing 51 missions as a radioman and gunner in Italy. He departed for Italy on July 1, 1944.

     Finally, news arrived that Private Evelyn Courey now served as a staff car driver with the North Atlantic Division of the Air at LaGuardia Field in New York. Courey had been a WAC since early December 1943, and her mother lived in Alma.

Those Killed, Wounded, and Missing in Action; Status of POWs

     The number of names of those who died in service to Gratiot County and the nation continued to grow. In 1944, at least 49 young men from the county or neighboring areas perished while defending the United States.

     Lieutenant Arner, Miles Douglas of Ithaca, died in France when his P-47 Thunderbolt crashed in dense fog on December 2.  Douglas had already survived being shot down during the summer of 1944 in his plane, “Miss Isabelle.” Had Douglas completed his mission he would have been eligible for a furlough home. Another loss from Ashley occurred when Sergeant Robert Kerr was killed in action, as was Lieutenant Leslie Struble of St. Louis. Both deaths were tied to the German offensive in Belgium. Private Robert Lucas was also killed in action in Belgium on December 28. He had attended St. Louis schools and had been in the service since late March 1942. Sergeant Edward Lyon of Ithaca died in an airplane crash in England on January 2 as a result of the fog. Ray Bartlett, a Fireman 1/c from St. Louis who had been listed as missing in action in the South Pacific, was now listed as dead. Orville Casson, age 18 and whose grandmother lived in Ithaca, died when his ship the USS Destroyer Monaghan went down during a typhoon in the Western Pacific. Only 6 out of 150 men on board survived. Casson’s cousin also lost his life in the Pacific aboard the U.S. Submarine Grunion.

      The American Legion held a memorial service in Breckenridge for Private Donald Armbrustmacher, who was killed in action on October 31, 1944. The ceremony took place at the Congregational Church, which was filled with family, community members, and members of the Blue Star Mothers. Taps was played at the end of the service. Another memorial service in Breckenridge took place to remember Quartermaster Denver Welch, who lost his life in a hurricane on September 18, 1944. Welch had been aboard the Coast Guard cutter The Jackson when lost in the Atlantic off Cape Hatteras. Welch’s death marked the second time in the service of his country, having enlisted at age 18 and spending six months in the Panama Canal Zone. After being discharged due to a bone infection, Welch re-enlisted in December 1941 and joined the Coast Guard. Earlier in May 1944, Welch spent a week in a life raft at sea when he lost his ship in a storm.

     The names of the wounded from Gratiot County kept growing. Private Alfred Reed was wounded at Aachen and now was in the 162nd General  Hospital in England.  Private Kenneth Burch from the Porter Oil Field was in a hospital somewhere in England. Private Frederick Rohn had spent five months in a hospital in England, but he was now back in action. Others wounded in Europe included Private John Meyers of Sumner, Corporal Jack Dickerson of Alma, and Lieutenant Carroll McAdam of Ithaca. However, there had not been much information about any of them. Sergeant Daniel Dafoe of Alma suffered a shell fragment to his upper right arm on Christmas Day in France, but he was making a healthy recovery. Another Alma man, Lieutenant Frank Shimunek, suffered a severe shoulder wound in Northern Italy while commanding his platoon of combat engineers with the 88th Blue Devil Division. He would be out for at least two months. Private James Fox of Alma, who previously served as an MP and had been transferred to the Infantry, was wounded during the Belgium break-through. T/4 Ray Ferrall of Bannister also injured his right arm on December 20 and would be out four to six weeks. Private Carl Wiltfong of Ithaca was wounded on Christmas Day in Germany, but he expected to rejoin the 121st Infantry soon.

      Out in the Pacific, Private Wayne Sowers was wounded on Guam in July and was hospitalized. He enlisted at age 18 and received the Purple Heart for his wounds. Arthur Lover from Bannister was in a Naval hospital in the South Pacific. Private Wayne Sowers of St. Louis had been wounded while on Guam and spent two weeks in the hospital earlier in July.

      Some of the most significant anxiety that Gratiot County families dealt with concerned about the unknown status of several men. Lieutenant John Ellis of Alma was missing in Belgium, as Sergeant Duane Rench, who was missing from a bombing raid over Germany. Others missing in action included Private Arthur Wilson (Breckenridge), Jack Little and Ted Barton (North Star),  Duane Rench (Alma), and John Kupres (St. Louis). With each of these men, little was known about their fate except what the War Department announced. On New Year’s Day in Alma, the wife of Lieutenant Harold Fandell learned that her husband had been missing on a B-24 bombing raid on December 12. One week after receiving this news, she learned that Fandell was back with the Eighth Air Force in England because he survived the bailout over Germany. Mrs.Henry Isham of Middleton discovered that her son, Lieutenant Robert Perry,  was missing since a September 22 bombing mission from India to China. Perry piloted a C-46 cargo plane. Private Foster Gervin of Elm Hall had been missing since December 4 in Germany.

     More Gratiot men also became prisoners of war, mainly in Germany. Erwin Junior Morey, whose mother lived in Wheeler, sent a card to his mother saying that he was well, and the Red Cross brought food to his camp once a week. Private Anson Foster, who had been missing since September 15, now was a prisoner of war in Germany. So was Sergeant James Grosskopf of Alma, who had been in a camp since December 11, 1943. Sergeant George Mahin of Alma also was in the same camp.

And So We Do Not Forget

    The Gratiot County clerk released figures that one divorce in every 2.75 marriages in the county during 1944. The record showed 244 marriages and a total of 81 divorces were granted…The Gratiot County Road Commission planned to construct four new steel and concrete bridges in the county and 4 ½ miles of a new highway. The total cost of these post-war projects was estimated at $435,000…The Gratiot County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of  Gratiot County and the state of Michigan going to Central War Time (Eastern Standard Time)…A crazed Leslie man shot and killed one person and wounded another near Elm Hall in early January. Nally King shot his former housekeeper and her mother when Mrs. Marian Blair refused to return to Leslie to help care for King’s mother. After the shooting, King turned the gun on himself and committed suicide…The St. Louis Community Center needed a director before and could not open its doors until it hired a part-time person to oversee activities for junior and senior high students…The St. Louis Rotary Club heard a report about a proposal to grow more evergreen trees and shrubs in St. Louis. Verne Miller of Alma brought samples to illustrate how these could help St. Louis…The Blue Star Mothers of Gratiot County continued their push to raise money and to establish a war memorial in Gratiot County. The group had more than 3,000 names for support and $5,500 so far for their project.

     Rural teachers in the county had the opportunity to take college extension work this winter from Michigan State College. The classes were to take place in Ithaca…A March of Dimes Campaign took place in mid-January to help victims of poliomyelitis. The goal was to raise $3,200…The movie “Wilson” appeared for one day only at the Alma Strand Theatre. The new movie told the story of President Woodrow Wilson. The evening show cost $1.10 for adults, but a matinee only cost 76 cents…Income tax meetings for farmers took place in three places in Gratiot County. They were held to clarify the topics of dependents, deductions, and how to report sales of assets…A dairy specialist from Lansing came to Middleton to talk to farmers about ways to improve dairy production…St. Louis High School held a town hall speaker who was a survivor of a Japanese prisoner of war camp. United Press correspondent Robert Bellaire was held for six months outside of Tokyo just after Pearl Harbor. He was one of 45 prisoners who were part of a prisoner exchange in 1942…The Bridgeville School in Washington Township reported that twenty students were enrolled there, and the Christmas Seal Program raised $8.22, according to teacher Mrs. Mabel Biddinger…The Fulton E.V. Aid had a fish dinner that served 105 people and raised $48.10. A donation was made to the Infantile Paralysis Fund…The annual athletic banquet at Ithaca brought 225 people to listen to Albion College Athletic Director Dale Sprankle. After a chicken dinner, four Ithaca boys were recognized who would soon leave for the armed forces.  Marvin Gabrion received the 1944 Most Valuable Player…The Alma College basketball team played a team made up of men from Fort Custer.

      The St. Louis Commercial Savings Bank received recognition for its growth as a result of its reorganization and service since 1934. Vere Nunn, who had worked for the bank for over 35 years, now served only as its President…A group of 166 members of the Gratiot County Farm Bureau met at its annual meeting in Ithaca to hear Professor  E.C. Prophet talk about “Geography in War”…Max Paine’s Fulton basketball team defeated Ithaca 34-21…The St. Louis GEM Theatre collected money for the March of Dimes program…A total of 70 Gratiot school districts received $45,265.74 in state aid.  Alma city schools received $15,297.00 while North Shade No. 4 got $205.87…Forest Ervay purchased Duck Pin Alley in St. Louis. Four leagues had been formed and bowling took place four nights a week…An Adult Education program continued to grow at Alma Schools. Director Sylvia Williams was in charge of the program… and the Annual Week of Prayer, sponsored by the Ithaca Ministerial Association, took place.

     And that was Gratiot County’s Finest Hour in January 1945.

    Copyright 2020 James M Goodspeed

Gratiot County’s Finest Hour – December 1944, “The Fuhrer Strikes Back”

 Above: Maps illustrated that the Nazis threatened the Western Front in France; Bond cartoon and headlines told that the Sixth War Loan was in trouble in the county; The only way to see Bing Crosby’s newest movie was to buy a bond; Santa made his annual visit to Gratiot County during December 1944.

        In December 1944, many Americans thought that the German surrender was near and that the war in Europe would be over. Local clergymen in both Ithaca and Alma started to make plans to celebrate the end of the war. Zeal and commitment to buy war bonds and loans waned in Gratiot County. Some called this inability to raise money “war fatigue,” others saw this problem as a lack of commitment to the country.

        And then in mid-December – the Fuhrer struck back. The German Army opened a surprise attack in Belgium, which the Nazis called the Ardennes Offensive. Americans came to know it as “The Battle of the Bulge.” This battle would determine if the Allied progress across Western Europe in the second half of 1944 would be halted, split into pieces, or even turned back. The Nazis caught Americans by surprise, and it made residents in Gratiot County realize that this war could still have a different ending.

        As the holiday season came to Gratiot County, the shocking news about the Nazi enemy, who many thought was nearly defeated, threatened to take the war in a new direction. It was December 1944.

Rationing in Gratiot County

        The long arm of the law caught up with Richard Snyder and Charles Herman, both 17 and from Breckenridge. The boys broke into the Everett McLean gas station in the village, stole gasoline rationing stamps, and then tried to sell them in East Tawas. They got caught when they tried to sell the stamps to deer hunters who were headed north. Warrants were issued for the two. In other rationing news, gasoline stamp A-13 was good for 4 gallons of gas through December 21. More stamps were good for 5 gallons. However, all stamp books had to have the owner’s state and license number written on the front. Homemakers were also told to destroy all invalid stamps that they had in their possession.

         A “paper holiday” was declared in many Gratiot County towns and villages as people were asked to conserve all waste paper, especially in the form of Christmas wrapping paper. The War Production Board issued warnings that the nation suffered from a critical shortage of paper due to the war effort. To deal with this, Ithaca held its Friday morning wastepaper and rag pick up, courtesy of the Ithaca Boy Scouts. Village employees showed up at the drive and helped the Ithaca Scouts. A total of 255 tire certificates were issued on December 14. Most were for grade one tires. In 1945, it was announced that civilians in the United States would get 200,000 fewer passenger tires to provide more tires for the war in Europe.  A carload of tin was scheduled to leave Alma on January 15, 1945. The city of Alma started the process of applying for a new hose for the fire department and for flushing streets. Rubber hose was restricted due to rationing laws, and Alma had to apply for a new one.

        By the end of December, canned vegetables, butter, and sugar were all items that came under tighter rationing regulations. By December 31, 85 percent of all meats needed ration points for a purchase.  Even though civilian supplies were at the lowest level since Pearl Harbor, the OPA declared that no food crisis existed. Restrictions now meant that everyone would have a fair share of food. Still, restaurants and hotels that did their baking now faced a 15% cut in sugar starting January 1.

The Work of the Gratiot County Red Cross

       The service window of the Ithaca Red Cross had decorations done by Mrs. Rolland Crawford. In a picture, Crawford drew a scene with troopships in the Atlantic and landing barges arriving at islands in the Pacific. A Red Cross tent and insignia sat in the combat zone, the area overrun by tanks, planes, and guns. Above the drawing was writing that read “Red Cross Brings Christmas Everywhere.”

       The Alma Red Cross responded quickly to a call for Red Cross kit bags. Volunteers went to work on constructing the bags, but another call for kit bags seemed to be on the horizon in January. Volunteer surgical dressing workers that left dresses behind needed to pick them up as the headquarters would be cleaned. The ladies wore these while working on quotas.

Bond Drive

       It appeared that a combination of “bond fatigue” and “war weariness” accounted for the struggles that Gratiot County had in meeting its goal for the Sixth War Loan Drive. Early in the month on Pearl Harbor Day, Alma barely exceeded its goal of $61,700 in bonds. The rest of the county total was at only 16 percent of its $1,103,000 goal. One way the city of Alma tried to encourage people to buy bonds was to sponsor a one-night showing of “Going My Way” at the Strand Theatre. Over 700 people purchased bonds to get a ticket for the Bing Crosby movie, and bond sales amounted to over $20,000 that night’s movie. The Fleming Store displayed a rubber boat that carried five men, a Merchant Marine life-saving suit, and different types of boots that the Army and Navy used – all from rubber products. The display tried to promote the bond drive. It would be corporations and places like Alma College, who kept buying bonds to keep Gratiot County on track of its goal. At one point, Alma College purchased $112,794 worth of bonds; another $398, 610 came from corporations. The American Legion, its Auxillary, and the Gratiot Conservation League pitched in with $7,500 for bonds.

        Headlines screamed at mid-month “Gratiot Is Failing to Do Her Part in War Bonds.” Corporations in the county used payroll deductions to sell bonds; in many cases, they were successful. Some people claimed that they had not been visited at their homes to buy their bonds. However, newspapers printed, “The responsibility is yours and no one else’s…What are YOU going to do about it?” When the drive ended on December 21, the county was over $189,000 short of the goal. Corporation sales did well, but individual sales did not do well. In the end, the United States as a whole met its goal, but individual subscriptions of E Bonds fell short.

         On a lighter side, the Gratiot County Herald offered a $25 War Bond to the first baby born in the county in 1945. The parents of the baby had to live in Gratiot County at the time of the child’s birth. Also,  the birth of the child had to be promptly announced to the Herald. This contest was the fifteenth time that the Herald held its “baby derby.”


        Farmers also were expected to buy bonds during the drive, and they were asked to invest more and more. With more money in the bank with war bonds, farmers in the 1940s would have more money in the bank to better able to stay out of debt – or so they were told. With the end of the year in sight, Gratiot farmers faced a deadline with submitting proof of their hayseed weights. December 31 also meant it was the last day to receive dairy feed payments.

       On December 15, farmers that grew sugar beets received a total of $10.65 a ton for 1944 contracts – the highest ever in the ten-year existence of sugar beet contracts. An early projection for 1945 was that farmers might see $14 per ton, another high.  When slicing at the Alma sugar plant ended in early December, one of the reasons that the company got its work done was due to German Prisoners of War. Early in the season, the plant almost shut down due to lack of help, however, the POWs made the difference in keeping it running.

        A survey of 275 Gratiot County farm families found that 165 of them believed that their family members worked together better since the war started. General cooperation, more frequent meetings among farmers, and social get-togethers, were positive results from the survey. An estimated 95 percent of these families collected scrap materials and fats for the war; 75 percent used smaller amounts of rationed and unrationed goods, and 45 percent of the families gave at least 10 percent of their income to purchase war bonds.

        Other news was not so good for some farmers. Wilfred Erickson had to sell his farm southeast of Pompeii because his son entered the armed services. Erickson had no help to run his farm. Still, those farmers who wanted winter work could find it. The Novo Engine Company in Lansing ran advertisements and asked for farmers to come work in its factory by saying, “IN SUMMER RUN FARMS – IN WINTER MAKE ARMS.”

The Draft Goes On

        On December 6, a group of 30 men left Gratiot County as a result of the draft. A total of 18 went to the Army, 10 to the Navy, and 2 to the Marines. They all left by train for Chicago and had Don Breckenridge in charge of the group. Some of the men in the included Charles Marrin, Jr. from Alma, Harold Helman of Ithaca, and Asher Birmingham of Alma. Lists of names for each group appeared in the newspaper, and about one week later, the Gratiot County Draft Board called another 36 men.

        Selective Service announced that all men under the age of 30 that had been rejected since early February 1944 would now be recalled for re-examination. This did not count those who had been excluded due to physical defects. Recruitment for WACs in Gratiot County also continued to take place. Sergeant Walter Harris visited Ithaca to recruit women who were interested in joining the WACs as medical technicians and who could help fill the need to rehabilitate injured soldiers. Anyone interested in becoming a WAC  needed to contact Verna Ranger at the Ithaca Village Hall.

Letters Home to Gratiot County

       More mail found its way home and was published in the county’s newspapers in December. Wayne Clack of Alma wrote from New Guinea, where he worked as a volunteer in a Red Cross canteen while awaiting assignment to a ship. The canteen just could not locate ice, and when a docked ship donated some, it was a special time. Clack referred to his area in New Guinea as “Purple Heart country,” however, he soon was stationed aboard a new ship, a Landing Craft. It had a washing machine, and Clack had cleaned everything he owned except his mattress, hammock, and raincoat. At the end of 1944, he made it to the Philippines.

         Virgil Daniels was in the Navy somewhere and wrote home to his siblings. He got nine letters one day, had just finished eating toast with peanut butter, and he wished the family would send him some more peanut butter. Cigarettes were a nickel a pack; his group had a toaster, coffee maker, and a record player. Laundry cost fifty cents a month, and he could take a shower bath every night. He was paid $11 week, but Daniels said he had his feet on the ground only twice since joining up in August.

         Private Stanley Nesen of  St. Louis wrote to his mother. The letters told something about where Nesen had been in the fall of 1944 in England. In October, he described life in London during “the blitz.” Lights were out at night, and Londoners suffered, but persisted, during the bombings. While in England, Nesen had seen Shakespeare’s home, saw Oxford University, and he had witnessed a football game between men from his depot and another squad. After moving to the continent in November, living in tents was good, as was the food (C&K rations, Spam and crackers). Although he had not had his clothes off or changed them for some time, he and his fellow soldiers had access to hot water. At one point, Nesen had a good Thanksgiving meal and even had his picture taken with Marlene Dietrich while attending a USO show.

        Private Ceo Bauer of Ithaca, wounded at Metz and in an English hospital, wrote home in late November to his parents.  Two weeks after being injured at Metz, his wounds around his temple had closed; those on his upper torso, chest, left forearm and left side had been sewn, closed, and were starting to heal. The one on the back of his one knee and back calf was the worst. Bauer described them – “It’s the same as if a dog bit a chunk out of it.” He hated writing, but Bauer described listening to the radio all day on the American Expeditionary Station of the BBC. Bauer gave his rations to another wounded soldier in the bed next to him (a razor, candy bars, and soap). All Bauer had when he arrived at the hospital was his ring and a pocketbook with 1500 Francs inside.  But, he concluded his letter that “Food is good!”

        Lieutenant Larry Sherwood told his parents in Ithaca about fighting in Germany, where his outfit had seen action for 147 straight days in the field. “I’d like to see some of those strikers (back home) in the line for just one hour,” Sherwood said.  For him, time on the line was not dollars or cents or overtime, but how long one could stay alive. For Sherwood, the Army, or “doughs” as he called them, were the real heroes of the war, much like the guards on a football team.

         Over in Italy, Miss Virginia Smith, a civilian working with the military there, wrote about how it was fur coat weather at her location. While Smith left her coat at Casablanca, a young pilot shipped it to her in time for winter. She also met several Canadian soldiers and other English speaking women – all of whom sounded so “un-British” in their accents.

Many Served from Gratiot County

       The news of those serving Gratiot County reminded readers about men and women who were gone abroad.  Sergeant Grant Marr from Breckenridge had his picture in the paper, along with news of the citation he received as an aircraft mechanic of the 95th Bombardment Group in England. Private Jack Ecklebarger of Ithaca served in the mess at a US Army general hospital in England. Eckelbarger sent food to wards of bedridden patients. Private John Kmotorka from Bannister had his picture in the news. He was attached to a mechanized cavalry reconnaissance squad somewhere in Germany. Private Donald Bush of St. Louis served with the 320th Regiment of the 35th Division in General Patton’s Third Army in Germany. Private Bernard Marrin of Alma was with the US Paratroopers stationed in France. Marrin graduated from Alma High School. Russell Whitford returned to duties overseas. He had already done 24 months in the CBI Theater.

       In Italy, Sergeant Edward Krenz of Breckenridge earned an air medal for meritorious service as a radio gunner on a B-24 Liberator. He flew missions in southern Europe and the Balkans. Private Francis Lott wrote to his wife in Alma that he had arrived safely in Italy.

        Three Ithaca boys, Virgil and Ora Wymer, along with Cleo Riddle, all met up in New Guinea. The two brothers had Thanksgiving Dinner together. Three brothers, Earl, Oliver, and Harold Smith, all from Bannister, were in the South Pacific. All three were Elsie High School graduates. Storeman 3/c Donald Tedhams of Alma was in the South Pacific and had been in the Navy for two years. Tedhams managed the JC Penney Store in Alma before entering the service.

       At home, Corporal Quentin Greening of Breckenridge trained on a B-24 Liberator in Walla Walla Army Air Field. Private John Bell of Alma gained his “Wings and Boots” with the United States Paratroopers by completing his training. Oran Sebring of St. Louis went back to Fort Benning, Georgia. He had already earned his badge and was now ready to serve with the 82nd Airborne. A/C Frank Marecek of Middleton completed training with the 2548th AAR Base Unit at Curtis Field in Brady, Texas. Fireman 1/c Gerald Glinke from Breckenridge finished his schooling at submarine school in New London, Connecticut. 

      Also, Dorothy Hall of Elwell became a 2nd Lieutenant appointed to the Army Nurse Corps. Hall was a graduate of the University of Michigan and had been a nurse at Highland Park General Hospital. Her new assignment took her to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin.

Those Gratiot County Men Who Became KIA, WIA, MIA, POW

       More and more stories appeared of those who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend Gratiot County and America during December. Sergeant Carl Ronk of Alma, previously listed as missing in action since November 8 in France, was now classified as killed in action. Private Howard Berry of North Shade Township was killed in Europe on November 23. He was previously wounded in action and hospitalized in France on July 14. Private William Crum, Jr., who formerly lived in Alma and St. Louis, was only 19 years old when he was killed in action in France on November 17. 

      A memorial service took place in Butternut, just outside of Gratiot County for Private Donald Oyler, who died in the Southwest Pacific. Japanese soldiers ambushed him.

       A long list of men wounded in action could be found in the newspapers. Robert Wolfgang of St. Louis was seriously injured in France on December 6. It was also the date of Wolfgang’s 19th birthday. Seaman Lansing Cook of Alma was wounded as a result of his ship’s sinking in the Pacific. Cook’s ship, the USS Abner Reed went down in Philippine waters. Cook suffered from shrapnel wounds and burns. Fireman 2/c George Shaw of Ashley came home after seeing two significant battles in the South Pacific. He received the Purple Heart from shrapnel wounds. Shaw left Ashley High School before completing graduation to serve in the Navy. Private Charles Bennett of Alma was wounded in Germany on November 23. News arrived that Private Richard Fishbeck of Alma, who landed at Normandy within 30 minutes of H-Hour and who had fought as far as St. Lo, was wounded from shrapnel from an 88-millimeter shell. He was in an American hospital in England. Private Cloyd Heath of Ithaca was reported wounded in action. Private Stanley Skrzypek of Alma was recovering in the US Army 250th station hospital in England after being wounded in his right foot at Chen du Pont, Normandy. Skrzypek served with the 82nd Airborne.  Sergeant George Backes and Lieutenant Robert Riester, both of Alma, were now listed as wounded in action. However, no other details were known. Fred Biddlecomb, a former St. Louis rural mail carrier, was in a hospital in Belgium due to shrapnel. He had been with the fourth Division of the First Army. Other county men who also were listed as WIA in December included Sergeant Warren Larry (Ithaca), Private Charles Bennett (Alma), and Private Rosilyn Schafenberg (North Star).

       The designation Missing In Action represented the struggle of families in Gratiot County who had to deal with the unknown fate of several men. Private James Campbell of Alma had been missing since November 24. He was the second Campbell grandson to be listed as MIA during the war. Lieutenant Arner Miles Douglas of Ithaca was again listed as MIA – the second time that his plane had been shot down in Europe. Private Claude Murdock of Pompeii was missing. Staff Sergeant Vernon Bishop of Bannister was missing in Europe. Private Richard Shoemaker of Alma was thought to be missing since November 14 in France; however, the word now came to Alma that he was considered to be safe.

        Still, other men were now listed as Prisoners of War. The wife of Floyd Bishop received a letter from a crewman of her son’s plane that Floyd was alive and most likely a POW in Germany. Berlin short wave radio sent a message that was received concerning George Jenkins, who was formerly from Breckenridge. Jenkins was captured in Western Europe and now was a German POW. He had been missing since November 10 and was in the Medical Detachment when attacked while trying to evacuate wounded soldiers from the combat area. Jenkins had been with the Third US Army at Metz. Floyd Peterson of Bannister became a POW, and the War Department confirmed this in a letter to his parents.

And So We Do Not Forget

        Santa arrived in Ithaca on the first Saturday of December, headed by the Ithaca High School band and firetrucks. Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts followed Santa, all in costume for Christmas. The parade started at the Ithaca school house…1945 full year license plates would be available starting January 2. Only one plate would be used in 1945 due to restrictions on steel…Hunters from Gratiot County joined together with hunters from Clinton, Ionia, and Montcalm counties to develop plans to rid Gratiot County of the dreaded Red Fox, which had been killing poultry, young lambs, and pheasants…Superintendent Tom Nurnberger of St. Louis Schools opposed any compulsory military program until after the war ended and servicemen returned home…Tuberculosis Christmas Seals went out in the mail in early December. Sales for TB Seals would run until Christmas…The Michigan Education Study Commission recommended fourteen years of free schooling for all Michigan students. The plan also called for the consolidation of some school districts in order to carry out this plan…The city of Alma planned to place moderate-sized Christmas trees on the curbs in the business section. Christmas lighting was not done due to wartime restrictions, so the city purchased 100 trees…Two deer, a buck and a doe, wandered into downtown Alma along Prospect Avenue late on the night of December 5…Consumers Power Company complied with the order to cut service bills by 75 percent for December…Inspections at Alma’s four elementary schools turned up no cases of ringworm of the scalp…The Leslie McLean VFW Post in Alma rented the Danceland Hall above JC Penneys.  A benefit dance was scheduled for December 8 as a kickoff for creating a place for returning war veterans to visit. It was supervised by veterans and the auxiliary. No drinking or bad order was allowed…A Japanese American, Miss Katherine Tanaka, met with the Ithaca Women’s Club at the Thompson Home Library. Tanaka worked as a secretary for the YMCA in Detroit. She, along with her family, had been interred at the Gila Relocation Project in Rivers, Arizona…Mrs. Madeline Allen, along with Mrs. C.W. Dietrich ad Mrs. William Baxter, helped to spearhead a drive in Perrinton to create 56 Christmas boxes for service members.  Over two months starting in September, boxes were first sent to places like the South Pacific, Africa, Australia, and Italy. In October, another batch went to England and the Canal Zone. The last group went to men who were located stateside…The Ithaca Blue Star Mothers Number 111 met at the Thompson Home Library and voted to give ten Christmas boxes to the American Legion. Three members of the Gratiot County supervisors met with Blue Star Mothers Presidents from Ithaca and Alma to inspect ideas about an honor roll. The group examined other honor rolls in places like Lansing, Grand Ledge, Mason, Marshall, and Charlotte…Company C of the Gratiot County State Troops had an impromptu boxing match after their monthly meeting. After two men tried out new sets of boxing gloves for two rounds, four men were blindfolded, given only one glove and had the other arm behind their backs. Private Lippert got in the most blows – no one was injured…The Alma Strand Theatre put on its annual kiddies Christmas matinee movie. Anyone who donated canned goods, clothing, or a toy got in free to see Laurel and Hardy in “Jitter Bug”….The GEM Theatre in St. Louis also had a similar program under the direction of GE Marr and the St. Louis Lions Club. Santa was to appear, and he would have sacks of treats for children.

       The city of Alma would not provide supervision of newly built skating rinks for any skating above the dam. A cable was stretched across the river to warn skaters of dangerous ice. However, no supervision would be provided. The city manager ordered gravel to create dikes around a skating rink near the college campus…The Gratiot County Farm Bureau set a goal of enrolling 951 farm families in Gratiot County in 1945…Sylvia Williams, Alma’s teacher and director of the newly formed Adult Education program asked Alma residents to fill out and return questionnaires to help set up new classes for adult education in Alma in 1945…The Alma Record reported a sizeable increase in divorces in Gratiot County over the past months. Many of these involved servicemen who had returned home. Divorce cases averaged about eight per month in the county…The Ithaca Post Office would be on Eastern War Time starting January 1, 1945. The post office would now close at 5 p.m. each day. Mail continued to be dispatched in Ithaca at 12:20 and 1:02 by train, as well as 5:45 by Star Route…Ithaca had a community ice skating pond located at the Ithaca fairgrounds. Village employees constructed a pond that measured 100 by 250 feet…Naturalization examiners would be in Ithaca for two days in early January. They came to help people prepare their final petitions for naturalization and to help answer questions…The first Christmas party at the Alma Community Center had 182 people attend. The center had a snack bar, pool, billiards, and a ping pong table…Leonard Refineries planned on moving into its new headquarters building on East Superior Street in early February. Wartime conditions put restraints on materials and so construction was taking longer…The Sunday and Monday after Christmas proved to be very quiet in downtown Alma as businesses remained closed. Some complained that they could not get even a cup of coffee in downtown Alma…Alma city commission members now thought bicycle traffic in the downtown business district could not be regulated as they wished. Instead, a program about “the dangers of irresponsible driving” would be enacted.

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

Copyright 2020 James M Goodspeed







“Christmas at the Courthouse: Gratiot County’s Gift, 1949-1970”

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Christmas Season 1966 at the Gratiot County Courthouse. This photo remains as one of the best remaining pictures of the courthouse taken during the holiday season in Ithaca.
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Glen Rhines prepares to decorate the Gratiot County Courthouse in 1963. The sleigh weighed a lot, but Rhines got to the top of the courthouse. It was a dark time after the death of President Kennedy and the idea of dressing up the courthouse became one that Rhines enjoyed.
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Glen Rhines prepares for Christmas at the courthouse, 1964.
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A man and his reindeer. Glen Rhines prepares for set up in 1966.
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Santa’s Sleigh makes it to Ithaca with help from Hollis Cooper and Glen Rhines.
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Randall Johnson constructed Santa’s throne for 1960.

With the end of World War II, the lights came on in downtown Ithaca. In 1945, the business district celebrated its first Christmas by using more lights. However, this “lighting up” of downtown Ithaca centered around the way businesses decorated their shops and buildings.

In 1946, with the end of a nationwide coal strike, the last restrictions came off of all the Christmas decorating in Ithaca. Residents in the city were encouraged to enter a home lighting contest from December 21-25. The winner won $75 in cash, and a trophy went to the best-decorated store. The motto for Ithaca that Christmas was, “A wreath on every door and a tree in every window.” The war was over, expectations about conserving light and energy ended, and it was time to return to a normal Gratiot County Christmas.

Three years later, in 1949, the Gratiot County Courthouse officially debuted with “special lighting effects.” These included strings of lights that were fastened from the top of the courthouse and extended down toward Center Street. Santa, sleigh, and his reindeer all sat on top of the building, along with lighted Christmas trees. Each window of the courthouse had either a glowing star or a candle in it. Other trees on the grounds were also lighted. Shoppers downtown also saw designed wreaths on each light pole, and they heard Christmas music playing over the loudspeakers.

Starting in the 1950s, Ithaca encouraged residents to go all out and decorate their homes and lawns at Christmas. Churches also were asked to participate, and those with the most entertaining scenes received recognition in the newspaper. In 1962, The Edwin McGillis family on East Newark Street won first prize and a $25 Savings Bond for their nativity scene, which included over 20 hand-cut and painted figures that they had on their lawn. McGillis told the Gratiot County Herald that he spent over 350 hours on the display.

                Ithaca teacher Randall Johnson helped to bring a memorable addition to Christmas at the courthouse in 1960 when he helped to build Santa’s throne, which sat on the northwest corner of the courthouse lawn. The throne was eight feet high and sat on a decorated platform. A public address system made it possible for people to hear Santa talking to those children who sat on his lap. On Santa’s first night in Ithaca in his new chair, he listened to over 600 children tell him about their Christmas lists. By 1960 the official start to the Christmas season in Ithaca started one night with someone officially flicking on the switch for the lights at the courthouse and downtown.

While all of this brought attention to Ithaca during the holiday season, someone in 1963 became involved with decorating the courthouse in new ways. This person was building superintendent Glen Rhines. His work and leadership helped make the Gratiot County Courthouse a Christmas landmark in the 1960s that people came long distances to see.

Initially, the board of supervisors spearheaded the decoration of the courthouse. In time and under the work done by Glen Rhines,  many people and businesses helped to make the courthouse decorations the most beautiful Christmas sight in the county. Starting in November 1963, Rhines had $100 and used jailhouse labor to set up more than 300 lights above the main entrance, around the main roof, and an arrangement around the bell tower. This early holiday season proved somber in Gratiot County as the nation had been shocked by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy at the end of November.

As Christmas approached that year, Rhines put up twelve Christmas trees on the roof, as well as smaller ones on the grounds.   Also on the roof, viewers saw Santa Claus and his reindeer headed for the sky, along with seven elves. The area around the former bomb shelter between the courthouse and jail had a manger scene, along with three wise men and camels. Hanging above the bomb shelter was the Star in the East. On each day in Ithaca, new things seemed to be happening as the new Christmas displays went up at the courthouse. Ithaca stores donated strings of light; the local lumber company donated plywood for figures; the Ithaca Chamber of Commerce gave financial support. A Chamber member even donated the Christmas trees. Getting the sleigh (cutter) up on the roof was Glen Rhynes’ most significant challenge, due to its size. Rhynes later remarked that “I don’t care how big it was. I’d have got it (up) there.”

                People also began to learn about the amount of work Rhines put into the displays that he started in 1963, which newspapers labeled as the first elaborate Christmas courthouse display. The life-size figures Rhines used all had to be cut out of plywood with a single keyhole saw. Christmas lights,  dipped in paint, gave off different colors. Large “Merry Christmas” and “Happy, New Year” signs hung above the main courthouse doors.  These signs all had to be hand cut out of scrap roofing metal, and painting the figures became an essential part of the project.  When lights came on at the courthouse in that season, it was the dome that drivers and residents could see from all sides of Ithaca.

Starting in 1964 and proceeding through future Christmas seasons, Glen Rhines worked with decorations from the preceding year while continually adding new ideas. As the displays grew in size and popularity, so did the preparation time they occupied each fall. In 1965, Rhines added nine handmade reindeer, some brightly colored snowmen, over 500 lights, and seventeen decorated Christmas trees. Rhines was also busy as he helped build a very elaborate sleigh for Santa to ride in when he appeared that year in Ithaca. Hollis Cooper of Middleton provided the ponies that pulled the sleigh through Ithaca (complete with the instant antlers that the ponies grew). Santa’s sleigh and ponies would be a regular occurrence in Ithaca each Christmas through the rest of the 1960s.

By 1967, the courthouse started to move away from cutout figures to using plastic figures in the nativity scene. In late November that year, tragedy was averted when Glen Rhines fell 35 feet from the top of the courthouse on Thanksgiving Day. Rhines, while standing on the railing next to the clock, reached out and tried to cut a wire. The wire broke, Rhines fell backward, and he ended up on the railing below him.  Luckily, Rhines suffered no serious injuries – he only damaged his new wristwatch.

 One of the last changes that was made in the 1960s took place in 1969 when the board of supervisors spent $950 for a new nativity scene at the courthouse. Roger Kleinhans of Ithaca added lights to the dome.

For those who think of postwar Ithaca, we remember how the courthouse appeared and how it was associated with the Christmas season in Gratiot County. It was a memorable gift at a significant time in Ithaca and Gratiot County’s history.

Copyright 2019 James M Goodspeed

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

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

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

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

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

        It was November 1944.

The Draft, Letters to Home, In the Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Bond and Loan Sales

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

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

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

Farming in Gratiot County

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

And So We Do Not Forget

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

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

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

Copyright 2019 James M Goodspeed


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


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

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

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

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

Rationing Must Continue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farming in Gratiot County

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Red Cross Continues Its Work

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

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

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

Drives, Loans, Bonds

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

The Draft

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

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

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

In the Service

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

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

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

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

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

Letters to Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And So We Do Not Forget

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

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

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

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

Copyright October 2019 James M Goodspeed






We Remember October 14, 1984: “The Roar of ’84 Runs Through Gratiot County”


Above: October 8, 1984 photo of Detroit Tigers fans at St. Louis T.S. Nurnberger Middle School; Sports Illustrated dedicated its 1984 World Series issue to MVP Alan Trammell. Copies were available in Gratiot County; 1984 Topps Baseball Card of Kirk Gibson; Frontpage headlines of the Morning Sun, dated October 15, 1984.

In mid-0ctober 1984, Alma College announced that it was going to build a new sports facility. A Central Michigan News employee thought he was about to claim a $5 million Michigan Lottery prize. Also, the Breckenridge Village Council debated authorizing a $500 contribution to Greater Gratiot Development, Incorporated. However, in the Gratiot County headlines on October 14, something happened that Detroit Tigers fans in Gratiot County craved for sixteen seasons: the Tigers won a World Series Championship. On that day, their wishes came true. The Detroit Tigers defeated the San Diego Padres four games to one in old Tiger Stadium.

         For the better part of seven months, Gratiot County witnessed the effects of an incredible 35-5 Tigers start that allowed the team to lead everyone from wire to wire. It was a once in a lifetime season that began with people saying, “Don’t ask if the Tigers won today. Just ask by how much.” In October, many fans in the county tuned their televisions to the World Series that ran from October 9 – October 14.

         Before the start of the World Series, Tigermania swept through Gratiot County. Sixth-grade students at St. Louis T.S. Nurnberger Middle School wore Tiger hats and shirts. They then created a banner and posed in front of it for photographer Susan Cook. Over at Hillcrest Elementary in Alma, first graders there made imitation Tigers, pin-ups, and pennants out of bright orange paper.

        While many people witnessed incredible Tigers comebacks and “The Wave,” the 1984 season was a little different from 1968, when the Tigers came back to defeat the heavily favored St. Louis Cardinals. One significant difference was the absence of local connection the 1984 team – there was no Jim Northrup (a St. Louis graduate and Alma College athlete) this year. Still, Gratiot County, like the rest of Michigan, had the hunger and experienced the excitement of a World Series Championship.

       After tying the series at a game apiece, the San Diego Padres went to Detroit and promptly dropped the next two games. The Tigers were ready for a quick victory in game five.  However, when the Padres refused to give in,  Sunday night proved to be one to be remembered when Kirk Gibson’s home run in the eighth inning sealed it.  American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner Willie Hernandez closed the game for the title. Alan Trammell earned the 1984 World Series MVP. Inside and around the old ballpark at Michigan and Trumbell,  many fans went wild.

        Two local people who were at Game Five described what happened in and around Tiger Stadium. Diane Mancina, a Central Michigan University senior, remembered seeing people coming out of the stadium after the game with portions of sod from the outfield. She reported, “We saw all kinds of people coming out with sod…One guy’s face was filthy, it looked like he burrowed in it. He had a whole roll (of sod), and I got some.” Mancina later gave it as a souvenir to her father. (Some of my in-laws who also attended Game Five did the same thing and kept their part of Tiger Stadium in a unique planter at home).

        Mancina also recalled seeing similar sights after the game that many Tigers fans disliked. Some of the unruly behavior included the throwing of bottles, fans helping themselves to vendors wares without paying for them, overturning a police car, and seeing police officers on horseback. One member of the defeated San Diego Padres, Terry Kennedy,  praised the Tigers for their World Series win after the game. He then quipped that he just hoped to get out of Detroit alive.

         Morning Sun Staff Writer Jim Knight was also on hand at Tiger Stadium that night. In addition to seeing the police car overturned, Knight said that he saw similar things happen to a motorcycle and a cab. “This wasn’t 1968,” said Knight, “This looked more like the rioting of 1967.” Knight closed his column with praise for the Tigers, but boos for the conduct of some Tigers fans. It was not good PR for the city of Detroit. I remember teaching at a rural high school south of Columbus, Ohio at the time. The next day at lunch, I was poked by a fellow teacher about how real Tigers fans in Detroit acted. I disagreed, but it was not easy to explain. I still relished a Tigers World Series Championship.

         Fans in Gratiot County had plenty of access to collectibles and memories of a time that seemed to be a long time coming. If you walked into Arnolds in Alma’s outdoor mall, a long line of new Sports Illustrated issues were all strung out on the counter. SI dedicated its cover to Alan Trammell for his performance during the World Series and his MVP Award. Anyone who wanted to buy a World Series program, but who had not attended a single World Series game in Detroit,  soon found programs at different stores in the county. They were more than plentiful. Tigers 1984 baseball cards and Tigers team sets had been popular all summer. Collectors eventually figured out that Topps started larger than regular print runs of cards to meet an emerging, growing collectors market. Fleer followed suit, but Donruss cards seemed to be in shorter supply. Bumper stickers, banners, and shirts proved popular that fall, many reading “The Roar of ‘84” in Tigers blue and orange colors. Because of that October, Tigers memorabilia would have a steady consumer market in Michigan for several seasons to come.

        We loved the ’84 team, and Detroit Tigers championships seem to come about once each generation if we are lucky. Regardless of the wrong images after Game Five or the easy availability of Tigers collectibles, Gratiot County appreciated and remembered what happened thirty-five years ago today. And it has not happened since that day in October 1984.

         And so we continue to remember 1984 in Gratiot County and say, “Bless You Boys.”

  Copyright 2019 James M Goodspeed

Gratiot County’s Finest Hour, September 1944: “Harvest Time and the Cost of War”

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Above: St. Louis Leader runs an advertisement for help with the 1944 sugar beet harvest; Gratiot County residents were in line to get their next gasoline rationing cards; First Lieutenant Galon Mallory of Seville Township is awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service aboard a B-24 Liberator in Italy.

          The fall harvest was beginning in Gratiot County in September 1944. The county had experienced a significant summer drought but Gratiot was fortunate – more rain fell at the right time and crops were among some of the best in Michigan. Victory Fever continued as people believed that the war in Europe would soon be over, but they did not realize that final victory and the end of the war was a year away.  Hope for a conclusion to the war that fall ran wild as American troops seemed to be moving quickly across France to the western edge of Germany.

    People in Gratiot County were told to think about men who were in enemy concentration camps. Christmas gifts and how to ship them to Europe were some of the ways to show support. Also, the Blue Star Mothers in the county were very active in raising money for Christmas gifts. Conversations and plans about creating a memorial for all of Gratiot County’s servicemen and women who fought in the war was something that the Blue Stars wished to see happen.

         As the crops started to be harvested, the third year of Gratiot County’s involvement in the war continued.

In the Service

       Selective Service reported to Congress that the United States Armed Forces had an estimated 11,417,00 people defending the United States. These numbers remained throughout the rest of 1944 and fewer men over the age of 26 would be drafted. An estimated 83% of those drafted in July consisted of those between the ages of 18 and 26.

       News from Central Europe kept Gratiot County newspaper readers up to date on the status of those in the service. Sergeant Howard Dickinson of Middleton was fighting along the Arno River with the 133rd Infantry. Dickinson had been in the service for three years, making his way from Tunisia to Italy,  while fighting in Cassino, Anzio, and Rome. The 133rd Infantry became a highly decorated unit during the war. Private Glenn Mutchler wrote home in early September to his parents in Alma. He said,  “The war sounds good to the fellow listening to the radio, but to the fellows facing the enemy it’s just another day and another battle in which (a soldier) has lost a few more friends.” Mutchler recounted having a nice chicken dinner, with a wing and neck to eat. “I don’t know how a chicken can live without legs but these we get never seem to have any after they’re cooked.” It had been just over one year since Mutchler entered the Army. There were radios available where he was at in Italy.

        Sergeant Marvin Mates of Breckenridge wrote home to his parents. Mates was in the 15th Army Air Force in Italy and was a ball gunner on an M-24. On one mission his plane was attacked by ten Nazi fighters, but his crew shot down four and damaged more enemy planes. His Liberator made it back to base even though it had one engine out and another one missing. Dale Eckelbarger of Ithaca returned home after 23 months in North Africa and Italy. After 22 days at home, Ecklebarger returned to Florida for another assignment. He had been a mechanic who worked on fighter planes for the British 8th Army. Private Warren Collison of St. Louis, who was with the 3rd “Marne” Infantry Division in the Fifth Army in Italy, received the Combat Infantryman’s Badge for fighting the Germans in Italy.

        Private Joseph Zigray also was cited for his service in Italy with the 101st Military Police Battalion during February. Sergeant Wallace Moore of Middleton was with the 12th Army Air Force and served as a radio operation gunner on a Marauder crew in the Meditteranean. His group had been bombing rail installations in Florence, Italy. Moore was awarded a medal for meritorious achievement. He entered the service in August 1941 after leaving his studies as a history major at Alma College.

       Servicemen also wrote home from France. Bud Welch wrote to his mother about seeing a dance in a French village, and it was one of the first held there in four years of Nazi occupation. Welch danced a couple of times, “I just hung on, and boy what a whirl.” Welch had recently seen combat at St. Lo. Louis Macha wrote to friends in Ithaca about the invasion of Southern France in late August.  Richard Shoemaker of Alma was also in France, and he wished that he could write more often. However,  his unit’s constant movement meant he had little time to write. Shoemaker heard about those Americans who were defense workers and who worked during strikes back home. Private Gerald Isham of Middleton wrote from France and was interviewed by the Detroit News about having visited Belleau Wood and the World War I cemetery there.

         Wally Moore of Alma was in the news. Sergeant Moore, a radioman in the air corps, was awarded a medal for completing 60 missions over Europe. Moore had been a star athlete at  Alma High School and briefly attended Alma College. Lieutenant Galon Mallory of Elwell had his picture in several of the county newspapers. Mallory flew 50 missions over enemy territory for the 15th Army Air Corps and received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service. Sergeant Kenneth Bebow of St. Louis was working night and day with the hedgerow busters in France. Young Timothy Long of the same town was one of two Gratiot men to now have served in both the Pacific and European Theaters during the war. He was now somewhere in France or Germany.

         Technician 5th Grade Stanley Bobit from St. Louis wrote home that he had captured two Nazis while on guard duty – with only one shot. During early morning guard duty in France, Bobit saw movement in a field and shot at moving figures. Although he shot over them, both Germans fell to the ground and quickly surrendered. One was a German Master Sergeant. Bobit received a letter of commendation for his duty. Private Lyle Fillhard was with the 237th Engineer Combat Battalion which had been at work the northern coast of Normandy just five minutes after H-Hour. His entire battalion made it on shore within twelve minutes. The unit appeared in a recent issue of “Stars and Stripes.”

        News finally arrived in Ithaca about the whereabouts of Don Barden, who now was somewhere in Burma. Always on the move, Barden thought that his current placement “can best be described as one step this side of Hell, and I do mean it. I can’t imagine any place worse, but I suppose if there is one, we’ll find it next.” While serving in the dense jungle, Barden’s unit dealt with heavy rains, which usually occurred several times each day. The ground was always wet. He also wanted people in Ithaca to know that Burma was not free of the Japanese. Private Ralph Cheney wrote to his mother that while mail was slow in New Guinea,  he just received Gratiot County Herald newspapers that were three months old. By early August, Cheney was living in a basement dug out of the clay soil. The area was four and a half feet deep and held space for four cots. Cheney thought it was a comfortable location.

       Sergeant Russell Whitford of Ashley came home after serving two years overseas in China and India. A high-speed radio operator who received a medal for his service, Whitford soon headed back to California for more overseas duty.  Allie Inbody was a Machinist Mate Third Class and had been in New Guinea since February. He wrote home to tell his wife and daughter about life in the Seabees. Don McMullen of Ithaca was promoted to first lieutenant after completing the first officers training course to be conducted in Australia. McMullen graduated from Ithaca High School, attended Central Michigan Teachers College, and had worked in the Fleming Clothing Store in Ithaca. He had been in the service for two and a half years.

      Over in Saipan, Private Stanley Miller of Breckenridge was in a hospital due to malarial fever. This was his second trip to the hospital in two months. Miller had been knocked out by a concussion blast and had to be hospitalized, but he was back on the front lines twelve days later. Sergeant Ned McKee of Alma was also on Saipan. He was one of many men working fifteen hours a day to prepare the island as an airbase. Private Gene Jellison of Alma wrote that he had spent two years serving in the Marianas Islands. Jellison had been a part of the first American landings there, and he lamented that he barely had time to write home on V-mail. If anyone back home wanted to send something to him, Jellison hoped for candy, gum, or fruit cake.

       Out in the Central Pacific, Charles Parkes of Alma wrote home about meeting natives and how he traded with them to obtain grass skirts, shells, and mats. Parkes wanted to make a necklace out of the seashells. He also recalled attending a program put on by Jack Benny and Carol Landis. Aviation Machinist Dale Swan of Arcada Township came home after 21 months in the South Pacific. His job involved working on planes that went out of the combat zone. Lieutenant Harry Doyle of St. Louis wrote to his grandmother and told her that he was safe in a fox hole in New Guinea. He had already survived three Japanese night raids and considered himself as safe as any man in his area. Doyle’s grandmother told the St. Louis Leader that she did not think that the situation sounded so safe.

       Captain Hazel Dill, formerly from Breckenridge, was one of nine Michigan nurses that served in a United States  Army General Hospital in England. Much of her work dealt with treating soldiers who were wounded in France. Another Gratiot woman, Private Margaret Jessup, was stationed at Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania where she worked in the filing department at post headquarters. She was an Alma High School graduate and had been in the service since October 1943. Ensign Esther Grover of Middleton had been in Del Monte, California as a hospital nurse. She just became a Junior Grade Lieutenant. Although the parents of Lieutenant Martha Leyrer had not heard from her for quite some time, a letter arrived in St. Louis that Leyrer was now in India. Corporal Mary Wolford sent a letter home to her parents, telling them that she had been transferred from England to France. Wolford had three brothers in the service: one in San Francisco, another in South America, and one in Belgium.

       In the United States, Private Frank Masarik of St. Johns just completed paratroop training. It was unclear where he would go next.  Lieutenant Lewis Jolls of Ithaca arrived in Florida and awaited a new assignment after completing thirty missions as a pilot on a B-17 in Europe. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal. Calvin Space of Perrinton completed basic training at Submarine School in New London, Connecticut. A 1943 Fulton Township graduate, he also graduated from the only submarine school of its kind in the Navy. Lieutenant Norman Keon spoke to members of the St. Louis Rotary Club regarding his time in New Guinea. Keon, who was seriously injured in a jeep accident, had spent several months in an army hospital and was now home on leave. Keon served with an anti-aircraft battery. Coxswain Gene Gilmore, who formerly worked for the Alma Record and St. Louis Leader, now was home on leave from the United States Coast Guard Station in Philadelphia. He had been there for the past nine months.  Charles Johnson, former professor of religion at Alma College, was now in the Army as a Presbyterian chaplain.  People were reminded that three Rademacher boys from Alma left to serve the county: Paul and Francis to the Army, and Michael to the Navy. Jasper and Donald Stockwell got word back to their family in Alma that the two brothers had met while in Hawaii. They both thought of those back home.

       In other news, Infantryman Hugh Rodenbo of St. Louis had gone to France on D-Day with Headquarters Battery Number 6334 and had not seen his parents in three years. He had no sympathy for American strikers in the workplace. Rodenbo announced the big news that he had married an English lassie on December 18, 1943. She was an ATS in the British Army, and Rodenbo hoped to bring her home when the war ended. Alma College was making plans for its Bon Voyage Dance as a closing function for those men who would be leaving for service through the V-12 Program. It would be held October 14 in the Memorial Gymnasium. There was also a fire drill on camps at 11:30 one Friday night on campus so that members of the V-12 unit could help Alma firefighters. The test was to determine if Wright Hall had adequate fire protection.

Those Awful Acronyms: WIA, MIA, POW, KIA

       More sad news came to Gratiot County regarding the war and those who defended the country. Petty Officer Wayne Parks of Alma survived an attack from a Japanese zero in India. However, he was severely wounded in the back by shrapnel. Robert Sherwood, a Marine from Ithaca, was seriously injured in Guam and was in a hospital in New Caledonia. Donald Wright from St. Louis wrote two letters that appeared in the St. Louis Leader. Wright told how he woke up in a hospital with fifty beds out in the Pacific after being seriously injured. Many of the men who were with him were in worse shape. Yet,  Wright was up and walking for the first time in over two weeks. Private Eugene Jellison suffered wounds in the Pacific on July 21, but he was recovering. Seaman 2nd Class Ray Willert suffered severe injuries while in the Pacific. He lost his right hand, suffered a severe facial wound that required plastic surgery, and had dropped to 128 pounds. Willert was a 1927 graduate of Middleton High School.

        Lieutenant Royal Klein was in a rehabilitation hospital in England. He had been wounded while flying over Germany. Klein asked readers of the Gratiot County Herald to please send Christmas items to his fellow servicemen who were in the hospital with him. Klein believed that the men there would appreciate anything that readers sent. Others from the county who were wounded in Europe included Ralph Wood of Newark Township, Fred Smejkal of Ashley, and Willard Haag of Elm Hall.

        Mervel Peacock of St. Louis was up and walking again after receiving leg wounds in France on August 8.   The parents of John Freeman of Alma first received news that their son, William, had received an eye wound from a grenade fragment. After returning to duty, the younger Freeman was wounded again on August 13. Freeman recovered and was back with his quartermaster corps. Private Leslie Tanner, who was injured July 3 during the invasion of France, was resting in an English hospital, and would soon be heading home to the United States. Cloyd Heath of Ithaca also was injured during the invasion of France. However, no other news was available. Private Robert Childers of Middleton was also injured in France, but his wounds were considered to be minor. Duane Stockwell of Alma was awarded the Purple Heart in Italy for injuries suffered June 1. On that same day, he received his Alma High School diploma in absentia. Stockwell was a corporal and served in North Africa before being sent to the Anzio Beachhead. On the home front, Private Keith Way from New Haven Township fractured his right arm and had other injuries in an automobile incident during maneuvers at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

       Some of the hardest news in September dealt with those who paid the ultimate price for their service. Sergeant Donald Wood’s wife received his Purple Heart certificate in the mail. Wood was killed July 19 in France. Memorial services took place in Alma for Corporal Ralph Vandemark and Sergeant Edgar Cook. Both men died earlier in the summer. Similar ceremonies took place at the Ithaca Church of God where a candlelight service was held for Myrl Putnam who had been killed in France. Another memorial service was held in the county for Lieutenant Dale Shillinger who died while serving as an airplane pilot in Brazil.

       People continued to hear about those who had been captured as prisoners of war. One of the recurring stories centered around Sergeant Benny Zamarron of Ashley. He had been missing since May 8. However, Zamarron wrote home that he was safe and uninjured. Zamarron was a 1941 graduate of Fulton High School. In another strange twist, Sergeant Vernon Bishop of Bannister, who attended Bannister High School, had been missing since almost the same day that Zamarron was shot down. Word arrived that Bishop was now a German prisoner of war after being captured. Sergeant Bishop had been a top turret gunner on a B-17. No one knew why it took so long for his family to be notified. The Button family in Alma also received news that their son, Dean Button, was in a camp after going missing on a mission over the Ploesti Oil Fields in Romania.

        Other Gratiot County men who were prisoners of war in Germany included three former Alma College students: Fred Hartt, Sol Cicinelli, and Jack Kelly. Hartt had attended the college and was a star athlete; Cicinelli and Kelly were Alma College graduates.   Better news came when Ivan Monroe of Alma wrote home to his parents that he had been captured on August 11. However, Monroe escaped from the Germans just a short time later. Monroe quipped in a letter home that “It was no trick at all to escape from the Germans.”

         More Gratiot men came up missing in action. Denver Welsh from Bethany Township was lost at sea during a hurricane off the coast of the United States. Welsh had been aboard a coast guard cutter at the time and had been back in the service for only five weeks. In early July, Welsh spent seven days aboard a life raft before being rescued and weighed only        115 pounds. A Breckenridge student, Welsh had served one year in the Army in Panama before receiving a medical discharge. After returning to Gratiot County, he joined the Coast Guard in 1941. Sergeant Joseph Thomas of Alma was missing in France since September 1.

Red Cross Activity

       The Red Cross worked to keep the public aware of the needs of those Gratiot men who were POWs, as well as helping POW families. A total of fifteen county men were now prisoners of war, and a special display appeared in different parts of Gratiot County to keep the memories of these men alive. The exhibition started in Red Cross headquarters in Ithaca,  moved to the window of J.L. Barden and Sons, then it went to W.D. Baltz’s store window. After a few days,  it moved to St. Louis. The display featured a capture package, which held essential items to be sent to POWs. Also, the Red Cross display had seven large posters depicting life in a German POW camp, a map of known camps in Europe and the Far East, and the contents of different food kits. For any captured POW to have a Christmas package, items had to leave Gratiot County in early September. Reverend J.C. Thompson from the Edgewood Church of God was in charge of distributing Red Cross boxes to anyone who wanted to send Christmas items to loved ones in a camp.

       The Gratiot County Red Cross Chapter in Ithaca prepared to move to another location in the Cities Service Building. The headquarters sat next to the county rationing office. It operated from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM every day with Sarah Hunsicker in charge. Sarah Rasor of Ithaca served as county chairman in charge of knitting and sewing for all county chapters. Ithaca’s chapter was at work on making 150 hospital garments and 144 kit bags.  The St. Louis branch also had been hard at work and completed almost 30,000 types of hospital dressings. This group of twenty St. Louis women put in over 288 hours to achieve their mission, and Florence Marr led all volunteers with 45 hours of work. Their next assignment involved creating bed shirts and pajamas from newly arrived material.

Rationing in Gratiot County

       Gratiot County continued its journey to preserve the use of items for the war effort. While the rationing office was open six days a week (10:00 AM to 5:45 PM Monday through Friday and for four hours on Saturday), there was still a need for volunteers to help out at the office. The county looked for fifteen people to make a “patriotic contribution” by donating a few hours each month to work in the Ithaca office.

       Tires and gasoline remained closely monitored. Automobile tires, especially Number 1 tires, were becoming increasingly hard to find and supplies were critical. The last time that Gratiot County took applications for new tires, the county turned away requests for 728 tires as they just could not get any more. In 1944, it was not uncommon for the rationing board to be running short on average of 500 tires. While 200 to 300 Gratiot applicants were given permits to buy tires, the applicants often could not find anyone in the county who had tires in stock. In mid-September, the board granted 216 tire certificates and most of them (175) were grade one tires.

      Obtaining gasoline could be another problem. The rationing board issued “A” gas books to motorists over a three day period starting September 19. How were they obtained? Teachers in area schools were called upon to help issue the new books. Anyone wanting a new book had to be registered. Old “A” books had to be turned in and applicants also had to turn in their “Tire Inspection Record.” In Alma, those who wanted the books went to Hillcrest, Lincoln, Republic, or Wright schools. In Ashley, a person had to go to Houserville. Some of the teachers who served as site custodians at Alma’s schools included: Ethel Webb, Melva Giles, Martha Hale, and Reeta Peterson. Over at St. Louis, the schools closed on Monday and less than 700 people showed up for their new books. However, more came during the next two evenings.

        Before the books were handed out, teachers and workers had to attend an afternoon session at the Gratiot County Courthouse. The distribution of the new books meant that schools were closed one day in order to allow teachers to operate the program. Those individuals who lost their old “A” books had to wait until October to reapply for new gas books. These new gas ration coupons were good for four gallons of gasoline starting after midnight on September 21. By the end of September, a total of 6, 583 new “A” books had been issued in Gratiot County,  200 less than those given out one year earlier.

        Some goods remained rationing point free in September such as raw dry beans, fruit butter, and prune juices. Most canned goods also remained point free, such as canned asparagus, lima beans, mixed vegetables, and others. Even though sugar remained in high demand, women were encouraged to can fresh fruit even without it. Women could crush some of the fruit juice and add it with water in place of sugar. However, processed foods still went up in point value. In some cases, canned and bottled fruits doubled in point value or went up even more. Housewives still received up to 50 blue points each month to obtain some of these goods, but they had to use them up by the end of the month or lose them. Surprisingly, many Gratiot women were encouraged to pool their tokens in order to use them up by the end of the month.

       In other rationing news, Victory Gardens in Alma were eligible for cash prizes for their summer work. C.H. Barnes was given the first prize of $10 and second prize of $5 was divided among four Alma teachers. A group of 36 Mennonite ladies in Newark Township met and canned 550 quarts of peaches and sent them to C.P.S. camps. Mennonite men met and canned corn and blackberries, as well as cherries. In 1943, the Mennonites canned over 1,000 quarts of fruit which they sent to C.P.S. camps.

       Not all rationing news was good. The OPA office in Saginaw filed suit against Ida Berman of Berman Iron and Metal in Alma for not maintaining records of their business operations and for not properly invoicing waste paper shipments. A slaughterhouse-five miles south of Ithaca was fined over $1000 for overcharging the sale of meat. Claude Hunt and Fred Frisbee paid the fines. Their sales exceeded the price ceiling of 1/8 a cent to one cent per sale. Preparing to hunt in the fall of 1944, hunters found that bans had been lifted on ammunition sales. Farmers and ranchers had previously had the main access to ammunition; now hunters could obtain more for the fall hunting, but they had to sign for all of the ammunition that they purchased.

Bond Sales

       The United States Treasury announced that people could start cashing in E Bonds beginning October 1. The government was concerned that people needed the money and would want to cash them in as soon as possible. Those who tried to cash in their bonds needed to do so at an incorporated bank or trust company. The biggest drive to raise money would start in October in the county for the National War Fund. Gratiot County’s goal was to raise at least $19,500 and five districts were drawn up to contact people for their support.  These donations helped the USO, War Prisoners Aid, United Seaman’s Service, and nineteen other relief organizations.

       St. Louis schools again encouraged students to help with the sale of war stamps and make weekly purchases. The schools had done so since 1942, and each Wednesday was set aside for war stamps sales.

Farm News in Gratiot County

       Much of the news dealt with the start of the harvest season.  Gratiot County farm agent C.P. Milham told farmers to expect the first killing frost in early September. He urged farmers to beware of poor harvesting methods. Farmers with bean harvests were encouraged to stake their beans, even though it took more time to do so. Also, when they needed to treat their wheat before it was planted as this prevented stinking smut disease. The harvest of corn and beans was expected to be better than in many places in the state because Gratiot County received rainfall at critical times during the summer.

       Interestingly, many farmers hoped for a reduced pheasant population in the county as many believed that too many pheasants ruined their soy crops. The farmers also resented some Gratiot pheasant hunters who hunted in the soybeans. Farmers thought that hunters and their dogs damaged the soybeans and hunters were asked to stay out of Gratiot County soybean fields during pheasant season.

      The 1944 growing season was not as good as 1943; however, the county was fairing much better than other areas in the state. It all came down to getting rain at the right times during the Michigan drought.

       Sugar beets looked like they would yield more per acre than in many other places in the state. The field office and sugar factories hoped for anticipated yields of 8 ½ tons per acre in Gratiot County. However, farmers appeared nervous about one thing – how would they get enough labor to harvest the beets? Mexican workers were then harvesting tomatoes in southern parts of the state. Still, the sugar beet factories encouraged farmers to contact them to obtain help for sugar beet harvesting. The factories in both Alma and St. Louis ran advertisements in newspapers asking for men and women to apply for work during the processing season. The need for workers sounded urgent.  By September 28, the Lake Shore Sugar Company said that beet harvesting had started on local farms. To combat the worker shortage,  Gratiot County was about to get help from a previously unknown source. German prisoners of war who would be coming to Alma and St. Louis.

       Milk and cream producers would be paid for their July and August subsidies if they presented all their slips at the right time. AAA paid farmers 35 cents per hundred for milk and 6 cents a pound for cream. The place Breckenridge farmers went for payment included N.J. Roth’s garage.  The county agent also told of a new program that encouraged returning veterans and industrial workers to consider starting their farms in Gratiot County. This plan could be a challenge to some because land prices had returned to World War I levels after a disastrous dip during the Depression.

And Lest We Forget – Daily Life in Gratiot County:

        In late September, the St. Louis junior class planned its “kickoff dance” on a Friday night in the gymnasium…The Alma Commission discussed a plan to return Alma to “Central War Time” for the fall and winter…Hunting stamps for migratory birds were on sale in the Alma Post Office…The Gratiot County Free Fair was off to a good start in Ithaca…The Alma community center building had been cleaned and was ready for use for the public. Wednesday nights were reserved for adult activities. Musical attractions and amateur shows were just some of the things planned…A polio outbreak was feared in Alma when 19-year-old Alice Titus contracted polio. The outbreak led to Alma Schools issuing a statement that they hoped to remain open…Over at the Strand Theatre, “Mr. Winkle Goes to War” starring Edward G. Robinson was playing, and a matinee was 12 cents…The Gratiot County 4-H Beef Club took 39 head of cattle to a club show at Michigan State College. It had 32 members with three leaders. The club was only two years old…A war correspondent from Pearl Harbor wrote that many servicemen in the Pacific were bitter. Americans back home were preparing for Victory Day celebrations for the war in Europe. Fighting in the Pacific remained hot, and the final defeat of Japan was believed to be several years away…The Blue Star Mothers of Alma sponsored a performance at Alma High School. “Victory Vanities” was the name of the show and proceeds were planned to go to the servicemen’s memorial fund…Alma was listening to information from the state regarding reimbursement for post-war projects in the city. The city stood to receive $4,000 for some of this work…St. Louis prepared to go to Central War Time starting November 1 starting the first Saturday night in October…Alma leaders continued to discuss how to celebrate V-Day when it occurred. “What shall we do on Victory Day?” was the topic of discussion…Pastor Jesse Pratt came to the Ithaca Baptist Church to discuss her experiences as a missionary in Swatow, China. Pratt was captured by the Japanese and placed in custody after Pearl Harbor. She later was repatriated from Shanghai, China…Another missionary held captive by the Japanese, Reverend L.C. Osborn, who had been in China for 28 years. He spoke at the St. Louis Nazarene Church about being interned for six months in a concentration camp before being freed…The Ithaca Blue Star Mothers asked for help from the community to make sure that all Ithaca men in the service received a Christmas box. People were asked to bring fresh produce to Muscott’s Hall to raise money for the boxes…The Fulton School Board of Education planned to sell three school houses, outbuildings, desks, and other items at the East Fulton School on September 11…Five servicemen who were home on leave spoke to the Ithaca Rotary Club. These men included Jim Haley, Robert Evans John Hodges, Leonard Wilson, and Lawrence Shively…Michigan Chemical Corporation wanted men for war work. Good wages, security, and safe working conditions were some of the benefits….A large pile of gravel and sand was placed on the property of the Lakeshore Sugar Company in St. Louis. It was for road improvements on M-46 east of town…Eugene McClure left his position as manager of J.J. Newberry’s in Alma, only to take proprietorship of the Wright Hotel. McClure obtained a lease on the hotel…The cost of becoming a citizen in Gratiot County was about to go up. It would now cost $3 for filing a declaration of intention and $8 to file a petition for naturalization…  In Breckenridge, the Blue Star Mothers raised $260 through a chicken supper and bazaar. It drew Blue Star Mothers from across the county, and the funds were used for Christmas boxes…Victor Manzullo, a former chef at Alma College, became the chef at the St. Louis Park Hotel…Alma Schools was up a total of 17 students from one year ago. Alma announced that it had a total enrollment of 1,658…The area around the St. Louis Municipal Light and Power Plant continued to be part of a beautification project. Now the footbridge dam would be painted…Victor Jaeckel and Mrs. Fred Sigourney became the new owners of Paul’s Shoe Market in St. Louis. Jaeckel still kept his job as manager of the Strand Theatre.

And that was Gratiot County’s Finest Hour in September 1944.

Copyright 2019 James M Goodspeed