In 1998, journalist Tom Brokaw wrote a classic book titled “The Greatest Generation,” describing the courage, grit, fortitude, and determination of the generation that grew up during the Great Depression and came to maturity at the time of World War II. I have often been amazed at the sacrifices that individuals and families made during that time; not only on the battlefield, but in homes and communities. Would we, if faced with a similar emergency today, follow suit and have the courage to do what it takes?
During WWII, which began in earnest for the United States 78 years ago on Dec. 7, it seems as if everyone was doing something to prepare or be prepared for the defense of the country, if needed.
Prior to Dec. 7, 1941, the federal government had already initiated preparations for defense in the contingency that the United States would be drawn into the war. Finding and identifying industry that would assist in a war effort, as well as preparing individuals and families on the necessity of saving certain materials such as scrap metals, rubber, etc. that might be utilized in the effort were all part of the defense and war program. Special “collection drives” for several of these vital materials were carried out by youth organizations as a way for young people to be involved and, hopefully, ensure higher participation by adults who, consequently, did not have to concern themselves with taking the items to a drop off center. But preparation went beyond those measures, especially following the U.S. entry into WWII.
Local and regional defense preparation included tightening security at defense-contracted factories as a guard against sabotage. Individual workers were also cautioned to be on alert for suspicious actions or just to be staying aware so an accident did not stop production when hours or days of stoppage could be costly.
City officials and many volunteers, especially in the medical field, assisted in setting up and coordinating potential temporary emergency facilities in case of an attack. Medical personnel was coordinated so they would know where to report if needed. In connection with this, a home survey was conducted for facilities.
The home survey was accomplished by volunteers in the communities of Miami County going door-to-door of residences and sought to locate and register homes where extra beds or rooms could be utilized in an emergency situation. These homes, or at least a portion of them, could be used to house patients or displaced families if an attack was carried out here with terrible results.
Preparation was also made in the skies around the county. A civilian air patrol was secured in order to patrol the skies around the communities and watch for suspicious aircraft. As part of this, men who had experience and were capable of flying small aircraft became “eyes in the sky” for anything that was unusual. In conjunction with this was the program that called on volunteers to watch the night skies from the ground and report suspicious activity. Of course, these individuals would also be trained and notified of what air patrol would be in a certain area and specified hours. Many rooftops of large buildings or factories were used as “Sky Watch” sites. The former Hobart Brothers factory on West Main Street in Troy was used in this way and even had an observation room of glass utilized for this purpose.
The county did such a great job of organizing these groups, and others, that when the regional inspector came to see how preparations were progressing, he proclaimed that he was impressed with all that had been done and said, “I don’t know of a single other place being as well prepared.”
Although the likelihood of an attack in Ohio, let alone Miami County, was minimal, the people prepared diligently for all contingencies they could imagine. From young to old, individuals became involved in the defense preparations, as well as support of the war effort that the country was drawn into.
Perhaps, in the next few weeks, I might try to highlight one or two of these preparations. If you have a story regarding any of these, especially the Sky watch program, then I would enjoy hearing from you.
Patrick D. Kennedy is archivist at the Troy-Miami County Public Library’s Local History Library, 100 W. Main St., Troy. He may be contacted by calling (937) 335-4082 or sending an email to email@example.com.