Monday, April 18, 2016

Civilian aircraft spotters did their duty in WWII

HAWLEY - There was a time in Hawley's history when it was patriotic to keep one's “eyes on the skies” and look up they did. As in other towns and cities and areas across the country, volunteer, civilian airplane spotters were needed here to help defend this Nation during World War II. Many were women and teens, who were not eligible for regular enlistment but found a way to serve.

Three of those spotters shared some of what they recall from those days.

Editions of The Hawley Times through much of 1943 had numerous articles about the local defense effort, along with many reports of local sons and daughters who were serving in the European or Pacific Theater, or stateside.

An Honor Roll sign that was posted on Main Avenue next to the 1st National Bank (across from what is now the diner) listed 423 names of service members during World War II, who were from the Hawley area.

The July 15, 1943 edition reported that an executive meeting for the Hawley Observation Post of the Army Air Force Ground Observer Corps. held a meeting at Fireman's Hall, Wednesday night the 14th. The purpose was to check duties of officers manning their post, to discuss the comfort of observers in the coming winter, recognition school- where volunteers learned how to identify planes, and registering of new volunteers.

Attending were Captains of the Day - Carl Beilman, Adrian McNamara, Mathew Finan, Warren Murphy, Rev. Frederick, Allen Gilpin, Ed Richardson, Chief Observer Edward T. Wilson, Sub-District Director C. Miler and several junior workers.

Classes were held at Hawley High School that summer to train volunteers. Their instructor was Recognition Officer, Mrs. Helen Bone, of Lake Ariel. She stated that it was a “military necessity” for observers to become more proficient in identifying planes. Diplomas would be issued at the end.

“An observer who can identify only five planes can render greater service to our country,” the story reported.

They remember

Nancy Killam Gumble, Eugene “Art” Glantz and Harold E. Vogler, all Hawley natives, shared their stories.

I was a high school junior then,” said Nancy Gumble, who was born in 1925. A lot of the teens from the high school were signing up and helping to fill the schedule of shifts. She was paired with one of the other girl students.

They reported to a small building - Art Glantz called it a ”shack” - on the property of Earl and Irene Baisden, who lived at 815 Oakland Street. This is on a hill, just up from Hudson Street and the Eddy Bridge. Earl Baisden, who operated a garage on Church Street with his brother Frank, was one of the captains in the local spotter program.

Nancy recalled that they had pictures of the underbellies of planes; she doesn't remember having binoculars. Art stated that not many could afford a pair.

Harold Vogler, who operated the feed store on Penn Avenue for many years, stated that he was only 12 when he helped his mother watch for planes. He said she was an “official” but he was too young to be official, he said. His mother did have a pair of binoculars.

He said there were no high altitude planes in those days. They mostly saw planes heading to the airports in New York, he said.

Art Glantz, who is 86, was in parochial school in Brooklyn when the war broke out. He was back in town in October 1942. He described the spotter shack and their duties in more detail.

“The post was was equipped with a telephone, a table, a pot belly stove and chairs,” he said. “When we heard a plane overhead, we would try to find it visually and make a report by phone. The procedure was as follows. We would crank the phone that gave us a connection to either Scranton or Mitchell Field in New York (I was never sure which). When the operator came on, we would say, 'Army Flash - one bi-hi Claude 39 SW NE' which translated meant that a two engine aircraft was sighted, flying high (if it was that) followed by a code for our location and the direction that the plane was flying. I don't think we were expected to i.d. the type of plane although we did later have lessons in aircraft identification. Our code i.d. was later changed to Sugar 381, and of course, there was a log for recording the information we had called in.

“One of the advantages, or so I thought, of volunteering for certain shifts was that we would be excused from our first period class in school. This proved disastrous for me because I nearly flunked 8th grade math because I missed so many classes!…

He said he recalls when Mrs. Baisden gave him his AWS armband, which identified him as an official spotter. He still has this memento, in a frame. The band was made of blue wool with the logo embossed in orange and white. Some also received a small pair of wings that could be attached as a lapel pin.

At night, observers would have to listen for the plane and tell its direction. Planes also used red and blue wing lights. Art said it was still dark at 8 a.m. when he reported for duty because they were on “war time” which meanest double daylight savings time.

Among Art's schoolmates who were also very involved in aircraft spotting were his cousins Ed and Gene Krawitz; Henry Rodriquez, Tommy Ball and Bill Morgan.

Art reminisced about a time when they gathered at the home of Eltinge LaBar and built paper models of aircraft, used to help them learn to identify plans, they were also displayed in the PP&L office building on Church Street.

 The August 12th 1943 Hawley Times listed the graduates from Observers School, at Hawley High School. There were speeches meant to inspire, and patriotic, romantic and “hilarious” musical numbers played.
Lt. Haley of the Signal Corps presented diplomas to 43 graduates in the auditorium.

“We could probably identify anything that flew,” Art said. There were a lot of war movies shown at the Ritz downtown. “Often times, when we saw American aircraft used as enemy planes, we would shout, 'that's no Zero, it's a T-6!' The Zero was well-known Japanese warplane.


Observation schedules were published each week in The Hawley Times. The newspaper headlines the schedule, “They Also Serve Who Stand And Observe.” There were both adults and youth. Two at a time would be scheduled for shifts that was as long as four hours- around the clock day and night. The 7 a.m. shift was only two hours.

The July 22nd edition, for instance, listed Art Glantz paired with his cousin Ed Krawitz, taking the 7 to 9 a.m. shift on Tuesday. The captain for Tuesday was Mathew Finan, the barber.

Nancy Killam was seen listed on another schedule for Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m.; her partner on that occasion had not been decided. Here and there, asterisks marked slots needing volunteers but most were filled.

Scanning the list, many familiar names can be found, including Harold's mother Martha Vogler, Richard Teeter's mother Helen Teeter and Dick Murphy's parents Olive and Warren Murphy, who watched the skies together.

The Monaghan family, which operated the Erie garage opposite Bingham Park, offered a piece of ground where a new observation tower could be erected. The garage is where the Borough Hall is located today. The August 25, 1943 edition reported that the First Fighter Command had approved the location, after deliberating several weeks.

Volunteer labor and donations were requested by Chief Observer Wilson and the Captains of the Day.

“Careful consideration has been given to the convenience of the majority of observers,” the newspaper reported. “The officials believe, however, that any increased hardship to individual volunteers will be accepted with good spirit because of the resulting services rendered to the Army.”

The newspaper reported of another meeting of the Hawley airplane observers, held Wednesday night, August 25 at the Murray building on Main Avenue. they discussed changing the shift from a four week to a two week period, but that was discarded until they could get more trained volunteers.

On August 19, an appeal letter went out to local citizens asking for funds to build the new observation post. A “fairly good response” was reported. Civic groups were going to be approached.

No more information has been found on the outcome of the efforts to build a new post.

The September 9th edition reported on a meeting held at the Odd Fellows Hall, where officers were named. Chief Observer was Edward T. Wilson; Recognition Officer, E.S. Labor Supply-Recognition Officer, Ernest Ryan; Instruction Recognition Officer, George Miller; Liaison Officer, Helen Swingle; Publicity officer, Mary Jane Drake; Personnel Officer, August Walser; Time Keeper, Bertha Wilson. Captains-of-the Day were Carl Beilman, Adrian McNamara, Matthew J. Finan, Warren Murphy, Rev. Walter Frederick, Allen Gilpin and Edward Richardson, Junior Captains were Joseph VonHake, William Morgan, Edward Krawitz and Eugene Krawitz.

Search of the weekly editions of The Hawley Times for the remainder of 1943, and into 1944, found no more reports or schedules listed for Hawley's aircraft spotters. Local news of the war, however, remained intense, with reports of military personnel, from the routine or good news, to the devastating, including being taken prisoner, missing or killed in action.

The war had taken a major turn in June 1944 with the landing at Normandy.

Art suggested that the nation's initial concern that had driven the effort to watch for enemy aircraft over the homeland, had abated.

Organized in May 1941, Aircraft Warning Service (AWS) was the civilian service of the United States Army Ground Observer Corps. They became inactive on May 29, 1944.

Nothing is known to remain of the historic, little shack. Jim Dyson, the present owner of the Baisden house, said there was never a shack on the property in the nearly 30 years he and his wife have lived there. The field with an open view of the sky, is still there.

Air Raid Wardens

Hawley also had Air Raid Wardens, as in other towns and cities. A notice was published in January 1942 that an Air Raid Warden School was scheduled January 15 at 7:30 p.m. at Hawley High School. All Senior and Junior Air Raid Wardens of Hawley, Bohemia and Lackawaxen were asked to attend. A Hawley educator, Prof. Albert Haggerty, who had recently attended a similar school in Harrisburg, was in charge. Dr. Hobart Owens, a Hawley physician and Chairman o the Medical Advisory Committee of Wayne County Council of Defense, was to give the first lesson on Emergency First Aid.

Gail Wallat, who grew up in Hawley, said she recalls air raid drills at the Hawley school. “In first grade we had to duck under our desk and cover our heads with our hands,” Gail stated. She also seems to remember town sirens, and having to go inside and down to the cellar.

Anna Sommer also recalled ducking under school desks.

Constance Hames recalls hearing the sirens in Hawley go off at least twice. “My mother and I went under the dining room table 'for protection;' now i'm wondering why we didn't had down to the cellar too.”

Jim Monaghan said his grandparents still had the black out shades on their windows until the family sold the home in the early 1990's.

Carl Rose, who was a classmate of Nancy's, joined the Navy when he was 17, two weeks out of high school. He served on a destroyer escort chasing Natzi subs in the Atlantic and later in the Pacific was at Pearl Harbor the day the Japanese surrendered. When home on leave, Carl recalls hearing “the waning sound of warning practice sirens from uptime Hawley.”

The Women's Auxiliary of American Legion Post 311 in Hawley “manned” an observation tower for Civil Defense, made surgical dressings, purchased a bloodmobile and took first aid courses. A Junior Auxiliary also formed and helped with bake sales and welfare work.

Classmates answered call

The senior classes in Hawley High School were being depleted of boys, as some joined the service early. Later on they could come back and receive the equivalent of a diploma. No all made it back. Nancy recalled, sadly, of her classmate, Bruno Gifford, who was declared Missing in Action. “He was never found,” she said. a grave marker was eventually put up for the family. “He was 19.”

She said in those days it was typical to exchange letter with their friends in the service. She had received her last letter from Bruno, after he was declared missing (it took some time for the mail to reach her)- the best she can recall. She said in later years she gave that letter to Bruno's sister.

Patriotic duty

Nancy also spoke of the wartime shortages offers, shoes and sugar. Everyone had ration books. “I never got the feeling we were ever in trouble,” she said. “We were all in the same boat. I guess we were poor but we didn't know it.”

She also remembered the scrap metal drives. Nancy and other kids would even pick up the tin foil in cigarettes packages that were cast away,, roll up the foil into a good-sized ball and turn it in.

Thinking back on being an aircraft spotter, Nancy reflected, “It was no great excitement.” She said it was doing their patriotic duty. “Everyone care about one another and wanted to help,” she said. There was not a lot of selfishness, she recalled; the country was pulling together.

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