Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.

CITIZENS MOBILIZED TO SPOT ENEMY AIRCRAFT

Albion Recorder, November 24, 1997, pg. 4.

During the 1950s international relations were tense as the "Cold War" fueled suspicions and preparedness. The advances of the Communists around the world were quite evident, and Americans took steps at home to prepare themselves for possible nuclear attack. Safety "bomb shelters" were constructed and identified. As a child I remember visiting the bomb shelter plant in Charlotte, and being instructed by my teacher on what hallway to go to in the basement of Dalrymple School in case the nuclear attack siren sounded.

Here in Albion several downtown buildings had those Civil Defense signs with blue triangles in them posted on the front of the buildings. This sign identified them as a safe place to run to in case of attack. These were stocked with government rations. One such place was at the City Bank & Trust Company, where just a year or so ago workers cleared out the remaining ration cans still there. Some other locations included the U.S. Post Office, the Helpy-Selfy Laundry, and others. There even was a plan to bring the people of Battle Creek to Albion in case of an emergency. Where they were to stay here doesn’t matter, I guess that would have been our problem. Anyway, look around town and see how many of these yellow signs are still posted today.

As part of the Civil Defense effort, a local Ground Observer Corps was assembled. This group of volunteers was part of a nationwide effort to spot enemy aircraft. The local American Legion Post coordinated the construction of an observation tower, which was erected on the roof of City Hall on W. Cass St. A round-the-clock group of volunteers was assembled, under the leadership of Civilian Defense Director William Fowler. Members were recruited, and volunteer shift workers were scheduled at various times. One poster of the organization stated, "So long as the Iron Curtain exists, we must Stay on Guard. Join the Ground Observer Corps."

The volunteers were to observe aircraft flying over Albion, and if any of them had more than two motors, they were to immediately call the Air Force Filter Center at Grand Rapids. One time in 1956 the Air Force sent out "test" planes, and the Albion post was one of only 14 in the state to spot and report the military planes. We were prepared.

Volunteers came from all parts of the community. The February, 1956 issue of the Union Steel Messenger listed several "Steelites" and their wives who were doing their part (page 11): "William Fowler, Ray Gable, Ralph Wilkinson, Roger Bentley, Harold Bussing, Marie Sandusky; and the wives of Gordon Ketchum, Paul Steffe, and C. W. Hagerman. Also, Deolores Cope is leader of a Camp Fire group which volunteers 10 hours per week."

I am thankful to report that we were not attacked by the Communists, but had they flown over, our Ground Observer Corps would have certainly reported them to Grand Rapids. This week we present a photograph of that observation post on the top of City Hall, taken in 1956. The caption under the photo reads, "Observer Ralph Wilkinson scans the horizon from the catwalk outside the GOC Post. The snug little shelter, atop City Hall, was built by the local American Legion Post spearheaded by member William Fowler, local Civilian Defense Director."


Defense Post in 1956

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All text copyright, 2013 © all rights reserved Frank Passic

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