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Feature Article on W.W.II and the Home Front. Topic: WAR, INDUSTRY
Written by Rich Wallace in May, 2000

THE BATTLE BACK HOME

Note: This is the first in a series of two articles which explored the sacrifices and successes of those who fought the battle at home in Shelby County, Ohio, during World War II. It was published on May 24, 2000, in conjunction with the World War II exhibit on display (May 8 - August 1, 2000) at the Ross Historical Center.

The heroic struggles of the fighting men in World War II have been well documented by many, including Tom Brokaw in his recent book, "The Greatest Generation." The wartime efforts of those who stayed home have received much less attention. Faced with food shortages, blackouts and the demand for increased production at work, the record of local accomplishments was outstanding.   To put in context what Shelby Countians accomplished during the war; it is necessary to begin with a series of articles concerning Sidney, Ohio, that appeared in three national magazines in the late 1930’s.

The authors of pieces in Forbes, Wall Street Journal and Reader's Digest uniformly praised Sidney as "the only perfect case of recovery from the Great Depression" in the country. Because of a variety of reasons, Sidney entered World War II with only 22 people on relief out of a population of 10,000. The Reader's Digest article appropriately noted Sidney's citizens "don't like government spoon-feeding." Local ownership of virtually all Sidney industries was also cited as an important factor in ensuring everyone possible had jobs.

The most serious hometown issue facing Sidney when the news about Pearl Harbor was received was therefore how to meet an ever-growing demand for workers from companies with large defense contracts, such as Monarch, Copeland, Stolle, Sidney Tool and Ross Aluminum. Most companies had three shifts a day, and several worked seven days a week.

Mayor John Sexauer, in a report to the community printed in the August 18, 1942, issue of the Sidney Daily News, summarized the numbers. Employment had increased by 160% since the end of World War I while the area population rose by only 40%. Mayor Sexauer concluded "The things I've found convince me that once more we're setting an example for the whole country, just as we did a few years back."

The secret to this incredible achievement was chronicled in an article on Sidney in the March 23, 1943, edition of the Saturday Evening Post. Starting with full employment in 1940, the county lost 1,400 area residents to military service yet added 2,500 people to the work force. As the author of the Post article pointed out, the math did not add up, but there was no part in the equation for local ingenuity and leadership.

Headed by E. M. "Mike" Seving, the local employment officer, and city baker and mayor John Sexauer, hundreds began to work a second job. Probate Judge Robert Eshman closed the court at 4 PM and operated a lathe from then until midnight. Postman William Dilbone started his regular duties at 6:30 AM and did not return home from his second job as a watchman at Monarch until midnight. Ordinary citizens from all walks of life, including lawyers, insurance agents, and doctors and closed their offices and trudged off to a second job, usually seven days a week.

Efforts were made to recruit county farmers and men from outlying villages like St. Henry, Burkettsville, and Wapak to man the Sidney shops. A fleet of ten school busses was purchased to transport workers here around the clock.

County residents made a pocketbook commitment as well. Shelby Countians continuously over subscribed their goal for war savings bonds and stamps on a regular basis. Over $4 million in bonds and stamps had been sold by the spring of 1945. Joseph Cook chaired most of the drives and E. C. Amos was declared the 'war bond champion.' Separate war chest drives raised funds for war relief activities. A July 1942 drive in Shelby County involved 500 workers canvassing 11,000 residents. The drive raised $20,000.

Intermixed with the challenges of keeping the community running was sad news from the theaters of war. A special dinner at the American Legion in November 1940 honored the first five volunteers who enlisted, and from whom the first three draftees were chosen. Memories of that night flooded back for many when they heard that two of the three, George Schloss and Thomas McCrate were killed in the North African campaign. The third, Freman Comer, was wounded at Anzio Beach in Italy. Fourteen operations over two years were necessary to save his leg.

woman working at monarch

Over 500 women drew a paycheck from Monarch Machine Tool Company by 1945. 

 

Shelby County Draft Board

Shelby County Draft Board photo courtesy of Ross Photo Collection.  L-R:  Louis Marrs, Clem Fogt,
Emerson Deam, Frank Smith, Jolen Bertsch, and William Milligan. 


Many other young men were to follow in their footsteps. Members of the local draft board were charged with responsibility of efficiently and fairly administering the draft rules. William F. Milligan, Emerson Deam, C. M. Fogt, W. R. Anderson and Frank Smith served on the first board. A Registrant's Advisory Board, composed of local attorneys Leo Winget, Harry Hess and H. H. Needles made sure every registrant had equal opportunities concerning classification and registration.

A Roll of Honor containing the names of the more than 2,000 men and women who served their country during the war was constructed on the northwest corner of the court square. A special section listed memorialized George Schloss, Thomas McCrate and the more than fifty others who did not return.

It soon became evident that importing extra men from west central Ohio was not sufficient to fill the employment needs of the county's industry. Employment coordinator Mike Seving and others turned to women, thus launching one of the early pilot programs in the state aimed at hiring women for manufacturing positions. Monarch and Stolle were the first to begin successful programs, and other local businesses followed suit. Over five hundred ladies, beginning with Virginia Oldham drew a Monarch paycheck by 1945.

A unique partnership between the Sidney public schools and local industry called the "Sidney Cooperative High School" ultimately sent 25 high school girls a week to work on factory lines. The program consisted of alternating two-week sessions of school and training in factory work. Housewives participated as well.

rozier.jpg (43137 bytes)

Rosie the Riveter replica produced by the Ohio Historical Society

The legacy of local women serving in the military is impressive. Scores served in the Women's Army Corps, Marine Corps Women's Reserves and the Navy WAVES. These veterans included Roselyn Price, Alice McGrath, Jean Lier and Betty Ross.

A number of others also joined the Nurses' Aide Corps. Sidney's first class, sponsored by Wilson Hospital and the Civil Defense 'Council graduated in October 1942. Among those were Mrs. Carl Davidson, Mrs. William Milligan, Mrs. Byron Carey and Mrs. Don Middleton. They worked at the hospital to replace the nurses and doctors who left to serve overseas.

Nurses serving overseas from Wilson Memorial Hospital compiled an enviable record of service. Suella Bernard and Marijean Brown served many months on the European front. Both were part of the first group of five nurses who landed just after D-Day in June 1944.

Back home the efforts of thousands of ordinary citizens in Shelby County were paying off. Bolstered by 500 female workers and the hundreds who worked there as a second job, the employment at Monarch swelled to over 2,500. The company was the first Ohio machine tool manufacturer to be awarded the coveted Navy 'E' award. Several other 'E' awards followed.

 

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