|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 1930s.
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.
women drew a paycheck from Monarch Machine Tool Company by 1945.
Shelby County Draft Board photo
courtesy of Ross Photo Collection. L-R: Louis Marrs, Clem Fogt,
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.
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
[ Back to War Index ]