I was a young fellow, just 30, married with one daughter when the second World War got close enough for us to jump in. I was lucky to have a job making $50 a week, working for my father-in-law. We operated a small factory making photo supplies for Macys, Gimbles and Wannamakers.
Right after Pearl Harbor, I was standing just outside the big iron fence that ran all around our property, talking to my father-in-law. I thought that Hitler would be landing on our shores any day.
It wasn't but a month after that a man came to our little town representing the Air Force. Somehow he got hold of me. He wanted us to build a spotter's post near town and man it 24 hours a day. We were to spot and report all aircraft in the sky. In those days there weren't many airplanes flying anyway, but the whole country was running scared. I got picked for the job, which paid nothing, because I was handy and anxious to help the war effort.
Our little village of Unionville, New York, was situated in the southeastern part of the state. My first problem was where to get the material to build a spotter's post. I finally saw a bunch of storm windows leaning against the old Baptist church. This was no longer a church, but was being used as a community house.
I asked the mayor if they would mind if we used those windows to build our little building, and it was OK with the village. I had a trailer I made out of an old Model T frame, and I pulled it behind my '37 Chevy. Two friends and I loaded these windows on the trailer and hauled them about a mile out of town. We had picked a site on the top of the highest hill we could find. With those windows we assembled a glass-roofed building big enough for three people to sit in. I hauled up a good supply of coal donated by one of the local creameries for the little potbellied stove in the rear. Next, I called the telephone company and ordered a telephone installed, as we had to call in every aircraft we saw to White Plains, New York. We had to give the estimated speed, direction and type of aircraft, if we could tell. I had the telephone installed, then asked the town fathers to pay up. They refused but soon paid the bill.
It was the early part of February, and it was almost zero outside. Fred Gilson, Herald Paugh and I were on duty from midnight until 4 a.m. As we looked out of our glass house, the stars seemed so close we could touch them. We could see for miles. About 10 miles away as the crow flies, we could see High Point Monument. This monument is on the highest point in the state of New Jersey. After sitting there a little while, we noticed the red light on top of the monument kept blinking on and off. Fred said, "I bet they are sending some kind of secret code." After that we watched it more carefully, and sure enough, it looked like Morse code to us.
Harold reminded us that we were not that far from the coast; maybe they were sending a message to a submarine in the Atlantic Ocean. We thought it would be just like those darn Germans. We got real worked up over that light blinking on and off. Sometimes it would blink three times, pause, then two times, then five times in a row. Finally I reached for the telephone book and looked up the number for High Point. We were going to get to the bottom of this. I dialed the number, and it rang and rang and rang. It was after 2 a.m., but finally someone answered. The voice on the other end had a German accent, or so we thought. Right then, any accent would have been German to us. We tried to tell him about the messages being sent out, but we just couldn't get through to him what we wanted to tell him. I hung up, and about 3 a.m. we called again. The same fellow answered, and this time we just couldn't get him to understand. We tried two more times with no success, so we finally settled down to the idea that maybe it was a short circuit that the wind helped along.
This spotter's post was used for several years, and as the war wound down, the post was moved into town in back of the school. I guess it served its purpose well.
Howard W. Werry
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.