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February 16, 2013

Local war service organizations began in February 1943

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The Daily Star

---- — It seemed as though everywhere you turned in the early months of 1943, you encountered military-related organizations with acronyms, locally and across the nation. There were the WAACs, the U.N. and the USO, for example. 

We’ve heard plenty about lifting the ban on women in combat in recent weeks in the news. In February 1943, women were being encouraged to join in supporting roles in World War II to defeat the enemies of the Axis Powers.

About 50 women from the Oneonta area attended a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps rally on Tuesday evening, Feb. 16, at the Oneonta Municipal Building, then the city hall, at 242 Main St. 

“Each of you has the power to help raise an Army of 150,000, an army the size of the British Eighth army which swept through Libya,” Lt. Betty J. Wells told the women in attendance, encouraging them to enroll.

“Every woman in the WAAC is really doing two jobs,” she said. “She not only is releasing a man for combat duty, but also is taking his place behind the lines and doing vital and exciting work.” Wells had spoken the night before at a WAAC Rally in Sidney, while Cooperstown was on the schedule for the next evening.

The positions in the WAAC, Lt. Wells explained, were highly specialized. Three training centers had been set up in Iowa, Georgia and Florida. The recruits were sent to school there to study under expert teachers. Recruits would not only help win the war, but also have a skill useful in peacetime.

After the rally, 10 applicants had enrolled for induction in Albany. Wells had a temporary headquarters for recruiting at the New York State Electric and Gas offices, then found at 142 Main St.

Also during February, it was reported from Cooperstown, “Mr. and Mrs. Stephen C. Clark announced Thursday,” Feb. 11, “that the large stone house with its spacious grounds on the Fenimore farm will be opened in the spring as a club for men of the armed forces. It will be known as the ‘United Nations Service club,’ and will afford a place of rest and recreation for the men in the services.” The stone house referred to is today’s Fenimore Art Museum.

It was estimated that about 25 men could be accommodated at one time, sent here from the U.N. and chosen by Mr. Ross E. Skinner, with whom Mr. and Mrs. Clark had been associated since the outbreak of the war.

“It occurs to me,” Skinner said, “that there is nothing more worthwhile for cementing good relations between America and her Allies than the hospitality extended to servicemen while in the country. This is deeply appreciated by the men and their families as well as the nations from which they come.”

The United Service Organization Inc. had been recently formed to provide programs, services and live entertainment to United States troops and their families.

Sidney was very much a military village in 1943, being the home of the Scintilla Magneto Division of the Bendix Corp., with its thousands of defense manufacturing employees and their families. 

On Monday, Feb. 22, a new USO Community Recreation Building was dedicated, once found near the corner of Main and Bridge streets, “sandwiched between a gas station and a garage … a few yards from the Susquehanna River.” None of these buildings stand today.

Representatives of the National USO were on hand as part of the ceremony. Mayor William W. Bates spoke for the community. “Harry M. Walton, Jr., chairman of the defense recreational committee; Herman Hanni, general manager since 1925 for Scintilla magneto division; and Paul Carney, president of Ignition employes (sic) association, each brought a short message,” according to The Oneonta Star.

Dancing followed the dedication with music by Stuart Crandall and his orchestra. “Special numbers during the evening were a piano number of Clinton Taylor; a specialty dance by Margaret Schoeller, and a tap dance by Francis Smith; tap dance, ‘The Sidewalks of New York,’ by Mr. Smith and Miss Schoeller, and music by the Scintilla Wildcats.”

The rent and furnishings of the building were made possible by the USO. Much of the work for getting the building renovated and ready was done by volunteers from Scintilla. After the club lost its USO national support in July 1945, it continued to operate as a recreational center by many members of the Sidney community.

On Monday: The many ups and downs in the history of the State Theatre in Deposit.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.