All Along the Watchtower

Once a community stood up a Ground Observation Corps post, they needed an observation tower. Observation sites were ideally spaced 8 miles from each other. Obviously, this didn’t happen so neatly in real life for a number of reasons, mainly there are limits to how many volunteers could build and staff observation posts.

watch_towerbig1

A GOC observation tower in Odebolt, Iowa. Photo taken by Harvey Keller on August 26, 1956.  

While the GOC was under the guidance of the Air Force, it was up to the local community to fund and build the observation tower. I should note that in the promo film in my previous entry, the Air Force man asks if the Air Force could build a tower on the couple’s property. This is pure propaganda as the Observer’s Guide and Supervisor’s Guide clearly state that building and maintaining observation towers are up to the state and local jurisdictions. (In government speak, that is called “passing the buck.”)

Until the tower was built, observers would use whatever was available and had a clear view of the skies, such as a water tower or tall building. Newspaper articles from the time talk about how communities solicited donations and held fund-raisers for the money to build their towers. Construction of the tower was also done by volunteers with help from the local businesses. Some cities were able to fund their towers directly through the city budget. The Air Force supplied the dedicated phone line to the filter centers.

The completion of a tower was always a big ribbon-cutting affair. There are many newspaper articles from the time that cover the dedication of GOC towers and proudly declare that they are fully operational. While most towers have long since disappeared, a few remain like this one in Cairo, Indiana.

This article from the News-Journal in Mansfield, Ohio is just one of many from the time that covered the fund-raising efforts by the local GOC observation post. This post was manned mainly by children, ages 12-16, which wasn’t unusual for the time. Scout groups and local schools pitched in to watch the skies. There was no age restriction to the GOC. All that was required was the ability to speak on the telephone and accurately identify aircraft.

 

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