Sunday, May 30, 2010

Ground Observer Corps.



During the period following WWII, we were in what was called "The Cold War." Many of us can recall the drills while in school when we were instructed to get under our desks and "duck and cover." The overriding fear was that the Soviet Union was going to send planes over here and drop an atomic bomb on the U.S. During this time we had a strong Civil Defense Corps, which was headquartered in the basement bomb shelter of the Bollier Ave. Firehall (Engine 9). Many of our public buildings had bomb shelters that were stocked with emergency supplies and some people had well-stocked facilities in their own homes.
One of the interesting and more unknown divisions of the Civil Defense Corps was the Ground Observer Corps (G.O.C.). It was critical to the U.S. Air Force Defense Command to know at the earliest if a foreign power's airplanes were encroaching upon our fair land. All across the U.S., Ground Observer Corps observation stations were set up to observe and report all air traffic to the U.S. Air Force through a radio/telephone link. Volunteers in the Corps would sit in their stations and if an airplane were heard, attempt to spot it, identify the type of aircraft, and report its location and direction of travel. One might hear over the link that air traffic was reported over one city and that plane could be followed as other stations reported on it. If it was headed in our direction we kept our eyes and ears on alert.
Most folks in Niagara Falls were not aware that on top of our city hall there was a glass-enclosed building, equipped with a very sensitive microphone and the necessary communications equipment with which to report any aircraft. The microphone was so sensitive that on a quiet evening one could hear the conversations of pedestrians down on the sidewalks around city hall.

I was an active member of the G.O.C. from 1955 to 1959 and spent many hours in the little glass house on top of city hall. In order to facilitate the manning of the station by volunteers, NF Police Dept. cars could be asked to transport us to and from our homes and city hall. I know that the police felt they had better things to do than drive civilians around but the manning of the station was considered that important. Looking back on it today it almost seems ridiculous, but taken in the context of the absence of today's technology and what with the fear of annihilation it was community service of which to be proud. In appreciation for our service, we were issued our "wings" and a certificate of service. In the center of the wings (see photo) was G.O.C. indicating the division. I wonder if that glass building is still on the roof of city hall?

3 comments:

Robin said...

My mother passed away last November and we found pins reflecting her service in the GOC in Buffalo. My older brother remembers, but I knew nothing about it. I've been searching the internet for more info specific to Buffalo, but am finding very little. I'm in Omaha now - any idea where/how I can get more info on my mother's service? It's pretty cool stuff!

Thanks -

Robin G.

Jim said...

To Robin: I would contact this agency http://www.erie.gov/disaster/
and if you have no luck then I might try e-mailing the Buffalo News, the last remaining newspaper in Buffalo. They would have an archive that might have information you seek. The GOC program was administered by each city's local Civil Defense Office at the time. Good Luck

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