Monday, June 1, 2015

Local WWII vets recall service to country during high school years - By Walter Lunt

In the spring of 1942 America was gearing up for hostilities in what would be the second Great War of the 20th century. In Windham, several high school seniors were ready to help protect the home land…before class.
Well known Windham veterans Bob Miele and Carroll Macdonald remember when, barely 17 years old, they were asked to participate in the war effort by manning a hastily constructed aircraft warning tower situated on a high point of land near the intersection of Chute and Webb Roads. Their job: Keep eyes to the sky and listen. Their tools: Binoculars and a phone. 

The watch tower (pictured here), approximately 20 feet high, had an enclosed cupola mounted atop a tall shed. Macdonald’s shift ran from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. once a week. He doesn’t recall if he was ever late for his first period class at school.

Macdonald, Miele, and other participating seniors were instructed to report any aircraft not readily identifiable. But all remained quiet through graduation. Neither recalls having to use the tower phone which, as best they remember, was probably a direct line to Portland Airport. Macdonald says his most vivid memory of the experience was seeing the S.D. Warren (now Sappi) smoke stack, planes landing and taking off from Portland Airport and birds. Very loud birds. At sun-up, the sound of their natural morning calls was magnified by an amplification system installed in the tower by classmate Clyde Seavey, who covered a tower shift on a different day. Seavey was an amateur HAM operator and dabbled in electronics. Reasoning that a strategically placed microphone connected to an amplifier would provide an even earlier warning of advancing aircraft, he installed the system permanently. "I could still hear those birds (in my head) when I got to school,” remembered Macdonald.

Asked why they committed to such weighty responsibilities at such a young age, both Miele and Macdonald agreed, “It’s just what you did. It wasn’t like these modern wars. Everybody pitched in…because it was their duty. Teens, seniors, women, everyone. They wanted to.” The two veterans, now in their early nineties, recalled other commitments of the time: Scrap drives, rationing, victory gardens, black-out wardens…”

Macdonald later became a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corp and trained as a fighter pilot. Miele reflected how he engaged in early warning systems right through the war, becoming an aircraft radar operator in Europe.

Sometime in 1943, Windham officials moved the watch tower to a higher point of land off Route 202 across from the Barnes Road (then known as Woods Road). It was taken down after the war years.

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