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Civil Defense in Harding During World War II

By Leslie Potashner

Originally published in The Review in Spring 2020, Volume 63, Number 1.

On June 25, 1942, The Madison Eagle published a front-page article about civil defense in Harding. The article covered a fundraiser to pay for an aircraft observation tower built on Lee’s Hill Farm.

In May of 1941, before the attacks at Pearl Harbor, the War Department established the Aircraft Warning Service in conjunction with the American Legion. This was a civilian section of the Army’s Ground Observer Corps under the auspices of the Army Air Force 1st Interceptor Command. Civilian volunteers were trained to recognize aircraft. The posts were manned twenty-four hours a day by both men and women. This civilian organization freed soldiers from this duty to fight in the war.

Harding’s first Civilian Observation post was atop the Harding Township School. The army took over that spot and requested the AWS build a second tower. A new thirty-foot tower for the civilian watch was built on the farm of Warren Kinney, chairman of the Harding Township Defense Council. The tower was manned by members of the Madison and Chatham Legionnaires.

Reports were sent to the Aircraft Warning Corps in secret locations. This branch was filled with mostly female volunteers who plotted flights on giant maps for the Army Air Force and Navy.

Nearly 750,000 civilians served in the AWS. To coordinate the volunteers, a semi-monthly newsletter was published called The Observation Post. NBC produced a thirty-minute. radio show called Eyes Aloft! with Henry Fonda that provided AWS information over the airwaves. The AWS was disbanded on March 31, 1944.

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