Bicentennial Snapshot No 38: Our Town in World War II

Today we’ll tell you about the town of Greece during World War II.

Panorama of the Opening of the World War II Exhibit
Panorama of the Opening of the World War II Exhibit – Presenting the Colors
Aerial view of Long Pond Road at Latta where Wegmans supermarket is today, 1940s, from the Office of the Town Historian

Encompassing more than 50 square miles, the town of Greece in 1940 was primarily made up of farms and the population was 14,925 as of the 2010 census the town of Greece’s Population was 96,095 people that’s 3,905 people shy of 100,000 people in the town.

The town was protected by a ten-member police force led by the town’s first police chief, Milton Carter, and four volunteer fire companies.

Chief Milton Carter (Right)
Charlotte High School, Lake Ave 1940s
Aerial view of John Marshall High School Ridgeway Ave Rochester, NY

There were nine churches. However, there was no town public library, nor high schools; students attended Charlotte or John Marshall High Schools in the city.

That meant if you went to school at one of the many smaller elementary schools or 1 and 2-room schools in the town of Greece you by the time it came for 9th grade you would either end up doing trade by the 9th grade or attend High School at Charlotte High School on Lake Ave in the Villiage of Charlotte or John Marshall High School on Ridgeway Ave in the City of Rochester. More on the education system prior to the modern education system in a 2 part snapshot coming soon.

There were 39 registered organizations for men, women, and young people including a large chapter of the American Legion, eleven PTAs, political clubs, Grange Hall, Boys and Girls Scouts, and Fireman’s Associations as well as 38 church-related groups.

Grange Hall on Ridge Road, 1945, from the Office of the Town Historian

That All changed on December 7, while it was just getting to lunchtime on the East Coast the sun was just coming, on that day Stanley Hwalek one of the veterans that we interviewed for the exhibit was stationed at Pearl Harbor here is a quote from him in 2015 for the exhibit and you can read his entire veteran’s profile by picking up a copy of Our Town in World War 2 book in the museum gift shop.

Picture of Stanley Hwalek taken in 2015 for the exhibit

“Well, December 7th was just a regular Sunday morning. We were up at 6:00 because on Sundays they let us sleep a half hour longer. Usually during the rest of the week, reveille was at 5:30, but Sunday you were able to sleep until 6 o’clock and they had breakfast from 6:30 until 7:30. After breakfast, I went out on deck with one of my shipmates and I had the morning newspaper. As I’m reading the paper there about 7:30 or so I looked up, we were near this Navy air station at Ford Island, I saw a lot of smoke coming out of the hangars. I said to my shipmate, ‘Look. The Army must be having maneuvers or something because they’re making a lot of smoke out there.’ All of a sudden a plane comes over our ship and starts strafing.”

Stanley was one of the many veterans that survived the attack at Pearl Harbor that December 7th, 1941. On Monday, December 8th, 1941 in a full joint session of Congress President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed the Nation and asked for Congress to approve the Declaration of War against Japan and to respond to the attacks at Pearl Harbor.

Headline from Greece Press, December 12, 1941

Grecians answered the call to join the war effort. By March 1942, 1500 men and women had volunteered for civilian defense positions.

By the end of 1944, town residents had collected 165.5 tons of scrap metal, 384 tons of waste paper, 3 tons of rubber, 4 tons of old rags, and 200 bags of milkweed. This gun, captured from Germany during World War I, was donated to the war effort for scrap metal. These stats are from Accept, Buy and Volunteer: The Homefront Experience of the Town of Greece, New York, 1941-1945 by Timothy Dobbertin.

You can read also read the following article that the Society’s President Bill Sauers wrote and published in the Greece Post titled “A German Gun Helps Win the War” about Police Chief Milton H. Carter, who acquired a 105 mm German Howitzer. https://greecehistoricalsociety.org/2008/11/13/a-german-field-gun-helps-win-the-war/

Gordon Howe, Town Supervisor, lays a wreath on Memorial Day at the Town Hall, 1941, from the Office of the Town Historian
Victory Garden Enrollment Form, Greece Post, March 20, 1942

Residents were encouraged to plant Victory Gardens with vegetables, but to also continue to grow ornamental flowers as they would be morale boosters.

Headline, Greece Post, March 20, 1942

By the spring of 1942, 300 had enrolled. By the spring of 1944, there were more than 25 acres of Victory Gardens under cultivation in the town.

The Odenbach Shipyard was the main employer in Greece during the war years, employing thousands of workers at the 4477 Dewey Avenue plant. They made cargo barges, Y-boats, and cranes for the United States Army. At the height of production, they averaged one ship every two weeks.

Kodak, Bosch & Lomb, were also employing workers from Greece and other parts of the community as well but because of the City Annexation of where Kodak’s Lake ave facilities were, they were no longer considered the main employer located in the town boundaries.

Workers at Odenbach Shipbuilding Corp., 1943, from the Office of the Town Historian
The flag of stars flew at Greece Town Hall to call attention to the number of Greece Men and Women in service during World War II. Additional stars were added as the numbers grew. From Left to Right Town Supervisor Gordon Howe, Police Chief Milton Carter, and Lucius Bagley World War I Veteran

Almost 2,000 town residents served in the military.

War Mothers Service Organization, 1943, from the Office of the Town Historian

Families waited at home hoping and praying for the safety of their husbands, sons, and brothers.

cemetery of fallen soldiers and veterans
Photo by Veronika Valdova on Pexels.com

Thirty-four Greece residents made the ultimate sacrifice for their county. They were:

Clip 45:

Back Cover of Our Town in World War II

Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, there are now only about 150,000 still living. In 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of VE day, the Greece Historical Society opened Our exhibit, Our Town in World War II.

In the Video, we Hear from William Sauers the President of the Greece Historical Society & Museum. Don Riely, was our Master of the Ceremony. Color Gaurd from VFW Post 468. 2015 Greece Town Supervisor William D. Reilich Speaking about what it was like on the homefront during World War II. Jack Foy talked out his tour of duty during World War II. Senator Joe Robach read the list of 32 soldiers. Finally Maureen Whalen the exhibit chair gave a brief overview of the exhibit. can view the entire program below.

Twelve veterans of the war were interviewed for the exhibit. Today, only one of them is still living. But their recorded interviews are available at our museum.

You can explore a digital copy of the museum exhibit that is located in the past exhibits section.

We had a great turnout for the exhibit and when the museum went to the Museum Association of New York the following year we received an award for the exhibit.

You may read about these vets and Greece during the war years in the Society’s publication Our Town in World War II by Maureen Whalen and Marie Poinan.

Our Town in World War II

Thank you for joining us today. Next week our topic is Paddy Hill, What a journey we have had so far exploring the History of Greece through each snapshot that Maureen Whalen and myself Pat Worboys, and thanks to Joesph Vitello, William Sauers, and many our other contributors to these snapshots. These help you learn what life was like through different eras in the town of Greece.

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A German field gun helps win the war

Veterans Day and Memorial Day are special days for Americans. especially for our veterans. On these special days all across America, we gather ’round our war memorials to pay tribute to our men and women who have served and to those who have given their lives for their country.

War memorials can be nothing more than a small plaque on the wall of a town hall, a special area in the local cemetery, or in many cases a large relic from a past conflict. Many towns have a cannon or a statue in the middle of the town square, or a captured field gun like the town of Greece once in front of the old Town Hall on Ridge Road.

It was in August 1931 when a Greece Legionnaires committee, headed by Police Chief Milton H. Carter, acquired a 105 mm German Howitzer. The field gun had been captured from the Germans during the World War and was obtained from the government with the cooperation of Congressman James Whitley.

After some cleaning and polishing, it was placed on a concrete base in front of Town Hall. For a decade, the field gun was the centerpiece of the town’s Memorial Day ceremonies. However, the last time a ceremony was conducted at the field gun during peace time, was on Memorial Day 1941, when Supervisor Gordon Howe placed a wreath on the cannon, followed by a parade to Falls Cemetery, where the Rev. Alfred Wangman, pastor of Dewey Avenue Presbyterian Church, prayed “not for victory but for peace.”

Gordon Howe, Town Supervisor, lays a wreath on Memorial Day at the Town Hall, 1941, from the Office of the Town Historian
The flag of stars flew at Greece Town Hall to call attention to the number of Greece Men and Women in service during World War II. Additional stars were added as the numbers grew. From Left to Right Town Supervisor Gordon Howe, Police Chief Milton Carter, and Lucius Bagley World War I Veteran
M60 tank sits outside at American Legion Post 468 on Dorsey Road

Within a year we were totally involved in World War II. Everyone on the home front was doing their patriotic duty by participating in their local salvage campaign. Here in Greece, residents were collecting old newspapers, tin cans, rubber, you name it, when it was realized that that one field gun was worth more than a 1,000 tin cans.

Soon a decision was made by the members of the American Legion Post, headed by Commander Cyrille Ver Weire, and town officials that the cannon would be dismantled and the metal turned over for the salvage campaign “to help keep Uncle Sam’s war industries humming.”

On Sunday, Nov. 14, 1942, 66 years ago, a delegation including Carter went to Town Hall for the last look at the war relic before its dismantling.
In some respects, it must have been a sad occasion to lose their prized field gun, but the Legionnaires were informed that in return for their contribution of the gun to the salvage effort they would receive another war relic at the close of the war.

That war relic was a long time coming. It wasn’t until June 1999 that the post received an American M-60 tank, which is now on display in front of their building on Dorsey Road.

We can wonder if those Legionnaires in 1931 ever realized that their obsolete captured German field gun would someday be used to help with win another war against the Germans.

Let’s hope that we are never again in a situation that we have to salvage parts from an obsolete war relic.

Originally published in the Greece Post on November 13, 2008

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