We left our church family and our town last month, mourning the increased losses of our local men due to the new action in the European theatre coupled with the action in the Pacific. Much of our news of this period comes from the Girard News, our weekly newspaper, published every Friday. The first issue in October, October 4th gave the weekly Girard casualties: 2 men killed, 3 wounded. All 5 casualties occurred in France over a month earlier. It is so hard for us here in 2019 to comprehend the slowness of receiving news 75 years ago. Based upon the good news folks were receiving over the radio and at the newsreels about our boys moving across France while pushing the Germans back, some people were thinking that the war might be over soon. It seems hard for us to understand, given the casualty numbers from just our own small town, but the local Girard Ministers were actually planning a V-Day celebration. Sitting here in 2019 looking back, we know that later news over the winter would seriously postpone the V Day celebration.
I only know of the Philathea Class because of their postings of meetings in the Girard News. It seems to have been composed entirely of women and was of pretty good size, as it had at least three units that met separately during the week to work on some kind of projects. Unit 3 seemed to be the most reliable poster in the News and in the October 4th issue they reported that the past Tuesday, 9 of them met at the home of Mrs. Harold Rees for their regular meeting, which was spent sewing. Their next meeting would be October 17th at the home of Mrs. George Williams. I wonder what they were sewing.
Playing at the Wellman Theatre: “Pride of the Yankees” starring Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig. This is a movie I have never seen in its entirety, only the “luckiest man on the face of the earth” clip from his farewell speech on July 4th, 1939. Someday if I see it listed on Turner Classic Movies, I will watch the whole movie. It received 11 Academy Award nominations.
The next issue of the Girard News had no casualties to list. That was good news. It also had another piece of good news –The company that announced in the beginning of September it was going to occupy the old A M Byers Company and produce equipment for the war effort, now announced that it, The Leader Specialty Company, would also move its Main Office to Girard.
The October 20th Edition of the News, reported on two casualties of Girard boys. One who was killed in action of the South Pacific, and one injured in France.
Also reported in that edition was a story of the McElhaney’s being honored by the Friendly Sunday School Class in a surprise party at their new home on Morris Lane. George McElhaney had organized that class fifteen years before, and been its first teacher for a number of years. Now, in 1944, Fred McLean was the teacher. The class had over 100 members and was the largest class in the church. And as promised a couple weeks earlier, Unit 3 of the Phillathea Class met at Mrs. Williams’ home Tuesday evening. The next meeting would be October 21 at the home of Mrs. Martha Williams on East Kline Street.
Our church family and people all across America would not know it at the time, but, now, in the month of October would occur one of the largest naval battles of the war, and possibly the largest naval battle in history. It would involve 300 ships on our side. 67 on the Japanese side; 1,500 planes on our side, 300 planes on the Japanese. The naval battle was in support of the invasion of the Philippines and the return of General MacArthur to complete the freeing of the Philippine Islands from Japanese occupation. It began on October 23rd and was over by October 26th. In the battle, our Navy was combined with the Australian forces. We overwhelmingly outnumbered the Japanese who lost just about all that was left of their navy in the battle. At the end of the battle, the Japanese had no carriers left and lost 3 battleships, all 300 of their planes, 10 cruisers and 11 destroyers, with an estimated 12,500 casualties. Their navy would not be a threat again. But, it was also the first time the Japanese used Kamikaze attacks. We had about 3,000 casualties, and lost 1 light carrier, 2 escort carriers, 2 destroyers, and about 200 planes. It enabled us and our allies to invade the Philippines practically untouched by the Japanese navy. But their soldiers on the islands would fight to the very last man.
October of 1944 – 75 years ago in our church, our town, and our country.