When I was in the sixth grade my parents bought a house "above the hill" in Grandview Heights, Ohio. I soon met and became friends with the girl who lived behind me, Susan Bell. Susan was a year older than me and belonged to a Girl Scout troop that even then was very active. I was invited to join the troop. When we later became senior scouts, we chose to focus on all things nautical and elected to become Mariner Scouts. Mariner troops were named after ships. We became Mariner Ship Lawrence (MSL).
I can only wonder where we were off to on the Greyhound bus this time!
One summer six of us hopped on a bus and sped away to a girl scout camp in Pennsylvania. The highlight of of our stay was a three day canoe trip on a river near our camp. But first we had to learn how to canoe. Our days were spent on the lake. Our nights were spent around the camp fire singing, sharing stories and forming a bond. There is a poem written by Robert Louis Stevenson, "Where go the Boats" that was put to song and was a favorite of ours. It goes:
Dark brown is the river,
Golden is the sand.
It flows along for ever,
With trees on either hand.
Green leaves a-floating,
Castles of the foam,
Boats of mine a-boating -
Where will all come home?
On goes the river
And out past the mill,
Away down the valley,
Away down the hill.
Away down the river,
A hundred miles or more,
Other little children
Shall bring my boats ashore.
We practiced morning and afternoon on the lake, two to a canoe. We learned how to paddle in unison. We flipped our boats over, tossing us into the lake. We had to right them again and climb back in. It was a balancing act, one to a side, in water so deep our feet could not touch bottom. All the while the sun pounded down on us, burning our skin. At last we were toughened and ready...well almost, that is.
Our skills had to be tested before we would be allowed on the river. Each of us had to take a canoe out, alone, to the middle of the lake and return again. I kept to the back of the line until I was the only one left. With no further way to avoid the inevitable, I paddled off with great trepidation. There was a dam at one end of the lake and I soon discovered that it was open that day. Unwittingly, I had paddled my way into the current and I was swept away. As hard as I tried I could not extricate my canoe from the clutches of the moving water. I watched in horror as I neared the dam's edge. I paddled and paddled to no avail. I was stuck (the only one, I might add, to end up in this predicament). I was sure I was going to go over that dam, even though they kept assuring me it was not possible. I was crying and paddling, crying and paddling, all the while my buddies were shouting encouragement until they grew bored and wandered away. Determined that I was not going to be left behind (and knowing that no one was coming to get me), I dug in with all of my strength and finally pulled free. I paddled my way to shore. I had earned my trip down the river.
An inglorious beginning
(to be continued)
In February 1950, Continental Air Command Commander General Ennis C. Whitehead proposed the formation of a 160,000 civilian volunteer GOC to operate 8,000 observation posts scattered in gaps between the proposed radar network sites. With the belief that the Korean War served as a precursor to a possible Soviet attack, ADC had little difficulty recruiting volunteers. In 1951, some 210,000 GOC volunteers manning 8,000 observation posts and twenty-six filter centers were tested for the first time in nationwide exercises. The time recorded for a sighting report to reach the Ground Control Interception centers through the filter centers in this and subsequent drills was unimpressive. Subsequently, the scope of Whitehead's plan was expanded to recruit more volunteers to man more observation posts on a continuing basis. This revised GOC plan, dubbed "Operation SKYWATCH," was initiated on July 14, 1952. Eventually over 800,000 volunteers stood alternating shifts at 16,000 observation posts and seventy-three filter centers. The Air Force used a variety of means to recruit volunteers, including radio. One radio spot announced:
"It may not be a very cheerful thought but the Reds right now have about a thousand bombers that are quite capable of destroying at least 89 American cities in one raid.... Won't you help protect your country, your town, your children? Call your local Civil Defense office and join the Ground Observer Corps today."
Source: Schaffel, Emerging Shield, pp. 158 - 159.By the late 1950s, deployment of the short-range AN/FPS-14 radar resolved the problem of detecting low-flying planes. Dozens of AN/FPS-14s and the follow-on model AN/FPS-18s were deployed at sites between the long range permanent and mobile radar statsions. As a result of this technological improvement, the ADC disestablished the Ground Observer Corps on January 31, 1959." http://www.radomes.org/museum/documents/GOC/GOC.html
Our troop did many community projects. Some of us became volunteers for the Air Force Ground Observer Corps. Once a week we would go to a location, called a Coordination Center or Filter Center. There was a large glass wall with coordinates on it. We would either man the telephones to take down the information called in by the observers or we transferred the information to the map. We literally tracked every airplane that came into our airspace, as observed by the volunteers on the ground. They tracked them all the way across the country. We stood behind the glass, so we had to learn how to write backwards, from right to left so that it was readable to those studying it from the front.
My friend, Shelly, quipped, "So our country was literally being guarded by girl scouts??"
At some point towards the end of our time as volunteers for the Corps, the Air Force arranged a field trip for us...an unusual one at that. We were offered the opportunity to visit a military installation to see a nuclear reactor. This was at the height of the Cold War. As children we had participated in nuclear bomb drills at school to prepare us in case the Russians started a nuclear war and attacked us. My parents stored a year's worth of food in our basement, because it was estimated that the nuclear fallout would take a year to dissipate. People were building bomb shelters in their back yards.
All the while, there was a macabre fascination with The Bomb which had the capability to wipe out the entire human race.
[Observing a Nuclear Bomb Test]
Storm clouds hung low in the sky as we boarded a military bus. It rained as we departed and continued all along the way. I was filled with dread the closer we drew to our destination. What do I remember about that trip? Gray. I remember the color gray. Gray clouds, gray sky, gray dome housing one of my greatest childhood fears.
Soon after, the Ground Observer Corps was disbanded and so ended our stint as guardians of the skies.
The Long and Winding Road
"It was a truly massive building which stood on the north side of West Broad Street at the gateway to the Hilltop. The Psychiatric Hospital System in Columbus was established in 1838, but the main building wasn't built until 1870-1877. It took seven years to build because it was so huge, from some reports...the biggest building under one roof at the time when it was built.
Over the years, the Columbus Hospital for the Insane was home to some deeply disturbed people. The methods employed there never got very advanced; as late as the 1980s the place was falling apart, paint peeling off the walls, and the cell-like rooms in the basement had been abandoned." http://www.forgottenoh.com/Asylum/asylumcemetery.html
The building was almost 90 years old and dilapidated when our troop was asked to host a Christmas party for some of the patients. The sun was shining on that December day. As we drove up the hill I saw the formidable building for the first time. I didn't have a clue as to what awaited us behind those walls.
We were escorted into a huge hall with high ceilings. There were windows all along one side, but they were covered in dust and did nothing to brighten the gloom in that room. It was cavernous...filled with shadows, devoid of light and almost empty of furniture. The patients were grown women clothed in sack-like faded dresses. They were wandering aimlessly about the room. Several workers stayed with us and we tried our best to bring a little Christmas cheer to the patients, but most didn't seem to understand. We found out later that a mistake had been made and we were put in with severely ill patients, which was not the plan. There was one woman who kept rocking back and forth in her chair hugging a stuffed animal. Suddenly she started tearing it apart. She shoved the stuffing into her mouth and began eating it. Aides raced over and took her away.
I was appalled. At that tender age, I had the stirrings of passion, but had not yet learned compassion. When I arrived home I marched up the stairs and into my room, slammed the door shut, and threw myself onto my bed. All I wanted to do was go to sleep, as though the memory of what I had seen could be erased from my mind. I didn't come out for the rest of the day.
It was my birthday.