Friday, March 25, 2016

A Simpler Time

I remember a number of things that the young people of today have never heard of, or remember only in stories from family conversations.

When I was fourteen, I joined the Junior Ground Observer Corps. This was in the middle 1950’s, and America struggled in the cold war fear that Russian bombers could attack us.

My Father built a fallout shelter in the basement It wasn't much. I wouldn't have worked, but it was there. I joined the Junior Ground Observer Corps in my community. A bunch of us kids would volunteer to take a shift of time in a tall tower on a high point in our town calling in the altitude and direction of any plane we could observe with binoculars. We were sort of citizen radars using our eyes instead of electronic beams.

I was given a wallet-size plastic card with little transparent circles on it. The circles ranged in size from just smaller than a dime to about a quarter inch in diameter. When a plane would fly over, I would hold the plastic card at arms length and fit the plane’s silhouette into one of the circles. Depending on what circle the plane fit into, I could determine the approximate altitude.

Then I’d pick up the phone, there were no dials on it, and an operator would say, “number please” and I’d say, “Aircraft flash” and be immediately connected to some distant military voice.

I’d give my location, and then the approximate altitude, the direction of travel and the type of plane I observed, prop or jet, how many engines it had if I could determine it and then hang up.

Eventually, radar got better, and the Ground Observer Corps was no longer needed. The towers vanished, but not the memories of a simpler time.

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