Chatham and World War II

The following was taken from “Weathering a Century of Change” by Robert D.B. Carlisle, published by the Chatham Historical Society.

The attack on Pearl Harbor effected the entire nation, and it hit home for the town of Chatham as well. Private 1st Class Robert S. Brown, a Chatham boy, was repairing a plane when Japanese bomb fragments killed him on December 7, 1941. Private Brown was the first service member from Cape Cod killed in action in World War II. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Silver Start posthumously. Pg. 97

By the end of World War II, 300 men and women from Chatham had served their country. That was about 14% of the entire population of Chatham in the 1940s. Pg. 97

Only two other men from Chatham died during the war. Marine Robert E. Buck died on the Pacific island of Tarawa, and Sergeant Roland James died on Thanksgiving Day 1944 in Europe. N. Lewis Reynolds, a fourth man, died during the invasion of Iwo Jima in 1945. He was from Chatham but had moved away and was drafted out of Watertown, MA. Pg. 98

Well-known Chatham boat builder, F. Spaulding Dunbar, found a way to help the war effort. Soon after the devastation at Pearl Harbor, Dunbar joined the ELCO Company in New Jersey where he put his boat building and design skills to work by converting British plans for a 70-foot PT boat to an 80-foot model for the U.S. Navy. Page 96

The Wayside Inn became the place for off-duty service members to write letters home, catch up on the news, and relax. Harold Tuttle, the local postmaster, anticipated the need for these service members to have a place be, and he worked with the local U.S.O. to make sure the need was fulfilled. More space would eventually be added and by the end of the war around 17,000 service men and women had utilized the facilities offered by Chathamites. Pg. 98

The Women’s Civilian Defense Committee took form under the leadership of Mrs. Edith Wheelwright and Mrs. Mildred Jergensen. Opening an air raid warning center was one of their first tasks. Pg. 99

“The Chatham branch of the Red Cross took on the work of making surgical dressings. Mr. and Mrs. Henry S. Howes lent their heated Oyster Pond house for the work. More than 240 women pitched in, and in just one month 3,000 dressings were finished. Another Red Cross group, chaired by Miss Virginia Harding, knitted 225 sweaters and sewed more than 450 garments.” Pg. 99

A local Chatham woman, Edna Matteson, began writing a monthly newsletter called “Home Fires” and it was sent to all the Chatham men and women who were serving in the military. It is said to have given a warm and hearty boost to their morale. Pgs. 100-101

In 1942, the Coast Guard began operating a long range aid to navigation (Loran) station in town. In the beginning, men operated the station. But then Lt. Vera Hamerschlag became the commanding officer of the station. By the end of the month there were 11 SPARS running this secretive network. Robin J. Thomson wrote, “Loran Station Chatham is believed to have been…the only all women station of its kind in the world.” Pg. 101-102

Chatham had bases for both SPARS, the female branch of the Coast Guard, and WAVES, the female branch of the Navy. SPARS were based out of the Coast Guard station and WAVES were based out of the Rose Acres Inn on Cross Street. Pg. 101-102

Fishermen played an important role during the war. The government provided them with gas, tires, and necessary equipment. They wanted fishermen kept busy producing food for civilians and military. Pg. 102-103

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The Chatham Story

The following information is taken from Three Centuries in a Cape Cod Village published by the Chatham Historical Society

During the summer of 1942, Ned Collins and Grant Howes were 12. While visiting their grandmother, Fannie Lewis Shattuck, on Bridge Street the boys used to spend their days wandering the property. One day they went beyond the boundaries of their grandmother’s gardens. They found themselves on a path that lead towards Morris Island. They were using their BB gun to try and shoot catbirds. Then the boys looked to their right and saw “dead material” piled around, different kinds of plants that were obviously placed purposefully. Being curious young boys, Ned and Grant brushed the plants aside and kept walking up the knoll until they noticed fish netting hung up in the tree. They pushed the netting aside like a curtain and looked in and behind the netting was a 12 foot by 12 foot clearing and in the clearing was a table with a box on it. A canvas covered the box but it left a set of headphones exposed dangling from the box.

Even though the boys figured that this was highly suspicious, they still went home and had lunch first before going and alerting the Coast Guard.

They told a Coast Guardsman who asked them to show him where this strange set up was. When the boys showed him the netting in the woods, the soldier quickly realized how serious the situation was. When continuing to look around the clearing he found an antenna up in a tree. While the coastguardsman was pulling the antenna down from the tree, a young man ran into the clearing heading for the little boys with a bayonet in his hand. Turning and seeing the aggressor, the coastguardsman hit the man’s arm, making him drop the bayonet which the Coast Guard quickly picked up and put to the young man’s back. The group started their walk back to the Coast Guard station.

To quote Ned Collins, “So picture this, a Coast Guardsman, a Nazi prisoner, and two little boys walking down Bridge Street. It’s a Norman Rockwell cover!”

Time magazine would later publish a story about “America’s Youngest Heroes.”

Years later, Ned learned that the “spy” was an American Nazi sympathizer. After the war ended the sympathizer was sent back to Germany.

The boys also learned that the Coast Guard radio had been picking up unknown signals, but couldn’t figure out where they were coming from until the boys found the foxhole.