Clinton in World War II

The war Effort

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans united in defense of their country. Air raid drills, Blackouts, rationing, and salvage efforts became common activities. Even clocks placed on war time, were set ahead one hour to conserve energy.

Mrs. Paul Williams and Mrs. Edward Root began to enroll men and women volunteers for civil defense. The Town Committee set up shop in the rear room of the Hayes National Bank. Enrollment applications were printed in the Courier. Thirty percent, about 1200 citizens, of the population of Kirkland became engaged in some aspect of Civil defense. They served as air raid wardens, first aid personnel, auxiliary police, and served on draft boards and rationing committees.

Howard Shineman, who later would enlist in the Air Corps, established the School Defense Committee to “bring home to pupils what the war is going to mean to them by way of changing different aspects of their school life.” They worked to make the children comfortable with the dangers and changes they would have to face.

On February 26, 1942, they had their first air raid drill and students practiced climbing under their desks or going out into the corridors to avoid flying glass. Barbara Williams Roberts wrote:

“I lived in Clinton during World War II. It was scary. I was still in grade school and I remember hearing an airplane and looking up top see what it was. I think I expected the Japanese to bomb Clinton.”

To conserve gas the maroon and white Clinton school buses made fewer stops. Children on Dwight Avenue had to all walk to a central location and wait for the bus. At the end of the school day the bus would drop them off at College and Dwight Avenues and they would walk home from there.

A local Civil Defense force was created with Mayor Van Slyke in charge. There was a local Auxiliary Police force under John Elliott, and a network of air raid wardens with Fred Dawes as Chairman. The Local Defense Control Center was established at the Fire Station. Three first aid posts were set up, one at the Hamilton College Infirmary with five volunteers, one at Marvin Street school with seven volunteers and another at the Scout Rooms and Justice Court in Lumbard Hall with seven volunteers. Each post also had two ambulances. In the event of enemy attack they were ready to man their posts to protect the community.

To protect the area from enemy bombers it was necessary to extinguish all lights which would serve as targets or navigational beacons for Japanese or German bombers. The first blackout and air raid drill was held in February of 1942, and a second in April.

Again Barbara Williams Roberts wrote:

“Dad was an air raid warden and when the siren blew he would go out and patrol the neighborhood making sure people were inside and no light was showing. We had dark window shades to keep the light from shining outside.”

The air raid warden on Mulberry St was Robert L. Williams and a young Richard Williams got in trouble in one blackout for opening a door and allowing light to be seen from the street!

The first few drills did not go well – lights were seen from a store on West Park Row, a basement on College Street, a gas station, three homes on College Street, a chicken coup on Fountain Street, and from a grass fire on Meadow Street. Cars ignored a Warden’s order to stop on Utica Street. People remained in parked cars, sightseers stood on their front porches and sidewalks, and indiscriminate lighting of cigarettes was reported in the village.

The Courier warned that a surprise blackout was going to happen sometime between May 17 and 23, 1943. It happened on May 20th and it went off perfectly.

On the 29th of June 1943 a state wide blackout was held. At 2:30 AM the air raid wardens, auxiliary policemen, firemen, and medical personnel were rousted from their beds and quickly reported to their posts for a simulated disaster drill. The Courier reported that two messengers, Bob Rooney and Jimmy Scala, who were selected to be causalities, missed their opportunity to ride in the ambulance, as the first aid personnel had to rush to the aid of a Mrs. Zech, who in the imposed darkness fell down a flight of stairs in the Ford Block. The boys lay at the curb, and despite their realistic cries of pain, were ignored throughout the remainder of the blackout. One warden who slept through the first alert sirens was awakened by the all clear and ran to his post to patrol it until 4:00 am and then went home as nothing appeared to be happening. Overall the drill was successful, however the Courier reported with tongue in cheek, “Complete darkness was not achieved, however as great swarms of lightning bugs moving close to the ground gave the area a decidedly lighted up appearance.”

Clinton was saved from enemy air assault.

Information in this article is as correct and factually accurate as possible. If you notice a fact that you believe is incorrect, please let us know. Comments are always welcome.


  1. Reply
    Very interesting says

    Good stuff!

Post a comment