|WWII Aircraft Warning System Shack|
Thursday, January 16, 2003
THURSDAY, JAN. 16 TELEGRAM & GAZETTE
So I've Heard Column
The only town structure built during World War II for a defense related purpose is still in place, Irene Konkel said when we met one day outside of Dr. Stephen Lorkiewicz's dental office.
Mrs. Konkel, nee Posiatowski, lived in Webster's Dresser Street neighborhood as a young person, and recalls when airplane spotters manned a small, square building at the nearby Athletic Field.
"I guess they'd watch for enemy planes." Mrs. Konkel said. She couldn't recall particulars because she was an elementary pupil during the world conflict.
The fields were game ready, but the Ray Street facility was still being developed when Japan attacked Hawaii in 1941, plunging America into the war. The fields, on one of the highest points in town, edged to developed neighborhoods, meaning volunteers could walk to Webster's spotter station. This was important because gas was rationed.
The old sky-scan shack, with faded siding and missing shingles, no longer has any function, says Kevin Esposito of the town Parks Department. "It appears they had a toilet in there at one time, and somebody installed a dropped ceiling, but the windows were broken and some of the siding was torn off," he said. "There's some old baseball stuff inside, a few benches and the likes. You couldn't keep anything of any value in there."
While the U.S. Aeronautics Council published an Aircraft Spotters Handbook during the war, neither Norman J. Deptula or Donald A. Wayman, both Korean War veterans and neighbors today on Webster's Asselin Avenue, remembers a handbook, but they may of had sketches to rely on. The men, active in veterans' affairs, were no more than 12 or 13 years old when they hooked on with Webster's air warning service. They wore armbands identifying them as an "U.S. Army AWS Air Force Observer."
Mr. Wayman was with a town scout troop, and volunteered for different war-related functions. This led to service in the little square shack on the Athletic Field. "I got assignments that were in the middle of the night," he remembered. "My father would have to wake me up and I'd get dressed and walk from my house on Pearl Street to the field (more than a mile away). I think the other kid there was named Stapor."
Mr. Deptula was introduced to sky scanning by his father, Joseph Deptula, a World War I veteran. He was active in the American Legion and the local post played a pivotal role in maintaining the lookout station. "I had an early morning watch," Mr. Deptula remembered. The daybreak start was hardest during school vacation. "No kid wanted to get up that early in the summer." Mr. Deptula walked to the field from his family home on Spring Street, about half a mile away.
"I spent many, many hours there," Mr. Deptula said. Although small, the building was comfortable, heated in winter with a pot-bellied stove. The important thing was to identify the type of plane flying over the town, whether it was high or low, single of multi-engined, and the direction it was moving in, Mr. Wayman remembered.
It was something he was interested in anyways, but a model airplane- building program helped the young sky scanners, Mr. Deptula said. "I made some models from kindling wood." Classes were in a downtown building, somewhere in the vicinity of what is now The Party Planner store, he recalled.
"From what I remember, mostly transport planes went over Webster," said Mr. Deptula. The observer post had a dedicated telephone line. "You reported in to a Filter Station at the start of your shift," said Mr. Wayman. Local stations were knotted to networks on both coasts of the nation. Information relayed by spotters was plotted on large boards at the various Filter Stations.
Webster ground observers were lined with similar units in Douglas, Dudley, Southbridge, and other towns, Mr. Wayman said. The Athletic Field was but a spot on a massive grid
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