Journal-News, Wednesday, May 4, 1994
Hamilton-built Liberty Engine in D-Day encore
By Jim Blount
A survivor of Hamilton's abundant World War II industrial output will cross the English Channel again during observance of the 50th anniversary of the June 6, 1944, Normandy invasion.
The Allies assembled the largest collection of ships in history to convoy men, weapons and supplies to the French beaches. Among the more than 4,400 ships and landing craft was the SS Jeremiah O'Brien, one of many in that armada powered by Hamilton-built engines.
The O'Brien -- the last unaltered World War II Liberty ship -- retains the engine built in the Hooven, Owens, Rentschler shops in Hamilton. The ship -- launched June 19, 1943, at Portland, Maine -- is scheduled to participate in the D-Day anniversary.
The O'Brien, owned by the U. S. Maritime Administration, is the National Liberty Ship Memorial and in 1984 was designated a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
The ship -- named after a naval hero of the American Revolution -- had been mothballed in California for 20 years when preservation efforts began in 1966. She was selected because she was unchanged from the original Liberty ship design.
They were called Liberty ships after the first American vessel of its type -- launched Sept. 27, 1941 -- was named the SS Patrick Henry, recalling the revolutionary leader's "Give me liberty or give me death" declaration.
The name also was attached to their engines, which were designed and first built in England in 1879. The British government in 1941 engaged Hooven, Owens, Rentschler (HOR) to manufacture the 1,500-horsepower vertical triple expansion engines. HOR was already at work on a $3.9 million contract awarded in 1940 for diesel engines for U. S. submarines.
Later, the U. S. Maritime Commission contracted with 13 other U. S. companies to build the same engine for the 10,500-ton cargo ships (officially named EC2-S-C1).
Because HOR was designated the design agent, the English plans were brought to Hamilton to be redrawn in standard U. S. measures. Jigs, templates and other devices for the other U. S. builders also were made in the Hamilton plant.
The first engine was completed here July 1, 1941-- five months before Pearl Harbor. The 250th engine was dispatched from Hamilton in December 1942, and by November 1943, HOR was shipping an engine every day. The last of the 826 was completed March 9, 1945. The Hamilton plant built more than 31 percent of the 2,623 Liberty engines produced by 14 U. S. companies.
The plant employed 4,500 men and women -- many on 11-hour shifts -- during peak production. Other Hamilton industries were subcontractors on the project.
The massive engines (287,700 pounds each, or more than 100 tons) were assembled in the shop as the parts were machined. Then the completed engine was taken apart, crated and sent from Hamilton via railroad to the 18 ship-building companies. The assembled engines were 23 feet long, 17 feet wide and 23 feet high.
The 441-foot cargo ships -- which could haul 440 tanks or 2,840 Jeeps -- were designed to carry supplies across the Atlantic to England before the U. S. entered the war. The intent was to build the ships faster than German submarines could sink freighters ferrying food and supplies to war-strapped England. Only 195 of the 2,751 slow-moving ships (11 knots maximum) were lost during World War II.
By the war's end, Liberty ships had served a multitude of duties, including transporting troops and supplying Allied invasion forces around the world. A former crew member termed them "the shopping baskets of World War II."
Liberty engines weren't HOR's only war-time products. Its many contributions included diesel engines for submarines and cannon barrels for battleships.
HOR and the Niles Tool Works were merged in 1928 into the General Machinery Corp. Later GMC became Lima-Hamilton in 1947 and finally Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton in 1951 before the closure and sale of its Hamilton facilities in 1960.
The shops - which once covered about 30 acres - were along North. Third Street north of Vine Street, and between Fourth and Fifth streets north of Heaton Street. Surviving buildings are now owned by Champion International and Kornylak Corp.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, May 11, 1994
Rossville Burying Ground headstones disturbed again
By Jim Blount
The graves of some of the area's earliest residents have been unintentionally disturbed again. Hamilton parks and recreation employees recently unearthed headstones in Sutherland Park, formerly known as Wayne Park and First Ward Park and originally the Rossville Burying Ground.
The cemetery was created when the town of Rossville was formed in March 1804 on the west bank of the Great Miami River. There were 132 lots in the original Rossville plat, which today would cover about a 30-block Hamilton area from present Millikin Street on the south to Wayne Avenue on the north, and west from the Great Miami River to F Street.
By 1850, Rossville had 1,447 residents and Hamilton 3,210, a total of 4,657. In April 1854, voters in both towns approved a merger, effective in February 1855.
The Rossville Burying Ground was platted in 1804 at the northwest corner of Boudinot and Third streets in Rossville at the edge of the town. Later, Boudinot became Park Avenue and Third became North D Street.
The cemetery tract was donated by two Rossville's promoters -- John Sutherland and Samuel Dick.
In recent decades, it has been assumed Rossville burials ended in 1848 when Greenwood Cemetery opened. About 150 bodies were removed from Rossville to the new cemetery between 1849 and 1869. But an 1888 newspaper article said interments continued in the Rossville Burying Ground until 1863.
In June 1878 John C. Weaver, the county surveyor, prepared specifications and an estimate "for burying the grave stones in the First Ward Park." He proposed that "each base head and footstone must be buried on its respective grave with the lettered side of the stone up so that the top of the stone will be 18 inches below the surface of the ground."
At 20 cents a grave, Weaver figured $43 as the total cost for covering the remaining 215 graves. On the basis of newspaper accounts, the work didn't start until 10 years later.
"Pursuant to resolution awarding the contract for leveling the First Ward Park, William Brereton and force are engaged at present in plowing and digging the earth in the high places and in turn scooping it into the low places," a newspaper reported in December 1888.
The article said "some of the graves are not marked" and other tablets had been destroyed. "Since the contractor and force have gone to work, no attention has been paid to the last resting place of the pioneers of Butler County. The marks of respect have been roughly broken, thrown in a pile, and the relative could not pick out the stones and inscriptions from the chaos.
"Worse than that," the Hamilton Democrat said, "the graves are scooped open, coffins broken and the skeletons exposed to view. Yesterday children were playing with the bones of pioneers, having pried open an exposed coffin with sticks."
Nearly thirty years ago -- in October 1964 -- an uninformed city crew laying a gas line uncovered grave markers in the Hamilton park. "Had it been known a burial ground was under the park, we would have laid the line around the park," explained a city official. The markers were returned to their original positions when the gas-line trench was filled.
Sutherland -- one of the cemetery donors and for whom the park is named -- was born in 1771 in Scotland. He came to Virginia in 1788, and in the early 1790s was a packhorseman with Gen. Anthony Wayne's army in this area. In 1795 he settled in Hamilton, and became the town's first merchant. He died Sept. 9, 1834.
Samuel Dick -- the other cemetery donor -- was born in 1764 in Ireland, and came to the new United States in 1783, first to Baltimore and later to Washington County, Pennsylvania, and Cincinnati. In 1801 he purchased 640 acres west of the Great Miami River near the mouth of Indian Creek. Dick died Aug. 4, 1846.
Dick was buried in the Bethel Burying Ground at Millville. Sutherland's remains are in Greenwood Cemetery in Hamilton.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, May 18, 1994
Pfc. Patrick Kessler's heroism recognized with Congressional Medal of Honor
By Jim Blount
In late May 1944, Allied armies broke a four-month stalemate in Italy, thanks to the heroic efforts of such individuals as Pfc. Patrick L. Kessler. The Congressional Medal of Honor was awarded to 433 men for their unselfish actions during World War II, and the 22-year-old Kessler was the only Butler Countian to earn the nation's highest military decoration in that war.
Kessler -- born in Middletown March 17, 1922 -- was recognized for his valor May 23, 1944, near Ponte Rotto, during the Anzio breakout. He was cited "for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty" near Ponte Rotto, Italy. He killed at least four Germans and captured 16 while eliminating two machine guns and a pair of snipers whose fire had killed several men in his company.
Allied forces had invaded the Italian mainland Sept. 3, 1943, but their steady advance bogged down in the mountains in January 1944. To break the stalemate, the Allies planned "Operation Shingle," a 60-mile end run meant to disrupt the German rear, divert forces from German lines in the Cassino area, and threaten Rome.
The night of Jan. 22, 1944, about 37,000 Allied troops participated in an amphibious landing at Anzio, about 35 miles south of Rome on the Tyrrhenian Sea. They landed without opposition, but the invasion soon turned into a bloody four-month struggle. Meanwhile, Monte Cassino wasn't taken until May 18.
Kessler -- a member of Company K, 30th Infantry, Third Division -- earned his Congressional Medal of Honor five days later.
As the Anzio breakout started May 23, a German machine gun killed five men in Kessler's company and stopped its advance. "Pfc. Kessler, acting without orders, raced 50 yards through a hail of machine gun fire," the CMH citation said, "in order to form an assault group to destroy the machine gun."
"Ordering three men to act as a base of fire, he left the cover of a ditch and snaked his way to a point within 50 yards of the enemy machine gun before he was discovered, whereupon he plunged headlong into the furious chain of automatic fire," the citation explained.
"Reaching a point within six feet of the emplacement, he stood over it and killed both the gunner and his assistant, jumped into the gun position, and overpowered and captured a third German after a short struggle. The remaining member of the crew escaped, but Pfc. Kessler wounded him as he ran." While taking his prisoner to the rear, Kessler saw two Americans killed by another German machine gun which had killed 10 men in the company.
"Turning his prisoner over to another man," the citation said, "Pfc. Kessler crawled 35 yards to the side of one of the casualties, relieved him of his BAR (Browning automatic rifle) and ammunition and continued on toward the strongpoint, 125 yards distant."
"Although two machine guns concentrated their fire directly on him and shells exploded within 10 yards, bowling him over, Pfc. Kessler crawled 75 yards, passing through an anti-personnel minefield to a point within 50 yards of the enemy and engaged the machine gun in a duel. When an artillery shell burst within a few feet of him," the citation said, "he left the cover of a ditch and advanced upon the position in a slow walk, firing his BAR from the hip."
"Although the enemy poured heavy machine-gun and small-arms fire at him, Pfc. Kessler succeeded in reaching the edge of their position, killed the gunners and captured 13 Germans. Then, despite continuous shelling, he started to the rear."
"After going 25 yards, Pfc. Kessler was fired upon by two snipers only 100 yards away," the citation continued. "Several of his prisoners took advantage of this opportunity and attempted to escape; however, Pfc. Kessler hit the ground, fired on either flank of his prisoners, forcing them to cover, and then engaged the two snipers in a fire fight and captured them."
"With this last threat removed, Company K continued its advance, capturing its objective without further opposition," the citation concluded.
Two days later at Terracina, U. S. troops moving inland from Anzio met those advancing through Italy's middle. But Kessler wasn't part of the celebration. He was killed in the fighting that day, one of 72,000 U. S. casualties in the Anzio campaign.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, May 25, 1994
Champion mill attracted Kentuckians, 'amazing workers . . . loyal people'
By Jim Blount
"Give me a Hamilton" a customer told a clerk in a small store in a central Kentucky town in 1907. The request puzzled a tourist, who happened to be from Hamilton, Ohio. He watched the clerk scurry to a backroom and emerge with an inexpensive suitcase.
"Pardon me," interjected the Ohio traveler after the customer left, "but I'm a trifle curious to know just why you handed that fellow a suitcase when he asked for a Hamilton?"
"Because there is a steady stream of people from this neighborhood moving to Ohio with the city of Hamilton as the mecca," explained the clerk, "and so we have labeled these suitcases after the city."
That story, related in the Republican News in 1907, may or may not be true, but there is no question about a long relationship between transplanted Kentuckians and Champion's 100-year-old Hamilton mill.
"They were mountain folks, basically from Kentucky in Hamilton," noted Dwight Thomson in describing the work force in his memoirs. "They knew the dollar, and they were amazing workers and very ingenious and loyal people," added the grandson of Champion's founder.
Dr. Eslie Asbury in his 1981 book, Horse Sense and Humor in Kentucky, said Peter Thomson, Champion's founder, told him in 1926 "that he hired only mountain people."
Dr. Asbury -- a native of Nicholas County, Ky., who was retained by Thomson as a company surgeon for several years -- recalled a Champion employee brought to his office. "His first words betrayed his origin," Dr. Asbury said, "and I asked what county he was from. 'From Perry County,' he replied. 'Down there we have a saying, 'You go from Harlan to Hazard, to Hamilton, to Hell!' "
One of Champion's early Kentuckians was Jacob Wagner, who arrived in April 1900, from Alexandria, Ky., and had a job at Champion by that evening. "When I started to work, I got paid a dollar a day," he said. "We worked 11 hours a day, six days a week, on the day shift, and 13 hours a night, five nights a week, on the night shift," recalled Wagner, who retired as a supervisor after more than 50 years in the mill.
Champion and other Hamilton industries coveted Kentuckians because of their knack for making things work. Farming and living in the remote hill regions required mechanical skills because there were seldom repair shops or stores nearby when a machine or tool broke or had to be replaced.
An example of Champion's magnetism was reflected in a picture reprinted in a company magazine in 1940. In the 1913 photograph taken at a small school at Scoville, Ky., were about 50 children of varying ages. Within 27 years, at least 12 of the group had been employed at the Hamilton mill.
Finding the way to Hamilton and Champion wasn't a problem for ambitious Kentuckians who wanted to migrate, according to Nancy Gover, who made the transition from Somerset, Ky., in 1941. "The story was that when they came up from Kentucky on the train, they didn't say Hamilton, they said Champion," explained Gover, "and the conductors knew where they were going."
"I had been working on the farm," said Frank Burns, who came from Jackson County, Ky., to work at the mill in 1914. "We were a big family, and dad didn't need me. I was aiming to go back. I had just finished school, and the teacher said I want you to go to college."
Burns -- who never missed a day of work in his 48 years with Champion -- said "when I came here, you could get a job almost anywhere" because there was so much industry in Hamilton. "I was never off a day sick. I got up some mornings with a cold, but I went on in," said Burns, who exemplified the Kentucky work ethic admired by Peter G. Thomson.
"Champion was a fine place to work. It was then and is now," said the 98-year-old Burns in a 1993 interview. His two sons, Homer and Tom worked 47 and 46 years, respectively, for Champion, and two of his three brothers were employed by the company for more than 30 years. A daughter Sally (Mrs. Charlie Carter) and a grandson also worked briefly at the Hamilton mill.
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