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Journal-News, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009

Hamilton woman's book focuses on military names

By Jim Blount

Pfc. Dominic V. Spinella's heroism and sacrifice haven't been forgotten. The U. S. Army's Spinella Barracks in Mannheim, Germany, honor the Hamilton native killed in combat April 14, 1945, less than a month before World War II in Europe ended. The 21-year-old medic, a 1940 graduate of Hamilton Catholic High School at age 16, died as he tried to reach four wounded soldiers at Willsbach, Germany.

The details of Spinella's training and the circumstances that earned him a Silver Star are explained in a new book by a Hamilton woman. Spinella is one of the 524 men profiled in Linda D. Swink's recently-published In Their Honor, The Men Behind the Names of Our Military Installations

The author is familiar with some of the locations. She served 15 years in the U. S. Air Force, is married to a 10-year U. S. Army veteran and is a daughter of a World War II U. S. Marine.

Her well-organized book will appeal to several audiences. Included are those whose service has taken them to bases, camps, barracks, air fields military facilities bearing unfamiliar names. It also will interest readers of military history. Travelers, too, will find it useful. In addition to an index, one of the indices lists installations by location, including states and foreign sites.

The book is a result of "a four-year search to find the story behind every man who ever had a military installation named in his honor."
She doesn't pretend to cover every location. For some sites, the lapse of time and the absence or obscurity of information frustrated the author. "I will not forget them as I continue the search and perhaps include them in a second edition in the future," Swink said.

Other local connections include Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis and Fort William Henry Harrison in Montana. The Indiana post is a tribute to the Miami University graduate, Civil War general and Indiana senator who became the 23rd U. S. president. The Montana base honors his grandfather -- the ninth president -- who resided and is buried in nearby North Bend, Ohio, in Hamilton County. He claimed credit for raising the first U. S. flag over Fort Hamilton in 1791.

The brief biographies include some interesting surprises. An example is the Army National Guard's Camp Gruber at Braggs, Okla., named for a Cincinnati native, Brig. Gen. Edmund Louis Gruber. Swink writes that Gruber "is best remembered as the author of the 5th Artillery Regimental song titled 'The Caissons Go Rolling Along,' which was adopted by all regiments of the artillery, first becoming the field artillery song, and later the U. S. Army's official song."

Gruber was a West Point graduate and later an instructor at the academy who commanded artillery units during World War I. He performed various training and command assignments before dying of natural causes in 1941. His Distinguished Service citation highlights Gruber's "exceptional ability in planning the organization of field artillery brigade centers," including establishment of Fort Sill, Okla.

An Ohio Air National Guard base is named after "the nation's leading ace pilot during World War I" who also served in World War II. Rickenbacker Air Force in Columbus honors Eddie Rickenbacker, whose varied career included driving in the Indianapolis 500 three times and setting a land speed record of 134 mph at Daytona Beach, Fla.

Camp Perry at Port Clinton, Ohio, is familiar as an army training center, but it bears the name of a naval leader, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. The Army National Guard camp is named for the commander of an underdog U. S. flotilla that defeated the British in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. Perry is noted for his battle flag, which said "Don't Give Up the Ship," and his victory message, "We have met the enemy and they are ours."

O'Hare International Airport in Chicago is more familiar than O'Hare Field in the Gilbert Islands, but both are named in honor of Edward H. (Butch) O'Hare, a Missouri native and Annapolis graduate who vanished on an air mission in the Pacific in 1943.

Some local veterans spent time at Camp Atterbury at Edinburgh, Ind. Brig. Gen. William W. Atterbury, a Yale graduate, won World War I recognition for his "construction, operation and reorganization of the European railroad network and port facilities." After the war he worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad and was its president when he died in 1935.

Swink's book is available in area book stores and from the publisher, Little Miami Publishing Co., Milford, phone 523-576-9369, and at www.littlemiamibooks.com.

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Journal-News, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2009

Ohio 129 link to I-75 completed 10 years ago

By Jim Blount

Sunday, Dec. 13, will be the 10th anniversary of the opening of the 10.7-mile section of Ohio 129 east from Ohio 4 in Hamilton to I-75 in southeastern Butler County. The $164.94 million highway overcame several legal obstacles and delays before work started May 15, 1998. Construction was completed eight months early under the direction of the Butler County Transportation Improvement District..

What is today a major economic asset for Hamilton and three townships (Fairfield, Liberty and West Chester) seemed an unrealistic dream for more than three decades.

The road faced determined opposition in the townships while Hamilton leaders reminded state and federal leaders of a 1956 promise -- that the interstate highway system would connect every city with a population of 50,000 or more. Hamilton had 57,951 people in the 1950 census and 72,354 in 1960.

April 29, 1970, Gov. James A. Rhodes promised the state would build a 15.7-mile highway from Hamilton east to I-75 and I-71 within two and a half years. In 1974, with Rhodes running for governor again, he renewed the promise. In 1983, when his two terms ended, nothing had been done.

By 1990, it was renamed the Butler County Regional Highway, and had new advocates. After 30 years of development along I-75 in Liberty and West Chester townships, it was evident Hamilton wouldn't be the only beneficiary of improved east-west traffic movement.

Legislation introduced by State Rep. Mike Fox led to formation of the Butler County TID Dec. 7, 1993. The 11-member TID board -- representing the cities of Hamilton and Fairfield; Liberty, Fairfield and West Chester townships; and the county at large -- held its first meeting in January 1994. TID assumed responsibility for building the new Ohio 129 in 1995.

In June 2000, six months after it opened, Ohio 129 average daily traffic (ADT) counts were 25,303 vehicles west of I-75; 24,292 east of Ohio 747; 21,248 west of Ohio 747; and 18,957 west of Ohio 4 Bypass.

The most recent comparable figures show eight-year traffic increases ranging from 33 percent near the western end to 53 percent at I-75. The 2007 counts were 38,640 at I-75; 36,420 at Cincinnati-Dayton Road; 30,200 at Ohio 747 and 25,170 at Hampshire Drive. In 2007 ODOT also reported ADT of about 28,000 vehicles between Fair Avenue and Ohio 4 (Erie Highway) in Hamilton.

Traffic statistics are only part of the story. Caroline McKinney, Liberty Twp. director of economic development, said Ohio 129 produced "a flurry of commercial development at Cincinnati-Dayton Road soon after its opening. Two large retail centers came to fruition as a result of the new infrastructure."

"Ohio 129 brought increased access and convenience to a community primarily served by county and local roadways," McKinney said. Liberty Twp. had 9,249 residents in the 1990 census and 22,819 in 2000. McKinney said a recent population estimate is about 33,000.

She said "about 150 businesses are located near Ohio 129 at Cincinnati-Dayton and Princeton roads, employing nearly 2,500 people. The Liberty Commons retail center (Kroger Marketplace) and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Liberty campus alone employ nearly 1,000 workers."

There has been similar development in neighboring Fairfield Twp. north of the Ohio 4 interchange, highlighted by the 2004 opening of the 66-acre Bridgewater Falls mall.

Medical facilities also have emerged along the road -- the 75-acre University Pointe medical campus (opened in 2002) and the West Chester Medical Center (2008), both on Cox Road in West Chester Twp.; the Butler County Medical Center and related facilities (2004) on Hamilton-Mason Road in Hamilton; and Cincinnati Children's Hospital in Liberty Twp. (2008).

Property values are another measure of the road's impact. Jon West, now Liberty's director of planning and zoning, as a county employee in 2002, evaluated total value of residential properties within half a mile of the highway between the eastern county line and Ohio 4 (Erie Highway) in Hamilton for the years 1995 and 2002. In seven years, based on inflated values, West found residential parcels backing directly on the highway increased an average of 233 percent and those within half a mile jumped 138 percent.

In October this year, TID and its local partners completed improvements at the eastern end of Ohio 129, including (1) direct access to and from Liberty Way, formerly Hamilton-Mason Road, and (2) I-75 exit and entrance ramps to and from Liberty Way. Also parts of the Liberty Way project were the widening of Liberty Way from two to four lanes and more between Cincinnati-Dayton Road and Butler-Warren Road at the county line, and a northern extension of Cox Road. At the same time, the Ohio Department of Transportation widened I-75 in the area.

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  Journal-News, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009

What are your memories of Great Depression?

(This column is the last column in a 39-part series on the Great Depression in the Hamilton area.)

By Jim Blount

What are your memories of the Great Depression, or stories from the 1930s handed down in your family? Two recollections head the list of an unscientific count of comments received by this writer during publication of the 37 columns in this series and previously.

Beggars at the door and commands to "eat everything on your plate" were the most frequent -- either experienced by the teller or relayed by a person who had survived those difficult years.

A stranger knocking on your back door today would prompt a 911 call, not an act of kindness. From the early 1930s into the World War II years, in Hamilton unknown men asked for food, usually during daylight hours. The routine response was to prepare a sandwich or share leftovers, a piece of cake or pie or fresh fruit, plus a glass of water, milk or lemonade.

The same person seldom returned. It was assumed the men were jobless and homeless. No questions were asked, and they offered no personal information. It was believed the beggars were more numerous in neighborhoods close to railroad tracks or a busy road. A few people called them hoboes, but most considered them victims of "bad times."

Previously, this writer has heard of door-to-door junk collectors -- seeking paper, metals, rags or worn out clothes -- hauling donated items in either pushcarts, bicycles with large baskets or old trucks.

The expectation of eating everything on your plate carried over into the World War II years, 1941-45, when many foods were rationed or scarce. Another Depression memory is that leftovers were expected to be eaten, not wasted. Food was a precious commodity.

Summer meant the appearance of the vegetable man. He toured residential areas, usually calling out "vegetable man -- vegetables for sale." His local produce also included strawberries, blueberries and melons, not just vegetables.

Clothes and shoes were patched when necessary and worn until beyond repair. Then clothes were torn into rags and used for numerous household tasks. Some pieces were salvaged as patches when newer garments required reinforcing. Outgrown children's clothes were handed down to a younger brother or sister or passed along to a neighbor or relative.

Some people recall classmates and playmates who stood out because they lacked coats and warm clothes on cold days. Fortunate families often donated used coats or money to buy clothes for needy children. In the last half of the 1930s, adults and children received new clothing made by local women employed in the WPA-financed Hamilton sewing center.

Also frequently mentioned is that families and neighbors helped each other, as much as possible -- ranging from sharing food and cooperating on a garden to caring for children when necessary. Another recollection is one or more families moving into a relative's single-family residence, and families with an empty bedroom taking in a boarder.

A Hamilton resident -- interviewed several years ago -- said he experienced guilt because his father had a job at Champion Papers. He was well fed and properly clothed while his neighborhood playmates were lacking both. Their fathers were at home, hoping to quality for at least some part time work on a WPA project. He recalled his parents having a small garden and giving most of their vegetables to neighbors.

Adding to the misery during the 1930s were unusually hot and dry summers -- establishing records that still stand.

A pleasant childhood memory of Hamilton in the late '30s and early '40s is hot summer days when firemen opened fire hydrants. Kids enjoyed the cooling spray for 20 to 30 minutes before the firemen closed the hydrant and moved to another neighborhood and repeated the process.

Family cool off strategies -- before residential air conditioning -- included taking a late evening bus ride to the end of the line and back to the stop near your house. It was customary to open as many bus windows as possible and sit in the back of an uncrowded bus to take full advantage of the breeze.

Sleeping on the front porch or in the back yard was another way to escape the heat and humidity trapped inside stuffy houses. When affordable, a movie was a luxury on a hot summer day or evening. Theaters advertised their air conditioning while most businesses -- including restaurants -- cooled with fans.

In those hard times, people did without luxuries and frills and made do with what they had. As several Depression survivors have observed, "you didn't miss it, if you never had it."

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, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009

Public, private aid supported needy Civil War families

By Jim Blount

Relief for the poor and disadvantaged was a local responsibility before the Civil War started in 1861, but that changed early in the four-year war. County and local governments answered some of the needs of soldiers' families in Butler County soon after the first volunteers left the area.

By May 2, 1861 -- two and a half weeks after President Abraham Lincoln's first call for volunteers -- the Hamilton Telegraph said families of 75 of about 300 local soldiers "are now being supported by the citizens of Hamilton."

The number of "necessitous soldiers' families" -- the term used then -- increased as the Union military demanded more manpower. After a few accidents and battles, those needing assistance also included widows, orphans and disabled soldiers. 

Ohio legislators -- believing the war would be short -- were reluctant to enact relief. The Ohio General Assembly's first related action was a May 1, 1861, law that exempted soldiers' property from foreclosure.

The federal government didn't have a system to deduct part of a private's $13 monthly pay to be sent to support wives and children. At first, soldiers sent money home by mail or express -- and gambled it would arrive.

Another uncertain system relied on messengers. A person, not a soldier, collected various amounts from the troops and delivered the money to the home front, often to a town or township hall, courthouse or another public building. This worked best when the soldiers were from the same locality.

Some messengers were appointed by a city, village or township; others were trusted volunteers.

Arrival of the messenger and the money was usually advertised in a local newspaper. The spouse or another relative was responsible for collecting the money.

The system was complicated by several factors, including the honesty and ability of the messenger to keep accurate records. Hazards included capture by the enemy, thieves, accidents and weather obstacles.

Another flaw was delays in paying soldiers -- as much as six to nine months late. The 912-man 35th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, mostly Butler County men, went six months without pay while marching around Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama in mid 1862.

In December 1861, Congress authorized the president to appoint commissioners in each state to visit armies and collect money. It required several months to establish the system that collected money from soldiers in the field and deposited it in the state treasury. The Ohio treasurer notified 88 county auditors of the amount due each family. The auditor distributed funds to soldiers' families. In its first year of operation, this plan disbursed about $8.4 million to families on the home front.

Ohio lawmakers authorized county commissioners to levy a half-mill property tax for family relief. The law was effective in 1861, but the levy wasn't collectable until 1862. Eventually, it provided $1 to $3 weekly per family, regardless of the family size.

More help came in 1862 with passage of the Volunteers' Families Relief Fund, another property tax increase, that produced about $6.30 a year per soldier family in 1863. Allowing for inflation, that would be about $105 annually in current dollars.

In 1863, Ohio began accepting African-American volunteers. Their families were eligible for Ohio benefits in 1864.

State and federal aid for "necessitous soldiers' families" helped, but much of the burden remained on local private benevolence.
In Butler County, private donations provided food, clothing, firewood and other necessities.

A variety of benefit programs -- fairs, festivals, dances, banquets, plays and musicals -- raised money for local families. A Butler County relief fair in 1863, for example, realized about $9,000.

Local statistics on needy families aren't available, but in 1865, near the end of the war, Ohio reported 44,090 soldiers with families. The state classified 84 percent of that total (37,118 families including 121,923 persons) as "necessitous."

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Journal-News, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009

Lack of firewood threatened soldier families in 1861

By Jim Blount

As the winter of 1861-62 approached, both sides realized the Civil War wouldn't be a short conflict. The bravado of April 1861 had faded. It was going to take more than a few battles to settle North-South differences. By summer, troops were enlisted for three years of service, not three months. The complexities of organizing for a prolonged war were exposed -- including problems on the home front.

At least 300 volunteers left the Hamilton area by the end of April 1861. About another 700 men departed before the end of the year. Not all local soldiers were young, single men. Some left families.

"They are, for the most part, made up of small means [income], very many of them leaving dependent families without the means of support," said the Nov. 28, 1861, Hamilton Telegraph in describing the financial status of local soldiers.

During the summer and fall, support had been provided by private donations and, when money was needed, by Hamilton City Council. By November, it was apparent that food and clothing contributions wouldn't be enough.

Nov. 17, 1861, a city council resolution noted "that considerable suffering now exists among the families of our soldiers in the service of their country from this city, and still more suffering is apprehended from the rigors of the approaching winter."

The No. 1 need was wood to burn in stoves and fireplaces -- the fuel for cooking and warming homes. Before the war, firewood was a responsibility of the male head of household. He bought it, or with the aid of his children, he chopped, gathered and stockpiled wood in summer and fall months.

Severity of the wood shortage was demonstrated in November when Colonel Lewis D. Campbell interrupted the training of the regiment he commanded, the 69th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The regiment, including mostly local volunteers, was drilling at Camp Hamilton at the Butler County Fairgrounds.
Campbell furloughed some members of the 69th OVI for a few days to permit them to cut and collect firewood for their families.

After the winter of 1861-62, local residents and organizations assisting military families gave firewood the same priority as food, clothing and other necessities.
The preparations paid off during the 1862-63 winter. Jan. 14-15, 1863, the Cincinnati area received 20 inches of snow in 24 hours, and an added seven to 10 inches the next day. Travel was limited for several days and the weight of the snow collapsed some roofs.

In the summer of 1863 a Butler County Relief Fair was held in Hamilton, and the Hamilton Telegraph said "the wood procession was a principal feature of the fair." The report said "the appeal to the farmers in the county [for firewood] had been general and the response was glorious and honorable."

Hamilton was hit by rain and sleet that day, making travel over roads and streets difficult for horse-drawn wagons loaded with wood. Despite the conditions, the report said "at 10 o'clock the teams began to struggle in and deposit their contents" in a vacant lot on the south side of High Street between Second and Third streets.

"Soon after 10, a procession from Reily [Twp], not less than four [city] squares in length, came down High Street, filling both sides of the street with huge ricks of wood."

Weather caused cancellation of planned music and ceremonies, but donors from rural Butler County were treated to a "fine dinner" before departure. They left behind piles of wood that "almost blockaded High Street."

The donations helped families of soldiers endure another severe winter. The highlight was Dec. 31, 1863-Jan. 1, 1864, when "the New Year's Blizzard" hit the region. Cincinnati experienced its greatest temperature drop -- from 70 degrees Dec. 31 to a low of minus 14 the morning of Jan. 1. The high temperature that day was minus 6.

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