Ground Observer Corps

It’s one of those I remember days.

I am old enough to remember a number of things that the young people of today have either never heard of, or remember only in stories from their family conversations.

When I was fourteen I joined the Junior Ground Observer Corps. This was in the middle 1950’s and America was still comfortably nestled in the fear that war with Russia, with the Soviet Union, was always possible and could happen.

I joined the Junior Ground Observer Corps in my community. A bunch of us kids would volunteer to take a shift of time in a tall tower on a high point in our town calling in the altitude and direction of any plane we could observe with binoculars. We were sort of citizen radars using our eyes instead of electronic beams.

I was given a wallet size plastic card with little transparent circles on it. The circles ranged in size from just smaller than a dime to about a quarter inch in diameter. When a plane would fly over I would hold the plastic card at arms length and fit the plane’s silhouette into one of the circles. Depending on what circle the plane fit into, I could determine the approximate altitude.

Then I’d pick up the phone, there were no dials on it, and an operator would say, “number please” and I’d say, “aircraft flash” and be immediately connected to some distant male voice who’d say, “report please”.

I’d give my location, and then the approximate altitude, the direction of travel and the type of plane I observed, prop or jet, how many engines it had, if I could determine it and then hang up.

Eventually radar got better and the Ground Observer Corps was no longer needed. The towers vanished, but not the memories of a simpler time.

4 thoughts on “Ground Observer Corps”

  1. Hi, I enjoyed your report. I also joined the Ground Observers as a teenager in the 1950s. It was in Hurley, New Mexico. My mom and brothers also volunteered. We went to a convention in El Paso and got further training in watching for enemy planes. Please email me if you want.

  2. I joined the Ground Observers around 1952 or 53 in Elgin, IL. We were located on the roof of city hall/police station. Someone had built a little wooden shack up there and we did about the same thing you wrote. I was in high school at the time and a girlfriend of mine talked me into joining. One night a few boys came up there to see who was on duty, and just check things out I guess. I ended up marrying one of them. He joined the Marine Corp and became a jet engine mechanic. Even after his retirement he stayed in the same field and ended up as an instructor in the civilian world. During the 1990’s we joined the Corpus Christi Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol here in Corpus Christi, TX and he served as Deputy Commander of the Cadet Program and I was Public Affairs Officer along with assisting him. So,Ilike to think we kept up with doing what we could to stay connected to protecting our country. The bldgs are torn down but our marriaage lasted 54 years until his death in 09. thanks for the memories.

  3. I too was a teenaged GOC member in Safford Alabama….. still remember our call sign “ Charlie Charlie three one Black” (can not remember what I ate for dinner last night…but I remember THAT!!!)

  4. I worked in the FILTER CENTER in El Pa ax o, Texas at 14. I started out as as plotter, and recorder. I remember we had name tc ags we with different colored stripes of tape for each area we passed proficiency in. I blazed through the tests and became the youngest shift supervisor qualified volunteer. at 14. They weren’t quite sure what to do with me. It really got confusing the day I showed up in my Civil Air Patrol uniform which was Air Force Blue with just different patches. I loved going through the ground school program and weekend flying lessons logging in hours of instruction. It was a busy time for a young man in high school.

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