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HISTORY LIVES

The Ground Observer Corps

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During World War II, 1.5 million civilian volunteers were enrolled by the Army Air Forces to man 14,000 observation posts positioned along the nation’s coasts. With limited radar detection capability, their mission was to visually search the skies for enemy aircraft. They were teenagers and housewives equipped only with binoculars, manning search towers and rooftops. The highest vantage point in Bucks County and an ideal observation post for plane spotters was the courthouse tower in Doylestown, shown in photo.
(Civilian defense forces of Bucks County also included 3,600 emergency policemen, 3,200 air raid wardens and a countywide volunteer fire department of 3,000. Forty-nine hospitals were emergency-equipped and every home was registered for refugees evacuating New Jersey cities.)
With the declining threat to America from German and Japanese air forces, the GOC was disbanded in 1944; but during the Cold War in early 1950 a second Ground Observer Corps was organized to guard against possible Soviet attack. Observations were telephoned directly to filter centers and relayed to Air Defense Command.

By 1952 the GOC program was expanded into Operation Skywatch, consisting of 750,000 volunteers aged 7 to 86 years old working in shifts at over 16,000 posts and 73 filter centers across the country.
Doylestown’s Sgt. Walter C. Stillwagon, of North Hamilton Street, was appointed as supervisor to be in charge of a number of local posts in this vicinity. “There will be a total of 140 at the outset, running North and East from Philadelphia to the Eastern section of Pennsylvania. Additional posts will be organized as the program is expanded.” With the advent of automated Army and Air Force radar systems, this second GOC program ended in 1958.

Sources: Intelligencer, July 1949; radomes.org; Air Force Magazine, Feb. 1, 2006; Philadelphia Inquirer Feb. 8, 1942


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