Press "Enter" to skip to content

The Graveraet High School Watchtower and John Wasmuth from Marquette, Michigan

Many of our great citizens participated in World War 2 in several different ways. The most memorable of those were our great men and women who went overseas to fight evil and prevent those forces from reaching our homeland. It’s true, however, that many had an impact here at home in different ways. Apart from the great industrial boom, there were other citizen-based duties that our men and women took part in. One of those who participated was a man by the name of John Wasmuth from Marquette, MI. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, much of the country went into defense mode. The upper portion of the United States had to then prepare for watching the skies for enemy aircraft in response not only to Pearl Harbor, but because of their importance to shipping iron. The main faction involved was The Ground Observation Corps, a sub component of The Aircraft Warning Service (Sellars 2004, pg. 1). This was designed to not only protect citizens from possible attacks, but protect industrial organizations that contribute to the production of military supplies and equipment. This meant the construction of watch towers and the use of high points to allow volunteers to be on 24-hour sky viewing duty. Many of these locations were near other military bases that would have the ability to receive word that an enemy aircraft was in the area, and take action. That information could be readily used to mobilize troops on the ground, water, or in the sky.

One of the Ground Observation Corps locations in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan was in Marquette, Michigan. Sitting on the southern coast of Lake Superior, Marquette was a major player in the production and shipment of iron ore during World War II. Allied aircraft, tanks and naval vessels were crucial in both the Pacific and European theatres. These war weapons, along with many others required iron to be produced at a rate never seen before. The industrial boom that shaped World War II would not have been possible without the raw iron ore from Marquette’s iron range. Losses in the Atlantic for the Allied forces were devastating due to the success of German U-boats and anti-aircraft weaponry. Both naval and aerial losses forced the Americans to ramp up an already tremendous level of production. During this time, almost all of the iron ore used in steel production came from the Upper Peninsula, mainly the counties of Marquette and Iron. The harbor in Marquette was vital in sending the raw iron ore from the Upper Peninsula to the Soo Locks, and on to the rest of the world. Because this iron ore accounted for 97% of the iron ore used for wartime steel production (Williams 2015, pg. 1). This made the Marquette harbor that much more important.

An interesting structure used by volunteers was the top of the Graveraet High School. The attack on Pearl Harbor not only sparked a large quantity of enlistees into all branches of the military, but lead to the defense and monitoring of the Marquette harbor. Because the Graveraet High School was the highest point in the city, and it was located just miles from the harbor, a station was established on top of the high school itself. Although other stations were established, the school was notable because it was located in the center of the downtown area. Once the Graveraet High School and others were chosen as viewing sites, The Aircraft Warning Service established an official post in Marquette. This post was led by Ralph Eldredge and involved around 300 spotters (Richardson 2009, pg. 1). The spotters were citizens of Marquette and would usually do three hour shifts at a time. They had very specific orders, established in an official handbook set forth by The Aircraft Warning Service. They also offered an air raid warden’s school in Marquette, which was attended by different 65 spotters. One of these spotters was a guy by the name of John Wasmuth.

A young man, just a sophomore in high school, heard the news of Pearl Harbor at the bowling alley with his buddies. “It’s a war”, one of them proclaimed, as the news began to spread around the country and eventually their community. The war developing in Europe was of little concern to these young men, or to many others in Marquette for that matter, until the Japanese brought it to the United States. From that point on, even the high school boys and girls had a part to take in the protection of America. John himself began participating as one of the many spotters on top of the Graveraet High School. “I got into that thing and for about a year, every night I’d go from two to six or something at night, and look for the Japanese planes here, but they never came” (Logan 2015, pg. 2). At 15 years of age, this young man was on the forefront of spotting for the community of Marquette and the iron ore docks. John himself mentioned his doubt that any Japanese aircraft could, or would even want to make it up this far in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but he kept his eyes peeled no less. After he graduated high school, John would continue his service for the country by enlisting in the Army Air Force. He was sent to a number of different schools for training before finally landing in Fort Meyers, Florida to become an aerial gunner aboard the famous B-29 bombers. After training, he made his way to Tinian Island, part of the Northern Marianas near Guam. This was an island taken from the Japanese to later become a very important air base. That base is well known for sending the planes that took part in the mission to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Although John made his way overseas, his service began at home. The actions of men and women like John portray the unbelievable dedication of our citizens, young and old, to the United States during World War 2. For a boy, 15 years of age, to be volunteering his time at night stationed at a watchtower for an entire year speaks volumes. He could have spent this time with friends at the bowling alley, having dinner with his family at home, or many of the other hobbies he enjoyed, but that wasn’t the case. He decided to climb three to four stories every night to the top of his high school, and watch for Japanese aircraft. If the weather of  Marquette, Michigan is not taken into consideration, it may just seem like a simple wait and watch experience. That idea of an easy job changes if you are familiar with the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The rain fails to cease in the late fall, the snow and wind is blistering in the winter, and the “spring” feels just as harsh as many parts of the winter. The elements of weather in this area make a watch atop this large building nothing less than brutal. In many ways, John was doing what he thought was right. By devoting his life at home and overseas, he made a larger impact than he ever expected. Today, people like John must be remembered for their sacrifice. He gave up precious time doing what he loved, with who he loved, for this great country. Though small in his eyes, the watching over of the Marquette skyline proved that John’s commitment went hand in hand with the successful shipment of raw ore, and further success in manufacturing weapons for each branch of the country’s military. For such a small town in Michigan, Marquette was a vital area for the shipment of raw iron ore and John, along with the other citizen volunteers, played an unsung role in the success during World War 2.

Primary Sources

1.  Logan, Gabe (2015). Interview with John Wasmuth, Northern Michigan University

Secondary Sources

2.  Richardson, Frank (2009). WWII Enemy Watchtowers, Kaufman Auditorium.

3.  Sellars, Deborah (2004). Aircraft Warning Service Volunteers, AMC Museum

4.  Williams, Blair (2015). Marquette the Queen City of the North, Live the UP.