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Emmitsburg's WWII Airplane Spotters

Ruth 0. Richards

Originally published in the Emmitsburg Dispatch
Republished in the Emmitsburg News-Journal

I am one of a very few people left who knew what Emmitsburg was like in the 1940s during the War. Because I was new in town, I didn’t know the names of the men who were either drafted into the Army or who voluntarily chose to serve. I do remember a few of the things that Emmitsburg did to help the War effort.

There were air raid drills, both night and day, when at the sound of the firehouse siren we were required to turn out all our lights. There were Victory Gardens, classes in First Aid by the Red Cross, and occasionally soldiers in training at Ft. Ritchie would march down Main Street. (I don’t know where their destination was.) On rare occasions, a lone soldier with a map in his hand would come to the door for assistance in locating a local landmark.

However, few people were aware that on the roof of the VFW building were volunteer citizens, stationed day and night, to watch for airplanes throughout the War and for another year or two afterwards. They were called “spotters”.

I have spoken with Mr. Gilbert Eiker, who during the years of 1947-48 volunteered to be a spotter. This his story as I remember it told to me.

Mr. Eiker was 21 when he drafted into the Army. His assignment was the 106th Infantry Replacement Squad. He served overseas and remembered D-Day when the “cease fire” was ordered. He also remembers that he was in southern France when a group of German Panzers refused to put down their arms. Eventually, of course, with the help of Mr. Eiker’s squad, these Panzers surrendered.

As Mr. Eiker’s story goes, he was honorably discharged in 1946 and came home to Emmitsburg. He then learned of the Civilian Airplane Spotters in the Emmitsburg square and volunteered to join them. “I remember some of the plane spotters formed by the U.S. Air Force in 1947-48 after World War II, changing the name from Army Air Corps. Each spotter would spend two hours an evening each week for about 8 or 9 months. Our code call was Vector Kilo 44 Black,” said Mr. Eiker.

Alan Bouey, Lee Keepers, Lumen Norris who are all gone now were also some of the spotters in Emmitsburg.

I asked Mr. Eiker if the spotters had any binoculars or telescopes and he said that they did not. When asked if he saw any foreign planes he said that he did indeed and that the protocol was to send a phone report to Baltimore and occasionally someone of authority would come to Baltimore in response to the Emmitsburg spotter’s report.

Besides his term in the Army and his time spent as a spotter, Mr. Eiker worked in the bakery at Mount St. Mary’s.

I found it interesting to realize that Mr. Eiker’s pride was not so much as a soldier in France, but rather as the job of airplane spotter in his hometown of Emmitsburg. Listen to Mr. Eiker’s stories and he’ll tell you about volunteering for his country while he also tells you about volunteering for his hometown.

Have your own memories of Emmitsburg of old? 
If so, send them to us at history@emmitsburg.net

Read other stories by Ruth Richards