Making spirits bright with Montgomery’s Keep ‘Em Flying Club”
MONTGOMERY – For many Americans, Christmas spirit was tainted with shock and mourning in 1941 as the nation was coming to terms with being unexpectedly plunged into the largest global conflict in history. Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor resulted in the deaths of over 2,400 American servicemen.
On Christmas Eve 1941, President Roosevelt gave a nationwide speech stating, “The new year of 1942 calls for the courage and the resolution of old and young to help win a world struggle in order that we may preserve all that we hold dear.” In Montgomery, one of the ways that the spirit of patriotism was carried out was by forming the “Keep ‘Em Flying Club.”
The club was founded by Ruth Decker and Mrs. Harry Golder for the purpose of sending letters and packages to Montgomery-area servicemen who were in the military.
The idea of forming a club to keep up the spirits of local fighting men was one that touched the heart of many Montgomery citizens, and by May of 1942 the club had grown to 126 members. Several who joined were parents of those fighting overseas.
Sending a steady stream of packages and cards abroad cost a lot of money, and the Keep ‘Em Flying Club had many fundraisers throughout the war. They would raffle items such as war bonds and bedspreads, and would raise funds through plays, motion picture showings, and talent shows. Members also sold cigarettes, food, and collected donations from the community and local businesses, while they themselves paid dues and made financial donations. There was also a Junior Keep ‘Em Flying Club that helped with events and fundraisers.
The group met year-round and kept minutes of their meetings. They opened each meeting with The Lord’s Prayer and often recited the Pledge of Allegiance. The club meetings usually ended with thank you letters from the servicemen and read aloud.
Each serviceman was sent a birthday card, and eventually the club rallied to send subscriptions of the weekly newspaper “The Montgomery Mirror” to keep them informed of hometown news.
Gifts were shipped to all areas of the globe and “the boys” as they were affectionately called, received boxes of cookies, roasted peanuts, razor blades, air mail stamps, Life Savers, and money orders in the amount of one dollar (which in 1942 had purchasing power to buy twenty bottles of Coca-Cola or ten adult tickets to the movies).
Extra effort was made at Christmas to send each serviceman something special, but it had to be small in size as well as practical for someone on active duty. Because the conflict was global and mail was slow, planning for Christmas gifts began in summer. Due to club size, a Christmas committee was formed in order to decide what items to send, purchase, wrap, and then mail well before the holiday season began.
The first Christmas committee was formed on July 23, 1942 with the following members: Mrs. Harvey Shick, Mrs. Marlatt, Mrs. Paul [Ruth] Decker, Mrs. Wilbur Hall, Mrs. Replogel, and Mrs. Berry. Over the course of the next few meetings, it was reported the women sent most of the wallets they provided via insured air mail, while boys who were fortunate enough to be granted leave before and during Christmas, would be given their wallets in person when they came home. The exact number of gifts given wasn’t given, but in September of that year, the committee reported a need for 50 extra wallets. The packages were shipped overseas before the October 8th meeting.
In July of 1943 the Christmas Committee of the “Keep ‘Em Flying Club” was made up of Miss Adeline Pfeiffer (chair), Mrs. Mary Parson Kingon, and Miss Jeanne Turner. They decided to send sewing kits that were ordered through the L. L. Stearns Department Store in Williamsport. The kits cost one dollar a piece. At the same time, the club sent 111 paid subscriptions of the “Montgomery Mirror” to the servicemen, although the actual number of men being sent items to is unknown).
For a few months in 1944, there were no minutes taken of the meetings, and there was no explanation as to why. There was simply a note in the book stating that minutes weren’t taken for about 3 months. That Christmas the club sent fruitcakes to “the boys.” On Christmas Eve of that year President Roosevelt told the nation in a radio address, “We all know how anxious they are to be home with us, and they know how anxious we are to have them — and how determined every one of us is to make their day of home-coming as soon as possible.”
After the war ended in 1945 the club continued to meet, but the meetings became less frequent. Those remaining in the service during Christmas of 1945 were sent packages of candy. President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed away unexpectedly that spring, so President Harry Truman delivered a radio address saying, “This is the Christmas that a war-weary world has prayed for through long and awful years. With peace come joy and gladness. The gloom of the war years fades . . .”.
The club meetings continued until 1947 sending gifts overseas. During World War II, the term of enlistment was typically “the duration of the war plus six months.” In the spring of that year, the club was still seeking new members.
The last recorded meeting was held October 16, 1947. In reality, not every service member came home, and the club bought memorial wreaths with bronze plates to be added to the monument in Fairview Cemetery. A memorial service was planned, and invitations were sent to family members of servicemen killed in the Spanish American War, World War I, and World War II.
There were 5 killed from Montgomery during World War II, and 2 of them were sons of the club’s co-founder, Ruth Decker. Of all local servicemen who were sent packages, 14 were killed in the war. They were: Aaron N. Decker, Delmar A. Decker, Paul E. Shireman, Eugene C. Betts, Dunning K. Tupper, Fred Kennedy, Maurice E. Felix, Harry W. Fox, Elwood A. Bennett, Raynier Wertz, R. Allen Gruver, Schuyler A. Fry, Earl Larue Smith, and Howard M. Kahler.
No further club activities were recorded after plans for the Memorial Service were made in October of 1947, so it can be assumed that’s when the club disbanded. Mildred Christman took over as club secretary in May of 1945, and her reason for being a part of the club was probably due to the fact that her 3 sons fought in the war. Thankfully, she saved the club’s handwritten book of meeting minutes which was passed on to her granddaughter, Cynthia Bryan who then donated it to the Montgomery Area Public Library’s History Room.