WINCHESTER – 75 years ago, with war raging across the oceans to the east and to the west, the county was strengthening its defenses. This affected every community, including Winchester.
During the fall of 1940, after Congress authorized the first ever peacetime draft in American history, men between the ages of 21 and 35 had to register with their local draft board. In November, the first draft of Winchester and Stoneham men (combined under one draft board) occurred.
Whether the men who registered had to report or not was determined by a national lottery. Each registrant was assigned a number. The numbers of those who had to report to be considered for service were drawn out of a fishbowl in Washington. The local board gave them an initial screening (e.g., height, weight, vision, able to read and write, and no criminal convictions). Selectees went to the Boston induction station. If fit, they were inducted in the order set by the lottery.
The quotas were small at first - three - then nine - then 16 - then more and more as the government stepped up the program throughout 1941 to strengthen its armed forces. Thus, though some men were already in the services and some others volunteered, the war stories of hundreds of the men whose names appear on Winchester’s Veterans Memorial began with the draft.
For the first call, one Winchester man, Walter M. Woods of Wedge Pond Road, was selected, but, in the age-old tradition of things not going according to plan, Woods did not get there in time, having moved to Boston after registering. Immediately upon receiving his notice, Woods communicated with the draft board, came to town as quickly as possible, and was rushed into Boston in a police cruiser. He was, however, too late to be taken in this draft.
Thus the first men sent off were all from Stoneham, though the ceremony was in Winchester’s Town Hall where the draft board was set up. Selectmen from both towns were present, along with representatives of their American Legion posts, the Red Cross, Rotary, the members of the Local Selective Service Boards, Winchester school children, and interested citizens of both towns.
After remarks which the Winchester Star reported “stressed the appreciation for the spirit of service shown by the draftees and congratulated them upon the opportunities which are to become theirs with their year’s training in the army” and some presentations, the men were driven to the South Armory in Boston.
It so happened that one of first three selectees was rejected by the Army’s examining physicians. A Winchester man who had been found suitable for the next call was selected as a replacement, so the distinction of being the Winchester man to be inducted went to Robert Lawrence Donaghey. He doubtless left the Selective Service HQ with words of encouragement from the board, though not as elaborate a send-off.
“All who know Donaghey will agree that his chances of being rejected on physical grounds are slim enough for the former high school around athlete is a very sturdy individual,” The Winchester Star reported. “’Rusty’ played football, basketball, and baseball in high school, and since his graduation has been well known in independent baseball circles as a hard hitting catcher with the Winchester Millionaires.”
The Star was right. Donaghey was inducted on Dec. 2, 1940.
The second call, for January, was for nine men. After 41 Winchester men were examined, three were chosen, appeared at the Town Hall HQ with the Stoneham selectees, received the best wishes of the Selective Service board, were driven to the railroad station, and sent on their way.
As with the first call, other men were identified as possible replacements and two were needed this time. The final list of Winchester men inducted during the second call included Samuel W. Joyce, William P. Baugher, Christopher C. Papademetriou, and Robert H. Howe.
Papademetriou’s induction led on at least one occasion to men at Camp Edwards sharing a special treat. That April, Papademetriou’s neighbor at work, Fotios Antippas, proprietor of the Splendid Lunch on Main Street, went down for a visit, treating the young man and his friends to roast turkey and fixin's.
The third, fourth, and subsequent quotas were greater still. In March, 79 draftees, 42 from Winchester, were sent off. This time the street was jammed with automobiles and crowds of relatives and friends who gathered to give them an enthusiastic send-off. Town Hall was packed and “resembled the rush hour at a hot presidential election.”
At 8 a.m., the group was lined up, headed by the national and Legion flags. After a half hour of last words and a review by local officials, the men were marched to the railroad station to get a special car to convey the group to Boston.
The process of selecting men and seeing them off for the induction station in Boston would be repeated over and over as growing numbers of local men were drafted for what was originally to be one year's service.
The names of the draftees were printed in The Winchester Star and the Boston Globe. They were a mixed group, coming from different parts of town, different professions, and different backgrounds.
Donaghey, a resident of Washington Street, was the son of a patrolman and was working as a chauffeur when drafted. Then there was Papademetriou of Stevens Street, a 25-year-old native of Greece who worked at the Shoe Hospital on Main Street. Howe, inducted four days after Papademetriou, was a graduate of Dartmouth College in the class of 1939. Joyce, a life-long resident, was a leather worker before the war.
Most inductees were sent to Camp Edwards which the U.S. Army leased in 1940 as a training facility. Some others went to Fort Bragg.
Played against the Boston Red Sox
Going to Camp Edwards gave Winchester’s Fred A. Noble a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Born in Woburn in 1918, “Red” Noble was a Winchester High baseball captain and a star player with the Millionaires and Elks baseball teams. He also played professionally for a couple of seasons with the Glace Bay Miners Club in the Cape Breton Colliery League, which imported a number of American players until the war created travel restrictions.
In July of 1941, Noble was the starting shortstop for the Camp Edwards nine in its benefit exhibition game with the Boston Red Sox at Eldon Keith Field in Brockton. This was the Sox’s seventh annual appearance for a benefit game in Brockton and likely one of the most memorable.
Nearly 1,000 soldiers arrived an hour ahead of time and paraded down main street to the ball field. About 3,000 people attended.
The Red Sox won (either 7-4 as reported in the Star or 7-5 as reported in the Globe). According to the Star, the army team looked capable. Noble reportedly failed to hit at bat “but fielded flawlessly, making a putout and two assists. He was placed in the sacrifice slot of the Army batting order so his soldier mates must have had more or less confidence in his ability with the willow.”
Before the year was out, the United States was in the war. There might still be ball games and turkey dinners, but life in the military changed for the men. During their time of training, the inductees did not leave the country. In the years following, they would.
As an army staff sergeant, Donaghey spent three years in the South Pacific, ending his service back in Massachusetts when attached in 1945 to the Medical Corps at Camp Edwards. As an army captain, Howe was in charge of the 22nd Machine Records Unit (Mobile) in North Africa.
Staff Sergeant Noble spent about 18 months building roads and bridges in New Guinea jungles, after which he graduated from Officer Candidate School somewhere in Australia in 1943 and was commissioned a lieutenant.
Gerald J. Ficociello, inducted in February, was a member of the 101st Airborne and parachuted into France early on D-Day. Lawrence Bairstow, inducted in March, went to Europe in June 1943 and had completed 20 missions as a navigator in the USAAF by the next February.
Most of the boys inducted made it home - but not all. Andrew E. Lynch inducted on the same day as Ficociello, went overseas in February 1942, served with the 182nd Infantry in the South Pacific where he saw major action, including Guadalcanal. He was killed at Cebu in the Philippines on April 2, 1942, about six months after his brother Robert was killed in Germany.
Behind every name on the Veterans Memorial there is a story. Winchester’s Archival Center has a goal, during the 75th Anniversary of World War II, to gather as many of those stories as possible. The public is invited to share any information (pictures, letters, memorabilia) to help with this project. The Archival Center is located on the lower level of Town Hall; the archivist may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.