- Associated Press - Saturday, June 3, 2017

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) - When citizens learned news of Japan bombing Pearl Harbor, America plunged into World War II.

Students left school to enlist in the armed forces - and students too young to join the fight did what they could to help the cause, the St. Cloud Times (https://on.sctimes.com/2rc2pg0 ) reported.

In St. Cloud, Technical High School became a “great camp of the Unarmed Forces of the United States” where students learned skills to work in defense factories and collected scrap metal for the war effort.

The 1943 annual describes how “the life of every Techite was greatly colored” by the war: “Boys left for the armed forces, classes were reorganized, and programs changed to enable boys to fit themselves for one or more of the various armed forces,” the annual states.

High school life for girls changed, too: Female students were trained to run economical kitchens, made items for the Red Cross and took up sheet metal and welding classes to prepare for work in airplane plants.

“The Axis powers may be a good many thousand miles from Tech but they were very much in the mind of Tech students during the last year,” states the 1943 annual. The students didn’t hide their disdain for America’s enemies; rather they banded together to collect scraps described in the annual as “a high pile of metal … that Adolph and his pals would get - in the shape of shrapnel.”

A 1942 Technical High School graduate, Keith Maurer, now 92, wanted to join the war with his classmates, but was only 17 during his senior year and needed his parents’ permission to enlist before he turned 18, he said.

“A lot of the guys went in, but I was younger than most,” he said. “I had to wait until I was 18.”

But once Maurer was able, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy.

“I turned 18 in November, and I was gone in December,” he said.

Maurer was in the Navy until 1946. He served as a signalman in Europe, then was transported by a troop train to a Navy base in California and assigned to a ship headed for the South Pacific.

“They assigned me to another ship because there were a couple holes in the first ship,” he said of the Liberty ship he was first stationed on. “Then they dropped the atom bomb and the war was over.”

After the war, Maurer worked for the Great Northern Railway for a couple of years, then became an insurance agent. He and his late wife Jeanette had 11 children, and Maurer served as a county commissioner for 28 years. He now lives in a house in the Northside-Hester Park Neighborhood, not too far from where he lived as a boy.

The youngest of four siblings, Maurer was born in Mayhew Lake Township. After Maurer’s father left the Navy, he began bootlegging to make money, but was caught and spent time in jail. Maurer said he and his siblings then lived in the orphanage - now St. Cloud Children’s Home - for a few years before moving in with his grandmother.

Maurer attended Holy Angels for grade school, then Central Junior High for grades 7-9 in the building that is now St. Cloud City Hall. As a sophomore, Maurer attended Tech and walked the mile or so to school each day.

He made the walk home every night but one - the Armistice Day blizzard of 1940, where more than 2 feet of snow fell and temperatures dropped from near 60 to single digits in less than 24 hours, taking the lives of 49 Minnesotans.

Maurer said he was swimming in Tech’s pool after school, then tried to walk home before turning back and spending the night at a friend’s house near the school.

“I couldn’t see across the road,” he said.

Another memorable moment was when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited St. Cloud in 1941.

“She was active in promoting the sale of war bonds,” said Maurer, who recalled Roosevelt staying at the Whitney House, which is now owned by St. Cloud State University. “I had a friend who lived a block away. … He and his buddy were going to get a better look at Eleanor, so they peeked through the window.

“All of a sudden, there was a big hand on his shoulder. It was the FBI,” Maurer said with a chuckle.

While WWII cast a shadow over Tech’s third decade, the years from 1937 to 1946 also contained the school’s first expansion, the purchase of the athletic field that would become Clark Field and the addition of new programs and classes at the high school.

By 1937, enrollment at Tech had reached nearly 1,000 students, according to former history teacher Gertrude Gove, who wrote a history of the St. Cloud public school system in 1958.

A St. Cloud Daily Times story published on Jan. 14, 1938, was titled, “Construction of new Tech addition ahead of schedule, says contractor.” The story stated the project engaged 40 men to work with 4,000 sacks of cement, more than 50 tons of steel and 10,000 bricks. The addition, which officially opened in November 1938, included a library, another gymnasium, a cafeteria and additional shops and classrooms.

With the new space, enrollment jumped to 1,105 students, with about 230 of the students being nonresidents of the district, according to Gove.

The district also purchased the Grace McConnell property - part of a pig farm - south of the school for an athletic field in 1938. The field was constructed as a Works Progress Administration project. The St. Cloud Daily Times published a story on July 12, 1938, that stated the project may take two years to finish and was expected to include a “depressed gridiron, five tennis courts (and a) diamond.”

“Work on the new St. Cloud public school athletic field, to be constructed between Seventh and Eighth avenues south and between 10 and 11 streets, started as a WPA project this morning,” the story stated. “Due to the contour of the tract, a portion of the field will be depressed from the remainder of the area. This means that the new football field to run north and south will be constructed seven and one-half feet below the level of the basketball and practice field further east. … A stone wall will be built entirely around the field when completed which will be about three feet high from the street level.”

New clubs organized during Tech’s third decade include the floriculture club, projection club, an interschool hockey league, cheerleaders and, as part of the Girls Athletic Association, ballet swimming. New in the third decade was also the youth center, according to the 1944 annual, where students “enjoyed a snack bar, ping-pong and (tried) to perfect the ‘Lindy’ before the the next school dance.”

Maurer said he enjoyed swimming but didn’t participate in organized sports at Tech, although he admitted he joined - and then quit - football his junior year. (“All it is is a piece of leather!” he lamented about the helmets.) Instead, Maurer got a job, which helped him purchase his class ring and a suit.

“I worked as a cobbler’s helper repairing shoes. I worked after school from 3 until 6 and all day Saturday. Right on St. Germain there was a shoe store that’s been gone for a long time. I got 2 bucks a week,” he said. “It was hard times. The depression was just winding down. Actually, the war brought us out of the depression.”

Tech’s 1946 annual dedicates the book to those who didn’t come home. It listed 53 graduates or former students who died in service, and another two as missing in action. Many annuals from Tech’s third decade were dedicated to students joining the war effort; the 1943 annual summarized the sentiment by stating, “Many million American young women and men have gone to war! They have set aside their hopes and dreams. They have left comfortable homes; postponed careers, and declared a moratorium on life.

“They went cheerfully - went where they were sent, and no questions asked. There are no limitations on the hours these boys work now. No rules decide their pay. They have a grim, tough job to do and they’re doing it - like men! To them we dedicate this book.”

___

Information from: St. Cloud Times, https://www.sctimes.com

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