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November 13, 1998

When World War II ended with the unconditional surrender of the Japanese imperial government in August 1945, civic leaders in Perry experienced both jubilation and something akin to panic. Happy, yes, because peace was about to replace the terrible years of wartime. But, also, anxiety because the boys would soon be home from Europe, the Pacific and elsewhere, many of them with war brides and babies and an acute housing shortage awaited their arrival. The reason, of course, was the curb on home building during wartime. Where would the ex-GI's live? The entire U.S. sought answers.

Perry's inventory of available housing was no worse than any other community's. All of the country's resources had been brought to bear in the war effort as the U.S. and its Allies fought to defeat the Axis. Many home front needs were neglected to make sure our fighting forces had everything necessary to win. The construction of civilian homes was simply put on hold. Lumber and other material were unavailable and carpenters, plumbers and electricians were impossible to find; virtually no new houses were built anywhere in the U.S. for nearly three years so a serious backlog existed even before the need for veterans' housing became critical.

Mayor G.A. Ley took steps as early as 1944 to prepare Perry for the return of peace. He first appointed a task force of visionary community leaders to study the city's problems and prepare a prioritized list of needs. The group found that most of the infrastructure was either worn out or inadequate and a $494,000 bond issue, for postwar consideration, was proposed to finance a remedy. The group did not attempt to solve the housing problem, focusing instead on other needs. The funds were to pay for a sewer extension, water line extension, a municipal hospital and a new whiteway lighting system in the business district. All of these were approved by city voters in the post-war era.

After the beaten Japanese formally signed papers of surrender on September 2, 1945, the U.S. War and Navy Departments set up a system for discharging servicemen and women in an orderly fashion. A point system was established to make sure those with the longest terms of service and the most combat duty went home first. GI Joes and Janes by the hundreds of thousands could hardly wait for their turn and in no time a veritable torrent of veterans engulfed the friendly shores of the U.S. Many of them had young families in need of some kind of homes.

Perry's East Park (now Leo East Park) on Cedar street originally was proposed as the site for emergency veterans' housing units here. City councilmen prepared to approve the location in March 1946, but controversy erupted. Several residents of the area around the park formally protested and secured the services of an attorney, Paul Cress, who was himself a newly separated veteran. Mr. Cress took his clients' case before the city council on March 7 and convinced them that the housing project should not be situated there. Only two council members, A.F. (Bert) Shaw and Dr. George King, voted in favor of the park location. The council was in the awkward position of trying to do something for its returning veterans without disturbing the peace and tranquility of the rest of the community.

In another column we'll relate how council members dealt with this very sensitive issue.