'Baltimore Red!' -- the call that never came

Baltimore Glimpses

May 31, 1994|By GILBERT SANDLER

REUNIONS are scheduled all over the world next month for those who participated in D-Day and lesser known World War II events (such as the Battle of Saipan 50 years ago June 14). But so far as Glimpses knows, there are no reunions planned by those who weren't in uniform but helped win the war without leaving Baltimore.

One unique group comprises those volunteers who stared at the sky during the war. These are the men and women who served in the "spotting towers" all over the city. Their job was to sight enemy planes and put out the words -- "Baltimore Red!" -- that meant the city was under air attack.

Sixty minutes of every hour around the clock, seven days a week, a corps of volunteers -- men above and below draft age, those exempted and some women -- kept a vigil throughout the war.

But for all the peering through binoculars into the day and night skies, no one had to shout those two fateful words.

"But out there in the night, you really felt you were in the war," said James O'Conor Gentry, who was a spotter early in the war. "I remember those cold Saturday mornings when I had the 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. watch. My dad and I would head up to the American Legion post tower on the Mt. Pleasant golf course. My mom had us well bundled up, and we carried Thermos jugs of hot chocolate."

Jim and his dad had a lot of company in those days. There were spotting towers all over the area. "They do not have the excitement or the glamour of a firing line," a pamphlet recruiting volunteers read, "but the conscientious fulfillment of their responsibilities is essential until the war is ended."

Jim Gentry was to fight at Bastogne, return to Baltimore, raise a family, earn a law degree, work for an insurance firm. Retired today, he says, "Those days looking up at the skies day and night for enemy planes heading for Baltimore never left me.

"Even now when I walk down Calvert Street and see a plane overhead, I say something like, 'Single flight, two engines, northwest to southwest at two miles and 3,000 feet.'"

An excellent report, Spotter Gentry, and a "Well done," but you can come out now. It's all clear.

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