I read the Tribune’s article on the La Crosse Historical Society’s World War I “Silent City” tour and recalled an event that occurred while I was waiting for a funeral procession with the American Legion Post 52 military honors detail in Oak Grove Cemetery. I noticed two World War I veteran grave markers that caught my eye. One read “Spruce Production Division” and the other, “75th Spruce Squadron.”
I searched “spruce production division” on the Internet and learned a great deal about the U.S. Army’s World War I aviation logistics effort. After the war began, the U.S. Army Signal Corps experienced a huge demand for high-quality spruce for the fabrication of combat airplanes and fir for ship construction. The prime area that supported this need was America’s Pacific Northwest. The U.S. Army Signal Corps formed a Spruce Production Division whose only purpose was the production of Douglas fir for shipbuilding and spruce for aircraft.
Division headquarters were in Portland, Ore., and its operational unit, barracks and sawmill were in Vancouver, Wash. There were also many camps of soldiers throughout forests in the Pacific Northwest. It was initially staffed with experienced woodsmen and eventually accepted men who had low draft status.
The men of the Spruce Production Division constructed logging camps, roads and railroads. They accomplished what they were tasked to do and increased the production of spruce necessary for the war effort. The division disappeared soon after the armistice was signed.
There are many amazing stories waiting to be told in La Crosse’s “Silent Cities.”
Neil Duresky, La Crosse