Thank you to Francis “Bus” Spaniola of Corunna for sharing the following historically noteworthy memories. It is important to remember history – and remember those that gave so much toward creating this modern world. Arguably, a community that forgets to recognize its history lacks a foundation to build on.

   Bus Spaniola has offered a lifelong commitment to Shiawassee County, serving in the Michigan House of Representatives longer than almost any other Democrat or Republican in Michigan history. Spaniola is a Corunna native and resides in Corunna with his wife, Carol. He served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army and taught high school history and government classes. Despite numerous credentials, he is quick to share the greatest part of his education came from “Shiawassee Street University” in downtown Corunna.

   Much of the following represents direct excerpts of writings and/or responses from Bus Spaniola.

• Background: During an event on Dec. 11, 1993 at the Corunna Community Center, Bus Spaniola, chair of the Corunna Historical Committee and the WWII Commemoration Committee, wrote a presentation on remembering Pearl Harbor. Included is his memory as a boy on the attack – Dec. 7, 1941.

   Bus shared, “December 7, 1941 fell on a Sunday. My sister, Josie, five years my senior, and I were at the Capitol Theater in Owosso enjoying ‘The Shadow of the Thin Man,’ starring Myrna Loy and William Powell. During the film, a number of individuals were paged. My recollection is there was unusual activity in that regard that day. Later on, an employee of the theater appeared on stage to announce that Pearl Harbor had been attacked by the Japanese.

   Being six years old, I had little knowledge of world geography. At first, I did not understand the significance of that revelation. However, I sensed something very serious had occurred which endangered all of us. My sister explained we were at war. I was frightened and couldn’t wait to go home.

   After the movie, we returned home on the city bus line, going directly to my parent’s Corunna store. All of the ‘wise men’ gathered around my dad’s soda fountain opined the war would be over by Christmas.

   My fears were put to rest temporarily. How wrong those men were!”

   Later in his presentation, Bus continued with, “In Owosso and Corunna the first week of December 1941, the Owosso Argus Press reported it was ‘Joy Month’ at the Butterfield theaters in Owosso. Movie prices for adults ranged from 28 to 33 cents. Children could attend for a dime and a penny.”

   Describing the local holiday atmosphere and economy, Bus stated, “My father, Tony Spaniola, affable owner of Anthony’s in the Flat-iron building in Owosso advertised foot-long hot dogs with all the trimmings for 10 cents. Byerly’s, a local grocery chain, offered their best coffee for 29 cents a pound, pork at 22 cents and beef shoulder for 23 cents per pound.”

  “Christmas was in the air,” he described the setting, just prior to Pearl Harbor attack, adding that local newspapers did not publish on Sunday, but on Dec. 7, the Owosso Argus press published a special edition with a “bold black headline” shouting “Japanese Attack Pearl Harbor!”

   Bus also described the Central C Conference Honor Football Squad including a number of Corunna High School Cavaliers.

   “These guys,” Bus offered during an in-person interview, “Every one of them went into the war. Every one of them went into the military. I saw them as they grew up. I saw them as they would come of age and then go in.”

   Continuing in his presentation, Bus highlighted, “Back in Owosso that fateful afternoon the extra edition of the Argus Press reported that a number of Owosso area natives were in the line of fire in Hawaii, including the family of Dr. Harry L. Arnold Sr., son and brother of Dr. A.L. Arnold and Dr. A.L. Arnold Jr., Miss Monica Brown Rodgers and Bernard Brown, son and daughter of Mr. and Mrs. James Brown of N. Elm Street, Mrs. John Cheney, the former Miss Clarabelle Bentley, Mrs. Elizabeth Willman Witt, the daughter of Superintendent of Schools and Mrs. E.J. Willman and Lt. Kenneth Hurd, OHS 1921, U.S. Naval Academy 1925, commanding a submarine stationed at Pearl Harbor.” Other area names associated directly with that day included Dick McCoy of Durand, Master Sgt. James Boyd of Henderson and his wife and others. Harold Wells of Durand and Robert Noonan of Corunna were both serving on the USS Arizona.

   Noonan remains buried on the USS Arizona.

• Background: The following information was offered during a presentation Bus Spaniola wrote in 1995 on V-J Day in Owosso. (Victory Over Japan Day, Aug. 15, 1945 – effectively ending the war.)

   Bus describes the days just prior to V-J Day, mentioning the local Chamber of Commerce, which recommended store closures at one point – and the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, which ordered “the closure of all alcoholic beverage sales for 24 hours when the official word of surrender came in.”

   After the “official word came in” by President Truman, Bus described the scene as “bedlam” in downtown Owosso. “Literally thousands celebrated, turning the business district into a mad house. I was there and it was all of that and more. Never saw anything to match it before or after …”

   “The thoughts of the man on the street were simple,” Bus described. “Conversations carried none of the bombast which marked the news of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Everybody was just happy and thankful that the long war had finally come to an end.

   Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives and sweathearts had tears in their eyes as they realized that their loved ones overseas had been spared and would be home soon to stay.”

   Bus recalls arriving at his father’s Owosso store as crowds were gathering. “My first thoughts were of my uncles on active duty. They were now safe, thank God! Even though I was only 10 years old, I felt I was part of the victorious war effort and I wanted to join in the fun.”

   “My most vivid memories include a stuffed likeness of General Tojo, trimmed with a Japanese flag, hanging on a wire supporting the traffic light at the intersection of Washington and Main Streets, which is the main corner in Owosso. Those passing beneath in cars and trucks, took savage delight in poking the figure with sticks.”

   “Amazing as it was, the only property damage or vandalism that occurred was someone tossed a brick through the window of Shippee and Fisher’s Sporting Goods store.”

   “The war was over, but the world as we had known it would never return to normal,” Bus penned.

   In his presentation, Bus quotes former President of Michigan State University, Dr. Walter Adams – a WWII veteran.

   Adams had stated, “… I like to believe that defeating a megalomaniac regime, intent on world domination and the extermination of peoples not belonging to the ‘master race’ – a necessity and obligation. I like to believe that keeping the hand of Adolf Hitler away from the atomic trigger was an achievement of capital importance.”

   Adams continued with “It taught me above all, the evil of ideological bigotry and racial hatred … After seeing first hand, the ultimate in man’s inhumanity to man, I vowed that for the rest of my life, I would stand up and speak against injustice.”

   “Dr. Adams profound comments echo what I was taught much earlier by my father when I was a young boy,” Bus wrote. “In my opinion, to fight injustice is the essence of this great country…”

• Background: WWII era childhood memory provided by Bus Spaniola.

   “This happened in my dad’s store in Owosso. I observed this with my own eyes,” Bus said, describing a WWII soldier he knew as a child who was home on leave at the time. The man was from Corunna, but had stopped into the Owosso store, carrying with him a suitcase “full of German war relics.” The man had fought in the Battle of Kasserine Pass (west central Tunisia, 1943).

   Bus shared that the man proceeded to spread the relics out for others in the store to look at when “just down the street” the fire department siren went off. Bus said he was petrified as the man abruptly “hit the floor” and began clawing at the floorboards.

   After the man eventually calmed down and left, Bus recalls being highly confused by the episode. He asked his father about it and the response was “shell shock,” now recognized as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

   Bus explained that the event imprinted the reality of the war for him, since radio and movies had often glamourized the war.

• Background: WWII era childhood memory provided by Bus Spaniola.

   While his father was delivering ice cream to a canning factory, previously located between Owosso and Corunna, Bus and his cousin were waiting in the truck.

   “German prisoners from the prisoner of war camp worked in the canning factory,” Bus said. “They were sitting out there eating and we were sitting in the truck … and these German prisoners get up and start walking to the truck and man, my cousin Pete and I, were petrified … We thought we were going to die, you know how kids are. And there was an American soldier guarding them and he came over and saw we were scared.” The American soldier calmed the boys down. One German soldier came up to the window though, and in broken English asked Bus and his cousin their age – then sharing with the boys he had a son in Germany their exact age – which was nine. Suddenly, the German soldier became a human being and the boys were no longer fearful.

Assorted Special Reflections on WWII in Honor of Area Veterans was last modified: November 9th, 2021 by Karen Elford