Ground Observer Corps - Odebolt, Iowa


THE GROUND OBSERVER CORPS was a volunteer organization formed in Odebolt during the Cold War.  

At that time the country's radar network was not technically advanced enough to detect low-flying aircraft and there were gaps in radar coverage.  Ground Observer Corps had been utilized during WWII and earlier, and the organization was reestablished in 1950 in the United States to aid in identifying low-flying aircraft and help fill the radar coverage gaps.

Odebolt volunteers built the tower and manned it, watching for aircraft flying overhead.  They identified aircraft using a manual put out the Air Force, and phoned their observations into Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha.

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The G.O.C. Observation Tower was located along Highway 175 in Odebolt, across the highway from the lumber yard.  In 2003 a picnic shelter sits on the triangular patch of ground.  Photo taken by Harvey Keller on August 26, 1956.  

Tallies of the number of hours served by volunteers were kept, and  badges, wings or bars were awarded after a certain number of hours were reached.  Many Odebolt citizens participated in the organization.

By the late 1950s, deployment of short-range radar resolved the problem of detecting low-flying planes.  Gap-filler radar deployment alleviated the need for civilians to scan the skies for enemy bombers, and the ADC (Air Defense Command) disestablished the Ground Observer Corps on January 31, 1959.  (Source:

Below is a photo of a ceremony which was held to present a flag to the Ground Observer Corps to fly on the observation tower in Odebolt, circa 1956-57.  Front row: David Hunt, Dennis Wagner, Tom Morkin, Mrs. Adam Roeder, Mrs. Burton Olson, Burton Olson, George "Kelly" Smith, Navy Chief, Air Force Sgt. from Offutt Air Force Base, and Harvey Keller.  Back Row:  Cheri Keller, Jack Simpson, Alvin Einspahr, Anthony Roeder, Lawrence Konrady, and Kermit Johnson.  

(Click the photos for enlargement)

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A sample page of the list of volunteer hours,(250, 500 etc.) and awards of wings, merit badges and bars received.


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Above are photos of the Aircraft Recognition book used by the volunteers to identify aircraft.  Each page also showed silhouettes of the aircraft to facilitate identification from the ground.   (Click the photos for enlargement)


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A view inside the tower-1957

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A view toward the west from inside the tower

This page is dedicated to my young friend in Israel, Alex Kelly Smith, son of Doug Smith, grandson of George "Kelly" Smith and Betty Smith, who wanted to know more about the watch tower in Odebolt that his grandparents helped man in the 1950's.

Thanks goes to Harvey Keller, local Odebolt historian who has photographed & saved a great deal of the history of Odebolt through the years, and who allowed me to borrow and scan the photos.  Harvey also gave me a short history of the GOC in Odebolt.  If people who volunteered in the watch tower wish to add their memories, we would welcome them.
 - Barb Horak, November 2003


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