Perry Norton and Company M

Company M is seen at Picnic Rocks/Shiras Park in Marquette. (Photo courtesy of the Marqyerre Regional History Center)

MARQUETTE — The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, entering World War I three years after it had begun in 1914.

Within a month, Company M of the 33rd Michigan Militia arrived in Marquette to guard the Lake Superior and Ishpeming and the Duluth South Shore and Atlantic ore docks. With submarines detected in the Atlantic Ocean offshore of the eastern states, there was a general fear of sabotage to the steel industry via submarines or land attacks.

Company M then numbered eighty-one and would eventually have about 150 officers and men. Nineteen men from Manistique joined up and they had been drilling for a week at Fort Brady at Sault Ste. Marie. Perry Lester Norton was one of the young men from Manistique.

He was born in Escanaba in 1893 and attended school there as well as college at the University of Michigan.

In Marquette the company was split into two squads guarding either the upper or lower harbor docks. A watch station was constructed at each dock and was manned 24 hours a day by the soldiers.

The soldiers were stationed in the woods at Picnic Rocks where they slept in canvas tents. A railroad car was outfitted for use as a kitchen. Lake Shore Boulevard was used as a drill and parade grounds.

The commanding officer, Captain McLachlan commented, “The people of Marquette have treated us like princes. They have anticipated every want and have done everything to make us comfortable.” In July a railroad boxcar was donated to Company M for relaxation and amusement. The car was positioned off the tracks at the end of Crescent Street.

A Victrola, records and books were donated, and the men were also given free passes to the movie theatres. They were also able to use the pool and bowling alleys in the Guild Hall. Only once were the police called in to break up a fight between a soldier and civilian.

While stationed in Marquette, Perry Norton met a college student, Mildred Peterson. She was earning a teaching certificate at the Northern State Normal. They dated until Perry was transferred.

Company M departed in October 1918 for Waco, Texas where they would join up with other National Guard units from Michigan and Wisconsin becoming the 32nd Division. A large crowd saw them off at the DSS&A railroad station.

The 32nd Division fought in France and distinguished themselves on the battlefield. During tough combat in France the 32nd acquired the nickname Les Terribles, referring to its fortitude in advancing over terrain that others could not. The 32nd Division was the first Allied division to pierce the German Hindenburg line of defense. They adopted the symbol of a red arrow with a line shot through it and were from then on also known as the “Red Arrow” Division.

Perry Norton was gassed during action on the Western Front, but recovered and came back from France as a second lieutenant in July 1919.

In September, he married his sweetheart Mildred and the two moved to the Detroit area where Mildred was a teacher and Perry was a general building contractor.

The couple had two surviving children, Perry Jr. and Florence, and a son, Donald, who died at birth. The Nortons moved back to Marquette in 1936 and Perry opened an architectural office, Brandt & Norton.

Later, he served as the superintendent of the local Works Progress Administration in Marquette. Perry died at the age of 56 in 1950, his death hastened by the lingering effects of being gassed in 1918.


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