Interview by Robert C. Daniels
Jeanette (Rochon) Babler was interviewed in the living room of her home in Waupun. Starting at 4 P.M. on 14 March 2006, the interview lasted 18.10 minutes. She was eighty-four years old at the time of the interview. It should be noted that Jeanette is the widow of Edmond Babler, who, as a Marine serving in the Philippines during the war, was forced to surrender to the Japanese when the island of Corregidor fell and spent one thousand two hundred and twenty days in Japanese POW camps. Jeanette had previously given the author (interviewer) full access to Ed’s memoirs from that period of his life and allowed the author to use this material to write a book about Ed’s experiences, entitled 1220 Days: The story of U.S. Marine Edmond Babler and his experiences in Japanese Prisoner of War Camps during World War II. Jeannette was to pass away on 21 October 2010.
What is your full name? Jeanette M. Babler.
What does M stand for? Marie.
And what was your maiden name? Rochon. R O C H O N. French. One hundred percent French.
R O C H O N? Yeah, pronounced Rochon.
I know a lot of people in the early twentieth century were not born in a hospital, but at home. Where and when were you born? I was born in Bemidji, Minnesota, on July 31st, 1921. That was a little town then, and they had a…, my mother had two older boys and she had them at home, and she said, “No more.” So she had me in this little hospital—it was just like a house made into a little hospital.
How do you spell the name of the town? B E M I D J I. It’s way up north. My father was never naturalized at all. He and my grandparents were all Canadian, see. They got down a little under the border so I could be born American.
So they are French Canadian then? Yeah. My father, as I said, was never even naturalized.
Who were your parents, what were their names? Joseph and Eva. Her maiden name was DeForge, D, capital D, small E, and a capital F and O R G E.
Do you have any brothers and sisters? Ah, yeah. I did but they are not living. I had two older brothers and a little brother and a younger sister. And they are all passed away. I am the middle child.
So two older brothers? Yeah.
And a younger sister and a younger brother? Yeah. My little sister was six years younger then me. And my little brother was nine years [younger]. He died over ten years ago already. I am the sole survivor.
Where did you go to school? From kindergarten to eighth grade I went to St. Luke’s Catholic School in Two Rivers.
And Two Rivers is in Wisconsin along the Lake Michigan coast. Right out in the lake there, right north of Manitowoc (Wisconsin) on the way up to Sturgeon Bay (Wisconsin) up there. And then, high school; I went to Washington High School, and graduated in 1939.
Was that in Two Rivers also? Yeah. It’s torn down now. I couldn’t believe it. I went there for a class reunion. Where’s the school?
Did you attend any college? No, I couldn’t. We couldn’t afford it. They put me to work in a factory.
What was it like for you growing up? Well, it was a terrible depression. We had nothing, nothing. If you had two cents to rub together you were doing well. It was a terrible time.
What did your father do for a living? Well, he was a lumberjack—and that’s all he ever knew how to do. He did that in Bemidji, you know, in Minnesota. But then, of course, the woods gave out. So then we moved to Two Rivers because there’s some factories there, and he worked in the factories for awhile. He died quite young, he was fifty-six. He had a heart attack, you know.
What were you doing in the 1939, 1941 timeframe? Basically, just before the war started. Well, I was working at the Aluminum Goods. It’s a little factory there. I was assembling spouts and ribbons to assemble on a coffee pot. Twenty-five cents an hour, nine hours a day, five [hours] on Saturday. And then I get home and at two weeks my mom would take my check to buy groceries and pay the rent. I was lucky if I got ten cents to go to a movie. Is that slave labor or what?
And that was in Two Rivers? Yeah. The only store bought dress I ever had was when I graduated high school. I got a little cotton store bought dress. Otherwise my mother made my stuff and I always looked kind of blump. We couldn’t afford it, that’s all. That was terrible! I hope there is never another depression.
Do you remember what you were doing when you heard that Pearl Harbor was attacked? It was on a Sunday, I know that. I think I was still working at the Aluminum Goods there. And as soon as I heard that they were giving this test to see if you…, [if you] could pass it you could work with the Navy, and that was at Manitowoc at the high school. And I went, and there were, I don’t know, a couple hundred, and I was in the top seven—a smarty! So really I’m not all that stupid, it’s just that I didn’t get a chance to go to school. I wanted to. I even took geometry in high school; I hate it. But I thought maybe I can get to college. But I couldn’t.
What were people thinking and feeling when they heard Pearl Harbor was attacked? Oh, everyone was just frantic, really upset…, very! It was so unexpected. Terrible!
So you went and took a test to work for the Navy and you passed? Yes.
Where did you work? I worked in Manitowoc at the Specialty, Manitowoc Specialty, I think it was called. They were making twenty millimeter anti-aircraft shells. And there was five or six of us. We lived in Two Rivers, but we all took a bus over there to Manitowoc. We had gauges, and we would gauge that little firing pin, or whatever that was. And if it didn’t fit right or was bent a little bit; throw it out! And they had to repair and replace them. Worked at that for a long time.
And then after two years about, they sent us all back to Two Rivers to work there at the Aluminum Goods. They were making parts for Grumman aircraft, Navy aircraft. They don’t make those anymore. And we inspected welding, all different kinds of parts. And there were a couple of oil tanks from those planes that were brought in to be replaced. We repaired [them] with our welding.
So you worked for four years doing that? Yeah. ‘Till when the war ended, my job ended.
So what did you do then? Well, then I got a job at a place called Schwartz’s. They made these milk filter discs, you know. God, it was just a bunch of dust all over the place. Then I met Ed and I got married. And then we moved here.
How did you meet Ed (Ed is Edmond Babler)? His cousin, Curley Babler and Beah his wife, had one of those little neighbor bars. You know, everybody knew everybody that walked in there. And we were in there, both of my brothers were in there and I was with my girlfriend. We [two girls] were sitting in the back there in a booth, and all of a sudden—it was on Sunday, 13th of January—and all of a sudden beers started coming, and we thought, “Gosh, we can’t drink all of that.” And first thing you know, my two older brothers came in and they brought this big Marine, a big, quiet Marine. Click! Just like that, click, that was it (relating that she was taken by Ed).
So you met him after the war then? Yes. He had just gotten home and was visiting his cousin Curley there.
And then you moved here, to Waupun? Yeah. We were married in May ‘47 and moved here in June.
Did you do anything after the war? I didn’t work. I stayed home. I had two little boys then, and I just stayed at home and took care of the kids. We lived in rent until 1953 [when] we bought this house, and been here ever since.
And you have two sons? Yes, Joseph and John. Both were in the Vietnam War, you know.
They both were in the Vietnam War? Yeah. Joe’s got two Purple Hearts. He went in the Army. He wanted to marry Betty, and he knew he was going to get called up so he went and enlisted. They were fighting like crazy over there. And then he got shot twice. He got home to marry Betty, but he’s got a couple of bullet holes in him and a lot of terrible memories.
And John was in the Marines, and he’s a psychologist now. He works for the VA down there around St. Petersburg (Florida). He works in a hospital there mostly with post traumatic stress. He said there are only a few World War II guys, mostly it’s Vietnam guys, and now they’re getting the Iraqi people too. He’s doing a lot of good, I got to give him credit. He does hypnosis. He says that really helps. He can really help people with that.
Do you have any grandkids? Yes. I had four. Now I’ve got three. Joe has three children. John had one son, Mark. He died two years ago, day after Christmas. He was six foot four, bigger than his dad over there (pointing to a picture). He was the most gentle kid, twenty-five years old. He got sick and they put him in the hospital and two weeks later he died, day after Christmas. He had cancer from one end to the other and he never ever complained. He died. Oh God! I’ll tell you, that’s a terrible blow.
But the other three, now like Joe’s oldest child, the oldest, he’s got three. That’s Christine up there (pointing to a picture). Right after high school she enlisted in the Marine Corps and she’s got six years in, fortunately in during peace time. And she was on Okinawa and Guam. She got to climb Mount Fuji in Japan.
Those are Ed’s metals there (pointing to a shadowbox displaying Second World War medals). This one old guy by that picture right there with the flag (pointing to another picture), that’s Forrest Wyle. He just loved Ed. He had thirty years in the Marine Corps, and he was all over the South Pacific. It’s all he knows is the Marines. And he liked Ed so much so he had that golden anchor made for him. And those two marines in their dress blues came over and gave it to him, presented it.
What did Ed get the Bronze Star for? I don’t know. They gave it to him, I suppose, for bravery, or whatever. The POW medal, you may notice, is a circle of barbed wire [and] has got an eagle in the middle of it. And that’s Ed’s Purple Heart, I guess you’ve seen that already. I don’t know what all the Asiatic or Philippine defense [medals are]. He’s got a letter from Ferdinand Marcos, signed by him. It’s framed on the wall. “Thanks a lot for fighting in the Philippines,” or something like that.
Do you have anything else that you would like to say? When we first moved here—now, the war was just over a year or so—there was no place to live. Oh, it was hard to get a place to live. And we lived with some people who converted their upstairs. I mean, I had to go through their kitchen to get into the house. And they just put in wiring so I could plug my stove in and that. It was just their bedrooms upstairs and we shared the bathroom. It was impossible to find a decent place to live. It was hard. But we did it.
I should tell you too that John is forty percent disabled too from Vietnam.
Is he? Forty percent disabled, yeah. I’m proud of my boys.
Does Joseph live in the area? Joe lives up in Lamartine (Wisconsin), a little north, about nine miles north [of Waupun] on the way to Fond du Lac.
Your two older brothers, did they serve in the military during the war? Yes. As I said, my older brother Ray was seventeen years in the corps. He was stationed in England and had quite a few flights in Corsica. They flew over Europe a lot and I know one time the government said, or somebody, to the paper in Two Rivers that he had gotten two Messerschmitts. And my younger brother, he’s older than I am, his name was Charles, and he was in the Army and he was in North Africa, and he had four campaigns. Then he went off to Anzio beachhead. So they had a lot of fighting over there too. And he went on to Rome (Italy). Everybody came home safely.
That’s good. So your oldest brother, he was a pilot? No, he was a gunner. A rear gunner, a tail gunner. Loved guns, those guys. Never saw anything like it. At home we had one whole wall all full of guns. I don’t know guns, I don’t touch them. But those long ones, you know, like rifles and other ones, like shotgun things and handguns. And Ed wouldn’t touch a gun; after he got home, he wouldn’t touch one.
Can you think of anything else you’d like to say? I don’t think I have anything. No.
I greatly appreciate your willingness to talk, thank you.
Last updated on 27 Jan 2013 .
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