Interview by Robert C. Daniels
Alfred and Vergeana (McNeil) Bohnert were interviewed together in the living room of their home in Waupun starting at 4:30 P.M. on 30 November 2005. The interview lasted 35.38 minutes. They sat next to each other in separate chairs and at times assisted each other in recalling their memories. Alfred, normally called Al, is the author’s (interviewer’s) mother’s brother; therefore, Al and Vergeana (Jean) are his uncle and aunt. At the time of the interview Al was just under eighty-four years old and Vergeana was eighty. Al has since, on 6 December 2006, passed away.
What is your full name? Alfred Leopold Bohnert. That was my dad’s brother’s name. He came from Switzerland.
I know a lot of people born in the early twentieth century were not born in a hospital, but at home. Where and when were you born? At home. 1921, December 11.
Who were your parents? Joseph Bohnert was my father and Linda Paskey Bohnert was my mother.
Do you have any brothers or sisters? Sure. Ralph was my brother, Lois was my sister, Doris was my sister.
Who’s the oldest and who’s the youngest? I am the oldest. Lois is the youngest.
Doris is older than Ralph, isn’t she? Yeah, and Ralph was born in South Dakota.
Where did you go to school? Waupun.
Did you graduate from high school? Yup.
Did you attend any college? No.
What was it like for you growing up? Oh, I don’t know. Like any other kid. I was in scouting (Boy Scouts), and I stayed in that until I…, well until I went in the service, then I guess I had to quit for awhile. I came back, I went back into scouting again. I finally made Eagle Scout and then scout master, assistant scout master, the whole works.
What were you doing in the 1939, 1941 timeframe, the timeframe just before the war? Well, I was working at the Waupun Bottling Works.
Do you remember what you were doing when you first heard that Pearl Harbor was attacked? Well, I just said I was working at the Waupun Bottling Works.
When did you graduate from high school? ‘40, 1940, yeah.
Do you remember hearing that Pearl Harbor was attacked? Yes. Sure.
How did you hear about it? I suppose on the radio, I don’t know what else.
What did you think about that? Oh, everybody figured the war was coming on. And it did.
When did you decide to join the military? (Vergeana states: “It must have been practically right away because he went in in ‘42.”) Yeah, shortly thereafter, I am sure.
And you went into the Marine Corps? Yeah.
What made you go into the Marine Corps? Well, my friend in town here, Hull, Gerald Roger Hull, his dad took us down to Milwaukee to the enlistment place. We both passed, so we decided, “Well, that’s good.” So they gave us, what was it, thirty days to report back. From there we went to San Diego (California)—post haste (he laughs).
That is where you went to boot camp? Yup.
What was boot camp like? (Al laughs.) We were both wishing we hadn’t gotten into boot camp.
What was your specialty? I was a cook.
Did you go to school for that? Nope, didn’t need to. I could cook better than what they had in there. I finally made it up to what they called a field cook, like a sergeant.
Can you give us a brief review of your service, including the theaters of the war you were in? I participated in Bougainville (reading off of the back of his discharge papers) and then I went to Guam. And then I went to Iwo Jima. And I got discharged at ‘45. It was an honorable discharge. I guess, that is it. I don’t know.
What was it like when you heard the war was over? Let me see. We were stationed at Newport, Rhode Island, and everybody in the base that was a sergeant or above were ordered to go on MP (Military Police) duty. So we all handled our MP duty for about, let’s see, six…, two or three weeks we all had to go out and keep law and order.
People were going nuts. They were trying to break into liquor stores…, other stuff. So we were assigned to keep them away. All they gave us was billy-clubs and we were…, we had other personnel with us that were trained for this sort of thing, and they were in charge of three or four of them, a group. That was it.
And this was for civilians, too? You kept civilians in line also? Well, if they tried to break in, yeah. Some of them did, though, and they got a little bit discouraged (laughing).
When did you come home to Waupun? Did you come home after your discharge or before? Oh, I came home before, I had a furlough. I don’t even remember, I think it must have been a thirty-day furlough. (Vergeana states: “That was the only time you came home, though.”) Yeah, that was the only time I came home.
That was after the war or during…? Yeah, that was after. There were no way you can get from one island to another to come home.
Were things changed when you came home, different in Waupun? Well, let’s see. Shaler’s was making rivets for airplanes and they had a regular fence around there for awhile. I went to see my two sisters, and they wouldn’t even let me in because “That was security.” I said, “Hell, you guys don’t know what security is around here.” I walked right in anyway. And they didn’t do anything (laughing).
What were the guards like? Were they armed guards or…? No.
…just guys standing there? Yeah, standing there by the gate.
Were the people changed here? I don’t know. What do you mean? (Vergeana states: “Times were better.”)
They were better after the war? Yeah. For a while, yeah.
You mention something about the stamps, the ration cards? (We had talked a bit before the interview and Al and Vergeana had mentioned ration cards.) (Vergeana: “Yeah.”)
When you came home, were they still using ration cards? Yeah.
How long did that last? I don’t know. But on the way home one night onboard the train my wallet was stolen. All my papers and everything was stolen out of it. Never did find it. When I got home, they said, “Oh, don’t worry about it, we will take care of it for you.” So I didn’t have to worry about stamps. Of course, I didn’t have a car so I didn’t have to worry about gas.
What did you do after the war? I came back to the Waupun Bottling Works, yeah. I worked there as a salesman and went on the road for Uncle Walter (Walter Paskey). Made pop. Got more sugar, made more pop.
How long did you work there? (Vergeana: “We were married in ‘48. And we moved to Waupun Avenue in ‘50. That’s when you sold your part in the bottling works for a down payment on our house.”) Oh, okay. See, I went in partnership with Walter. I don’t remember half of that, but she does (indicating towards Vergeana).
Then you started working at the prison? (Vergeana: “Central State.”) Worked at Central State, Criminal Insane, yeah. (The Central State was the Wisconsin Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, located in Waupun.)
How long did you work there? Thirteen and a half years.
What did you do there? Cooked, baked, cut meat.
Did you take advantage of the GI Bill at all? No. (Vergeana states: “Sure we did, when we bought our house.”) Oh, maybe we did, yeah. Yeah, it was…, what the heck was the percentage (interest rate)? I don’t remember. (Vergeana: “I don’t remember that, but I know that’s how we got our loan, was through that GI Bill.”) Yeah.
When did you get married? 1948. We just celebrated our fifty-seventh wedding anniversary.
And who did you marry? (He points to Vergeana. She laughs and says, “Come on, you got to tell him my name.”) Vergeana McNiel.
Is there anything else you would like to say? Well, I don’t know. But crawling…, when we were overseas and we were hopping from one of these islands to another. Why, that wasn’t exactly what you call a picnic either.
(Vergeana: “Tell him how hot it was, all the mosquitoes and that stuff.”) Yeah, well…, the jungle, they know, anybody else that’s been in a jungle knows the mosquitoes, and it’s wet and miserable.
(Vergeana: “Tell him about the thing that grabbed on your nose.”) Oh, they don’t want to hear that. (Vergeana: “Well, sure they do.”) Land crabs. They aren’t very big, but they sure make some funny noises. One day we were laying on the ground and I made me a little bed of something and laid on top of that. And all of a sudden a land crab came along and got a hold of my nose, and I whipped out my knife and pride his prongs out of there and throwed him in the next foxhole (laughing).
You spent all your time in the Pacific? Yup. Well, that is where I came home from. Then, I too…, I was stationed in Newport, Rhode Island, for…, a couple of months. I got out on Oct 3, 1945, deer season.
And you were a sergeant? A Buck Sergeant, they called it.
Anything else you would like to say? I don’t know. (Vergeana: “Well, tell them about your friend that got killed.”) Oh, yeah. (“The guy you enlisted with,” continues Vergeana.) Jerry Hull and I, we enlisted together. Went to boot camp. While we were in boot camp we looked around at each other and said, “What the hell we got into.”
And during boot camp I got a blood poisoning in my left elbow. So they sent me to the sickbay for, I don’t know, a couple of weeks, I guess, to get rid of it. When I came back out of there everybody that I went through boot camp with was long gone. They were on their way already. And they went to New Zealand, they went to South Island. And I got stationed in New Zealand too, but at North Island. We never did get to see each other. We knew where we were, we knew in which division we were in, but we couldn’t…, they wouldn’t let us go back and forth.
Well, then along came the war full tilt and I went to Guadalcanal. (Vergeana: “Where did Jerry get killed?”) Tarawa, on the invasion he went…. I ain’t sure how he got killed. We heard lots of rumors but that don’t amount to much.
Were you on Tarawa also? No. No, we were on a ship standing by for reinforcements. We didn’t need it, they didn’t need us.
What was the name of the outfit you were in, what was the battalion name? 12th Regiment, C Battery, I think it was. Pack howitzers.
What division was it in? Oh, the 3rd Marine Division.
And you were with howitzers? That’s were I finally got, yeah. When we first got in there they had (laughing) wooden wheels. They finally had to take them off and put on the rubber tire ones. Gees, that was a mess.
What type of guns were they? 75 millimeter cannon, pack howitzers. Well, you had the pellet, or the bolt, or whatever it was (meaning the shell). And then we had—one, two, three (counting on his fingers to remember)—we had four powder bags that you could use to propel the pellet, depending on how far you wanted it to go. And, I don’t know, I didn’t get too much on that, I’d just helped once in a while.
Every time we went on some damn invasion, then I’d get stuck on going down to the beach and bringing stuff up for our company. Everybody else was afraid to go down to the beach, I guess, because that wasn’t too good a place. I don’t know what else I can say.
Can you tell me again what outfit you were in? I know you were in the Third Marine Division. 3rd Marine Division, 12th Regiment, 1st Battalion, C Company.
Do you remember your service number? 430856.
You are the third person I asked who remembered it right off the top of their head. Could you tell us a little about Ralph (his younger brother), about what he did? Well, he went into the Army.
I know he went in young. (Vergeana: “Yeah, he lied about his age.”) He did, yeah. (Vergeana: “He served in Germany, I think, didn’t he?”) Yeah, he went to Germany, he struck there.
Do you remember what outfit he was in? No.
I remember hearing something that he was in the Battle of the Bulge. Probably was.
Was he a cook also? Yeah. He made sergeant before I made PFC (laughing).
I tell yah, that was something else with our outfit. When we first went over there nobody had any idea what was going on then. And some of the guys said, “Gees, I wish I could get some bread. Anybody know how to bake?” At the time we had a corporal in charge of the kitchen. The sergeant in charge of it—he didn’t get shipped the same time we did—he came three, four weeks later. And so the corporal said, “Gees, anybody know how to make bread?” I said, “Yeah, I do, why.” He said, “Oh, what do you gotta have?” So I told him. Pretty soon we had some bread made…mixed by hand. It was something else.
I know Grandma spoke German, didn’t she? Yeah.
Did you speak German also? No, oh, (laughing) I couldn’t get across the street (then he speaks something in very rough German). My dad, he could speak German, he could speak French, he could speak Italian, and English. He was a guide for a while at the pyramids in Egypt. He was a guide up there for a while.
What is your full name? Vergeana Joyce McNeil.
Were you born at home or were you born at a hospital? Yeah, at home. Rodgersville, Wisconsin.
When were you born? 1925, April 23rd, 1925.
Who were your parents? Elmer McNeil, and my mother’s name was Edith Winkey.
Do you have any brothers or sisters? I have two sisters. Do you want their names?
Yes. Dorothy and Mildred.
Were they older than you or younger? Yeah, they were older.
Where did you go to school? I went through eighth grade, that’s all the further I got in school. And that was at Rodgersville, a little one room schoolhouse.
What was growing up like for you? Kinda hard. Working on a farm. And we didn’t have a lot of stuff. But living on a farm, you know, you usually had some chickens or pigs or something. We had a big garden. But there was one winter I remember we ate buckwheat pancakes every day for I don’t know how long for dinner.
Did things change in 1929 after the crash? Yeah, I mean it was really hard during the Depression. We just didn’t have hardly nothing.
So it was different from before then? I don’t remember much before that, but I know after the war is when it got better, you know, more people had jobs and that kinda stuff.
What were you doing in 1939, 1941, just before the war? I was just at home working on the farm.
Do you remember where you were or what you were doing when you heard that Pearl Harbor was attacked? Yes, I certainly do. I was at a Lutheran bake meeting, and it came over the radio, and the dad of the girl where we were having the meeting came over and told us.
What did everyone think about that? Scary, didn’t know what was going to happen.
What did you do during the war? Just stayed at home, worked on the farm.
Do you remember rationing cards at all? Oh, yes, yes! I can remember going to the store, and I don’t remember what all was rationed, but sometimes you’d get up there and you didn’t have enough stamps to pay for it and you had to take some of it back. I can remember that.
Could you trade rationing cards with other people? I don’t remember that either. But I know everyone in the family had one, you know.
Everybody got their own? Yeah.
Did you have Victory Gardens? I don’t remember them, no.
Did things change during the war in the area? Yeah, the thing I remember the most was we used to love to go to dances, and it was mostly girls, you know. The boys were all gone, except a few farmers that were left.
They allowed some farmers to stay back? Oh, yes, yes. There were lots of guys that became farmers (laughing) all of a sudden.
Even though they were healthy? Yes they were. Yeah, they did allow, you know, farmers to be exempt from going. Yeah, I knew a few people that weren’t farmers to begin with who soon were farmers or worked for farmers.
What was it like living here during the war? Oh, I don’t know exactly. I can remember, you know, I remember seeing prisoners of war that they had. They used to bring ‘em and they worked on the pea viner. It was about a mile down from our house. And, of course, like young girls are, you know, we’d walk by and we weren’t suppose to speak or look at ‘em, but we always managed to wave at ‘em (laughing). ‘Cause they were nice looking fellows. I think they were German prisoners of war.
I was told that they worked at the canning companies here, and on different farms. Yeah, they did.
Did you have any working on your farm? No, no.
What was it like when the service members came home, was there any difference or change? I don’t remember. I remember the day when they announced the war over. I was at a 4-H meeting at Fond du Lac at that time. There was a lot of rejoicing.
Did things change when they came home, around the area? Not exactly, I guess. I think, you know, everybody…, more people had jobs and things. It wasn’t quite as bad as it was before the war.
Were the military members different when they came back? I really didn’t have much to do with them, you know. It was a couple of years before I met Al.
How did you guys meet? At a blind date. Some friends introduced us.
What did you do after the war? I still just stayed on the farm until I married Al.
Is there anything else you would like to say? I remember, though, we used to have blackouts once in a while, when you had to…, [shut off the lights]. Of course, we didn’t even have electricity, but I mean you couldn’t have your lanterns in the barns either.
So they would have blackouts on the farms too? Oh, yeah. Whole counties. Not all the time, but once in a while they’d have a drill.
Would they come out and check? I don’t think so, never heard of anybody coming.
I’ve heard of them doing blackouts in the towns, even in Waupun, but I never thought they’d do them in the farms also. Yeah, once in a great while they did.
So you had wardens that would go around, supposedly? I think there was, I can’t remember for sure, though. It’s been awhile. When you get old you can forget (laughing).
Can you think of anything else? Oh, I can remember during the war, like bobby pins and those kind of things were so hard to get, you know, because…, and then they’d bend and you couldn’t use them to put your pin curls in. I use to bite ‘em to make ‘em stay closer together, and that’s why I got crooked teeth in the front, from biting on bobby pins.
I had a couple of ladies who told me that nylons were very scarce… Oh, yes, yes. It was silk stockings at that time and then nylons came in after that. But yeah, you couldn’t get those, those…, it was terrible.
I was told that some ladies would take a marker or whatever, and draw a line up the back of their leg to make believe it was a hem. Do you remember seeing those? No, I didn’t. But I remember those silk stockings had that seam up the back.
Last updated on 27 Jan 2013 .
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