Robert C. Daniels

Author / Adjunct History Professor


Interview conducted as part of research for the writing of World War II in Mid-America

David Lyon  © Copyright 2005

Interview by Robert C. Daniels

David Lyon was interviewed at the Union-Congregational Church in Waupun on 1 December 2005 starting at 10:30 A.M.  The interview lasted 52.21 minutes.  At the time David was sixty-four years old.  His outlook of the war was unique in that it was from the perspective of a young boy who was born the year the war started and of one who, in later years, worked with World War II vets.  As such, he was able to introduce many anecdotes of the war from various people, although as a secondary source.  He also came to the interview equipped with a box of papers and other mementoes which he referred to from time to time.


What is your full name?  David Allen Lyon.

And Lyon is spelled L Y O N?  L Y O N.

Now, I know a lot of people born in the early twentieth century were not born in a hospital, but at home.  Where were you born, and when?  I was born, actually, at the Schwartz Clinic, which is down where Vinni’s Restaurant was a few months ago.  There was…, it was a twenty some bed clinic, if I recall correctly, and it was across from what is now and was then the public library.  That’s before they had a hospital in town.  It was an interesting place because they didn’t have separate rooms.  They just…, like two rooms with beds in ‘em.  That’s where I was born.

What day and year was that?  It was 18 July 1941.

Okay, and who were your parents?  My parents was Blanche Josephine Vandeberg, and my dad was…, or Vandeberg-Lyon, Lyon was her married name, my dad was Morris George Lyon.

Your mother’s name was Vandervort?  Vandeberg, V A N D E B E R G.

Do you have any brothers or sisters?  Yes, I do.  I had…, one brother died at birth, his name was Dennis, and he’s interned in the local cemetery.  I have another younger brother, Gary Lyon.  He lives down by West Bend (Wisconsin) with his family.

And Dennis was older than you?  No, no. 

They were both younger than you?  Yeah.

Where did you go to school?  I went to school at…, well, I started out at the old South Ward School, which no longer exists.  There’s the…, the public library is built on the site of that school now.  And then when they closed that down I went to Lincoln school, and then I went to the old Waupun High School and graduated from there in 1959.

Did you attend college?  No.  I went into the service, went into the Air Force after….

The South Ward, I’ve heard that before.  What was considered the South Ward of Waupun?  I have no idea whatsoever. 

Okay.  I do not know.

But the South Ward School was where the old public Library is?  Where the new public library is.

Where the new public Library is.  Yup, that’s…, it was on that lot.  They tore it down and they built the new public library.  It was quite an impressive building.  It was one of those old stone buildings where they use the big…, big square stones.

Behind where the new library is there’s a, an old, it looks like a garage, an old building, a brick building.  Do you know what that is, by chance?  Let’s see.  Behind the library, the new library on the same street there was, there’s a building that was the telephone company.  And then there’s the Warner-Harmsen Funeral Home.  The garage….

There’s sort of a parking lot between Warner-Harmsen and the library.  No, I have no idea what that is.

I just thought you might…, I’ve seen it before and I have no idea….  No I don’t, I don’t know.

What was growing going up like for you?  It was strange, because having been born in 1941 I started growing up during the war.  And my earliest memories are that all the men are gone.  I had an uncle that was a medic in England in a hospital.  I had another uncle that was in the Aleutians building an airstrip.  My dad was in the Pacific in the Navy.  And later on when my mom and dad were divorced my stepdad was in the Pacific in the Army.  So my earliest memories was that there were no grown men around.  There were old men and there were boys, but there were no grown men around.  And every…, the whole household was…, all my aunts moved in with my grandma, and we all lived in one big house with my two aunts and my mother and my grandma.  And everything was done, you know, was basically done with the women.

I know you were kind of young then.  Do you remember the rationing and rationing cards at all?  I remember them talking about gas rationing and meat rationing.  I don’t remember about rationing per se, but I remember that we spent a lot of time listening to the war news on the radio, you know, at that time, and how things were going.

I remember that early…, my earliest memories it seemed like my aunt and my mother and everybody, they were always fearful about what was happening to their husbands and how the war was going.  As the war progressed and we were more dominant, you know, they kinda lightened up a little bit. 

I remember when the guys came home how happy everybody…, they were saying “Uncle Ray and Uncle Dick and dad were coming home.”  And I remember coming home…, my mom and my aunts and I were downtown, and we came home and grandma said, “I’ve got a surprise for you.”  And we said, “What is it?”  And she said, “Go to the bedroom and open the door.”  And we opened the door and my Uncle Ray was back from England.  And he was the first guy to come back. 

I remember that vividly, and I remember, of course, nobody had a house, so everybody kinda moved in, my aunts and uncles and everybody.  My grandma’s house was quite large, it was over at Olmstead Street.  And everybody had one room that was a bedroom.  I thought this was great ‘cause every morning I got to run upstairs and wake up all my uncles, you know.  That was pretty neat I thought (smiling).  It was different.  Then over the years everyone moved out, got their own home and went away. 

Do you remember hearing…, no you wouldn’t have remembered hearing that Pearl Harbor was attacked.  You weren’t alive then.  No, I didn’t, I didn’t.  I was alive, but I don’t remember hearing that.  I was only like six months old.

Well, what did you do during the war?  I know you were young and…, what were your exper…, what experiences do you remember during the war?  Okay, I had…, my most vivid memory experiences is listening to the news.  And everything was geared toward the military.  And I had an imaginary friend called Roger who was a soldier in the Pacific.  And Roger always wrote me letters.  And everyday my mom and my aunts would ask me how Roger was doing.  And I remember I always had stories about how he was, how he was and everything.  And I remember one day, this day after I had heard from Roger, and I said, “No, he was killed.”  I remember that.

But that and…, from the earliest I can remember I always had a toy gun, and we always, every…, you know, me and the neighbor kids we were always playing army, we were always playing war.  That I remember.  It was a whole different world from now as far as firearms and everything were concerned.  Those are my most vivid memories of my youth.

You know, I was in an awkward period because I was so young.  But the war influenced so much of my life just because of that, because I was so young and it was that my earliest experiences were everybody was gone, all the guys were gone, you know—and worrying about the war.  And again, it just…, I think that anybody that grew up in that period of time, the war had a profound impact on their reactions and their thoughts and their ideas.

I know there was a couple of PO…, a couple of times there were POW camps here in Waupun.  Do you remember anything about the POW camps?  I don’t remember…, during the war I don’t remember anything about it.  But I remember after the war when I worked with some of guys that had been away in the war; like I worked with Al Wildermen, whose wife gained a degree of notoriety by having an affair with one of the German prisoners.  So I heard about it after the war and was aware that it had existed there.  During the war I had no idea.

There was a lot of people talking about Victory Gardens.  Do you remember anything about Victory Gardens?  Yeah, I remember about Victory Gardens.  But what I remember the most is that almost everyday, and at least once a week, my mother folded bandages.  She always got material—and I don’t know where it came from—but she was always folding bandages and packaging them.  In retrospect, I think, possibly there were programs like that that kept the civilian population…, kept them in a sense in participating in the war and the victory.  I don’t really think they used a lot of that stuff.  I think it was almost make do work.  But I think it was almost like propaganda to keep the civilian population, you know, give them a sense of participation and keep them excited about the war and what was going on.  And that…, I remember that almost, like I said, at least once a week we got together, we folded bandages.

By bandages, what do you mean?  When I hear bandages I think of band-aids.  Oh, she’d make like slings for broken arms and that.  And then she’d package them up in paper.  And where she sent them I have no idea.  But there was always somebody who picked them up or she gave them to somebody after she had them all folded.  And I remember they’d bring like sheet material, cotton material, over to the house that they would rip up and make into different kinds of bandages.  And they would be told, you know, what was wanted.

Do you remember collecting metals and saving paper and stuff like that for the war effort?  Yeah, watching what you did with all the metal and that, yeah.  The scrap drives, yeah, I remember…, vaguely remember that.

When the war was over with do you remember hearing…, what you did or what happened when you first heard that the war was over with?  Oh, I remember my aunts and my grandma, they celebrated because they knew that everybody was gonna come home then.  And their husbands were coming back and, you know, everything was gonna get back to normal.  We no longer had to worry about the Japanese and the Germans and everything.  Everybody at that time thought that Harry Truman was a great president. 

What I remember most was when everybody came home.  My uncle Dick came back, he was a cook up in the Aleutians, and he came home and he’d tell us about….  They got up to this island, I believe it was Kiska, and there was nothing there but a Russian Cemetery.  And he said, “We didn’t have anything to do so we dug up the graves and everybody had a skull hanging outside their tent.”  And he said, “Then the officers came around and made us bury everything again.” 

And he always talked about the great lemon meringue pie he made when he was a cook in the service.  And he got home and he wanted to make pie at home, and it turned out for some reason green.  And the entire family had a good laugh on that, so.  

I remember the guys coming home and I remember all the….  It was really happy times.  That was really a healing thing and a lot of happy times (he smiles).

You said your father was in the Navy.  What did he do in the Navy?  Yeah, he was on a ship in the pacific.  And I really don’t know.  I really don’t know because my mom and dad were divorced when I was quite young.  I never had a chance to talk to him a lot about the war.  But I have some pictures of him and everything.  And one of the most interesting things I have, if I may…(Dave looks through a box of papers he brought along, then hands me an ornate silver belt buckle).  He made that.

Your father made that?  My father made that when he was in the Philippines, and he brought it home for me from the war.

It’s a belt buckle?  Yep it’s made out of coin silver.  I took it down to a rock shop, and they said, “Yeah, it’s made out of coin silver.”  I don’t know what all went into the making of it, but I always thought that was kind of neat.

Yeah.  You may not know the answer to this because you were so young, but were military people different when they came back from the war?  I don’t really know, but I know a lot of the guys that came back drank a lot, and that was the height of the bar business, I guess, because everybody was going downtown.  It was like one big party for a long time.  I think everybody was kind of unwinding.

Did you see a change in the Waupun area as a whole after the war compared to when you were growing up in the war?  Not that I can remember because I was so young, you know.  It was just…, to me what happened was just so natural, and I can’t say that I really saw any sort of change.

Okay.  And after the war…, tell me about your life after the war?  What you did.  You graduated from high school in 1959, you said?  ‘59, yeah.

What were you doing between?  You were going to school, is there anything particular you want to say about that timeframe?  Well, a lot of the guys that went to school that time—I think because of when we were born and when we were brought up and how we were brought up—we almost worshiped war.  We talked about it, we talked about the war a lot.  And we talked to a lot of the people that had been in the war and they related a lot of their experiences.  And I was fortunate enough to work with a lot of guys who had served in the military.  

There was a guy, his name was Basel Kroniger, that had been in the Marines in the pacific, and he told some interesting stories.  He told when they had come back after the war when they were coming back to the United States, he said how excited him and the men onboard ship were.  And he said, “We couldn’t understand why they took all our weapons away from us before we got to the beach because we thought we might need ‘em.”  And he said, “We got off of the ship,” and he said, “there was a line of MPs there, and they put us in a barbed wire enclosure.”  And he said, “We had to learn how to eat with forks and knifes and spoons again, and sit at the table.”  And, you know, you think about that and the cultural shock was just astonishing. 

And I heard…, there was a guy name Andy Westhouse, and Andy is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.  And he was a paratrooper, he made the D-day jump and the jump in Holland.  And he was talking about D-Day, he says, “I can remember I was in a hole, in a shell crater.”  And he said, “There was a dead German laying about twenty feet away, and he had a (Walther) P38 in his hand.”  And he said, “I wanted that gun so bad, but I knew if I come up out of the hole I’d probably get killed,” he said.  “And I spent a lot of hours laying in that hole looking at that gun” (Dave laughs).

One of the neatest pictures I’ve ever seen in my entire life…, I was over at his home one day, and he said, “Look at this,” and he brought out this picture.  When Andy went to England before D-day he met a Scottish lady, and they fell in love and they got married.  And he had the wedding pictures, and he was dressed in a kilt and the large…, the bear skinned hat.  And he was young and he looked fierce.  He looked like a warrior.  And it was just…, he was standing there with his wife and it was so neat.  It was such a neat thing.  

My step dad had a lot of pictures of the pacific.  He saw…, he had a reasonably brief career because, unfortunately, he got hit by a mortar round and he had to come home, but.  The pictures of the war that he showed us, which I have in the box if you want to see them later.  But the stories, like my uncle telling about Pancake Strip, which was what they named the air strip they were building up in the Aleutians.  And they had…, they called it Pancake Strip because initially they didn’t have any rations except pancake flour, and they spent a lot of days eating pancakes before the rest of the rations got up there—and talking about the Russian Cemetery. 

My uncle talked about when he first—my uncle Ray went to England, he was a medic in England—he talked about initially when he was first in the service one of his first duties was helping to guard the capital.  And he said, “You know, we didn’t have any guns.”  He said, “We had broom sticks, and we marched around the top of the capital with broom sticks on our shoulder because the silhouette from the street would look like we are carrying rifles.”  And he said, “They were afraid at that time that saboteurs would try to get something, so we gave the impression that we were armed.  But we weren’t because the production of fire arms and everything had not caught up with the need, and everything that were being produce got shipped over seas.” 

So the stories…, my teachers in school….  There was a man that lived outside of town named Frank Kittell, which was one of my teachers, and he would talk a lot about World War II.  And he served not only in World War II but he served in Korean (the Korean War).  And in school he’d tell us guys about the war, about World War II.  And he talked about [the] Korean [War], and he said, “Yeah, I walked down the streets of Berlin,” he said, “and I walked down the streets of Seoul, and some day I’m gonna walk down the streets of Moscow.”  You know, it almost brought tears to your eyes.  It was so intense the feeling of patriotism and the pride in your country, and everything was so fantastically intense.  It was…, it really…, really formed a lot, I think, a lot of the character in the people that grew up in those days.

Do you remember any other teachers that served in the war?  Mr. Kittell…, yeah, Mr. Casper.  And he still lives…, he just moved off of Pleasant Avenue.  He lives in the assisted living now.  His name is Sesper Jasper Casper, and he was a pilot.  He helped fly the hump in World War II in India and Burma.  And there was another pilot, Bill Blow, who I knew who used to run Blow’s hardware store, which you maybe even remember Blow’s hardware store.  He was a pilot.  And Mr. Casper said, “You know, I never flew after the war.”  He never flew in a plane, he never rode in a plane, “That’s it, that’s enough flying.”  But they would talk about, you know, the war, and talk about flying the hump and talk about the Japanese and that.  I can’t…, was there any other teacher that I had that…?

I remember one in high school.  I don’t remember his name.  I don’t even remember what he taught.  But he…, someone had told me that he had been in Japan right after the A-bombs were dropped, and he actually walked—I think it was Hiroshima—walked through the streets of Hiroshima within days after that.  And I don’t remember the name…, I can picture him in my mind but that’s it.  I should know who that is….

I’m thinking it was a science teacher, but I’m not sure.  I don’t think I ever had him for a teacher, though.  I think I had Mr. Kittell which I think was a science teacher.  Because his son, I forget his name, his son was in my grade, my class, and he was hard of hearing, if I remember correctly.  At least when I was in high school in the late ‘70s.  I betcha it was Mr. Holmes.

Mr. Holmes…, no, it wasn’t Mr. Holmes, no.  It was a tall guy.  Mr. Holmes wasn’t as tall.  Yeah, Mr. Holmes was short.

This guy was a tall guy with black hair.  God, I should know who that is and I don’t.

It’s okay.  This was rumors I heard, I never heard…, when I was going through school they never talked about World War II.  This was years later.  I think a lot of them talked because we asked.  And I think in some respects it was good for ‘em to talk, you know, get it out.  And it was certainly good for us because they shared.  They were sharing, you know, what they had seen and done.  It gave you more of a personal concept of the history that you had lived through.

After the war you graduated from high school and you worked at the canning company?  Yeah.

And how long did you work there?  What canning company?  Because I know there was two of them in Waupun at one time, anyhow.  This was one that Glaskolfs ran down by the cemetery, and I worked there the summer I was sixteen, the summer I was seventeen, and after I graduated I worked there.  And then I went to work for Johnny Mulder in his grocery store, which is down where the dialysis center is now.  And I worked there for a couple of months.  And then in January of 19…, I graduated in ‘59, in January 1960 I went into the Air Force.  Then I was out of town for four years.  

But it was interesting in the Air Force.  I got another perspective of World War II because I worked with a…, I was in electronic counter measures, and I worked on B-52’s, and I was stationed primarily in Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth, Texas.  And one of my bosses was a gentleman by the name of Elmer Burkhart, who was a technical sergeant.  And Elmer had been in War World II, but he was on the German side.  He was a member of the Hitler Youth.  And he would talk about going to Paris.  And he’d say, “You know,” he’d say, “Hitler was not all bad.”  And it was just a total different perspective, you know.  And then after the war, we won, and he decided to get on the winning side.  He came here and he went into our Air Force.  And the man was, was…, he loved anything technical.  And I asked him once, “Do you read?”  And he said, “Only technical manuals.”  And he was good.  I mean, he knew electronics, and he knew the systems on the plane backwards and forward.  If you had problems, you got sergeant Burkhart and he’d straighten things out.  But that was something.  I guess a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to work with somebody who was actually on the other side.  That was, I thought, interesting. 

And what have you done since you come back, when you got out of the Air Force?  I got out of the Air Force and I worked in a factory for a few months, and I really despised it.  And then I went to work for the State, and I was a prison guard most of my life.  I started out at old Central State Hospital (for the Criminally Insane), and there were…, almost all my supervisors where vets.  There was Lavern Hendricksen who had been in the Marines in the pacific.  Basel Kroniger was in the Marines in the pacific.  Everybody…, Norman Eugene Tophand was a little old to be in the service, but he worked for Badger Ordinance.  And it seemed like everybody you worked with almost at that age group had either been in the service or worked in some war related industry, you know.

Badger…, what was that Badger…?  Badger Ordinance was down by Devils Lake…, Baraboo (Wisconsin), and that, I think, no longer exists either.  It went out of business.

Okay.  What did the World War II vets think of you being in the Air Force after the war?  Did they like the idea or….  The guys, the guys that I talked to that had been in the service had a tendency to make friends with younger guys that had also been in the service.  The younger guys that had not been in the service or not gone in the service, they had a tendency to ignore ‘em.  It almost was…, I think you almost had more of a bond with them because you had some similar experiences.  You hadn’t been in combat, but you had been, you know, you went through the basic training and you went through the chow and everything.

Now, your service was between Korea and the Vietnam War?  I was in…, Vietnam was just starting.  Some of the people that…, it was interesting because one of my commanders had been a survivor of the Bataan Death March and one of the captains I worked with had just come back from Vietnam.  So it was a broad spectrum.  And then you got the guys who would talk about Korea, so it covered almost all the wars that occurred in your life time.

What were the names of your step-father and your uncles that were in the military?  My uncle was…, Richard Leonard was the uncle that had been in the Aleutians.  Ray Rhuland, R H L…, R U H L A N D was the uncle that had been a medic in England in World War II.  My step-dad was Bernie Schwalenberg, S C H W A L E N B E R G, and he had been in the Army in the pacific in World War II.

 Are you married?  Yeah.

When did you get married?  When?  Ah…, I better get this right or I’m gonna be in trouble.  This was the second time I’ve been married, and this time I was married in 1975.  June, I think it was June 1st, 1975.  And if I’m wrong about that, I’m in serious trouble (smiling).

You said you were married once before?  Yeah.

When did you get married the first time?  Just a rough date.  The first time I was married was…, my God, I can’t even remember.  Let’s see, I got out of the service in ‘64.  It was about three years after that, about ‘67, ‘68.

Do you have any children?  I have a son, Matthew, who lives in Tampa, Florida, and he was in the Army.  And I have a daughter, Rebecca, who lives down in Platteville (Wisconsin).

So your son went into the Army?  Yeah.

Did he make a career out of it?  No, he’s an electrician now.  He was in during the Desert Storm period.  Him and his wife got out.  His wife, a matter of fact, he met his wife in the service, she was in the service too.  And they were both in electronics, which I thought was kind of ironic because I was in electronics.

Is there anything else that you can think of that you want to mention?  One thing that I think should be mentioned is there was at one time in front of the (Waupun) City Hall an honor roll of the people that were involved in World War II, all of them.  And if I recall correctly there were like eight hundred thirty-six names.  Now when you considered the population of Waupun at that time, that’s ten to fifteen percent of the total population of this community went to war.  Some of them didn’t come back.  Some were killed.  And even the ones that came back I think were changed.  So considering the number of people that went to war, I don’t think there’s any question that World War II had a tremendous impact on the community, the people in it, how they think, how they were raised, and what they did.  I don’t know if the rest of the—and there’s no way I could—I don’t know if that’s a high percentage for the communities in the country at that time or not, but for us….  

And we even had a dog participate in the World War II.  You know, there was a guy named Jockey Guth that used to run Jockey’s Bar, which was across from which is now the National Bank, which was then the old hotel.  And one of his dogs, a dog named Duke, he donated to the war effort.  Duke became a Marine Corp Devil Dog in the Pacific.

I know later on during the Vietnam War some…, the Vietnam War wasn’t that popular, and there was a lot of protest against it and stuff.  Was there any animosity that you know of between the World War II vets and some of the Vietnam vets?  No, there wasn’t any animosity between the veterans, but there was a lot of animosity on the part of the World War II Veterans towards the protestors and the people that were protesting the war.  Vietnam was not a popular war, just like the current war in Iraq is not a popular war.  And I think the reason is, we actually never went to war in those two wars, you know.  The entire country mobilized for World War II.  The entire country fought that war, like my mother folding badges, like the rationing.  And if you check with some of the people that ran the rationing, some of the rationing was artificial.  But it was to give people a sense of participation.  And I know this because I talked to people who told me, “Yeah, we didn’t have to do that but we did it.”  And Vietnam didn’t have that sense of participation, and neither does the current war, because we haven’t mobilized.  

Nobody in the media during World War II would have thought about questioning what was happening.  Which maybe is too bad because there is some things that happened during the war that shouldn’t have happened, and the government perhaps got away with some things that should have been questioned at the time.  But you think in retrospect, and you can in retrospect ask a lot of questions—would the war have drawn to as successful a conclusion as it did if the country would have splintered?  

I don’t know if you ever…, there is a Chinese gentleman (Sun Tzu) that wrote a book called The Art of War two thousand five hundred years ago.  And one of the principles he sets forth in his book is that you have to have a united home front to win a war.  And now with this war and with Vietnam we didn’t have, and we didn’t win Vietnam and I’m not sure we are gonna win this one.  I’m not sure that we should impose our form of government on other people.  

During my tenure in the service we had a little trouble with Cuba.  It was called the Cuban Missile Crises.  And I’ve got a pamphlet at home that they gave us when we were in the service, which is basically the words of John Kennedy.  And he said, “Let other people,” basically, and I’m paraphrasing, this is not a direct quote, but he said, “Let other people choose their form of government themselves.  We should not impose our form of government on others.”  I agree with the reasons for going into Iraq, but I disagree with Vietnam and Iraq with letting politicians guide the course of the war.  If you decide to go to war, then go to war and let the military take care of it.

Is there anything else you can think of that you would like to say?  I’ve got a few things…, here’s Duke, the War Dog, that’s Jockey Guth’s dog (David shows me a picture of Duke).  I got that from Mr. (James) Liard.  He’s got, I think, the original down at the historic society.  And I remember after the war we used to go down to Jockey’s—my mom and dad would go down there because it was a nice family type bar—and I can remember the pictures on the wall.  Jockey was really proud that Duke had been able to participate in the war effort.

What was Mr. Jockey’s first name?  I have no idea whatsoever.  I know he’s a Guth and he’s related to the people that ran Guth’s Candy, and there’s still some of ‘em in town.  Fletcher Studio, as a matter of fact, the guy who runs that is, I think, kin to him, and he can tell you his first name.

I’m sorry, his last name was Guth?  Guth, yeah.  Let’s see, it’s in here…, yeah G U T H (as he checks some of his papers).

Okay.  I told you about this…

(unfortunately, the DVD of the interview skips here losing some of its contents)

…He said, “You’re not supposed to read at night when you are working,” he said.  “But a good book sure does pass the time.”  So everybody read, and it was a very, very articulate, intelligent group of people.  And I thought, “My God, this is okay,” you know, “I got guys to talk to.”

What did you do at Central State?  I was…, at Central state I was a guard.  And it’s hard to say what you did at Central State because it was a really different work environment, you know.  A lot of the guys weren’t wrapped too tight, you know, that were in there.

Did you know Ed Gein?  Oh, yeah.  I was on television with Ed Gein.[1]

Were you?  Sure.  They had…, during one of his anniversaries I was the guard on the unit that he was living on, and they came in with the TV cameras and just by dumb fool luck I got to be on television with him.  

But it was interesting because we would go deer hunting and go up through Plainfield (Wisconsin).  And when you stopped in Plainfield you never told them you were from Waupun, you never told them you were from Central State, and you never said anything about Ed Gein.  They were real touchy about that.

My uncle Al Bohnert…   Oh, I know Al!

…he was a cook there, and I asked him once about Ed, and he says, he said something to the fact that if you didn’t know who he was he was just a sweet, little, kind, old man and wanted to help everything.  And he’d come in the kitchen and help once in a while in the kitchen…, if you didn’t know who he was.  Ed, he worked outside a lot.  People didn’t realize that little old man that looked like somebody’s granddad was Ed Gein working on the front lawn.  But Dr. Schubert, who ran the hospital for years and years and years, he would periodically receive death threats if he ever let Ed Gein out. 

But Ed was…, in this day and age, if he were to have a good lawyer he would have beat the case because they lost so much evidence and so much was destroyed by the townspeople when they burnt his house down and everything, you know.  There was no way that they could have convicted him.  But in those days they did, and it was for the best.  

Ed was an interesting man to talk to because if you talked to him for fifteen minutes to a half hour you couldn’t see anything wrong with him.  But if you talked to him longer than that some of his comments were a little bizarre, you know.  So after a while you knew; yeah, this is the right place for him.

Did Dr. Schubert, did he live in town?  Yeah, he did.  And where he lived no longer exists.  There was a residence owned by the State right on the grounds of Central State.  Almost across from States Street there was a house where he lived with his family.  And they tore that house down after he left.  

But interesting thing about Dr. Schubert, he was fishing one day on (Lake) Winnebago.  And he came ashore by Winnebago Mental Health, and [a] couple of officers snatched him up thinking he was an inmate trying to escape.  And it took several hours to get him out of the institution.  They had him locked up.

So how long did you work at Central State?  I worked at Central State about, oh, ten and half years.  

I got out of state service, I wanted to do something else.  And I worked in a variety of stores, and I worked down in West Bend in a grocery store.  And one night I realized that the only people that I really enjoyed talking to—there was a couple ex-cons came in and there were some cops that come in—and they were the only guys I could talk to.  And I thought, “You’re institutionalized.”  So I went back to the prison and I started working at the prison.  I started working in ‘75.  Oh, I gave the wrong date.  It was ‘78 I got married, ‘75 I started at the prison.  Sorry about that.

So you worked for the prison?  I worked for the prison, I worked there.  And I went from there after ten, twelve years I transferred to the Drug and Alcohol Abuse Center in Oshkosh.  And I worked there for three or four years.  And that…, I loved that.  But it was thirty-one miles one way and the gas…, you know, with gas prices getting crazy I transferred back to what was the old bunk house in Waupun.  And when they tore that down they made it the Burke Center.  I went from there to DCI (Dodge Correctional Institution, in Waupun) which had been Central State.  And I retired in DCI.  I had…, with my service time I had thirty and a half years in, so.

Is that counting your time in the military?  Yeah.  They give you credit for that.  My wife still works at DCI, and hopefully she will be retiring next summer, and we can get rid of, you know….  I used to get…, I use to tell everybody I come out of the house every morning and I look at the prison and I look at DCI and I know I’m employed, I know things are still going good.  

It was a different life.  I’ve met certainly a lot of people I would have never met otherwise, you know.  Whether that’s good, bad, or indifferent, but.  I talked to some people from Alcohol and Tobacco Tax one time because I’ve collected guns all my life and I have a couple class 3 firearms, and they said, “Do you know any criminals?”  And I said, “I know most of them” (He laughs).

Were there any scary times in the prison system?  Any what?

Scary times?  Yeah, there was, a matter of fact.  When I was first started working there some guys were coming back from canteen, and a fellow named Henry Looter, who was, is, notorious, took a jar of orange Tang and hit the guy in front of him in the head with it.  And—Henry was black—and I grabbed him and I took him down to the ground and I was just trying to hold him.  And I looked up, and all there was around us was black guys standing around me, and I thought, “Oh, my, this is gonna wreck my whole day, this is.”  But I don’t know why, but nobody started kicking, which I was very pleased with afterwards.  That didn’t happen often.  Usually, if you got into a position like that, you were hurting.

I know that my dad kept saying that—he worked at the prison—and he kept saying that the prisoners always would tell him that the prison was one of the best prisons because they felt safe there because the guards ran the prison, where most prisons the prisoners run it, the inmates run it.  Yeah, the inmates run it. 

Talk about being scared though, I think that the scaredest I ever was was at old Central State, and it was a week before Christmas.  And I was working on a unit—it was called 14 at that time—and it was five-man rooms and nobody was locked up.  All the guys up there were pretty decent.  And 3 o’clock in the morning they came around with a punch clock—we did four punches a night.  And it was the last punch of the night, it was like 3 o’clock in the morning, or later than that, and I was half asleep.  And you always walk down the center of the hall to give yourself a little room.  Well, I didn’t.  I put the punch out clock over my shoulder and I walked down closer to one wall than the center.  And I walked by this room and an arm reached out and grabbed me around the neck.  And the guy started bouncing me up and down yelling, “Look at the reindeer in the day room!”  And I thought at first, I thought he was attacking me; and he was just getting a little delusional (he laughs).  If things had gotten a little worse, I think I would have soiled myself.  

It was a different sort of profession.  Not something everybody is cut out for, and not something everybody does.

What did you have to do to get admitted to Central State hospital?  To get admitted?  Well, when I was working there basically it was…, the courts admitted most of the guys.  And at that time it was called Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.  And it was somebody that had done some sort of crime and that was considered…, almost everybody that was involved in any sort of homosexual activity or anything like that at that time was sent to Central State because that was considered a mental deviation.  A lot of the guys that were there were not really smart.  At that time a lot of sex offenders where there.  Now they got a resource center [that] handles all the sex offenders in the state.  And sex offences are considered more something that you can take care of through treatment.  At that time they just basically incarcerated the guys. 

Sex offenders are an interesting class of people because most of ‘em you [can] never do anything for.  If they did it once they’re gonna do it again, they’re gonna get out and do it.  There was a fellow that I can recall, a guy named Joseph Tisnick, got out and walking to his home from the bus station, he attacked a woman.  He never made it home.  They snatched him back up and put him back in.  

But there were people from the prison, guys that couldn’t do time at the prison.  And [the] prison used Central State kind of [like] a dumping ground for a lot of them.  There was a lot of guys come over there from the prison.  There were guys like Ed Gein.  A lot of the guys there were obviously not living in the same world we are.  They were not, you know…. 

There was one guy there in his ‘80s who was suffering from dementia who had beaten his roommate to death in an old people’s home with a shoe.  You know, they got into a fight over something.  There was a fellow there that had fallen into a vat of molten lead, and basically from the waist down there was nothing left of him.  There’s just bones wrapped with a little skin.  Well, it was obvious why he was insane, the pain, you know.  Some of ‘em weren’t criminals and you took care of ‘em the best you could and did the best you could with them.  And there were some that were just massively retarded.  There was one guy they called Snowball, and everybody considered it a major triumph when they got him to keep clothes on [for] half an hour or so.

Was it all male?  Yeah, it was all male.

Was it actually a hospital?  It was a psychiatric hospital in that there were a lot of doctors, there were a lot of psychiatrists and psychologists and that there.  

One of the most interesting men was a guy named Doc Stern, and he would talk to you.  And he was a really nice guy.  And I asked him one day, “Why did you become a psychologist.”  He said, “I was a riveter in a shipyard.”  And he said, “One day I was working on some scaffolding,” he said, “I was about eighty feet in the air and I dropped a rivet, and I watched it fall all the way to the ground.”  And he said, “I’m gonna get me a new job.  And I went back to school and this is my new job.”  A lot of different people.

Now, did the guards carry guns?  No.

How about at the prison?  No.  Not inside.  The only guards that had guns were the guys on the walls and if you were on an outside work crew.  The only gun inside the institution there were…, now there’s a shotgun on the east gate, and that’s in a glassed in enclosure where the officer sits and runs the doors, and the guy that was turnkey at that time had a revolver.

I know there wasn’t very many, that I ever knew of, very many escapes from the prison, the maximum security prison.  Yeah.

Is there a reason for that.  Yeah.  They had good policies and procedures and they had a lot of people that knew what the heck they were doing.  They were very diligent in doing their jobs thoroughly and well.

Did you know Ed Babler when you were in the prison?  I knew a Babler, and the guy was…, he was slender, and he was a really nice guy.  And we used to talk about dogs because he had a dog that he walked all the time, and that could have been Ed.  And I know I’d talk about my dog and he’d talk about his dog.  He was a real decent guy.  And he’d come back from days off and said, “Yeah, I betcha I walked the dog ten miles yesterday.”

Okay.  Well, thank you very much.  You’re welcome.


[1] Ed Gein was a rather infamous inmate that was held at the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane at the time.  It was his real life story that the Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho was based upon, although Ed’s escapades were much more perverse than those of Norman Bates’, the movie’s main character.


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