Interviewed by Robert C. Daniels
Theron and Elva (Drews) Mickelson were interviewed at the Union-Congregational Church in Waupun starting at 12:30 P.M. on 30 November 2005. Each were interviewed separately, for a total of 65.69 minutes. Theron and Elva sat, each at one end of a couch so only one was in the camera view at a time, listening and at times assisting each other during their separate interviews. At the time Elva was eighty-two years old and Theron was eighty. Both were very articulate. Theron was interviewed first. His interview lasted 44.51 minutes. Elva passed away on 17 February 2008.
What is your full name? Theron, T H E R O N, Alvah, A L V A H, Mickelson, M I C K E L S O N.
I know lot of people that were born in the early twentieth century were not born in a hospital, but at home. Where and when where you born? I was born in Oshkosh Hospital. It would have been 1925.
What day was that? 27th of July ‘25.
And who were your parents? Both of my parents are dead.
Who were they? Veronica Mickelson and Thomas Mickelson.
Do you have any brothers or sisters? I got one sister left living. One died and one is living.
What were their names? (Theron looks to Elva and asks her to help him remember the names of his sisters. Elva states, “Margaret Siller and June..., what’s Robin’s last name?)
That’s alright. Their first names are fine. Are they older or younger than you? One older, and the one that’s living is younger.
Which one was older? June.
Okay. Where did you go to school? Grade school or high school?
Both. Grade school I went to Larson School, which is on Highway 150, west of Neenah (Wisconsin), a mile and a half from Larson (Wisconsin). That is where I was born and raised. We walked to school everyday for eight years I was in grade school. And after that I went to Neenah High School. Which, ah…, back then there was no buses or anything. My dad worked in Menasha (Wisconsin) for a machine shop. He had to be there at 7 o’clock, so I would get up in time to ride with him, and he would drop me off in downtown Neenah. And I would walk to the Neenah High School, which was maybe another two miles or better. And after high school then I would walk over to the machine shop and doodle-berry around over there, whatever I could for…, until he got done at 5 o’clock.
Did you graduate from high school? Yes and no. I’ll tell you a story about that. I enlisted in 1942. My dad wouldn’t let me go until I could get my diploma from high school. Well, in about January of ‘43 the governor of the State of Wisconsin said that any person that has passing grades would automatically get his diploma—a passing grade at the end of the first semester—would automatically get his diploma. Well, I happened to be one of those. So even though I would have graduated in June, I was gone in March.
Did you attend college? No. But I have, I had did since. I started out as a machinist and wound up applying for a teacher's job in Green Bay (Wisconsin). I wound up one of eleven. I was the eleventh one. Got the job. And then in order to be a teacher I had to have so many credits in this and so many credits in that. Well, it wound up that I had enough credits for a Master's degree, even though I didn't get a Master's certificate.
(Elva states, “He went to summer school and nights.”) Yeah.
Did you use a G.I. Bill to do this? Yes and no. Part of it I didn’t before I even thought about it, the rest of it I did. An so it worked out I did (he laughs)
What was growing up like for you? Growing up? Oh, I was a pistol. I was always into trouble, I guess. I loved where I grew up and I loved everybody in the town. A town with a population of ninety-three when I left it, and now I don't know how it is because they've put up some big, big, big houses in that little chicken-shit town. While I was growing up I did farm work for the neighbor farmer and later on I did farm work for a farmer in Hortonville (Wisconsin). Not Hortonville, but, anyhow, out there.
When I started out, the first place, the first farmer I worked for there [I] was planting cucumbers for him and for me. Well, I'd have to cultivate his cucumbers and my cucumbers. And when it come to picking cucumbers, he had to pick the cucumbers, and they were always four times bigger than what the store would take. Now they take the big ones too. Well, I loved every minute of my work.
What were you doing in the 1939, 1941 timeframe, just before the outbreak of the war? ‘39, ‘41 I was working..., (Elva states, “You were in high school.”) in high school, but I also had an apprenticeship in the machine ship that my dad worked in. So that's what I was doing.
Do you remember what you were doing when you first heard that Pearl Harbor had been attacked? I don't remember. I heard it on the radio. We didn't have TV back then. Heard it on the radio, and I guess my dad and I talked about it on the way home from work. That's about all I remember. That, and then I enlisted.
What were your thoughts and feelings about the United States being attacked? I figured it was going to be, so we had to do something about it.
What were the general feelings of those around you, the other people, about the attack? I don't know. But I think most of ‘em thought that’s too far away, they’re not gonna to get over here. And we're in the middle of the United States so, you know, they weren't going to worry too much about it.
When did you decide to join the military? When did I decide to join the military? It was when I was sixteen years old. It would have been ‘42. And then my dad said I couldn't go until I graduated from high school. And that's when the governor came up with this if you had passing grades in your first semester you were automatically granted a diploma.
(Elva states, “Tell him your dad was in the Navy in World War I.”) Yeah, my dad was in the World War I Navy. Aand I found his discharge not too long ago, and my niece from Chicago brought it up to me. And he and I were in about the same time of the year—March.
What did he do in the Navy? He was an airplane mechanic. He was a Chief.
And he retired from the Navy? No, no. He asked to get out.
Why did you choose the Navy? ‘Cause he was in it.
And you went in in 1942? ‘43. March of ‘43.
And how old were you then? Well, I was seventeen.
And you needed his permission to go in? Yeah.
And he gave it to you? Yeah, ‘cause I had my diploma from high school, he gave it to me.
What was your specialty? Well, I was a machinist apprentice before I went in, so, therefore, it gave me an MOMM rating, which was a motor machinist mate. They probably don't even have it anymore, it's just MM (Machinist Mate), or MR (Machinery Repairman). I was an MR when I was in the reserves. I was out exactly twenty years, and I moved from Green Bay to Waupun here. And I met a couple of fellas that I worked with in Fox Lake when I was teaching out there. And they belonged to the Navy Reserves, and they talked me into joining the Reserves. So that's how I got back in the Reserves twenty years later. I'd be in it today [if] they hadn't kicked me out, because I loved it.
During the war, what rank did you make? MOMM2.
And when you retired later on as…. If I had stayed one more month I could have made MOMM1. But I said, “I've got thirty days leave coming, I've been aboard this ship for two years, I'm going home.” And I was home when the war was over, the 7th of August.
And you eventually went back into the reserves and retired as a chief, an MR Chief? No, I went back into the reserves as a chief, because I had all the necessary requirements for a chief. And they took me from Oshkosh to Great Lakes (Illinois) and give me the test down there, and give me the clothes, and I went home.
Where was your boot camp? Great Lakes.
And what company were you in? Four-oh-four (404).
And where were your schools at? What were they and where were they? Did you have any schools? Schools? The schools of hard knocks. I left Great Lakes…, and we were a sixteen-week company, the last sixteen-week company down there. When I left, they were only a twelve-week company. And now they are down, I think, [to] six or eight, isn't it? Yeah.
Anyhow, we left down there, there were, I don’t know, about ten or twelve of us that left together to go to Norfolk, Virginia. Well, on the going to Norfolk, Virginia, I think it took us either seven days or nine days to get there. Now, every time a passenger train would meet an oncoming freight train they had to get off on a side road because at that time that was more important than these new people coming in.
I get to Norfolk, and it was a lot different than it is today, I'll tell yah. Niggers were on one side of the street then and white boys were on the other side of the street. But anyhow, when I got there I wound up with…, what is it when you can’t talk? (Elva states, “Laryngitis?”) No. (Elva states, “Mumps?”) I wound up with the mumps. Ain't that something? Well, that was another experience, because I had to lay on the hospital for five, six days. And already my buddies who'd been shipped out there with me are gone.
Well, when I got out of the hospital they put me on the S.S. George Washington. That's a cruise ship. They took me down in a…, oh, I can’t think. They took me down in a…(he searches through some of his papers that he brought along). I was shipped to Norfolk, Virginia. From Norfolk, Virginia, I went to…(searching his papers)…San Salvador Island. No, I went to…, anyhow, there was nine of us that flew from…, what the heck was that? Trinidad…, yeah. We…, I was one of ten guys that [were] supposed to fly then from Trinidad…, rode the ship from Trinidad, S.S. George Washington. And from there I waited around for a couple of months, a couple of weeks at least, and then we flew in a water plane. What do you call ‘em? A PBY-2 I think it was. (PBY stands for Patrol Bomber [the Y is for] Consolidated Aircraft Corporation; commonly called a Catalina flying boat.) [We] flew from there to Trinidad…, no it wasn’t neither. From there we flew to a town north of Brazil. Anyhow, there for overnight.
The captain gave each of us 50 cents so we could get around and eat or drink whatever we wanted to. Then we could take a shower there also. And the thing there was the shower was a room about this big (indicating with his hands a room approximately fifteen feet square), with half a dozen shower heads on it; no in between. So it was either men or women that were showering. The next day we took off…, oh, he took us out to eat that night. And in the meantime, somebody from the Shore Patrol come over and wanted to put us up some other place. He said, “Hey, these kids are under my command. They’re going to do and stay and eat where I tell ‘em.” Which we did.
Then we flew into Receife, Brazil. I was in Receife for maybe a month or two before (USS) Barnegat (AVP-10) came back into port. That was our homeport in Brazil in Receife. And after, oh, a couple of months or whatever it was, I finally got aboard ship. From there we went all different places.
And what kind of ship was that? Seaplane tender. We tended seaplanes [the] first, oh, I’d say, two, two and a half years that I was on it. Tended seaplanes, the ole’ water type, what do you call ‘em? TB-2Y’s, TB-3 and the rest of ‘em. And we had a big winch on the back, we could actually lift ‘em just out of the water enough in case of a hole or something in one of the….
Then after that they took that off and put a quad .40 back there, because then they changed us from tending seaplanes—well, we still tended…, we carried gasoline for them and all that stuff—but then they changed us to a submarine tender…, not tender, but whatever. And we went as far…, I don’t know how long you want this to go on, but we went as far south as Montevideo, Uruguay, and as far north as, ah, as far north as…(as he tries to remember Elva states, “Greenland? He’s trying to think of the city.”), as far north as…, I can’t think.
Anyhow, on the way going up there I was an engineman and I was throttle control. And we had two engine rooms on the ship, and I was in the after engine room. And the after engine room is where the…, when we were called to general quarters, and that’s where the engineering officer come down to sit, because he was head of it. And we had another engine room in front of us.
Anyhow, we were traveling along and all of a sudden the captain over the PA system (the ship’s Public Announcement system) says, “Submarine.” We had a port bow watch out and a starboard bow watch out. And going along the starboard bow reported, “Torpedo starboard.” You should have heard the engineer officer, I thought he was going to climb right through the hole. It seemed like an hour, but about five minutes later the guy says, “Torpedo portside.” It went right under us. Well, to find out later why, because they had their depth set for a tin can, or a DE (Destroyer Escort), and we drew three less feet of water. Now that’s something, isn’t it? Drew three less feet of water. (Elva says, “So they were on U-boat patrol.”) Yeah. And we did U-boat patrol, we picked up…, sunk a couple of U-boats and we picked up U-boats, or people that other U-boats had knocked over.
So, I don’t know how much you want of this. I travelled the whole coast of Brazil. And then we wound up at…, oh, while we were down there, the captain wanted to go hunting. He was going to go up the, what was it? the Para River in Brazil, I think it is. Yeah. I was the engineer of his private boat. So get down..., I and him and a bo’sun mate and the captain and two other guys. One of ‘em was a chief petty officer. So we were going hunting for snakes.
Well, we didn’t go hunting for the snakes, but we dropped them off, and they picked up a guide that was going to take them out there with the snakes. And they picked up the guide and they went out. And you could hear ‘em in the woods when they start firing. There must have been about ten shots fired and then all of a sudden there was one that sounded different, and it was over with. They brought back a boa constrictor that, I’m not exaggerating, it was from here to there long (he points across the room) and was so big around (indicates the size of a basketball). We had to go ashore in order to pick it up and pick them up. But before…, all we got was the hide off of it, the skin. And the captain asked the guide if he wanted the meat. And he (the guide) said, “That’s one meat we don’t eat.”
So then…, well, we was in all the ports up and down Brazil for one reason or another. I couldn’t name them. Belem, Natal, Recife, Fortaleza, Bahia, San Lutz, Reo De Janeiro, Florianopolis (all cities in Brazil), where we’d go in for some reason or another to help them or bring something in. When we got done with that we come to the Central America canal zone. And we stayed on the Atlantic side for about two weeks. Then we went to the Pacific side. And that’s really something going through that canal.
Well, the first day there the engineering off…, or engineering…, ah, bow engine room, forward engine room…, all of a sudden I see on my…, or hear “Full reverse.” And so I pulled it into reverse. And my buddy in the forward engine room, he thought it was full ahead. So we run into the chain, and that’s a big chain. It knocked a hole about that big (motions with his hands the size of about the size of a beach ball) in the bow. It was up high enough it didn’t leak anything.
So then on the way through there we stopped at, ah…(looking at his notes), Uruguay, no. Yeah, here (reading off of his notes), Coco Solo (Panama) in the canal zone, Balboa (Panama) in the canal zone. [We] went through the Panama Canal Zone the first time in February 15th, 1945. And I don’t know how many times we went through there after that.
We went down to the Galapagos Islands. You heard of ‘em. And we were there for thirty some days. And while we were there the captain decided that he wanted to put the name of the ship on the side of one of the mountains. So I was one of the volunteers. I think there was eight of us.
We had to carry buckets of paint. And it took us from 7 o’clock in the morning to 2 o’clock in the afternoon to get up to the top to where we could do the painting because it’s all mountains and, you know, junk, other than the one place where we come down. That was just a slippery slide. I’ve got pictures if you’d like to see ‘em.
And we got it painted and came down. And on the way coming down I said, “I ain’t walkin’ down the way we come up, we won’t get out of here until midnight.” So I got the rest of the guys and we sat on our butt and slid down this…. And I got just about to the bottom and I see this (indicates with his hand sticking straight up as if it were a stick or stone) sticking up in front of me just like this, and it’s coming right towards my centerline. Well, I was lucky enough, I put my foot over it and it connected on my foot and just flipped me right into the water. Yup.
You spent most of your time along the South Carolina, or the South American coast? Yup, all the way from the canal zone to Uruguay. And I was in the…, down in Uruguay we were supposed to go down there and throw [a] blockade against Argentina because Argentina was neutral, and Uruguay was too. Well, we get down to Uruguay and we pull into there for whatever reason—I guess we were told to.
We get in there and we see the Graf Spee, it was where they had parked it, or sunk it themselves, what was left of it. And I was talking to some guys down there, and they said that when they got there the Graf Spee officers took I don’t know how many caskets on shore. And somebody got…, was wondering about what’s in those caskets. And they opened every one of them and they were full of guns and ammunition. So those who did get off were planning on a little uprising down there, I suppose. So we didn’t get down to Argentina.
And then we come from there, went back to Brazil, and that’s when we went through the canal zone I don’t know how many times, four or five at least. The last time I went through back to the United States, that’s when I had my thirty days leave.
And after I got done with my thirty days leave I went back and I was (reading his notes)…, San Francisco, I was down on Treasure Island. I was kind of a head honcho down [on] Treasure Island until my orders came for my next ship, which was going to be an oiler. So while I was there…, and we were in a barracks that housed railroad cars, and not just cars but the engines and all the rest of that stuff inside that building.
And inside that building they had bunks, and they were not just one, two, three, four high, they were ten high. So you had quite a…, I don’t know if it was ten, eleven, six, or eight, I don’t know, but it was a long ways up there. And then I was working with a…, I was a second class and the first class (First Class Petty Officer), and we were to keep this building clean. Well, we were supposed to tell the men how to do it and where to do it and when to do it and all the rest. Well, instead of doing all that we kind of show them a little bit and help ‘em. Well, the chief come in there one day and, “What the hell is going one here?” “What do you mean what’s going on?” “You’re not supposed to be doing it. You’re supposed to be telling them to do it.” And I thought, “Kiss my ass, buddy.” But I didn’t tell him that.
Anyhow, it was an oiler in the bay. And after that, I was sent home. I wasn’t sent home…, I went through the rigmarole. I’m trying to think.
Was this timeframe after the war was over? Yeah. (Elva says, “No, just before it was over because you were home.”) Yeah, I was home when it was over. So this was just before I was on an oiler in Frisco Bay. Then I was shipped to…, I’m trying to think of the discharge center out there. I think I spent six weeks there before I ever got out. I thought, “What the hell, I wish I was back aboard ship now.” Anyhow, when I come home, I rode a train from there back to Neenah, Wisconsin.
What was it like when you heard the war was over? Well, I’ll tell you what we did. I and my buddy, both about the same age, within about six months of one another, we were in Neenah, Wisconsin. If you’ve ever been there, there was only one bridge that separated Neenah from Menasha. And when we heard on a little radio in the kind of convertible that I had, which was a Ford, we had a case of beer. And we stopped right in the middle of the intersection. We handed everyone a bottle of beer that come to us. And when the beer was gone, we left. Never nothing by no cops, no nothing. Yet this was the only way…, the cars were lined up like you wouldn’t believe. Yup.
Were you in uniform? Yup, yup. He wasn’t, but I was. He didn’t get into the service.
What were…, were people different after the war around Neenah? Yeah. I would say they were happy it was over with ‘cause, like that little town I came from, there wasn’t too many kids that were in the war but they knew friends and relatives that had, and I think they were happy. I know I was. My father was, my mother was.
What did you do after the war? I started working in the machine shop. When I was home on thirty days leave I worked in the machine shop to make some extra money, ‘cause what did we get back then? $96 a month. That was for a second class. When I went in it was $54 a day once a month. Before that was $21 a day once a month. Anyhow, they were short of help. And when I was aboard ship I run the machine shop, and anything they wanted they brought it up to me. And it wound up that I got the name of Botch, because I could botch anything together. So I get home and needed a little extra money, so I worked in the machine shop there for, I don’t know, a week or a week and a half. And what was the rest of the question?
Just what did you do after the war? So when I got off or got out…, my dad was working in this same machine shop that I had spent a week or a week and a half in, and they hired me down there. I was on the night shift, and we worked from 4 (o’clock) in the afternoon to 12 at night. Yeah, 4 to 12, and I think there were…, I don’t know how many there were of us. Anyhow, I worked there about a year, year and a half. And the foreman, my foreman, his wife shot him. Blew his arm apart. She missed him where she wanted to hit him and blew his arm apart…, so anyhow. And they took a guy off of the day crew to be the night foreman, and he lasted for about three months and said, “I don’t want no part of that.” So he recommended me.
So I was there for about four and a half years or so. And I asked for vacation for deer hunting—and it was a week before I would have had my vacation time in—they says, “We can’t do it.” And I says, “Okay, I can’t do it either.” I give ‘em two week’s notice and laid down my keys and walked out the door. So I went over to Apple Machine Company. Worked there for five years, off and on, you know. I went off to purchase machines for ‘em because they knew that I had run these kind of machines before then.
Well, I was there for just about five years, and the superintendent come over to me and he said, “Say, how would you like to go into business for yourself?” And I said, “What would we do? Where we’d go?” “Green Bay, [he said].” There was two guys up there that he was going to go into with and he wanted me to go into with him.
Well, I sold my house in Larson to get some money. But I didn’t get no money. I planned to sell it on a land contract. So I’m up there and I worked for him, did all kinds of stuff. Was up there for five years when I read this notice in the paper up there about needing a instructor at the institution, a machine shop instructor. I knew welding and machine shop and blueprint reading and all the rest of that. So I applied for the job.
They called me up and told me to come over and try it. So I went over and tried it. Then I get another letter that says that you’re required to be in Madison, Wisconsin, at this day and this time. So I went there. Well, come to find out there was ten guys ahead of me that had taken the test and everything else. I was the eleventh one, the last one. I get back home and got a phone call, “Your hired.” Then you had to prove yourself for six months, which I guess I did.
And then I was up there in the machine shop up there, I think, about two years, and they decided to build this one out at Fox Lake. Have you taken a ride out there or anything, you know where it is, the Fox Lake Correctional?
Yeah. Well, I was out there as a teacher before the machine shop was ever built, or before we ever had any inmates. So I was setting up a machine shop in the basement of the academic school. I had bits of this, a little of that, all the rest of that. And they finally got our building finished there. I worked there for nineteen years, and my wife died on me. I didn’t have any…, I didn’t owe anybody anything, or whatever.
When I started dating her (nodding his head towards Elva) she worked out there. She got cancer. I was taking all of my sick leave time and the rest off, and wound up—well, I married her first—wound up…, I said, “Well, this is ridiculous, taking off.” So I quit there and you quit about the same time, or you went on sick leave didn’t yah (talking to Elva)? (Elva answers, “I went on disability.”) Disability for about…, anyhow, took her to the hospital about three different times. A couple different hospitals, and each time, “Well, go home. You have about three months to live. Go home you have three months to live.”
The last time I took her to the hospital there was a young nurse sitting along side me. I didn’t know she was a nurse, but she had been a nurse, and she had worked in this same hospital. And she (Elva) wouldn’t believe ‘em in Madison that she was dying, so she went to [the] Mayo (Clinic). We got up to Mayo, the doctor up there, well, he said “You got about three months.” Then she walked out the door. He says, “But I want to tell you something. You go home and you eat as much raw garlic as you can handle, and keep eating it off and on.” And she (Elva) says, “You know what?” I says, “What?” “This is two years after he told me to do that.” Now, you know how many years after I told her to do that? (He points to Elva, who says, “Twenty.”)
I had bladder cancer. It was operated on. When I went back for a check up the doc looked in there and he says, “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it.” I says, “What don’t you believe?” He says, “There’s nothing in there.” And I’d been eating raw garlic in the meantime. (Elva says, “He still does. I can’t handle it.”) Well, her lips…, her mouth gets so raw, but. And I start putting it on a slice of bread, you know, its a little better.
So what’s next?
You said you got married after you came back and your wife passed away. Then you got married again. What’s your current wife’s name? My current wife’s name? Alva, A L V A. (Elva says, “E L, E L V A.”) E L V A.
What was your maiden name (addressing Elva)? (Elva says, “Drews, D R E W S.”)
Do you have any children? (Elva says, “Together?”)
Yes and no. (Elva replies, “No. He has some and I have some.”) Tell him how many. I have three daughters, and she’s got one son and four daughters. So between the two of us we got twenty great-grandchildren and eighteen grandchildren. (Elva says, “Eighteen grandchildren and twenty great-grandchildren.”)
Wow! Did any of them go into the military? Yeah, there’s three….
Oh, that’s right. There’s two…, there’s three. (Elva says, “There’s three.”)
All in the Army? No, one’s a lieutenant commander in the Navy. (Elva echoes, “One’s a lieutenant commander in the Navy.”) You know where he’s working out of? The Pentagon. (Elva echoes Theron.)
Is he a grandson? They’re both, all three are grandsons? All three are grandsons. (Elva says, “All three are grandsons, yeah. We have an interesting life.”)
Was there anything else you would like to say? We took a trip one year, the two of us. And we were not kids anymore. How many years ago was that? (Asking Elva, who replies, “Where, to Alaska? ‘94, 1994.”) 1994, that’s eleven years ago. And we had it sat up to a woman in town who did a travel agency. (Elva says, “A travel agency. She isn’t here anymore.”) And we couldn’t believe that we actually…(Elva states, “We went on the Marine Ferry”). That’s the inside passage, they call it. Well, that’s a big boat that takes you out for two days. All you do is look and wait and actually slow down because the water is down and we’re gonna hit the bottom, and….
We get to the first town, okay. We get off there, and we left the next afternoon or something on another boat for the next town. (Elva states, “Ferries, all ferries.”) All ferries. So then we wind up in, ah, Fairbanks? Where was the Legion? (Elva replies, “Juneau, the capital.”) Juneau, yeah.
And all of these cities we stopped in there was only one way, or two ways in and out of there. It was either by airplane, helicopter, or by boat. Every one of ‘em. And we had no…, all we had in each one of these was a place to sleep for a given period of time. It could be one day or two days, all depends. We went up as far as…, we rode the train. (Elva says, “We went up into the Yukon. Way up to Dawson, and we rode on a jet speed boat, and we rode on a paddle wheeler out of Fairbanks in the river.”)
We stopped on the way and saw the girl that won the…(Elva interjects, “Won the Iditarod.”)…Iditarod, the girl, the woman. We even saw the dog. She was on a little island there by herself, not by herself, you had to.., two ways to it. And, ah…(Elva says, “He went all over the ship, but they wouldn’t let him in the engine room.”) Nope. Every other place. (Elva states, “We were on four different ferries, four different ones.”) Yup. (Elva replies, “Talk about exciting.”)
Well, can we switch over and interview you now (addressing Elva)? (Elva: “Yeah, that’s fine.”)
(Elva and Theron then changed places on the couch for Elva’s interview. Her interview lasted 21.18 minutes.)
What is your full name? Now or during World War II?
Yes. Now it’s Elva, E L V A, V as in victory V, Mickelson, M I C K E L S O N.
What was your maiden name? Drews, D R E W S.
Were you born in a house or in a hospital? I was born in the house, in a farm house on Lake Emily Road in the town of Fox Lake. Not too far from here.
What day were you born? November 18th, 1923. I am older than Mike (Elva calls Theron Mike).
Okay. And your father's name was? Herman.
And your mother? Elsa, E L S A. Good ole' German (she smiles).
Oh, yeah. Do you have any brothers or sisters? Oh, yes. I had five sisters and five brothers.
Wow! Are you the oldest, youngest, or in between? I am in the middle.
In the middle, okay. So you are one of eleven. One of eleven.
Wow. And where did you go to school? Ah, Lake Emily Country School, and I went to Randolph High School. Now all those kids come here to Waupun.
And did you attend college? Um, business school.
And where was that at? Milwaukee.
Did you get a degree or a certificate? No, I just took business courses. It's a better life, though.
Okay. What was it like for you growing up? Hectic. But we didn't know we were poor during the Depression because we always had enough to eat. We lived on a farm. But we wore hand me down clothes. We went barefoot in the summer.
You had to work. You’d go out and hoe and pull mustard out of the green and shuck corn and shuck grain, milk cows. I did it all. Now it's all done by machinery. Well, we worked hard, but we had a lot of fun because there were a lot of us. We were the hub of the neighborhood. All the kids came to our house to play—play ball. We made our own fun. Played kick the can and run my good sheep run, and we made sticks to play a game we called cricket, which isn’t nothing like the English cricket. But we had fun doing it. Rode horses. I guess that was about it.
What were you doing during the 1939, 1941 period, just before the war? I was still in high school, and then I graduated from high school at the age of sixteen in 1940. I went to Milwaukee.
But in those days you couldn't get a work permit until you were seventeen. So I ended up taking care of kids and going to business school nights. And then when I was seventeen, I got a job in an office. Harnishfager in fact was the name of the company. And soon as I turned eighteen I wrote the civil service test and I got hired by the federal government. And that's where I started. And I was taught how to run the teletype and I ended up to be the main one. I was nineteen and in charge of a four-girl office at nineteen. Smart you know, like a fox (she points to her head and laughs).
Do you remember what you were doing when you first heard Pearl Harbor was attacked? Yes, I was at a concert at the Triple A Shrine on 33rd and Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee—Christmas concert. It was in the afternoon and they interrupted the program, and the guy came on stage and said, “President Roosevelt just announced the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor.” Everybody just cried! They all went to pieces. And the orchestra played the…, something like God Bless America, I don't remember what the tune was. But then we went home. We didn’t…, there was no more concert, they just stopped everything. That's where I was.
Wow. What were your thoughts and feelings about the United States being attacked? Horrible, because almost all the guys in my high school class were in the military. They took ‘em all except for those on the farm. And I have some V-mail, but I couldn't find it. I looked all over for it from one of the guys from overseas. It's got to be there someplace, but I've got so much stuff stashed (she smiles). You know what V-mail…, have you heard? It's just a little…, it wasn't a postcard. It was a flip over, a fold over with a sticker on. And some of it was censored, where they blacked it out. I know I couldn't find it, and that makes me angry ‘cause I wanted to show you what V-mail was. That's what it was called.
Did it stand for victory? I suppose, I don't know.
Tell me what you did during the war. That's what I did, teletype operator.
And that was out of Milwaukee? Out of Milwaukee, yeah. But we shipped all over. I mean, not just from Milwaukee plants, there were Illinois plants and different ones.
What did you ship? All kinds of ordinance. Vehicles, tanks, guns, ammunition, you name it, like to ports and army depots throughout the United States.
You remember using rationing cards? Yeah, I brought ‘em along.
You were actually of age, so you were issued your own, I imagine. Yeah.
What were they all used for, do you remember? Meat, sugar, gas, what else Mike? (Theron answers, “I don’t remember. I should have brought my other picture along. I got the whole works pasted right on there.”) Yeah.
Do you remember victory gardens? Did you have a victory garden? Oh, yes, yes, yes.
Did you have one? Yes, after I got married the first time. I had a victory garden. I got married in ‘43. I still worked for the government, but I was married.
Who did you marry? Arthur Voss, A R T H U R V O S S. He was a cheese maker.
Oh, okay. Yeah, we had a victory garden. But I remember learning how to can fruit without sugar. You didn't have enough. I remembered when we got married you couldn't buy a refrigerator or even an iron. Nothing like that you couldn't buy. Unless somebody gave you a used one, you went without. And it was hard. The hardest thing for me was learning to stretch meat because you had only really only enough stamps to buy three meals of meat. So you learned how to supplement it with macaroni, spaghetti. I remember making bread stuffing and cutting wieners apart and stuffing them with the bread stuffing just to extend it because it wasn't enough.
How often did you get the food stamps, or the stamps, the rationing cards? I don't know, I’ve got…(Theron states, “I think it was once a month, wasn’t it?”). I don't remember, but these things…, I got one, two, three, and four (as she reaches for the rationing cards she brought along and looks at them). Number, book two.
Did they expire or just got new ones to add to them? (Theron states, “If you didn’t use this month, you’d get another one next month.”) Yeah, you could get, I think, one a month. But I don't remember. It tells on the back of this. But because of my....
So could you, if you didn't use everything from this month could you still use ‘em next month? (Theron states, “Yeah, yeah.”)
Okay. “Do not tear out stamps except at the time. Do not throw this book away when all the stamps have been used or when the time for their use has expired,” (she reads from the back of the ration stamp booklet). So there was expiration, ‘cause here’s where I lived when I worked in Milwaukee. Here’s my maiden name yet (she shows me her name on the coupon book).
Okay. Where did you live when you were married to Arthur Voss? We lived in a cheese factory in Columbia County.
So how long did you work for the government as a teletype operator? Two years.
And that was…, when was that, do you remember? 1941, ‘42? ‘41, no.
Remember, you said you got married in 1943? Yeah from ‘41 to ‘43.
Okay. And what did you do after the war? Made cheese. Oh, and my husband was deferred because he was making government cheese. He made 80 lb. rounds. Remember the old cheese boxes? Then we had to pack it in there and ship it.
Was that shipped to the military? The cheese? No, it was shipped to a distributing company. (Theron interjects, “But there again, it went from there to…”) To the…, yeah, because it was government cheese. (Theron again interjects, “You couldn’t have any but so much, and that was it.”)
How old was he when you got married? Twenty-three, he was. He got called up twice, but they always gave him a deferment. The last time he got called up he was 4-F. He had a kidney problem, and that's what killed him. (Theron states, “There was a lot of ‘em back then that weren’t called up because they were farmers or whatever.”) No, he got called up twice, but the last time he got called up he came home and said, “I'm 4-F.” And he went to the doctor and then they told him to get out of the cheese making business because it was so wet and damp. But he died from kidney.
When did he die? 1965.
When did you two get married? 1981, my fifty-eighth birthday. (Theron states, “You know why that was? I said, ‘I’ll marry you on your birthday, then I’ll only have to buy you one present.’”) Smart like a fox (they laugh).
Oh, I know something you might be interested in. When, during the war, Fox Lake had a prisoner of war camp. Did you know that?
I knew Waupun had one. Fox Lake too. And my dad hired three of the prisoners to come out and help shuck grain. So I met three Germans. My folks could talk German.
Could you? Could you speak German? When I was little, yeah. But, of course, I was in Milwaukee at that time. But I came home and here these three prisoners were. And they ate with the family, they were very polite. But I remember talking with ‘em. And my mother set out a bench with a pail of water where they could wash up before they eat. We didn't have running water.
How young were they? That one guy was in his thirties, but the other guys were young. They weren't even twenty yet I don’t think; nineteen. But they were out of the prisoner of war camp in Fox Lake.
Do you remember what year this was? ‘44, probably. Or was it ‘43? I can't remember.
Is there anything else that you can think of that you would like to say? All I can I say is..., oh yes, I can remember this. When we got married, of course, there was gas rationing. And you couldn't go where you wanted to go. And I’d have to ride the train from Milwaukee back here. I rode behind the cattle car, in the caboose just to get home, you know, to say hi to everybody. But then when Art and I got married my uncle gave us twenty gallons of gas in the half barrel, and we put that in the trunk of our car and went on a honeymoon. Really! (she smiles). Now that was against the law too, to share gas with somebody. But he did it.
Now, was it against the law to trade stamps? Yes. (Theron interjects, “I don’t know. I don’t think it was.”) Yes it was. You could not give them to somebody else. You had to leave ‘em in your book and let the merchant take it out.
Now, I can't remember, the cheese factory, where was that located? In Columbia County.
In Columbia County. (Theron states, “The first one.”) The first one, yeah. (Theron interjects, “What did he and you do after that?”) He came to Alto to be head cheese maker at the Alto Co-op. (Theron states, “I thought he was out at the one east of town too.”) No, he never was out there.
Grande Cheese, whatever it was called? Oh, well that used to be, where Grande Cheese is, that used to Weber Dairy. That's where he was when I married him.
Oh, okay. Yeah, that's Dodge County. Yeah, that's where he was when we got married.
And when you two met, you were working at the prison in Fox Lake? Yes, that's how we know Jim Laird.
What were you doing at the prison? Me? I worked in administration. (Theron states, “Secretary, to start with.”) I was like registrar, record clerk. I fingerprinted the inmates and signed their parole releases for the parole board. All this sort of stuff. Interesting. (Theron states, “We met in the school. She was the secretary at the school.”) Yeah, I started out as a school secretary. That's were I met him (Theron) and Jim. But then I moved up.
Jim worked there too? Jim, yeah, he was a teacher out there. Math teacher.
Okay, is there anything else you can think of? About the war time? Well, I rode streetcars in Milwaukee. You couldn't even get a taxi cab ticket, well, they didn't have the gas. You had to ride the streetcars or the buses. (Theron states, “Or walk.”) Or walked.
I remember walking up and down Wisconsin Avenue. You couldn't get a cab. Hey cabbie (she mimics with her hands flagging down a cab). No, you couldn't do that.
And the blackouts too. When Milwaukee had a mock air-raid, guess who was the first in Milwaukee that knew it? Me! It came out of Chicago. Everybody had to clear out. I was bonded. Everybody had to clear out, and I took the message. And then took it to the head guy. So I was the first one that knew Milwaukee was going to have a mock air-raid. Funny how you remember those things after all these years.
So they had blackout drills in Milwaukee? Yes. Yes.
When they weren't having drills, did they allow you to have the regular lights on? No, they were trying to conserve energy. So you had to be careful. Street lights were allowed. (Theron states, “I think that it was only every other one or something too, wasn’t it?”) Yeah, I think it was every other one or something. It was pretty limited. (Theron states, “Just like your home.”)
Well I got to get home and go to bed.
I greatly appreciate all of this.
Elva passed away on 17 February 2008 at age 85. Theron was to pass away just under six years later at age 88 on 26 January 2014.
Last updated on 07 Jan 2015 .
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