Interview by Robert C. Daniels
Edward Uecker was interviewed at the Union-Congregational Church in Waupun on 29 November 2005 starting at 10:30 A.M. The interview lasted 57.26 minutes. At the time Edward was seventy-eight years old. Prior to the actual interview questions, Edward mentioned that originally his name was von Uecker, but the family dropped the von.
What is your full name? Edward Theodore Uecker.
I know a lot of people who were born in the early twentieth century were not born in a hospital but at home, my mother was. Where were you born, and when? I was born in the Township of Alto south of Fairwater (Wisconsin) in a farm house. And the midwife was a full blooded Oneida Indian. And she walked—this was December 29th, 1927—and she walked a mile and an half on the prairie to be there. And she stayed there at the house until I came into the world. Yeah. Her name was Leona, Leona Tetzloff. She’s gone many years. Her maiden name was Dakota. I don’t have to tell you that’s a unique name, do I? But that’s…, she did everything.
And we found my vital statics on the back of a christening card…, but there is little…, something…, I really don’t know my exact age. I mean, you know…, we went to Fond du Lac to check and they had my dad born in 1946, which was really invalid. He was born in 1898. I was born in 1956. I really, really was born in 1927. But anyhow, she wrote that. She had perfect penmanship and she’d always say, “Yeah, yeah, you were worth that half of pig that we got.” My dad had a lot of pigs and that’s what he paid for the delivery, half a dressed pork. She had eight kids, they had eight kids. Bbut that was her payment for bringing me into the world (he laughs).
Who were your parents? Fred and Gladys Uecker. Of course, they’re both gone too.
Do you have any brothers and sisters? I have one sister that’s alive and I had two brothers that both are gone. We buried one, in fact, about three months ago. My sister’s name is Hazel Uecker Schmuhl. She’s a widow too.
What were the names of your bothers? Marvin was the oldest, Alan the youngest; he’s the one that died just recently.
Was your sister younger or older than you? Sister is the youngest one. Quite a difference in age. I don’t remember exactly, but she’s the youngest one.
Where did you go to school? Went to a one room school house about a mile and a half one way. A little school house called Harrison School. Named after a President Harrison. There was…, most times about thirty-four of us in that one room schoolhouse.
Did you graduate from High School? Yes I did.
The same school…? Brandon High School.
Oh, Brandon High School. I have a picture of it here I’ll show you.
Okay. And did you attend any college? I did. Tech for five years. I’m a…, I went under the apprenticeship program. I’m a master plumber. I went on that vo-tech, which is…, I consider one of the probably most valuable parts of my life. That is a wonderful program! And you got to be a…, I graduated from apprentice to a journeyman, from journeyman to a master. Yeah. It took some time, but I’m a master. I still kept my license. I don’t know why, but I kept my license. When you work hard for something you don’t want to let it go, you know that, Bob (he laughs).
What was it like for you growing up? What was it like?
What was it like for you growing up? Well, I’m gonna tell you right out it was hard. Born and raised out in the prairie. We walked to school; rain, snow, shine, anything, we walked to school and back. And we lived in a house, no furnace, just heat your own, you know, with coal. And, ah…, we always were cold.
We had enough to eat. My dad, you know, being a farmer we had chickens, eggs, and all. We always had enough to eat. That’s the only time that city relatives would come and see us is time when they’re butchering and all like that. But it wasn’t easy.
But when I got out of grade school—if you walked through the fields right back of us was the Uecker home place—my grandmother—my grandfather had gone—my grandmother and my two uncles, they were brothers, two uncles lived there. One had polio and he wore braces on his leg, but the other one was an ex-Marine, and he’d…, when I worked with him…, I worked my way through school. And I got $3 a week, and I paid my bus fare out of that and the rest of that was mine. Of course, bus fare was only 80 cents a week, so.
But it wasn’t easy. I’m not feeling sorry for myself now, all the other kids around there too. But when the war started and they put gas rations, then I had to walk about three quarters of a mile to County Trunk E and stand and wait for a bus to come. Sometimes snow up to my knees, I’d be wet all day in school. My folks didn’t want me to go to high school, but my aunt, she’s gone now too, she was a teacher for forty-seven years and a school principle for Fond du Lac. She insisted that, you know. So I went to high school, and I’m glad. She was a very smart woman, she was.
But, ah…, they were good to me, my uncles. I worked there. They generally didn’t go out very much, you know, they stayed right on the farm. Go to church probably. But it wasn’t an easy life. I think if it was now, the generations now, oh, there’d be a lot of complaining, but. I don’t know, I guess it’s because we weren’t the only ones there, you know. The rest of them were no different, you know.
We’d get in some snow storms coming home sometimes. One time we got lost, big bunch of little kids following us. We walked right through the fields. St. Valentine’s Day, ah, yeah. And the fences were covered, you know, and it was one of these whiteouts, you know what I’m talking about? Well, of course, we were the older boys, and the little kids were crying and all and…. We come and walking in this field, and Milt Kastien had a big oak tree in the middle of the field for shade for the…. I says, “I know where we are.” He had a stone pile on the south side. We made a beeline, headed for the school fence, and we caught to the second to the last post of that schoolyard fence. If we had missed that we would have walked right into an eighty acre field into a woods. But we got there, yup. But that’s…. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t easy. But we made it, you know. So we, but….
I was always glad I went to high school, though, I…. We weren’t exactly the most welcomed people in high school, you know; farm boys. A little town, you know, some of the town kids thought they were really good, you know, they were hot stuff. But when it come to play football and baseball, a different opinion, you know. Well, wait a minute (he laughs).
Well, you know, when you are out there, years ago—your relatives can tell you this too—I know German families when you’re ten years old they work you like an adult, you know. And that’s true, they work you like an adult. It wasn’t good, I didn’t…, but yet, you grew up in a hurry.
We had a teacher—here I go, but—we had a teacher; he and his brother were twins, and they were [from] Whitewater State Teacher’s College (in Whitewater, Wisconsin). Whitewater State Teacher’s College, and they weren’t flashy. But he was full blooded Italian. He didn’t want to go to the war. He was a good athlete. And if we got to stay home, you know, to help with the farm, you know, the farm boys—and he used to date the senior girls and all like that—but he’d say, “Where were yah, Uecker, yesterday? Pitching cow shit?” “Yeah,” I said. Finally, you know, we got together, our heads got together—oh, a whole lot of farm boys—and [we said], “You know, when he tells us that, you know what we aught to say? ‘Pitching cow shit sure beats draft dodging.’” He got red as a beat. Oh, that guy was so mad at us, you know. Boy, he was so mad at us. A draft dodger, that’s what he was. But, ah…, we lived through that.
Otherwise I’m grateful I graduated. Thanks to this V-12 program, I graduated with a credit ahead. A lot of ‘em had trouble, but I didn’t. I had a credit ahead. They gave us a credit for that. Then, ah…, that was my school days.
But I worked at my grandfather’s…, and then…, and I got this, ah…, with this V-12 program, you know, and got my one ace. See, they were taking (drafting) seventeen year olds then, you know. And some of my best friends went. One of them I wanna mention him, but. Harold Hansen, the banker’s son. First generation from Germany too.
He was big, he was older than we were, but he always treated us like…, he was really…, belonged to the same church we did, but he was…, he treated us like we were brothers really, really. And he come home and I believe he had been on twenty-two missions over Germany; he was a B-17 pilot. And he came and talk[ed] to us, you know, and he found out we were on this program. And he was just what you would call one hell of a nice guy. He went back and on the third mission back he got hit by anti-aircraft fire, and, ah…, over Strasbourg (France). And the rest of the squad went on, you know, they did. And he went down on the border. They said four of ‘em jumped out and three stayed. Harold, he would stay with the ship, he was a pilot, he was….
Did I tell you this?
That’s okay, go on. His parents went over to Germany after the war to see if they could bring the body back. And, you see, the plane went down on the French border. And it took them a while, but they finally found out where it was. And they were buried in a small cemetery of a small Catholic church. The priest was a real frail old man, and he said, “Yes, your son sleeps with us,” he said. They went out there and there was a white cross with the dog tags on it. And the grave site had flowers and it looked like they had manicured it with a shears, which they had. And he says, “You’ve come to take him away, haven’t you?” Now, Hansen told us this, “Well, yes,” (Mr. Hansen said). (To which the priest answered) “Leave him here. Let him sleep with his, the rest of his crew. We consider him sons of our church. The women of the church take care of this. Leave him here.” Well, Fred and his wife said it was kind of hard, but yet, you know, they left him there, so.
I mentioned a few names, just a few names. Marvin Linke, he had bad teeth. He had one shoulder, you know, like rickets, he had, you know. You’ve probably seen ‘em, you know. I used to hunt with him. I was fourteen. And we’d hunt rabbits together, you now, and stuff like that—pheasants, you know—‘cause that was big hunting out there. And he was drafted. And my grandmother and uncles used to hire him to help, you know, anytime we had a lot of help around. My grandmother, I remember she just cried and cried and cried when he finally left. Well, he was a seventeen-weeker. I don’t guess he wasn’t over there…, he wasn’t over in Europe three weeks. And there was a troop train, and they stopped just before you went through a tunnel. I read the letter that his mother got from one of the survivors. It was a massacre. They just slaughtered ‘em. And the captain ordered the train to stop, he had the most brass on his collar. They stopped. And, of course, you know how the French are, they called and told the Nazis, and the Nazis called in the Luftwaffe. They came in and they just slaughtered them. They were using armor piercing bullets, this fella said. He found Marv underneath the shot up car. And, of course, he was dead…, but, ah.
But there was just…, that was only…, just a few, you know. I knew ‘em, you know. They were friends—in a different class, you know. So we were here raring to go, I mean. We wanted to go. Some of us did.
Tell me, what were you doing during the 1939, 1941 timeframe, just before the war? What were you doing just before the war started? Well, I was going to school and working on a farm.
Okay. You remember what you were doing when you first heard that Pearl Harbor had been attacked? Well, that’s going to be an interesting story. I hope I’m not boring you.
No, no. My uncle, an ex-Marine, I mean a Marine…, barrel-chest, big here (Edward gestures large arms), yeah. Anyway, he was…, but he was out…, I don’t know how many years he served, but he had served aboard the USS West Virginia. You know, the Marines fired the guns on those battleships. And I was getting ready to go to school—that’s when they still picked us up at the…, I was pretty sure I was a freshman yet, they picked us up at the driveway. And I had a radio in my room. The guy came on there and said that Pearl Harbor had been attacked, life lost, USS West Virginia went down. It was the first one. Just before I left I went out to the barn and told my uncle. He said, “That’s a lot of bull shit. That ship is un-sinkable!” He had a picture hanging on the wall, you know, showing all the men, all the…. “No,” I said, “that’s what he said.” “I can’t hardly believe that,” he said.
So I went to school and they had it on the radio then. They put a radio in the—you know, it was all radio [then]—they put a radio in the assembly hall. And the president had spoke, you know, and they told about how the sneak attack had taken…, all the ships that were on the line and just gave them their…. And anyhow, I got home that night and had supper, and I did the (unintelligible), “I could hardly believe that shit. That ship went down, that ship,” (his Uncle Elmer said). So he did something that you rarely would do—I’ll donate that, if you were dying or something—he used the telephone. And he called a fellow he had been with in Ohio—and he came to see Uncle Elmer a couple years later. But, he said, “Yeah, it’s true, Elmer.” It was like somebody but a pin in him. “I can’t believe it,” he says. “I can’t believe it,” he said. That’s what happened. That’s when I heard about Pearl Harbor.
What time of day did you hear it first? It must have been about 7 o’clock.
In the morning? Yup. And the bus would come by half past 7, something like that.
What were your thoughts when you heard that? Well, I said, “Its….” I remember we talked about it in school and we said, “Yeah,” the fellas said, “you know where we are gonna be out there in a couple of years,” you know. And, ah…, they were really concerned that we would be at war. We didn’t know how to react to it. It really bothered us, you know. Some of ‘em had brothers that were…, we knew they would start drafting immediately. And we were afraid of that, of being at war. We just resigned ourselves that we would be at war. And, you know, it really cut our youth, you know. We had to work as adults from then on because labor was tight. Oh, there was, you know, some of those big farms that took a lot of help to…. Weren’t mechanized now as we were (meaning today things are much more mechanized that they were back then). But that was our thoughts about it, you know.
I remember a bunch of us went into the boiler room and we sat in the boiler room and we talked about it. I remember one was Johnny Luger. He was a Marine. He got hit in the lung by a sniper in the Marine Corps. He had…, he lives out in Montana now. His folks were immigrants of Austria. He was the first to…. They lived across the marsh. And I remember him saying, “You know where I’ll be a year from now,” he said. “I’ll be….” He enlisted in the Marine Corps, he didn’t get drafted.
How old were you in 1941? Oh, I was…, I wanna say fourteen, fifteen years old, right?
What did others—you touched base on this—what did others around you think about the war? About the attack on Pearl Harbor? “That’s a sneak attack!” And, “Boy, I’ll tell yah, you could never trust those Japs anyhow!” Boy, I’ll tell yah, they were down on ‘em, you know, of course. Of course, they were down on the Navy too, you know, bringing in all those ships in there. And when that word got out that they put in all those on a row, anyhow. And, of course, FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) got raked over the coals quite a lot. But he protected the admirals, you know. But it was…, they just…, it was a dirty, stinking….
A lot of sober faces in church. Of course, prayers would be said, you know. A lot of sober…, some of them women would cry. They knew what was coming, you know. It was some hell of a time in your life, you know that? God! Wasted!
What did you do during the war? You mentioned something about the V-12 program? Could you explain that? Yeah. Well, first, I worked, you know, in the peas. When I was fourteen years old I drove a truck (he laughs). Don’t put that down that I’m a liar, but I told a lie, you know (he laughs). And there were eighty pound boxes of peas that came out of the viner. Well, that…, I did that for about two, three years. It was seasonal.
Was it a canning company you worked for? It was American Storage Canning Company, in Fairwater. And then….
I’m sorry, did you work in the factory? No, no. I drove a truck hauling peas from the viner. The viner, you know, they didn’t have self propelled…. They put them in boxes, they weighed eighty pounds a piece. We’d stacked ‘em five high on the truck. You get muscles in a hurry, boy. But, ah…, that’s what I did. Then I worked for my uncle, my uncles on a farm, too.
Okay. Then there is something I just got to tell you.
Sure. You know they got started before the war started, then they made a big giant scrap metal drive. We, instead of having school, we’d go and look for the farmers to bring scrap metal. We’d go in gravel pits where they dumped from the canning factory. It smelt like, oh, God!, you know. But scrap metal, scrap metal. We never got a penny for it. We thought it was for the war effort. Then they showed pictures of it that the boys out east had sold car loads and car loads of scrap metal designated for Japan. And that’s how we got our scrap metal back. We just couldn’t believe it when we seen that. That was all sold to Japan. You know how they brought it back? But we were, you know….
Was that before the war started? That just…, yeah, just that was…, yeah, before the war started. We thought it was gonna go, you know, for the Americans because they were gearing up for war then, you know. Then Pearl Harbor; I mean, we…. Oh, God, we went and got even more scrap metal, old hay rakes. Oh, God, old trackers, old machinery. But that’s what we did to start with.
Then, of course, I worked in the canning factory. And then I worked with my uncles like that, and I went to school every time. It was tough. I road a bicycle a lot, walked a lot, ran a lot. My cousin was a Greek University track star, and he come and spent the summer months with my grandmother—his grandmother too. And he taught me how to run, boy. He was, you know…, we’d run around the block (he laughs). You kept in shape that way. He taught me how to run. There’s something behind that too. But that’s how I spent…, then, ah…, well, we kept right on, you know.
And then I want to say I was…, let’s see, starting my senior year it was—no junior year—we had to have been in school then. They came to school and bought or sold this program to the school. And the math teacher was the instructor.
This is the V-12 program? Yes, V-12. Victory for Grade 12, but anyhow…. They had the books, you know, and you had to sign that slip. I didn’t really bother, but if you looked real close underneath there it said this constitutes that you are now a member of the US Army Air force. Yeah. Well, we thought, you know, you mean they are gonna teach us dumb farm boys how to fly? Well, we had ground school, you know. You know, ground school is not the easiest thing, you know. Of course, the manuals were only like that (indicating about one inch thick) and now they are like that (indicating about four inches thick), you know. But we had…, we went…, we had…, we’d have ground school, like we plotted a trip around the world, for our trip; tank, gas usage, everything else, you know. And that, that took a lot of our time, you know. We didn’t have much…, even in the winter time we flew, well, you’ll see; snow, Ice, we flew. If it was our day to be there we were there, you know. Boy, I’ll tell yah. Of course, I still had work on the farm, too. Lot of work to do.
What were your instructors like? Instructors?
For the V-12 program. Can I show you a picture?
We’ll get back to it. Lets do this. Sorry. Well, I don’t want to use the word misfit, but they were different. Max Segunski, he used to be in Milwaukee then, see. He was a typical…, I shouldn’t say it, I might as well just pull it, but anyway, you know, he couldn’t get along with anybody. Every morning it would be a big argument. We’d line up, you know, looking for…, you know. They’d assign pilots to you. And he was a good pilot, you’d see it. A little gung ho, but a good pilot. But he always was mad at somebody or somehow damn thing, you know. And he, Max Segunski, he got…, and afterwards the war he ran the Fond du Lac Airport. And he got fired from there. And he went to Appleton and got fired from there (he laughs).
Then we had Wells Olsen. One thing of Olsen, he had one arm—a propeller took his right arm off, his right hand off. He always had his hand in his pocket. But he didn’t have a false hand. And he was a good pilot. He kind of led the way one year. Him and Max, they got along like cat and dog, but he kinda led the way to us, you know. And then this Wells was…, he was an extreme introvert. That’s why he wouldn’t go…, but he was (Edward salutes), oh boy, cap just so, you know. He could shave with his pants’ creases. He was good, you know, but he would never…, he always looked down. He wouldn’t even allow his picture being taken. Then, let’s see, the other one, I can’t think of the other one now.
Oh, then we had a little short fellow, and so help me if you don’t…. I had a picture of him and his airplane but I can not find it. I think I took it to a class reunion and I gotta ask the people that ran our class reunion the last time. I think that they took it off the board before I got there.
You know that cartoon Yosemite Sam that these kids watch? Well, he was Yosemite Sam’s twin brother, only he had a died black mustache. Yeah, this is true this is (he smiles). And hair black and a big hat, yeah! And he had one beautiful double wing airplane, open cockpit, an open cockpit! Boy, anyways, it was…. Oh, anyway…, boy, oh boy, we just…. He always said, “This is my family. I don’t have any family, fellows. This is my family here,” you know.
Then he did something, he was always working on a real oiled leather shoe string—and he chewed tobacco by the way (Edward gestures spitting)—and he’d go (Edward gestures untying and retying a shoe string). So one day we got real brave and we asked, “What do you do that for?” “Well,” he says, “I have a little head trouble and I went to one of these shrink guys, and he says you’re thinking too much about yourself. ‘Here,’ he says, ‘take this,’ he said, ‘tie it and untie it, concentrate on that, get your mind off yourself’” (he laughs). You couldn’t help liking him, though. But, you know.
And I just got to tell you this story too. You might imagine what took place, you know, with these student pilots. Of course, my radio was always on, and you’d hear, “Number two! Number two, two! Chinese landing, Chinese Landing, Chinese Landing!” You know what that means, you know? Oh, you…, one wing low. And that wing would touch that strip and (gestures an airplane turning over) break its back.
Well, one day we was up I would say about nine hundred feet, just nine hundred feet, very cloudy. Oh, low clouds, heavy clouds. And we were cruising along. They’d always check your wings, had to be level, you know, and check…, all the speed, go down to different height, you know. All at once out of the clouds this double winger, so help me, Bob, I could reach over and touch that guy, and that is no lie.
But my uncle, the ex-Marine, said, “Now remember,” he said, “if you do something dumb, don’t say and do something dumb again and making yourself look bad twice. Be sure you got an answer back for it,” you know. If you met my uncle you’d know he meant it. God, some of the guys wet their pants and some of the guys filled their pants, ‘cause that’s how you could hear after a while when he did that. “Hey Hauser, bring the mop, we need a mop here,” and all that, you know.
Then they’d come over and…, they always called us cadets…, “Cadet what would you do if I was a Jap or German?” you know (he laughs). And I just could hear my uncle say, “Just don’t say something or do something dumb.” I thought for a second and said, “Sir, if you were a Jap or a German I’d have something on this plane I could fire back, return fire back to you, sir.” And he got kinda quiet, “What a good answer, cadet,” he said. But some of them, oh, God. You could imagine what a feeling it is that two airplanes are right, you know, that close (gesturing reaching out and touching another airplane), and he was that close!
We had a guy named there, one fellow, Martin Debone—he talked with a little accent. He made a career in the Air Force, by the way, and he was the one that came out with…, he said to this Olsen, he said, “What if you were in an airplane and another airplane and you were gonna have a head on collision, and you couldn’t do nothing about it?” “Well,” he says, “there’s two things that I would do. I’d go home and get my brother, he’d never seen two airplanes crash, and I,” he said, “I’d give it full throttle. If you are gonna have one, you might as well have a good one,” he said. “Oh, okay,” he said (Edward laughs).
But that, that…, we had…, one time we were up above the lake, Lake Winnebago, you know, right above the lake. We were cruising along and then BOOM! “What the hell was that?” you know. “Oh,” he said, “We just blew a head-gasket.” He said, “I think we can coast this thing home.” Oh, God! The airport was on the east side, now its on the west side, but it was on the east side (of Fond du Lac). And I don’t know how he did it but he would go up and down, then he’d go down, you know. See, he didn’t believe there were no such thing as air pockets, and every morning you almost fight that, you know, because they’d make you go down like that (he gestures), you know. “Get your hand off the throttle! Get you hand off the stick! Get your hand off the thing!” (He gestures an airplane rising and dropping in a rollercoaster fashion.) Pretty soon, level fight. Boy, in between there was, boy, I’m telling yah, and it was…(he smiles). But anyhow, he said, “I’m gonna coast this thing home, fella.”
We tried it and we made it, just. But it was as (it had) a fixed tail wheel, you know, and we ended up with about a hundred yards of barbed wire hanging on when we were done. I suppose that happens at every training but (he laughs) it was one of the few, I mean…(continues to laugh).
So you trained. Did you ever actually go into the Air Force or did the war end before? The war ended. Well, I was supposed to go, see. I had my—and I found it a couple of years ago—my card, you know. It said 1-AF something, that we know…, in other words, I was doing something that was needed like farm work or like. And they…, I was supposed to…, it said you’re scheduled to report to, ah…, were the Hell was that? Milwaukee, I think it was Milwaukee.
And we had a physical all taken, you know. Then one night one of the members of the draft board came to our house. See, we stayed at home during this V-12 thing. We went to school just like it was part of civilian government or some name they had. And he said, “Say, you know,” he said, “all the rest, the majority of them on that V-12 program there are going to have to report,” he says. “Patton wants some bodies. But,” he said, “we are trying to keep this a low tone not to meet a lot of rejection, but we expect at least three hundred of Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Corps at Lawsonia (Wisconsin) as a prisoner of war camp. Now,” he said, “you can speak German, you were born and raised to speak German, you know the Fairwater area. The farmers, that’s what you’ll be doing, hauling peas and working in the corn.”
He said, “Why don’t you take that?” [I said,] “Well, okay.” Well, that sounded kind of interesting, you know, so I did. And that’s what I did for two years. The first bunch were about five hundred of Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Corps. They were tankers and they were support units for tanks. They were the cream of the crop, boy, I’ll tell yah, they…, they were soldiers’ soldiers. But yeah, they say, they were very good to us.
What timeframe was this? What year? What?
What timeframe, what year? Oh, I’d say ‘44.
And where was the prison camp? Lawsonia, Big Green Lake.
Okay. What did you do at the POW camp? They…, we’d turn them out and they’d pick corn, sweet corn, by hand, of course, and they worked in the canning factory, worked and hauled peas. See, I know where…, as a farm boy I know where everyone works and lives, you know. That’s the help. And the trucks were furnished mostly for hauling peas by Alex Lapier, he had a Chevy garage there.
Did they give you a uniform? Well, I guess you can call that a uniform. The only good thing, I had a combat jacket that wore like iron, that was new. But the rest..., I remember like a civilian…, well I had dungaree pants, but they all had been used, you know, and they’d all been re-done. There were…, some had grease on them, they had been cleaned but, but that’s about all.
Did they pay you? Did you get paid for any of this? I was paid through the canning factory, yes.
What about when you were going to the V-12 program? Were you paid for that? Never paid a cent for it. All…, rightfully, Robert, we were in the service. All the records were burnt, by the prisoners of war, too. Betty couldn’t figure it out either, Betty Cronie. They were all burnt. Down south somewhere, they were all burnt.
We had a few officers that should have been burnt. The first one, oh, he was terrible! I don’t know, I think he was on pills or drugs or something. I don’t think he ever slept.
Saved him from being killed one morning. Went into the mess hall and he…, you always have a bunch of guys waiting on the tables, German prisoners…, and you can see he was in kind of bad shape so they dumped all his food and left his plate (Edward laughs). And he went after the guy with a metal frying pan, a big frying pan, but the German got it away from him and was beating him over the head when we took it away from him, or he would have killed him, for Pete’s sake!
But they transferred him out and then the next guy that came in. He was all business, boy. One meal a day, at noon. But we lived through it, too. No sweets. The only sweets that were there were the ones that probably the churches brought in, like that, you know. We couldn’t eat those, they were just for the prisoners of war. “You got plenty to eat,” you know.
How did the community around, how did they take to the POWs being there? Some were very receptive and some just the opposite! Boy, I’ll tell yah, I was all but afraid, Bob. You know, big hunting country, they all hunted deer, they all owned guns, rifles. Now we…, we would ride with the guys in their trucks, you know, all. So all they had to do was sit up in a hay mound and fire in our direction, you know what I mean? A lot of them had sons, some that didn’t come back. One family I know where we went, two sons that were shot down and killed over Germany. And I thought, boy, I thought about that so often…, I thought about that so often. Some of them would talk to ‘em, you know. But they…, they weren’t aggressive to the civilians.
The ones that really disappointed me was the women. As a farm boy we just couldn’t figure out how those women would come there, hang at the fence early in the morning. And we were just shocked at that. They’d back up to the fence and flip their dress up and it happened right up through the fence. We just couldn’t get over that.
Well, we had one—after we were married—one girl, woman, that lived in the apartment we lived in. She had a baby girl by one of the German prisoners of war. She was only sixteen. Farm girl. Worked in the fork and cans in a boxcar. “They broke down a lot,” she said. “In between times we’d lay on the cans and have sex,” she said. She had a baby girl, the other girl didn’t. But there were some of them, the women…, oh, they’d hang around early in the morning. But wasn’t only one camp they didn’t do that. That was Camp Custer, Fort Camp Custer. Now it’s Fort Custer in Michigan. They shot the German prisoners if they spit on the road. Boy, I’m tellin’ yah, they meant business.
There were guys that had been in…, my brother-in-law was in Belgium, Holland, and a lot of people don’t realize that some of Hitler’s best troops were in the lowlands, you know. They thought they were…, the Allies coming then, through there.
Oh, I tell yah, we had trouble. Once I got…, one hit me, like that. That’s why I got this bulge in here (feels the back of his head with his hand). I hit the back of a convoy truck, a Dodge, a big bumper, and it took a little chip out of my skull. And this thing was like an acorn for years, but all at once it got big. Now it’s getting real big. But they don’t want to operate on it because it’s too many life given things they said up in there. But so far it hasn’t bothered me.
The second bunch we got in they were hemmed in in Normandy. You know—I have to tell this—you know, Rommel’s people, they were tankers. I don’t think there was a one that didn’t have phosphorus burns on him; the face…all over. He controlled the tanks that roamed and controlled the desert. And they said that—he kept them well informed—one night, it was at night—he even named the officer, I can’t remember—but it came from one of the Virginians, and they (the Germans) had practiced shooting at a target towed by a boat on the ocean. And he said they would tell him, you know, he said, “If they want to, they could put it in your mess kit, they were so good,” he said.
But they were using…, see, Americans it was gasoline, if a shell would go in there, boom, it would burn it. But they used phosphorus shells, and they would go in there and explode and all the phosphorus, you know. Oh, it would…, you should see the burns some of those guys had, big marks! Well, phosphorus, you know, it burns at 34 degrees. Well, cover it with sand, the sand was over 100 degrees, you know. And he said that…, those three days, he said, he lost almost all of his friends that were in there. Left them dead, burning outside the tank or burning hanging out of the tank, he said.
And he was captured in a village, this one was telling me. Said that these airplanes, these…, I think they were thunderbirds, P-49’s, would come in sideways in that village. He said, “You poke your head out, they’d shoot your head off. That’s how daring they were.”
But, he said, when the American GI’s came in with their Garand Rifles, that took care of them right there, he said. They had light machine guns, but when it was man on man, he said, the GI’s generally won. There was some dead GI’s, he said, but. But he left…, when he left on a truck, he said, as a prisoner, he looked back, he said, and there was just a wind row, a double wind row of German dead all the way down the street, he said. The villagers had pulled them there and were going through their pockets and taking anything that was of value. And that’s how he left.
But we had a fellow from Milwaukee, sixteen years old. He was fully big as you, I mean. His parents ran the Deutschland Dairy in Milwaukee. That’s one of the original delicatessens in Germany, in Milwaukee. His mother took him and his baby sister over to see her parents. Hitler stopped his visas and he ended up in the German Army as a paratrooper. The first jump he surrendered.
They were scaring ‘em. They thought they were gonna jump at Malta, you know. The German’s bombed Malta everyday. And the pilots told them, “Don’t get captured,” he said, “they skin captured airmen alive and put them on crosses so we can see,” he said. So he surrendered to the British and ended up in America (he laughs). I said, “I heard you are from this part of the country.” And he said, “Yes.” I didn’t want to get that friendly, but. And he says, “My parents used to spend summers at Eagle River.” I said, “Alright, if you did,” I said, “name some of the towns you had to go through.” (He indicates with his hand naming off all the towns.) “Oh,” he says, “you don’t believe me. My oldest sister and I would always guess what town would be next,” he said. But he was sixteen years old…, paratrooper.
What were the guards like? The American guards. Well, we didn’t have the best ones, I’m afraid. That’s why they made us truck drivers guard too. Carried M1s.
They were from all over. There were…, some were good. They…, a lot of them were always involved with the women there. In Ripon, Ripon College, Ripon. Some were drinkers, you know, heavy drinkers. We got them here though, they hadn’t been in the quartermaster and they’d look at the rifle and he’d say, “How do you shoot this gun?” (he laughs). That’s where I was lucky, I had hunted since I was what? eight, ten years old, you know. My uncle the Marine was expert, he had medals hanging on his chest for sharp shooting.
But they weren’t the top. I meant, they weren’t top grade. When they started cutting down on the number of these people in the camps, you know, and most were all overseas, then they…, but. Although, I met some goods ones. I met some that were good. But I met some that weren’t. They did not have very good officers, you know. Like that one…, the second one we had was better, but no quarter to him.
We are running a little short on time…, what did you do after the war? Well, we got married. Married young, Shirley and I.
I’m sorry, what is your wife’s name? Shirley, she was…, both of her folks are gone. But we moved to Brandon and I worked as an apprentice plumber. I got home and my folks had bought a house in town. And I was there just working around there, and a fella that was a plumber in town came to do some work, and he said, “You looking for work?” And I said, “Yeah,” I said, “surely.” “Well,” he said, “come and work for me, try it,” he said. “I want another apprentice,” he said. And I worked for him and got to be a journeyman. And then I went to another shop, which you are supposed to. That’s how I did it.
Then we lived there, oh, I’m gonna say we lived there probably eight years. Then we moved to Fairwater, I mean, Waupun here. Shirley worked thirty-six years in Waupun Memorial here, worked on the polio [ward] as a polio nurse. And she was unit coordinator for the rest of the years she worked. Seventeen years in the pediatrics when they had the polio…, see, the Polio ward was here in Waupun.
What year did you move to Waupun? 1952, I think it was.
Do you have any children? Yes we have…, we had four. Our oldest boy, Bruce, was in the Air Force. He just retired after twenty-eight years as a detective in Dallas. And our daughter who was a highly skilled registered nurse, she had four sons, married and had four sons. She was over at our place, she was working in the farm progress day as a nurse. She was an emergency room nurse, but they had gotten a lot of people to work there because they had a lot of older people and they had a lot of problems. They were giving them plasma tests. She was over at our place and she died in her sleep at our house. Her heart forgot to beat. She looked about twenty-seven years old, a pretty blond girl.
What was her name? Bonnie…, Bonita. And then Larry, he was…, they were gonna draft him. He was eighteen years old, but he got a draft notice so he enlisted in the preventative medicine unit part of Green Berets, but he was in a preventative medicine unit. And he went to Vietnam for over a year. He got there just in time for the Tet Offensive. But then went…, he did everything from inoculation, water, and like that.
But he even got a picture of what happened. An old Vietnamese lady with puss running out of her mouth from bad teeth put a piece of pumpkin pie with topping on it upside down and let it come to these three transports, and they dumped agent orange on him. Now he just come back out of the last one—about four times now he’s been gone—but they bring him back, and it did heart damage every time. That mechanism that controls—this is what the heart specialist told us—that controls the velocity of your blood, it’s been damaged. That’s how you kill rats, you know. And he’s been gone, I mean. We’ve talked to the paramedic. Twice they called here and said, “If you wanna see your son you better come.” And he made it.
But he isn’t a complainer, you know. He is in the medical business himself, he’s an MD himself. But now he is not working…, he’s working for an insurance company. He has a degree in psychiatry so he works for an insurance company now in evaluating psychiatry people in…, you know.
And then our David, our youngest boy, good athlete, high IQ, he went to the university and come back. He got hurt playing volleyball, and it bothered him and bothered him, so he went to a doctor and the doctor said, “We gotta go to a specialist, this is way beyond me.” And they found out he had Crones disease. And they had to take away all his large intestines. You know, young people get that, especially from a fall. And he died too. So we lost two of our kids. We had four, lost two of them. He died in the hospital here.
Is there anything else you’d like to say? We got a few more minutes left. Well, I really thank you for inviting me, and lots of luck with the book.
I’m thrilled you came. One thing that people can…, Bob, a lot of people don’t know a lot of this and here is a good opportunity for them to find out. A lot of them with the prisoners of war, it was kept hush-hush. That’s why the guy that came down to our house, he said, “We want to keep this low level,” he said, “so we don’t meet a lot of opposition.” I’m glad I’m here to tell it. That’s the way it was here, I mean. I wasn’t the only one. I don’t want you people to feel sorry for me (he laughs). Part of experience, huh? (he laughs). It was an experience. But they always say, “War sets a country ahead twenty years,” so.
You know, we…, I remember we had no tires, you couldn’t…. We’d be running around with bald tires and people were putting patches on the outside of the tires (he laughs). And gas rationing too was bad, boy that was bad. But we didn’t have no doctors to speak of, you know, most of the doctors were gone.
Really? Yeah, thank God for some of these old registered nurses. There was very few doctors. Probably the closest doctor was Fond Du Lac, you know, and that’s quite a bit of drive. If you didn’t have gasoline or didn’t have tires, you know. Otherwise people make due, people can make due, you know. Its surprising what you can do when you put your mind to it.
(The interview ended at this point.)
Last updated on 27 Jan 2013 .
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