Interview by Robert C. Daniels
Robert Van Alstine was interviewed in the living room of his home in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, on 2 December 2005. The interview began at 3:00 P.M. and lasted for 54.44 minutes. His wife, Mary, and daughter, Lynn, sat in the background listening to the interview. Mary assisted by interjecting information a few times during the interview. At the time Robert was eighty-four years old and very articulate.
What is your full name? Robert Frank Van Alstine
How do you spell Van Alstine? V A N H A L…? No, V A N space A L S T I N E.
I know a lot of people born in the early twentieth century were not born in a hospital, but at home. Were you born in a home? At home.
At home. Yeah.
And where was that? In Waukesha, Wisconsin.
And when was that? July 5th, 1921.
Who were your parents? Frank and Elsie Van Alstine.
And Elsie is spelled E L S I E? Yes.
Do you have any brothers or sisters? I have one sister, Lucile, lives in Niles, Michigan.
Is she older than you, or younger? No, she is about, I think, three years younger.
Where did you go to school? Kenosha (Wisconsin).
Did you graduate from high school? Yes.
What year was that? 1939.
Did you attend college? I went to Bradley University down in Peoria (Illinois).
And what was your degree in? Mechanics.
What was growing up like for you? Well, I grew up during the Depression, obviously, you know, during the ‘30’s. And my father was [the] manager of a milk producer co-op, and so we weren’t really in the depression type of living, you know, I mean….
When you are in a co-op…, all he did was manage it, he didn’t…. In order to be part the co-op you had to have cows, and we didn’t have any cows, so. He was just a manager and he worked on a yearly bases, yearly salary. And it made money pretty tight because you never knew from one year to the next—they’d have a meeting and he didn’t know if he had a job the next year or not.
But, basically, I had it pretty good, I think, compared to looking back on what other kids had, and so on. We were not wealthy by any means, but wealthier than a lot of the other people.
In Kenosha there were two major industries—Nash Motors and Simons Mattress Company—and each one of them employed about ten thousand people, so they were big, you know. And his (Robert’s fathers’) little poe-dunk outfit, you know, [was] very small. I think seventy employees, I think he had. At any rate I thought I had a good upbringing. I was like most kids of that era.
There was nothing in the school system, there was no money, you know, as for sports—nothing, music—nothing, you know, things like that. The classes were obviously oversized for what the teachers were capable of handling. But in spite of that, I think, probably I got a pretty good education compared to what a lot of these kids are getting today. They’ve had a better selection, but I don’t really know if they are learning any more. That I don’t know.
Of course, we had four children, and, of course, they went to Beaver Dam school system, and they certainly made out pretty good as far as education wise. But in talking to Mary (Roberts’ wife) and her education…, what am I, about four or five years older than you (asking his wife)? (Mary, replies: “Yeah.”) Yeah, I had a lot different education that she did. Of course, she wasn’t in Kenosha, she was all over the place. But I think, I think probably that five year difference was quite big because towards the end of the ‘30’s, about ‘38, ‘39, the Depression, because of the war and the contracts started to be over, and I think things changed. Money became a little more available, but I did pretty good.
What were you doing in the 1939, 1941 timeframe, basically just before Pearl Harbor? Well, I started out as a welder. And I…, acetylene welding, and I didn’t like it…, and then I got a job at Snap On Tool Corporation working as a machinist, and that’s where I was when I got drafted.
And where was that at? That was in Kenosha.
Do you remember what you were doing when you first heard that Pearl Harbor was attacked? Yeah. I was upstairs in my bedroom, and I really didn’t think too much about it. I knew it was bad, of course, but I didn’t relate it to me. It should have I suppose, but I was too young to put it together. I guess I was nineteen, I suppose. I think I had expected that I was gonna end up [in it] because of what was going on in Europe, Hitler, and whatever. I suppose that I put two and two together and said, “Well, this is just gonna speed it up a little bit.”
It didn’t really shock me to much, really. Not that I expected it, but I can recall the day, I can recall when I heard it. It was kinda like you hear things today that are catastrophic. You know, Pearl Harbor is a long way away from Kenosha, and it just didn’t sink in, I guess.
What time of day did you hear it? It was in the afternoon.
How did you hear it? On the radio or…? Radio, yeah. I would imagine that it was December and it was probably cold out, and I was probably up in my room fooling around (he laughs).
What were the general feelings of those around you about the attack? I don’t think it was even discussed. Yeah, in that respect I don’t think I was any different than most of the other people. I don’t recall any of my peer people discussing it. I don’t recall it at work, but they were already doing government work. They were making plastic stop-nuts on a contract base for [the] military. And they had humongous orders for the war, so that would have been just another step, I guess. I didn’t, I didn’t…, I don’t recall my folks ever mentioning it. It was just kinda like you might hear something today that happened overseas, you know, a tragedy or something. And if it was mentioned, it sure didn’t make much of an impression on me (he laughs).
When did you decide to join the military? I didn’t—the government did. I turned twenty-one in, ah, let’s see, on 5th of July, on the 31st of July they swore me in up in Milwaukee.
What year was that? That was 1942. You expect us old people to remember all that stuff, don’t you (he laughs)?
No, no. I am gonna ask you something to see if you remember it, though. And you went into the Army? Yeah.
Did you, you didn’t have a choice, being drafted? Yes, I did. We went up to Milwaukee about, well, on the 31st (of July), and I didn’t realize, I guess, what was gonna happen. But at the end of the physical thing, then all of a sudden they had—and they had a lot of people there—they said in this group that I was in—and there probably were forty to fifty naked guys standing there—and they said, “Everybody that wants to be in the Navy take one step forward.” Up to that point nothing had been ever mentioned about Army, Navy, or going in or anything. And you had about fifteen, twenty seconds to think. Nobody said if you don’t take the step forward what’s gonna happen. All that [was] said was, “If you want the Navy….” And I would guess out of that bunch maybe ten percent took the step.
Because my dad was in the Army—I am not going out on ships anyway—I stood still. So I ended up in the Army (he laughs). There was no choice for the Air Force at that time.
You said your father was in the Army? Yeah.
Was that during World War I? World War I, yeah.
Was he in the Infantry? He was in [the] Rainbow Division of the Infantry, yeah. Yeah, now he volunteered, went to France, and ended up second lieutenant through battle field promotion, and had some pretty difficult times I would guess. Although, like I said, he never talked about it and I didn’t know enough to bring it up. I know he had a box of about a foot square of souvenirs, pictures, and stuff, and his uniform. That was about it.
So you were twenty, twenty-one when you went in the…? I was twenty-one, yeah, ‘42 I was twenty-one, yeah.
And you went to Milwaukee? I went to Milwaukee for the physical, yeah.
And where did you go to boot camp? Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In the field artillery battery as a, supposedly, I guess…, it was a specialized battery. And I…, they got that off of some piece of paper…, I guess, that I must of…, they gave us at Fort Sheridan, and from that they determined, I guess, that based on my Snap On background that they could use me in the field artillery.
I am not a hunter; I don’t like guns—never owned a gun. And I don’t…, you know, the field artillery was a scary place to be for me, you know. And from there they decided that…, after this thing was…, the basic training was over, then they decided that they wanted to send me out to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for specialized training as a gun mechanic. And I went through that out there for about thirteen weeks.
And then they decided that they were gonna ship me to Camp Gordon, Georgia, in a tank discovery unit to take care of the gun in the tank. And, unfortunately, the gun in the tank was a three inch naval gun with an electric breech of which the Army doesn’t generally in the artillery use electric breech because they don’t have the electricity. And I looked at it and went back—the captain sent me out to look at it—and I came back in, and he said, “What do you think?” And I said, “I don’t even know what I am looking at.” This was after I was out of the school about a week, you know. And he says, “Well, we can use you anyway.”
They had asked for a gun mechanic and I don’t know what they expected to get, but they…, [the] Army was so confused at the time that that’s how it all worked out. And they moved me around in that, in the tank destroying unit. I was in a tank, I was an anti-aircraft gunner—although we didn’t have an anti-aircraft gun—you know, that type of thing. Finally I ended up driving jeep for the captain.
And they were getting pretty hot to go overseas. And I was home on furlough at that time; I got a telegram from the captain that said get back here right away. And I got back on a Sunday—I had to be there for Monday morning. And when I got back to the…, on Sunday, of course, everything was pretty much shut down, but there was…, the orderly who was on duty, said, “There is a paper here that you’re being transferred.” And I said, “Where am I going?” And he said, “I don’t know.” I says, “Where’s the paper?” He couldn’t find it.
He says, “Come back in the morning.” So I went back in the morning, and, of course, then the regular people were on duty, and I said, “I understand I am transferred.” And they said, “We are so busy right now, we are going overseas right away. Go pack your stuff.” And I said, “But the paper,” because I wanted to get out of that unit, I did not like the unit. So I said, “But what about this transfer thing?” [He replies,] “I don’t know where the paper went; someone must have threw that away.” So (he laughs), I didn’t know what to do. I wanted that paper so bad. I had no idea what was on it or what happened to it, so I decided on my own I would go up to battalion headquarters and ask them for a copy.
I’d never been to battalion headquarters before, didn’t even know where it was, I guess. But I went there and told them that Company C wanted a copy of it, the men that were being transferred. And they gave me a piece of paper. Three names on it, mine and two others. And I went back and showed it to the first sergeant, and he said, “Don’t bother me. I’ve got so many things to do, we’re leaving. We gotta get packed up. Get your gear ready.” And I said, “But I’m being transferred.” And he could care less, so I thought, “Well, if this was going to get done, I’m gonna have to do it.”
I was a private first class, a new guy in the outfit, really, because the first sergeant had twenty-nine years in. I think there were about five or six people in that whole unit that were drafted, the rest were all there for ten, fifteen years; there was nothing, you know. I had about five months in. So I went to the supply sergeant and I said, “I’m being transferred, what do I do with my stuff?” He says, “Turn in the equipment that…,” you know, your gun and helmet and things like that, “the rest of this stuff,” he says, “I’ll…,” and he just took the paper and says, “Get out of here,” and he just put an X across it and says, “I don’t have time for that. I’ve got to pack this whole supply room.”
So I went back to the first sergeant and I said, “What now?” And he says, “Don’t bother me, I’m too busy.” He says, “You’ve got to have your papers.” I say, “Where’s the papers.” He says, “I don’t know, at headquarters somewhere.” So I went over there. No one was doing anything but packing anyway, so nobody missed me. I went over there and asked the guy for the papers for these three men. And he said, “I can’t give ‘em to you.” “But I gotta have them [I said].” Of course, I’m making this all up, and…. He said, “I can’t give ‘em to you.” I said, “Put them in a sealed envelope. C Company’s gotta have them. These men are being transferred.” Reluctantly he gave me the papers.
I went back to the first sergeant again. I said, “What do I do now?” He says, “Don’t bother me.” He says, “Get a vehicle. Get the people, go over there.” So I got a guy from the motor pool; he came up with a command car. I got the three of us in there. The other two, I was just pushing ‘em. I don’t know how they felt, or cared less. And the three of us wound up at the 45th Evac[uation] Hospital, which was, of course, in Camp Gordon.
And when we got out of the vehicle I told them what I had done. I says, “The 45th doesn’t know we are coming, and the tank destroyer unit we were in doesn’t know we left. I’ve got all our papers, so technically I don’t think we’re in the Army. I’ve got everything we need” (he laughs). And, of course, they were pretty disgusted with me, “You idiot!” you know. “What did you do that stuff for?” I said, “You guys stay out here on the curb.”
We had our duffle bags and were standing out on the curb, so I went into the office, and there was a lieutenant sitting there. And I said, “These are the men from the…, transferred from the tank destroyer unit over here.” And, of course, he doesn’t know anything about it, and he gets on the horn and he calls up the tank destroyer unit and he says, “We have three of your men here.” And I could hear shouting back and forth, you know. And the end result was that if…, we had to be interviewed by the colonel of the evac hospital, and if he wanted us we could stay. Otherwise, get your gear and go back to the tank destroyers. Fortunately he wanted all three of us. That’s the unit I was in.
Thirty days later they (the 45th Evac Hospital) left for overseas. So…, actually, I saw…, based on what they (the tank destroyer unit) did and where they were, I saw more action that they did. They didn’t get there, get over into France until July. I got there a few days after D-Day.
What was the name of the outfit? 45th Evac, E V A C, Evacuation Hospital. An evac hospital is a four hundred bed hospital with…, all in tents. No electricity, of course, except what you could generate yourself, and that was used primarily for the operating room and things like that. You slept in a pup tent, worked a twelve-hour shift. And we went across the Channel a few days after D-Day; went over the side of a boat into a landing craft, ended up on Omaha Beach.
They were still shooting, still shelling. They (the Germans) were up about a mile inland. Of course, that’s nothing when you are talking big guns, you know.
You wouldn’t believe the number of ships that were…, you know, and aircraft and stuff that…, it just blew your mind, you know. And the first thing that I did, stupidly, is I scraped a thing off the windshield of a jeep that had been bombed out before I had even got there for a souvenir—I had to have a souvenir.
And then I started…, there was a big hill, and we were told to go up the hill and meet at the top. And, of course, there was a steady line of men going up the hill, so I got in line. And an ambulance came along going up the hill. And the guy stopped and he said, “Do you want a ride up?” “Sure,” beats walking [I replied]. So I got a ride up to the top of the hill and hooked up with the rest of the guys. Then we had to wait for the stuff to get off the ships, you know, and our equipment to set up the hospital.
Actually, it was called semi-mobile. We had so much stuff it took about ninety trucks to move it. And the idea was that you would set up in twenty-four hours and start receiving patients as soon as your stuff came in. And, of course, there were bad storms out in the Channel in those days and the stuff wouldn’t get off the ship right away. But you lay around in your sack and twiddle your thumbs waiting for it, you know.
And then from there it finally came and, of course, we sat up. And then it was a leap frog thing. You worked with two other hospitals, and you would leap frog getting as close to the front as you could because, obviously, the quicker you could get the injured people the better the life thing was. And…, and then the one in the back would always be the one that was in reserve. And we moved, I would guess, somewhere in the neighborhood of about eight or ten times across France. We were the first hospital to cross the Rhine. While the bride at Remagen was still in operation we were on the other side already, setting up the hospital.
Really! So you went over the bridge at Remagen? No, no. Because it…, it was there but they were shelling it. And we…, the way the story goes, we came up to a place called Bad Noon Hour. You can’t forget the name, you know. And we were told to stop there. It was about 10:00 at night, and nobody knew where we were, of course. And we stopped and set up pup tents with the idea in the morning we were going to move—we had already traveled for about one hundred-fifty miles that day. And then all of a sudden the word come, “Pack up, we’re gonna cross.” And so everybody took down their tent again and got on the trucks. And…, the idea, apparently, of which I have no factual data on, but the idea was that the colonel wanted to be cited for the first to cross the Rhine—and we were. And for that we got a meritorious unit citation. And we ended up in the place called Honnef (Germany) on the other side of the river. And then as the war….
How did you cross? On a pontoon bridge? Yeah, on a pontoon bridge, yeah. They were shelling at the time, and, of course, there were lights out there and the planes were strafing and whatever, you know.
And, you know, if you…, you know, I wasn’t a driver, I was in the back of the truck and there were probably maybe twenty other guys back there with me. But you don’t know where you’re going, you don’t even know where you are (laughing), you know. And, of course, we ended up on the other side safely, fortunately. And the bridge fell down, I think, the next day. It was so weak, that’s why they didn’t want the traffic on it.
And then (General) Patton coming up from the south after Bastogne (Belgium) had moved into Buchenwald Concentration Camp, and they took it over. Of course, they didn’t know what they were getting into, and, of course, combat troops are not equipped to take care, nor do they want to, I suppose. So he said, “Hey, I gotta have help taking over.” And we were told, “Get over right away and take over the concentration camp.” So we moved in there. It was about, oh, maybe the third week of April when we moved into Buchenwald where there was, oh, I think maybe twenty-one thousand inmates, which most had tuberculosis. We were told to set up, take care of the ones we could, and evacuate those that…. Fortunately, there was an airstrip not very far down the line there, so we….
I was—because when I got into this unit it was only thirty days before they went overseas—I had no training whatsoever. I knew nothing about the medical end of it. And, consequently, they didn’t know what to do with me either. The tank destroyers didn’t want me and the medics didn’t either. And I ended up in registrar, which was…, because they needed somebody. They had four people and two officers. And these…, enlisted people, the four—two were on days and two were on nights on twelve hour shifts—and they were the typists. And, of course, with the amount of paperwork that the Army wanted—they wanted everything filed and submitted and whatever—and so I ended up doing a lot of paperwork.
I ended up taking care all of the patients’ valuables. When they came in they used to strip ‘em, and then they gave ‘em to me (referring to the soldiers’ weapons as well as their valuables) because I was one of the few guys in the Army that had any training with a weapon in their unit, you know, they were all medics. And so I took care of collecting the valuables—watches, wallets, whatever—and seeing that they get them back again.
Well, after…, like I say, we went in there around the end of April, middle of April, and the war was over May 8th, I believe….
1945? Yeah, 1945, yeah. And I was in Buchenwald at the time the war was over. Here again, you know, I see these pictures on television of the people dancing in the street. No, not where I was. Nobody really cared. And I think the reason they didn’t care is because we were scheduled to go to Japan. Because, you know, from the training that we had, basically from D-Day to the end of the war, five battles we were in, and everybody felt, “That’s one down one to go,” you know. So there really wasn’t a heck of a lot of celebration or anything.
So they decided that because there was no way to get home anyway that we’d be in the army of occupation, and we were to set up the hospital in a city and take care of not only the American soldiers in the area but also civilians. So we operated as an occupation hospital until about October, at which time we were told to turn in the hospital equipment to the Army, you know, and pack up ready to go home, which we did. And we shipped out to what they call cigarette camps, which were really just assembly areas to get ready to ship out. There still there were no ships, so we sat there until November.
I got home the day after Thanksgiving, I got back to Kenosha. Of course, they wanted me to, like everybody, they wanted [me] to reenlist, sign up, whatever, which I thought was kinda interesting because we had two hundred twenty men in this unit, and [just] one of them reenlisted—that I know of. Now, there may have been after they got back to their…, because they were…, most of these people in this unit were from New York, New Jersey. A lot of ‘em knew each other in civilian life before the war, and, of course, being from Wisconsin—hillbilly, you know (he laughs). You know what they say, “Anything west of the Hudson is Indian country,” you know, so they really didn’t understand even where Wisconsin was, I don’t think.
But I had a job. Being in registrar I had the only telephone, I had access to the files, I had more info…. Most of these people were working on wards taking care of patients or cooking meals or something, and I was kinda this free-lance guy. And because I was the fifth guy on registrar I didn’t have anybody to rotate with on this day-night thing. Every two weeks they would switch, and I had nobody to switch with. So I worked days all the way through the war. Even the officers, the colonel, whatever, they were all doing the switching. I had the straight run (he laughs). So I had it pretty good, lucked out.
You mentioned you were in five battles. What were they? I don’t know. I can get it for you. Stay right there. (He gets up and retrieves his shadowbox.)
After Buchenwald had been pretty much secure, and, of course, the war was winding down pretty quick then, they took trucks back to Weimar (Germany), which is, I would guess, nine, ten kilometers outside of Buchenwald, and picked up all the people, the adults, and marched them through Buchenwald—all the German civilians—so that there would be no denying that this happened. Many of the (German) officers, particularly the high ranking officers, lived in Weimar, and yet these people claimed they didn’t know the concentration camp even existed. And, of course, they were…, at the time they were cremating bodies every day. The smell was terrible.
In looking at most of the people’s medals—when they pass away they have them in the paper—very few people got five. I don’t know why that is. A lot of ‘em have four, not too many of ‘em got five.
Do you remember what your service number is? Sure, it’s right here. It’s on the dog tag. Let me see what it says. (He looks at his shadowbox, which contains his dog tags and reads off his service number.) 36254373.
(Robert’s wife, Mary, interjects, “You can tell him about that little town you were in England too for all that time.”) Yeah, we got over there…, we got over there in ‘43, and, of course, D-Day wasn’t until ‘44. So between November of ‘43 until June of ‘44 we were in a little town in England in the Cotswold’s called Wooten Underedge, meaning under the edge of the Cotswold, the hills. And we…, they moved us into this little town right off the train right after we got to England. The people in the town didn’t…, they knew we were coming, obviously, the Army made some preparation. So some of the people (meaning himself and his fellow American troops) lived here and some there and some over the loft in the library, you know, that type of thing. There would be two here and one here and ten here and….
That was your soldiers? All the soldiers. And we had nurses, although they weren’t with you all the time, they were assigned, you know. And they had twenty officers. The head of the thing, Fedder his name was, was the head of the Bellevue Hospital in New York before the war. And these guys were maxo-facial surgeons, there were orthopedic surgeons, you know, there were just plain old people that took care of people—some people got the mumps, you know, somebody had to take care of the run of the mill stuff.
And they had a building that they took over, like an old barrack building that was the mess hall. And because they couldn’t get a hold of these people, you know, nobody had a telephone in those days, so the idea was every morning “If you want to eat be down at this mess hall building and we’ll feed you,” you know. So, it was up to you, get up and go down to this mess hall and…. We lived with these people.
Well, the next thing that happened was most of the guys got a girl, what few girls there were in town. And the next thing that happened was…, we had equipment and we had supplies that the English didn’t have. This town was probably, I’m guessing, maybe was twenty-five hundred people, and we were two-hundred-twenty, so we just took it over. And they said such things as, “We could get first run films out of the United States.” “Well, we haven’t any place to show ‘em.” So, “I’ll tell you what we’ll do. If you let us show ‘em in your theater, the people of Wooten can come for free,” because the GI’s didn’t have to pay for it. So we took over the theater.
And then they said, well “We gotta give these guys haircuts and we don’t have anyway of doing it. We’ll take over your barbershop. If you let us use your barbershop we’ll cut all the civilian hair for free.” And, “We don’t have any way of cooking very much,” you know, “so we’ll take over your bakery.” And we took over everything in the town. It was our town. The guys had the girls, we had all (laughing)…, everything in the town was run by the GI’s.
And then they said—when it got hot and we knew we were going to leave, you know—they said, “Don’t tell anyone we are leaving. We are going to pull out of here early in the morning. But don’t tell anybody, we don’t want anybody to know.” Unfortunately, everybody in town knew (laughing).
We got out there on the street in the morning. I don’t know, it was two, three in the morning or something like that, and I’m sure everybody in town was standing on the sidewalks. And, of course, because all the guys had these girls they were hanging on ‘em, you know, and “Oh, please don’t go,” and “Take care of yourself,” and whatever, you know. Of course, it was dark because you couldn’t have any lights at the time, you know, but. It was kinda interesting experience.
And from there on, of course, a few of them married some of the girls. A few of them went back there.
It was very, very, almost impossible to get a furlough, even to get a day off after the war started, you know. And, of course, that depended upon the unit again; and some units, obviously, it was easier. But in our unit, boy, it was like pulling teeth, you know. So, for somebody in France to get back to England to go to Wooten, about one in zero (laughing), you know. No big deal.
What was Kenosha like when you got back? Had it changed? Well, I got back on the North Shore from Fort Sheridan. I rode up…, in the depot there was a taxi cab…, I sent my parents a telegram from Boston and told them I was coming, so it wasn’t a surprise. Of course, it was the day after Thanksgiving and they were eating all of the leftovers, naturally, you know. The Army did their darnedest to get, I think, everybody out of Fort Sheridan before Thanksgiving, and I just missed it by a shade, you know. At any rate, when I got home I took this taxi from the depot and walked in. I had my duffle bag and gear, you know, and threw it down.
Actually, I was very disappointed. Sure, my mother was glad to see me; my dad was working, of course. I don’t even recall what day of the week it was. I don’t know where my sister was. She probably was working too, I imagine. By the time everyone got home for supper—this was in the afternoon I got there—by the time they got home for supper is was kinda like, “Ho-hum” type of thing, “The war is over, been over for months.” There was no cheering, there was no nothing.
My butt was dragging. So I went in for the next few days, sat down, turned on the radio, which I hadn’t had anything like that, you know, and my mother said, “You’re not gonna set there for the rest of your life are yah (he laughs)?” “I’d been setting here three days, Ma. I was overseas two years, you know, give me a break (continuing laughing).” At any rate, I could see what she was saying, you know, that you’re gonna have to move on—so I did. I went down, that’s when I went down to Bradley University and went to school.
Did you use the GI Bill? Under the GI Bill, yeah. But I don’t think anybody by the time I got out…, it was…, you know, everybody was wearing their uniform, obviously, until they could get out of it. They had to buy clothes, and nothing fit. But I don’t think anybody really—six months later—really much cared if…, you know. A lot of the women were being laid off, the industries were being cut back, jobs were hard to get, everybody that was in the services, or a lot of ‘em, wanted to get under that GI Bill and go to school. It was just like…, it was something that…, “So you were in the Army, so big deal,” you know, “Let’s move on,” you know. (Mary says: “I think people were just as tired of the war as you were.”) Oh, I’m sure they were, I’m sure they were. Of course, I was out of the States for two years so I don’t have any knowledge of what went on there, but.
When I got down to Bradley, of course, it was all veterans from all over the United States, you know, and they were there. And they put us all up in a barracks. Didn’t make any difference, you know. There was Navy and Air Force people there, and everybody was used to living under the same conditions, so who cared, you know. You had to walk, I guess it was two blocks, to take a shower. There was a bathroom downstairs that they put in this old building that had three or four sinks in, something like an army barrack, you know. Nobody cared. The idea was, “We’re out; we’re home.” Everybody got along real good, you know. They were all on cots; just like in the Army, lined up, you know, all over the place; they’d mop the floor, whatever. Really, it wasn’t any different than being in the Army, except you went to school all day.
Was there a lot of women at the college? Well, of course, Mary was going there. That’s were I met her. (Mary states: “Well, it was all women the first semester I was there except for all people that were disabled veterans that had gotten out of the service. And there was some…, or people that weren’t able to, you know, 4-F. There weren’t any men there. And then when all these people came, my goodness.”) Yeah, I got out at Thanksgiving, and in February when the new semester started coming I was enrolled already, so. I was…, oh, maybe two months and I was…. (Mary states: “They didn’t have room for everybody in the classes or anything.”) No they didn’t have any room. (Mary repeats: “They didn’t have room in the classes or anything.”)
When did you get married? (Mary states: “June 18th, 1948.”) I knew that (he laughs).
Who did you marry? Mary Elizabeth Alden, right off the Mayflower.
Did you have any kids? Four.
Did any of them go in the military? Nope. Now there again, you see, most of the people like me, most of their kids were just about right for the Vietnam thing. And, of course, they gave everybody a number. But, my two oldest boys were going to University Madison, and fortunately their number was such that they didn’t get in. And the other one was…, of course, Lynn (his daughter) was too young and the younger boy was younger than Lynn, so nobody’s been in the service but me.
Was there anything else you’d like to say? I want to thank you for coming. Hope you have good luck with your book. It’s a big job, it’s a big undertaking. It is, I would imagine, much harder for you because you’re looking at it from different eyes than I am, you know. It would be easier for me—I’m not a writer—but it would be easier for me, probably. But then one of the things that they say about veterans, which, probably, I would think, is pretty true, is that your war is as far as you can throw a hand grenade.
You don’t have that today where they’ve got all this input stuff. You know, we didn’t have that, we didn’t have radios, we didn’t have…, if you had it, it was one little radio and it was in the colonel’s pup tent, you know. We had no…, oh, we had a Stars and Stripes newspaper, but generally it came a few days after the news, you know. Today, when something happens, bang, they bust in and you got it, so.
Really, you just kinda…, most of the time you were very lucky if you knew what day of the week it was. You didn’t know what country you were in. You didn’t know where you were going next. And the name of the game was pretty much “Get the war over.” I think that was…, because when it’s over we can go home, so let’s just get the thing over and then if we have to go to Japan then we’ll go to Japan. But, of course, fortunately we were left out on that one, like everybody did, but. We were still in the army of occupation, of course, when they dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.
So…, then there again, no celebration, no nothing, ho-hum (he laughs). So I really…, you know, I was never in a victory parade, I never saw any celebration, I never…. I see that stuff, I see all these guys running, all these navy people running around kissing all the girls, you know. Where did I miss out on this (he laughs)?
When did you move to Beaver Dam? ‘62, fall of ‘62.
And that was to work at the prison? At the prison in Fox Lake.
What did you do there? I taught mechanics, auto mechanics. And then I taught small engine mechanics.
How long did you work there? Twenty-five years.
So you retired from the State? Yeah. They were glad to get rid of me (he laughs). (Mary says, “No they weren’t.”) They weren’t (he laughs)?
Well, while I do think what I learned in the Army, while it wasn’t combative, in a way it certainly was very good for working in the prison system—dealing with people, patience, you know, that type of thing. And the training that you get in the military was…, helped me, because the inmates, a lot of inmates have the idea of “Poor me, I’m in jail,” and I had the idea you’re lucky they’re not shooting at you, you know. So it was a big help.
I appreciate it. My pleasure.
Last updated on 27 Jan 2013 .
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