Interview by Robert C. Daniels
Arnold Visser was interviewed at the Union-Congregational Church in Waupun on 15 March 2006. The interview started at 08:45 A.M. and lasted 56.11 minutes. At the time Arnold was eighty-five years old and proved to be very willing to talk and an excellent source of information. Arnold had submitted a written description of his military history prior to the interview, which he referred to from time to time throughout the interview. Mr. James Laird of the Waupun Historical Society also assisted in conducting Arnold’s interview.
What is your full name? Arnold Raymond Visser, but we just use the R.
And Visser’s spelled V I S S E R? Yes.
I know a lot of people born in the early twentieth century were not born in a hospital, but at home. Where were you born and when? I was born in Waupun, on Walker Street.
In a home? In a home. On Walker Street.
What was the date? August 28th, 1920.
Who were your parents? Cornlius Visser.
Could you spell that, please? C O R N L I U S, Cornlius Visser, and then Hattie—maiden name, Looman, L O O M A N—Visser.
And her first name was Hattie? Hattie.
Do you have any brothers or sisters? I have one brother. Roland Visser is a remaining living brother. I have four other brothers—they are all buried in Alto, Wisconsin, in the cemetery—and a sister.
Were they older or younger than you? One brother was older, Clifford, the others were all younger.
Where did you go to school? Lincoln School—grade school; South Ward school—grade school; and Waupun—high school.
And you graduate from high school? ‘38, 1938 class.
Did you attend college? I went to Carpenter’s Technical School from the State of Wisconsin and became a journeyman carpenter.
(Jim Laird): Where was that? In Beaver Dam, and I got a certificate this big (he laughs and shows with his hands a very small imaginary frame). And I spent four years just to be a journeyman.
When did you graduate from there? In 1950…(thinking)…1950. I was home from the Army.
What was it like for you growing up? Pardon?
What was it like growing up? Well, it was active with the neighborhood we had, and we could play on the street and sometimes use a slingshot (he laughs). Played…, we played our football games and baseball games all by hand, and enjoyed each other right in the town, Waupun.
Waupun, so you lived in Waupun? Oh, yes.
What did your father do? He was a contractor. He built one hundred seven homes in Waupun by hand.
Wow, wow. What were you doing in the 1939, 1941 timeframe, basically just before Pearl Harbor? I was going to…, working for Johnson Truck, which was a local truck line, from Milwaukee south and to Berlin (Wisconsin) north. That was our, that was our route.
So you actually drove the truck? I was on the line, yeah. In 1938 I brought all the beer in Waupun for the centennial from Schlitz and Blatz; my truck. I was only eighteen (we all laugh).
Do you remember what you were doing when you first heard that Pearl Harbor was attacked? I was listening to…, on the radio…, every Sunday I would listen to [a] Christian Reformed pastor in Sheboygan (Wisconsin), Reverend Pageler, and I’d lay in front of the Majestic radio and listened to him. And at 4:19 [P.M.] they broke in: “Pearl Harbor has been bombed.”
Do you remember what time that was? 4:19.
4:19, in the afternoon, wow. What were your thoughts and feelings about that, about the attack? Well, I went to the school, but I never knew where…, I didn’t know where Pearl Harbor was (he laughs), so to speak.
What were other people thinking, do you remember? Well, I have no idea because it’s…, you know, we only had radio, you understand. We had to get all our news from radio. Perhaps the follow-up paper came down the street, and the paperboy would come, “Extra, extra.” He did. At one time when Lindbergh’s baby was murdered…, I could still hear him when he came also down the street yelling, “Extra, extra.” And then we would go out and buy a paper for a nickel. And then we could…, then we read about it.
And that was the Fond du Lac paper? Yes.
When did you decide to join the military? I was drafted.
You were drafted, okay. When was that? July 2nd, 1942.
And did you have a choice of what service you went into? No choice.
And you went into the Army? Yes.
How old were you when you went in? Twenty-one.
And what rank were you? I went in as a private, certainly; and I retired as a captain.
Captain! So you actually retired from service? Yes. I retired active in 1963, but I was on call till August 28th, 1980.
1980, wow! You had to be in sixty years when you ret…. I could have been called, but I…. You remember the couple (motioning to Jim Laird)…, a couple of months ago in the paper, you see the one was called after he was retired active? I was on duty all the…, I could have been called.
Wow! Did you have a specialty when you went in? No, just basic training, infantry training.
Where was your boot camp or basic training? Camp Swift, Texas. That’s our…, was my first camp. Then we transferred to San Antonio, Texas, and then I was called and cadred back to Camp Swift to train a new division. So cadred back and trained the 90…, I was in the 95th and went back and trained the 97th Infantry Division, and spent my time with them. I was a sergeant to the commander.
That was Camp Smith? Swift.
Swift, in Texas, okay. Could you give us a—I know you put a lot in writing here—but could you give us in your own words sort of a brief history of what you did during the war? Well, I was in Camp Swift, then we spent four months with the 97th in the swamps of Louisiana on active army maneuvers. No lights, except on the weekend, breakfast and supper in the dark, active training; had (simulated) enemy. And that was four months of that type of life. If it rained…, one night one of my sergeants yelled—it rained, and he didn’t know, he pitched a tent and it was in the river—so we could find him (he laughs), and we can’t, you know, we can’t have lights.
So that was four months. Then we went to Camp Fort Leonard Wood (Missouri). And I was on duty there, with active duty. Then a jeep come out one day and said, “Visser, they called you in and interview if you wanted to go to officer candidate school.” I said, “Well, I’ll go along.” And I went into the camp headquarters and they said, “We got an opening for the class at OCS” (Officer Candidate School). And they says, “What your (inaudible) was.” “Yup,” I says, “I’ll go.” So my class started at officer candidate school on November 2nd, which was a very difficult school. I mean, we start with two hundred and maybe a hundred and fifty so would make it.
(Jim Laird): Did you say where it was? Fort Benning, Georgia. I was off for the officers candidate school at Fort Benning, Georgia—infantry school. Well, they had air…, 82nd (Airborne) trained there too. The airborne division trained there. But I went to the OCS school and graduated one of the seventeen—they called us seventeen-week wonders when we got out of there (he laughs)—Nov 14th.
That was 1942? Yeah. No, that was ‘43.
‘43? ‘43. Oh, let’s see, no, ‘44 (he laughs). I mean, when I got there I was just a high school…, and here them…, all them ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps), rotcee students came in there, you know. They studied military in their college and they all wanted to get…. I thought, like, “Here I stand, what am I gonna (he laughs)…, how do I fit?” Just a high school….
So you were commissioned a second lieutenant? Commissioned a second infantry, lieutenant in the infantry.
Then what happened? Where did you go after that? I went to Camp Blanding, Florida, to a camp till February. And then I received the call, I had to go to Europe.
And what outfit were you assigned to when you were in Europe? Well, there’s a history of many things I did in my…, I first wrote (referring to a written statement he made)…, first came to England, first. And then got on a narrow railroad and got across that, then got to France. Then join whatever command they put you in. You know, I mean, it was busy.
Most of it at first was rear echelon, you know, training. I know we had to train troops that were…, came back from England that were wounded, you know. Well, everybody had to be active, you can’t…, you know, and so.
I was fortunate to have an officer with me there that…, he had already been to the…, some place in Pearl Harbor or some place, and so. Because one time I started training ‘em and here that one kid said to me, “Well, you…, what are you trying to tell us? We’ve been in combat, and here you come from the States trying you tell us…,” you know what I mean. Then that other officer stood up and he says, “That’s the last of you! I have got more medals than all of you put together! I have been in the war!” Did that ever help me (he laughs). They quiet right down. And he was the truth, you know. I won’t forget him for quite awhile. One day we got orders to go to some place and I never saw him again. I don’t know what happened to him.
(Jim Laird): Now, did you go across by a ship? Yes, yeah. Big troop ship. Well, the ship was…, Conner riding…, Aquitania. I have it listed, you know. And it was loaded for troops, you know. Went to England, you know, and then they got off, and….
(Jim Laird): When you crossed the channel to go into France? Sure.
(Jim Laird): How…, what was that relative to D-Day? Oh, this was late, you know. I’m in February, you know, ‘45, and it was safe, you know. But nothing…, going across the ocean it wasn’t safe with that big…, we had…, we saw just an airplane, a small airplane because this ship—we made it in four days—but an airplane would come around and see if there is any U-boats for our protection as we went across. That was the only protection I had because our PT boats couldn’t guard us. We went too fast, I mean. I saw the plane every day. And so, we made it.
What were the accommodations like? Well, I had a porthole…, I had a porthole in my…, a big cruise ship, you know. I had a porthole to…, not because I was an officer, because I was given duties. I had to watch the deck at nights so nobody would light up a cigarette because that cigarette would shown for ten miles. So those were my duties, deck officer.
So you weren’t down below in the holds, you had your own stateroom? No, never. I was treated…, I ate in the dining room. But…, because we had to pay for our meals, you know, an officer has to pay, you know. But the stench down below there was not good, you know. I’d go down and…, well, we didn’t have any command troops but…. It’s something.
They give me a…, you have all kinds of experiences…, they give me a…. When I got in New York [and] we were ready to go they gave me a sergeant to help me with the troops, with the group I had. And finally I said, “Where is my sergeant?” “Well, he’s in bed.” I says, “We haven’t moved yet. What is the matter?” “He’s seasick” (Arnold laughs).
(Jim Laird): Did you ever get seasick? No. But I says, “He says he’s sea sick, we haven’t moved yet!” So I got me another sergeant to help me (Arnold continues to laugh.) So that guy was sick.
When you went from England to France…, did you go to France? Yes.
Was it by boat or by airplane? Oh, yes, boat. We had no airplanes.
Was it a Landing Craft? I have no idea. It was just a small…, could have been a landing…, we didn’t have to use a landing craft.
That’s what I mean, it wasn’t like a Higgins boat type thing, you just…? I have no idea.
More like a ferry type of boat? Just, you know, ferried across, so to speak.
That was in February 1945? Yes.
So you got to the continent in about February 1945? Yes.
What did you do from then? Well, like I…, trained troops, and was in the combat zone in the rear echelon, and all of a sudden I got orders to go to Germany. And then my story goes across the Remagen Bridge. This lieutenant from…, I never saw him again, and, you know, that’s the story. Then I came to Weimer and Buchenwald.
(Jim Laird): Now, was the Remagen Bridge still standing? I went over it while it was standing yet. It was all set to be flooded (meaning blown up). Nobody set it off, nobody knows why.
(Jim Laird): As I understand it, after two or three days it collapsed. Well, because of all the traffic we put across. I followed the 9th Armored Division in. You know, with all those tan…, after a while they had to…, couldn’t use it any more because they ruined it by traffic.
(Jim Laird): You were there very, very early then in Germany, in entering Germany. Yeah.
What outfit were you with then? Well, just a replacement, I was just…. I followed the 9th Armored because I got a 9th Armored history that they went across because of, you know.
You said you went into Buchenwald? Yeah. Well Weimar, the city of Weimar (Germany). That’s a beautiful city. If you’ve seen a map, Buchenwald was a part of Weimar.
Could you tell us a little bit about that? Well, I was going down the road and saw a strange car go…, but, you know. Then a man came out of a large opening, and it looked like the chain was just sort of…. He had striped pajamas on. So I stopped my jeep and I went to talk to him. And he just kept walking, and I followed him a little ways further and tried to get another com…, you know, just to say something, you know. And he just kept going.
Well, later history revealed who he was. The general, Goebel, or what’s his name, put him in there because he refused to command. And [when he] went in there he weighed one hundred and eighty pounds. When I saw him he weighed eighty-seven. He starved.
And who was this? Well, it’s in that story there, in my history (he points to his papers). His name was Elhithel, or something like that, El Hithel, or something, a general, or commandant, or….
A Germany General? Yeah. I mean, I get this from an interview that later he helped…, when an American Army unit found him and he helped them go back and analyze what’s going on, you know. I mean, they used him as a person for, you know, information and everything.
So he never talked to you? No. I mean, he was free (Arnold laughs).
(Jim Laird): Please mention that you spoke to him in Dutch, right? Yes. But he just…, he could see that I was in the Army, I mean, I was…, you know. I don’t know if I had my pistol with me or not, but.
Can you imagine what he saw? When one thousand five hundred of his…, that were in there murdered by April 12th; five thousand in March; five thousand in February. He saw all those people…, you know, and he’s living!
(Jim Laird): Arnie, I understand that you eventually went into the building? Oh, yes….
I went in this building and I stood there alone and walked in and all I saw was cubicles like this (he motions with his hands) and just heads looking at me; no motion. And the stench was out of this world. I mean, the stench and being quite and…. You know what I mean, death in the eyes, you know. And I walked down, you know, what could I do? I mean, I was on orders but I stayed long enough to walk quite a ways in and…, alone! And finally I left. Didn’t know what it was, you know, until later—history.
I just saw a piece of the city of Weimar a little bit, which was a beautiful town. But I was on orders.
It was just you in the jeep by yourself? Yes. I mean, I…, you know, here…, what do you do, I mean, when you go into a foreign country and then you’re ordered to go someplace. You know, you can’t explain.
(Jim Laird): Do you have any idea how long after you were there that the, you know, the American troops came and started to feed them and clean them and help them? Well, immediate.
But I was in the one building, and there was many other buildings where activity was much, much different. And that’s the ones you read about where they murdered the people and burned them and all that. This was…, seemed like just a big storage…, or it might have been a rear entry, or something.
So there were no other Americans there at the time when you got there? I was all alone. I was…, my jeep and I…, we, I just stopped. I was on orders. I told you the other officer, I never saw him again, I don’t know where he went. He had his own jeep too.
And you mentioned…, did you see…? Elie Wiesel? Well, no, but I…, according to the picture, you know what I mean, they identified him. Well, I saw where he was, because there was a partition, and I had to walk far enough in, you know. So at the 60th anniversary I made contact with him, and he wrote me. Well, he’s a profess…, he’s a, what do you call, an honor, piece…, what do you call it when they get a…?
(Jim Laird): Nobel Prize? He is a Nobel Prize winner. And he’s in New Jersey, a professor, at Benson College, or something like that. But he did corresponded with me.
After Buchenwald, where did you go then? Then I went to Germany and joined the combat groups.
And you actually joined an outfit then? Oh, yes, yes.
What outfit was that? The 9th Infantry Division.
Were you given a company? A platoon.
What was the actual name of the platoon? Well, it was…, I was in the K company. I don’t know if it was the first or second platoon. I know it wasn’t the fourth Platoon. K Company 47th Infantry Regiment.
(Jim Laird): Did you make it as far as Berlin? No, we didn’t…, our unit didn’t go to Berlin. Until April 29th we were at Koch some place, it’s in there (he points to his papers). On a Sunday morning I had to go some twenty-two miles to meet the regiment…, to meet the Russians for our regiment. It was on a Sunday. [I] took my squad and I…, we didn’t have hardly anybody left because the unit was pretty well depleted. So we met the Russians.
I was ordered not to cross the Elbe. They was on this side already. If I’d have crossed the Elbe I would have been in Wittenberg (Germany). And here I met the Russians. Fortunately, they didn’t fire, they must of saw our…, because one of our units met ‘em some other place and they got fired on by accident from other Russians, or whatever.
They were butchering cows, and they had their vodka. Boy, they were ready to give vodka. My interpreter got pretty well lit up, you know, but, you know, my people…, I stayed so I could provide backup. He could talk Russian.
So I had to meet their officers—make arrangements for our higher officers, regimental or division—to meet with them, two days or something like that. That was my job—that was my last mission. You know, the years I went to Infantry school, “The land is never yours until the Infantry gets there” (he laughs). So that last…, that was ours.
And that was where? When…? I went with a unit there, you know, a squad, you know, a platoon leader.
What town was that? It is in there, it’s in my..., two towns are listed in there, in that report, near the end, because that was my last battle, so to speak. I think it was Krecle or something like that. It’s Krecle (Germany).
(Jim Laird): As a novice, you had a company? I had a platoon.
A Platoon. How many people are in a platoon? Well, we had four squads, you know, but we were down to eighty [men] in the whole company. We were down to about eighty, ninety people in there, and three officers, you know, because the 9th Division lost a lot of men. We lost four thousand four hundred men, the 9th did in their history of World War II.
Who was the general in charge of the Division, do you remember? No, I can’t tell you right now. I’ve got it in the book, but I can’t…. I know [the] company commander is McWaters. I remember that much, but (he laughs). You know, we were in the field, you know, I mean…
What was the trip home like for you? Well, we went home on a liberty ship. Left France, and…, I’ve got the name of it in there, I don’t remember the name now. It was kinda rough going. It was supposed to take, I forget, six days, but we ran into a storm, and I was again an officer—it was getting awful rough—I was on top, and I could see the liberty ship…, I could see the propeller. We couldn’t hit two waves [at a time]. The thing was gonna…, so we had to turn and spend an extra half a day or a day, make an extra fifty miles to go away. And then we went this way (Arnold indicates a different direction with his hand), but at least the ship didn’t (he makes a sinking sign). It wouldn’t climb two waves. And the propeller was…, I mean, they did crack, they did beat…, you know, and so that they turned too, and we were alive. Then we came to New York.
(Jim Laird): Do you remember V-E Day? Well, no, not really, you know. We’re in the field, we don’t have papers or nothing. What are you when you’re in the field (Arnold laughs)?
We heard…, I remember!..., we heard some big bomb went off, you know. Well, we heard a lot of bombs, but we never that big one (he laughs). That’s what we heard, a big bomb off in Japan, and the war might end for them, you know. Well, ours was, you know.
Did you have a lot of Germans surrendering to you at the end of the fighting in Germany? Well, we took prisoners, sure, yes.
When they knew that the war was over and they lost, how did they handle that? Well, I had to…, later, I had a camp of twenty four hundred prisoners in Moosburg (Germany), you know. Stalag 7 was the name of the camp. I was in command of that. They lined up for me every morning. You know, we did it this way, but they did this way here (shows how they stood lined up with his hands). Boy, they’d hammer the guy if he didn’t stand good (he laughs), to show.
Were there some die-hard Nazis there? Well, that’s the SS (Schutzstaffel). They were…, that’s different. A prisoner…, just a…, Wehrmacht were just like we were, the Wehrmacht Army. Them guys were just like I was.
(Jim Laird): I heard that at the end of the war the Germans were using an awful lot of young people. Did you see that? I couldn’t tell you what was in that group, you know. When you have twenty-four hundred people, you know, I mean. My company guarded them, you know.
But could you tell the difference between Wehrmacht and SS troops? We didn’t know…, the SS, you couldn’t have in your…, they weren’t prisoners, so to speak. That was something different entirely.
Could you expound on that a little bit? Well, I just know that they weren’t in combat. They were Hitler’s people that destroyed. That’s all that they did, you know. They were special people. They weren’t on the front.
They were the ones that went to the Netherlands and found my cousins there, and “Where’s your dad,” you know, to go into the Army, you know. My cousin John Nagel had a little boy, and they says, “Where’s your dad.”
We went to his house later, Grace (Arnold’s wife) and I did. And he had a closet, and he had another wall right here (demonstrating with his hands of a secret compartment inside the closet), and John Nagel, in the daytime he’d go in that wall, so if they opened this up he wasn’t in there, he was in the other one. At night he laid in a manure pile in that town with three other people, under the manure pile all night so the SS couldn’t find him.
What town was this? Well, this was during the war, you know. In the Netherlands you know, in the ‘40s.
What was his name? John Nagel was…, that’s my cousin’s name.
How do you spell Nagel? N A G E L. Johann Nagel. Of course, Grace and I can speak the Dutch so we spent a vacation one time, went over there and spent some time with them on a trip in their home now, you know.
What town was that? Well, that was…, I forget what town this was. He had a furniture store. I can only…, I can remember that. Later he lived in Bidenfossel. We went on vacation one time, and that was in a different section of Friesland (The Netherlands), you know.
So he never…, the Germans never found him? No.
When you came back to Waupun, was the town and the community different at all? Had it changed any? Well, we got married on December 30th, lived on the farm at Grace’s parents on (Highway) 151. And before the war the electricity came this far from Waupun (he indicates with his hands), and the electricity came this far from Beaver Dam, and their home was in between. And I lived…, we lived with her parents, you know, working at Johnson Truck. Of course, then I got the call to the Army, you know. Grace just stayed there during the war, on the farm. And she traveled with me. She went to Austin, Texas.
I was fortunate; I had a convertible, a ‘40 convertible. And here I got in the Army in Texas and she lived in Austin. And I was just a private you know, I made sergeant later. I could go every night because every officer wanted to get to Austin, you know. All they had were buses and I had a car so I…(he laughs). So she lived with me in Austin. Later she lived with me in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, for a while, and then later she was with me at Camp Blanding for a brief stay.
You got married in 1941. Yes, December 30th.
(Jim Laird): And again, her farm wasn’t electric? No.
So when I came home, there I lived, you know, I lived in town, and so. But we built a home on Brown Street where the hospital is in there, the third one on Brown Street. We built that home then, you know. And I didn’t go back to Johnson Truck. My dad was working on a home, and…, so I just helped him. I mean, I had to find myself, you know. Four years in a…, life like. It wasn’t…, you know, it was different. Sometimes I’d just sit there (he laughs), you know, so.
What was your wife’s maiden name? Grace Derksen. Grace K. I’d better put I the K because there’s two Grace Derksens. D E R K S E N.
She had a child in August, and, of course, I was in Europe, so. I got the telegram at Moosburg. I went to school…, they sent me to Paris, France, to go to City University to get oriented on something. And when I come back…, I went back to Moosburg and got the telegram, Western telegram, that our daughter was born.
How many kids did you have? We just had the two daughters, but she was born in August 8th of 1945 when I was in…, well, I think I was in Paris at that time for just…, went to school for two weeks. I had to live there (he smiles).
So when you came back you worked for your father? A little…, just helped him. I didn’t…, you know. Then Clifford, my brother Clifford, he was…. Then we started as a group. My brother Rolly was here. He worked for Numedors, but then he kinda joined a little bit. And my brother Johnny was in Okinawa, so he didn’t come, you know. Then we just, “Let’s do something” (he laughs). So we started building, construction work.
(Author’s note: Here questions are asked concerning construction in Waupun, which are not included here since they are not pertinent to this study. The reader can access this information by viewing the videos of the interview at the Waupun Public Library or the Waupun Historical Society.)
Your brothers were in the military also? Just Johnny.
He was in the Army or Marines? In the Army.
He was in the Pacific? He was in the Pacific Theater. He wasn’t in the infantry, I forget what he was with. Engineers I think. I think he was with the engineer unit because I heard some of the things he did after the war that sound like engineers did that. They created a lot of things.
(Jim Laird): Before the recorder was turned on you talked about the minister and the comment, and I’d like for you to repeat that so it gets on the tape for us, please. Well, I was in Sunday School and my pastor was teaching, but all that…. For some reason he had just read a book and it came to his mind that Americans came upon a prison camp and they sent all the prisoners back, the Russian prisoners back to Russia. And they were all murdered because they were AWOL (Absent Without Leave). Some of them were AWOL, you know, traitors, and they treated them all like that. And I stood up and said, “That’s not true, I was there” (he laughs). It was traitors in there that had joined the German Army and fought with the German Army against the Russians. And the others were AWOL, I mean, they were POWs, but they were both in that camp. And so we went to a POW…, and a DP officer sent us in there, you know, to give them a fair hearing so those that were under this dateline or else captured and all that, they were called POWs and they were honored as POWs, and the traitors were sent back as…, to Russia as…, for them. But we didn’t, you know…, but they all had a fair hearing.
(Jim Laird): I’d be interested for you to make some comments. When you hear people say, “The Holocaust did not happen,” how do you feel about that? Well, there’s so much history that…, you know, that man is just speaking for himself. Because I was at the other place too, you know, Buchenwald and what was the other one? Well, I saw that how the chambers were there that they burned everybody, you know, and murdered, and…. I saw eighteen carloads of bodies! Strange…, you know, later they didn’t burn ‘em, you know. It’s somebody just saying something to get himself known (he laughs).
But the strange thing…, even those burner things I saw along the road where they…, that the Germans didn’t understand that something was…, you know what I mean. That’s the most amazing thing I have is how come they didn’t understand what was going on. The German people who…. I under…, you know, I thought Germany was quite a good nation…, well, still is, but, I mean, good leadership.
You mentioned that the farm that your wife lived on didn’t have electricity. When did they finally get electricity? Oh, I would say about 1948. It came in from Beaver Dam, it came this way (showing with this hands), and they quit Waupun at, what do you call that? Lovers’ Lane Road there, you know. They quit there and from there on Beaver Dam took over, so. That was the Wisconsin Power and Light.
Do you remember when—we talked about this yesterday with another person—do you remember when they finally got tractors on the farm? Did what?
When they finally got a tractor on the farm? Oh, my father-in-law, he never had a tractor (he laughs).
Never, wow! But I’m not a farmer, I don’t know. He just had horses when he retired.
(Jim Laird): I’d like to ask a couple questions about growing up in Waupun. Do you remember the ginseng beds? I worked for Carl Johnson on the ginseng beds under those laths sticks.
(Jim Laird): Do you know about the ginseng beds (speaking to the author)? Right across the streets from…, they were right across the street from my house (now asking Arnold)? And where the parochial grade school is, and where all those post World War II houses were were ginseng. And they grew it in the ground and they had a slat over it, much like tobacco, right? Well, they had shade, you know, shade lath stick, shade, you know. They weren’t very tall; you couldn’t stand up even hardly. I worked for 8 cents an hour for Carl Johnson. And that house when you go down Hillyer Street there, the second one from Grace (Street). That used to be the drying shed, which was behind the house on Grace Street, where he dried the ginseng.
And here we had a Mr. Johnson—he used the word pharmacy, and we’d never heard that word, you know—and [he] invented a medicine. Let’s see, what was that medicine again? Vitashé. He made the medicine called Vitashé. We called that the never dying medicine. But he made that Vitashé, he was a pharmacist. You saw the Johnson Park, that was his land too, that’s his sign. That was Carl Johnson.
(Jim Laird): West End Park was…, and where the hospital is…, I think he donated the land where the hospital is, didn’t he? No, no, he didn’t own the land where the hospital is.
(Jim Laird): Alright. Ginseng was a very large product in Waupun for many, many, many years. And then they stopped producing it. It is still a large product in the State of Wisconsin. Many people don’t even hear about it, but it’s…, they sell quite a bit of it. Do you know about it (asking the author)? That’s the one that the root looks like little shriveled up people. And it’s supposed to have aphrodisiac, and is primarily sold abroad, but there’s…, it’s a big thing now to get ginseng and take the pills because is suppose to make your brain better. We had to plant that, see, for the next year again. They dug it up and then planted it again. That’s what we did, that’s what I did, worked on them hills, you know. Walked in between them hills and worked. As a kid, you know, for Carl Johnson.
We always said he was a little (Arnold points to his head), you know. He had a lot of ideas. You never knew what next he was gonna have for an idea. He wanted stop and go lights on Beaver Dam and Main Street. They said it would never happen. Well, finally they put ‘em on Beaver Dam Street and Main Street, and the day they turned ‘em on, he died, so (we all laugh).
(Jim Laird): Do you remember ice being delivered to your house and this kind of thing? Sure. I remember Harris coming with the ice wagon down with the horses on Bly Street because one time he came with the ice and my daughter, or my sister, must have grabbed a piece of ice and had it in her throat, and my mother has a hold of her and, aaagh! Well, finally it melted. Got that off that ice wagon. That’s Harris, you know, you see Harris Creek.
(Jim Laird): Yeah, Harris Lake, now, and…. Well, now they have Harris…, that was quite a family, you know.
(Jim Laird): Did you have a furnace in your house or did you heat it by a stove? We had a furnace on that large house on 302 Bly Street, that house that sticks up way up high. My father went and got an International oil burner and put that in there, now. One truck came…, we had about four customers that had oil burners in town; we were one of them.
(Jim Laird): And that was still before the war? Oh, man, yes. I mean, this is early…, hardly…, nobody had a oil furnace. They just came out. It was a gun burner, you know what I mean. We had to put brick in the back for the wall, you know, for the burner.
(Jim Laird): Did you have inside plumbing? Yes. Not in the country we didn’t, but in town, sure.
(Jim Laird): Do remember Waupun getting sewerage, or was that before your time? Well, we had sewer on Bly Street. I don’t remember them putting it in at all, you know. I remember digging, you know. The interesting thing was, we lived…, State Street was so low that nobody wanted to build in there. And so my dad built…, he started on Bly Street, you know, up here. And State Street went down here and up there (indicting with his hands). And finally they said to my dad, “Well, we’d like to get that street in there.” Well, it’s nothing but a marsh, you know. My dad said, “Well, I’ll…, put the road in and I’ll build in there.” And they put a sewer…, a set of sewer water…, not sewer, but water from rain and that, what do you call it? Drainage water. And they put that big pipe through State Street, and my dad built twelve houses in there. They wanted to name that Visser Street. He said “No,” so they named it State (he laughs).
That’s how State got started. And we’d run…, we’d walk through that thing from one block to the other, you know what I mean. Kids would do anything until they got their manhole. That’s how State Street got started from Brown (Street).
(Jim Laird): You went to high school on Fond du Lac Street? Yes.
(Jim Laird): Alright. And you probably walked? Sure did.
(Jim Laird): Winter and summer. Winter and summer, no dinner there. I don’t know, I guess we walked home, I don’t even know.
(Jim Laird): You’re saying they didn’t have meals in the school. Oh, no. They had none.
(Jim Laird): It was the same in my hometown that we didn’t have meals. So in essence the thing that was very different, and I suppose it was the same thing here in Waupun, many of the students went home for lunch. I did. And I come back and I took typing, you know, and shorthand, you know, ‘cause I kinda helped at Johnson Truck a little bit and went to school too a little, you know what I mean. And 1 o’clock I couldn’t type (he laughs as he motions with his fingers typing), for quite a while my hands were…, you know (freezing). Well, I had to grade for shorthand and I still got the certificate that I passed the grade for shorthand. I got the certificate. Who did that?
Here I stood in Texas, in Austin, Texas, you know. Finally…, the morning report was always scribbled in there and they couldn’t read it. Well, finally they made a…, they had to have it typed because they couldn’t read it. Headquarters couldn’t read what the first sergeant was writing. And they made to say it’s got to be typed. And here we stood, the whole company, and they (asked), “Anybody can type?” And I put up my (he raises his hand). I’m the only one. So I got to work for the first sergeant to type…(he laughs). So that was my study later on, I studied for first sergeant and I was transferred to a, you know, another unit. So that was quite something, one guy (he raises his hand again and laughs).
(Jim Laird): Now, since you lived in this part of town, was the cemetery in Johnson Park closed by the time you…? That was an Indian cemetery. There’s Indians lay buried there yet.
(The video ends.)
Last updated on 27 Jan 2013 .
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