The first World War was touted to be the war that would end all wars. It didn't.
During the latter part of the third decade of the Twentieth Century, Europe again became embroiled in conflict. That conflict reached American soil on December 7, 1941. when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Hawaii. The United States once again rallied its forces, called its citizens to arms, and enlisted people throughout the country to make sacrifices for the war effort.
The 32nd Red Arrow Division was training at Camp Beauregard, Louisiana until Feb. 1941. when they were shipped to Camp Livingston. On April 22, 1942. they sailed through the Golden Gate Bridge, to Adelaide in South Australia where they trained for combat.
In September, 1942 the Division flew to Ft. Moresby, New Guinea, where they were the first airborne troops to go into combat, and the first American troops to fight offensive action against the Japanese in the southwest Pacific. The 32nd Red Arrow Division logged over 600 days in combat.
As our troops were gearing up for the second major conflict of the century, registration for the draft required all men. ages 20 to 45, to sign up at City Hall.
The citizens of Reedsburg were learning once again to sacrifice for a greater cause. Rationing boards were set up in the county and one of the first items to be restricted was tires and inner tubes. Sauk county was allotted 22 tires and 18 tubes for passenger cars for the month of January. 1942, and 58 tires and 49 tubes for trucks and busses.
Any citizen could apply for these items upon meeting certain qualifications. After submitting a form, the old tire was inspected by a community coordinator. Upon approval, the request was sent to the Rationing Board at Baraboo for final dispensation.
Federal Car Use Tax Stamps were also required to operate an automobile and were prominently displayed in the windshield. Post offices supplied the stamps at a cost of $2.09.
Because so many of the city's men were off to war, it was up to the women to fill in where needed. Mrs. Levi Mittlesteadt, the mother of four small boys, saw a need and volunteered to become Reedsburg's first woman gas station attendant. Working with her husband, she filled gas tanks, put air into tires, water into radiators, and if called upon, she could even change a tire. "No the work isn't hard." she said in a newspaper article of the day. "Tin used to working hard, and I don't find the jobs here too much." The article concluded by saying that she "plans to continue to do a man's work until the war is over."
Civilian defense was a primary concern throughout the nation and locally a Citizens' Defense Corps formed in mid-January. 1942. Volunteers were sought so that a ratio of 80 persons per 1000 citizens would be available. A Reedsburg Times-Press article noted, "This registration is for part-time, voluntary war work to be done in time outside ones regular job. and it is open to men. women and children. Pearl Harbor taught the lesson of preparedness by which civilians can well profit. We may never need to use our civilian defense corps but if we do, it should be organized and ready ..Friday, January 16. will be your opportunity to show the boys at Pearl Harbor that we are in back of them."
By January of 1943. classes were being conducted at South School to teach volunteers about poison gas identification, first aid in chemical casualties, duties of wardens, auxiliary police and firemen. Red Cross first aid. map reading, and sabotage. A Times-Press article noted that, "Actual bombs will be exploded and real war gasses used." Women were especially needed as air raid wardens, fire watchers, emergency food and housing personnel, nurses and volunteer drivers.
The harsh realities of war were brought into sharper focus when "enemy aliens" were required to register at their local post offices. Germans, Japanese, and Italians were required to provide a photograph and alien registration cards to authorities
Defense Bonds were being purchased through the sale of wastepaper collected by the American Legion, scrap iron collection drives were organized and Victory Gardens were being planned for spring.
In May. sugar rationing went into effect and all grocers in the city were required to sign up. Householders were issued ration books a week later.
Books and records were also requested. "How many old Victrola records, broken or otherwise, will you donate to the American Legion...for our boys in camp, where music helps play a part in entertainment. They are working for you. Let's 'play' for them." read a notice in the Times-Press.
Corresponding with loved ones serving overseas was important to both parties. Letters from home were vital links with reality. However, the volume of mail being transported overseas was overwhelming the government when that space would be better served for the shipment of troops and artillery. To relieve this situation, and still allow correspondence, "V-Mail" was utilized. Letters were mailed to a central location where they were transmitted overseas by a radio-photographic process which also allowed for much speedier delivery.
Special paper was available, free, at the local post office. "The letter must be plainly written with dark ink because the photographic copy received by the addressee is a little smaller than ordinary writing." noted the instructions. "Postage must be paid by the sender. V-Mail has been provided by the government to provide a more rapid means to communicate between those at home and those in service at the far flung battle fronts of the world. Do your part. Send V-Mail letters to those boys so far from home."
Parents wondered what they should tell their children about the war. Attorney Robert Gollmar from Baraboo, suggested that "children should be given ample knowledge of the causes and background of the war and the principle for which we arc fighting. They arc entitled to know what the war is about." He noted the 32 fronts upon which war was being waged throughout the world, and suggested that teachers could make geography come alive for students. He concluded by saying that every- child should learn that, "We should never again turn our back on the world if we hope to stop the horrible recurrence of war every 20 years."
As the war continued, shortages were becoming moie acute. An article in the July, 1943, Times-Press reported that, "The long talked of tire shortage in the nation is making itself felt in Sauk County, where there is only one tire available for every ten applicants."
Used tires were also in short supply. The Sauk County War and Ration Board was rejecting all applications for spare tires not used directly for the war effort. Farm and workers' cars were given priority. The article recommended that people "Have your present tires recapped, do not drive a single mile that is not necessary, share your car with neighbors and do not complain if you are issued a tire certificate for a grade 3 used tire because it means either you use a used tire or nothing at all."
The Badger Theater conducted a "'Copper Commando Raid" in February, 1943 when movie-goers were asked to bring at least 4 ounces of copper as admission. One hundred thirty-three pounds of the metal was collected from 200 youngsters. A total of $12.73 was given to the USO.
A large Roll of Honor sign was constructed and attached to the Walnut St. side of the Penney's store which listed the names of local soldiers who were fighting for their country. A dedication service was held in May, 1943 as part of the city's Memorial Day observance. Veterans were asked to lead a parade, accompanied by children carrying flowers, to the dedication ceremonies. Afterwards, those assembled marched to the cemetery where they placed flowers on graves of those who had fallen in previous wars.
Preparedness at home was paramount. To that end drills were organized in June. 1943. At 8 p.m. industrial whistles sounded a steady-blast for two minutes and church bells rang, signaling a "blue" warning. All defense personnel, which included air raid wardens, fire watchers, messengers, auxiliary police and firemen and nurses aids, reported to their stations. At 8:15 p.m. a "red" warning was sounded for 15 minutes with short blasts of the whistles and tolling of the bells. The defense forces then went into action; pedestrians left the streets, bridges and parks to seek shelter. Vehicle traffic pulled over to the curbs, locked the ignition and set the brakes. Fire equipment was sent out and ambulance crews responded to hypothetical disasters.
At 8:30 p.m. another "blue" warning signaled all clear; street lights were turned back on, and the public proceeded in a normal manner. The air raid drill was pronounced a complete success.
Reedsburg was "bombed" in January, 1944. Planes zoomed low over the city and dropped their loads on unsuspecting citizens below. It wasn't an enemy air raid and the load didn't consist of explosives. The material dropped consisted of leaflets with the picture of a bomb and the words, "This might have been a bomb! But it's not, because American men are fighting with every weapon they have! Are you? Women — Join the Womens' Army Corps."
It was part of a recruiting program for the WAC (Women's Army Corps) and the leaflets were dropped by members of the Civil Air Patrol.
Students beware! High school students who violated the rationing laws faced severe penalties, and were warned of such during a school assembly in September of 1944. A spokesman for the rationing board asked for their full co-operation, LL..or suffer the penalty of having their gas ration revoked and the tires removed from their cars...It is a privilege not a right to drive a car during this war," said the speaker.
At the Loyalty Banquet of Reedsburg High in 1945, Eleanor Stubenvoll Luehrsen recalled that the Junior class song related to the world conflict. The song, sung to the melody of Old Black Joe, went as follows:
Faithful are we, the students of Reedsburg High.
True to thee, we look up to the sky
For goals beyond, that we shall strive to gain.
Our soldiers fighting knowing that it's not in vain.
We 're loyal, we 're grateful to have a land that's free.
So, all-together we sing out our Loyalty!
An ongoing Red Cross project in the city was the preparation of surgical dressings. Workers gathered at the Masonic Hall afternoons to do the work. By October, 1944. the women had prepared nearly 140,000 4"x 4" surgical dressings over a 13 month period.
"Thank the Yanks" was a VFW program to collect funds in bottles placed in local stores to pay for newspaper subscriptions for the men and women in service.
In January, 1945, the Boy Scouts were out collecting tin cans for war salvage. The city donated trucks for the pickup. Waste paper was also collected the following month. Milkweed pods were another item collected by local citizens, to be made into life jackets.
The Reedsburg Canning factory was providing canned vegetables for the war effort. A Reedsburg soldier, Sgt. Krucger, who was serving in New Caledonia, mailed home a canned corn label which indicated it had been raised and packed in Reedsburg.
On April 19, 1945, the Russian Army began a final assault on Berlin and two days later soldiers entered the city's outskirts. American and Soviet troops met at the German town of Torgau on the Elbe River and the fate of Hitler's Thousand Year Reich was at an end. The last defenders of Berlin surrendered to Russian troops on May 2nd, and on May 7th, the German High Command accepted the Allies' unconditional surrender terms. Adolph Hitler was dead and the war in Europe was over.
At home, whistles, horns, church bells and sirens in towns, cities and villages announced and celebrated the glorious tidings.
When the news was announced by President Truman, "Reedsburg stores locked their doors, hung out placards announcing their closing for the day. Many people made their way to their church for prayers of thanks, and asked for His aid in the war yet to be ended," proclaimed the Times-Press. Schools closed for the day and students assembled downtown to celebrate. American flags were put up along the streets and the fire truck toured the city, siren wailing.
Forty million casualties on both sides were remembered, and "Joy of the news was tempered only by the realization that the war against Japan remained to be resolved."
That resolution was realized in August with the surrender of Japan. On August 6th, a B-29 bomber dropped upon the city of Hiroshima, the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare. Sixty percent of the city evaporated. A second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9th, and on the 14th, the war was over.
"The President's message, soon relayed to a waiting world, touched off celebrations in every city, village and crossroads," announced the Times-Press. The news was heralded one more time with a cacophony of bells, whistles, sirens and auto horns throughout the City of Reedsburg. "The fire department took out its trucks and a watertight was staged on Main Street. The men on the nozzles found it difficult to keep the water streams from hitting happy celebrants on the street."
Gordon Emery recalled that exciting day recently. He related that members of the Reedsburg High School Band were notified by director, Rick Ritzenthaller, to gather for a victory march through town. After two hours of marching, they were invited to continue their tribute from atop a flatbed truck provided by Skinner's Transfer.
Another celebrant attached a large sheet of steel to the rear bumper of his car and dragged it through the streets, creating an unforgettable noise.
Emery also said that John Ryczek provided an impromptu concert from the doorway of Krueger's Bar on his concertina, with renditions of Hail, If ail, the Gang's All Here, and other patriotic songs.
Churches held Victory services and their pews were filled. A parade of cars formed, and toured the city, horns blaring. Businesses closed and President Truman declared a two-day federal holiday. The war was over! The Nation, and Reedsburg celebrated.
POW's working on Herman Thieding farm near Loganville
German Prisoners of War Quartered in Reedsburg
"German prisoners of war, to the number of 137, will be located here to help with the canning of peas in this region," announced an article in the June 28, 1945 issue of the Times-Press. The POW camp was located at the north end of Webb Ave., and consisted of several large tents and a few portable buildings. Reedsburg Foods Corp. contracted their help and paid 60 cents per hour. Prisoners were also trucked to the North Freedom and Baraboo canning factories. Workers received 80 cents per day for "'canteen money." and put in a 12-hour day, six days a week.
Workers were badly needed to bring in the harvest as local men were serving in the armed forces. Whenever civilian labor became available, prisoners were removed from the fields.
The prisoners received no cigarettes, candy or beer and their daily ration was set at 35 cents per man per day. The menu consisted largely of carp and pickled herring, along with beef hearts and liver. They also received margarine, sugar and fresh vegetables.
Local citizens were warned to stay away from the camp. "These men are prisoners of war, and are of no concern to the public," said Frank Camp, police chief, "Theyare under the direct supervision of the army, and citizens of this city and community should ignore them."
Twenty guards — veterans of the South Pacific — and two officers were in charge of the camp. Reedsburg citizens were asked to open their homes to these veterans while they were in the city.
"Is Nazi POW labor preferred over local labor?" wrote an angry citizen to the Times-Press that July. "Are not these POWs the same Nazis that have violated every law of God or man? Are not these the same Nazis who took helpless men, women and children and members of the Allied armed forces and cremated them in fiery furnaces?"
The writer complained that WWI veterans and servicemen on furlough had been refused work at the factories. He said that the jobs "rightfully belonged to the deserving men and women of our community." He wanted to know who on the city council and at the factory had been responsible for bringing the Nazis to the city. "Have the men and women of our armed forces who died on foreign battle fields, made the supreme sacrifice to bring something like this about? Have the Gold Star mothers of our community made this great sacrifice, giving of their own flesh and blood to bring something like this about?"
A few weeks later, another letter to the editor, written by Sherry Korth, responded to the angry writer. She surmised the writer had been refused a job and decided to blame it on the POWs.
"Those POW are plain German men, who were forced to fight under leadership of the Nazi party. Are they to blame for the horrible atrocities which were given our American soldiers in Germany?" she asked. The Nazis were getting their just due for the crimes committed on humanity. "We are an understanding nation. Justice is done where need be, in some form or another," she wrote.
"This nation has a very heavy responsibility. We must make these POW, as well as the rest of the German country, realize the destruction and disquietude of war and at the same time we must teach them the method of democratic living. Of living in peace and serenity."
After having visited several prisoner of war camps in the states, Korth noted the "terrifying sights" she had seen, which brought tears to her eyes. They were religious men, reading their Bibles and singing hymns in the medical wards. 'They are finding life again...we are giving them the advantage of an education. Upon their return to their country they will have to start life anew in very destructed and torn surroundings." They should be shown compassion and understanding."
She concluded her letter by saying, "No, 'Local Reader these are not the same Nazis that have violated every law of God and man. They were victims of a man called Hitler, who must have been hit by the devil himself."
POW Camp located where Webb Park is today
Sgt. Harry R. Sansum
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Edward L. Stone
The Reminiscences of Edward L. Stone and his experiences during WWII and subsequent capture by the Japanese.
Clyde D. Nachtigal
The reminisences of Clyde D. Nachtigal, his experiences during WWII, and subsequent capture by the Germans.