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Record 2/959

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Oral history interview with Paul and Loa Fergot by Brad Larson for the Oshkosh World War II project. She discusses her experiences on the homefront while her husband was in the service. He discusses his experiences in B-24 Bombers as a navigator in Italy and POW in Germany. A transcript is on a computer file in the archives. Paul and Loa Fergot Interviewed on 9/19/01 By Brad Larson BL: It's September 19th, 2001 and this is Brad Larson and I'm sitting in my office with Paul and Loa Fergot. So I thought the first thing we would do here is you can start by telling me your date of birth, and where you were living in 1941. PF: Well, I was living right here in Oshkosh at the time, I'd moved here in June and I was attending the then, Oshkosh State Teachers College. My birthday is 9/21/22, so I was nineteen years old then I guess, at the time. BL: Did you have a job? PF: Yeah, um, I was a clerk and a clean-up man and a secretary to Mr. Anger at Anger Jewelry Store. I can't remember his first initials now there were two or three of them who worked there. BL: Did you think you were lucky to have a job? PF: Yeah. BL: Some of the people I've interviewed said that jobs were still pretty hard to come by. It wasn't like you could just get a job anywhere; you had to look for it. Did you find that, was that your experience? PF: I don't remember having to look very hard, they don't pay very well, but I think students at that time could find work. BL: Do you remember what you got an hour? PF: No, it couldn't have been very much. BL: Well Loa, how 'bout you? LF: I was born February 28th, 1924 and I was 17 at the time of Pearl Harbor. I was a senior at high school in Neenah. I was very, very occupied with many extra-curricular activities. BL: Now tell me, prior to Pearl Harbor, did either of you follow the war news very much? PF: We used to have a radio on. I've forgotten which class it was, but we would listen to the radio. I graduated in June of "41", prior to that in my senior class, maybe civics class, I don't recall which one now but they used to play a radio and listen to Hitler and his tirades and things like that. So we had an idea of what was going on over there but I don't think any of us felt it had any influence on us one way or the another. LF: Oh I think too, I read the newspapers a lot and also I remember hearing about the Japanese even before Pearl Harbor. BL: Just about everybody I've talked to that lived through it can remember exactly what they were doing when they heard the news of Pearl Harbor. What were you doing Loa? LF: We had come home from church and had dinner and heard it on the radio and at that time I know I was shocked but at the same time my mother started to cry and I really wasn't sure why she was crying, but later that night we went to Messiah and that was such a meaningful experience and everybody sat there almost stunned. BL: Paul, how 'bout you? PF: I'm probably the only person in the United States who was here during the Pearl Harbor attack who can't say exactly, 'this is where I was.' I don't remember hearing the first announcement and I'm not sure why, I'm sure I was at home. I don't know what I had on the radio but I usually had something that was music so it may not have been interrupted, in any case I know where I was but I can't say. Almost anybody who speaks about it says, "Everybody remembers!" so I'm perhaps the exception. I do remember, before I knew her, I also was at Messiah with a friend from Oshkosh here, and that was quite an experience. BL: How would you categorize those months after Pearl Harbor? How do you remember them? LF: Everybody came to be involved and also there was unification, much like the one we have today. (Interview done approx. one week after 9/11/01 attack on World Trade Center) I don't know how long this one will last but then I think that then it lasted for four years because everyone was involved. I think a person tends to want to do something as so many of the men went out the next day and enlisted and uh, everybody got involved in the war effort in a very short time. Those years were very busy years and I was still in high school, everybody seemed preoccupied with the war, didn't they? BL: Was the school involved in any way? LF: To a certain extent some of the senior class enlisted, in fact one of them was one of the first ones killed in Oshkosh, he was in my class and I'm not sure what his name was. There were some classes I'm sure that involved certain aspects of the war and I remember entering an essay contest that was sponsored by… oh, what was it… PF: I don't know, I wasn't there!(laughs) LF: . . . . the Rotary! That was a city wide affair, and all you had to do was tell how you felt about the war and I was one of the ten top winners, so I remember that. BL: Boy I wish I had those essays now! Was there any kind of organized school activities, such as scrap drives or bond drives? LF: Oh definitely. BL: Was there wide of participation in those? LF: I think so. I think maybe they pertained more to the elementary schools and the middle schools as far as the scrap drives and the rubber drives. BL: Of course now we're talking about bond sales again. I read in the newspaper that there was a couple of congressmen who suggested, or actually brought legislation before congress to bring back bond sales to fight the war on terrorism or against terrorist activities. LF: Well that makes sense. Everybody in school bought bonds. BL: Well Paul, moving to you now for a minute, you would have been in college, second semester. So now what was the mood at college? Right after Pearl Harbor, things weren't going too well. PF: I think that, as best I remember that college students… I don't remember anything special as far as the school itself, having any get-togethers or anything, but I think the feelings of most of the students… well not that specific, was that they were going to have to go and they were aware of it but maybe they could finish a semester. I don't know that a lot of them felt like going right out and volunteering. I think instead of doing that they wanted to make a decision before the draft and maybe have a little more choice of what they wanted to get into. If they got drafted, they didn't have many options. BL: Now of course I've read your book and I know the story and one of the things I'm using in this publication is a letter you wrote to Loa and you said, "I'm heading down to the post office and I'm going to pick up an application for the aviation cadets." Why did you pick the aviation cadets? PF: Well, a couple reasons. One of em was that shortly after the next semester started, we had people come to explain to the male students what their options were and they made it rather positive in that we could finish the semester in school if we joined both the…there may have been others too, but the ones I remember because I was interested in them were the Navy and Army Airforces. They gave us a guarantee that we would finish the semester if we enlisted. I don't recall that there was any other offer as far as an opportunity to become an officer and I'd never feel comfortable over the water, I knew that and of course I knew I didn't want to be on the ground, so it seemed like a really good opportunity. BL: Plus the pay was certainly better. PF: Much! Right! So we didn't have to make a decision, other than to decide what we were going to do in terms of which organization we wanted to get into but we had some time to make the decision and we didn't have to sign up while they were there. I don't think it took very long before I went down and made the commitment. BL: Well, now making a commitment, of course you two made a commitment to each other in the middle of a terrible conflict and it wasn't an uncommon thing to do. What I think is a little unique is the fact, Loa, that after you were married and Paul was being trained, you followed him around. LF: Yes, I definitely did. BL: It took a lot of courage I think. LF: In retrospect it may have but I didn't feel that at the time. BL: Why not? LF: I was glad to be able to do it. Well, life was different then from what it is now. So different. You could go anywhere and not feel endangered. For instance I used to write letters to Paul when he was overseas, I'd write them in the evening and then I would walk a good mile to the Menasha Post Office. Sometimes it was twelve o'clock at night or it was ten to twelve and I would think "Oh I should go and mail Paul's letter", and I'd walk all by myself and I wouldn't think one thing or another. We didn't have to worry about things like that. So we could travel around the country and feel very comfortable as far as safety was concerned. Anyway I hadn't traveled a whole lot before that and it was really neat and I loved it. BL: But you didn't have any job either did you? LF: No, but when I finished high school I took a three month course at Oshkosh Business College and it was condensed for the war because people could get jobs in offices and there was no place where I went that I couldn't find work in an office, even temporary work. BL: Lodging was always kind of an iffy question now, wasn't it? LF: Very much so. BL: That war time shortage. LF: It was, and traveling on a train was sometimes kind of iffy too. Sometimes it got very crowded and once or twice, going across country somewhere, I even sat out in the middle of the aisle. BL: I'll be darned. Well Paul, had you traveled much prior to… PF: Never been out of the state. I think I had gone once to the state fair in Milwaukee and then I spent part of one summer working in Milwaukee right after I graduated from high school, otherwise I hadn't been anywhere really other than as far north as Clintonville. Basically as far as Waushara and Winnebago Counties. BL: Do you think that was typical of the men that you knew, your circle of friends? Compared to now I think most people have traveled. PF: I think probably it was… yeah, I think most of them hadn't. I had a couple of friends I knew, whose parents were well enough off so they'd go down south for a week or something like that, but most of em never got any farther than I did I don't think. Maybe they got to Milwaukee more often, but… BL: How often did you write Paul? LF: Are we talking about …what time? BL: Let's say when Paul was overseas. LF: I often wrote every day, and uh, I'm sure I did, it was just part of my day. PF: Of course she didn't always mail them all in one day. LF: Oh, I mailed them all in one day, you just didn't get them all in one day. PF: Except for the letter that you wrote that said, "I'm not going to get this letter in the mail today, so I'll have to send two of them tomorrow. LF: (laughing) Okay. BL: I think he caught you on that one. PF: Well, I think that one is in the book. LF: Oh, is it? BL: Well, how often did those letters reach you, did they come everyday or how did they come? PF: Overseas you mean? BL: Yeah, overseas. PF: Well, like maybe none for a week and the four or five and then maybe one that was mailed a week later than the ones that hadn't arrived yet. Then of course, when they had the election, that really interrupted the mail a lot. LF: It was done in circuits so they could get the ballots to the service men and when they realized what was happening they had so many complaints and it became so controversial they had to stop doing it. They were holding up mail for the ballot. BL: Mail was important too wasn't it? PF: Oh yes. LF: More important than the ballot. BL: Now I know you sent Paul some little, I'll call them care packages, when he was a prisoner and we'll talk about that a little later, but how bout when Paul was in Italy did you send him any little care packages. LF: I can't remember that I did. Um, did you ever get any thing? PF: If I did I don't recall it. LF: I sent you a package when you were a new recruit. I may have sent a package or two, I probably did. PF: Well, it wouldn't surprise me, it was something that I would say 'oh yeah,' Just after my third mission I got a big package. LF: Yeah and Paul sent me a couple of packages. He sent me a beautiful watch and a couple of other things. PF: She still has it, it doesn't run anymore but…. BL: Well one of the things we think about when we think about WWII, of course everything seems to be so grim, folks at home working in the factories long hours and combat missions, but there must have been some light spots in there somewhere. Maybe some USO clubs somewhere, Paul. Was there anything that you can remember that was good? LF: Many things. Oh yeah. BL: Yeah? Give me a couple of examples. LF: When we were traveling around the country we had a lot of good times with friends. We made many good friends with cadet wives and Paul with Cadets. We had a lot of good times with them, and I lived with a cadet and we had a lot of good times together. We had a lot of good times down in West Virginia, one of Paul's professors there invited us out to his home one night for dinner and that was one of the most beautiful spots I've ever seen in the mountains. BL: Did these people that worked in the different factories in the areas that you were, did they come from all over the country for the most part. LF: Umm, not in some of the jobs, some of the jobs like the job in Montgomery Alabama, at the Journal, in a place like that, no, they used local people. When I worked for the war department they used people from all over. BL: Paul, give me a couple of your memories of good times. PF: Well, the one that she mentioned, West Virginia, Morgantown it was kind of unique, it was very similar to Oshkosh except it was all hills, you know. It was about the same size and it had a river dividing it in two and it was a relatively small town. I was amazed that it was so much bigger than Oshkosh but at that time, I think, it was smaller. They literally kicked all the non-military men out of the men's dormitories and we were moved in and we had apartments like, you know, the two rooms and a sitting room and a bath and everything. As Loa said, they treated us like, I don't know what. They invited us to join the Eagles and come to their dances. Then these teachers we got to know really quite well and spent quite a bit of time with them so it was really quite nice. Beyond that, I think mostly it was that almost at every post that we were both at had a lot of facilities for movies and places where you could go and dance. There was a lot of entertainment for cadets while we were there, so. BL: Doggone it, I knew I forgot something but uh, I know that music has been an important part in both of your lives and I have a recording of Dinah Shore singing Always, and I was going to bring this in and I forgot about it. What were some of your favorite pieces of music from that period, do you have anything that sticks out from during the war years? LF: Well Always was certainly one of our favorites and Deanna Durban of course. BL: Paul, what about you, what kind of sticks in your mind? PF: Well, it's hard to say now cuz I think we have something of just about everything that was uh…. big band kinda stuff and all of the military and that kind of thing. There was one called White Cliffs of Dover, and then the most wonderful miracle, a couple of weeks ago you may know about it, I don't know, it was on Public Television, and it was called Big Bands of World War II. It was a bunch of real professionals who spent and hour and a half, or two hours repeating all the great music of WWII. Dancing the whole thing, the Big Bands and singing. We ran across it at the beginning, thank goodness and we sat and watched that thing, it was past the introduction, we must have watched it for fifteen minutes, trying to decide if it was the real thing. LF: The only difference was, it was in color. PF: Yeah!(laughs) LF: There was no color in those days. It was all in black in white. (laughing) BL: We might be jumping around here a little bit but that's okay because we're talking about a lot of really interesting things. Speaking of black and white that reminds me of movies. Movies were and important part of entertainment. What can you tell me about that? LF: I think, I really thought about that a lot and I think that movies were a [ ] I don't know of anybody that didn't go to the movies two or three times a week. Everybody went then; my parents, so many people. It was something you could do [ ] ride a car because we [ ] gas rationing. And ah, so that was what our entertainment was. [ ]. BL: What about the newsreels, like the Movietone newsreels? LF: They were excellent too because they told us what was going on. I had one experience that wasn't very happy and [ ]. BL: Did you know about any of those camps prior to seeing that newsreel? LF: [ ] BL: Paul, did you have much of a chance to go to movies? PF: We had movie theaters on every post, I think. And I think we went quite often, actually. I never danced so we listened to the bands and had stuff and entertainment of that kind but movies were important too. We enjoyed em too. BL: Just for the record I don't dance either because Norwegians don't dance. They have no sense of rhythm. {laughter from all}. Well once you got over to Italy Paul, what were the Italian people like? I'm not talking about the Fascists, but you lived with an Italian family after you were shot down and around your base, you must have had contact with Italian citizens. What were they like? Did you have any positive experiences ah, prior to being shot down? PF: The first time you mean? BL: The first time, yeah. PF: Not anything, no not close to anybody except the boy that kept our tent for fifty cents a week or something like that. Cleaned up for us and ran errands and all that. But I didn't have any dealings, well, we did have some business dealings. I don't know if that got in the book or not. When I found those plaques, of I can't remember, two composers in a little store in [ ] and I wanted to buy em and he wouldn't sell em. And I kept offering him more and more and of course especially in the south at that time, Italy was dirt poor. Nobody had anything. Ah, maybe the same place I bought that watch. In any case, he wouldn't sell em, period. I think they were gold figures with some kind of dark background on them. They were just gorgeous. I think it was Haydn and Mozart but I'm not sure. I've written it down somewhere. But in any case, they wouldn't sell it to me under those circumstances. The whole country was poor and there were a lot of things that were quite shocking. We once or twice flew to Bari; it's on the coast you know and we'd have a day off. I went swimming in the ocean. And I remember there was a road where the center was grass and trees you know? Yeah. And it was all filled with human feces. Well we saw that in Austria one time when we stopped at a …that's not that long ago. The kids had like, they were selling grapes in bunches and I thought about buying some grapes from them. But then somebody gave us the good word that they picked them and then had these kind of exposed urinals all over the city too and they said the kids washed their grapes in th,,, we didn't buy em. But on the other hand, like ah, when we were shot down, not shot down, when we bailed out the first time, we hardly hit the ground when this farmer didn't come with his two-wheeled cart and donkey I guess. And ah, and I can't remember now if it was brandy or wine, but he came and picked us up, gave us something to drink and hauled us into town. They were very friendly with the Americans, very friendly. BL: Did you hear from Paul very often? How often did Paul's mail come back to you? LF: I had some problem. I was at [ ] quite a while. [ ] . BL: Censored no doubt. LF: He was pretty careful what he wrote. They weren't censored very often. [ ] PF: En route. Once we got over there, and being commissioned, we were allowed to ah, write our names down in the bottom corner and that said we had already censored them for ourselves. And I don't know whether that one was en route after we got there; I think it was en route. But I had wrote something and I said it was alright for me to tell you this. And then when she got it, [laughter} that was cut out. You still got that one too. BL: Well, one of the things that some of the other folks have told me is there was always a kind of a way that you could piece together what your loved one was doing. Did you have any little tricks that… LF: I know some people had codes. [ ] agreed to something beforehand and [ ] I don't think we ever did that really. PF: No. I think it was George McGovern and ah, what's his name, Ambrose, Steve Ambrose latest book that ah, while he was flying combat. He would somewhere in the letter or the envelope, he would just put down a number and that would be it. His last mission was number two or three or four. BL: That helped to know what he was doing like that, or did it not? LF: It helped. [ ]. BL: Paul, describe a typical mission for me. PF: A typical mission would be ah, you'd have an orderly come stick his head in the tent somewhere around two three o'clock in the morning depending on the time you were gonna take off and everything. And they'd tell you to get up and get going. And that's what you would do. Get up and get dressed. Take care of whatever toiletries you had to do. And then you had like an early breakfast around three o'clock in the morning. And ah, we were very fortunate because we had a chaplain for the 460th Bomb Group who spent most of his time when he wasn't you know, having illnesses and wasn't having a Sunday service and usually was at the briefing too. But the rest of the time he spent scouring the vicinity for fresh eggs. So we could have eggs for breakfast rather than powdered eggs. And we had em almost always. I don't know who he knew or how he managed to do it but. So anyway, we had breakfast in the mess hall and then we would go to a briefing. And unfortunately we had a pretty good example of that in the briefing room of the Eagle Hanger at the EAA. And the guy that sponsored it didn't like it so he changed it and now it's really a kind of nice memorial to World War II with music and videos and everything. But it's no longer a briefing room because they don't have somebody on the screen doing the briefing. But we'd go in the briefing room. You'd have several officers that would be in charge of various things. You'd walk in and in our case we had these metal bomb film cans that were pretty much tin and square like that and you sat on those. And then they had a stage up in front. And a black curtain over the map. And when everybody was in and sat down, why then they would open the ah, curtains and you'd see the map of where you were gonna go and they'd have like colored string showing your course out to the initial point, to the target and then back again. And usually also they would have, I don't know if they were removable or not but they would have relief maps showing the reaches of the known antiaircraft guns in various areas. So they had those beforehand of course so they could adjust your flight to get the least of the flak from the antiaircraft batteries. And so they'd show where it was and where it was going to be the heaviest and what you could expect. How many guns and that sort of thing. And they'd tell you, they'd have photographs usually of the actual target. Tell you what altitude you were going to be flying at and what time you're going to take off. When you're going to get together so that you're all one sch…grou… squadron that's together and then the time that you form up into one group or in some cases, wings. And then, then they have a meteorologist tell us what to expect in the weather; whether it would be clouds or thunder and lightning and what have you. And ah, can't remember what other ah, officers there were but … BL: What was the mood like in that briefing room? PF: Well if it was Vienna or Munich or Ploesti, it was pretty quiet. If it was like the last one that I made, incidentally, it was kinda [ ] a milk run, shouldn't have any problems. They only have 12 guns there and it's gonna be short you know; probably won't be gone more than six or seven hours. You feel a lot better. But the one thing at least from my experience, was that the first mission we flew which was not all that bad but prior to it, it was more curiosity than real fear. Real fright. And every mission you flew it was a little harder to be willing to get up and go and sit through the ac… go through the mission. It was, it built up in you. After awhile I ah, you didn't sleep nights either when you were flying the next day. BL: Did you have confidence in your plane? The B-24? PF: Yes. Great confidence. BL: What kind of plane that? How would you describe the B-24 as far as being in that plane on a mission? PF: I guess ah, it was an experience, we'd been in it you know, we got the first one at Hamilton Field, California and flew it all the way over to ah, Italy. We had some sense of what it could do, what the ah, instrumentation was. How reliable it was. We knew some things about it. It was designed to have a regular overhead door opening for the bombs instead of the doors coming out. And that was a lot more practical because you didn't have drag and [ ]. But because of that the center of the fuselage was weak. There was no support down through that section. And so if you crash landed or if you ah, landed in water or anything like that, chances are it was going to break in two. Which was probably not as safe from that perspective than a B-17. But it flew higher and faster and carried a heavy load, heavier load and it flew quite a long distance. Farther than a B-17. And we were kinda proud of having a plane that was really superior to the one that was getting all the, all the ah, population, popularity. Oh, yeah. We liked the B-24. Still do. BL: Did it bother you that the B-17 got all the…? PF: Sure. Yeah. Not at the time. Not at the time. But historically, yes. I resented… I know why it happened. I mean you know, all of the news people were where it was comfortable and no problems you know. They could go to dances and do everything they wanted in London in England. And we're out kinda in the middle of nowhere. No really decent buildings where the news people could go. So they got film of the B-17 and that became the 'golden eagle' or something. The worst side of it I think… BL: I'm going to put a new tape in there. {end of tape} BL: O.K. We're ready to go. PF: I was just going to say that historically, for some reason or other all the 18,000 , better than 18,000 B-24's built, and only12,000 B-17's, and I don't know if it was the military or what but over the years all those great, beautiful B-24's were chopped up and destroyed. There's probably still a minimum of half a dozen B-17's flying. There's only one in the world of B-24's. BL: I've never seen a B-24. I've seen the B-17 of course. Fly over my house often. PF: Well, unfortunately one reason you haven't, is that ah, the EAA and the Collings Foundation couldn't get together on whether the Collings Foundation could sell rides and be in control of that at the EAA. The first, I think two times that this plane was restored, it was like brand new. It came to the EAA by land and all of a sudden it vanished and finally I asked, what's his name, Greg Anderson , why don't we ever get a B-24 here? "Well, we can't come to any agreement on the rides and we have our own World War II bomber so… LF: [ ] and so I think I was more worried about it than anybody else because I had gone through it with Paul and [ ] VA hospitals… PF: In and out… LF: [ ] PF: Courageous. He's a nice person too. BL: I don't want to dwell on the bad part of this whole thing but what was flak like? How would you describe flying into flak? PF: Well, when it was heavy it was just like the old saying goes, it was so heavy you could walk on it. It was just black smoke puffs. And the 88 millimeter guns that fired them, you know that's over three inches, the size of the barrel of the gun. And ah, they would shoot these bullets, I can't think of the best word, one right after another with their ack-ack guns and they would be set for a certain altitude. If they knew your altitude, and they were accurate up to about 18-19,000 feet, after that they didn't do so well. Ah, if they had enough warning to set their altitude, then they would set it and the stuff would be almost exactly the same level that you're flying. You'd see these black puffs of smoke all over and then if it was heavy enough and at the right altitude, you'd start hearing it explode. And then if it was reasonably thin or far apart, then it would be like gravel. You've got this big aluminum thing that you're riding in and somebody's throwing gravel on it. And then as it got closer, the explosions were louder and if big chunks started coming through it was 'crash', 'smash', and it was ah, scary. If you, maybe more scary when you've got a job like navigator because most of the time when the flak is real heavy it's when you're going from your initial point to your target. And at that point in time the plane is controlled by the bombardier and the navigator doesn't have anything that he really has to do. So for those three or four five minutes from that one point to the other, that's when you've got nothing to do except sit there and sweat. That's when you think, "If I was flying the plane, I'd get out of here." Pretty scary. Well, we did have flak suits that we wore, like vests. And then also we had a regular G.I. helmet except that we had hinged earflaps that came down to protect your ears. So you had some protection. BL: But there wasn't a heck of a lot you could do. Just ride it out. PF: There wasn't anything the bomb… navigator could do. The pilot had guts enough not to do it so that's why I ended up, maybe even started that way, respecting the first pilot more than anybody else on the plane. Because he's just driving this big truck. And all this is coming and he's got to stay right next to the other plane. We happened to have maybe the best one in the 15th Airforce for holding that position, getting that [ ] right up tight to the lead plane. After our first mission we flew wingman to the squadron leader. Every mission from then on, he was so good. But how do you do that, you know. What does it take up here? When you're flying through all that stuff. And just driving along and holding that thing right in where its got to be. BL: There's a very powerful passage in your book. And it talks about your last image before you bailed out of your plane when it was hit by flak. And the last image was the pilot holding that plane steady. Why don't you tell me a little bit about that mission and tell me about that last image? Tell me a little bit about that. PF: Well, it was almost kind of an afterthought because when you're in a situation like that, you don't do a lot of thinking you know. Kern was hit; we had to get him down out of the top turret. Get him some medicine, you know, get a bandage on his face. And then, almost immediately we knew it was questionable whether we could maintain altitude. BL: Why? PF: Well, we lost two engines. They tell you a B-17 can make it home on two engines and maybe one but that's one disadvantage maybe of the B-24 but, part of that was that one engine that went out, the hydraulic system went at the same time. And if you don't, if you haven't got your hydraulic out to an engine, you can't feather the prop. Which means it's gonna windmill and it's gonna drag that whole side down. And that becomes a real problem both in terms of trying to fly straight and level and keeping the airplane in the air. You lose velocity. So we had both of these and we… Our target was almost straight north of the Adriatic so we came straight down the Adriatic which of course was safer because the Germans occupied only about north of Florence. And we reached a point where ah, the first pilot was aware that we weren't going to make it. So he called me and asked for a heading from the Adriatic to make a landfall. And by the time we got there, it was, you know, we'd reached an altitude where we didn't have much choice. We didn't have any choice really so we got the order to bail out, and I honestly don't remember why - I happened to be the last one to go, at least from the waist. But I do remember I was there and ah, he's alone up there and ah, hoping that everybody'' going to get out in time for him to get out also. He turned around to see who was left and it wasn't fear so much as concern on his face. But it was, you know I'll never forget it because there was the idea, maybe more mine than his that in a sense he's alone now. There was nobody around to help him. He's got to make the decision and hopefully, get out before he crashes. BL: He did, didn't he? PF: Oh yeah. And I think we have a little different interpretation of this today, but I remember his telling me back when we got out of prisoner of war camp that when he asked me for a heading and I gave him a heading into shore, and just as we made a landfall, he says, "Are we over enemy territory?" And I thought he meant, "Are they under us?" And he thought he meant, "Have we passed over enemy territory?" [ ] And as I recall his first story, when I saw him in prisoner of war camp, he said, "You know, when you told me that, I just folded up my parachute and started walking south." And all of a sudden, they're surrounded by German soldiers. So that has a lot to say about maybe the one time in our whole experience when the discipline that we had drilled into us all the time didn't really work. Well, I think it was in Ambrose's book, he was telling about how the crews could call each other by their first names, "Hey Bill," and all this and all that. Well, Gideon Jones, it never was. Well when he said, "What's our heading, give us our heading," It wasn't, "Paul." It was, "Pilot to navigator." "Pilot to tail gunner." The plan was when you talked to him it would be, "Navigator to pilot." It's silly maybe but it's discipline. It was something that many of us, you know, had drilled into us. BL: There's an equally powerful passage actually in the book, "Letters From The Front," as well as in the book, "Time Out For War." In which you are at school, I think. In which you see your parents. Tell me about that. LF: It was between classes at UWO and we had lockers and I was putting my books into [ ] and it was really strange; I looked up and with the rays of sun coming in, I can still see those and right down on the floor in the rays of the sun was my father and my mother [ ] And I slipped down to the floor and I grabbed [ ] next to me. That was how [ ] Paul [ ] It was on the 25th of October. BL: You spent many, many agonizing months before you heard. LF: Five months before I heard anything at all. Strangely enough, we have since found out from some of the records that Paul got from the archives that our government knew that he was a prisoner in December. Why they never let me know, I don't know. I shouldn't even look back on that episode. [ ] PF: I think the reason, as I look back on it now, you have different levels that, I'm not even sure for example that the Adjutant General of the Army is directly connected to the Air Force. Ah, but he's the one who was ah, he's the one who was notified if somebody's shot down, or missing or killed in action. But every telegram I think that was sent out at least had his signature J.A. Julio on it. Ah, so it goes through that department somehow. And the information that came to the Air Force had a, what was it, the name of it? It was a… a prisoners…. a prisoner reporting division or section or something. It was way up in the enemy occupied, up in old Bolzano, Italy. And ah, I don't know if those were Italians or Americans or who, but they had this reporting station up there and they reported to 15th Air Force that Blaine Richards and I had passed through there as prisoners of war. And that went into their records and ended up in the archives. But it never got beyond the Air Force and nobody took the, thought about it I guess, really the need to see that ah, next of kin were notified that we were still alive. LF: Actually, you were considered dead. PF: Well, that was after the war. LF: We got the information that Paul had been killed from other members of the crew. We really thought you were. And how long ago was it that you got that straightened out? Not too many years ago. PF: In the late '80's I guess. BL: You know we look on this now, sixty years ago, we knew the war was almost over. But when you were captured, you had no idea how much longer the war was going to go on. And, and I, what was your feeling about defeating Germany at that time? December, 1944. Did you have any sense at all that the war was going to come to a conclusion soon from what you saw as you left Italy? Did you have any, even time to have any perceptions like that? PF: I don't think I really thought about it that much prior to my being shot down. Because, basically I was lookin, I was counting my missions and thinking you know, I'll go home and I wasn't, I don't think it occurred to me that the war'd be over before I finished my 50 missions. But after I was shot down, then I, a lot of things pointed to the fact that it was going to be a relatively short period of time. For one thing, any time that I really encountered the Germans, both at that Christmas party and then later in a that hospital, you could almost read in their minds that they knew that the war was gonna be… The only exception was when they interrogated me in Adria, in that castle. And that was an Italian, assuming I guess, that he was a Fascist. And ah, a German soldier who was no, maybe even a non-com, I don't know. I think it was after they interrogated me, he wanted to tell me that we're just now, breaking out and you're gonna lose the war because we're having this big battle and ah, things are going better for us now. And I think he sincerely thought that they had a chance. And of course I didn't know anything about the Battle of the Bulge. And so I kind of snickered to myself under my breath, "Come on, you know, you don't have a chance." And it was only a long time afterwards that I realized that the dates were such that it was right after the breakout of the Bulge. But I think that I always knew that we weren't far and of course when I got to the POW camp then we got BBC broadcasts from our little hidden radio. And in every room we had yarn and home made maps to keep track of the lines. And it got to be a little frustrating after awhile thinking 'they're gonna be here' and they didn't make it. But it was fairly positive. BL: Did the stubbornness of the German army…you say that you were frustrated. Did it surprise you that the German army was that strong yet? That they couldn't quite push them? PF: Yeah. It was frustrating. But we kind of expected them to move a lot faster than they did. And the Rhine, you know. Crossing the Rhine was one of the big problems. That's a big story all by itself. BL: Loa, did you think much about the end of the war, how , how we were, we as a nation as an ally, how we were doing against the Nazis? Did it seem to you that we were coming to an end about the time Paul was shot down? Or did you feel the end was not yet in sight? LF: I think from D-Day, I felt [ ] I,I, I can't remember ever believing that we would lose it. I don't think I ever did. Did you [ ]? PF: Never. BL: Not once. LF: Unh, unh. [ ] BL: And Paul, not even you, not even when you were up there? PF: No, I never, unh, unh. I think most ah, G.I.'s [ ], I don't know. I think it started D-Day. I don't even know for sure that Eisenhower wasn't the one that started it but 'home for Christmas' became a cliché. LF: It never happened. PF: No, but we all thought 'home for Christmas', yeah. LF: It didn't happen. PF: No, it didn't. BL: You have a real funny story here and ah, just a couple more things, just a couple of funny stories that I find humorous, and I know you didn't at the time. But you're being guarded by a couple of Germans. One of the German guards decides to leave and go do something and he hands you his rifle. I found that very humorous. PF: Yeah. It's humorous now but boy… LF: [ ]one of the most frightening things that happened.[ ] PF: Yeah it was, because we'd been warned, we'd been told, "you gotta stay with your guards," because the civilians you know, with what you've been doing bombing all the cities, killing civilians and everything else. "You've gotta, if you don't stay with your guards, we won't be responsible for what happens to you." And then, you can't imagine what Frankfurt was like. I mean all the autobahns, they had, they were enclosed with glass and tin. Big things across the top. It was all blown up. And all the people, almost all the people that were wandering around were either old people with their suitcases and stuff or wounded soldiers. And there were a lot of them there. So many people wandering around. I had this dumb brown suit, wool suit on, and G.I. shoes which I imagine they might have recognized as American army. It was a very, very short period of time but it was scary. BL: What's your most vivid memory of being in the POW camp itself? PF: Well, ah, my most vivid memory of being in it is right at the entrance and Bob Tank whom I still see pretty regularly - he belongs to our POW chapter; I didn't know him all that well but I knew his name and I had socialized with him some. He was from the university here when I was and I walked in the gate and somebody yelled, "Anybody here from Wisconsin?" And I said [ ] "Where you from?" "Oshkosh." "So am I." And he told me his name and neither of us will ever forget that one. He'd been there quite a bit of time before I got there so… BL: Had you ah, well, this happened not frequently but of the veterans I've talked to, occasionally they found somebody from their home town, or even their high school in even the most out of the way places. Did you ever remember hearing stories like that before this happened to you? PF: I can tell you one that post-war that's even more interesting. Probably not really funny. When Loa came home, after I'd washed out in primary training, I was sent to gunnery school in Fort Myers. And ah, so I was essentially on my own when I picked up a friend who, I didn't know at the time had been going through the same program that I had. And he'd washed out and he was training for gunnery and we became pretty good friends while we were there. We'd go biking together and then when we went on to advanced navigation, why he went and I saw him there and Loa came there and we became kind of a threesome. And we go pretty darn close to him. And then when I graduated, he was washed back. And I lost track of him, but he and Loa kept corresponding. She wrote to him after I was missing and he wrote back, a beautiful letter which we still have. LF: He was stationed in England. PF: Yeah. He was stationed in England. And he sympathized and said that 'Paul was just like a brother to me' and he was feeling so bad… And then she replied to that letter and never heard from him again. LF: In fact, my letter was returned. I assumed he didn't come back from a mission. PF: We assumed that he was either a prisoner of war or dead. Since they didn't say 'missing in action' which is what they said on ours, we thought probably he was dead so we went 'till 1980, '90 maybe. And he was from Virginia, a city on the ocean there. I kept looking in phonebooks and everything we could do to try and locate him. Couldn't find him anywhere. And one day we picked up a POW bulletin that showed names and addresses and phone numbers of new members in there [ ] Phil Gatzman. So I got right on the phone you know immediately and called him up and said, "This is Paul Fergot." "Who?" "Paul Fergot". "Who is that?" "Well, don't you remember me?" "No, I don't remember you at all." I called to Loa, "Get me the letter." And I read him the letter that he had written. And on the bottom of course, where he had signed it, he had also put his ah, number ah, no….. I'm having a senior moment right at the moment but when you get in the service you have a number that's assigned to you and you carry it for the rest of your life. And he put his on there so I read that to him, and, "That's mine. That's my I.D. number. Gotta be me. I must have written it." So we were a week, I guess, from going down around Pensacola and we were right near where he lived so we had an agreement to see him at the Olive Garden in Pensacola. And I couldn't miss him. {laughter}. We went to a reunion with him and we still send cards but he still doesn't know who we are, really. [ ] Yeah. I think we finally figured out what happened to him because he was actually washed back twice. He was lucky to end up with a crew and then he told us a number of times that his pilot didn't trust him. And he couldn't… LF: [ ] PF: Yeah. H couldn't, wasn't allowed to be the navigator basically because he didn't along with his pilot and his pilot didn't trust him. And then when he finally was shot down, somehow nothing of his was returned. [ ] Everything. All his records. Had nothing. And all of mine came back. You know, the letters that Loa had written to me and the pictures and all the correspondence and all my clothing. Everything. So he came back with nothing. He just simply forgot and ah, and then he was married and until his, he was divorced. And then he married another woman and she was an Air Force brat. And she started asking, getting him interested in everything and that's how he finally joined the ex-POW's. When all of this happened he simply had wiped everything out. BL: It raises an interesting point. You must have known in the course of those war years, perhaps relatives who were either killed in action or missing. It must have been not an uncommon… LF: All of the friends I made when Paul was a cadet [ ] go from one town to the other. The statistics in 1944 were that if you were a pilot on a mission, had one chance out of four of coming back, especially on missions, of coming back. And the rest, I don't know what the fatality was but the other .. PF: It was that bad. LF: [ ] When Paul was missing, I had all our letters, [ ] in so many cases, [ ]. BL: When you came back here, do you remember many gold star flags hanging in the windows? LF: Oh yes. BL: Do you? LF: I don't believe that there was any family that didn't have somebody that they either knew very well or some relative. Everybody had somebody [ ]. BL: In a way, I think that's hard for us now to understand. That you could walk down Elmwood and see gold star flags hanging in the windows. Now, just a couple more questions and we'll wrap it up here. Tell me what your thoughts were, you came back, what about when you heard the atom bomb had been dropped? Had you been assuming Paul that your time in combat was not over yet? That you may have to fight against Japan? PF: It was ah, it was one of those fluctuating things that was mostly rumor but it seemed like that was the big thing. As soon as we were liberated you know, "Are we going to have to...?" And we never got a, we never got a firm decision until, until the atom bomb. BL: When you heard about it, what did you think? Did you, were you able to, I realize that it's LF: It was a surprise. We didn't know anything about it of course. BL: And there wasn't the instant images like we have today, the images on TV LF: Um, that's right. I think, I personally had mixed feelings. I thought it was a terrible thing. To have happened. Um, but selfishly, I don't know, I thought a lot about Truman, I read quite a bit about what he did. And by that time Truman was very respected. Don't your think so? PF: Oh yeah. LF: Because [ ] And we respected that. [ ] And I certainly, I believe when Paul got home from prison camp that he was going to have to go over that way. Everybody did. Go to Japan. And there would have been an invasion of the mainland. It would have killed so many more people. [ ] But that was a selfish way of looking at it. So I was, I guess I would have to say I was glad for it because it would make an end to the war. Quickly. VE- Day. We didn't feel comfortable about that at all. BL: What did you do on VE-Day? LF: Well, we had a celebration. Paul was home and we had friends that had a music store. And we went over there and got instruments out and we went and marched up and down Main Street and made all kinds of noise. And that was music. It was very nice. And that was not true of VE-Day. It was just another day.[ ]. The war wasn't over. But when it was, it was wonderful. PF: It was kinda nice for us over there. LF: Yeah. And I want to say one thing about the atom bomb too though. Ah, I think sometimes we [ ] it makes us feel guilty. And ah, look at the column. Whose was that? [ ] somebody in the Milwaukee Journal. In which he said something, and was talking about that type of thing and he said nobody should ever, nobody who hasn't lived then should ever, should ever think that something was done, um, without their having been there. They don't know what it was like and they don't know how they would respond to something [ ]. And I think that there's an awful lot of truth to that. [ ] If you haven't gone through it yourself, you really don't know. What happened in people's lives [ ] BL: Did the war change you too? Did you look at life differently when you came back? LF: All we wanted to do was forget it. PF: I don't think I did. I think that, no. Maybe one of the problems, I don't know if it's a problem or not, but it happened. We all came home and forgot about it. You know, we'd done it. It was over. Forget it. We're going to school. We're going to get an education. We gotta raise kids. We're gonna have, you know. And we literally ah, I think I know ah, I and an awful lot of veterans even stayed away from marching in Memorial Day, you know and, keeping the uniform. We just didn't want any more to do with it. And I think that's the way you and I both felt up until the ... LF: Yeah. We lived in Badger Village for three years after the war and I don't believe anybody, they were all veterans. Two thousand? PF: Yeah. Yeah. LF: With their families. And I don't believe anybody ever talked about the war. What did anybody do? We were amazed afterwards to find out some of these stories. Now that's not true any longer. Now [ ] talk about ... PF: Well in the middle '80's; around '85, all of a sudden we all started saying, 'we really did this up right.' LF: But as far as I'm concerned, I do feel that I gained a lot. From having gone through it. I certainly matured a lot and ah, [ ] I think I gained a lot out of it. [ ] BL: You think the community changed when you came back? Oshkosh? Changed at all? PF: Nothing changed dramatically. I think that initially there was some appreciation and recognition of veterans. LF: [ ] PF: Yeah. Yeah. But the businesses and industry and everything was pretty much the same after the war as before. BL: Well, anything more you want to add, either one of you? We talked a long time. PF: Yeah. Two things I think that are probably related. One of them again is that ultimately, about you know1985, our whole generation started realizing that we had something in common. And we started doing things together and most of the, not old experienced groups like the, the ah, Legion, really started getting active. Ex POW's had existed since World War II but they never had really did anything until the '80's. All of the reunions I think, with almost no exceptions started around the '80's. Our bomb group and the 15th Air Force and every ship that was afloat, they've got reunions. [ ] . I think this is good and I think that ah, it's good for them. Come together again and kinda relive their experiences. LF: Some of them didn't want to talk about it. [ ] They decided they could talk about it. PF: We're talking POW's in particular. LF: Some who were in Japan and had horrendous experiences. PF: Yeah. And they needed psychiatrists and everything to, to you know, to really get out of it. BL: I've not talked to anybody who was a prisoner of war of the Japanese. I would like to if they were willing. LF: Ah, we know quite a few of them [ ] in Oshkosh now. Um, we know quite a few. PF: I think Ernie would love to talk. If he can remember any more. LF: I don't know [ ] very good friends and he's at the point where he can't talk very well. He's the father of John Norquist. {transcriber is speculating here about this last name; John Norquist being the mayor of Milwaukee}. PF: He's written a book. [ ] Walter was too. He had one too. [ ] He'd love to. LF: And oh, we know a lot of em in Milwaukee. [ ] One thing about the [ ] the [ ] that Paul's talking about,. he's a Texan. And last year [ ] gone to his 60th Bomb Group reunion which was in St. Louis. They asked for somebody [ ] if they could have it in his town. So they are going to have it in Houston. [ ] And so we had [ ] we planned on going. [ ] And it was on Tuesday or Wednesday, I called to fly out of Appleton. We were to fly out of Appleton on Thursday morning [ ] Also we would have two changes, one at Milwaukee and one at Dallas [ ]So, we got on the phone and called [ ] and told him, [ ] and I think he was gonna come up and get us. And he couldn't understand it. He said, "If you get to Dallas, [ ] you won't have any trouble. Southwest will always fly." And this is Wednesday. [ ] And it got to be quite funny because he really wanted us to come. [ ] I think that he was dreaming, that he thought we could travel across the country. PF: Yeah. That was interesting. The other thing that I wanted to mention to you, then I have a question for you too, I guess. Ah, this thing has been kept going and I guess right now it's becoming kind of, anyway just to... You know you read the book that we went back in '82 to Italy. And the survivors that were there, they were all at the meeting. Except one girl; she had been a 13 year old when, in fact I think I wrote about her; turning a rabbit into mittens overnight. I never heard why shy wasn't there and we didn't, thought maybe there was some ill feeling or something. Ah, in the meantime her two aunts and one uncle had been, and her mother had died. And I suppose this had something to do with it but anyway, a friend of the family wrote and said that Rosina wanted our address because she wanted to write to us. And ah, she wrote to us and talked about her father and ah [ ] Italian, yeah, and ah she wanted us to know what had happened, after we left. And we knew that he had been beaten and been {The first side of the second tape ends here. The second side of this tape is blank.}
Oral History Interview with Paul Fergot and Loa Fergot -WORLD WAR II -Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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