Oral History Interview with Tom MacNichol, 8th Army Air Force

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Record 20/959
Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
Classification Archives
Collection World War II Oral History Project
Dates of Accumulation 2002 - 2002
Abstract Oral history interview with Tom MacNichol with Brad Larsen for the World War II project. He discusses his experiences in Oshkosh during the 1920s & 1930s, sailing on Lake Winnebago and the Sawyer Family; drafted at the age of 34 into the Signal Corps: transferred to the 8th Army Air Force; stationed in England 1943 at a supply depot; married an English woman in June 1944; and returning to Oshkosh in December 1945.

Tom MacNichol Interview
April 1, 2002
Conducted by Brad Larson

{L: refers to the interviewer, Brad Larson; M: refers to Mr. MacNichol}

L: This is April lst, 2002. This is Brad Larson and I'm talking to Tom MacNichol. Tom, this is what I thought, this is the way I'd like to start. I'd like to start by having you tell me where you were born and when. And what your parents' names were.

M: Okay, Brad. I was born April 17th, 1908 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I'm an all Oshkosh resident. Never lived any other place except when I was in the service. I was in ah, living in several different places. Is that enough answer to that question?

L: Yes. What was Oshkosh like before the war?

M: Oshkosh before the war was ah, practically a woodworking town. Well you know that from your work at the museum there. As a matter of fact, it had already; it started to decline from that at least ten years before, at the time of the depression starting.

Up till 1929, there was hardly any real industry of any note except the woodworking. Sash and door factories. At one time we had, in the 20's I think, we had about 7,000 sash and door mill factory workers. And that's a lot of…and as the depression came on, they practically all became out of work.

And ah, luckily for them, these people were very industrious and very hard working. They all had, and owned their own homes. They all had a little garden out in back. They all raised chickens and so forth and so own and maybe even had a cow or a pig. And they were able to get through. They were able to get through the depression. We didn't, in the 1930's there wasn't any such thing as welfare as you probably know from ah, other people. So they had to get on as well as they could with no work. And they did. They got on.

Finally, as the war got, came on, the situation changed a little bit. Some industries came in and other industries were changed around so that the men went back to work.

L: What did you do during that time? What was your job?

M: I was in the insurance and real estate business along with my father.

L: Were you aware of what was happening overseas?

M: Very much so. [ ] Yeah. Yeah. I ah, yeah, 'course at first news was very bad as you may know. Everything was on the side of Germany. Germany was winning. Everybody thought Germany was ah, was, no they didn't think so but they were afraid of Germany winning the war. It could have gone either way at the beginning.

But fortunately Britain, the United States and the rest of the allies won through. It took a lot of work.

L: Do you think that most people here in Oshkosh were of aware of what was going on overseas? Did they pay attention to it?

M: I think they were at that time, yeah. All we had was ah, radio but everybody had radio. And I think they all, I think everybody was very much aware of what was going on. They realized that if Hitler wasn't stopped there was gonna be a terrible situation.

L: Was it a topic of conversation among all the…

M: All the time. All the time, yeah. Almost all the time. And with the young men of my generation, of course I was a little older than most of them, we all couldn't wait to get in. I was single all this time. I didn't ah, didn't have a wife or child, children. But we just couldn't wait to get in it. No kidding. Yeah. But ah, it took quite a long time before ah, Pearl Harbor. Couple of years. Took a couple of years.

L: What did you think of Lend Lease?

M: Well, Lend Lease was a very good idea. Wonderful idea, yeah. In fact we had, when I got over to England, we ah, we participated in Lend Lease. They gave us everything we needed. We had ah…I was in fact, I was ah, stationed at a former ah, former RAF airfield with hangers and runways and everything all put in. They just gave it to us. Of course, we enlarged it a little bit.

After we got in we enlarged it a little bit because ah, at one time we had around 25-30 thousand men in there. And this was near ah, this was half way between ah, Liverpool and Manchester. The two big, two big industrial centers of England. And ah, the ah, everything could come in - everything that was coming in by ship could come in there very easily. Because we were right on the, Liverpool was the big port.

Manchester was also a port from the ah, use of the Manchester Ship Canal. I don't know, maybe you didn't know about that. That Manchester Ship Canal ran from Mercy River downstream a little bit from Liverpool, all the way to Manchester, about 15 miles away. And oceangoing ships could come right in there and unload at Manchester. And Manchester was the largest ah, industrial complex in England. Except for maybe Birmingham. Birmingham was also. But it was very handy to have that ah, that position there where we were. And that was the base headquarters for the supply and maintenance of the 8th, 9th, 12th and 15th Air Forces. All four of em.

L: Let's back up a little bit to Pearl Harbor, Tom. Do you remember how, where you were or how you heard the news?

M: Well I can remember very, very closely. Eddie Merideth, you probably know Eddie Merideth? Well, he's a great grandson of Mr. Sawyer. He and I and his wife were looking at a house for him to buy. I was in the real estate business. And we'd gotten all through this house and they were very pleased with it and this, that and the other thing. And Eddie said, "Let's get in my car and talk this over a little bit." So we got into his car and he, the first thing he did was turn on the radio. And the first thing we heard was, this was on a Sunday, was ah, Pearl Harbor. And Eddie said, "Well, I guess you and I know what we're gonna be doin for awhile." I said, "I agree with you. We'll be in there as of tomorrow." And we were.

L: Did you? What did you do then?

M: Well we just sat there and talked about 'what do you want to do'. I said, "Gee, I…" Neither Eddie nor I had any military experience and I didn't know what I wanted to do although we were, he was a sailor, I was a sailor. I said, "I'd like to be in the Navy." And he said, "Yes, I would too."

I think you, I think you must have met Ed Merideth.

L: Maybe I did, yeah.

M: Tall, slender guy. Ah, great, his ah, his mother was a Chase and the Chases were ah, Mrs. Chase was a daughter of Edgar Merideth. So ah, Edgar, Edgar Merideth, I've forgotten now what he did go into. No, I know he was in the military but from that point on, we didn't see each other - I don't think we saw each other until after the war. Because we both got in very quick, yeah.

L: Did you enlist the next day then, or shortly after?

M: I went down to, I went down to the, the Navy had an office kind of a, kind of a recruitment office in the Post Office. I went down there and said that the, what's the order of drill for enlisting? And they said well, "How old are you?" Well, I was 33. Almost 34. I would have been 34 the next April. And well, "We're not taking anybody. We're not taking anybody over 26." I said, "Is that a hard and fast rule?" "Well, yes. It's an absolute rule." So I, that threw me out of there.

So I went down to Chicago and tried to enlist in the Air Force, although I wasn't a flier. I'd never been off the ground, And they ah, I got the same answer there. They weren't, they weren't taking any enlistments of anybody under 25. That were over 25, all under.

So I got back home. This is a little later after Pearl Harbor. A couple of weeks later. I called up the draft board. I knew the chairman, Ray Dempsey. And I said, "Ray, when's my draft number gonna come up?" And he looked at it, looked at it and he called me back and said, "Well it looks like, like January. Well it was almost January then and I hadn't been able to hook onto anything so I thought, well, I'll just wait for the draft. So I did. I was drafted.

I didn't know anything about the military. I didn't know any… I'd never been up in the air. Although I'd been on the water but all it was was the waters of Lake Winnebago, Minetonka or Lake Geneva or something like that. The river or something like that. And I would like to have been in the Navy. My twin brother was in. He had gone right out to Seattle right after we graduated from Wisconsin. And he had joined the Naval Reserve as soon as he had got out there. Well, when the war came along, he was already a junior, a Lt. Jr. Grade in the Navy. So he was already in. And I said, "Gee, I wonder if I could get in." But I couldn't so I just waited for the draft. And I was drafted. And ah, when you go through the draft, you're, one of the things you have is an interview with an officer. And they go over the whole situation with the war and the services and so forth. And they said, "Well, what would you like to be in?" And I said, "Well, I don't know. All I know is we have….the army has the infantry and the cavalry and the artillery. And I don't know anything about the Air Force or the Navy. And they said, "Well ah, …" I said, "Name some things to me." So they, this fellow got to naming things. He got to the Signal Corps. I said, "Signal Corps. That sounds pretty good." I didn't know what that meant except that I kinda visualized somebody standing on a hill with a bunch of flags. That's what I thought; it shows how ignorant I was.

And he said, "Well, I'll tell you some things about it." He went on and told me. And I said, "Well I could, I could do things like in the supply or ah, or ah, some kind of clerical work or something like that. My ah, my abilities of anything else is absolutely anything else is absolutely nil as far as the services are concerned." I said, "In fact, I don't even know how to type." And he says, "Oh, they'll teach you how to type in three days." Which they did.

So I got in the Signal Corps and I ah, they shipped me out to McCord Field in Washington to be in the supply department of the 552nd Signal Aircraft Warning Battalion. Well, that was, that's what we know now as a radar battalion. Of course in those days, you couldn't say radar. It was against the law. If you were in the army, they court-marshaled you. If you were in the Navy, if you were in the services they court-marshaled you. If you were a civilian, they put you in jail.

L: Oh, I never knew…

M: Yeah. Just for saying radar. Because it was a, it was a secret word. I still don't know what it means. It's radio, aerial, direction and something or other. But the British had ah, had invented it and the Germans were trying to get ahold of it. They didn't have it. And ah, so I got in this radar battalion. And we were on the Pacific coast there but we weren't operating the radar but we had all the equipment. We had 300 mile scopes and ah, 21 gun layers. That's a short range.

And so ah, I got in the 552nd and in the supply room and learned what supplies we needed and so on and so forth. And that was all new to me. Everything was all new to me. I didn't have any experience at all in anything. And as time went on, I became the supply sergeant of one of the companies. And by the time I was in four months, I was staff sergeant and supply sergeant

Well, then we ah, we were transferred to Drew Field, Florida to be ah, they took all our equipment away from us, all our radar machines. And they set us up in Drew Field, Florida as a training battalion. And we trained… I didn't do this but the, because all I was was the Company supply sergeant. We trained 7,000 radar operators. And they went all over the world.

L: 7,000.

M: Yeah. In a year and a half. Well, it was a, we had a big setup there at Drew Field, Florida, just outside of Tampa. In fact that ah, Tampa International Airport is ah, where Drew Field was.

L: Had you traveled before this? Had you ever been anywhere?

M: Not outside the country. No. I traveled around the United States a little bit but very little. Not very much.

L: You were 34 at the time?

M: Well by the time we got in, by April of 1942, I was 34. Yeah. I was what they called "Pop." Everybody was 17 or 18 years old in the army except me. Oh, the influx in the services at that time was tremendous. Everybody. You never saw, you never saw such exuberance of people wanting to get in the service. It was remarkable. Well I wanted to myself so it didn't, it wasn't so remarkable to me but everybody else thought it was terrific. And it was.

So about the time that we got done training in about a year and a half down at Drew Field, we got done training these people. They went all over the world, the ones that we trained. Some of the islands in the Pacific would have a little radar station that ah, maybe the island was a desert island and there'd be a radar station there to find out what was going on in the Pacific.

Because the stretch of water in the Pacific, I mean it was, boggled the imagination. It was just ah, water, water, water. And the Japs had it. And they had it all. We had to, we had to, except for the Hawaiian Islands, we had to recapture all those islands.

L: Now tell me something. I ask this to all the veterans. Early in the war, did you think that we were going to win the war?

M: Sure. Yeah. You couldn't help seeing the will to win. That this outfit, this US outfit had. Yeah.

L: Did you ever doubt it?

M: No. Never. Unh, unh. I know there was some tough times but the whole thing was tough. And there were some tougher times than others. Probably Ken told you all about the Battle of the Bulge, Hertgen Forest and so on. Those were tough. Awful. Probably worse than, no not worse than D-Day. No. But very bad. Yeah.

L: Do you think that your opinion was shared by the rest of the GIs?

M: I think so. I never ran across anybody that wasn't. I don't think anybody that wasn't, they wouldn't have lasted long. I don't know; that's just my opinion. I don't think that, that, if there was any doubters or anything like that, I don't think they would have lasted very long. Yeah.

Well, we got that far and now we got, so as soon as we got the ah, our boys ah, schooled in radar, there was no use for the 552nd anymore so they, they put us, what was left of us which was nothing practically, just some some supply and motor pool and personnel and so on and so forth. Out of 1500 men, we probably had four or five hundred left. And at that time they, they transferred all of us into the 8th Air Force. And within two days of dismantling the 552nd, I was on the way to ah, Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. On the way to going overseas to ah, the 8th Air Force in England.

L: When would that have been?

M: That was September of 1943. We were about six months in the, in ah McCord Field, Washington and about 8 months in, something like that, about 8 months in Tampa and then we went over.

L: Tell me about going overseas?

M: Oh, that was, that was easy. It was just glass. Now people don't believe me. We had, we were on the Queen Mary.

L: Really. Holy Smokes!

M: We were on the Queen Mary and ah, ah, we, we went, we sailed out of New York in broad daylight, whistles blowing. Everything on shore was blasting away, whistles at us and the whole world knew the Queen Mary was leaving for England. Or Europe, someplace.

And it didn't make a bit of difference because the Queen Mary had it mathematically figured out. They zig-zagged every so often. A submarine could not sight us, sink and get ready to get a torpedo out and fire it before we were going in another direction. So they couldn't, they couldn't hit us. Well, that must have been pretty frustrating for the Germans. But it was alright with us. And it was just like glass all the way over and I talked to some of the British members of the crew. They says they never saw, never saw a day like this on the North Atlantic. Some of them had been sailing it for 20 years. This was an unusual, unusual four days. Just like glass and there wasn't even a ripple.

Well, we didn't, of course we didn't know where we were going and ah, I said, well, there were about six of us kinda stuck together. All from the 552nd. And I said, "Well, I think we're going to North Africa." Because it was so doggone hot. It was in September but hot, awful hot. And ah, we just kept on going and going and it was, all four days it was just the same. Not a wave showing and hot weather. Well, and on the morning of the fifth day, we woke up. We were in Scotland. We'd crossed north of Ireland way into the North Atlantic and it was still hot. We couldn't believe it. The sailors on board the, they couldn't believe it either.

So, everywhere. We all got into the 552nd, into the ah, 8th Air Force. And we were stationed at [Burtonwood] Air Depot. That was the big place I told you about. Held close to 30,000 men eventually but at the time we got there, only about ten or twelve thousand.

L: That was in the fall of 1943?

M: Yeah. Fall of 1923, 1943. Yeah. And um, Burtonwood was ah, I think I told ya, right between, halfway between ah, Liverpool and Manchester. Well if we wanted to go to town, everybody said, [ ]. I'll go back a little ways. The people who were, it was a United States Air force installation by the time I got there. There had been two air depot ah, air depot groups from ah, Patterson Field in Ohio. Outside of Dayton. Or Wright Field. I don't know which. I can't remember. Anyway they were experts in all forms of air corps supply. Air corps this, air corps that, everything about the air corps. Although they were on the ground. They were a ground station. It wasn't a flying station. The flying stations were over on the east coast of England and we had about fifty of em over there. But not at that time. At that time we had about maybe ten or twelve.

And we were supplying all the 8th Air Force, the 9th Air Force and the 12th and 15th. 12th was in North Africa and the 15th was in Italy. So ah, we got there. We didn't know what the heck we were supposed to do. Sat around there and they had us in a department called Inspection Department. And ah, ah, what we did for about three or four months was learn, learn the trade. We didn't do hardly anything because we didn't know anything. But work was going on at the same time. Level that you can't imagine. It was terrific, the amount of stuff that was coming in and going out.

L: Give me an example of what kind of things were stored there?

M: Oh ah, nothing was stored there. The minute it got there, it was, it was gone. Practically. Within a day everything that came in was gone out to a, either a sub-depot or either to one of the squadrons. For use.

L: What sort of things?

M: Everything that they needed. All aircorps equipment, all airplane equipment. Ah, clothing and maintenance for the men. Food. I think about a quarter of the food went from our station up to the British. They didn't have hardly any. They didn't have any food. But I think that a quarter of the food that came through us went to the British.

Our, we had a brigadier general as commanding general. And this is interesting. Happy Arnold, Hap Arnold, the commanding general of all the air forces, of the entire U.S. Air Force. At that time it was the U.S. Army Air Corps. But there were several 'air forces' under it. Hap Arnold was commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Corps. His younger brother was Billy Arnold and he was our commanding general. Well he wasn't an air corps man. You probably remember him. He was an automobile racer. He won the Indianapolis in 1930. And he'd been racing automobiles on Daytona Beach for about ten or twelve years. But his brother got him in and ah, he was our commanding general. But I'm sure he had thirty colonels under him that knew what the heck they were doin. But I can tell you, I didn't know what I was doing. For quite a while.

But we did the best we could. We were part of the manpower and we did alright. And planes were coming in, planes were going out. Bombers, B-24's and B-17's were coming in all the time and, but they wouldn't stay. They were, we'd load something on em and away they'd go. You know, they'd go to their squadron.

We had about ah, at the time I first got there, we had about ten or twelve squadrons. Ten or twelve places where we had squadrons. On the, in East Anglia, on the east coast. By the time ah, the 8th Air Force really got going, putting five, six hundred planes up in the air everyday, in the air, we had 30 or 40 ah, U.S. Air Force bases. Flying bases.

But we just continued in the same place, getting bigger, and bigger and bigger all the time.

L: What was the mood like there as far as the war? What was…?

M: Oh, that was, let me tell you about the British.

L: Yeah, I'd like to hear that.

M: Well, the British civilian was terrific. Oh boy, they were wonderful. What they went through, I don't know. It's kinda hard to imagine what they went through but they did it. Yeah. They were bombed out, houses bombed out. And they'd live in, in London they were living in the underground. Which probably saved a lot of lives. Ah, fifty thousand Londoners were killed. By enemy action. Fifty thousand! Oh boy, those people were something.

L: So when you went there you could probably see the effects of that German bombing.

M: Yeah. It was terrible. London was awful. I wasn't in London very often but, I was there about three times. London was, well it looked, when you went through the city, it looked about maybe a fifth of it was gone. Might not have been that much but it looked like it.

Now Manchester was almost as bad. Because they were bombing Manchester. Early in the war they were bombing Manchester. But by the tlme I got there, they weren't - we might have gotten one bombing - one little bombing a week or month. But nothing like they used to get. Yeah, Manchester was bombed bad.

My wife and her family, mother and father and older sister lived about, in a suburb of Manchester but just almost into Cheshire. And ah, they were bombed badly. One bomb landed in the street in front of their house and the next one landed in their back garden. And they had to ah, their own home was gone. That was their own home. That was gone but the ah, finally they got another home someplace in a different area. Still in the same town but not quite as ah, not quite the same area.

L: How did you meet her, Tom?

M: Well, funny. Ah, I ah, I met her mother first. I went to Manchester one time and I happened to drop into the ah, the YMCA which was run by the American YMCA. But they had all British civilians as ah, as volunteer workers. And my wife's mother was one of them. And I met her and ah, I don't know how we met but we just met. Betty's mother and I. And we talked together a couple of times.

And one day finally, my wife was working at a tank factory. The ah, London Northeastern Railroad ah, was running a tank, making Churchill tanks at their ah, where they ordinarily would be building railroad cars. And my wife, when the war came along, ah when the British got into it, she had graduated from high school and was getting ready to go to college. But the war came along and she took a crash course in typing and shorthand and became the private secretary to the director of the tank factory where they were making Churchill tanks.

Well I didn't know her until after I'd known her mother for a couple of months. So finally we met. Finally we met ah, I met my wife. And ah, well that was it for both of us. And ah, but we didn't get married until almost a year later. About six months later. We had to wait, we had to wait three months by order of the, I had to wait three months. My wife didn't. She could get married any time she wanted to. But I had to wait three months until ah, until the British were able to check me out and the Americans were able to check her out. So I was checked out by the British and our ah, brigadier chaplain came over to Betty's house and checked her out. Oh, he was a nice guy. And ah, so three months later we were married. That was in June of ah, of ah, 1944.

In the meantime, I was still going, doing my little thing. Doing whatever they had for me to do. And ah, she was working at the tank factory and ah, we went on a, I wasn't able to get a week's ah, leave but the commanding officer said, "I'll give you, I'll give you seven one day passes. And as soon as you [ ] destroy it. And put the rest of them where nobody can find em." Well anyway. So I got married on seven one day passes. And we had, we had our honeymoon at a little inn south of Manchester. Twenty miles near Nutsford.

Well, Patton's Third Army was outside of Nutsford. It was a, about a ten or a, oh I don't know how big a place. But it had enough room. This estate of Lord Edgerton. His army was stationed, he relinquished it to the, to us. To the United States for Patton's Third Army. His entire 30,000 men was in this ah, Patton Hall. Old English summer house. Big country house. All the officers and so forth were in there. The men were all over the place. It happened that Patton, Patton's army, this place was around a corner about a mile one way and a half a mile the other way around a corner and here was our ah, our little inn where we were staying. And Patton's army moved out one night and came right past our inn. Thirty thousand men, ten or twelve thousand vehicles of all descriptions. Tanks, everything you could think of. That went by all night long while we were on our honeymoon. We hardly slept a wink I always say.

Anyhow, that's where Patton was. He was on his way to go over to France. Right at that time.

L: Well that would have been right around the invasion - D-Day time.

M: Yeah. After, just after the invasion.

L: Do you remember what you thought about D-Day? I'm going to put a new tape in in just a minute here.

M: Sure. Do you want to do it now?

L: I think so.

M: Alright.

{The first tape ends here}.

L: So that was right about D-Day.

M: Yeah, it was right after D-Day. It was right after D-Day because they held Patton back until they, until they had captured a ah, go a foothold, you know. And then bang! He went in. He went in on the 1st of July. Yeah. He went in the 1st of July.

L: I imagine that everyone followed the news of D-Day pretty closely there, didn't they?

M: Oh, well we didn't know it was going to happen. We didn't know it was going to happen. We had, we had, I'd say at Burtonwood Air Depot, we probably had an inkling because at one time they brought in about 1200 gliders. And they practiced glider practice but they didn't want to do this near the coast because the Germans had spies on, along the coast. But they were practicing. They had 1200 gliders up at our place there and they were practicing ah, taking, hooking in and taking off and ah, and then the gliders gliding in and landing. After they unhooked. And they went through quite a bit of glider work for about two or three weeks there. So we knew something was going to go on. Yes, we did. But we didn't know when. Security, if you think things can be secured today, they were absolutely secure then.

L: How so?

M: Oh, yeah. Nobody, nobody ah, uttered a word about anything that was going on. Nothing. That was one thing that was drilled into ya all the time. Security, security, security. Because you can lose a war with no security. You can lose it, very fast. I hope they got some good security now. I think they do, I think they probably have.

L: I've read that England during the war was just one GI from one end to the other. Explain to me what that was. What it was like during the war?

M: Well, you gotta remember that England is smaller than Wisconsin. Ah, England is 200,000 square miles and Wisconsin is 250,000 square miles. Ah, England was ah, one army, navy, air force installation after another. All over, all over the whole part of the country. Every part of the country. Except some places that weren't habitable or, or the cities. Ah, it was terrific. There was nothing but war going on in England. Nothing but ah, nothing but war. It was just ah, everybody, the civilians were just as ah, just as interested and just as much into it as we were.

L: You must have had some pretty good times though. There must have been times for…

M: We did have some good times. We had some good times. The English pub is a very good institution. There are pubs all over. And ah, every place there's a pub you find a lot of GIs. You didn't find any British soldiers. But you found a few British civilians. Old men, women and children was all you saw of the British. The British young men were all over the world, in some part of the world during World War II. Or in the Navy. Their navy was terrific. And ah,…

L: How is the British pub different than the American tavern?

M: Well, it's ah, it's not too different. It's ah, the ah, ah, there's a big bar and there's table all around the other three walls of the building. Everybody having a drink and talking and, it's just about like our bar but not as long. Because their time of drinking was from 11:30 to 2 o'clock at noon and from 5:30 to ten o'clock at night. That's all the time you had to drink.

Except if you were a member of a club. Now ah, after I was married, I was, Betty and I had a little apartment with our own furniture and ah, at the end of the street we were living on was the Cricket Club. Cricket Club. And they made me an honorary member so we could drink night and day, twenty-four hours. But of course I wasn't there during the day so I couldn't… Anyway this Cricket Club, they had Cricket Clubs all over England and ah, it's a very relaxing game. You don't have to run around very much, you know. You just ah, nice and relaxing. People that are watching are just ah, and then they get together, drink and then they come back out…. "Well, what's the score? Oh, same score, alright." Anyway, it's a good game. And they like it and ah, it was nice being a member of the Cricket Club because when I was home week-ends, we could go over and have a drink whenever we wanted to.

But ah, I also had a pub club. Sunday morning. On Sunday mornings we could drink ah, from after church for about two hours. So we had, somehow or other I got into this Sunday morning pub club. Pub was about oh, three or four blocks away. And every Sunday morning I was over there and ah, it was all British civilians. I was the only, the only ah, non-civilian in the whole bunch. We had a bank manager, we had this and we had that, all kinds, all nice wonderful guys. They were all old. You know, they couldn't be, they weren't in the service. They were all old but they liked, they liked the fact that they had one, at least one younger fellow in there. And we had great times on that Sunday morning pub club for about a year and a half. Wonderful times.

L: Did you get mail from Oshkosh very often, mail from home?

M: Sure. Very easily, yeah. Oh I want to tell you, when we first got there, all the boys wanted to, when we first got there, see we were all, had been on the Queen Mary. The same one I was on, You know. When we first got there, they all wanted to write a letter home. So our commanding officer got ahold of all the, all the mail, and he asked me and another sergeant if we'd help him censor the mail. Well you should have seen some of the mail: "We were bombed, torpedoed, bombed, torpedoed every day. Bombed every night, torpedoed every day. And oh, gosh, terrible things happened." Why they'd want to do something like that and get their relatives all in an uproar. But of course we were over by that time and, "We're writing this down in our air raid shelter." Well, we didn't have any but they were puttin on the, these guys, they were all putting it on pretty good. Yeah. "Writing this from an air raid shelter." They were probably sittin in the pub some place.

L: Well now, what happened as the war started to draw to a close? Was their a big celebration at the end or, tell me…

M: When it, not until it finished. Then there was a celebration like you've never seen before. V-E, they called it V-E Day. Victory in Europe Day. V-J Day was victory in Japan day. 'Cause that was later on. But V-E Day was something. Boy. Churchill got on the radio and I think he had a couple too many, as he usually did have. And you couldn't hardly understand. Oh, I mean he was so…. This was nothing but radio, you know. You couldn't see him but you could hear him. You could just feel how terrifically happy he was and oh, what he went through, you know. Holding that country together like he did. That little, little, little country. You know it isn't much bigger than a few counties over here.

L: What did you do on V-E Day?

M: Well we had a big ah, everybody in our block had, as I say, near the, we all went to the, over to the ah, ah, Cricket Club. They let everybody in then. And ah, we had a celebration at the Cricket Club. Oh boy, it was really something. It lasted all night and most of the next day. But then everybody, then it was all over and everybody went to work.

L: Did you think that you would have to be sent to fight Japan?

M: Well, we really did. We thought as soon as the war was over, we thought ah, we'll probably, they'll probably put a big installation like we got her over on Okinawa. We weren't in Japan. We had Okinawa by that time. And ah, well we thought about it you know, and we had a lot of talk about it. But nothing happened.

L: When did you start hearing about some of the atrocities that had happened ah, the death camps in Germany? Were you still in England when you started hearing about them?

M: Yeah. Of course there was no television. And so you couldn't see what had happened but they told you and it sounded terrible. And I understand that later on we did ah, they got motion pictures ah, that we didn't have. We didn't have any motion pictures of that shown where I was in England. But I understand they were shown over here.

L: Do you remember what some of the reaction was?

M: Oh, terrible. It was what the British and us always thought about the Germans. And ah, we, the British realized it more than we did. And that's what kept, I think that's what kept them going. They envisioned themselves as being slaves like that. Yeah, they did. And ah, that horror was imprinted on their minds to the point where I think it helped us win the war. It was a terrible thing. Awful. It was awful. But, can you imagine yourselves being slaves of Germany if we'd lost the war? And it ah, it wasn't an absolute sure thing until it happened. Yeah.

L: Did you know the Germans launched flying bombs. V-l's and V-2's?

M: Yeah. I was just going to say about that. Yeah. Those things. If they had been a little, if Germany had had a little more time, the V-l, the flying bomb, that was a kind of ramshackle thing. They had a little ah, small engine and a fuselage. And the fuselage was a bomb. And the engine would go so long and when the engine stopped, the bomb would fall wherever the engine stopped. Well that was a little hit or miss. But the ah, the V-2 was the ah, the big rocket that went up 52 miles and came down. If they'd had a guidance like we have missile guidance now, the war would have been over right then. 'Cause England would have been shot to pieces by ah, by German missals. But they didn't have any guiding. They, they had the project…. They could get em up but they didn't have any guidance. They shot em off in the hope that they'd land in England some place. That's they way it was.

L: Do you remember what people, either you and your fellow soldiers, or English civilians, what did they think about those flying bombs and V-2's?

M: Well, we kinda laughed at the flying bombs but the V-2, we didn't laugh at, at all. Because as I say, if they'd had the guidance, they could have directed them to any place in England and ah, everything would have been over by that. The war would have been over. Also ah, the last month of the war in Europe, the British had ah, had two ah, types of ah, of ah, jet fighter planes. The had the 161 and the 262. The 161 had one engine, one ah, one jet engine. And the 262 was two engines. Well you can imagine our P-51's, 300 miles an hour seein a German plane going by at 600. If they'd had a little time. They only had about 30 of them. If they'd had a little more time, you can imagine it could have been bad. It could have been but, thank goodness, it wasn't.

L: How did you feel toward the Germans and Japanese during the war?

M: Terrible. We had ah, we didn't wanna even think of em. We just, we wanted to think of em as an absolute nothingness. That's the way I felt, anyway.

L: Did you feel different toward one or the other? Did you feel different towards the Germans as you did toward….?

M: Well, we probably did feel more. We were oriented more towards the Germans than the Japanese. But as soon as the other one, as soon as the war in Europe was over, why we were gung ho to get those Japs. Yeah. Now they don't even want us to say Japs. They say, "Oh, that's demeaning." Well, sure, I know it is. Maybe you can wipe it out of the…. I don't know. I don't care whether they do or not. All I can tell you is how I felt.

Well, these ah, these combat fliers we had. Boy, were they something. You can't imagine.

L: Tell me about them.

M: These kids, 18,19, 20, they're just gung ho to be up in the air and bombing and fighting. It's a strange, it's a strange mood but that's the mood they were, they were a terrific bunch. I don't know how they can do it but they did it. Yeah, they were, I can't say enough about the combat fliers. They were, boy they were something.

L: Of course there was an awful lot…

M: What they went through, 50 thousand, 50 thousand of those boys were killed in action. 50 thousand. And 50 thousand British civilians were killed. Those two things stick in my mind all the time. I mean those are the things that, I didn't go through them, but they did.

L: Is there anything that brings the war to mind, say for example ah, music? Do you ever think about World War II?

M: Well, I do every once in a while. I have ah, mostly I have good memories. 'Course you gotta remember I got married during this time and that was a wonderful memory. That was very good. That was a very good memory.

L: When you got, after the war, was there a conscious effort to try to forget the war? Would you say?

M: Well, wasn't conscious but here I was with my wife and ah, I had to make a living and I had four years out of my life when I wasn't doing anything of that kind. And it was getting back into a strange world again. I mean, it wasn't really strange but it was, it was ah, getting back to work on another type of work.

L: Well how did you get back here to Oshkosh with your wife?

M: Well, my wife ah, came back a little later than I did. She got here later than I did. I got here in December of '45 and she didn't get here until March.

L: Why was that? Could you…

M: Well there were 50, there were 55 thousand wives coming back to the United States from England. And they had to make arrangements for all them. They had to get shipping and they had to get places on shipboard. To get em, we didn't have airplane travel at that time you know, overseas. It was all over, by ship. So ah, by the middle of March, she was on her way over. And I met her in New York. Yeah.

L: When did you leave England?

M: I left England on the 24th of November, 1944. On the Europa. Now we had captured the Europa in Bremen. It was a, It was laying there in Bremen and it was ah, it was made over by the Germans into a troopship. So that was, we captured the ship and we captured a troopship. So the Navy took it over and we went back on the Bremen. That was a beautiful back because the Navy was, boy we had wonderful food and good ah, everything was very nice. We didn't have as many people. We only had 8500 on the Bremen. We had 15,000 on the Queen Mary. So it was a little, we had a little more leg room. But it was worse weather though. The weather was bad. But I didn't care. It didn't bother me any. But we had a lot of seasickness. But I was alright.

L: Then you got back to Oshkosh in December?

M: Got back to Oshkosh in December. Yeah. And then my wife got back in with, when I went and got her. We both got back here in March. Then we ah, we couldn't find a house until October.

L: Really?

M: Yeah. Oh housing, I don't know. Everything got to be scarce. Right after the war for a little while. And then it opened up and got better.

L: Had Oshkosh changed in the time you were gone?

M: Yeah. The city hadn't changed. No. It's changed more in the last two years than it changed in those four. Yeah.

L: Really.

M: Oh, yeah.

L: How do you think?

M: Well everything, everything west of ah, Sawyer Avenue wasn't here. Everything south of 24th Street ah, was not here. Was not here when I left here.

L: Well, when you left here where were you living?

M: On Washington Boulevard. Yeah. You know where Rosalia Street is?

L: Yep.

M: Well, if you go down Rosalia Street and keep on going, you go over the curb and run right into my family home. Two doors away from Henry Kimberly's house. That's why we know each other so well. Yeah. We're two doors toward the lake from his house. Course he's out at Pau Ko Tuk now. But his family home was on Washington.

L: I have a couple of questions that really don't maybe pertain to the war that we could talk a little bit if you want.

M: Good.

L: Well, what were some of the things you did for recreation in Oshkosh? Before the war. Maybe as a kid or growing up.

M: Played golf, bowling and sailing.

L: That was the three things?

M: Yeah. Those three things I did religiously. Yeah. I used to be a pretty good bowler. Ever hear of Ned Day? Well he bowled on my team. He lived in Oshkosh until 1929 and he bowled on my team. And then ah, he went back to, he didn't like Oshkosh. He went back to Milwaukee.

L: Well, I'll be darned.

M: Yeah.

L: And you were a big sailor. You showed me the photographs of sailing.

M: My twin brother and I sailed. We ah, John Buckstaff, did you know John Buckstaff? I don't mean young John.

L: You mean the older one?

M: Yeah. Old John. Well, he was in our neighborhood. He lived about four doors away from me. Well he came in, when we moved here in 1920, he came in here and said, "Now you boys," he was talking to John and I. "You're gonna sail with me. You're gonna be my ah, you and Bill Wiesbrod and Chuck Connell, across the street. They're gonna, you four are gonna sail with me. Now don't get the idea that you're gonna be sailing with me in the regatta. No," he said. "I got people I gotta take care of during the regatta. I let these other guys sail with me during the regatta." But we did all the sailing during the year. We'd sail one weekend up at Neenah and the next week in Oshkosh. And we did all that sailing for two or three years. Yeah.

L: Well, that must have been pretty exciting for a young boy.

M: Oh boy! To sail with John Buckstaff? The best sailor in the United States. Yeah. Same way with the iceboating. I used to sail with, down at Lake Geneva, I sailed with Jack Ordway. John and Jack had twin boats: the Bluebill and the Canvasback. They both were great hunters. And ah, this was, in Lake Geneva in 1925, yeah. And my brother John sailed with Buckstaff. I sailed with Jack and Buckstaff beat us. That was for the ah, Northwest Ice Yacht Association Championship.

L: Those ice boats really roll. [ ]

M: And then I was the ice when the Debutante, that's the big unlimited ah, 650 feet of sail. When they, when Buckstaff did a measured mile at 123 miles an hour. I was on the ice. I wasn't in his boat. I always tell everybody. "Oooo, you were in that boat?" "No. I was on the ice but I wasn't in his boat." They had to do, everything went so fast. We had a civil engineer, you know Bob Brismaster? Well his father was a civil engineer. He laid out the course, one measured mile with his transit. And they had a guy with a flag at the starting end and a guy with a stopwatch at the other end. And then Buckstaff got a flying start. And as he crossed the starting line the guy with the flag took the flag down so the guy at the other end of the mile did the stopwatch. Otherwise you can't, you couldn't time… this happened in so few seconds, you had to do it by sight instead of by ear.

L: That's really fast.

M: 123 miles an hour. Yeah.

L: Now Henry Kimberly said he was adamant. And I have to ask you about this. He said that you're the only guy alive that fought the Monitor and the Merrimac.

M: Yes. I think I am. Yeah.

L: That sounds like a really good story.

M: Alright. I'll tell you that story. In 1923, Oshkosh was celebrating 75 years of ah, of ah, we were ah, in 1953 we were ah, organized. Or what they call, got the charter. And in 1923, it made 75 years. Well, we had a big celebration down on the lake. And one thing they did was they had a race, not a race but a battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac. We had ah, it took us quite a while to do all this. We had two old A-boat shells; hulls. That were no good anymore. So we rebuilt both of them to be the Monitor and the Merrimac. The Monitor had the one ah, swivel gun with ah, big gun. And the Merrimac had several guns coming out the side. And ah, so then we had this big race out on Lake Winnebago. And ah, ah, I was on the Merrimac and my brother was on the Merrimac. And John Thompson, you know Andy Thompson? His uncle was on the Merrimac; Chuck Stretch and ah, Dick Hackett and a few others. We were having a good old time. We had a gallon of ah, gin and white soda aboard. And we had these little, have you ever seen these little starting guns they have for yacht races? Okay. They take a 12-gauge shotgun shell. And each one of us had one of those things. We were both firing at each other all the time. People on board, on board ship, on the shore must have thought they really were having a fight. And pretty quick ah, decided that it was time for us to pull the plug and sink. And of course the Merrimac sunk but of course it just sunk down so far and then we, in the meantime we had all jumped over the side. And somebody came by in a boat to pick us up. And that was the end of that, was the Monitor and the Merrimac. Oh, we had fun, yeah.

L: Do you ever remember Edgar Sawyer? The one that gave the museum?

M: Yeah.

L: Do you really?

M: Yes. My father, my father and he were good friends. And ah, my father used to play golf with him. And he was a pretty good golfer for an old fellow.

L: What was he like?

M: Just as nice a guy as you'd ever want to know. Very nice fellow. And his son Phil, you didn't know Phil either, no. Phil and his wife Caroline. And Caroline was ah, she was the daughter of Governor Upham. From Shawano. And my father was from Shawano. And he and Bob Upham were ah, the best of friends and so forth. Anyway ah, Bob Upham was young, the governor's son.

Phil and Caroline got married in the governor's mansion. Down in Madison when, well they both were from, Caroline was from ah, Shawano and ah, Phil was from Oshkosh. And my father and Bob Upham were ushers at the wedding. The wedding at the governor's mansion in Madison. Yeah.

So I got a little… I knew all the Sawyers. I knew all of em. Yeah. In fact, Phil's youngest was Teddy. I taught him how to sail. Whenever we go done sailing, Phil would, "Ah, come up and have a drink." So we'd have a drink.

L: That was during Prohibition wasn't it?

M: Well, let's see. Teddy learning to sail. Yeah, by golly it was. Because he was just a young kid then. And I was only in college.

L: Here?

M: No, I went to Madison. Yeah. My twin brother and I.

L: You probably remember then when Mr. Sawyer gave his home for the museum? Do you remember that day?

M: Sure.

L: What do you remember about it?

M: Oh, gosh. Honestly I haven't thought about it since. So I can't give you anything.

L: Well, we're getting a little off the subject too, so…

M: Well it was one of the ah, landmarks of Oshkosh history you know. I was 22 at the, let's see. 1922. How old was I? That's when he gave the… 22. Sixteen ah.

L: Well Tom, I sure appreciate this. Do you have anything else we should talk about?

M: Gee, I dunno. I think we did the …

L: We sure did. That was a great interview. Thank you very much.

M: Well, I thank you for the opportunity. I've never ah, you know I've never really talked about it.

L: Haven't you?

M: No.

L: You know, that's something that a lot of guys tell me. That after the war they tried to forget about it. And really until I come and talk to them. Other than their buddies; they may talk about that with some of their friends.

M: I talked to ah, a thing here and a thing there. But that's all. I haven't gone through it like we did today. That's a, I think it's a good thing. Yeah.

L: Well thanks, Tom.

M: Well thank you. I enjoyed your being here.
Event World War II
Category 6: T&E For Communication
Object ID OH2001.3.27
Object Name Tape, Magnetic
People MacNichol, Tom
Subjects World War II
European Theater of Operations
United States Army Air Force
Lake Winnebago
Sailboat racing
Title Oral History Interview with Tom MacNichol, 8th Army Air Force
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Last modified on: December 12, 2009