Oral History Interview with Carlton F. Buerger.

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Record 54/959
Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
Admin/Biog History Oral history interview with Carlton F. Buerger. He was born and raised in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin January 26, 1922. He was an only child. His father was an executive at a shoe manufacturing firm in Fond du Lac until the company folded in the Great Depression. His parents subsequently divorced and he lived with his mother; (she had an interesting history, being a native of Trier, Germany. Carlton's father met and married her there in WW I). He was educated in a Catholic parochial grade school and the local public high school.
Carlton came to Oshkosh State Teachers College after graduation from high school in 1939. After Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Navy's V5 program, remaining at OSTC and taking flight lessons from Steve Wittman until his transfer to the University of Iowa , then Glenview Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Atlanta and other bases where he flew planes of increasing complexity. He ended up in Vaught's inverted gull wing "Corsair," which was a fighter with a max. speed in level flight of over 400 mph and lots of armament.. He was commissioned a 2nd Lt. In the Marines. The first overseas assignment for Carlton was the invasion of Okinawa. He, to his surprise, was assigned to go in with a platoon of Marines. Fortunately the beach had been secured. Their mission was to help secure the airfield. That done, Carlton began flying missions with his group to prevent kamikaze aircraft from attacking the many ships in the force around Okinawa. His best friend was lost on the squadron's first mission. About 25% of the men became casualties in this work; another 25% died in training!. Carlton shot down planes but doesn't make much of it. He was, I believe, in Hawaii when the war came to an end. He was discharged as a captain and earned a number of medals and citations (Navy Unit Citation; Presidential Unit Citation; 6 Air Medals; 2 Distinguished Flying Crosses). He returned to OSTC for his degree, married a girl from Kimberly and taught history for a while in Wausau but for most of his career in the Evanston, Illinois area. He had six children and retired to Omro where he currently resides. Carlton is, and always has been, an avid history buff.
Classification Archives
Collection World War II Oral History Project
Dates of Accumulation October 28, 2003
Abstract Oral History Interview with Carlton F. Buerger, US Marine Corps as a pilot in 3rd Marine Air Wing, VMF-441.

Carlton Buerger Interview
28 October 2003
Conducted by Tom Sullivan

{T: identifies the interviewer, Tom Sullivan; C: identifies the subject, Carlton Buerger. Open brackets [ ] or bracketed words indicate that either a word or phrase is not understood, or that proper spelling for that word is unclear}.

T: It's October 28, 2003 and I'm Tom Sullivan at the Oshkosh Public Museum with Carlton Buerger who is going to relate to us some of his experiences in World War II. Are you ready Carlton?

C: Yes indeed.

T: Let's begin then by having you tell me when and where you were born?

C: Born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin January the 26th, 1922.

T: Were your mother and father from the Fond du Lac area?

C: Well my father, my father's parents had come over from Germany in the late 19th century and settled in Fond du Lac. So he was native born to Fond du Lac. My mother was born in Trier, Germany and it is there that she and my father met after World War I. He was in the AEF, American Expeditionary Force in World War I. And after the war, during the occupation he was a part of that occupation force.

T: That's interesting. What did your father do for a living in Fond du Lac then?

C: Well in Fond du Lac at the time, with respect to being prior to the war, I think he enlisted probably right out of high school I would guess. But, let's see, Dad was born in 1897 so that, yeah, he would have enlisted shortly after getting out of high school.

Once mother and dad returned to this country from having met and wedded in Germany, we settled in Fond du Lac and I remember he was initially with a shoe company in Fond du Lac. I think it was called [Menzies]. It was a rather successful business venture at the time and he was doing quite well until the bottom dropped out of the market in '29 and '30.

T: Were they manufacturing shoes?

C: They were manufacturing shoes. Correct.

T: Do you have any brothers or sisters?

C: No, I'm an only child.

T: Tell me about your childhood. Where did go to school and a little bit about your schooling and things that you did for recreation after school and so forth.

C: Oh boy! Well it was pretty much the same thing that most of us that age at that time, and in that environment did. We would play baseball, we would play football. We would ice-skate, hockey, play kick the can at night when we were very small. Those are the kinds of things that we did. It was almost you know, Fond du Lac and that environment there and the neighborhood was like a world unto itself. We weren't as aware of what was happening outside of the parameters of the community and that. And much unlike today where young people have at least the opportunity to become worldly informed. Whether they are taking it or not remains yet to be seen.

T: Did you go to a public or a parochial school?

C: Well I went to a parochial school through what would be called junior high school. It was St. Joseph's in Fond du Lac through the eighth grade. And then over to Fond du Lac Senior High School. Because by that time of course, we were in the throes of the Depression and my family as well as dozens and dozens of others had been hit pretty hard. So we couldn't afford a private school, although there was St. Mary's Springs Academy at the time.

T: Tell me more about the Depression, how it affected your family and others that you knew at the time.

C: Well it was, it's an almost an impossible thing to compare to today's events. When I was three years old, and I have mentioned that my dad had been employed by this shoe company in Fond du Lac and done very well. In fact he was a vice-president, had risen to that particular point. He was able to send Mother and myself back to Trier, Germany to visit her family. Which we did.

And a second trip occurred when I was about seven years old. And that would have meant that we were just knocking on the door of 1929. And we went back over there at that time again to visit her family. And we ended up spending a year over there because we had had a pretty serious automobile accident on the way to races in Luxembourg. My mother's brother-in-law was into racing and he had a very powerful Mercedes open top coupe that he had been very successful with for some time.

And we were on our way to Luxembourg to this ah, it was some sort of horse race, I believe, as far as I can recall. And it was a wet, rainy day. And he was doing about 60, 65 kilometers, doing pretty well. And one of the wheels came off of the car. And so it, we had the top down and everyone was thrown clear. And the car was just absolutely decimated. But of the injured, my mother was most seriously injured. And as a result, it was necessary for us to stay there for about a year.

So I attended school in Trier at a, it was an English-speaking school although it was staffed pretty much by German instructors. And I can remember as a kid, oh I was, you know, one of these wise-ass little American kids that was going to tell the teacher how to speak English. Oh man, I was not exactly his favorite student.

But while we were there in Germany at that time, of course the stock market had this enormous reversal and took this tremendous dive. And that meant that my father's shoe company went down the tube and he lost his position. And so when we did return after a year and Mother was able to travel again, what happened was that we were right at the bottom of the barrel with the rest of em.

And it was difficult. I have vivid memories of Dad doing all kinds of things in order to be the bread and butter winner of the family. I remember he was selling insurance policies, 25 cents a clip. Going door to door. He was selling magazine subscriptions at the same time. Anything and everything to bring a dollar into the household.

I can recall things got very difficult, very tense. He and mother eventually separated. And this was oh, I think I was about a sophomore in high school at the time.

T: So you were really old enough to know what was happening. What a terrible shock it was for your family.

C: And it was, well it was that which everyone, and of course this is the thing. Almost everyone in the town was going through some degree of this, many to a greater or lesser degree. And so you had, you had a lot in common with the other residents of your community. And a sort of camaraderie built up among the people and you helped one another. And you understood and you were tolerant. And you had a kind of magnanimity among the townspeople that developed. And a generosity and a feeling for one another. So there were some very plus by-products to the Depression. It's almost as though today's recent experience with a booming economy and all of that has developed an anonymity, where it was just the reverse during the Depression as far as your relationships with your neighbors.

T: What year did you graduate from high school, Carlton?

C: 1939, Fond du Lac. Which was known then as Fond du Lac Senior High School.

T: What did you do then? Did you begin college or did you go to work?

C: Well, it would have been ideal to go to college. I really never thought that I would be going to college because we just couldn't do it. Just couldn't do the thing at all. The family was on, by that time my mother and dad had separated and divorced. And we were, Mother and I were living on what was called "relief" at that time. And so there was no, I was just looking for ways and means of helping out at home.

T: Was your mother at that time able to work or was her physical condition such that…?

C: No. Her physical condition had deteriorated ever since we had returned from that second trip to visit her family in 1930-31 in there. And she just was not, and she became extremely introverted. Very, very reluctant to even go outside. It was, it was a real strain on her. Her friends tried very hard to get her to come out. Once in a great while she would leave the little apartment where we lived. But she became almost a complete recluse.

T: I see. Were you able to find employment?

C: Well, during my high school days I pedaled the Fond du Lac Commonwealth Reporter.

T: I guess a lot of kids pedaled papers.

C: Faithfully doing that. And also my real job was as a page at the Public Library. And I would spend most of my hours just devouring all the volumes coming in. And if they weren't returned to the shelves and requested again, then I would have to work like a beaver for a couple of days and get them on the shelves. Why they put up with me, I will never know.

I did that for a couple of years but managed to save enough to pay the first semester at…

{Tape was stopped to check reception. Subject's mike was accidentally disconnected}.

T: Now let's see, where were we? You were just enrolled at the University Extension. And that was 1941. At that time there were problems in Europe and also in the Far East. When you read the news and heard the news did you give any thought to those wars and the conflicts that were going on then? Or was it pretty remote?

C: No. I had an early interest in all of that because one of the things that I enjoyed doing was read. I would read copiously, as much as I could get. Anything and everything I could get my hands on. Fiction, non-fiction, biography, whatever. And working two years in the library of course just added to that and gave me the opportunity to do that. I was very aware of what was happening in Europe and the world at that time.

My mother's family, which at that time was still alive and living in Trier. and Koblenz and Berlin were in constant communication with her.

T: That would make a big difference.

C; It made a huge difference and her brothers were in the military. One of her brothers was on Hitler's general staff. He was a professional soldier. She told me he was not a Nazi but he was a career military individual. And he rose up quite rapidly in the ranks, in part because he had about a half a dozen children of his own. And they were giving bonuses to their military, to their officer corps if they would have large families. Promotions and all kinds of favors. It was weird.

So I was very much aware of what was happening. My mother of course, being native born German, she had been born and raised in Trier, her father, who had come over from Scotland was the police commissioner of Trier at the time that she met my father after World War I.

Her brothers were very much into sports and athletics. They were on professional soccer teams and things like that. But she was very concerned about the welfare of her family. When the news came that Adolph Hitler and the Nazis were making strides and taking over portions of central Europe, Austria, Czechoslovakia, the Saar Basin and things of that nature, she would get that report. She would listen to it on the radio. She and I would discuss it with concern, that sort of thing.

I remember when Mein Kampf came out. Wisconsin was very much German heritage. It became, that book became a best seller very quickly. And if you couldn't afford to buy it, why you checked it out at the library and put your name on that long waiting list. And you read it and it became a basis for discussion.

So once I enrolled at Oshkosh State Teachers College for the freshman year in the fall of '41, why it was the topic of conversation among a lot of the freshman there. You know, what was happening and what were the possibilities of further involvement.

T: Do you remember Pearl Harbor, where you were and what you were doing?

C: Absolutely. Absolutely. Down to the minute. I can remember where I was exactly, in a small two bedroom upstairs apartment in Fond du Lac with my mother. I can remember we were sitting in the kitchen. At that time we were being visited by good friends from Kaukauna who had a son in the Navy stationed aboard the Arizona. We were listening to the radio when we heard that Pearl Harbor had been bombed and the Arizona had been decimated and sunk. They were of course extremely concerned. Very traumatic experience for them.

T: Was he one of those that was lost?

C: Fortunately he was on shore leave and survived; survived it. But I can remember exactly where we were. I was home for the weekend because we had these family friends coming in. I was home from Oshkosh. I remember going back late Sunday after listening to President Roosevelt's speech to Congress. And we were sitting in the assembly at the Teachers College, which was then the combination assembly and auditorium and whatever. And listening to the proclamation, or his request that Congress issue a state of war having existed between Japan and America at that time.

We were yet not at war with Germany, technically. They had not declared it. Yeah, I can remember that vividly. I can even remember where I was sitting in the kitchen when I heard it on the radio.

T: I can imagine most of you young fellows, being of that age realized that your lives were about to change radically.

C: Yeah. The draft had been established earlier. We knew that as you became of age, you were vulnerable there. And so, but once we got back, why you know, everybody was gung-ho and we were young and anxious. And we were going to show them what was what, and so on and so forth.

The two room-mates, my two room-mates, the three of us that lived just a couple blocks off campus here in Oshkosh, and we lived in an upstairs three bedroom little flat. We each had our own bedroom. It was kinda neat. We were all from Fond du Lac.

And we were all determined that we were going to do our bit. So we agreed, we made a pact that what we would do is we would go up to Canada and join the Royal Canadian Air Force. That was the thing that we wanted to do. What we didn't appreciate at that moment of enthusiasm was that you needed your parents' permission because you were not yet of age to make that decision for yourself.
And our parents said, "Absolutely not." They agreed, "No way are we going to do that." Eventually we all did sign up. We signed up shortly after the end of the first semester.

T: So you didn't wait for the draft. You enlisted.

C: No, we didn't wait for the draft. We convinced our parents that if they allowed us to enlist now, we could choose both the branch of service we wanted, and we could choose the particular character and training within that branch. That was at least what was presented to us by the military enlistment programs.

And so they all capitulated and allowed us to enlist. And one of my roommates enlisted in what was then known as the Army Air Corps. There wasn't an Air Force separate unit at that time. And he went into the Army Air Corps and my other roommate enlisted with me in the Navy V-5 program, which was the Navy aviation-training program at that time.

T: What made you take an interest in aviation? Had that been something that was part of your…?

C: Oh yeah. As a kid I read every pulp magazine about aviation and World War II, {Carlton may mean World War I} and the romance and excitement of that. Absolutely. Absolutely.

T: Tell me then what was your experience as far as your training goes? At some point you went to school somewhere. Is that correct?

C: Oh yes. Yes. Well, the Navy V-5 program, they were recruiting very heavily for that in the Fox Valley here. And they were recruiting all the way from Green Bay down through Fond du Lac. There was a very active recruitment program on the part of the Navy to get young men enrolled in this Navy V-5 program. And so they constructed what proved to be a semi-fictitious organization. They called it "The Fighting Foxes." This was the romance of the period, to make it exciting for the young men in this whole Fox Valley area. You would join this and you would become a squadron in the Navy. And your title would be "The Fighting Foxes," you see. And we would keep you together and you would carry the banner for your part of the state.

Well it turned out that ultimately that idea was abandoned, because once the Sullivan family lost five sons aboard that destroyer, the Navy military realized we must separate members of the family. And that meant separating this group of young men in "The Fighting Foxes" and not allowing them to be one coordinated unit because of the possibility that they might have heavy losses somewhere down the line. So you were separated and dispersed to the various units within the particular branch of the service you were in.

We were sworn in as a unit, as a "Fighting Fox" unit. They still kept it together because the Sullivan tragedy had not yet taken place as I recall. We were sworn in at half time at a Packer/Bear game up in Green Bay. That was long before Lambeau Field was there.

T: I remember that little rinky-dink field.

C: City Stadium or something like that it was called; I remember. And I remember standing in line at attention. We were all being sworn in and we were being feted by the Navy representatives and the crowd there. And I was standing next to Tony Canadeo, a very remarkable and talented Green Bay Packer. He too became a member of "The Fighting Foxes." Ironically, Tony was unable to serve because he couldn't pass his physical. He had bad knees. But he was able to stay on and play successfully for the Packers during the war.

T: It doesn't quite compute, does it?

C: Aw geez, it was ironic! Here was a guy that was an absolute horse, and a machine on the football field. But they didn't deem him to be suitable because of a potential knee, a former knee injury and potential etcetera. And so forth.

But our training started actually at Oshkosh State Teachers College. They kept us there. Actually what happened was the enrollment into the Navy program was so successful that they couldn't handle the numbers and so they really had to backtrack a little bit and stall. Instead of sending you immediately to primary training at a Naval Air Station, they had to back up and construct a series of pre-school type of training facilities.

T: Pre-flight program I think they called it.

C; Eventually it became a pre-flight program. So they started. They kept us here at the State Teachers College in Oshkosh. And we started that training in June of, end of May, first part of June in '42. But they started us here and we were housed together in what had been President Polk's residence. That became a dormitory. So this group stayed together. We were billeted together. We were kind of a platoon. I can't remember exactly the number of us that were there. I think there were about 12 or 15 of us that stayed together.

We took ground school in the morning. We had courses that we had to be responsible for. Manuals which had been supplied by the Naval Aviation Program and so forth. And then in the afternoon, we would go out here to what has become Whitman Field and we would take flying lessons. So we had the real break of getting our private pilot training before we actually went into primary training, official primary training in the Navy.

And so we did that and we1nt through that program, finished it. Steve Wittman was my instructor and I was in retrospect now, extremely lucky to have had this remarkable aviation pioneer, to have that close contact with him.

Once we finished with that….

T: How long a span of time was that?

C: That was about a three-month program. That was June, July and August. And then we were sent on to what was called pre-flight and to the various pre-flight institutions around the country. I was sent to Iowa, University of Iowa. And we spent three months there in rigorous ground school training and physical training. And that was a three-month period. And that's where I first became so very much aware, I really became very conscious at that time of what it was that was probably going to be lying in store for us. Because they were having a heck of a time, the physical training program, it was a sports program really. You either went to ground school and did textbook work in the morning under Navy instructors and then in the afternoon you would do the sports program all afternoon. Or it was reversed. And maybe about every couple of weeks you would change the schedule and you would have sports in the morning and then in the afternoon.

But I became very much aware that in their sports program, it wasn't a matter of just having athletics. It was a matter of training you to be as aggressive and ultimately as ruthless as you can possibly be. And I remember writing home and saying that I was, they were having a very difficult time with us in that we had been brought up as good sports, and sportsmanship. And here we were being trained to discard that completely.

T: Don't give the other guy a break.

C: Don't give the other guy a break. I mean your basketball became contact sport, you know. Everything became a contact sport. And you were urged and goaded on by your platoon leaders to be as ruthless as you possibly could.

T: I suppose that could actually be life saving in combat.

C: It would. Ultimately of course it served, the purpose was altruistic. They really intended it to be for our own good. But it was a difficult thing for them to get the young men to be that way. The majority you know, had been brought up with the idea of fair play. So that was the time that I became very aware of that.

From the University of Iowa, we were there for three months, then to primary flight training, official primary flight training under the auspices of the Navy at Glenview Naval Air Station, Glenview, Illinois just northwest of Chicago.

T: What type of aircraft were you flying then, during that particular phase of your training?

C: Well, we had been trained at Wittman Field in these little Piper Cubs. Monoplanes. And then when we got there to Glenview we were in what was the Navy's version of the Stearman. It was a biplane. Open cockpit. Two cockpits you know, fore and aft. An open cockpit biplane. It was called the N3N. It was the Navy version. And when I say Navy version, I mean that they, it was a little sturdier especially in the fuselage and the tail area because you would practice pseudo-carrier landings. And the Stearman as originally designed and flown by the Army Air Force wasn't as sturdy in the aft section of the fuselage. And it wouldn't take that tail-first landing. See, they would land wheel first in the Army Air Force and then settle to the three-point tail. We would land tail first, flopped so that the hook would catch the carrier cables, you know. And that was it. And so you had to do the tail first landing.

T: When you were doing that type of landing, did you know at that time that they were looking at carriers? That that was the reason that you were doing it?

C: Oh yeah. That was absolutely. Absolutely. You knew that. So we spent three months there at Glenview through one of the worst winters I can ever remember and when you flew those open cockpit, they were called, "The Yellow Perils."

The instructors there, many of em had been flight instructors in civilian life and were taken into the Navy and given officer status and then became instructors. Others were frustrated graduates of the Naval Flight Training Program who wanted to be out in combat but were sent back to do training here. And those were the toughest instructors because they were, they were angry. They wanted to be out there. They didn't want to be back here.

But what they would, one thing that we found out that they would do, they would sit up in the tower in the morning. Once you had soloed and qualified and you had to go out and do your routines and that, and train and prepare for each successive flight check and so on, they would be up in the tower wagering what was going to happen on the morning take-off.

Because the morning take-off was usually around, oh somewhere between 7 and 8 in the morning. Cold winter morning. You had all this paraphernalia on and these, you know, like a, it was like a ski mask. And by the time you came back, you were encrusted with ice. But anyhow, you would get out there and at that time, I remember Glenview Naval Air Station had two large, enormously large circular cement areas. That was their take-off and landing area. Only one or two runways that were used for transport planes, and bombers and things of that nature. But these large circular ramps were where these "yellow perils" would taxi out to and take off in the morning.

And the instructors were up in the tower wagering to see how many would get off successfully, and how many would not. Because we were just like a cluster of bees taking off, into one another or close to one another. And it was hilarious. We didn't realize the degree of jeopardy we were in until you look back in hindsight and say, "That was a crazy, crazy time!"

T: Were there some accidents?

C: Oh yeah.

T: I imagine in training that's bound to happen.

C: Oh yes. Oh yes. There were accidents. But eventually you get through the program and you take your flight checks at various where you're expected to do this or that or the other thing, you know. And you qualify and then you're passed on and the last flight check there, I remember was, they had - we were always flying in the daytime. So they said well, you're going to need a few, a couple hours of experience at night. So in we go into the "yellow peril," flying at night. And we no sooner got off the ground and we were in a whiteout. Complete snowstorm. Didn't know where the devil we were. Somehow we managed to survive it. I remember our group had to encounter that.

And then from there they would send you on to your next intermediate training. And then advanced and so on. And it was while you were at Glenview you were given the option, you may stay in the Navy, or you may choose to become a Marine and become a Marine pilot. An officer in the Marine Corps. So either you stayed in and you ultimately became an ensign in the Navy, or you became a 2nd lieutenant in the Marines. So you chose that. And I chose to go with the Marine Corps. For some reason that seemed to be most exciting.

T: I was going to ask you, why did you make the Marines your choice?

C: Oh well, you know the romance of the thing.

T: Where did you go then after you finished with the Stearman training.

C: All right. From there I was sent down to Corpus Christi, Texas. And that would be what we would call our basic training. And then you flew that BT-13, which was a low wing monoplane, fixed landing gear still. And you were indoctrinated into that, and into more of the Navy ways of doing things. By that I mean, in other words, looking forward to the time when you might well be carrier based and carrier operational. Their ways that you, the things that you must do immediately following take-off. And the way you come in and approach for carrier landings. And things of that nature.

T: At this point were you all Marines when you went to Corpus Christi? Was everybody a Marine? Because you say you elected to become a Marine pilot rather than a Navy pilot. So in Corpus Christi were you then all...?

C: No. You weren't segregated at that time. No, you weren't. You were still with a homogenous group of cadets. And what might happen later on is, depending upon when you got to your intermediate and advanced training, then it would depend upon what it was that you were assigned to, that you might end up being, with all Navy or all Marine pilots.

And then after that basic training, why then you go to advanced training and you would fly still monoplanes, retractable gears, little heavier horsepower; that kind of thing. And ironically with me, they sent me from flying single engine aircraft, they assigned me to fly multi-engine at that time. And so the only multi-engine that they had for us down at Corpus Christi were these enormous flying boats called Catalinas.


C: The PBY's. And so that's how I took my advanced training, was in PBY's. And then when you pass everything, and you get through it, and you get commissioned and you get your wings then your orders come through and they move you from there. So having gone through single engine aircraft and then PBY's, I had absolutely no idea where, I couldn't even fathom what they might do with the group of us. And by this time we were separated as Marines and as naval ensigns.

And so then my orders came through, and a good buddy of mine and myself, we were sent to Atlanta, Georgia to instrument flight instructor school. So we couldn't figure it out but we thought, well probably what they are going to do is eventually, we will be flying multi-engine aircraft, naval flying boats of some sort or other, or we could be going into multi-engine Marine. B-25's - they were flying a lot of those at that time.

Anyhow, we went through a very rigorous three months training again. They seemed to go in segments and units of three months time. The service was pretty well structured in that kind of a pattern.

T: What came after Atlanta then?

C: Alright, after we finally got through that instrument flight instructors school which was an extremely rigorous program, because you would get all your flying under a hood in multi-engined aircraft, or single-engine aircraft depending on the particular day, and the instructor and the challenge that was laid out for you.

T: Was it difficult to trust the instrument rather than your…?

C: Oh yeah. Initially.

T: I've heard that it's hard to rely on those things.

C: It is, but thank God for that instrument flight instructors training. It saved my neck more than one time. Especially when I got into combat. It became, because you would often time get off course or you would get caught in bad weather. And without the trust you have for your instruments and that experience, it could have been disastrous.

After Atlanta, we were sent to Cherry Point, North Carolina. Now here I'd had this multi-engine background, instrument flight instructors, then I was sent to Cherry Point and assigned to a VMO squadron which was to fly single engine aircraft. It turned out to be Corsairs, F4U Corsairs. But it was an unarmed Corsair with a plexiglass bottom in the fuselage, above which had been, or would be ultimately fixed, a camera. So the VMO meant that you were a fighter observation. And you would fly at maximum altitude and stripped down so that you were as fast as possible.

T: That was a fast plane to begin with, wasn't it?

C: It was. Yeah it was. It had very good speed. It was, I think it was second only to the Mustang in ultimate top speed during the war years.

T: Over 400 miles an hour, I think.

C: It was about, with water injection, supposedly was rated about 441-442, something of that nature. And so what happened was that I would have, we would all have to be checked out in the Corsair itself. And we would have to be, since we had gone through multi-engine advanced training before we'd been commissioned, we didn't have what we would call fighter training. So all of that had to be done as the squadron was formed at Cherry Point. So we had to go through fighter training. And we had to be ultimately checked out in the Corsair and then be able to perform as a pilot of that particular aircraft as a fighter pilot.

T: Was that a touchy plane to learn to fly? I've heard that when you got into that class of planes, that they, you had to be a little bit more careful. Some of these planes you could muscle around but a lot of the fighters are rather touchy as far as handling characteristics go.

C: The Corsair had some, I guess we could call design flaws or congenital defects. Namely it had that elongated nose, you see. The early Corsair had a very small canopy over the pilot's head. Very small. We use to call it a greenhouse because it looked like that. It looked the section, little pieces of glass, you know. And you sat pretty low in the cockpit. And then you had this enormous nose so you could see absolutely nothing in front of you when you were on the ground taxiing.

{The first tape ends here}.

C: We were talking about how one would adapt to a plane such as a Corsair when you're learning to fly it. But that long nose meant that when you were on the ground, you could not see anything in front of you. Therefore you would have to exaggerate "S" turns and check out the side, and then turn over to the other side. So taxiing to take-off position and taxiing after landing position back to the flight line, those were part of the initial challenges. And you had to be damn careful because you didn't want to chop anything else up and you didn't want to wreck the aircraft.

And so it was tricky, but as far as its characteristics once you were airborne, it was a sweet plane to fly. It really was smooth. Take-off was something you really had to be very much aware of. It had an, for that time at least, an enormously powerful engine. R-2800 I remember was the designation. It was over 2000 horsepower. Ultimately the later modifications were up to around 2400 horsepower. And one of its characteristics on take-off was that the torque was enormous, the power of that engine and that enormous propeller turning. And see, the design, that gull-wing design was because of that powerful engine. They had to have an enormous propeller there and so they needed clearance.

T: A three-bladed prop.

C: Yes; eventually they went to a four-bladed prop and brought the diameter in very slightly as they made the engine more powerful. But the design had proven valuable so they kept that gull-wing. But the torque was such that if you weren't careful and didn't set your tabs, your compensating tabs in the cockpit correctly, you could roll. You could roll and that could be it. And you had to fight it with rudder in addition because of that torque. So you had to do that.

But ultimately they came along with, the changed the design. They gave us a bubble canopy and it was a little bit higher. We sacrificed maybe a few knots top speed. But it had a bubble canopy. Visibility was better. You even had better visibility on taxiing. You didn't have to exaggerate the S turn. And they allowed you, you could lift the bucket seat up a little higher so you could sit a little bit higher in the cockpit. So that was great. We were real excited about that.

T: What happened then after Cherry Point?

C: Cherry Point was a long ordeal. I had ultimately approximately almost 14 months of training at Cherry Point. The squadron designation was changed. The Navy brass decided they weren't going to use this squadron as an observation squadron so they redsesignated it as a fighter squadron. So we became a VMF instead of a VMO. So we had to retrain completely with that in mind. We got a lot of time in the plane. Got a lot of hours experience but ultimately the unit gelled.

The Navy brass decided that what it wanted to do was use this particular squadron in a kind of an experiment. Rocket firing Corsairs were just being introduced into the Pacific combat area. And the reports from Europe coming back to Naval Intelligence were very disconcerting.

Hitler had been very successful with the V-l. Had caused an enormous amount of damage to both property, life and moral to the British citizens with that V-1 campaign. And then finally added the V-2 which was that one that just went up into the stratosphere and then straight down. They just lobbed those in, where the V-1 was rocket controlled and so forth. Those {the V-1} you could get at with fighter planes occasionally and you could intercept them. The V-2, it was pot luck, it was potluck. So they were, and they were concerned because those V-2's had over 2000-pound warheads that did this horrible amount of damage.

The Navy decided that this was the chance for a Corsair squadron to be sent to Europe. It would have been the only Marine fighter squadron in Europe. So they chose our squadron. We went up to Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard for a two to three week training program.

And some young man from MIT, I think he was about 19, some brain out there had invented a way of affixing a thousand pound rocket, which was really a thousand pound warhead bomb with a rocket motor attached to it, to the underbelly of the Corsair. And invented a sling which would drop down and then ignite the rocket so it would clear that big windmill propeller. So he had invented that.

So we were sent up to Martha's Vineyard and the Nantucket area there to train firing rockets and lobbing these things in. And what the Navy had in mind was, to send this Marine squadron which would be based in England and fly the Channel and see if we could eliminate these concrete launching sites for these V-2 rockets.

Well, we got all set for that. We were excited. We were excited. We were told straightforward that, "We're going to lose 50% of you guys. That's what we anticipate is going to happen." At least that, you know. But we were excited. We had been impatiently marking time, treading water. We wanted to go, you know. The war was leaving us behind. You know how young men can get. And we were excited. We wanted to go and stick our neck out further, although we'd had a lot of operational accidents; we'd lost 25% of the squadron in training through operational accidents. But we still had this, you know, we had this drive.

And we get all set. Our footlockers are packed. We're just ready to board the carrier on the East Coast to go over and cross the Atlantic. Orders came through, wash it out. Cancel it. Change of plans again. What they discovered was, Navy intelligence and supposedly - thank God Navy intelligence was accurate then - we have a lot of questions today about intelligence. But Navy intelligence said that the Germans had found a way of launching these V-2 rockets from railroad flatcars. So they could move em all over the Normandy coast. And they decided it would not be worth the risk of losing 50 to 75% of our squadron when they were going to use those mobile launching pads as opposed to the fixed one. Because the fixed ones were the ones we were going to target. The mobile ones would have to be targeted through different types of flight operations, you know.

Well then eventually we were sent to the West Coast. Went to the Mojave Desert. Mojave Marine Corps Air Station. We were there for about a period of, I think it was three months, four months. Still champing at the bit but at least we were geographically that much closer to the Pacific Theater so that was some solace to the guys.

Then the word came down from Washington and the Pacific Air Command that they needed replacement pilots for some of the squadrons that were in the Pacific. And they were planning further campaigns and needed to form other squadrons because they were thinking of the Mariannas and ultimately Okinawa and the Japanese mainland. And Okinawa was considered a part of, or near the Japanese mainland at that time. So they had to construct new squadrons and send em out there.

So our squadron in the Mojave, stationed in the Mojave Desert there, we drew straws and some were selected to stay with the squadron, the established squadron. Others were to leave and go to Miramar, which was an embarkation area, as replacement pilots.

So I drew the short straw, was one of the guys with the short straw. Off I go to Miramar and I become a replacement pilot. And here I'd had this, you know, all this training on various types of aircraft and that, which I was most grateful for very often at later stages.

And we finally shipped out. We were in, I remember we were on a troop transport in Pearl Harbor over the holidays, Christmas and New Years of '44-'45. That particular holiday season. And then from there we shipped out and eventually, what we didn't realize until later, they were already organizing the invasion fleets for Okinawa around the Marshall Islands. And this is where they sent us. So we were at the Marshalls and we, as a group of replacement pilots, we had to form a kind of a camaraderie, and get to know each other, and to work with one another and trust one another.

So we would do our combat training and some initial bombing runs on some of the islands in the Marshall chain which the Navy had chose to bypass. They were, you know, they would hopscotch these islands and take the ones they felt were crucial. And that's where you would get experience and flying through enemy antiaircraft. And these guys got pretty good because they'd been bypassed for so many months and they were there. They were living on very low rations, the Japanese were, there. But they were getting very accurate. So we got that type of experience.

And then we were, the word came down and the squadron shipped out and the planes were sent up on a carrier and the rest of the pilots and the squadron, the maintenance group, we were boarding LST's and LCT's and that type of boarding craft. And we knew that there was a huge invasion being planned. We weren't privy to the exact goal at the time but it was from there that we went up and were part of the Okinawa D-Day invasion fleet.

T: At this point you were stationed on a carrier?

C: At this point we were stationed ashore, on land in the Marshall Islands. On the island of Eniwetok. On the island of Eniwetok which later became historically a big site for some A-bomb and H-bomb experiments.

T: Right.

C: But we were stationed there until we were organized as a unit and then boarded. So the planes went aboard a carrier to Okinawa. The rest of the squadron were on LCT's. Which meant that if you didn't draw the right straw to fly one of the planes ashore off the carrier, you would have to go in D-Day as a platoon leader. As though you were a Marine platoon leader for an infantry unit, which we weren't. And had not been actually trained to do.

T: No, it wasn't quite your cup of tea.

C: No it wasn't our cup of tea, which was exactly what I had to do. I had to take a platoon in, ashore. Because I again drew the short straw there. But it proved to be something entirely different than what we expected because after a three day, unbelievably heavy bombardment there of the island of Okinawa and the shoreline, and the airfield, the [Yon Tan] airfield, and the capital of Okinawa - Naha, and that Shuri castle area we walked ashore. No resistance whatsoever, to speak of at least. To speak of.

And the Japanese had very wisely decided that ultimately they were going to have to, they were going to be overtaken. So they split their force to the north and to the south of the island. The island's about 60-62 miles long and maybe 8 to 12 miles wide, depending upon where you are. And to the north were mountains, and to the south, heavy caves and cliffs.

And this is what they did: they split their force and entrenched em in those areas so that they could offer resistance. And that was it was their plan where they could concentrate the airfield, Yon Tan, from which we had hoped to fly, was in the middle and would be a ready target for them from the north and the south. Well we were able to secure Yon Tan, I think in remarkably short time. And then our planes came off of the carrier and we operated right there from that airfield on Okinawa.

Our functions were primarily combat air patrol, bombing and strafing, air support for the Marines and the Army trying to secure the island of Okinawa. And they would have to, they relied on Marine fighter squadrons to come in and strafe. Give them rocket-firing support.

T: Were the targets pretty well defined?

C: Yeah. They would be, it got pretty hairy in the fact that you would be shooting very close and very near, just over the heads of what would seem to be maybe, you know, a hundred yards or less over the heads of the Marine and the Army infantry. Also, you would have occasion, part of your assignment might be to drop napalm which was carried under that gull wing portion of the Corsair.

T: I didn't know that they used napalm there. I thought it came on later.

C: No. Napalm was, napalm was used a lot again in the Korean War. But no, the napalm, we used a great deal of it to strike at the caves in the hills and the mountain retreats and strongholds. So that was our function there.

And then the combat air patrol, that became our principal function. And that was to protect the ring of destroyers and destroyer escorts that surrounded Okinawa. And they were the radar picket ships with their radar pointed toward Japan, from which the kamikaze and bombing attacks were launched. And these picket ships would then warn the Navy, the main part of the Navy fleet, the carriers, the cruisers and the battleships which were to the south of Okinawa and its harbor. And warn them of incoming kamikaze suicide attacks.

T: At this point in the war, were the Japanese pilots and their planes proficient or were they sort of scraping the bottom of the barrel. Have you any indication of that.

C: They were both. The proficient were the ones that actually flew cover for the kamikazes as they came down from Japan. And they would try to, the remaining good, experienced combat pilots would try to take, lure away those of us who were in charge of guarding, were responsible for guarding those picket ships. And if they could lure us away, then the suicide planes could come in underneath and attack directly. And the only protection that the picket ships, the destroyers and destroyer escorts, the radar ships would have would be their own firepower. And that was just hit and miss. You throw up a curtain of flak and hope that the suicide plane doesn't fly through it. And doesn't make contact.

See, what we would do is we would try to intercept these kamikazes before they got to the picket ships and shoot them down.

T: What type of aircraft was the kamikaze? Was it a Zero or was it a different aircraft?

C: It would depend. Toward the end there, toward the battle of Okinawa in '45, they were using anything and everything that flew. Anything and everything. And whatever they could load up. You wouldn't see many things like Zeroes or Tojos, their first line fighter craft as a kamikaze. They were used as I said, for other purposes. But what you would find is their dive-bomber, their scout planes, things of that nature which could be, well they were dispensable, you know; you could get rid of those. And then loaded with explosives.

T: Were they easy pickings?

C: Yeah, in a sense they were.

T: If you didn't have to worry about their cover.

C: Yeah. If you didn't have to worry about the cover, although their dive-bombers you see, and their scout planes and that, they would always have a rear gunner. So you'd have to be careful there that you would not be picked off by them.

T: Did you shoot down any Japanese planes?

C: Well I've been accredited with some. There was one particular, I got some assists and I got some credit for some kills. They had sent down, oh about a hundred of these kamikazes in one particular day. It was, I'm trying to think of when this was. It was, we went in on April the 1st, that was D-Day for Okinawa. We were ashore on the second or third, flew the first combat air patrols within a couple of days of that.

And about two to three weeks on - I don't have my logbook here to document it - I could pinpoint the exact date. This huge fleet of kamikazes were sent down with high air cover. And we were sent to intercept. And we were out there for some time. The squadron was accredited with about, I think it was sixteen or eighteen kills that day.

And that was a day I had to come back and make a forced landing because my hydraulic system had sprung a leak and I think it may well have happened as a result of the antiaircraft flak from our own destroyers. Because as you got on the tail of a kamikaze, you were very reluctant to break that off. So you stayed there and you kept firing.

T: You were going through the same thing they were. Sounds pretty hairy to me.

C: Exactly. The particular model Corsair I was flying on that occasion, everything was controlled by the hydraulics. The later versions of the plane, they had some things, some things like your firepower would be controlled electronically. Your landing gear would maybe be hydraulic. And things of that nature. They separated it. But this particular one was all hydraulic. So therefore, I could not lower my landing gear, I could not jettison my belly tank because we were all flying with those since we didn't know how long this engagement would take. And we were way up north and out to sea over the China Sea. I couldn't fire my guns. They were all controlled hydraulically.

So I flew tight formation to a buddy of mine. Extremely tight formation. Later on he said, "I thought, God damn, you're going to climb right into the cockpit with me." He said, "I was more scared of you," he says, "than I was of the kamikaze." I said, "I had no recourse. I had to stay with you. I needed somebody."

So we bluffed. And we would, and we bluffed and we would force the kamikazes into the screen of fire from the destroyers, into that curtain of fire. And a couple of em, we were able to misdirect to the point where they flew right into the China Sea. Because the sea was almost like glass that day. It was one of the rare occasions. It was very, very calm. And they couldn't see how far above it; it's very difficult to judge your perspective. And they wen, flew right in. But you get credit for it and that's it. I mean that's the way it worked.

But that was our biggest day in respect to that. Most of our time on Okinawa was spent in ground support trying to help the troops there. And picket patrol over the Navy ring of radar ships around the island. And intercept raids by kamikazes that came down.

T: Carlton, I'm going to deviate just a little bit and ask you, aside from combat, what was life like over there in the South Pacific? You know one thinks of the very hot climate. What was the food like? Did you hear from home? Tell me about things like that.

C: This was the time when I partially regretted not having stayed in the Navy because their billeting and their quarters and their sustenance was a considerably higher caliber that what we were experiencing. But because it was on Okinawa, you were on K and C rations. You got the bare minimum until you were definitely entrenched and you could put up some sort of structures and you could have your own mess, your own cooks and so on. And that took weeks in order to get done.

It was, the South Pacific, if you're not comfortable in hot humid areas, you're not going to like it. You're not going to be comfortable. The things that you encountered, that you had to, and I'm sure that's what's happening in the present day conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. You're encountering such things like lice, bed bugs. Those are things that you always have to be a little bit leery of. Whatever rodents are there. Rats are prevalent. In the camps you set up it's almost impossible, at least it was then, to keep them out.

T: Did your particular unit suffer heavy losses in that area, in that campaign?

C: We lost 25% in operational training before we got to Okinawa, and we lost a little over 25% more once we were there. We lost em in combat. We lost em, they were disoriented, they were lost in storms. Couldn't get back, couldn't find their way. There were operational accidents because of fatigue. Mid-air collisions. Flying into one another.

Because you would fly these picket patrol assignments as a division usually, or as a section. Now a section was what we call two airplanes; one flying wing on the other and staying together and maneuvering as a unit. Or crossing in a scissors motion to protect one another's tail over the picket ship that you were watching over. Because if they got on their radar word that there was a kamikaze or a flight of em coming down, then you, you had to be responsible for staying there over that picket ship and protecting it. And then maybe one section, a division was four planes for us at that time, and so that other section would head off to intercept the incoming danger.

Those flights were very hot, very humid. You came down, you were soaked to the skin from perspiration, you know. Because if you were up there and you know, your flight suit was just ringing wet by the time you got down. It was just so hot.

And the problem is that some of those flights were, they were a minimum of well, if you were on ground support on the island of Okinawa, your flight would be less than maybe 30 minutes, under an hour, at the very most an hour. But if you go out on picket patrol, it's anywhere from 2 to 4 hours depending upon where you are and how much extra fuel you're carrying and so on.

And when nature calls under those circumstances, it becomes very difficult.

T: I would think so.

C: Yes, they had, they had a tube in the bottom of the plane that, if you could reach it with a funnel…

T: The so called "relief tube"?

C: The relief tube literally, exactly. I remember we had one very humorous incident as a result of that back in training. I don't know whether you are going to keep this in or edit it but one of the pilots was shorter than the other. And our CO was a tall man, he was about 6 feet 2. And he had his own plane. This was the CO's plane. You did not fly that unless it was absolutely essential. So on a particular exercise back at Cherry Point, this was when we were in training, it was necessary for this little pilot, very short stature, to use the CO's plane. And boy, we kept, we rode him and said, "Boy, you better be careful. You scratch that plane and you're in trouble." Well we had a long flight, a long training flight. A lot of aerobatics, things of that nature. And it was necessary for him to relieve himself. And he could not reach down and grab the relief tube. So he just chose to let nature take its course. And didn't say a thing about it. Later that day, the CO had to fly. And he went up and he was leading a division in aerobatics and fighter tactics. And as he rolled, did his rolls, he was inundated, soaked! Well, tell you, when he came down, he was just livid. He was absolutely livid! This guy, we never let this young man forget it. Never let him forget it. But that cheered us up for a long time. I remember that.

T: I was going to ask you, you mentioned this little fellow that had this problem. Can you think of other mates of yours that were unusual in one respect or another. When you're in the service there are some that are just stellar characters, wonderful people. And there's some that are at the very other end of the scale, that are weird and odd. Can you think of any people like that that you flew with that were strange or different?

C: There was, you almost ran the gamut of the personality scale. Some were very, were loners, very private people.

I remember one young man whom I had grown somewhat close to when we were on the West Coast, waiting to be sent out as replacement pilots. And he and I were sent out to join the same unit which eventually became the MF 441. And we became quite close to one another. We would confide in one another. We would share our reservations about what might be in store for us, and about the whole, about reservations we might have had about the way the conflict was going, etcetera. And he was a very religious young man. He was a Roman Catholic as was I. He was intent upon going to mass every single morning. I had not chose to be quite that conscientious but I remember he twisted my arm and talked me into accompanying him to morning mass on a number of occasions when we were in the Marshalls in that staging area getting ready to go in the invasion force on Okinawa.

And he was the first pilot we lost on Okinawa. The first pilot. The first day that we took off from Okinawa, we were out there getting what we had hoped would be a familiarization flight. Meaning in other words, we would get the lay of the land. And what we didn't appreciate, we didn't have the weather forecasting facilities that you would have, say, today. A storm blew in and this division of four planes was lost and he was among em. And it was the very first flight that we had made. And I mean it was a very sobering experience there. Realizing that it wasn't just the enemy that you had to worry about. You had to worry about nature too.

T: Was there, speaking about your friend, was there some reluctance to make close personal bonds when, knowing that you might lose this person, that they might be lost. I don't know just how to put it but maybe you get the gist of my meaning. I've heard other fellows that were in the Marines say that they didn't want to make real close friends because they might not be there tomorrow. Was it like that in your unit?

C: Well, it was to a degree. It was to a degree. The difference I think is, that we had to rely on one another so very often. And you weren't always flying with the same individual, especially during the training years. During the period of time when you were practicing tactics and you were still back in the states. You got to know everybody in that squadron quite, quite well.

Once you got overseas and you got into combat, I think it might have been a little more true. You would stay with the same wingman. You would stay with the same division, division leader. And those were the ones that you got to know. You might drift a little afield from some of the other members of the squadron but the interdependence, that relationship was so high that we probably formed alliances and friendships to a greater degree than would ground troops such as infantry.

T: That's interesting to know that.

C: And we would learn from one another, you see. You come back from your combat air patrols. If you had an engagement, if you made contact, you'd come back, you'd share that information with the other guys. So you'd learn from one another constantly. So that relationship was a little more you know, it had a broader base and numbers than probably on the ground.

T: Were you in touch with your family, in your case, your mother? Did you receive correspondence from her frequently?

C: Yes. Correspondence was a high point of your day. When mail call came. It really was. And Mother and I would, we corresponded with regularity. I would say probably weekly through the mail. Now if you were going with a young lady, it could be almost daily. I mean, you know, eventually you would write one another every day. They wouldn't get there with that regularity but that was something that you had there too. And that was terribly important. It was enormously important.

T: Where were you when the war ended?

C: We had been on, we went in on the initial assault on Okinawa. And we were there April, May, into the middle of June. And the island of Okinawa was declared secured at the end of the third week of June, I believe. We were relieved in the middle of June and our squadron was pulled out and was sent back to the Marshalls where we had initially staged for the invasion. We were sent back there.

And our task was, at that time, to train - on the basis of our experience - the incoming pool of pilots which we had been. Train them for what was anticipated to be the invasion of Japan, mainland of Japan.

So we were sent back and after awhile, I'd say we were there maybe about three, four weeks, back in the Marshalls. This was about the middle of July. Then we were sent on R&R. And we got our break. We got two weeks off. And we hoped that we were going to be sent to Sydney because we heard that was one wild, wide open, anything goes area. Nope, we were the first ones to be denied that from the Marine fighter squadrons. We were sent to Hawaii, to Honolulu. Very picturesque. You know, very military base. But you could not talk to a young lady without a chaperone being there at her shoulder.

T: Really?

C: Oh yes! It was very, very strict. Yes. But anyway, we spent two weeks in Hawaii. In Honolulu. And just absolutely pigged out. Just ate like crazy. I know that I, being born and raised in Wisconsin you know, I'm a product of the dairyland. And ah, milk, and butter and eggs and that kind of thing; we had been deprived of. Powdered eggs on rare occasions. Horrible crap. And C rations and K rations and stuff like that. So that two week period in Honolulu, I had six eggs every morning for breakfast. Six eggs!

T: Get your cholesterol back on track.

C: To this day, I can't begin my day without two soft-boiled eggs. The cholesterol and the heart danger I take with a grain of salt. Here I am, almost 82 and two eggs a day, all my life. All my life.
But then we were sent back after that, then we returned and the next group would be given the opportunity to go to Honolulu for their rest.

T: You went back to the Marshalls then?

C: Yes, back to the Marshalls. We were there and then finally we were to go back. Then they decided that our experience would be of more value if we were to train the pilots on the mainland, back in the United States. So we were pulled out, put aboard a carrier, and sent back to the United States, to San Francisco. En route to San Francisco, the war ended and the atomic bomb was dropped.

T: What were your thoughts when you heard about the dropping of the bomb? For most of us it was difficult to understand just what kind of a weapon it was. We knew it was something tremendous. How did you feel about seeing that quick end when we're thinking about invading Japan? Do you feel that it saved lives in the process?

C: Yeah. We went along with the president's decision to drop it. Feeling that the potential loss of life - on both sides of the conflict - would have been absolutely horrendous as I understand it; from segments that I have watched on the History Channel here. Which does an incredible job of collating this type of information and data and presenting it in a structured, intelligent way.

One of the things they found out was that the conflict, the battle for Okinawa had over 55,000 casualties. If that island, 60 miles in length and 8 to 10 miles in width were to precipitate that loss of life and injury, and many of those lives lost were aboard naval ships that were damaged by kamikazes, the flights of them coming in. You know around the harbor of Okinawa and off aways in the distance. But that was part of the basis for it. Because they knew that the Japanese population, intelligence has showed, and since the documentation, the Japanese film, they were prepared for a…

{The first side of the second tape ends here}.

C: The peasants had been trained. The young people had been prepared. It was going to be one mass resistance to the last man. And that would mean that anything that could fly, anything that could fly, that could get off the ground would have been loaded with explosives and aimed out at the invasion fleet. And that would have cost enormous loss among the Navy. And the Navy had already experienced an enormous loss, and cost, and lives and equipment on Okinawa.

T: When did you get mustered out of the service? Tell me about that process.

C: I can remember very vividly coming back and being aboard the carrier. And we were on the deck, on the top deck as we passed under the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge. Boy that was a great moment. That was a great moment. But we didn't arrive back until almost two weeks after the war was over. Because after we left the Marshalls, we had to go to the Hawaiian Islands. And then from there, in other words you were sent in steps back to the, then we went back to the United States to the West Coast.

Sent back down to Miramar which was a Marine depot from whence replacements had been, the last step before you boarded the ship to go out and get into the Pacific Theater and engage in combat and conflict. We were sent back to Miramar, sat around, waited for further orders. Had a lot of time to canvas the California landscape and experience the hospitality of the citizenry. Go up to L.A., you know. Which was a big deal for a, not exactly a farm kid from Wisconsin, but right next to being a farm kid from Wisconsin.

So then eventually sent back, then you were given from there, you were given your 30- day leave. Your 30-day leave. So from there, I went home, went back to Fond du Lac. You were still in the service. You were still in uniform. You were supposed to maintain your uniform. And so that was a very heart-warming and gratifying experience to go back on that leave. The war being over, you know. And seeing your families and your friends who were back perhaps at the same time. And going back and visiting your old high school; talking to the teachers and that kind of thing.

T: Did you have to go back to California then for discharge?

C: No. I went back to Cherry Point, North Carolina again. That was the big Marine Corps Center there. So it was from Cherry Point, North Carolina that you were finally mustered out. And that didn't, you were allowed to go back and you were still in the reserves. And in the active reserves for a period of time. So that didn't, you didn't sever that connection until oh, it must have been about the spring of '46, about there. And then I really reactivated it because I kept my connection with the reserve fighter squadron down in Glen View. And once a month I would hitchhike from Oshkosh on a weekend. Hitchhike down to Glenview, get my minimum flying time in, hitchhike back up for Monday morning classes. So I did that for a couple of years.

T: When you were discharged, had you made rank at all? You were commissioned as a 2nd Louie and what did you come out as?

C: Came out as a Captain.

T: Did you receive any citations or medals when you were in the service?

C: Yes. You were issued that information. You were given that information when you left Cherry Point, when you were formally mustered out and then sent back. Our squadron had received the Presidential Unit Citation. The air wing of which we were a part, the Third Air Wing also received the Presidential Unit Citation, which allowed you to wear that ribbon with a star on it, meaning that you were a part of a double award there. We got the Navy Unit Citation as a squadron. Of course you got all your theater, area battle ribbons you know, where you were. I was given the American Area one also because while I was in advanced training way back when, flying Catalina flying boats, we also were used as anti-submarine patrol up and down the Mexican Coast and the Caribbean. But you got that type of thing.

And then you got any special awards that you got. And I had, I got six Air Medals and two Distinguished Flying Crosses.

T: Gosh, that's very impressive!

C: I was very grateful for the opportunity to serve, naturally. It sounds precocious but it's true. And in retrospect, the kind of thing that you go through and you experience… The thing that I could not appreciate was the impact that four-year period would have on my later life.

T: I was going to ask you, how did your period in the service change you, or didn't it change you? A lot of guys say, "Well, it made a man out of me."

C: Yeah, it builds your confidence. You came back and as anyone who lived through that and was here can tell you that, the veterans that came back to Oshkosh State Teachers College, those guys were buckling down. They were getting to business. They wanted to learn. They wanted to go out and be productive and have a job, and family, and home and be property owners and so on. That tomfoolery, you know, I live for the day and that kind of thing that you had when you came out of high school and entered college, that party atmosphere, that was criticized.

T: I was one of those and I remember the GI's, the servicemen that were at Teachers College had a little different attitude. They were there for business.

C: Yeah it was that, but the thing that I was thinking about is that then I was able to put this behind me. That was a segment of my life and that was it. And it was like you encapsulate that and you put it up on a shelf and you let it gather dust for a long time. You get married, you start a family. I met my wife when I came back after service. She was a student at Oshkosh Teachers.

T: You completed your education then at Oshkosh Teachers?

C: I did. I got my bachelors with a double major in history and English. Began teaching school. Went up to Wausau and taught at the high school there for four years. Started a masters program down at the University of Northwestern down in Evanston. And while there, became acquainted with their high school program and system in that suburban area. The Chicago suburban area. Their retirement program was much stronger and more remunerative than the State of Wisconsin's teacher's retirement program.

So we decided that by that time, after four years of teaching up at Wausau, a very pleasant experience, enjoyed it very much, great community, that we would send out feelers and resumes to the Chicago suburban area. Which we did and we eventually got some positive responses. Ended up teaching a couple of years at Waukegan Township High School.

T: Your wife was still teaching then?

C: The wife, she never finished her college education. She dropped out after a couple of years and went to work and so she was not in school when we were married. But we moved down as a family. We had two children by that time, two girls. And stayed at Waukegan a couple of years. They separated into another high school, North Chicago, because it became over-populated. They needed to do that. Build a new school. Those of us who were not on tenure were let go. And so I was out after two years looking around for another position and was interviewed and accepted at Evanston Township High School which was a fabulous experience and a great break for me.

While I was there, I began doing, I had been very active and very interested in the sport of tennis when I was at Oshkosh. And I played for four years on the college team. We won the state conference a couple of times. In fact we won it three, four times I believe. We had a good team.

And so I needed a job in the summertime so I started teaching tennis and coaching high school tennis where I was. I coached at Wausau, I coached at Waukegan. I did it at Evanston and became acquainted with a group of teachers and a group of individuals who I had enormous respect for at a school up in Winnetka, the New Trier High School. New Trier Township High School. And so I got a job there after a couple of years at Evanston. I got accepted on the staff and I stayed there for 27 years. Got entangled with it and loved it.

T: What brought you to Omro, Carlton?

C: Well because I was from Fond du Lac and my wife from Kimberly, we thought when we retired, why the thing to do would be to find some place in between. She was not anxious to go to Fond du Lac. She didn't want to retire back to Kimberly. That had changed so since her girlhood days. And we drove around and looked at property. She was very much into antiques and by that time we had six children.

T: Oh boy!

C: All of them were out there on their own, either that or the younger ones were still in college, you know. And they were all college-educated, thank God. And the older boy was into refinishing and refurbishing antique furniture. So he and my wife started an antique store, an antique store which they opened only on weekends, because he was an exec in advertising down in the city. And only on week-ends could they open this up.

But when we came up here and we went to Omro and found this big old Victorian with an enormous coach house and a potential for storage and workshop and all that, that was it. That was it!. And since then, after a couple of years they found out it was a futile effort. They couldn't do it. But that didn't deter them from continuing their interest in flea markets, and gathering, and refinishing and all that. As our property will testify to if you ever go out there and see it stacked up in the areas…

But that's how that happened and we've been in Omro now for seventeen years. We're thinking seriously at this point in time of selling the property and perhaps moving farther, back to the southern part of Wisconsin. To be between Milwaukee and Chicago where five of the six children and all their families are located.

T: That's usually a driving factor.

C: Yeah, yeah.

T: Well, I think we've covered all of the territory and…

C: I don't know if this is of any interest or any value other than the story of one man's pilgrimage, you know.

T: Well, we've got a lot of those kinds of stories Carlton, and we're just awfully glad to get all of them. And each and every one is different. They're really great.

C: But as I initially started to tell you at the time when I said I was able to encapsulate that four-year experience and put it up on the shelf and let it gather dust; it's been the last twenty years where I have pulled it down and reviewed it and looked at it.

T: I was going to ask you if you think very much of the war today. It seems like there are some fellows who are, maybe it's that time of their life, that they're thinking more of those days right now.

C: Yeah. I'll tell you another thing too that I think has been an influence upon me. And that is I'm a news junkie. I watch cable news religiously. I'm also a History Channel buff. I watch their programs religiously. They have, the last decade particularly, there's been such an emphasis on anything and everything relating to that point in time in history. World War I and the time in between. The rise of dictators. World War II. The after math, the Marshall Plan, all of this; the History Channel has had a real interest in that. And they have resurrected those memories for me. And they filled in, as a result of all the wonderful things they've done, they've filled in a lot of blanks that we had no way of having access to. We had no way of knowing that information when we were in the uniform.

T: That's true.

C: We didn't know; we didn't know. We were very naïve. Courageous and foolhardy, yes, but naïve. We were vulnerable as far as we could be fed information that our government or our military felt was right for us to have. We were not privy to any of the opposite point of view. We knew nothing of the vast plethora of misjudgments and errors that were made, that were so costly in life and property and so forth. And it's only been the last ten, twenty years that that information has sort of showered itself on my generation. And because we're in a retirement mode, we have the time to mull on that, and discuss that and to consider it. And I think that's what that segment has done for me.

T: Thank you again, Carlton.

C; Thank you.
Event World War II
Category 6: T&E For Communication
Legal Status Oshkosh Public Museum
Object ID OH2001.3.58
Object Name Tape, Magnetic
Location of Originals Oshkosh Public Museum
People Buerger, Carlton F.
Subjects World War II
United States Marine Corps
Pacific Theater of Operations
Fighter pilots
Fighter planes
Title Oral History Interview with Carlton F. Buerger.
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Last modified on: December 12, 2009