||P. Bruce Stevenson was born in Oshkosh in 1924, the third of five children; the oldest died in infancy. His father Lester, was a stockbroker, born and raised in Chicago, who had also pitched major league baseball for a number of years. His mother was a member of the Gilkey, family, one of the old lumbering families in Oshkosh and consequently was quite well fixed financially. Bruce attended Longfellow grade school and graduated from Oshkosh High School in 1941. He captained the basketball team and played tennis and other sports. He did some work after school at the Oshkosh Trunk Factory. He attended Carroll College for one semester and then enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in November 1942. His early training was down in Texas but then pre-flight and basic and all the other training leading up to his flying the P-38 occurred on the West Coast. After instruction in the P-38, his squadron was sent to the Aleutian Islands in 1944, specifically Attu which had been recently vacated by the Japanese. The squadron flew patrols almost every day, encountering no enemy at all. The weather was almost always bad with lots of fog, but it did not get very cold. He spent some time on Shumagin Island, another in the Aleutian chain closer to Alaska. At the end of the war, his squadron was training to fly cover for B-24's and were well suited to the job because of their long range capabilities - well over 1000 miles. On discharge in July of 1946 with the rank of 1st Lieutenant, Bruce spent one year at Oshkosh State Teachers College, married his high school sweetheart Vera Weber in August of 1946, and then completed college in Madison. He worked for awhile as an insurance adjuster but subsequently bought an insurance agency in Oshkosh where he spent the remainder of his career until retirement. He has three children, two boys and one girl and five grandchildren. While on Attu, Bruce and a pal tamed two wild dogs which Bruce sent home to his parents on discharge. He kept them until 1953 when he had to put them to sleep. Several of Bruces's friends from Oshkosh were killed during the war. Bruce gives little thought to World War II today but has attended P-38 pilot reunions in the past.
||World War II Oral History Project
|Dates of Accumulation
||May 19, 2004
||Cassette recorded oral history interview with P. Bruce Stevenson He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force in November 1942. After instruction in the P-38, his squadron was sent to the Aleutian Islands in 1944, specifically Attu which had been recently vacated by the Japanese. At the end of the war, his squadron was training to fly cover for B-24's. He recieved his discharge in July of 1946 with the rank of 1st Lieutenant.
Stevenson, P. Bruce Interview
19 May 2004
Conducted by Tom Sullivan
(T: identifies the interviewer, Tom Sullivan; B: identifies the subject, Bruce Stevenson. Open brackets [ ] indicate that either a word or phrase is not understood, or that proper spelling for that word is unclear).
T: It's May 19th, 2004 and I'm Tom Sullivan at the Oshkosh Public Museum with Bruce Stevenson who served in World War II. Bruce is going to be telling me about his experiences in that war. Are you ready Bruce?
B: Yeah. All set.
T: Let's begin at the beginning and have you tell me when and where you born.
B: I was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin on June 7th, 1924 and have been a resident, a life-long resident of the city.
T: Were your mother and father both from this area?
B: Yes. My mother was born in Oshkosh. My father was born in Chicago but they resided here.
T: What did they do for a living?
B: My father was a stockbroker or a bond salesman. And my mother was a housewife.
T: I heard that your dad threw a baseball for awhile.
B: Oh yeah. He was a professional baseball player. Played primarily in the AAA league with Toledo Mudhens. But he did get up to the majors and played with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Braves. He had a good career in baseball. Played around in different leagues and was a good pitcher. One time I know he pitched an 18-inning game in Saskatoon, Canada. And he got written up in the paper there about his accomplishment. And today, by today's standards an 18-inning game is unheard of for a pitcher to play, you know.
T: Paul and I used to try and get him to pitch for us but he never would throw a ball.
B: Well, I've caught him. He could still throw when I was young. It would sting your hand a little bit.
T: I was sort of afraid of your dad. He seemed like a sort of a gruff guy.
B: Well he was. He was tough.
T: Do you have any brothers and sisters?
B: Yeah. I have an older brother, Bob who is sports editor of the Marshfield News Herald. A younger brother Paul who was a, well he ended up, he was County Exec. for Winnebago County for a number of years. He's retired now. And I have a sister Marion who is a single woman. And she taught school in the city of Oshkosh as her career. She's retired also.
T: Tell me a little bit about your childhood, where you went to grade school and the kind of things you did for recreation after school?
B: Well I went to Longfellow School which is no longer in existence of course. It's been torn down. And Charles I. Yule was the principal over there. He was a…
B: Chazeye. Yeah. He was a great guy really. Taught us all how to play pool.
T: Yes. I remember that.
B: Down in the basement. Well I was always interested in athletics and I played a lot of basketball. Played high school basketball and was captain of the basketball team and also of the tennis team back in 1942. And after I graduated from high school I went to Lawrence College in the fall of '42 and enlisted shortly thereafter in the Air Corps. And was called up in February of '43.
T: Going back a little bit, you grew up during the Depression years and I don't think your family was affected very much by the Depression but can you remember other kids that you knew that were affected?
B: Oh sure. My mother inherited a substantial amount of money when her father died. He was a lumberman in Oconto County. And retired early because of disability. But he left a sizeable estate and she was one of the recipients of that. And so she had ample funds although the Depression did affect everybody. They had enough means to get by without any problems.
I knew others. My wife came from a family that was affected by it. She was very poor, you might say. Although her father worked, it was tight goin all the way and they pinched their pennies as well as they could, you know.
T: I think Oshkosh in general was fairly severely affected by it.
B: Well with the woodworking and things like that, a lot of people laid off. And coming out of it, I did work at the Oshkosh Trunk Company in the summer, a couple summers. And that was right after the Depression. They were just starting to build containers for the Russians for their tanks. They are a wood box container that they built and they fit into the Russian tanks. And we primarily manufactured those at that time, although Oshkosh was known throughout the world as one of the great luggage makers. It was a different kind of luggage.
T: A little more crude.
B: Yeah. A little cruder. Yeah.
T: In the late thirties and early forties, about the time that you were in high school and getting out of high school, there was war in Europe and there was war in the Far East. Did you really think about that very much? Did you ever think that maybe we would be in it someday?
B: Well I never thought about it personally at that time, until D-day you might say…
T: Until Pearl Harbor?
B: Until Pearl Harbor Day I meant to say. Then I realized that well, we're in it!
T: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on Pearl Harbor Day?
B: Yeah. I was at a movie at the Oshkosh Theater. And when I got out of it, I heard, Holy Smokes, the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor! Where is that? Hawaiian Islands. So that was my first knowledge of it. And of course things really started moving after that.
T: Now as I recall you said you were in Lawrence for awhile. How long did you…?
B: Well I was only there one semester. I went to Lawrence, and this was pre-war, and enlisted while I was at Lawrence and then got called up at the end of the first semester. I got called into active service.
T: You enlisted in the Air Force?
T: Why did you pick the Air Force? What was the attraction there?
B: Well, I just thought it would be great.
T: Had you done any flying?
B: Nope, never had done any flying.
T: Some guys took lessons…
B: From Wittman ? Yeah. But I was young and oh I guess there were two or three of us at Lawrence that said, "Well, we're gonna be drafted anyway. Let's do something." And we said, "Let's join the Air Corps." So we went up to Green Bay and enlisted.
T: I think it was Bill Hay that was sort of next door to you. He enlisted in the Air Force too, didn't he?
B: Yeah. Right. Bill died just a month or two ago. Yeah, he was my best friend. And he was a pilot who was shot down in Europe. He was a great guy.
T: What did you do after you enlisted? What was the process there?
B: Well, the chain of events, left Oshkosh and went down to Fort Sheridan. And then shipped down to Shepherd Field, Texas for basic training. And at the time they had sort of a glut of pilot applicants so we were sent to a college training detachment. They, I think it was more or less a delaying tactic because you couldn't get into the pre-flights and the primary schools.
So I went to a college training detachment at West Texas State Teachers College at Canyon, Texas. And we were there for two or three months.
And after completing that we went into the pre-flight program at Santa Anna, California. And took the preflight course and then of course from pre-flight you went into primary which was at King City, California. Then into basic training which was at Taft, California. My advanced training was at Williams Field, Arizona. And at that time we were flying AT6's down there in advanced.
T: What was the first plane that you flew? You didn't start out in AT6's. They worked you up gradually. Tell me about that.
B: The first plane was a Ryan primary trainer. Single engine, single seat, I think it was. Yeah. We did have about 2 hours in a Taylorcraft before we got into the Ryans. With an instructor, you know, that flew. And then we went into the Ryans and took our primary training in that and then graduated to basic which we flew a plane called the BT4. It was a single engine training plane. And from there we got into AT6's.
T: I suppose each aircraft got a little more…
B: Yeah. A little more maneuverable. You could do a lot more things with it. And right after graduating from Williams Field in Advanced Training, several of us got sent over to Victorville, California and they put us in P39's. Which was - it had a tricycle landing gear. And we took about 12 hours of training in, primarily landing and taking off and getting used to the primary er, the tricycle gear.
T: Wasn't that easier than looking around?
B: Oh well, yeah. You wouldn't have a tailspin like you would in the others. Many times you'd slew around, your tail would, and you'd think of boy, I'm going to lose it. But you wouldn't and the advantage in the tricycle gear is you're coming in and as soon as your wheels hit, you went forward and you could see the runway ahead of you. You could see where you were going. And that was a lot easier to fly that way.
And after that we got into P-38s at Santa Maria. And that was twin engine training there. And I took the P-38 training at Santa Maria. Then we always seemed to have a good time with all the groups I was with. You know, they were all great guys.
T: How long did this period of training last, from pre-flight up until you got into the P-38? How long did it take you to progress that far?
B: I got some dates here I wrote down. Well let's see, we went into pre-flight at Santa Anna. That must have been in the summer of '43. Then we had about 60 days in each one of the primary, basic, and advanced. It was about 60 days. And ended up with the P-38s in April of '44, was our graduating class. And from there I went down, well I took this P-39 training and then we went to gunnery school at [Aho], California. That was in AT6's. We had a gunnery school down there and that was just two, three weeks as I recall. That was out in the middle of nowhere in the desert.
From there we went to Victorville for the P-39 and then Santa Maria for the P-38. P-38 training probably was another two months anyway, two to three months that we trained in 38's. Then we were sorta put on hold. We'd graduated and our class got out of Santa Maria and they put us up somewhere in California for three weeks and gave us a leave. The first leave I had was when I got out 38 training.
Then we went, they based us at [Lamoor] (Lamar?), California. And we weren't doing anything there. We weren't flying, we weren't doing anything so we got leave. Then when I got back from leave we went to Hamilton Field, San Francisco and on a holding plan there to go overseas. Well, it seemed like we were there almost a month, I think. Then I got assigned to the Aleutian Islands.
T: One question. During your period of training Bruce, did you experience, did your outfit or the groups that you were with, did they experience any casualties? Guys that I've talked to that have flown, said that in training there were a significant number of casualties in the process of learning how to fly.
B: Oh yeah. Right. We had a number of em. I think the greatest amount of casualties that we had was when we were over at Victorville getting our tricycle landing gear training and flying a P-39, a single engine fighter but it only had a wingspan of 34 feet. And I know we lost 8 to 10 pilots stalling out and crashing on landing. They would just stall out. It was a tricky airplane. Had little doors on the side of it. And rather than stepping into a cockpit you had little doors and I was one of the larger guys in our squadron and had a heck of a time getting into and out of the thing. But ah, fortunately I came through that training all right.
And I know while we were at Victorville we hadn't had any leave of any kind for a year. And my mother had a relative in California and she knew I was at Victorville. She said, "I'm going to come out and see you." So she got on the train and came out to see her cousin and we had a nice visit. And I always said to myself that's the one time I really wanted to fly carefully so I wasn't gone before she got there. So we had a nice visit.
But we did lose quite a few, I would say, in that program. Not too many in the other training. I think we had maybe one or two guys got crashed and got killed. But we were very fortunate I would say overall, not having the casualties that some squadrons had.
T: I suppose that a lot depends on the type of aircraft that you're learning to fly.
B: Yeah. The P-39 was a tricky plane to fly. It was a lot different than the others.
T: One fellow that I talked to flew Corsairs in the Navy and he said torque, engine torque was a problem they always had to compensate for.
B: Oh yeah.
T: You were in the P-38, you had…
B: You had no torque.
T: So what did they do? Have one left-hand drive and one right hand drive?
B: Well they were turning propellers I guess and they just fly it. That was the easiest plane I ever flew. No torque. No problem with that. The only problem is if you had an engine go out, you had a lot of torque. And I had one go out too in Santa Maria when we were training. I'd just taken off and got about 100 feet in the air and all of a sudden, pfft, right engine started sputtering and went out. So I had to immediately make a circle and come back in, turning into the good engine all the time so you don't… and that was instant sweat that day, I know.
T: I suppose that would be an important part of your training, flying a…
B: But they don't plan it! Ha! They don't plan it's going to happen but this did. I got back down all right. I landed it on one engine, which you could do with a 38. And I said, "Boy, I don't want that to ever happen again." And it never did. I never had another one go out. But you could fly on one engine. It could fly on one engine.
And there were a lot of the guys that were there, they had test pilots from Lockheed that would come up and give demonstrations on what the airplane could do. And oh God, they were tremendous pilots! Tony [Lavere] was a well-known test pilot. He came up and he'd fly that thing on one engine. He'd take off on one engine. He'd do anything with it. Just mind-boggling what that guy could do with an airplane.
But it was a good experience, learning.
T: Where was your first duty assignment then? After you got the P-38.
B: Well I got sent up to the 11th Air Force at Alaska, Anchorage Field, Alaska. We started there and right off the bat we got up to Anchorage and went off to Attu. And that's at the end of the Aleutian Islands.
T: That's the last one?
B: The last one in the chain and we got out there and they didn't have any 38's out there at the time. They were just starting to get them. So they shipped us back into Anchorage for an advanced instrument training course, which you really had to have up there because the weather was so miserable, if you didn't have instruments you were gone.
T: Was the weather bad all the time there?
B: Yeah, most of the time. You had a few sunny days but I can recall on Attu one time where we were socked in for 17 days. We didn't have an airplane take off or land on Attu. And that was the longest period that it was socked in. But you had this dense fog, heavy fog, up to thirty thousand feet sometimes.
I know when we transferred the squadron back after the war, we took off from Attu and I think we broke out at 30,000 feet. Which is a long haul through the clouds, you know. Then we got down to Adak and we had to come down through it. But fortunately, I was the flight leader at the time of that flight, and we got over anyway, Great Sitka Mountain, dead volcano out north of Adak. And looked down and here you could see blue water. Just a hole over this cone so we said, "Let's go down." And so down we went, cork-screwed all the way down this hole. Till we came out on the deck and here's the water and there's Adak over there. And we went in and landed without any problem.
We did lose a, the next day we had similar weather. We had about a 500-foot ceiling at Adak and we took off and were going in to Anchorage. The war was over, and there was two flights. The second flight had two fellows in it that apparently got vertigo and never heard from em again. They took off with us and were with the squadron and they just disappeared. They probably got vertigo and peeled off and just crashed somewhere. We never knew where. But we lost two men there.
T: What was the approximate date that your squadron went to Attu? Sometime in 1944 or was it …?
B: In '44. I'd say, let's see, I don't have any dates down here, but think I went out to Attu in November. Early part of November, 1944. And then we went back in for this instrument training and then we were back out there for Christmas that year. I know they had 38's out there then. And we were back on Attu in December of '44.
T: How many pilots were in your squadron on Attu, roughly?
B: Want to count em? I brought the picture. How many are there? 25-30?
T: Oh yeah. There's a good bunch of guys. I'm trying to pick you out in this thing real quickly. Can you point to where you are on that picture?
B: Right there. Without the cap in the back row. Yeah, that's me. Yeah. And if you have never been to Attu, you should never go.
T: Why? Not exactly a tourist spot?
B: Well, here's what the latest thing I got on it. "Scratch the island from the map." And at that time I think there were thirteen people on the island managing a weather station. That's all. But I had some pictures in there of the island. And the Japs had occupied it prior to the time that we got there. But they got booted out. But it's a, it was a desolate, desolate spot.
T: Tell me about what type of operations you fellows conducted there at Attu. What was your mission? What was your duty?
B: Well primarily I guess just to protect the northern end of the Pacific. We did have a bomber squadron based on Shemya. Which was 20-30 miles inland, in from Attu.
T: Is that another one of the Aleutian Islands?
B: Yeah. I was stationed there later in my, after the war I was stationed there. We went in, they moved the squadron back into Anchorage. This is where we lost those two guys in the fog. That's about when most of the guys went home but there were five or six of us that had come up together and we all got assigned to go back out to Shemya. We were sort of the senior pilots of, that were left. There were earlier guys that had been up there longer and they got sent home and we got sent back to Shemya. I was out there for a couple months. We flew, just got our time in. I was, they made me engineering officer. I don't know why but they had to assign us some duty. Just useless, wasted time really.
T: When you were on Attu in the Aleutians, were there combat situations? Did you have any contact with the Japanese?
B: No. The only contact I ever heard of up there was an incendiary balloon went over one time and they picked it up on the radar. I don't know who went up but somebody went up and shot it down.
T: I heard that the Japanese tried that sort of thing and that some of the balloons actually came…
B: A couple of em did get over to Oregon, I think. And they started a couple of fires with those things. But that's about the only thing that we had in the combat nature of things. Because the war was over as far as the islands were concerned. I don't know when it ended but they got the Japanese out of there and there was not much fighting but they got, I think, the Japanese evacuated, just sort of quit up there. Evacuated in the middle of the night or something. They were gonna go in and take Amchitka was it? One of em. When they got there, no Japanese. There was a Japanese base on Attu. What do they call that harbor over there? Chicago Harbor I think they called it. And that's where the Japanese were. There's a picture in here of the valley they were ensconced in and they were booted out of there. And they just got out and no real heavy fighting up there. But it was part of the war effort.
T: Did you have to fly routine patrols of some sort?
B: Well we flew every day it seemed like, for couple hours. We were training in long distance, in extended flight to escort B-24's over to the ah, God, what the hell is that island, northern islands way up north of Japan? Can't think of the name of them right off hand. (Kuril Islands). But B-24's were based on Shemya and they would fly regularly over there. But it was really beyond the range of the P-38 to go over and back.
T: What was the maximum range of the P-38, with the droppable tanks?
B: Oh God, I was engineering officer, I used to know that but I don't any more.
T: Was it over a thousand miles?
B: Oh yeah. Yeah, you'd go over a thousand miles. Matter of fact, well we did, it was 1700 miles from Anchorage to Attu, they said. And we'd fly that in two hops. We'd stop at Adak and refuel and then on into Anchorage. But it had a long range. And with the tanks, we were practicing with the tanks for escort. But whoever was figuring it felt that if we did escort them over to, gosh, I can't think of the name of the island, on a bomber run, that the bombers would go in and we might have ten to fifteen minutes over target and that would be the maximum that we could stay over target and then get back to Attu. Which would have been 600-700 miles I guess.
We practiced long range. Sometimes fly ten hours in a day. With the tanks and then drop em or land with them empty to save the tanks. But that was the only training we did. But other than that we did routine patrols around the islands. But there was nothing to do, no activity.
T: Well I suppose that wasn't really "a piece of cake" as they say, because as you said previously, the weather was…
B: Oh that was the worst thing about the whole tour up there, was the weather.
T: You had to be careful.
B: Oh yeah. You had to be careful and they had what they called [willawaws] up in the islands, they called em. And they were, that would happen in the winter and there would be snow squalls. And they'd come in and boy, it was just like a blizzard on the island and twenty minutes later it was gone and clear skies. But you never knew when you were gonna get one. And I know of guys that had been up and they got back in and were gonna land; "Can't land now. Willawaw." And they didn't know how long it was going to last. "Better go over to Shemya and land." And so you'd fly over to Shemya and land and when it cleared off you'd come back and land at [Casco] Cove. That's where I was on the Aleutians. That's the way it was up there. And the weather was just so unpredictable.
T: What was daily life like otherwise as far as food goes, and your accommodations?
B: Well, we lived in Pacific huts up there. They're cone shaped, domed shaped huts. Our hut was on an old gun embankment that they had and a tunnel going out from the front door. It went to the south and there was a gun revetment back there that they had some sort of a gun on during whatever activity there was up there. And that was, we had a pretty good cabin or shack as a result of having that revetment there. And we had, a bunch of us put in a toilet, I know. We had a lot of extra time and when we weren't flying we put a toilet in the back hall so that we didn't have to go down to that central toilet. We had a, we put in a photocopying, not a photocopy but a photographic development system back there and dark room. We developed pictures. Other than that it was just the bunks and…
T: Was it cold?
B: Not extremely cold, no. It was, I thought it was rather mild up there. A lot of people said, "Oh jeez, the snow, you know. It's really cold." Well, we had snot all winter but I didn't think it was cold. It was usually in the mid twenties or high twenties.
T: For us that's…
B; Yeah, it didn't feel that bad to me. But the coldest place I ever was, was in Anchorage one time and, oh, I had to go down to the line for something and I, we were living in an apartment down at Elmendorf Field. I had to go down to the line for something. I walked out and all of a sudden I got about fifteen steps, I said I can't go any farther. It was 5 below zero and there were wind gusts to 90 miles an hour. And it just numbed you right off the bat. I stepped out. I didn't have flight pants on. Just had regular long pants on. Oh, I better go get flight pants. And those were sheepskin lined leather pants. So I put those on and went down to the line. But that, I felt, was the coldest I ever was up there. It just took a couple minutes to feel that cold.
But other than that the temperature on Attu was I'd say, mild for the winter. In the summer it was nice. You'd have some nice summer weather and wild flowers would bloom. No trees of course. No trees on the island.
T: Did you hear from home very often?
B: Oh yeah. Regular mail. My wife wrote me. My parents wrote me. And so we had a lot of correspondence and I'd write every week. But that was the only contact we had with the outside world you might say. It was desolate up there. The only other people you saw were your other squadron members, or the crew chiefs and things like that. If we had, there was an officers club on the base. And we did spend a lot of time there in the evening playing ping-pong and slot machines, etcetera.
T: How were your relations with the enlisted men?
B: Good. They were good. I had a crew chief who took care of my airplane and he used to get what they called "scramble juice" once a month. Well what it amounted to was four bottles of booze. That was your scramble juice. That was for the month and you'd get that. I know the crew chief, he said, "Jeez, sometime get me some beer will ya?" He said, "I'd like some beer." I said, "Sure." So I'd trade a couple bottles for whatever I was getting. I don't know what they had but I'd get a couple cases of beer and give it to him and he thought that was the greatest.
T: Officers got liquor but enlisted men didn't.
B: Yeah. That was right. And the only way we got it was through what they called the scramble juice. Not that we drank that much but it was something.
T: I imagine that you wanted to be on the good side of…
B: Oh yeah. They were always great guys. And they always treated me fine. And on the line they sure took care of me. And made sure that everything was in proper order. And I had no complaints with them at all. I thought they were great.
T: Every guy that's been in service can usually remember some people that stood out. Some of them were oddballs and some of them were really decent people. I can think of, you probably can too. Can you tell me about some of the characters that you had in your unit?
B: Oh God, a guy named [Ditto]. He was a nut. He was an officer, a pilot like I was. But he was crazy. And I know when, not on Attu but when we got back to Elmendorf Field one time, he was buzzing around somewhere and he took out the power of the Matanuska Valley. Took out some high line. He didn't crash the plane. The plane got back all right but he was the cause of it. He got reprimanded for that. And ah, I made some very, very good friends up there though. That I was very close to. And we've gotten together since the war. And one of em, one of my closest friends died last year. Bob [Minot]. But, when was that, two years ago went out to the national P-38 annual meeting in Palm Springs, California. And four of us who had been in the squadron agreed to meet and go to that. So we had a good time there. That was the last time I'd seen any of em but we correspond at Christmas and so on.
And I just made good friends. And of course you made good friends in every phase that you went through. Like primary, basic and advanced. And then you'd sort of get split up.
T: I was going to ask you about that Bruce. Were there any, in the training process, did everything sort of evaporate or did some of these groups stay together?
B: Well, ours evaporated you might say. The guys I knew in primary I didn't know in basic. We might have gone to a different basic school, they shipped out. There were a couple of guys that I went through the training programs with that ah, I think they went all the way through to advance with me. But when I went to the 38 school, I can't remember anybody that went with me that stayed me when I went overseas. It was all new people when I got overseas. You'd meet em at Santa Monica, California or P-38s and then when we shipped out there were a couple of guys that I knew that went where I went. And the rest, they just disappeared. But they split em up pretty much, I think. I don't know if it was intentional or not.
T: Where were you when the war came to an end? When they dropped the atomic bomb?
B: On Attu.
T: What was the general feeling?
B: Well elation of course. It's over. But our life just continued the same way for awhile. And everybody was thinking they were goin home. And they started goin home, you know. And God, we sat up there, and sat up there. And we thought, jeez we oughta be goin home pretty soon. No action.
T: The point system was in operation for you fellows.
B: Well I would think I was one of the longest time members in the Aleutians. I was up there for almost 18 months. And usually they ship pilots home about 12 to 13 months. They'd ship em home. But then of course the war ended. And everybody that was up there before me, they went home and I went back out to Shemya to train and fly with new pilots that were comin in. And we had some new people comin in but we didn't do much flying. But eventually I got the orders to go home, which was really good to hear.
T: Did it take a long time after you got your orders till you actually set foot in the front door on Washington Boulevard?
B: Not too bad once we got the orders. We went back and flew in to Anchorage. And then we…
T: Approximately what date was that Bruce?
B: That was in July, early part of July 1946. And we were only at Anchorage for a few days and I got an army air transport into Great Falls, Montana. And some of the guys went to Seattle. And I'll have an interesting story for you in a minute on a couple of dogs I had up there.
From Great Falls, took a train to Fort Sheridan and home I'd say within the week, ten days at the most. It wasn't bad. Had to go back down to Sheridan, check in some equipment like my 45 pistol. I thought, what the hell do I want that for? And I didn't want anybody else to have it when it was registered to me. So I went back and took that back down there. And a couple other items I checked in.
But an interesting story. On Attu, when we got up there, there were three or four of us that were assigned to this Pacific hut. And there were a couple of wild dogs up there. They looked like Springer Spaniels. And they just ran wild and scrounged food and everything else. So our cabin sort of adopted these two dogs. And we'd feed em and eventually we had em staying in the cabin with us and things like that. And everybody got to know em. Odd names: one was named Zero from the Japanese fighter, and the other was named Stuka from the German fighter. Zero and Stuka.
And we had em all the time we were up there. And when the war ended and we were going back to Anchorage, we didn't want to leave the dogs. So Bob Minot and I each took one of em and we got em in the radio compartment behind us in the P-38. And we flew em to Anchorage. And we had em down there for the couple months we were there. That was late winter. Then we got these orders to go back out to Shemya so we went back out in a C-47 and we took the dogs with us as passengers. They were with us on Shemya the time we were there.
Then we got the orders to go home and you know, God, we can't leave the dogs. So we flew em back in, in the C-47's, back to Anchorage. And then a good friend of mine, Bruce Hubbard, he was going to Seattle and he was, I don't know what arrangements he had for flying but where I was going they wouldn't take animals. So he took the two dogs, flew em to Seattle and then he crated em up and had em shipped to Oshkosh to my parent's address.
T: I'll bet they were happy to get those dogs.
B: Yeah. They got em. As a matter of fact, they got there about six hours ahead of me. I don't know. They got in on a train somehow. Here my dad was down and picked em up and the first thing they did was run under one of the cars in the garage and they wouldn't come out. He tried to coax those dogs out all day and they wouldn't come out. Well, I got home and my dad says, "I got your dogs but they won't come out from under your car. I said, "Well, I'll work on em." So when I got home I had to coax em. It took me about ten minutes, calling their name and saying, "Come on now." Jeez, once they got out they went crazy but they realized there was somebody they knew. And they had been…
T: I suppose their experiences were sort of traumatic.
B: I wrote an article about them, "The World Traveling Dogs," one time. I sent it to the P-38 Association. They published it in their magazine. Then they had a picture of the two dogs laying up on a mound in Attu. But they thought the story was interesting enough to put in their magazine. And it was. There were two dogs and I kept em here. I had em until 1953; I had em put away. They were, so I had em from '44 till '53. They were getting old.
They never had seen a woman or a child in all the time they were up on Attu. And I remember when we got into Anchorage, we were in an apartment in Anchorage after the war. Had the dogs there and I think it was either a Red Cross nurse or an Army Nurse walked by in a skirt. Well these dogs I don't think had ever seen anybody in a skirt and they didn't know what it was. And they snarled and barked and they had her backed up against the barracks wall; barking and scared the hell out of her. Me too! And we finally got em called off and realized that jeez, they didn't really like women or kids. We knew they didn't like kids and that was the reason I had them put away after our second child was born. They sort of were a little uneasy around the kids. And we were out at the cottage one time and they were circling the kids. They were sitting on the ground and the dogs were circling em in the back and I don't know what the kids were doing. But all of a sudden Zero made a lunge at one of the kids. And I saw her do it and I just booted her.
T: Maybe the wildness wasn't out of the dogs.
B: It wasn't completely out of em.
(The first tape ends here).
T: After you got out of the service Bruce, tell me what you did then. Did you go back to school?
B: Yeah. I got out and I got married in August of '46. And I still had my college to get in so I went to Oshkosh for a year. And my wife was teaching in Ripon. And I was going to school in Oshkosh. We lived in Ripon and I commuted.
T: Where did you meet your wife, Bruce?
B: In Oshkosh. High School. She was my young high school sweetheart.
T: What was her maiden name?
B: Weber. Vera Weber. Yeah. Her dad was the superintendent of construction for C.R. Meyer. And they lived over on Waugoo Street. And I got to know Vera when I guess I was a junior in high school. Started going together and have been together ever since. Been 60 some years, almost 60 years.
And I went to Oshkosh and then I wanted to get into business school so I went and enrolled at Madison. And graduated with a BBA from Madison in January of 1950. I went to work for a company in Milwaukee for a year as an insurance adjuster.
And then we wanted to get back to Oshkosh so an opportunity came up to buy Alvin Fox's insurance agency. Or get in and have an "in" to buy it. So I went to work for Alvin Fox for - he was 77 or 78 years old at the time. And I went in with an agreement with him that I would take over his agency when he retired or passed on, which he did very shortly after I was there.
T: Where was that located?
B: First National Bank. Up on the fifth floor. And it used to be, years ago it was Fox and McNichol Agency. It was known, they were partners and they separated and McNichol had his own agency which we later bought back. And I went with the Fox Agency. It was one of the old time agency, one of the oldest agencies in the city. And I ran that. That was my career, running that. Until I sold it to my son. And now he since sold it so it's gone.
T: Do you have children?
B: Yup. I've got two boys and a girl. The oldest boy is a representative for, well he's been in the drug business for all his career. He graduated from Oshkosh with a degree in science of some kind and he went to work for Parke Davis Company. No, I think it was Warner Lambert at the time. Then they were bought out by Parke Davis and now he's got a good job with a company called Allergen. Optical…
T: So your youngest son runs the agency.
B: He ran the agency. Sold it a year ago and now he's a guard at the prison.
T: That's quite a change.
B: He said it's the best thing he ever did. He said, "I got no pressure." He really likes it. And my daughter, I have one daughter, she went to Whitewater but she got married to a bum down there. And then they were divorced. Now she's, she had two children, got married. Now she's married to a nicer fellow. They live down in that area outside of Whitewater.
T: I hope that works out.
B: Yeah. But the oldest son lives in Milwaukee. The youngest son lives here and she's in Whitewater. So that's about it with the family. Got five grandchildren. Six grandchildren - excuse me - my wife would kill me, but we have six grandchildren. Got a nice family.
T: Bruce, do you think the war changed you at all?
B: Ah, not really.
T: Some guys say, "Well, it made a man out of me."
B: Well, yeah. I got rid of a lot of my foolish youthful fantasies. I certainly wouldn't do some things now that I would have done before. But I don't think it really changed me much. I'm pretty much the same person.
T: Do you think about it very much today?
B: No. Very seldom.
T: I think a lot of fellows have been able to sort of put it on the shelf.
B: The only time I think about it is if I'm going to get together with the guys that I knew.
T: Were any of your friends from Oshkosh killed in the war? One I can think of is Frederick Reimer.
B: Fred Reimer? Oh yeah. He was your neighbor.
T: He was practically next door to us.
B: He was hit. Bob Zwickey was killed. And Don Hayes was killed. That's three of that I knew right off the bat, three that I knew real well. Let's see, Fred was killed, let's see, was he in Sicily?
T: I forget just where he was. It was somewhere in Europe.
B: Well then George Dempsey was killed in Italy. He was a tank commander. And he married Kathie Schwam who lived next door to us, you know. So he was killed over there.
T: I guess the war affected a lot of families in Oshkosh. I can remember seeing those gold stars go in the windows.
B: Bob Zwickey's mother always had a gold star in her window. I can't think of anybody else that I knew real close that was killed. But there were a few and it was a tragic time. We had to go through that but it was something that had to be done.
T: Is there anything else that relates to the war that you'd like to talk about, that maybe we haven't covered?
B: Well, not really. It was three and a half years of just being away from home and being in the service. And doing whatever they told you to do, really. That's what I did. But like I say, I made some good friends there and still have em. Although they're dropping fast too.
T: That's what I hear.
B: World War II veterans are dying at what, the rate of 1400 a day or something like that? Well I've missed that so far. I've come close! (laughter). Had heart valves put in. Had bypasses and I had aneurysm valves, or stents put in. That's what I was in Milwaukee for yesterday. They had to check on those. So I guess I'm just fortunate that I'm still alive.
T: I appreciate your coming down and talking to me.
B: I read the first book. I read the first book and I thought it was terrific.
T: I'm glad you liked it.
B: Yeah. Very, very good. And I knew almost everybody in there.
T: That's what makes it, I guess, really interesting. Someone like Katie (the intern observing the interview) probably wouldn't take all that much interest in it.
B: People that I didn't know that I've met since, like Willis Buettner who was a teacher at the college? In the music department up there? Well I met him oh, in the last couple of years. And then he was a landing craft commander and got the Silver Star over on D-Day and all that stuff. And I met him. And Kimberly I have coffee with. He was in there. And Carver was in there. And Bill Hay. Of course Bill was my best friend. We were only three weeks apart in being born. He would have been 80 on the 20th of this month, I know. And we grew up right next door to each other. Went to school together. Went together after he was married to his first wife - and his second. And we owned property together, hunting property. And hunted with him and things like that. Just had a terrific time with Bill. So I was really sad to see him go. Yeah.
(The interview ends here).
||World War II
||6: T&E For Communication
||Oshkosh Public Museum
||P. Bruce Stevenson was born in Oshkosh in 1924, the third of five children; the oldest died in infancy. His father Lester, was a stockbroker, born and raised in Chicago, who had also pitched major league baseball for a number of years. His mother was a member of the Gilkey, family, one of the old lumbering families in Oshkosh and consequently was quite well fixed financially. .
Bruce attended Longfellow grade school and graduated from Oshkosh High School in 1941. He captained the basketball team and played tennis and other sports. He did some work after school at the Oshkosh Trunk Factory. He attended Carroll College for one semester and then enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in November 1942. His early training was down in Texas but then pre-flight and basic and all the other training leading up to his flying the P-38 occurred on the West Coast.
After instruction in the P-38, his squadron was sent to the Aleutian Islands in 1944, specifically Attu which had been recently vacated by the Japanese. The squadron flew patrols almost every day, encountering no enemy at all. The weather was almost always bad with lots of fog, but it did not get very cold. He spent some time on Shumagin Island, another in the Aleutian chain closer to Alaska. At the end of the war, his squadron was training to fly cover for B-24's and were well suited to the job because of their long range capabilities - well over 1000 miles.
On discharge in July of 1946 with the rank of 1st Lieutenant, Bruce spent one year at Oshkosh State Teachers College, married his high school sweetheart Vera Weber in August of 1946, and then completed college in Madison. He worked for awhile as an insurance adjuster but subsequently bought an insurance agency in Oshkosh where he spent the remainder of his career until retirement. He has three children, two boys and one girl and five grandchildren.
While on Attu, Bruce and a pal tamed two wild dogs which Bruce sent home to his parents on discharge. He kept them until 1953 when he had to put them to sleep. Several of Bruces's friends from Oshkosh were killed during the war. Bruce gives little thought to World War II today but has attended P-38 pilot reunions in the past
|Location of Originals
||Oshkosh Public Museum
||Stevenson, P. Bruce
|Related unit of descrip
||Copy photograph of P-38 pilots in collection. Identifications of each man in file folder.
||World War II
United States Army Air Force
Pacific Theater of Operations
||Oral History Interview with P. Bruce Stevenson.