Oral History Interview with Robert C. Ginke.

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Record 85/959
Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
Admin/Biog History Bob Ginke was born in Oshkosh on October 19, 1918 to parents who were both Oshkosh natives. He had one brother and two sisters. The family lived on the East Side and his father worked as a truck driver. Bob attended the Washington grade school and liked to fish and go on the lake in boats.

Bob went to high school for three and a half years, dropping out in 1936 to work for the Dunphy Boat company, a concern new to Oshkosh. The firm made rowboats and small sailboats. The family was affected by the Depression since Bob's dad worked for three days every two weeks. However, there was always food on the table and the family did not have to go on "relief."

Bob got married in November 1941 and worked at Burger Boat Company in Manitowoc. He was chief rigger. The firm was building minesweepers, sub-chasers and other craft for the government then.

Bob was drafted in 1944, having been deferred because of his job at Burger. He was put in the Navy and during boot camp was approached by a representative of the OSS. He agreed to serve with the OSS and was sent to "S" school for six weeks where he learned some of the rudiments of the spy business. Then he was sent to Florida to work in a "specialized division" which was secret. The mission was to outfit a 38 foot Navy boat as a Japanese junk, load it with 25 tons of TNT, maneuver it to a position directly over an undersea tunnel between the Islands of Honshu and Kyushu which ran trains of supplies between the two islands. The boat was to be sunk directly over the tunnel site and the explosives detonated, thereby destroying the tunnel. The project was nearing completion just as the war came to a close. Bob did not think this particular scheme had much merit.

Bob became ill with tuberculosis and was placed on bed rest for the remainder of his time in the service. He was in hospitals in Washington and New York. His first child was born then. He was discharged in 1946 after spending eleven months in hospital.

Bob started at Oshkosh State Teachers College in 1947 but left after one year and went to work at Dunphy again for Carleton Foster, the owner, who asked him to run the company which he did for twenty years. He quit when Carleton wouldn't switch to fiberglass. He went to Thompson boat in Peshtigo for four years, came back to Oshkosh to work for Oshkosh Truck where he ran the stock room until his retirement in 1980.

Bob and his wife had one more child. He enjoyed boating and fishing in retirement, doesn't think of World War II at all and has never attended reunions with fellow servicemen who worked in the OSS.
Classification Archives
Collection World War II Oral History Project
Dates of Accumulation November 23, 2004
Abstract Cassette recorded oral history interview with Bob Ginke. He was drafted in 1944 and put in the Navy and during boot camp was approached by a representative of the OSS. He was sent to "S" school for six weeks where he learned some of the rudiments of the spy business. Then he was sent to Florida to work in a "specialized division" which was secret. The mission was to outfit a 38 foot Navy boat as a Japanese junk, load it with 25 tons of TNT, maneuver it to a position directly over an undersea tunnel between the Islands of Honshu and Kyushu. The boat was to be sunk directly over the tunnel site and the explosives detonated, thereby destroying the tunnel. The project was nearing completion just as the war came to a close. Bob became ill with tuberculosis and was placed on bed rest for the remainder of his time in the service. He was discharged in 1946 after spending eleven months in hospital.

Robert Ginke Interview
23 November 2004
Conducted by Tom Sullivan

(T: identifies the interviewer, Tom Sullivan; B: identifies the subject, Robert Ginke. Open brackets [ ] or bracketed words indicate that either a word or phrase is not understood or that proper spelling for the word is unclear).

T: It's November 23rd, 2004 and we're at the home of Robert Ginke. I'm Tom Sullivan and Bob, who served in World War II is going to be telling me about his experiences in that war. We'll also talk about the Dunphy Boat Company. Let's begin at the beginning then Bob by having you tell me when you were born and where you were born.

B: I was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin on October 19, 1918.

T: Were your mother and dad also from this area Bob?

B: Yes they were.

T: What did your dad do for a living?

B: My dad basically was a truck driver most of his life.

T: Who did he drive for?

B: E.P. Bangs was one and G.C. [Hay] was another.

T: Did your mother work as well or was she a housewife?

B: She was a housewife most of her life. She did work at Grants at one time but not very long.

T: I see. Do you have brothers and sisters?

B: I had one brother and I have two sisters.

T: Are they still living?

B: No, my brother is not.

T: When you were a kid Bob, where did you and your family live?

B: On the East Side.

T: Where did you attend grade school?

B: Washington School. In the old one.

T: That was on Bay Street, wasn't it?

B: That was on Otter Street.

T: I know that the new one was down on Bowen, I think.

B: Yeah, that's down [ ] from the Frenz schoolyard. Yeah, I went to Washington School on Otter Street. Otter and actually a part of it was Mill. On the corner of Otter and Mill Street basically.

T: What kind of things did you do to have fun when you weren't in school?

B: Well, we played army a lot and I guess I better not tell you what else I did.

T: Well you were sort of close to the lake. Did you do a lot of stuff on Lake Winnebago.

B: I did a lot of fishing and I did a lot of boating. And that's where I think I got to like boating.

T: Did you go to Oshkosh High School?

B: Yes I did for three and a half years but I quit to go to work at Dunphy.

T: So you started work at Dunphy early on.

B: At seventeen.

T: Can you tell me a little bit about the history of Dunphy Boat Company. How long was it in Oshkosh and how did it get started, if you know that?

B: Yes I do. It started in Oshkosh in about 1935. They moved here from Eau Claire, Wisconsin where the company had built cruisers. And they had a fire on a big boat and it broke em. It was in the yard and it burned and that broke the company. And Jim Larson and his son Vernon came to Oshkosh and somehow got connected with Carlton Foster. And I understand they each put in $2,000.00 and that's how the company started.

T: And that was in 1935 or thereabouts?

B: Yes.

T: What type of boating craft did they make in Oshkosh?

B: Basically it was old rowboats. We did a lot of rowboats for Montgomery Ward at that time. And we made a lot of outboards too.

T: What kind of construction were they? Were they lapstrake construction?

B: No. Back then they weren't. Then they were [ ] planked. And we built sailboats.

T: So you built sailboats as well.

B: Fact is, that's the first thing I did when I got there.

T: What kind of sailboats were they?

B: They were small boats like Snipes. There were a lot of Snipes and oh let's see, I've forgotten the names of them.

T: They didn't get into these big scows, the "A" boats that were so popular.

B: No, we did not. That was [Jones and LaBord] those companies down on the East Side that built them when they were in business.

T: Now what was the year that you left high school?

B: 1936.

T: Bob, your family may or may not have been affected by the Depression but you were growing up right in the depths of the Depression. And Oshkosh itself, as I understand it, was pretty severely involved because of the woodworking industry.

B: Yes it was.

T: Was your family affected quite a bit by the depression?

B: Yes, my dad worked three days every two weeks. And he never was on relief and did pay most of his bills, I guess. I wasn't told anything about this.

T: Did your family have three square meals a day?

B: Yes, we had three square meals a day and we always had food in the house.

T: Did you have a garden. Some people had gardens that they would use to get their food from.

B: Oh yes, we had a garden. Basically we had a garden when we lived on Harney Street. We had a pretty good-sized garden. And see, I didn't do anything about that. I went to high school like I said, for three and a half years. And then I had a chance to go to work at Dunphy Boat.

T: I imagine you grabbed at that chance because as I understand it, jobs were pretty scarce in those days.

B: They were. And the men who worked there at that time, it was in a building with another company Carlton Foster owned and it was Oshkosh, well actually they built cabs and stuff like that. But anyhow, the men working there wouldn't talk to us young fellows. They thought we were taking jobs away from them, you know.

T: Yes. I suppose there was some truth to that too. Guys that had to put food on the table for a family.

B: That occurred then. But I think I was the fifth one that Dunphy Boat hired in Oshkosh. And Vern Larson was the superintendent. And that was the son of Jim, Jim Larson who was the president of the company.

T: And so Jim Larson was the president.

B: Yes. And Carlton Foster was the secretary and treasurer.

T: And Foster and Larson both had put money into it then. In the late thirties and early forties there was war over in the Far East with the Japanese and the Chinese. And there was war in Europe beginning around 1938 or so. Did you and your family and friends ever really think about those conflicts at all or didn't you give much thought to them?

B: We never did think much about them. Not until the big war with Germany and Japan.

T: Can you recall where you were and what you were doing when Pearl Harbor was attacked. A lot of people can remember…

B: I was with my girlfriend in Green Bay.

T: How old would you have been then in 1941?

B: '41? Well I was born in '18 so 18 to 41, add two…

T: Probably about 23 years old - mid twenties. So you probably figured that Uncle Sam was going to be after you. Did you get married before you went in the service or did that have to wait?

B: Yeah, I was married before I went into service. I had a child.

T: So when did you get married, Bob?

B: Got married on Thanksgiving Day in '41 I think.

T: Okay. Now there was a span of time that passed between Pearl Harbor when we got into the war and when you went into the service. How did you manage to stay out of the service? Was it because you were married?

B: No. It was because I was boat [ ]. I worked in Manitowoc at that time and I was the chief rigger for Buerger Boat.

T: So you weren't with Dunphy right straight through?

B: No, I was not. I worked for Buerger Boat in Manitowoc and that's where I learned the part of the trade that…

T: You said you were the chief rigger? What did that mean?

B: I did most of the cable splicing and did most of the rope splicing and worked above the deck putting on things, you know.

T: Were these chiefly sailboats?

B: No. They were Army and Navy boats.

T: Oh, I see. So they were doing contract work for the government at the time. What were those boats used for?

B: Well they were minesweepers, sub-chasers, ARB's - Army rescue boats. And salvage tugs.

T: These were pretty good-sized boats then. When you went into the service did you enlist or were you drafted?

B: Well actually I was on deferment most of the time. And I quit working in Manitowoc so then I knew I'd be drafted. I came back to work at Dunphy for a short time.

T: How did your wife feel about you quitting your work in Manitowoc, knowing that you'd be eligible for the draft?

(A remark is deleted here at subject's request).

T: So you went back to Oshkosh and worked for Dunphy for a short time.

B: Then I went in service.

T: Did you enlist in the Navy?

B: No I didn't enlist. I was drafted. I was drafted by OSS. I won't say by OSS but I was drafted and OSS knew that I was coming to them.

T: I see. Your intent though was just to go into the Navy.

B: No. I knew about OSS before.

T: I see. How did that, how did you know, how did that all transpire?

B: Because of the fact that I had a buddy that worked for me at Dunphy who was at Great Lakes Naval Station. And he was in charge of the boats. And he tried to get to OSS too but they wouldn't let him go. The Navy wouldn't let him go from Great Lakes. And so that's when I was told I can get it. And so I did get it.

T: The OSS was, as I understand it, a sort of a fledgling spy outfit for the United States.

B: Yeah. A cloak-and-dagger outfit. I didn't do any of that.

T: It would be interesting to know how they contacted you.

B: Well, one of their men did. Actually a gunner's mate did. I've forgotten his name. But I was contacted by them. And so I went to boot camp. Then I got called over to the main [side] to answer all kinds of questions about what I knew. And then I was checked out.

T: So that was after boot camp.

B: That was during boot camp.

T: Oh, during boot camp. When boot camp was finished, what was the next step in your training?

B: It was going to Washington, D.C., no wait a minute, yeah Washington. Then I went to what they called "S" school. Which was OSS.

T: So it was just called "S" school.

B: Yeah, it was called "S" school. And then I was questioned and trained so that I knew what happened if I got caught or something, you know.

T: I see. Can you tell me more about your training there. You know we all have seen movies about the spy business and the training and so forth.

B: There wasn't a great deal of training but I did go to "S" school and well, one question was at one time that I was found on the third floor of some building and they wanted the perfect excuse of why I was there. I had to give em it. But of course I didn't. I told em I don't think anybody could [ ].

T: You couldn't just say you had to go to the toilet or something like that.

B: No.

T: You had to come up with something more elaborate?

B: And I didn't. I just told em I fell. "You got me, I can't help it."

T: How long did that phase of your training last?

B: Not very long. Maybe, I'll say six weeks at the most..

T: What happened next then?

B: Then I was sent to Florida where OSS had a station. And actually I was, I should tell you this too. I was in, the position I was in OSS was the specialized division. And we had a project. Our project was to blow the tunnel between Honshu and Kyushu.

T: What were those two islands again?

B: Honshu.

T: That's the big island isn't it?

B: Yeah. And Kyushu. I guess it was Kyushu. There was a railway tunnel under the water. Our project was to blow that tunnel.

T: I see. Well, how was that to be accomplished? What would be the technique for doing that?

B: Well we were going to, we re-designed Japanese sea [trucks] and junks and designed em over an Army rescue boat, which was an 85 foot boat. And that's the work I did. I laid that out and…

T: And so you had to make this rescue boat look like an ordinary junk.

B: Like a junk, yes. The reason being that we were going to go up this river to detonate it, drop it and sink it and that would blow up.

T: I see. And I suppose the concussion would collapse the tunnel or something like that. What was the thinking there?

B: Yeah. 25 ton of TNT in the hull of the ARB would blow up.

T: Where were they going to set that thing off? Was it going to be in the water?

B: Yes, in the water. Sink the boat and have it blow up.

T: Oh, they were going to sink the boat first. And how did they know exactly where this tunnel was? How did they go about it?

B: As I understand it, they were told where this tunnel was by somebody who had been over there and had seen where it was. And he had told em where it was.

T: When you were working on that project, what did you think of it? Did you thing it was a hair-brained scheme or did you think it had real merit?

B: I thought it was hair-brained. I couldn't see how they would simulate a bunch of dead Japanese on this boat because I knew how it was designed. I had written the thing up and the Naval architect came and designed it and he didn't know as much as I did about it.

T: I imagine you had plans of a junk or photographs of something you could go by.

B: [That we had.] We never had a photograph of any of em. So we didn't know.

T: That sounds sort of strange.

B: Maybe somebody knew, but we didn't.

T: I see. Did you ever get the thing built? Was it ever, it never went to completion?

B: No. The A-bomb dropped when we were loaded, ready to sail. And the A-bomb dropped.

T: So you pretty much had the thing completed though?

B: Well, we had the parts made.

T: Were they going to assemble that somewhere else?

B: At Guam. We were going to Guam to assemble it.

T: It sounds interesting. It would have been even more interesting to know if the darn thing would have worked. Wouldn't it?

B: I was asked that by one of the lieutenants. Actually I [ ]. See I came down with T.B. I don't know what he was. I don't think he was very high. But he was at least a lieutenant. And he asked me, he said, "Bob, do you think that plan would have worked?" And I said, "No, I don't think it would have." And he said, "Well I had my doubts too." But it had a possibility. That's all I'll say.

T: On this project, how many guys were involved? Was it a big crew of fellows?

B: No. We didn't have too many. We had, oh let's see, there was Tom [Darg] and there was Benny [Hastig] and the chief. I think in the making of this thing we would have had to get a lot more people in Guam. But basically it wasn't much over eight or ten people.

T: I see. When you were working on this project I imagine you had contact with folks from home and your wife. What did you tell em you were doing? I imagine they were interested in knowing what kind of work you were doing in the service.

B: You didn't tell anybody where you were. And you didn't tell anybody what you were doing.

T: But they had to know something. Your wife had to, people were going to ask, "Your husband is in the service. Where is he and what is he doing?" What was your cover story, if you will? You had to tell her something.

B: I didn't have a cover story. I was in Florida and I was just assigned in Florida.

T: I see. So that's all your wife knew, that you were in Florida?

B: And they weren't supposed to be there but my wife did come down to Florida.

T: When you were in the service and working with these guys, can you tell me about some them. Were some of them characters? Think of some of your pals that you had in the service. What kind of guys were they?

B: Well they were basically nice fellows. I had a chief who was an Italian guy and he was good. And I had a couple of lieutenants who were good guys.

T: Were these fellows people who had special training like you did? You know you were a sort of an expert in boat rigging. Were these other guys trained in some other aspect of that, that they were good at?

B: No. They were in the Navy as Naval officers.

T: Were any of them in Naval Intelligence?

B: No.

T: So they were just run of the mill guys.

B: Yeah.

T: It almost sounds like you had to boss this thing.

B: I did.

T: It doesn't sound like anybody else knew anything.

B: They didn't. And I didn't know a helluva lot either!

T: After the bomb was dropped and the Japs surrendered what was the next phase of your career in the Navy? What happened then?

B: Well, I was working in Washington, D.C. at the time the bomb dropped. And we were loaded, ready to go on the ship and I just stayed there and I finally just got sick of laying around doing nothing. And I wrote to my senator and I suggested that I get the hell out of there. And he wrote back and my boss then, John [Sheehan] who was in charge of my project…

T: What was his last name?

B: John [Shaheen]. S-H-E-E-H-A-N, I guess.

T: Okay, Sheehan. Yeah, okay.

B: He had been in Italy and gone through Italy one time, or gone to the Italian program and did some sabotage work.

T: Then when you were in Washington, when the war came to an end, the boat project was still something that was in the process.

B: They were pretty much kept on the QT.

T: Did your contact with the senator bear any fruit? Were you able to get out?

B: No. No, he investigated it I guess. Anyhow he wrote a letter back to my boss, John Shaheen. Then John sent me back to the Navy. And then I went into the hospital with T.B. Because I thought that I had had it then. And I did.

T: When do you think you came down with T.B. You must have had it probably for some time before you…

B: Well I can recall the day I coughed up a bunch of [ ] molecules and heavy stuff.

T: Were you in the service then?

B: Yes. I was in Oshkosh working on the designing. And that's when I broke down with T.B. the first time. Or the second time. Then when I was in Washington, that's when I went to the Naval Medical Center and that's when they found that I was active T.B.

T: That's when you went to Bethesda?

B: Unh huh.

T: What was the treatment? What did they do for you at that time?

B: Bed rest.

T: I see. That was pretty much it in those days. The antibiotics weren't on the scene yet.

B: No. They came in later when I was home. And I did take, took a year's supply of the pills.

T: How long were you on bed rest then when you had the T.B. in Washington? Was it quite a while?

B: Well I was in Washington, and I was in Sampson and I was out here at Sunnyview. So I was probably two years.

T: Okay. So you were probably discharged then when you were ill.

B: Yes, I was.

T: You were probably discharged at Sampson?

B: No, I was discharged when I was at, oh I may have been. I may have been actually discharged at Sampson because I though, I came back to Sunnyview when I was still in service, at Sunnyview until my time ran out.

T: I'm surprised that you were able to go to Sunnyview while you were still in the service. I would think that they would have kept you in a service facility.

B: Well, they didn't.

T: How long were you out at Sunnyview?

B: Not very long. About eleven months. And I was in Sampson, New York over a year. And I was at Bethesda about three months I guess.

T: I imagine that was a sort of difficult time for you to just be laying around and not be able to do anything. Were you quite ill or not?

B: No, I was never quite ill. I was always ready to go someplace.

T: After you got out of Sunnyview, was this in 1946 or '47?

B: Unh huh. '46 I guess.

T: What did you do then, Bob?

B: Well I laid around basically. Then I started college.

T: Over at OSTC, Oshkosh State Teachers?

B: Yes. And that's when I got a call from Carlton Foster who was the president of Dunphy Boat. See, Vern Larson had left. Vernon [ ] had sold their holdings to Carlton Foster before I was home. And then Foster called me and wanted me to run the company until he hired a guy. And I said, okay. So I did. And I went in there and I never left until I decided to leave.

T: Did you regret not completing teachers college?

B: Never. Because it was difficult for me to go back to college after being out of school as long as I was.

T: Right. And you hadn't really completed high school so I imagine that would have been a real challenge for you. So when you went back to Dunphy, you were essentially running the company for Carlton Foster.

B: Yes. About twenty years.

T: How many people were employed at Dunphy then?

B: About fifty.

T: And what kind of boats were they making then? I imagine the war work ceased.

B: Well we were making molded plywood. Basically outboards.

T: Was the market pretty good for those things?

B: Yes.

T: Where did you sell those? Was it all over the U.S. or was it a rather localized area?

B: All over the U.S. But Michigan was one of our biggest customers.

T: How many boats did they crank out in the course of a year.?

B: Oh, maybe three thousand.

T: I see. That's a lot of boats.

B: And besides building em and being in charge of that, I designed a lot of em.

T: They weren't all just the same type. They were a number of different types?

B: Different sizes, different shapes.

T: Going from small to large, how small were they and up to what size?

B: Anywhere's from 14 up to 21, 22 foot.

T: Did you have any difficulty adapting back to civilian life when you got out of the service

B: No, none whatsoever.

T: And you said you had a child when you were in the service.

B: I was in the hospital when she was born.

T: Did you have more children when you got out of the service?

B: I had one more. And he's still here in town.

T: I see. What kind of work does he do?

B: He works in the boiler room at state, State Hospital.

T: Early in World War II, when things were not looking up too well, right after Pearl Harbor and we had a lot of setbacks, were you at all concerned that we might not win that war?

B: No.

T: I guess most people weren't. I guess most people felt the same. They thought that eventually we would prevail. Were any of your friends from Oshkosh killed during World War II?

B: Well some were killed right in '41 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

T: Yeah, there were some Oshkosh guys over there.

B: Well Ray Nusser was one.

T: How do you spell his last name?

B: N-U-S-S-E-R.

T: And so he was killed at Pearl Harbor.

B: Yes. I don't remember who else was.

T: Do you think very much about World War II today?

B: No. I never give it a thought.

T: Can you think of any real memorable experiences you had while you were in the service? Strange or unusual or fun things that you did when you were in the Navy?

B: No, I can't.

T: Do you keep in touch with any of the guys that you served with?

B: No, I don't.

T: I guess some outfits have reunions and things but I guess it probably wasn't that way with you.

B: Well, OSS still has reunions but I don't go to any of them.

T: Is there anything else that relates to World War II Bob, that we have missed. Or anything that relates to Dunphy Boat Company that we might not have touched on?

B: Well, I told you about how the company started here in Oshkosh. And anyhow in 1945 or '44, I think it was '45 probably Vern Larson started his own company, Chetek Boat Company.

T: What was the name of the company?

B: Chetek. C-H-E-T-E-K.

T: Oh yes, I think I've heard of it.

B: So he and his dad left then and his dad was gone too. That's when Carlton Foster took over the entire company.

T: Were they in Oshkosh?

B: They were in Oshkosh and Berlin.

T: Were they in direct competition with Dunphy?

B: No, they were with Dunphy.

T: But I mean when they started their own company. Was that a direct competitor? Were they making the same kind of product?

B: Well they never had molded products.

T: That's what I meant by competition. Did they just go and start making the same kind of boat?

B: No, they were making strip boats and [cargo] planks.

T: Is Dunphy Boat still a viable concern? I really don't know.

B: Not any more.

T: When did it cease to exist?

B: Let's see now. 1980 I think. Carlton Foster sold the company once to some fellows and they went broke. And I was with Thompson Boat then. Because he wouldn't change to fiberglass boats so I went to Thompson Boat in Peshtigo.

T: Did you move to Peshtigo then?

B: Yes I did.

T: What kind of work did you do for Thompson?

B: The same kind.

T: How long did you work for them?

B: About four years.

T: So you were with Dunphy for a total of twenty years and Thompson for another four years. When did you retire from active work?

B: 1980, I retired …

T: You retired about the time that Dunphy went…

B: They went broke before that. I worked for Oshkosh Truck for ten years.

T: I see. So you were at Truck ten years. What did you do there Bob?

B: I was in charge of the stock room?

T: Approximately what were the years that you were there? From what year to…?

B: 1980, ten years ahead of that was 1970.

T: Well, we've probably talked about enough. You're coughing a lot. After you finished at Truck, did you work anywhere else?

B: No.

T: So that was the end of the line then. After you retired, what sort of things did you do for recreation? Did you ever have a boat of your own and do any boating?

B: Yes I had a boat of my own most of the time. Not of my own but I had a Dunphy boat most of my life.

T: I imagine being interested in boating and in the business it would just be natural for you to be on the water.

B: Yes I was, and I did a lot of boating.

T: Well, I think we've covered just about everything Bob, unless there's something else that you can think of. It's been a pleasure talking to you. I appreciate your letting me come to talk to you. It's been very interesting and very educational. I thank you very much.

B: You're welcome.
Event World War II
Category 6: T&E For Communication
Legal Status Oshkosh Public Museum
Object ID OH2001.3.86
Object Name Tape, Magnetic
Location of Originals Oshkosh Public Museum
People Ginke, Robert C.
Subjects World War II
United States Navy
Secret service
Military hospitals
Title Oral History Interview with Robert C. Ginke.
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