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Interview on experiences in World War II

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Ellis County Historical Society


Ellis County Historical Society


Veterans of WWII Oral History Project

Interview with Milton Mai*

January 25, 2006


Conducted by Janet Johannes**



* Hereafter referred to as MAI

** Hereafter referred to as JOHANNES

JOHANNES: This is January the 25th , 2006 at the Ellis County Historical Society. I'm Janet Johannes and I'm interviewing Milton Mai. Would you state your name and your current address please?

MAI: Milton Mai, Wakeeny, KS. The address is 401 South 6th street.

JOHANNES: And were you born in Wakeeny?

MAI: I was born in Wakeeny, KS, Yes Ma'am.

JOHANNES: And have you lived anywhere else other than during your service time? (Question repeated)

MAI: No, I have not.

JOHANNES: How old are you, sir?

MAI: I am 86.

JOHANNES: And who were your parents?

MAI: My parents were Solomon and Elizabeth Mai.

JOHANNES: And where did you go to school?

MAI: I went to a rural school which was Mont Rose at Trego County, Kansas

JOHANNES: How far did you go in school?

MAI: I went through all grades there.

JOHANNES: Are you married?

MAI: I am not married.

JOHANNES: You were drafted into the army?

MAI: Yes, Ma'am I was drafted.

JOHANNES: How old were you when you were drafted?

MAI: I was about 21, as I recall.

JOHANNES: I would like for you to tell me about being drafted and going to boot camp, What that was like for a young man coming out of Wakeeny, Kansas, please.

MAI: Well I was drafted in 1942, in March, 9th as I recall. And boot camp took place in Leavenworth, KS. And then my regular training was out in Cheyenne, Wyoming. That was also in 1942.

JOHANNES: Do you remember anything particular about boot camp and how you reacted to that?

MAI: I can mention a few things. The very strange thing was that we were posted in, or lived in World War I horse barns which were redone for our living facilities, that was our quarters. And as far as I remember basic training was only about six weeks. It was quite cold there at that time, I though, and I was glad to get out of there. And I was transferred then to a camp in California, Camp Cook, to start my training.

JOHANNES: What was the highest rank you obtained?

MAI: Staff Sergeant was the highest rank that I obtained.

JOHANNES: And where did you go from California?

MAI: I went to California. I was transferred to Utah, to a prisoner of War Camp, the Italian Prisoner of war camp. It was quite an experience for me. At first I thought ``What's goin' on here?'' It was all new. And I finally decided, well listen, if I'm going to be working with these people I want to learn the language and so I did and I really, really enjoyed it. As a matter of fact I had a doctor in our town after I was discharged. I was able to visit with him from time to time and I was real surprised at myself to learn it so easy. And those were of course basics, like the month the day, and the year, and I can count and all that sort of thing, and It's so easy for me. Like uno, due, tre, quattro, cinque, sei, sette, otto, nove, dieci. And also the months for the year, like the month of January, I really can't recall that, but I can do the basics. And I really enjoyed it. Not too long ago I happened to be visiting in Salina at a doctor's office and the subject came up of what nationality there was. What existed in the office there. And a woman said well, I am German and my husband is Italian. I said Italian? He said Si. He said Parlate? so Io parlato, con questo pason, nuro poca parole, ist vest se va, I become mixed up with the German and Italian. Any way we did the basic stuff the main thing, and I just can't recall right off .

JOHANNES: How many languages do you speak?

MAI: Well, I just speak the German language, I was born with that fate. I speak it today because I kept up with it when I was in the army where I was then transferred to a German prisoner of war camp.

JOHANNES: How did you learn the Italian, did you learn that from the prisoners of war?

MAI: I just learned it from the prisoners, yes.

JOHANNES: And what was your job at the prisoner of war camp?

MAI: Just more or less I was in charge of the kitchen and sometimes we'd take them out into the field so a place to work or do chores that sort of thing.

JOHANNES: and then you were transferred to a German prisoner of war camp? Where was that? (repeated question)

MAI: Yes, that was in Utah, as well as one in Concordia.

JOHANNES: What was your job there?

MAI: I was in charge of, actually I was transferred then again into a side camp and I was in charge of the kitchen and there were about 200 prisoners there.

JOHANNES: How did the prisoners react to being prisoners of war in the United States?

MAI: It was more or less a pleasure for them because most of `em were just like we were. We didn't care to go in and we serve as we were to do. And that's the way it was

JOHANNES: Do you have any stories about any of the prisoners?

MAI: Yes, I do a very interesting story. I was in charge of kitchen out there, of course, and there was always a question as to what kind of people we were dealing with there. I say we, I mean the whole lot of us. There were, as I recall, about twenty prisoners picked out of that camp that were being transferred to Oklahoma. Of course they went in a prison car and the prison car, of course, was very secure with guards on each end and all the windows were fixed with mesh of some type . Lo and behold we stopped somewhere along the line for whatever and we kept count of the prisoners, all of the sudden we were short two. Well, how in the world could this happen in the prison car. Well after it was inspected inside and outside, they couldn't see nothing on the inside. On the outside they had some tools with them that they cut this wire and shoved it to the outside, and they got out. Now, of course they were caught later on, but I don't really know what they did to them or anything like that, but I do remember they did get caught.

JOHANNES: This is while they were being transported from Utah to Oklahoma?

MAI: To Oklahoma, yes ma'am

JOHANNES: And these were German Prisoners of War?

MAI: Yes, Ma'am.

JOHANNES: Do you have any other stories about prisoners?

MAI: Not really. Things went smooth and they was thrilled about the food that they got and exercise, exercise, they were required to do. One thing sticks in my mind, They requested to do what they used to do, train sorta, and they were allowed to do it. And it put chills up and down your spine when they said ``Seig Heil, Seig Hiel'' With all the strength in their voice in it. It went up and down your spine.

JOHANNES: You said they were thrilled with the food, What kind of food were they served?

MAI: Oh my, just the best, the best, beef, pork, lamb, I suppose, I don't know really remember but beef and pork mainly, and all the potatoes you have it and beans, peas. Breakfast was like any other breakfast, eggs and toast, scrambled eggs mainly, `cause it was quick.

JOHANNES: Were you fed the same food? (question repeated)

MAI: Yes.

JOHANNES: What did they do to occupy their time, other than to exercise?

MAI: They just mingled, I guess, there's another point that I might make in California, We'll have to go back on the story somewhat.

JOHANNES: That's fine .

MAI: we were in an area where there was a lot of sand kept there. I mean the barracks were there and all that and they had entertainment, they had a room where they could have music. It had a piano. And lo and behold, there you are again, there was some action there. What they did was cut a hold in the floor, made a area where they could dig the stand but before this happened the brought in lumber, they could make stuff out of. There were all sorts of their, what they did in their home country, they was carpenters, farmers. You name it. Well anyway they was able to bring in lumber and what they did while they dug this tunnel, they wanted to escape. About how many I don't know . There was about 5 or 6 hundred feet yet where they were headed, but they got caught, Somebody squealed on them. And it was just about room enough to crawl in and out. I crawled in too after they after it was all clear, I crawled in and it was a very eerie feeling, because there wasn't much air, you know and what not, So anyway…

JOHANNES: Okay, What unit were you with?

MAI: I was with the Quartermaster corps. Actually just would be with the, we really didn't have a name because it was a POW camp.

JOHANNES: What did you do in your off time? (Repeated Question)

MAI: WE could go to town if we wanted to, and do whatever we wanted to, and of course be back on time. Very important.

JOHANNES: How did you stay in contact with you family back in Wakeeny?

MAI: How? By letters, free letters, by the way.

JOHANNES: You could write home free?

MAI: You betcha. And of course later on they had. What did they call it. Oh from overseas you could get mail, but I can't remember, it was free also.

JOHANNES: Was it VIP?

MAI: I just don't recall.

JOHANNES: How do feel about your experience being in the service during World War Two?

MAI: Well, I could say it was a very interesting experience for me for the simple reason I was able to do what I did and enjoyed it. [Takes drink of water]

JOHANNES: What did you do after you got out of the service ?

MAI: I went to farming.

JOHANNES: Do you think that being in the service during World War Two affects the way that you view the world today? What kind of impact did it have on your life after you got out of the service?

MAI: Well, I felt that we were free, so to speak, and we were, and what a blessing.

JOHANNES: Did it change the way you view politics today?

MAI: Oh I'm sure, but I can't get in to that because I don't know enough about it.

JOHANNES: Did you feel like you were under a lot of stress or pressure being a guard at a prisoner of war camp?

MAI: Would you repeat that again please?

JOHANNES: Did you feel like you were under a lot of stress or pressure being a guard?

MAI: None, none.

JOHANNES: Did you ever feel threatened?

MAI: None, no way. I might add a little to that. I was able to go to Germany on several occasions with my brother and his family, and of course, I only remember one guy's name but there were other fellows that I learned to know and I only remember one city and the guy's name and so we couldn't go there, of course, when the time we were there, but later on my brother went to Berlin, that's where he lived, so I asked him to give him a call, and he did or tried to call, and lo and behold there were about twelve of them listed so he didn't want to go through the trouble to call. And the only name that I remember

JOHANNES: from the prisoners?

MAI: Uh huh.

JOHANNES: Did you form friendships with other army?

MAI: Not that much, I don't know for what reason. I just can't tell you that. I guess just the way the program was set up.

JOHANNES: Did you work with the same people most of the time you were in the service?

MAI: Most of the time, yes. I was with them for about two and a half, three years. I don't remember.

JOHANNES: Have you ever had any reunions?

MAI: No, never have, because, I really don't know why

JOHANNES: Is there anything else that you can think of, that you would like to add to this interview?

MAI: Not that I can think of right off hand, probably later, but that should be it for about now.

JOHANNES: okay, thank you very much.

MAI: Thank you very much.

JOHANNES: We appreciate it.

[Video fades out]

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