Kansas MemoryKansas Memory

Kansas Historical SocietyKansas Historical Society

Interview on experiences in World War II

Item Description Bookbag Share

This is a Flint Hills Oral History Veterans Series interview with Mr

This is a Flint Hills Oral History [World War II] Veterans Series interview with Mr. Donald William Mohr, who resides at 1725 Trowman Way, Emporia, Kansas. The interviewer is Loren Pennington, Professor Emeritus of History at Emporia State University. Today's date is March 23, 2006, and the interview is taking place at Mr. Mohr's home.

This is tape 1, side A.

Loren Pennington: Don, I should note here at the beginning that you and I have known each other for some years as neighbors in Emporia, so we will proceed in a rather informal fashion. I'd like to have you begin by giving us a sketch of your life until the time you entered the Marine Corps shortly after the end of hostilities in 1945. Tell us when and where you were born, who your parents were, what they did for a living, where you went to school, and what you did before you became a Marine.

Donald Mohr: I was born in Council Grove, August 3, 1922, and my parents, Paul and Alma Mohr, were farmers. They lived down on Spring Creek about seven miles south of Council Grove on what at that time was called Highway Number 4, which was a gravel road, and pretty muddy in spots. But we always managed to make it to town on Saturday. That was Farmers' Day. They took their eggs and cream to town to collect the money and buy their sugar or things they had to have. A lot of the things were grown at home. Wheat was taken to Saunder's Mill in Council Grove, where it was ground and turned into flour. Then of course we had our milk cows and pigs and chickens. We didn't have much money. We had plenty to eat all the time. It might be fried eggs or salted pork or things like that. Mom always canned up a bunch of beef in the wintertime. We always butchered in the winter because of no refrigeration.

LP: That's why you canned the meat?

DM: That's why we canned. What we didn't eat she canned up to have in the summertime. We also always raised a bunch of chickens and we always had fried chicken during the summer. Of course we had a bunch of hens, and we always had plenty of eggs besides selling a lot of them.

LP: Go right on.

DM: And I went to high school in Council Grove my freshman and sophomore years, and then the folks moved to Dunlap. I finished two years in Dunlap.

LP: High school then?

DM: It was high school. I left out the grade school.

LP: Did you go in Council Grove?

DM: No, I went to a country school.

LP: Well, all right, what country school?

DM: Spring Creek. Country school. Of course it doesn't exist anymore. In fact, you wouldn't even know where it was at unless you knew the neighborhood.

LP: And then you went on to Council Grove and finally the last two years at Dunlap.

DM: I finished at Dunlap.

LP: Dunlap is kind of an interesting town. It was an exoduster town after the Civil War, and if we were to go to Dunlap today, we would see practically nothing. And you hardly know when you're going through the town, it's off on kind of a back road there. What was Dunlap like when you were there?

DM: There were three grocery stores, about three service stations, and a restaurant, a bank, a bowling alley, a skating rink. The bowling alley was replaced by a skating rink. What did I leave out? A lumberyard, an elevator, post office.

LP: Did you live in Dunlap?

DM: We lived just out of Dunlap.

LP: Did you move off your original farm, or were you still on the same farm?

DM: Well, the original farm was actually about four miles out where the folks lived.

LP: Is that where you lived when you went to [school at] Dunlap?

DM: Yes.

LP: So you didn't move; you just left Council Grove going to school and went to Dunlap?

DM: Yes.

LP: Dunlap had a fairly large black population at one time.

DM: There weren't too many when I was there. I can only think of about three families right there in Dunlap.

LP: Did they go to an integrated school with you?

DM: Yes.

LP: There wasn't any separation.

DM: No separation. There were about three families that lived out in the country. Of course the kids all came to Dunlap to school.

LP: You were born in 1922, so you graduated from high school about 1940.

DM: Right. There were 21 of us.

LP: How did your family as a farm family fare during the Depression? You've already said you didn't have too much money. Times were pretty tough?

DM: We didn't have much money, but like I said, we always had plenty to eat.

LP: Your family didn't have to move off the farm or didn't lose the farm?

DM: Well, actually, he was renting at that time.

LP: Oh, I see.

DM: Anyway, he had I don't recall how many white-faced cattle, Hereford cattle. Of course the Depression hit and dry weather and no way to feed them. We had to sell some. He sold some for two cents a pound, and then the government came out with a deal that any calves that were born, if they were bull calves, you were paid to killed them. Save the heifers, but kill the bull calves. Of course we were short on water. We had what you called government wells. In fact, there was one just off of where we lived.

LP: What do you mean by a government well?

DM: They drilled wells, and you could go and get your water there.

LP: Was this under the New Deal, under the Roosevelt New Deal? Was that something that was recent?

DM: Yes.

LP: They did that during the Depression?

DM: Yes.

LP: This was after Roosevelt had come in as president in 1933. Of course you're out of high school before Pearl Harbor, but [that happened] not too long after you get out of high school. I guess before we get into that, let me ask you this: things were really breaking loose in Europe with Adolf Hitler's rise, and in Japan. Did you and your family pay much attention to what was going on outside the United States?

DM: Oh, yes, we had a radio that operated on a car battery. And several of Dad's relatives lived close by; in fact one about a mile a way, one about a mile and a half away the way the bird flies, and then one lived about a mile south. These were uncles and aunts. Anyway, they'd all get around the radio, and then they'd discuss what was going on.

LP: You remember listening to Franklin D. Roosevelt's Fireside Chats?

DM: Yes.

LP: What did you think of Roosevelt at that time?

DM: Of course at one time, my folks were Republicans, but they got into it and had a little discussion about that, and as time went along, the things he'd done, why, he kind of won everybody over.

LP: Including your family?

DM: Including the family, yes.

LP: War breaks out in Europe in 1939, the United States stays out for a couple of years, and then it's Pearl Harbor, the Japanese attack on Pearl. Do you remember that day?

DM: Yes I do.

LP: What do you remember about it?

DM: I was working at that time. I was working at Beech Aircraft.

LP: In Wichita?

DM: Yes. Before that, after I got out of high schoolI need to fill in a little bit. I went to a sheet metal school, learning to read blueprints and how to rivet and cut metal.

LP: You were just what was needed at that time in the Wichita aircraft industry.

DM: Of course from there I moved on to Beech.

LP: That's where you were when Pearl Harbor hit. Can you remember your thoughts when you heard about Pearl Harbor.      

DM: Of course it was a shock, really.

LP: You didn't expect it.

DM: No, I wasn't expecting it.

LP: Did it make you angry?

DM: Well, yes. Of course I had a lot of friends go. And a lot of them didn't come back. And I felt kind of bad about that, but when I was needed to fill in, I was called up. But I had a hernia, so they made me 4-F.

LP: Was the fact that you were working in the airplane industry have anything to do with your classification, do you think? I mean, you were working on a war job.

DM: I was working in defense.

LP: Right.

DM: Of course they all went back to Beech to work, and my hernia kept getting worse and worse, so I went and had it fixed. Of course back then it kept you in bed for about 14 days.

LP: I know; I had one about the same time.

DM: You didn't recover very quickly on that. Anyway, I guess it was about six months they were ready to call [me] again, but I got appendicitis, so there was another six months. After that, they informed [me] that they were going to draft me. So I went to Wichita. I was registered in Council Grove, but when they called up a bunch of Wichita boys, I just volunteered to go with them.

LP: This is when?

DM: This was September '45.

LP: The war had actually endedI mean the fighting had ended when you went. So all through the war you continued to work at Beech?

DM: Yes.

LP: You stayed at Beech through the entire war?

DM: Yes, and then I went to the Marine Corps.

LP: You got called up, you volunteered to go.

DM: I volunteered for the Navy, and I was selected for the Marine Corps.

LP: What do you mean you were selected for the Marine Corps? Tell us about that.

DM: Well, they asked us a preference, and I said Navy. If we said Navy, they loaded us up and took us to Kansas City to the federal building.

LP: This was as draftees. They were still drafting at this time.

DM: Most of them. Anyhow, we were all in there and filled out papers, and this Marine sergeant came in. He says, ``I need volunteers. Those that want to go to the Marine Corps, stand up.'' Well, nobody stood up, so he just started going down the line and naming you and you and you.

LP: And he came to you.

DM: Yes, pointing us out. ``I call you, why, you stand up.'' That very evening they moved us all on a train. And we headed for California, San Diego.

LP: In effect you volunteered for the Navy and were drafted out of the Navy into the Marine Corps.

DM: That's what you'd call it I guess.

LP: What did you think of that at the time? Did you have any objection to that really?

DM: Not really, I guess. I didn't have any choice.

LP: Well, okay, you're on your way to California.

DM: California. We were in these Pullman cars, sleepers. Of course we came through Emporia, and I called my wife.

LP: Now, wait a minute, you called your wife. You mean to say you were already married?

DM: Yes.

LP: Well, I think we need to back up a little bit. When did this happen?

DM: I was married in '42.

LP: Did you have any children?

DM: One daughter, Beth Ann.

LP: Okay. So you were drafted actually after the main fighting stopped, but you were drafted in spite of the fact that you were both married and a father.

DM: Yes.

LP: Was this common in those days?

DM: Oh yes.

LP: You were not the only married man then in this group?

DM: No, absolutely not. There were a lot of fellows 45 years old that had families that were drafted.

LP: Where do you go in California?

DM: We went to San Diego.

LP: Is that where you took boot camp?

DM: That's where I took boot camp, yes.

LP: What did you think of boot camp?

DM: It's tough.

LP: What do you mean it's tough?

DM: They work you over pretty good. In fact, as I remember, we got off the train, the bus came and picked us up there in San Diego. Everything was going great, everybody feeling nice and cocky. We stepped off that bus, and hell turned loose.

LP: What do you mean hell turned loose?

DM: This sergeant came out. He called us a bunch of girls, sissies, and all that stuff. ``If any of you want to fight me, ladies, step out.''

LP: Nobody stepped out?

DM: Nobody stepped out. From then on, the training was pretty rough.

LP: What is your opinion of the training? Were you adequate for what you were supposed to be doing?

DM: I was. I guess the big idea was discipline, and if you couldn't take it, why the time to get rid of you was right then. We started out with sixty people in this training platoon, and I think about fifty made it. Some of them dropped out, some of them got sick, went to sick bay. They were left behind.

LP: They may have followed in another group.

DM: Yes, but there were some of them just plain freaked out.

LP: The discipline was pretty harsh, then. Was it physically harsh?

DM: Physically and mentally.

LP: Physically and mentally. But was it a matter of anybody hitting you or doing anything like that?

DM: The drill instructors had what was called a swagger stick. It had the shell on one end from a .30 and a .50 on the other. And they'd been known to whack people on the helmet, if you got out of step or something.

LP: In other words, they didn't injure you or anything.

DM: No. Just on the helmet.

LP: How were the living conditions and the food at boot camp?

DM: Well, I can't say what we called it, but it was a hamburger.

LP: Yes you can. You can go ahead and say it. You're going to tell me it was shit on a shingle.

DM: Yes, toast. Of course we had a lot of that for breakfast. In fact, after a while, it tasted pretty good. Then of course, we had milk and coffee and things like that.

LP: How did you feel about your first days in service? Did you wonder what in the devil you were doing there?

DM: Yes, I began to wonder what I was going to do.

LP: Were you under some stress?

DM: Oh yes. Of course we all had pretty long hair.

LP: You did before you got there.

DM: Yes, `til we got there. About the second day they took care of that. They marched a whole platoon over there, and there were still other platoons, two training platoons. We double-timed over there. I thought, man, this is going to take awhile, but it didn't take very long. Just zip, zip, zip and next.

LP: Two minute haircut.

DM: Yes, less than that.

LP: Did you have to pay for it?

DM: No.

LP: I think when I was in the Army, you had to pay for it.

DM: It was free.

LP: Maybe the first one was free, I don't recall. After you finished boot camp, did you take any kind of advanced training?

DM: No, I came home for a fifteen-day furlough. I went back and was to report to the boat base, which was in Oceanside, California. That was for an amphibious training.

LP: Backing up just a minute; in your basic training, were you prepared for any particular job, or was it just general training?

DM: Just general.

LP: And you were going to be assigned to something after you got out of that.

DM: We had our target. Of course we had a lot of drilling and through the gas chamber and some bayonet practice.

LP: Heavy weapons, machine guns and so forth?

DM: It would be BARs.

LP: Browning Automatic Rifles, okay.

DM: We went up to CampI can't recall the name and I don't know what they call the place nowfor target practice. It ended up I was on the M1, and I ended up a sharpshooter on it. Carbine, I think I was expert on [that]. The BAR, I don't know what they gave me there, but I wasn't too bad on that. The BAR had a [tendency] to crawl away from you. You could squeeze off two or three shots.

LP: Then you couldn't reach it any more.

DM: Big burststhat thing would just keep crawling away from you. It kicked up a lot of gravel.

LP: You went up to Oceanside, California, then, and it was for amphibious training. What do you mean by amphibious training?

DM: Landing craft and on the decks.

LP: You're not operating the craft, you're going ashore from it, am I right there?

DM: Yes.

LP: The Navy's operating the ships.

DM: All I did when I got there was polish doorknobs, but I did stay pretty well out of trouble. A lot of guys, they got head duty and that sort of thing. You just kind of whiled the time away there. Then they decided to take us to Camp Pendleton.

LP: When you were at Oceanside, did they take you out in the water much?

DM: They didn't do anything. You were just there.

LP: You were just there. Okay. And at Camp Pendleton, what did you do?

DM: I was only there about three or four days, and they shipped us out.

LP: To where?

DM: To Guam. We didn't know where we were going when we left there.

LP: But you knew you were out on the ocean, of course.

DM: We were going overseas.

LP: You went directly to Guam in the Marianas.

DM: We went directly to Guam.

LP: And at Guam, what did you do.

DM: Nothing.

LP: You're getting pretty good at doing nothing.

DM: No, we had a routine everyday. We had to fall out and do some drilling and work details and things like that. It wasn't nothing, but it was something to keep you busy.

LP: Did you get the feeling that the war was over and we're just out here putting in your time?

DM: I didn't know what to think. Anyhow, we were there and the 21st of January….

LP: This would be 1946.

DM: Yes, '46.

LP: Between September and January, you did all these things.

DM: On the 21st of January, we shipped out for China on a baby flattop. It took six or seven days. Of course we pulled guard duty on deck, on the flattop, but that didn't go over too big with the Navy boys.

LP: What [was it that] happened on the flattop?

DM: They put us on guard duty.

LP: They put you on guard duty?

DM: Guarding the stairway or something like that.

LP: They aren't going to let you sit around, are they?

DM: No. So we had guard duty up on the flight deck; they had aircraft on there. We got over to the Yellow Sea, and we came out of that hot, steamy weather, and there was ice floating in the Yellow Sea. Of course we couldn't get close to the port, so they anchored out in the deep water, and they took us in on the LSTs. On the LST main vehicle deck is where I ended up, which is down below the water line. There was about four or five inches of water in there. [I had] wet feet in summer attire. And I think that was about the most miserable thing I've ever been in.

LP: How long did it take you to land?

DM: It didn't take very long, but it seemed like a long time.

LP: It was the matter of an hour or two at the most, probably.

DM: You couldn't see anything on those LSTs. We went to an old Seabee camp. This Seabee camp hadn't been used for a while. All they had in there were bunks. No mattresses or anything on them. Just a lot of dust.

LP: So you were the first group to occupy this place, I take it?

DM: Yes.

LP: This is in north China. Shantung, the province of Shantung?

DM: Tientsin.

LP: Well, Tientsin is in Shantung.

DM: This was south of there somewhere. Anyhow, we got in there and like to froze to death. We survived, of course, overnight. The next day they didn't have anything for us to eat. I guess we finally got fed sometime after dinner. They fed us, and then they loaded us on 6x6s and we headed for the French arsenal at Tientsin.

LP: Swiss Arsenal?

DM: French.

LP: French Arsenal. What was the job of you Marines there?

DM: When I first got there, I pulled guard duty. They guarded all the way around the arsenal, which was several acres. Those poor old Chinamen, they were hungry. They tried to get in there. In fact, some of them would kill to get in there. There were a couple of them that were shot.

LP: Why were they trying to get in there?

DM: To get that garbage. Dogs, lots of dogs. Of course they raised the hair on the back your neck sometimes, in the dark. They had this post out there; it was probably I suppose, seventy-five yards or a hundred yards, and they had a little shanty out there with a phone in it.

This is tape 1, side B.

LP: You were saying out there you had the shanty with the phone in it. Pick it up there.

DM: You walked this little route. We walked out to an old ammunition dump nearby. We walked out to it and then back to this little shanty, and you called the officer of the day. You carried a 12-gauge riot gun for a weapon. Of course in the wintertime you had these canals, irrigation canals, and there was one there just off of this guard post. And that ice would crack and break, and with a lot of dogs going into the garbage dump, it would actually crack and pop and kind of get on your nerves.

LP: Did you feel particularly threatened on this post?

DM: There was always that chance. It did happen. It never did happen when I was there, but there were a couple shot out there.

LP: A couple of Marines, you mean?

DM: A couple of Chinamen.

LP: Did you yourself ever pull the trigger on that riot gun?

DM: No, I didn't have to.

LP: Are your thankful for that?

DM: Yes. They killed a couple of them out there. One guard was attacked with a meat cleaver. Of course he shot the guy.

LP: That part of China I take it was in pretty desperate shape at that time.

DM: Yes. They were poor people. They were dirt poor.

LP: The Depression in the United States was bad but nothing like that, I take it.

DM: No. Some of them just didn't have anything, and the sanitation was terrible. Those villages, you would go by them, and they would just stink so bad it would almost gag you. But also, at that time, they were eating a lot of garlic. Of course you got the garlic smell along with it.

LP: Let me ask you this first. How many men were in your outfit?

DM: I don't know exactly, but somewhere around 200 at that particular arsenal. There were other Marines stationed in North China.

LP: What was the American Marine force trying to do there?

DM: The main purpose was shipping out the Koreans. There were a lot of Koreans there. We had a lot of Japanese prisoners.

LP: The Koreans, I take it, were civilians?

DM: Yes.

LP: And you were what, sending them back to Korea?

DM: Sending them back to Korea. And the Japanese prisoners, we just had them there working. There was a compound in Tientsin where they kept them at night. They would bring them out to the French Arsenal, and we would work them.

LP: Did you guard these Japanese prisoners?

DM: Yes.

LP: Was it difficult to get them to work?

DM: Well, not really.

LP: They did what they were told?

DM: Most of them were pretty good about it.

LP: They didn't really cause you any problems? You didn't run into any fanatical Japanese or anything like that?

DM: There weren't any problems. In fact, some of them wanted to visit with you. You weren't supposed to visit with them.

LP: You weren't supposed to visit with them?

DM: Some of them wanted to know [about] your family and all that.

LP: Did you have the feeling they were soldiers like yourself?

DM: Yes. That's what they were.

LP: What finally happened to these prisoners?

DM: They shipped them all back finally.

LP: By shipped them all back you mean to Japan?

DM: To Japan. They were still there when I left there. But I don't think it was too long after that. Everyone was pulled out of China.

LP: Why did it take so long to ship these Japanese back?

DM: I don't know.

LP: I mean, were they intentionally holding them to prevent them from going back to their home islands?

DM: I really don't know. Of course the Nationalists and the Communists, they were fighting already.

LP: How much did the Marines get involved in that?

DM: The only way the Marines got involved, they had the supply route going from Tientsin.

LP: What were you doing, protecting that from Communist attack?

DM: Yes.

LP: Was your outfit ever attacked by the Communists?

DM: I understand it was after I left.

LP: But not while you were there.

DM: Of course I went to the transport. Convoy transport. That was shortly after I got there.

LP: That's interesting. What did you do in transport?

DM: We hauled supplies.

LP: What did you personally do?

DM: I'd go into Tientsinthey had a bakery in Tientsinand get a load of bread. Just whatever they asked me to do.

LP: Were you driving the trucks?

DM: Yes.

LP: Okay. Does this start you career as a truck driver?

DM: Yes.

LP: That's why I asked the question.

DM: They needed some people to drive, and they tried a bunch out. I happened to be one of them they passed. They took you out and gave you a driving test.

LP: What were you driving? Two-and-a half-ton 6x6?

DM: 6x6.

LP: 6x6. Standard truck.

DM: So that's what I did most of the time I was there. We went off to a little placeI couldn't even tell you the name of the portpicked up fuel, gas and diesel, and even hauled some ammunition at one time.

LP: Were you supplying the Chinese Nationals with materials?

DM: Not really, no.

LP: Okay.

DM: I may be getting this all mixed up, but the Nationalists had their blockhouse set up at the intersections in Tientsin. Of course a couple of good shots from a tank would take care of one of them. But that's what they had to fight with actually.

LP: You imply that the Nationalists didn't have much to fight with.

DM: They didn't have much. Also on this guard duty, they had what they called a roaming patrol in a 4x4, a driver and a guy riding shotgun. We'd have our shotgun, and we'd drive around the perimeter.

LP: At this French Arsenal that you're talking about? Anything else you want to talk about in your experiences in China?

DM: That pretty well consists of it, really.

LP: Of course you were in China at kind of an interesting time as we look back. It may not have seemed very interesting at the time, but it turned out to be very interesting.

DM: Anyhow, what with me being married and having a child, they decided to bring me home.

LP: In other words, even though you only had a little less than a year of service. Did you apply to get out?

DM: No, they just automatically.

LP: They just automatically brought you up, because ordinarily it took a lot of points which you wouldn't have had. You were originally drafted for how long a period?

DM: There wasn't any certain time.

LP: At the convenience of the government. So you ended up serving about how long?

DM: Eleven months.

LP: Okay, so you go back to the United States. How did you go back?

DM: We went back by big ship, the USS Buckner.

LP: You sailed directly to the United States?

DM: Yes.

LP: Where did you come in?

DM: We came in at San Diego.

LP: I see by your separation papers here, by your discharge, that was apparently about August of '46.

DM: Yes.

LP: And I take it you were discharged shortly after?

DM: Yes. It took about a week.

LP: Did you consider staying the reserves at all?

DM: No.

LP: Did they try to talk you into it?

DM: Yes. I was approached, called in.

LP: Of course the reserves would be a little different thing, but it does seem peculiar to send you back to the United States and then say, ``would you like to stay in? Or in the reserves, at least?'' Okay, you got out.

DM: I got out, and a bunch of us chartered a DC-3, which at that time the Air Force version of it was the C-45. Of course it had the jump seats along the side for the parachutists. And they had us all loaded on one side and the rest of it was stacked with fresh flowers.

LP: So you chartered this thing. To do what?

DM: To get home.

LP: Was it an Army plane?

DM: Yes. A C-45.

LP: And how do you charter an Army plane to go home?

DM: Well, it wasn't an Army plane any more. It had been.

LP: Oh, I see. It was a privately operated plane. So you went home by plane.

DM: Like, I said, we were all on one side. The rest of the fuselage was filled with flowers. Fresh flowers. If the plane went down we would have been buried with a lot of flowers.

LP: So, you arrived back home. Where was home at this time?

DM: Wichita.

LP: Your wife and your daughter were there, glad to see you, I presume. To back up just a minutein fact, to back up just before you went in, not long before you went in, the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Japan. What did you think of that?

DM: I didn't know what to think, really, but, as we know now, it saved a lot of lives.

LP: You would have approved of President Truman's decision. You still today would approve of it?

DM: Yes.

LP: How do you keep in touch with your family while you were in service over there?

DM: Letters.

LP: Frequent, or pretty infrequent?

DM: Oh, pretty frequent.

LP: You wrote quite often to your wife, and you got mail pretty often. Of course you didn't have any means of communication by telephone like we have today. It was a matter of waiting it out.

DM: It was a long time between them.

LP: What did you do in the days and few weeks immediately after you were released from service?

DM: I went back to work for Beech, and I worked there for a while. And then a crew chief's job came up, so I got that. And I worked as crew chief over several people on the line. At that time we were switching over from the old model 18 to the Beech 35.

LP: That's a commercial aircraftwhat's called a general aircraft. You were not working on military work, then?

DM: No. Beech 35, and what it was was the wing section. I was crew chief over that. I did that until they decided they didn't need us anymore. They didn't have enough work. I need to add that a lot of times I got overtime. They'd bring these planes in, and one would come in that had hit a mallard duck, damaged a lead edge of the wing. Several came in and had been belly-landed and tore up the whole underneath. We worked overtime up there to do the patch job on them.

LP: So I take it working for Beech was a pretty profitable thing in those days.

DM: We were doing well. I remember when I first started it was $21 a week. A lot of money.

LP: When was this, 1940?

DM: The forties.

LP: And how much were you making at the end of your career at Beech?

DM: Oh, I got up to around about a hundred dollars a week.

LP: That was about standard at that time for that sort of thing. Where did you go from Beech?

DM: Like I said, they laid us off.

LP: When was this, do you recall, about?

DM: I don't know.

LP: Did you work there several years?

DM: Yes.

LP: Up into the fifties?

DM: No.

LP: Late forties?

DM: Into the middle forties, late forties. Anyhow, they laid us off there. I wish I could have gone back, but at that time you didn't know if they were going to call you back or not. So I went over to Cessna. Cessna was looking for sheet metal men. I worked there about three or four months. Boeing opened up. They needed help. So I went to Boeing, but I didn't do sheet metal work there. I did wiring on the tail gunner section.

LP: So that was military aircraft.

DM: That was on B29s and B50s. Then also they had the big, thick windows. Of course everything was pressurized. I did some of that. I put pressure in there and checked for leaks. That's that sort of thing I did there. I wanted to get back into the trucking business. I guess it was good. One way it was good, and one way it was bad. Mercer up in Dunlap made a living trucking livestock and freight for several years. He was wanting out, so I ended up buying him out. I did that `til '56. That was '49.

LP: How many trucks were you operating?

DM: I had just one to start with, then I got up to two. And I operated them until '56, when I sold out. A fellow from Lincoln, Kansas, saw me in Council Grove, and he said, ``I'd like to buy that truck tractor and trailer.'' They were pretty sharp looking. I said, ``I won't sell you this one, but I've got another one I might sell you.'' So I gave him a price, and he took it.

LP: So you were down to one tractor?

DM: I was down to one tractor.

LP: What kind of truck was this? Obviously it was a semi.

DM: Chevrolet.

LP: I mean was it a cattle truck?

DM: Cattle truck. I did that `til '56. Then the Whittaker brothers, they decided to buy me out. I was kind of wanting to get out of it anyway. So they bought me out. I came down here, and Standard Oil Company was in need of a second driver. So I bought a new Chevy truck. Of course they furnished the tank and everything.

LP: This is in Emporia?

DM: Yes.

LP: This is when you came to Emporia.

DM: Then I worked for Van Sickle for a year, and that was back when they were building the turnpike out here. Of course we had plenty of business for both of us. I did that for a year, and then worked for Conoco. Ernie Hawthorne wanted to retire. Most of his business was in service stations. And he sold a little oil to garages, things like that. He didn't go to the country. Well, I took it over, and I started working on the farmers. Of course I knew a lot of them from trucking cattle. I started picking them up, and when I picked them up, the service stations started going away because they built the bypass around Emporia here. That eliminated a lot of service stations.

LP: So the bypass was a bad thing for the service stations of Emporia?

DM: Right. So I built my farm business.

LP: You were delivering oil products out on the farms.

DM: Yes.

LP: Gasoline, whatever.

DM: Yes. Then about '70, they started building I-35 over here from the county line east to Beto Junction. Then the oil company wanted to know if I'd deliver the fuel, which I would. Of course I had to take a cut on commission. But still it turned out pretty good. My boy was in college, so he helped me at night. Of course we did this all at night. I took care of the farmers in the daytime, then I'd go over there and work `til after midnight. What they'd do, they'd line up all the equipment, and we'd go along and service them. We did have a big storage tank over there where we didn't have to come clear to Emporia to get our fuel. Just short runs.

LP: This was for Conoco.

DM: Yes.

LP: Did you work directly for Conoco, or were you an independent operator?

DM: I was an agent.

LP: Does that mean you were self-employed? They didn't have you on salary or anything?

DM: I was a commission agent. I worked on commission.

LP: Yes. All right.

DM: Anyhow, I did that `til they got I-35 built. I bought another old truck to deliver there. I used the two trucks, and I took care of the farm business and I took care of that over there. Then in '77 that ran out, and I still had my farm business. That ran out, when Conoco decided they didn't want to distribute their products any more. Everything went to direct transport. That cut me out. I could have bought the business out, but I was 55 years old, and it didn't see like it would be a very good idea. So I was checked out there. I went out to Dolly Madison and got a job out there as a transport driver.

LP: And stayed there how long?

DM: I did that until '87. I retired in '87.

LP: So you've been retired now for about 18 years. How's retirement gone for you?

DM: Pretty good.

LP: Well, there are some things we probably need to ask before we quit, and one of them is how many children did you end up with?

DM: Two.

LP: The daughter and the son you mentioned?

DM: Yes.

LP: How are they doing?

DM: Fine. The boy's a pilot, flies jets. Right now he's flying transporting transplant doctors. The transplant doctors call him and he goes on duty, subject to call. When they have a patient in Joplin or Garden City or wherever it might be, they call him.

LP: And he flies then to wherever they need to go.

DM: Yes. He also flies a jet for a banker. The banker has a lot of business down in Lexington, Kentucky, in the racehorse business. My son goes down there a lot.

LP: I take it you probably have several grandchildren?

DM: I have fivefive girls. I have one married, and there's the other four over there [indicating pictures].

LP: How young's the youngest one?

DM: Fifteen. She's the one who had the cancer.

LP: I take it she's done pretty well with that?

DM: Yes.

LP: Good. There are a couple of other things. Have you been at all active in veterans' affairs since the war?

DM: Of course I get my medicine all through the veterans.

LP: Well, yes. I mean in veterans organizations like the American Legion.

DM: I belong, I'm a life member in the VFW.

LP: And you belong to the Legion.

DM: And I belong to the Legion.

LP: Any other organizations?

DM: Well, I was with the Shriners, but I dropped that.

LP: What was the highest rating you reached in the Marine Corps?

DM: Pfc.

LP: Pfc. Things went pretty rapidly in those days. That was pretty good for eleven months. Thinking of the experience of World War II, you were at home for a lot of it, and then in your experience afterward, how do you think that has affected your thinking about America's role in the world? Obviously America, since the war, has played a much increased role in the world. What do you think about all that?

DM: Some of it I really wonder about, like this Iraq deal. I think we've got tied in everything and we can't get loose.

LP: You think we shouldn't have gone in there in the first place?

DM: We probably shouldn't have ever gone in there.

LP: But now it's difficult getting out.

DM: Yes.

LP: Has your military service affected your life since then in anyway, do you think?

DM: No, not really.

LP: Are you glad you were in the military service?

DM: I was glad I was in there, because I tell you what, I take a big amount of medicine. Dr. [Tim] Duncan is my doctor down here; of course I have one at the VA. And Dr. Duncan says, ``Man, it's a good thing you're a veteran. You'd be broke.''

LP: So, obviously you have had quite a bit of benefit from the G.I. Bill.

DM: A lot of it. I bought our first house on the G.I. Bill.

LP: I take it you didn't use any of the educational benefits.

DM: No, I didn't; I should have, but I didn't.

LP: Do you think the G.I. Bill has been a good thing for the country?

DM: I think so.

LP: Not just for you.

DM: I think for everybody, yes.

LP: Is there anything we haven't talked about that you'd like to say before we close down? We've got about a minute or two.

DM: Well, that pretty well covers it.

LP: Well, go ahead.

DM: Of course I lost Rachel, and that kind of hurt.

LP: Yes, your wife died here fairly recently.

DM: 2nd of March last year. I'm setting here by myself. That's what happens when you get older I guess.

LP: You seem to be out and about, though. Are you still playing golf?

DM: Yes. I try to stay active.

LP: I notice when I set this up, you had to be out for afternoon coffee one day.

DM: Yes. I play golf, and I do a lot of fishing. In fact I have a boat now, but I haven't got to use it much yet.

LP: Where do you fish?

DM: I go to Melvern and Gridley and state lakes. And there's this little group; we go and have coffee about everyday.

LP: Well, we're about done with the tape here, so, Don, I want to thank you very much for the interview.

DM: I hope it made sense.

LP: Well, your Chinese experience is quite unique, and I take it being in China was quite an eye-opener for you.

DM: Those poor people, I tell you, they were so poor. Of course, I guess India and places like [that] are just as bad. But the big wheels over there had all the money and the coolies, they had nothing.

LP: Well, I have been in China recently, and if you were there, I'd think you'd find it is a different story. There are a lot of them still very poor, particularly out on the farms, but boy, I'll tell you, the towns are booming.

[Interview ends side B, count 431.]

Item Description

Copyright © 2007-2019 - Kansas Historical Society - Contact Us
This website was developed in part with funding provided by the Information Network of Kansas.