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Interview on experiences in World War II

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This is a Flint Hills Oral History Project World War II Veterans Series Interview with Ralph William Wygle, Jr


This is a Flint Hills Oral History Project World War II Veterans Series Interview with Ralph William Wygle, Jr., of 2716 West 30th Avenue, Apartment 3, in Emporia, Kansas. The interviewer is Loren Pennington, Professor Emeritus of History at Emporia State University. Today's date is February 15th, 2006, and the interview is taking place at Mr. Wygle's home.

This is tape one, side A.

Loren Pennington: Bill, let's begin by having you give us sketch of your life before you went into military service, when and where you were born, who your parents were, your schooling, and what you did before you joined the military.

William Wygle: Okay. I was born in Pharr, Texas, as I mentioned earlier. We moved back to Kansas, kind of like Eisenhower. He said he was from Texas, but he moved back to Kansas, and I was from Texas. When I got my eyes open, I moved back to Kansas

LP: You were talking about your father.

WW: My father was a bricklayer. He ran a group of Mexican bricklayers. They built projects there around Corpus Christi and Pharr, Texas. We lived in a one-room house where I was born. [I had a] sister and I had a brother, but he died while we were there. He was buried there in that area. My father was Ralph Wygle. He was born and raised near Eureka and Climax, Kansas. My mother was Roberta Stilwell Wygle, and she was born in Eureka. They met and married there when they were both nineteen. They were both born in 1900, so it was easy to keep track of their birthdays. I had one sister who's still alive, Lorena, who lives here in Emporia. She's a retired Methodist minister. I went on to school, grade school in Kansas.

LP: When did you come back to Kansas? How old were you?

WW: I was six months old when they came.

LP: Oh, so you have a very short Texas career.

WW: Yes.

LP: All right, so you were back to Kansas. Go ahead.

WW: When I got my eyes opened, I left Texas and moved back to Kansas. After moving back to Kansas we went to several rural grade schools. One of them was down here by Madison, between Madison and Hamilton, out in the country where Dad was working in the oil field. Back in those days they used to have little villages out in the countrystores, post office. We lived there and went to several different schools. We went to one school called Seeley, where my sister played girls' basketball, eighth grade. They won the county tournament that year. Then from there we moved out to Chase, Kansas, and we went to grades three, four and five out there. From Chase we moved up to Russell, Kansas, and at Russell, we lived out in the country between Russell and Hays, near Gorham, Kansas. We lived on a lease out there that the company, the Texas Company, furnished the employees.

LP: Your father was working for the Texas Company?

WW: Yes. One of their benefits was this house. They'd drill wells out in these wheat fields. That was 1935-36, when they had the dust storms out there. As I remember, the dust was so bad in those years that the dust would blow over the fence rows and it would look just like snow blowing over the fences. It was so bad in the house that they fixed up little coolers on the window. They'd put in excelsior and had water we would dump in the top and it would filter down. The excelsior would filter out the dust. Then we would have a little cleaner air to breathe in the house besides being a little cooler. That was in 1936. I was in school at Belmont, which was a rural school about three miles from where we lived. I went there for sixth, seventh and eighth grades. I graduated there, then I went to Russell High School. I attended there until my junior year. One of the highlights was that Bob Dole was in the same group. He was three years older than I am. My sister was a year older than Bob. So I've known Bob Dole for a long time, and I have his latest book that I just completed reading. We lived there until the middle of my junior year. My dad was transferred with the oil company down to Chase, Kansas again. At that time I went to Chase High School. I walked into the principal's office to enroll, and he immediately hollered down to the basketball coach to come and look at this guy. I was 6-5 and weighed 251 as a junior in high school. So we had a good conversation there, and the coach took me around and got me enrolled in the various classes.

LP: What grade was this?

WW: This was a junior in high school.

LP: Did you play basketball the previous two years?

WW: At Russell High School.

LP: At Russell. Okay. So now you're down at Chase High School.

WW: At Chase High School. We had good basketball teams, and my senior year we went to the state tournament and got defeated. But I could stand and hold my arms out and the rest of the team could stand under them. That's how big I was in high school. I graduated from Chase High School in 1944, in May, and then I had enrolled in an Army Reserve Program that sent me out at Fort Collins, Colorado, for three months training. Then I came back and went to the University of Kansas to play football there in 1944. We had a good ball club that year. We had seventeen-year-olds like myself on the team plus the V-5 Navy program set up that year, and those guys played at that time. So we had a pretty good team. One of the highlights was we played Nebraska, and our athletic director, Ernie Quigley, came down Friday night to the dressing room and told us, ``If you beat Nebraskawe haven't beaten them in 47 years here at this fieldwe'll make a big plaque and put all your names up here.'' So the next day we beat Nebraska in football, and there is a big plaque with my name on it and 1944.

LP: Were you one of the regular players on this team?

WW: Yes, I was starter.

LP: That's when everybody played offense and defense both. What was your position?

WW: I played tackle. I was 250 and 6 foot 5, so we played both offense and defense in those days. We had a good ball club, and in November we played Missouri at the last game. Some alums had given us frozen turkeys, so every player got a frozen turkey for Thanksgiving that day. I guess that was legal back in those days.

LP: That would be very illegal today.

WW: It would be. Very much so.

LP: Did you beat Missouri?

WW: We beat Missouri that year. There was a big full-back that was about my size. My assignment was whenever he lined up, I was to line up and tackle him wherever he went, whether he had the ball or not. So we had a good time. The season was over in November. I then was drafted on December 13th in 1944, and I then went to Fort Leavenworth for my induction ceremony. So that was my first contact with the real Army.

LP: Where did you go from Fort Leavenworth?

WW: From Fort Leavenworth we went to Camp Hood, Texas.

LP: And that was for basic training?

WW: Basic training; three months basic training.

LP: Basic training in what?

WW: Infantry basic training. I was in the infantry, a rifleman, and at that time we learned how to fight the Germans. We had three months basic training.

LP: The Battle of the Bulge started four days after you got there.

WW: Right.

LP: After you got to Fort Leavenworth.

WW: When I went to Fort Hood and had the three months training, we were called a replacement team.

LP: Now let's talk for a minute about you training at Fort Hood. What was your opinion of it? As to its quality, say?

WW: Well, it was good. Of course an eighteen-year-old learning to fire all those weapons was really interesting to me. I had never been much of a hunter and wasn't around these guns. We learned to fire the pistols and the rifles. The M-1 rifle was our number one gun.

LP: The Garand.

WW: We slept with it almost all the time. Then we learned how to fire the bazooka and the flame thrower, which is a deadly weapon.

LP: The bazooka, I believe, is an anti-tank weapon, is it not?

WW: Yes. Right.

LP: And you said flame-thrower. Go ahead.

WW: Then we had the various machine guns at that time.

LP: .30 and .50 caliber?

WW: We learned to fire those. And we learned to bivouac. They'd take us out for a couple of weeks. We'd be out in the field, and our training out there was to survive. And they put us on various maneuvers. I think the training was pretty good.

LP: Okay. Let's go back just a little bit. Let's go back to your earlier days. You are fairly young during the 1930s.

WW: Yes.

LP: What about during the Depression? How did your family fare during the Depression?

WW: Well, early on, when I was in grade school, as I remember, we lived in a pretty primitive type of housing. My father was in the oil business. His wages were pretty good. So we always had plenty of food. I remember the one house we lived in had cracks in the floor; if money would roll across it, it would drop down in one of those cracks and would be gone. But we lived there for a year or so, and then they put us in a little better housing.

LP: Was that in Russell?

WW: That was down by Madison.

LP: Down by Madison. You had come back to Kansas.

WW: We had come back to Kansas. He [my father] got back in the oil fields after coming back.

LP: Your family fared comparatively fairly well.

WW: We did.

LP: You never went hungry.

WW: We never went hungry.

LP: How were you fixed for cash?

WW: Well, that was very spare. We didn't have much cash. We never got an allowance, as I remember. They'd buy us candy on Saturday. Usually they'd run a grocery bill for about a week or two, and then when he got a paycheck, [my father would] pay the grocery man off. And they'd give us a bonus of candy, usually at that time.

LP: Of course at this same time, world affairs are boiling up with the rise of Adolph Hitler and the rise of Japan out in the Far East. Did your family pay much attention to these international events?

WW: Not during my early days, except when we moved back to Russell. The first I really recall of that was when we had the invasion, and they bombed Pearl Harbor.

LP: You do remember Pearl Harbor?

WW: Yes.

LP: What was their reaction, your family's reaction, when they learned about it?

WW: We were coming home. We'd been up to York, Nebraska, where my sister was in school. We were coming back home and had the car radio on. We listened to it and we couldn't believe what happening. My folks just didn't know what to believe. I was only a seventh or eighth grader at that time.

LP: We're talking about 1941.

WW: Yes.

LP: You were probably ready to enter high school.

WW: Right. I thought that was a real tragedy. Of course we read all the news and of course on Saturday we'd go to the movies, and they'd have the news in the movie. And they would show the destruction of the war. And at that time, they would bring in all the destruction over in Germany. The Germans had destroyed all those countries over there in the fighting.

LP: In other words, what you seem to be telling me is that after Pearl Harbor, you and your family took considerable interest.

WW: After Pearl Harbor, we did. We got interested in the war.

LP: How did you feel about going into military service?

WW: I was ready when we graduated. The spring of my senior year, two or three of the boys were called up because they had turned eighteen, and they got called out to go to the service.

LP: People got called pretty quickly after they were eighteen in those days.

WW: Yes. I wasn't eighteen yet, but we'd get reports back and one of the boys got killed before our graduation day. We were all ready to go fight the Germans because they had killed one of our buddies. Some of the boys volunteered earlier than their eighteenth birthday. But I took the other route and went to school.

LP: Then you were actually drafted.

WW: Then I was drafted in December [of 1944].

LP: So you were speaking a little further about your basic training down there. How did you like the food?

WW: Well, it wasn't too bad, really. I never got too disgusted with the food and the training. I remember my first year I was drafted December 13th and went to Fort Hood, Texas. That Christmas Eve, they came around and pointed out you, you, and you will be on KP Christmas morning. So about four o'clock they came through the barracks and woke us up, and we went into the kitchen and started peeling potatoes and getting the Christmas dinner ready. Of course working the kitchen there, I was around some food. Every once in a while we'd get to bite on the food. It was my first Christmas away from home.

LP: This was in 1944.

WW: Yes. It was probably good that I was on KP so I didn't get too homesick being away from home the first year.

LP: Were you homesick?

WW: I was. [KP] probably kept me from getting too homesick.

LP: I know how you feel. I remember my first Christmas in the Army.

WW: First time away from home, it's hard to point out just how you feel. It's bad.

LP: Of course I was considerably older than you. I was 26 when I was drafted. So, it was maybe a little different, but I still experienced that homesickness on that Christmas Day. I can remember that today. Do you have any incidents in basic training that stand out in your mind?

WW: Learning how to shoot all these weapons was a highlight, I think. One of the things they had was big foxholes that they dug, and they ran tanks over us to give us the experience of being invaded by tanks. You'd get down in your foxhole, and they'd run over you with tanks. That's something, kind of a highlight, I recall today.

LP: Where did you go from Camp Hood?

WW: From Camp Hood, after three months, we went back to Fort Meade, Maryland. From Fort Meade, Maryland we were getting ready to ship overseas to Germany to fight the Germans. We were there in camp, and I was again called up for KP duty, and we went into the kitchen. I remember one weekend we had this sergeantand we had a really good mess hall there. And we were rated class A, so we had good food. I enjoyed the food. But that day, after supper the sergeant said, ``You three guys load up what we have left here and put in the back of my car, and I'll take it back over to the storage house.'' So we did. But on his way out that evening, they stopped his car and found out he had a big restaurant in Baltimore that he was running, and he was supplying it with Army food. He was a good mess sergeant on the base, but he had a good thing on the side.

LP: This is kind of, I won't say common, but a frequent occurrence in the Army in those days.

WW: Then he was held over for court-martial, and I was held over for that court-martial for about a month. And it was during that period of time that they passed the law that eighteen-year-olds could not be sent overseas.

LP: Your 19th birthday would not come up until November of '45.

WW: So I had to stay there and testify and by that time, they had passed orders for me to go back for additional training at down at Camp Howze, down in Texas.

LP: Okay, they probably originally intended to send you to Europe, but the war ended in Europe in May of 1945.

WW: We were to go over there and replace the people that had been killed in the Battle of the Bulge. We were a replacement company. About half of my company were killed during that period of time.

LP: You mean going over after the Battle of the Bulge?

WW: Yes. They were sent over to replace the people in the Battle of the Bulge.

LP: And then they were killed in the fighting?

WW: They were killed. I was disappointed at the time that I didn't get to go overseas, but I was looking forward to fighting, as an eighteen-year-old.

LP: You were lacking in common sense at the time?

WW: They psych you up so much with all their training. They show us all the war pictures, all the films.

LP: The ``Why We Fight'' series, do you remember that?

WW: What?

LP: The ``Why We Fight'' series?

WW: Yes. They did a good job psyching these young people up.

LP: They showed you these propaganda films, and you believed them?

WW: Right. We believed them. That was part of the psych getting ready to fight.

LP: But as it turned out, you don't go to Germany.

WW: No. The war was over, and they sent us back to Camp Howze for training.

LP: One of the things that happen shortly before the war was over was the death of President Roosevelt. Do you remember that?

WW: I do.

LP: What was your reaction to it?

WW: I was home on furlough at that time.

LP: This was before going to Camp Meade? After basic before going to Meade?

WW: Yes. I was on furlough when he died in April, I believe.

LP: In April.

WW: Everybody was down because he was a great leader, having served his fourth term there.

LP: Did you have a personal opinion of President Roosevelt?

WW: I really didn't. I wasn't that much involved in politics at that time, so I didn't have an opinion one way or the other, other than what I read that he was a great president.

LP: So you are now at Camp Howze, is it? What happens there? Are you there for advanced training?

WW: Yes. They sent us back down there and our training was then toward the Japanese.

LP: Are you still in the infantry?

WW: Yes, still in the infantry. Only instead of the Germans, we were fighting the Japanese.

LP: Preparing to fight.

WW: Preparing to fight. So they had advanced training very similar to basic only more of the same. And again, there is where got more training with the bazooka, because of the Japanese in these caves over in these islands. We would go in and have to burn them out.

LP: Oh, you mean a flame thrower?

WW: A flame thrower.

LP: Rather than a bazooka.

WW: A flame thrower rather than a bazooka. A flame thrower was a deadly weapon. It was terrible.

LP: You eventually did go overseas.

WW: Yes.

LP: When did you go overseas?

WW: We shipped out on August 19, 1945.

LP: The atomic bomb had already been dropped.

WW: No, on our way over, on Eniwetok.

LP: Well, let me put it this way, the first bomb was dropped on August 6th.

WW: Oh, okay, I'll back up.

LP: Okay. I don't mean to correct you.

WW: I'm looking at my notes here, August the 19th, but halfway over at Eniwetok where we stopped to refuel.

LP: When did you actually ship out? August 19th can't be right because the bomb had already been dropped.

WW: I've got August 19th as the date of embarkation. We were on our way.

LP: The Japanese had not officially surrendered yet, but the bomb had been dropped [and the Japanese had agreed to surrender].

WW: I guess they had not officially surrendered, but by the time we got to Eniwetok they had surrendered.

LP: Yes, at the end of August.

WW: Okay, they had surrendered.

LP: Okay.

WW: We were then told what had happened.

LP: But you knew about the bomb?

WW: Yes.

LP: What did you think when you heard about the bomb?

WW: Well, I thought it was a terrible weapon to kill all these people, all these innocent people, but when we got to talking about it, we were building up a force of over a million to invade Japan, and we probably would have lost half of those if we had invaded. So, I switched from thinking it was terrible to thinking it was something that was a good thing. It saved the lives of all these Americans that were going in there.

LP: Do you still feel that way today?

WW: I do.

LP: And you supported President Truman and the decision to do this?

WW: I did. It was a terrific decision that he had to make, but I think that he made the right call at that time.

LP: So you are at sea, and the Japanese surrender. And you land where?

WW: At Leyte Island in the Philippines.

LP: And what did you do there?

WW: September 9th we arrived there.

LP: That would have been nine days after the Japanese surrendered.

WW: I was assigned to the 489th Amphibious DUKW Company. These DUKWs were an amphibious truck that we learned to drive. We'd drive them on land, and they'd go down a ramp into the water, go out and unload the ships and bring the supplies back up.

LP: They're kind of lighters for unloading ships.

WW: Right. As an eighteen, nineteen-year-old it was a lot of fun driving those things. You'd hit the water and throw the propeller in and go out and get a load. The people that were loading the suppliesas I recall, one time, or several times, the load got off balance and the DUKW sank with all the supplies on it. We didn't see any of our people go down. They all had life jackets on. But it was a way of getting the supplies from the ship in, and I enjoyed the DUKW companies.

LP: What was your stay in Leyte with the DUKW Company?

WW: I was there at least six months, and after the war they started discharging all the troops back home. Instead of just sending us back right then, they sent us to Guam. And we were transferred into the 20th Air Force at Guam. At Guam, we were there for another six months, and I was driving a sixteen-wheeler gasoline truck refueling Air Force planes on Guam.

LP: So you were part of the ground crew of the Air Force?

WW: Yes.

LP: Any particular incidents on Leyte or Guam that you recall?

WW: Well, on Leyte, we had Japanese soldiers, prisoners, come down to work at our camp, and I recall how they would all laugh and look at me and point to how big I was compared to them. They were not hostile prisoners. Some of them could speak English. They were joking about how big I was.

This is tape one, side B.

LP: Bill, you were talking about the Japanese prisoners that you had on Leyte. Pick up there and tell us a little more about that.

WW: They would assign so many Japanese to one guard. We had guns. We would take them out to work around the camp. I was able to talk to some of them that could speak English. You had a different feeling of those people. They were not really adamant about killing us. We couldn't tell at that point.

LP: You didn't have any attacks by these prisoners on your men?

WW: No. It was interesting in the early morning in the chow line as we would go through, we discovered a number of those people coming down from the hills. Japanese would come through the chow line and eat there. Because it was all dark, you couldn't tell one from another.

LP: They still hadn't been captured, is that what you're telling me?

WW: Yes.

LP: They were still out in the hills there?

WW: Yes. They came down, and after they went through the chow line a few times, why then they were captured at our camp. But it was interesting that they found our food.

LP: Did they appear to be glad the war was over?

WW: Most of them [were], I think. I have quite a few Philippine and Japanese dollars or money that they had given me that they had in their possession. They gave it to me, and it was a souvenir for me. I never had any problem that I ever had to get the rifle out. We didn't work them very hard. There really wasn't that kind of work to be done around there.

LP: So you didn't have to drive them or any thing?

WW: No.

LP: Were there any incidents of mistreatment of Japanese prisoners?

WW: I never saw any in our area around there. I heard and read stories about it, but I never did witness any.

LP: Let's go over to Guam. Do you have anything specific you remember about that time?

WW: Guam was a very beautiful island. I'd like to go over there and visit. It had the white coral beaches, and as a golf playerI like to play golfthey were beginning to build a golf course around some of those beaches. So I'm sure there were pretty beaches on the golf course. One incident I did have, I felt bad about. I refueled a P-38 airplane one morning, and on the take off, it took one circle around and crash landed, and killed [the pilot]. Something happened to the plane and he just went down. We don't know what happened. I visited with him while he refueling his plane, so it was an incident that then stuck with me.

Back in Leyte, they ran out of things for us to do, and I mentioned that I played football. They had football teams developed in the islands. Leyte was one of them. On New Year's Day, we went to Manila and had the Bamboo Bowl game. Then we came back from that experience, and we had some more time on our hands, so they developed track teams. I was a shot putter and discus thrower.

LP: Was this your first experience with this, or had you done this as a student earlier?

WW: As a student in high school, I was a shot putter and a discus thrower.

LP: A discus thrower in high school? I don't remember them still having discus throwers.

WW: So I was selected, and we made the trip. We flew into Nagasaki and Hiroshima. We could see where the bomb had been dropped and all the damage that had been done. We stayed in a hotel that was downtown that hadn't been blown away.

LP: Downtown what?

WW: Downtown Tokyo.

LP: Tokyo. Okay.

WW: We could see all the damage that had been done around there. But we had a good time. So I never really was involved.

LP: You were just in Japan temporarily?

WW: Temporarily. TDY, they called it. Temporary Deployment. We got to see General MacArthur's quarters and visit Tokyo, and we visited all around Japan. They made tours for us. It was just something for us to do.

LP: Of course, General MacArthur was at that time your theater commander. Did you have an opinion of him, he being a very controversial person?

WW: Other that what we read, we didn't have much opinion. At Leyte Island, we were at Red Beach, where he landed. Stories were always told that all the cameramen and everybody came in and landed so they could take pictures of Dugout Doug, as they called him, coming in. But those were just stories that were repeated to everybody by supposedly some of the people that were there.

LP: Is there anything else you want to say about your war-time experiences?

WW: Not really. I was pleased to get back home and get back to going to school.

LP: While you were in service over there, were you awarded any medals or citations? Of course that's a little hard to ask because the war was over.

WW: Just the general ones. The Good Conduct Medal and the Asia-Pacific Medal that was awarded just for being there. But we weren't in any battles or anything that would give us any medals.

LP: What was your highest rank or highest rating in the service?

WW: I went in as a private, and I was made a PFC; then I was made a corporal, and then on Guam, I was driving trucks and I was going too fast one time and the MPs slowed me down, stopped me. So I lost my corporal rating. Went down to a buck private.

LP: To a buck private?

WW: And then while I was still in Guam, they made me a PFC again, and that's how I was discharged.

LP: You were a temporary corporal. Okay. Did you feel while you were in service any great pressure, mental or physical or anything?

WW: I really didn't. I was just getting in at the tail end of the war, so I didn't fight any battles.

LP: You didn't feel yourself in any physical danger?

WW: No. We were never in that kind of a situation. Everything I read back in those days, Iwo Jima and Saipan and some of those islands that were taken, it makes you more upset now than it did back then.

LP: In the course of these interviews, I have approached two Marines who were at Iwo Jima, and both of them declined to be interviewed. They didn't want to talk about it.

WW: According to a book on Iwo Jima that just came out, about every other person was killed [or wounded] going in there.

LP: I think of Iwo Jima, because Iwo Jima is about the same size and area as the city of Emporia. When you think of 35 or 40,000 men there all trying to kill each other, it was really a bad situation.

WW: At the time, while I was there in my service, I didn't really have any animosity other than I didn't like the Germans because of the war over in Europe and the training we did and all the training films. I didn't like the Japanese because of all the torture that the Japanese put the Americans through. The Bataan Death March was one that was terrible.

LP: And they did show you that?

WW: Yes. In Manila.

LP: I wonder where they got the pictures to do that.

WW: I don't know, but while I was in Manila, this was interesting. While we were playing footballwe were there for thirty daysthey had the trial for General Homma. He was in charge of the troops and everything. In these trials, they had pictures of the Death March. Of course his defense was he didn't know anything about it. They were expecting 40,000 American troops to be captured and there were 80,000, and that's why they were marching them down to Bataan.

LP: Off from Bataan.

WW: Off from Bataan.

LP: To the prison camp.

WW: The Death March, that was a terrible situation.

LP: Did you attend General Homma's trial?

WW: I got in on three days. It was fascinating. They had it in a big building downtown in Manila. It was up kind of on the stage, and they had an audience you could sit out in and listen to [the trial], which was interesting. Later on he was convicted there, and executed shortly after that. .

LP: By firing squad. Did you get any opinion of General Homma from being at that trial?

WW: Well, he was on the defensive. He said he had so many men under him, he wasn't aware of what all was going on.

LP: Did he speak in English?

WW: Yes. He could talk [English].

LP: He was British educated, as a matter of fact.

WW: Yes, you could understand him. But that was his defense, that he didn't have access to everything that was happening out here in these isolated places. Of course the Death March was one of the big things.

LP: That led to his conviction?

WW: Yes.

LP: Just as an aside, do you know Don Coldsmith?

WW: Yes.

LP: Don Coldsmith was the medical officer that attended General Homma when he was captured in Japan and before he went to the Philippines for the trial. So it's kind of interesting that you saw him. Don knew him personally and liked General Homma.

WW: I didn't recall anything other than the fact that his defense was he just didn't know what was going on. Of course the prosecution was. . . .

LP: Argued that he was supposed to know?

WW: Supposed to know everything that was going on; just like today. You're supposed to know everything.

LP: Failure to control your troops. You arrived back home when?

WW: We came back to Oakland, California, and Camp Beale, California. That's where I was discharged.

LP: When was that?

WW: That was October 31, 1946.

LP: So you're in a little less than two years total.

WW: Yes.

LP: Did you at any time think of staying in the service or going into the reserves?

WW: No; they gave us an opportunity at the end there to stay in.

LP: But you declined it.

WW: I wanted to get back and go to school and play football.

LP: Actually you came back to Emporia, right?

WW: I came back and went to KU again.

LP: Oh, I see, you went to KU again; you would now be in your second year.

WW: Yes.

LP: Did you play football this time?

WW: I did. I played in 1946.

LP: Did you make the team as a regular?

WW: Yes. We had a good ball club that year. Ray Evans was the big half-back at that time and Red Hogan. They brought the Second Air Force back. Second Air Force had a good team, and Ray Evans pretty much brought them back to Kansas. So we had a real good recruiting group from the Second Air Force.

LP: And how did this team do? Do you remember their record?

WW: Yes. We didn't win the Big Six at that time, but the carry-over for next year was when they won the Big Six and went to the Orange Bowl. But I was down at Emporia State.

LP: Why did you leave KU and come to Emporia State?

WW: I married my wife from Hamilton, Kansas, Peggy. She had just graduated from high school.

LP: You knew her before you went into the service?

WW: No. I just met her after I came back on a weekend to visit my cousin who lived at Hamiltonmy aunt and uncle and cousin. It was in a church service that morning, Sunday morning, and I asked my cousin who that girl was in the choir up there. So she said, ``Well, if you stay over and go to our youth fellowship meeting Sunday night, I'll introduce you to her.'' So I did, and we were introduced.

LP: And you ended up married to her.

WW: I married her.

LP: In other words, you came down to Emporia because your wife was going to school here.

WW: That was basically it. I came down here. If I would have stayed on [at KU] I would have gone to the Orange Bowl. Fran Welch welcomed me when we came down here.

LP: You didn't lose any eligibility over this?

WW: No.

LP: Okay.

WW: In fact, I played five years of college football. I played two at KU and three down at Emporia State. During the war, they didn't count that one year of eligibility.

LP: So where did you live at Emporia State while you were going here?

WW: We got married in August.

LP: This is August of '47?

WW: August of '47 we were married.

LP: Okay.

WW: Fran Welch introduced me to Vic Trussler, who was Dean of Men and also Housing Director at that time. There weren't any apartments any place out in town. Every place was full. But they had moved in a bunch of Army trailers, and they set them up on the parking lot just back of the stadium.

LP: The famous, or somewhat infamous, Vet City.

WW: We called it Vet City. They had single trailers and double trailers, and we were in a single trailer. There was a couch at one end and a couch at the other that made a bed. In the middle you had a sink; we carried water in and carried water out. We didn't have running water in it. We had big double trailer out about thirty yards from where we were. That was our restroom. We went out there to the bathroom and to take showers. There were restrooms out there.

LP: How far away was this?

WW: Oh, about 25 or 30 yards out there. It was quite a little ways.

LP: Quite a little walk.

WW: You usually had a can at night, and you'd take it out the next day.

LP: You had a slop jar type of thing.

WW: Yes. But we were fortunate enough to even have a trailer, because there just weren't any places.

LP: You had to cook in this?

WW: There was a kerosene stove in there that we cooked on.

LP: Did you have electric lighting?

WW: We had electric lights. Yes.

LP: How long did you live in this?

WW: We lived there for about five or six months. This trailer house was so small I couldn't stand up without bumping my head, except where the vent was. I could look out like a B-29 gunner; I could look out over the trailer. It was kind of an interesting situation. But the door was so small when we went in, I had to take Peggy, and I tossed her in, the door was so small, and then I followed her over the threshold. But then we had an opportunity to rent an apartment over on State Street, 1411 State Street. The G.I. Bill helped us pay the rent there. I think the rent was about $20, $25 a month, for rent.

LP: Let's talk about the G.I. Bill for a minute. You went to ESU on the G.I. Bill?

WW: Right.

LP: What did you think of the G.I. Bill?

WW: I was real pleased because I couldn't have gone to school without it. My folks didn't have enough money, and Peggy's folks didn't have enough money. They helped us. My dad gave us $35 a month, and we had the G.I. Bill; I think I got $115 as a married student, something like that, plus all of our tuition and books and fees were paid for.

LP: But they didn't pay for you wife's tuition and books.

WW: No. But her folks helped pay for her. We made it.

LP: So you went to college without going into debt?

WW: We didn't have any loans. I worked, after the football season was over, down at the Santa Fe docks unloading from four to midnight. We worked unloading railroad cars into the storage area there and vice versa.

LP: Was this a full-time job? Forty hours a week?

WW: Yes, we worked forty hours a week.

LP: You were working, going to school, also on the track team in the spring.

WW: In the spring, I went out for track.

LP: Did you stay working forty hours a week?

WW: We cut it down to twenty hours during the track season. It was too much. I couldn't go out for basketball; I really had to go to work because we needed more money to live on, but Gus Fish wanted me to come out. He had sent me letters, and I had talked to him by phone when I was a senior in high school. He wanted me to come to Emporia State.

LP: Gus Fish was the ESU basketball coach at the time?

WW: Right. Back in those days, Fran Welch was the head football coach, Gus Fish was the line coach, Keith Caywood was the backfield coach. Shorty Long was there as a backfield person, and we had two or three graduate assistants that helped us. [It was] a little smaller than they have today.

LP: This was on the football team?

WW: Yes.

LP: When did you get out of school then?

WW: I graduated in January 1950.

LP: And what did you do then?

WW: I was fortunate, Don Hoffman and I were friends. He had one more semester of GI eligibility. We went down to Climax, Kansas, and interviewed for a job as a high school principal and coach. The principal and coach had got sick for a semester, and they needed somebody in the interim. So, they hired me down there.

LP: You were a principal the first year you taught?

WW: I was a high school principal. We had a school of 23 students, 3½ teachers. I taught seven subjects and coached girls and boys basketball. That was my first assignment there, besides being principal. I knew nothing about being a principal, but fortunately my wife Peggy had worked in the principal's office at Hamilton when she was a senior, so she knew a little bit about what goes on in a principal's office, and so she helped keep the records there. Then we found out that during his illness [the previous principal] hadn't filled out any of the reports that he was supposed to fill out in the fall, and the school was about to lose its accreditation because he hadn't [done] those. We finally got that straightened out. But we lived upstairs in a placeClimax was my dad's home townand his step-mother had a home with her sister. Upstairs they had a room that they put a stove in for heating and one for cooking, and they had a bathroom downstairs that had a bathtub, but you had to go outside to the toilet. But they did have a bathtub, and they had running water in that bathtub, so we had a place to take a bath. Peggy was pregnant and we lived up in that one room during the fall and spring semester.

LP: How long did you stay at Climax?

WW: I was there three years.

LP: Where did you go after that?

WW: During this three year period, I started work on my master's degree in administration.

LP: This was at Emporia State?

WW: At Emporia State. I went back in the summertime and then finished it up. You had to have a master's degree to be a superintendent or principal after '51 or '52, so I was able to get the degree. Then I moved to Peru, Kansas, down by Caney, and I was a high school principal and superintendent combination there for one year. I had real good discipline, and the word got out that I did, and the superintendent from Marion, Kansas, was looking for a principal who had good discipline, so he came down and hired me. So we moved to Marion at the end of 1953, where I was principal.

LP: You stayed there how long?

WW: I was there five years. One year I was principal; [then] the superintendent left and they moved me up to superintendent, and I was there four years. We were there five years total. During my last year the Kiwanis Club had John King come over as a speaker.

LP: The President of ESU?

WW: Right, the President of ESU at that time. I had a chance to meet Dr. King, and we hit it off. I liked him and he liked me, and a week or two later he called and wanted me to come over for an interview. Alex Daughtry was the placement director, and Don Davis, the head of the Education Department, moved and Alex moved into the head of the Education Department, so I took over the Placement Department. At that time I headed up our Alumni and Endowment Association. Dr. Rich was there; I don't know if you remember Dr. Rich.

LP: Everett Rich.

WW: Everett Rich. He had an office down on the first floor of Plumb Hall, and that was our first official office for the Endowment Association, and Dr. Rich was the secretary.

LP: How long did you stay at ESU? That's where I knew you first, obviously.

WW: I was there from '58. John King left and John Visser came in. Larry Boylan was the Acting President one year. I was the Placement Director, then Dean of Students, then I was the assistant to Larry Boylan. Then when John Visser came, I became Facilities Director. They were building buildings. I worked with Dr. Barnhart. Howard Bellows had been there. I don't know if you remember Howard Bellows in Administration?

LP: Yes.

WW: Anyway, I took Howard's job as Facilities Director and helped them with the building program.

LP: Of course you left here to go to some other schools.

WW: I left there. I got my doctor's degree at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, [in] 1966. Then the next year I moved to Arkansas College, at Batesville, Arkansas. It was a private, Presbyterian College, about like Friends University. I was there for three years. Then after three years I moved to Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva. I was President there. Northwestern was one of six state university colleges. I was there for three years. The third year I was there we honored one of the outstanding alums who had just retired as president of the American National Insurance Company in Galveston. He went to school at Northwestern and was from Oklahoma. When he came back and we honored him, we got real well acquainted with him. He thought that I should go into sales with the American National Insurance Company.

LP: Who was this then?

WW: Phil Noah. He's retired President and Chairman of the Board.

LP: Of American National Insurance Company.

WW: American National Insurance Company. Galveston, Texas.

LP: So you went into the insurance business.

WW: Got into the insurance business. I was in the insurance business for 27 years. I retired out of Wichita. We had a big office in Wichita. I retired, and we moved to Council Grove City Lake ten years ago, and I was still doing some business in insurance. I was on the foundation board of ESU when we built the Sauder Center. I was Chairman of the Board the year we built the Sauder Center, which was a great experience. I got to know Earl Sauder real well and Joe Cannon and Mike Waldeck. They had a couple of boys who played football there. We looked at several places for the Endowment Association to be housed. We looked at the old [American] Legion building and thought that might be a pretty good place. Finally, we decided that we'd build a building. The board was pretty split on what to do, because they didn't think we had that kind of money. But as I remember now, we had an anonymous gift of $500,000 given to us to apply on that building if we raised another $500,000 for that building. So, we did, and then it went over a $1,000,000, and we built that building. And we dedicated it the year I was Chairman of the Board.

This is tape two, side A, of the interview with William Wygle.

LP: Bill, you were talking about this anonymous donor. Who was that?

WW: We had an anonymous donor who said he would give us $500,000 if we would raise the other $500,000 to build this new building. The board of trustees was pretty well split on that. That was a lot of money back in those days. We hadn't raised a lot of money at that time. So we got busy and raised the $500,000, and the anonymous gift turned out to be Earl Sauder, who's a friend of a mine and a great guy. He has done a great deal for Emporia State over the years, and still does. A couple of years ago he gave a couple million dollars to the Athletic Association.

LP: He's an industrialist here in town, is he not?

WW: Yes. He was in the oil business down in Madison, Greenwood County. He bought property and they discovered oil on it back in those days. He invested, made real shrewd investments. He didn't get to go to school; wasn't a college graduate. But he always liked Emporia State. He's been involved in it all these years. His wife was out at the Presbyterian Manor for eight or ten years while my mother was at the Presbyterian Manor, in the nursing home. I would visit with Earl quite a bit when he would come out to visit his wife. He was very dedicated. He would come out quite a bit to visit her. She had Alzheimer's, I think. You never knew if she recognized you or not. She always dressed well. She always dressed up to go to meals.

LP: Okay, so you're now retired. Why did you moved back from Council Grove to Emporia?

WW: We have two daughters. Our oldest daughter is Janice Jaggard. Her husband runs the golf course out south of town, Richard Jaggard. And she's a hair stylist and works at a shop there in town. Our other daughter, Debbie Brooks, has worked for 27 years for a group of doctors. Dr. Duncan is a doctor there now, a new one.

LP: Dr. Tim Duncan.

WW: Yes. You know him?

LP: He's my doctor.

WW: Okay. Peggy has polycystic kidneys.

LP: She has what?

WW: She has polycystic kidneys. She has cysts on her kidneys, and she might eventually have to go on dialysis. She's doing real well right now, but we wanted to be close to a hospital that had dialysis training. We could go to dialysis right here in town. Our two daughters married Emporia boys. We have two grandkids and two great-grand kids here. And my sister lives here. So we moved back here to be home. We actually felt like we were coming back home. We called Emporia home because we lived here for about ten and a half years while I was on the faculty.

LP: Bill, there are some things I'd like to go over with you. We talked about the G.I. Bill and the benefits. Did you use the G.I. Bill for anything else?

WW: No.

LP: House buying or anything like this?

WW: No, we never did.

LP: What did you think of the G.I. Bill legislation for the nation?

WW: Well, I thought it was great because so many of the G.I.s could not have gone to school if it hadn't been for that. I thought it was a good investment for taxpayers, and it helped me personally. It helped us, the family, to go ahead and get the degree, even though I had to work part-time. Our folks helped us through, but without the G.I. Bill, we couldn't have made it. So I was really pleased with it.

LP: Have you been at all active in veterans' organizations or affairs since you left service?

WW: I have not been active in any.

LP: Do you belong to any veterans' organizations?

WW: No. At this point I don't.

LP: How would you answer this question: how do you think World War II and your service in the American armed forces, affected your later life? That's a pretty hard question, I know.

WW: Well, as I said, I was disappointed that I couldn't go overseas and fight the Germans when I was back at Fort Meade, Maryland and got held over. Apparently there was a reason I was held over. I didn't go over and get killed. I was supposed to come back and do something after the war rather than be killed. So, we've talked about that a lot. I was disappointed I couldn't go over and fight the Germans, but on the other hand, I was very fortunate to come back. I think President Roosevelt got into the war maybe not soon enough to help Britain, but eventually we got into it. I remember during World War II, all the hardships the American people put up with, the sacrifices, in support of the troops overseas. I remember we couldn't get shoes and gasoline was rationed, and a number of other things during the war years. But we got along, and we were all very supportive of America against Germany.

LP: Do you think the war was worth it?

WW: I do. I think it was.

LP: Something that had to be done.

WW: Had to be done. I was pleased to be part of getting something done even though I didn't actually go over. I supported the war effort.

LP: How has your wartime experience or your experience in the service, affected, or has it affected, the way you look at America's role in the world today?

WW: Well, it probably has. I've always been a supporter of the President, whoever he is, in war efforts, going after terrorists or whoever it might be that would come in and do something to our freedom. And I was raised a Democrat but am a registered Republican now. But I have voted both ways in this situation, depending on the politics. We had just been married one year when Truman was running against Dewey. I think it was?

LP: '48.

WW: Peggy, my wife, wasn't old enough to vote.

LP: You had to be 21 in those days.

WW: Yes. So I registered and went down and voted. And I came back and told her who I'd voted for. I'd voted for Truman that time. She thought that I should have voted for Dewey. We got over that, but we still have mixed politics, both of us. Peggy does not support Bush. I'm an American, and I support America, and we've gone through some tough times here in the last several years with the Iraq situation. The bomb that was dropped on Japan was so small compared to the nuclear bombs that we have today that you worry about Iran or somebody developing a bomb that could be sent over here and really tear up America. So I've been supportive of the armed forces.

LP: Supportive of President Bush's policies?

WW: Most of them, I have. Some of them, he's had a lot of bad advice on. I think he's not the world's smartest president to be in there, but he's surrounded himself with not so very good smart people. Sometimes they give him some bad advice. He followed those people and maybe got us into some thingsgot us upset with European nations over the Iraqi situation.

LP: In other words, you have some mixed feelings.

WW: Yes, and I am supportive of our Iraq situation right now. We've got to finish that, even though it's costing billions and billions of dollars. One thing that I feel bad about is we're spending billions overseas on these war efforts, when we have a lot of things back home we could be spending billions of dollars on. The poor people, Katrina and some of those areas like that, could be supported with some of the dollars that we're spending over there. But for some reason or way, now we're spending dollars over there and on Katrina too. It's going to be a problem bailing us out of this eventually. Probably not in my lifetime, but my kids and grandkids are going to be the ones probably paying for this. Just where we'll end up on this debt situation. . . .

LP: You're concerned about the rise in the national debt?

WW: Yes. It's amazing to me how we can spend all these billions of dollars. I'm very supportive of Jerry Moran, our Congressman here. I like Jerry. We got acquainted with him over in Council Grove, and Jerry's done a good job. He's a good listener and he tries to keep us informed of what's going on.

LP: He is considered one of the moderate Republicans.

WW: Yes. He is of course, not supportive of Bush and all of these things that have happened, and he explains why. If he disagrees, he does it in a good way that is not boastful. He fits in with my beliefs, and Peggy and I both like him. We read his weekly reports that come in on the computer. He's a good congressman, I think.

LP: Well, Bill, we've talked about a lot of things today. We've sort of come to the end, but before we close, I want to ask is there anything we haven't talked about that you'd like to toss in here?

WW: Well, that one situation about my speech teacher when I came back to KU.

LP: All right. Go ahead.

WW: I played football during 1947 when I came back, fall of '46 I guess it was, and I had a speech teacher. I was enrolled in 101 Speech, and we were to give speeches and various assignments. I would give most of them, but sometimes I'd be gone on football trips. Back in those days we had to ride the train, so we had to go two or three days ahead to get out there on a Saturday, like to Colorado, so I missed a lot of times. And my dress was not the best. I had G.I. shoes. I had cut off the tops of my old G.I. boots and wore them. And I had my fatigues that I wore to class, and he was not very supportive of the way I dressed. At the end of the semester, he gave me an F in speech. Several years later, when I was president at Northwestern Oklahoma State University, I ran across him in Oklahoma City, and I came up to him and asked him if he remembered who I was. He vaguely did. And I told him about my situation and how I was in his class, and he failed me. I said, ``You probably had the right to fail me. It's interesting that I failed a speech class and now I'm the president of a college.'' It was kind of an ironic situation. As I look back now at it, I was not the best student. I was probably a C+, B+ student. I did have a few As in some of the courses. I could see his point of view, but of course when he gave me an F, I was real unhappy with getting an F on my transcript.

LP: Is that your only F?

WW: It was my only F in college.

LP: Well, Bill, I want to thank you for your interview today and we'll get this put down on paper so you can see what it looks like.

WW: Okay.

LP: You will get a copy of the printed interview and also of the tape.

WW: I appreciate the chance to reminisce. I've been reading a lot of World War II books. It brings back memories of things that happened. It kind of refreshes your mind what happened, compared to today's situation in Iraq, [where] we've lost 2300 men. Back in World War II, we were losing that many in a day, which is a sad situation, but a different situation than occurs right now than back in those days. Sometimes I think the American people don't realize how many people we lost during World War II. Today history teachers don't emphasize that much. I got a tape from Iwo Jima promoting Iwo Jima history. Anyway, they sent us an opportunity to buy a tape and some printed material and lessons plans to take to your history teacher. So I ordered that and gave it to our history teacher over in Council Grove to talk about Iwo Jima and World War II. I hope they've used it because I played it, and it had some scenes of Iwo Jima. And it showed how the war was fought back in those days and how many people were killed. It was interesting. Again, you say you reminisce. This book my daughter gave me for my birthday last year is really interesting. I'm always getting advertisements about things for World War II. And there I've got my PFC certificate.

LP: Okay.

WW: Of course they always want money when they send you those things, and they get your name on their list. I've got in this book my travels from United States, I went over this way to Eniwetok and Leyte, and I went up to Tokyo and back down here. And on the way back we stopped at Hawaii. Those are interesting things. I've always wanted to go back to Leyte Island or to Guam Island to see what it looked like now.

        
An interesting time when I was a first-time president, I went to a college meeting down in Florida, and I met the president of the University of Guam there. We visited quite a bit. The University of Guam is on the exact location where we were stationed at Harmon Field. So I knew that area, and I told him at that timehe was a first-year president, tooI'd always wanted to come back a visit Guam. But I never have got over there yet. I may still get over there.

LP: Well, that's a good place for us to quit. I thank you again, Bill.

[Interview ends tape 2, side A, count 220.]

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