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Charles Gibson video Interview on experiences in World War II

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This is Suzette McCord-Rogers and Peggy Stanton, and we are interviewing Charles Gibson, better known as Bill, and we are at the Native American Heritage Museum in Highland, Kansas.

Bill, can you tell me where you were born?

Bill: North of Sparks, Kansas.

Suzette: North of Sparks, Kansas.

Bill: Uh, huh. On a farm. On the mouth of Wolf River.

Suzette: At the mouth of the Wolf River? That's a pretty area. And what was your birthdate?

Bill: April 1, 1925.

Peggy: April the 1st!!!

Bill: Um, hum. April Fool's boy. I pulled a lot of `em.

Suzette: Did you? (Chuckling) And did you go to school in Sparks or did you go to high school in Highland?

Bill: I went to Sparks.

Suzette: You went to Sparks. And did you graduate from there?

Bill: Um, hum. I went to grade school at Willow Springs and high school at Sparks.

Suzette: You went to grade school at Willow Springs? Do you have any pictures of that building?

Bill: Of the old building?

Suzette: Uh, huh.

Bill: I think so someplace.

Suzette: That would be interesting. Were you in high school when the war came, or what were you doing when Pearl Harbor happened?

Bill: Oh, now, wait a minute. I don't want to make any mistakes here.

Suzette: You can't make any mistakes! You're the only one that knows this.

Bill: I just wanted to…

Suzette: You graduated from high school, and then did you go help your dad?

Bill: Some things I kinda forget, you know.

Suzette: I'll bet you do.

Bill: Now what is it you wanted to know?

Suzette: After you graduated from high school, did you help your dad on the farm? He was a farmer?

Bill: Yeah, Dad sold out before I got out of high school. And I just went to work for other farmers around there until I went to the service.

Suzette: But you came from a farming background.

Bill: Um, hum.

Suzette: Did you join right after Pearl Harbor? Do you want date you joined?

Bill: Ohhh, I'm not sure. I was 19 years old.

Suzette: You were 19?

Bill: Uh, huh.

Suzette: Did you enlist or were you drafted?

Bill: I was drafted. I got a nice little card in the mail. Would I please report down to Troy!

Suzette: And what branch of the service did you serve in?

Bill: I was in the infantry, the 99th Division.

Suzette: 99th Division of the Army?

Bill: Um, hum.

Suzette: Um, from Troy, did you go to Ft. Leavenworth, or where did you go from there?

Bill: Leavenworth.

Suzette: And from there, did you, by the way, were you drafted with friends? Did you have other people when you went down to Ft. Leavenworth?

Bill: No, not to start with.

Suzette: OK. What was your highest rank when you were in the service?

Bill: What was that?

Suzette: Your highest rank in the service?

Bill: PFC.

Suzette: PFC. Private First Class.

Bill: I've almost forgot all of this.

Peggy: You might be thinking of things you haven't thought of for a long time.

Bill: I was acting sergeant too when I got out. I never did get my stripes.

Suzette: Where did you go for basic training? Where did you go for boot camp?

Bill: Camp Fanning, Texas.

Suzette: And you were trained to shoot, to be a rifleman,…?

Bill: Oh, yeah. I went through all of it. It ended up I was a 30-caliber water-cooled machine gunner.

Suzette: What's that?

Bill: That's what I had overseas.

Suzette: And did you go to Europe? Or the Pacific?

Bill: I was in Belgium, the Battle of the Bulge.

Suzette: You were in the Battle of the Bulge?! You were running that, would you repeat what you were in charge of?

Bill: It's a 30-caliber water-cooled machine gun. Yeah. You had air-cooled and you had water-cooled.

Suzette: How did the water-cooled work? Internal or what?

Bill: The barrel was in a tank of water. You had to be awful careful you didn't get it too hot, that was the idea of the water, because the barrels would bend if you fired them a lot. So you had the water-cooled if you did a lot of firing cause they just go wild. You might shoot your own troops.

Peggy: How big is a 30-caliber machine gun?

Bill: It used the same shell as our rifle, so that you would always have ammunition. Then we had 20-caliber back behind us, and they were big, big shells. I ran that one a long time too.

Peggy: Did you carry it? Did you carry it into battle?

Bill: You carried everything with you.

Peggy: With your hands?

Suzette: Did you have a crew? Like a machine gun crew, or just individual people?

Bill: There were three with you on the machine gun. Ammunition bearers they called them.

Suzette: Ammunition bearers. So you had your machine gun and two people carrying the ammunition. And did they help you feed it, or….?

Bill: Well, yeah, they was always there to help you, if you had trouble, if the belt would flop out, or something like that.

Suzette: So was the Battle of the Bulge your first engagement in Europe?

Bill: That was the largest one. The largest engagement in Europe.

Suzette: When did you hit Europe? You trained at Camp Fanning and then you went somewhere else to be trained, or did you go straight over to Europe.

Bill: I can't remember. We went into Germany and we had a review of our training, and then we had to go through more training while we were back behind the lines. But I don't know the exact location.

Suzette: So the Battle of the Bulge, can you tell us what you remember from that?

Bill: Well, it was about the largest battle over there, the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. Because the Germans had penetrated clear through, and came into Belgium and that's where we met them and had the first battle.

Suzette: So did you go in advance of the infantry and set up your machine guns? Or were you….

Bill: We were the infantry. All one group.

Suzette: As their moving forward, your moving forward with your machine gun.

Bill: We usually set up on a higher pinnacle to cover our troops and hold back their troops. The mortars and machine guns are pretty much together.

Suzette: It was a pretty intense battle.

Bill: Oh, yes.

Suzette: And it lasted for several days?

Bill: Yeah, it lasted several days and we also, as it is stated in here, my boots, we were in mud, water, it rained constant over there. You'd get in a foxhole, and you'd be in water up to here all the time. And I had my boots froze on my feet for about three weeks.

Suzette: They were frozen on your feet for three weeks?

Bill: Uh, huh. And I got infection in both feet, and they was gonna amputate this leg, but there was a young medic in our outfit, up to our commander, that said no, don't send him back to amputate that leg. Let me work with him. I think I can get the blood poisoning out of his leg. Let's not amputate it yet. So that's what they done. I kept on going. And he healed the blood poisoning out of the leg. He'd start up to the knee, and it was traveling pretty fast. He stopped it with his own medication that he made out of what was available, herbs, and everything like that.

Suzette: That was incredible! And you trusted him; you didn't want to lose your leg.

Bill: He was a life saver. And he proved that there was things out there that we can use, as well as prayer, there's also medicine in trees and herbs, things like that.

Peggy: That's an amazing story.

Bill: If we went through someplace where they had grapevines, he'd cut up a lot of grapevines, put `em in packs, the medic's packs, and used them for medicine. And we didn't realize what that was all about until here a few years back, my son was in the military, after me you know, and they used grapevines and different herbs, healing powers.

Peggy: It makes you want to go plant a grape vineyard!

Suzette: Well, I have grapevines!

Bill: They're used for medicines too. You don't hear of it anymore.

Suzette: How is it you can walk and function when your boots are frozen on your feet for three weeks? How could you do that?

Bill: You were in foxholes and stay in there. That foxhole would be full of water, that's where you'd stay. We were in there three weeks in the same foxhole.

Suzette: And it was winter time.

Bill: Winter time.

Suzette: Wouldn't people get cold and die from being in water up to their chest? It's cold in the wintertime.

Bill: Oh, yes. We lost a few with pneumonia.

Suzette: Did you have any kind of tarps to cover you're your foxhole?

Bill: Sometimes, sometimes. Not all the times, but sometimes. A lot of times you'd loosen, you had heavy raincoats that made a tarp or tent. You'd roll up in it, you know, and then you had pup tents if you had time to set them up. Some of the time you didn't have time.

Suzette: You stayed in one position? You didn't move forward?

Bill: Oh, we moved forward every chance we got. We had to keep pushing.

Suzette: You are continually moving forward, and digging new foxholes, and those were filling with water, and there was no relief for you. They didn't offer to send you back?

Bill: We didn't have enough men to come in and relieve you. They was all on the front, pushing. It wasn't fun.

Suzette: No. Were you under heavy fire?

Bill: Quite a few times, um, hum. See, one of our faults over there, we had artillery that were 80H, they were 80 caliber, and a two-piece shell. It couldn't fire down hill. The shell would separate, put it in two pieces, they would separate and blow your gun up. But the Germans came in with what they called German 80H, it was one piece, and they could fire up or down. Anyway, they had the advantage.

Suzette: So, did you lose quite a few people in your division? Were there heavy losses for the American division?

Bill: Oh, yeah, several losses, but we were moving so fast, you know, that sometimes we'd get knocked down out there. We didn't cluster, get in bunches, we stayed scattered out and that's what helped us.

Suzette: And how did you communicate? Did you have a radio person with you?

Bill: We had a radio operator that had the big pack on his back. And sometimes they were hard to get a hold of. We had some, like a walkie-talkie, but they became wet and they weren't any good.

Suzette: If they dried out, would they come back?

Bill: Sometimes you could bring them back.

Suzette: If they got wet, they didn't always work again.

Bill: That's right. A lot of times they didn't work. But your big battery pack sets here, radioman, always had a radioman, maybe one or two in a company, and he done the radio work, with a big old pack on their back.

Suzette: When you first came to Europe, was it after D-Day, when they came through the area and already cleared it up?

Bill: On D-Day?

Suzette: No, when did you first get to Belgium? Did you land at Omaha Beach?

Bill: No. No, we went in on the boat down the English Channel and out through that way. And we got off the boats and then joined our outfits.

Suzette: You didn't go in where they had Omaha Beach invasion, and up to Belgium?

Bill: Several of them, but I don't know where they were.

Suzette: It says in here that the majority of the 99th Division was killed in the Battle of the Bulge. So that must have been difficult.

Bill: Well, we were a big outfit and we were the main unit that they wanted to take out. The 99th Division was the Checkerboard division.

Suzette: The Checkerboard division. So you were the main thrust against the Germans. So they didn't have any fresh troops to bring in to supply you with?

Bill: Well, they tried. They changed fresh troops every once in a while but not too often.

Suzette: Now what were you guys eating when you were out there?

Bill: Oh, we started out with K-rations; that was the dry ones, you know, in a cardboard box. Little cans of beef, something like that. Once in a while, if you was real lucky, you'd get C-rations, where you'd have more canned stuff. Lot better eating, not too often. K-rations came in a square box, about that size, and you carry it yourself. A lot of times you didn't have anything. Take over a farm, wherever we was at, you know, and these people lived upstairs in the barn, and the cattle were down below in the lower story and that's the way they lived. So you'd get in once in a while and swipe eggs, and a little bit of milk,…

Suzette: So you actually had some days go without food.

Bill: Do what?

Suzette: You some days went without food.

Bill: Oh, yeah! Yes, we didn't always have food.

Suzette: I see here that one time you shot some deer in the forest, and what was that story?

Bill: Well, we were hungry, and we went back on a bivouac and rest time. We stayed there about a week. And we saw two deer going across the hill, and two of the rifle boys, I was a machine gunner, the rifleman wanted to know if it would be all right to knock them deer down. That would sure be a good supper. Go right ahead. He knocked the deer down, but Patton came along and made us destroy the deer.

Suzette: Why was that?

Bill: Gen. Patton, he was just that way. If you're not tough enough to fight, we'll find you a hole back at home some place.

Suzette: You were just going to eat.

Bill: We were going to eat, going to have fresh meat. We'd a been great. No, we had to throw it away.

Suzette: I understand that he changed moods pretty quickly.

Bill: Yeah, I met him face to face, in the corner of the room, there, and nobody liked him and we were back on just a rest area and a young man was up in a truck changing clothes, getting ready for his time for the shower. And Patton went over and asked him what he thought he was doing. ``Getting ready to take my bath, sir.'' Did you forget to salute me. ``I'm sorry, sir, our company commander said, no saluting the brass while you are back here in the area.'' ``This is a no-no. You better salute me every time you see me, I don't care where you are at.'' And so our company commander walked up there, said ``Hello, Mr. Patton,'' and Patton stuck his finger in his face up there, and said, ``That's not Mr., I'm General.'' ``No,'' he said, ``I'll just call you Mr. Patton.'' He said, ``You are on the front lines. We don't have to obey the brass part of it. We work as individuals.'' Got pretty rough. And later on, about two weeks, they always claimed that the Patton jeep driver is the one that wrecked the jeep and killed him, on purpose.

Suzette: Did this happen too, at the Battle of the Bulge, that they wrecked the jeep?

Bill: Right around that time. I'm not sure.

Suzette: Hum! I didn't know that…You also explained that he (Patton) made you take the sandbags off the tank.

Bill: We were doing great, moving those big tanks, had sandbags all around them. ….and then the tank turns back towards you,..and there is your big motor sitting up there right there between the two tracks. So you try to protect that. So we hung sandbags, with chains, around it, and if their bullets hit the chain, or the sandbags, it didn't hit the motor. And kept it there. And pull all of that out. There was some big cottonwood trees, that when your driver laid there left those sandbags off, when you go by those trees, and we did. We had seven tanks, we lost four immediately when we got hit; ….sandbags on it.

Suzette: Why do you think he had you take the sandbags off?

Bill: That's called black guts. He stayed back a little ways out of the way, and the men take a couple of_____.

Suzette: You'd think …also losing valuable equipment and troops and….

Bill: He was trying to make a big name for himself, but his name went down in the mud. And they all looked up to the jeep driver who was the one in the jeep.

Suzette: Was he killed in the accident also?

Bill: Huh?

Suzette: Was he jeep driver also killed in the accident?

Bill: Yeah. He was driving to get rid of him.

Suzette: That was a big sacrifice. What you are saying here is that Patton says if you are not man enough to go into battle without sandbags, without ____, but you were protecting the motor.

Bill: We were protecting other things, we weren't losing our equipment. That was the whole idea. Not that we were scared, yeah, we were scared, but everybody else was too. But….he was something else.

Suzette: After the Battle of the Bulge, it took you three weeks to push the Germans back, where did your division go from there?

Bill: Oh, golly,….

Suzette: I mean, did you go to other battles that you can think of?

Bill: Oh, yes, we kept going.

Suzette: Um, hum. Through Germany?

Bill: Now, just exactly where we ended up at, my memory is gone! But after the Bulge, we didn't go too far. It was pretty much over. Because their soldiers were tireder than us. So they backed up. We set up down at the station, and we'd see their ____ and pass them on back to take care of them. Or whatever they wanted to do with them.

Suzette: So their people were coming in…

Bill: Oh, yes, they didn't get on our side, their regular soldiers.

Suzette: And how were the civilians in Germany?

Bill: They were nice. They were nice. If given the chance to help feed us, they done it.

Suzette: They were probably tired of the war also.

Bill: They were.

Suzette: So you say it was a good experience with the German people themselves, and they probably wanted the war to end also.

Bill: They were nice, really they were.

Suzette: Did you, um, there was a battle at the Siegfried line, after you crossed over the line. Were you involved in that?

Bill: The line? No, I wasn't close to that.

Suzette: What happened after you…towards the end of the war, people probably were out of food themselves or were getting kind of desperate, what happened when you moved into Germany? Did you have any more skirmishes or fights?

Bill: Oh, there were several different ones. I don't remember how it all happened and all that took place, you always had somebody attacking you, except the people themselves that weren't involved in the military, were nice to us. They were afraid, because if their soldiers found out that they were kind and friendly to us, their families might be wiped out. They had to be careful.

Suzette: It says in here that you went into Germany under a truce, there was a truce going on. There was a white flag, no firing, when you went into a German town?

Bill:…yes, in the regular town. Once we hit, they had left the town and we'd go through and wipe up. See if there was anybody hiding, anything like that.

Suzette: And it says here that your commander was shot when you went into a town where there was supposed to be a truce, where nobody was supposed to be firing.

Bill: Right. White flags were there, yeah. He got killed and I today have the little gun that he was shot with.

Suzette: It says that you went and captured the boy.

Bill: Um, hum.

Suzette: Did you know that he was killing…

Bill: He was shot. Brought up by the SS troop, that was Hitler's super men, and this boy was one of the offspring of that group. He was taught to be mean. And that's what happened.

Suzette: Did you put him in prison? Did you send him back?

Bill: We sent him on back, behind, whatever happened, I can't remember.

Suzette: That must have been a shocking thing for you. So your commander did stand up and support you against General Patton. That's simply unheard.

Bill: ….

Suzette: You must have been very close to your commander then, as a unit.

Bill: He'd take _____ when he got back to the rear echelon. But the driver he'd take care of Mr. Patton.

Suzette: Do you remember any other things that you were…friends, things like that?

Bill: Oh, we were moving so fast….I have Alzheimer's, losing my memory…

Suzette: Oh, you do not! It was a long time ago!

Suzette: When did you get out of the Army? Do you remember what your service dates were? Was it after the victory was declared? Were you in Germany when the Germans surrendered?

Bill: Well, now, I'm not going to say for sure on that. But I think I was still over there.

Suzette: And then did you go into the Pacific after that? When the war ended, did you get out at that point?

Bill: I got out of there, yeah. We did…..the second part…forgot most of that.

Suzette: Some of the troops were bound for the Pacific. They told them to get ready; we're gonna go and invade Japan. But they didn't tell your division that. They brought you back to the States. And then you got out of…

Bill: It seems to me that…I can't think now where we went back into Pearl Harbor, and we got to come home for a visit. It seems to me like it was New York, and we came up the river there, the New York harbor.

Suzette: Did they have parades, and did they cheer for you, and treat you like a hero when you landed in New York?

Bill: Not too much. Sometimes there would be little boats and things out there, welcoming everybody back in. But when one of them big ships came up to the New York harbor, up that river, that was a wild river. And you would sank everything that was in there when they came up if you wasn't awful careful. All the boats that were tied up. You didn't see much of that.

Suzette: Coming into New York.

Bill: When you'd come into the harbor.

Suzette: Do you have any other memories you'd like to share with us from your service experience in the war?

Bill: No, I've forgotten most of it.

Suzette: OK. So when you came back to New York, you'd been in Europe, what did you do then? Did you want to stay in New York or go to Texas, or go any of the places you'd lived?

Bill: No, whenever they turned us loose, we wanted to get back home.

Suzette: You wanted to come home. Back to Kansas.

Bill: Went back into Leavenworth, that's where we were discharged.

Suzette: And then you came back to Highland, then? And did you, did you make it back before you went…

Bill: Yeah, our families were down there around Sparks.

Suzette: Were you dating her when you got drafted?

Bill: No.

Suzette: Did you know her before?

Bill: That was before I met her.

Suzette: So you met her after you got back. And you had three children.

Bill: Three boys.

Suzette: Did you take advantage of the GI Bill when you came back?

Bill: I never did see or hear anything from `em.

Suzette: So you didn't further your education, or take any farming classes…

Bill: I had a place here that was boogered up, shot here, cut here, drug poison, and the local medics were the ones that put the dope on my leg that they made….and healed this leg. I never got a Purple Heart,.

Suzette: You never got a Purple Heart?!

Bill: Never did.

Suzette: Why is that? Do you think it is because your commander got shot?

Bill: There were no records. They said all of our records of that company were lost somewhere. They had no records in place.

Suzette: So they didn't take care of you when you came back? You never did receive any veterans' benefits when you came back?

Bill: From Leavenworth down there, quite a little bit you could get, but it didn't amount to a whole lot.

Suzette: But because they lost your records, you didn't get a Purple Heart. You didn't get any citations or medals. It sounds to me like you were in a tough spot.

Bill: …That hip right there, that was blood poisoning clear up to my elbow. Chunk of shrapnel went in there, shot through the leg down here..

Suzette: Was this in the Battle of the Bulge? What happened, did they take you back to ___, or did you just stay there and the medics…

Bill: The medics took care of me. Now I did, later on then, after I was done and it was over with, I had double pneumonia and I went back to T____, Belgium, stayed in the hospital there a couple of weeks.

Suzette: So they do recognize that you get some medical benefits at Leavenworth, they just don't recognize that you were wounded.

Bill: Right.

Suzette: How do you feel about that? Do you feel like your country didn't take care of you properly?

Bill: Well, I always thought I should have got the Purple Heart. For getting knocked around, you know. It was a good one.

Suzette: Did you come back and start farming again, or what did you do?

Bill: I went into construction.

Suzette: You went into construction.

Bill: Runnin' heavy machinery.

Suzette: You helped build Highway 7?

Bill: Uh, huh. Sparks to White Cloud.

Suzette: What did you do after that? After you were in construction, what did you do?

Bill: Well, I went into law enforcement. I carried a badge 29 years.

Suzette: Oh, my.

Bill: A deputy sheriff, and under sheriff, chief of police of Highland for several years.

Suzette: Did your military experience prepare you to do this?

Bill: Well, it helped. Taught you how to handle people; not make them mad.

Suzette: Uh, hum.

Bill: I had one lady tell me one time, I was gonna write her ticket, I forget now what she had done, that was in Highland, I said, ``will you behave yourself if I turn you loose?'' ``Yes, I'll behave myself. I don't want no more of those tickets.'' I handed her that ticket. ``What am I gonna do with this?'' ``Promise you will be good.'' ``Yep''. ``Tear it up.'' She tore it in two right there. And I was the kind of police officer that I'd rather be than to lock you up. And I had another fella, running 110 miles an hour down Main Street of Highland, young fella, and to catch him we run him clear out to this corner. He had already outrun that. What's the use of chasing him; he'll be back home sometime. So we waited for him to come back. Wrote him out a ticket for it, and the judge was a lady judge and she was quite a bit, and I said, ``Well, what are you going to fine him for it? How much is it going to cost? She said, ``I'm going to give him 30 days.'' I said, ``OK. Let's put him out on the street, on the Main Street of Highland, with a wheelbarrow, broom and a shovel. That's all he needs. I said that's the best treatment he ever had, to be out where the public could see him, and he enjoyed him. When we turned him loose, his time was up, there was not a speck of dust on the Main Street of Highland. We've got to do something. I said turn him loose. He learned his lesson, he enjoyed being on Main Street visiting with everybody, he was being punished, turn him loose. He came back by a couple of weeks later, and said, ``Thanks, Bill, that's the best lesson I ever had in my life. Dad should have done that years ago.''

Suzette: That's a wonderful story! Did you join the American Legion or the VFW when you came back?

Bill: I belong to the Legion.

Suzette: And was it important to belong to a group of other men who had served in the war?

Bill: Oh, it helped, it helped. You could reminisce and tell your stories. Yeah. When you meet your wife, you know, you kind of drop out of these.

Suzette: Did you maintain any ties with the people you served with in Europe?

Bill: Not too much. Not too much, cause they were not from around here. I talked to some when I got back, but we just kind of faded away.

Suzette: Do you have any other thoughts that you would like to share?

Bill: I talked too much now already.

Suzette: I don't really think you have!! I want to thank you very much.

Bill: You are certainly welcome. I hope I didn't get you in trouble!

Suzette: You're telling me a story about your uniform.

Bill: When we came home, in uniforms in the military `cause, and we didn't have any clothes that we could wear because we were bigger than when we went in. So we took them up to J. O. Mann, which was Mann cleaners, and he dyed our uniforms brown so that we had civilian clothes.

Suzette: If they'd been green, they wouldn't have been civilian.

Bill: They'd still be military.

Suzette: How long did you wear that uniform?

Bill: Oh, I don't know, probably a year. Until we could get civilian clothes.

Suzette: Oh, wow! That's very interesting. Thank you.

Bill: This man did a good job of changing the colors for us.

Suzette: It sounds like he did. Anything else?

Bill: Naw, I've spent too long now.

Suzette: You have not!

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