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Interview on experiences in World War II

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Interview conducted by Ness City High School Audio-Video Technology Class students Clint Bain and Casey Pridey on November 30, 2006. Adult supervisors Dolores and Alvin Schugart.

CB: My name is Clint Bain and I'm here with Casey Pridey and with Melvin Beltz as we record his oral history of World War II. Melvin could you please state your full name?

MB: It's Melvin. Melvin Albert Beltz.

CB: What is your date of birth?

MB: 11/20/1916.

CB: Where were you born Melvin?

MB: On a farm southeast of Bazine, where I still live.

CB: Who were your parents?

MB: William H. Beltz and Hermina Beltz.

CB: Did you have any brothers or sisters?

MB: I had one brother, Leonard, who is two years younger than I, and three sisters younger, younger. Want their names?

CB: Oh, that's okay.

MB: Oh, okay.

CB: Did you attend high school?

MB: Yes.

CB: Where was that at?

MB: Bazine.

CB: Did you graduate high school?

MB: Yes.

CB: And what did you do after you graduated?

MB: Helped on the farm and I went to correspondence school for a radio television in '35. From '35 to '37. Then I went to Minneapolis, Minnesota for a month.

CB: So that was what you did before you went to the military?

MB: Yeah. There I seen the first TV. And it wasn't like cathedrae tubes today. It was mechanical, I've never seen it in a museum of any kind since. It must have been that school up there, made it.

CB: And what school was that did you say?

MB: Northwestern. Northwestern Television I think was what the name of it.

CB: And that was in Minnesota?

MB: Yeah.

CB: Do you remember the announcement of Pearl Harbor?

MB: Yes. Car radio, I guess it was.

CB: How did you think that was going to change your life? Or did you?

MB: Well, I suppose it did because, you see we had the draft.

CB: Were you drafted or did you voluntarily enlist?

MB: Drafted.

CB: OK. Did you choose your branch of service or went right into the army?

MB: Couldn't choose. You could choose but they give you what, what you…

CB: So you went to the army then?

MB: Well I went to the Air Force deal. Mechanical, mechanical airplanes.

CB: Do you remember the date of your enlistment.

MB: Not exactly but it was like in April of '42.

CB: Were there other people from your area that also joined with you, or?

MB: I can't remember everybody but we left from Ness City up there on a train. We had to ride on that old train down to Great Bend. And from there on, I don't know.

CB: Did your brother also join the military, or did he not?

MB: No he well. . . he was born with . . . , oh I can't say it right now. On his leg you know, ringworm. Not ringworm, but what do you call that there?

DS: Club foot?

MB: No. Anyway, they should of caught that before he. . .but he quit his work down there in Wichita. He was in an aircraft company. He quit the work and joined. And then they said he, with that leg you know, he couldn't you know run, you know, or anything because it was irritated. It never did but see, they won't take you because see they'd have to pay for it. So, he didn't have to go.

CB: Did you have any other relatives that joined?

MB: Well, a cousin Sydney Beltz and Lloyd Smith from Haven, Kansas, cousin.

CB: Where were you inducted into the service? Where did you take your oath?

MB: Leavenworth.

CB: Could you tell us a little bit about your basic training?

MB: Not much basic training, usually. We just. . . . a few days. . . .I know from Leavenworth we went to Fort Riley. And there I. . . . I got to think. . .six rounds of the oh what was it? Springfields, them old. . . wasn't it? Springfield Rifles.

AS: Bolt action?

MB: Yeah. It would kick like heck. An that's all I ever shot. That's all. Had a Carbine, Carbine you know overseas but never did shoot it.

CB: Where did you go after Fort Riley?

MB: We was heading south on a train through the hills you know. Tunnels and everything into Kentucky, and there the train stopped. Everybody before. . . they all said we was gonna go south you know on some base. The train stopped in somewhere in Kentucky. And all at once it kinda started backing up a little bit and we just kept getting more speed and more speed. We went back north. You see they did that because of. . . they could sabotage the train.

AS: Security, security.

MB: We went back to Chanute, Illinois. That's a hundred miles south of Chicago. Chanute Field, Chanute Field was the base. That's where we went for mechanical training on airplanes. In ten day periods and KP infantry.

CB: What did you do after that at Illinois?

MB: Well in Illinois, I got a special course. I wanted to take instruments but they give me a propeller. So I stayed there and the rest of group went on south to some base in the southern part of the states. They were suppose get a furlough but got a letter from one of them saying he didn't get a furlough. They just shipped to overseas. So then I tried to train to Wichita for my folks to come meet me. And when they got there that train was so slow, my pass was half over. So then I flew back to Chicago. DC3 you know that was the first airliner. And when I got there, why I could, when I got to the train station there I could see that red light on the back of the train it was all going out. I missed the, the graduation down there, then so… Then I was shipped to. . . just two fellows. Me and another one to Colorado Springs and that's where I joined the 8th Air Force. I was the seventh photo group of fourteen squadrons.

CB: So from Colorado Springs what did you do?

MB: Well, that's where we left for overseas. When I got there I was one of the last ones in that squadron and the guys got a furlough. You know, at least half of them or more and the rest of us were suppose to get a furlough when we. . .when they got back. But the way it was, when they got back to the base, it was kind of closed up. You couldn't. . . couldn't go out. But I did get to go on the train to LaCrosse for a day, you know. A couple of days. Folks met me there then. Then when I got back to the base, it was closed for sure and that's where we went overseas.

CB: Where did you go overseas?

MB: To England. But here we went, it says here the port of importation was Fort Dicks, New Jersey. We arrived at April 27, '43. We left New York harbor on May 5, '43. And when we. . . I got a…we went on the Queen Elizabeth. It was the biggest luxury ship made. We left New York Harbor on May 5, '43 and arrived at Greenock, Scotland on May 11. Did that from May 5th to May 11th we was on the sea.

CB: Did you ever get seasick?

MB: No.

CB: It was a pretty big ship, you didn't really?

MB: Oh man, it was a quarter mile long, you know. I got pictures of it here. You traveled 42 knots, I think. That was fast.

AS: That was fast.

MB: But it was, that was full throttle. But it, …we zigzagged every, you know, changed course like this here , every seven minutes, so see that took something. Because it took ten minutes for a sub to put it's sight on. And can you believe it? Like 20,000 or more on that ship.

CB: Wow!

MB: It was loaded. I was in the middle of it. It's called D Deck. That was the last port hole, you know, down. It was like a slow deal like up and down, just real slow you know. The same way sideways. That, that affected me after I got back. In a big auditorium. I could see that move for a few years. Okay, then we, then we went through Scotland. It was on a train but we never. . . the shades were drawn because you know no light. Around it called Mount Farm near, near Oxford on May 12, '43. Anything else you want to know about that?

CB: When you were in England, what did you do while you were in England?

MB: Well maintain the airplanes to fly missions. See a photo outfit. . . they had a camera there that the film was nine inches wide. It was pretty good size. Had P-38, it's a double engine airplane. It had about three cameras then I guess, and that pilot would navigate, you know to the mission. They take where the target was. They took a picture of the target and give it so the bombers could know where to go. Then after the bombers went and bombed, why then they took other pictures to see how much damage they did. So we were. . . we were kind of a target at all times. The airplanes had to out fly the Germans because they had no, no guns. So we had to soup the airplanes up. I think the engines. . .I don't know if you know engines of V-12, Allison. Then we had the British spit fire. That was a single engine one. It had a Rolls Royce V-12. Quite an engine to work with. The propellers. . . the spit fire had four blade, the propeller that was eleven foot in diameter. It was made of wood covered with a vinyl. But the P-38 was three bladed aluminum. P-38, one engine run right and one left. It was a disadvantage with one engine though, that was the only thing. I was to maintain this propeller deal because it was constant speed. Like I say, you'd be cruising you know and if you started diving why, it would take a bigger pitch to climb then it'd take a smaller. There was a governor that maintained that. You always had to take it apart and clean it out.

CB: Did you experience any combat?

MB: No. All I seen was about ten miles away one night. At least the sirens went there at the base. It was like, an aircraft guns was like the fourth of July. And I seen like an orange thing, you know, fall down you know something must of hit that airplane. Search lights, man they are bright. They could just go up there, and two of them hit one airplane, why they can, an enemy one. Why, they can shoot them down pretty good.

CB: Could you tell us a little bit about your living conditions? Did you have plenty of food?

MB: Well, overseas it was okay. But I come back to Colorado Springs. We went out. . . it's called the Black Forest, it's East of Higher Elevation, West of. . . . East of a Colorado Springs. Boy, it was cold. But we went back to the base to work on the planes in the daytime and we went to a twenty-second squadron. And they really had good food. We said ``is that special for us?'' And they said ``No. We get that all the time.'' So when we got through with that maneuver deal, we actually went on strike one night. We got the officers there and we found out that the cooks were selling our meat on black market. You see, it was a good thing we eat at that twenty-second. Then we got better food after that. But, overseas everything was pretty good food.

CB: Did you feel like you got plenty of rest? I mean, how many hours of night did you usually sleep? Do you remember?

MB: We got plenty. We. . . see over there, Daylight Saving time what we have here. That's what they had, and that was for the people to work their Victory Garden. They had little plots you know. And they. . . . that ground over there must have been used for so long that it showed on like a movie house, you know on a film they. . . it would show how to dig you know. You had to dig the top part of out and pile it and then dig the other bottom out and put that backstop down to get the bottom the better dirt. So see everything….

CB: How was your relationship with your commanding officers?

MB: Oh, were ok. See the. . . see our president Franklin Roosevelt. His son Elliot was our main guy on that group.

CB: Really?

MB: Yeah, I, I see him real close you know. He lived in a, a house there on that Mount farm. That Mount farm was a eleven hundred acre farm. The fella that owned that wasn't like us. He was a high class guy you know, he drive the best car there was. I guess that runways and stuff are still there you know.

CB: Were you able to stay in contact with home, while you were overseas?

MB: Oh, yeah, we, now its not email it's what v-mail.

MB: At first it was a regular letter, and then…..

CB: Was this your first time away from home?

MB: Well except for that Minnesota you know.

CB: Did you ever get homesick?

MB: Well yeah, but there was always so much to do you know, why.

CB: Do you remember how you spent your holidays?

MB: Well they. . .we went to a family. . . we knew a family there that was about twelve, fourteen miles from the base. And Christmas time why, they called it a pudding you know but it was something like a fruitcake they baked. And they'd bake. . . it was called a six pence. It looked like a dime. A little smaller than a dime, I got one of `em in the box there. And they'd mix that with that dough and sometime you may not get one of them in a slice, and sometime you got one, and sometime you might got two, see.

DS: And what is that, like a good luck piece then?

MB: I don't know what it was for but that was just the deal.

DS: Their custom.

CB: Did you have any time for recreation?

MB: Oh yeah we. . .see when we first got there the first thing was we had to order a bicycle. And then we were assigned to a, a school. You know, aviation school. It was with de Havilland, you ever hear of that? De Havilland is a English Aircraft Company. It was supposed to be a mosquito bomber. They was going to use it to take pictures too. It was a wood Aircraft. It had two Rolls Royce engines in it. But somehow that fizzled out and that where we got the spit fire instead of that one. And there we would get so much money for board and room you know, and we'd always they'd call it villages. Not in a hotel it was in a private home you know. And it only cost us maybe half of what we got, `cause the currency difference. So we had that much to spend. Then with that bicycle why we was just like a bunch of kids you know. We'd go out fifteen miles you know and back to the base. And then the one time there in Oxford why there was a bicycle shop over there was just like a car repair shop today you know. They'd take the bicycles in there and repair `em just like they did know how. And there was one bicycle that an old fella had, and the chain was completely enclosed and it actually had oil in the bottom of there. You know that would take some pretty good doing to get that fixed. But I had a regular bike and then I got. . . I bought different wheels for it. And they had little drum brakes about this. . .three or four inches in diameter, just like a car you know a drum brake. Really was good. And then this. . . had a buddy from New York City, that we slept next to each other kind of. . . something like the double door there and it was just like in the corner, and you know we was close. And so at this bicycle shop we asked the guy if he had a tandem. ``Yeah,'' he said, ``I got a pre-war one but it's out in the back you know, it's used.'' So, I towed that thing six miles back to the base. And we fixed it all up, and it's a wonder we didn't get killed with that. It could go pretty fast.

CB: Do you remember what your service pay was?

MB: Most of it was sent home, But I can't say what it was. Overseas pay was a little more.

AS: Yeah overseas was…

MB: I don't know how many..

AS: You get paid for overseas duty, yeah.

MB: It didn't make much difference. Didn't make much difference you know. We had our board and room as you'd say. Then you got rations you know. Quite a bit. Even a, even a carton of cigarettes when you got your rations. Like PX's , today you know they, I want to send packages to the, the soldiers in Iraq you know. Why, they got PX's over there, and they don't need it. It's just a waste of money, really.

DS: Back in when you were in the service, did a lot of guys smoke?

MB: Yeah.

AS: Probably, just about everyone did.

MB: Oh yeah

DS: A lot of smokers?

MB: I just give it to the guys that smoke a lot. No, over there about cigarettes. . . the English they weren't in a packet, they was just in a little old box you know. They just take out so many, what they wanted. They couldn't afford it you know. Now I tell you about. . . then we go out to. . . on a pass or something why, you'd go to a little old restaurant you know. And actually like if it was hamburger like, meatloaf as you'd say, it was half sawdust. Yeah, that was legal. It didn't taste bad. Knowing then, but you couldn't find any. . .you couldn't find any place to drink water. And see on the bicycle you got thirsty pedaling, and so you had to drink a little beer. It was mild and bitter you know. The mild was like Coors, bitter I never I never did like that. I didn't drink much of it either, just enough to get home.

CB: So, what did you do after you were in England? Did you just come back to the United States then?

MB: Yeah, I. . . at that time why there was a. . . there's a Reading. I think it's in Pennsylvania you know, but the Reading England, that was twenty miles from the base. And I'd take a bicycle down there, and a kid from Iowa he had. . . I don't know if he had a two day pass or and I had. . . I had one day more and he left and he said, ``We're going home.'' So I went back to the base and bygum my. . . my name wasn't on that list. And I was with that group since Colorado Springs. Just like a family you know. And here they'd. . . they'd call it pickle, pickling the airplane you know but they'd service it and let it so it could set for a while. Well they decided they were gonna' fly `em out. So I was with a different group for a while. And here them guys was going home and I was another ten days. But I caught that Queen Elizabeth again, I got home same time they did, but I didn't see `em at anytime.

CB: Where were you when the announcement came for the end of the War?

MB: Oh we was in a. . . we was in a town of Abington I believe was the name. Pretty good sized town. And this kid from New York and I we. . . like intersection we was gonna' cross. There was people coming you know just like a crowd, you know, celebrating. You know, we really got scared. They about knocked our bicycles down. Boy as that crowd moved, we were just stampede…

CB: And this was in New York City?

MB: No, that was in England.

CB: Oh England, okay. So you were in England when the war ended.

MB: Oh yeah. No, they was all. . . the celebration was over when we got back to New York.

CB: Okay. How long after the war had ended did you finally get to come back home?

MB: Well I got home about, in. . . . just before September 15th. Because I tell my dad to drill wheat you know, usually right after 15th of September why we start drilling. Then, I had to go back to Leavenworth cause they give me a furlough, then see. They didn't have to pay me as much. So the government, is kinda. . .they get around it if they can. So then I had to go back you know to get discharged.

CB: In what year was that did you say?

MB: '45.

CB: '45. How did you get home from. . .where were you discharged?

MB: Leavenworth.

CB: Leavenworth.

MB: But otherwise, when I first come home come out'ta,…

AS: You left New York City huh?

MB: New York, you know.

AS: Yeah.

MB: And it was on a train and it was a steam train and man we was on the. . . it was like, about like a hammock you know not a bed you know but almost swinging hammock. Four or five high you know, in this back, in that train car, and boy it was a layin' out track you know. And we asked the conductor how fast we was going. He said, ``Ninety mile an hour,'' And that was a steam train. But see if you think about it. The locomotive, you know they, they make a bigger wheel. You know boy then. . .then they can get their speed.

AS: So they could go faster.

MB: But then from then on I can't remember exactly, I guess I was too interested in getting home. You know I, I guess I. . . . I don't know if it was a train or a bus I got into LaCrosse when I got home.

CB: What did you do after the service? After you were discharged?

MB: Oh, farmed and I installed my. . . see we didn't get REA until '51. My wife and I, we had a little wind charger, you know, to charge batteries. And then I started, you know, electrical wiring at different places and septic tanks and plumbing, everything. Even TV work.

DS: I think you came to our place once and fixed the TV.

AS: Yeah, you fixed our TV.

MB: Yeah, you had a different, I was a Zenith guy you know.

DS: Yeah.

MB: Sometimes the other ones had different tubes and you couldn't, see there were tubes before transistor. A tube….

DS: We must of had an off brand.

MB: A tube it had a filament you know, like a six volt filament and, and then amplification was a, a voltage, a voltage. Transistors today is just the opposite. It's current, current, instead of voltage. You guys probably know about transistors pretty well.

CB: Little bit.

MB: That changed the whole situation. I still have some TV's at home that would work, you know, black and white ones.

CB: Did the things that you learned while in the military, that probably helped you…

MB: Oh yeah.

CB: Later in life.

MB: Hydraulically see….

CB: Oh.

MB: Hydraulic. . . to raise the landing gears up see with hydraulics on it. Sometimes the brakes were hydraulic you know, but just like a car. But sometimes those air flaps or something, sometimes were air.

CB: Were you able to stay in contact with any of those buddies that you met over there?

MB: Oh most of the time at Christmas time mainly, Christmas cards. Then I went to about three reunions. Two of them I think was in Wichita and one was in Colorado Springs. And today, this last Christmas I didn't hear from anybody.

CB: Is there anything else that you'd like to share, would you like to show us anything that you brought? Or, we'd be happy to look at anything.

MB: Here's that Queen Elizabeth, this, this is when, this is….

CB: Oh wow!

MB: I walked them decks. Did I show you guys that, that one time?

DS: No, I don't think so.

MB: This is outta. . . now there's the ship right there. See D-Deck, I was about in the middle going over. Man this, that was a ship.

MB: Well, on this ship right here on the way back, there was a smaller ship there you know, and it was pretty rough and I seen the prop come out the back you know and I bet when that hit that was something you know. Now there was a, . . did you ever see that one, YANK?

AS: I don't think so.

MB: There's a lot of `em. Lot of funny stuff. There was a guy from Nebraska and after he got home so much, he got real heavy weight you know. He was so big when he died that they couldn't put him in a coffin.

CB: Really?

MB: Yeah.

DS: I have a question. Melvin, you said when you went over on the ship to England you zigzagged.

AS: For the submarines.

DS: Oh, for the submarines.

MB: Well, see the submarine could sunk us. See, I mean that there was no escort.

DS: Oh.

MB: Yeah, that old sub if he could, if there was two subs there well maybe they could of got that ship. And what was so funny about that, and what was scary, there was a, . . we had a P-51's later on with guns. Right there.

CB: That's you, huh?

MB: That's me, yeah. The guy beside me is the only guy that's close in Kansas is…..

DS: Did you ever meet anybody from Bazine area while you were there?

MB: Huh-uh. Nope.

DS: No? Not anyone that you knew either?

MB: There's the three planes. This is the P-51, that's a spitfire, and that's a P-38. P-38 was a, see that, a pretty good sized airplane. It weighed six tons without any fuel or anything in it. Those engines….

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