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Interview with William Bonsall [09/03/???]

Lara Eller:

Today is September 3rd and we are in Morgantown, WV with Mr. Bill Bonsall. We are going to interview him today about his service in the U.S. Army when he was in World War II as a POW. Mr. Bonsall was born December 31, 1923. My name is Lara Eller, and I will be doing the interview and we have Clint Wilhelm doing the equipment with the camera and Kimberly Walker, Professor Maryanne Reed is also here, and my partner Anthony Favero. So, I'm going to start asking a few of the questions we have here. Just a couple yes or no questions we will start off with.

Lara Eller:

Were you drafted or did you enlist?

William Bonsall:

No, I enlisted. I was a student at Penn State at the time, and if I enlisted they would let me go until the end of the school year. So that made it very convenient.

Lara Eller:

Yeah. That's good. What made you want to do it?

William Bonsall:

Because I was going to be drafted. I figured if I stayed in school it would probably turn out better for me, which in the long run it did; so I enlisted.

Lara Eller:

You were in the Army, right?

William Bonsall:

U.S. Army. That is correct.

Lara Eller:

Do you remember anything about the first couple of days you were there? When you went to training, did you have to do anything for that?

William Bonsall:

Yes. The first training I had was in Camp Walters, Texas; and it was a basic training. It was just out in the desert down there in Texas and the usual stuff of running and jumping and pulling and whatever, but very basic military training. That was at Camp Walters. From Camp Walters, I went up to what is called A.S.T.P., which is specialized training program in which individuals could try to make rank; officer rank. And they could do this by going, being sent to college. And I was sent to Eastern Michigan State University as an engineer. And I went through one semester of that - which was fine - but then they shut down the program. And so at the end of that program, I was sent to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin with the 76th Mountain Division Ski Troops. And that is who I stayed with for most of that winter. And then, following that, the 76th division was shut down. That was the ski troops. I was then sent back to deportation-embarkation to go out of the country overseas.

Lara Eller:

Ok, when you were talking about your training, were you used to this kind of physical exertion?

William Bonsall:

I think. I was in athletic. Very heavy in athletics all through junior, senior high school, part of college, so I think I was physically ready for basic training. I had no trouble with that.

Lara Eller:

Good, ok. Do you remember any of your superiors? Did you build a relationship with them?

William Bonsall:

Not really. Maybe I am kind of a little bit weird on this basis, but I made it a point never to get to know a soldier's name, that I worked with, Ok? Now I know them as Joe or Spike or Whitey or something like that, but not full name and where they came from, or anything like that. That is just the way I felt about it.

Lara Eller:

Ok. You were in World War II, correct?

William Bonsall:

Correct.

Lara Eller:

Where exactly did you go to begin combat?

William Bonsall:

To be in combat? 11 was sent overseas in May of 1944, and went to England. They got us ready there to be shipped into France. And I forget exactly the dates here, but a bunch of us were put on a boat across the Channel - from England there - over into France. And we landed on a place called Utah Beach. Now this was about 2 days after June 6. D-Day was June 6. So most of the soldiers were already on the beach and moving inland. I was what was called a replacement and so I had to wait to find out where I was going to go. Then, about 2 days later, I was sent to join the 9th division infantry. And at that time, they were in sort of a holding area. On June the 12th we all moved out into front line combat.

Lara Eller:

What was your job in the infantry?

William Bonsall:

I was a rifleman. I was a Private, Private First Class rifleman. I mean, that is what I was for quite a bit of time in the infantry in France with the 9th division.

Lara Eller:

And where you were in the combat, was there a group of you together?

William Bonsall:

Oh yes. Yes, we were in teams. There would be a regiment or a squad, something like that. Or of course a company, so on, so forth. Obviously, I was part of a squad. There are usually several guys in a squad; and I was one of them.

Lara Eller:

Were there any casualties in your unit?

William Bonsall:

The first casualty I cam across was just after I went into combat. And evidently it was a young boy, of course we were all young there, had been killed in night before in an attack and he was still lying there. And that was the first time I saw a casualty. And that would have been on June the 13th, somewhere right in there. 5th

Lara Eller:

Do you remember, you don't have to remember the day or anything like that, but when you became a prisoner of war, this was a little bit after combat, right?

William Bonsall:

I was in combat for 90 days. I was in there from about June 9th, I'll say June 9th as an example, or June 5th even, to September 5th] And I was captured on September So there was that block of time when I was in combat.

Lara Eller:

And when you were in captivity as a prisoner of war, do you remember any specific treatment or anything like that... you were under German control right?

William Bonsall:

German control.

Maryanne Reed:

Can I back up one minute? Did you ask about, I know you did a lot of pre- interviewing, but you might need to back up and ask from the beginning combat and then also a little bit about how he got captured. See, you know these things now, but the audience, the archives don't.

Lara Eller:

Ok, just backing up a little bit. Can you tell us a little about the combat situation?

William Bonsall:

Going into combat?

Lara Eller:

Yes.

William Bonsall:

Again here, it was just after D-Day. It was in France. The unit that I was with started sort of right south across France. It was called the Quiberon Peninsula. It wasn't very big, but anyhow, we then turned east. We went east all the way to the eastern side of Paris. We went around Paris, the eastern side, because Paris was still in German hands at that time. Circled it, if you will. Went around there; this is the whole division I am talking about now. We went around and started up into Belgium. We crossed over the border over into Belgium. Started up and got almost to the center of Belgium, not quite, and then started going east. Right there was a big river called the Meuse. The Meuse River, and we had to cross there. At this particular time I was a staff sergeant and I had my own squad. So, I was in charge of this group. We were all over the place, but I was still working with my particular unit. Went across the river at nighttime, middle of the night, in little boats. I don't know where they got the boats. But, we went across in the boats and got to the other side. And on the other side, we had to go up a very steep hill. And so, we trudged it. This was in the woods, not heavy woods, but woods. And so, we went up to the top of the hill. By the time we got to the top of the hill I, it was becoming daylight. The sun was coming up. It was light on the horizon, and when I took my squad and I came to a very large opening out of the woods, and I looked up further to the top of the hill - and, I don't know whether I was angry. I don't know whether I was scared, I don't know what the word would be - but there were many, many American soldiers all lined up at the top of that hill. Silhouetted against the backdrop. Army people don't do that. The soldiers don't do that. And, all of a sudden, everything blasted wide open. From the right hand side as I was facing the hill, for my right hand side, there was all kind of military fire talking place at these soldiers up on top of the hill. Well, of course, they scattered very quickly. How many went down? I have no idea. But, myself, my squad, we retreated back into the woods. As soon as we got back in there,/there was chaos taking place; Again, like up on the hill, soldiers running all over the place. 11 lost my squad. They just were frightened or whatever, with the exception of my radioman, he stayed with me,, I searched around; couldn't find who I was looking for, my squad, my own unit. Anyway, what I told my radioman was, "You stay here, I'm going out to see what's happening." I left the woods and walked out into this opening - a field - where I told you I looked up on the hill. And when I walked out there, almost right in front of me was a German soldier with what's called a (Schweitzer) machine pistol - which is like an automatic rifle, an automatic gun, a machine gun, but hand held. And he motioned to me and said, "(?Com-un-see-here?)." Well, he had his gun on me, and my, I had a little carbine rifle down here. And he said... I forget what happened, but he wanted me, oh, he wanted me to go join the other soldiers that were up on the hill. And I asked him in German, "(?Canishna sudek?), back in the woods." I explained to him about my radioman. And he said yes, go there and bring him back. At which, I did. I went back and told the radioman, "Destroy your radio and come with me," and we walked out, and we went over to him and he faced over, pointed to where the soldiers were lined, they were lined up again now, on the ridge, but they were now prisoners. They were lined up on the ridge and he said, "(?Doit, schnell?)" There, go fast; and so we did. We ran up the hill, to the top of that hill. And when we got there, that was basically G Company, of the 60tl1 infantry regiment of the 9th division.

Lara Eller:

So, that was your squad?

William Bonsall:

That was the company, yes. A squad is just seven or eight people. And, that was the capture.

Lara Eller:

So the people in your squad were just you and your radioman?

William Bonsall:

That's right. I don't know what happened to the others. They were probably all part of the ones that were up on the hill. I was at the tail end. We were the last two to come out. We were the last two.

Lara Eller:

Ok, so then you arrived into the P.O.W. camp, right?

William Bonsall:

Right. The first P.O.W. camp was in a place- they put us on trucks - the first camp was Aachen. Aachen, Germany: way up in the northwest. That was just a place where they said, "Ok, sign up here, we'll give you a number, we'll give you a dog tag- type of thing," and then put us on trucks and send us out. This was a typical procedure. And, from there, we went south, to Limburg, Germany, which is down near Frankfort. Limburg cheese. Down that in Frankfort to camp 12A, and that's where I stayed for the next September, October, and part of December.

Lara Eller:

Did you make friends with any of the people you were in the P.O.W. camp with?

William Bonsall:

Yes, I did. In 12A, it was a place where also they would gather up prisoners and they'd say, "You're going to go here, you're going to go there." For instance, Air Force people would go in what's called a luft loger, or luft dock. And that's for Air Force people. They would send groups of them who were privates, and they would go to another camp. Non-commissioned officers, like myself, I was a sergeant for example, staff sergeant, we went to a different kind of a camp so that we were split up. As we were ready to leave, they were going to send us out, and they asked me what my number was. And I said,___+. That was my number. And he looked at me and he said, "Step aside," because he needed people who could interpret for the ones who were being captured and brought there. Well, my German was very, very, weak, but enough to make conversation, ok? So, I stayed at that camp, like I said, until about December 5th, or December somewhere around in there. Ok?

Lara Eller:

What kind of information did they want to get from you?

William Bonsall:

Oh, basically it was just, "Tell them to go here, go there, put on clothing, go get washed." It was not asking, it was not interrogation. It was a matter of communication to make it easier on them in the process.

Lara Eller:

So they needed you?

William Bonsall:

Yes, well, yes, I suppose if you want to call it that. That's why I stayed there. Right.

Lara Eller:

How did they treat you when you were in the camp?

William Bonsall:

Treatment for me, I thin, was very good. I had blonde hair, blue eyes. My name is Bonsall; which is German. It comes from (Bomtasl), which is German. And the little bit of German I had, they figured we should take care of this guy. Did it help? I don't know.

Lara Eller:

What did they feed you while you were there?

William Bonsall:

At the first camp, it wasn't too bad. 12A as I mentioned wasn't too bad. Basically, It amounted to some kind of bread portion, a couple of slices of bread maybe. That changed occasionally, off and on. There were different kinds of breads. Basically, soup. And once in a while there would be a wiener schnitzel, or a sausage type of a situation, something like that. But that was it. Nothing fancy. No salads, no steaks.

Lara Eller:

So you had plenty of supplies while you were there?

William Bonsall:

I would say yes. The food that we had each day was sufficient to keep us fed.

Lara Eller:

Did you write letters or keep in touch with your family? Were you allowed to do that?

William Bonsall:

We were allowed to write little letters. As I recall, I think it was the Red Cross, provided letters, you know, stuff to write on. That kind of a thing. I remember sending out letters. But, as a back up to that, letters were not received at home. Which I found out when I got home. They received nothing from me from the camps.

Lara Eller:

During the time that you were in the camp, when you were with the other people, and they were treated differently that you, how did you feel toward the people you were in the P.O.W. camp with?

William Bonsall:

You mean the Germans or do you mean the soldiers? With the soldiers, we got along very well. I think we realized we were in a delicate situation. We've got to take care of each other and this kind of a thing.

Lara Eller:

Were you hopeful while you were there? What did you do to stay upbeat?

William Bonsall:

No, because we're right in the middle of a war and new prisoners were coming in everyday. So, it looked as though it was getting worse. But not in the terms of... there wasn't any brutality - not as far as I know, or that kind of a thing.

Lara Eller:

What did you do, of course you were a prisoner, but was there anything specific that you did for entertainment while you were there?

William Bonsall:

Little story?

Lara Eller:

Sure.

William Bonsall:

Something went wrong in the barracks one day. Since it was in the barracks, we were ordered out into the field in front of the barracks, and we were supposed to stand there at attention. While we were standing at attention, I said to the guys, "Would you 10 like to try something?" I had been a drillmaster in basic training. Drill master, maybe not that high of a level. And I said, "Would you like to try something? I'll give you some commands." Left face, right face, about face, and this type of thing. They did that and I said, "Forward march! Hut, two, three, four." And they started to march. And they would turn around with this type of thing, and they would come back. They were having fun. Well, the German, whoever he was, came out and said, "Stop!" Of course that meant stop right here, and then that was the end of it. But that was the kind of thing we would do for entertainment. We would try to do things that were different, and maybe funny, if you want to look at it that way.

Lara Eller:

Did you keep, like, a personal diary at that time to write anything down?

William Bonsall:

Not at that time. The personal diary thing came later at the next prison camp.

Lara Eller:

Before you were sent to combat, did you go straight into combat from basic training, or did you spend some time at the base?

William Bonsall:

No. From there is when I went to the mountain training, 76th division, that was the ski troops, but I never took any skiing. I wore snowshoes, I was a courier. That was called a courier, and I had to wear snowshoes. That was winter training.

Lara Eller:

When we get to when you went to the second P.O.W. camp that was when you had your escape. Is that correct?

William Bonsall:

That is right. Patton was coming from the west, and they decided they would move us out of that particular camp. They put us on the railroad trains in boxcars, and we were shipped out of there east towards, we didn't know where, but we just stayed there until we got to the other side of Berlin. About halfway between Berlin, maybe more than that, about 60 miles from the Polish border. That camp was 3C.

Lara Eller:

When you got to the second camp...

William Bonsall:

It was wintertime.

Lara Eller:

Was the treatment the same? Did you receive the same kind of dinner?

William Bonsall:

No, because what was happening - now, we're talking a couple of months here - from the first time when I said we had fairly good meals - the food was getting cut back quite a bit. As a result, there was, I don't know how you would say it, there were portions given out, just little portions. And what this amounted to was, they would say, "Ok, barracks number one line up, barracks number two line up behind number one," and that type of thing. And then we would line up to go with a little pan that we had to get soup. Because that's basically all they had at that time. So, we would get here; here was the problem: when they took the soup and lifted it into the little dish, pan, if you want to call it a pan, it was thin. Because all the good stuff was down at the bottom of the soup caldron, ok? So what they allowed us to do - the first and the second and the third barracks - as soon as we got out little dish, we were allowed to run to the back and get in the back of the line for a second helping. The first two, I think it was only the first two groups who were allowed to do that. So, when we got it we would eat it very fast and we run back and get into line. When we got the second one, they were down at the end, or at the bottom of the cauldron, and what we got that time was nice and thick. So then we took that and walked back to our barracks and enjoyed our soup with the bread.

Lara Eller:

How many times a day did you get to eat?

William Bonsall:

Just one.

Lara Eller:

Just one. And when you were in the second camp, how long were you in there?

William Bonsall:

That was, again, that was somewhere around December, and over into January 31st. So, we are talking about a month, month and a half, almost two months. More of a moth and a half, something like that

Lara Eller:

Did you ever leave the camp?

William Bonsall:

No, because in other camps, where privates were kept, they were forced to go out and work. Sergeants, or Non-commissioned officers were not permitted to work. We couldn't go out and - I'll say make money - that's not what it was but, no, we were not permitted to do that.

Lara Eller:

So, you were still translation at this time?

William Bonsall:

No that really stopped at that point.

Lara Eller:

Well, basically, what did they use you for in the second one?

William Bonsall:

Nothing. Day after day, just hang out. They did have, I remember that they did have some sort of a music program, where they said if anybody can play instruments, come on over to this area, or this room and we'll teach you how to do a symphony. I don't know, because I couldn't do that. They did things. We had books incidentally. I remember I had one book, and I remember it was about a little boy, but I can't tell you much more about it. I just kind of read it and put it to the side. It was available.

Lara Eller:

When you did leave the camp, were you going to be transferred to somewhere else after the second camp?

William Bonsall:

The second camp, no, set up an entirely different situation. And that was somewhere around the middle of January in 1945, we heard that the Russians were coming. They were in Poland. They had come up to what's called the Oder River, which is the border between the two countries. And the Russians were getting a little bit antsy. All right, so, they figured what are we going to do here? We know that. We figured we were going to have to leave, so we each prepared in some way, storing food: bread, apple sauce, we got applesauce, potatoes, we didn't get them everyday, but we stored them away. And I made a little rucksack, a little pack on my back where I could put this stuff. And you were asking about keep a record. This is where I began to take record was when I was in that camp. And I had a book, and I think that's what came from the Red Cross, I said they sent us materials for writing. I kept dailies of this day what happened in this camp. I drew pictures of the people. I drew pictures if different kinds of the parts of the camp, so it was quite a good record, and I put that in my rucksack. It came time and they said, "Ok, line up at the gate." We lined up at the gate and they said we were ready to move out. When we moved out, we are talking about the whole camp coming out. How many? I have no idea, I can only estimate about 1500, something like that. "Move out!" I had my rucksack. I'm in the second row in the number of people moving out. We went out, got onto the main road, going west toward Berlin, ok? When we were headed towards Berlin, we were out about a mile when suddenly the entire unit came under military fire. This is machine gun, rifle, mortar shells, coming in. I don't know what else they threw at us at that time. I am at the front of this unit, second line. I duck down, and what I did was turn and jump off the road, and I fell into a ditch; which just happened to be a gravel ditch. So, I was able to dig my way down into the gravel - like a little foxhole - a try to protect myself. I the meantime, and I found this out later. In the meantime, all of these soldiers behind me, many, many, many of them just turned around and were forced by the German soldiers and the guards to go back to 3C. So, I stayed there in that little ditch. Got kind of quiet. I came up and said, "Hello, Hello?" And pretty soon somebody said, "Hello, hello." And someone else said, "Hello." And when we all came up there were twelve of us who had done basically the same thing, this side or this side. I went in so quickly I didn't see anybody else. But they all had dispersed right in that immediate area. So, we looked around, we got together, and we looked down the road where the firing had started. It had stopped, the firing had stopped now. We looked down the road and we could see what was a Russian military unit. A unit; there was an armored car, there was a tank, a lot of riflemen, and when I say a lot I mean four, five, or six riflemen in this little group. And there was a man in our group named... oh, what was his name? A Russian name, I can't give it to you now, but it was a funny Russian name. He said, "Wait here," and he got out of where we were and he kind of waived his shirt or something like this, and he began shouting at the soldiers. And pretty soon one of them called him forward. He went forward. It wasn't very far away. It was maybe 100 yards, I don't think it was even that far, about half of a length of a football field. And he got to them. We could see there was conversation, and he turned around to us and said "Come, come, come, come," and, of course, we jumped up from where we were and ran down the road until we got there. He had made contact like I said, and explained to us, this is our friend that could understand Russian, that what we were supposed to do was to take off from this point. The Russian told him and he then told us. What we do is we go down this road - we were at a crossroads - for I forget what the distance was: not very far and then turn left, in our language, and go East towards Poland. We said, "Ok, we can do that." So, they said, "Three at a time." Three at a time took off. I was in the first three. The there were three more, three more, and three more. Three of us went down, we found the little turn, we went east and we kept going east almost to the Polish border. Not quite, but we knew we were close, and we came across a huge mansion by the side of the road. It had a bam in the back and stuff like that. It was quiet, nobody around. Let's go check it out. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon by then. So we went in there, bodies all over the place. This is because the Russians had come through there and they had killed all the people who were residents of this German farm, who lived in this German mansion. That's tough. That's just the way it goes. We went inside. It just so happens they were in the process of having dinner. We finished their dinner. We ate, and ate, and ate, and ate. In the meantime, here comes three more, here comes three more of our guys. We call them in. Here comes three more of our guys and we called them in. By the time we got all twelve together I think we were having drinks by then. Anyhow, the point being the Russians eventually said, a week later, go down this road east towards Poland. Go across the river into Poland towards Warsaw.

Lara Eller:

How did you get across the river?

William Bonsall:

The bridge was broken. I should say smashed. It had crushed into the river, so we climbed across the girders. From one side we may have had to go through the water part of the way, but basically we used the bridge girders.

Lara Eller:

And when you got into Poland, where did you go from there?

William Bonsall:

Once we got into Poland it was easy. Why? Because we'd walked down the road, we came to a little town. We'd start talking about the town and somebody would over, a Polish person would run over and say, "Are you British?" "No, we are Americans." "Americans!" And they would throw up their hands and they would holler, "Come, come, come! They're Americans!" It was easy to establish a relationship in Poland because it seemed like every third Pollock had a relative that lived in Chicago. So they know English. They had contacts. They understood what was taking place, and they took care of us - meals and so forth. "Yes, go down this road. Stay separated." And we walked towards Warsaw.

Lara Eller:

Were all twelve of you still in this together?

William Bonsall:

At that moment, we were beginning to break up. If for no other reason, we just through it was a good idea.

Lara Eller:

How long did you stay in Poland?

William Bonsall:

I was in Poland, we went to Warsaw for almost a month and there is a whole story of course behind being taken care of by the people in Warsaw. Clothing, certainly food, bathing, resting at night, on kind of a foam mattress on the floor in the particular house I was in. I was by myself in that house. And then we heard there was a group coming from Warsaw's American contingent, coming from somewhere into Warsaw, and they were rounding up all these American prisoners who were floating all over the place, and they brought them all into Warsaw. And they said, "Ok, it's time to leave here now. Get on the train and this is what you do." So, I was in there for that amount of time. They put us on a train, in a boxcar, and we went south. All the way down south through the Ukraine area of Russia, all the way down into Russia itself down to the Black Sea and to a big city named Odessa, which is right on the Black Sea. And at that time, this is all taking time; day-by-day by day. We got on a British boat at the time I would say there were about 200 of us. How many went on other boats? I have no idea. But about 200 of us were on that boat, and we had fine food. We were well taken care of, of course. We had bathing. It was a nice British liner is what it was. We sailed on that boat across the Black Sea all the way down to the Dardanelles, down near Turkey, Istanbul. Went 17 through there and went through the Mediterranean Sea, past the island of Malta. People know about Malta. Went around the boot of Italy all the way up into Marsalis, France, but they wouldn't let us off there. Whatever the reasons were, I don't know. We stayed on the boat. We turned around and started back down the Sea, but we were not on the other side of the big island, what's its name? I can't help you. Anyway, we went down that coast until we got to the coast of Naples, Italy. Wee embarked at Naples, Italy and at that point came under American control. At this time, of course, we got de-loused, we got fed, we got new clothing, all registrations and records and everything and at that point they sent us home. That was the end of May; because when I got home it was just about Easter time. The beginning of April, did I say May? I meant April. What meant was we were headed home in May and got home in April.

Lara Eller:

When you got off the ship in Naples, Italy, where you were back under American control, did you meet up with other soldiers?

William Bonsall:

Yes, we met quite a few solders that were coming from other ships and other directions and everything like that because this was the command base and we stayed in there about a week and we'd go downtown and visit the shops and stores, whatever the case may be. Although I did get to know, there were five of us that stayed together.

Lara Eller:

How long were you in Italy?

William Bonsall:

I would just have to guess and say it was about a week.

Lara Eller:

So you were with the other soldiers there?

William Bonsall:

Just those friends, yes.

Lara Eller:

Before you went home, were there specific places you went to...

William Bonsall:

In Naples?

Lara Eller:

Yeah.

William Bonsall:

No, no, not really. Actually, we were told to stay out of Naples. Not a very nice place to be, and so it was just cruising around. I'll put it that way.

Lara Eller:

How many people were you with?

William Bonsall:

Again, there were just about the five of us that stayed together. Now, as far as the barracks, I think there were barracks; there were lots of guys, P.O.W.s mostly. There may have been wounded who were waiting to go back home.

Lara Eller:

When you were finished in Naples, you went home?

William Bonsall:

Yeah, I went home. Got on a boat, I don't remember the name. It seems to me, I just can't remember the name of the boat, but it was a big liner and it didn't take long and we came into Boston. It was around Easter time. I think it was April 4th, something like that.

Lara Eller:

So, when you got to Boston, what did you do when you were there?

William Bonsall:

In Boston, basically, it was nothing more than get ready, we are going to ship you out of here. They checked us out and we were all split up, and I was sent to Lake Placid, New York, a ski resort, for what's called R and R. That's rest and rehabilitation/relaxation. And I was there for about two weeks, I guess, maybe three weeks. Two or three weeks, somewhere around in there. And I was sent home for just time off I guess you might say. For 60 days, a 60 day off time. I was of course able to go home to be with my people. As a matter of fact, I took a job when I got home. I went out and got a job for those 60 days. And, of course, back with a lot of friends, and this type of thing. And after that I was sent to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as an M.P., a military policeman. By that time, the war in Europe had stopped and I was in Pittsburgh and we were called out one day to go into Pittsburgh to quell, I guess would be the word, any rowdiness, or riots or anything like that because Japan had surrendered, and so I went into Pittsburgh with our team and it was quiet, it really was. So they sent us back. They didn't need use. We went back to Pittsburgh, to the base and then from there, not too much longer. I was sent to what's called Indian Town Gap Military Reservation; some people might have been there. And that is where I was discharged. That's where a lot of soldiers were discharged at that time. That was in August.

Lara Eller:

When you were discharged, did you go back to school?

William Bonsall:

Not at first, I just kind of hung out at home, whatever. But I had a friend and we went down to New Orleans to the Mardi Gras and it was nice. It was free because we still had military uniforms on and we could go to stay at hospitals, and it was free. We had nice hospital beds. I had borrowed by brother-in-laws car. So, we had a great time to answer your question, we had a great time right after we got out of the service. I got back just in time to be able to go back to Penn State. I had one year there and I started up in my second year.

Lara Eller:

What were you studying while you were at Penn State?

William Bonsall:

I wanted to be an architect but it turned out that physical education was much more fun, so I went into physical education.

Lara Eller:

Was your education supported by the G.I. Bill?

William Bonsall:

Yes, the G.I. Bill, and it was quite helpful because not too long after I got out the wife and I got married. My wife and I went to Penn State together.

Lara Eller:

You said that you get together with some of the people that you were in the service with after you were discharged, and after you got your education; did you join a veteran's organization?

William Bonsall:

No. I really didn't have anything to do with veteran's organizations. Why? I have no idea. I just didn't have time or wasn't bothered, whatever the case might be. The friends that we talked about went back to their own homes, did their own things, for many years. It wasn't until many years later that we got together. Those five that I told you about, it took many years; actually there was only four when we got together. About 16 years ago, at least 16, 17 years ago, secretary of state, A. James Mansion, of West Virginia asked if the ex-P.O.W.s of West Virginia would like to create an organization called the ex-P.O.W.s of West Virginia. And we did that, and we were sponsored by the national organization and we had to take a name so we became the Barbed-Wire Mountaineers ex-P.O.W.s of West Virginia. That was our title. At the time we got together, I was the first state commander, we had probably 70 or 80 ex-P.O.W.s at that time that we could bring together and have parties, and whatever we did, you know, get together. I was state commander just last year. This was the third time and we have on our record I think there are 22 now.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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