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Interview with Roscoe Wilkes [July 22, 2007]

Mary Kathryn Duffin:

This is tape number one of the interview of Roscoe H. Wilkes, for the Veterans History Project. We are at his home at 516 Birch Street, Boulder City, Nevada. Today is Sunday, July 22nd, 2007 at 10:40 a.m. My name is Mary Kathryn Duffin. I'm a court reporter conducting this interview. The first question we had was what did you do before you joined the service?

Roscoe Wilkes:

I did many things. My mother was a widow. So, I was duly bound to pitch in. When I was in grade school, I delivered handbills for the Jewish merchant in Pioche, Nevada for which I received 75 cents for delivering a handbill to every home in the town. At age 15 I delivered ice for the Putt Putt Ice Plant, artificial ice plant, in Pioche, Nevada, and for this I received 50 cents a day. During my high school years I was a night telephone operator on the little one horse telephone system, and my job was to come to work at 9:00 o'clock at night, immediately close the doors and go to bed in the back room, and I would get up at 8:00 o'clock in the morning and go home, pick up my lunch and go to school. For this job, which lasted maybe three years, I received 25 dollars a month which I do believe was the major source of income in our family at that time. At age 18 on graduating from high school I went to work in the number one mine of the Combine Metals Reduction Company in Pioche, Nevada as an underground miner. Actually there were miners and muckers. I was a mucker which was pick and a shovel and a wheelbarrow, and I worked there during the summers to get money to go to college. I was paid 4 dollars a day for this work. One summer the mine was closed for awhile. So, I worked as a power line grunt which meant tramming insulators and things on a rope pulley up to the linemen who were working on the insulators and so on, so forth. We checked the whole line from Boulder Dam in Clark County to Pioche, Nevada in Lincoln County. In the fall of 1936 I went to Black Hills Teachers College in Spearfish, South Dakota. I was there two years and earned a teacher's certificate which allowed teaching up to the eighth grade, to and including the eighth grade. I taught for five years.

Mary Kathryn Duffin:

Where did you teach?

Roscoe Wilkes:

That was -- my teaching was in Pioche, Nevada. The first year was at the Henry Ranch in Rainbow Canyon below Caliente, Nevada, and I had five students. My second year and thereafter I taught in the grade school in Pioche, Nevada. I taught the fifth grade, and I also taught band, and sometimes I taught basketball, athletics, and so on. I was very busy. And I stayed there until I enlisted in the service. My residence was Pioche, Nevada. Pioche, Lincoln County, Nevada.

Mary Kathryn Duffin:

And how did you decide to enlist?

Roscoe Wilkes:

Well, I was at home sick with a sore throat when Pearl Harbor occurred, and I heard about it on the radio. I knew then it was only a matter of time when I would have to go into the service because I was at the very ripe, correct age at that time, and I decided eventually I would like to be, if I could possibly do so, to be a hot airplane pilot. I enlisted at the Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, Nevada in June of 1942 as an aviation cadet.

Mary Kathryn Duffin:

And tell us about your first days in the service.

Roscoe Wilkes:

My first days in the service were at Santa Ana, California. There we went through a period of many weeks of classification and otherwise learning about the Army. We had lots of academic classes and exercise. On Christmas day I drew kitchen police which was washing dishes and cleaning up and so on and so forth in the kitchen. I was on that duty 14 hours on Christmas day of 1942. In the cadets I don't believe I ever studied so hard. I was sorry that I hadn't applied myself better in high school because I nearly flunked out, but I was too proud to be dismissed, and I just dug in like you wouldn't believe. It was study, study, study, but I finally got through classification. On weekends when we were free my buddies and me, we would go to Long Beach and chase girls, but that didn't last very long because we only had one night off. Classification, was slightly disappointed. I wanted, as I said before, to be a hot pilot, but as it turned out I was classified as an aerial navigator. I took more training at Santa Ana and was then assigned to Mather Field near Sacramento, California. I grew to love that place. It became my favorite Air Corp air base of my entire career. We had a severe schedule. 5:30 in the morning until 7:30 at night. Lights out were 10:00 o'clock. Saturday nights if we didn't have any demerits, or as we called them gigs, my friends and I would go to Sacramento and again, as boys that age do, chase the girls. That's where I met my first wife, Alberta, who later became my wife and the mother of my two daughters. I graduated in August of 1943, and I got my gold bars as a second lieutenant and my silver wings. The latter definitely was an asset in the chasing girls operations. Thereafter as a lieutenant and a navigator I took phase -- what they called phase training in Idaho, in Scottsbluff, Nebraska and in Langely Field, Virginia. In Scottsbluff I met the crew to which I would be assigned and also learned the kind of plane we would be flying which was a B24 Liberator bomber. Our crew consisted of the pilot, Victor McWilliams; the copilot, Glen Mensinger; the bombardier, Tony Fogel, and I, Roscoe Wilkes was the navigator. The gunners were McDowell, Hardy, Ragusky, Rifinisky and Miller. We flew practice missions in every direction out of Langely Field and out of Scottsbluff all over the United States. Finally we landed at Mitchell Field, Long Island, New York, and there we were issued all of our equipment and got ready for going overseas. In our time off, of course, we would take off on the train and go into New York and prowl up and down the streets of Times Square and other places and see the sights. I had a couple of drinks with Guy Lumbardo, the famous band director, and I saw various shows up and down Broadway. Finally in October of 1943 we had sealed orders, and we went out to our plane on a freezing morning. We were all dressed in our fleece-lined suits because it was so cold, and we got in our plane and took off. When we were up in the air we opened the sealed orders and found our assignment was to go to Miami Beach, Florida. Well, those clothes were hard to take on and off in an airplane. So, when we got off the plane in Florida, the boy who came out with a truck to take us into the headquarters operations wondered if we thought we were going to Alaska as we still had on those clothes. They were in shorts and T-shirts. We were there overnight, and the next day we started our flight overseas. We went first to the island of Trinidad, then to Belem, B-e-l-e-m, in Brazil, at the mouth of the Amazon, and then we went to a little place called Sao Luis, L-u-i-z, and then to Fortaleza, Brazil. We stayed in Brazil nearly a month as every plane had to have a 100 hour check before it could make the flight across the Atlantic Ocean to Africa. We took a night flight from Fortaleza to Dakar in Africa. That would be across the southern Atlantic. And we landed in Dakar the next morning. After sleeping under mosquito nets the next morning we took off for Marrakech, North Africa. We flew over part of the Sahara Desert to get there, and we eventually landed in Marrakech. From there we stayed in Marrakech only maybe one or two nights, and from there we went to Tunis, Africa where we stayed a month. We were living in tents about 15 miles out of Tunis, and the reason we were staying there is that our airstrip in Italy had not been finished, and they were blading and grading and preparing the air strip in Italy for our group and squadrons. Leaving -- now in Tunis -- we were there a month -- and if I can divert a little bit, tell you about some of the things we did, I had one illustration if you'd like to hear it.

Mary Kathryn Duffin:

Yes, what is your --

Roscoe Wilkes:

Diversion?

Mary Kathryn Duffin:

Uh-huh.

Roscoe Wilkes:

Well, I was wandering around the streets of Tunis when a man, another soldier, told me -- he said, down the street, the Red Cross has set up a place, and they're serving ice cream, which we didn't see very much of. So, I went down there, and I sat down next to an Englishman. We referred to them as limeys, an English soldier. And in our conversation I inquired as to what he did, and he said he worked in a repair yard depot where they repaired all kinds of equipment, trucks, tanks, jeeps, motorcycles. Anything that run that was slightly hurt, they would repair it and put it back into service. I inquired, do you think it would be possible for a guy to get ahold of a motorcycle? He said, one might. And I said, well, how much do you think one would have to pay to get a motorcycle? And he says, how does 20 dollars American sound to you? And I said, that sounds just about right. Meet me tomorrow night right here at 7:00 o'clock, and we'll go -- I'll spend tomorrow getting the airplane down by the far away gate and have it stashed there, and you meet me here tomorrow night at 7:00 o'clock, which I did. We got in the English truck and drove out, and when we got out of the truck we walked down a little distance and he said, now, you sit right here and wait, and so I sat on the bank. There's a little road there in front of me, and he left. And I didn't hear anything for awhile, and I thought, oh, my God, Roscoe, that limey has got your 20 dollars, and you're sitting out here in the dark thumbing your hands, and he's back in the barracks laughing about how he took that Yankee in. Well, that didn't happen, because in a few minutes I heard huff, puff, huff, puff, and here came the limey pushing the motorcycle up the road. He asked me if I had ever ridden one before, and I said no. So, he showed me where the gas was and the clutch and the gearshift that you shifted with your foot. It was -- the motorcycle was a -- I can't remember the name of it right now, but it was a one cylinder putt, putt motorcycle. Still go 70 or 80 miles an hour. So, I got on it, and I rode for maybe a mile before I got the guts to try to shift it into second and high, but I finally did and rode through the night. Luckily it was a moonlit night, and I could follow the roads, and then I took it home and got there about 1:00 o'clock in the morning and pushed it into the tent where my buddies were sleeping, and they wondered what was going on. I said, shut up, I got a motorcycle. And we enjoyed that motorcycle for about three weeks going here and going there and going here and going there, and finally I told some other soldiers about how I got it. We wound up five or six of those motorcycles were scooting around our base, and one guy turned one over and hurt his leg, and so there was -- became a sign on the bulletin board signed by the captain that anybody taking a motorcycle to Italy would be court marshalled. So, I met a soldier that had just come in. I said, would you like a motorcycle, and he says, yeah, how much? I said, about 20 dollars American. So, I sold the motorcycle and we went on to Italy. Okay.

Mary Kathryn Duffin:

Now what was the state of the war at this time? What was going on you were?

Roscoe Wilkes:

Well, the war was in full force, and leaving Tunis we went to a place called Cerignola -- that's C-e-r-i-g-n-o-l-a -- Italy. It's near Foggia, and that was -- that would be our permanent overseas base. We arrived in January. It was raining. We were camped in an almond orchard, and it was mud, mud, mud caked on your shoes two inches thick on the bottom. It was cold miserable, and four of us were assigned to a tent. Well, we manufactured a stove out of spare parts and hooked up a little gasoline line, and had it so we could heat it up so we were fairly comfortable but not really. Out of Italy -- out of that base my crew and I flew 30 missions. We went on missions to northern part of Italy; Southern France; Budapest, Hungry; Yugoslavia; Sofiya, Bulgaria and other places too numerous for me to mention. On May 6th, 1944, we were assigned -- that was Cinco de Mayo, May 6th, 1944, we were assigned to bomb a place called Ploiesti, Romania. Our assignment was to bomb oil refineries. The oil fields in and around Ploiesti were Hitler's primary source of oil and for gasoline and et cetera for his war machine. We knew that it would be heavily defended. The commanding officer of our squadron, a man named Major Landgraph (ph), and the pilot on my crew McWilliams, were not real warm friends, and I don't know what had happened, but they weren't. So, we were assigned position number five in a group of six planes. In other words, we were on the back end of the six man flight and on the outside. It was a very vulnerable spot because you were the first planes that the enemy fighters would come after. Well, that morning we were up at 4:00 o'clock in the morning, had breakfast and went to briefing, and after briefing we went out to the plane for the takeoff. When we took off, as I said before, we were flying B24 Liberator bombers. We had ten 500 pound bombs. We had 2700 gallons of gasoline. We had ten crew members, a lot of 50 caliber ammunition for the guns in the turrets, and so we were pretty heavily loaded. We flew an uneventful flight most of the way. As I recall we flew over the top of a solid mass of clouds which would be, of course, below us we flew at 20,000 feet. Approaching the target the clouds were broken up and perhaps only 40 percent of the sky was covered with clouds. So, the weather people had kind of knew what to do in their calculating ahead of time what the weather would be. When we started approaching the target, there were enemy fighters were in big numbers. The black puffs of flack which was smoke from the exploding flack guns, we used to joke that it was thick enough to get out and walk on and on that particular day. We approached the target. Bombay doors were open. Bombs away. And then a heavy thud. We had been hit. I got Tony out of the nose turret which was a tight fit, and so I would open the door from the inside of the plane and put my arms under his arms and twist him until he got out. When he got out, I handed him his parachute, snapped it onto the harness that he already had on, and over the interphone from the back of the plane came the words, we're on fire, and then pretty quick over the interphone, bail out. No questions were ever asked, because we had agreed ahead of time that no one would ever say bail out unless they meant it and it was serious. The nose wheel door up in the front of the plane where I was stationed as navigator was open, and I looked down at the ground for maybe two or three seconds, and I realized that I didn't have any alternatives. So, out the open nose wheel door I went. In training we were told to count ten, pull the rip cord and everything would be fine. My curiosity was much too great for that. I counted to four, maybe five, and pulled the cord. A loud pop occurred, because we still had the forward motion of the plane, but the chute opened, and I looked up and saw that it was opened, and I wondered, well, that's good. Now what? I took my oxygen mask off and dropped it and watched it fall. I went down a little ways. I scanned the sky, and off in the distance coming down at me was an ME109 which was a German fighter plane. These planes were piloted by both Germans and Romanians as I learned later. The Romanians trained by the Germans. Now, when I said coming down at me, I don't mean steep down at me. He was coming down at me at maybe an angle of ten degrees. As he approached closer and closer I wondered, is this my last day. Well, it wasn't. He slowed down, put his plane in a bank and circled around me 360 degrees as close as his plane would allow, I presume. As he went around me, I saw him throw up his hand. He may have been a Romanian pilot. I'll never know. Maybe he was a German. I don't know. But he wasn't Japanese, as I learned later, because they would shoot men coming down in parachutes, and over there we were fighting against Caucasians, and I knew what he thought when he left. He thought that that guy's got enough troubles, and I'm not going to give him any more. I floated down farther, and I saw a forested area coming up at me from the ground. It was a large forested area, and I could not avoid it. I crossed my legs and threw my arms up in front of my face and crashed into the trees. I was knocked out cold. Hours later, maybe five hours later, dazed and with my eyes probably glassy eyed type I woke up. It was a dream like world. Everything was fuzzy and shaky, and I could think a little bit, but I was dazed as best as I can describe it. So -- but I did pull my chute down out of the trees. Now, these trees were deciduous trees with big limbs maybe 30 feet high, and I emptied the goodies out of my backpack and put them in my pockets, and then I started walking very slowly, and I had walked only a short distance, maybe 50 yards, when, click, suddenly the dazed status cleared and my mind was perfectly clear. I walked from -- through the trees to where they had fire guards. That isn't the right word. They were an area where the trees had all been cut down for about 30 or 40 yards across. It was protection if one of the forests caught on fire that it wouldn't go all the way. It was open spots. So, I would walk through the trees until I came to an open spot then look up and down and then cross the open spot to the next one, and finally I kept walking and I heard a voice, and I peaked through the trees, and there was an old man talking to his horses. He was unhooking them after their day's work. He was getting ready to go home. I watched and could see that he was an older man maybe well into his 70's. Finally I calculated my chances, and I realized that if I went east I would have to go through the Russian lines, and if I went the other way I'd have to good through the German lines, and it wasn't possible. So, I finally walked out, handed him my gun and raised my hands up in the air in token of surrender, and next we talked pigeon English and sign language with our arms, and I got across to him if I surrendered to him would he turn me over to the Germans. Neui, neui, which meant no, nix Germans, and he went across his throat with his hand. So, I went with him. We soon came across a hunting group. They were hunting for me or maybe some of the other people that had come out of that plane. There were two or three of them that had pitchforks. One or two had guns. They were a party of about five or six, and they weren't exactly friendly. They kept saying bomba, bomba and spitting at me, and they marched me to a small town. I knew better than to make any move because had I shown any kind of resistance, I would have been enjoying the sharp edge of pitchforks or guns. When we reached this small town I was pushed into a cellar. Had straw in there, and my back was hurting from the bang I'd taken on the trees, and I didn't sleep, but the next day I met the bombadier of my crew, and we were put in a wagon. There was a driver, had two horses and a buggy, and on the back of the buggy was a soldier sitting with a gun, and we were sitting in the bed of the little truck or wagon if you want to call it. We would ride along and stop. We'd stop at intersections when the driver would get out and go in. I know what he was doing. He was calling to find out where to take us. But then while we were parked there, the townspeople would come and yell bomba at us, and we had sputum all over us. They didn't like we Americans because, of course, we had been bombing them. I wound up that night in a temporary camp and stayed there for a few days. We were given no food for two full days. The third day we got some food, and by then we needed it. After about a week in the temporary camp when we were interviewed and so on, we were then taken by truck to Bucharest, Bucharest, Romania which is the capital and a big city and placed in a permanent prisoner of war camp. The place we were in was an abandoned old school house. It was three stories high with a basement, and all around the outside was barbed wire entanglements to prevent escaping, and that's where we were for the next period of time. McWilliams, the pilot, lost his leg below the knee, and he was not in prison camp. He was in a hospital somewhere. Hardy, one of the gunners, the next time I saw him he had -- his head was completely covered with bandages, and I thought, oh, my God, that poor kid is burned, and he'll be scarred for life, and I felt so sorry for him, but later when they took the bandages off, his face was a bright pink. He had -- his burns were only surface, and he looked even better than he did before I'd have to say, jokingly. I was prisoner of war from May the 6th into September, something between four and five months. I was asked if I was fearful of anything. No, we were treated humanely. The only time that we were all fearful is when we were on the receiving end of bombs by our British allies at night and our Americans during the daytime. Now, that didn't happen every day, but maybe once a week we'd be subjected to a bombing attack, and we'd all leave our upstairs rooms and go down to the basement and put our back against the cement wall and hope that the bombs all missed, which they did. One bomb hit in the street out next to the prison camp and blew out all the glass windows and knocked some metal cabinets over and things like that, but we never got hit directly. The Romanians were being occupied by the Germans, and they didn't enjoy that. So, they tried the best they could to treat us humanely. I never saw a man struck or hit or beat in any manner. The worst part of the incarceration there was the sanitary conditions were bad, lice and bed bugs and lots of them and very, very sparse diet. The diet was a lot of cabbage soup. Once one of the fellows found a sheep's jaw including the teeth in the soup. We ate a lot of feta cheese, a dark brown peasant bread. Breakfast we had marmalade and tea, kind of an imitation tea, and not very much of it. I think I went from about 165 pounds down to about 140 in those months. How did we speed our time? Reading, playing checkers, visiting, taking naps. We had a vocal group. We practiced like a glee club singing. One or two of the fellows had studied music, and they wrote out the parts for us, and we put on a play at one time for the benefit of the Romanians and the guards and anybody that wanted to come, and one of the main things we were allowed every day to go out in the yard and play basketball, outdoor court, and that was really a good thing. We had a little vague -- a little idea of what was going on in the world because somehow some of the people -- some of the prisoners had been able to sneak or get ahold of a little radio. Now, it was guarded with great care, because, of course, it was illegal, but a few of the choice ones would get under some blankets in the middle of the night and listen to BBC on the radio, and they would get the war news of where the fighting was going on. We had some colored chalk, and they drew a map on one of the walls and would show where the lines were and other things. I learned, for example, which was of great interest to me, that the Congress had passed and the President had signed what became known as the GI Bill of Rights, and that when the war was over, the government would subsidize schooling, and I vowed right then and there to take advantage of that if I ever got out of that prison camp. Holidays. The only holiday we had was the 4th of July, and nothing. We just talked about it is about all that we could do. Soon in August we learned that the war in one sense of the word was kind of reversing. Hitler had invaded Russia and suffered through a terrible winter and experienced a lot of losses, and finally the Russians began to push the Germans back, and the Germans in Bucharest began withdrawing a little at a time leaving, and then there came a time when the Russian Army was approaching Bucharest and the Romanians pulled what I'll call a coup d'etat. They captured and took into custody all of the remaining Germans which were very few by then, and at that time we were released from prison camp. In fact, we were removed from the school house to an abandoned Army base about five miles out of town from Bucharest. I stood on a street corner and watched the Russian Army march into Bucharest. Indeed, once they were freed for the day some of my friends and I drank beer with some of the Russians there in Bucharest, but we were told by our superiors not to do that any more because even though the Russians were our allies, who knows but what we might be taken into custody and taken back to Siberia. We just didn't plain -- we just plain didn't know, and so we avoided that kind of activity. Once we were freed -- the highest ranking officer in our prison camp was a colonel, American colonel, and in collaboration with the Romanians, they took an ME109, which is a German fighter, and altered things in the fuselage so he could slide in there and lay on his tummy. They painted the plane white with a red cross on each side, and a hot Romanian pilot took off for Italy and our base, our area over there. As I understand it, the American fighters spotted the plane coming, saw the red cross on it and escorted it into the air base there at Foggia, Italy, and our colonel was then able to tell our people how many prisoners of war there were. Well, it took about two weeks, but a flight of B17s flew over enemy lines, landed in Bucharest, picked us up, took two days to, two trips, to get everybody, and we were flown back to Italy where the first order of the day was to be deloused, showers, shaves, new clothes, plenty of food, and there we were back in our own outfit. We stayed at our base maybe three or four or five days, and then we were moved to Naples which is in the eastern side of Italy, and a few days there we were back on a ship headed for New York. When we got to New York, we were taken up the East River to a place called Fort Slocum where we got new Class A uniforms, new shoes, new everything, and we were there for a little while. Lots of food and medical attention and dentist attention and all of those kind of things. Then we were back in New York again, and again some of us were up and down Broadway and Times Square, and we saw Tommy Dorsey and Ted Lewis and Benny Goodman, and I saw the stage show Oklahoma, and we just plain had a pretty good time for a little while. Then soon we were given leave, 60 day leave, and I flew back to Salt Lake City, and then I took the bus down to Pioche, and I had a 60 day leave. No. Pardon me. A 30 day leave. Then I went down to Sacramento, and that's where I met Bertie again, and we got married at that time. That was in October of 1944. Well, they still didn't know what to do with us. The talk was we might be -- we prisoners of war, which were the first ones of any number to be released would maybe be discharged, but eventually that was nixed, and we were, however, given the opportunity to go to any air base in the United States that had work that we could do. Well, I asked for Mather Field, but it had been changed from a navigation school, and there was no longer any work that I could do there. So, I took my second choice which was anything on the west coast. I got sent to Long Beach. In fact, at that time I had been sent to Ellington Field, Texas and then to Memphis, Tennessee, and Bertie was with me all of this time. We got on the train, and we were supposed to have a sleeper, and we didn't get it. It wasn't available. Well, we would get it the next main stop. There were no sleepers. So, we came clear across the country in coach, and Birdie's white blouse was getting black around the neck, and she was getting angrier and angrier all the time at the Army because they weren't taking care of us. We finally got to Los Angeles and then down to Long Beach, and, you know, luck would have it, we found an apartment the first day, a little apartment, and I would be stationed in Long Beach. My duties would be with the Air Transport Command. We called it ATC, and our duty would be to deliver planes to the Pacific theater, and they would take a skeleton crew, maybe three or four men, and you take a plane down, and we -- I went to Australia. I went to the Philippine Islands. I island hopped across New Guinea and all of those places down there, and then when we reached our destination, they would take all of these -- eight or ten of these skeleton crews and put them on one plane and fly us back to the United States and back to our base in Long Beach. There we would have maybe two weeks before we'd have another trip. So, I spent that time, some of it, going up to USC and getting my pins in a row to enter law school because VE day had come, and I expected that VJ day would be coming sometime, and by hook and crook I was able to get registered for law school even though they wanted three years of junior college and I only had two, and I didn't have the right courses even at that, but the registrar looked across at my Purple Heart I think on my uniform and he said, I don't know if you're going to pass, but you're going to get your chance. So, I was registered for law school. In November and after VJ day we were sent to Marysville.

Mary Kathryn Duffin:

This is tape number two.

Roscoe Wilkes:

This was November of 1945, and we were sent to Camp Beale, which is near Marysville, California, for discharge. Now, discharge you would think would be easy, but it took four or five days. You had to check this out, check that out, check this out, check that out. But all the time Bertie and I were staying at the ranch which was only ten miles away from where we were being discharged.

Mary Kathryn Duffin:

Her parents' ranch?

Roscoe Wilkes:

Let's see. We were staying at Bertie -- that's my wife -- at her parents' ranch near in Yuba City which is just across the river from Marysville. We stayed there for maybe ten days, and then we went down to Los Angeles in preparatory to my going into law school. We searched for, oh, at least a full week, and all the time mostly it was raining, and there again luck would have it, we found an apartment on Sunday night, and school started the next day, which was Monday. We moved in at 7:00 o'clock at night. The lady said that the apartment had been promised to some other people, but if they didn't show up by 7:00 o'clock, we could have it. At 7:00 o'clock we were parked out in front of the building, and they don't show up, and so we moved in. Went across the street to a little deli and got some milk and stuff and settled in for the night, and the next day I started school. There again I almost met my match in law school especially the first semester. I'd been away from any formal kind of studying for a long time, and being thrust into a graduate school and a hard one at that, was almost more than I could handle, but I made it, and the second and third year it got better. I was asked if I kept in touch with my crew members. Only the bombardier Anthony Fogel. All the rest of them have passed away as far as I can tell. We don't know -- we lost track of one of the gunners, McDowell. So, we don't know about him, but -- giving the crew again we had Victor McWilliams was the first pilot. Glen Mensinger was the co-pilot. Tony Fogel was the bombardier. Chester Miller was the engineer and a gunner. Daniel Ragusky from New Jersey was assistant engineer and a gunner. Joe "Pop" Rifinisky from New Jersey was tail gunner. Robert Hardy from Pennsylvania was a waist gunner. Harry McDowell from Michigan was a waist gunner. And Victor Eggemeyer, E-g-g-e-m-e-y-e-r, from Illinois was the radio operator. I didn't say, but McWilliams was from Mount Carmel, Illinois, and Glen Mensinger was from the State of Pennsylvania. That's the crew, and all of them have passed away except Tony Fogel, and we have a letter back and forth at Christmastime and maybe once or twice during the year. What did I do after I got out of law school? I went back to Nevada, took the bar and passed it, but I also taught school awhile when I was trying to get started, and after about a year or so in a law office with an old aged attorney, Mr. A.L. Scott, Attorney at Law, I ran for District Attorney in Lincoln County, Nevada and was elected. I was there the next 16 years, and one day I got a call from the governor offering me a judgeship, which I accepted, and it entailed selling our little home in Pioche, Nevada and moving to Ely, Nevada where I was District Judge for seven and a half years. My first wife, Alberta, passed away in Ely from cancer, and I took my retirement, and that didn't last too long. I was too busy for that. So, I applied for and became an Administrative Law Judge working for the Department of Transportation, United States Coast Guard and hearing maritime cases. We -- I moved to San Francisco. Specifically we lived in Marin County, and my offices were in San Francisco. I had Stephanie with me. She was in the fifth grade, I believe at the time, and we had a hired housekeeper named Betty Harris who was very helpful to us. While in Sacramento I met Lois, and we got married and later moved laterally from San Francisco to Seattle, Washington where we got a nice home on Bainbridge Island, and I was there for the next 18 years as Administrative Law Judge. My opinion about war. War is bad. It's terrible, and it's too bad that people can put a man on the moon but they have never learned how to get along with each other. It's just too bad billions and billions of dollars spent on what can at best be called a worthwhile situation. Nobody gains, property is destroyed, people are killed all because they just can't get along. My military experience. I loved every minute of it except when I was in prison camp. We were always going somewhere, doing something. I'm glad I guess that I wasn't in the infantry and sloshing through the mud and slim and so on. At least we had a bed at night, and it was great except the prisoner of war. And after the war I have no quarrel about my military service, no quarrel whatsoever. I was treated very, very well by my government. I was given an opportunity to receive a first class education, the opportunity to make a good living as a lawyer, as a District Attorney, as a Judge, and in my old age I wound up with two nice retirements and wonderful medical attention through the Veterans Administration, and I have no quarrel with my military service. I still consider myself to be a good, patriotic, country loving American citizen, and I can't stand any of the isms that are prevalent in the world. I am American all the way and will be as long as I live.

Mary Kathryn Duffin:

Judge Wilkes, thank you so much for this interview, and thank you for your service.

Roscoe Wilkes:

You're very welcome.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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