Minnesota's Greatest Generation

Wilbert Bartlett: "You Are Going To Be Inducted"

The call to arms during World War II interrupted college careers, friendships, and family life. Wilbert LeRoy Bartlett was about to finish his last year at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri when he was inducted into the Army, and missed the satisfaction of participating in commencement exercises. Following training, Mr. Bartlett served as a military instructor stateside before reassignment in November 1945 to airfield construction duty with an Engineer Aviation Battalion. Soon after his discharge in 1946, he moved to St. Paul. He recalled his induction into service in a 2002 interview with Thomas Saylor.

Oral History Excerpt

TS: Well, the first question I wanted to ask you, in 1941 when the U.S. got involved in the war, you were well into your second year of college.

WB: Yes.

TS: The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the 7th of December 1941: I’m wondering if you remember what you were doing when you first heard that news?

WB: Yes. When I first heard it I was coming out of a theater in Jefferson City. Yes. And of course, it was blasting all over that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. "The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor." The main thing that was talked about was most of the guys would probably be drafted and go into the service. It was pretty well discussed. It was discussed in school, in the classrooms and what not. Everybody thought it was a pretty terrible thing, especially with the people who were killed.

TS: So it was a topic of conversation at your college? At Lincoln University?

WB: Not everywhere, but at certain times. Especially in the beginning it was. In the first week, I would say it was a topic of conversation.

TS: At the time, December 1941 or even early 1942, were you someone who considered quitting college and enlisting in the service?

WB: Not really, because we were under the impression (most of us there) that we were going to be able to stay and finish college completely. I hadn't felt too much against it because early on—I had neglected to tell you that I was a member of the CMTC for a couple years.

TS: What’s that, what’s CMTC?

WB: That's the Citizen Military Training Camp that you went to when you - the war wasn't even thought about then. This was before, when I was in high school. 1938 and 1939. It was at Fort Riley, Kansas. It was a training base that they sent guys who were interested in military to give them a little taste of the military. [Not exactly a school, but a permanent military cavalry base of which the Army made use. At that time the soldiers trained on horseback as well as being motorized.]

TS: So you volunteered for this?

WB: Yes. I volunteered. I forgot all about that, really. My brother went and that kind of got me interested in it.

TS: He was a year older than you?

WB: He was a year older. He had gone there, too. Fort Riley, Kansas. He went and couple of kids from the hometown went. So I didn't really worry too much about what kind of life it was. You got a pretty good taste at military training school.

TS: So you weren't intimidated by the thought of joining the military?

WB: Not intimidated. No. I wasn't intimidated. I hated to see it, the way it was carried out. You know, the war going on. But both sides were ready for it. The sneak attack…at that point anybody . . . I didn't really care for it, but I really didn't . . . it didn't worry me. I didn't know if I had to go in the service. As a matter of fact, I was almost positive that I would have to be sworn in after I finished school. So it didn't affect me that way that I didn't know what's going to happen now. I just took it in stride.

TS: How about your brother? He was a year older. When did he go in the service?

WB: He went in. He graduated the year before I did…I went in 1943. He probably went in 1942.

TS: Did he go to Lincoln University, too?

WB: He went to Lincoln. Yes…He graduated.

TS: What branch of the service did he go into?

WB: He went to...I don't know where he had his basic training, but he went into the engineers.

TS: Also Army.

WB: Yes. Army engineers. He was in the Army. Yes. Army engineers. He actually, finally after he was in the war, he went to Officers Training School.

TS: Did he really?

WB: Yes. He went to Officers Training School and he got his commission.

TS: While the war was still on?

WB: While the war was still on. He was a lieutenant. From what he talked about, he was in the battle area.

TS: In the Pacific or Europe?

WB: No…He didn't get to the Pacific. He was in France, too. He never did talk too much about what he actually or how close he was to the actual firing, but he was in the combat zone. I think it did affect him later on in life…He was discharged before I was. I remember that.

TS: And you were discharged in April of 1946.

WB: Yes. He was probably discharged in 1945.

TS: How did your folks react? Your mom and dad were still in Moberly [Missouri], right?

WB: Yes.

TS: Do you know how they reacted to the news of Pearl Harbor? Did you talk about it with them?

WB: Not too much because I wasn't with them, but they talked about it. I talked about it when I went home. My dad was pretty [unclear] about it. He was in the service, too…He was a supply sergeant in World War I so he had quite a bit of military service…He talked about it some but he didn't seem too…he was sort of a quiet guy anyway. He didn't seem to be outraged or anything. I think he was probably sure that the United States would be able to take care of this.

TS: Did he encourage or discourage you and your brother from joining the service?

WB: He definitely didn't discourage it. He said if you didn't do anything else, if you didn't have a good job or anything, the military would be a good thing for you for a while.

TS: How about your mom?

WB: She wasn't too hot about going into the service. Even though she knew him while he was in service, my dad…She knew about the military life. She didn't try to encourage the kids to go into it. She more or less went along with what he would say.

TS: Do you remember getting the letter in the mail that said you had to report for military service?

WB: No. Not a personal letter to me. It was sort of a memorandum to the school.

TS: No kidding!

WB: Yes…They had put us in more or less an induction type…saying you will be inducted when you finished school.

TS: So you knew that this was coming when you finished school.

WB: They had the names of all the guys that were eligible and had the age and everything. So we were told. They probably just sent a letter to the administration saying that we were going to be inducted at a certain date.

TS: Which they moved up, apparently.

WB: They moved it up. They moved it up a week from the graduation date and said, "You are going to be inducted." And gave us the date that we had to report.

TS: So in March of 1943?

WB: Yes.

TS: Wilbert, when you went to service, where did you do basic training?

WB: I did my basic training in Jefferson Barracks, Missouri.

TS: That’s near St. Louis, isn’t it?

WB: Jefferson Barracks? Yes, it’s just a little bit out of St. Louis, a few miles from St Louis.

TS: You weren’t going very far, then, were you?

WB: No.

Read Full Transcript


Bartlett, Wilbert LeRoy; Thomas Saylor, Interviewer, Thomas Saylor; Minnesota Historical Society Oral History Collection, 2002.

Bartlett, Wilbert, LeRoy; Thomas Saylor, Interviewer, Oral History: Wilbert LeRoy Bartlett. Minnesota Historical Society: Share Your Story, 2006.