Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Wisconsin and WWII

Wisconsin and WWII

Bordered by two of the Great Lakes and four states, Wisconsin is about twenty-five percent larger than England. Having been impacted by the Glacier Age, the state’s geography is highly diverse from its Western Upland to its Great Plain. Second only to Michigan in Great Lakes’ coastline, Wisconsin has plenty of “waterfront property.”

The state saw heavy immigration during the 19th and 20th centuries, and by World War II, over one-third of Wisconsin’s population was German, many of whom who continued to speak their native language at home. Was the high number of Germans the reason the U.S. Government chose to locate thirty-eight (!) POW camps that housed more than 22,000 prisoners within the state?

Possibly, but with over 325,000 Wisconsinites going off to war, the fields were in desperate need of planting, maintaining, and harvesting. Gas and tire rationing put a halt to the use of migrant workers creating a void in the industry. Working side-by-side with their hosts, German prisoners are credited with saving the 1944 and 1945 crops. Many captives fell in love with the country and returned to live after the war.

In addition to housing prisoners, Wisconsin increased its food production and earmarked a large percentage of it for the military. By 1943, over 55% of all cheese was sent to the troops, and Borden received the Army-Navy E award for its exception record of producing cheese. Powdered Milk in J-rations (Jungle) was from Wisconsin as were the beef and pork in C-rations. K-rations contained tins of Wisconsin cheese. All told the agricultural industry filled nearly five billion dollars in orders during the course of the war.

Wisconsin also did its bit in the defense industry and converted the majority of its factories to war materiel. As men left for combat, women filled their shoes. Manitowoc, Sturgeon Bay, and Superior became the centers of shipbuilding as they built submarines and chips. Badger Ordinance Company grew into one of the largest manufacturers of ammunition in the world.

In addition to working in the fields and industry, over 9,000 Wisconsin women donned uniforms and served in every branch of the armed forces. Many were involved in healthcare, but other served as parachute riggers, cryptographers, weather observers and ferry pilots.

The military set up several air bases used to train pilots and crews for Army Air Force fighter planes and bombers. Some of the bases were retained by the military after the war, but many were converted to municipal airports. Others were dismantled so the fields could be returned to agricultural use.


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Despite the agony of the injury at the Battle of Drøbak Sound that took his arm, Dieter Fertig is relieved he’s no longer part of Hitler’s army. He returns to Berlin and discovers Jews are being deported by the thousands. When he realizes the Nuremburg Laws require his best friend’s baby girl to be killed, he must find a way to spirit the child out of Germany before the Nazis discover her existence. 

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  1. Three of my grandparents were of German descent. My dad remembers being with German friends who stopped to speak in German with POWs working in an orchard.

    1. Wow! What a neat story. My paternal grandparents are of German descent but didn't speak the language. My great grandmother who lived until I was about 12 still spoke German.