Chet and the Prisoners - 1
This is a
fictionalized story based on known information of several men wholived in Bismarck, ND during the first half of 1942. They might neverhave met each other, but they might have, and in this story I assume that they have, and this is how I imagine their various lives might
1102 Thayer Avenue, Bismarck
January 10, 1942
I thought maybe it would be useful to write some of this stuff down. I have a feeling that history is being made here in our little town, and it just might mean that I will take some small part of it.
Let me give you a bit of background information. My name is Chester Rense Wyngarden, but everybody calls me Chet. I was born and raised on a farm in nearby Pettibone, North Dakota, along with my sister, Mildred and three brothers, Alan, Richard and Lawrence. Then in 1918, our Mom died and Dad married Pearl Smith, who had been out mother's friend and also the housekeeper for Dad after she died. They had a son George and a daughter Inez. They've now moved to Minnesota.
In the 30's I went off to Jamestown College, to get my degree in Chemistry. I worked my way through college, being a milkman. But when I graduated, jobs were hard to get. I ended up with taking one at the State Mental Hospital in Jamestown where they trained me up to be an orderly – sort of like a male nurse. I worked there for five years or so, and met and married another of the staff, Ann Hutchinson,(pictured above) who was a widow with a 10 year old daughter, Kathleen. A year or so after we got married, I was offered a similar job, to be an orderly in the medical section of the State Penitentiary, here in Bismarck.
We got an apartment (the downstairs of a house where there are other people in the top floor and basement) near the middle of town, and close to the Catholic church and school, where Kathleen currently goes, but for how long, we are not sure, as she is not happy there.
In August 1940 we had a son, who we called Donald John, but he only lived three weeks, and never came home from the hospital. After that Ann had a miscarriage and we were beginning to think we were out of luck when it came to having kids, but then she got pregnant again, and the baby is due in late July this year.
My work at the Pen doesn't pay much – only $377 a year basic, although I often do overtime so make a bit more than that. But we were used to having two salaries and also having our living quarters provided as part of the job at the State Hospital, so we are really finding things a pinch at the moment.
Now I am coming to the crux of all this story. I work with a couple of doctors from the Q and R clinic here in town, who come out to the Pen on a part time basis. I have sort of been offered the chance to learn how to be an x-ray technician – and that really appeals to me, but that won't happen, they say, until after the war is over, when funding is easier to arrange.
And another of my doctor friends, Dr. Orr, has been working at Fort Lincoln, which is south of town here. It used to be a military fort, but then about 1930 became a CCC ( Civilan Conservation Corps) headquarters. Now that the US have come into the World War, they have made it into a detention camp for non-military aliens.
Dr Orr says they are desperate for medical men like me to come and work at the camp. Now I never was drafted to go into the war. I am within the age where they were drafting. My brother Richard is in the Navy and Alan is in the Air Force, now stationed in England. I felt like I was sort of letting the side down, but the doctors I work for made a very good case for me to be exempted from the draft, because of being in a profession that was essential for continuing life at home.
I have talked it over with Ann, and she is okay for me to take the new job, which would be a sort of add-on to the current job, and the salary would be almost double what I get now, at least on a temporary basis until the baby is born. After that, I expect I will be needed at home, and it might be better to help there than get the extra money. But this way we have a chance to get a crib and a buggy and some other things that we need, and can't really afford.
I can't pretend that I have much sympathy for these people being held at Ft. Lincoln. I guess that maybe about 400 Jerrys are there now – some taken off merchant marine ships, I understand. And now they are anticipating that at the beginning of next month, hundreds and maybe thousands of Japanese will be sent there. We won't be able to understand a word they say, and it's all a bit cockeyed. But I guess it will be a chance for me to do war work of my own, and feel like I am doing
something however small to help our guys out there, by keeping the world safer, by making sure our enemies can't use old friends as spies.
The plan is that I will work with Dr. Orr and do the same hours as he does out there, which is 1-4 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Ann isn't very happy about the Sunday business, because she likes to keep that for church, a big family dinner, and then relaxing with reading the papers and stuff like that. But sick people have to be dealt with on Sundays same as any other day. I'm sure God would understand that.