As 1944 came to a close, Sheboygan County was still short of its nearly $1.2-million goal for sales of Series E war bonds. The captains of industry in that fine Wisconsin county did what America has always done in times of crisis: they called in the U.S. Marines. Although in this case, a lone Marine from Cudahy handled his share of the duties.
In fall 1944, Marine Cpl. Earl J. Mulqueen Jr. was still recovering from the loss of his left leg in the Pacific theater when he was pressed into service promoting war bonds on the home front. The effort was one of the eight national war-bond drives between 1942 and 1945 that raised more than $190 billion. Investors purchased $25 bonds for $18.25. Bonds were redeemable after 10 years.
For the Sheboygan war bond tour, Mulqueen was paired with an Army man from Milwaukee who had been held in a Nazi POW camp. The boys made a whirlwind tour of Sheboygan to explain the importance of supporting the war effort. The county war bond committee placed a full-page advertisement in The Sheboygan Press featuring Mulqueen and Staff Sgt. Azzan C. McKagan, who was held captive for 14 months in Stalag 17B Braunau Gneikendorf near Krems, Austria. “You think you’re making ‘sacrifices’ when you buy an extra ‘E’ war bond?” the headline read. “Look at these two Wisconsin boys and say that!”
At a bond rally at Benedict’s Heidelberg Club, Mulqueen talked about his experiences fighting with the 2nd Marine Division on Guadalcanal and Tarawa. He noted the tremendous cost of fighting the war. At the U.S. Marine rest camps, he said, no rallies were necessary. The Marines gladly bought their share of war bonds. “The boys at the front are tired — damned tired — we all have to buy bonds to get them home as soon as possible,” he said.
McKagan described being shot down from the ball turret of his B-17 “Hellzapoppin” bomber, and how German civilians beat him after he parachuted to safety. McKagan suffered severe shoulder wounds from anti-aircraft fire. The Gestapo held him for two days and refused to provide medical treatment. He later underwent surgery, but German doctors withheld anesthetic. On Christmas Eve 1943, he was told he would be shot dead the next day for being a saboteur. Instead, he was moved to another POW camp. He was liberated by the Russians in September 1944.
“When I landed on German soil with my right shoulder joint knocked out as a result of flak, the younger German civilians in the vicinity immediately jumped on me and beat me up,” McKagan said. “The civilians that were too old for that sort of thing spit in my face.”
Mulqueen and McKagan appeared at American Hydraulics Inc., The Vollrath Company, Associated Seed Growers, Curt G. Joa Inc., Phoenix Chair Company, Garton Toy Company, Kingsbury Breweries Company, Armour Leather Company, Sheboygan North High School and Sheboygan Central High School.
At the high school rallies, “they were enthusiastically received, as both of the heroes were quite recently high school students,” The Sheboygan Press reported. McKagan attended Rufus King High School in Milwaukee. Mulqueen was a graduate of Pio Nono High School in St. Francis. Mulqueen was too young to enlist and needed written permission from his parents to join the U.S. Marine Corps.
On Dec. 7, 1944, the men appeared at halftime of the professional basketball game between the Sheboygan Redskins and the world champion Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons at the Sheboygan Municipal Auditorium and Armory. Some 3,400 fans gave full attention to the war heroes. “The messages of these young men who have sacrificed their limbs in the fight for victory brought every person in that vast armory to the realization that wholehearted support of the Sixth War Loan drive is the least that civilians on the home front can do to help these young men carry on at the fighting fronts,” read the sports page of The Sheboygan Press.
The rallies had the desired effect, helping put Sheboygan County over its Series E goal, with $1.21 million in bond sales. Overall through December 1944, county residents and businesses purchased nearly $8.6 million in World War II bonds — more than double Sheboygan County’s quota.
Mulqueen was a veteran of war-bond rallies by the time he hit the circuit in Sheboygan, In November 1944, he stood with two of his brothers at Schuster’s Department Store in Milwaukee at a bond rally that helped raise more than $500,000. None of it was easy for Mulqueen. Just six months earlier, he was blown off the deck of a landing ship-tank (LST) at Pearl Harbor in what would come to be known as the West Loch Disaster. The chain-reaction explosion that day killed 163 and wounded nearly 400 as the Marines prepared for the eventual invasion of Saipan.
After the war, Mulqueen returned to Cudahy, married and became father to six children. He had a long, successful career with his brother, Tinker Mulqueen, running Earl’s Automotive in Cudahy. He died of cancer on August 2, 1980.
Even though he was partially disabled, McKagan re-enlisted in the Army in March 1947 and became a small-arms instructor at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. He was awarded the distinguished flying cross for his World War II service. McKagan was killed in an automobile accident in Germany in July 1947.
By Joe Hanneman MAJ. JOSEPH SMALL III GREW CONCERNED as he peered out the windshield of his U.S. Marine Corps OV-10 Bronco reconnaissance plane, cruising low over enemy territory just inside Kuwait. It was early afternoon, Feb. 25, 1991, the second day of the Allied ground war. It was an all-out assault against Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces, who held the tiny oil-rich nation with an iron grip. But unlike the clear skies on the first day of the ground offensive, the weather had turned ominous.
Small lowered his twin-engine turboprop plane to about 4,500 feet. He was just beneath the low, stormy cloud ceiling and in the midst of thick, sooty smoke from the oil-well fires that scorched the earth below. He didn’t like being this low in a plane that flew only about one-fourth the speed of a U. S. fighter jet. He’d been the target of two Iraqi surface-to-air missiles on a previous mission, but was never low enough to really worry about being hit.
Today was different.
Small and his aerial observer, Marine Corps Capt. David Spellacy, were searching for an Iraqi tank column that had slowed the advance of the 1st Marine Division’s 1st Tank Battalion into southwest Kuwait. They set up a search pattern, and planned to call in air and artillery strikes on the tanks once they found them. While Spellacy surveyed the desert floor below, Small kept “jinking” the plane in erratic movements, hoping to make the aircraft a difficult target for Iraqi gunners.
After a few minutes of searching, they came upon a large, trench complex dug into the sand below. They were close enough to see soldiers moving about on the ground.
SMALL QUICKLY REALIZED HE’D STUMBLED ONTO a hornet’s nest of Iraqi troops, and was flying low enough to get stung. While Spellacy took down target coordinates, Small thought about getting the plane out of there. It was too late.
Screaming from the ground at 5 o’clock, a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile ripped into the right wing, killing Spellacy and crippling the aircraft. “I remember a loud explosion,” Small said. “It felt like a giant hand came out and smacked the airplane, like swatting a fly. I remember a brilliant, white light, coming from somewhere. The airplane was instantly, completely out of control.”
Not knowing Spellacy’s condition, or that the plane’s right wing had been blown off, Small tried to regain control of the craft. It didn’t work. Racing against time, Small pulled the eject handle. Within a second, both men rocketed free of the crippled airplane, 3-5 miles inside enemy territory. “I don’t remember any noise,” Small said. “My next conscious thought was when I was under the parachute.”
Small’s duty in Operation Desert Storm was the first combat assignment for the Racine native and 1975 UW-Parkside graduate. He’d arrived in Saudi Arabia on the first day of the air war, Jan. 17, with Marine Observation Squadron 1 from New River, N.C. Typically, he flew one mission per day. He’d leave the airstrip near the port city of Jubayl each day for a 4-hour flight, mostly patrolling the Kuwait-Saudi border and mapping enemy tank and troop locations.
IT WAS A LONG WAY FROM TINY SYLVANIA AIRPORT in Racine County, where Small fulfilled his dream of earning a pilot’s license on the day he graduated from UW-Parkside in December 1975. During his 17 years in the Corps, he’d flown other dangerous missions. He flew a helicopter on search-and-rescue missions to aid survivors of Hurricane David in the Dominican Republic in 1979. On one mission, his helicopter ended up belly-deep in mud as survivors rushed the craft to get at relief supplies.
He also flew drug interdiction missions in cooperation with the U.S. Customs Service and the Coast Guard in 1987. On one mission, he stumbled onto an air-to-boat drop of drugs, and guided law enforcement to the scene. The dealers were caught and convicted. Another time; another enemy. Now, floating into the hands of the Iraqis, Small pulled his survival radio from his vest and got off a quick mayday, noting his location. Now all he could do was wait to hit the ground.
When he landed, Small tore ligaments in his knee, and suffered a deep cut on his forearm. He laid on the ground, facing up. Within seconds, a dozen Iraqi soldiers were all over him. There was no running. “Evidently, the sound of my aircraft crashing got them out of their holes. Why they didn’t shoot – to this day I don’t know.”
After disarming him and removing his survival vest at gunpoint, the soldiers put Small in a land rover and drove north. A soldier in the front seat had his rifle pointed at Small’s face. A rival group of soldiers in another vehicle tried to run them off the road. Small looked to one of his captors for a clue to what was happening.
“He looked at me and said, ‘They’re crazy. They want to kill you.’ ”
SMALL WAS TAKEN TO AN UNDERGROUND BUNKER complex several miles away. He waited about 45 minutes as the Iraqis figured out what to do with him. One of the soldiers held a cigarette to his mouth for a few puffs. After taking his flight suit and gear, they dragged him up the stairs and stuffed him into another vehicle. This time, the destination was Kuwait City. At a building in the center of the Kuwaiti capital, the soldiers sat Small in the center of a room for another round of interrogation. The cloth strips used to bind his hands dug into his wrists, causing deep lacerations. The beating started off with cuffs to the ears and back of the head. They administered what Small called “a pretty good whooping,” but they never struck him in the face. After being led into another room, he was whipped with what he believed was a fire hose. One soldier hit him in the back of the head so hard it knocked him out cold.
“I figured they were going to beat me, then shoot me,” he said.
Small remembered what he had read about POWs in Vietnam, and how American soldiers answered questions by being vague or telling lies. It was a technique he would use often during his interrogation; a technique he later credited with saving his life. When the Iraqis found his flight map among his belongings and began questioning him about what it meant, Small said he told the “biggest, grandest lie I think I’ve ever told in my entire life.” It worked.
After that session ended, Small was again loaded into a vehicle and driven from Kuwait City to Basra in southern Iraq, headquarters of Saddam’s elite Republican Guard. They traveled up a darkened Highway 6, which would within two days become known as the “Highway of Death,” as Allied pilots destroyed scores of retreating Iraqi vehicles.
During the next interrogation, Small was not beaten, but was threatened with death if he didn’t cooperate. The next morning, Small was put into a car and driven to Baghdad. He was afraid during the daylong drive – afraid that U.S. planes might spot them on the highway and bomb the vehicle. Luckily for him, the weather was bad and no planes were visible. “Again,” Small said, “God was on my side. He kept the weather bad. Had the weather been nicer, I’m sure we wouldn’t have made it.”
SMALL ENDURED ONE LAST ROUND OF QUESTIONING before being sent to a POW prison. Guards who led him to the questioning hit him in the head, and purposely made him walk into walls or trip on the stairs. He was unsure what the Iraqis had in store for him. He had seen the pictures of captured Allied soldiers on CNN, soldiers who’d been beaten bloody and forced to read statements condemning the war. He knew what could happen. Then the questions ended. Small was taken to a dark, cold prison and left in a cell by himself. It had been 30 hours since he was shot down, and the impact of his ordeal caught up with him. He sat in his cell and wept.
He found only restless sleep that night, on a small square of foam padding that served as a bed. The night was interrupted by U.S. air raids that drew loud anti-aircraft fire from inside the prison compound. Having hit rock bottom emotionally, Small sat in his 12-by-12 cell and prayed. It was about the only comfort he’d found since being captured. He was making peace with God. “I figured that was it; I was done.”
Although his cell door had a blanket draped over it to keep him from seeing out, Small on occasion heard muffled whispers from other cells. At one point, he heard his name whispered. Someone must have heard him announce his name to the guards when he came in the night before. In between visits by his captors, Small discovered there were five other Allied pilots in his wing of the prison. Slowly, they exchanged information in whispers. He filled them in on the progress of the war. A couple days later, two more prisoners were brought in. The men worked to keep each others’ spirits up. On occasion, Small’s guard would give him a cigarette. He even brought him some hot tea on evening. “That was a good day,” Small said.
THE FIRST HINT THE WAR WAS OVER was when the bombing stopped. The prisoners heard the report of small arms fire in Baghdad, a traditional Muslim sign of celebration. On the night of March 4, all the prisoners were gathered, put on a bus and driven to another prison in Baghdad. A representative of the Red Crescent (similar to the Red Cross) was taking down everyone’s name. Prisoners were allowed to shave, then were blindfolded.
They were loaded onto a bus, and told they were now in the custody of the International Red Cross. It was finally ending. “That was the first time I really believed it,” Small said. They were put up at a luxury hotel for the night, and treated to hot showers and good food. The next day, they were loaded onto a Swissair plane and took off for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Near Saudi airspace, the commercial jet was joined up by two American F-15 fighters, which flew in tight formation as an escort. The pilots raised their helmet shields and gave a thumbs up. They broke away and were replaced by two British Tornado fighters. Their first official welcome home was a stirring sight for all on board. “It was the happiest day of my life, boy. We let out a whoop.”
When Small descended the steps at the Riyadh airfield, U.S. Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the Allied commander, was waiting to greet the POWs. The big, burly four-star general had tears streaming down his face.
AFTER A CHECKUP ABOARD A U.S. HOSPITAL SHIP near Bahrain, Small and his comrades flew a VIP plane to Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Waiting there were thousands of people, including his wife, Leanne, their children Lauren, 10, and Michael, 8, his son, David, 17, and his parents, Joe and Dolores Small of Racine.
Despite his valor and bravery, Small refuses to call himself a hero. And it’s not just modesty. He says many other soldiers have withstood much worse than he, including Vietnam POWs who didn’t come home to the adulation of the American public. That’s a message he’s carried to dozens of speaking engagements since the war ended. He’s also had difficulty dealing with the death of Spellacy – known as “Hank” in his unit – who left behind a wife and three young children. Small described his partner that day as the “greatest guy you’d ever want to know.”
Small has experienced “survivor guilt” and wondered if there’s anything he might have done to change the outcome. He knows there are no answers. “He was sitting three feet behind me. He got hit and I didn’t. God had something for me to do and God had something for Hank to do.”
Small, 41, was stationed in Florida after the war, training future Navy and Marine pilots at Pensacola Naval Air Station. (He retired from the Corps in early 1994 and started life as a civilian.) Small hopes his POW experience and willingness to talk about it will one day help some future soldier survive imprisonment in an enemy camp.
“If I can have some influence at some time on someone who may go through this 10, 15, 20 years from now … that’s what’s going to make it all worthwhile.” ♦
This story originally appeared in the Spring 1993 issue of Perspective magazine at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside
United States Marine Cpl. Almeron A. Freeman was scheduled to finish his three-year military service in just a matter of months. After nearly 1½ years in Korea with the 1st Marine Division, Freeman was headed for California aboard a U.S. Navy transport in March 1955. He never made it home. The Douglas R6D airplane slammed into a mountain peak on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. All 66 aboard were killed.
My father, David D. Hanneman, played football with Freeman at Mauston High School. Although Freeman was a year behind Dad in school, he was the same age. Freeman played left guard and wore No. 64 during the 1950 season. Dad played left tackle and wore No. 66. They were both muscular and athletic. Freeman’s death left a deep impression on Dad. In 2006, when planning the Mauston High School Class of 1951’s 55th reunion, Dad made sure Freeman’s photo was included in the program.
Freeman enlisted in the Marine Corps on August 27, 1952, directly after his graduation from Mauston High School. He was an infantry rifleman with the First Marine Division. He landed for duty in Korea just four months after an armistice ended Korean War combat and began a tense “peace” along the 38th Parallel.
At the end of his tour, he flew from South Korea to Tokyo, then to Hickam Field on the island of Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands. Just after 6 p.m. on March 21, 1955, Freeman was onboard a U.S. Navy R6D transport that left Hickam for Travis Air Force Base in California. Some 3½ hours into the flight, the plane developed radio problems and turned back for Oahu. Just after 2 a.m. on March 22, the plane was seen roaring low over the Navy’s Lualualei ammunition depot. Marine Pfc. Joseph T. Price, on guard duty at Lualualei, said the pilot turned on the landing lights and discovered the plane was headed straight into the Wai’ane Mountains. At the last second, the plane made a hard right, but slammed into the mountain about 200 feet below the tip of Pali Kea Peak. The explosion “lit up like daylight for about a minute,” Price said.
The resulting fire was so hot that it took rescuers nearly two hours to get close enough to confirm there were no survivors. The 66 killed included nine Navy crewmen and 57 passengers: 17 U.S. Air Force, four Navy, 12 Marines, 22 U.S. Army and two civilians (a mother and her baby daughter). It was the worst air disaster in Hawaii’s history. The U.S. Military Air Transportation System, which operated the flight, had flown 1.12 million passengers and crossed the Pacific nearly 42,000 times between January 1951 and March 1955 with no fatalities. The crash was caused by crew error. The plane was 8 miles off course when it struck the mountain.
Almeron Arthur Freeman was born February 3, 1933 in Dresbach Township, Minnesota, the son of Irvin M. Freeman and the former Lilah Jenks. Prior to 1940, the family moved from Houston County, Minnesota to Mauston. Irvin worked as a service station attendant. In addition to being a starting guard on the football team, Almeron was a member of the highly rated Mauston boxing team.
He came from a proud family military tradition. His great-grandfather and namesake, Almeron Augustus Freeman, served in the Civil War with the 1st Independent Battery, Wisconsin Light Artillery. The battery served under General William Tecumseh Sherman and General Ulysses S. Grant at the battle of Vicksburg, the battle of Port Gibson and later in defense of New Orleans. The elder Freeman later married and became a river pilot moving lumber on the waterways of Wisconsin.
Marine Cpl. Freeman was buried May 17, 1955 at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Due to the nature of the crash and fire, the remains of 40 service members were buried in a group grave site containing nine caskets. A memorial service for Freeman was held at Mauston High School on May 15, 1955.
The tragedy of the March 1955 air crash extended beyond the immediate victims and their families. Air Force Staff Sgt. Marion “Billy” Shackleford was scheduled to be on that flight, but because he forgot his travel papers, he was denied boarding. He was spared the fate of the 66 crash victims and returned home to Alabama to report for a new assignment. On April 19, 1955, the car he was driving was hit head-on by a Trailways Bus. He was killed instantly. His father, working on a nearby construction job, witnessed the accident. Like Freeman, Sgt. Shackleford was the great-grandson of a Civil War veteran.
It was just the kind of wartime story that made an emotional impact on Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin. Three Irish brothers serving in World War II appeared together to promote the sale of war bonds at a series of rallies in November 1944. Two were home on leave from the front and one was about to embark on his first overseas tour of duty.
There they stood on stage, the baby-faced Thomas “Tinker” Mulqueen still in naval training, the serious Marine Cpl. Earl J. Mulqueen Jr., on crutches due to the loss of his left leg above the knee, and the curly-haired redhead, Patrick J. Mulqueen, home from more than 18 months at sea with the U.S. Navy.
“Maybe it is because they are Irish, or maybe it is because they look so much like little boys—or maybe it is because everyone at one time or another, lost his heart to an Irish grin,” wrote The Milwaukee Journal in a front-page story on November 10, 1944. “But no matter what the reason, more and more persons every day are agreeing that the Mulqueen brothers, Tommy, Earl and Patrick, are among the greatest things which ever happened to Milwaukee.”
The impact the boys had was most evident at a bond rally at Schuster’s Department Store on Milwaukee’s North 3rd Street. The event got off to a slow start. Ben Barkin, head of the local war finance committee (later a legendary Milwaukee PR man and founder of the Great Circus Parade) was worried. That all changed when the Mulqueen boys took to the stage. “They are so cute,” one woman said. “They look like little boys playing soldier.”
Now the crowd was interested. Barkin introduced the lads. The 17-year-old Tommy was first to step forward and said simply, “You buy the bonds and the Mulqueens will win the war.” Considering he had yet to set foot in a combat zone, such as statement could have been viewed as a “wisecrack by a fresh kid,” The Journal wrote. But it wasn’t. “When Tommy said it, you knew he was telling the solemn truth,” the paper wrote. (Tinker went on to serve as a sailor on the fleet oiler USS Mattaponi.)
Earl talked about the war. At 21, he had seen more fierce combat than most would ever see. He fought at Guadalcanal and Tarawa with the 2nd Marine Division. Those were two of the bloodiest, deadliest battles of the entire Pacific war. Earl was a mortar crewman, so he was right at the front.
Earl was helping prepare an invasion fleet for the 1944 assault on the Mariana Islands when his landing ship-tank (LST) blew up at Pearl Harbor. The massive chain explosion caused the loss of many ships and resulted in hundreds of casualties. Because of the preparations underway for the invasion of Saipan, the Pearl Harbor disaster was a classified secret until the 1960s. So Earl was only able to say that he “almost made it to Saipan.” (Details of Earl’s war service and loss of his leg in the West Loch disaster will be the focus of a future Archive story.)
Patrick spoke of his experience as a firemanaboard the light cruiser USS Concord (CL-10). He enlisted on August 7, 1942 and by March 1943 was among the compliment of 700 aboard the Concord. The ship escorted reinforcement convoys in the southern Pacific, and prowled the dangerous, icy waters of the north Pacific. The Concord was involved in numerous bombardments of the Kurile Islands. During 1943, the Concord was on a surveying mission of the South Pacific with retired Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, the famous explorer. The ship visited Tahiti, Bora Bora and the Easter Islands. A huge explosion onboard on October 7, 1943 took the lives of 22 crewmen. Caused by ignition of gasoline fumes at the rear of the ship, the explosion threw some men overboard, while others were killed from concussion, burns, fractured skulls and broken necks. On October 8, those men were buried at sea. After participating in bond rallies in Milwaukee, Patrick was assigned duty on the USS Crockett (APA148), a Haskell class amphibious attack transport. The USS Crockett had just been commissioned on November 28, 1944.
The crowd at Schuster’s quickly figured out that these “boys” had seen and experienced the horror of war. “It was simple and short,” The Journal wrote. “No frills. No hero stuff, no dramatics—nothing but a couple of kids, one on crutches, asking people to buy and sell bonds.” The stories of the Mulqueen boys had the desired effect. Barkin exclaimed, “You know, the bond drive is going to come out all right.” He was right, for the Schuster’s bond drive raised more than $500,000.
Schuster’s was just one of many venues at which the Mulqueen boys spoke. At some rallies, they were joined by their mother, Margaret “Madge” Mulqueen, who was deeply involved with the war effort through the Wisconsin chapter of the Marine Corps League. She had four blue stars displayed in the window of the Mulqueen home at 3854 E. Cudahy Avenue in Cudahy — one for each of the three boys and one for her daughter Margaret, a Navy nurse based in San Diego.
The bond drives were a crucial part of the home-front effort in World War II. Across the nation, eight war-bond drives between 1942 and 1945 raised more than $190 billion. Investors purchased $25 bonds for $18.25. Bonds were redeemable after 10 years. Companies sponsored in-house bond rallies, and employees pledged purchases through payroll deduction. Children were encouraged to buy 25-cent war stamps to save up for their own war bond. Special sections of local newspapers were dedicated to promoting bond sales. On the radio, popular programs such as Fibber McGee and Molly dedicated entire episodes to war bonds and other home-front efforts.
Earl Mulqueen and Army T/Sgt. Louis C. Koth appeared at such a corporate event at Oshkosh B’Gosh Inc. on November 30, 1944. They were introduced by company president Earl W. Wyman. Koth was a radio operator aboard a U.S. Army Air Force B-17 bomber that was shot down during a mission over Schweinfurt, Germany. Koth was on his third mission in a B-17 Stratofortress when he was forced to parachute into enemy territory. Taken prisoner and repatriated 11 months later, Koth lost his right arm. Koth began participating in the bond tours shortly after being released from a hospital in Madison in the fall of 1944.
Koth and Earl Mulqueen toured Oshkosh Motor Truck Inc. and Universal Motor Co. Later they were interviewed live on radio station WOSH by local bond chairman Richard J. White. “Both of these boys are giving freely of their time to help the sixth war loan campaign,” White said. “They have made sacrifices beyond any that we are being asked to make, and although they will not see action again, they are both anxious to do whatever they possibly can to see that ammunition does not have to be rationed at the front.”
The bond rallies helped explain the costs of supplying the troops. Toothbrushes cost 8 cents each. A hand grenade was $1.56. An anti-tank shell cost nearly $3. A Garand rifle was $55. A 1,000-pound bomb cost $250, while a 75-mm Howitzer cost $11,350. A PT boat cost the military $145,000, while a 1,630-ton destroyer had a price tag of $10 million. A fully outfitted battleship cost $97 million. Bond drives supplied the U.S. government with needed cash, while giving ordinary citizens a concrete way to participate in the war effort.
Largely due to Barkin’s tireless efforts, Milwaukee’s World War II war-bond drives became a model for the nation. Described by The Milwaukee Journal as an “ace ward bond salesman,” Barkin was honored as Milwaukee’s man of the year in 1945 by the Milwaukee Junior Chamber of Commerce. For his $1 annual salary, Barkin popped up just about everywhere in Milwaukee: schools, churches, civic clubs and businesses. The 28-year-old was unable to enlist due to a disability, so he threw his energy into raising money for the war effort. Doctors told him to slow down, but the pitchman didn’t listen. He gave more than 1,000 speeches each year as head of the community division of the war finance committee.
“Let’s show Milwaukee what their money is buying,” Barkin said in 1943. He organized a “Wings for Victory” parade of tanks, jeeps, artillery and other hardware to do just that. Funds from the rally after the parade were used to buy military transport planes for Mitchell Field. Barkin convinced Milwaukee to rename Wisconsin Avenue “War Bonds Drive” for the duration of World War II, a practice later adopted in dozens of other cities. He understood the importance of having soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines tell their stories. The results were often heart-rending. He told the story of a Milwaukee woman who stood in line for two hours to buy a war bond for her boy, serving in North Africa. Her husband had just died two days prior. “Doggone it,” Barkin told Walter Monfried of The Milwaukee Journal,“that kinds of gets you, doesn’t it?”
So Barkin knew when the Mulqueen boys stepped on stage, the people would dig deeply into their pockets to support the war. “No matter what the mood of the meeting before the kids talk,” The Journal wrote, “when they finish, that meeting is sure of going over the top.
“Everyone who has heard the Mulqueen brothers agrees,” the paper wrote, “that the kids are among the best in the world.”