Paying WWII Prisoners of War – United States

US Army map showing the locations of the major POW camps in June 1944

The United States took it first prisoner of war in WWII on December 7, 1941 when a midget sub piloted by Kazuo Sakamaki beached on the shores of Oahu. By the end of the war, over 425,000 POWs were housed in the US.

Back of a POW ID card for an Italian Prisoner of War in Charleston, SC.

The Geneva Conventions allowed for POWs to be put to work by their captors who were supposed to compensate the prisoners for their labor. The United States paid POWs who worked $.80 per day — the same amount earned by a private in the US Army. Prisoners worked in a variety of industries including agriculture, lumber and light manufacturing. The business owners paid the US government for the prisoners’ labor.

POW canteen chits issued at Billy Mitchell Field in Milwaukee. Prisoners worked at a number
of local industries including battery and spark plug assembly and food packing plants.

Prisoners were not paid in cash. The amounts they earned were credited to them on account. In many camps there were canteens or exchanges where the prisoners could purchase personal care items, stationary, hobby supplies and even food. Chit booklets were distributed to facilitate purchases. The amount of the chit booklet was deducted from a prisoner’s account balance.

The starting eleven of the German POW soccer team from the camp at Roswell, NM.

Prisoners could accumulate a significant amount of money during their captivity. Upon repatriation they received a check in the amount of the balance of their account. Although the checks were denominated in US dollars, they could only be cashed by US military disbursing officers overseas. This was done for two reasons.

Face of payment order for a German POW.

First, it prevented a prisoner from obtaining US dollars while still in the United States which could aid in escaping. Second, the military disbursing officers paid out Allied Military Currency denominated in the currency of a prisoner’s home country. AMC was issued by the Allies as occupation currency which resulted in the vanquished country paying the expenses of the occupation. Rather than being a liability of the United States, the balance in a POWs account became a liability of his home country.

For more information on the use of POW labor see History of Prisoner of War Labor by the United States Army 1776-1945 by LTC George P. Lewis. I also recommend the new book by my colleagues David Frank and David Seelye, The Complete Book of World War II USA POW and Internment Camp Chits.

Women in the Military

In recognition of International Women’s Day I thought it appropriate to highlight a few items in the collection pertaining to women in the military.

This first item is a short snorter on a Central Bank of China 10 customs gold units note. The first signature on the note is Geraldine P(ratt) May, Major, A(ir) C(orps).

Colonel Geraldine Pratt May

Colonel May was born in 1895 in Albany, NY. She died in 1997 at the age of 102. Before the war she was a social worker and an executive with the Camp Fire Girls. She joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in July 1942. Upon completion of officer candidate school she was assigned to the Army Air Corps where she served as director of WACs in the Air Transport Command. After the war she was appointed Director of Women in the newly created United States Air Force. She was promoted to full colonel and was the first woman in the Air Force to hold that rank. She left active service in 1951.

This next piece is also a short snorter with the signatures of four different women. The underlying note is an Australian made counterfeit of the one pound note issued by the Japanese for their occupation of Oceania. Three of the four signatures are positively identified.

Cathey (Catherine) Coffey was a WAC from Butte, Montana. She enlisted in May 1943. (Jean) Tommy Thomson was a nurse in Hastings, Nebraska when she joined the Army Nursing Corps in 1943. She served in Australia, New Guinea and the Philippines. Pearl Hays also joined the WACs in 1943. Her civilian job was a keypunch operator and the Army put her to work in cryptology in New Guinea and the Philippines. The identity of Helen Edwards, the remaining signature, cannot be verified. There were at least three different women with that name who served in the WACs.

This last piece is a $10.00 War Bond made payable to Mrs. Josephine Dannegger. The $10.00 bond was referred to as the Soldier’s Bond as they could only be purchased by US Army personnel.

Josephine Dannegger’s marker
at Arlington National Cemetery

Ms. Dannegger immigrated to the United States from Germany with her husband in 1923. They lived in New Rochelle, NY. They were separated when her husband enlisted in the Army in 1942. They divorced in Florida in 1945. That same year, Josephine enlisted in the WACs at the age of 49! She made the Army her career and retired in 1965 having also served in the Korean War. She appeared on the White House guest list for Thanksgiving Dinner in 1969 as a guest of President Nixon. She died in 1983 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

La Ĉeko Estas en Poŝto

Herbert F. Hoveler

The Cekbanko Esperantista was a bank established in London in 1907 by Herbert F. Hoveler. Hoveler was a German industrial chemist and a proponent of Esperanto. The bank name translates as Esperantist Checking Bank.

Rene de Saussure

The unit of currency used by the Cekbanko was the spesmilo. The spesmilo was developed as a universal currency by Rene de Saussure, a Swiss mathematician and linguist. One spesmilo was made up of 1,000 speso. Its value was pegged at 0.8 grams of 22 karat gold. It was the equivalent of approximately fifty US cents or two shillings. One and two spesmilo tokens were minted in 1912.

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The symbol for the spesmilo.

Esperantists adopted the spesmilo for transactional use and Esperanto publications quoted prices in the currency. At its height, the Cekbanko had 730 accounts in 320 cities in 43 countries. WWI and Hoveler’s death in 1917 brought an end to the Cekbanko.

This check was printed for use by La Cekbanko Esperantista. It carries a one penny English revenue stamp dated April 12, 1913 which was required on all checks in use in England. The main text is entirely in Esperanto with English explanatory notes at the bottom. The amount of the check was to be written in both spesmilo and l/s/d in order to clear through the English banking system.

It was printed by Waterlow & Sons of London, a noted banknote printer.

Brother, Can You Sketch a Dime?

If you want to see what a national emergency looks like, take a trip back eighty-six years to the beginning of 1933.  The country was in the midst of the Great Depression and FDR was taking the helm.

One of his first acts as president was to declare an emergency in the financial system and order all the banks in the United States closed.  The economic downturn had caused many banks to fail and there were runs on the deposits of the banks that remained.  The entire system was on the verge of collapse. 

Depositors lined up outside a closed bank in March 1933. National Archives.

Many state governors had ordered their banks closed prior to FDR’s order.  The closing of banks in Michigan at the end of February 1933 led to a drain on the banks in northern Ohio as the Michigan banks withdrew deposits from their correspondent banks in Ohio.  On February 28, 1933, George White, the Governor of Ohio, closed banks in the Buckeye State.

The closing of the banks did not put an end to commerce in the country.  But it did put a halt to deposits and withdrawals at banks as well as check cashing and clearing.  Government and business scrambled to find a way to keep the economy moving despite its weakness.  Taxes, rents, wages and other debts had to be paid but there was limited cash available.

Many communities took to issuing scrip as a cash substitute to keep business moving.   The scrip was local currency that was intended to circulate as long as necessary and would be redeemed at a later date.

Wisconsin was the only state to have state-wide scrip issued during the 1933 Bank Holiday.  Over $3,000,000.00 in scrip was issued to Wisconsin state chartered banks between March and June 1933.

March 4, 1933 was a Friday and with many banks already closed, scrip was necessary to make the payroll.  In Bryan, OH, the businesses that could not make their payroll had a uniform style scrip printed that carried the name of each issuing business.

One of those businesses that had difficulty making its payroll in Bryan, OH on March 4, 1933 was the Ohio Art Company.  Then (and now) the company specialized in metal lithography.  A generation later millions of children would know the Ohio Art Company as the producer of the Etch-a-Sketch.

Banking in Door County Pt. 1

The Bank of Sturgeon Bay

[Midwestern readers can skip to the paragraph below the encased cent.]

Door County is the thumb of Wisconsin. It juts into Lake Michigan and forms the east side of the bay of Green Bay. It sits atop a dolomite structure known as the Niagara escarpment, the geological formation that is responsible for Niagara Falls. The county takes it name from Death’s Door, the strait that lies between the northern end of the peninsula and Washington Island. The waterway was given this name by the French (Porte des Morts) due to its treacherous currents.

The largest city and county seat is Sturgeon Bay. The county’s position on Lake Michigan gave it a long maritime tradition. Lighthouses dot the shoreline. Shipbuilding, fishing and agriculture were the most significant early industries. While all these still exist in the county, tourism has become the primary economic engine. The county’s population is about 27,000 but swells to a quarter million during the summer tourist season.

Encased cent produced for the Bank of Sturgeon Bay. Encased cents were common advertising pieces in the early 1900s. The date on the cent is 1926. Leyse Aluminum in Kewaunee, Wisconsin was a large producer of encased cents.

There have been a handful of banks in the county. Commerce in the area was not advanced enough for there to have been any banks during the obsolete note era (1850-60s). There were no national banks in the county during the national bank issuing period (1863-1935).

Baylake Bank was the last bank based in the county when it was taken over by Nicolet National Bank in 2016. It was also the oldest bank in the county. It was founded as a private institution in 1889 as the Bank of Sturgeon Bay and received its state charter in 1891. It changed its name to Baylake Bank in 1994 when it merged with the Bank of Kewaunee.

There are a handful of numismatic mementos of the Bank of Sturgeon Bay that span most of its history.

The earliest piece I have is this check written in 1900 on the account of Bo L. Andersen. It was printed by J.J. Pinney, a printer in Sturgeon Bay. It features a two cent documentary revenue stamp. A two cent tax was imposed on checks in 1898 to help pay for the Spanish-American War.

Andersen operated a general store on Washington Island off the northern end of the peninsula. The check has identifies his location as Detroit Harbor, Wisconsin which is the site of the island dock for the Washington Island Ferry. The payee is Falk & Buchan, a seed seller in Sturgeon Bay.

This check for $18.00 was written in 1924 by the Door County Treasurer and payable at the Bank of Sturgeon Bay. The multiple endorsements on the back shows the practice of passing negotiable instruments from holder to holder to pay debts. The check was written on August 1 and cleared the Bank of Sturgeon Bay on August 11 (shown by the perforated date). During that time it passed through five different hands.

This next check was written in 1930 by the North Bay Fish Company. North Bay is located in the Town of Baileys Harbor about half way up the peninsula on the Lake Michigan side. The bank building is featured in the vignette at left. The building still stands although the clock tower was removed in the 1930s for safety reasons. The current bank location is two blocks away.

This piece is an uncashed travellers cheque issued by the First National Bank of Chicago through the Bank of Sturgeon Bay. Information on the back indicates it dates from the early 1960s. I was unable to verify the holders name.

Paper money collectors will recognize this facsimile of a $1,000.00 post note issued by the Bank of the United States in 1840 with serial number 8894. It was an often duplicated piece used for advertising as it was here by the Bank in 1967.

Door County celebrated its centennial in 1948. This wooden nickel is one of a series of three that were issued to mark the occasion. The others being worth two nickels and five nickels. It is redeemable at the Bank of Sturgeon Bay. Wooden nickels were popular souvenirs in the 1930s-50s. A not very accurate map of the county appears on the face.

This final piece is not mine but belongs to a colleague. It is a counterfeit 1928B $20.00 Federal Reserve Note from the Cleveland Fed. The notation on the back indicates it was found at the Bank of Sturgeon Bay on July 22, 1936 and received by the Federal Reserve Bank (probably Chicago as Sturgeon Bay is located in the Chicago Federal Reserve District) the next day. The paper is not close to being correct and the aging of the note was artificial. The counterfeiters made a glaring mistake when they printed this note. The Federal Reserve Bank seal on the left side of Series 1928 and Series 1928A $20.00 notes had large numerals in them as this note does. But the design was changed for Series 1928B so that the corresponding capital letter appears in the seal (in this case D for the Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank).

Golf in the Time of Communism

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Christian M. Ravndal   US Minister to Hungary

Christian M. Ravndal was a career US diplomat.  He served as head of the US Foreign Service, ambassador to Uruguay, Ecuador and Czechoslovakia, and he was minister to Hungary in the 1950s.

He was also a scratch golfer.  When he was posted to Budapest he spent his free time at the Hungarian Golf Club with club pro Joe Stammel.  When Ravndal arrived in late 1951 only eight of the original eighteen holes were still in use at the club.  The other ten holes had been appropriated by the Hungarian government.  By April 1952 only five holes remained.

Ravndal and Stammel were in the middle of round in late spring 1952 when they were approached by the Hungarian Minister of War and a Russian general.  They were ordered off the course immediately as the Hungarian government took over the remainder of the club’s property.

Determined to tee up again, Ravndal set out to create a course despite opposition from the communist Hungarian government who viewed the game as a luxury associated with capitalism.  Nearby was an overgrown eight acre parcel with a bombed out mansion that the US government had purchased in 1947 to build residences for the members of the US diplomatic delegation.  The communist takeover of Hungary resulted in the parcel remaining undeveloped.

Ravndal and the legation staff used their own money to pay to turn the property into a four hole course.   Employing local labor, bomb craters were filled in, thick brush removed and unexploded ordnance disposed of.  In July 1952 the course was completed and the games began.  A round consisted of sixteen holes (four circuits) with a par of 48.

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Five cent chit from the Air Free Golf Club in Budapest.

In a contemporary New York Times article, Ravndal described the course as a “monument to nose-thumbing” due to the disapproval of the host country’s government.  (The communist government eliminated all golf courses in Hungary).  To add further insult to them Ravndal named the course the Air Free Golf Club.

The facility was open to all western diplomats in Hungary and quickly became a popular hangout.  A pool was added (by adapting a bomb crater) and a tennis court was installed using crushed brick as a surface.  A locker room and bar were completed.  A French diplomat’s goat acted as groundskeeper.  The club hosted nine 32 hole tournaments annually.   It operated until the early 1970s.

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A Complete $5.00 chit booklet for the Air Free Golf Club.  This type of booklet was commonly used in dining facilities and clubs at US military and diplomatic facilities from the 1950s to 1970s.

An International Mystery

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Sean Flynn’s signature and US passport number on the back of a $100.00 travelers cheque.

Sean Flynn was the son of actor Errol Flynn and Lili Damita. He had a brief acting and singing career before he found his true passion of photojournalism.

In January 1966 Flynn found his way to Vietnam. There he met Tim Page another photojournalist who was the inspiration for Dennis Hopper’s character in Apocalypse Now. Flynn went to extreme ends to get his shots. He went into combat with special forces units, made a combat jump with the 101st Airborne Division, and on more than one occasion involved himself in active combat. He was wounded twice.

He went to Israel for the Six Day War in 1967 but got there too late for the military operations. He returned to Vietnam in 1968 after the Tet Offensive. He traveled to Cambodia and Laos covering the war in those countries for Time-Life and taking in the countryside.

He went to Indonesia in 1969 and returned to Vietnam in January 1970. In April 1970 he learned that the North Vietnamese Army was moving into Cambodia and he went back to Phnom Penh where he met fellow journalist Dana Stone. On April 6, 1970 Flynn and Stone rode out of the capital on motorcycles to check out a North Vietnamese roadblock.

That afternoon a French TV crew filmed the two men at the roadblock. It was the last time either of them was seen alive.

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The last photograph of Sean Flynn and Dana Stone on April 6, 1970.

The general consensus is that both men were taken captive by the North Vietnamese who held them until late 1970 when they were turned over to the Khmer Rouge. They were reportedly executed in June 1971 but there are unconfirmed reports they were alive as late as 1973. Their remains have never been found.

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These two travelers cheques were used by Sean Flynn. The $50.00 cheque I obtained off Ebay about 2016 from a seller in Florida. The $100.00 cheque I received from fellow collector Howard Daniel who found it in a coin shop in Vietnam sometime in the mid-2000s.