STURGEON BAY, Wis. (WFRV) — “When you’re like 10 years old, you sort of remember things that kind of impress you at the time, and scare the heck out of you every once in a while,” Gerry Sargent reflected while sitting down to talk about the Door County Cherry Harvest of 1945.
Gerry, now 86, told Local 5 that she was about 10-years-old in 1945, when World War II seemed a world away from her Sturgeon Bay home.
“The only time we saw any news at all was when we went to the movies, and in between the double feature, they had news reports,” she explained, “and then you would see what was happening in the outside world, with the war going on.”
Gerry’s dad managed an orchard in Sturgeon Bay, which has long since been torn down to make room for new developments.
Gerry’s memories of the Harvest of 1945, however, remain intact.
“My dad came home and told us we’re getting a load of POWs in for the pickers camps,” she told Local 5.
The family lived in a house on the orchard, so Gerry had a front-row seat as the German prisoners were brought in.
“When you see those big trucks pulling in and all of those guys get out of there, and they all had the prisoner uniforms on,” Gerry recalled, “and then when you see the guards with their rifles, and they’re all marching single in a row, it was horrifying.”
Gerry’s family was wary of the prisoners when they first arrived on the orchard.
“They went out picking cherries during the day and my dad said, ‘you stay away from the fences now, girls,'” she remembered.
However, over time the family got to know the POWs.
Gerry told Local 5 that some of the Germans spoke English, and that a translator was also available.
She remembered delivering cookies her mom had baked to the workers, “We made friends with a lot of them.”
The Germans shared stories of their lives before the war with Gerry and her family.
“One of them said they had a daughter back home that he had to leave,” Gerry said. She recalled the German prisoner showing her a picture of a little girl about three or four years old. “Tears were rolling down his cheek, and he said, ‘she must be your age now.’ Isn’t that sad?”
After the harvest, the POWs were taken elsewhere to do more agricultural work, but the government left behind the furniture they used during their stay in Door County, which Gerry’s mother re-purposed to surprise her daughters.
“She took our double bed out and gave us each an Army cot,” Gerry said, “and she had nice big thick quilts on them and feather mattresses, and we thought we were so smart to sleep on those Army cots.”
That’s just one of the memories left behind by the German POWs.
“You just forget those things, you know?” Gerry said. “That was a long time ago.”