Part 29: Berlin Sally and George
By Sergeant Marvin A. Palecek and his son Glen Palecek
During World War II, both the Germans and the Japanese used radio programs with sweet, young wholesome-sounding women to try to ruin the moral of the American soldier. In the Pacific Theater, it was “Tokyo Rose,” while in Europe it was “Axis Sally,” or as Dad called her, “Berlin Sally.”
If you ever talked to a veteran of World War II, if they will talk to you at all, they are likely to tell you that they were kept in the dark as to what was going on. Most front-line soldiers knew little more than what was happening in their own company. Very few had more than a very rare access to a radio. They did get some news from newspapers and magazines from home, but these often only wrecked morale because of the “fake news.” Since Trump was elected president, we hear a lot about “fake news” now, but there really was a lot of fake news during this war.
The Army wanted people back in the sates to believe the soldiers wanted to be there and didn’t want to come back until the war was over. This was definitely not true as most soldiers only wanted to come home. The Army even persuaded the news not to show pictures of dead Americans. However, the news did eventually include these pictures, which shocked those back home — many of whom had been sold on the glories of war portrayed by the Army and the press.
As I told you before, the men in the 45th Division were much more than a bunch of dumb hillbillies and Dad’s men were able to construct a homemade radio out of a razor blade, some wire and probably a few bits of other things. Their Swedish radios were also able to pick up local stations, but I suspect that they had to be kept tuned to Army signals.
As I mentioned before, the only station they could get clearly at the Anzio beachhead was a program Dad called “Berlin Sally and George.” While others played poker in the bottom of their holes, Dad listened to Sally and George. Dad made it his business to keep up on the news, which made him very popular. Dad wrote to Mom that he kept track one night where no less than 25 soldiers from other units came to him at Anzio to find out the latest news. Every soldier wanted to know things like how the Russians were doing on the Eastern Front, and when the Allies were going to invade France. Dad often knew answers to these questions, but the only way to find out was to ask Dad directly as such things would not be sent around to the common soldier by radio or phone.
It was the job of Sally and George to try and convince the Americans to surrender. In order to get Americans to listen, they told news and sport stories from back in America. Their program, also known as “Gerry’s Front,” featured an orchestra and a girls’ trio, The Three Doves of Peace. The music was very good and soothing to the Americans who listened to it.
If you read other accounts of Sally and George, they will tell you Sally and George had a perfect American accent. Dad, however, said he could hear a little German in the way they talked. Also, they slipped up quite often in their pronunciations of certain American streets and towns. Dad could tell they were never in the states by the little slip-ups they would make about American facts and history.
One of the things Sally asked the Americans who were listening was, “Why are you here? This is not your war. Why are you helping the British? They are your enemy. They fought against you and burned your White House.” At the time, Dad thought Sally was lying about the British burning the White House, but later found this was true. The British did burn the White House during the War of 1812.
Another thing Sally and George reported on was the labor strife back in the states. They reported that there was no such strife in Germany. They would ask, “Why don’t you surrender? Why do you fight in this miserable mud when no one back home cares about you?” Sally, in her sweet little voice, would read the names and ranks of those who had been captured and try to persuade others to join them.
At some point in the program a siren would go off warning of the danger the men were in. This always caused a laugh as it was so corny. It was followed by the orchestra playing a rousing rendition of “Happy Days are Here Again.” Other American tunes were played, some old and some new ones the men had never heard. Ironically, the favorite song of most Americans was the German song, “Lili Maren.” Men would often listen to the end of the program just to hear this song again. Because of its rousing and spirited qualities, many thought of it as a German fight song. However, if you see the words as I have, you will see it is actually a love song about a soldier and his girlfriend, Lili Maren. The Three Doves of Peace sang this song so well and so sweetly that it was very soothing and comforting to those lucky enough to hear it. Overall, Dad thought Berlin Sally and George did a lot more to lift American spirits than to destroy them, exactly the opposite of what was intended.
One day, Dad got the shock of his life when the Germans broadcast the American codes for the day. A scramble was then on to change them as quickly as possible. Why the Germans told the listeners they knew these codes is a mystery. Whatever the reason, it was a huge mistake on their part.
I see the Winona Post printed a little article about National POW/MIA Recognition Day being observed on September 21. Dad’s brother, Alvin, also served in World War II, but in the Pacific Theater. Alvin’s plane crashed “flying the Hump” in Burma (China). His body was never recovered. He is still officially listed as missing in action. Perhaps I should include Alvin’s story in a future episode. I have a long newspaper story about it, which I could summarize for you. It is a very heart-wrenching story. If you want to read it in the Post, please let me know.
Thanks for reading. Your comments and even your criticisms are deeply appreciated. The time to say something is before I rewrite this into a book. The book will not be perfect, but, if you can, help me make it the best it can be. I absolutely love hearing from each and every one of you! So many people have told me they like these personal stories so they can see what the war was like from the inside.
The next episode I will call “Bread, Water, Wine and War.”