"Axis Sally"

Charleston Gazette
July 11, 1961

Almost Silent 'Axis Sally' Gains Freedom

Declines To Reveal Future Plans

By Don Marsh
Staff Writer

ALDERSON - "Axis Sally," who possesses one of the best known voices in the world, was almost mute Monday when she was released from prison.

"After 15 years, you don't feel like having much to say," she explained.

She was met by her sister, Edna, and her brother-in-law, E. E. Nieminen of Ashtabula, Ohio.

"We're going north," she said.

"To Astabula?" she was asked.

"Yes," she said. "To Ashtabula."

She declined to reveal what she intended doing. She did say that she was not sure she would teach music in a convent as had been reported.

"Sally", whose real name is Mildred Gillars, was convicted of treason as a result of broadcasting Nazi propaganda during World War II.

She was arrested in 1946 but did not begin her 10 to 30 years sentence until 1949. She was released on parole from the Federal Reformatory for Women at Alderson.

She was scheduled to leave at 6 a.m. and the morning was raw and chilly. The reformatory, shrouded in a damp, gray mist, looked surprisingly like the grounds and building of a rural college.

The lawn was closely cut and fresh with dew. Roses grew profusely along a road leading to the administration building. Birds warbled liquidly in the distance.

Another woman who had broadcast for the enemy during the war had come out this same road five years before. She was the "Tokyo Rose" of the Pacific Theater. She and Miss Gillars were the first American women to be convicted of treason.

About 20 newsman [sic] had gathered at the gate - actually, a retractable metal pole across the road - awaiting Miss Gillars.

Her sister and brother-in-law were sitting in their car, a late model De Soto, about 50 feet away. They had identified themselves to one of three guards on duty but had not left their auto.

It was 6:26 a.m., nearly half an hour past her scheduled release time, when one of the guards said, "Here she comes."

She was driven to the gate in a black car with a seal and the words "Department of Justice Bureau of Prisons" painted on the door.

The car stopped and Miss Gillars and the attendant, Lt. Helen England, sat in the front seat for a moment talking earnestly.

Everyone's attention was focused on them and when a man and woman ducked under the bar and started toward the car, one of the guards said, "Please stay behind the bar. Please - that's not allowed."

"It's all right," another guard said. "It's her people."

Miss Gillars opened the front door and, smiling, stepped out. She embraced the couple. They murmured something to one another but their voices were too low to be heard.

Nieminen fumbled with the lock on the back door for a moment, opened it and removed a bag. Then he and Mrs. Nieminen left her, walking rapidly ahead to their parked car.

She paused for a second and gave her audience their first chance to get a good look at her. It was at once evident that her physical glamor, if she had any, is gone. Miss Gillars is 60 now and her age is showing.

She is relatively tall, about 5 feet 6 or 7, and her hair is still light enough to be called blonde rather than gray. Her eyebrows are dark and her eyes are blue. Her face is [sic] too long to be attractive but her expression is pleasant.

For her first day of freedom, she was well dressed. She wore a small dark hat, a three-quarter length tweed coat and what seemed to be a white skirt.

A silken blue scarf was wrapped around her throat. She carried a longer scarf, almost a shawl, over her shoulder. She was wearing knitted woolen gloves - a darker blue than her scarf. Her shoes were black oxfords, walking shoes, the only item of her dress that looked as if it might have come from the stockpile of an institution.

She spoke only two or three sentences. She said to a radio man, "Oh I see this is also being recorded," and when someone pointed to her car, she said "all right. Thank you."

Her voice was firm, low pitched and slightly musical.

Her sister (or, more precisely, her half sister) opened the door and stepped out long enough to allow Miss Gillars to slide into the center seat. Then she quickly sat down and closed the door.

"Will you talk to us later?" someone shouted.

Miss Gillars smiled but did not answer. The car pulled out. The time was 6:28. It had taken her a little less than two minutes to leave.

To one of the reporters, she looked like an aging and forgotten actress who had been re-discovered for a moment and who enjoyed the attention she was receiving.

To another, she looked like the social leader of a small town who had called a press conference to announce winners in the garden club contest and, after the reporters got there, learned that her husband had absconded with $20,000 of the firm's money and his secretary.

If that was the case, she should have been satisfied. It was painful but she pulled it off.

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