America’s first and most famous traitor, Benedict Arnold, sailed up the Kennebec River in 1775 on his way to attack Quebec. While Maine would never see another traitor of his caliber, we produced a pretty bad one more than a century later.

During World War II, part of the Axis propaganda campaign was done through radio. Using powerful transmitters, Japan and Germany would draw in American GIs by playing popular swing music, and then try to demoralize them using sultry female DJs. The most famous of these was Tokyo Rose, played by several people over the years. Her German counterpart was Axis Sally, played by an American woman who was born in Portland in 1900.

Mildred Gillars probably had a rough childhood. She had an alcoholic father, and later a possibly abusive stepfather. At 16 she moved to Ohio and then New York, attempting to find fame and fortune through acting and modeling. 

Though she traveled with stock companies and did some vaudeville, success was elusive. In 1934 she moved to Germany to study acting and got a job teaching English in Berlin.

Gillars eventually got a job with German State Radio. When the U.S. advised Americans to return home from Germany in 1940, Millard refused because she was engaged to a German man. By the time he was sent to the Eastern front and killed, it was too late to return. Gillars was reportedly upset when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, but by then she felt it was too dangerous to go against the German government. She signed a loyalty pledge to Hitler, and later became the host of a propaganda program called “Home Sweet Home.” 

Between swing numbers, she would tell American GIs that they were fools to attack Germany. She would remind them of their impending deaths and tell them that their wives and girlfriends were probably cheating on them back home. Rather than being demoralized, the GIs loved Axis Sally, her swing music, and her sexy voice. Finally, she was enjoying the fame that she had always wanted.

The U.S. government was less impressed. The Army tracked down Mildred Gillars after the war ended and put her in an Allied prison camp, where she stayed for two years. Though she was brought to the United States and charged with 10 counts of treason, she was only convicted on one count and spent 12 years in prison. 

Afterward, she entered a Catholic convent, where she spent a quiet life as a teacher. She died of cancer in 1988. Her body lies in an unmarked grave.


Zac McDorr is a Coastal Journal contributing writer. He can be reached at:
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