Jack Gifford on his Service in WWII
Interviewed by Jessica Maison
Comments by Gladys Gifford
"I was inducted in Great Lakes, Illinois. That was my first, that was five weeks and six days. We learned pretty near everything, how to live in the Navy, stuff like that, oh, the terminology they had, like left for port, you have to say port for left and starboard for right. Stuff like that, we learned all that. And of course we had a lot of physical training, calisthenics, we did a lot of calisthenics."
How long did that basic training usually go?
It usually went thirteen weeks, but during the war they cut it down, they had to get them out there faster. I went through in five weeks and six days because they had to get you out in a hurry.
Then after basic training where did you go?
NATTC, that's the Navel Aviation Technical Training Center for radio men. That was eighteen weeks. They taught us how to run the radios in the airplanes. We had mock-up airplane models. The squad was on the ground. We'd get into our airplanes and radio to each other and to other places, other cities, to learn how to use the radio. That's all we learned there. Then I had two weeks of radar in the same planes. I didn't get much radar. Anyway, after I graduated from radar school, they sent us to gunnery school. That was supposed to be an eight week course. We went all the way through that, then they said we weren't credited, so they sent us all the way back to Jacksonville, Florida to another navel airman gunnery school. I went pretty well through that, then I got a chance to take an examination for a fight training V-5 program, the Navy's V-5 program, to learn how to be a pilot. I passed that test and they sent me to Northville, Minnesota. I have to make a correction here. Northville came after Banana River, Florida which was an operational training. I learned how to use the radio in the airplane. I got pretty well through that course, and that's when I took the test. I passed the test and qualified to enter the Vi5 program in Northville, Minnesota.
They called you Radio Wolves, why did they call you that?
I don't know why they called me a radio wolf, but I don't think they just called me that, they called everyone that. I don't know where they got that wolves from.
Tell me about the Morse Code training you had to go through.
In the radio school in Memphis it was all Morse code. We'd have coded groups, they were all secret coded groups so you could send messages and the enemy couldn't figure out what you were saying. The sheets told you what the codes stood for. We took Morse code for about an hour, then they'd stop for ten minutes and play music to kinda relax us. We'd lay our heads down and go to sleep for a while, (then they'd start up for another hour, this would go on for eight hours straight). That stuff was really hard on your nerves.
Now, when you were training did the Navy show you films about the war?
Yeah, we saw some films. Most of them were for recognition. They'd show us these airplanes and ships. We had to learn what they looked like. At a tenth of a second they'd flash them on the screen, and we had to be able to tell if it was an American or Japanese ship, or German or whoever. I was surprised that you got so you could do it. The first time I did it, I was like, "what was that"? I couldn't even tell what it was. You got so you could tell by the silhouette that sticks in your head.
You enlisted in the Navy, right?
No, I was drafted. Well, I guess you could say I enlisted because I could have gotten out. I could have gotten deferred for the farm. But, I didn't want to, so I let it lapse and they drafted me. I don't put in for the deferment.
The fact that you didn't defer to go into the Navy is interesting, why did you decide to do that?
Well, I don't know. I guess that was the patriotic feeling of the time, everyone was going in. I felt it was my duty really. Cuz, I could have got out and my folks really needed me at the farm, but I went in.
Do you have a funny story about training or while you were on duty that you could share?
You mean the one where I fell out of the airplane pretty near?
Yeah, let's hear that one.
That's when we were taking this operational training. We'd fly all over Cuba and Guantanama Bay and Puerto Rico. We'd practice as well as patrol, and when we'd practice, they'd have an airplane that'd pull a sleeve behind it. We'd shoot at it with our 50 caliber machine gins, and there were tracers so we could see where we were shooting. Well, I was shooting at that thing and this God dang pilot would use evasive action every once in a while because that's what you'd run into in real battle. And he'd go up, then down, then sideways, and he went, I guess up, well I slid from right underneath and my belt got stuck on the sight of the twin 50 caliber, and my white hat went sailing down. The other gunner on the other side reached over and pulled me back in. I can still see my white hat going down. (laughs) I could have been with it. That was by Guantamona when it happened.
Can you describe for me the patriotism of WWII compared to the way things are know?
Well, it looks to me that there were a lot more patriotic men then, then there are now. Mainly because we've had so many wars that weren't called for, I don't think. And that's why they aren't quite as patriotic because we shouldn't have had them. They weren't wars, they were just police action. The first World War and the second World War were really wars. People were just naturally more patriotic.
Going into the actual viewpoints about the European side of the war and the Pacific side of the war, how do your attitudes differ between the German people and the Japanese people?
Well, I don't know. I don't think they're too much different. They're both aggressive, they were trying to take over the world. They're all the same class of people really. The Japanese were a little more treacherous. They did more damage then the Germans did.
Are your opinions or attitudes toward the Japanese people or the Japanese side of the conflict
Gladys Gifford: The Japanese attacked us and the Germans didn't
Jack: One is just about as bad as the other, except, as you said, the Germans did kill all those Jews, the Germans did. The Japanese killed a lot of Americans in Pearl Harbor.
Gladys: Yeah, they started the fight, and they were the ones to bomb Pearl Harbor.
When Pearl Harbor occurred what were doing, how did you feel, how do you remember the country reacting?
I was in the tenth grade in '41. The war started in '41, I graduated in '43, so Was probably in the eleventh grade, I guess when the war started. And, I really didn't have much feeling except that we would eventually all get drafted. I figured we'd have to get in there. It was quite a deal at home because we had to have stamps for meat and stamps for gasoline. I remember in '43, it started in '43, they started stamps, maybe even in '42.
What kind of stuff did they have stamps for?
Beef is the main thing. We'd cut meat into quarters on the tray at the store. Most of them could buy around six pounds a weeks. Anyway, we'd cut them all about three to four pounds. They'd line up, and we'd give them the meat, and that's be it for the week. We wouldn't have anymore meat for the rest of the week. Sugar, too, but I went into the service before it got into too much of that.
Back to movies, Hollywood movies, war films do you remember any of those films?
I didn't see too many movies like that till I got out of the service. I was in for two years and two months.
What did you think about most while you were in the service?
Getting home. I thought about I wasn't really glad to be there after I got there. It was our duty to do it. When you get in there even though I didn't get a lot of action, we never really got actual contact with the enemy
Were you glad about that?
Yeah I was just as well satisfied that I didn't.
How did the Navy shape you as a person?
Physically. I really had a lot of physical training. They really put the calisthenics to you. Actually, what I learned in there, I guess I used a little out here, but most of it I couldn't apply out here. In two years, you don't get that much. What they have in there doesn't even compare to what they have out here. Of course with any schooling you get something out of it, at least it teaches you to think a little bit.
This class I'm doing this interview for, focuses mainly on the Japanese side of the war, the attitudes from Americans toward the Japanese concerning slogans such as "The only good Jap is a dead Jap". Along with the genocidal attitudes towards the Japanese and the racist attack on that people, which contrasts with the attack on the Germans. How do you think this blatant racism affected the country and if it was necessary for the war to end successfully?
It was necessary alright. You had to get mad to do it. As far as the difference in attack between the Japanese and the Germans is that they (Americans) were more turned on about the Japanese because they (the Japanese) did pull that sneak attack, and killed an awful lot of people. With Germany, there is still an awful lot of feeling toward Germany, a lot of bad feeling. And, I thinks that those people really did say those things like what you mentioned, especially people who had family who had been killed, saying things like "the only good Jap is a dead Jap". Later on now, that lasted during the war, maybe ten years later, they don't talk like that anymore.
Just from coming from that era and having lived through WWII, what would you think of the Japanese having an active military again?
I would think it would be all right for them to have an army, but it would have to be controlled, be right on top of them. They could only have so much, and I don't think we could ever trust them. You would have to control them like we're doing over there in the Arab country. That doesn't work too well either, but I think that's the only way. Those Japanese will get, I'll tell you, they will grow, and they'll go right at it if we give them guns. They'll have millions. They're geniuses, copycats really.
Having gone through WWII if our country were to go to war at that large of a scale again, what would your advice be to a young man enlisting in the service?
That kind of war, it depends, like the Vietnam War, I wouldn't even recommend going in. I would expect them to do their part, and I think they would if a real war occurred. A lot of them are turned off because of this Vietnam police action.
During the war there was an idea of total unity, we were going for total victory. On the home-front what kind of programs, actions, attitudes were shaping that total unity? How did the county pull together.
I don't think you need much of anything if they pull a deal like they did in Japan. People will pull together. Is that what you meant?
So, you think Pearl Harbor was enough to create this unity?
Pearl Harbor was plenty to do it. They did have to draft because they're weren't enough enlisting. They had to get the people in there in a hurry because they (Japanese) were taking over.
Many people say that the Japanese almost beat us. Someone from my generation might not understand that. Where was it in the point of the war, that people on the home-front thought we might lose?
Right after Pearl Harbor. They had so many of our ships. We were out of commission, that's all. We had to get right into production, or they would have walked right over us. That's when people really got together. They did draft people. They all didn't just volunteer.
This is where the formal interview comes to an end, and my grandmother enters the discussion, so its a little different.
Gladys: A German family moved into Port Hope, we lived close to Port Hope. And the people really were watching that family because they weren't sure they could trust them.
Jack: You probably have more experience with that then I do, as far as local people.
Gladys: I don't think anyone turned racist against the Japanese.
Jessica: They had the internment camps for the Japanese people during the war
Jack: There was a lot more feeling toward the Japanese people then there were to the Germans during the war just because of the sneak attack
Gladys: Well, just because of Pearl Harbor, but it had nothing to do with their race.
Jessica: Well, what about the idea put out that you can distinguish Japanese people from other people...
Gladys: Well, the Chinese people were on our side and you couldn't tell a Chinese from a Japanese
Jessica: Well there were the internment camps for the Japanese
Jack: Well, we'd had to do that or kill them.
Jessica: Kill them?!
Gladys: Well, they (the government) were afraid, and it was really sad. The were afraid they would do espionage.
Jack: People had strong feelings about the Japanese people. They made most of the Japanese in California be truck gardeners. They raised all kinds of vegetables. They put them on farms. They really are good at that kind of stuff. Whatever happened to them after the war, after they put them in those camps?
Jessica: They probably let them out.
Jack: Must have.
Gladys: Didn't they in later years give them money to partially make up for part of that. You really couldn't make up for it, but to help a little bit. I believe they lost everything when they put them in those camps. There was really no racism. It was about Pearl Harbor and the war. I don't think it was racism against the Japanese, anger, but not racism.
Jack: It wasn't because they were yellow, it was because they were Japanese.
Jessica: A lot of the propaganda during the war represents the Japanese as insects, or subhuman creatures within films, cartoons, flyers, etc. It was pretty genocidal just because we needed our soldiers and kill these people. So, that element of racism was used more like a tool of war.
Gladys: Did you see any movies like that Jack.
Gladys: Of course we didn't go to the movies a lot and there weren't TVs.
Jack: Well, I've seen movies with the Japanese drinking, getting drunk on that drink they drink so they could well, take there planes and dive into ships and blow them up. They'd get drunk on that drink Saeki. There were a lot of films on that.
Jessica: So, you saw a lot of films on hari kari?
Jack: I think that was after the war, even now you see them. I don't think that has an effect on people anymore. Most people your age never went through that. It's just natural the country forgets.
The interview becomes more formal again.
So, when the war came to a conclusion with the two atomic bombs, what was the general opinions toward the bombs or were people still just in shock?
Most of the people I know really didn't feel bad about it. They just ended the whole thing. That was the only way it could end. They just wouldn't quit. We pounded the devil out of them, that's the kind of people they were. I don't know if they still are.
In retrospect do you still think the two bombs were the way to go, the only way to end the war?
I don't think there was any other way then the way they did it. If there was, it would have taken a lot longer, and a lot more people would have been killed. I guess, you could always do things different. If we did it all over again, we'd probably do it different. Like thee Pearl Harbor thing, we would have caught it. We had warning of it but just didn't heed it. Actually, I found out more about the war when I got out then when I was in there. We were so busy we didn't get a chance to study why we were doing it. My training was all focused on simply going after the Japanese.