"When Am I Going To Get Out Of The Army?"
An excerpt from the interview can describe my grandfather, or "Papa," better then any introduction I wrote could have. It occurred while he was in Italy. . .
You built a baseball diamond?
(laughing) Oh, yeah! I was, in this camp, we were at, about twenty miles from Naples, in this city called Conserta, in Italy. I used to play a lot of softball when we had a chance. And some of the officers knew I played a lot of ball, and they got to like me pretty good, so they asked me once, they wanted to play some softball, in another field. They told me to smooth the field down, water it down, and make it nice. I said "O.K, Iíll do my best." So Iíd go out into the field every morning about nine-o-clock, and I had a hose there with water and Iíd spray it with water and Iíd smooth out the diamond.
And some officer walks up to me and says "what are you doing?" I says, "Iím cleaning up the field!" He says, "Well, whereís the rest of your guys?" I says, "Thereís nobody here but myself." He says, "Youíre cleaning up this field?" I says, "Yeah!" (pause) I said, "It was more, but they told me to do this." He said, "Who?" I said, "Officer so and so." And this guy looks at me and says, "What the hell kind of officer is this guy telling this guy to clean up this field, this diamond?" But that seemed to go by. He said he was going to check into it, but nothing ever happened. So I was there for a week. I went in the morning, instead of going out in the field, I went to the playground and dusted the field and smoothed it out. So it wasnít, I wasnít really working very hard, it was just so boring. Youíre by yourself, and you donít got really much to think, all youíre thinking about is "when am I going to get out of the Army." I know Iíve said that six times already, but thatís the way it was.
-Italics are what I said
-Non-italics are what Al said
-(parenthesis are my comments, or others comments, regarding the material. Or Alís "mannerisms")
To "protect" the authenticity of a time past, I have kept in all the "ums" and "ahís" and left in sentences that may not make the most sense (from both of us), but that are real.
Letís start at the beginning. Where were you when Pearl Harbor was bombed?
I was working at a delicatessen store on the East-Side of Detroit. On Sunday morning, I went to work, and, uh, the papers came in. Headlines. And I was only fifteen years old, and when I saw the newspapers, I see the ships burning, but I didnít realize exactly what was happening. And a couple days later, the United States declared war on Japan. And Germany. And Italy.
At the same time?
A day later.
On all three?
They called it the Axis. We declared war on Germany, Italy, Japan.
Why do you think they waited for Japan to bomb?
Well, according to the history, they knew they were going to get bombed, but they didnít know when. And when it happened, they found the President Roosevelt got congress together and declare war on Japan. And also Germany at the time.
(pause, I look at my notes)
I was in, uh, I think I just finishing up the ninth grade at the time. . .
So, you already knew people that were drafted? (I realize the war was just starting) Oh, not yet?
I knew, no, I knew people, no, I did not know that people were drafted yet. I knew about two years later, my brother was drafted. And he went to the South Pacific.
You were in the Ninth Grade, It was a break then, I mean, it was December, right?
It was December Seventh. Correct.
So, you went back to school that Monday?
I went back to school that Monday, yeah.
Did they say anything about it?
No. Kids in that, I guess, in that grade didnít really know what was going on. They mentioned above the pictures and fires and the stuff, but they didnít really comprehend what was going on.
How long after that were you drafted?
I was drafted after that, three years after.
Why didnít you enlist?
Why didnít I enlist?
(pause. I continue)
You were saying you didnít really know what was going on?
I really still, yeah. In 18, I still didnít really know what was going on. And, at the time I was working, and I was helping to support my mother who was a widow. And my sister and myself. And my older brother, one of my brothers was in the service, I have two other brothers, but they were too old to go into service at the time.
So, at the time, I just, I just felt I wasnít (laughing) ready for the Army and I didnít want to enlist, because I still didnít know what was going on. The only reason I got in was they drafted me. They sent me a letter saying report to this, uh, to get a physical taken. And a few months later, they sent me a letter that welcomed me to the Army and report to so and so in Detroit. And where I went from Detroit was Chicago. Where they signed you into the service. And from there, two days later, I was in Alabama.
You wanted to go into Radio, right?
Yeah, there was. . .the interviewer talked with us for a few minutes, and he mentioned radio and I said (laughing) "That sounds pretty good to me!" So I went into radio. So, when I went into camp, I was put in a group of guys that went to school in the morning. No, pardon me, we trained in the morning, we went to school in the afternoon. And we, basically it was the Morse code at the time. Now, I think, theyíre changing the whole system.
We went to school in the afternoon for about three hours learning the codes.
Thatís when they tap it?
S.O.S. (he taps on the table). The reason they use it was it supposedly [was] easy to use. The dot and so forthóthat was it. It was very boring. It was interesting. But we did that for three, four weeks. I enlisted, I went into the service in September of 1944. And they were fighting pretty strong in Europe at that time. We had that D-Day, which was June of 44. So, in our training- supposed to have 12 weeks of training-but about the eight week, the Germanís counter, had a counter-offensive against the Allies in Europe. And they cut all the training to eight weeks because they needed more guys there. So they gave us a furlow and we had to go, uh, I didnít have, the deal was to get home for a couple of weeks, come back to report to Fort Meed, Maryland and from there they were gonna ship you to anywhere in the world.
They were in these barracks were there were about 150 guys, and [they] came in from all over the country. And I was in the barracks about almost a month, they called everyone around, but not my name and why they didnít do it, I have no idea. But when they did call me, I went to Virginia, to a convocation where they put you on a ship and send you overseas. But I ended up in Italy, rather than in Europe. Which I guess I was lucky in that case.
But like I say, the rumors in the Army-Iím sure itís the same in the Navy-itís unbelievable. You have, you hear a rumor, you think itís a joke. And a week later, this thing happens. I donít know whyóeven at overseas it was the same way. Everytime I heard a rumor, the rumor came true.
Do you have an example?
Well, everyone thought we were going to Europe and they said weíre going to Italy. (imitating) "No, no, no." They said, "Yes, we are, weíre going to Italy!" It started somewhere in the barracks. And when they sent them off, (laughing) they sent them off to Italy!
And why we were in Italy a lot of times, they said "This is going to happen in the mountains!" they said (imitating) "Nah! Itís a rumor!" Sure enough, two days later, it happened in the mountains. Different things like that.
Being in the Signal Core at the time, we got a break, we were able to stay in some old schools, colleges and high schools that were taken over by the Allies so we didnít have to sleep in tents all the time.
This was in Italy. . .
We slept in. . .they had these cots, but it was warm, nice, it was nicer to be in these schools. It was clean. So the part, the stuff in Italy was pretty good for me, I really didnít. . .they were ahead of us, the fighting, so when we go where they were fighting all the time (laughing) it was over! So we [went] to Rome. At the time, the governments, the so-called governments, got together and they said weíre not going to bomb the city of Rome because of the religious aspects, because the Pope was there and so-forth. So we got to the city of Rome, we were in Naples at the time, when we got to Rome, the Italian government gave up. The German government, well, the German soldiers were still fighting but the Italian government gave up. Thatís when Mussolini tried to get out of the country. The partisan group captured Mussolini, who was at the time dictator of Italy. Captured him in the mountains, and. . .
You were saying the way he dressed was interesting?
He was dressed in like, peasant clothes, he had an old beat-up parka kind of thing, and he was captured with his girlfriend, his mistress at the time, and they beat the hell out of him and the lady. And they hung up with feet first, from the trees. I had pictures of it, but for some reason (laughing) someone pilfered mine. My duffel bag, and took shoes and some other stuff, and I missed ëem, but those things happen.
But that was just when the war was over in Italy, that was when the Italian government gave up and he tried to get out of the country. Triask! Triask, what country is that Triask?
(dumfounded)I donít. . .
Anyway, thatís where he was headed, but they got him in the mountains somewhere they found him and his girlfriend and some other people who were helping him. I donít know if they killed the other people, but they did kill him and his mistress.
But like I said, when we got to Rome, the war was just about over, in Italy. In fact, it was almost over in Europe, because this would have been in (thinking) in about, February or March 1945. And a few months later, the Germans gave up. And, uh, it was all over there and I was there another few weeks. And they put us on a ship back to the States, because at the time. . .at one time, they were thinking of occupying Germany, the Allies-the British, the French and the Americans-were going to stay in Germany for a while and see if everything was O.K. But they changed that policy and decided to send the soldiers back to the States on a furlow and then send them to Japan. But fortunately, we got on the ship going, this was in August, the first part of August in í45, and we got on a ship a couple of days, and we heard on the ship radio that the American government bombed Japan with the Atomic Bomb. But we still didnít know what the Atomic Bomb [was], we knew it was big bomb, but we didnít really realize what was going on until a couple days later when they bombed another city. . .
Nagasaki. Hiroshima, then Nagasaki. And then we still didnít know what was going on. And then, I was, in the first part of Aug. . .
Did you see any pictures?
No. We had. . .
Did they have pictures?
We remembered hearing the radio, I donít remember the pictures so much, no I donít remember the pictures [at] all, but the radio on the ship was announcing what was going on. Then, a couple days later, they announced the Japanese government gave up. Everyone was screaming, so happy, we donít have to go to Japan. But, uh, the war still wasnít over, they just gave up, and they had to sign the armistice of, with MacArthur some months later. And we got back to the States and they were discharging the soldiers. They had, the soldiers, had to have so many points to get discharged. They had two points for every month of service, overseas had a point. But the people who really had all the points were still in Europe, they were still in Italy, because they didnít have enough space on the ships. Because the ships were used to bring the soldiers back to go to Japan. But that was all cancelled, and the guys still in Italy waiting to be discharged and the guys got to this country-in our ship-were all getting discharged the next day. Cause they had a few points, they didnít have as many as some in Italy did, but it was just unfortunate (laughing) the guys in Italy couldnít get back here. But eventually, they got back.
But I was, being that I was only in the service a year and a half, I didnít have as many points as some of these guys who got in service five or six years. But I got back to the States, they sent us home for a couple weeks, then they sent me to Louisiana. The war was over, but I was still in service.
And in Louisiana you got another leave of absence?
(laughing) I got back to Louisiana and they called me and said "O.K. Youíre entitled to thirty days" And I, I didnít say anything-a nod-I just came home. (laughing) So they gave me another 30 days at home!
So, 60 days?
60 days out of the first ninety days I was back. I was home 60 days.
Can we go back to Italy?
We can go back. . .
Why do you think we went to Italy?
They had, the generals and the people who make, who do the. . .(pause) not the CIA then, but the government organization, decided that the best way to hit the governments of Germany and Italy was to go through Sicilyówhich is near Italy. So they landed on the beach there, like I say, it would have to be where the generals decided, or whoever it is, decided to go through Sicily rather then trying to. . .Well, they [were] already in Germ. . ., already in Europe, they had a D-Day. So, but to get, I guess they decided to try to surround the Governments of the countries. But thatís a good question. Why would they go to Italy if they were already in Germany? To Europe? But I guess they decided that was the best way to go to end the war.
See, at they time they decided, (recants) " well they decided," the government in Washington decided they wanted to get rid of Hitler first and then concentrate on Japan. So, they took most of their men at the time, and all the ships and air-planes, to Europe. And I guess they decided right because that was a big thing for them to get rid of. . .
Yeah, because, when we watch the films, it seems that Italy was like the "extra one." Like its, GERMANY and JAPANóyou donít hear a lot about Italy.
You donít because even Mussolini was a dictatoróbut he was like a "puppet" they called it, he was like a stooge. Because every time you heard Hitler speak in Italy, Mussolini was just sitting there half-asleep. He didnít really have much to say. Hitler ran the show at the time.
He just used Mussolini to. . .
Getting ready to go to Italy, did you see any films?
Just on, training films we saw.
What were those like? Where they helpful?
Most guys were sleeping. It was very boring. They showed you about, mainly sexual stuff, be careful what youíre doing when you go out in the field.
Like Fordís "Sex Hygiene?"
Yeah, right. The war movies, I donít remember seeing too many war movies. Maybe one.
The "Why We Fight Series" the Capra Series?
You probably donít remember, maybe?
Thatís probably right, because I donít remember "Why We Fight." I remember seeing a movie about WHY, why we entered the war, but to be honest, I donít remember what it was about.
Did no one care about it?
Well, the main thing around there was when they got in they wanted to get out. Except the guys who volunteered, they wanted to be Generals eventually, to stay in the service. But they Average Joeís, we called them, they wanted to get out. You came in, you wanted to get out.
Most people wanted to get out?
Thatís right. They wanted to get out of the service.
You felt about Japan at the time. . .you still didnít care?
Itís not that I didnít care, I didnít know too much about Japan. I know they bombed us. This we know. But as far as why we went to war with Japan, we didnít know.
There was a lot of hate against Japan. You didnít hate the Japanese? At the time did you?
I didnít hate them, because I didnít know anything about them!
Did you SEE any hate towards them?
Well, a lot of guys. . .I guess, in any area they always got prejudice against people. And we used to have. . .the guys would call ëem "those damn Japs" the name was J-A-P-S. But as far as just using some slang expressions, they really didnít know much about Japan at the time.
And then the Germanís, still didnít care too much?
Well, the whole thing was, again I say, to get out of there. We didnít worry about the political aspects, because weíre kids! Eighteen, nineteen years old. We just wanted to get in and out. We didnít want to get in, we GOT in, we wanted to get out.
Everyone wasnít as patriotic as we see in the movies. . .
Flags, parades. . .
No! Not at all. The guys at the front lines, probably, as far as being heroic, they were probably more heroic then we were. We didnít get to the front lines, yet. When I first went, being in the Signal Core later on, I was just a regular infantry men. And when they decided to send-they had that big counter-offensive in Europe-everybody was in the infantry, there was no such thing as worrying about radio at the time. They just needed bodies, as theyíd say.
Before you left, they were called "consciences objectors" (I have difficulty pronouncing the word)
(correcting me) Consciences objectors.
Did you know anyone that just REFUSED to go?
Uh, not in my group no, not my. . .Well not, really, when I was inducted-as they say-there was no one there who decided not to go. Well, actually, they had to really probably [decide they were] not going to go before that time. But once in a while, not in my camp, but I heard, well once in a while there was a guy who was in the induction center who said "I donít want to fight, I donít want to carry a gun." But I never met one. I was told that by some other soldiers.
So, no one really said it, but you think everyone felt it?
They didnít voice it. They did not voice it.
Why didnít they voice it? You told me some story before, about a guy who said "Go to Hell"?
One time when I was in the camp, one guy told a sergeant at the time, told some private, it was not a terrible thing to do something and the guy says "Go to hell!" Well, the sergeant got all excited and reported to his officer, which was the second lieutenant. And it got to the point where they were going to court-marshal this guy.
Just for saying?
Just for saying that. Well, actually, I guess it was going against discipline. But thatís the only thing he said, was go to hell. And, uh, at that time I also just became a sergeant. So, all the sergeants got together one day and they said "you know, son, this is not right we shouldnít do this. . .sergeant so and so shouldnít do this." So we approached the other sergeant who reported this guy who wanted to have him court-marshaled, and we said "Joe," whatever his name was at the time "Why you donít back off, and take this, and go to the offic. . .the lieutenant and tell ëem you just want to back off" he says, "No, no, no." But after a couple of days of fooling around, the sergeant did recant, he was mad about it, he went to the officer and said "Letís just drop the case." So they dropped it. But this was a terrible thing. The man could have gotten maybe six months or more (thinking). . .not in prison. . .in camp. . .guard house.
That was the prison for the Army?
Yeah, thatís where they GIís were put. Usually, if they stole, or attacked somebody, or stuff like that. . . it was like the military prisons. And, uh, it wasnít as bad as you saw in the movie "Bridge on the River Kwai" where they didnít give ëem food and it was hot and stuff, but it was bad enough. Itís like in the Navy it would be the brig, but it in the Army it was the guard house. It was not the best thing to do.
That didnít happen often, that youíd voice your upset? No one said to their sergeant "I donít want to be here! Why are we here"?
But a lot of people felt it?
But they were just worried about the repercussions?
Thatís correct. Well, the severity in the Army is not like the severity in life. Like in civilian life, you tell someone certain things, slangs and stuff, nothing happens. But you do that in service, (laughs) you really got it. You gotta be careful what you say.
So, the discipline was strong?
Very strong. And Iím gonna say one thing. When I met some guys who were drafted in the service right of college, they still were in college, they took them out of college, at the time. Who were real nice pleasant guys and a year later theyíre son-of-a-bís. But the son-of-a-bís a year later were nice guys. It was a crazy thing!
You think the discipline did it?
I think the discipline did it, absolutely right.
I always thought that was so interesting. . .
Very interesting, strange, yeah.
It was definitely the discipline, then?
I think the soldiers, well, I think, in my own opinion they were afraid that the severity of the case was great, while in civilian life, you told someone to go to hell in civilian life, so what?
But in the service, it was not "so what," this was the way they operated and I guess it was successful (laughing) because they came out pretty good. Not that different soldiers didnít get into the guard house, I mean, Iím sure throughout the war there were plenty of them. But at the camp that I was at, it was just a few. . .
Something you didnít like, it was too bad, I mean in the civilian life, you donít like it, you quit. But, you couldnít do that in the service.
Along the same lines, you were telling me a story about a guy who was kissing everyoneís behindÖ
There was a (pause) in the company, they had about 200 soldiers and each company was actually, the main guy was a second lieutenant, then you had had sergeants and then corporals and then so forth. . .
There were two friends, both were second lieutenants, and they came up for a promotion. And the one that was in charge in our company was turned down to be a first lieutenant, but his buddy from another company was accepted to be a first lieutenant. The guy that was turned down was not the nicest of guys.
Before. But after he was turned down, he became the nicest guy in the world. He might have thought by being a better, a nicer guy, whoever was above him, who gave him a promotion or who would O.K. it, turned it into another officer, and said, up the line, I guess when he was turned down he felt that if he changed his ways a little bit he might get to be a higher officer. But this particular guy, he really happened to be a very rude officer and when he was turned down he became a nice, real nice guy.
So, he was talking to you?
Yeah, he was talking to the sergeants, before he was aloof, etc. However, this was the kind of officer, that I was under the impression, he wished the war lasted 28 years because he wanted to be a general.
Were there a lot of people like that?
I would think there were a lot of officers like that. Most of the officers, I shouldnít say most of them, a lot of them were, were men who draft. . who volunteered to service some years before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Others were tested and said "O.K, would you like to be an officer?" they went to school, so forth and so on. And some of them turned down the job of, turned down the schooling to be an officer, they just wanted to, like I say, in and out, they didnít want to become an officer. But some guys decided to be officers, tried, tried to become an officer, but this one lieutenant (laughing) was really a nice, he became a nice man. What happened to him, I donít know. But he was one of the guys that felt that if he was in there, if the war ended, if the war had kept going he would have become a general.
They say war changes a man.
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. But there were a lot of the guys in the service, also, that were single guys, werenít married, had no families.
You mentioned one guy. . .
There was one man, who was in my, when I was first drafted, who was 39 years old. Now, at the time, they werenít even taking too many guys over 35 either.
Yeah, that seems odd he would have chosen.
He was from a small town in the Midwest, I donít remember the town, he had five children. And was 39 years old. And he was a school teacher. And we said "What the hell are you doing in the Army?" And he said, "Well, the draft board at the time was a small city and at that quota they needed so many a month to get in." It was eight or ten or nine or whatever, eleven. He was just stuck and he got in service. But, that was unfortunate, he had no business, he really didnít. He was a lot older then most of the guys to begin with! And still, five children and actually a wife.
What was your troop like? Were there Jews? Their werenít any African Americanís, because they separated them right?
None at all. None at all. In our first training, they were training, but not in our area. They [had] like a camp that was maybe like four or five miles [away]. And the actual American people were, the soldiers were, on the other side of the camp. Once in a while, youíd pass ëem by when you were marching, in a camp, but they were not training with the white soldiers at all.
What kind of people were in your troop? Were there Jews?
Very few. Very few Jews. I would say that maybe out of 200, maybe three.
You told me a funny story, maybe Alabama?
They didnít think you were Jewish?
That was before, that was in Alabama. All of the Jewish soldiers were given, were offered a three- day pass for Passover. And I signed up for it. And we were going to take a bus, going to, we were going to Atlanta, Georgia, some Jewish liquor store owner. He invited, I think, ten soldiers to come to his house for a Seder (meal on the first two nights of Passover). So I got a pass, and when I got to the Seder, one of the guys from New York City-he name was Ungar, in fact (my Uncleís name)-he said "What are you doing here? You just trying to cheat on a three day pass?" I said, "What are you talking about?" He said, "Youíre not Jewish!" I said, (laughing) "Yes I am!" At the time, my name was Berlinsky and everyone thought I was Polishócause it was skI. So no-one considered I was Jewish guy, though I had my dog-tags that said "Hebrew" on it, H on it. But, no one was going to look at my dog-tags. Except me. So for about two days he didnít believe me, he just thought I was joking around, I just wanted that pass. But when I got to the Seder and said a couple of prayers, he changed his mind. Up until that time, he thought I just jacked whatever it was to get a pass.
(We have a discussion about the name, I never knew the origins)
Were you worried about the situation back home when you were in Italy?
Well, at home was my mother and sister, I had. And, I was worried about them, sure.
Was she [your sister] working for the war cause?
No, she was working for a clothing company in Detroit, Michigan. She was a bookkeeper for them. . .I worried about my mother and my sister quite a bit, yeah.
You had some girls back home you were writing to?
Well, I had girlfri, well, so called girlfriends. We corresponded every couple of weeks.
A picture of them?
No picture of the girls, no.
Was that real? I mean, we always see that in the war movies, with pin ups. . .
Youíd see that, some soldiers liked pin-ups. The majority of them did not. That you might have seen, everyone had a picture by their foot-locker but that wasnít true. You might have seen a couple of guys in camp whoíd put a picture up on, not up, but in their foot locker on top of their clothes and leave it there. But in our particular group of guys, I donít think they WANTED to hang up pictures on the wall.
Not pin-up girls, they kept most of their pictures, a few guys would show pictures-the ones who were married. But the single guys didnít show pictures of their girlfriends. If they did, it was in lockers, it was private. But I never saw any on the wall.
And you took pictures of your family with you?
Well, I had pictures of my family in my wallet. Like little snap-shots, but not really. You have to understand (pause) my mother was from Europe, actually Palestine, which is now Israel. She was married when she was 16. My father was about 30 at the time, he was from Russia. And, the actual, my brothers, well, two of my brothers were 20 years older then I was. My sister was 20 years older, 22 years older. So, I really didnít have, uh, the family was there, but we really didnít go around with each other, ëcause weíre talking about a lot of years difference.. . .They took an "allotmance" out of your check every month and sent it home. So, in essence, in the Army, even though at the time I was getting 60 dollars a month, I was only getting about 20. Weíre talking a month. But you have to understand they fed you-not the greatest of food-but they fed you. And they took care of your medical problems. So we really didnít need a lot of money. Shows in camp were 15 cents.
Did you see any shows?
Saw movies, but not so much war movies, regular Hollywood movies. Musicals and stuff like that.
Did anyone visit you? Bob Hope?
Not in, no, in Italy they did. Frank Sinatra was there. I saw Sinatra from like 200 yards distance in a big field.
Good place, Italy, for Sinatra. . .
Yeah. Thatís right. But at that time, Sinatra was not in the Army, he was in the "special services" as they called it, USO tours. He didnít get out of the Army because of that, I think he had a punctured ear-drum. So, they didnít draft him to begin with. Iím sure he went all over, he was in Italy for a week or two. That was a good thing to see. It was interesting.
Were you bored a lot in Italy?
Absolutely. Well, the boredom, well, during the day we were training. At night you were tired so you went to sleep early. And, once in a great while, in Italy, theyíd give you a little pass and youíd get to a small town. At the time Naples, or near Rome. Youíd go for a weekend. Yeah, it was interesting. But the rest of the week was very boring. Extremely boring. You have to understand, I was not in the front-lines yet. So, Iím sure the guys in the front lineís were not so much boring to them. But, uh, in essence, I really didnít have a bad time in the Army, I was fortunate. Itís not the best place to be. (pause) Itís not the best place to be because of the fact that, as I said before, all I was thinking was "when will I get out of this place? When am I going home?" You had the most freedom, which you didnít have in the Army.
Thatís a good point, yeah.
You see, in the Army, youíre regimented, they tell at 6 in the morning you have to get up, thatís seven a clock here, eight a clock here. Everything has to be done, regarding discipline, had to be done this way. And itís my way or the highway. I think the discipline is what aggravated most of the soldiers. They just didnít like the regimentation they had to go through.
Yeah, didnít you tell me that they were digging and they. . .
Right, I couldnít do that because they were privates and I was a sergeant. And Iím supposed to be in charge of the group of guys, to dig a hole, which was really wasting time. They had to do something that, to keep the guys busy. They didnít know what to do, so this was a little joke, you dig one hole and fill another holeóthis was a true story. And I was in charge of three guys, who was digging a little hole, like a little bridge, to fill in a ditch. And I was on a little step, not a step, but like the higher ground I was sitting down. All of sudden, I get up to dig for the guys and an officer came up to me and said "What are you doing?" and I said "Nothing, sir." He says, "Are you in charge of this company," not this company, "are you in charge of this troop?" I said, "yeah" he said "Well, then get back there and watch them." Well, that was a little embarrassing for me, too. But the officers, I guess, they were trained that way.
The Japanese Detention Camps, did you hear about them?
I heard about ëem vaguely, mostly after I got out of the Army.
They got them from Michigan, correct?
Oh, yeah, they took them from all over.
Do you know why there werenít any Italian Detention camps? Or German?
The only thing that I can say, is because. . .well the country was known for years as refugees from Europe, from Italy, from Europe. Not so much from the South Pacific, not so much from Cuba at the time, not so much from Mexico. It was all different today then it was then. And, the Italians and Germans where so imbedded with the government (he corrects himself) the government, with the United States itself-millions of them-that they felt they were O.K. But the Japanese were not O.K. Because they thought that the Japanese being in the Pacific, in California, closer to Japan then the people in New York would be. And they were also worried that they were going to spy on ëem [U.S.A.] to get the government of Japan to find out where the place would be to bomb the West Coast. But why that was so is a very good question, Iím not really following it up but itís very good. Why they took those Japanese to the camps and not the Germans?
Maybe itís because you can tell someone is Japanese.
Yeah, thatís true.
I mean, that could be one of the reasons. Itís very easy to say "Hey! You look Asian!"
Well, they said that about the Japanese and the Chinese they said they all look the same, how do you tell? Well, one has high cheekbones then the other, but still, the average person is not going to look close to see how high someoneís cheek-bones are.
Did they try to teach you that?
If they did, I donít really remember it. But there was a lot of prejudice against the Japanese. Probably because of the sneak attack, that was probably the biggest thing.
That made everyone think they were sneaky?
In class, we talk of how they were envisioned as bugs, burrowing, like ants. Or apes.
The Japanese, during the war, seemed to be more vicious. If they had a chance to capture some soldiers, theyíd kill ëem. Or torture them. It seemed to be in Germany or Italy at the time, they were liberal or easy. They take ëem and put them in a prison camp. But in Japan, it seemed to be, it was more, well, in the movies you see, it shows them more vicious. But I donít remember, like I say, I never got to Japan. I canít honestly say that I saw this, because I did not.
Like "Thin Red Line" for example, when they come upon the disemboweled corpses. . .
Iím sure a lot of it was propaganda. Listen, thereís a war going [on], they going to tell you any bad about a country, theyíre going to do it. But once itís settled, the war, everythingís O.K.
Itís very interesting, because during the war it was "Japanese bad, Chinese good" then after the war, during the Cold War, it was "Japanese good, Chinese bad."
(laughing)Thatís right. Thatís strange. Thatís the world we live in. You have to understand, too, that the Japanese were fighting the Chinese for 35 years in the war. Itís an amazing thing.
You didnít hear anything about the Communist Chinese, did you?
Never. No. All we heard was about [was] Chiang Kai-Shek nothing about any of the Chinese.
There was a lot of prostitution?
And a lot of orphans, too?
There were a lot of orphans that the Americans fathered. And when they went home, the Italian ladies and the woman, and the wives, not the wives so much, but the girlfriends and the mistresses of the guys, bore a lot of children, and Iím sure a lot of them were left in Italy. Some were brought back to the United States, but a lot of them were left in Italy.
Soap and cigarettes?
A bar of soap. Cigarettes were strong, too. But for a bar of soap, when I was in Italy, it was like gold. You could get anything you want for a bar of soap. Weíre talking a BAR of soap.
(here, my girlfriend made the interesting comment that " Itís so ironic! Theyíd do dirty things for a bar of soap.")
You said theyíd clean your clothes. . .
Youíd give them a bar of soap, theyíd wash your clothes, then keep the soap. That was their payment. And cigarettes were also popular. (He begins laughing.) The Italians, I guess, the whole Europe knew certain brands of cigarettes in the United States were better then other brands. They were worth more. The American soldiers were allowed like six packs a week of cigarettes, they cost us a nickel. And a lot of soldiers [would] take them into town and get two, three dollars a pack for them. But if they had, at the time, Chesterfield was a popular cigarette, Rolled Gold, Lucky Strike, Camel, those cigarettes were worth two and a half, three hours a pack.
Three hours with a woman?
Two and a half DOLLARS a pack, if you sold them, or a pack for a woman for a whole night. But (laughing) if, you had a cheap brand of cigarette, theyíd only give you a dollar a pack.
The story when you were in the mountains?
(laughs) We were training in Italy, even though the war was still on, and we were like in, near Naples. We were still training, and once in a while at night weíd go out into the mountains. Weíd take a long hike, like six miles. Weíd stay over night and come back in the morning. So, there were hundreds of soldiers then, we went up into the mountains. We walked, actually, with a back-pack. Theyíd talk to us for an hour and then theyíd set up tents and chew the fat for a while and then go to sleep. One night I was up there and I got really cold, it was really damp, and I was very uncomfortable, and I decided to, we were in a replacement depot, they called it, back about six miles from the mountains. I said "Aw heck, Iím going to go back to the base, itís warmer there." It wasnít warm, but warm-er.
So I started to go back into the camp. Fortunately, I followed the road we went up to, or else I would have been really lost. And I stopped at, I saw a house with a light on, and I stopped and asked for, I wasnít sure I was in the right spot to get back to the camp, so I stopped at an Italian house, maybe they could help me. This was about eight, nine-o-clock and night, nine-thirty. It was dark and I didnít know [how] to speak the Italian language and they didnít speak the English language too well, so it was difficult to get together what my question was. But they invited me to come in, gave me some bread.
Did they treat you well?
The Italian people treated us well, yeah, but most of the time they didnít understand what we were saying! I think we were better to them then the soldiers were from Italy and Germany. We werenít really telling them what to do. But the Italian and German government were.
But to get back to the story, they tell me, not in language so much, but in gestures and stuff, how to get back to where I was going. So I finally got back to the replacement depot, and got back and went to sleep. I got up in the morning about six, and one of the guys ëcomin back from the camps asked "howíd you get back so early?" and I said "I was faster" or something, and he couldnít understand why I was back there so soon, and he was just walking in. He didnít know I was back there ten hours before! But those things, Iím sure, happened to other guys in the Army, too. Normally, I would have stayed, but I was very uncomfortable. Iím about 20. Except for a few rare cases in Italy, I agree we did not have a bad time in the service. I did not suffer too much in any way.
You built a base-ball diamond?
(laughing) Oh, yeah! I was, in this camp, we were at, about twenty miles from Naples, in this city called Conserta(sp), in Italy. I used to play a lot of soft-ball when we had a chance. And some of the officers knew I played a lot of ball, and they got to like me pretty good, so they asked me once, they wanted to play some softball, in another field. They told me to smooth the field down, water it down, and make it nice. I said "O.K, Iíll do my best." So Iíd go out into the field every morning about nine-o-clock, and I had a hose there with water and Iíd spray it with water and Iíd smooth out the diamond. And some officer walks up to me and says "what are you doing?" I says, "Iím cleaning up the field!" He says, "Well, whereís the rest of your guys?" I says, "Thereís nobody here but myself." He says, "Youíre cleaning up this field?" I says, "Yeah!" (pause) I said, "It was more, but they told me to do this." He said, "Who?" I said, "Officer so and so." And this guy looks at me and says, "What the hell kind of officer is this guy telling this [guy] to clean up this field, this diamond?" But that seemed to go by. He said he was going to check into it, but nothing ever happened. So I was there for a week. I went in the morning, instead of going out in the field, I went to the playground and dusted the field and smoothed it out. So it wasnít, I wasnít really working very hard, it was just so boring. Youíre by yourself, and you donít got really much to think, all youíre thinking about is "when am I going to get out of the Army." I know Iíve said that six times already, but thatís the way it was.
Did they play in the field?
Yeah, they played, we werenít professional guys, but we played. We were happy.
If I asked what you were fighting for, what would you say?
I fighting because I was asked, I was not asked, TOLD, I was TOLD to go into the service. As far as fighting, I donít know what I was fighting for. At the time, Iím still a kid, Iím sure some guys 35 or 40 knew what they were going in for. . .we knew we were there to fight Germany and Italy at the time, but we still didnít know what we were fighting for.
Do you think they would have used the Atomic Bomb on Italy?
(pause) I think on Germany more so, I donít think, Italy was really out of it. I think we would have used it on Germany, yeah.
After the war. Letís talk about after the war.
After the war, we were back in the states. I was in charge of a platoon of guys, about fifty guys in a platoon, there were four platoons, there were about 200 guys. . .
Well, everywhere, but in this case, Louisiana. And, uh, every morning, youíre supposed to go out at 5:30 in the morning, and report in front of an officer and say "So and so all present, platoon 42, whatever, all present and accounted for." Which would be about fifty-two guys.
You were in charge of 52? That would be difficult but the. . .
Yeah. But when I used to get there in the morning, like after a weekend, come Monday morning, it would be like 5:30, I would be reporting in the field, theyíd do exercises. Iíd say "All present and accounted for" there were three guys behind me! Instead of 52 guys! Theyíd be sleeping in, so tired from the weekend. But the officer never said, I donít know if it was a joke to him or not, but it was funny to me at the time. I would say "All present and accounted for, sir" and there were three guys behind me. I was missing 40 guys. I guess it was all over that way, not only mine, it had to be with us, but Iím sure it was all over. But the funny part is, when you think back, and say "all present and accounted for" and thereís three guys.
(Here, there is a discussion about Texas, for my own personal interest. We continue after the stories about Texas)
But like I say the last six months in service was really (pause) easy. I mean you had nothing to do.
VERY boring. But nothing to do.
Not so much where we were at. Most, I think, were in New York city and Los Angeles and Washington D.C. We had movies there, like a movie house, for soldiers. I think it cost fifteen cents, something like that.
They called it the "Total War" the "Good War" if you had to give it a name, what would you call it?
Itís called the "Good War"
(puzzled) Where would they get the word "good"?
They thought was everyone was behind it. Gung-ho.
Everyone who was for it would probably be most of the civilians! I donít think they knew. . .they knew what the services were like, you had a lot of people in the Army, Navy, air-core, so forth. But everyoneís gung-ho until youíre actually in it! Youíre not gung-ho. Youíre gung-ho before you get into something. For a particular, our country, we got into it at maybe the right time. Because there could have been a horrendous situation if Germany and Japan ever won. I mean, what can be worst then that? When you think about it. Iím sure they think the same way about us. Iím sure.
I donít think weíre well like there, either.
Look at the eighties, "Buy American" and the Japanese "suits". . .
I donít know why, but I guess itís true in the whole world, they donít like the Americanís. I donít know if theyíre jealous of us because of the monetary situation weíre in. They seem to dislike the Americanís, and thatís not only (laughing) in Germany and Japan but in Britain, and in Canada. Whoís to say why?
(he pauses, reflects) But, ah, I donít know about the "Good War" I donít think thereís any good wars. . . Letís hope for the rest of humanity, who knows how long itís going to last, but they keep going better then they have been.