Oral History

by Darryl Penriece

My oral history assignment started out a disaster and ended as a ray of sunshine, at least up until this point of transcribing. I had called all over Ann Arbor to places like the VA hospital, the American legion, and so on when I was finally given the number of the American Veterans of World War Two and Korean War Association, where I first learned of Ted "Ranster" Randall. I set-up an interview with him and the disaster began from there. I had already had reservations about talking with him because simply, to state the obvious, I'm Black. There's always the ever-present threat of overt racist things that could happen, like the possibility I could show up and he would refuse to talk to me. But probably the biggest fear I had was doing an interview, in which, he would give all the "right" answers. I dread the thought of having to add another chapter to the book on "How To Be Politically Correct About World War Two." The question that I had in my mind prior to the interview was, "would he identify me as a Black outsider and therefore unprivileged to his 'hidden transcript' or a less watered down version of his 'hidden transcript' concerning his experiences and viewpoints about the war, that he would discuss more openly had I been White or would the power of his memories overwhelm him and result in his 'hidden transcript being shown?" By the end of the interview, I had a little bit of both of these situations---with a twist.

The day of the interview arrived and the disaster took its form. At the last possible minute my ride to Ted Randall's home in Warren, MI canceled and I had to talk my girlfriend into driving me (I do not have a car). Of course, even with both of our powerful minds at work we still managed to get lost about five times along the way, stopping to call Mr. Randall a minimum of three or four times. Needless to say by the time that we arrived, we were an hour later than we had planned and tension had built up on all sides. A sense of relief swept across us all as my girlfriend and I walked into the Randall's living room. He and his wife greeted my girlfriend and I quite warmly, immediately disarming any fear of overt racist actions. However, the blade of politically correctness immediately pierced my heart as we all entered "The Study." His wife removed the smurfly friendly dog and we all exchanged pleasantries back and forth, when Mr. Randall started the interview without a question being asked. This is only significant in that, that moment allowed me to know that I was about hear what I feared the most, all the "right" answers.

(Mr. Randall)

"I spent two years, I was with a core of engineers. I got in in April of '44 and got out in December of '45. I must have been the last one in the draft because I got three kids and I got in."

(Me)

"Where were you stationed?"

(Mr. Randall)

"I was stationed in Ft. Bellvore, Virginia for the core of engineers."

His self-introduction was straight forward, but the joke about being drafted was easily identifiable as being pulled from a stock of humorism that we all develop over the years. I will delve into the oral history in a moment, but I must first provide a little more background information about Mr. Randall in order for any of the forth coming observations to make any sense whatsoever. Mr. Randall's general profile is this: a white, male professional, approximately 82 years of age and probably healthier than I've ever been. He has a mild hearing impairment, but that is corrected with the use of hearing aids. However, his hearing aid broke the Friday before our interview, thus helping to create the disaster. Not only did he have the "right" answers, but occasionally he also had the right answers regardless of the questions that I would ask him.

(Me)

"What is your general image of the Axis forces during this (war) time?

(Mr. Randall)

"Well, we were in a specialty group just like the uhh navy had their CB's we built bridges, we practiced building bridges, we practiced communications, we practiced uhh road building and things like that. I always laugh at the marines they always say 'man, we were the first ones there.' 'Yeah, we built the bridges and we built the roads for you then you guys walked through....."

Anyway, after the war Mr. Randall returned to his job and eventually became a full blown alcoholic. He stopped drinking (hasn't had a drink in over 33 yrs..) and became an activists with a group called Amvets against alcohol and drug abuse, in which he is a national commander. At interview time he was applying for a position in the White House on the Drug Council. Mr. Randall's alcoholism, recovery, and accomplishments since then are all quite impressive and deserve praise. However, these accomplishments and mild war information came frighteningly close to being the only information about his war experiences that I could wrench out of him.

At the time Mr. Randall was drafted Mrs. Randall was a mother of three and a career homemaker. She never worked during the war, but rather relied upon subsistence income and Mr. Randall's truncated salary wages while he was away. She joined support groups for the wives of veterans during the war and had two brothers that participated in the war effort as well. She has stood by her man, through the good and the bad, over the past sixty years.

As can be expected from a person with Mr. Randall's semi-political background he managed to have the "right" even at times I was sure he was cornered. I did not enter the interview with the notion of cornering him or attacking him in anyway, but I was expecting to find residual traces of propaganda induced racism. However, as the interview progressed I became more aware of his powers of political correctness.

(Me)

"What was it like when the Allied forces turned their attention toward Japan after that?

(Mr. Randall)

"Well we might of, we had quite uhh...shall we say uhhh...disturbance here because we had Japanese in our internments camps and there was a, a sad feeling to those people that were citizens here and were in camps and uhh for about ten years you know they didn't do much communication or talking...they were just held against the Japanese, for a while and now we kiss'em........With money...(laughter)."

In the exchange above the medium of writing does not do justice Mr. Randall's ability not to offend. I've kept all of his speech pauses and repetitions in an effort to recreate the feeling of what it was like to hear his answer be developed before my very eyes. The pauses in his speech immediately told me that he was consciously making an effort to put together words that could only come across as neutral, if not, in sympathy for the Japanese. At the same time, his response confirmed my role as "The Media" representative in this whole scenario. On a personal and inner level his response did spark that blood thirsty "I'm gonna find out what you know" instinct that "vultures", excuse me, "reporters" live and thrive off in today's world. I did not begin to mentally twist his arm or anything of that sort, but I did push every other question back towards war time impressions with the underlying hope that he might reveal his 'hidden transcript' which was the public transcript of overt racism during the war.

(Mr. Randall)

"I went back to work. I worked as circulation manager for the Detroit Free Press. I went back to work immediately....uhhh....I started drinking heavy and I became an alcoholic and I've been an alcoholic ever since, except I haven't had a drink in over thirty-three years. I quit. And I wrote a book. I'll give you a copy of that..I give ya' my complete resume there. I'm in charge of the Amvets Against alcohol and drug abuse.... I'm the National chairman and that programs been in existence for seven years and now we're working, we got so good and so recognized, we're working with the White House with General McKaffey... on the substance abuse program. So that's what I'm doin' I'm workin' and spending money on my program."

(Me)

"You mind if I ask like uhh how, how did, was their any influence from the war that led to you becoming an alcoholic?"

(Mr. Randall)

"Yeah, I began heavy drinkin' there. No, I tell ya' what....I I drank pretty heavy before I went into service.And I just pick it up right there. Nobody bothered ya' so long as ya' did ya' duty. We always had bottles of somethin' buy bought buy the gallons we worked in uhh, in uhh warehouse for bout four months we were locked in when we were workin on, I release this information now, because from forty years it was classified and we didn't talk much about it, but uhh we use to get it in five gallon cans. This is Washington D.C. which is thirty miles, twenty miles from Ft. Bellvore I used to bring five gallon can of turpentine, five gallon can of booze everybody had a good time, but we did our work. We were locked in the warehouse, as much it took to go, map together, display we even had every ravine rock and tree on that from the uuhh reconnaissance plane that took pictures, guess what? They hit the beach at the wrong place. Got slaughtered.

(Me)

"Was it, I mean, was it the tenseness of being locked into the warehouse that, you know"

(Mr. Randall)

"Cause my drinking?"

(Me)

"Motivated that type of drinking...?"

(Mr. Randall)

"No, no, I just progressively...uhh went along with it. I, I couldn't stand an empty glass I always had to have it full. I went to bars that knew what I drank and they put the bottle, on the bar for me and I'd pay for it. I had a special privilege. The guy know I drink Calbert's so he'd set the bottle, 'How many did you have kid?' 'I had five.' So he rang that up and I went to the next bar. Until I lost my job. I was doing real good on the East side here, between six mile and eight mile and drive Chester, all barren country new subdivisions. And I had the home delivery circulation and I built it up and they cut my territory three times because it was getting too big. And Then I drank so much that one the owner of the paper Mr. Nife called me in and said,'Ted, I hear you're drinking too much out there.' I said,'Who told you that?' Robert said,"You know I take an occasional drink myself, but I know when to stop. I tell ya' what you're a good man, we're gonna send ya' to Kentucky to a rehab center and see if we can straighten you out.' I said,'Who me? I ain't got no problem. But I had. And I lost my job in six weeks. It was the second highest paid job in the circulation department at the Detroit Free Press. That's what booze does to ya'..."

(Me)

"You learn, after a while."

(Mr. Randall)

"Then when I joined Amvets, I got interested in what they had there in dedication. And I had stopped drinking. Could you imagine going, joining a post that drinks all the time at the bar and I joined a bunch of elbow benders (laughter). But I had my goal set on becoming a state commander. And I became a state in '73. And then I decided, five, six years later that I would become a national commander, and I did. And I'm the only living national commander still living...(laughter) I'm 82."

(Me)

"Along the way,when you're doing work veterans and so forth, do you run into veterans from World War Two that, you know, that say the causation of their drinking is related to, you know, things that they saw abroad?"

(Mr. Randall)

"Oh yeah, we go, we visit uhh twice a month, I mean, twice every second month we go to the VA hospital as part of our honor society. and one of our projects is going to see the boys we go to wards where they have psychos, psycho cases some of'em been shot up, some of'em uhh in bad, bad shape because they were involved in the war and stuff like that. We visit , we have very good programs uhh in our organization and the uhh.. auxiliaries is forever doing something."

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(Me)

"Is there any one object from the war that you really hold on to, like memorabilia?"

(Mr. Randall)

"Well, I never saw over seas for one thing and I never took it to a point where I would get anything involved that would deter me. I uhh..I was one of those determined alcoholics. I didn't know when to stop and I had to get drunk in order to enjoy...the uhh, but the thing is I made it a constituency that I set a goal and go and whatever, I don't care what is, today... I'm still working. I'm 82. Can you believe it? And uhh, I do service , I do appraiser work and surveys for about nine automotive manufacturers all of'em all over the country. You talk about finding places, go with me sometimes! But I map myself out before I go. And uhh I always set goals and even, even in a time of destitute I'd never let nothing beat to me."

From the reading the transcripts above, right now you are probably thinking the same thing I was thinking as this interview took place. "This sucks." Mr. Randall is probably one of the world's most kind hearted men, but in regards to and in depth interview about World War Two he was utterly useless, almost.

After the exchanges to above Mr. Randall continued to misinterpret ate he questions that I asked him and generally ramble. At one point, Mr. Randall gave my girlfriend and I autographed copies of his book about the alcoholism in his postwar life. There was one ray of hope when I asked him about any enemy radio broadcast s that he had heard during the war, however that ray of hope was quickly extinguished after a few carefully selected words and then a quick change in the topic

(Me)

"What was your general impression of the Japanese broadcasts? You know, did you think they were foolish, or?

(Mr. Randall)

"Well they were always trying to fool us you know, they would tell you one thing then do another just to throw us off guard. Uhhh? What was the name of that? Rosie's?"

(Me)

"Ohh!! Ohhhh"

(Mr. Randall)

"Remember that?"

(Me)

"Yeah."

(Mr. Randall)

"Use to listen to her all the time. She was uhh, she was ahh reaaaalll schmart one."

At this point Mr. Randall turns his attention back towards his books that he is autographing for us. I ask again about the enemy broadcast, but I come up with nothing. At this point in time we're about forty five minutes into the interview and things are looking quite dire from my point of view. I quietly contemplate a b.s. theme for this oral history and wonder how am I going to crank out ten pages, then Mr. Randall pulls me back into the room by informing us that one of his hearing aids was busted the entire time and that he couldn't hear too well at all. The knife in my heart was just pulled out, reinserted, and then twisted. Mr. Randall then went on to explain all of his views and suggestions on the war on drugs. Then it happened. That special woman walked into my life and your magical words drifted into my head, "remember, they do not have to be veterans, they can be the wives of veterans....." Mrs. Randall offered my girlfriend and I a cup of tea, but I declined and jumped at the opportunity to ask her a few questions.

(Me)

"Uhh, Mrs. Randall is there, is there I mean is there any war time memories that you have that you'd like to share?"

She laughs

(Mr. Randall)

"Now you've got it!"

(Mrs. Randall)

"Do I have some memories?! Can you turn that off...."

(Mr. Randall)

"No, he wants it on there dear."

(Mrs. Randall)

"No, not this, not what I wanna say. No... You know when they took my husband in. I said if I could do anything to that government I would do it because I felt so bad that these children, three little ones, my son was only seven months old, he was a baby and everybody else in staying behind and they took him. I felt bad. I mean, you know bringing up three children without a husband is very hard. It was, those weren't happy days."

(Me)

"What did you do to make up income?"

(Mrs. Randall)

"Uhh when he worked for the Free Press..."

(Mr. Randall)

"I got half my income, half my pay and subsistence."

(Mr. Randall)

"And also the government. So you know it helps out. And uhh if I needed any help with medical help, why you know its paid for."

(Mr. Randall)

"And we got a lot of help when we needed it, I'll never forget'em, the Good Fellas. The Good Fellas, I still send'em fifty dollars every year.

(Mrs. Randall)

"But other than that, there isn't anything I associated myself with women whose husbands were in service or fathers or whatever and uhhh nobody ever had any good words for the government, because you know, it does make ya' feel bad. But uhh.."

(Me)

"You don't need no pictures?"

(Mr. Randall)

"Other than that I uhh, I know...."

(Me)

"Actually yeah."

(Mr. Randall)

"Here, let me give ya'. That was my lean days when I was in service and that was after she started feeding me good when I got home."

(Me)

"There's gonna be a website for this course."

(Mr. Randall)

"Oh is there?"

(Me)

"So I'll send you...."

(Mr. Randall)

"These are all my honors and awards from day one I left the service and all my publicity, all my newspaper stuff up til uhh, up till time working with General McKurry in the White House."

(Me)

"Thanks a lot."

(Mr. Randall)

"Anything else."

(Me)

"I just have a quick question. was there anything about movies that you remember or radio broadcasts that really stuck out in your memory."

(Mrs. Randall)

"We did, yeah, we listened the radio practically every night where ever the boys were sent. It was something we really wanted to hear because you didn't know if you were going to see your husband again. It was, it was hard."

(Me)

"Did you ever hear a broadcast from the Japanese or the Germans?"

(Mrs. Randall)

"No. Only what we read in the newspaper and what leaked on the news."

(Me)

"During the war there was, you know, there was a huge war time effort to get, t have women in jobs..."

(Mrs. Randall)

"No, well I didn't work. I had to take care of my family. I had uhh, two brothers that were in service, one was in the marines and the other was in the navy. And the one that was in the marines, he was caught by the Japs and tortured. And I remember when we took the trip to the Philippines and he showed the place where they kept him hostage and all the memories came back and everything that he said. I could just visualize everything. So, it wasn't pleasant at that time. You know when they are sending off to where ever...I hope that draft never comes back. Its very, very hard..

(Mr. Randall)

"Propaganda has always worked that way." (Mr. Randall)

(Me)

"Thank you so much."

(Mr. Randall)

"Well I hope you never have to go because,.....All these wars are put together by politicians, for purposes that have nothing to do for the good of the country as a whole. Its some internal something's that someone's trying to squeeze out and our boys are the cannon fire for it. Every war!"

 

"Haaaalleyulah! Halleyulah! Halleyulah! 'And the water becometh it wine, and the Sheppard becometh wise.'" After these exchanges I knew my time had not been wasted. The intellectual gears started grinding, the 'vulture' was fed, and the sun finally rose.

A number of key things took place in these final few exchanges. The first major occurrence was the recognition of Mrs. Randall's political incorrectness. Laughs quickly spread across the room when I asked Mrs. Randall if she had any memories from the war that she would like to share. The laughs really prepared me for the rawness of the comments to follow. It was as if Mr. Randall knew that Mrs. Randall unable to keep their hidden script about the war hidden. The vulture in me loved the smell of blood.

At times you'll notice that Mrs. Randall repeats the words "It was bad, it was not a pleasant time, or it was hard." When she would say this, I noticed that it acted as a type of shut down mechanism for when she became too emotionally charged.

Another significant moment was when Mrs. Randall acknowledged my recorder by jokingly asking me to turn it off. This act was another instance of 'public vs. private scripts.' In this instance the recorder became the aperendi of power. The recorder held in it the power to hold to words that she may wish to deny saying at a later time, thus making her a bit more cautious. In the first exchange she openly says that she would have struck out against the government if she had had a chance at the time. I do not look to this in an accusatory way. I openly admit that I despise the US government, but for her the circumstances are much the differ than mine. The next significant moment almost shot by in a flash. It was when she revealed that her discontent with the government was shared amongst the other women that she associated herself with after her husband had left for the war. This was a time period in which all forms of media available projected women and the country as one voice in support of the war. Her statements refute that notion that the women loved their men because "they kill Japs." But rather, lets you know that the women loved their men, simply because they were their men, their brothers, their fathers.

The exchange that I felt was the most powerful came in response to question that I hadn't asked and, for that matter, thought to ask. I was about to ask her about any advertisements specifically geared towards women that she may have remembered, but instead she took the moment over. She began to tell me about her brother that had been captured by "the Japs." She had finally revealed her 'hidden transcripts, signified by her use of the word "Japs." At the same time her revelation reminded me that I was human being in my heart and not a vulture. After only a few moments, she was on the brink of tears. I couldn't push any further and chose to stop questioning her because of the intenseness of pain that I, Darryl Penrice, was causing her.

At the end of all of this something strange happened. Mr. Randall commented on propaganda. Up until this very moment I still can not figure out why he made such a comment on propaganda, especially in this context. It was also following that comment that Mr. Randall came to life and made one of his most honest, unedited, unrestrained comments of the entire interview. He proclaimed the reasons that he felt that every war in history has ever taken place; politicians looking for personal gains. This is more than a sideline commentator passing an ill-informed judgment.

Mr. Randall was an insider in the political circles, which makes his proclamation that much more powerful. Working directly the White House means that Mr. Randall has more privy to the inner workings and motivations of the US political power brokers, therefore perhaps his final words are the ones more people should take heed before they swear their allegiance to the flag.

 

"Well I hope you never have to go because,.....All these wars are put together by politicians, for purposes that have nothing to do for the good of the country as a whole. Its some internal something's that someone's trying to squeeze out and our boys are the cannon fire for it. Every war!"