An Oral History: Interviews with WWII Suvivors Describing Their Accounts of the War

by Mark Williams

Lester Moore

Mr. Moore is an 82 year old retired banker. He currently lives in Pennsylvania with his wife. He is also my grandfather.

MW: Tell me about your career in the armed forces.

LM: Well, there's not much to tell (smiling). I was in drafted into the army in 1944.

MW: Why so late?

LM: I had two children at this point and they were drafting those of us with families later than those without. So, I headed off to Ft. Bliss Texas to begin my training. I was put into an anti-aircraft unit in charge of firing forty millimeter guns. We were trained to fire first at cardboard and hay bails and then at moving targets. People would fly planes pulling targets behind them for target practice for me and the guys.

MW: Did you watch training films at Fort Bliss?

LM: Not so much training films; they gave us pictures of enemy aircraft and our own aircraft very quickly and we had to identify which planes were ours and which were theirs.

MW: Did you ever see the movie Rear Gunner?

LM: With Burgess Meredith? It's been a long time.

MW: Your training seems to be similar to that in the movie.

LM: We weren't really gung ho about being in Texas in the middle of the summer so when we had target practice we would try to shoot the rope pulling the target so we could get out of the heat.

MW: It doesn't sound like you were as patriotic as the average American at the time.

LM: My job as an anti-aircraft gunner would probably have meant that I would have spent my time during the war stateside on one of the coasts. Since I really didn't think that the Germans were going to storm the beaches of Atlantic city, so I guess you could say that I wasn't very enthusiastic about my training.

MW: What about the Japanese? They did get to Pearl Harbor.

LM: Pearl Harbor yes, but all the way to San Diego, C'mon (almost annoyed at the question)

MW: Was the country as centered around winning the war as I have seen in movies?

LM: Movies are overly dramatic, but yes, everyone chipped in. The sentiment for the people in Europe was not incredibly high, but when the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor, everyone wanted to do something about it. That and the armed forces showed newsreel propaganda films which really seemed to piss everybody off. People were angry about what happened in Pearl Harbor, and the War Department used this anger to literally rally the troops.

MW: How did you feel about Roosevelt's declaration of War?

LM: Oh, Roosevelt gave the most memorable speech in my lifetime. (Quoting the speech) "December seventh is a date that will live in infamy." After that speech I remembered really hating the damn Nazis and the Japs. His speech was awe inspiring. He made me feel like we were doing the right thing. He had a way of doing that, with the New Deal and all of his programs.

MW: What did you think of Hitler?

LM: Hitler was a madman. The problem was that he was able to pull Germany out of a period of economic trouble and because of this, the people of Germany really felt he could do no wrong. The only problem was that he wanted to take over the world.

MW: Do you really believe that the German people would have elected a crazy person.

LM: I guess what I meant by quote madman unquote is that Hitler was not crazy, he was simply evil.

MW: Did you come to this conclusion because of the movies, newspaper, or newsreels?

LM: Those and word of mouth. (mimicking a random person) "did you hear what Hitler has done now? It's truly awful" Most of the time you believe what you hear. Newsreels and films only really showed one side of the story, and you'd better be patriotic. Some of the films showed how the Nazis treated the Jews and it only reaffirmed my notion that we were doing the right thing. Pure propaganda.

MW: What do you mean by "you'd better be patriotic"?

LM: Well, there was a decent Japanese population in the Pacific Northwest during the war. These people were taken from their homes and put into concentration camps. The government didn't trust them.

MW: Were you nervous about their presence?

LM: To tell the truth, I really did feel safer with them behind bars. With Pearl Harbor and the sneak attack, I really didn't trust any of them.

MW: Doesn't that seem racist now?

LM: Boy, (in that condescending tone like I've just poured water onto his favorite cigars) you have a lot to learn.

MW: Then teach me.

LM: The (still a little angry and almost frustrated that an explanation is in order) people in the country had no problem with putting those people into camps because it made the rest of us feel safe. And it wasn't like they were being deprived of food or being tortured.

MW: Did you agree with the decision to drop the bomb?

LM: Hell yes. Do it, do it again, just end the war.

MW: If we had not invented the bomb and the war continued, would you have joined the cause overseas?

LM: Yes. But I missed your grandmother and the children. War is not an inviting choice in a man's life. I had seen some awful pictures of men who had limbs blown off and others with their throats cut. I guess I didn't buy into the glamour of war. But I would have gone if necessary.

MW: What do you mean by the glamour of war?

LM: Many times, the movies make war seem like the necessary step a boy must take to ensure him of his manhood. You're lucky that you can become a man without going to war. War is a horrible thing. It turns boys into killers rather than men. Don't let the movies fool you.

MW: It doesn't seem like your sentiments were echoed throughout the country.

LM: My friends, those who returned from the war, told me some pretty awful things, nothing you would ever see in a movie.

MW: I've seen movies which have showed the horrors of war like Platoon and The Deerhunter.

LM: I only really remember movies of their caliber coming out after Vietnam, but not before. Making movies like those in the fifties would get you blacklisted and labeled as anti-American. Besides we believed what we were fighting for.

MW: And those in Vietnam did not?

LM: It wasn't that simple.

MW: How so?

LM: We had a clear cut reason for entering into W.W.II in Pearl Harbor. We saw what Hitler had done to the Jews as well as the graphic nature of the London bombings. Not entering into world war two would have been a global injustice. The reasons for entering Vietnam were not as obvious. Some Americans wanted to uphold the Truman Doctrine, but there didn't seem to be a national consensus behind this viewpoint. I felt sorry for those boys. They would come home and get spit on for fighting for their country. Many of them didn't want to go, but were drafted. The world war two soldiers got a heroes welcome, but not the kids who fought in Vietnam.

MW: Do you think the news coverage had anything to do with this?

LM: Definitely. We watched the coverage of the war on television, but we also saw the protesters. They would never have gotten air time during W.W.II.

MW: What has life on the home front like during world war two?

LM: Everyone supported the war effort. Everyone. Women took the jobs that men used to hold. Even the pilot of the target plane we fired at in Texas was a woman. They needed every available male pilot at the front I guess. Everyone really took the war effort seriously. Every night we would have to go into black out. The police and the air raid warden made sure to enforce these rules. No one really believed that were going to be bombed, because we were isolated in the middle of the Atlantic. The Japs and the Germans had their hands full, they weren't going to attack, but nevertheless, everyone complied.

MW: Do you think that the Japanese felt we were so isolated that we wouldn't retaliate a strike on Pearl Harbor?

LM: That could have been one of the reasons, but they really underestimated our response and our power.

MW: What was your image of the enemy?

LM: The Japs were regarded as almost ape-like. They simply followed their emperor around liked trained animals. We tried to develop our soldiers into thinking men, rather than robots.

MW: Don't robots make the best soldiers?

LM: The Japanese were relentless, it seemed as if they would all fight to the death if necessary?

MW: How do you think that opinion was formed?

LM: A lot of ways I guess, but mostly through accounts of what the Japs were doing during the War. News stories and what not.

MW: Do you still feel the same way about your enemies now as you did back then?

LM: No not really. I still won't buy Japanese or German cars, but that is about the extent of my ill will. Back then though, the Germans were an enemy to be conquered, while the Japs were an enemy that needed to be annihilated.

Fred Scheuner

Mr. Scheuner is a 74 year old retired plumber. He is a world War II veteran who has seen combat action. He lives in New York and is a friend of my family.

MW: Tell me about how you got into the military.

FS: I was Drafted in 1943 when I was 19 years old. Boy its been a long time. (laughing) I went through basic training in Miami Beach of all places and was then sent to gunnery school at Lowery Field in Denver. There we were taught how to handle the equipment and fire the guns. We had to pass tests in order to keep attending the school.

MW: Did you feel the need to do well in the school?

FS: Oh Yes. There was this one time when I couldn't get this gun assembly down. They blindfolded all of us and we had to assemble a fifty caliber machine gun in under a minute. It took me a long time to get this down, much longer than my classmates. They were going to kick me out, but I finally was able to do it. I didn't want to fall behind. I had a feeling as if I was letting the others down. If I got kicked out of the school I would have been washing planes instead of flying in them. I finally got through the tests and was assigned to a plane.

MW: Were you afraid to eventually see combat?

FS: Not at first. All of us knew that there were others fighting at the time, and we wanted a part of it. My crew was very young and we really didn't know what we were getting into. Before we got to Italy, we were sent to Brazil on a training run. While we were there, the crew went out into the jungle almost as if we were playing soldier. We captured a monkey on our journey and took him over to Europe with us.

MW: Did you see any training films preparing you for combat?

FS: Yeah, they were supposed to train us for combat, but they were nothing like the real thing. Some of us used to sit around and laugh about how ridiculous they were once we had seen some real action.

MW: Did you believe what you were doing was right?

FS: Yes. We had a job to do, whether it was this enemy or that enemy. My grandparents were born in Germany, and I guess I really didn't feel ill will towards Germans, just Hitler. He had to be stopped or the crazy bastard would have taken over all of Europe, and then who knows.

MW: Was their a feeling a patriotism amongst your crew mates?

FS: At first, but as the fighting wore on, we began to think more about survival.

MW: Example

FS: Well, we had flown over thirty missions and taken a lot of fire from enemy planes. My Captain lost his foot to anti-aircraft fire. He was bleeding all over the place and I had to leave my gun to wrap his leg with my jacket. After seeing something like this, I began to want to simply get home. I was eventually given leave after fifty one missions. Some of my crew mates stayed on to fly with other crews, but not me, I wanted out.

MW: Had you lost your sense of patriotism?

FS: No, but I felt as if I had put in my time. When I came back to the states, I was really messed up over some of the awful things I had experienced, and some doctors gave me sodium pentethal to relax me. I had nightmares for a while, but as time passed, I have been able to get on with my life.

MW: Have you seen the movie Catch-22 or read the book?

FS: I can see where you are going with this, and no I was not like Yossarian. I was scared to keep going up and keep getting shot at. But I never thought of going A.W.O.L.

MW: At this point in the war, did you still care if we were going to win the war or was going home a top priority?

FS: We had to win. All of those men were not giving their lives to end up without justice. This seems to be what's lacking in today's military, a sense of national pride.

MW: Do you think that Vietnam is the cause of this?

FS: Vietnam, Nixon, LBJ, Kennedy's death. All of those things really, but I was glad to see a general support for our boys in the Gulf.

MW: Have you seen any documentaries showing B-17's in W.W.II combat?

FS: Yeah, I bought maybe twenty of them from some T.V. program.

MW: Are they an accurate portrayal?

FS: They really are all very good. They seem to make us more heroic than we were, but I'm not complaining.

MW: Would you like to see films of what actually happened?

FS: I don't know if that's possible. All films are some type of propaganda.

MW: All films?

FS: In a way. Whoever makes the film decides what he wants his audience to believe. With documentaries, the audience seems to take these films as what actually happened. None of the films I own show the graphic nature of air war, but that isn't what they wanted them to see, besides I don't think the audience really wants to see every gory detail.

MW: Do you look back on your service fondly?

FS: I look at it as the best thing I've ever done. I still go to reunions to see all of my old war buddies. The captain who had his foot shot off married his nurse from the hospital. I still see them from time to time. I go to air shows too. I drag my grandkids up into the old B-17's and show 'em how everything works (getting excited). When I get into the old bird I really remember the excitement of flying. I guess I've learned to block the other memories out, because when I look back at the war now, I remember more good times than bad, but I was a lucky one.