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Q.: This is Kunwar Sohal and I'm interviewing Dr. Robert Ziller today who is a
World War II vet. He was a medic in World War II. We are interviewing in his
home and today is February 28th, 2002 and it's 12:40pm. Good afternoon, Dr.
Q.: How are you doing?
Q.: Alright. Could you describe your feelings when you were informed that you'd be
leaving home to enter the war?
A.: Let's see, that would be probably one month before I actually left, I guess. Yeah,
it would be about a month before. And, my guess would be that it was just a
matter of course, you know, that everybody my age was going through that
process. And I was going along with that process. Of course, I'd already left
home but I was at college just prior to that. So it wasn't the first time I'd left
home. That made it easier. And really there was, much of my behavior through
all of that was just, it was just a matter of course. And I think that was most
people's feelings. Just kind of like you were in line. Waiting in line, you moved
along in line. A little bit.
Q.: What was your main motivation to join the Army as a medic?
A.: Well, you didn't choose. You were assigned. You were, as a matter of fact, I
thought I was going to go in the Signal Corps or something like that. And they,
but the, you know, you completed various tests, intelligence tests and so on and
then whatever was needed at the time they assigned you to that. And actually I
think it was after basic training that you were assigned to that. It's part of it but
they probably had already made the decision. So they sent you to a particular
base. In my case it was Ft. Bragg, Texas. And, Waco, Texas. Again they told
you you were going to be a medic and again you just went along. It was a huge,
you know, it was a huge operation we're talking about. There were 16,000,000
men being moved around and we were not treated exactly like we were going to
Q.: Can you explain to me the training process that was undertaken for medics when
you were in Ft. Sam Houston?
A.: The, well, first ofall we had to have basic training which was 12 to 16 weeks of
basic infantry training. Everybody went through that. We went through obstacle
courses like you said and so I trained in gunnery and using the various weapons
and much of it was physical, physical training. And then, after that, we were
trained by a physician and one physician trained all of us in various procedures.
That took another two months, I think, and then in my case I was then sent to a
school. Trained in a hospital sort of setting. Taking care of patients in a hospital
setting. Got some additional training there. And then we were ready to go
Q.: As you prepared to go overseas what was the atmosphere like in your barracks?
A.: Again, we didn't know where we were going. They just told us assignment had
been made. So we started going north from Texas, it was San Antonio, Texas,
and when we got to Chicago we turned right, took a train going right instead of
left. That meant we knew where we were going. We were going to the European
theater, but we never knew until then.
Q.: So you weren't aware that you were going directly into battle?
A.: Well, we knew we were going overseas, yes. We knew we were going overseas.
So that we had been assigned to go overseas. But again, it was relatively
subdued. Everybody was doing it, you know? There's a tremendous movement
of millions of troops.
A.: Every which way. Yes, and there was, we were just carrying out our assignment.
And it was always that realization. One of the big ones came, I think, like when
we graduated from basic training. By the way, the end of the basic training was,
we had to march 25 miles in eight hours or less. And, carrying a 40 pound pack.
And then after that we marched with 25,000 men, troops, in parade. Had to
march before the ? of the base, we were finished with training. 25,000 of us had
gone through that training. And then the assignment came after that. But that,
that march was very, very important, because we got the general notion that you
were part of a fantastic, highly trained army. And that was, that was a very
significant part of your induction into the 16,000,000 man operation.
Q.: How many medics were in your unit as you prepared to go to Europe?
A.: Let's see, we had something like, think there were about, eight of us. There was a
physician, a dentist, and then a driver, we had a driver. Then the rest of us were
assistants. Medical assistants.
Q.: Were there any African-Americans in your unit?
A.: No, only late, late and we were in the headquarters' unit. There was, we were the
medical part of the headquarters' unit. And then there was the operations of the
battalion kind of operating personnel.
Q.: How were they treated? Were they treated any different then, back then with
A.: I rarely saw any in Texas.
Q.: In Europe itself were there any?
A.: Now in Europe, towards the end, in the early part where we saw them most
frequently was, they were drivers of what they called the "Red Ball Express."
And they gained quite a reputation in terms of supplying, loading up supplies in
six trucks. But then, about the time we hit, we were somewhere in Belgium
already, and there was an integration that took place of the entire Army.
Somebody, of course, they, it was very cleverly done. They knew the war was
won and that's the best time to integrate. Then, it was a victorious kind of
integration that took place. It was on a high note that was well done. We had
only one black guy came into our group. He was from North Carolina. And even
though there was a lot of anti-Black feeling among most, most of the people in
our unit were well, it was half from the South and half of them from the North,
but there was a lot of anti-black feeling in the Army. In fact, one of, I can
remember when we were in England one of the fellows in our unit, he's a sergeant
in the medical unit, as a matter of fact. A very nice guy. A little older, he'd been
a mortician by the way, made medical as a mortician. And he dated a black girl in
England. It was actually a very mixed black girl, they call it a quadroon or
something like that, because as a matter of fact that's the term used for it. And
they gave him a kind of a, what would they call it? A "Kangaroo Court" was held
by the entire unit in which he was found guilty by these, by members of my unit
and for going out with a black girl. And he was told that he'd have to write a
letter home to his wife apologizing. To give you some idea how... he was...
Q: He was himself white?
A: Yeah, he was from Wisconsin. And, but I think it was a part directed mainly at
him because they, I don't know why they disliked him, he was...
Q.: Maybe they were just disgusted with his behavior?
A.: He was a little arrogant. He was a good guy, he was a very good guy and he was
a little arrogant, but it was partly that but it was really a black mark on my unit for
having done, having done such a thing. It's ridiculous, But then, when the black
fellow come in he was, he was a driver too and he was a very popular guy in the,
organization. And there was it was, no fanfare, there was nothing to it. It was
just like somebody else had come.
Q.: When you got into the war and the actual battlefield, how many cases on average
would you guys encounter on a daily basis?
A.: Well, we weren't exactly in the, you know, we weren't in the battlefield where
most of them would be. Sometime inadvertently back when we first went on the
beaches, it was D-Day plus 52. And there was still a lot of movement going on
when we were there. The front lines weren't that far away. We could hear tank
movements and so on, but and we weren't really operational yet. We were
moving up to where we were going to operate. Then we moved over to the Brest
Peninsula and there a large number of Germans were bottled up in the city of
Brest and but we served as the medics for the tank, we were with a tank retrieval
organization. Tanks were knocked out, our battalion took them back and then the
sent them in for repairs more or less. But there the only battle ground was really
the beaches where occasionally some American troops would play around on
D: r" '
beaches where they shouldn't be because they were all mined and there a bunch
of people got killed. And there we served you could say in the front line at that
time. But ordinarily we were usually anywhere from ten to twenty miles down in
front. That was our position usually. But what you said, but we served as medics
were, let's say, these about 400 men. We were medics for at least 400 men. For
anything that happened to them. We were the two MDs plus our eight person
team took care of them. So every morning the patients would come in for
whatever they had. But we were always open to treat venereal disease. We were
always open. We always had, so anytime anybody wanted to come in for
prevention after a sexual relations we were always open for that kind of service.
Q.: So was it, at any time was it difficult where you had to, was it difficult for you to
bring all that you'd learned into action, were you under any certain pressure or...
A.: You know the main, well, the one incident that we, that I'd mentioned was that
three fellows had gone swimming on the beach and they tripped a mine and all
three of them were hit but one of them could come back. And we were... now
that was the landing because then somebody, while we were treating these guys,
somebody tripped another one and eleven more men were sent down. So now we
had only the other medic and I were mobile. We had thirteen that were down.
And we had to send in for some more help and signal to get in some more help to
get these people out of there.
Q.: Was it difficult for you? After learning all that you had in training and going...
A.: No, it really wasn't because it was fairly simple well, except for the people who
were dead. But the, what we did was throw a bandage over their wounds and
gave them a shot of morphine. That essentially was the first aid then. We sent
them into where they were picked up and brought to a kind of a hospital like
what's the hospital in M.A.S.H.? Remember the M.A.S.H. series... it was on
television. It's a famous t.v. series.
Q.: I remember the series.
A.: They were sent, brought into a M.A.S.H. hospital,
Q.: Was there any process you went through when you decided which patients you
would see first? If one was more critical than the other?
A.: No, that's a good point, a very good point now that you mentioned it. As a matter
of fact you had to make a quick assessment of who wasn't going to make it. And
Q.: Was that difficult?
A.: In order to do what you simply did was, well we had thirteen people down and
two medics and so what we honestly just went to the nearest one who was going
to make it and then the next one and the next one and the next one. That's what it
amounted to. But again, you know, even under those circumstances there was no
panic for anyone. There was nothing you could do but do your job, you know?
There was nothing... it was the only thing to do. So you focused on that. And
there wasn't really any panic, fear, just... it's amazing under those circumstance
how you operate. And everybody would do the same. By the way, my partner
was the guy who my organization had held a Kangaroo Court for. He was
actually my best friend in the organization. You don't realize where you are or
what you're doing. Don't have time to do that. And not inclined to do that either.
It really is amazing how matter-of-fact everything is. And I think that, that's why
you know, we got into conversation of war stories and so on. Most guys and war
stories are acting for the camera. They think that's part of it, you know. And I
think guys who were really in action are just matter-of-fact doing what they're
supposed to do. I honestly feel that's true. They aren't sure acting for the
camera, I can tell you.
Q.: Okay. So is there any, what's the step by step process that you yourself when
through mentally when you first see a patient or the injured soldier?
A.: I guess the first notion is, what can I do for this person? What can I, well, also
where the wounds are. And then, and then you, of course, the bleeding is the first
thing we look at. And then, stopping the bleeding. And then, bandaging the
person and giving him a shot for his pain afterwards. That's about all that, and
then turning him over to the stretcher people and then they go from there. It's our
of your hands. I think it wasn't that much, there really wasn't that much to it.
Well, the other more severe patients we had curiously enough, was somebody
who was brought in because he had tried to rape a German girl. This was in
Hanover. And the civilians, he went up, was going upstairs with this girl. He had
a rifle. And German civilians of Hanover, about 25 of them, stormed him, took
his gun from him, and beat him to a pulp with that gun. Then they brought him to
us, the medics to see what we could do for him. And there was not very much we
could do for that guy. We gave him a shot of morphine and just bundled him in
bandages and sent him back to the, again, the M.A.S.H. kind of hospital and, but,
by the way, he was our most severe case that we ever had.
A.: He was a criminal, essentially he was a war time American soldier criminal.
There were not just one or two of those, That's part of the war that they rarely tell
you about is the criminal activities on the part of the soldiers.
Q.: Did you guys ever encounter any injured soldiers who were not American?
A.: Yeah, that's that's good. I don't think we ever did.
A.: No, we never did. The only time, there was a real contact with German soldiers
was again near the end of the war. I was being sent out to be the medic for 120
troops. The driver picked me up and he took me out there, I don't know how far
away it was. Maybe 15, 20 miles, 30 miles. I don't know how far it was. But
halfway there some fellow, in a little little German village, some guy came out
with a gun. He said, "Stop, stop." He was a Polish guy. Civilian. And he
indicated to us that there were some, couple of S.S. troops holed up in a barn and
he wanted us to go and capture them. I took off my medic badge and the driver
gave me his machine gun and he said I won't go through all of that. Anyway it
turns out that this very brave Polish guy went into the barn on one side, I was
covering him and we went into one side of the barn. There wasn't anybody there.
Went into the hayloft on the other side. Gave a cry. And so I fired at the hay
mound and my gun jammed. So I bailed out. The other guy, the driver, only had
a single shot weapon and he was covering the back side. It turns out there were
eleven S.S. troops in there. So we're out-manned 11 to one. So, needless to say,
we essentially had to get out of there. Fortunately they didn't charge us. They
were scared. But we did, the driver threw a phosphorus, a grenade in it, into the
barn and set the whole village was up. It was a kind of a horseshoe and the barn
was part of the village. We set the God-damn village on fire. That was a terrible
thing to do because it was near the end of the war and these poor civilians were in
such a beautiful little place really.
Q.: So, the S.S. troops got away then?
A.: Yeah, they went out the back way. The guy, who threw the grenade went out to
cover the back entrance while I pretended I had a gun. I squatted on the other side
of the barn where they could come out. I pretended I was covering them. I had a
single shot. You know, I had a single shot weapon at that point. And, but the
guy, the Polish guy, when he saw that there were eleven of them he was smart
enough not to shoot. That was, but that was the only time. So we didn't hit any
of them, so we didn't have to serve as a medic.
Q.: Were medics allowed to carry weapons?
A.: Yeah, we were allowed, but we never did. Once in a while. I actually, when I
was on the beach that time... Oh, I know. I was hit when I was on the beach that
time and I had to go to a M.A.S.H. hospital myself. I was just hit a little bit, but I
had to go to the hospital. And when I left the hospital to go back to my unit they
gave me a weapon. And I kept it. So I had a weapon thereafter. But curiously I
hadn't taken, wasn't taking my weapon with me when I was brought to service
those 30 troops. Maybe it was a good thing. Because if I had it I might have
gotten into some real trouble.
Q.: So, overall, do you feel that your training that you received was sufficient for the
A.: Oh, yes. We had excellent training. And we started off with anatomy. So I know
we had excellent training.
Q.: Among with the different cases and themes of war that you passed is there any
one particular one that sticks out in your mind?
A.: Let's see, the greatest scene. Well, one of the great scenes was when we landed
on Utah Beach. This was 52 days after they had landed. And we spent a night on
the beach, just off the beach on a hill. And off in the distance you could see
ACK-ACK fire going, shooting at planes and so on. And that was a dramatic
thing. You knew you were in the war then. There was, you might say, the first
(inaudible) of battle... notion we had that... that as a matter of fact, one of the
piece of shrapnel hit the can, the gas can of the truck that we were sleeping on.
We slept on top, a buddy and I slept on the top. We never slept on the top again.
We made sure. And again, we were there, admiring the ACK-ACK going off you
know, in the distance and it was... but that was a great scene. There was another
great scene. The war was over. It was practically over. We were in Albroover.
The German soldiers were fleeing (inaudible). Little groups of them where single
soldiers even were fleeing. They were coming across this huge river, the Elbe
River, by any means they possible could to surrender to the American soldiers on
the other side. And we were on the bank watching them come over. And that
was just a panoramic scene. It was flat, the little trees there, and something else
again in the beginning. First it was the beginning of the war when we were on the
beach (inaudible). Then it was on the Elbe River at the end of the war. Those
were the sort of most memorable kind of scenes and other scenes would be going
through Paris, huge lines of trucks, an hour and 45 minutes just in back of a truck
with, you know, hundreds of thousands of troops lined up vehicle after vehicle
moving north and east. That was a panoramic scene too. Getting off, I guess,
getting off the boat, the vessel that brought us in was now that I think of it that
was a good scene too. But we were so busy moving moving that we didn't quite
get a chance to look around. I guess going across, going across the Atlantic
because it was being, the submarines were out there was seeing all those vessels
silently moving across the sea. Kind of memorable scene. There was another
memorable case that being a medic, we're moving up fast, I've forgotten where
that was still, somewhere in France. We were moving up very rapidly and again
we were with tank groups and the supportive tank groups. And then it was dusty
and you could only see the first tank, then the 200 tanks behind it you couldn't
see. You couldn't see, it was that dusty. And the tank driver had to see. They
kept their eyes open and we got something like 200 tank drivers that night came
in. And we spent the entire night trying to get their eyes so that they could close
their eyes. They had their eyes open and were caked with dust. And they were
just frozen open with all that caked dust and we spent the entire night soaking
their eyes with boric acid so that they could go on again. But that was, that was
probably, I think that that was the greatest thing that I ever did. That was our
greatest effort in the war that night. It was, but it was dramatic, we got the feel of
the war effort when these guys were killing themselves. And had been on the
road for 24 hours in the dust, can you imagine?
Q.: You guys, as medics, I'm sure you guys saw some people who died and were
killed. Was there any situation where you yourself, your life was endangered?
A.: That one I told you about.
Q.: With the barn?
A.: No, the one before that was where the guys who had stepped on a mine, an anti-
personnel mine, is what it was called. I may have mentioned it to you once. It
was called Alsing Bay. It was buried in the dunes of the sand there. There were
sand dunes and then there were areas between the dunes that people would if
soldiers were going to land, they would go up there to hide. And that's where the
Germans had placed all these anti-personnel mines. You stepped on one and then
you went on, they bounced up about three feet in the air and shot off something
like 100 to 150 steel balls in 360 degrees. That's what hit these men and that's
what happened when 11 to 13 men were hit by these. And I was the closest to
that thing when it went off. But I, somebody had asked me to get something for
him and I reached over and handed him my helmet actually. And I immediately
stepped down to help the guy, you know, patch up the guy who I was servicing
and this anti-personnel mine went off. And it went off right over my head. Even
ifI had stood up I would have saved thirteen lives.
Q.: How did that, emotionally, how did you feel knowing that any millisecond before
you might have done it?
A.: What, no, I never thought about that. Never thought, you know, I've thought
about the war since then, but it never even crossed my mind that, well, because
we were 11 to 13 other than (inaudible) was closer than (inaudible). He was, he
was killed instantly. He must have absorbed just a pile of these steel pellets.
Without a sound. Boom! Not a sound did he make. Gosh. Anyway, there were
three of them that were instantly killed. And, but again, gee, I'm sure that's true
for everyone. You never, you just don't even think that, people say, "Whew!
That was a near miss!"
Q.: It sounds like you were in a game or something.
A.: Well, yes, it's it isn't real, I guess. You don't really realize that it's real until after
you replay it, and you know, but you replay it in your mind and it's real. But you
honestly don't have time to be conscious of anything like that. Except your job. I
imagine the infantry guy is concentrating on seeing what's moving out there.
Q.: You mentioned to me previously that you were in Holland for seven weeks which
was north of the Battle of the Bulge.
A.: Uh huh.
Q.: Which is where the Germans made their final attempt.
Q.: To try to stop any invasion. If my number's right, I think 19,000 Americans died
there. Can you describe the atmosphere around Holland when you were there?
A.: Yeah, that was, we were in Harleem, Holland, which is in the coal mining region.
This is a nice little city, a big city now I hear. But, we knew that something was
happening because a couple planes flew over. Curiously enough, one of them
was a jet plane, first jet plane. We'd never heard a jet type plane. And it was so
close that you could see the pilot in the plane, that's how close he was. By the
way, we learned later that he had bailed out of his plane and he was so glad to be
captured. And the building next to our building was the shell. Actually it
belonged to a dentist friend of mine which was next door to where we were
bivouacked, our unit, medic and support staff unit was housed in this one kind of
building. By the way, it wasn't heated at all. It was an old (inaudible). But we
were glad we were indoors anyway. We were delighted about that. Yeah, one
night the shelling, one went through that building. But nobody was hurt but the
what it was, the strafing planes, the shell, there was a lot of people movement.
Curiously enough, some of the troops had come in for actually a day's kind of
respite that came back and that was the, it must have been 10, I don't know.
Nobody ever informed us you know, about where we were in relation to the
troops. I would guess we were somewhere between ten, because the shell, we
were within shell distance. Whatever shell distance, we were from the Germans,
that's how far we were. But the troops were pulled back and it was winter. And
what a sight of troops there were. They happened to be, when I saw them again,
they were lined up in front of a house of prostitution. And it was a long line.
Could be twenty guys. And there they were. They're little guys, you know,
they're not John Wayne guys. They're little guys in huge trenchcoats. Big boots
and a gun that looks too big for them. A hat that looks too big for them. And all,
they do not look like fighting men, I can tell you right now. And there they are,
waiting in line at a house of prostitution. And I had never seen so much troop
action. So we knew that something was going on but we really weren't informed.
They never tell you anything because, like you guys, like you would tell
somebody else and it would eventually get back to the opposition. You know,
when they say that you know, the President of the United States needs to have
been a soldier to really understand and be a general. That's a lot of malarkey.
Soldiers don't know what the hell is going on. ... go damn north, north. The
individual soldier has no idea what the devil is going on.
Q.: When you guys were given free time, what are some of the activities you would
engage in? Like, maybe keeping a diary or...
A.: Oh. Well, we wrote letters a lot, you know. And that was a letter writing. We
didn't have email or anything like that. The letter service was unbelievable.
Unbelievable! You know, I wrote a lot of letters. But gee, once, when I was in
Holland at that time. I got a day's leave, 24 hour pass. To go into Brussels.
That's after the Battle of the Bulge was over they gave us a leave. And so we
went there for 24 hours. But it took a while to get there. And I didn't see that
much. I saw a classic church there. And I went to a U.S. (inaudible) kind of place
where they had a dance and coffee and donut kind of place for troops. And that's
really fun. I met a wonderful girl there by the way. I wrote to her for several
years after that. And, but, I only had 24 hour. She wanted me... And I already
told you of the recreation that the front line troops that I saw had. You know,
they were getting back for the day. There wasn't anyplace to eat. Nobody had
any food. The best food in town was the K-rations. In town nobody was eating
any better than we did. And the, I remember the townspeople would wash our
clothing, by the way. And they would, for a bar of soap. You gave them a bar of
soap and they would wash all your clothing as long as they could keep the rest of
the soap. That will give you some idea. But recreation, you know, now in
England, when we were waiting for, that was, they treated us well. And U.S.
socials. I remember once when a group came in and it was the best, highest level
performance I'd ever seen, being small town guy. They danced and performed
the Ravel's "Bolero." I thought that was pretty high level stuff for some troops.
Marched us in there in the dark, you know, everything was dark. But we did go to
movies. They had some movies in this town. And I remember we'd have to,
there was no, you know, G.I. movies. And I don't know if I went to, I must have
gone to more than one but I remember going one night. It was blackout. Because
it was, again it was the Battle of the Bulge. And we were groping our way. It
was pitch black. We had to follow the walls with our hands. It was that dark. It
was that dark. It was a movie. And when we were going, somebody said, "Halt.
Who goes there?" And it was a guard for some unit. And one of our guys started
speaking to him in German. And that was a mistake. So he quickly changed back
to English and they, but you know that recreation, letter writing and gosh, played
cards. We would play cards. But in England it was nice. They would have these
U.S. socials. We would ride our bicycles while waiting, because we had a lot of
A.: Now one dramatic day was when when it was announced that American troops,
American-British troops. allied troops were hitting the beaches and the war, the
war against the, had started to take back Europe. That was a dramatic time.
Everybody celebrated, but there was a very important thing. Everybody had to
carry their gas masks. Orders went out to take your gas masks and that was
probably the most dramatic, that was really when we felt we were in the war.
A.: That was really, that was really, yeah.
Q.: Is there anything, looking back now, is there any decision or any event during
your journey that you wish you could have changed?
A.: Oh, that's good.
A.: That's very interesting. Gee... I actually it was almost a kind of, the way I went
through this war was, it was kind of an adventure, you know? Kind of my own
adventure, you know, and there wasn't too much, relatively little dramatic scare
or I don't think there was a single moment that I was ever scared. I don't think
any of my unit was ever scared about anything. Partly because I guess, like
everybody, you don't, it isn't quite real. But, maybe you do that purposefully.
But anyway, you know that's interesting. You know if I had it to do over again I
think I would have probably gotten more involved with that girl. I'm glad you
asked that. Yes, in fact, I think I would have. I think I would have, if I had it to
do over again. Still remember her name.
Q.: When you returned, how did the war change your outlook on life?
A.: That's a good question. That's a very nice question. Nice to be thinking from
this perspective again. We don't do that, you know? I think the kind of questions
you're asking, we've never ask ourselves, you know? Don't think about that. It
really is an excellent kind of experience. Well, let's see, how much did my
perspective change? Well, it sure was, it was changed from, the perspective
during the war was simple day to day and essentially that worked. And you didn't
think of the future. By the way, one of the things I did for recreation was reading.
They supplied us with a tremendous number of books. I always carried a pack of
books with me because I was in the headquarters unit and the distribution of the
books went through our headquarters. I got the first choice so I always carried a
pack of books with me. So I read an awful lot of them. I got a literature
education and you know, the future became much more significant and real. I
think that's why a lot of us became very (inaudible) reader reality. And sort of
stabilizing the world (inaudible). And, of course, the baby boomers came out of,
you know, that generation. That's sort of the father of the baby boomers. Yeah,
the future became, and you know, what you were going to do for work became
Q.: Did you start to, like the little things in life, were those more important to you?
A.: Oh, I see what you mean. In terms of having a yeah, life, did you appreciate life
more? Well, I think... of course, we came out of the Depression, too, you know,
so life was very serious for us. And finding a job was very difficult in the
Depression years. So that was always loomed over us. That was for young
people. Finding work was very, very difficult. It was 40% unemployment.
That's a lot of unemployed. (inaudible) war. And people were unemployed for
five, six years. So again, we were prepared, we were kind of a serious group of
people. And now, we had to turn our attention to earning a living. Then we have
an epiphany about we were lucky to be alive. Well, there was a little of that. So
one out of six, or one out of five of my high school graduate friends didn't come
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back. Of my high school class, I should say. And friendship became, friendship
was always important but it seemed to be more important, I think, when we all
came back and we saw our friends who came back. That was very important to
me in retrospect. And you take a different view of life. I think... well, I think all
of us recognized that we were, even though we came out of the Depression,
Americans we were God-damn lucky and fortunate in this world. I think we all
came back with that. And we very very fortunate. And unfortunately, not many,
not most people realized that.
Q.: Is that how you felt when you heard the war itself was over? That you were very
A.: Oh, the war was over in Europe. Of course, it wasn't over everywhere. So we
were being, we were sent back to the United States, actually in North Carolina,
which by the way, was Fort Hood I was at in Texas. It was Fort Bragg in North
Carolina. But they, then we were being retrained to go to Japan. And I always
thought it a pleasant prospect. We didn't want to go that direction to begin with.
The preference was, to fight against Germany rather than to... That was
considered better duty. Than to fight against the Japanese. We all have that
(inaudible). But, no, when, I, there was a rumor went out at Fort Bragg that
something big had happened, some mysterious weapon had been, had gone off in
Japan. In 1939 I delivered newspapers and there was a story had leaked out about
a bomb that was being, they had it on the front page. They confiscated all those
papers later on. But I had, I had seen that, and I said, I was jumping for joy and I
told all the fellows. I was the youngest guy in my outfit. All the guys (inaudible)
organization and I was jumping on the table, I said, "Guys the war is over! I tell
you, the war is over!"
Q.: You were overjoyed.
A.: I was overjoyed. Man, I said, "We're not going to have to go on the..."* But that
was the next day, well, a couple days later lost the (inaudible). (inaudible)
because the other one was worth more. Yeah, that was, and then we start thinking
about joining society. We wrote to our parents...
Q.: How were you treated as a soldier and a medic when you returned home?
A.: That was pretty good. I always tell that story, you know, I had gotten one leave
two months before that. They gave us two weeks leave and we came back from
overseas. And I'd been on leave once. And we got gas coupons, we got special
gas coupons so we could go travel if we could get ahold of a car or anything. So
it was, when I went back, it was like three months later. And it was about six
weeks after the war was over. I was released as they say. And I went home, well,
my train... everything was done by train, you know. It was a very different
world. And I got off the train in a town ten miles from my hometown. There was
no train in my town. And got off the station, I think I was the only soldier coming
off the station. And got off the platform, and there was no one there. No one!
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No one was there to greet me. I told my parents I was coming home. And then,
about five minutes later my old friend, well, long standing friend, you know, a
neighbor. Who hadn't been drafted in the war. 'Cause he owned a farm. His
father bought a farm for him so he wouldn't be drafted. So he came to pick me
up. And he said, my parents, my mom and dad told me you were coming in, but
they couldn't come to pick you up because it's bowling night.
Q.: After all the time!
A.: I know, I think, only in retrospect did I see it as kind of funny because the... so it
wasn't exactly, you know, (inaudible) said all bands played when they came
home. There wasn't anybody at the station when I came home. But, we, you
know, since you know, there were a lot of veterans in town, you know, it was a
small town. It wasn't anything special, we all kind of expected... Yeah, we all,
we would get you know, old friends would get together and so on. But we
couldn't even talk about it. Talk about anything where we'd been and what we'd
done or anything like that... we just kind of hung out together for a couple
months before we could get back in school. But the best thing, though, I'll tell
you the best thing on return, it was a great thing. It still brings tears to my eyes
when I think about it. We came back on the boat, of course, and we were on the
way. We came into New York City. We came into New York City, and we got
off there and of course, walked down to... as we came in the boats in the harbor
were blowing their whistles, and somebody had come up with a marvelous thing.
They, on the roof of one of the docks, they wrote, "Welcome back! Well done!"
and that was a great... everything went with that. That was probably the most
emotional experience in the entire war. That was a great experience, that was a
really great tale. I wonder who ever came up with that idea. Very simple.
"Welcome back! Well done!"
Q.: You guys deserved it.
A.: It really wasn't, it was, oh, what would you say? The line was so... I guess
maybe we were glad to be back. I was glad to be back. Maybe all of us were.
But it was such a nice, a nice gesture. It was the greatest experience I had in the
Q.: The time you got back...
A.: You know, it wasn't that... you know, it was, it wasn't unsafe or anything like
that. It was, maybe it was our realization that we had done something. We didn't
really, you know, we didn't really feel that... you know, how could you realize?
Maybe that was it.
Q.: It was kind of a realization of things.
A.: I guess that's one of is a pretty big thing we did. All of us and all the civilians,
made us feel that was part of it. But that was a really great moment. You know
I'm glad you've asked me these questions, it's kind of fun because... I can see it
kind of holistically, you know? A greater perspective and kind of encapsulating
it. But it really was a kind of neat adventure. Not unlike going on a camping tour
to Alaska. It was not unlike that. You know? I was only 18 years old. And it
was an awesome kind of experience, you know, I had only traveled oh, 100 miles
from home before.
Q.: Do you think the U.S. was right when they decided to engage in the war?
A.: Oh, yeah, it was, at the time, let's see, what did we say? You know, it didn't have
much of an impact on us, the war and the time of war and so on. We were from
the mid-West. We didn't know... I can understand that now because we didn't
have any idea about the world situation and what this was all about or what we
were doing. There were some bad guys over there and they were creating havoc
for the world and that was about it. It was such a massive operation... but for us,
what was going on was just.... People asking other people that question. That's
the stupid thing. Or asking a person to what was... what was this war all about?
Gosh, you know, we really didn't have a grasp of it at all. Perhaps that's why we,
except for simple things, like kill Hitler or kill the Nazis or something like that.
You know, we, but for simple kind of myths or some sort of... from the
standpoint of a historian I think that's an important, that's probably the most
important conversation we've got here is that the individual at that time, I would
say to you, it would be fun to ask a historian at that time, a person who was a
historian, about their reactions to the war. Honest, and I'm being honest, as
honest as I can in retrospect. But, you know, getting people to be honest about
their reports is probably one of the hardest things in this kind of thing that you're
A.: Because all people want to look good under the circumstance, you know. So they
tell a story. In fact, I have a friend whose father was the same age I was, he died
by the way, and she said, you know, that he told wonderful stories but she said,
you know, half his stories he told were not true.
Q.: It's been several years since the end of the war, do you have any trouble yourself
sleeping at night or do you have any memories or nightmares or anything?
A.: Well, my wife thinks I do sometimes. I do think of the war. And you know, I'm
sometimes tempted to say, that's because of the war. It would be kind of
dramatic. You know, I think a lot of people do do that. They cover up real
dreams with saying that was a war type dream I had. I honestly think some
people do that. You know, this a a psychologist you're talking to so essentially I
think I can, ... I don't want to pretend that I have a complete understanding of,
you know, even my perspective in the years (inaudible) and so on, but I certainly
have a better understanding of this thing that we're doing. (inaudible) and that's
(inaudible). Yeah, dreams, no, I never... I have recalled that incident fairly often
that one where I was sent into the barn... in that sense I have a repeated epiphany
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based on that incident. (inaudible) then any one of the wonderful things that have
happened to me since that time would have been a (inaudible). Or that, you know,
it didn't have to have all (incident), but I imagine, you know, none of these
wonderful things would have happened in my life just by the split second. And
honestly, that's what it was. A split second if I had stood up for a split second
more... I would have saved maybe eleven or thirteen men's lives. I might have
lost one. Lost one in the process. If you asked me if I would have done it, I
probably would have, I probably would have done it.
Q.: One last question I have for you is that, if you could speak to troop on his way to
war maybe like, Afghanistan, what would you say soldier, any words of advice?
A.: I guess I would say, if I were present, I would say, have some fun. You know,
there's a guy in the, who wrote a book. About German war against the eastern
front in Russia and he told this tremendous (inaudible) that they didn't have a
clue, they were freaks. Somebody urinated, a bunch of men would go up and put
their hands in the urine just to warm their hands. I mean it was... it was
unbelievable hell that these guys went through (inaudible)... a number of people
killed, it was unbelievable. 400,000 men died in Stalingrad alone, German
soldiers alone... 400,000 men. And then this guy says, this guy writing about this
says, "but those were heady days." There was a guy telling the truth. There was a
guy telling the truth. Getting the truth out of a soldier is, for example, you get a
better truth out of me because I read that story about that Russian.
A.: About that Russian war from a German point of view. And I have, I think if I
have something to say, "Have some fun." You know, they do have fun and
they're not allowed to say that. Not allowed to say anything. Actually it really
was fun but now that I say that, gee, in know I spent, I was with 22 guys. I
learned a tremendous amount about human beings. I think, with those 22 guys all
of that time.
Q.: Friends for life?
A.: Yeah, well, they were, there was only one or two of them that were close. Close
to me... they're all older than me. But, it just was kind of a boy's club. It was a
man's club kind of you know, that's what it really was. We were a man's club.
And we ate together, went to all these different places together and so on. And
yeah, meeting people from other countries and seeing things... the buildings were
rubble but the.., by the way, (inaudible) scenes, that was one of the, two days
after the war I went through Munich and every building was rubble. For the
entire hour. That was the greatest war scene that I ever.., but that was two days
after the war. But there was, it was a great adventure at the expense of a lot of
other people. People who died. But you know, if you were sent over a young guy
who came out unscathed, now that's the important thing. You know, that guys
like me see it as you know, it was a great adventure. And not that I didn't know,
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