GMD: “They brought [in] a lot of the American boys that had been in prison in Germany; they were starved almost to death.”

What is your birth year?

1920.

How old are you?

97.

How old were you when you served in WWII?

21. 

On childhood and adolescence:

I grew up in a small town called Lexington, Nebraska. My dad had a Texaco agency there, but I had a cousin whose parents had a big farm out in the country. My dad was an athletic coach; he coached football. He was a big man; bigger than I. He played 4 years of college football. I played 4 years of high school football- that was enough for me. I refused to play college football, because I felt, “What do you have when you get through with college football? You have physical injuries the rest of your life, and for maybe one or two years of glory on the football field for what?” I feel sorry for professional athletes. It’s not something that anybody should do, in my opinion. I’ve seen one boy killed playing football, and it’s not pleasant. I would spent all my weekends, and my summers, out at that farm. My uncle bought me a quarter horse, so my cousin and I used to ride horses all over the countryside. During the summer, the farmers would irrigate their fields from water mounds out of the Platt river; we found that most of the water patches were right next to those irrigation ditches. We would ride our horses up the irrigation ditches and steal water mounds. {Laughs} I think the farmers knew we were there! We were 12 years old, 13 years old. I had a real fun life from that standpoint. In the summer, my uncle taught me how to harness horses, and my cousin and I would go out and mow alfalfa hay in the mornings. In the afternoons, we’d go out and we would stack the hay that we’d mowed the day before; it would dry. Then, during the school year, I worked at a grocery store on Saturdays. My dad had taken me, when I was twelve, down to the University of Nebraska and said, “Here’s where you’re going to go to college. So, you’d better study when you go to school.” Well, when I graduated, I had no money, but I had an athletic scholarship. I was on track. I held the state record for the 4-40 and the 100-yard dash. I went down, and I had five jobs. I supported myself, and paid 100% for my first two years of college. On Saturday, I worked at Safeway, and my job was to change all prices. First they’d change the price of corn and they’d raise the price of peas. You never got any bargains there if you shopped there for everything, because they had it maneuvered. {Laughs} On Sunday, I was a night watchman in a bank. I studied at the president’s desk, and then every hour, I went around and punched a time clock. [On] an athletic scholarship, I got to live in a firehole. Another buddy and I lived on the second story of the building, and our job was to shut down the doors when the fire trucks went out at night. Well, we had two firetrucks-one had one side of town and one had the other side of town. Both the crews went down whenever the siren went off, so usually one truck would go on one side, and the other truck would not go, so they would shut the doors down. I think I only got out of bed one night to shut the doors down. {Laughs} I got a job as a steward in an eating cooperative. I got all my mother’s cookbooks and things, and my job was to plan the menu, buy the food, and see that it was prepared properly. For that, I got all my meals. So I had my room, I had my meals, and I was earning extra money- actually banking money. In those days, your college tuition was $30 a semester. What you had to do was provide your books, and your room and board-which I was doing. Then, at the end of the second year, my buddy got a job out here- in Corvallis- [a] college firefighting group. They called it the ‘Red Hats’. We came out, [but] we had no fires, so I wasn’t earning any money. I went to Longview, and my uncle was a doctor there. Right next door to him lived Morgan, who was the manager of a warehouse. So he called his next door neighbor and said, “My nephew and a friend are here, and they need a job.” Harry Morgan next door said, “We’ll send them to the bullgang, at the sawmill.” So I went out there and worked, and I was on the four to twelve o’clock midnight shift. I had nothing to do, and then I noticed the free school at the high school. They had a free sheet-metal Boeing aircraft at the free school, so I went to that school from eight to twelve during the day, and then went to work at four to twelve o’clock midnight. After about of a month of it, the man said, “You’re qualified to work in Seattle, and we’ll pay you 93¢ an hour.” Well, in Nebraska I was getting 25¢ an hour, and I thought I was rich when I was given 75¢ at the sawmill; then I was really getting rich when I was getting 93¢ in Seattle! I went up and went to work for Boeing. After I was there about thirty days, they made me an active foreman. They said, “You haven’t been here long enough for a foreman rating, but,” he said, “you can do the work.” So I did. I built B17s, [and] the first fifty of the new Fs, I built the rear section- from the rear door to the tail. I got a lot of experience there. I was working from four to midnight, so I went to college from eight to twelve at the University of Washington. Eventually, they drafted all men.

Were you drafted?

No. I joined the Army, and they put me in this ASTP program. I think I had about two months of college then, and then they said, “You’ve got to go to active training now.” So I quit my job at Boeing and went to the Army. 

On early service:

I served in the Maritime service as a radio operator, and then I joined the Army- they sent me to college. [The Maritime service] sent me back to Boston to go to radio school. I had a 94 average in the technical aspect, but I had trouble with the code. You had to be able to type thirty-two words a minute [in] code. I got to twenty-nine, and I couldn’t do the thirty. I resigned, and went back, and that’s when I joined the Army. In the Maritime service, I had to wear a Navy uniform, because I went to a Navy school. After I was [at] the University of Washington for about three months, they sent all of us down to Texas. We were in what they call an ‘ASTP’ college program. During that program, I got a handful of cactus- Texas cactus- and got an infection, so I was in the hospital [about] a week or so. I missed part of my training. When I came back from the hospital, they were shipping off my entire unit- 200 men- to Harvard University for a year. They wouldn’t let me go, because I’d missed that week of training, so they made me what they called a ‘holdover’. I had to wait until another cycle in the training came along, and I picked up that week of missed training. Well, then they held me there, oh, for thirty days or so. I kept going to the Orderly office and saying, “When are you gonna ship me back to Harvard?” And they said, “You just go back to the barracks now. When we want you, we’ll call you. You don’t need to bother us.” {Laughs} Well, finally it got so bad I went to company headquarters, to an officer I knew, and he said, “You have permission to be up here? It’s the G2, at the camp.” I said, “No,” and he said, “You know that’s a court-martial offense that you [did] this.” I said, “Yes, but that wouldn’t be any worse than what I’m doing now.” He said, “I’ll check your status, and you come back tomorrow.” So when I went back the next day, he said, “You’re AWOL at Harvard University, and the MP’s are looking for you there.” {Laughs} I said, “What can I do now?” He said, “Well, school’s [over] in a couple months, so you can’t go back to go to school- well, we could send you overseas as a overseas replacement to the Pacific,”- which I did not want-“or you can go to the paratroops, or you can go to the ski troops.” I chose the ski troops. Well, then you had to have three letters of recommendation- it was all volunteer- so I wrote back to my old ski shop, and told them my problem, and he sent me three letters of recommendations, so I got into the ski troops. 

While at Camp Hale:

We were trained as mountain troops. I was sent for what they called an intelligence unit. Well, all it was was seven men that served as scouts- you stuck your neck out real big. Our daily routine up there during the ski season- we took training. All the the guys are big men. I spent two years up there, skiing. [We wore] a white cloth uniform over our regular uniform. We went up to the top of the hill-they had a ski toll, where we skied. Our camp was at 10,000 feet. At 10,000 feet, the air is very dry. In the barracks, it would dry everybody’s throat out, so we would put buckets of water up and down the aisle. In the morning, the buckets would be empty. If we stayed in the camp very long, we all got sore throats, so they’d send us out, and we’d sleep in the snow for thirty days at a time. We had these little stoves, and we’d heat a can of rations. We had tents, but we never used them, because they sweat, and if you slept overnight in one of the tents, you’d be wet in the morning. {Laughs} So, we slept out in the open all the time. This was at Camp Hale, Colorado. It’s right below Leadville. Since we’re up in the snow, wheeled vehicles don’t work, so all of our supplies and everything were brought up by mules. We had a bunch of mules with us. We trained up in these mountains [at 12,000 feet]. We had instructions [on] how to make igloos, but the snow up there was so light and fluffy that it was difficult. During the summer, it was beautiful– like a resort. {Laughs} They gave [us] lots of entertainment- I never saw any of [it].  In the summer, we did mountain climbing and rappelling. [A ledge] was 90 feet high- they lined us up and said, “Now we’re going to jump off this, and rappel.” Well, the first time, the first man in line real quick went around and got in the back of the line. Nobody wanted to do it the first time. {Laughs} But, once you learned how to rappel, it was fun. We did it all day long, on our own, just for fun- you’d jump off this mountain and rappel down it. My skis were identical to my skis that I had at home. They were painted white. The same company built them that built my skis. sergeant, [who was] in charge of our seven-man crew, was captain of the Dartmouth ski team, back east. He later went to Officer’s Training School. That gives you a basic idea of the training I had in the States. [That was] what it was like, basic training, up there in the mountains. We learned to be mountaineers, so to speak, and it really paid off, over in Italy.

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GMD on the cover of the Camp Hale magazine

How did the war first come to your attention?

While I was going to University of Nebraska, I worked in this restaurant that I was the steward for. The cook would have the radio on, and so I’d get the war news from her radio. But, you never thought much about it- this would be 1939 and 1940. You know, it was raising in Europe, and since we were so busy going through college, and studying, we never paid much attention to it. It wasn’t until I was working at Boeing, when the Japanese hit Hawaii- that’s when the war really struck home. I knew then, we were in the war. was going to be in the war. I was 20, 21 right then. Were you scared to go to war? I didn’t want to go to war- I don’t want to kill people. That was the greatest thing that I felt bad about. When they put up human targets and had me shoot at them. I did not want to kill people, but sometimes you have to, or be killed yourself. When you come around a corner, and there’s a man aiming a gun at you, what are you going to do? It’s not what I would like to do, and my conscious has bothered me all my life on that. I’m very anti-Army. {Laughs} 

What did you know about the Nazis?

Everything that we read; we knew that they were killing the Jews. I have found that Jews are just like everybody else- you just go to a different church. There’s a lot of hard feeling among a number of people, but I sympathize with them, and I’d sure fight like the devil to protect them. We had a Jewish boy with us, and he was scared to death. Obviously, he looked like a Jew. He felt that if he ever got captured, they’d immediately shoot him- and they would. I made sure that when we went out, he was the last man on the column. He survived, and he was from Germany. He married an American girl, and lived back East somewhere, and lived a good life. I always felt obligated to look out for him, because there were practically no Jews in the Army. I had, in the little town I grew up in, two Jewish families. There were two Jewish men; they married American girls, and they ran a clothing store there. Both men had American girls- not Jewish. One of the boys was my best friend. When I graduated from high school, I didn’t have enough money to go to college [for] the first year. He came to me and said, “If you go to college this year, I’ll get you a job with the Army and Navy store.” It was a Jewish store in Lincoln, Nebraska. He had enough appreciation of my situation that he came to me, and offered me a job. I always felt indebted to him. Later on, he became an admiral in the Navy. First he was a submarine captain, and then he promoted to destroyers, and then later to bigger warships. I never got to meet him after that, to thank him, for his thoughtfulness when we were both in college. When I went to college, he was in his second year there. Then, when the war came, he went into the service like everybody else. He went up the ladder very fast. 

What was your expectation of the war before leaving?

I was fairly well-trained in my basic training. I anticipated what it would be like, and it was pretty much what I expected. I did not like to kill people- they are people, just like you and I. They just have different ideas, and I think everybody is entitled [that].

Service in Italy:

[In Italy], we came in [and] landed- we took the U.S. Constitution, which is the biggest ship that America had, and there were 15,000 of us on the ship. It was a fast ship; we took off with no escorts, and we were there alone. Well, one time we had five German submarines chasing us, and we out ran them and got away from them. Then we landed; we came into the Mediterranean, and we landed right at Leghorn. My company of 200 men got on what they call an LCI ship, and we went up the coast. Leghorn was in this great big field, right next to the King’s castle- his summer castle. Well, the summer castle was just a big stone house. First, they sent us from there up into the mountains, to what had been an Italian resort. There were 200 of us in there, and they had a number of houses with five or six bedrooms, which they rented out to the Italians during the heat of the summer. All the Italians would go up in the mountains in the summertime to cool off. We stayed there, and right in one of the bedrooms next to us, was a woman and her girl. Her little girl was about ten. We gave her all of our sugar- we would get these little packets of sugar, [and] some other candies and thing[s] everyday- so I accumulated mine, and so did the other fellas. We gave them to her, and she said, “I’ll bake you a cake.” Well, when the Germans left, they took all the food that all the people had. I mean, they left nothing. So we were told, “Don’t ever eat any of the Italians’ food, because they don’t have very much.” On this particular hill, they had a lot of acorn trees. They took the acorns to a little old-fashioned flour mill, and ground the acorns into flour. She had this acorn flour, so she took our sugar and baked us a cake. The next day she waved us in, and so we went into her room- there were, I think, four of us. Well, one of the boys had just bought her a bottle of Vino, so as he came in, he set the bottle of Vino behind the door, and we went into her living room, and she gave each one of us a big piece of this acorn cake- which is real good. What it is- when you get away from the American candy stores, and all you have to eat everyday is two cans of hash or something like that, you ache sugar. You miss the fact that you were eating on the side, all the time. When she gave us this cake, that was a real treat. When we got through, we thanked her, and the boy went to pick up the bottle of wine, and it was empty. The little ten-year-old girl had drunk the whole quart of wine. The mother raced in her purse and gave her equivalent to $1, said, “You go down the stairs and over to the bar and get another quart of wine for him.” So she did, and she came back with the wine. Imagine- I would drink [gestures to about one inch] that much and I was intoxicated. {Laughs} About two days later, then we went into combat. [In the mountain towns where we were fighting], they brought what they called Weasel- Studebaker made them- but they weren’t worth a darn. The officers tried to travel in that, but it wasn’t very successful. They put us on trucks, and they hauled us as far as they would. Then, we got [off] the trucks and we walked. We were in a canyon- this was about 3 o’clock in the morning- and our leader said, “Try to get some sleep here for a while. We’re going to stay here for a little while.” Well, we stayed there about two hours, but nobody could sleep. {Laughs} This was our first experience of combat. Just as it was getting light, we moved ahead and were under a little cliff; we walked up single-file, [a] second Lieutenant grabbed me in close and said, “You wait here.” The rest of the group went over this hill and over on the other side. When they got over to the other side, second Lieutenant Green- right out of OCS- led everybody out on an exposed slope. The Germans zeroed in and killed forty of the men the first couple hours of combat. Then, the next day, the officer that held me aside and I went and tried to trace [the company]. They were way on a mountain- the Germans had access, and they were shooting. Snipers were shooting. We had no radio contact, we didn’t know what the conditions [were] or anything. I crawled through the brush and down into a ditch. In the meantime, snipers were trying to shoot me. I finally got up to the company, and he said, “We’re out of grenades, and we need ammunition.” I went back, and I knew where there [was] some; I organized the cooks and we picked up some ammunition and brought it back to them. That was my first experience; my first day. I watched the mules come back down with forty of my friends. That was my first experience- how war was hell. Our first battle- what happened was that [the] hill that the Germans were on was vertical, and as the snow melted, water would go down over the stone, and it was solid ice. The Germans assumed that we couldn’t get to them; well, soon as it was dark, we drove pitons in the ice, and put ropes on it, and we climbed this 90-foot vertical cliff. Up above that were paths. We had the Italian partisans, and they knew those paths, and they guided us up to the top. So 200 men got up there, to the top, and found that the Germans were gone. They’d gone down- there was about three feet of snow. They’d gone down to a house down below- about a mile below. When daylight came, they got on their skis and came up the mountain again, and we had our first big battle there, and we defeated them. Then the whole division jumped up and took these mountains.

On his injury:

After five months of it, I got hit. They sent telegrams to my parents. Each month, they would send a card. How did you get hit? We were attacked on a hill. We came around this hill, and there was this stone house. The Germans were all in this stone house, and they started shooting at us. I was shooting at them, and they sent a mortar at us, and the mortar lit right behind me. Shrapnel went into my leg, and shrapnel went into my buddy’s chest. The shrapnel nailed my muscles to the bone, so I couldn’t move my leg. I was stopped. Then, we captured that house, and the five Germans that were in it surrendered. They put me on a little ladder, and they made the Germans carry me to the aid station. Then, from the aid station, they put me on a Jeep [on a] stretcher and started to take me to an aid hospital. But, the German airplanes were machine-gunning the road; apparently they saw a light or two. The trucks had little bitty lights, but apparently they could see them. They were machining the road, so they put me in an ambulance with this one badly wounded German soldier, and two others, and they drove from that point all the way back to Florence, Italy. We got to Florence, Italy about daylight. We came into the hospital; it had the most beautiful flag you ever saw, after living in the mud and dirt on the front lines. Everybody said, “You get one of those $80,000,000 wounds, you can go to the hospital.” Well, had one. I went in the hospital, and they took my stretcher out and laid it on the floor just inside, and this beautiful blonde nurse- the first American girl I’d seen in five months- came out and said, “What’s wrong, soldier?” And I told her. She sent me to the amputation ward. The next day, they came and got me and operated on me and got the shrapnel out. But then I got an infection. They were gonna take my leg off. Well, a new doctor came in and said, “Don’t take his leg off, cut the infection out!” So that’s what they did; believe it or not, my leg had been dark blue, and then it turned pink again- they saved my leg. When I was in the hospital, I was mapping- each day, I would color in our progress in Europe. Red’s the Germans. Eventually, we made it all over. That was a sheet out of the Stars and Stripes- that [was] published over there.

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What was the weather like in Italy?

When we first arrived, it was very cold. We were in snow- where we were, I’d say there was six inches of snow. The ground was frozen, and so we’d dig our foxholes as best we could. During the day, the sun would come out, and the snow would melt and water would run into our foxholes, and at night it would freeze. Our coats would freeze to the side of the foxhole. It was very cold; we didn’t have blankets. We had nothing but the clothes we were wearing. We [wore] long underwear, wool pants, a wool sweater, and a jacket- in freezing weather. It was okay during the day, because we were moving around, but at night, you had no way of getting warm. You would [put] paper and things over us- paper didn’t help much. Later on, I would go out and gather hay, and fill my foxhole with [it], and then I would be warm. But, later on, they issued a blanket to us. We had one blanket. It helped, but it didn’t keep us really warm. That was January, February. Into March, the weather became warm. The trees all blossomed out; it was beautiful. We’d be up in the mountains and we’d look down and see the apple trees in bloom. It was beautiful. Then in the next few minutes you were ducking enemy fire. {Laughs} So that wasn’t very pleasant. The mules used to bring up cans of water. When we were first up there, we got one canteen of water a day, and with that we had to brush our teeth, wash our hands, [and] wash our socks. {Laughs} In our pack, we had one area that carried [the food], and one side that carried the can of gas. The cooks would have a stove and they’d heat a pot of water, and we’d drop our C-cans down in the water and heat it. That’s how we heated our food. One of our cooks wouldn’t take my advice, and he built a foxhole on the edge of a cliff, and the Germans could see him. I told him the Germans could see him, but he dug it anyway. Well, then he covered it with brush and put paper on top of the brush, and then put dirt on it. He thought he had a protection. The Germans lobbed a high-explosive shell and killed him. I told him, I pleaded with him, not to, but he did it anyway. 

What were some of the most difficult moments during service? 

When you’re face-to-face with Germans, and they’re shooting at you, and you have to shoot back. It’s either they’re going to kill you, or you’re going to kill them. I have an aversion to killing people. I tried to wound them, but sometimes you can’t. They’re shooting right at you, right at your face, [and] you have to shoot back, and you don’t know whether you’re going to kill them or not. That is the most horrible thing, to me. I have a conscious, and I still have nightmares about that. 

Do you have any specific memories from wartime? 

{Laughs}  I was sent back to the town of Lucca; now, Lucca is an old-fashioned town- it has the high wall, about 70 feet high, all around the town. You could drive a truck on top of it. Within side, you could see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Pisa and Lucca were at war, and that’s why the big wall. They were building a warehouse right opposite the gate into Lucca, and we were storing all our barrack’s bags for 200 men [there], so they sent me back with four other men to guard those barrack’s bags. They had a big wall around the warehouse, with glass in the top of it, and two gates, so two men could be on guard at a time. We had a 24 hour guard there. So the three of us said, “We’d sure like to see inside of that wall.” But, the gate was blocked, and a group of the Army engineers had the town Lucca as their headquarters, so they wouldn’t allow anybody inside Lucca. Well, I made an Italian friend, and he said, “You see those bushes over there? Right behind it’s the door [so] you can get into the city, and bypass all these MPs at the gate.” {Laughs} We got inside, and we walked around, and it was really an old city. Well, then, suddenly we saw a USO sign. [We thought], “Donuts.” The three of us went over there, and sure enough, donuts and coffee. We got donuts and coffee, and we were really elated, and here comes a big MP- 6’6″, big broody guy. He tapped one of us on the shoulder [and said], “Let’s see your pass.” Well, we had no pass. {Laughs} That mean jail. So one of the fellas turned around [and said], “Oh, hi, Joe. I almost didn’t recognize you.” And here one of our boys had played football with the MP- they were from the same town. Imagine the circumstances! {Laughs} He said, “You guys shouldn’t be in here! The general comes and gets his morning coffee. Grab some donuts and get out of here, before the general gets here!” So we did, and went back through the door outside of the wall, and ate our donuts. It was just an unusual experience. All the way over in Italy, and he met his buddy he played football with. {Laughs} 

After we’d been there a couple months, we were in the front lines, in reserve. In other words, we were on the back side of the hill. The captain turned to me and said, “Do you know where our headquarters are?” And I said, “Yes, down the road about eight or nine miles, [in] a stone house on the right side of the road.” [He said], “Why don’t you go back and get the mail?” So, when we first got to Italy, they gave us a bag with masks, and we decided [since] Germans didn’t have them, why should we have to carry gas masks? You don’t want to carry any more weight then you have to. We threw away the gas masks, and we kept the bags that they were in. They were handy for carrying the cans of rations or hand grenades or ammunition. I dumped all of my hand grenades out of my bag to take it to get the mail. [I] started out; I had to walk down the mountains about three or four miles. Finally, I got down to this road- black top road, straight as a die- that went to this house. Well, standing right in front of me were two big Indian Gurkha soldiers. The Gurkha is an army of soldiers from India that work for the British. These Gurkhas are big men; they’re about 6’6″, and then they wear turbans on their heads, so they look like they’re 7 feet high. They have a big kukri knife that they carry right on their chests, and they were horrible-looking men. They told us, “If you ever see a Gurkha, you cross the street. You don’t ever face them, you don’t ever talk to them.” I very quickly went across the path. {Laughs} They were scouts for a British unit, and the trucks were all lined up behind them, and they were walking in front. It was ten o’clock, and it was tea-time. All the trucks were stopped, and all the British soldiers had gotten out of the trucks and were down beside the trucks. They had what they called a ‘bully stove’. It was a #10 can filled half-full with sand, and then they’d pour gasoline in it and light it. They’d put their teapot on top of that to make their tea water. As I walked down, I had three or four of the British soldiers say, “Hey, you want a spot of tea?” {Laughs} Well, I was afraid I wouldn’t be back before dark, so I wouldn’t stop. I went down- it was about seven or eight miles to this house- and I got all the mail, and filled my bag up with all the extra rations I could, and started back. When I got back, I went up this slope and started into the mountains again. I was going along, and then I looked down, and all of the sudden here was a pipe stuck in the rock, and water pouring out of it. There was a ceramic bowl underneath, and it was full. The water ran over it and across the path and down the hill. I had been up in the mountains with a canteen a day- I hadn’t had a bath in 30 days- and everybody carried a bar of soap. So I looked around, and I thought I was way behind the lines, so I didn’t see a soul anywhere. I stripped down nude, and gave myself a bath. I filled my steel helmet with water, and took a sponge bath. I took my undershirt for a towel and dried off, put my pants on, and I bent over to pick up my shoes. Just as I did, just as I leaned over to pick up my shoes, a shell went right where my head had been a minute before. Some German sniper had seen me, apparently, but he let me take a bath, and then he tried to kill me. {Laughs} I grabbed my shoes and ran behind this rock, finished dressing and grabbed my mail bag and took off down the path. Well, I got a little farther and suddenly I saw a bunch of soldiers ahead of me, and I didn’t recognize them. I said, “Oh man, those look like Germans.” Then I began to study them; their uniform was different, but they had on American helmets. I decided they were Brazilian, because we had Brazilian on one flank. It took a lot of nerve, but I approached them, and I said, “Americanos.” They all nodded their head, but they spoke Portuguese, and so we couldn’t talk. They drew a map on the dirt, said, “You came over this path and you went right and you should’ve gone left.” I remember when I came, I never saw that water. I went back about two miles, and there was the pass, and I took the left, and I got back to my unit just before dark. [I] gave the captain the mail bag, and that was the first mail we’d had since we’d been over there. Everybody was glad to get a letter from home. That was one experience I had- those big Gurkhas. Oh man, they were big, and ferocious-looking. {Laughs} 

Then I got acquainted with this one Italian boy, and my watch had stopped working. Every time he walked by me at five o’clock, an arm full of books, I said, “You going to school?” And he said, “Yes, I’m going to the University of Pisa.” And he would walk home every night from Pisa- it was about four or five miles. He said, “If you have a problem with your watch, I’ll get it fixed for you. We have a watchmaker in town.” I gave him my watch, and about two days later, he brought it back. It cost him $5, so I gave him $5, and talked to him more, and he invited me to his home. His home was about a mile from where we were, so we put two boys on guard, and the other three of us went to his home. Well, here was a house built in the year 1000. It was sort of a yellow rock stone house, two stories high, [about ] 100 feet long and maybe 25 feet long. They were living in 1/3 of it; we came in, and the boy took the back seat, and his dad was the host. We came in, and he gave every one of us a water glass filled with wine. We were in the living room- I don’t remember any chairs- except there was a piano in there. We stood around and talked, and then his mother came in. She was a very nice woman, and she had invited us to dinner. So, a week later, we came back to dinner, and she fed us two eggs and pickled celery. You know, they had no food. The cook at where we got our meals said, “You have to take food whenever you visit the Italians, because they have no food.” We’d take a can of hash. As we came in, I’d give it to the father, and he’d set it on the floor, and then hand me a big glass of wine again. Well, while we were there, his little 10 year old daughter had a water pitcher full of wine. Whenever you’d drink down an inch, she’d fill it back up. Before the night was over- I didn’t realize it, but I was drunk. We got up to go back to our barracks, and I couldn’t stand up! {Laughs} My two buddies had to get on either side of me and take me back to the barracks. I have very low tolerance to alcohol. It was a real experience. This boy was studying history, and one of the fellows in our group was the history instructor from Yale University. The two of them would get in a corner and argue history, and it was a real education. The Italian boy knew more history than the history teacher! {Laughs} It was fascinating- the quality of the people that you would meet. Now, this family would fit in anywhere here. They were just like the people next door. He made the statement that there is no such thing as a true Italian person. They’d been invaded every 20 years since time began. In the South, they’re Greek and Mongolian. To me, I was scared of the people in the South. I didn’t trust them, because they were 100% foreign to me. The people up in the North, they were all Germans, because the Germans had invaded Austrians year after year. The women in the North section are all blonde. It’s a real contrast- Italy is. This boy and I became very good friends, and about 20 years later, I found his address in my desk drawer, and I thought, “Gee, I haven’t written him!” So I wrote to him, and I got a letter back that said, no, the boy had passed away with a heart attack- this was the 10 year old girl that had filled my water glass. She said, “I remember you! I want you to come and visit us next time you come.” You see, my conclusion is, people are the same all over the world. They want one thing- they want safety for their family, they want a home, they want an ability to support their home. No matter if you’re Italian, German- everybody has the same goals. One thing I learned was that people all over the world- they may have different colors, they may have different customs- but they have the same ideas and drive that you do. Wars are so unnecessary. Wars are made by politicians, not people. 

Were you awarded any medals or citations during the war? If so, what for?

I had two medals for things I did I shouldn’t have. {Laughs} I have two bronze stars; one, I went out on an exposed slope and picked up the captain and rescued him, and so he gave me a bronze star for doing that. They almost killed him, but they could’ve killed me. But they didn’t shoot. The Germans had a club they called the “One Shot Club.” [If] you wound a man instead of killing him, then it takes two people to carry him off the field. So they get rid of three men with one shot. They called that the “One Shot Club.” Apparently, they shot the captain, and so I went out, and got two other men, and carried the captain off of the field. For that, he gave me an award. [The other was for] the time I went and rounded up the outfit and went and got ammunition. They gave me a bronze star for doing that. Of course, I have a Purple Heart for being wounded. 

How did you stay in touch with your friends and family while overseas?

We wrote letters; they gave us a small [paper that was] four-inch wide [and] six inches long, and we could write a letter on that, and then they would fold it over and mail it. I wrote home all the time. I have a stack of letters that my mother collected. They knew where I was, and what I was doing. We seldom got letters back from them; we moved so often that we didn’t get mail very regular[ly]. 

What did you know about other troops in battle?

Once a month, we’d get the Stars and Stripes magazine. It would tell where we were, and who’s fighting where, and [the] progress we’re making. You’d figure- every night when you go home, you feel secure. When you’re in a foreign country like we were, the only feeling of security is with your own people. On our right, we had Brazilians. On our left, we had Nisei. Nisei were the Japanese Americans. When they first came to battle, the Germans said that they would defeat them. The colored troops they had attacked had ran, so they thought the Nisei would be the same. They attacked the Nisei when they first came into the lines, and the Nisei counterattacked, and they killed so many Germans. Totally defeated them. The Germans would never touch the Nisei. We were always confident we didn’t have to worry about them on our side, but we were always worried about the Brazilians. The Brazilians were almost all black- I didn’t realize Brazil had a bigger color problem than we had in the South. What happened down in Brazil was the coloreds took over- there would be 1,000 black slaves and maybe 2 Portuguese managers. The blacks took over the whites, so Brazil [was] half black. Most of those soldiers were black. We didn’t trust them. We were always worried about [them] being on our right flank. 

When did you learn about German prison camps like Auschwitz?

We knew what was going on while we were there. After the war was over, I was still in the hospital. They brought [in] a lot of the American boys that had been in prison in Germany; they were starved almost to death. They brought them in[to] the hospital I was in, and some of them were so thin they couldn’t lay them on a bed. They used straps, and hung them from the ceiling. One of the nurses that was supposed to take care of these boys fainted when she saw them, and then she refused to go in that room again. I would walk by- and I should’ve gone in and talked to them- and all they could do was [have] their eyes would follow you. They were so far gone; they were merely just skeletons. It was horrible looking, the look in all of those American prisoners they brought into the hospital after the war. I knew what was going on. I went to the graveyard where all of our boys were- the 50 that got killed the first day. On the back, there was a big long wall, and there was something like 500 airmen that had gone out and never came back. They had no record of whether they were in prison, or whether they were dead. That really hit me. Of the original planes that took off, only 50% of them ever came back- the bombers. We lost a lot of young boys flying those airplanes. Every morning I’d see the planes take off, and go over to bomb the oil fields. At night, we’d see the planes come back. We never counted them, but we [know] their casualties were huge. 

Did you find that it was hard to come home after the war?

I had a girlfriend back in Nebraska, but I ended up in a hospital in Tacoma, Washington- Fort Lewis. I was in a hospital about five months for my shrapnel wound, before I could walk again. All my life, I’ve ignored it and haven’t had a problem, but within the last year it’s becoming difficult for me to walk. What they did- they cut a hole about that big [makes closed circle with hands] to take out the infection. Well, they filled it in with skin grafts, but now, it’s beginning to bother me. 

On the after- war alumni group:

We have an alumni group- we originally had 32 men here in town, all from Portland- and now we’re down to three. I went to a meeting about a week ago, and there were only three of us left out of the thirty. That’s one of the problems, when you get to be my age. All your friends have passed away. One by one, they’ve all died. I’ve lost all of my friends. You feel rather lonely, up at the top. I just have one friend left, and he lives in Troutdale. Do you see him often? No. I have 20/20 vision, and I still drive my car, but I’m reluctant to go on the freeway. My vision is still good, but my hearing is very bad. I still drive, but I’m very careful where, and when. I drive on the off-hours, I don’t go on the freeways anymore. Two weeks ago, I drove to Troutdale to visit my friend- I was a nervous wreck when I got there. I’ve been hit from the rear three times. I’ve got a stiff neck as a result. 

Visiting Italy post-war:

Later on, our group went over to Italy, and we put a wreath at the Austrian Veteran’s Memorial. They came out, angry, [saying], “What are you doing here?” And we told them, “We are honoring your dead as we honored our dead.” Then we became friends, and we formed a mountain troop organization after the war. The general that opposed us in Italy- he came over to Camp Hale at a reunion. He said it was the worst day of his life- when the 10th mountain attacked and defeated him. Today, every three years, we go to Europe and have a meeting with the Austrian and the German ski troops. There’s only one mountain troop division left in the world, and that’s in Germany. In case of another war, the men there are being trained to be calvary, to train new mountain troops. Later on, I went back, [with my wife]. 300 veterans and their wives, and their children, [went to Italy] in 1982. We saw all the beautiful places. [A man with us] was an ammunition carrier- later, he became the editor of Time magazine. His wife was the mayor of one of the largest cities, next to New York. We ended up in Salzburg, Austria. [We met with] a man commanding the Germans opposing us- we became great friends with the Austrian mountain troops. They had a big parade in Italy, and we marched in it, while we were over there on that vacation. The Italians surrendered in ’41, but half of the Italians were for the Americans, and a small portion of the Italians were for the Germans. The Italians that were with us, we met in there, and this group all got drunk. While we were there, we went up and saw a lot of the graves of a lot of our fellows. The Alpini Chorus gave us a big program while we were there; they gave us a big banquet. They paid for it- the Italians paid for it- and they had their big choir sing. We have a record of every battle, and what everybody did in every battle. [I got] records when I went home. [They] show the varies different units that were fighting the Germans. [There’s] Mount Belvedere- the big battle up there was that a British division had been defeated here, and an American division had been defeated. The road went up through [the] mountains, and the Germans were up there, and they were directing artillery on [the] road, so no one could get through. [By it] was the Po Valley, and that was one of our basic goals.

Did you have a family after the war?

Yes. I have five children, which are all healthy, and living- doing very well. One boy is a pilot for Alaska Airlines, and has been for thirty-four years. Another boy is a building contractor and realtor over in Redmond- he’s right now building 90 houses. The third boy is here in town, and he is a construction engineer- graduate of Corvallis. He’s building a hotel over in Vancouver. Then, I have two girls- one is a baby nurse in Newport, and the other is working in Lake Oswego. I fly, so every time my kids go somewhere, they send me a cup with airplanes on it. {Laughs} My wife graduated from Salem College, and had a degree in music, and played in the Salem symphony. She found she couldn’t earn a living doing that, so she went back and got a degree in nursing. She was a nurse. She lived to be 92, and then had a heart attack and died.

How did you become interested in planes after the war? 

{Laughs} I graduated with a degree in business management and accounting, and most of my career I was managing offices and companies. I was in Cheyanne, Wyoming, as a controller of an airspace company there. One of my friends came in one day and said, “The CPA”- which is a search-and-rescue volunteer group with the Army-“is selling three of their airplanes. I need some nuisance bids.” I said, “What’s a nuisance bid?” [He said], “Oh, $500 or $700.” So I bid $777.77 for an airplane. That was supposed to be a nuisance bid- I did not want an airplane, I did not anticipate getting one. The next day he came back and said, “You gotta pick up your airplane.” I said, “What airplane?” “Well, the one you won!” “What do you mean I won?” He said, “Your bid was $2.77 over the next highest bid.” Okay, I had an airplane. Then about that time my wife said, “I’m going back to Portland. I do not like Cheyanne.” Well, we had five children, so I decided I’d better go with her. {Laughs} My company had some reverses- the president of the company fired an engineer that designed all the products we made. So I thought, “He’s stripped out the blood of the company! There’s no point in staying here, because all of our items are becoming obsolete, and there’ll be no one to invent new products to sell.” I came back to Portland and bought a firm; then I discovered I do not like to do taxes. I only did that for one year, and then I sold my half-interest to my friend. I went out and was a controller of a number of firms here in Portland. I was at Roseburg Lumber for three years, and I set up all their accounting on computers. We had 2,000 men working there, and they would start Friday noon and work all night long, and they would get the payroll done by Saturday noon. Well, I put it all on computers, and I did it in four hours. I had it all done by Friday night. I was in charge of about $3,000,000 a month. I set up a system so nobody defrauded us, you’d be amazed [at] all the big cooperations that will try to defraud you. 

Do you think there is anything the general public should know about war?

I think the general republic should know that it’s people like you and I that are killing each other, and it’s the big manufactures that started the war- [they’re] the ones that are profiting from it. Just think of all the airplanes that Boeing sells. Just think of all the rifles that Winchester sells. Those companies cause war. You and I don’t cause wars. I’ve met German people over there that supported their soldiers, just like we supported ours. The fact that we’re killing each other- that’s the biggest crime there is. I feel people all over the world are the same. All they want is security for their families- they want a home to protect their families, they want a job so they can support their families- it’s the same all over the world. Why are we allowing the politicians to put us in war? I look right now at our President- he is not doing anything to prevent a war. He’s just showing off, and he’s doing what he wants, not what he feels the nation should want. We don’t want war- we’ve spent money we should’ve spent on education on buying $50,000,000 war weapons. One of our fighter planes costs $4-5,000,000 a piece. Just think what we could do for our education, for our kids in school, if we’d spent that money on education. I am very, very angry at all of our politicians. Big money buys them off, and they vote for things that they want. That’s what’s so bad. I grew up a Republican, but I am not okay with what the Republicans are doing now. I think it’s all wrong. 

What do you think you learned from serving in the war?

It matured me considerably. My religious beliefs that ‘Thou shalt not kill’; some of those young Germans that we shot at were nice-looking boys. I have had nightmares about that all my life. I did not think much of the Army; I did not think the training I had was adequate. Even in the battles, I thought many of the battles were fought wrong. The people in command did not do their research, they did not know what they were doing. That’s my personal opinion. I went to Officer Training and became an officer, and then when I finished my training, they said, “Okay, now you have to resign from the Army, and join the Officer Corps.” I said, “Okay.” Well then, they said, “In signing up for the Officer Corps, you have to serve three years.” I said, “No, I won’t serve three years. The war is going to be over in six months, and I’m not going to serve three years.” [They said], “Well, then you can’t be an officer.” So they sent be back to my unit. I was never proud of the fact that I didn’t become an officer, but I was very glad I did not have to serve three more years. Two of my buddies went ahead and became officers, and they stayed in the Army for 20 years. They were unhappy about it; they did not like it. They felt they were locked in, and couldn’t get out. 

Do you think it affected your life?

You have to fight for what you feel is right. I don’t think I was in any situations where I was being bought-off, but I know numerous situations where managers were cheating everybody. One case, a man would come to work at nine o’clock, and he would stay until six. Well, all the employees came at nine o’clock, and they would stay until six, because he did. So, he was at a party, and he was laughing, saying, “I get an extra hour out of all of my people by doing this.” Well, he told it to a friend of mine, and the friend told me. So, at five o’clock, I promptly got up, and he’d look and stare at me. He never stopped me. {Laughs} Little things like that. No, I think my uncle, the farmer, taught me more about life- more than my parents did. First time me saw me riding a horse, holding onto the saddle horn, he said, “I’ll strap you if I ever see you doing that again.” So I learned to ride a horse correctly, and I learned how to harness when I was 14 years old. I was harnessing horses that were bigger than me. He taught me not to fear animals, and I think that was a real accomplishment for him. I used to be afraid of those great big work horses, and he taught me not to be afraid of them. I think my uncle taught me more about life than my dad did. I think all that Army gave me was a respect for human people, regardless of religion or race or color. I think it was an important lesson. We had one experience; we attacked this hill, and just as we came over the ridge, two Germans were up in a tree, and shooting at us with bird guns. All of us hit the dirt, including me. We had a Texas cowboy with us; we didn’t think much of him- in the States, every Saturday he’d wear cowboy boots and go rodeo’n. We thought, “Kid’s crazy to ride those horses.” Well, we got in combat, and these two German officers were shooting at us with bird guns, and he went and grabbed a mortar and sat down and aimed it at the tree where they were at. [He] killed one of the officers, and the other fell off the tree and got up and ran and escaped. The fact [that] of all 200 men, all of us hit the dirt but that one cowboy- later on they made him an officer. He deserved it, because he had more good sense under combat, under fire, than the rest of us. He immediately fought back, while the rest of us were looking for a deep hole to get into. That cowboy spent 20-some years in the Army. He became a major, and I met him at one of our reunions, and talked to him. 

FullSizeRender 13
Before going overseas; 1944
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After combat; March of 1945

This interview has been lightly edited for readability. However, to maintain integrity, and to respect the stories of the veteran, content has not been altered from the original transcription. This interview was originally recorded and later transcribed. Questions partially retrieved from: 

“Guidelines.” Veterans History Project. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 23 June 2017. <www.loc.gov/vets/guidelines.html>.

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