PRM: “I was in the Army, in England, recuperating from my wounds, when I learned of Roosevelt’s death.”

What is your birth year?

April 1925. My birthday is more known for who died on it- Franklin Roosevelt died on my birthday! I was in the Army, in England, recuperating from my wounds, when I learned of Roosevelt’s death. That was my birthday present. I’m so interested to hear from you about his Presidency. It is quite something, to have lived through that. When I grew up- I was born in St. Louis, and I lived in St. Louis until I was 14- I moved to New York City at the end of ’39. It was the beginning of ’40, and I went to high school for three years in New York. I then went into service, came back, and having been wounded, I was under what they call ‘PL-16’. That was a little bit better than the G.I. bill; I had 33 months of service, and [the G.I. bill] would’ve given me 33 months- the maximum was 36. The PL-16, if you were wounded, theoretically [would help you be] re-employable. So how does an 18 year old high school graduate get re-employable? I cannot tell you absolutely- this is one of the puzzles in my life- why, between the time I entered the Army and the time I left, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I opted for law. What they did- they had 36 months, and if you parse it out to the months I was in college- I finished Columbia University in three years, then I went to Yale law school, and finished in three years- came out, taught a year at the University of California Berkeley law school, and then I came up here and practiced law. I married here, and had three children- a son and two daughters. 

How old are you?

I am 92 and a half. 

What branch of the United States Armed Forces did you serve in?

I was drafted into the infantry. When I was drafted, there were two programs. One was called A-12- it was an Army specialized training program- and one was a Navy V-12, which was a lot better. If you got in the Navy, you went to college, and they kind of kept you in school, and away from the Army. In the Army specialist training program, they sent you to basic training. Basic training is basically infantry training, and since you’re going to go onto this program, they didn’t bother with your force, or artillery, or some specialized program, because those were usually for people a little further along with some education. Here, you’re right out of school. Now, I went to a high school in New York that you might say was similar to Catlin, and OES. My year of high school was more like a year of college. {Laughs} Anyway, we went to basic training- that was Camp Roberts, in California, about halfway between LA and San Francisco. We then went to Montana State College- they shipped almost all of us there. It was very pedestrian; it was  basic engineering- you took an English class, you marched to classes- it wasn’t college in a real sense, but it was fine. I remember, I had a math class that used to have an exam every Saturday, and it was an hour. I’d finish in 10 or 15 minutes, and I’d turn the paper in and I’d go rushing out to go listen to the Metropolitan Opera, because I was an opera buff. I listened every Saturday, and I found a radio in the lounge, and I was able to preempt it and listen to the radio. In any event, this math teacher was really quite a scholar- Harvard graduated in mathematical logic- and he comes to me and says, “Would you join a little course I have on mathematical logic?” He was [giving it] to the faculty. I was there until I was about to have to give the next lecture, and I was saved by the bell, because they closed the program down. The reason for that was- the demand for manpower got to be so pressing, they couldn’t afford. I’ve looked at this program- the STP and the V-12- and in essence, it was a program to keep college kids a little bit away from being the fodder at the beginning, and save them. What happened was- the 70th division (“Trailblazers”) in Oregon was created at Camp Adair in 1943. 

What was your rank?

[During the course of basic training], all of the NCO non-com positions were filled- the platoon sergeant, the squad sergeant, the systems sergeant, the corporals- and when they got all finished, they had a bunch of privates left. They shipped those all out to the Pacific, for replacements, and put all us college kids in as privates. You had one of the smartest outfits- all college kids.

On childhood during the Great Depression:

The 20’s were not Depression; they were actually pretty good times. My dad came to this country at age 20- he was the oldest of 5 children, and his father had died when he was 12. He had no education but the heder, which was the religious school; he [immigrated] from Ukraine, west Ukraine. He was in St. Louis, where his family went. In 1910, he gets admitted to Washington University, and two years later, the dean of the engineering school says, “You’re too smart for this school. I’m going to get you a scholarship to Columbia.” So, he gets on a train to Columbia, and three years later he has a degree in technical engineering. Dad- during the teens and the 10’s [there] was a lot of anti-Semitism- so he ended up going in the poultry business. He ended up, in the 1930’s, literally inventing frozen kosher poultry, which he did despite the fact that he was an atheist, and had been since he was a teenager. He realized, when Clarence Birdseye- which you may think of as a brand name, but was actually a man’s name- he invented the concept of flash-freezing. If you were to take a chicken, and put it in your freezer at zero, it would crystalize. The moisture in it, the ice, would expand, and break down the flesh. When you defrosted it, it would taste okay, but it wouldn’t be quite the same way as if it were quick-frozen. If it’s quick frozen, it’s frozen at forty below zero. It goes so fast that there is no crystallization. My dad put together- normally, kosher protein had to be freshly slaughtered, because the housewife had to put it through soaking and salting within 72 hours. My dad figured out- soak and salt it in a plant, kill it and fresh freeze it- it’s kosher forever! If you go down and want to buy a kosher chicken at Albertson’s, it will be Empire. That was the new kid on the block. {Laughs} 

Did you face any anti-Semitism?

My mother was reformed Jewish in New York; my great grandfather fought in the Civil War. My earliest ancestors came over in 1840, so she has a long linage in this country, my dad being a first-generation. My dad being an atheist, while he was at Columbia- he met a man named Felix Adler. Felix Adler was a German born- came to this country as a child, son of a rabbi at Temple Emmanuel in New York, which is on 5th Avenue and 56th; the be-all be-all of reformed temples. [Adler] was gonna be a rabbi, so he goes over and studies, and he comes back and he gives his first sermon. He never mentions God; it was the last sermon he ever gave. So he quit, and went over and taught at Columbia, and in 1876, he started what was called the New York Society for Ethical Culture. It was premised upon the idea that ethics are not dependent on a belief or non-belief in God, and whose existence can neither be proved or disproved. He started the Ethical Society, which was basically deed, not creed, yet firmly based in ethical concepts. The Ethical Society developed in New York, and St. Louis, and Chicago- they started Legal Aid, they started Visiting Nurses, they were very instrumental of the settlement house movement. The society still exists; it never took off, and I’ve never quite understood it. In New York, it was heavily Jewish. In St. Louis, it was completely different; it was 50% Jewish, and 50% liberal Germans from St. Louis. Alistair Cooke always said that Manchester and St. Louis were similar cities because the Germans would send one son to Manchester, and one son to St. Louis. A lot of Jews went there, too; they had good symphony orchestras, and good newspapers- the Manchester Guardian, the St. Louis Post Dispatch. In any event, when it came time for me to go to Sunday school, my folks had belonged to a reformed synagogue. The dean who had sent my dad to New York, Alexander Langsdorf, was part of the Ethical Society in St. Louis. They decided to join the Ethical Society in New York, so I grew up in the first class; we studied some Bible stories, by sixth grade we were studying city planning, eighth grade comparative religions. When I went to New York, I went to the Ethical, and I went to the school. I’ve always been very conscientious; my wife is the founder of the Oregon Jewish Museum. 

On growing up under FDR’s historic presidency:

In the 30’s, we were very fond of Roosevelt; I was very fond of him. In 1938, he kind of switched a little bit more conservative, and that didn’t work too well. I never felt deprived growing up in the Depression; my dad always made enough money for us to eat, although Mother tells the story of feeding a family on 70¢ per day. When you go out for a hotdog for a nickel, and a Coke for a nickel, and you really wanted to splurge on a thick milkshake for ten cents- it didn’t take a lot of money to live. I really didn’t sense any deprivation during childhood, and I had a good education. I was politically very active; my mother was the head of the Political League Against War and Fascism during the 30’s. I was very political from the age of 10 to 12 on; I followed, in the late 30’s, every battle of the Spanish Civil War, which was one of the reasons I could give the I&E lectures. Those people were not political like that, in their childhood. I remember in eighth grade I had one friend who I could talk politics with, and we would talk politics. In the post-war period, it was quite different; I joined the American Civil Liberties right away, I joined the NAACP, I went to law school. I got involved in my first year and ended up on the board of a faculty-created organization called the New Haven Civil Liberties Council, and I ranged with Roger Baldwin, who was head of the ACLU. My mother was a member in the 1930’s, and I joined in ’46. I arranged to become the Connecticut affiliate, and when I came out to Portland at 55, I founded the Oregon affiliate. I was on the national board for 25 years, and the executive committee for 20. I’ve been very involved in liberal politics, and I would say that being Jewish is a significant role inspiring, or instigating, or creating the fertile basis for that. 

How old were you when you were drafted?

I was just 18, in April, and drafted in June.

How did you feel about being drafted?

I wanted to go! Oh, yes, that was the last good war. I feel sorry for the veterans in every subsequent war, because no one would have the feelings about why we needed to do what we did! 

What did you know about the Nazis, or the Germans, before the war?

We knew a lot. I have a book full of clippings, of my mother giving lectures in the 30’s against Hitler, against Hiroshima, and when the Japanese went into China, and conquered Manchuria, and took over and made Manchukuo. I was pretty aware of that, as we were getting closer. I can tell you when September 1st, 1939, when WWII was declared, and June of 1940, when finally Germany went and conquered France in months, and when the British escaped Dunkirk. We were very conscious of all of that. In 1941, in September when Germany invades Poland, and Ribbentrop and Russia go in, they made a pact which stays in effect until 1941, when suddenly Germany invaded Russia, and then of course Pearl Harbor came that December. That made it kind of clear, made it evident what we needed to do. 

 

Did you feel scared that you were Jewish, going into this?

It was certainly a motivation. To me, it was a war of necessity, and the idea of anything less than total victory was not something even to consider. And then, of course, FDR’s death a year before the dropping of the atom bomb- when you were in my position, of going over and invading Japan, you had a little more sympathy for the dropping of the bomb, because at least I didn’t try and experience [it]. 

On service: 

We trained from March of ’44 to about August; then, we shipped the whole division- they decided we would be going to Europe. They sent us to Camp Leonard Wood in Missouri, which was very nice, because my dad was working part of the year in St. Louis. I was able to go up close and visit him on weekends. In December, we went to Massachusetts, at which time we prepared for overseas. On December 6th of 1944, we sailed on what was the luxury liner SS America. Two of the three regiments went on this one ocean liner, if you can imagine- it was like the Queen Mary. Two of the regiments went on that; the third went on some other ship. The SS America, after the war, they had a mothership called the SS United States. I don’t think any of those are in service- the Queen Mary still functions as a cruise liner. We landed in Marseille- remember, we had to take tenders in, because the pork was just devastated- and we then, after a few days or a week in the muddy fields of Marseille- we got on what they called 40 N-8’s. Forty men and eight cattle. They took us all up the Rogue River Valley to Alsace-Lorraine. I literally spent New Year’s Eve on the Rhine River, in the very farthest town in the north of France, on the East Coast. There were two little villages there, and I remember my mother had sent me a newspaper called, “PM”, which was a liberal New York paper that had started without advertisements, and a picture of De Gualle on the front. It arrived, and I got it on New Year’s Day, and I was staying in this little house. The Frenchmen and I- I gave it to him, and he was just thrilled to have this picture of De Gualle. He brought out his schnaaps, and gave me a taste; I was not a drinker. Then, not long after, they moved us into the Vosges Mountains. Up in Belgium, in Bastogne, on Christmas Day, they had the [Battle of the] Bulge, and General McAuliffe said, “Nuts.” All these troops were rushed North, to help the gap. Hitler and Himmler- the last strategic decision they made in WWII- they decided to send SS troops that were fresh off the Finland front, fighting the Russians. They decided they wanted to send down these elite winter troops to come through the Vosges Mountains to these inexperienced troops, no battles, around the allied army, to the North Sea and end the war [by cutting them off]. We stopped them. I was wounded on January 12, and by that time, I think pretty much the thrust had been blunted to the point where- I have one book that calls this operation “Operation Nordwind.” They refer to it as the last Battle of the Bulge.

It was the end of an afternoon, January- very dark. We are trudging up a mountain, we get to the top of it, and it’s just frozen. I don’t know how you are supposed to dig into the frozen dirt to dig a trench hole. There was no cover there, so they started to bombard us. The shell fragments hit the trees, and they would explode and send all these shell fragments. I was laying flat on my stomach, and it was like [someone] took a pole with a nail through it and went, whack! I was laying on my stomach, so I moved to my side, and I felt another whack, [but] I don’t know if I was hit twice. If I were, it went through the same place twice, so I don’t know- whether I deserved two purple hearts, or one! {Laughs} People came, and finally loaded me, and got me down to a Jeep. I went into what they called the field hospital- probably just a big tent someplace- and they did the first operations. This was the first time I had general anesthesia; they used pentothal, which is what they call ‘truth serum’. I counted backwards from 100 and you get to about 90, and you’re out. They cleaned me out, and that was when I went to the general hospital and they did the real operation. 

I was wounded in my buttock and my leg, which was really, in today’s terms, a million dollar wound. It was enough, actually, to keep me out of combat for the rest of the war, for which I am forever grateful. I had some very, very interesting dear friends that were killed; you make close friends, and I remember one young man from Snohomish, coming from Montana State. He was shot in the head and killed later on, after I was wounded. What happened is- we were trudging in the mountains- this was the coldest winter in Europe in 50 years. The average temperature was 0° Fahrenheit; it’s 32 below 0, the average temperature! We’re slugging through snow, and I was a machine gunner. For whatever reason, I kept shooting aces as a machine gunner. I ended up as a machine gunner, which is really one of the most exposed positions in combat, because everybody wants to knock out the machine gun. When we were in the United States, in training, we had what was called an M1-A4. I had a tripod, which meant that when we were going to set up, I would run forward, open the tripod, slam it on the ground- my assistant gunner was carrying the heavy gun- he’d put the gun in, and then the ammo bearers would come around and load it, and I’m ready to shoot. Right before we go overseas, they change it to the M1-A6; the gun has a bipod on the end of it. There was no tripod. It meant that I would share carrying the gun. The interesting thing was, I had an assistant gunner who was a tall, Los Angeles WASP. I’m Jewish, and he says to me in this country before we go over, “You know, you’re Jewish, you’re yellow! You’re gonna be a coward.” The interesting thing is, we get over there, and I know he gets frozen feet- he leaves, and we never saw him again. I don’t know whatever happened to him. I have some feeling he might have had a section 8 discharge, for being disturbed, which is a real irony. I was in the general hospital in Metz. I recently got some surgery on my mouth; interestingly, it was the first anesthesia I’d had since my war wounds in ’45. Isn’t that something, to experience general anesthesia again when you’re 92? In those days- had it been current, I’d be out of bed in a week. I’m in the hospital the second day after surgery, and I have a red rash. I had German measles! How I got German measles, I don’t know- I didn’t have that much contact with the Germans, because I was wounded by shell fragments- 88 shell fragments tore through my leg and buttock, and fortunately did not hit any bones. They kept you in bed. I get German measles, and they send me to the medical ward- I have these huge gauze bandages, and I get over to the medical ward, and I say to the nurse once or twice, “Aren’t they going to change my bandages?” Finally, about Thursday or Friday, she comes with a little roll of gauze bandages and scissors. I’m going, “What are these for?” [The wound] had actually been infected. In the surgical ward, they had all the talent, they were good. I go back, I went to Paris, I’m riding in an ambulance, not knowing where I am. We [go past] the Arc de Triomphe, [and] we stayed overnight Les Invalides, which is where Napoleon’s tomb is now. It was actually an old hospital from WWI, and so I’m overnight there. Then, I got sent back to Le Monde, and I’m in a rehab there. I had a very interesting experience there, because they took us to a 12th-century chateau. It was run by an English woman, Mademoiselle Benson, and a Madam Dusole. She was married to a Parisian industrialist. We lived in this chateau; it was gorgeous, and she and I had it off, and we were sitting at the piano, singing Wagner together, and stuff like that. I became very friendly, and I wrote with her, and I actually, at 48 when I went back to visit, my two friends and I stayed in the chateau, in one of the gorgeous bedrooms. {Laughs} You get some amazing stories from it. Then, when I went to England- I remember when you got back to the hospital at Le Monde, it was interesting how the talent came to the fore. The colonel, and the people who were running this, were not the greatest; in fact, the young kid got an appendicitis, and the only guy who could operate was a young first lieutenant, who was right out of medical school. When I got out of bed for the first time, my right leg was so withered that I stood out of bed, and I couldn’t stand on it; I fell against the bed. I had the crutches, so gradually I got there, and I remember the colonel was so angry that I was not well at that point to go back, but I was in [from] March to May for 60 days of rehabilitation. We get to South Hampton, and along the motorway there- when you used to sail into South Hampton, was this huge medical facility, the Royal Victorian Hospital. It was very funny, because the whole corridors were in the front, and the wards were in the back. The views, of course, were all in the front. It didn’t have plumbing; it was sort of dripping through, drainage, and they claimed that they were building a Royal Victorian Hospital in India, and one there, and they got the plans switched; that may be apocryphal.

[The colonel] divided us into four teams, and one team would win a weekend pass if they won the competition that week- 25% chance, pretty good chances. There were some events that you could do to get an individual one. He took you out on a truck, eight miles from the hospital, dumped you on the country road, and you had to come and walk back. The first time I walked back, I was so sick, sore, and disabled, you wouldn’t believe. I was aching, screaming aching, but the first ten people to get in always had a weekend pass. I had been on the track team in high school- I ran the 80-80, I knew how to get my second breath, and I was a good athlete, on the swimming team and things like that. It was interesting, in WWII- I doubt, in the ’30s, more than 10% knew how to swim. Today, kids two years old get dumped in the water. It’s quite different. Every weekend after that, sick, sore, disabled, I was one of the in the first ten. I would get a weekend pass, [and] go up to London. I would stay in this wonderful USO, right behind a department store, and I would go and I saw all the theatre. I saw Lunt-Fontanne, after whom a theatre is named, John Gielgud, Lawrence Olivier, Edith Evans- you name all these old, historical people. I would get tickets for six shillings. You were a GI, a private first class- I was making $56 dollars per month. That was really big money in England, at that time! I remember one time I’m in London, I’m walking between Piccadilly and Lester Square, and I get approached by a British solider. He says, “I’ve got a train ticket here to go back to my home, and I have nothing to eat. Could you give me 50¢ so I can buy some fish and chips?” Sure, I gave him 50¢, and a few minutes later, I was walking back, and he’s hitting up somebody else. I figured, that’s the last time! {Laughs}

In any event, we got back to my outfit, and interestingly enough, they had, in each company, an I&E- information and education officer. Now, I mentioned my mother was very active, politically, in the 30’s, and I had been active politically in the ’30s and ’40s. I remember Roosevelt, when the war was going on, it was very dicey, and he had the Lend-Lease program; we had a very isolationist Congress. The draft, in June of 1940- we’re talking one year and 5 months before Pearl Harbor- one vote, it passed the house. That was the draft. Otherwise, God knows we would’ve had even less preparation. In any event, I had been giving the lectures for the I&E about what was going on in the battles, and progress, and this and that. When I got back, after the war, instead of going back to the weapons platoon, they set me up in an I&E- I became an information and education officer. Here I am, all of 19 years old, high school graduate! I’m giving the lectures to the troops about what’s going on, and the progress of the rest of the war. I’m set up in the room in this gorgeous house, and I have a room where I’m set up; in the library, I have about 500 books for the troops to take out and read, and I read over 100 books while I was there. They had a chess set, and checkers.

We move a little inland; there, the opportunity came to set up a school, because nobody was doing anything and I had to keep people busy. I picked the faculty, and helped assign the students to the proper classrooms, and we got it set up and running. I was teaching sociology by reading the chapters aloud to the class! They suddenly decided they needed the troops in the Pacific, so in August, we start to go across France to go back to the United States. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the a-bomb dropped on August 6th. It sufficiently made clear that the war was ending; it’s just too bad, if I had just gotten to the United States, and then the bomb had dropped, then they would have just discharged us. I had just enough points, just 50 points- so many for serving, so many for being wounded- and 50 points just got me to England. So I went back literally to South Hampton, and I had friends from the hospital there. I knew people in the area- kind of pleasant- but they didn’t send us home until February, a little tedious. So, then I’m discharged! 

Do you remember finding out about the Holocaust, after the war?

Oh, yeah. We knew a lot about it, but it’s a little hard at this point- I was quite aware of Kristallnacht, on November 9th, 1938- I had friend in New York who was a young man who was a refugee. In Portland, since I came out here, I met even more, but I was aware. Even in the Army, I had friends who were German refugees. 

How did your military service affected you?

We talk about Post- Traumatic Stress syndrome, and I’m thinking of this assistant gunner of mine, and how he must have had some form of it. In any event, I don’t really think we had quite as much, but then again, I was really lucky; I didn’t go through a lot of combat. I didn’t see much combat; my assistant gunner was killed the night I was wounded. I knew of people being killed, I had friends killed. Subsequently, when I was in the hospital, friends were killed who had survived longer. 

What do you think the general public should know about war?

We look at the threat of atomic obliteration, what’s going on today in North Korea- it’s absolutely unthinkable, and wars go on. We’re involved in wars, and what we’re getting out of them, or where- it’s hard to judge. Not much. 

Have you found adequate veteran resources and connections in Portland?

{Laughs} One time, I decided that I had some tissue ache in my wound. I still have it, from time to time. I’ve had some really deep massages that have really worked on my war wound, because they work on it to take the scar tissue and detach it from the bone; that’s apparently what causes the ache. That helps, but in the winter time, the cold and damp weather would produce tissue ache. When I think of what other people have to go through, that’s minor. It’s not something I worry too much about. I think of the people who have more significant post-traumatic, which has got to be pretty awful. I guess I’m an optimist, and that’s my general attitude on things. Just an eternal optimist! {Laughs}

How did your service affect your life?

Well, when I went to college, I was 21, and had these experiences, and therefore I had a maturity. I had some marvelous professors at Columbia; I had a Humanities professor, Moses Hadas, a Greek and Latin professor, who had actually shoot down into Greece during the war, and was absolutely brilliant. I was in a class with this guy who became this horrible right wing guy. Me and this other veteran and this guy were the bright stars of the class. When I was at the Ethical Society in New York, I was president of the Sunday evening clubs, which was a high school group that met every Sunday night for discussion group. I had great professors; I was learning from giants. In my senior year, I had a seminar Richard Hofstadter; he was a real scholar. I had a seminar with a man named Franz Neumann, who was unfortunately at about 46 when he went back to Germany; he left Germany as a young man in ’31 and went to the New England School of Economics to teach, and then went to Columbia. He wrote, in the 1930’s, he wrote a book called “Behemoth” in 1937, about the Nuremberg laws. He traced everything that was going on, and where it would inevitably lead! It’s an incredible book. I really just had a wonderful, incredible education, which leads me to say something as advice: when you go to college, pick your teachers, not your courses. Pick the courses for the teachers, put teachers for courses. Having the right teachers is the whole difference in the world. 

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Author’s Note: This project was recently featured in Portland’s Street Roots Newspaper. Read the article here: http://news.streetroots.org/2017/11/10/these-veterans-have-lived-something-extraordinary-portland-student-listens-shares

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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