JEL: “We were stationed then in Normandy, in our little pup tents, in an apple orchard.”

What is your birth year?

I was born in 1924.

How old does that make you today?

[94.] 

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

During WWII I had service in the United States Army. I had started college that year, and I joined the Army since I was in the ROTC program. I thought that would put me on a course for officer’s training. That, however, did not prove to be the case.

What was your rank?

I became a private first class; I was the assistant gunner. That’s where, of course, the real part of the war was. The combat part, because we were always on the backside of the hill, and we’d always shoot over the hill and drop stuff on the German positions in front of us until we were getting ready for the big maneuvers. We’d move from that location after a couple of weeks, during which time they were dropping shells on us, and we were dropping shells on them. Some people were getting injured, some were getting killed- that wasn’t the big part. The big part was after we got to the other side of the river, where our mission became to capture all part of Metz that was west of the river. It was just a big line of forts that were built during the Franco-Prussian war in the 1880s. They built all these great big forts. 

Where were you stationed/what countries did you fight in?

England and France.

Where were you born?

Mauston, Wisconsin. 

Did you live there your whole childhood?

Until I was 19. 

What was the technology available during your upbringing- did you have cars, telephones, etc?

We had a Nash automobile! We lived on the side of a hill, and my brother and I used to play in it. We let the brake loose, and it rolled down, fortunately not into the street, [but] into the backyard. My father always made sure he parked it on the backyard side after that. We all learned something after that. I remember that we lived a one story house, and that we had a kerosine stove, and a tin oven that was put on the top of the stove. The kerosine was in a big tank at the end of the stove. We had [to] shovel coal; I can remember watching my dad do that. You’d shake the grate- fortunately we did not live there long. We lived a little ways down the street to what had been my great-grandfather’s and grandfather’s home. By then, they were both deceased, so my father and mother remodeled it- made it modern. {Laughs} We had five acres, and my brother raised chickens- we had a cow, a couple of ponies, two barns and a cowshed, two chickens in pens- it wasn’t exactly what you would call the ‘modern day’. In fact, my brother sold eggs to the hatchery. He made pretty good money, doing that. It was a small town, about 2,500 people. We lived three blocks from school. 

How did WWI affect your family? Did any family members serve?

My father was in the Army. Early in November of 1918, he was aboard a ship heading for France. Before he got there, the armistice took place, so he spent six months there. He was a sergeant in a medical supply deploy- just making sure that packages were being sent in the right direction and that sort of thing. He brought a piece of [glass tile] back from Reims Cathedral. Towards the end of his time there, he knew he was going to be sent home pretty soon, and he wasn’t getting a chance to get away. He was in Western France, in Orleans, and he was sent to pick up some medications from Brest, the main seaport on the Normandy coast. He took the train to Brest and picked up the package- and then he forgot to get off the train when he came back, and went on to Paris. {Laughs} It was a weekend, so he spent the whole weekend in Paris. He slipped back to his post a couple days later- nobody bothered to ask him where he’d been. {Laughs} 

Did the Great Depression have any effect on your family?

Oh, yeah. I had an uncle who had very much difficulty in that he was an engineer. He was the operator- he may have been part owner- of a brick and tile company in Iowa. It went under, and he worked with the CWA, the TVA, the CCCs- when the war came, he went to work in a munitions plant in Minnesota. When the war was over, he went to work for TVA. Part of the time, he lived with us. We lived on the main railroad between Chicago and Minneapolis. There were lots of men riding the rails at that time; they would drop off and look for something to eat. They’d come knocking at our door- we were about a block away from the railroad, I can remember that. How very courteous they all were- “If you can help me, I’ll appreciate it, but no pushing.” That, and of course I knew that among my schoolmates, there were some whose families were in pretty bad shape. My father was a lawyer, and bad times, good times- lawyers always have business. I’m a lawyer too- I helped found the San Joaquin law school, and one of our graduates was named Jerry Brown’s chief of staff. 

What type of music was popular? What kind of clothing did you wear?

I played in the band- trombone. I had a pretty snazzy uniform, as we all did- pretty much like today. We had jazz. We were taught the show tune ‘Lambeth Walk’. It was a British mass-dance. 

When did you first hear of Hitler and the Third Reich? What did you know of them?

It has been interesting to me, that I, at the age of junior high, was very concerned about Germany moving into the Rhineland- 1935. That would make me 11 years old. The idea that things are happening here, and that that’s something I’m going to have to be dealing with along the line- it just kept getting worse from there. I started in Ripon College in Wisconsin, because they had an ROTC program. I might also add that before that, I took a competitive examination to go to West Point. I thought that’d be a good place to go. Twice, I had a #2 slot to go there- if #1 didn’t go, I would’ve gone there. I’m glad I never did; I would have graduated from there and then at the age of 21- it was just before the end of hostilities in Japan. That was no place to start an Army career.

I was in junior high school. It was that things are being stirred up, and that this is not good. It looks like we might have some trouble in the future. Other than those news clips that I would hear now and then, it wasn’t until there was actually the invasion of Poland- that’s when we knew, really, that we were on our way, even though it was a couple of years apart. As it got closer and closer, we could see that we were getting closer and closer. What do you do? So, I took competitive exams for West Point, and thankfully didn’t make it. Then, when the time came, started college- I was in the draft, and they said, “We want to make a special deal for you. You join the Army, and you will end up in the infantry.” That’s what most of us think, but we were the wrong age. We were too young to be officers; we were too young to be kept at home, so we were in between. 

Do you recall hearing about Pearl Harbor?

Oh, yeah. We were having the rehearsal of the junior class play that Sunday afternoon. We were in the school, at the auditorium, and the teacher was upset because the lead, Jeanette, hadn’t shown up. It was necessary to keep going! And then she showed up. She came in and announced, “We are at war with Japan. Pearl Harbor has been bombed.” I just couldn’t believe it. We didn’t rehearse; we all went home to listen to the radio. I heard what was going on then. 

Do you recall FDR’s presidency?

Yes. I remember Hoover’s presidency! All I remember is that my father took me when the train came through, when [FDR] was running for re-election and stood out on the back of the train. He made a speech, and my father put me up on his shoulders, and I listened to the speech. I went, “Why the heck are we all talking about this?” It must’ve been ’28- I was four years old. What was your father’s name? Orland. Did you listen to FDR’s radio broadcasts often? Many of them, yes. We always listened to them. We listened to a lot of radio- there were some pretty bad programs, too. There was a Father Coughlin, a Catholic priest, who was an obvious Nazi! Oh, the stuff he talked about! Did you ever witness anti- semitism? No. It’s a subject I was thinking about the other day. I had three Indians in my class, one Jewish girl, but I knew another couple of Jewish boys who were good friends. We never thought about religion. We knew they belonged to ‘another church’- that’s the way it was put to us. I was Presbyterian, he was Jewish, so what? 

How old were you when you were drafted?

I was twenty years old. 

What was your family and friends reactions to the draft?

I was worried, they were worried, we were all worried. We hoped that I would avoid getting into any bad stuff, but I got into some of the worst. 

On his boot camp experience and first days of service:

First of all, I was sent to Fort McClellan, Alabama, where I took part in infantry training. I went through with basic training, and then along with quite a number of the others- quite a few of us were college kids- a bunch of us were sent to University of Pennsylvania, in what was called the ASTP. I was being trained to become an engineer- math, science, that sort of thing. After two terms, the Army decided, in its great wisdom, to terminate that program. They had too many people in it, and what they needed was more warm bodies in the infantry. I got transferred to the 95th infantry division, along with, fortunately, a good number of my college friends. I had spent two terms at the University of Pennsylvania, but that was in a little program. There I was, in West Virginia, learning how to climb up and down mountains. I was stationed in the Indian town Gap. While we were up in the mountains there, we were told that our troops had landed at Omaha Beach in France, and that we would be going there soon. We went back to camp, everybody had a chance to get a furlough home, and then we sailed from Boston to South Hampton in England, and spent maybe a month, six weeks, in and around Winchester, Southbury, in Southern England. “Pack up your duffel bags, tomorrow we are leaving for France!” So we were taken down to South Hampton, climbed down into little ships, and were taken across to Omaha Beach, 100 days after D-day. We got on a train from Western France, and it took us about three or four days to get across Western France, almost to the German border. We were stationed near the city of Metz; we went online in October of 1943, and toward the end of November of 1943, went on the offensive. The basic thing was that we had to go through a series of forts to capture the city. It was rather a difficult situation in that the Germans were well fortified. I was part of a battalion, about 400 men, and we were supposed to arrive at a certain place. When it finally got down to it, when we arrived, there were less than 100 of us left. My company, just as an example, had about 150 men that took part of it, and 20 some arrived. Were you ambushed? What happened? We were trying to ambush them; they had pill boxes, and dugouts, and we went across the field at night, and just as it was starting to turn light, we arrived at their line. What happened then? They shot up flares, spotted us, and opened up on us with machine guns, just raked it back and forth. My best buddy, Jim, was killed right in the initial action. We who arrived there, after most of the morning finding our way through the forts, were around 60-80 of us from the battalion. We learned that we were cut off from the rest. We were there for about four or five days before the rest of them could cut through to us.

What was the weather like?

When we first arrived it was the end of July, early August. The weather was beautiful. We were stationed then in Normandy, in our little pup tents, in an apple orchard. We went around, and it was just after the breakout at Saint-Lô, at which time the third army made its swoop around the right and closed the gap. We thought maybe the war was going to end before we even saw it! Then, they got out beyond their supply line, and they ran out of gas. They were just around the fields, because they couldn’t move! Fortunately, the Germans were doing their best to get back where they could organize. At that point, we had a period where the war was thoroughly in a stalemate. They took all our trucks, and were using them to supply cans of gasoline to catch up to the troops there. Not only gasoline, but food, ammunition. During that time, I got to drive a big truck. But, they asked me, “What has your experience been in driving a 6×4?” I said, “Well, I’ve never driven it, but I’m sure I could!” They said, “We’ll give you some training first.” They assigned me to Jeep school, and I learned how to drive a Jeep- most importantly, how to back up a trailer. In the process, I also got to drive around the countryside of France. 

What was your job or assignment there? Did it change over time?

My static part of it was in a position in a hole, sitting down in the bottom of it and dropping shells that would go out and hit targets we had picked out on the other side of the hill. We had mortar shells dropped on us and around us, and a couple of my friends picked up their purple hearts and got bandaids on their wounds. The tough part was when we moved back to the other side of the Bozel, facing the Fort Jeanne d’Arc, right in front of us. Our job was not to attack the forts but to attack between the forts, and in between them they were set up with pill boxes and machine guns. You get a machine gun shooting for you, you lay down on the ground as close as you can get! One day, we had about 100 of our company was there, and more than 60 were casualties, either killed or wounded. I was one of the lucky ones who didn’t get hit. It seems like you were lucky. I had lots of lucky experiences. 

I was what was called a mortar gunner. It’s a tube about [three feet long], kind of sits on the ground, and you drop the shell in, and it goes up and over. Shooting, and figuring out where you wanted it to go- I had this chart. I can’t tell you how I used it, but I did know how to use it then.

The fort we were going through was named Jeanne d’Arc. I think it’s probably one of the very few forts in the world ever named for a woman. It was the biggest one in the area.

Did you ever interact with the German army?

Yes. {Laughs} After things had kind of quieted down- there was some machine gun firing over there, but nothing right in front of me. A couple of riflemen had run past me and gone in [one] direction, and I found myself standing all alone. I looked around, and then I said, “I know our objective. I’ll keep walking in that direction.” I walked maybe 50, 60 yards and then I saw a white flag was being waved over an emplacement. I stopped, and I looked at them, and they saw me looking at them, and they jumped up. About seven Germans came out, and they were running at me. I [pulled my rifle out], and they stopped. We had been told “Do not take any prisoners”. I wasn’t going to [shoot them], but I wasn’t going to take prisoners! I could’ve taken them as prisoners, and walked them a couple miles back, but I said, “My job is not to take prisoners, my job is to finish the objective and get involved in setting up defensive positions.” They stopped, and I [waved for them to go]. They nodded, and around they went. They kept walking and put their hands behind their heads. They’d gone maybe 40 or 50 yards; I was watching them, and they’d look back at me, saw that I was still watching them. They went another 20 yards, peeked back- by that time, I’d looked away, I wasn’t going to keep track of them. They were running off to the left, where they still had some positions. I said goodbye to them, and went on my way. I could see that there were about six or seven officers- they were all tall, and at the end was a kid who was probably fourteen or fifteen years old. Very, very young. 

What did you think of the German army?

From what I saw, they were competent. They correctly took credit for the destruction of my battalion. We were no good; we were not a fighting group after that. We were gone. 

Tell me about any specific memories or experiences that stand out.

I think it was about the third night; I was huddled in the bottom of the hole with a buddy, and finally I heard someone call out, “Halt, halt!” BANG BANG BANG! We just listened, listened. Heard nothing, but I don’t think we slept. I stuck my head out the hole, and about 10 yards away was a dead German soldier. He did not carry a weapon. We figured out that he had been home on furlough, and he was taking a shortcut, he thought, back to the fort. We were camped right in the middle of the shortcut, the trail that came up. We did have a couple of prisoners along with us; I really didn’t pay any attention to them, because they were digging some graves for us. Did you know any German? Nope. I studied German in college afterwards and it didn’t do me any good. 

 [Troops] had ration cards; you could order things. I didn’t smoke, but I always got the cigarettes so I could trade them. I traded them for postcards.

What were the most trying and difficult moments of service?

There were two times that were the absolute worst. One was when my friend Jim was killed right behind me. It’s a beautiful poem. It only took me about ten years to write it. 

“Battle- Remembering Jim:

A cocoon of terror shrouds him in a capsule of eternity

Darkness and mud and misting rain envelop comrades who he cannot see

A flare, arching in the sky

Eel gray shadows lace the barren moor

A burst of gunfire, grenades exploding with a roar

Blood red traces overhead

Behind him rose a scream

Hell as broken loose

Oh could it but be a dream?

Time stands still

The sky is flashing 

A cacophony of fear is blasting and tearing a horror much too seer 

Then, blackness

Quiet

A battle done

He lies as if in sleep, oblivion.” 

On interactions with a soldier who he later befriended:

We crossed paths as we were both running for the woods and the machine guns were shooting at us. He was running in front of me, I was a few steps behind- all of the sudden, he went head over tea kettle, and disappeared from my sight. I met him again when I was in the hospital- he was in the hospital! Did he remember you? He had not seen me. He had come to my unit just two days before, as a replacement. He was finding out what it was all about in a big hurry. There he was; he taught writing at University of San Francisco.

On another friend’s experience:

I met him in the battlefield; we weren’t formally introduced at that time. He had a very interesting experience in that he was captured. He lived in that shell hole a couple of days when the Germans were moving back and forth. They stepped on his hand one day, and he dared not move. They considered him dead; he was lying [face down]. He spoke German; after a couple of days, a white bird landed in a tree where he was laying. He felt that he was getting told, “You’ve got to move out of here and take care of yourself. You’re not going to die.” He had decided that he was going to die. He’s a good Catholic; he really felt he was being talked to. I’m not arguing! He was taken 30 miles behind their lines by the Gestapo, and he was in the middle of an interrogation [when]- he was having a terrible time- name, rank, and serial number is all that you give- and this guy would keep throwing facts about him at him. As this conversation went on, either a shell or a bomb landed in the courtyard, and the glass window behind his officer shattered. All over him, there was blood, blood, and [he] saw that, and said, “What am I going to do now?” The German soldier who had driven the car stuck his head in from the other side and said, “I’m going to take you back to Metz to the hospital.” The German soldier helped him back in the car and drove him to the German hospital. He spent a few days there, which was quite an experience itself! 

What were the best memories of service?

Well, when I was in Philadelphia, I knew a very nice young lady. Kitty. We dated almost every weekend; go to the movie. Finally, though, I said, “You’re going there, you can’t get involved!” I kind of backed off. Not long after that, she got engaged to her former high school boyfriend.

What was your uniform?

Khaki, wool- in the combat part, that was all it was. 

What hairstyle was popular among troops?

I think, in the early parts, I would get haircuts normally, once a month, at a barbershop. When it came to combat, you didn’t bother with any of that stuff. 

Were you injured during the war? How, and any after effects?

In the meantime, I couldn’t walk anymore; I developed trench foot. My last day on my feet, I went into the village to try and find something to eat. I picked up [a German milk-ration card] out of the city hall of the village. The Germans had pulled out; when we had arrived there, they were there. We were on the top of a hill, looking down on them, and they decided that it was no longer a good place to be, so they pulled back. We would sneak down- we weren’t sure if they were there or not. [In the city hall] I found a bottle of wine and a bottle of tomato juice, and lots of apples. I picked up apples from the apple orchards along the way. It was the best feed I’d had in three or four days. During the night, my feet started to hurt, badly. I could not stay in my dugout. I pulled out and took off my shoes, because my feet were swelling. By the time morning came, the rest of our battalion caught up with us, and joined us- we were a group again, that could do something more than sit there and chew our fingernails. What was trench foot like? It happens when the circulation of blood to your feet ceases. They turn white, then gangrene sets in, and they start to turn black. If you moved around, and got some exercise, the circulation tried to find its way through, with difficulty. That was painful. So, at that point, I was helped down the hill by some of my buddies, and taken to this spot, which was a barracks which the barracks had occupied until just the day before. I joined the medical aid, and I was moved to there by ambulance to a village called Gravelotte, which was behind our lines, and sat there for an hour or two, and then another ambulance took me from Gravelotte to the city of Tulle, where there was a regimental hospital. After I got my first decent meal in four or five days, I had a good night’s sleep. In the morning, they carried me to an airplane and flew me to England. I came home on the Queen Mary; I was on the Queen Mary for Christmas day. I was brought back to the States, [to] Auburn, California, where I was hospitalized for several months. I arrived there just a few days after the first of January, and I was a patient there until July, during which time I took a 30 day pass home. Then, I was sent to Michigan, still in hospital, but at that point, I was wearing shoes. I was discharged from there, went back to my home in Wisconsin, where I had decided while I was in California that I was going to go to Stanford. I got the paperwork off to Stanford, and no response from them. {Laughs} I realized after I was discharged [that] I’d better just go back there and see what happened. I got on a train, and went back to California and arrived at Stanford and said, “I want to enroll.” They said, “Well, where are your papers?” I said, “I sent them.” “We didn’t get them!” So, they sent me to the registrar, and he said, “Tell me about yourself. Where were you in the Army, what did you do?” I gave him a quick bit of background, and he said, “Well, if what you say is substantially correct, you’re eligible to be here, so we’ll admit you provisionally. If there’s any problem, we’ll get in touch with you.” I never heard from them, and I spent four years there.

What was the food like in the war?

C-rations, K-rations, 12-in-1s- they were the best, but unfortunately Cs were most, and Ks- they’re both pretty horrible. 

Did you feel stress or pressure about the war and its effects?

I think I was probably pretty well trained by that time; you get tunnel vision, and you continuinually listen for shells coming in. You’re ducking into a hole, and your concentration is won on staying alive. You don’t stop and think. 

Why, or when, did your service end?

In August. It was a medical discharge for my feet; they couldn’t use me anymore. 

How did you feel?

The day of it, it was announced on the loud speaker within the hospital. We were immediately told, “You can’t go out! You have to stay!” 

Did you have a family after the war? How did the war affect this?

I have a son and a daughter. My son teaches at San Jose State; he’s an architect in training, and he teaches design there. My daughter lives in Portland; her husband’s a lawyer, a judge. She was a flutist. They both went to Stanford, my wife went to Stanford, I went to Stanford- it became our school. They’re good kids. 

What was your job or career after the war?

I was a lawyer. After four years of school, including law school, and when I graduated there I went to work as a prosecuting attorney in the DA’s office in Fresno. I did that job for two years; I got bored with it, and then there was a shuffling up. The county council was entitled to have an assistant, so he hired me. I was his assistant for two years, and would’ve like to stay on, but I knew he was not about to resign and move on elsewhere. He loved his job too much, so I went into private practice and practiced 40-some years. In the process, I helped to found a law school, and I taught in law school for 10 years. I suppose I should also mention that I’m a Chevalier. The French government decided they would simply give a 100 or so chevaliers after the war, to people who they checked up on and who they decided would be okay to recognize. 

On returning to France:

I went back to Metz for the 50th anniversary of its liberation. Pamela Harriman was the US ambassador to France at the time; she was a part of the group who were there. There were about 80 of us there from the division. A division is normally about 10,000 people, so it was less than 10% that could find their way back. 

How did your military service affect how you think about wars today?

I know that it is a terrible thing. It is certainly to be avoided as much as it possibly can. We’ve done some stupid things in making wars; of course, the Korean war, some of my friends went back in that. Along came Vietnam; we never should have been in that. For those who take part in it, it’s not good. Nothing good about it. There are a few stupid people like Patton, who think it is a glorious thing. There’s nothing glorious about it. I guess that’s kind of where I come from. 

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

Along the same lines. Unfortunately, the general public doesn’t really listen. The problem is, they can’t comprehend. They can’t understand what it’s about. 

Do you think the world has any misinterpretations WW2?

Nothing that I can think of do they get wrong. It was a very bad, bad situation, the whole way through. There’s nothing good about it except that we weren’t finally trod upon. As I see it, what we did, we had to do. That doesn’t make it a good thing to do, but it had to be done. Would you say it was a necessary war? As things were- things were in such an uproar around the war. It had to be done. 

Has living in Portland now shaped your veteran experience?

I don’t think so; I’ve only been here two years. 

How did your service affect your life?

Well, one thing it gave me was that G.I. bill. Four years of the best education I could get! I’m a Californian at heart; of course, school there, and lived there for 60 years. Practically everyone I knew were associated- all the men I knew were veterans, and some of the ladies. We didn’t think in terms of we being in a special place- we were the majority! We’re the way things are! I guess that’s the best way of putting it. {Laughs} I hear people talk about their experiences in Vietnam, or Korea, or something like that- it wasn’t the same. 

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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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