CG: “I was talking to one of the prisoners- he was an officer- he spoke perfect English. He was SS; he had the Death Head ring.”

What is your birth year?

1920.

How old are you?


I’ll be 98 in three months.

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

Army artillery.

Where were you born?


Wapato, Washington.

Do you have any siblings?


There’s no one left in my family, except one brother who’s in a veteran’s hospital in California.

What city did you grow up in?


Right in Portland, Oregon. The same house for 68 years. 65th and Hassalo. The house is still there.

Can you tell me about any memories you have from your childhood?

Not really. At that time, there were very few jobs. When I left high school at about 2:30 or 3, I had a job at a butcher’s shop, delivering meat on a bicycle with a basket around the area. With my dad gone, it was my mother. My mother and another lady made beds at [a] hotel. They’d leave at 9 o’clock and come back around 4. There’s a grandma up the corner, Grandma Murphy, she wanted my sister, so she took care of my sister and my two younger brothers till they got up and started going to school. Like I say, that neighborhood- all I did was come out of the Army, build a house right across the street. The house is still there; I just sold it.

How did you spend your free time growing up?

Most of the time, fishing. During the summer, though, not too much, because they’d bring a school bus in our district, and about 15 to 20 of us would go out Parkrose and work for the farmers. Picking beans, cucumbers, berries- to make clothes. That’s how we made our clothes. When the strawberries came in, they took 8 of us up to Boring, Oregon, and we lived in a place that the farmer had fixed up for us to sleep. We had to do our meals and stuff- parents came in on Saturday with a box with groceries, because we’d get tired of strawberries! {Laughs} Do you keep in contact with anyone from your old neighborhood still? Oh, in the neighborhood- they’re all gone except one lady, Ava. She’s ten years younger than I am, but all the rest of them are gone.

It’s not your real name, but you’ve been introduced to me as Curly. Where did you get this nickname?

I used to have wavy [hair]. That was the nickname.

How old were you when you enlisted?

Just turned 18.

What was your family and friends’ reactions to your enlistment? Were they worried or frightened for you?

I guess. I grew up in the area, and it was mostly Italians, the district where I grew up. My dad died of cancer when I was 14, so my mother had rented that house. The Italians! {Laughs} They were friendly, but we didn’t really intermix- but the kids, oh yeah! I went to Mt. Tabor school and graduated from Mt. Tabor 1935, and graduated from Benson in 1938.

On his service in the National Guard:

[We went] all over the United States. Basically, we’re an Oregon unit, 218th unit, National Guard unit. When I was 17 years old, my mother okayed the slip and I joined the National Guard. We were called into federal service, and we said we’d only serve a year in the guard, and they called us to federal service. From then on, all over. We started out all over the United States, mostly Washington, the Midwest, New Orleans, that area in Louisiana, New York, California. 

Do you remember hearing about then-president Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s death?

That was [April], because we were in that little village. Did you ever have any interactions with FDR? We’d had, in Camp Polk, Louisiana, President Roosevelt come by in a car. We were all lined, with our rifles; we had to take all our bolts out of our rifles, so the rifles couldn’t be fired. He went by so fast, you couldn’t react fast enough! He had one of those big cars with the Secret Service standing on the running ground.

How much did you know about the European conflict before leaving the United States?

I thought it was going to be over in a few days, because before the war started, we left down to California [with the National Guard]. We left for San Francisco, bound for the Philippines- on December 4th [1941], we left Angel Island. We were three days out, and all at once, the ships just start rumbling in- he’s making a turn. The captain come on and say, “I want all radios and all electricals turned over to the senior sergeant on the floor.” He says, “They’re bombing Hawaii.” We turned around and went back to San Francisco and set guns up- I don’t know why, but on the inside of the Golden Gate Bridge. We couldn’t fire, we’d hit [it]! Then, we scattered all up along- Elma, Washington- lot of the little ports, we’d leave four guns. Then we finally brought it all back together and they sent us to the Midwest- Fort Sill, Oklahoma. We got all new equipment, new guns- we had it all on the ships, we took it off. From there, it was just back and forth before we ended up going into position in Germany in the Hürtgen Forest. Our radios wouldn’t work, because of the trees and stuff, so the telephone lines were vital.

Where exactly did you go during the war?


We ended up in Germany. A little village with about 300 people. We went on Utah beach, before the war had just started, on July 19th. We couldn’t go on Omaha, because the slope- we couldn’t tow our guns up that slope. We went from France to Belgium, through Luxembourg.

What was the weather like?


Eugh. It was the coldest time for 50 years. We had a lot of them that wouldn’t change their socks; we had leather boots, we didn’t have any winter gear. Lot of them had frostbite. I was lucky; I’d put socks inside of my jacket. I had two jackets, and two pair of pants on, wool pants. We wrapped paper around our legs- we’d put our pants on and slide the papers down. Outside of that, I don’t think we lost a man by frost, because we weren’t infantry, we were artillery, always- upright most of the time.

What was your job or assignment there?

I was what they called a messenger chief, and then later I was made communications sergeant, which means I made sure that the telephone lines and the radio were working, and the firing batteries. We lead telephone lines to the firing batteries to the command posts, or out to the observation point. If they were shot out or broken, we had to repair them. Roughly, I had about twenty men. We had four Jeeps that we had a wire in, and one big truck with twenty miles more.

I was repairing lines. I was also code clerk. I had a little code machine- I’m not supposed to say anything about it.

Did you see any combat at these locations?


Oh, we got shelled all the time. Heavy shelling. Actually, I never did know if I shot anybody, because I wasn’t a rifleman. When you carry a gunnery telephone wireline, you can’t carry a rifle [while climbing] a tree. Most of us at .45 pistols, and some of us had rifles in our Jeeps. I was on the firing batteries for a while; we used a 100-pound shell, roughly, 150 pounds- Howitzer made. We fired 69,280 rounds in the 18 months we were in Europe. That’s an average; there’s 12 guns in a firing battery. Of those 12 guns, they averaged about 4,200 rounds per gun. We never lost a tube; we didn’t burn a tube out.

Were you injured during the war?

No.

On his service in Europe:

Our unit was stationed for firing during the Battle of the Bulge. They pulled us from Houffalize to St. Vith; it’s a little village that just sits facing Germany. The Germans attacked St. Vith because it was the main highway that the Tiger tanks could go on. That’s where we was at, and one of our sergeants boresided the 155 on a big Tiger tank; it was broadside out in front of him, and blew the turret off, so that blocked the highway. The borders were all marshy ground. Finally, after five days, we had to leave, because they were going around us. That’s how we decided from the Belgium; we had a unit citation. It was March 1945 that we were ordered the unit citation; that means that 1200 men were all awarded a medal. December 21st, at St. Vith, they awarded us the Belgian Croix de guerre, which is one of their highest military awards for a unit.

We had to go back to France, because they were giving us a bad time, and ended up in Avranches on Christmas day. Most of the French ladies had these ovens, and we put what turkeys we had [in them]. The main thing at St. Vith- it was the main supply for our supplies- our ammunition, our food, whatever. That’s why we were told to hold it, because of the Southern resistance. A lot of the stopping of the Germans were sometimes two men, sometimes twenty- we were broken up and scattered, and they got back together. I think more or less helped break up. Finally, the sun came out and the planes came in and did the damage that we couldn’t do, and broke up the main German attack that had been doing on. In a way, the Battle of the Bulge was almost over. We ended up, I’d say, roughly 100 miles from Berlin, in a big field, in a little village of about 300 people with thatched roofs. Eisenhower had to make the decision- are we going to send American troops into Berlin, or let Stalin do it? He decided, let Stalin at it. Four days later, the war was over.

In July, we were laying lines, and we heard somebody say “comrade.” The two of us turned round, and we picked up six prisoners. They were older men, to us- we put one on the hood of the Jeep, and the others we marched down to a concentration area where the prisoners were going. There were two of us at St. Vith; we were told to take a 50 caliber machine gun up on this slope. There happened to be a pre-dug hole we could sit in, and he says, “I want you to fire at least 1500 rounds at that wood to our left.” I’m thinking it was probably 700 yards [away]. He said, “Empty the gun.” Schneider and I were both sweatin’, because every fifth round, it glows- they can track it. We didn’t get no counter-battery fire, or no one [was out there].

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

Only one. We had taken a small town, there was quite a bit of firing going on, and the captain said, “Take five men, go up on the top floor, and I want 180-degree view to do any firing [from].” We were in a building. We went up, through the building, got on the third floor, we set up the phone, and okayed- I turned around in the room to our right and opened the door and there’s a grandma. Weighed about 100 pounds, with her granddaughter- or her daughter, I don’t really know- in her lap. She had a blue dress with white dots and white socks. {Tears up} I went over and checked for a pulse, and she was breathing. I didn’t speak German, so I went and called the ambulance- two men and an ambulance right away. The captain asked why and I told him, “I was an ambulance up here, I’ll explain.” He said, “Okay.” They sent an ambulance up there, and the grandmother lived. That’s the one thing that I-.

The only other bad incident was when we were in the farm. We had set our kitchen over by the barn. There was a young lady of 16 years old, was what she said. She had crutches. On that farm, we had cut down trees and built a place to stay in, out of the wind. It was like a little shack. There was a church just over the hill from that farm- you could see the top of it. When the Bulge started, we started getting shells in our area. The captain said, “Go check the church.” I wasn’t with that group, [but] they found a man up there directing fire. They stopped directing fire. When the war was over, I asked the captain if I could take a Jeep and go back to this farm. He said, “Okay, come back tomorrow. Be [there] overnight.” Schneider and I both left- we went back to this farm. The farm girl was out in the field, and American B-47 was strafin’ and bombin’ the area, because they were Germans there. They had killed her, so I tried to find the mother, and couldn’t speak to the man. He finally said that the mother was dead, too.

What were the best memories of service?


Oh, yeah. {Laughs} Reims, France, is champagne country. They have it underground. We went down there, and there were two men- their job was to just turn that champagne one quarter every day. There was a warm storage area with champagne- we could just help ourselves. I took two bottles; everybody went down there and took champagne. The other place, Arlon, Belgium- I met a little lady there [when] I was there for two days. She could speak pretty good English; we talked. She was about 15 or 16- we were all young guys. The villages were pretty good.

You’ve mentioned a comrade named Schneider a few times. Who is he?

He’s in Nebraska. He was a banker, the last time that we met at a gathering. I wrote, and no more answers, so like the rest of us… Were you close friends? Oh, yeah. I was a buck sergeant, and he was a corporal. We had the wire crews, so when I couldn’t work one area, he’d work there. We’d head down to Battery A, Battery C, whatever.

How did the people from the areas of Europe you were stationed in react to your occupation?

I think it was appreciated, really appreciated. In some of the areas you’d go in- there’s people who would hug you. Camel cigarettes- I’d get a glob of butter for a package of cigarettes. In Paris, you’d use them in the hotel; two packages, you could stay in the hotel, three- all meals. All trade. We weren’t supposed to drink the milk anywhere in France- [but] you’d get the milk, and well, I might not be here tomorrow! Most people appreciated [you]. The only town where we had a problem was St. Vith- it was pretty close to Germany. You know there that there’s going to be marriages between the two. Some of the people, they just turned around. That’s the one I noticed, St. Vith. They were families. There was a family where a Jewish young lady- I’d say she was about 20 years old. She had the star of David. She was in a house with two babies. We all wondered, “How come nobody bother this particular family?” I went up and talked to her for a while; she spoke English. She was always wrapped in a blanket from waist down. We noticed most of the time, she had a blanket over her lap. Whether she could walk, or she was paralyzed, we don’t know. She had these two children she took care of, and it was in a [small] area to do everything with the children. Evidentially, somebody must have brought meals in. Every time we went in there, she was in the same spot. It was the quiet time, just before that big Bulge. We were visiting a lot- here are all these ladies, and they have these dark clothes. We say, “Boy, they’re old!” They weren’t old, they were old to us- they were 35 or 40, their husbands gone. Here are us guys, saying, “Here are old young ladies!” Typical GIs. We got to thinking that they weren’t that old. I was about 20 then.

In one village they must’ve been living with the Germans. They were shaving their heads and taking them somewhere. Outside of that, there’s no people that I talked to [who were under German occupation.]

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


I just knew they were conscripted; most of them were our age. I talked to a couple; I have a picture of one German. He was a military police judge, a German, in the war. They let him stay with [a] family when the Germans took prisoners in the village, to integrate him. Outside him, no. I talked to a couple families alone in Germany- that little girl I talked about, at the bridge.

Were you kept updated about the Allied progress in Japan? In other parts of Europe?

Only when I was home, because there was no- we were living wherever we could get out of the weather. A lot of the young men were in foxholes; you always had two of you together. Lot of us, we’d go in the house- you didn’t want to go in the barns, and the straw, because you’d get lice [from] the cattle. We tried to stay out of the barn. We might stay in it when the wind was blowing, but we didn’t sleep in it- I didn’t, anyway.

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


Letters.

What was the food like?


We had all K-rations. Lot of the time, we had fresh food. We had a lot of onions. One time, I got a black eye! When we come through this little village, there was a man standing there tossing onions to us. I was driving the Jeep, and I got one square in the eye! {Laughs} I had a black eye for a while.

The [girl] with the crutches- [her] house was stone, pretty big stone house. You walked out of the kitchen to milk the cow. That’s the one where I traded in my cigarettes for the butter and milk. A lot of the guys wouldn’t drink it, because the disease was in the milk. It wasn’t in our 10-in-1 rations; a box with rations for 10 men for 1 day. There were cans from Denmark, and fruits, in these boxes. The only thing was that the chocolate was about as hard as [a table]. You shave it off if you want. The Army sent spam in their K-rations; now, I have spam [in my kitchen]!

Did you have any interactions with Jewish soldiers abroad?

The only thing- David Ghoul was my mailman, and we were getting shelled pretty badly. It was the start of the Bulge. David said, “I’m going to go get the mail.” He was corporal. I said, “Don’t you go get the mail, you don’t know what’s going on down the street.” I kept arguing with him. A warner officer came in and said, “What’s the argument?” I said, “I told him not to go down and get the mail.” It was 20 miles down to [the town] where all our ammunition and gasoline was. He said, “I’m going!” And this officer says, “I’m going with him.” They never did find David Ghoul, but they had killed the officer. There was a lot of Germans dressed in American uniforms- they were usually paired together. You never did know. I had his address in New York, but I never did write to family, because I never know what really happened. He wasn’t there, there was no way to confirm. Maybe he was taken prisoner, I don’t know.

You mentioned your unit had German prisoners. How did this happen?

They were surrendering. We went deer hunting in the Black Forest; why we were doing it, I don’t know. Their deer were just about the size of a large dog. The four of us walk in, and we’d just shot a deer, and I cut its throat and bled it out- all at once, we heard, “comrade.” We’d took 20 prisoners who’d surrendered. We took them up the road; we didn’t want them, because we were supposed to march them back to concentration area. Oh, boy. I told one of the fellas- I’m German, but I don’t understand the language- “Stay on this road, don’t leave the road and you’ll live.” We took them back to the concentration area. Whether they made it back- all we did was search them and see that they didn’t have any grenades or pistols. I picked up a pistol- I finally sold it because I couldn’t bring it [to the retirement community]. Outside of that, no. I never did actually shoot it. I shot that gun, but whether it was hitting anything, I have no idea.

Did you ever see or hear of the German concentration camps?

The only one area we went through was by Nuremberg. They were Russian [prisoners]; they were in a tunnel, and they had air pipes. The Germans poured oil and kerosene into the hole, sealed both ends, and set it afire. I don’t know what happened there. I didn’t see this part; they took the citizens, women and kids 16 and older, gave them boards or doors- to start carrying the bodies out. That’s the only incident, but I didn’t see it. We were told they were doing it.

Did you ever interact with the SS or the Gestapo?

No. I was talking to one of the prisoners- he was an officer- he spoke perfect English. He was an SS; he had the Death Head ring. I looked at that ring and I said, “Take it.” I thought about it, and no- I should’ve taken it, but I didn’t. I called one of the MP who was with us, military police, and said, “Come over a minute.” I showed him the ring, so they pulled him away from the group. He was the only one- I say, there might have been a whole bunch, I don’t know- but that particular one because he spoke English very perfectly. When I walked by, he happened to have said something to me. I don’t really know if there were any more, or just the one.

i1541479-SS-Totenkopf-H-Himmler-Honor-Ring-VERY-RARE-Militaria
Nazi SS Death’s Head Ring- “Totenkopf Ring” According to Wikipedia, “The ring was initially presented to senior officers of the Old Guard (of which there were fewer than 5,000). Each ring had the recipient’s name, the award date, and Himmler’s signature engraved on the interior… It became a highly sought-after award, one which could not be bought or sold.”

Here are these big Duesenberg cars, with generals in them and a lot of nurses, being towed by horses, because they didn’t have the gasoline. Every one of them, we searched. This one, this nurse- she had a [round] canteen filled with sugar. Something I saw- a dark item come up through the sugar. I said, “Dump it.” It was a little .32 pistol. Each one of them, we understood, had it in case they were taken prisoner by the Russians. If they wanted to, they could use it. I should’ve taken that, but at the time- we were picking up stuff. Your bags get pretty heavy after a while! {Laughs}

We were about 200 yards from Malmedy. They took around 80 black soldiers, an artillery unit, and tied their hands out in a field and murdered them all. One of the tank groups. Every family, even babies, that had taken in a soldier because it was so cold- they were taken out and shot. That’s when we got the message- Hitler had told his troops, “Take no prisoners.” That’s when enough of the GIs realized- here they’re murdering 3-year-old kids, laying in a ditch, where they’d shot them.

Why, or when, did your service end?

October 7th, 1945. The war was over, so I discharged out of Fort Lewis.

Did you have a family after the war?

My daughter couldn’t have children; when she was 16, she had cancer. Buster is in the Air Corps, but a bomb went off and he lost his eye and hearing. Glenny was a Safeway manager down in California. Billy was a merchant man. My brother was a lab technician in the hospitals.

You volunteered regularly with a hospital in the Portland area. What was your job there?

I was taking people back as pre-op. I take people back to the pre-op room and tell them how far they have to get undressed. They timed us one time to find out what it took; they handed me the chart, I took them back to the room, and went through what I had to and closed the room off and came back- average was running about 8 and a half minutes. We were running 30 to 35 patients. [We] came in about 6 o’clock and left about noon. I’d be there if not for my arthritis- I quit two weeks ago Thursday. I went in every Thursday at 6 o’clock. I had about 14 nurses, last Wednesday- they had a party for me.

What was your job or career after the war?


When we came back, for jobs, I drove streetcars and buses for five years. Joined the post office, and put 29 years, and retired, and used my 6 years and 7 months from the Army on my post office retirement. I had roughly 37 years there.

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

I know that the young men who went in, about 98% of them come out a different person. You know they did, because they saw things they would never see again. I spent about 12 days with a captain who said, “You want to stay with me? It’d make a few days difference going home.” I stayed 12 days with this military government, and some of these prisoners and stuff coming back. You look and say, “How did they get through what they did?” Outside of that, I think most of us soldiers- it’s people.

How did your service affect your life?

I guess more conscious of everything, because you’re more alert to what’s going on around you. I don’t know why.  

IMG_3639

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>.

Nazi SS Death’s Head Ring photo retrieved from:

SS Totenkopf H. Himmler Honor Ring-VERY RARE Listing # 1541479. 14 Dec. 12AD. https://www.warstuff.com/SS-Totenkopf-H-Himmler-Honor-Ring-VERY-RARE-i1541479.htm

Nazi SS Death’s Head Ring information retrieved from:

“SS-Ehrenring.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Aug. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS-Ehrenring.

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