IB: “As we got off the LST [to land at Okinawa], we ran up there and got under cover…”

What is your birth year?

1926.

How old does that make you today?

93! 

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

Marine Corps. 

Where were you born?

In Rochester, New York. 

Did you grow up there?

Yes, up until I went into the military, and I never went back!

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

Jewish family, but not [a] strict Jewish family- food habits, and all of that. We went to the temple a couple of times a year. I had three brothers. Each of the four of us had different friends, which is common, I suppose. I’m more of an outdoor person, so I was out a lot. I was attracted to the Gypsies- the Gypsies were nomadic then, and they used to come through quite often, and I got very familiar with them. I used to eat with them in their tent. I found it very exciting, just wonderful. Of course, I am a very people-person, and my brothers didn’t care much; they were busy! We never had a pet in the house, but I loved dogs especially, and horses. I was found at the neighbor’s quite often, a little later than I should’ve been there; my father didn’t allow animals. I found that so interesting, to see a different type of being. I learned a lot about food that way, [too]! {Laughs}

What was the technology available during your upbringing- did you have an automobile or telephone?

We had a telephone, but my father never owned a vehicle. He was a city fireman, and he was gone a lot of the time- in those days, the fireman slept at the firehouse for two, three days at a time. I didn’t see him as often, and my mother ruled the roost. 

Tell me more about the presidents during your childhood- Hoover, Roosevelt, and Truman. 

Roosevelt- any time that he was presented, everybody stood up.

Do you recall hearing about Pearl Harbor? 

Oh, do I remember!

How old were you when you were drafted?

When I was 17, I went into the Marine Corps, but they let me graduate from high school before they took me in. I was lucky there. I found it most interesting, because I’m a people-person, and I like other native ways of living. What year was this? 1943. 

You enlisted during the height of WWII. What was your family’s reaction to your enlistment?

My family’s reaction- they were true Americans, and you do what America wants you to do. My grandmother’s side is from Russia, and my father’s side was from England- they supported the war, although they thought, like I did, that it was a stupid thing, but politics are very powerful. I had three other brothers, and one got into the Army first- he couldn’t get into active duty. My brother was a radio announcer; he was heavyset, and had flat feet, so they wouldn’t let him. Lucky! {Laughs} I’m the second oldest, and I was drafted right out of high school. They wanted to put me in the Army, but I told them that I’d read about the Marine Corps, and because Semper Fidelis thing really meant something to me, I volunteered to go into the Marine Corps. As far as war is concerned, I’m glad, because at home with all the kids and my father not being there very much, it was hard to have discipline with four kids running around! I was all for this Marine idea- to be disciplined, and all that. 

What was your boot camp or training experience like?

Oh, brother. It was a desert island off of South Carolina. That was the first time I got my head shaved! {Laughs} They wanted to make everyone as equal as possible. I had that wavy hair! I enjoyed it; it was very hard work, but since my dad wasn’t home very much, and my mother had four of us to handle, I didn’t really get any discipline. I was only in two years. 

You went to many islands in the Pacific before going to Japan; what were those islands like?

Loved it. I loved the people! Did you interact with the Native people? Definitely, [but] we had so much restriction on interactions. 

Do you recall arriving to Japan? 

Oh, yeah. 

What was the weather like?

The weather was fine; I was surprised that the people were so friendly. 

What was your job or assignment there? 

I was an active-duty corporal, so it was just foxhole to foxhole. 

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

One thing that stands out the most [about going to Okinawa] was that we didn’t have any response from the civilians, but we were there to fight! It was just wonderful. As we got off the LST [to land at Okinawa], we ran up there and got under cover, and foxholes and all that stuff- a little boy approaches me, and he points to me, and he points to himself, and then he smiled. He put out his hand; we weren’t supposed to touch anyone- if we were caught mixing with a crowd, especially girls, we were shot. He wanted to be friends. In our own type of communication we had a great time- very short time, because I wasn’t allowed to go in alone anywhere. The Japanese people- after the war, I went back and lived there for a short time. I loved the people so much. After we settled down [in Japan], the [rules] started to relax, as long as we kept away from the girls. I told myself then that after the war, I’m coming back to this place. All native people from any country- I wanted to meet them! I thought that war was a stupid hell, but when you’re of that age, you are directed. 

What were the most trying and difficult moments of service?

Bootcamp, for one, at a place like that, that had a reputation for being nasty. I took some advanced training, but having not had any college education, I had no chance to go to officer’s school, so I was right on the front lines. I just thought it was my duty, and [do] to this day. 

What were the best memories of service?

In bootcamp, we did get a quick R&R. I remember the canteen- I only went a couple of times, but the Army seemed to have all the money for all these things. The Marine Corps was restricted. 

Were you injured during the war? 

No, I was very lucky. I was blown out of a foxhole- artillery has a pattern, so I was blown into the next foxhole, and fortunately it went on and I went back. When the artillery was done and I was blown a couple of places- never a broken bone. Just knocked my head crazy, I guess. {Laughs} I wound up in an Army hospital, because we fought with the Army. That was the best thing for me then- to see a white nurse! Because I wound up in the Army hospital instead of the Navy hospital, that 54 days that I stayed there- just great! {Laughs}

How did you stay in touch with them?

Through the mail. It usually wasn’t distributed to us regularly, There was a stack my mother had- they did go through. 

Were you kept updated about the European front at all?

Some. I had friends in the radio shack, and so they told me a few things that were happening in Europe. Most of them were connecting with code- Morse code, light signals, all of that. 

What did you think of your fellow enlisted men? Did you make any friends?

Yeah, a couple. None from my state. During one of the battles, the soldier that I was with deserted. My foxhole, he deserted. 

Do you recall hearing about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

That was the big bomb. I had been on Tinian and Tarawa islands; I went to Okinawa, and that’s when they dropped it. We were on our way to invade Japan from Okinawa, and we heard about it from the radioman. I tell you, it was close. Were you glad you would not have to invade mainland Japan? I was so glad, because the first thing when we landed- we thought we were going to invade! [The LSTs were] highly filled with all the weapons. We landed at Okinawa, which is very Japanese- far north. 

Did you have any experiences or interactions with the Japanese forces?

No, we were lucky. There were some Japanese that were still there, and hadn’t heard about the war being over. They had firefighting [weapons]; they were in there because they were dedicated. We had to get in battle with that to clear out those caves. 

When did you learn that the war was over?

From the radioman.

How did you feel?

It was wonderful; I was in glee. But not being an officer, all of those people got home earlier. I was too low-rank for that! 

The Japanese detained about 140,000 Allied troops as POWs. After the war, did you ever interact with any liberated men?

Never. 

How did you get home? 

It took quite a while. It was a Coast Guard troop ship- sleeping was [stacked]. I came back to San Francisco, and my mother was waiting to see me. It was quite something. 

What was your job or career after the war?

I practiced my trade, which was sign painting, and graphics. I always had a job, because I travelled the country. That’s how I got out west- working wherever I stopped with my metal kit. I had experience had that trade- a master taught me when I was 16. Fortunately, I really learned something. Why did you stay in Oregon? I went to Seattle first- everybody goes to Seattle first!- but it got too busy for me. I was so glad to get to Oregon. I liked the friendliness of the people. I like the weather here- it’s so seasonal. 

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

Oh, yeah. I still had my family; they were still back in Rochester. My older brother was with CBS, so he was in California. The other two were right there in Rochester as well. 

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

I think they’re completely unnecessary, and that it’s foolish, but that’s the way people are.

Do you think the world has any misinterpretations WWII? Do you think movies and books paint a mostly accurate picture?

Generally, I do think it’s a generally accurate picture. I found with all the discipline in the Marine Corps [that] things were not only aways faithful, but were straight to you. I was never an officer, so they had a lot more privileges than the enlisted man. 

Have you found adequate resources and connections in Portland as a veteran?

Yeah, definitely. 

How did your service affect your life?

I think I learned a lot. I learned a lot about people- that’s why I wanted to travel so much- and I learned the discipline of an individual that I didn’t have at home. I regarded it as a good part of my growing up. 

Author’s Note: IB was not able to provide any personal photographs from his service in the Marine Corps. The photos below are provided for the reader’s reference, but do not describe IB’s exact experience or his surroundings. The images are cited to their respective owners. 

6164450_orig
US Marine Corps prepare to invade Okinawa in LSTs, circa March 1945. Retrieved from https://www.preceden.com/timelines/317234-battle-of-okinawa.
tinian_airfields_1945_looking_north_to_south
Tinian Island, circa 1940-1945. Retrieved from https://www.atomicheritage.org/location/tinian-island.

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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