AJ: “I was listening to the radio, and I told my parents about [Pearl Harbor] because [it] interrupted something I was listening to- I think it was the football game. They didn’t believe me…”

What is your birth year?

1927. 

How old does that make you today?

[92.]

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

I volunteered for the Navy. 

Where were you born?

In Lenox Hill Hosptial, in New York City. 

How did WW1 affect your family? Did any family members serve?

No, but I worked with a man who was a WWI [veteran]. He was a maverick; there was a book written about him. He and two buddies went past the frontlines to kidnap the Kaiser; they never made it to the Kaiser, but they had a book written about their actions. He was mustard gassed, so he got a little bit of money from the government; the government didn’t treat the troops in 1914 too well. We went to war in 1917; in fact, when [they] revolted, MacArthur came in with his horse troops and broke them up. 

Can you tell me any specific memories you have from your childhood? Did the Great Depression have any effect on your family?

We were in a middle income. We lived in New York, on the west side of New York, called West Side Avenue. It was mostly a Jewish neighborhood, so mostly middle income. Some were very wealthy; as they got wealthier, they moved to the East Side. The East Side had a lot of restrictions against Jews coming in! {Laughs} Actually, they had no choice, because the Jews bought the buildings. We grew up in a Depression is right, because my mother was a very charitable woman, and [come] the Thanksgiving holiday, she would always order cans of stuff, and they would have a delivery boy go to the school with paper bags, no names on [them]. The school would distribute [them] to people they knew needed food. 

My father was in the furniture business; his partners were relatives, and they established a furniture store called Daniel Jones Incorporated, which was the finest furniture store in New York City on the Lower East Side. They handled sofas from the 1930s for $1,000. Customers came from San Francisco, from Columbia, to come to our store. We had exclusive merchandise; one of the floors was fixed up like a castle interior in England. We opened up the gift shop, called the Blenheim Gift Shop. My uncle named it after a castle in Europe. We carried unique things. It was a wonderful upbringing.

We had two World Fairs; one was 1939. My son went to one in 1964. 1939 was a wonderful fair. It was in Queens, New York; it was built so that later on, the buildings that were left- they were made into museums and useful things. It would’ve gone on, except the war started. 

It was a nice living. Taxis were very reasonable- a ride was nickel. Newspaper was either two cents or three cents; the Times was three cents, the Daily News was two cents. They had afternoon papers- they had a few gangsters in New York, not far from where I lived- the guy’s name was Pretty Boy Floyd. They always named the gangsters. We had peace after WWI, until 1940. 

Do you remember much of the presidents of that time- Hoover, Roosevelt, and Truman?

FDR was like an idol for us. He had a beautiful speaking voice- the fireside chats. There was no TV. He had paralysis of some sort, so he used to go down to Warm Springs, Georgia, and go in the pools there. He was a wonderful speaker, like Winston Churchill was in England. He helped us get through the war, because we were losing men like mad. 

You mentioned that you lived in a Jewish neighborhood. Did you ever notice any anti-Semitism? Did you hear regularly about the Jewish situation in Europe?

Oh, yes. Yes. The German area was 86th street and York Avenue, which was a wide street. The Germans lived there. In fact, the house on 82nd street was there, the one that the FBI surrounded and captured the spies from. The whole area was anti-Semitic, more for Germany. They were anti-Semitic because Germany was anti-Semitic. The furniture stores in New Jersey were anti-Semitic; in their advertising, they were very bold. There [was] a Bund meeting in Madison Square Garden, where thousands of Germans showed up, and the youngsters had swastikas on their arms; they have the Heil salute. Then, when we went into the war, they all quieted down, because then they’d be traitors. The Germans had a very high opinion of themselves. 

Do you recall hearing about Pearl Harbor? What was your reaction?

I was listening to the radio, and I told my parents about it because they interrupted something I was listening to- I think it was the football game. They didn’t believe me- “Nah,” they said. But then again, I told them, it was a broadcast of Orson Wells. [While listening to his broadcast on Martians] I actually looked out the window to the river to look for them- it was that realistic! 

On his education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

When I went there, I got sick one time [and went to] an infirmary, like 14 beds- now, they got a very good medical school. It’s like night and day. We always went around the old well, and everybody said, “Hey, how are you?” to each other. The football players were very friendly; on Sunday, if they were beat up and had no car, [if] you saw one walking, you’d offer him a ride. 

How did you join the military?

When I was 16, my friend and I were in school, in the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. We’d just started the summer school, and the war was on. He said to me one afternoon, “Let’s volunteer.” So we went down to the Navy headquarters at the local town, recruiting, and we said, “If we get in together, we’ll go.” He didn’t pass the physical, I did. So I said, “I’m not going without him. By the way, I’m 16.” He said, “If your mother signs, you can join.” My mother wasn’t going to sign! So I volunteered at 17, but they didn’t take me at 17- they took me on my 18th birthday. I showed up at New York, at the headquarters of where they are going to send me; they changed my clothes and put my clothes in a box and sent it home.

What was your boot camp or training experience like?

I went to boot camp in Sampson, New York. You got 10 weeks of boot camp; it was a lot of fun. It was going back on foot- I was last in the obstacle course. The first thing they do is take you through the obstacle course. Well, in New York, you don’t go through obstacle courses! So I was last. The second command of our little company- 150 men- put me through extra. They stopped running, I had to keep running, keep running. When I stopped exercising, I had to keep exercising. At the end, I was first at the obstacle course- I got myself in such good shape I couldn’t believe it. Then I took a test called the Eddy Test; Eddy was a man who knew a lot about electricity, and he wrote a book, which prepared a test for the Navy. I didn’t know a thing about electricity, so I failed the test, but they were very short of people who could take care of radar machines. We were allowed to take the test over- and I was already in college for almost a year- so it was easy for me to remember the answers. I passed the test, and they sent the ones who passed to different places. Me, they sent to Rhode Island, where it was a Navy air station. It was an auxiliary air station, and we had a group of 150 to take care of the base. 

What was your family and friends reactions to your enlistment?

We were 18! You don’t worry at 18. You can conquer the world. I was the first one in, then my friend Danny came in- he was a month younger than me. We had gone to Chapel Hill together, and he went to a different company than me. I told him where to meet me Sunday morning at services- there were Orthodox services on Sunday morning, where they do things that they don’t even do today- they were really religious. He says, “Well, I don’t do that.” I said, “Look, I’ll teach you how, we’ll stand in the back.” That’s what we did every Sunday morning, with all those religious guys who wanted to go to Sunday service, Then I had a friend Larry, and Dicky; they joined afterward, and did the same thing. They met us, and we got together. By the time I left, they were ready to leave also. Danny went to Pearl Harbor- the other two, I don’t know where they went, but they didn’t go overseas. They didn’t get on a ship, either. We were pretty well on our way to winning the war. A few months later, we had VE day; we celebrated. Then we dropped two bombs, and we had VJ day. 

On his service:

We had a group of 1500 who took care of the airplanes and pilots, engineers and maintenance people. I started out in a radar shack, right out on the ocean, to see any German submarines. We never found any German submarines, they never found us on shore. Things eased up, and they transferred me to the post office. That’s the only time I ever carried a gun- we take the mail from the base to the town, and I was the guard. I never used it- it was a .45- I kept it in a belt holster. We had enough mailmen, so they put me in airography, which was taking care of the weather report. I would send a balloon up, find out how the balloon was, follow it with a telescope arrangement, write my report, and put down the information. That went on teletype, and the air station got that report from Washington North. One time I closed the base because fog was coming in, which means that no planes should land. The captain called- he expected friends of his to land. He said, “I think the base is open.” So what [does] this poor sailor do? I say, “I think you’re right, captain.” That was my experience on the base.AJ_WW2I used to go to New York once in a while, on leave. The trains, in those days, did not have any expresses- they were what we called milk trains- they stopped at every stop. It took hours to get anywhere. I had lunch with my dad, and he wanted to know how I got to Rhode Island. I said, “Look, Dad, I was at boot camp. They gave me orders what to do, and you do what they say. Why do you ask?” “People think I know an admiral.” {Laughs} Because I didn’t leave the United States! I said, “If you knew an admiral, he wouldn’t do anything for me.” 

When I was at the base, my immediate commander was a lieutenant. He was Jewish, so come the Jewish holidays, I asked for time off so I could be with my parents. He gave me the time off; the other guy on duty was a very nice man, and he lived in York, Pennsylvania. Trains would take a day to get to York, and we had a three-day pass, meaning that he had no time in York. It would be a day of travel, and a day to come back, so he had a few hours left. I paid him to take my place because I didn’t need the money and there was no expenses- they fed me, they clothed me. You can get all the socks you want, shoes- the regular population has the ration, and in the Navy they had the best items. We had Florsheim shoes, which was one of the best of the time. At that time a good shoe was $20. So, I paid this young man, and he was happy, because he couldn’t get home, couldn’t enjoy it. He was stuck; there was no way to get there faster. Horses, maybe, but he couldn’t afford them.

They had a list on the base, and on payday, we’d sign in and get our check. Two guys in front of me were looking at the list and say, “Look, there’s a Jewish name. Those Jews don’t go anywhere!” I’m saying to myself, “They’re here.” They’re blaming the Jews, and they are right in front of them. I didn’t say anything. I came up to my name, and they said, “Look at this. He’s here. Is he Jewish?” And I say, “Yeah. I’m [him].” They didn’t know what to do. It gives you an idea; same time, same place, but if you had a Jewish name- Jews were getting out of the war, but they were there also. Unfortunately, it was pretty prevalent. Going down South for school, they didn’t have a prejudice against Jews; they had a terrible prejudice against blacks. Being from New York, I wasn’t used to that. One guy thought that slavery should come back as the economic savior of the South. That gives you an idea of their thoughts. 

I met Ted Williams; he was at a training program, a V12 training program for Navy pilots. Hell of a guy, and a wonderful player-sportsman. One of the best. He trained in Korea, and WWII- he actually had action in Korea, as a fighter pilot. 

Did you ever go abroad?

No, I stayed in Rhode Island. And Rhode Island is still with us. 

What were the most trying and difficult moments of service?

Boot camp was actually something that they put you through- wake you up in the middle of the night, and all you can do is scrub the walls, sandpaper the walls. Or get you dressed and march you around. They had a mile paved road, which you ran around as exercise. They’d do that in the middle of the night for you. Around the base, there was nothing, really; I went to New Jersey once, to meet a girlfriend, and unbeknownst, I forgot to put on suntan lotion. I got burnt; I was beet red. In those days- I don’t know about today- sunburn was a court-martial. I got back to the base, I was in pain- for three days, they hid me. They told my lieutenant I didn’t feel well, and they brought me food. They fed me ice until I got better, so I wasn’t court-martialed. I didn’t realize what a court-martial was, honestly- they’d probably just discharge me, not put me in jail. Otherwise, it was like a vacation for me, the year and a half I was in- I was only in 18 months because the war was over. 

Were you kept updated on the wars overseas?

[A] newspaper printed in New York during the war- they had the most wonderful maps of the eastern islands, Europe, battlegrounds- I’d buy that paper just for the maps. Where we were and where we weren’t, how the Soviets were fighting, the Germans- luckily, the Russian winter destroyed Hitler’s army. It destroyed both armies. Let’s put it- we knew more after the war than we did during the war. I knew nothing about the Holocaust until after the war. 

Do you remember hearing of President Roosevelt’s death? What was your reaction?

Everybody heard about his death, and he had led us for so many years. We didn’t know that he was keeping Jews out of America; he turned [a ship bearing Jewish refugees] back and refused it. Knew that, we wouldn’t like him. We loved Harry Truman. I have a letter from him. 

Arthur Jones Truman Letter- Censored

What was your reaction when you heard that the war was over in Europe- VE day?

I visited my cousins at a hotel- somehow, they weren’t in the service. One was too young and one- I don’t know if he was accepted or not. The hotel was a very nice hotel, and the hotel staff, the maids, were from Sweden- they were refugees from Sweden. They wanted to celebrate with more, uh, passion- but I didn’t know them, and they didn’t know me. We celebrated together, but it was an honest celebration. 

What was your reaction when you heard about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki- VJ day?

I heard it just like anybody else. My reaction was very happy that the war would be over. I thought, “I know it was a terrible thing to do, but the Japanese were very fond of their emperor.” They would die for him. They would not give up their land. The biggest Japanese population in this part of the world was in Brazil, and they didn’t believe that Japan had given up- for years, they had a faction there that would try to beat you up, for the honor of Japan. The commanders we had realized that we’d lose a million people invading Japan; we’d have to invade Japan, and they’d be in the streets, buildings, fighting us. They’d never give up, they’d never surrender. 

You mentioned that your service ended when the war ended. How did you find out that you’d been discharged?

They call your name, and you go into a booth, and they tell you you’re discharged. You’re in a room with two Navy men, and they say, “You can’t leave until you’ve signed up for the insurance.” “What is that?” “It’s a $10,000 policy with different aspects. You must sign up.” You didn’t really have to sign up, they wanted you to sign up. You have to sign up for reserves- what’s that? We can call you up for four years, and put you back in service. Well, the war was just ended, so I said, “There’s not going to be another war!” That was a lie, because there was the Korean War. I got the insurance, which I still have today. This goes back from 1946. 

What was your family’s reaction to your coming home?

Are you kidding? I was too thin! They had to fatten me up. I could do anything I want- in their eyes, I was a hero. My mother was a typical Jewish mother; my grandmother lived with us. They both thought that I would be dead. Every day, they woke up to see if I was alive. They were very thrilled the war was over. 

After the war, America, New York especially, had an influx of Jewish refugees. Did you ever know anyone who had fled Europe, or came after the war?

Oh, yeah. Actually, in my elementary school, we had two French refugees. They were twins. They were introduced not as refugees, but as people who wanted to live in the United States. We pal’d around with them; we taught them English, and we made them feel at home. It was way back.

The Russian Jew came in after the German Jew. The German Jew had a wonderful life; Kaiser let the Jew go to business school, medical school. The Jews in Russia could only go to elementary school, or their own school. They couldn’t go to any colleges. The German Jew had better education and considered themselves superior. But, when the Russian Jews arrived, they did go out of their way to help them. 

What did you think when you first learned about the Holocaust in Europe?

It could’ve been me. Luckily, my family went in 1880 to this country, but we had a terrible time in Russia. They had a Tsar who was didn’t care for Jews, who didn’t care for anything but his family. He let the Cossacks, the greatest writers in the world, go through towns, and as a sport, take out swords and cut off heads of Jews. No possible charges of any sort, no crime at all. We were very lucky to get away. We hated the Tsar, and I know what they did to his family, but I have no use for him. No care. You mentioned your grandmother lived with you. Was she Russian? Yes, she was originally from Russia. Did you speak Russian? Not at all. She only spoke to me in Yiddish. 

Did you ever meet anyone who had been a POW in Europe or Japan?

No. Not knowingly. I know that at the VA in Florida, they had groups meeting for WWII. They would discuss their experiences amongst themselves, and outside the area where they were discussing, in the waiting room, their wives were waiting for them. They would tell me that they never said a word to them about what they did in the war. They were the ones who were prisoners, and things like that. The Germans weren’t kind to us, but they treated us like humans. The Japanese just wanted to torture us. We had great propaganda pictures [against them]. 

Did you have a family after the war? 

I got married at the age of 24. I met my wife on vacation in Florida. She was a pain in the neck! She was like a playgirl. She called at two o’clock in the morning and woke me up. I said, “What kind of conversation is this?” She was laughing. She told me that my date, which was a chorus girl from one of the nightclubs, was going to leave me, and go with a guy who was a farrier- he was gonna give her a fur coat! So, on the date [the chorus girl] said, “I don’t feel too well.” I took her home, and said, “Stay here, and get ready to feel good.” I knew she had another date. I went back to the party, and I teamed up with the lady who turned out to be my wife later on. 

What was your job or career after the war?

I was in the reserve, but I didn’t have to do anything, I didn’t have to go to two weeks or anything. I went back to school, and I went on the G.I. bill; I got three years free. They paid me $15 a month for living expenses. It was a wonderful thing. They took care of my tuition, they took care of my books. Since I was in the furniture business, when I finished college, I took a year extra of a decorating course in the local area where I lived in New York. They paid for that. Actually, it was a big saving, relatively. If you were out of town, Chapel Hill was expensive; if you were a native, Chapel Hill was cheap. Of course, they had to take me back; they got everybody back. But, we couldn’t get into a dorm, so we rented an attic area from a local family, and the husband was a Bund, and we left our liquor there by mistake, and when we came back it was empty. He was a drunk; he couldn’t help himself. 

How did your military service impacted how you think about wars, or military, today?

I have a lot of respect for the military; I think they did a good job in training, and a good job in placing me. I can tell you, I don’t care for war. I used to wake up every morning and say, “It’s going to be over soon, I hope.” Every morning I would wake up- “What am I doing here?” I was on the upper bunk; I remember that my feet would dangle over and I just didn’t like it. You can’t like it; you’re very regimented, and you have no choice. If they tell you to do something, you have to do it. I was very lucky, where I was, because even the officers were very nice. In fact, one time, they said, “Do you want to take a flight?” Our bulbs and other things for the base were in Martha’s Vineyard. I got into the plane, and assigned a pilot- of course, he would get 20% more for going over there that day- and we flew, we landed, we got the things we came for, and we came back. I was a little nervous, but I think I had a good pilot. 

Do you think the world has any misinterpretations WWII from books or movies?

Well, they made heroes of Americans. My cousin was a hero in Germany; he fought the Germans up the coast of Italy. He was a very good fighter. During the day, they’d make him a sergeant, then during the night, they’d do something stupid, and they’d put him back to private. Cousin Myron was that kind of guy- just a good ol’ guy. To make a long story short, I don’t believe in the military- I know we need it, and a soldier today is much different than WWII. We had a specialty- today, he’s more broad, in better physical shape, and everything else. They learn more today. It’s a different type of thing.  

On visiting France after the war:

We saved France twice, and they didn’t appreciate it. I still don’t think they appreciate it; the only people who appreciated it were the free French, who fought against the Nazis. We had an argument with our hotel keeper; she said that the Germans were better customers. {Laughs} [KJ, AJ’s son: But you got some thank- you’s too, didn’t you?] Oh, yes. Three guys- one of them had a patch over his eye- asked us (one of my cousins spoke French very well, like a native) if I had any kind of service. They treated me like a king. They spent the whole day with them, taking us to restaurants- of course, we were drinking and celebrating- they were my best pals for the day. What was it like to be in a previously occupied country? Europe was very poor when I went over there, in 1947. The war had just ended, and they still didn’t recover; Italy was the worst because Italy suffered from us, and their allies. When we were in Italy, we’d go down in the morning to get a shave at the barbershop, and gave the guy an American dime; he thought it was the greatest thing in the world. 

How do you think your service affected your life?

It took a year and a half out of my life. I always had more respect for the service. Today, I have a lot of respect. I realize that it’s not an easy life. My friend in Florida- his grandson is just retiring, as a colonel, West Point graduate. You see how much they know, how smart they are today, the people who serve. My opinion is that there should never be war. Too bad it is that way. We’re a great country, and people are really jealous of us. Look at South America- they got corruption, they got a dictatorship- they think of this place. In the early 1930s, the communists were very popular, because we had really rich people and really poor people. There was not much of a middle class. A lot of people, especially black, went to Russia to live. They thought they would live better, but the people in Russia were prejudice against blacks, so they wanted to come back, and we wouldn’t let them. Everybody wants to come into this country, I don’t care who you are. Everybody has a different idea, but I believe that we should accept that people that are trying to get into this country. We have room for them, and they can call it what they want but the people who want to kill us are already here- the bombings, like Boston, they were born here, and they were turned.

It was something that we wanted to do; we hated the Germans, and I’m talking about hated the Japanese- the Japanese were very cruel to our troops, [and] when they’d capture a troop, they’d tie him to a tree and use him for bayonet practice, and then they’d end up killing him, but not without torturing him. I had a cousin who was a medic assistant, and when they’d go into an island, they’d go in on the fourth wave, to help the people who were wounded. He told me that he saw sights- to the day he died, he wouldn’t buy a Japanese car. If I had to do it again, I’d enlist again. When we first went into Iraq, my friend, who was in worse condition than I was, wanted to volunteer. They thanked him very much- here he was, in his early 80s, could hardly walk- he was very patriotic and wanted to do something. We were all pretty much gung-ho, but you had to do what they said to you. 02-01-19-002-1.jpg02-01-19 001 (1)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>.

5 thoughts on “AJ: “I was listening to the radio, and I told my parents about [Pearl Harbor] because [it] interrupted something I was listening to- I think it was the football game. They didn’t believe me…”

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