JV: “I’d had a college deferment…almost two weeks after I’d graduated, I was in the military.”

What is your birth year?

1934. 

How old does that make you today?

[85]. 

Where were you born?

Port Angeles, Washington, up on the Olympic Penninsula. 

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

I remember on December 7th, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor- we had a neighbor who came running across the alley in tears to my mother [to tell her] that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. In those days, news and information were unbelievably slow, and the government was unbelievably protective about giving out anything. In Port Angeles, there was an internment camp for Western Washington for Japanese- American people. There was a Chinese restaurant in Port Angeles, and the [owners] turned out to be Japanese. [They] were nice, nice people, but they were put in this internment camp. They came from all over Western Washington- Bellingham, Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia- anywhere on the Pacific Ocean. There was rationing- cigarettes, gasoline, food, meat- the government sent you a booklet, and there were little red stamps in it. The store would pull off a stamp, and when you ran out of stamps, you couldn’t buy [it]. That was a big crime that popped up- selling your coupon book. There were some people that by the 10th of the month, everything that they had to get, but needed a coupon for, was gone. Every time you went to a movie, there was new reels of what was going on, which were ten days, two weeks old. When I was in grade school and the bell rang once, we were to get under our desks immediately, because the Japanese were going to bomb. Two rings, we were timed running home. The kids knew what was going on. We had a Naval base out in the Straits of Juan de Fuca [because] we had one of the biggest harbors, and that’s where the Japenese were likely [to bomb]. In the city, we had air raid practices- it was like a fire engine siren that went off, and all the lights were turned off. People were encouraged to buy blackout curtains; the modern technology now, there was nothing like that. It was all for the war effort. The government at that time- everybody was behind what they said or did. If they said, “Turn off your lights”, they turned off their lights, there was no grousing. I was 7 when the war started, and several of my friends’ dads were drafted into the military. I remember asking my dad if he would have to go, and he said no. He was too young for the first world war and too old for the second. He signed up to be part of the war effort; practically everyone signed up for the Coast Guard Reserve. Dad learned how to drive the boats, and they would go out on one of his days off in the mill. They would have a crew from about 12 to 6 in the morning just patrolling. 

What was your reaction when you found out that the war was over in Europe and in Japan- VE or VJ day?

It was sort of a relief. Half the city was drunk by noon, on both days. The big thing was- the war was over, but waiting for the troops to come home. The job situation was the next big major problem. Did you know any older boys who had been drafted? I did, in the neighborhood. I knew a lot, because a lot of [my parent’s] friends who worked in the mill [got drafted]. Port Angeles was a mill town, and so when these people were drafted, they went back. With the increase in population, there were a lot of jobs that were started after the war. It took a while, because when the troops came back, much like Korea and Vietnam, battle had changed them. The knowledge of that was zero; guys that were disabled- they opened a wing in the hospital in Port Angeles just for veterans. They didn’t know, in more than half the cases, what to do for them, and that was a problem. People sort of got back to normal, and then we left Port Angeles in 1951. My dad was transferred to the paper mill in West Linn- he worked for Crown Zellerbach- and we lived in Oswego. There’s a museum in Port Angeles with some of the relics the guys brought back- old Army helmets, uniforms, a lot of that. When we were there, it was still a fresh memory, and people would go to look.

Do you remember hearing about the Korean War?

The Korean War was covered much better news-wise. The local paper, which really was a local paper, was all of the sudden running various headlines [about Korea]. Korea was the first big war after WWII, and after that there have been these little [wars] continually. The people that ran both the military and the homefront knew a lot more. It was different because it wasn’t a war, it was a police action. There was a big upheaval about that on the home front- what are we doing in Korea? Television started coming in the ’50s, and the government knew more about what to tell the public and what not to tell the public. In the Second World War, everything was classified. I know it reassured my grandmother when she knew what was going on. 

On his service:

In 1956 I was drafted. I’d had a college deferment; I graduated from Lewis and Clark in 1956, and they allowed the students that were already students to graduate. Almost two weeks after I’d graduated, I was in the military, was sent to Fort Ord, California, which is an infantry gathering. I had never fired a weapon until I got into the Army; the first time I pulled the trigger, it almost [put] me on my bottom. It was all brand-new. I was there for six months, [and] then we got orders that the Army was trying to figure out if they could move a full battalion, which is four companies, from the Pacific Coast to Germany.

We were put on a troop ship in Monterey Bay, down past Mexico, into the Panama Canal, then up into the North Atlantic and into a city called Bremerhaven. From there, we were assigned various cities that had what they called ‘concerns’- military bases that housed and fed and trained American troops. I was sent to Bamberg, Würzburg, and Aschaffenburg- they weren’t familiar names, but apparently, they were large German training [bases], so most of the facilities were already set up. It was more than I expected; we did military training- running up hills and that sort of thing, what to do in certain circumstances. The Army was looking for what they call a TDY men’s chorus- the general of the whole battalion wanted to, through his wife’s urging, get a men’s chorus together for Christmas. The director came to see me, and I’d had a fair amount of choral experience- I was in the chorus at Lewis and Clark, sang in the men’s Glee club. At Lewis and Clark, in 1952, during my freshman year, opened at Disneyland. We were invited to come down and sing, and it was the talk of the campus, and the city, [because] obviously Disneyland was a big deal. I tried out, and lo and behold the director was a fella from Camas, Washington. That was my duty for the rest of my time in the Army- singing.

We sang up in the mountains, we sang in Berlin- we were there before the Berlin Wall, so we could walk back and forth. We sang in Heidelberg, where some of the best beer in the world is made. We sang in all the big cities, and when Christmas was through, the general’s wife said that she wanted the group to stay together. The general who was in charge of the USARE, the US Army in Europe, had all kinds of political visitors, and Army people; we were made an actual unit, and in the Army they give what job you have a number, and our number was 1234. We were all base drummers because, for Army chorus, there was no designation. We stayed with the Army band, barracks-wise because music was in one place. We were stationed in Würzburg; we rehearsed two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon.

We would go all over Army bases if towns were having a celebration of some sort; it sounds easy, but we traveled a lot, and I’m not a great traveler. We were sort of good-will ambassadors, and towards the end of our tour of duty, the Ed Sullivan show was a big variety show. [They] contacted the US Army and wanted to know if they could book the 10th Infantry Chorus on the Ed Sullivan show. The Army said they’d leave it up to [them]- unfortunately, there were married men who had been in Germany a long time who had been drafted. I voted to stay, but I was single, [and] out of respect for the older guys who really wanted to get home and see their families, we didn’t do that.

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

The Germans were very leery of us, and so we when were first there we were singing five or six days a week at various places. The thaw was beginning to take place, as well of what the US was doing for the German people in rebuilding. The talk was, “Love Americans.” Very few of them spoke English, but it was enough English, and enough German, to get by. The Americans were encouraged to participate in the German economy. The military was extremely disciplined, especially in Germany, and we weren’t that disciplined. When you were in the military representing the United States, there was no vulgar language, no jokes. We had a little more freedom when we sang. There was always something to eat afterward. They were quite willing, when we weren’t, to talk. Most of [the unit] was college educated, so they had a certain amount of class. The Germans responded, but it took them a while. 

Was it obvious that the country had recently been occupied? 

Oh, absolutely. The US Army had the job of going around in German cities, predominantly, and looking for unexploded bombs that were in people’s yards, and detonating them. The Army had I don’t know how many demolition teams, soldiers, that went out; they would knock on the door with an interpreter. Here were their enemies, not only visibility helping but their friends. It was interesting, the number of bombs 10 years later, because the US, Great Britain, and France bombed Germany tremendously in the second half of the war. We knew we had a good deal, and so everybody behaved. Everybody knew that what we were doing wasn’t only fun, but it was sure a lot easier than being a quote on quote “soldier”. The general’s wife was very instrumental, and we found out what her favorite songs were, what her birthday was, things like that. She was just tickled. We met some really high-ranking civilians- the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Army- who had come to look at what was going on in Germany. We learned a lot of German songs in German, so when we went to sing, we would sing in German. We also learned the German national anthem in German. When we came back to the States and were discharged, we were separated into two years of active Reserve, kind of like the National Guard. We had meetings once a week and a ten-day camp up in Washington, where we didn’t do much- there were two years where if something did happen, you were first on a list to be called. Joining the Army wasn’t that big, especially the Army, so the draft got the largest chunk of [draftees]. The German people were extremely nice; the Army made it very clear that if there were any upsets- rapes, molestations, just bad behavior- that whoever perpetrated that would be court-martialed. It wasn’t innocent until proven guilty; if they were arrested by the MPs, you were hung out to dry. A good example of a horrible event- when I was there, they were more disciplined, and people treated the Germans with respect. The war was over, and nothing out of line. I didn’t know of anyone in the 10th division that was court-martialed for [any of those violoations]. Fear, sometimes, is a good thing, because there were some horror stories that came- guys put in jail for ten, fifteen years for some of the things that happened. 

On the relationships between German women and American GIs:

We found out that if four of us- four male parts- went into Würzburg and went to a tavern and we sang, they poured beer for us all night. There I was, a young virginal 22, and German girls were very interested in coming to the United States. They used to call it the land of the big PX- there was milk and honey everywhere. The marriage rate between German women and GIs was extremely high. They tried- once they met an American soldier through the service club, through a restaurant- they very much wanted to become part of that situation. It got out of hand, I heard, later on in the early ’60s; they put some restrictions on that because it was very obvious. It wasn’t a matter of emotion, it was a matter of them wanting to get out of Germany. [The US Army] thought the German girls were prostituting themselves, which in some cases might be true. The Germans wanted to cut the flow of German immigrants, especially women, for childbearing purposes. The men were all killed off during the war, so when the German girls could marry GIs and become naturalized citizens, there were a lot of girls interested. The German government didn’t want those people to leave. I had a girlfriend from school who eventually became my wife, so I wasn’t interested, but a lot of guys were. It was like looking into a candy store. Whether the government or the Army liked it, it happened, and when they tightened [restrictions], the guys felt it. We sang at church weddings for officers; there were some beautiful ceremonies done all in German, with their traditions. 

On traveling in Europe during his service:

The countries in Europe are very small, like our states, so we went several times to London, Paris- we went to Dunkirk, the White Cliffs of Dover, some of the battlefields. They’d just begin to start selling tours because civilians got curious as to what it was like. When we were in Berlin 10 years after the war, it was rubble. The building had started, and the US poured a lot of money into that. It was before the wall came up, and things were a lot less disciplined- you could go back and forth between the Russian and American side because you had papers and were in uniform. There’s a lot of little villages in Europe, and when we’d come they’d publicize it, so the crowds were really good. They were great audiences. Interestingly enough, they loved Russian music. That was the first time I heard applause in unison- everybody clapped together. It was a neat experience, and I look back and I’m glad I took advantage of what I did. I wish I had taken more advantage of the travel opportunities, the tour opportunities, those kinds of things. England, France, Austria, Germany, Belgium- those were the countries we went to. A lot of them, we went on the military transports for free. There were bases all over back then so we could fly with [limited] restrictions. You sat on the floor, there were no stewardesses or luxury. 

Did you ever have any interactions with anyone who had previously been in the German Army or Nazi party?

That’s an interesting question because we were one of the first units to be stationed in Germany. They weren’t sure how the Americans were going to behave, and it was not a big thing, after the war was over, to have been in the German Army or the Luftwaffe. I do recall there was a German cook that the Army used, and he would talk about conditions [in the German Army] sometimes; I was interested, I was a history buff, and here I was! 

What was your job or career after your service?

I was in sales. Food companies used to send representatives to grocery stores to push their product. It was a good job, because you got a company car; you were well paid. The idea was to talk to headquarters and push the products. There was almost a fraternity, even if they were competitors- you’d sit and have lunch. That went on for a while, and lo and behold, in 1984, the state of Oregon voted in the Oregon lottery. I went to work for the lottery before it blossomed, and I was with them for 20 years. 

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

It gives me a better look at the massiveness. It is in the hands of the people that we trust to decide what is or isn’t going to be. Especially now, when there are so many municipalities that are going at it, I’m not a big fan of the United States being a police force. I just hope that everybody knows what they’re doing- sometimes I wonder. I don’t need to know what time this attack happened or whatever, but I’d like to know the result. 

Do you think the world has any misinterpretations about the Korean War from books, TV, or movies?

Movies, perhaps. It may or may not have happened for real. I have a friend in LA, and they were asking higher-ups in the military for story ideas. 

How did your service affect your life?

I met some great people, I saw some great places- I was exposed to a life, and to a lifestyle, for two years that I had absolutely no idea about. It made me more conscious about the great of the world, early. I’ve been back to Europe several times, and it is different- their language, their customs, their food. I took a real interest in history, in wars in general. When I went to Lewis and Clark, one of the professors was a veteran, and he and I would just have conversations about what he saw.  

IMG_0091
JV can be seen in the bottom row, fourth from the right.

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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