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|Interview of Edward
November 16, 2002
For the Monmouth University Library
This oral history interview of Edward Capraun is taking place on November 16, 2002 at the Vietnam Era Educational Center in Holmdel, New Jersey. This interview is for the Oral History Project for HS 298 01 Oral History at Monmouth University. I am Thomas Greene, a student at Monmouth University. I will be conducting the interview. Edward Capraun served in World War II. He was discharged with the rank of Ship Fitter Third Class and he served in the Pacific Ocean.
Question: Good morning Mr. Capraun.
Thank you for doing this interview with me.
Answer: My pleasure.
Q: I'd like to start off with some pre-World War II questions.
Q: What was life like growing up in New Jersey when you were a child? Was it different or similar to kids today?
A: Oh Tom, life when I was a kid was very poor. We had nothing, right. My mother had nine kids she raised all by herself. She did house work, laundry, anything. It wasn't much. We had clothes but they were a lot of hand-me-downs and stuff, but we survived. We moved around a lot, Ovalton New Jersey. I was born in Trenton, moved to Elizabeth, moved to Newark. When I was old enough to go to work it was just about 1932 when Roosevelt was elected president, and I left grammar school after eighth grade. I never went to high school and went to work on the WPA. It wasn't funny, but it was fifteen dollars a week. But again, times were different. People were different. It's a whole new ball game today. It's really sad to see what's going on in our country today and what we have to worry about. What I'd like for Christmas is to go back where we were. No more of these bombings and threats that we have, but we know that's not going to be possible.
Q: What were some recreational activities that you took part in as a child?
A: As a child?
Q: Or as a teenager?
A: Well, you know, I went to Catholic school. There was no baseball teams or football teams or hockey or stuff like that in them days. We lived in a cold water flat, and my job was after school to go out and get wood to keep the flat cooking. You know, we put coal in, but I used to go out and drag boxes of wood home, break it up, and keep it on the back porch. And yes, I played a little baseball, but (laughing) I was lousy! Once in a while kids got together in a field and we threw some balls and we hit it. You know. I don't think we ever played a real game. It was just fooling around. There was no swimming. There was no roller-skating, not in them early years anyhow. I later years of course, we roller-skated on the street, and we had certain places where there was no traffic and there was a nice, smooth blacktop (coughs) road in Newark. And we gathered there at night, and we would just have a good time roller-skating. But outside of that, that's the only sports.
Q: Okay. When you were growing up was education as valued as much as it is today?
A: It was talked, you know, but no. I don't think it was as prominent. We thought about it. But today everybody knows that if you don't have an education ... They have more chance too today. We didn't have that kind of chance. In our day, when you needed to go to work you needed to go to work, and that's what I did. I thought about high school. In fact, my brothers went. My one brother went to St. Benning for a couple of years. He was going to become a priest, but he also had to drop out and went to work for the A&P. where he lived his life out as a clerk, manager, so on, up the ladder. But no, we weren't pushed into education like we are today. Like today it's a natural. We go grammar school, high school, you know. You don't quit. Very few quit after grammar school, but you know, I had to so I did.
Q: Were there any radio programs, movies, or music that had an impact on your life? Did any of them change your perception of war and whether or not it should be fought?
A: No, not really. You know, we listened to the radio, Jack Armstrong, stories like that. The Shadow, and you know, items like that. But nothing that had any kind of an influence on what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go or how I wanted to do it. That's all. We just did it for entertainment, and to be honest with you (laughs), we even stole the electric (laughs). You know (laughs), we used the landlord's hall light to plug our radio in when we knew he wasn't there. Not fair, but we had oil lamps. But what are you going to do? You can't plug a radio into an oil lamp. It was rough Tom. Believe me.
Q: Did you have any heroes or anyone you looked up to or admired as a child?
A: No, not really. Maybe that sounds wrong but no. I never did that I can remember, ever having anyone in my family. My dad left so I didn't have much thinking about him. And no, there was no one!
Q: Were you aware of Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany in the 1930s, and did you have any idea that he was going to try to gain control of the world?
A: Nope, because the only news we saw was the news in the theatre. You know, Fox Movie Tone News. Papers... We didn't get a paper. We didn't have newspapers delivered. I guess only certain people had newspapers and read them everyday, until such time that we knew that there was things going on in Germany and that we knew when the war started with Europe. And the next thing we know, we got Pearl Harbor. I was in the shipyard at the time. I went there for the war effort because paid a better price, and I was a ship fitter's helper for maybe six or eight months. At the year's end I was making ship fitter wages which was top dollar. A dollar and twenty cents an hour at that time, but we worked double shifts. We worked double shifts because it was work that had to be done. I worked on brand new destroyers, and the last two ships I worked on before going into the Navy was the replacement of the Atlanta and the Juneau. The cruisers that the Sullivan boys were on. And when they were finished we were in dry dock. We were working the night shift doing border type doors and so, then the shipyard told me that they thought this would be my last deferment. So, I immediately went down to Newark and I signed in to go. So, I wanted to get into the Navy, and I figured if I volunteered for induction I'd have a better chance. And I did only for one reason, that I had three letters that had been written by the admirals in Federal Ship in South Kearney stating that I was a good worker and good mechanic. And when they saw that they automatically gave me Navy. I didn't want a DE, but I got one and I'm really proud that I did now. But I really was dead set against DEs. I did not want to go aboard a DE. But again, I'm glad I did because the guys I met and what we did will never be repeated because there are no more DEs. We're it! And when we're gone they're gone, and the only thing left to remind us is the Slater up in Albany, of what a DE was all about.
Q: Did you have any inkling that Hitler was cruelly murdering Jews in concentration camps?
A: Not really. Not until after. Okay? We knew he was moving fast, but we did not know that he was putting them in the furnace. You know, until this all came out after the war as far as I'm concerned.
Q: Before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, did you know anything about the Japanese people or about Japan itself?
A: No. Nothing. Nothing. I heard that they were in Washington negotiating with our government, but I never thought they would do anything like that.
Q: Did your perception change as soon as the attack on Pearl Harbor took place?
A: Oh yes. Oh yes.
Q: How so?
A: Well, you know, you don't do what they did, sink our Navy, kill all these people without some kind of warning. Give us a break. If you're going to fight us, fight us fair, you know. Then we had someplace to go and someplace to knock over. Today we don't have anybody. They could be our next-door neighbor today and we don't know who. And they could be nice people, but they're just laying there waiting, you know.
Q: When World War II started on September 1, 1939 in Europe, did you foresee the U.S.' involvement and feel that the war would greatly affect American society, or did you feel that it was no concern to America?
A: Well, I thought it was not going to be, you know. I thought we live here. They live there. But we went there for World War I so I guess we were destined to go there for World War II.
Q: Where were you when you heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941?
A: Well, I was a married man, and we were out riding in a Sunday. We had been out to dinner, my wife and I and my mother-in-law and father-in-law, and we lived in North Arlington. And we were on our way home. I think it was around early evening. Six o'clock? Something like that if I remember. I could be wrong, but I thought it was near dusk, and we heard on the radio that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. And we got some of it, and then we got more news from the radio home. And we listened very carefully when Roosevelt came on and explained "the day of infamy." Then we knew what was going on. So, then I was working as a yard foreman in the lumber company, and I wasn't doing to good. I was only making like $22.50 a week. So, my wife had this friend who was a foreman in the Federal Ship, and he said, "Send Ed down." And I went down and he hired me. I did very well. I was there almost four years. I progressed. I took a couple of courses in blueprint reading, but all in all it was a little rough. In the summer time it was great. In the winter time the shipyard was awful. I mean, you couldn't touch the metal. Your hand would stick to it, it was so cold. So, we built fires in fifty-five gallon drums underneath the holes, and that's where we got some heat up in there until the ship was closed in. And then they put the drums inside the ship. It was very interesting to work on war ships and then to go and sail on one, which was the biggest scare. But I survived. you know. But I gotta admit Tom, I walked around with my life jacket. It was only a belt type thing, but I wore it. And a couple of times some of the guys kind of kidded me about it. And I said, "I'd rather be a live coward than a dead hero." So, here I am. I made it.
Q: Now after Pearl Harbor, after the attack, were you in a state of shock? Were you in disbelief that it happened?
A: I couldn't believe. Yes, I could not believe that a country like Japan would attack a country like the United States. That's the best I can offer.
Q: What effect do you feel the attack on Pearl Harbor had on the Unites States. the rest of the world, and the scope of the whole war?
A: Well, it taught us a lesson. That much I'll say. I thought it did until 9-1-1. And I think the giant went back to sleep, you know. And I think we were lax in Pearl Harbor because I know even in World War II that we were lax. Onboard ships it was the run of the mill. I mean, we did our job, but there was always that goofing off. Understand? Until something serious happened, and that happened at Pearl Harbor. I think they were out having a good time partying and left everything go. And then we kind of never thought this would, never happen again, but this is what happened on 9-1-1.
Q: In retrospect, do you see any similarities between Pearl Harbor and the terrorist attacks on 9/11? Any differences? Any similarities?
A: Oh. I think this attack on 9/11 is far worse because we don't know where the hell they are and who they are. And what's their next move? Now, we just executed a man for shooting two CIA agents, and now are we going to pay for that because they think there is going to be retaliation? Because they don't believe that we gave him a fair trial. And we gave him a fair trial. He didn't deserve a trial, and these snipers don't deserve a trial, but they're going to get one. And maybe they're going to get off, but that's our way of life.
Q: Now, you joined the Navy, right?
A: Yeah, I volunteered for induction. Yes.
Q: What factors motivated you to do so?
A: Well, we were at war, and if I would have waited to be drafted I could have went in the Army. Very much a possibility, and I didn't want that. I knew that aboard ship you at least had a bunk. You got a meal. But I didn't know that for sure until after the war when I spoke with my youngest brother who was at Omaha Beach with Bradley. And he said when they made the picture Private Ryan, he was going to see it. And I asked him why he would go see a picture when he was there. And he said, "Well, I want to go see how real it is." And when he came home he called me and he said, "Ed. if they would have stumped that theatre, I would have sworn I was back on Omaha Beach." That's how real the pictures were. He turned out to be an alcoholic, and I can understand why because when you see what them poor guys went through in the mud and the living that they had to do and the marching that they had to do... I would have went AWA (AWOL). I'm afraid I would have. As scared as I was onboard ship, at least I had a base. I had a shower. When and if we could use it we had plenty of time because there were periods of travel. The only thing you had to worry about was subs, and we always had somebody listening for that. So, I really think that I had the pretty good life.
Q: How did you initially cope with going to war? Were you afraid or did you feel that you were obligated and that it was necessary to do for you country?
A: Well, I figured it was necessary. I had never been out of the state of New Jersey. As I told you, we were a poor family. And if we went fro Elizabeth to Newark, this was a big trip, or went to a ten cent movie, this was our big times. I was scared. I never slept. When I went from California to Pearl Harbor on a troop ship , the first night out of Oakland I waited til about ten o'clock, and I started to go outside. And it was double hatches and when I opened the hatch out to the outside, it was so black that I couldn't make it. I turned right around. I went inside in the so-called lobby area of the ship and the guys were gambling and it was bright lights. And that's where I slept. And the third day out, as we got closer to Pearl Harbor, there was a general quarters and I was put in line and I had to go out. Well, after I saw the stars and how calm it was then I went out at night, but that first night was horrible. And then when I got picked up from the troop ship to be put on the Bangust, I slept on the boast deck with the plastic cover over me because it rained almost every night, if only for two minutes. And after a year, pretty close to a year on the Bangust, I finally consoled myself into believing that if I'm going to die I'm going to die. So go back and go in your sack, which I did. And I slept in the top, which was the third sack in the eating quarters. And many a night I got rolled out on the table from my sack. They didn't give us seat belts or stuff like that. They didn't give us ear plugs either, for manning our battle stations. And it was loud, awful noises on them forty millimeters, but they didn't supply at that time. So, today they got all that stuff.
Q: While you were serving in the Pacific did you ever come into contact with the enemy, whether it was a U-boat or Japanese plane?
A: Well, yeah. We had planes. We fired upon Japanese planes. We dropped depth chargers on enemy subs. We had one sub. It was prior to my being assigned to the Bangust. They were on their way to Pearl Harbor to where they picked me up in Athols somewhere. Around Ulithia, one of them islands. But on their way they made a contact, and the sub submerged, and they chased it. And they finally got it, and they hung around til the next morning to be sure that there was oil slick and there was particles of cork and there was different items. So, they knew they had a sub. Okay, now, we had a young man onboard. This is in the books, this story. Kenny Mince. They were watching and he wanted a souvenir. And he got a rope and a bucket, and he was trying to grab a hunk of something out of the water from the sub. And water pulled the bucket out of his hand, and he proceeded to take his shirt off. And the skipper on the bridge said, "Where are you gong?" And he was going to dive in. And he said, "Don't you leave the ship!" Well, with that one of the officers bent over and his hat hit the water. And the minute his hat hit the water, the shark ate it up like that. So, this young kid said to the skipper, "I thank you for saving my life sir," (laughing), which he did. And it's in the records so, it's not a made up story. I wasn't there, but I read that so I know it, and that's what happened.
Q: Did you or anyone close to you ever get injured in battle or did anyone you know die while serving in the Destroyer Escort Service?
A: No. I had five brothers all together in the service. Two of us was in battle. I was in the Pacific. Billy was in the Atlantic in Europe. One was in Florida in the offices, and the others were mechanics at different bases. But outside of that, no. I got a punctured eardrum, which I never got any credit for. But that's, you know, besides the point. It didn't show until later, and they don't take it. But I did get scratches (laughing), but I never got a Purple Heart.
Q: When and where was your naval training conducted?
A: Sampson. New York. Five weeks. We left Newark Penn Station, down in the lower end of Newark. There was, I don't know how many, there were hundreds of guys. No. At first, for basic training we left from the Lackawana station in Newark, which was down North Broad, and we went late at night. We arrived in Sampson, New York at two o'clock in the morning. They took us into an auditorium where they had these two-inch mattresses, and they said, "Flop down. You'll start in the morning." So, we laid on the floor, and in the morning we got up in our civilian clothes. We didn't have dress or anything. And the next morning they out us through the process of throwing clothes at us, and I mean throwing. The guys were on those ladders like you used to have in the library that roll back and forth. And you told them your size, and they threw it at you. And if it hit you it hit you. They didn't care. And somebody said, "This is too big." And he said, "You'll grow into it." (Laughs) But anyhow, then we started up. We were assigned to a barrack and we had, oh I would say a hundred and some men. And we had a Chief Petty Officer who was commanding officer of our barrack. And when we got into the barrack he asked for volunteers, and I swore I'd never volunteer for anything (laughing), which was my big mistake because they got all the master of arms jobs and I did all the scrubbing of the deck. So, I found out that you don't do that. You volunteer because you get lucky. Well, we did five weeks. They sent us home for a week. We came home back to Sampson. Then we left on the Pennsylvania Railroad, and it was all these sailors in blue uniforms, white hats. And my wife said it was such a beautiful sight when they watched the escalators going up to the train platform. Well, we got back to Sampson. Hey lined us up in this big hall. It was like each company was in its own line, and they passed down and they handed you a slip of paper. I f you got a slip of paper, you were going to be shipped out. If you didn't get a slip of paper, who knows what they were doing with you. So, I got a slip of paper, and they loaded this 386 unassigned sailors onto a cattle car so to speak. It was a train (laughs), and we went across country. And the parts that we saw of our country was the deserts and the flat lands. There was n9thing at that time. Yet they stepped into a station, and they had an ice cream parlor there. You were lucky if you'd get an ice cream cone. And then the train would put in water and take us. And we got to Shoemaker, California at about one, two o'clock in the morning, and it was freezing. I can't believe that in the daytime you die of the heat, and in the night time you freeze to death. You're in the valley. Shoemaker is in the valley. And that's where we bunked, and then they asked for volunteers, and I volunteered. I had my hand up before they asked, and I became master of arms of the chow line. And that was right up my alley because I was a chow hound, and I made more friends because they came up in the line. And if they wanted double ice cream they'd say to the guy, "Can I have two?" And the guy would say. "No." And I'd say, "Give it to them!" So, I made a lot of friends. And we stayed there about four weeks, and they took us to Oakland, California. Well, they took us to Treasure Island one night, the last night, and they put on a show. They had all these Broadway entertainers. None that I really knew. It wasn't Bob Hope or anything, but we had a show. And the next morning they took us from Treasure Island to Oakland, and we loaded onboard this troop ship, the USS Yarmouth that left at four o'clock in the afternoon for Pearl Harbor. And the story goes from there. I was assigned to the Bangust after I got there, and the rest is history.
Q: What was life on a Destroyer Escort like? Can you describe what a typical day was like?
A: Well, (laughs), it wasn't much. You got up. If you had to watch you stood your watch. My watch was on the forty millimeter gun director. I had worn power phones. They never told you anything. I have to tell you a story. My first night on watch I'm sitting on this ammunition can up on the boat deck, and my buddy, he was a torpedo man first class. Him and I, Johnny Bye, sat watches together all the time, and I had my "P-jacket" wrapped around the cable that was like a railing. And I wore these earphones. And I'm laying there, and I'm a little groggy, and I hear this "Dodie. Dodie." And id didn't answer it. Who's Dodie? I didn't know, you know. So, anyhow I dozed off and the next thing you know, somebody is shaking me. And they said, "Capraun, you're sleeping." And I said, "No I'm not. I'm resting my eyes,"(laughs). He said, "We've been calling you for fifteen minutes." I said, "Nobody has been calling me for no amount of time." He said, "Well, don't tell me you didn't hear Dodie." I said, "Who's Dodie?" He said, "That's you." I said, "Well, why don't somebody tell me these things," right. So, then I knew who I was and I responded accordingly. But a day aboard ship as a seaman you washed down, swept down the decks. You painted if it was necessary. You stood your watch. Then you had a little "rope yarn" which was periods of time off. And you sat around. You bullsh'd. And we did a little rope work, you know, to pass the time, whatever you want to call it. I forget what they call it now, but it's working on the ends of ropes sop they don't fray, you know. You use a little pin to do this, and you run the cords in and out and it gives a finished end to a stringy rope. And that's all. You pass the time. You wrote letters or you read letters or you read books or stuff that you might have had. Or you just sat there and bullsh'd with the guys who were off duty. And then came chow time. You went to the chow line morning, noon, and night. And if you like it you ate it. If you didn't like it, that was your problem. I was so aggravated that I was talking to this buddy of mine and we stood by a hatch, and it had a spin type hatch. And these things were supposed to spin. When you took your finger and spinned them they were supposed to go around and lock these hatches without you standing there and struggling with it. And I said, "John, these things are frozen." And he said, "Yeah, well, salt water." So the next day I went to the ship fitter's shop without permission, and I asked the ship fitter to give me the bucket of tools. And I started on the fantail, and I worked from fantail to the bow. And when I got up to the bow I came back to the fantail, and they were already frozen again. And that's what I did day after day. When I wasn't on watch I freed up all these hatches. Well, the young ensign who was in charge of the ship fitters, his name was Ensign Vragel, stopped one day on work. And he said, "Capraun." And I said, "Yes sir." He said, "I like your attitude." He said, "I'm going to get you a rate." He said, "I don't know if I can because we're fully complimented," but he said, "I am going to try and get you a rate in excess of compliment." Well, six months later I got it. So, I was a ship fitter third class, and I was kind of proud. And I could have gone to second, but I didn't want to go to Florida when they decommissioned, so I went home. I was in Philadelphia, and I figured I'm home and I'm going to stay here. The skipper said, "Go to Florida and I'll give you second class." I said, "Sir, my home looks too good." He said, "I understand." So, I didn't go, but I should've. I could've gotten another months vacation (laughs).
Q: What did you do for rest and relaxation while in the Navy? You said there was books. Did you have movies or anything?
A: Well, you know, it was your books or somebody else's, you know. I didn't read. I was a very nervous person. (Laughingly) I'm still jumpy. I still do everything flitty-flitty. But our recreation was if we were in an atoll between two islands where they had netting so it served as our base. In the afternoon they would give you two bottles of hot beer, or if you wanted soda, two bottles of hot Coke, and take you over on the island. You could swim if you wanted to or you sat there and drank the hot beer. Well, being in the ship fitter's shop, we didn't drink the hot beer. We took the CO2 bottles, and that cooled it down instantly. It made the beer ice cold, or the soda. And then when we were by supply ships we would have our CO2 bottles refilled (laughs). But that's the only recollection. Sit around, sleep if you wanted to, write if you wanted to, or just bullsh with the guys, you know.
Q: What was the relationship between the crew members and the officers aboard your DE like? Were there any hostilities?
A: No way. These guys were what I would say, one of the greatest bunch, but the skipper was a toughy. He was a Navy man for years. He had two brothers lost in Pearl Harbor, and he wanted to go and we only had three inch guns. He wanted permission to stand on the shore and bombard with them three inch guns (laughs). We didn't have a chance, but anyhow, he was very tough. And he was not liked by the crew, but he was good. And he never hurt the crew, but he was just so gung ho Navy I guess. Come on, these were a bunch of wild sixteen, seventeen year old kids. You know what I mean? But then we changed command and the skipper that came aboard was Ed Walker. He was a young man, good-looking, was married to a Panamanian girl, and he took over the command of the ship out in the Pacific. And McNash was transferred to Pearl for some other job. But this guy was like buddy-buddy. He'd walk down the deck, you'd snap to him, and he'd say, "Relax," you know. I remember when he first came aboard, the guys said to me, "Boy, you want to see this skipper's good-looking wife," right. So, naturally I'm going to look, right. I'm standing by his cabin door and I'm looking and I hear a voice. "Pretty ain't she." And I said, "Yes sir," (laughs). He said, "That's my wife." I said, "I know that sir. I heard she was pretty. I had to take a look," (laughs). Then when we were in Massachusetts for the reunion I said, "Gee, I wish I would have brought my golf clubs." He said, "Well, just use my wife's. Just ask her if you could use them." I said, "You mind?" He said, "No, go ahead." He said, "Don't play golf with her cause she'll beat you. I never play golf because she's that good." Well, I used her clubs and it was like buddy-buddy. And then I found out that the man lived and bought in the lumber company where I was the manager up in the Morris Plains area. He said he lived in Basking Ridge and he used to go to this lumber company. And I said, "Did you go to Jaeger Lumber?" and he said, "Yeah. Mostly every weekend." I said, "That's where I was the manager." He said, "I'll be a son of a gun!" He said, "All these years and we didn't know." I didn't recognize him. When I left the Navy I wanted to be home and start my life, and it's too bad it ended. It should've been closer, but they were a good crew and everybody got along. I don't think there was ever any fights aboard ship. There was fights that we had, boxing matches, with other ships, but never any between individuals. We had black steward's mates, and at that time they were not very well accepted. And I'll try to tell you a story. I used to go out with the whale boats to get storage supplies that we needed for like repairs, setaline, or stuff like that. And we'd come back, and I'd get back late to the ship and the chow line would be closed, right. And I'd come up the ladder, and I being a Northern boy, and the black steward's mates would say, "What's the matter Cappy?" I'd say, "They closed down the food line." They'd say, "Don't go away. Come here," So, he made me up a dish of officer's food. The same food, only cooked differently. He said, "Any time you don't want to eat that crap down there you come and see me." And I did (laughs). I took advantage of it. And of course, a couple of guys being funny called me an "N-lover," you know, but that's water over the dam. It wasn't done in a way that would cause any...it was kind of common that word at that time, you know. And I accepted it. I said, "Hey, I'm eating good aren't I?" (Laughs).
Q: Did you make any lifelong friends while in the service?
A: Oh yes. Oh yes. Tom, Johnny Bye, when we got5 aboard ship, he was the torpedo man. We stood watch on the boat decks where the torpedo tubes were and where the forty millimeter gun director was. And he and I got to be buddies because we were talking one night, and I mentioned that the priest that married Fran and I in 1940, Father Washington, was one of the chaplains on the Dorchester. There was four chaplains. I don't know if you ever heard this story. They gave their life jackets. The Dorchester was in the North Atlantic going to Europe with all these troops onboard and it was torpedoed. This is cold weather, and these four chaplains were passing out life jackets. And when they got to the last life jacket, they took theirs off, gave them to soldiers, and stood there arm in arm and prayed. Now, the reason that I can confirm that is because when there was the 50th anniversary of this occasion, they had this big celebration in the church where he was assistant pastor. And he was only a young man, good-looking young man. They had this celebration and this guy came walking down the aisle and he got up in the pulpit and he said, "I am so and so." He said, "...and I want to tell you something. I was in one of the lifeboats, and I can tell you that I cried my heart out watching them four guys stand there. And I know they were praying. They were arm in arm, and the ship went down and they went down with it." It's quite a story. I've got the whole thing home. Over in Lakehurst, there's a church over there called the Naval Air Station, Naval Church, or whatever. In that place they have a stained glass window of the four chaplains. In Arlington, New Jersey, in Steven's Church they have a big stained glass window, and they have a plaque on the back wall for the chaplain, Father Washington. We were the last couple he married. We married November 10, 1940, and she died in 1996 after fifty-six years of married life. But this young priest went in the service and we were the last couple that he married in civilian life. I don't know if he married somebody in the service, but that's the kind of man he was. And I'm kind of proud that I knew a man like that, that would do this you know. And I still have friends. We meet and we e-mail back and forth right now. There must be about twenty of us, and we're still in touch. And when we go to the reunions it's like old times. It's like buddy-buddy week, you know, the wives, and we just do great. It's an amazing thing that people from all corners of the United States can join together and work at it. But I guess they figured that each one did their job on the DE, and that's the reason we got back.
Q: Are there any events that took place while you were in the Navy that still stand out in your mind? Did any humorous experiences happen to you?
A: Well, in 1944 we went through a typhoon called "the Cobra," and I tell you, you had to be there to believe what I'm going to tell you. We were on a De that is thirty-six feet wide and three hundred feet long. We rolled sixty, sixty-five degrees. We went into gullies when the waves were around us like we were down in a pit. And our mast was seventy feet from the deck up, and the waves were higher than that. I often asked would they come in, and they said no, they would never turn in and go over you. They would go the opposite way, and then you would be up on top of the crest. Well, we did this for almost a whole day or better than a day, during the Cobra. When they lost the Monahan, the Spence, and... There was one more. There was three brand new destroyers turned completely over and most of the crew were lost. Sixty-some people out of three ships, I think, were rescued. And we tied after the storm alongside our sister ship. There was six ships in our escort division, and we3 tied up alongside the USS Waterman, which was DE-740. And they told us they had a guy onboard, steward's mate, black. And the guys that they rescued, they picked up fourteen or so, and they told the story how this steward's mate twisted their hand in this netting so they couldn't let go, or in other words, they might not have been there. So, even though the blacks had no respect, these guys thought this guy was great because he cared. People they're not all bad you know. Neither are all white guys bad. There's a lot of good ones but you only hear about the bad ones. You don't hear about the good ones. So, that was a very scary thing. Until last week, our web master out it on the web. I was more scared last week reading this letter about this storm because when I was onboard my ship I only knew of us. I never knew that these guys were out there being turned over. And we tried to rescue them, and we couldn't do it. Our ship just would not. We could not maneuver. The tides, the wind, or whatever you want to call it were too strong, and we wound up in the Philippines before we even had plans of invading. And we chased out of there as soon as the storm went up.
Q: Were you a religious man prior to entering the war, and if so, did you keep your faith throughout the war? Did it weaken or strengthen?
A: Well, I was born and raised a Catholic. I had four brothers on the altar as altar boys. My mother was the proudest woman in Newark in St. Phillip's on Court House Place opposite the courthouse where Abe Lincoln's bronze statue is. We were the four altar boys. One was too small. That's why he wasn't one. And my brother worked in the church during Holy Week. Was I a good Catholic? Nah, I was ship shot, you know. After I got to be sixteen and I got to be a wise guy I went and dropped off in the church. And then I met this girl through the music, through this band that they had, and I was the drummer. I was the second drummer for this ten piece band, and we start going together and she said, "If you're gong out with me you have to go to church." And I said, "Well, I'll do anything for you." So I did. Went back to church, and I believe that the good Lord is good to me. That's all I can say. And yes, I pray morning and night, when I go to bed and when I get up. And I believe that God has taken good care of me. In fact, I think He's being excellent right now because I'm going to be eighty-four years old in three months. I'm in excellent health, my eyes are perfect, I'm paying my bills, I'm eating, I don't sleep too good, but I'm enjoying life and I think it's all because I took care of my wife through her sickness in maybe a dozen years. I don't know. But anyway, I'm happy. That's all I can tell you.
Q: Were you able to attend church services in the Navy?
A: The funny part about being in the Navy was that I took advantage of my religion, okay. I found out that in the Navy the most important thing is that a sailor is expected to go to his church. Whether he goes Friday night to the synagogue...You could go to any church. You had to go to church. So, when I got aboard ship I found out that if I went to the officer of the deck when we were in port and said, "I want to go aboard one of the bigger ships for church," they had to take me. And nobody could take that motor whale boat, not even the captain, if I wanted to go to church. So I did. I took advantage of it and I went every Sunday when we were in port, and I went over to a carrier or battleship and they'd put me onboard. I'd go to church and I'd hang out with the guys and get their "gedunks" which we didn't have because aboard a carrier they had ice cream and everything. They had a regular store, you know, and I stayed aboard and the maybe around two-thirty, three o'clock in the afternoon I would go to the officer of the deck and say, "Sir, I think they forgot to come and get me." And he said, "Well, we'll get them over here. Won't we?" (Laughs). And they flashed over and the motor whale boat would come and pick me up and take me back to my ship. Well, there was other guys involved you know, but yeah I took advantage of it because it was a change and I was looking at big ships. And the food was different. There was a lot of things. You could walk around. My ship, (laughs), it wouldn't take you long to walk around the whole ship. You'd be tired already, you know. No, so I did. I really think I abused the privilege, but it was alright.
Q: What were the living conditions aboard your DE like? Were they hard to adjust to or was it a minimal sacrifice to make?
A: Well, I tell you, Tom, when we went up to the Slater I think that that ship must of shrunk because we found it very difficult going up and down the ladders, going through the hatches, lifting your legs over each hatch. Yes, it was difficult. It was very close. It wasn't that you didn't know what was going on because the ship was that small. We sat on the volksel at night bullshing when we are at sea with the chiefs and the different officers, and you know, talking about home or whatever. And then when we were in port we had movies on the fan tail, and they set up a screen and showed us a movie. It was tough. It was tough. The bed sacks were hard because they were like hammocks almost, you know, canvas strung onto a metal frame, and you had a mattress that was straw I guess. Two inches thick, but hey, you get used to it. And then when you get home you appreciate what you have, you know. I'm glad I was part of it. That's all. I wouldn't have wanted to miss it. That's it. We came through the canal. Things like that. We came down the Pacific coast. Six little DEs. It was unbelievable. We were down around Mexico I guess, and being the lead ship we picked up this Mexican fishing boat that was dead in the water. So, we had a commodore aboard, and he ordered the other five ships to proceed to Panama and we would join him. Well, we tried to get a line to the ship. We finally got them in tow and we took them to what we thought was a naval base called Matalina Harbor. And we towed them in, and it was like a cul-de-sac. It was a circle of sand beaches. There were little huts all over, and the Mexicans were on the shore waiving to us, right, and we cut the line. But we found out after we left them that that wasn't here they were supposed to go. But we didn't know. What did we know? So, we took them there. At least they were not out in the middle of the ocean, you know. And then we proceeded to Panama , and our skipper wanted to stay on the West coast because that's where his wife was. But we got there and the first order was get ready to go. Have you ever saw the Panama Canal? Tom, it is a piece of work that you would never believe. You pull into a lock, so to speak. They close the lock behind you. They pump water in. +It raises you up. You sail into the next level. They pump water in, and finally you get up top side and it's a lake up there. And that's where you lay over night until the next morning. And the next morning you do the same thing, only instead of going up you're going down until you get into the Atlantic side. Then we had liberty in Cristobal. It rained in Cristobal and Panama every night like it did in the Pacific, even if it was only two drops. It had to rain, and I always remember walking down the streets in our white uniforms. And the café doors you know, these little doors open. And the girls are sitting on the benches. "Come on in sailor," (laughs). All that bullsh you know. My blue tie ran and I ruined my whole white (laughs) shirt. But anyhow, then we sailed up and I had told my wife not to be at Philadelphia because I didn't know what time we were going to get there. And ass we're sailing up the river we pulled in. And my wife said, "It was the most beautiful sight you ever saw." These six little ships with the banners flying, flags flying, homeward bound signs. She said, "Eddie, I could never describe it." Well, anyhow, I was on the volksel with ear phones again, and the guy next door to me was giving orders. I was giving orders and I would relay them to him, and he would relay them to the guys who were doing the "horza" line to pull us into the dock. And he said to me, "Eddie, you wife is on the dock." And I said, "No she is not. I told her not to come." He said, "That's your wife. I know the coat." So I said, "So it is." All of a sudden I hear over the phones, "give them phones to somebody who's going to pay attention Capraun.!" So, I took them off and I gave them. And when we got tied up to the dock Tom, I never realized that we were high tide. So, I get off the ship. I come down on my feet. I ran to my wife. I was hugging her and kissing her and oh I was in my glory. My family, she had her mother and father, her brother-in-law and sister-in-law were there. And the I went back to the ship because we had a change in command, and I went to the skipper and I said, "Sir, I'm sorry." And he said, "That's alright Cappy. I know what it's all about." (Laughs). You know, so this was the kind of guy he was. So, we had change of command and we left the ship and we came home. This was just before Thanksgiving. I had a week. My wife brought me back at three o'clock in the morning. We left North Arlington. I got back to the ship. I walk aboard. The officer of the deck said, "What are you doing here?" I said, "Sir, I'm due back for mission in the morning." He said, "Everybody else got an extension." I said, "You gotta be kidding." He said, "No. We sent out extensions." So, I go into the sleeping quarters and I wake up the yeoman, right. Well, I shook him. He said, "What do you want?" I said, "What the hell am I doing back here! Everybody got an extension." He said, "Well, you've got enough points to get out." I said, (laughing), "Well, get out of the sack and give them to me." He said, "Go to sleep. I'll talk to you later. So, they out us in Philadelphia Navy Yard and it was a Sunday. And you couldn't believe this. In Philadelphia you couldn't do nothing on Sunday. You couldn't buy a drink, right. So, my buddy and I go to a hotel. We thought we'd order a bottle. They wouldn't even bring it up top your room. They had the blue law at that time. So we hung around, went out to eat, and the next day they took us on a train. Toledo Beach, New York. And I'm telling you it was cold. It was so cold up there Tom that the waves against the shore froze in a circle. You could see the shape of the waves as they hit the wall. They hit the walls. They rolled right and froze there. Well, we went through the process. They begged me to re-enlist or be in the reserves, (laughing). I said, "No way. Can't have me. You had me for almost two years and that's enough." So, I went home and I always remember that I got off the bus and my wife was up with my two nieces up on Ridge Road in North Arlington doing some shopping. And when I walked up there, man I tell you, it was a sight. We were only married a few years, you know, and it was great and it was home. And then I became a volunteer fireman for seven years. I went in the building business. And there are odd jobs you did, but I managed. I made out pretty well.
Q: What was food onboard the ship like? What did a typical meal consist of?
A: Oh there was powdered eggs in the morning. It was different. You know, I really can't tell you. The only thing I remember is that the flour went bad. They used to make their own bread right, and their buns. We had beans and sugar buns on Wednesday. But they made their own bread and the flour was full of little gnats. But they couldn't throw it away so they baked the bread. And in the morning when you were sitting down at the mess hall table, you took you two slices of bread and you picked out the black spots so you wouldn't be eating the gnats (laughs). And that was it. They used to be so funny, you know. The food was... come on it wasn't...there was stuff that they had to put certain kinds of food together, you know. You can't cook a gourmet meal on a pot belly, whatever you want to call them, stoves in the galley cause they weren't big enough. It was mostly pots of this and that. You know what I mean? No complaint, not really. People, we joke about it, but it wasn't... Although the officers' food was a lot better (laughs), whenever I got into that. No, I wouldn't complain. I wasn't that fussy an eater anyhow.
Q: Was there ever any drinking of alcohol on the ship?
A: Oh yeah. It was alcohol. It was two hundred proof torpedo juice. It was two hundred proof and they would put orange juice in it. We were a bunch of crooks in the Navy. Whenever stores came aboard, it was a case of canned orange juice, one of those cases disappeared in the ship fitter's shop. And cans of fruit. Stuff like that. We used to steal some ice cream. I hate to use that word but we did out of the freezer when we were on the twelve to four watch or something like that. We'd sneak into the galley, when they'd cook the sugar buns, the raisin buns, and we'd cut a dozen or so pieces. Well, you know, there was two officers. Young ensigns that slept in the back quarters, and they had the late watch and they wouldn't get up for chow in the morning. Well, there was no breakfast that morning. If you wasn't in the ward room at breakfast time you didn't go in and get anything after. So, they used to knock on the ship fitter door, which was right opposite theirs, and we'd let them come in. And they'd say, ":What have we got for breakfast?" Well, we'd give them coffee and buns, or orange juice, right. So they said to us one time, there was four of us in there, they said, "Listen guys, if ever you want a Pepsi or a Coke we have them." They got cases they used out under their bunk whenever they were in port. They'd get so many cases for each officer. Well, they didn't know that we were already drinking their Pepsi and their Coke without their permission (laughs). But hey, you know, nobody got mad. Is it possible? Maybe we were all too worried to get mad. And you're out there. That's it.
Q: Were you ever able to contact your family and friends at home to keep you abreast of what was going on, and did they ever censor your mail?
A: They censored the mail all the time. My wife used to write me letters, right. And she would ask me questions, and she would put numbers, right. Well, the mail took so long to get that by the time I got it and she got it back she forgot what she wrote. Because I'm writing. "Geez, honey, I forgot our phone number. Is it 732-3412?" You know, stuff like that. So, the numbers would be there, and they didn't scratch them out when they censored your mail. And when I got home she said, "I wondered how you could forget your phone number." I said, "I was answering your question. I forgot what I asked you (laughing)." But that's the story you know. You couldn't come right out.
Q: What were your initial reactions when you heard that the United States had dropped the Atomic Bomb on Japan?
A: I was happy.
Q: You felt it was necessary?
A: Oh, everybody was thrilled. Yes, because I think it saved a lot of lives. It killed a lot of theirs, but their thought of killing our was, you know. Better them than us. That's the way that I looked at it.
Q: Did you feel it was your ticket out of the war?
A: Yes, I think it was definitely the best thing that they could have ever done. Because there would have been a lot of lives lost if we would have invaded Japan because they would have went gung ho. They wouldn't have cared if they killed their own as long as they killed Americans. And at that time that's the way they were.
Q: How did you view President Roosevelt? Did you feel that he took the necessary actions to ensure victory?
A: I thought he was the greatest president we ever had. I really do. I think he pulled the country up by the boot straps. Really and truly, he came in with his NRA and WPA and CCC camps. All these things. If you were in our state of living, these were big improvements. I mean, man this was like today winning the lottery because you saw daylight. That's the reason why I think he should go down as the greatest president we ever had.
Q: What was your reaction when he died in April of 1945?
A: Very sad. Very sad. My brother said he stood wherever he was in the camp somewhere. He stood by the railroad and everybody lined the railroad as it went by he said. And it just went by so slow, and the country was broken up. People were crying, standing there balling their eyes out because this man did so much to get us on our feet. You understand? Four years, four terms. I mean, that's a record that will never be taken.
Q: What did you know about Roosevelt's replacement Harry Truman? Were you confident in his abilities?
A: Well, I remember Harry Truman. I'll always remember the election night when he went to bed and thought he was defeated Tom Dewey, and he wasn't. He woke up the next morning (laughs), and he was President of the United States. I wouldn't say he was the greatest leader, but he was a man of many talents. His decision to drop the A-Bomb was very good, and he had... Well, today he is considered quite a guy, you know, for what he died and how he handled it. He was only a haberdasher and a politician, you know. These guys are thrown into these things and they're able to take over. You and I could may be not do that. Well, it's the people they have around them too, you know. They have people hanging around them all the time.
Q: What did you know about and what were your feelings on segregation prior to the war? Were you aware that it wasn't until 1948 that a black crew ion the USS Mason was put together?
A: I'm aware of it. I lived in Newark, and I am not a hater. I should be because I lived in Newark when the blacks were up at a certain level, a certain height. And we were kids, and we used to go to the ten cent movies, right. And they would gang up on you and take your dime. Now, I mean, it's only a dime, but this was our recreation. This was our big thrill that we were able to have a dime and go to the movie house and see two movies and spend a couple to three hours in there. But to gang up on you, you didn't have a chance. And basically, you should hate them, but I never did because I figured they were poor slobs too, and they were worse off than I was. You know, today I have two black grandchildren, a granddaughter and a grandson. They're both black. My daughter married a black man. It didn't last, but she was going to straighten out the world. She was a 60's child, you know, and the things up in New York at the conference and stuff. That was her cup of tea, and she wanted to straighten out the world. She thought she was doing something, and she found out she did wrong. But hey, the kids are great. He's not around anymore. She's happy. She's running a little horse farm up in New York state. She's got her kids up there with her. They're grown up now. They're thirty-something years old but hey, no, I don't hate them. I think the greatest guy right now is Colin Powell. I think he's something who has come along and proven that if you want to be somebody you can be somebody. Even if you're black, green, yellow. What the hell is the difference? It's you. It's what you want to be.
Q: So, did you feel that they should have been able to fight along side you rather than just being steward's mates and cleaning up?
A: Yes. Yes. Definitely. And they did. They did fight along side of us, and they did do good jobs even though they were never given any recognition til lately. When battle stations were battle stations, they were there. They were there. I don't think any guys on my ship, and we had Southern boys, I don't think that any of them ever did anything to harm them or to hurt them in any way, you know. Maybe they weren't happy with them, but they kept it to themselves. We were all there, you know, maybe they were afraid to fight because they were going to die anyhow, you know. So, maybe that was their reason. I don't know.
Q: Were you happy and excited to be going home after the war, and did you feel that you would miss the camaraderie and bonding that took place on the ship?
A: No. I was happy to be home. I was sorry that I didn't have more names and addresses, you know, of guys. But I did have Johnny Bye who was like my buddy-buddy, you know. I told you before, his brother was on the Dorchester when it sank. And he said to me when we were talking that one night particularly, he said, "Eddie, do you know maybe your priest gave my brother his life jacket," and that kind of made a bond. This guy manufactured a coffee pot, a perculator, out of casings from guns. Different size three inch and five inch guns. And we had delicious coffee underneath the gun director for the forty millimeter. In fact, it was such a good cup of coffee that the skipper stopped by every once in awhile and said, "I'd like a cup of your delicious coffee," (laughs). And that's the kind of a ship we ran. It was not gung ho Navy, alright. It was gung ho, but the only time we went through the routine was change of command and you know, stuff like that. But you have to. But to go through the equator, Tom, it's unbelievable. And it doesn't matter, you could be an admiral. If you're onboard ship, you didn't go through the equator. You'd take what the guys, what the shell backs... You'd polly wog until you'd cross the equator and you have to go through the ceremony because that is Navy tradition. You crawl through a tunnel of garbage. They grease your body up and throw you in a canvas swimming pool that they rig up on the ship, and it's unbelievable. They put you in an electric chair and give you shock. Not much, but you know. And they beat you with twigs and stuff, you know. And you gotta do it. If a sailor that's been over the equator goes to an officer who hasn't been and says, "Stand my watch," well in that particular day, he has to do that. Because they went to the skipper and asked him, a couple of young ensigns and said, "Sir, do we?" He said, "Navy's tradition. That's what we do while we cross the equator." But it's all in fun, you know. It's dirty. It's sloppy. (Laughs) But it's fun (laughs).
Q: How were you received by your family and friends on your return home?
A: Oh God, it's unbelievable. I had a house full of people. I had neighbors, relatives, you know, the place was loaded. I think for Thanksgiving that particular week I was home we had a table of at least sixty for Thanksgiving. It was great. Absolutely fabulous. I felt like a hero (laughs). I was a wise guy. When I sat down to eat I used to brush the salt off the shoulder on my plate (laughs) so I wouldn't have to use the salt shaker, you know. You know, this kind of stuff. It's chilly, but it was kind of accepted. You understand?
Q: Looking back at your war time experiences, do you feel like you missed out or were cheated out of some of the more precious years of your life or do you feel that it was your moral obligation to fight?
A: I don't think I was cheated out of anything. I think I was treated because right now the most treasured thing I ever did was go in the Navy. I often said if I would have been able to get deferments would I be able to look a veteran in the eyes and say thank you? No, because I cheated them out of my service, and I really mean that. I am honored that I am a sailor. I don't know if I would have said that as a soldier (laughs). As a sailor, I'm saying it, and I'm proud of it! I really am.
Q: Do you feel that serving in the Navy taught you something about life, or about yourself, or what you really value?
A: Definitely. I say that the best thing that can happen to the young people of today is that they go two years in the Navy or any branch of the service as long as there is no war, and get that discipline training that is given. And some of us, stupid, but in the long run, it's there for a reason. It's there to give you a little thinking on what your life's going to be, you know. So you take orders. So what? Or you jump when they say to. I used to cross the street so I wouldn't have to salute the officers (laughs). But anyhow, I was a little gung ho, too, you know. I was a wise guy like everybody else, and the whole Navy was a bunch of wise guys. And maybe the Army was too. I don't know.
Q: Did your experiences in the Navy prepare you and shape your future life or did they hinder your dreams as a youth?
A: No, I don't think it did any good for my future life except it made me a little more respectful, maybe. But I'll tell you, one thing it did for me is it said if you want to do something you can do it. Now, I went out there a scared twenty-two year old. I mean, I was scared! And I came back and nothing scared me as much because they put this fear aside from me and said, "Ay." My prayers said if you're going to die, you're going to die. When you're born, your day to leave is in the book, and I kind of used that as a relaxing thing in my life. I'm not ready. You know, I told my daughter when my wife died, I said, "Honey, I'm eighty years old, and I had a good life, and if God wants me, I'm ready." But here, just recently, I said to my daughter, "I'm not ready to go. I'm having too good a time. (laughs), is all.
Q: After the war, what did you do for a living?
A: What did I do? Well, first, I went back to the shipyard, and they were building liberty ships, so I quit. I went to work for Western Electric in South Kearney as a maintenance man and in them days, they had what we call the Gestapo. You go out for a cigarette and they would tap you on the shoulder, take your number, and give you three days off. I couldn't take that so I quit there. In the process, my brother-in-law said to me, "Eddie, the company I work for is hiring mill wrights." I said, "Well, I'm not a mill wright." He said, "You can fake it." And I did, Tom. I went to work. I went over there and I faked my way through and he hired me as a helper. And we traveled all over putting in small cranes, one story elevators, car lifts, hydrolic lifts for cars, anything in that particular line of work. I never did the electrical work. I did the buggy lugging and the tightening of the bolts and whatever, but I learned. And I worked for them for two years and I wanted to go in business for myself, but my wife was a little leery about it. I never knew why I had so much knowledge of carpentry and stuff like that, but I found out in my later years when I just had my genealogy done that all my uncles from Germany were home builders, masons, and I've done all that without any training. But it came basically as a natural. So, I went into home building, for rooms, expansion attic, I built about four of my own and I built about a dozen for a real estate guy. And then we moved to Mountainside. We bought a piece of property in Mountainside, and I built two split-levels and I wasn't doing so good. So, I gave up that job. I went to work for American Can at night from twelve to eight in the morning loading empty cartons of cans into the trailers which was like you had to be a machine. You had to run and get up to the front of the trailer and back in time to take it off the conveyer. I was doing a day time job at the same time. And then one day I was riding down the street and I remember the lumber yard and I stopped at this lumber yard and I asked for a job, but the boss wasn't there. But one of the guys working there was an old friend of mine from when I was a kid working in a lumber yard, and we talked and when I got home, the phone rang and it was Mr. Jaeger of Jaeger Lumber. And he called me and he said, "Ed, I understand you're looking for a job and one of your old friends are here and says you're a good man. Come on down." I was hired and I lasted twenty-seven years. We had one yard. He's got eight yards today. The son took over after about, oh, ten years. He graduated, he was a Navy boy. He went in the Navy as an ensign out of college and he used to always say, "They never let me stand watch while we were at sea." I said, "I can understand that." (laughs) He said, "Only when we're in port." I said, "They don't trust you, Lowell." But he was a good boss. I've never had a bad boss. I never worked for anybody that was a bad boss. This man, in my last ten years, or fifteen years that he came into the business, he told me I would never ask for another raise as long as I worked for him, and I didn't. Every year it started out the first year after I was back, for fifty dollars a week and it was never $40, $30, $25. Never less. Every year, I got that bigger raise. Not two cents on the dollar, or ten cents an hour. It was $25, $20, $30 a week. When I got ready to retire my wife was very sick. And he said, "Eddie, don't retire. You're going to be sorry." And I said, "Lowell, I don't want to retire, but..." He said, "Listen, you come and go as you please. I'll put you up in Burnsville, give you an office, and I'll send all my new employees up there. You train them." I said, "But what do I do if I'm in the middle of something and Fran calls me and I have to go home?" I said, "I can't work like that." So, they throw me a party at the Suburban Golf Club in Union which is a, you know, super-duper golf course where all bosses belong and none (laughs) for the working man (laughs). And I retired and I've been in touch. I've been back to see him and he still says, "Want to come back to work? And I say, "No way!" (Laughs) But that's it.
Q: Did you know about the passage of the G. I. Bill that paid for education of men who fought in the war?
A: If I told you, I never eve gave it a thought because I didn't think there was any reason to be interested. I wasn't going to go back, you know, although I maybe could have taken a trade. But Tom, I built a swimming pool in the ground without any training. Twenty by forty from three foot to eight foot deep, sloped bottom. I did everything myself on weekends and nights when it was nice weather. It took me a whole year we flooded it in time for Memorial Day and this was everything. And I did everything. I made my own coping, did the walk around with the colored slate, built the pump house, and installed the pump. The only thing I didn't do was hook the electric light and the pump up to the switch box because I got an electrician to do that. You know, I didn't know. But the wires were there for him so all he had to do was hook it up and know it was okay. The pool was still in the ground when I moved out of Mountainside some ten years later or so, and it was being used. So where did I get the knowledge from? I guess it was in my genes from my relatives from Germany. Both my family came from Germany, my mother and my father, and they were builders, and they were masons, and such as that. So, I guess it rubbed off a little bit. I was very happy! I was a volunteer fireman, I was driving a fire truck down Main Street in North Arlington (laughs) and we were crazy. We had good times. We used to have our Saturday night parties were we had a ten piece band which of course I played in. And we'd be at the Spy House and the place would be rockin'. It would be a dollar a night for hot roast beef sandwiches, all the beer you could drink, and dancing to a ten piece band. Well, we chased the band all over whenever they were in local theatres or dance areas like the Meadowlands or Meadowbrooks up there in 23 Highway. We auditioned for Bud Lake. Bud Lake, New Jersey was a big summer spot, and we went up there on a Sunday morning at ten o'clock with the band. And we were getting up and there was two bands auditioning for the job. It was a summer job (laughs). One of our men was missing and my girlfriend at the time went over to the other band leader and said, "Would you go first?" Well, we waited for our trumpet player. And he said, "No problem." Well, the band was Les Brown, twenty two years old, just out of college. And he was striking out to be a band and he made it. When the war came along, we gave it up because everybody went in the service. Some didn't want to be bothered when they came back. You know, but for four years we had a great time running around playing music here and there, getting three dollars night while Frank was singing in the back of a bar for three or four dollars a night at that time. But times have changed and maybe we'd do different today, I don't know. But I'm happy with my life right up to now.
Q: Were you married or dating before the war and did you have a close relationship with your family?
A: Yea well, I was married in 1940, I went in the service in '43, I worked in the shipping yard from 1939, or the end of '38 I guess. When things were starting to look like there was trouble the ship yards started building. So, that's what I did, and as I said, I worked on these ships. My family were not so cozy for what reason I don't know, you know. My mother died when I was in the Pacific and they wouldn't let me come home. Well, it made sense. He said, "Eddie, by the time you get home, she'll already be buried." I said, "Yea, I guess you're right." But I always hated the Red Cross for that (laughs). That was my excuse not to like the Red Cross, but I'm sure it would have been useless to fly all the way home and have to fly all the way back and who knows, if I have gotten a different ship, maybe I wouldn't have been as lucky, you know. So I take it for what its worth.
Q: Do you ever tell your war stories or experiences to other family members or your grandchildren?
A: Well, as I said, for forty years, no. Now, yes. Now, it's more...I realized that I should've, you understand? I think most of us realize that we should have told stories because my daughter said to me, "Dad, why don't you make up little cassettes and tell us about your life? We don't know anything about you except that you're our father and you did all this for us. What about you before we came along and before you met Mom? What did you do?" So I did. I started making these tapes up. And then I met this young lady on the Internet. Her uncle was aboard ship with me and I wrote that poem "The Hat That I Wear." Well, she read it on the Internet and she thought it was pretty nice. So she e-mailed me and said, "I thought your poem was like a prayer." And I said, "Well basically it was." So, we start to chatting and then she told me how up she was on genealogy. And she said, "Ed, would you like me to do your genealogy of your life?" And I said "Nah. What for?" And she said, "Oh, come on. Let me do it. I love to do it." So I said, "Go ahead." Well, this woman dug up stuff from on the internet from different libraries and stuff like that period. Seton Hall University, all about my Catholic religion and school I went to. I have two books that thick of pictures that she got. Pictures of my grandparents' chicken farm in Trenton where I was born. And, oh, pictures of things in Newark that go back to when I was seven, eight years old, you know. Stuff like that. So we're very good friends. In fact, they were up last week and he told me how to use my scanner after all the time I spent on it (laughs). And in an hour's time, I knew how to use it.
Q: Was there a reason why you didn't talk about your war experiences for forty years?
A: Tom, I think... I gotta be very honest with you, I think when I came home, I forgot. Is that possible? I never even mentioned except to my boss and only because he was an ensign, that I served a couple of years in the Navy. But no, I think when I came home, as I said, I met my wife up on Ridge Road in North Arlington. I took my uniform off. I gave it to my sister-in-law. She cut it down for my nephew and that was it. My war days were over. I never even mentioned a word that I can remember in all them years until 1983 or '84 or something like that. I got a letter in the mail saying "Are you Ed Capraun? Served on the Bangust in World War II?" And then I went to Massachusetts, I went to two reunions, Fran got sick, couldn't travel. When she passed away in '96, I went to Washington, D.C. to a reunion by train. I went to Branson, Missouri by plane. I went to Albany by car. I went to Massachusetts again, just here recently, by car. I drove up three hundred and fifty miles. I made about eight reunions. The last eight and all this has come back to me. I remembered it but I didn't talk about it, you understand? I remember standing onboard ship watching the guys with the big white hats walking up on the Missouri to sign the Japanese when we were on Milkatuka Naval Base there in Japan. And I remember going from Yokasuka Naval Base by train to the hospital ship to get new glasses that got broken during one of our escapades. A storm, you know, were you bang or they fall off you. And I walked the streets of Japan for a few hours and had a liberty twice there. I bought a kimono for my wife and a sash with a bunch of yen that I scraped together. We had cartons of Camel cigarettes that turned yellow and a supply officer was going to throw them overboard. Well we took them down in the ship fitter's shop. The whole cardboard carton of cigarettes and we lashed into our navy blue rain coat and we went into Japan and to Tokyo. With this coat over our arm, we sold them in the allies to the Japs and they were all yellow. Nobody who bought them could smoke them, but they were glad to get them and for a carton of cigarettes they gave us a hand full of yen. And then we had a bunch of papers. We'd go into the store and I was trying to buy, you know, how you express yourself when you're talking to a foreigner so they tried to get an idea of what you're saying. I bought a kimono, a sash. The only thing I got left...I don't know where the kimono went. I got the little fan, that little open up fan (laughs). That's all.
Q: Over the years, many films have been made about World War II and the events that took place during it. Have you seen any of these films?
A: I watched them on TV. Victory at Sea, stuff like that. I did. I don't anymore. I guess I covered about everything, you know. But Tom, if you look at them...As I tell people, they say, "What was it like?" I say, "Well if you ever watch Victory at Sea..." They say, "Yea." I say, "Did you ever see the battleships and the carries, how they rock and roll and how they toss and turn?" I said, "Well, they're 108 feet wide and they're 900 feet long. Now, we were thirty six feet wide and three hundred feet long. You tell me what we went through in the same waters they were in." If they rocked the boat like that, what did we do? We flipped (laughs).
Q: Do you feel that the films are accurate representations of what life was like during war or do you feel that they trivialize it?
A: Yea, I think so. Unless you're watching a comedy, like, what was it? The Yellow Submarine, you know, that was a joke, you know what I mean? Or what's it called? Navy...Hogan's Navy? Or something like that. Or Hogan's Heroes? That was nonsense. We couldn't get away with that in a prisoner of war camp. But that was funny. That one gave you a laugh. But no, a lot of the pictures were pretty accurate because maybe what went onboard ship with the guys wasn't but what they showed you as the Navy sailed together in a convoy, they were all accurate pictures taken from the Navy Department, you know, for photographs. But as far as John Wayne kicking some guy's butt, that maybe could have happened. Patten slapping his soldiers, you know, that happened. But I don't think it was that predominant. No, but some of the stories are pretty good. And it helps you to remember. That's what it did. It brought back some of the memories, and you say, "Hey, I went through that." Not what they're doing with the sailing and stuff like that, climbing the ladders, or fighting through a storm and stuff, batting down the hatches. You went through that, so that was real.
Q: Do you feel that these movies should be used in classrooms for teachers to show students?
A: Well, let me tell you something. I feel as though the kids today don't know anything about World War II. When a teacher, and this is supposed to be a funny, said to this class, "What do you know about Pearl?" and the girl stood up and said, "Who was she?" That's true. That is basically true because people say, "What's a DE?" Well you know, if I asked you what a carrier was, you'd know, wouldn't you? But you don't know what a DE is because they only made five hundred and fifty and they said when them ships were built if they got six months of service they got their money's worth. Do you know that? And now, did you want to go aboard something that was only going to live for six months? (laughs). That's why I didn't like that tale. But this ship went out as you can read that white slip I gave you about when it was launched and everything. This ship left, and I think its almost two years to the day that it came back. And there was only one DE that had more battle scares than the one I was on and that was the USS Riddle. R-I-D-D-L-E. They had twelve battle scars. Now you read there where we were in the Philippines and all, we had eleven. And every DE after us was down from ten, nine, eight, seven, some of them only had one or two battle scars. They did a good job. Don't misunderstand me. They were out doing stuff, but they were not in the thick. Where we were, there and our job was to make sure that the fleet always had fuel or always had storage. And no matter how they got there, we brought them out. We took, I remember the crew to Pittsburgh in a typhoon. We went through the center of the typhoon, and the change of the wind velocity tore the bow right off the ship. We had to take her back to Pearl, backwards, because she couldn't go forwards. In the middle of a beautiful night, two destroyers rammed each other. Why? Because some sailor was asleep, that's why. We were in a convoy one time. We had tankers and supplies and we were shaped like in a "V". You know, with the ship spread out in a big "V" to pick up sub contacts because we had sound gear. And this was in the middle of the night, a beautiful night. Four ships coming the opposite way went right through our convoy. Now, somebody was asleep. It could have been a collision, but it didn't happen, you understand? And I don't think anything was ever done about it because it would have been a lot of butts to kick, you understand? And who wants to admit that they made a mistake? But maybe the person onboard the ship got called out by the skipper for letting it happen. Thank God nobody got hurt, but yea, four ships went right through our convoy going the opposite way. Right through it! Well, we were spread out far enough that it couldn't happen. But it shouldn't have happened. There should have been no such incident because we were supposed to be up in the crow's nest or wherever and listening, and watching, you know. That was our job.
Q: What motivated you to get involved in the Destroyer Escort Service Association, Garden State Chapter? Did you feel you owed it to your fellow sailors and to the future?
A: Well, I gotta tell you a story. In 1980-something, I got a letter from someone who said, "You were a DE sailor and we have this DESA organization. We would like you to join the Garden State Chapter." I said to my wife, "Gee, that's great. Let's go." We were both retired. It was at Earl Naval Base. And I went to Earl, my wife and I, and they had this dining room. And they had it all set up with tables and the place was jammed. I mean, it was wall to wall people. I walked in, nobody knew I was there. I didn't know where to go or what I was supposed to they issued, "Sit down to be served!" I had to struggle to find a place for two people, my wife and I. I paid for it, so I ate my lunch, or dinner, whatever you want to call it, and we ate and as soon as it was over, we had our coffee and dessert and we got up and walked out. And I never went back. In 1998, I read an article in the letter to the editor. Some guy said that Bill Clinton ruined the White House, and that annoyed me because the White House was ruined long before Bill Clinton. And I wrote back and I said, "Who do you think you are to say that?" I said, "What about Nixon? What about Eisenhower? He had his women. What about all these people who had their women on the side? Cheating on their wife?" And I said, "And how many deferments did you have?" And that really made him made (laughs). So, he wrote back and we got into a little verbal thing in the letter to the editor. Well, Jim Lauder who is a skipper in the Garden State Chapter of DESA saw that in the paper and he called me on the phone. He said, "You were a DE sailor?" I says, "Yea." He said, "Why aren't you a member of DESA?" I said, " Jim, you don't want to hear." He said, "Yes, I do." So, we met for a lunch and we talked and he said, "Eddie, it's not like that today." I said, "Well..." He said, "So come on back." So I went back. I said, "Jim, I like you. You seem like a pretty nice guy." I went back and went to a couple of meetings and things were not as bad but not the way I thought they should be. So, I said, "Jim, there's something missing." I said, "We go to a luncheon and we all sit at individual tables. Four here, four there." I said, "What's the point? Why are we meeting? Why are we having these lunches? Aren't we doing it for the buddy-buddy end of it?" He said, "Yea." Well, I said, "Okay." So I said, to Sweet Water, "You put the tables in a U-shape. Everybody sits on the outside looking. We tell jokes. We talk. They see who's talking. They recognize faces." And it worked fine. When we had meetings at the Shore Casino down near the ocean, which we have like, four big meeting a year, I made it my business because they asked me to be a membership chairmen. I made it my business to know who's new and to be at the door when you walked in. You got a handshake, a welcome, a big smile, like you were somebody, and it worked out pretty good. The first year I was membership chairmen I got seventeen new members. I took up a little ad in the paper that I put in one of these little papers that they throw around at different malls. Then they said, "We're going to take a bus trip to Albany." So we took a bus load to stay overnight, a bus load DE sailors and their wives. We had fifty-some I think. Well, Jim asked me to be master of ceremonies. Well, I had a ball. I had a microphone on me, and I told jokes, oh we were hysterical all the way up. And I liked that. I'm sort of a ham myself, you know? But then, after that, I gave up the chairmen of the membership committee, but I went along with this program of yours because I'm interested. I kept saying all the time, "Why is it Viet Nam, Viet Nam?" Everybody hears about Viet Nam. Didn't we do anything? I mean this is true, Tom. I wrote letters to papers telling them stories about the DEs and they never printed them. Why? Maybe I didn't have enough pull or something, I don't know. But I mean, you listen to Viet Nam guys and they weren't the only ones who fought in a war. World War II was as bad as Viet Nam, well, maybe it wasn't as bad. But there was jungle fighting. The Marines at Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima, they were blood bathed. Same as Viet Nam, but nobody cared. As I said, "What's a DE? What is a DE? Do you know?" They never heard of it, and this was my aim. And this is why I'm here now. And this is why I wrote them poems. I didn't write them poems, because I'm never going to be poet laureate, or whatever you want to call it. But I thought I could send them poems out and read them off the people and they would get an idea because they are about DEs. "What's a DE?" "DE Day." "The Hat That I Wear." This is all sense things that I thought would be nice for people to know. So that's why I did it. I'm never going to be a big deal. Maybe when I die, they'll do it post humously (laughs), make me a hero (laughs). But anyhow, that's the story.
Q: Each and every day we hear news about the United States possibly going to war with Iraq and Saddam Hussein...
A: I'm in full favor. I'm 100%. I'd go back in the Navy and do some kind of a job to release a younger man. I really would. I can do desk work. I can sit at a microphone and give orders or spot out things to do. File stuff if ever we release because we have to do this. If we don't go to Iraq, Tom, we are going to have the same thing come up because one day this guy is going to pull a sneak. And when did you go to war and somebody didn't get killed? World War I, they fought in trenches. World War II, they fought on land. They fought on sea. Ships were sunk, torpedoed. They didn't have a change. People were drowning. My wife said if I ever died at sea, she'd never eat fish (laughs). So, anyhow, but we have to do this. It's not that we're war mongers. I don't think George Bush....I'm not a Republican. I'm a Democrat. But I think he's right and people think he's trying to avenge his father. He's not. He's trying to make it a little safer. Do you want to walk into a supermarket and worry that some idiot is going to be there with dynamite wrapped around his belt? I mean, could you live in Israel? I couldn't. Could you live in Pakistan? I couldn't. Because they're nuts. They don't have no regard for life. So that's the whole problem. When I die, I want to at least say that my grandchildren are living in a world where it ain't going to happen. But at least we're going to try, you know.
Q: If America was to go to war and they needed a draft and they would draft the youth of today to fight, do you feel that the youth would be capable of a victory or are they too sheltered from the realities of war?
A: I hate to say this, but I really think that they...no. That wouldn't be fair. Who were we? We were sheltered in a common way of life. We had no big experiences They put us in a camp and they taught us how to survive. And yes, as much as I don't think they would, yea, I think they would. They get on the stick. I really think that they would ban together because it's their country, you know. And you ride past the high school, the parking lot has got all these cars in it. We didn't have cars in our days. They got a good life! They got money They can go to the shore. They're parents take them here, and take them to Disney World. We couldn't do that. We couldn't even go to Dreamer Land Park which was ten miles away from our house because we couldn't afford the quarter. No, I really and truly believed that the question you asked with the kids of today...Yes, they would, because they would have to, or give up the good life. I mean, in World War II, in '40, they ran to Canada. Who? A few. Not many, just a few idiots that weren't worth having in the service anyhow. They wouldn't have been no good. It's better they go to Canada and die up there because they wouldn't have done their country any good. But I'm sure that today's guys and girls, I mean, we had whites, we had blacks, we had all kinds of people. And those who didn't go on in the service went into the shipyards and the factories, and they worked. They did a man's job. Rosie the Riveter, right? Come on. And today, there's more women out there who would rather be men than woman. Now you ride down the street and watch a big project going on. And who's climbing poles, and who's waving flags? Women. Who's even using jack hammers? You know, that's not a woman's place, but it's her prerogative. If she wants to be a man, okay. Some of them can out do us, even. They used to be the weaker sex. They're not anymore. I think they're the stronger sex right now, when it comes to everything else that you put before them.
Q: If anything, what do you feel the world should learn about your experiences in World War II? If you could pass on to future generations, what would you tell them to help them better understand what you went through?
A: Well, to help them better understand what we went through I think first of all, they'd have to join together. They have to ban together and respect each other, really and truly. You do your job, I'll do my job, and when it's all done, we'll come out on top because it's not a one man job. It's not a job where the guy says, "But I didn't need you guys. I had it well underhand," you know. "I had the war won before you even came into the service." That's a funny, but some people feel that way, you know. They think that they did it all themselves. Look at these admirals that we had. Halsey, Spruntz, Nimitz, these men have been in the service all their lives and they were there. They were in the thick of it. They didn't stay in the background, and Eisenhower didn't stay in the background. He moves right up with the boys because he had to. Somebody had to tell them what to do, and they did it. And as long as you can take an order and you have enough love for your life and your country, that should make it easy for you. That's how I feel, Tom.
Q: Okay. Lastly, why do you feel that few people have heard about the role of Destroyer Escorts in World War II?
A: Because we let them. That's why. As I said to you before, we came home in 1945, from '45 to '85, or '80 anyhow, we didn't do anything. We didn't tell anybody. So how can you know unless you are told? We didn't tell them. I had a neighbor who was pilot. He's dead now. His wife and I were interview by a young college boy. He had to do a paper on World War II, and he interviewed both of us. Well, I didn't know until I read the paper that this man flew the second plane. B-49? No, B-29, in World War II, behind the Enola Gay with the cameras and stuff. He took the pictures. He never talked about it. So how could anybody know? You understand what I'm saying? I think what brought more out in the public's eye are the movies. The movies told people more than the actual sailors and soldiers and Marines did. They told the horrible stories of the Marines in Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima, the flag that was raised for Iwo Jima. The media and the movies did this. We didn't come home and do it. I lost twenty years. I could have been talking about this for twenty years. I might have been pretty well talented on this by now (laughs). If you never heard the word airplane, you would never know there was an airplane, would you? So if you never heard the word DE...You heard of destroyers because they're there all the time. You heard of battleships because they're there all the time...carriers. A De is only a one time deal, world War II. Five hundred and fifty, there was no more made and there never will be any more made. So, as I said, thank God we got the one up in Albany because it will be there and it's well taken care of. Donations. Money is coming in because of it now being made into a museum. The state of New York is contributing. The people go aboard. They enjoy it. They spend a few dollars. They buy trinkets and shirts and stuff because we're almost in another war really. You understand what I'm saying? They're starting to say hey, gee, we're going to go into another one and we still owe the last guys a little more recognition. Maybe I'm wrong. I don't know but that's how I feel. Story of my life. Anymore?
Q: That concludes this interview. Thank you so much. You gave a great interview.
A: Well, Tom. Tom, let me tell you something. You're a nice kid, and I sat here and I've been her for two hours and I've enjoyed every minute of it.
Q: I did to and I learned a lot. And I'm really grateful that you took the time out.
A: I love to talk and you could erase anything that you want (laughs). But that's the story of my life. I'm a happy guy. I love life. I only wish one thing that we would get out of our lives and that would be the greed. The word greed, whatever its meaning, is ruining everything. People want. People want. They want and they don't care how they get it. When the people who died in 9-1-1, when their families are so greedy when they're offered $1.7 million and they want more. Just remember, they could have drove to work that morning and got killed in a car accident, and their insurance would have given them $100,000. They're getting $1.7 million. Talk about crumby people. How about the crumbs who claimed they had lost people in 9-1-1 and took thousands of dollars for themselves, and they had no claim whatsoever. I think the smallest word you could use and the biggest word that has the most meaning is the word greed, and that's ruining us. Doctors, insurance companies, malpractice insurance wouldn't be so expensive if everybody turned around and didn't want to sue their doctor because he did something wrong. Story of my life. You heard it all.
Q: Let me just ask you one thing. Do you want to read your poem and I'll record it?
A: Do you want to what?
Q: Do you want to read your poem and I'll record it?
A: I don't care.
Q: It'll just be an added thing.
A: The one about the hat?
A: I know it by heart.
Q: Okay. Go ahead.
A: I'm going to use it as I dedicate it, not "me" but "we."
Q: Sure. Okay.
A: The hat that we wore,
We wore a white hat.
And we wore it with pride.
A lot of boys wore them.
And so many have died.
I don't know if we should try to explain,
How this little hat could have seen so much pain.
Think what you might but don't knock our hat.
We might lose our cool and make some lips fat.
We are proud sailors til the day that we die.
The love for our country you cannot buy.
We did not serve on the New Jersey or the Big Mo',
but our little DEs put on one hell of a show.
So I couldn't close without this line.
Thanks for our return from our DE service time.
According to a phone interview with Mr. Capraun on December 5, 2002, the USS Bangust, DE-739, was named after Joseph Bangust. Bangust was an Aviation Machinist Mate, Second Class. He was awarded the Navy Cross for the bravery he showed while manning his station as a waist gunner in his airplane while bombing the Japanese war and merchant vessels in Jolo Harbor, Philippines on December 27, 1941. During the bombing, Bangust received wounds that eventually led to his death. The USS Bangust was named in his honor.
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