DESA Oral History Project
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Interview with Dr. Martin Davis
November 14, 2002
For the Naval History Foundation
This oral history interview of Dr. Martin Davis is taking place on November 14, 2002 at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey. This interview is for the Oral History project for HS298-01 (Oral History) at Monmouth University. I am Christopher Ciminiello, a student at Monmouth University. I will be conducting the interview. Dr. Martin Davis served in World War II and the Korean War. He was discharged with the rank of Pharmacist Mate Third Class. He served in the following areas, Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean.
Question: Before the war, what was it like living in Elizabeth, New Jersey?
Answer: In Elizabeth, New Jersey, we were in a city of 105,000 people, and it was an entirely mixed city in terms of backgrounds of people very much like New York City with a great number of first generation of people comprised of just about all religions and nationalities. At the time I was born, prior to the Depression, I was born November 11, 1927, the Depression occurred two years later, and my memories are strictly of a community and a city that was living in a Depression. I never knew anything other than the Depression when I was growing up, and that had a major effect on my life and everyone that lived through it. As far as the city was concerned, it was one in which I was very fortunate that there was transportation throughout the city by bus, a very wonderful method of traveling anywhere you wanted to go, and therefore, at a very early age, from 7 and 8 on, I was able to just about travel anywhere and everywhere within that place. We had a huge meadow that is now Newark Airport. Much of it was vacant, and it was a meadow we called the bush, and we spent a lot of time there going out there with our dogs. As far as the city is concerned, I remember the life that it was. As I mentioned, we lived in a depressed period, and I remember the people who worked for the Works Project Association, the WPA. I remember the value of penny would buy something, three cents would buy a lot. People those days, if they smoked, would by two or three or four cigarettes at a time because they could not afford to buy a pack. During the morning, I would see the workmen trudging past my house towards Singer Sewing Company, which was the biggest industry there. They were carrying black lunch pails and they walked there in the morning in huge numbers, and walked back at night. Not many of them had cars. They were tough times. Telephones were not being used by everyone. Say people were living in a four family house there was a telephone perhaps in the hallway. Whether it was the telephone of one of the people who lived there, probably the landlord, and if the phone for someone, he or she would be called down. I just remember this very gray area, economically, but as far as my boyhood is concerned, it was something, and would be something I would never trade for because we all had been going through the same thing. The schools were wonderful. The life changed drastically as Europe started to go to war. We saw the impact on the economy, we saw industries starting, we saw people going to work, we saw the economy picking up, as we were involved in Lend Lease prior to the war. And there could not be much more to say about it, but that is where we are at this point. Do you have any questions?
Q: Did you live there immediately after the war was over?
A: After the war was over, I came back and lived with my parents, and then went off to college. I lived there during the summer until I left permanently after age twenty-three. But that was post war, and you could see the very major changes that occurred.
Q: During your childhood, what was your favorite radio station to listen to? Why?
A: In those days, we had The Shadow, we had Jack Armstrong, we had Jack Benney, and Bob Hope. We had the comedians, and we had the news. This was all prior to television, and this was what we all depended upon. When fights took place for the championships when Joe Lewis fought, people would be in huge numbers listening to the fights via radio. Fighting, at that particular point, was a major sport, and we knew the names of every single champion that ever fought. It was very popular at that particular time. The basketball teams had really not been established, the leagues had not been established, and the football teams had not been established. Baseball was very, very big with the Yankees, the Giants, and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Q: Did you have any relatives that served in World War I?
A: I did not have any relatives on my side that served in World War I. But my wife's father did serve in World War I. In fact, he came over from Europe around 1916, and he enlisted in the army in 1917, and he went through all the major battles in World War I for the army infantry.
Q: What was it like for you and your family having your brother stationed in Japan?
A: As far as my brother was concerned, this was a very major element because I had some knowledge of geography and some knowledge of history, and some knowledge of what was taking place in the world even though I was relatively young, around 14 or so. I remember my brother and another fellow getting ready to get aboard the planes to go out to the West coast in order to catch their ship to go to China. He was in the navy, and he had volunteered for that. Both of them had volunteered because regarded as wonderful duty, and very exciting duty at a place where you can get anything and everything for very little money. And we had not been in the war at this time. He had gone over in early 1941, and when he was there I looked at both of them and said, "I don't know, there is something that bothers me about going to Japan," because our relations with Japan were not that great but no one ever thought of that. When he went over there, we heard from him by letter that he really liked it. He was in the marine core; he was a Medical Core man with the marine core. When war started, I knew immediately that he was in difficulties over there, and we really didn't know what occurred to him for five or six months. It wasn't until six months later until I opened up a copy of LIFE Magazine, and right in the center of the magazine was pictures from Wake Island, Colonel Deveroux, and others that were captured in Hong Kong and Singapore. There were pictures over there, around six pages, and smack in the center was a picture of American POW's, and there was my brother. So I had learned from LIFE Magazine that he was a POW. We were then notified, officially, that he was a POW, and that he had been captured, and was in Shanghai Prison Camp at a place called, Lusung. His communications were sporadic; we'd be getting these one page letters that were condensed around one quarter the size of a regular page (Cough). Much of it would be filled in, and he would indicate that he was all right. At this time, the words started drifting back to us about the cruelty of the Japanese. How they would not let their own people surrender, they regarded their own personnel as dead if they did surrender. We weren't really sure what was going on over there, but we knew it was bad, and the communication was horrible, and there were people who escaped from the Philippines and China that released information to the press, and it reinforced the idea that things were horrible over there.
Q: The impact of World War II sparked a great deal of Nationalism for the United States. How do you thing that nationalism effected the production of war goods, and do you think that nationalism was one of the major reasons we won the war?
A: Absolutely. Prior to the entry of the war, you had the country divided. You had a lot of people that did not want get involved overseas; you had Americans with what is known as America First. And people had just not wanted to get involved because World War I was too harsh. They saw what was going on in Europe. Many people were not sympathetic to the British and the French. As far as the country was concerned, it was a mixed bag of tricks, and there were a lot of people who were very, very angry at the government, and specifically President Roosevelt who had brought us into Lend Lease, and who had given orders to the Navy to take Convoys to a portion of the British, to sink any submarines, any U-Boats. Prior to the war itself we were involved in a dissent about going in, and there were others that recognize unless we came to the aid of Britain, at that time, and France, we were going to face Germany alone. With the attack at Pearl Harbor, it changed everything completely. I never recalled anything more exciting or enlightening or effective in terms of turning a nation in a particular direction. The attack at Pearl Harbor motivated the American population to a point whereby we had people lining up to enlist, and it changed the entire outlook of everyone. It was a matter of anger, and finally saying we're in it. Germany had joined the war against the United States. We were now in it totally against Japan and against the Axis Power. Where the home front was involved was beyond belief. The industry started to hum. It started to pick up contracts in areas they were never involved in before. Instead of calling themselves defense industries, they called themselves war industries, and the economy started to hum also. We were coming out of the Depression, and we had women who were primarily housewives, being called upon to work in factories, contributing to the war effort. I'd like to just comment about women. This was the start of the women's revolution when they saw themselves becoming independent, and it lasted right through today. School kids, everyone wanted to be involved. As far as school, we were collecting rubber, we were collecting tin foil, and we were getting involved in air raid drills. I was in a sense fortunate in that I spent two years home during the war until I went away in the service, so I saw very much what that home front was like. And we were recruited. If you were fourteen years old, you might find yourself recruited for a part time job in a war industry, and a lot of kids worked after school at age sixteen.
Q: Along with the attack on Pearl Harbor, do you think that the genocide committed by Adolf Hitler the European Jews motivated many Americans to join up in the war effort?
A: Frankly, no. I remember that period of time. There was a great deal of anti Semitism in the United States during World War II. History will show that there were certain things that Hitler took advantage of. For instance, when he put all of the Jews aboard a ship, and got them out of the country, and they headed to Cuba, and they were not permitted to get on shore there, they wanted to get over here in the United States, Roosevelt would not permit it, yet he had had many Jews in his inner group. But it was a matter of politics where he didn't want to insight a good deal of the public, and all sorts of excuses were used. With regard to what occurred over there was a lot of anger where Jews are concerned. They reacted as one would expect, and a great number of the American public did also. But, I could honestly say in my opinion, I didn't see anything more truthfully than what took place. I never saw any major reactions, and that's my frank opinion.
Q: What was you knowledge of the rise of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini before we entered into the war?
A: I was at an advantage in that always followed the papers. I had excellent teachers. We had a course called Current Events that dealt with modern history, and I remember my teachers saying, "We are living history today, this will never occur again, these are the most critical and crucial days that are occurring." We were seeing Hitler, and we heard what was going on. I happen to be Jewish, I'm not a religious Jew, but nevertheless I had relatives over there, and I recognized, and many people recognized that he was something very different, had the blue print in his book, Mein Kampf. When he maneuvered his way in being the head person over there in Germany, it was apparent that things were going to occur. I remember people escaping, and I met them, younger people, older people who got out of Germany in 1936, 1937, 1938, and they came over here. I could here their stories, I went to school with some of them, their homes, their money, their jewelry, and their businesses were confiscated. It was apparent that things were happening over there that would just lead to tragedy. They were taken out of their law professions, judged were removed; they were not permitted to go to Medical school or to graduate school. There were problems with regard to intermarriage. It's all there in the blueprint.
Mussolini was something else again. Mussolini, until he joined with Hitler, had been highly regarded by many people, particularly people of Italian descent because he did things for the people, he made the railroads run on time. He was doing things that prior administrations had not. He was involved in programs, building programs of building programs of certain areas. He was not involved in discrimination; you didn't hear anything of that nature in Italy. There was a huge Italian American population, there was a relationship there, that even during the war, and the feelings of Italians were mutual. I believe, not with my opinion, and not a lot of others that he was being led, he was being duped by Hitler, and he made the wrong choices. The country suffered and he suffered, but Italy was a different story.
Q: Where were you when you heard of the Attack on Pearl Harbor? How had your opinion of the Japanese changed after the attack?
A: (Pause) I didn't turn fifteen yet, and I was in a roller rink in Newark called Freeline roller rink. We were skating around in circles listening to Organ music, and then an announcement came that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. No one knew where Pearl Harbor was, but I knew where Pearl Harbor was. I knew that if the Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor that they would be attacking other areas as well, and Japanese occupied China, and my brother was smack in the center of it, he was surrounded. I immediately left, got on a bus, and went home to see my parents, and we realized what happened because in addition to everything else, this was personal. It was so personal that everyone around us wanted to enlist, including me but of course I was much too young.
Q: How had your opinion of the Japanese changed after the attack or did it at all?
A: No, prior to World War II, if you were a movie buff, the movies portrayed the Japanese as slippery, and untrustworthy. At that time, prior to the war, the Japanese used to produce goods that were very, very cheap, they had absolutely no quality to them. That's the way you referred to Japanese goods. Generally, the idea was that they were untrustworthy, and the only good thing I ever recall about the Japanese in America was seeing some of the movies, which Peter Lloyd played Mr. Motto, a Japanese detective who was a hero. But the feelings were poor, and a lot of them were generated as a result of history. History has very much to do with what was current. You have to remember that the Japanese defeated a Caucasian nation in 1905, they beat Russia, and that had an impact for the rest of the half century. In fact, that was the reason for Teddy Roosevelt and the Great White Fleet around the world with battleships in order to send a message to Japan that they had just better watch out, that we were not Russia.
Q: How did the attack on Pearl Harbor compare to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?
A: The comparisons were unique. At the time of Pearl Harbor, I described to you what occurred. The nation was up in arms totally indignation, it was a known enemy, a uniform enemy who committed the villains work. At the time of the attack on the World Trade Center, I was in Omaha, Nebraska, at a convention of veterans who were combat veterans, this was the Destroyer Escort Service Association, and these were all combat veterans. We all sat there, and we would not leave the television set, and everyone compared this to what we had gone through back in 1941. September 11th was very different. September 11th for those of us who have been through war took a different approach. We had been through Pearl Harbor, we had been through a major war, and we had been through Korea, Vietnam, and so on. Much of the nation, particularly the younger people, was filled with hate for the first time of not only seeing this occur, but they saw this occur wide. People were burned; people were jumping out of windows. It had an impact in a different light. An impact of frustration because you didn't know who or what caused it, you knew that it was terrorists. It shook up the country like I have never seen since 1941. To younger people, this is not a television game, it is not a game of technology, it is not playing in the movies, but this is real. People felt vulnerable here. We didn't feel vulnerable in World War II because it was overseas, and we didn't have rockets at that point. But everyone became vulnerable, and it was vastly different. It shook a lot of people, and they're facing things right now that they've never faced before, psychologically, and economically, it had a vast effect.
Q: Out of all the military branches you could have joined, why did you pick the United States Navy?
A: Actually, I picked the Coast Guard. The reason I picked the Coast Guard was strictly because of eyesight. If you were drafted in each of the armed forces, they could have put you into the army, the navy, the marine core, and the Coast Guard, but you were being drafted at age eighteen. But I wanted to enlist, and we were permitted to enlist at age sixteen, and we had orders to report at seventeen. My eyesight was not that good. It was correctable with glasses, but without glasses, it was around 20/70. They had two different requirements if you were enlisted in the navy or the Coast Guard or the Marine Core you had to have 20/20 uncorrected vision. If you were drafted, you could wear glasses. I went over to the navy, and I saw the way they were putting the men through the physical, and I saw that they examined your eyes, and they asked you to read the chart, and it just could not be because I could not read 20/20. However, I read in Popular Science Magazine of invisible eyeglasses, and they turned out to be primitive contact lenses and I arranged to get a set of primitive contact lenses at no cost as part of an experimental patient. It brought my vision to 20/20, even though I ended up looking goggle eyed (laughs), like Peter Lory. But, the reason I joined the Coast Guard was that with the Coast Guard, they looked at your eyes, they looked through the booth, and they told me get into another line to read the chart. Recognizing that I went to enlist in the Coast Guard, I had my eyes examined, and went into the next line and slipped these contacts in and was able to see the chart, in fact, much more than that. The fellow said, "Read the bottom line." I said, "How far down." He said, "As far as you can go." P-A-T. He said, "What are you reading?" I said, "The bottom line." He said, "You're reading patent pending. (Laughs) You have a vision of 20/10, like a hawk." I went in the service that way, I joined the Coast Guard because the Coast Guard during World War II was part of the navy, and I ended up aboard a navy ship in the Coast Guard. So, I regard myself as joining the Coast Guard, but I went through Coast Guard boot camp, but I was aboard a naval ship, a naval combat ship. I still have them. In fact, I have them online. You should see them; they look like an eye wash cup. (Motions with his hands to explain primitive contact lenses). I had to use distilled water, and there were two red dots on them, and I had a vacuum gadget that would put them in and take them out. And I could wear them for around eight hours, but I never really wore them, I only wore them for that purpose.
Q: After the attack on Pearl Harbor, did you feel obligated to join the United States military forces or where you drafted into service?
A: I had enlisted. I couldn't wait to enlist. I dreamt of it every day.
Q: Where did you do your naval training?
A: Over in Brooklyn at Sheepshead Bay, towards the Manhattan Beach Coast Guard training base. There is a training base over there right next to Sheepshead Bay, and right next to it we had the training base for the maritime service. I was there for ten weeks, and after ten weeks I had three days off, and went directly to a destroyer escort at Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Q: Can you describe a typical day of training?
A: A typical day of training was such that when we arrived, it was the first time that you really ever had contact with people all over the country. It was a completely different atmosphere. They arranged everyone in companies. And you got to be very close to the people who had names or letters that were similar to yours. Like the C's, my name is Davis, so I might have people with B's and D's and C's around me, and those were the fellows you got to be relatively friendly with. You went in there, and it was a strange world, it was the first time I had been away from home, and that was the way it was for most of the people. They immediately wanted to wipe you down, and start you out from scratch. The war was on, we all knew it, and we all knew where we were heading. They cut your hair to practically nothing, and get rid of your clothing, and you had to conform in a manner that you had never before, with regards to cleanliness, with regards to hygiene, with regards to taking care of your clothing, and with regards to meals, and dealing with other people. And you leaned to tow the line if you were in the service, and if you broke any of the rules that they had there, you were punished for it, and you saw a lot of this occurring all over. It was an enlightening sort of a thing, and I still remember the people I was friendly with in Boot Camp. And fortunately, being in Brooklyn, we were permitted to have some freedom after three weeks; you were permitted to go out for a day and a night, and living over in New Jersey, I was able to go home after three weeks in uniform. So I was there for that period of time until I left. The other thing I remember is that you applied for schools as a radioman, a pharmacist mate, or radar man, whatever you might do, you were applying for school. During the time I was in, there were a lot of these schools. I had applied for medical core school, and I thought I was going to end up over at Columbia University, and they said, "you might end up there you might not." I didn't know anything until I got aboard a truck. We were all aboard a truck that was taking us to Brooklyn, and then going to other destinations. We were over there in Brooklyn Navy Yard, and they called everyone out of the truck, and I was still sitting there thinking that I was going on to Columbia, and they said what are you doing there, what's your name, and I told them, and they said come on, your getting on to this DE. So I got out of there, and joined the other fellows. There were two other fellows with me who had to aboard the ship that I had gone to. There were actually nine of us getting aboard DE's, a group of six DE's, and we were spread out among them. But, I regard that as a very important, I think it was an introductory to the service, and you had all of this enthusiasm in getting in, and you couldn't wait to enlist, and once you got there you said, "What the hell am I doing here?" (Laughs)
Q: Can you elaborate on your duties in the Coast Guard?
A: After Boot Camp, I had no training. I went aboard the ship, aboard the USS Pettitte, DE-253 as an ordinary seaman. I was a seamen second class. And aboard the ship, the first thing they did was assign you to a gun, and I was assigned to a .40 millimeter quad, meaning four barrels, .40 millimeter gun, one of eight people assigned to it. That was my place where duty stationed, meaning four hours on eight hours off. So every four hours, you'd end up with duty at the gun, the other eight hours, depending upon the watch you were on, you were both working, and the other eight you over sleeping, and the shifts used to change every week from four to eight, eight to twelve, twelve to four. During the day, I'd be working, you'd be chipping, and you'd be doing all the work of an ordinary seaman, so I lived that life as a seaman. Then, at that point, I didn't know what I was going to do with my life, eventually. And I said, possibly I'll go to medical school. I went out to see the chief pharmacist mate, and I told him that I was considering going into medicine, and if there were any chance of working in his office or in the pharmacist office, I'd like to do so. They had three petty officers, a chief petty officer and two others, two petty officers and a chief. They let me do a little cleaning up over there on occasion, I'd get assigned to that area, and then one of the fellows got transferred, there was a vacancy. I was transferred over there as a seaman, second class. After three months, they changed my ring to Hospital Apprentice, second class, and I went there, and then I had promotions up to Hospital Apprentice, first class, and then eventually, Pharmacist Mate, and that was where I spent most of my time. But I got out of that duty of handling guns. I was known as a day worker. In other words, you'd get up, you had a regular job from eight o'clock to five o'clock, and you weren't on duty of guns, you weren't going around the clock, and this was the job of people in that area, and that was one of the reasons I wanted it. Rather than live that life of four on and eight off.
Q: Can you describe what it was like to be on a Destroyer Escort, a typical day or the types of events that occurred?
A: A typical day was such that you were crowded with 218 people aboard a ship that was fourteen hundred tons, three hundred and six feet long, and thirty-six feet wide. And you were crowded, the bunks were three high with three lockers underneath, and the ship was rolling, jumping all over the place. When I was in the Atlantic, I had made several convoy trips to Europe, to France, to Britain, to Ireland, and the North Atlantic; it was horrible. I was totally seasick the entire way over. It was made worse by the fact that when I first got aboard the ship they didn't have bunks for all of us, and so the three of us that came out of Boot Camp slept on hammocks, so I slept in a hammock for at least a month and a half until I got my own place. It was horrible because I was bouncing up against the overhead, I had to carry a pillow on my face, and I was short, my arms were not long enough to even put that up, so I couldn't even put my own hammock up, I had to have this big Texan, about six feet six, put me there. It got to the point whereby I walked around with what looked like a dance card, and I asked the fellows, when are they going on duty. And I'd sign their names up because I'd use their bunks while they were on duty and they'd come back after four hours, and I'd move over to someone else. So I did that until I finally ended up with my location. Life aboard the ship was such that you were meeting people now not only from all over the country, but you were seeing them in a very, very different way, and also the ages were a little over seventeen and eighteen. So you were dealing with a lot of people from all over, all professions, but they all were like a family. Everyone cared for the other, to this very day. It was great.
Q: Serving in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theatres of war, can you elaborate on any encounters with the enemy?
A: In the Atlantic, there was never really much. We would hear the "ping" when there were things occurring around us, but nothing really occurred with our ship because we were involved in search and convoy duty. And if you didn't have any problems with the Atlantic, you were regarded as being fortunate. In the Pacific, it was a little different. In the Pacific, although we were not in the midst of it, it was occurring all around us, and you could see the impact and the results. Whenever we went to certain places, whenever we went to certain islands or locations, you can see the impacts of war. My ship, fortunately, was not involved directly in any attacks with the kamikazes, we were not faced with that, and we were fortunate. Other ships were, we saw the results. We were fortunate in not having had to been through it.
Q: Being a college student, I have made some friends that will definitely last a lifetime. Have you had the same experience overseas? Do you still keep in touch with some of the friends you made during World War II?
A: Yes, very definitely. There is one fellow that I had met in Boot Camp, from upstate New York, and I see him every year at a convention. I was the director of the Destroyer Escort Sailor's Association, I had just left the position, and I nominated him, and he won his election. We have reunions every year, and we did meet in Myrtle Beach this past year. You get Christmas cards, and you get phone calls, and you have to remember that I was the youngest aboard that ship, the very youngest aboard that ship. Because I am of Korean War age, and these fellows are in their late 70's early 80's and they are drifting, getting ill, and dying, and so I hear it all the time. I hear of a whole bunch of soldiers passing away. But we have maintained relationship.
Interviewer's comment: I can just imagine the comradely on the ship because, I don't mean to take away from your interview, but being on the baseball team in college, you see your friends at practice, in the weight room every single day, and you're with them twenty hours a day, it's amazing.
Interviewee's response: That's right, we'll I'll tell you this, you're a history major? As a history major you should know this. You take Germany, you take Italy, and you take Japan, and you wonder if they were fighting the way we were, how could they do it? How can these men do it? You've probably heard this before but in a sense you're really not fighting for you country. Sure you are, as we were, but you're around here with each fellow, and you're friendly with them, and you're close to them, and you're loyal to each of them, and you sure as hell don't want to look like a coward in front of them. If anything happened to them, you'd be the first to help, and they'd be the first to help you. These were the people you're concerned with, and that was the way that we were. I never realized that about the foreign countries, the enemy, but over the years, you gain a perspective that you don't have when you're that young.
Q: How did you keep in touch with your family while overseas?
A: I'd write. I used to write. My sisters used to write to me, and send packages to me. My brother, who was in Japan, naturally there was very little communication although there was not communication, although I would always right to him. I later found out that my letters got to him, but I never got anything from him. When I was overseas in the Pacific, my other brother had been all over the place, and he ended up in Hawaii, and he was stationed there. He was commissioned, and I visited him at his base. I had another brother who was in infantry in the army in Germany; he had been in the Battle of the Bulge, we were writing back and fourth. There were four brothers out of five, and we were all in a position of harm. On some occasions, you might end up on making a phone call, but the communications were not the way they are today, it was like an alien sort of a thing. We were not sophisticated enough to, at that particular age and at that time, to do a lot of things that people take for granted now.
Q: You grew up in a period where Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only president you knew of. What was your view of him as president?
A: I loved him. Loved him! We regarded him as a savior. I don't remember Coolidge, although to my understanding, I was alive for several months of his term. The only thing I remember about Hoover is that whenever you mentioned his name people would wrinkle their noses, and they just associated him with the Depression. With Roosevelt, he was regarded as a savior. His voice, when he spoke was one of calm. He got the country going. He started all of these programs. We had confidence in him. We loved his wife because his wife was beyond belief. I have met members of his family as a result of some of the things I'm doing. I've met his grandson; I've met his son, who was the skipper on a Destroyer Escort. I've met his son's wife, and we're still in communication with her, Toby Roosevelt. But Roosevelt, had a very major role, and he affected all of us that way. Of course, he was being blamed by the Republicans or by those who have wealth. He was a complete horror; they would have assassinated him if they could. But to the general public, he was a winner.
Q: Where were you and what were your immediate reactions to his death in April of 1945?
A: I was aboard the ship, and it was a major shock to his passing, but it wasn't unexpected because on the newsreels, and in the papers you could see Roosevelt, and you could see that he aged very, very much through World War II. Every single year he would look grayer and grayer and grayer. Of course, you knew he was paralyzed, although they didn't publicize that. When he died, it was like losing a father; we had ceremonies aboard every single ship.
Q: What were your thoughts on Harry S. Truman? Did you believe that Hitler gained an advantage when he took over the presidency?
A: I didn't even know of Harry Truman as more than a fellow who was supposed to be a politico out of Kansas City under the control of the bosses, and I thought it was one political move when he got in there. But, that rapidly changed. He grew to the role, and he was in combat. Not only was he in combat, but also he was decisive. He was not impressive in voice or in appearance, but his actions were such that he turned out, in my opinion, to be one of the giants of the presidencies. And he was decisive, and when he had to make the choice, he dropped the bomb, and with no regrets, and for the right reasons.
Q: During a convoy mission, why did German U-Boats pose the greatest problems for Destroyer Escorts? How did the Destroyer Escorts combat the German U-Boats?
A: The German submarines, first of all, were of top-notch quality, absolutely top-notch quality. Their torpedoes were superior to that of the Americans. It wasn't until 1943, two years after the war, that we developed a truly accurate torpedo. And there was a leadership among the submarines, and I've met a number of German submarines, and they were very much like ours, they were very much the same. Their skippers, their leaders, and their officers were well trained, and they were a true force. They were, at the outset of the war, before everything was made much better, before our radar came in, and before our convoys started to operate, they were sinking us all over the place. The numbers were voluminous, everywhere you went, right along the New Jersey Coast and off the New York Coast, you could get out their and see the fires. They were a true combat vessel. We weren't sure of the breaking of the code, we would learn of that later on. But, the Destroyer Escorts were made specifically to combat the submarine. They were much smaller, much cheaper to build, took less time, as well armed, if not better than a Destroyer. They came out in tremendous numbers for that service initially to serve as a U-Boat hunter. With the radar and the sonar that developed, plus the depth charges plus the spigot motor, which are at the very front, (Motioning with hands in a forward direction), as you developed these weapons the submarines were decimated. Towards the end of the war, by the Spring of 1945, before the war ended, the average U-Boat would take forty days from its being completed in construction to its being sunk. Seventy-five percent of the U-Boat people were killed, and a good deal of this had to do with DE's. During World War II the DE was effective, it got in their a little late, but they just went in their and did the job they had to do.
Q: Was there a difference between the arsenals on Destroyer Escorts in the Atlantic Theatre compared to the arsenal in the Pacific Theatre?
A: Yes. In the Atlantic, we had torpedoes. As we were going into the Pacific, they would send us to wherever you were going whether it was Charlestown or Brooklyn Navy Yard, in our case it was the Brooklyn Navy Yard. They said, "Look, the war against the submarines is over." We were concerned with guns, and we were concerned with depth charges in the Atlantic. But, in the Pacific, it was a war against airplanes. So as a result, we had the torpedo tubes removed, we had more anti-aircraft guns put on, and in addition we had even more guns put on. Until finally, we had got to the ship itself, if you got up there, and you looked down below, you could see that this ship was nothing but armament on every single side. Every type of machine gun with the depth charges with everything in there aimed at anti-aircraft. It was just one anti-aircraft panel, and the entire ship was devoted to that, primarily, because we were not going to be dealing with Japanese submarines to a great extent, although we could have handled those, but it was really the aircraft we expect. Therefore, we went through heavy training before we went to the Pacific; we went through training before we went through the canal, and after we went through the canal, and every single day until we got there.
Q: What Japanese weapon created the worst problem for the United States?
A: First of all, the Japanese torpedoes, when they were effective, were tremendous. They were called the Long Lance, and they were extremely accurate. The torpedoes we used for the first few years of the war were horrible. They would go under ships or they would go off to the side. They wouldn't go off, but they'd frustrate the submarine people. The Japanese had that. Initially, the Japanese were very superior with their fighter planes, particularly the Zero. It could outfight, it could out fly, it could out shoot, and it was more maneuverable than anything we had. It wasn't until later we caught up with them, after the first two years that we were dealing with superior planes but the Zero was something. Their biggest asset was that they were dealing with fanatics. Their personnel were such that they were not going to surrender. If they surrendered they were regarded as dead. For that reason, you ended up wherever they were involved, whether it was aboard a ship or whether it aboard an island or wherever you happened to be, they were going to fight until the very, very, very, very, end, and you could not trust them if they were going to surrender because they could be blowing themselves up.
Q: How did you feel about the segregation policy enforced in the United States Navy?
A: Horrible, because when I first got aboard the ship I saw these black fellows, and they were all segregated, they were all living in one location of the ship, and they were all serving as cooking personnel, officers stewards, and they were treated by the officers like servants. The rest of us got along well with them; we understood what was going on because we were dealing with some very bright people. The segregation was evident. If you ended up in a southern port, if you ended up in Norfolk Virginia or anyplace in the south, these fellows had to get in the back of a bus. One of the nuttiest things that ever occurred was when I was in South Beach in Staten Island. South Beach wasn't really a beach, but it was like Coney Island, between Coney Island was South Beach in the middle of the water. But it was a prison camp for Italian Prisoners of War, and the Italian Prisoners of War were given American uniforms, especially after Italy surrendered, but we were still not with Italy, but nevertheless they were there. I remember these Italian Prisoners of War with a green patch that saying Italy. I had come to South Beach, and I was over there one day (Break in the tape)
The saloonkeepers were serving Italian POW's, but were refusing to serve American black servicemen. On the side, I had done a documentary called, "Proudly We Served," on this very topic with the USS Mason, which was a Destroyer Escort, part of an experiment, was manned by black personnel under white officers. Right now it's being made into major film to be shown on the big screen, and Tommy Hilfiger is financing it.
Q: Harry S. Truman once said that dropping the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima was the easiest decision he has ever had to make. First, what was your reaction to the dropping of the atomic bombs? Second, do you agree with Truman's statement?
A: Absolutely, I very definitely agree even to this day. You'll have everyone second guessing, and saying that it was political or whatever it might be, but the closer you were to it the more it means. We were in countdown for November 1 for the attack on Kyushu; I knew exactly where my ship was going to be; I knew where others were going to be. I also had seen the plans of the Japanese saying that they were going to kill every American, Australian, British, Dutch Prisoner of War; they had started doing it already. There were going to be thousands and thousands of lives on both sides that were going to be lost. He did the right thing. If you ever get before a group of any people that were there, they're going to feel as I do. For those who were not there, for those who are decades away from this, and are thinking of different thought, they wonder how this could have been done. Look what happened is done is done. I agree.
Q: After you were discharged on July 16, 1946 did you have a feeling of uneasiness once you became a civilian?
A: Yes. One of the things that occurred was that everything seemed to be unreal because we were in the war for so long. Everyone was talking about postwar, postwar, postwar, and postwar. It was unreal, we didn't really know what to expect, I didn't know what to expect. You would see all of these people finally coming back again, and we didn't know what was going to happen because the economy was humming during World War II, but we felt that all of these industries would stop; we didn't know what would occur. Of course we know what did occur, it was the start of an explosion that has lasted forever. The other thing is that when I met people my age many of them have not gone in. They eventually might have been drafted, but I met people from my class or I met people my own age, and as nutty as it is I just felt much older than they. They had not seen anything, they had never been anywhere, and I had just felt as if I had aged.
Q: What were your family's reaction, your friends' reaction, and the community's reaction once you returned?
A: My friends, my family, and everyone else were very, very happy to see me return. I immediately started making plans to go to college in the fall. My parents were very happy to see me back because all four of us had been in positions of major danger, and we all survived, and that wasn't the case of many families.
Q: Did you attend the University of Pennsylvania under the GI Bill?
A: Yes I did. I had a certain number of months in the service, a number of months overseas, and everything all cranked into this formula, and I ended up getting just about my entire four years paid for by the government. Of course the cost of credits and the cost of college and everything else was nowhere near what it is today, even if you converted the money. But I did get some assistance from home, but not much. I really made it under the GI Bill, and it was supplemented by my working while away in college on staff, and that enabled me go through without really asking for anything at home.
Q: While at college what was your degree in, and why did you choose to choose that degree?
A: I have a BA in the area of History, and it was probably because I was undetermined as to what I wanted to do, I really didn't know. I think that if you'd been in the service, there is a certain amount of time that really takes you to get an idea as to what you're really doing. I was relatively young, and all I knew is that I was going to go to college, and when I was at college I did very well, but I was unsure as to what was going to occur. There's always a cloud over my head too in that on the way out of the service, for some reason, I had joined the reserves. While at college I felt things were occurring over there in the Far East, and they were talking about recalling the reserves, it didn't come to pass for a while, but it eventually did, and I was recalled. But, the matter of change made a major impact. When I went away to college, as I mentioned several times in here, I always had a concern with history, and about what was taking place in the world so it was natural that I go into that area.
Q: At Columbia University what were your Masters and Doctorate degrees in?
A: It was a combination of finance and educational administration. Educational administration was aimed towards my eventual becoming a superintendent of schools. The finance was because I visualized, through a lot of guidance and what was apparent, that some of the biggest things that would occur in the schools would be in the area of financing them, and in the areas, at that time, of constructing them. So I was involved in general administration, supervision, personnel, but with special courses and a lot of emphasis on economics, finance, building construction, bond issues, and taxation. I developed a specialty because it would lead, eventually, to the role of superintendent, but truly to the passage of the area of business and finance, which was really going to break apart. But in a result of that, I made it to the classroom to assistant superintendent in four years.
Q: When you were called back for the Korean War, did that compare at all to World War II?
A: With the Korean War, it was very different. When I say I was recalled, something happened there that just changed my life. When I had left the service I just signed up and said if you want to recall me, recall me because I liked the service. But I never thought about the war, and I never thought that things would be occurring over there. I never attended any meetings. Now, I had finished college, I was engaged, and I got a call to report to the Marine Core as a Medical Core man, and if you ended up with the Marine Core as a Medical Core man for Korea, well (laughs) your chances of survival are horrible. I asked how I could get out of it, and as a result of that discussion, they said the only way I could get out was if I got a higher rank in another service. So I went to the Air Force and got commission on a four-year basis, and I was all set to go in when I got another letter, indicating from the Navy, that I didn't have to go because I had less than a year to go. So I had to go through a procedure whereby I turned down the commission from the Air Force, and I didn't have to go, but it just completely disrupted my life at that point because I was going to go to Rutgers Law School, and I was engaged, and I just lost around a year and a half as a result of this waiting to go, but it did have an impact even though I was not actually in the service.
Q: At what point did you share your war experiences with your family?
A: From the beginning, I told people about this for years. I never held anything back; I just found that it was an experience I wanted to share with people. I found people were interested in what I was saying, in what I've done, and in what I've seen. Immediately, anyone who was interested, I spoke to them about it.
Q: What has been your role with DESA- Garden State Chapter? What activities stand out in your mind?
A: First of all, I'm one of the major officers in the Destroyer Escort Sailor's Association, nationally. I'm a director. We have forty chapters throughout the country. I started the one in Long Island called, Sal DESA, the Statue of Liberty. I do not live in New Jersey, but I have many friends there, so I belong to both chapters. I attend chapter meetings in Jersey several times a year. I just attended a meeting last week. They call upon me to make presentations, and I just made a presentation on World War II. Another time, I did a presentation on the invasion of Japan that never took place because I am regarded as the historian in this area. But, I do belong to the groups, and this group is, again, highly important because you've got to remember that being on one DE is like being on all DE's, they were all much alike. All of the people who served were very much alike. Everyone serving on one of these ships had the same experiences as everyone else; they're interchangeable. There isn't a thing you can say about one ship that wouldn't be applicable to another. The fellows have never left this, and I have never left this. You're eighteen and nineteen again. It's interesting. The meetings are there, there are national meetings that take place that Garden State participates in. One of the other important things is that it brings the family into it. They've got the wives in there, they've got the children in there, and it's a continuing sort of thing. A lot of people go because they are not anonymous, they are people over there that have friends, and their wives get to know people. Many wives, who have become widowed, continue to go to these meetings. These chapters, particularly Garden State, are very effective. Garden State happens to be one of the most effective of all of those throughout the country. It's one of the largest. It's probably one of the best organized; you have very competent people in it.
Q: Ever since September 11th the talk of war has been ever present. Do you think President Bush is taking the proper angles in defending the free world against terrorism?
A: Yes, very definitely. We've seen what happens when you don't do something. He is doing a much better job than I have ever anticipated. He is taking the right approach, and I think that we should support him. I think there are dangers out there, that if we did nothing, we would really regret. So I am supportive, I would say that if you were to ask most veterans, very definitely, they are also.
Q: What do you think of the talk of war with Iraq?
A: Bush's father made a major error by stopping. The political reasons, he stopped at the point whereby he could have taken over completely. Of course it would have represented problems, but we would have been avoiding the problems that we have today. I think that his son recognizes that, the government recognizes it, and I think there will be a very different outcome. I fully support the President in what he's doing.
Q: What other countries do you think will play a major role if there were a war with Iraq?
A: I think that this thing might
tend to explode a bit, whether they like it or not, whether they want it or
not. Israel is very definitely going to be brought into it. Places that base
us, whether it is Saudi Arabia or other countries there, wherever we are based
are going to be brought into it. This is not a very simple thing; this is a
very, very, very complex thing. You don't know where things are. At the present
time, Britain and Israel are our soul, true Allies. As far as France is concerned,
France is been on our neck, and has disliked us for as long as I can remember,
except for the time that we freed them. But this is a very complex issue, and
we don't know what is going to occur. It's one of these blanks that are unidentifiable.
Q: What do you feel the world should lean from your experiences in World War II?
A: I think that this relates to the very last question. You react before things occur. You see the problems, you see them developing, and get them there. You just don't wait for things to happen when things become obvious. We were supposed to investigate bases and investigate weaponry and everything else over there, and things fell apart in Iraq. Here they are doing things that who knows where it will lead with regard to poison, poison gas, and whatever weapons they have. With regard to the terrorists, we've made a move there, and it will be a life long battle forever, and it has a future that none of us can visualize. We are now on a battleground, it's not like World War II where you were facing uniforms and other countries. We're in a different location right now. Anyone can be in it.
Before we conclude, once again I want to thank you, Dr. Davis, for coming from Long Island to meet with me today. It has been an absolute pleasure meeting you, and discussing these questions with you. I am forever in debt to you and sailors like you for making this country free. Thank you very much.
Conclusion of interview.
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