DESA Oral History Project
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|Oral History Interview
of Conrad Lambruschini
Date of Interview: July 28, 2003
For the Monmouth University Library
This oral history interview of Conrad Lambruschini is taking place on July 28, 2003 at 106 Riparion Way in Toms River, New Jersey. This interview is for the Oral History Project at Monmouth University. I am Jennifer Raimo, a student at Monmouth University. I will be conducting the interview. Conrad Lambruschini served in World War II. He served in the following area the South Pacific.
Question: What was your childhood like growing up in the pre-World War II era?
Answer: I was born and raised in San Francisco. I had a sister and in North Beach in San Francisco we were surrounded by relatives and we of course we lived 200 feet away from Jungle Marsh's Place it was a rental community. So once again I was born and raised there and then I moved from they're to New York with my first job. No, lets backtrack. I went to Francisco Elementary School and then to Galileo High School, from there I joined the Navy. I was drafted, but I was working just before, when I got out of school, I was working at Moore Dry dock in Oakland, California and I became a ship fitter quarter men, in charge of building the Liberty Ship. I thought that I would show you some of my family stuff here. (Takes out a photocopy of a newspaper article featuring the shipyard where he worked). This is a document that was printed in 1943; it shows myself and my father, my father was a superintendent of the shipyards. So we were building the ships. Now the beauty of something like this is, these are all Italians, and it shows what the Italians, the pictures and the write up, what they were doing for the war effort. And what they did, they took this information and bombarded Italy with flyers. To show the Italians that they should not join Germany to fight against us. And low and behold they killed Mussolini, you know, because of I don't know, because of this or just what. But Italy of course you know backed out of the war from Germany, so that was my beginning. Next Question.
Q: What were your educational experiences like, specifically can you recall if your high school history teacher spoke about World War I at all?
A: I don't remember at all. Believe it or not, the only thing that I really remember was in woodshop a professor there designed and built an engine, because I was a hot rod enthusiast, I used to build hot rods, that really appealed to me to hear all about it. Strange as it may seem, years and years later I was on an airplane and he came on the same airplane. We sat together, Professor Jacobson anyway. That was my high school education. Mathematics I was real good at, being I don't know, history, you know I don't remember, anyway. Onward.
Q: Did your high school teacher discuss the events of World War II in Europe as they were going on at the time?
Q: What did you do for fun as a youth? What kind of recreational activities were you involved in?
A: I was involved with building hot rods of course, and we were racing cars before the war, and after I came back from the war. This is before the war that you are interested in, right? And I had access to a boat, as you see I live on the water, so I'm a boating nut. I've always been a boating nut. Let's see what the heck else, that's about it.
Q: What were some of your favorite radio programs, songs, and or movies while you were growing up?
A: Oh dear. I know I used to love Xavier Cugot, Spanish music I liked. I guess Nelson Eddie, Laurence Welk, all of those, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Gene Cruba. And as a kid we had a sort of like a little association. You might say that we had a gang, and we would go out and challenge the Mission Street gang. A bunch of Italian kids we were very, very tough, real crazy kids. Then came the war, or what else.
Q: What was your opinion of President Roosevelt at this time?
A: We thought we was the greatest, because of what he did for the unemployment and just how he was on top of things, even though he was in a wheelchair.
Q: Were you aware of the rise of Hitler and Mussolini in Europe at this time?
A: Absolutely, because of working in the shipyards, we were under pressure to really get things done, and we all really worked very, very hard. Without having to have any supervision, although at one time, a crane was passing overhead and they had a big chunk of steel on this crane in the shipyard that was. So I backed away from it and was leaning against the bulkhead and my father happened to come along behind me, and he kicked me in the fanny and knocked me for about thirty five feet, and he told me, "Don't you every let me catch you slacking down on the job again" (laughs). Ever since then, I've been working hard.
Q: What was your knowledge and opinion of Japan before the attack on Pearl Harbor?
A: Well, being brought up in San Francisco, we had Japanese cleaners in the area, and they were nice people, nice to us, very intelligent, as were the Chinese. And we had no thoughts of there being any sort of a separation between the classes, the Chinese, and the Japanese, and the Spaniards. As a matter of fact, my best friend was a Spaniard, growing up in those years. So we all lived in that North Beach neighborhood that was predominantly Italian. But, we had other people there, the Japanese were there, and I remember them taking that family and putting them into a camp. Because all Japanese were corralled and took away. Lovely family, lovely Japanese family, so that was a little bit of my experience with the Japanese.
Q: How did you feel about American neutrality in the early stages of the War?
A: I think I was too young to understand. My mind was full of I guess hot rods, and racecars something of that nature, and boating. And, working in the shipyards. I'd go to the library and learn how to triangulate, just do things. It became such a fascinating job to me, I loved every minute of it. Excuse me go ahead, next question. I can ramble on.
Q: Where were you when Pearl Harbor was attacked?
A: I was riding in my 1934 Roadster. I bought it for $40 used and that was less than a pair of sneakers now (laughs). And I ran that little old car, and I had the radio on. I remember I was driving down the street with a bunch of friends in it, when we heard the news. And, that was the first time I heard anything about it. Of course, we didn't understand the implications of this, so that was my first experience.
Q: How did you feel when you were drafted and how old were you?
A: Oh dear. I was born in 22, I was drafted in 44, so I was what 22 years old, 21. Yea, 21, 22 years old. I was old compared to some of these young kids.
Q: How did your family react to this information?
A: Well, my father was I think he was in favor of it. My mother she was concerned of course, as all mothers are. My sister at that time she was just entering the convent, she became a nun, and she was very concerned. Because she and I were very, very close. As a matter of fact, she would visit us minimum of twice a year from California and spend about a month with us, but she paced away. Big loss, big loss.
Q: Did any of your friends from high school or anybody you knew at the time get drafted at the same you did?
A: Yes. As a matter of fact, I went to boot camp with a couple of them. Not that I knew them real well, but I remember a chap by the name of Johanason, and another guy Joe Moriarti. We went together, so those were about the only two. And when I got drafted, in the room there must have been around 400 of us, but I don't remember being close to any of them. One of the reasons I got drafted of course is being in the shipyards, I could have got a deferment, it was a necessary job building these ships, it was supply ships, called Liberty Ships. And, instead all my friends were going into the service you see, so I says the hell with it, I'll go in too. So went down there and I told the draft board I want to be drafted, and sure enough, they drafted me.
Q: While you were in the Navy did you ever have a desire or wish that you were part of another branch of the military?
A: (forcefully) No. Maybe in the air force, but that's about it.
Q: Just some questions about during the war.
Q: When and where did you complete your Naval training, and can you describe a typical day of training, and how long of a period your training expanded?
A: Ah, training. Well when I first got there they made me guide on bearer, which means I held the flag as we were marching, and this was in Faraget, Idaho. I went through boot camp there, and of course they put us through all kinds of paces and tests. Then he sent me to engineering school. Engineering school was in either Richmond, Virgina or Norfolk one or the other. A typical day was, we would just get up, go to school, and it was sort of like a pressured course, you worked night and day just about, and I remember falling asleep in class I was so tired, but it was all for the good of the cause. In those years boy, we were all gun hoe. Not like I have seen some of these kids today, but go ahead.
Q: Most of the men who served in the Destroyer Escort Service were between the ages of 18 and 25, considering this and the young age at which you entered the Navy, were you intimidated by the equipment and weapons on the ship, or perhaps by the ship itself?
A: Never, because I had a little bit of an engineering background, boats were my hobby. But, I didn't ask for anything when I went aboard the ship. Now, I should have gone into a construction battalion because my experience, and I had letters of commendations the whole nine yards from being in the shipyard, and the knowledge that I had of building ships, fitting plates and so forth. That would have been perfect, but instead they sent me to a Destroyer Escort, and my first job was evaporators. Evaporators means making water aboard the ship. My second job at general quarters was down at the bottom of the ship, right in all the ammunition, because I had the engineering background, loading the ammunition hoist, so therefore, I saw nothing but five inch shells that I shoved into an ammunition hoist, pushed the pedal down, and when they pushed it down up in the five inch gun mount, the shell would travel up. So that's all I saw, everything with the exception of a couple dead chaps floating around and a marine who blew up close to us.
Q: Can you recall any humorous stories from your time on a Destroyer Escort during the War?
A: Boy, can I. One that comes to mind is we were on the ship, the fantail of the ship waiting for a movie to start. And we had these old movies; sometimes we would show them two and three times because being out at sea like that, a little ship like that a Destroyer Escort, no one paid attention to us (laughs), so we didn't have fresh food or real good stuff like that. So, at any rate, what had happened, is we were waiting for the movie to start and we were sitting on some orange crates, because we didn't have chairs aboard ship, and all of a sudden, an LCVP pulls alongside of us, now that's a little landing craft, full of beer and what they would do is they would unload the beer there and have an officer checking each case of beer, and they would have an officer, our officer checking each case of beer going in, and of course we sailors would have to shuttle the cases from the LCVP from across the deck into a locker. And so I got the bright idea, why don't we stash a couple of these cases under those boxes, they'd never know it, (laughs) so two of us put two cases of beer under each one of our orange crates that we were sitting on, so when we got it all down, unloading the barge and loading the ship, we sat down on the boxes and started complaining come on let's get going with the movie. So there was a ruckus between the officer that was checking the beer in, he says we're two cases short, and people down at the LCVP says no we gave you those cases. So there was a big argument and we just didn't pay it attention and we're all laughing our heads off. The strange part about it, that brings up another thing. We in those days as a young kid, being subjected to a rigorous wartime atmosphere, we almost didn't care about anything. Smoking up a storm, drinking up a storm, so it was just one of those things. So if they caught us, they would throw us into a work party or something like that, that's about all. Another time, you interested in one more story? I got a lot of them, but. The chiefs made me handle their quarters, the chiefs quarters, so in doing, one time they came aboard the ship with, and this was out in the Islands somewhere in the Philippines, I don't maybe New Guinea I forget where, but they came aboard the ship with a can of pineapple. Very, very rare for us to ever have something like that aboard our ship. We didn't have the ice creams they had on other ships and stuff, anyway. So, the chiefs got the pineapple they opened it up they put it in this bowl and they gave it to me and they says "make us some pineapple fritters". Ok, how do you make pineapple fritters? I don't know. I never did cooking. Well, they wrote down for me baking powder, sugar, or whatever the case may be and so forth. Well I grab the can of baking soda instead of baking powder, and I put it in there and cooked them all up, they looked beautiful. So when I first served them of course (laughing) one of the chiefs bit into it and "AHHHHH" he screamed. I know they got thrown overboard because of that, because the pineapple was so rare. So, these are the things that I remember vividly.
Q: What was your relationship like with your officers, and how close in age were you to your officers?
A: Well, I was a little bit older. I was 21, 22 apparently and I was right in line with the officers. Not the gold braid officers, mostly the chiefs. Now the strange part about it is the chiefs in those days they thought they were so superior you know. They wouldn't really converse with any of the enlisted men, as well as the officers. So my relationship with them is I didn't care, I did my job, I did it very well and they enjoyed that. But I didn't ask for anything, I should have asked to be removed from the ammunition hoist, because it was such a dangerous position. I believe it's the most dangerous position on the ship. Cause any slightest little thing happens, that magazine would go. Anyway, yea I had a good relationship with the officers and the chiefs.
Q: How often were you able to communicate with you family and how often were they able to communicate with you?
A: Very rarely, because once we went out to sea, in a Destroyer Escort when you're doing duties like we had, we had a commodore aboard, commodore meaning that he was the head of half a dozen other ships which we did supply duty and protection of these supply ships, so he would determine which ships would join what convoy. What was that question again?
Q: Contact with your family.
A: Oh. Because of that we didn't tough home base too much. When I say home base, one of the islands, oh sure we had liberty on a couple of the islands, but yes I would write very very briefly. My father would rarely write, my mother would very rarely write. My sister would write though and that was about it.
Q: During World War II, as in other wars the United States was involved in the United States Navy was segregated. Were you aware of and how did you feel about segregation in the Navy at this time? And what were feelings and opinions on the USS Mason, one of the only Destroyer Escorts manned by a predominantly African American force?
A: Bare in mind that raised in San Francisco, there was no such thing as segregation, none whatsoever. I can tell you story if you want about when I first arrived at New York. But at any rate getting back to what we were talking about. To me we were all one. It was only till I got to New York and aboard the ship that I saw, visualized, and heard of segregated situations. Once again, you know we were all, in San Fran, we were all raised as one race you know, Americans. Sure, they was a lot of Chinese and Japanese, and incidentally they were once again very smart. Chinese would go to Chinese school after school, and very, very intelligent, but now getting back to this black ship. It was to me, it was another ship it was another crew. I had no compunctions about any thoughts or anything about it, so when people would talk about it sometimes I didn't know what the hell they were talking about. So, that was it.
Q: Today, almost 60 years after the end of World War II, the decision to drop the atom bomb is still debated. How did you feel about the dropping of the atom bomb immediately after the incident?
A: Greatest thing in the world. It saved so many of our lives, because the Japanese at that time were sharpening broom handles and getting sticks ready for our invasion and the people themselves were going to fight us you know, and bare hands just about. So I thought the dropping of the atom bomb was the greatest thing in the world. Now the strange part about it and I don't know how it came about but before the bomb was dropped, there was a rumor aboard our ship that we have a big bomb that were going to drop and I didn't pay any attention to it you know, so it's a big bomb what's the difference? And we were so elated when that happened. And when we learned that it flattened Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was just wonderful. I know one of our crewmembers, I just talked to him recently, he said that he has cancer and he thinks that because of the atom bomb. And I did some research and found that we weren't too close to the dropping of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when those things happened. So he thinks it was because of the atom bomb, thank heavens for the atom bomb, thanks heavens. These assholes don't understand anything about the reasons for the background of the reasons for them dropping the bomb and what Truman did, they just, they annoy me. Excuse me, go ahead.
Q: Where were you when you heard of FDR's death in April 1945 and what was your reaction to his death?
A: Well, we were all in a state of shock of course, and we were very concerned about our future in the war, because he was so involved with the Winston Churchill at the time, but frankly, I don't think it really concerned me at the time, knowing that Truman was right behind him.
Q: What was your opinion of Harry S. Truman when he took office?
A: Harry Truman? Well, because I don't know the background of a person such as Truman, I really had no opinion. And, so but once I started learning of his actions and reactions, the buck stops here, and the dropping of the atomic bomb, and the bringing back of Macarthur, I had a lot of respect for that man. He should me to have a lot of guts, in not being a politician that we have today.
Q: When and where were you discharged from your services in the Navy?
A: I went into the service in San Francisco I was discharged in San Diego, California. I went directly to San Francisco and got my old job back at the shipyard
TAPE STOPPED and RESTARTED ON SIDE B
because in those days they had to hire you back. But, after about six months or so, the then superintendent, my father was in a different business, the superintendent came to me and says you know, what you should do is look for another career because the shipyards are phasing out.
A: Yea, I went back to the shipyards, and then he convinced that I should be looking for another career. I happened to be in touch with a chap who was involved with Telautograph Corporation and he brought me in because of my background in engineering and so forth, as a service technician and I went to night school to learn electronics at that time. Because television was just coming into play and the electronics that we knew had been changing, so with Telautograph as a technician, I became the supervisor, and then I became the assistant general supervisor at which time they transferred me to New York. And I had 125 service technicians all over the United States at that time, then I was a very, very aggressive and the Vice President, a chap by the name of Keller, asked me to open up the Pacific Northwest. At that particular time prior to that, they sent me to Mexico City to open up that area as a service supervisor and I knew the techniques of the equipment, how to service the equipment, how to sell the equipment, so they sent me to Mexico City to educate automatic electric in Mexico, I believe it was. So we set them up as a dealership. Directly, after that while working in New York, they sent me up to the Pacific Northwest, Seattle and as sales and service, because I knew the service background, and I knew the sales and I established an office up there. And that's when I started breaking records. I sold so much stuff that they put someone else in, put a service team up there, pulled me out and put me into Los Angles and made me the regional manager, regional sales manager.
Q: What role if any did your experiences in war and on a Destroyer Escort play in your professional career?
A: Well mostly in the engineering background and I don't know other than making me a little more mature enough to handle men and work with people.
Q: Did you marry after the war, and if so how soon afterwards?
A: We married in 1960 so that was several years after the war.
Q: Do you have children and have any of them served in the Navy or any other branch of the military?
A: No, I have a son whose 39 and a daughter who's about 35. She became a funeral director, she stays at home now up in Wanaque. She has two children, my grandchildren. That's why you see stuff all over the place, when they get here this place is a disaster, one hour after they arrived. Bang, the whole thing is full of toys for them. Everything we do is for the kids. So my son though he's still a bachelor. He is the chief flavor chemist for Flavormatics up in Poughkeepsie, New York. Actually its in Wakinson Falls, and very proud of him. You probably have had some of his flavors in the various stores, you know like soft drinks or lemonades, orange juice. He's the guy that makes the flavors, develops them.
Q: Did you share you experiences in war with your family, and if so how soon after you returned home?
A: Good question. This is something that irks the hell out of me. I don't know why my family was not interested, and when I talk to other people about this it seems like none of the children were real interested in anything that transpired during the war. Now, just recently a friend of my daughter's husband, his father served on a Destroyer Escort and he says his father didn't talk about anything. He said now that he's gone I would just like to know what his ship did and so forth. So I gathered up all kinds of information to give to him. He was completely elated, but again it just goes to show you that during the family times, we never got involved with explaining what we did in the war or nor did my children ever ask me.
Q: Since the end of World War II, many movies have been made about the war. Recently, the film Pearl Harbor was released, many critics feel this movie is accurate, whereas others feel it is extremely inaccurate. If you have seen Pearl Harbor do you feel it is accurate, if not have you seen any movies about the war that you feel are accurate or inaccurate?
A: I kind of think that it was semi-accurate let's say. Anything with ships in it I just love to see a movie with ships in it. Some of the movies like, Red October and oh dear what was that other movie? A Destroyer escort was involved, I can't remember the name of it now, but because my time was spent down below in the ammunition room I didn't see anything of the war really. Sure, we shot at plans and we dropped depth charges, but it all comes back when I see a movie where they're doing the same thing. I would assume that they did the same thing as we did. So it's good to see them, that I didn't see at the bottom of the ship, this way I saw it from the top, in a movie.
Q: When and why did you decide to get involved with the Garden State Chapter of the DESA, and what is role in the organization, and how do you feel the organization has benefited you?
A: About seven years ago I think it was. I happened to be reading a newspaper and there was an article written by a chap by the name of Jim Roter, and he mentioned Destroyer Escort Sailors Association, and I went ballistic. I had no knowledge of anything like that ever existing. So, I contacted the newspaper, they told me I had to write a letter, I wrote a letter and he contacted me back. So I joined the organization, and started making suggestions and telling everybody that this should be a fun type of thing and so forth. And they made me executive officer, so to this day I'm very, very much involved with the Destroyer Escort Sailor's Association. One of the things that it allowed me to do is a little bit of research into fellow shipmates. So, it just so happens that one of my shipmates, who I spent Liberties with aboard the ship in the Philippines and Australia and so forth. A guy by the name of Superty, we called him Super and I often wondered what ever happened to him? So low and behold, his name is on our list. I just went crazy, ran to the telephone picked it up and called his wife, with only to find out that he had just passed away. That destroyed me. So this is what's happening now. I found another man who was our chief gunnery officer, Leo Regot, he lives up in the Paramus area, he was a judge, and I got together with him and we started getting into the organization, and we were just going to make him the executive officer for up North, and he had a stroke, passed away. And that's just recently, last year I think it was. So what is happening is I'm beginning to lose my friends, real quick, you know. I never have before, and it's all new to me. You go to talk to somebody and he's gone. I have another chap done in Delaware that I communicate on the web with and he tells me of the ex-captain aboard our ship has had a stroke. So these things are happening now, you have to bear in mind that destroyer escorts, there was no more built so we have a very, very unique club we're a dying breed. No new members. Tough guys, real tough guys. Had to be. You take aboard a ship like ours, small, true and deadly we called it, and it was very sleek. The shell of the ship was only a quarter of an inch, you could shoot through it with a 22-caliber gun. They were built just to wrap the submarines, because at that time the German Submarines were really having a toll on us. Our ships were going down to Venezuela or something to refuel or pick up oil and the like of this, the subs would just sit outside of Florida and they took a toll of 539 ships I believe it was, until we came along, in our little Destroyer Escorts and either chased them away, sank them, or did something. But you have to bear in mind that you hear about the Battleship New Jersey and the aircraft carrier, Kennedy, and all of these big ships, who protected these big ships, our little Destroyer Escorts. So anyway, onward.
Q: Recently the United States participated in military action in Iraq, as a veteran of war, how do you feel about the United States' combat involvement in Iraq?
A: Well, I think because of the 9/11 Twin Tower situation, we have to go after them, before they continue going after us. Now, I have mixed emotions about some of these places, mainly Korea and Liberia and so forth. I kind of sit back thinking, why should we stick our neck out and help all of these people. We should perhaps become an isolationist, protect our own boarders and but that may be a little bit shortsighted because the future is with you people you know. You young kids, and what we have to do I guess is to protect this country getting ready for the future.
Q: What advice do you have for young sailors and military personnel today?
A: Let me tell you a little story. I get involved, I am a military liaison with the Destroyer Escort Sailor's Association, so I would get very involved with the head people up at the Naval Weapons station Earle and Admiral Beard and the like of this, one time while I was up there, I rode a bus back. It's a three-mile ride from the ship to the base along this long pier. And there was a bunch of young sailor's talking and they were bitching up a storm about having to go overseas for six months. They said this is terrible, going over there for six months. That's when these ships out of Naval Weapon station Earle were supply ships. They would go over there with ammunition, food, and the like of that. And so they would spend six months there, and I was in pretty tight with the Commodore, head of the fleet. And these sailors, I was sitting there and I had my Destroyer Escort hat on, World War II hat, and they turned to me and said what do you think about going over there for six months? And I says well, in my day they went over for two years. And they said "no, no, no, no, we mean being away from home for six months". I said I told you, we were away from home for two years. And it never really bothered because we had knowledge that we had to do something to fight this war. That was never a question, but they do question it today. And, today's Navy knows nothing about us World War II sailors and we World War II sailors, our hearts are still in the Navy, even though we're out of the Navy.
Q: If you could only have a few words to describe your time in the destroyer Escort Service, what would those words be?
A: I was there, I did my part, never complained, lost a couple years of my life, lost a lot of friends, when I look back at it and I say its something I don't want to do again, but I'm glad I did it.
Q: Lastly, what do you feel the world should learn about your experiences in World War II?
A: Before we challenge, before we bomb any countries, before we go after them, send out flyers like we did years ago. Send out flyers as to what this country is all about, and why we have to do these things. And for the public to help us. And do this long before we actually take action. To me for instance, this Saddam Hussein Iraqi situation, we should be bombarding them with information; we should be sending them TV tapes of the way of life here in the United States. Let those people see what its like over here. Let them see what they're missing. They don't know that's why they're up in arms at us, that's why they're shooting at us, they don't know. All they know is that were trying to take their government away from them, we're trying to steal their oil, and that type of thing. Which is completely wrong, erroneous because they were taught their thinking was completely different. But you'll find in several generations to come that they will turn and generations from now they will all be aware of the United States, they will all be aware of Democracy and the like of this, and they'll change, they'll want to change. Japan changed. I think you'll find that Italy changed, Germany changed, because they have knowledge now, they see our TVs, and not necessarily in the news reports, but just the way of life. Some of the nice television stories and movies, that's good. It shows them just what we have, what were doing here, and maybe their petty jealousies won't cause them to sort of throw stones at us, but instead want to be like us. Ok, what else.
Q: That's the conclusion, thank you.
The Destroyer Escort Mr. Lambruschini served on during World War II, the USS Riley (DE 579), was named for Paul James Riley. Riley was promoted to lieutenant on January 6, 1942. He was killed during the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942.
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