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|Oral History Interview
of John Lampe
Radio Man Third Class In the United States Navy
Date of Interview: November 16, 2002
This oral history of John Lampe took place on November 16,2002, at [his home] in Bordentown, New Jersey. The interview was for the Oral History Project for HS-298-01 at Monmouth University. I, Christy Norelli, a student at Monmouth University, conducted the interview. John Lampe served in World War II, and was discharged with the rank of third class radioman. He served in the following areas: The North and South Atlantic, Sicily, Africa, Nova Scotia, and New Foundland.
Q: How did your father earn his living during your childhood years?
A: My father was a music arranger, a music publisher. He had an office in New York.
Q: What was the atmosphere like for the children in your neighborhood during the depression years?
A: We didn't have much money, but the whole neighborhood was in the same boat. Very few fathers by that time had a job. My father lost his business due to the depression because publishing music arranging wasn't an industry that had much call for during the depression. We all had to hustle for any money we got for the movies and so forth. We always had a job of some sort, whether it would be shining shoes or delivering papers, or the like, but it wasn't a bad time because everybody was pretty much in the same boat.
Q: What else did you do for recreation?
A: Sports played a big part growing up. Always. It was all sandlot sports, but it wasn't organized until you got to high school. There was no little league baseball, or football, or even basketball. It was all what you did in the playground. You never played football, except if there was a block football team that might challenge the next block, and they did the same thing box ball in the street, and handball in the street. You made your own activities because there was no one around to supervise your activities. Sometimes for gloves we got a lot of paper bags, and they would last a couple of innings and then we would have to get a few more supplies of paper bags because there weren't that many fellas who did have baseball gloves. The baseball was mostly used and reused and finally taped with the black friction tape to make them last even longer. If you didn't have a baseball you took a tennis ball and put enough coats of tape on it that it would be heavy enough to take the place of a baseball.
Q: Were you old enough to fully grasp the severity of the depression?
A: Oh sure. I knew. When I was going to school there was a sewing circle of ladies who would sew two things. I think they made pajamas, and they made shirts, but they only had one material and the material was sort of a yellowish material. So of course we got shirts and consequently when you went to school in class you would find about eight boys wearing the yellow shirts, which was a big sign that you were on welfare, except it was called home assistance then. Every two weeks they would pull a wagon to a place and they would give you dried apples, salt pork, and things of that nature, and that was pretty much the way it was. Since my father didn't work and we had two homes we lost them back-to-back in Linhurst, New Jersey. They foreclosed on both of them, so my mother did housework seven days a week for two dollars a day, and pretty much we lived on that, and what we could bring in. My older brother and I we worked as delivery boys for a meat market and anything that we would make we gave it at home to help out.
Q: Did any other family members live with you as a result of the depression?
A: Yes. When we had the two houses, the one house we lived in, and the second house he let my uncle live in. Of course when we lost the first house my father took over the second house, but he didn't tell my uncle to find a new place to live, so my uncle and his wife lived with us. My father always seemed to have one of my uncles living with us. If it wasn't my Uncle Charlie, it was my Uncle Burt, but that is the way things were during the depression; everyone looked out for one another. When there was an actor down on his luck my father would find a place for him because he did arranging for a lot of Broadway shows back in the twenties, and prior to that he was on the Vaudeville circuit. He toured with that. Prior to World War I he owned a circus, the Lampe Brothers Circus, the five Lampe brothers. It disbanded when three of the Lampe brothers went into the service for World War I.
Q: What element of the depression do you suppose impacted your family the most?
A: I don't know, probably just money, but we were able to cope with it. There were no major problems, as I said we managed to exist, we managed to always have something to eat. Fried salt pork and things of that nature. We ate a lot of apple butter, with all the dried apples my mother made this apple butter, and until this day I can never taste that apple butter, I had so much of it. If you've ever seen apple butter it is very dark in color, so bread and apple butter was pretty much our lunches.
Q: Did you listen frequently to FDR on the radio?
A: Sure. His fireside chats would be on maybe once a month or so. I heard him on the first radio I could find and heard him asking congress for a declaration of war on December 8. He asked that congress declare war against Japan, and the axis powers of Germany and Italy. That was the day of infamy speech, that is what it was called, the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
Q: What was your educational background before joining Pearl Harbor?
A: I went to Linhurst schools. I went to grammar school in Linhurst, and I was in Linhurst High school, when Pearl Harbor came. I was a sophomore in high school, and at the end of my junior year I turned seventeen. I turned seventeen in August, and so I enlisted then. I went to enlist in the marines, but they wouldn't take me until my eighteenth birthday, so then I went and enlisted in the navy and my parents signed for me. They had to go down and convince the principal that it was okay to let me go because he tried to talk me out of it. He said to finish school because I only had the one-year.
Q: What do you remember most about school?
A: Sports, once again. I played football. I worked out a deal with my brother; my brother was very tall and skinny. He was a good baseball player. My brother played baseball on the baseball team and was on the basketball team. During those seasons I worked and he played sports, and during football he worked and I played football. We had the same job. Our school was a split session. The juniors and seniors went from seven-thirty until twelve-thirty, and the freshman and sophomores went from twelve-thirty until five-thirty, because the school was overcrowded.
Q: What did your school say concerning World War II before Pearl Harbor was attacked?
A: Nothing much. They didn't have modern history then. We had world history, and U.S. history, but I don't think we ever got past the reconstruction. I think that is as far as we ever got. They might have taught it in my senior year, but I didn't stay for my senior year. Junior history is as far as I got, just past the Civil War. We did hear speeches, of course we heard the Hitler speeches. We didn't understand them, but he was on the radio, you could hear the signal and all the noise because it was coming short wave. We did remember when the war began. It began on September of 1939 when the Germans invaded Poland, and England and France had a mutual pact, a non aggression act with Poland, that any type of problem, they would go to war. So when Hitler invaded Poland that was when the British and the French declared war. That's when it began, but I listened to Neville Chamberlain who said that when Hitler moved into Czechoslovakia, Austria, and places like that all he wanted was to secure the German-speaking homeland. But then he wanted Poland and that was just too far. They wouldn't stop there. They didn't want the war because it wasn't that long after World War I, and England was in that war from 1914 to I guess it was 1919. We were in that war from 1918 to 1919. We were in World War II, really from 1942 until the end of 1945, because December seventh is close to the end of the year and we were in there that long. The British were in there from 1939.
Q: Where were you when you heard about the attack?
A: I was at home, listening to a football game on the radio with my brother and we heard it over the radio. During the game we kept hearing, because this game was played in the polo grounds in New York. The Giants played at the polo grounds before it was disbanded. I remember them calling for officials out of the stands. It was mostly military. I remember Colonel Donovan. His name was Bill Donovan and he was the head of the O.S.S., which is now the C.E.A., the Officers Secret Service, and they were calling for him, and the like. When we did hear it we were trying to figure out where Pearl Harbor was, because we had no idea where Pearl Harbor was. Hawaii wasn't a state. It was just somewhere out in the Pacific. Then of course we thought the war would be over in only a couple of months. We didn't figure that the war would last as long as it did, or that the Japanese would be as successful as they were, because it wasn't until mid 42 that the war started to turn. The Japanese ruled from Pearl Harbor and then they took the Philippines, and they took Singapore and were just gobbling up the whole Pacific. Until the battle of mid-way. That is when we fought the Japanese fleet and defeated the Japanese fleet. That was really the first victory that we had, but from then on we started taking back the islands in the Pacific.
Q: Did you have any family members who were enlisted prior to Pearl Harbor?
A: No. My brother enlisted in 1942. He enlisted right after he graduated school. He graduated in 1942; he is eighteen months older than I am. He graduated and then went to the Pacific. He served his time on a destroyer.
Q: Do you think you were as patriotic before Pearl Harbor as after you enlisted?
A: Probably. It never came up. I guess we all loved our country, but you probably felt more when you knew your country was being attacked, and of course on the home front during blackouts you had to have your windows blacked out, and you had to have curtains drawn and you couldn't have any lights on at night. Then we would gather cans, we would gather rubber and form a scrap drive because it was all being used to help the military, and then my mother got a job in the defensive plant too, which were making radios. That too helped us in the financial situation. It was a change because the whole country was at war. It wasn't just people fighting. There was rationing. Meat was pretty much rationed; you could only get a little bit of meat. Butter and sugar were very tough to get. You had to make do with rubber tires. You had to patch your tires, and patch your tires, because you couldn't get any tires. For the car you had stickers. We didn't own a car; my folks never owned a car. I didn't learn how to drive until I was twenty-seven, twenty-eight, and my brother the same way because we never grew up in cars. There weren't that many cars on my whole block. People who have cars now are a nightmare, kids learn to drive now when they are seventeen, but we didn't because we never saw cars. There were no cars to practice on.
Q: How did you know that you wanted to serve on a ship?
A: Well, it wasn't necessarily being on a ship, it was being in the service, and I wanted to get in the service as quickly as possible. I thought the war would pass me by and I wouldn't get a chance to fight for my country. So when the marines wouldn't take me my next choice was the navy because my brother was in the navy. Of course when I was in the navy I wanted to be on the ship somewhere. I didn't want to be land based somewhere, or state side. I volunteered for sea duty, but they sent me to radio school. I volunteered for the armed guard, which was guns on the major ships, but they wouldn't take me, and that's it. I can't swim. I still to this day can't swim. I cheated on my swim test in the navy, and otherwise I would have still been in boot camp.
Q: Did you ever get seasick?
A: Yes, all the time.
Q: Did they administer medicine?
A: No. What they would do on the first night out is you would get the greasiest pork chops, or the greasiest food there was to have because that would put a lining on your stomach. It would keep you from ripping up your stomach. The very first time I got seasick I was in my bunk. A fellow came down, and it was about midnight and he said it's time for watch. I said I don't feel well. I don't think I'm going. I don't think I'm going to watch. He dragged me out of bed and pulled me up there because that's what you did. If you got seasick you still had to do what you had to do. I was on a little ship and little ships get bounced around pretty good and the radio shack we would tie a bucket. The radio shack consisted of two radios and two men stood watching, and a striker which would be a seaman first class who wanted to be a radioman. He would help by breaking down the call signs, but you would be on the typewriter typing all the messages coming in, but you would have to tie a bucket in between so in case you got sick you got sick in the bucket. You would have to empty that at the end of the watch, but you had to make sure you didn't throw it against the wind. It seemed like the minute that the ship pulled out I always would get sick, but then I got over it. Sometimes the water was tough; sometimes the water was clear as glass like the Mediterranean could be, stormy but in most parts nice and calm. The North Atlantic was always stormy and the South Atlantic. When we went by cape Patterson, North Carolina we picked up our convoys out of Norfolk. We always had to go past Cape Patterson and it was always stormy. We always got slammed around during that time. You had to strap yourself in your bunk; you had a bunk strap. Most bunks are wider than the bunks we had. You couldn't turn around any way but you did have a strap that would hold you so you wouldn't fall in the night.
Q: Describe the nature of your training.
A: When I went to boot camp I was up in Samgsung, New York. I was up there for September, October, and November, and it got cold up there, maybe nineteen degrees below zero because I was up there for December also. I went to radio school there too. I remember getting up at five. We had the cleaning of the barracks. Then we would go out to the track for our calisthenics, then we would march to chow, and then after chow we would come back and then we would go on to our various activities, our classes or our physical activities. We had our physical training and we had our plane recognition. We had all this other stuff, we had to practice with the gas mask, we had to a tank and then they would put on some gas and we had to sit there and finally put on our gas masks. We had to go for swim tests and swim lessons. I had to go every night for swimming lessons. I had to go climbing up the tower and then I had to get off the tower, and after about the third time the guy would stick out the pole and he would pull me in. Some people say that if you jump into deep water you automatically learn how to swim, but you don't and that was it. The first thing I did was get up and then get off the tower. Some people could swim but they didn't want to get off the tower, so they would say I can't swim so they wouldn't have to get off the tower, but they made you do it if you couldn't swim any way so when they finally did get off the tower they just swam and that was it. I guess that gave them the false idea that everyone could swim when they hit the deep water. We had rifle training too but I couldn't hit a blessed thing with the rifle because I didn't grow up in a family with guns. I never saw or touched a gun, so I didn't do well with the guns. I'm glad I was a radioman because I don't think I could've hit the broad side of a bomb with any sort of weapon. We'd have to try with twenty-millimeter guns. You saw those aboard the ship. You saw them with the smaller guns. One end would sit on there and you would have to crank it and you would turn the barrel of the gun and shoot it at planes. Well we would shoot at drones, but I couldn't see the drones all I could do was hear it and they had said to get off the gun before you hurt somebody!
Q: How would you describe your commanding officers?
A: Some good, some bad. Our last commanding officer the one we had for the longest time I didn't think too much of. He was a pretty cold customer. We did have some good officers; our captain was very aloof. We did have an experience where we hit port and they asked when you hit port, I think it was Norfolk, Virginia they said to the crew that these are the films we have on hand. Who are you going to get? I don't know what movie the crew picked out, but they decided to go see it and they all lined up on the fantail, which is the rear of the ship. I helped set up the movies because I was always a PAL. A prisoner at large. I was always doing something wrong, and so a prisoner at large had to rig the movies. When they all came down to see the movie it wasn't a movie they picked. One of the wives I think it was the captains wife she didn't see Mrs. Minniver and so they showed it and the whole crew got up and left. They left the captain and his wife and a couple of other officers and their wives watching the movie. I had to stay there because I had to unrig the movie when it was over. So the next day when the harbor master came in he said we had to scrape the bottom of the ship. We had to sand blast it. He said that the crew needed the exercise and he made us work twenty-four hours around the clock in shifts. We had to scrape the whole thing with these wire hammers they had. We had to just go around and scrape off all the barnacles, and all the paint all the way down to the red lead and that was it. So we wound up not getting leave. We only wound up getting a couple of liberties out of it all because of that. I swear it took a month to get all the paint out of my hair, and out of my nose, and out of my ears, all because the crew walked out on Mrs. Minniver.
Q: Did animosity exist among crewmembers, or did you tend to get along?
A: Oh no, we had our little fights, but for the most part we got along good. I was a radioman so I hung mostly with the other radiomen, which was my group. The gunner's mates hung mostly with the gunner's mates, the sonar men with sonar men, and the like. I had little animosity with my leading petty officer, my first class leading petty officer; the fellow's name was Merit Armstrong. After the air attack which we went to, we laid a smoke screen. My battle station was on the bridge as a liason between the bridge and the radio shack. I had the walkie talkie on there, and because of the smoke screen I was covered in soot, and the planes were coming down, and the guns were firing, and when it was all over I went down to take a shower, and Merit Armstrong he came in and asked me why I wasn't in my cleaning station and I said that I was cleaning up. He said that I had to go on my cleaning station, and so I told him what he could do with himself, and I told him I was going to get him on the beach. That was always the expression. "I'll get ya on the beach." So he wrote me up for insolence to a leading petty officer, negligence of duty and a few things like that. So I was back to being a PAL. I never went ashore in North Africa, and I never went ashore in Algeria, and the only way I went ashore in Tunesia is because they had a working party because they had the bubonic plague. They needed to take some supplies and PAL's had to go ashore and bring back supplies. As I said I spent a lot of time as a PAL in the navy. I was seventeen years old, one hundred fifty pounds and most of it was mouth.
Q: What types of recreation did you engage in?
A: I read. Mostly anything I could get my hands on. I'm an avid reader, even today; I just read so much. I'd just find a quiet place to read, or sleep because you never seem to get enough sleep. So I'd sleep. You couldn't sleep in your bunks, because they were up against the wall. The three bunks like that would all fold up and there would be a hook and it would be up against the wall. What I would do because I slept in the middle bunk was I would get into the middle bunk and I would ask somebody to hook me up. They would hook me up and I would be sleeping flat against the wall, but the only problem was you couldn't get down unless somebody came by there and you'd have to ask them to unhook you. Inevitably it was always Dave Santini who was the chief officer mate and he was always letting me down and then I was back to being PAL again. He was always the one who caught me. It was good because he knew I was seventeen and I was still a kid.
Q: Did circumstances permit correspondence with your family?
Q: How, precisely, did you maintain contact?
A: Letters. They were censored. They had to. You couldn't mention anything about where you were or anything about it. So if you did mention it they would chop it out of your letter. Letters were always chopped out, and later on they would just use a magic marker to scratch out anything that mentioned anything about where you were. You couldn't say much except that you were feeling fine and the like and that you hoped that everyone was doing well. That is about all you could say. I did correspond with one or two girls from school, and my kid brother at home, and my brother in the Pacific, and one or two other buddies that were in other places, and my mother and father.
Q: How long did it take for letters to reach their arrival?
A: I don't know how long it took us to send the letters but we couldn't post the letters until we got to port. We would be out at sea and we couldn't send the letters until we came into port. It was the same with getting mail back; we couldn't get it until we got into port. Usually the very first person off the ship was the officer assigned to pick up mail. He would get off and pick up the sacks of mail. He would get sacks of mail for about three weeks, three or four weeks while we were out at sea, and then sometimes the mail would get mixed up and it would take a long time to get mail. I received mail that sometimes took five or six weeks.
Q: What do you suppose was the most difficult element for you regarding the Destroyer Escort?
A: Probably the weather. That is what was tough, especially when we were up in the North Atlantic. The temperature there was twenty-five, thirty degrees below zero, and it was always stormy. Our chairs had to be welded to the deck in front of the radio. Prior to that we would be sitting there and the ship would go up and the chair would go all the way back, with us in it and the chair would hit the wall. We would way until it came down and then the chair would go sliding back and so we had to weld it. The very first time we ate we had a storm and everyone's tray was over and the mess hall was knee deep in coffee, soup, and food. They had to build slots where you could stick your tray so the tray wouldn't slide. Until that time we were fed on watch. The fellow would come out with the big pot of coffee and a ladle.
Q: Describe a typical day on an Escort.
A: A typical day was that unless you were on watch you got up at five and being in the mess hall you had to get up quick because my first step was on a table. The table was right next to my bunk. I'd step on a table and then I had to hustle and get ready. I'd get changed into my clothes and line up for chow. After chow you had to go to your cleaning station. My cleaning station was right outside the radio shack and right outside the captain's office. The captain's cabin was right next to the radio shack and that would be my work assignment. Then I would go into the radio shack and see what was going on. We had to all line up for muster too. They would take count. They had to make sure that everybody was accounted for, and then you would go your watch. You'd be on watch for four hours, eight hours off and that was it. There might be drill, practice drills of various sort, general quarters drilling you. They would ring the bells and you had to go to your battle stations. My battle station was in the radio shack doing submarine contact. During one air attack I was up on the bridge. Prior to that I would be in the radio shack. When you had a sub contact you were pretty quiet. You might be sitting there for five, six hours with the contact making sure you were keeping contact with the submarine. You might lose the sub and then you would have to be real quiet so you could pick up the sub. The sonar would send sound waves and it would go bing, bing and if it hit something it would go bingbing, bingbing. It would echo back, then you would know that you had something. I would be sitting there trying to blow up my life belt, and I could never get air into that thing. Some people had cartridges where you would pull the cartridges and it would fill up, but I had one that you had to blow up manually. It must of had a hole in it or something because I never could blow that thing up. Thank God I didn't have to use it. They also had me with this walkie talkie back out on the bridge and it gets boring. There was a signalman up there signaling. He was from Chicago. The walkie-talkie had a microphone. You put a microphone in front of me and I just start singing. I'm singing a song there and the signalman said to me that he was getting a message from the radio shack and he didn't know what it was. The officer picked up the busy signal and he said "whose that down there? Whose that down there?" I was written up again and I was back to being a P.A.L. It was fun. That song. Bob Emery's song. I loved that song. That was another episode.
Q: I am aware that ships were segregated. Did you take notice of that fact?
A: Segregation was something I never grew up with only because there was no blacks in my town. There was one family of blacks and the father was the janitor at one of the apartment buildings in town. He had a boy and a girl in school, but they were classes ahead of me. I think the girl was in my brother's class. We had no contact at all with blacks, and when I went to boot camp it was all white. When I went to radio school it was all white. The ship was all white with the exception of steward's mates. Steward's mates were servants for the officers who cooked and waited on the officers. When we had general quarters their assignment was usually in the hole passing up ammunition. It was probably the most of the low. When we went down to some of the southern cities, Norfolk in particular, I got my first contact with segregated drinking fountains, segregated bathrooms, and segregated schools. I went to see a football game at Cranby. It was a black school. I forgot where the white school was and that they never played one another. We had trouble on the bus because you would go to sit down on the bus and they would tell you no that you can't sit in the back. You would see people come on the bus and there would be seats halfway through the bus but they couldn't sit there they had to go all the way to the back. We created some problems we were put off more than one bus. It was a tough situation for me. The steward's mates were nice. I got along well with one of them named Henry. He asked me if I knew music and I said I did. He asked me if I wanted to go with him to Thatch Waller's funeral. Thatch Waller was a piano player, a musician who had died. We went to Harlem but we couldn't get close because the whole block was packed and blocked off. They had loud speakers on the corner that was broadcasting it. I remember Ella Fitzgerald sang My Buddy. We heard it on the speaker. We got back to the ship late, so I was a P.A.L. again. That was an experience. That was in 1944 sometime because the ship had pulled into New York.
Q: Did you find that the officers treated black men poorly?
A: I don't think poorly. It's just that the blacks were servants and that is pretty much it. So I mean they weren't mistreated, they just weren't treated like all of the other fellas aboard the ship. One of the sore spots was the fact that the military was segregated. During the war Eleanor Roosevelt wanted her husband to de-segregate the services. He didn't want to do it; he didn't want to disrupt the war. He said that after the war maybe something will be done, but she badgered him. What he did was he had one destroyer escort manned by an all black crew. Of course the officers were white, because there were no black officers, and they weren't chief class or petty officers because they didn't have any of these ranks, but they learned. There were black radiomen, black signalmen, and it was called the U.S.S. Mason. Mason did well for itself during the war. That was all Eleanor Roosevelt's doing and it wasn't until Harry Truman took office in the late forties that he then de-segregated to services.
Q: How did you feel about America dropping the Atom bomb on Japan?
A: I thought it was great. When I volunteered for the pacific and left the Rueben James I picked up a new ship. It was the biggest carrier then in the whole world. It was the U.S.S. Midway. It was being built. I went up to New Port, Rhode Island for training for the ship and then I went down to pick it up and it was to be the center point in the invasion of Japan, because it had the latest in aircraft and it was the fastest carrier going north. It had more gunpowder and planes. So it was to be the center of the invasion of Japan. I knew that I would have been going to Japan to drop the Atomic bomb, but it was still in New Port, and the war was over. So we didn't go to Japan, we just went down to Cuba for a shakedown cruise. We then came back to New York for Navy day, which was October 27, 1945. All of the big ships were in the harbor, the Enterprise, the Intrepid, Missouri, all of the big carriers and battleships from the Pacific. Plus some ships from the Atlantic, but they had mostly small ships. The midway was there too. Harry Truman came aboard and he reviewed us.
Q: What is a shakedown cruise?
A: When a new ship is put into commission you take it out to sea to try out everything and to make sure that everything works. As it was, it wasn't. Everyone came down with dysentery and everyone was just so sick. Some couldn't even leave their bunks. They changed mess cooks, they boiled the utensils. But what they finally found out was that while they were building the ship rats had nested in the water tanks. They found rat bones floating on top of the water. The water was contaminated. The water aboard the carrier was drinking water, which was ice cold, so you couldn't tell any wrong taste. People were too sick to eat, but they weren't too sick to drink the water, and it was just making them sicker. That was our experience.
Q: Did you think that after the bomb was dropped Japan might find a way to drop a bomb on us?
A: No. Japan was pretty much beaten. Japan didn't have the capability by that time. Their plans mostly consisted of Kamikaze pilots. They would get these young fellows and train them really just enough to steer a plane into a ship and that was all. They did an awful lot of damage in the Pacific. The Japanese were pretty much at the end of the war, but they would have fought until death on their homeland. The bomb probably had to be dropped. There was probably more damage inflicted by these pilot bombings than by dropping the atomic bombs. The atomic bomb was more devastating at the time. More people lost their lives in the constant fire bombing. By that time we had bases close to Japan so we could bomb pretty much at will.
Q: Where were you located and how did you react when you heard that our nation defeated Japan?
A: I was up in New Port, Rhode Island training for the new carrier that was to be part of the invasion, and I didn't have liberty, but what they did was they stopped Liberty. They didn't want sailors going into town and creating all sorts of disturbances. We were confined to the base. I remember I took a shower with my clothes on. Don't ask me why I did that. They dropped the atomic bomb on my birthday. I was born August 6 and the bomb was dropped that day. There were a couple of false rumors that the war was over. We didn't really believe it until the next day. We had asked if it was over because we had so many false alarms. That day I remember taking the shower and for some reason I wore a hat. We would go on liberty and we would get these stupid hats. We would get straw hats, and cowboy hats and I think I wound up with an officer's cap. Somebody told me you better get rid of it because I took it somewhere. I think I went into a resatraunt and hats were lined up and I think I grabbed it. We took a shower with all of our clothes on because that was something we could do for excitement.
Q: How long did they keep you before you were permitted to go home?
A: We had just left Nova Scotia. I didn't get home I think until October 27 of 1945. That is pretty much when I went home. I did pick up a weekend pass from New Port, Rhode Island, and I hitchhiked home, from Rhode Island all the way to Linhurst, which is up in Bergen County. I had no money at all, I had three pennies and one of the guys on the road who was hitching with me lived in New York and we flipped, and with his couple of pennies he wound up with eight cents all together. He only needed a nickel for the subway. I had to get hitched to my house from Rhode Island and it took me about twelve hours. I ended up on a back of a truck that had chicken and crates there. It was the summer time I had my whites on but that was coming home. Then I went back and took a transport from New Port, Rhode Island to Virginia, and then we went down to Cuba for our shakedown. That was our base and then we came back to old navy bay, and then I went back to Norfolk, and then I got discharged. I got discharged in January of 1946.
Q: Did you find it difficult adjusting to civilian life?
A: Yes it was. To me it was strictly liberty; everyday was a liberty day. Everyday we would go out, as many guys as were home. We would go to the bar and we would be hanging pretty much most of the nights, and consequently we would sleep half of the day away, and we did that for a little while. Then I went back to high school to take some courses to see if I could get my diploma. So I took some courses and then I took my GED test. It was nothing like the GED test today. I could take mine in subject matter, I could take it in English, History, and then it was PAD, which was required. Problems in American Democracy. I took English. PAD was mostly about the New Jersey constitution, which was a new constitution, adopted and they had made changes in it. Then I got my high school equivalency. After that I started working jobs. I took a job on tugboats. I was a fireman on the tugboats. I shoveled coal and worked out of Jersey City going up and down the North River up to Brooklyn and over to Wayne. Then I worked on a ferryboat shoveling coal. I did that until the coal strike came and then I left there and took a job in construction as a plumbers helper. In December of 1946 I was in a bad accident. I had broken my jaw and I had broken my foot in about five places. I knocked out all my teeth and was scarred up and so forth. I was laid up for a while, and then I took a job in the graveyard filling in graves so that I could get money to get my teeth replaced. I had some crazy jobs, one in a stone query, in a steel mill working on a coal truck, and then I decided to go back to school, to college. They saw that I didn't have any math. In high school my teacher wouldn't have me in the room. She made me sit in the principals office the whole period. That was in my junior year. In my junior year I knew that I was going to enlist as soon as I was seventeen so I failed science and math. I had to go to Passaic high school one night a week and four nights a week to regular college. I went to Farleigh Dickinson University to get my degree. After that I went to Montclair State and got my teaching credentials and I went on from there. That was all because of the GI bill. I wouldn't have thought to go to school and it was the reason that the GED came into existence because they came up with the GI bill. They found out that so many men had never finished. They left school to work or go into the service and so they started the GED. That was all part of Truman. He started it and it all came from World War II. He provided education when he found out that a lot of people couldn't get a college education. Aboard the aircraft carrier I ran into a lot of guys from Wisconsin and one of them said we should go out and enroll in a college in Wisconsin. It was called Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin. He said it was a small college and we'd play football and that I would stay with him and his family. They lived in a town called Fondulac in Wisconsin. His father owned a haberdashery store and I thought that it sounded great. We wrote to the college and the college wrote back and said that it seemed by our notes that we'd only finished three years of high school. They said to come back when we completed high school and that was the end of going to Appleton, Wisconsin.
Q: When you returned home how much time elapsed before you married?
A: Oh a long, long time. I got married when I was forty-three years old. I got married in 1968 and I got out of the service in 1946. It was twenty-two years.
Q: How did soldiers feel when FDR died?
A: Sad. When he died I was in Halifax, Nova Scotia. We had gone to a restaurant in Halifax and when he died there was an announcement over the speaker. It affected us a little bit, but we were young. It affected the Canadians, the older Canadians. They were the ones who kept staring at us; they were the ones who were tearing up. Roosevelt was the only president I knew. Roosevelt took office in 1932 and I was born in 1926. I was six when he took office and I remember my father was a big Roosevelt man because Roosevelt was king around our house. He ran in 1936 and then he ran in 1940, and then he died April 13, 1945. April 19 we sank a submarine right outside of Halifax one-week after Roosevelt died, so I knew it was exactly one week.
Q: How do you think President Truman managed the country?
A: Fine. Harry Truman was pretty much an unsung president. It was by luck that he was the vice president at the time because in 1940 he wasn't the vice president. In 1940 the vice-president was Henry Wallace. In 1944 Roosevelt needed a mid western to run on the ticket because he was running against Wilkie and that is where Truman came in, but Truman was just a congressman, nothing distinguishing about him. He didn't accomplish much of anything, but he became an excellent president. He just grew with the job. He saved Europe from going all-communist with the Marshall plan. He made key decisions and he wasn't afraid to make them with the dropping of the bomb. They estimated how many lives would have been lost in the battle of Japan on the homeland, but yes he made big decisions. De-segregated the services, he was a good president. I didn't vote for him. I voted for Henry Wallace. I was going down to school and I was going to be a teacher and one thing that I didn't like of Harry Truman was that he passed a loyalty that even today all teachers have to sign a loyalty oath that they are loyal to the United States. I spent three years in the service. I enlisted and all that stuff and I just didn't think that I should have to sign a loyalty oath that I'm loyal. I mean, I signed one once when I was in the service. As a protest vote I voted for Henry Wallace. Every radical group in the country was behind Henry Wallace. There were about six candidates in the election. That was my first election in 1952. There was Sean Furman. He ran with the Dixiecrats, and there was Norman Thomas who ran with the socialists. There was Dewey and I sure wasn't voting republican. There was somebody else. Henry Stackson was running for something, and then there was Henry Wallace. He was secretary of agriculture, but that was it. Truman was one of my favorite presidents. Truman and Roosevelt.
Q: Ultimately, what profession did you pursue?
A: Teaching. I wound up being a teacher, and then education supervisor was my final position.
Q: Do you think that you might have chosen that profession due to your service in the war?
A: Possibly. Really, if I had my choice, if I could have made any money at it I would have loved to be a sports reporter. When I was a kid one of the jobs I had was writing little sports for the Jersey Journal and the Hudson Dispatch. They were the two newspapers in Jersey city. I wasn't writing big games, I was writing intramural games and the freshmen games. My brother did it, and then I did it after he did it. I was getting four cents a line. I would get my check and I would get two dollars a week, three dollars for just writing up the sports. I enjoyed doing that. That's what I would have loved to have done, but teaching was good. I enjoyed teaching. I made one of my mistakes by retiring, but I had my medical and that is a key thing, and I got a pension.
Q: Looking back do you think there is anything we could have done to end the war faster?
A: I don't think so. I think dropping the atomic bomb when we did ended it. I think it would have lasted for at least another year without the dropping of the bomb. If not a year at least six months. Dropping the bomb was the key thing. The war in the Atlantic, that was my war. I never did go to the pacific I was supposed to go into the pacific, but the war ended, but that was the war I was concerned with. That war was mostly submarines. The Germans had control of the seas in the early part of the war. The convoys going to Russia especially would take a beating, and the convoys going to Britain would take a beating. So it wasn't until they developed these little ships they could turn out quickly and they were mostly anti- submarines. We did provide escorts to convoys. There would be twelve of us, six on either side and we would pick up the convoy and escort the convoy to wherever their destinations were. Coming back from Africa there was always German prisoners, but that's what we did. We would chase after submarines when we had contact. There would be planes attacking. We were the ones that formed smokescreens and did all the shooting, but the war in the Atlantic was my war.
Conclusion of the Interview.
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