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|Interview with Ken
November 15, 2002
For the Monmouth University Library
This oral history interview of Ken Robinson is taking place on November 15, 2002 at 4 Carls Bad Place in Toms River, New Jersey. This interview is for the Oral History Project for HS 298 01 (Oral History) at Monmouth University. I am Jennifer Raimo, a student at Monmouth University. I will be conducting the interview. Ken Robinson served in World War II. He was discharged with the rank of Chief Petty Officer. He served in the following area the Atlantic Ocean.
Question: What was your childhood
like growing up in the pre-World War II era?
Answer: Well, I lived on a farm until I was in the fifth grade, and then we moved into a small town in Ohio, called Shelby and it was a normal childhood. We didn't have a whole lot. My brother quit school to go to work to support us and he was only two years older than I am. And I went to grade school and high school, but I left high school in my senior year to join the Navy.
Q: How would you compare your childhood experiences in the pre-World War II era, to the experiences of children growing up in the era immediately after the War, and to the experiences of children today, almost 60 years after the War?
A: No comparison. I think after the War, of course television came along, and changed the world. And I think changed all kids perspective of responsibility and work and I think because it wasn't so much what the programs were back then, I think the programs were good programs after the War, but it made it so easy for them. They could sit down and turn the television on and be there. When I was a kid I had to go out and like all kids, or at least most kids, and earn a nickel or ten cents so I could go to the movie once a week. And, kids after the War didn't have that. You know, they didn't have to worry about going to the movies cause they could sit down in front of the television and get all the entertainment they wanted. And, of course today I do blame television today on a lot of the violence we have today. You look at the programs, and that's basically all you see, and I think that it's changed our kids' perspective. Without any question, far beyond what as I kid that I had when I was growing up. When I grew up, I had no ambition to go into college, because I knew I couldn't afford it. My family, I didn't have a father and mother, I lived with my grandmother, and so it was completely different. And then of course the War came along, and you didn't think about college anyway. You thought about joining the service.
Q: What were you educational experiences like? Can you recall if your high school history teacher spoke about World War I?
A: I was a history buff, I liked history and geography and that sort of thing, much more than I liked English (laughs). I wish I had liked English much better when I was there. But, no I don't recall having any World War I history. We had a lot of the European history and like Civil War and the different Wars prior to that, but nothing about World War I that I recall.
Q: Also, did your high schoolteachers discuss the events of World War II in Europe that were going on at the time?
A: Well, not really because the War just started. Maybe they did, after I left. But, I mean the War just started when I quitted high school and joined the Navy, so they really didn't have a chance. And I had a good history teacher too.
Q: What did you do for fun as a youth, and what kind of recreational activities were you involved in?
A: Well, I was a baseball nut, and played baseball and softball, and did a lot of swimming. And when I was a kid on the farm, bout the only recreation we had was swimming in one of the rivers that ran threw the farm. We could play catch but on the farm those days, your neighbor was generally three or four miles away so it wasn't much chance to getting together for a ball game. Now, after I moved to town that changed. So.
Q: What were some of your favorite radio programs, songs, and or movies when you were growing up?
A: Of course there was Amos & Andy, which I liked. And of course, Jack Benning and Red Skelton. But Buck Rodgers, was a more in the newspaper, the funnies, the comic strips, rather than on radio. I think they did have a program on the radio, but I'm not sure. But, we didn't even then when I was a kid growing up when we was on the farm, we didn't even have a radio. We didn't have a radio until we moved into town and by the time we moved into town, and I was in the fifth grade, I had a lot of kids to go out with and play, so I didn't spend much time listening to the radio.
Q: How did any of these programs depict war in general, and how did these depictions affect you opinion of war?
A: Well, I tell you the only program that I can think of, was more in the comic strips, than on the radio program, was Buck Rodgers, which really didn't depict war so much but depicted, and he was way ahead of his time, depicted it was a type of rocket going into space with rockets and that sort of thing. And so I don't think any of that really set my mind on what was to come or anything like that.
Q: What was your opinion of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at this time?
A: Well, tell you the truth I don't think, and of course I was very young, I had just turned eighteen, in fact I was still seventeen when I joined the service, and my grandmother had to the sign the paper for me (laughs). And, I don't think kids of my age at that time really thought anything about who was President. They knew who was President, but they never really thought about what kind of a job is he doing and that sort of thing. But history of course tells us that he was a very good President, in fact you might consider him great for what he did with the Depression and that sort of thing. But, I don't think kids thought about that when we were at the age of eighteen, seventeen going into the service.
Q: Were you aware of the rise of Hitler and Mussolini in Europe? If so, where did you acquire information on this topic in school, on the radio, in the newspaper, or a combination of all three?
A: You mean at the time Hitler began his? (pauses) I don't think that we really, of course naturally we read it in the papers, newspapers, about the European war with Germany and England, and how Germany was walking across Europe. But, I don't, at least I didn't, I didn't really think about Hitler as that much, or the war because up until the time the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, we weren't really in the War. I mean I think that the most that we were doing, and Roosevelt did this without, I think, Congress approval originally, because he was shipping supplies to both, I think England and Russia and without, without the knowledge of a lot of people. And, so I don't know that we really thought that much about it.
Q: What was your knowledge and opinion on Japan, before the attack on Pearl Harbor?
A: Never gave them a thought (laughs). I'm not even sure that I remember studying about Japan, and certainly didn't think about them. But just before the War, there was things in the paper about the fact that we had been in discussions, meaning that the government was in communications and talking to Japan and they talking to us about something of the relations between the two governments. But, other than that I never gave it a thought, being attacked by the Japanese.
Q: How was your knowledge expanded and opinion changed after December 7, 1941?
A: Read that again, will you?
Q: Sure. How was your knowledge expanded and opinion changed after December 7, 1941?
A: Well, I don't think the knowledge was expanded a whole lot, other than what we of course read in the papers knowing about what happened, Pearl Harbor. And because again I went in the Navy almost immediately, or at least shortly after that and we didn't really give it a whole lot of thought about that. The only thing you thought about was naturally, you didn't like them and I could use the word hate probably at that time, it was probably right. But, I don't think we really knew anything more about them than what we read in the newspapers at that time, and which really didn't expand their history, or what they was doing just what they were doing as far as attacking the various islands and so forth.
Q: How would you compare the attack on Pearl Harbor to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001?
A: I don't know, I think it's completely different. Japan, of course it was a sneak attack, we didn't realize, we should have realized it, because we had people that picked them up but our senior military officers didn't react, at least that's what history says. And, they bombed a military target, they went after a military target, the Japanese did. They went after our warships, and done a pretty good job on the warships, and to my knowledge, the most that they bombed, I'm sure that they had some stray bombs and scrapings and things like that, but mainly they went after the base at Pearl Harbor. And, so they didn't attack per say civilians and innocent people and the September 11 was just the opposite. They didn't care about whether it was military or not, they went after I think trying to cripple us by our economy, and they felt the Trade Center, I think, was the part of the economy, at least in the east here, and that's what they did. So, I think it was completely different.
Q: How did you feel about American neutrality in the early stages of the War? Do you think America should have gotten involved in the war effort sooner than Pearl Harbor?
A: Well, I can say yes, but and I think maybe he should have, however I don't think we were prepared to do that. We didn't have a large army, and we didn't have a real large Navy, we had of course a bigger Navy than most countries, and I don't really know what the status of our army was as far as size is concerned and the marine corps, and of course and air forces was called the army air force at that time. But, I don't think we were in a position to really to be a lot of help, because we didn't have the build up and I think it would have taken us, well history shows it took us a while to build up even after Pearl Harbor.
Q: Where were you when Pearl Harbor was attacked? How and from whom did you hear the attack, and what was your immediate reaction?
A: Well, of course I was still in school, I was a senior in high school and I was in Shelby, Ohio. And of course, we heard it over the radio, naturally, and the reaction was that we knew that we was gonna be at war and that everybody would be leaving, the men that is. And, I think your reaction and the feeling was you just wanted to join and help, that I think was basically everybody's feeling.
Q: Is that why you joined?
A: Oh, sure. I've always been very happy that I joined, but I don't know that I would ever join had it not been for that. I had a cousin that enlisted in the Navy in 1939 and spent his whole, he spent twenty years in submarines so I may have, if he ever came home and encouraged me, but (laughs) that we'll never know.
Q: How did your family react to your joining the Navy?
A: I didn't have much of a family. We lived with our grandmother, my father and mother had separated, and we didn't live with either our father or mother, and my grandmother of course was, she must have been in her late sixties maybe, maybe even older than that, maybe in the seventies, when the War started. And I just came home and said, "Grandma, I want to enlist in the Navy". She says, "Ok" and I said " Well you got to sign the paper", and she said, "Ok", signed it and away I went.
Q: If you had a girlfriend at the time, how did she feel when you decided to join?
A: That's easy, I didn't have one.
Q: Did any of your friends from high school join the Navy the same time you did?
A: Yes, well, I shouldn't say, almost the same time. I had a very good friend that, in fact there is a picture in here of him and I (points to a photograph album). He name was Dean Knuts, he joined right after I did. Now, we never was on the same ship or anything, we was never together while we was in the service, but we remained close friends all the rest of our lives.
Q: Now just a few questions about the War itself. When and where did you complete your naval training? Can you describe a typical day of training, and how long of a period did your training expand?
A: Well, I went to Great Lakes, Illinois for boot camp, and that lasted, I think I was there for about seven weeks, if I remember right. I enlisted on November 5 and I almost froze to death through November and December at Great Lakes (Laughs). Because if you've ever been to Great Lakes in the wintertime. But, after that I didn't get any training as far as attending any kind of an institution, until almost at the end of the War.
Q: Most of the men who served in the Destroyer Escort service were between the ages of 18 and 25, many recent high school graduates. 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 the ship itself?
A: No, not really. My first ship wasn't a Destroyer Escort my first ship was a merchant vessel. They placed Navy people on board the merchant vessels to man the guns that they had mounted on these commercial ships. And, so my first ship was a merchant, let's see if I can remember the, the U.S.S. Santa Cantalia was my first ship. And, so I had been at sea a while before I went to the Destroyer Escort. So, and as far as being intimidated, no I don't think anybody, well I shouldn't say that, maybe some people did. But the guns we had then, other than the guns that were on the larger ship were like cruiser or battle weapons which was enclosed in turrets, they was all open so and they weren't really that big as far as size is concerned. So, I don't think anybody became intimidated with the guns and that sort of thing.
Q: Do you feel your training was adequate and prepared you for the tasks that lie ahead? If so, why? If not, why not?
A: You want to read that again?
Q: Sure. Do you feel your training was adequate and prepared you for the tasks that lie ahead? Is so, why? If not, why not?
A: Okay. I got to go back. I said I didn't have any other training, that's wrong, I forgot (laughs). I went to what they called gunnery school training in Gulf Port, Mississippi and that was before I had my first ship. And, basically all they did there was they had about, well they had a four inch fifty and a three inch fifty and it was another five inch, I can't remember what it was. It was a five-inch something, it wasn't a five inch thirty-eight, which was a later gun that came along. And they had some small like twenty-millimeter guns, which were small anti-air craft guns. I think was there for two weeks. And then we went back for a further assignment, and that's when I caught the ship out of New York, Pier 92. I'm sorry, that didn't answer that, what was that?
Q: Did you feel your training was adequate?
A: Oh, hey yes, I think it was. I mean, the only thing that we was there operate the guns, fire the guns, load them and certainly it was adequate for that, yes.
Q: Can you describe a typical day on your Destroyer Escort? Anything you found difficult or anything that you found easy?
A: No, I think, of course the Destroyer Escort was not a big ship, and when you was out at sea, you knew you was out at sea, especially on rolling seas or a rough sea. But, other than that it was tight quarters, I mean all ships were tight quarters at that time, whether they were big or small. And, I thought the ship was well, I had good experiences on it, no problems. I think that the thing that I remember most about, one of the things is when we stand watch, of course you stood four hour watches and at night and of course you had watches around the clock at that time. When you was out at sea, especially in the Atlantic in the wintertime, it was very, very cold and they always brought coffee around. And when they made their coffee, they made it in a very large urn, I don't know if you've ever seen these, well if you was on the Slater then you seen the big urns that they have in the galley, well that's where they made there coffee. And, of course the cooks weren't always anymore experienced than anybody else on the ship, so they used to make the coffee, they'd through the coffee in and boil it and throw the cream in at the same time, and then you'd throw the sugar in at the same time. And, needless to say, their coffee wasn't very good, and I always every time you'd always see the guy coming and want a hot cup of coffee, but then after you'd tasted it you'd wish he'd take it back and do something else with it.
Q: What was your job on the ship? Did you like the job you were assigned and how do you feel your job contributed to the war effort?
A: Well, I think no one person contributed anymore than anybody else, it had to be a team effort with the ship, the ship doesn't operate otherwise. My job on the Destroyer Escort, I was on the U.S.S. Janssen, 396, and I was assigned to the twenty millimeters for a while, and I was also on the three inch fifty, which was our main battery. And, I also operated the depth charges, you got assigned, but you didn't always stay there, you kind of went wherever you had to go. Now, general quarters, sometimes I 'd be on the depth charges, sometimes I'd be on the twenty millimeters. And most of our, or at least when I was on the Jannsen, all our action was with the depth charges, cause we was looking for submarines, and when we made a contact we'd be dropping depth charges, and you never really had that much to do with the twenty millimeters and the three inch fifties, because there was nothing to shoot at (laughs).
Q: Did you have any contact with the enemy, while you were in the Atlantic? If so, how did you feel? Did this contact result in actual fighting?
A: No, no. As I said, we did all our action was chasing subs and I had no physical face-to-face contacts with any of the enemies.
Q: Since the living quarters were so tight on the ship you were forced to live very closely with other sailors on the ship. How did this affect your relationship with your fellow crewmembers? Did you become close friends or even best friends with anyone on the ship?
A: Well, (dog barks, tape turn off and on again)
A: A lot of sailors spent their whole service, and all the time they was in the service on one ship. And, sometimes that's fortunate, sometimes its unfortunate. But I didn't, as I said before, my first ship was a merchant ship, and then I came on the Janssen, and I think I went on it in late 43 and 44, if I remember. I don't remember exactly. And, I was one that for I guess almost year, and then that was when I got transferred off to go to gunnery school in Washington, D.C., cause that's where the main school was for all gunnery schools. And, I went there for further transfer, so I went to another ship after that. But, I made friends on the Jannsen, but tell you the truth, I always palled around with the cooks and what we called the yeomen, which was the one that took care of the personnel records and so forth. But if you ask me today what their names was, I couldn't tell you.
Q: Can you recall any humorous stories from your time on a Destroyer Escort?
A: Not really, no.
Q: In addition to living and interacting with other sailors on the ship, you also had to deal with officers. What was your relationship like with your officers, how close were you in age to your officers?
A: As far as age, most of the officers I had were older. They were not a whole lot older, but probably in their mid to late twenties, some of them older than that. I think the skipper was probably in his mid-thirties when I was on the Destroyer Escort. Now, when I was on the merchant ship, we had one officer on there, was of course he was called a gunnery officer naturally, cause that's all we did. Now, he was young, and in fact probably, maybe didn't even finish college, he might have been twenty-two, twenty-three years old. And, its funny because I never remember seeing the guy, except maybe one or two times all the time we was out to sea and everything else. He didn't expose himself too much but as I transferred to other ships then of course naturally I was older, but some of my officers there were older. I went from the gunnery school to the U.S.S. Wisconsin, which is a battle light, and there was a lot of officers on there with what they called mustangs. They were people who were enlisted to begin with, sailors like myself who worked themselves up, and finally got promoted to be an officer. And, they were older than the other officers, but I generally got along with most of my officers. I only had one that I can recall I had a problem with and that was on my last ship that I was on, the heavy cruiser, Oregon City.
Q: While you served in the Destroyer Escort service, did you witness any kamikaze attacks on Destroyer Escorts?
Q: How often were you able to contact your family, and how often did you family contact you in the form of mail while you were in the service? Was your both your incoming and outgoing mail previewed before you received it, or it was sent out?
A: No. None of our mail was, to my knowledge anyway was looked at before we sent it out. We were out to sea most of the time. We didn't spend very much time at port and of course the only time that we would send mail, was when we came back into port or unless we had a mail transfer to some ship that was going into port. And, that's when we received mail. We'd either get it when we was in port, or have another ship that was coming out from the port drop off mail to us.
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?
A: Well, I don't know that that was the only ship manned by, and what did you call it?
Q: Predominantly African American force.
A: Predominantly African American force. There were other ships, and I came very close to having a personal experience. I was stationed at what they call the Frontier Base at Tompkinsville, Staten Island. And, in fact I was working in the gun shop, and we of course, we worked there until we got orders to go to work for a ship. And, so guys came and go as they got assigned, but while I was there, there was a black gunner's mate, which you very seldom saw a black that had a rank other than a cook or a steward' s men. Generally, during World War II almost, and really all the ships I was on, until I hit the Wisconsin I never had a black on my ship. But there while I was at the Frontier Base, and I been there, I don't know, six months maybe, which was a long time, but I was there and at that time we were outfitting, putting new guns on the ships, and so forth that came in there specifically for English, French, and Russians' ships that was coming. And, while I was there, there was as I said a black man, and he was a second class gunner's mate same as I was, and one day he came over to the gun shop and came up to me and said, and everybody's always called by their last name and if they don't know your last name, you're called Mac. And, of course he came back and said, "Robbie," he said, "did you see the bulletin board?", which the bulletin board was where you had to look to see if you had assignments or anything. And, you was expected to watch the bulletin board. They didn't generally come over and say, "hey you got an assignment". And I told him no, I said I hadn't been over there yet. And he says well your name's on it, I said "it is?". He says, yea, he says you're assigned to a PC boat, which was a much smaller ship than the Destroyer Escort, about half the size. And, he says but I don't think you want that ship or something like that, or I don't think you want to go on that ship. He said something, and I said, "well why is that?", and he says well why don't you go look, and so I did. I went over and looked. Well, that didn't mean anything, it just gave me the name of the ship and the number, you know, it didn't say anything to me. And is I came back and says, "well yea, I saw it", and I says "what's that got to do with it?", I said, "its just a ship". And he says, "no, it's not just a ship". "Robbie", he says, "that's an all black ship". And I says, "you're kidding", and he says, "no". Of course, I say all black with the exception of the commanding officer, the executive officer, and all the senior petty officers. And, he looked at me, he says "you don't want that ship", he says, "do you?". And, I says "well, why you saying that?", he says, "because I want it". And I says, "your kidding", he says "no", he says "would you be willing to swap us?", I says, "that's fine with me, but I says I don't have any problem with it, I hadn't even thought about it". Well, he went over and they agreed to swap, so I never got transferred to that ship. But there was, what they called at that time, an all black ship, but it wasn't really all black, and again why they had all the senior officers and the petty officers, uh maybe I can understand the officers, because I don't think there was that many black officers at that time. But there was certainly black enlisted people coming up, just like the guy that was a friend of mine, and he was probably had more experience than I did. So, why they did that, but that was the Navy, there was no question that it was segregated, and I faced it more after I went on the Wisconsin because like I say, of course it was a bigger ship, a lot more people, and there they had a lot of officers, so they had a lot more steward's men, and all these people did was serve the officers' meals and clean up the galley, they clean up the dishes, and that sort of thing, that's all they ever did. And, they had problems with them, there's no question, they had problems between the officers and the people that was working there, but that's, I think, that's really nature.
Q: Today, almost 60 years after the end of WWII, the decision to drop the Atom bomb is still debated and discussed. How did you feel about the dropping of the Atom bomb immediately, and then how do you feel today?
A: Well, I've always thought that we could have dropped the Atom bomb first out at sea, and let the Japanese see what happened, and now maybe they would have just said that doesn't phase us a bit, and maybe we'd sill of had to drop the bombs on the cities. But, I personally didn't think so, I thought we could have dropped it off shore and probably had the same effect maybe. Now, maybe we still would of still had to go in with the ground troops, and probably lost a lot more of our soldiers and sailors, and everything, but who knows, whether they would have surrendered out right like they did after we dropped the bombs, or but if not I always said we could have went ahead and then dropped the bomb on the cities after that, if they didn't want to surrender. But, who knows.
Q: What were your opinions and feelings about FDR, while you were serving in the War?
A: (laughs) I don't think anybody really had any thoughts at all about what the President was doing, especially when your out at sea, and your chasing submarines and or if your just out at sea and your watching for submarines. You have your mind on what your doing and I don't know, and you don't get newspapers like you do today, or you don't get radio broadcasts. The only news we received was when the commanding officer decided to tell us something, and that wasn't very often. And, so it isn't like today where sailors today and the soldiers that get almost direct communications, and they hear it all. At that time, you didn't hear it, and personally, I never gave it a thought, what the President was doing.
Q: Where were you when you heard of his death in April of 1945, and what was your reaction to his death, and how it affected the War?
A: Well, I was out at sea because even after the war, I shipped over, I stayed in the Navy for a while. So, I was out at sea at that time, and there was all kinds of rumors going around, but the first rumor we heard was he was on, it was a naval ship, and I can't remember if it was a light cruiser, or a heavy cruiser, that Roosevelt used to use when he did go somewhere. And, of course that was a rumor going around that that ship got sunk, and of course he went down with the ship and that sort of thing. But, I think that most of the people were upset, and because by that time they certainly knew what type of a job he had done, and they was concerned, and nobody ever heard of Harry Truman, so you was concerned with who was going to take over the country. And, turned out that I think he, Harry Truman, was a good President. By the way, I am not a Democrat. (laughs)
Q: Okay, some questions about your life after the War. When and where were you discharged from your service in the Navy, and how did you feel about your service at the end?
A: Well, I was in Philadelphia when I finally got out. And, I would have stayed in the Navy, but the Navy elected to freeze all ranks. Other words, you couldn't get any promotions, no body got promotions. And, I was still at the same rating I was in 1943. I went in in '43 and I finally got out in '48, and so I was still at the same rate when I was ready to get out, and I was on the Oregon City at that time, CE 123, and my division officer tried to get me to ship over. And, I would have, but I said if you promise to give me a rate increase, I said, or at least an attempt to have a rate increase I'll stay. And he said, Robbie, I can't do that, he said I'd be lying to you. And so I said, well I got to go. By that time I was married, and had two kids and of course I was making $78 a month, and so I said hey I got to get out to take care of my family.
Q: How did your family react to your return home?
A: Well, of course I got home, when I went aboard the U.S.S. Wisconsin the war had, well, it hadn't quite ended yet, but I went on there and it ended right after that. And then, we went on a goodwill cruise to South America, went down to Chile and different countries, but our main stop was at Chile, because they had just elected a new president, and we went down there as Representatives of the United States. And, well of course I was gone for about eight months, and when I came back, I was rather suntan. I was extremely dark, and at that time I had grown a small black mustache and when I came home, I of course had the two kids. I had a daughter and a son, and my daughter was the oldest. When I came home, I come up and of course my wife came out with the kids to meet me when I got off, I had to take a bus home and that sort of thing, and when my daughter seen me, she screamed and hollered, and ran away. (laughs) But of course the War was over then, so it wasn't like people coming home, like soldiers that had been in Europe for two or three years, and never seen their family and that sort of thing. So, it was a little different for me.
Q: After you returned home from the War, did you continue your education and go to college?
A: I took college courses, I didn't go to college and but then years later, I went to Brookdale, and got an Associate's Degree at Brookdale.
Q: What did your professional life include after the war?
A: Oh boy. Well, I started when I first got out of the service. I went to work as a n automobile mechanic and I did that for, I guess about two and a half years. And, decided that wasn't for me, I wasn't that mechanical. Guns I could take apart and put back together and everything else, but anything else I just didn't seem to have the knack for, that and I'm still not very good at mechanical stuff. And, after that I came back to New Jersey, cause that's where my wife was from, and, of course there was no jobs, but I finally got a job working on a dredge, and we dredged channels. I dredged channels from Seaside Heights down to Bar Gate in Atlantic City. And, I worked at that for I guess about a year and I obtained a job at Lakehurst in what they call the helicopter overhaul, and I worked there for about five years, and then Lakehurst was always talking about closing, every time you turn around. Lakehurst has been closing since it opened I think. And, I transferred to Maguire, and I worked on there squadron over there, they call it airvac squadron, I worked on the flight line, and did engine overhaul work and stuff like that. But, they ran just like an airline does today, they had five planes, and they flew from here to Boston, from Boston to St. Louis, and they picked up military people that needed to be transported because of some kind of physical problem. But then I came back to Lakehurst after about two and a half years at Maguire.
(tape flipped to side B, and turned on again)
Q: What did your professional life included after the War?
A: Well, I worked at the test facility for about twelve years, and there we were doing experimental work for arresting gear and catapults which are on air craft carriers, now you'll see in some of my pictures I'll show you, we had catapults on the Wisconsin and catapults on the heavy cruiser I was on, but they were powered by a powder, a discharger powder, and shot the plane off the catapult carriers are steamed and different hydraulic. Anyway, I worked there for twelve years to one of the top supervisors and then during that time I, at home I became very much involved with zoning the plan board, which I spent about 14 years on and became a chairman of that for a number of years, and I was also on the school board for eleven years and which I was president of the school board for a number of years. And, so during that time I got a lot of experience with striking teachers, and the school board and so a job opened up in what they called civilian personnel, its an office that takes care of all the personnel work, anybody that works at one of the bases and this happened to be Lakehurst. And, I applied and was selected to a job there in personnel, that had to with, what they call, employee and laymen relations and I worked there for twelve years, until I retired, and after that I worked as a consultant out of a firm up in Newark, as a labor consultant, and doing mostly school board work. Other words contract negotiations between teachers and school boards, but also between police and firefighters and that sort of thing. And, I finally quit there after a couple of years, worked for myself for a couple of years doing the same thing, until my wife told me that she never saw me anymore and decided that I had to quit, and I went to work for a law firm. By this time, that's when I was going to Brookdale, and I finally went to work for a firm in Lakewood, Bathgate, Wagner, Whooters, and Newman at that time is what it was called, it is now called Bathgate, Wagner, and Wolf. I worked there for fourteen years, and after I left there, I became a private investigator, and that's what I'm doing today.
Q: What role, if any, did your experiences in War and on a Destroyer Escort play in your professional career?
A: I don't know that it played any with the exception of the fact that once learned to get along with people, and deal with people, and if anything that's what it helped me. That's the place where it helped me. It didn't have anything to do with my later employments or anything like that.
Q: Have any of your children served in the Navy or any other branch of the military?
A: Yes, my son was in the Navy for about two and a half years, and my grandson just left boot camp from Great Lakes, and is going to be assigned to his first ship. Let's see, what is the name of it, I can't remember the name of it, but its over in Iran right now. Now their flying to Iran for his assignment.
Q: How do you feel about your family members that are in the Navy?
A: I'm sorry, read that one again.
Q: How do you feel about your family members that decided to join the Navy?
A: Oh hey, my son joined, he was in the reserves and he was in Vietnam, and so he got called up and was assigned to, what they called, a helicopter carrier at that time, and in fact it was the U.S.S. New Orleans. And, he went over there served his time and came home, he didn't, my son didn't particularly like the Navy, but my grandson does. He, now as far as my grandson is concerned, he called me up one day and said, he calls me Pop Pop, he doesn't call me grandfather, and he said "Pop Pop I'd like to have you go to the recruiting station with me", and I said, I didn't even know he had thought about joining the service, and I said "well what recruiting station", he says "the Navy recruiting station", he says "I want to join the Navy". And I said "are you sure?", and he says "yes, I am , I made up my mind, that's what I want to do". And, now my grandson wasn't as young as I was, he's now about twenty-four, I think, twenty-three or twenty-four, and so he's a little older, a little bit more mature, than what I was. But, I went up to the recruiting station with him and we sat there and talked to the chief for about two hours, and I thought the Chief done an excellent job of explaining his opportunities, what he could do, what he couldn't do, what he had to look out for, or what he should think about and sent him home and said think about it. There was absolutely no pressure whatsoever, and he went away, and he says "Pop Pop I don't have to think about it, but I will". And, so about two weeks later, he went back and, cause the chief told him to take a week off or something and think about it. And to be sure that's what you want to do, cause he was signing up for four years, I mean its not like he was signing up and coming home tomorrow. And so he did, he went back and signed up and now he's finished boot camp, and like I say he's been assigned a ship, and he's very happy about it.
Q: Did you share your experiences in War with your family? If so how long did it take you after your return to feel comfortable talking about what you saw and experienced as a sailor?
A: Well, I think my experiences were much different than a lot of guys. I mean, especially, the ground, the marines, and the army and that sort of thing that faced, or come face to face with combat, and of course a lot of the Navy did, but the Atlantic, where I spend my whole naval career up until after the War, was mostly all submarine work, and there wasn't that many battles like there were out in the Pacific with the Japanese and there were some naturally, but we didn't, fortunately I didn't have that so I really didn't get the experience that a lot of guys did.
Q: Since the end of World War II, many movies have been made about the War. Most 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 accurately depicts the War or not? If you have not seen Pearl Harbor can you recall any movies about WWII that you feel are accurate and any that you feel are inaccurate?
A: Well, I was never a movie buff, so, and I haven't seen Pearl Harbor I never looked at it, because I heard people tell me that looked at it, and said it doesn't really give a good depiction of what happened. And, but I've seen some of the movies that were taking or some of the films that was taking at the time, and of course a good friend of mine is a Pearl Harbor survivor, and he was in the Marines, he wasn't on one of the ships. In fact, he lives here in Holiday City, and Fred, I can't remember whether Fred seen it or talked about it or not, but I know I've talked to Fred about it, and he's told me, in fact he wrote a book, and about his own experience, not just about Pearl Harbor, but his experience while he was in the Marine Corps and I don' think that anybody can duplicate and show what actually went on, and have it be that close.
Q: When and why did you decide to get involved with the Garden State Chapter of the DESA? What is your role in this organization, and how do you feel this organization has benefited you?
A: Well, I didn't even know one existed, until we was down in Florida, oh I guess it was three years ago. And, I saw a little clip in the paper, down in there about Destroyer Escort Association, and it was the one here in New Jersey, Garden State Chapter. So, somebody had went down there and talked to one of the editors or to whoever you know takes care of that about putting this ad in the paper. Now, whether he had to pay for it, I don't know, because it didn't give a number to call down there, it gave a number to call up here, and so when I came back, I cut it out, when I came back I called them, and of course got involved. And as far as the organization, what it does for you, now we have you probably already know this, we have a monthly luncheon, and whoever can get there, naturally goes to the luncheon. Now, I say we, we've got really three areas. We got an area of people in the north, then we have an area of people in the South, and then on here in Central, around Toms River and Brick town and that sort of thing, and so most of the people we have at the luncheon is people that live in this general area, and the people in the north they have a luncheon, and the people in the south, they have a luncheon. So there's three groups that meet, but it gives you a chance to meet and talk, now of the people that's here in this area, did I ever know while I was in service. And, I just came back from a convention down in Myrtle Beach, we had a convention down in Myrtle Beach, and I met three guys down there that was on the Jannsen. One of them was on there at the same time, but I never knew him, he was a fire control men, and I was a gunner's mate. Now, I may have seen him, and he may have seen me, but we met and we talked but of course we didn't remember (Laughs). None, of the guys like I say was one the same ship. But, It gives you a chance to sit down and talk, and you generally don't talk that much about you know, your, somebody will come up with a sea story or tell what about their ship did or something like that, or brag and say something about what your ship didn't do, my ship was doing, and everything like that. And, so its kind of that sort of thing. But its just a get together with guys, and their wives.
Q: Recently, President George W. Bush has been talking about the United States going to war with Iraq. As a veteran of war, how do you feel about the United States going to war yet again and what advice do you have for the young sailors that make up the United States Navy today?
A: Well, I happen, this is my second marriage, my first wife died, and I told Joan some time ago, I said, cause I've always, in fact I'm retired. I left the Navy after I got out and stayed in the reserves for a while and then I shipped over to the Coast Guard, and I'm retired from the Coast Guard and when the whole thing started, I said to join, I says "if they'd take me, I'd go back", and I would. I just happen to be one of those guys that happens to love the military, and can take the discipline and that sort of thing. A lot of people just can't do that. A lot of people just don't handle discipline that well. That was one of the things wrong with my son that went, he didn't like to have people telling him what to do, or he had to get up and go right away, but my grandson's just the opposite now. He's more like myself, and but I can go back today without any problem whatsoever, and but of course I know their not going to take me. But, I think that they just have to anyone, in the Navy to do has to of course keep themselves as prepared as possible to do their job, and the ship has a responsibility to train then to know what's going to happen, if something does happen. The ship what they have to do when damage control comes around and that sort of thing when it has to be done under very strenuous conditions, and if their well trained then they'll react the right way, and they'll do a good job. But, that's really up to the captain of the ship, he's really the one that has to make sure that their all prepared.
Q: In retrospect how do you feel about your service as a sailor during the War, and how has this affected your life in general?
A: Give me that again.
Q: Sure. In retrospect how do you feel about your service as a sailor during the War, and how has this affected your life in general?
A: Well, I think I already answered the rest of that. I would have stayed in the Navy for ever if they'd had some promotions where I could have fed my family, and like I say I'd go back anytime they called. I don't care what it was for. As far as affected my life, I think that it taught me discipline, it taught me how to get along with people, and it taught me responsibility, and I think you know that helped me all through my life.
Q: Finally, what do you feel the world should learn about your experiences in WWII?
(tape turned off and on again)
Q: What do you feel the world should learn about your experiences in WWII?
A: Well, I don't know. I don't know if the world will learn anything from our, from my experience. I think that the world should learn something, from all war and how its fought and what happened for the reasons, and certainly take war very serious, but also I think that when the country does come under attack the country should be willing and able to respond and help and support their cause. But, I don't know that there's anything to learn from a personal experience.
Q: Thank you for your time.
Conclusion of Interview
Mr. Robinson's Destroyer Escort, the U.S.S. Janssen, DE 396, was named for Ralph Willie Janssen. Janssen was promoted to Lieutenant on June 15, 1942 while serving on the destroyer Porter (DD-356). He was killed October 26, 1942 when the Porter was torpedoed during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.
Conclusion of the Interview.
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