Shaun Illingworth: This begins an interview with Timothy Dyas on July 23, 2008, in Ridgewood, New Jersey, with Shaun Illingworth and ...
Elaine Blatt: Elaine Blatt.
SI: Okay. Thank you very much, Mr. and Mrs. Dyas, for having us here.
Timothy Dyas: You're quite welcome.
SI: To begin, could you tell us where and when you were born?
TD: Yes. I was born in Brooklyn, New York, on May 25, 1920.
SI: What were your parents' names?
TD: My father's name was James and [my] mother was Lillian. Her maiden name was Walsh, which is where the Irish comes in. My father, unfortunately for us, left us when we were four years old. I didn't see him again until when I was a graduate student up at Harvard. He sent for me to come out to Oklahoma, to visit with him for a week or so. That's the only contact I ever had with him in my life, other than when I was four years old.
SI: Do you know anything about his family background, such as where the family was from?
TD: Not much, but he was of Spanish ancestry. Supposedly, his family was among the early Spanish settlers out in [the] California area, and my mother's family, her grandfather came from County Cork, in Ireland, just prior to our Civil War. So, it's a combination of Spanish and Irish.
SI: You were telling us before we started the tape that your family has quite a military history, starting with your grandfather on your mother's side.
TD: Yes. My grandfather, on my mother's side, he received three hundred dollars for enlisting in the service during the Civil War. This was perfectly legitimate in these days, and he went away as Robert (Blair?), and then, after his year was up, covering for this man, he enlisted on his own. ... That's when, at the Battle of Mobile Bay, he lost his leg, and I have papers upstairs that show that in, I think it's 1908 or something, or 1900, his widow, my grandmother, Mary Walsh, was getting eight dollars a month. [Editor's Note: The Naval Battle of Mobile Bay took place on August 5, 1864.] She had nine children, [laughter] a great amount of money in those days. Then, the oldest son, Timothy Walsh, after whom I was named, and a man who became financial editor of the old New York World, with very little formal education, ... fought in the Spanish-American War. ... Then, in World War I, my father was in there. He was gassed, eventually, died in a veterans' hospital, and then, of course, I was in World War II. I volunteered for a National Guard unit, because I was working for the State of New York at that time. I'd just gotten out of high school and I had a track scholarship to the University of Idaho, but I couldn't afford to take it. I had to support my mother. So, we went away in the National Guard, a whole group of us together. This was in February 1941, prior to Pearl Harbor, and this gave me a leg up on some of the people who were drafted later on, because I'd had a good deal of military knowledge by then.
SI: Going back to your childhood, you grew up in New York City.
TD: Yes, in the outskirts of New York City, in Queens County. My family moved out of Brooklyn when I was about seven years of age, and I wound up in P.S. [Public School] 33, where (Irving L. Cone?) was the principal, and it was a marvelous school. I enjoyed it very, very much. One of my fond memories there [was that] I was in every play they ever had. [laughter] ... One time, on a Friday, a teacher gave me a play and said, "I want you to learn this particular role." So, I took it home over the weekend and I came in Monday morning, before school started, and sat down and recited the play. [laughter] She took me right down to the principal's office ... and I did it for him as well, which was funny, but I was in every play that they ever had. I had a great deal of fun being an actor. ... I was [into] some athletics. ... I played baseball. I was on the baseball team, but I was the world's worst baseball player, outside of a few of them that are still playing in what I now prefer to call "commercial sports," not professional. It wasn't until I reached high school. I had started running when I was a kid, ten years old. I don't know why. I played ice hockey. I played goalie, because I was a lousy skater, and baseball, I was terrible. I played football, I wasn't too bad at that, played basketball, and soccer. I was very good at soccer, because, surprisingly, where we lived, there was a big state hospital, Creedmoor State Hospital, for the people with mental problems. A lot of Irishmen came over and worked there and they played soccer, so that I learned it at a very early age and learned to like it, and, later on, when I was in college, as a twenty-five-year-old freshman, I decided I wanted to be a phys. ed. teacher. ... One of the things they were going to have was [to] teach everybody how to play soccer, and we played about two minutes and the instructor came over, he says, "Where did you learn this?" and I told him. He said, "Get out of here. You don't need it anymore. You know all about it already." [laughter]
SI: Growing up, were you raised learning a lot of Irish traditions, keeping them alive?
TD: Not particularly. My mother was a rather quiet lady. My grandmother was a tremendous gal. When we lived in Brooklyn, she would go over, on the subway, to Delancy Street, pick up goods to make into dresses and bring them back to Brooklyn, and then, make dresses, which she sold, which is how she survived. ... One time, she got on the subway and she had a big armful ... of goods. So, this man spotted her and got up to give her the seat, and two young women made a dash for the seat. [Speaking in an Irish brogue] Me grandmother was as nimble a' foot as she was of tongue. She got there first and sat down, and the whole place is quiet. One of the girls made a big mistake. She said, "Oh, well, age before beauty," and my grandmother looked up, she says, "Well, I know where the age is, but I'll be damned if I could see the beauty." The whole car exploded. [laughter] She was a lovely person. Unfortunately, years ago, in the back of the front seat of a car, they had an iron bar, where you put blankets and stuff over. ... When we moved out to Queens, they were going, she hit a rough spot and she went forward and hit the iron bar and her lungs were punctured. ... She died at a fairly early age, as far as I was concerned. She was a delightful person, oh.
SI: What was your neighborhood like in Queens?
TD: Quite pleasant. Most of the people there were a mixture. We had some Irish ancestry living there, we had Dutch, and so forth. This was the Depression days. I remember those vividly. A man down in the corner house jumped out the window and committed suicide, he was so depressed over the lack of funds. In school, we were given a free lunch, because this was something you couldn't afford. That went on through high school as well, in the Depression days, for many, many of the people who lived in the area. It was a very pleasant neighborhood and, down on the corner there, there was a huge mansion. You'd call it a "McMansion" today. Somebody lived there who had chauffeurs, and so forth. So, it was a very pleasant neighborhood, very quiet. We played a lot of stickball, which young people don't do anymore, I guess, out in the streets at night, and my mother would call for me and we wouldn't hear her, because we were too busy playing stickball. ... It was a pretty good childhood. I just missed, of course, the opportunity to; as I say in that book, I missed my father's affection, if that existed, but it didn't. So, it was good, and then, of course, I graduated. I've got the picture downstairs, I didn't bring it up, of graduation in 1934, from P.S. 33. Well, I was a good student. I liked school. I enjoyed it. It was fun for me.
SI: What were your favorite subjects?
TD: ... History and English. Languages, we didn't do much [of those] in elementary school, in those days. It wasn't until you got to high school that you got into languages. Math was the subject that I liked the least, unfortunately. [laughter] Then, when I got into high school, ... I took Spanish. Oh, I had studied Latin as well, Latin, and then, Spanish, and I enjoyed those. ... Of course, I enjoyed history enormously, and, in high school, I liked science a great deal. It went very well for me, and, when I finished, I was on the track team and the cross-country teams. ... I was offered a scholarship to ... Idaho State University, but I couldn't accept it, because ... I had to support my mother, but the reason I got the scholarship is, the man who was the coach out at there had just moved out there from the East and he knew the key runners in the area. ... I remember, I used to run up at Van Cortland Park on Saturday mornings, and did quite well as a cross-country runner. There's a poem ["One, Two, Three"] in that book up there about three of us running a practice mile in 1937. I was a junior then, and Ken Kinnes was a junior and (Ray Murray?) was a senior, and (Ray Murray?) finished first and I finished second and Ken Kinnes finished third. Ironically, in 1943, ... on July 9, 1943, the man who finished first, (Ray Murray?), was killed-in-action, July 10, 1943, I was missing-in-action, and, on July 11, 1943, my best friend, Ken Kinnes, was killed-in-action.
SI: Were they all in Sicily, where you were?
TD: ... No, no, no. They were in the Air Force. The reason I was missing-in-action, when you're captured, it takes awhile for the capturing forces, the Germans, to notify the Allies, and, in turn, I have a copy upstairs of the telegram my mother received. Now, as I understand, they're more genteel about it. Somebody comes to the house and informs the parents. No, they were not in Sicily. They were not. They were both in the Air Force.
SI: Did your mother work outside of the home?
TD: No. She didn't, she didn't. She was a very mild, shy woman. ... I told you about the uncle who was the financial editor of the New York World. He married (Ana Greenberg?). You can imagine what happened in the Irish family when that happened. It took about a year and they realized she was just a darling person, and they had two sons, ... (Deleon?) and Link. Dill [was] the older one. Link should have been on the Olympic team, as a swimmer, but they were much stricter in those days about being a professional. ... Johnny Weissmuller, the famous ape man in the [Tarzan] movies, asked Link to be his swimming partner in the exhibits he did around the country. So, Link, of course, took it and this disqualified him from the Olympic team. He'd have made it as a swimmer any day. He, incidentally, is the founder of the Laundromat. He started that up in the United States. They were terrific people, and my Aunt (Ana?); they had quite a nice home in Long Beach, Long Island. In fact, they owned about three or four cottages down there, and, when we would go to their place as a kid, I'd run right into their library, sit down and grab books. She looked at me one day and she said, "He's going to go to Harvard." So, when I was in graduate school up there, I thought, "How did she know?" She was a lovely person.
EB: You had a brother.
TD: Yes. My brother, Jim, and I were pretty close together. He was not too involved in athletics the way I was. He got himself more involved in cars. When he was a youngster, one time, he rode a car in one of these, what would be a NASCAR [race] today, in the race, which kind of shocked me. As we got older, he got a job, too, so [that] he could help at home. ... Then, he came into the Army and, at the end of the war, he stayed in, remained in. I had the opportunity, but I decided I wanted to go to get some schooling, and he retired, eventually, from the Army as a captain, and, about fifteen years ago, now, he just died of a massive heart attack, unfortunately.
SI: Growing up in the Great Depression, did you have to take part-time jobs, while you were going to school, to help support the family?
TD: Yes, yes, that's interesting. I hadn't thought of that. I delivered newspapers. I had a bicycle and I would go around delivering newspapers to people, and that was the; I forget. Oh, and one other thing I did, where I lived in Queens, there were farms not far from there. In fact, they took those farms away to make ... a city park out of them, and Babe Ruth came out there. I was up there the day he came in. He dedicated it, opened the park, the baseball aspect of it, but they had these farms and we used to go up there and weed. There would be a row that went from here to New York City, so help me, [laughter] and we would weed and get twenty-five cents. So, I might make fifty cents for a day, which went to home right away. ... One time, I saved enough cents so [that] I could go [buy], ... I always had my heart on a pair of socks, they were, I forget the term for it right now, and I went down and I paid eighty-five cents for a pair of socks; wow. [laughter]
EB: Did your mother make clothes or just your grandmother?
TD: ... No, my grandmother; my mother helped a bit, yes.
SI: Did you have to do a lot of chores around the household growing up?
TD: Yes. We lived, for a long period of time, with my mother's sister, who had married a man who was a chief petty officer in the Navy, regular Navy. So, we lived with them for quite a period of time, particularly after my grandmother died. ... They had a son named Bob, their name was (Springer?), and he was a wonderful guy. I always considered him almost a brother. He was in the service as well and his plane crashed and he lost all of his teeth, but he got out of it alive, and we were very, very close together, geographically and emotionally as well. He worked for Grumman Aircraft, for his entire career, when he got out of the service, after having been in the Air Force, and eventually retired from them. ... Unfortunately, he didn't live too long after that. ... He bought a house in Levittown, Long Island. I think he paid something like seventy-five hundred dollars for it, way back when, right after [the war], so, 1945, '46.
SI: It is interesting that you mentioned being a paperboy. A lot of the people I have interviewed who were paperboys during the Depression talk about people trying to beat the bill and not pay. Did you ever have to run people down for money?
TD: I'll never forget one time. Before we moved in with my aunt, we had this place out in; oh, we moved out of there, I guess. ... We had a small, little apartment in a section of the area called Bellerose, and my mother would get [food from], there was a grocer/deli downstairs. She had a long line of credit and I went down there one day to order such and stuff. He says, "Unless you have cash, you're not getting anything." This was quite a blow, because we depended upon this for food. I don't know how my mother handled that situation, but we did wind up with some food.
SI: Do you know any methods your family used to stretch things out, make things last, during the Depression?
TD: Not really. I don't remember too much about that. She died, incidentally, tragically, while I was a prisoner of war, which was a real terrible blow, because she was the family for me. ... When I came home, ... as a paratrooper, you get a little extra "jump money," they call it. So, I had sent all of the money, practically everything but ten dollars a month since I joined the Army, home to her, to take care of her, and she had saved, well, in those days, almost four thousand dollars. After I paid the funeral director ... a couple hundred dollars or so, I had that and that sufficed for me. ... I got my undergraduate degree in three years at NYU, and then, went up to Harvard for another year, and that sufficed all the way through for money that I needed for this, that and the other thing.
SI: This is jumping ahead, but did you use the GI Bill?
TD: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. That, as Crandon Clark had pointed out in that book that the Hobbyists did, this was a godsend and, of course, it was done for a very sensible reason. [Editor's Note: Mr. Crandon F. Clark, RC '44, has been interviewed by the Rutgers Oral History Archives and serves on the Rutgers Living History Society's Executive Committee. He also belongs to the Hobbyists group in the Ridgewood area, which produced a book on the experiences of the World War II veterans within the group.] FDR realized that if they were going to have something like ten or twelve million ... GIs return, with no jobs, we were going to have problems in this country. So, Congress and he got together and set the GI Bill up. ... It was very funny. [laughter] One of the first classes I took at NYU, I think there were three or four of us in there who had been ... first sergeants and we were with eighteen-year-olders. ... They didn't know this and they started behaving as they did in high school, and the first thing you know, we barked at them, "Knock it off," and they were startled and they were quiet. ... The instructor said, "Thank you very much," to us. [laughter] They were really shocked. [laughter]
SI: What was the name of your high school?
TD: Jamaica High School, which was, incidentally, quite a high school. We had nine thousand pupils there. ... They went triple session. The seniors went from eight in the morning, I think, until about eleven-thirty. Most of the juniors were in from about ten-thirty until two, and the rest of the school came in until three-thirty or four, and, also, they had annexes. You started out, the first semester, we didn't go down to Jamaica High School, we went to an annex in a local, comparatively local, elementary school. They took the third floor, the top floor. It was about a mile-and-a-half away from where we lived, so, we used to run there and run back when we finished. It was an excellent high school. The academic standards were marvelous. Dr. (Wasberg?) was the principal and, during the war, if he could find where you were, he would write to you. ... When I returned after the war, and I didn't know about these [men], Ken and Ray, being killed until I came back at the end of the war, ... I found out, when I got there, what had happened to them. ... In the hallway, there's a bronze plaque around there, with the names of all of those who fought in World War II and gold stars for those who never returned. It was a marvelous high school. I got an excellent education there. In fact, when I got to college, ... I'm trying to think of the particular course, first course I took, I never even bothered looking at the books, because I'd learned, and I'd been out of high school eight years. I got to it very quickly and ... they had a great high school. We went down by bus from where we lived. We paid a dollar a month and, for some of us, after awhile, that dollar was a lot of money, so, we hitchhiked or got on the backs of trucks, hold on to the ropes and they took us down there. [laughter] ... Then, coming home, we could get right on the school bus and they'd take us home, because they didn't know we hadn't paid. It was the experience, and I kind of was very, very sorry when high school ended, because, for me, it was the end of an academic career. I had no idea what was going to happen later on in life.
SI: Where did you see your life going when you were in high school?
TD: Well, eventually, I was going to have to get a job somewhere, ... hopefully, and these were terribly depressing days. That's why they called it the Depression, I guess. We got a free meal, those of us who came from families where there was nothing, and, the one time, I went there to get the meal and some of the other guys came along who didn't get it and they saw me and I dashed out. I was so embarrassed. Well, the next Saturday, we had a cross-country race up in Van Cortlandt Park and I did very poorly, for me. I finished third on the team. Usually, I was first or second, and this Ken Kinnes asked me, "What happened?" I said I hadn't eaten for a week. He said, "Why didn't you tell me?" He said, "You could have come to my house and eaten." I said, "Oh." You know, this is the way it was, and the teachers were very, very, very concerned, about not only our academics but the thing. ... In those days, they had superb teachers, and one of the reasons, I always thought, was the Depression. You couldn't get a job; brilliant people couldn't get jobs anywhere, so, after all, here was teaching. So, they went into teaching, and we had some people there who could have, oh, my Lord, they could have been giants in industry or science, if they had gone into it, or medicine, fabulous people.
SI: In the 1930s, Hitler was taking over other countries in Europe and things were happening in the Far East. Were you following the news?
TD: Oh, absolutely. We were very, very concerned about Hitler, and Mussolini in Italy. The fact ... [of] what he was doing to Jewish people, of course, hit home with my Aunt (Ana?), and we were very, very worried about the potential. We saw that the United States, militarily, was in poor shape. There was nothing we could have done. If Hitler could have invaded us, he could have gotten away with it, I guess, in those days. ... Those were tough days, and, incidentally, one of the things that comes to mind about cross-country running is, ... there was a period of time, after the war, in the 1950s and '60s, I guess, that they were saying that Negroes couldn't run distance. "They were black, they didn't have the guts, they didn't," and so forth, and I thought back to my high school days and we had a couple fellows on our cross-country team who were Negro who were terrific runners, good runners. ... That's why I have been delighted when I see the Kenyans doing what they're doing. They win every ... long-distance marathon that exists these days, [laughter] which is a blow to the people who were so bigoted.
SI: Growing up in such a multicultural area, was there any friction between the different groups, like Catholics and Protestants or Irish and others?
TD: Well, I grew up Irish Catholic, of course, and not really. ... I guess we didn't intermingle in that way. I went to a Catholic church. In fact, when I started in Brooklyn, I had to go to a Catholic school, and then, we moved out to Queens and they didn't have a Catholic school at this particular parish. So, that's why I went to PS 33, and then, later on, they started one there, but no way were we going to shift from PS 33 over there. So, we stayed. ... No, we didn't have [problems]. I don't remember. I'm sure we had occasional comments about different nationalities and so forth, but nothing very serious. We were too concerned, I think, about getting enough food to eat to worry about whether a person was our thing. We did find, in high school, some bigotry towards people who were black. We found that, a bit of that. There's no question of it, but I was always delighted that I'd gotten myself involved in running, because, if I had had been tempted to do this, [African-American] guys on the team were good friends, and so, we didn't think much of it.
EB: Did you have a radio in your home?
TD: Yes. That was my forte. She [Mrs. Dyas] plays the cello, she paints, she can play the piano, ... her whole family; her daughter. [Editor's Note: Mr. Dyas leaves to retrieve something.] I was going to show them one of Joyce's CDs. This is our second marriage. We've been married thirty-four years, and her brother was the guitarist; on the old Jack Paar Show, they had the Jose Melis Trio, and her brother was the guitarist, and her daughter, Joyce Cooling, now, is smooth jazz. She travels all over the world, Korea, Hawaii, and so forth, doing various gigs, and lives in San Francisco. ... When we go to church now, we belong to the West Side Presbyterian Church, she wouldn't even let me try to sing. I'm so terrible. [laughter]
SI: You mentioned that you acted often in school plays.
TD: Oh, I loved it.
SI: Were you involved in other arts, as of before World War II?
TD: Yes, I'm shocked. In high school, they gave me a "B+" in art. I don't think it was due to my artistic endeavors. I think it was my knowledge of what was going on in the art field, rather than my ability as an artist. [laughter] My writing is so bad, I print, so that it couldn't have been artistic ability. [laughter]
SI: Were you writing poetry then?
TD: No, I wasn't. That didn't start, and I'm trying to think of who else, ... until I was about fifty. Yes, I wrote and I wrote quite well, but I never wrote poetry.
Corinne Dyas: After [Rod] McKuen. I had him read McKuen ... and he said, "Golly, I can write better than that." So, then, he started writing poetry.
SI: How important was the Church while you were growing up?
TD: Oh, yes, very, very important, very, very important. There's no question of that. My mother was a very strict Catholic, and while her mother was alive, of course, even more so, and my aunt also, and we all went to church every Sunday. ... We did everything that the pastor said; I'm trying to think of his name now. When I look back on him, I am not too impressed with ... the way he ran the thing, ... but there was some good that came out of it, because of the belief in prayer, ... which I do every day. ... The religious aspect of life was always important, since I was a little kid, and is even more important now, and was very important in the prison stalag.
SI: Were you involved in a lot of community activities through the church?
TD: No, not a thing. Oh, I did have to go; oh, that reminds me, [laughter] to get confirmed, you had to take an exam. Well, you had to be twelve years old, but I was eleven, and I took the exam and passed and everything. They told me, no, I couldn't be confirmed, because I wasn't twelve. Right then, I began to get, "Ah-ha, what's going on in this place? I am not liking this at all," and that started my being disaffected with the rules of the Catholic Church. [Editor's Note: Mr. Dyas gets up to retrieve something.] Incidentally, you know him?
SI: Yes, it is a picture of Pope Benedict XVI.
TD: The reason I wear these hearing aids is, about two years ago, I was reading The New Yorker Magazine, not that I want to speak well of The New Yorker Magazine after that horrible cover they just did about Obama, and I've written a letter, upstairs, that'll go to them. [Editor's Note: The July 21, 2008, issue of The New Yorker featured a controversial political cartoon on its cover depicting the Obamas according to the various misconceptions surrounding their beliefs and background.] So, they had an article about the Pope, and I went [Mr. Dyas gasps], because we were in the same place at the same time in the Spring of 1945, only he was a sixteen-year-old gunner in a German antiaircraft unit and I was a twenty-four-year-old prisoner of war in the same area, Ludwigsfeld, which is a suburb of Munich. ... We got bombed for forty days and nights in a row, which is why these things are in my ear, and it's funny, when I first started teaching, I couldn't really hear the kids. So, the kid in the back would say something [and] I'd ask the kid in the front, "Did you hear what he said?" "No, I didn't." "Speak up, so [that] he can hear;" speak up, so [that] I could hear. [laughter] It works very well, the four years I taught. So, I decided that I would write to the Pope and I sent him a poem I wrote. I knew that he ... visited the cemeteries of German soldiers, as well. So, I wrote a letter to him and, about three months later, I got this back.
SI: Can I read it? "From the Vatican, 6 May, 2006. Dear Mr. Dyas, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, has received your kind letter and he has asked me to thank you for sharing your poem with him. He appreciates your thoughtful gesture. Assuring you of a remembrance in the Holy Father's prayers and with every good wish, I am yours sincerely, Monsignor Gabriele Caccia, Assessor."
TD: Yes, he not only sent the letter, but he sent this autographed picture of himself. Now, this wasn't done for me. He had done it for some other occasion, but, while he had it there, he decided he'd send me one, and that's why, every time people talk, you know, "Hard of hearing?" "You bet I am; blame the Pope." [laughter] No, the Catholic Church is wonderful. There's no question of its thing. I get a little concerned, you know. They just did a; well, I'm not going to say that, no.
SI: It was a much different church when you were growing up than it is today.
TD: I would think so, yes. I would think so.
SI: Particularly pre-Vatican II.
TD: Yes. I would think so. I think Pope John [Paul I], the one who died, was only there a couple months, if he had lived, it would have become a much better church more quickly than it has. I think Pope Benedict is a good man. Have you seen his comments in Australia?
SI: No, I have not.
TD: He is a "green Pope," very concerned about the environment, and he said [he was moved] when he flew from Italy, ... looking down at the world, which we are, gradually, wrecking, no question of that, and, of course, he's apologized for the [sexual abuse scandal?]. ... The Catholic Church, you know, Ireland, in Ireland, back in the early days, women, nuns, could become bishops, not bishops, lawyers, judges. Then, along came this crackdown on women the world wide, and they were deprived of all these rights they had. ... It's pathetic, it really is. I think that men have; ... the world is in a mess. Well, who runs it? the men, so, they're the ones to fault, and, here, the Irish women had the right to be a judge, lawyer, etc., and politicians, in Ireland, in those days. We went to Ireland a number of years ago and we went to Italy, where Corinne's family comes from, and we enjoyed both countries very, very much. ... We stayed with a couple in Ireland, in a B&B [bed and breakfast], and they were very concerned about what their young sons, I guess they were ... headed for college, were going to do when they graduated. They were worried about the economics. As I understand, today, Ireland is in top-shape economically.
SI: Yes, it is like "the Silicon Valley of Europe."
SI: Going back to the war clouds gathering overseas, was there a point where you thought, before Pearl Harbor, that the United States was going to get involved in the war?
EB: Especially with your father having participated in World War I and the US being involved overseas.
TD: Well, no, my father and I, of course, ... I don't know where he lived in those days, very bluntly, out in Oklahoma someplace. Ironically, he wound up in a career [in] hearing aids, [laughter] but we were concerned, because ... one of my poems tells about the fact that, in elementary school, two of us were top-rated in history and there was this special medal you received. Wally Craig and I [received it], and, as the poem ["Medal"] says, "I got the medal for knowing. You should have got it for doing," because he was killed in the Pacific, in World War II. So, I always loved history, and I was very, very concerned and the people I worked with, in Central Islip State Hospital, those I knew quite well, were concerned about ... what was going on in Europe, which is why, a year before Pearl Harbor, a group of us got together and we decided, "Look, maybe we can all stay together, and something's going to happen. We know that there's going to be a war and, if there is, we want to be in on it." So, we went down and joined ... in January and we were called to active duty in February and sent up to Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont, as a National Guard unit.
SI: This is a New York National Guard unit.
SI: When did you get your job at the hospital? What were you doing there?
TD: Well, when I first started at the hospital, and I got the job only because of where I grew up as a kid; we lived near Creedmoor State Hospital [in Brooklyn]. This was Central Islip State Hospital, out on Long Island, and, incidentally, Central Islip, today, now, is in the judiciary [system], because, every time I see a trial; who is the couple that divorced recently, the model?
SI: Christie Brinkley?
TD: Yes, she and her husband, it was Central Islip. ... They built these big federal courthouses out there, but I went to work and the head of the Creedmoor State Hospital, I played with his kids. ... He called me in and interviewed me, and then, he made a recommendation to Central Islip State Hospital that they hire me, and, of course, jobs were scarce. It was hard to get a job, and I went out there and I worked on the wards for awhile, just taking care of patients. These people all had terrible ... mental problems. Oh, it was indescribable. I did that for about five months, and then, I decided [that] this was not my cup of tea. So, I requested a transfer to the kitchen and, lo and behold, I got it. So, I wound up as a cook's assistant. ... I started out at four o'clock in the morning and worked eight hours. ... We worked in the basement, where we prepared all the vegetables for upstairs, and the meats and everything else, for the cooks upstairs. ... After about a year-and-a-half of that, I was promoted to cook's assistant and I left the basement and moved upstairs to work with the cooks in [the] preparation of food, but it used to break my heart in the prison camp. One of the things we had to do, our particular kitchen fed thirty-five hundred people, and here [at the hospital], we had to prepare all these mashed potatoes. ... We prepared all these mashed potatoes and I always took a big soup bowl of them myself, every day, and, here, in the prison camp, I had nothing to eat and I used to think back, "Oh, all those mashed potatoes, oh." [laughter]
SI: Did you get that job right out of high school or had you worked somewhere else in-between high school and there?
TD: No, right out of high school. Yes, right out of high school, I went right out there and, of course, I think I got paid about thirty dollars a month, if it was that high, and you got a room and meals. So, I didn't need any money. So, I used to send twenty or twenty-five dollars home every month to my mother. ... There was a men's store in town, and I liked to dress; I always have. So, I used to buy things there and he always permitted people to buy on time. So, I'd give him four dollars, and so forth. In a period of time, I might own the garment, but ... it was a nice group working there, very pleasant people. I still [stay] in contact with a couple of them, that three of us, incidentally, going back to the Catholic religion, (Willy Mackever?) and I, his younger brother, I have contact with, and (Gene Lulic?), who lives over here in New Milford, the three of us decided we'd be monks. [laughter] We thought about this for a brief period of time, nobody [did it], and they all wound up in the service. They became male nurses. I couldn't afford to do that, because ... you get paid peanuts to do that. So, I didn't do it. I stayed in the kitchen and they went ahead and became male nurses.
SI: Actually, last week, I interviewed a man who worked in a mental hospital around the same time. His hospital was notorious for how bad it was. I do not know if Central Islip was that bad, but it seems that there were not many resources devoted to improving the mental health system. Did you find that to be the case?
TD: Oh, absolutely. They had one doctor for something like a thousand patients. This was how much attention they gave to it, ... and I don't know if he was a psychiatrist or not. He may have just been, you know, a regular medical doctor, but the people who had mental problems, they just came there and they stayed there until they died. ... Very rarely did one go home. I remember that one time. One of them went home and he wrote back to the hospital, to the people in the hospital. We found out about it, but he was about the only person I ever remember getting out of that hospital. They stayed and they died.
EB: Did they voluntarily go?
TD: And every Saturday, visitors came, the families of these people. I was with all men patients. So, their families would come to visit with them and ... it was kind of pathetic. Getting out there, very few people owned cars; oh, incidentally, I'm going to write a letter to the paper now, telling them, it's going to start off, "Weeeeee, I'm back in the 1920s, when I saw electric cars all over the place." They were all over, and these people very rarely had a car. They came out, there was the Long Island Railroad, and then, they had to walk about a mile-and-a-half up to the hospital itself from there. So, I haven't been out there since. The next time we go see a son out in Port Jefferson, Long Island, I want to go over there, see where they built these courthouses, because they closed down Central Islip. ... Over at Brentwood, they had another mental institution, in those days, and I think what's left of it is consolidated over there, but what's left, in those days, people who had mental problems received no help at all, and I think it's pretty common. Even today, there's not much done for people with a mental problem. Look at the GIs coming back from Iraq with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. The Army wants to say that this is not so, [that] they had a problem before they went in the service and that's what it is, it's not the effect of fighting a war. ... Of course, this is done by men who were cowards, who hid out and never heard a gun go off.
SI: Did they have enough sheets and clothes for all the patients at the hospital?
TD: Yes, they did fairly well in that.
EB: What did you think of FDR before the war? Did you listen to his "Fireside Chats?"
TD: Yes. We used to listen to FDR, and we thought a great deal of him. I was interested. When I was a freshman, at twenty-five, at NYU, [laughter] I was walking through Washington Square one day. I spotted a little dog and I looked up the leash and there was Eleanor and I said, "Good morning, Mrs. Roosevelt." She said, "Good morning, young man." I wrote a poem about it, in which I was so impressed that here I could see the widow of the Commander-in-Chief of the free world, and there was; what was his name again? I can't think of his name. Can you think of his name again, the dog? [laughter] ...
SI: It will come to me.
TD: It'll come to me, too. Tonight, ... I'll sit up and yell, "Hey." [laughter] No, we thought a great deal of him, and he was very interested in helping the people in the country with their economic problems. A number of the things, ... the FDIC exists today because of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the people in Washington today, if they had the same interest in the economy of our country that Roosevelt had, it would be a lot more secure than it is. There's no question. You can't even begin to compare their lack of ability or concern or knowledge for the economy compared to what Roosevelt had, and he had magnificent people working with him.
SI: The dog's name was Fala.
SI: Did you see any of the New Deal programs in effect?
TC: Oh, absolutely. I was involved in a New Deal program. ... I forgot to mention, when I was in high school, I had a job, ... I got paid, I forget how much money, it was a minimum amount, for the youth program they had, [the National Youth Administration]. I worked for my cross-country coach, he was a phys. ed. teacher, and I kept all his records, which is where I learned to really print, because, if I had written [script], nobody would have known anything, and I got paid a minimum amount of money for this. I was involved in that program. ...
SI: You explained what motivated you to join the National Guard. Can you tell us about the process of actually joining it and entering the military?
TD: Well, ... it was quite interesting. The group of us got together, the (Connelly?) Brothers, a couple Irishmen from out in Central Islip, they worked there as well, about my age, a little bit older, a couple years or so, and a couple other fellows. ... We all got together and we decided [that] there was going to be a war, so, we would be prepared for this. ... We knew that all of us had economic problems in our homes and, if you joined the National Guard unit, the State of New York, by law, had to make up the difference between your military pay and your pay as a state employee, which was about, we got twenty-one as a soldier and, I think, we got thirty dollars a month, so [that] they'd have to give us nine dollars. Well, the state fought this in court, but lost, and, eventually, ... you know, we got a few dollars that way. We went into Brooklyn. They had the National Guard armory in Brooklyn and we would meet there and train, and then, eventually, they decided [that] we would go to Fort Ethan Allan, Vermont, which is right outside of Burlington. St. Michael's College is right near there, no longer exists, and we went up there and I, right now, have what you call "cold weather injury." I sleep with socks on in the summertime. I can't take the cold at all. I used to walk around with a T-shirt in the wintertime, twenty below zero. It never bothered me at all, and we worked up there. We became an artillery unit and I was gunner on a seventy-five-millimeter gun, and one of the tragedies that happened, one Memorial Day, we were to fire the salute and one of the guys in one of the guns didn't realize it. ... He ran around the front. We were firing blanks, thank God, and it blew right in his face and that was the end of his sight and his hearing. Yes, they had to take him over to the thing [hospital], but we fired. We used to go out to the firing range, out in the mountains of Vermont, and they had a range out there and we would fire out there, and truck the guns ... back into the fort. The First Sergeant was an interesting guy. He'd been in the unit a number of years, before it ever became mobilized, and there were a few people in there who had been in there, a couple of them. They became sergeants. ... As this book says, I realized that if I was going to get anywhere, I had to learn. So, at night, these guys would go out and drink and carouse and stuff. I would take the field manuals and study them, [laughter] and they had a test one time and I went up to sergeant right away, because of my knowledge of the manuals. ... Eventually, I wanted to become a paratrooper, in the worst way, because I knew, for a number of reasons, first of all, this was going to be the best fighting unit in the world. In fact, Winston Churchill said the 82nd Airborne was ... the best fighting unit in the world. Secondly, there were some monetary aspects to it, too, because, as a jumper, you got an extra fifty dollars a month. ... Again, this could go home to my mother, ... and I'd keep a few bucks for myself. So, it took awhile, and they wouldn't let me go. They wanted me to go to Officer Candidate School. Well, this outfit, ... the original company commander left and the other guy that came in was; they were not very good officers, [laughter] and I decided I was not going to emulate them in any way. I was not going to get involved. I was going to get with good soldiers, good officers. I kept applying and I got nowhere. Finally, Captain (Sites?) left and his replacement okayed my transfer, and I was a sergeant at that time. So, I went down to private to go to the parachute school. ... I'm afraid of heights and some people have said, "Those who were afraid of heights are the ones who can jump out of it," and I had no problems down there. I was absolutely amazed. They had this tower, 250 feet in the air, and they pulled you up on a bungee cord, which is what it would be today. ... The guy yelled, "Jump," and you pulled the cord, you fell down it until the end of the bungee cord, you bounced around a bit. ... There was a man ... in town here, who's dead now, he died a few years back, he said that, when he got there, no way could he do that. So, he was washed out, but I went through that. I had no problems at all, and then, after I finished the jump school, I was assigned to the 505th, which was a separate regiment, and I immediately became a platoon sergeant, because, even though I was only, ... you know, just about twenty-two years old, but I had years of experience in the military. ... Then, eventually, we became part of the 82nd Airborne. ... The 82nd was quite a unit in World War I as well, and then, Matthew B. Ridgeway took over as commanding general, and our regimental commander was "Slim Jim" Gavin, who, at that time, was a lieutenant colonel. I'll never forget, one of the thrills of my life, a connection with him, I was a platoon sergeant, so, I had to inspect the rifles of the men in my platoon, and I would whack the rifle. You could hear that shot all over the place as I grabbed the rifle, and I had no idea what was happening. ... When I finished the inspection, my company commander called me up to ... his office and said, "I've got some news for you." I said, "What's that?" He said, "General," ... now, I call him general, "Gavin was watching you all the way, and he says, 'What a fantastic job this guy did inspecting weapons.'" "Oh," I said, "gee, thank you so much." So, I always had that relationship with him. Then, he was a lieutenant colonel then. Then, he got promoted to full colonel. He was a West Pointer, as you know, and ... Ridgeway was a West Pointer as well. They were terrific people and, of course, Matthew B. Ridgeway was so good, when another West Pointer blew it in Korea, they had to call Matthew B. Ridgeway in to help the situation. ... Ridgeway went over there and took MacArthur's place and did the job; terrific soldiers. [Editor's Note: General Matthew B. Ridgeway and Lieutenant General James B. Gavin were airborne combat pioneers who both commanded the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II. General Ridgeway commanded the Eighth Army in the Korean War and replaced General Douglas MacArthur as Commander of the United Nations Forces when MacArthur was relieved of duty by President Harry S. Truman.]
SI: I want to go back and ask how you first found out about the paratroopers.
TD: Well, there was a lot of information flowing down, in the Army, about this unit that was guys jumping out of airplanes, and the papers, radio, no television in those days, [laughter] had information about the paratroopers. ... None of the guys in the; ... well, one other guy in my unit, eventually, decided to come down there, but the publicity given to them in the military and in the papers and stuff is the reason, how I found out about them. ... Then, finding out that you got jump pay, and what you had to do to earn it and how you had to go through jump school before you could be assigned to a unit, it all appealed to me. You know, I had had a background in running, and so forth, and, in the 505th, I was the second fastest miler in the unit. ... We used to run with our jump boots on, [laughter] very slow time, but ... athletics was very important. We used to go out for a twenty-mile hike. ... Later on, when I was first sergeant, [in] my post, when the company came in and lined up and the company commander inspected it, [I] was in back of the company commander. So, he would say, "Any questions?" My fist would go up like this; nobody dared ask a question. I told him a couple years ago, he's still alive, down in Texas, what I had done. [laughter] He says, "I always wondered why nobody ever asked anything." I'd have killed them. Here we were, dying, exhausted, and, if anybody asked questions, we'd have been out there five to twenty minutes longer; oh, no way.
SI: I wanted to ask a couple of questions about the National Guard unit before we get into the 82nd Airborne. One of the things that people who have served in National Guard units talk about is that there was a lot of nepotism and everybody knew everybody. Was that the case in your unit?
TD: Yes. We saw some of that. Some of the people who were officers were related to people in higher command, and you have to realize, though, in those days, the military was something people didn't bother with. So, nepotism, in a way, wasn't as terrible as it sounds, because at least they were out there, involved in the military and willing to do what they were asked to do. ... Later on, I'll tell you something about, ... after the war, in the Reserve unit I was in, the difference in people, Jay Rockefeller, John Lehman, people who were outstanding human beings, and outstanding in the American psyche. ... Then, when we went away, a lot of people who got into the unit were drafted, so, the nepotism didn't mean very much. One of the fellows was, we became lifelong friends, Steve Stackpole, who was with the Carnegie Corporation in New York after the war. He was a "baby dean" at Harvard, and he came in, and some of the others who came in were outstanding people who were drafted into the service. ... They made the unit even much better than it had been, compared to ... those of us who had just joined. I look back and some of them were gay, I'm sure, and nobody thought anything about it. It was just not important. They were soldiers and they acted like soldiers. It was funny; ... well, that was later on. I was thinking of the paratroopers, the things they did. [laughter] They were good people. ... One of them, oh, Pearl Harbor, we came back and we were in our barracks when the news came over the radio, and one of the guys jumped up, ran outside and ran, bounced his head about two or three times off a telephone pole, because he expected to get out in a week, and here he was, stuck, he knew, for a long time. So, it was quite a shock to these fellows who were drafted for a year. We, who had ... joined the National Guard, we didn't know how long we were going to be. They said a year, but it didn't mean that much to us, but the draftees, they knew definitely. They said one year, and here they were, stuck. ... Most of them took it very well, but this guy went down. ... He was a politician from a town [in] Upstate New York, and he went down and bounced his head off the telephone pole, two or three times. Oh, it didn't hurt him very much. He was a politician; his head was hard. [laughter]
SI: Was the unit put on alert right away after Pearl Harbor?
TD: Oh, yes, absolutely, absolutely. Yes, we were to prepare for combat. We had been working very hard and we were a field artillery unit. No, I was, eventually, glad to get out of the National Guard. I didn't join the National Guard [to avoid fighting]. People joined the National Guard [to avoid fighting later]. One very prominent person in Washington joined the National Guard during the Vietnam War, so [that] he never had to go to combat, and he started the War in Iraq. [Editor's Note: Mr. Dyas is referring to President George W. Bush.]
SI: You talked about the officers that were not very good. Was that one of your reasons for leaving?
TD: They were, you know, fairly competent, but not really very good. They had, really, very little military [training]. ... Occasionally, some of them had gone to a school, taken a course or something. You could, in those days, too, I did it later on, when I got my promotions in the Reserve, did a lot of correspondence courses, very, very busy with those, but they were men I respect, as I look back on them. They were there, ready to do their duty when the country called them, and that's, I think, about as much as you can ask of a person.
SI: Was the unit always in Vermont?
TD: Oh, no, no. It was in Brooklyn. We were formed in Brooklyn, and then, we went up by train, I believe, to Burlington, Vermont, and Burlington is a lovely city. People there were just marvelous to us, and we used to spend weekends, if we had any money, the place to go was Montreal. So, we went up to Montreal on weekends and had French food, and people there were very, very nice to American soldiers, because we all went everywhere in uniform. Nobody had any civilian clothes any more.
SI: Did you go anywhere else with the unit besides Brooklyn and Vermont? Did you leave Vermont?
TD: Yes. We went down, the one time, to North Carolina, where we worked out in the [maneuver area]. They had maneuvers and we worked out there, in the fields, and so forth. It was a pleasant experience, and then, we, eventually, went back up to Vermont, where we were when I left them.
SI: How well did that field artillery unit function? Would you have felt confident going into combat with them?
TD: ... No, they became a tank destroyer unit, as I understand, and did get into combat in Europe, ... during the big engagement, and did fairly well.
EB: Did you say you had joined with a couple other buddies or did you join by yourself?
TD: No. When I joined the National Guard unit, I joined with other people ... who worked with me in Central Islip, the (Connolly?) Brothers, for example. ... When the war ended, one of them became a New York City fireman, one [became] a New York City policemen. They loved the city, ... and then, there were two or three others. There were about five or six of us who joined together.
EB: You were in the same unit.
EB: National Guard?
SI: Did they stay in the unit or did they also go elsewhere?
TD: Yes, same unit.
SI: You told us about going to jump school. You had been in the military, but, from what I understand, paratrooper training is so much more intense. Was it a big shock to go into that?
TD: It was a pleasure, an absolute distinct pleasure, because, as you say, you used a good word, "intense," everything was intense down there. ... Everybody lived to make their jumps, and a jump was a tough thing to do for some people, as I told you about this man, in town, who couldn't handle it. He said he respected me because I could do it. I said, "Well, you know, you had sense enough to get out when you couldn't do it," and it had to do, as I said before, I've read somewhere that if you were afraid to jump, that was ideal. Then, you were a paratrooper. If you weren't afraid, then, you weren't a paratrooper. When I go downstairs now, I did this in our library in town, I hold on the railing and I said, "And I used to jump out of airplanes." One guy heard me, he came running over to me. He says, "Could I talk to you?" I said, "Yes, what about?" He said, "I heard what you said. Were you a paratrooper?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Would you sign my book here?" He had a book on World War II. [laughter]
EB: What did your mother think about you joining the military?
TD: It didn't seem to bother her too much. She sort of expected it. She was a very laidback sort of person. ... I wish, in a way, for her sake, she had been more forthright in taking action and protecting herself, but she just accepted the fact that whatever men did was all right.
SI: How long was the training at Fort Bragg?
TD: Let's see, I think we started in July, ended in August. It was about a month, and you were not allowed to wear any hat. Well, if you've ever been in Georgia in the months of July and August, you know it's warm, and everybody had a crew cut. Well, I burn. I've done this since I've been a kid. So, I went to the doctor and they made me company commander of the group I was involved with and we had the training in the afternoon when the sun was the worst. So, he gave me this zinc oxide. You know what that does to your face? [Editor's Note: Mr. Dyas indicates that his face turned white.] My whole face, and, when I marched the company back, double-time, the other guys, who had gotten back early, would say, "Here comes the clown with his company," because I had white all over my face. [laughter] I looked just like a clown, but it protected me from the burn. I'd have been in bad shape if I'd been burned. As a kid, I remember when Mother used to take me to the beach, and then, when we got home, they had to put me in the tub, because I was so burned and red. It's amazing I didn't get cancer.
SI: What else stands out about training as a paratrooper?
TD: Well, the military discipline. The whole atmosphere was one of discipline and everybody was very proud of what they were doing, and I didn't feel that with this other unit. We did this and we did that. Sometimes, we felt it, but, this time, everything down there was, "We were the best," and they told us that and we believed it. ... As I told you before, as Winston Churchill said, "The 82nd Airborne Division was the finest fighting unit the world has ever known." We believed it, and that's why we fought the way we did. I'm so sorry that I missed out after one combat jump, that I wasn't with them for the rest of the time, although I might not have made it.
EB: What did you think about the commanders there that were training you?
TD: They were outstanding people, outstanding people. Oh, it was a first-class atmosphere. It was, in a way; when I was a kid, I used to think of West Point, but, when I was a kid, I wore glasses in school, so that ruled out West Point, and, besides, I wouldn't have passed the math anyway. ... Then, my father and my uncles, and so forth, I had another uncle who was in World War I also, this was something you did, ... that you fought for your country, and, when I was a small kid, our family was hurting so economically [that] the local American Legion post used to send foodstuff over to us. They would pick up things and get it to us. So, we had a good contact with the military, and where we lived in Brooklyn, before we moved out to Queens, we lived near Fort Hamilton, which no longer exists, I don't think, and we used to go there on Sunday to watch polo matches. You ever see a polo match? Oh, it's marvelous, watch these people on horse, hitting, oh. ... When I was in elementary school, right across the street from the school was a stable and we used to go over to the stable and clean it out for the guy and he'd let us ride a little bit. So, when I was a young kid, in elementary school, I could ride a horse, which I probably couldn't do today. [laughter] ...
EB: I did horseback riding for ten years.
SI: You mentioned that, if somebody did not jump, he would be washed out. Did people get washed out for any other reason?
TD: No, ... none that I can think of. If you failed to meet the qualifying standards, you had to make five jumps and you had to jump off that crazy tower. If you did those five things, you were in. You were a paratrooper. Now, later on, when we became a unit, if you broke certain military standards, you might find yourself out, but that was rare. ... We had one fellow; he went on leave to Texas. While he was on leave, this is just before we went overseas, he had an accident, ala Cheney, on barbed wire. [Editor's Note: Vice-President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a friend with a shotgun during a hunting trip on February 11, 2006.] His shotgun went off and hit his foot, so, he couldn't go. ... Most of the guys in the unit said he did it deliberately, so [that] he wouldn't have to go overseas. I don't know. I didn't know much about him.
SI: Were there any accidents in training?
TD: No, but there were later on. ... One of the training jumps we made was in Orlando, Florida, where Disney World is, and B Company, their first sergeant and two others, their chutes didn't open. So, I was, at that time, a platoon sergeant in A Company and I had a room because of that. I heard this voice downstairs calling me and it was ... B Company's commander, Captain (Roycedale?), said, "Come down and speak to me." So, I said, "Be right down." I spoke to him and he said, "I want you to be my first sergeant," because his first sergeant had just gotten killed in that jump. So, I went up to see my company commander. He says, "That's a chance. I can't make you first sergeant here. You deserve it, so, go over there." I was there about three weeks, I guess, and there were a couple of guys in the company who kind of resented it. They felt they could have been promoted, which was true. They did, ultimately. My A Company commander comes over and says, "Get back to A Company. You're my first sergeant now," because his first sergeant, whom nobody liked, had damaged himself on a jump. He hit a tree or something. ... Just before we went overseas, he comes back into the unit. Everybody goes, "Uhhh." So, I had already given up my platoon, so, I became the field first sergeant. He couldn't do the things, you know, that I could do, physically.
SI: Why did they not like him?
TD: Oh, he was not very bright to begin with, yes. He was not very bright and ... it's very hard to describe him. I didn't hate him or anything, but he was not a leader. He was not a leader. I don't know how he got [to be first sergeant]. The company commander we had when I was there had not made him first sergeant. We had another first sergeant and they made this guy a first sergeant, they brought him in, and he never got along with the men, never.
EB: Where were most of the men from? Were they from around the country? [Editor's Note: Mr. Dyas picks up a copy of his book.]
SI: Let me just say for the record that you published a book of poetry called Barbed Words of War.
TD: ... Yes, Barbed Words of War, because of my POW days. Yes, I wrote a poem called "Where Did They Get Such Men?" and, in that picture there, there is John Dixon, the far right front row, John Dixon. He became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in Louisiana. We visited. He had us down there for a week one time, and he always thanked me for what I did when we got in combat. So, I [wrote], "Where Did They Get Such Men?":
"Two former comrades-in-arms
Stood in a judge's chambers
Looking at a 1943 photo of their paratrooper company.
When the judge, in a tone bordering on awe
Asked, 'Where did they get such men?'
Some years later, the other attempts an answer.
The important point is that nobody had to
"Get" these men for they came running
To be with others who, as they,
Perhaps perceived as kids in school
The promises in countless Pledges said.
Savaged by The Great Depression
Which meant skipped meals for many
Yet, holding onto their pride
To use it to secure for themselves
And, judged by others to have honored themselves
For it was Winston Churchill himself
Who said their airborne division
Was "the finest fighting unit in the world."
But, to get to the searching question
Even the accolades from historians and statesmen
Only increase the sense of wonder
As to how they rose to the heights
And it fills one with a sense of awe
That you were one of these men
And deepens one's sense of humility remembering them."
They came from all over. In fact, the other day, I spent some time on the phone with one of the men in that picture who lives in Billings, Montana, trying to help him get veteran's benefits, which he has none of. ... My company commander, who's in that picture, lives in Texas. He just had an injury; a cow ran over him. It sounds funny, but it isn't. It broke his sternum and his ribs. He's ninety-two now and I helped him get a certain benefit from the VA. He ... got the Distinguished Service Cross. He stepped on a landmine; ooh.
SI: What was your relationship like with your lieutenant or captain?
TD: Very, very, very good. ... We were military friends, in a sense. We respected each other. I had a great deal of respect for him and, ... the way he brought me back to his company to be his first sergeant, he obviously had respect for me. No, we got along very well. I got along very, very well with my men. I found something, that I developed something in the first unit I was in and I carried it on to my high school career. When I was principal or a vice-principal, a teacher might have a parent come in for a conference and they couldn't teach their class and some teacher had a free period. I'd say, "Would you take So-and-So's class while they're with the parent?" "Oh, sure." The first thing I did then was go right down the office and dictate to the secretary a memo of commendation and a copy went to them and to the superintendent of schools. ... If anybody in there did anything even slightly out of the ordinary, they were commended, and I think that this is the way it should be. I think that, when people [go out of their way], as Edith Pargeter said in that thing, you've got to do things, you've got to carry on, you've got to do things for people. [Editor's Note: Mr. Dyas is referring to a letter he received from British author Edith Pargeter.] ... I think [of] Corinne here, for example, the neighbor next-door, who's now in a wheelchair, every night, she calls her. I deliver the newspaper in the morning. There's another friend who's ninety, just got out of a nursing home for awhile. Corinne calls her every day. We go down and see her, and there's a man in our church, 102, and the assistant pastor asked us, would we be willing to visit him? "Surely, of course," and that's the kind of atmosphere that existed in that unit. They were fantastic.
CD: Well, Tim's an amazing person. He has a great deal of respect for people, good memory, asks questions, and then, he remembers everything about them, and so, when he sees them again, he can follow through, and he really has a lot of good rapport. ... As a principal, teachers from all fields, like the music teacher, regarded him so well because he loved music and respected him as a musician. The art teacher thought he was the best, because, you know, many of those departments just get neglected because the principal doesn't know much about them. The art teacher, the physical education teacher, all these ancillary people, were really very solicitous of Tim, because, they said, he was there for them all the time. ... That's one of the things that I think either he went into the service with or he came out of it with that, but it really held him in good stead.
EB: Was this the first time a lot of these men had met people from other areas, like someone from the South meeting someone from the North?
TD: Oh, yes, surely, absolutely. ... We even had a couple of people who were Indians, native-born. I'll tell you a story about one of them later on, when we get to combat. No, we had people from all over and we got along fine, got along fine. ... Before I became a platoon sergeant and had my own room, we all slept in these bunks, slept in these cots out in a big room, and I used to put my machete in its case under my pillow, because, if they came back drunk, they were liable to move your bed someplace, and this would happen. A guy's bed would be moved, he'd come home half drunk and he couldn't find his bed, because where it ... normally was, it wasn't anymore. Somebody else was there. So, he'd wake that guy up, "What are you doing in my bed?" and I kept the machete under there and anybody [tries that], I'll whack them in the rump when they bothered me. [laughter] They were lots of fun.
SI: Were they able to get off base often to go into town?
TD: Yes. In fact, this fellow I spoke to in Montana the other day, he remembered, just before we headed overseas, leave was very sparse, but there were some of them that were married and I would give them leave to be with their wives. ... I gave him leave to get married and he remembered that the other day.
SI: What was the working relationship like between your officer, yourself and your men? Would your officer have a lot of direct contact with the men or did he mostly work through you?
TD: Well, they tried very much to work through the NCOs [non-commissioned officers]. Occasionally, they would, you know, have to take over themselves, but they tried to work through the NCOs, because, if they didn't do that, then, there was no sense in having NCOs. ... My company commander had been a sergeant in the Texas National Guard before he got his commission, and you went up very rapidly in those days. They were hard put to get people.
SI: You mentioned that you had to do five training jumps to qualify. After you joined the regiment and the division, did you get the opportunity to do even more jumps?
TD: Yes, right. We made about three more jumps. We didn't have time to do more than that, because they mobilized us to go overseas, and, see, that picture was taken, it's ironic, the date is; what date is that?
EB: April 17, 1943.
TD: 27 April, 1945, I got out of the prison camp.
SI: That was about two years later.
EB: Was everyone around the same age as you?
TD: Yes, right. ... One of the youngest people in the unit was yours truly. I was twenty-two and these guys, you know, [were] in their twenties, older than that. ... I don't think anybody was thirty, but they were all in their upper twenties. There was one guy other than that then that was as young as I was. So, I took up [a pipe]. I used to carry a pipe around, I didn't smoke it very much, to give the appearance of being older; silly. [laughter] I never had any problems with them because of my age. I don't know, they probably guessed, some of them, ... how young I was, but it didn't seem to make too much difference to them. I knew what I was doing and I had a command voice, oh, believe me, I did. Oh, I still have it. It's like singing at the Metropolitan Opera, ... comes from down below here and you project it, and you really don't have to shout, because the voice is projected. ... The other day, Nick, down the street, was there. I did that to him and he looked right away. He heard me right away. ... They teach you that in the military.
SI: When did they teach you that?
SI: When would they teach you that? Was that after you joined the paratroopers?
TD: No, they had some of that in the National Guard unit, a little bit of that, but I had ... all that when I joined the paratroopers.
EB: Yesterday, someone spoke about how important it was that they had a loud voice.
TD: Well, it doesn't mean loud. It's projecting your voice so that everybody hears it. When I projected my voice, all those men in that unit heard it. I made damn sure, and I wish now, at our church, for example, the other day, we had a young gal who's the daughter of a couple that belongs to the church and she's in training. We heard every word she said at her sermon. Our own pastor and assistant, forget it; they don't speak up, people don't.
CD: ... The sound system, like, if you don't speak into the mic; well, see, he has a very projected voice. I don't, and it's sad, because he can't hear well, and so, our biggest problem is my getting things ... across to him, so [that] he can hear. ... If it were the other way around, it might be a little easier.
SI: Going back to the training, was the focus mostly on just straight physical training or was there a lot of maneuvers and going out on bivouac?
TD: No, ... the jump training was specifically physical. We did a lot of pushups and, when you were doing those, there was a drill NCO around to make sure you did them, bark at you if you didn't do it. It was a very physical atmosphere, as well as rigid training. It was good.
SI: What about when you were with Company A, before you went overseas?
TD: Oh, it was the same in there. We had the same sort of background in there. ... What we had in our jump school carried over into our unit, yes.
SI: Were they trying to integrate any information from what was happening overseas into the training program?
TD: ... We would hear [news], periodically. If there was a battle, we would hear information about it, yes. I'm trying to think about the Pacific. We heard information about the Pacific quite a bit. ... There was very little information about the [War in] Europe. There was one British unit that was wiped out, and I'm trying to think of the name of the area in France where they got to, but we didn't hear much about things. [Editor's Note: Mr. Dyas may be referring to the raid on Dieppe, France, in August 1942.] There wasn't much going. We were the first ones, really, to move into Europe.
EB: MacArthur seemed like he was also very big with the newspapers.
TD: Oh, we thought the world of him. We thought he was a great general.
SI: Tell us about getting the unit ready to go overseas, and then, actually going overseas.
TD: Yes. Well, we ... moved from where we were in Bragg up closer to, I think it was not Fort Dix, not Monmouth; it's another post that's been closed now.
SI: Camp Kilmer?
TD: Yes, Kilmer. We moved up there and that's where I gave the married guys an opportunity to have a pass to be with their wives, and then, we were loaded on a ship. ... We didn't know where we were going and, about that time, they had a very famous movie, Casablanca [(1942)]. That's where we landed; what a beautiful city. ... [They] put us on a train and took us up to a place called Oujda, and this was right on the edge of the Sahara Desert, and we pitched our pup tents there. We lived in pup tents. I'll never forget; one time, one of the fellows in, not in my unit, one of the other companies, had been a jockey before the war. ... I hear this noise and I run out, get out of my pup tent and look. There, he's got a camel, riding like hell down between all the pup tents, yelling his head off and all the guys are screaming. Oh, I wish I had that on TV. [laughter]
SI: Does anything stand out in your memory about the crossing? Were you in a convoy?
TD: Nope, we were not in a convoy. Where is that bottle? ... I'm sorry, we were in a convoy, yes, "Nights on a convoy ship carrying men to hell." Yes, we were in a convoy and we did get attacked by German submarines, but our Navy people, who were out there on destroyers, apparently took care of the situation. We developed a tremendous amount of respect for them.
SI: Was it something you heard about later or could you see the attacks?
TD: No, we could see this, we could see this.
EB: Did you know, during training or when you were departing, that you would be jumping in Europe and not in the Far East, not against Japan?
TD: Well, we knew that because, if we had gone to Japan, we would have, you know, gone to the West Coast. So, we knew we were going to go to Europe. We weren't quite sure where, but we knew we were going to go to Europe and we wound up in Africa, and this was the time in Africa when the 168th Infantry, from Iowa, had just been wrecked by the Germans, German panzer unit, at Kasserine Pass. ... Later on, when I was a POW, I think half of the State of Iowa was in the prison camp with me, because they'd been captured at Kasserine Pass. No, we knew we were headed over that way, but we were shocked when we landed in Africa. That's a beautiful place, and we also went up, one time, to Sidi Bel Abbes, which is the headquarters of the French Foreign Legion, which probably doesn't exist anymore. We had a tremendous respect for them, because these were, as far as we were concerned, the greatest soldiers in the world. In fact, later on in the prison camp, there were some members of the French Foreign Legion who had been captured and were in the same prison camp with me. One of them did some painting for me. I wish to heck I could get my hands on it, a beautiful piece of work. I've kept it all these years.
SI: You were at this camp on the edge of the Sahara for awhile.
SI: What was the daily routine there?
TD: ... Well, we trained. We continued basic training. ... No, we continued our training, and it was rough training in the desert, oh.
SI: Other people have told me that the Army practiced strict water discipline back then, tried to not use any water at all.
TD: Yes, we hardly had any water, and this was a mistake, of course. [I] found out, later on, doing distance running, that, without water, you're not at your best, but we knew that we weren't going to get it ... when you got into combat, so, you trained to do without it.
EB: What did you think of the enemy? What did you think about the Germans and the Italians? Did you have a preconceived notion of what it would be like or what they would be like?
TD: ... Well, we respected the [Germans]. We knew that they were a good military force. We knew that Italy was a good military force, too. When we got into combat, we found this out. Do you want me to get into the battle?
SI: You can jump ahead, and then, we can jump back.
TD: Okay. ... We went from Oujda, they moved us by truck, up to Tunis, where we loaded up our planes to make the combat jump, and then, we found out that we were going to Sicily. Well, as we got over the Mediterranean, they had the worst storm in the twentieth century in the Mediterranean, ... while we were in the air. Everybody in the plane was sick. People were throwing up, possibly [out of] fear, but mostly because of the violence of the storm, and, when it got time to jump, people were glad to get out of the airplanes, delighted. There's only one problem. Usually, in the States, when we jumped, [we] jumped at a thousand feet. In combat, we were going to do six hundred feet. It was three hundred feet. My chute barely opened; smash into the ground. I was unconscious for a period of time, there's no question about that, and, all around me, there were my men, broken backs, broken legs, broken arms, on the side of a mountain. ... That's when the Indian, Chief Bradley, when the Germans; ... well, we landed. We fought and ... I gathered about twelve men together, including John Dixon, and we headed to the road, because that's where things would happen, and two German tanks came along. They were totally oblivious to the fact [that we were there]. We had jumped in the middle of a panzer division. We didn't know it, and here these tanks come along. My bazooka team fired, killing the man who was standing up looking out over the turret in the first tank, and then, they got the second tank in the treads. It turns out, later on, ... we killed the commanding officer of the group, which is why when we got [captured], later on, they were going to kill us, but they were soldiers. So, we fought a battle. We were down at the foot of a hill and the Germans were up at the top. They had a tank, but they couldn't lower ... the gun to fire at us. So, they began to throw hand grenades. Well, we had hand grenades, too, and we were baseball players, so, we threw them back up, and, sometimes, we'd grab a German one and throw those back up. This went on for quite awhile, for several hours, and, finally, the Germans smartened up, in a sense. They sent a tank around the barricade and it turned the guns on us, at which point I had no choice but to surrender my men, something that's haunted me all my life. John Dixon, later on, when we got together, said, he said, "If you hadn't done that, we'd have all been killed." He said, "It was the only thing you could do." ... We had to drop our guns and stuff, and, you know, speaking of hand grenades, a few years ago, the young man across the street, who no longer lives there, he moved elsewhere, used to come in, in the wintertime, and shovel our walk. So, we wanted to pay him back one time, brought a cake over there and I went into the backyard. Boom, I slipped on the ice. I landed on my back and I couldn't move. I ... started bellowing. The man next-door had a little dog. Well, the dog heard me and he started woofing. Well, they came back to see what was with the dog and they realized, they saw me then. So, they got the emergency people, took me to the hospital, and the guy, incidentally, went up to West Point. He works up there. He moved from here, and they did a CAT scan or MRI, and so forth, and the doctor said, "Where did you get these little pieces of metal in your back?" "Oh," I said, "those were the German hand grenades." "Huh?" [laughter] It took awhile to digest what I had said. ... Then, the Germans, they were the elite. They wanted to kill us in the worst way when we surrendered, because we had killed their commander. ... As I told you about the men with broken bones, we didn't have any morphine to deaden pains, to move them into first aid vehicles or trucks, to get them to hospitals and first aid stations. They poured wine into the guys, get them [where] they wouldn't feel the pain, and Chief Bradley, as he was being lifted into one of these vehicles, looked over his shoulder and said, [Mr. Dyas imitates his slurred speech], "What a hell of a way to fight a war." Even the Germans broke up laughing, because ... many of them spoke English, [laughter] and here we were.
EB: Prior to when you got in the plane, what did you know about what you would be doing? What was the general plan? Were you briefed before you got on the plane on what you would be doing?
TD: Yes, well, we were all supposed to gather together, ... but that terrible wind. One unit, the 504th, I think, landed way, way away from where all the combat was. They never even heard the guns go off until later on, when they got involved on the ground, but we landed in the middle of everything, ... because of the terrible storm. My battalion commander, "Hard-Nose" (Gorem?), he was a real character, a West Pointer who was very strict in discipline. ... He tried to take over a German tank and, of course, it opened up on him and killed him. Gavin was there and Ridgeway was someplace in the area, but Gavin was right with us, and one of the reasons I'm in ... these books is my company commander, because we didn't know it at the time, he didn't know it at the time, they were about a mile up the road from where we were. ... We stopped these tanks and where he was, in an open field, with about sixty men, the group of German tanks came up and faced them. Here they were, out in the open; all of a sudden, the German tanks turned around, ran away. Now, he thinks it's because of what we did down where we were to the German tanks. They were afraid to get the same thing. We've talked about this several times. I believe it is because the Germans had a strict chain of command and their commanding officer was dead and they didn't know what to do, but they left him alone. He got into action and got the Distinguished Service Cross and, later on, stepped on a landmine.
SI: You mentioned that you were dropped at a much lower altitude than you were supposed to be dropped.
TD: Three hundred feet.
SI: This resulted in a lot of injuries. Was it difficult to reorganize this group on the ground?
TD: Yes. There were only about fifteen guys around me that were able to move. The others were all beat up with physical injuries. I gathered the about eleven or twelve men; ... yes, jumped at less than three hundred feet, slammed into the cement, hard, knocked unconscious. Oh, that's true, another thing that happened, a German officer said to me, "You were an hour late, in the wrong area." He knew where I was; I didn't. Imagine that; they knew exactly where we were going to land. Well, they had these spies in North Africa. Some of the natives over there were German spies, obviously. Let me see this other book [for] a minute; ... you know, this historian here feels that if any of the higher command had seen what we had done that my men would have gotten decorations, because my bazooka team, for example, which knocked out the two tanks, later on in Europe, bazooka teams in the 82nd did the same thing and the men got Distinguished Service Crosses. These guys got nothing but captured. Yes, "When the heroic fight by Dyas and his squad against the tanks had enabled Sayre and his men to continue to move towards Objective Y," and we stopped the tanks from going down to the beach. If they'd gotten down to the beach, [if] the paratroopers hadn't landed in Sicily, the invasion would have been knocked out, because we kept the tanks from reaching the beach. If they had reached the beach, they would have knocked the ships out. This is pretty much the same thing, that, "As we hugged the side of the almost vertical hill, Sergeant John Dixon reported to me that the bazooka team had knocked out the two German tanks we could see on the road to our left. He told me that the first bazooka shot hit the turret of the first tank, killing the officer who was looking ahead, not aware of the presence of our group," and that's when we got into this grenade fight with the Germans who were there. So, then, they marched us out to the road. ... Oh, were they eager to kill us, but they didn't. As you can see, I'm still here, and we had to step over the body of a German soldier who looked about sixteen years of age, Jesus. Can we take you people to lunch?
SI: We are back from our break. Thank you very much, both of you, for lunch.
TD: With pleasure.
SI: We left off discussing your decision to surrender because your men would have been obliterated. Did you make that decision on your own or did the unit vote on it in a way?
TD: No, I made the decision on my own. I was in charge and as he says in this book here ...
SI: Ed Ruggero.
TD: Combat Jump. ... It says in the book here, "In a matter of minutes, Tim Dyas went from being a highly trained non-com, leading a squad into combat, to a small unit commander, looking at almost certain death for his men, if not from German fire, then beneath the treads of a tank. They were trapped, outnumbered, and vastly outgunned and Dyas made a critical decision in a matter of seconds. He was in charge and the men would fight and die on his orders or he could try to save them," and as John Dixon, the man who became the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Louisiana, said, he thanked me because I kept him alive. ... As I've talked to a Veterans Administration psychiatrist about it, he said, "Well, what else could you have done and be alive?" and, if we had died, we wouldn't have accomplished anything. That was the critical decision.
CD: Yet, you felt guilty. ...
TD: Oh, yes, of course. Anybody who surrenders feels guilty. You know, there are no heroes, and Joyce, the daughter, doesn't like me to say this, there are no heroes in war who live. They are only survivors. In fact, I just wrote another poem about that, "Just a Survivor." The only ones who are heroes are the ones who die in combat. All the rest of us are just survivors, no matter what decorations you can wear. Of course, I felt guilty about it. I still do. I wish there was another way that we could have gotten out of this thing, ... but the man standing next to me in that picture over there, the company photograph, Bob (Madison?), ... when I was first sergeant, became first sergeant, he took my job as platoon sergeant. ... Then, when I was captured, he got what they were going to give me; he got his lieutenant's bars. I was supposed to become commissioned, and he got killed. As the poem says, "He took the bullet meant for me."
EB: How did you actually let the Germans know that you were surrendering? Did you throw down your weapons or put your hands up?
TD: Yes, right, threw the weapons down and put our hands up. Everybody did it at the same time.
SI: How did they take you in?
TD: They just took us across, and all of us were marched and we wound up sleeping, during the night, under Mount Etna, a volcano, [laughter] the famous Sicilian volcano. Then, they moved us by truck to; I'm trying to think of the name of the town in Sicily. They moved us by truck and right across the Straits of Messina was the mainland of Italy. So, I said to my men, "Let's take the boat over when we get out." We got out in the water; there were about five or six German ships looking at us. That was the end of that. Then, they took us to right outside of Naples, on a train. ... Naples, of course, is right under Mount Vesuvius. So, we've been to Etna, we've been to Mount Vesuvius, and there was an American camp there and we received what we'll call Red Cross parcels. The Red Cross made sure they were delivered. Actually, of course, ... the contents were furnished by the Army, but they were food. They had coffee, which I have never used, so, I could trade it for food. They had cigarettes, which I never used, so, I could trade those for food, and some people would rather smoke and drink coffee than eat food; not I. I wanted my food. So, we stayed in this place.
SI: Was this all by truck?
TD: No, this one was by train. ... Once we hit the mainland, we were in [the] Reggio Calabria section of Italy, up to Naples, and then, went into this camp where we stayed. ... Incidentally, in this camp, some of the GIs who were of Italian descent could speak Italian, so that the Germans had Italian guards around the fence and the GIs were talking to them. The Germans were furious at that, "How dare they?" They gave the Italian guards a terrible time. So, on August 1st, we left for Germany and it was a boiling day, hot, hot, hot, and we decided we would escape from the train. So, John Dixon, we agreed, when we got up further, we would jump out; he jumps a day early. Forget it; from then on out, we were so closely guarded, you couldn't have done anything, and they took us through the Brenner Pass. ... A number of years ago, Corinne and I were visiting Austria, Italy, and we went through the Brenner Pass and the guide said, "Anybody ever been here before?" I said, "I did." He said, "What about it?" I said, "I don't want to talk about it," because that's when ... they took us and we went by train up to a town called Hammerstein, which is where Stalag IIB was. ... What the Germans did when they captured you [was], any papers you had, they took away from you, so [that] you couldn't prove that you were a non-commissioned officer and, under the terms of the Geneva Convention, which is sneered at by the people in the White House today, under the terms, ... you could not be forced to work if you were a non-commissioned officer. Well, I had no proof. So, we got to the camp. ... Oh, they lined up all of the NCOs, guys who claimed they were NCOs, and I was in the back and we had an interpreter, an American named Harry (Galla?) and who lives in Israel now, as far as I know, and Harry called me up. ... The German officer in charge, I learned a couple of words in German in a hurry, "Nicht arbeit," "No work," "I'm feldwebel," "I'm a sergeant," and I saluted and walked back and stood in the back and, when they finished, this German officer kept looking around. He spotted me and he jabbed it hard. I said, "Oh, God, I'm in trouble," and he said, through Harry, he says, "He wants you to be in command of this group," oh, my Lord. [laughter]
SI: Before you got to Stalag IIB, had they tried to do any kind of interrogation, of you or the other prisoners?
TD: Yes, they asked a few questions and they knew we didn't know much. They didn't bother us too much with that.
SI: Was there any abuse from the guards?
EB: Were the guards, at that point, just regular soldiers?
TD: Well, they were in this sense. Germany was hurting for men by this time, so, most of the guards were old men. That made some of them a little vicious, but most of the time, ... they would even chat with some of the guys who spoke German, go up to the fence and talk to them. No, they were not particularly vicious. Later on, towards the end of the war, we ran into some problems. Now, in this Stalag IIB, periodically, they would take us over to ... get a shower, once a month, and they'd march us over to the Russian stalag. They had one part that was Russian, one part French, one part ... American and Yugoslavs. I got to be very friendly with a Serb. We were talking last night about (Jarko Molokovich?). One of the men who was in the prison camp, a Serb, spoke eight languages. So, when the war ended, he came to the United States, to Penn State, [became] a professor of romance languages. He was a fairly young man, and we would march over to the Russian compound and carry any extra food or anything we had, because we knew they were in serious trouble. ... We would gather around in a circle and dig up the ground and bury this stuff. ... After our shower, we'd march away and we'd look back and there were the Russians, like chickens, digging this stuff up. It turned out, the number of Russians who were killed in that stalag through starvation was forty thousand, and that included, I saw the papers of a fourteen-year-old Russian soldier. They were hurting for men, too, so, they were taking kids and old men; fourteen years old, starved to death.
SI: How did you get to see his papers?
TD: Oh, I forget now how I got to see them, but I got them some way. ... After awhile, when I wouldn't work for them, there was a chance to work in the camp post office, which I jumped at, because I thought that would be a good place to be to find out things, and I did, working there. There was one German officer who was a count, Count Von So-and-So, big, heavyset guy, and we worked in the post office. One time, one of the GIs got a package from home that had a radio in it and, of course, we were working fast. We didn't let the Germans see that and, when I was walking, we had to go past the German guard to go back into the main stalag from the post office, the cord fell out. ... I'm walking past the guy with the cord trailing behind me, and I said, "Blah, blah, blah," and so forth. He didn't notice a thing and we got ... up to the main stalag. We gave this radio to the guy to whom it was sent and we used that to find out things that were going on. We knew about the invasion in Normandy; boy, did we cheer.
SI: How well established was the camp?
TD: Oh, very well, very well. It was barbed wire all around and, [in] these huts that we lived in, we slept on, they had bunk beds and they had electric lights there. ... When the Germans would really get mad at us, they'd take the bulbs out, punish us.
EB: Was this all military people or were there any civilians?
EB: Were there any civilians in the camp or was it all military?
TD: Yes, there were women. They were Russian women and some of the GIs who stayed in the camp, this is why I said, "Nicht arbeit," "No work," you went out on "arbeit kommando," "work commando." You worked on a farm and these Russian women were out working on the farm and they got paid, and so, the GIs, instead of doing four rows, would do three, and let the Russian women get the extra row, so [that] she would get a little extra money. ... Occasionally, one time, they brought in two dead bodies, GIs they said tried to escape and they killed them, and brought them in and stuck them into the latrine, the bathroom, and left them there for two or three days, so that we would get the idea across that, if you tried to escape, God help you. Then, they gave us these; we all had our picture taken and we had to wear these things here. I've kept mine through the years.
SI: This is a leather strap with your ID number.
TD: ... They didn't give us leather straps. They just gave you that and we would hang it down, but one of the GIs in there, one of the Frenchmen, maybe, made it into that, so [that] I could wear it on my wrist. So, you're Number 20095; correct?
SI: Yes. It says that number and it also says Stalag IIB on it. It is a disc that can break in half.
TD: Yes, and, when I got to the camp, one of the fellows that I'd grown up with, ... when I lived in Long Island area, was there, (Ed Haggeny?). [Editor's Note: Mr. Dyas begins looking through his journal.] ... We got to be very friendly with the French, the Belgians and the Serbs.
SI: If they were in different parts of the camp, when would you have the opportunity to talk?
TD: Well, we could walk around within the stalag, the main stalag. We couldn't go down to the Russian place, but we could do it to the others. They had a Serb named (Jarko?), and then, we met this one Serb, I told you eight languages, he spoke seven, and then, we got the first letter from (the camp?). Meantime, the men that I was captured with were with me. I still felt responsible for them and they were in the stalag.
EB: What were your first meals when you were there? What did you get to eat?
TD: First meal? What they gave us in the morning was coffee, watery coffee, period. At noon, you got watery soup. In the evening, you got, I'm trying to remember as much of it as possible, it was not very much, a little bit of [food]. ... Oh, then, after awhile, when Italy capitulated, they brought the Italians in. So, they were there as well. So, we had everybody but the Germans, and then, one of the men in the unit, ... he was not from my unit, but he was an American POW, his name was (Nicosia?) and he met an Italian officer named (Nicosia?). I wrote that down in there, because it seems rather strange, and then, the first letter I got from home, in January, wasn't written by my mother. So, I wrote a letter back home and I said, "Please, have something in Mother's writing," because I got worried about what was happening. "We saw the Russian prisoners eating swill. Threw cigarettes to them in defiance of the German guard's orders. The Germans were beating them with rifle butts and whips."
SI: From reading some of your poems, it seems like you were really disturbed by how they treated the Russians.
TD: Oh, terrible. All of us were worried about how they would feel, the people in the United States would feel, about our men who were prisoners of war. We had no idea what would happen and we were quite bitter about things.
EB: Did you have any idea why they were treating the Russians so much worse than the Americans? Did the Germans seem to have a hatred for them?
TD: Well, I think they were invading Russia, of course. They had invaded Russia and there was a real hatred towards the Russians which didn't exist towards us. They didn't like us, but they didn't hate us the way they hated the Russians.
SI: Was there any kind of abuse or Geneva Convention violations towards the Americans?
TD: ... Well, they killed some people, occasionally. We found this. We also had a ballgame one time, surprisingly, softball.
EB: Were there any Jews in your camp?
TD: What they did, one time, they lined [us] up, the Germans called out the names of everybody who was Jewish. ...
CD: They were Americans.
TD: Let me read this to you. ... Oh, it's called "An Exultant Reply":
"Rows of GI POWs, weak from hunger
Stood in lines before their captors
In a Nazi stalag in Pomerania
Under a cold August sun in 1943.
Already accustomed to the countless
Roll calls life in the stalag dictated
This apparently was to be just another.
But, then electricity galvanized
Us all for, as we stood there,
We heard the names of our
Buddies who were Jewish being
Called out and they were ordered
Into their own formation.
Instincts to act were blunted
By the fact it was our captors with the guns.
As the stalag commander, through the interpreter
Asked the first GI in line, a bearded paratrooper,
His religion, striding forcefully forward
His reply echoed on the air, in our hearts,
And into history,
'I'm a Jew'! As the Germans, stunned,
That was the end of it. We never heard another thing. I often wonder what would have happened if this guy hadn't been there to do what he did. He shoved his face right into the German's face, and, sometimes, some people who [say], the Holocaust, which was unbearable, and I've got poems about that, if the Jews, and some of them did, in various places, fight a little bit, they would have avoided some of the worst of the Holocaust. That's easy to say being here, you know, but being there ...
SI: Was the paratrooper that said that Jewish?
TD: Yes, oh, yes; boy, did he get cheered.
SI: You told us how this German officer said he wanted you to be in charge of this group. Did you take charge of the group?
TD: No, we just met occasionally and checked, but they went their own ways. They met their own buddies and stuff ... and I tried to keep track of how they were doing and take care of them.
SI: What was a typical day like in prison?
TD: Well, we got up early in the morning, because there might be five to ten roll calls a day and the Germans would check and make sure everybody was there, nobody had escaped. We'd get up, and then, we had breakfast, [laughter] with the cold coffee, and then, we would sit around and talk, and then, came time for soup. ... I was up at the post office a good deal of the time this happened, have soup, ... the watery soup, and then, in the evening, we would have it at night. We would chat in the place and talk back and forth about our experiences, and so forth.
EB: What did you talk most about? Did you talk about home?
TD: Yes, guys talked about their home, where they came from, and so forth. ...
SI: How was the morale at first?
TD: Fairly good, fairly good.
EB: Did you talk about the food that you would eat when you got back?
TD: Yes, what we would possibly do, and we had some Air Corps people in there that got captured, but they took them out and sent them to what they called the luft stalag, an air corps stalag. One of my friends, who lived right here, he hadn't smoked in thirty-five years and he died of lung cancer about two years ago now, (Ed Hayes?), he was in a luft stalag. They marched them, one time, about 170 miles, incredible. We did a lot of marching around Germany, too. ... I showed you that map. We went from one stalag to another stalag to another stalag. The closer the Russians got to us, the further they moved us the other way. This was an order of the day.
SI: How long were you at Stalag IIB?
TD: Let's see now; ... I think it was about a year-and-a-half. Then, I went to ... IIIB, and then, IIIA, and then, we were marching around. They took a group of us down around where I showed you, Ludwigsfeld, where the Pope was a gunner, sixteen-year-old gunner, and then, from there, they marched us one day to a place outside of camp. ... We were settling down for the night and in came the SS. These were the real bastard Nazis. ... They said some of us had to go and dig holes. Well, I was one of the men that went. You know what we thought we were doing. All the time we're digging, we're like this; we're going to get a bullet in the head. God bless, all they wanted us to do was dig holes. We came back to the main group. The guys said, "You're here." They didn't ever expect to see us. Then, that was one thing. Then, the next morning, 27 April, 1945, the German captain said, we were on the Elbe River, near the City of Magdeburg, "You're free, go ahead." So, we rushed down to the river. There were about seventy or eighty of us, I guess, find little boats and go across to the other side where the Americans were. The American 78th Division was there, and we yell, "We're POWs, POWs, don't shoot." We got in there and they stuck us in a little makeshift hospital, and then, two days later, they were going to put us on a plane and fly us to Le Havre, France. It was the same kind of plane I jumped out of, a C-47. As soon as we got on the plane, I just laid down on the floor and went asleep and, all of a sudden, guys are shaking now. "What's the matter? What's the matter? Why are you waking me?" "We're going to crash." I said, "What the hell did you wake me up for? I could have died peacefully." "You're the only man here that's ever been up in an airplane before," which, in those days, was true. So, I look out. Oh, my God, we were over the Vosges Mountains and, oh, it was foggy and everything, and we went back and landed. That's two. Finally, we get to Le Havre, France, and they put us on a Liberty ship to take us to the States, and I'm down in sick bay with my back. We're out about five or six days and we hear the ship make strange noises, whistles, "Whoo, whoo," and one of the men down there was from the Merchant Marine. He said, "We're sinking, we're sinking. Grab your clothes." So, we rush up on deck and we see the ship just slide off the side of an iceberg. By the time I got to New York, I weighed eighty pounds, half of what I had weighed from when I got captured. I could barely crawl, I was so terrified. I was just wiped out; three horrible things in a row, ... the SS troopers, the plane, and then, the iceberg.
SI: Prior to the SS incident, were there any other moments where you thought you might be in danger?
TD: Well, it was continual tension all the time. Planes were flying overhead, Nazi planes, and, when they were American planes, as I told you about when I was in Ludwigsfeld, the bombs were falling all over the place. They might very well have landed on us. So, as we were like this; most of the time we were captured, we were tense.
EB: Did you notice the guards getting more vicious as the Americans and Russians got closer?
TD: ... The guards were older, I would say that about them, and, when we were on the marches, one time on the march, on a cold winter day, I looked up ahead and I saw one of the men fall down. I started to rush up to help him. Before I got there, the guard shot him and, when I got there, he reversed the rifle butt and smashed it into my knee, which is still bad today, and he was an old man, the guard. Some of them were disturbed, too, because they had lost members of their family. They had sons that were killed at Stalingrad and various places. They were as bad off as we were.
SI: Did they ever replace the old guards with Hitler Youth or anybody else?
TD: No, not really, not where we were. Even when we went on the long marches, they were pretty old, the guards. As I say, the one who shot this guy, Jesus; try to forget these things.
SI: Do you want to take a break?
TD: No, no, that's all right. You can't forget them. They come; they're here. I asked my VA psychiatrist about that. He said, "Never going to get rid of them, ever; you can't. They're imprinted."
SI: How long were the marches? How many days?
TD: ... Oh, let me look here, and we slept out in the cold and the ice, which is why, as I told you before, I feel cold most of the time.
EB: Did you guys sleep together for body heat?
TD: ... Well, in there, it talks about the barn. We slept in a barn one night and we all cuddled up to each other, to get some heat from each other.
EB: Were you still with the men that you had first parachuted in with?
TD: No. Some of them, we got separated as things went on. This thing is fading with years as I'm fading. One of the fellows that was with us had been quite prominent in the American musical scene before the war, and I'm trying to find his name. He managed to get an instrument. We got an instrument, through the Red Cross, for him and he gave a few concerts.
SI: Was there any other kind of entertainment in the camp?
TD: Yes, I got a few records and I was a disc jockey one time, twice, and the Germans got furious. I'm trying to think of the song I played. ... Then, one time, we had strict punishment ourselves. Sometimes, a thief was caught, he was stealing food from another guy, and they stuck his whole head down in the latrine. I thought this was a little too drastic.
SI: Who stuck it down, the Americans?
TD: Yes. Then, one time, we had a barracks caught on fire. The Germans came up there to put it out.
SI: Were there many incidences of stealing? Were people just looking out for themselves?
TD: You know who visited us one time? You ever hear the term Berlin Betsy?
TD: She was an American who went over to Germany and broadcast to the Americans about how good Germany was, and so forth, and she came into our camp and in our barracks and, boy, did she get told off. Oh, boy, did we tell her off.
SI: What would people say to her?
TD: ... Every kind of an intellectual tramp. Here she was, ... betraying her own country.
SI: She was not Axis Sally. She was different from Axis Sally.
TD: ... Yes, same person, same type of thing. She was different, though.
SI: Would the Germans expose you to a lot of propaganda?
TD: Not really. They didn't waste much time on that, because they knew there was nothing that would get by with us. Here's where I say, "Buy new suitcase with false bottom for ten packs," and I could hide this in there.
SI: The diary.
TD: Recently, ... as I told you, down at the Ex-POW meeting [the American Ex-Prisoners of War Association], these three guys came in and ... their fathers had been in IIB, but never told them anything. So, I sat down and went over, pretty much, things, with this book here.
SI: You had told us about how the food was very watery and minimal. Did that just get worse and worse as the war went on?
TD: Yes, we did. They didn't have much. Germany didn't have much at that time.
SI: On these marches, would you march by any civilians?
TD: No, just German soldiers, German guards. ...
SI: Were there any escape attempts on the marches?
TD: Yes, occasionally, a person would. One of them, one poem in here, I sent, I can't think of her name now, she's a famous British crime writer [Edith Pargeter], I sent it to her and she wrote back and she was very enamored of the poem "Pond of Ashes." Does that ring a bell?
SI: As a book title?
TD: It was about the [Holocaust, a poem in Barbed Words of War]; well, let me look. I'll never forget; well, we'll get to it in getting home. This is the one about the marches, ... "The German":
Shared the black winter
In his country crumbling
Between The East and The West
Although he had the
Gun while I had none.
Behind the wire or, more often,
Out on the long marches
Through the cold helplessness
And with the ever hunger.
He had a bit more than I
But old and tired now,
Stunned by war
And bewildered by fate.
A son perhaps at Stalingrad
And a wife in
Gone the proud goose step
Replaced by a shuffle
Born of age and despair.
The helmet on his head
Was as heavy as his heart
For he was but a cipher
To watch we prisoners.
Danger still for he'd
While there was a future
If we survived.
But, when a buddy fell
He was shot by a guard and
When I tried to get between
The rifle was reversed and
He smashed my leg with butt.
I still on cold nights
When the moon is lonely see
This was inspired by Andrew Wyeth's portrait of The German. I sent a copy to [the] Wyeths; Mrs. Wyeth replied and thanked me for it.
SI: When you were at the river by Magdeburg and they told you to go, was that the full group or just a small group?
TD: It was a small group, small group. Most of the guys who were there got out one way or another, though, yes. Some of them, ... when they were in the camp, the Americans came along, you know, and liberated the camps and they took them out and got them back to Allied lines.
SI: How long were you in the other camps, besides IIB?
TD: Oh, a few months, yes.
SI: Were they in better or worse shape or basically the same?
TD: They were all pretty sad, but IIB, I think, was the worst of all and that's the place, in fact, some historians have said that was the worst prison camp in all of Germany. ... I was there, I would say, a little over a year. It was a horrible place. First, it was very cold, up on the Baltic, and, when winter came, oh. We had no heat.
SI: You mentioned the jobs that they would put you on, when some of the soldiers worked on the farm.
SI: Were there other things that they would have soldiers do?
TD: No. Around camp, sometimes, they did a few little things, but they either worked out on the arbeit kommando, which was the farm, and I volunteered for it, I wanted to be there, up in the post office, where we could get mail. ... The Germans kept an eye on us, to see that we didn't fib, but, ... as I said, I got by with the radio that time.
SI: Were you able to exchange much mail with back home?
TD: Yes. We got a few, couple of letters, now and then. The Geneva Convention made life better for us. We didn't know much about it at the time, but we found out about it in a hurry. It made life [a little better]; we lived, let's say.
SI: You had been wounded when you were captured, right?
SI: Were you able to get medical treatment?
TD: No, it wasn't [treated]. I didn't even realize how bad my back [was] and stuff. They had a dentist there one time to look at our mouths, that's about all, but there was no medical treatment for anything, no.
SI: Was there much disease among the prisoners in the camp?
TD: No, surprisingly, they were fairly healthy people. If we had had any disease, ... probably, I wouldn't be here talking today.
SI: It sounds like once you were back in Allied hands, they moved to get you back to the States pretty quickly.
TD: Yes, and I came back to, I think it was Camp Kilmer in Jersey, and some second lieutenant was in charge of seeing that you got home and I went to him and asked him. He says, "You'll get out when ... your turn comes." Well, there's one thing you do in the Army, I know it, I'm the chaplain now of my POW group, I went to see the chaplain. The next day, I was out. ... He talked to that lieutenant, who'd never heard a gun go off, he was too young to have done it, and I was on my way home, to find out my mother had died. ...
SI: Was that the first time you found out?
TD: And I decided I would go to college. I had a good high school record, so, I had no problem getting in NYU.
EB: You said your brother had served as well.
TD: ... Yes, oh, yes.
EB: Where was he?
TD: ... He was in Europe, yes. We never got to see each other.
EB: Did he come home before you or after you?
TD: After me, yes.
SI: Did you have to go through much recovery after the war? Did they have to build you back up physically?
TD: Well, ... in fact, my hand goes back here [to his back] automatically when I get up every time. I don't think it's ever going to, you know, heal, in that sense of the word. It's just the chronic back pain from that jump.
SI: Did they keep you in until you had regained a certain amount of weight?
TD: No. As I say, I weighed eighty pounds and came out and began to eat again and, inside of a year, I was up about 145. I would eat, believe me. ... When I was at NYU, I had a lucky break. I lived at the Henry Street Settlement House and, every night, they had a candlelight dinner. You never knew who was going to show up there. Henry Wallace one night, Eleanor Roosevelt, very famous people would be guests of honor, and I worked. I took care of the basketball team and I did work around the settlement house of that type, professional type, and I lived there and commuted up to NYU, which was a couple stops up on the subway. So, it was an education, living down there.
SI: What was the settlement house for?
TD: Well, the kids in the area. Does the name Jan Peerce mean anything to you? He was a very great tenor at the Metropolitan Opera and his mother lived down there, in that area, and he said that, [when] he'd try to move her out of there, she said, "Why do I want to move out of here for?" She said, "All my friends are here." It was a heavily Jewish district at that time, a very safe place to live, terrific. People were very, very nice, and it was designed for kids who had nothing to do with their time, to give them something to do. They had the classes and this, that, they had basketball, they had sports in the summertime, they had a camp [that] they took the kids away to. It was designed [to keep them occupied], and they still have settlement houses in New York City, still do. ... Then, when I went up to Harvard, I lived in the Peabody Settlement House, right on the Charles River, and, again, the same sort of circumstance. I worked with the basketball team and commuted over to Cambridge Square on the trolley. ... It was right up the street from Mass General Hospital, very, very interesting.
SI: These candlelight dinners, did they come to have dinner with the kids?
TD: No, no, the guests. The people who worked there, there were some interesting people [who] lived there at that time. Most of them were students at Julliard Music. ... One young man and I used to go up to the Metropolitan Opera together and people would look at us kind of strange, because his name was Cosby, only it was Sam Cosby. ... To this day, I'm mad at myself. I was in a track meet one time with Bill Cosby, I didn't ask him, because Sam Cosby ... had a chance [in show business]. He was offered a role in a Broadway play, a musical, and the guy said, "You don't want this. You want the opera, don't you?" He says, "Yes." He never got anywhere. He went back to Philadelphia, as I understand, and became minister of music in a church, big church, and I've always [been] convinced that he was related in some way to Bill Cosby. ... Then, one of the gals from there did make the Metropolitan Opera and, tragically, she died ... quite young, after a couple of years. ... They would give [performances], at night, sometimes, they would play the piano or they would sing, and so forth. So, it was very, very interesting, good place to live. ... You know, here I was, on my own; my brother was [on his own], I had no mother, I had no [family, except], you know, I had an aunt out in, they lived way out on Long Island in those days, Northport. I had nothing else to do, so, this was, you know, a warm environment to live in for me.
SI: What about your studies at NYU? What did you focus on?
TD: Oh, I did very well there, in my major. When I was first up at Harvard, one of the guys in this class I was taking said to me, he said, "I was an undergraduate, I'm an undergraduate, at Harvard," he said, "I just got turned down to work on a master's degree here. How did you get in?" Well, I said, "All my grades in my major were 'As.'" He said, "That's the answer. Some of mine weren't at Harvard, so, I didn't get into the master's program."
SI: Do any of your professors at NYU stand out?
TD: Yes, but I'm trying to think of one guy right now, in history, and up at Harvard, of course, Oscar Handlin, who worked in immigration, stood out. He was incredible. He wrote his book in our class, in his lectures. They were marvelous. I still have the book upstairs that are [based on his] lectures; I took him for a year. Yes, one of my professors at NYU, Jesse Dossick, that's how I got into Harvard. ... He had gone to Harvard and he recommended me. So, that's how myself and another guy got up there, on his recommendations.
SI: You went through NYU in three years.
TD: Three years, yes. I went summers as well. I didn't want to waste time, you know. ... I finished there when I was twenty-eight, and then, at Harvard, I was twenty-nine. Then, I worked for one year in educational radio and television. That was the Lowell Institute Cooperative Broadcasting Council. I was their educational consultant and, at the end of a year, I moved down to Panama, where I went to work for the Army as an education advisor, stayed there about a year-and-a-half, then, went up to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, where I did the same thing. I ran a school, teaching English to the foreign-born, because a number of members of [the armed forces?] in Europe wanted to join the American Army to become citizens, but, ... in the units they were in, they had to know English. So, I had a school set up for them, and then, they promoted me down to be the head of the whole thing, down at Governor's Island, which was [First] Army Headquarters, and I stayed there a couple years. ... Then, I moved into public education, out on Long Island, a couple years at one place and two years at Rockwell Center. Then, I came over to Jersey, to the Oradell [schools], to Riverdale Senior High School, as the vice-principal, and my PTSD is rampant. I moved around so many times, it's unbelievable. The last time was, I spent the last thirteen years at Millburn High School, down in Millburn, New Jersey, which is a fabulous high school. A couple years ago, Newsweek [made] ... a survey of high schools in the United States, the best hundred, and Millburn finished second. So, that's the kind of [school it is]. It's a very wealthy community, Short Hills. You probably know of it, yes. So, it was a good school system and I retired from there, and then, the minute I retired, one of the people in town got me on the library board, here in Ridgewood. I spent seven years on the library board, the last two as president. Then, they began to talk about raising money; "Uh-uh, not for me." When I was at Henry Street Settlement House, one time, this woman came in. She was a professor of social work at the University of Kentucky and she said, "I'll get you a fellowship down there to get your doctorate." I said, "What field of social work?" She said, "Fundraising." I said, "Thank you, no, not my cup of tea." So, I carried through when the library began to talk about that, and they did, they did a beautiful job raising money and built a beautiful library. I left that job.
SI: What did you think of the Army's educational system, when you were working within it?
TD: ... I was very interested that they were interested in doing that, very, very interested that they would consider that they had to educate these men to speak the English language, so that they could perform their duties in the military unit. I was fascinated by it, and then, when I was at Governor's Island, I had to inspect various stations in the First Army Headquarters, Fort Monmouth being one of them, to make sure that they were doing a job down there. ... Then, they had facilities available in the evening where a GI could come in and study and take his tests to see if he was equivalent, high school equivalency tests, and a number of guys did it. You couldn't get anywhere without a high school education. You know, you'd be a private your entire life unless, usually, but, if you had a high school diploma and stuff, you had a chance to move up a little bit.
SI: What are some of the things that stand out from your career in public education?
TD: Well, yes, I enjoyed it very, very much. I would get there early in the morning and leave late at night, and Corinne and I did many a prom together, when the seniors would invite us to the prom. I was entranced by the vast bulk of students who were quite serious about their education. For some, it was difficult, and some of those were the people who were the most earnest about getting educated, those who had the biggest problems, but I was delighted that we were able to do something, to move them into a better educational level and, those who had the ability to begin with, to move them on to good schools to further their education, go on to college.
SI: You have become very involved in veterans' groups.
TD: ... Yes, I belong to two or three. See, one of the things I did, and I have to go back for this, after they turned me down for going to Korea, I joined the Army Reserves and I used to go into New York City every Tuesday night. We had a meeting and it was the ... 77th Infantry Division and we'd meet every Tuesday night and we'd go away every summer, up to Camp Drum for two weeks, and I was very impressed with ... the caliber of the officers in there. They were incredible, Rockefeller, Jay Rockefeller, John Lehman of Lehman Brothers banking, and so forth. ... I'll never forget, one time, ... by then, I became a captain quite quickly and I was in the training section, the G-3 section of the division, and, one night, ... one of the officers said, "The chief of staff of the division wants to see you." He was a full colonel, Colonel (Neff?). So, I walked into his office and he said, "Sit in that chair over there." So, I did. I looked at him. He said, "Is it comfortable?" He says, "I want you to sit in that chair and be my assistant," which meant a promotion, right away, to major. So, I was very pleased with that. So, I stayed with the 77th Division for many, many years, and then, I began to take correspondence courses and, before I retired, I got promoted to lieutenant colonel. ... Then, in 1980, the Army, in a sense, said goodbye to me, because I had reached the stage in life, age wise, and so forth, grade wise, that I couldn't go any further. So, I had to retire from the Army, which I did.
SI: You first got your commission when you joined the Reserves. Did you have to go for any OCS-type training?
TD: No, no. They gave me a first lieutenant commission right away, with my military background, and, therefore, now, I get a pension from the military, yes. No, if I had to do it all over again, I think I'd probably do exactly the same thing I did, even if it meant going through the prison camp, and, as I said before, there are no live heroes. Those of us who are around are just survivors. The only heroes are those who died fighting in combat.
SI: What do you think of the VA, in your experience?
TD: Well, I've been very impressed with the Veterans Administration. I see a doctor down in Hackensack, periodically. They take great care of my teeth. As a former POW, that's one of the benefits you get. I've been very, very impressed with ... the people who work for them, their genuine concern for the people who [served], the World War II group. ... I think they feel, probably, the same about those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, but they just don't have the facilities in the [system] to take care of them the way they did us. No, I'm very impressed with the VA.
EB: Did the malnutrition in camp affect your health?
TD: ... [laughter] It's funny you ask that question. Right now, my doctor is very concerned about my losing weight, and she told me, if I lose two more pounds, to call her up right away, she's going to check on some things. ... Incidentally, the paratroopers have their own newspaper. ... This is it and, in there, ... they have a column on the 505th, my unit, and the men write in and comments and stuff, the 505, and this is a guy I talked to the other day, Bob (Murphy?), who is riddled with cancer. He was in my unit. So, he's now in my prayer list. I pray for about twenty people each day.
SI: In terms of thinking about the war and remembering things, did you only recently start to talk about the war or have you always talked about the war?
TD: ... You don't talk to your family, really. I have never talked to the kids about it. Occasionally, I spoke at a couple schools. ... One school, the custodian, young custodian, had been in Vietnam and, when I finished, he got up to speak and I stayed there near him and, sure enough, he broke down and the two of us stood there crying and the kids were like that, watching us, but, ... you know, I don't talk about it very much. This POW group, we've all gone through hell in the prison camps, some for more time, your grandfather, much more time than I. [Editor's Note: Interviewer Elaine Blatt had explained her grandfather's experience as a Bataan Death March survivor and POW in the Pacific prior to the beginning of the recording session.] I only had just about two years, twenty-three plus months, [a few] weeks, in the prison camp.
SI: Did you have any other lasting effects from your imprisonment?
TD: Oh, I think so. I think that ... I get anxiety attacks, very much, depressed at times. It's called PTSD, and the cold weather, I feel it, from sleeping out in ice and snow. I went to a podiatrist a couple years ago. He's a tremendous man, and the medical doctors haven't known this, they haven't said it to me, anyway, I told him about cold weather. "Oh," he said, "yes," he said, "all the capillaries in your body have been destroyed." So, that's why I feel the cold and my back, ... sometimes, it's a nuisance, I find it difficult to sleep. So, my back, the cold and PTSD, and, also, my hearing; they give me hearing aids, the Veterans Administration does, for what good they are. I still have a problem with hearing, getting bombed forty days and nights in a row, oh, that was incredible. One guy, we were sleeping in our barracks and we heard, "Wheeee," dive right out the window, into our air raid shelter, such as it was, and the thing was, I don't know how close it was when it landed, but it sure shook us all up. There was a certain factory, German factory, near where we were and the Allies were bombing it. It wasn't German bombs, it was ... British and American. The British would come by day and the Americans by night, "Boom."
SI: Would they have you go out and clean up debris?
TD: No, they just let us stay in the camp.
SI: Is there anything else you would like to say for the record?
TD: No, I think that [is it]; yes, this poem, I think, summarizes my feelings now. It's called "In the Circle":
"Combat soldiers on different sides
As the war's memories
Become just these
Come closer together
And in a circle shut out
Those who were never there.
Not done with intent but only
Because men who faced
Each other in battle
Remain different from
All others all their lives.
Thus, the Blue and the Gray were
United because of Antietam and Gettysburg
While the khaki and field grey
Entered the circle because of the Argonne and Verdun.
Then, Guadalcanal and Normandy
Brought more inside the circle.
And now army fatigues and black pajamas
Have moved inside.
Those inside, mostly ghosts now
Pray that no more will ever enter
So that the circle shall become
... So that if I were to meet a man who was a German soldier, we would have more in common. It was typical, when we were in the prison camp, the guards would be talking to an American POW and a German civilian would come along. They'd ignore him, because they had more in common with that GI in the prison camp than they did with that civilian. Did I tell you about this book in West Point?
SI: Yes, Combat Jump by Ed Ruggero.
TD: About the picture?
SI: What about the picture?
TD: Yes, when Ed Ruggero decided to sell his book, Combat Jump, up at West Point, he asked me to come up there and I would sell my book of poetry. ... A cadet would buy it and I'd sign it, and so forth, and then, I'd turn it over and I'd point to the picture, ... "See this? How do you explain this?" and I'd point to my face and they'd laugh. [laughter] The years have taken their toll.
SI: Thank you very much.
TD: Well, my pleasure. It's an honor.
SI: I appreciate all your hospitality, too.
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Reviewed by Tad Stanwick 12/8/08
Reviewed by Matthew Dougherty 12/8/08
Reviewed by Greg Flynn 12/8/08
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