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Skiba, William

 

Sandra Stewart Holyoak:  This begins an interview with Mr. William, Bill, Skiba.

William Skiba:  S-K-I-B-as-in-Baker-A, Skiba.

SH:  [laughter] On November 27, 2007, in West Orange, New Jersey, with Sandra Stewart Holyoak.  Thank you, Mr. Skiba, for being here today and talking with me.  To begin, could you tell me where and when you were born? 

WS:  I was born and raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey, born on December 26, 1923, on Court Street, 330 Court Street.

SH:  Were you?  You were born at home. 

WS:  Right. 

SH:  Can you begin by describing your father's background?

WS:  My mother and dad were both born in what they called Tibava, T-I-B-A-V-A, Slovakia, right near the Ukraine border, and they came over as teenagers.  My dad was a fully trained tool-and-die maker and my mother was a homemaker.

SH:  Did they come together to the Unites States?

WS:  No.  My father came over first, and then, my mother followed later.  He went to work.  Well, he landed in New York, and so did my mother, and my dad worked for Singer Sewing Machine for about forty-five years in Elizabeth, as a toolmaker.  ... My mother was a homemaker, but, when she first came over, she worked somewheres on Park Avenue in New York, for a family over there, as a maid, I guess.  ... Then, they both got married in New York, and then, moved to Elizabeth, where we lived from [then on], basically.  ... My two brothers were born in Elizabeth, also.  We were brought up in the Port Section.  They'd moved up to Van Buren Avenue and lived there from 1923 until my oldest brother got married, in '43, and my middle brother enlisted in the service, in 1940, and I was drafted in 1943.

SH:  Are you the youngest of the three brothers?

WS:  I'm the youngest.  Both my brothers passed on and I'm the only one left now. 

SH:  Did your mother and father know each other in Tibava, Slovakia?

WS:  They were born in that town, and the wife and I visited there in 1993 and saw ... both houses, where my dad lived and my mother lived, [which were] right across the street from each other, and it was quite interesting.  We'd meet the people there.  We had previously gotten a map sketched by my godfather's brother, which showed all the residencies, and so forth.  ... Typically, a little grapevine, right in the center of the street, that was still there, and the well that my dad mentioned and, also, a stork's nest up on top of a pole, which my dad mentioned, off and on, in his lifetime.

SH:  Had other members of their families immigrated to this country before them?

WS:  I believe my dad was the first and his brother was here, living in the Pittsburgh area.  ... When he first came over, he went there to join his brother, and then, eventually, came back to the [New] Jersey area.  My mother came to New York and stayed in this area, essentially, but we did have other aunts that came over, subsequently.

SH:  Your mother's sisters?

WS:  Mother's sisters, yes. 

SH:  Can you please talk about growing up in that area? 

WS:  Well, as a kid, I went to the public schools in Elizabeth and graduated from the Thomas Jefferson High School in 1941.

SH:  That was an all-boys school.

WS:  That was an all-boys school at that time and the girls' high school was Battin High, and they were both in the center of the city, basically, but, subsequently, that system has changed around quite a bit, from what I understand. As a kid, growing up, ... from the age of about twelve until I went into the service, I was actually delivering morning and afternoon papers.  ... Well, after graduating from high school, I went to work at Singer Sewing Machine as a tool-and-die maker apprentice, before I was drafted, and went to what they called Union County Junior College [now Union County College] from '41 until '43, in night school, while ... working as a tool-and-die maker apprentice at Singer.

SH:  Were you working with your father at Singer?

WS:  Well, we were both working in ... what they called the tool room, where he was in the ... toolmakers' section, where they made the dies for making elements of the sewing machines.  I was working in what they called the gauge room, where they made all the gauges ... to check the manufacturing of all the equipment. 

SH:  Were you in the Boy Scouts?

WS:  Yes, I was in Boy Scouts there, in North Elizabeth, and attained the rank of Life Scout, but never completed ... all the merit badges for Eagle Scout.  That was the troop that met in the playground area off of what they called North Park or Kellogg Park, in the North End Section of Elizabeth.  ...

SH:  What other activities were you involved with in North Elizabeth?

WS:  Well, I didn't have many activities, because I was hustling newspapers and whatnot, and had very little time to spend in other organized activities of any sort.

SH:  Were your brothers also working?

WS:  Well, my oldest brother worked for Exxon Research [Exxon Research & Engineering Company] all his life. He started out as a mail boy and, eventually, wound up maintaining and operating the electron microscope for Exxon Research there.  ... He retired and he attempted to work an extra two years, after reaching sixty-five, because he would have been the longest employed employee with Exxon, at that time.

SH:  Fantastic.  What was his name?

WS:  His name was Paul, and was named after my dad.  My brother, middle brother, his name was John.

SH:  Were they a lot older than you?

WS:  My oldest brother, Paul, is about seven years older and my middle brother was about five years older than I. 

SH:  You mentioned that you were busy with the newspaper route. 

WS:  Right, morning and evening.  Before school, I was up at five.  ...

SH:  How old were you when you started your newspaper route? 

WS:  About twelve, fourteen years old, earned pin money, ... [and] so forth.  I'd get up at five in the morning, go out [into] town, to the Union Newsstand in Elizabeth at the Central Railroad Station, pick up the papers and deliver them in ... what they called the Elmora Section, [a neighborhood in West Elizabeth].  I'd come home, have my breakfast and go down to Jeff, come home and change my clothes and go off back to [the] Elizabeth Journalprinting room to pick up the newspapers and deliver them in the same section of Elmora, in Elizabeth, in the afternoon. 

SH:  Did you have a bicycle? 

WS:  Oh, yes, that we had.  Both brothers and I, we had bikes.

SH:  Were your brothers already working at that time, because one brother would have been about twenty years old? 

WS:  Well, the oldest brother graduated, I believe it was 1936, from Jeff and I think my brother John graduated two years later or so, something like that, 1938, possibly.

SH:  Did you have any favorite subjects in school?

WS:  Well, not really.  I took the scientific, what they called the scientific course, at that time, which included studying both German and French, which came in handy while I was overseas, at least I could express myself to some degree, and, also, when the wife and I made two trips to Europe, on bus tours, in '93 and '95.

SH:  What are your memories of the Great Depression, particularly when you were growing up, in junior high school and high school? 

WS:  Well, I remember, we had ... an Essex car that, during the Depression, my dad put up on blocks, because there wasn't enough money to go around.  ... Singer Sewing Machine, at that time, didn't actually pay in money. They paid in scrip, [a money substitute issued by employers], which you turned in at the former Harmonia [Savings] Bank in Elizabeth, for possibly cash.  I don't remember the full results of that, but I do remember, one day, with my mother, and [she] had me in tow, we went down to the bank in Elizabeth on Broad Street, right next to the Regent Theatre.  ... I guess it was ... [when Franklin D.] Roosevelt declared the bank holiday or something like that, and I believe she withdrew all the money, or something like that, but that's a little sketchy.  [Editor's Note: Immediately after his inauguration in March 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared a national bank holiday so that the nation's banking institutions could be reviewed by the Department of the Treasury.]

SH:  Did you see other evidence of the Depression?  Was your father's work curtailed?

WS:  Well, my father worked, but he didn't work a full forty hours that you might call [a work week], ... but we always had enough to eat, as you might say, but it wasn't the same menu, as you might say, as other times before and after the Depression. 

SH:  How did other family members fare during the Depression?  You talked about your mother's aunt being here, and your father's brother.

WS:  ... There were two or three other sisters, but the only one I really remember is the one aunt [who] lived in Metuchen, [New Jersey].  ... Her husband was a baker and he worked in a bakery on Saint Georges Avenue, right near Chandler Avenue, where ... his mastership was in making Russian rye bread.  ... I always remember going over to their house.  ... They always had donuts in the pantry off the kitchen there and I always used to go in to raid that all the time.  [laughter]

SH:  [laughter] That is good.  Did your family maintain a relationship with other people from their area?

WS:  Yes.  They belonged to what was the St. Peter and Paul Greek [Byzantine] Catholic Church in Elizabeth.  It was on Delaware Street, at the corner of First Avenue, which was a Slavic community church, basically, and a lot of [the] ... members of that church were from the area that my mother and dad came from and it was a very close-knit group.  ... I believe the church is still there, but it doesn't have the membership of the type that originally was there.  As the families grew up, they moved out from Elizabeth into the surrounding communities and the area has changed in the make-up of the groupings of nationalities, and so forth.

SH:  Which language did your parents speak?

WS:  Both my mother and dad spoke Slavic.  My dad could speak seven different languages when he came over, because of his journeys in his apprenticeship as a toolmaker in Europe.  He traveled around to earn his toolmaker credentials, as you might say, and he was able to speak seven languages when he came over.  Now, my mother spoke Slavic, but, at home, they never spoke that language.  ... They said they came here to live here, and they never spoke Slavic at home, but, when they went out and visited, they did.  ... They said they were going to master the language, and so, they did.

 

SH:  Did they try to teach you Slavic?

WS:  They never really tried to teach us, but we picked up little things, off and on.  I remember some of the words, but, when the wife and I visited ... Slovakia, in '93, ... I could understand some of it, but it was tough to decipher everything.  Luckily, we stayed with some relatives who had been here for five years and the wife was teaching English over there in Slovakia and the husband was a graduate engineer and spoke quite fluent English, also. 

SH:  Did your parents receive, as well as send, letters and information back and forth between relatives?

WS:  Not that much.  Occasionally, they did get some mail, but I don't recall having ... too much correspondence. Actually, my dad's brother, who lives in the Pittsburgh area, went back and lived in the old house and, actually, his daughter's still living there.  That would be my cousin, who we met when my wife and I were over there, but, essentially, my dad had, I guess, well, ... what I always called Aunt Mary Brechka, [who] lived in Carteret.  ... Apparently, she brought him up in Slovakia.  Under what ... circumstances, I'm not sure, but we always went over to her house, quite frequently, and they had a forty-acre farm.  Besides living in Carteret, they had a forty-acre farm down around Matawan, which is now all residencies.  All the farming area there has been converted.

SH:  Was this your father's sister?

WS:  Well, it was either a stepsister or some relationship.  ... I'm not fully sure what the actual relationship was, but that was the only relative that I knew of that he had here.  There was another family by the name of Mandichak that ... lived in Carteret, also.  ... When my mother and dad got married, Mike Mandichak was the best man for the wedding, as I recall.

SH:  What was the stepsister's last name?

WS:  Brechka, B-R-E-C-H-K-A, and they lived on Roosevelt Avenue in Carteret.

SH:  Did you visit there often?

 

WS:  Oh, quite often, and they had, that family, ... eleven children and they all ... did very well.  The one daughter was the school nurse in the Carteret school system for years before she retired.  Another son played football for the University of Penn [Pennsylvania].  Every game was [won?] during ... his tenure there at the University of Penn. Other brothers were in the trucking business, and my uncle, if you want to call him that, had a contracting setup of some sort.  He actually dug the foundation setup for the Elizabeth General Hospital.  He used to travel from Carteret to Elizabeth and he worked there building that hospital.  Exactly how much of it ... he worked on, I'm not sure, but I do remember he and my dad talking about excavating for the foundation of that hospital.

SH:  When you were in high school, were you making plans to go to college?  Did you think you would go to college?

WS:  ... My dad always said, "Try and better yourself in whatever way you can," and he never forced us to do anything.  ... My oldest brother graduated from Wagner College.  Actually, he had a scholarship for Cooper Union, but got his final degree from Wagner, in Staten Island, and I got a degree from Brooklyn Poly [now Polytechnic Institute of New York University] in mechanical engineering.  My brother, John, started college, but he never completed it. 

SH:  Knowing what was going on in Europe, do you think that your family was listening more carefully to the radio?  Were they politically involved at all?

WS:  They were never politically involved, but they always voted.  As I said, they fully became citizens and always read the newspapers and stayed well aware of everything that was going on, and never were politically involved in any way. 

SH:  Do you remember where you were when Pearl Harbor was attacked or when you heard the news?

WS:  The day Pearl Harbor was attacked, I was working in the Union Newsstand at the Jersey Central Railroad Station in Elizabeth, on Sunday, December 7th.  I had the radio on when the news came over that Pearl Harbor was bombed.  ...

SH:  Had you already graduated from high school? 

WS:  Yes, the previous June, I'd graduated from high school. 

SH:  What were your plans before you heard this news, before Pearl Harbor?  You spoke about working in the newsstand, but were you already working as a tool-and-die apprentice?

WS:  Well, I was an apprentice, working as an apprentice, in tool-and-die making and ... attending the classes that Singer ran at that time for apprenticeship, as well as taking courses at Union Junior College, in order to try to get a college degree at the same time. 

SH:  What was the reaction from people at the newsstand when they heard about Pearl Harbor? 

WS:  Well, actually, there wasn't that much activity as to passengers and trains during that afternoon.  What I do remember, though, is one Oriental coming by, with a big bag.  ... If I recall right, not knowing at that time, but, now, he may have been out in the so-called meadows of Elizabeth, where Newark Airport is now, in that area, picking marijuana.  ... He had a big bagful and he asked me if I wanted some of it, but I didn't know what it was or whatever, but he was loaded with that stuff, going back to the city.  That's about the only thing I ever remember about that time. 

SH:  [laughter] What a memory to go in conjunction with Pearl Harbor.  What was the discussion then at home that night?  Were your brothers still living at home?

WS:  Well, my mother was worried about my brother being in the service at that time.

SH:  Had he already joined in 1940? 

WS:  He had enlisted in 1940 and he was in, I believe, either in South Carolina, with an Army base there, or, ... [since] he had practically finished his toolmaker's apprenticeship at Singer's, ... either it was in South Carolina or at an arsenal up in Springfield, Massachusetts, ... where they were making weapons at the time. 

SH:  Was he getting close to finishing his enlistment?

WS:  No, he stayed in for the duration.  He actually wound up in Okinawa, and we never really talked too much about his activities or mine.  Actually, he went his way and I went my way, after the war.  He basically lived down in the Florida area quite awhile after he got out of the Army, got married up in Massachusetts, and then, lived in Elizabeth, after he got out, was working for Singer.  ... Then, they got divorced and he went down to Florida and went to the University of Florida, I believe, but stayed down there for quite awhile. 

SH:  The brother next oldest, John, what was his reaction to this news?

WS:  Well, he was in the service.  John was in the service.

SH:  John was the one in the service, I am sorry.

WS:  But, Paul never went in.  He was working at Exxon and he took part in developing ... fuel for the flamethrower, as one of the things, and, also, butyl rubber and the fluid catalytic cracking, which made octane gas they used for airplanes at that time, but he did a lot of research work on that, ... those items.

SH:  He was deferred then.

WS:  He was deferred ... and reclassified as needed for the war effort. 

SH:  What about yourself?  Were there any opportunities?  As a tool-and-die maker at Singer, what did they then start to manufacture?

WS:  They actually manufactured sewing machines there.

SH:  They continued to do that.

WS:  Yes.  ... Well, actually, they were making equipment for the military.  One of the things they were making was the Vickers oil gearing fire-control system for antiaircraft guns, which were manually operated, at that time, by using what ... looked like a big earphone mounted on a rotating platform.  It would follow the sound of planes and the operator, operating two handles on the director, that aimed the gun towards the sound.  ... That was one of their main products, plus, piston rings for aircraft engines, amongst other items.  My dad, actually, ... worked on a cam-operated fire-control unit for a B-29 bomber ... and other B-17s, where the machine guns were mounted in ... this ring, which had cams on it, so that when it got into position, that it wouldn't fire on its own tail or wing.  The cam would stop the gun from firing, so [that] it wouldn't damage the plane itself, that, plus, dies for stamping out auxiliary tanks for carrying gasoline for the fighter planes that were mounted under the wings.  Yes, those were some of the items I remember him working on.

SH:  Was there any chance that you would be deferred as well?

WS:  Well, after getting out of the service, and, one time, being unemployed, I was looking for a job.  ... An engineer that worked at Singer and taught at the apprentice school was working for another concern and I contacted him for a job.  ... He said, "Why didn't you tell me that you were being drafted?"  He said, "I could have gotten you a deferment."  I said, "I didn't know at that time," and I said, "Presumably, you should have known."  I said, "You were in a position to control the apprentices and whatnot and you should have gotten word that I was being drafted."  He says, "Well, time goes by." 

SH:  [laughter] Were you anxious to get involved in the war? 

WS:  Not really.  When I got a notice for being drafted, I went over to ... Chambers Street, I guess it was, over in New York City, trying to get into the Navy Air Corps, and I was turned down because of some of the answers I gave.  ... One of my high school buddies, right when we graduated from Jeff, got an appointment to the Naval Academy.  He went down there and he was in the first ... class that graduated in three years, because of the speedup in graduating naval cadets at that time.  ... He stayed in for twenty years and never got turned down for any assignment that he requested.  He did all right.  He said it didn't pay him to get out.  He was making so much money, with flight duty, extra pay, danger pay, that it didn't pay him to retire.


SH:  [laughter] Why do you think the Navy turned you down?

WS:  For some of the answers I gave during the questioning period by the officials there.

SH:  Were they controversial answers?

WS:  Not controversial, but reactions as to what I would do under certain conditions, and so forth. 

SH:  Following that experience with the Navy, did you then immediately go and enlist?

WS:  Well, I got drafted, reported to Fort Dix, [a US Army installation in New Jersey], as I gave you in my notes, and, from there on, ... I just was a GI. 

SH:  [laughter] After trying to get into the Navy, how much time passed before you were drafted?

WS:  Oh, I would say a month or two. 

SH:  Was it?

WS:  I got the notice and when I got the notice I was going to be drafted is when I went over.  I got the notice, I guess, in February, and I had to report for duty in March.  So, it was between February and March of '43 that I was over in New York.

SH:  You spoke about trying to get into the Navy, but did you try to get into the Air Corps or any other branch? 

WS:  Navy Air Corps, or I was sort of set on getting into a flying school of some sort.

SH:  You tried for the Army as well.

WS:  Right.  Well, it was the enlistment center there in Lower Manhattan.

SH:  When you were drafted and went into the Army, was there any opportunity to request a specific branch, whether it was the Air Corps or any other branch?

WS:  No, just reported.  I was inducted in Newark, went to Fort Dix, and it was, as my resume I gave you [explains], at one time, ... I just followed up, did whatever they told me to do in the Army.

SH:  What was your experience like that first day at Fort Dix?  What are some of your memories of that?

WS:  Oh, taking test after test and physicals and KP [kitchen police] duty.  I was only there for three or four days before being sent down to Miami Beach for Air Corps basic.

SH:  You did go to the Air Corps.

WS:  Well, it was the Army Air Corps at that time. 

SH:  Right.  Were there other people that you knew that went with you from Elizabeth down to Fort Dix?

WS:  No, I was the only one that I knew that went down there.  I was separated from any other people of Elizabeth.  ... One fellow was kept at Fort Dix because his feet were so big, they couldn't get shoes for him.  Not only that, but, then, he was doing some sort of, oh, weather forecasting, or he had taken some courses in weather forecasting, and, apparently, they were holding him there for some reason or another, besides his shoes.  I later met him and he wound up in the Army in the Italy area, as a weather forecaster for the military. 

SH:  What was traveling like for you then?  You really had not traveled that much prior to the train ride down to Florida.  Do you remember anything about the train ride?

WS:  Well, that was the first long train ride I ever had, besides going to the city from Elizabeth by train and ferry from Bayonne, or Jersey City to Manhattan.  That was about the longest train trip I had ever had before that, but that was quite a train ride we had to Florida.  I remember having breakfast in a dining car and getting my first taste of fried grits and ham and eggs, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

SH:  [laughter] You liked it.  Some people have raised an eyebrow askance to grits.

WS:  Well, ... I've tried getting those grits done the same way, time after time, on ... trips to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the South, and, also, on cross-country train trips, but nobody could ever duplicate that meal. 

SH:  You think it was the chef then. 

WS:  It must have been his specialty.  In those days, it was a different set up than it is now on the trains. 

SH:  Did you go directly down to Florida or did you make any stops? 

WS:  Well, what had happened [was], we had a full carload from Fort Dix that was attached for training.  TheSilver Meteor, at that time, was a train that ran from New York to Miami, on a daily schedule, I believe.  ... We were attached to that for the overnight run down to Miami.

SH:  Did you have to stay in the car or were you allowed to get off? 

WS:  Well, we ate in a dining car, but we had seats in the attached car.

SH:  Were there people who were nervous about what they were doing, or gung ho?  What was the overall feeling on the train? 

WS:  No, everything seemed normal, no real problems of any sort.

SH:  Were you going to Florida for your basic training? 

WS:  Well, I was taking Air Corps basic training, which every GI went through, that is, calisthenics and rifle range and things like that, normal basic training for every recruit.  ...

SH:  How did you find Florida?  Was it a pleasant encounter? 

WS:  Well, it was in March, late March and early April, and it was warm.  The beaches were nice and we had a full run of the area there.  ... It wasn't a resort, as it is now, and it was wide-open spaces.  It wasn't as developed as it is today.

SH:  Was this a camp that was well-established and put together or just developing? 

WS:  No, ... everybody, all the GIs, were living in hotels that existed, small and large, and we were transported in military trucks to the beach, for calisthenics and everything else.

SH:  What was the name of the base?

WS:  There was no real name to the base.  It was just [that] the Army had taken over all of Miami, basically.

SH:  How did your drill sergeants treat you?  Were they cadre?  With Southerners in general, exactly what was the relationship? 

WS:  No, it was typical military.  I mean, there's nothing special about it, that I could remember.  There was very few civilians around.

SH:  Where were you sent from there?  You spent approximately three months in Florida. 

WS:  Well, I guess it's February through April.  Then, I was transferred up to Aberdeen, Maryland, to a machinist's school, because of my apprenticeship training.  ... I spent, I guess it was three months there, in Aberdeen, in the machinist's school, with the heavy operating machine tools and whatnot.  Then, I was transferred out to Wright-Patterson ... Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, to an Air Force laboratory where [they were] testing the auxiliary power plant for the B-29 bombers.  Apparently, they needed some generating capacity.  It was a small engine, similar to a Volkswagen engine at that time, and it was the laboratory setup [that] was testing that engine. 

SH:  Okay, and, from here, where did you go? 

WS:  Well, eventually, my records caught up with me.  ... The Major called me in one day and said, "You're eligible for college training.  Do you want to go?"  I said, "Sure, if I could get a free college education, I've got to take it." He says, "Well, think it over and give me an answer in three days."  ... I went back to him, and I wound at Ohio State University, in what they called the Army Specialized Training Program, where they actually stored GIs for the coming invasion.  ... I was there from, oh, March of '43, no, let's see, September of '43 to March of '44.

SH:  When you were accepted into the Army Specialized Training Program, how long did you expect it to last? 

WS:  They didn't say anything.  They just told us there was a college education basis, that [there were] no time limits specified or anything like that.  That's why I knew the Major who interviewed me knew more than I did. 

SH:  Was the idea that you would get an engineering degree?

WS:  Well, eventually, ... I did get credits towards a college degree for those courses that I did take there, in algebra and other things that an engineering program would require.  ... We were living in fraternity houses at that time and taking over empty space that the normal civilian students weren't using.

SH:  Were there coeds and other students? 

WS:  Oh, yes, there was the coeds there, and so forth.  They ran dances in the gymnasium there and we ate in the college union, where I had my first taste of, oh, can't think of the name; ground beef-chili.  ... First time we ever tasted that, I really liked it and I got back in the chow line and the officer got a hold of me.  He says, "Hey, wait until the other guys get their first servings."  I really enjoyed that chili.  I'd never had it before.

SH:  [laughter] Amazing what you remember. 

WS:  Oh, yes.

SH:  In retrospect, are you sorry that you accepted the Army Specialized Training Program?

WS:  Not really, no.

SH:  The job you had at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, was that something that you were really enjoying?

WS:  Oh, I was enjoying that.  ... That laboratory setup, ... I had a good relationship there, in the sense of duty requirements.  There was no gymnastics or anything like that; it was strictly substituting for a civilian, basically.

SH:  Were there other civilians working there or was it strictly for the military? 

WS:  Well, it was a military base.  I didn't recall any civilians working there at that time. 

SH:  In that case, military personnel were doing all the testing.

WS:  Yes.

SH:  You said you were there from September to March. 

WS:  To March of '44.

SH:  When did you first get the notion that you might not be there much longer, or was it just sudden?

WS:  It was a sudden cut off.  We were all dispersed.  Some of us went to the infantry, others went to the Fort Knox, Kentucky, to the tank training and whatnot, others went into other areas.  So, it was just broken up, because they knew they needed the manpower at a certain time in certain fields and they just divided us up to train us for specific duties.

SH:  There was no questioning of what was individually preferred. 

WS:  No, no decisions on our part.  ... They just took us by numbers, I guess.


SH:  Before the disbandment of the Army Specialized Training Program, the men that were with you at Ohio State University, were they from all over the country? 

WS:  They were [from] all over the country.  They came from different units and whatnot.  ... There was ASTP units in, basically, all the colleges throughout the States, to fill in where the civilians weren't.  In actuality, the government was funding the colleges, to keep them open.

SH:  Were the courses extremely hard?  Did you all have to work together or individually?

WS:  Well, the courses were similar to what I was taking at Union Junior College, or the same requirements, and so forth, and some of the courses I repeated that I'd taken in junior college. 

SH:  Really? 

WK:  Basically, it was a re-indoctrination for me.  [laughter]

SH:  Were there any people who flunked out prior to it being disbanded?

WS:  No.  None of us flunked out, that I know of.

SH:  You talked about living in the fraternity house.  Was it strictly limited to the military or was it a combination of both? 

WS:  They were all military in the fraternity house.

SH:  In other words, there were no civilians.

WS:  ... Actually, it was just places to live and occupy, rather than building new buildings or dormitories or tents or anything else, just, if spaces were vacant, fill them up.

SH:  Did you go to school right on through the summer? 

WS:  Well, from September through March.

SH:  Oh, right.  [laughter] What about Christmas?  Did you go back home then? 

WS:  Yes.  Actually, that was an interesting thing, in that we had passes given to us from Friday night until Monday.  ... I used to hustle down to the Penn [Pennsylvania] Railroad Station in Columbus, get a five-thirty train on Friday night, be in Newark at eight o'clock the next morning, be home for the weekend until Sunday night, about eight o'clock, when I went to Newark, picked up the Jeffersonian and back to Columbus, just in time for reveille.

SH:  The train was never late.  [laughter]

WS:  I always made reveille. 

SH:  Were there other students, like yourself, taking a similar commute?

WS:  Oh, yes, there's another fellow from Elizabeth and I used to ride the train together and he and I were assigned to the same company for the duration after that, and he was the best man in my wedding.  He married my sister-in-law. 

SH:  Really?  [laughter]

WS:  Actually, I met my wife through him on a blind date.  He was ... taking courses at Fordham [University] and my sister-in-law was taking the same courses.  ... He asked me one day if I wanted to go out on a blind date, so, I said, "Sure."  So, I went up to Fordham with him on a Saturday and met my wife and that was it. 

SH:  [laughter] That is great.  Where was she from originally? 

WS:  He was from Elizabeth.

SH:  No, your wife; where was she from?

WS:  My wife was born and brought up in Tarrytown, New York, which is now known as Sleepy Hollow. Actually, she lived, oh, a few blocks up from the Headless Horseman Bridge.

SH:  [laughter] That was a good place to be from.  Let us back up and talk about your coming with your friend to Elizabeth and making it back in time for reveille.  When the announcement was made, you just packed up, got on a train.  Where did you report to then?

WS:  Well, from Ohio State, we went to Camp Swift, both of us, and he was assigned [to the] same company as I, but I was in ... what they called the ammunition and pioneering platoon.  He was in the antitank platoon, in the same company, the Second Battalion, Headquarters Company.

SH:  Where is Camp Swift?

WS:  It's just outside of Bastrop, Texas, [the] Austin area.

SH:  Before we continue to talk about Camp Swift, I wanted to ask about one thing that I came across in your memoir.  Was it at Patterson Field where you saw the midair collision?

WS:  Yes, while I was at Wright-Patterson, one afternoon, I was off duty, I was looking down on the airport. There's two planes flying closely together.  They were large planes.  One of them was a twin-tailed plane carrying a small, tracked personnel carrier underneath it and they were practicing dropping that by parachute onto the field. ... The other plane was photographing these drops, to see what was going to occur.  ... Apparently, the wingtip of the photographing plane hit the tail of this first plane and they both went down.  Everybody got out, except one sergeant who was delayed in opening a door and he perished, but all the others got out by chute. 

SH:  What was your reaction to seeing something like that?

 

WS:  Well, I was quite a ways away from all the action there, but I was up in an area where I could see everything going around, and one of the engines of the plane, those engines were rotary engines at that time, ... one of them rolled across the field like a tire, a wheel off a car, just rolled across the field.

SH:  That must have been quite a shock for a young kid.

WS:  It was something to see.

SH:  When you got down to Texas, was it a shock to be in Texas?

WS:  Not really, no.  It was a different type of living, though, no grass, basically, around us, all [mostly] sandy type of soil, with very little vegetation.  We did some, oh, long marches and things of that [nature].  ... I don't recall going out on any maneuvers of any kind.

SH:  It was more conditioning.

WS:  Right, keeping a certain condition, that's basically it.  From Camp Swift, we were there on D-Day [the June 6, 1944, Allied invasion of Normandy] and, right after that, we were transferred up to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for pre-positioning [in preparation for] going overseas.  ... The transit system ... in Philadelphia went on strike and we were assigned to ride shotgun duty on the streetcars.  ... I remember, my buddy, Shudra, and I riding shotgun, as you might say, with the orders not to let anybody interfere with the operator.  [Editor's Note: In August 1944, a transit strike developed in the City of Philadelphia over the employment of African-Americans as motormen for the first time.  The US Army took control of the transit system under orders from President Roosevelt.  After two days, the US Army was utilized to force the strikers back to work and accept the African-American motormen.]

SH:  Was this the man from Elizabeth?

WS:  No, this was another fellow, from Michigan.  He and I were together all the time from that point on, but ... we were assigned to this streetcar and a gent got on and started talking to the operator for quite a distance.  ... I said to Shudra, "I'm going to go up and tell him to sit down."  He said, "Oh, forget it."  I went up and said to the guy, "Take your seat," and he says, "Why?"  I says, "My orders are nobody's to interfere with the driver."  He said, "You wouldn't do anything."  I said, "No?"  I held my hand on the chamber of the gun I had and said, "All I'd have to do is pull this back," and, with that, he jumped and sat down.

SH:  [laughter] As someone who is in the military, what did you think of the fact that there was a strike at that time?

WS:  Well, it was interfering with all the operations here.  ... Well, our whole regiment was assigned to the Philadelphia area for various duties, just to keep everything going.  ... Some of the fellows were assigned MP [military police] duties, direct traffic, others were in the transit system, others were in bivouacking in the park system, ready to relieve the others on duty, and so forth.

SH:  Where were your barracks? 

WS:  ... Well, we were sleeping in tents in the park system in Philadelphia.  It was two or three days, if I recall right.

SH:  Is that how long it lasted? 

WS:  It didn't last very long, because, apparently, the reactions to ... things like I did had some effect.  They knew they were fooling around with the wrong people.

SH:  Was the streetcar driver part of the military?

WS:  No, he was a civilian driver.

SH:  He was. 

WS:  And there's other civilians on the [streetcar], women going shopping and whatnot, you know, buying groceries and things like that.  They just didn't know what as to what was going on.

SH:  It must have been a shock then.  Tell me then about your deployment; where were you sent next from Fort Dix?

WS:  Well, from Fort Dix, we went up to Camp Kilmer, [New Jersey], and stayed there and cleared all our shots for various diseases, and so forth.  From there, they ... took us by train to Exchange Place in Jersey City, where we boarded ferries to ships in Staten Island.  I remember going past the North Elizabeth Station, which is five blocks from my old home, and looking out behind the drawn curtains and seeing where we were and not being able to do anything.

SH:  That must have been really tough.  Were you sent to Bayonne? 

WS:  No, we went to Exchange Place in Jersey City, where we boarded ferries, and the ferries took us to Staten Island to board the [USAT] John Ericsson [(NY-307)], which was a troop transport, an English ship, which took us to an anchorage off of Weymouth, England, after I think it was eleven days, where I was sick every day at the rail.  ...

SH:  Did you travel in convoy?

WS:  Yes, we were in convoy and we had no difficulties whatsoever, other than, one time, [we were] told to stay below decks while they were practicing antiaircraft shooting, I think, but we had no excitement at all to speak of.

SH:  Did you ever get your sea legs?

WS:  No, I didn't, and didn't get them coming back, either. 

SH:  [laughter] Really?

WS:  I was as sick as a dog coming back, eleven days.

SH:  You said you went to Weymouth, England.

WS:  We anchored off of Weymouth, England, overnight, and off loaded, the next morning, in Cherbourg, France, and then, lived for the next approximately thirty days in the fields there outside of Cherbourg and waited for orders to go up to the frontlines, into the German-Dutch border.

SH:  What did you observe when you first got to England, onboard the John Ericsson, I believe you mentioned? 

WS:  The John Ericsson, yes.

SH:  Did you see any of the damage that had taken place?

WS:  Well, the first thing I remember is seeing the White Cliffs of Dover, and then, in landing in France, of course, the area we landed in was heavily damaged ... when we were transported over to the fields there where we lived in pup tents, at the time.  While there, we were, my group, my squad was ordered to go down to the D-Day landing area, where we were ... ordered to pull up German mines, what they called "bouncing betties," [S-mines], disarm them and clear the minefield.  I still have the trigger from ... one of the ones that I uncovered and disarmed, have it at home.  ... We took the charges and threw them into the Channel and the fish ... started floating up.  We had fish for dinner that night.  It was right in the vicinity of Sainte-Mere-Eglise.

SH:  Where did you receive your training in bomb disposal? 

WS:  Well, it's not bomb disposal, it's just mine disposal, ... clearing minefields and whatnot.  That, we had gotten in the States here, before leaving the States.  Actually, you go in with a bayonet type of unit, just fishing around ... to look for things and pull them up safely. 

SH:  Were there a lot of them?

WS:  Oh, yes, we retrieved quite a few.

SH:  Was anyone hurt in trying to reach them?

WS:  No, none of us were hurt.

SH:  You said you were there about a week doing that.

WS:  Well, it was two or three days, we did that, and that was while we were living in pup tents in the fields there outside of Cherbourg.

SH:  Were there any native French there?

WS:  Oh, yes.  The French, I remember going to Mass in one of the churches there, in that area, a bunch of us from our platoon, and, another time, having some real good wine in one of the, I guess it was not a beer hall, but where natives gathered to drink wine and whatnot.  It was excellent stuff.

SH:  How did they treat you?

WS:  Oh, they treated us wonderfully.  They were happy to see us, the civilians there. 

SH:  You were there about a month.

WS:  About a month, and then, the group I was in were transferred, by truck.  From that Cherbourg area, we went, by truck, down to Paris, then, from Paris, up through Belgium and Luxembourg, to ... just the German-Dutch border.

SH:  How was Paris?

WS:  ... Oh, we didn't stop there for very long.  I just remember stopping at one corner and being able to run into a store to pick up some postcards and that was about it.  We were continuously moving, to make time [to] get to the frontlines there.

SH:  What was your job in your platoon?  What were you responsible for?

WS:  Well, the group I was in, we were responsible for maintaining a small supply of ammunition, dynamite and equipment to back up ... the battalion.  ... The real assignment's only to stay with that grouping, in case we were needed.  One time, ... Shudra and I were assigned to an area adjacent to a field artillery unit, ... during the Battle of the Bulge, for just at that time, with a supply of food and munitions and whatnot.  I guess, in case of a counterattack, we were to be a supply point ... and protect this artillery unit.  [Editor's Note: The Battle of the Bulge, or the Ardennes Offensive, was a German offensive initiated on December 16, 1944.]

SH:  You were a machinist back in the States, but, during the war, what was your job? 

WS:  It was just staying with that group and, other [than that], we had no real specific things to do, other than being a follow-up unit and maintaining supply services for munitions and things like that, in case [they were] needed. 

SH:  You said, in your pre-interview survey, and, also, in your memoir, you were with the A&P.

WS:  Ammunition and pioneering group.  We had several trucks with ammunition that we carried with us, several large trucks, and the truck that I was with most of the time had dynamite with it, in order to blow up equipment, such as artillery pieces, and bridges, if needed, to disrupt things, as I understand it, anyhow.

SH:  You recalled one incident where you were sent to crawl on your hands and knees carrying this equipment.

WS:  Oh, yes.  At one point, Lieutenant Price got a hold of me, went up to the command post and I heard him talking to the commanding officer, and he says, "That's an order.  Now, do it," and Shudra and I and another fellow had to go out with the First Sergeant and carry ammunition out to the frontlines.  It was a box, oh, about so high, oh, I'd say, across from here back to here, loaded with ...

SH:  About two feet by three feet?

WS:  It was roughly two feet by one foot by about two-and-a-half foot high, full of rifle bullets, to carry out to the frontlines, so [that] they'd have ammunition.  Apparently, they were running out and we had to go out and resupply them.

SH:  The group that you were supplying was the ...

WS:  They were a frontline infantry unit.

SH:  The 102nd?

WS:  ... The 102nd Infantry Division, yes, one of our line companies is how you would call it, a rifle company.

SH:  What about your first Thanksgiving in Europe?

WS:  Well, that was interesting, in a way.  Being in the Headquarters Company has its advantages.  You always had a hot breakfast and a hot supper, with a K ration for lunch, and, on the holidays, we always had a feast of some sort, either, at Thanksgiving, it was a turkey dinner, and all the trimmings and whatnot, and, at Christmas, it would be a ham and all the trimmings and what[not], but that first Thanksgiving, we ... all had our dinner and what[not] and they were giving [us] the stretchers.  That day, ... our infantry companies had the attack at the town of Beek, [in the Netherlands], and they had quite a few casualties.  ... Actually, we were given stretchers, and then, called back, but, apparently, there was quite a few fatalities and they had to go up, out and be picked up, brought back. 

SH:  You had to do that after you had had your dinner.

WS:  After dinner, yes.

SH:  Quite a sobering end to the holiday.

WS:  Oh, yes, definitely. 

SH:  Then, you said that you went over to a quadrangle.

WS:  Oh, another area, later on.

SH:  It was in December 1944.

WS:  As is usual, we always took over civilian farmhouses or homes or whatnot, and our group, our squad, was living in a quadrangle.  A European setup at a farm is a house on one side, a barn on the far side, a hay storage point and, in-between it, another building, and so forth.  ... I guess, yes, no, he was a Mexican, Garcia, had the duty of cooking up ... our C rations and whatnot.  ... After dinner, we were using the utensils from the farmhouse, he would have to wash them up in this galvanized tub and, apparently, the smoke from the stove attracted a ... German mortar group.  ... A mortar shell came in and landed right in that galvanized tub and destroyed part of his hand and his eyes, ... he went blind, and he was evacuated back, eventually, to a VA [Veterans Affairs] hospital in Texas, ... you understand?

SH:  That must have been a shock.

WS:  Oh, yes. 

SH:  Was anyone else hurt in the mortar attack?

WS:  No, but we did find portions of his hand around in the area there, afterward. 

SH:  You talked about the second week in December 1944, you and Wieber.

WS:  Oh, yes.  We got orders, ... several of us, "Go out and retrieve a medic jeep," that was out in no-man's land, stuck in the mud, apparently, had been abandoned by the medics for some reason, and we had to go out and retrieve it and we went around.  Actually, luckily, nothing happened.  We were able to bring it back in by pushing it with our hands, and so forth, and brought it back in.  We got back in to our, what we called our house, and the, what do you call it, clock there; ... what would you call it?

SH:  Cuckoo clock?

WS:  The cuckoo clock [chimed], "And that's the new day," as John Wieber said.  [laughter]

SH:  Had you moved or were you still in the same farmhouse where Garcia had gotten hurt?

WS:  No, that was a different area there; it was the same area, but a different location.  We were rotated in and out of the area, as regiments, periodically, to go back to a coal mine in Heerlen, Holland, for showers and a change of uniform and come back and relieve each other.  So, we were changing positions, periodically, right in that same area from, basically, October through until February 22nd of 1945.

SH:  What were the "pink lemonade boys?"

WS:  The "pink lemonade boys," one time there, or I guess it was right around the Battle of the Bulge, Lieutenant Price came down and got a hold of Shudra and I and a bunch of equipment and food supplies, etc., and took them up adjacent to an artillery unit and told us to maintain our position there and just cover, hold on there, while separated from the other group.  Apparently, we were a supplies point in case of a counterattack.  That was during the Battle of the Bulge there. 

SH:  Was there a lot of artillery fire going on?

WS:  No.  It was quiet.  Essentially, our division was spread out over a three-division front during the Battle of the Bulge there, because the other two divisions were deployed south, to the area of the Ardennes, helping out down [in] that area to push back the Germans, and our unit was just spread out over a longer area to cover.  There's no real action in our area to speak of, other than one occasion there.  We were, a group of us, Shudra and two others who were walking along, came up on these two guys in British uniforms and they said they were making tea.  They claimed to be what the English called "sappers," that is, mine removers, and, to this day, I wonder if they weren't Germans dressed in British uniforms at that time, because they were in an open area with an open flame.  ... The one guy had a, looking back at it, ... what looked like a big kerchief in front of the flame.  He may have been signaling the Germans; I don't know.  This is guesstimating on my part, but they didn't bother us, we didn't bother them, we just kept going.  [laughter]

SH:  What was it like when you celebrated Christmas in 1944?  What was the weather like?

WS:  The weather was really bad, deep snow, cold, foggy, and it was not the best of conditions, that's for sure.  It was just a big whiteout.

SH:  Was it noisy or was it quiet?

WS:  No, for our grouping, it wasn't too noisy at all, at any time.  Actually, there was very little action on our part. We were just holding an area that was dividing, the Roer River, R-O-E-R, was dividing us from the Germans, a separation line.  We were just maintaining our position, and there was minor skirmishes going on, as I said, in the Beek area, and so forth, until the 22nd of February [1945], when we made a river crossing where we lost three men from our platoon who were assigned the responsibility of going over in ... what you'd call a rowboat or a similar ship, to get across the river and remove mines across the river, but, apparently, ... a German artillery shell landed right in their boat and they never made it across.  [Editor's Note: The crossing of the Roer, or Rur, River, beginning on the night of February 22-23, 1945, was one of the key points in the western Allied invasion of Germany.]

SH:  Were these people that you knew? 

WS:  Yes, and I saw them getting ready.  They had to unload all their pockets and all their gear, so that they don't have identification on them, and they had dark ponchos to wear, to keep camouflaged, as you might say, in the darkness.  That was about it.  They were the only three men we lost from our platoon, plus, one other fellow that was inadvertently shot by friendly-fire, as you might say.  One night, he went down to see one of his buddies, he was a clown, and got down into the area where this other group was and he was challenged by ... one of our buddies, as you might say.  ... Instead of the password, he says, "Hey, it's me," gave his name, and so forth, "I forgot the password."  He said, "Like hell you did," and that was it.  That was the only four men that I knew of that we lost.

SH:  You had a birthday around then, right?

WS:  The day after Christmas, yes.  Well, we had Christmas rations and a ration of beer and, unbeknownst to me, my buddies got a hold of one of the jerry cans full of beer and we were living, as I said, in one of these farmhouses.  ... They took me out to the barn and stood me up next to this wood-burning stove and poured their beer into me until I passed out and they laid me out in the manger.  The next morning, I went over, back to the unit, rounded the corner of the barn there and a mortar shell exploded nearby and hit me in the leg.  ... Didn't get me a Purple Heart, but, when I got to [headquarters], the Lieutenant saw me, he says, "Where were you?" in no uncertain terms, and I said, "Just ask your guy standing alongside of you."  Then, he just laughed.  He knew very well, most probably, where I was. 

SH:  Did you have to go back to an aid station because of the injury?

WS:  No, it's just a superficial thing that didn't actually rip my clothing or anything else.  It just hit me and I felt some heat there and that was it.

SH:  In January 1945, you did end up having to go to an aid station, correct?

WS:  Well, ... we were living in a pillbox, my buddies and I, which was an old German concrete thing, sunk in the ground, which is a point where they had a machine gun nest, if you want to call it [that], overlooking an open area. ... We were bunking in there, a bunch of us, and I had a postnasal drip and a cough, which, in case, you know, if anybody came by ... on a German patrol or anything, it would have been a giveaway.  ... I had to be evacuated back to an aid station, where they fed me terpin hydrate, which was essentially codeine, until ... I got rid of that. One day, a news reporter, and [it was] a woman, came by, says, "Don't you want to ... go back and join your [unit]?"  ... I said, "Like hell I do."  I said, "You know what you're asking me to do?" and she just walked away. 

SH:  How far back was this hospital that they took you to?

WS:  Oh, it was back in Heerlen, which is, oh, ... about, say, ten miles back, I guess.  It was an old school taken over and set up as a hospital, temporary hospital setup, and they kept me on a stretcher there in the basement, and covered over with blankets and whatnot, until I overcame what I had.

SH:  You did not have pneumonia.

WS:  No, not that I know of.  They just treated me with the terpin hydrate.

SH:  It was in February 1945 that you said you actually got across the Roer River.

WS:  Right. 

SH:  How was it for you in your crossing?

WS:  Well, the night of that attack, a lieutenant, Lieutenant Price, and I walked along the riverbank and the ... tankers were up on a hill overlooking the river and they were firing their weapons as fast as they could reload, and the artillery was backing them up in the back of that.  There was a terrific noise and whatnot.  ... Later on, I saw an article that was printed in the Elizabeth Journal and it was written by Howard [K.] Smith, as a reporter, about that, reporting about the noise, and so forth, that went on.  It was a real rendition of really what the conditions were, and that was printed in the New York Times and, also, the Elizabeth Journal that day.  That would have been February 22nd, 23rd or 24th of 1945. 

SH:  The noise must have been tremendous.

WS:  Oh, that was a noisy operation.  That's when we lost the three guys going over across the river there.

SH:  Were they lost right away?

WS:  Oh, they were ahead of all the troops.  They were one of first ones across, or attempting to cross.

SH:  Did you go over on some type of craft, or had they gotten a pontoon bridge up by then?

WS:  I went over by vehicle, across a bridge that the engineers had set up.  Immediately after the troops went over by the boats and whatnot and they had a chance to put up the bridge, we went over by truck into the area across the river.

SH:  Were you driving the truck?

WS:  No, I was a rider all the time.  As is usual [in] the Army, ... each truck has an assigned driver and he stays with the truck at all times, no matter where or when or what.

SH:  You were just riding.

WS:  Yes, we always rode that truck, or adjacent trucks, to stay in a convoy, as you might say, with the equipment and the ammunition. 

SH:  Was that when you saw the trees that had been sharpened?

WS:  No, that was later on. 

SH:  Was it later?

WS:  After we crossed the river, that Roer River there, we went up towards Wesel, W-E-S-E-L, to another river crossing that was taken earlier.  ... Boy, traveling up along the roads there, off to the left, there was a big open field that had saplings, young trees, that were pointed on the end and inserted into the ground by the German troops to wreck the gliders that'd come in on an attack by gliders, the planes and parachutists.  There were remains of gliders there on the fields that we could see.  We crossed over the Wesel [Rhine] River at that time. 

SH:  You said that the engineers had already been there.

WS:  Right.  They had previously [built that], as I recall, it could have very well been American engineers, maybe even the Germans, I'm not sure, really, about that, but there was a big girder in place to get that bridge running again for railway traffic, and truck traffic, I guess, but we went across on a pontoon bridge.

SH:  You talked about one of the spotter planes making an emergency landing.

WS:  Well, eventually, we wound up in Osterburg, Germany, right near the Rhine River; no, let's see, the Elbe River, where ... our group was assigned an airfield to guard, which had a German jet-engine Messerschmitt 262 plane, intact, on the ground.  ... While we were there, we siphoned gas out of that tank to ride around in the Porsche, I guess.  It was a convertible car.  We were horsing around, and an American fighter plane, a P-51, come in with an emergency landing and nosed over.  The pilot wanted no part of being there.  He was out of his domain, the air, wild blue yonder.  We just put him in the car and took him over to headquarters and got him out of this. So, his worries were over.  He was worried, being in a combat area, I guess, which was not the case at that time.

SH:  I was reading your memoir here and it said that the pilot came over and asked for a jerry can of gas.

WS:  Oh, that was another occasion. 

SH:  Right.

WS:  While we were traveling out towards the Rhine River.

SH:  That is what I thought.  This was in Krefeld.

WS:  ... We stopped short of Gardelegen, Germany, and off on the left-hand side of the road, we could see the Wolfsburg Volkswagen plant, where they built the German Volkswagen vehicles, and an Army auxiliary aircraft spotting plane came down and landed and asked us for some fuel.  So, we gave him a jerry can of fuel, which he drained into his tank through a chamois, to make sure there was no dirt, and off he went, and, later on, there was an artillery barrage from our artillery, in towards Gardelegen.  ... Our troops had taken over a German airfield with a parachute brigade and this Army transport crew who came through with their trucks, they heard artillery going off and one of the trucks stopped and he said he wasn't going any further.  ... An officer, I guess it was a lieutenant, came over, ... with his sidearm, and ordered them back into the truck and move out.  The guy jumped in and moved, under orders, so that he had no choice; he had to go or else he was going to be shot.

SH:  This was Lieutenant McCann.

WS:  He didn't hesitate at all. 

SH:  This was Lieutenant McCann.

WS:  Lieutenant McCann, yes.

SH:  Okay.

WS:  At that time, what had happened, up the road, our troops had overrun this airfield with a German parachute battalion, which, apparently, either those trucks were going out to pick them up or carrying supplies they had, I don't know which, but, also, in that area, we had uncovered a barn which had a bunch of slave laborers enclosed in it.  The SS [Schutzstaffel] troops had herded the slave laborers in this barn and saturated the hay with gasoline and set it on fire.  ... There was a picture of it in Life Magazine, showing a slave laborer trying to crawl out underneath, with bullet holes over his head in the door, which was attempting to stop them from getting out.  That picture was printed in the Life Magazine on May 8th of '45 there.  [Editor's Note: On April 15, 1945, the 102nd Infantry Division uncovered the remains of over a thousand concentration camp inmates who were shot and/or burned alive in a barn near Gardelegen.  Life Magazine published a series of photos of the atrocity in their May 7, 1945 issue.]

SH:  You were the first ones in.

WS:  Our battalion had overrun this barn and the area there.

SH:  You said you were put in there to secure the area.

WS:  Right.

SH:  You talked about your buddy, Casper.

WS:  Oh, we had come in across this town of Krefeld, the outskirts of Krefeld, and their troops were being held up by these young kids.  I forget the name that they gave them at the time ["Werewolves"].  They were firing on our troops and we were held up and our gang stopped by a farmhouse with an out building.  ... As is usual, you go around the area and secure it, make sure no German troops are around, but this fellow, Casper, had gotten into this out building, where there were slave laborers in there, and found some German troops and brought them out and had them standing by a fence when I got there.  ... He was lighting up a painter's blowtorch, which we had used to heat our rations, and he was kind of putting the flame to their feet.  ... I had to use my arm, gun butt, to fight him off, to stop him from injuring the POWs there, as you might call them.

SH:  He had been outraged at what he had seen.

WS:  Oh, he was a half-breed Indian from the Midwest somewhere and he was really lit off.  He was fit to be tied. 

SH:  Some of his friends had been ...

WS:  It's a part of the, what would you call it? a sign of the times, the conditions that you're under that you react to.  It's normal for what's going on, as you might hear today in Iraq [the Iraq War, also known as Operation: IRAQI FREEDOM], say; it's a similar thing that goes on.  It just happens at the moment and, if you just get ticked off, ... you get off from the handle and that's it.

SH:  Did he get himself back together?

WS:  Oh, yes, he got himself back together again, but it's typical; I mean, it's a reaction.  ... You just can't fight it. You just fly off the handle. 

SH:  Were there other incidences of people suffering from the same thing?

WS:  I don't recall any at the moment, no.

SH:  You said that there was a review held shortly after that.  What was the review for?

WS:  It was an award of, what do you call it? medals and whatnot, combat awards, and I was there in the formation.  ... After that, there was this well-dressed civilian out observing everything going on, very well-dressed, ... following normal procedures, as an American citizen would do, ... the reaction to the National Anthem, and so forth.  ... Right afterward, he'd come over to me, he said, "Would you like a Luger pistol?"  [Editor's Note: A Luger pistol was the standard pistol issued to German troops during World War II.]  I said, "Sure."  Apparently, he was a U-boat [unterseeboot or submarine] commander, apparently either home on leave or discharged or something, and he gave me this long-barreled ... Luger pistol, which I had from there on in.  ...

SH:  Did he sell it to you?

WS:  He just gave it to me, and he says, "This is yours to keep."

SH:  Did he tell you that he was a U-boat commander?

WS:  Yes, he told me he was a U-boat captain and he said, he was, apparently, a chemist by education, and he ... helped develop what we call Spry shortening, or the German version of it, possibly.  [Editor's Note: Spry Vegetable Shortening, a Lever Brothers product, was a competitor with Proctor & Gamble's Crisco Shortening.]

SH:  Of what?

WS:  The Spry, you know, the cooking shortening?

SH:  Crisco?

WS:  Well, similar to Crisco or Spry, or something like that, and I guess he called it Crisco at the time. 

SH:  Was he speaking English to you?

WS:  Yes, he was speaking good, excellent English.  He was very fluent in English.  He was very well-dressed, very well-mannered and whatnot.

SH:  Did he talk about ever having been in the States?

WS:  No.  He didn't say anything at all about that.  ...

SH:  Did he then just leave the area after giving you the pistol?

WS:  Well, we were dismissed and whatnot.  We went our way, he went his.  He was in civilian clothes, so, nobody bothered him at the time.  ... Nobody, that I know of, took any action on it.

SH:  Were you given an award at this point?

WS:  No, I was not.

SH:  You talked about also getting a hold of a camera.

WS:  Oh, yes.  As is usual, you stopped periodically in your travels going across [Europe].  We always moved during the daylight and, overnight, we'd stop and take over homes and whatnot and went into this house and I picked up a camera.  The guys were tapping walls and whatnot and one of the fellows looked up the chimney and there was a ham in the chimney.  It was being smoked, and he took the ham, ... so that we had some ham sandwiches afterwards.  [laughter] ... Typically, [when] you go into a house like that, you'd search everywhere, look for weapons and things of [that] nature, and it's amazing what you'd come across and find.

SH:  You did not have to worry about anything being booby-trapped or anything like that.

WS:  Not really in that area, because we were moving so fast, there were no, very few, German troops around and it was German civilians more than anything else.  These small kids that we were talking about, they were called Werewolves at that time.  The German youth they had were given weapons and whatnot to, you know, give us troubles and whatnot.  They were the ones that held us back ... outside the town of Krefeld, the so-called Werewolves.  ...

SH:  Were a lot of them captured then?  Were they held as POWs?

WS:  Well, I guess so; ... we, as such, in my squad, never came across [them].  It was the frontline troops that had the problem with those, more than anybody else. 

SH:  Did you see any POWs?

WS:  Oh, yes.  When we got there to the Rhine River, or the Osterberg area, I guess ... they were coming across in droves, ... just the German troops are escaping the Russians, coming across the bridge as best they could, and just piling their arms up, their rifles and whatnot.  ... We took thousands upon thousands of German troops and just [sent them] back to the prisoner of war camps.  They just had trucks lined up and [were] hauling them back as they came across.  ... One guy, one GI with a rifle, would guard a string of five or six across, about thirty or forty deep, just walk alongside of them.  They're just happy to get away from the Russians.

SH:  However, the war is still going on.

WS:  Oh, yes.  The Russians are still fighting ... up to the Elbe River there.

SH:  Were you using your camera?  Were you taking shots?

WS:  Oh, yes.  I've got pictures at home there, which ... I just left there when the wife and I came up here, and then, I put them on a tape and, one time, I lost track of where that tape is, somewheres around the house there, in Clark, the tape is, also, the pictures. 

SH:  What were the most interesting things that you photographed, that you remember?

WS:  Well, just the activities as they went on, whenever we came across something or other.  One of the things was the surrender of this colonel in charge of the parachute brigade, got a picture of that, him surrendering to a [colonel].  When our scout was up ahead, he wouldn't surrender to him because he was an officer of a lower rank. They had to bring up a colonel from our battalion or regiment, ... so that he could surrender to an officer of ... the same rank.

SH:  Really?

WS:  Yes, that's just military protocol. 

SH:  He was holding to it, right?

WS:  Right.  ...

SH:  Can you talk about getting into Stendal?  [Editor's Note: Stendal is a city in Northern Germany located near the Osterberg area.]  You talked about getting into Stendal. 

WS:  Well, Stendal was the airport there.  We're watching that airport there.  V-E Day [Victory in Europe Day], ... we got to meet some civilians, as you might know, and this woman said, "Come over to the house," on V-E Day, and she had a cake with whipped cream on it.  Where she got the ingredients from, I don't know, but it was an excellent cake with whipped cream on it and she said she had played in the '36 Olympics as a tennis, what do you call it? entry.  ... She said she disagreed with Hitler's stance on refusing to meet with Jesse Owens and award him his medals, but she disapproved of that and that was about it.  [Editor's Note: Jesse Owens was an African-American track and field athlete who won four gold medals at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Germany.  The 1936 Olympics did not include tennis as an event.]

SH:  She spoke English quite well.

WS:  Oh, she spoke English.  Apparently, her husband was a major in the German Army and she was well-spoken in English.  ...

SH:  You were using her home, correct?

WS:  Well, she was just a displaced person.  I mean, I don't know where her home was, but she had just ... been in this house with another woman who claimed to be a nurse and this younger woman that claimed to be some sort of a ballet dancer or something like that.

SH:  The three of them were together in this house.

WS:  Yes, they were together.

SH:  You said that you were on the western shore of the Elbe River.

WS:  Right.

SH:  In Osterberg. 

WS:  Osterberg, yes.  It's right on the Elbe River there.  ...

SH:  You saw the Tangermunde rendezvous. 

WS:  Oh, yes.  The Russians came across there at Tangermunde and we were the division that met them there and we saw [them].  I've got pictures of the Russians' crew that came across, you know, to make the rendezvous there, and, to me, they just looked like Mongolians here.  They were really rough looking GIs, as you might say. 

SH:  Were they happy to meet Americans?  What was their reaction?

WS:  Oh, yes, there was a real happy gathering there, dancing in the streets and whatnot.  They had their accordions, what[not], and then, doing their Russian dances and things like that, but they were really happy that they met up with us.

SH:  Were you allowed to talk with them?

WS:  Oh, yes, we mingled with them and whatnot.

SH:  Did you share supplies with them at all?

WS:  You couldn't converse with them, of course, because they didn't know any English and we didn't know any Russian.

SH:  Did you share supplies with them at all?

WS:  Not our group at all. 

SH:  After that was the V-E Day experience with the woman from the Olympics.

WS:  Right.

SH:  Then, where did you head, to Bavaria?

WS:  We went down to the Bavarian area, right, around Passau, Germany, in that area, and did occupation duty from V-E Day until when I came home in March of '46.

SH:  You said you stayed in the Hotel Bube.

WS:  The Hotel Bube.  On our way down to Passau, we stopped in this town of Berneck, B-E-R-N-E-C-K, Germany, which is a place well-known for its baths and whatnot, and the Hotel Bube, which is a fairly large hotel, and some of our guys could brag that they slept in a bed that Adolf Hitler slept in.  [laughter]

SH:  You said that you had a map of the village.

WS:  Yes, I have a map at home, in Clark there, somewhere.  It has a layout of all the boarding houses in the area, because of its [being a] town known for its baths, and all the names of the owners of the homes are on the map, right on the house, but some of the names are blacked out, because of the Jewish sounding names or non-Aryan names that were on the houses. 

SH:  You said you got to go to an opera in Bayreuth.

WS:  Oh, yes, the Bayreuth Opera House, Wagner's Opera House, here in Bayreuth, is quite a place.  You get inside, it's just like a big circus tent, the ornate ceiling and whatnot, and the USO [United Service Organization] tour came through and AndrĂ© Kostelanetz's wife [Lily Pons] was one of the prime ones I saw there, as well as a blind pianist that played the; oh, I forget the name of the song, piano concerto there, was very well-received, but he stopped in the middle because of the GIs being restless and whatnot.  [laughter] [Editor's Note: Mr. Skiba is referring to the Margravial Opera House, dedicated to composer Richard Wagner, who lived in Bayreuth.]

SH:  They were not on their best behavior is what you are saying, right?

WS:  Yes.

SH:  You were in Passau, but you were moving all around.

WS:  Yes.  We were moving around periodically, from smaller town to smaller town.  ...

SH:  What was your job?  What were you doing?

WS:  Just securing, keeping the area secure, that's about it, nothing, just keeping our sidearms, you know, our weapons available and, basically, we were living as [occupation troops].  Well, I was quartered in what they called Waldmunchen.  It's a small resort area, which had a very nice beer, that is, ratskeller.  We enjoyed having beer there and whatnot.  It was a nice place to live in.  [laughter]  [Editor's Note: A ratskeller is a tavern located below street level that sells beer.]

 

SH:  Did you have any interaction with other displaced persons?

WS:  No.  Well, one incident there, the Major in our outfit acquired a Mercedes Benz.  One day, he cornered me, said, "Bring it around and pick me up."  We stopped and picked up a civilian.  He said, "Follow the directions the civilian gives you, wherever he wants to go."  We wound up in Pilsen [or Plzen], Slovakia, Czechoslovakia, and this civilian went in and came out with two pillowcases in the car and we went back by a different route.  On our way back, there was a dirt road, basically, and, up on the hill, I could see a Russian GI, because they had the area there.  The Russians were occupying the area and I heard a rifle shot come over and the Major said, "Stop."  I said, "Like hell I will."  I just put the pedal to the metal and off we went, and made it through without any mishap at all.  [laughter] When we got back, the civilian said to me, "Come around my house in a day or two and see me," and so, I did.  ... We went into his dining room and he set out a bunch of jewels on the dining room table, said, "Take your pick."  I didn't know anything about jewelry.  I said, "I don't know what's there or what's good or not bad."  He says, "What's your girlfriend's birthday?"  I said, "March."  He said, "Okay, here's an aquamarine.  What kind of setting do you want?"  I said, "I don't know."  He says, "Okay; see me in about a week and I'll have it ready for you, something for you."  I said, "Well, I'm waiting for my orders to be cut to come home."  He said, "Don't worry about it, but just come back before you leave," which I did, and, there, when I got back to him, it was an aquamarine set up in a Tiffany-style ring and unpolished, because he didn't have enough time to polish it up.  He said, "Good luck to you," and that was it. 

SH:  He had gone to the Major. 

WS:  He was looking for transportation to retrieve this loot that he had, or his savings, as you might say, back to Slovakia, because he got away from the Russians.  ...

SH:  He was a German.

WS:  And he wanted to retrieve it, so, we did and he was thankful that he got it.  I don't know what the Major got, but I just got a ring out of it. 

SH:  That is an interesting incident.  [laughter] Were there other circumstances like that?

WS:  No, not that I know of, but I was on my way home a week or two after that.

SH:  That was all you knew, right?

WS:  Right, and I got home on [a ship] through; oh, I forget the name of the town, not Cherbourg.

SH:  Le Havre?

WS:  Le Havre.

SH:  Were you in one of the cigarette camps while waiting to come home?  [Editor's Note: "Cigarette Camps" were staging areas in the European Theater named after American brands of cigarettes.]

WS:  Yes, that's what they called [them], Lucky Strike, I think it was, one of the names, and there was a, what do you call it? telegraph service, Western Union.  ... I sent a wire [that] I'd be home on the John Anderson, the PA-111, [USS General A. E. Anderson (AP-111)], and, at that time, the New York Times posted the ship arrivals in New York Harbor.  So, when I got back to New York, after being seasick for another eleven days, [laughter] I got off the ferry in Exchange Place in Jersey City, [New Jersey], and there's my mother, dad and brother waiting for me at the top of the elevator there, when the doors opened.  So, the troop train was there, loading up the GIs coming off the ferry.  So, I had this little duffle bag ... inside my big duffle bag and I pulled it out.  I said to my brother, "Here, take this."  He said, "I can't."  I said, "Just take it."  Inside was the camera, this Luger, two small Italian Berretta twenty-two-caliber pistols, and some other things.  He didn't know what he was carrying, [laughter] and I got onboard the train.  We wound up in Kilmer, just outside of Rutgers there, in a barracks and whatnot. Knowing where I was, I went looking around, I saw a hole in the fence and I took off, AWOL [absent without leave], after calling my brother to ride Stelton Road there, and he met me.  ... I was home that night in my own bed, [laughter] and just, the next day, I went back to there, Kilmer, and the MPs stopped me, "Where's your pass?"  I said, "What pass?" and he asked me the outfit I was with and he says, "Go ahead, go on back."  All I missed was a steak dinner.  [laughter]

SH:  It was worth it to sleep in your own bed.

WS:  Oh, and how.  [laughter] My parents were happy to see me. 

SH:  You did tell him that you were from the 102nd, 405th ...

WS:  Regiment, right, Second Battalion, Headquarters Company.

SH:  He told you to take off.  One incident I did want you to talk about was, just before Christmas, you were in Waldmunchen.

WS:  Waldmunchen, Germany, yes.

SH:  The chaplain came and got you.

WS:  Oh, yes.  Christmas, day before Christmas, of '45, I guess it was, the chaplain said, "Hey, Bill, tomorrow, get in your class A and meet me.  I'll pick you up."  That night, Christmas Eve, I was in Nuremberg, Germany, sleeping in the castle owned by the German pencil manufacturer; I forget the name offhand.

SH:  Eberhard Faber?

WS:  Eberhard Faber Schloss, as they called it, castle, and the next morning, I was in the Nuremberg courtroom, [the] pressroom overlooking the courtroom, ... and my parents were in the WOR studios in New York.  ... We were in conversation, by radio, from the courtroom area to New York, where my parents were on Christmas Day, as a Christmas present from Exxon, where my brother had won a raffle for employees of Exxon, at that time, Esso. It was quite an experience.

SH:  You were talking ...

WS:  By phone, actually, over the airwaves, between the Mutual Station in New York and Nuremburg courtroom, the pressroom.

SH:  Did you see any of the trial?

WS:  No, I didn't.  The trial wasn't in session at the time, but, looking down from the pressroom, we could see all the seats.

SH:  You were up in the press box kind of thing.

WS:  ... I was in the press box, as you might say, looking down on the seats that [Nazi Germany's Foreign Minster Joachim von] Ribbentrop and all the others were sitting in, and the lawyers' benches, and so forth.  You could see all that, but the room was empty at that time.

SH:  Were you then able to look at the photographs of the trail as a civilian back in the States?

WS:  Oh, yes, I could see the area there, reminisce, as you might say, and, afterward, I went back.  I was employed by Exxon and went in for a physical and this nurse came in and says, "I know you."  I says, "Why?"  She says, "Remember Nuremburg?"  I said, "Uh-oh, you were the nurse, weren't you?" and she said, "Yes."  ...

SH:  Why would you have met her in Nuremburg?

WS:  Well, she was part of the group.  There was a whole group of us, about twenty or thirty of us, that were there for that phone connection.  We all had a few minutes to talk to our relatives back here in the States.

SH:  Okay.  That is very interesting. 

WS:  But, another incident happened ...

SH:  You both wound up working for Esso when you came back.

WS:  Yes.  Another incident happened after the war.  I worked for Airco, who was taken over by British Oxygen, eventually, and I was a plant engineer, as you might say, ... overseeing all the maintenance work.  I had ordered some air conditioning for the plant and this owner of the air conditioning outfit, Meyer & Depew, came in.  We got to talking and, apparently, he was the colonel in charge of the reconnaissance unit in our division.  ... He says, "Were you the so-and-so who ... put a round though the turret of one of my tanks?"  I says, "It wasn't me, but I've got a picture of that tank with a hole in the turret."  I thought it was a German artillery shell that went through it, but it wasn't.  It was one of our antitank guns that hit the thing, friendly-fire, as you might call it.

SH:  My word.  You talked about opening up a garage in Germany.

WS:  Oh, yes.  One of the incidents there, in Germany, [while] clearing an area, [I] open the garage doors and there's a pile of shoes inside the door, inside the garage, and on top of it was a young woman.  Why she was there, I don't know, but she said, and I understood her to say, that she had been in Spain during the Civil War [Spanish Civil War] there as part of ... the German troops there in Spain, fighting with the Spaniards, in some way or other.

SH:  She told you that these shoes were from the concentration camp.

WS:  Well, these were shoes, a big pile of shoes, that almost filled the garage.  They were taken from the civilians, you know, that went to the concentration camps.

SH:  What town was this in?  Do you remember?

WS:  I really don't recall the name of the town, but it's somewhere in Germany.

SH:  This is after the war is over.

WS:  No, during the war. 

SH:  This was during the war.

WS:  Yes.

SH:  Did you see any of the concentration camps?

WS:  Oh, yes.  I got into one of the concentration camps in the area there of Osterberg or Stendal, Germany.  I forgot the name of the place, but I actually saw the ovens and got pictures of it, and the barracks and things like that, but they were something to see.

SH:  Had the people already been removed?  I mean, was this later? 

WS:  Well, yes, it was semi-cleaned up, but you could see the ovens and things of that nature, which I have pictures of.

SH:  When were you first aware that there were camps like that, as a soldier?

WS:  Well, not until we got well inside of Germany, that is, in and around the Gardelegen area.  As I said, when we saw this barn, and, actually, there's some sort of barbed-wire enclosure, I guess it was some sort of a slave labor encampment, right outside of Osterberg, that was filled with slave laborers, but, other than that, really didn't see any until we got into that area.

SH:  You said that the Germans actually used the civilians fleeing the towns to try to hold you up from moving.

WS:  Oh, yes.  During our advance, as I said, we were always [moving].  From the time we crossed the Roer River until we got to the Elbe, we were continuously moving, every day, by convoy, as you might call it, going about forty miles a day, and have a hot breakfast and a hot supper with a K ration at lunch, and we just rode our trucks.  ... Occasionally, one occasion, I recall civilians being ordered by the Germans to fill up the roads in the opposite direction, so [as] to slow our progress going ahead, but that was [a case where] they had, you know, carts and horse-drawn carts and things of that nature, to impede our traffic, so [that] we wouldn't move as fast. 

SH:  Were there other instances?  You talked about the woman whose husband had been a major; how did the German people that you encountered react to you?  What was their demeanor?  Were they welcoming?

WS:  Well, they were stunned.  I mean, they were panicked as to, you know, being in the war and whatnot.  They were inert, as in just numbed by everything that was going on.  They really had no opposition, other than these young kids that were given guns.  Other than that, there was no opposition from the civilians whatsoever.

SH:  When you were serving in the occupation, was it well ordered?  What were you seeing as to how the Germans and the Americans were interacting?

WS:  Well, the Germans were friendly and whatnot, but ... there were very few men around, as you might say, and very few civilians to contend with.  For the most part, they were tranquil and causing no problems whatsoever.

SH:  Did you ever encounter any displaced persons camps, where people were waiting to be sent back to their native lands?

WS:  No, I never got involved in anything like that.

SH:  You talked about foxhole communications.

WS:  Well, one of the things that was interesting, ... as is normal in combat operations, you have phone lines that are going out to the trenches and back and forth, ... connecting the headquarters to the companies, and so forth.  ... One time, what they did [was], the guys in the communications center actually piped in music and whatnot over the phones, so [that] the guys in the trenches could have some news to listen [to], ... you know, the newscast and, also, music to bide their time, which was something [you] didn't normal thought [think] of, as you might say. 

SH:  You said you also set up lights.

WS:  Oh, GIs are very, what do you call it? inventive.  We always were looking for ways to improvise things and, when we needed light, we always got a hold of lamps, the bulbs from cars and things like that, that the Germans had abandoned, and we always hooked them up to batteries and whatnot.  ... One time, in this Hotel Bube area, we needed some light and I figured I'd get some wire, connect it up and use these bulbs for lights, you know, went to cut the wire, which was actually Army communication wire, put the pliers to it; somebody had connected it [to] electrical lines.  So, I couldn't let go and I was actually being electrocuted, as you might say.  [laughter] Lucky, somehow, I got rid of it, but that was some awakening.

SH:  Wow, that was a close call, it sounds like.  Were there movies and Red Cross clubs?  What were some of the other things to keep the troops occupied?

WS:  Oh, we had Red Cross trucks, doughnut girls, ["Doughnut Dollies"], as you might say, doughnuts, periodically, along the way, the Red Cross, I guess you'd call it, nurses, not nurses, but they had a doughnut wagon, as they called it, disbursing doughnuts and coffee. 

SH:  Did they charge you for them?

WS:  The one time I recall, they did, but what it was, I don't recall, but I recall, at one time, having to pay to get some doughnuts, and why, I don't know.

SH:  Not all the time?

WS:  Not all the time, no. 

SH:  Did you ever get a rest-and-relaxation leave? 

WS:  Oh, yes.  While we were in the Bavarian area, I got a pass to go to the Nice [area], the French Riviera, and I went by train through France and down to Nice and lived in a hotel there.  ... I was amazed to see the beach was actually pebbles and not sand, like we have in New Jersey.  ... Going back there in '93 and '95, by bus tour, it was really commercialized, as compared to what it was when I was there on R&R, but it was really interesting. Actually, there was, I remember, a circus group ... in town, that there were the elephants walking down the boulevard with their troupe, and so forth. 

SH:  Did you ever have any interaction, either during the war or after, with other Allied troops?  You talked about meeting the Russians in Tangermunde and about the two men that you said were British having tea.  Were there any other interactions with other troops, whether they be Australians or British?

WS:  No.  Well, ... during all our operations, our divisions were on the right flank of the British Army and we never really had contact with them, but we knew they were there.  ... As such, we never had any intercommunications, on my part, or on our squad's part, but, undoubtedly, on divisional and regimental operations, they did, but, to what degree, they were out of my bailiwick. 

SH:  I just thought I would ask.

WS:  Yes, I was small peanuts.  [laughter]

SH:  Did you see any of the famous characters of the World War II era?

WS:  No, the generals and whatnot? no, not really.  The highest ranking officer I might have seen was our divisional commander, a general, one-star [brigadier general].  That's about the only thing.

SH:  Who was that?

WS:  Keating, Frank Keating, K-E-A-T-I-N-G.  He was ... in charge of our division all the way through. 

SH:  What was the reaction and interaction, before the war ended, between, as you say, you were just an enlisted man, a private and the officers?  How did the officers treat the men and what did the men think of the officers?

WS:  Well, I would tell you it was very informal.  There was no rank pulling of any sort.  The officers in our group were very [good].  ... I would say, if you asked us, anybody in our group, they would say the officers were a bunch of good men. 

SH:  Did you ever consider going to OCS or applying to go to OCS? 

WS:  No, no.

SH:  Because you had already started college.

WS:  No, never had the opportunity and never would.  After the war was over, and before I was being discharged, you know, before leaving Germany, a sergeant came to me, he says, "Hey, would you want to be a sergeant?"  I said, "What do you mean?"  He said, "Well, you can have a sergeant's rank, but you'd have to stay here for three or [four] more months."  I said, "Like hell.  You're not going to get me to stay here another three or four months to be a sergeant."  I wanted out. 

SH:  What was the reaction when the troops were informed of President Roosevelt's death?

WS:  On our part, it had no effect, actually, because, politically, there's nothing that we were involved in.  We were just GIs following orders and that was it. 

SH:  Where were you when V-E Day was announced?

WS:  I was in Osterburg, Germany, and, as I say ...

SH:  What was the reaction?

WS:  We fired off our weapons and that was about it.  [laughter]

SH:  Were there any orders to not fraternize with the Germans?

WS:  No, no. 

SH:  Did you think that, when the war ended in Europe, you would then be sent to Japan?

WS:  Oh, yes, we were told that ... the possibility existed, that [there was a] chance that we would wind up ... in the Pacific Theater, before the atom bomb was dropped. 

SH:  Had you been keeping up with how the war in the Pacific was going?

WS:  Well, the Army had the paper, what they called the Stars and Stripes, which was distributed weekly, basically, and that had the news, which we would [read], were exposed to it.  Of course, we always had the radio that we had confiscated, listened to the BBC and the Army, what do you call it, the Army radio system they had?

SH:  Armed Forces Radio?

WS:  Armed Forces Radio, right. 

SH:  Did anybody ever say, "Okay, get me out of here, out of this occupation duty, and send me to Japan?" 

WS:  No, everybody wanted out.  [laughter]

SH:  I know, when the point system came in, that must have been hard to ...

WS:  Yes.  Well, I don't know ... how many points I had, but it was just a question of time.  ... We were in occupation duty, just lounging around, as you might say, doing nothing and just staying out of harm's way, if you want to call it that.  [laughter]

SH:  Were there any opportunities to do any sightseeing or go on trips, or educational opportunities? 

WS:  Well, while we're there in occupation duty, this fellow, Wieber, from Seattle, was a carpenter by trade and, to keep us busy, they gave us some wood and some timber and whatnot.  ... We helped him frame a small house, as you might call it, not a treehouse, but an actual framed-in [house], windows and doors and everything, that kids could use.  Some German kids wound up with it as a toy house.  So, it would be about the size of, oh, eight-by-eight-by-ten-foot high, something like that, windows and doors in it, just one big room.

SH:  Just something to keep you busy.

WS:  Yes, keep us out of trouble, keep us occupied.

SH:  Were there people who got in trouble?

WS:  Oh, yes, not to mention what type of trouble. 

SH:  Okay, I will not ask then.  Were you making plans?  What did you hope to do when you came back to the States?

WS:  Well, I knew I wanted to go to college and I finally got a degree in engineering, out of Brooklyn Polytechnic, and a mechanical engineering degree.

SH:  Using your GI Bill benefits.

WS:  GI Bill, and I bought a home in Clark under the GI Bill.  ... I think it was a wonderful thing the government did and they benefited quite well from doing something like that.  They got a lot of educated people with some responsibilities that they really deserved and they welcomed.

SH:  Is there anything that I did not ask you about that you want to put on record at this point?

WS:  No, nothing.  You went through my memoirs that I gave you there, and one of the things ... you might be interested in, and I don't know, ... this is a copy of the Ozark News.  This is the quarterly news bulletin that they [publish].  ...

SH:  "[Camp] Maxey, Swift, Red Ball, Holland, Siegfried Line, Roer, Rhine, Elbe, Bavaria, (Abra?) and Kilmer."

WS:  The sequence of areas that we were in, and this was published quarterly from the time we were disbanded and they formed a group.  We met annually, on reunions.  ...

SH:  Have you gone to any of the reunions?

WS:  ... I didn't learn of it until 1993, of this grouping and their meetings, but, ... from 1993 on, I went to all their reunions, if at all possible. 

SH:  It is the 102nd Infantry Division, called the Ozarks.

WS:  Right.  ...

SH:  The tours in 1993 and 1995 were with this group.

WS:  No, they were bus tours arranged by a well-known international traveling group out of London; the name escapes me.  ...

SH:  That is okay.

WS:  ... Oh, the division published a book eight-and-a-half-by-eleven-by-one-inch thick, which you can get copies of, and it describes the travels of the division from the time it was activated in '40s until we disbanded in '46.  ...

SH:  Were you able to supply any of the photographs that had been used in the publication?

WS:  Yes, let's see; oh, on page seven, in the lower right corner. 

SH:  I see.

WS:  It's an eight-and-a-half-by-eleven, one-inch thick, hardbound, and it gives the entire history of the division. 

SH:  All right, that is good to know then.  It sounds like a very active group.

WS:  It was, but they're disbanding.  They're going to hold their last reunion this coming August, I believe it is.  ...

SH:  Where is the reunion going to be held?

WS:  It should state in here.  Let's see, St. Louis; it's on the next to the last page.  They list all the activities.  ...

SH:  I am just going to see what pictures are in this one.  There are different pictures that were taken during the war.  This is very interesting.  I will put this on pause. 

[TAPE PAUSED]

SH:  Okay, thank you very much, Mr. Skiba.  This concludes the interview.

WS:  ... Some part of history, it's something that should be recorded.  I mean, there's people that'll be interested in it from here on, somewheres along the line.

SH:  I do believe so, and thank you again.

WS:  Okay, you're welcome.

---------------------------------------------END OF INTERVIEW-------------------------------------------

Reviewed by Joseph Dalessio 3/31/10

Reviewed by Oscarina Melo 3/31/10

Reviewed by Dion Fisco 3/31/10

Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 4/20/10

Reviewed by William Skiba 7/20/10

 

 

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