Sandra Stewart Holyoak: This begins an interview on September 11, 2003, with Mr. Donald M. Hillenmayer ofStuart, Florida, with Sandra Stewart Holyoak. I would like to thank you, Mr. Hillenmayer, for taking the time to sit down for the interview today. To begin, could you me where and when you were born?
Donald Hillenmayer: I was born on October 25, 1923, in Astoria, New York.
SH: Can you tell me about your father?
DH: My dad was born in 1901 in New York City. My mom was born in 1902 and she was born in New Rochelle, New York.
SH: Did your dad ever serve in the military?
DH: No, he did not. He was at an age not to be drafted between World War I and World War II.
SH: Did your parents ever talk about what it was like to be a young person during World War I?
DH: No, I don't recall anything like that. I don't know why he didn't speak about that.
SH: What did your father do for a living?
DH: He was always in the brokerage business. He started [at] about the age of sixteen; he did not finish high school. He and mom were married ... when they were about age twenty-one. ... My dad is the oldest of ten children. ... All those children were alive as I'm growing up, ... so that I had an aunt, actually, who was only three years older than I am and she's still alive.
SH: Can you tell me a little bit about your mom's family?
DH: My mom's family is an Irish family. My mom grew up in a town quite a bit north of where my dad lived, in Upper State New York; so, for that to be a courtship, ... I don't really know how they met, but I just recall Mom saying that it must have been true love for him to travel the subways and the busses to continue the courtship. [laughter]
SH: You have no idea where they met.
DH: No, I don't.
SH: How many children were in your family?
DH: I have twin sisters, about seven years younger than me and that's our whole family.
SH: Since your father had such a large family, were you involved in family activities as a kid?
DH: I can remember many activities. There were five girls and five boys and they were really an interesting family. They grew up in a house with three bedrooms and one bath and, when I go back to see that house, it was an amazing feat I think for them to [manage]. ... [laughter]
SH: The house is still there.
DH: Yes, but no one I know lives there now, but I was back to it after I graduated from High School. ... I would live with two aunts, maybe, for four or five nights a week, while I went to night school at Fordham and work at the same time.
SH: What about your mom's family? Was it also a large family?
DH: No, my mom had two brothers and I don't know much about them.
SH: What activities were you involved in as a young man? What were your hobbies?
DH: I was always interested in sports. I played a lot of baseball with the elementary school [team] and tried it with the new high school that I went to. We had no football team at the new high school. I played a lot of tennis. I had many sports activities as I was growing up.
SH: Where did you first spend most of your time as a young boy? Did you hang out on the baseball field?
DH: We had a group, growing up in Little Neck ... of three other fellows and I think we really palled around a great deal. I don't think girls were in the picture for a long time. ... [laughter]
SH: That is usually the case. How important was the Church in your family as a young man?
DH: I'd say it was relatively important. We're Catholic and we attended Mass, there's no question about that. My parents sent me to the public school, but, interestingly, they sent my sisters to the Catholic elementary school. We all went to the same public high school, however. Why that happened, I really don't know.
SH: Did your mother work outside the home?
DH: Yes, my mother did have jobs outside the home. She worked for Welcome Wagon for a long time and she had a relatively interesting position with them and she was very interested in music. She played the piano, sung at churches and that type of stuff. I think I neglected to tell you that I took up the violin at age six. ... To this day, I'm still playing string music. I think she was very gifted and my dad, too. He loved good music. He was an opera buff, which is interesting by itself, since he never played any instrument.
SH: We talked before about how interesting your father's family was. Were there any other stories, besides the fact that they lived in a house with one bathroom?
DH: Well, it seems as if they had a tremendous amount of family activity. They all got married. ... Frequently, on big occasions; it was a big house, even though it didn't have too many [rooms]. Each room was substantial. ... [There were] frequently huge numbers of people at Christmas and holidays like that. ... My grandparents died at an early age but I can still see them. Granddad was a little guy, but he was very interested in carpentry work. ... He would fix my violin and ... glue it together a couple times. My grandmom, I don't think she had many activities, other than taking care of the house. I think it was probably a full job.
SH: How important was education to your family?
DH: I don't think anybody in my dad's family went beyond high school. In fact, I don't know if I told you before, [but] he did not graduate from high school. He had o get a job to support the nine others and his parents. When they got married, my dad ... [was] working in Wall Street and he died on Wall Street some fifty-five years later. He worked at Wall Street all his life. ... My mom, I think she was off and on working, but, essentially, as I said, she just worked at Welcome Wagon. ... She would leave them and, I guess, have some responsibilities, then, go back and work with them. They always kept asking her to come back to work for them.
SH: What do you remember about the Great Depression?
DH: I remember a lot about the Depression, because it's very sad. My dad is working at Wall Street and I could still recall him going to the office on Saturdays to earn lunch money. Our house was in a poor neighborhood until the late 1930s, when something happened, I don't know what it is, but, all of a sudden, he's shopping around for a new house and we finally moved into a new house. I believe it was [in] about 1936.
SH: Which neighborhood did you move to?
DH: Same town we were in. We just upgraded the house from a very small [one] to a very, relatively, nice house. So, what happened in that year, 1936, was heaven. Maybe there was a blip in the stock market or something like that. I don't recall. [laughter]
SH: Do you remember any stories or seeing any of the activities that were prevalent in this country during the Depression?
DH: One personal one which always comes to mind. I wanted a pair of ice skates, to go play ice hockey with the kids, and I ask my mom for some money. She had it in her hand and she wasn't too happy to let me have it, but she did. I think it was ten dollars or something like that, which was a [great] deal of money in those times.
SH: Did you have any jobs?
DH: Growing up, in high school, I can recall doing summer jobs such as cutting lawns and wedding gardens.
SH: Did your family ever do any traveling?
DH: Not very much, that I can recall. No, I just can't recall any significant travel. My parents did buy a summer place in the Poconos. When I'm about thirteen years old, I can recall going to the Pocono Mountains, to a very nice farmhouse where they'd set up my mother's parents to live and that was kind of fun in the summertime. We did do that. That's about it, for many summers.
SH: Do you remember which community it was in the Poconos?
DH: No, I don't. It wasn't too far from that famous inn, though.
SH: Did you travel by car or by train? How did you get there?
DH: Only by car.
SH: Did you ever go to the Shore?
DH: Well, only on Long Island shores, many visits to Jones Beach, for example, on Long Island. That was a famous, fun place for us, a famous place to go, yes, loved it.
SH: Were you involved with the Boy Scouts?
DH: No, never. [I] only seemed to be with these three other guys.
SH: You had your own troop. Going into high school, what things interested you the most?
DH: Sports and music. I played in the school orchestra with Bayside High School. I played a little bit in the Rutgers Orchestra. As I said, I took up violin and my mom says that I wanted to do that even though we had a piano and she was in music. ... I wanted to play the violin, which seems very strange, but, in any event, that stayed with me, through all these days. Now, I play the viola. I don't play the violin. After many years, I gave up on the violin, but the viola is a nicer instrument to me, anyway, bigger hands. That's all I can recall for activities, lots of sports and lots of music for me, all the time.
SH: What was your favorite subject?
DH: Math. I always liked that very much. In fact, I became a math major at Rutgers.
SH: You were in high school during the period when things were starting to heat up in Europe. Were there any discussions in your neighborhood or in your school about what was going on in Germany and Poland?
DH: I'm sure there were. It's an awfully long time back. I graduated from Bayside High School in 1941 and leading up to World War II, in December, since I graduated in June of '41, I don't recall an awful lot of discussion about it. I'm sure there was some in our history classes about the war going on in Europe, but, I'm sorry, I don't recall very much.
SH: Do you remember any of the America Firsters or isolationists who did not want the United States to become involved in the war? Were there any demonstrations in your neighborhood?
DH: I recall some of those discussions. There were no demonstrations that I can recall. ... I can remember some of my friends in high school saying, "I'll never go to war," etc. "I'm going to find some way out of it," but that's probably after graduation.
SH: There was a draft on when you graduated. Were you already registered?
DH: Well, my story is sort of interesting, in a way. I think, "I'm going to beat the draft in time, not avoid it." I volunteered to go into the Navy Air Force and, as I'm going through the physicals, my teeth don't qualify so the Navy sends me to a very exclusive dentist in New York City, someplace on Fifth Avenue, and he worked for quite a bit of time and I still have some of those crowns. There were no charges for me. To tell you the truth, he did a great deal of work and, as I say, he was a very prestigious dentist. When he's finished, I go back to the Navy to say, "Here I am," and they say, "Now you don't weigh enough. You're too light." So, I said, "Uh-oh." So, then, I ran away and volunteered for the United States Army Air Force and I was accepted readily by them. So, that's how I start my war career then. I'm not drafted.
SH: What month?
DH: I'm not called to active duty for many months after volunteering and I recall going to Atlantic City, I believe it's in February '43 before I'm called to active duty. I recall having a date with a girl to go see Gone With the Wind,but the telegram came the night before and I had to call her and say, "I'm sorry, I'm going to war tomorrow," or something like that.
SH: You graduated in June of 1941. What were your plans at that point?
DH: I started at Fordham University, at night school, and I get about one year at Fordham, at night school, while I'm working. I work at a big bank in New York City at a very entry level position of as a messenger boy, ... running around the city, delivering different things, with a uniform on, a very basic job. ... Then, I volunteer for the Army Air Force in late summer of '42 and I am called to active duty in February '43.
SH: Do you remember where you were when you heard about Pearl Harbor?
DH: Yes, I do. I was playing a game of football on a football field, some scrappy, old, what-you-call "sandlot" game of football. Yes, I remember it very well.
SH: What happened?
DH: Well, people said, "We've been bombed at Pearl Harbor," and I guess we heard something you know, "Who was that?" Something like that, those funny stories about, "Who's Pearl Harbor?" and I can't recall my mom and dad doing anything. I just don't recall. I just know I was playing football, came home, and my mom and dad said something about, "We've been bombed."
SH: Was there any discussion, at that point, about what they thought would happen to the country?
DH: That's too far back, I guess.
SH: Do you remember hearing Franklin Roosevelt talk to the people on the radio?
DH: Frankly, I do not recall it, just vaguely. I think there's something there, but I just can't recall enough of it, yes.
SH: What kind of time gap was there between being accepted in the Air Corps and when they finally sent you to Atlantic City?
DH: I don't think it's more than about three or four months. It is not overnight.
SH: Were you still working at the bank?
DH: I'm still working, yes, definitely, still working because I can recall the people saying, "When the war is over, come back. You had a job," something like that. I can recall that.
SH: What about the other two guys in your group?
DH: There were three. One of the young fellows would never be eligible for service. He only had one eye. One of the other two, became a very high-ranking officer in the Navy and I can't recall the third fellow. I'm sure he was called to service. He ... was slightly older than me and I'm sure he was called up. I don't recall enough about him.
SH: Can you tell me a little bit about your training?
DH: Well, let's see, when I get called to Atlantic City, it's a very cold day. I can recall that very well. It's pouring rain and they make us go outside and march, and then, when we got back into the Senator Hotel in Atlantic City, they took all our clothes away and shipped them home. I remember my mom saying, "That overcoat must have weighed 150 pounds." It was soaking wet still. She threw all my clothes out that they shipped home. I spent a month at the Senator Hotel, I guess just learning and getting shots, learning Army jargon and that type of stuff. From there, I was sent to Pittsburgh University for three months and there, ... [they] gave us some college courses, but we also got ten hours in a Piper Cub. From Pittsburgh University, after three, maybe four, months, I was sent to a great big field in Alabama, [Maxwell Field], Montgomery, Alabama. Anyway, that sort of a base. Thousands and thousands of cadets were called, assembled, and we begin sort of basic training, not in flying, but basic Army training, how to march, how to shoot a gun and that type of stuff. ... That goes on for, I would say, no less than two months, maybe three months, and, from then on, I really get into pilot training. The first major school is what they called a primary school ... at Avon Park, Florida, and, I'm sorry, I'm going to be weak on the dates here, but each school is about two to three months long. So, [in] primary school, [I] flew a PT trainer. A Stearman has a tail which makes for a three-point landing, a single-engine plane. From there, we go to what they call the Basic school. That was in Macon, Georgia. In Georgia, we get a much more powerful single-engine airplane, I forget the name of that one, and then, from Basic school, I went to Advanced school. ... Because of my size, I was about six-foot-two at that time, I was sent to a twin engine school. You either had a choice of single-engine fighters or multi-engine bombers and I was sent to the multi-engine, twin-engine school, Columbus, Mississippi, and, there, I graduate in April '44 and was commissioned at a big ceremony, ... [where] I got my wings and I'm happy to say my dad came down for graduation, which was really nice. After there I go to a B-17 school in Florida and finally a B-24 school in Mississippi.
SH: You volunteered for the Navy Air Corps. Why? What made you want to serve in the Air Force?
DH: Well, I guess, I think, as you're a teenager, I'm eighteen or nineteen years old, everybody wants to be a Navy pilot, it seemed, ... in my group. ... We all want[ed] to be on the seas and on aircraft carriers and that type of stuff, but, as I said it didn't work out for me. ...
SH: Did a movie or a book arouse your interest?
DH: I don't recall anything like that, but I'm sure everybody wanted ... to be in the Navy and be a flier. I think that.
SH: I was wondering if Lindbergh had any influence on your interest in flying.
DH: I don't recall anything. There must have been something. ... You're right, but ... all of us were so interested in the Navy. That's the interesting part. That's a good question.
SH: At some point, you must have gone through a battery of tests to qualify to go to these schools.
DH: Well, as I said, I think math is probably one of the basic things that the military looks [at] and, I have to admit, I've always been good in math. I'm really good at numbers and that type of thing, very, very good. I can remember telephone numbers, things like that, no trouble with numbers and I think that was the big thing in Pittsburgh University. Every day, we'd take in a math class, and that was a piece of cake for me.
SH: When you went to Pittsburgh, were you part of the Army Specialized Training Program?
DH: I can't recall any name to it.
SH: Do you have any stories about what you went through while you were at these different bases?
DH: I can recall one of my very scary times. ... It's hard to explain to you, but, when you get into an airplane, even these single engine planes, ... they should be trimmed normally. All the controls should be neutral when you get into the plane. Some mean character, had rolled the trim way the heck back and I don't catch it. It's a wheel, probably about a foot in diameter, maybe a little bit more, so, it was a substantial wheel. ... I started to take-off [and] the plane was on its tail and about to stall out. I had to run the wheel very, very quickly, to level off. I almost stalled it and, at ground level, that's very hazardous to your life, but I got it straightened out. That's one thing. I can't recall any other major activity. That's probably one of the most serious things that happened during training school. I think I had a tough landing once or twice with these twin-engine aircraft. ... The wheels were not wide enough and, if [you] weren't very careful, we would do what we call a ground loop and the airplane would skid around on you. You wouldn't have much control on it. It happened once, but, fortunately, it wasn't too much to [do] damage to me or the airplane. I don't recall any other significant events.
SH: What was the washout rate like? Did many of your classmates not make it?
DG: Yes. I'm glad you reminded me of that. It seemed to me, ... I had to take the final exam twice at primary school. I think a considerable number of us failed out at primary school, ... I think. It seemed to me that I had a very poor instructor and I think his entire class was going to washout and the military or somebody said, "Let's take a look at this. Let's test these kids again," and I was lucky to be retested and passed the second time, but that's a very good question. I don't know the washout rate. I think, once you got into basic school. They had put money and time into you, they'll find a place for you, somehow.
SH: Obviously, your training was very intense at this point. What did you do for fun? Was there any time for fun?
DH: Oh, plenty of time for fun, oh, yes. I don't fly every day and I'm going to classes every day, but, essentially, nights were to yourself and a lot of us would have lots of beer drinking, go out for dinners and stuff. We're not paid that much as I recall, I don't remember what the pay was, but we didn't have any expenses, you know, except for fun.
SH: How did the people treat you when you went into town in the different areas that you were stationed or did you stay on base?
DH: We never had any trouble finding girls, that's for sure. They were very nice to us and I can recall going to some family's houses in Georgia. I really can. There were some very nice people. I'm sure we were very well accepted, no troubles.
SH: What differences did you notice between New York and the South?
DH: Well, I guess the speed of activities, except on base. We were kept very busy. There was no time off during the day. You know, you had something assigned [to you] all day long, I'm sure, mostly, were classes, and then, an occasional flight time.
SH: Were you trained by civilians or military personnel?
DH: The primary school in Avon Park, Florida, was definitely civilians and I think I had a civilian instructor at basic school in Georgia, but I think, from then on, it was all military training.
SH: Did any of your instructors have stories about serving overseas or talk about how the war was going?
DH: I don't recall any stories about that. No, I really don't. I can't even recall reading newspapers or listening to the news on the radio. I can't recall any of that and I've thought about that several times. There must have been something, but I don't recall anything. In fact, I don't recall anything, knowing how the war was going, even when I'm in England.
SH: Had some of your instructors finished their missions and come back as instructors?
DH: Yes, I suspect that's true, because I'm relatively late into the war. You're right. I don't recall any stories.
SH: Did you notice any differences in the aircraft? Had any of the technology changed? You went from single-engines to twin-engines. Were there any new innovations, radar, for example, that you had to learn about quickly, because it was new?
DH: I don't recall anything going through the primary, basic and advanced school. ... I don't recall anything until I get into the bomber plane training, that we finally ... learned, no, finally saw, ... the Norden Bombsight and what we call the radio compass. We didn't have any of that and I didn't know what that was all about at first and they were such wonderful innovations for us, especially the radio compass. I don't see anything coming up through the training schools, until we get to the big planes.
SH: Had you wanted to go into fighters, rather than bombers?
DH: Everybody wanted to be a fighter [pilot]. I'm sure you've heard that, but, you know, they took the bigger guys and put them [in] the bombers. I don't recall any small guys flying bombers. There probably were, but I don't remember any.
SH: Do you think that was part of the criteria?
DH: I think size was the criteria, yes, build. It couldn't have been reflexes, no. [laughter]
SH: You were in Columbus, Mississippi, when you got your wings. What did you do then?
DH: From there, I'm sent to a B-17 school in Florida, I believe it was Pensacola Beach, Florida, and I get about a month or two training there and, in fact, interestingly, a next door neighbor from where we grew up, he was about a year or two older than me, he becomes one of my instructors in Florida. That was really strange and I often said to him, something like, "Well, were you ever a co-pilot?" "I'll never be a co-pilot!" he said, that type of stuff. So, I said, "Okay." Anyway, he was part of my instructors. Really, that was so funny to see that. I get a month or two on B-17s, and then, I'm sent to B-24 school and, I'm sorry to tell you, I can't recall where that is. I know it's in Mississippi someplace. ... I've gone through my records; I can't find out where that was. ... The B-24 is the plane of the day, much faster, much higher, much more advanced than a B-17. ... I get several months training there and I end up as co-pilot. ... We picked up a crew there and I have a Southern fellow as the pilot and I'm the co-pilot and we had a New York City fellow as the bombardier and the navigator, I don't know where he comes from, but I just know he got recently married. Somehow, along those lines, he was recently married. We get shipped from there to New Jersey, just outside of New Brunswick, there's a base, [Camp Kilmer] and that's where our crew gets shipped over to England. We get into some sort of a new small ship and a convoy goes to England.
SH: Were you at Camp Kilmer?
DH: Thank you very much. That's exactly where we were. That's where we formed our crew. That's where our crew was formed and we don't do any flying together. Did we do any flying together? You think you would, wouldn't you? I don't think we did any flying until we get [overseas]. ...
SH: You did practice as a crew.
DH: I don't believe so. You're talking about sixty something years ago, you know. So, as we moved on out to England ...
SH: Do you remember the name of the ship that you went over on?
DH: Yes it was the SS Black and the convoy has no less that a dozen ships in it, maybe more, and you can always tell that you do a zig-zag course, because the moon would be out your porthole [for] a few minutes; the next thing you know, I have no moon. We had very nice quarters for the officers, but, I remember, the enlisted men, oh, the crew guys they have terrible quarters. They were up in the, maybe, what do you call the front of the ship? [bow] and they were on hammocks. I had a bed and maybe half a dozen other guys with me, so, it was very nice, you know, very nice. It was comfortable.
SH: Was it a Navy crew or Merchant Marine?
DH: Oh, I'm pretty sure it was Navy.
SH: What did you do to while away the time?
DH: Not much, not much to do. I think I go up and visit with the crew a little bit, maybe. I'm the co-pilot now and my pilot, we got along very well. I'm just trying to think, I don't know what happened to him. You know I don't recall. I'm sure, I guess, I remember going up to talk to the crew, "How are things going?" They're witching and moaning, of course. I think it probably took seven to ten days, I think, to get there and we landed someplace in England and the first story I recall, ... everybody had to do this, I had to give up my pistol. They'd given us a pistol, there at Camp Kilmer, I think, and I guess it was, instead of shipping them, we carried them all, or something like that, because ... that's the first thing [they did], take away our gun. "What's the matter? What's this for?" you know. "We don't want you to shoot anybody." Okay, so, they took away our guns, which I thought was interesting by itself, and then, ... somehow, we get assigned to a base, and we got bussed to Brattleborough, England. I think that's the name of the town.
DH: It's the 466th Group, 786th Squadron.
SH: What was your pilot's name?
DH: His name is Joe Lee. ... As I said, Jim had been recently married and we met his wife in one of those places. It seems to me, interesting, before we get shipped over; we stayed at my mom's house in Little Neck.
SH: Were you given leave?
DH: Some kind of [leave], yes, a few days leave, somehow, going from Camp Kilmer to wherever we went and we put the new bride and groom together. ... [laughter] I remember that.
SH: Was there a USO [United Service Organization] or Red Cross at any of your training facilities?
DH: None in the States here, no.
SH: Were there any enlisted men on your crew? How many served on the B-24?
DH: To start with, we started with the four officers, the pilot, co-pilot, navigator and bombardier and there were six enlisted men. There was ... the lead enlisted man, was the engineer, ... a radioman, and then, we had four gunners. One was the tail gunner, ... two waist gunners, I guess, and there was a fourth one someplace, but there were six enlisted men and four officers. As soon as we get to England, the navigator or the bombardier was taken away from us. In our instance they took the navigator away and the bombardier was made the bombardier/navigator. We had a tough break, because the bombardier/navigator that we were assigned turned out to be a foul ball. I mean, the married guy was really a sharp guy, but this particular individual was, did I give his name? I did, didn't I? He was not very good. He screwed up, one of these wild guys. You know, he'd go into town; he's got to find the girl's houses, you got to find this, you got to find that, not my type. The other guy would have been, in my opinion, much better. In fact, I think we lose Jim because he takes sick just as we were shipping over. That's what happened. I never see him again. He took sick and I think he missed the boat ride with us. I think he must have come later, nice guy. He was really a nice guy. Anyway, the bombardier, he really screwed up, many times more, ... sorry to say; [I am] happy to say we survived.
SH: What were you quarters like in Brattleborough?
DH: Not too great. I guess that's when we first began to train as a crew. I'm really weak on this point, whether we did any flying together back in Mississippi. We sure did no flying in Camp Kilmer or any other place like that. I'm a little bit [hazy on] where we picked up the crew. We probably got the crew together as this ten-person crew. I suspect it was there in the B-24 school in Mississippi. I guess we did some flying together, because we certainly go overseas together. So, there's no question. ... I'm a little bit hazy on where we formed and how, I know my birthday occurs while I'm still on the ship, which is October 25th. I have a birthday on the boat ride over there. So, we get there about November 1st. Then, I know, we get into lots of training, now, for certain, as a crew, what we're going to do, what's going to happen, when, that type of stuff and I don't get my first mission until November 26th and, from then on, ... you don't fly very often in missions. The next one is, ... I have a book here, December 4th.
SH: This is a book that you kept.
DH: A summary of every mission, yes.
DH: If you'd like to take a look at it. Sometimes, we flew back-to-back [missions], December 4th, December 5th, then, December 11th you know. So, we don't fly too often. Then, I get almost two weeks off before the next one. So, you have an awful lot of that. Some new equipment has been introduced. This radio compass I told you about, now, we get very familiar with that, [it] was [a] tremendous instrument, and then, as for improvements, the wonderful thing that came on just about as the war ... ended for us is a glide path. ... When we would return from our missions, which might take as long as eight hours, normally, England would be fogged in, just terribly. ... We had a tough time finding your own airfield and there were so many airfields in the area that, eventually, a glide path was designed for us. ... It was a little dial in the panel and it showed where the runway was in relationship to you. So, as you start into this particular path, you would try to keep the hairlines crossed, so that you wouldn't be going too fast into the ground or too far left or right. So, they called this, a glide path instrument and I can't tell you how much improvement that was for us, to find our own airport and get back in a safe way through the terrible amounts of fog.
SH: Do you recall when you became the pilot?
DH: I can't recall that. I think I probably flew a half a dozen missions as the pilot [with] an entirely new crew and I can't even give you the names of the officers or any of the crew. ... I don't even recall why I was taken off the first crew and assigned to the second crew. Obviously, the second crew lost its pilot and I guess I was just assigned to take his place and I think, probably, [I flew] about half a dozen missions as the pilot.
SH: Now did you go back to being a co-pilot?
DH: No, then, the tour ends. Well my tour doesn't end. At the end of twenty-five missions, we all were given a [rest and] sent to what we call a "flak house," which was a rest home and, for me, it was a beautiful castle down in Southern England ... in the town of Devon. So, we used to sing, "Devon, my new heaven," or something like that and, there, we get a week's rest, do nothing, played ball. There were a lot of Red Cross nurses and that type of stuff. We had dances at night, no electricity. We had to use candles and there was no heat, had to build fireplaces in every room, and we had a wonderful time. If I'm not mistaken, I think Roosevelt dies during that week that I'm at this "flak house." Then, when we go back to our base, I don't have to fly any more missions. I think you're supposed to have flown, ... I think it was thirty-five missions, but I don't get any more assignments. We seemed to be finished. When the war ends, many of us are assigned ... to go to other bases and pick up what we called, at that time, the "gravel agitators." These were ground crew people and we would fly them around Europe, to show them what damage we had done to specific places. We were on a set schedule where to fly them. In other words, we would go around the cathedral in Bonn and show that we didn't damage the cathedral. It was blackened, but we didn't knock it down and we'd show some of the marshalling yards and some of the bigger cities and we did that for several weeks. I probably did maybe half a dozen of those, as I say, a tour guide.
SH: Who were you taking?
DH: Ground crews, people that never did any flying. We would take one or two of our crew. I'd take the co-pilot and I'd take maybe one or two [others], maybe my radioman or something like that, and then, maybe a dozen other crew people from the ground who never had a chance to fly. They loved that. We liked it, too. It was kind of fun to just fly around the country. ... "Oh, look at what we did here."
SH: You have a diary or a notebook that you kept. When did you first begin to keep the notebook? When's the first entry?
DH: After the first mission, I decided, I guess, I was going to keep a diary and that's the, sort of, first mission is November 26th, would be 1944. I graduate in April '44, so, this would be November 26th of 1944 and the war ends in 1945. Yes, okay, so, this is my twenty-five missions. You're quite welcome to have this, if you promise to return it.
SH: Can you talk about some of your more memorable missions?
DH: Yes, I can remember some memorable missions. I'd have to look into these notes a little bit more carefully, but, on a general nature, I can recall one mission which became so long for us. It was well over eight hours. We bombed Berlin and we had to land in Paris on the way home. We just couldn't go any farther and spent the night there in Paris and managed to get in and see the [Les] Folies Bergere, no problem at all. Another mission I can recall ...
--------------------------------------END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE ONE--------------------------------------
SH: Side two, tape one. Please, continue.
DG: I can recall the ... second mission. ... As we're flying in formation, all of a sudden, my airplane will not stay in formation, so, I have to back out and safely get away from the other airplanes and we start turning for home and the aircraft will just not stay level and ... I think I'm the co-pilot this time. I have my right foot jammed into the rudder and the pilot does the same thing, to try just to keep the airplane steady, and, fortunately, we find an abandoned airport and we were able to land safely at some place in France and I don't recall the name of the town. When we got out, when everything cools down, we were able to radio our home base, they sent us another airplane to fly us home. When they inspect the plane, and the maintenance was just atrocious on this one particular engine, we found a socket wrench and we found a dirty, old grease rag stuck into the engine cowling. It was in such a position that we were unable to feather the engine, so, the engine was a pure drag, as it had no power in it, and we could [do] nothing with it. Luckily, that was fortunate for us, that we were able to land; to find the airport ... had to be just pure luck, absolutely pure luck. I can recall some more missions. One mission, we were returning from a long mission and, when we put our wheels down to come in for a landing, there was no resistance. This was a hydraulic system to get your wheels down and ... what you did is, you punched the rod, it always had resistance, so, you had to give it a rather substantial shove; this time, it just mushed into position and I looked out and the wheels didn't come down. Now, there was an alternate way of getting them down and that was mechanical and the engineer, he was supposed to know how to do that. ... He was very good. He'd let one wheel down at a time. He put a socket wrench on it and rotate it and one wheel would come down and you can see it if it would lock or not, so the first one comes down and locks very nicely. The second one comes down but it doesn't lock. [laughter] So, you can see it up there. So, we radioed for some help as to what we should do and they said, "Yes, well, the first thing, shake your airplane." In other words, jam it to see if it would fall down a little bit more, and it doesn't fall down any more. "So, now, the next thing we have to do for you is," they send us to a field that's about a mile square of macadam and they said, "You better put it down over there." So, we go over there, put it down and the wheel collapses, and so, we ruined the airplane as it swishes around into a terrible screeching sound, but, fortunately, nobody was hurt and the airplane did not catch on fire, which is, of course, pure luck and, of course, what happened is that flak had put holes in the hydraulic system and all the fluid had drained out. [I don't know] why that second wheel would not come down when the crank was used.
SH: You talked about an engine that was poorly maintained. Could that have been sabotage?
DH: I don't think there's ever any sabotage. I think that was just poor maintenance on the part of the ground crew at that particular time. Normally, maintenance was superb, no problems, never any problems. This was just unexplainable. I don't think anybody did it on purpose. I just think it was, maybe, overwork or tired and it could have happened at that particular time for that crew for that plane. You understand, we didn't fly the same plane all the time. We were not assigned a plane. We were not assigned one plane. We would go to the plane that was assigned to us on that particular day and the squadron might have had twenty planes at a time. We'd only fly seven or eight planes out of the squadron on any one particular day. We fly four squadrons to a group. There's a lead squadron and three wing squadrons and I was assigned to a wing squadron and each squadron had, probably, twenty airplanes, and then, [each] has a maintenance crew. You would get assigned to one of those twenty for that particular mission.
SH: What kind of training did you have to go through to learn how to fly in formations?
DH: Well, ... I guess it was just do it over and over and over again and what we would normally do on a mission; well, let's go down to the training part first. I think that what we were trained to do was to make sure, initially, that you kept your wing tips outside the wing tips for the plane that you were flying on, and then, when we would get into the bomb run itself, then, we totally put the wing right into the back of the fuselage of the plane next to you, get it as tight as possible, because, as you understand, we all drop our bombs at ... one time. We don't drop bombs individually. There's the lead ship, he toggles his bombs and we toggle our bombs at the same time. So how do we train for that? I would guess it was just practice. I don't recall any initial training. I started to tell you about the formation of the group. The group had a lead squadron and those people were separate from us in that they flew two airplanes on each mission, the very lead one and the one directly behind him. Normally, each time we flew, the group itself would fly about ten airplanes, three in the front, three underneath is six, and two or three on each side. So, we would have a group of ten airplanes, the two lead groups, the two lead planes, and then, these seven or eight others. So, when we went down the bomb run, we would tuck everything in as closely as possible. You could really see everybody in the other airplanes and the lead ship let his bombs go. We went right with him. So the idea was to get a small compact bomb hit. Now if you're a split second late, or maybe a second late, [laughter] your bombs might be a couple of hundred yards beyond the lead one. So, while it was meant to be a very precise [operation], I'm sorry to say, you see the pictures later, the bombs would go over rather a substantial area. So the targets were never really what you'd call a really [good] hit. [laughter]
SH: What about flak? How often did you encounter that and how severe was it? Were you damaged at all?
DH: Well, flak was always there and I would say I don't think there was a mission that we didn't see flak and, sometimes, it would get so heavy that the lead crew would actually make a 360-degree turn and start back on the bomb run. I would say we always came home with some holes in the airplane. I had one shot hit the windshield and shattered it. It got a little scary and I told you about the one, ... you know, with the landing gear [that] wouldn't come down. All the fluid was shot out there, but we always came back home with about half a dozen or a dozen holes, sometimes, ... not much more than the size of your pinky nail and I always thought, maybe, that the tempered steel from the Germans was inaccurate or something like that. The holes are not big enough to be terribly dangerous, but, of course, if they got lucky, they would hit something and that would be a problem.
SH: Were any of your crew ever injured?
DH: I think I had one crewmember get a piece of flak in his leg. I think it was burned and it seemed to me there was another one in there, that he was hit in the chest with a piece of flak or something like that. The flak was dangerous. That was terrible.
SH: What about fighter cover? Did you ever encounter German fighters?
DH: Because I'm late in the war, I only saw one scary event. I did see a Messerschmitt jet go flying by, [Me-262]. We've never seen a jet in any action before, either on our side, or their side and, when that jet went by us, we just all said, "What the heck was that?" It was just going by so fast. See, we're traveling at, like, 175, 180 miles an hour, which is, you know, ... not much when these jets are going by at six hundred miles per hour. ... Late in the war, the fighter cover for us was spasmodic. We really didn't need it. What we really needed was somebody to get us around the flak. The flak was the big problem and, of course, the flak was being moved by the Germans after every day. They had them on railroad cars. That was our big problem; it was the flak, not the fighters.
SH: Can you tell me about your routine, how you were briefed and so on from the time you got up?
DH: A typical mission day, I would get up very early, probably about four o'clock, have a horrendous breakfast of nothing substantial. I think the best thing was something they had, ... like some eggs, powdered eggs, and wrap them up around some jelly. That was our best breakfast. We would then have breakfast and go to our briefing room and that was the first time you knew where you were going, and then, normally, you'd get the primary target, secondary target, tertiary target all lined out for us. The lead crew, of course, would be ... the ones that are going to lead us on this particular mission. I would guess that the briefing would take no less than a half-hour and probably closer to an hour, probably forty-five minutes, something along those lines. We would then stagger out to our airplane and try to find it in the fog. We'd find our airplane and the first thing you'd do was always inspect it manually and look around and see if everything looks okay, make sure the gas tanks are full, lots of basic checks, just to make sure the airplane was going to make it. Then, we would get on the airplane of course, and we would ... get them started, line up and go to the end of the runway and one plane at a time takes off up. Nobody is telling you to get in line. You just get in line and you get off. Now, the interesting thing is that these airplanes climbed at the rate of five hundred feet a minute when they are fully loaded, so, to get up to, say, twelve thousand feet to form [the formation], that's pretty close to a half-hour just to get there. That's twenty-five minutes, roughly, to get that high. Now, we flew around two pylons. A pylon is a radio beam into the air and they'd be, maybe, ten miles apart. So, the lead crew, he's up there, starts to circle and here comes the second plane and he cuts him off and gets into formation. Here comes the third one, he cuts them off, he gets into position. Now, you do that say eight or ten times. It took us an hour-and-a-half to form. So, we're off. Just think about that, an hour-and-a-half to form. Now, we have to get up to altitude, which might be twenty or twenty-five thousand feet, so, to go up to altitude was another [laughter] [long period of time]. However, now, we have to get in line with the other groups. ... It doesn't make any difference whether you're first or last or somewhere in the middle, but there's many, many groups going to the same mission. So, now, you finally start to go eastbound and the sun is now bright in your eyes and you try to hide behind the other airplanes and that type of stuff, and so, you get to your mission, and, now, you come back and, once again, the fog has settled in in England. We always said, "Too bad they didn't raise England about five hundred feet, it would be a piece of cake." [laughter] Now, if you're lucky you find your field right away. I mean, that would be pure luck. As I said, there are eight or ten fields around the city, all B-24s. We would then try to land and, fortunately for us, there was a great big castle, and if we could find that castle, we knew we were on target. We would then land, and then, we have to go in to our debriefing. The crews were all given a shot of whiskey, each person and our crew was very shrewd. We would save them and have a party later on. So, then, we would be debriefed and everybody would tell exactly what happened, at what times. We're supposed to, you know, try to keep the timing, "When did you see flak? What time was that?" you know, it was about the best you could do on that and that was about the end of the day. Then, you went to dinner, of course. So, the mission would normally take you, say, I got up at four o'clock in the morning and, well, by the time you got to the airplane and formed and the mission itself might be six hours or something, you can see what I'm driving at. [It] was a long, long day, and so, we rarely went back-to-back missions. It was just too long, too long a day.
SH: Did you go into the town of Brattleborough or did you mostly stay on base?
DH: Stayed mostly on base. Brattleborough was a relatively small town, as I recall. It had a Red Cross center, I guess they all had Red Cross centers, and we'd go in there once in a while. We'd take a bus, it was too far to walk and then every once in a while, you'd get a chance to go to London. That was a big deal. We would take a weekend. I guess, I kind of forgotten how we were allowed to go to London. I don't remember that, whether each group got a special weekend or each squadron got a "you're free" for this weekend. I forgot, but I think I got to London a half a dozen times or so. It was a lot of fun.
SH: Where is Brattleborough in England?
DH: It's in the East Anglia Peninsula. I would guess it's about fifty miles from, what's that, the English Sea, the North Sea? What's over there? I would say it's probably seventy-five, one hundred miles, maybe, from London. I've kind of forgotten exactly. It was a pretty good trip to London, I remember that very well.
SH: How often did planes last at this point in the war?
DH: We don't lose too many planes to war. We lose more to weather than we do to the battle. I can't give you any numbers, but, I know, every once in a while, you lose a crew and you say, "Oh," you know, but, essentially, it was because you couldn't find your base. You just could not ... find [it] and it would be scary to stand on the ground and see other crews coming back and try to land through the fog. They'd be just the big hulks just missing one another as they would go through the air. There was not any rhyme or reason. In other words you can't find it; you probably can't find your base. Maybe we'd have ten groups coming back; they can't find their bases, you know, really terrible, terribly scary. [laughter]
SH: The B-24s had a bad record. Was it scarier to be assigned to the B-24s, as opposed to the B-17s?
DH: I suspect it was because it was not as stable an aircraft. Of course, it was faster, maybe, you know, twenty-five, thirty miles an hour faster. I'm just going to guess at that. The B-17s flew at about 150 and we would fly at you know, 175, 180, and it flew higher, but was not nearly as stable. It does not [have] the wingspan that the B-17 has. It's a high wing and the B-17 was a low wing, that type of thing, but ... I think, you know, ... that that was the plane of choice was correct, at this time. [It] would carry more bombs. I forgot about that; we'd carry more bombs. That's another big factor.
SH: Did you feel that your commanders were competent? Did you have a good rapport with them?
DH: Well, I don't have any feeling about them. You didn't socialize with the majors and the generals and the lieutenant colonels. We don't do any socials. We socialized with ourselves. We don't socialize [with] the crew so much. We socialized with the comparable people to me, the pilots, the co-pilots and those people. We all sleep together. We don't sleep in the same barracks as anybody else, you know, as any of the higher officers. We don't do that. ... We didn't really socialize with any of the executives. I thought they were all very capable. I think some of them came from a business background. I can remember the commander for a whole base had a business major; just can't recall exactly what, just know he was a business major. I can recall the squadron commander ... was really a nice guy. He was totally gray, about the same age as I was at the time, and it happened overnight. So, some of these things happen to you, but he was very, very patient and, when we'd screw up a little bit in some way, he would be very patient. They were very nice guys. I really think we all got along remarkably well, to tell you the truth even though you were supposed to be in a totally disciplined area. I think that we were allowed a little extra liberties and that, maybe, other people, you know, [in] the military are not.
SH: Was there ever a time when the pilots or co-pilots of that group just could not go up?
DH: Oh, I think that happened once in a while, yes. In fact, one night, I think I'd come back from maybe a little bit [of] drinking too much at a bar or something like that and I was scheduled not for a mission but for a training mission and I went to one of the squadron commanders and I said, "I think it would be better to let Joe do it," or something like that. He said, "Okay, okay, no problem." I just didn't feel well. There's no question and I would take the other guy's place the next time. He says, "Would you take it?" "Oh, sure." So, we did a lot of that. While we did not train with different crews, we didn't fly with different crews. Sometimes, we wanted to go out and just do some personal [training], such as navigation. You understand, not the radio compass, but the old-fashioned compass. So, we would do some practice runs. It wasn't that we needed a full crew. We would just take, maybe, four people. We'd just take the pilot, co-pilot, radioman and maybe an engineer. Just four or five people would fly so, that you get some training in, some radio practice. I'd never swap with a guy ... a mission. That never happened. That was too critical. You had to know just who it was, who was where. I would never do it. We never did that, but, just training runs, we did that.
SH: Among the enlisted men on your crew, was there any trouble? Were there any times when you had to bail them out?
DH: No, I don't think so. They were pretty good guys, especially my first crew. I don't recall the second crew at all. The first crew was really very nice guys. The engineer, I think, may have stolen some money from our pilot. I can remember that one, one sad night, that, all of a sudden, the pilot, he was very, in a way, kind of upset, he says, "I'm missing a hundred dollars," something like that. We were at his house, I guess, with a little bit of a party. We all said, "Think of who would have done that." We all thought the engineer had done it. So, what do we do? I think we all chipped in ten bucks. I know, I think, the officers chipped in ten and the crew chipped in five, something like that. So, we got close to whatever the amount of money was [that was] missing. That's the only event I can recall that I think we felt bad that something happened in the crew. I can remember bringing back a nice gift to one guy. I really liked him in the crew. He seemed to be a real pleasant, really sharp guy, very obedient. Whatever you asked him to do he did it. So, I bought him back a nice pair of gloves. "Shall I pay?" "No, that's yours," whatever his name was. You do some nice things for the crew, just as you do nice things for your other workers. ... [laughter]
SH: Were there any opportunities to continue your enjoyment of music where you lived?
DH: No, no choice. No, you couldn't bring any instruments, of course, and I can't even recall going to any concerts or anything like that. I just can't recall. Probably had a chance in London, but I don't recall ever going to any.
SH: Is there any chance that you would have been sent to the South Pacific after the war was finished in Europe?
DH: Well, when the war is over there, we have to go do some flying to get our back fly pay. You had to fly four hours a month to get flight play and I was, like, two or three months in arrears, so, they sent me down to Brownsville, Texas where there were a lot of pilots. I guess we got a month off after the war or something like that. So, I flew twelve hours, in different capacities, and then, they sent us to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. There must have been five million pilots there, or maybe six, I don't know [the] number of pilots there and many of us have been now assigned to B-29 school and that's where I was going to go next, but the war in Japan ended and, ... of course, I didn't get a chance to go there. Then, they gave us a choice, "Well, do you want to get out or would you like to stay?" and none of us, very few of us, wanted to stay. So, I had a chance to go to college. I guess, it seems to me, ... I don't go directly to Rutgers. No, I come home and go to work.
SH: You talked about flying the ground crews in Europe. What were some of the other activities that you noticed as the war was ending? What was your role as part of the Eighth Air Force? How did you come back to the States?
DH: Well, I don't think we have any daily or weekly assignments. I think we're just waiting for what's going to be next, now that the war is over. I know we're going to go to B-29 school. I guess we're all waiting to get home. I don't recall any activities. I don't think that there's anything specific. I think we get a chance to fly, one of course was fly those missions but I don't think we get too much activity going. I don't recall any and it probably is for quite some time, too, because doesn't the war end in April? Do you remember? I don't recall, it's April [May 8, 1945] and I get home on Father's Day. I can remember that very well right on the exact day. That was pure luck. So, I just say six to seven weeks of what-to-do type of stuff. I don't recall any activities.
SH: You were sent from Brattleborough to ...
DH: Back to the States and we land in Greenland.
SH: You flew back.
DH: I fly back and we get that far, and then, we fly the next day. I guess we stayed overnight there, and then, we flew home and I can recall a very trying trip coming home, because the headwinds were terrible against us and we just about make it. I think we make it to Newfoundland, and then, from Newfoundland, I think [I am] kind of weak on where we came back to, but that was a terribly long day, gasoline wise, to get back to Newfoundland, ... just about made it. It was really getting very scary to us. That's all I can recall on that part and I think we went to Newfoundland, and then, I can't remember the next day. Then, how do you get home and that sort of thing, too far back.
SH: You said that you came back from South Dakota to work after the war was over.
DH: Yes, I started back to work at that bank that I had [left]. They saved the job and [the] pay was very poor. My dad was very insistent. He said, "You now have the GI Bill," etc. He said, "If you don't go to college, you're really crazy." He really [was] very emphatic. So, I go to school. Actually, I think I started at Brooklyn Polytech for a short time. I think I liked to be an aeronautical engineer, but I didn't like that very much, and so, then, I elected to choose Rutgers, because I had an aunt's husband who was very influential at Rutgers and he had no trouble getting me into Rutgers at that time. So, that's how I get to Rutgers, because the schools are pretty full up. So many kids are trying to get to school, but he was very helpful, very good.
SH: What was your uncle's name?
DH: His name is Ralph (Mazzei?) and he was a big booster of Rutgers all his life. He played football and stuff, pretty good guy, very good guy.
SH: Did he take you down and show you around the campus?
DH: I'm sure he did and my aunt, who is married to him, was very affirmative too. ... "You've got to get there, Don," one of those type people. "You just don't screw around, get into school, get yourself a degree, and all the doors in the world open to you." "Okay, I'll go."
SH: What did you choose as your major?
DH: I chose education. What I really wanted to be was a math major and a basketball coach, but, unfortunately, coming out of Rutgers, the salary was two thousand dollars a year for a teacher. "Oh, you're a veteran? Twenty-two hundred dollars." I had lots of teaching job offers. So, I didn't take either one of those, and then, from there, I went back to a bank and I stayed there a few years and I was kind of unhappy with that. No, let's back off on that; I did not go to a bank. I went to an insurance company and the insurance company was a very large company and I decided that a smaller company, whose offer came along, ... was much better for me, financially, and I moved to Michigan. That company was a disaster and I moved, then, to Illinois, where I joined a new life insurance company, the All State Life Insurance Company, and made my career there.
SH: What were you involved with at Rutgers? Where did you live?
DH: Well, ... first, I only had to go three years to Rutgers. Rutgers was very generous in allowing me some of those credits from night school at Fordham and they gave me credits for the military service. So, I only needed three years at Rutgers and, the first two years, I spent on campus as a sort of the leader of the dorm. I forgot they had a special name for that, and then, in 1948, Jeanne and I got married, and so, spent the third year on campus. Jeanne is teaching. She's already graduated from college. She's teaching and I'm living [at one] of those new places out near where the new campus is and we had a wonderful year, and then, graduate in June of '49.
SH: Did you play basketball on the team?
DH: Tried, but the guys are too big and too strong. Now, you got some good high school kids and some good veterans playing. I stuck around for about six months and said, "These guys are too good for me." I did get in the orchestra, though. I borrowed a viola and that was kind of fun, the two years at least. That was good. I enjoyed that very much, and then, we had wonderful time at Rutgers, I'd say. We had our own first little place together and it was very nice.
SH: You were at Hillside?
DH: I don't think it's called Hillside. You know the name of that? I can't remember the name of that place. I haven't been back to Rutgers now for quite a while. They were side-by-side units. It was two units with a common wall, and I think they were meant for the educators at Rutgers, but, maybe, they couldn't afford them, but returning veterans could afford it, you see. We had a great year out there, though, a good time.
SH: Coming into Rutgers, do you remember which dorm you stayed in and who your roommates were that year?
DH: I remember the first roommate, a very nice, young fellow, who was a high school graduate, and he came from Red Bank, New Jersey, nice, young fellow, and we got along very well and, the second year, I can't recall. Oh, the second year, I'm out at some barracks as the preceptor there and I can't recall the name of that one, either. The first year, though, we were very close to the gymnasium, right [on the] downtown campus, and then, the third year, as I said, we were married and had a good time with the college.
SH: How did you meet your wife?
DG: We both lived in the same town for many, many years. ... In fact, I moved to this little town of Little Neck when I'm two years old and we have a very small place, and then, when I'm about twelve, thirteen, we moved up to that nicer place, which is two blocks from Jeanne. ... So, while we don't go to the same high schools, we do socialize a little bit. She had her friends, I had my friends and we sort of got together, and then, I go off to war and I came back and, now, she's still available.
SH: Did you write back and forth during the war?
DH: I don't think we did very much of that. I don't recall that very well. [laughter]
SH: Would you talk to me a little bit about being a young bride at Rutgers? What were you doing?
Jeanne Hillenmayer: Well, I just mentioned that, when Don was there in his first two years, we did correspond by mail a lot, and then, we were married and we lived on campus for his senior year and we really had a great time, because we had available a lot of sports to go to at night and, you know, companionship of other students and it was very good and I was able to get a job, had a lot of fun with the first graders over in Metuchen.
SH: You said there was overcrowding.
JH: Oh, well, there were a lot of, they called them "Baby Boomers" from the war, five and six-year-olds. So, they were in great need of teachers at that time.
SH: Where had you gone to school?
JH: I went to Mount Saint Vincent on the Hudson, the four years I was there, and I majored in education. ... It was mostly secondary, so, I had to accommodate a little bit for the little ones, but it was a fun year.
SH: Do you remember who lived in the adjoining apartment in the married student housing area?
JH: I don't remember much. I do remember about the housing itself. We had a four-room cottage with one wall that was adjoining to the other unit. There were two bedrooms and one bath and a pot-bellied stove to heat it and we had a kitchen and very little furniture and I remember, also, we had a clothesline. We had no dryers for clothes at that time. I don't remember what we did for washing, but, anyway, we could hang everything out on these lines out in the backyard. So, that was about it.
SH: Were there a lot of married veterans running around then socializing?
JH: Yes, yes, right. So, that was a nice year. ... I was expecting my first child, which was born in October the following year. ... I was pregnant in the spring term and that was interesting, too, because I can remember it very well about going on an outing with the children towards the end of the year and I was getting a little uncomfortable and the other teachers were worried that they should send a car for me, because we were going too far from the campus, but it all worked out, you know, fine.
SH: Mr. Hillenmayer, do you remember when you first bought a car? How did you adjust to regular civilian life? Was it hard?
DH: Okay. When we finally get married, we need some transportation, because we're going to be down at Rutgers. We would be at Rutgers and Jeanne would have some transportation problems. So, we get this terribly old Studebaker. I think it must have been about a 1939. It was like a turtle, very smooth, and that did us very well. ... We were finally ... able to get rid of that when we moved back to Jeanne's mother's house, who was then a widow, and the baby comes along pretty soon and we have rather a full house, but Grandma loves us. [She] takes good care of our baby for us.
SH: Tell me about your children.
DH: Well, we ended up, then, with three children. Janet was born in October of '49, and then, Jim, our boy, was born in 1951 and our baby was born in 1954 and those three children have been fine. Our son, Jim, ends up in Annapolis and makes the Navy his career and he recently retired as a commander and he's found another job right away. While I say I have a retired son, he's really back working, doing very nicely. We have three grandchildren all born on the same day. Our older girl has a baby born on the same day as our other daughter has twins. So the three children are born on exactly same day. ...
SH: Three birthdays, I hope?
DH: Yes, happy birthdays. So, three girls born on the same day and we have two more grandchildren. Each of our daughters has a son, too, so very lucky, two boys and three girls, but the three girls were born the exact same day, amazing story.
SH: While you were in the military, did you ever notice that you were running short of supplies, whether they were for the planes or yourself?
DH: I don't think we ever ran short on supplies like that. I know that we would go to the neighborhood. When I'm in England, there, at the base, we would frequently get our laundry washed by paying for it with a Hershey bar or razor blades or something like that. That would get ... a ton of services done for you. We never seemed to run short on food. It was not the best, of course, in England, as I told you before, about the breakfast. They were horrible and I don't recall too much about the lunches and dinners, but I just don't recall enough about that.
SH: Were you given any instructions on how to deal with the English people?
DH: Oh, I'm sure we were. I don't recall very much about that, either, I'm sorry to say, but they were very nice to us, especially when we'd go into town, the girls. We'd find no trouble finding a date and we had some nice dances at our base. We could invite girls in and we had some very nice times with the English people.
SH: Did you ever have any reason to deal with the chaplains?
DH: No, no reason to deal with them. I'm sorry to say, I don't think I take advantage of them. I don't even think I go to Mass on many of the days. I don't know why, but it was just one of those periods of time where I think you just say, "Whatever happens is going to happen," and you just don't think about other things, you know. So, I don't have much [of a] relationship with the chaplains. I think, on the big holidays, like Christmas and Easter, I would go to Mass, but that's the only times I can recall going.
SH: What were you hearing from your family about rationing and things like that? Did they talk about it in their letters to you?
DH: Yes, I think they did, once in a while, but I think they were talking about the gasoline shortage, but I don't recall too much of that, either. I'm sure they wrote a lot and I have some of the letters still available, but I don't recall them complaining too much. They were not that type.
SH: Was there a black-market? Were they involved in any war bonds sales or anything?
DH: I don't recall too much of that.
SH: Mrs. Hillenmayer has brought out some of the correspondence between yourself and your parents. To conclude the interview, could you just read the letter you wrote in August?
DH: August 14, 1945, 1830H. Dear Mom and Dad: Just as I sat down to write this, news of the Japs surrender came over the radio. Certainly feels good. They can't keep us much more. I think I'll go into town in a few minutes and celebrate. Boy, I'm telling you, I haven't felt as good in years. Horns are blowing, bells are ringing, the PA system is blaring noise and everyone is happy and gay. I'll write to you again tomorrow. Too bad I couldn't be home. Well, it won't be long now. Good night.
SH: Thank you so much for doing this. Thank you to both of you for hosting me this morning.
DH: Thank you very much for asking me to participate in this program.
SH: Thank you.
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Reviewed by Ronald J. Butkiewicz 10/12/04
Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 10/16/04
Reviewed by Donald M. Hillenmayer 2/2/05