Sandra Stewart Holyoak: This begins an interview on January 26, 2010, in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with Dr. Samuel R. Freiberg. With my thanks, let us continue the interview. This is Sandra Stewart Holyoak. Could you please state for the record, Dr. Freiberg, where and when you were born?
Samuel R. Freiberg: I was born in Staten Island on April 14, 1924.
SH: All right, let us start with your family. Can you please speak about your father? Where and when was he born?
SF: My father was born in what was originally the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and came to this country sometime in the ... 1920s. My mother was born in what is now Poland and she came into the country in 1922.
SH: Your father's name?
SF: Was Abraham, and my mother's name was Dora.
SH: What was her maiden name?
SF: Weinstein, and my father had two other brothers who came to live here. ...
SH: They were in America previous to him coming.
SF: Previous to his coming, yes. ... In fact, the middle brother, when he came through Ellis Island, somehow, they couldn't determine the name Freiberg, so, his name became Frank. So, that part of the family has the name Frank, rather than Freiberg.
SH: Oh, my.
SF: ... My grandmother came to visit her three sons. She had a daughter, my aunt, who lived back in the "old country," but she couldn't stay here very long, because she didn't think we were sufficiently religious enough. They were Orthodox Jewish, and so, she went back and, unfortunately, both she and my aunt and uncle and my two cousins were lost in the Holocaust. They had another son, the oldest son, who was seventeen, and he was ... driving a truck eastward. So, he escaped and actually moved into a part of Russia, and then, Kazakhstan. ... Then, many, many years later, he said, "I've lost my whole family; I know I have family here," and, somehow or other, he got [in] contact with a cousin of mine. ... They wrote back and forth, and then, when I was on a World Bank mission to Turkey, I arranged to go to the Ukraine, because he was living in the Ukraine at that time. ... It so happened that the head of the World Bank mission there, the leader, had been a young professional and, on his first World Bank mission, I was the mission leader. So, when he heard I was coming, I got royal treatment, and then, I flew from there to Lisichansk and met my first cousin for the first time. So, we had quite a get-together for several days and I'm in contact with his daughter. He's since died, but I have contact [with her] and we also helped to contribute to them, because they've been in [need]. With the Ukrainian economy, it's been a serious problem. ...
SH: Wonderful story. Did your father have to serve in the military during World War I?
SF: No, no, he did not. I know very little about his life in the "old country." He never discussed it; neither did my mother. So, I know very little about that.
SH: Very interesting.
SH: We hear that often.
SH: I am always quite curious as to why those stories did not get told.
SF: Yes, and, of course, as I say, I was born [Jewish], I had a bar mitzvah, you know, went through the Jewish religion. ... My father was a grocer. He couldn't afford to send me to college, and, although I did very well in high school, I worked for a year and saved enough money and was accepted at the Rutgers College of Agriculture. I was always interested in agriculture. My grandfather, ... on my mother's side, was a dairy farmer in Europe before he moved here. So, that was my interest in agriculture.
SH: I just wanted to back up a bit to talk about your father's immigration story. Did he have a profession when came to this country?
SF: No, not that I know of.
SH: Was he apprenticed anywhere or had he somehow learned a trade?
SF: Not that I'm aware of, and it was my mother's older brother who brought her over. ... He was in the grocery business and that's how my father got involved with them, then, set up his own grocery.
SH: Did they ever talk about how they met?
SF: Not that I can recall. [laughter]
SH: Let us back up and talk about your mother's history. You said it was her brother that brought her to America. Did her parents come as well?
SF: Yes, her parents, ... my grandmother and grandfather on my mother's side, were here and I knew them well ... until they died.
SH: Were there other siblings besides the older brother and your mother?
SF: Yes, there was a younger brother, Harry, and a younger sister, Wanda, who were brought over by my Uncle Nathan. The oldest brother had been a colonel in the Polish Army and he refused to come over. He stayed there, and I guess died there. We had no contact as far as he's concerned.
SH: You said your mother's older brother was a grocer. Was that the same business that your father went into?
SH: Your father worked with your uncle.
SF: Working first with him, and then, setting up his own grocery.
SH: Did he?
SH: Where did you grow up? Where did the family settle?
SF: Well, as I said, I was born in Staten Island and my sister, who is a year and four months younger than me, was also born in Staten Island. Then, we moved, for a short time, to Brooklyn, where my mother gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. ... I don't recall how long we were in Brooklyn, not very long, but, then, we moved to Elizabeth, New Jersey, and I went to high school in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
SH: How old were you when you moved to Elizabeth?
SF: I'm not quite certain, but it was quite young.
SH: Quite young, okay.
SH: You went to grade school there as well.
SF: Grade school, right through. So, I ... couldn't have been more than five or six years old at the time.
SH: Where in Elizabeth did you live? Was it in conjunction with the grocery business?
SF: The grocery business was actually in Newark, but we lived in Elizabeth on Jackson Avenue. [laughter] That's all I can remember ...
SH: That is pretty good. [laughter]
SF: ... Of that, and our grandfather and grandmother lived a block away and my uncle, the oldest uncle, Nathan, and his wife and daughter lived right across the street from us. So, we were very, very close in that regard.
SH: You talked about the family not being religious enough for the paternal grandmother. [laughter]
SF: That's right, because, apparently, my grandfather was considered the learned, deeply religious man of the village, wherever he lived, and so forth. ... She just couldn't take it that we didn't follow the rules. ... I myself followed these until I went to Rutgers, and then, my eyes were opened and I realized that there are different religions and different [customs]. ... I immediately became interested in all aspects of religion. ... Then, it was during the Second World War, when I was a part of the Army Specialized Training Program in the University of New Hampshire, that I found that I was really a Unitarian. So, I became a Unitarian and have been a member of the Unitarian Church, was a member ... of the parish committee in Needham, Massachusetts, with a ... typical white church with the steeple, and the bell in the belfry was done by Paul Revere.
SH: Really? [laughter]
SF: Oh, yes. So, I was very active. I was teaching Sunday school, and I've been active in the Unitarian church here since then.
SH: Interesting progression. That is wonderful. Let us talk about your younger years, growing up on Jackson Avenue in Elizabeth. You had family members around, but was the neighborhood ethnically and religiously mixed?
SF: ... We lived in a mixed neighborhood, mainly Italian, mainly Catholic, that lived there, ... but I did have some friends that I made there who were also at the synagogue that I used to attend at that time. I don't have very many memories about that part of my life.
SH: Did you suffer from any anti-Semitic feelings as a young man?
SF: I never experienced that. I was very fortunate in this regard. The only time I actually experienced it was when we lived in, of all places, in Westwood, Massachusetts. ... We had bought two acres of land. We were going to build a house there in Westwood, and then, my wife gave birth to our daughter. [At] that time, we decided we couldn't go through with it, and so, we went to [the parties involved]. The architect, Bamber, was just wonderful with us, but the real estate agent, where we had said we were giving this up, but we'd like to find another place, ... made it very clear, "Well, we don't care for Jews being in this area."
SH: Oh, my.
SH: That is much later on.
SF: Oh, yes, this is back in the late 1950s, yes.
SH: Where did you go to high school?
SF: In Elizabeth, at Thomas Jefferson High School.
SH: That was just for boys.
SF: That was just for boys, and there was Battin High School, which was all for girls at that time. ... At that time, I walked from home to Thomas Jefferson High School. It was about, I don't know, a mile-and-a-half or so walk. We did that, back and forth, each time. I recall that, in 1940, the Republican candidate for President, Wendell Willkie, came by and I had a chance to meet him. ...
SH: Did you really? You met him at your high school.
SF: Yes, at the school. ...
SH: How much younger were the twins, your brother and sister?
SF: About five years, and one of them is still living. She's a widow now; widow or widower? widow, yes. ... My other sister is still living, also a widow, living in Florida, and I plan to visit them for five days on February 4th.
SF: They are, physically, [having] problems with walkers, and so forth, and so, I decided I'd fly down and stay, only five days, because I don't like to leave my wife alone much longer than that.
SH: Okay, understandably. When you went to high school, did you also have a job after school?
SF: No, I did not. No, that's not quite true. I did do some work for another uncle, who had, also, a grocery store. ... I helped take care of it at times and I know I read a lot while I was in the store. [laughter]
SH: Did you have to also help your father with his store?
SF: No, because that happened later. I forget now when he got the store. This was in Newark and we moved from Elizabeth to Newark. ...
SH: Before you finished high school?
SF: No, I had already finished high school.
SH: That was when your father went into his own business.
SF: Right, and it was at that time that I worked for a year, and then, started college with money I'd been able to earn, because I went to work for General Instrument Corporation at the time, which made radio condensers at that time, and, finally, got to the point where I was considered a master condenser producer, and so forth. [laughter] So, I could set my own hours, and so forth. ... I made enough money to start college, and then, my father got a serious heart attack, was in the hospital. Of course, there was no such thing as health care. So, all the money I had went to help for the hospital bills. ... I had to go to this uncle, Nathan, and his wife, to ask for a loan to finish the first year of college at Rutgers, although before that, after I'd done a half year, I'd gone to the draft board and I said, "All my friends are in the Army, so, I'm ready to go," and they said, "Well, no, we'll let you finish your first year of college." So, they did and I finished college. ... Then, I worked, after that, back at General Instrument, [and made] enough money to pay back my aunt and uncle, and then, went into the Army, yes.
SH: I want to just walk you through the dates.
SH: You graduated from high school in 1939.
SF: No, no, in 1941.
SH: From high school?
SF: From high school. ...
SH: In 1941. In 1940, the draft was instituted, but you were not eighteen, if my math is correct.
SF: That's right. ... I'd just turned seventeen when I graduated high school.
SH: Did you always assume you would go to college? Were your parents supportive of this?
SF: Yes, they were supportive, and I'd always felt I wanted to go. ...
SH: What were your interests in high school? What were your favorite subjects?
SF: I guess one of the most favorite was American history, and I'm still interested in American history. I'm readingAmerican Lion: [Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham] now, the life of Andrew Jackson, which I'm just appalled by what I've just finished reading this morning, you know, the fact that he's the one responsible for removing all the Indians from the Southern countries [states and territories] and moved them to the Western area. ...
SH: It is a very interesting book.
SF: Yes, I got that for Christmas from my daughter.
SH: To go back to what you were aware of, were you involved in sports at all?
SF: No, not at all.
SH: Were there clubs and things that you belonged to?
SF: I belonged to the chess club. I was involved with the; no, that was in junior high school. I was involved with plays. I played the part of Ebenezer Scrooge in the Christmas play. [laughter]
SH: This was in junior high.
SF: In junior high school, and I had this wonderful teacher, Mrs. McBride, who was a history teacher and she was absolutely marvelous. My English teacher in high school was just wonderful. ... We had a homeroom teacher, Selma Peters, and she was a wonderful teacher that I really enjoyed. ... She was an ardent Navy fan, because her father had ... been in the Navy and had gone to Navy [the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland], and so, she followed the Navy-Army games very much so, yes. [laughter]
SH: Interesting how different teachers affect our lives. Were they encouraging you to go on to college as well?
SF: Well, at Thomas Jefferson High School, we were divided into college preparatory and commercial, and then, another group, I guess dealing with the working aspects, and so forth. So, I was in the college preparatory right from the beginning.
SH: Okay, all right. When you decided to take that year off to work, was there a school that you had in mind at that point that you wanted to attend?
SF: I'd always considered Rutgers, ... first of all, because it was a state college and the tuition would have been lower. ... It was the one that had a college of agriculture, that I was interested in going [to]. So, that's the reason that I always considered it.
SH: You mentioned your grandfather having been a dairy farmer in the "old country."
SH: What did he do when he came to this country? Was he retired by then?
SF: He was retired by then, yes.
SH: Okay, I just wanted to be sure of all the facts.
SF: Yes. He was very unusual. He had high cheekbones and looked almost Oriental, blue eyes and high cheekbones, was very unusual looking. Who knows what the ancestry was, as far as [he was concerned]? [laughter] because my mother had green eyes and blond hair. So, we had all kinds of combinations.
SH: They were the ones who were more from the Poland part.
SF: Poland, yes.
SH: Interesting. What language was spoken in the home?
SF: English and Yiddish.
SH: Did you learn to speak Yiddish?
SF: Not really. [laughter]
SH: We hear many times that that was what the parents spoke when they did not want the children to know what was being said.
SF: Exactly. Well, also, my mother and her sister, Wanda, they would speak to each other in Polish, which I couldn't understand at all, either, yes. [laughter]
SH: How did your parents, both your mother and your father, adapt to America? Were they Americanized?
SF: Oh, yes.
SH: Did they keep the customs from the "old country?"
SF: No. ... You know, they became American citizens and were very much enamored by the fact that they were in the United States and living a better life than they would in the "old country."
SH: Did your mother work outside of the home? Did she have interests?
SF: I'm not aware of it. No, she stayed home most of the time. Occasionally, as I recall, she would work in her brother's [business], who had a very large grocery store, at that time, but not very frequently.
SH: Was his store in Newark?
SF: No, his was in Elizabeth.
SH: His was in Elizabeth, okay.
SF: Yes, and it dealt mainly with Italian type of foods, imported olive oil and cheeses and things like that.
SH: Do you recall the name of it?
SF: No, I don't. [laughter]
SH: Were your sisters encouraged to go on to college as well?
SF: My older sister, well, younger than me, she went to college and my brother went to college. My other sister, Julie, did not go to college, and my sister, Anne, actually went and got a master's degree in psychology at Rutgers.
SH: Really? Was it New Jersey College for Women at the time?
SF: No, it was later. This was after her three children were born, you know. So, she did that much later.
SH: This is interesting.
SH: It is always interesting to see how families decided who, out of sons and daughters, would be able to go to college
SF: No, I was the first, actually, in the family to go to college, but, since then, my niece, Sue, and her husband were graduate engineers of Rutgers. ... Of course, now, they keep supporting the University of Maryland, because their daughter, Allison, is going to the University of Maryland. [laughter]
SH: Of course, right. Before we began recording, you talked about this big family gathering.
SH: Some of you are rabid Rutgers fans and others were supporting Maryland. It must have made for an interesting game.
SF: Yes. Well, my niece, Sue Northridge, and her husband, they throw a fantastic tailgate party with another couple from Medford, New Jersey, which is where they live, because that couple's son is also going to the University of Maryland. ... So, I can remember, last winter, being freezing cold and she had strip steak [laughter] and all kinds of goodies, and hot soups and desserts. It was really fabulous.
SH: It is good to be able to go to both, right? [laughter]
SH: I would like to go back and talk about your first year at Rutgers, which would have been 194- ...
SH: In September of 1942. Before we talk about that, we have to talk about December of 1941. Where were you when you heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor?
SF: ... I had traveled to Brooklyn because I had an aunt, and I think, ... yes, my uncle had died. My aunt and ... her family were living in Brooklyn and I went to visit my favorite cousin. His name was also Sam Freiberg.
SH: No, really? [laughter]
SF: Yes, quite unusual.
SH: That must have been interesting over the years. [laughter]
SF: It really was, and, as I'm walking up the stairs, he calls down, "Did you hear, Pearl Harbor has been bombed?" That's how I heard about Pearl Harbor being bombed.
SH: Were you both around the same age?
SF: No, Sam was about two or three years older than I am.
SH: How did you react to that? What was the discussion that took place? Did you realize what it meant? Some of your family was still in Europe and I am sure the war had been a big deal for your family before Pearl Harbor.
SF: Yes, I don't know that we gave it much thought and, at seventeen, you know, ... we just thought, "Well, this is an interesting development," had no idea that it would affect either one of us, when, in fact, it affected both of us. ... As a matter-of-fact, during the Second World War, somewhere in Europe, I heard that my cousin, and his outfit, was nearby. ... In the middle of the night, we met and we got together and had a chance to talk, and then, ... they gave a sort of a rotation furlough. ... You could decide where you would go, because we were in combat all this time, and so, I went to England and, there, his brother, Sam's brother, Louis was, he was the oldest in the family, was up in Diss, England, with the Air Force. ... Louis was one of the most cheerful, personable individuals you'd ever met, and, when I met him, it was an entirely different person. He was in charge of the group that saw the planes that had been in combat land and rescued the soldiers, some of them beaten up and battered, and so forth. As a result, I never saw him smile again. He was really so seriously affected by the war, and the war ended then. So, I was actually in London itself when the lights went on for the first time in five, six years. It was really quite an exciting time.
SH: I bet.
SH: What did you do? There must have been a huge celebration.
SF: Oh, it was. We had a wonderful time. We got drunk [laughter] and we had a good time.
SH: To so many men who were out on the line, it was just another day. For those men in London, V-E Day was marvelous.
SF: ... V-E Day, it was just absolutely fabulous.
SH: When Hitler came to power in Germany and took over Poland in 1939, was there any talk about it with your family?
SF: Never discussed this. We'd never had any contact [with the family in Europe]. I'm unaware of any correspondence that went on at that time.
SH: Really? Your father's mother and father, there was nothing discussed between them.
SF: My father's father had died quite a long time ago and it was the mother who had come to visit us, and then, left because she couldn't stand the fact that they weren't religious enough. ... So, I'd never heard anything about them.
SH: No discussions in the family.
SH: That is interesting.
SF: And I do know, when I saw my cousin, his name was Avram Kats, ... he said they owned a big hotel in the town. I forget now the name of the town, and then, ... finally, [when] the war ended, he tried, but he couldn't get the hotel back. ...
SH: Going back to your first year at Rutgers, where were you housed in your first semester?
SF: That's a good question.
SH: You did not commute from home by any chance.
SF: I'm wondering, because I don't remember; no, yes, I was in the dorms.
SH: Were you?
SF: I was in the dorms, yes. I forget now what the name of the dorm was at that time, but, yes, I was in a dorm.
SH: Had you visited Rutgers prior to coming down as a freshman?
SF: I think so, yes.
SH: You knew you wanted to go into the agriculture part of Rutgers College.
SF: Oh, yes, ... right.
SH: Who were some of your roommates or classmates that you remember from that first semester?
SF: One was Calvin Heuser, another was Steven Fong. ... Steven Fong's uncle had been the mayor of Chinatown and he invited me to New York to spend a weekend with him and I was introduced to all this delicious Cantonese Chinese food. It was really quite an experience [laughter] at that time.
SH: Which you had never experienced.
SH: You had been to visit Brooklyn and various other places, though.
SF: Never had had any of that experience. So, it was quite interesting.
SH: You previously talked about mandatory chapel. How did that affect you? Was it a religious service or was it secular?
SF: Well, it was a sort of religious service there, but, ... at that time, I was just interested in everything, all those experiences. So, for me, this was a new experience, and so forth, and I realized that I could not accept the narrowness of any religion, and Unitarianism, of course, accepts all religions as a part of it. So, I felt very comfortable from that regard. I presume Kirkpatrick Chapel is still there.
SH: It is.
SH: We still have a service on Saturday morning of Reunion Weekend.
SF: Oh, they do?
SH: Everyone gathers in Kirkpatrick Chapel for about forty-five minutes before going on the parade down College Avenue.
SF: It reminds me that, when the war ended, I went back to Rutgers, it was a very hot summer day and I was playing tennis on the tennis courts. ... It was right in front of this house in which the former President, Demarest, was in it. He was head of not only Rutgers College, but the Seminary. [Editor's Note: The Reverend Dr. William Henry Steele Demarest served as the eleventh President of Rutgers College from 1906 to 1924. He then served as President of the New Brunswick Theological Seminary from 1924 to 1934.] ... He came out ... because we were shirtless, and he said, "Put your shirts back on there. It's indecent for you to be playing tennis with your shirts off." [laughter]
SH: These GIs are playing.
SF: Things have changed.
SH: What about Dean [Fraser] Metzger? Did you interact at all with him?
SF: Yes. Well, yes, I remember him very well. Our President was Clothier. Robert C. Clothier was then the President of the University, but it was [Frank G.] Helyar at the College of Agriculture who I had a high regard for and who really is the one [who] accepted me to go to the College of Agriculture.
SH: I have heard stories of Dean Helyar, but tell me what your interaction was with him. How did he treat his "boys," as some would call them?
SF: I didn't have any problems at all with him. Maybe others did, but I ...
SH: No, most of the stories are very, very positive and talk about how he really kept his eye on everyone.
SF: No, I thought he was wonderful, yes.
SH: As a freshman, did you have any kind of initiation? Did you have to wear the dink [a skullcap] or any of that? Do you remember?
SF: I guess we did, but I don't recall that.
SH: What about mandatory ROTC for the first two years? Were you in ROTC, because of the land-grant college status of Rutgers?
SF: I don't recall being in ROTC at the time.
SH: Really? okay. Was there an ASTP [Army Specialized Training Program] Program at Rutgers when you came there?
SF: What was it, ST?
SH: The ASTP?
SF: No, not part of it.
SH: It was not at Rutgers when you were there.
SF: Not when I was there.
SH: Had a lot of young men left to go into the war when you got there? Was there talk of that?
SF: Yes, and it was because of that that, ... after I'd had a half year, I went to the draft board and said, "Well, I'm ready to go in." ... They're the ones who said, "No, we want you to finish your first year," which I greatly appreciated at the time.
SH: Did they have mixers where you were introduced to the young women at the New Jersey College for Women?
SF: Again, I don't recall that. [laughter]
SH: Did you have a favorite professor that first semester?
SF: Again, I have no memory of it.
SH: When you borrowed the money to come back to finish the second semester, were you the same young man or were you more serious because you had borrowed the money? Did that affect how you viewed your studies, and the fact that you knew that the war was going on and you would probably be in it?
SF: I don't know that it had much of an effect. I knew I just wanted to continue on with college and I wanted to continue on in that type of profession. So, I was glad I had the opportunity to at least finish that year, and then, in June, go into the military.
SH: Had you found a favorite professor at that point?
SF: I don't recall a favorite professor at that time.
SH: You talked about mandatory chapel. Do you remember some of the speakers that came in?
SF: No, I don't.
SH: In May, when you finished your first year at Rutgers, what were your plans at that point? Did you think you would go back to work for your uncle or go back to work at your previous job?
SF: I went back to work for the General Instrument Corporation. They took me back quickly and ... I was able to make up enough money to pay that five hundred dollars back to my uncle, [laughter] before I went into the Army.
SH: Did you plan to come back in the fall or did you know the draft board would be putting you in the service?
SF: No, no, I knew that I would be going into the military.
SH: Did you?
SF: And I did, in June of 1943.
SH: Okay, that is what I wondered, did you have an idea.
SH: That is quite a salary to make in that short period of time.
SF: Well, I worked days and nights. ... At that time, because we were at war, they were paying fairly decent salaries.
SH: Was that location close to Elizabeth?
SF: Yes, yes.
SH: Okay. You did live at home and go to work.
SF: Yes. So, I was living in Newark at that time.
SH: Were you? Your parents had moved to Newark.
SF: ... Yes, we moved, right, and that was fairly close.
SH: How had the war already begun to impact your family, as far as, say, rationing was concerned? Did you have to bring your ration book to the campus?
SF: I don't remember that at all. I don't know that we had a ration book. If I did, it's just left me.
SH: I was thinking, in the grocery business, would you still have one? Obviously, if you had gas, you would have to use the rationing of gas for your car.
SF: I guess so. It's just not anything that I have any memory of at all.
SH: Okay, fair enough. [laughter] Where did you first report for your basic training?
SF: At Camp Kilmer. ... Then, they gave us an IQ test and, as a result of my IQ, they offered me a choice. I could go to Officer Candidate School or the Army Specialized Training Program. Well, I thought, "My God, here, I could go back to college." It was wonderful. So, they sent me off to the Citadel, which is the so-called "West Point of the South," which was an experience in its own for two reasons. One, they had these long dining tables and we would stand at attention while the officer of the day said the prayer, and then, these black girls came with these huge trays of food, you know, eggs, and so forth, with roaches crawling all over them.
SF: This was Charleston, South Carolina. At that time, they had no way of getting rid of roaches, so, people lived with it. ... Of course, I was kind of horrified to see something like that. [laughter] The other thing that astounded me was, I thought that the Civil War ended in 1865 and, here, I would read the Charleston newspapers and they kept talking about "the damyankees" and it was like the war had never ended. [laughter] So, that was quite an experience. ... Then, from the Citadel, we were selected to which college we would go to and I was selected to go to the University of New Hampshire. So, I was up there, I don't recall, six or eight months or so forth
SH: In Charleston, you were down there in June of 1943. You spent the summer there.
SF: Yes, June or July, or something like that.
SH: It must have been extremely hot.
SF: It was. Now, I'm a bit confused, because there was a period of time when I was in Greensboro, North Carolina. I guess it was after that, I went to Greensboro, North Carolina, in the Air Force, and had the basic training there. ...
SH: Was this after you had been in New Hampshire?
SF: No, no, before, and I loved that area. Greensboro is a beautiful area there, ... but I wasn't there very long before, I guess, from there, I went then ... to the University of New Hampshire.
SH: When you were in Charleston, were you being physically conditioned or were you in school?
SF: I think it was deciding where we would be going or where they're sending us. I'm confused now as to when I was in Greensboro, North Carolina, whether I was there before Charleston or after Charleston. I don't recall, really.
SH: Were you studying when you were in Charleston? Were you taking classes?
SF: No. Yes, we must have done some studying there, because it was a college, but I don't recall what courses we were taking. When I went to University of New Hampshire, it was the courses in engineering, and it was at University of New Hampshire ... that I wrote this letter back to my parents to say that fifty percent of the business district had burned down.
SF: They had four stores and two stores burned down. [laughter]
SH: Very tongue-in-cheek.
SF: Yes, but it was after that that they decided to disband the Army Special Training Program and we were then given physicals at that time. ... I had very poor eyesight, and so, they would say, "Well, read this chart." Well, I had to go halfway up there before I could read, make [out] the line and read. So, they stamped on it, "Not fit for combat duty. To be transferred to a service unit." It was at that time that I was transferred to the combat engineers. Not only that, they gave me four pairs of eyeglasses and, since I was a reconnaissance agent, I was really the eyes of the battalion. [laughter]
SH: Too funny.
SF: That's the Army for you. So, we went to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, during the winter, and the temperatures there would get down to forty below zero. ... This is basic training and they were going to show us how to dig foxholes. Well, since the first four feet of the ground was frozen, we had to use hand grenades to blow it up, so [that] we could dig underneath there to dig our foxhole, and so forth. [laughter] ...
SH: Were you assigned to the Air Corps at this point?
SF: No. This was with the combat engineers, the military, yes. That period of the Air Corps was a very short period, and I don't recall exactly whether it was before the Citadel or after the Citadel.
SH: Everything changes after the ASTP Program is cancelled.
SF: Yes, because they disbanded it and they just needed more combat troops. So, that's why. ...
SH: Did most of the people from your program in New Hampshire wind up at Fort McCoy, as you did?
SF: No. In the combat engineer group, though, there were a lot of people from [the] Army Specialized Training Program, from different colleges all over the country. ... When the 280th Combat Engineer Battalion disbanded, they published a document which gave the whole history of it. ... I searched high and low all over the house, I couldn't find it, and I really despaired, because that had a lot of the information about where we'd been and what we'd done, and so forth. So, I went on the Internet and found to my dismay, well, and astonishment, there is a 280th Engineer Combat Battalion group that has met ten times over the last twenty years, twice in DC, and I knew nothing about it. So, I was in contact with Marlin Kreighbaum, who's running this operation. He's located in Peoria, Illinois, and he sent me information, including pictures of my platoon ... which shows me in it.
SH: Oh, my word.
SF: So, I have all this information here.
SH: It is wonderful to reconnect after all these years.
SF: And they're having another reunion in Peoria, Illinois, in September of this year. So, we went from Camp McCoy, we then went to Fort Leonard Wood, where we got further training, before then going ... on ship to Swansea ...
SH: In Wales
SF: ... Wales, where we unloaded.
SH: Can you talk a little bit about the training, what they were training you to do specifically? Did you have a specific job or was it an overarching training?
SF: I was trained to be a reconnaissance agent, which meant that I, with another member and a jeep driver, would go into the areas to see where the minefields were, where the basis of assault boat crossings could be held, where materials could be used for making roads to [create] access to different areas, and that was the training I received. ... When I finally got into the Battle of the Bulge, or what they called the Ardennes, this is the sort of thing that we did.
SH: The 280th, who were they assigned to?
SF: Well, we were first assigned to Patton's Third Army.
SH: Did you know that when you left the States to go to Swansea?
SH: Okay, that happens before; perhaps, then, talk about Fort Leonard Wood. Was it just more training or the same type of training?
SF: More training.
SH: Was that cut short?
SH: Do you think it was the normal length? Were you trained well? In hindsight, now, do you think that the training was good?
SF: I think so. I think the training was quite good.
SH: At any point in this, did you get a leave to come home?
SH: Where did you report to for embarkation? Where did you sail from? [laughter] This is some of the information that you have.
SF: ... These were the battles, campaigns, that we were in. Yes, we left on October 8th, from Camp Shanks, New Jersey, and we were on the SS Alexander, [the SS Edmund B. Alexander?]. [Editor's Note: Camp Shanks was located in Orangetown, New York, just over the New York-New Jersey border.]
SH: What was the crossing like? Were you in convoy?
SF: On a convoy, yes, the whole time and it was zigzagging all the time, because of the concern with the submarines, and so forth.
SH: What were your specific duties then? Before you reported to Shanks, did you get a chance to go home to see your family?
SF: No. ...
SH: You talked about your cousin. Was he already in Europe at that time? Did you know if he was?
SF: I don't recall that. We met, I think it was towards the end of the war, in a place called Camp Lucky Strike. I happen to remember the name, that we met there in the night and we had just a brief conversation, [and] so forth. [Editor's Note: Camp Lucky Strike was one of several receiving camps, dubbed "Cigarette Camps," established by the US Armed Forces in the vicinity of Le Havre, France.]
SH: Do you have any memories of the crossing?
SF: I just loved the ocean.
SH: Did you?
SF: And I'm one of those fortunate people that never got seasick
SF: ... In fact, on the ship coming home, we hit a very severe North Atlantic storm. It was so bad that half the crew was sick. So, they had a call for people to help out. [As] I said, I was as thin as a rail and always hungry, I said, "Well, I'll help out in the kitchen." So, I ate very well and I used to get up on deck and stay at the front, holding on, and having the spray of water coming up and I just loved it. ... I would tell all these friends of mine, "It's all in your mind." ... They were ready to throw me overboard, because [laughter] ...
SH: I am sure.
SF: ... Well, I don't know whether you want to see any of this?
SH: Of course, yes.
SF: This, for example, is of Company A of the 280th Battalion, and I'm in the First Platoon. It was called "Recchion's Rangers," I forget now.
SF: Yes, it was called Recchion's Rugged Rangers, and Lieutenant Recchion was our lieutenant and Sergeant Hall was the sergeant in charge, and this is me here, right here, not that it makes any difference.
SH: Of course it does. [laughter] Obviously, this was before you went overseas, because everybody looks healthy and well-fed.
SF: Yes, right.
SH: This is wonderful that you found all these materials.
SF: Well, I'm so grateful to Marlin about it, and I wrote to him ... to hear about this.
SH: Coming to Swansea, what were the first things that they asked that you do when you got in?
SF: Well, we unloaded at Swansea and immediately went to Glastonbury, England, and, for me, this was just wonderful, because, you know, [the] Knights of the Avalon. ... There's a great cross that says, "Here lies King Arthur and Queen Guinevere." Whether that's true or not, I'm not sure, but we were there at the foothill of this tor with the old St. Michael's Castle on the top there. We had the barracks there, and I got up one night for a "nature call" and I looked out and I saw, for the first and only time, a rainbow formed by the moon. I've never seen [another one], and it was arched over the tor. It was the most unusual sight I've ever seen. ... I guess the full moon and the moisture, and so forth, was such that you had this sort of silvery arc that was formed by it. It was really quite unique, and I was lucky, I had another interesting experience, that I was able to have an English couple lend me their bicycle and I drove to Wells, because I read that Wells had this fabulous cathedral there. ... While I'm standing, looking at the front of it, this elderly gentleman comes up to me and he said, "Would you like to see the cathedral?" I said, "Yes, I'd like to." Well, he was very knowledgeable about the cathedral, and I don't know whether you're familiar with the Wells Cathedral. It is absolutely exquisite. I can't believe it was built in the 1100s. I mean, I was just ... blown away by it, and then, afterwards, he takes me to where the bishop's palace is, with the moat and the swans. ... I'd read about it, and the swan yanked on this [cord] and one of the nuns came out there and fed these [swans]. So, I thanked him, you know, heartily and, as I was walking away, this woman said to me, "Well, you've had a real treat." I says, "Yes, I have. He was very [good]; I really appreciate it." She said, "Do you know who it was showing you around?" I said, "No." "It was the bishop."
SH: Oh, my.
SF: And he never let on who he was. So, it was a wonderful experience, and then, also, Wookey Hole was there and I got into that, this cave area, which is between, I think, Wells and Glastonbury. So, that, for me, was a wonderful experience.
SH: It is good that you took advantage of the area that you were in.
SF: Oh, yes, and I'd been raised, you know, on King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and to be in this whole area and see the, what is this? the roses that bloom there at Christmastime, St. [Joseph of] Arimathea is supposed to have planted there, just wonderful. [Editor's Note: According to myth, Joseph of Arimathea planted the Glastonbury Thorn, a variant of Common Hawthorn, which blooms twice a year.]
SH: Were you able to tour the cathedral, too, the ruins of the Glastonbury Abbey?
SF: Oh, yes, oh, yes, sure.
SH: That inn that is there.
SF: Yes, all of that there. I even got ... used to drinking their ale and the stout, which was lukewarm, not the way we have it here. [laughter]
SH: Were you given any instructions on how to live with the British? Were the soldiers warned?
SF: We probably were, but I found them very friendly when I was there, but, you know, being only, what, eighteen or nineteen at the time? ...
SH: You were there in 1944, the beginning of 1944.
SF: ... No, we got to Glastonbury in November of '44.
SH: You were there very briefly then.
SF: Yes. It was in November and we left [for], well, it says, Camp, "Hursley Camp, England." I don't remember that. We weren't there more than just a few weeks, and then, in December, we were on this boat that went on to France, and then, we're right into the Battle of the Bulge.
SH: You were still in Wisconsin when D-Day, the invasion into Europe, took place, in June of 1944.
SF: I guess so.
SH: In August, you report to Fort Leonard Wood.
SF: Yes, ... right, right, yes.
SH: Were you hearing more about the War in Europe or about the War in the Pacific?
SF: Mainly, the War in Europe is the one we heard about and became quite familiar with.
SH: Before you were sent to Europe, was there any thought that you might be sent to the Pacific?
SF: No, no. It was always to go to Europe.
SH: When you were in Glastonbury, that was where you were assigned to Patton's Third Army.
SF: We didn't know. We weren't told until after we got into Europe. Then, we were told.
SH: Did you go down to Southampton or did you sail from Swansea?
SF: No, I don't recall where we sailed from. They mentioned, here, this place that I don't have familiarity with, staying at Hursley Camp, England, ... I guess, and then, en route to France in December of '44, but I remember being in; yes, from December 18th to the 25th, we were in the Battle of the Bulge. [Editor's Note: Hursley is located in the vicinity of Southampton.]
SH: This says that, on December 26th, you were on the M/T (Glenn Curtis?) en route to France.
SF: To France.
SH: Then, from December 31st of 1944, that was when you started in France.
SF: With these three campaigns, yes. Yes, it was a miserable time in the Battle of the Bulge. ...
SH: They transported you to France, and then, how were you transported to Belgium?
SF: In trucks. We had our own trucks. As a matter-of-fact, one interesting story that was written up in the Stars and Stripes was that General [Dwight D.] Eisenhower came to visit our group and he said to Lieutenant Cherry, "What outfit is this?" and, of course, all our bumpers were covered with cloth, so that nobody'd know what outfit we were. ... He looks at the General with all these news reporters there, he says, "I'm sorry, sir, I can't divulge it in front of these reporters." So, the General says, "You're right." So, he goes off in the corner, and then, he says, "This is the 280th Combat Engineers," [laughter] and they wrote that up in the Stars and Stripes, and so forth.
SH: Good for him.
SF: That was the first time that I saw Eisenhower. The second time, of course, is when I got my doctorate at Rutgers and the guest speaker was the President of Columbia University, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
SH: That was in 1948, I believe.
SF: No, '51. I got my PhD in '51.
SH: I understood that he also spoke at the Class of 1948 graduation.
SF: Well, maybe I'm mistaken; I thought it was at when I got my PhD, but maybe it was at the Class of '48, yes.
SH: I think that must have been marvelous, for you especially, having seen him previously.
SF: Oh, well, I admired him tremendously. I thought he was outstanding.
SH: When you got to Europe, you were assigned to Patton's Third Army and were transported by trucks.
SF: By truck, right into the Bulge, and we were dumped there, with the snow and the cold. ...
SH: Where were you first placed in Belgium?
SF: Right in the Ardennes, near Arlon, and half of our outfit was cut off from the other half and ... the food supply was cut off. The only thing that the cooks had was pancake flour. So, the only thing that we ate, for days on end, was pancakes. I couldn't look at a pancake when I got home for years because of that particular [situation]. I was more fortunate than others because I only got a slight touch of trench foot, in my left foot, and this is as a result of being, you know, in the socks and the shoes all the time and the sweat and cold, damp weather. ... For years after I got home, I'd have to take my shoe and sock off to let it air out and, finally, after a few years, it finally got better. ...
SH: Can you talk about what you saw as you drove through Europe on these trucks? Did you see signs of the devastation that had occurred?
SF: Yes, devastation, loss of life, loss of buddies, German soldiers dead. I was very fortunate because, in a number of our trips, ... we would go between our frontlines and the enemy frontlines. A number of times, German "eighty-eights" tried to hit our jeep and we were very fortunate that we were not hit with the [shells].
SH: No, I meant before you actually got to the frontline. What were you encountering as you moved up to the front to join the other troops as you went through France? I understand the Winter of 1944 was especially harsh.
SF: Yes. Well, we ... went directly into the Ardennes area, so, ... I was always just in trucks, just driving there. I remember, after the Ardennes and as we were approaching the Rohr River, and then, the Rhine River, and so forth, I think we were still in Belgium, but I recall that we had to dig slit trenches, you know, which you'd squat over, as far as going [to the lavatory]. ... This Belgian family came up to one of these soldiers who was squatting over this slit trench, wanted to thank him for liberating them, and I said to them, "Why are you doing this? Do you see he's going at that time?" They just said it was a normal, biological function and they didn't see anything wrong with thanking him for being a liberator, [laughter] a very strange situation. Their attitudes were very different than ours as far as that was concerned.
SH: What were your first duties as a combat engineer reconnaissance person? What were your first memories of being in danger?
SF: Well, we were in danger all the time, and the time that I think that we were most concerned was prior to the crossing of the Rhine River. At that time, we'd switched over to [General William H.] Simpson's Ninth Army and we didn't realize how serious it was thought [it would be], because they had set up all these tents, all along, because they expected a huge number of casualties at the time. It was the only time that we were really concerned that, "You know, this might be the end of it all." Fortunately, things went a lot better than we thought when we got [across]. Our outfit, and that's what I'm sorry [about], I didn't have that document, which it's lost somewhere in the house, but I can't find it, we built the longest Bailey bridge during the Second World War. It was 220 feet in length and that was, we thought, quite an experience doing that. ... Also, in, I think it was the crossing of the Roer River, what we were doing to make trucks passable on these roads, they would take the shingles off the roofs, these red tile bricks, and use this as material for the road.
SF: Yes, and I forget now, there was a half a dozen trucks or so forth involved in it and, suddenly, the number of trucks kept declining and declining. ... Finally, the Lieutenant decided to find [out] what was going on. Well, we found out that when they were getting the tiles off this particular building, it was a liquor store and the people were just imbibing, or just getting dead drunk.
SH: They were liberating. [laughter]
SF: They were liberating in more ways than one. [laughter]
SH: That sounds like a very inventive way to solve the problem, because I understand it was not only cold and snowy, but there was the mud and all of the conditions.
SF: It was.
SH: Were you there when there was the huge gas shortage?
SF: That, I don't remember. I don't remember anything about a gas shortage.
SH: Did you find that you were supplied with what you needed?
SF: Well, for our jeep, you know, and for our driver ...
SH: Other than just eating pancakes for weeks. [laughter]
SF: Yes. Well, that was for, I forget now, a week or so that that happened, but, no, ... to supply our jeep with [gas], to travel, we had no problem with that. ... Then, I would, you know, we would, draw these graphs or maps which show where we saw different deposits, things that could be used, where the assault crossings could be carried out, and so forth. ...
SH: Did you run into any other New Jersey or Rutgers men while you were over there?
SF: I don't recall meeting any Rutgers men there.
SH: In your group that you showed me the photograph of, where were most of the men from?
SF: A majority of them were from New England. One of them, James Pert, was from Maine. He was always the first one to get up in the morning to go get his breakfast, and we were still asleep in the barracks. ... He comes in, rattling the mess kit, and we asked him, "What's going on, Pert." He says, "Well, the old bastard finally kicked the bucket." "Who are you talking about?" "Why, Old Man Roosevelt." That's how I found out that FDR had died.
SH: Oh, my word.
SH: What were the reactions among the other soldiers?
SF: I think most of us thought very highly of FDR, ... but he [Pert] was from Maine and Maine was one of the two states that voted against Roosevelt, and he was following [laughter] in that tradition.
SH: As someone who is in the military and, obviously, whose life is in danger, what did you think of Truman as a Commander-in-Chief?
SF: I came to appreciate Truman more and more as time went by. I remember when I was a graduate student at Rutgers and the people in the Plant Physiology Department there all thought that he was terrible and I kept saying, "Mark my words, as time goes on, people'll realize that this guy was a much better [President] than you thought." You know, he came up with the Marshall Plan and helping out [Europe]. So, I thought fairly well of him.
SH: Even from the beginning? Many people talk about hardly knowing him as Vice-President Truman.
SF: Yes, well, that was true. It was true, and we were worried, I know, at the time that he [Franklin Roosevelt] died and this unknown had taken over as President and wondered how it would turn out. ... As it turned out, you know, he brought in [Secretary of State George C.] Marshall and had the Marshall Plan and he worked out very well.
SH: As you were moving across Europe and following the Ninth Army, or ahead of the Ninth Army, what were some of the other obstacles that you had to overcome with regards to your involvement in engineering?
SF: I'm not sure how to [answer] or what I was aware of at the time. I do know that we were very unhappy when someone of our outfit was killed, and to the point where some things were done which I didn't particularly appreciate at the time, and that's just a part of war.
SH: Is that anything you want to elaborate on?
SF: Well, the only one I can, that I'll mention, is, we were in Germany, I guess, at the time, and we were staying at this home of this guy who had been a minister. His name was Aufderheide and someone of our outfit took something of value to him, that was given to him by his parish, and I thought that was very wrong, that it shouldn't have been done, but that sort of thing happened at the time. ... One guy, Melo, who I didn't like at all then, ... a dead German soldier, he wanted the soldier's ring and he cut the finger off the soldier just to get the ring. That sort of thing, I did not appreciate. We had one guy in our outfit, he was from Maine, his name was Verbencouer, which is, you know, a French Canadian type of name, and we were horrified that this man was in, because, first of all, we thought he was ancient, because he was thirty-five. What was a thirty-five-year-old doing with us? ... He had had tuberculosis, or something like that, and tufts of his hair had fallen out and we thought, you know, once we got into the war, you know, he wouldn't survive. ... Incredibly, the man not only survived, all his hair grew back and he got in better physical shape than ever before. It was a remarkable thing that happened to him. [laughter]
SH: The wages of war.
SH: Did you get a lot of news about what was going on in the United States from your family?
SF: ... We'd get letters. I remember, one time, my mother sent me a fruitcake and I was able to share that with the whole outfit. It was gone in about five minutes, [laughter] as you can imagine. It was very interesting. ... When the war [wound down], after the Battle of the Bulge, and so forth, when we were (at Pierensef?), for some reason or other, the company selected me to tell the outfit where we were, as far as the war was concerned. So, I would set up maps and indicate where the Germans were, where our troops were, which army was where, and so forth, and so forth, and I got all this information together and it was rather interesting. When the war ended, each battalion had to send someone to Spa, Belgium, where they would get a week's training on ... telling the troops what to expect when they left, you know, the GI insurance, what medical, what GI Bill they could get, etc, etc. ... It was surprising, because I was then only a private first class and here I was with captains and colonels that had been sent by their outfit, and I had a wonderful week there. Prior to that, I had applied to both Cambridge and Oxford, ... to see whether I could get in there. Well, it turns out that ... they would only take people who had at least two years of college, so, I was not accepted there. Anyway, after this week, I got back to the 280th and I said, "Well, okay, I'm all set up. Where's my office? and I'll tell [the men about] the benefits." He said, "Oh, no, you're going to Biarritz." I say, "What are you talking about?" "You've been selected to go to Biarritz American University." I didn't know what they were talking about. It turns out that the captain, I guess, of the outfit put my name in to be selected to go to Biarritz American University. This was set up by the American Government. Were you familiar this?
SH: I have heard of it, yes.
SF: Yes, and it was set up in Biarritz, France, and what they did was to pick these top professors to come in and give training. So, I went to Biarritz and stayed at the Miramar Hotel, where royalty used to stay ... before the Second World War, and I took courses from Dr. Keim, from the University of Nebraska, one of the top agronomists in the country, Dr. Marsh from West Virginia, one of the top horticulturists, Dr. Ewing from English literature from Princeton University, and there was one other, and that's the reason, when I got back to Rutgers, they gave me a full year's credit. So, instead of going in my sophomore year, I went directly into my junior year.
SH: Oh, my.
SF: So, I was very fortunate in having that experience.
SH: Did you meet any other men who were from Rutgers at Biarritz?
SF: I don't recall meeting anyone from Rutgers.
SH: Who were you housed with? You were in this lovely hotel, or what had been a hotel.
SF: The guy I housed with was a Lewis Cooper from San Antonio, Texas. We shared a big, spacious room there, and I remember the food they served us. I couldn't stand Spam, which is what they had during the [war], but they were able to prepare Spam, you know, with the French chefs preparing it, it was really incredible what they could do with the stuff. [laughter] So, that was a wonderful experience and I was able to go up into the Pyrenees and actually go skiing up there
SF: Yes, it was a very enjoyable time.
SH: It would be hard to write home and tell them how you were suffering, right? [laughter]
SF: Yes. Well, of course, the war was over, but, yes.
SH: Of course. To go back months before, like in January, when you finally, as you say, come out of the Ardennes and the Bulge and you were advancing across Europe, you talked about being in the home of one minister. Were you generally housed in homes as you made your way across or in tents?
SF: No. Usually, it was in tents, and so forth, but this is; I don't recall whether the war was already over or was close to being over. ... When the war was over, we were then moved back to Normandy, France.
SH: Is that where you met your cousin in Camp Lucky Strike?
SF: It was ... along that way, but I was in this town of Barneville-sur-Mer, ... I recall, and I met this girl and we became very friendly. ... She taught me French and she invited me to her home for dinner. They were in their summer home. Their home in Paris had been destroyed. Apparently, they were a fairly prominent, well-to-do family. So, Janine invited me to have dinner there on a Sunday. Well, I don't know whether you're aware, but the French, at least there, they served every part of the food separately and we sat down at noon; at three o' clock, we were still eating there. So, ... finally, when she came in with another plate of stuff, I said to her, [using] the French that Janine had taught me, "Non, non, madame, Je suis plein." [laughter] You know what that means. Well, she dropped the plate and ... she thought it was the funniest thing she'd ever heard of, because you know what, "Je suis plein," in French means
SH: Please, tell us.
SF: Well, "Je suis plan," means, "I am full," but it's the French way of saying, "I'm pregnant." [laughter] ... Then, she told me the story that when the war ended, ... all Catholics there, the priest and the whole village of Barneville-sur-Mer went to where they saw this cross, which they assumed was an American soldier, and they want to thank him for having given his life to save the country. ... He reads it, "And we want to thank Monsieur Old Latrine, (que tombe?)," on such-and-such a day. They didn't realize it was a slit trench, which, always, they put a cross on there and they're kissing the latrine. [laughter] So, one of the funny things that happened, yes.
SH: Great story. Where were you in Germany when the war ended? Actually, you said that you had been sent back to England for V-E Day.
SF: Yes, I was on rotation furlough that they called it, yes.
SH: Where had you rotated out of? Do you remember what town you were in at that time, when you were sent to England, and how far you had advanced into Germany?
SF: No, I don't. I don't recall. ... Well, we were in the Ruhr area and we were in Essen and, as a matter-of-fact, I was asked to interview a number of the German industrialists with regard to what the conditions were of their factories and facilities, and so forth, and so on.
SH: As part of this reconnaissance force?
SF: Yes, but this was after the war was over.
SH: Did you come back from England to do that or was that before you went to England?
SF: Well, whether it was before England or after, I'm not quite sure about that.
SH: How forthcoming were they?
SF: They seemed to be fairly forthcoming and friendly.
SH: Their English was good enough, or did you have an interpreter?
SF: We got together because I'd taken German in college, for my doctorate. No, this is before my doctorate, but I'd taken German, and, with the little German I knew, and whether we had someone else there doing that, [I do not recall], but, anyway, we were able to communicate and get this information down. I'd forgotten about that I'd done that.
SH: I wondered how the Germans that you were meeting as you progressed into Germany treated the American soldiers.
SF: They were fairly friendly. We were, of course, ... providing them with chocolates and cigarettes, and so forth, and helping them. ...
SH: We are looking at some of the material that you have now on the 280th. You said you were in the pocket. There was a picture of some of the things that you built, the different bridges. Some of them are very impressive, considering the destruction. You were talking about this bridge.
SF: Yes, this was the Bailey bridge that was built, that I thought I mentioned before, that it was the longest Bailey bridge built during the war, as far as we know. It was 220 feet long and it was quite an experience in putting it up there. We were very proud of that accomplishment.
SH: As a reconnaissance person, you would go out and look for material that could be used.
SF: We looked for materials that could be used for the roads, access to the bridges, access towards the rivers that we were going to have to cross. ... Most the materials that we'd find [were] where there were any quarries or mainly stuff from the tiles of roofs, of houses and buildings, that we could use that made very good road building materials.
SH: Other than the trucks, what else would you have that would go along with the 280th Combat Engineers? What other kind of equipment would go?
SF: I don't recall. I just don't recall what other road [building equipment we had]. ... As a combat engineer battalion, we were mainly involved in working with the army that was involved in their advance forward. ... Therefore, it was mainly in making access through the building of bridges or the access roads to get them across.
SH: Did you also build the pontoon bridges as well?
SF: I don't recall our building pontoon bridges, but there must have been many, but all I recall is our building the Bailey bridges.
SH: That material would be moved forward to you on trucks.
SF: Yes. ...
SH: Did you work in the daylight or would you work at night?
SF: We worked, usually, in the day, as I recall.
SH: Did you ever see any of the USO or the Red Cross?
SF: Well, the Red Cross that we saw was when they put up these huge, enormous number of tents, prior to the crossing of the Rhine River.
SH: That was hospital ships and things like that that were put up.
SF: No, these were tents. There weren't any hospital ships. They were inland.
SH: Not ships, but hospital tents.
SF: Hospital tents, yes, that's what they were, yes.
SH: Not hospital ships, tents. [laughter]
SF: No, that's right, yes, yes, and a huge number. That's when we got really concerned that, "You know, this is going to be a real serious battle." They expected far more casualties than actually occurred. We, in ... our outfit, did not like Patton at all.
SF: The reason being that he insisted, though we were at war and though we were losing people, he insisted we had to wear ties. ... We had one instance where we had this equipment for checking for mines and he insisted that an individual should be going in front of the mine detector with a bayonet to probe for the mines, because the wooden Shoe mines would not be picked up by the mine detector and he felt the man was expendable, more so than the mine detector. ... He busted a lieutenant in our outfit down to private just because he saw that happening. So, we had no use for Patton. He was considered a great general, and so forth, but [not by our unit]. ...
SH: Did you ever see Patton?
SF: I never saw Patton, but only knew what he did and insisted that, you know, we have to wear ties with our shirts during the war. [laughter]
SH: Did you see anyone else out of the ordinary or famous when you were in Europe? You have already spoken about Eisenhower. Did you have any interaction with any of the other Allied forces, the Australians?
SF: Well, with the British. As a matter-of-fact, I recall, one time, that we were on a reconnaissance mission. ... The Simpson ... Ninth Army included British troops. ... It was just before the Venlo Pocket, we were in there, and we went to see the British, I think it was a British general, but I'm not sure, and we asked him, you know, about where his forces were deployed and what the situation was. ... In a typical British accent, he said, you know, "We have this there and this here," and so forth, and this is the only experience that I had with the British at that time. ... Then, we reported back to our outfit what the British general had to say about the deployment of his forces were concerned.
SH: Are there other stories that you would like to share about your time in combat?
SF: Well, the one that I recall is going by truck, or we were in a jeep at that time, and saw all these slain ... Germans, and here was a German, young German soldier, good-looking, young man, blond hair, blue eyes, wide open, and his stomach ripped open and the bowels all displayed. ... To me, I realized the horror of war and, [as] a matter-of-fact, during the war, I read War and Peace by Tolstoy.
SH: Did you really?
SF: I had it with me and got to read it, you know, as time allowed. [laughter] ...
SH: Why did you choose to read that?
SF: I don't know. Well, because I figured, "Well, I'm in a war. I'd like to see what others had to say about it," [laughter] and Tolstoy's War and Peace was famous, so, I thought, "Well, might as well read it while this is going on." [laughter] I recall another experience of when we had to stop by the Navy, for some reason or other. ... They served us a meal there and we were just astounded, I mean, the superb, delicious food that they had available there, compared to the kind of slop that we had to put up with. ...
SH: Where was the Navy? Where did you see them?
SF: ... I forget now whether we were ... then in Barneville-sur-Mer; I guess, yes, we must have been in Barneville-sur-Mer, on the Normandy coast, and I forget now the reason I was going to the Navy, asking some questions, and so forth.
SH: Was this after the war?
SF: ... This is after the war. At the very end of the war, before we were disbanded, I was put in charge of the materials and supplies for the company. ... The saddest experience I had was when my very closest buddy was [killed]. His name was Carol Clifford, but we called him Kayo Clifford, typical Boston Irish guy, good-looking, black hair, blue eyes, and so forth. Everybody really liked this guy and, after the war ended, he was riding in a truck and he fell off the truck and hit his head and died. ... I was then in charge of collecting materials to send back to the family. ... I can understand how a President of the United States feels, because for me to write a letter to his family and tell them, you know, that they've lost their son and to send back all his material belongings, I found that very painful.
SH: Was the body buried in Europe or was it sent home? Do you know?
SF: I don't remember, I don't remember.
SH: That must have been terrible, especially with the war over.
SF: That was it, that was the real tragedy, yes. ... After the war, there were only two individuals that I ever met from the 280th. One was while I was a grad student at Rutgers, ... Gene Balzer, who was from New York City. He came to visit me and we played tennis on the Rutgers tennis courts, and the other one I met, it was purely by accident. ... We had moved up to Needham, Massachusetts. I was then working for Chiquita Brands, or United Fruit Company, as it was called at the time, and John Hamway, who was a sergeant in my outfit, was living up there with his family. ... So, he got to meet me and my wife and my two children at the time, but those were the only two that I had had any contact with.
SH: To back up to before the war actually ends, because the war ends in Europe and you are in England, did you then go back to the United States?
SF: No, not in England; I was in France.
SH: I thought you were in England.
SF: I was in England for V-E Day, but, then, I went back. ...
SH: When V-E Day happened, you were in England. Then, you went back to Europe to the 280th.
SH: Where was the 280th sent then?
SF: We were then sent to Barneville-sur-Mer, on the Normandy coast.
SH: Did you think that you would be sent to the Pacific at that time?
SF: There was the possibility, at the time, but it was from there that I went to Spa, Belgium, you know, to get the seminar, and then, I was told I was going to Biarritz. ... So, it was from Biarritz that I actually left and went back to the United States.
SH: The 280th was completely disbanded.
SF: It was disbanded.
SH: In Europe?
SF: In Europe, yes.
SH: There were none that were sent on to the Pacific.
SF: Not that I'm aware of.
SH: The 280th was not sent. That is what I was trying to pick up.
SF: No, no.
SH: When you were in Biarritz, did you get the opportunities to tour like you had done in England?
SF: I visited some in that area and, as I said, I even got to go up into the Pyrenees and go skiing up there.
SH: Was it hard to contain all those soldiers and keep them busy until they could be transported home?
SF: Well, at Biarritz University, ... we were taking all these courses, you know. So, we were [kept busy].
SH: Were you all serious students in Biarritz?
SF: Very much so, very much so, and even more so when we got back to Rutgers. ...
SH: That was what I wanted to ask. When you are at Biarritz, are you beginning to make plans for going back to college?
SF: Coming back, absolutely, although, after I got back, I was then twenty-two and I said to my parents, "You know, maybe I'm too old to go back to college." [laughter] Well, they convinced me otherwise very quickly, and so, I then did go back and, of course, [went on].
SH: Had you been in contact with Rutgers at all?
SF: I don't recall. I just don't recall that I had [any contact].
SH: Did you write to them and ask them about coming back to school while you were still in Europe?
SF: I don't recall whether I did or didn't. I just don't remember. I don't remember. I had a very interesting experience when I was in Needham, Massachusetts. I went into the Army at the same time that Howard Crosby went into the Army. We went in at the same time. You know, he became Dean of Men [at Rutgers College]. We called him "Bing," you know, of course, and, while I was at Needham, he said, "Sam, we would like you to represent the University, because ... Boston College is having its one hundredth anniversary and we've got to send a representative." Well, I said, "Bing, I'll be glad to. If you'll send me the doctoral robes, then, I'll do that." So, he sent the doctoral robes and they lined us up based upon the age of the university. Well, the University of Ghent was first. So, I was eighth in line, and we marched in there, and so, I was in the middle of the first row and staring directly at the guest speaker, who was sitting in a rocking chair and rocking back and forth, the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy.
SF: ... Every time he would stop rocking, he would stare directly at me, because I happened to be right in front of him, [laughter] and so forth. ... He gave a wonderful address, and Archbishop [Richard] Cushing was then the Cardinal who was there, and so forth. So, it was quite an experience, and I had friends of mine say, "My God, we saw you on television," and so forth. [laughter]
SH: You were discharged in the Spring of 1946.
SF: April 1st.
SH: As you came back home, how were you transported home from France?
SF: By ship.
SH: Do you remember the name of the ship?
SF: I don't remember the ship, but, as I mentioned, we went through this North Atlantic storm, you know, ... and I just had the most wonderful time. [laughter] I'm convinced I could have been a sailor all my life. There's something about the ocean that I just love. ...
SH: Really? Were you able then, in later years, to be involved at all?
SF: Only on deep sea fishing trips, and particularly when we were living in Honduras, Central America. We had a boat called the Chamelecon and, usually, during the Easter holidays, which they take very seriously, we would go out on the boat, my wife and I and three couples, and spend three nights out there, deep sea fishing, and it was just wonderful.
SH: You really do have saltwater in your veins, right?
SF: Yes. [laughter]
SH: Okay, you are coming back from Europe in early March of 1946, through this horrible storm. What is the first thing you want to do when you get to the States? Do you remember what you wanted to eat or to see or do?
SF: Well, it was mainly to see my family and to be with them and be with my sisters and brother, and so forth. I don't know ... what to put on here, but we were sitting out there the first time, having dinner together, and without realizing where I was, I said to my brother, "Al, pass me the fucking butter," [laughter] because it's the way we talked in military, you know, and so, they looked down at me, kind of shocked. [laughter] ...
SH: It was a bit of a readjustment.
SF: It was. Well, it was a fair bit of readjustment. Because we were bombarded so many times, at times, we were staying in buildings of which half had been destroyed and, when we'd hear a German "eighty-eight" coming in there, we'd immediately go to the ground. So, any time I was here, for the first few years, if a car backfired, I'd immediately fall to the ground.
SF: It was just an automatic reflex or reaction because of this. I remember, during the war, that I'll never forget, ... because of the people we had lost in our outfit, we got some new replacements and we were, again, staying in these destroyed houses, in parts that were still standing. ... I remember, we got up one morning and looked for these new guys; we couldn't find them. "What happened?" found they were down in the basement, and I said, "What are you doing there?" They said, "Didn't you hear all the firepower?" and they'd bombed the town. We'd gotten used [to it], to the point where once we were asleep, the bombs falling all around us didn't keep us awake. You just got used to it.
SH: Unbelievable that you could get used to that.
SH: Did you at any point think that you would like to change your MOS or apply for Officer Candidate School or do anything differently than what you had been assigned to do in the military?
SF: Well, I made the choice, you know; they gave me the choice, right at the beginning, because of the IQ, that I could go directly to Officer Candidate School or Army Specialized Training Program. So, I picked the ASTP. When they disbanded that, they wanted troops to fight the war, because of the conditions at that time. So, I had no choice.
SH: You did not try to apply again for it.
SF: They wouldn't have accepted it. While I was at the University of New Hampshire, they had a request for those to be trained for a medical degree. ... At the time of applying, I got sick and was in the infirmary. So, I was not able to apply, but my good friend from New Jersey, Christian Apsenheimer, did go and became a medical doctor.
SH: While you were in Europe, did you ever have to avail yourself of the medical facilities there? Were you ever injured? You said you had trench foot.
SF: No, no. I was lucky, because I got, you know, a scratch or so forth, but I paid no attention to that. It was minor, and people were getting Purple Hearts, you know, for minor things that I paid no attention [to], but, when the war ended, the time that you went back to the United States was based upon how many points you had collected. ... They gave five points for every Purple Heart that you got. So, I was a little ...
SH: Sorry you had not.
SF: Disappointed, yes. [laughter]
SH: The point system, did a lot of people grumble about it or was it just accepted?
SF: It seemed to me it was accepted, and I remember Bob Beukema, who was from Holland, Michigan, and he was happy of the fact that he had three children, and that counted for a lot. So, he got to go back earlier.
SH: Were there people who did not receive a lot of mail or did everybody pretty much always get something at mail call? Do you remember?
SF: I don't know that I ever paid much attention to that.
SH: Was that an important time of the day? Did it happen every day or only sporadically?
SF: Again, I don't have much recollection of that. ... I got mail, from time to time, from my family, but I don't recall who got a lot of mail and who didn't.
SH: When you were able to get the R&R to England, what was that based on? What would determine who got to leave on R&R?
SF: It's a good question. ... I'm not sure exactly what was the basis for it and who made the selection that you could go and do that. I just happened to be very fortunate to go at a time when I could be there in Trafalgar Square when the lights went on for the first time in five, six years. It was quite a thrilling time.
SH: Were the GIs treated well?
SF: Oh, yes. We were very well treated.
SH: You talked about how the Belgian family was trying to thank your friend as he was engaged. Were there other instances where people were very grateful, or not appreciative of American soldiers, for you personally?
SF: No, I found, wherever I went, that they all seemed to be very appreciative of our being there.
SH: You had been sent from your unit to be schooled, to be able to inform all the troops of what their rights were. Who did that for your group, since you were then sent to Biarritz?
SF: I don't know. I don't know who they selected, because I was the only one ... who got that information and I don't know ... what they did. They must have picked someone else from another battalion, or so forth, to come in and do that.
SH: Was that information that you were able to use personally?
SF: From the standpoint that I immediately applied for the GI Bill to continue on, you know, at Rutgers. ...
SH: When you came back in March and you saw your family ...
SH: April, I am sorry. What did you do next? Did you go right back to school in the summer or did you wait until the autumn?
SF: Oh, no, I started in September. So, I had this time at home with the family and it was fortunate because, in August; no, that's right, in August, I was already at Rutgers. So, I must have gone in the summer, because, on August 22nd, my father died, yes. He was fifty-one at the time. He'd had that heart attack years earlier and, finally, [passed away]. I'm, you know, fortunate that at least I was able to see him before he died, but I was grateful to him because he's the one who insisted, when he was in the hospital, the first time, and he said, "Go back to college," you know. ... "Get the money, so [that] you can go back," and so, I was very grateful.
SH: Did you have any trouble adjusting to civilian life? You talked about every time you would hear a car backfire and things for years afterwards.
SF: ... No, otherwise, not at all, and I loved being back at Rutgers, I mean, and, as you may be aware, those of us who were combat veterans really applied ourselves at Rutgers. We knew what we wanted to do and, therefore, ... we probably did better than perhaps the other ones. You know, when I was there, Bart Klion, of course, was a young kid at the time. [laughter] ... [As] a matter-of-fact, ... when I saw him at the homecoming, I didn't recognize him, because ... the last time I'd seen him was at the fiftieth class reunion and he looked then like the old Bart, you know, ... but this time, he looked older. [laughter] I'm sure he felt the same way about me. ...
SH: Could you talk about being that older twenty-two-year-old and now being back on campus? What was the interaction with the young kids like? Was it hard to connect with them or to be around them? Did they seem foolish?
SF: No, I didn't feel any serious problem there. I also, in addition to the GI Bill, also worked in the cafeteria.
SH: Did you? Where was the cafeteria then? Was it in Winants Hall or the old gym?
SF: No, that was across the street from the gym, [the College Avenue Gym].
SH: In Brower Commons? Brower had been built by the time you came back.
SF: I don't recall. ... It was a big cafeteria, and then, I became the head of the cafeteria group.
SH: Did you really?
SF: And, in fact, when I thought that an individual ... did a good job of waiting, you know, on the tables, and so forth, I would line them all up, and then, ... award them what I called the "croix de thé," which gave them a tea bag. [laughter]
SH: Where were you housed when you came back?
SF: It was one of the newer dormitories, and I don't recall the name. It was a quad and it was one of the dormitories in that quad.
SH: Wessels? I know another one was named Pell as well. Did you ever join a fraternity or any social group?
SF: Yes. ... Well, I was invited to join the Sigma Alpha Mu.
SH: This was when you came back for the second time.
SF: When I came back, yes.
SH: You never lived in the fraternity house.
SF: No, only in the summertime, I think.
SH: They may not have had a house.
SF: No, we had a house.
SH: Did you?
SF: Yes, we did, and that was the thing that Bart and I, on the fiftieth class reunion, were astounded [by], when we went to the fraternity house and found that there was a girl (at the part?) of the fraternity, you know. [laughter] So, things had really changed.
SH: As they do, right? When you came back, did you get involved then in any of the other social activities, because of your involvement in the fraternity? Was that something that was popular at the time?
SF: No, the only thing I got involved with was a bridge group. I loved to play bridge. I learned to play bridge while I was at Biarritz.
SH: Did you?
SF: And we played bridge, usually from Friday evening [on], played all night, [laughter] ... and I still play bridge. I play bridge usually about three, four times a week.
SH: Do you really?
SH: That is something you have kept doing.
SF: I've kept up. Well, it keeps the brain cells going a bit.
SH: When you came back to Rutgers, did you change your major?
SH: Did you focus your major more?
SF: It was still in the same field, in plant physiology, and I just kept on until I got my [doctorate]. Now, when I was ready to get my master's, I had applied to go to Iowa State, where I was offered a fellowship. ... It was Dr. [John] Wesley Shive, who was head of the Plant Physiology [Department, who] talked me into staying. He said, "You stay here, you know, in another two years, you'll get your doctorate. You go out to Iowa State, you know, it'll take you at least three years." So, he talked me into staying, and so, we stayed.
SH: Did you then begin to teach?
SF: No. ... After I got my doctorate, well, I then went to work with [Norman F.] Childers in the Horticulture Department, just for a brief time, and was offered a number of positions, actually, three positions, and it was difficult to decide which one [to take]. One was to work with James [F.] Bonner, who, at that time, was one of the top plant physiologists at CalTech, and this was to work on the rubber plant. The other one was with the American Chemical Paint Company in Ambler, Pennsylvania. They worked on herbicides, and I had just about decided to go to this one with CalTech when I got back and [they] said, "Well, you have an appointment to see a Mr. Poland in New York," and I said, "Oh, what's this about?" Well, apparently, they put my name in, without my knowing about it. So, I called up this guy and said, you know, I hemmed and hawed, and he says, "Well, we have Dr. [Vining C.] Dunlap here waiting to see you." So, I said, "Well, okay, I'll go." So, I went in to see him. He was the director of research for the United Fruit Company, you know, the Chiquita Banana, and then, Jasper Baker ... invited us to his home and showed pictures of Honduras and what it was like. ... My wife and I were intrigued by it. So, we accepted, and then, moved to Honduras.
SH: Before we get to Honduras, let us talk a little bit about Rutgers. You finished your undergrad in 1948, and then, you stayed at Rutgers to get your master's and your PhD. You finished in 1951. When did you meet Mrs. Freiberg and where?
SF: ... Oh, I met her in 1948 and we were married in 1949. [As a] matter-of-fact, this past September, we celebrated our sixtieth wedding anniversary.
SH: Congratulations, that is wonderful. Where did you meet Mrs. Freiberg?
SF: We met, one of these funny things, she was a friend of my sister, my younger sister, (Julie?). ... Whenever I'd come home, (Julie'd?) say, "Oh, you've got to meet so-and-so," and I'd say, "Yes, yes, oh, sure," and I'd pay no attention, but this time, she mentioned my wife and I felt I couldn't get out of it. So, I went and met with her, and fell in love with her immediately.
SH: Did you?
SF: Yes. So, that's how that happened.
SH: Was she from Elizabeth?
SF: She was from Newark, yes, and she was in arts, that that's the field that she was in. ... Her whole family was artistic. Her cousin, we have a painting of his in the living room, he trained at the Sorbonne in Paris, and, now, our granddaughter is studying art. ...
SH: Where were you housed after you were married in 1949?
SF: We lived out at Bevier Road ... in Piscataway. There was graduate housing there, out there. I don't know whether they still have it there anymore.
SH: I think there are some sort of facilities still there. Wow, it is interesting.
SH: Were there a lot of married people in the program? Was this quite common, because I am very sure that you are just a little bit older than the traditional graduate student?
SF: Well, that's true, but there were a number of married couples there that we knew that were in agriculture, and so forth.
SH: Were there any organizations for veterans at the University that you remember?
SF: If there were, I wasn't involved in them. ...
SH: Did you teach at all while you were working on your PhD?
SH: You were just involved in research.
SF: In the research and the course work.
SH: Now, you are off to Honduras. What was that like at that time?
SF: Well, it was a wonderful experience, just living there and having the experience.
SH: What was your job?
SF: I was then doing plant physiology research on the banana plant.
SH: Were you on a plantation or a farm of some sort?
SF: Well, we were there. The banana plantations [were] all around us and, in fact, the first night we got there, I mean, Dr. Thornton, who was the assistant director of research, invited us to his home for dinner, and this is about fifty miles inland from the coast. ... They put us in this house that had just been built, you know, and we were in this house living and there were all these banana plants all around it and parrots calling off in the trees, and so, it sounded very fascinating. ... Bob Roberts picked us up to bring us to the Thorntons' house and we got there and they served drinks. ... I'd always loved scotch and soda, so, that was fine with me and my wife had Coke at the time, and then, about nine o'clock, we decided that we'd made a mistake, you know, this was just for drinks, that we're not having dinner. At ten o'clock, they came out with a buffet dinner. So, it was really quite an experience, and then, ... Bob Roberts took us back home and said, "Well, I'll pick you up for work." I said, "Well, what time will you pick [me up]?" "I'll pick you up about six-twenty [AM]." I said, "Six-twenty?" "Yes." Well, I thought this is some odd initiation they did. Well, it turns out they actually started work at six-thirty. You worked until eleven, and then, you had an hour-and-a-half for lunch, and then, worked from one until four. ... Why they stopped at four was because there was enough light so that you could play nine holes of golf. ... Our house was right at the edge of a golf course. So, it was quite an interesting experience, but we really enjoyed it, and we got there in March of 1952 and the Easter holidays were on. ... So, I mentioned, we were invited to go out on this boat and had a wonderful time there ... and our son was born down there, and that was a very happy occasion. ... Actually, he was conceived at, we had an arrangement with the company that I could attend the annual Plant Physiology Association conferences and it was held in Madison, Wisconsin, and, anyway, he was born nine months later. [laughter] ... Then, after that, my wife got pregnant again and, unfortunately, that didn't go very well at all. It was twin girls. One died at birth and one died a week later, and my wife hemorrhaged and was in bad shape. So, we decided we had to leave, and then, we told them, "Well, we're sorry, we're just going to have to quit the company." Well, much to my surprise, they arranged, with Cornell University, for me to go there as a visiting fellow, and with the idea that, after that, I would then go to their headquarters in Boston, and they, meanwhile, had set up a central research laboratory in Norwood, Massachusetts. ... It was while up there that our daughter, Nancy, was born and, eventually, I became director of central research there and I was with them for thirteen years. ... Then, from there, I joined the IRI Research Institute, founded by Nelson and David Rockefeller, with my headquarters in Rockefeller Center, 30 Rock, [laughter] and I was with them for thirteen or fourteen years.
SH: Where did you live then?
SF: I moved to Princeton, believe it or not.
SH: Did you really?
SF: Yes, lived in Princeton during that time and commuted. It was an hour-and-a-half each way, took the "Dinky" to Princeton Junction, [a small train running from Princeton proper to Princeton Junction], and then, from there, drove into New York City, and then, back. ... Then, from there, I'd been doing consulting work, while I'm [working] for IRI, for the World Bank, and then, decided to join the World Bank and was with the World Bank for, I guess, seven years, because mandatory retirement at the World Bank was sixty-two.
SF: Yes. So, in April, at sixty-two, I was officially retired from the World Bank, went back to my office the following day, same secretary, same activities, but, now, I was a consultant [laughter] and I did that for ten more years, at age seventy-two, because my work was always out in the field. Occasionally, my wife would go with me and, usually, when I'd be out there talking to the farmers, she would be sketching the children, and then, give the sketch to the mother of the child, and so forth.
SH: Talk a little bit about that, if you would, about your job in New York. When you were at 30 Rock, where were you going for work, or were you working right there?
SF: No, we had research programs that were going on, first, mainly in Brazil and in Venezuela. The Rockefeller brothers had a large tract of land near Matao, which is, oh, I guess, about ninety minutes away from San Paolo, and they carried out research trials there. [As a] matter-of-fact, the research that was done there on the so-called Campo Cerrado soils, this type of soils, showed that soy beans would grow very well. ... Of course, now, I think, Brazil is one of the largest soybean producers in the world. This all came out of research that was done there.
SH: How often did you have to go to South America?
SF: Oh, I used to go three, four times a year.
SH: Did you?
SH: How long would you stay usually?
SF: Couple of weeks, sometimes as much as a month, and then, we had programs in Venezuela, and then, in Indonesia.
SH: Which you also visited.
SF: Oh, yes.
SH: How did the world changing in politics affect your work and your travel? Were you ever in the wrong place at the wrong time?
SF: You know, I was very fortunate. After I joined [the World Bank]; well, even while I was with IRI, I visited a lot of countries before there was any serious problem. For example, I visited Libya before Muammar Qaddafi had taken over [in 1969]. I was able to go to Kufra Oasis, which is in the central part of the desert there, and that was quite a fascinating experience, in particular, to see white camels. I'd never seen them, that they'd have caravans. ... I remember flying from Tripoli to the Kufra Oasis and you would fly over this desert and, when the plane landed, it landed on the desert, and this time, it landed that the front wheels just dug right into the sand and it was quite a job getting it out, so that we could fly back out of that area. The experiences, though, that I had with countries which I wouldn't go to now, but I did, was while I was working for the World Bank, because, in effect, I worked for the World Bank for seventeen years. In addition to that, after I retired, I was senior technical adviser for the International Fund for Agricultural Development in Rome, Italy, which my wife loved, because she loves Italy.
SH: I can imagine.
SF: And so, there, we'd rent an apartment, I'd rent an apartment, you know, for a month or so, doing work for them, but, with the World Bank, I got to places like Yemen. We had an agriculture research project there and I visited Yemen at least twice a year and it was perfectly safe at that time. There was no problem there. I visited Somalia; there was no problem with Somalia there. I visited Pakistan a number of times. ... They say that the headquarters of Al-Qaeda is now Quetta, and I was into Quetta and, at that time, there wasn't any of these problems whatsoever. ... I was lucky I was able to visit these places before these things happened.
SH: You have seen air travel change tremendously. I am assuming that was the way you got around most of the time.
SF: Oh, yes. One experience I recall, when I was still working for the United Fruit Company, I was up in the Boston area at that time and I was going to visit our research facilities in La Lima, Honduras, where I had lived for five years, and I was bringing with me three people who had never been there. They were part of the central research labs, and so, we went to La Lima, Honduras, and we got to the airport at San Pedro Sula to go on to Costa Rica, and then, Panama. ... Since we got there a long time before the plane left, I took the people to show them the town of San Pedro Sula, and so forth. We got back to the airport about an hour before the flight was to leave, found the plane was on the runway, taking off, and we said, ... "How come?" "Well, we checked in all the passengers. They all checked in, so, we decided to leave early." [laughter] So, I called our office at Tegucigalpa and indicated what happened, you know, and they said, "Well, we cancelled the rest of your trip, because you didn't go on there." I said, "Well, we're still going there, so, you've got to reschedule it. We'll try to find some way to get to Tegucigalpa." So, we decided we would get a pilot, and ... so, they called up a pilot who had a small plane, but enough to take four passengers, and we went in this twin-engine plane. This is the time of the year when they were burning off the landscape, because they wanted to plant their rice and corn, and we were flying above the clouds, and then, he would dive down to be sure where he was going. I was sure we're going to crash into a mountain, but we finally got to the Tegucigalpa Airport and this international flight, which had come in from New Orleans, we asked them to hold the plane, because we were coming there. ... Fortunately, they were able to hold the plane and our little plane went right under this plane and we got off and onto the plane. I could see these people saying, "Who are these VIPs that they would hold this plane for us to go off?" [laughter] So, that was the sort of experience we had way back, that that sort of thing wouldn't happen now.
SH: No, and neither would the plane leave early.
SF: No, no, [laughter] and one interesting experience that I had when we lived in Honduras was, ... we got a new pilot for our plane, and we used the plane to fly over our plantation to see where we had the flood fallowing to kill out this Fusarium disease. ... This guy had a scar, which he said he'd gotten in the Korean War, and so forth, and he said he was going to set up a school for teaching us how to fly. ... I was involved with this here and we set up this whole program, and then, finally, Bob Beasley, who was the assistant manager, when they went to insure him, they found out he was the tenth most wanted man in the United States. He'd apparently forged checks to something like 275,000 dollars, and never been in the Korean War, [laughter] and he escaped to Panama, but they finally caught him in Panama and they got him back here. ... When I tell people, you know, he would land on these lakes, you know, bobbing up and down, and said it was the most dangerous thing going, because the plane could easily flip over, but we were ... pretty dumb at that time, didn't realize that. [laughter]
SH: Did you ever pursue your pilot's license?
SF: No, I didn't. I would have, but my wife was not in favor of it at all. [laughter]
SH: You talked about having a passion for bridge and, obviously, for reading. Are there other hobbies that you have?
SF: Well, here, I'm involved in a number of activities. We have a group called, appropriately, "the Fossils." It is, and I'm quoting, "Distinguished men of the Washington, DC, area," and they have a monthly meeting. It was founded by the Methodist church on Connecticut Avenue, ... but all denominations are allowed in it, and we have a monthly meeting, we have a guest speaker and we've had prominent people from the DC area to speak to us. We have a bridge group that meets at the Chevy Chase Women's Club on Connecticut Avenue. We have a conversations group that meets every second Thursday of the month and, right now, we had the Foreign Policy's [Foreign Policy Association] Great Decisions journal they issue each year, which discuss world affairs and we discuss that. ... Then, we have an economics group that will be meeting, as a matter-of-fact, this coming Thursday, it's always usually the fourth Thursday of the month, and we'll be discussing Thomas Payne. So, that keeps me busy. Then, I belong to a science and religion group that meets at the Cedar Lane Unitarian Church in which we have retired members with a whole range of different backgrounds, professional backgrounds. So, we speak on anything and everything under the sun. So, it's a very interesting group.
SH: What brought you to the Maryland area?
SF: The World Bank.
SH: You came here then.
SH: I thought you were still working with World Bank in New York, but it was here.
SF: No, no, I was here. No, I did some consulting work for the World Bank while I was still at the IRI.
SH: Okay, I misunderstood.
SH: Were you ever approached to work for any other agencies within the government, like the CIA or anything like that?
SF: No. One person once asked me whether I was interested in working for the CIA and I expressed no interest at all, but, no, I've never [done that], and, for me, having been in the private sector all of my life, ... and, of course, the World Bank, you know, is not a US Government agency. Seventy-five percent of their staff are foreign, ... but, for that, to join the World Bank, they had to do an FBI check on me before they would agree that it's okay for me to work for the World Bank.
SH: What interested you in the World Bank?
SF: Well, the fact is that they are involved in agriculture research and extension, which is my field, and you got to go to a lot of different countries to assist them to improve their capabilities in agriculture research or extension, to help their farmers to grow food, and that I found very meaningful. ... To me, it was particularly encouraging, for example, to go to a place like Turkey, where I used to go quite often, and, after a program had been completed, the World Bank, five, ten years later, would send in a survey team to see, "What impact did this have?" ... To go be on this team and go to an irrigation project that was done ... in one part of Turkey and talk to the farmers and [hear them] say, "Well, I can now grow two crops a year. Look, I've got a refrigerator now," and so forth, and indicating all the benefits they have, and then, ... they would do an economic returns of an investment, to show how much the project had improved, so, I enjoyed that part of it. I did not care for some of the things that the World Bank did, which was structural, adjustment loans, and so forth, but I was not involved in any of that. ... So, I very much enjoyed working for the World Bank.
SH: It sounds like you contributed wonderfully to the organization.
SF: Well, I was very lucky. I really feel I've been very lucky. ... All the jobs I've had, I enjoyed. [laughter]
SH: I thank you.
SH: Let me put it back on then. One question I had was, when the Korean War started, you were just working on finishing your PhD, if I am right. Were you in danger of being called back?
SF: I, at that time, felt that I wanted to go back, and actually went to the military with the idea of whether I should join. ... They indicated that, in view of my work on herbicides, that they would be willing for me to come in as a lieutenant into the [Chemical Corps], well, because I felt we really had a serious problem there in Korea, that we had to resolve this. So, I felt strongly, ... but my wife talked me out of it.
SH: Did she really? What was it about the Korean War that you were aware of?
SF: Well, I felt, at that time, that we had a real danger, with the Communists in control in China and with the North Korea invasion of South Korea, and so forth, that if we didn't put a stop to it, that we would have all of Asia under Communist control. So, at that time, I felt it was necessary to participate and try to stop this. I think my feeling about this is very different now than it was at that time, but, being young and just feeling a duty to help out at that time, I thought we were certain to be in another world war.
SH: There is one question I did not ask you. What was your reaction to hearing that the atom bomb had been dropped? Did you understand what an atom bomb was when they were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? At that time, did you understand what it was? How did you learn about it, too, because you were in Europe at that time?
SF: Well, I guess I felt that if it brought about the ending of the war, which it did, that, therefore, it was warranted, because, otherwise, to invade Japan would have caused a tremendous loss of life. I realize this is what Harry Truman felt and this is the reason he did it. However, now, I feel that if I were in this position, I would have given a fair warning to the Japanese, telling them, "This is what we're going to do and we're going to attack this city," and at least leave the inhabitants the opportunity to try to escape. I think the way we did it, I don't think was correct, now. ...
SH: Can you talk about the reactions in Europe to the announcement that the war had ended? What were the reactions? What did people do?
SF: Oh, we were just overjoyed, yes. [laughter] There is one incident that I can think of that I recall which I enjoyed very much. When we lived in Honduras, Chuck and Betty Haines, who were our closest friends, and they had a young boy by the name of Eddie, ... again, on one of these Easter holidays, we decided to drive in his vehicle up to Santa Rosa de Copan. ... This is where there are the Mayan ruins, and so forth, and it was Thursday, the day before Good Friday, and we got about three-quarters of the way and here was a chain along the road. ... We stopped and they said, "You can't go by," and we said, "Why not?" "Well, don't you know, tomorrow is Good Friday?" Well, we said, "We're going to be there." Well, only after we assured him that we would get there by nightfall tonight did he finally let the chain off and we got in there. ... On Good Friday, first of all, the whole town turned out, left the church and they carried the Christ with the cross, the men were carrying [that], and the women were carrying the three Marys, the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, and there's another Mary, and they marched. ... At every block, they would stop and pray and they went that way all the way through town. ... Then, there was a hill at the edge of the town which served as Golgotha, I guess, and so forth, and then, they came back with the figure of Christ in a glass coffin and went all the way back to the church, which was draped all in black. ... I had a camera with me, so, I was able to take pictures of it and I found this a really fabulous experience. ... Did I tell you about the time I went with my Guatemalan assistant?
SF: Oh, I had a Guatemalan assistant and he had a one-year-old and ... my son was one year old. We decided to leave them in La Lima and we drove in his jeep to go visit Guatemala, where he lives. His father was originally Nicaraguan, his mother was Swiss, [laughter] interesting combination. ... We drove across Honduras and, about midnight, or thereabouts, here was this raging river and we didn't see how we could get across. Well, Raul says, "No, no, I'll be able to get across," and he zooms the motor, goes right in the river, and we get her in the middle of the river and I'm sitting on the top of the back seat and the river's flowing through the jeep. I thought, "My God, how are we going to get out of this?" He goes over to the other end of the river, finds a truck with a chain, hooks it up to the jeep and pulls it out, and I thought, "Even so, it's still flooded;" turned right on and we went right on.
SH: Oh, my word.
SF: We got into Guatemala and we went to Tecpan, where his mother lived and she ran fruit orchards, and the father ran a coffee farm, but never met the father. ... Then, we went to Chichicastenango. This is one of the Highland Indian [the K'iche' people] cities. In Guatemala, all the Indian tribes, you could tell which town they were from, because all the women wore the same dress and all the men wore the [same] dress and they were very colorful, the men with black britches and, say, red shirts, and so, you could tell, always, where they were from. Well, as we approached Chichicastenango, there was this tremendous [sound of] firecrackers going off, [and] so forth, and we're asking, "What's going on?" You know, we thought maybe a revolution or something; they said, "No, no, they're celebrating the new padre who has come over to take over the church." So, we finally got in there and we get into the church and we go in there and they had these little orange candles all lit there and they were all praying in there. ... Then, at the base of the church, there was a family, a father and a mother and a daughter, and they're praying and they're speaking in K'iche' and we had somebody there who could translate and he says, "What did he say?" Well, he says, "What the guy is saying, he says, 'Now, look here, God, last year, I gave you ten candles and I asked for a good corn crop. I had a lousy corn crop. Now, these are the last candles I'm giving you and you've got to come through with a good corn crop.'" So, then, we go into this church again, and then, we're standing at the foot of the top steps of the church and, at the bottom of the church, they have a cylinder. ... A guy is throwing a little sack of gunpowder with a fuse and it goes up in the air, it explodes this way. We're looking at it in amazement and, suddenly, I hear this guy next to me say, "God, I thought I'd seen everything when I was in China, but this really takes the cake." This was the new padre, he was from America, a new priest. He had been in China, but, because the Communists had taken over, he'd gone, and they give him this as his parish. [laughter] So, this was quite an interesting experience, but we had wonderful experience in going from one town to the other. They had all kinds of dancing and typical Highland Guatemalan Indians. It was absolutely fascinating. [laughter]
SH: You made it back across the river and home safely.
SF: We did indeed.
SH: Your children were mostly educated in Princeton. That was where you lived while they went to school.
SF: Yes. Oh, hi, dear. [Editor's Note: Mrs. Freiberg enters the room.]
SH: I thank you both very much for having me here.
SF: Well, I appreciate your coming here.
SH: We will be back in touch; again, my thanks.
SF: Thank you.
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Reviewed by Morgan Biloholowski 6/17/10
Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 6/24/10
Reviewed by Samuel R. Freiberg 7/4/10