Shaun Illingworth: This begins an interview with Wallace E. Felldin in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, on July 22, 2008, with Shaun Illingworth and ...
Elaine Blatt: ... Elaine Blatt.
SI: Mr. Felldin, thank you very much for having us here today.
Wallace Felldin: Our pleasure.
SI: Thank you also for rescheduling. I appreciate that. To begin, can you tell us where and when you were born?
WF: Sure. I was born in Orange Memorial Hospital, in East Orange, just off what is now the Garden State Parkway, and then, lived briefly, with my mother and father, in East Orange, on North Burnett Street. My dad had served in the Merchant Marine, and, when he came back, he and my [mother] ... were married, and then, since the conditions were bad after the war, economically, he took a job in Brooklyn. That's how I wound up in Brooklyn.
SI: Both of your parents were originally from Sweden.
SI: What were their names?
WF: My father was Einar, E-I-N-A-R, Ruben Timothy Felldin, born in Uppsala, Sweden, a university town, and my mother, Hilda Andersson, was born in Gothenburg, Sweden.
SI: Starting with your father, what do you know about his family background?
WF: My dad had a very fine family. My grandfather, whom I never met, but I had pictures of, I used to write to him when I was a kid, was sort of an architect/mason/contractor type of person, and he had a family of about six children. My father was next to the youngest. He had two brothers, Arthur and Joseph, and I don't remember the names of the gals. ... My grandfather was in charge of a major restoration of the Uppsala Cathedral, back in maybe 1906-7, for about seven years, doing the major restoration, with seven hundred men working for him, for which he received the King's Medal, [H.M. Konungens medalj].
SI: Do you know roughly when your father left Sweden?
WF: Yes. My dad was not enamored of school. He ran away. Things were not good in Europe at that time,Sweden particularly, and he was sixteen years old. So, he left, ... got into the United States around 1907, went out to Red Wing, Minnesota, where a branch of the family, named Larson, were farmers. So, he worked for a couple of years on the farm and they really worked the hell out of him, and he didn't have much time to go around and see what else was there. He left there. He loved to sing and he was pretty good at writing little things to sing, too, and a traveling carnival came through. ... They used to feature one of these high divers who dived into, I'd call it a thimble, you know. His name was Oscar Noren. He was world famous. My father traveled the United States and into Mexico with them, for a year-and-a-half, and learned the English language very well. He had no accent. My mother wound up with an accent, but my father had no accent. So, then, he came back to Northern New Jersey, which is how he met my mother. My mother was eighteen when she came over here, so, put a few more years on there, maybe about 1912, and she came over as a domestic, which many women did in those days, to care for very wealthy families' children, as well as become a maid, or whatever else was required. The most prominent one was the McCutcheon Family. McCutcheon Linens, on Fifth Avenue, were the tops in New York, Irish linens, and, through them, my mother ... learned how to speak the English language. They used to take her to the silent movies and she would start to read stuff on the screen. She accompanied them when the family went ice skating, which was a big thing in those days, with the big, long skirts and everything else, and she was much loved by the family. ... Then, my father was a bicycle nut. He really was. He was a good guy. He didn't race for a living, but he knew, in that East Orange area, and West Orange, they had the hills there, so [that] the racers who were serious and professionals would train there, and then, they would go on a hundred-mile "Sunday exercise," you could call it that. So, he got to know people who became professionally good, when six-day bike racing, which, probably, you never heard of, six-day bike racing was big. It was a European situation. You had a two-man team and you were in an enclosed arena. They had a banked track and you had to keep one person circling all the time. So, maybe I would do it for two hours and my partner would get a rest for two hours. They'd have little bunks around the oval. ... Some of them had their own personal chefs, the ones that were wealthy, and they'd break for food, and then, in the evening, when the customers would come in, they would have these sprint races. ... Somebody might put up a case of beer or a dining room set, or anything you can think of. So, it was during that era that my mother and father met, and then, my dad enlisted in the Merchant Marine and served with them on the freighters, and so forth, until the war was over, and, when he came back, got together with my mother again, and they married in 1919, at City Hall in New York, and then, I was born May 1, 1920. ...
SI: What about your mother's family background?
WF: Not too much. There were problems there. Her father was, I guess, a painter, a house painter, and her mother died when she was eight years of age and her father lost interest in his two daughters, and we really don't know what happened to him. We have no definite information. I've tried; we've been over to Gothenburg inSweden and checked with authorities. They had no records. My mother's older sister, Agnes, had first come toNewark, as a domestic, and had sort of claimed her territory there and sent for my mother. ... That's how they arranged to get together, but there was very little on my mother's side of the family.
SI: It sounds like both of your parents crossed over to the United States alone.
SI: At relatively young ages.
WF: Yes, sixteen for my father, eighteen for my mother.
SI: Did either of them talk about that experience, what it was like to leave home for a new land?
WF: My father realized how much he missed his family, his mother particularly, and it bothered him all his life that he could never get back. My parents went back when my mother was pregnant with me. They made a journey back to Sweden, so that they could meet my father's bride, and spent a little time there, and then, came back here. Economically, my dad never made the kind of money that would permit him to travel. ... He often regretted the fact that he was away from [his] family and hadn't been able to reconnect. His older brothers, Arthur and Joseph, they were both graduates of the University of Uppsala. My dad had, what? two years of a high school education when he came here, never went back to school. He was self-taught. Uncle Arthur was in the coal and steel business. He imported and exported. Swedish steel was much to be desired, was very quality stuff, and he made an arrangement with the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company, which was in the Pittsburgh area. It was a big name in steel, going way back. It was on a par with Bethlehem and US Steel, Republic. So, he would import steel and export steel, and he would export coal as well. He did very well. He became quite a wealthy man, had a summer place in Finland, lost his first wife, remarried a Finnish woman, whom we never met. ... One interesting thing, the name Felldin; when my grandfather was about ten years of age, he, in school, made some kind of a box, as kids will do, almost like a birdhouse-type thing, but it was flat, you know, with a cover on it. ... When my wife and I were in Sweden, we stopped to see a cousin's sister and she said, "While you're here, let me show you something." She brought the box out, and burned in there is the name Fälldin, but F-Ä-L-L-D-I-N, with an umlaut. I have a picture in here somewhere, the former Prime Minister of Sweden was a gentleman named Fälldin. [Editor's Note: Thorbjörn Fälldin was prime minister of Sweden from 1976 to 1978 and 1979 to 1982.] That's a very unusual name. You just won't find it. Look in your phonebooks, you won't see it, and it's been suggested that maybe we're related. I have no idea, but I guess my grandfather must have lived to be ninety-eight, ninety-nine, something like that.
SI: When did the name change occur? Was that when your father came over here?
WF: Well, I guess the original family name was Larson, and there are more Larsons than Smiths, and he decided he would change the name, which he did, but it could have been his father before him who did it, because, at ten years of age, he wasn't about to change his name. So, it goes back, probably, into the early 1800s.
SI: Okay. What about when it changed from the "A" to the "E?"
WF: Yes. At some point in time, it was changed. I never remember writing it this other way. I've always written it Felldin and, when I'd send a Christmas card to my grandfather, as a child, my father would spell it out for me; it was always F-E-L-L-D-I-N.
EB: It had the "A" with the two dots over it.
WF: Yes, yes. ... [Editor's Note: An umlaut is a pair or dots that appears above a vowel.]
EB: My friend is from Finland. She has the two dots over the "A."
WF: Really? Okay, all right, well, that's the way it is in [Finland]; if I find this newspaper printing of Fälldin, I'll show it to you.
SI: You mentioned that your father missed his family. Was that something that was discussed a lot when you were growing up? Did he talk about going back to Sweden?
WF: No, I think he kept it to himself pretty much, because he realized, financially, he was not in a position to do anything about it. It would come out just once in awhile.
SI: Because I have read that Scandinavians, in particular, would often come to the United States for a period of time, then, go back, which is somewhat different from the Italians or the Irish, for example. However, it was never really discussed, you said.
WF: Well, some of them went back permanently, too.
WF: Yes. His sister, Hilma, who had come over here. She had three children and a marriage that wasn't working and she left them, came to the United States. She was a very artistic person and she was a dial engraver. Wealthy people would want a face for a watch with a particular design. They might use, if they had twelve letters in their two names, the name might be engraved around the dial. She would engrave whatever was necessary, and she made a good living. In the '20s, she was making ten thousand dollars a year. That was an awful lot of money in those days. She ultimately brought her son, Bertil, to the United States, and her youngest daughter, Margarita, who is known as Rita, and they both prospered very well in this country. Hilma herself went to Mexico, ultimately, after living in the New York area for many, many years. She wanted to paint and she went down to Cuernavaca, Mexico, which is an artists' area, like Taos in New Mexico, and spent years there, and befriended a woman named Mrs. Thimgren, who owned a very popular restaurant in Mexico City, who had no relatives. ... She became a companion to this woman and, when she died, that woman left everything to my aunt, and it was substantial. ... I guess they figured out some way to get the money back from Mexico to the United States without her having to pay taxes. People did these things, and then, she ultimately went back to Sweden, and, as you know, ... if you're still a Swedish citizen, and she had dual citizenship, they'd give you an apartment ... when you retired, the state takes care of your health benefits. It is a "cradle to the grave" society, and she had enough money to do what she wanted.
SI: Going back to your father and his time in the Merchant Marine in World War I, did he ever talk about that experience and what it was like to serve on those ships?
WF: Yes, because they were in the North Atlantic and he told stories of, I guess this happens to everybody, but, when the ship on which he was serving would dive into a wave that had gone down, you know, you go down. ... The rudder would be sticking up and shaking the whole ship, because it was out of the water, and then, it would come back again, and so forth, and you lived with that for how long the storm was going on. I don't think you got a lot of rest. [laughter] I don't think you ate very well, either, or kept it down. He was an oiler, so, he was operating in cramped quarters, when he had to regularly see how things were going and add oil to the shaft of the propeller, or whatever you did in those days, but he enjoyed being in the Merchant Marine. He felt very much that being an American was important. He had already ... gotten his citizenship papers. He got those early, and so, this was his way of staying in service until World War I was over.
SI: It is interesting that Swedes, and Scandinavians in general, have that seafaring tradition and he got into it that way.
WF: Yes, and he would talk about some of the trips and they would anchor in Brest, in France, that's B-R-E-S-T, if I remember. ... So, he'd have some time off the ship before coming back, and I'm sure he had a good time. He was pretty much a "hail fellow well met." He loved to sing and he had a pretty good sense of humor when he was, you know, much younger. As he aged, it was different. He used to like to sing, what was popular in those days was a laughing song. It was called a laughing song and he sang a Swedish laughing song. He would sing it in Swedish and with our Scandinavian friends, Swedish friends. They would laugh themselves silly, the way he did it. He was so good at it, you could not sit there and go absolutely nuts laughing.
SI: Was it the way that they sang it or the words of the song that aroused so much laughter?
WF: Well, it was the words and ... I can remember, vaguely, there was a phrase that went, "In animals we often see, there's something like a smile. Just take that old hyena, he's got us all beat by a mile, and there's the fox, when he licks his chops, as through the coop, he takes a spin, and then, on the loop, with a chicken on his chin." That was a little parody-type thing, and then, he had one about the Japanese. He never sang it in English. He sang that one. So, you know, in those days, people made their own humor, made their own music. I have a friend, a cousin of a best friend of mine who passed away, and he's a violinist and the whole family plays an instrument. ... When they get together, they play the songs of the old days, and so forth, and some of the Swedish dance music, and so forth.
EB: Did you speak Swedish?
WF: ... I was never taught to speak it, and I resented it, because you're much richer when you speak more than one language.
EB: Did you understand anything?
WF: Very, very little. I mean, ... it was sort of [that] they spoke the language when they didn't want us to understand what was going on, with their friends. They'd be playing pinochle at night, for example, and talking about something, and they know that kids, little kids, have big ears. So, if it was something, call it indiscreet or they didn't want us to hear about it, but I wish I knew the language to speak.
SI: Did your family keep up a lot of Swedish traditions in your daily life, or at holidays?
WF: Pretty much, Christmas was the biggest one. You'd always have a Christmas ham, or, sometimes, you'd havelutefisk. That was like a cod fish, and, because, years ago, you had no refrigeration, you had to dry everything. You'd hang it up on a big rack and it would dry, and then, you'd store it, and then, you'd reconstitute it with water. ... Unfortunately, when they ... prepared the lutefisk, they always had to use lye to preserve it, as well as salt, so that you had to wash this out a great deal, make sure there was no lye left in the fish, and they would make an egg sauce, creamy egg sauce, to put on top of it. Herring of all kinds was always there, herring and cheeses, salads. Just to digress for a second, I started, many years ago, to go to New York, once a month, to the Norwegian Seamen's Church on East 52nd Street, and they serve, the Swedes would call it a smorgasbord. They call it akoldtbord, because ... they didn't get along with the Swedes. They just celebrated their hundredth anniversary last year of being not a part of Sweden, the Norwegians. [Editor's Note: Sweden controlled Norway from the end of the Napoleonic Wars to 1905, when the two nations separated by peaceful referendum.] So, it was a similar type of dish, and special cakes and desserts. Lingonberries were always used with, let's say, a fowl, for turkey or something like that. So, we did observe those. Also, growing up, as a child in Brooklyn, we were members of the Swedish Methodist church and they had a service on Christmas Eve called Julotta, J-U-L-O-T-T-A, Julotta, and that was at five-thirty AM. ... It was all in Swedish, and, yet, you went, and then, the young people would leave, around seven o'clock, it would be over, and they would go to some cafeteria in the area, there was no McDonald's in those days, but there were cafeterias, and have breakfast and enjoy each other. ... Then, we'd go on to a hospital and we were all singers and we would sing Christmas carols at the local hospital, then, come home and begin to celebrate with the family. So, those traditions, I do remember.
SI: Where in Brooklyn did your family settle?
WF: We were just off, (we moved four or five times) just west of Prospect Park. Prospect Park is a very lovely area and they have the Grand Army Plaza there, which was erected ... in commemoration of Civil War veterans. It looks like the Champs-Elysees ...
SI: Oh, the Arc.
WF: The Arc de Triomphe, yes, the Arc de Triomphe. It's almost a copycat sort of thing, and, of course, you have the Brooklyn Museum there, which, in its day, it probably had the best Egyptian display, things from Egypt. ... Right behind it is the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, which are gorgeous and which have a special Japanese area, a Japanese bridge over the water and all that sort of business. It's great, and they have a wonderful public library at the end of Eastern Parkway. I can remember, as a kid, when Lindbergh flew the Atlantic for the first time, and he came back to a wild reception and the reception came down Eastern Parkway, about two blocks from where we were living, and I was there, with my mother and dad. "Lucky Lindy," they called him at the time, because he was the first to go, non-stop, to Orly Airport in France. He could hardly get off the ground from Long Island, he had so much in the way of fuel. He took almost nothing for himself, if you've read his history, but the plane wobbled and wobbled and wobbled and, finally, got off, and the rest is history. [Editor's Note: Aviator Charles A. Lindbergh made the first non-stop flight from Roosevelt Field, New York, to Paris' Le Bourget Airport from May 20-21, 1927.]
EB: How did you first know? Did they have it in the papers? Did you listen to the radio?
WF: ... Yes, that's a good question. Everybody was talking about it and the newspapers were full of it, and there were a lot of newspapers in those days. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle was the local one, but we also had the New York papers. So, we were well aware that it had happened and there were radio broadcasts right from, I think it was called Roosevelt Field, where he took off in Long Island. From that point until he landed at Orly, you're getting, if there was a sighting somewhere off the coast of Ireland, for example, there was a sighting by fishermen, and that would be translated to us by radio, yes.
SI: It is interesting that you mentioned the museums and the botanical gardens. A number of people I have interviewed who grew up in Brooklyn talk about how, growing up there, there were so many educational places and you had access to a lot of scientific and natural learning opportunities.
WF: It's very true. I went to Erasmus Hall High School and Erasmus Hall, at that time, was an elite school. It was [in] the public school system, but it was an elite school. It was a college prep high school. Now, I didn't go on to college, but it was a college prep high school, and they had some of the finest teachers. When I was there, I always liked music; I've mentioned that a few times. In my junior year, they started a boy's glee club and [it was led by] Mrs. Bardon, a very short, dynamic woman who loved boys. She had two sons at Dartmouth College at the time. So, one of the first songs she taught us was the Dartmouth winter song [Hanover Winter Song] and we would get to do Ol' Man River and show tunes and things like that. It was a great experience, did that for two years. I was a second tenor at the time and two of my very good friends, who were on the cross-country team with me, also sang in that glee club and we would put on a performance for the students on more than one occasion. It was a great school. Today, it's on the endangered species list. It's terrible what's happened to it. As the demographics have changed, it became an all African-American area and the student body, to a larger percentage, were not interested in education. They had to go to school until they were sixteen. The dropout rate is high; it's a crime. That school started, there were wealthy Dutch farmers from the 1700s, early 1800s, and they wanted a place to send their boys to school, girls didn't go to school in those days, and they built what became Erasmus Hall. ... One of the original buildings was made with tongue and groove and pegs. There wasn't a nail in the building, and that's still there. We used it as a post office and a little bank, and so forth. We had a large area. The school was completely enclosed, so that you have this quadrangle and campus. ... Erasmus Hall, in the days I was there, was very famous for its athletic program as well. They had outstanding basketball teams. ... A name that's in football history, Sid Luckman. Sid Luckman was the outstanding quarterback and went on to ColumbiaUniversity to be a star there, and then, to the Chicago Bears. There are still records that he set that have not been met or broken, and his brother, Davey Luckman, succeeded him, but was not of the caliber. He was in my class and there was a great tragedy connected with those brothers, because there was a situation called the Druckman murder case. This was like Murder Incorporated, and the father was involved in it and was caught and sentenced, a long sentence. This happened while Sid was at Columbia University. It was a terrible blow. I'm getting off the subject.
SI: No, please.
WF: Okay. I enjoyed very much being in the high school. The first full year I was there, we were on half sessions. I went at twelve o'clock and we got out at six, and used to ride the trolley, about a two-and-a-half-mile ride, for a nickel, of course, but, in those days, when it was daylight savings time, it had happened [that] we were still in school and I used to walk each way and save a nickel on each trip and make a dime.
EB: Did your parents give you the money for it?
WF: Oh, yes, they would do that. There wasn't much opportunity to earn things. I know I sold magazines for a time, Saturday Evening Post, but there wasn't too much opportunity, or I didn't seek out some way of trying to earn money when I was a teenager.
SI: You mentioned that you moved around four or five times. Did you stay in that same general area?
WF: All in the same general area. I had double pneumonia when I was six, and, of course, there were no antibiotics in those days and the survival rate was very poor, but, due to a Dr. Powers, who was our family doctor, and a nurse that we hired, whose name was Ms. Quilty, they pulled me through. I lost six months of school. It took me that long to get my strength back, so that I could operate. Well, at that time, my dad actually worked two jobs. He had his full-time job during the day. There were three similar buildings next to each other, three stories high. They were very lovely apartments, steam heated, in those days. That was a pretty good thing, and so, he became custodian for the three buildings. (My father became superintendent of the three apartment buildings and we lived rent free in one.) ... In the winter, of course, he had to shake down the furnace at night and bank it, ... and go down early in the morning and make sure it got started up again, and then, lift those heavy cans full of ashes out onto the street. So, he had a tough, tough go, believe me. ... One time, we wound up in a fourth story walk-up. It was a coldwater flat and you cooked on a kitchen range that ... used coal to make the fire every morning. Again, you banked that one at night and started it up in the morning, and you'd have in the living room a pot-bellied stove for the heat. There was a shared bathroom in the hall. You come up the stairs and a family named Johnson lived in this apartment and we lived in the adjoining apartment, and, if you had trouble at the same time, you had trouble, [laughter] because only one person could use that at a time. There was no bathtub. There was a bathroom of sorts, but it just had a sink. So, you had to wash down, you know. There was no shower or tub available and we were there for a year, and then, luckily, we were able to move to a better place that had what we needed.
SI: Did you have to heat your own water while you were there?
WF: Oh, yes, all of that, yes.
EB: You had a younger brother.
WF: My brother, Burton, B-U-R-T-O-N, he and I were different. He grew up on the chubby side and kids can be very mean in calling another kid something, not necessarily just being chubby, but it could be anything, that they'd be very mean, and that impacted him adversely, but he overcame it. He was a very practical guy. He went to Brooklyn Technical High School, which was, ... along with Lane Tech in Chicago, were the two finest technical schools in the United States, and they had all kinds of courses. You could study an electrical course, which involved engineering. You could take an industrial course. They had an aeronautical course, where you worked to build a plane. They had some of the finest machines; they had better machinery than most machine shops inManhattan or Brooklyn or New Jersey. So, he spent five years [there], took him five years to finish it. I think the funniest thing I remember is when he came home in his second year and I said, "So, what are you studying this year?" He said, "IP." I said, "What do you mean, IP?" He said, "Industrial processes." Everybody used to kid about this IP business, but he was good and he was very practical. He could do plumbing, he could do electrical, very handy. I'm just the opposite. I've got to have somebody to do it. I just never got interested in it, different personality.
EB: How much younger was he?
WF: Year-and-a-half. He died before he hit sixty-five. He became a heavy smoker. He had a very good job. He was the regional manager of thirteen states out in the West. He lived in Houston, Texas. So, we weren't close. I mean, physically, we weren't close, and, when we got together, we were okay, but you didn't see each other very much. ... The two-pack-a-day [habit] caught up with him and he had to take a health retirement, because ... let's say we're in a room this size, or a little bit bigger, and have a meeting going on. In those days, you'd light up, sales meeting or a technical meeting or whatever; he'd start to cough so hard he couldn't do anything else. He had to leave the room. So, he couldn't function and I watched his going down. I went out to visit him and his wife, Jean, and he met me at the airport, at the baggage counter, and I remember him taking my bag and I said, "Okay, let's go," and I started walking and he's not there. He could only shuffle, like this. The emphysema was so bad. It took us a long time to get to the car. Once he was in the car, he was okay, he could drive. But, it's a terrible death, and I'm very lucky, I never smoked, not one. ... To digress, when cigarettes were five cents a pack, in the Army, [I] never would touch it with a ten-foot pole. I told you, I was running cross-country, I think, at one time, and so, I fancied myself as an athlete and the only way you can stay as an athlete is to abstain from anything like smoking or anything else that interferes with your progressing. But, Brooklyn was a fine place to grow up. The Brooklyntoday, you wouldn't recognize from the time that we grew up. It was a series of closely integrated neighborhoods and you had a small Jewish neighborhood here and you had a German neighborhood and you had an Irish neighborhood, an Italian neighborhood, Scandinavian neighborhood, and they pretty well mixed together. There was certainly no fighting among the different kinds of groups, and good kids to grow up with, and, of course, withProspect Park there, we could just, at the drop of a hat, go up there after school and throw a football around or have a make-up game, pick-up game. There were empty lots around in those days and we would clean up the lots and play baseball.
SI: Did your family live in a mostly Scandinavian neighborhood?
WF: Ours was more mixed. It was Scandinavian, Irish, Italian, German.
SI: Did it have a name, like a parish name?
WF: Oh, I'm trying to think of what they call it today. I can't recall what the section is called, but it was just off of ... Prospect Park.
EB: Did the Scandinavian groups get along together? I have heard that a lot of the countries in Scandinavia each think that they are the best Scandinavian country. Did you get along with the Norwegians or other Scandinavian groups?
WF: Oh, there were some frictions. I think the Italian community, which ... some of it was near us, but, then, going further down toward [the] Carroll Gardens section, which was really a mafia area at the time, ... that's where you went if you wanted fireworks for the Fourth of July. I mean, they would have anything that you needed, and they could be rough. We would run into gangs, occasionally, up in Prospect Park. ... We'd spot them, we'd get out pretty fast. We didn't want to tangle with them. Now, there weren't a lot of them, don't get me wrong, but there was that element, occasionally, but, for the most part, no, we got along with the neighbors. We played a lot of stickball in the streets, played box ball. You know what box ball is?
WF: You'd make a square. You chalk the bases on the street.
SI: A yard square.
WF: And, you know, you'd have to run from here to there and from there to there, and simply used a Spalding High-Bouncer, they used to call it. I think it was a "Spal-deen," they used to say, Spalding High-Bouncer, and the pitcher would just bounce it in to you and you'd slap it and run and see if you could get your single. There was no long, long ball hits. Stickball was different. If you were a two-sewer man, you were pretty good, if you could hit it the length of two sewers. Willie Mays used to be a three-sewer guy, when he was growing up, in the Bronx, I guess. I'm just trying to think. ... The church was very active. The family life, for many families, the church, during the Depression years, was the center. A lot of men, I can recall as a teenager, who never would darken the door of a church, they had lost their jobs, they were very concerned and they felt that maybe there was something that could help them. ... You'd have men's Bible classes that would have 150 people in it on a Sunday morning. Normally, you'd have four or five. They were trying to regain a faith. They had to see if they could improve their lives in some way. I sang in the choir there. ... When I turned eighteen, I sang in the senior choir; I enjoyed singing there. It was a singing church. A Methodist church is very much a singing church, and then, going back a little bit, when I was a child, they had one day when all the churches would march up, this was in June, march up to Prospect Park and would carry their banners and so forth, whatever the banners proclaimed, and there'd be some prominent governor or mayor giving a speech, and then, we'd all walk all the way back. Everybody was ... dressed up in white and you'd come back and that's when the fun began. The women of the church would bake special cakes that were ready for us when we got there and ... you'd have bricks of ice cream, you know, Neapolitan ice cream, and that was a nice way to polish off a hot walk, things like that.
SI: It sounds like the Depression had a great impact on the area.
WS: Oh, terrible. Our friends, the Swensons, he was a union tailor. He was a very good tailor. He was cut back. He worked two days a week, at whatever the suit maker was in Manhattan. He was fortunate in that, as a custom tailor, people still had to have clothes altered and everything else. So, he did, ... at home, on those three days, or even Saturday, that he did not work at his full-time job, he was able to take in enough ... [so that] the family could get through it without starving to death, and so forth. Oh, the Depression made a tremendous impact. See, when I graduated, I was seventeen, but going on eighteen, and I finally found a job with a very prestigious law firm as an office boy. Milbank, Tweed and Hope was an outstanding company. They had the Stock Exchange as one of their clients, they had the Borden Company, which was a big milk company at the time, they had chemical companies. They did a lot of estate work for very, very wealthy people. So, I got the job, five-and-a-half days a week, fifteen dollars a week, less fifteen cents. Fifteen cents was for Social Security, one percent, but the other part of it is that it cost you five cents to take the subway in, it was three cents for the New York Times, two cents for the Daily News, and you become a straphanger, [a regular subway rider]. The subway was only about two blocks away from where I lived. It was right near Prospect Park. You were into Wall Street by, certainly, twenty minutes, and our building was right opposite the Stock Exchange, on Broad Street, and you did the typical office boy stuff. The first thing [after] you got there, you had X number of lawyers assigned [to you], so, you had to fill the water jugs, fresh water every morning, sharpen all their pencils, make sure that everything was right, and then, you sat in a room that wasn't terribly large. We probably had ten, ten office boys, and two of those office boys were over forty, one of them Italian, one was Irish. ... If the receptionist needed a special job done, for example, one of the attorneys might have to take the train to Washington, DC, and, on occasion, I'd get a call, "You have to take these documents up to Mr. Tweed, up on 86th Street, Eastside," and they would give you taxi money to do that. Well, we knew the city pretty well, so, we got on a subway for a nickel and we'd put in for taxi money when we came back, [laughter] little things like that that occurred during ... that period. The ferries were only three cents. You could go from side to side on a ferry, to New Jersey.
EB: How did the rest of your family cope with the Depression, particularly your parents?
WF: Well, as I indicated, my dad took the job as custodian, but my mother also had to help doing that. She would clean the halls, and so forth, and mop the area. She did some of the interior work. During that period, when I was six, ... I finally recovered from that double pneumonia, but my mother had a serious nervous breakdown as a result, going through what she went through. So, in those days, there was no Medicare, ... there were no health plans at all, and my father, it took him three years to pay off Dr. Powers. I think he put away five dollars a week from his pay. I could see him sitting at the table with a whole series of envelopes, "This is rent. This is utilities. This is Dr. Powers. This is food," and that kind of thing, "This is insurance," and he never reneged one penny on debt. He would never think of going into bankruptcy, didn't even know what bankruptcy was, and there was not just my medical stuff, it was my mother's. So, he lived a very difficult life. He took an awful lot of flak, so-to-speak, from life, but he loved his family. ... He used to take us to baseball games, couldn't afford to go to Ebbets Field to see the Dodgers, but there were very good heavy semi-pro leagues in those days. They would be like a minor league team today. They'd be that quality, a good team. The [Brooklyn] Bushwicks played out in Jamaica and they would draw ten thousand people on a Sunday. They'd play a doubleheader and they would have the Cuban All-Stars, for example, and they were from Cuba, all these Latinos, and many of them were very black, you know, because of the slaves that were there. You had the Pittsburgh Crawfords. You had; I can't think of all the names now, but you'd see a doubleheader and you'd get a frankfurter for a dime, a bag of peanuts for a nickel and a Pepsi; yes, it was a dime, I guess, and you took the elevated train. We would have to walk, from the house, about a mile, and Myrtle Avenue is a well-known downtown street, but the elevated would take you all the way out through Jamaica and to this place, called Eldert Lane, and we would love to see the baseball games. We saw some greats. We saw some of those who ... had been top Major Leaguers and were on the way down. A lot of these guys, they didn't have very much in the way of education. They were just good athletes, and one, I remember, was a great pitcher for the Yankees, named Waite Hoyt, W-A-I-T-E, Waite Hoyt, and he was on the way down, primarily a relief pitcher at that time. That's that part of it.
SI: You mentioned all the men going back to church during the Depression. Do you remember seeing any other signs of the Depression in the larger area? Were there a lot more people living on the street? Were there breadlines?
WF: Well, sure, there were breadlines, and, when I worked at Broad Street, it was 1938, January '38, I got the job in March of '38, you would still find a guy or two selling apples on the corner. That started back in '32, '33. It didn't continue on forever, but I can remember seeing guys on the corner. They might have been selling something else, anything to make a buck, to try to keep the family together. The breadlines, I never saw the breadlines. I saw the pictures of the breadlines in the newspaper, because the breadlines, what happened, I was eleven or twelve years old at the time and I wasn't getting out very much from the perimeter that we were in, but I do remember seeing the [breadline pictures]. Well, you've got twenty-five percent unemployment, twenty-five percent. That's an incredible number, but I enjoyed my days as an office boy. I did that for two years, and then, the managing clerk's department had three young lawyers in there and they occasionally had more work than they could do, like answering calendar calls at the US [Federal] Court in Downtown Manhattan, or in Maspeth, Long Island, or up in the Bronx, county courthouse. So, I got that kind of a job, and a few dollars more as a result, and got to speak to the attorneys more. I was no longer sitting in the bullpen, so-to-speak. I was in the managing clerk's office, and I talked with one guy, and, remember, the war clouds were gathering then. This'll be 1940, and we'd read about it in the papers as much as anybody would and, since I was reading that New York Times all the time, I was pretty much up-to-date and I was asked, during that period of time, to form a lawyers' basketball team. There was a downtown lawyers' association. All these big-name companies, they had young lawyers who were just out of college who wanted to play and they had their office boys or clerks, or whatever, and I was designated to go in and see the managing partner of the firm, to ask for money, for uniforms, and so forth. They said, "You can do that, Wally. Go ahead, you talk to him." So, I went in to [see] George Hite and gave him my story and he said, "You've given me a good story, young man." He said, "I will see to it. We will put that together and you'll be a member of the Downtown Athletic Club, [the] basketball team." One of those guys was a fellow named Scotty McGregor. Scotty McGregor ultimately became general counsel for Merck, goes back over a lot of years, but general counsel for Merck, and he and I would chat. He'd say, "What do you think about the war coming over?" I said, "Well, I'm not happy with it. I don't want to serve in the Army or anything like that." So, he got the idea that, if I could do something else than what I was doing, that might be in the defense effort, or something like that; this is before the war happened, but he knew a gentleman named Archibald Dudgeon, D-U-D-G-E-O-N, and Archie, as I got to know him, was the president of Richard Dudgeon, Incorporated. ... They made hydraulic jacks for the Navy, for the shipyards. When you go into dry dock, they had to have these huge things, and they also made something called a boiler tube expander. The Navy used an awful lot of boilers and, if you had to re-tube it, you put it through a head, but you had to flare the end, so [that] it would stay there, and this tool was that tool. You'd put that in there and manually drive it in, flatten it, so that [there was] no leakage or anything else. So, he had special contracts from the Navy, and along came 1941 and we talked and Scotty set up an appointment for me and I went to see Archibald Dudgeon. His family goes back to the 1600s, out on Long Island, Water Mill area, and so forth. He had been a first lieutenant in the First World War and he could smell war coming. He was a very intelligent gentleman, never married. He interviewed me. He was looking for a bookkeeper at the time. I didn't know from squat about bookkeeping, and he talked to his chief engineer, Matthews. He did not want to hire me, says, "He doesn't know anything." So, Archibald, somehow, was taken with me and he called in Mrs. Rugierio, who was the head bookkeeper and she was an accountant. He said, "Do you think you can teach this young man double-entry bookkeeping?" She said, "Sure." So, they hired me, and the first couple of weeks, I was useless. I mean, I sat on a stool at a desk. If you think back to Dickens' Christmas Carol and Bob Cratchit sitting at a [desk], yes, that's what I did, and had these big ledgers, real old stuff. We had, in that company, a number of machines, of course, and the finished product had to be heat treated in some way. So, on a ... dirt floor area, a big dirt floor area, was this guy who did all of the [heat treating], took all of the parts, plunged them in oil or water at a proper temperature, whether in oil or in water, depends upon what you want to do, and he was such a character. I mean, this is a thing that goes back to maybe the 1850s and it was still operating. So, anyway, I spent the time there and, during this time, in August, I guess, the draft board had sent me a "welcome" letter and asked me to report to go into the service. So, I showed the letter to Mr. Dudgeon and I said, "Gee, it's a rather short time we've been together. It looks like I'm [leaving] in October;" ... October 12th, it was Columbus Day. "Oh," he said, "let me see that," and he told me, the next day, he had written a letter to the Third Naval District of New York, telling them I was a junior executive in the firm and I was very necessary to them. We had all these war contracts and I was being very helpful to them. October 12, 1941, I reported to the draft board. They called my name last and he came up and the guy said to me, he said, "You can go home. You've gotten a ninety-day deferment from the First Naval District of New York," and, yes, that's miracle number one. When we get to World War II, miracle number one was getting that ninety-day deferment. Parenthetically, there are an awful lot of guys who would have liked to have had the same thing. ... As the years went on to the war, the longer you could stay out of the combat area, the better your chances are that you were going to get home in one piece. Anyway, that's miracle number one.
EB: Had you had any prior interest in joining the military?
WF: ... In 1940, I went down to the Air Force enlistment office, it was down near the Battery, and I applied and the first thing they did was to give me an eye test. That was the very first thing, never mind signing papers, the eye test, and I have trouble lining things up. I have, what do you call that?
SI: Depth perception?
WF: Yes, depth perception, yes. So, they said, "Well, thanks, but no thanks. We can't use you." That's the only time I had the urge. The Air Force was, I guess, a more glamorous [service].
EB: You had followed the Lindbergh flight.
WF: Yes. Can I digress about another World War II story, on this airplane business? I told you that one of the fellows that sang in the glee club with me and ran on the cross-country team, he was a very, very accomplished young man. He had his own band, he wrote music, he played piano incredibly well. He also learned, very [early], before anybody else, ... that he hated Hitler and what was going on in Germany. He knew a lot more about it than I ever did, I can tell you that. So, he went up, in the end of 1940, to Canada, joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, became a fighter pilot, was involved in the battle for Britain, with all the Luftwaffe. If you remember, what was it Churchill said? "Never have so many owed so much to so few." He was shot down and killed in January of '41, before we were involved in the war. He took it seriously.
SI: In those years before Pearl Harbor, would you run into people who were either strong anti-Fascists or perhaps people who were more pro-German? There was a German-American Bund in America.
WF: Oh, yes, there was a German-American Bund. Betty grew up in Fair Lawn, born in Paterson, but grew up inFair Lawn, and there were Bund meetings. You'd read about them in the newspapers. There were Bundmeetings. They were fairly strong at that time. What became difficult for them was when we actually got into the war against Germany. You had the anti-German people and they made life difficult for Betty's father. He had his own bakery. He had a wonderful bakery in Fair Lawn and he was harassed. They never threw rocks through the window or anything like that, but they gave him a hard time. He had served in the German Army in World War I. He was in the cooks' and bakers' school and that's what he did during World War I for Germany. That's just a digression.
EB: I am not sure how involved Sweden was with World War II, but what was your parents' view before the war about what was going on in Europe? Did they talk about it at all?
WF: Well, my dad read the papers well. My mother was not that much interested in that. Whenever they had discussions, my dad would bring her up-to-date or she'd listen to the radio. Sweden, of course, was a neutral [nation], but they sold coal and steel to the Germans. They didn't have a chance, you know. If you remember how they took over Norway, they would have done the same thing to Sweden, but Sweden was allowed to remain neutral, so-to-speak, because they were helpful to the German cause. I don't know how you can figure that out, what percentage or anything like that, but they definitely did that, but that was their preservation. You saw what happened in Norway, the invasion of Norway. That was a pretty tough one. I don't know if that answered your question. ...
SI: It sounds like, fairly early on, you thought that America would get involved in the war.
WF: Absolutely. We talked about it, the kids I grew up with. Inevitable was the word.
EB: Was it a war with Germany that was inevitable? Was Pearl Harbor a huge shock, the Japanese attacking?
WF: Well, that's a long bit of history, because, if I remember correctly, we cut the Japanese off from their raw material sources. Japan does not have rubber, does not have oil, and so forth. So, embargoes were placed on the Japanese and they felt they had no way out; they had to attack the United States. They might go down, but they had to attack the United States. That's what I remember. I think, historically, you'd find that that's pretty correct. A lot of the rubber came from the Philippines and all of those islands there, [due to their] the weather and so forth. I don't know where they got their other raw materials that were so essential, but, essentially, we blockaded them. That's not generally known or talked about. So, that, in a nutshell, is why they did what they did. You had a very, very strong military in Japan. I mean, the Emperor was everything to the people, but not to the military. They knew what they wanted and they knew how they were going to get it, and they did have a good navy. They'd built quite a navy and an air force, and they built that up because they knew, someday, they were going to have to fight. We're going through this right now. You think about it. We are going to be short raw materials, oil, iron ore, copper, alumina for aluminum. The Chinese are in Africa right now, in the Sudan, building mines to get iron ore. They work the Chinese to death there. They don't pay them anything; the Africans, I'm sorry. The Chinese work them very hard. You have China, who, when they had this big conference of leaders down in South America last year, the top gun from China stopped in Venezuela, made a deal with Chavez for oil, went to Brazil, made an arrangement with them for iron ore. ... This is going to close in on all of us, believe me. I won't see it happen, but you will. It'll be much bigger than what we did to Japan, because everybody has an industrial society and [everyone], including the emerging nations, are going to be faced with, "Where can we get iron ore?" Do you know how much iron ore went up in price this year? There's an outfit called Billiton, in Australia, and they, with another outfit in Brazil, called Vale, they also have a place in Australia, they control seventy percent of the iron ore in the world, seventy percent. They raised the price of iron ore, contracted with the Chinese, who were the primary people to buy it, and everybody else has to pay the price; eighty-five percent, an increase [of] eighty-five percent over last year. ... You talk about holding down the price of oil, for example. The politicians are ridiculous in the way they're approaching this thing, absolutely ridiculous. We have to have raw materials. Talk about the price of oil; we come up with this cockamamie scheme in the West for the corn farmers, for ethanol. It's twice as expensive to make it as to buy oil and we put a ... fifty-five percent tariff on importing ethanol from Brazil, who makes it from sugar cane, which doesn't bother anybody's table. ... We've got some serious situations going on here, but that's not part of the story.
SI: No, it is interesting to hear.
WF: But, economically, it's going to have a terrific impact, and the other end is that the cheap dollar will get cheaper and there's [where] the inflation problem will come in.
EB: You have seen a huge change from the time you were born until now. That must be so interesting.
WF: ... Absolutely. The last leader that we had was Ronald Reagan, a man who knew how to inspire confidence in people. He was a real people person, but he was also very intelligent, very sincere. What we've had since then has helped to push our decline further, Clinton, real problem, and Bush has not been what we needed. The people don't understand him and he doesn't understand the people.
SI: What did you think of Franklin Roosevelt, both during the Depression and moving into the World War II period?
WF: Okay. There were a few great men who came along in that era. You can never underestimate the value of confidence, instilling confidence in the people, that something good is going to happen, that we're going to be able to move in the right direction. He was the picture of confidence, you know, that jutting jaw and the cigarette out here. ... His speech was incredible, his "Fireside Chats" that he used to give, and everybody sat around the radio listening to his Fireside Chats. When he finished, I think most people felt, "This man knows what he's thinking for us. He's going to do the best he can. He's not a miracle worker, but he hasn't thrown in the towel." As time went along, before World War II, when England was very definitely involved and probably would have been invaded if Hitler had decided to do that, ... then, we came up with the lend-lease program. ... In so doing, we got the rights to the shipyards down in Bermuda, and so forth, things like that. We let them have some destroyers. We tried to help, because Roosevelt wasn't fooled. He knew that, sooner or later, there was going to be a war, and includingJapan. So, he was one of the great confidence builders in the United States. He was a George Washington in his time, like Churchill. Churchill, when they were being bombed to hell in London and throughout England, that figure, and how he conducted himself and what he said, he's a master of the language, he rescued that country. He really did. ... As far as FDR is concerned, the Depression is too deep a thing to get into; there's so many reasons why, and some of it, we're going to be seeing here, depending upon what action the Fed [Federal Reserve Bank] takes. They don't have many options left. After all, FDR was the first man to serve more than two terms. He broke that line which couldn't be broken, but he was able to convince them that you don't change horses in midstream, that you stay with what his program was. ... There was no doubt in the elections. They got more powerfully forRoosevelt each time, and, when he died, it was in April of '45, yes, you had a mourning nation. You really did. You felt, "How is this country going to get along without Roosevelt?" Well, wiser heads will say, "One man can't do it all, so, ... it's going to move along," but he was a tremendous influence for the United States.
EB: Did your family discuss politics or were you just reading about it in the papers?
WF: No, not very much. My mother, certainly no; my dad and I might have a little chat, once in awhile, but we did not talk about it a great deal, no. Mostly, you talked with your peers, people you worked with and the younger generation, who were going to be impacted seriously by the war. Nobody ever envisioned it would be what it turned out to be. The casualties were incredible, ... twenty million Russians, and then, you add up the Germans and the French and the Belgians, ... and the six million Jews, and the Americans. I don't know, the final total has to be well over fifty million people that we lost during that period of time, not even counting wounded. The hospitals, some of them, you still have veterans from World War II who are in hospitals, been there for the rest of their lives, very serious.
EB: You were at this law office up until Pearl Harbor.
SI: No, the other company, the naval hydraulic jack firm.
WF: Yes. Pearl Harbor happened, and then, Archie Dudgeon said, "Hey, now we have the war. ... I've got a better reason for you to stay longer." He wrote another letter to the Third Naval District, and then, I had a date of January 19th to report, and I reported and never went back home. There was no letter. [laughter] That's when I entered the service, a few weeks after Pearl Harbor.
EB: Do you remember where you were when Pearl Harbor happened or how you heard about it?
WF: Yes, it was Sunday afternoon. We had finished an early dinner. We would eat more in the middle of the day, like two o'clock or something like that. We finished dinner and we had the radio on, because we were listening to the, I guess the Rose Bowl football game, late in the afternoon. [Editor's Note: The Rose Bowl game was played on January 1, 1942, that season.] I think that was it, but I was there with my mother and dad, and his sister, Hilma, was there at the time. ... We heard that Pearl Harbor had been attacked, and I [said], "Where'sPearl Harbor?" you know. [laughter] That's the first thing you thought, and I didn't know it was in Hawaii. I've been there since and seen the area, but, obviously, everybody was in shock, because, immediately, [I] knew that I'd be called. I was not thinking that Archie Dudgeon was going to get me another ninety-day deferment. The needs were going to be very, very fast and furious. A big mistake that Hitler made; he did not understand theUnited States, absolutely did not. He was locked into a very, very small perimeter in Europe. He thought he knew everything and he couldn't envision that, in a short period of time, we would be effective in any way whatsoever, wrote us off; that's all. Well, that was his mistake, one of many, but that was his mistake.
SI: In those few weeks between Pearl Harbor and when you went into the service, did you notice any changes on the home front, any Civil Defense activity or early rationing programs?
WF: I really didn't, because it was only a few weeks, you know. I'd be apprised of that when I finally got into the service and was writing letters, and so forth. By that time, I had met this young lady and we began a correspondence and, actually, a love affair grew and grew, and that correspondence was a big part of it. Writing, in those days, was an essential communications tool. You didn't have cell phones, you didn't have faxes, you didn't have other things, and we wrote hundreds of letters over the years, until we were married, which was still during the war. That was May 27, 1944. That's sixty-four years ago. That's a long time to [be married], but she's been a great partner, wonderful gal.
SI: How did you meet?
WF: That's an interesting thing. In 1940, if you recall, ... [our] family never had vacations. There was just no money for it and I wasn't making that kind of money, but ... a guy who turned out to be my best friend for life, he was older than me by seven years, ... at the time, he was twenty-seven, I was twenty, he used to go up to Speculator, New York, in the summertime. There was a Christian young people's camp called Camp of the Woods, beautiful country, on Lake Pleasant, which was what the name indicated, Lake Pleasant. ... Betty and her sister had been going up there. ... I didn't know her, but they had been going up there, and my friend, John, had been going up, on his own, and he was quite a character. I'll show you a picture of him later, but a wonderful guy. ... He was very active, he was a great tennis player, very good-looking young man. The women recognized that he was. He was known as "King Loon" up at the camp, King Loon. He'd do all kinds of crazy things and, certainly, be caught at bed-check time, was not where he was supposed to be. [laughter] So, he had been up there and, in 1940, he said to me, "How'd you like to go up to Camp of the Woods?" Usual question, "What's that? Where is it?" So, he briefed me on it and it cost fifteen dollars a week. You slept on a raised platform tent deal, right byLake Pleasant. There was kind of a little boardwalk that went by, and two in a tent, and you got your three meals a day. They were not French cuisine, but you had sustenance and you could have the canoes and rowboats and hike in the area and swim and a very healthy existence, and you went to the different meetings that the church would hold. Every evening, they'd have a service. Well, I liked it so much, I wanted to stay another week. This is in August of '40 and I had no money, as I told John. He said, "Go over and talk to Pop Tibbitts," he's the guy who owned the place, "and tell him your story." So, I did. He said, "Young man," he said, "would you send me a money order when you got home?" I said, "No, not the first week. It'd be the second week, because I have to get paid first, so [that] I can write the money order." He said, "Okay, stay." So, I stayed, and John and I played a lot of tennis. He was left-handed. He was a very strong tennis player and I never could catch up with him, but we had some great times. So, we went home from that one and, the next year, '41, in August, John said, "Hey, how about going back up to Camp of the Woods?" I said, "Sure," and this time, I had enough money for two weeks, and, when we got up there, ... the first Sunday night, they had a candlelight service. ... John and I left and we're standing down at the bottom here, watching people come down the stairs and Betty and her sister, Lee, came down and we thought they looked pretty good. ... We introduced ourselves and we walked with them, and so forth, and that was it, but that was the beginning of the relationship. We exchanged phone numbers and addresses, and dated a few times before I went in, in January of '42. So, Betty visited me down at Camp Croft, South Carolina, where I had basic training, and it worked out that, ultimately, we decided to get engaged, and then, got married. You know, everyone, couples, fought the battle, "Should we wait until after the war is over or should we get married now?" and we battled that for a couple of years. So, from '41 to '44, you know, we finally decided, "Yes, we should do this," and you never knew whether you're going to come back and, if you did come back, what condition would you be in. You don't know; very serious questions for young people today. ... It's a volunteer Army, but you have the same situation, "How is it going to work out for us?" yes, but that's our story.
SI: If it is not too personal, what was the final deciding factor? Why did you choose to do it before you went overseas instead of after?
WF: Well, I think you get to a point where push comes to shove, so-to-speak, and we just felt it was the right thing to do, that we enjoyed each other very much and that we wanted to be together regardless of what happened down the road. We were of a like mind at that point in time. We had had enough time to talk about it and live it and you get to a point where things clarify themselves and that's the way to go. ...
SI: You told us how you went down to report to the draft board and they said you were going in. Did they take you in right that day?
WF: Yes, you reported, absolutely. You had to have your clothes with you, a change of clothes, and the guy at the draft board said, "Look, we've got twenty guys going." He said, "I'll put you in charge of them. Make sure they get to Penn Station, and then, they're going to get on the train and go out to Yaphank, Long Island," which was made famous by Irving Berlin. Yip, Yip, Yaphank became a show, World War I, Yip, Yip, Yaphank. So, it was a World War I leftover, so-to-speak, just there long enough to be issued your clothes, to get inoculations, and they woke us up that first night, around midnight. We'd actually gone to bed, said, "Everybody up. We have to take your IQ test." Well, that's not a good time to take an IQ test, [laughter] because that stays with you the rest of your career in the service and a lot of decisions are made on how well you did or didn't do. Anyway, we got over that, and then, the very next day, put us on a train back to Penn Station and we changed to; the railroad was called the Southerner and it went directly to Atlanta. ... That took us twenty-four hours, and then, it shuttled off down toColumbus, Georgia; oh, I'm sorry, no, no, that's another time. We went down to Spartanburg, South Carolina, to a place called Camp Croft, which was one of the early replacement training centers. It had been built in the peanut fields, and we were the first group, we were joining the first group, to go through basic training. The Army had to work very fast. They had very limited resources. It was a small standing Army. They had to reach out and try to get any Reservists who were available and train them quickly to prepare a basic training course where you would go through, and that was a thirteen-week course. So, there was no chance to get back, you know, no cell phones at the time, and it was very hard to get to a telephone to even call home and say, "Hey, I'm going somewhere." [laughter] They didn't tell us where we were going, just that you were going somewhere.
SI: Was that a big shock to you, to go from civilian life to the military?
WF: Great shock. I had never been a Boy Scout, I had never done any camping, no vacations involving roughing it at all. I was in good physical shape, because I was a runner and still played tennis and everything else, so, ... that part didn't bother me, but the change of being put into a barracks with, well, how many were there? forty-eight guys, maybe, in a barracks. I think there's even more than that, and I know I was upstairs and you slept head to foot. My head was here, my feet were there; the next guy, his head was here and his feet were here, and all kinds of guys who came from all kinds of backgrounds, farmers, people who had never really worked at too much of a job, some had had some more schooling and were called in, but they were from all over. ... Downstairs, you had the big shower area and washbasins and latrines, and getting used to no privacy at all is difficult for everybody. I don't care who you are, it's very difficult, but, at that age, you really adapt very quickly. You may not like it, but you know that there's no other recourse, so, you would adapt to it. I got through the basic training very well, learned to shoot the rifle and the carbine and training with the mortars and machine-guns. The hikes, we first started with just the rifle you were carrying. You ultimately wound up on the twenty-mile hike with a full field pack and your weapon, and so forth, and I was able to handle it. ...
SI: What do you remember about your drill instructors?
WF: ... We had mostly regular Army sergeants as a platoon leader, and then, they had some corporals who would assist them. They didn't have enough officers at the time, but they had enough regular Army sergeants, and they were good men. We had a Sergeant Ashlock, I can remember. Now, some of these were hillbillies. Sergeant Ashlock was, Sergeant Holmes was. I can remember, Ashlock, ... near the end of the course, maybe ten weeks, he went home on a weekend, back to the hill country, and he came back carrying a big jug of moonshine, and I didn't drink at the time. I just didn't. So, he called a couple of us into his room. He said, "I want you to try this stuff." So, I said, "Well, pour me out a little." "Oh, no, no, no; you take the jug and you do this."
SI: Swing it over your arm.
WF: I thought I was going to die. [laughter] Oh, boy, that stuff was strong. God, that must have been 180 proof, [laughter] but he was willing to share it, just a little. [laughter] Yes, I remember those two very well. ...
EB: Were they the same age as you or a little older?
WF: Oh, these were older [men]. I would say Ashlock was in his early forties, Holmes, pretty much the same. They had been down in Panama. They had been serving in Panama and they were called back, as they did in all these other camps.
SI: Did you think they gave you good quality training?
WF: ... As far as I am concerned, I got good quality training. If we had questions, we'd ask. You learned not to ask too many questions, but, if you really had one, you could ask. They had been in long enough [that] they knew all the ins and outs, and part of what you do, of course, is the assembly and disassembly of your rifle. ... You had to be able to lay out everything in certain order, because, ultimately, they blindfold you, because think of it at night; maybe you were attacked and you had been cleaning your weapon. You had to know how to put this thing back together, the M-1 rifle or the carbine. No pistols, we didn't get involved with pistols at that time. We did bayonet training. We had that. No, I thought that the Army did a good job with its basic training. The thirteen weeks didn't last very long. The need for manpower was so great, the next group after us came in [and was] only there for seven weeks, ... and then, they were sent on for six weeks to cooks' and bakers' school, to communications school, to wherever the Army needed more people. That completed their thirteen weeks, but we had a full thirteen weeks, ... kind of in-the-field type of work. So, that was a big break, and it gave you more time to get to understand the Army. We did our share of KP. You had to do your "pot walloping," with your great, big pots in the kitchen. Also, in the winter, it gets cold in South Carolina and we would have a tour of duty as a fireman at night. You had to go and check the fire and bank the fire and be ready to put the coal on in the morning, all part of the training. I found that, [at] Camp Croft, that Town of Spartanburg was a delightful small town. It had two colleges. It had Converse College, which was an all-women's college. It had, what was the name of the boys' college? I don't recall it at the moment, but they had a boys' college there [Wofford College]. To relieve the monotony, ... at the camp, they posted a notice, "Anyone who wants to sign up to go to the dance at ConverseCollege, put your name here. It's going to be such-and-such a date," and so forth. I'd say, "Let's get off the reservation." So, several of us signed up and we were put on a bus, on a Saturday. I think it was from six o'clock until ten o'clock, and we arrived at the school and it was a heavily chaperoned affair. It was a lovely, large room and a dance band, with the French doors opening out to a lovely area, but those doors were locked. You weren't going to take some young lady and walk outside with her, no way. They had light refreshments, sandwiches and Coca-Cola, no Pepsi-Cola in the South.
SI: All Coke.
WF: Coca-Cola, and we had a good time and it was a change of pace; liked it so much that, about a month later, there was another dance at Limestone College, which was in a different town, [Gaffney, South Carolina], same basic routine and same results all the way around, but just to get out and talk with the civilian population, talk with the young ladies that you danced with, and so forth, and with the chaperones. Then, I can remember going in on a Sunday. I went to church every Sunday. When I was out at the post, they had a chapel and I would go there every Sunday, and this one Sunday, one of my buddies and I decided we'd take the bus into town. ... The Methodist church was there. So, we attended this service, at the end of which, this family came over, family of four, mother, father, daughter, maybe sixteen, seventeen, a boy, fourteen. They said, "Can you stay in town? We'd like to take you to a family picnic. We're going to have a picnic this afternoon." Well, I said, "Gee, thank you very much. Yes, we'd love to." So, we went home with them. They had a big car. ... I went with them. My buddy ... was taken by somebody else and it was a very enjoyable time together. They were very friendly people. They were intelligent. They kept saying, "But, you're from Brooklyn. Where is your Brooklyn accent?" [laughter] I said, "I don't have a Brooklyn accent. I don't know what a Brooklyn accent is." Well, I did, of course, "Dees, dos, dem," and all that sort of business. I saw them one more time and that was all. They were a very, very fine family. Another thing I remember about Camp Croft, they had a diner down by the railroad station and you could get a steak dinner, and it was a good steak dinner, for ninety-five cents. Now, at the time that I started to take those dinners, I had been promoted to corporal. When I came in, I was making twenty-one dollars a month. When you were drafted, that's what you got, twenty-one dollars a month, less your GI insurance, less the charge for laundry. So, you're walking around with maybe thirteen dollars in your pocket for a month's work. With that promotion to corporal, that was sixty dollars, a big difference. I could live high on the hog, right. [laughter] So, I remember going to that diner and sitting there at the counter and having this meal. ... Oh, [after] all the Army meals I had had, this was just so good, and the steak was excellent, steak, a baked potato, vegetables, included a salad and a dessert. I drank milk at the time. I didn't even drink coffee, didn't care for coffee; as a Swede, think about that. That's unforgivable. So, I went there a couple of times. Also, I had a friend who was also a corporal, but ... he was reassigned to a division. The division was going to go on maneuvers and he shipped out. This is what happened to most of the guys. They were assigned to a unit somewhere, a division somewhere. They needed non-coms [noncommissioned officers], and this fellow told me, he said, "What you ought to do [is], you just take a bus and go up to Asheville, [North Carolina], in the mountains. It's a beautiful section." He said, "You can get a room at the YMCA for a dollar," and he said, "The bus ride would probably cost you fifty cents, or something like that, and just wander around the area. It's absolutely gorgeous." Well, I did and thoroughly enjoyed it. The bus ride, growling through the mountains; those old busses didn't have the best motors in them or they had been overtaxed. Yes, so, it was a nice, relaxed time, stayed overnight, and, the next day, wandered around a little bit more and took the bus back. We had a lot more flexibility as corporals. A corporal was a squad leader. In the platoon, you had a squad of maybe twelve, thirteen men and you went everywhere with them and you shepherded them, so-to-speak, as they were going though their basic training.
SI: Were you doing any training or just the shepherding?
WF: We were not getting additional training, no.
SI: Were you helping them with their training?
WF: Oh, let's say we'd go to the rifle range and we would correct their positions; we would lie down next to them. The guy would be firing down that way and I'd be on my back, this way, watching exactly what he was doing, how he was squinting, how he was aligning himself, how he was aiming, all that sort of stuff. I think that's why I lost some of my hearing, right next to the, "Bang, bang, bang, bang," do that all day, and you had them on the range for a week, and that was kind of rough. So, we did not get additional training. We did enjoy ourselves, because we had a terrific group of corporals, several from Staten Island, (Max Renner?), David Campbell, two real fine gentlemen. ... David Campbell and I, and Sergeant Holmes, at one point, we were a color guard, and war bonds were being sold by notables. You know, they'd try to get somebody who was famous, go have a show at a theater and that person would extol the virtues of the bonds and try to get as many people to buy war bonds as possible. Well, it chanced that Betty Grable was in town. That's a name you probably don't know today, but Betty Grable was a real pin-up gal, a blonde. She ultimately married Harry James, who was an outstanding bandleader of the time. Okay, so, we were the honor guard and we came into the theater and walked down the center aisle, and then, off to the side, and so forth. We brought the flag with us, and then, gave it, "Order arms and parade rest," and we stayed up on the stage the whole time that things were going on, and Betty Grable could sing. She was a pretty good singer. The orchestra was Blue Barron and his Orchestra. Blue Barron was not as well-known as Tommy Dorsey's or other Big Bands of that era, but they were good and they played an excellent job. ... One of the corporals with me was a fellow named Marty McKenna and Marty had sung with one of the Big Bands. He was an Irish tenor. He had a lovely voice and there was one number in particular, Blue Hawaii, it was a song called Blue Hawaii, and he sang at this time when Betty Grable was raising her money for bonds. We get back to the barracks and he and I would harmonize. He would sing the melody and I would harmonize with him, and we'd do some other songs, just for our own amazement, you know. I'm just trying to think of the other things that happened while we were there. We had a battalion baseball team and I was the manager and I was the catcher for the battalion team. I had two very good ballplayers. One was Austin Knickerbocker, who was with the Toronto Blue Jays. This is when that was a minor league team, AAA, the Toronto Blue Jays. Austin Knickerbocker was a fine shortstop, and I had an outfielder, Joe Mesonatti, who was supposed to be the [up and] coming DiMaggio. He was playing for Binghamton in the New York State League. So, I had these two very fine ballplayers on, and I loved baseball. I was a "good field, no hit"-type of guy [laughter] and I managed the team for the duration of time that I was at Camp Croft. We had two Irish guys from the Boston area who were corporals. They had both finished college and were on their way to law school. I lost all track of these people, by the way, and we had Bill Mills, who was a big 220-pound tight end, before they had tight ends. He wasn't a tight end. There was no such thing as a tight end at that time, but he played college football. My platoon leader was Kenny Comstock. Kenny Comstock was the quarterback in college for the Arkansas Razorbacks, and he had a very gruff voice. Quarterbacks must ruin their voices. You've heard them bark the message all day long, and Kenny Comstock got to like several of us who were corporals. ... He came up to me one night and he said, "I know we're not supposed to do this," officers don't associate with enlisted men, but he said, "There's a guy named Barksdale White who plays piano in town," and he said, "He's terrific, jazz piano." He said, "If you'd like to come along," he said, "we don't have to travel together, but you've got to catch the bus at such-and-such time and this is where it's going to be." So, it was all perfectly legit. So, a couple of us guys went in and we met Kenny at the performance and we listened to Barksdale White. He was very good. He had his own radio show, andSpartanburg is not big-time, you know, but he had his own radio show and played piano there. I remember that very well. I heard him several times. I was just trying to think of unusual situations that might have happened. Well, let's get closer to the end of Camp Croft.
SI: You went to a different camp for OCS.
WF: Oh, yes, Fort Benning; oh, that is the Infantry School. What happened was, we had a Captain Young who was the company commander. He was a Reservist, probably in his middle forties. He was an old man to us and he was not obese, but he was heavy. His was a thick frame and he had too much on, and the exertions that we had to go through on some of these hikes, and so forth, he went along. He had a heart attack and they sent in a Captain Dyson, D-Y-S-O-N, who had been PMS&T, professor of military science and tactics, at NYU. So, they appointed him as a company commander; biggest mistake the Army ever made. This guy did not know how to get along with people at all, got no cooperation, not [even] from his first sergeant that he had to be with all the time, and we learned to hate his guts. I can remember going in to the First Sergeant and saying, "Look, I can't take this guy anymore." I said "I'd like to apply for OCS [Officer Candidate School]." He said, "Good idea." He said, "Let me put the paperwork through," and he did, and, at that time, it was unusual, [if] you were not a college guy, to go to OCS. You had to have some college, anyway, and, fortunately, my IQ test stood me in good stead. Apparently, at midnight, I did a pretty good job, [laughter] and so, I was assigned to report to Fort Benning, to join the OC Class #163, November 1, 1942, and got there a few days early, so [that] I could acquaint myself with what was going on. ... That's the second lucky thing, [I was] able to go to OCS, all right; got moved into the barracks with all the other guys and started ... to become one of the "ninety-day wonders," as they were called at that time. The Infantry School did an incredible job of taking four years of West Point and condensing it to ninety days. Now, obviously, everything didn't get involved there, but they taught so well, they had such a great staff, I was just amazed and appreciative. We had guys teaching us who were in OC Class #5. Now, I was in 163. They had come from Harvard and Dartmouth and Yale and Cornell, anyplace where they had had some association, perhaps with ROTC, but perhaps not. They were drafted also, those who were not with ROTC. ... I did well during those ninety days. I was very fortunate. I had a strong voice and one of the things an infantry leader has to have is a voice, that you've got to be heard. ... We had fellows with weak voices and we would hear them, after bedtime, we had to be in bed at ten o'clock at night, they were out there in the fields hollering, trying to strengthen their voices. They wanted this so badly, and, unfortunately, many of them didn't make it. They got washed out, but I had a strong voice. ... About the fifth week, I was appointed company commander, to take charge of the company in everything they did, marched them from the beginning, when you got out to reveille, call attention and everything else, and then, march them to where we had to go. If it was a lecture somewhere, march them to the bus that was going to take us to the lecture; if it was a field exercise, the same thing. ... So, when we'd have dinner, we had study hall every night, five nights a week, ... seven o'clock until ten. As soon as you finished dinner, you got ready to go for study hour. So, they'd be coming out of the barracks and I'd have to call them to attention again, "Form the company. Right face," to the study hall, and the same way coming back. We had tactical officers that were assigned to the officer candidate classes. The tac officer lived with the guys. I don't mean at night. They could live off post; they might be married. Their job was to analyze each guy, "Is this man going to be qualified to be an infantry leader?" and he kept extensive records on every guy, and it wasn't until we got to the tenth week that those tac officers had to justify whether the people in his barracks were qualified to receive a commission [or not], and, at the end of ten weeks, you saw certain people just [disappeared]. You didn't see them anymore. They were gone. They're great guys. I really was amazed at how well I adapted to the studies, the exams, the oral performances that were required, the command work. I graduated number four in a class of two hundred, and I was the only other high school graduate in the class. Everybody else had had some college, everyone, except one. He was a first sergeant and he should never have gone to OCS in the first place. After five weeks, he left. He had the best job in the world and he was not going to make it as an officer candidate. Now comes the next miracle; got my commission, February 1, 1943, and, since I had graduated number four, I didn't know it at the time, but the Infantry School kept the top ten guys in my class for a one-year assignment to be there as instructors of incoming officer candidates, and we were posted to a committee. I was on the BAR Committee [Browning Automatic Rifle]/hand grenade/bayonet training group, and our group would have a class for one week, as the infantry OC classes came through. They'd be one week with us, they'd be one week with the machine gun group, they'd be one week with another group, and so forth, and so on, tactics group. Well, that's another miracle. I was going to be there for one solid year and it gave me the opportunity of being a good instructor, to do what I could to help the guys who were going through become an officer. It's quite an assignment, when you think about it. I was also fortunate in that, right from the beginning, I had been at the main post, FortBenning. They had two other areas, the Harmony Church area was out in the woods here and the second area, out here somewhere. ... At the main post, I was living in the bachelor officers' quarters, which was walking distance to the theater, to the beautiful New England chapel that they had, to the football stadium, to the baseball area, to the officers' club, to the pool, and so forth. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I mean, it was really great, and met so many wonderful people who became lifelong friends, most of them gone by now, because they were older when I met them. I joined the post chapel choir. When I was in OCS, I could not do that. You didn't have any time at night, during the week. You had to be at study hall. They had Wednesday night rehearsals and it was impossible, but I had offered to be an usher during that time and I did usher every Sunday, and I became enchanted with the choir. They were a very good choir and [they had] a soprano soloist, who was probably fortyish, something like that, and I said to myself, ... when I was going through OCS, "If I could ever be assigned to this post, I would love to join that choir," and it happened. ...
SI: We are back from our break. Thank you very much for lunch; it was a wonderful treat.
WF: A pleasure. I'm glad we had a chance to take a break.
SI: We left off talking about OCS in Fort Benning. During your actual time in OCS as a candidate, it sounds like there were a lot of washouts over the course.
WF: Not a high percentage.
WF: No, there were not. I would say, if fifteen out of two hundred went out, it'd be high.
SI: Can you tell us what a typical day was like? You made it sound very intense.
WF: Well, I guess reveille was five-thirty, and then, you'd fall out and everybody's nose was counted, went back in, shaved, showered, if you hadn't showered the night before, made your bed. That had to be done right. Then, you went to breakfast and, after breakfast, you had to be ready for formation at eight o'clock. So, you'd fall out and one of the officers, who was responsible for the company, while you're in formation, would tell you what you were going to do that day. ... Then, let's say this was a particular day where we'd get in the trucks and they would take us to the Harmony Church area. ... There, there would be a large grandstand, suitable for a class of two hundred, and you'd be looking out on a particular type of terrain, whatever the exercise called for. They had soldiers stationed at Benning who were drilled in making a particular attack, for example, and you would watch the attack unfold in front of you. There would be an enemy, there would be the group doing whatever they were assigned to do. They, perhaps, would maneuver in a certain way, to either outflank the enemy or, in some cases, get away, because you were outnumbered, whatever the exercise called for. ... It would often involve live ammunition, and then, they would have smoke bombs, to make it look realistic, so that the attacking group would look for a place there called "in defilade." You'd have to be behind a mountain or a hill or something like that, so [that] you'd be protected. You set your mortar up here, and then, you'd fire over to the enemy target. They always talked about, "Don't fight, if you can, on unfavorable terrain," and we have been doing it ever since World War II. Korea was a terribly unfavorable terrain, Vietnam was terribly [unfavorable]; look at our guys struggling through rice paddies. You know, we must have been insane. What's going on now in Iraq and Afghanistan, in those mountains of Afghanistan, that's unfavorable terrain. We were taught, "Do not fight in unfavorable terrain," and the Pentagon, in their wisdom, they've thrown that out the window. Now, that's just a personal opinion. I'm not a strategist, but that's the way I feel. So, on that particular day, we would have gone through that total exercise. Now, we were given papers at the beginning and you were to make notes, because you were going to critique this action, and you'd have lunch in the field. It would usually be a full day's exercise. Sometimes, it was a small action thing and you could do it from eight to one and be back in the main post and have a lecture, for example, whatever. Then, you'd have dinner, and I believe that we were then assembled and went to the study hall from seven o'clock until ten o'clock. So, that was your day. You started at five-thirty, you ended at study hall at ten o'clock. There was no time for anything else. ... It was a tough schedule, I want to tell you, so that when I credited the Infantry School with its excellent teaching, they compressed into ninety days, I can't tell you what the actual amount [was], certainly 180; you know, they really compressed it. Another day, ... it would be announced that this would be a demonstration of hand-to-hand combat and bayonet training. The school had developed a group of sergeants who were very athletic, very agile, and who would put on a live demonstration in front of you, when somebody would come to attack. ... Then, they would show you the moves that you would make to try to ward off the attacker and conquer him, so-to-speak. They also had bayonet exhibitions, as to the proper use of the bayonet and how you used it effectively, and so forth. Then, the hand grenade was also part of our group and, on the day that you'd watch a hand grenade demonstration, you'd actually, ultimately, get involved in throwing it, but they told you exactly how you were going to do this, by the numbers. ... You didn't pull the pin until you were told to pull the pin, because, now, you had a live grenade in your hand. ... Just like a rifle range, they had a place where you could throw the grenade and you had to make sure you could put some distance behind it. Those were typical days. In some of them, they would have larger units. Remember, I told you about a small unit action that would be observed. We'd be back out in the field again. This might be an all-day type of thing and they might have had a full company of soldiers, with all of the equipment that they would normally have.
EB: Did guys know whether they would be going to Germany or Japan? Was the training different?
WF: You never knew anything when you were going through OCS. You never knew a thing. There was always conjecture, rumors. ... The situation was in such a state of flux, in different parts of the different theaters overseas, whether it was the Pacific or whether it was Italy or whether it was Germany or France, earlier on. In my case, well, we'll get to that a little bit later. So, no, you did not have a clue where you were going. We were dressed forFort Benning weather, and it's cold in Georgia in [winter]. We had our winter uniforms on and the jackets that we needed, and so forth, to go to the demonstration, to be out in the open. ... We graduated, of course, ... February 1st, so, we were there through a winter period, you know, November, December, January. You don't lay around in the sun in Georgia. At that time, no, you don't. If that answers your question, no, we ... didn't have a clue as to where we were going to go.
SI: Did they work in "real world" examples, from what was happening overseas? Was it very realistic in that sense?
WF: ... At some of the lectures, they had feedback from the front that went back through the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Washington, and then, went back to the Infantry School, which was required, and they would report on what had been done. For example, on D-Day, when the troops went in and finally got ashore; I don't know how they ever did it. It's impossible at Omaha Beach. What they ran into very quickly were the hedgerows in France, and these were a real problem, because the enemy was fully behind those hedgerows and, if you stuck your head up, you were gone, you know, that kind of thing. I mentioned to you before, the ordnance company that my friend, Doug Thompson was with, called back to Korea. It was that ordnance company that ... finally got stationed in France; they made special prongs for the front of the tank, so that they [could] go right into the hedgerow, lift it up and the guys could get through, an ingenious thing. Nobody had thought of that before. ... One of the things they said about the American soldier was that he had great ingenuity, and you had guys who had worked in steel mills or worked in the farms, were fully cognizant of equipment and what you could do with it, what you needed to do, and this was one of the things, as an example, of what came back, from Europe, in this case. Also, we learned about what they were doing with the German coastal defenses. They had these huge concrete bunkers. I have a picture of one, because, when I was going to go home and I was at Camp Lucky Strike, I was able to borrow a jeep, commandeer a jeep, and go by myself back to the coast, exactly, because we were there in Normandy ... before going home, and to see how thick that concrete was and how it was blasted. In this case, it was the RAF and the American bombers that came over and hit these with such tremendously powerful bombs [that] they just blew the concrete up, like this. The picture will tell better, but we got information that, for example, if you're going to go through the Siegfried Line, that you had to use what they used in the Pacific; they called them Bangalore torpedoes. They used a bamboo tube and put the explosive in it and shoved that into a machine-gun nest area, or to a built-up fortification area. We used that when we went through the Siegfried Line. You'd light it and it'd go, "Ba-da-boom." So, yes, there was that kind of feedback. I can't tell you how much, but I'm sure that communications were good. If somebody saw something, they'd put it back to headquarters immediately and try to get it home, yes.
EB: Were you getting any other general information about how the battles were going and how the war was progressing against either Japan or Germany?
WF: I think I'd have to say not very much, and, as most of the soldiers will say, "What difference does it make?" except if we're winning. That part's all right, but it's what's ... happening right in front of your rifle that is of importance. Your world is a very, very small world. It's focused on a couple of acres in front of you, that you're going to have to cross over, or a small stream or river. That's what you concentrate on. There is no big picture for you. ... Yes, occasionally, you get a report that things are going well here or we had a setback there, or something like that, but it was not [pressing]. As far as I was concerned, it meant nothing, meant nothing. It meant something that ... we had driven [a great distance]. After the Battle of the Bulge, that was key, and thank God we weren't there; we came in right after the Battle of the Bulge. [Editor's Note: The Germans launched the Ardennes Offensive or Battle of the Bulge with a surprise attack in the Ardennes Forest on December 16, 1944. By January 25, 1945, the battle was considered complete as the Germans were pushed back to their original lines.] That's what broke the Germans' back, because they had wanted to get access to a port in Belgium. See, they were cut off from ... bringing stuff in from the Atlantic and that's ... why the Battle of the Bulge [was launched] and, when that was over, terrible casualties on both sides, but, now, the Germans, for the first time, had to retreat to their own land. They had fought everything on somebody else's property, so-to-speak, right. So, this was the last phase of the war that we got involved in and we were moving and moving fast. Anyway, that's part of the answers.
SI: When you were an instructor at OCS, you would be setting up these simulated mortar attacks and bayonet drills.
WF: ... They had it broken down, as I told you, that, for one week, we would have a class and our job was to explain the use of the Browning automatic rifle, the BAR, the strategic use of a hand grenade and the hand-to-hand combat involved with a bayonet. ... That same lecture, because we're getting a class a week, that same lecture was given every week from start to finish, including the hand-to-hand defensive combat type of thing. We had soldiers who demonstrated it and did it very well, and each of us who were on the committee would conduct an hour's lecture, for example. When I joined the BAR committee, I was introduced to Major Metty, who was in charge of that group, and he was a Reserve officer, a very good man, and there was a Lieutenant Len Molendyke, who was from Paterson. He was older than the rest of us. He was probably [in his] middle thirties. That made him an old man. I was ... twenty-four at the time; twenty-three when I joined them, I'm sorry. He had been working as a chemist in the dye houses in Paterson. Paterson was the Silk City and they had all these wonderful arrays of dyes that they could use to finish the goods, and that's what his job was. He had a very good job in that. I was assigned to Len. You always had a mentor and he taught me all of the lectures. They were all written out, you had to learn them, and he would check me on them, and so forth, and, if I got it wrong, he really gave it to me, until you were able to handle each of the lectures the way you're supposed to. I don't mean every comma, every dot, but you had to be on with your lecture. That's the way that progressed.
SI: In that position, were you ever personally responsible for washing somebody out? Did you have to make a decision that a person could not hack it?
WF: No, ... again, the tac officers were there. That was their responsibility. We were not to have anything to do with it. We were to do our job of teaching, okay. ... No, that was a wonderful way to do it, because the tactical officer spent all of his time observing, watching how a person conducted himself. So, it's like being under the FBI's spyglass, for heaven's sake.
SI: They never came to you for your opinion.
WF: No, that was the tac officer's job. We would chat, you know, because, after all, we're in this together. If they had any questions, they might ask a question, but I don't remember very much. ... Basically, unless it was a flagrant violation, then, we had to report that, but these guys conducted themselves quite well. They really wanted to earn their bars and they wanted to be a part of the Army and be a part of fighting Hitler. You might say patriotism wasn't dead.
SI: This is a general question, covering your whole time in training, from when you first went to Camp Croft. Did you always feel like you had adequate equipment, particularly early on? Was there enough equipment and good quality equipment?
WF: Well, they used to laugh about it at Camp Croft. They did not have enough equipment. They were using brooms, if you had to.
SI: As rifles.
WF: You know how fast you had to ramp up from a small standing army to millions of people? You didn't have the camps; you had to build the camps overnight. The orders had to go out from the Pentagon to, like, my friend, Dudgeon, who was making the special things for the Navy. The automotive industry had to convert, overnight, to making tanks, very different procedure, and jeeps. ...
EB: The guys in the Pacific had a lot of World War I equipment.
WF: I'm not surprised. I think, particularly in the field of rifles, the M-1 rifle didn't get ramped up that fast. You had the ...
SI: [Springfield] '03?
WF: Yes, the '03, thank you very much, [laughter] things you don't remember so well, which was, by the way, a very good rifle. It was one of the more accurate rifles, but whatever was lacking, you overcame with the spirit of what you were doing and with your ability to see what you would do with whatever that missing equipment was, you know. Let's say you didn't have enough mortars or enough machine-guns, or whatever it was; somehow, you'd get some time on the range with a machine-gun, with a mortar. Certainly, bayonets were available. We had enough of those and they stayed right at the school. See, you only needed [so many]. ... You've got to figure out how many classes you had, so that each one of them would have that equipment, and I'm sure the early days of OC Class #1 through 25 or so, 50, probably had shortages, had to happen. I never felt that I was deprived. I was okay.
EB: In basic, you said you fired rounds of ...
WF: In basic training? You had to qualify with the M-1 rifle on the firing range. You fired the thirty-caliber air-cooled machine-gun, not the fifty-caliber heavy water jacket, no. We were on the range and we took a turn slipping the mortar shell into the tube. They told you exactly how to do it, and so forth. They used dummies, not live ammunition, in the mortars, too expensive, you know, [laughter] but it would eject and you could follow the flight of it. ... With respect to something like that, it was as much where you would emplace your mortar, you know. We're not going to be out in the middle of somewhere; you wanted to have protection, you wanted to have, like, in defilade, as I said before.
EB: You felt like you were prepared to use the weapon. We have talked to some people who, in all of their training, had only fired a gun once.
WF: ... When I think of the guys that we only had for six weeks, I mean, we had for seven weeks, instead of the thirteen, obviously, the program got cut back. ... There were other cases where you were not trained as an infantryman, but you were, let's say, a runner from division headquarters, or even regimental headquarters, or a cook or a baker, or something like that. The Army recognized that quite late. When I was first assigned to the 71st Division, after we finished; we'll get into that, but it's pertinent.
SI: Go ahead.
WF: I was assigned as executive officer of Company A in the 14th Regiment, and we were still receiving people every day, from all over the country, privates, PFCs, corporals, sergeants, officers. ... I wasn't there a week before the company commander, whom I hardly knew, Arol Charbonneau, handed me an order from Division Headquarters, that I was to report to Division Headquarters and I would be given instructions when I got there. I went home that night and I told my wife, because Betty was with me, after I got married. I told her that I was going to be up at Division Headquarters, I didn't know what was going on, but I'd let her know the next day. So, I reported and, along with me, there was ... another first lieutenant, Richard Thornton, from New York State. He had been the editor of the Elmira News. He was thirty-five years old and I was ten years younger than that. In fact, at that time, ... I was twenty-four, okay; eleven years older, he was. Our mission was to set up a small arms school, to instruct cooks, bakers, runners, communications guys, everybody up in Division Headquarters, except the officers, because they'd already had their training. We had to set up a firing range, we had to instruct them in assembling and disassembling each of the items. Most of them fired carbines, because the M-1 rifles went to the infantryman. He was the guy who had to do the real shooting. Carbine was to defend yourself; very few had a pistol, was mostly carbines. So, I was up there for, I guess, three weeks, maybe a month. I could get home every night, except if I was officer of the day, because I was attached to Division Headquarters. ... Richard Thornton, when it came time for me to be officer of the day and to stay overnight, you know, twenty-four hours, he'd say to me, "Look," he said, "I don't have a wife," he said, "you're newly married," he said, "Why don't you go home? I'll take over your routine." He was very selfless. He was a wonderful gentleman, not just because he did that; he was a gentleman. To me, he didn't belong in an army, fighting, because he was such a wonderful guy, ... should have been doing his job or in college teaching, or something like that, Richard Thornton, and I go further with him. When we first went into action, the very first night, that was in Bitche, France, B-I-T-C-H-E, and we relieved the 100th Infantry Division, who had been in place there since December. Now, this is March, and they had knocked the Germans out and the Germans had knocked them back out. It was back and forth, a very heavily mined area on both sides of the road. ... Since I was executive officer, I was in charge, with the first sergeant, of the command posts for the company. We'd always have to find a house or some shelter, so [that] we could set up our SCR 300 radio and get everything organized, and let Battalion Headquarters know exactly where we were and let the other platoons know where we were, and we were led into our positions. Let's talk about the guys who were going to the foxholes. About ten o'clock at night, pitch black, cold as could be, and as quietly, you know, there wasn't a sound, unless you stepped on a twig or something like that, and you, as a soldier, you relieved this guy who had been in that foxhole since December, that they [had] expanded those things, you know. You could stand in them, not the typical foxhole, and, usually, they had dug into the next guy's, so that the two guys ... could man that area together. Well, there was sporadic firing that night, a lot of nervous trigger fingers, and Lieutenant Thornton, in the early morning hours, before the daybreak, ... heard a soldier who was screaming out in the minefield. ... He went out to try to rescue him and he himself stepped on a mine, was blown up, fell on another mine. He was dead. That was our first officer casualty in World War II, Richard Thornton, very sad story. I'll go a little further with it. When we were at a reunion at Fort Benning, at our business meeting, a letter was read by a gentleman who actually worked at the post as a civilian. ... He sent the letter to the head of our reunion, to be read, and, essentially, what it was, he said that his father's cousin's son was a Richard Thornton who was in the service. They thought he was in the Air Force somewhere, and so forth. "If any of you know anything about Thornton, please be in touch." Well, nobody else knew anything about him and I knew he was in the 66th Regiment, which was a brand-new regiment we created to make a triangular division. ... So, when I got home, I wrote a long letter and told him everything I knew about Richard Thornton, what a wonderful officer he was and a gentleman and a human being, and he couldn't thank me enough, because it finally brought closure to what had happened to Dick Thornton. All the things they thought he was wasn't true. ... Anyway, that's another story. All right, let's get back to where we were.
SI: How did it come about that you joined the 71st Infantry Division?
WF: Well, I'll tell you a few other stories first.
WF: We had the privilege of being on the post, as I told you, for a year, and so, the officers' club was available to us. I went to a lot of dances. At that time, Betty and I were not even engaged and I enjoyed meeting and dancing with a number of them, and with some of the friends that we had met and their wives. ... This particular night we were there, Saturday night, ... in walks Jane Russell. Does that [name], Jane Russell, mean anything to you?
EB: It sounds familiar.
SI: She was an actress.
WF: Jane Russell was a Hollywood star. She was built, a tall brunette. She made a movie with ...
SI: Howard Hughes
WF: Howard Hughes, exactly right, called The Outlaw, and it was censored because there was cleavage, and she was well cleaved, if that's the right expression, I don't know. [laughter] Well, she came with a bunch of officers from Lawson Field. Lawson Field was where the paratroopers were trained. It was all part of Fort Benning, the only place in the United States [for paratrooper training at the time]. They had all these towers that they would come down, initially, you know, as they gradually got into the business. So, those officers were friends of her husband, Bob Waterfield. Now, Bob Waterfield was an outstanding quarterback at UCLA during the years, like, '42 and '43, and he was down for the OCS program. So, customary in the South, you always had a "stag line" that cut in on the girls, so that you could dance with them. So, heads got together and said, "Hey, we've got to get a stag line here. We're going to have to dance with Jane Russell." ... She had come to help sell war bonds while her husband was going to OCS, and she could only see him on the weekend, she couldn't see him during the week, and she had brought two gowns with her from Hollywood. They were really tight and they were long and kind of hobbled down here, so [that] if you're on a dance floor and you're a girl, you couldn't go very far. You couldn't get away from anybody if you wanted to. So, one of the guys went over to ask her to dance and that started it, and we each cut in on her in turn. We tapped the shoulder of the guy, grabbed her, take her two twirls, somebody tapped your shoulder, and so forth, you had to get back on line, and we came back several times. ... She was very warm and friendly, a very pretty woman, and then, we used to see her [around the post]. She had a cousin who came down to visit her and they had the use of the pool at the officers' club and she was very athletic. She grew up as a tomboy, with three brothers, out in California, and she was a good diver and swimmer. ... We'd be laying around the pool on Saturday afternoon and she was up there bouncing up and down on the board and going like this. The guys are going nuts looking at her, [laughter] and so, we saw her several times. Years later, after the war, she wrote her book [Jane Russell: My Path and Detours (1988)], like most people do, they wrote their memoirs, and there was a book signing in Paramus, on Route 4. ... It was choir night for me and I said to Drew, my son, I said, "Geez, boy, I'd love to go down and see her and buy a book, and so forth, but I have choir." He said, "Look, you have choir every Wednesday night. How often is Jane Russell in town? Go." So, I went. I bought the copy of the book and, if you've been to book signings, most often, whoever's signing [has] got their head down all the time to sign the next book, next book, next book. So, it came my turn. I said, "Hi, Jane, how are you?" Bang, up goes the head, says, "Who are you?" I said, "Well, of course, you don't know me, but I'm one of those who had the pleasure of dancing with you at the officers' club at Fort Benning while your husband, Bob Waterfield, was in OCS." She said, "Really?" I said, "Yes." "Gee, that's wonderful." I said, "Furthermore, I remember you when you had your cousin with you," and she gave the name of the cousin. ... I told her about the diving board incidents and how much we appreciated watching her, and so forth, and she laughed. ... I said, "[I] just want you to know that we were all very appreciative of the opportunity and you had a wonderful career and we're proud of you." She says, "Let me have that book," and she says, "What's your name?" I said, "Wally Felldin," I said, "Just put Wally." "Dear Wally, Here's to all the wonderful times we had together at Fort Benning. Love, Jane." End of story, but, ... if you see any of these old movies, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes [(1953)] was a terrific movie with ...
SI: Marilyn Monroe.
WF: With her and, yes, ... Marilyn Monroe. The two of them were in that; okay, onward and upward. [laughter] ...
SI: When you were in the South, did you have an opportunity to go to USOs?
WF: Well, the dances that I went to were USO sponsored. Those are the ones at Converse College, LimestoneCollege, yes.
SI: At the end of all this training and being an instructor, what was your attitude towards going overseas? Were you anxious to go overseas or did you want to stay in the States?
WF: Well, having just come back from my honeymoon, I was not anxious to go overseas, not at that time, and that's when the next miracle happened. When I came back from the honeymoon, I reported in to find out what my next assignment was. I expected to go, which I didn't want, nobody wants, [in] the overseas replacement pool. Then, you just go and you wind up in some unit up at the frontlines. You don't know anybody, and the average time for a first or second lieutenant and a captain, in the frontlines during that D-Day [until the] Battle of the Bulge period was about forty-eight hours, finished. So, was I looking forward to it? no. Did I have a job to do? yes, but you just can't [control it]. ... If you're in that situation, you're not looking forward to going overseas at that point. Now, there are guys who did. They were going to kill every German they could think of. I have a book that I was given by my daughter, Carol, only a month ago, [about] a guy who was in the 82nd Airborne, and his only objective was to kill Germans. In a nutshell, that was it. Okay, let's talk about another miracle here; when I reported in, thinking I was going to the overseas replacement pool, I told Betty, "Don't come back with me. ... I won't be around forty-eight hours; I'll be on my way out." [She] said, "I'm coming down with you, [even] if it's for one day." So, the guy that I reported to said, "How'd you like to join the 71st Infantry Division?" I said, "Where are they?" Well, he said, "While you were on your honeymoon, a skeleton cadre from the 71st," which had been out on maneuvers in [Fort] Hunter Liggett, California, as a mountain division, with mules, had been disbanded. Everybody was sent to the Pacific, to MacArthur, except a very skeleton cadre. "They came back here," where Patton trained his tanks, in the Sand Hill area, "and they are to be reconstituted as a regular triangular division," which means three infantry regiments and an artillery regiment and all these tanks and everything else that goes with it, so, a big unit, maybe eighteen to twenty thousand men. I said, "Fine." So, I got my orders and I reported to Company A, 14th Infantry, Captain Charbonneau. ... He said, "All right," he said, "you're going to be my executive officer and you'll work with the first sergeant and take care of all of the duties that a command post would take [on] if we were in combat, but we'll have all the communications through here. So, you're part of that." So, I went home that night, I said to Betty, "Hey, we're going to be here a little while." [She] said, "What do you mean?" The estimate was seven months to get enough people to fill up and build this army. That's why I say this is another miracle, that I was assigned to something like that. It gave Betty and I a chance to have seven enjoyable months, went to the officers' club, met other friends, went to the dances, or dinners or whatever was going on, saw a little bit of the area. I'd bought an old '37 Oldsmobile and could travel a short distance on a weekend, because gasoline was rationed. You couldn't get any. ... We watched daily [as we would] get somebody else sent in, or a couple of guys, maybe you went a week [without any more], and then, they got three or four more guys, and then, the officers started to come in. ... They kept training every day and, finally, we were going to move out. ... New Year's Eve of '44, the division had learned when they were going to leave the post and we could have this New Year's Eve party at the club. ... That was a joyful, tearful type of scene, because, immediately, the family members had to go home, Betty had to leave, all the wives had to leave, and we stayed to get ready to move the division up to New Jersey, to Fort Dix, for ultimate shipment out of the Port of New York. When I heard Port of New York, I felt pretty good, because I figured maybe I could get a pass before I got overseas and get to see Betty inRidgewood again. Her family was living in Ridgewood and that was my home address at that time. So, another officer and myself were put in charge of the train. We had to do everything, load everybody, load all the equipment, be responsible for the whole thing before the train pulled out and be in charge of the train until it arrived at Fort Dix. ... We stayed there, it was about a week. Again, you had to go over everything, make sure the officers, anybody and everybody, had GI insurance. You know, a lot of guys hadn't signed up. More shots, checking out equipment, every last piece of equipment, that everything had to be up-to-date, checked weapons, and some might be defective, make sure you got a new weapon, the whole bit. It takes a long time to put it together. We finally sailed in January, late January, and it took thirteen days to get to Le Havre, where we unloaded, but we stopped. See, John Eisenhower, Ike's son, was a recent West Point graduate. He was a second lieutenant in B Company, the next company to me. So, I got to know John a little bit. I don't want to name drop and have people think I knew him a lot; I didn't, but he became very friendly with Arol Charbonneau, my company commander, and with Joe Jones, another officer who had been a graduate of the Citadel, and so, we would see John in the course of action during the day. I mean, the companies were right next to each other. We had to stop off the coast of England to unload him. We could not risk the Germans capturing John Eisenhower, with his father being the chief general of all the armed forces, and nobody begrudged him that. He was such a good man, handled himself well. ... They didn't feel that this was a case of executive privilege or something like that. They wished him well, and then, we went over to Le Havre. Mud, the town was called Doudeville, D-O-U-D-E-V-I-L-L-E, Doudeville, in Normandy, and you had camps there like Camp Lucky Strike, or whatever it was, Camp Old Gold, always named after a cigarette. ... We had to get off the boat, get into trucks, get moved to where it was, a real mess, and it took quite awhile. We had to put down more, like, duckboards, or whatever you want to call them, so that you wouldn't be sliding around in the mud all the time. ... It took us a couple of weeks to get all our equipment together, to find out a lot of training information, before we were going to move forward. They finally put us on the "forty-and-eights" that they had in World War I, the freight cars that took forty men and eight horses. It's forty-and-eights; they were still there from World War I. The French had them. So, we loaded on to that and we moved forward to Nancy, N-A-N-C-Y, Nancy ["Nan-cee"], I guess they pronounce it, and, there, we got out and we were trucked into the area that was Bitche, B-I-T-C-H-E. I was still in France, and that was where both the Maginot Line and the Siegfried Line were in that area. The Germans, of course, had sealed against the French border and they [the Germans] had built the best [defensive fortifications. The] Maginot Line proved to be useless. All the Germans did was go around the end of it, wiped out the French. So, I told you about Dick Thornton, before, being killed there. ... The feelings of going into combat for the first time are hard to describe. If anybody said they weren't frightened, to some degree, or scared to hell, either one, they're lying, a totally new situation, totally unknown. Would you ever get back? We were going to continue to go further and further east. We wound up covering 1,060 miles before we were finished, in Austria.
SI: You were still the executive officer of Company A then.
WF: Still executive officer of Company A, helped to run the CP with the first sergeant, and do such other things as was necessary. Well, I think I said before, the 100th had been in place and we relieved them, and they'd been fighting against the Germans since the previous December.
SI: Yes, you did.
WF: Okay. Now, we had to do something about the minefields that were out there, and so, you had engineers, who were sappers, as they called them, clear enough so that we could go down the road without worrying about it. The Germans were still in the area, in small groups. The terrain went with, like, a valley, shooting off the road here. You could have a machine-gun there, you know, covering the road, or you could have a mortar group over here, or whatever. So, we had to knock them out and we kept going further east, toward the Rhine, and we landed in a town called Pirmasens, P-I-R-M-A-S-E-N-S, Pirmasens. ... That was a very interesting thing, because the tanks had gotten there before we had, ... the tanks that are attached to the division, and they learned that there was a champagne storage warehouse six stories down, filled with champagne. ... By the time we got there, late in the afternoon, (walking) the tankers were lined up on the side with these boxes, crates of champagne. They handed a bottle to each GI as he came by. Now, we had a lot of eighteen, nineteen-year-old kids. A lot of them never even knew what champagne was or had ever had a drink of it. So, as it turned out, the next morning, there were an awful lot of heads that were not in very good shape. That was Pirmasens, and we continued to push east. ...
SI: What was involved in capturing the town?
WF: Small arms fire. There was no big deal there at all. What you had [was], throughout the period until the war ended, the SS were everywhere and they would rake up older men who had not served in the German Army and stuck a gun in their hands, or they would take the kids that were in the Hitlerjugend [Hitler Youth] Movement, who were fourteen, fifteen, sixteen-years-old. They had been training; they could fire a gun. They could kill you as easy as a seasoned veteran. ... Essentially, if they decided to defend some one area, to slow the advance more than anything else, the SS would be behind them with their guns and, if anybody broke, they shot him. So, you knew that your life was better staying there. As a prisoner of war, you might be better off than being shot by theSS. So, Pirmasens was not much of a battle at all, and then, we went on, I'm trying to think of the name of the [town]; Speyer, I'm sorry, S-P-E-Y-E-R, Speyer. Now, Speyer was on the Rhine and, if you looked across, not too far away was Heidelberg, a famous university city, which, like Paris, was spared. ... There was no bombing ofHeidelberg, there was no bombing of Paris, and so, we stayed in Speyer. There was some fighting in Speyer, and then, we were waiting for orders as to what was going to happen next. I think we were there for a good forty-eight to seventy-two hours and, finally, instructions came that we were going to cross the Main [pronounced "Mine"]. Well, all the bridges had been blown, except for the Remagen Bridge, that you've heard of before. ... So, we had to get the engineers to build a bridge, a pontoon bridge, across a section of the Main, where we could not only walk across, but where light vehicles could also go, like the jeeps. The heavy stuff couldn't go along it. They had to, ultimately, make another big bridge someplace else for the tanks to cross, and we crossed. ... At that point, we had to leave Speyer and, if I'm not mistaken, we had to go south and cross. ... In turn, we hit Darmstadt, was the first German city. It's a famous city and it's a good-sized city. Then, Hanau was the next city. I had never seen anything in my life like it. There was action there, but the British Lancaster bombers had bombed Hanau less than forty-eight hours before we got there. They'd killed ten thousand German civilians with that bombing raid, ten thousand, and you saw, in the fields, you'd see the horses with their legs up, cows, dead German soldiers, civilians. Hanau was a real introduction for us, just to see how difficult it could be, how terrible it could be. We're moving on toward Amberg, Bayreuth, Wagner's birthplace, but, when we left Hanau, we hadn't gotten too far before Captain Charbonneau called me and he said, "I've got an assignment for you." [Editor's Note: Composer Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig, but later settled in Bayreuth, where he built his Festspielhaus opera house.] I said, "What's going on?" He said, "We just had a communication from Patton. There's a castle in Hanau and you're going to have to find it." He said, "I want you to take a platoon and trucks and get back there as fast as you can. There is an arms collection that Patton wants. You're to stay there until you're relieved by Patton's emissary, whoever he is." So, we get back on the trucks and we're headed back to Hanau. We found this castle. It was lovely, hadn't been touched. ... We learned, as we had to stay in there, we slept in the castle, to guard the place, and we had guards posted outside with our light machine-gun and a mortar and a few riflemen, ... the people who were royalty, who lived in the castle, were related to King Victor Emmanuel of Italy, and there were lovely things in the castle. We couldn't take them if we wanted to, but everybody wanted a souvenir. "Can't we get something?" So, we discovered the silverware that was there for the formal banquets. I took, I still have, two knives and one fork. [The] handle is so heavy, it's silver, solid silver, with gold flashing on the outside. Right now, with the silver market up, I probably could make a buck with that stuff. It's over eighteen dollars an ounce now, so, a couple of heavy ones would bring me a pair of shoes. [laughter] Anyway, we stayed there and we were relieved, and we understand that that collection is up at West Point. I've never seen it, but that's the [information I have]. I tried to follow this, and I don't know that I ever got any decent information, but I understand it might be up at West Point. Patton was a great collector of things like that, he really was. Okay, so, we went back and caught up with our unit on the way to Amberg, Germany, A-M-B-E-R-G. Now, there is where we saw what you might call the first concentration camp, but it was not a Jewish concentration camp, it was Hitler's political prisoners. They were treated to the same lovely meals and the same lovely striped costumes and everything else that the Jews were and were in that kind of condition. I remember, I went into the kitchen and they had these huge vats and in them was water, potato peels, maybe a few old vegetables or something. I don't think there was any meat in it. They were starving all these people. They worked until they dropped. ... When I got into the kitchen, they had built up, like, a little boardwalk around the vat and each guy was armed with, like, an oar for a rowboat and would use this to stir it around. They might throw stale bread in there, they might throw anything else [in]. They gave them something, but it wasn't enough to keep body and soul together. ... As I walked into the kitchen, this guy dropped dead right in front of me, with the paddle, "Phew," off. So, that was a shocker, to even know that; I mean, we'd heard about things. ...
WF: Let's see.
SI: You said this man dropped dead in front of you in the kitchen.
WF: Yes. So, we stayed overnight outside of Amberg. ...
SI: May we ask you more about the camp?
SI: Was it guarded when your unit came upon it or had it been abandoned?
WF: The castle?
SI: No, not the castle; where the political prisoners were.
WF: Well, they ... obviously had been guarded by the SS. They all left.
SI: Okay, they all left.
WF: The same thing that happened in the other places. Forty-eight hours before the Allied troops came there, they were gone. They would just abandon them, yes.
SI: How large was the camp?
WF: They probably had around twelve to fifteen thousand prisoners. It's less vivid in my mind than is the other one, because the other one was a much bigger camp and unbelievable, but I didn't see any skeletons around the place. Whoever died must have been at least buried. It's not like it was at Gunskirchen Lager.
SI: There was no evidence that the Germans had tried to cover it up by executing people at the last moment.
WF: It was not a crematorium. It was a forced labor camp and, once you got weak, too weak, you either got shot or you dropped dead. They'd throw some other political prisoners in there. When you think about it, ... man's inhumanity to man is really very evident.
SI: You had at least heard about the camps by then. You knew they existed.
WF: ... Oh, yes, we knew that. We certainly knew there were prisoner of war camps that our soldiers were in, and the British and French. We knew the prisoner of war camps, the stalags. We were aware of concentration camps somewhere in Germany, or Poland or Austria, didn't have names, as far as we were concerned, and we were in a very fast-moving situation. You know, we're not in battle in one place for three weeks or a month or whatever like that. Nothing like that; we were moving. You either moved on foot or some of us got in trucks and got moved, and then, the next time, the guys that walked [would ride]. ...
SI: How many miles would you cover each day?
WF: I would say from four to five miles to as much as thirty or thirty-five, when you had the trucks available and if you did not run into too much organized resistance, as we did. There were some days you didn't make very much progress at all. There were some pretty severe battles because we were fighting against the SS Sixth DivisionNord, [a mountain warfare unit of the German Waffen-SS], were a very tough outfit, used to the mountains, you know, because we were going in toward higher ground. The Alps were, ultimately, back there, and I know our Fifth Infantry Regiment, we had three regiments, the Fifth Infantry Regiment, did a lot of fighting against the Sixth Nazi Division Nord. They really did. They had some tough times. We had more casualties. They needed assistance, we had to back them up with the tanks. Our battalion was not thrown in. We were in reserve at the time they were having that battle and, in reserve, you simply had a chance to rest a little bit. ... My job was not just to run the command posts, but, if we fought our way into a town, and you did have to fight your way into some towns, small arms fire, and so forth, my job was to say to the civilians, "Raus. Get out of your house and find a place with your neighbors. We're commandeering this for our troops tonight," and as many troops as we could had a chance to sleep in a bed, wash himself for the first time, really get clean, maybe get some food, because this is farm country, in part, and there was always eggs and chickens around if there's nothing else. We got tired of eating the C rations and K rations. So, we would set up in the house, and then, one platoon would have the job of securing the area. They'd put the machine-guns out and set up the guys and have them dig some foxholes to protect themselves, in case they [had] incoming shells. That would happen occasionally, and I can remember sleeping under one of these wonderful German, fluffy Eider down; it's not a blanket. What do you call it?
SI: A comforter?
WF: Comforter, thank you very much, comforter. That was heaven, [laughter] to be able to take your [clothes off]; you didn't take your shoes off, unfortunately, because, if something happened, you had to be going at a moment's notice. Okay, so, the next day, after that political prisoners' concentration camp, we were moving forward. We were going on our way to Amberg, but we had to go through Bayreuth first. ... We were fighting in Amberg and a runner came back and said, "Captain Charbonneau's been wounded. He's being evacuated. You've got to come forward and take over the company." So, I went up and saw what the situation was and everything had come to a complete halt when Charbonneau was taken away. They didn't know what to do and, remember, I had two platoons out there and two of my officers. We had been taught, back at Benning, "Don't ever stay in one place if you can help it, if you're exposed, in light woods or something like that, because, if you stay there, they're going to find where you are and you're going to have the mortars coming in, and then, you've got your casualty problem." So, we were taught to say, as a platoon leader, you'd get up with your men and you knew your men's names and you'd call a name over here, one over here, and say, "When I say go, you jump, go twenty yards, fall down." Keep moving, this way. Nobody could draw a bead on you that way; might go ten yards, depends upon the terrain. So, that's what I did to get them spread out, so [that] they'd be less vulnerable. Well, our problem was that we were going into higher ground. There was a bluff up here and there was a big Tiger tank looking right down at us. I had at my disposal, he had been working with Charbonneau, an artillery observation officer. ... He could immediately spot the terrain and come up with coordinates to call back to his artillery group. I said, "We've got to have fire. We've got to get rid of that Tiger tank." "Absolutely." So, within three, four minutes, you'd hear the shells coming in, knocked into the Tiger tank. I don't know if we knocked him out, but he left, that's for sure. I think he left and was damaged, but he could still move. Then, we could continue the attack and secure the high ground for the night, and we put out our security and we were not counterattacked. Counterattacking didn't happen too often, because they were falling back, they were falling back. So, the next morning, the battalion commander sent forward a Captain Murphy, who was a pipe smoking guy who was not in the best of shape, he was a little bulky, to take over the company. He had been the battalion S-3, which has to do with plans and training and whatever goes on, and he came forward, but he was useless. I'll tell you, he was useless. He was not used to being in a combat situation or wasn't physically fit for it. So, before the day was out, the Colonel came forward and he could see the situation and he said, "I'm taking Duffy back. You've got the company from now on. Go ahead." So, technically, you're supposed to be a captain at that time, but nobody had time for paperwork. You know, I had the job, I didn't have the pay. [laughter] So, the next day, I guess, ... or two days it took us to get to Bayreuth, and that was very famous ... for Wagner's birthplace and where he had his concerts, and so forth, and so on, set up the command post there and, from then on, [it was routine], other than the river crossings that we had to do. We did three river crossings, including the Danube, and that was after getting to Regensburg. The division originally was slated to go straight into Czechoslovakia, but, at Bayreuth, they bent us south and we went to Regensburg ... and, pretty much, one day was like another. What would happen is, at five-thirty AM, the officers reported to the battalion headquarters. Here, I'm going to put it your way.
SI: We are looking at a map of the 71st Division's movements.
WF: This is where we actually went, the red line. If I can take a look at it myself, I haven't seen it in so long. Okay, the English Channel, up there.
SI: Le Havre
WF: Yes, Doudeville, and then, you come here, toward Luxemburg, and then, Bitche. There's Nancy, right?
WF: Okay, Nancy.
WF: Right, and Bitche has to be somewhere in there.
SI: Right there.
SI: There is Pirmasens.
WF: ... That's Basel, Switzerland. That's not where we were; Stuttgart. Steyr is where we were [in Austria], S-T-E-Y-R.
WF: Yes, that's where we ended the war. There was a line drawn at, I think it's the Enns River.
SI: Oh, Steyr.
WF: ... That's where we ended the war. The Russians were on one side of it and we were on the other side. That had been pre-determined by both armies. We couldn't attack them; they couldn't attack us. ... We were the farthest east infantry division at the end of the war. This is a travel map, if you want it. [laughter]
SI: Where were you when you took over the company?
WF: Okay, I'll see if it's on the map. You see Bayreuth there? I've got to put my glasses back on; B-A-Y-R-E-U-T-H, or Darmstadt or Hanau?
SI: Yes, there is Darmstadt and Hanau.
WF: Okay, Hanau, keep going.
SI: Langenselbold, Büdingen, Ulmbach, Fulda.
WF: Fulda, we went through.
SI: Bayreuth, there.
WF: All right, so, before that.
SI: There is Kulmbach.
WF: Kohlberg, we were in. I'm looking for Amberg, A-M-B-E-R-G; I don't see it. That's where that prisoner [camp was].
SI: Up here; here is Amberg.
WF: Okay, Amberg, okay. Yes, that's where I took over the company.
EB: Where did you get this map?
WF: Where'd I get this? Our division put this thing together fifty years ago or sixty years ago, whatever it was.
EB: You took good care of it.
WF: Did a good job.
SI: It was drawn by Emil Albrecht and Roland Willy.
WF: Oh, okay.
SI: I guess those were two guys in the unit. Before you took over the company, when you were running the command posts, where would that be in relation to the front?
WF: ... Well, it was behind the company at all times. It had to be, because it was the center of your communications, and it enabled us to set up our SCR 300 radio and be in touch with B Company, C Company and D Company. So, they all knew where we were and we knew where they were and, also, ... battalion would send a line down, from Battalion Headquarters, to each of our companies, every night. Every night, they did that. Then, they'd have to roll up the stuff, the wire. [As a] matter-of-fact, that's a story in itself, because my friend, Harold Gatslick, who ... also became a captain and was up at battalion, in charge of communications, when we were in Bitche that first time and we drove the enemy out and went toward Pirmasens, Harold saw that they had left behind a lot of things, among them, communications equipment, radio equipment, wire. ... He checked it out and they had better radios and better wire than we had. ... So, he told his guys that, wherever we were, if they ever saw German equipment, pick it up, and so, when he'd set up battalion, he'd use the German radio [equipment], because it was more efficient. ...
SI: What was a typical day like when you were on the move, before you took over the company, in the command posts?
WF: Well, you'd be following, either on foot or in a truck, as I told you, it was a fast moving situation, and there were days when we did as much as thirty miles. Remember, I told you, we went 1,068 miles, and so, you realize a lot of that had to be by transportation and not just your feet. So, you know, I wasn't out there shooting people. That wasn't my job. We husbanded the equipment, we kept it together. Often, we would go in the two-and-a-half-ton truck, and in it also would be the bedrolls for the soldiers, ... so that if we were not, at that night, in too much of a problem, the guys who couldn't sleep in a house could get their bedrolls, open them up and sleep in those, on the ground. So, my role was very different than the platoon leader who was out in front all the time. I was very fortunate as far as that was concerned.
SI: Since you were moving so fast, was it difficult to keep up with the supply line and communications?
WF: Very, very difficult, because the kitchens could not keep up with us, in addition. So, there were no hot meals being served. We were eating the K rations, which was like a cigarette box. ... Have you seen the K ration boxes at all? You know, you get a little can, which would have scrambled eggs in it, and maybe a little ham in the scrambled eggs, but, essentially, scrambled eggs, get a couple of crackers, you'd get a couple of cigarettes. Boy, they went after the cigarettes right away. It really wasn't very much to hold you together. The C rations would be a can, like a can of beans, but it wouldn't be beans. They put some kind of beef dish together that you could heat up, not terribly tasty, but it would keep body and soul together, which is why I said, when we could, we would scrounge food that was there. ... That was tough on the civilians that we did that, but we had to feed ourselves first. ... We didn't take over every house and we didn't take over all of the stuff that they had or anything like that, couldn't carry anything with you to begin with. It was basically a place to stay for the night and try to get a good night's rest, so [that you] could move the next day.
SI: Did you ever have any trouble ejecting these civilians or did most of them just go without any protest?
WF: They knew the war was over. They might make a special appeal, because maybe there was an elderly grandmother in the house, or something like that. We'd go and take another house, you know; it wasn't that difficult. A lot of them were farming communities and, if you recall, in Germany, particularly, I'm sure it's through all of Europe, a lot of houses, you had your living quarters, but you also had another area here where you kept your pigs and your cows and horses, and so forth. They were all under the same roof. So, they knew how to exist. Farmers are a very hardy lot.
SI: When you took over the company after Amberg, how did that change your daily duties?
WF: Well, I had to first appoint an executive officer, and that was Lieutenant Green, who had been the light machine-gun platoon leader, and the Sergeant took over the platoon and Lonny became the exec officer through the end of the war. ... Let's see, I have some pictures of some of these guys. I might have left one other thing here.
SI: I had asked about the change when you became the company commander. You mentioned that you had to appoint new people.
WF: It's all right here. Go ahead. Sure, it's a change. If the battalion was going to move, I would be summoned, along with the other company commanders, to the Battalion Headquarters. The Major, he should have been a colonel, the Major would tell us exactly what was going to happen and when we're going to move out, when you're going to cross the initial point, [a designated area from which units would move out on a scheduled time]. It might not be a combat situation at all. It's just the fact that we've got to catch up with these guys and we were going to move from point A to point B, and so forth, and, "Get your troops ready to leave at such-and-such a time." X number of mornings were like that. You'd get a call to come to the Battalion Headquarters. The moving from the command post to being in charge, I certainly had to be up with the platoon leaders, and was, and so, you saw the action differently. I was not seeing as much action where I was in the command post area, of course. Yes, it was very different. You'd get into a situation and the Lieutenant might send a runner back and say he'd like to see you up here, this is what faces us, and make a decision about what you're going to do. Did we have to call in on some more artillery? We had the artillery spotter planes. They were the Piper Cubs of the day, and they would fly low-level over where the enemy was. It was dangerous, but they could then help pinpoint exactly where you would need your artillery, when your artillery forward observer was in touch with them. You know, the days just keep passing and we'd have the river crossings, as I said, the three river crossings, and we crossed the Danube. We had to attack Regensburg. Regensburg had a major airport that was valuable to the German Air Force and it was pretty well defended. The bridges, of course, had been knocked out, but one bridge, ... the span had been sort of broken in the middle, so, it was down into the water like this, and then, up the other way. We're able to make use of that. The guys could walk like monkeys and finally get up the other side, but there were a number of boats that we were involved with. ... It was tricky, because, now, you're in late April and the Alps were there, the melting snow, you had the rivers rising and there were incidents where the boats would be washed downstream, and maybe a couple of them flipped, and you had casualties as a result. We didn't have that happen to us, but that did happen. We were able to get across, and it was heavily defended. As I mentioned before, the SS troops were backing up the older civilian population [men] that had been armed, and the Hitlerjugend people were there, firing at us as we were crossing. We finally made the other shore and the job then was to be in touch with the units to your right and to your left. You had to make a link-up with the other platoons and other companies and it seems to me this was sometime around Easter. I know, at one of the river crossings, [it was] Easter and we were able to stay in place for at least twenty-four hours, maybe forty-eight, we knew twenty-four. ... We'd just got up from the river bank and improved our position. The men hadn't seen a chaplain since the day they left Doudeville. So, I sent a runner out to each of the platoons and I said, "If you'd like to attend a short church service," I said, "come back to headquarters here and we'll put something together." Well, about fifteen guys showed up and I had a house there and I set up a miniature altar, found candles, lighted a candle, and I figured most everybody knewOnward Christian Soldiers. That was a very popular hymn for many, many years. So, we sang a hymn, I offered a prayer and a little homily, and I recited, from memory, the Twenty-Third Psalm, and then, I had with me the New Testament Bible and I read something from that and ended it with a prayer, and everybody went home. It was a very unusual and moving time, and I do remember it well. ... As we successfully attacked Regensburg, it was more than just the 14th Infantry, it was that the Fifth Infantry was involved, too, and drove [the Germans] out and secured the airfield. During that time, on the road before the river crossing, you could see, off to the right, what looked to be a bunch of planes without propellers. We figured, "Boy, they've run out of materials, so, these planes can't fly," but these were the first jets. We had never seen a jet before, and so, we became aware, because we saw a few planes, our own, and then, you'd see these two planes come that were the German jet planes, and they could just take off. ... Maybe they would go seventy-five to a hundred miles an hour faster than our planes, and that was an eye-opener. Had they completed these things months before, [it would have been] a different war maybe, in the battle for Britain, for example. We made several river crossings and, after Regensburg, we went intoAustria and, shortly after, our task, day after day, was to sweep the woods. I just had two platoons forward, one back, and I'd switch them around and just go abreast pretty much and sweep the woods, looking for SS people. ... Of course, if you ran into a little action, you tried to take care of that. It was while we were doing that, now, you're into May, and we went and we found this dirt road going through the woods. So, we would get more of our troops going along the road, on both sides of the road, walking straight ahead, and then, the others on the side, doing the sweeping. ... You could smell something, and it wasn't a very pleasant smell. What we were smelling was Gunskirchen Lager, and I guess the town would be Lambach, but there's also a town of Gunskirchen, so, it was known as Gunskirchen Lager, and we ultimately came upon this camp, with all the wire around it. [Editor's Note: Gunskirchen was one of forty-nine sub-camps of Mauthausen, the central Nazi concentration camp forAustria.] No guards; they had left maybe forty-eight hours before us. We had begun to encounter a straggler or two in rags, you know, emaciated, crying for help. All we could do was report back to battalion on the phone. What I didn't know at the time was, a good friend of mine, Lieutenant Jim Thayer, at the time, who was with a reconnaissance unit, ... he and his driver had gotten ahead of where we were and they ran into this camp and somebody had already smashed open the lock on that door. We thought that was the only entrance, because I got up there, ultimately, thought that was the only entrance there, but they actually had four different entrances. This was a huge camp. It turned out to have eighteen thousand Hungarians Jews in it, and a lot of them were intellectuals, doctors, lawyers, professors or whatever, but, for us, we reported back so that medical help could arrive, so that arrangements could be made. The dead were sleeping outside; I mean, they hadn't been buried. They had just been left there. There was no crematorium; it was strictly a death camp. They worked you to death, that was the deal, and the men had been moved twice before, once from Mauthausen, in Austria. Mauthausen did have crematoria, did have gas. They could no longer handle any more. ... These guys had already had a forced march from Hungary into Austria, and then, from Mauthausen to this particular place. Some of them had died en route, no question about that, and to see people as emaciated as that, if you saw anything there, and you had bodies like cordwood stacked outside in the back. So, Jim Thayer and his driver arrived and went into the camp, and I can remember, at reunions, later on, the guy's name was Dale who was his driver, and he still cried, at every single reunion, when he was asked about Gunskirchen Lager. You never forget the smell. It's unworldly. You never forget the skeletons, the living sleeping in with the dead. They had no strength. When the SS left, the prisoners knew where the food supplies were. It was all locked, of course. Well, some of them were frenzied enough and had enough strength left to break open [the lock], find food and eat it on the spot, cold, and dropped dead. Bodies can't handle anything like that; it's impossible. Fortunately, there were several hundred young people, I'm talking about eight, nine, ten-year-olds, and so forth, they had survived up to this point. They were very close to death. I mean, a couple of more days and ... everybody would have been finished. ... Division Headquarters sent down medics, nurses, went into Gunskirchen, got civilians, got German prisoners that we already ... had taken, because they were surrendering to us, brought the prisoners back, so [that] they could have a burial for all these people. All they did was [dig] a big, common trench and dump all the stiff bodies in there, at least to clear up the area. ... The hospitals that were around, wherever the towns were, took the young children to the different hospitals, if they could be saved. ... You could only feed them, I don't know, I wouldn't say they did it intravenously, I don't think so, but they fed them, like, broth, maybe several times a day, to begin to get their system to be able to take solid food. It was a daunting process to do this, and, of the eighteen thousand Jews who were originally there, I would say less than two hundred lived. The rest of them were all dead, within forty-eight hours. [Editor's Note: According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Gunskirchen Lager held approximately eighteen to seventeen thousand prisoners. Approximately fifteen thousand were there when the camp was liberated and fifteen hundred died in the months following liberation as a result of the abuse they had suffered.] So, when we finished with that, ... I still had my job to do. We kept moving forward towards Steyr and we did get a truck convoy. It took us fairly close to Steyr, and we had some firefights along the way. In fact, we had some firefights at the river crossing. There was a dam that was near there and the SS were defending the dam. ... The war ended on May 8th and German soldiers had been surrendering like crazy. They were running away from the Russians, they ... would not be caught by the Russians, because they knew what was going to happen to them. Russians would annihilate them. ... Hungarian soldiers came along with them, because Hungary had signed a pact with Hitler, didn't mean very much, but they traveled in their wagons and some of them had their wives with them and, you know, traveling like gypsies, almost. So, anyway they could get across, there was a bridge that they could come across, and there was probably some fording of the stream in the wagons. ... It was not too shallow. So, they all came. We had, I don't know, forty, fifty thousand of them. If they had turned on us in anger, we'd have been wiped out in a minute, but there's no fight left in anybody. So, what could we do? ... They had their ability, they could sleep in their wagons, or they would have, like, a bedroll ... and they had tents. I have a picture somewhere where they had tents. The atmosphere changed, you know. Suddenly, there's no fighting, there's no shooting, the war is over. It's hard to sink in, because, I guess, ... I weighed 150 pounds at the end of the war. We were so far ahead of our wagons that had the food, the cooks, the bakers, the rest of it, but we were very thankful, very grateful, to arrive at that point, when the war ended.
EB: How did you hear that the war had officially ended?
WF: That came to us through headquarters, division down to regiment, down to battalion, word of mouth type of thing. Where was it that I had that? I showed you that paper that had all of the ...
WF: Yes, that was another way of learning about it, a couple of days later.
EB: Stars and Stripes, May 8, 1945.
WF: Yes. Now, this [photo] is right outside of Steyr. You know, it's farming communities around there. They found one of these old horse pistols, so, they just took a picture. ... It's been expanded, of course, from a smaller one. This is two of my officers with me, Captain Green on this side. He was a first lieutenant in this, and Second Lieutenant Bob Halleck, from Cincinnati, if I recall.
SI: The caption says, "Me and my staff. Note Jerry pistol, which I wore during the latter part of the campaign. Netting on Jack's helmet is typical, broke up regular outline and could be used to hold camouflage material, such as leaves."
WF: Yes, it was like a web net on the helmet.
SI: I cannot make out the pistol. What kind of pistol was it?
WF: I don't have a clue. I had a Luger and, before I came home, (I was not a gun man) I traded it to somebody for a small Beretta, which was in a purse. ... The first thing I did was to break the firing pin, so [that] it can't be fired. I still have it in a drawer somewhere. I didn't want anybody to get involved with that.
SI: Was there a lot of souvenir hunting?
WF: Yes, I think so, some guys more avid than others. I'd picked this postcard up along the way, in one of the houses. That shows the German soldier being trained how to throw a grenade.
SI: This is a German postcard, depicting the typical "Aryan superman" image.
WF: Absolutely, you got that right.
EB: Did you actually speak to any Germans at this point, as the war was ending, or after the war?
WF: Well, I didn't speak the language. I wasn't conversing with them, except to tell them to get out of a house. I mean, that's about the only conversations I had. There were guys in our group who spoke some German and, if you recall, there was a "no fraternization" ban that was put on immediately. We're not supposed to talk to any, or consort with any, Germans, at any time. That was largely followed. There were some few who did not, but, for me, there was no incentive to talk to them.
EB: This postcard presents the idea of the "super German," but, when you actually met them, did they seem different, more like real people?
WF: They were very real people. They were tired, they were discouraged, they were, some of them, very young. They had seen things that they had not wanted to see. There are guys in the German Army who lasted six years, went through all kinds of things. It depends upon where you were posted, what kind of a job you had. Just think of what I've been telling you; look at how fortunate I was, in so many ways. It was a different war for me than it was for the other guys.
EB: They had been drafted as well, or forced into the military.
WF: Oh, sure, sure.
SI: What did you think of the Germans before you saw them up close? Did you have an image of them as an enemy?
WF: Well, to me, ... the reputation of the German Army was, it was numero uno. Nothing could match it, the French, the British, the Americans. That was the impression, because they had been working on war for a long time. They had been training soldiers in depth for years and years and years, and they worked hard at it and they introduced a type of warfare which had not been seen before, where the tanks would go racing off. The only one who appreciated that was Patton. I shouldn't say the only one, but he was the primary one on our side who recognized the advantages of the blitzkrieg, as they called it. Patton would say, "You give me the gasoline and the tanks and I'll be in Berlin." His whole philosophy was, "You've got to keep everybody off balance. Don't give them a chance to entrench themselves. If you go slow, you get more opposition all the time," and his concept was, "No, you don't do that. You get in those tanks and you go right through them. Never mind that you're in their rear area. You're going to go through them and you're going to beat them." It's too bad they couldn't turn him loose. I mean, others didn't see [eye-to-eye with] him. Patton was a pain in the ass to Eisenhower. They were classmates, literally, and so forth, and knew each other, but Eisenhower was a great commander and he had to have control. He couldn't let this guy go off by himself, even though Patton thought, yes, he could. [laughter]
SI: Your unit worked with some of the armored forces.
WF: We had attached tank companies. We didn't have a lot of contact with anything except that one tank company that was attached to us, and we didn't see them very often, because they were attached to the regiment. In the areas that we were in, ... tanks were less required than they were someplace else. Well, I think I told you about the Fifth Infantry. It was involved against the Sixth SS Division Nord. They had some tough fights and they had to have the tanks, to help blow up whatever was in front of them and win that particular area. ... I never met a tanker except when he handed me a bottle of champagne at Pirmasens. I never met a tanker. We didn't see the tankers. We were moving forward, fast, all the time, and I never really got to see them.
SI: Was there a point, throughout the entire combat phase, when you really thought you had a close call or when you were really fearful for your life?
WF: Oh, yes, after that one river crossing that I mentioned.
SI: By Regensburg?
WF: I had with me my radio phone operator, the SCR 300 unit, it'd be carried on the back, and we couldn't make contact. I had sent guys out to locate Company B or C. We couldn't make contact, and I did a very foolish thing. I turned the company over to Lonny Green. I said, "I'm going to find out where our people are," and went right into this next town, [laughter] which the Germans had just left. ... At the end of the town, I found a bunch of guys from the Battalion Headquarters and they were cooking chickens, cooking up eggs, and so forth, and so, this Harold Gatslick, the guy who was the telephone communications officer that I told you about, he said, "Wally, what the hell are you doing here?" He said, "You're wandering around by yourself with your telephone operator?" I said, "We're trying to make contact." He said, "We've already made contact with the other companies and I can tell you where they are. So, get back to your own company and make your connection." When I realized I was all alone in that town, before I saw those guys, I wasn't too confident. ... The other thing is, the first night when you're in combat is as scary as can be, but I didn't have a lot of close calls personally, not like the guys who were fighting the Battle of the Bulge, for example. ... To me, that's the perfect of example of how [bad things can get], how many people were killed, on both sides, and you came up as a replacement and, within twenty-four hours, you're gone. Now, if you lasted beyond that, it was incredible.
SI: Did your unit suffer many casualties?
WF: We did not have heavy casualties as a division, not at all. It's almost as if we were untouched. We had several hundred killed, I don't ... remember the number of wounded, but it was nothing, nothing. [Editor's Note: The 71st Infantry Division suffered 279 killed and 1,114 wounded.] It was a different war. You were just moving as fast as you could until the enemy got tired of fighting and gave up. That's why I call it, all these miracles that I've talked about before, that was another miracle; being with the 71st was a miracle. ... It's hard to believe. There are guys who like to sit around and talk about the war, and I've never been one of them. It happened. I was able to get out in one piece and resume a normal life, other than the horror of Gunskirchen Lager. That will always stay with me. That was the worst thing that ever happened, that I ever saw in my life.
SI: You mentioned that you brought in Germans to bury the dead. Did you have anybody come through the camp, like they did at other camps, to make sure the Germans saw what had happened?
WF: We had nothing to do with that, but a higher authority made the people of Gunskirchen walk through, yes, but they had buried most of them, I understand, before that, but they could see what was happening. ... After the war, that concentration camp was obliterated. When we went back for the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II, we went to the site, walked through the woods. You saw nothing. We, with a couple of the survivors of Gunskirchen Lager, arranged for a monument to be put in place, when we were there, and we dedicated it. We had a service. There was a Jewish rabbi from Albany, there was a college professor, Jewish, from the StateUniversity [of New York] in Albany, who helped to conduct the service, and so forth. You still read, "We didn't know it was there," I mean, about all these camps, "We didn't know it was there." I don't know.
SI: Among your men, did you have to deal with problems of what today would be called post-traumatic stress disorder, people who could not handle being in the field anymore?
WF: No. I had a friend of mine, ... this fellow Len Molendyke, who was my mentor when I first joined theInfantry School staff at Fort Benning, just got my commission. Len went overseas as a replacement officer in theBattle of the Bulge. He lasted forty-eight hours; went out of his mind. The constant artillery, never letting up, both sides, forty-eight hours, he just went berserk. The next thing he knew, he was in England. They brought him home and put him in a veterans' hospital, in Atlantic City. He went through a lot of psychological help and training, and so forth, and can I ever say that he lived a normal life? We contacted him and his wife, periodically. He was a very funny guy, he had a great sense of humor, was a good skater, Dutch background, you know, "the Silver Skates." That's the only one that I personally knew who actually could not handle it, but, in my company, we didn't have that kind of problem. ... If you're following what I'm saying about the role that we had, in the mop-up role, there was not going to be very much in the way of post-stress situations, I don't think.
EB: After the war, did you have any nightmares about what you saw?
WF: I never had a nightmare, no, never. I was able to, at least temporarily, put Gunskirchen Lager out of my mind, never bothered to refer to it until [I saw] some of the publications that we got and you realized that, like the guy who is the nut running Iran right now, who claims it never happened, [Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad], ... we've got a lot of people in this country who claim it never happened. I would like to meet people like that face-to-face and have an altercation with them. I can't [understand], I don't understand, how they can say that, six million people wiped off the face of the Earth in the most horrible way and it never happened?
SI: It sounds like you really could draw a distinction between the regular German Army soldiers and the SS, that the SS were much more villainous and awful.
WF: Oh, they were in it up to their ears. You didn't get to become an SS unless you were a total fanatic and you could kill at will. You'd look a guy right in the eye and shoot him right now, didn't mean anything. These were bloodthirsty, impossible maniacs, is what they were.
SI: That leads in to what you did in the occupation.
WF: Yes; well, occupation. ...
EB: Did you know that you were going to be staying there for the occupation, or did you have any thoughts that, since you had gone over later, that maybe you would be sent to Japan?
WF: We knew; we were in Austria for about two weeks. We were pulled back, and, again, the 100th Division, that we relieved at Bitche, they had their headquarters in Augsburg, which is an old German university town. We relieved them, at their different cities that they were [occupying]. Our regiment went into place in Ulm, Germany, beautiful town.
EB: Yes, I was there.
WF: I've been there since and gone to the cathedral. We then were a part of one of the companies. I was in a town called Ichenhausen, Germany, and, in Ichenhausen, this is a picture taken outside of my command post. I had it blown up. This is General [Onslow S.] Rolfe, who is with me, and his driver. ... The driver used to come to the reunions and I made a copy and sent that to him. He was walking around with a cane and not doing too well. This is also Ichenhausen. This is the headquarters building. This was a, call it a delivery hospital for German women. You know, Hitler wanted to impregnate as many women as he could, to get as many kids as he could. This is typical of what he did. They brought the women here to give birth, and this picture is, Betty had sent me an American flag. We had no flags, so that we had a special session. ... Actually, the flag was up here. You know, making pictures, copies of copies, it's pretty tough. Regiment got some people together and sent [them] down to blow some horns, and that's actually me where the arrow is.
EB: Yes, I saw that.
WF: And saluting the flag. We're very grateful to Betty for doing that. The Town of Ichenhausen was a small town, I guess a farm community. One of the things that was of interest, we had a little orchestra we put together. You can read on the back who these guys are, but they called themselves "the Hot Shots" and they could play. We had a makeshift slap bass there. You can see the oil can, there was a broomstick and a cord, and Sergeant Ellish could flick this thing and make some sound, had a couple of guitar players, a violin player.
EB: Is he African-American? I cannot tell.
WF: No, Lopez, his name was Lopez. He's from New Mexico, I think, quite dark.
EB: Yes, he is very dark.
WF: Very talented young man.
EB: Did you have any African-Americans in your division?
WF: No. None of the others did, either. You might have an attached [unit]. There were attached tank groups that had blacks, African-Americans. ... After the war, when we were in Ichenhausen, there was a quartermaster company that moved into the area, all-black. They had everything. They had nice, fresh uniforms, they had food, they had everything there. The German girls went nuts, spent time over there, made sure they got some food and whatever. I only saw them once. I never visited their headquarters, and that was the only black troops that I saw, was the quartermaster company. I'm sure they did a very good job.
SI: It is interesting that, in the photo of the Hot Shots band, they all have hats on that display how many points they have. [Editor's Note: At the end of World War II, the US Armed Forces instituted a point system, based on experience, length of service and other factors, to determine when soldiers could be sent home for discharge.]
WF: Oh, okay.
SI: I suppose, in the Army of Occupation, everybody was counting how many points they had.
WF: You bet they were, couldn't wait to get home, so that you've got good eyes there, but that unit went all around the regiment and played for entertainment. I'll just show you one picture. ... I've got a number of them. For exercise, we had the volleyball setup. ...
SI: When did you take over the prisoner of war camp? Was it at the same time?
WF: Well, no, it went in three sequences. It went from Austria to Ichenhausen, and we're there for several months. A lot of refugees coming down from Berlin and that general area; as the Russians came into Berlin, everybody wanted to get out. So, they would filter through the area and we'd try to help them, if we could. We were there for a couple of months, and then, we moved down to a place called Bad Krumbach. "Bad" is a "spa." ... It was run by an order of Catholic nuns. It had been an R&R place for German officers all during the war. They had these special, they're huge tubs, my God, they're almost like a swimming pool, and I was assigned to take that over and continue the occupation duties there that we had. ... The funniest thing I remember is, ... I had met with the mother superior and we got to understand her situation, and so forth, and we assured her that she need not worry about our men. We would be careful with them and, if they would like to help prepare the food, we would bring food that they could eat as well, whenever they wanted to eat, but we would help supply them with food, and we worked this out. So, then, she said, "Well, I think your men should have a chance to use the bad." Well, the deal was, a nun would go in and run the water and test it with her elbow, and so forth, and then, a soldier would come in and lie down and enjoy the spa. I never got to do it, by the way, but I remember standing nearby and here's a guy and he's standing naked and he's got his hands crossed in front of him while the nurse is, very calmly, putting this all together. She could care less. She'd seen more of guys like that. [laughter] To me, that was very funny. It worked out very well and we ate in a gorgeous dining room. It was a circular dining room, well, open about 140 degrees, something like that, looking out over the gardens in the area. It was an idyllic place. We were there until November, and then, we're assigned to take over the prisoner of war camp at Memmingen and, as I think I may have made a note, I had over two thousand German prisoners. I was also short of manpower, because men had not been replaced earlier, where we'd had some casualties, and some had already gone home. So, it was a tight ship that we were running at the time. So, I met with a colonel who was the highest-ranking officer of the Germans that were there, and ... he was not a combat officer. He was, like, the group of accountants who would be following things for the German Army, and so forth. He was that kind of a guy and a real gentleman, very well-educated. So, I sat down with him and I said, ... "I've got a problem I'd like to talk with you about." I said, "Winter is just about coming and we have these stoves that are wood-burning stoves in the stalag and we definitely have to get in a supply of wood." I said, "Right now, we're going out with work crews and my soldiers are guarding them. Do you think that you could put somebody in charge of a work group like that and guarantee that the men will come back? I mean, after all, you're going to have to start a new nation here. Do you think you could do this?" He said, "Absolutely." Now, this guy was an authority and, if he said jump, they all said, "How high?" that's all, and that's what happened. It relieved me, until I could get more men. Those men went out every day, they cut the wood, they brought it back; there was not one desertion. Well, apparently, they must have tried it at some other camps and it didn't work. They had a lot of people just took off, and I got a bulletin from regiment, orders, "There will no longer be work groups going out without our own soldiers." I talked to this colonel and he was devastated. He said, "Why? ... I've done everything you've asked me to do. You've helped yourself and we've helped ourselves." He couldn't get over the fact that I was breaking my word to him; it wasn't my breaking [my] word to him, it was the powers-that-be. It was interesting.
SI: You said on your survey that you had to weed out SS people.
WF: ... Yes, we had the Counter-Intelligence Corps people come in and that's all they did. Every day, they kept interviewing each one in depth, to see if they would trip themselves up and identify [themselves] as SS in anyway. ... If you did, then, of course, Military Government took these people over and the CIC, and what they did with them, I don't know, but that was our job. We actually had some nurses in the compound as well, but they had to be screened. You never know who you're talking to. I had an interpreter. He was a teenage German who had been in the Hitlerjugend and he and his mother had gone to Germany in 1938 to claim an estate and they never got out of Germany. ... So, he was just a young boy at the time and, as things went along, he had to join theHitlerjugend. They didn't have a chance to say no. He was from a very Christian family in Fair Lawn, New Jersey.
WF: And I somewhere have a letter that I've kept that he wrote to me, oh, six months after I came home, because I'd given him my address and everything else, and he was explaining how difficult it was for him now. It didn't sound like his mother was alive anymore, and that he was a true Christian and that he appreciated so much working with me, working for me, as an interpreter. That was a good time in his life, and it was very moving. I never was able to reach him, because there was no forwarding address, to get back to him. I don't know what ever happened to him. ...
SI: However, he was an American citizen.
WF: Yes, he was an American citizen.
EB: How did you hear about V-J Day and the atom bomb?
WF: That is a very good story. ... On this particular day, and we didn't know it, that was the birthday of the regiment. ... We were going to mark the eighty-fourth anniversary and we were going to go [to Augsburg]. We all met in Burgau, which was the Battalion Headquarters, all the officers of the battalion, and we were trucked intoAugsburg, where there was Division Headquarters and there was going to be a big party, big dinner party. ... We got through about half of the party when the word came that Japan had surrendered; an incredible night. The party took off a little bit. [laughter] It meant that we were not going to go into the battle of Japan.
EB: Had you heard how it had happened? You did not know about the atom bomb.
WF: No. We learned later. I don't remember when I first heard about the atom bomb. It had to be before that picture was taken. ...
SI: Before we move on to your postwar life, is there anything from your time in Europe that you would like to add, anything that we skipped over?
WF: Sure. Well, we had, I just saw a picture here, ... this is when I was in Ichenhausen, I had for myself that nice, little car.
SI: Was it an American car or a German car?
WF: No, that's a German car.
SI: It looks like a Volkswagen, maybe.
WF: No, ... it says so on the back, I'm sure. Maybe it doesn't. It's ...
EB: A German DKW.
WF: Well, whatever it says it is. In the occupation, while I was at the stalag, the division had set up an R&R for the officers, had a separate one for the enlisted men, and that was in the German Alps, a town called Oberstdorf. ... Oberstdorf had a mountain called the Nebelhorn, which was a pretty tough one for skiers. ... It was sort of a natural snow bowl. ... You'd ski down into it and, at the time we were there, there was no way to get back up. You had to herringbone your way back up. You'd put your skis that way and work your way back up. If you wanted to slide down again, fine, then, you have to work your way back up, and I thoroughly enjoyed being there. I would go down, I guess, three weekends out of four. I'd turn ... the company over to a junior officer and take another officer with me and, the first night we were at the hotel, we had wonderful accommodations. First night I was at the hotel, we had dinner. By the way, that's [in a photograph] a sign at the entrance to the prisoner of war camp we put up. An Opel, that's what the car was, an Opel.
SI: Okay, an Opel.
WF: That's an Opel, and we had dinner with some other guys. ... On the menu, they had brook trout, oh, man, brook trout, ... I didn't know very much about brook trout in those days. They didn't have it in Brooklyn, I can tell you, and enjoyed a delicious meal, and the waiter came around and took the stuff off the table. The next thing I know, a guy comes, stands next to the table, got his big toque on, was the chef. He said, "Who had the brook trout?" I said, "I did." He says, "Why didn't you like it?" I said, "I loved it. What do you mean? Why?" "You didn't eat the trout cheek." If you're a gourmet, you take a knife and you dig out the trout cheek, if you were satisfied. Now, it gets back to the kitchen, the chef knows that it was okay. So, what did I know about trout cheeks? [laughter] but that actually happened. So, that was my start with Oberstdorf, and we'd go up in the morning, in the lifts, and there were German ski troops who were hired to teach us how to ski and they put us through all the rudiments of learning how to turn around and all that sort of business and snow plow. ... It was quite something, and then, in March of '46, I got my orders to come home and I went down to Oberstdorf for the last time, and I told the German ski instructor that, "This is my last trip here." He said, "You can't go home until you ski down the Nebelhorn." I said, "I can't ski down the Nebelhorn." The trail started above tree line. It was icy, the trail, go through the woods all the way down to the town. It was a long trail. He said, "I don't care," he said, "you're not going home until you ski down the Nebelhorn." [laughter] So, I started out and I was snow plowing, you know, this way, and I would get just so far and I would fall, and then, I'd get up and I'd try again. ... Then, these little German kids go shushing past me, ... made you feel like two cents, but I got down there, ultimately. I went all the way down and that was the end of my skiing career. I never skied in the States.
EB: When did Hitler kill himself, two days after Germany surrendered?
SI: No, he killed himself a month before. A month or three weeks before Germany surrendered, that was when Hitler killed himself. [Editor's Note: Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945, one week before the German surrender on May 7, 1945.]
WF: Oh, yes.
EB: Had you heard about that?
WF: We learned about it because, you know, we were in the Bavarian part of Germany and I'm sure I saw a headline somewhere. I don't know exactly where, but, yes, we knew that he ...
EB: Did they publish it in their newspaper, that Hitler had killed himself, or did you read it in the Stars and Stripes?
WF: Oh, no, it was Stars and Stripes. ... It was the only actual newspaper that I was able to read. That was a weekly, if I remember, and a very good newspaper it was, to keep everybody abreast of what was going on.
SI: Towards the beginning of the interview, we talked about Franklin Roosevelt and you said that, when he died, the whole nation was in mourning. Did that have an impact, a morale impact, on the troops in the field?
WF: I think for the day, it did, maybe, but, you know, they knew they had a job to do. We all wanted to come home ourselves and it was April and we were getting near the end. You could tell that something was going to happen sooner or later. We were getting close. No, I don't think that it did. I think it [was] "water off a duck's back," almost, but they did; they were concerned, I mean. They just didn't keep it with them.
SI: What happened to Captain Charbonneau? Did you ever find out if he survived?
WF: Captain Charbonneau's wound was a machine-gun bullet in his left foot. Now, that doesn't sound like much, but it took him nine months before he could get on his feet again. ... He was evacuated to Britain, and then, he also wound up in Atlantic City. ... He felt guilty, because he was fine and guys would come in who had lost an arm or a hand or were blind, ... and he's just sitting there like an ordinary individual, but he could not put any weight on that foot. If you realize how many bones and sinews and blood vessels are in a foot and, when that's shredded, by a bullet, putting it back together again is a pretty tricky task and it takes time to grow back. We kept in touch with him. Arol was from New Hampshire and he finally married after the war. I think he and his first wife raised five or six kids, and then, he married another woman later on who had three or four kids. They had a family of ten or eleven, something like that, and they lived in Goffstown, G-O-F-F-S, Goffstown, New Hampshire, had a big house. He was an executive in Scouting, Boy Scouts of America. That was his career. So, he had done a lot of camping before he went into the service. He was eminently qualified to be company commander, cared a lot about his men and how to train them, tell them to keep flat on the ground, crawl like a worm.
SI: It sounds like you had a lot of respect for and a good relationship with your fellow officers and those above you.
WF: Excellent, excellent.
SI: Did you ever have any problems or disagreements that stand out in your memory?
WF: No. They all did their jobs and did it willingly and well. No, I had no problems that way.
SI: Among your decorations, you received the Combat Infantryman's Badge, two Battle Stars and a Bronze Star.
WF: The Bronze Star was awarded late to many who had gotten the Combat Infantry Badge. The War Department [Department of Defense] felt it was hard to distinguish every type of situation that people were in. So, that's where that came in.
SI: When did you start going to reunions for the 71st?
WF: I think it was 1980; Betty was still teaching and could not go. The division originated out in Colorado Springsand that's where the first reunion was held and it was a wonderful reunion. I had five guys from Company A who came, the first time and only time that we had five guys there, and [it was] great to see everybody and to be part of a group that was going to plan to have reunions for years. Their philosophy was, we would meet in different cities around the United States, because not everybody has enough money or health to be able to attend a reunion unless it's close by. They can't afford or can't travel in airplanes, any long distance, just not able to do it, and so, ... through this, we have been to many cities in the United States [that] I never would have gotten to, never would have gotten to, San Antonio, for example, Anaheim.
EB: The next American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor convention is going to be in San Antonio, next year.
WF: Yes. Well, it's a privilege, and we're running out of years to do this. I thought that the last one in ColoradoSprings, which was two years ago, would have been the crowning end to it. It wasn't. It turned out that they had one in Kansas City. They'd had one ten years before. We signed up for it and we had a particular problem where we couldn't travel and we had to cancel almost last minute on that one, and we didn't make the first one at Kansas City. So, I still haven't seen it and I feel badly about that. Then, when I saw those floods in Iowa; I'm sorry, Iowa, it wasn't Kansas City. It was Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and you saw the flooding of the corn fields and the rivers overflowing and everything else, a couple of weeks ago. ... Then, of course, enough of us got together, we had three bus loads that went to the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II. That was a tremendous trip, a twenty-three day trip, and we got to know people there that we'd never met during the war and formed some rather strong friendships since then. We have a wonderful couple, who are quite well-to-do; they have a place out in Idaho that they bought ten years ago, a very lovely condo, and we've been invited out three of the last four years, I guess. ... We're supposed to go this year, but Betty can't travel yet. We can't do it. It would have been in August. She's not ready for it, but we do have a reunion at Virginia Beach, September 10th to the 14th. Now, that could be the last one, but I heard somebody say they were going to have one in the Philadelphia area for the next year. I mean, how long can we go on? [laughter] but it's great, you know. We do have a good time when we're together. There's a lot of talented people in that group. I want to show you one thing. I'm going to see if Betty's in my office. ...
SI: We were talking about an honor you received. You showed us the certificate.
WF: Yes. In the year 2000, two other captains and myself, and there was a colonel and a major and a sergeant major, were honored as distinguished members of the regiment. ... This was a banquet with people from the Schofield Barracks, [Hawaii], where the regiment is headquartered and, in the town itself, we had this beautiful special room. Everybody was in full dress uniforms, enlisted men as well as the officers, and their wives. It was a tremendous evening and it started off with a cocktail hour. ... About halfway through the cocktail hour, the colonel of the battalion of the 14th came up to me and said, "Wally, I understand you sing." I said, "I've done a little." He said, "Well, we need a favor." I said, "What's that?" He said, "As we open up the evening's festivities at dinner, we want you to sing The Star-Spangled Banner." I said, "Fine. Where's the piano player?" "Oh," he said, "no, no, you don't understand. [laughter] We don't have a piano. You're going to sing it, you know, a cappella." So, I said, "Okay, I've done it before." So, I had the honor of singing The Star-Spangled Banner and was complimented quite well by two colonels and a brigadier general. They carry with them these special coins. They're very, very beautiful coins, much larger than a silver dollar, maybe double the size, and each has his own kind of coin. ... That night, I received five coins, one each from different people, in appreciation. I was floored. The General came over, he said, "I haven't heard The Star-Spangled Banner sung like that in so many years, I can't tell you." So, enough of blowing one's horn. [laughter]
SI: Please do.
WF: I do it at the memorial service that we have on Memorial Day, after the parade, and I've done it alone and I do it with a fellow that sings with me, another bass. When we ... finish the parade, we have a memorial service right on the green and, at the appropriate time, we do sing The Star-Spangled Banner. So, that's part of the VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] contribution to Memorial Day.
SI: Just one last question about World War II.
SI: You mentioned the choir back in the States, but, when you were in Europe, did you do any singing, kind of for entertainment?
WF: Well, yes. When we did the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II, this is not during the war, this is after the war, we were in Luxembourg. On the last night, we had a delicious dinner. This was the second reunion in Europe and, after dinner, several guys got up and told some jokes and they were very good at it and I had brought with me some music from one of the operettas that were famous in Austria [circa 1895 to 1930]. ... I couldn't sing it in the key that it was written and there was no piano, so, I was free to pick my own key, and I sang that one and I sang another song as an encore, just for entertainment. The other thing was not singing, but, when just before we went to the Gunskirchen Lager memorial scene, the next day, they had a memorial service at the cathedral and, in the front row, there were ten survivors from Gunskirchen Lager. Now, this would have been in 1991 or '92, something like that, so, you could try to figure out the ages of some of them, if they were ten or twelve-year-old kids at the time. ... I didn't sing, but one of our members played a flute solo with the organist and another one, who headed up our group, played the violin. He played in the Denver Symphony Orchestra. He played a violin solo and I was asked to read the responsive reading, earlier in the service. Now, that's a very different kind of reading, because you have the echo in a big cathedral, and I quickly learned that I had to speak more slowly, couldn't just rush it through. Well, when it was over, the Bishop motioned to me, like this. I was sitting up in the front row. I said, "Okay." So, I walked up and we started to walk back to his special quarters on the side of the [cathedral]. It was still part of the cathedral, there's a name for it, ... maybe it's the rectory, or something like that. I don't know exactly what it is, and I was walking beside him and I said to him, "Ich sprecht kein Deutsch, aber meine Frau spricht Deutsch, und wir gehen nach," oh, Frankfurt, yes, "We're going to go back to Frankfurt." ... He started to laugh. He said, "That's pretty good." So, he handed me, I still have it, a thick booklet, you could call it a cocktail table book, you know, thick like that one, of the Passau, [Germany], area and everything to do with it. It's very interesting to receive and an unusual opportunity to meet the survivors, incredible, incredible.
SI: Can you tell us a little bit about how you reintegrated yourself into civilian life and picked up your career again?
WF: Okay. There was one gentleman who wanted me to work for him. I had made up my mind that I'd be in sales. That's what I wanted to do. I felt I was more qualified for that than anything else, and he was with the Felton Tarrant Corporation, that made the comptometer that Betty was teaching. ... When I'd come back on leave a couple of times, he took us out to dinner in New York and he said, "Look, when you come home, look me up." He said, "I'd like to talk to you about a sales job." "Thank you." So, I did go to see him. Meanwhile, I told you I'd worked for that Richard Dudgeon Company and Archibald Dudgeon had said to me, "Look, when you come back;" he didn't say, "If you came back." He said, "When you come back," he said, "I want to talk to you." Now, he had given me the only mentoring advice before I went into service. He said, "I want you to promise me that you will save all the money that you can and that you will seek all the responsibility that you can handle," just those two things, and that's what I tried to do. So, I had a talk with him. He said, "Wally," he said, "you know I don't have a place for you here." He said, "You're going to have to be going on to something else," but he said, "I'd like to suggest that you go and talk to Sandy MacGregor," an attorney who became chief legal counsel for Merck. He was at the Joseph T. Ryerson Steel Company in Jersey City. "See if you can begin a career in the steel business," which is what I did, and that's how I landed the job there. I started working on my birthday. I was still on terminal leave from the Army, May 1, ... 1946. That's how I started working there, and I had a thirty-six-year career, inside sales, outside sales, product manager, sales manager when I finished. Enjoyed the business very much, enjoyed meeting the competition, as I've told you, and that's how I wound up, ultimately, retiring and selling in Puerto Rico. That's a short, thumbnail sketch of how I got into it and how long I spent there. It was a very good company. It fell, like many companies. Take the auto companies today, automobile companies and what's happening to them. Who would think that General Motors would be selling for nine dollars a share and having to close plants? The management of companies are to blame, but the unions are also to blame. They share the blame, because we went through an era, after World War II, [where] there was no competition from foreign companies. Germany was a big shipper of steel after the war, so was Japan. They had no mills, everything was gone and, through our lend-lease program, we rebuilt both of those countries. They had better equipment than we had and it wasn't long before some of that caught up with us. But, the bigger problem than even the equipment was the fact that we had none of this competition, so, we had the markets to ourselves. The unions wanted this benefit or that and were relentless. Okay, we gave it to them, we raised the prices, didn't have a problem; we got it all back. [As] you kept doing that, you built yourself into an impossible situation. The total benefits, health benefits, pension benefits, and so forth, today, just broke the backs of these companies financially. They just couldn't afford it, impossible. So, Ryerson came under the same situation. They had this big steel strike in the United States, 116-day steel strike, before 1960. I was a product manager at the time and the union finally won the strike. They demanded, paid, thirteen weeks off every five years, in addition to their normal vacation, thirteen weeks. They figured, "Companies can't get along without us if we're gone thirteen weeks." Ryerson, and others in the business, decided that if the union was going to get that kind of a package, they'd have to do something for the white-collar workers, the sales group, and so forth. We were offered an additional two weeks' vacation over five years, gave us ten weeks additional vacation. I had seven weeks' vacation. I didn't have money to use seven weeks' vacation. You could take one week in pay, which I did. It was these kinds of things. Unions had their day, they had their place, they did well for workers, but it got to be excessive. It got to be unsustainable, absolutely unsustainable, in a world that's very competitive, and more competitive today than ever. This country will not survive with strong unions, will not. It can't sell. The cost is so high, you can't sell your product; end of story.
SI: Would you tell us a little bit about the family that you started after the war?
WF: Well, we have, as Betty mentioned, four children. ... My son is sixty, Drew. He went to MuhlenbergCollege, where he majored in having a good time, didn't graduate. Very personable guy and, ultimately, wound up in a branch of the steel business, [which] he'd never wanted to be in. He had heard all of that from me ... when he was growing up and the business he's in, that he owns, is not doing well right now, as the recession continues. I don't know exactly how that's going to wind up for him. Our oldest daughter, Brynn, married and divorced. She was married about thirteen years, lives down in Charlotte, North Carolina, has two sons, one of whom is now an attorney. He was president of his class at the University of North Carolina when he graduated, went on to Georgetown Law School, and he's living in Denver and is employed as an attorney. Carol, our next daughter, is about a year-and-a-half younger than Brynn. She didn't marry until she was almost fifty and she has gotten the greatest guy. He's British, works for the Royal Bank of Scotland, is an incredibly capable guy in so many different ways. It's unbelievable what he is. He's a great birdwatcher. We have a place called the Celery Farm in Allendale that's getting noticed, about a hundred-acre area. That's right in the middle of all the traffic and everything else. It's just pristine, with a lake, and whenever he comes down here, he goes bird watching. They live up in Bethel,Connecticut, and she retired. He wanted her to retire. She worked for an impossible guy who was a plastic surgeon, but a terrible guy, and our youngest daughter has just moved down to North Carolina, to Charlotte; just coincidental that our oldest daughter is there. She took a job ... with a very progressive realty firm and business is still good in Charlotte. The market's still good and they do a lot of relocation of corporate people. So, they're not as exposed to the real problems of the reality business as others would be, and she's got a very good job. In fact, she's going to fly up here Saturday. We'll have a chance to have her here overnight and get caught up. She has twin boys, ten years of age, who are incredibly good. I don't know if you saw any of the pictures of the boys, but, before you leave, I just want you to take a look at the "rogue's gallery" up there [laughter] and see what they look like. They're great kids. So, that's a quick summation of the kids. We love them. They're our best friends.
SI: Do you have any other questions?
EB: No, we covered a lot.
SI: Is there anything else? Were there any community activities that you were involved in that you would like to talk about, other veterans' organizations?
WF: ... I'm not as active in the veterans' organization, because they meet on a Wednesday night and that's my choir night, and I made it clear to them, "I'll be a member, a paying member, but I will not do other than singing The Star-Spangled Banner." When we lived in Waldwick, which is the next town, ... we bought our first house there in 1950 and, in 1957, I ran for the school board. ... I was elected and, in my second year, I was vice-president, and, in the third year, I was president and, at that time, Waldwick was a sending district to a high school and we were growing very fast. A lot of people, like myself, same age, same after-the-war type thing, were looking for houses which were fairly reasonable at the time, and they were very reasonable up in Waldwick and they were lovely. So, it was apparent to us in the town that we needed our own junior/senior high school. We did not want to be a sending district. Well, the state Department of Education said I had to interview all the towns around and indicate, first of all, whether they would be a receiving district or whether, if we built ... a school, whether they would be sending pupils to us. It was one of those things where you spent an awful lot of time. Then, with the architects and the rest of it, and the worst part of it is, the only part of town that was most feasible for the location is right in the center of the town, ... the highest piece of ground. It was a large bluff, and [there was] a beautiful old home, and the people who lived there had a ninety-three-year-old grandmother living with them still. She was born in that house, and we had to go there. I went up with the attorney, and talked with them and told them that we had surveyed the entire town and we had to build this new junior/senior high school and there was no other place in the community to build it. There wasn't, and so, we said, "We have come to talk to you about the selling price, so that we can get started." Well, they didn't want to sell and they took out the handkerchiefs and started to cry, because of the ninety-three-year old grandmother. It's great to be in a situation like this. So, we said, "I hope you understand, we would like to make the best possible offer to you. If you fail to accept, we have to use the right of eminent domain and take your property. You'll be paid for it, but we don't want to do it that way. We would like to make an offer that you'd be happy with." They rejected that. So, we had to go through the courts, eminent domain, and remove them from the property. The school exists today, a lovely junior/senior high school, and it's a great one. Unfortunately, I knew that it wouldn't be finished until 1962. So, we decided to move to Ho-Ho-Kus. We had a much larger home first and stayed there about seven years, and then, when Betty was starting to teach, she said, "I can't keep a big house like this, it's impossible, and to teach, too, and raise the kids." So, she dragged me, kicking and screaming, out of that house and [we] wound up here and we've been very happy with it. It's a nice location. We've got a lovely yard with the privacy, because you've got that big hemlock hedge. The school is right there, the local grade school. It's a ... K-through-eight. ...
SI: Your wife said you have been here for about forty years.
WF: Yes. Let's see, ... we've been here since '67, July of '67. How's your math? [laughter]
EB: That is about forty.
SI: Forty-one, yes.
WF: Yes. It's hard to believe that we've been married sixty-four years. That's a lot of years.
EB: That is a long time, lucky.
WF: Yes. We're very fortunate, believe me. ...
WF: [Referring to a photograph] When I told you I commandeered a jeep on that, trying to come home, ... I drove to the coast there in Le Havre, and these are the concrete bunkers that the Germans built and they housed guns big enough to shoot a shell across the English Channel. They never got to fire a shot. That is a result of a bombing by the ... Lancaster British bombers and what they did to it. ... At this stage, you don't see a gun there or anything else, but ...
SI: There is a barrel here.
WF: Can you see the barrel?
SI: Is that the same gun or is it a smaller gun?
WF: ... The guns would have had a barrel that stuck out twenty-five feet or thirty feet, a huge, huge barrel. That's right, Le Havre. I don't know, what does it say on the back, if it says anything?
SI: In the back, it does not say anything.
WF: Well, put, ... "Le Havre, Hitler's coastal defenses," is what it is.
SI: These photos are great.
WF: What was that one?
SI: This is a lot of hunting material.
WF: Oh, there, when we were in Ichenhausen, that was the center of woodcarving. This is a woodcarver that I visited. Everything there is carved by hand, in that house, everything. Then, he used to sell, like, broaches. He would cut the horn of an animal and he would make a scene, a winter scene or whatever. He was clever. I bought one for Betty. She still has it, although [she] doesn't wear it anymore, but that's what that is. All right?
SI: Thank you very much. We really appreciate all your time.
WF: It's a pleasure. I really enjoyed it and I enjoyed both of you.
EB: Thank you.
SI: Thank you.
WF: I don't know if this is of interest to you.
SI: That is a pamphlet called "Riding Point for Patton."
WF: Yes, because we were part of Patton's Third Army in the last part of the war.
[Editor's Note: From 1951 to 1955, Mr. Felldin was Superintendent of the Sunday school of the WaldwickMethodist Church. Additionally, he served on the Official Board of the church from 1956 to 1959. After moving to Ho-Ho-Kus in 1960, he served as Deacon, and later an Elder, of the Community Church of Ho-Ho-Kus and as Vice-President of the Consistory from 1964 to 1970. He also sang as the lead baritone of the choir and as a soloist. He reports, "I have now sung with that choir since 1961--forty-eight years--and love it."]
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Reviewed by Lisa White 12/2/08
Reviewed by Patrick Lee 12/2/08
Reviewed by Julia Gourley 12/2/08
Reviewed by Frank Donnelly 12/2/08
Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 8/12/10
Reviewed by Wallace E. Felldin 8/22/10