Sandra Stewart Holyoak: This begins an interview with Mr. Russell W. Cloer on September 11, 2001. I'd like to thank Mr. Cloer and his wife for coming all the way to Venice, while we do this interview at the Wells home. To begin the interview, I'd like to ask if you could tell me when and where you were born, and then I'll ask you questions about your family.
Russell W. Cloer: Okay, Sandra. I was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, January 4, 1921, which makes me eighty years old. What was the rest of the question?
SH: I would like you to tell me your father's name and his background.
RC: My father's name was Christian Henry Cloer. My grandparents were born in Germany, all four of them, in about the 1860s, '50s maybe. They came to this country, probably in the early 1880s. ... My parents were born in this country and lived, when they were children, in the Jersey City-Hoboken area, which was a place where German immigrants congregated at that time. ... My paternal grandfather was a carpenter and my mother's father was a construction worker. They had some pretty hard times. It was difficult. What made it worse was that my mother's father fell from the roof of a building he was working on and was killed when he was in his late thirties. He left my grandmother with six small children, and so the kids, including my mother, didn't get much education, because they had to go to work at an early age. There were no social programs to help them out at that time, and, being immigrants, they didn't have any relatives to lean on. It was tough going. On my father's side, his father was a carpenter. He didn't make much money and my father was the youngest of his five children. So when my grandfather retired, when he couldn't work anymore, in those days they looked to the youngest child to support their parents. So my father lived at home and turned his pay envelope over to his parents every week. He was about thirty-four before he got married, and my mother was twenty-nine.
SH: Did they meet in the general community there?
RC: I suspect so. They both lived in that same area. I don't know exactly how they met. I never heard that story.
SH: Did your father talk about World War I?
RC: No, he never mentioned it, and I'm sure he was never in the Army, because he was a toolmaker. He worked in tool rooms, in shops, and I'm sure he had a job during World War I which gave him a deferment from the draft. He never served and he never talked about it.
SH: Did any of your mother or father's extended family immigrate to America?
RC: To my knowledge, they had no relatives in this country, so it was a lonely thing.
SH: Did they ever think of going back to Germany?
RC: Well, I don't know that.
SH: We do hear some stories where they at least went back for a visit. Did your mother have an occupation?
RC: No, she was home most of the time. She had a job for a little while during the depths of the Depression. She worked as a seamstress in the sewing room at one of the FDR projects making clothing for the poor. Those projects were formed to make jobs for those in need. That was the only time she ever worked, to my knowledge. When she was a kid, she worked, and before she was married. My parents never talked about their education, but I don't think my mother went beyond the sixth grade in school, and my father, maybe sixth or eighth, but that was it.
SH: Do you remember what year they married?
RC: Yes. Well, no, I don't know, but I was born in 1921, so I assume it was about 1919 or '20.
SH: Do you have other brothers and sisters?
RC: I have a younger sister. She's two years younger than me.
SH: Where did you live for your elementary education?
RC: In Roselle Park, New Jersey. When I was very small, I remember, we lived in a third floor apartment in Jersey City until I was about four years old. It was one of those railroad type apartments with the kitchen in the back and the living room up front. But then we moved to Roselle Park. My father didn't have a car then. He had a red Indian motorcycle with a sidecar. I remember that pretty well.
SH: Tell me something about that.
RC: Well, I guess, it was a cheap form of transportation for him. And I remember that on a Sunday, my mother, might say, "Let's get a breath of fresh air. Lets ride up to Sussex County." It used to be all farm country at that time, and my father would go get the motorcycle, which he kept in a rented garage nearby and off we'd go. My mother would fix a lunch, and and the four of us would go up to Sussex County, have an outdoor picnic and then we'd come back to the Jersey City apartment. But I'm drifting off the question you asked ...
SH: I just wanted to ask if your mother had worked outside the home.
RC: No, she was home just about all the time.
SH: Can you talk about the Depression and how that affected the family?
RC: I used to think it was awfully hard on me until I did some more reading and saw some documentaries on the problems other people had. Comparatively speaking, we weren't all that bad off. We had our own house in a middle class suburban community. It wasn't a big house, it was an old house, but it was our house, and we always had enough to eat, and we had good clothes to go to school. But there were no presents on birthdays, and at Christmas, it was pretty sparse. We didn't have the things that a lot of our friends had. At the time, it hurt some. But the thing I remember most, I guess, is that my father lost his job in 1933. He had been working for seventeen years for the same company, and he was layed off. Things got really difficult, and my parents couldn't keep up the payments on the house anymore. They were in danger of losing the house and wouldn't have a place to live. ... The mortgage payments, I don't know how I remember these things, were twenty-two dollars a month, and they didn't have it. But the mortgage holder didn't really want to foreclose, because he couldn't sell the house in those times anyway. So they cut a deal with him. They paid interest only and nothing on the principal, until "times got better." So that made the monthly payments eleven dollars, and it was my job to deliver that eleven dollars once a month to the bank. We had no checking account, but I still remember going on my bicycle and delivering that eleven dollars in cash.
SH: Was your family politically involved at all?
RC: My mother was, to some extent. Not so far as holding office, but working for other people who were running for office on the local level. She worked for the Democratic Party in Roselle Park, and she seemed to get a kick out of that. It was something to do that gave her some satisfaction.
SH: If they were Democrats, I assume that they were for Franklin Roosevelt.
RC: Oh, God, yes. [laughter] My father was such a Democrat, he died at age ninety-one, and he was still paying his union dues, because he was so grateful for what the union and Social Security had done for him.
SH: Did he join a union after he lost his job or before?
RC: Well, I'm not sure about that. I think it was after, because it was probably only after the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed by the Roosevelt Administration, which was in the late '30s, that they had the right to form a union. There weren't too many unions around before that.
SH: Who did he work for, what company and which union?
RC: It was the International Association of Machinists, and, I guess, they had a local branch in these small companies he worked at, but he didn't work for any one company for very long. The way it worked in that business during the Depression was that these small companies would get a contract to make a certain number of machines or parts. When the contract was finished, the company would lay workers off, and then my father would go out every day, same time, dressed the same way, looking for work all day. ... He left a diary, it wasn't a personal diary, of his contacts to try to get a job. And it's heartbreaking to read. He'd hit six to eight places a day, and maybe they'd take his name, maybe they'd take his address, maybe they didn't have time to talk to him, and it was, "We're going to get a contract in a couple of months, come back then." It must have been heartbreaking.
SH: During the Depression, you would have started grade school.
RC: Yes, I graduated from high school in 1939, and I remember in 1935, moving from eighth grade to high school, and I had to choose my high school courses. I didn't get much guidance from my parents, because they just didn't know. And so like a lot of kids, in that Depression year, I took the General Course in high school. I figured, "Well, if the opportunity for college comes up, I can make it. But if it doesn't I will have Bookkeeping, Typing, Shop and other subjects which will help me find a job." There was never any real prospect of going to college because of the financial problems I described to you. But near the end of my sophomore year, a wonderful lady, my history teacher, said she would like to see me after school for a few minutes in her classroom. ... I went there and she said, "I've been checking your grades. They're exceptionally good. Why aren't you taking the College Course?" So I told her. Then she said, "I think I can help you get a college scholarship." I didn't even know what a scholarship was. ... and then she said, "I'll help you. I'll lead you by the hand through it," and she did. ... As a result of that, I was offered two scholarships, one to Rutgers and one to her school, which was Upsala, but that was mainly a teachers' college, and for that reason, Rutgers was much more preferable to me. ... That was how I got into college and that scholarship letter that I showed you from Dean Metzger was a big turning point in my life.
SH: Did you come down to the college for an interview?
RC: Not to be interviewed. I don't remember ever being interviewed by the college. But, I did come down and spent a whole day taking tests at one time in the gym, and I went down to register, but I don't remember a personal interview. They did request a transcript and letters of recommendation.
SH: When you spoke to this wonderful teacher, the history teacher, did she then have you change your course to college prep?
RC: Yes, Oh yes. She said, "You've got two years to go and you've got this many electives." On her recommendation, I took two years of Algebra and two years of French, which I wouldn't have otherwise taken . ... When I registered at Rutgers, they asked me what course I wanted to take. I said, "I want to be an engineer, a mechanical engineer." They said, "There's no way you can get into engineering with the high school subjects that you have. In fact, if your grades weren't so good," they said, "you wouldn't get in at all. We're making an exception." I was the valedictorian of my class in high school, so that's the way I got in. They recommended that I take a post graduate year of high school to get the prerequisites, but the Rutgers scholarship would have lapsed, so I couldn't do that. But, you know, the lack of those high school prerequisites plagued me throughout the rest of my career. It was a real struggle in college. I took freshman chemistry, and everybody else in the class had had high school chemistry. I didn't have any. It was hard, and the same in physics and trignometry. I didn't have any high school physics, didn't have any solid geometry, didn't have any trig. ... And then later, when I went to graduate school, at Newark College of Engineering after the war, I had the same problem there. I wanted to get an MS in Mechanical Engineering, and they said I would have had to take something like, oh, I don't know, twenty-one credits in prerequisites before I could even start. So I ended up going into Management Engineering, which only required six credits of prerequisites at NCE. I got my MS degree in 1954, after going four years, three nights a week, three hours a night.
SH: Let's back up a little bit to your secondary education. Were you involved in any other extracurricular activities? Where there any other interests that you were able to pursue?
RC: Yes, I really loved the Boy Scouts. There, again, it was touch and go. I became eligible at age twelve, that was in 1933, the year my father lost his job. In order to join the new troop that was being formed and which my best friends were joining, it required a uniform which cost seven dollars, and where was the seven dollars going to come from? We didn't have it. I finally got it, but I don't think it was from my parents. I still don't know for sure, but the Rotary Club sponsored our Scout troop, and they probably paid for it. I was active then in the Boy Scouts for about five years, and I think it was a wonderful experience. In fact, I wrote a story about it. The values that we learned and practiced were something you couldn't get in any other way. I thought it was just wonderful. We did a lot of camping out, in a cabin up in Mendham, where we would go for weekends, and it was just a lot of fun. We learned a lot of skills and how to take care of ourselves. "On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty to God and my country." "To stay physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight."
SH: Did you also go to camp? Were you able to do that?
RC: Once, for a week. That cost money, too, and again, it was donated by someone else, I don't know who. I suspect it was my friend's father who owned the local hardware store. He was active in the Rotary Club. But I got to go for a week to Camp Burton at Allaire, New Jersey.
SH: Did you have jobs in high school?
RC: My father kept me so busy with jobs around the house, on the car and on the property, that there was no time for a job. I mean, I was his slave. We built a new garage in the back from a couple of truckloads of used lumber. I had to pull out all the old nails, and straighten those that could be reused. And the car continually had to be fixed, and he just had jobs lined up for me all the time, repairs around the house. I was plastering, putting up wallpaper. Digging a garden. There was no end to it, painting. So I didn't hold any outside jobs while I was in high school, but I was busy clipping the hedges and mowing the grass with a hand mower.
SH: You said you were active in the Boy Scouts for about five years. Would that have put into finishing your high school?
RC: That would have been at about age seventeen, I guess, when I got out, yes. I graduated from high school at eighteen, so it was close to the time I was graduating from high school.
SH: Were you a Scout leader?
RC: Not on a high level. I was a patrol leader. I was in charge of six boys, something like that.
SH: One of the things that I'm amazed at is you said that your uniform was seven dollars, and we just discussed the fact that your house payment was eleven dollars.
RC: Yes, for a month, interest only. The numbers are, you just can't believe them now, but they were very real. If you wanted to have the Boy Scout hat, that was three dollars extra, and I only knew one fellow who had a hat. [laughter]
SH: What about church? Were you involved with the family in church activities?
RC: Not to any great depth. My mother sent us to Sunday school for probably five years when we were at that age, but I wasn't very active in the church after that. Although I did attend Sunday services regularly for several years after getting back from WWII.
SH: Were there lots of kids your age on the block that you had a lot of activities and inventive things that kids do?
RC: Well, Beverly was one of them. She lived in the same block, and we had bicycles and we used to go bike riding, and in the wintertime, we'd go ice-skating in the county park and sleigh riding on the county golf course, things like that.
SH: How did you meet Mrs. Cloer?
RC: We lived on the same block, and there was an empty lot on the block. We were both in junior high school and we had a science project. We had to make an insect collection and I met Beverly on the empty lot where we were both chasing the same butterfly. It's true, but, excuse me, I just lost my train of thought there for a minute.
SH: I just asked how you met Mrs. Cloer.
RC: ... Then we had an "on again, off again" relationship all through high school, but getting my degree was so important that we agreed we wouldn't get married until after I got out of college. And, of course, when I got out of college, I went right into the Army, and we decided we wouldn't get married until after the war, but we did. My first assignment after OCS was in a cadre unit. I don't know if I'm getting ahead of myself, but I'll try to relate it to you. I was down at Fort Bragg, and there was nothing to do. We had no enlisted men, just the cadre, and 'the word' was that it would be at least a year before we would go overseas, because we had to get all these fillers in and then we had all the unit training to do. The 'word' turned out to be true for the Division, but not for me. I was shipped out as an infantry replacement eight weeks after we got married and then I was gone for two years.
SH: Let's back up a little bit and talk about your high school. What other extra curricular activities were you involved with?
RC: I was the captain of the track team, State high jump champion, and I held the high jump record for my high school and the State. I played trumpet in the high school band. I wasn't very active in the social affairs. I didn't go to the dances, that sort of thing. I was on the student council, Honor Society, art editor of the yearbook and into the academic stuff. ... I remember high school as being a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it, but I was not one of the people that stood out as a big man on campus. I was in the background somewhere.
SH: You were just the valedictorian. [laughter]
RC: Well, I have another little story about that. You know, I said, "Nobody really cared about who was valedictorian. They only cared that I was the captain of the track team." Sports were important to popularity. When I went to my fiftieth high school reunion, everybody was saying, "Hey, Russ, how are you doing? I remember when you used to high jump on the track team. You were State champ!" Everybody remembered my track team record, but only one person remembered I was the valedictorian. She was the salutatorian and she introduced me to her husband saying, "I want to introduce Russ Cloer. He's the fellow that beat me out for valedictorian." Then, by way of explanation, she added, "They always picked a boy in those days." [laughter]
SH: We talked about how the teacher had turned your life around, basically, by sending you towards a college education and the fact that you had the scholarships to two universities. Why did you choose Rutgers?
RC: I made a decision for Rutgers, because they gave me a scholarship. Without that, I couldn't go to college.
SH: I thought you had a scholarship to Upsala.
RC: I did, but Upsala was a teacher's college, and even at that time, I looked on that as being a secondary education.
SH: What program did you go into then at Rutgers?
RC: Well, I asked the counselor there, or the professor I was talking to when I registered, "Well, if I can't take engineering because I lack the prerequisites, what's the closest thing that you can offer?" ... She said, "Well, I can admit you to the College of Arts and Sciences with a major in physics and a minor in mathematics," so that's what I did.
SH: You said a woman interviewed you.
RC: I think it was a woman. I'm not sure.
SH: You have a letter from Dean Metzger. Do you have any other Dean Metzger stories?
RC: Oh yes, he was a great guy. I loved him. I was called to the Dean's office one day, and he was the chief disciplinarian. When you get that call, you're shaking, and I figured, "Oh, boy, there goes my scholarship," but he was a real gentleman. ... I was living off campus in a rooming house, and he said, "Your landlady has complained to me that you boys are wrestling in the rooms and are going to break the furniture. You know, she's complained to me before in other years about other students. How about just taking it easy on me. I don't like to get those calls." And another time he called me in, about a year later, and I figured, "Oh, boy, she called him again." He said, "Russell, I had a call from the congressman from your district in New Jersey He has an appointment to West Point and he's looking for a suitable candidate. He asked if I would choose a student from Rutgers, and I've chosen you." I was dumbstruck! I was a junior in college by this time. At that time, it was considered a great honor. I was just overwhelmed with it. I was in advanced ROTC at that time, and I had a terrible time making up my mind. I couldn't see spending seven years in college and waiting another five years to get married. But getting back to Dean Metzger, I figured, "I need some advice on this," and he gave me until Monday to give him my answer. ... So I first went to see Major Cope, who was my ROTC instructor and he said, "My God, man, why didn't you accept on the spot? I don't understand why you didn't grab it right away," Then I went to see my faculty adviser, who was Doc Winchester, the head of physics department at that time. I remember his answer almost word for word. He said, "I have just one question to ask you." He said, "Is a career as a military officer what you want out of life?" and I said, "Well, no, not particularly." He said, "Well, that's what that school is there to prepare you for." ... That was the straw that broke the camel's back, and I went back to Dean Metzger, thanked him profusely, but said, no, I wasn't interested and told him why.
SH: Had World War II already started at that point?
RC: Yes. I was in my junior year, so it would have been 1942.
SH: What were your impressions of Rutgers at first? You lived off campus. What was that like?
RC: I thought it was wonderful after a year of commuting. The old campus was just beautiful and we had only 1600 full time day students then. But I wished I could be living in one of the dorms, or, better still, a fraternity house, but I couldn't afford that. I commuted the first year from Roselle Park. There were five of us, and we would borrow our parents' car for one day of the week each and we'd drive down to New Brunswick from Roselle Park. We had eight o'clock classes. I mean, it was a long day! I remember in wintertime, when we had an hour between classes, there was no place to go. We'd go to the library to get out of the cold and at lunch time, we'd go back to the car, where we had our brown bag lunch. We'd eat in the car parked on College Avenue while all the fraternity guys would run off to their house to have their lunch there. We felt like the poor kids on the block, and we were.
SH: Did all four of the guys graduate?
RC: There were two of them in my class, one graduated, one was drafted, and I don't know whether he went back after the war or not. Of the other two, one was a year ahead of me, Pete De Palma, and I don't know whether he graduated but I think he probably did. The fifth one was a football player who was going to Rutgers Prep to take his last year of high school for the second time.
SH: What were their names?
RC: The one who did graduate was Bernie Kahn who was a close friend of mine in high school who was also at Rutgers on a scholarship. He was very active on the Targum. He was the managing editor in our senior year. ... Bill Schirmer was the one who was drafted. He was in mechanical engineering, Pete De Palma I mentioned, and Bob Hannah was going to Rutgers Prep.
SH: Did you continue with your interest in track?
RC: Oh, yes. The stories keep popping up in my mind. I won my freshman numerals, and I won varsity letters in the second, third and fourth years. I scored points continuously in the high jump, in dual meets, but I got no coaching. I never jumped as high in college as I had in high school, and I attribute that, in part, to the fact that we never had any coaching. ... We high jumpers would go over to the stadium, and we'd go to the high jump pit at the end of the football field and coach each other as best we could. Old Bernie Wefers was the track coach, and he'd be up by the finish line of the running events, and we never saw him, never, except from a distance. ... He had an assistant coach, Joe Makin, who was supposed to be coaching the field events, but he was always with the weights; the discus, shot putt and the javelin, which were outside the stadium so they wouldn't hurt anybody. So we never saw him either. ... But in my senior year, about two weeks before graduation, we were out there practicing. We had one more meet to go, and there were about three or four of us high jumpers, taking turns at the bar. And here comes Bernie Wefers down from the finish line, walking across the corner of the football field, and we couldn't believe our eyes, because he had never come down to the high jump pit before. He came to the edge of the runway, and I took my jump, cleared the bar, and I came walking back. He came over to me, threw his arm around my shoulder, and said, "Keep up the good work, son, we can use you on the varsity next year." I was going to graduate in two weeks, and I'd been getting points for him for four years, but that was the way the coaching was in track at that time. I'm sure it's much different now. ... A true story, I swear.
SH: Did you continue to live off campus in the same place?
RC: I lived off campus in my second and third years, same place, and in my fourth year, I finally got into Ford Hall, and that was delightful. For the first time, I was able to get a better feel for campus life, because I was right there on campus 'round the clock. I didn't have to leave at four o'clock.
SH: Where did you live off campus?
RC: At #5 Guilden Street. It was about the second or third block up from College Avenue. The house was owned by a widow woman. She seemed old at the time, but she was probably just middle aged. She owned the house and lived on the first floor. There were five rooms on the second floor that she rented out to students, and that's where I stayed.
SH: Did you have a roommate?
RC: No, we had five separate rooms, and one bathroom, but it was cheaper than a dorm, quite a bit. I don't remember the numbers on the room rent, but the dormitory rent, according to the catalogue page I brought in, was only about two dollars a week, but that was a lot of money at that time.
SH: Did you have a job on campus?
RC: Yes, oh, yes, lots of them. When I was still a freshman commuting, I went to the Personnel Office in Old Queens and applied for a job. They said, "Okay, we have an opening right here." They needed a part time typist in the Personnel Office and I was a good typist because I had been taking Typing in high school when I should have been taking Algebra. The woman that interviewed me said that the job was part of the National Youth Administration Program, paid forty cents an hour, and you were limited to ten hours a month, which is four bucks. But over a semester it would pay for my books which weren't covered by the scholarship. ... It turned out to be a "make work" job. There were two girls there already as full time typists, and they didn't need any help. So whenever I came in, she gave me a pair of scissors and the current Wall Street Journal, which the Personnel Office subscribed to. She said, "I'd like you to go through this and clip out any articles that you think the Director of Personnel might be interested in reading." So I did that and dutifully put them in a manila folder, which, I guess, she threw in the wastebasket after I left. ... But then I got a really good job on campus. It didn't pay any better, but I became a clerk in the college bookstore in Winants Hall, and the great part of that was you got to meet everybody on campus. In fact, my predecessor Joe Siry, who had just graduated, became president of his class, and I think in large part it was because he got to know so many people in the College bookstore. It had a second advantage in that there was no limit on hours. I could work whenever the bookstore was open and I didn't have classes. I remember reloading the coke machine about four or five times a day and I opened crates and stacked the books on the shelves, helped out with sorting the mail, and of coarse selling the books. When a new semester would start, the guys would come in and they'd be five deep at the counter. And the only other person in that store was a middle-aged woman named Mrs. Genung. She ran the place under the direction of Mr. Brill, the College purchasing agent, who had an office upstairs. I was her helper whenever I could come in between or after classes. I remember another story. During book week, the guys were crowding the counter about five deep and a fellow asked for a book. I took the new book off the shelf and I handed it to him. He said, "Let me just look at this for a few minutes before I decide," and so I did. In the meantime, the other guys were crowding in front of him and I guess I filled the next fellow's order. I turned back to the first one and he was gone with the book, and that worried me terribly. I figured, "I'm going to have to pay for that book." When they cleared out, I walked over to Mrs. Genung and told her what happened. She said, "Forget it, forget it." But I really worried about that. I worked in the bookstore in my second and third and years and during the summer vacation, full-time after my second year. It paid forty cents an hour, which was the minimum wage at that time, so I got sixteen dollars a week full-time that one summer. In my senior year, Doc Winchester gave me a part time job helping out with instruction in the freshman Physics Labs at 75 cents an hour. I quit the bookstore job and I remember Mr. Brill was outraged! He looked on it as disloyalty.
SH: You needed that job in your freshman year, so you could get in out of the cold.
RC: Yes. The personnel office was nice and warm. I'd go home every weekend, and my mother would slip me a five dollar bill as I was leaving to go back. I would buy a five dollar meal ticket at the cafeteria, that had five-fifty worth of punches on it, and that would last me through the next Friday.
SH: Tell us a little bit about the activities that you were involved in on campus.
RC: Very little of that. I didn't belong anywhere, except for the track team. I didn't participate in any social activities. ... Oh, Beverly and I went to two proms. We had Sammy Kay's band at one of them and Kay Kaiser at the other. I didn't have much of a social life in college. It was a lot of hard work. That physics and math curriculum required a lot of study time and I was conscientious and did it. And then there was the part time jobs.
SH: What about initiation as a commuter student? Were you involved in freshman initiation?
RC: The dinks, yes. But, it didn't amount to much. We only had to wear them on Old Queens Campus, and then we had to run, not walk, as I remember. You're not allowed to walk there, but that was the only hazing that I remember. And when we passed an upper classman on the sidewalk, we were required to give him a "Cheery Rutgers Hello."
SH: Was chapel mandatory for commuter students?
RC: Yes, and I resented it very much, because I had to drive down there, or we had to drive, several of us together, make a separate trip on Sunday, drive forty miles to go to chapel. We had to attend and we did. But that faded out somewhere, I think late in my freshman year. I can't remember exactly, but I know the rules were changed and we didn't do that anymore.
SH: Did you go to the mid-week chapel when they had speakers?
RC: I don't remember attending any of those. I was really impressed with the chapel itself. God, it's a beautiful place with all those old portrait paintings on the wall. There was a lot of history and tradition in Kirkpatrick Chapel.
SH: They just restored it.
RC: Really, oh, beautiful. I hope they didn't eliminate the tradition and historical artifacts.
SH: Did you have any affiliation with politics on campus?
RC: Nothing with the church and nothing with campus politics, nothing. I felt all the time I was in school that I was sort of a second class citizen. I was one of the under privileged, I wasn't one of the in-crowd, and I didn't resent it as much as I envied those who were.
SH: Did you think of joining the Scarlet Barbs?
RC: Well, they put me down for Scarlet Barbs in the yearbook, but that doesn't mean anything. That was just a name they tagged anybody who didn't have a fraternity affiliation. They would put in Scarlet Barbs on the "fraternity affiliation" line. That was all it amounted to.
SH: ... Where were you when you heard about Pearl Harbor?
RC: Well, I was at home for the weekend. It was on a Sunday, of course, and we were having dinner at my parents house. Beverly was there and my sister and her boyfriend who was already in the Army at Fort Monmouth, he was there, and we just couldn't believe our ears. ... When they said Pearl Harbor, I knew instantly where it was, because Major Cope had told us all about it. He had probably served there when he was on active duty, that's why I knew exactly where it was. My feeling was, "Well, you knew war was coming. Now it's here and you're going to be in it. Goodbye Rutgers, goodbye college degree."
SH: Had you already signed up for the draft at that point?
RC: I never did sign up for the draft. If you signed up for the Advanced ROTC, you were considered to be a Reservist and therefore you didn't register for the draft. You were exempt from the draft. But if you didn't follow through, didn't finish the ROTC commitment, then you'd have to register for the draft immediately.
SH: Pearl Harbor had happened before you were in Advanced ROTC, right?
RC: December 7, '41, that must have been in the middle of my junior year. I had already made the Advanced ROTC decision at the end of my sophomore year.
SH: Where did you go for your Advanced ROTC training?
RC: They told us we would spend 6 weeks during the summer between our junior and senior years at Camp Drum, N.Y. But circumstances changed after Pearl Harbor. We were told that the training camps were so full of draftees that they didn't have any room for the ROTC summer camp anymore, and so the requirement was abolished . We found out the real truth later. They had already decided that we would not be commissioned at graduation. They would send us to Officer Candidate School in the appropriate branch of the army for thirteen weeks after we graduated, and that was a far better training program than we ever could have gotten in six weeks of summer camp. It was a substitution and an upgrade at the same time. Also a culling out process of the less fit. But we didn't know that. We were just told the other story.
SH: What differences did you see on campus from the time of Pearl Harbor until you graduated? For example, weren't semesters changed to quarters?
RC: Yes, sort of. A full semester summer session was added between my junior and senior years. In the Advanced ROTC program, we were pressured to take that summer session so we could graduate in January of 1943. ... I wasn't convinced that I wanted to be shoved off to the Army six months early, so I didn't sign up for the summer session. Only about one third of the Advanced ROTC seniors did. That was my only recollection of changing the semesters, and I didn't participate in it. It was optional so I went during the regular school year. ... There was a hidden reward that we didn't find out about until it was too late. Those who graduated in January were allowed to choose their branch of the Army which was part of our original agreement. None chose Infantry and none were killed in action. Those who graduated in June were given no choice, all went into the Infantry and 11 of 21 were killed in action.
SH: Did anyone in your class that you remember leave school and enlist?
RC: Oh, yes, a lot of them. As a matter-of-fact, I can't tell you by name, but my class size dropped to about half in the last year or two after the war started. I don't know which ones were drafted and which ones volunteered, but I know a lot of them volunteered. They dropped out of sight, and you didn't know who or why. They were just gone.
SH: Did you ever think of changing your major at school from math and physics to something else?
RC: Physics and math, yes. But I never did. I couldn't change it to engineering, because I still didn't have the necessary prerequisites. It probably would have required an extra year or two, and so I finished it out as a physics major.
SH: Did you ever think of enlisting in the Navy or any of the other services?
RC: I tried that once. I went to the Navy Recruiting Office in New York City, as a matter-of-fact. I did this when it became apparent that we were not going to be given the choice of branch in the Army, as we had been told when we signed up. We were all going into the infantry, and I wasn't too fond of that idea but ...
SH: What did you want to do in the Army?
RC: I thought, when they said they were going to give us a choice, I might go into Signal Corps or Ordnance, which was where you could get some engineering experience and apply your education to the war effort. Then after the war was over, I thought they should have been able to use physicists on the Manhattan Project, but that's not the way it went.
SH: What had happened when you talked to the Navy recruiter?
RC: Well, he was enthusiastic at first, when he saw my background. But one of the early questions he asked is "What is your draft status?" I told him, "I'm not registered for the draft. I'm in the Advanced ROTC." That was the end of the interview. He said, "We can't touch you. You're in the Reserve. Forget it, you're out, we can't touch you." So that was the end of my courtship with the Navy.
SH: Who were your favorite professors at Rutgers?
RC: Oh, Doc Winchester was my favorite. He was a great guy. I really liked him. As a matter-of-fact, shortly before I graduated, we had hundreds of ASTP soldiers on campus.
SH: What was the interaction between Advanced ROTC and the ASTP?
RC: None, they were completely separate, independent. But, of course, most of those ASTP people had to take freshman physics ...
---------------------------------------END OF SIDE ONE, TAPE ONE-------------------------------------
SS: You were talking about the ASTP.
RC: Professor Winchester called me in a few weeks before graduation, and he said, "Look, we desperately need help here teaching freshman physics to these ASTP people" and he said, "I can offer you a job teaching physics here at Rutgers. And I can practically guarantee you a deferment from the draft or any other form of military service," but I didn't really give it any serious consideration. I thanked him for his offer. He had gone to the trouble of checking out my status. ... For the last semester, my Advanced ROTC class was told to enlist in the Enlisted Reserved Corps, and then they went on active duty as privates on campus for the last semester. There were five of us that didn't do that. I was one of them. I went in to see Major Cope, and I said, "Is this mandatory, or is it voluntary?" He huffed and puffed and he finally told me it was voluntary. I didn't have to, if I didn't want to, but it was the thing to do, and I got the big pitch. But five of us (out of about 40) did not volunteer. I couldn't see where it made any sense for me to put in five months as a private on campus when I could be a civilian on campus. So, when we graduated, those who had joined the Enlisted Reserved Corps, as recommended, got orders to report to Fort Benning for Officer Candidate School. We five who hadn't, weren't told anything. So I went to see Major Cope again. I said, "What happens now?" ... He said, "Well you have two choices. You can join the Enlisted Reserve Corps now and go to Infantry OCS with your classmates, or you can drop out of ROTC and register with your draft board." ... I signed on to go with my class to Infantry OCS. In retrospect, I realize that had I wanted to, I could have avoided military service entirely. ... I worked in the Curtiss Wright engineering department after the war, and we had a hundred or more engineers that had spent the whole war in that engineering department, draft deferred. There were other such companies in the area as well. I could have gotten a job as an engineer and avoided military service or I could have accepted Doc Winchester's offer of teaching freshman physics to ASTP students on the Rutgers staff. ... But in retrospect, I'm glad I did what I did.
SH: Do you remember the names of the other four guys?
RC: Yes. One of them was Dick Colfax. He's dead now, but he was a pre-med student and he went on to medical school. I don't know whether the Army sent him to medical school or whether he went on his own, but he became a medical doctor in later years, and so far as I know, he never served in the military. Alton Silverman was another of the four but he enlisted in the E.R.C. with me and went to OCS with our ROTC class. I know the other two, but since I don't think they ever served in the military, I don't think it's appropriate for me to mention their names here. Of the Rutgers ROTC group that did go to OCS, twenty-one of us graduated as Second Lieutenants, Infantry on September 20, 1943. I choke up on this. ... Eleven of the 21 were killed in action, eleven out of twenty-one ...
SH: I know the past reunion weekend they dedicated a memorial to your classmates.
RC: I think that was a rededication. I think they moved it. There was a memorial just to our Class of '43 erected about fifteen years ago, and Irv Pape '43 wrote the beautiful poem which is inscribed on the bronze placque. When I went back for my 50th class reunion, we held a service there.
SH: That day I was doing a presentation on the project, and I couldn't go. Mr. Pape invited me to come, and I wasn't able to go.
RC: Those guys from my OCS class that were killed, they were the really big men on campus. Young men with an unlimited future. I admired them then and I still do: Malcolm Schweiker, Jack Everett, Emil Potzer, Frank Hutcheon, Lefty Stavros and so many others.
SH: When Hitler invaded Poland in '39, were there discussions on campus or within your family? How aware were you as a young man of what was going on in Europe?
RC: There wasn't much family discussion about it that I can remember. I personally followed it pretty closely, because I was involved and I wanted to know where I would fit into this thing. ... One thing I remember well is, that when I was a freshman in 1939-40, Russia signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler. I figured, "My God, that's the end for us when Germany and Russia become allies," but it didn't work out that way. ... My family was German, but they never took sides, or at least didn't discuss it openly. It must have been hard for them, being of German parents and knowing they might lose their only son fighting the Germans.
SH: Were there family members that were in Germany with whom you were in correspondence?
RC: No. No, my parents were born in the United States. My grandparents may have had some people over there, but I don't think so.
SH: Let's talk about when the five of you went to OCS.
RC: Yes. Well, not all five, I mean, two of us did. Alton Silverman was the other fellow. It was funny, he and I weren't in uniform. We were in civilian clothes down there for three days before they issued us uniforms. The ERC group had their uniforms. But we all went to Fort Benning and we all went through thirteen weeks of OCS. It was a really intense training period. I mean, the most important thing in our lives, to us, was to earn that commission. I mean, it assumed an importance all out of proportion to what it deserved, it was so intense. A few of the Rutgers people flunked out, and didn't get their commissions. The rule was if you flunked out, you were sent as a corporal to an infantry replacement training center, but I've heard since, that some of those guys got a second chance and were sent back to start a later class.
SH: When you finished with your ROTC and got your commission, did anyone come to your commissioning?
RC: No, I don't remember any civilians being there, as a matter-of-fact.
SH: What about traveling from New Jersey to Georgia? Can you talk a bit about that trip? Had you traveled anywhere other than to Sussex County?
RC: No, I never got outside the state before I was in the Army. I made the trip to Georgia as a civilian in civilian clothes. There were only day coaches and there were no seats available. None! I sat on the floor at the end of the car all the way to Atlanta. In Atlanta we had to change to the Georgia Central railroad to get to Columbus. While waiting in the Atlanta station, I ran into the Rutgers '43 contingent that had joined the ERC and were on active duty. They had their own Pullman Car, chartered by the Army, and it was being switched to the Georgia Central tracks. They invited me to join them and I travelled the rest of the way in comfort.
SH: Okay, so let's talk about the airborne division.
RC: Well, after OCS, we got what they call a delay en route. It was a ten day leave that doesn't get charged to your leave time, and I came home for that, on the train up to New Jersey, and then when I reported back, I took the train back down there. I don't want to waste time on it, but there was an interim period of two weeks when we were sent to Camp Croft in South Carolina, where we went through some grenade and village fighting courses that they didn't have at Fort Benning, and then I went to the 13th Airborne Division. ... Well, we were sent first to, let's see, from OCS, only three of us from Rutgers went to the 13th Airborne Division. Pete Cartmell and Bob Goodwin were the other two. This subculture kind of thing came up again. We all reported in together, the three of us, to the division adjutant at Fort Bragg. We said we were college classmates and that we would like to all go to the same regiment. He said, "I can't do that. The best I can do is assign two of you to one regiment and one to the other." So Bob Goodwin spoke up, and he said, "Well, Pete Cartmell and I are fraternity brothers. Can you put us in the same regiment?" The adjutant said, "I'll put you two in the same regiment," and I went off by myself to the other. It doesn't make you feel good.
RC: I was there about, I guess, about two or three weeks, when I decided, "I'm going to get married. I am not going to wait any longer. I mean, this Division isn't going anyplace soon." So I called Beverly, we agreed and she made the arrangements. I got a five-day leave, which was as much as I could get, because I had only been in the Army five months, and you accrue one day for each month. I went up to N. J.on the train, and we were married. She had made the necessary arrangements up there, and we had a nice church wedding in the Presbyterian Church, and I'll tell you about the honeymoon. Beverly made a first night reservation for us at the Waldorf, over in New York City; it was a short hop over there. After the wedding ceremonies, we get on the Jersey Central Railroad, and the only seat available in our train was flipped backward. We were sitting there facing the rear of the car. She's wearing her new outfit ... with rice in her hair, and I'm in my second lieutenant's bars, and everybody is giving us a knowing look. [laughter] Anyway, we go over to New York and we went to the desk at the Waldorf, and the clerk said, "I don't have any reservation in that name," he said, "And the hotel is full." So I lost my temper, and I got pretty loud in the crowded lobby there, in uniform, you know, and so he found us a room. ... Then we had to go back to Fort Bragg. I had a car, a very, very used ten old car, a 1934 Chevy that I had used at Rutgers. I needed it while I worked the summer job at the bookstore to get back and forth from Roselle Park. That car was still running. We drove down to Fort Bragg, and we made two stops. Two friends of mine, from before the war, had asked us to stop and see them enroute. One of them was in the Navy aviation cadet program at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. We stopped to see him for the day and saw the Carolina-Carolina State football game, but we didn't stay overnight. The other friend was Howie Alberts from Rutgers, a close buddy of mine from the Class of '43. He was a physics major, and he was in the Marine Corps, was now a second lieutenant. ... He had told us he'd put us up for the night, which was important to us. We wouldn't have to spend the little bit of money we had, and they did. This was the second night of our marriage, and we spent it in separate cots on the second floor of a Marine Corps barracks in Quantico, Va. There was no one else on the floor, but we had separate cots in this big barracks. Some of those things you don't forget. [laughter] ... We went on to Fayetteville, North Carolina, and there was no housing to be had, because Ft. Bragg was full of people. There was no housing available on the base nor in town, but we found a sort of second-rate motel. We stayed there for one night and then Beverly dropped me off the next day at the Ft. Bragg gate. She would spend the rest of the day looking for a place for us to live. She found this wonderful place, on a tobacco and cotton farm. An elderly couple owned it and he had been in infantryman in World War I. They treated us just like their own kids ... There was no central heating in the farmhouse and when it got cold, Mr. Elliot would come into our room in the morning, before we got up, to light our fireplace. But anyway, we stayed there at the Elliots, and I was gone all day, of course. I gave Beverly the car about half the time. She'd drop me off and then she drove around seeing the South. Those were some of the happiest days of my life.
SH: What was training like at that point?
RC: There was none. We were doing absolutely nothing for the ten weeks I was there. I mean, there were no formations, we didn't even have to show up for formations. It was an airborne division, cadre, but all we had was officers and maybe two or three senior noncoms to each company. We had five or six officers in my company, and we waited for something to do. You couldn't train, because you didn't have anybody to train. We were in glider infantry, and I remember one day we went over to Pope Field, which was the military airport. They had a Waco CG4A glider out there in the field and we played around with the glider, lifting up the nose to see how you get in and out, but there was nothing, absolutely nothing to do, and it was the most boring brain-deadening time you can imagine. I can't describe how boring it was. The one thing we used to do that we both remember was that the four or five junior officers in my company, with Beverly and me, would go to a nearby roadhouse in the evening. It was a dry state, so we had to drive to South Carolina for our rum and bring it up, but the roadhouse sold setups and we'd all sit around, drink rum cokes, play the jukebox and dance. Beverly would dance with these other guys. They were all gentlemen and we had some good times there. ... Some of those old songs, like "Paper Doll" still make me teary.
SH: Okay, to continue then as you progressed from this mind-numbing experience.
RC: Well, in this cadre division, the 13th Airborne, a call came down for infantry overseas replacement officers. Actually, we didn't know it at that time, but they needed people in Italy badly after devastating casualties at Cassino and with the Anzio invasion coming up. ... Here was this Division sitting here with all these officers and no enlisted men, so they plucked some of us out, cut orders, and out we went. It was last in, first out. If you were the junior guy in your company, you were the one that was picked, and I was picked. The fact that I was the only married officer was irrelevant. ... They gave me orders one day that said, "Report to Fort Meade, Maryland, the overseas replacement depot, you're being sent out as an overseas replacement officer," And so I did. I reported there, and Beverly drove the car back to her parents home in N. J. She came down to see me a couple of times, and maybe we'd spend a night or two in a hotel, but she couldn't stay there and I couldn't get much time off. I was there for about a week or two, and we got all of our shots and were issued all kinds of equipment, (most of which we wouldn't need and would turn in when we got overseas), and we went through the sobering experience of making out our last will and testament and verifying the designee on our government life insurance, all at the age of 22. Then they sent us down to Camp Patrick Henry, which was a shantytown kind of camp near Newport News, just waiting for the ship to come in, and we were there for about a week. They took us down to the docks one night, and we got on a troop transport. General Horace A. Mann was its name. It was designed as a troop transport, carried 5,000 replacements, all infantry replacements. Another thing I remember, they formed us up into provisional companies and battalions, so there would be some semblance of order on the trip. Normally there are six officers to an infantry company and about 200 enlisted men, and there are four companies to a battalion. Well, these provisional battalions had five companies and the fifth, the extra company, was made up of 206 second lieutenants, which told us what we could expect on the other end. The Army tells you nothing, but you read the ominous signs, and you think, "What am I getting into?"
SH: Which one were you assigned to?
RC: I was in the fifth company which was called the "Excess Officers Company." Well, we landed in Casablanca, and we spent an overnight in a tent studded replacement depot, which we called a "repple depple." The next day, they loaded about a thousand of us on "40 and 8's". It was a train, a narrow gauge railroad, all wooden freight cars with C rations and water cans aboard. And we were told: ... "We're going to take three days to cross the desert to Oran," It was a single-track railroad, and when a train came the other way, we had to get off on a siding and wait for it to pass. Top speed was about 25 MPH. There were no sanitary facilities, of course, but the train would stop from time to time in the desert. You never knew for how long or why, and sometimes when the guys would get off to relieve themselves, the train would suddenly start up. They'd come running after the train, pulling up their pants on the run, and we'd all hang out the doors and cheer them on. Those that didn't make it, hitchhiked a ride on military vehicles on the parallel road and arrived at the next station ahead of us. It was an experience.
SH: When you went over on the troop transport, were you in convoy?
RC: No. This troop transport was built to do about twenty knots, and at that speed, they would zigzag all the way. They figured it was safer to run high speed zigzag than to go in a slow convoy.
SH: When you went into North Africa there, what was the biggest threat? Were you aware of what you were getting into? Where you were being sent or had that pretty well been cleared out?
RC: Nobody told us where we were being sent, but the handwriting on the wall was very clear. We were going to Italy. The replacement depots weren't cleared out, they were full of people, but they were Air Force bombardiers, gunners and navigators and other people that they hadn't gotten around to needing yet, but the infantrymen didn't stay long before they were shipped on their way.
SH: Did you see any of the native population or have interaction with them at all?
RC: Well, we were only in Casablanca one overnight, and we were restricted to camp. But another lieutenant and I went out under the fence after dark and hitchhiked (military traffic) into the city, looked around, and, yes, it was interesting. I mean, you see people in these different weird outfits and the weird architecture was totally foreign to us. We just walked around in the city one night, and then we came back and we were out of there the next morning. We had brief contact with some of the Ay-rabs as we called them, in the desert, at the train stations on the way to Oran. They had there camels there and they tried to sell us eggs and camels milk. They were filthy!
SH: Had you gotten any mail at this point?
RC: No, I didn't get any mail, I would guess, until about 6 weeks after we had sailed from the United States. I didn't even have an address yet.
SH: On the train, how long did it take you? Did it take you four days?
RC: Three days. Even though it was desert, it was cold at night, and even though we were thirty men to a car rather than the forty man capacity that was stenciled on the side, we couldn't all lie down at the same time. There wasn't enough room. So it wasn't a very comfortable trip, but we found ways amuse ourselves. We had carbines or rifles and live ammunition, and there were telephone poles that ran between the tracks and the parallel road. We shot at the glass insulators. That kept us busy until we ran out of ammunition. After three days and nights, we pulled into the Oran freight yards, and they told us we would get a hot meal. It was January or February and we'd been on cold C Rations and water for three days. We really looked forward to that hot meal! They trucked us over to the camp, and they lined us up in an open field where there were big cast iron kettles over open fires, and as we moved by with our mess kits, they threw a ladle full into the mess kit. It was a mixture of the three C Ration varieties, beef stew, beans and franks and corned beef hash, all mixed together in this big kettle. But it was hot and we ate every speck! [laughter]
SH: Did you give it a name?
RC: No, no. We stayed there a few days. ... then they had a high priority requirement, apparently, for infantry second lieutenants, and about 250 of us were pulled out, just second lieutenants, infantry, and we were loaded on a British steamer, the Highland Queen in Oran harbor. It took us across the Mediterranean to Naples, Italy. At Naples, I remember unloading in the harbor which was full of sunken ships. They were upside down, on their sides, tilted or however they sank, and you couldn't get near the dock. Maybe a hundred yards out, you could get to the edge of this wreckage. What had been done, army engineers had welded angle iron framework up from the holds of these sunken ships and built a boardwalk, a wooden boardwalk maybe six feet wide, and we got off the ship at the end of the boardwalk and walked across all these sunken ships to get to the city. Then from the city, they trucked us up to a racetrack just north of Naples, which was another repple depple, and there we turned in our gas masks and most of the equipment we had been required to carry overseas. We got rid of it, and got down to one blanket and the stuff we could carry on our backs. ... We were restricted to that camp too, but the same lieutenant and I, we're still together, a fellow named Rahill, and we went down to Pompeii and spent a day down there exploring. We were hitchhiking down to Pompeii and a Navy jeep stopped to pick us up. Strange coincidence! Sitting in the front passenger seat was Ensign Russ Gies, a Rutgers '43 classmate. Small world, but this is where the action was! I guess we were at the racetrack repple depple for about a week. ... Before I leave Rahill, his home was in Caldwell, New Jersey. I met him at Fort Meade and we got to be pretty friendly, and stayed together all during this trip. He'd played football at Caldwell High School. After the war, I went to work for Curtiss-Wright in Caldwell. One day in 1946 I was in my office and a big commotion was going on in the bullpen on the other side of the partition. About six college trained girls, who had been hired during the war, did some of the more routine engineering work, and still worked there. One of the engineers came into my office and I said, "George, what's going on out there? Sounds like a party," and he said, "Yeah, one of the girls who worked here during the war came back to visit, and they're reminiscing about old times." He said, "Her name is Clarissa Rahill." ... It had to be the sister of the Lieutenant Rahill that I knew from Caldwell. I asked if she had a brother named John. We had some reminiscing to do too. "She did," George said. "But he was killed in action in Italy." He read my reaction and said, "Would you like me to introduce you?" And I thought, "What am I going to tell her? I wasn't with him when he died. I don't know how he died. I don't know anything she's going to want to know. Why bring back those sad memories which time has partially healed?" And I said, "No George, just let it pass." I didn't meet her and I've wondered ever since if I did the right thing. ... But, anyway, that was Rahill, who went to Casablanca and Pompeii with me. We spent about a week at the racetrack and then some of us got orders to report to specific infantry regiments. Mine said, "Report to the Seventh Infantry, Third Division on the Anzio Beachhead." They trucked us down to the docks at night. The Anzio Beachhead was supplied by sea. There was no road open to go up there. They had these LSTs, (landing ship tank) and they would take loaded two and one-half ton trucks aboard in Naples, and take them up to the Anzio Beachhead overnight, where they scattered to different supply dumps and were unloaded. The Anzio port was under heavy artillery fire and air attack, and the trucks would race off to the various supply depots a couple of miles inland, and they would unload and stay there. When the last one went off, the LST would give a toot on its horn, and the ones he brought up the day before were now empty, and they were ready to come back on again. The LST would take the empties back to Naples. That way each LST could unload 200 tons of supplies under fire in five minutes. ... But, anyway ... we were told to jog off on each side of the trucks following a guide up the road to an open field where there were foxholes that earlier replacements had dug, and he said, "Get in the foxholes and wait there. We'll pick you up after dark, because we don't do any traveling on the roads in daylight." We spent the day there and watched the fireworks in the harbor from our holes in the ground. Then some 1 1/2 ton trucks came up that night, and when they called out my regiment, those of us assigned to the 7th Infantry got on. They took us to another rear area, where they held us for a couple of days, and the regimental adjutant came up and talked to each us to review our backgrounds, which presumably he was going to use in making our assignments. ... I remember my interview. Captain Young was sitting on a big rock and I was sitting on my helmet on the ground, and he said, "How long have you been in the army, Lieutenant?" and I said, "Six months, sir." "And what were you doing during those six months?" I said, "Half of it was spent in OCS and the other half in the cadre of a glider regiment. We didn't have any enlisted men." He asked, "Have you ever had any enlisted man report you?" I said, "No, sir" Then he said, "Do you feel capable of leading a platoon in combat?" and I said, "Well, I don't know, Sir, but I'm sure going to try," and that was the end of the interview. ... Then the next night they took us up to the forward regimental CP. I remember we were stopped enroute in the total darkness by an MP. He was timing the enemy artillery falling on the road junction just ahead. When he said Go!, our driver raced through the gears and the intersection. A shell burst right behind us in the intersection and a four foot fireball raced up the roadside ditch beside us, but no one was hit. The CP was in one of those small stone houses they had on the Beachhead, they all were alike. We were taken into the small barn that was attached to the house. It was lighted by a Coleman gasoline lantern and the windows were blacked out with army blankets. ... The adjutant was there and said, "Okay, I have your assignments here, and then there are three guides out front to take you up to the three battalions," and he said, "I'll call out your assignments." I was standing there thinking, "Anything but a rifle company." I mean, those rifle platoon leaders don't last any time at all. He read the names off, and every name was assigned to a rifle company, but he didn't read my name. ... When he finished, like they do in the military, he said, "Are there any questions?" There's not supposed to be any, but I said, "Yes, sir, my name wasn't called. My name is Cloer." "Oh," he said, "Well, you just wait here. You'll be with us for a while." He obviously didn't want to say anything more in front of the others, so I just made myself scarce until they were all gone, and then I sought him out. He said, "We will keep you in headquarters company for a while," and then he added, "Your assignment is platoon leader of the intelligence and reconnaissance (I & R) platoon. Across the road is another house. Your company commander, Captain Tracy is over there. Walk across the road and he'll tell you what you're supposed to do," and that was it. I stayed with regimental headquarters company, until the end of the war. I figure I must have made myself pretty useful since they never pulled me out of there.
SH: So what was the briefing that Captain Tracy gave you?
RC: He said, "You're replacing Lieutenant Banks, who was killed a few weeks ago on a reconnaissance for the Volturno River crossing. Sergeant Biehn has been running the platoon in the meantime, but you will assume command from him. Your job will be running the reconnaissance platoon. You will lead patrols to get information on enemy size, location and strength, and to capture prisoners for interrogation. You will bring POWs back from the battalion CPs under guard, and at all times, you are responsible for the defense of the regimental command post. You will run anti-parachute jeep patrols at night and do anything else the regimental staff wants done." That was my job, and I worked my way into it ...
SH: Where were your men from generally?
RC: You know, that's a funny thing. I've thought about that, and I don't know where most of them were from, because you don't talk about that. I mean, they talk about it among themselves, but they never talk to an officer about anything of a personal nature, and Army discipline with its rank barriers is something you can't break. I mean, they have been trained, and they don't want to talk to you. They don't want to get close to you, and it makes for a very lonely time. You do get to know some of them fairly well, but you don't talk about their background, you don't talk about where they came from, you certainly don't talk about their education, their family or anything like that. Nothing personal. You're very careful what you talk about.
RC: Well, as I say, I couldn't really get close to the men. I can still remember most of their names, and in one of the PLH, Personal Life History books I wrote, I was able, ten years ago, to describe about half of them and the way I remembered them. But there was no familiarity. But they were a good bunch. ... I think I had a lot of ASTP types. I know for sure several of them were ASTP, had been in the ASTP, and were pulled out as infantry overseas replacements, and I suspect there were a lot more I didn't know about, because you never talked about education. But you could tell by just talking to the man, whether he had an education or not, and most of them didn't, and yet there were quite a few former ASTP students. None of the non-coms were ASTP, because the Army runs on seniority and the ASTP replacements had the least seniority.
SH: Could you explain for the tape how this was set up and what your duties were?
RC: Well, on the Anzio beachhead, after the first 6 weeks, it was a fairly static situation. It was like World War I trench warfare. Fierce artillery around the clock and at night, air attacks. We were static for almost three months there, and the casualties were outrageous, big turnover, people coming and going all the time. That's another reason you didn't get to know anybody well, they were never there long enough, at least in the rifle companies. Later on, maybe we will discuss that later on, but the heavy jeep patrolling didn't really start until we got up into France. There the Germans were withdrawing and we had to get out in front and find out their location and strength. But on the Beachhead, the only thing we used the jeeps for, was anti-parachute patrols at night. They were kept at the rear CP in daylight because they draw fire. There was concern that the Germans might land paratroop forces behind the lines to wipe out the various headquarters, so we would patrol the roads at night, to provide an early warning if it happened. That was no picnic either, because the Germans would shell the roads all night, because that was when supplies were brought up, and shellfire, was where most of the casualties came from. German aircraft would also strafe the roads at night.
SH: Were there men in your platoon killed by shellfire?
RC: Yes, shellfire, yes.
SH: In that three months that you were static, how many men did you lose?
RC: I can vividly remember some individuals, but, in terms of count, it's harder. I remember one of my guys, Sam Aldrich, a southerner. He smoked a corn cob pipe, which was unusual because most of the guys smoked cigarettes. He used to stuff that thing in his combat boot when it wasn't in his mouth and the juices had to be running down into the stem. The guys kidded him unmercifully about it, but he was good natured and never took offense. I assigned two men to each of the battalion headquarters companies to bring back POWs, and he was with the first battalion just before the breakout. His buddy came back one day with two Kraut prisoners, and he said, "Sam got hit, and he lost a leg." It was the next day, I think, that we moved forward, because this was during the breakout, and it was not uncommon for the regimental CP to move into the a former battalion CP, because there was a lot of wire communication already laid and also a lot of digging had been done. We were moving into that former first battalion CP, which was in a ravine and the first thing I saw was a bloody leg on the floor of the ravine. There was a corn cob pipe stuck in the boot. It was Sam's leg. ... A few days later, I lost Corporal Fennel in the same ravine. An 88mm enemy shellburst drove a shell fragment into his back and it went on through tearing up his intestines. I don't know if he lived. So I remember individual cases like that. I had thirty-five men and I would say I probably lost four or five over the 3 months of static warfare. We were pretty much holed up in these three houses that made up regimental headquarters, and they were stone houses, pretty thick walls, and we would get into the barn, which was on the back end of the house. That put two walls between the enemy and us. We took a direct hit on the roof of one of the houses, they had these red tile roofs, and it blew the whole roof and the second floor to bits, but we were in the back in the barn, and no one was hit. So we didn't take a lot of casualties there. During the breakout, we didn't have that kind of protection, those thick walls.
SH: Do you want to talk about the breakout?
RC: Yes, all right. ... This was all, by the way, four months before the D-Day landing in Normandy. I was looking for casualty figures last night in of my 7th Inf. Regiment history. Third Infantry Division WWII casualties were 35,000 men. ... After almost four months of static warfare, they brought a couple more divisions onto the beachhead to reinforce it, and they also initiated an attack from the south to cross the Rapido River. The plan was to break through at the Rapido and then they would be able to supply the Beachhead forces by road and move up to take Rome. Unfortunately, the attack on the Rapido failed, so we got no support or supply route, but our attack went ahead as planned on May 23rd of 1944. My division had 3,000 casualties the first three days, because the Germans had been preparing their defenses and they were ready for us. The fact that there was no pressure on them from the south just made it that much harder, and the heavy fighting continued. We were about twenty or thirty miles south of Rome, I'd guess, and our objective, of course, was to take Rome. ... Now, one of the most memorable experiences I had in the whole war, was on June 4th, two days before D-Day Normandy. In the evening, as darkness came, I was called to the colonel's dugout and I was given my instructions personally by the colonel, our regimental commander, which was very unusual. He said, "We have a report that the Germans have declared Rome an open city, and they're pulling out, but we don't know whether it's true or not. I want you to take a patrol into the city and find out." And he added, "If it is true and they are pulling out, I want to send my 2nd and 3rd battalions in on trucks. I want my regiment to be the first to enter Rome." ... So, I took four jeeps with fifty-caliber machine guns and about fifteen men. I took one of my men who spoke Italian with me in the first jeep and another one who spoke German. It was very dark. We went in on this Highway Six which used to be called the Appian Way. We passed burned out tanks and armored cars, and they weren't blazing, they were smoldering and smoking. Bodies lay on the road, but there was no active resistance. It was quiet, very quiet and so we just kept going. When we got to the outskirts of the city, there was still no resistance and we moved into the city. In full darkness, when your eyes adjust, you can see pretty well if everything is open. But if you get into a wooded or closed area, it's hard to see. ... As we got into the edge of the city, I remember these buildings on both sides of the street, two or three stories high. It was very dark and the streets were very narrow and winding. It's a very big city but we didn't run into anything. So we just kept going, expecting to be ambushed at every corner. I don't know how far we went, but finally I knew I was lost. The city was much bigger than I expected. I had a street map, but I dared show no light to read it. Finally, we turned one more curve in the road, we came into a huge cobblestone square, a really big square, and there before us was the Coliseum silhouetted against the night sky. It was an overwhelming sight! "That's far enough. We're going back now," and just as we were turning around to leave, three Italian civilians came out of one of the buildings. We hadn't seen a single civilian, or a single soldier, either German or American, and now these three guys, two of them wearing armbands of some sort came toward us. They were dragging a third guy between them. They came over to my jeep and they babbled away as my Italian speaking man in the jeep translated for me. "They're resistance fighters," he said, "and the one in the middle is a collaborator with the Germans, one of the big ones, and they want us to take him back and see that he's tried and punished." I said, "I have no time for that." One of the two armbands had a German machine pistol slung over his shoulder, and as we turned around, and pulled away, we told him, "Wait until tomorrow morning. There will be more American troops and they'll take care of him." But as we pulled away, I heard a burst from the machine pistol. We called it a burp gun because it fired so fast. I looked back and there was their prisoner lying flat on his face on the cobblestones. They killed him. There was nothing I could do about it. ...
-----------------------------------END OF SIDE TWO, TAPE ONE----------------------------------------
SSH: This continues an interview with Mr. Russell Cloer. You were talking about just having left the Coliseum.
RC: Yes, I was totally lost myself, but I had a wonderful driver. His name was Pfc. Steele, and he was with me all through the war. He had remarkable night vision and a remarkable sense of direction, and he took us right back to the command post, at least, five or ten miles away in total darkness. I reported in to the colonel, and he said, "Where the hell have you been?" I told him it was a long way in the dark, and, then I said, "We didn't see a single soldier, German or American, and I'm sure there are no Germans in the buildings either because an Italian resistance fighter fired a burst from his machine pistol, which he wouldn't have done if there were Germans still there." ... He asked, in a suspicious tone of voice, "Well, how far into the city did you go?" He'd sent patrols out before, that never went far enough. I said, "We went as far as the Coliseum," and his face lit up and he turned to his adjutant. "Send the two battalions in on trucks," and they did and we were in the city. It turned out to be one day before D-Day in Normandy. We didn't know that D-Day was coming up, but, apparently, the generals knew, and they made a big deal of getting to Rome first.
SH: Who was the colonel who sent you?
RC: Colonel O'Muhundro
SH: Who was the general that would be credited for this?
RC: General Truscott, VI Corps commander. But Mark Clark, 5th Army commander grabbed all of the limelight. Truscott was the one that replaced General Lucas, who was criticized so badly for not breaking out of Anzio immediately, and that was a bad deal. I mean, it was a pass the buck kind of thing, but Truscott was very highly regarded by all.
SH: What about Mark Clark?
RC: We didn't like him at all, didn't like him at all. He knew in his heart that the Anzio invasion was not going to work, but he didn't have the guts to stand up to Winston Churchill. Churchill orchestrated the whole thing and he was the first one to disavow it when it failed. ... Then Clark made another terrible mistake. We made the breakout from Anzio at great cost. Then the Germans started to withdraw from the Rapido and when they came north we had them in a scissors. We had cut them off, they were retreating, and our Air Force was getting into it now to bomb and strafe them, and the artillery had them in range. We could have wiped out most of the Nineteenth German Army that was retreating north, but he, Clark, gave the order that everybody was to head for Rome. He turned us right around and we all went for Rome. Truscott and the Division commanders argued with him, "You can't do this, they told him" and he gave them a direct order, "You go to Rome." He knew what they didn't know, that D-Day Normandy was coming up on June 6, and he was intent on making a name for himself. That's what all generals do. But we didn't like Clark. He made too many bad decisions like that. I mean, if he'd done the right thing on the one I just described, it wouldn't helped the men any, we would have lost a lot of people, but, by God, we wouldn't have had to fight the same Germans again.
SH: I think that's what I heard more often from anyone who was in Italy, the idea that they had to re-fight the very same Germans.
RC: We were given a week of R&R in Rome. The Third Division was declared the garrison troops of Rome. We didn't know how long it was going to last, but it was all planned out. It was going to last a week until they could bring their rear echelon people up to get in there. But we had a great time in that week. I saw all the sights of Rome, and, of course, I had a jeep and a driver, which made it real nice. I had a wonderful week. Another thing, when I last saw Doc Winchester, before I went in the Army, he said, "If you ever get to Rome, look up this professor at the University of Rome." He gave me his name and address and he wrote it out for me. He said, "He and I, in our younger days, did an experiment together and published a paper on it. Look him up and tell him I said 'hello.'" So I did. I went to see him at the University of Rome, and, of course, I had my helmet on, my 45-caliber pistol on my pistol belt, boots, an American soldier in his office. You could see he was more scared than anything else, but I talked to him and told him about Professor Winchester. I brought one of my Italian speaking guys so we could talk and it was a nice visit. ... We had a nice week there. I got to see everything and then at the end of ...
SH: Did you go the Vatican?
RC: Yes, oh, yeah.
SH: Was the pope in Rome?
RC: That I don't know. I didn't see him. I remember his Swiss Guard. The Forum, the aquaducts, the catacombs, all the tourist sights, but after a week, they told us, "Okay, we're moving out of here now." We were trucked down to an area outside of Naples, near the town of Pozzuoli. But we weren't in the town, we were in the woods along the shore of the Mediterranean. The reason they sent us there was to integrate replacements and then undergo amphibious training for the invasion of southern France. We spent about six or eight weeks there, I guess. Amphibious training, all types of landing craft, LCVPs, LCTs, LSTs, LCIs loading, unloading, coming ashore, endless repetition. But I will tell you this. On August 15, 1944, when we got to the coast of southern France, when I went down the rope cargo net into my LCVP with my thirty-five men, my mind just went into automatic, like going on a computer. I did what I had been trained to do without even thinking about it. It had been pounded into me so many times that I did it by reflex action. You don't consider the consequences or anything else. It was just, "This is what you're going to do and you do it." I'm getting ahead of myself at this point but, is that all right? I came in about forty minutes after H-hour, and the beach was covered with smoke. You couldn't see anything because there were small navy ships, I thought maybe destroyers, and they were running up and down the coast, with smoke generators on the back to blind the Germans so they couldn't see what was coming at them. Naval gunfire rumbled overhead from the battleships. They sounded like freight trains going over. They were bursting on the beach and behind the beach. Banks of rocket bombs whooshed off with screams from flat bottomed LCTs nearby. We were on an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry), and the regiment had lost three LCIs to mines on the beach (60 men MIA) before I got in. The mines were worse than the enemy fire in some places. It was decided not to run any more LCIs into the beach. We would unload the troops from the LCIs onto smaller LCVPs and take everybody in on LCVPs. These LCVPs would go to various ships to pick up their loads, and they would then circle until they had the full complement. And then they would form a straight line parallel to the beach, so that they could spread out and run in without presenting a big target, and that's what we did. We went over the side of the LCI and went down the cargo net into the LCVP which was pitching up and down below us. As we went toward the shore in a line, we couldn't see anything on the beach because of the smoke, and the sides of the landing craft were so high that we couldn't see laterally. We could see an occasional splash of artillery or mortar shells that hit nearby in the water. That's all we could see. We could hear the overhead fire, the small arms, the machine guns and rifle fire, but we couldn't see anything. We came into the beach, and you probably saw the movie D-Day where they dropped people into water about five feet deep and they had to swim for it? I was right up front behind the ramp, and my 35 men were right behind me. We had no vehicles, of course, they were to come in later on LSTs. This coxswain that we had on the LCVP, he ran the thing right up on the beach, he dropped the ramp and I looked down and there was no water! He dropped it right on the sand. I didn't even get my feet wet! I mean, I just stepped right out on a beautiful sandy beach. ... We had a sand table back at the training area near Naples. It was a big, twenty-foot long montage that showed the beach area exactly the way it was going to be. It showed a small forest between the beach and the road that ran parallel to the beach. And so I made for those trees. I was jogging, because there was mortar fire and shellfire still coming in on the beach, although not as heavy as with the earlier waves. When I got up to the edge of the trees, I looked back to see how my men were doing. Some of these guys had been through two or three amphibious invasions, and they were all jogging in column behind me, every one of them with his feet in my footprints, honest to God, right in my footprints, every one of them! If anybody was going to step on a mine, let it be the lieutenant! We got up to the woods, and it wasn't at all like the sand table, because the Germans had felled all the trees toward the water so you had all these branches coming out, and it was practically an impenetrable barrier. And they had trip wires and hanging mines in there. We had lost quite a few people to mines in the first couple of waves. I found a place in the trees where I could see that somebody had gone through before me and I headed through there, and my men followed me, still in single file. We got to the parallel road, which was slightly elevated, about a four foot bank on the nearside. We took up positions along the bank with the rifle company that was already there. Ahead of us on the other side of the road was a vineyard which stretched out up the side of a hill. The Germans were up in that vineyard, and there was fire going back and forth overhead, both artillery and small arms fire. There were some real heroic actions that day. One of the guys in my company from the Battle Patrol won the Medal of Honor, but I won't take you through that. It was tough in some places, and less tough in others. One reason for this was that a lot of these troops were not prime German troops. They had a lot of Russians and Poles that they had captured and, who were offered a place in the German Army instead of being put in a forced labor camp ... And a lot of them accepted. They didn't put up the same fight that the Germans did, but they had enough of the seasoned German veterans among them to maintain an acceptable level of discipline. But the Division came ashore and it was a successful landing. My regiment had 58 men killed in action that day. Most of the people we lost, but certainly not all, were lost due to mines, either blown up with their landing craft or on the beach itself.
SH: Has the training for this landing been changed from any other amphibious landing that had been tried before along the beaches of Italy?
RC: I don't really know, because I hadn't participated personally in any of the earlier landings, but I don't think it was much different. I think it was very likely pretty much the same.
SH: Please continue.
RC: Well, we fought our way inland, and there was serious fighting some days, and other days we'd make a big move. The people who planned this thing, planned a pincers around the retreating German Nineteenth Army near the town of Montelimar. They were cut off, and we called in the P-47s and they came and strafed and bombed this column of German vehicles and retreating soldiers, and, of course, the artillery was trained on them too. We did what should have been done on the road to Rome. There's a picture in there that shows it was a total mess. I never saw so many dead horses. The road was impassable for vehicles until an Army bulldozer went through and cut a path. And there were railroad cars, the railroad ran parallel to the road, and they were blown up. After that, I guess, we were able to move for almost a hundred miles without heavy opposition. ... Then going forward in France, this was where my platoon got a lot of work, because it was what was called a liquid situation. Neither side knew exactly where the other was, and it was my job to find out. We would go out on these jeep patrols until we drew fire, and then, we wouldn't stay and fight them. We would get out of there and report the intelligence information back to the command post. ... In that capacity, we liberated, I can't tell you how many French towns that had been under German occupation for four years, and those people were beside themselves with joy. They'd line the road and cheer us, and the old women would hand us bottles of wine and fruit. Young girls would climb on our jeeps, kiss us and hug us, and it was a thrilling experience. They were so happy to see us. And they rang their church bells continuously.
SH: Did you have any interaction with the French resistance? You talked about the Italian resistance, but were there Free French?
RC: Not much. I remember once at one overnight stop. We were on a wooded hilltop and somebody brought in three or four of these French resistance guys with FFI armbands. They had an American light machine gun. I don't know where they got it, but they were having trouble with it. They didn't know how to adjust the head space, and as a result, the shell casings would burst in the chamber. ... They came over to me, because I spoke French fluently at that time. I had two years in high school and two more years at Rutgers, and I was able to show and tell them how to do it. But that was the only time that I remember having any direct conversation with any French resistance fighters.
SH: Did you to speak in your capacity as an intelligence officer to any of the French?
RC: Not in an interrogation sense. I didn't get involved in gathering information from them, I mean, not strategic information. I would ask them, "When did the Germans leave and how many tanks did they have and where did they go?" but nothing in the interrogation sense, just information for my own use. We called that the "Champagne Campaign." We moved very rapidly, the casualties were relatively light, and the welcome we got from the people was something that was entirely new to us. We'd never seen anything like that before and we really enjoyed it. I'll tell you about one such patrol. ... The colonel, showed me a place on the map and said, "I want you to take a patrol out here. Go to this place, about five or ten miles out. The Krauts are withdrawing. We don't know where they are." he said, "And rather than have you come all the way back again," he said, "we're going to follow you later." At that time, we had service company making signs for us. They would cut up cardboard ration boxes, spray them white, and then they would spray through a mask, a coded regimental insignia and arrow. We'd carry a bunch of these in the jeep, and we marked the route, nailing them to trees or poles, because we were on the roads. ... The colonel told me about where he wanted me to locate the CP if I didn't run into any Germans. So we found the place, it was a big French farm, and it had a really nice chateau. I set the chateau aside for the CP staff and then posted my guys in the surrounding farm workers'cottages, forming a loose defensive ring. I took the forward cottage myself, the one farthest north, and with my driver and my platoon runner, [PFC. Bigler was actually my bodyguard], he carried a forty-five [caliber] Thompson submachine gun, and we went into this house on a hillside. The farmer and his wife were real pleasant, glad to see us, and I was jabbering away with them in French over the kitchen table. We'd stacked our weapons in the corner. It was starting to get dark and the woman asked us to have dinner with them. We said, "Sure, we'd love to do that, and we'll share our C Rations with you." Oh, she thought that was great, because she hadn't seen any meat in a long time. She said, "I'll go down and get some potatoes." ... This house was on the side of a hill, so that there was a cellar stairway, but it in the back of the house, the cellar floor was at ground level, and the floor at the front of the house was also up at the ground level. She went down the cellar, and she was gone for about five minutes, while I talked to the farmer. Finally she came up the cellar stairs and she had her apron full of potatoes. She said, "There are Germans in the cellar," and I asked her, "How many?" and she said, "About a dozen." I said, "Do they have guns." And she said, "Oui, beaucoup de fusils!" And I thought, "What am I going to do with twelve armed Krauts in the cellar?" I figured if they got up the stairs with a machine pistol, we were dead, so I told Bigler, "Take your machine gun and cover that cellar door, while I go outside and cover the back windows and the cellar exit with my carbine. And Steele, you go round up as many guys as you can find in a hurry and get them over here." It was dusk and getting almost dark, and I repeated, "Hurry." ... Steele brought back about a dozen guys, and one of them was Corporal Nessman, who spoke German. I told Nessman, "Yell into that door, 'come out with your hands up, or we're going to throw grenades in the windows.'" He did and nothing happened. I figured, "What's going on here? Did that woman make a mistake?" So I said, "Tell them again and tell them 'here come the grenades.'" Three of them filed out of the cellar door with their hands clasped over their heads. "Where are the rest?" There were only three of them, and we asked them, "Where are the rest?" They told us that the sergeant in charge of their squad, when he saw us coming in with the jeeps and machine guns, hid the squad in the cellar of this house. He was waiting for dark to make their escape through the nearby wooded area around the lake. So the Kraut told us, "The sergeant held the woman, the French woman, as long as we could and then he told us to go out the window and into the woods. We're going to beat it out of here. Three of us decided that we didn't want to do that, we wanted to give up, we had enough," and so they lagged behind and these were the three that came out. The other nine escaped but we didn't really care if they got away. They were probably a recon patrol just like us, and they weren't looking for a fight. They wanted to find out where we were.
SH: They knew now.
RC: They knew and we knew.
SH: That would give you indigestion.
RC: You know, when you think about it, at the time, it didn't make a big impression on me, but when I thought about it afterwards, they had machine pistols, and all they had to do was have one man creep up the stairs, throw that door open and he could have killed the three of us. Our guns were stacked in the corner. Strange things happen.
SH: Please continue.
RC: It went on like that, big advances most days, until we got to the Vosges Mountains and the Germans put up a fierce fight there. It was good defensive territory, mountainous, wooded, and it was just a case of slugging it out for weeks on end. We lost a lot of men there. There are stories in the Regimental History of the fight they put up, and the valor of our guys, getting up close and relaying hand grenades to each other, to get them up close enough to pull the pin and throw the grenade into the German position. It was bad. That resistance finally weakened and was overcome. After that we got through the Vosges Mountains. It was cold, winter was coming on, and we went on and took the city of Strasbourg. The Germans had pulled out of there and this was wonderful. It was November or December and we hadn't been in an undamaged city since we left Rome. The Germans pulled back, both to the south and to the north of us. We were on the Rhine river, and we were the furthest most east Allied troops on the entire front, because we were on the southern flank. ... But we were sticking way out there, and the Germans then counterattacked us from both sides, concurrently with the Bulge attack to the north of us. It was a terrible fight. The First French Army was on our right, these were all Moroccans and Algerians under French officers, but they had American equipment and vehicles. They had an armored division, American Sherman tanks with French markings on them, and they were all over the place. We had to get through them. The plan was that we would open up a hole in the German perimeter, and then the French armored division was going to pour through and cut the Germans off down at the Rhine bridge near Neuf-Brisach. That was the plan. ... But, it didn't work out that way. We had an awful time getting through the French. I mean, they were all over the place, and there was confusion, just mass confusion. I was sent forward to set up an advanced CP in a little town near Selestat that the French were already in, because we were going to go through them. It was in the middle of the night. There was about a foot of snow on the ground. Temperatures were sub-freezing. I got into this town and there were American vehicles with French markings all over the place, tanks, trucks, jeeps, half tracks, trailers, many abandoned in the roadside ditches. ... I was looking for a house for our forward Regimental CP and every single house was full of French soldiers. I finally found a French officer, and I told him, "I've got to set up a CP. You've got to give me one good sized house." "No," he wouldn't do it, and I think if I were in his position, I wouldn't have done it either. But I wasn't satisfied with that, so I demanded that he take me to his superior officer, which he did. We were trudging along the street, and it was solid ice. A French tank, an American Sherman with French markings came along, and he was moving very slowly because of the ice. But he came to a slight downgrade right in front of us and the darned thing started to slide on the icy road and he must have hit the brakes and locked the tracks. It kept right on sliding. It wasn't a hill, it was just a grade, and there was a T-shaped intersection at the bottom. The tank went through the side of the house at the foot of the grade, and the floor wouldn't support the weight of the thirty-five ton Sherman, so it dropped right through into the cellar. I was standing there watching this craziness. But, anyway, he took me to the superior officer, and I explained what I wanted and why. He agreed and he told the junior officer, "Give him any house he chooses and vacate the house," and they did. ... But the battle after that was fierce and our casualties were very heavy because the French didn't do what they were supposed to do. They didn't go SE toward Neuf-Brisach. Instead, they went SW over to Colmar, which was a nice warm city, and they holed up in the city, and there they stayed, while we were left to fight the rest of the way to Neuf Brisach. The American infantry had to fight its way SE with only the armor that was attached to our Infantry Division. ... I had some scary experiences. My company, Hq. Co, 7th Inf, went into the attack with six officers. Ten days later, three had been KIA and two WIA and evacuated. As sole surviving officer, I became acting company commander, I promoted two sergeants to 2nd Lt. and we kept going. There were two towns, Beisheim and Kunheim, about a mile apart. The fighting was going on in the flat farm country between the two towns. Our CP was in Kunheim and the Germans were in Beisheim. I was in a house on the south edge of the village. We had blackout curtains on the windows. There were wooden shutters, but we hung Army blankets inside the wood shutters to make them light proof. The Germans were shelling our village all night. Most of the shells were going over our heads and into the center of town, but some of the flat trajectory shells would hit trees and then the shell fragments would come from all directions. ... I was writing a letter by candle light at the dining room table in this house, and there was a glass fixture, like one of these old Tiffany lamps, hanging over the table. There was no electricity of course. There was a disturbance over at the inside cellar door. The owner had come up from his refuge in the cellar and was trying to communicate with my sergeant. I went over there to find out what was going on. As I got out of my chair, a shell burst in a tree outside the house. I saw glass fragments falling down on the table. A shell fragment had come through the shutter, smashed the glass lighting fixture, went through the leather back of the chair I had been sitting in and lodged in the wall behind the chair. If I hadn't moved, I would have been dead, no question about it. ...Then I had two of my men (Ike Clanton and one other) with the first battalion that was fighting out there, to bring back POWs for interrogation. They started back in the darkness guarding twelve German POWs. They were ambushed on the way back by a German patrol and they were captured. The twelve Germans POWs were released, of course, except for two who were ordered to guard my two men and take them back to the German rear. On their way back, they were ambushed by an American patrol, my two men were freed, and they brought the two German guards back as POWs. But that's the kind of fighting it was. It was just craziness.
SH: You said the Moroccan troops in the French Army were a strange crew. Can you describe them?
RC: I don't know if you want to put this on the Internet. I mean, we went into some of the houses they had occupied, and they had defecated all over the floor. The bathroom, the john, of course didn't work, but they would fill it up, anyway, and then they looted anything of value in the house, and they destroyed other things just out of pure joy of destroying, I guess. Those were some of the things that I'm talking about. They were North Africans, and they didn't have their tents and camels. They had a different attitude toward life than we did. ... Well, we finally made it to Neuf-Brisach and eliminated the German bridgehead west of the Rhine. Beverly and I went to visit that area when we went to Europe on a vacation trip. We happened to be close, and we went back to Kunheim. I wanted to see the house. ... Right on the edge of town, where all the fighting had been going on, there were no monuments there, no mention of Americans, but there was a big concrete pedestal and there was an old Sherman tank up there with all French markings on it and a plaque explaining how the First French Army and the Second French Armored Division had come through here and driven all the Germans out. I was there, and there wasn't a Frenchman anywhere within fifteen miles of us, and yet that's the way history is remembered in that part of Alsace. Of course, there was no mention of the Moroccans and Algerians either. ... Well, anyway, after the Krauts were driven out, we were trucked north to a little town north of Nancy. It was called Dieulouard, where we were to integrate replacements and undergo river crossing training in preparation for the Rhine crossing. There was a river there, I forget which one it was. We had a lot of new replacements because our casualties had been so heavy in the Colmar Pocket. They were fresh off the boat and they needed training. So we were there for a week or two, training, and then we attacked into Germany, into the German town of Uttweiler, and there was another fiasco! It was a night attack and our second battalion made this attack. They advanced through a mine field outside the town, and their supporting armor lost a couple of tanks to anti-tank mines and the rest of the tanks withdrew. The infantry pressed ahead and took the town by dawn. ... The Germans counterattacked at dawn with nine tanks, and our guys didn't have a single tank, not one, and the Krauts just leveled the town, the buildings down right on top of our infantry. Three quarters of the battalion was lost, most of them captured, but a lot of them were killed or wounded. And the Germans retook the town and then pulled out again, retreated again. But now we were in Germany ...
SH: Why do you think they didn't try to hold it?
RC: Well, I don't know for sure, but I think their overall strategy was to make as short a line of defense as possible, and if they had any areas that were poking out, they wanted to pull them back to shorten the line of defense. ... They knew at that point that there was not going to be any more advancing, and so they weren't too concerned about holding it, because next week, they would lose it again, if they didn't lose it today. ... Anyway, we continued on into Germany and we were getting close to the Siegfried Line. My company commander summoned me, and he said, "I have some good news for you. How would you like a three day pass in Paris?" ... It was an R&R program that I didn't even know existed, and I'd been with the regiment at that time for fourteen months and hadn't had a single day off. So he said, "Take a jeep and driver." I took Steele, of course. He said, "You've got two days to drive to Paris, three days in Paris and two days coming back." So we took off. We stopped at service company to get some of our clean clothes that were stored back there and we had a wonderful time in Paris. We had three whole days. We couldn't keep the jeep, they impounded the jeep because it would get stolen in the city, but the subway was easy to get around, the French people were ...
SH: Were the subways running?
RC: Oh, yes, the subways were running in Paris, but only until 10 PM at night. In Paris, you wouldn't know there was a war going on. I saw more French soldiers in Paris than I did in the Colmar Pocket, which was where they were supposed to be. Honest to goodness, it just turned my stomach to see all these French soldiers in Paris. But, anyway, we saw all the sights, went up in the Eiffel Tower and the whole bit.
SH: Was the Louvre open?
RC: I didn't check. I saw it later on a vacation trip with Beverly, but, at that time, the Louvre was not at the top of my priority list. ... I did go over to check out the La Place Pigale, which the GIs called "pig alley," but that was higher on my list than the Louvre at the time.
SH: You talked about the "Champagne Campaign," but you never mentioned having tasted any of the champagne. Did you get to taste?
RC: Oh, yes. I guess some of it was champagne, a lot of it was wine or Calvados, which we called "white lightning," but every time we went through a new village, the French people were handing us bottles.
SH: You raided a few bottles.
RC: Whenever possible!
SH: What else did you see in Paris?
RC: Well, I had my picture taken at a portrait studio, which I sent home. Still have it in the living room. (A guest once asked if that was my son!) I was billeted in a hotel in the Place de la Concorde and I visited the sidewalk cafes on the Champs Ellysee, saw the Arche de Triomphe and L'Etoile, the whole bit and in three days, we had to go back. My driver was billeted at a separate hotel, that's the way the Army operated, but we met at the motor pool and we headed back. We had two days to get back, but we were making really good time, because the Red Ball Express, which was the Quartermaster Corps supply line with all the African-American drivers had the right-of-way. In fact, most of the roads we were on were one-way going back, and we just sailed right through in our jeep. Toward the end of the first day, it became pretty obvious we wouldn't need the second day, so I told Steele to keep right on going, we'd get back early in the evening. We found regimental headquarters in Frankenthal, Germany, which was near, very close to the Rhine River. I reported in a day early, and the company commander said, "Well I'm glad to see you. I've got a job for you." ... He said, "We're crossing the Rhine tonight, and we have a platoon of amphibious tanks attached. I want you take a jeep and reconnoiter a route down to the river bank suitable for tanks. Then come back and lead the tanks down to the river. They're going to cross the Rhine, right next to the autobahn bridge." The autobahn bridge was blown in the middle, but it was a high suspension bridge and was a good marker. You could see it against the night sky. So we did, Steele and I. It was cross-country, farm country, and there weren't any roads, but it was like a flat flood plain for the Rhine River. It was very quiet and I wondered why I didn't see any troops on the way up. I found out much later, that the infantry crossing was on the other side of the autobahn, on the other south side of the bridge, and they were all over on the other side of the elevated highway which is why I didn't see them. But the tanks were crossing on this side, on the north side of the bridge. I was reconnoitering for the tanks. So we got down right to the riverbank, and it was no farther away than that wall. I looked over the edge and it was about a four-foot drop to the water. It was flowing very fast. I read afterward, the current was eight miles an hour, and the river was about 400 yards wide. And these amphibious tanks would be dropped in there. Oh, my God, a four foot drop into 8 mph water, thirty-five tons, crazy! And it was so quiet! There was no firing, there was no artillery, there was nothing. It was unnatural! It was eerie! I could hear the water swishing against the bank of the river, the only sound other than the soft idle of the jeep's engine. So we turned around, came back to the CP, and here were the four amphibious tanks lined up. The tank platoon leader proudly showed me the features of the tank. It had a metal framework, with rubberized canvas on it, that would raise hydraulically and give the tanks sufficient buoyancy to float. They had two small propellers in the back, so they could steer and propel it, and there were four of them, each with a 75-mm gun up front. I said, "Okay, then, follow me," and we got in front with the jeep and we went forward in single column. The clanking of the steel tracks and the roar of their engines sounded deafening, and I thought to myself, "My God, when we get down to that river bank, with all that noise, they're going to alert every German within five miles." The four tanks followed us back up to the river, following the same path we did the first time. When I'd been down there the first time, I noticed that there was no cover on the other side of the river. It was just more flat flood plain. There must be enemy anti-tank guns over there, but where the heck are they, I wondered? Then I looked at the bridge approach, and they had to be under that bridge approach, because that would give them overhead cover and they can't be seen from the air. And I thought, "why in the heck are we crossing right here within range of the guns?" But that wasn't my job.
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RC So we went down to the river bank, and we got down within, oh, I guess, it was ten yards of the river bank, and we slowed down and stopped and I told them, "This is as far as I go." ... And with that, a shell came across the river from underneath the bridge ramp, hit the tank behind me, no more than forty to fifty feet away, exploded and the tank started burning. When it started to burn, it lit up the whole area, and then they started firing at the other three tanks. Steele and I dove out of the jeep, and I was looking for a hole. We found a sizeable hole there, a bomb crater, probably from an earlier air raid on the bridge. We got into that hole and the tank and anti tank shells flew back and forth over our heads. Then our tanks stopped firing and artillery air bursts began right over our heads. I mean, it was like the 4th of July. You could see the things exploding, but it was shell fragments coming down, not fireworks. They all seemed to to bursting at the same height, and that puzzled me, because the Germans didn't have the proximity fuse then, but we did, so I figured it's got to be our own artillery firing short. We were in this hole looking up, and we had no overhead cover. A hole was fine against the anti-tank guns and their shell fragments, but [with] artillery air bursts, we were really in big trouble. But it didn't much matter whose it was. We couldn't stay there. The only cover was the bridge ramp on our side, so Steele and I took off running. We abandoned the jeep and we took off for the bridge ramp, and we made it. In the meantime, this overhead shellfire was still going on. So far as the tanks were concerned, I learned afterwards, from the regimental history, that one tank was totally destroyed, two more were damaged to the point where they couldn't use their inflatable gear, and the fourth one was missing, which means he turned around and ran. ... But we got back to the CP on foot. It was cold and I had been wearing my wool shirt, wool sweater, a heavy pile-liner jacket and my field jacket over that, so I was puffed up. My left arm started to hurt something awful, so I stripped off some clothes, and looked at it and it was every color of the rainbow, blue, green, yellow and purple, and it was very sore and swollen. The regimental aid station was close by, and I went over to see the doc. "Oh," he said, "you've got no problem there. You got hit with a large spent shell fragment and your heavy clothing cushioned the blow. It will clear up in a few days." So then I went back to my company commander and I told him what happened, and he said, "Yeah, I heard about it." He said, "The tanks radioed back. But we have another solution to the problem now." He said, "The engineers are putting up, or have put up, a pontoon bridge about 10 miles north of us at Worms. I want you to lead a platoon of conventional tanks up to the bridge, take them across the bridge and bring them back down the other side to support our troops." I said, "But there's nothing but Germans over there," you know. No, I didn't say that, but that's what I was thinking, but you don't question your commanding officer's order, especially when you are just back from a leave in Paris! ... So we did. I got four conventional tanks and they followed me. The reason you have to lead these tanks and, particularly at night, is that they have very limited visibility. The driver can't see any more than about that much, and at night, with all the noise and everything, he's very limited. So they like, where possible, to have a jeep out in front that they can follow in column. So we went up there and the bridge was finished, and the tanks followed me across the bridge. I remember, I was leading the column, and I looked back. The rubber pontoon floats supporting the treadway, were depressed from the weight of each tank and the tanks looked as though they were rolling on the water. But, we got across with no problem and we started down the other side. There was a road parallel to the river and we went all the way down to the Autobahn bridge and never ran into anything. We went cautiously and as quietly as possible, but apparently, when fighting started at both crossing sites, the Germans pulled back to contain the bridgeheads, and we were in between the two bridgeheads. ... Then we couldn't get back across the river again, so we just stayed there near Sandhofen. I don't remember whether it was that night or the next morning, but they put a barge in the river to carry more tanks across. The engineers stretched a heavy cable across the river, firmly anchored on both sides. The barge had some kind of a pulley arrangement on the cable, and by steering the barge, they could use the power of the river current to take them across. Anyway, we got on the barge and we got a ride back. But it was quite a night.
SH: I hope you got a nap.
RC: You grab them when you can.
SH: You were as far as Worms now, right?
RC: Worms yes, that's where we crossed at Worms, and we were close to Mannheim, just north of Mannheim, and the little village of Sandhoffen on the east bank. There was quite a battle taking that town and the tanks we led over were badly needed. ... We started moving pretty fast. The Germans were folding up at that point. There'd be light resistance, but it was nothing like we had experienced before. We didn't know it, but I looked at it on a map later and found we had been headed for Berlin, on a direct line to Berlin on the map. ... All of a sudden we got this order to turn and head directly south. And then we were told little bit later that the Krauts had what they called the National Redoubt in the Bavarian Alps, where Hitler was supposed to hole up until the end. They had salt mines there and they had all kinds of stuff buried in the salt mines. The mountain passes were supposedly blocked. We got down there and that wasn't true at all. The German Army was collapsing, and we took prisoners by the hundreds. They were running from the Russians because they knew they would receive far better treatment as POW's from us. It got so bad that we didn't bother to guard them anymore. We'd run into them and just tell them, "Drop your weapons and keep going, go back, go back." We hoped somebody in the rear was setting up some concertina barbed wire enclosures. In fact, we passed one small convoy led by a German officer in a Kubelwagen, one of those military Volkswagens, and behind him were about eight or ten trucks loaded with German soldiers, standing in the truck beds shoulder to shoulder. They couldn't crowd anymore in, and they, apparently had got rid of their weapons and were headed to our rear. We just passed them going the other way. For the Generals, this was like Rome all over again, it was the case of who's going to be first into Berchtesgaden? If you see the movie, that's coming up, this HBO series Band of Brothers, they're going to tell you that the 506th Parachute Infantry was first into Berchtesgaden. Don't believe it, not true! I don't know what you think of this guy, Stephen Ambrose. He's no historian, he's a novel writer. He twists the facts to make a story that will sell. My 3rd Division Association has been fighting him for two years now to tell the truth, and he won't even answer their letters. But we were first into Berchtesgaden. I was there. I was in Hitler's Berghof on May the 4th. The place had been bombed by British Lancasters. There were deep craters, and it was pretty well blasted. Then the SS had burned it, but, of course, there wasn't much to burn, they're concrete buildings, it was just the wood that burned. We were there, and I took those pictures from Hitler's big window that looks out over the valley, and the big thing ...
SH: Let's go back to talk about this. You're talking about Berchtesgaden and we are looking at the pictures that Mr. Cloer had taken, actually.
RC: It's called the Berghof, which was Hitler's house. The place where he entertained Neville Chamberlin in 1939, after which Chamberlin claimed he had assured "Peace in our Time." The place had been burned by the SS, but there were underground air raid shelters in tunnels and stored down there was all kinds of stuff. We got several truckloads of the best wines and liquors in Europe and we celebrated the end of the war, and more importantly, our own personal survival.
SH: How long were you there and how soon after was the surrender?
RC: Well, this was on May the 4th, and the surrender was May the 8th.
SH: You just stayed there in that area until ...
RC: Until everybody realized that we were there first, and then we were ready to move on. After May 8th, we moved out of there and we moved into Salzburg, Austria, and that was our temporary occupation post. This was a regular army division I was assigned to. So they were still on Occupation duty twenty years later. But we were in Salzburg for about two months, not doing anything, just taking things easy and resting up, and we had nice quarters and all, while the Allied commissions were making their plans for the occupation. That was when I developed a high fever that was diagnosed by our Doc as malaria. I had apparently contracted it back at Anzio where malaria was rampant. But the Atabrine pills they gave us had kept it suppressed until now. They sent me to a tent hospital and I spent two weeks there on a canvas cot, taking more Atabrine and having my temperature taken three times a day. After the war, it only recurred once more during the spring after I got home. ... Then when the Occupation Zones had been agreed to, we were moved north a couple of hundred miles to a little town called, Bad Hersfeld on the Fulda River. It was also on the border of the Russian occupation zone and my 3rd Infantry Division was spread out along that border, to show the flag and to be sure there was no further expansion by the Russians.
SH: Did you have any interaction with the Russians?
RC: No. The border was very tightly sealed, guarded, and nobody was allowed to go across. In fact, some of the German civilians that tried it were shot by the Russians, and we didn't interact with them. But we did have a liaison officer, who I knew quite well and came home with actually. He'd been brought up in Perth Amboy, New Jersey and he came from a Russian family. He spoke the language as a child and so he was our Russian Liaison Officer. He would make a trip over there every day by jeep, and they would exchange information and, I guess, letters or whatever they did, and he's the only one I know of that had contact with the Russians. That made him a rich man. I shouldn't have mentioned his name. I don't know if you want to get into the occupation, but I spent another six or seven months of occupation duty there. The inflation, of course, was terrible, because Hitler had been printing paper money for a long time, and all factories had been converted to wartime production, so there was nothing to buy. The German mark was highly inflated. Then when the occupying powers came in, we printed our own Occupation deutsche mark, which supplemented, but didn't replace the German currency. Then the inflation got really bad. The primary rate of exchange became American cigarettes. People didn't smoke them, they exchanged them like money, and you could divide a pack, two cigarettes, or five, or whatever, just like nickels. But the price on the black market, the price of a pack of American cigarettes was ten dollars in the official American script and was twenty dollars in the German original deutsche mark. We paid five cents a pack, with no tax, and we were rationed one pack per man per day. The Russians were willing to pay this, too, because, I heard, the Russian soldiers weren't paid during the war. But at the end of the war, they were paid up to date in occupation currency, and not allowed to send the money home or convert it to Russian rubles. So they had lots of paper money and nothing to buy. And their occupation currency was identical to ours, made from the same plates supplied by the United States. The problem was, our soldiers didn't have access to the Russians, because you couldn't get across the border if you were interested in the illegal black market.
SH: Was there any chance that you would wind up being sent to the Pacific before the end of the war?
RC: Oh, yes. We certainly didn't want any part of that. There was about a three month gap. What the Army did, was send home first, all the divisions which had come overseas near the end of the war, which hadn't been faced with much combat yet and whose people hadn't had much time overseas. They were going to send them to the Pacific, and the veterans of the European war would do the occupation duty. And so they sent those divisions home right away, home, because that was the shortest way to the Pacific, and then they sorted all the rest of the soldiers and officers on a point system. You got a point for every month in the Army and another point for every month overseas, five points for every decoration, five points for every dependent, five for every campaign and so on. You had your own individual point score, and then they took the very low pointers, the ones who hadn't seen much service, and sent them home too, to go to the Pacific. Then the atom bomb was dropped, and all those guys were at home or on their way, so they were discharged. What else could they do with them? They all went home, and we were still in Germany and there were no replacements coming over to speak of anymore, because the war was over. So the old timers ended up getting stuck over there for another six, seven months. I didn't get home until late January of 1946. To make matters worse, the Army was trying to retain its combat experienced officers, get them to sign on with the regular Army for five years, and as an incentive, they offered a thirty day leave at home with thirty days travel time each way. So a lot of the junior officers, particularly those that got battlefield commissions and had no real job prospects at home, grabbed this. They thought it was terrific. So in my company all the officers disappeared. Two of them took advantage of this offer and went home on leave. Another was a warrant officer, who was an old timer in the Army. They promoted him to captain, sent him home, and retired him. ... The next thing you know, I was the sole officer in headquarters company, the only one, so they couldn't send me home because I was essential. I was really ticked off about that. I wanted to go home in the worst way. But I had to stay until they were ready to send me home. Actually, the only reason they let me go then is that they had to. There was a 3 month limit on how long they could hold me beyond my elegibility date. I had enough points and they held me as essential as long as the rules allowed. And even then, the Colonel called me in to personally put the pressure on me to sign on for 5 more years with the added incentive of an immediate promotion of one grade.
SH: What did you do while you were on occupation duty?
RC: We made ourselves as comfortable as possible and manned the border of the Russian Occupation zone. I took over a resort hotel for the enlisted men of my company. ... The enlisted men had rooms in the hotel, and they were fed in the hotel dining room. I set up a separate junior officer's mess, there were about twenty of us, not all from my regiment. We had other people there, the head of the local DP camp, (displaced persons), and we had a couple of Red Cross girls who ate there and the battalion surgeons and others. I took over the home of the owner of the factory in the center of town, a beautiful place, and we had our junior officers' mess there. We hired all German cooks, chefs actually. We had German waitresses, and our army cooks just lit the stoves, scrubbed the pots and rested. The food we had was terrific. I hired a guy, he had to be a former Nazi, but the AMG had cleared him, so it was all right. He was kind of my lieutenant for civilian affairs. All I had to do was tell him what I wanted done and he would come to attention, click his heels, and give me a "Jahwol, Herr Leutnant!" The farmers were in good shape, but the food distribution system had broken down completely, and people in the cities were starving. But the farmers had plenty of fresh food. So Herr Wulff would go out in the country, driving the captured kubelwagen that I assigned to him. He'd go out and trade our long-term storage, canned food, for fresh food. He would bring back fresh meat, fresh vegetables and fruit, milk and cream and the farmers were glad to trade it. That's what we subsisted on. So far as doing anything productive, it was another brain-deadening experience, because there was nothing productive to do. I was in charge of everything for this company. I was the CO, exec, motor officer, supply officer, mess officer, provost, you name it, I was it, because I was the only officer there, and yet I didn't have anything to do.
SH: Were there any displaced persons?
RC: Yes, there was a displaced persons camp in town, nearby, and it was run by a French woman. The UN was trying to repatriate them but and those people wouldn't go home. They were East Europeans, and so far as I know, two years later they still had the problem. They didn't know what to do with them. The United Nations was feeding them.
SH: Were you anywhere near any other camps, the labor camps, the concentration camps?
RC: Oh yes, we went through Dachau during our attack south back in April '45. I wouldn't say we were there first , but we were there while inmates were still wandering around like zombies in their black and white striped suits. We weren't allowed inside the barbed wire, because they told us there was danger of typhus, but I don't know whether there were other reasons as well. My strongest recollection is that outside the wire, there was a railroad siding with machine gun emplacements having a field of fire that would cut off any attempt at escape from the tracks. There was a freight train on that siding with about 30 gondola cars and boxcars, and they were loaded with naked corpses of people who had been starved to death. Every bone in their body poked through the skin. They couldn't have weighed more than 50 or 60 pounds each and there must have been several thousand of them! I learned later that they had been shipped from another camp that didn't have a crematorium. At the end of the war, when the Nazis were trying to evade the Russians, they put these people on trains and sent them to the camps that had crematoriums to dispose of them. But before they could cremate them, we overran the place, and so the bodies lay on those freight cars. It was bad, so bad that we didn't really understand what had happened.
SH: Where did they send you, after your occupation duty was over, to come home?
RC: They trucked us to a place called Eberbach, Germany on the Nekkar River, where the Eighty-fourth Division was being used as a vehicle for people who had enough points to go home at that time. We sat there for, I don't know, two or three weeks in the dead of winter, and we didn't do anything. We were just waiting for transportation. While we were there, General Patton died from the injuries he received in an automobile accident, and we were asked to volunteer and go down to Heidelberg to serve as an honor guard at his funeral. We refused to go to General Patton's funeral. We wouldn't go and at that time discipline had broken down, and there was little Army discipline left, especially for those of us on our way home. We stayed there for about two weeks, and then transportation came, and they trucked us out to the rail yards. It was January 1946 and very cold, and here's the train ... just like we had in North Africa. And the freight car doors were wide open and the C rations were probably frozen solid inside the cars. I was with this fellow Rebovich who I mentioned earlier. Up front behind the engine, just like in North Africa, there were two Pullman cars, bathed in steam, but these were for the Transportation Corps crew that was responsible for the move. Nobody else was allowed on them. So Rebovich nudged me, he looked at those boxcars, and said; well, I won't repeat the expression, but it was a choice piece of Army vernacular. We strode up to the head of the train and we still wore our pistol belts with our .45 caliber pistols, our combat jackets with the well known 3rd Division patch, combat boots, Combat Infantry Badges and all that, and we went up to the front steps of the front Pullman car, with a big "off limits" sign on it. But we went right up the steps and the two of us walked in. There was a carpeted office in the first half of this rail car and there was a Transportation Corps captain in his class A uniform, sitting behind a desk covered with papers. And it was warm! We called these guys REBS, (rear echelon bastards). His sergeants were out loading the troops, and he looked up and said, "What can I do for you gentlemen?" And Rebovich said, "I'll tell you what you can do for us. You can make room for us up here in this nice warm car for the rest of this trip. We've been freezing our asses in wet foxholes for two XXXXing years and By God, we've had enough! The captain said, "All right, why don't you two gentlemen make yourselves comfortable in the rear half of the car." ... So we did, we went to the back of the car where there were compartments. In the compartments, there were fold-down bunks and comfortable bench seats. And it was warm! The Captain came back after a while, after the three sergeants were back aboard, and the train got underway. He showed us where the latrine was, which they didn't have in the back of course, and he said, "We've got our own cook in the second car and some GI stoves. We have hot meals here." We woke up next morning to the smell of frying bacon and hot coffee. It was a two-day trip to Le Havre, France, and we rode up there in those warm Pullman cars which was very nice. ... They took us to Camp Philip Morris, named after cigarettes, and we were there for about ten days, I guess, while we waited for a ship. Finally the Liberty ship, a freighter named "Maritime Victory", came in, and we were all loaded aboard that thing but it wasn't at all like the transport we came over on. There were canvas bunks layered 5 or 6 deep. We set sail for New York. It took eleven days and the January North Atlantic storms were absolutely awful. The captain would announce over the loudspeaker system how many miles we had covered the previous day. I remember one day we covered minus fifty miles because the storms were so bad, and there was groaning throughout the ship following his announcement. I was so sick, I lost fifteen pounds in eleven days. The floor was going up and down like an elevator. I didn't eat anything. The guys would sometimes bring me an orange from the mess, but I was seasick continuously. ... But we finally crept into New York Harbor. Every man was on the cold and windy deck watching for the first sight of "home." The Statue of Liberty gradually appeared out of the haze and chills ran up and down our spines. The Lady of Liberty appeared to be moving toward us to welcome us home. ... Then we pulled into the New York docks, but there was no welcome of any kind whatsoever. I mean, everybody had forgotten the war was over. That had been taken care of back on V-J Day, V-E Day or whatever. We were put on a train that took us to Camp Kilmer. We were there for about two or three days of processing out, and they put the heat on us there to sign up for the Reserve. I was promoted to Captain at the separation center, and the message was, "If you sign up for the Reserve, you can't lose. If you get called back, everybody is going to get called and you may as well come back as a captain instead of a private. (Nobody had ever heard of a limited war at that point.) You're not required to go to any meetings or any activities at all in the Reserve. If you choose to, you get paid at the rate of a captain for the time spent, but it's up to you whether you want to take advantage of it or not. You get retirement credits and the whole bit." So it looked like a win-win situation, and I signed up for 5 years along with a majority of the other officers. ... In about 1947, I was working for Curtiss Wright as an engineer, and they sent me to Wright-Paterson Air Force Base to coordinate testing being done there with what we were doing of a similar nature. To avoid duplication, we would exchange information. I found out there were Air Force officers out there doing the very same thing that I was doing as a civilian at Curtiss Wright.
RC: Oh, the Reserve, yes. So the thought occurred to me, (there was no threat of the Korean War at that point), but why do I want to be an infantry unit commander when I can be an Air Force officer, so I applied for a transfer to the Air Force Reserve, it went through and I was assigned a new MOS. Instead of being an infantry unit commander, I was now an Air Force design and development officer. When the Korean War broke out, we had three children under school age, and it would have been a real hardship if I had to go. Infantry unit commanders were recalled by the hundreds. But they didn't need any design and development officers so I didn't have to go!
SH: You had me hanging there. I thought maybe you didn't change.
RC: It was a stroke of pure luck, but I sure wouldn't have wanted to go ...
SH: Can you tell me when you got your Combat Infantry Badge, and do you remember how it came about having it pinned?
RC: Well, that's the most impressive decoration that I've got. I have more respect for that than for anything else. I received mine, three or four months before D-Day in Normandy, on the Anzio Beachhead (in March of 1944). I think it was the first distribution of the Combat Infantry Badge that was ever made. It was brand new and there was no ceremony at all. They were passed out like slices of bread at dinner, but not to everybody. There was a list of names, but there was no ceremony.
SH: We had a gentleman that got his from Patton, not to send you over the top here. Can you tell me about your Bronze Stars with the oak leaf clusters?
RC: That sounds like the Patton I knew! Lots of reporters and news photographers there, no doubt. ... Yes, I got the Bronze Star four times. The citations are in the book there, four of them. For the Bronze Star, they don't give a description of the action like they do for the Silver Star or Distinguished Service Cross, so all it says is, "For meritorious achievement in ground combat operations with the enemy between such-and-such a date and such-and-such a date." So you don't really know what action it was for. But based on the dates, I think I know what prompted each one even though it isn't spelled out on the certificate. For example, one, I think I got in the Colmar Pocket. We went to the attack with six officers in headquarters company, and within the first ten days, we had three killed in action and two wounded in action, and I was the only surviving officer, so I became acting company commander, promoted two sergeants to battlefield commissions and we kept right on going. Two others, I think were for the patrol into Rome and the Rhine crossing, both of which I described. I don't know about the fourth.
SH: Are any of others that are listed here, are there stories to go with them?
RC: I already told you about the Colmar Pocket campaign and how difficult that was. Well, my Division was assigned to the 1st French Army for that campaign. At the end of that campaign the French awarded the Croix de Guerre to everyone in the 3rd Division, so that's a braided red and green rope that you wear on your shoulder. Then not to be outdone, we got a Presidential Unit Citation for the same action. I think that's about it. Oh, excuse me. The ETO medal and ribbon with six battle stars, Anzio, Rome-Arno, Southern France, Ardennes-Alsace, Rhineland and Central Europe and also a D-Day arrowhead for Southern France. And the German Occupation Medal and the Victory Medal.
SH: Thank you. If you have a few more minutes, I'd like you to tell me about life after World War II.
RC: Yes. We have no place to go but home. Well, I got home in January of 1946, something I'd been looking forward to for two full years. I was disappointed by the way it turned out. We had trouble communicating with each other. I didn't want to hear about cigarette rationing and meat rationing, and they didn't want to hear about what I did, unlike what you're asking me now, nothing like that. There was no discussion at all and it was an awkward situation for several months and then it gradually wore off, but it was a ...
SH: I don't know if the tape can hear, but Mrs. Cloer just said that as a young wife, with the returning veterans, they'd been told not to talk about the war. That was the advice they'd been given, because the war was so terrible.
RC: That's what I heard too, but I personally suspected that the nine out of ten soldiers who never saw combat were helping to spread that rumor. They didn't want to talk about it, because it makes them look less worthy than the rest of us who were over there. I know a few of them, and they don't want to talk about it. We have one close friend who was over there, and I haven't been able, I mean, I've really pressed him hard, but I haven't been able to find out yet what he did or where he did it. I guess I can understand it, but I think that had a lot to do with it. I took it easy then. I had sixty-three days of paid leave time coming, because I hadn't taken any leave ...
SH: You got back early from Paris, too.
RC: Yes, right, and that didn't even count. That was a special R&R deal (one of a kind) and wasn't charged to leave time. But I didn't really start to look for work for a couple of weeks. Well, they had that fifty-two/twenty club, you probably heard about that. It was like unemployment compensation. If you weren't working you could collect twenty dollars a week for fifty-two weeks, but that wasn't for me. I went down to the Rutgers personnel office, where I used to work, and I also stopped to see Major Cope. I was unkind to him. I really felt bad about those ROTC guys we lost from my class. He used to tell us in class, "The Infantry is the queen of battles." He said it with a capital I. "It's the only place you can close with the enemy." When I went to see him, after the war, I was still in my uniform, and he couldn't wait to take my overcoat off so he could see what he called my "fruit salad," the World War I slang for awards and decorations. At some point in the conversation, I remember saying, "I see you're still here closing with the enemy." It wasn't very nice considering his age, but I think he understood. ... The personnel office gave me several job leads. One of them was Western Electric, and the other was Curtiss-Wright, and I applied at both and was offered jobs at both. I took the Curtiss-Wright job. I was also offered a job by a friend of my father's who owned his own company. He wanted me to be comptroller of his company. I didn't want to be a comptroller, I wanted to be an engineer, and he owed me, which is why I think he offered it to me. He was German himself and his parents were still in Germany throughout the war. He hadn't heard from them in six years. While I was still over there on occupation duty, he had my father send me a letter with their name and address and asked if I would try to contact them. I didn't feel right about sending an army jeep to go looking for them, so I let it go for a couple of weeks. Then, a sudden need came up to to send a jeep to that area for another purpose entirely, a military purpose, and so I gave the address and the names to driver and asked them to see if they could get any information on the family. They found the family and they were alive, but they were really struggling. It was hell in the cities. His parents wrote a brief return note, which I then sent home, and he was very grateful. But I went to work for Curtiss-Wright in Caldwell, N.J. Actually, I took the Western Electric job first before Curtiss Wright got the offer off to me. The job was supposed to be as an industrial engineer, and I realized the second or third day, they were teaching me to be a time study man in the shop with a stop watch. I wanted no part of that, particularly since my father worked in a shop. But then Curtiss-Wright came through with an offer as an experimental test engineer, and I went to work for them. I was with them for thirty-five years, but I really enjoyed those early years the most. I was in the engineering department, we had about 400 people, 200 engineers and the rest were technicians, draftsmen and so on, and these people, most of them were close to my age but they had been there throughout the war. They had been deferred from the draft and I was the first veteran to be hired. Believe me, I got a lot of respect. I didn't make it difficult for them, but I really enjoyed those years. They had more engineering experience than I did, but after a few years, most of them were working for me! ... The company had some pretty nice benefits, and one of them was 450 acres of land in a wooded lake area near us, in northern New Jersey. They made this into an employee recreational area for exempt employees, and it cost practically nothing. But we were free to go there, and they had everything there, swimming, boating, fishing, outdoor bowling alleys, ping pong tables, tennis courts, basketball courts, swimming lessons for the kids, and Beverly used to go there with the kids several times a week. All of our kids got their ARC junior life saving badges there. It was nice. But I enjoyed other things about it, too. There were baseball, softball and bowling leagues and I just enjoyed doing those things with those guys. It was fun. I spent the first half of my time there in Engineering and the rest in management. I retired in 1980 as Director of Finance and Administration.
SH: How regularly did you get mail?
RC: I don't think they forwarded any mail until we were assigned to a unit, so for the first four to six or weeks, I didn't get any mail, because I didn't even have an address. After that, we started to get mail and we would get it regularly. The mail clerk (we called him "T/5 Willie"), would come around and deliver our mail by hand. All the mail seemed to come through, but it was two to four weeks late, and, of course, we really looked forward to those letters. I mean, it was a big deal, it was our only contact with home and our loved ones for two full years. I preferred the original hand written sheets rather than the V-mail photocopies they urged us to use. It seemed much more personal.
SH: Where you able to keep any of your letters?
RC: All of them. Beverly kept them. I didn't keep any of the ones I received because there was no place to keep them. Anything we kept had to be carried.
------------------------------------END OF SIDE TWO, TAPE TWO--------------------------------------
SSH: This continues and interview with Mr. Cloer on the 11th of September 2001. This is tape three.
RC: Excuse me for correcting your pronunciation but it is Cloer, not Cloyer.
SH: Sorry, please continue, Mr. Cloer.
RC: One thing I didn't mention is we were conscious of the GI Bill, of course, and its great benefits, including educational costs. So I decided I didn't want to pass up that opportunity, particularly after having worked so hard for my Bachelor's degree. So I went back to school nights, three nights a week, at Newark College of Engineering and received an MS degree in management. That was in 1954.
SH: What was it like to go back to school?
RC: This was not like a college campus. This was in downtown Newark, and the students were people who worked during the day and were going to school nights, so you didn't have the same college atmosphere. It was more like working the night shift than going to college.
SH: Did you use the GI benefits for a mortgage?
RC: Yes, on the first house we did.
SH: Where did you buy your first home?
RC: In Scotch Plains. I hated that house. I hated it! We paid 10,000 dollars for it, and it was one of those small Cape Cods with an unfinished attic. It was only one year old. It had been bought by a veteran, and he had deserted it and left a mortgage. So we got it for the mortgage value, but it needed a lot of work. I worked my tail off for five years maintaining and improving that place, and then, after five years, we moved to Livingston, and we had a nice house built there. We lived there for twenty-eight years until I retired in 1980, and then we moved to Florida.
SH: Let's talk a little bit about your family. I remember at one point in the interview, you talked about three little ones under the age of five?
RC: Yes, we had four children, two boys, two girls. One of the most important goals of my life was to see that they got a good education. I had such a difficult time myself that I was determined that they were going to go to college, and I paid their way, I paid tuition, room and board, the whole works. The only exception was that I thought it was good for them to get some work experience to balance their sense of values so they worked for their spending money and stuff like that. But when I sent the first one off to college, the Baby Boomers were all trying to get into college. She applied to five colleges, one of which was Rutgers, and Rutgers turned her down. I was furious and I wrote the president at that time, I forget his name, Bloustein, maybe ... I wrote, and said, "My daughter ranked in the twentieth percentile out of her class in Livingston High School, which is a good school, and why can't she get into Rutgers?" And he wrote back and said, "Well, you know, we're a State University now, and we're not allowed to give any preference at all to children of alumni," So the next time I got a call on the phone for a contribution, after having contributed for 20 years, I said, "You have the wrong number, try the governor's office." I was really ticked off. ... But, anyway, she was admitted to Syracuse University. We went up there for a football game week-end when she had been there about three weeks. She got out of high school at seventeen, and she said, "Mom and Dad, I've got to talk to you. I met this wonderful boy. He's a senior and when he graduates in June, we want to get married." My heart sank. Well, to make a long story short, I persuaded her to stay for three years at Syracuse, and then they did get married, same couple. She had two children and then started to go to school at night, and about five years ago, we went up to Boston for her graduation from Harvard with a Ph.D. I was so proud of her and we still are. ... Our second child was a boy. He did poorly in high school, and it was a case of his having priorities other than studying. When he graduated from High School his guidance counselor said that he wasn't going to get into any college and he recommended a trade school. I said, "No way, he'll go to college." I don't know whether you're familiar with Parson's College that existed at that time in Iowa, but it was an 80 year old church related school that had been taken over by a president who turned out to be thief and a crook. He was spending the capital assets to pay for current expenses, and he was hiring good professors from good universities, really good people. They were admitting almost anybody who would pay the tuition, I think. I mean, that's my opinion. But my son went out there and his grades were so poor that at the end of the second year I told him, "I'm not going to pay for anymore. If you don't want to study, I'm not going to pay." So he came home and he worked for one semester after which he went back and he graduated with an AB degree. ... I think one of the reasons he finished was that going to college carried with it a deferment from the Vietnam War. But I'm glad he didn't have to go. My second son went to the University of Tennessee, went right through in four years, and my youngest, she quit after a year and half at Western Carolina University to get married and never did go back. I couldn't convince her otherwise, but she's happily married and has three children. They're happy.
SH: Do any of your children live around here in Florida where you retired?
RC: No, Boston, San Francisco, Charlotte and Princeton.
SH: Hopefully, when you come up to visit the one in Princeton, you come by and say hello.
RC: You know, I would love to, but I haven't been able to do any traveling for a long time. This is the farthest I've come in five or ten years.
SH: I have one more question, which from some of your writings I think I already know, but I would just like you to tell me how you feel World War II impacted the man I'm interviewing today, good or bad?
RC: It was the greatest adventure of my life. I wouldn't want to do it again, but it was the greatest adventure of my life. I think the word that describes it best is intensity. With the exception of the few periods I described as brain-deadening boredom, we lived with such intensity, every minute of every day, and you could see what you were accomplishing, you can see the results of what you were doing, and you knew it was right. It gave me a wonderful feeling. It still does. In the words of author Lawrence Sanders, "Old soldiers dream of old battles, because with the sliding of years, memory of terror fades, and what remains is the fond recollection of intensified life, of moments so electric, so bursting, that everything after is thin porridge."
SH: Well, I thank you very much, both you and Mrs. Cloer for coming.
RC: And thank you, Sandra, for listening! And for giving me the opportunity to participate in this Oral History project.
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Reviewed by Kathryn Tracy 11/30/01
Reviewed by Sandra Stewart Holyoak 12/10/01
Edited by Russell Cloer 12/25/01