Kurt Piehler: This begins an interview with Dr. Leonard Weissburg on March 28, 1996 at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey with Kurt Piehler and ...
Christopher Iannicelli: Chris Iannicelli.
KP: And I guess I would like to begin by asking you a question about your parents, particularly your father who was a dentist, and do you know what led your father into dentistry?
Leonard Weissburg: My father was an extremely mechanical person. His whole life was using his hands. A curious thing is, when he finished high school, he went over to Steven's Academy in Hoboken and applied there. He was admitted right on the spot, which is the way admissions worked in those days. This was about nineteen hundred and seven or nineteen hundred and eight. He spent about a week there and didn't like it. So he decided the following week to go over to New York to Twenty-third Street to what was then the New York College of Dentistry and applied there, and he was admitted on the spot, and that was it. He didn't need pre-dental, he had no college before that other than the week he spent at Steven's, and he went to what is now NYU Dental School and became a dentist. He was very fortunate in the fact that he spent his entire life doing something that he just loved, using his hands and working with people.
KP: So he really liked his profession?
LW: He was wild about it. When he wasn't working on people he was down in his workshop working on mechanical things. As a matter-of-fact he spent his day off every Friday for two years and built a house for a friend on Greenwood Lake, including the plumbing, wiring and everything else. He was extremely mechanical. He loved that.
KP: So but for a twist of fate he may have well ended up at another, as an engineer or a ... another?
LW: Very likely.
KP: Your father was born in New York City and you were born in New York City. How did you end up in New Jersey?
LW: My father was born in New York City, I believe his parents were living in Jersey at the time, but they used New York hospitals, and the same applies to myself. My parents were already living in New Jersey, but I was born in Flower Fifth Avenue (Acute Care Center). I spent five days in New York and then moved back to New Jersey.
KP: And you grew up in Jersey City?
LW: Yes, I did.
KP: And your father had his dental …
LW: His dental office was in the house in which we lived. It was a four-story brownstone and he had his office on the second floor, and the rest of the house, two of the other floors we lived on, and one floor he rented out.
KP: As an apartment or an office?
LW: On the fourth floor there was a single lady who lived there for many, many, many years, and, he rented it out to her for the grand sum of fifteen dollars a month. Which included the use of the telephone and every other convenience you could ask for and a curious anecdote if I might interject. In the late thirties she came up to him and she said, " You know I think I've taken advantage of you all these years. I think you should raise my rent. I'm gonna give you sixteen dollars a month." That's a true story. Her name is Miss German.
KP: Your parents, do you know how they met?
LW: No, I really don't, because my father was living in Jersey City at the time, and my mother lived in New York, in the Bronx, I believe and, you know, that's an interesting question. I'll have to research it. I really don't know.
KP: You never heard stories over the table?
LW: No, I didn't. That's strange.
KP: Your mother sounds equally as interesting as your father in that, you mentioned on your pre-interview survey that she attended college.
LW: She went to Cooper Union College. She was also a very, very, extroverted person unlike my father who was rather shy. My mother had interviews with Franklin Roosevelt, Governor Moore of New Jersey. She also had a radio program once a week where she sang, sponsored by the Gillette Safety Razor Company. She had a remarkable voice and was an excellent pianist, very talented woman.
KP: What radio station did she sing on?
LW: I believe it was WJZ in those days, I wouldn't swear to that, but I believe.
KP: And it was a New Jersey station?
LW: No, that was a New York station.
KP: And she would go in once a week and ...
LW: And sing for fifteen minutes on the radio.
KP: While you were growing up?
LW: It was when I was very young and I just don't recall. I just saw the newspaper articles ...
KP: But it didn't stop after you were born, in other words.
LW: Yes, it did.
KP: Oh, it did.
LW: It stopped when I was very young.
KP: Oh, okay.
LW: Before I was able to really comprehend.
KP: Comprehend, and you mentioned that your mother had interviews with Governor Moore and President Roosevelt.
LW: Yes. She was very active in a lot of organizations, women's organizations. As a matter of fact, we lived in Jersey City two doors away from the Union League Club where Harry Moore spent a lot of time. So she spoke with him quite often, and once when Franklin Roosevelt was in Jersey City, I believe in regards to a WPA Project, whether it be in the hospital or Roosevelt Stadium, in the capacity of an officer in one of her organizations, she did have a chance to speak with him.
KP: Was your mother an early suffragette?
LW: Not really. No, I wouldn't say that.
KP: What organizations was she active in?
LW: She was active in a lot of Jewish organizations like the Hadassah, the Clara and Hirsch and organizations of that sort.
KP: No political organizations or …
LW: Not as I recall. She was like myself, a free thinker. If you ask me if I was a Republican or a Democrat, I would say I vote for the man on the basis of his merit. I've never ...
KP: Never voted straight ticket.
LW: I have voted straight tickets because I believed in what they were advocating but not because it was strictly a Democrat or a Republican issue.
KP: You mentioned that your mother was actually in a number of Jewish organizations. How observant was your family growing up?
LW: My grandparents were extremely observant. My parents were not at all. They had the spirit of it but as I am myself. I consider myself a religious person in that I believe in the Almighty and I believe in doing good. But formal religion and myself, I have my own views about, which I am not going to go into.
KP: Oh, no that's fine. So in other words, your parents didn't keep, for example, a Kosher household.
LW: Not really. But they did when their parents came.
KP: Oh. Did your mother ever go back to work when you were growing up or during the war particularly?
LW: No, she didn't.
CI: How did your mother become involved in radio?
LW: That I don't know either. I just know that she was sponsored by Gillette Safety Razor, by the Gillette Company, and that she had this fifteen minute radio program. How she obtained that ... this all started before I was born so I can't say.
KP: Did your mother ever sing again or did she ever perform publicly?
LW: Only at organizational affairs and always in the home. Every time you turned around she was at the piano singing, and as-a-matter-of-fact, my last recollections of my mother ... she passed away unfortunately of lung cancer in 1971, never smoked in her life which was rather ironic. But my last recollection of my mother is, I had visited her the afternoon she had passed away and as I left her house she was sitting at her piano singing "Moon River," and about three hours later I got a call at my office she had passed away. These are things that you remember.
KP: Jersey City, is often, in the years that you grew up, is identified with Frank Hague. Do you have any memories of Frank Hague and particularly since your mother was very active in a number of organizations?
LW: Yes, I ... he's passed away so I won't try to defame him but he ran the town. There was good and there was bad. He did keep organized crime out. It was a fairly safe town to live in, in those days. He himself ... like back to the time he was tried in Federal Court in Newark, and when he was convicted his answer was, " I am the law." I don't know if you remember that. He brought in some good things. He brought in some WPA projects, like the Jersey City Medical Center, which is quite a building, and other things like that. But I wouldn't vouch for his honesty for the simple fact that I believe his salary in those days was eighteen thousand dollars a year but he had millions in the Swiss banks. Where the money came from, I couldn't say. Another thing is that I remember the policeman in the precinct in which I lived, would come to my father's office and say, "Here are tickets you are going to buy." They didn't say, "Would you buy?" "Here are tickets you are going to buy," and he bought, and there was a lot of patronage there. The city in those days was fairly clean. What's happened to it now is ... I go down to where my father had his office, I won't go there again. It's just ... the homes all have iron bars in front of them to keep from break-ins. It's really deteriorated. I lived right near the City Hall, and prior to World War II it was a nice area. Today it's just a horror, it's really a horror.
KP: Growing up in your neighborhood, you mentioned you were near City Hall, were there mainly professionals that lived there?
LW: There were a lot of professional people in the area. I lived opposite a park. It was called Van Vorst Park in those days. The homes were, they were all brownstones, and very well maintained, and there must have been, it encompassed one square block, the park. But around that park I would say there were at least twenty-five or thirty professional men. After the war, several years after the war, they started renovating those and they were bought up by Russian immigrants. My father sold his four-story home to a doctor across the street whose brother had come over as a dentist from the Philippines. He sold them the four-story house and the dental office for the grand sum of ten thousand dollars. After the war they renovated all these buildings and then they were going for quite a bit, and had he kept the building, he wasn't a good businessman, had he kept the building ... after the war he could have gotten maybe a hundred and fifty or two hundred thousand. But he let it go for ten thousand and then he retired, and the reason he retired was because he was forced to. He was mugged three times in his office, at the age of eighty-six. We wouldn't let him go back there again.
KP: So your father really worked a long ...
LW: He would have, were he alive today, he would be well over a hundred, he'd still be working if it had been up to him, because he loved what he was doing.
KP: Your father must have had patients that spanned several generations.
LW: Oh, definitely.
KP: You went through the Jersey City school system. How good a system was it for preparing you for Rutgers?
LW: I'm prejudiced but I think it was marvelous. I live in an adult community over in Cranbury, and I ... if I hear someone speaking English properly I'm really impressed. Most of the people there came from Brooklyn, or other parts of New Jersey, and they all speak so poorly that a friend of mine, who is a physician, and I were always copying down the grammatical errors. I mean, " I ain't got no ..." "You don't know nothin'," so I'm prejudiced, but I think I got a terrific background at Lincoln High School in Jersey City. I think it was a fine school, and public school I thought was fine, too.
KP: Did your parents expect you to go to college?
LW: Oh, definitely. It would be unthinkable not to. I don't want to blow my horn but I was Salutatorian in high school and I graduated at a very young age. I graduated from high school before my sixteenth birthday, and if I were to say, " I'm not going to college," I wouldn't be here today.
CI: Did schoolwork always come easily for you or was it through a lot of hard work?
LW: I didn't have trouble but I applied myself. I was a conscientious student.
KP: When did you know that you wanted to become a dentist?
LW: I graduated from Rutgers ... I started Rutgers not knowing at all. I was too young, really. The first two years I drifted around from journalism, to math, to this, that. By the third year I decided, political science is for me and I intended on going to law school, and I graduated and I still aspired to going to law school, but I went into service. I enlisted, the war was on, and while I was in service I decided law is too vague. In other words, I don't want to do something where I have to work for someone else. That's because I came in contact with a lot of idiot sergeants and lieutenants while I was in service, and I didn't want to expose myself to...and you had to intern in law school in those days, and I just didn't want to work for somebody else. So I was sitting at my desk one day in the Army, this was after the war ended, just prior to being discharged, and there was a young WAC across from me and she said, " What are you going to do when you get out?" " I'm going to be a dentist," and it was a spur of the moment decision.
KP: So your father didn't necessarily want you to become ...
LW: Oh, he definitely did. Oh in the worst way. My mother was very opposed to it. She said, " It's a shame to use your, to waste your talents at dentistry." She said, "It's not for you." But I went against her.
KP: Why was your mother so opposed? She was after all married to a dentist.
LW: Well, I'm going to sound like I'm blowing my own horn, but she said, " I never heard of a Phi Beta Kappa becoming a dentist. Where would you use your intellect in dentistry?" So she was very opposed to it.
KP: It also sounds like the war was fairly influential. That but for the war, you may have gone to law school. Is that an accurate ...
LW: I would have, because I had gone into it, I had graduated with a degree in political science and I probably didn't have the inclination, or the effort to try starting over again. But I think I matured a little bit in service. I think I was a little immature in college. I started too young. I really have to say, I didn't know what I was going to do. I only picked ... why I picked dentistry to answer your original question other than the fact that there were several of them in the family, I really couldn't say.
KP: Just backing up a little. How did the Great Depression affect your family?
LW: Not as much as it did other families. But I do remember a certain instance. For instance, one Christmas I said to my father, this was about 1934, ... I was eleven or twelve years old ... must have been about 1935. I said, " You know what I'd like for Christmas? I saw one at Woolworth's. It was a small pool table." I think it was about nine dollars, and he looked at me very forlornly and said, "I don't think we can afford it this year." So we never wanted for food or anything like that. But I can remember, personally, I was not that much effected I was too young to realize . . . other then that one incident. But I did see other people, and I did see them selling apples on the street.
KP: So it sounds like your father was always able to make a living. But that money at times could be very tight.
LW: He made a living but not what he should have, because it was a labor of love with him, and he was a terrible businessman. He really was. When the neighbors, after the ... I'm gonna say things ... he'll understand if he hears me. After he retired, our relatives thought, "Gee he's been practicing now for sixty," it was sixty-four years he practiced, he got out of college at twenty-two. "Oh he's well set." But the last two years of his life my sister and I had to help him financially, because he had such a good heart that if a patient couldn't afford to pay him, he'd say "Forget it." If he sent a bill and they never paid it, he never sent another.
KP: He didn't ...
LW: Oh, he just forgot about it. He was doing what he loved best, and in that way he was a very fortunate person. If you put him in a dental office, he was in ecstasy. Money was so secondary to him. He did make a living, don't get me wrong, but he could have made far, far more then he did, had he been a good businessman. He was a very bad businessman.
KP: So it sounds like he just took patients regardless of their ability to pay.
LW: Oh, yes. He would never turn anyone away, and if ... for instance, if he'd write a prescription for someone and they couldn't afford to pay, he'd pay the druggist himself. You don't find that today.
KP: No. No.
LW: You certainly don't.
CI: You mentioned your father had quite a passion for dentistry. Did you hold the same passion?
LW: No. No. To be honest I enjoyed what I did more so for the personal relationships. The mechanical part was automatic. I found it a very stressful and intense profession. Because you work in a very limited area with moveable objects. You know, a two and a half year old child isn't going to sit still, and I wouldn't want to practice today, not with the advent of so many lawsuits, not with the AIDS and other communicable disease. But I found it stressful. But I did enjoy the personal relationships, and as my wife says, "You're more of a psychiatrist then you are a dentist.". I did a lot of family counseling. This is serious.
KP: No, I ...
LW: I got parents back with their children where they had thrown the kids out of the house, and I did things that were far beyond my province. But this is what I enjoyed doing.
KP: Well, you're also in the health profession, even as a dentist, you're seeing several generations, and so ... I'm also not surprised at all of the role outside of what people think would be a dentist. Why did you come to Rutgers? Had you thought of other schools?
LW: I applied to only two schools in those days. I applied to Cornell and I was accepted there, and I applied to Rutgers, also. But I got a Harry Moore Scholarship, the savings, also, I think my parents preferred it, although that was not the ultimate decision. Because I was so young, I figured this was, I wasn't too far. With Cornell it would have been several hours away, and I've never regretted it. Never.
KP: I was most intrigued by your survey that Professor Charanis, that a history professor, was your favorite professor. What do you remember about him?
LW: I remember that he had a sense of humor. I think the class was an hour. It still is, I presume?
KP: A little bit longer.
LW: Well, we had a class. It was up at Bishop Campus, as I was telling Chris, and he spent half the class calling the roll because he had nicknames for everyone. He had once seen a fellow named Frank Hutchens over at NJC, which is now Douglass College. So he referred to him, "Chicken Hunting Hutchens." I was "Mr. Outfield" because he saw me playing on the freshman baseball team, in the outfield, and he spent half the period calling the roll. That's not why I liked him. He made the course interesting. I had other professors that I like, too. But he comes to mind.
KP: A lot of other people have also mentioned Professor George.
LW: Yes. He asked me to write a paper for him on presidential succession my senior year. What he did with it, I don't know. So I am now able to answer questions on "Jeopardy."
KP: You were fairly active on campus. You played both baseball and a 150-pound football.
LW: Yes. Sports are my love. If I can interject, when I decided to retire in 1985, I had disliked the cold weather, and I now play golf and tennis. So I told my wife, "When I retire, if it's all right with you, we're going to move down South, to the Carolinas," not particularly far, where I could do all that, and am I taking up too much time?
KP: Oh, no. Go ahead, this is great.
LW: We were driving one day and she said to me, "Tell me, you're within a year or two of retirement, do you still intend on going to Florida or down South?" I said, "I certainly do," and she said, "I want you to picture the scenario: It's two years from now and it's the beginning of September, and Rutgers is opening the football season with Penn State next week. You're going to be down South?" I said, "You know what, you just talked me out of it," and I'm not ashamed to say, that I almost got tears in my eyes because of that. But the attachment with Rutgers has become almost an obsession. The people where I am, in Clearbrook, where I live, call me, "Mr. Rutgers."
KP: So Rutgers football you were particularly fond of?
LW: Well, let's put it this way. From 1952 on, until last year, I had not missed one Rutgers football game, either home or away. That was over a period of forty-three years, and the only game I missed was last year. We were on our way down to Miami. I got as far as South Carolina. I developed a physical problem which no one down there could take care of, my wife insisted we come back. So my streak ended, and I don't hope to emulate it again. I don't hope to make another forty-three years of perfect attendance. As a matter-of-fact because of that and the work I have done for basketball, I was president of the Court Club for two years, and I worked my way up as secretary. ... I was elected to Loyal Sons a few years ago. Anyone crazy enough to do what I ...
KP: Well, you must have some fond memories, particularly of the great Princeton-Rutgers game of '38, but are there any other memories?
LW: Art Gottlib to Moon Mullins, (score: 20 to 18). You know, as you get older your memory starts to fade, but when it comes to sporting events, particularly Rutgers football and basketball, it's just amazing how I can recall things from forty fifty years ago. It really is, and I can give you anecdotes from games from the forties, fifties ... right up to now.
KP: Do you regret at all, well, maybe not regret, but I'm always struck by the end of the great rivalry between Princeton and Rutgers. Do you ever wish we would ...
LW: It was a good rivalry. It's too bad because I always looked forward to what I called RP Day when Rutgers played Princeton. We took our lumps for years and years because we never beat them. As matter-of-fact, I think there was one period when we went thirteen years without even scoring a point. But once Rutgers decided to go so called "Big Time" and Princeton decided to de-emphasize athletics and went into Division IAA, there was really no point in playing them in football, because it's comparable to a college playing almost a high school team. They weren't having spring training, they weren't giving scholarships, and It would have been so one-sided that there was not much point to it.
KP: I saw a newspaper article and I was particularly struck by your attendance at a Harvard game.
LW: Was that in there?
LW: Isn't that funny. It was right after I got out of service. It was either '46 or '47 and I had a very good friend who lived up in the Dorchester section of Boston, and I was going to go visit him and also go to the Rutgers-Harvard game, and being a little short of funds I remember I had enough money to take the bus one-way but I decided to take the bus up and hitchhike back. The day of the game I was walking towards the stadium, I think it was called Soldier's field or something in Boston, and there were two Harvard fellows walking towards me, and one said, "Whom are we playing today?" and he said, "Rutgers," and he said, "Oh, I wish we were playing someone decent, I wanted to see a good game." So when we finally beat them that day, I was just bursting with pride. I never had such a good feeling in my life. Where did you see this?
KP: It was in an alumni file, which has all these sort of clippings of people. I think it was a Targum article. Unfortunately, Rutgers doesn't collect those sort of clippings on people like they used to, but it was a fun article to read.
LW: Isn't that funny. Well, that was the first time and the other time was when we beat Tennessee down in Tennessee. That was another exciting moment. The Tennessee people were so magnanimous in their praise, not like up in Syracuse or in West Virginia. Are you knowledgeable in this stuff?
KP: In terms of ... I've learned much about football in the forties and fifties but not as much as I should, but doing these interviews my gaps are being filled in.
LW: I'm trying to help.
KP: I guess one football player I always seem to ask about, particularly the Class of '42 ...Vinny Utz. Any memories of Vinny Utz?
LW: Number Forty-Four. Vinny was not a big fellow. He played on a very good team. That was one of Harvey Harman's teams. Vinny was a real go-getter. He had lots of spirit. He was very exciting to watch, and it's tragic how he ended up. I'm sure you know?
KP: Yes. No a number of people have mentioned that.
LW: I believe he parachuted out of a plane and had his leg blown off while he was coming down, and died in a tragic fire after the war. I remember Vinny very well.
KP: You played 150-pound Football. Did you ever wish you could have played with the regular team?
LW: No, I'm not a masochist. I weighed one hundred and forty-eight pounds. I weigh a hundred and forty-seven today. No. Never. I had always played baseball and I think I was pretty good at it. How I ended up playing 150-pound football is a story too, if you want to hear that? In my freshman year you were told either you had to take Phys-Ed[ucation] or go out for a Varsity team. So I decided, "Let's try cross-country." So the first day they walked us around the course, I think it was six or eight miles, and I said, "Boy, if they think I'm going to run that." So the next time I went down, I went out for the freshman 150-pound football. It was a ploy just to get out of Phys Ed, I guess. Not that I didn't like football, but other then that I don't know what else I would have done.
KP: So you were not a frustrated college football player who was stuck at a hundred and fifty?
LW: No. No. I knew my limitations. You don't play varsity football at a hundred and fifty pounds unless you have a death wish.
KP: What about baseball?
LW: Well, baseball I had always played, and again I hope my father forgives me. One day before college began, he came up to me and says, "Leonard, you'll never amount to a thing. All you're interested in is baseball." Well when I was at the University of Pennsylvania at graduation and I got my dental degree, I went up and I said, "You were right. I'll never amount to anything," and he laughed like the devil. But baseball I loved and I still try. I formed a softball team with seventy-year olds down at Clearbrook, where I live, and we got twenty people out. We play against each other occasionally and have a good time.
KP: You had joined a fraternity. When did you join your fraternity?
LW: After the first year I joined Phi Epsilon Phi, and I stayed in it for about two years. I never lived there, and I guess I'm a Phi Ep, but I've never been very active in it. There were a lot of things about fraternities in those days that I wasn't crazy about.
KP: Because fraternities were much more important then, than they are today.
LW: Because you live ... do they still live in the fraternities?
KP: Yes, they still live in them. But I've gotten a sense from interviewing, that your social life was very much determined in a fraternity.
LW: There was too much keeping up with the Joneses', certain ones had a car and they let you know it. I wasn't too impressed with it and, eventually, I moved back into the dorm. I think I maintained my membership. I went over and ate there, but that was about it. My circle of friends was more in the general part of the college. As I told Chris, if I'm correct, I think the enrollment at Rutgers in those days was either six or eight hundred in the entire college in the late thirties early forties. It was a private school run by the Dutch Reform Church, and I guess someone has told you in your prior interviews that regardless of your religious affiliation chapel attendance was compulsory.
KP: In fact, that's one of my standard questions, is how did you feel about going to chapel?
LW: I enjoyed it. We had great speakers. We had Norman Thomas. I'm not a Socialist, but I enjoyed hearing him. We had Wendell Willkie, we had Ezra Pound, and it was one hour. I went at eleven o'clock every Sunday morning, and it was one hour, and I think it was well spent, and the last time I went was December 7, 1941. I remember going that morning, back up to my house, I lived on Richardson Street. When the radio announced that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor and my roommate looked at me and I said, "Where the hell is Pearl Harbor?" We thought it was a woman. But seriously, after that, chapel attendance was no longer required as far as I can remember, but I did enjoy it.
KP: Closely related to chapel is Dean Metzger. Did you ever have any run-ins with Dean Metzger?
LW: I'm going to tell you the run-in I had and I'm going to be saying things I thought I wouldn't say. I thought he was a fine person. But one day I get a notice in my mailbox, "Please Report to Dean Metzger tomorrow at three o'clock." So I go in there and he looks at me and he says, "You see all these things? They're yours aren't they?" I said, "What are they?" He said, "They're slugs." I said, "What are slugs?" He said, "They're things that you put in a phone booth to simulate coins." I said, "Slugs?" He said, "You've been making long distance phone calls with these things." Well, it suddenly dawned on me that I knew who did it. I'm not gonna mention his name but he was in my class, and he used to call his girlfriend in Washington, DC every Friday night around the same time I would use the phone, and I said, "I've never used a slug in my life, and I have nothing to do with this." "Well," he says, "we have no way of proving it. So I can't do anything to you. But if we ever catch you doing it again …" I said, "Don't tell me 'ever catch me doing it again,' Because I've never done it," and that was my one experience with Frazier Metzger.
KP: Did the person who was making these long distance phone calls ...
LW: Hear about it?
LW: I told him.
KP: But was he ever caught?
LW: No. I remember his name as plain as day.
KP: Well, we can keep that off the record.
LW: That's off the record. I'm not a squealer.
KP: So that was your only dealing with …
LW: That's all I can remember. I can picture him today, serious looking. Did you ever meet him?
KP: No. He passed away long before my time.
LW: He had been a clergyman at one time. Very austere and very serious and he scared the hell out of me.
CI: Was there much discipline imposed on the students?
LW: Oh yes. Believe me, what goes on today could not have gone on in those days. There was a lot of discipline and things were run in a very strict way, as far as I can remember.
KP: You had to ... everyone had to serve in ROTC for two years.
LW: Yes, I did.
KP: What are your memories of ROTC?
LW: I remember when I first got the uniform, I was very proud of it, and I think there was one day a week when we used to drill and we also had classes but I don't remember how often. I remember it was the only B I got my entire freshman year. I didn't get an A in that. (laughs), and we used to drill for two hours, or one afternoon a week. I remember at the end of the year they had a Field Day they called it. My folks came up to watch that, and that's about all, and I remember a lot of my classmates went on to the four-year course, and they all became second lieutenants, and in 1947, I believe they put out a yearbook, in memoriam, which I have at home. It's so sad. I see so many of my classmates who took the four-year course that were killed at Normandy, killed in the Pacific Theater. Of course, I guess second lieutenants were at the most risk.
KP: Do any of them come to mind?
LW: Oh yes. The president of our class and the fellow elected most likely to succeed. The name begins with a P. So many of them. There was a young man that my sister was dating, he was killed. If I had the yearbook, they'd all come back to me.
LW: There was a fellow from the Pennsylvania coal mining area, Emil Potzer. Emil came from Pennsylvania, a poor fellow. He used to work across from the railroad station. There was a hotel with a bar below it, and he worked his way through college at that bar. He played varsity football and varsity baseball, and knocked himself out to get a college education. Just a generally nice person. Killed at Normandy. So many of them.
KP: Do you remember Joseph Ryan?
LW: No, I can't say I do.
KP: He was from an earlier class. He was a big football enthusiast and I think he was in a few classes …
LW: Was he killed?
KP: He was killed.
KP: You wrote for the Targum.
LW: I did sports, I believe. Those memories are very vague, but I did work for the Targum yes.
KP: And you were also a member of the German Club. Were you active in that?
LW: Yes. I was a member and a professor with a big round face, Prof Holzman. ... I went to meetings.
KP: One of the things we've been very curious about is how people felt about the coming of World War II? Did you think any time when you were at Rutgers that war was an inevitable? Or was it a distant thing until Pearl Harbor?
LW: I didn't expect it, really. You know you're wrapped up in college. You don't keep up with current events as much as you should. We didn't have TV in those days. You didn't have time to listen to radio, and I knew that the Japanese envoys were here in this country and I knew that there was trouble in that part of the world. But Pearl Harbor was a complete shock, really. I think it was to most people.
KP: How did you feel about the Roosevelt administration policies particularly with regard to Germany and Great Britain? Did you have an opinion at the time?
LW: Roosevelt was such a popular character in those days they just went along with it. Looking back now, there are things that Roosevelt did that I admired. But by the same token, there are things that he did that I thought he could have done either differently or a lot better then he did. But he's a human being, and this smacks of politics and I'm not going to say anything more about Franklin.
KP: After the attack on Pearl Harbor, what did you think would happen to you?
LW: To be honest with you, my main concern was that I'd like to finish college because I've gone this far. So I was motivated by that. I enlisted in what they call the ERC. Are you familiar with that?
KP: The Enlisted Reserve.
LW: Enlisted Reserve Corps, which meant that they'd let me stay on for the next, until I graduated, and then I would get called on active duty. But there was a stipulation that you had to go to class, I think it was three nights a week, and I enlisted in the Signal Corps part of this. So for three nights a week I went to a class and I learned radio operating. It was mostly a course in math which I didn't think was very relevant. But that's what they had me do, and I did whatever they told me. About a month after I was graduated, I was called to active duty.
KP: How did the war change the campus?
LW: It did to a large extent, yes. We had an ASTP program here. The frivolity was gone. There was a lot of partying before that, even though it was strict, the parties were within limits. People became more serious. A lot of people left, a lot of people enlisted. The rolls were greatly diminished. Sports were cut down to a big extent. The football team would play teams like Fort Monmouth. They played Lehigh and Lafayette twice rather than travel to Up-state New York. The coaches left. Harvey Harman. I sure you remember some of them, and people were a little more serious. They knew what lay in store for them.
KP: You mentioned that you wanted to finish out college. But did you have any sense of what branch of service you expected to serve in?
LW: No, I had no idea.
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KP: So your enlistment in the Enlisted Reserve Corps was in part, was designed to avoid being drafted into the Navy?
LW: Well, I'm being a little humorous, but it did cross my mind.
KP: That you really didn't want to go into the Navy?
LW: Oh, if I had to go on a boat I would have jumped overboard. Because I have always suffered from bad equilibrium when it comes to motion, and it's ... if you've ever had it, it's a horrible feeling.
KP: Yes, the Navy would really ...
LW: The chances are that I would not have, because most people went into the Army, but I really ... that was not a prime factor. It's more a humorous thing then anything. But it could have happened and I would have been in trouble.
KP: What about the infantry? Did you ... you had mentioned earlier about second lieutenants, did you ... were you concerned that you could end up in infantry which a lot of people ended up in.
LW: Well, first of all, I wasn't an officer.
LW: And I just had the attitude that when they took me, wherever they took me, that would be it.
KP: And so they put you in the Signal Corps?
LW: I enlisted in that. First of all, I was interested in cryptographic analysis and I was hoping I could get into that, because I felt that I could be of service in that. It turned out I never got near it. But it enabled me to finish college, and I guess that's one of the reasons I did it.
KP: How did you feel about the speeded up school year that the war brought? Because you mentioned the end of frivolity, but it also sort of really altered the academic calendar.
LW: I can't remember that. I think we still graduated ... I graduated the end of May, and I don't think they curtailed the school year. If they did it ... it's possible you're right but I have no recollection.
KP: You mentioned you came to college very young. How did it effect or not affect your social life?
LW: I caught up eventually, but I was socially immature when I got here. Because when I was in high school I was two years younger than everybody else. So my social life was not on the same level as theirs, and also, I was still at home, so I was restricted in what I could do. Although I probably would have ... the age factor would have been a deterring thing anyway. But by the time I reached my sophomore/junior year, I think I was on a par with the rest of them. However, I would never let them push my kids ahead.
KP: It sounds like you were a little ambivalent about being pushed ...
LW: It was a matter of ... there's a Jewish expression called kuvit, that means bursting with pride. Well, my parents were bursting with pride every time I skipped, but it was the worst thing for me. It really was, and parents please forgive me for saying this, if you're listening, but it was a mistake. It really was. You know social maturity and book learning are two completely different things, and my wife, who was a school teacher, and I would never permit our children, even if they were going to be pushed ahead, to let that happen.
KP: Were you able to attend your graduation in 1943?
LW: Yes. My graduation was in May, and I went into service in either the end of June or beginning of July. I remember the graduation was at the stadium and I remember it.
KP: And, as part of the enlisted reserve, you had already been taking classes?
LW: Which were completely estranged from Rutgers, they were given by the Army.
KP: Yes. Did you attend classes in uniform, or in civilian clothes?
LW: In civilian clothes.
KP: So in a sense it was just very much like taking an extra course?
LW: Yes. I was not on any active duty and they came from all over. It was not just Rutgers students. We had people from New York, from all over New Jersey. There were about forty of us, and we attended classes in a Rutgers building, I don't remember where, but it was either two or three nights a week before we were called to active duty.
LW: So I had that load, in addition to the Rutgers regular classes.
CI: What were they teaching you in these classes?
LW: I remember mostly it was radio, and I remember it was discussing sign waves, and there was some trigonometry and calculus involved, which was ... you know, we had some people in this class who hadn't even finished high school. So it was really an enigma that you were learning stuff that some of them sat there and didn't know what was going on, and it ended up, it was useless anyway, because we never applied any of what we learned.
KP: Really? None of it ever ...
LW: I didn't.
KP: Where did you report to initially?
LW: Fort Dix.
KP: And how long did you stay at Fort Dix?
LW: I stayed there a week, and then they sent me to Camp Crowder, Missouri, which was an Army Service Force Camp, which had Signal Corps and Medical Corps. It was quite a large place. There were in excess of two hundred thousand people there. It was like a city. I also remember the fact that it was segregated. That the blacks were in a section of the camp called "Shantytown" and literally, it was a shantytown, and ...
KP: Was there any tension between the black and white soldiers?
LW: No. Because you weren't exposed to them at all.
KP: Really? You never came in contact with them?
LW: No. None.
KP: And how long was your basic training at Camp Crowder?
LW: Basic training ... I'm going off the top off my head ... four to eight weeks, but I'm guessing. I don't remember, and then from there you were assigned a specialty, and ... they had asked me what I would prefer, and I put cryptographic analysis, and I remember the day that they made the assignments. They said, "The following men will report for pole line construction." And I'm thinking, "Gee, they're not calling me for that." But they did. So here I am ... shimmying up and down telephone poles with spikes, and then I was assigned to a Signal Construction Battalion. But then they started forming a Headquarters Company baseball team, and the fellow that was running it recognized me from college and he asked me if I would like to stay and play baseball. Well, he didn't have to ask me twice. I thought that was better then climbing telephone poles. So I spent a lot of time organizing intramural athletics. I spent a lot of time playing baseball, and I did some clerking and personnel. The only thing that I brought along is my ... when I was discharged they gave me a form telling me what I had done in the Army. "… At Camp Crowder, Missouri was non-commissioned officer in charge of training division of Headquarters. Supervised up to three clerks who maintained training records on all men taking basic training, and requiring additional qualifying training. Assigned tasks, directed work, and checked completed projects. Handled administrative detail, correspondence, all personnel forms, rosters, reports and prepared written surveys. As an additional duty, was Athletic Non-Commissioned Officer for Headquarters Company. Took charge of various teams, played and managed squads, was on the staff of the post weekly 'The Camp Crowder Messenger." And the only other thing I brought is this article, my main claim to fame in the Army. A fellow pitched two one hit games in a period of two weeks and yours truly robbed him of a no-hitter both times. I got the hit both times.
KP: It was Bill Norton, star pitcher.
LW: Yes, and it appeared on the same page as an article on Tommy Bridges, who was the coach of our baseball team. Tommy Bridges is in the Hall Of Fame. He pitched on the old Detroit Tigers many years ago, Schoolboy Roe and Tommy Bridges, and ... so I met a lot of major league players during the course of my ... a few played on my team, where I was, and a few we played against.
KP: So you were playing a fairly high level of baseball.
LW: I thought it was pretty good at that time.
KP: Yes. Your sense ... you're having the dream of a lot of people who play baseball. You're playing with the majors. There are people who pay money to go to special camps now.
LW: No, I never would have made it. Too small and I wasn't that good.
CI: Could you tell me about baseball at Rutgers?
LW: Yes. Our coach was Chuck Ward who was a scout for the old Brooklyn Dodgers and when I was in school he was coaching for the Philadelphia Phillies. A nice fellow, and my Freshman coach was a fellow named (Art Matsu?). I don't know if that name means anything to you.
KP: No. I've heard that name before.
LW: He was a part Japanese, and another very austere and strict man that very rarely ever smiled, but was a good coach, and ...
KP: How was it having (Art Matsu?) as a coach after the Japanese bombed Pearly Harbor?
LW: I never, you know, I never associated him with being Japanese, and this anti-Japanese feeling didn't come immediately. The whole thing was so abstract to me anyway. I guess I didn't think about it that much. This was something happening in another part of the world and those people are different over there, you know, Shintoism and the Emperor, that was their way of life.
KP: Going back a bit in your army experience, what do you remember about basic training, and particularly your drill instructor, any memories?
LW: I remember an experience at Fort Dix where I was inducted. There was a fellow called Sergeant Leydich who had been in the Polish Army, and he left the Polish Army where he was an officer and ended up in the American Army as a sergeant. He was very tough, and he got up one day at roll call and he said, " A lot of yous guys are coming down with poison ivy. If you don't know what poison ivy looks like, stay away from it and don't touch it." And I thought this is the mentality of our sergeant here. As far as basic training at Camp Crowder, I'll be honest with you, the only thing I remember is running the infiltration course. That's the only thing I remember from the four or eight weeks. We're going back now, 1943, that's fifty-three years, and I really don't remember. I just remember running the infiltration course, and I remember a fellow next to me, and, you know, you crawled under barbed wire with live ammunition going over your head, and I remember the fellow next to me saying, "My God, there's a snake right in front of me!" And I said, "Well, don't stand up!" And I don't have any other recollection of basic training.
KP: A pleasant or unpleasant memory?
LW: Well, let's put it this way. I wouldn't want to do it today. It ... I guess when you're twenty years old you can tolerate these things and not be too upset about it. There are a lot of things I look back today and I ... How did you do these things? I just don't know. Riding twenty-six hours on a troop train that stopped every hour and you lay there for three hours, and going on again, and some of the stuff they gave you to eat. But I do remember in basic training we went out on bivouac in the Ozark Mountains, and it was in the middle of winter, and you had to sleep on the ground in a little pup tent. In the Ozark Mountains, in the winter, it is rather cold, and I remember that. Other than that I have no recollection of basic training.
KP: You mentioned earlier that the Army had quite an impact on you in terms of seeing sergeants and other less than competent superiors do their thing. Do you have any recollections about the Army way of doing things?
LW: Yes. For instance a friend of mine, when we climbed the telephone poles in specialty training, you worked in pairs. So you would go up and then come down, and then your buddy would go up and come down, and my buddy started going up and he slipped, and on the way down he pierced the top of his foot with the spike in the opposite foot, and he's lying there and this Sergeant Smith, a southern gentleman, said, "Come on, on your feet Soldier, and up the pole again!" And he said, "I can't get up. I think my leg's broken." He said, "You can't go on sick call until four o'clock. Up on the pole." He tried but he couldn't do it. But this was the Army way. Sick call was at four and that's when you went.
KP: You don't remember about any of the other people that served in either your basic training unit, or later, what part of the country they came from?
LW: One of the fellows who was with me was named … Jim Anderson, he was from Duluth, Minnesota, and every year since we were discharged, and that was in 1946, he has been sending everybody that worked in that group a newsletter telling what everyone has been doing, and a personal letter relevant to himself and so far as I would be interested, and this year I got a letter from his wife saying he had passed away. In 1965 I took my family on a cross-country trip. I took a month off from my office and we traveled about nine thousand miles, and our first stop was in Duluth and I went to see him. It was a very, very nice experience. I was very touched when I heard he had passed away. Another fellow who was in the Army with me ... my sister decided to come visit me while I was in Camp Crowder, and I was friendly with this fellow, Sam Gordon. So I got her a room in Joplin, Missouri, in a hotel and she came over to the camp that night, and I introduced her to Sam Gordon and that was it. Well, about six months after I was discharged my parents told me, "You know the fellow you were in the service with, Sam Gordon, the fellow from Kentucky?" I said, "Yes." "He's coming to the house tonight to visit." "He's coming all the way to see me?" "No, he's coming to visit your sister." Evidently they had been corresponding and I knew nothing about this. They had just met that night. They're married now. They have been married longer then I have been. It had an impact on my sister, as well, my Army career.
KP: So the war was, even though you never went overseas, the war was fairly influential on your life?
LW: Oh yes. A lot of my good friends were killed. As a matter-of-fact in that Signal Corps Battalion, they ended up in the Battle of the Bulge, and two of my very good friends, one from Jersey City was killed, and I still follow some of the fellows that I was in with. Not as much now that my friend has passed away, he kept me informed. I still correspond with some of them.
KP: It sounds like climbing poles gave you a lasting appreciation for being a telephone worker. How good were you at it? It sounds like it was an absolutely dreadful experience.
LW: No. I was not good at it. First of all, I don't like heights. Although you are so intent on getting up there that you don't even think of looking down. I don't think I did it too long. I think my whole career in climbing the poles lasted two weeks, that was specialty training and that was after basic training.
KP: It sounds like there was an old Rutgers tie that transferred you to Headquarters Company. You had mentioned somebody that you had played baseball with?
LW: Yes, it was a fellow that had gone to Princeton.
KP: Not Rutgers, but Princeton?
LW: Well, I remember playing against Princeton with the freshman team, and he was playing for the Princeton team. He was our post Athletic Officer, so he was quite influential.
KP: And this memory of seeing you play baseball?
LW: Well we stopped on the street and he said, "You look familiar." And I said, "You look familiar too, Sir." I was only a sergeant, he was a captain, and, "Where are you from?" I said, "New Jersey." He said, "New Jersey? Where did you go to school?" I said, "Rutgers." He said, "I went to Princeton." And then he gave me his name and one thing led to another.
KP: How did you become a sergeant? Is there a story there?
LW: Well, you just routinely, if you weren't a law breaker, or end up in the brig periodically you got promotions. So after I was out there in service for about six months I became a private first class, one stripe. Then I became a corporal. Then I became a three stripe sergeant, and then I reached the ultimate, that was a four stripe sergeant, three on top and one on the bottom, tech sergeant or T-4 they called it, and that's as far as I got. There was a time in the Army when they called me out and I took a test, and the test consisted of one question: "How do you find the area of a rectangle?" "One half the base times the altitude." I knew the answer so he says, "You wanna go to Camp Grinnell in Iowa, Grinnell College." And I said, "What would I be studying?" "Either Engineering or Language." Well, I decided I had enough academics, so I decided ..."May I turn this down?" "Yes, you may turn this down." So I stayed where I was.
KP: Why did you turn it down? Was it just because you had had enough academics?
LW: At the time, because it's ironic when you hear what I ended up doing. It's an enigma. Because when I got out of school and decided to become a dentist I didn't have science credits. So in the summer of '46 I came back to Rutgers and spent the whole summer taking qualitative and quantitative analysis, and then the following year I had to stay the whole year getting the other science credits. So that means I had already had five years of college, plus a full summer, and now four years of dental school. So I ended up with nine and a half years of college. So the fact that is, it made no sense that I didn't want to go to Grinnell College. I don't know why.
KP: Did you not want to become an officer? What about Officers Candidate School? Did you ever think about applying for it? Or had you ever been urged to apply for it?
LW: I never knew that you could, when I was in service. Here I go in as a private, just turned twenty, and I just never had the opportunity, or enough thought to go into it.
KP: What was it like to go to Missouri? Had you traveled much before the war?
LW: Not really. We had gone on trips with my parents maybe to upstate New York or Niagara Falls, but never anywhere of any great distance. But what did I think of Missouri? I think they were very small, narrow minded people. Very prejudiced people. Really very prejudiced.
KP: Prejudiced against who?
LW: Certainly against Jewish people. The day that I went to get the ... I told you my sister had visited. I went to a rooming house and I said, "I'd like to get a room for my sister," and she said, "That would be ten dollars cash in advance," which I paid her, and she said, "Would you just sign your sister's name?" This is a true story, and she says, "Weissburg?" hands me back the ten dollars and says, "We don't take foreigners," and I'm wearing an American Army Uniform. I ran into a lot of that down in the Southwest.
KP: Among Civilians?
KP: What about in the Army?
LW: Yes, a lot in the Army. Well, I can tell you stories but I don't know if it's wise to get all this on tape.
KP: Only tell the stories that you want to tell us.
LW: That story is outside of the Army. The Army stories I'd rather not ... they were, and when I, a group of us got together to report this to the Adjunct General, he laughed at us and practically threw us out.
KP: So you got a sense that the Army just tolerated anti-Semitism?
LW: In those days, yes, but the blacks, they lived in horrible conditions.
KP: And you sense this even though you didn't have a lot of contact with black servicemen?
LW: Well, you could see the area that they lived in as you walked by. We lived in barracks which were standing. They lived in ramshackle buildings that were ready to fall apart.
KP: Once you were deployed to Headquarters Company, what was a given day like? What was your routine?
LW: Well, I worked in personnel during the day, and all these games were played after work, and in personnel I remember the cards that every person would have. We were in charge of shipping them out, seeing that they had proper training, and one of the sergeants in that office eventually became the Lieutenant Governor of Texas I remember, and as I say again, it's going back so far that it's hard to recall a typical day.
KP: Did you live on base the entire time?
KP: So the entire war you spent at Camp Crowder?
LW: Never left until they discharged me, and then I went to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas where they discharged me. No one was discharged from Camp Crowder. You had to go to a processing center for discharge. It certainly would have been more expedient to discharge me from there, but the Army didn't work that way.
KP: It sounds like, especially doing personnel records, that you had a real sense of the Army way.
KP: Were there other things that you saw about the Army you just said, "I don't understand why it's done this way?"
LW: Only little things that were very irrelevant. The other thing was that I remember thinking to myself, "Gee, I have a college degree, I was a good student, and I have a background in this, and a background in that. Why the hell did they take me and have me climbing telephone poles?" But when I asked someone the answer was, "Because we got a twix from Washington that we needed so many telephone climbers this week, and we're not going to say this is beneath you. We just take enough people," and I guess it had to be that way. They couldn't consider each person's comforts or requirements. If they needed someone to dig a grave, I guess they said, "You come dig a grave."
KP: When you would do personnel with the Army, would you ever see snafus with personnel? Either people that were enlisted too young, people completely mismatched to their specialty? Was that what you did?
KP: Was your work strictly routine?
LW: Strictly routine. It was like a rubber stamp, I had no say. If I saw someone who was totally unfit to what they assigned them, I had nothing to say. I did what I ... I sound like at Nuremberg ... I did what they told me to do.
KP: Did you ever wish you had gone abroad? Did you feel like you were sitting out the war?
LW: Honestly, I have to say no. I was overwhelmed with a sense of patriotism, "I wanna go fight the war." No, because I probably rationalized and said, "They're doing pretty well without me," and I thought to myself, "If they want me to go, I'll go. If they want me to stay here, I'll stay here." It couldn't have been any other way. If they had sent me, I would have gone.
KP: So it sounds like, except being chosen for Headquarters Company where you had sort of an active role, you basically did whatever the Army told you?
LW: That's right. You had no say, other then weekends where I went and traveled a lot, hitchhiked a lot, had a lot of extracurricular experiences in so far as seeing things. Went to a lot of cities that I enjoyed, met a lot of people.
KP: Where did you travel to on some of these trips?
LW: Camp Crowder is stationed in the southwest corner of Missouri. The nearest town is Neosho, which is not a town at all. But the nearest town of any size was Joplin, Missouri. We weren't too far, we were right on the Arkansas border, right on the Missouri and Oklahoma border, and not too far from Texas. So being the sports fan that I am, if I could wangle an extra day, which I did legitimately, I would ride in a mail train, which left the Neosho rail yards on a Friday night, and ride down to Dallas, Fort Worth, Texas, and I'd go to see a Texas Christian or a Southern Methodist football game, and I always got back in time, though. I'd hitchhike or God knows how, some of the things you do when you're a kid. I look at it now and I say, "My God, how did I ever get back in time?" But I always did.
KP: What about ... you mentioned you saw a number of cities?
LW: Kansas City. I hitch-hiked up to Madison, Wisconsin to visit my sister. Well, I got a ride as far as Chicago, and then I took a ... it was like an elevated subway … a one car trolley car to Milwaukee, and then I hitch-hiked to Madison. I had a four day pass then, and on the way back I stopped in Chicago and saw a World Series Game, Chicago Cubs and the Detroit Tigers, and I remember sitting in the center field bleachers and two ladies looked at me and said, "Soldier, have you eaten?" And I said, "Not since this morning," and one of them said, "I'll be right back," and she went out of the stadium, it was an hour before the game, lived near by, and came back and brought me lunch. See, there were some very nice people. But I spent time in Kansas City, a lot of time in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which is a beautiful town, a very wealthy town. Chicago, I had an uncle, who was a commander in the Navy at Great Lakes, also a dentist, and I would hitch-hike up there and visit him at the Great Lakes Training Station. Hitch-hiked to Camp Robinson, Arkansas to visit a cousin. But I always got back in time. I always took a little money in case I couldn't get a ride, I'd get a bus back.
KP: And were you always able to get a ride back?
LW: Yes. The only time I ever took a bus was coming back from Camp Robinson, Arkansas. But in those days, people did pick up soldiers. It was a patriotic thing to do. How could you, in good conscious, see a soldier in the middle of nowhere doing this, when he's in an American Army uniform defending you?
KP: You mentioned the last time I think the Chicago Cubs won the World Series?
KP: This lunch ... she didn't just buy you lunch, she's goes home and brings back ...
LW: An elderly woman. She went home and came back with a lunch for me.
KP: Did you ever get invitations to go to dinner over weekends?
LW: Yes. I was invited to a Passover Seder in Kansas City. How that came about I don't remember. I was with my brother-in-law, we were in Kansas City, and I think he met a girl and she said, "Would you two like to come for Passover?" So we did, and I befriended some people in Tulsa, and she invited me over, it was a daughter of a minister, and I was invited there quite often for dinner, if I came down to Tulsa, and there were a lot of very nice people, and some that I did not care for.
KP: Did you always go alone, or did you have buddies?
LW: Both. I traveled sometimes ... we also spent a lot of weekends in the Ozark Mountains going trout fishing, and I went with two fellows in my battalion, and we went to the Lake of the Ozarks, where for five dollars a night, you got a room for three people. That was five dollars for all of us, not apiece, and if you caught any trout, you brought it into the dining room, and they cooked it for you and served it for you. We did that on quite a few occasions. So I have to tell you that I don't feel that I contributed much towards winning the war, which is why I told you a long time ago that I didn't think this interview would be world shaking, so far as the Army experiences.
KP: But the war still was very influential for you. You stayed in touch with people.
LW: Yes, and also I would say I chose my profession because of it. Because had I not gone into service I would have gone on to law school.
KP: It sounds like you've seen paperwork, and part of what a lawyer does is move mounds of papers around, unless you're just a brilliant trial lawyer. Did that enter into the picture?
LW: No. I didn't know the first thing about law. You know I made my decision for the lack of anything else to do. The whole fault was that I started college too young, and really didn't know what I wanted.
KP: You mentioned a WAC at the beginning of the interview. How many WACs were on base?
LW: There were quite a few, but in the personnel office there were three. This one's name was Mickey Wright, how that comes back to me I don't know, and Mickey was about six feet tall and probably weighed about three hundred pounds, and we spent a lot of time ... she worked just as I am sitting opposite of you. She married a fellow in the office, who was as thin as a rail. I don't know how the marriage worked out because I have no contact with them.
KP: And they were doing the same duties as you were doing? Or ...
LW: She was working ... I was her immediate, I wouldn't say boss, but I assigned her, her tasks, and she was very efficient. A very nice person. You know what I spent a lot of time doing in that office, when I wasn't working, was writing, and I wrote an awful lot of poetry, which I was very proud of, and I would send it home and my folks would have it published, and I did have a very comprehensive scrapbook that they had made for me, up until the time got out of service, and I looked high and low for it but I couldn't find it.
KP: So your poetry was published?
LW: Yes. I had one poem published in North American Review, which was, I thought was an excellent poem, and some other stuff which may have not been as good, and I was dying to find it to bring it in here. My wife will tell you I turned the house upside down and all I found was this lousy discharge paper.
KP: Did you write poetry after the war?
LW: Yes. I had never done it before.
KP: What inspired you to do it?
LW: I was sitting there one day very bored and I had nothing to do. All the paper work had been done, and I thought I'd take a shot at it and I got inspired and I wrote a poem and sent that home, and the next thing I knew, they sent it back. It had been published in a local paper. So that encouraged me and then I wrote more.
KP: Did you continue to have it published after the war?
LW: No. After I became a dentist ... I had told my wife that after I retired I was going to write a book, and she threw it up to me the other day, but I didn't.
KP: What did you want to write on?
LW: Oh I wanted to write a historical novel. I never wrote a page. I got involved in golf.
KP: One of Chris's predecessors who was an intern here was an avid golf fan.
LW: It's a sickness. Do you know Brian Crockett?
LW: Brian is head of Scarlet R.
KP: Oh, I have met him.
LW: Yes, nice fellow, very charming. I have him down to my place quite often as my guest and I play here at the Rutgers golf course. That was a nine-hole golf course when I was in school. Thank goodness I didn't know about golfing when I was in school because if I had known about it and developed a fixation like I have now I would never have graduated. The summer before I came back to school this fellow comes to me and says, "Do you wanna go play golf?" I said, "I don't even have clubs, I don't know how to play." He said, "I will loan you some of mine." So we went up there and I think it was, for a student, twenty-five cents and that's where I got hooked.
KP: You mentioned your poetry had come out of the clear blue.
LW: Out of the clear blue sky. I had done a lot of writing. For instance, was editor of my high school newspaper, and I wrote for the Targum, and I wrote for the Army newspaper, but I never had written any poetry before. I thought I'd take a crack at it. I don't know how good it was.
KP: It sounds like the Army athletics, particularly on this base, were motivated by sheer boredom.
LW: You mean, did I play because of boredom?
KP: No. Well, it seems like ...
LW: No. I loved it.
KP: Who would come to the games, and how well attended were the games?
LW: Other Army personnel. Sometimes very few people came. We played in the evening after supper, and sometimes there were a handful of people. If it was an important game against another Army camp maybe more people came.
CI: You mentioned there was club football teams. Was there a team at Camp Crowder?
LW: No, there was no regular team. It was just ... I got a bunch of guys together and one company played another.
KP: So you didn't play other camps?
LW: It was touch football. There were Army teams in those days that were great teams. Like at ... Harvey Harman went and coached one out west. Georgia Pre-Flight and Great Lakes Naval Training, they beat all the colleges. But we didn't have anything like that.
KP: Baseball ... you only played teams within the base?
LW: In the service command, Seventh Service Command, which was a couple of states in the adjoining area.
KP: So how long would ... these games would be overnight and you'd travel somewhere, play the game, and come back home? Or was it longer?
LW: You would come home, and most of the games were played at our place, because we were the large camp.
KP: Did COs take great pride in having a winning team?
LW: Some of them. Some of them were completely disinterested.
KP: Did you ever think of staying in the Army? I mean, it's a standard question.
LW: When I left Fort Leavenworth, the fellow there that processed me said, " Would you like to stay in the Reserves? I can tell you all the benefits?" I said, " Don't bother telling me. Good-bye."
KP: Did you ever join any veterans organizations?
LW: Yes. The War Veterans in Bergen County.
KP: Did you use the GI Bill to go to dental school?
LW: Yes. It covered my summer and year at Rutgers, and also the four years at dental school.
KP: Do you think your parents could have afforded dental school without the GI Bill?
LW: Probably yes, because it was relatively inexpensive in those days. I forget what it was. But when I started in 1947, or was it '48, '47, at the most it was a thousand dollars. Today a year at Penn Dental School is about twenty-seven thousand. If I had told my father that I had no other way, he probably could have managed.
KP: Your sister sounds also to be rather remarkable. She went to college and even to grad school?
LW: Yes. She spent her entire life working with neurologically impaired. She just retired last year. She taught the neurologically impaired for the Borough of Maywood, New Jersey, and she cannot sit still, so now she's working at Paterson State University. I try to find out what she is doing there and I really don't know but she is working there.
KP: And during the war, was she going to school?
LW: Yes. She started at Wisconsin, got a year there, left there and went to …
-----------------------------------------------END OF SIDE 2 TAPE 1------------------------------
KP: This continues an interview with Dr. Leonard Weissburg on March 28, 1996 at Rutgers University in New Brunswick with Kurt Piehler and Christopher Iannicelli. You were describing your sister's education.
LW: She started at Wisconsin ... part of her college career was there, and then she went to the University of Maine, and she ended up finishing at NYU.
KP: And during the war she met her husband?
LW: I introduced her that evening, very superficial, and evidently they traded addresses, because he left. He went to the Pacific. She went back to New Jersey. But evidently they were corresponding. So after the war he came and they resumed the relationship, and they were married and moved out to Cincinnati, he had a business in Kentucky across the river, and after living out there for a few years, they moved back to New Jersey, and they've been living in Fairlawn now for a good forty-five years, and my brother-in-law was in service, so we share that in common.
KP: In terms of the home front, although you were in the military, any sense of how the war was impacting civilians?
LW: Not really. Because my whole life ... I came home a few times on furlough. But no, you were home maybe a week, and I didn't have occasion to be exposed to how other people were living. I heard about other people complaining about gas rations and sugar rationing. I always teased my mom and said, " Boy, you couldn't get all the sugar you wanted, while I was out there laying in Missouri." But no, I don't know much about what was going on, on the home front.
KP: But that all seemed very distant to you.
KP: Did you get a sense that there were things that you could get a hold of very easily that civilians couldn't get?
LW: No, not really. Because the main thing I could recall was that they couldn't get all the meat that they wanted, and I just took it for granted. I ate whatever they gave me, and gasoline I didn't drive a car in the service, and sugar, as far as I know we got that. I never tried to get things that civilians couldn't get.
KP: You returned to Rutgers to take some summer classes. What did you think of the changes that the war brought to Rutgers?
LW: It was as I said before, there wasn't the frivolity and there wasn't the 'out to have a good time' although we did, and you probably know who I roomed with. How long have you been at Rutgers?
KP: I've been here since 1983.
LW: I'm sure you know who I roomed with. I was sitting in the library one day, and a fellow sat down next to me and started a conversation. He said, "Just got out of the Army?" I said, " Yes." He said, "Where are you living?" I said, "Well, I just came down to look for a place." He said, "I'm looking too. Would you like to room together?" So we ended up rooming together at a rooming house in Highland Park. Do you know Dave Pramer?
KP: Oh, Vince Kramer?
LW: Dave Pramer.
LW: He's a PhD in Microbiology, worked with Selman Waksman. He's in charge of fundraising corporations for Rutgers now.
KP: Oh, no, I haven't met him yet.
LW: Well, he was my roommate, and he was a real gadabout. In those days he never had a serious thought. He didn't know how to study. He was a transfer from Texas A&M, and thanks to my influence, I made him what he is today, a PhD, and I see him all the time, at the basketball games. He lives in Highland Park, his son became a dentist. I'm surprised you don't know Dave.
KP: No, I haven't ...
LW: Vince Kramer is from the alumni society.
KP: Yes. I have actually interviewed him. Any other changes? You had mentioned the seriousness, but any other, and what was it like to go from a sort of liberal arts curriculum to sciences?
LW: I didn't find it very traumatic. It was I had a smattering of science courses while I was at college in the liberal arts. I found out, though ... no offense Professor, but I found you couldn't BS your way on exams. Like when I 'd write an essay on a history exam is one thing, but solving a problem in chemistry or math is a different thing.
KP: Yes. I've heard that.
LW: They still have the bluebooks?
KP: Yes. Oh yes. Why did you choose the University of Penn[sylvania] Dental School?
LW: Because it was one of the few schools that would send me an application. I applied to a few other schools. For instance, I applied to the University of Pittsburgh, I never got an application. Again I'm going on tape, but when I asked around I found out they had a Jewish quota. AH and Penn had a very fine reputation and it wasn't very far. New Jersey had no dental or medical schools because of the anti-vivisection laws in those days, and it was a wise choice. I think it was a fine school, and I met my wife there. I got you in there. She was taking her Masters.
KP: In what area?
LW: She's a whiz on "Jeopardy."
KP: You mentioned, because I was going to ask it, because a number of doctors and dentist have mentioned anti-Semitism in the profession, particularly in admittance to medical and dental school.
KP: Your father got into dental school very easily, and it seems like the dental profession over the course of the Twenties the quotas really started coming down. Do you have any sense of that from your father's career or your own career?
LW: No. Because evidently in those days it was such a casual and informal thing, that you went over to Twenty-third street, walked in and said you wanted to become a dentist. "Did you graduate high school?" "Yes." "Start on Monday." That's ... it was as simple as that. But it was a matter of going to where I could get in, plus I thought it was a fine school.
KP: But in terms of anti-Semitism in the profession, and when that changed?
LW: Since I started dental school I haven't really run into any. I don't know how it is today for someone applying, I don't know anything about it. But once I got into dental school I never encountered anything like that.
KP: Where did you start your practice? And did you ever move?
LW: No, I lived at the time, my family lived in Ridgefield, New Jersey, and when I graduated I had not the slightest idea where I was going to locate. I had an offer to go in ... One of the professors at dental school wanted me to come and work for him in Philadelphia. But I got some advice from a very prominent dentist in New York who said to me, " Your ultimate goal is to be your own boss and to have your own practice, and the sooner you start on it the better off you'll be." And the little money that he was willing to pay me. He was willing to give me a hundred and seventy-five dollars a week. He said, "It isn't worth it." So the way you found an office in those days was, the people from the companies that sold equipment were anxious to sell you equipment, so they would take you around showing you all the spots available, figuring that the least you could do is buy their equipment to repay them. So a gentleman approached me from SS White Dental Company, and he drove me for about three weeks, and I felt guilty. Every morning he'd come and pick me up and drive me all around looking at spots, and it was very hard to make up my mind. He drove me to Essex County, everywhere, and I remember saying one morning, "If you show me a place that is halfway decent, I'm going to take it. I'm wasting my time and yours." So he took me to Bergenfield, New jersey, and he showed me a spot right in the middle of town, very busy, and I said, " That looks like a great spot." So I went in, there was a store for rent, and I asked what the rent was. They told me it was two hundred and fifty dollars a month. I said, "I can't do that." So then he showed me another spot, a loft over a theater, in the same town. The rent there was seventy-five dollars a month. So I took it. I went and I borrowed three thousand dollars from a bank, and with that three thousand dollars, now mind you, I bought all the necessary equipment, used of course. I renovated the loft up there and made it into a three room office, and I had enough money left over to pay the first months rent. Today a dental chair, you couldn't buy a dental chair for three thousand dollars.
KP: The prices are staggering.
LW: My daughter's boss just got a laser machine. You can drill teeth now with a laser, fifty-five thousand dollars. Well, I stayed up in that loft for about ... started in 1952. I stayed up there for five or six years, and then I took a downstairs location. Renovated it and got all new equipment and everything else, and by that time I was pretty well established. It was almost across the street from where I was. It was a very nice town in those days. It doesn't owe me a thing. It was a middle class town, not a wealthy town, not a very poor town, and I became active there too in the high school, boys and girls youth. I was very active in Kiwanis Club, and I presented two high school graduates every year for thirty years with scholarships at the high school graduation. That was my job with Kiwanis, and I enjoyed that too, and I enjoyed my relationship with the patients.
KP: It sounds like that is one of the most positive things you enjoyed.
LW: The personal relationships. I was an ample dentist. I was conscientious and I did work that I think was all right. But it was not, I think I might have been better at something else. A little more brain power. No offense to you dentists.
KP: It sounds like, you didn't take the same, your father took incredible joy in just figuring out how to ...
LW: Yes. He was a very ... if he was doing this interview with you, you couldn't drag three words out of him. He was a very retiring, shy person, rather introverted. But he loved what he did, and his work was fabulous. Better then the professors I had in dental school.
LW: Yes. He was a master craftsman, he really was.
KP: Once you became a dentist, did your father ever see you work? Or did you pay closer attention to your father's work?
LW: No. People say, "Why didn't you go into work with your father?" Because we didn't see eye to eye on things like that. He did things his way and I did them my way, and it would not have worked. We loved each other and respected each other, but it never would have worked out.
KP: So it sounds like you never even considered it.
LW: No. It would have been suicide. But what I did do was, after he retired at the age of eighty-six, the last year of his life. I would have him come over to my office, on occasion, and I'd let him work on a patient here and there. It was ... there's a Jewish word mitzvah, do you know what a mitzvah is? (blessing)
LW: It was a mitzvah, because he was glowing. But I didn't let him come watch me work because he would have criticized too much. Dad, I'm telling it the way it was.
KP: What didn't you like about dentistry?
LW: Tension. The tension. I never said, "no," and if I had a full schedule and someone, the nurse would say, "Mr. So and So has an emergency." "All right. Send them in," and you know when your working a tight schedule and you keep squeezing people in, and everything that you do has to pretty exact, and you can't start something and say that you'll finish it tomorrow, and I'm a tense person to start with, and it took its toll, particularly on my stomach. I tell you that, today it's the accepted thing. You go in and you wait. I tried to stay on schedule because I had regard for other people's time and feelings.
KP: Which it sounds like you patients appreciated.
LW: Yes. I had a nice relationship with almost all of them. Where ... and with the girls that worked for me. As a matter-of-fact, I'm out of practice for eleven years now, and we had one of the girls and her husband over for dinner last Sunday. Some of the patients I still see, too. Some of my favorites I still keep in touch with. I invite them down here. When I go back to town I look a lot of them up, and that is what I liked about dentistry the most.
KP: So you liked being a dentist that lived in the town and saw people.
LW: Yes, but it had its disadvantages to. "Hey, Doc, you know that tooth that you fixed last week?" Right in the middle of Main Street. This sounds like the historical novel I was going to write.
KP: Your one daughter became a dental hygienist?
LW: Yes. As a matter-of-fact she worked on my tooth yesterday in Caldwell. Seriously, she bonded a tooth for me, and rather then go back to Bergenfield to the fellow that bought my office, I decided to see my daughter and take her out to lunch. So she did it on her lunch hour. She's a remarkable girl, my daughter. It's not right, but this tape will never get to my younger daughter. But I love them both, they're both great kids, but the dental hygienist is something special. The other one is a schoolteacher. Now that she's got two little ones of her own, she gave up formal teaching and she became licensed by the State of New York. Now she runs a nursery school at her home.
KP: So It sounds like you have two remarkable daughters.
LW: I don't say they're remarkable. My older daughter, to me, is ... she's just a genuinely nice kid. Who is such a good girl and loves everybody, and goes out of her way for everybody. The other one is a great person too. But if ... I'm not going to say it. You know what I mean. We love her just as much. But my Ginnie is a special person, and Carol, if you hear this tape, don't feel bad.
KP: Were you active at all in any dental societies?
LW: Yes, I was active in the Bergen County Dental Society, which is an arm of the state society, and once a year they have National Dental Health Week, and the society asked me to go around to the schools in town and give talks about dental health in general.
KP: One of the things that has impressed me most about dentistry as a profession, is that dentists have really achieved a lot in your era. I mean cavities have steadily declined, and the number of people with dentures has steadily declined.
LW: Well, the number of cavities has declined somewhat, due to fluoride and proper prophylactic treatment. I'm not going to correct your statement, but the number of dentures is not declining that much for the simple fact that a lot of people are now losing their teeth due to periodontal conditions, not through cavities. But dentistry has improved tremendously. The techniques today are so much better then ... even in the eleven years I'm out. I've maintained my license, but I couldn't in good conscious go back today and practice. I would have to go for a lot of continuing education courses.
KP: When you were active in your practice, what was the most remarkable change that you saw over the course of your career?
LW: The only thing I would say was in filling materials. Because silver was used almost exclusively when I started, and then they came out with composites, and the white materials today are a great improvement.
KP: How did you like being in business for yourself?
LW: Fine. I had nobody to report to, and I didn't have to say, "May I do this?" or "Should we do this?" I would ask opinions of the people that worked for me. Ultimately I would make the final decisions, and I ... to this day I would not like to work for someone else.
KP: I guess I want to come back to Rutgers, to sort of wind down. Your two children didn't come to Rutgers.
LW: No. It was probably a backlash, you know at the ... my daughter at the age of three was dragged to Rutgers football games. I took one of them at the age of four up to Easton to see the Rutgers/Lafayette game, in a snowstorm. They had Rutgers drummed into their ears to the point that I guess they rebelled against it. My older daughter, she would have come, but they didn't have a dental hygiene course, and she wanted to have a bachelor degree and a dental hygiene degree, but they didn't have it. The other one, they have a fine education course here, but she said, "I want to go where the competition won't be so great." So she went up to Connecticut and graduated summa cum laude, like her other sister. She would have had a breeze here to. But I think again, it was a matter that she wanted to go a little further away, and she ... Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers. So I drove them away from it. That's what my wife thinks, and I think there is credence to that.
KP: In addition to being very active with the Scarlet R and an avid football and basketball fan, have you been involved in any other areas?
LW: Other then the Loyal Sons, no.
KP: What about reunions?
LW: Yes, I went to our fiftieth reunion, It was quite an experience. It was good to see some of these guys. You know, they looked exactly the same. I guess as you get older they get older. You look in the mirror and you see yourself, and I saw them ... which of my '43 classmates have you interviewed?
KP: The one that sticks out the most is Irving Pape.
LW: Irv Pape. Yes, he ran the year's reunion. So I see them at games and I see them at banquets, and the Loyal Son thing is in the spring every year.
KP: And you're a regular?
LW: I go to it ... I was elected into it about four years ago. But there is always a conflict between that and the basketball banquet, and being the past president I feel sort of obligated. I go to ... the one that got me into the Loyal Sons was ... I can't remember his name. (Larry Pitt)
CI: How did you react to Rutgers going big time? You said before ... into the Big East and so forth?
LW: As far as football is concerned ... we had been trying to do that for quite a long time, and to me college is primarily academics and I hope Fred isn't listening to this. If you're going to compete with schools that compromise their academic standards, and you're not going to, then you're starting off on an unfair level, and I feel that's one of the reasons we haven't been as competitive in football as we should be. I think that a student that could stay in Syracuse might not stay in Rutgers, and if you're going to do something, do it. I'm not saying compromise our standards, we shouldn't. But ah I was just as happy, I'm going to go on record saying, "I was just as happy seeing Rutgers play the Delawares and the Lafayettes and the Lehighs, then getting clobbered by these other schools." Hopefully, it will get better and still stay within academic requirements. In basketball, going into the Big East, it's something we should have done a long, long time ago. Again, pardon me, Freddy. Freddy made me a promise once. One of my friends who was a very ardent Rutgers fan died a few years ago, and we went to the funeral, and Fred was standing nearby. I jokingly said to my wife, "You know when I pass away, I want you to put two tapes in my coffin. A Hymn To Queens and Loyal Sons." Among other things. Because I thing they are beautiful songs, and I said, "I know where I'd like to be buried, on the fifty-yard line at the Rutgers Stadium," and Fred happened to be standing there, and he came over and he said, "Lenny, we can arrange that. As a matter-of-fact, if you up your donation to Scarlet R a little, I'll even have the marching band play at the funeral."(Laughs). It's a true story. Larry Pitt is the one I'm talking about. He is Mr. Rutgers Sports.
KP: Well there is one alumnus who seems to be on your same level in sports, and I can't resist asking, I think it was Walter Berger. Do you know him?
KP: He was ... very fond of the now former football coach. (Doug Graber)
LW: He was a fine fellow. He was as nice as could be. He did something for me. A friend of mine was terminal with brain cancer. He was an avid Syracuse fan, and I brought him to a meeting, and I told Doug the story and I said, "Could you just go over and talk to him for a little bit?" He went over and he spoke for twenty-five minutes, and on the way home, my friend said, "My God, what a man. He doesn't even know me and he took the time to talk to me about Syracuse sports," and he passed away shortly after that, and I thought Doug Graber was a fine person, a very nice gentleman. Go ahead, ask me something. I feel like you're getting bored.
CI: No. No.
KP: Unfortunately, this is Chris's first interview, so he is ...
CI: It's all new to me.
LW: Is this going towards his history credits?
KP: Yes, it is.
LW: Give him an A, will ya?
CI: Thanks. Get that on record. I guess I'd like to ask you a few questions about your wife, and what she did after she graduated Penn.
LW: After she graduated Penn she taught junior high in Philadelphia and she taught history, and at the end of that year, we were married, and she came to Bergen County and she applied for a job there, and she didn't get a job in history but she got a job as an elementary school teacher in Cloister, New Jersey, and she taught school there for two years until our first child was born, and then after the children were old enough, then she came and on occasion assisted in my office. She helped and she did some of the books in my office, but she did not hold a formal job after that.
CI: She never returned to teaching?
LW: No. I almost did. About three years ago I decided, "Gee, in the winter you can't play golf. I'd like to try my hand at it." So in spite of my wife's telling me not to, "They'll drive you crazy," I went down to the Borough of Hightstown and I ended up taking some exam and got a Rutgers transcript, and I got a substitute teaching license. So the superintendent said to me, " Would you like to start on Monday?" and I said, "Well let me think about this awhile. I'll get in touch with you." Well, a few years have passed. I have not exercised my option yet. They asked me what I could teach. I said, "Math, English, or coach any sport." I haven't gotten bored enough, because then I took over the job as president of the Court Club, and there was a lot of paperwork to that, and then I became a little more active in my community. So I never got desperate enough to take them up.
KP: Was your wife ever active in any local historical societies? Did she ever use her history degree in ...
LW: No, not in a formal way. We do a lot of traveling and also attending away football games. We make trips out of these. We just don't go to the game. We've been to Ireland. We went to the game in Hawaii and from there we went on to Japan and Hong Kong. So it's had a lot of fringe benefits, this Rutgers allegiance, and as I say, I try to get her to go onto "Jeopardy," and she went down to Atlantic City with one of her friends, and they took the test, and they got nine out of ten. Enough people got ten out of ten that they weren't called. But she's a whiz at "Jeopardy." We never miss it.
KP So it sounds like your love for Rutgers is undiminished and your love of retirement ... you've enjoyed your retirement.
LW: Yes, it's … were it not for Rutgers, I say I wouldn't be living in the North. I'd be living in the South. That's absolutely true. But I feel it's been well worth it. I've made a lot of new friends through Rutgers. A lot of people confine all their social activity to the community in which we live, in Clearbrook. I spend almost as much time here as I do there, and a lot of our social activities, we go out with our Rutgers friends.
KP: Is there anything we forgot to ask you about?
LW: Well, as my wife said, "You'll probably do so much talking you won't give the others a chance." She knows me.
KP: No, I guess you've covered it all.
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Reviewed by Rupali Parikh 10/4/02
Reviewed by Sandra Stewart Holyoak 10/15/02
Reviewed by Leonard Weissburg 11/02