Molly Graham: Mr. Louis Lechner. I'm Molly Graham.
Mohammad Athar: I'm Mohammad Athar.
MG: Today is Tuesday, May 27th 2014. What kind of things do you remember Franklin D. Roosevelt talking about on--
Louis Lechner: Not a thing. It didn't jump out and hit me right in the face. [laughter] Any more than it does with Obama right now. It's depending upon what's station you're looking at or listening to, the slant is being put on it. You sit back and you make up your own mind.
MA: Did he influence any way politically?
LL: Excuse me?
MA: Did he influence you in your political views ...?
LL: I still don't understand, I'm sorry.
MG: Did it influence your political views?
LL: No, none whatsoever.
MG: His policies?
MG: You mentioned the Lend-Lease Act, can you say how that affected your family, or what you saw that as? [Editor's Note: The Lend-Lease Act was signed by FDR to send fifty billion dollars of aid to Britain and other Allied nations]
LL: Where were we?
MG: We were talking about Lend-Lease.
LL: The Lend-Lease, did it affect my family per se? No. I would just assumed there was, along with the Lend-Lease, there was a domino effect. It went into the railroading. It went into business. So, everything picked up a little there too, yes, especially my father; he was on the railroad and the trains were more active. There was sudden urgency to produce more coal, which meant more coal in the east coast, meant more trains for him, more work. That's about it, yes.
MG: Where would he go on the train?
LL: Where would he go?
LL: From Jersey City up to Allentown, (Mauch Chunk?). You were right.
M: I was right!
LL: Yes, I'm sorry to say. [laughter]
MG: So, we'll pick up again.
LL: I thought we dropped it.
MG: [laughter] Just with the recording. We also wanted to ask if you knew anybody who was in World War I.
LL: Yes, my uncle. My uncle, my namesake. He was in World War I.
MG: What was his experience?
LL: He didn't talk much about the war. He was in the infantry I know that. He was part of that March on Washington after the war. Do you remember this? No? Wasn't part of your history at all? [Editor's Note: The Bonus Army March took place from May to July of 1932. A group of 12,000 men marched demanding the pay bonuses that they were promised during their service in WWI.]
MA: I remember reading about it.
LL: Did you read about that?
LL: Yes. I don't know. Where they looking for a bonus, was it? They were looking for some money.
LL: They didn't have any money to pay for it, so all the veterans marched on Washington, and they called out the National Guard to protect the--oh, gee. That's when MacArthur came into view because he was head of the National Guard at the time, I think. I don't think they ever got paid. [Editor's Note: Chief of Army Staff Douglas MacArthur had military presence on the site of the Bonus Army March because he believed it to be a Communist plot to undermine the Department of Treasury.] Next.
MG: [laughter] Did he tell you anything about his experience or give you any advice?
LL: No, no.
MG: What did your family feel about World War I?
LL: What are you talking about? My immediate family now or way back when?
MG: Your parents.
LL: I don't think they had any feeling about it. They just supported it as much as they could I guess, so they were at war. My father registered for the draft, but he was excused because he was married and had a couple of children at the time, my two sisters, and I don't know whether he was excused because of his job or whether it was because of his age and his marriage. One or the other, but he didn't go. His brother went instead.
MG: You mentioned MacArthur. Can you tell me about your impressions of who he was and what he did?
LL: At the time, no. Didn't recognize him at all. You never heard of him before.
MG: What about when that changed during World War II and after?
LL: When did what change?
MG: MacArthur becoming a well-known person.
LL: Yes, personality, yes. That was well into the war though. There was another political game too, because they hung a label on him like, "Dugout Doug." You hear this? Because when he pulled them out of the Philippines, he took his wife and his entourage with him on these PT boats and went down to Australia, to assume command of that area. They figured he just ran out on the guys in the Philippines. It's a nasty remark.
MG: You mentioned also that your brother was in the service during World War II, but we didn't talk about him much last time.
LL: Yes, okay.
MG: Can you tell us about his experience, where he was?
LL: He was in Europe. He was in Europe. He was with the Signal Corps. [Editor's Note: The Signal Corps grew up to 27,000 men during WWII, due to the necessity of advanced communications throughout the many Allied campaigns of war. Their work pioneered many feats such as the advanced use of radar technology and deciphering machines.] They were advanced unit with setting up communications between the advanced units and the reserves in the back.
MG: What was his name?
MA: Did you have much contact with your brother during the war?
MA: Did you have much contact with your brother during the war?
LL: Did I have much contact with him? Not really much. The mail service was horrendous. I would get more information from my sisters at home here because they'd be writing to him and they'd be writing to me so the letters would cross. We'd know just where he was at approximately and why he wasn't getting the mail or whatever.
MG: Were your sisters and your parents doing anything to participate on the home front? Were they doing anything for the war effort on the home front?
LL: My sisters? Oh yes. They all worked second jobs and so did their husbands.
MG: What were they doing?
LL: They worked for Railway Express. Let's see. Where was the other one [working]? I think the other one worked in a foundry over in Brooklyn. They were looking for help. That's about it. Yes.
MG: What kind of updates would you get from them about their families or their day-to-day lives?
LL: All I got was the sort of reflection of what was going on at the home front, the shortages, and what they could do or couldn't do. Trying to live a normal life with two or three young children, which my daughter had--my sister, rather. My other sister had two children. So, let's see. There's always the--I remember my sister sent me some spam. [laughter]
MG: You might have to say for the record what that is because nowadays people might think that's a kind of email.
LL: You're right. You're right. Like I said "the mouse." Okay, yes. Well, spam is like a--you can still buy. You can still buy it in the stores today. It's quite a popular dish. Anyway, like everything else overseas, you always say, "Well, look, if you got anything around that's not nailed down, send it to us and we'll be glad to eat it. So, she sends me a letter saying that she waited on a line for an hour or something like that to get spam and it cost her like two coupons on the rations. [laughter] I said to her, "Don't you ever send me that again." I said, "We got spam coming out of our ears over here." [laughter] Some part of those field rations had spam in it. If you cooked it up, it wasn't too bad. Just hold your nose and eat it, that's all.
MG: Talk to us about the rations and supplies and things you would get to subsist on.
LL: Say what?
MG: Talk to me about the rations and supplies you had.
LL: The rations we had overseas?
LL: They were adequate. Let's put it this way, all right. It sustained life. [laughter] They used to give us, like a boxed lunch on the plane, on the missions all right. It was usually-- they used to make their own bread, of course--bake their own bread and they were rather generous on the bread. They'd cut a slice that thick, see. Then you'd have meat that thick. So, you ended up with a sandwich about that thick. [laughter]
MG: For those who can't see ...
LL: I'm sorry. I keep thinking--yes.
MG: It looked like the bread was about an inch and a half. The meat was maybe an inch.
LL: Yes. You'd get an inch and a half of bread on the top, an inch and a half of bread on the bottom and a half an inch of meat in the center.
MG: So like a fat sandwich back then?[Editor's Note: A "fat sandwich" is a food truck based sandwich originating at Rutgers University, and contains many ingredients such as chicken fingers, hamburger meat, mozzarella sticks.]
LL: Oh, yes. Yes, yes. Well, anyway. That was horrible.
MG: Were there things you were starting to look forward to, thinking, when I go home, I'm going to eat the biggest ice cream sundae, I'm going to sleep in the biggest bed?
LL: Oh, yes. Yes, yes. We took the troop transport out of Calcutta and our first stop was in Melbourne, Australia. The first thing we did was jump off the boat and get as much fresh fruit and vegetables, butter, as we could get, and milk. Depending upon the cook, he could do wonders with this powdered milk. He really could. Just by putting a certain amount of water in it, it didn't turn into toothpaste, but it was good. But going to Melbourne that was a real delight because we picked up all the lettuce, tomatoes, the fresh fruit and veggies. Oh, it was great.
MA: What would you say you miss the most out of the food? What would you say you missed the most?
LL: What did I miss the most?
LL: I think the fresh fruit and veggies, yes. Yes, yes.
MG: Did you find that this was starting to take a toll on you physically, not having the food you needed?
LL: No, no. Not really. No. We didn't do extra physical work to begin with. All right. We'd sit and wait.
MG: Remind us where you went from Australia.
LL: Say again?
MG: Remind us where you were going from Australia. What happened next?
LL: After Australia, we anchored out around the Guadalcanal, waiting for further orders there. Then from there, we went straight up into the Marianas.
MA: So, when you went up through Guadalcanal and the Marianas, did you get to speak with any of the veterans who took the islands or any of the Marines?
MA: Did you speak with any of the Marines who took the islands or any servicemen?
LL: No, no. No, we were confined to ship. We just had anchorage, that's all. We didn't see any of the combat personnel.
MG: Could you sort of describe that area?
LL: What? Guadalcanal?
LL: When we were at anchorage--have any of you seen the documentaries on the invasion to Europe in Normandy when they described all the ships out there, the largest flotilla the world has ever seen?
LL: Well it's the same thing down in Guadalcanal. Miles and miles and miles of vessels, like you're tripping over one. You could walk from one ship to the next, there were so many big ones. It was huge. Tankers, carriers, cargo ships, personnel, troop ships, everything imaginable was at anchor down there. I couldn't believe it.
MG: How'd that make you feel knowing that there were so many other people and so many others more?
LL: You feel kind of small. You say, "Gee, look. Everybody's out there." [laughter]
MG: From there, what was your next assignment?
LL: Well, our next assignment was getting into Tinian, getting off the ship, getting settled. Get the tents up, get everything livable. Hoping we still had a crew together.
MG: Did you keep your crew together?
LL: Yes. Yes, we did.
MG: How many more missions did you fly from there?
MG: So let's talk now about those last few missions, and the war winding down.
LL: All right. What would you like to hear?
MG: Really all you have to say about it.
LL: Well, ... the war started to wind down as far as the missions were concerned. It got to the point where we're running out of targets. They decided they were going to tell the Japanese people that the target they were going to bomb the day before. So, this was to lessen the civilian casualties of course. They were interested in-- but even with that, it was still a long flight and it was a tedious flight and it was a dangerous flight because if for any unknown reason you had problems with the aircraft, you had to ditch, or put it into Iwo, there's always that chance you wouldn't make it back. The weather was rather frightening too. It was the--I remember one flight we'd come back from--coming over the mainland and I could've sworn the wings were bouncing up and down it was so turbulent. [laughter] Can't see that on a microphone, I realize that now.
MG: You're sort of flapping your arms.
LL: Yes, flapping arms. Oh, yes. Yes.
MG: What other possible problems could the airplane encounter?
LL: Say again?
MG: What other possible problems were there besides turbulence?
LL: Well you could run out of gas too. Just a little miscalculation on your navigation or your settings, your fuel settings, you could easily run out of gas. If you're that short, you just hope you can make it back to Iwo, to land and then refuel and get on back to your home base. That was a little hairy. You could get--Iwo was not the best place to land. It was still a muddy four or five thousand feet. As much as they say that Iwo was taken and was secure, there was always a problem. In some of those caves on Iwo, some Japanese would hold out and they would pop up out of the cave and shoot you.
MG: Did you ever have to do that? Did you ever have to land on Iwo to refuel?
LL: We landed on Iwo yes, because of the weather. We were running short on gas. They told us that the weather was bad at Iwo. I mean back at Tinian, but actually they were mistaken. We found out later that they were giving us Iwo weather and ascribing it to Tinian. [laughter] So, we heard that. We said, "Let's go into Iwo because we can make--we don't have enough fuel to keep going around in circles to get to Tinian. We'll head into Iwo." But then they approach Iwo; it looked kind of bad because called me in the back. He says "What do you see back there?" I said "Nothing." [laughter] He says, "It's not better up here." I said, "Okay." "You're in first class," I says. [laughter] Anyway, we put into Iwo and that's when we found out that they were calling the storm front for Tinian. It was actually the weather at Iwo. So, it was one of those mistakes, but it could happen.
M: How far was Iwo from Tinian, Lou?
LL: Oh, we were a couple hours. About three or four hours, yes.
MG: By plane?
LL: Yes, by plane, yes. Now, we're not talking about jets now; we're talking about propeller-driven planes. You're making a hundred and eighty miles an hour, you're going pretty good. [laughter]
MG: What about contact with enemy fire?
LL: I only had one contact, that's all. We had other contacts, but I didn't get to see much of the contacts because either they were on the other side of the plane or they were up front or they were coming at us, but I didn't get to see any of them. I only had one contact and that's when that plane followed us off the coast of Japan and he was laying off there a couple thousand yards and I called J.R. up front. I says, "Can I test my guns on this?" He says, "Sure. Why not? Go ahead." He says, " It's one less fighter we have to worry about." I says, "All right." I mean, he could be a plane spotter and he could be calling up ahead to a group that was just waiting for us. We didn't know that. He was no threat to me, but he was a threat to potentially the whole group and we got him, that's all. I saw him bail out.
MA: So the problems you were talking about, weather, fuel, were those common problems? Did those happen a lot?
LL: Oh, it did. It did. Maintenance was a big problem, especially when [we were in] India, the heat itself was a problem, that the engines would overheat, and you'd get disasters. By takeoff--they crash on takeoff ... I have a paper over there, detailing some of the accidents that occurred and you could attribute them to heat and maintenance. That was the biggest problem.
MG: Would that change the mood when there was an accident or a loss of a plane or a life?
LL: Oh, yes. Sure it did. Yes, sure. You thank God it wasn't me.
MG: Did it make it harder going up that next time?
LL: No. No. Just made wary about the fact that there's a possibility and you realize that every time you took off, all right? That's like what's his name? Sullenberger, the guy from--he said the most two important parts of a craft is taking off and landing. He says the most dangerous part--he's right. [Editor's Note: On January 15, 2009, Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, III, landed US Airways Flight 1549 into the Hudson River after engine blowouts, saving the lives of all the passengers onboard.]
M: Was there any procedure if the engines overheated, Lou?
LL: You just close them down as quickly as possible and hope you weren't that high off the ground, you could abort ... right back on the ground.
M: Was it mainly on takeoff that they overheated?
LL: Oh, yes, plenty of times. Yes, yes. That was the biggest problem, overheating on takeoff because you had the cow flaps on the motors and liked to open them to vent the heat. But if you vented the heat you also opened up the flap, which was like a brake, the wind, see. So, in one sense where you were getting rid of the heat, but the other sense, where you were cutting your ground speed or air speed, too. There's a constant chatter between Dave, Leon, and J.R. on takeoff as far as airspeed, cylinder head temperature. Constantly reminding us not to drag our feet on takeoff all right. [laughter]
MG: I forget where you were when the atom bombs were dropped.
LL: We were in Tinian. They were up on the north field; we were down in the south field. They were on the same island with us.
MG: Do you remember when that took place?
LL: August the sixth. Yes, I forget where I was. I think I was ...
MG: But you flew another mission after those bombs were dropped, right?
LL: Oh sure we did. Yes, sure.
MG: I think people have the impression that when those bombs were dropped the war just ended there and then.
LL: We just heard that the bombs were dropped, that's about it. I think we may have thought at the time that that's the end of the war. I don't see how they could survive after that. But we still maintained bombing missions.
MA: So, then you were aware of the magnitude of the bombs that were dropped?
LL: We aware of the what?
MA: Of the magnitude of the bombs.
LL: I don't think so. I don't think anybody was.
MG: Did you know that these bombs were different, the A-Bombs?
LL: They were different than?
MG: Than non-nuclear bombs.
LL: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. We didn't know anything about them really. It was a very hush-hush secret operation.
MG: What things did you find out afterwards?
LL: What did we find out afterwards? As far as the bomb itself is concerned? We didn't learn too much about it. I think they had more about it in the papers back home here than we did out there.
M: You weren't aware that they were actually on the island with you?
LL: Oh, yes. We were very much aware of that as a special group, not as a similar B-29 group.
M: You knew that they were there.
LL: Oh, yes. Yes, yes.
M: And they were kept in a separate area?
LL: On a separate part of the island. I had a friend of mine who I went to school with out in Denver, Colorado. He was assigned as a mechanic in that group, up on the north end of the island. He didn't know what was going on. Absolutely nothing. He just knew there was a secret operation and they flew these practice missions, that's all, but he didn't know anything about them.
MG: Why do you think it was kept a secret operation?
LL: Say what?
MG: Why do you think they made it a secret operation?
LL: Why did they keep it a secret? Oh, I have no idea. You ask me what's in the back of their head, no way. [laughter] Everything's a secret. [laughter]
MG: You went on a lot of bombing missions. Did you have enough points for discharge?
LL: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
MG: So how did that work? Tell me about from when you landed on the ground for the last time to the next step.
LL: The next step after that was to clean out the plane, take everything off the plane, bring it back into your tent, and sit there and wait for orders.
MG: Did you do any kind of celebrating?
LL: Yes. [laughter] To say the least, yes.
MG: How did you celebrate?
LL: They opened up an enlisted men's club. You get beer and you could get Cokes and things like that. If you wanted hard liquor, we had hard liquor anyway, so it didn't make a difference. The officers on our crew had access to hard liquor, but they didn't drink. They'd give it to us, pass it on down. There was also a few extra drinks at the Red Cross shack, too. See, when we'd get off the plane after a mission, they'd have a debriefing and the first team, what they'd do is they would line up by the Red Cross shack. On one side, they had like a fence, a barrier. Okay? This side your Coca-Cola, this side booze. Okay? So you take your Coca-Cola and you take it over to booze and mix the two of them. If you waited long enough you'd get one or two, see? ... Take two of these and go back to bed and go to sleep. [laughter]
MG: So were you in both lines?
LL: You'd better believe it. [laughter] Many times over. [laughter] You had to.
MA: When you were about to go on missions, would they restrict your drinking?
LL: Say again.
MA: Would they restrict your drinking of alcohol?
MG: Would you drink before a mission?
LL: No, no. No, no. Usually, the drink was after the mission. If you wanted a drink at all it would be after the mission, certainly not before the mission. We liked to keep all our faculties together. There's no time to fool around.
MG: What happened once all the celebrating was over?
LL: That was it. Just had a humdrum life. Then, waiting for someone to tell you if you're going home or trying to figure out how many points you had and when could you be assigned and who were you going to be assigned with.
MG: So tell me about all those things. How long did it take to get an assignment?
LL: Oh, it took weeks. Took close to a month. Took you close to a month I think it was.
MG: So how did you spend that month? Where were you?
LL: Oh, we'd just hang out. They kept us busy, exercise and parade formations. Then the other thing too, they were asking for volunteers to fly a POW mission. Drop off the relief goods to these prisoners of war. A lot of the guys had never flown before so they took our crew, our plane, and staffed it with about ten others and off they went. They flew missions up outside of Tokyo and to Taiwan. We didn't go on any of them. We flew the plane over to Saipan, loaded it up in Saipan, then brought it back over to Tinian ...
MG: For supplies?
MG: What were you doing? You were getting supplies?
LL: Yes, we would fly the plane from Tinian over to Saipan, let them load the plane up in the bomb bays with the goods and then we'd fly back to Tinian, put a crew onboard there, and then send them out to the POW camps.
MG: And were they able to bring back POWs?
LL: No, no. You couldn't land any of those.
MG: So what was their objective?
LL: To drop food and clothing to the POWS. Get me one of those books on the top, (Graham?). Yes, let me see that.
MA: Just while you're looking for this, did you get any information on the POW camps?
LL: Did we get any information on them?
LL: Not really. No we didn't get that much information. It was well afterwards that we learned of certain conditions up there and the prison of war camps were pretty bad.
MG: Can you talk about that a little bit?
LL: I don't know much about it to talk about it, I'll be honest with you.
MG: But have you found out since?
LL: Oh, yes. Sure.
MA: Did you know anyone who was in a POW camp?
LL: No, I didn't know any of them at all. See, I did know two of the other guys that were on the POW mission. They slammed into the mountain outside of Tokyo and they were all killed.
MG: How were the POWs eventually rescued?
LL: Well, after they signed the declaration of surrender, they put troops on into Japan and they went right up to the POW camps and got them out of there as quickly as possible, brought them back by the Navy. I need the other books. Yes. Sorry. Thanks.
M: The big ones?
LL: I don't know. I got it mixed up now. That might be it. I started to sort this out and it didn't work out that well.
MG: What are you looking for?
LL: I'm looking for the information on the POWs you said. I had a list of--it's not here either. It's got to be in there, (Graham?). It's in that miscellaneous--
M: Lou, what are these?
LL: That was put on the back of our jackets just in case we went down into China. That was saying that anyone helping us would be rewarded and we'd be given a safe passage.
MG: You're describing a patch that would go on the back of your jacket.
MG: This is in Chinese?
LL: That's in Chinese, yes. There was a serial number on them, so they'd--
MG: Yes, I see it down here.
LL: Okay, yes. All right. See? Gee whiz. Let me see that. (Graham?), can you reach that book?
LL: ... This is some of the pictures of the base. This was the chapel, I think. They built that out there.
MG: Did you go to the chapel at all?
LL: Oh, sure. Yes.
MG: For services?
LL: Oh, yes. Yes, yes. We had a Catholic priest with us. He was a convert from Judaism. This was when we went swimming. [laughter] Okay. Here's what I'm looking for. This was the--
MG: You don't have to take it out if you don't want to.
LL: This was the list of supplies that was dropped to the prisoners of war. Okay? It says, "Undershirts, drawers, socks, shirts, trousers, jackets, belts, caps, shoes, handkerchiefs, towels, shoelaces, sewing kits, toilet soap, razor blades, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, shaving cream, insecticide powders. Do not overheat or overmedicate." It says, "To feed a hundred men for the first three days. The following box ..."
MG: I think this item at the top is significant, too. It says, "The Japanese government has surrendered."
MG: "You will be evacuated by Allied nation forces as soon as possible."
LL: Yes, yes.
MG: What do you think these men thought when they saw this notice?
LL: [laughter] I have a letter in here about Rangoon in Burma, that the prisoners of war down there saw the [B]-29's coming over to bombing ... [laughter] They all get punished for it though. The Japanese didn't like it.
MG: Once that month was up and you were ready to go home, how did you get there?
LL: How did I get there? Well, there was--our crew, the four or five of us in the crew who actually went back with J.R. and Chuck, the co-pilot. We loaded like twelve or fifteen other personnel who had points to go back. So we flew them back to Hawaii. We stopped at Eniwetok first. Then we went into Hawaii after that and then from Hawaii into California.
MG: What was that transition like, going from lots of bombing missions, fourteen hour flights to finally being able to relax a little?
LL: Yes, it's like going from night to day. The adrenaline is pumping a little, all right, a day to day basis. Now, you sit back and you wait and say, "What the hell could go wrong now?" That's the problem because most of the pilots that left Tinian to Eniwetok to Hawaii, they never landed in Eniwetok to begin with, all right? It's like landing in the side of ocean. Eniwetok is just an atoll. Some of them cracked up. Some of them had problems. That's why I think we liked our crew so well was the fact that JR was a hell of a good pilot. He was just about the best.
MG: Was he in charge of taking you home too?
LL: Yes, yes. We went over with him, we came back with him.
MG: Then from California, where did you go from there?
LL: We got the discharge in California and we were given some money. Went, buy a ticket, get on a train, and go to your--they gave us transportation back to our enlistment area, which would've been Camp Dix for me. So, I got on a train between California and Denver. In Denver, I transferred trains to the Rock Island Rocket from Denver into Chicago. I stayed over in Chicago twenty-four hours and then from there, I went right into Newark.
MG: I'm curious just what your feelings were during this time. Did the US seem different to you?
LL: Did it feel different? Yes. Yes. It was. I don't know whether we'd be happy to be home or happy to get away from things per se. The other problem, I think, in the back of my mind, what are we going to do when we get home now. We found out we were not fighting for mom's apple pie at all.
MG: What do you mean?
LL: [laughter] Let's see. Everybody wanted a new car or girlfriend and let's see what else. Get rid of these boots.
MG: Did you think when you were in California and being discharged and given some money, "Is this it? Am I really done?"
LL: Yes. That was it. You're useless. Now, get out of our way, right?
MG: That must have been strange because you were so useful during the war.
MG: You were so useful during the war.
MG: You had such a purpose.
LL: That's right. That's right. Now you're on your own.
MG: So what was that like?
LL: As I say, who's going to do my thinking for me? Right. In a way, you know.
MG: Did you recreate some of that routine? Did you need sort of to get up at a certain time?
LL: Yes, that's right. Yes, yes.
MA: So would you say you missed some aspect of being in the service?
LL: Say again.
MG: Would you say you missed a little bit of being in the service when you came home?
LL: A list of the military life? Yes, in a way. Yes, yes. It's regimented. You really didn't have to make many decisions. They were made for you. You maybe missed the loving touch of your mother, but by the same token, if you had a problem you could always go to the chaplain or else go to the doctor and that's it.
MG: You also must've missed the loving touch of a girlfriend or a woman. You guys are young guys away from home.
LL: There were ten guys. [laughter]
MG: For such long time.
LL: Yes, I know.
MG: It also must have been tricky to then have to take this long train ride across the US.
LL: Oh, is that right. Yes. I got on the train in California and I rode it to Denver and I carried some woman's baby for about six or eight hours in my arms. ... turn around, I always had this baby in my arms. [laughter] There was no place to sit down. There's wall to wall GIs on the train.
MG: What was that like, holding a baby? I imagine you'd lost a lot of men, you'd been through war, and then to hold a new life must have been pretty incredible.
LL: Yes, yes. It was a pain in the butt. [laughter] I kept saying, "Where the hell is your husband?" [laughter]
MG: How did people react to you coming home? How was your homecoming?
LL: Oh, it was fun. I don't think my sister recognized me. She said there was so much that had changed.
MG: That's my next question. You must've looked different; aged and changed.
LL: A little. A little. Not much, but a little.
MG: Did you lose weight?
LL: I never had any weight to lose. I went in at about 120 pounds. I came out at about 125.
MG: How else did it change you though? How else were you different?
LL: Well, I think I'm a little wary about going back into civilian life. The military life, you could just push so far, push the envelope so far and then ... Going back into civilian life, you didn't know who the good guys were and who were the bad guys. You just had to feel your way. Of course, the big problem there was getting back into jobs. Most of the women had taken the jobs. Now they're resentful. You're coming back after war and you're going to take the job back from them and they were supporting a family.
M: How long did it take you to get a job when you got back home?
LL: Overnight practically. I went down to the office, said hello to everybody, told them I was home. They said, "Okay. When do you start?" I said, "As soon as possible," and I did.
G: That's very fortunate.
LL: Yes, yes. There were three girls in the office, too that hated my guts. [laughter] They didn't want to see us at all.
MG: Where was this you got a job?
LL: Back at the same company I left, American Export Lines. Went back into operations and I picked up where I left off. Nothing had changed much.
MG: Did you move back in with your parents?
LL: Oh, yes. Yes.
MG: What about your brother's experience coming home?
LL: He came home about a year or two later. I thought he was going to be transferred out to the Pacific. Fortunately, they diverted the ship into the East Coast and he discharged here.
MA: Why was your brother stationed longer than you were?
LL: He was in Europe. He was in Germany and when the war was over in April of that year--'45 was it? They put him into what they call replacement depots and they assemble them all there and they put them on troopships. At that time, they were thinking about invading Japan, so they were building up as much personnel as they could out of the Far East. So, they pack them on these troopships and set them out to the Far East. Fortunately, the A-Bomb was dropped and they decided the invasion was impossible. So just perfectly happy it didn't happen. They turned his ship around and started going down through the Canal. They brought him back up on the East Coast and discharged him in New York, which is good.
MG: That was still a year later than when you got back?
LL: Just about, yes. Yes, yes. Well, maybe not so much of a year, but in that timeframe.
MG: When did you return home?
LL: October '45.
MG: Then did you guys get to talk about your experiences?
LL: Yes, when we got a chance. Yes, yes. Actually, he saw more action than I did really, some physical action.
MG: Tell me about some of his stories.
LL: He said he was just about six or seven of them sitting around in a group and apparently, he was too close to the front lines, and a mortar shell came in and plumped right down next to them. He didn't get hurt; some of his friends did though.
MG: I found that people who served in the European Theater were glad they were there instead of Japan, but then people who were in the Pacific Theater were glad they were there instead of Europe.
LL: Is that right?
MG: I think that's because they survived when they're telling me this.
LL: Yes, yes.
MG: Did you have those feelings?
LL: No, not really. No, no. I had a rather stupid feeling that the last thing I wanted to do was be in the infantry where I could be sitting in a slit trench and have some guy pull a rope about three miles away, lob their shell, and hit me ... By the same token, it was just as dangerous being up there in the plane, some guy on the ground with an anti-aircraft gun shooting stuff up in the air and blasting me right out of my--false sense of security.
MG: Did you ever talk with pilots and bombing crews from the European Theatres?
LL: No, no. No, we never did. No, no. The only thing I know about the European Theater is what I seen on TV and that's fantastic.
MG: Why do you say it's fantastic?
LL: Well, if you've seen anything on TV on the History Channel or they call it now the Hero Channel, is it? The 8th Air Force, which I could've been a member of that and I got out of it rather luckily. They had in one raid alone over Germany--they had four hundred planes--no. Forty planes were shot down with four hundred men missing. That's a lot of--that's a big percentage. They said there were more--I don't know the exact figures now, but they said there were more men killed in the 8th Air Force than the combined casualties of the Marines and the Navy out in the Pacific. Close to eight thousand members of the 8th Air Force were killed. That's a lot of personnel. A lot of personnel.
MA: So you said that you watch the History channel to inform yourself about the European theater.
MA: Do you ever watch anything with the Pacific, the theater that you were in?
LL: Yes, there is one on there and it's actually based in Tinian, the story, and it shows in the background, one of the planes ditching on the right side of the coast. The part I liked about it was that they actually took pictures of the washing machines we had going at the time. Washing machines we had made ourselves. They were fifty-five gallon drums and then they'd take a rebar and put a hook on it, and then make a fan like a windmill, put a weight on the bottom of that rebar. There's a plunger added to the rebar. As the fan spins, this thing go up and down, you put your clothes in hot water, the soap. Build a fire underneath it. The only bad feature about that was that was when we had a high wind blowing, it'd take the windmills and go all the way down and you hurt people. [laughter] You chew up tents, chewed up everything. [laughter] But there's that one scene in that movie, that documentary that shows the windmills. [laughter]
MA: Do you feel that those accounts are fairly accurate, that you see on the History Channel?
LL: Oh, yes. Most of it's really accurate. Yes, yes.
MG: What about fictional counts of World War II? Are there certain movies or TV shows that you feel got it right?
LL: No, The Longest Day was about the best and the other one was The Bridge Too Far?
MG: Yes. That was about the D-Day Invasion, The Longest Day?
MG: I meant to ask while you were overseas, what did you do when it was someone's birthday, or a holiday? Would you celebrate those days or was it just like any other?
LL: Like any other, believe me. [laughter] It was just one day after another. Right.
MG: Nothing for Thanksgiving or Christmas?
LL: Oh, Thanksgiving and Christmas were big days. Yes, sure. Sure, sure. We celebrated our first Thanksgiving dinner in India. We got there in about October, November, yes. We had turkey and they [were] making a big to-do about having turkey. Well, what they didn't understand was the turkeys were packaged in cans, tin cans, five pounds or something. There were no bones. It was just meat. [laughter] So, when you took them out of the can, you got a big mess. [laughter] You didn't roast anything. Geez. [laughter] That was our first Thanksgiving dinner. ...
MA: Because you were overseas, did you feel as though these holidays were more special?
LL: Oh, they made them special. A lot of the senior officers, they realized that these--a lot of young guys away from home and it was a big deal. You had to make Christmas and New Year's something special. Thanksgiving, all right.
MG: We can fast forward now to transitioning home. What were you doing in your job?
MG: What were your duties when you had your job?
LL: What was my duties?
MG: When you came home and started working again, what did you do every day?
LL: Well, let's see. Well, prior to coming in the office, I used to make tour of the piers, all right. I'd pick up all of the pertinent information of each piers what's going on. Okay. How many gangs we were working, how many clerks we had working, how many checkers, did we have ships did we have working, ... discharging, loading or what. I'd gather this information. I'd bring it up ... compile it and I'd make a presentation to my boss. Tell him this is [what's] going on. So, he had firsthand knowledge of what I brought up, together with what the clerks brought up to him. So, he could compare both. Then, from then on, they sent me to the out ports. Like, they'd send me to Brooklyn and Staten Island--a learning process. We had piers there. We had the operations there. So, I spent some time there. It was one of the operations. Brooklyn, that's where you took most of the--what's the stuff I'm trying to think of? I'm trying to think of the product that comes out of Spain. Cork. Cork. Bales of cork. That and olives. As far as the eye could see, it'd be olives. We had quite a trade in olives and we used to do the re-brining and salvaging what you could, at the pier. We had a crew of--they call them "coopers" and they did all the repair work. Good group. Then from Staten Island I went to Brooklyn, Brooklyn back to Staten Island. Then started another pier up at the North River, at pier 84 where the--what's the carriers up there now? What's the name of the aircraft carriers up on the North River?
MA: Intrepid, yes.
LL: The Intrepid, yes. That was our pier there. They tore that down, put The Intrepid in there. So, now that's where we--with the advent of passenger ships, we had the Independence, the Constitution, and the Atlantic. We would berth some ... for the Italian line. They had the Andrea Doria, the Conte Biancamano. What was the other one? What's the sister ship to the Andrea Doria? [laughter] I can't remember that. I can't believe that. Anyway, that's where I spent most of my time after that. Over on Pier D though in Jersey City, we had the berth for what we call the "Four Aces," which was a cargo ship carrying about 125 passers. Really good service. It did the Mediterranean. That's where I cut my teeth on baggage operations. So, I used to set that up and then work with customs and immigration and public health, Then, after I left that Pier D, then I went up to Pier 84 and they set me up there as assistant-super. That's where we did the legwork. I say legwork, we walked. I'm telling you, we walked. Oh, geez. I was thinking. I used to leave my house like three or four o'clock in the morning, I'd drive into New York, park the car, and get down to Lower Bay with customs. We'd board the ship down at the narrows. We'd get on board. I'd get a list of the VIPs on board and then I'd line up the customs inspectors. Then we'd start the whole operation again. We had three classes of passengers. You had first, second, and third. We had the separation on the pier for the luggage. Then we had the cargo operations. Then we had one two, two hatch. Then we had a side portal for the stores and then ... we had the hatch for the baggage and another side ... for more cargo. So, we would start there. Like, the gangs would come on board around eight o'clock and we'd work--depending upon whether we had to get the ship out the next day or not. In some cases, you had a twenty four-hour turn-around, which meant you had to clean out the ship, discharge it completely, and then load everything you wanted to load. One of our big assets was the mail, the US Mail. We'd take couple of thousand bags of mail at one time. It was a good itinerary. Ports of call, Algiers, Spain. You had Marseilles, Genoa, Naples. Yes, that's about it, and then turn around, come back. Then they went on these world cruises at one time, which were fantastic. They actually went out of New York, through the [Mediterranean], stopped off in Alexandria, and then through the canal, down the Red Sea. Did they go to India or not? I'm not sure if they went to India or not. They may have. Karachi was still one of our ports, either that or Calcutta, one or the other.
MA: So you mentioned having a car. Was this your own car or a company car?
LL: No, my car. Company didn't give you a car.
MG: What were you driving?
LL: [laughter] Let's see. I think I had a Chevy at the time. Yes, yes. I had a Chevy convertible.
MA: When did you get the Chevy?
MG: So, it was a few years after you returned before you got this car?
LL: Yes, yes. Yes, yes.
MG: You mentioned all the places the ships would go. Did you get to go along for the ride or is that just where the ships went?
LL: No, I didn't go along for the ride, no. No, no. I was fortunate to be able to take a couple of cruises down to the Mediterranean, with my wife and the children, and with (Graham's?) wife, and my son. The three of them are in the hallway there.
MG: They have pictures there? They're not actually standing in the hallway.
LL: [laughter ] I hope not.
MG: We'll get to family. You said you picked up where you left off with your job, but were you doing anything differently because of your war experience?
LL: In the Army? In the war? No, nothing.
MG: You weren't showing up on time more or getting more things done?
LL: No, no.
MG: Remind me how old you were when you started working and when you returned. Don't write on that. [laughter]
LL: [laughter] I was born in '21. Yes, I was twenty-four. Twenty-four when I came back.
MG: When you would drive in New York City at four in the morning, three in the morning, what did it look like then?
LL: I guess it hasn't changed much. It hasn't changed much. Yes.
MG: You mentioned cruises with your family, but to start a family, how did you meet your wife?
LL: She worked for the same company.
MG: Was she one of the girls that resented you coming back to work?
LL: No, no. She worked in another department. [laughter]
MG: So, how did she become your girlfriend?
LL: I don't know about that so much. That's hard to describe. I can't remember now. It's hard to remember.
MG: You dated while you both worked together?
LL: Yes, yes.
MG: When did you get married?
LL: We got married in '52. Bought the car in '50.
MG: Yes, the car helps sometimes.
MG: Where would you go in the car, like on dates or for trips?
LL: Oh, mostly down to the Jersey shore. Yes.
MG: That was something we wanted to talk about.
LL: What's that?
MG: When you were growing up, it sounded like you liked to spend a lot of time at the shore.
LL: When I was growing up, not really. My only connection to the Jersey Shore was through my cousin, all right and my mother's sister owned a place down in Beacon Beach, which is the suburb of Keansburg. That was the only connection I had with the Jersey Shore. I didn't use that much until after '46 really. '46 up to '50, something like that.
MG: You were going down to the beach quite a lot those years?
LL: In '46 to '50 yes. Yes, I'd spend as much time as I could possibly get there. Sleeping accommodations were few and far between, so you had to take what's available.
MG: Tell me about some of the times you had down there. Would you go with friends? Would you go swimming.
LL: Oh, yes. Sure. We had swimming and we had the beach. Beacon Beach had a clubhouse, and they'd run dances on Saturday night. You had to dress for, jacket, tie--whatever. No way I could ... [laughter] and downstairs was the bar. I think they were selling three drinks for a dollar at the time. Get yourself loaded for two dollars. Let's see. What else? It was a fun group. It was a fun group. They used to put on a minstrel show once a year. Then of course, then we had the other thing. When my aunt used to close the house up on Labor Day, my cousin and I, we'd go down for Halloween, we'd open up the place again [and] freeze. Oh, God, It was cold. Anyway, then we'd have--most of the gang we hung out with, they would come down for Halloween, too. You'd get these house parties all over the areas. It was a lot of fun.
M: How did you get there Lou?
LL: Oh, yes. Well the train service wasn't bad, but it wasn't good. We had bus service really. Bus service out of Jersey City and New York. The (Red and Tan?) bus line, I think it was, yes. That's before they had the bus terminal at 42nd Street. The (Red and Tan?) used to work out of 50th and 8th Ave. They'd park the bus on the street and you'd get on there. [laughter]
M: You'd go there straight after work on a Friday?
LL: Yes, yes. I'd shoot up there right there, yes. So, I went from 44th and 12th up to 50th and 8th to get the bus. Or if I had the car at the time, I'd just jump in the car and go.
MG: Would you go down there with your wife?
LL: No, leave her home. [laughter] No, I didn't get married until 1952.
MG: I know. So I'm wondering if you'd bring her when she was your girlfriend.
LL: No, no. No, no. We didn't start going together much before 1950. '50, '51, yes. I think Peg was with me when we bought the car. I think she was, yes.
MG: And that's her name, Peg?
MG: Short for Margaret?
MG: When did you get married and how did you know she was the one you would marry?
LL: I'm still trying to figure that one out.
M: She's there waiting for you. [laughter]
LL: Yes, I know. I know. Boy, oh, boy. [laughter] Her sister was living close by to my mother and father, okay. So what that was coming around nineteen--that must have been about 1950, yes. So, it was very convenient for me to hop from one house to the other and see her, rather than being away down here somewhere. ... Yes, that's it. Yes. ...
MG: Was she living with her sister?
LL: No, she wasn't living with her sister. But for a while yes. Excuse me. You're right. She was for a while, yes. Her mother, too, joined her. So, her sister, Peggy and the mother, yes.
MG: What was she like? Why did you want to date her?
LL: Who was like what?
MG: I'm wondering what your wife was like, what kind of person she was when you met her.
LL: Let's see. What she's like. She was a very sensitive, very sensitive, apologetic. She could always give you a reason why something happened and you shouldn't be ... that the other person correct, you were wrong. [laughter] She was very charitable. She was a good secretary too.
MG: What about your wedding day?
LL: What about it?
MG: Tell me about it.
LL: Oh that's antagonistic. Okay. [laughter] What was it? It was one of those days in February. Oh my God. The weather wasn't so nice. Peg's mother wasn't well. In fact we had doctor in the back of the church, standing by just in case we needed her for--Peg's mother. I think Peg had a touch of the flu and it started just a little sprinkle of rain and snow coming down after the ceremony, yes. Then we went over to the--we had a reception over on 34th Street and Park Avenue at the 71st Infantry Regiment. They often use it as a club.
MG: Did you invite any men from your crew to the wedding?
LL: No. They were spread all over the map--Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Colorado. We got to see the crew on sort of a semi-reunion out in Indiana one year. Then the 40th bomb group had a reunion in Dayton, Ohio, which Peg and I went to and the crew went there. We'd got together. The impromptu reunion out in Indiana, Red Wilson put that together for us. So, we had a nice place on the lake. It was really a nice weekend. Yes, that must have been around 1959 out in Indiana, somewhere around there, or maybe earlier. My son was about five years old at the time and I think my mother and father came out and stayed here and stayed with the baby, stayed with him. We drove out to Indiana.
MG: What was that first reunion like? Was it emotional? Was it fun?
LL: Oh, yes. Yes. We hadn't seen each other now since like 1945, going on six or seven years. We all had changed a bit. Get that book over there.
M: This one?
LL: Yes. Grab that one please. See if it's in here.
MG: There's an article about it.
LL: Oh, yes. We were in the newspaper out there.
MG: This picture's a little blurry, but which one are you?
LL: Oh, I guess I'm not there. Maybe that's me. That could be me.
MG: Let's see.
M: There's a list of names under the picture.
LL: Okay. There it is. Left to right Dave Leon--that's Dave. Okay. There's Red Wilson from Indiana. Earl Sherman. Oh, boy. That's the tail gunner. This is Ed (Alison?), the navigator, and that's me. That is me. That's the radio operator. That's the left gunner.
MG: Where's J.R.?
LL: He didn't make it. He didn't make it. I think he was in college at the time. Sure. It was thirteen years later at the reunion. Wow.
MG: So what was everybody up to?
LL: What were they up to? Well Dave was an investment banker. Wilson had a men's shop, Bud was a mechanic down in Kentucky somewhere. (Alison?) was a field engineer for Marriott, the hotel chain. He did quite a bit of work in Egypt for them. In fact, I think at the time, he told me he hated flying. It got so bad after a while. Just hated going up there.
MG: What's unique about this group of guys than maybe another group of friends you would have? You have a pretty unique, shared experience that you all went through together.
LL: Yes, yes.
MG: So is there something different about this group of friends?
LL: What's so different, about the n comparison to what?
MG: Yes, another group that's formed more casually.
LL: Well this is something I was thinking about not so long ago, too. The casual friends I knew back in high school sort of disappeared with the war. Like my friend Ed (Walsh?) for one thing. He was one of my closest friends. I used to walk by his house every morning, go to school. We'd pick him up as he came out and we both went to school, and a couple other people. But when the war came, they just disappeared. After the war, everybody went back to work, which is another division, because you didn't get to see them. It was rather traumatic I thought.
MG: Did you remain close with your crew throughout your life?
LL: Oh yes. We corresponded quite frequently, yes.
MA: So how often would talk go back to your days in the bombing group?
MG: How often would you talk about your war experience?
LL: To them?
LL: We never talked about the war experience per se. They didn't do anything different than I did. [laughter] ... think about it.
MG: I imagine there were times maybe later in life where you wanted to clarify some moments. You mentioned that email or that letter from J.R. last time we were here.So were there things that were revealed to you that you had missed at the time?
LL: Oh, sure. Yes, yes. Lots of things. Yes, yes.
MG: Like what?
LL: Well that particular landing in Iwo Jima, I know that was a little dangerous, but I didn't realize that at the time how bad it was or how bad the weather was and it wasn't until later on that we got talking. We had a mini-reunion down in Florida one year, and we got to talking and that and a couple of other things. J.R. almost got killed taking off from Chakulia. He had an overheated engine and had to close it down in a hurry before he got airborne. They thought he did it deliberately, that's how bad it was, and he said, "No." Fortunately there's other people on the line watching the take off. They saw what happened and they verified the fact that he had to close the engines out before takeoff.
MG: What were other things that were revealed to you after the war, like the Holocaust or the internment camps? What did you think about all that?
LL: The Holocaust? It was about most disgusting thing I've ever seen.
MG: Did you know about that while you were overseas?
MG: So what was it like to find out once the dust had settled?
LL: Actually, I found more about on the TV than I did in say, past years, all right. It's hard to believe that something like that happened, really. We didn't know anything about the forced march from the Philippines. [Editor's Note: The Bataan Death March began in April 1942 in the after tens of thousands of Filipinos and Americans had surrendered to Japanese forces during the invasion of the Philippines. Thousands would die during the relocation.] We didn't know about that. We didn't know about the horrendous conditions down in the South Pacific with the Japanese and those railroads down there, building that railroad. [Editor's Note: The Imperial Japanese Army used 13,000 Australian and British POWs to build a the "Burma Railway," leaving thousands dead due to the brutal conditions.] I think someone asked--one of the questions was "What did you feel like dropping bombs on the people in Japan." I had no compunction whatsoever. We do know that there were a couple of the crewmembers from our group were killed in the prisoner of war camps, actually murdered. So, there are no regrets. Red Wilson, the bombardier, he wrote me a letter, oh, Jesus, well after the war was over and his son in law was stationed in Japan for his company, and Red and his wife went over to visit him. He was remarking how beautiful the city Osaka--he says, "It's a beautiful city." Then he remembers one of our missions to Osaka, how we just leveled it. [laughter] We did a job on Osaka, something terrible. He said, "I have no compunction about that." He says, "I don't feel guilty at all. He says, "Firstly, I did my job and secondly, I didn't see any apologies coming out of Tokyo in connection with Pearl Harbor or these other things." So, he says, "I don't have to apologize." I feel the same way.
MG: Did you take advantage of the GI Bill when you came home?
LL: Yes, I did for about a year and a half. I went to school and I stopped because I was doing it at nights and I couldn't do it. My job up at the North River was such I would be working there until ten, eleven o'clock at night. I'd miss classes. You can't do anything like that.
MG: How did your career progress over the years? Did you stay on the docks or did you move inside at some point?
LL: Yes, about 1969 with the decline in Trans-Atlantic traffic, with passengers. Everyone was flying. They wanted to know if I would join a group downtown in the main office. They were putting together a program that would eliminate an awful lot of paper work, unnecessary paperwork. It was a good idea, excellent idea, but it never got off the ground, for the sake of money for one thing. The whole industry changed at the time, containerization came in really strong. You had roll-on, roll-off. Export cargo was drying up. Countries were starting to build themselves up' they didn't need us. Okay? We gave up on that. They found a spot for m. They said, "Why don't you go back into cargo sales?" I said, "Okay. Fine." So, they gave me a slot in the sales department and that lasted for about two, two and a half years, and then we had a strike. Longshoremen went on strike in 1970. That tied up the whole East Coast. Nothing moved. If nothing moves, we didn't move. So you're fired. [laughter] I got fired. Yes, yes. A lot of us did. Then what happened after that? I was unemployed for about two and a half months, three months. Yes, that was September, October, November, December. December of that year, '71, I met one of the former Vice Presidents of American Export Lines and he said they were looking for some help over at a new outfit called Korea Shipping Corps. They were looking for some old personnel if you wanted to join them. I said, "OK." So, I gave them a call. They said, "Yes, sure. Come on over." They picked me up and that was it. I stayed with them for about thirteen years. That was an interesting job.
MG: What were you doing?
LL: I was AVP of Operations and General Sales Manager and I swept the floors and made coffee too, okay. But it was interesting because it was a new company, it had a lot of potential, and I figured I'd just ride the wave because it was bound to be good. They were talking about profit sharing at the time and I liked working for the Koreans. They're very nice. Really very nice people. They rather liked me too. We had a general for the Korean Army came to join us in New York. He was about just so big. He walked out of Manchuria in 1945 to the coast of Korea after the war was over. His name was General (Roh?). He liked me because I was in the 29th and I had bombed the hell out of Japan. [laughter]
MG: You indicated that he was about four or five feet tall?
LL: Yes, he was so--I'm sorry. I keep forgetting.
MG: That's okay.
LL: But he was a remarkable person. He called a meeting one day. I didn't have a tie on or a jacket at the time and there was someone else in the meeting with ties and jackets on. I walked in the meeting, and says, "Who ordered the Class A uniforms?" [laughter] He's sitting there laughing ... "Ho Ho. Mr. Lechner, sit down." [laughter] Yes. He was a nice guy. I liked him.
MG: When did you retire?
MG: How old were you then?
MG: We skipped over a little bit of your family life. Did you go on a honeymoon after your wedding?
MG: Where did you go?
LL: We took a trip down to Florida. Drove the car down to Florida. Forty two suitcases and six hatboxes. [laughter] You got to appreciate the timeframe now. We're talking the 50s, right and nobody went out without a hat on, especially the women, okay. Slacks were just coming in at the time. All right? I don't know. Were they burning their bras at the time? I don't know.
MG: Not yet.
LL: Not yet? Okay. You didn't have that I-95--what was it? Yes, going down to Florida. You had to take all these other roads. I guess, we must've been in the Carolinas, I think, or Georgia. Maybe it was the Carolinas and it was late at night and we hadn't found a motel yet because what the hell, there weren't that many. So, we saw this roadhouse. We pulled in to see if we could get some coffee or something to drink or eat. The two women behind the bar, ... the counter, they were talking about the weather conditions. At that time there was an eclipse I think and she turned to her friends and she said, "If we had more religion, we wouldn't have had that eclipse." I said, "Peg, let's get out of here in a hurry." [laughter] So, I think that was the same night that we were sitting there at the table or at the bar and this man just walks up to me and says, "Can I fuss with your wife?" I said, "You better explain fussing." [laughter] So, his wife came over right away. She says, "I want you to meet my husband. This is Dr. So-and-so." She says, "He has a practice that takes in about sixty five square miles in the back country and he says if he meets somebody he has never seen before, he likes to sit down and talk with them or whatever." We sat there for about another hour or two yakking away. Nice old guy.
MA: I wanted to go back to a part of history, I wanted your opinion. In the early '50s there was the Red Scare, a lot of Anticommunist sentiment. [Editor's Note: The Red Scare is the hysteria associated with the perceived threat of communists within the United State in the post-World War II Era. Historians also refer to this era as the McCarthy Era as Senator Joseph McCarthy accused many people of being communists and adding them to black lists.]
MA: Did that have any impact on your life?
LL: None whatsoever, no.
MG: Even if it didn't have an impact on your life, can you kind of talk about how you saw it during those years?
LL: Which years?
MG: The Red Scare.
LL: The Red Scare. Let me give you maybe background. Maybe this will help. So-called "Red Scare,", so-called ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missile] and whatnot. When Peg and I--and we had my son, we wanted to move. We didn't know where we wanted to move to. So we just put a compass down and we drew a wide circle from New York City out fifteen miles or whatever and made this big circle. Anything in that area, let's look at that area. Okay? This fell about twelve to fifteen miles within the radius. So, if figure fifteen miles outside of impact might be a little safer than being up close. So that's how we got this house.
MG: What do you mean safer from impact?
LL: Well, if they were going to drop an atom bomb on New York City we'd be fifteen miles away from it and we have a better chance of living.
MG: Was that your motivation for moving?
LL: That's right. Right here. Among other things, yes.
MG: So describe that. What was it like to live during a time where that was a possibility or a perceived possibility.
LL: Oh I don't know. I think you looked at it this way, you said, "I hope it never happens, but if it does, I hope I'm not around when it does happen." See? Yes.
MG: Where was fear coming from? Who were you afraid would attack?
LL: We only had one enemy at the time, [that] was Russia, okay. We had neighbors next door to us and that was Cuban [Missile] Crisis. [Editor's Note: In October 1962, the United States demanded that the Soviet Union remove its nuclear missiles from Cuba. The United States placed a naval blockade around the island nation, creating a tense standoff between the superpowers that many feared would lead to nuclear war. The crisis was averted when the Soviet Union agreed to remove their nuclear missiles from Cuba in exchange for the United States removing its nuclear missiles from Turkey.] So, the gal next door, she said, "What are we going to do? What are we going to do?" I says, "First of all." I says, "Come downstairs in my cellar. There's the bar downstairs. Grab a jug. You sit there with the kids and yourself and just nip a few at a time." I said, "When you get that smashed. you won't feel a thing anyways, so what the hell." She says, "What are we going to do for drinking water?" I says "(Marilyn?), you've got a big tank in there, in the toilet." I says, use that water as much as you can because it's fresh." Boy Scout training. [laughter]
MG: What was the South like during the 1950s?
LL: What was it like?
MG: Yes. Did you notice any segregation?
MG: The Jim Crow Laws as you were driving down south for your honeymoon.[Editor's Note: The Jim Crow Laws, were laws enacted in the South that racially segregated African Americans]
LL: Yes, we didn't see that too much, so-called segregation. We didn't see any of that.
MG: What else about living through the '50s can you talk about?
LL: I don't know, I don't think there was anything special in my life at the time.
MG: Well you started a family.
LL: Yes, of course I started a family, yes.
MG: Talk to me about that.
LL: Well, let's see. My son was born in '57. We got married in '52. Cathy was born in '59, and (Graham's?) wife Barbara was '63, '64?
LL: '62? I always get that mixed up. Yes, '62 you're right. Yes, yes.
M: I hope I'm right.
MG: We can edit the transcript.
LL: [laughter] I hope you are too. [laughter] I always get that mixed up with Barbara. I don't know why.
MG: What did you think about being a father?
LL: What did I think about it? Our first born Lou, my son, I dropped Peggy off at the maternity hospital in Jersey City at six o'clock in the morning. The last I saw her, she was sitting in the wheelchair waiting to be moved upstairs. I went to work. Well, what am I going to do? I'm going to sit there and hold her hand in the wheelchair? Forget about it. I went to work and I kept calling my mother and dad to find out if they heard anything and they hadn't heard anything. This went on all day long. So, I left work at about five o'clock that night. I drove home and I think I got there about six o'clock. We found out she gave birth. She was in there for twelve hours. So, I asked her. I said, "What happened to you?" I said, "I left you in a wheelchair. What happened?" She said, "Remember the other lady that came in?" I says "Yes." She says, "They took her first." [laughter] She said, "Okay." So, she was just about to deliver in the entrance way. That was it.
MG: Well, let's talk about some of the memories you have raising a family. You talked about going on cruises and some of the trips you took.
LL: Oh, we took a couple of trips, yes. While I was working for American Ex, I had five weeks' vacation, which was real good. We always planned a trip somewhere. Invariably, we'd break down on the trip. It was a given, alright. [laughter] One year, we took all three of them. That was a good one. We went up north to Toronto. Then from Toronto to Quebec, Montreal, then went up to Prince Edward Island. Prince Edward Island, we lost the fuel line ... somewhere on our way back, we blew a muffler. [laughter]
MG: So we were talking about your trips to Montreal and Canada.
LL: Oh, yes. That was good.
MG: Are you reading my notes?
LL: Well I can read.
MG: Good luck. [laughter]
LL: I was going to say that. No. Then we had a nice trip. What I was saying is that most of the trips we took, we always ended up with disaster somewhere in the car.
MG: I was going to ask. You're used to fourteen hour missions with a crew.
MG: How did that compare to family vacations?
LL: [laughter] Yes. We had more bad luck in the car than we did on the mission. I had the car tuned up before I'd go on a trip. So, this one time we're going down to--we're starting out for Delaware. Going down to Rehoboth Beach. Okay. I read about it somewhere and they said it was a good place to visit. So, we got Cathy, Barbara, myself, and my son. No, my son wasn't with us. Barbara's driving. That's his wife who was driving. We're down somewhere around--it must have been in Delaware somewhere. Everything goes up in a cloud of smoke.
MG: Your car?
LL: Yes ... a gasket, cylinder head gasket. I had the shortwave radios, the handheld thing; didn't work at all. So finally, a state trooper came by and he saw we had a problem and he put a call in for a tow truck. He towed the truck into the Ford dealership. He said, "I can't get you out today." He said, "It'll take you another two weeks maybe to get the parts in." I said, "Okay." So, we sat there. Then we picked up a car, got a cab. It took us up to the railroad station. We got on a train and came home, yes. We were going down to Florida one year, and on the way down, we can't get the car to go faster than ten miles an hour. It just won't go. We got as far as Rocky Mountain, Carolina. The car caught on fire. We put the fire out and it burned up all the straps going into the carburetor, melted everything down. So, pulled into a service station that was nearby and he said, "I can put new straps on it." He said, "I don't how long it's going to last." I said, "Well, just get me going. That's the important thing." So, we had reservations at Fort Myers. So, we drove for the next couple of hours and then, we just gave up. It just couldn't get moving anymore. This truck was behind us, big trailer truck. He was carrying boats, just racks of boats. ... He stopped to pick us up because we were pulled off to the side of the road in Florida. [laughter] So, he says, "Come on." He says, "Everybody get in the back of his truck, his cab." So, the kids got in the back. I'm sitting up front with mom, Peggy, and off we go. No, he says, "Duck." He says, "In case they pull over." "I'm not supposed to have anybody on here," he says. So, we go by the weight station and he pulled into the hotel, dropped us off. He says, "I'll see you tomorrow morning." I said, "You will?" He says, "Yeah." He says, "I'm going to go back and get that car you left out on the highway." I says "Don't." He says, "No." He says, "They'll strip it." He says, "We'll go there tomorrow morning." I said, "Okay. Fine." He came by the hotel in the morning, had two jugs of water, set of tools. Took me back out to the highway to get the car, got it running, and water in the radiator. Drove me back into the Ford dealership. He says, "... Talk to the dealer." He say, "Don't touch the car." He says, "It's set." He said, "I know more about that car than you guys do" "Okay." So, I called my insurance agent, Now have I told you about Mr. Conway, about his son being on a mission for my 40th bomb group? Okay. So, I called Mr. Conway. I told him, I said, "I'm stuck in Florida." He says, "What's the problem?" I started telling [him]. He said, "Oh, that's no problem at all. He says. "Get whatever you want. Get receipts for it. Talk to me when you get back." I said, "Okay. Good" That was it. Twenty four hour service ... didn't work, because I called them when I got to the motel that night and I told them where my car was. They said, "Don't worry. We'll have a man down there tomorrow." I said, "Okay. Fine." Never happened.
MG: Can you tell me what your children ended up doing with their lives and for work? What your children ended up doing once they grew up.
LL: What'd they do when they first grew up?
MG: Where did they go to school? What did they end up doing?
LL: Yes, my son went to a prep school after grammar school and the two girls, after grammar school, they went over to this Catholic high school here in Clifton. Then Cathy, Barbara, and Lou all went to Seton Hall. Lou had a major in physics, Cathy took a major in nursing, and Barbara took a course in physics, computers. Barbara was traveling quite a bit at that time in her job, so she would tell me, "Go down, sit in her class, take some notes for her." I said, "Okay. Fine." [laughter] So, I'm in her computer class, right? I don't know diddly, anything about it. I'm sitting there and the class is starting to fill up in, one ... at a time. Then when the professor did come in, he stood up in the front of the class. So, I introduced myself. He said, "Fine." But the rest of the class thought I was the teacher.
MG: [laughter] They were probably wondering who this guy was.
LL: Yes, who's this gray haired guy sitting down in front, right?
MG: I should've thought about that when I was in college; just send my parents instead.Did your wife work?
LL: She worked when?
MG: When she was--
LL: She worked when she was married. Yes, she stayed working.
MG: Did she stay at the same company?
MG: Okay. What about when all those layoffs were happening and the strikes?
LL: Didn't affect her at all.
MG: Talk to me about seeing technology change over the years.
MG: You've seen ninety years of technology change from no cars to cars, and no TV to TV, and cell phones.
MG: Computers. What's your impression of all this?
LL: It's overwhelming. I mean, we started in the steamship industry. We used to make a manifest. You'd take a dock receipt, match it to a bill of lading, in turn would be transferred to a manifest. That manifest had to be printed out and put on board the ship. You'd have it before the ship arrived at their next port. Now, they just take all the information off the dock receipt or the bill of lading, put it on a computer, and then zap it overseas. Within twenty minutes after they type it up, it's lodged overseas. It's unbelievable.
MG: Did computers and email technology change the way you communicated with some of the men on your crew or friends and family that were far away?
LL: No, no. No, no. Our communication with the crew wasn't affected by that too much. We were all on the same boat I think. It was novelty. If you needed it, you got it. If you didn't need it, why spend the type of money for it?
MG: What did you tell your family about your war experience? What stories did you share with your family about what you went through in World War II?
MA: And prior to?
LL: There's only one story I can think of. It's my sister. My sister, (Kay?), she said that once in either July or August of '45, she had a bad dream or a nightmare if you want to call it that, and she said I was in trouble. I said "Do you remember what it was?" She told me. I tried to put it together. I cross referenced it with some of the books here. I can remember vaguely one mission we really were in trouble. Remember I told you about the wings flapping up and down. That was the same mission. You couldn't see three feet in front of you and you didn't know what was around you and yet, you were circling, circling, circling, looking for someone else. They were looking for you. She said, "He's in trouble." As I got back and I compared notes with her, said, "Yeah, we were in trouble, all right" Fortunately, we got out of it.
MG: What's been your impression of conflicts since World War II? Vietnam and--
LL: It's pathetic. Should never have been there. We should never have been there.
MG: In Vietnam?
MA: What about Korea? What are your thoughts on the Korean War?
LL: Korea? Mixed emotions about that. But Vietnam definitely not.
MG: You talked about in your early married life, choosing to live outside of New York City for fear of attack. What do you remember about 9/11?
LL: What do I remember? My daughter Cathy and I, and her son were coming back from a Pre-K school up in Jersey. We were coming down Route 8, and we had the radio on and that's when we--we could see from where we were on Route 8, we could see off in the distance, this column of smoke. We just couldn't believe our ears, much alone believe what we were seeing. Cathy called my wife at the time and told her to turn on the TV and see what was going on. So, we got back there as soon as possible, but I can't believe it happened. If I had been working that day, there's a good possibility I might have been in one of the towers, because there was quite a number of freight ... there and ... I used to make the Trade Center as my early morning calls, downtown and then I'd work my way up uptown.
MG: Did it hit close to home to you, personally?
LL: No, I didn't know anybody in there that got hurt or killed.
MG: But knowing this is kind of your turf. This is sort of your turf. This is where you're from, this is where you worked.
LL: Yes, yes. Yes, yes. I had no close ties with anybody in the building. Strictly professional.
MG: I also wanted to ask about Veterans groups and organizations. Are you involved with any?
LL: None. No.
MG: Seemed like you had your own ad hoc organization with the crew you stayed in touch with.
LL: Yes. I didn't think it was a great idea joining the VFW or the American Legion or something like this.
MG: How come?
LL: Just saw no point in it.
MG: Looking back on your life, not just your military career, what sort of stands out to you now?
LL: What stands out?
MA: What's most memorable to you?
LL: Just living out here I think, raising a family. It was fun and games and it's a good life.
MA: Do you feel that your experience in the war was a coming of age experience, something that you feel that you've come out maybe better as a result of the war?
LL: Am I better person after the war?
MA: I guess. If you see it that way, yes.
LL: I suppose you might say so in a sense or the word, yes. It's a part of my life. It's something--I mean you put four years in college, it's a part of your life, right?
LL: It's going to be a big chunk of your life. Same way with the war, a big chunk.
MG: The difference is that we didn't have to sacrifice our life to go to college.
LL: You sure?
MG: [laughter] Maybe some days I wasn't.
MG: But part of the deal in the military service is risking your life.
LL: Yes, that's true. Yes, yes.
MG: What other memories and stories would you want us to make sure we had preserved?
LL: I have no idea. I'm sorry.
MG: Okay. Well, I'm getting to the end of my questions.
LL: You've covered a lot of bases.
MG: [laughter] We did.
LL: You're not through with your questions, right?
MG: I think I'm getting there, yes.
LL: Are you really? Gee-whiz.
MG: But if there are things I'm missing or if there are things you want to talk about--
LL: I really don't have anything that can contribute really to the archives.
MG: Think too about your grandchildren's grandchildren. What would you want them to know about who you are?
LL: Well, I've got two grandchildren, (Jonathan?) and (Georgie?). They're the apple of my eye. I just love the two of them. One of these days, I'll put that whole thing together and write the famous American novel and they can read it then.
MG: Until then, they have this recording of your voice telling your life story.
LL: That would be nice, so they could hear it, yes.
MG: Mohammad, do you have any questions before we wrap up?
MA: No, I think I've gone through all mine.
LL: How about something to eat?
MG: That sounds good. Well, thank you so much for your time and your service.
MG: This is just so exciting for us.
LL: What happened to the director?
MG: What do you mean?
LL: Didn't you say the director was coming today?
MG: Well, no. [laughter]
MG: He's back at the office and he'll forward to listening to this.
MG: Well, thanks again. I'll turn this off.
LL: All right.
--------------------------------------------END OF INTERVIEW--------------------------------------------
Reviewed by Molly Graham 2/17/2015
Reviewed by Louis Lechner 3/6/2015
Reviewed by Molly Graham 3/6/2015