Sydney Rhodes: This begins an interview with Mr. George Aiello on October 28, 2010 in New Brunswick, New Jersey, this is Sydney Rhodes...
Sandra Stewart Holyoak: ... and Sandra Stewart Holyoak. Thank you for coming all the way from Brooklyn to New Brunswick to talk with us today. To begin the interview, can you tell me where and when you were born?
George Aiello: I was born February 12, 1925 in Brooklyn, USA. [laughter]
SH: Let us begin by talking about your family background and we'll start with your father. What can you tell us about him?
GA: My father was very productive. He had nine children.
GA: ... My father was a very quiet man, I could have said a joke there, but I better keep quiet. [laughter]
SH: That is up to you.
GA: ... In those days you're not as close [with] family as they are now. I see a tremendous difference with the younger people with their parents. ... The one he catered to was always the last one. He always had to have someone on his lap, you know, when he ate, and your mother was the one that was in charge.
SH: What did your father do for a living?
GA: He was, believe it or not, a mattress manufacturer.
SH: Where was his factory?
GA: In Brooklyn, not too far from where we lived.
SH: Your father was born in Italy?
GA: ... He was born in Italy, and so was my mother.
SH: Where in Italy?
GA: ... Calabria, that's the tip of Italy. It was a poor ... farming area.
SH: How old was he when he immigrated to this country?
GA: ... They were in the early twenties, both of them. They met here and got married.
SH: Okay, now did he bring any of his family with him or did he have family members that were already here?
GA: No, there was other family members here. No, his sister stayed there, but his brother came here and he ... had about six, seven children, and that was the only family that I know of, plus my mother had her family here.
SH: Now your father's name was Thomas Aiello, and your mother, what was her name?
SH: What was her maiden name?
GA: (Amorato?) ...
SH: You said that they met and married here in this country, do you know anything about your mother's immigration story, why she came?
GA: ... She came with her mother and father, you know, for a better life. They had, you know, ... a farming area. In fact, my grandfather still owned his house and his brother used to live there until, actually, he threw him off because he found out he ... belonged to ... the Communist Party. So, my grandfather was gung ho, he says, "I want him off my land." He did. In his own little way, he was really American. [laughter] I got a kick out of them because ... we lived together. ... We had a big two-family house, so I lived with my grandparents.
SH: These are your maternal grandparents?
SH: How old was your mother when they immigrated to this country?
GA: Like I said, I don't know exactly, but I know in the early twenties, both of them were.
SH: Did you know how they met?
GA: No, I wasn't there yet. [laughter]
SH: I just thought maybe they talked about it.
GA: My father was good, but you know.
SH: Where did you fit in the family birth order?
GA: I was in the middle. Now, I'm the oldest, the ones above me are gone. I had three older brothers and one older sister, and then, I have three younger than me and that's what's left.
SH: Did the family live in the same part of Brooklyn that you live in now?
GA: Yes, we were all together in Borough Park. Right now it's a famous part of Brooklyn. It's completely with religious orthodox Jewish people. You think you're in Israel when you're there, [laughter] it's amazing.
SH: Tell us about your early memories of growing up. What you did as a young boy?
GA: Well, I did a lot of ball playing, played in the streets mostly. We didn't have parks or places and my whole life was out in the streets. Now, funny enough, I was the only one in the family that did play ball. I played baseball, I played football, played punch-ball. There wasn't a day I didn't do something, but the rest of them never did a thing.
SH: Did you have chores?
GA: Yes, we all had chores. ... Once a week, I had to wash the steps down, you know, there was a lot of steps. Everyone had a little job to do. ... This way it makes it easier for your parents.
SH: Now, did all of your brothers and sisters go to school?
GA: Yes, they all went to school, ... graduated high school. Nobody pushed them [but] they all did well, you know. To colleges today, you know, as soon as your child is born you put them to work. [laughter]
SH: During the Great Depression, a lot of kids only went to eighth grade and then went to work.
GA: Yes, they had to go, a lot of them did go to work, but ... we all graduated. I graduated faster because of the war. I was sixteen when it started, but two months after it, I was going to be seventeen. So, my two brothers already had gone in, so I wanted to go in, and my mother put her foot down. She says, "No, I got two in, that's enough." So, I took extra courses in high school to graduate earlier, and she still would not sign for me, I'm seventeen now. So, what I did, I went to work with the government, the Army base, we had an Army base there. So, at seventeen, I did contracts and all, I was good with numbers. I even had a secretary at seventeen. [laughter]
SH: What was the name of the base you were working on?
GA: ... The Brooklyn Army base, it was an Army base.
SH: That is what it was called.
GA: ... It's still there, it was right on the water, and they did a lot of importing. They had troops there, and it's still in existence.
SH: What was it like to grow up in that era? I know you were playing a lot of sports, did you also play by the water?
GA: Yes, going to the water, we had a famous beach called Coney Island. I mean, don't tell me how I got there, you know. We had trolleys, but we had no money, but we ... [would] hitch a ride, you know. Every time he stops, we jump off, when he stops we jump on, but this is what you did. I mean, it wasn't just me, you know, to say, "He's a bad one," you know, we all did it. I mean it helps in a way, you didn't have anyone to do anything for you, you had to do everything. Like, they played paddle-ball. I said, "Sure I play paddle-ball," but I made my paddle. Who ever heard of buying them? I never realized I played paddle-ball, and then he, my son, comes in with these rackets and all. I said, "What's that for," "Paddle-ball," you know, but you had to be self-efficient. My first bike, I had to buy from my brother, he wouldn't give it to me, and it was two dollars, it's a lot of money. [laughter] He should have handed me down. Today, you know, children "hand me down." "Do you want the bike?" I said, "Of course I want the bike." He got what he charged me.
SH: Was there a dinner hour that everybody showed up to?
GA: Well, usually, like on a Sunday you have your all together, because you get into the dining area, ... but with all those kids, you had to eat in shifts, you know, you couldn't put eight children there, eating in the kitchen, and so my poor mother was always serving people, but that was their job. ... Then, like I say, when you have that many brothers and sisters, it's a whole different ballgame, you're on your own.
SH: Did you go to public school or Catholic school?
GA: Public school. Oh, they did have Catholic school too. ... I preferred the public school because I saw the kids that went to Catholic school. When they used to come out, they were like animals, because they were so under strict supervision when they came out. I said, "I don't want to be like that." So, that's why I didn't go there.
SH: Did any of your brothers and sisters go to Catholic school?
GA: No, not one of us. We went to church. In fact, I have built a shrine there with rocks, as young kids, we moved them. It's still there.
SH: Oh, really?
SH: How diverse was your neighborhood, was it mostly Italian?
GA: No, it was a mixture; Italians, Jewish, and then, maybe Irish, German, but mostly it was Italian and Jewish people. So, that's why ... it ended up that I was brought up with Jewish people ... and she [my daughter-in-law] happens to be Jewish, and I had to accept it.
SH: Well it was nice of you to tell us.
GA: ... She'll tell you, I had more friends that were Jewish than Christian. So, it didn't mean anything to me.
SH: What language was spoken at home?
SH: Was it?
GA: That was the bad part, that we should have learned to talk Italian too, but we spoke English and my grandparents would answer us in Italian mostly, where it should have been the opposite. I understood them and they understood me. My grandfather spoke more English than my grandmother, but his problem was he could only read Latin. Well, he studied to be a priest. He saw my grandmother, then he's changed. ... He was a wonderful man. Again, he only picked on me to help him. I'd be out in the streets playing, he'd be calling me, and I used to say to him, "How long?" You know, I always wanted to know, and that's what he used to call me, "How long, here he is." I was Chinese now, gave me a Chinese name; and he was very active. I caught him climbing in the trees and he was in his late seventies, and I'm yelling at him. Now I'm eighty-five and I'm climbing roofs. ... He's looking down saying, "See, what you're doing? You're worse," because I used to get after him because, you know, I was afraid.
SH: Did you have a garden?
GA: Yes, we had a garden, and I think my mother had the most beautiful garden, in the front, of flowers, that people on the way going to church used to stop off and take flowers. She took that little piece of land and just grew a million flowers. She was a farmer, beautiful flowers, everyone used to comment, she made archways. ... Our house was different than most of the houses because ... they dressed up the front, but the flowers were gorgeous. ... Now I go by there to see ... the house. They changed everything, there's no garden, no nothing. There is nothing like, you know, a garden. In those days they look forward to it.
SH: What were some of the things that you remember as a kid that were big news?
GA: Big news? Well, I guess I have to go with the sports again, because I was involved ... with sports. ... I listened to all the football games and the baseball games, and I went to them, and that was my main interest, and I'm still interested in it. ... In fact, ... when Pearl Harbor had happened, I happened to be watching my football game.
SH: Listening to it?
GA: No, all of a sudden, they cut in, and he says, "Pearl Harbor." I said, "Well, what the hell are they talking about, "Pearl Harbor"," you know. I didn't know anything about it. ... See in those days, it's all different ballgame than today. When that war started you never saw so many people running to join. Not like today, "How can we keep out of it." You know, it's a big difference, and people were so patriotic then.
SH: Had your family talked about Mussolini at all in Italy?
GA: No, but I know they were against communism, my grandfather especially against it, and he was really an American.
SR: Was your family affected by the Great Depression at all?
GA: A little, but luckily, I mean, he had his own business, you know, and that's how we existed. He happened to be an excellent worker. When he made the mattress, it lasts. That was the bad thing. I worked in the place too. ... Of course I helped because he was a block away. In fact, I did all my homework in his office in the morning, you know. At that time, we used to go to school half a day, like twelve to four or eight to twelve. So, I used to take the afternoon type. So, in the morning I used to go there, I helped him. I worked with the driver, they used to deliver. That's how I made a few dollars extra.
SH: What high school did you go to?
GA: It was called New Utrecht High School. ... It's still there.
SH: It sounds very Dutch.
GA: Could be.
SR: What courses did you take while you were in high school?
GA: ... I can't remember all of them, I took the normal classes, you know, science, math. Math was number one with me.
SH: Were you taking a commercial course, is that how you would up with a secretary?
GA: Yes, you're right. They called it a commercial course. ... I did well, and, like I said, [I] doubled it just so I could graduate early.
SH: What year did you graduate?
GA: That was in 1942, because I wanted to join the service, and then, again my mother said, "No." ...
SH: Can you talk a bit about your brothers going off to war? Did they join before Pearl Harbor, when the draft came out?
GA: No, it's when Pearl Harbor happened, everybody was running, you know, that was old enough.
SH: On your pre-interview survey, you had put that Peter joined in 1940.
GA: Yes, oh, yes, that's right. He was a year in, that's when they were having problems.
SH: That was the draft.
GA: ... No, he wasn't drafted. ... He joined the Army just before the war, now you're right [about] that part.
SH: Had they been involved with any of the New Deal programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps?
SH: The WPA, and things like that. [Editor's Note: The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) were organizations created as part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal to create jobs during the Great Depression.]
GA: Yes, I remember that one, and they also had kids. Yes, they had courses where you went to work on farms.
SH: Yes, the CCC camps.
GA: Right. No, they didn't. ...
SH: Was your family political at all; Democrats, Republicans?
GA: No, they weren't involved in politics at all.
SH: What did your family do for social things?
GA: ... We went on vacation very seldom. ... We went across to Staten Island on the ferry, it was a big thing, and we used to go to the beach there just to be ... at a different beach. It's not like when I had my children. It was a whole different ballgame. I took them all over, you know. You didn't have a car then. My uncle was the only one in the whole family ... that had a car.
GA: No one had cars.
SH: He could not take everybody, I am sure.
GA: ... That's why we were able to play in the streets, there was no cars, and if there was cars, we would tell them to move, you know. ... We would have a contest on it. No, we played for money.
SH: Did you really?
GA: Oh, sure. We made money playing punch-ball, so I ... had enough money to buy equipment for baseball. I couldn't get money from [my] parents, and I played with, I still remember, a baseball. You couldn't get rid of it, like they get rid of it if it's no good. We had to tape it with electrical tape. You know how heavy that ball gets? [laughter] That's why, when we did pick up another ball, it was like nothing in your hand and that's why, not that I'm bragging, but there wasn't anyone that had an arm like I did for throwing the ball, whether it was a football or baseball. I threw for distance. It's because of the background of not realizing I was playing with something that was so heavy, that when I picked up the normal ball, it felt like a ping-pong ball.
SH: Did you play sports in high school?
GA: Yes, I played in high school. I played baseball.
SH: Did you ever go to see any of the professional teams play?
GA: ... Well, I happened to be, at that time, a Giant fan, and I also went to ... Ebbets Field, [which] was right in Brooklyn. That was well-known, and now I'm a Yankee fan, because the Giants had moved out and I says, "I'm not rooting for you anymore." [Editor's Note: The New York Giants were a professional baseball team that played at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan. The franchise moved to San Francisco in 1957. The Brooklyn Dodgers were a professional baseball team that played at Ebbets Field until their move to Los Angeles in 1958.] So, being in Brooklyn, I should have been a Brooklyn fan, but to be different I couldn't stand Brooklyn fans, so I became a Giant fan. So, ninety-nine percent of Brooklyn, and there's one percent that's Giant, that was me, [laughter] but that's the way I was. I had to be different. Ask my mother, she'll tell you. [laughter]
SR: Did you want to go to war because you were patriotic or did you want to go with your brothers?
GA: No, patriotic, more or less. I mean, in those days, believe me, every young man from sixteen up wanted to join the service.
SH: Did you enlist as a group or just yourself?
GA: ... I had to wait until I was eighteen, ... [so] I can make my own decision. ... Then my mother can't stop me. So, that's how I chose the Marines.
SH: Why did you choose the Marines?
GA: Because I felt they were supposed to be the best. I always wanted to play with the best. [laughter]
SH: Your older brother, Peter, was he the oldest of the boys?
GA: Well, I had one older that had died. That one died at twenty-one years old, I think I was thirteen when he died, but then he was the oldest, Peter, and then, I had a sister. No, Mary was the oldest, Peter was number two.
SH: Who was next in line?
GA: That was my brother John, he joined the Marines, and after he was in a year or so, ... I got in. ... Mine was very unusual than the normal enlistee, it worked out that way because when I left boot camp, you're supposed to go for more training. I was the only one that wasn't going to training, and I wanted to know why. I was picked to go into the new Fourth Marine Division, and I'll never forget the time that the drill instructor, he starts cursing me. I said, "What's the matter?" "You lousy son of a bitch," he says, "You're the luckiest guy." I said, "I'm lucky?" He said, "You're going into the new division, we want to join," you know, and he wouldn't let him in. He said, "I don't know what connections you got." I says, "Connection? I'm the only one?" I was the only one chosen and there was a reason, then I found out.
SH: What was that?
GA: I had a background working for the Army base of handling contracts and everything. So, when I get down there, they tell me, "You're going to be working in the office." I said, "What?" You know, that's all I had, a year. I said, "No way," I says, "I'm not an office man." He said, "Why do you think we got you for?" ... He said, "If you don't follow orders they're going to put me in the brig," and luckily, it was a master gunnery sergeant who's the top in enlisted, and lieutenants take orders from him. He's listening to all this, so he walks over to the sergeant major. He says, "He's in my platoon." Sergeant says, "No, he's going to go in," he says "No, he belongs to me." So, that's how I got involved, I got away from that, and I got into his squad.
SH: In the Fourth Marine Division?
GA: In the Fourth Marine Division, they wanted me to work in the office, and no way was I going to work in the office. So, I said, ... "I joined to fight, not to be in the office," but he saved me. There's a lot of stories with him after that because he was marvelous, you know. He was an old man, you know, he was thirty-five, [laughter] but they all looked up to him. The colonel once said, "It took twenty years to make you." He told a lieutenant, "It took ninety days for you, who am I going to listen to?" Which he was right. So, everybody backed off when it came to their men, the master gunnery sergeant was one of the most important people in your squad. I mean, people that are in it will know this, you know, and luckily ... he liked me from the beginning because I stood up and I was ready to go to jail. So, he was impressed and it paid off. So, I ended up with him.
SH: What was it like to send your brothers off before you got in?
GA: You know, I don't remember having much of a feeling, you know, that I'm going to miss them or anything. I guess it had to be done, you know, I don't think I ever felt that they shouldn't be doing it, you know, everybody else is doing it, and this is the way it was in those days. There was nobody to demonstrate against the war or anything.
SH: What about the war and how did that impact your father's business? Did that improve things for him?
GA: No, it interfered because he did have trouble getting wire springs; you know--metal was very important. Now, a friend of his, I remember this story, he says, "I have a connection, I can get all the inner springs you want," for my father. My father gave him a look. ... He started cursing him, he says, "I wouldn't buy one, it's against the law," he said, "and you know, you need it for the troops," at that time. They outlawed making springs, and it's getting bootlegged. I remember him doing this, yes, I never thought of it until you asked me.
SH: I wanted to ask about the black market and rationing.
GA: Yes, there was a lot of black market going on, but I remember him refusing to buy this because of this.
SH: Did he have to suspend his business?
GA: ... Well, you can make it without springs. Those days, you could have it either way, you know. They used to use a lot of wool, real wool; and I worked in it, where it was a machine that used to beat it up and, you know, fluff it up.
SH: Was he making mattresses for the Army?
GA: No, he wasn't that big. ... He just had his own store, you know, and he sold it, and he made everything there.
SH: What did your older sister do during the war?
GA: During the war they worked in the offices, you know. They had jobs working in Manhattan.
SH: And your brother Vincent is younger than you?
GA: He was younger, and after the war he was giving everybody a little problem, so I grabbed him by the neck, and I said, "You're going into the Marines," and that was it. He had nothing to say.
SH: Did he serve in Korea?
GA: ... Believe it or not, he didn't see any combat at all, and he's the only one that brags. [laughter] He belonged to all the organizations and he used to say, "Why don't you come down?" I said, "I am absolutely not interested."
SH: Now let's talk about the young man that is so anxious to get in, and now he gets on the train to head to Parris Island. Can you talk about that?
GA: Well, you see, when you go to boot camp, they're going to treat you like you're a dog. This is to toughen you up. Now, this did not bother me because I expected it.
SH: Had your older brother given you a hint?
GA: My brother, and I had a cousin too that went in just before me. He was ... less than a year older than I was, so he was already in there, and he told me what to expect. He said, "Right after that the DI [Drill Instructor] will be your buddy," you know, after two months or whatever it was and they treated you like nobody, and a lot of these characters, you know, they would get, "Oh, he's picking on me," you know. See, to me, it didn't bother me because I know damn well that after it's over, he's going to be your buddy. ...
SH: Did they give you any other advice?
GA: ... They told me, you know, what's going on [so] that I expected it. Then, ... I got a joke when I met a bunch of people from New England. Upstate New York, we all met to go down to boot camp, and they had beautiful crew cuts. I said, "That's no good." "Why?" "We have to have short hair," I says, "I'm going to take it all off." "No, that's why we cut it our way." I said, "Okay." When you go down there, "zip," everything came off. They thought they were going to keep their hair; they'd give you the baldy no matter who you are. See, but I knew it, and I'm laughing at them, I said, "Okay, you'll see what happens." See, so, I had the advantage over them, nothing shook me up because I expected it.
SH: When did you go to Parris Island?
GA: Yes, April 1943.
GA: ... After that ... we organized in North Carolina, then we went to Camp Pendleton.
SH: How long were you in North Carolina?
GA: Maybe a month or two, just to regroup, see that's where they were meeting. Well, we read the, I wish I had the book, they show you how each outfit got together and how they build a division. You see, in those days, the Marines had one division, you know, there was no war. Before you know it, ... when the war was over, there were five divisions. So, they had to go in the process of building each division up, with the artillery, your infantry, all the different types of regiments that go together to make a division which ends up with anywhere from seventeen to twenty thousand men.
SH: What were you assigned to do?
GA: ... I was assigned to protect, well, I even mapped it out, the forward observers, and the forward observers are usually a group that go to the frontlines to direct artillery fire. So, you got to be right up there. So, where the infantry is there first, you're right with them to check out where the bombs are coming in. We were very good in that respect. Then, there was a story about the whisperers, with the Indians.
SH: The code-talkers? [Editor's Note: Navajo code talkers gave the Marines a quick and secure method of transmitting radio messages during amphibious operations in the Pacific War.]
GA: You know about them?
SH: I do, but you can tell me your story.
GA: ... They made a movie about them, and I resented the way they showed them, you know, that they were a bunch of drunks, you know, that wasn't right. Sure they drank, so did everybody. ... The Japanese understood English. So, we had them do it in ...
GA: Right, in their language and they're like, "Huh?" Now, they can't pick it up, which was important. You know, it goes into, when they made them, that they drank. I know they drank, so what? The Indians to this day still drink on the reservation because they have nothing to look forward to, you know.
SH: I want to go back to North Carolina when you are there for that month, what were you doing?
GA: ... You're in training. Then, the biggest training ... was Camp Pendleton. From North Carolina ... I went to Camp Pendleton, which is brand new.
SH: You went by train?
GA: It's a place bigger that half of Jersey.
SH: You went by train from North Carolina to Camp Pendleton.
GA: Oh, yes, by train.
SH: Can you talk about that trip?
GA: Yes, it's interesting, it takes a good week, and we would stop off, you know, for, say, a couple hours or something. I remember stopping often. In Louisiana, ... we go looking for women right away, to find out [if] they got houses, "Can we take a bath or a shower?" [laughter] You know, you couldn't take showers or baths for a week. So, as soon as you got off the train, you went looking for somebody you get friendly with, go to their house and take a shower or a bath. We lucked out a couple of times, but it was interesting.
SH: Now, how does a boy from Brooklyn fit in with the rest of the guys?
GA: No problem.
SH: Were most of them from the northeast?
GA: No, I had them from all over, you know, on the East Coast. See, the West Coast had another boot camp, but on the East Coast, it was Parris Island.
SH: Did you sleep sitting up all across the country?
GA: No, we had a bunk.
SH: Okay, so you had a sleeper car.
GA: Yes. We had the bunk, and it took about a week. ...
SH: Did you enjoy seeing the country?
GA: Oh, yes, it was interesting, everything is a place, you realize it's different. You've never done it, you know, and you sort of have to blend in with it, get accustomed to it. There's nothing else you can do. So, you made the best of it.
SH: When you're heading to Camp Pendleton in California, where are your two brothers?
GA: My brother was ... [there] when they landed in Europe. That was June 6th?
GA: '44 ... no, that was after me. Yes, okay, because in '43, I was still in Camp Pendleton, yes. He was in the Army reserve, he drove a tank. A lousy driver, he lost two tanks. [laughter]
SH: Probably not because of his driving skills.
GA: No, he did, he ended up in a hospital in England, and from that day on he was crazy, she'll tell you about [it], English women. Not American women, and he ended up marrying one, not from England, he met her here in New York, believe it or not. He heard her talking, he says "English?" [laughter] He walked over to her, and he started to talk to her, and before you know it, he got her phone number, and he called up. The rest is history, they got married. He said he always wanted an English girl.
SH: He got what he asked for.
GA: Yes, and she was very nice.
SH: Were you in contact with your brothers at all during the war? Did you write?
GA: Couldn't even write to them. I heard very little, you know, from my side of the family. We didn't get that many, and I had a couple that I was friendly with in the Army, we tried to communicate--it was a little hard.
SH: Describe Camp Pendleton, other than the fact that it is huge. What were you doing there?
GA: Oh, training. Also, ... all the division was getting ready. Now funny enough, we didn't know it, this division was going to go directly into combat, which they don't do. ... You go to your rest camp, and then you go. ... See if I had the book I would show you the whole setup. We fooled the Japanese, they never knew we were going to go into combat, that was the Marshall Islands.
SH: How long was your training in Pendleton?
GA: We were there a few months. ... We did landing on San Clemente Island. In fact, I was going around the circle so much, ... I lost my equilibrium in the water, I did.
GA: And I didn't know what was wrong, it came right back, you know, but we were in the water on this little landing craft, up and down, up and down, for hours--like twelve hours going up and down. Then, we invade. See, the beachheads, that's how you learn; you know, they're most important. The worst part of any war is your beachhead; your biggest casualties, beachhead. You see, we never lost a beachhead, there was a reason. ... We had nowhere to go but the ocean. That's why the big joke was, they said, "You know, you never lost a beachhead," of course not, you know. The Navy come over, the landing craft drop you off, and they take off, you know. So, you're stuck, that's why you get hit bad.
SH: When you are in Pendleton, after you finished your training there or at any point from Parris Island to Pendleton, did you get a chance to come home?
GA: No, went straight to California, so that was it. Then, I had the rest camp out on ... Maui, in the Hawaiians.
SH: Not so bad.
SR: Do you feel like the training you had in South Carolina and California properly prepared you to go into combat?
GA: ... Oh, yes, not then. When we got into, you're not prepared when you left Camp Lejeune, you were just organizing. You did very little training, but when you got to Camp Pendleton, then you did training, that's where you learned how to handle firearms, ... machine-guns and all, jumping in the war with backpacks on, you know, all that business; that was rough. They made it as tough as they could to make it more realistic and that's why we used San Clemente to invade, you know, to get the feel of hitting the beachhead, which is one of the most important parts of any operation. ... This training was all done in Camp Pendleton.
SH: What was the interaction between the Marines and the Navy when you are on liberty?
GA: ... You mean between us two? No, it wasn't that bad. ... We never had too much trouble. [laughter] I had nothing against [them]. The only thing was the Coast Guard. You see, there was a problem there. Also, they got fooled. See, people joined the Coast Guard for a reason; they didn't want to go to war. They thought they were going to patrol around the United States, but the Navy needed help, and they took the Coast Guard. We used them in the landing craft. ... Most of the LSTs [Landing Ship Tanks] were all manned by Coast Guard, and there was a little rivalry between the people there, because you had the old-timers which were really Coast Guard people, and then the phonies that joined to get out of the war. So, there was no love between them, but they got fooled. They thought they were going to patrol around the coast, and not go to war. You know, these people, you know, thought of this, you know, but you saw these people between them, you know.
SH: How did the civilians in California treat the soldiers?
GA: Oh, terrific. They were real good.
SH: How long was your training in Pendleton?
GA: About three, four months, but they needed us fast. As I said, I went into it too fast. ... It was highly unusual. I was eighteen now, and I was ... one of the youngest there. Everybody was twenty, twenty-one, but I was only eighteen, but I didn't feel I was the youngest, don't worry about it. [laughter]
SH: You were assigned to the Fourth Marines. How does that breakdown to your platoon? What group were you in? You said you were in the forward observers.
GA: Yes, ... this is seventeen thousand men, they all have different jobs, and, you know, no one knows where they're going ... until what division you get into, then you have regiments. You see, all these regiments are separate from a division. Then, they all get together, and they form a division. That's how it becomes a big division, and then you go together. We had the First, Second, Third, Fourth and they had five [divisions], and we were the Fourth. We did more than the other four; never did what my division did.
SH: Who was your commanding officer?
GA: I had one, "Howling Mad" Smith. [Editor's Note: General Holland Smith commanded amphibious forces in the Marine Corps during operations in the Pacific during World War II.]
SH: What did the men think of "Howling Mad" Smith?
GA: Oh, they were great, we all looked up to our generals, they were tough, all right, and they used to call him "Mad" Smith, "Howling Mad."
SH: On your pre-interview survey you put down Colonel Dehaven?
GA: Dehaven, I think Dehaven. Gee, I could have had the names better when I found my book.
SH: There is not a lot of information here, I am trying to ask really general questions.
GA: I know, I couldn't think of all of it. You know, I was starting to read it, and then, everything is coming back to me, you know, with the names, you know.
SH: That is why my questions seem to be really general.
GA: Yes, I couldn't give you too much information because it wasn't fresh in my head. You're going [into] something that's like fifty years ago.
SH: Oh, at least.
GA: ... I haven't bothered, you know, thinking about these things.
SH: When you left Pendleton, what were you transported in?
GA: Oh, we had a landing craft. We went straight into an invasion.
SH: No, when you left Pendleton, you went to the Marshall Islands, how were you transported?
GA: What do you mean transported? By ship.
SH: What kind of a ship?
GA: It's a landing craft they called them, and the one is called LSTs, Landing Ship, Tanks, then you get on an LCVP [Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel], that's where it's a small thing where you go from this, the LST, onto this little boat that maneuvers. Now, you had two ways of getting there, one was called, "the duck," [DUKW] and after a while nobody wants DUKW, there's a reason. You heard that phrase, "sitting duck." Well, that's what you were, you couldn't maneuver. So, I made sure I got onto an LCVP because when the shells come they could maneuver, where DUKW can go straight. See DUKW was important where when it hit land, it became a truck. They still use that among sightseeing places. I was reading where one turned over about last year, they had some trouble, that's what they were good for, but nobody wanted them, we tried not to use them too much anymore. ... When I always hear that phrase, you know, "like a sitting duck," I tell them the truth.
SH: When you left Pendleton, were you traveling in convoy?
GA: ... You go in convoy to the ship.
SH: Was there any danger with Japanese submarines?
GA: No, absolutely none. ...
SH: What did you do to entertain yourself during this long, slow trip?
GA: No, when we were in Camp Pendleton, we had liberty, we went out.
SH: What about your trip to the Marshall Islands?
GA: You can't wait, you know, everybody starts talking, you know. They don't tell you where you're going. You don't know until you're ready to hit the island. You know, everything is hush-hush, which is true, because I can go way ahead, like the last invasion, they didn't tell us, there was a reason. We were going to invade Japan and nobody wanted that. It was one of the worst invasions we would have had until they dropped the A-bomb. Boy, you never saw such fireworks exploding, you know, people were so happy. They never showed that in one of the movies. It was a sight to see because it meant the end of the war, and that saved thousands of lives.
SH: Was this trip from California to the Marshall Islands your first?
GA: That's the first one.
SH: Did you have a port of call in Hawaii?
GA: ... Then we went to Maui after the Marshalls, see that was going to be our rest camp.
SH: Okay, so you went to straight to the Marshalls.
GA: Yes, that's how we fooled the Japanese, because they never expected a division to come out and go right into combat. So, that was the object of doing that, ... to get them off guard which they were, which means a lot for you, they're not prepared.
SH: What were some of the names of the men that you remember that were part of your group or your platoon?
GA: Well, on the Marshalls, I think this will be a good story for you because it involves two Jersey kids. [laughter] You're laughing.
SH: I am game for anything.
GA: ... It's coming back to me. We get on the ship, and the lieutenant comes to me, and he says, "All right, do roll call." We have 199 people and we got 200 bunks, right. There's one left, if there's 199. It ends up we don't have enough. We got one over, there's two extra people, and they couldn't understand what the hell, you know, you're adding up. So we did a roll call and called their names. Finally two guys are left after 199; two kids from Jersey, they stow away. They wanted to go. ... See they weeded out certain people to stay back; so they wanted to go to war. See that's the way it was, they didn't not want to go. So, they stow away on the ship, not that I'm bragging, they were two Italian kids. [laughing] So, naturally, I befriended them. So, they put them into, to punish [them], they put them into working in the gallery.
SH: They gave them permanent kitchen duty?
GA: ... It's a long story, but they were both from Jersey, and I felt sorry for them, you know, I said, "Hey," I even told the lieutenant, "It's different if they ran off, they came," and there's another story about someone else that did it. The story I was reading, ... the son stow away on a ship because his father was on the ship and he wanted to be with his father. I just read that, ... then they related it to my stow-aways.
SH: Do you remember their names or where they were from?
GA: Oh, God, I have no idea, because I didn't get to be really close with them for a reason. Once we hit the beachhead they disappeared, I never saw them anymore, you know.
SH: Can you talk about that first invasion, and what you remember you were doing?
GA: Oh, well, you see, you don't go in right away at the beginning. You have to wait until they make a beachfront, so we can come in with the artillery, and you can't come in with them, or ... [you would] get blown out of the water. So, you have to establish. Maybe you have to wait so many hours. When they get the beachhead established, then you come in. ... It's an all day job of people, you know, you have to climb down. It's a netting. You see them, they come off the ship, you know, you got your pack on, and I didn't fall once, so don't worry about it, but you came down. ... I waited for an LCVP, because they maneuver, you know. When they're shelling, they can maneuver, which is great, and that's what we did, and then, we'd set up the artillery, and then, you set up the forward observers, which was us, to go to the enemy lines and see where the bombs are coming. ... That's the dangerous part of it too. The worst is your infantry, they go first, and that's where you get your big casualties at the beachhead, number one.
SH: Do you remember what the first island was that you went on?
GA: Yes, Roi-Nomur, ...but it's the Marshall Islands, R-O-I-N, and then A-M-U-R. Yes, that was the islands.
SH: Were you frightened, did you feel very prepared? What were your emotions like at that point?
GA: ... You can't wait, you know, it's your first time, and everybody is excited, and there's a little story there too. We had an intelligence officer attached to us, and after it was all over he says, "You know, our job is to interrogate prisoners, when are you going to leave some alive?" He says, "I have nobody to interrogate," you know. I guess when it's your first time, anything that moved you were going to shoot at. So, you didn't give anybody a chance to say, "I surrender." See, this is the way it went, and I remember him complaining, he said, "I can't interrogate, you know, that's my job, if you don't leave anybody alive." See, then it changed, and then we did take a lot of prisoners.
SH: What was it like to be in combat for the first time?
GA: I really can't tell you. ... I don't say frightened, I don't think I was ever frightened. It was just an experience, you know, you're going through, you expect it. ... We all had the fear inside, you know. It's not easy after a while. You know, you see some young kids being led away, they're in shock, you know, they're somewhere. They look like little boys; you take them by their hand. When you go into shock, but you get used to it, you know. So, after the initial one, then you realize what you're going to face, and that's it, then you don't think anything of it. You can't.
SR: When you got to visit the Pacific islands, what was it like being there as opposed to being home in your suburban town of Brooklyn? Did you go through a big culture shock?
GA: Well, we had tents to live in and we had good times. The tents were great, you know maybe ten, twelve people, you know, you're like family. You got to realize, I came from a big family, so I was accustomed. She'll tell you, when we had family together, we didn't need outsiders, we had enough people of our own. So, I mean, being friendly would, ... I mean I had some crazy stories there too.
SH: Go ahead, this is your story.
GA: Should I tell them about (Hamo?)? Gene Autry? You heard of Gene Autry, the cowboy singer?
SH: I have heard of Gene Autry.
GA: Well, I had a kid there, he sang Gene Autry songs. He thought he was a cowboy, and I remember he went into town with a group from the division to put on a show. So, naturally he went, he comes back raving how good he is, driving me crazy, "What a hand I got, everybody," you know. I said, "All right," his name was Gene too. I said, "Cut it out, enough is enough." ... So, everybody is looking and the rest of the guys were looking at one another, and they just, "got to shut this guy up." I says, "I got an idea." It wasn't nice, but, I went into town after he had another concert there. I go into town. We were allowed to go like every five, six days, and I knew a waitress there, and I said, "I want you to write a letter for me and send it to this guy," and I wrote out the whole letter, and she copied it, and she mails it to him. He gets it, he's going wild, "Look at this, I'm getting fan letters," he got one. I said, "Where are they?" He says, "I only kept one, the rest I threw away." He's a liar, he only got one. So, he gets this fan letter and he's like in seventh heaven.
SH: Now is this in California?
GA: No, this is in Maui. This is right after the first invasion, and I went and I sent him about three letters, he's out of his mind. "I got to go find this woman," I put down that I came from Texas, you know, ... I played it up big. So, he's going around like he's the star. So one day I couldn't take him anymore, I said, "You dopey bastard," I said "You know who sent you those letters?" "What do you mean?" I said, "Me." That was mean, but I sent it to him. He didn't believe it, and I said, "Here, I'll show you the originals," and I kept them. I said, "These are mine, look at them; my handwriting." I said, "I had a woman copy it to send it to you." Well, he died almost. [laughter] ... See, you're laughing.
SH: Poor guy, he was probably bound for American Idol.
GA: Yes, oh, God, he drove you crazy. So I said, "I'll shut him up." Just when I went into combat I made sure he was no way near me. He would have blown me away.
SH: When you were on Maui, were you also training?
GA: Oh, yes, rough training, we didn't stop.
SH: What had they learned in that initial invasion that they were now implementing?
GA: ... It's going to change you because once you get your initial fire on, you know, battlefield, you accept certain things. Then you realize, it's not a game anymore, you know, this is serious business. So that's why you see after every invasion, you have so many people that are killed and wounded, you recruit new people. ... I think after even Marshalls, and then, I went to Saipan and Tinian, I'm an old-timer now. When you get these new recruits they look up to you like you're God, you know, you've been through it, and I used to laugh because these kids, ... some of them were older than me, and here they're looking up to me because I got experience and I say, "You dopey bastards, I'm younger than you," to myself because, you know, you felt older then.
SH: Now did you change what you were doing from being involved with the forward observers?
GA: No, you stay that way. To me that was very important. That meant a lot to our artillery, and that's why I said those Indians were important, and they made them drunks. ... One of the movies, I didn't like it.
SH: When did you first start using the code talkers?
GA: ... Started ... after the Marshalls ... because then they realized that they pick up the American language, and they spoke American. That's when they started to bring them in, in Saipan and Tinian. After that, that's all we used.
SH: From Maui then, you've done Roi-Namur, and then, you go back to Maui.
GA: It was our rest camp.
SH: And then from Maui you go to where?
GA: Then, we went into Iwo.
SH: When you were in the Marshalls, you did Roi-Namur.
GA: Roi-Namur, I think it was called.
SH: Then where did you go after that.
GA: ... Yes, you go back ...
SH: Where else did you go in the Marshall Islands?
GA: No more, you finish. ... You leave occupation troops there to take over. Then, you have what they called the Seabees [US Navy Construction Battalions], the engineers they put airfields in, they're very important, that's why Iwo Jima was so important. I showed you on the map how we went up the line, the Central Pacific, not the South. That was the important line to get to Japan, because Guadalcanal and all the rest were like in left field, it was no where near Tokyo. Where the Marshalls, then it turns like this, Saipan, and then, it goes right into Iwo, then a couple of hundred miles more, you're in Tokyo.
SH: So, from Maui you go to Saipan?
GA: Yes, you go to Saipan, and then Tinian, the two of them. Then after that, you go back to Maui, whatever is left.
SH: So, can you talk about the invasion in Saipan, how different it was from Roi-Namur?
GA: ... Big difference.
SH: What was the difference?
GA: The difference is that they weren't as prepared on the Marshalls; it wasn't that many, whereas Saipan and Tinian, they expected it. So, they were prepared for this, and it wasn't easier. That's why then you see that that was more, you know, of a battle, than Marshalls was easy; but the other one is a big difference, you know. They were locked up in caves.
SH: In Saipan, how long were you there?
GA: I forgot how many days. See if I had the book I could find out. ... It could be a couple of weeks, four weeks, which is a long time, believe it or not.
SH: How well-supplied were you?
GA: Supplied, we were pretty good. I mean, its one thing about the Americans, we were really well-prepared. I mean, we did a terrific job that way.
SH: So, from Saipan you go back to Maui.
GA: You go back to Maui.
SH: Then you were retrained?
GA: And then you retrain.
SH: Did you go to the same place on Maui?
GA: Oh, yes, we had a camp in the mountains, no hot water. So, I shaved only with cold water, took only cold water showers. ... Lava was there. A lot of them used to make sculptures with this lava.
GA: Yes. That was a pleasant island. It was a big. I think a lot of people go there for their wedding, after their weddings, it's for vacation, Maui. No, it's very pretty.
SH: So, from Maui, then you go back to Tinian.
GA: After you get rid of Saipan, then you go back to Maui again and you got to regroup. It's the same thing all over again. Bring in a lot of recruits; ... seventeen thousand of the original that came back is only five thousand, the rest were either killed or wounded badly. So, it's a big amount, you know, it's a big difference.
SH: Was there a difference to you in your position from Saipan to Tinian?
GA: Oh, definitely.
SH: What was the difference in that one?
GA: Yes, well, they had more caves, you know, and they had more people. ... They had more soldiers there, they were more equipped [and] they had more ammunition to fight with us, you know.
SH: Where does The Battle of Kwajalein fit into this?
GA: ... Kwajalein, ... that's the Marshall Islands area. ... No, after everything is over, we had to go back to Maui after they dropped the A-bomb, then they weed out everyone who had so many invasions who had so many hours there overseas, and then, you go home, the rest stay there. So, my group was the first one to leave. I was number one to come home. [Editor's Note: The atomic raids were carried out against Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.]
GA: Yes, and I got mustered out in Bainbridge, Maryland. So, that's why I said, you know, you get a lot of talk about the atom bomb, in fact, your sister-in-law ... [was] against the atom bomb. So I said to her, "If it wasn't the atom bomb you wouldn't be here." That was true because the atom bomb stopped the war, and I said, "If that invasion that we had to make, you know, would have been bad, your luck can be so much and that's it." So, that's why I said they should have played this thing up so big because there's ... hundreds of ships that were involved with this, warships, you know. Every line was shooting up in the air, you know, sounded like fireworks when they found this happened because that meant we're not going to go in. So that, to me, was a very important part of the war, which no one ever played that up, you know. There's also another story that never was played. There was a second Pearl Harbor, not as big, that was never reported. That's another story. There was a second Pearl Harbor.
SH: What was that?
GA: ... We went to Hawaii to rendezvous with other ships, to get together to go on the invasion of Saipan, and I happened to be on the ship, you know. The LSTs, they lined them up like six at a time, they tie up to one another and they were loading the first ship with ammunition and all. Something happens, it blows up; the ship blows up. The second one gets caught, it blows up. I'm on the sixth. The third one gets caught, it blows up and bodies are flying all over the place. Finally we were able to get out of it, I think the fourth, fifth and sixth was able to get out of it, and we pulled out to sea so we wouldn't catch fire, and we [then] went around ... to pick up body parts, you know, that [were] blown off. That was never reported.
SH: Was this an air attack by the Japanese?
GA: No, something went wrong on the loading.
GA: ... They kept [it] quiet, it was never reported. ... I also remember going there, you know, with this LST [Landing Ship Tank]. [It] had platoons, and when the water used to hit it, it used to be like a bomb. That's the kind of noise it made, and going to Saipan for a week or ten days, whatever it took us to get there, it was murder to hear that noise constantly. [laughter] You thought the ship was going down. See, there's a story that was kept quiet. So, we always called it the second Pearl Harbor because a bunch of ships blew up. I even had one black kid, he didn't belong on our ship, but I found him there, he came from another ship, he was blown onto my ship. [Editor's Note: Saipan is an island in the South Pacific considered the last line of defense for the Japanese homeland. The United States occupied the island on June 15, 1944 after heavy fighting and massive casualties on all sides.]
SH: Was he all right?
GA: Yes, he was shook up. I said, "Where the hell are you from?" [laughter] He didn't belong with us, that I remember, too.
SH: Was he part of the loading crew?
GA: No, he was a Marine.
SH: Was he?
GA: ... He was blown from his ship into our ship in one piece and most of them were all body parts and that was nerve wracking. ... I remember [that] was worse, going in on an invasion to see that.
SH: Did you understand what was going on when everything was happening?
GA: No, nobody knew what the hell was going on, [and] then we found out. The one ship caught and you know, we'd see the ships go up one after the other like a domino effect. We were fortunate enough, the last couple of ships to get out, before we got involved. I mean, there's a story you [are] never going to read. ...
SH: Thank you for sharing. Were there other stories like that?
GA: Oh, there's so many, you know, it will come to me, but I got to think about it. [laughter] There [was] always something crazy going on. There [are] too many stories to remember them all, you know, after a while, I don't know. I tried to think also of good stories, you know, that [are] comical. ... I told you the story with the writing of the letter, that's comical. [laughter]
SH: To you. [laughter]
GA: Yes. [laughter] ... I had to joke. If I don't joke I go crazy. I've been doing this all my life. I mean, I remember getting bombarded and we were diving into holes, you know, to save yourself, and where did I end up? With a bunch of Japanese dead bodies, I [was] in the middle of them. So, after it's all over, I get up [and] I'm laughing like crazy, you know. I made a joke out of it, and they were laughing. They said, "Of all the holes you land in," [laughter] but I made it funny. I wasn't going to get excited over it.
SH: Were there any men that could not handle the stress of being in battle?
GA: Oh, yes, they go into shock.
SH: How were they treated?
GA: Well, I don't know how they treated them. You could see them leading them by the hand, ... like [they were] little children.
SH: Were you ever wounded?
GA: I was hit with shrapnel, but I never reported it because I'm the type that if ... something [goes] wrong, I try to fix it myself before I go [to] the doctor, you know, it might be too late some day. [laughter] ... She'll tell you. I don't go right away. ... If something happens bad, I try to correct it myself, like if I fall out of a building or a tree. [laughter] ...
SH: After Saipan you went back to Maui?
SH: Then, you go to Iwo. Can you talk about that and what you remember seeing and hearing?
GA: ... When you go to Iwo, that's a whole different ballgame. That was bad.
SH: Can you describe your experience, what you saw and heard?
GA: No, it was really bad. Well, you heard of the, they made an issue of it in that, what do you call it program, John Basilone from Jersey, he should have never ... gone back, you know. He's allowed to be exempt because he's a Congressional Medal of Honor winner and when we heard he was doing this, they said, "The guy is crazy," because he's going to try to live up to his reputation, "he'll get killed." ... He got killed on the beachhead, he didn't have a chance, you know, that's the most dangerous place to be, and actually being that he's a Congressional Medal of Honor, he wants to live up to his reputation, and boy he didn't do it.
SH: What do you remember?
GA: Oh boy. Well, the first thing is I have a memento from Iwo. You see where the flag was raised? I have the tripod binoculars from that mountain [at] home, and I want to give them to the museum. I don't need it, but her husband, who's my son, keeps telling me no. I don't want it. They're tripods with big lens, [laughter] who's going to carry them around, you need a little one. [laughter] So, I got that [at] home.
SH: How did you get those?
GA: This is the amazing part. Everyone says, "How did you get this home?"
SH: I do too.
GA: ... I was up [on the] mountain when they were raising the flag, I was right there.
GA: And I found the binoculars, you know. Everybody is picking up rifles, and this and that, I said, "I'm going to take these binoculars." So, I carried it all the way down back to my command post, but I was very friendly with, ... he was in charge of all the shipping, you know. They come ashore, they have boxes of this. ... Then, they go back, they load up everything. So, I was very friendly with this one man, and I said, "I want these sent back as office equipment." [laughter] So, I had them sent back to Maui. When I got to Maui, I shipped it home, because I had to think how I did it. I know I wasn't going to carry it in my backpack. [laughter] It wouldn't fit in it, [laughter] that's how big they are, but I was able to do it by having it shipped back as office equipment. [laughter] Got to realize, [I] came from New York, we had all the angles. [laughter]
SH: Everyone talks about the color of the sand in Iwo. What do remember about the island?
GA: Yes, it is really, I can't even think about it. ... I know it was something different, but that's the furthest thing to worry about, what the color is of the sand. It was an island that had no buildings, number one. I'm not positive, there was only one woman on the island who belonged to the commandant, the Japanese, that was the only woman they had, there wasn't a woman on that island. Everything was caves, and to get a lot of them out of the caves they used flame throwers, which we were crucified for doing that, by Eleanor. Can you think of the last name, it starts with an "R." Eleanor Roosevelt called us a bunch of barbarians for using a flame thrower. So, I never had any likes for her. [laughter] When people prayed to her, I insulted her. That wasn't a nice thing to say, they saved lives, and she didn't know what it was [like] to go in there. In fact, it was ironic. There was one brave photographer that took fantastic pictures. [He was] killed on Iwo, walking into the cave. They told him not to go in there, and he wanted to take more pictures, and this was important, how to get them out, and she said, "It wasn't right to fight that way." You had to invite them to tea, you know, and then, poison them. I guess that's the way she wanted to do it. [laughter]
SH: As a forward observer, when you landed on Iwo, had they made any progress up the beach?
GA: Oh yes, it took a while yes. That beachhead, it's rough.
SH: How long did it take?
GA: You can't just go on a beachhead and take it. It's the roughest part of the whole war.
SH: Where were you when the Navy was shelling?
GA: Oh, the shelling, forget it. ... You know, to me all this business with Afghanistan and all that, it's a shame because it's not a war, because if it's a war, we'll win in two days. We'll go in and blast everything; you saw that six-day war we had. I said, "There's not going to be any combat, it's going to be with the ... Air Force doing it," which they did. If you remember, they were running a lot. One guy walked out, fifty prisoners walked up and said, "I give up," to one man because they couldn't take the shelling and this business. The way they have to fight is disgusting, and it's not a way to be in a war. ... Get in there and get it over and get the hell out. They're getting road-side bombings every [day]. He's not fighting. He doesn't know what's going on.
SH: What do you remember of the shelling? Were you sitting in the LST?
GA: Yes, you'd start the shelling as soon as you're in the water, and they dump you off and they run, you know. You don't blame them.
SH: What about the kamikazes at that point?
GA: Now, the kamikazes that was, at that point, there was very little of it going on. See, when you were in ... a rendezvous with all ... your ships, what do they call that? Where ... we're going on an invasion?
SH: You are in a convoy.
GA: Yes, we have a convoy of all these ships, warships, submarines and all, and that's a story there. [laughter] On the LST, the one that's in charge is the captain, that's his ship, and this one character wants us to man the ... guns twenty-four hours a day. We're in an area that [was] in the middle, we got battleships, submarines, you name it all around us. No plane is going to get anyway near us, you know, that's how you're protected, an armada of ships, and this character says, "I want my guns manned twenty-four hours a day." So, you know we used to talk [to] him over the phone. We started cursing him, and everything else under the sun, and he couldn't know who it was, and we said to him, "D-Day, you're coming in with us." [laughter] He says, "What are you talking about?" "We're going to show you what real warfare is." We gave it to him so bad, D-Day, he locked himself in the cabin, we couldn't get him, [laughter] you know. We had a pact to grab him and take him in with us. We'll show him what real warfare is. [laughter] I mean he was annoying, you know. Then, there was another thing with the Navy, this I'll never forget. After Iwo, we get on this transport, the commodore of this transport gets on the phone, and he says, "Now, hear this," you know, he said, "It is such an honor to have you people on my ship. This ship is yours. My men have to wait on you hand and foot. Whatever you want done, they better do it." [laughter] He was so proud to be part of it, and to hear him talk over the thing was like, "Oh, boy." [laughter] He said, "If any of our men do anything to aggravate you, you let me know." [laughter] Wasn't that nice? I'll never forget that.
SH: What did you ask for? [laughter]
GA: No, to hear a man talk like that, you know, he saw what went on, and he was so impressed. He knows all the casualties he had, so he said, "It's my honor to have you on my ship." So, I remember. Now, the sailors were very good, you know, they treated us like, you know, he said, "You remember, they're your guests, you take care of them. Whatever you want you got." [laughter] That was amazing.
SH: After Iwo, you returned to Maui.
GA: Yes, then we went back to Maui, got regrouped, and I told you then we were ready to invade Japan when they dropped the bomb.
SH: Were you aware of what was going on in Europe?
GA: Oh, yes. Well, the war was over there in Europe.
SH: I meant as the war was going on.
GA: Naturally, we kept up [with] what was going on there, too. We thought that if they win the war there first, you know, we can get more reserves coming to help us.
SH: Did you feel that the Pacific was as well-supplied as the European theater?
GA: Yes, I don't think it [was] as much as the European theater, it was more involved there, you know. I mean they had that one beachhead, but look at that beachhead.
SH: Did you realize your brother was in the D-Day invasion?
GA: Oh, yes, I know my brother was. My other brother was in Bougainville, he got hit too. [Editor's Note: Bougainville is an island in the South Pacific where the Allies sought to regain control of during their "island-hopping" campaign across the region. Hostilities ceased there when the Japanese surrendered in 1945.]
SH: At the time, did you know where your brother was in the Pacific?
GA: My brother was home then. ... The one that was in the Marines got sent home.
SH: From Bougainville?
GA: Yes, and my brother in Europe. ... I know where he got hurt, and he was in England then.
SH: Did you know your brother was in the Pacific at the same time you were?
GA: Oh, yes, of course I did. In fact, I got another story. ... Right after boot camp you come home for a furlough, and then I go to boot camp. I get on a train and stop off in Washington DC to catch another train. So, [there was] nowhere to sit. ... So, I sit in the telephone booth and the phone rings. So, I pick it up. So, it's a girl. I said, "What do you want," I said, "You're calling the railroad station." So, I said, "Why are you calling here?" She says, "I'm lonely." I said, "That's nice," and all of a sudden I hear a guy grab the phone from her and he says, "Who are you?" I said, "Who are you." I said, "I'm here waiting to go to Paris Island." "Oh, you're a Marine." I said, "Yes," he says, "So am I." He said, "I got two girls here." He says, "Come on over." I said, "You want me to go A-W-O-L, I didn't even get down there." [laughter] ... So, he said, "What's your name?" So, I tell him my name. "Do you know 'Midnight' John Aiello?" I said, "That's my brother." He said, "That's your brother?" [laughter] Isn't that amazing, ... he got so excited. ... I picked up the phone and when he heard my name, he was in the same outfit as my brother.
SH: How did your brother get the nickname "Midnight?"
GA: He used to like to go midnight swimming. [laughter] We had a pool when they first put it up in Brooklyn, and he used to like to go at night. Don't worry, he paid the piper, he developed pleurisy, and he was screaming one night, I say, "Hey, you want to go swimming at night, then keep quiet, you're keeping me up." [laughter] He was only a year-and-a-half older than me, we always fought between us.
SH: What was the reaction to the troops when Roosevelt died?
GA: ... That was a shock. No, you got to realize he still was our commander in chief. He was well-liked, that I will tell you. I mean everybody was behind the war in those days. Nobody, it's not like today. ... It's a big difference.
SH: Were you concerned that Truman was now the President of the United States?
GA: Well, no, at that stage of the game ... we knew we were going to win.
SH: Were you?
SH: When did you realize the Allies were going to win the war?
GA: Well, I guess after Iwo, that was it.
SH: Even before the bomb was dropped?
GA: Yes, because, gee, if I showed you a map, the reason that it was a very important island for one reason, for the bombers to land there. See the bombers used to drop their bombs, and then, go into the sea, they couldn't get back. ... They [either] came from aircraft [carriers] or other islands that were further away, [and] they never made it back. So, a lot of them could get killed and they lost all those planes, and Iwo was very important. While we were fighting, we built airfields, they were landing there already. It was amazing, you have what they called Seabees, see they come in, and with the engineers and as soon as you get a plot there of land, they're straightening it out so the planes could land, while the war is still going on.
SH: What was the reaction when you heard that the war had ended in Europe?
GA: Like again, naturally we all felt great about it, that means that's one stage, you know, we have two stages, one stage we won. So, we [knew] we're going to win the second stage, and everybody was confident we were going to win. You never thought you were going to lose. I know I never had it [in] my head, maybe.
SH: Were you confident in Harry Truman as your commander in chief?
GA: Oh, yes, you know at that time people weren't that crazy about politics. ... No you weren't the type to rip him apart, he was your leader, that was it. Today, you know, just to run for a little post, [laughter] if you don't catch it they are going to come after you, [laughter] you know what it is. It's a whole different ballgame this time to live in. Nobody even thought of these things, you know, you were behind your government.
SH: Was there anybody in your unit or your platoon that went in with you that was able to come out with you?
GA: Oh, yes, there's a few. I can't name them. ... We did keep in touch to a certain extent. We ... [had] a reunion, ... but then I broke off with it.
SH: You talked earlier that you have never joined any of the veterans' organization.
GA: No, ... I still [get] letters from the American Legion, [I got one] just this week. [laughter]
SH: Have you stayed involved with any reunions?
GA: I really didn't. Like I told you, my brother, he goes, [laughter] he's got everything.
SH: Tell us about your reaction when you realized the war was over.
GA: I told you, we were shooting firearms off. We felt the war ... [was over when they dropped] the atom bomb. To us, the war was over. We were just waiting for the final stages, the signing and all, but we felt it was over.
SH: What were you planning to do with your life after the marines?
GA: ... Actually, I studied to be a cosmetologist.
SH: Did you use the GI Bill to do that?
GA: Yes, but before I did that, oh, God, this is something. I was going to go to the school. ... I didn't do anything for so many months, so I took a job working in construction. I think I lasted there maybe ten days, and I fell two stories on the boulders, on my back, and I said, "It's ironic, I'm out of the service, [laughter] I came [out] with a couple of scratches, [and now] I'm getting killed." ... I smashed my whole back, but I was fortunate in a sense. I didn't let them move me. I ... was not unconscious, and it was the best thing I ever did. He said, "If you would have gotten up," I had a compression fracture, it was all smashed and I got into the hospital, it took like an hour and half, two hours to put a cast on in those days. They put my elbows here, my feet in the back, and they got a curve and they wrapped me up. That night, I [started] choking, and I'm not saying anything yet, I'm suffering, and it was an orthopedic ward, everybody's crying, [and] who did I get--an Army nurse. [laughter] So, she goes over, "Mr. Aiello what's the matter?" "I can't breathe, I'm choking." "Why didn't you say something over here?" ... She must have seen my Marine emblem, she said, "You're a Marine," I said, "Yes." "No wonder you're not opening your mouth." She said, "Look at those cry babies over there." [laughter] So, she called the doctor right away to cut it away from me because I couldn't breathe, it was choking me. She said, "Why don't you say something?" From that day on, I was the court king over there with her. She said, "Leave those phonies alone," [laughter] but she took care of me, but I worked on it, and I made myself good. I never had trouble with my back.
GA: I had a cast on for like, they told me three to six months. I healed, [in] six weeks I had it off. [laughter] I was playing ball with the cast until the doctor caught me. [laughter] Those days the doctors were friends, you know, and he gave me treatments. He said, "Look, I'm only here one day a week." He had an office--his main practice was in Manhattan. His mother lived in his house, you know, he said, "I want you to come here every day, get these treatments, my mother will let you in," you know. He's not charging me, that's how they did it then. He said, "You come here and take care of yourself, and then, on the weekend, I'll see you." I saw him once a week and in between I gave myself treatments, but then I went to the beach every day with the sun and boy that helped. Believe it or not, I never had too much trouble with my back, you know. My back is strong, I hope.
SH: From there you went to cosmetology school?
GA: Yes, then I went there, like I said, "Construction is not for me, I guess." [laughter] ... I was there a week, they were going to make me a shop steward. ... They were going to take me into the union, "You'll be a shop steward, you don't have to work anymore." They were trying to build up the union with ex-servicemen. Well, he got a little scared when my friend and I threw some axes at him and it missed him, you know, he was picking on us. So, he says, "All right, boys, come over here, no, come out, I want to talk to you." [laughter] So, before you know it, he says, "You don't have to do this heavy work." He says, "You come with me, I'll make you a shop steward." [laughter] The axes convinced them, you know. He was on our back and we were flinging axes at him.
SH: Was most of the crew made up of ex-servicemen?
GA: Yes, there were a few servicemen there, you know. So, it was funny, because the other fellow, he was in the Army, he said he came out all right, he got something in his eye, blinded. I fell off the building. [laughter] You know, I came through that all right.
SH: Did you practice cosmetology after?
GA: Yes, I did for a while. I then went into sporting goods, which I did very well. So, I stayed with that for the rest of my life.
SH: When did you meet your wife?
GA: Ironically, she was actually a cousin of my uncle and I met her. ... I was very funny. I wouldn't go out with a girl to be steady. I wouldn't lead a girl on. You know, in those days [if] you went out with a girl more than once, you're engaged, that's what used to happen. [People] didn't go out for months. ... So, I never wanted that relationship with anybody. In fact, when I came home, there was a girl I was writing to from where I worked, but [it was] nothing, [it was] ... just friendly. So, she had lived in Queens, and I remember going there to visit, the family gave me such a "hello," like I was their long gone brother, and I went back. I didn't believe in this. But my wife, ... I met her at the movies, and I just said, "Hello" and that was it. This friend of mine goes, "Who is she, who is she?" I say, "It's my uncle's cousin." He said, "Give me her name--try to get her number, I want to call her." I said, "Get away." So, that's how I started with her, and she'll tell you, she was a woman second to none. When she walked into a room, you knew she walked into this room. [laughter] ... I lucked out, that's all I can tell you.
SH: Did you ever suffer from having seen all the horrors that you saw in the military?
GA: No, I'm thick-skinned on certain things because I joked, you know, you have to. ... You can't be serious.
SH: Did your brothers come out as well as you did?
GA: Well, the second one, the older one, Peter ... always had a little problem, you know, even as a child, but he was all right, you know, I was close to him. He was like a recluse; he didn't bother with the rest of the family. It was only me because his wife and my wife got along well. They both, you know, they were honest together. So, they had a lot in common. So, I got along well with them, you know, I went [on] vacations with them. ...
SH: As a young boy, how did you perceive the German soldier as opposed to the Japanese soldier?
GA: ... The way I look at it, they're both your enemy, but I was more against the Japanese. Pretty simple, you know, they had attacked us more than the Germans, you know. They didn't hit us personally, you know, the rest of the world they were bothering, but here's somebody [who] hit you. That's [what] ... I said in those days. You have no idea how many of these young people just wanted to join. It's a whole different ballgame. Very few said that they didn't want to go in.
SH: You talked about how in the beginning there were not any prisoners to interrogate. Did you ever take anyone prisoner?
GA: Oh, definitely, and we treated them well.
SH: Did you?
GA: Yes, we used to have them on the ship. We used to take them topside, hose them down, and [we] gave them two meals a day. They were good meals. We treated them very well. ... They knew that we weren't going to kill them because we were treating them well.
SH: Where did you take them?
GA: We took them to a camp when we got back, and we treated them well. ... I used to talk to them. [I would] say, "You know, I'm going to Japan," they're smiling, they don't understand me. "You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to go look for your wife," [laughter] and the guy goes, "Yes, yes." Oh, boy. [laughter]
SH: When you went to the Pacific islands, did you see any of the natives?
GA: You mean the islands that we were hitting?
SH: Like the Marshalls.
GA: You saw very few. You know, there were a lot of caves on these islands. [Did] you know that twenty years later there [were] still Japanese running around Saipan, hiding. You've heard stories [like] that. ... Where the hell were they for twenty years? They're still running around. They wanted to know if the war was over yet. [laughter] You heard those crazy stories. I said, "How the hell did they," you know, "What did they do?"
SH: Was there ever any evidence of any kind of sabotage?
GA: ... What do you mean by sabotage?
SH: There were stories of people who sabotaged equipment. ...
GA: What [do] you mean, behind the lines? No, in Europe you had that, more or less. We had very few. ... You were fighting ... the Japanese. The islanders could have cared less. They didn't want to get involved. They were prisoners of the Japanese. They didn't want to do anything to hurt you. They were glad that you were coming. ... You were going to liberate them.
SH: We have also heard stories of where people were so afraid of the Marines coming that they would jump off cliffs and were suicidal.
GA: Oh, there was a lot of hari-kari. The Japanese, they did commit suicide.
SH: Rather than be captured?
GA: They had like a line up. They would line up, take their shoes off, and put their toe in there, put the rifle against their mouth, and with their toe pull the trigger. They had a whole line of them. That's how they committed suicide, you know, that was very common.
SH: You talked about the movies and some of the recent television specials about the war in the Pacific. Have you ever seen a movie that honestly depicted what you went through?
GA: Well, I'm not too impressed with a lot of them, and they missed the point on so many different things, you know. So, I don't like to get too involved and tell anybody [that] this is wrong [and] that's wrong. You know they, I don't know, it's Hollywood, and this last big faux-pa with Tom Hanks and Spielberg was just ridiculous. I mean you want to do good, you make it such a big story, you know backing up the World War II veterans and all, and you put out something that's mediocre, and they're so proud. Maybe, I'm too critical, I have no idea, I don't know if other people think like me, but I just resent the way they do certain things. When they did that with those poor Indians, they made them drunks.
SH: Did you know any of the code-talkers?
GA: Oh, yes. I didn't know them personally, you know. I didn't speak their language.
SH: Did you meet any other New York or Brooklyn boys?
GA: Oh, yes, I met Brooklyn [boys].
SH: Anybody that you knew?
GA: No, I didn't know [them]. I met one, I remember his name, I was looking in the book, his name was (Bernstein?). Yes, he was in my squad. I remember him. We used to go out to eat. When it came time to pay the bill, he goes to the bathroom, never came back. [laughter]
SH: Did you ever get any good care packages from home? [laughter]
GA: Care packages? Oh, there's a good story. ... When you got off the line, you know, you don't stay there constantly, you come back, somebody else takes over, and you had rations, right. So, when you got back they had what they called ten in one rations. It was like a gourmet meal. So, my squad gets it. ... I get a couple of these, and we're opening it up, going crazy. You know, its decent food, and this captain comes walking over to join us. So, this is for us, so he's looking and he's taking this, he's taking this, I said, "What are you doing?" I said, "That belongs to us." He said, "I'm a captain." I said, "So what? This belongs to us," and he takes it. So, one of the kids, this is the truth, takes out his forty-five, he's going to kill him, and I said, I grabbed him, I stopped him, and I said, "He's not worth it." I said, "I'll have him taken care of," which I did. My lieutenant comes over to me, I said, "Don't talk to me." He said, "What did I do?" Then I told him the story. He said, "That son of a bitch," I remember his name--Captain (Picket?). He was in the motor pool. So, I tell my lieutenant what went on, he says, "That son of a bitch," he was cursing him. He said, "I'm going over to see the colonel." He goes and talks to the colonel. Five minutes [later], I hear across the field, "Captain (Picket?)" screaming, the colonel, and he's calling him. Now, this captain comes running back, "What's the matter? What? Yes, sir." ... He blasted him and he says, "And guess what, you're being relieved, I want you out of here, and I want to never see you again." So, this captain, as he was going by, he's looking at me and he says, "I'm going to get you for this." I said, "How?" I said, "You're lucky the colonel didn't put you up against a firing squad." I got him kicked out, see the power I had. [laughter]
SH: How did you celebrate holidays in the Marines?
GA: What's a holiday, who knows? [laughter]
SH: Did you get to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas?
GA: Oh, yes. ...
SH: Did you receive Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner?
GA: Dinner, yes, I guess they do, I don't remember. When I was in Maui, we looked forward to going ... to town to eat. Oh, they had big cattle ranches there, you know, meat at that time was hard to get. It was rationed. [We were] lucky ... that we [became] friendly with [a waitress]. She liked one of the kids that [were] with me. So I play up to this one, you know. [laughter] ... We used to go in, and she would put all our steaks away, because [if] you went in the afternoon, it was gone. So, that's how we got ours, a good feeling, you know, ... getting steak, but they had the cattle ranches there, and they were able to give us good meat, but, you know, its ordinary food, you know, whatever you eat, you eat just to exist, to be alive, and I'm not a great one for eating every day, I never was. [laughter] I eat, but very plain now, but you get used to all these things.
SH: How often did you get a hot meal?
GA: Oh, no, you [didn't have] hot meals, not when you're in combat, you know. You're not going to get any hot meals. You were on rations, that's it. So, you grab something, you get a bite, and that's it. That's the furthest thing from your mind, believe me.
SH: Oh, I am sure, I just wanted to know how often.
GA: No, when you get back, you are able to eat, you know, relax a little off the line, then you can eat a little, you know. You're not going to gain weight, that's for sure. [laughter] You lose about twenty pounds right away.
SH: How did you take care of your laundry?
GA: Laundry? [laughter] I had a girl work for me. [laughter] You know, this was amazing, I [didn't] have to worry about socks, they got dirty, I threw them away. ... [On] one of the islands, we got a lot of socks, cases and cases. [laughter] ... This was crazy, altogether, they had no heels. Little did I realize, later on when I got into the business, that was very clever, they're called tube socks now, the Americans, they already were doing it. [laughter] In other words, this was, I was saying "They're crazy, they had no heels." You know how a tube is, no heels, look at them. You never saw a sock with no heels. ... I'll show you one I got in my suitcase, [laughter] it has no heel, and in sports they called that tube socks, it fits anybody with a heel. So, that's the first time I ever had it, and I said, "These stupid Japanese, they don't even put heels on them." I didn't realize, they were way ahead of us. That was clever. When I first came back, you know, I got into the business in sports, and I thought seeing these socks, tube socks. I say, "It's not new to me." [laughter] I knew this. ... I would never think of it, but it just came to me.
SH: You talked about the binoculars that you brought from Iwo Jima. Were there other souvenirs that you sent home?
GA: Yes, ask my grandfather. I sent rifles, I had a machine-gun, and at that time after the war, they were worried about firearms, you know, people, were desperate. There was a little crime going on, and my grandfather, who was the boss, grabbed all these firearms and broke them all up and threw them away. It could have been worth money today, but he did that. I went looking for them. I had sent fatigues, my uniforms and all, that's all he wore. [laughter] He had them on all the time. He had all the fatigues I had sent. ... I sent a whole case of them, and when I came home to look for them, he's still wearing them, and then, when I got married, ... I got a picture of him with my Marine belt on. ...
SH: Did you wear your Marine uniform when you got married?
GA: No way. ... That story is really good there, too. See when you came, when I got mustered out, that was in Bainbridge. The first thing they do before you get mustered, they show you war movies where you've been. That's to get everybody nostalgic, you know, get all excited, and then, they walked around, "Would you like to join the reserves?" ... Inactive reserve they call it, "Just put your name and you'll be in the inactive reserves." I said, "Let me think about it," which I didn't sign. I [got] married, the 25th of June, that's the day of the Korean War. I'm in the car, and I [said], "Oh, my God." So, Rosemarie says, "What's the matter." I says, "I got to report [laughter] to my outfit tomorrow morning." "What are you talking about?" I said, "I joined the reserves, they say now all reserves report to your regiment," whatever you joined in, and she said, "I didn't know about that." I said, "When you got out they made you sign." So, she said, "But we're going on our honeymoon." I said, "I can't." So, she ... [believed] me. Then, I said, "I better tell her before she really kills me," but I got away with it. Now, whoever was in the reserves had to go the next ... day and report, but that's how they caught you, they showed you movies, got you all ... excited, you know, and I said, "No, let me think about it." I said, "I can always do it when I want to," but that would have interfered with my life right away. [laughter]
SH: I can tell that you are still very proud that you served as a Marine.
GA: Oh, yes, ... like I said, it's only the last few years people are talking about it. I just never thought it would be like this, where people are asking crazy questions like this, I really didn't. I thought it was dead, it's over with, let's forget about it. Now, all of a sudden, it's come alive again, you know, and with these other wars that [are] going on, after that, you know, it's not the same, you know. This was like the war to stop all wars in a sense, and I feel what we're having right now is not wars, it's disgusting. I feel sorry, I wouldn't want to be in their position. ... They have nobody to fight. If you have a chance to fight go fight and get it over with, here they have nothing.
SH: Did you ever entertain the idea of staying in the military?
GA: No, I didn't want to. I mean, it never dawned on me, I guess, you know, some people did, if they like--like a lot of them like to have authority. You work yourself up to sergeant, then a lieutenant, you know. You can go a lot higher. Then, you like that kind of life, it's not hard once you get established, and you got a good ranking, they have a good life. I have a brother-in-law that was in the Navy after the war, he stayed in it, and he had a good life. Then, when he retired he went back to work in what he did for the Navy, the same job, you know, he was into radar and all, and they lived in Norfolk, Virginia, where the big base was, and he stayed in and he made more money than he was getting money from the Navy in his job. He's getting two salaries. [laughter]
SH: Is there anything we have not covered that we should have asked you about?
GA: Not right now, I'll think about it. When I get the book I can really elaborate more so, because then you could read certain things and understand what I'm trying to bring out. It's a little difficult, but if you read it, I think you will understand it more, I'm almost positive. There's nothing like reading, you know.
SH: That is true. Well, I thank you both for coming and talking with us.
GA: It's interesting, I didn't know what to expect. Like I said, I had myself prepared, but I goofed.
SH: I think you did very well. Thank you again for coming.
---------------------------------------------END OF INTERVIEW-------------------------------------------
Reviewed by Gerald Carlucci 10/20/11
Reviewed by David Freschl 10/20/11
Reviewed by Nicholas Molnar 10/24/11
Reviewed by George Aiello 11/24/11