Sandra Holyoak: To begin with, would you tell me a little about your family before the war and where you lived and your father's background and your mother's background?
Robert A. Ragotzkie: I lived in Albany, New York, and I was an only child. Both my mother and father were alive. My father served in the Army during World War I. He did not go overseas. My mother did not serve in any war.
SH: Your father, what did he do?
RR: My father worked in a garage most of his life. My mother worked as a secretary. I suppose it was my mother's work in the New York State Conservation Department that got me interested in biology and, ultimately, led to my going to the University.
SH: All of your education took place in Albany?
RR: I was born and raised in Albany, New York, and received all my education there. I graduated from Albany High School in 1942, and [then] came to Rutgers in September of 1942. The war was already on. [I] turned eighteen, about the time I arrived at Rutgers, and I was awaiting military service. Ultimately, I was drafted, but I was able to apply for the Air Force and was accepted as an aviation cadet in the Air Force. I entered the service in March of 1943 and had completed one semester, plus about six weeks, at Rutgers, before I entered the service.
SH: Then after your military service?
RR: I separated from the Air Force in November of 1945, and returned to Rutgers in January of 1946. This was, of course, the time of the GI Bill of Rights. And, like most of us who returned, I was very anxious to get on with my education and took a fairly heavy load and completed my college in the next two and a half years, two years and a summer. Although I started as the Class of '46, I graduated in 1948. I then went on to graduate school here at Rutgers and completed a Master's Degree in sanitation at Cook College in 1950. Then I went to the University of Wisconsin at Madison and took a Ph.D. in meteorology and zoology, completing that degree in 1953.
SH: Okay. If we could back up just a little bit. Could you tell me a little bit about your interests when you were in high school in Albany? I know you talked about your conservation interest that you had under your mother's tutelage.
RR: Well, I gave my mother some responsibility for getting me interested, but I was also taught to fish by my father. I always liked the water and I became very interested in water and everything in it. I think that, combined with my mother's encouragement, led me to a career in limnology and oceanography. Through my mother, I got to know some scientists in the Conservation Department. In the summer before I came to Rutgers, I got a job in the Conservation Department working on salmon restoration up in the Adirondacks. When I came to Rutgers, I started out as a major in business administration. After about two weeks, I decided that was not my interest. [I] dropped that major and switched to biology, which was not too easy to do at that time, because I was already two weeks behind in all the sciences and had to catch up. But there was no question in my mind that I was not a businessman. I was interested in science. That's what I've done all my life.
SH: Now, were you involved in any camps, or programs, or Scouts, or anything like that?
RR: I was a Boy Scout, and I spent several summers in camp. [I] learned to handle myself in a canoe and so on. And so, I've been familiar with the water all my life.
SH: Now, were your grandparents and extended family there in Albany?
RR: My maternal grandparents died when I was a teenager. My paternal grandfather died when I was a freshman at Rutgers. I never knew my paternal grandmother. She died before I was born.
SH: I see. Why did you pick Rutgers?
RR: My family belonged to the First Reformed Church in Albany. The Dutch Reformed Church has its seminary here in New Brunswick. Rutgers has a long relationship in the Dutch Reformed Church, so, most people in my church knew about Rutgers, and I was actually helped to come here by a member of my church.
SH: Like a scholarship-type of thing?
RR: Not a scholarship. I was given some financial aid to pay my tuition. Without that help I probably could not have come.
SH: Have you maintained this affiliation with the church?
RR: No, because I live out in Wisconsin, now, and there's no Dutch Reformed out there. My wife was also Dutch Reformed when she was in New Jersey. But in Wisconsin, there is no Dutch Reformed church, so we're members of the Congregational Church.
SH: Right. Now, were your parents involved politically at all?
RR: Not particularly active, no. They were probably leaning, had liberal leanings, if any. But I'm not a member of either party. I have not been a member of either party, although I've supported candidates in Wisconsin from time to time, and have been active in one or two campaigns. But only as a supporter.
SH: Have you served on any commissions or anything like that?
RR: I've served on the Wisconsin Coastal Management Council in Wisconsin and the Science Advisory Board of the International Joint Commission, which is the international body that governs the Great Lakes.
SH: Okay. All right. And can you tell me a little bit more about your mother?
RR: My mother's name was Edith Nina Van Wormer. She was [of] Holland Dutch descent. My father was named Ragotzkie. Robert William Ragotzkie. And his father's name was Robert Augustus Ragotzkie. My grandfather was German and my grandmother on my father's side was Scotch.
SH: All right. Was your family ever able to visit you at all down at Rutgers?
RR: I'm trying to think [of] that. I think they came once. My mother was ill at the time. She had multiple sclerosis, which had just been diagnosed and it was hard for them to travel. My father worked six days a week and we didn't have much money. I think they visited me once, but I don't remember. They did visit after the war.
SH: Did the war effort, with the coupons and the rationing, did that ever affect any of your campus life here at all?
RR: Not particularly that I can remember, no. Because I didn't have a car and I ate in the cafeteria. In Albany, of course, there were gas and tire shortages and the usual butter [shortages] and coupons and so on. But at Rutgers, I did not experience any [of that].
SH: When you were at Rutgers, how much did you know about the war? How insular was it?
RR: Well, we certainly knew the war was on, and my friends were all leaving for the service. I wanted to enlist, but I wasn't old enough. In order to enlist before I was eighteen, I had to get my parents' signature and they wouldn't agree. So I had to wait. We went to class, and, at the end of the semester, a lot of people left; and six weeks later, I left. I don't really remember much more than that. Things were happening very fast. And, of course, the impact of military service overwhelmed much that happened just before it.
SH: I just wondered if you happened to catch the newspaper or radio announcements or anything that you ...
RR: Well, I remember Pearl Harbor very well, as everyone who was alive at that time does. I also remember when the Germans, when Hitler, invaded Poland, in September of 1939. We had good friends in Albany, one of whom was an Englishman, and he was very interested in political events and had served in World War I. And although he wasn't formally educated, [he] was self-educated, and, at that time, when the United States had no idea of ever being at war, he said, "We'll be in it in two years." And he was exactly right. And I will always remember that. He kept telling us, "We will be in the war within a year or two after Hitler went into Poland." And no one else was saying that, but he did. He had a son, who was a little younger than I, and he said [that] both, his name was Harry, both Harry and Bob and I would be going to war in a couple of years. That was, I do remember that, which was kind of interesting, because I was only fifteen at the time.
SH: Okay. Very interesting. What were you doing when you heard about Pearl Harbor? Can you recall?
RR: We were about to have dinner at the home of friends along with the English family that I mentioned. Several of us boys were out playing. We were called in and told what [had] happened. I remember the next day, Monday, I remember going to school and all the classes being stopped to hear President Roosevelt declare a state of war. I remember that speech in class very well. After that, things happened very fast.
SH: Were you involved in any sports or any extracurricular activities in Albany?
RR: Not a lot. I didn't play on any varsity sports. I was more of an academic, and I was involved in a fraternity, and played some hockey, but nothing formal.
SH: When you got to Rutgers, were you able to find time for outside activities?
RR: I did go out for swimming here at Rutgers [during] the first semester. [I] trained with them, but I never took it up after the war.
SH: Were you involved in any fraternities?
RR: No. After the war, I knew people in the fraternities and was recruited. I had good relations with one fraternity and used to go visit them a lot and spend time there, but I never pledged and I never joined. There wasn't time and the environment after the war, was so different, that fraternities, to many of us, did not seem that important.
SH: Where did you live when you were here at Rutgers? Do you remember?
RR: When I first came in 1942, I lived at Winants Hall, right up on the cupola, looking over the railroad station. After the war, I lived in Herzog Hall on the Seminary. I guess they didn't have enough seminary students to fill that hall and so they opened it to Rutgers students. I lived there for several years. I also lived in a couple of the professors' houses up there, from time to time, also in the Seminary, where there was opportunity to get good rooms.
SH: Did you have a favorite professor?
RR: Yes, I just met him tonight. Harold Haskin was a young professor after the war. He taught biology and oceanography and really got me involved in oceanography. Incidentally, he's [from] the Class of 1936 and was at the banquet this evening.
RR: He's a wonderful man and a superb scientist.
SH: That's quite exciting. Were you involved in any ROTC programs?
RR: Everybody had to take ROTC in 1942, and so, yes, I was in ROTC. I took a semester and six weeks of ROTC.
SH: Right. So, do we include Mrs. Ragotzkie yet or do we go right into the war?
RR: No, we met after the war and we were married in August of 1949.
SH: All right.
RR: She was at NJC, New Jersey College for Women, at the time. She was working her way through school, usually by taking a year off, and then coming to school. And then, we got married.
Elizabeth Ragotzkie: I had the last year, and that was after we were married.
RR: Yes, that was her last year. She completed her bachelor's degree in 1950. I was then a graduate student at Cook College and had a research assistantship and we lived on that. Then we went to Wisconsin for my doctorate work, where she worked and supported me.
SH: Now, as a married student, where did you live here at Rutgers?
RR: I forgot the name of the place.
ER: Marvin Lane.
RR: Marvin Lane was the address. It was married student housing, over behind the stadium, and I've forgotten the name of the complex. But it was a bunch of little, one-storied buildings with apartments for students. And we lived on Marvin Lane, I remember that.
SH : Did they have a bus service for you, like they do now?
RR: I don't think so. I had a car. You could drive to, drive down and park, then. Park on campus.
Mrs. Ragotzkie: There was a bus.
RR: Yes, I think there was a bus. However, I usually drove, because I was going all the way out to Cook.
SH: Where did you go for your induction and then your boot camp?
RR: I was inducted in Albany, New York, because that was my home. I was inducted there, and had to report to Camp Upton, Long Island, a "receiving station," where they give you the uniforms and do all the initial processing. From there, I went to Miami Beach for United States Army Air Corps basic training. Upon completion of the basic training, I was accepted into the aviation cadet program. This was for flying duty. However, the program was backed up, so I was kept there, waiting, for a slot somewhere, for training. I became a hotel sergeant and just sat around for a couple of months and did nothing but lay on the beach and take care of the hotel. That was pretty soft. And then, they decided [that] we would start training again, so we went to Keesler Field, Mississippi for basic training, again. This was not so much fun, because Keesler Field was not as nice as Miami Beach. There we had basic training, again, along with a lot of non-commissioned officers who were not impressed at all with close-order drill and all the rest of it. Some of them were even master sergeants. All of us were to become aviation cadets. From there, we went to the University of Tennessee for college training. Entrance in the aviation cadet program used to require some college. That requirement was dropped. So, they sent us to college, but since I had been to college for nearly a year at Rutgers, I only stayed there for two months. Most people stayed for five. At the end of two months, I was sent to a classification center and classified for pilot training. From there, I went to preflight school and from there, to flight school for training as a pilot.
SH: Now were there a variety of ages in this program?
RR: There were some older people. At that time I was nineteen. And there were some older people, but most of us were young. I'd say nineteen to twenty-one, with a few up to twenty-five, which seemed very old to us.
SH : After you completed your training, what sort of duty did you pull from there?
RR: I [had] flight training in Florida and Georgia, advanced training in Georgia, [and I] graduated [in] August of 1944 as a pilot. [I] was commissioned as a second lieutenant. I had wanted to be a fighter pilot, everybody wants to be a fighter pilot. I didn't get that. I was then assigned to heavy bombardment and was made a copilot, because I had not gone to multi-engine school. So I went to B-24 copilot training in Tyndall Field, Florida, and from there to Tonopah, Nevada, for overseas combat training. Ultimately, I was assigned to a good crew. With that crew, I was then shipped out of San Francisco, where we went into our combat assignment.
SH: And where was that assignment?
RR: We went first to New Guinea, Nadzab, New Guinea. The Pacific War, in 1944, was really beginning to roll up the islands. The US had not yet captured all the islands, so we went to New Guinea and had to be flown in a circuitous route to San Jose, Mindoro, the Philippines, where the 90th Bomb Group was stationed. That's where I was assigned. It was from there that we then conducted our bombing operations for the next several months in 1945. ... I arrived overseas about February of 1945. The war was then rolling up, past Formosa. The Battle of Okinawa was yet to happen. The Battle of Leyte had just occurred. Luzon was not yet completely cleared. Manila had been liberated, but just barely. We were still south of Manila, and we were bombing, what was then Formosa, what is now Taiwan. And then later, we went to Okinawa.
SH: Can you talk a little about your crew?
RR: I had a very good crew. The B-24 crew I was assigned to, came from Panama, and they had been flying together for a couple of years. And so they were older and experienced. The pilot and the navigator, particularly, were older and experienced. The enlisted men, also, were experienced and worked together. We had a new bombardier, and I, as a copilot, was new. I was very fortunate to be assigned to that crew, because the pilot was skillful and was experienced and that makes a big difference. So I learned a lot and we were very quickly assigned to lead crew of the bomb group because of his experience. I'm still in touch with the navigator, but I haven't kept up my contact with the pilot, who lives in Texas.
SH: And who was the commander of the entire squadron?
RR: Well, the bomb group is made up of a few squadrons, and I don't remember the names of these people. But there was a squadron operations officer. A commanding officer would be a major, I guess, and the bomb group, which would be four squadrons, was commanded by a colonel. And I believe he was, maybe he was twenty-seven at the time, and we considered him pretty old. My pilot was twenty-five, and he was considered pretty old. And my navigator was twenty-eight or so. He'd been to college. They didn't like combat because they were old enough to know better. They weren't young and foolish, like some of us. But it was a young man's war over there. It was everywhere, and many of my colleagues were my age or a little older, but not a lot older. A year or two, a couple of years older, maybe.
SH: Did you ever run into any other Rutgers men during the war?
RR: No. No, never. It was all mixed up. And by the time you go through two or three re-sortings and re-classifications and changes of duty and so on, you were all mixed up and no one person went all the way through with me. I've lost track of all of them. I don't know any of them anymore.
SH: Now, you said you felt very fortunate to have an older, experienced crew.
SH: Did you feel that the training was at a sufficient level?
RR: Oh, yes, our training was excellent. But anytime you go into combat, the more experience, the better. If you're flying in an airplane, you'd rather have somebody that's had five years of experience than somebody who's just got out of flight school, even though the guy that just got out of flight school is skillful, he hasn't got the experience. [He] hasn't seen all the emergencies and so on and doesn't know all the tricks. So, we had good training. My training was excellent. It was very intense, but it was quite good.
SH: Overseas, were you well supplied?
RR: Yes. Except for food.
RR: Well, we had enough food, but it wasn't very good. We ate canned cheese and canned meat and canned everything and it got a little tiresome.
SH: Did you have any contact with home at all?
RR: Oh, yes, letters. I got to go home right after I graduated from my flight school, and then again, before I went to overseas training. After that, letters were the main sources of contact.
SH: When you were stationed in the States, did you feel supported by the people where you were doing your training?
RR: Oh, yes. No question. A soldier could do no wrong during those days. In my training, we didn't have a lot of free time and, so, I didn't meet any civilians. But when I did, they were very nice to me. I was always treated very, very well.
SH: Was your socializing then done on the base or did you ...
RR: What little we had, yes. Yes. We didn't have three-day passes, or anything like that. We might get the night off every two weeks. That was it.
SH: So did you stay on call, twenty-four hours a day?
RR: No. You're simply going from five in the morning until ten at night and never stopping and you don't do anything but train.
SH: Once you were in the Pacific, what kind of routine did you have?
RR: We lived in tents. And we flew every three or four days, usually. We did a few training flights, now and again. But our combat missions were about every three to five days, depending on weather and circumstances. In the interim, the island was on the coast, and we could go swimming on the beach and we could play volleyball or that sort of thing and that was about it. We were not near any towns. We did meet a few Philippine natives, who were really quite primitive people. I did get to Manila once, but since Manila had just been liberated, there wasn't much to do or see except wrecked buildings and a few nondescript bars. The combat missions were very long. They lasted from eight to twelve hours, depending on where we were going. That meant getting up at three or four and not getting back 'till ten, seven o'clock that night. That's a long time. And so then you need a couple of days to rest up, and you go again. It was hot. We had malaria to worry about. We took Atabrine and we were all yellow. We lived in tents, so we had mosquito bars and had to be very careful about mosquitoes. Some people played a lot of poker, I was not a big poker player, but I used to watch it. It was interesting. There wasn't much else to do.
SH: You weren't entertained by the USO?
RR: We had a couple of shows, yes. I don't remember much about them. But a couple of times we had USO shows.
SH: How was the morale of your unit?
RR: Oh, yeah, the morale was pretty good. The morale was quite good in our unit. But the Air Corps was an elite group. We were highly trained and mostly, fairly well-educated, and we're participating in operations that seemed to be doing some good. We knew what we were doing and we had some control over our fate. But we were right next to an infantry division that had been pulled back for a while, from Okinawa, for what they called R and R, Rest and Recreation. They had severe losses and were, had been in the Pacific, some of them, for about three years. Their morale wasn't that high. They were tired, they were beat up, and they were hurt and they lost people and their situation was pretty grim. That was a different world. While they were resting, we were off in combat everyday, so it was kind of a funny deal. We didn't like it, no. Nobody likes that, it wasn't fun. But I'd say the morale was good, considering what we were doing. And esprit de corps was very high. You know we were working together, and if somebody got in trouble, we wouldn't leave them, and that sort of thing.
SH: Do you have a story to tell? What was your most harrowing experience?
RR: I was looking it up before I came to this interview and I can remember all sorts of things. Actually, it's interesting that the most vivid experience in my mind occurred after the war was over, where we came very close to killing ourselves, but didn't. We were in Okinawa at the time. Let me back up to our first flight to Okinawa, before the war ended. In late July, our group staged to Okinawa for a strike (bombing mission) on the homeland of Japan. By "staged," I mean that we flew our aircraft to Okinawa, remained overnight, refueled, loaded bombs, and then, flew the mission. The mission was to destroy the Japanese fleet that was bottled up in the Inland Sea. This was a maximum effort mission and all available bombers and fighters from both the Fifth and Thirteenth Air Forces were assembled on Okinawa. Our entire squadron of nine planes was assigned one ship, a cruiser, I think. We were to bomb from 5,000 feet, a very low altitude for heavy bombers. Losses would be high from naval antiaircraft fire and especially from kamikazes, which would be defending the homeland. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), the weather turned bad and the mission was postponed for one day. The next day, July 24, the weather was still bad, and since food and other supplies in Okinawa were running low, the mission was redirected to Shanghai, which was much less dangerous. It turned out that this was the last combat mission flown by the 90thBomb Group. We then returned to Mindoro and, on August 6, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Three days later, the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. The next day, August 10, 1945, Japan surrendered and the war was over. There were wild celebrations that night. We didn't have the V-J Day that people back in the States had, but we shot off a lot of ammunition. After the war ended, we moved up to Okinawa, which was what was going to happen anyway. The momentum of a military operations continued, even though the war was over. We were based on Ie Shima, a small island where Ernie Pyle had been killed just a couple of months before. In September and October, we were struck by two very strong typhoons which did enormous damage. Half our aircraft were destroyed or damaged beyond flyable condition. Using one of the remaining aircraft, another pilot and I, along with an engineer and a new navigator, were ordered to return to Mindoro to pick up some people and return to Okinawa. Our new navigator got lost over the South China Sea and we pilots had to take over and find the Philippines. As we approached the island of Luzon, the weather deteriorated and we were unable even to continue to Manila. However, we knew about an abandoned base in Lingayen Gulf and we decided we'd go there. It was raining and [there was] a low ceiling. We just found the strip and flew over it and then made a long 360 degree turn over the bay at low altitude, figuring we'd come back and land. But, there was a complication, because the bay was full of a convoy, and we were going by the ships at deck level. It was raining hard. I'm sure we scared the crews. [They] scared us. We completed the circle and we didn't hit a ship, found the strip again, and landed. [There was] a strong crosswind, however, and we couldn't hold the plane on the runway. We slid across the runway, took out some runway lights, and finally stopped, glad to be alive. We got out, and one tire was slashed, but not flat. But the most interesting part was, a B-24 has two vertical stabilizers, and one was smashed. We had hit a church on the way in and smashed one of our tails. We didn't even know it. So there we were, on an abandoned strip with no facilities, and the airplane is disabled. We found a couple of Army men who were still there, but there was no communications or other facilities. With a borrowed jeep, we found an aircraft junkyard, where there was a wrecked B-24 with undamaged tails. We removed the right tail and, in four days, replaced our smashed tail. While we were there, we slept in a grass hut on stilts over standing water, since it was the wet season. We taxied up and down the runway and the rudder seemed to work all right. We then flew on to Manila and got our bad tire replaced, and then, went to Mindoro and back to Okinawa. That same plane later flew back to the United States with two tails with different numbers on each one, so, I guess our repair job was okay.
SH: You must have done a good job.
RR: But the most disturbing thing about the whole affair was [that] we were out for five days. We had not been able to communicate to our home base at all, so, we were very worried that our families would be told that we were missing, because nobody knew where we were. When we got back to our home base, and [they said], "Oh, you're back." They hadn't even missed us. So that's how confusing things were after the war. I think that sort of tells how the war wound down. But that was one of my most exciting experiences, even though it wasn't combat.
SH: Did you bring that same plane back?
RR: Not that one. But that one did come back. We brought another one back. We were sufficiently senior in combat points that we were able to fly our own plane back to the United States. We had forty-eight airplanes in the squad, in the group, and hurricanes destroyed twenty-four of them. But we were still up in the top twenty-four, so we got to fly one home. The rest of the crews came home by ship. So we came home in style.
SH: Where did you come home to?
RR: That would be October of 1945.
SH: And where did you arrive?
RR: We flew into Fairfield-Suisun Airbase, just east of San Francisco, where we landed the aircraft. There was no customs or paperwork. We simply turned in the plane. We had to sign a receipt to the person who took the airplane to show that he'd received the airplane. So we signed the receipt and that's the last I've seen of a B-24.
SH: Really? So you were discharged there?
RR: No. We were then kept there for a few days, and, ultimately, I came back via military air to Newark, New Jersey. From there, we were put on a train to go down to Fort Dix, New Jersey, where we were separated from the service.
-------------------------------------- END TAPE ONE, SIDE ONE ----------------------------------------
RR: ... There were a lot of enlisted men, on the train, Army as well as Air Force. I had no experience as a commander, because my job was to fly an airplane, not command a company or anything. But I was the only officer on this particular car, so the captain or major, whoever was running the whole show, told me that I was in command of that car, and I wasn't to let anybody off that car until we got to Fort Dix. I was to deliver all of these enlisted men to Fort Dix. "Yes, Sir." However, a number of these men lived in Rahway, Elizabeth, New Brunswick, and we'd stop at these stations, and my job was to keep them on the train. They had no desire to go to Fort Dix and get discharged. Why bother? They were home. That was my final challenge. We got there, but, again, it showed how chaotic things were after the war ended.
SH : It was over.
RR: It was over. That's right. And then we got discharged and, that was November, I think. And then [I] came back to Rutgers in January and resumed my education.
SH: Did you return to Albany?
RR: Yes, I went back to Albany and spent Christmas there and a few weeks. But then I never lived in Albany again. I went to Rutgers and worked summers and went to summer school. Got married.
SH: So you just went right along, at the same, wild pace?
SH: You just went on at the same pace?
RR: You mean, at school? At Rutgers?
SH: From your discharge in New Jersey. You returned for just that brief month?
RR: Yes, I wasn't going to work for six weeks? I was going to loaf for six weeks. And I lasted, I think, three weeks. And I got completely bored, and I took a job at Railway Express and worked the Christmas holidays down the railroad yards, just for something to do. And then I came back to Rutgers.
SH: Did you come back on the GI Bill , then?
RR: Yes. We came back on the GI Bill, and I'd like to say that that is the greatest, the greatest program this country has ever had, as far as I know. I wish we could have the GI Bill again, because I think it was the investment of our nation in us in 1946 on, to '50 or so, after World War II, that produced enormous growth in this nation. Economic, political, and social growth of this nation, which made us a power and has carried us for the next forty years. I'm very concerned that we will lose that momentum. I worry that the nation is not investing, now, in the GI Bill , or something like it, because it is going to come back and haunt us if we don't. It was a wonderful thing. Now, the GI Bill alone, did not do it, and I've discussed this with other people who went through it. It was also the maturity and the motivation of the returning military people, GIs, who made it work. But that came about because of military service and the discipline we had learned and gotten from military service. And so I think today, I'm going to preach a little, today we need a GI Bill. But we need a GI Bill and we need some kind of a service arrangement to give young people an experience of discipline, an experience to make them appreciate university or vocational or training of whatever they want. We won the war because masses of people and money and materiel [were used], because we were so big. But we won the peace because of the GI Bill . No question in my mind, whatsoever. And the universities, of course, were founded on the GI Bill , literally. Rutgers, when I started, had two thousand students. And when I came back, it was five thousand, and in a few years, it was ten thousand. And Rutgers, of course, has changed. It's bigger and greater. And all universities [were growing]. When I went to Wisconsin in 1950, for graduate school, Wisconsin had, I think, ten thousand, eight or ten thousand students.
ER: Seven or eight thousand.
RR: And when I retired five years ago, at University of Wisconsin at Madison, [it] had forty-five thousand students. I saw that change. A lot of this came from the GI Bill, and a lot of the faculty that I served with were GI Bill -produced faculty. It is just astounding what that program accomplished.
SH: After you came back to the States, you went back to Rutgers and finished your undergraduate work?
RR: That's right.
SH: Did you have other jobs besides the fellowship?
RR: As an undergraduate?
RR: I worked. I worked in a co-op. I worked summers in the New York Adirondacks and at the Rutgers Shellfish Research Lab at Cape May, New Jersey. The GI Bill was enough, but it was nice to have a little extra money. When I went to graduate school, I had a research assistantship, which provided a stipend.
SH: Okay. How many are in your family now?
RR: We have three children and two grandchildren.
SH: And have they gone on to school?
RR: Yes. All three went on to university. All of them have graduated and one earned an MS.
SH: Are you involved in any of the organizations like the VFW or anything like that?
SH: When you're out, you're out. Have you done any more flying?
RR: Yes. I have done some flying after the war. When we were at the University of Georgia, I was director of the Marine Research Laboratory on Sapelo Island, one of the Georgia barrier islands. The only access was by boat, so, I bought a little airplane and used to go to the mainland and for aerial observation. And when I got to Wisconsin, we were doing climatic research in Canada and we had a floatplane. I learned to fly a seaplane and I did some bush flying in Canada for a few years. Then I flew for fun for a number of years. A few years ago, I just wasn't flying enough anymore, so, I quit. But, I still miss flying.
SH: So, do you have any hobbies?
RR: Yes, I flyfish and I tie flies. And I've gotten interested in wild fires, forest fires. I'm studying forest fires and how they behave, and how weather, how meteorology interacts with forest fires. And that's sort of a small-time hobby at the moment. I've visited several fire sites in the West. I'm going to go again this, next month, to visit the site of a big fire in Colorado to try to figure out what happened.
SH: Are you doing this through the university or is this just totally independent?
RR: No, just for fun. But I've written about it and I've given seminars.
SH: So are you affiliated with any organization through the university at all?
RR: I'm a retired faculty professor, so, I have an office.
SH: Well, it's been fascinating to talk with you. Are there any other points that you would like to share about the war, or anything like that? Are there any other things that you would like to send to the archives? Points of interest or perspectives?
RR: Yes, I would like to make one point. For the United States, World War II was fought almost entirely by civilians. It was a civilian Army, a civilian Air Force, a civilian Navy, and even mostly a civilian Marine Corps. The professional military existed, of course, but a very small percentage of our military forces was professional. As a consequence, the combat troops did not always follow the rules or go by the book. They were even undisciplined at times, but because they had one goal in mind, to defeat the enemy, they were very creative and did not hesitate to innovate in moments of crisis. More often than not, this worked to our advantage, because our opponents, the Japanese and the Germans, were mostly longstanding, professional military units. They were very predictable in what they would do while the Americans were unpredictable. We would try anything in a pinch and this often confused the enemy. War is a terrible thing; it is wasteful, inefficient, and tragic for everyone involved. The American forces understood this very well and their only goal, in addition to survival, was to get it over as quickly as possible. Therefore, they brought to their work a high level of energy and ingenuity, never mind the rule book.
SH: Were you involved in any co-operation between the different military branches?
RR: Very little. We were not supporting ground forces, except in two cases. We supported landings at Balikpapau, Borneo, and bombed just ahead of landing troops. Both the Navy and Marines were involved.. That was the only time.
SH: All right. Well, do you have anything else that you would like to share?
RR : No, I think I've said enough.
SH: Well, I thank you very much. And this will conclude the interview with Robert A. Ragotzkie. Thank you.
[Note to reader: This brief story is my best recollection of an incident that happened 55 years ago. It is not based on any personal notes or diary entry.
The Philippines, 1945
This little story begins in a bar in Manila shortly after the American forces had liberated that city but before the war ended. I was in Manila on a short R&R (rest and recreation) pass from my base on the island of Mindoro. While in a nondescript bar I met a Troop Carrier Command pilot who told me that the next day he would be flying a group of nurses to Leyte, an island east of Mindoro. Since it was time for me to return to my outfit I was looking for a ride. He told me that he would be flying a C-47 (military DC-3) and that I was welcome to go along. He told me to be on the flight line at Clark Field by 8 o'clock the next morning and that we would leave shortly after that.
I found my way to Clark Field and located the C-47 by 8 a.m. As I recall the pilot and copilot showed up at about the same time. The nurses, there were 20 or so, had been there since 5 a.m. They had been ordered to report to the aircraft at that time and wait for the aircrew. The plane was on the tarmac, far from any building much less any waiting room or restroom. Their only shelter was the airplane wing. They did not seem to be particularly upset however so I guess they were used to the hurry up and wait style of the Army and had learned how to cope. In retrospect the incident seems pretty bad, but at the time it did not seem particularly unusual. The casual style continued however.
Upon boarding the plane the pilot invited me to sit in the copilot's seat since the copilot was a bit under the weather from the previous night. I had never flown a C-47 but assumed the pilot could handle the takeoff without much help from me which he did. About halfway to Leyte the pilot said he was tired and would like to take a nap and would I mind flying for awhile. Since the C-47 did not seem too complicated and after all an airplane is an airplane, I said OK. Upon sighting Leyte I woke him up and we proceeded to land and off load the nurses who, I am sure, had no idea of what had transpired in the cockpit.
From Leyte it was easy to hitch a ride to Mindoro and back to the war.
Robert A. Ragotzkie, Class of '46, October 30, 2000]
-------------------------------------------- END OF INTERVIEW ------------------------------------------
Edited by Dennis Duarte 8/10/00
Edited by Sandra Stewart Holyoak 8/11/00
Corrections entered by Sean D. Harvey 8/14/00
Reviewed by Robert Ragotzkie 10/00