Sandra Stewart Holyoak: This begins an interview with Mr. John C. Mayer in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, on August 11, 2005, with Sandra Stewart Holyoak. I would like to thank you for having me here in your home today. To begin, please tell me where and when you were born.
John Mayer: I was born in Germany, Munich, Germany in 1924 on February the 26th. My father was a psychiatrist. My mother was, aside from being a housewife, a translator. She translated books from one language to the other and I had three [siblings], one brother and two sisters, all older. I was the youngest.
SH: Tell me a little bit about your father's background.
JM: My father, his family were vineyard growers in the … western part of Germany. He went to medical school, graduated in 1912 as an MD, was in World War I on the German side. Shortly after that, he became a ship's doctor on the Africa run for one year, and then, settled down to private practice, primarily, first, in neurology, and then, in psychiatry. He also worked at a children's hospital for quite a while, which caused him to continuously carry little pieces of candy in his pocket. [laughter]
SH: Did he ever explain why he went from being in neurology to psychiatry?
JM: Well, it's a very closely aligned [field]. In other words, … I talked with a neurologist once, a couple of years ago, and he said that is the best way to go into psychiatry, is to do neurology first. So, that, again was, I'm sure, part of why he did it.
SH: Did he ever talk about his World War I experiences?
JM: Not very much at all, no. I only knew of somebody who worked with him, as a nurse, who later married a famous person, and I knew her as well, and that's the extent of my knowledge about his wartime things. He did receive the Iron Cross, [laughter] which, incidentally, in 1939 or '40, he donated to the scrap drive in this country. [laughter]
SH: Did he really? That is some story. Did he say anything about it when he did it?
JM: No, no, no. I don't know.
SH: You said you were the youngest. How much younger are you than your older siblings?
JM: Well, my brother, who is the eldest, is eight years older than I am.
SH: You were very close.
JM: Yes, yes. No, I'm sorry; I had a sister who was the eldest. My brother was second, and then, another sister, and then, me. My eldest sister was born in 1912. So, she was twelve years older than I was and she used to wheel me around when I was a baby, telling everybody that [I] was her child. [laughter]
SH: Tell me about your mother and her family background.
JM: … Her father was a Lutheran minister, fairly high up in the church. He was [the] private counselor … to the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, so, she grew up in the palace area. She was, however, not that interested in it and rebelled, somewhat, to the whole thing. She was supposed to be married to somebody of high nobility and, shortly before the wedding, decided no and just decided to go off [on her own]. The family never spoke to her again after that, or her mother, at least, never spoke to her.
JM: Yes, [laughter], but she went off on her own and started to design clothing.
SH: Had she pursued higher education?
JM: No, no, no. This was strictly on her own and so forth. It was just some fun thing to do or something like that. Later on, she was interested in languages and that's how she then, at some point, started in the translation business.
SH: Which languages?
JM: Well, basically, German/English, but she did know some Italian and she learned Russian, at one point, not that she wanted to, but she did it out of the kindness of her heart to help a Russian émigré who was starving and did not want to take any money. So, she devised, together with a few friends, to have him give them lessons for which he would accept payment, and so, she learned Russian, to the extent that she started to write her memoirs in Russian.
SH: A very determined woman.
JM: Yes, oh, yes, yes, very much so. [laughter]
SH: How did your mother and father meet? Did they ever talk about that?
JM: Not really. I don't know exactly, except that … [it was] when my father was going to medical school, at that time, or just finishing up, near the City of Stuttgart and my mother was living in Stuttgart and they met there. I never got involved with any of those discussions as to how, when, why or so forth.
SH: You talked about her estrangement from her mother. As a young child, did you ever meet your grandparents?
JM: No, I never did, because I was too young. There was a strict rule in that household, that if you wanted to visit, you had to be old enough to behave. My brother did go there, because he was older and he was of the right age, but, at the age that I was, I wouldn't have been, you know. It would have been wrong to have me there, running around, doing boy things and so forth. Even my sister, my older sister, who also went there once, was severely chastised, because she snuck off with one of the other girls to see the movie The Blue Angel and that was taboo. [laughter]
SH: Tell me about how the family came to the United States.
JM: All right. My father was Jewish and, as time went on, in the early '30s, it became more and more difficult and he finally lost most of his ability to work, and so, he decided to emigrate and he left Germany in the summer of 1936. … We followed, or at least my mother, I and one other sister left in November of '36. My brother was at school in England. My oldest sister was a nurse in Italy. So, they were there and they came to the States separately, later on.
SH: Can you tell me a little bit about your sister's education? She was the oldest.
JM: Yes, she went to school in Italy, to become a nurse, in Florence, Italy, and stayed there for a very short time before she finally came to this country.
SH: Your brother was in England.
JM: My brother was at school in England. …
SH: A secondary school.
JM: Secondary school in England.
SH: Did your father have contacts in the States?
JM: Well, we had friends or they had friends. They belonged to quite an artistic circle and there were a number of painters, poets, musicians, etc., and, through them, he had made a contact of somebody who had visited us, who was a professor at Yale. … He got somebody else who was relatively rich, if you want to call [him] that, to give their name that they would sponsor us. So, he was sponsored in order to go over. He stayed at Yale for a few months when he first came over, temporarily working there at the Yale University Hospital. He, of course, had to get a new license, medical license, and then, six months later, got a position in Rhode Island at a state hospital as a psychiatrist.
SH: Do you remember the names of the friends who sponsored you?
JM: No. … I don't really do, no.
SH: What was it like for you? Was the family very open about the decision to come to the United States?
JM: Oh, yes.
SH: What were the discussions that you remember?
JM: Well, I was twelve … and I wasn't really that involved in any of these things. It was just another thing that was going to happen and, you know, with packing up and all this kind of stuff and going aboard ship to go across, it was all like a movie type of thing, yes. At that age, I was not that involved.
SH: Were there discussions about Hitler as he rose to power?
JM: Yes, yes, yes, but nothing that I was that involved in and so forth. I knew about the problems, yes.
SH: Were you subjected to any sort of anti-Semitism because of your father?
JM: Personally, I wasn't, no, no.
SH: It did not affect your schooling.
JM: Well, it finally did, toward the end, because they then said I couldn't go to school. This was two months before we finally left and I remember my mother saying, "Well, maybe we can enroll him in a Jewish school," or something like that, but nothing ever turned out and … that was the end of that. I came to this country and they immediately put me … back into school over here.
SH: How much time elapsed between the time your father came to the States and when you came over?
JM: It was six months. He came in June of '36 and we came in November of '36.
SH: Do you remember your mother ever being fearful that you would not be allowed to leave.
JM: I don't think she was ever fearful of anything. [laughter]
SH: It was just going to happen, right?
SH: What about your material possessions? Were you able to ship anything?
JM: Yes. … They shipped most of the furniture, including a grand piano. There are a few things here [in his current home] that came out of that era, too. [laughter] No, you could not take more than ten dollars, or the equivalent of ten dollars, as far as money is concerned, but furniture, paintings and so forth, yes, they did bring that all.
SH: Were there any stories about, say, jewels being sewn into their clothing?
JM: No, none of that. The only thing is, I used to travel, before we came, … between when I was ten and twelve, we had friends in Switzerland and I used to go visit [them]. They had a son the same age and, coming back, my mother, who loved to smoke Camel cigarettes, which you could not get in Germany, always had me smuggle in a couple of packs and, of course, a ten or eleven-year-old boy could stick a couple of packs of cigarettes in and that was [okay]. … So, I was a smuggler at that early age. [laughter] I once smuggled a note, which was to be placed on a famous composer's grave, because it wouldn't have been able to be sent through the mail. So, I had to smuggle the note across. We were used to doing that kind of stuff on those trips. One … sort of knew how to or when to and so forth. It was always a little iffy, but you just sort of did it.
SH: Which composer?
JM: This was Beethoven, for Beethoven's grave, but the note was from the writer Emil Ludwig. … That is where I used to go, sometimes, for the summer, to stay with his son, who was my age. Again, he was one of the friends of … my family. My parents knew him … amongst many other people of that ilk. [laughter] They always had artists around, even when we came to this country.
SH: Were they part of the colony or just friends?
JM: I don't know. I guess we could call my mother the patroness. … She would have the soirees and these people would come.
SH: What was it like to grow up in Germany at your age?
JM: I had a bicycle and I rode all over the place. I used to collect horse chestnuts from the trees and make a sack of them, put them on my bicycle and take them to the zoo and get a quarter for them, that kind of stuff. … It was a typical kid [experience].
SH: Was there any particular discipline or subject that you were fascinated with?
JM: Nothing, except that I liked, … not painting, but artistic types of things, making a notebook that really, you know, had beautiful borders and things like that; that, I always enjoyed doing. I learned how to sew from my mother or helped her. I sewed an American flag, because, … in the few months before we left, I, of course, became American already and was full of these things. I sewed myself a little American flag out of red and white ribbons with a blue thing. I laid it on top of my suitcase after it was packed and, I remember, the US Customs [person] who opened my suitcase saw this thing and said, "Well, I guess you're all right," and closed it. [laughter]
SH: You did not confess to having learned the ins and outs to smuggling.
JM: So, it was that kind of, you know, fun things that I liked to do. As I say, I learned to sew. I liked to cook. I helped my mother cooking and I've spent the last sixty years still liking to cook.
SH: Wonderful. Did you live in an apartment building?
JM: We lived in an apartment, in an apartment building. … I lived in three different ones during my lifetime, nothing very special about them. … I mean, there weren't that many private houses in the downtown area of Munich.
SH: Can you tell me about the crossing, being on the ship as a twelve-year-old? You talked about traveling to Switzerland. Had you been a world traveler before this?
JM: No, no. I had been to Switzerland, I'd been to Italy. I visited my sister very often. As a matter-of-fact, I was sent there just at the end, … before we came over, because my mother wanted to get me out of the house while they were packing things up, … but I was used to going into both Switzerland and Italy and, … as a kid, you know, I just did, I just went. … I learned a few words, enough to get along, and that was it. … I had very few words of English that I had learned. I learned some on the ship coming over. People helped me to learn. The man who ran the little news and cigarette stand or whatever was in on the thing and asked me, one day, to stay while he went to the bathroom. Then, of course, he sent people there to buy things. [laughter] So, that's how I learned to say, "New York Times," and, "The Herald Tribune," and, "Chesterfield cigarettes," and things like that.
SH: Where did you leave from?
JM: We left from Hamburg, [Germany].
SH: Oh, you did. You went all the way there.
JM: Yes, yes.
SH: How did you travel, by train?
JM: … By train, yes. In those days, that was [the way to go]. My father never had a car in Germany. It was never really necessary. It was right in town there and so forth. No, we went by train to Hamburg. We stayed overnight with a relative of my mother's, and then, boarded the ship.
SH: Did your grandparents on either side come to your departure?
JM: No. My father's parents had died long before then. I never met them. … I never met my mother's parents, either. My grandmother was still alive at that time, but there was no contact.
SH: Okay, the grandfather had already passed away.
JM: The grandfather had passed away, yes.
SH: Was it possible that your grandfather was in contact with your mother, even though your grandmother was not?
JM: I don't think so, no, no.
SH: How many days did the trip over take?
JM: If I recall, … it was just about a week. We hit a very bad storm and ninety-five percent of the people aboard were seasick, but I wasn't. I was there for every meal. [laughter] … As I say, I had a lot of fun, but … there's nothing really, especially [unique], except … I do know that there was trouble [and] we were delayed in getting to New York by two days or something like that.
SH: Do you remember the name of the ship?
JM: Yes, the SS Manhattan.
SH: Where did you come into, New York Harbor?
JM: Into New York Harbor. … By that time, 1936, they didn't use Ellis Island anymore. They came aboard the ship just as it was entering the port and did all the paperwork, so that, by the time you got to the pier, you were finished and you could get off.
SH: Did your father meet you?
JM: Yes, oh, yes. Well, we stayed in New York, with the people who had helped him, over in Brooklyn Heights, for, I think it was only two days, something like that. I did, on that first day, decide to investigate and I borrowed a nickel to go on the subway and I went down, got on to the subway, rode one station, looked and went back on the train in the other direction and was able to get back to where I had started from. Everybody always said … it was a miracle, [laughter] again, kids can do that kind of thing. That's really the only thing I remember about New York at that point. … The only other thing I recall is, when we left to go to Rhode Island, by train, I was very disappointed, because I knew everything about New York, the tall buildings. I mean, all of that was very well known, but I assumed that, the moment you got outside of the city, there would be prairie, because the only other thing I knew, I had read Leather Stockings and things like that and I expected to see prairie, maybe Indians. [Editor's Note: Mr. Mayer is referring to The Leatherstocking Tales, the collective title for James Fenimore Cooper's five books featuring the Natty Bumpo character.]
SH: [laughter] I am sorry.
JM: That's all right; I think it's funny, too, but, that, again, you know, [was what was expected by] a twelve-year-old that's coming from far away … and the fact that New York was, really, exactly like it [was described], but, beyond that, [there was] something I missed.
SH: Where did you go in Rhode Island?
JM: … It was Howard, Rhode Island, which was just south … of Providence. We had a small house, … which was right, not across the street, but almost across the street from the state hospital where my father worked. A few days later, my mother took me to the local junior high school in Cranston, told them, "Here he is, don't coddle him."
JM: My English was almost nonexistent and I always said it took very little time to learn how to say, "Cheese sandwich," when you were in the cafeteria, because everybody was in on the thing. Of course, it was a small town and here was a kid from far away and so forth, you know, and the whole idea was to make me learn English. "Do not talk German to him."
SH: Do you think there were those who could have?
JM: I'm sure that, amongst the teachers, there was somebody who knew German and I'm sure they would have been ready if I'd been in an emergency, but they basically, you know, made me do it and, like I've always said, it's the best way to learn a language, is to go to the country and just have to speak it and you learn it very fast. … That was my stay in Cranston, Rhode Island.
SH: That would have been in December of 1936
JM: That would have been, yes, December or January of '37. … Six months later, my father got a job on Long Island, New York. So, we moved there and I reentered junior high in Amityville, Long Island. [laughter] By that time, I was pretty good at English, and so, that's where I then lived until I went in the Army.
SH: Did your sister come over?
JM: … The youngest sister, who's next to me in age, was with us at that point. My oldest sister came later on from Italy, direct, and moved into an apartment in New York. My brother came over and he first was with us, and then, also moved into an apartment in New York. …
SH: How old were they? What year did they come over?
JM: Well, they came in '37, '38, somewhere in there.
SH: Before the war.
JM: Yes, before the war. My brother was drafted in 1941, in the first draft, in January of '41. He was working, at that time, in New York City. My sister was working in New York City as well.
SH: Your sister was a nurse.
JM: Yes, but she wasn't then. She never became a nurse again or she never worked as a nurse. She worked in a music representation office.
SH: What about your brother?
JM: [My] brother worked for International Minerals and Metals, buying radiators for the copper content at the beginning of the war. [laughter] … After the war, he went into the ministry, and then, spent his time as an Episcopal minister.
SH: As you said, your mother had never been fearful of anything. How did she adapt to living in the United States?
JM: Oh, she adapted fine. I mean, she was one of those women who could, you know, get along anywhere and, immediately, made friends with [people] and, of course, still had friends in the artistic world and so forth. So, you know, she was fine.
SH: Did she ever work outside of the home?
JM: No, no, no, no. She never did, no.
SH: Did you go to high school in Amityville?
JM: Yes. Junior high, just for one year or the remainder of that year; then, I went to a private school.
JM: In Connecticut, a school that was founded with me as one of the first students and closed down the year after I graduated. [laughter]
SH: What was the name of the school?
JM: The Redding Ridge School, … which is in Redding Ridge, Connecticut. … It was a progressive [school]. He [the founder] had a new idea, basically, of teaching one subject per year, which sounds peculiar, but it isn't. There was a major. For instance, one year was language and it was French. Now, we learned arithmetic and history, but in French. One year was science. You got all the sciences and so forth. One year was literature and you got all the various phases of literature. It was very interesting, fascinating. I'm ambivalent about whether it was the perfect thing or not, plus, the fact that it was extremely small. There were three of us to start with and I think, probably, in that kind of a milieu, you missed some of the camaraderie of other kids, etc., etc.
SH: Were you all in the same age range?
JM: Well, we were all basically … thirteen, around thirteen years old. …
SH: It was four years.
JM: It was a five-year program, yes.
SH: Did they bring in other students?
JM: They did, they did, yes, yes, they did.
SH: Were they incorporated into the same class?
JM: No, no. Well, a couple of them, yes, but, basically, everybody started with this, their year of whatever it was that they were doing. Again, I learned French perfectly because of the thing that you ate at a table and you asked for things in French and we went to see French theater and French movies in New York and things like that.
SH: What year did you finish that program?
JM: '42. …
SH: Your brother was drafted in 1941. Where was he sent? Do you remember?
JM: Yes. … After his basic training, I can't remember where, he was sent to Coastal Artillery in Maine, guarding the shores of Maine. He loved it there, because he loved lobster and things like that. … He was there for a number of years, until they ran into trouble during the war in Europe and needed more people, and so, they sent him to Texas to train as an infantryman, after [being in the artillery]. By the time he was finished training, the thing was in control over in Europe. So, then, they sent him to Alaska, as a supply sergeant. [laughter] The Army did things in strange ways. I have one of those stories about my own service.
SH: He was in the military before Pearl Harbor.
SH: What do you remember about the reaction to the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941?
JM: I remember listening to the radio. I was at school and we listened [to it]. … Short of the, "Oh, my God," type of reaction and so forth, the only thing I knew was that it was going to … mean something. I had a further personal thing, … that I was a German national, not that it bothered me or that, you know, I was afraid of that. My brother got a notice from the German embassy to report for duty. [laughter]
SH: In December of 1941?
JM: No, no, no, before that. … That was before that, but, as far as I was concerned, I mean, that was a fact of life and I didn't have the problems of moving about the country. After I finished at Redding Ridge in '42, I went to Yale and, in order to come home for Easter vacation, I had to get FBI permission. You could not leave a state to go into another state without permission, as I was classified as an enemy alien.
JM: Yes. …
SH: Did your family follow closely what was going on in Europe after you immigrated in 1936?
JM: Oh, quite. I mean, … they had a lot of friends who stayed or also tried to get out or did get out and so forth. So, there was … still quite a bit of correspondence and that kind of thing.
SH: Were they trying to help people get out?
JM: I'm sure, in many ways, they did that. I wasn't that in on, because I had my own problems at the time. [laughter]
SH: Were you aware of visitors who had been successful in getting out of Germany?
JM: Yes. We had … several people who stayed with us for a little while, while they first came over and so forth, who had left. There was a famous painter who left, whom I knew in Munich, and he came over to this country and he stayed with us for a couple of weeks or something like that, until he got an apartment and all that kind of stuff. So, there was a certain amount of that traffic through our house, yes.
SH: Would you care to tell me what his name was?
JM: His name was Scharl, Joseph Scharl. He was a painter from Munich.
SH: When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, was that shocking news or was it expected?
JM: Well, I think it was, I don't want to say somewhat known, but, I mean, it was in the wind. … I mean, we knew it was going to be a big problem. …
SH: When the attacks on England began, was there any discussion there?
JM: Oh, yes. I mean, you know, it was in the daily thing [newspaper]. … For instance, there's a famous British composer by the name of Benjamin Britten. He came to see us one weekend and stayed for a year. He had other British friends who came over and so forth. When we lived in Amityville, somebody came to visit him whom he knew, who was a British naval officer, who was attached to a French submarine, a Free French submarine, and, when he came for the weekend or something like that, he always had his uniform pressed and the local cleaner would hang this uniform in the window, because it was one of those beautiful British [uniforms], with lots of gold trim and so forth. Unfortunately, … the submarine that he was on, one day, disappeared and was never heard from again, but there were quite a number of British people. You may have heard of the famous poet, Auden, Wystan Auden. Well, he was a friend of the family's and he stayed [with us] and all of those people, I grew up with. To me, they were just, you know, it was Wystan and it was Ben, Benjie. As a matter-of-fact, my mother always called him, "Benjie." So, to me, they were just, you know, friends of the family, people I saw there. They stayed for the weekend or they stayed for months.
SH: I wondered if any of the British people asked your family to take in their children or provide safe haven?
JM: I don't think they ever asked about, you know, taking somebody in, because they were taking all these people in to begin with. I mean, these other people, not taking them in, but they were … giving them that first home-away-from-home type of thing and so forth and there was a group, a varied group, of these people. My father knew a few … on his own. My mother, through her artistic connections, of course, there were, you know, hundreds of those kind of persons. One painter brings two other painters and one musician, etc. So, all of these people who came through there, … I've often said that most of them I knew, but, you know, they weren't famous people to me. … One day, Emil Ludwig, the writer, came to the house and he was on his way to Washington to do a biography on FDR and he picked up the phone, which was connected to the main hospital, it was an operator thing, he picked up the phone, got the operator and said, "Would you please get me the White House?" and she said, "The White House?" and he said, "You know, in Washington." "You mean where the President lives?" "Yes." [laughter] … So, I mean, he called the White House from our place, but, to me, that was [no big deal]. I had known him for years, so, he was nothing special.
SH: Was there a point when you, as a family, became naturalized citizens?
JM: Everybody had to do it on their own. Now, I got it in the Army. I could not enlist. An enemy alien could not enlist, but he could be drafted. However, he could refuse to be drafted, which meant that, after the war, he would be sent back to Germany, let's say.
SH: Would you have been allowed to continue working or would you have been incarcerated?
JM: I don't know whether we would have been incarcerated or not. You might … have been, I don't know, if you refused or something like that. Now, my brother was drafted and he was still an enemy alien at the time and, although I was anxious to volunteer, I couldn't. The only thing I could do is ask the draft board to give me a nudge ahead, which they did, and so, I went in and, two months later, in the Army, during basic training, I got my citizenship.
SH: You were drafted while you were a student at Yale.
JM: Yes. I had finished one year. They had an accelerated program at the time, so, … from June to March, I had finished my freshman year and that's when I then went in the Army, which is '43 now.
SH: Where did you complete your basic training?
JM: Basic was in Fort McClellan, Alabama.
SH: At any point, did you have an option as to what you would do?
JM: Well, they asked you when you go in, they always ask you, "What would like?" [laughter] I was taking engineering at Yale at the time, so, I said, "Engineering." "Fine." So, they sent me to the infantry. Halfway through, or three quarters of the way through, basic training, they came and asked, … because of my German background, would I be interested in some kind of German intelligence, counterintelligence, etc. I said, "Yes." So, when everybody was finished and everybody was sent off, they kept me there, waiting for orders, and I waited and I waited and, finally, the orders came. They sent me to Fort Ord, California, which I thought was a little odd. I said, "I don't think I'm supposed to be here. I was supposed to be [in intelligence]," and they [said], "Well, we can't do anything here. [At] your next post, they can do something about it." The next post was Camp Stoneman, San Francisco. I again asked. "Well, we can't do anything here. … Whenever you get to your next post," which turned out to be New Caledonia in the South Pacific, and, there, a very friendly colonel said, "Yes, definitely, you shouldn't be here, but you are and, now, it's too late." [laughter] This is a typical Army type of thing.
SH: What did you do in Fort Ord?
JM: No, no, it was just in-between. I think it was, you know, a week. I have all the dates in my book, but, no, that was just on the way to overseas. It was a few days in Fort Ord and a few days, or a week or so, in Camp Stoneham, where I worked for the censor's office, you know, reading mail, or they would read the mail; I would have to open it and close it again.
SH: Were you censoring mail that was coming in or going out?
JM: Going out, going out. They looked at everybody's, so that people wouldn't write and tell them where they were going. Most of them didn't even know, but, anyway, you know, mail was always censored and so forth, but that was just a job, just something to do while you were waiting … to be put aboard ship and sent overseas.
SH: When you were in San Francisco, did you get on a troopship?
JM: On a troopship, the USS General John Pope.
SH: Heading for New Caledonia.
JM: Heading for the South Pacific. We ended up in New Caledonia.
SH: Were you traveling in convoy?
JM: No, alone.
SH: How many were onboard?
JM: I don't know the exact figure, but it was not a pleasant ride, because the captain of the ship was very stern and would not allow anybody up topside at night, which meant you had to stay downstairs all night long and the air starts to get, you know, so forth and so forth. So, it was not the greatest of rides.
SH: Was this ship manned by the Merchant Marine?
JM: No, it was a … naval troopship. … It was a USS, yes.
SH: Did you know, at that point, what you had been assigned to?
JM: I was still infantry, period, I mean, no specific things. I was still working for the censor's office onboard ship, because they were still censoring mail.
SH: You had had no training on any mortars.
JM: Oh, yes. I had all the infantry training, … machine guns, rifles. I made marksman in rifles. Oh, yes, no, I was a full-fledged combat infantryman, so-to-speak. [laughter] New Caledonia, again, was a staging area. Again, … I'd have to look up exactly how long we stayed, it was, you know, maybe ten days, a week or so. We hit a very bad hurricane while we were there, which demolished a lot of buildings, warehouses and so forth. So, we were on consignment, working … [to] bring in all the stuff that had been washed away and so forth. A glorious day, one day, when cases and cases of Red Cross brandy were uncovered. [laughter] We built rafts out in the water, all kinds of things like that, and then, one day, we … got notice, "Ship out," this time on a civilian transport ship, at the moment, not knowing where, but ended up in New Zealand and, there, the 43rd Division was stationed. It had come out of the Solomons and was … resting there and they needed replacements and the method of replacing troops was to pack a truck full of GIs and you go to the company, "How many do you need?" "We need four." Four people are pulled off. "Now, you're in Company B." This went on and we got to the end and there were three of us left on the truck. So, they said, "All right, you're now medics." [laughter] So, we were assigned to the Third Battalion medical detachment and that's how I became a medic.
SH: What year?
JM: … This is now '44.
SH: Early in the year? It was in March.
JM: It was … March 9th that I was made a medic or attached to the medical department of the division.
SH: What about training?
JM: Training was there, at the battalion medical aid station, with a surgeon. I, … of course, had one thing in [my] favor; I was familiar with medical terminology. I'd been around my father and so forth, not that I was that [conversant], but you get to know things, and so, at least I was familiar with that and it came pretty quickly. … So, we trained there and, as a matter-of-fact, I think, three weeks into the thing, I had my first exercise. One Sunday morning, the cook cut part of his finger off and they brought him in and they woke the surgeon up to sew it up and we got the needle and thread ready and so forth and the surgeon came in and he had been carousing the night before and his hand was really unsteady. [laughter] So, I tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Would you like me to do it?" and he said, "Would you, please?" and I sewed my first finger. [laughter]
---------------------------------------END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE ONE-------------------------------------
SH: Please, continue.
JM: The other two were also in the [medical detachment], but there was quite a group in that medical unit, because, basically, there were two, sometimes three, medics for each company. This was the battalion group, so, they were with us and I can't recall which company they went to. … The company I went to had two medics left from the old group, so, I was number three, although they didn't [stay there]. One of them, then, was sent home shortly afterwards. They brought somebody else in.
SH: Was the other medic a great help to you?
JM: Yes, because, you know, they had been through the stuff, so, that helped a little bit.
SH: Did they talk about their experiences?
JM: Yes, they talked about their experiences. One of them had a very bad case of malaria. You could see it, [laughter] but, you know, they told of the basic things. There was never really discussions about what had happened, how bad it was. … I think one just sort of didn't really talk about those kinds of things, but the general [things], … you know, what do you do if you have somebody get shot in the arm, head and so forth, those kinds of discussions, yes, you did talk about, because you wanted to learn, more or less.
SH: How much time did you have in New Zealand, in relative safety, before you left for New Guinea?
JM: Well, New Zealand, we left New Zealand [on] July the 17th, so, this was from March until July. … I went from New Zealand to New Guinea. I had a rather nice trip, only because I had gotten sick a couple of days before with a strange fever and my outfit had pulled out and I left for a couple of days afterwards. So, I went with the division headquarters and the division headquarters went by way of a luxury steamship, which had been taken over, and there was a grand dining salon, as there would be on a luxury [steamship]. That's where we ate, on tables, but, anyway, it wasn't that bad a trip. It was better than down in the hold with ten thousand others. … That was July, July 17th, and, by July the 23rd, we were in New Guinea and, in New Guinea, … a perimeter had been set up. A lot of the fighting was over with, but they were going on daily patrols to pick up straggling Japanese. I have to refrain from saying Japs, but that's what we called them. So, there was a certain amount of activity, patrols, mostly. … We stayed at the base camp for a little while, and then, went inland and set up a camp inland and did daily patrols.
SH: Did you travel?
JM: I was always with a company.
JM: Yes. I was assigned to the battalion. I was based as part of the battalion, but they assigned people to each of the companies. They were company aidmen who would be with … that particular company, that particular platoon.
SH: Can you identify those units?
JM: Yes, it varied. … I was with Company I when I got into New Guinea. In November, I was transferred to Company L. In February of the next year, I went with Company K, then, I went back to Company L. You were assigned wherever it was necessary; somebody may have been hurt or whatever. …
SH: How was this different from New Zealand?
JM: New Guinea is not a great place. It is hot and humid and buggy and not very pleasant, because of that. Going out into the jungle, you meet red ants that hurt. You also see a lot of things, dead corpses, which, in that kind of heat, go pretty quickly. So, as I say, not pleasant, but, fortunately, we did not have too much combat, actual shooting back and forth. I do remember, we took a prisoner one day, who was wounded and scared stiff. Let me point out here one thing that is different from the European Theater. We did not, as medics, wear armbands. Armbands were a target. Officers did not wear insignias. Insignias were targets. To the Japanese, if you were important, such as a medic, who could bring you back to fight again another day, or an officer, who knew what to do, you were important and you were picked first to be hit. The rest were just peons, you know, you could always get another private. So, we never wore armbands. So, nobody knew that I was a medic, except my own people, of course, knew. This Japanese prisoner didn't know and he was scared stiff. When he was being brought in, he was on a litter. There were all these GIs surrounding him and so forth and I tried to put him at ease. So, I opened up my medical kit bag and I had my Red Cross armband pinned to the inside. That immediately made him much more at ease. He now knew he was with somebody who was in charge and who wasn't going to [kill him]. I'm sure he assumed that Americans, the first thing they do is slit his throat, [that] type of thing. The officer finally came over, lifted his shirt collar to show him that he had a silver bar there, so, that made him at ease. That was my first experience with a live Japanese, if you want to call it. So, anyway, we were there on these patrols.
SH: Did you treat his wounds?
JM: I treated his wounds. … To me, he was a patient. That was the only experience I had there … with a prisoner. They had prisoners that they had brought in, but they were moved off someplace and somebody else took care of them. We had our own [injuries], nothing severe, but our usual cuts and bruises, etc., etc., and people getting sick. …
SH: Do you remember where some of the men you served with were from?
JM: What do you mean by where they were [from]?
SH: Were they from, say, the Midwest?
JM: Oh, oh. … Well, it changed. … The 43rd Division was a New England division and … it was a National Guard division and, in those days, of course, everybody in Company I was from the town of So-and-So. By the time we got there, they had been through one campaign that had already, you know, mixed [them up]. They were half-and-half. Some of the originals were still left, but the others were from all over the place.
SH: Did you notice a tighter bond between those that were from the original unit?
JM: No, not necessarily, no. Everybody got along very well. It was one of those situations where you were basically in the same boat and nobody really said, "Well, you know, I'm better because I'm from New Jersey." [laughter]
SH: I was curious.
JM: No, that, I can't say that I ever saw any kind of feeling of, you know, "I'm from here, and so, I'm better than you," anything like that, no.
SH: How often were you called upon to use just your native ingenuity? The Army is very regimented; you must do this and this.
JM: Well, as a medic, you used pretty much anything you would think of in some ways. … I mean, I had an experience, which came much later on, where I used something that is not too well known, but medics have a certain privilege of ordering, … due to an emergency, so that I once went over the head of a colonel, who said, "No, you can't have a man to drive this guy out," and I said, "I insist. I need a guy to take him out." He was badly hurt, spinal injury, nothing I could do for him. I wanted to get him out of there. They didn't want to spare anybody to carry him out and I used my prerogative, so-to-speak. So, there was that kind of thing and you used that kind of thing. I once sent a kid back for a few days because he had shot his own buddy, accidentally, as will happen, and he was in bad shape. Well, I said, "Hey, send him back for three or four days and let him forget about the thing,", you know, [that] type of thing. So, those kinds of things you did by the seat of your pants, by your gut feeling.
SH: Did you ever wish that you could write to your father and say, "I need advice," or, "I need a manual?"
JM: No. I don't know. I don't think I ever got him involved in medical things. [laughter] No, I don't think I ever did. I don't think I ever wrote home that much about those kind of details. I think the only home things were, "Everything is okay." Of course, you can't say where you are, but my mother always wrote to me about people that I might run into, because she'd just heard that Joe's son, Clint, has been sent to the South Pacific; "Maybe you'll … run into him." [laughter] She was great at that.
SH: Serving with the 43rd, did you ever wind up treating any of your classmates from Yale?
JM: No, no, no. There was nobody that I [knew], you know, [of] the people that I had gone in with. I skipped over one item, maybe I can go back, basic training. In their wisdom, the Army decided to put enemy aliens all together in one company for training.
JM: Yes. I suppose they figured that's a better way to keep an eye on them. We found out, afterwards, we did have an FBI man in there with us. We don't know who it was. Somebody told me, I mean, after it was all over with. At the time, we didn't know who it was. It was just another recruit, but we had, primarily, Germans and Italians, a few miscellaneous. This was in basic training in Alabama, Fort McClellan, Alabama. The company … had all those. There were a few other oddballs in there. There was a Finn who had fought the Russians in Finland and, of course, … knew about combat almost more than anybody else in the thing. There was a Frenchman who had fought the Germans, and then, had come to this country, and then, got drafted here and so forth. There were a few Americans, I say "Americans," in other words, native-born and so forth, but the rest were, as I say, … they kept everybody together, to keep an eye on them.
SH: Were these second-generation Americans of some sort?
JM: … No, no, not necessarily, no. I think they were thrown in to make sure that, you know, it was sort of, "We've got some all right folks in there, too." [laughter] A couple of them were from down South.
SH: Did they ever ask you if you would be able to fire at your fellow Germans?
JM: They never really asked in that way, no, no, and [due to] the fact that I had signed up to go into counterintelligence, I was supposedly, you know, okay. Now, we did have one [guy] who, one day, one morning, you know, he got a little bit drunk, I think, and announced, in the middle of the company quarters, that he'd rather fight for Hitler anyway. Well, that was the last we saw of him. He just disappeared. [laughter]
SH: Did you notice, in your training, if there was a difference in how the two main enemies, Germany and Japan, were perceived?
JM: Yes. I never fought against the German Army as such, … but, even having learned since then about it and so forth, there was a great deal of difference, because the Japanese fought in a completely different manner. To them, life didn't mean anything and, you know, to die for the Emperor was the greatest thing, so, you know, they would just come at you, without making any sense of what they were doing, versus what we do in warfare or what the Germans did or anybody who's trained on that side. There are certain things … [where you say], "Well, I'd better not do that, because that's a sure way of getting killed. I'd better wait until I can go around this way." Well, to the Japanese, they fought differently and that was the problem, because they would just come at you. … Jumping ahead, again, but, in combat, … the worst things were nights, because they loved to do night attacks, which … was accompanied by shouting and clanging and, you know, making noise, scaring you to bits. … At night, it's scary in a jungle or anywhere near a jungle or something. It's scary to begin with and to have that stuff happening, you really get flustered and that was the whole idea, is to get you flustered, because, if you would stand up during those things, then, they would get you. So, the thing was, … you stayed on the ground as much as you could. So, that was the great difference and it was … a different way of fighting and it made it a little bit different.
SH: Did they talk about this fact when you were in training?
JM: No, no. Actually, in basic training, we didn't get any of that kind of thing at all.
SH: It was not until you were actually in combat.
JM: It wasn't until you were in combat, or talking with people who had just been in contact [with the enemy], and you learned very rapidly what you did and what you didn't do, very rapidly. … The first night that you were in a foxhole, with these things going on, you had to learn, right then and there, what you did and didn't do. It didn't take much time.
SH: Please, continue.
JM: Well, as I say, this was in New Guinea. We stayed there until, let's see, … the famous December the 26th. I know [that] we packed up on December the 25th, in a torrent rainstorm. Everything got wet, "Merry Christmas." [laughter] We left December the 26th. Yes, [we were] there from July to December the 26th, went on to an LST for the trip to the Philippines. That was December. Well, we left, finally, on the 28th. We left the anchorage on the 28th of December and arrived in Luzon on January the 9th, first wave, invasion of Lingayen Gulf.
SH: Were you aware of how the war was progressing in the Pacific?
JM: Yes, we had … details and we had maps showing us where [the forces were]. We found out that the maps they showed us were for a different invasion, [laughter] because they didn't want anybody to let out that we were invading that particular thing. We had the beautiful sand tables with the wrong area, but, you know, you heard things, you knew things. My mother sent me clippings from the New York Times.
JM: Really, and I remember, when we were in the Philippines, in combat, I remember receiving clippings that told me who was on my left and who was on my right, that I didn't know otherwise. You know, there would be some article about, "The 43rd is here and it is being supplied by the 169th on the right," and so forth, those kinds of things. They were there and she sent them. … So, we knew what was happening. … I mean, we had trained for the invasion thing. We had, not a bad ride, but a little bit of a bad ride, because they were just starting to usekamikaze fighters. …
SH: Please, tell me about that ride.
JM: Well, we had one attack. … I never saw a hit, but I saw the plane go down right near us [for] one of the other LSTs, that it [the kamikaze] went down, tried to hit it.
SH: How many ships were in the convoy that took you to the Philippines? Was it large?
JM: It was large. It was large. … Here is the invasion of Lingayen Gulf. [Editor's Note: Mr. Mayer is referring to his scrapbook.] You had the 172nd, the 169th and the 103rd [Infantry Regiments]. This is the Lingayen [Gulf]. This is where I went in; I was in this one.
SH: You were with the 103rd.
JM: 103rd, at nine-forty, nine-thirty or nine-forty in the morning.
SH: What were you told to prepare for? With your job as a medic, how do you prepare for something like this?
JM: Well, my job as a medic was to be there for if somebody got hit. I had my first casualty just off the beach. It was not a severe thing. There was an artillery shell or something and he got a piece in his rear end. It was a minor, fortunately minor, thing, … but that was my first wound.
SH: The noise had to be overwhelming.
JM: The noise was unbelievable. The battleships … were stationed off [the shore], hitting the beach and that kind of stuff. You transferred from the LST into the small landing craft things, the ones that come ashore and the flap goes down and you stream out, like you see in the movies. Again, I've always said that, in the midst of all these things, … somehow, … it just gets lost. … It's not really, "Oh, my God, what am I doing?" because you're just sort of doing things and I think … the training is pretty good, in the sense that you sort of do things without thinking about them, which may sound terrible, but, no, … you still know what you're doing. I mean, I still knew enough to [know] what I had to pull out of my bag to fix this guy's rear end, that kind of thing, but, for the rest of it, … I could not recall for the life of me exactly what I felt like … when my foot hit the water as I went up on the beach, because it was noise … and so forth. We fortunately had a relatively, I say relatively, easy time. The Japanese had pulled back quite a bit and pulled into the hills overlooking this thing and were doing their work from there, so that we didn't have quite as severe a frontal attack problem, but it was still noisy and, you know, confused.
SH: Were there any airplanes in the air?
JM: … There were airplanes in the air, yes, not too many Japanese. The Japanese … had lost pretty much [all] of that [capability], but the battleships were still shooting beyond us and so forth, for a certain time, and so, there was noise and confusion and so forth, but not the confusion that nobody knew what the hell they were doing. We somehow all got together again and there we were.
SH: In loading the ship for this invasion and packing your own equipment, were there things that you were prepared for or not prepared for? Did it look, as you said, as though everybody just had a job and they were doing it?
JM: Yes, yes. I mean, on the LST, we were up on the top deck. They had bunks, they had cots, … but there were tanks and guns and so forth tied down all over the place and everybody was sort of … sleeping in-between all these things. … You had your own equipment. I had my medical bag. The most important thing I carried in my backpack was a wonderful aluminum box that my mother had sent me with cookies [in it]. Now, the cookies were long gone, but the box was not very thick, but it was very thick aluminum. That was a very solid thing and it was a perfect place to put cigarettes or anything that you didn't want to get crushed. [laughter] You thought of … little things like that, because where do you put all this stuff? …
SH: That is why I asked.
JM: … There are little things that you have. I have to bring up the fact that medics in the Pacific were armed, not supposed to [be], according to the Geneva Conventions, but the problem was, nobody knew you were a medic and they shot at you just as well. I was armed with a rifle. However, I found that to be a very bulky problem, with my medical equipment and so forth, and I traded it for a pistol, which was a lot handier. … I never used the pistol in anger. I fired it in New Guinea, just to see that I could hit something with it, but I felt better with it and I had it pulled out a couple of times as we were going up some hill, because you never knew. So, you had that and I had my medical equipment and I had the usual, you know, your packs of cigarettes that you needed and things like that, … a pup tent type of thing and so forth.
SH: Did you have litter bearers with you?
JM: Yes, yes, yes. There were some. Most of them didn't go up in the frontline, if you want to call it [that], with us. They were further back, because … what do you do? You can't carry a litter around while you're doing these things. You then called somebody. Very often, you did all the hauling out before a litter arrived, by hand, things like that. On one of my sojourns to help somebody, I was wounded and I had to call somebody else to come down, because … my left arm was useless. So, I needed somebody else … to help drag this kid, who was shot in the back and couldn't move, couldn't walk, obviously. So, we grabbed him, one in front and one in the back, and dragged him out of there, very unceremoniously, and we got him out far enough, and then, somebody came with a litter at that point.
SH: Can you tell me why your left arm was not working?
JM: I got shot in the elbow. … Fortunately, it was not a bad wound. I treated myself the first [time], you know, and then, I went with the ambulance and went to the hospital, because I didn't know, at the moment, [how bad it was]. Of course, you know, it's your funny bone. If you've ever hit your funny bone, you assumed that the arm is gone. Well, I assumed that the arm was gone and did go to the hospital, where they cleaned it all up and so forth, put it in a sling, and so, I spent ten days in the hospital with it.
SH: This was after Lingayen.
JM: This is … shortly after Lingayen, in the first assault on Hill 600. The hills all had names and … we fought over Hill 200 and over Hill 600. I never got to the top of it and a number of years ago, while I was back in the Philippines, … I said one time, "I really should go up there and see if I can't find that hill," but I never did. [laughter] … Then, as I said, we landed in January and I got hit, … I forget when, but, anyway, it was shortly thereafter.
SH: During the invasion, amid the chaos, were there instances of men not being able to function, either because of fear or trauma?
JM: I'm sure there must have been. I never saw [that]. I cannot honestly say that I ever saw somebody who ran back into the water screaming … or laying down, anything like that, no. That, I did not see.
SH: Did you feel as though your officers were competent?
JM: … The lower ranks were excellent. The upper ranks; for instance, … Hill 200, which we attempted [to take], we were told by regimental headquarters [that] there were no Japanese on the hill. We advanced and [were] shot at; back went the thing, "No, my intelligence tells me that there are no Japanese on the hill." Well, you know, we got creamed. So, there was that kind of thing and people knew that and so forth, but that lieutenant who was down with you in the thing, practically all of them were very good guys. We had a company commander who we thought of very highly. … He was not a hero or anything, but he looked out for his troops. … They got, one night, surrounded by Japanese and his order was, "Sit down and don't make a motion," which they did, and, by morning, the Japanese had left and everything was okay. He got severely chided by his superiors, "Why didn't you call in for more troops and attack?" His answer was, "We would have gotten creamed. The best thing to do was to stay mum." Well, they relieved him of duty anyway. Unfortunately for the higher-ups, they gave him a job that everybody envied and, from then on, the word was, "Go ahead, relieve me, make me a Special Services officer." [The] Special Services officer was the one who worked together with the Red Cross for doughnuts and coffee and [the] USO and did all of that kind of [thing] [laughter] and everybody thought, "Oh, I wouldn't [mind that]." … In other words, he was the kind of a guy who thought of that himself and maybe, you know, somebody [else] would have said, "Well, you should have attacked or called for an attack." … That was the best way to stay safe and he did it. So, those were all pretty good guys. I must say, I never … felt anybody like that was a bad guy.
SH: He knew what was dangerous and unnecessary.
JM: Yes, yes.
SH: The hill that you did not get up was Hill 600.
JM: Well, [Hill] 200 was the first one; [Hill] 600 was the next one.
SH: Was that where you were wounded?
JM: That's where I was wounded, yes.
SH: Were they ever able to get to the top of Hill 600?
JM: Yes, yes, yes, they did. They did, finally. I didn't, but they did. [laughter]
SH: Where were you sent to the hospital?
JM: [In] a nearby town, there was a field hospital. I went there. They fixed my arm up and told me to stay there for a while. This was early afternoon by the time I got there, or late afternoon, I guess, by the time [I got there]. At midnight, … the ward man woke me up. He knew I was a medic and he said, "I'm running into trouble. Can you give me a hand?" They were getting a lot of casualties and he needed somebody. There were all those pills to give out, shots to give out and so forth. So, I said, "Sure," I'd do it and I got up and I did all that and I spent my ten days in the hospital doing that, working, with my arm in a sling. [laughter] People used to look at me, because I'd come out of surgery with a facemask [on]. [laughter] … I figured I was perfectly all right, except for this, [the arm in a sling], which got better and better, and it was all right, and so, I did that, … [gave] all those pills and shots, etc., etc.
SH: Where were you sent back to?
JM: Then, I went back to the company.
SH: Were they still involved with the hill?
JM: No, at that point, they had just finished with that thing and they were going back to a rest camp to take it easy for a few days. I hit it just right. [laughter]
SH: Did you have any interaction with the Filipinos or any of the natives on the other islands?
JM: Well, there was a lot of interaction with the Filipinos. … Of course, they had Philippine guerrillas who had been fighting, and then, we fought with them and there were civilians, all the way down to a very sweet, young girl who helped out at the hospital, helping out with things and so forth, that kind of [thing], you know, changing bed sheets and so forth. That was just sort of voluntary work that they did. So, you saw a lot of them around, yes. … They did your laundry for you, you know. For a cigarette, they'd do your wash and that kind of stuff.
SH: Did you treat any of the guerrillas?
JM: Yes, yes, yes. Occasionally, … they would be, you know, right there, then. So, everybody got the same kind of treatment.
SH: What about the supplies that you needed to do your job? Did you ever have a sense that you were not being well equipped?
JM: Medical wise, no problem. Food wise, yes, we occasionally ran out of food. Well, occasionally, … I remember, one [time], we went on a patrol and it took a little longer than usual and we were … on very short rations. It turned into a disaster, because, when we came back, they decided to feed us and [the] cook prepared a wonderful meal of pork chops, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. … If you take a group of people who had been on a starvation diet, if you want to call it [that], but very [short rations], you know, [and put them] together with apple pie ala mode, I had more sick people that night than I had during the whole campaign, including myself. [laughter] … There were instances when the food supplies, you know, ran a little low. … On these long patrols into the jungle, … there was not much you could do about that. When we were back in base camp and so forth, there was no problem. … As far as the medical equipment, … I had enough morphine and that kind of stuff. So, I was okay.
SH: Can you tell me about your R&R time, the rest camp you went to?
JM: That was just a place where you could, you know, get a little bit more sleep than you usually did and wash your clothes and wash your face and your hands. One of the worst problems for medics in the Pacific jungle, etc., was the lack of cleanliness. … I mean, even aside from a medic and so forth, unless you kept your hands and face clean, you could get all kinds of silly things. So, that was one of the problems. … We had a terrible skin rash, but I finally got an ointment that worked pretty good on that, but the best thing was soap and water, [laughter] which, a lot of times, you didn't have, because, a lot of times, you had just enough water to … drink and you didn't waste it on washing your hands. … Except for the times in the rest camp or in the hospital, my uniform was usually pretty bloody with blood from several days ago. There was nothing you could do about it. On the famous Hill 200, I had a man stagger out, was shot right across the middle, fall into my arms, yelling my name, and he died. … I couldn't even do anything for him after he had died [and was] laying there, because there was somebody else yelling my name, but you had this [situation], you know. As I said, I had blood under my fingernails most of the time, until you could get enough water to wash [them]. That was the one, again, problem with [cleanliness], I guess, basically, a [sanitary] problem, and, in the hot tropics, it becomes even more so, because you add the sweat and the heat and all of that. … It's just a nasty thing, but, somehow, you [went on]. I don't know, somehow, it didn't [stop me]. I lived. … [laughter] You did things and you went on.
SH: As a medic, do you think that you had less time to rest than the regular infantryman?
JM: I don't think so. I think we lived the same kind of a life, you know, short of my spending some time binding somebody up or anything like that, but the other guy was sitting there, waiting, to make sure that nobody was going to come there. …
SH: How often did you write home? You mentioned that your mother sent you things.
JM: I don't know. I couldn't tell you, maybe once a week, if that, depending on where we were. If we were in a rest area or, you know, places like that, … then, maybe you wrote more. Certainly, in the combat thing, you didn't. I kept a little notebook thing, this stuff; I kept track of where I was every day.
SH: Like a diary.
JM: Like a diary. I kept it in code, my own personal little code.
JM: Well, I think it was one of those [cases where] I thought, "Well, if you ever get captured," that it wouldn't [give anything away], but I did want to sort of keep track of where I was.
SH: Did you hear from your siblings?
JM: Oh, yes, oh, yes. … My sister sent me candy, one of my favorite candies, that kind of thing. I didn't hear anything, really, at all from my brother, who was stationed; well, toward the end of the war, he was in the Aleutians, in Alaska. … We didn't correspond, really, that way, but I heard through my mother. She said that, you know, "Michael wrote. He's okay," and whatever type of thing.
SH: What happened after you left the rest camp?
JM: Well, then, you go on to the … next hill or next patrol. We went, you know, … from Luzon, all the way down past Manila, down into an area called Laguna de Bay, which is a big inland lake. I went back there when I was on … [one of] my later trips, to a place that I had been there before. Of course, it was all different. They were basically patrols, in off the main [line of defense]. …
SH: How much resistance did you encounter after the invasion of Lingayen Gulf?
JM: Still quite a bit. … They were small forces. They had been pushed [back] and there were no big attacks, but, when they held on to something, they held on to it. … There were no big battles that I was in at that point, no.
SH: What did you see in Manila?
JM: … By the time we got through Manila, we were in the northern part. It was over, … but it had been hit pretty badly and destroyed. …
SH: Did you go into the city?
JM: … One day, we went into a part of it. I also got into part of it because I got sick and was sent to a hospital that was right there in Manila, a big, great big building, hospital. So, I spent a few days there, but I was too sick to even see anything. I had gotten dengue fever, which is a rough one to get. I managed to get over it all right … and that was the only time I was in Manila. We then bypassed it.
SH: Did you ever come across the Red Cross or the USO?
JM: Oh, yes, yes. Well, no, the only … USO show, and I never went to see it, I was not about to try, was in New Guinea. Bob Hope came there one time on a thing and everybody said, "Oh, let's go down and see him." It meant a trek down this river, where we were up the river a ways from [the show], and I said, "I'm not going for any such thing." [laughter] That was the only USO one. Now, … in these so-called rest camps, when we were pulled out, they did usually have [the] Red Cross come by with a vehicle that had coffee and doughnuts and that kind of stuff, yes.
SH: Your mother sent you headlines from the New York Times. Is that how you kept track of the war in Europe?
JM: To a certain extent, yes, except that she clipped the stuff from where I was. I mean, she didn't send me notices of what was happening in Berlin, because, … maybe, she assumed I wouldn't care about what was happening in Berlin. [laughter] We only … got sporadic news, of course, about, you know, what was happening and, obviously, we knew the war was over in Europe before the war was over for us. … So, we got information about that.
SH: Was there any reaction to that news?
JM: … In trying to remember, probably nothing more [than], "Well, good for them, but we're still here," you know, [that] type of thing.
SH: How did the men react to the death of President Roosevelt?
JM: Again, that was, you know, felt. It was a shock, but, again, … we had other things to worry about. … It wasn't quite the same as when you were sitting in a café in New York and you heard the news.
SH: Did you have any thoughts or discussions on President Truman's ability to lead?
JM: No, I don't think anybody ever really talked much about the ability of Washington to do this thing or something [else], you know, that kind of thing.
SH: As a family that came to this country from Germany, did you get involved in politics? You talked about being very anxious to be Americanized. Did you talk about politics?
JM: No, never, really, no. That was not a gung ho [pursuit] and, politically, [I was] never about, you know, "Maybe I ought to run for President." Well, I couldn't have run for President, [laughter] but, no, no, there wasn't any of that. We were not really that political in the talking, you know. I mean, there were certain things you talked about, what was happening, but [not politics].
SH: Let us go back.
JM: All right. We're winding down in the Philippines. I have one other episode, I guess, I can say; one day, on one of the patrols, we were behind a Japanese force and there was a Japanese who couldn't … keep up with them, apparently. He was a little bit overweight and he decided to sit down by a tree and we captured him. The problem [that] arose is that we were a small patrol and what do you do with him? We can't waste [the] manpower to take him back. The only thing to do is shoot him. …
--------------------------------------END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE TWO-------------------------------------
SH: This continues an interview with Mr. John C. Mayer on August 11, 2005, in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania. Please, continue.
JM: We were talking about the incident where we ran across a Japanese and took him prisoner on a patrol and the question came up as to what to do with the prisoner. Manpower was low and they didn't want to send somebody back with him and … [they] thought that the only thing to do was to shoot him, at which point, I said, "No, you can't do that." The question was, "Why can't we? They would," and I said, "Yes, I know they would, but we won't and I vote against it," and we did get them to agree and we sent him back with somebody. He was no threat, anyway. … So, that was my contribution at that point.
SH: How often did you see Japanese prisoners?
JM: Very seldom. The majority of times, they had to be ferreted out and they died … in doing so. I saw very little until the end, toward the end, … before the actual end. I, … at that point, got a new job. I was no longer with the company. I was in charge of the battalion medical detachment and we were in the eastern part of the Philippines and they were rounding [them] up or driving them [out]. There was only the sea beyond there, and so, they were taking more prisoners than they had before. … We're not talking about, you know, ten thousand prisoners or anything like that. We're talking about, you know, ten here and five there and so forth, and they brought a group of them, several times, past the aid station, where I was. So, I did see them. One day, they brought in a Japanese prisoner, very tall, very distinguished looking. I knew right away he wasn't Japanese. It turned out he was Korean, a university professor who had been drafted by the Japanese and so forth. … I saw a couple of very bad sores on his leg and I treated them. He thanked me profusely. …
SH: He spoke English.
JM: He spoke English. I forget, … I don't remember, he was a professor of something and I can't remember now what, but, no, he spoke perfectly good English and was very glad that somebody was able to give him some aid in this thing. Aside from him, we'd see an occasional [prisoner]. They would bring them by there or something like that, but I treated, a couple of other times, somebody who had some flesh wound or something like that, but that was about it.
SH: Did he talk about what he had been through at all?
JM: No, no, he did not and there wasn't really any [conversation]. I didn't want to get too involved with the thing. That wasn't my job and they had MPs who were bringing these people out and I'm sure they didn't necessarily want to wait for me to get a biography of the prisoners, etc.
JM: Yes, they weren't in the mood.
SH: You talked about sparing the life of a prisoner of war. Were there other times when you were disappointed in the actions of other GIs?
JM: No, because I never ran across that at any other time, … where there could have been a yea-or-nay kind of a thing. The other times were all in the heat of the battle and … there was no question about, you know, you shot and [were] shot at and you shoot back and that kind of thing. So, it never really came up. That was the only time where we actually, you know, [encountered that]; then, what do you do with them?
SH: Did the Filipinos treat you as liberators?
JM: Oh, yes, yes. They were very, very friendly. Of course, we treated them, too. Toward the end, when I had the aid station, there were several [Filipino patients]; I had treated several. I had a fascinating story to tell, because, one day, a young girl came in. She was about to have a child. It turns out [that] she was fourteen, [with] malnutrition. She looked, you know, like she was going to go in[to labor]. I was scared stiff, not that I wouldn't have been able to deliver a baby, but, under the conditions, there were [complications]. So, I radioed for an ambulance and waited patiently for this ambulance to come, because I didn't want to get stuck with it, you know, having to do it under those conditions. She was really very badly malnourished and I felt it was going to be tough enough without it, but, anyway, the ambulance came and they took her away. So, that was it. The other incident, another young girl … was fishing with her father and her father was using the wonderful method of throwing a grenade into the stream, which stuns the fish. The problem was that it broke her leg, and so, they brought her in. Fortunately, at that time, the battalion surgeon was there; [for] the first one, I was alone. … It wasn't strictly me, our surgeon was there. So, he decided to, you know, fix her leg and set it. Well, she was also extremely young and was a little bit scared about all these huge American men and so forth and I remember the last thing she said … before we put her out. She grabbed the surgeon by his arm and said, "Please, treat me as you would your sister," which was sort of touching, you know. … I mean, those were two that I remember distinctly. There were others, you know, who came in with cuts and bruises and the usual thing. … I'd say we treated anybody who was hurt, at that point, with whatever.
SH: Were you ever in a situation where you needed to share your food with these people?
JM: I can't recall that ever, no, not really, no, because, most of the times, I think, even they brought in bananas for us or things like that, you know.
SH: Did you treat anyone who had been a prisoner of the Japanese?
JM: No. I never ran across them. Strangely enough, it's just on the television, … the famous Cabanatuan rescue. [I] saw part of it last night on the TV. I was right near there. We were not aware of it … when it took place, even though it was relatively close to where we were, because that thing was strictly a hush-hush type of thing. So, I never ran across any of them until 1973, when I met one them on a flight from Manila.
JM: … Well, this is going off the beaten path a little bit. I was having trouble; … my firm was working with the Filipinos and we were having a little bit of a problem, the usual Oriental, you know, "losing face" type of thing, and I was telling him about these problems that I had and I said, you know, "The next time, really, I almost felt like pinning on my Philippine Liberation Medal," and he said, "You should. That's what I've done several times, because I let them know that I spent three years at Cabanatuan Prison. 'So, don't give me a hard time.'" That was the only one I ever met out of that situation. No, they were nearby, but they pulled them all out and … we never got to see any of them. … That was a separate thing that they did.
SH: Before we began the interview, we spoke briefly about Douglas MacArthur.
JM: [laughter] Well, I don't want to say anything about MacArthur's abilities as a general. As a tactician or whatever and so forth, he was probably very good. He had his favorites and that is, I think, what sometimes got people a little annoyed. He held back certain troops from going down to Manila because he wanted his favorite division to get there first, and nobody was really that interested in being the first to have to face the enemy in Manila. … I mean, who cares as to who does it? … He played favorites a little bit and people, I think, generally, didn't like that or some people didn't like it. … He waded ashore shortly after we had landed. Someone said, "Guess who came ashore?-MacArthur," and there was this cry of, "F--- MacArthur," which necessarily wasn't anything about him personally. It was just that, you know, we've got other problems. [laughter] So, that's about all that I can say about MacArthur. As I say, he never did anything to me personally or I never had any contact with him that way. …
SH: Is there anything else that you would like to put on tape about your tour in the Philippines?
JM: Well, … then, the war was then almost over, or close to it, and we were getting ready to hit Japan. So, one of my unfortunate duties, at that point, was to give inoculations for all the various things, including bubonic plague and all those things, and that took a lot of time. There were basically eight hundred men and I had to inject the eight hundred men. Unfortunately, I had a battalion surgeon who was not very good at giving shots and we used to form two lines of people and I began to notice that my line was always the long one. His was the short one, [laughter] because he was not [experienced]. He was very young. … The Army grabbed him out of med school and put him overseas the day after he graduated from med school. … It's not his fault, but he didn't have the practical [experience] and I wasn't an MD, but I had a lot of practical things. So, he was very nice otherwise, no problem, but … all these things were new to him. He read an article one day, he got the AMA Journal, you see, and he read an article about doing surgery, … minor surgery, under hypnosis, and he thought, "Oh, this must be wonderful." Well, enough said. [laughter] … We were getting all this preparation for the invasion of Japan, and then, of course, the thing [the war] stopped. So, then, we packed up to go to Japan and we did and I spent ten days in Japan. We got there and, ten days later, my name was on the list; I had enough points to go home. So, that was my extent of the occupation.
SH: Did you leave from Manila for Japan?
JM: Yes, yes. We went aboard a ship at Manila, sailed to Yokohama, … traveled inland to an airfield, sat on the airfield for a day, which is where the battalion surgeon decided to try his first hypnotic surgery, sitting in a jeep, with airplanes taking off. [laughter] That didn't work. We then went into quarters in some kind of munitions factory and they had some laboratory quarters there. We were there. I had an interesting job the first day, or the first day we were there, … to find out about the water supply; is it safe to drink or not? So, we got into a jeep; one of the officers and I got into a jeep. We went looking for somebody who spoke English. [We] found the daughter of the mayor of the town, [who] spoke English. So, she went with us. We went looking for the waterworks. Nobody there spoke English and nobody knew what we were talking about and what we had to do was trace where the water came in, the pipes that came in out of the aqueduct, and we traced them physically, going along through the motors, through the pumps and so forth, until it came to where they went out, and there was nothing in-between. Nobody was filtering or doing anything. So, we had to go back and say, "We'd better use our own chemicals to filter the water." That was the one interesting [thing]. The other one was, we took a tour of the local hospital, which was very crude in some ways. The first time I'd ever seen anything like it; they had a contagious ward and, to get from one [ward], the regular [ward], into the contagious ward, there was a board across the corridor with two sets of slippers, a set on each side, and you stepped out of your slippers, across the board, into a set of slippers which was not contaminated, [laughter] so-to-speak. So, that was an interesting thing, but, as I say, we were there for a week and my number was [up]. I got to go back home.
SH: How did the Japanese treat you?
JM: Relatively friendly. I mean, we had no problem. We had … very little contact, except for the mayor's daughter, who was friendly enough to, you know, help out with translating. Otherwise, we didn't really see that much and, in … one week, we were just barely setting up and [I] never really had that much contact. Going through the hospital, … by that time, of course, the day we arrived in Japan, we put our Red Cross armbands on, so [that] they knew who we were, and so, they were courteous in the hospital, … showing us around. We were just interested purely just for the fun of it, to see … how they did things.
SH: Did you realize that you were going to be sent home?
JM: I was hoping. I was hoping … that I'd had enough to [get out].
SH: When did you receive your Combat Infantryman's Badge?
JM: I didn't get a Combat Infantry Badge. I got a Combat Medical Badge.
SH: I am sorry.
JM: Well, I don't know, I can't recall the day, but I wore it home.
SH: That must have been quite an honor. You really earned it.
JM: Well, it's a nice one, you know.
SH: On the trip back, were the other soldiers mostly from your unit?
JM: No, they were [from] all over, because my division, actually, quite a bit of it stayed there, because quite a bit of it was replacements [who] had been coming in. We got an awful lot of people toward the end of the Philippine campaign who were coming in, so that they were all new and there weren't that many old guys left. Old guys, you know, I was just twenty-one. [laughter]
SH: I was going to ask how old you were.
JM: Yes, I had just turned twenty-one. … So, they were from all over, all over the place, as far as the ship's complement.
SH: Do you remember which ship you came back on?
JM: I can tell you; the USS General Hersey. It was a much more pleasant ride back from there, because, you know, it was all lit up and … we didn't have to go down below and they had food and that kind of stuff. You could take showers every half-hour if you wanted to. That helped a great deal. …
SH: You talked about the need to wash and keep clean and how it was only possible in the rest camps. Elsewhere in the Philippines, were you still short of useable water?
JM: Well, no. … Well, once we were toward the end and so forth, when I was in charge of the aid station, I mean, … we weren't in the jungle patrols here anymore. There was a place [to stay], you know. I slept on a cot every night and we had food, we had water, we had Coca-Cola. Yes, we kept it in the refrigerator that was set up in one of the supply places … to keep medicines. So, we kept the Coca-Cola in there. … At that point, things were a great deal better.
SH: In Japan, were you billeted on land or did you sleep on a ship?
JM: No, we were on land, yes. No, we were in this compound. It had regular buildings and so forth, had a beautiful laboratory with all kinds of equipment and, very unfortunately, I looked at some of this equipment and said, "Gee, I'd love to have some of that," but, you know, I was never one to abscond with things. The day I left, I turned the thing over to the next group that came in, gave them the key, and I took one more look at the thing and most of the stuff was gone. … The first thing they did was clean out all that. [laughter] …
SH: On the trip back, there was a variety of men who had the right amount of points to come home. Were they from any of the other services or was it strictly Army?
JM: It was pretty much Army, that I recall. … There may have been other [branches], you know. There was a lot of people on it. It was a big, big ship. There were a lot of people. There could have been Marines; there could have been Navy personnel. …
SH: In any of the campaigns that you were involved with, did you interact with any of the other Allied forces, such as the Australians or the British?
JM: We did with the Australians a bit, in New Guinea, because they were in [with] all the locals. [The] guides and so forth were all under Australian control, and so, … we saw them. I'm a great tea drinker and I was very happy with the Australians, because they had tea, and I traded my cigarettes for their tea, [laughter] because the US Army didn't have much in the way [of tea]. It was strictly coffee and I liked tea. So, that helped. That was the only ones. I don't think I ever ran across any [others], certainly no other nationals anywhere in the Philippines. I can't recall even, you know, Navy people or something like that. There may have been a Marine here or there that we saw, but that's [unclear]. …
SH: How was your homecoming? Did you come back in to San Francisco?
JM: Came back in to San Francisco, had to stay there for a couple of days until their thing, [processing, was over]. They asked you if you wanted to go home by train or plane. I said, "Who would pass up a plane to get back home?" and they said, "A lot of people don't like to fly." [laughter] I said, "No, by all means." So, they put us on a plane. It was a long ride, because it stopped in five different places, one of them being somewhere in Texas. … We all got out and stretched our legs and the pilot and co-pilot … had gone off and didn't come back and didn't come back and we couldn't figure out what [was up]. Finally, somebody went up to find out what happened and [someone said], "Oh, their time was up. They have to take [a break], you know. They can only fly so many hours." We said, "Well, we're sitting out here." [laughter] They got somebody else to do it. … Finally, after these four different stops in New Mexico and Texas and somewhere else, [we] finally got back to Fort Dix, New Jersey, spent a couple of days there, and then, they gave us a thirty-day leave to go home, and then, come back and get discharged officially.
SH: Did you know what you wanted to do next? Had they talked to you about the GI Bill?
JM: Well, I figured I'd go back. I had a freshman year at Yale, so, I figured, I mean, … I never even thought of anything except, "Well, I'll go back and finish," you know. [laughter] I don't think it entered my mind. … I'd heard about the GI Bill and said, "Wonderful," and, you know, "That will help," and so forth.
SH: Did you think of changing majors?
JM: Yes. My first thought was, … when I finished my freshman year, I wasn't that crazy about what I was doing and I thought, "Well, hey, why not pre-med?" So, I thought, "All right, I'll try that." Well, it turned out that wasn't for me, either. [laughter] I mean, I may have had the medical training in the meanwhile, but there were things like chemistry and biology and I wasn't [interested]. So, then, I turned to what may have been my original love and that's architecture, and so, that's where I then finished up my BA, in that, and then, stayed on for another three years in the School of Architecture and got my M.Arch.
SH: Did you ever consider staying in the military?
JM: No; good thing you brought that up. In San Francisco, one of the things that they all had us get together on was, "How would you like to stay in? We can offer you," you know, the usual, all these kinds of [things], and I remember saying, "After coming back from what we just went through, why would anybody want to sign up?" I mean, of all the [things]; to me, it was absolutely ridiculous. Now, they got people and I'm sure, you know, there's nothing wrong [with it]. To me, it was just unbelievable. I think they asked us again at Fort Dix, … just before they handed us the final papers, but … there was no question about it.
SH: You did not consider staying in the Reserves.
JM: No, no. … I figured, you know, I had done my thing and that was it.
SH: By the time you returned, had your family also received their naturalization papers?
JM: Yes, by that time, they all were citizens. So, we were all good, old Americans by then. [laughter]
SH: Did your parents come down to see you at Fort Dix or did you go right home?
JM: No, no, … I went home, you know, had thirty days and so forth. I had a, I don't want to say girlfriend; it was a girl I knew. I was very fond of her and so forth. I asked her, would she come when I got the final discharge? I said, "I've always thought it would be nice to have one of those, you know, flying back [to a loved one] in open arms [moments]; you see it in the movies." Well, it was stupid, but she said, "I'll be happy to drive out." [laughter] … She had a car, so, she came out and got me. I don't remember whether we did the open arm flying [thing], but that was one of those things. … You think, "Oh, how wonderful," and you do it. [laughter]
SH: So romantic.
JM: Yes. So, that's how I came home.
SH: Had your brother already arrived home?
JM: No. He took … a little bit longer. He was stationed in Alaska and what they were doing was dumping all the equipment that had been amassed up there. So, he spent a little bit of extra time up there doing that. He went back to what he had originally done, being a supply sergeant, after his momentary stint in Texas as an infantryman, which didn't amount to anything. So, that's where he was. He came back a little bit later on.
SH: Did he go back to school?
JM: He then went to seminary. He decided to go into the ministry.
SH: He used the GI Bill for the seminary.
SH: Where did he go to school?
JM: In New York. Don't ask me the name of the seminary, because I can't recall it. [laughter] … At one time, he was at the Little Church Around the Corner, or is it called the Little One Off the Village? … I forget; it's called "The Little Church' something. …
SH: Did either one of your sisters consider joining the Armed Forces?
SH: Were they involved with any war effort organizations?
JM: No, I don't think so. My oldest sister married … someone who also escaped from Germany, from Austria. Actually, he was Austrian, was a doctor, and they lived … Upstate for a while, and then, on Long Island. … She may have rolled bandages at the Red Cross. I don't know that. My mother did knit.
SH: Did she?
JM: My mother did knit for the Red Cross, yes. I remember, she was knitting scarves and things like that.
SH: What about your younger sister?
JM: The younger sister, she was working in some office in New York during the war and I can't remember. She also, then, got married. …
SH: Did your family ever talk about if they were impacted by the rationing and so forth?
JM: No, not really. My father, as a doctor, had an "A" ration card, which I thought was wonderful. He could get gasoline all the while, but … he never would. … He would get enough for, once a week, to go down to the store or something, but he would not [use it otherwise], which always drove me crazy, but, aside from that, no, we had the normal rationing things. … When I went to prep school, at that time, the rationing had already started. So, I remember, they used to send me my coupons up there, because I had to use them up there, … to get the sugar and stuff.
SH: Did you turn them over to the school?
JM: Yes, yes.
SH: When did your father get a car?
JM: … His first car, he got it in Rhode Island. I have a picture of it.
JM: Yes, a 1934 Buick, wonderful, with the little things in the back to put the roses into the little vials.
SH: Who taught him how to drive?
JM: He had … somebody up there who taught him [how] to drive; the picture shows [him] there, the man, "Me and my driving instructor." [laughter]
SH: Did you also learn how to drive?
JM: Yes. I was fortunate, because, on Long Island, where we lived at that time, … he was medical director of the Long Island Home, which was a big sanitarium, which had big grounds, and, of course, they were private grounds. So, I could drive and that's where I learned to drive and I drove. My mother learned how to drive, too, not that she ever went very far, but she learned how to drive, so that she could get her license.
SH: Are there any other memories that you would like to put on tape?
JM: I can't think of anything, you know, militarily. I wouldn't want to go through it again. War is hell. I think the thing that I remember most is the utter [fear]; … I'm talking about combat now. I mean, there are the days in the jungle in New Guinea when it was just miserable, but I think, in the fighting part and so forth, the thing that is the worst is the fear. At night, when it's dark and you're in a little shelter that you've dug yourself, … just not knowing what is out there can get you terribly and I think that's the thing that was, in some ways, worst. … In the middle of a battle, first of all, things are so hectic that you're not really thinking about it. As a medic, I was running around, trying to put bandages on people. So, that added to not thinking about things, but the sitting alone at night, or with somebody who was asleep, because he was getting his two hours while you were sitting, waiting, for two hours, I think, was the worst part that I remember of the whole thing.
SH: Did you have access to reading material?
JM: … No, no. … We got copies of Stars and Stripes and something like that, but we didn't spend that much time reading. My battalion surgeon read the AMA Journal, yes, … and I looked at it, then.
SH: Did you have access to chaplains?
JM: The access was there, yes, yes. You could talk to them. They came around. … In the peaceful interludes and so forth, they had Sunday services that people went to, yes.
SH: Were they part of the field aid station?
JM: … The ministers? no, no. This was battalion aid. … They were not part of that, no.
SH: I was not sure if they were attached to it.
JM: No, no. Well, they are attached to the regiment and so forth and they go around and hold services for the various companies or battalions. … I don't know whether they're battalion or regiment, but they don't have a place as such.
SH: Did you ever avail yourself of their services?
JM: I don't recall. I recall going to a couple of Sunday services, but never any intimate talking to them or anything like that, no.
SH: Have you ever written about your experiences?
JM: No, no.
SH: Did anyone save any of your letters?
JM: I saved some documents, [my] order of induction, the telegram [sent] to my parents when I was wounded.
SH: They did tell them.
JM: Well, the War Department sent that.
SH: They did.
JM: Oh, yes, that's from them. [Editor's Note: Mr. Mayer is referring to his scrapbook.]
SH: Did they follow up?
JM: Yes. Here's a major general saying, "Pleased to inform you that," I'm getting along all right. [laughter] This is sent to them, my parents.
SH: Okay. You even saved the envelope. That is wonderful.
JM: Yes. This is my award. I got the Bronze Star.
SH: Wonderful. This order mentions the Silver Star.
JM: No, … this one is [it]. That covers all the [decorations]. … This is the section out of it. … There's a whole big [list]. I only cut out what pertains to me. [laughter]
SH: Would you like to talk about this decoration?
JM: Well, it's unusual, only in that I didn't realize that [I was getting it]; [laughter] I was told that I was getting an award. I was in the hospital with my famous elbow. The first sergeant came and gave me a Purple Heart, which I got, and said that they had put me in for a Bronze Star and that's all he said. … I began to think, "Now, I wonder why," and I assumed it was for the day that I got hurt, because I went racing down to help get somebody. Well, it was for the day or two days before that they actually did [it], which was also a day that was hectic, but I never thought of that as being heroic. The problem is that you don't think of these things as being heroic when you're doing them. See, that's the thing, that somebody says, "Look at that guy. You know, we ought to give him a medal for that." Well, at the point, there were people getting hurt all over the place and I was going from one to the other and that was [that]. I was doing what I was told to do, or trained to do and so forth, and I never thought that I was doing anything that particular, and so, when they came out with that date, I said, "Wait a minute." … I just thought it was a different date. I probably did more, yes, actually, on that day than the other one. The other one was really [hairy]. … This one guy that I went after, I ran down and exposed myself in order to help him. Now, you can say, "Well, that was heroic," but they thought the other one was more heroic, because I did it for, I don't know, ten people, … and then, of course, … the General wrote a letter about the award to my parents, too. … Now, this is just out of the Amityville Record, the local newspaper. They published a lot of things about [my] having been awarded the Bronze Star. So, my mother saved that. … That's about it and the rest is my discharge, etc., and, as I say, I kept a daily log of where I was and some maps of where I was.
SH: Did you take any photographs or have access to a camera?
JM: There was only one photograph of me during the entire war. I told you about this place where the young girl who was pregnant [was], when I was in charge of that aid station. That's where that was taken. That's the only photo of me. [laughter]
SH: Is the Red Cross flag in the back to designate where the aid station was?
JM: Yes, yes, yes, that's what that was for. No, that's the only photograph. …
SH: Did you keep in contact with any of the men that you served with?
JM: No, no, I didn't.
SH: You did not attend any reunions.
JM: No, no.
SH: Where did your career take you? You mentioned going back to the Philippines.
JM: Oh, well, I became an architect and, thirty years later, we had some projects where we were consulting … for some hotel construction in the Philippines and I went over five times in one year, once for two weeks, once for a week-and-a-half and three times for a month, consulting, helping them out. We were basically hotel architects. We specialized in hotels all over the world and we did some of the Hiltons and various things. So, that's how I got to go to the Philippines.
SH: Did you travel elsewhere?
JM: Well, yes, I went … to England, to Ireland, South America, Central America. That's what I did, [laughter] until the day I said, "I've had enough." I took an early retirement, only because I told my boss, and he didn't understand it, I said the fun had gone out of it. It got to be, you know, lawyers checking contracts and saying things that they shouldn't be saying, because they think it's legal, and it gets them into trouble and they won't listen to you, even though you've had experience. … I didn't want anymore part of it. The session in the Philippines was very bad. It got to be terrible. I was told once, … by somebody over there who was an American that was working with them, [that] I didn't understand, "You've got to go along with these people." I said, "You mean lie to them?" "If you … have to lie to them, lie to them." I said, "No, I will not do that." … So, I said, "Hey, life is too short."
SH: After your early retirement, did you try anything else?
JM: … I did do a couple of more consulting [jobs] for my office. Every once in a while, they needed somebody to fly to Canada and help somebody out for a week. … That kind of stuff, I did. So, I did a little bit of that. I went to Washington once and I did a couple of those, but, then, that sort of, you know, died out, too.
SH: I know that you have at least one granddaughter.
JM: Yes, I have three granddaughters and one grandson. [laughter]
SH: Does your family live around Tamaqua?
JM: No, no. Actually, not too far away from here, a little bit further east, so, I still see them occasionally. I have some nieces. My older sister, that I was very close with, lived in New York City. I used to go in, every once in a while, and see her, but she died five years ago. … Her daughter, she had two daughters, one lives in Germany and I visited her over there and the other one lives in North Carolina and I'm seeing her and my brother next week. We're reunion-ing down in Delaware. Well, she's on her way back from New York. She lives in North Carolina and … she was going to stop … in Dover and I said, "Well, I'll come on down. We'll have dinner together." So, I see them occasionally.
SH: Do you still keep in contact with Yale? Are you involved as an alumnus?
JM: No, not … anymore at all, no.
SH: Is there anything else that you would like to leave on the tape?
JM: No, that's about it, I think. I appreciate it. Thank you for this opportunity to give you all this wonderful history. … I guess it's interesting, from somebody who was there and the things he did. … Well, let me say one other thing about being a medic. There are things that … were pretty nice [about] being a medic. I mean, you were able to do things, a little bit more than just shoot them up, really. There were things that were not very nice about it and I have one experience that was rather difficult. While I was in the hospital there, there was one kid who was badly wounded and he was dying, could not speak. He was paralyzed from the throat on down, very sad, in a way, having to lay there. Well, he finally came to close the thing. They asked me if I would sit with him. They moved him out of the wardroom, into another room, and asked me to sit with him and, I tell you, that was a difficult thing to do. I did it gladly, because I felt somebody should sit with him. He couldn't talk. He could understand. You could talk to him, but the problem, also, is, what do you say to somebody like that? So, that's difficultly enough, number one, and just sitting with him [for] a couple of hours or so, that was a difficult thing, but, otherwise, you know, helping somebody, if it's curing a rash on the hand, … that's fine.
SH: You would treat men on the battlefield and send them to the rear.
JM: That was all.
SH: However, to sit with someone …
JM: Yes, yes, because the other mode was very different. … You gave him a shot of morphine for the pain, you wrapped bandages around [him], you hold things together, if they need to be held together, you did that kind of stuff, and then, somebody else, you knew, was going to do the real work and try to put it all back together. Now, it was important to give him that first thing, [the initial treatment], because that first one may have been the one that then saved him for the stuff later on, but you never saw them again, really. When I went in with my arm, I saw a few people that I had sent in.
JM: Yes, I did. So, you know, I did that much, but, otherwise, you never saw anybody like that.
SH: Did you ever consider helping someone to end their suffering sooner?
JM: No. I can't say that ever flashed across me, people who [needed that]. Well, I've had them die in my arms, and so, they were dead. Twice, I had somebody shot in the back, paralyzed. To say, "Well, you know, maybe it would be better off if they were dead, rather than paralyzed from the throat on down," well, I never thought of that, because I don't know. Maybe somebody … can take the bullet out and be okay again. So, that never entered my mind. … If you're working in a hospital, you probably get more into that thing, because you see that, you know, this guy isn't going to make it. … The one that I stayed with that night, he was going to die, so, it wasn't a question of, "Well, you know, shall I slip him a pill and get it over with tonight or not?" He was going to do it tonight anyway, so, that never came up. … I never otherwise would have thought about it. Also, you have to remember, as a combat medic, there's never time to think of anything. That's the one thing, that … it was just, … "Boom, boom, boom," and it was doing things here or there. I dropped the one guy to go to another guy, so, you never got a chance to [say], "Well, now, shall I bandage it this way or that way?" It never happens and, by the time you think about it, it's the next day or it's all over with, but, … still, you did help somebody in some little way.
SH: Many of the men we interview discuss the boredom in-between battles.
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SH: You were talking about being extremely tired.
JM: Yes, well, again, [it was] one of those things of … not knowing what you're doing, because things aren't too good, but I was extremely tired. One time, we pulled back and we were on Clark Field and I went to sleep and woke up the next morning and everybody was talking about, "Boy, was that something," and I kept saying, "What was what something?" "The air raid," and I said, "What air raid?" and they said, "We had a terrible air raid," [laughter] and I said, "Well, didn't anybody wake me?" and they said, "No, we didn't." I just slept through the whole thing. This is how tired you can get at certain times when you don't get [any sleep] or you get those little catnaps in-between when you're trying to stay awake all night long. We always had, you know, two people and somebody would stay awake and somebody would go to sleep, but trying to do that, sometimes, it just doesn't work. You can't go to sleep for an hour, and then, wake up and be alert and so forth. …
SH: You discussed how the Japanese often attacked at night. Were there other instances that you recall?
JM: Well, I remember several of those, where they suddenly made noises, unbelievable. They were dragging metal cans or whatever it was, anything to get you riled up or get you to sit up, and one of the big things you did not do is get out of your hole at night during those attacks, because they could pick you off. You were better off being straight on down. I did have one experience where somebody came crawling over to me in the middle of one of these things, which was very dangerous. … I didn't know what the heck to do. At the time of it happening, I had my rifle there, ready to do something with it, and, at the last moment, I heard the words, "Doc, Doc," and so, I knew it was somebody who needed some help and was calling and he crawled in. There were two of us in the hole. He crawled in, laid on top of us and there wasn't anything I could do [for him] at the moment, because you couldn't get up to see what you were doing. … Those were scary types of things, at night, yes. …
SH: Did you have passwords and things like that?
JM: No. … You see it in the movies all the time. I remember, … at one time, somebody passed out one of these things, you know, "If you want to talk to somebody, use this," but I never saw it being used. Basically, if it was in the middle of the night, in the middle of an attack, you didn't say anything. …
SH: How did you get information when you were under attack?
JM: You didn't. … You used your common sense, if you want to call it that. I think I mentioned, at one point, somebody that I sent back because he had shot one of his own buddies. It was a very unfortunate [event], again, in the middle of … a night attack, and one of our men was hit with a grenade and it stunned him, or affected him in such a way that he went slightly crazy, if you want to call it that, in layman's language. … He jumped out of his hole and went running around, yelling. Well, in the middle of a night attack, you see somebody coming [and] yelling at you, you shoot him, and so, this unfortunate kid shot one of our own men, without knowing it. Now, it wasn't his fault; … talk about the friendly fire thing, that will happen and anybody would have done it. There was no way to find out, was he a friend or a foe? In the middle of a thing like that, the things that can happen are tremendous and horrendous, but there they are.
SH: The first hill you assaulted was Hill 200.
SH: How long did that take?
JM: Well, we never did take it. It wasn't until later; somebody else took it. We went on to a different place or tried to attack it from a different angle and didn't make it. Then, we went someplace else and, in the meanwhile, somebody else came up with that one. … According to the book and so forth, it shows that particular hill. It was finally taken, but not by us, after that first go around.
SH: How long were you there?
JM: Well, that was … something like a week that we were between those two areas, that we were fighting or trying to do it. We had air support at one point, which turned out to be not the greatest, because they kept dropping the bombs further and further back and they were getting closer to where we were, rather than the Japanese. [laughter] Again, modern day, now, that isn't going to happen. At that time, the only way to contact the plane was to send a message to the airport headquarters. They could contact the plane. Nowadays, you can talk to the plane direct. So, that took a little time, but … our company never took that particular hill. … Later on, they did.
SH: Are there any other stories that you would like to share with me before we end?
JM: I think I've covered pretty much all of the … wonderful things that happened.
SH: All right. Thank you very much for your time today.
JM: Okay, thank you.
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Reviewed by Edwin Robinson 9/30/2005
Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 10/11/2005
Reviewed by John Mayer 10/28/05