Shaun Illingworth: This begins an interview with Mr. Simon Liberman in Interlaken, New Jersey, on September 23, 2002, with Shaun Illingworth and …
Jennifer Esposito: Jennifer Esposito. First, I would like to thank you so much for letting us interview you for the project.
Simon Liberman: It's okay.
JF: I would like to begin by asking you a few questions about your family. I understand that your father was born in the Ukraine and your mother was born in Lithuania.
SL: That's right.
JF: Can you tell us about your parents and their immigration to the United States?
SL: Well, I think my father came over, had to be, I guess, two or three months before the end of World War I, which, I guess, would have been 1917 or so, and he, believe it or not, was drafted into the Army shortly after he arrived, … and I remember him saying that they trained in the streets of New York City, and three weeks after he started training, the war ended, and, of course, he got out of the service. I'm not sure the year that my mother came over, but, … I guess, it also had to be at around that time. They met; he was working in a grocery store in New York City, and that's where they met, and he used to deliver packages. My mother, actually, started working as a domestic, working for a family in New York, and then, ultimately, in Plainfield, and I remember a story she told, that when she was proposed to and was going to get married, the people whom she was working for, they had a chain of sporting goods stores, and they told her that she should not get married. They wanted to retain her. I guess, she was very good at cleaning things, [laughter] and [they told her] that my father was not reliable, and so forth, but, of course, they did get married. … My father ended up buying a little news store, news and magazines, in a bus terminal in Bound Brook, New Jersey, and that's where I grew up. My father was not a healthy man. He suffered from epilepsy and I still, you know, can recall him having a seizure. However, he lived to the age of seventy-eight. My mother only lived until she was sixty-three. She ended up always concerned [with] taking care of my father and neglecting herself. She ended up getting diabetes and, in the course of maybe three or four years, had both legs amputated, suffered from gangrene, and that was pretty much the end of my parents. My father had a heart condition, in addition to his epilepsy, but, he still lived to the age of seventy-eight, and I've made it that far, so, things can't be too bad. I grew up in Bound Brook, went through Bound Brook Elementary School, Bound Brook High School. I was active … actually, on the papers in grammar school, also high school. I was the sports editor of the Searchlight , the Bound Brook High School paper, and, also, started writing kind of professionally, at five cents an inch, for stories in the Plainfield Courier News and the Home News , covering a lot of the Bound Brook High School athletic events, football, basketball. As a matter-of-fact, I think the Courier News still owes me fifty cents. [laughter] By now, it's probably worth five hundred dollars, [laughter] and then, [I] was drafted into the Army. … Actually, when I was five years old, I was hit by a truck and suffered a fractured skull, and I was in a coma for almost two weeks, and … when I got out of high school, in 1943, I was helping my father in his little newsstand, and, I remember, he was very concerned that he needed me and didn't want me to go into the service, and he got a letter, got the doctor who treated me to write a letter, saying that I had a fractured skull and recommended that I not go into the service. However, when I went for the exam, everyone was being accepted and everything, and I never gave the authorities the letter, and so, I was accepted and went into the service, started at Fort Dix, and I hoped to be a bombardier, and I thought I qualified. However, this was in 1943, and, at that time, they had a tremendous amount of qualified individuals, and they automatically washed out a number of servicemen, out of the bombardier, navigator and pilot training. They were just automatically … [washed out], because they had a surplus of them, and they asked me which I would prefer, to go into the paratroopers or become a radio[man]-gunner on a bomber, and I chose radio-gunner and took, first, basic training … in North Carolina, Greensboro, North Carolina, and then, from there, I went to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for radio training, and, actually, believe it or not, built a radio. That was part of the training, [laughter] and then, gunnery school at Yuma, Arizona, and, at one point, when you were trained on the .50 caliber machine gun, you had to be able to take it apart blindfolded and with gloves, and I passed that test. However, during the war, I never shot the damned thing. [laughter] The radio-gunner, normally, would be used if someone else on the plane, one of the other gunners, was incapacitated, or wounded, or something like that, and, luckily, that never happened. I took the radio training at Sioux Falls, South Dakota, then, from there, Yuma, Arizona, flight training, then, Mountain Home, Idaho, where I met … the ten or so who were going to be on my crew and had flight training there with the crew. We trained at Mountain Home, Idaho, which was a base. I remember hitchhiking and going to Boise, Idaho, which was a real "go-go" town, at that time, population of fifty thousand, it's probably closer to three hundred thousand now, and you'd have no trouble hitchhiking. From Mountain Home, Idaho, we went to Lincoln, Nebraska, and had some training there, and then, Topeka, Kansas, and I remember our tail gunner, in Topeka, Kansas, who happened to … be married and have three children, ended up getting gonorrhea in Topeka, Kansas, and that held us up a little while. … From there, we were given instructions to fly to Europe, flew first to Grenier Field, New Hampshire, and I remember, there, out of the several hundred crews that flew at the same time, … when we got to Grenier, getting ready to land, we were supposed to radio back to Topeka, Kansas, that we had reached the destination, "We're about to land," and there were very few radio operators who were able to get through, and I was one of them, by accident. I don't know how, but, I was able to get through to Topeka, Kansas, and I remember, the crew thought I was a genius, because so few had gotten through. At Grenier Field, I remember, there was about twenty-six inches of snow, deep, and we had to take turns, we were there, I think, two or three nights, and … a couple of us had to guard the plane, and, of course, the plane wasn't heated, and I remember, with the waist gunner, trying to sleep in that plane, where the floor was metal, with blankets, and we almost froze to death, but, we survived that. From Grenier Field, … we flew to Labrador and I remember landing in the snow there. From Labrador, [we flew to] Greenland, and we were there one night, and then, from there to Iceland, and … another terrible amount of weather there. It's raining, snowing, sleeting, and we were held up, because of the weather, for seven or eight days in Iceland, and, from there, we flew to Prestwick, Scotland, and then, ultimately, to a little community, with a population of at least fifty, where our airbase was, in Attlebridge , England, in East Anglia, and, from there, we had a training mission, I remember, and, … when you flew, the navigator usually used radio navigation and would home in on a station, and on one of the training missions, I remember, we ended up flying over a section of France. Apparently, the Germans would put out false signals, and, if you homed in on one of them, you'd end up flying over to their area, but, luckily, we were able to work that out and got back to our base. That was before we started flying any missions. Altogether, I got over there in 1945, February 13th, and flew thirteen missions, which was enough, I guess, to end the war. The war ended after my thirteenth mission, and, when the war ended, … the war in Europe, that is, the war in the Pacific was still going on. I happened to have a pass, and I was in London and experienced the celebration, and I don't know if you've ever seen the picture of the Queen, Mary, of England, Elizabeth, Churchill, on the balcony of the palace, and then, a mass of people in Green Park; I was in that mass. I had a three-day pass, but, because of the celebration, all the trains and everything stopped running, and I couldn't get back to the base. The services extended all the passes for a couple of days, until busses and trains started running. I remember sleeping and almost freezing to death in one of the parks in London, because I had run out of money, [laughter] but, got back, and, you know, suffered no ill effects. At one point, during the war, I got some kind of virus, and my crew flew a mission that I missed, and, at that time, after you flew twenty-five missions, you were released to go back to the States, and … I wanted to go back when they went back, and I volunteered to fly two missions in one day, to catch up with them, and I did catch up with them, but, the war ended. … A number of times, you know, there was a lot of flak, and sometimes there were fighters, and I remember seeing some of the first missiles go off in France, as we flew over the Channel, and the only time when we … really got hit, we had about thirteen or fourteen holes in the plane, when we went on a mission to Perleberg, Germany, and, before each flight, you always had a briefing, and you were told the type of opposition you might run into, and, I remember, it was near the end of the war, and we were, like, a diversionary group. An English group was going to bomb Berchtesgarden , which was Hitler's haven there for awhile, and they told us, when we flew to Perleberg, that we shouldn't have any real opposition. "There are only women and children manning the artillery," and that's where we got the most hits. We had more than thirteen holes in the plane and the tail gunner caught a piece of flak in the sole of his shoe and felt heat there. He wasn't injured though, but, he did apply for a Purple Heart. [laughter] I'm not sure whether he got it, I don't remember, but, that's the only real danger, I guess, that I experienced. I remember, … usually, my position, the radio station, was directly behind the co-pilot, and right behind me were the bomb bay doors, and … I'd have a very good view of where the bombs were hitting, and, after each mission, … they would greet you, and they'd ask you questions and ask you to describe what you saw get hit, and I always remember, they gave us a shot of liquor, which I didn't like at that time. I got to like it as I got older, [laughter] but, … that was about my experience. … We arrived on the 13th of September, we got back the 13th of June, 1945. When I was reassigned to a barrack, that was number thirteen. Here, I've flown thirteen missions. [laughter] Everything came out thirteen and about several years later, at Monmouth Racetrack, I bet thirteen in the daily double and won 176 dollars. [laughter] So, thirteen has been a lucky number for me. Do you have any questions?
SI: Yes. Would it be all right if we could ask you a few more questions about your father?
SL: Yes, sure.
SI: Did your father ever tell you why he left Ukraine? Did it have anything to do with the war or the Communist Revolution?
SL: Well, … unfortunately, you know, I never questioned my parents about their parents and I wish I had, you know. I know that he left, mainly, I guess, for opportunity here, and, also, there was a lot of anti-Semitism there, and a great number, I guess, of Jewish people were trying to leave, and he had relatives who, I think, helped him come to the United States, the same with my mother. My father had four sisters and, when he left, he told them that he was going to get a job here and would bring them over to the United States. He actually was only able to bring one over. The other three ended up in Argentina, and, before he died, I remember, one of his sisters, who hadn't seen him in fifty years, came to the United States to visit, and she was here a week, … and she looked just like my father, and I remember her telling my father, "You promised me you were going to bring me to the United States. I'm still waiting." [laughter] By then, she was pretty well independent, financially, and, really, I don't think she wanted to live in the United States, but, I remember her telling him that. Another of his sisters also had a problem, had a leg amputated, I know, and, I remember, he bought an artificial limb for her, actually sent it to Argentina. I guess, my mother also came to the States, … you know, for opportunities. After she came to the States, she had a brother, and sister, and mother, I don't know about her father, and, I remember, she used to send clothing to them and, also, money to them. However, she always wrote to her sister, and her sister had three children, and they were part of the Holocaust. They were wiped out during the war. She never heard from her sister again and that's about what I knew about my parents. My mother worked very hard, you know, raising two children, taking care of the apartment we lived in, going through the Depression, and trying to help my father in this little stand. She used to have to relieve him, so [that] he could take a nap in the afternoon, and he used to work from, like, five-thirty in the morning until eleven o'clock at night in that stand, and used to wake me up Sunday morning to help him stuff the Sunday papers, you know, [which] came in several different sections. … My mother was very loving and very caring, and I remember, when she got gangrene the first time, … she said she would rather die than have her leg amputated, and I talked her into signing the release, and she had her leg amputated, and then, about two years later, the other leg had gangrene, and they took off that leg, and she died of a heart attack the next day, which was a blessing, in a way, but, she had worked so hard. I don't think she ever had a vacation. It was very difficult, and, you know, I look back and I think, "Boy, if she could see the way I live now, having a home in Interlaken and being able to spend my winters in Florida." … You know, you think about those things.
SI: As a child, was Yiddish or English spoken in your household?
SL: My parents could speak German and Polish and … I understood Yiddish a little bit. I knew all the curse words, [laughter] but, when they didn't want me to understand, they would talk Polish. I remember that. They rarely spoke Yiddish. Sometimes they spoke Yiddish to each other. My father was … an Orthodox Jew. He was very, very stubborn. My mother was not that strict and, at times, I can remember them having arguments. My father had a very bad temper, but, I learned some Yiddish. Some years ago, my wife and I went to Russia, and my father had a friend who had a brother in Moscow, and, I remember, the brother asked if we would try to go see him while we were in Moscow. … This was in the 1960s, and, while we were there, we had a guide, and we gave her the address. It turned out that the brother of my father's friend had moved from the address that we had, and the woman [that was living there], who apparently knew him, told us he had just moved three weeks earlier, and she doesn't know where he moved to. She spoke Yiddish and she tried to talk Yiddish to me, which I could hardly understand. My wife, Dorothy, could understand. … She's more of a linguist than I am, and I remember trying to talk to the woman in Yiddish, and my wife was laughing, saying, "You look and sound just like a Jewish comedian. [laughter] Quit trying to talk Yiddish." … We told her that we lived in New Jersey, not far from New York City, and she said, "Oh, New York City," she says, "they don't allow any Jews to live in New York City." I remember this Russian woman telling us that, and we told her, "No, New York City has a very large Jewish population," and she was so misinformed. At that time, though, Khrushchev was, I guess, prime minister, whatever, of Russia, and, I remember, that was a unique experience. At that time, the Russians … were mostly atheist, and, I remember, … you had to get into line to get to Lenin's Mausoleum in Moscow, and, I remember, the priests would go to the head of the line. They had special privileges, which, to me, I was surprised, and I remember, also, going to a puppet show in Moscow. This was also very memorable and it was … with live puppets. They were actors with strings, and what the skit was, it was all in Russian, which I really couldn't understand, naturally, but, it was about the Garden of Eden, a puppet show, and … that was memorable, and I also remember, which I thought was one of the wonders of the world, and you don't read anything about it, there was a museum there, and it was a simulation of the Battle of Borodino , which is where the Russians turned back Napoleon's army from Moscow's outskirts, and it was a panorama. It was a circular structure, and the diameter was probably, you know, two or three hundred feet, and all around, you walked around, … t here were simulated … cannons, dead soldiers, and there were something like two hundred thousand soldiers figures, some of which came out of the wall, figures, it was, like, three dimensional, and it was incredible, I thought, the way they were able to restore that, and, yet, you don't see any publicity about that. That was awfully memorable. I remember going to Moscow University, which was a skyscraper, the main building, and they had one elevator, and you had to wait a half-hour to get on that elevator, because everyone is waiting to get on that one elevator to go to a class. It was so poorly planned, but, that has, really, nothing to do with World War [II].
SI: It is very interesting.
SL: But, it's a good anecdote. [laughter]
SI: I have interviewed others who visited the Communist bloc in the 1960s. Often, they recall being followed.
SL: My wife felt that … they'd gone through her suitcase, and, also, … when we arrived from Paris, [of] all the passengers, you had to show your passport, you had to make out a form, and we were the last ones. We had to wait, maybe, an hour, an hour-and-a-half, before they cleared us, and I suspect because they knew that I was a journalist, at that time, and she thought that … one of her suitcases they had gone through, because she remembered where some of her underwear or something was, it seemed to be misplaced, and, I remember, the hotel we stayed at, which was the … Metropol Hotel, which is … right near the Kremlin, and it was not air conditioned, and this was in July. It had a beautiful chandelier, and there were all flies flying around that chandelier. We asked for another room, and they gave us another room, and it was the same thing, beautiful chandelier, flies flying all around the chandelier, and that was Moscow. … My wife loves caviar and most of the meals that we were able to get, … you could only get one fruit a day. They only had one fruit, like, one day, they'd have oranges, and … you could get an orange, and the next day, you might be able to get a plum or something like that, but, there was no fruit. We like a lot of fruit, but, she got her caviar for almost every meal, and, at that time, we were able to bring back, it was very inexpensive, … as souvenirs, like, for sixty cents, you can get jars about an inch-and-a-half high of caviar, and we brought back a lot of that. … At that time, when you went to Russia, you had to go through Intourist. [It] was a government owned tourist agency. You had to pay in advance, and we, originally, were going to go for eight days, and, when we arrived, it was rainy, muddy, very unpleasant, and every day that we were there, it was cloudy, and we decided to leave after five days. … I'd like to go back. … There was a Russian professor who was an economics expert in Russia and he had recommended some capitalistic procedures to modernize the economy in Russia. I remember Time magazine had him on the cover. … His name was Liberman, spelled the same way as we spelled it, and before I went there, I remember writing him a letter. My father said he looked like a relative [laughter] and had the same chin and I figured I'd write him a letter and ask him if I could interview him. He thought it would make an interesting story, and I got a handwritten letter back, which I still have, and in it, he says that he would not be available. He was going to be on holiday, on the Baltic Sea somewhere, wouldn't be able to see me, … and he also lived in the Ukraine and taught at, I think, Kharkov University, or somewhere like that, and he said that, as far as he knows, none of his Jewish relatives have ever immigrated to the United States, so, we could not be related. So, that was the end of that. I never did get to meet or see him. That was my Moscow experience, in the mid '60s, but, coming from Paris to Moscow was so depressing, but, the subways, I remember, were very, very clean, very ornate. … We also went to the Bolshoi Ballet, and I remember sitting in a box, and … we saw Swan Lake, and there was a woman there who must have been a teacher or something, and with the music, in the box, she kept moving her hands, both hands, keeping time to the music. It's funny, you know, the unusual things you remember, but, always, when I think of the Bolshoi Ballet, I still see her, [laughter] keeping time to the music. … [We have] done a lot of traveling. I've gone back to my base in Europe. The first time we went back was in 1963, went back with my two children, Dottie, and we drove from London to Norwich, which is about eighty miles from where the base was, and, I remember, Attlebridge, at that time, was not on any of the maps. I remember, we stayed at an old hotel, called the Old Maid's Hotel, in Norwich, England, and wanted to see the base, and kept trying to find where Attlebridge is, and, finally, the concierge at the hotel found an old map, and that old map had Attlebridge on it. He looked it up and he says, "There's only fifty residents there," and it turned out that … the airbase where I was stationed in England was … then the largest turkey farm in Europe, the Bernard Mathews Turkey Farm, and I remember calling up Bernard Mathews, the owner, telling him that we'd like to visit the base. This was in 1963. He told me that, normally, he'd love to have us visit the base, however, the turkeys were in quarantine and they're not allowing any visitors. So, after driving on the left side of the highway, for a normal trip that would take, maybe, four hours and took us close to six hours, I couldn't get to the base. That was in 1963. However, when I retired in 1989, a couple of months after, we went back, and, fortunately, there are some English people who make themselves available as volunteers to take returning airmen back to the base. There was a guy by the name of Ted Clark, whom we met, he and his wife, and he volunteered to drive us to the base. I was happy not to drive again and we did go there. However, I didn't see a turkey. They were all in enclosed long sheds. They didn't allow us to see the turkeys. Ted Clark said, at that time, that they probably wouldn't want us to see the turkeys, because there were a lot of environmentalists contending that this turkey farm was not treating the turkeys humanely, I guess. … So, we never did see any of the turkeys, but, I did see the broken up runway, did see what was the headquarters of the … 466th Bombardment Group, which was the group I was in. That was now a house with four bedrooms, owned by a very, very friendly, charming woman by the name of Kathy Thomson, I remember, who gave me a huge print of a B-24, which is the plane that I flew in, and said that … anytime we come, she's willing to show us around, and the Quonset hut, where we used to have our briefings, was now where she had kept her pigs. It was a farm, a four-and-a-half acre farm that she had there, and she kept her pigs and tools in what used to be our briefing room. We did not drive back to London. [laughter] We ended up leaving the car there and taking a train back. I didn't want to drive again. … Another reason why, at that time, they were doing an awful lot of street work in London and, normally, it might take you twenty minutes or half an hour to get out of London, took me an hour-and-a-half, … because of all the detours and everything to get out of London. This was in 1990. So, it was a lot easier taking that train back. …
JE: When you were growing up in Bound Brook, did you live in a Jewish community? Were there many other Jews in your neighborhood?
SL: No, … it was not a Jewish community. There were, I am not sure how many Jewish families. … My parents belonged to the synagogue, and, I remember, on the holidays, going to the synagogue. My father would tell me when to stand up and when to sit down, [laughter] and it was all in Hebrew. In later years, now, the services in most of the Conservative, and maybe even the Orthodox, is part English and part Hebrew, because not everyone understands Hebrew in the States. Although I did have training, I never really learned to interpret Hebrew. It was just enough to be bar mitzvahed, which I was, but, I have not been a pious Jew. I'm proud of being Jewish, and I've gone to Israel a couple [of] times, but, … we don't belong to a synagogue or anything, and my son was bar mitzvahed. My daughter did not want to take the training and we kind of waived the requirement that she do so. Maybe we shouldn't have, but, we did. In the town that I grew up in, I'd say there's a small Jewish community there, very small. Bound Brook, at that time, I would say probably a third of the population was Italian, and it was very, very famous for a place called (Cheech's?), and they made the best pizzas in New Jersey, [laughter] at that time. … Whenever I would tell someone I was from Bound Brook and they did not live in Bound Brook, they'd say, "Oh, Cheech's," [laughter] you know, "we go to Cheech's," and I guess it had to be about ten years ago, I had told my wife that this place was so great, and we went back there, I guess, in 1990. … It still was there ten years or so ago and the pizza wasn't any[thing] special. It was comparable to Dominos. It wasn't nearly [as good]. At that time, there weren't many pizza parlors, but, this was … a place where almost everyone went … growing up. This had to be in the 1930s, early '40s. … I had a number of very close friends in Bound Brook, two of them especially, both of whom have passed away. One of them had diabetes and died in his thirties and another one, who actually had the IQ of a genius, who ended up, after the war, serving in Japan, came back, and had a series of nervous breakdowns, and was in and out of institutions, and, ultimately, died of a stroke, … and, I remember, we had to take an exam in, I guess, maybe, grammar school, and I remember [hearing] the teacher say, his name was Howard Seff, that Howard Seff, out of a hundred thousand who took it, … he was the only one who got everything right, out of a hundred thousand. The guy was extremely bright, but, had mental problems. Of my crew, there's only one, besides myself, … survivor, out of ten or eleven who flew with us, that I know of. … In the past ten years, maybe ten or twelve years ago, I tried to track down the others … through the Veterans Administration. Just about all of them had passed away and maybe about five years ago, the pilot, his name was Richard Lester, he was still alive, and our bombardment group, the 466th, had a reunion, the fiftieth anniversary of the bombardment group, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the three of us, at that time, there were three survivors, the pilot, myself, and the waist gunner, Larry Baker, and we met there. I hadn't seen the pilot since we'd gotten out of the service, and, I remember, he told me he was going to meet us at the airport, and he'd be wearing a red cap, and he did. He picked us up at the airport, we went to the hotel, and we had the greatest time, the three of us and our wives, and we just laughed for three or four consecutive days, and the irony is that we all had different memories. We couldn't agree on anything, like, the waist gunner said, "We flew fourteen missions." I said, "No, we only flew thirteen," and then, the pilot would say, you know, "Remember when we flew over to Iceland, we had all that liquor on the plane, and the ground crew stole our liquor?" "I don't remember any of that, you know. [laughter] That didn't happen." Then, he said that we actually left the United States from Maine and I said, "No, we left from Grenier Field, New Hampshire." Yes, we all had these conflicting memories. … This is what you guys have to look forward to [laughter] when you get into your sixties or seventies, … but, we had a great time. We just laughed, and I still keep in touch, by e-mail, with the waist gunner, who, ironically, was an architect for one of the largest architectural firms in the world, Austin and Company, and … one of their specialties was building newspaper plants, and they had a thousand architects. He was one of the thousand and he still does some moonlighting as an architect. … Whenever we get together, we laugh … and he lives in Chardon, Ohio. We went to his fiftieth wedding anniversary and had a great time, and then he came to visit us in Interlaken, and, at the time, I had a garden, and he said he never saw such tall tomato plants in his life. At the time, my tomato plants were about eight or nine feet high. This year, I'm lucky if I can get two feet out of them, because of the drought, but, it's been interesting. … Some of the missions were long that we flew. I remember, … we bombed Berlin; flying over, almost everything was destroyed, so, there hardly was anything left to bomb, and, I remember, I guess it had to be, maybe, in 1990, … after I retired, we went back to Europe, and we went to Berlin for the first time. The wall had just come down, within the year, and, I remember, we went on a tour. We had a private car, … and, I remember, the guide, a German, asked if we had ever been to Germany before, and my wife got very nervous. She thought I was going to tell him that, here, we've been bombing, during the war, and I said, "No, but, I've flown over it." [laughter] … We went to Potsdam, East Berlin, and my wife bought a piece of the wall that had just come down. I did a story on a rabbi in Berlin, and he was upset. He was worried that if Germany unified, it has this history of anti-Semitism, and, at the time …
… The rabbi where the synagogue was, there was no sign, nothing. There just was a door, with number thirteen on it.
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SL: We had a good time in Berlin. I didn't have any ill problems or anything there, although you kind of feel funny. One time I'll never forget, being Jewish and having read [about] and actually lost relatives in the Holocaust, you wonder about these things. My wife and I were in Austria. She wanted to go to the new wine area, and, I remember, we went to a restaurant, and everybody there looked German, and they had a German band there. I guess this had to be before 1990, maybe in the early '80s, and I remember feeling very uncomfortable that there are all these Germans, and here's this German band, and, all of a sudden, the German band started playing Jewish songs, Hava Nagila and all these things. I was so shocked. [laughter] So, you know, probably, they weren't Nazis or whatever. …
SI: When you were living in Bound Brook, were you aware of any Bund activity?
SL: Not Bund activities, but, Ku Klux Klan activities. I remember reading about the Bund and Father Coughlin, who was anti-Semitic, and, also, I remember reading about Lindbergh, who was very pro-German at the time, but, I do remember that being pointed out. There was a cemetery in Bound Brook, not far from where we lived, and I remember people telling me that the Ku Klux Klan used to have rallies there during the late '20s and early '30s, but, there wasn't any evidence of it, and growing up in Bound Brook, you know, I had all kinds of friends, and I never had … any problems. One of my closest friends wasn't Jewish. We were very, very close, but, I don't remember having … any problems. My biggest problem was finding a good date in those times. [laughter] I used to have to hitchhike to Plainfield and New Brunswick, [laughter] and, in those days, you know, you could hitchhike, and there wasn't any problem. My wife … lived in Newark at the time. I used to hitchhike to Newark when we first started going together. … I had no problems. Those were interesting times.
SI: Can you tell us a little bit about your education in Bound Brook? What were your favorite subjects?
SL: … I always got As in English. Probably, my worst subject was algebra. I think, one time, I got a D in algebra and, actually, I was probably a B student, also at Rutgers. I wasn't Phi Beta Kappa, but, I was also working. At the time, I was also helping to support my family, while I was going to Rutgers. In addition, … under the GI Bill, if you … were needed by your family, or helping to support your family, the government also gave you, I don't remember how much it was, an extra so much, maybe an extra thirty dollars a month, or something like that, and, at the time, I was helping my father in his store, I was working part-time, in a haberdashery store, and I was writing for the Newark Star Ledger and going to Rutgers. … I used to have to work Thursday afternoon, Friday afternoon, and all day Saturday, and the store I worked for, a haberdashery store, they were very good to me. … I was writing for the Star Ledger at that time, and they would let me, Saturday afternoon, go cover the Rutgers football games, and they still would pay me, which was very, very considerate of them. … You wonder how you get through all that, growing up. … I had a lot of good friends, but, I worked at an early age. … I told you, I was hit by a truck when I was five years old, and, I remember, we sued the company, it was a Sherwin-Williams Paint Company … truck that hit me, and I think my father got the expenses for the hospital, and I got fifteen hundred dollars, and, when I got out of the service, I still had that fifteen hundred, plus a little interest, but, every cent of that I spent on my mother's medical bills, so, I couldn't use it. If I had to go to college, I'd have to work my way through, but, luckily, thank God for the GI Bill. You know, it's unfortunate that, instead of worrying about Iraq, … they couldn't devote some of that money and resources for educating young people in the United States. We'd be a hell of a lot better off.
SI: Was college a priority for you when you were in high school?
SL: Oh, yes. I always knew I was going to go to college. I wasn't sure how, but, because I was in the service, and my parents could never have afforded to send me to college, even though … my father had this little stand I used to work there. During the Depression, I couldn't get a dime to go to the movies. My parents couldn't pay the mortgage, and the bank foreclosed, and we ended up in an apartment. To make ends meet, my parents rented out a room in the apartment. I remember, some of my friends became Boy Scouts, and I wanted to join the Scouts, and it cost fifty cents to join the Scouts. My father said he didn't have the fifty cents to give me and I was so heartbroken that I … never joined the Scouts. … Another tragedy in my life was, when I was in grammar school, I won the public speaking contest, and I went out for the drama club in high school, and I figured, "Well, all I'm going to have to do is recite this poem that I won the contest with and, boy, I'm going to be in the dramatic club." I recited the poem as well as I did winning the contest, but, I wasn't admitted to the drama club. [laughter] I lost out and, I remember, I was so shocked and surprised when I thought it was really going to be a shoe in, that and the Boy Scouts, these are two things I never got over. …
JE: Were you in high school when Pearl Harbor was attacked?
SL: Oh, yes. I was … in my senior year, no, … that was '41. … I had just gone to the movies in New Brunswick. At that time, the RKO Theater, on Livingston Avenue, I'd gone to that theater, and I remember coming out of the theater, Sunday afternoon. … We went to … a little hamburger joint, the one in Eatontown, what's the name of the one? White Castle. There was a White Castle there, and I went to White Castle … when I came out of the movies, … at that time, the Dodgers and the Giants were supposed to play a football game, professional football, and I remember asking one of the service people at the White Castle, "Who won the game?" and he says, "What do you mean, 'Who won the game?'" He said, "You know that they bombed Pearl Harbor. The Japs bombed Pearl Harbor." "Where is that? Is that in the United States?" You know, I didn't even know and that's how I learned about Pearl Harbor. I remember going home, and then, I guess the next day, Roosevelt made his speech, and I was … very interested in the war, and I've always been interested in the news, and, you know, followed things closely.
JE: Did you think, at the time, that the war would affect you directly later on?
SL: Well, yes, I think it affected us all, because, you know, … we didn't have a car, but, gasoline was rationed, food was rationed. You couldn't get a certain type of food. You could only get so much sugar a week or butter a week … and it was, you know, … tough for a lot of people, … but, there was tremendous, just like after 9-11, … patriotism, and people were willing to do anything for the war effort, and I don't think there was an awful [problem]; there was black market, you know. People would pay extra for gas and so forth, but, I don't think it was real [widespread], at least I didn't observe that it was very widespread. … Of course, when we bombed Tokyo for the first time, everyone was so happy, and we were finally getting ready to be on the road back to victory, but, it was amazing what this country was able to do to build all the planes, to train all the men. I remember, when we got to England, seeing people sleeping in the subway stations, you know, beds there, because they had been bombed out of their homes, or couldn't return to their homes, and I also remember, when we first got to England, we were at a place called Stone, England, and, at that time, the Germans were using buzz bombs. They were sending over these unmanned drones that would hit targets, and they ordered everyone out to the planes, and we were ordered out to the planes, but, there was no ammunition in the planes, and I couldn't understand, you know, … I thought about it, it was so stupid. Why? That's what they would be bombing. That would be the targets. Why would they send us to the planes? You know, they would want us to be in a secure area. There's no ammunition on the planes, at that time, and, yet, they ordered us all out to the planes, which, you know, didn't make sense at all, … and, you know, some people say the only reason we won the war [was] because the Germans did stupider things than we did, [laughter] some of that may be true.
SI: You followed the events in Europe and Japan closely before you entered the service.
SL: Oh, yes, very, very closely, very closely. I remember D-Day in 1944. I remember all the appeals for D-Day, for opening up a second front in Germany, and I figured, sooner or later, that I'd be in the service. I thank God that I was, because I learned a hell of a lot and I was able to travel. Who would ever be able to go to Europe and experience the things I experienced? Of course, the greatest challenge was always meeting an attractive girl, [laughter] and, I remember, there was one dancehall in Norwich, England, that I used to go to, and it was called the Samson and Hercules Hall, and we called it "Muscles Hall," [laughter] I remember, Samson and Hercules. I remember going there, and then, when we went back in 1990, I went looking for it and saw it, and it was then a disco hall, but, there were still young people outside, waiting to get in, and it was like going back forty years. It was interesting. … When we went back, … I said we drove, and we stayed at a modern hotel on the outskirts of Norwich. Norwich is a very interesting city. It's the largest city in East Anglia, and it has a church that was built, I think, in the twelfth or thirteenth century, has an interesting museum, and … Norwich itself had a lot of bomb damage during the war, and, I remember, when we first arrived in Norwich and we're driving toward our base, I was in the same truck with the pilot, and he looked around at all the destruction, and he says, "Boy, they must have big termites here." [laughter] … When we got to the base, they had issued us great watches, which I should have kept, they issued us a .45 revolver, also, they issued us a little kit with … fishing equipment. In case you got shot down, you could fish [laughter] over the water. I still have the fishing kit, up in a closet somewhere, and a number of the men … kept their .45 revolvers, but, I turned mine in. … Coming into the barracks, we used to have little British kids who would come in to pick up your dirty clothes, and their mothers would do the laundry for you. I had kept the gun in a footlocker at the foot of the bed, and I was always afraid one of those kids would take the gun and might injure himself, so, I turned it in. I was afraid to have that gun around, and, I remember, when we flew, we used to have to wear flak suits, and, also, … at first, when we first started to fly, we wore these sheepskin jackets and sheepskin pants, and then, they developed these electric suits that you could wear, very thin, they were like satin, with, like, little wires, almost like some of the blankets now, heated blankets, and we wore those. … When you're flying twenty, twenty-two thousand feet, the temperature is thirty, forty below zero, in the winter, … but, with these electrified suits, you were reasonably comfortable. The plane wasn't heated or anything and, of course, the side windows were open, so [that] the guns could fit outside. I also was trained, the way it worked with the radio-gunner, you'd man the radios, you got the weather reports and things like that, and, if anyone was injured or incapacitated, then, … you manned his .50 caliber machine gun, whether it was in the turret or whether it was in the waist of the plane, but, fortunately, I never had to man one. Although, I did see, this was near the end of the war, when the Germans were using jet fighter planes, and there was a Messerschmitt , a jet plane, chasing after a P-47, which was an American plane, and everybody was shooting. We used to fly in formations, maybe twenty or twenty-five planes at a clip, and, I remember, everybody was shooting at this German plane, and they hit the American plane, and the American plane exploded. You know, they didn't hit the German plane. They hit the American plane and I saw that, which was shocking. … We always flew with escorts, with fighter planes. You'd see them off on the side, and one thing I remember, coming back once, … we were flying just off Hanover, Germany, the American planes, the Eighth Air Force, would fly during the day and the British Royal Air Force would be at night, and we were coming back at dusk, … it was just getting dark, and we were flying at twenty thousand or more feet, and I remember seeing flames and smoke coming up from Hanover that was … higher than our plane, and I don't know what the British had hit, but, they … must have hit an oil depot or something, but, I remember seeing flames and smoke that was above our plane. Another thing that the Germans did, they would put up, like, a mist over a strategic area, but, then, they would put up a mist over the woods or something, and you'd think that was a strategic area and that's where, you know, you'd drop your bombs, and, I remember, the orders usually were that if you couldn't get through to your … primary and secondary target, … by radar, you'd pick up the highest area, which would probably be the buildings of a city, and that's where you would drop your bombs. So, there … wasn't much precision bombing and, … even now, when they talk about being able to drop a bomb in a rain barrel, I believe that's a lot of bologna. There's an awful lot of bombs, you never know which way the wind is blowing, how it's going to affect the bombs, and I don't know that the equipment is sophisticated enough to predict which way the wind is going to be blowing. So, there has to be a lot of collateral damage, you know, I mean, not collateral damage, but, damage to innocent people, and I think there was a lot of that during World War II, on both sides, and, you know, when you think back now, … we were dropping these bombs and killing maybe women and children, not that they're any more precious than the soldier or anything, but, these people are innocent. A lot of people, you know, they didn't vote for Hitler or didn't have any say, and here we are, killing them, and that goes on century after century, unfortunately.
SI: What types of targets were you sent after, oil fields, industrial centers, etc.?
SL: They were usually industrial centers, submarine [bases]. I remember, we flew to Heligoland, and that was a submarine base, and we bombed Heligoland, and, I remember, even that, you know, it was near the end of the war when I got over, but, you know, there were so many bomb craters you already saw. Germany was really devastated. … The Americans were sending over a thousand planes a day to bomb different targets. The British were sending over maybe almost that many planes, too, at night. So, they took a terrible, terrible beating. You know, now, when you think [about] the wholesale bombing of Dresden, you know, they fired the whole city, and we used, I forgot the type of bombs, they called them firebombs. … We had firebombs on our plane. We dropped those. Of course, then, you thought, "Good, you're killing these people who are our enemies," but, now, when you look back, I'm more of a pacifist now. You don't always think the same way.
SI: It sounds as though your crew was very close, since you volunteered for an extra mission to remain with them. Can you tell us a little bit about each member?
SL: … The pilot, he was from California, his name was Richard Lester, and he had done some commercial flying before the war, … and, I remember, he smoked. Every five minutes, he had a cigarette in his mouth, and I never really smoked, and the co-pilot, he was a real handsome, Robert Redford looking guy. His name was Bartuska and he was from Chicago. He was very quiet, not outgoing at all. The navigator, his name was Kroll, and he was from the Midwest, I don't remember, exactly, where. … The tail gunner, he was the one with the three children who ended up getting gonorrhea. He was from New York, Frank Penkowski, and he died fairly early. … One [was] from Tennessee and he was the old man on the crew. His name was Wilson Hamilton. He was all of twenty-seven years old. He was the oldest one on the crew, and, I remember, he always seemed tired, and he had this Southern accent. He operated a gun turret just to the left of where my radio position was, and, I remember, he would stand behind the pilot, right next to where my station was. I remember, one time, seeing him, while we were flying on a mission, he's standing up with his eyes closed. He seemed as though he was sleeping. [laughter] That was Wilson Hamilton, from Tennessee. Then, there was Fred Bennett. He was from Shreveport, Louisiana, with a Southern accent. He was the engineer on the crew. All of a sudden, while flying, we started losing altitude, and no one seemed to know what was happening. He went into the bomb bay area, and, just as suddenly, the plane righted itself, and I remember asking him, "What did you do? What did you do?" and he [said], "Damned if know, I didn't do anything." [laughter] Here, I thought he had saved our lives. He said he didn't do anything, but, the plane righted itself. Another time, when we were flying, this was, I think, out of … Lincoln, Nebraska, we had flown, actually, like, a practice mission to Texas and back to Nebraska, and the light indicator on the, I guess, like, the plane dashboard did not come on, which indicated that the landing gear did not go down. I remember getting the intercom message from the pilot, "Everybody get ready for a crash landing," and we had to get down, like, on the floor, and cross our legs, and put our hands behind our head, and get ready for a crash landing. Well, the plane made a perfect landing. [laughter] It was just that the light didn't work. That happened in the States, but, outside of that, we really didn't have many problems. We were very lucky. I remember, when I flew that extra mission, which was to Essen, one of the main officer pilots, his plane got shot down on that mission. Essen was … a frequent target. That was one of their industrial areas, and there was quite a bit of flak there, but, … it wasn't a terribly long mission. So, I was able to do two in one day. I remember, … they would have dances on the base, and the English girls would come to the dances, and … you'd always, you know, go into town hoping that you would meet someone and come back with a good date. … On V-E Day, when they had this massive celebration, you know, people were so happy that the war ended, they were climbing the utility poles and drinking, and they were on top of these double-decker busses, celebrating. It really was fantastic, and, I remember, when I ran out of money, I had met a girl, actually, she was a very attractive girl, and she also, because the busses had stopped running, couldn't get back to where she lived, and, I remember, we were both in the park together, and this was in May, first week of May, probably the 7th or the 8th of May, and it was very cold, and there were fires all around. … Others were sleeping in the park, and, I remember, … I had been in touch with her, and I was going back to the States, and she said, "You know, if you'd do me a great favor, when you get back to the States, if you can send me a pair of nylon stockings." [laughter] She wanted nylon stockings and, when I got back to the States, I remember buying three pairs and sending them to her. I never got a goddamned thank you. [laughter] She probably was married by then, I don't know.
SI: Can you take us through the details of your first mission, what you did and how you felt?
SL: Well, … I don't remember which one, really, was the first one. See, now, the waist gunner, he has a list of every mission. I didn't keep that good [a record], although I did keep a diary, but, a lot of times, … I was not very reliable. I would skip days and so forth, but, I usually put in the diary about the girl that I met, or something like that, more than the missions, [laughter] … but, the mission, the way it usually went, they would get you up in the morning, they'd wake you up, and it usually was around five or five-thirty. Then, you would go to a briefing. There would be an officer who would, then, tell you where you were going, and they would give you an indication of the target that you were going to be hitting, whether it was a refinery, or whether it was a factory, or whatever, and they would also tell you whether they're likely to have fighter interceptors or just artillery. They weren't always right, and … there always was a minister, or a couple of ministers, and a number of the men would say their prayers with them before they went on a mission, and we'd go out to the plane, and then, you'd take off. When you came back, as I explained earlier, they'd give you the shot of liquor, which I remember, and then, they would … show you a picture of the site, and they'd ask you, "Where do you think the bombs hit?" One time, coming back from a mission, I always had the bomber code, … it was hardcover, but, inside were pages, and it had the code that you were using for your radio messages, and it also had, in case you were shot down or had to land in enemy territory, about how to get in touch with the underground [in] different areas, and, … when I flew, I always had possession of that bomber code. Somehow, on one of the missions, I came back without the bomber code, and I thought it was lost. I remember, because it was lost, they restricted the whole base. Nobody could leave the base, and the restriction lasted a few hours. Then, one of the ground crew members, apparently, who was servicing the plane, found the bomber code on the plane. So, they lifted the restriction, but, it was all my fault. I don't know what I did with the darned thing, but, I misplaced it, and that was a little nerve-wracking, and I also remember, before we were going to go overseas, we were either in Topeka or Lincoln, Nebraska, and a very good friend of mine, whom I had gone through radio school with and gunnery school, … he came from Illinois, and his parents were coming to see him before [he left]. He was leaving for overseas. However, before we were to leave, … you were normally restricted to the base. You couldn't leave, and he wasn't going to be able to see his parents, who had come from Illinois to see him. I let him have my pass, [laughter] so [that] he could sneak out of the base and be with his parents on his last night before leaving. … I wasn't going to leave for a few days yet. Another incident that I always remember [is], when I was in radio school, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, there was a seeded area, and you weren't allowed to walk on a seeded area, and there was a pathway through the seeded area, and I remember seeing a sergeant, at the time, I was a private, then, … walk through this path, and I was crossing the street, and I started to follow [him]. I was going to go on this path when, all of a sudden, a captain saw me and he says, "Hey, Soldier." He calls me over and he says, "You were heading for that seeded area. You were going to walk on that seeded area." I said, "Well, I was following the sergeant. I was going to walk on that path." He says, "Well, … I'm going to restrict you to the base." He says, "What do you want? You could have the Eighth Article or be court-martialed." The Eighth Article, … I guess, of War, or whatever it was, was, you could be restricted to the base for eight days. So, I was afraid of being court-martialed. Here I was, I wasn't even on the area, and he asked me whether I want to be court-martialed, and I said, "You know, … he was walking across that path. I was just going to follow him, that sergeant," and the Captain tells me, "Well, you were going to walk on that path, weren't you?" and I said, "Yes, but, I didn't," and he said, "Well, murder in the heart is the same as committing murder," and I said, "You know, well, Captain, when I came into the service, I wanted to kill two hundred Japanese, but, that doesn't mean I should get the Congressional Medal of Honor." [laughter] He got mad, and he said, "You're restricted; take the Eighth Article," and I took the Eighth, but, then, after, I think, three or four days, he lifted it, … and then, when I told other officers that, they said the guy had to be crazy, that I should have challenged him and said, "Court-martial me." There are crazy things.
SI: Did you see many officers who followed the rules too closely?
SL: No, I just saw him. I remember one commanding officer, … I don't know whether this was in Sioux Falls, and he was always riding around on a horse, like Napoleon or something, [laughter] you know. Some of them … had tremendous egos, as a lot of us have, I guess. I remember, … you know, there were no blacks. I never … saw any blacks on any crews. … Of course, now, it's different. … I don't know if it was [at] Sioux Falls, … I remember seeing a black officer, I was so surprised, and I saluted him, and I figured, you know, that guy probably deserved a salute more than most of the other white ones, because imagine what he had go through to get a commission. I remember, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, there was a very well known tennis player by the name of Don Budge, you've probably never heard of him, and he had this fantastic looking car, a sports car, and it always was parked outside the theater, and I used to go look at that car. It was called the Cord, … fantastic sports car. He was a very prominent tennis player. Also, although I never saw him, … Jimmy Stewart, the actor, visited our base a couple of times. Those who saw him always … felt so good. He flew combat missions and, probably, could have gotten out of it. I remember, one time, Glenn Miller, [who], at that time, was a very famous bandleader, played at our base. He was lost in a plane and I think, to this day, they don't really know what happened. He was on a plane and it just disappeared. … I'm glad you came; I can think back on some of these things that I might have forgotten. [laughter]
SI: When you entered the Air Corps, did you feel as though it was a glamorous service?
SL: Yes, yes. Oh, my heart would beat every time I heard the Air Corps [song], "Off we go, into the wild, blue yonder," the song; oh, yes, I'd get a thrill out of that. Yes, I wanted to fly. I wanted to be a bombardier, but, everybody was washed out. There must have been, maybe, a list. Another time, … you know, I used to get sick just riding in a car; I'd get carsick. Looking at waves, I could get nauseous, when I was real young, and, when I was in gunnery school, we had to fly a practice mission and had to shoot the .50 caliber machine guns. At the tips of the .50 caliber bullets, they had different colors, so that they could identify your hits. … You'd be aiming at a plane that was towing this huge, big white, like, blanket, and you'd be aiming at that blanket, and, because of the painted tips of the bullets, you could tell who got the hits, and, I remember, mine was blue, the tips. It was real hot. The planes were not air-conditioned. This was Yuma, Arizona, temperature over a hundred degrees, and I was very nauseous. I was trying to throw up, and we had, like, these little, thin helmets that we wore, and I remember taking that helmet, and trying to throw up, and, also, trying to shoot the damned .50 caliber machine gun, while being nauseous and everything. The next day, in the mess hall, they had a list of all who had the hits, and I was, like, in the top three or four. Here, I was so sick; [laughter] probably, if I was well, I would have missed it. … I was so shocked, but, after that, you know, I never got nauseous or anything, but, I remember, I … really felt sick. I remember, [in] Yuma, Arizona, you'd see a lot of Indians sitting on the street. I've never gone back to Yuma. … After the war, the war in the Pacific had not yet ended, … after coming back from Europe, they sent me to Clovis, New Mexico, which was a B-29 base, a training base, and, at the time, both my parents were in pretty bad shape, my mother with her diabetes, my father with the epilepsy and heart condition. I remember going to an officer, at the time, I was a staff sergeant, … and asking if I could be transferred to a base near New Jersey, because both my parents were sick, and he said he couldn't work it out. On the way out, I remember, there was, like, I guess, a master sergeant. … In order to see the officer, I had to check with him. He knew why … I was there, and he calls me over, he says, "Can you be ready to ship out in twenty-four hours?" I said, "Yes." He says, "Because we have a cadre going to Westover Field, Massachusetts." I was so delighted. Massachusetts was so close, it's closer, to New Jersey and I said, "Can I do anything for you?" He said, "Buy me a cigar." [laughter] So, I bought him a cigar, and he got me on that cadre going to Westover Field, Massachusetts, near Springfield, Massachusetts, and, from there, I was able to hitchhike home, … and then, ultimately, I had enough points. … They released you at different intervals, after you reached [a certain level of points]. You got so many points for being overseas, so many points for being in the service, and I think I had eighty some points, and, when it got down to eighty, I was discharged in November of 1945, and, I remember, they asked me, would I like to be in the Reserve? I think you could get twenty dollars a month, or something like that. I said, "No, I don't think I want to be in Reserve." The only thing I kind of regret, … I didn't hear well, then, with my left ear, and, … when I got out of the service, and it probably was from all the noise, the guns and everything else, … I should have told them, and I never did, and the hearing in my left ear [was poor]. On a one-to-one basis, I don't have any problem, but, if I'm in a crowded room, … I don't hear well. Had I told them, I might have gotten a small pension or something, but, I didn't tell them, but, I should have, because my hearing, really, after that, when I got out of the service, was not good. I have a hearing aid, but, I never got used to wearing it, and I don't use it. … I just was tested again, and he told me that I should wear the hearing aid all the time, but, on a one-to-one basis, I don't have much trouble, and it's just my left ear. So, usually, I try to sit on the right of someone. [laughter]
SI: Can you describe for us what it was like to fly in a B-24? I have read that it was very cold, crowded, and noisy, not at all like flying in an airplane today.
SL: … I used to have a window to my right, where we could look out, and I could see the other planes that were flying. Of course, it was cold, and it was always fifteen, twenty, thirty degrees below zero when you reached the altitude, and we usually flew twenty to twenty-two or twenty-three thousand feet. … No, it wasn't comfortable, it was crowded, and I had my little station with the radio, and it was called the liaison set, the radio that I had, and … there was another radio that they used for navigation. However, my wife tells me that I cannot tune in a radio properly [laughter] when I try to tune in a commercial radio, but, yes, the noise was so ear splattering. …
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SL: … We had these microphones that you wore around your neck and you could call, you know, to the pilot or anyone else on the crew. I remember, one time, when we were flying over to Europe, they had … automatic pilot on the plane, and they just could set it, and it would fly the course they set it at. I always sat behind the … co-pilot, and there was a barrier, the radios. I couldn't see the co-pilot, but, I could see the pilot, and we're flying, and I noticed that the pilot's sleeping. I look up at the co-pilot and he's sleeping. They're both sleeping and here we are, flying over the Atlantic Ocean. We're either going to Greenland or Iceland, I don't remember where, and I had to go wake them up. [laughter] You know, even though they were on automatic pilot, they both shouldn't have been sleeping, but, they were both [asleep], their eyes were closed. … They were unusual times. Now, yes, I fly. We go on several trips a year and I enjoy doing a lot of traveling. I'd like to go back to Germany and spend more time and I'd like to also go to Russia again. … That would be interesting. I've been to Vietnam.
SI: When did you visit Vietnam?
SL: I think two years ago. We were on a cruise, and … one of the ports that we stopped at was Ho Chi Minh City, which was Saigon, and that was very interesting. Everything was so damned cheap there, everything at two dollars. You know, you can get a silk … set of pajamas, … although I think my wife bought two of them, for fifteen dollars. I bought golf shirts for, like, two or three dollars there, well made, and the people were very, very nice, very nice, and I remember asking a guide, "How do you feel about, you know, here, Americans are coming back now as tourists? … Here, we occupied Saigon, we fought a number of the Vietnamese, how do you feel about that?" He said, "Oh, the Americans are no problem." He says, you know, … "The Americans were only here for fifteen years." He said, "We had … the Chinese, which occupied our country for a thousand years. We had the French, who were here for," I forget how many years, … "You were only here for fifteen years. That's nothing," he tells me. He gave me his card. I don't know where the heck I put it, with his e-mail address, the guide. He was Vietnamese; Vietnam, very interesting. You really know you were not [home]. … I remember, we went to an outdoor restaurant, and there were about twelve of us, and we sat at a long table, and they started to serve, and, all of a sudden, some of the women started screaming. A huge cockroach, about that big, started running across the table, and one of the waitresses, a young girl who was there, looks, she sees it, goes over, picks it up and walks away, [laughter] just like that. We almost had a lot of [accidents]; driving there is perilous, because there are so many cyclists, and, you know, they ride on both sides of the street. … We went to the Mekong Delta, to that area, by bus and, coming back, the driver slammed on the brakes about three times, almost ran head-on into other vehicles, trying to avoid these cyclists. … That was very harrowing, driving there, and, also, it was a very, very interesting country, and it's amazing that the people were so friendly, and I remember seeing a young boy with his mother, and his face was all distorted, really shocking, like a monster this kid looked like, and I don't know what it was. I wondered, you know, … "Could that have been Agent Orange or something?" The boy had to be, maybe, five or six years only and he had this big face; it wasn't, you know, oval or anything. It was completely out of shape and it was actually hideous, like … something that they dreamed up on one of these tech movies or something, this kid. That's the way that kid looked. …
SI: I assume that you had not traveled much outside of New Jersey, the Bound Brook area, before the war. What was it like to suddenly be exposed to the different regions of the United States and overseas?
SL: … What was surprising, here, you know, I was nineteen or twenty years old, and you'd walk through London, Piccadilly Circus, and there were so many prostitutes, and that was shocking. The prostitutes were trying to engage you, and that, to me, you know, growing up in Bound Brook, … although I used to go, while I was in high school, … and I already was, you know, working a little bit, you know, we used to go to a burlesque in Newark, … but, that was shocking, I remember, to see all the prostitutes there. You know, you didn't see that in the United States. That, to me, was very shocking, and, you know, just being in London, and, also, going to a show in London. I remember going to a show, I think it was the Hippodrome, and the comedians used to make fun of the Americans, and, I remember, a comedian comes out on stage dressed in an American airman's uniform, and he's, like, leaning over, and he meets another Britisher, and the Britisher asks him, "I see you're leaning over. Were you wounded?" and the comedian says, "No, it's all these medals. They're so heavy." [laughter] That was the American, and then, I also remember, there was an Irish girl who sang. She had a magnificent voice and, as she sang, everybody in the audience joined in and sang with her. She didn't ask them to, but, they all did, every number, all these Britishers, would sing. This was during the war, and that was … very interesting, the show there, and we would go in, … like, for a shilling. In London, a shilling, at that time, was worth twenty cents. You could go to a Red Cross, … it's called Rainbow, a hotel it's like, and, for twenty cents, you could spend the night there. I remember waking up in the morning, I spent a few nights there, … here, you'd be in your underwear, and women would come in, cleaning up, ignoring you, and I remember being so ashamed. I'm in my underwear, but, the women … didn't seem to mind. [I] remember that.
SI: Were you ever in London, or any other city, during an air raid or a V-1 attack?
SL: The only time was that one time in Stone, where there was a raid, and I did hear, I guess, artillery or explosions, but, it wasn't at our base, it was off in the distance, and that was the only [one] I experienced. … When I got there, it was almost near the end of the line. I was very lucky; I got there late. I know that there was one [fellow], I was in the barracks with, maybe, twenty-five, thirty others, and there was one crewman, not on my crew, and he used to have nightmares. He'd be screaming at night, and I don't know whether he was affected by the war or what, and that was a little harrowing. I know that he had been on the Polesti air raid, and, you know, when he was awake, he would talk about that Polesti air raid. That's when, in Romania, they bombed the oil fields and did a tremendous amount of damage. That was a critical achievement. He was on that raid, and … he had these nightmares, but, … I came through with no ill effects. I learned an awful lot, a lot of life experiences that I … never would have had in Bound Brook, or even at Rutgers. So, it was a good experience.
JE: As a Jewish-American, what was it like for you to hear about the atrocities that were going on in Germany?
SL: Well, at the end of the war, it didn't surprise me. I knew that the Germans had tried to dispose of the Jews. No, it wasn't … a terrible surprise, actually, no. … I belong to this organization, the Second Air Division Association, … this 466th Bomb Group that I was in was part of the Second Division, and I belong to that. There is one guy, who is very active with it, and tries to get me to be real active, which I'm not, and won't be. … He was a bombardier, and, on his very first raid, he was shot down. He's Jewish. … He was a prisoner. … I don't think he was mistreated, but, he said he was always very worried. He was afraid that they would learn that he was Jewish, but, he only did that one mission and was shot down. … Being a Jew, growing up in Bound Brook, I had no problems, … or in the service, although, you know, you always feel that there might be some, although, when I got out of the service, and when I finished Rutgers, I went to one of these head hunting outfits, and I tried to get a job. I saw an ad in the New York Times for a writer and went to New York for an interview. The guy who interviewed me said, "You're well qualified for the job, but, you have one problem. Your name is Liberman. If your name wasn't Liberman, I could send you over there, and you'd have a good chance of getting the job, but, you're a Liberman," and I remember telling that to Dottie, my wife, and she told me, "Why don't you change your name to Leonard?" [laughter] She told me [that], but, there was, even then, … discrimination. I don't know; even if I went over, I might not have gotten the job, I don't know, but, he wouldn't even send me there, … because my name was Liberman, but, the Asbury Park Press , … I told you I wrote to every daily newspaper, I started with the As, and the first one hired me. When I joined the Press, there were 143 employees, and there were two others who were Jewish, out of 143, and, … you know, kind of, sometimes, some of the guys would make … some cracks, under the pressure of a deadline or something, but, you get used to it, and you get to like the guys, because you really become friendly with them. … They advanced me very rapidly, and, in less than three years, I was city editor, and then, they made me Sunday editor, editor of the Sunday paper, which contributed sixty percent of the revenue of that newspaper, and the paper grew dramatically. They treated me exceptionally well, exceptionally well, and the paper was not owned by Jews. I wouldn't be able to live the way I'm living had they not done as well for me as they have and they still are. They were very, very good. When I left, there were fifteen hundred employees at that paper, from 143 to fifteen hundred in those forty years. … I still do some writing. I write for a number of different papers. When I take a trip, I'll do a travel story and make a few bucks on it, or at least write off some of my expenses on the story.
SI: What were some of the big stories that you remember from your years at the Asbury Park Press ?
SL: The McCarthy era, that was a big story, and the Asbury Park Press, at that time, played a major role in exposing McCarthy. That was a big story. There was a train wreck, the Broker train wreck, where some eighty were killed, coming over a trestle in Matawan, and, … I remember, that night of that Broker train wreck, … the Republican Party was going to decide … which nominee for the State Senate they were going to support, and, I remember, that night, we were really scrambling to get all the information about the injured and the dead, and somebody called up, and … the owners required that you be polite, you answer any question that anyone had, and, I remember, someone called up, "Whom did the Republicans pick?" and … one of the guys says, "Jesus Christ," he tells the person, "Don't you know that eighty people have just been killed?" and he hung up [laughter] on … whoever wanted to know who was the Republican nominee. Other big stories …
SI: Regarding the McCarthy era, I forget if the "Red Dentist" was stationed at Fort Monmouth or Camp Kilmer, but, an Army dentist at one of those bases was accused of being a Communist.
SL: Yes, … we covered that, … and I think he was stationed at Camp Kilmer. I think at Camp Kilmer, but, what happened was, … where the Asbury Park Press played an important role, McCarthy was going strong, and he was holding hearings in New York, and, all of a sudden, he announced one afternoon that a Fort Monmouth employee had broken down and was going to tell all, and there were big headlines in all the papers. It turned out that the guy who had broken down, his name was Carl Greenblum; … most of those, by the way, who were suspended as security risks were Jewish. An Asbury Park rabbi came to see me. … Carl Greenblum, the next day, did appear before the committee. The hearing was closed. You assumed that he was talking about Communism, and spies, and everything else. Anyway, this rabbi came to see me and he said, "Carl Greenblum is a scientist. He broke down because his mother had died," I think the day before or that day. He had asked to be excused from testifying and the McCarthy group would not excuse him. He still had to go in that day, and, under the Jewish religion, usually, when an immediate member of the family dies, you usually stay in the house, and they call it "sitting shiva ." You have services for three days to a week. He was not allowed; he had to go to the hearing. So, apparently, he was very emotional, and, when he was questioned, he says, "Ask me anything. I'll tell you anything," and he broke down and started crying. … This is what the rabbi told me and we ran the story; McCarthy made it seem as if he was breaking down, whereas he had nothing to do [with Communism]. Anyway, we broke the story, and, shortly after that, a lot of the other papers started to do stories that exposed the McCarthy thing, and, by the time they got to the dentist, McCarthy was almost finished. He was proved to be someone who's trying to exploit a situation, but, the Press … did cover that. At the beginning, … we ran an editorial that favored McCarthy, at the very beginning, but, as he started going, we started attacking him, editorially. Also, another story we did, … there was a general at Fort Monmouth, his name was Kirke Lawton, and he called a lot of the employees together, when McCarthy was conducting some of these hearings, so-called hearings. Lawton called them all together, and he made some disparaging remarks about graduates of City College. A lot of the scientists at Fort Monmouth were Jews who had gone to City College and graduated and he also said that Father Coughlin, who was a rabid anti-Semite, was right. … We ran that story and, shortly after that, the Army transferred Lawton and retired him. That got a lot of publicity. … To the … Asbury Park Press 's credit, we had a part-time photographer whom we used. He was an employee at Fort Monmouth who was suspended as a security risk. He came to me and he said, "I've been suspended. I don't know why." He said, "I have no idea why. I'll understand if you don't use me anymore as a photographer, because it could be embarrassing to the Asbury Park Press , if it became known that you're using a so-called security risk." I went to the guy who was the executive editor, my immediate boss, and I told him that, and he says, … "He hasn't been convicted of anything, has he?" I said, "No, he's just been suspended," and … the executive editor said, "Keep using him," and we did use him. Ultimately, he was reinstated. … Also, there had been another one who was suspended, also a guy who was Jewish, who had gotten the Bronze Medal and several other [decorations] during World War II, and he was suspended as a security risk. You know, there were a lot of [accusations], an awful lot. Nothing was ever found. No spies were ever found or anything like that. That was … a major story, the Broker story. Also, another thing, you know, that you remember, we learned that a company, it was called Monmouth Electric, … was being investigated by the FBI, because there was an allegation … that it was selling used products to the Army. We got that information, and, I remember, I had a reporter call up and try to get a quote from the owner of the company, who happened to also own a huge real estate firm, and also used to advertise with the Asbury Park Press. He would not comment or anything, and then, he called me up. He asked me to, "Please, do not use the story, yet. Wait awhile," and I told him, "No." I said, "Here, we have this story, you know, here's your opportunity, if you want to say anything, we'll be happy to put your comments in the paper." "No, please don't use the story for awhile," … but, we ran it. The next day, he dropped dead. His wife accused the Asbury Park Press of killing him. My job was to put news in the paper. I didn't feel that I'd done anything wrong, but it still is something that you never forget. You know, you wonder, if it wasn't in the paper, would he not have died? These are things you remember. Another very interesting story, there was a very prominent urologist, by the name of Dr. Whittle, and we had learned that he had performed a sex change operation at the Jersey Shore Medical Center, which was the first one that we knew of in the area. We learned about it. We used the story on page one. At that time, doctors and lawyers were considered unethical for advertising. He was brought up on charges before the Monmouth County … Medical Society. They thought that he had promoted the story to advertise his practice. I had to actually write a letter testifying, explaining, that he did not come to us with the story. We learned about it from an employee at the hospital, and that we did prevail upon him to answer questions. Another very, very big story was, … when I first started working at the Asbury Park Press , there were an awful lot of polio deaths and people who were crippled by polio, and I seem to remember, like, there were about two hundred in the Monmouth-Ocean County area who had gotten polio. An awful lot of the merchants were upset with the Asbury Park Press and a lot of the advertisers tried to put pressure on us to play down these stories. They felt it was hurting business. Every time there was a polio story or something, we'd put it in the paper. The paper's owners were independent; they did not back down. Only one time, I think about one time, I was told by the owner to make a change in a story, but, we were never told to keep out a story, regardless of the pressure, and a lot of times there was pressure. People would call up and want stories out of the paper and, you know, they always backed us up. … They were very, very good owners, very committed to the highest ideals of journalism. I was never told, while I worked there, and I used to have to spend a lot of money, a lot of their money, … that I spent too much. I remember one incident; there was a boat collision off Manasquan, and a couple of people were killed, and, at that time, this had to be in, maybe, the early '50s, we would buy a picture from a freelancer for, maybe, two-and-a-half dollars, and I learned that … there was a guy who had taken pictures, was … on one of the other boats, and … he had pictures of the collision, and I remember calling him up. He was in Newark. I called him from Asbury Park, and I told him we would buy the pictures, and he says, "Oh, … the Daily News already told me that they'll pay me," … either thirty or forty dollars, "for the pictures," and, here, these were undeveloped, and this was on a Saturday night, and I said, "I'll pay you fifty dollars for the roll of film," and, you know, we were paying, like, two-and-a-half dollars, and we ended up getting a picture out of the roll of film and using it on page one, and I worried, "On Monday morning, when I come into work, when they hear that I spent fifty dollars, what are they going to say?" "Good job getting that picture," I was told, … which is very gratifying. They were committed to putting out a good paper.
SI: Why do you think the Asbury Park Press grew so much over the years?
SL: I like to think because we put out a good paper, but, … also, it's been an area that has been growing. The population has been increasing. Also, we did a lot of promotion and the paper was a good paper. You know, there's … no real censorship. The only time, there's only one incident that came up that was disappointing, and that was, there was a county superintendent of schools who, apparently, had a dispute with … the teacher's association at … Asbury Park High School, and the teacher's association … gave him a vote of no confidence. We had run the story, and we decided to do a story on him, and what actually the superintendent of schools' duties are, and so forth, a good profile story on him, and he called up one of the two owners of the paper and asked us to leave out the part that he was given a vote of no confidence. The story was already written, and we had that in the story, and the owner of the paper, co-owner, Wayne McMurray, called me in, and he asked me to take that … part out of the paper. I was very upset. "Did Garrison call you and tell you that we're doing a story?" I asked. He said, "No." I suspected he was lying, and I told the son of the co-owner that I'm thinking of quitting. Here, you know, in the best traditions of journalism, I wasn't bowing to pressure, and he's telling me to take this out. I think it's pertinent to the story. "That's why we're doing the goddamned story," I said. The next thing I know, the guy who told me to take it out calls me into his office and he said, "Garrison did call me." First, he told me that he didn't call and now he says he did. He said that he had been dealing with Garrison. … At that time, the co-owner was … on the board of Monmouth College and they were trying to use Monmouth College as a new community college as well. The co-owner was trying to talk the county into using part of Monmouth College as a community college. He thought that would be financially helpful to the college, and so forth, and [he] was dealing with the superintendent of schools. So, I guess he was kind of beholden to the superintendent, but, he did come clean, so, I was kind of ingratiated, however, that part … did come out of the story. … That's the only time, but, the fact that he did call me in and tell me that he had lied to me. I felt, "Well, you know, he's big enough to do that." So, I stayed, but, that's the only time. That was one time I was almost going to quit.
SI: Can you tell us a little bit about your days at Rutgers? Why did you choose Rutgers?
SL: … Well, I went to Rutgers because it was close to home. It did have an excellent reputation and fourteen or fifteen hundred had taken the entrance exam, and they only selected four hundred. … I hadn't applied to any other college, and I was accepted right away. No one in my family had ever gone to college. I have a brother; he didn't go to college. He's a few years older than I. Of course, relatives had gone to college. My parents always wanted me to go to college. That was very important to them, and I was lucky enough, … you know, to get in at that time. At one time, you know, Rutgers also had quotas, where certain religions or ethnic groups, only up to a certain limit were accepted, if any. … When I went to Rutgers, I don't remember seeing any black students there. … I don't think I ever had a class with an African-American. In a hurry to get a job, I accelerated and completed my degree requirements in three years. I told you about [Professor] George, who was great. Another one I had, I had a French prof by the name of Clarence Turner, Dr. Clarence Turner. You ever hear of him?
SL: Yes, he was great and you really learned French. He told you that he wanted you to know [that], if you ever went to France, and [if] you wanted to pick up a girl, you'd know how to do it, and … everyone, at least once a week, had to tell a story in French. They told the dirtiest stories in class, [laughter] and he didn't care, so long [as] it was in French. … I told Dottie, who was going to NJC (Douglass), "Get a course with Clarence Turner." She ultimately did. She was kind of impressed with him, although I don't think, when she went, that they were telling the dirty stories. Also, there's a former prof who lives in, actually, Lock Arbour near here. … He was, like, a teaching assistant at Rutgers, and I ran into him a couple of years ago. He was telling me that he thought Clarence Turner was such a great prof, and so forth, and he had written a book about him. Have you ever heard of this?
SL: He never had it published. He wanted me to read it, to see what I thought, and it was mainly about him and, also, about Turner, and, from reading the book, I got the impression [that] he was implying in the book that Turner was homosexual. Have you heard that? I don't know, but, not that it [matters]. In those days, you know, it mattered a lot, but, I don't know whether he was or wasn't homosexual, and it wouldn't have mattered to me anyway, but, that was pretty much the essence of the book, the mystery about Clarence Turner. He was never married. He used to invite students over to his house. That's what he had in the story, and I don't know whether he lived with one student or something, but, … he was a very distinguished prof. Did you ever see a picture of him or see him? … He's not there, right?
SI: No, I think he passed away a long time ago.
SL: Yes, but, he was an excellent, excellent prof.
SI: Can you tell us about some of your journalism professors? Did you have any classes with Professor Jennings?
SL: Oh, yes, yes. I was telling Jennifer about Jennings. He was … a very good prof. He was kind of unorthodox. … He was not very erudite, but, he was a typical, hard-nosed newsman, and you really got a feel for a newspaper, for newspaper work, from him. He actually created … situations where you actually worked in a newsroom. … He always would stick out his tongue while he was talking, [laughter] I remember. … When I went to Rutgers, I would say he was the only one with real, practical previous journalism experience. Most of the others, … they may have had doctors' degrees, but, they did not work on a newspaper, and, then, it was mainly newspaper work. It wasn't, so much, television. … Television was just in its infancy then, but, [at] Rutgers, I would say that I learned a lot from Jennings. Jennings was very good. … There also was another one, I had a radio news-writing course, and I don't remember that prof's name. He was also pretty good, but, the other profs that I had there, … the head of the journalism department was a Dr. Merwin, who had written a book on journalism, but, it really was not very helpful or anything, and was promoting his book, or spent a lot of time referring to his book during his lectures. He was not very effective as a teacher and that was [the] head of the department when I went to Rutgers. I'd say I learned quite a bit there. The courses, … you remember the ones with the colorful profs, you know, like Dr. Mason Gross, and, also, there was a Dr. Houston Peterson, who was a philosophy prof, … and some of them, you know, … to tell you the truth, I hardly even remember the others, but, those … stick out in your mind.
SI: When you were at Rutgers, the student body was comprised of veterans, like yourself, and kids who came straight out of high school. What was the situation in the classroom like?
SL: Between the students? There wasn't much difference or anything. You didn't really know who the non-veterans were. I remember one veteran, this is pretty much beside the point, I had just started going with Dottie, my wife, and he takes out his wallet, and he pulls out a little poem that he got out of the, … what's the Douglass … magazine Hornbook , the literary anthology of Douglass. A poem he takes out of his wallet, a poem in French, about … a girl thinking of her boyfriend, and he shows it to me, and it's signed by Dorothy Gold, who is my wife, I mean, who was soon to be my wife, and, here, she had written this thing in French about thinking about me, and, you know, he didn't know that, and … that was something. Here, he was so impressed with this poem that she had written, he pulled it out and showed it to me, and he didn't even know that I knew the girl, the author. … Rutgers, at that time, had Quonset hut classes. It was just beginning to grow. Clothier, I think, had just stepped down as President. … I guess, a year before I started or so, … a new constitution was created at, I guess most of it was done at Rutgers, I think, … a new state constitution, and, actually, one of the owners of the paper was one of the creators of the constitution, Wayne McMurray, the guy who … insisted that I keep that portion out of the story, but, another, you know, major story that, to the Asbury Park 's credit, several stories, … it did in a crusading way, the Asbury Park city used to lease a lot of its concessions on the boardwalk, and it never advertised for bids. What it did, it would just give contracts to those who contributed to the political campaigns, to their cronies, and the Asbury Park Press sued the city, to force competitive bidding. So, since then, there's been competitive bidding. Another thing it did, it sued to force a reapportionment of the State Legislature. It was all screwed up. They didn't have it districted correctly with the right populations in certain areas. Everything was gerrymandered, and the Asbury Park Press … went to the State Supreme Court and forced the reapportionment of the Legislature of New Jersey, … and the creation of National Gateway Parks were projects that the Asbury Park Press initiated, and promoted, and are now realities.
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SL: When I left the Asbury Park Press , we had become the second largest paper in New Jersey, next to the Star-Ledger , and, in 1997, the Gannett chain bought the Asbury Park Press , unfortunately, because the paper is not the same. They reduced the staff tremendously, cut the news how tremendously, and … did a lot of things that the … old owners would never have done, like charging for obituaries. It's sad, putting display ads on page one. The owners would never do that. … I get together with the former chairman of the board, we go out to dinner a couple of times a year, and he also gets sick when he sees what's become of that paper. … The Gannett [Corporation] also bought five other papers, or, I guess, four other papers, in New Jersey, to better compete with the Newark Star-Ledger , and the irony is that the former chairman of the board of Gannett, his name is John Curley, used to work at the Asbury Park Press . … He had formerly been with the Associated Press, came to the Asbury Park Press , and he felt that he wasn't advancing fast enough. I remember standing outside the Molly Pitcher Hotel, after we had gone to some conference, trying to talk him out of leaving the Asbury Park Press . He left anyway and went to a Gannett paper, and, ultimately, the guy who was the chairman of the board took a shine to him and moved him up, and he became chairman of the board of Gannett. His brother is the publisher of USA Today , but, here, I tried to talk Curley out of leaving. I should have talked him into taking me with him. … I did some freelance writing; I did a story for Editor and Publisher magazine on the salaries of chain newspaper CEOs and his salary was a little over a million dollars a year. When he worked for the Asbury Park Press, he was getting about four hundred dollars a week. His salary was a million something, and he was getting a million [dollar] bonus, and he had stock options, and he owned six hundred thousand shares of Gannett stock. So, he was a multi-millionaire, and I remember talking about stocks with him, and I have a very nice letter; when I retired, he wrote me a very nice letter. This was before Gannett bought the Asbury Park Press . … Another great advantage of working for the paper was, you meet some important people, celebrities, governors, senators, and you have them kowtowing to you, which is very gratifying, in a way.
SI: How important can a paper like the Asbury Park Press be in, for example, a gubernatorial or senatorial race?
SL: … I was on the editorial board … and none of the owners sat on the editorial board. Only one time did they overrule us, although, … you know, the editorial is supposed to be the reflection of the views of the owners of the paper, but, we supported Democrats, we supported Republicans, we praised the Libertarian point of view. They went along with it, whatever. The only time, the first time that Senator Lautenberg ran, … we'd have these candidates come in, and they talk to … editors, and then, you do a story, and, you know, we had Lautenberg come in, and the woman who … ran against him, she used to smoke cigars, and she was the woman who was featured in Trudeau's comic strip [ Doonesbury ]; I forget what her name was, [Millicent Fenwick]. Anyway, she had been a Congresswoman for a number of years, and very outspoken, and fairly liberal. However, she came in, … she had been in Congress for many years, and we could already see [that] she was getting a little senile, and the editorial board voted to support Lautenberg. The owners of the paper felt that we'd made a mistake. We should support this experienced Congresswoman, who happened to be a Republican. We ended up having to support her, but that's the only time they overturned what we voted for. … In all the years, and for many years, I was on the editorial board, that was the only time they overturned a decision we had made. … I used to write a couple of editorials a week and I was also on the operations committee. … It was a good career, a good place to work for, and they built a state of the art plant in Neptune. Have you seen the plant? … [To Jennifer] Your mother would know. Does she work there, in Neptune?
SL: When they … built that plant, they put in a tennis court, a fitness center and a jogging track. They also disallowed smoking, no smoking in the building, although, now, there is smoking in the building. … The new publisher, he's a smoker, and I think, maybe, in certain areas … he allows smoking. The old owners would not allow that. I don't know whether they still have the tennis court and the jogging track.
JE: I am not sure.
SL: Yes, but, they were … quite [good], considering they, themselves, you know, did not have a real journalist's education. … One of the owners was an English major, I think the other owner may have been an English major, I don't know, but, they never … had any real courses in journalism, pretty much left it up to the staff to make a lot of the decisions. Whenever we needed another person or something, they almost always went along with it. Now and then, there would be a time [when] they'd say, "All right, let's try to keep down the overtime, because things have slowed down a little bit," but, that's about it. They were very, I'd say, … progressive and I think that, in addition to the population increase, that's what led to … the tremendous growth of that paper. At one point, percentage-wise, the Asbury Park Sunday Press was the fastest growing newspaper in the United States, … when you figure the ratio of growth. They grew very rapidly and … there were no holds barred on any story or anything like that. It was … a good paper.
SI: Would you like to tell us how you met your wife?
SL: … I met her at a dance. … She [was] actually, and still is, I think, very, very pretty, and I thought, "She'll never go out with me," [laughter] … and she's Jewish, but, never had a Jewish education or anything. … Her father was an atheist, although he grew up as a Jew, although, at one point, … her father was adopted by a Catholic couple, after his home was broken up or something. … Anyway, I met her at a dance, and I sent her a Jewish New Year's card, and I'm not religious or anything, and I asked her for her telephone number, and she wrote me back a note giving me her telephone number, and we went out. We went together for three years, and then, decided we were going to get married in June, and I decided, it was mainly me, I said, "Let's do it on June 12, 1949, because that's graduation day and those damned graduations are so boring, I don't want to go." [laughter] We got married on June 12th, and I didn't go to graduation, although, … right after the war, … they had graduations at different times of the year. So, they sent me a letter saying that I would have to attend a graduation in October to get my diploma. So, I got my boss to write a letter [saying] that I had to work and I couldn't go at that time. Then, they said, "The next graduation where you'll be able to pick up your diploma is going to be in February." This was going to be in 1950, and, again, I don't remember whether I got a letter saying I can't go or I told them I can't go, but, anyway, I didn't go to that one, but, they ultimately sent me the diploma. [laughter] So, I escaped the graduation, although I went to both my son's and my daughter's graduations. [laughter] They are awfully boring. … I can't think of anything else, unless you have any other questions. You didn't learn a hell of a lot about the war. [laughter]
SI: What is your most vivid, frightening, however you want to put it, memory of the war?
SL: … I think a couple of things; the time when we started to lose altitude, I thought we were going to crash. Also, that time when we got hit with flak, you could feel the concussion … of it hitting the plane. That was a little scary. You didn't know whether it would hit an engine, and then, one time, another time, the plane I flew on was a B-24. It had four engines. One of the engines, I don't know if it was defective or whether it was hit by flak, but, it was knocked out, and we had to fly back on three engines, although we didn't have any other problems and … we landed perfectly fine. That was a little nerve wracking. They had to, what they called, … feather an engine; they had to stop it from turning or anything. That was a little nerve-wracking, and, of course, you know, the very first mission, you didn't know what was going to happen, whether fighter planes were going to be shooting at you … and the flak, and you'd see all that flak bursting around you, and you wonder whether one of them is going to hit you, you know, … but, after the first or second mission, it kind of wears off and you don't worry about it so much. … Of course, I was lucky, … it was near the end of the war, and Germany was on its last legs, and … a lot of the areas were bombed out. … The nice thing was, after the war, you know, the ground crews had never been to France, to Germany, and, when the war ended, they had us … make special flights, taking ground crews over to France and Germany, to show [them] the destruction that the Eighth Air Force had done, and we flew a couple of those little missions, taking ground crews over and showing them.
SI: I have never heard of that before.
SL: … Yes, that was nice, in a way.
SI: Did you fly any aid missions where you dropped food or supplies?
SL: No, no. We used to also, … you see, the Germans also had radar, … throw out [chaff]. Actually, it was like tin foil and their radar would focus on the tin foil, as opposed to the plane, … so that they wouldn't be, you know, aiming at the plane. We used to do that at the beginning. Near the end, we weren't doing that so much, but, the waist gunner, Larry Baker, he used to throw out all the chaff. … When you get back to the base, you felt pretty good. You know, you had another one out of the way, and then, you think, "Oh, boy, all I have to do is so many more." It was well organized. … To see all the destruction, also, in Norwich, near where I was stationed, and to see the destruction in London, … and one of the most memorable things, just when the war ended, everything was always blacked out, all the stores, they had these black curtains over their windows, … no lights, and, on May 7th, that's when I started the three-day pass, the day before V-E Day, and I remember seeing a headline on the subway that the Germans were going to surrender, I think, the next day, unconditional surrender I remember seeing that, and getting on Piccadilly Circus in London, and just seeing one curtain, partially opened, with the light coming out, illuminating a section of the street, and that's the first time I saw that. I figured, "Boy, the war is really over. Thank God, the war is over." They were able to open up that curtain. That was the only one; the others were still [closed]. … That was memorable. Then, all I had to do was watch out for the prostitutes. [laughter] There were more of them than the German fighters, I think. [laughter]
SI: What kind of casualties did your group suffer, the number of planes lost, etc.?
SL: I know that one of them, on the raid I was in, … was shot down and … one of the top officers of the bombardment group was on that plane. I'm not sure, I don't know whether he survived or not. I never … did find out, but, that plane was shot down on the Essen mission, but, I don't remember any of our other planes, in my group, being shot down on any of the other missions, and the only other, you know, frightening thing was when I saw our people shoot down one of our own planes, … and we didn't see any parachute, nothing. I remember them, you know, … asking us about that. When you think back, it's hard to believe that you went through that. So, the other interviews you've had, … I guess a lot of them, … a number of them, have really been through hell. … Being in the Air Force, … that was kind of, like, the gravy train. In the first place, you got extra money for flying. I think we used to get twenty dollars more a month for flying, and, you know, you were kind of considered the "glory boys," and … the Army Air Corps was kind of favored, I think, whereas the poor guys who were in the infantry had to sleep in the mud, and dirt, and everything else, where we had clean barracks. So, well, I was lucky. … As I said, I could have been in the paratroopers.
SI: Did that have any appeal to you?
SL: No. I wanted to be on a plane. I wanted to fly. … As I said earlier, I originally had hoped to be a bombardier, and that's what I had applied for, and the IQ and everything else was okay for that, however, they washed out a whole bunch of us, because there was a surplus at that time.
SI: Why were you particularly interested in becoming a bombardier?
SL: Why? … Because they automatically got a commission, see, whereas the way it worked, … I think when I got over, I may have been a sergeant, I'm not sure, … and then, when I started flying combat, I think I became a staff sergeant, and that's it, and, of course, you know, as an officer, you have special treatment. You have nicer barracks, probably better dining facilities, you never have to worry about KP. In basic training, when I got KP, I soon learned that the best job to apply for was salt shaker, just fill up the salt shakers, where some of the others would get pots and pans. They'd have to clean pots and pans, or clean the tables, or everything else. I would always apply for salt shaker, fill the salt shaker, salt and pepper shakers.
SI: Was the relationship between the officers and enlisted men in your crew very informal?
SL: Yes, it was pretty informal, although the officers lived in a different area than we lived in, but, it was informal, and, as I was saying, we had that fiftieth reunion. That was the greatest. Shortly after that, the pilot died. He had some type of blood condition. … On that reunion we went [to], he did the driving. He took us through, actually, the Rocky Mountains, where we were going to some little resort in the Rockies and he drove through these narrow roads on the mountains like he was flying a plane. It was wild. You look down and you looked straight down, and I thought any minute, we could go over the side, and he was so careless in the way he drove. He was a rough driver. Dottie was in the car. We were really sweating while he was driving. I still keep in touch with his widow. … That's all that remained of us and, as they say, … every day is it? fifteen hundred World War II veterans pass away. … Well, considering my mother died at sixty-three, my father at seventy-eight, and I'm seventy-eight. So, I'm already ahead of the game, although, when I was thirty-nine, I had a heart attack, and I was out for eight weeks, and I was telling you how good the original owners of the Press were, one of the owners, he also lived in Interlaken, about two-and-a-half blocks from here, and, when I was recuperating, I would take walks. I was out for eight weeks, and he happened to come by, and I told him, "I'm coming back to work on Monday," and he says, "You know, if you want, you can stay out longer," he said. "But, if you are coming back, if I see you in the office after twelve noon, I'm kicking your ass out." He told me [that]. They were that good, that considerate. The paper was growing while I was there. … The timing was very good.
SI: I think, in general, television hurt the newspaper business.
SL: Well, at first, the thought was that it was going to kill the newspapers, but, they said the same thing about radio, that radio would kill newspapers. I think what is hurting the newspapers right now, and newspaper circulation is dropping, all over the country, it's a national trend. There's so many other things to do. There's the Internet. A lot of people spend time on the Internet. There are the movies. Movies have come back. … For awhile, movies did very poorly, because of television, but, now, they're stronger than ever. … They've come back, and I think newspapers will come back, because there's nothing like having it right in front of you and being able to, you know, clip out something and save it, although you can save it on the Internet, but, then, you have to go in and press a number of buttons. So, I think the newspapers are here to stay. I don't think there's any problem. … A lot of the newspapers are getting into the Internet business, too, you know. They're diversifying. … I don't think they'll ever go out of business. I think some of them should, maybe, [laughter] but, they're surviving.
SI: Have you noticed any trends where journalism, perhaps, is being sacrificed for business purposes?
SL: Oh, yes, yes. Public relations, traditionally, has paid more than average newspaper editorial jobs and I've seen a lot of good newspaper people go into public relations for that reason. However, through the years, the salaries have gone up dramatically. When I left, I never dreamed I'd make as much as I was making, but, … they have increased, and another … trend that has pretty well come about on most progressive newspapers, it used to be, if someone was a real good reporter, a real good writer, the only way they could pay him more was to make him an editor, and an editor doesn't do a lot of writing, so, the newspaper loses a hell of a good writer when they'd make him an editor. That was the only way they could raise his pay dramatically, but, now, I think, a lot of the newspapers realize that writers are very important, and that a writer should make as much as a good editor, or maybe more, if he's really doing an outstanding job and selling the paper, and that's the way it should be. The writers are the guts of the paper, and … the ones who are talented should be making the most money in the editorial department, and, you know, you now read where some of them get contracts, some of the really good writers, and that's become a trend on a number of newspapers. So, you learned a lot about newspapering, anyway, right? [laughter] Have you interviewed any other newspaper people?
SI: Yes, several. That is how I learned about Dr. Jennings. We also interviewed his son. Is there anything else you would like to put on the record?
SL: No, no, that's okay.
SI: This concludes the interview. Thank you very much. This has been fascinating.
SL: Okay. [laughter]
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Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 6/20/03
Reviewed by Sandra Stewart Holyoak 7/1/03
Reviewed by Simon Liberman 7/03