Shaun Illingworth: This begins an interview with Mr. Robert H. Grasmere in New Brunswick, New Jersey, onMarch 24, 2004, with Shaun Illingworth ...
Betsy Cripso: ... Betsy Cripso ...
Dion Miliaresis: ... Dion Miliaresis.
SI: Mr. Grasmere, thank you very much for coming in today.
Robert Grasmere: Delighted to be here. Delighted to be here in general, because I graduated from this place in 1940, [laughter] which is a long time ago.
SI: We are glad that you could come back. To begin, could you tell us a little bit about your parents?
RG: Yes. My father was a native of Newark, an artistically talented guy who studied art. ... At the time, the major art school in the area was called the Fawcett, F-A-W-C-E-T-T, Art School and he studied there and, ultimately, became a member of the faculty and had a gifted, artistic student who was fifteen years younger than he and he married her and she was my mother. ... She had been a designer for some of the major jewelry firms in existence at that time. I think it's important to note that there's one major jewelry firm in Newark today, but, at the turn of the century, in other words, around 1900, approximately, the Newark directories show 205 jewelry manufacturing firms in Newark alone. The largest of them, always, was Tiffany and Krementz. Tiffany is in existence, but not inNewark, but Krementz is still domiciled in Newark. Anyway, my father designed for them and a great many other firms throughout the country. He was a painter and a sculptor and he died in 1939, the day after having visited me down here on Parents' Day. I had just been elected president of the senior class. It was a triumphant day for him and, the next day, he perished. So, it was sort of a traumatic thing for a guy who had been so happy the day before. ... At any rate, my mother had studied art and studied the art of jewelry construction and design and was extremely good at it. She was a native of this area, went to the Newark schools and, at various times in her life, lived in various parts of Northern New Jersey. ... I had one brother, who is deceased, who tried Rutgers for a year and didn't like it. [laughter] ... I also had a son who tried Rutgers for a year and didn't like it and, ultimately, graduated from the University of New Hampshire and ... the California Institute of the Arts, with a master's in filmmaking. ...
SI: It seems like the arts are a continuing theme in your family.
RG: They are. I have four daughters and a son and their ranks include painters, singers, filmmakers, artists of every description. ... My singer daughter, who has quite a following in Boston, is Louise Grasmere and she is a graduate of Rutgers. My oldest daughter, Hazel, who's lived in London for the last twenty-five years, married to a British citizen, and, as a matter-of-fact, has dual citizenship, she went to Douglass and got her master's there and she got her doctorate in French from Rutgers. ... There's kind of a strong Rutgers link in our family.
SI: Not to jump ahead, but was that due to your urging or did they choose Rutgers on their own?
RG: No. ... Certainly, they heard a lot about Rutgers and that could very well have influenced their thinking, but I had a daughter who went to [the] Colorado Women's College and another daughter who went to Colby SawyerCollege in New London, New Hampshire, and so on. So, they didn't all gravitate to Rutgers.
SI: To go back to your parents, do you know if their families had always lived in the Newark area?
SI: Was there any sort of immigration history there?
RG: Well, my grandparents, on my father's side, emigrated from Germany about roughly the time of the Civil War and settled in Newark. My mother's people came from England about in the neighborhood of 1840, 1850, something like that, and also settled in Northern New Jersey.
SI: You were born in Newark.
RG: I was born in Newark, as it happens, just by accident. They happened to have a hospital there, but, when I talk with the Mayor of Newark, I always kid him that I was born on Martin Luther King Boulevard, which I was. It used to be called High Street, when I was a kid, ... but I was raised in Orange and came to Rutgers from OrangeHigh School, which was a different high school in total. I had four years of Latin, three years of French. I had trigonometry, calculus, everything you can think of. When I got here, they used to give you classification examinations. You'd take a test and they would fire you into remedial English or something, if you needed it, but, ... after three years of high school French in Orange High School, I was put in junior French, here in Rutgers. I only mentioned it because it's such an incredible change from today. ... High school education was, at least in terms of my experience, very challenging and very rewarding.
SI: Were you as active with extracurricular activities in high school as you were at Rutgers?
RG: Yes, always. I have done that sort of thing all my life. My family believed in service and, as I mentioned, I was in elected office. I was elected and re-elected eleven times in Maplewood and I was also president of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, which is all 567 communities. I headed up an operation which built the finest sewerage plant, ... probably, in this part of the world, which is called the Joint Meeting of Essex and UnionCounties. It serves about eight hundred thousand people in the greater Newark area and I was chairman of that for twenty-three years and we built about one hundred-and-fifty million dollars worth of improvements and, when I left that post, we had twenty-seven million dollars in the bank, against eventualities, we owed not a dime and we had no bond of indebtedness. I just say that kind of proudly because service can be service; [laughter] it also can be a rapacious adventure for people in capacities of that kind. So, I don't know where we are in this. ...
SI: Were your parents politically active?
RG: No, not at all. They were politically interested, but they never did any of the formalities of politics.
SI: I am interested in your father's profession. Some of our interviewees have spoken about how Prince Streetwas the center of town.
RG: The big Jewish center. It was a vibrant, incredible ethnic center. If you wanted the greatest rye bread in the world or pickles that were really pickles or something, you'd go down to Prince Street. ... There is a very wonderful book that's just been published about the Jewish experience in Newark. I haven't got it, but I've leafed through it and ... it was a major factor in the economic life and social life and religious life of Newark. In fact, theNewark that I knew as a kid was amazing. You could walk down Broad Street and even the fire hydrants were polished. I mean, it was a glittering, vibrant city. I think it was something like the sixteenth largest city in the United States, in its day. ... As I mentioned, at the turn of the century, there were two cities in the United States which encompassed the whole jewelry business and the two leading jewelry towns in the United States were Providence,Rhode Island, and Newark, and Newark was larger. Even a firm like Tiffany, which was based in New York, for corporate purposes, did all its work, basically, in the greater Newark area. In fact, the Tiffany factory is still inNewark. It's been made into senior citizen housing. It looks like a great fortress; it's an unbelievable building. ... [As] I say, Newark ... was one of the largest factors in the leather business. It manufactured all kinds of intricate machinery and parts. ... Really, it was probably a microcosm of the energy of the United States, all in one place, and it had magnificent public buildings, broad streets, literally, Broad Street being the broadest, and sparkling, incredible department stores. There was a department store, which ultimately became Macy's, ... in Newark, was called Bamberger's and that was as fine a store as you'd find anywhere in the world and it was utterly glittering. The shell of the building is still there. There was a secondary, fine department store called Kresge's and a whole satellite group of smaller stores. Newark was an amazing, vibrant city and its fall is one of the pieces of American history.
SI: In keeping with the theme of the arts, can you tell us what role they played in your childhood and how your parents reinforced their role?
RG: Well, it's a funny thing; I was going through some material on our third floor. ... By the way, my family has lived in only two houses in one hundred years. So, we have a lot of stuff [laughter] and one of the things I uncovered was a front page of a Newark paper, which was published only on Sunday. There was a powerhouseNewark paper called The Newark Evening News, by the way, and The Newark Evening News was killed by the newspaper union. This sounds like a union-busting statement, but the fact of the matter was, The Newark News was a vibrant operation presented with demands, and then, they said that if the demands weren't met, that the paper would fail. Nobody believed them, so, the paper failed. ... This was after, like, 125 years or something. We have, today, The Star-Ledger, which is a pale shadow of the journalistic power of The Newark Evening News, but there was a Sunday paper, too, called The Sunday Call and, back in 1925, they had my picture on the front page and it said, "Seven-year-old genius." The reason was that my father had taken my drawings and paintings and one thing and another in to show the editor, who had evinced an interest in it, and so, they had a big article about my artistic genius, [laughter] which I never followed up. I've done a few paintings, but ... I was always going to do it, make time, "Maybe I won't run next year and I'll settle down and do some watercolors," never happened, but I have done a few. So, anyway, ... I've studied art and studied art history and one of the best courses I had in Rutgers, absolutely the most fulfilling course of all of them, was "Art Appreciation," under a Dr. [Franklin] Biebel [pronounced like Bible] or Biebel [pronounced BEE-bal], B-I-E-B-E-L. He went on into New York and became the executive director of the Frick Collection, which is one of the major museums in New York. ... A lot of guys used to take this course on the theory that, "Oh, we'll sit there and look at a bunch of slides," and they found out that it was a murderous course, because Dr. Biebel, always, ... he would flash a piece of Greek statuary and he would say, "Note this," and then, he'd put [up] another one. "Now, one of these is one century and one is the other," and you're supposed to find out whether this was the fifth or the sixth century BC piece of sculpture. ... Of course, these guys who've been sleeping through the class suddenly discovered that they were in a really, really tough course, but it was the best thing I ever did. I've appreciated art all over the world as a result of my experience in "Art Appreciation," and it is not, or at least it wasn't, a snap course. [laughter]
SI: Other alumni have made similar comments about [F. Austin] "Soup" Walter's "Music Appreciation" course.
RG: ... I took "Music Appreciation" from Soup's boss, [Howard D. McKinney?], who was ... the leading guy in the Music Department. Soup was his assistant, and the Rutgers Glee Club was a wonderful musical organization. I hope it's still around. They insisted on a really high standard of vocal performance. In fact, they used to scare people to death, because, if you wanted to get in the Glee Club, they'd give you a piece of music and you were supposed to sing it without having seen it before. ... Obviously, anybody who was just singing in the bathtub couldn't get in the Rutgers Glee Club. Soup Walter was an amazing guy. He lasted until just recently.
SI: He passed away only two years ago.
RG: I used to play for all their [concerts]; my orchestra used to play for [their performances]. The Glee Club would go somewhere and they'd have a concert, and then, they'd have a dance afterward. ... We would go into the Poconos in the wintertime and have a winter sports weekend. I had a lot to do with the Glee Club and the guy I mentioned, [Elmer Ellsworth Sutphin, III], who was next to me in the picture, was a Marine Corps major, killed at the age of twenty-six in Peleliu. He was the manager of the Glee Club. So, it's a great power.
SI: When did you start getting interested in music?
RG: I guess from the time I was little. I had an orchestra in high school, played a lot of engagements. In fact, when I was here in Rutgers, ... in the course of four years, we played 250 engagements in four states. I never knew whether I was going to college or playing in bands. I'd arrive here from someplace in mid-Pennsylvania about three AM, go down on George Street, where there was an all-night luncheonette. The proprietor always cashed the check. We'd pay the band off, have something to eat, be in bed by five and up by eight o'clock for a class in constitutional law. It was a tough, tough routine, but it was a lot of fun.
SI: What kind of music did you play?
RG: We played Big Band jazz. ... We had a book, that it consisted of about 510 charts, which I gave away to my arranger, who was teaching Big Band music in the Union County high school system. ... I found out, later on, I could have gotten a great write-off on it, because it was valuable. I mean, the piano book was about that high. I mean, you had to be a strong guy just to carry the music. ... I had always been interested in music in general and jazz in particular and the late '30s and edging into the '40s was a time when Big Bands were really something. ... I mean, I'm sure you've heard of them, and perhaps heard them in recordings, but it was the days of the Dorseys, Tom and Jimmy, the days of Count Basie and Benny Goodman and on and on and on. It was an incredible period of time and, by the way, there was a lot of jazz around here. ... If you went toward Douglass, down George Street, if you hung a left and went down the hill, that used to be a beautiful, old part of town, which dated back to the days of the Dutch. It was destroyed in the '60s by a bunch of social dreamers who figured that the way to saveAmerica was to tear the old stuff down and put up new stuff. So, they put up high-rise housing for low-income people all over the United States and almost none of it is in existence today. It was one of the most massive, terrible failures, but, to do this, ... in New Brunswick, they knocked down all these old buildings that went back to the days when it was a Dutch seaport. The only thing left down there is the Dutch church, which I can see from the J&J [Johnson and Johnson] executive tower, when I look down. At any rate, down in there, there were some wonderful all-night spots. The law never did anything. ... They served drinks at six AM and they always had a resident piano and a resident set of drums and other stuff and musicians would come in from all over this area to sit down, relax and have a drink, and then, they would sit and play and you could play with some of the best musicians in the world, who just happened to drop in. ... That was all down there, which is now "socially sanitized," such as it's parking lots and so forth.
SI: I imagine Newark was also a big musical center.
RG: Well, Newark had a lot of music. Newark had everything. It had a concert hall which seated four thousand people, one of the largest concert halls in North America. It's still there, but it was mismanaged to the point where my organization; I'm on the board of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and we're domiciled in [the] New Jersey Performing Arts Center now, which, of course, is a 180-million-dollar operation that is reviving a portion of Newark, to say the least, but Newark was full of music as well, had lots of places for it.
SI: Before we move on to Rutgers, do you have any questions?
DM: Where did you meet your wife? Was it in high school?
RG: Yes. ...
DM: How did that happen?
RG: I'd just entered Orange High School and I ran into this incredible blonde lady. ... Her background is Finnish, on both sides, to the beginning of time. She was born here, but her parents were both born in Finland and she spoke Finnish. So, we dated through high school and dated through college and we were very impulsive, [laughter] but we finally were married, after I had gone to law school. I went to Cornell Law School, but the war interfered a little bit with that. ... At any rate, we were married in 1941, ... just about six months before Pearl Harbor, but I've been going with this lady since she was sixteen years old. ... This June, we will have celebrated our ... sixty-fourth anniversary.
SI: Wow, congratulations.
SI: Can you talk a little bit about how the Great Depression impacted your life, specifically, and also the community?
RG: Well, fortunately for me, it didn't impact my life, only because my father remained employed all through the Depression. However, at that time, if you were in the upper levels of whatever business, you took pay cuts. ... I don't know anybody who didn't come crying home one day with the news that there was going to be twenty, thirty percent less in the pot, but the places stayed open as a result of that and my father never was pinched by the Depression. He was unable to save, I'm sure, but he lived well, we lived well, for those times. ... I was extremely aware of the impact of it. In fact, I used to be on a debating team. ... There was a guy on the team who was extremely good and he had no parents, so, he lived in the YMCA in Orange. ... We were going to have a debate the next day that was pretty crucial and I was about five blocks away from the YMCA and I walked over and I got there a little early, because I wasn't sure where I was going, and I went up to his room and he was having supper, which consisted of shredded wheat and hot water and sugar. That's what he was eating. ... After that, we had him over to dinner quite a lot, but the point is that people were pinched all over the place. There were members of my high school graduating class who couldn't attend the graduation because they couldn't afford the suit or the dress or whatever. I didn't know this until much later and I thought, "My God, somehow or other, we could have taken care of this," but we had a talented black poet. His name was Green and he got all sorts of awards, but they were all given ... and he wasn't there. He wasn't there because he couldn't afford the suit that it took to be there. Yes, so, these were rough and tough times. My father used to help with the care of poor people in a number of places, but one I remember was in New York City, in the Bowery area. He knew a man who had devoted his life to taking care of unfortunate people and, while he had a name, his nickname, so-to-speak, was Mr. Zero and Mr. Zero ran a place where a down-and-out person could be warm and safe during a cold winter's night, or any kind of a night. ... I went in to Mr. Zero's one time and there were perhaps a hundred or more men in the place, maybe a couple of women, but I'm not sure, and they spent the night in a chair, like so, and there was a rope, from a fixture in the wall, that went across the room and, all night long, you slept on the rope and that's the way they managed to keep life together.
SI: They were sleeping in their chairs.
RG: Yes. There wasn't enough room for them to lie out on the floor, even if they had something to do it [on], but Mr. Zero's was a safe place. They'd get a cup of coffee and something to eat in the morning and so forth, but, all night long, they slept on this rope and that made quite an impression on me, to say the least. [laughter]
SI: I have recently been studying the culture of the Great Depression and the literature emphasizes the desperation of the period and points out that there was more of a focus on crime.
RG: Yes, but, you know, if I may, crime was not really an important part of our lives. I was saying to somebody the other day, I used to walk Evelyn home through Orange Park. If you went through Orange Park tonight, at eleven or twelve or one AM, you'd get mugged for your shoes and ... we never thought about it. It was a beautiful park and there were lights and you walked through it. We didn't have fears of that kind, because, sure, there were a few murders here and there and, of course, in life, these things happen, but, in my whole early life, I never ran into anybody who had ever been burglarized or robbed or anything else. In fact, my house was unlocked, like, eighty percent of the time. I never had to worry about a key. I just opened the door. It was a different time.
SH: Was it the kind of neighborhood where parents would look out for each other's kids?
RG: Not really, that I can recall. It was just not an item that ever occurred to me. Nobody ever, I don't believe, other than me, when I was a little kid, looked after me, although, actually, when I was a motherless kid of seven or eight, I guess it was eight, a lot of people used to look after me. [laughter] ...
SI: Did you follow any of the Presidential elections? What did you think of FDR [Franklin Delano Roosevelt]?
RG: I voted for him. I thought he was a fantastic, courageous leader and, as a matter-of-fact, one of the things I threw in here is an account of his death. ... We used to have a news program, not a news program, we copied what they called the schedules out of Pearl Harbor, or ... even out of Maryland, in the South Pacific. We could copy stuff twelve thousand miles away. We're in Canberra, Australia. So, we had a ship's newspaper every day, and then, April of '45, I was in the South China Sea. We were headed north and this, the paper, came through and said that Roosevelt had died and that the President was one Harry Truman. ... Up on the bridge, I can recall a guy saying, "Who the hell is Truman? I never heard of him," even though, by the way, he was a very prominent guy. If you had been a manufacturer of munitions or something, you would have come under the eyes of the Truman Commission. There were people set to make fortunes on the war by inflating the cost of things and so on, but the Senate saw fit to put Harry Truman in charge of an investigative commission with all kinds of powers and he saved billions of dollars for this country, and so, I had heard about him, but, at any rate, I also thought he was an amazing man. ... I voted for him and I was never happier than when he knocked off Dewey, who was supposed to win, by all accounts, but, after that, I became, essentially, interested in the Republican Party and what they were doing at the time. I was an Eisenhower Republican and so on and, being in office, you had to run on something and I was running on the Republican ticket. I shocked somebody to death, by the way, last night. It was a call from the Republican National Committee, wanted to know where my check was and so on. I said, "I'm sorry to tell you, but I'm sitting this one out." "Well, couldn't you maybe cut it down a little bit?" I said, "No, actually, I'm not on your side," and there's this great silence and a click. So, whatever, I'm not a Republican at this point in time. I just don't like what's happened. I don't like our stance before the world. I'm extremely proud of this country. I put a hell of a lot into it and, when I find us derided and ridiculed and hated by a lot of people, I place it in a great measure at the feet of the present administration. Censor that; so, I don't know where we started, but I kept going.
SI: Did you see the effects of the New Deal in your community?
RG: ... Yes. It was impossible to escape the effects, because they rightly concluded that what was needed was jobs and that jobs can be produced by public works. They're all kinds of needs. New Brunswick, I'm sure, is loaded with needs, as I went through George Street; could they ever use some pavement. There's all kinds of things to be done. So, they established what they called the Works Progress Administration, WPA. It was ridiculed by a lot of people. They'd say, well, they passed a gang of WPA workers and they were leaning on their shovels. Well, the fact of the matter is that the WPA built incredible numbers of bridges and culverts and storm sewers and buildings. In fact, in South Orange/Maplewood, ... where I lived and spent so much time, there are four or five public improvements. When you pull the bushes aside, there's a plaque there that says, "Built by the Works Progress Administration." They kept guys with meat on the table and soles on their shoes by the process of public works. ... I thought they did a pretty good job of it. So, I don't know whether that's what you wanted. ...
SI: Was there anything else? Did you know anyone who went to the Civilian Conservation Corps camps?
RG: Yes. I employed several people who had been rescued from want and privation by CCC camps. By the way, that was not easy work. These guys went out in the forests. ... This one lad told me that he was in a CCC camp in Minnesota and they had a rule that they would not work when it got down below twenty below zero. That's how tough it was there. [laughter] I mean, you figure working in the forest at twenty below zero was like agulag in Russia or something, but they built thousands of miles of trails. They built shelter houses and lean-tos and built dams and did all kinds of conservation. The CCC kept an awful lot of young people alive and it gave them some discipline and some standards, too, because it wasn't run in a straight military way, but they had rules and, if you didn't follow the rules, you'd [be forced to] go out on the street and figure out how to get a meal. ... The CCC camps, I think, did a lot for the underfinanced young people. There were a lot of people who obviously didn't need them, but it would have been an incredible thing for a young man who had no experience, had no job, and it's now in the middle of the Depression. You can go to work, you can get three square meals a day and a place to sleep and you'll get clothes and so forth and learn something and get a few bucks to boot. It was a pretty good deal. In fact, it's often been proposed today, but nobody ever did anything about it, I don't believe. So, the Depression was an encompassing thing. ... One of the things, by the way, that happened was, you put money in a bank today and it's insured, up to one hundred thousand dollars. You put money in a bank in the Depression, or before it, and when the bank blew, your money blew. There was no insurance, no safety net. I remember, my father, this would have been about 1930, something like that, the Crash was in the fall of '29, we had a little telephone stand in the hall and it had one of these crazy, little phones, where you have the thing up to your ear, and he was seated there and he was talking to a savings-and-loan. ... Actually, they called them, in those days, ... building and loans and they were banks set up to help people buy houses, but they paid a little better interest than a regular bank, so, many people put money in them for the higher interest. ... He was talking to somebody and, I remember, he said, "Well, what you're telling me is that there isn't anything there," and then, there's a pause and he said, "It's all gone," and then, he put the phone down and he put his head in his arms. He was destroyed. He had just lost all the money that he had in that particular institution and that's about as close to an effect of the Depression as I can get. That money was basically supposed to be my brother's and my college money. So, fortunately, ... there was a football coach at Orange High School who was a famous Rutgers football player named "Heine" [Henry] Benkert andRutgers was a great football power in its day. They try to be a great football power today, but they get kicked around a lot, [laughter] which is something, by the way, that I don't agree with. ... Just pausing for a second, we were in a great league. We were one of the nine Colonial colleges. We played Lehigh, Lafayette, Princeton,Columbia, Penn. We had a great time. ... We played Yale. As a matter-of-fact, I remember, in my freshman year, we went up to the Yale Bowl and I think the entire Rutgers team consisted of about twenty-one people, eleven of whom were on the field and several that were [sidelined]. ... Down at the end of the game, when everybody was injured, it was almost a case of sending in the water boy, but it was a different thing and we weren't in a [tough] league. If Rutgers is going to play the schedules that it presently plays, against players who major in personal hygiene, you know, I mean, this is ridiculous. ... If we're going to be in those leagues, we should cause our guys not to have to study, either. So, where were we? [laughter]
SI: It must have been difficult to go to college at the height of the Depression.
RG: Yes. I came down here and got what was called an Upson Memorial Scholarship and it was based on marks and activities, and you had to keep them up or you didn't have the scholarship, but that enabled me to do this thing.
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RG: You used to have to carry your books in a shopping bag and you used to have to stuff your trousers inside your socks and, presumably, if you didn't do that, why, every upperclassman would beat you to death or something. ... At any rate, also, when any upperclassman whistled, you, as a freshman, had to run. So, you learned to run a lot, and especially if there were crowds of upperclassmen around, but that lasted for a while, until people got a little sick of it and revolution was setting in, and then, they [the upperclassmen] would say that the deal was over. So, you were then initiated or something. It was a form of hazing, but it was nothing compared to [the] hazing at military academies and stuff like that, ... kind of childish in a way, but it was something that happened all over North America. Freshmen were always kicked around a little. I lived in Hegeman Hall, up here, and it was a nice place, handsome building, rather new and right behind Bishop, which was where a lot of my classes were, in political science.
I don't know whether I'm telling you more or less than you want to know.
DM: You lived in the fraternity after Hegeman Hall.
RG: Yes. ... Freshmen were not allowed to live in fraternities, but I moved in in my sophomore year and Chi Psi was a great house, extremely loyal alumni and a nice house. I believe it was the first fraternity on campus. I'm not really sure of that, but it was around and it's a small fraternity and it always was selective, nationally, and I was very happy there. We had a housemother who was a lovely lady, who made sure that the place was civilized. You couldn't have dinner in the Chi Psi house unless you had a jacket and tie on. You could eat, but you had to eat in the kitchen, ... if you weren't properly dressed. As you came into the dining room, your napkin was in your napkin ring, in a tray, and you took that with you. You couldn't sit down and eat until the president of the house came in and stood there and bowed his head for a minute, and then, everybody sat down. You couldn't leave the table until he left. If you had to leave early, you would go and explain to him why you were leaving early. ... They sang after every meal, a great number of songs, and it was camaraderie of a very high sort. ... The food was great and the presence of a housemother made sure that the place wasn't an animal house. I really ... enjoyed my time there. ...
DM: How did Hegeman Hall compare to living in the fraternity?
RG: Well, [for example], my room in Chi Psi, in those days, everybody slept in the open air on the top of the house. There was a right-hand ... sleeping dormitory and a left one, freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors. ... So, you had a study room and a place where you kept your clothes and so forth and showers and so forth were on the second floor and a little portion of the third floor had a tower. ... In other words, you didn't have to have a bed in the room, because you slept in the dormitory, and the windows were open 365 days a year. If you didn't have a feather comforter about this thick, you'd freeze to death in the Chi Psi House. Ever since that time, I've been a fresh air fiend. [laughter] ... The accommodations in the fraternity, I thought, were pretty good. The fact that there were no sleeping people in the study rooms made life simple. You didn't have to worry about some bird who was still sleeping at eleven AM. He's upstairs and he's out of the way. I thought it was pretty good. ... [Editor's Note: Mr. Grasmere produces a book.] The term "pocket book" came along some time during the war, but what it referred to was thousands of volumes that they printed especially for troops and they were made to be able to put into your pocket, because you couldn't carry a book around. This is one of the pocket books from WWII. They would come in a case and they wouldn't all be the same size or the same format, but they would all be something that could fit into your pocket. ... It was a great thing, because you couldn't deal with a regular book at all. It was a great effort by the publishing industry, to take thousands of titles and put them in this format.
DM: You were a history/political science major.
DM: Did you know that you wanted to do that when you entered?
RG: Well, I wanted [to study] the law and that was the avenue and I ended up in Cornell Law School. I got the Cornell Law Association Scholarship and everything was going well, until Hitler started to move. ... They admitted, at that time, a little over ninety in the entering class at Cornell Law. So, my class of ninety, ... in 1942, had dwindled to about eighteen. Many of my classmates had gone out, before the war was declared, and joined the Canadian Army, knowing that it was going to happen. ... It was a great place. I highly recommend Cornell, one of the greatest campuses anywhere around. ... When there were less buildings there, it was absolutely, unbelievably beautiful, to look out down over Lake Cayuga, which stretched a ways up. One of the troubles in the lecture rooms at the law school was that they looked out at this god-awful, beautiful landscape and you'd drift over the landscape and forget to listen to the guy. [laughter] ... One of the things I mentioned in that was the fact that there was a feeling of, not defeatism, but we were taking a terrible licking all over the place and some of the things that happened were kind of utterly amazing. When you'd go across the Hudson River, you'd see a fifty-thousand-ton ship on its side at the dock. It was the former flagship of the French Lines, which was called the Normandie, and it was being refitted to be the USS Lafayette, a troopship, and some idiot lit a bunch of lifejackets. The idiot fire department poured water into it until the ship literally fell over on its side and sank in the Hudson River, fifty thousand tons. A couple of my classmates at Fort Schuyler were in the firm which raised the Normandie, but it was so damaged by its presence on the bottom of the Hudson River that they took it over to New Jersey and scrapped it. It was only about two years old. ... Just the other day, the Navy League had the history of the burning of the Normandie. ...
DM: When you were at Rutgers before the war began, did you notice any pro-Communist or pro-Socialist, or even pro-Nazi, groups?
RG: ... There was a club, a cell, whatever you call it, of the YCL, Young Communist League, and they were based over in Winants. As a matter-of-fact, you'd go down the hall at Winants and you could see, on the doors; it was then a dorm. I don't know what it is now, but I don't think it's a dorm anymore. ...
DM: I am not sure what it is now.
RG: It was dorm and you could see posters, with the hammer and sickle and so on [on them]. ... They weren't doing anything, that I could see, and they didn't have many people in the club, but they were around. ... I can't recall whether they ever really made any big noise, but ... Winants used to be, also, a cafeteria. You used to be able to buy, from the University, a food card, which would be [good for] a week's worth of food, and you could go over there and they'd put a nick in it for breakfast or lunch or whatever. Food was terrible, but it was cheap and that was the lower level of Winants. The upper levels were all dormitory rooms. ... The non-fraternity guys used to have an organization that they called the Scarlet Barbs, which was [short for] "barbarians," according to [what they said], [laughter] and they were reasonably militant about fraternity guys. I could see why many people might be unhappy about fraternities, because some of them were pretty bad. I used to play fraternities over at Lafayette and they were really something. I had a singer who was a knockout and went on to be a singer professionally, all her life. ... Most of the time, my singer was a girl named (Kaye McClain?), who lived here in New Brunswick, and she went on to sing with Jimmy Dorsey and a great many Big Bands, but this girl who went with us on several jobs over in Lafayette was Jewish. ... I remember being in a fraternity over there and having somebody say to me, "How is it that you have this Jewish girl singing with you?" you know, unbelievable stuff, and I gave him a pretty good mouthful of my opinion. We never played there again, but the point I'm getting at is that there were a lot of stuffed-shirt, biased, terrible people in the fraternity system, here and there. I didn't encounter too much of it here and it was always a pretty good thing. ... I think, the fraternity system, when I was part of it, encouraged scholarship as a strict matter-of-fact. [This is] going to be a funny "for instance;" my oldest friend in life, I went to kindergarten with him, he was my roommate in college, I was his best man and he was mine, ... Jim McCosker. ... When I was being rushed by Chi Psi fraternity; I'll mention Jim's name. It was a wonderful name. He's no longer with us. It was James Hackett Francis Xavier McCosker, and you knew that he was not a Presbyterian. He was Catholic and Chi Psi, up to that point, had probably never had a Catholic member. ... We came as a team, because I came with my "A" average and he came with a respectable "Gentleman's C," ... but all kinds of other things to offer, but they were not interested in Jimmy, but, when we came as a package, he came onboard and, after that, there were five or six Catholics admitted to Chi Psi Fraternity. [laughter] ... I mention this because, you know, that's a long time ago and attitudes were stultified in a great many ways about that sort of thing, but, what I was getting at is, fraternities encouraged scholarship. They wanted me because they wanted my average. They used to publish the averages of fraternities and, if you were on the bottom, nobody would pledge the house. So, they used to recruit Phi Beta Kappa-potential guys. ... By the way, they chose sixteen guys for Phi Beta Kappa in my time and I was seventeen. I had champagne cooling in my room, all ready to celebrate. What had happened was the military; when I entered Rutgers, we had to take military science and it was such a snap course that I never bothered to own a textbook and I got a comfortable "C," because they didn't count it. It didn't appear in the academic rating. This was 1936, '37. In '38, Hitler is moving around. All of a sudden, military stuff becomes important. They put the average back in and that's what cost me Phi Beta Kappa.
RG: ... Without my lousy 3 [the equivalent of a "C"] in "Military Science," I could be dangling this crazy little chain, [laughter] but, anyway, I think that's kind of humorous. ... We used to have to go to chapel, too, by the way. It was compulsory; [they would] take attendance. I went to see the Dean one time and, ... like an idiot, I said, ... "I'd love to be excused from chapel, because I'm tired a lot of the time," and I said, "If I could just sleep on Sunday mornings, it'd do a lot for me." ... This guy was named [Frazier] Metzger and he said, "Young man, people who associate with the people you associate [with] and people who frequent the establishments that you frequent need chapel more than other people." So, I continued to go to chapel.
SI: Do you think that you were in the minority, since you were going to these clubs and you were a part of the music scene?
RG: Well, only the minority in that not everybody could play jazz and, certainly, it was extremely popular. ... We would do extracurricular jazz or go to a place where they'd play it, because you could learn a lot. ... Music, well, it's always been popular, but Big Band, jazz, swing, whatever it is, was a real phenomenon that swept the nation. In 1937, I went to the 78th Regiment Armory in New York and there were seven thousand dancers. They had a band in [the] far balcony and a band in this balcony. They had a bandstand in the center, [on] which I had one band on one side and one on the other. In the course of that night, you heard Jimmy Dorsey, Tom Dorsey, the two of them happened to be in town, Benny Goodman was back-to-back with Count Basie. The music never stopped, seven thousand people dancing. I want to tell you, it was a frenetic scene. I don't know where there have been ever seven thousand dancers in one place since, as far as I can determine, but the point I'm making is, it was tremendously popular and gripping to people, and exciting to people who played it, especially when I got paid well. In my senior year, I went down to the Mercury dealer on Albany Street and I bought a convertible with red leather upholstery and all the goodies and I laid the money out on the counter, boom, boom, boom, cash. I got a receipt and drove the car away. I haven't bought a car like that since, but that was the band business. ... Since I owned the band, so-to-speak, sometimes, I didn't make anything, but, when we did make a lot, we would pay the guys the scale that they were used to and whatever was left over would be the proprietor's. ... My roommate, Jim McCosker, was the manager of the band. ... As a matter-of-fact, ... I walked down the steps in front of Queens today and I think that was about the first thing I ever did on this campus, was walk up those steps. I also used to spend a fair bit of time there because I thought I was going to be a geologist at one point and I did it rather seriously. ... [Editor's Note: Mr. Grasmere produces several photographs.] This is a social scene, so-to-speak. This is the Dean that told me I needed chapel. That's me in front of my band and there's scenes of dancers and band people and so on. This was a rival crowd. This is my outfit, here, and that's my saxophone section, there, and my pianist and so on. ...
DM: Did you play any instruments?
RG: Yes. I was a drummer by trade, but I found out that I could buy very good drummers. So, I ended up singing and leading and it wasn't as much work. The funny thing is, my whole family has been involved, in one way or another, in drumming. One of my daughters is a noted Afro-Cuban drummer, who gives courses all over the northeastern part of the United States and just came back from Cuba, where she conducted a two-week seminar down there. This is a tall, blonde girl who's a big Afro-Cuban drummer and, not only that, she and her husband make the finest drums in the business. You have to contract six months ahead to get one of them made. They're made of precious woods and all kinds of great stuff. ... Three of my four daughters are active drummers and my singer daughter drums, occasionally, with groups in the Boston area, drumming having become a sort of therapeutic thing for a lot of people, today. ...
SI: You mentioned earlier that Hitler had an impact on your life by pushing you out of Phi Beta Kappa. Were you aware of what was going on in Europe and Asia at the time?
RG: You know, we were and we weren't. Everybody in this country liked to think that if they didn't really follow it too hard, it might go away. There was an organization in this country called America First, which used to hold rallies over in New York City. Thousands of people attended it and one of them was addressed by Charles Lindbergh, the famous flyer, and he essentially said to them, "You may be making a mistake taking these guys [the Nazis] on, because they have an air force that would knock your socks off," and we didn't have anything. We were running around with two-wing bi-planes that were like eighteen years behind. Talk about an unprepared country; this country was criminally unprepared. ... Anyway, what ... Lindbergh told them [was], "If you're going to take them on, you're going to have to do something special, because they will destroy us." ... At any rate, there was America First, all kinds of [isolationist groups]. In fact, the Nazi [German-American] Bund used to hold rallies in Northern New Jersey, at a place called (New Found?) Lake, and they'd be in lederhosen and [they were] all handsome, scrubbed people, playing glockenspiels [a percussion instrument similar to the xylophone] and walking up and down, having a heck of a time imitating Germany. ... There was a big saloon in New York that used to be very popular among Rutgers students. It was called the German American and it was on ... Seventh Avenue, around 17th Street. [At] any rate, it was a vast Gothic hall, with (sloped?) hammer beams that went up about four stories. When you entered the place, there was this roar of music and glasses and they'd serve you a beer in a thing that was about this size and you had to pay a two dollar-and-a-half deposit on the glass. At any rate, this place was loaded with college students from all over the Northeast and, yet, down in the basement, where they had a continuation of it, they had big [collection] bottles on the bar which were donations for Nazi Germany. They had aswastika on the thing. That was the last time I was there. I went down and I was horrified to see that these guys were collecting money for the obvious enemy. So, the point is, there were people in this country who were well-disposed toward him. I don't know why. They obviously didn't know much about him.
SI: After you graduated from Rutgers, what was your next step?
RG: I went up to Cornell Law School. ... During that time, we got married, and then, they pulled the plug on the world and I left ... New Jersey in late '42 and I never came back until late '45, never even had a leave. [laughter] Yes; somebody said the other day, "My cousin's been in Iraq for six months." I thought, "Holy-mackerel." ... When I got home, I met a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter I'd never encountered before, shook her hand. So, this was serious time away.
SI: Why did you decide to go to law school?
RG: I had wanted to go to law school for a long time and that's what my history and political science degree was all about. ... I was trying to speed things up. At the end, I ... served my New Jersey clerkship; ... you used to have to give a year of your time to a law office, what they called a clerkship. You couldn't move on until you had done that. So, I served, started to serve, my clerkship in a firm in Newark called (Haines, Chatillice, Lynch and Maloney?) and I registered in NYU [New York University] Law School and went there at night. I'd work all day, and then, I'd go to school at night and come home about eleven-thirty and get up and go to the law office and so on. It was a pretty rough show, but, still and all, you couldn't beat the fact that the war was catching up. ... So, I went over, one day, to 70 Pine Street, New York, which was officer procurement headquarters, and I walked in off the street, so-to-speak, and signed up and went through the physical thing, and then, we headed into an eye exam. ... I knew this would be a problem, because any law student who's got 20/20 eyesight is somebody who hasn't been working. [laughter] ... I couldn't pass the eye exam for 20/20 and I wanted to go to sea. I didn't want anything else. So, I went in and, ... the critical line, I couldn't make, but I did notice that they caused guys to read it from left to right, and then, right to left, center to right, center to left. So, before I left the room, I just sort of put my jacket on, eased forward and got a look at that line and I can tell you that line today and I can repeat all those different things. I put it in my mind, "A-E-L-P-Y-H-E-A-L-T." I went back two weeks later and signed up all over again, as if I'd never been there. Now, I go to the eye exam. They've got two places, a right-hand one and a left-hand one, and I don't know where my eye chart is. I assumed it would be in the same place as the original and I'm angling to get in that room and I could see, as I moved forward, I'm going to end up in the wrong room. So, I excused myself to go to the john, came back out in the line, finally got in the right-hand one; I read that line like a champ and I went to sea. ...
SI: What attracted you to the Navy?
RG: I don't know; I'd always been interested in seafaring things. I'm probably the only guy around who has every book that Patrick O'Brian ever wrote. ... This is the guy that wrote Master and Commander and so forth, but I've been fascinated [by seafaring]. I have a full library of seagoing things and I just like the idea of the Navy, and so, that's what we did.
SI: Do you recall where you were on December 7th?
RG: Yes. I was in the home of James Hackett Francis Xavier McCosker, on Hillside Avenue in Orange, and we were about to sit down to Sunday dinner and that was seven AM, Pearl Harbor time, and his brother came sailing in and said, "You won't believe this." We went in the next room and we heard this and, right then and there, you knew that everything had changed, everything, and so, that's where I was. I was with my wife at that time, too, by the way.
SH: Did you consider trying to get an exemption because you were married?
RG: No. I'll tell you, as a strict matter-of-fact, there were very few guys that I knew who didn't move forward to do something. ... As I said, there were a lot of my classmates who had actually left school and gone to Canada, because we weren't in the war yet. ... Before it was all over, there were sixteen million Americans in various uniforms and it was such a colossal thing that you knew that it was; well, let's put it this way, you really should help. ... I don't know whether those attitudes are around today or not. I just have no idea, but we knew we were in a cause that counted and the nation backed us up, too. ... I had associates who fought in Vietnam and who went through as much hell as any infantry troops in the world have ever encountered and, when this one guy got back toSeattle, he's on the dock and people are spitting at him as he walks past. You know, unbelievable, that people could do that to somebody who had done his best, but that didn't exist in World War II, thank God for that.
SI: What was your first step after being inducted?
RG: ... Just had to go and buy my uniforms. ... You know, officers don't get free clothing. They also don't get free food. A lot of people don't know that. ... Even aboard ship, there's some basic ration, but the wardroom has its own food and you have to pay for it. ... So, I got uniforms from L. Bamberger and Company in Newark, not a bad uniform, as a matter-of-fact, and I still have it, by the way, and I can still get into it, which is even more interesting. ... The funny thing is, I hadn't had it on since 1945. My mother-in-law had put it in a trunk with her magic formula for keeping moths at bay, which was tea bags. You never saw so many tea bags in your life as in this trunk, but ... our church had asked me if I ... had a uniform. I said, "I know where it is, but I don't know anything about it." [laughter] They wanted me to wear it on a certain day, when they were having a ceremony. So, at any rate, I pulled this thing out and, after all those years, there wasn't a hole in it. It was absolutely perfect. We just steamed it a little bit and I put it on and there it is. ... I bought that in the City of Newark and, to pay for it; ... well, that's another story. They were not inexpensive and, [at] any rate, when I got out of; well, go ahead, you had a question. ...
SI: I was curious about the transition from civilian life to military life.
RG: Well, I had to go over to Fort Schuyler and that was a very severe, military, disciplinary sort of thing and it was run like Annapolis, I would guess. [Editor's Note: Mr. Grasmere produces a copy of a ship's newsletter.] ... I was mentioning steaming along through the South China Sea and reading about [Franklin Roosevelt's death]. ... Our ship use to copy the news and this is the way we learned of the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. I had a picture here of ... Fort Schuyler. ... There is Fort Schuyler; there is assembly in the morning, at Fort Schuyler.
SI: It definitely looks like a fort.
RG: It is. ... Oh, God, it's an incredible building. ... We'd be up at about five AM and ran around with a bunch of phys ed-type guys, who were called "gorillas," and it was pretty demanding. We had very little sleep. One day, there was a guy with me who kept puffing and falling behind. ... Finally, I heard him say, "I can't go on," and the gorilla said, "Come on." So, the fellow sat down on a railing area and dropped dead.
RG: So, I've never liked gorillas, since that time, but they were trying to bring us along to a high state of readiness. ... I would say it was a pretty good deal that they did. They brought guys in from the North Atlantic, but, as I think I mentioned in my remarks, they had a pretty tough story to tell, because the North Atlantic was a terrible, terrible place. We were losing ships so constantly. Some of the convoys [were badly mauled]. There's a notorious convoy [with] a notorious history, had left New York and was en route to Murmansk, with something like sixty ships. It was Convoy P[Q]-17 and only thirteen vessels ever made it to Murmansk. The German submarines killed them, and aircraft out of Norway, and you could go down to the Jersey Shore and watch vessels burning on the horizon. It was a grim, grim time. ... When I got out of Fort Schuyler, I was in the Inshore Patrol, which was attached to the Eastern Sea Frontier. [Our] function was antisubmarine, off of the New York area, and it was midwinter and, God, it was cold. The Hudson was full of almost like icebergs. In fact, sections of the Hudsonwere frozen over, which I understand happened this year in a couple of areas, but [they] haven't had it in a long time.
DM: How long were you stationed in the Atlantic?
RG: ... Actually, a fairly short time. It's an interesting story. ... It was so cold that I noticed that the only guys who were comfortable were guys who had a thing called a bridge coat, which was a very heavy, melton coat, and I found out where you could buy a bridge coat, which was at the Brooklyn Naval Clothing Depot. I went over there and I bought it and I was paid one hundred-and-seventy-five dollars a month and I paid eighty-five dollars for this coat. ... I was warm for two days, and then, I received orders to go to the South Pacific and I have the most unused bridge coat you ever saw in your life, because it also went into the trunk and it's still in magnificent condition. It's the most beautiful garment I ever owned [laughter] and I never had a chance to wear it out. ... I had only been in the Eastern Sea Frontier for about a month or something like that, prior to that time.
SI: Was there any activity during that time?
RG: Well, there was always activity, because the business of antisubmarine work was constant, but our mission was the area, ... well, off the harbor, not out in the open Atlantic. In fact, we had a bunch of the most amazing converted, non-naval vessels you ever saw in your life, yachts and that sort of thing. ...
-------------------------------------END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE TWO--------------------------------------
SI: This continues our interview with Mr. Robert H. Grasmere on March 24, 2004, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, with Shaun Illingworth ...
BC: ... Betsy Crispo ...
DM: ... Dion Miliaresis.
SI: I wanted to ask a few more questions about your training as an officer. They pushed you very hard; do you recall how high the washout rate was?
RG: Actually, I don't recall any washouts in my group, but we really didn't have time to worry too much about that, either. I think, if there had been a lot, I would have known about it. In fact, I don't think I ever encountered [any washouts]. They pretty well screened people ahead of time, to determine whether they were physically fit and so forth, except for the guy I mentioned, who did a little too much running in the morning. ...
SI: It was "ninety-day-wonder" style training.
RG: Yes, exactly.
SI: How did you adapt to that kind of compressed training, learning all these new things?
RG: Well, we had to adapt. We knew that, within a very short time, we were going to be somewhere else and we were going to need, really need, the information that we were getting. ... I remember, one time, we had a class that was essentially taught by a guy who had just come back from the North Atlantic runs and he was not a very optimistic sort of guy. He was very realistic and we knew that this was a desperate battle going on out there, in the cold of the winter. ... While I hadn't wished it at the time, as it turned out, I got sent in the other direction, where at least it wasn't cold. [laughter] ... We had instructors ... who were formal instructors and instructors who were visiting, who had been brought in from whatever assignment to try to give reality and experience to the classes. ... I think they did a pretty good job.
SI: Was it just generalized training? Was there any specialized training at that point?
RG: Well, you had to learn an incredible amount of phraseology, among other things. The Navy calls all kinds of things by different names. I mean, there's no ceiling; there's an overhead. There's no wall; there's a bulkhead, and so on, and so on. It sounds crazy, but, if you've got an assignment and you're talking in non-naval terms, it could be embarrassing and it could be a problem in understanding. So, there's a whole array of stuff that you had to learn about how the Navy is run, but, along with that, you had to learn the rudiments of navigation. ... I never saw a sextant in my life until I got one in my hand over there and, all of a sudden, I'm realizing, on one fine day, "If I don't shoot Aldebaran at the right time, I won't know where the heck I am." ... This has a very realistic effect on what you absorb. [laughter] You'd better absorb it, and so, I think they did an excellent job out there. They're still doing it, but they're doing it with Merchant [Marine] officers. I was there, [as] I mentioned, just a short time ago, for the New York Navy League, and they now have simulators. You'd go into a section where they call up Singapore. "Here you are, entering Singapore, with a modest chop and the tide is on the way out," or whatever, and all this thing is fed into it and you're supposed to take your vessel in and get it close to the dock, without taking the dock down. ... It's great. They have incredible things that we never had.
SI: At the time, was it just Navy training? Were there Coast Guard men there? Were there Merchant Marines?
RG: There were ex-Merchant men who were in naval [service], had naval commissions. One of the things that the Navy did was take a fair number of Merchant officers into the Navy. You would say, "Well, why didn't they leave them?" I don't know why they didn't, but I served under three captains who had been former Merchant captains, but they were commissioned in the Navy and held the rank of commander.
SI: I am always curious about military traditions. The Navy seems to have been more successful than other branches at maintaining its traditions. How did they indoctrinate you in those traditions and keep them up?
RG: Well, you lived in an environment that suddenly made you part of the Navy. I mean, everything about the day was a naval day and you rather rapidly got used to phraseology and the terminology. You had to be aware of the things that were involved in what they called The Watch Officer's Guide. There's a naval, basic volume that contains everything about what you would need if you were an officer of the watch on a vessel, either stationary, at dock, or underway or whatever, an amazing number of things that you have to know, phraseology that you have to know and ceremony that you have to know, strange and wonderful things, like flag hoists. One of the things we had to know was the meaning of all flags and we hoisted flags, even though we were not going to be our own signalman. We had to be able to read them and, to this day, I think I could recognize the alphabet, in terms of flags, even though they've changed the [code]. They used to say, "Alpha, Baker, Charlie, Dog, Easy, Fox." Now, they've got some other word that they use in there, because it's an international naval [code]. Flags are international and the Danes or the Swedes or something couldn't pronounce certain things, so, they ... have new words that indicate letters that everybody can pronounce, for some reason or another. ... At any rate, we had to learn flag hoists. We had to learn Morse code. It was extremely important. [If] you're up on a bridge and somebody's winking a message at you, you'd better be able to catch it. ... All of this is happening to you at once, navigation, communication, signaling, tradition, phraseology. Oh, it's quite a heck of an experience in a compressed period of time, but it served [me] in pretty good stead. I was never really embarrassed when I got out into the fleet. ... You had to learn a lot of stuff pretty fast, but, if you were smart and ... if you didn't volunteer mistakes, you could get ... around all right. I listened a lot, watched a lot.
SI: Can you tell us about when you were sent out to the South Pacific?
RG: Yes. I went out by train to San Francisco and I wanted my wife to go with me, who was pregnant, and I didn't have the train fare, which a heavy number. I was paid for, but she wasn't. So, I took out what the Navy calls a "dead horse," which is a loan against your future pay. I was paying for that "dead horse" about eighteen months later, [laughter] ... but she accompanied me to San Francisco, and then, of course, came back home and, in San Francisco, we waited around a while for the ship to come in, which was the USS Mount Vernon, which had been the SS Manhattan [SS Washington] in the trans-Atlantic trade. [Editor's Note: The SS Manhattan was pressed into military service as the USS Wakefield. Both the Manhattan and the Washington were United States Line ships.] It was a troopship, but it carried about five thousand troops and I sailed on the Manhattan from San Francisco to San Diego, and then, ultimately, to Noumea, New Caledonia. ... It was so fast, the ship was so fast, that they didn't give it any escort. We had five thousand troops onboard, including a big portion of a Marine division, but we made it from San Diego to New Caledonia in eleven days, traveling at about twenty-seven, twenty-eight knots, which is really great speed for a major vessel. ... We didn't even appear to do much evasive steering, because there were always steering patterns that they used to evade submarines and torpedoes, but we moved in a pretty good straight line. We never saw an island until we passed something called Malden, between Malden and Starbuck. Starbuck is always an interesting thing to me, because, as an island, it sits out in the middle of the ocean and, if you go absolutely straight from San Diego, you pass between these two islands. ... In Noumea,New Caledonia, which is a French possession, they had just had a terrible battle between the Vichy French and the "French" French [or Free French] and the streets and the parks were all loaded with trenches, where Frenchmen had been killing Frenchmen a short time before. ... That had all stopped, but the marks of it were all there and, of course, the Vichy French were defeated and the regular French were in control, but it was the headquarters of Admiral [William F. "Bull"] Halsey, [Jr.], and the Third Fleet, which was the largest fleet in the world. ... New Caledonia is an interesting island. It's the largest source of nickel in the world. They've been mining it for, I don't know how many years, and they still have, apparently, vast amounts of it and they used to use a lot of indentured, which is almost slavery, ... workers from Indochina, which is now Vietnam. These workers would come in and spend years working for the nickel companies. ... I'll never forget watching freight trains and freight cars, not freight trains, freight cars, individual cars, moving down the track, surrounded by, like, a hundred-and-fifty little ninety-pound women, who were pushing the cars. These were Indochinese indentured workers. They were the propulsion source, but we didn't have anything much to do with that. We were based in New Cal, training, and then, at that point, I was called into their headquarters, the Third Fleet Headquarters. ... We were new arrivals and they lined us up and they greeted us and they said that they had a very difficult, hazardous assignment coming along and anybody who didn't want to take part in it, stay in place, and anybody who would would take a step forward. ... Of course, everybody in the place took the step forward and I ended up being assigned to a combat communication team. ... They had had a terrible time going up on beaches, because they had poor communications between the beach and the ships and the beachmasters, who were supposed to put the landing craft in the right place at the right time. They were not getting through. ... The Army couldn't run communications worth a darn and the Navy could. ... So, what they did was, they decided to take an organization composed of radio technicians and radio operators and officers and make it into a communications unit that could handle everybody's messages, Army, Navy, Marines, [the] Australian-New Guinea Administrative Unit, called ANGAU, and the RAAF, which was the Australian Air Force. We handled everybody's communications, never been done in warfare before, and they labeled this, initially, it was called US Naval Combat Communication Team #1. ... I didn't know anything much about radio and communications, but, once again, I had to learn fast and we drilled all over the southern part of New Caledonia and, ultimately, went to sea and [participated in] various landing exercises. ... We got a smooth working team, but, just before we left New Caledonia, we went into; well, actually, ... I'm ahead of myself. FromNew Caledonia, we went to Townsville, Australia, and we traveled by LSTs [landing ship, tank]. You probably know what an LST is. ... In Townsville, we drilled in combat techniques. Here, I joined the Navy to avoid hand-grenades, so-to-speak, [laughter] and here I am, drilling with hand-grenades and ... Tommy guns and every weapon you can think of, and we perfected ourselves pretty well. Then, they took Communications Unit #1 and we filed into a tent, where we picked a piece of paper out. ... The piece of paper had a number on it, either one, two or three; actually, it had two or three. One was what we were and they were forming two units. So, I picked up three and it's interesting how your life can change as a result of some little, stupid thing like picking up a piece of paper, but Communications Unit #2 was involved in a disastrous landing and [was] pretty well wiped out and Communication Unit #3 was not. So, in your life, you just reach in and pull something [out] and it tells you what you're going to do, what's going to happen to you. So, from Townsville, Australia, we then staged north viatransport destroyers. They had destroyers from World War I, which were called four-pipers, and fifty of them had been given to Great Britain to help in the Battle of the Atlantic, way, way back. ... I wasn't sure whether you guys had ever been aware of the fact that there was actually a naval war going on in the Atlantic long before we got in. ... I brought along an article about it, but, basically, what it says is that as much as five months before Pearl Harbor, we had lost a United States destroyer to a German submarine torpedo attack, and so, ... there'd been a lot of warfare going on before all of this. ... I don't know how I got on to that at this moment, but, in any event ...
DM: There was a brief interruption. Dr. John Chambers has entered the office.
RG: I don't know whether I'm talking too long.
John Chambers: You're never talking too long. [laughter]
RG: ... At any rate, I had suddenly found out that, even though I was in the Navy, I was essentially a combat Marine, covered with ... .45-caliber drums that fit in the Tommy gun, and so on, and so on, and I must have thrown a thousand grenades. In fact, we ended up, sometimes, at the end of the day, so deaf that we had to get up to each other's ears to talk into the ear [of the other man], because nobody could hear anything, ... but we were then told that we were going to go north. MacArthur was moving against Rabaul, which was the great Japanese fortress up in New Britain. ... We sailed on these APDs [attack personal transports], where they had taken a boiler-room out of the old destroyer and put a troop compartment in it. In other words, the speed of the destroyer was slowed down from maybe thirty knots to twenty, twenty-two knots, ... but they were used as transports. So, we sailed out of Townsville, Australia, one morning. It was a great hush-hush operation. We were going down to the beach to get into the landing craft, to go out to the APDs, the destroyers, and it was about four AM and we went through this town and everybody was out. There were people in the front yards, waving handkerchiefs and saying good-bye and so on. Well, I learned that a military secret travels very rapidly, [laughter] but they knew the Yanks were going north. This was the first time they had ever made an offensive north of New Guinea and these people were, I guess, concerned, grateful, one thing or another. So, we sailed from Townsville up through the Great Barrier Reef. ... [Editor's Note: Mr. Grasmere produces a map.] Just so you know what we're talking about, here's the coast of Australia and this is New Guinea here and our destination was an island there called Woodlark, which is right there, and New Cal is over here, Townsville is ... roughly about here. ... Townsville is right there and it's a sort of a semi-tropical [place]. All of this area is tropical, in the sense that palm trees grow, but this is the Barrier Reef, the really important part of it, treacherous, treacherous waters, loaded with things that will tear your ship to pieces. ... I made thirteen trips through this Barrier Reef, ultimately, and we emerged around Cairns, here, which is a tourist destination today, and sailed over here to the tip of New Guinea, to a place called Milne Bay. ... We arrived there about six o'clock at night, dusk was settling in, and Tokyo Rose was on the radio and she had a lovely voice. [Editor's Note: Tokyo Rose was the collective name for several female English-speakers who broadcast Japanese propaganda.] She was miserable, but she sounded great and she said, "Hi-ya, fellahs, especially you guys who are just entering Milne Bay." She says, "You're looking at the USS West Point," and we were. This was the biggest vessel in the US registry. ... I can't think what it was in civilian life, [the SS America], but, at any rate, it was there and it was loaded with troops and Tokyo Rose knew it was there and she said, "You guys are making a big mistake," and she went on to indicate how many planes and vessels and one thing and another they had taken care of that day and wished us well and so forth. ... We just circled around, because you didn't anchor there. This is like a fjord. Four thousand-foot mountains go up on each side and, if you dropped an anchor, it would keep on going and, boom, it would break right out of the bottom of the ship. In other words, there's no bottom. The bottom of Milne Bay is probably a thousand feet down or something. So, we circled around and got the instructions that we had to have, and then, we picked up a bunch of other APDs, which had troops of the 112th Texas Dismounted Cavalry on it. ... There were not many of them, because I was selected to be one of two officers in charge of the reconnaissance of this island. We were supposed to get on shore, find out what there was there and, if it was impossible to have a landing, we were to get on the air and so advise them. The only thing they didn't tell us is what was going to happen to us if, ... I mean, we were there and we couldn't get off, but that was immaterial. We landed and it turned out that the Japanese were not there, even though it's only about 160 miles south of their headquarters, ... which was up in this vast naval base called Rabaul, which had airfields and incredible quantities of Japanese ships, planes and troops. ... At any rate, in this book, which I think is one of the best histories of the Pacific War ...
SI: Eagle Against the Sun: [The American War With Japan by Ronald Spector].
RG: I've read every bit of it and I can't find anything wrong with it. ... It says here, "MacArthur's initial objective in Operation: CARTWHEEL," and our operation was a piece of CARTWHEEL, which was called LEATHERBACK, and the reason they had "Leatherback" is that the Japanese couldn't pronounce "L." So, anything you wanted them not to be able to pronounce, you put an "L" in it. They would say, "Reatherback." ... "His objective was to occupy Woodlark and Kiriwana Islands in the Trobriands and the landings in the Trobriands were entrusted to units of General Walter Krueger's newly arrived Sixth Army." I saved General Krueger's life; he never knew it, but I did. The Sixth Army should have come under the operational control of Sir Thomas Blamey, who was the Australian general, but MacArthur didn't trust anybody and he essentially had control of the whole thing, but I'm getting down there. "MacArthur failed even to consult the Australians about this operation," this bit of slight of hand, "but his action, by assuming separate tasks and command set-ups to the Australian and American forces involved in the operations against Rabaul, probably avoided much trouble," and it goes on here to talk about the difficulties that they had in liaison with the Australians. Now, it says, "On Woodlark, Lieutenant (P. V. Maloson?), a Coast Watcher of the Royal Australian Navy, was awakened during the night by islanders, who warned him that strange ships were standing in toward the beach. Maloson hurriedly mustered his local militia into a skirmish line, about a hundred yards from the water. They watched tensely as the first wave of invaders came ashore." I was one of them. "Then, Maloson breathed a sigh of relief as he heard the unmistakable sound of an American accent." [laughter] We managed to say something and the militia didn't fire. ... "The invaders were the advance party of two American regiments which occupied Woodlark and Kiriwana at the end of the month without incident." ... We were the advance party. There were two officers and about eleven men and some troops from the 112th Cavalry. ...
The subsequent landing on Woodlark, of nine thousand troops, ... took place about ten days later. ... So, at any rate, in this operation, we had to establish radio communications, but we couldn't use them for a while, because they didn't want to tip the fact that we were there. In fact, we were told to bivouac in native huts. There were some near the beach and we negotiated with the top man or something or other and we ended up in there. ... Also, there was a plantation there that was owned by a guy with a strange name, was (Isodore Id?), and he had a house that was a typical South Pacific-type thing, right out of somebody's novel, and I stayed [there], pitched a sleeping bag on the floor of his place. We had to stay under everything, because we did not want to come under attack from Rabaul until we got [the] real important stuff there, including nine thousand troops and antiaircraft and everything else. So, I had a chance to live in a South Pacific plantation house for a few days, which was kind of fascinating, ... but we had a lot of work to do. We had to dig our operation in and ... we had a lot of equipment. In fact, we had so much equipment, it was almost amazing that ... we could wrestle it up on the beach and into where it was going. It consisted of heavy, heavy radio stuff and even a five hundred-pound generator. ... At any rate, ... I pulled my back out getting the generator up on the beach and I thought to myself, "My God, here I am," ... we didn't know what we were about to encounter and here I was, off to one side. We had to carry this thing about a quarter of a mile into the jungle and there were four of us, but, when you get five hundred pounds, with four people, stumbling over roots in the dark and one thing and another, it's quite an experience. ... So, I remember, as the sun came up and we had gotten this stuff out of sight, I went down and I found a patch of sand underneath some kind of foliage and the sand had warmed up and I remember putting my back into the thing and [saying], "God, if it doesn't come back, I don't know what I'm going to do. Here I am, way the heck and gone in the middle of this ocean wilderness, ... with a bad back." ...
So, at any rate, we dug in and we did reconnaissance all around. We discovered that the troops could come in and we stayed out of sight, though, and we broadcast only one message, indicating that it was okay. We got an acknowledgment and that was it and, nine days later, nine thousand troops arrived, via LST, and, in a period of about twelve days, they build a five thousand-foot bomber strip out of nothing, out of a former plantation and jungle. This was two SeaBees [units] that came in, the 20th and the 60th Construction Battalions. They worked twenty-four hours a day. When we would be bombed, which we were, or strafed, which we were, of course, they'd stop, and then, when this all-clear went [off], even ... in the middle of the night, they'd work with lights, building this bomber strip, which, ultimately, supported a substantial operation against Rabaul. ... [Editor's Note: Mr. Grasmere produces more photographs.] This is where we came in and the plantation house was over here somewhere and this was all either jungle or plantation and this is the thing that they built in about ten or twelve days. It doesn't sound like much, but it was an incredible achievement. All of these are revetments, which are places where you can park aircraft and, if they're bombed, the bombs encounter heaps of coral and they don't actually hit sideways into the planes. A revetment is sort of a buried thing. ... Ultimately, it became a fighter strip, operating with P-38s. These are the twin-engine jobs that had a long range. It was a P-38 that killed the famous Japanese admiral, [Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto], ... over Bougainville. They call it "assassinated." Every once in a while, I see that. What happened was, they knew he was coming in, or they thought he was coming in, so, they sent some planes to intercept him and blow him down. I don't call this assassination. [laughter] This was Yamamoto, yes. ... That's the bomber strip ... right there and, ultimately, when my whole outfit, Communication Unit #3, came in, we went up in the hills above here and dug in. We were actually something like forty feet underground. ... They dug a colossal hole, and then, they covered it with coconut logs to the tune of about twenty feet, so that it could take a direct hit and not be blown apart. ... From that, we handled the communications for the Army, Navy, Marines, the Royal Australian Air Corps and everybody else. It was a very successful thing and we also had the ciphers and codes of the Brits and everybody. It was so successful, they never did it again. I mean, this is the military. ... We could never understand it. Nevertheless, we were there about six months and this became a very highly operational field, which dealt with the whole area around eastern New Guinea and up, principally, to Rabaul, which was MacArthur's objective. He wanted very much to neutralize Rabaul. Eventually, they thought he was going to take Rabaul, but he didn't. He bypassed it. He just left it there. ... I was on another reconnaissance out of Woodlark, to try to determine whether we should put a [radar set somewhere]. Radar was in its infancy and we had an outfit with us called ARGUS 1 and it was a very hush-hush thing. Radar, for whatever reason, the Navy didn't want people to know too much about, but we knew that ARGUS had the capability of knowing what was going on in the air and on the surface, too. ... Off of Woodlark Island, some distance, there was a little island called Nubara and I conducted a reconnaissance of that, with a few Marines and a fellow officer. ... We went out there and we swam into the island over the reef. In other words, ... the landing craft couldn't get over the reef, so, we had to drop in the water and swim over the reef, and then, into the bay, and then, on to the island. I'm not a very good swimmer and I made it. I had a .45 pistol and a lot of rounds around my neck, plus my shoes and my trousers and a trench knife and a few other things. ... The island turned out to be an absolute hellhole of mangrove swamps and mangrove roots and it was the worst single trip I ever took anywhere. ... We finally, late in the afternoon, got to the other side, walked around the beach, back to where we were going to embark, and, now, beat to the chops, I have to swim out in the lagoon, over the reef and out where the thing is, and I made it out over the reef. I came up to the landing craft and there was a pretty good chop and the thing was going up and down and they had the landing ramp down. ... As I got under it and tried to reach for it, it went up, and then, it came down and hit me on the head and I didn't have anything left. I remember just kind of wandering around in there and an officer, who's still alive and is a dear friend of mine in Lynchburg, Virginia, powerful, powerful man, he tangled his legs around one of the cables and drifted over the side, got a hold of my shoulder somehow or other and hauled me up on to the ramp. [laughter] Otherwise, I was headed for not being here today. So, I've always been very grateful to Lieutenant (Binford Taylor Trice?), whose grandfather was a Confederate cavalry general. ... I call him up about every other month, in Lynchburg. He's in a wheelchair. He can't get around, but he was a heck of a guy. So, that was just a little sidebar item on Woodlark. Finally, I had orders to report to the Seventh Fleet inBrisbane, Australia, and we flew out of Woodlark, off of that landing ... strip, airport, whatever. ... I remember, we were going onboard the C-47 and ... there was a high-ranking officer with us who said to the guy, "Your manifest seems to show that you are loaded beyond twenty-six thousand pounds," and the pilot said, "Yes, we are. We've got about twenty-eight or twenty-nine," and the guy said, "What happens if you get in trouble, engine-wise and so on?" and the Aussie pilot said, "Sir, we go into a deep decline." At any rate, we did not have the trouble. ... However, to get off the ground, we had to back up against the bulkhead, where the pilot was, it was so overloaded, and with that, we flew over the ridge of New Guinea. Most people think New Guinea's a little island, but it's about eighteen hundred miles long. It has mountains up to sixteen thousand feet and getting up over theOwen Stanley Range is a trick in a heavily loaded plane. So, we were actually following a mountain valley and we flew down to Townsville, Australia, and I was so cold when I got off in Townsville, I remember ...
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RG: In Brisbane, I was ultimately assigned to a division that they were building up to handle fuel for the fleet. This would be Bunker C, which is black oil, diesel oil and ... one hundred octane aviation gas, and we had a bunch of vessels that were oilers, but they were disparate types. In fact, a number of them had been scuttled by the Italian Navy somewhere, in shallow water, and they'd been raised and they were commissioned in the United States Navy. I sailed on vessels that had machinery that it [the labels] was all written in German and Italian and all kinds of things. We had to have interpreters to figure out what the heck the equipment was [for], ... but our function was to take fuel from Panama and transport it north to the combat areas. ... That's how I happened to make thirteen trips through the Great Barrier Reef, on various vessels, and I was on a number of them for relatively brief times, because they needed guys to train other guys. So, if you had made two or three voyages north, you were a veteran. You were training guys. ... [laughter] You weren't much of a veteran, but it was better than they had and, ultimately, though, ... the longest time I spent was on a vessel called USS Carondelet, which ... has been the name of a naval vessel for a long, long time. There was a Carondelet in the Civil War. It's named after an area where there was a battle, around New Orleans, at the time of [Andrew] Jackson. At any rate, Carondelet was a captured Italian vessel. Its ship's bell said, "RN Brennero," on it, which is what it had been in the Italian Navy. ... We sailed quite a number of voyages to various areas of New Guinea and one voyage to Darwin, Australia, which is over on the north coast, in the center of Australia. Darwin, by the way, was the only place that the Japanese ever attacked in Australia. They bombed Darwin, ... and they would have, of course, taken Australia if it hadn't been for the Battle of the Coral Sea, where the United States stopped them. We lost a couple of carriers doing it, but Australia itself was never under Japanese direct attack, except in Cairns [Darwin?]. ... I was in all the various hot spots in northern New Guinea, places called Buna, Gona, Finschhafen. Ultimately, we went up to the Admiralty Islands, to a place called Seeadler Harbor, which is notable to me, because, when we entered the harbor, there had been an incredible explosion. We were, thank God, away, out at sea, but, when we got in there, about an eighteen thousand-ton ammunition ship called the USS Mount Hood had blown up and it had killed everybody onboard, plus seven hundred men on ships that were anchored in Seeadler Harbor. ... There were six survivors. They were the mail party that had gone into the beach to get the mail and, from Seeadler Harbor, we sailed to Hollandia, New Guinea, which was Dutch New Guinea. ... By the way, when we were in Dutch New Guinea, we were paid in guilders. Of course, that was Dutch money. We were paid in Australian money in Papua New Guinea, never saw any United States money. It was always the [currency of the] territory that you were in and we then were told to pick up a floating crane for the Leyte invasion. ... We had to haul that crane, which was about the size of a small football field, with a colossal superstructure, about one thousand, two hundred miles at about six knots. ... Well, if a Japanese submarine had ever seen us, it would have been the neatest shot in the world, [laughter] because we were going so slowly, dragging this darn thing, and then, we hit a storm, which was the fringe of ... a typhoon, and we lost it. It broke loose and I said, "Thank God." We radioed, said, "We've lost it." They said, "Recover it at all costs." So, in the middle of this storm, we had to recover it, off the Palau Islands. ... I remember an island called Babelthuap. It was only about thirty miles off and Palau was where my dear friend, Ellsworth Sutphin, was killed on the beach. ... We finally put a boat over and a couple of really incredible, courageous guys fixed a messenger and we reattached the cable and we hauled that floating crane up to Leyte. ... I was never so glad to get rid of a piece of cargo in my life. I was executive officer of the Carondelet, which is the number two guy. ... From Leyte, we staged over to the invasion of Mindoro, which is in the north and west
SI: May I ask you a general question?
SI: When you went into all of these areas, did you basically just unload, then, leave?
RG: Well, many times, we would stay. We stayed, for example, in Leyte Gulf, fueling ships that came in. Instead of fueling at sea, we'd stay there and pump at anchor, or, on occasion, we would go over to the vessel that was being fueled. ... [Editor's Note: Mr. Grasmere produces a map.] This is the Philippines, the home of sixty million people, which nobody knows beans about. ... This is Leyte Gulf, here, and, coming up from the Admiralties, ... as we passed the Philippine Sea Trench, which is twenty-nine thousand feet deep, I threw an empty bottle over and I figured it would take about two-and-a-half hours to get to the bottom, ... [according to] the laws of physics. It's a hell of a hole. ... There's Leyte Gulf. There were seven hundred ships at anchor in this place when the Japanese decided to bring a three-pronged attack through San Bernardino Strait, around Samar, a carrier attack from up here and another attack from Singapore, through Surigao Strait, here, and they were going to shoot these seven hundred ships like ducks in a barrel. ... Because of the courage of five American destroyers, the Japanese, plus seeing jeep carriers out here; I don't know whether you know the story of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. ... The big stuff from Japan, including [the battleship] Yamato, was headed down here and, all of a sudden, they see, on the horizon, carriers. These were jeep carriers. These were [converted] merchant vessels with no armor and [they were] small. They were primarily for the transportation of planes, rather than flying sorties and so on, but they saw them and they were being attacked ... [by] planes from Leyte and other carrier planes. ... The Admiral, [Shoji] Nishimura, I think it was, is on Yamato and he can't understand. In front of him, he sees destroyers, which are like gnats, the tinniest things you could imagine, quarter-of-an-inch of steel, three-inch guns, five-inch guns, twenty-millimeters and forty-millimeters, that's it. ... They're coming against this colossal vessel and all the rest of them, because it was this entire fleet strung out here through this strait. At any rate, the destroyers made torpedo runs and there were somewhere near, I think, eleven hundred men [who] lost their lives in that. ... There was only one destroyer that sailed out of it. The rest of them were sunk. ... He then decided that maybe he had encountered Halsey, that he didn't expect [him there]. He turned around and went back and that's the only reason all the vessels in the Leyte invasion weren't destroyed, was the courage and willingness to sacrifice of these skippers. There's a book out, right now, just published within the last month, called The Last of the Tin Can Sailors [by James D. Hornfischer], which tells about the battle. ... It says in the book that it is one of the most gallant, incredible actions of World War II and almost nobody knows anything about it, which is a heck of a note, if you lost your life on the USS Hoel and so forth. ... [Editor's Note: Mr. Grasmere produces a book.] This is a book, which I'm sure was in a hardcover, it's called Tin Cans, ... by a guy named Roscoe, happens to have a fine account of this, although the book I mentioned, The Last of the Tin Can Sailors, is totally devoted to this battle. The destroyers that went down were the Johnston, Hoel and [Samuel B.] Roberts and they're known in naval circles with great, great respect. Now, at any rate, we took part in the invasion of, and the support operations in, Mindoro, then, we went down to Zamboanga, which is the southern piece of the Philippines, way down near Borneo. ... This is Zamboanga. ... Borneo starts right over here and this is the island of Palawan. ... The news of President Roosevelt's death reached us as we were coming up through here, the Sulu Sea, and we were told, by radio, to be prepared to divert to Palawan, to pick up some liberated American prisoners. ... We didn't have facilities for that, but we got out everything we could get, blankets and cots. ... We didn't have a doctor, but we mustered everything and we stood by to divert to Palawan. ... Then, we got a message saying to countermand the instruction, that the prisoners had been herded underground and soaked with gasoline and burned to death and that we were not to go to Palawan. That's one of the reasons I don't drive Japanese cars, not because I hate everybody, but they never acknowledged any of this stuff. They got off real free. I went to Santo ThomasUniversity in Manila one time, right after Manila was taken. We were out in the harbor and a guy [on the ship?] had had a relative of his who was an engineer, who'd been kept by the Japanese in starvation for three years. What they did with all these civilians is unbelievable. They should have put them on a Swedish ship and taken them home, but, instead, they imprisoned them, men, women and children, and starved the daylights out of them. When I went into the rotunda of Santo Thomas University, and there were prisoners there who were trying to help people with registries and so on, ... these guys, you could see every rib, I mean, every single rib. They were like skeletons and they weren't even combatants. They were business people and little kids. So, at any rate, that's my lecture onJapan and, by the way, I'll probably edit it out, only because people don't understand today. We're supposed to love everybody, and I have no trouble. My backyard neighbor, for years and years, was a wonderful guy, a Japanese-American doctor and his wife. ... I don't have this trouble as a constant thing, but this thing I mentioned, on Palawan, was a real eye-opener to me. I knew that there were troubles there. ...
Zamboanga was the very southernmost island of the Philippines and, in it, we encountered these people who are causing so much trouble presently for the Philippine Government, the Moros. These are Islamic Fundamentalist types who have been fighting the United States for over a hundred years. In other words, after the Philippinesbecame a commonwealth, they expected to have a nation, I guess, and their allegiance is not to Manila, it's to an island called; well, it's in the Sulu Sea and I guess it's the island of Sulu. ... The Sultan of Sulu is the nominal head of all of these people and they fight the Philippine Army, all day, every day. They do not acknowledge the rule ofManila and it's a real big problem to the Philippine Government and these people are incredible sailors. ... They'd come up around our ship, with a singsong approach, to try to sell things, and what they wanted to sell was pearls. They were pearl fishermen. ... You'd throw a line over and they'd tie a little rag together and get up on deck and there'd be a handful of pearls. What they wanted was not money; they wanted clothes and vitamins. That was a funny thing. They also had beautiful knives that they called barongs, which are about this long, with a hand-forged blade and an incredible handle. ... They would trade these family heirlooms for clothing. ... I don't know; they were just wild to get clothes. We didn't have any clothes to speak of. We looked like a pirate crew most of the time, but I parted with a few good things, realizing [that] I could never get another shot at a beautiful mother of pearl-encrusted knife. ... The point I'm making [is], as they showed you the knife, it was a beautiful blade, and then, they would cut themselves, like so, and I'd look [at them], and then, they'd say, "The knife never leaves its scabbard without drawing blood," and, there, he has this little cut, puts it back in. If he shows it twenty times, the guy's a hospital case. ... At any rate, these are very serious warriors and they had a couple of concentration areas over on the beach, where they got some real bad guys. ... I know what they're up against when I read about these kidnappings and so forth. They sail long distances, two, three hundred miles, in an outrigger canoe that's about this wide, outrigger here and outrigger there. ... As they come alongside, mama's cooking fish for dinner on a little stone hearth in this outrigger and a kid's swimming over side, between the boat and the outrigger, a kid maybe this long. [laughter] I mean, it's amazing. They're like fish. They just live on the sea, great, big lateen-type sail, and they're a totally different nation. ... We handled them very carefully. We were bombed in Zamboanga by land-based Japanese aircraft and one bomb almost did us in. It got so close to the stern that it blew the packing out of the propeller tube, as it comes through the stern. The packing came out and started to flood the shaft alley, but we didn't get a direct hit. ... If we got a direct hit, I might not be talking to you, because we were carrying one hundred octane aviation gas, plus diesel oil and so on. ... There's just one little vignette; I remember, one time, we were off Zamboanga and [I was] on the bridge and Marine Corsair planes, the gull wing jobs, were coming in to dive-bomb, pinpoint bomb, gun positions in the hills above Zamboanga. ... We put the big glasses on. We could see up the side of a hill. It was sort of a grassy slope. ... Well, we saw these armored bulldozers and you could see sparks and explosions coming off the blades as they went forward, because they were facing troops that were uphill. ... We watched these bulldozers, and then, behind them, there were infantrymen hunkered over and making their way up and, all of a sudden, the whole side of this hill went up in mines. They had mined the hill and, when they suckered enough guys out on it, they blew it, and so, I'm watching bulldozers and people being knocked out on this hill and the messman came to tell us that lunch was ready, on the bridge. I mean, that's just a juxtaposition, of seeing some guys dying over here and having somebody say that lunch was ready. I'll never forget it, but, you know, life has to go on in whatever aspect it is, and there was nothing wrong with us. [laughter] We had to eat lunch and we were out there like a big, doggone target anyway, ... but [these are the] little things that stick in your mind.
SI: Obviously, bombings were a great danger to your ship, but, also, just the act of refueling could be dangerous at times.
RG: Yes. It can be.
SI: Do you recall any hairy situations?
RG: I can recall breaking a petty officer, first class, down to seaman. We were loading and he was about this far from a gooseneck, which is a vent, and he's got a cupped cigarette in his hand. All in the world you need; these fumes float around, you can't even see them, and they're flammable as the dickens. Anything in the cargo handling area's subject to stupidity like that and we used to fuel a lot of ammunition ships. That was always a nice exercise, when you were loaded with flammable stuff next to a ship that was loaded with everything in the world. One of these ships had a wonderful name. It was called the USS Pyro, [laughter] which seemed, to me, an unfortunate name. ... So, you had a lot of safety considerations to worry about in tankers. One of the things that I had carried in here, but I took out before I left, was the tanker safety manual, which shows what you have to do. ... There weren't too many tanker accidents that came about as a result of crew's negligence and one thing and another, but there were a load of tankers that didn't make it. As a matter-of-fact, I didn't mention that when we were in Zamboanga, I was captain. The Captain had been invalided off and, by the way, the previous captain had been sent to a mental hospital and was there for, like, two years, ... just to mirror the strain involved in tankers, whatever it is, ... but I was skipper in Zamboanga. ... When I was ordered back to the United States, I received instructions, ... after leave, to proceed, [by] first available Government air, to take command of USS Elkhorn (AOG-45) [(AOG-7)], I think it was. This was a gasoline, exclusively gasoline, tanker with high speed. It could do better than thirty knots if it had to and this was for the invasion of the Japanese Home Islands. I'd have lasted about twenty minutes off of Kyushu or something, because, if there's anything they ever wanted to see, it was a tanker. I mean, that was about the best game you could get. So, Harry Truman saved my life, and a lot of others. As a matter-of-fact, ... one of my Japanese-born friends said that she was trained, as a child in school, with a spear. Every day, they trained. They had all kinds of thrust motions and [they taught them], "Stick it in the ground and the barbarians would come at you and you had to die." Well, you know, well, it [the dropping of the atomic bombs] was good. [laughter] ... She actually said that the greatest thing that happened to Japan was that the bomb was dropped, because there would have been incredible sacrifice. It wasn't that Japan was bankrupt in terms of military facilities. They had entire armies there in the Home Islands and some tough ones, too, that came out of China andManchuria and so on. ... It probably would have cost, according to people who study this thing, as much as seven hundred thousand lives, by the time they got through. So, I was glad I didn't take the Elkhorn into the Home Islands.
SI: Do you remember hearing about the atomic bombs?
RG: No, no. It was a great mystery. We didn't hear anything more than anybody else did in the news. I remember a tugboat captain saying, "They dropped some damned thing." He said, "Boy, it must have been powerful." He didn't know what it was. He said, "It's A-tomic," and he didn't know what it was. ... I've skipped over a lot of stuff. [Editor's Note: Mr. Grasmere produces some photographs.] I just wanted to show you an encouraging little picture of an island. ... Palmyra Island is in the middle of the Pacific and I had an experience [there]. We dropped off a sailor with appendicitis. We didn't have any doctor, and so, at any rate, there's an outfit in this world called the Nature Conservancy, which goes around preserving wild mountain areas, islands, whatever it is. In fact, my family had a one hundred-acre property in Fairfield County, Connecticut, which ... had not been lumbered off in 150 years. It was a gorgeous thing and I had to sell it, because of an estate controversy in my family. ... I was sad about it, because the place deserved to be preserved. Fortunately, it was bought by a woman from Texas who kept the whole one hundred acres as a house lot and she, in turn, the other day, sold our property to the Nature Conservancy. So, it's going to be preserved forever, in a place called Redding, Connecticut. ... The Nature Conservancy just bought this entire island, where I landed the guy with appendicitis. It's the most beautiful island I ever saw, called Palmyra, and ... I thought it was so encouraging, that there's going to be no hotels, no anything. It's going to be just the way it is, with sea birds and ocean and one thing and another, from which you may gather that I'm somewhat of an environmentalist. ... These are some shots on Woodlark Island. This is the guy that hauled me out of the drink, ... for whom I'll be forever grateful.
SI: You mentioned that you had been under attack on Woodlark and in the Philippines.
RG: Yes, right.
SI: How often were you under fire?
RG: ... Fortunately, we were not ... a combatant vessel. Our big trick was to try to keep out of sight, so that we could carry our cargo and do our job. ... We were under air attack at one point in the Mindoro operation and, inLeyte itself, there ... were raids of all kinds and dozens of ships would open up. It was more damage done by us, to ourselves, I think, than to the other guys, but, no, ... we tried [to stay out of sight], with the exception of the bombings in Woodlark, which were rather constant. ... There was one lone bomber who always came over. He was called "Washing Machine" Charlie. You could hear [him]; his engine had a curious beat to it, but we were pretty well dug in and, as a consequence, we were not hurt, but we shot down a lot of planes there. In fact, ... I had a couple of pieces of a Japanese Betty, [the main heavy bomber of the Japanese Navy], that we nabbed. [Editor's Note: Mr. Grasmere produces a newspaper.] This is February '45. This was before Manila was secured, but this is a newspaper that they issued to the troops. They had facilities for printing these little, bitty newspapers, to try to give the guys some idea of what was going on in the world.
SI: How often were you able to correspond with your wife and your family?
RG: Well, sometimes, it was amazing, sometimes, a letter would get home to the East Coast in six days. Sometimes, it would be four months. Mail was a sketchy thing. My oldest child was born in June and I never knew the details of it until late September, I think it was. ... I knew that somebody had been born. I didn't know whether it was a boy or a girl, because somebody else had a letter saying something about Bob and Evelyn's baby. I didn't know whether it was a boy or a girl. So, in other words, mail was a little sketchy, because we moved around so much. That's really the trouble. I mentioned being paid in all kinds of money. [Editor's Note: Mr. Grasmere produces currency samples.] The Japanese printed money for every place they captured. This is a Japanese fifty centavos and you can see that some of them got very used. What those holes are [for] is that these came out of banks in Tacloban, Leyte, and they drilled holes in them, so that people would know that they were no longer currency, but that fifty centavos has been used a little bit. Here's kind of a fresher one. ... They also printed up things that looked very, very much like a United States bill, but it happens to say, "The Japanese Government," and it's kind of a good-looking bill and they had others that looked like that. I mean, it was a wonderful thing; all they had to do was print and they had all this money. So, when the United States came in, they had currency with them that was real and what it said on it was, "Victory." ... When you dealt with anybody, he wanted to know whether you're going to be paying, "Victory money, Joe?" "Yes, okay." If it was Victory money, they'd sell, but they didn't want any of this garbage. So, the Japanese printed up guilders for Dutch conquests and this is a Victory money.
SI: How often would you interact with civilians?
RG: Fairly infrequently. ... If they were hawking something out of a boat that would look like a vegetable, we bought it, because we were really wild to get something fresh, [laughter] that would been nourishing. This is an Aussie ten shilling piece from that time and we were paid a lot in Australian money, and then, ... in Dutch New Guinea, we were paid in real Dutch money. That's a tired looking pound. ...
SI: Did you have any encounters with foreign Allied troops?
RG: Australians, yes, lots, because the Australians used to work out of our airstrip at Woodlark and I knew a lot of Australians. I had guys who would trade stuff. The Navy used to send radiomen over to Chunking, China, and one of them gave me this Chinese bill. ... This is a Chinese bill; ... this is a Japanese bill that was printed up forChina. ... They had every conceivable way to [print money]. I don't know what a sen, is, but that's obviously a minor thing; it isn't a yen and so on, crazy money. ... [Editor's Note: Mr. Grasmere distributes fifty centavospieces to all of the interviewers.] Where that came from was the main bank in Tacloban, which was the capital of Leyte, at the very top of Leyte Gulf. One of the things you had to do on any vessel was to interface with the port commanders all the time, because they were the ones who held the right to send you here and there, through orders that they received. ... When you went into a given port, you always would head for the beach to get whatever instructions came from the port directors. ... [Editor's Note: Mr. Grasmere produces more photographs.] This was a famous admiral called "Terrible" Turner, Richmond Kelly Turner, a great amphibious admiral. ... I put a note here [to] this effect; I was digging in, when I was in this combat communications thing. I was digging in at some point and some real brass came by and this seven-foot tall guy comes over to me and I'm down [in the hole]. I'm an officer, but I'm digging and he said, "What the hell are you doing?" and I said, "I'm getting this radio equipment down and we're going to dig in," and he said, "You'd better go down twice as fast, as far as that, or they'll blow your ass off." That's exactly what Admiral Kelly Turner said to me. That's my immortal point with him. I also encountered Admiral Halsey in a strange and wonderful way. When you came down out of New Guinea, when you were north of about six degrees south, [it] used to be the combat area and you were entitled to have some time at a place called Surfer's Paradise, which is south of Brisbane. It was a naval run hotel and I went there one Saturday and they had a bunch of people of the area who were welcoming guests at the hotel, who were all naval officers and Marine officers. ... They had an orchestra playing and there was a dance going on and there were a couple of Red Cross ladies from the United States. ... I was with a friend of mine, who, subsequently, became a great space scientist, and this guy knew this lady from Washington. ... In the fullness of time, why, people started to dance and I was dancing with this lady from Washington. ... All of a sudden, she stops and she says, not, "Bull," she said, "Bill," and I look over and, my God, there's the Admiral of the Third Fleet, William Halsey, and he says; what the heck was her name? "Marion;" it was, "Bill," "Marion." It turned out [that] they lived in Chevy Chase, on the same street or some darn thing, and so, she goes over and starts to dance with the Admiral and I go and sit down. ... The next thing you know, there's a major coming over to our table and he said, "The Admiral would like you to join the party." ... I think he thought ... he had stolen my girl, but ... that wasn't the case. I wasn't about to tell him, either. I could see a case of scotch over there. So, I went over and I joined Admiral Halsey's party and I had the greatest evening of good, good booze that I had encountered in a long time. Australian liquor was awful. ... At any rate, when the evening was over, this major came over to me and he said, "The Admiral gets up at about six and he's going to swim and we'll have to get the beach chairs out," and so on, and so on. ...
-------------------------------------END OF TAPE TWO, SIDE TWO-------------------------------------
SI: Please, continue.
RG: ... All right. We're in the surf at Surfer's Paradise and he had sort of a withered left arm and, in the course of splashing around, he said his arm was no good. He had to kind of swim sidesaddle and the reason was that he ... [was] one of the few seagoing admirals who had learned to fly and he learned to fly at a very advanced age for that kind of thing, like fifty years of age or something. ... He said he was in a plane where he couldn't get the wheels down. ... There was a manual thing that you could use and he did it, he got the wheels down, but, in the process, he tore all the tendons in his shoulder and arm, trying to get the wheels down. So, his arm wasn't worth much. So, I'm talking to the top man in the Third Fleet; all I am, at this point, is a lieutenant, J.G., [junior grade]. So, at any rate, we finished this swim, and then, I was invited to a luncheon, where all the notables of that part of the world came in to this hotel and [we sat at] a beautiful table with flowers and so on. ... I'm at the table and my buddies are looking through the window of this closed off area and [they were] looking at me. They don't know what had happened to me. [laughter] I was with his chief of staff, a guy named (Kearny?), Mike Kearny, I think it was, and a whole bunch of other people, but it [the story] still has a thing. We finished the dinner, or the luncheon, and I was out ... at the front of the hotel, thinking about going back to Brisbane, and this tremendous Packard pulls up and it's got four stars and two flags in the front. It's the Admiral and in the back of the car is the lady from Washington and the Admiral. They roll the window down and they say, "Lieutenant, are you going back to Brisbane?" and I said, "Yes." They said, "Jump in." I didn't have my bag or anything else, but, when an admiral of his stature tells you to jump in, you jump. ... So, I got in and they had a rope sort of thing; not a rope. It's a beautiful, ornamented cord that they used to put a lap robe [on], in the old Packards, in front of the driver's seat, and he had his uniform jacket off and it was folded on his lap robe rope and it had about that many ribbons, unbelievable thing. I had one lousy, little row here, but I took mine off and I hung it on this thing and we drove the forty miles into Brisbane. ... I thanked him profusely and we departed and I got on a bus and went back to get my gear. [laughter] ... He, by the way, was from Elizabeth, New Jersey, so, the fact that I was from New Jersey [helped], ... and he was very nice. I mean, I was nothing, I was less than nothing, but he was very kind. He also talked about, somehow or other, the subject got deep, "Have you ever encountered any survivors?" or something like that, and I said [that] we hadn't and he said, "Well, ... we don't pick them up." He's talking now about enemy survivors and he said, "I have issued an order that all the ships in the Third Fleet are not to pick up survivors if they are overloaded, and I've issued an order that they will all be overloaded all the time." So, that was his attitude, because what was happening was, they were fishing guys out of the water; a friend, ... a fellow I knew, was on a seaplane tender and they fished somebody out of the water and the guy pulled a grenade on the quarter deck and blew everybody away. It was just not a healthy thing to do. So, at any rate, that's my encounter with Bill Halsey.
SI: Did he live up to the legend?
RG: He was crusty and wonderful, very decent guy, obviously relaxing, and [we were] with a friend from theWashington area, which did no harm. ... [laughter] I really couldn't believe [it], and this girl was nice enough not to blow my cover, so-to-speak. She didn't say, "He doesn't mean anything." [laughter] She let me enjoy the party, yes, which I thought was great. This is not history, per se. ...
SI: It is very interesting.
RG: Yes. ...
SI: What do you remember about V-J Day? Was there anything special?
RG: No, I don't remember [anything]. ... I wasn't in any of these big deals, where everything was going crazy. I was home. I had sailed to New York from Manila and went through the Canal and I said hello to my daughter, Hazel. ... I was told not to sweep her up into my arms; I'd scare her to death. ... When the door opened, she was there. Nobody else was there. Now, understand, I left in 1942, it's now 1945, [laughter] and she looked up and kind of cased me, and then, she said, "Would you like to see my toys?" ... I went inside, I didn't say hello to anybody and I went over to her toy box and we went through the toys, and then, I said hello to my family. [laughter] ...
SI: I am amazed at how common that was. I have interviewed several people who had kids who had never seen them. They had to reintroduce themselves.
RG: Yes. ... After that, I went up to train a crew that was going to take over the carrier Franklin D. Rooseveltand I went up to Newport, Rhode Island, and I was part of the staff up there and, finally, I was mustered out on the 25th of December? yes, 25th of December, 1945. ... I think I did some good in Newport, too, because I had, you know, been around quite a bit at that point and had been communications officer and first lieutenant. ... The first lieutenant is the guy that takes care of this stuff on deck. It has nothing to do with rank, and, you know, I'd had gunnery and communications [experience] and being exec and being skipper, ... with a crew of 175. ... I was ... twenty-seven years old, practically an old man. So, there's about eight thousand other items that I've not touched and I don't know what's to be done about them, but I think, one day, I'm going to start talking to one of those things [a tape recorder] myself. ... At some point, I want somebody to do something with some archival-type things. [Editor's Note: Mr. Grasmere produces a book.] A friend of mine gave me this book. He said his family doesn't give a blank about stuff of this kind, but this is a history of the 73rd Bomb Wing, which was in on the final kill in Japan. ... Of course, ultimately, they went to Japan and were based there. ... Here's the B-29s working Japan over and so on. It's an important book. ... There may be millions of them around, but I don't believe there are. It was put out by this air wing and it's a real history of all of this. I don't have anything directly to do with it, although I've seen a couple of the places that they talk about here, but this should be in somebody's files. [Editor's Note: Mr. Grasmere flips open the unit history.] This is a famous guy, "Hap" Arnold, the big honcho in the Air Force. So, my question would be, have they got anything down here where stuff like this would [go]?
SI: As a Rutgers alumnus, your papers belong in the University Archives. Something like that, perhaps, might be more useful to researchers at the Air Force archives at Maxwell Air Force Base.
RG: ... That could be, but I've got a number of items of that kind and many of them really deserve to get a little conservation or something. [Editor's Note: Mr. Grasmere produces a magazine.] I brought this along, only because it shows the ocean warfare that went on before we got in the war. ... Most people, certainly of your generation, are unaware of the fact that we were at war before Pearl Harbor, importantly so. This is a Smithsonian article that deals with it and it has art work that's been done by a very well-informed guy ... who experienced this, but ... this was months and months before Pearl Harbor. The Germans were roaming the seas, raising literal hell. ... They knocked off an American destroyer, the Reuben James, I think it was five months before Pearl Harbor, something that, for whatever reason, I've encountered a whole lot of people that [are] totally unaware of the fact that that went on, because, you see, the Brits were having convoys going across and the US was trying to safeguard some of that. ... As a result, they came into the sights of the U-boats and the U-boats were really winning. My vessel hit a reef, in the Great Barrier Reef, tore up about sixty feet of bottom. We were sinking and we finally managed to get the thing under control. ... We went into dry dock in Australia and one of the only pictures I have of the vessel, and it's just the stern of it, is, we're that first one in there. [Editor's Note: Mr. Grasmere produces a newspaper clipping.] We're the first ones that ever entered this dry dock in Australia. ... It's interesting to see these newspapers of the time. They spent a million pounds on the dry dock; it probably would cost a hundred million dollars today. This was my sea cap. This is the one that I wore on the bridge, because I didn't want my good ones to get hurt, but that was through this whole thing. ... It has been a little green; I don't know how. [Editor's Note: Mr. Grasmere produces several photographs.] ... This is where Halsey picked me up in his automobile, the Surfer's Paradise Hotel, and, as long as you're looking at it, this is the lobby of it, real art deco-type thing. How about this, as a lobby? amazing, and this room, over here, is where I had a luncheon with all of these notables. I've written it all on the back and it was in this ballroom here that Halsey cut in on my girl. [laughter] This was at a dinner, but it just shows what it was. This was the Surfer's Paradise Hotel. I got these pictures because a friend of mine ended up as manager of it. We could never figure out his good fortune in getting a post of that kind. [laughter] Everybody else is running around New Guinea and he's running a hotel. That, by the way, is just an idea of Yamato, seventy thousand tons of destruction that was headed down toward Leyte. ... If the admiral had not been confused and changed his mind, man, the history would have been different, different entirely. So, you guys are all heroes to have listened to all this.
SI: After you got out of the Navy, according to your pre-interview survey, you founded the water treatment company.
SI: What led you to that?
RG: ... I went back to my law office and I found that there were cases that I had worked on that were still undecided and it was four years later. I thought, "My God, this is a slow moving profession." So, I decided I'd get into business for myself and I cased a number of businesses and found out that water treatment was something that a lot of people were very interested in. ... So, we softened water, we neutralized it, filtered it, purified it, filtered it for swimming pools, anything that had to be done with water. ...
See, I pioneered in a lot of things. I represented the water treatment industry before a lot of boards, committees and commissions and I developed a filtration system that was pretty widely copied, that uses diatomaceous earth to produce water which is minus almost everything that can be filtered out. Cysts and so forth disappear and I've got patents in the water filtration field. I also served, in 1960, as president of the International Water Quality Association and traveled all over the United States, representing them in all kinds of places. ... For a number of pioneering things, like establishing trade practices within the industry and trying to govern the actions of; every business has people ... who violate what you'd call norms of selling and we established trade practices committees, which ended up producing standards of conduct which governed most of the water quality treatment business, which they call, today, point-of-use water treatment. In other words, instead of treating the reservoir, you treat the water where it's going or [for] what it's going to do. ... For a great many years of that sort of thing and leadership in the Water Quality Research Council, which is an adjunct of the International Association, in 1984, they made me a recipient of the Hall of Fame Award of that industry, down in Orlando, Florida. There've only been about twenty guys who ever got it. So, it's a nice thing for anybody that does that sort of work and I've mentioned the fact that ... I had a lot of experience in public life. Just the business of being mayor of a town of twenty-five thousand for the length of time that I was is kind of unusual. Usually, after a couple of years, they throw the bums out, [laughter] but I survived eleven terms and I never won by a squeak, either. I tried to demonstrate that you could do a good job honestly and carefully. ... It happens that they don't pay mayors in Maplewood, so, you had to be pretty gainfully employed, because I had a full-time job at no salary. ... My wife, however, was a great manager and she was the majordomo in our business for a great many years, but I've received a number of awards from the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, for representing all of the communities of the State in Washington and in Trenton. ... I think I mentioned at the outset that I chaired the Joint Meeting of Essex and Union Counties, which is a sewage treatment plant that's at the foot of the Goethals Bridge. It's an immense operation and it handles the sewage from about thirteen communities, a population probably, today, close to about eight hundred thousand, and it's a state of the art facility. ... It was, I don't know how it is at this moment, because I left it in 1994, but it was the lowest-priced operation in the United States, because people have to pay for sewage treatment on a per household basis today, and we had the lowest in the United States for many years, a totally non-political, honest and aboveboard operation. It has since, by the way, become far more political, but, when I left it, as I mentioned, we had money in the bank and we didn't owe anybody anything. ... They named a twenty-six-million-dollar treatment facility [for me] down there, which you can see from the Turnpike. I always say, "There's my building." They named it after me and I always said I would much rather have a library, but I do have a plant named after me. [laughter] ... I made my way in the matter of, basically, ... water in all its aspects. ... It's a good field and it's certainly important to the world. I never had a feeling I was wasting my time.
SI: When you first started the business, did you use any of the GI Bill or veteran's benefits?
RG: No, I didn't. The main GI benefit was, of course, college and there were also some loans or something that you could get. I never did really pursue that, but ... the provisions that allowed veterans to go to college, probably, are what made this nation great, because there's never been anything like that in the history of the world, where so many people who would have never thought of going to college found out they could do it, and they also knew a reason why they should do it, because, after you've been a private, first class, for a long, long time, [laughter] you understand that maybe it's a good idea to be a general, if you can manage. ... One thing I did do, they allowed veterans to buy war surplus. Man, if you had any money in those days, you could have bought stuff you wouldn't even believe. You could buy a patrol torpedo boat, a PT boat, John F. Kennedy, PT-109 type thing, with four thousand-horsepower Packard engines. You could buy that thing for seven thousand, five hundred dollars, [laughter] but, of course, in those days, the average yearly income was probably about four thousand some-odd dollars. So, it was a lot of money, but, when I think back on it, they were great. So, I looked at these surplus things at one point and I saw [that] they're selling soap. Well, soap was in terribly short supply all over the world, for some reason or other, I think, probably, because the fats had something to do with war, somewhere. At any rate, they had a kind of soap that you could buy in bulk. It came in great, big chunks and you'd cut it up to use it. It was like laundry soap. ... I put an ad in The New York Times that said that I had available; I think the unit you had to buy was twenty-five thousand pounds. So, I said I had twenty-five thousand pounds of soap available and I wanted to see what happened. I was inundated with phone calls. I sold my twenty-five thousand pounds to some guy in Haiti and I never even saw the soap. I mean, it went from a warehouse to something or other. So, I was a big soap dealer and I decided it was an awful lot of work for a very modest return. So, I got out of the soap business, but, just to answer your question, that was one thing they allowed you to do, buy war surplus. ... In the municipal field, I've been through most of the chairs that they have in the League of Municipalities. In fact, I still sit in the League proceedings. New Jersey has the largest organization of municipalities in the fifty states and ... it's an extremely good one, based in Trenton, and they hold, every year, an annual conference, which draws over twenty thousand people, which deals with every aspect of municipal government. ... For a long time, I used to be the League's spokesman, in the Legislature, about taxation problems, where municipalities ... have a whole lot of sources of income which never actually get to them, because the State preempts all kinds of taxes and sources of things before a municipality can get them. ... I fought that battle for a lot of years. We had some modest successes. It used to be that revenue sharing was available to municipalities. In other words, if your municipality produced federal revenue of a certain amount, ... there was a formula which would funnel money into your town, ... which you could use for any purpose. We had that for a while and it was extremely helpful, and then, there was an effort made to kill federal revenue sharing. So, I led a battle that went down into Washington and we appeared in a number of places down there. I was even ... in the Carter White House, briefed on their side of this. ... The point I want to make is that I moved a little beyond the business of local government to try to represent other governments and I have received a number of honors and awards for representing government in general through the State. So, that's about it.
SI: Was there a particular party that was easier or harder to deal with, or was it all the same?
RG: I don't think there are any of them [that are] easy to deal with. It's too bad there are parties. ...
SI: We hear a lot about the party system and men like Frank Hague.
RG: ... Let me refer you to a book that is utterly fascinating. I happen to be reading it at the moment. It's calledBoardwalk Empire and the author is a guy named Nelson Johnson. ... This book details the history of Atlantic City, which, if you don't know and you're interested in politics, will amaze you. There has never been as corrupt a city; I think it outdid Sodom and Gomorrah and everything else. Atlantic City, in its day, was run [by], basically, the worst of all the bandits was a guy named Enoch "Nucky" Johnson and he ran that thing like a feudal fife and this book, basically, a heavy part of it is his history, but it details governmental corruption fed by money and fed by an alliance with the underworld that you wouldn't believe. I knew ... the reputation that this guy had. He functioned in the area roughly through the '20s, '30s and he was done in by the FBI in the early '40s. It took them four-and-a-half years to nail him, because he had ... infiltrated the total structure of Atlantic County, by the way, through the Republican Party, to a degree that they couldn't get evidence even, because everybody was on his payroll. Everybody owed him everything about their lives. If they got a job doing anything, it went through his office. If you have a chance to pick up Boardwalk Empire, it's astonishing. ... It mentions that Frank Hague had a somewhat similar operation in Jersey City. He was a Democrat and Johnson was a Republican, but it didn't make any difference. The two of them were great buddies and, when an issue came along, they joined forces. It didn't make any difference what the party was. They were just interested in money. ... Johnson never was paid, except [for] a modest, modest amount. He had a tremendous apartment on Central Park West, another one in Palm Beach, and so on, and so on. He used to give hundred-dollar tips at a time when people would give fifty-cent tips and so on. [laughter] It's outrageous. It's also a history of Prohibition. ... Prohibition never touched Atlantic City. There was never a time during the Volstead Act, [the National Prohibition Act of 1919], which was a period of twelve years, approximately, 1920 to 1932, or something like that, ... when you couldn't buy booze openly at whatever hour in Atlantic City, nowhere else in New Jersey, but, in Atlantic City, yes. Gambling, wide-open; you could walk into the lobby of whatever and there was the poker and the twenty-one and the roulette and the whole bit. ... What they did was, they established a place from which Philadelphians, basically, could escape their Quaker surroundings, with blue laws, and travel on a railroad to Atlantic City and be immersed in every kind of vice that there was. It's not a very pleasant history; ... it's a fascinating history, but it's not elevating, let's put it that way. ... They were finally done in by the FBI and Johnson was sent to prison for about ten years. ... I think he got out in about four, but he sort of retired after that, but, then, it went to another thief, ... [who] was a lot better guy in terms of character, perhaps, but he was named [Frank Sherman] "Hap" Farley. So, if you want to become educated about Southern New Jersey, pick up Boardwalk Empire. It's really worthwhile. ... One of my hats is, I'm a member of the board of trustees of a historic house. We had a meeting Tuesday night and there was a history teacher there who was teaching a specialized course in black experience, in terms of commerce, industry and that sort of thing, and I told him about this book, because, in it, it mentions a fascinating thing, which is that, when slavery was abolished, there were tens of thousands of highly skilled slaves. They were blacksmiths and machine makers and cabinetmakers. ... The finest artisans in the South were slaves. So, when slavery was abolished, these people tried to make their way into the fabric of American life, but they were not accepted. Their work, when they were slaves, was enjoyed, but, now, they're trying to market themselves as a cabinetmaker; nobody would buy [from them]. So, they all ended up having to chop cotton or do whatever to keep food in their stomachs and, consequently, an awful lot of highly skilled artisans came north and an awful lot of them ended up in the construction of Atlantic City. They were never employed at their optimum, but the place came in to being on the backs of tens of thousands of freed slaves. ... It also notes in there, by the way, that the State of New Jersey was metza metzwith the business of being a free state. It almost voted to be a member of the Confederacy and it was two years after Emancipation that ... New Jersey finally got around to ratifying that. They dragged their feet all the way. TheMason-Dixon Line runs through Southern Jersey. It goes out of the Delaware/Maryland area and it cuts across, so that the whole southern tip of Jersey was actually part of the South. ... This is all out of this book and [it] reiterates it. So, I urge you to look at it. It's a lot of fun, outrageous but fun. So, I mentioned the historic thing; that historic house, on whose board I sit, sits in Grasmere Park. ... My colleagues, back in 1985, took a piece of land that had been untouched since the days of the proprietors of East and West Jersey and they made it into what they call a passive park, where you can walk and sit and stroll in the herb garden and the historic house, but it's not a place for baseball or whatever. It's a passive park and it has my name, which is always kind of nice to see. So, that's what I mention when I say that I've achieved some recognition. When I retired in '94, by the way, the party, ... it was a reception at the Maplewood Country Club, it was supposed to have four hundred people there and the cop who was at the door had a hand click and he said he had 802 people who came. So, I thought that wasn't bad. Maybe they were just happy to get rid of me, I don't know. [laughter] So, what else can I tell you? ...
SI: Is there anything else that you would like to put on the tape now? I think I will talk to Sandra about doing a second interview.
RG: Could be. Actually, there's a lot of kind of fascinating things that are part of the Pacific experience that I've noted and I think a great many of them deserve to be recorded, ... just the optimism of the American serviceman. Let me give you an [example]; I mentioned that we sailed from New Caledonia to Townsville, to get ready to go north. ... On this LST, there were Quonset huts. You know what they are; they go like this. Quonset huts were amazingly wonderful buildings and could be erected anywhere. One of the things they needed, though, was to be sealed against the weather and they did that with tar. ... The roof of a Quonset is corrugated metal and they have it overlapping, so that the pieces come in like this and, in that joint, they would pour tar, which would seal it against rain and one thing and another. Well, this LST that I traveled on had a cargo of Quonset huts and it had an incredible number of cases of tar. ... They were in cans and, because it was wartime, they had gone to some brewer in St. Louis and bought a whole bunch of extra cans that this guy had. ... They had loaded the tar into these cans, but the darn cans had a beer label on them. ... After you opened one and saw that it was full of tar, you would think that you would leave them alone, right? The whole bottom of that ship was full of loose tar, open can after can, in the fond hope that one of those things might still have some beer in it, honest to God. [laughter] I have never seen [anything like that], and it was horrible. I don't know how they even got the cargo out, because they had to pick it up like this and throw it away, but they wanted that beer. "It said, 'Beer,' and, by God, one of them's going to have it," [laughter] so, little items like that.
SI: I am sorry that we are running out of time.
RG: Yes, I'm sure you should be. So, ... if you want to give me a holler any time that you find some other time, I'll be happy to summarize some of these other things. I can remember pretty well what we've covered. ... I might bring down a couple of items that would be of interest to you. How do I know whether they're of interest to you? Are these things of interest to you?
RG: Good. ... My trouble is that I'm a pack rat, in terms of history. I hate to throw something away that has a historic possibility. What I used to do, in the Pacific, I would roll up a thing, like this paper, or fold it up, and I'd put it in a brown envelope. I'd get a big stack of them and I'd throw them in the mail and they were ... waiting for me when I got home. That's how I got this stuff home, because I realized that it had a value that could only be enhanced by the years. ... Let me tell you something about Manila, just while we're on it; Manila was declared an open city, which meant you couldn't bomb [it]. It was like Paris, and the Japanese Army general, who was [Tomoyuki] Yamashita, I think, moved his troops out of Manila and up into the mountains, but the Japanese Navy and Marines, which numbered about twelve or fourteen thousand, stayed on and they decided that, for the honor of the Emperor, they had to defend Manila. The consequence of that was a hundred thousand civilian lives blown away and a city that was so destroyed; if you read about Manila, you'll find that there were two cities in the world that were utterly obliterated. One of them was Warsaw and the other was Manila. There wasn't a building [left undamaged]. There's two-and-a-half million people in this city. You could be out in the harbor and put the glasses on the city and it was rubble, rubble. ... Here and there, there'd be a building that the framework of which survived. One building was intact. It was called the Wilson Building.
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RG: [They] put a chain of explosives down the stairwells. It had elevators and all that, but they had mined the place ... in the stairwells and, as our troops fought their way in there, the only thing that the Japanese succeeded in doing was to blow the roof off, which they did, but they propped the beams up and put tarpaulins over it and everything. ... When I was in Manila, the only functioning elevator in the town was in the Wilson Building and that was the only building that was intact; everything else, absolutely everything, gone. ... There was a bridge that I used to cross the river to get to Santo Thomas University and it was blown to one side and you had to walk across a girder, holding on to stuff, and there were mothers and babies and packages, everybody making their way. If they fell, they'd have killed themselves on the jagged iron beneath. ... There's a river that runs through Manila called thePasig River, P-A-S-I-G. There were six hundred ships sunk in the Pasig River, all of which had to be fished out by the United States Navy and brought out to sea, where they sank them, and they created an artificial reef out there. The harbor was full of sunken vessels. In fact, near me, there was a sunken Japanese naval vessel of some kind that was pretty well blown up and, up in the rigging, there was a body hanging. It was from a sort of a crosstrees and, when the wind blew, this thing would go back and forth. ... I had to send a party over to cut this guy down. This city was utterly destroyed by the will of the Japanese Navy. The Japanese Army, which were no Boy Scouts, had walked out and left it, but it was destroyed by the Japanese Navy, for the honor of whoever, terrible, even including the ancient city, from the 1500s. There's a place, which they're trying to restore now, it's got to be an odd restoration, it's a place called Intramuros, "Within the walls." When the Spanish held the islands, they built a cathedral and buildings and they surrounded it with the walls that you would surround a European walled city with. It was an incredible, old place. The Japanese made their last stand in Intramuros and they were blown out of there by the heaviest artillery that we had and, when it was all through, there was no cathedral, no anything, kaput. ... They were terrible people. ... The GI, the Japanese GI, may have been a great guy, but the people that ran the show were awful. ...
SI: We will conclude for now and pick up at a later date.
SI: Thank you very much.
RG: Thank you guys. You've been above and beyond the call.
SI: Thank you.
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Reviewed by Taryn Wechsler 2/20/06
Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 3/24/06
Reviewed by Louise Grasmere 5/20/10