Sandra Stewart Holyoak: This begins an interview with Mr. Walter E. Ringen, Jr. ...
Walter Ringen: Ringen. There's an "N," not an "R."
SH: On May 25, 2000, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, with Sandra Stewart Holyoak. I would like to thank you, Mr. Ringen, [laughter] for taking the time to sit down for this interview. You came all the way from California to be here. To begin, could you tell me when and where you were born?
WR: Born in New York City on March 24, 1923.
SH: What was your father's name?
WR: I was a junior. I was named after my father.
SH: [laughter] I figured that. Where was your father born and raised?
WR: In New York City. He lived in New York City [for] most of his life, but, moved out to New Jersey in 1925, and ... he moved to Little Falls, back when I was two years old, in Little Falls, New Jersey.
SH: Do you remember your grandparents at all?
WR: Well, I can remember my mother's parents, 'cause they lived with us for a while, and her first name [maiden name] was Buhler, and my grandfather was Harry, and my father's parents were much older. He was the last of five children ... and they had immigrated from Germany in the 1800s. ... My grandmother was Johanna, a couple of good names for grandparents, and his name was Henry, and I know [that] she was always sick and died before I was five years old or so, and I don't know exactly when my grandfather died. It was early in life, though. We didn't have that much association with them, that I can recall, but, they lived in New York all the time, up in Manhattan.
SH: What did your father do when he was living in New York? Do you know what profession he was working in?
WR: Oh, he had his own [business]. I think he went only to junior college, that's about it, and he had his own envelope business, and he distributed envelopes for all types of affairs. He was president of his company, way downtown in New York, near City Hall. ... You know, in the Depression, we always ate. [laughter]
SH: Well, since you mentioned it, what impact did the Great Depression have on your family?
WR: Well, I can remember, ... my mother's parents and aunt were always there. She rented a room across the street. My grandparents were in our home. In fact, my twin brother and I slept in the same bedroom with my grandparents for years. So, things were a little tight. People don't know those things, nowadays.
SH: That is why it is important to do these interviews.
SH: Before we discuss the Depression, let me ask you a few questions about your mother and her family. Where was she born?
WR: She was born outside of New Jersey, in Shore, Pennsylvania, up near Wilkes-Barre, where that plane crash was last week. Her grandfather was a very successful lumber person, and so, they had all sorts of things when she was growing up, because, when he died, he left my grandfather a bundle of money, and, by the time the Depression came around, it was all gone, but, ... they were from Pennsylvania. ... I don't know why she got to New York. She came down here to get a different type job. She was doing something in those days in a millinery store or something and met my father and that's what happened.
SH: Did she continue to work after they were married?
WR: No, no, no.
SH: Do you remember when they were married?
WR: Good question. Well, let me see, ... just before World War I, Dad was in the service, and I think they got married, and then, he went overseas. So, I guess they were married in 1917, something like that. Dad was wounded. He was in an engineering corps over there.
SH: How long was he there for?
WR: Overseas? No, no. He never talked about it too much, you know. ... We went, once, back to the Armory in New York where he had had some contact, only once, when we were kids, ... and he never made much [of it]. He belonged to the [American] Legion hall and that sort of stuff. ...
SH: Did he ever mention if any other members of his family were involved in the service?
WR: He never did and he had, let's see, Uncle Lou, Uncle Henry; to my knowledge, I don't know whether they were in the service and I never knew.
SH: Did your mother have any siblings?
WR: She just had one sister, so, the two sisters, and she was always around.
SH: Did your mother ever try to further her education?
WR: No, I think the most they ever got was high school and that was it.
SH: You believe that she came to New York to work in the millinery business.
WR: Yeah, something like that, yeah, and she wanted to get away, break the ties from back home, I guess. [laughter]
SH: Was your father able to keep his business during the Great Depression?
WR: Oh, yeah. ... He commuted on the Weary Erie into New York, every day, you know. ... In those days, they worked five-and-a-half days. They always worked a half-day on Saturday. Nowadays, people wouldn't know anything about that, but, I remember, we had to wait for him to come home on the two o'clock train to get money to go to the movies. We'd wait on the corner for him. [laughter] ... Of course, it was fifteen cents or ten cents for a movie in those days, instead of what it is nowadays. ...
SH: Had you moved to Montclair by that time?
WR: No, no. We lived in Little Falls ... and, in fact, Dad sold the house that we originally had in Little Falls in 1950. So, that was our home base until, well, when I came back from overseas, I got married, and so, I never lived home again, and that was fifty-five years ago. ... Dad built another house in Little Falls, up in the Great Notch section, and then, he moved into there in 1950. Then, he sold that twelve years later and moved into an apartment over in Cedar Grove, and then, he didn't last much longer. He died in '69. ...
SH: You have an older brother.
WR: My older brother, Harry, died in 1980, great smoker. He and my twin brother both died of emphysema, whatever, ... and he went to Wagner for two or three years, over in Staten Island. ... He was never much of a student, and I never knew what kind of grades he had or didn't have, and I didn't really care, but, after the war, he went to Rutgers-Newark for one semester, and that was all, and that's as far as he ever got. He went to work with Dad in the business. That's all.
SH: How much older was he than you and your twin brother?
WR: ... He was born in 1919, November 2nd, I believe it was. So, he was, what? three-and-a-half years older.
SH: What is your twin brother's name?
WR: Robert, Bob.
SH: Did he live in the New Jersey area?
WR: Yeah, he always lived in New Jersey; he didn't do anything. He worked in Little Falls for Paul (Abbey?) for a number of years. Then, he had his own businesses as a manufacturers' rep and, let's see, he was living over here in Lawrenceville when he died.
SH: Where did you go to elementary school?
WR: We went to Little Falls Grammar School, through the sixth grade, and then, ... there was a demonstration high school at Montclair State University, now, back in those days, it was just Montclair State, and their ... curriculum there was mainly for teaching students to be high school teachers, secondary teachers, and so, we'd sit in the class, there'd be fifty college kids observing the teacher, showing them how to teach high school, and it was a farce, because you had to take tests to get in the school to begin with, and you'd ask a question and half the hands would always go up, and so, "See how I'm getting through to my students?" that sort of routine. So, I got out of there in 1941. My wife and I were in class from seventh grade on. ...
SH: Oh, really? [laughter]
SH: I was going to ask, eventually, how you met.
WR: ... Yeah, I met her in the seventh grade.
SH: How did you get to go to this demonstration school? Did they send out exams to all of the grammar schools in the area?
WR: No, you had to go over and take an entrance exam over there and be interviewed and all that sort of thing. They only had twenty-seven kids in each class, so, it was small.
SH: Were you bussed there?
WR: No, you had to get yourself there, didn't have bus service in those days to go to schools.
SH: Did it cost your family to send you to a school like that?
WR: I think they charged, maybe, twenty-five dollars a year, very inexpensive, but, it was, you know, ... all college prep. In our class, I don't know, we had about four doctors and a whole flock of engineers, you know. ... Everybody went for secondary education. My wife went to East Orange General and got her nursing degree over in a hospital over there. ... Of course, my brother and I went to Rutgers, with Nick.
SH: We had spoke earlier, before the tape began, about how there was no counseling then
WR: No, there wasn't anything. I don't know why.
SH: You were expected to go to college, but, no one helped you.
WR: But, no one ever tried to figure out what would be the best curriculum for you or what your ambitions were. We had no kind of counseling at all and, as I said, I'm color-blind, and I started pre-med, and, when I got into zoology, I just fell flat on my face. I think I might have got a "6" on that course, or an "F," because, you know, I just couldn't do what the course demanded. So, I switched over to engineering after the war.
SH: [laughter] Another easy course.
SH: When you were looking at colleges, did you always have it in your mind that you would go to Rutgers?
WR: ... Well, when three of us were in college at the same time and money not being as abundant as it is nowadays, you know, we both managed to get some scholarship help, and so, we came to Rutgers. That was the main thing, 'cause it was a good school, it was well-known, even though we didn't have too many students here in those days.
SH: Were you involved in any sports or extracurricular activities in high school?
WR: I was on the basketball team there, but, we had minimal extracurricular activities, you know, 'cause the group wasn't that big to begin with. ...
SH: What were your interests as a young man? Were you a Boy Scout?
WR: No, my dad had a place out [on] the shore, in Normandy Beach, and we used to ... rent it in the summers, so, we couldn't be there. So, we used to go down [on] weekends quite frequently and that eliminated [any other past times]. Well, in those days, you ... [could] listen to football games only on the radio. No, TV didn't come around until Mr. Dumont came and ... brought it on board. So, we weren't too involved in football games and there was no high school in Little Falls. The kids used to go to Paterson Central or over to Montclair from Little Falls. So, it was a split community. ... Now, they have a high school. In fact, the first year that opened, I could have been in the first class there, in 1941. That's the year that school opened. ... Now, it's a huge school, [laughter] as you can imagine.
SH: Which activities kept the three of you occupied in the summertime?
WR: ... Well, when we were a little later in school, I got jobs in Little Falls Laundry and my twin brother and I ran the slack department. Back in those days, ... the pants that men wore were not pre-pressed, and they stayed pressed, and they had to go in there, and we had twelve women pressing the slacks, and we put the bags on them, and put them on the salesman's rack, and take it from the washroom up, all for forty cents an hour, fifty hours a week, for twenty bucks. ... When the labor man came around from the State, we were all told to get out of the place, 'cause we were too young and that sort of stuff. I can remember those things, people. [laughter]
SH: Do you remember seeing any of the affects of the Great Depression in your neighborhood? You mentioned that you always had food on your table.
WR: We did, and men would come to the back door, looking for food, and our first question was, "Are you married?" 'cause my aunt wasn't married. We were always trying to marry her off. [laughter] She used to get so mad, but, it was quite frequent. They'd come to the back door, looking for food. Mom ... always had something for them.
SH: Were you involved in any church activities?
WR: Not too much; later on, after we were married ... and back in Montclair, but, that was a long time ago. We went to the Methodist Church there. Now, I go to the Unitarian Church. ...
SH: How politically involved was your family?
WR: My father was politically involved with the Republican party in town and he was also, on the side, treasurer of the savings and loan there in town. He was always looking for a buck to help the family get along, but, other than that, not too [much], and the town was small, in those days.
SH: Did he ever run for office?
WR: No, but, I elected him as justice of the peace one year. [laughter] The first year, I wrote his name in, he got all these papers from Trenton, and he said, "My God, I [have] got to put all this money in," and he just threw it in the waste [basket], and he said, "Don't ever do that to me again." [laughter] So, he never ran. My twin brother was a councilman up in Roseland for a number of years, ... and then, (Carlo?), he was on the rent control board up there or something, too. I was involved in the Democratic politics in Montclair.
SH: Why did you choose the opposing party?
WR: Oh, because, in Essex County, they were all Democrats running the county, and the group that we were for, and we wanted to get the regular Democrats out of control of the party, it took us seven years, only for the basis of selecting candidates for Assembly and Senate and stuff and having our input, to a point. In a year, we took [over] the Democratic party in town. I was president of the group and I ended up as [the] Democratic town chairman of Montclair and went to the '68 convention. Do you remember that?
WR: Well, I was there.
SH: [laughter] Well, good for you. What programs did your township provide for its youth while you were growing up?
WR: What, in Little Falls?
SH: Yes. Was there, for example, a Little League in Little Falls or any other kind of program?
WR: Very little in those days. We didn't even have any baseball. Swimming, where would you swim? Up in Singac, there was a defunct park, it used to be Grandview Park, that's all torn down now, they had two swimming pools up there, but, you had to pay to go in. The town ran nothing. There was the high school site, where the high school is now. They had two tennis courts there and a baseball field, but, there was no organized stuff in town to keep you out of trouble. We had a little nine-hole golf course. We used to go up there and play golf, caddy up there, and then, play golf afterwards, and that's gone. Now, it's all houses, unfortunately. They should have kept it.
SH: Since your father was active with the Republican party, what was his opinion of Franklin Roosevelt?
WR: I don't recall him being in favor or not in favor of FDR. He was more concerned with making a living for the family, but, I don't think he was that much in favor of FDR, although I thought he did a wonderful job.
SH: You mentioned before that your decision to go to Rutgers was influenced by your family's financial situation.
WR: Well, and [it was] a good school, sure. I mean, you couldn't go to Princeton, for instance, even though you could apply, because we didn't have any money to go there.
SH: You only applied to Rutgers, correct?
WR: Yeah, and you had to take entrance exams and so forth. I think we took them up in Teaneck High School that year.
SH: You entered Rutgers in the Fall of 1941. Before that, in high school, were you ever told about the declining state of affairs in Europe? Did your family ever discuss those events around the dinner table?
WR: No, because we got out of high school in June of '41, and they didn't bomb Pearl Harbor until December, ... and we never really did discuss anything about Germany, and, you know, everybody was more isolationist-oriented in those days, really.
SH: Were there any discussions to that end?
WR: No. Every once in awhile, but, ... not in much depth. ... Because of Dad's heritage, coming from German parents, it was nothing, although, when my older brother applied for [the] Air Force cadets, the FBI checked into [his] background, came around to see if there was any kind of problems within the family structure.
SH: Do you remember any Bund activity in your area?
WR: No, no, that was all up in Hunterdon County, 'cause my father-in-law had a farm up there, ... and they had a big place up near Glen Gardner where they used to meet, and he was telling me about that, years later. [laughter]
SH: What did he say about it?
WR: He said ... they had some rowdy affairs up there, and he said that it was a little scary, that whole group, but, I guess it's all dissipated now.
SH: I was just wondering about how much you knew about Hitler's rise to power and so forth.
WR: Didn't do much, no, no, no. I remember the Hindenburg coming over before it crashed in Lakehurst. [laughter]
WR: Oh, yeah. We got up on the roof of the high school and watched it go by and that was the day it burned down there.
SH: Did you still have relatives living in Germany when World War II broke out?
WR: If they are there, I don't know. My father used to tell a story; in World War I, he'd go to the prisoner of war compounds, and [he] asked to see if there's anybody named Ringen here, and he said [that] everybody was his relative, you know. [laughter] ... I don't know exactly where they came from. I know they left from Hamburg, but, I don't know where ... their backgrounds were. I might have bombed some of their facilities. ...
SH: He never found anyone.
WR: No. He gave up after he found hundreds of them one day. [laughter] ...
SH: Do you know which POW camp he went to?
WR: I don't. It was just a compound over in Europe and they didn't go very far. They fought in France all the time. They were in the trenches and all that stuff.
SH: I was just wondering if he had any family left at that point.
WR: There might be. I might have relatives over there. I'm sure I would have relatives, if I ever researched them enough. I mean, we've been over to Germany and we go to England all the time. ... Oh, we've been all over, my wife and I.
SH: Your wife went to nursing school.
WR: Yeah, East Orange General Hospital.
SH: This was at the same time that you went off to Rutgers.
WR: Well, when she graduated from high school with us, she went into a three-year course there. ... She was finished just about the time I came back from overseas, in '45, early '45.
SH: Did you date in high school?
WR: Yeah, we dated as a group. We never paired off in high school, you know. ... It was such a small group, there was very little pairing, you know. ... Twelve of us would go someplace, six girls [and] six boys, but, nobody really paired off in those days. ...
SH: Could you tell me a little bit about your first semester here at Rutgers?
WR: Well, it could have been better. As I said, I started in pre-med, and I was fortunate enough to catch scarlet fever in my freshman year, and I spent a ... month in the infirmary, and it practically ruined all my grades for the first semester. ... Then, well, I played around with the crew, 'cause, in those days, well, I weighed about 120 pounds, so, I was playing as a coxswain, but, that was a lot of fun. ... Well, I joined the DEKE fraternity over here, and we had a lot of people that were on the crew there, and it was a good group to go with. ... Well, the school was small in those days.
SH: Was your brother a member of the same fraternity?
WR: Oh, my twin brother, yeah, yeah.
SH: We have heard a lot of stories about freshman hazing and the initiations that the sophomore class would impose upon the freshmen.
WR: I got off pretty easy, because ... the initiation was just starting when I got out of the hospital and they took pity on me, because I was so weak. The rest of them got run up and down the stairs and all sorts of harassments, you know. They kept us awake for over a week and that [kind of] thing, which is ridiculous, but, that's what they did in those days. I don't know what they do now.
SH: How did they make you dress?
WR: ... We had to wear a dink or something like that, but, that was about all they did, yeah, but, you'd fall asleep in class and everything else, 'cause you weren't getting [laughter] any sleep, you know.
SH: How long did that last, just for Hell Week?
WR: Yeah, a week, right after the first semester.
SH: Who do you remember in the administration?
WR: I remember Crosby; you remember him? Yeah, I guess he's gone now and I had a little doings with him after the war, too. ... That's something else again.
SH: We will get to that in a minute.
WR: Yeah, but, no, you didn't have much to do with the administration, because you had more to do with the curriculum [that] you were taking. You didn't have that kind of time.
SH: What about Dean Metzger?
WR: I remember him, and who was the registrar in those days? He was a nice, old chap, 'cause I came down here and said, "We're having money [problems]. I might not be able to come," and he gave me a two hundred dollar scholarship, right there. You know, he just signed it. He had the flexibility to do that, and my brother, ... Bob, up the street from where we lived, in the county, the county superintendent of schools could hand out four scholarships, but, it's not in one year, and he only had one available, so, Bob took that one. So, that was something else. You had to do something, like, Nick had a State Scholarship, but, to qualify for a State Scholarship, you had to be in the first half of your class or something like that, and we had so many bright kids in our school, even though I had a good average in high school, I wasn't in the first half. So, those things happened.
SH: How ethnically diverse was Little Falls?
WR: They had a lot of Dutch. They had the big laundry there and they were run by Dutch oriented people. Up in Singac, there was a little more European flavor, but, in Little Falls, it was, basically, all Caucasian, white stuff. I never saw any blacks or anything like that. I don't know what it is now. I've been away. ... From here, we moved to California in '73. So, that's a long time ago.
SH: Were you the only person to be struck down by scarlet fever that semester?
WR: No. ... Another fraternity brother of mine was there, too, and the two of us sat up there. I remember, ... I was in there when Pearl Harbor [happened] and that's when we heard the broadcast of Pearl Harbor.
SH: Were you in the hospital then?
WR: Yeah, I was up in the infirmary. It was up off [on] just the other side of Pell Hall, up in the Quad. That's where the infirmary was in those days.
WR: Yeah, up in the Quad.
SH: They gave you the proper medical attention there.
WR: Oh, yeah. They did a good job, but, they were reluctant to get you out on the road, because they didn't want an epidemic on campus, you know, and I don't know where I got it from, but, I got it.
SH: Were your parents concerned? Did they come down to see you at all?
WR: No. They figured I was getting good care. [laughter]
SH: How often did you and your brother go home?
WR: ... Well, in those days, you know, automobiles weren't [prevalent]. They were here, but, ... very few fellahs had cars on campus, and it wasn't convenient to get home. In fact, kids don't realize it, but, we used to mail our dirty clothes home for Mom to wash, and then, she'd wash it and send it back.
SH: Really? [laughter]
WR: Yeah. What else? Well, there was no ... coin-operated washing machines. You'd put it in a box and mail it home and she'd do it and send it back clean.
SH: Was there a post office here on campus?
WR: Yeah, it was right in Winants. That's where the cafeteria was and that's where the book store was, too.
SH: Did you live in the DEKE house for your freshman year?
WR: Yeah, yeah. Well, we first started in Pell Hall, we were there about two months, and then, we pledged DEKE and moved down to the DEKE house, yeah.
SH: Did you visit the campus at all before you came here as a student?
WR: Yeah, we came down to see the registrar, to get some help, and we walked around here, but, not too much, not too much.
SH: I was just wondering if there was anyone from your high school who had been here before.
WR: Yeah, there might have been, but, I wasn't aware of it.
WR: A lot of them had more money than we did and went to Ivy League schools and one of the guys went to MIT and all that sort of stuff.
SH: You were in the infirmary when you heard the news about Pearl Harbor. You were probably listening to a football game.
WR: I don't know what ... we were listening to, but, I remember them telling us about Pearl Harbor.
SH: What was the general reaction in the infirmary?
WR: Well, they were all quite alarmed over the whole situation, but, nobody said, "We're going to go up and enlist," or anything like that. [laughter]
SH: That was my next question.
WR: No, no. ... Well, in fact, I didn't get drafted until March of '43. ... I had almost another year.
SH: You were involved in the ROTC for two years, correct?
WR: Here? Oh, a year-and-a-half before I left, yeah, yeah.
SH: Did you ever get the sense that your ROTC training was accelerated because of the war?
WR: No. It was just a course everybody had to take, because we were a land grant college. So, you had no choice, whether you wanted to take it or whether you didn't, you know.
SH: Were you interacting with the advanced ROTC class?
WR: No, only when we drilled. They got out there and some very good friends of mine in that were killed on D-Day and all that stuff.
WR: We lost about twelve of our fraternity brothers during the war ... and we only had forty in the house. ...
SH: That is a shame.
WR: It is, because the ASTP took a lot of kids and said, "We're going to continue your education." They did that until they needed people. Then, they closed the program down, gave them a month's training, gave them a gun, and they landed [in] the first wave on D-Day, on the beaches, and they killed a whole bunch of them, which is sad, really sad. Of course, I didn't get over there until July of '44, so, D-Day had passed, but, we got shot at quite a bit. [laughter]
SH: I am sure.
SH: Do you remember anything about mandatory chapel?
WR: Gee, I don't ... remember how much the mandatory chapel was, to be frank with you.
SH: Once a week or so?
WR: Yeah. Well, that was on Sunday or something. No, maybe once a week.
SH: Some people really disliked the idea while others have said that it was the only way to find out what was going on around campus.
WR: Yeah, well, the chapel was good and the Glee Club was excellent, all the time. Soup was ... even here in those days and, no, it never bothered me, one way or another.
SH: What activities did you get involved in?
WR: Not a heck of a lot, because, you know, ... with my time in the infirmary and everything. I was fooling around with crew, and we had intramural sports, and that's about it, but, other than that, I had just too much work with school, even after the war, because we had so many labs and lab reports to write. You didn't have spare time, like the business administration people did.
SH: What was your brother studying?
WR: Mechanical engineering. So, he got back here in February '46. He never left the States. He got out four or five months after I did, son of a gun. I'll tell you that story, too.
SH: [laughter] Okay.
WR: They had an Article of War that said, [if] twins wanted to be together, they would put them together. Some psycho person said they'd perform better, and he arrived in Ardmore, Oklahoma, where I had phase training, three weeks before I was ready to go overseas, and the Lieutenant, who had nothing to do there, either, the PR guy, said, "I'll get you off your crew," and I said, "No, I'll go overseas, you know." So, when I came back, ... we went down to Atlantic City there to [be] reassigned, after we got back, and I arranged to use the same thing to get back where my twin brother was, and so, they were starting to catch up with people, this was in '45, March '45, in trying to send those that had never left the States over to relieve people that had been over for two and three years, and they'd put him on orders, and we'd go up, and, because of my point structure, having enough points, they'd kick him off the thing, and, when they started to get everybody discharged, he went to my discharge center with me, [the] only fellah that wasn't getting discharged. [laughter] So, I got out in October, and they shipped him to North Carolina, and they were talking about sending him overseas, and, by the time they fooled around, he got out in February. So, he never left the States, but, it was funny. [laughter]
SH: It worked to his advantage to have a twin brother.
WR: Yeah. Well, he worked it. Well, it was all right. ... I had no problem with it, but, it was strange, you know. I was a tech sergeant and he was a corporal, I think, by the time we got out of there.
SH: Did the University administration, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, tell everyone to stay calm and remain in school?
WR: I don't recall any attitude by the administration at all. I don't really, but, they might have, but, if they did, I never paid any attention to it.
SH: Did the declaration of war accelerate the curriculum?
WR: Not right away, but, the next year, like, we got semester credit the last year when I was drafted, for the whole semester, depending upon how well you'd done there in the semester before, but, ... my German teacher, he was (aesthetic?). He said, "I hope what you've learned here will help you sometime." You know, that was one of those things, but, most of them didn't seem overly concerned, no. It was funny, when I got discharged and got back here, I ... got back here and they had a special course, two courses I could take, right after I got back, in the middle of October, and get semester credit for the rest of the thing, but, we had double recitation on it, and I was taking analytical geometry or something like this, and this teacher was somebody that must have taught high school or something in Trenton, and ... they were scrounging here for teachers during the war. ... One day, I came in late and he stopped talking. He said, "Mr. Ringen, I'm going to mark you tardy today." I looked at him. I said, "You can mark me any way you want." I said, "I'm here to learn. I'm not here to worry, if I have some personal stuff, that I couldn't get here right on the dot." He came up to me afterwards and apologized. He said, "I guess the veterans are back." [laughter]
SH: And how, right?
WR: Yeah, but, he learned, he learned. You know, I said, "If I didn't want to learn, I wouldn't be back in school, and I'm not here to cut classes," you know. So, that's one of those things. [I will] always remember that one.
SH: Were dances and social events still held on campus?
SH: Before you went into the service.
WR: Oh, before, oh, yeah, they had dances, up in the nice gym up here. Now, I don't know what they use it for now, but, they could seat maybe ... a little over two thousand in that, and then, the one side of the wall came up, and you could see the swimming pool from the gym, and it was a nice place. Now, it's not hardly used, I guess, anymore.
SH: Did you take advantage of any of those facilities?
WR: Not really. You had to take PE. So, you had to go swimming, and play basketball, or something like that. ... Let's see, I guess it was the wrestling coach at Montclair State, [he] came down here, Dick Volova, and he'd been on the '36 Olympic team, and he got a hold of my brother and I and said, "How come you're not here playing basketball for them?' blah, blah, blah, but, that's a long time ago, too. [laughter]
SH: I was just wondering how the college continued to operate.
WR: They just continued and they were just treading water, because things weren't set up to a point where, you know, they really started to deplete the students, you know, getting people going into [the] service. It was only in, you know, the latter part of '42 and the early part of '43 [that] there was a big exodus.
SH: That is the story that I want to hear. Were there any recruiters here on campus?
WR: No, no. My draft board sent me a notice, [laughter] and, every day, [when] the mail came in, every guy would say, "Well, did you get ... any information?" That's what usually happened. Then, we'd go to New York and go to the GA, because we'd could [drink], the German-American Club, and drink all the beer you wanted, you know. [laughter]
SH: How much interaction was there with NJC at that time?
WR: ... Well, you know, that was a long way off, across town. You had to take a bus or [find] somebody with a [car]. The boys that fooled around over there were mostly guys that had a car, or maybe Ag students, 'cause that's where Cook College was, and they were over there most of the time, anyway, but, no, we didn't fool around there too much. A lot of guys did. When we had house parties, some of them would bring their girls in from there. ...
SH: Did you bring the future Mrs. Ringen to any house parties?
WR: Oh, yeah. I had her down for a couple of house parties, yeah.
SH: Can you tell me about the rules and supervision?
WR: The rules of the house parties? You've heard some of those. Well, we moved out of the house and the girls stayed in the house. You'd better not go upstairs, 'cause one of our guys got kicked out of school. They found him up there. He wasn't doing anything, but, he was up there, and they were very intolerant. They just invited him to leave the school. Now, God help you if you got caught with a bunch of beer or anything else in the school. They were pretty strict in those days.
SH: Did you have a house mother?
WR: Yes, yes. I forget her name. She had an apartment in the house there. She ran the kitchen, that stuff. One of ... our brothers ... did all the treasury work, you know, sent bills out and all that stuff. ...
SH: Who was your roommate?
WR: I roomed with my brother.
SH: Okay, just the two of you.
WR: Yeah, yeah, that's all there was. That was one of the few houses on campus that was built for fraternity housing, resurrected out of an old barn or something, you know.
SH: Did you and your brother receive your draft notices on the same day?
WR: Yeah, we went in the same time. [We] went to Fort Dix. We were down there in the middle of March, in a tent, and they give you all this baloney about taking tests to determine what branch of [the] service you're going to serve in. What a bunch of baloney. Whatever they needed is where you were selected, and we got on this train, this fellah came by with a deep tan and an Air Corps patch, and we proceeded to Miami Beach for basic training, and they crammed seven of us in one hotel room, with only one bathroom, it was really tough duty, and we marched around on a golf course there, and we exercised on the beach. We even had to walk up to the rifle range, which was about seven or eight miles uptown, around on 98th Street, we were down on 15th, but, that's all hotels now, but, that's the only march I ever made in the Air Corps. [laughter] We always were moved around in trucks and everything [laughter] and the infantry guys can't believe this. Some friends of mine in the Marines said, "Oh, you did that once?" I said, "That's all." [laughter]
SH: Did your test results land you in the Air Corps? Did you apply for the Air Corps?
WR: No, no. We had hoped for it. No, my feeling was, whichever the quota that they had to fill that day is [determined] where you went, 'cause we had a friend of mine that was graduated with a degree in journalism, worked on the Targum, he was there two weeks before I was, and here's a guy with some background, he ended up in the infantry. ... They didn't take any regard of his background or where they could have used him someplace [else], you know. So, I often felt how lucky we were, really. Both my brother and I went down to Miami Beach. Then, I went to radio school up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and, from there, we went to Yuma, Arizona, for gunnery school. Then, we went to Salt Lake City, and then, we got Ardmore for phase training. Then, we got our plane and went overseas.
SH: Before we move on to your tour overseas, had you ever traveled this extensively before? Had your family ever gone on vacations and so forth?
WR: In those days, no. Well, ... we had a place down in Normandy Beach, so, we would go down there. ... We went out to visit the relatives where my mother grew up in Pennsylvania, but, other than that, we didn't go anyplace, no.
SH: Did you travel to Miami by train?
SH: It was really just the luck of the draw that you were placed in the Air Corps.
WR: That's my opinion. Now, I've never talked to any official that was involved in that selective process, but, that's what I've always felt.
SH: Did you run into anyone else from Rutgers?
WR: Down there? Only when I came back from overseas. One of my fraternity brothers was there, then, where they had the Miss America stuff, and he's the one I talked to, and I said, "Bryce, you've got to help me. I've got to get back with Bob," and that's what happened. I used to get three-day passes, then, I'd come back and get another three-day pass. [laughter] That's when we decided to get married, rather than get married back in Oklahoma, with nobody there. ...
SH: Did you have any adventures on the train ride down to Miami?
WR: No, no, we were just happy to go, ... happy to be put up in a hotel. It was nice and there was a cafeteria right around the corner. That's where we ate our meals. [laughter]
SH: Were the men that you trained with at Miami Beach from all over the country or just from the East Coast?
WR: Yeah, all over, all over, yeah, and that's just an area [for housing]. They ... [did] the same thing in Atlantic City. They had all the hotels, in those days, for basic training. They'd walk on the boardwalk and that sort of stuff, but, it's much nicer in Miami. [laughter]
SH: When did you go from Miami to Sioux Falls, South Dakota?
WR: [When] I got up in Sioux Falls, I guess it was around ... October, and it was cold up there, Jeez, and you get used to the cold, and then, they sent us down to Yuma, Arizona, where it's hot as hell. [laughter]
SH: How long were you in South Dakota?
WR: Oh, I was there at least four or five months, 'cause we learned Morse Code, and radio repairs, and all that sort of stuff, and I had never done any of that stuff before. ...
SH: Did you apply for any special training, such as OCS?
WR: I never did, ... 'cause I was color-blind, you know. These little things where you read the numbers, I could never read them, ... and the only reason I got into gunnery school [was], all they had was a basket of yarn, a red and a green. The guy in front of me dropped two, and I picked them up, and, after I came back from overseas, I quickly told them that I'm color-blind. So, they took my gunnery classification away, 'cause I was afraid of going on [B]-29s and going over to Japan. So, that's one of those things.
SH: [laughter] You confessed at that point.
WR: Oh, yeah, I was very honest. [laughter] I'd fought my war, as far as I was concerned.
SH: What kind of adventures did you have in South Dakota?
WR: South Dakota?
SH: You were out in the West.
WR: No, well, ... we were very busy, really, 'cause you had three or four hours of code training every day, you know, and we started out with nothing. You know, I didn't know ... one letter from another. ... Code was given to you in groups of five, numbers and letters mixed, and they didn't make any sense, and so, you just had to ... take a test and keep progressing. You went up to four words, then, eight words, then, ten words, then, twelve, and so on, and you could only write about eighteen words a minute in Morse Code, unless you typed. So, I got up to eighteen words. Then, we learned semaphore, too. That was fun, but, we had fun there, because, let's see, in the PE program, let's see, I was on the ... cross-country thing there, 'cause we did that, we could run that damn course, and we didn't have to sit out there and do exercises, and then, we'd play softball and stuff like that, but, ... it was an interesting time.
SH: Were you stationed at an established base or had it been built just for the radio school?
WR: I think it was built ... for the course.
SH: It was put up in a hurry.
WR: Yeah, yeah, like everything; like, Kilmer was established real fast, too. That was going up in '42, when we were still here, you know.
SH: When you were a student at Rutgers, did any requests for workers at the Raritan Arsenal make it over to Rutgers?
WR: No. ... A lot of the guys went up and did part-time work when they were building Kilmer, not the arsenal. The arsenal was a permanent thing from World War I.
WR: You're taking that over now, as another campus? That's what I thought I heard.
SH: I am not sure. When you were stationed in South Dakota, did you interact at all with the natives?
WR: Only when you went into town.
SH: How did the cold affect you?
WR: It was cold. ... You'd go into town once in awhile, but, there's things to do on the base, as well as go into town. ...
SH: What did you do for your first Christmas away from home?
WR: God, the first Christmas, where was I? I know where I was in '44, waiting to come home, and that was a very ...
SH: ... Tough time, I would imagine.
WR: Yes, but, I don't know where I was in '43, to be frank with you. I ... probably was up in Sioux Falls and I don't remember anything particularly ... [about it]. Well, we never got any furloughs or anything either. Christ, I was in the service for almost a year-and-a-half before I was able to get home on a furlough.
SH: Did you get a lot of mail from home?
WR: Oh, yeah. My mother used to write letters all the time, and she'd use carbon paper and send everybody the same letter, and I used to write her every day. [laughter]
SH: That is good.
WR: Especially when I was flying, and I'd tell her, "Don't let on you know when it is." I'd say, "Say Happy Birthday to Uncle Joe," who we never had, and, when I did that, she knew I'd flown that mission, or that day, and then, she'd watch the papers, and, when a lot of guys got shot down, then, she'd wait for a letter.
SH: I cannot imagine how tough that must have been.
WR: I sent her a telegram when I finished and I've got that. It says, "Tour completed."
SH: Good. I want to talk to you about that after the interview. [laughter] To move on to Yuma, you must have arrived there in the early 1944.
WR: Yeah, it was early '44, yeah. It was only two or three months there. ... We went up in a plane. That's the first time we flew in [B]-17s up there. The guns were terrible and this poor guy, dragging the sleeve along, you could see the projectiles going out, I wondered whether they were going to shoot him down, you know. Everybody passed, it didn't make any difference, but, you had to go through pressurized chambers, to see whether you had any effect with high altitude pressure differential, and, other than that, everybody went through there. That's all. I mean, you learned how to take the guns all apart and that sort of stuff, but, it was an interesting time.
SH: Did you feel as though you were getting good training at that point?
WR: Oh, yeah, yeah. I had no problem with that and, every time you finished one school, you got another stripe, see. So, I went through phase training, here in Ardmore, as a buck sergeant, then, I got another rocker before I went overseas, and it took forever to get the last rocker, but, that's all right. ...
SH: You melded with your crew at Ardmore.
WR: Yeah. We went to Salt Lake City, and that's where everybody went, to Salt Lake City, and they put everybody together, and then, you went to Ardmore and trained as a group.
SH: From Yuma, you went to Salt Lake City, and then ...
WR: Back to Ardmore.
SH: I missed a step.
SH: How long were you in Salt Lake City?
WR: We were only there long enough to get assembled as a crew and shipped out and we were only there about a month.
SH: Were you picked by the pilot and co-pilot?
WR: ... I had no idea. I have no idea. All of a sudden, I'm on Lorenz's crew and he happened to be a twin, too.
SH: What was his name?
WR: Yeah, we were talking about Art Lorenz, my pilot, and he happened to be a [twin]. ...
---------------------------------------END OF SIDE ONE, TAPE ONE-------------------------------------
WR: [The] navigator, he was from LA. The engineer, he was from Texas, and the ball gunner, he was from Kansas, someplace, and the co-pilot, he was from California. So, they're from all over.
SH: Did you all have about the same level of education?
WR: ... We never really discussed the level of education, but, you know, we were all so young and practically uneducated, you might say, but, they'd all been through sufficient training, although, later on, Art said, "Scotty," our co-pilot, "he was a hell of a lousy pilot," [laughter] you know. [laughter] So, I told him, I said, "I'm glad you were there, Art." [laughter]
SH: When you were in Salt Lake City with your crew, did you engage in any activities that helped you to gel as a crew?
WR: Oh, we'd go into town. ... Those Mormon girls were nice. [laughter] They didn't smoke, and they didn't drink, but, they liked to raise hell. [laughter] ... We weren't there that long, but, it was a strange thing to get exposed to Mormon women, yeah.
SH: It was also a dry state.
WR: They're very religious. [laughter] At least that's the way it was told to us, but, we weren't there that long.
SH: When you were stationed in all of these different places, were you ever invited into someone's home for dinner?
WR: No, never. We were never there that long. The only time I went to a home is when I was married and I lived off base, [laughter] yeah.
SH: Okay. From Salt Lake City, you went to Ardmore.
WR: Ardmore, right. The crew, we trained as a crew then. We'd take the plane up and go for hours and hours, you know. ... Well, we got there, ... I think it was around in April, and we left there in June, so, maybe we got there a little sooner, I don't know. ...
SH: What do you remember about training? Were there any incidents?
WR: In training? No, we didn't have too many problems in training. I remember things later on, [laughter] but, not during training. When I got back to Ardmore, we had some interesting experiences, too.
SH: During your training, did you train with or encounter any airmen who had already been in combat over Europe?
WR: No. Well, in the radio school that we had to go to and so forth, they would have ex-combat guys, which I might have done, if I hadn't gone back there with my brother, and I'll tell you that later, but, no, they were pretty good.
SH: Did they relay any of the stories or horrors that they had been through?
WR: No, no, I don't recall any. I recall more of [laughter] what I got exposed to.
SH: What were you exposed to?
WR: Overseas, I'm saying. ...
WR: Yeah. Oh, not there, no. Only after I came back there, I had one that was really bad. We were revving up to take off and [we] ran out of gas, yeah. Another thirty seconds, we'd have been up and down. ... I was in a group of all ex-veterans and the pilot was up there playing ... a good poker game, winning money. We'd call him and say, "Hey, we've got a plane. We've got to take off." We only did, chock-to-chock, thirty minutes, circle the field twice and land, and, evidently, this ground crew guy was drunk and said [that] he put so much gas in the tank, and the pilot was so anxious to get back to his poker game, he didn't go through his check-off procedure, and we were revving up, and we ran out of gas. Now, that was ... [laughter] a little testy. He checked after that ... and the person that caught hell was the ground crew guy that put the wrong entry, that he put gas in the thing. ...
SH: Was that your first bad experience with a ground crew member?
WR: Yes, first direct. No, overseas, they're wonderful guys.
WR: Although, they didn't want to get close to us, because so many guys got killed.
SH: In June of 1944, you flew from Ardmore to ...
WR: No, we got on a train and went over there to pick up the plane, in Nebraska, see. That's where those escape pictures were taken. There's a big pile of clothes in the corner and everybody's supposed to put something on, look terrible, muss your hair up, you know, and it was perfect, you know. It was a good idea, in case you got shot down.
SH: Can you explain the escape pictures for the tape, please?
WR: Well, ... I had about six pictures, ugly looking things, but, if you got shot down, they would have to make forged passports, your identification papers, and photographs are always needed, and they didn't have the facilities to take care of you if you got down, so, we always carried these little packets of pictures [that] they gave everybody, plus, a little diary of different phrases ... in different languages and so on.
SH: Would this have been partisans or the Underground that would have helped you?
WR: It's hard to know. ... Yeah, the idea is, they'll help you survive if you landed down there. So, they could forge papers for you and you could have a photograph that they could put on them, yeah, funny looking things, [laughter] but, anyway, it was old clothes we put on, you know, so [that] you'd look like a civilian, you know, just one of those things.
SH: Did the Air Corps give you any other kind of escape training?
WR: Not a heck of a lot, and it always scared me, because, back in those days, the B-17 was not heated. We wore electric heated ... boots, pants, shirt, and, when you put your boots on, then, you'd put these big, heavy, fleece-lined boots on. So, if you ... ever had your parachute on and jumped out, the first thing to leave when the parachute would open up would be your boots. You'd land barefooted. So, I always kept my shoes tied to one side of my harness and I kept the parachute on the other hook, over here. [I] figured, even if I came to, coming on the way down, I'd have some sort of a chance, but, I never had to use it, but, it was strange, because the men would get on the plane, they'd put their parachutes by the back door; they never could get them. You know, I've seen so many people flying through the air with nothing, you know, just going down. ...
SH: What were you told to say and/or do if you were shot down and captured?
WR: Not much. No, no, they didn't do much on that.
SH: Did you go through any kind of jump training?
WR: None, never, with a chute or anything? none, none at all. In fact, ... when I was flying lead, I had a major up front. One of the things, in the radio room, I'd open my door and check [to] ... see if the bombs had all dropped, and there was a five-hundred pound bomb on the outside rack, and, when we were flying missions, you didn't have the ropes between there. You had about four feet before you could grab onto something. You don't realize what a walk-around oxygen bottle is; you've got it tucked under your arm with all this other junk you've got on. So, this bomb is hung up and this major said to me, "Go kick it out, Walt." I said, "I'm sorry, I can't do that," and he said, "I'm giving you an order." I said, "You can just waste your breath." I said, "You better come back," and so, the Colonel said, "Stop arguing." ... He told the guy to go do it. I was flying with a colonel then, and, after [the] interrogation, after the mission, he says, "I want to see you up in the office in class As," blah, blah, blah. So, this major comes up with me. He said, "How come you disobeyed an order?" I said, "Because no one has ever seen fit to tell me how to toggle a bomb that's hung up on a rack and I didn't want to blow the plane up." So, he turned to the Major and he said, "Have you ever given the radio operators instructions?" "No." He said, "You will." I didn't want to argue, ... I was scared to hell. ... I passed out once when I dropped my oxygen bottle and the waist gunner saw me and plugged me back in. It only took you about ten seconds to pass out at twenty-six thousand feet. ...
SH: You picked up your plane in Nebraska.
SH: How long did you stay there? Did you have some sort of shakedown flight?
WR: No, no. We got all our junk in it and we flew from there up to New Hampshire, then, up to Goose Bay, Labrador, then, over to Iceland. We stayed in Iceland [for] three days, while the weather cleared up in England, and then, we flew over. Of course, the [B]-17 only went two hundred and fifty miles an hour, ... [so], you'd better have a good, clear weather pattern, and we landed on an RAF field. The pilot was instructed to land on any field he saw once he got there, "Don't worry about it," [laughter] and the plane was taken away from us. We were just ferrying the plane over for a replacement. We never kept the plane, no.
SH: What were your duties as a radioman?
WR: Well, to begin with, ... I was supposed to go back to the waist if we got hit by fighters and help the waist gunner. They used to have a gun in the roof of the radio room, but, they shot too many tails off, and so, ... it was terrible, they finally realized it was a terrible thing. So, I was supposed to go back there if we got hit. Otherwise, I had to just monitor the transmissions that were going on. The only person that would do any transmitting was the lead radio operator, and then, good, ole Jimmy Doolittle came out, and he said, "If you fly seven lead missions, we'll knock ... your tour down to thirty instead of thirty-five." It didn't take me long. That afternoon, I went up and checked out for lead, [laughter] and so, I left my crew, and I started flying with the Colonel, and so, that made a big difference, as far as I was concerned. ... Then, when I was flying lead, I had to send control point messages back to England, which would govern when P-51 fighter escorts would take off and come and give us coverage. ... In that way, you didn't have a break in it and you didn't get them to run their gas out. ... Then, you'd send out a message on the bomb strike, when it was done. ... The bombardier would say, "Blah, blah, blah," and then, you'd fix up the code and send it back, but, we only sent about fourteen, fifteen words a minute. It wasn't that fast. So, it was a lot of fun.
SH: When you were ferrying your first B-17 to England, how many planes flew in your group?
WR: Well, in our squadron, we'd have about twelve, but, we've flown tracks of a thousand planes going over, you know, in the First Division. ...
SH: Was that when you began flying from England?
WR: Yeah, oh, yeah.
SH: I was referring to when you flew over from the United States.
WR: Oh, we went over as individuals.
SH: Just individuals?
WR: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
SH: When you arrived at the various bases along the Northern Atlantic route, did you make contact with other crews or units or were you on your own?
WR: Oh, no. They knew we were coming in and they'd put us up. That's all, but, that was an interesting trip, really.
SH: Where in England did you land?
WR: ... We landed in an RAF field and where, I don't know.
SH: Did you leave the plane there?
WR: We got there [on the] 4th of July of '44. How about that?
SH: Well, all right. [laughter] Did you leave the plane there?
WR: Yeah, we just left it there and they'd send a crew up to pick it up and take it back ... to wherever it was supposed to go.
SH: How did you get to your next destination?
WR: They put us on a truck and rode you around. [laughter] We didn't walk. You didn't expect us to walk?
SH: No. I was thinking that they might have put you on an old train or something.
WR: No, no, no. I don't remember. I think they trucked us to wherever we were going to go. ... We went down to London, someplace, and we had a week or two of schooling of some sort, and then, we got to the base that I flew out of in the first part of August.
SH: What was the name of your base?
WR: The name, [it was] in the little town of Molesworth, which is a little farming community, you might say, but, yeah, then, the pilot, he had to fly two or three missions to get acclimated with what he had to do within the group, and then, the rest of us started flying with him.
SH: What was your base and its environs like?
WR: It was cold and we had these "Q" huts and had a little pot stove in the middle of that to heat things. ... We had cold showers, no hot water, and they'd wake us up for a mission at two-thirty in the morning. We'd go get breakfast, and then, you'd go into [the] briefing, get your gear and everything, go down to the plane, take off when the sun came up. When you were flying you lost quite a bit of sleep, because they'd wake you up so early in the morning, but, that's the way they had to do it. They had to get that work done early, before you could take off. It was fun. ... Well, besides having a heated suit, then, we had flak suits on. ... I remember, when I was flying lead, I had my seven lead missions in, I had a couple [of crews] that I could go and [fly with]. So, I went down to the operations officer and I said, "Well, if you need an operator, I'll fly with one of these guys." He puts me in with this one rookie crew [on] about their fifth mission, and so, ... I go in to see the ground guys that are running [it], and I said, "[Is] the plane next door flying?" "No," and I went, got their flak suits, and I'd lay it on the floor, and then, (tie it?) on the wall. ... I'll never forget it, this navigator comes through, he says, "Hey Sarge, what's that?" I said, "Well, don't you know that eighty-five percent of those who are wounded is with flak that's coming [in] after it explodes? and it comes through the shells and gives you [a wound], and I'm trying to protect myself." He said, "Where'd you get those things?" [laughter] ...
SH: Experience does count.
WR: Oh, I used to sit on a steel plate. I didn't sit on the seat. I carried a quarter-inch plate of steel. I didn't want to get shot up, my rear end. ... It didn't make any difference. ... We had sandwiches [that] they'd give us in the mess hall and, once you're up, everything freezes, right? So, we had a muff that was supposed to get you warm. You couldn't put your hands in there, because you never knew what you were going to have. That's where we thawed our sandwiches. [laughter] Well, ... that was fun.
SH: How long would a typical mission last?
WR: Well, they lasted various times. If we went to Pas-de-Calais, it was a milk run, you know. If we went to Berlin, it was a lot longer, or Merseburg, or Leipzig. Cologne wasn't that far. Nowadays, they're close, but, in this diary, which I'm leaving with you, tells you when we took off and when we landed, what bombs we carried that day, and where the target was. So, you can use this for whatever you want. ...
SH: Can you tell me about some of your more memorable missions?
WR: Oh, well, we got hit pretty bad one time. We got an engine shot out and we landed at this field where there was a bunch of paratroopers, craziest sons of a gun you'd ever want to see, and the pilot said, "Well, he's not supposed to take off on three engines." So, we unloaded a bunch of stuff and took off. He caught hell when we got back to the base for disobeying orders, but, he wanted to get back for some reason or another, but, then, we weren't hurt. [We had] just lost an engine, that's what was shot out, but, we got plenty of flak in the plane, and then, one time, my transmitter was shot out right behind my seat, flak came through and killed all the tubes in it and that stuff. ... Another time, when I was flying lead, you know, I had a radar guy in the radio room with me, and I had to change the frequency, and they had these tuning units, ... because I used to have them where he was sitting, but, they put them out in the back. So, I had to go with my walk-around bottle, and I'm going back to get this tuning unit, and I reach up to pull it out of the rack, the bottle slips out, and I pass out and hit the door. The door opens. My waist gunner saw it and pulled me back in. You become a fatalist.
WR: Oh, hell, ... when we got there, there were seven crews in the group that we went in as replacement crews. How many [of them] do you think finished their missions? one. The rest of them, for one reason or another, they got shot down, but, there was more casualties in the Eighth Air Corps than the Marines had in the Pacific. Look at the statistics one time, you'll see it, horrendous, a horrendous loss.
SH: How did you get up the nerve to wake up at two-thirty in the morning to prepare for these missions?
WR: ... What do you mean, nerve? If you didn't follow orders, they made it really [uncomfortable]. Well, we had one tail gunner there, one time, [who] put the ammunition in his guns, and he wasn't supposed to do that until he got over the English Channel, ... that's where they're test fired, and, accidentally, shot a bunch of .50 calibers over the Colonel's "Q" hut. He didn't like it and they put him on KP for a month. They didn't take him off flying status or anything, but, while he's on KP, his crew gets shot down. [laughter] ... That's the way the cookie crumbles, but, they were nice to us over there. Every two weeks or so, we'd get a three-day pass, from noon, and we'd have two days in town. We could go down to London and the buzz bombs and the V-1s were coming over there.
SH: Did you see the results of those attacks?
WR: Oh, we saw a lot of damage over there, ... an awful lot. ... Have you been to London at all? Well, you've been near St. Paul's and where that whole new complex is off there. That was really a mess, really a mess, ... but, we'd go down there. We had a lot of fun in London. So, you'd go down there, you'd have two nights in town.
SH: Did the Air Corps have a place for you to stay?
WR: You had to hunt up a place. I remember, I was rooming with my ball turret gunner, a fellah we're going to see, and he talked to me about this a couple of weeks ago, and they didn't have any bathrooms. They had a water closet down the hall, until we flipped the coin to see who got the bed next to the door, and he won, and that's the one that was inhabited by vermin. He got the ... worst group of crabs you ever saw. [laughter] They shaved him and, oh, God, he was a mess. You know, it didn't affect me. My bed was clean, but, oh, we had a lot of fun down there in London, but, you know, you'd hear the buzz bombs coming over. ... As long as you heard them, it was all right. It was when you stopped hearing them, that's when they come down, and you'd feel the concussions when they landed. You couldn't do anything about it. If it's going to hit you, it's going to hit you, you know.
SH: Did you ever go down into the bomb shelters?
WR: No. Why bother? In those days, they weren't bombing from airplanes. You know, they stopped that fairly early, you know. The RAF had gotten [air superiority]. They had so many losses on the German planes [that] they stopped going over there. ... It was only about six or eight months that they bombed London. That was ridiculous. So, it was the buzz bombs and V-1s that were coming over when we were there, ... but, that's a long time ago, now.
SH: What kind of security procedures did you have to adhere to? What were you told not to talk about?
WR: Oh, well, they didn't tell us to ... do much. They had guards at the gates and everything else, but, we didn't do much.
SH: What can you tell me about the chaplains and the church services on the base?
WR: Oh, the Catholic boys were getting the last rites for every mission, you know. [laughter] If you wanted to go and listen to it, you could, ... and, during [the] briefing, they'd always have one of them up there giving you a prayer and all that sort of stuff. ... You could go to services on the base every week, if you wanted to.
SH: What was your opinion of the USO and the Red Cross?
WR: They were very good for all the officers.
SH: What about the enlisted men?
WR: Not too good. Every mission, they would give you a shot of whiskey when you came down, if you wanted it. You could always tell the fellahs that finished, 'cause you're coming down on an empty stomach; who wants a shot of liquor? but, the guys that finished, they'd get theirs and everybody else's. They'd have eight or nine shots and they'd have to carry them and put them to bed, ... and the Red Cross girls would serve that, but, that's about the only time we ever saw them, yeah. Well, in London, there was clubs that you'd go to and that was all right, but, you know, they migrated more towards the officers, and we had a slew of officers. I turned down a commission overseas, 'cause ... I made more as a tech sergeant, with flight pay, than a second "louie" on the ground with no flight pay. See, we got fifty percent extra pay for flying. So, I say, "Why should I do that?" and went home. They wanted me to run the radio school over there. ...
SH: You would have had to stay in England.
WR: Oh, yeah. I would have stayed at the base, but, ... I wouldn't have flying status. So, I said, "The hell with that."
Nicholas Fillipone: [I will be] right back.
WR: Okay, Nick.
SH: We were talking about how they offered you a position in a radio school in England.
WR: Yeah. Well, they always had an ex-lead operator running the school there and his biggest job was to get somebody to take his place, so [that] he could go home. [laughter] So, I said, "No." So, I spent that Christmas over there, waiting to get on a ship, and they put us on a ship with five hundred German prisoners, who were happier than sin, and five hundred Air Corps guys coming back. Well, this is in January of '45. Of course, the Germans realized they were going to go someplace where they would be extremely safe, and, I remember, ... all we did was serve them food, and then, we got the Germans to scrub the walls, the ceilings, the tables, and everything else. We got to keep them busy, but, they were funny, and ... you could tell that they hadn't seen things, 'cause they'd put a can of evaporated milk on the table for their coffee, the first guy there would drink it, the hell with his buddies. ... The darn sailors on there, they put a bowl of salt out one time, and they were putting it in their coffee thinking it's sugar, and then, they started to complain. They said, "Drink it or throw it away." You know, those suckers drank it.
WR: Yeah, but, anyway, I don't know why they did that. I think the crew just [thought it was funny], but, we only had a thousand of us on the way back. ... That boat had taken over about five thousand on the way over. ...
SH: Do you remember what the name of the ship was?
WR: No. It was just a liberty ship, that's all, and, in those days, you didn't have submarine problems or anything. It just took forever to get home.
SH: [laughter] Just forever, right?
SH: When the tape was turned off before, you were telling me about how many planes would be taking off from England as the sun was rising.
WR: Oh, well, we'd have about twelve in our squadron. We had four squadrons in our base. So, we'd put up, what? twelve times four, forty-eight planes, and we were in the First Division, and so, the division (chain?) would come along. There's bases all over. When you took off and circled up through the clouds, hoping you weren't going to hit anybody as you're doing this, ... then, they'd all get in line. They had a certain way of doing it, but, we flew the box formation, you know, and they were really close, as you can tell from some of the pictures that I showed you. ...
SH: After completing the bomb run, were you able to tell how effective your hits were as you were flying away?
WR: No, we were up five, six miles, yeah.
SH: Did you ever fly low enough to see the results of your efforts?
WR: No, not there. We did bomb a bunch of Canadians one time, and that was in France, because they were supposed to ... get a smoke screen. We were supposed to bomb off [of] the smoke screen, except, the wind came up and blew the smoke over them, and then, we dropped on the smoke screen. I don't know how many Canadians we killed that day, but, we killed a bunch.
SH: Was there an investigation?
WR: No, except that they started putting the smoke screens up higher after that. [laughter] They didn't leave them on the ground. Those [mistakes] are what happens during the war, you know, but, ... that's the only occurrence that I remember where we really were feeling sorry for ourselves. ... [On] one of my missions, we went to Pas-de-Calais, which is a real milk run, you know, up and down, and the rest of the group had gone up to Peenemunde. You've heard of that one? Well, we didn't do that one, [laughter] they did, and, when they got back, we're sitting there, relaxing, "Hey, we got a mission in today, too," [laughter] but, we were gone two hours. So, those things happen.
SH: How close were the officers and the enlisted men on your crew?
WR: ... The officers had their own little barracks, and we had ... two crews in our "Q" hut there, and ... we kept losing the guys in the other end of the room there, three or four times while we were flying, but, yeah, we were pretty lucky.
SH: Did you name your airplane?
WR: No. ... Well, we flew in all different airplanes; it didn't matter. I think we named one at one time, but, whatever, it didn't matter, as long as they came back.
SH: Did you ever have to write a letter to the family of someone that you lost?
WR: No, no, no. That wasn't our job. We didn't lose anybody, to begin with, but, that would be the pilot's job, or the CO of the group, or something there. No, we didn't have to do that. That was kind of tough. We had to take some of their belongings and put it together, and then, they'd ship it home or whatever.
SH: Did your pilot give you a hard time when you left your crew to join the lead crew?
WR: Oh, no, no. He thought it was a great idea.
WR: Oh, save five missions? because, when he finished, the rest of the crew still had about three, and you'll see in my diary where the waist gunner and the tail gunner were having some difficulties. ...
SH: With each other?
WR: No, because they were being fill-ins for rookie crews, sometimes, and so, the Colonel finally said, "You can fly with us," and ... they finished with me, you know.
SH: Were there ever any personality conflicts between your crewmates?
WR: No, no. The guys always owed us money. The ball turret gunner and I, we were good card players, and the rest [were not], [laughter] and we had this rule, you could never send any money home until the next payday, because the guys wouldn't have money to go to London or something. "Oh, ... I always send money home." [laughter]
SH: Did you rely on a banker?
WR: No, no. I forget the games we used to play, but, these other guys ... liked to play, but, they're dumb. [laughter] ...
SH: You mentioned before that you had a code for telling your mother when you were flying.
WR: Oh, I'd tell her to say happy birthday to somebody who wasn't a relative and she knew I flew that day. One day, she wrote a letter, her famous letters that she had all the carbon paper on, "I figure, Walter, [that] you flew on," dat, dat, dat, and she enumerates the whole thing. "Oh, for God's sakes." If somebody had gotten a hold of that, then, they'd say, "What are you telling the folks back home?" but, they didn't.
SH: Your mother was communicating with ...
WR: My two brothers, yeah.
SH: Was your older brother still in the States?
WR: No, he's wandering around. ... He was in Africa, Italy, and southern France, always way behind on the fighting, you know. He had more trouble with his troops than he did with anything, yeah.
SH: Did you ever have an opportunity to meet up with him?
WR: No, no. I was never on the ground over where he was. I was always over in England.
SH: You did not hop over to see him.
SH: Did you ever go on any extracurricular flights?
WR: Up there?
WR: No, only when I was waiting for my second rocker, and I told the Colonel, "I'm going to finish and be shipped home before I get it." He says, "It's in there, Walt. ... It's coming at any time, now." ... He says, "You don't have to fly any more missions until," there was a period in here, for a month, that I didn't fly a mission. So, I used to fly around with the Colonel. We'd go up to Scotland. [laughter] We'd take these little trips, but, other than that, we didn't have too much [of] a problem.
SH: What was the Colonel's name?
WR: Oh, God, I don't know. I flew with two or three different ones, you know. ...
SH: I assumed that "The Colonel" ...
WR: Yeah, well, we had a colonel in each squadron. They were in charge of it.
SH: Did you ever get to do any sight-seeing?
WR: ... He'd dream up someplace we had to go, you know, but, they had some R&R over there, but, we were never sent to that, rest-and relaxation-type of stuff.
SH: You never took advantage of that.
WR: They never gave us the chance to do that. Well, if you see the dates when we flew, they're very, very close to each other. ...
SH: Yes, for example, you flew on August 5, August 6, August 8, August 9, August 11, August 13, and August 14, 1944.
WR: So, you're flying quite frequently. [laughter]
SH: The longest gap of down time that I can see is about six days.
WR: Well, you're going to get some later. One's there in October, I think, and there was a period there that I didn't fly for a month.
WR: Oh, yeah, ... unbelievable. So, they're waking you up practically every other day.
SH: On October 19, 1944, you flew to Germany, and then, you did not fly again until November 26.
WR: Yeah, that's when I was waiting for my rocker, [laughter] and then, I finished just before the Battle of the Bulge. So, I didn't get that battle star. So, I only ended up with two battle stars and that's worth five points when you got discharged. I'd had five Air Medals, and they're five points a piece, ... and you got a point for every month of service, and an extra point for every month [that] you're overseas. So, I had eighty some points.
SH: How aware were you of the war on the ground?
WR: Over there? Oh, yeah. ... Well, they had newspapers. The Stars and Stripes would come out all the time. In fact, you [can] see one of the Stars and Stripes reporters every Sunday, Andy Rooney. He even flew some missions, four or five of them.
SH: Right. Did anyone extra ever fly with your crew?
WR: No, no.
SH: Were you ever interviewed by reporters once you returned to England?
WR: Never, no, no. As soon as you'd land, you had to go in to get debriefed, and they'd ask [questions]. You know, they were trying to find all the information they could [about] the missions. We even went to Denmark one time, bombed a little field up there, and I bumped into a fellah in California [that] said, "Did you ever go to Denmark?" I said, "Yeah." He says, "What was the date?" So, I pulled this out for him and he says, "Goddamn it, it's the only time they ever bombed the field," and he says, "I was on the ground at the time." He was Danish. [laughter] So, he used to call me "the Mad Bomber." [laughter] Well, that was, I forget what date it was in there, but, ... we were either going to abort the mission, and, when you aborted, you dropped the bombs in the Channel, you didn't bring them back, ... and then, there was this other place that they said, "Well, if you want to go up to Denmark, there's this little field up there you can do." So, we dropped them up there.
SH: I read in your diary that you bombed Holland and you saw a C-47 taking gliders for the invasion of Holland. Can you explain what happened?
WR: That's when we ... lost our engine on the way back. ...
SH: I was wondering where you lost the engine.
WR: Oh, it was over Germany, or over occupied territory.
SH: You bombed Denmark on August 27th.
WR: He thought that was funny. [laughter]
SH: Did you ever consider the moral implications of the fact that you were bombing Germany and possibly killing civilians?
WR: It's a very impersonal war in an airplane, thank God. You know, they did some awful things in '45, when they wiped Dresden out. That was totally ridiculous, you know, but, we were supposedly, you know, [bombing legal targets], and, most of the time, we did go for railroad yards or some manufacturing technique that [they] were trying to get rid of. So, it wasn't harassment of the civilians in any shape or form. ... Well, there's one mission, when I was flying lead, we always had a smoke bomb, ... [the] first bomb that left the plane, and the rest of the group would toggle off the smoke bombs. Their bombardiers didn't use anything other than just watch, and then, they'd toggle the damn bombs. ... We got hit one time, and the smoke bomb got hit, and ... I sat right in back of the bomb bay, and I couldn't see anything back there. So, I told them, I said, "Hey, we've been hit. The smoke bomb's going off like crazy." The bombardier, he didn't need any other questions, he toggled all the bombs. Everybody behind his toggled their bombs. [laughter] Then, we left the division chain, went around the target, and picked them up afterward, and that's the worst part, because you'd fly at one elevation for about twenty minutes, and that's when they'd shoot the living daylights out of you. ...
SH: How close did the German fighters come to your plane?
WR: You'd see some Me-109s, but, I never had to go back to the waist and fire in combat.
SH: That was my next question.
WR: Yeah, I never did, and I was very happy that I never had to, but, I've seen them. I've seen them, but, they would pick the loosest formation and go right in there and they'd shoot the hell out of them. They knocked half the group down when they went through. Once [the] P-51s got over there, we hardly ever saw Me-109s after that. ... [No], I've seen them knock a whole bunch of planes down, but, thank God, they never hit us and they didn't hit our group, just lucky. They got hit seven times while I was flying and, each of those times, we were on the ground. We weren't flying that day. So, [laughter] see, I'm telling you, we call it "fatalist," but, that's a long time ago. [laughter]
SH: When you were coming back, was there any chance that you might have to stay longer?
WR: No, once your tour was done, they shipped you home, no if ands or butts, yeah, because you're a nervous wreck when you came back. You saw the cute pictures of the "Q" huts we lived in? We had some nuts that would go along with a stick, [Mr. Ringen imitates a person using a stick to make a noise similar to that of a machine gun firing], and then, the doors would fly open, everybody would leave. You know, you're really on edge the whole time. ...
SH: Did you notice anyone who was suffering from battle fatigue?
WR: Everybody did over there, they had to, and the ground crew guys never fraternized with us, because they lost too many friends. You know, if they'd get real close to somebody, then, bingo, he'd get shot down. ... Here's Nick.
NF: Thought I got lost. It's the Office of the Dean that used to be the Chemistry Building.
WR: [laughter] Oh, that's what it is over there, now; how about that.
NF: I don't know what the hell ...
WR: How about the Engineering Building?
NF: Murray, whatever that is. That's an office building, too.
SH: Mr. Fillipone has now joined us.
WR: One of my classmates.
SH: Can we talk about ...
WR: ... After the war?
SH: Could you tell me about how hard it was to wait to come back during Christmas of 1944?
WR: Yeah. We were just waiting for the ship to be ready and they showed us White Christmas.
SH: Were you able to take advantage of any of the entertainment options offered by the Red Cross or the USO?
WR: No. Down in London, you could go into some of the clubs that they were running, but, otherwise, ... we figured up our own entertainment. I used to go around with a Canadian girl there. She was cute, but, that's the way it goes. ... You'd make your own entertainment down in London. We'd have different places we'd go to, [laughter] but, it was fun, and you didn't always go to London. There were other towns around.
SH: Your base was near Cambridge.
WR: Yeah, we were just west of Cambridge, yeah, as were a lot of bases. Boy, there were so many of them around there.
SH: Did you ever go down to Brighton?
SH: It is right there on the Channel.
WR: Oh, [I have] been down there since the war, but, not then.
SH: When you returned to the United States, your ship docked in New York.
SH: What happened then?
WR: Then, they took us to Camp Kilmer, gave us a thirty-day pass, and then, I had to report to Atlantic City for reassignment, and that's when I worked that deal to get back with my brother out in Ardmore. So, I didn't get out there until the middle of March, after we were married. So, I kept getting three-day passes, [laughter] go to Philly, take the train home, stay home for a couple of days, then, go back, see if my orders were cut. ...
SH: How were you treated when you came back?
WR: By whom?
SH: The civilians.
WR: Yeah, oh, yeah. In those days, [if] anybody came back, they were happy to see them.
SH: Were you still required to wear a uniform?
WR: Well, when I was still in the service, sure.
SH: At all times?
WR: Yeah. I don't recall that I put on any civilian clothes. When I got discharged, I told you, my twin brother was with me, and he was home on furlough when I got discharged. So, I didn't want to disrupt his furlough, so, I took the train home from Louisiana. [When] I got home, there was nobody home, and I got in the house, and Dad and Mom were expecting me, so, they had pulled out some clothes I used to wear. They were all small. I couldn't get into the damn thing.
NF: I wonder why.
WR: So, I squeezed into something and I'm sitting in the living room. My father comes in from work and he says, "Bob, what are you doing in those?" [laughter]
SH: He did not realize that it was you.
WR: [laughter] Well, he knew I was coming, but, he thought it was Bob that put the clothes on.
SH: He thought it was your brother.
WR: Yeah, yeah. So, I said, "Take another look." [laughter]
SH: After Atlantic City, once you got your orders, you were sent to ...
WR: ... To Ardmore, again.
SH: Back to Oklahoma?
WR: Yeah, yeah.
SH: What did you do in Oklahoma?
WR: ... Unless you had a special school for teaching people whatever they wanted you to teach, which I didn't have, because I [had] just got transferred back there, they had this flight test group. They were all ex-combat people, and we had a couple of pilots, and two or three engineers, and two or three radio operators, and, when they're training the other crews, as I had gone through, after so many hours on a plane, you had to give them a check before they'd put them back on the line for the crews, and so, we'd fly two or three of those a day, and we sat there playing cribbage and pitching horseshoes, and we really goofed off. ... Then, it got so bad, because the war in Europe had ended, and so, they curtailed a lot of [B]-17 trainings. We ended up working one day a week. [laughter] It was like a big vacation. It was unbelievable. I was married then. We had a lot of fun in those days. [laughter] ...
SH: Did your wife accompany you to ...
WR: Oklahoma, yeah. Well, she came out there. We were married and they put me on a train to go back to Atlantic City to catch the train. That was my honeymoon and she came out about three weeks later, as soon as I found someplace for us to live.
SH: How did you get to Louisiana?
WR: Well, that's where they sent us to be discharged, Alexandria, Louisiana. Don't ask me how they picked that. ... The funny part of it, 'cause I was in flight status, even the pilots had to get four hours of flight a month to ... get their flight pay, and they kept cutting in, and they never took an officer off flight status, see, but, the enlisted people, they were cutting [us] off like crazy. Well, one of the engineers and I, we took up a plane one time, and there was fifteen officers just sitting on their fannies for four hours as we put in four hours circling all over hell, and then, we were cut off flight status, after we had already put in our hours. So, we went up and raised hell and they put us back on flight status. So, I went to Louisiana, and I was still on flight status, 'cause they hadn't gotten around to cutting me off again, and, in those days, when you got to a base like that, you had to find something to do or you'd end up doing something that was terrible. ... I hitchhiked down there and took personal transportation there and we got an allowance. I had a week to get down there, and he, [my twin brother], like a jerk, he went on a troop train, and so, anyway, ... I went up to the office, the finance office there, and I met a young lieutenant, who was a pilot, running the thing, and I said, "Do you need some help?" He said, "What kind of background do you have?" "Oh, I've been [to college]. I was in Rutgers for a year-and-a-half." "Oh, good!" So, both Bob and I ended there. My main reason there, as a first three grader, you're allowed one change of station during the war. So, I got all the paperwork filled out and all signed and I got over three hundred dollars, 'cause my wife was with me. She wasn't, she was already on her way home from Oklahoma, but, can you imagine trying to get some of that stuff done later? You never could get it signed off ... and this pilot said, "Oh, you're on flight status?" "Yeah." He says, "We're going flying." So, I went up in a Piper Cub for four hours with him. So, I had flight status right up until the time I was discharged, which is another fifty-seven dollars a month; what the hell?
SH: How soon after your discharge did you return to Rutgers?
WR: About ten days after I got back here, I was back in school. I came down, found those short courses I could take, and so, I immediately signed up for them. In those days, there still was not an influx of veterans.
SH: I was going to ask you about that next.
WR: 'Cause this was October '45. The real big influx was the next September, you know. So, I was able to get right back in, and it was fine, and, the next semester, I could take some other courses. I could salvage something from my pre-med work, but, not a hell of a lot. I did salvage my chemistry courses and, you know, some electives I didn't have to bother with, 'cause I had them already. ...
SH: How helpful was the administration towards returning veterans?
WR: ... They were happy to get bodies in those days. They didn't have too many students, you know, but, no, they were all right.
SH: Where did you and your wife live while you were going to school?
WR: We found, and you can imagine, in '45, finding an apartment, ... one up here on 83 Easton Avenue. You should have thought something was wrong with it and it was [bad]. We lasted about a year there, and the landlady was horrendous, ... and then, actually, we lived there for about a year, and then, we went out in Edison, out here, and bought a house.
SH: Did you use the GI Mortgage clause of the GI Bill?
WR: Oh, I think, eventually, we did. I don't know whether we had to or not. [I] put three hundred dollars down, it was eighty-one hundred dollars, and my father-in-law said, I was telling Nick, he said, "It's not worth it." I said, "I couldn't find a two bedroom apartment for fifty-seven dollars a month, interest, principal, and taxes," you know. [laughter] ...
--------------------------------------END OF SIDE TWO, TAPE ONE-------------------------------------
SH: This continues an interview with Mr. Walter Ringen, Jr., on May 25, 2000, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. We were talking about how you bought a house, which was very unusual for a returning vet and student.
WR: It was a four percent mortgage; what the hell? [laughter] The builder out there had retained four houses himself, so, he could, evidently, dispense it to people that couldn't qualify for mortgages, 'cause, at ninety dollars a month, what could you qualify for? and so, he took a liking to Shirley and I and sold us a house.
SH: You mentioned that, when you left Rutgers, there were not that many students here.
WR: There wasn't too many when I got back either. It built up very fast, and you had all the little, temporary classrooms up there on the side of the river where you've got dorms now, but, it hadn't really expanded that much, yet, but, I imagine [that] after the Class of '49 and '50 got out of here, ... the thing started to move like crazy, and Kilmer was being torn down, and you started to get some money from the legislature to build buildings.
SH: Did your brother return to Rutgers?
WR: Oh, yeah. He graduated. He came back a couple of weeks after he got out and the funny part of it is, they let him catch up on a couple of courses that he had to take that I was taking. I tutored him, to make up the time. So, he got full semester credit in '46, the Spring of '46. He graduated with me. In fact, [when] I graduated, my wife's mother was a teacher, graduated from a normal school up in Montclair, so, she kept coming down to visit us, taking courses, and she graduated with me, too. [laughter] So, the next year, my sister-in-law, who'd come down and see us, she graduated, but, she stayed and got her Masters here, in education, too. It was funny. I mean, how many guys graduate with their relatives, you know?
SH: Especially their mother-in-law. [laughter]
WR: Yeah, we always laughed about that.
SH: Was your wife working as a nurse at this time?
WR: Yeah, she did some visiting nurse and private duty up in St. Peter's and so forth while we were here.
SH: What had your family been involved in while you were away, war bonds, etc.?
WR: During the war?
SH: During the war.
WR: I don't know. ... You know, we weren't around and I guess they were involved. They had to be; everybody was involved in something, but, I don't recall any particular thing.
SH: Did your wife begin working as a nurse before you returned?
WR: Well, she was in nursing training over in East Orange General and she had just finished when I came back from overseas and passed her RN tests and all that stuff. She was getting ready to go into the service, and I didn't want to be outranked, so, we got married. [laughter]
SH: That is true. She would have outranked you.
WR: Yeah. [laughter] Well, that's all right. We always kid about that. [laughter]
SH: You graduated with the June 1945 class.
WR: No, no, when I got back
SH: I am sorry, 1949.
WR: 49, yeah. You're a few years ahead of me. That was Nick that graduated in '44, with the Class of '45. [laughter]
SH: Did you have to work while you were in school, even though you had the GI Bill?
WR: Well, you know, we got ninety dollars a month and I was working, my last two years, at night. I was doing a night watchman's job on some construction projects up in Metuchen, ... just to bring in some extra money. I worked every summer, didn't have to. A lot of guys used that 52/20 Club. Did you ever hear of that? ... and they could continue collecting their ninety bucks even though they weren't in school, but, then, that would negate using that, period. So, I never did it. I just went to work. So, we finally got out. [I] worked in New York one summer, worked in Metuchen with a builder up there. So, you had to keep busy.
SH: When did you begin your family?
WR: Well, we have an odd family. We adopted our first son in, let me see, I guess it was '52. ... He was born in '51. We got him when he was two months old, and we adopted the second one seven years later, and then, my wife, after fifteen years, became pregnant, after many, many things. So, we had "Irish twins," ten months apart, the second adopted son and Alan, and then, we adopted a little girl after that. So, we had four children, ... and, now, we have eight grandchildren, seven boys and one girl.
SH: Oh, wow. Your degree is in engineering.
WR: Civil engineering.
SH: Civil engineering. You mentioned that you worked for a contractor.
WR: Well, ... when I was in school. In '49, ... believe it or not, it was hard to get a job.
SH: I understand that.
WR: ... I went to work for an insurance company, did industrial fire insurance work, did plant inspection work and testing and that sort of stuff, for, gosh, I was there about a year, doing inspections of plants around here, and then, I was transferred to Hartford, Connecticut, and supervised a bunch of people, until the ex-manager of the Atlanta office came in, and I got very friendly with him and asked him what kind of money he was making after thirty years with the company, and he said [that] it was nine thousand a year, and I said, "What am I doing here?" you know. Then, I went with Western Electric in New York, and they had a group in the structure of the company called Planned Design and Construction, and I got in that group. So, I did a lot of inspection work all over the country for them. Then, I started to go out on jobs as the owner's rep on the buildings they were building. So, we've moved around a bit. We lived in North Andover, Massachusetts. We lived out in Boulder, Colorado, took the family, then. When we went to California in '73, we moved twice since we were out there. We started [on] the other side of Sacramento and got down to where we are now. So, it was a lot of fun. In fact, the kids, even now, reflect on the fact that they've seen more of the country than their friends that they know.
SH: As you look back on your life and the times that you have lived through, what would you say has been the impact of the GI Bill?
WR: ... You don't have to ask that. It's the best thing that ever happened to the country. The government got that money back many, many times over, all those educated people that could make a decent living and pay decent taxes all these years. There's no question. It's too bad they don't have one at least comparable to that nowadays.
SH: Did you join the Reserves when you were discharged?
WR: No, not at all.
SH: There was no chance that you would be called back for Korea.
WR: That's true. I'd done my bit. I didn't want to be bothered with it. Well, it might have made a difference, if you weren't married. A lot of guys stayed in the Reserves just to get the extra money every month, but, no, it wasn't worth the chance, not that we knew that Korea was coming or anything else, you know, but, no, I broke clean.
SH: What did you think about the Vietnam War, since you had children of draft age?
WR: ... My oldest son ... had an ROTC scholarship, went to Northwestern, and there was only about twelve students in his class there, and they got harassed all over the place. He got out of high school in, oh, '68, I guess it was, and he spent six years, seven years, in the Navy, afterward, to repay the government for what they did for him, but, he was a nuke engineer with them. He was on the Nimitz when it was commissioned in (that flotilla?). He was the only one that got affected. The others have never been affected, although my youngest son, the one that ... wasn't adopted, he went to MIT, and he started in the program there, and, after two years, they have the opportunity of getting out of the program or continuing on, and they would not guarantee that he'd go into the Sea Bees [CBs]. So, he says, "I'm done," and they were furious, but, there was no obligation. He owed them nothing, and they paid his tuition, bought his books, gave him a hundred dollars a month for two years, and so, he called me up, he says, "You mind paying the last two years?" I said, "No." [laughter] So, that's a good way of getting rid of thirty thousand dollars, [laughter] but, anyway, he's very successful.
SH: Have you stayed involved with your Rutgers class?
WR: Well, Nick and I have been friends for years. We lived two houses away and he's says, "You had the opportunity to declare yourself in '45 or '49," and I said, "Well, you don't have too many '45ers around." So, I said, "I'll go with you," and then, he's always calling, "When are you coming for a reunion?" So, I finally said I'd come out this year, 'cause I had this other one going to England at the same time. So, I came out ... in the big storm on Thursday night. God, the plane came in three hours late, unbelievable. ...
SH: Could you tell us a little bit about the reunion that you are going to in England?
WR: Well, ... I've been back. This is the second one. I went in '84 for a reunion, and this is a reunion of our bomb group, the 303rd Bomb Group, and the funny part of it [is], the name of it is "Hell's Angels," but, they're not motorcyclists, but, anyway, they have 177 people coming, male and female, not females from [the] service, wives or whatever. ... The fellah that's running this show, he said [that] he's amazed at the number of people. I said, "Well, you better get them, because they're dropping off fast." You know, all the guys are in their late seventies now. So, my wife, ... she went there once and she says, "I don't want to." So, she's going over to the Passion Play over in Germany in August, she and her sister. I said, "You can go to that, I'll go over to this one." ...
SH: Are you going to visit the Continent while you are there or will you just be in England?
WR: Just in England. We've been all over. Last February, we took a trip. We flew into Chile, got on a boat, went around Cape Horn, and up to the Falklands, and up to Buenos Aires, and, the year before, we went to England, and went up to St. Petersburg, and stopped at all the capitals along the way up there, ... and we've been to, you name it.
SH: Would you say that traveling is now your passion?
WR: Well, yeah. The kids are all gone and we do a lot of traveling. ... We enjoy it. We took a lot of elder hostel trips, I don't know whether you've heard of those, but, they're very, very good, and we've had a lot of good experiences with it. Even Nick has taken some of those, now, but, I don't think you've gone to Europe at all, have you, Nick?
WR: Yeah, [he is] doing the local ones, but, no, we do that. We've been to Italy twice, and we went to Greece and over to Turkey, been up to ... Ireland, and, last time we took a trip, we came over a year ago, February, and we landed in London, ... got on a boat, and went up to Glasgow, and then, went over to Ireland, then, went over to France, and visited the D-Day beaches. That was interesting. I, ... you know, [had] never been there. You've seen the picture of the guy hanging off the steeple, you know? They put a dummy up there every year now. [laughter]
WR: [laughter] The locals, yeah. They make money on it and that fellah's still alive. He comes back and visits them, unbelievable, unbelievable.
SH: Before we conclude the interview, are there any other thoughts or reflections that you would like to enter into the record?
WR: No. We dearly love Rutgers.
SH: There you go. [laughter]
WR: ... I wish my fraternity house ... [had] been reestablished. They got kicked off campus, and they're going to get back on, but, the University has made the house a mess over there. They [have] got to do some interior work before the kids can move back in, but, Nick's house, they tore down; it's a parking lot, the Kappa Sigs, over here. ...
NF: Kappa Sigs, it was.
SH: Have you been involved with your fraternity as an alumni?
WR: No, not that much. I give some money to them when they're [doing the] reclamation up here, but, I haven't been involved there. You can get involved. ... Everybody is looking for money, as you know. So, you can do that all the time.
SH: Do you have any other final thoughts?
WR: ... No, no. I think it's a lovely program that you [have] got here and I hope you can gather enough information to make a good synopsis of what occurred. ... It's hard to get them. Most of them must be Class of '49 and through 1950, I guess. ... After that, it would start to thin out, you know.
SH: That is correct. We have conducted nearly three hundred interviews. Thank you very much for taking time out of your schedule for this interview.
WR: Yeah, well, I [have] got to go visit my sister-in-law, now, my brother's wife.
WR: Did you want me to fill that form out and mail it back to you? ...
SH: Yes, please. This concludes an interview with Mr. Walter Ringen. Thank you.
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Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 7/4/01
Reviewed by Sandra Stewart Holyoak 7/6/01
Reviewed by Alan R. Ringen 10/10/14