Molly Graham: In the beginning, I like to say who, what and where we are.
Albert Bruce Lukens: I was born in 1925, in Bayonne, New Jersey and I had four sisters. Well, I don't want to go really into all our local history. I don't think you would be interested into it.
MG: I bet it would be a little bit interesting, but before you keep going I just have to say that this is an oral history interview with Mr. Albert Bruce Lukens.
MG: Am I saying that correctly?
MG: My name is Molly Graham. I am here with ...
Zev Newman: Zev Newman.
MG: We are at 337 Jamestown Road in Bridgewater, New Jersey. [laughter] Today is June 16th.
MG: So, you were born in Bayonne.
AL: 1925, yes.
Jill Hacker: In the house.
AL: Well, nobody went to the hospital.
MG: What did they do instead?
AL: They had home birth. Only, the very well and we weren't very well off. Surprisingly, I don't know whether you are--I'll just give you a very brief history. I didn't know either one of my grandfathers, but five brothers immigrated to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and their name was Lukens and they developed the Lukens Steel [now ArcelorMittal]. I don't know whether you ever heard of that, but it was quite an operation. What happened, one of the brothers got mixed up with the maid and he had a birth, and the other four brothers disinherited him, and guess who we are related to. We are related to that disinherited brother. [laughter]
MG: What is the relation?
AL: Well, their name was Lukens, as I say, I never met my grandfathers or anything like that. So, it came down the loin. My dad was a Lukens, naturally. On my mother's side, my mother was [from] Bayonne and her father had a coal and lumberyard along with a partner. My mother was brought up in a kind of a well-to-do class, and one day, the whole coal and lumberyard went up in smoke and the safe was gone and the partner was gone and my mother went from well-to-do to not-to-do.
So, two of them--my mother married my father. Initially, they had my brother Lawrence, which I never knew. He got to be three-years-old and he died very tragically, and my sister Alice--then from [after] my sister Alice, I had my sister Alma, my sister Ethel and then me. There was four of us. My mother said to my father, "This is no place to raise a child." So, we moved out to Roselle, New Jersey. We had a brand new house there, but we were considered working poor. Everybody had a job, but you weren't the well-to-do as other people. We were on West Eight Avenue, although we had a brand new house and everything else. So, I was brought up in Roselle and I graduated from high school and I turned eighteen in '43.
I was inducted into service one week after I graduated. Prior to that, in my senior year, the Navy and the Army needed some upscale or intelligent--I don't like to use that term--but they needed people in for surgery and so forth in that range, because not too many people were going to college. Because this was, we were in [the Great] Depression. You want to talk depression, we were in depression. What brought us out of the depression, we were making, manufacturing ships for the British and everybody else for the World War II. In fact, when we were down in Point Pleasant, I saw where was remnants of a ship that had been hit by the German subs. So, anyway, the Army and the Navy would test you. They had what they called an A-12 and V-12. I took the A-12 test and I passed. They [Army] said I had to go through induction. Then, after induction, I had to be in training, four months in training and then be tested again. So, what happened was that I graduated from high school in '43. One week after I was graduated, I went into the service and I spent four months in camp. Oh, my God, trying to remember the name. [Editor's Note: Beginning in 1942, the U.S. Army began the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), in which applicants who met stringent requirements would complete basic training and then be sent to a college or university to complete a bachelor's degree and earn a commission in eighteen months. The Navy offered the comparable V-12 Program, in which participants would earn a commission as an officer. In early 1944, with the invasion of Europe impending, the Army announced that over 100,000 ASTP students would become soldiers in combat units.]
ZN: In Texas, right?
ZN: It was in Texas.
JH: [Camp Fannin]. [Editor's Note: Camp Fannin in Tyler, Texas was a U.S. Army Infantry Replacement Training Center and prisoner-of-war.]
ZN: [Fannin], right.
AL: So, I took four months of training. Then, they kept their promise. They tested us again, and I passed. I was sent to Louisiana State University. I thought I was going to ride out to war in college. I got one semester in, and General Eisenhower made a call for young men and we wound up--so, some of us, those who were going up, you know, junior--they were kept on. We freshmen filled--we went in. I was in 99th Infantry Division. I spent all my time there, and we went over.
We went POE [point of embarkation] out of Boston, and D-Day was in June . We were over in France in September. I spent fifty days on [the] line. We were one of the first ones hit in the Battle of Bulge, and we were cut off. I can give you whole detail of what was going on, but anyway, we were cut off. This Major [Matthew] Legler led the remnants of our group from behind the German lines, and we got back into our own line and for five days we were behind the lines. After five days, I got back into our own lines, and they gave us C rations. If you know, there was only about three hash and stew and whatever. I couldn't tell you what I ate because it went down so fast. We were assembled the next day after we got back in, and we were assembled to go back up to the front lines again. I had no feelings in both legs. I still went and I fell down, I couldn't get up. A medic came along and checked me out, and he took my boot off and he said, "You're not going any place." I had a good dose of frostbite. [Editor's Note: On December 16, 1944, Germany launched a surprise offensive in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium with the goal of reaching the port city of Antwerp and splitting Allied forces in northwestern Europe. The battle became known as the Battle of the Bulge for the salient or bulge that the German advance created in the American lines. American forces quickly responded with reinforcements, but fighting in the Ardennes lasted until January 25. The Germans suffered 100,000 casualties out of half a million men committed and lost nearly all their tanks and aircraft. American forces lost 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded and 23,000 missing in action, making it the bloodiest battle of the war for the United States.]
So, I was kept in a field hospital for a couple of days. Then, I was transported to Paris, and then from Paris we were shipped over to England. There, I was in a hospital there for four months and more. I was very fortunate in a sense. I thought I was going to lose both feet, but I ended up just losing my toes. So, I had my toes off and I had grafts and everything else, and I was there and we came back via hospital ship to America, in Charleston, South Carolina to be exact. So, I was there in '45. In fact, it coincides with when Japan signed a treaty with us, I was discharged. [Editor's Note: V-J Day, or Victory over Japan Day, is August 15, 1945, the day that Japan unconditionally surrendered to the United States to bring World War II to an end. On September 2, 1945, the formal surrender was signed onboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.]
I then went to college. I went to Stevens Institute [of Technology in Hoboken] for two years. I did a little bit too much of this. We were all GIs because it was the GI Bill. [Editor's Note: The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 or GI Bill was a law providing benefits for the returning veterans of World War II].
MG: You indicated that you were drinking a lot.
AL: Yes. I was just getting through. I said, "I'm never going to make the third year." So, I left, and I went to work for Purolator. I was still looking for a place, and I don't know how I got in touch with Fairleigh Dickinson [University]. Since I wasn't with my buddies or anything else, I graduated with honors. From graduation, I went to work for Walter Kidde. Then, my wife and I got married and I went to work for Johns-Manville. I worked thirty years with Johns-Manville, and surprisingly enough, I don't have the cancer because I ran H-building, which was ... siding, which was all asbestos, and I ran that. I thank my daughter right there. We used to go to the [YMCA] every Friday night and she was an excellent swimmer. She says, "Daddy lets race across the pool." She was only eight. My son was six and she beat me across that pool and I'm hanging on to the edge of that pool and I'm sucking wind like you'd never believed and I said "That's the end of my smoking." So, I haven't had a cigarette and that's obviously why, maybe, I am talking to you today. I don't have that asbestos related cancer. So, as I say, we adopted that gal there at '58, right? [Editor's Note: During the twentieth century, the Johns-Manville Company manufactured insulation, roofing materials and engineering products, much of which was made from asbestos. Johns-Manville filed for bankruptcy in 1982, and the company has faced many individual and class-action lawsuits based on asbestos-related health issues.]
AL: Then, our son at '60. My wife and I, we were trying like mad to have a child, and we went through all kinds of tests. Back in those days, they weren't as good as they are today, but I am not sorry for it because I got [two children]. [Jill] is number one and my son as number two. Believe me, I couldn't produce a better pair, so it was good.
MG: You have given us such a nice preview of all the things that I want to talk more about, but let us back up a little bit. You mentioned your family moved from Bayonne because it was not a good place to raise kids.
AL: Yes. My father--there was a photo in the family album, my father holding Lawrence and my sister Alice and you never saw such a smile on a man's face as he had those two, but what happened, years ago people would have grape arbors and they would spray them with a poison-- oh, right, I can't think of the term right now.
AL: Arsenic of lead, yes. Somehow, when Lawrence was three years old, he got away from the family and went over to a yard and ate the grapes and died tragically. So, my father was a very broken man in that sense. As I say, he had Lawrence and my sister Alice and my sister Alma, then my sister Ethel and me. Then, once I was born, my mother said to my father, "This is no place to raise a child." So, we moved to Roselle, and there we lived on 126 West Eighth Avenue. Twenty-six is my number. I play it in the lottery when I have to. So, anyway, that's the way it was.
We were what they called working poor. My dad worked every day. He was a railroad engineer at the Central Railroad. The only time he had vacation is when he was sick or took time off, but otherwise, we didn't have the privileges that people have today. Right now, I have just about four or five teeth left. Everything is partial, and you wouldn't believe that you would pull your own teeth way back when. One time, my mother took me to the dentist, that I do remember, and [I] had four molars removed. That was previous to the time--she died when I was seventeen. I didn't see a dentist until I was working. As I say, I went into the service. I was drafted, not volunteered. I was drafted.
MG: Where did your family come from before New Jersey?
AL: As I say, the only thing I can relate to my father's side is that five brothers immigrated to America, and they started the Lukens Steel. So, I assume and from everything I heard, was the Lukens' name. Now, how my mother--her name was (Harmer?), and my grandfather was a partner, had a very nice flourishing business in Bayonne, a coal and lumberyard because you would burn coal. In those days, you didn't burn anything except [coal], maybe some oil in later years. As I say, both sides went down, and my father married my mother and we had the family.
JH: Dad, were the brothers from Germany?
AL: I don't know. I would assume they would be, Jilly, because, as I say, they settled in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
JH: Which is like Pennsylvania Dutch type. If I remember correctly, they were in Germany.
AL: On my mother's side, it's all English. So, the Germans and the English got together. Again, as I say, it's a--oh, I can't complain, we didn't have a car. We were on a nice street, West Eighth Avenue, and everybody seemed to have a car. We didn't have a car.
JH: You had a phone.
JH: You had a phone.
AL: Yes, and that's how my mother fell down the stairs. We had a phone to call if my dad needed time off. There were very few people that had phones at that time. One time, they came and borrowed the phone. It was up the stairs into the hallway, and my mother took them up there to have them use the phone, and she fell down the stairs. They found a lump in my mother's breast, which you can't say that the fall did that. She eventually died of cancer, when I was seventeen.
As I say, I graduated from high school and took that test and I thought I was going right out to war, but I didn't. It was a very rough war, very rough. As I say, we landed in France, and we replaced the Second Division and we went up through Belgium and into Germany. We were close to this Siegfried Line, and we were patrolling and so forth. [Editor's Note: The Siegfried Line was a series of defensive fortifications built by Germany along its borders with the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France.] It was primarily all artillery exchanges. We would be out to patrol, and there would be these young Germans, very ill-equipped and all and eager to be caught by us, until 16th of December came along. That's when the Bulge Battle started, and we were one of the first ones hit. We were cut off. We were behind the lines, as I say, for about four to five days. Major Legler led us, guided us through. We would be there, he leading us through during the daylight hours, and at night we would just pull off the road and you would just take refuge. This was all in forest country where we were, very few houses. There would be empty barns, and we would go in there. Then, as I say, we got through [to] our own lines, and from there, I didn't have any feeling. I was frostbit, quite frankly.
JH: Dad, tell her how you think you saved your hands.
AL: Oh, one night we pulled off the road, and there was an old farm there. I went in there, and there was a big pile of cow manure. I slept on that cow manure. My hands were so cold, I just shoved them in that cow manure and that's what kept them warm. I couldn't do that with my feet. We were just--as I say, it was snow and everything else with the weather. I don't know whether I have ever killed anybody, but they tried to kill me. Mostly they had what they called an eighty-eight [mm artillery], and if you heard it, it passed you.
Funny, the Germans, I remember a jet plane, and the Germans had what they called a V-1 bomb and a V-2, if you know anything about that. The V-1 was like a drone type thing, but a V-2 was a rocket, went over and they were--today is Queen Elizabeth's birthday--in fact, she and her dad and the family stayed there in London under all that bombardment. She had an eightieth birthday, so she knows all about the World War II. Anyway, as I say, there was more of a morale feeling with everybody. It's funny today. I see that I don't get that feeling. It's amazing. We were in a war that we could have--when [the] Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, we had to get this, [we] couldn't fool around. No, we had--the morality was so different and so great back then. I don't know, maybe it's me. I just don't see or have that feeling today. [Editor's Note: Queen Elizabeth was born on April 21, 1926. The German V-1 was a flying bomb, nicknamed the buzz bomb or doodlebug, launched from ground launchers or from the air and aimed mainly at London. Of the 10,000 V-1s launched against England between 1943 and 1945, 3,957 were shot down and 2,419 reached London. In September 1944, the Germans launched the first V-2 bombardment rocket from the Netherlands, which crashed in northwest London, killing three and injuring seventeen. From September 1944 until March 1945, 1,054 rockets hit England, and of that total, 517 crashed in London, killing over 2,700 Londoners. ("V-weapons," The Oxford Companion to World War II, pgs. 978-979)]
MG: There was a lot more home front support back then.
MG: There was a lot more home front support.
AL: Oh, yes.
MG: You mentioned the eighty-eight, and you could hear it. Could you describe what it sounded like?
AL: Oh, when you heard an explosion, it wouldn't be anywhere near you. It would be past you. As I say, one time--I don't know where, I can't tell you where I was, but it was in Belgium--and I think I heard something and it wasn't an engine plane. It was a jet. As I say, they had the V-1 bomb and the V-2 and they had this eighty-eight. My God, you would think you would--we were more defensive against their artillery. As I say, I had fifty days on [the] line, and that was enough.
JH: Tell them the story about (Kay?).
JH: Tell them the story about (Kay?).
David Hacker: The man you saved.
AL: Oh, that was prior to the December 16th. Right up to that point where we had advanced and we were going to be a diversionary attack and the 394th [Infantry Regiment]--I was in 393rd--394th was going to be the primary. Anyway, I had a sergeant who didn't like me, and I didn't like him. So, it seemed that I got picked for all these [missions]; I got picked with this soldier and I only know his name as (Kay?). We didn't have anybody--we used to have a recon outfit in front of us all the time--we didn't have one, so I got picked to be the observer and be closest to the German line. This (Kay?), we were on so-called sentry duty, but it was more than that. Anyway, we were digging in, and I come back the one time, I [said], "You are making one hell of a lot of noise." "Go on, go on, go on." So, I went back, and all of a sudden, we were raked by machine-gun fire. Then, after the machine gun-fire, we were hit with mortars. There I was laying on the ground, and the mortars were coming towards me. I prayed to the father. I said, "Take my soul." I wasn't screaming, "Save me, save me." I figured I was going to be dead. Just about when the mortars got up to me, they went overhead and traversed back, and I'm there sweating in cold weather.
So, I waited for few minutes or more, and I get up and I went back to (Kay?), where (Kay?) would be. I say "(Kay?), where are ..." calling for him, whispering. I just heard this snuffling. I went over there, and he couldn't talk. I picked him up, and I carried him off to the tree line, where other soldiers were and they grabbed him. I went back and I got his M-1 [rifle] and my M-1 and his helmet. I looked at his helmet, and it had a nice hole in it. I didn't figure he was going to be alive, but I heard a day or so after that the battalion medic saved his life. So, I did have something which was good. As I say, I don't know whether I--I shot--but I don't know whether I killed anybody. They sure as hell tried to kill me. [laughter]
MG: Were you ever in touch with (Kay?) after that?
MG: How did that make you feel that you maybe played a role in his survival?
AL: I don't even know whether he knew it was me that picked him up. [It] didn't make any difference. I saw him and I heard him and I figured the only thing I can do is pick him up, and I carried him off.
JH: You also said something very sarcastic to your sergeant.
JH: When you came back, you said something like, "Thanks for the help."
AL: Oh, yes, I told him, I said, "Thank you for coming out looking for us." [laughter] He was a drunk. See, it was funny back then when Eisenhower needed young men and we from ASTP, Army Specialized Training Program, that's what we were in, and we filled the ranks that kept the cadre in the 99th. Just to show you, when I graduated from high school, I was five [foot], eleven [inches tall], 145 pounds. After four months of infantry training, I was six-foot-one, 180 pound. I didn't kiss his behind, quite frankly. There were others that were very willing to do that, and I wasn't. Therefore, I got many lousy jobs. In fact, when we went POE out of Boston, I was on the George Goethals ship and I was the MP [military police]. They made me [a] MP there along with the MPs. It took us four days to get over from Boston to England, Liverpool, but that's the kind of job that he assigned me to. I didn't care. He didn't like me, and I didn't like him.
ZN: Did you feel that your training made you physically and also mentally stronger?
AL: Oh, yes. As I say, I was in terrific shape. I knew this when they assigned us after that four months of training in Camp Fannin in Tyler, Texas. I remember now. I went to--assigned to Louisiana State University and the toughest course in Louisiana State University was the PT [physical training] course. I was 180 pound, and I found out I was in the heavyweights and I had to fight and wrestle with these guys well over two hundred pound. I survived. I was a survivor. I can't complain.
MG: I want to hear more about growing up during the depression and what that was like, memories you have from those days.
AL: If you were well-to-do in Roselle--let me put it this way--my mother had connections with people because of the fact that she was, her father and all, was well-to-do. She had connections. My Aunt Margaret and Uncle Will was our mortgagers, and I'm sure that my dad didn't make the payments on time a lot of time, but we had no problem. As I say, we didn't go to a dentist. They did have a dentist come to the school, but they drilled and only [would] give you a filling, not permanent filling. You darned socks. Do you darn your sock? [Editor's Note: Mr. Lukens is referring to the process of repairing a sock with holes in it.]
MG: I have never darned a sock.
AL: Well, we had darned socks, and our shoes were always half-soled or heeled. You got a pair of shoes and if the heels wore down, you got new heels or you got half-soles.
JH: Dad, tell her about when you working in the market and you had the coupons.
AL: Oh, yes. We were rationed for meat, and red coupons--I worked for the meat market when I got to be seventeen-we always had to get the coupons from the people before we would leave the products because we were on those rations. Hey, we helped people out, and they helped us. It was a good morale sense. You don't want to hear all this.
MG: I do.
AL: No, not really.
MG: [laughter] I am curious just about what life was like back then.
AL: I forget which year they came out with the test for tuberculosis that was a patch test, and I wasn't clear. So, we were all sent up to--I can't think the name of it--for x-rays. I always remember this, I am in a classroom and this Mrs. (Willday?), who was the nurse, and she says, "We sent your film, your x-rays to your family doctor." [Editor's Note: Mr. Lukens is imitating the nurse.] [I thought], "Oh, jeez, here I've got tuberculosis or whatever have you." Our family doctor was Dr. Will (Meineke?), my Aunt (Meineke)'s son. He says, "There is nothing wrong with your lungs." So, there was another woman on my list of not liking.
We had this rough life, but there were poorer people. We only had an ice box, and my sister and I, Ethel and I, had to go down--and I remember having a green wagon--into what we called "Colored Town." Nobody was called black; they were colored. In fact, we had a colored doctor, Dr. (Polk?), he was a wonderful man. He would come to see you if you were sick. He was a terrific doctor. In Roselle, Chestnut Street was the main street, and there was a dividing line on the east side. The west side was more of better houses. We would go, my sister and I, into "Colored Town" and get a fifteen-cent piece of ice and bring it back. That's what we lived on, icebox.
I can tell you in 1933 we got a GE [General Electric] refrigerator, hot diggity dog. I was eight years old at that time. It was a welcome sight, but we didn't have a car. My father always said, "You could go anyplace," since he was engineer at Central Railroad, he had a pass, my mother had a pass and we would go up to the station and go to Elizabeth and you would come back. [It] didn't cost you any money. After I got out of the service, my brother-in-law Joe--my sister Alma married my brother-in-law and my sister [Alice] married my brother-in-law, Bob--I bought a 1930 Ford Model B for seventy-five dollars. [laughter] Believe me, it was in bad shape, but, anyway, it was a starter. From there, I bought a 1936 Pontiac, and that looked like a gangster car. The engine was bigger than the passenger. In 1950, I bought a brand new Ford. That's when they first came out and was selling to the public, [in] '49 and'50. That was terrific.
I would go to Stevens when I came out of service, and I was inducted into the Sigma Nu fraternity. I was there, and I lived over there for two years. That two years wasn't great because we were all GIs and we were all doing a little bit too much of this this here [drinking]. There were smarter ones than me, and they did all right. I got through two years. I got through; I passed. [It] wasn't satisfactory to me, and I said, "I would never get through the third year." So, I left from there, and I went to work for Purolator. Then, I was looking and how I discovered Fairleigh Dickinson [University], I don't know, but it was terrific. I commuted back and forth each day. It was in Rutherford, New Jersey, and I graduated with honors. In fact, I was offered a fellowship in Temple University [in Philadelphia]. I said to my dad, "I need some money, Dad." He said, "You already have a degree." That was the end of my going further into the education field, and I went to work for Johns-Manville, not really knowing how supposedly asbestos was so bad for you. I lost some good friends to asbestosis. What's the name for it now, Jilly?
JH: The asbestos thing they do on TV all the time.
JH: That's it.
AL: Yes, I lost some good friends to that and, as I say, this gal here because she beat me across the pool, saved me from going any further.
MG: Good wake up call.
MG: Good wake up call.
AL: Yes. Johns-Manville did some good work. We had, when you talk back into the '70s, we had a million-dollar asbestos system for bringing down the fiber and everything else. The only problem we had with anybody is when they would drop a pallet. It was an interesting life, as I say.
DH: Have you told them about the Battle of Bulge itself?
AL: Oh, yes.
DH: And the frostbite?
AL: Oh, yes.
MG: We will ask you more about it. I just want to make sure we cover everything about growing up that we can. I was curious if your sisters worked during the depression, if they had to go to work.
AL: Oh, yes. My sister Alma worked for Prudential. My sister Ethel worked for my brother-in-law Joe. He had a plant out there in South Plainfield, and she worked for him. My sister Alma, naturally, married my brother-in-law Joe. My brother-in-law Bob was an engineer, and he worked more or less in designing and they had good jobs.
JH: Aunt Alice.
JH: She was in New York, right?
AL: She worked in New York, yes. [Editor's Note: Mr. Lukens sings New York, New York from the 1944 musical On the Town.] "New York, New York, what a wonderful town. The Bronx is up and the something is down."
AL: Battery is down.
JH: Where did Aunt Alice work?
AL: For Philips, which they manufactured radio and phonographs, and that's what we had. When I was growing up, all that we had was the radio. We were one of the privileged few to have a telephone, but we had a radio and I listened to the Lone Ranger way back when. Marge [Myrt and Marge] was another serial. It was a rough kind of life, but everybody seemed, because of the war, everybody was together. I got that feeling. I had no bad feelings about going into the service, believe me. So, it wasn't that bad.
MG: I am curious about your father's work on the railroad. Was that an effect of any of the New Deal programs?
AL: No, it was the Jersey Central and he started out as a fireman and then from fireman he went to an engineer. He then was driving a diesel engine. He would assemble all the trains, set up the trains. He stayed over there in Jersey City, and he didn't travel like [a] commuter. My dad lived to eighty-nine going on to ninety. We are all eighty-[year-old] people. I'm eighty-nine. So, I just look up and I don't know how many days I have, but I'm not worrying about it.
MG: Your family attended a Baptist church.
MG: Your family attended a Baptist church growing up.
AL: Yes, that's where we were married in Roselle. I'll tell you, after I was christened a Methodist and how we got into the Baptist church in Roselle, I can't tell you, but I started going to Sunday school and we went all the way up. Dr. (Gournier?) was the reverend. When Joanie and I got married, we were married in a Baptist church out there in Hillsborough. Again, I have to think of the man's name, they were looking to set up a Presbyterian church. So, I was asked to work on it, and I was one of the fifty people that set up a Presbyterian church, not really being a Presbyterian, but I did. There is only one God; I don't care how many you talk about. Methodist or Baptist or whatever, it's the one man upstairs, but I did, right, Jilly?
AL: Was that a Boy Scout place we set up? My memory is not that great anymore.
MG: You are doing great so far.
JH: The church was like a log cabin-type church.
MG: When did this happen?
AL: After my wife and I got married, and we were going to a Methodist church in Bound Brook. This reverend, I can't think of his name. He was for Presbyterian [church] and he contacted us if we would like to work, and it didn't really make any difference so far as religion. As far as I'm concerned, there is one Bible, period. I was part of fifty people that set up that Presbyterian church in Hillsborough, and we had good times.
MG: Were you aware, while growing up, what was going on in the rest of the world with the beginning of World War II and what was taking place overseas before the United States got involved?
AL: Oh, yes, we kept in touch. We got a daily newspaper and it just seems that the TV, they would give you straightforward answers. There is too much on TV now that is tipped to right and left and so forth, but they pretty much, way back then, were strictly on one level. I don't know what else I can tell you.
MG: I am curious when you heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor.
MG: Where were you when you heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor?
AL: I was at the movies, and I left the Park Theatre in Roselle Park. There was a newspaper [stand], what was called (Hawkins Paper?), and the guy was yelling, "We got attacked." It was 1941. I remember that day, and that was the day that we just all put our hands together. I'm not a Democrat, but Franklin D. Roosevelt did a good job. The war really brought us out of the depression, quite frankly. We were all ship building and so forth, equipment and so forth and then with the service, the draft and all, I don't know.
I was in my senior year, in January, I went to the firehouse. It was right down the street, and I passed and I was 1-A [available for military service]. Way back, years ago, I played sandlot baseball over in what they called Simpson Field, which was right by the firehouse, and I was catching. We didn't have mask or any of that equipment. One kid came back with the bat and caught me right across my nose, and I went home to my mother and she put ice on it. That was the end of it. When I was inducted, I found out that I had what they called a deviated septum. You can draw a line; this is what I'm being bothered with right now with this sinus and I have this allergy and with grass and trees. I had the scratch test. The only thing I am not allergic to is ragweed. I love the fall. When it's the fall, I feel better.
MG: Did you have a feeling after Pearl Harbor that you might be called to serve?
AL: Oh, I knew I was going to serve, because we had induction. This wasn't anything new. I knew once I became eighteen I was going to be checked, had to go through a physical and there was no problem with that. In fact, I would have been very disappointed if I didn't pass. So, I passed pretty much with flying colors, if you want to talk like that. I got a six-month deferment to finish high school, and one week after I graduated I was in the service down in Camp Dix and passed the test and I served less than thirty days in Dix. If they had made thirty days, I would have been able to get a pass to come home but I didn't. [We] were put on a train, and I was shipped off to Camp Fannin, Texas, Tyler, Texas, and we had training there.
MG: What did you picture for yourself after high school, before the war happened? What were you hoping to do?
AL: Get a job, that's all, really. Jobs were hard to get. The only thing that was bringing the jobs in were these war efforts really. I was glad that this service came along, and they took all these older guys and [I was] going to be seventeen. I was an usher down in the Ritz Theatre in Elizabeth. Normally, I wouldn't have gotten that if there wasn't a draft. Hey, I was glad I passed and so forth and got into the service. It was rough, but I made it. It seemed to appeal to me because I went from 145 to 180 and five-eleven to six-foot-two. I'm what you call a late bloomer. I didn't have an ounce of fat on me. It was all muscle, believe me.
JH: Dad, tell them about what you did on Sundays when your aunt and uncle would come over, to give them an idea of how you ate because of rations and everything. Do you remember, they'd come over and you'd play phonographs of Lawrence Welk?
JH: You used to say if you were working, you got to have the meat, but if you weren't working, you didn't get to have the meat.
AL: Oh, yes. When I was seventeen, I was working for a butcher, and one summer I worked for--between my junior summer and into my senior year--I was in ushering the Ritz Theatre and I saved up two hundred dollars. I asked my dad, I said, "Will you sign for a car for me?" He said, "You just better buy a suit." It wasn't too long after that my mother died. She died when I was seventeen. She was quite a lady. When she passed away, it was just my four sisters and my dad and myself. I went into the service. My sister Alice had what, four boys?
AL: My sister Alma had Richard.
JH: Denise and (Joellen?).
AL: Yes, and my sister Ethel had ...
JH: Barbara and Tommy.
AL: That was quite a family.
MG: It sounds like everybody was close by too.
MG: It sounds like everybody was pretty close by.
AL: Well, not so much. They are all dead, my sister Alice, Alma and Ethel. I am the last survivor. My sister Alma got out of the eighties. She made ninety-one. The rest of them died in [their] eighties. I just have to look at the fact that if I get to be ninety, in what five, six months?
AL: January. I can say I got off the eighties.
ZN: After your training, did you feel prepared for the war? What were your expectations of the war, and did you feel that you were ready?
AL: I don't think that question ever came up. You knew you were ready.
AL: The training that you received and you knew you were ready. We went to the 99th. As I say, we went from the four months of training and then to Louisiana State [University], because we were just starting into college, we got plucked and put into the service. From there, we went to the 99th Infantry Division. They kept the cadre there, and we filled the rank. We were a hundred percent smarter than the cadre--I think they took too much of that--at times resented that for getting college boys to fill the ranks. It was all right though. The training was hard, but it was okay. I survived.
ZN: Were you close with the other people in your unit? Did you make a lot of friends?
AL: Oh, we always had friends, but I don't know whether any of them are living anymore. When we were hit in the Battle of Bulge, we really got split up. In fact, there is a book about the 99th. I only read up to the point where we were hit, and there this Major Legler took us and led us back through into our lines [in] about four or five days. I could be wrong. It was cold. It was winter, and there was no food, no nothing.
JH: Well, you had the, what were they called?
JH: Yes, the bar?
AL: Oh, that was prior to the 16th, Jilly. Up until the 16th, we were living off of these, what they called, C rations, and they had a very thick bar of chocolate. I could be wrong in numbers, but another ration that you would have and take with you [was the D ration]. That didn't do me too well, that chocolate, for the fact that I have a lot of what they called lumps in my body, because my body couldn't assimilate all that heavy chocolate.
JH: Yes, he does. He has got fatty deposits on his arms, and that's all they are.
MG: Yes, I have got the same thing.
JH: They still make them at Hershey.
JH: They still make them at Hershey.
JH: When we were at Hershey, we saw them. They still have them, and these things are going to last forever.
DH: They are like souvenirs.
DH: They don't recommend eating them. [laughter]
AL: As I say, when we got hit on 16th, there was no food. I didn't have any with me. In fact, I was a smoker, and I didn't have any smokes. So, I went four, five days without eating. You ate snow because there was snow on the ground for your thirst.
ZN: For water, right.
AL: We pulled off the trail when it got dark, and one or two times you got into a barn. You didn't start a fire or anything like that. So, I know what it is to go four or five days without eating, but I couldn't tell you if my life was depended. I know I had a C ration they gave me to eat when we got into our own lines. I couldn't tell you what I ate; it went down so damn fast. I can tell you that Chelsea made a good cigarette. There was a pack in the C rations. They had A and B can and they had a pack of three cigarettes and I smoked those cigarettes down to the last--they were terrific. Again, I survived.
ZN: What was motivating you during your time?
ZN: What was motivating you to go on during that time? I am sure it was very difficult not to eat, but what was in your mind to keep going?
AL: No, it was fine, no problem. There was nobody else dying or getting away or wanting to. We were determined to get back into our own line. There was no problem. I get up that next morning, we assembled to go back up to the front. I had no feeling in my legs, but that didn't stop me. I was going to go because, believe me, you had revenge on your mind, if you want to talk like that.
ZN: Against the Nazis.
AL: Oh, yes. I was in on the capture [of German soldiers] on [the] 16th [of December 1944]. Our company was in reserve. We were hit by this barrage from the Germans that were just terrible. It was horrendous. After that died off, we were assembled to go back up, we being in reserve, and I was in on the capture of four Germans and what a change. As I had told you before, we would be on patrol prior to that, we would pick up these Germans that were young and ill-equipped, but these boys were all camouflaged and big. I thought I was big; they were big. I always remember what made me do something, they said, "What are they going to do with these four soldiers?" and this Sergeant Jones says, "Let me take them back." I said, "That sucker is going to call on me to take them back and shoot them," and I slipped away. I went up toward where there was more action. I stayed there, and I don't know who got the job of killing those four off.
ZN: Killed them, wow.
AL: I knew it wasn't going to be me doing it. I didn't mind shooting at them, but I wasn't going to shoot at them unarmed. From there, as I say, we were cut off, and this Major Legler led us behind these lines and get back into our own lines. I slept in a hall; I don't even know what the hell it was. I slept there, and they assembled that we were going up back to the front. I was ready to go, but I had no feelings in my knees on down. I was going up there. I tripped and I fell and I couldn't get up. This medic came along, and I said, "I can't get up." He took my boot off, and he looked at my feet and he said, "You are not going any place." So, they picked me up and put me in an ambulance, and I went to what they called a field hospital. I can tell you that [Alexander] Fleming made penicillin, because I was pumped with penicillin. Every four hours, I think, I was getting a shot. I went from there, put on a train and sent to Paris, and I saw Paris in the wartime. It was nice ...
ZN: It was nice.
AL: ... To see people in civilian clothes. We were in a hospital there for couple of days, and we were shipped out over to England. There I was, I was fortunate, in fact, that whatever they were doing for me, but it just settled in my toes. My toes could not be retrieved. I had gangrene in my left foot, and so I was getting pumped with antibiotics. I lost nine of my ten toes. I asked them if--I went there for--they took them off locally, and I said them, my little tiny toe, I said, "Can you save that one?" They agreed. They just took my right foot. Two weeks later, they took all my left foot because my left foot was really gone and I [had] gangrene and everything. Later on, and I don't remember the date, but I did get a transplant. They took skin off my upper leg and put it on my left foot and it did take.
JH: He is in the medical books for that.
MG: Oh, wow.
JH: For the first successful ...
DH: Skin graft.
JH: Skin graft, not attached, because they used to do it where they were attached.
MG: Right. How did your feet look like when you had frostbite?
AL: I thought I was going to lose my feet. They were anything but skin color. In fact, when I was on that train and we were going to Paris, I overheard these two men talking and one says, "Well, that man up there is going to lose both feet." That's when I really thought I was going to lose both feet, but, surprisingly, I did recover. My toes turned black. Well, to this day, I have poor circulation in my hands and my feet.
ZN: From the war, wow.
AL: I'm supposed take my temperature first thing in the morning when I get up, and I don't hit ninety-eight [degrees Fahrenheit], I hit ninety-six [degrees Fahrenheit]. You see me with a--you're with short sleeves--I'm here with the long sleeve and I feel comfortable. It's going to be in the eighties, and it doesn't bother me at all because my hands are cold normally and my feet are cold, circulation is poor, but that's the way it goes.
MG: Was walking any different after you lost your toes?
AL: After you put a shoe on, you are all right, and I'm more okay without them. I am not doing any dancing. Oh, I have danced with them. In fact, when I was going to Stevens, they had a veteran advisor, and I was sent to New York. I had [a] cast of both my feet made, and I have fillers for the front of each foot. They had it with the sole and then attach. Well, that came loose, so all I have is just a toe. I'm strictly eleven, right?
MG: Size eleven.
AL: I used to be a thirteen.
JH: Yes, his inserts are--before he had the operation, he was told he was never going to walk without help, that he was going to have to have some kind of cane. No, he never even had to use a cane up until he turned about eighty, and that's when he started using a cane.
AL: Yes, I played golf and all.
MG: That is great.
AL: I played tennis.
JH: You used to ...
AL: Of course, I didn't play single. I played doubles, but, no, I survived.
MG: We have been talking for over an hour and half now. I just want to check in and see how you are doing. Do we need a break?
AL: Well, I don't know what else I can tell you.
MG: I have a lot of questions. [laughter] We skipped over training, and I also was curious how your family felt about you going to war. What was their reaction?
AL: My brother-in-law Frank, my sister Ethel's husband, he was drafted, and he was in [the] Quartermaster Corps. I was drafted and I was in the infantry. My brother-in-law Joe, because they weren't drafted, or my brother-in-law Bob. My sisters were all behind me, there was no question. I know that my mother would have been fine, little sad, but fine, if she was living when I went in. She suffered for four years. She came down with that cancer when I was thirteen, and it went all through her body. By the time I was seventeen, she passed. I was a mama's boy up to that point.
MG: I know you had some relatives who were in World War I who had served.
AL: Yes, I had my Uncle Paul. He was in the 77th Infantry Division. He is the only one I remember being in there. My Uncle George could have been. I don't know. I don't remember, but I know my Uncle Paul did and the reason why I know my Uncle Paul did because his helmet was in our house and the 77th [insignia] was on the helmet. So, I know that he was in there. My dad never went in service.
I had infantry training in Tyler, Texas [at Camp Fannin]. What they told us initially was that we had to have four months of training, and then we go to a testing center again. They kept their promise that they did that, and I went to that testing center and I passed, again, as I say, selected to go to Louisiana State University. In fact, we lived in the stadium. We were barracked in the stadium. I only got one semester in really, and General Eisenhower needed some nice young boys and we were nice young boys, well trained. Not all of us went to the 99th [Infantry Division]. Some went out to California, like Bob (Bollin?), he went out to California, and I don't know where half of them--I mean, all I know is that I went to Louisiana State University and I went to the 99th.
Hey, we trained. We went on bivouac and did all kinds of training, crawling under barbed wire. I remember all that thing, barbed wire was set up. We had to crawl underneath there and climb walls, and, as I say, this sergeant didn't like me, really. When we would always come to a point of, we would be the bad guys and they would be the good guys coming after the bad guys, and I remember one time, out there in Texas, we saw some barbed wire. So, we cut it, and we just went through this field with it. We were supposedly out in an area where they were going to attack, and they were supposed to be so very silent. Some of them screamed because they were going through the field and they got hung up on the barbed wire that we set up. [laughter] That was fun. We had some good times. In fact, I went two months to cook and bakers school. I got picked by good old Sergeant Jones to handle the BAR, the Browning Automatic Rifle. I did that and I come off of a field exercise and I was so damn tired. Sergeant (Brye?) comes, "Who wants to go to cook and bakers school?" I said, "I do." So, I went to cook and bakers school in a hospital for one month, and in the second month we were sent out to these other infantry places and it wasn't too long. You had an easy life, as far as I am concerned. You had liberty every so often. After two months, I got a hold of Sergeant (Brye?), I said, "Bring me back," and he did and I came back.
JH: Tell them what your special was. What did you learn how to make?
JH: In the bakers school.
AL: Oh, when I was shipped off to this one local company, I was told how to make these cinnamon rolls for breakfast. You take umpteen pounds of this and umpteen pounds of that, and I made them and baked them. The captain of the company ate the cinnamon rolls, and he said they're the best he had tasted. So, after that, I was in with regular cook and bakers, because, normally, otherwise you had to wear white, and so after this compliment, I didn't have to. I just wore regular GI clothing, but still, that wasn't the life for me. I got called back to my company. As I say, I went to cook and bakers school for two months, and I was always picked to do some of these jobs because I wasn't liked by my own sergeant. I went through it very nicely, no problem.
MG: Where did you go after LSU?
AL: After Louisiana State, we went back to the 99th, when LSU, we were in the Camp Fannin training and we took the test and we passed and we were shipped off to LSU, Louisiana State. There, again, I thought, "Well, I'm going to [go] just right out to war and come out an officer," but it didn't happen because General Eisenhower needed some nice young boys and that's where we got selected. They kept those who were juniors, seniors in the program, but those of us who just started, we got picked to go back into the service, into the infantry. From there, I went from training, and we were shipped up to Boston. D-Day was June, what? June 8th? June 6th or June 8th, I forget.
MG: D-Day was June 6, 1944.
AL: June 6th, and we were shipped out. I know what was it--George Goethals because there again I was selected to be an MP on that ship. So, that took just about four days. We caught up with the convoy, and we landed in Liverpool, England. We were then shipped to this regular camp in--I can't think of the name right now. We did training there. We were then shipped over to France in September, and we relieved this Second Infantry Division and took over, went from France through Belgium and up to Germany. I know I saw part of the Siegfried Line. It was fifty days out there in the cold. Again, being not the favorite of my sergeant, they had galoshes for people, and only a few that would be the oversized that would fit a shoe like mine. Well, I didn't get it, and then when you are standing in the foxhole with water, you're soaked. Hey, we survived. I don't want to make it look too bad.
MG: Do you remember the name of the ship you were on when you came over with?
AL: We went over on the George Goethals.
AL: That ship.
MG: About how many men were on that ship?
AL: I don't know really. They could do twenty-four knots an hour. In other words, they can outrace a submarine. We caught up with a convoy, and we were in the center. We landed in Liverpool, England, and then went across--I'm trying to think of the camp we were in. It's just south of London. I'll tell you, the forest where we were, we set up tents, and they were clean. What I mean is clean--people would come in and take all the broken branches and everything for heating. Now, you come back here to United States, and you wouldn't find that. There would be a lot of broken down trees and everything else, but it wasn't that way over there in England because the people would come in and take anything that they could get because they were in bad shape. They were under fire all the time. I remember those V-1s and the V-2s were being launched over in Holland, in the Netherlands. As I say, just today happens to be the queen's birthday and she was eighty, so she knows all about the war because they didn't leave London. That's where they stayed.
MG: Now is a good time to take a little break.
AL: At four o'clock, I have to take my pills.
AL: Then, at five o'clock, I take another treatment. I take this with the nebulizer and so forth and so on.
MG: I think we should pick up here next time and we can talk more about the war and then how life unfolded afterwards. Does that sound all right?
AL: It's all up to you, dear.
MG: [laughter]. Okay. I think I would like to do that. We can cover some more ground next time.
AL: I don't how interesting it is. [laughter]
MG: It is very interesting. You are talking about a time and place I was not around for, so all of it is really fascinating.
AL: Well, I am from the big band era. In fact, Jilly and David have this music choice set up on the TV, so I can tune in on the singers in swing. In fact, I was amazed at Shep Fields. You wouldn't even know that; it was an orchestra band. There was Eddy Duchin, Glenn Miller, you would know, and Benny Goodman and so forth. That's where I was. I was nurtured on the big band and the singers. In fact, when I was at Stevens, we had a fraternity dance. It was Tony Pastor, and he had the Clooney sisters, Rosemary and Betty, and this date--I can't even remember the date I had. We're dancing right in front of Tony Pastor's band, and there I waved to Rosemary. So, Rosemary has been my favorite. I liked her.
JH: Yes, he likes his music.
DH: You want the number of troops that can go on that ship.
MG: Oh, sure.
DH: It's 1,976.
MG: That is quite a lot, almost two thousand troops on that ship.
AL: Yes, it wouldn't surprise me.
MG: Thank you so much for your time today, and we can figure out a time to come again.
AL: It was very nice talking to you.
--------------------------------------------END OF INTERVIEW-------------------------------------------
Reviewed by Parikshit Pardeshi 8/11/2014
Reviewed by Molly Graham 10/23/2014
Reviewed by Kathryn Tracy Rizzi 8/3/18