Nicholas Molnar: This begins an interview with Mr. Burton Kapner on August 19, 2012, in North Plainfield, New Jersey, with Nicholas Molnar.
Burt Kapner: 2013.
NM: In 2013. [laughter] Thank you for having me here today, and thank you for having me for lunch as well.
BK: And ice cream to follow. [laughter]
NM: Now, just to begin, for the record, can you tell us when and where you were born?
BK: Yes, [I was] born in Newark, New Jersey, January 22, 1926.
NM: Before we get into your history, I want to learn a little bit about your background.
NM: Can you tell us about your father and the family history, as you know it, on his side?
BK: Yes. My dad, first name Abraham, Abraham Kapner. He also was born in Newark, lived in Newark all his life, as I did. My dad was a salesman. Unfortunately, he died at age fifty-one. He, at one time, was a semi-pro baseball player. He also was in a musical production, which we had a record of it, in which the name of the production was Who Stole the Hat? My dad had a singing role in that. Other than that, there's not much more I could add, other than the fact he only had a grammar school education, never went to high school. As I say, he was born in 1891, and he died in 1942.
NM: I saw that you wrote on the survey that he had served in World War I.
BK: He served in World War I at the Aberdeen Proving Ground [in Maryland].
NM: Okay. Did your father have family in the area?
BK: Yes, family insofar as he had two sisters and a brother.
NM: Can you tell us about your mother?
BK: Yes, my mother was born in Brooklyn; her name, Rose Kapner. She grew up in Newark after they were married and I'm an only child. My mother was a secretary and worked for a wholesale distributing company. My mother lived to be seventy-seven years old. In 1977 is when she died. She had her high school education and nothing more dramatic that I could think of, other than any questions you might have, such as what might we add about her background?
NM: Did she have family in the area as well?
BK: Yes. She was one of five children, two brothers and two sisters.
NM: What were the reasons for the family relocating to Newark?
BK: I don't know that relocating actually describes them because all I remember of course, is being born in Newark, growing up in Newark, and we lived in Newark all of my life, until marriage.
NM: What are your earliest memories of Newark?
BK: My hesitation only is to try to see what would be of some merit in terms of mentioning it. Let me try it this way. You want it abridged? [laughter]
NM: Sure. I can try to provide you with some framework. Go ahead.
BK: I guess in trying to trace what are some of things that inspired me, what are the things I hoped to do, being an only child, I was a little spoiled, and not only that, I wished to be a better athlete. I always was in the schoolyard, even though I'm short, relatively speaking, obviously. [laughter] Being a schoolyard brat, I met most of my friends there, and we had a club, a group of us called the Warriors. We were basketball and softball teams, and we, in those days, actually traveled through Newark playing other groups, nothing of a certified nature, so to speak. It was just a catch as catch can group of fellows, but that was, for me, a very important part of my young life. High school, nothing particularly noteworthy, except I was vice president of the stamp club, and I was in a civics club. I graduated from Weequahic High School, also in Newark, in 1943.
Just to jump back a little bit, because I didn't think of it until just now, in grammar school, one of the highlights of my grammar school time was when we went to the 1939 World's Fair out in Long Island, and the famous symbols of that were the Trylon and Perisphere, which was a symbol of that particular fair. That was, as I say, in 1939, in my eighth-grade grammar school.
Leading up to my getting out of high school, the war was already on in 1943. So, I knew that eventually I was either going to be drafted or enlist, but we'll get to that in a moment. I did work in Harrison at the Crucible Steel Company, which was a munitions factory for World War II and also they made the periscope for submarines there. I worked in the chemistry department. My particular group tested for the manganese content in the steel going into the periscopes and into the big naval shells that were being made.
I turned eighteen in January of 1944, and I said, "I want to get into the Navy." The only way of being assured that I could chose the service I wanted was to enlist. So, I went to the Third Naval District in New York, and I did enlist and I was a voluntary inductee, meaning that I did have the choice of branches of the service and, as I say, I did choose the Navy and much to my delight it was a very important decision for me to make and I was glad to be accepted.
NM: This job at Crucible Steel, was that during high school?
BK: No, it was after high school.
BK: Yes. It was after high school, awaiting the inevitable, and, as I say, having graduated 1943, I knew it was just a question of time that the induction would have to be considered.
NM: Did you have any jobs working through high school or when you were younger?
BK: Actually no, I really didn't. I pretty much was on my own, and I did not have that background.
NM: Because some of the folks that I interview, who are from the same area, talk about how the Great Depression affected their family in some way, I am wondering were there any ways in which the depression affected your family?
BK: That's very interesting and I'm glad--that prods me into remembering that my dad was part owner of a haberdashery, that's hats and all men's accessories, and because of the depression, they did go into bankruptcy. So, my father did have to look for some type of employment, and he became a salesman for a neckwear company. That too meant we had to downsize the apartment we had when he owned the store. So, we lived in Newark in a one-bedroom apartment, and my young years were spent sleeping on a studio couch. I didn't have my own bedroom. It was lean times, but it was all part of everybody's experience. It was not unusual to be rather tight with finances.
NM: Did your mother work steady throughout that period?
BK: Yes, she did. My mother did work steady, and, as I say, she was a secretary. After my father died, of course, she was the sole support of me still in school. I was a junior in high school when my father died.
NM: Okay. What was the makeup of the community that you lived in, when you lived in Newark?
BK: It was strictly a Jewish community. The Weequahic section of Newark was known to be that enclave for that particular faith, and the odd thing was, having been exposed to it, I say it almost laughingly, having been exposed to it all my growing up years, I didn't realize how unique it was until I got into the service and with all the fellows that I was part of, the group, there was only one other Jewish person in the group. I was surprised how few people there were that were Jewish, [laughter] having grown up in an entirely Jewish neighborhood.
NM: Was your family observant?
BK: Observant but not in a very active way. Holidays and other occasions, where my grandmother would come over. She was rather involved, and therefore we'd be very careful what we fed her and all that stuff. [laughter]
NM: Do you remember when and where you were when you heard about Pearl Harbor?
BK: Yes. It was a Sunday afternoon, and we were sitting listening to the radio. It was one of those radios, where it was a tall, four-foot-high radio. I was sitting on the floor and the announcement came over, and it didn't mean anything to me at all. "What are they talking about?" The thought of something like that happening didn't really register until obviously it became widespread, and by the next day, we all knew what had happened. I was listening to the radio with my parents on that Sunday.
NM: A lot of folks we interview who were in high school during the war talk about how some of the activities in high school were somehow related to war activities. I am wondering, did they have anything like that to help the war effort in your high school or anything like that?
BK: Not really. Honestly, I'm trying to reach back into that time. No, I don't remember anything uniquely geared towards wartime activity or thinking, except, again, the awareness. In fact, in our yearbook, so many of us would say whatever our career goals were or at least in the future once we leave high school, US Army or US Navy. We all knew we were going in. In fact, it was quite a blemish if you had to be considered 4-F. One of my best friends, of course, with bad eyesight was 4-F, and it was almost humiliating, you know, not to put too fine a point on it. Everybody knew they were going in. It was kind of, for want of a better word, it was a popular war in terms of your participation in it was a privilege, something we wanted to do. [Editor's Note: 4-F was a Selective Service classification identifying a person as unfit for military service.]
NM: Did any of the wartime rationing affect your family?
BK: Not that I can remember, nothing uniquely out of line with what we would ordinarily would consider.
NM: You mentioned how you got into the Navy. Can you talk about the process after you were inducted, where do you go and what do you do?
BK: Yes. We were taken by train up to New York State, outside of Geneva, New York, near the Finger Lakes and the name of it was the Sampson Naval Training Station. After eight weeks of boot camp, we were transferred. A group of us were transferred to San Diego, where I was in the Hospital Corps School Program, and we lived outside of the naval hospital in San Diego.
After eight weeks, I was picked to be part of a group that was going to have special training, and I was selected because, happily, I did very well in the course and was promoted from a hospital apprentice second class to a hospital apprentice first class, which the first three of us got a promotion and I was one of the three. Then, I had this rather intensive training in San Leandro, California, which is just outside of Oakland, and I was there for two months of this special training and worked with psychiatrists and nurses in handling those were suffering combat fatigue and/or psychoneurosis designation. These were fellows primarily from Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu and some of those terrible situations. It was difficult at the beginning of the war before we really hit our stride as a country and were able to catch up with what the Japanese long since had been prepared for and were doing. Starting with Guadalcanal, we started inch our way up the chain of islands that obviously was part of the wartime strategy. [Editor's Note: These island names refer to battles in the Pacific Theater during World War II fought by the Marine Corps against Japanese occupying forces. In November 1942, U.S. Marines invaded Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. A year later, Marines invaded Tarawa, and in September 1944, Marines invaded Peleliu.]
NM: You mentioned that you were one of the only persons of Jewish faith when you were in the service. It sounds like you met a lot of different types of people. Was this the first time that you had gone out of the Newark area?
BK: It's a very good question simply because it truly was remarkable how uniquely different it was for me to be exposed to people of a different faith, not that we talked about it or acted upon it, but I just didn't know of anybody that wasn't our faith. I was surprised, not only with that, but to show how young you are at eighteen, two of my best friends, one was a fellow named Bill Johnson. He was from Detroit, Michigan, and he was twenty-five years old. Another fellow was named John (Janicka?) from Philadelphia and he was twenty-nine years old, and they were my friends. I couldn't believe it, that this eighteen-year-old would have fellows that were so much older as good friends of mine.
I say it laughingly and kiddingly, but it was a wonderful thing for me because of the things I'm careful not to make too much of a point of mentioning it, but once again being an only child, I was kind of coddled by my mother, especially after my dad died. It was just the two of us, and it really was a growing-up experience for me to be in the Navy. The strange part is that part of my training that I had in San Leandro not only gave me insight into what I experienced early in boot training. That is, you could look at some guy who was, let's say, well built in his mid-twenties and yet that night, the first couple nights in boot camp, some guys were crying, being torn away from their family. They actually couldn't handle it, and that's when I learned and I understood that all of us have a breaking point. You never know just what your breaking point might be. There are some people that come through a war and all the terrible things that could happen and does happen, with no problems at all and others, first taste of combat without any recognition that this was going to happen, they did falter and did have the problem of coping with the stress of combat.
NM: Now, I am curious, how did you eventually get into the medical corps of the Navy? Is this something you applied for?
BK: They did pick me out in Sampson to go to the special training in San Diego, and yes, that was not something I chose. That was not something I did not want to do, obviously, but I didn't chose it. They chose me.
NM: While you were at Sampson for basic training, you mentioned that some people that you saw were homesick and that sort of thing.
NM: Was there anything that was physically or mentally challenging for you in your basic training?
BK: No. As a matter of fact, honestly, I use the word hesitantly, because the word enjoy and war doesn't seem to be a good combination, but I was joyful to be among older fellows and other fellows. I really think it meant a lot to me, but again that's just a unique situation in my case because of what I mentioned earlier. It was, once again, part of that maturing that I think helped me a lot. At age eighteen, I really was geared to learn something, and I did.
NM: Can you talk about this training you received after Sampson? It was in San Diego.
BK: San Diego.
NM: Okay. Was this the training to get you acclimated to the medical corps?
BK: Yes. This is the Navy Hospital Corp, which this training was part of that, you must be made aware that the Marine Corps does not have their own medics, so hospital corpsmen are the people that serve with the Marine units and therefore, for the most part, not that it's important, but just so you gain an acknowledgement of what I'm trying to say, that I actually could wear two uniforms. I was entitled to wear a Marine uniform or I could wear my Navy uniform because I really was part of the Marine Corps.
NM: Can you sketch out the type of the training? Eventually, you mentioned that you have two months intense training.
BK: Right, in San Leandro.
NM: Could you talk about that in general, what you remember about it?
BK: Okay. The training in San Diego was fairly basic, such as giving injections, learning how to use a stethoscope. We did have an awful lot of fellows that came back from places like Guadalcanal, as I mentioned earlier, and the islands that were rampant with malaria, dengue fever. So, we would have that kind of a charge to take care of these fellows because we would have fellows that were perfectly well and normal for a while and then all of a sudden a bout of dengue and/or malaria would hit them and it was a difficult period for them. So, we really were just like the nurses. We always had a nurse in the ward and usually two corpsmen, but I learned all the basics of giving medicine out, codeine, the other medications that were under lock and key, and just really kind of basic training in regard to their health.
When I was transferred to San Leandro, that was much more intense because there we did have the neurotics that really were in quite difficult shape and many of them psychotics. That is where I was working with psychiatrists, and we would give such help for them by having such things as giving sodium pentothal, the truth serum, to find out just what was the basis for their problems. We would give them electric shock therapy. We would give them continuous tub therapy. All of these are just some help towards finding out what was their problem and what we could do to correct it.
Once I was pretty well established in San Leandro, I then went to Fort Worth, Texas, and that's where we had the difficult cases that I had mentioned to you earlier, and that is, there we had not only the true psychotics but we had those who were malingerers, who were trying to use the onset of psychosis as the reason for their committing what was a general court-martial crime, whether it's disobeying an order, hitting somebody, misbehaving in the village with civilians. These fellows were subject to general court-martial, if found well enough to be held accountable for what they did. Other than that, we could treat them, and there we would give them up to ten electric shock therapies and if that didn't work then we would transfer them, with a medical discharge, to Bethesda Naval Hospital and eventually to private life again.
We had some very serious cases there and all the different types of psychoneurosis, active psychoneurosis, circular, we called it, hysteria, catatonic, hebephrenic. All of these are different designations of the type of psychosis. Hebephrenic, where they're very silly and they laugh and they giggle and they talk to themselves. Catatonic, where they'll stand in a corner all day, not move a muscle. They call it waxy flexibility; they just were frozen. Of course, the true--not true--but the psychoneurosis, the real psychotics that really were in another world and very difficult.
NM: I want to go back because you were at San Leandro Naval Hospital.
BK: San Leandro.
NM: For quite a while.
NM: Can you talk about a typical day? What were some of your duties?
BK: Okay. We would take roll call as soon as we came on duty to make sure everybody was there and accounted for. We would give out the medication that was already prescribed for them. We would also therefore listen to anything that they had on their mind, any problems that they felt that they had to discuss with somebody. Then, we would try to encourage them to talk with us about any of their experience in the war that they might want us to pass on to the doctor, as opposed to being able to talk him themselves. So, we were there to lend support, both active in terms of handling them, if they were going through one of the problems that I mentioned earlier, such as a bout of malaria coming on suddenly and disabling as it is; and seeing that they had certain duties to perform, just to keep them active. Somebody would clean the head, which is the bathroom, and make sure that the floors were swept. We tried to talk to them, keep them encouraged, try to have them do some things that would keep them from just sitting around. Hopefully, after a period of weeks, if there was any recovery, it oftentimes would manifest itself early on, quite frankly. Some of them were sent back to duty, and many of them were given discharges.
NM: How many folks would you work with in your crew?
BK: I would say there were usually two other corpsmen in the course of the duty roster for that particular--whether you're on the morning or the afternoon or towards the evening, and usually I would say there were three doctors that were assigned and one nurse, one head nurse and the only nurse, three corpsmen and usually three doctors interchangeably. There were not necessarily all three doctors on at once, but the nurse is, of course, a steady part of the ward assignment.
NM: How many patients would you have to work with on your shift in your ward?
BK: I would say a rough guess, and it's not too far off the mark, it would certainly be in this area of thirty-five to forty.
NM: Were you always assigned to the same ward?
BK: No. Wards were different but not necessarily because of different structure and/or different needs but just to keep you circulating and just so that it didn't become one level only.
NM: You mentioned that some folks had bouts of malaria. What were the types of ailments that these folks that you would work with would you encounter?
BK: I would say primarily that it would be such debilitating diseases like dengue fever, which I don't know if that's common usage for that particular type of fever, but it's very similar to malaria. The reason I stress those two only because, remember, we're talking about these fellows that had problems that made them neurotic and very often it would be the debilitating effect of some of these high-fever type of diseases, typical jungle type fevers. It was therefore not only disabling, but, of course, it would lend them to be vulnerable to just the kind of unpleasant aftereffects such as the neurosis that was engendered.
NM: The folks that you would worked with, they would have a neurosis or they would just have a disease.
BK: No. If they were there, it was because they were sent back from the battlefield, and just to enlarge on that for the moment, because it is an important point, one of the reasons that we got them fresh off the battlefield--and I mean really within days--because unlike the typical hospital scene that you saw on television with M*A*S*H, where somebody was wounded overseas, they were treated overseas, for morale purposes, anybody that had a mental problem, just to keep them away from the troops that they were part of, they were sent back immediately. Once the overseas diagnosis was this person is really suffering from psychological problems, not physical problems, they were immediately shipped back. So, we would have fellows that five days ago were sitting in a trench in Guadalcanal. [Editor's Note: The popular television series M*A*S*H aired on CBS during the 1970s and 1980s and depicted the experiences of medical personnel at an Army mobile surgical hospital during the Korean War.]
NM: Were the folks you were working with primarily Marines?
BK: In terms of the patients you mean?
BK: No, not necessarily only Marines, but certainly a good portion, yes. Obviously, shipboard and/or naval personnel that were involved in this island hopping were also part of the problem.
NM: It sounds like in the course of your duties, you are certainly talking to the patients and communicating with them. Did you get to know any of these folks a little more personally, that sort of thing?
NM: I am trying to get at the relationship you might have with these patients.
BK: I had relationships with a couple of people that we kept in touch with each other because they were from California and of course distance kept us from seeing each other, but one fellow that I'll mention by name, Sam Trofe, T-R-O-F-E, from Philadelphia and we were very good friends. After the war, he visited us, my mother and myself, and I would go out to Philadelphia to visit with him. It was a nice relationship. To get back to the thrust of your question, we got to know these people in a personal way that was really interesting because some of their experiences were so devastating that it was just incredible to believe that these are fellows that went through that.
One particular experience I can relate to you, a Marine that was unable to talk. He had lost the power of speech, and we, of course, didn't know what was wrong with him when he first arrived. Psychiatrists did give him one of the treatments that I mentioned to you, which is using sodium pentothal, the truth serum, and under the truth serum, he started to talk obviously. He was not conscious, but he was talking. Apparently, what happened is he was on a Marine landing on one of the islands, and after advancing a certain distance, they were driven back by the Japanese counterattack. Then, he had a very good friend that was part of the group, part of the landing that he was with, and the Marines counterattacked again and got back the area that they had lost. There was his friend lying there, disfigured. He was mutilated; something in his groin was in his mouth. He couldn't handle that, absolutely could not handle that. So, he was completely unable to talk, and after treatment, a little electric shock and psychiatric involvement, he finally became his normal self again.
This was not unique, but it was a hysteria. It's actually called psychoneurosis hysteria. This is the same thing in World War I, when sometimes the order to go over the top was issued; the legs wouldn't move. They just couldn't clamor out of the trench.
NM: Were there ever any cases where folks would become violent? Is that something that you encountered?
BK: Yes, the word violent does apply to a couple, and we had to be very careful with them. One of them particularly was when I was in Fort Worth--I'm jumping ahead now after San Leandro to Fort Worth. He was a catatonic but every so often would emerge from his catatonic state and would become violent, and he would charge anybody who was near him. One of my friends and myself were alone, and all of a sudden, he came charging to us and I remember jumping up on a bench. Just before he was going to get to me, he stopped, and all of a sudden, he was quiet again. A couple of corpsmen were hurt. I say this carefully because it's not something we wanted to do, but corpsmen had wet towels, and sometimes if somebody was violent, somehow the wet towel would be wrapped around their throat to make sure they were subdued. We had no choice. They were really, really tough.
NM: Why were you transferred after San Leandro?
BK: Really because the cases in Fort Worth were a little more advanced even than San Leandro because San Leandro was a combination, some psychotic, some neurotic. Fort Worth was strictly psychotic.
NM: Were you promoted?
BK: Yes. I became a pharmacist's mate third class.
NM: I just want to backtrack a little bit before we go on to Fort Worth. The war actually ends while you were in the hospital. What do you remember about that time?
NM: What do you remember about that time? What was the reaction in the hospital?
BK: It was wonderful to be in San Francisco at that time, because when we were on liberty, we would catch the A-train from Oakland and land in San Francisco, of course. The uniqueness of being there at that time was really magnified by the fact that when I was there the Third Fleet under Admiral Halsey came home. Now, the Third Fleet was only a portion, a large portion, but only a portion of the Pacific fleet and yet it filled San Francisco Harbor completely. You could walk from Oakland to San Francisco, if you could cross the decks of the ships without having to get your feet wet. It was just a magnificent sight to see the power that we had towards the end of the war and of course at the end of the war and it was also time of great exhilaration. We all were a part of the thrill of being part of the service at a time when the nation was now free and at peace once again. So, it was a great time to be a part of it.
One of the assignments that I'd like to tell you about that really should go back into the period just before this end of war period, I was assigned to be with a commander (Claussen?). When I say assigned to be with him, when you were a senior officer, that's when you start to have the scrambled eggs on your hat from full commander on up to captain and of course on up to admirals and commodores. At that time, we had commodores. He was from New Jersey. What had happened is he was a psychiatrist, and somehow, something happened where he fell and he was injured and it affected his head for a while. They sent him home, of course, and while recuperating, he was reaching a point where he was almost back to normal. He was entitled as a senior officer to have somebody to go with him when he went on liberty, and of course, that would be in San Francisco. So, I was assigned--here I was all of nineteen years-old at the time, and I'm with Commander Claussen, we became good friends. He was a full psychiatrist. Here I am walking through San Francisco with him, and all the sailors are saluting him and here I am with him. We're buddies and we would go to the St. Francis Hotel so we could have a drink. I couldn't drink because I was underage, but there I am sitting with my friend Commander Claussen. It was a great experience. I enjoyed that particular assignment. [laughter]
NM: How long did that assignment last?
BK: The assignment in San Leandro? I was there I guess it was about eleven months. Yes, about eleven months.
NM: How long was that assignment with Commander Claussen? How long were you with him for?
BK: About two months.
BK: Yes, about two months. In Fort Worth, while you're thinking about it, I'll tell you about Fort Worth. It was called, in pre-war days, it was called a narcotic farm because it had all the facilities to keep somebody contained who was part of a drug problem. Therefore, it actually was like a jail. It actually had jail cells. It had corridors that would have typical jail doors separating them. Of course, we all had the big keys to open these doors. This was, as I said earlier, this was a really tough assignment because this was a hospital that catered to the very difficult drug problems and that's why the Navy took it over and it became a naval station. That's part of the reason I was sent there. It was a more difficult assignment. I did want to add, there was a reason I started that, and because it was not a full-fledged naval-base assignment to begin with, we had to live in the town of Fort Worth and the Navy took care of that, of course. I was living in a place where two other Navy personnel were with us, but I was not living on base at that time.
NM: Before we move on to Fort Worth, were any of the folks that you worked with, did any of the folks have any physical wounds as well?
BK: No, they did not. All the personnel that I was part of did not have physical wounds.
NM: Talk about the assignment to Fort Worth.
BK: Fort Worth was, as I said, difficult, not to put too much emphasis on that, which I seem to be doing, but they really were much more severely disabled than some of those that were borderline psychotic when I was at San Leandro, of course, as I also said a couple of times, and basically neurotics, neurosis. The people in Fort Worth, also, as I did say earlier, was a combination of those truly psychotic and difficult, but also those that were malingers and therefore had to be very, very careful with them because they were uniquely difficult to cope with.
NM: When you first got to Fort Worth, did anyone give you a rundown of what was going on? You mentioned the malingerers, and you mentioned these difficult cases.
BK: Fair question. The answer is no. You're assigned there, but other than the nurse that you were a part of that group that reported to her, she would tell you what to do but there wasn't much insight as to just what to expect. We learned very quickly just what was going on there.
NM: Were there a lot of folks that were transferred over? Was it just you as an individual or did a few folks from San Leandro come with you?
BK: No, there were just a few but not more than just a few. I think we were three or four that went over from San Leandro, and I think that Fort Worth was being fed from other areas too, other naval hospitals. For instance, San Leandro Naval Hospital by coincidence was built above an existing naval hospital called Oak Knoll Naval Hospital and we were within a stone's throw from them, but we were perched on a mountainside, San Leandro, above the permanent hospital called Oak Knoll in Oakland.
NM: How long were you at Fort Worth?
BK: Four months.
NM: Four months.
BK: Because the war ended at that point, and I was sent out, I was discharged May 20th.
NM: You had talked about some of your duties at San Leandro. Did your duties change at Fort Worth dealing with different types of patients and more extreme cases?
BK: They changed only because there were more treatment possibilities at Fort Worth. A lot of them were in camisoles, which are strait jackets quite frankly, and those in camisoles of course we had to give really special attention to because, obviously, if they were, let's use the word dangerous, for want of a better description, obviously, when they were out of the camisoles, they were difficult people, and by putting them in that, that's the last resort when we really didn't know how to control them. Sometimes, you would hear or think, "Well, what would disturb them?" If we would have a thunderstorm, there would be an awful lot of difficulty in the wards. A lot of the patients reacted violently to the disruption, the terrible noise and the crashing thunder. It was a tough time with them, and as I said, we sometimes had to be physical in Fort Worth, which was not the kind of training that we were geared for, but you just had to be aware that this could happen. [Editor's Note: In medical terminology, a camisole is a device for restraining the limbs, especially the arms, of a violently disturbed person; it consists of a canvas jacket with long sleeves that can be fastened behind the back of the patient. It is also known as a straitjacket or jacket restraint.]
NM: You mentioned some of the types of treatments. Would you personally have to administer these treatments?
BK: I was a part of the process of administering them, but, by the way, just as an aside, a couple of them, we in training were subjected to. One of them was the continuous tub, where it's an ice tub and you kind of have a blanket over you, of course, a waterproof blanket, and find out what that's like. We had one or two other treatments that we actually employed for ourselves, and it was interesting to see just what effect it would have. The continuous tub, as an example, believe or not, with that ice cold water, it was a calming effect.
NM: Was this exposure to these types of treatments at Fort Worth or San Leandro?
BK: That was at San Leandro and Fort Worth.
NM: You mentioned a case where a gentleman who was formerly catatonic got violent. Are there any other cases that stand out during your time at Fort Worth?
BK: Yes. One that stands out I can only describe it; obviously, to see it would be more indicative of just how strange it was. "Terrible Jones" was his name. "Terrible" was the nickname was gave him because all day he would walk through the ward, and all of a sudden, he'd crouch and say, "Terrible." He would scream, "Terrible." I can't show it to you, obviously, but that would be his daily routine, parading up and down the ward. Many of them would walk in circles and talk to themselves. So, [there were] these kind of rather strange, bizarre type of behavior, but that would stand out. "Terrible Jones," he would scream at the top of his lungs, "Terrible."
NM: You had mentioned these malingerers.
NM: You said that they had to be dealt with carefully. Can you talk about that and how you would have to deal with them in your experience?
BK: Yes. One of them would, almost knowing that corpsmen are not the final word, would say to me, "Boy, I really did something today. When I met with the doctor, I said to him, 'Gee, Doc, what time is that?' and I was pointing to the ventilator up above his head. 'Does that say six o'clock?' He looked at me and he said, 'What's going on with you?' Oh, boy, did I have him fooled, Doc." Of course, all the corpsmen were called "Doc" by the patients. So, we knew those who were malingerers, to a great extent. Obviously, some of them were carefully hiding their manifestation of malingering, but obviously, there were those that knew that we knew what they were trying to do. Of course, it was their last gasp. It was their last change to avoid a general court-martial for something they did. We didn't always know what it is that committed them to the possibility of standing for a general court-martial, as opposed to possibly really being a psychotic and/or mentally ill and therefore entitled to an honorable discharge, a medical discharge, as opposed to dishonorable and confinement in a Navy brig up in New Hampshire. So, we always had to contend with those who were legitimate malingerers and knew it and those who were feigning malingering to a degree that we weren't sure yes or no.
NM: Before you had any medical training, were you aware of the types of mental ailments or the way that combat affected people mentally?
BK: No, because even as I mentioned earlier, the suggestion that people would cry in the first two days of boot camp, fellows that obviously were older than me, which doesn't necessarily mean that they could handle stress better, but, still, at eighteen, I was pretty naïve. To me, "Okay, we're away from home." All I could remember smelling is the camphor from the new blankets that we were issued. I don't say that laughingly because for many people it really was a disruption. Obviously, there were some people in my unit that were married. Here, I'm just a single kid, an only child, playing basketball in the schoolyard. It was no disruption for me, but I quickly understood how disruptive it was for many people.
NM: My mother is a nurse, so that is why I am asking all these questions about wards and patients and things like that.
NM: From my experience speaking with her, sometimes the routine is very stressful. I am wondering, at any point, in working with these patients, was it every stressful for you?
BK: What was stressful for me, for want of a better way of describing what I was thinking at the time, wasn't as much stress as difficulty in the sense that night duty, I found to be a terrible problem, not terrible problem, but certainly a problem in that it really was difficult to stay awake [laughter] just sitting at a desk with a lamp and everybody around you, hopefully and obviously, is sleeping. They would check on us. They would have the guard come around to make sure we were alert and awake, and sometimes I really scared, you know. I was a little tired to start this shift and I better make sure I'm awake because if they catch me dozing or sitting down. We could sit down, but, you know, obviously, so want for a better way of describing it, it was stressful only in that I just wanted to make sure I didn't run into any problems and then be put on report.
NM: You had mentioned being in a hospital during a thunderstorm. What was it like to be in a hospital at night when you were awake, some of the things you would hear or encounter?
BK: Yes, happily, I never had anything of an episode that really was dangerous. I don't want to suggest that anything like that happened. It really is, I use the word stress, perhaps it's not the best word to describe that, for me, my only thought was, "Stay awake. Stay awake. Stay awake." Short of that, I don't know of any episode, other than to quell that uprising of sound, because a lot of them started to murmur and mutter and we're concerned about the impact of that loud noise that they heard outside, which was thunder and lightning.
NM: While you were in Fort Worth, you lived outside of the base.
NM: Can you talk about that experience? What was it like living in town?
BK: Sure, the two friends and myself that lived there, we lived on the upper floor, and one of the reasons--well, let me go back and mention one thing. I was asked if I wanted to sign up for another sixty days just to carry over, and I would have if we had any other assignment in terms of living quarters because summers in Fort Worth, Texas on the upper floor and there's no air conditioning [laughter] at that time. It was awful. We used to wet our sheets and then try to sleep because we were night duty at the time, and because I was on night duty, another two months of trying to live like that, it was just hard. That's just a personal aside. We stayed in a place with a woman whose family name was Applewhite, and there was one other couple there that were civilians. I remember he was an encyclopedia salesman, and they had a little girl there. So, we had a little touch of civilian life with that couple and of course the landlady, Mrs. Applewhite, and the son who later went on to be a singer, by the way. He was not of any great prominence, but he had a professional career. We were kind of bonded together there, so it was not a distraction, it was something that we were glad about. To go on duty, we had to catch the Navy bus, and then we would go on the base itself.
NM: During your time in California and Texas, did you communicate with your mother in any way?
BK: Oh, yes. I sent her pretty much weekly letters, but while in the Navy, I was on the Navy basketball team in San Leandro and we played such other teams, [such] as there was a team Treasure Island. Treasure Island is halfway in San Francisco Bay between Oakland and San Francisco. I had my uniform, and I would take pictures to show my mother that I was a basketball player, in my shorts and my jacket, [which said] San Leandro Naval Hospital.
Also, while there, I found out something about how unique it was in terms, getting back for just one moment, about the difference in faith. Two of my best friends were from Texas. One of them was named Billy Jean Humphrey from Avoca, Texas, and the other one was Johnny Long and he was from Lufkin, Texas. We went to the ship stores to buy gifts for Christmas, and they were looking at the crosses on display and they said, "Why don't you buy one?" I said, "We don't really believe in that form." They couldn't understand it, except the Johnny Long told me once that he was told that if you look carefully at the Jewish people you will see little areas on their forehead. That's where their horns were that were taken off, but, "You all had horns," and he said, "I thought maybe you had them, too." Yet we were very good friends, but entirely different world, entirely different experience.
NM: You showed me, prior to the interview, an article that you had written in the hospital quarterly.
NM: Can you talk about how that came about?
BK: Yes. I worked with a nurse, again, from the Northeast, Elizabeth Murphy, a lovely woman. She not only was a nurse, but she was also one of the teachers because we had classes on the sides. I thrived under her, quite frankly. We became quite close and quite friendly, and she recommended that I consider writing an article because I seemed to take it very well, quite frankly. I don't know why exactly, but I really did seem to gravitate towards anything having to do with medicine. I did well with the material media course that we took and some of the others. I was introduced to one of the psychiatrists. Frankly, that particular quarterly that you're referring to, I'm one of the few enlisted people there, not to beat too fine a drum for myself by saying that, but a lot of the people that wrote here were full-fledged psychiatrists, lieutenant commanders, full captains, commanders, and here I am a hospital apprentice first class. I wasn't even a pharmacist's mate yet. That came later.
NM: What were your plans for after the service? What did you see yourself doing, especially after this medical experience?
BK: Yes. Once I was discharged, I was eligible to take one of the tests, evaluation tests, to see what you would do and I did very well on the science part, anything to do with science. Of course, I had been exposed to it for over two years, so I can understand why that was the case. With that in mind, I thought I'd like to think about being a doctor, but again it was a question of it was just my mother and me, so I really just took a business course preparing me for the business world. Somewhere deep down, I wish I had really pursued medicine in that regard.
Right after the service, of course, I was under the G.I. Bill, and I applied to Rutgers, again, not even the campus in New Brunswick, but rather Newark Rutgers, and I would take a bus from where we lived in Newark. It was my mother and me. I really wish I could have shared a campus experience, but I didn't. [Editor's Note: In 1944, Congress passed the Servicemen's Readjustment Act, commonly known as the GI Bill, which provided educational assistance, readjustment allowances, and low-interest loans for housing to veterans.]
NM: Prior to joining the Navy, was college a possibility? Were you thinking about going to college?
BK: No, I really wasn't, not that I would say I wasn't thinking that, "What am I going to do?" I really didn't even think about it, because, remember, from like the third year on, junior year high school, the inevitability of going into the service precluded even giving thought to, "What would you like to do after? What are you going to do after?" We knew that the immediate future held service, and there was plenty of time to give that thought later on.
NM: I want you talk a little bit about your experience at Rutgers Newark. You mentioned that you were interested in business.
NM: What was the experience like? Were there a lot of returning veterans like yourself in your courses?
BK: Yes, there were a lot. It was really well stocked with ex-military personnel in that regard. I would say that the main reason that I chose business was because living in Newark, one of the meccas that one could, if he's going to go into business, how about working for Bamberger's, part of the Macy Corporation, and that was my thought, that I would take a business course and apply for the Macy's executive training program, which is what I did. I signed up for the accounting degree possibility with that in mind, that maybe someday I could work for the Newark store, and I did. I spent fifteen years working for Bamberger's, Newark, but I don't want to get ahead of the story in case you wanted to lead into that eventually.
NM: I do want to get into that. While you were in college, did you have any jobs outside of college?
BK: I used to work weekends for the company that my mother worked for, and while in college, the one other activity, I played basketball for the freshman Rutgers Newark basketball team and worked weekends at my mother's location.
NM: You mentioned that you applied to the management program at Bamberger's.
BK: Executive training program.
NM: Executive training program. When did you become aware of this program or that you wanted to go this course? Was it prior to going to Rutgers?
BK: Yes, it was. I was aware that I didn't have any particular goals in mind at that juncture and so the thought of working for one of the established locations and knowing that I wasn't going into the science field that I was going to be business in some capacity, that certainly appealed to me. Happily, it came about, and I was there for fifteen years.
NM: Before we move on to your career, is that anything you want to add about your four years at Rutgers-Newark? If not, please continue about the executive training program and the course of your career after.
BK: I think we could go right into that.
NM: Okay, sure.
BK: I started in 1950. I graduated Rutgers [on] June 10th, I remember the actual date, 1950 and applied immediately. Between June and October, I worked for a dairy company in their accounting department, and I didn't like it very much because it really wasn't challenging, not that I was such a star, but it was really a bookkeeping job rather than an accounting job. So, I didn't want to stay there, and I applied after two months. So, I started in October of 1950 at Bamberger's and was there until 1965. I was a boy's wear buyer.
After fifteen years there, in 1965 I applied for and managed to get a job as a boy's wear buyer for the Woolco discount operation, which was a discount operation, 187 stores. Our main offices were in Philadelphia. That's how I came to the Philadelphia, as part of my background where three days a week we had to be in Philadelphia and two days a week we'd be buying in the New York market.
NM: Can you talk about the types of things that you do as a boy's wear buyer in your first position?
BK: Yes. It was my job to, of course, be aware of any trends that were uniquely important in the boy's wear business. For instance, there was one fall where there was something called a snorkel, something that became a very common type of outerwear for boys and men's and even women, which was that [it would] zip up right up to your nose and with the fur-trimmed hood and all that. Happily, I was early on that particular awareness because it became one of my key selling points during the fall of--I'm not sure which year it was particularly--but it gave me really a very good background and start towards even getting a better job and that was a good thrust. Other parts of the assignment that were important; back to school, of course, was a very important thing, and it was always very strange to think that by August 1st, we had to have all the fall merchandise for back to school on the floor or on the shelves. August 1st, we're starting mid-summer and here we are showing outerwear and sweaters and long-sleeve shirts instead of bathing suits and short sleeve shirts, which obviously would be more indicative of the summer months.
The other important area was Easter. Back in those days, which is certainly not current, we not only sold little fedoras, boy's hats as part of a dress up for Easter, but little boy's suits. Once again, we're talking sizes eight to eighteen, which means we're talking boys anywhere from seven to fourteen, fifteen years of age. Actually, boys did have suits and ties and shirts and, of course, the fedora or hat that I mentioned earlier. That was an important season. All and all, what it all turned out to be is that boy's wear buying in this case, it's not just an everyday sales awareness because you're always against last year's figures, but you really had to maximize your efforts three times a year, Christmas, back to school and Easter. That was a very challenging job and one that I enjoyed thoroughly, and, as I say, I was at Bamberger's for fifteen years and the discount operation for nine years.
NM: It sounds like you're doing much more than just accounting.
BK: When you said that, were you referring to …
NM: As a boy's wear buyer.
BK: I didn't do much accounting. That's why I didn't mean to interrupt you. The normal buying and selling, of course, which is part of a buyer's needs that I have to be sure that I'm giving the right assortments to the different stores. As an example, just to jump ahead, when I get into discounting, where we had 187 stores, we had stores from Mississippi and New Orleans and Florida and New England and far west. The needs differ obviously. For instance, when you talk about Minnesota or many of the stores in the Midwest, the boy's sizes were bigger. All of the sudden, you'd need to have huskies as well as regular sizes. In the South, somehow they were slimmer. We actually had regular, slim and husky. [We had an] awareness of the different body types of our clientele. We had to do a lot of research as to the needs, so we would travel quite a bit, not only to different stores, but also to the factories to see how the goods were made. I make two overseas trips, buying trips, to Taiwan and Japan, to see in the factories just what's happening. I wondered when you mentioned accounting, it wasn't accounting as accounting but rather the typical, "What are your figures today? What were they last week? Did this ad pull? Did it work? Did it really give you a plus over normal, PON, we'd call it, plus over normal. If you didn't have the ad, what would have your figures been? With the ad, what did you do? Was it worth the investment in the ad to give you the boost of the business to justify an ad, and if not, what should we have done differently?" Then, of course, we're responsible for shortages and all the different things that make for a typical business, and that was my responsibility as a buyer and I had an assistant, of course.
NM: Was this right after the training program at Bamberger's? Was that the first position you went right into?
BK: No, fair question, because I got a little bit ahead, only in the sense that once I completed the training, then they assigned you to a department. I was the head of stock, and that's below buyer. After training there, I'm not sure how many months that was, it may have been a couple of years, then I was promoted. Before I get too far off the field, we are here in North Plainfield. I, along with others, opened a Plainfield store in 1954, and I was assigned to what was called--there were three levels--and I was assigned to the lower level, which had housewares and toys and rugs and all that. I was the department manager, district manager, for the lower level. There were three of us. So, that was a senior assignment. Then, from there, I went back to Newark as a buyer.
NM: You left Bamberger's in 1965, you mentioned.
BK: Yes, right.
NM: When you were a buyer, were you just buying for the Newark store?
BK: No, all the store, Paramus, Menlo Park, Morristown, Princeton. The reason I hesitate because stores were added after I left back in 1965. We did have Morristown, Paramus, Menlo Park and Princeton while I was there, so those four I know. I became the assistant store manager of Princeton for a while and then back to Newark.
NM: While you were finishing college or a few years after you get out, the Korean War occurs. I am wondering, was there any chance you might get called up?
BK: Wonderful question, because it reminds me of when I was discharged it was May 20, 1946. At the discharge center, which by the way was at Lido Beach in New York, they ask you, "Would you like to sign up for the inactive reserve?" Well, again, I'm all of now nineteen years old, almost twenty. Why not? So, I signed up for the inactive reserve, which is a four year assignment. You don't have to do anything. Okay. It counts towards service if you ever would like to think of being in the permanent military, which I didn't at the time, but I signed up anyway. Now, the date was May 20, 1946. June 25, 1950 is when the Korean War started. I was one-month shy of being recalled because I was discharged officially from the inactive reserve May 20, 1950, and the Korean War started June 25th, one month and five days later. So, I was not called back, but I could have been.
NM: While you were working at Bamberger's, did you always live in Newark?
BK: Yes, I did, always lived in Newark.
NM: This may be jumping around, but at what point do you relocate to the Plainfield area?
BK: We got married in 1956 and relocated to the Plainfield area, because Phyllis was a Plainfield young lady and she worked for Bamberger's and that's where we met. So, after about a year and a half, we were dating constantly, we got married. We moved to, first, to Orange, New Jersey, and then we moved to South Plainfield, then to Plainfield, and now we're in North Plainfield and that was our moves, all of it surrounding the fact that I was assigned to the Plainfield store, which opened in 1954.
NM: You leave Bamberger's after fifteen years. How did this opportunity come about?
BK: I was approached for a job that was open for the discount operation for Woolco, which has 186 stores, and I got the job and I was there for nine years. The name of the company that I worked for in the Woolco stores was called Rockower Brothers, and we were the men's and boy's lease operators in all of these Woolco stores. Woolco decided as a major management change of thinking that they didn't want to any outside influences, in this case the men's and boy's department from the company called Rockower Brothers. We were asked to leave, and the company disbanded. We all went our separate ways. We all got nine months severance pay, and that's when one of my manufacturers asked me if I would work for them and I did.
NM: You had mentioned some of the things that you did with Woolco.
NM: You mentioned that you were buying for the entire chain.
NM: In what ways was your position there different from Bamberger's?
BK: Yes. As I mentioned just a little bit ago that the awareness of the differences in the type of young man, young boy, that I would see in Missouri or Mississippi as opposed to Maine as opposed to Oregon, it was uniquely, not only different in terms of body type, strangely enough, but as well as what was the color appeal. For instance, one of things we found out, much to our horror, was we at one time had a jacket and one of the colors that the jacket came in was cranberry. Well, we found out in Colorado, it wouldn't sell. You know why? Because that color is used for mourning. The traditional black was not the only reason to have that color. For whatever reason, this kind of deep color red was a mourning color. So, we had to pull all the merchandise out of there and bring it back in to distribute to other stores. Just a strange but a true fact. Other than that, nothing more unique than the sensible awareness of just, "What is in fashion? What's right? What is a quantity? For instance, it's not something to say, "Well, I have all the different sizes." But, what's the best-selling size? Maybe you only need ten pieces of the size number eight, but maybe size fourteen in this store, they need twenty. On the other hand, in another store, they need more size eights and less size fourteen. So, the variations among the stores in terms of their needs, the style awareness, that difference, all of these things were much more involved than just operating in the New Jersey area that Bamberger's encompassed.
NM: I am not exactly sure of the exact years that you moved from South Plainfield and Plainfield and North Plainfield, but you have been in the area for a long time and I am wondering how did the riots in Plainfield affect the area, and did it affect you personally?
BK: Yes, it did. The riots, which began after an Officer Gleason was shot and killed, that began, that left Newark and managed to wind their way up to Plainfield, unfortunately, we actually did hear gunfire going on not too far from where we lived in South Plainfield. We knew we had to get out, but we were a little more reluctant to leave, and so we ended up in Plainfield, which of course was still part of the problem. Eventually, it reached the point where the boys, particularly, were running into trouble in school. They were being tormented. My son, my older son, was playing Little League baseball, and, frankly, some of his teammates really gave him a hard time, so that we had to put him in [Rutgers Prep] private school and eventually our other son also had to be taken care of. So, it affected us in that regard, that we were really just marching in locked step with so many people that recognized we can't stay here anymore, and that's when we relocated to North Plainfield. With that background of unfortunate disturbance both for the children personally and the area in general, it was just not a very pleasant atmosphere. [Editor's Note: According to Mr. Kapner's son, at the time of the riots in 1967, the family lived in Plainfield, not South Plainfield. They ended up in North Plainfield in 1971.]
NM: After your career with Woolco, you mentioned that you worked with a manufacturer.
NM: Can you just talk about some of the work you did for the manufacturer?
BK: Yes. It was pretty much the same thing, in a sense. I was doing a little bit less buying for them. I wasn't actually doing buying for them, but it really was just a behind the scenes kind of standing pact kind of job, and I wasn't very happy with it because it was really just to help me because I was once a very big customer of theirs and now I was relegated to being really sales support without being a salesman for them and certainly not a buyer for them, which is why after a couple--well, actually a few years of that--I then decided maybe I'll try my hand at teaching if I can be hired for that. So, when I was fifty-nine, I said, "Maybe it's time to make a change." That's when I started to teach at Cranford, [Union County] Community College, and I was there for six years.
NM: What types of courses were you teaching? How did you become aware of the opportunity in Cranford?
BK: I only called; I called around. I taught marketing, "Principles of Marketing," and "Introduction to Business," and I loved it.
NM: How many courses did you teach a semester?
BK: Two, those two.
NM: Multiple sections? I am curious.
BK: Well, by multiple, you mean some in the mornings, some in the evenings, or something like that?
BK: No, it was just the conventional hours.
NM: Having a long career in business, you probably used some of the real-life situations you had been in in your courses.
BK: One of the things I found out is that I was a ham. I loved the fact that here are these young people, seventeen, eighteen years of age, are sitting and listening to Professor Kapner. I say that kiddingly because I always found it very difficult to be called "Professor" after all. That was not my career. It was really an adjunct professor's late-in-career life that I was leading, and in my first cap and gown, because we had a new president for the college, and there I am in a cap and gown. I was just overwhelmed how much fun it was. [laughter] I found it was a wonderful experience because I really enjoyed and didn't realize how very much the innocence of young people is to what's going on outside, and I would remind them, that, "Remember, we're sitting in these four walls. It's very antiseptic. We have case studies. Everything has pure answers. You're going to work for people that for no reason at all are just not going to be happy with you or have different approaches. You're going to run into corporate cultures that are so uniquely different from one culture to another. You're dealing with human beings and you're going to find it's not quite as sterile as sitting in a classroom, reading a chapter, and answering a few questions or raising a few questions that we can discuss in class." It was just a very challenging thought that these people are really looking to me to give them thirty-years experience that I had to offer. I would promise them if there was ever a question you ask me that I couldn't answer, I'll get back to you.
NM: We have gone over your time growing up in Newark, your time in the Navy, your time at Rutgers, and your time afterwards. We are coming towards the end of our session. I want to give you the opportunity, is there anything that you would like to add about your life for the record, about any aspect of your life, that we may have missed?
BK: Well, I just have something to say, rather than just end too abruptly. I would say that, number one, I've enjoyed having this talk with you and trying to recapture some of the thoughts that right now are seventy years-old and it's hard to believe that we're going back that far. That's why sometimes if I was a little hesitant, it's because I really am trying to dredge up memories that have long since been laid to rest.
I would say and I know it's again something I don't want to have enlarged beyond what I mean by it, but the war was for me a very challenging but very important part of life. I don't know what direction I might have taken if not for that, because I didn't really have the inspiration to do the things that I eventually hoped to have accomplished simply because I wasn't being challenged when I was younger. I was an only child. I didn't work. I was in the schoolyard, all the things that don't make for a great career thought. Happily, some of the things that I did do really helped me in the world of business. They really did. I learned what it is to be a little more assertive, a little bit self assured without being cocky and I hope that was never the case. I found that I did, without due modesty, I did create a very good position in the business world. I was considered a very important buyer, and the only reason it stopped is because frankly it reached the point where my company was invited to leave the Woolco chain that we talked about. That would have been the place that I would have spent all my working years because I enjoyed the prominence of my position and the company that I worked for. Once that ended, I did really kind of wind down gradually, but it was a good life and it was well considered something that I'm glad I did, capped with the teaching six years, which really was fun.
NM: If there is nothing else you would like to add, we are going to conclude the interview today. Thank you, Mr. Kapner, for having me here.
BK: Thank you for letting me talk to you.
NM: I am looking forward to giving you copies of the interview as well as transcribing it.
BK: Thank you very much.
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Reviewed by Juli McDonald 8/16/13
Reviewed by Donald Koger 7/8/19
Reviewed by Kate Rizzi 8/1/19
Reviewed by Todd Kapner 8/4/2019