Emily Shapiro: This begins an interview with Sigurd W. Thele on November 13th, 2009 in Pittstown, New Jersey with Emily Shapiro and Sandra Stewart Holyoak. To begin Mr. Thele, could you tell me for the record when and where you were born?
Sigurd Thele: I was born on July 17th, 1928 in the Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, after my mother and Dad were escorted by a police car to the hospital.
ES: Could you tell us about your father and his background?
ST: My father was born in Norway in 1903, in the small town of Anna Sira. ... He came to this country to study at the Garrett Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. ...
ES: Did he come by himself?
ST: ... He came by himself. ...
ES: He came on a boat?
ST: He came on a boat. After World War I, it was difficult to get a visa to immigrate to the USA but in September of 1924 he received the visa and took the SS Barangaria from South Hampton, England, to New York City. It took about, I think, nine days on the North Atlantic.
SH: Was he specifically coming to that institution? Was he on a scholarship?
ST: Yes, but on a scholarship.
ES: He just wanted to come over?
ST: He wanted to further his education.
SH: Were there other family members in the United States?
ST: There were several that were here, yes. Some of them were out in the West Coast and Midwest and so forth. His sister, Kristine, was living in Chicago as well as an aunt.
ES: How about your mother, can you tell us about her and her background and how she came over here?
ST: She came to the USA landing in New York City on December 23, 1924. My mom and dad were engaged before they traveled to the US. My mom worked as a domestic for a while, and then they got married in Norwalk, Connecticut on June 18, 1927. ... She was a housewife. At that time it was not considered appropriate for a pastor's wife to work.
SH: Did your father stay and continue to finish his degree then?
EM: Was your Norwegian heritage a prominent part of your upbringing?
ST: Yes, my father was a Methodist minister in the Norwegian Danish conference of the Methodist Church, and he did preach on Sundays in Norwegian. So it was part of our upbringing, very much a part of it.
SH: In that area was there an enclave of Norwegian speaking people?
ST: Members of the church lived in various neighborhoods. They came to our church and they lived in the Bronx, and the church was in Manhattan. ...
ES: In your neighborhood were there a lot of Norwegian families?
ES: They just came from all over?
ST: When I grew up, my father's first church was in Harlem, and so, there were no Norwegian people living in that area.
ES: Can you tell us what it was like growing up in New York during the Great Depression?
ST: Funds were often short in the church. Dad's salary was, at that time, minimum, but when hungry people came to the parsonage door Mom always fed them.
SH: Did you have brothers and sisters?
ST: I had a brother and two sisters. I am the oldest in the family.
SH: How many years apart were you?
ST: My brother was three years younger and my sister was five years younger, and the baby was I guess eleven years younger.
ES: Because your father was a minister, did being a preacher's child affect your lifestyle growing up?
ST: Very much so. ... He came from the old country and had their ideas about dancing, we never learned to dance, and we could not go to the movies except very, very few, like a Disney film. ... The same with comic books, they were a "no-no." Of course, you could not have playing cards in the house because those were the devil's. ...
Sylvia Samuelsen Thele: Tell them about when you were the only ones that didn't go someplace because you had to be in church.
ST: Oh, yes, my father was very strict about my being in church whenever there was a service, and our young people, our group met on a Friday night and the high school was in the finals [for] basketball. ... I wanted to go and he said, "No, I had to be at church." It turned out that I was the only one there. All the other kids were at the basketball game, but, you know, it's part of growing up a pastor's kid, like you're living almost in a glass house where you had to be very careful. ... It's not so much so now, but in those days they expected the minister's kids to behave themselves, and Sylvia will tell that she wasn't even allowed to play with us because the minister's kids were not well-behaved.
SH: That is what their family thought of minister's kids?
SH: Mrs. Thele grew up in the same neighborhood that you lived in?
ST: No, they lived in the Bronx. I lived in Manhattan, ... Queens, and so forth.
SH: Did you move often?
ST: We did more often early on. My dad served churches in Brooklyn, NYC, Queens Village, Berlin, New Hampshire, and Corning, New York. We moved often.
SH: Describe the neighborhood that you first remember in New York. Would that be the one in Manhattan?
ST: That would be in Manhattan, where I was the only white boy in first grade. ... We have a picture with a little black girl holding a playing card, arithmetic, like ... "2+2," and she was supposed to be the teacher and I was the student.
SH: Is this a public school that you went to?
SH: The school was integrated and diverse?
ST: ... There weren't too many Hispanic people at that time in that area. It was all mostly black.
ES: Do you remember any issues with diversity and racism growing up in New York, you being the only Caucasian student?
ST: Well, you know, I was very young. I was only six years old so, you know. I know that when I was in junior high school, my best friend was oriental, a Japanese boy, and he took a lot of abuse because it was during the war. ... So, some of it rubbed off on me.
SST: Your father's church had to move because it was in Harlem.
ST: He moved from 127th Street in Harlem down to 83rd Street in Manhattan which was a German area at that time, probably still is, and we had a church there. At the time, the parsonage was in the Bronx so we had to commute from the Bronx down to 83rd Street and of course we took the subway, and so forth. In those days we could ride for a nickel or a dime or whatever it was, not a big problem, but then I went to school in an area that was primarily Jewish. ... On a Jewish holiday, in those days, well still today, the schools were closed, but they weren't closed then. So I'd just go and sit in the office because I was the only person in class that wasn't Jewish.
SH: What were you saying about the Japanese child that was in your class?
ST: He took a lot of abuse.
SH: Did he?
ST: Yes, because he was Japanese. ...
SH: This was during the war?
ST: This was during the Second World War, yes.
SH: His family was not relocated to an internment camp or anything like that?
ST: No, not that I know of, not at that time anyway. ...
ES: Growing up, were you involved in any activities outside of school or were you mostly involved in the church and taking care of your siblings?
ST: Well, I worked after school. I had a paper route, and then I became ... a soda jerk for a while at the drugstore during the war, but most the activities were centered around the church.
SH: Did you join the Boy Scouts?
ES: What were your favorite subjects in school?
ST: History. ... I became a history teacher.
SH: What was your favorite area to study in history, what really piqued your interest?
ST: Well, American history mostly. The area I was most interested in was the period before World War II.
SH: Did any of your mother's or your father's families come to this country from Norway?
ST: Yes, there was a brother that came on my mother's [side] and my father had a sister that came over, there were only three in their family, so my father and the older sister came over and the other remained. ... My mother was a family of thirteen of them, and two of them emigrated
SH: Did you as a family travel back to Norway to visit them or did they come visit you?
ST: During World War II you could not go to Europe. In 1947 my family traveled to Norway. My father was sent on a preaching mission and we were there nearly a year. After, we traveled there about five or six times. We went over to Norway, my father was sent over by the bishop on a preaching mission because most of the churches in Norway were destroyed by the Germans.
SH: What year was this?
ST: We went over in, we graduated in ... January of '47. ... We went over right after I got out of high school.
ES: Did you see a lot of aftermath from World War II or was that mostly cleaned up?
ST: There was a lot of destruction. The cities were all right. ... A lot of the smaller communities were in bad shape.
SST: And food was still very scarce. You didn't tell them, your mother and father brought over tons of cartons of canned goods.
ST: He brought a car over and of course that was loaded with food.
SH: Was it really?
ST: Yes. ... My Dad used the car the whole time he was in Norway, but he sold the car in Norway when he got there with the understanding that he would use it, and then, turn it over to the person who bought it because there were no cars available.
SH: Do you remember any communication during the war with the family in Norway?
ST: I know my father received some letters from his father, not very often, but they did manage to come through.
SH: Were any of your family members in the military in Norway?
ST: Well, they were part of the underground. There was no Norwegian Army. ... The Germans just walked in and took over, but I had one uncle that died in the concentration camp. He was part of the underground and then my cousin, who emigrated here after we had been in Norway was part of the underground. Those are the only two of that I know of that had any [military experience].
SH: Do you know which camp your uncle was in?
ST: He was in a camp in Norway. They had a concentration camp, it may not have gotten publicity, and so forth, but there was a place where they could be interned. Now where that was located, I don't recall.
SH: Did your family send packages during the war?
ST: I was young, I don't think so. ...
SST: I think it was after the war that packages were sent.
ST: Yes, and of course, food was scarce. ...
ES: Were politics and world events discussed in your house, like Hitler taking over Europe?
ST: There were some, but not a great deal.
ES: How did they feel about Franklin Roosevelt?
ST: My father didn't like him. He was a Republican. ...
ES: Did you have any idea what was going on when you were young?
ST: ... We talked about it in school, and so forth.
SH: Were there air raid drills?
ST: Yes, we had air raid drills, and we hid under the desk. ... Sylvia's father was an air raid warden during the war. ... Even the cars, ... the top of the headlights were all painted black so you couldn't be able to see them from the air, and we had dark shades in the house.
SH: Did you as a young kid participate in any of the scrap drives or anything like that?
ES: Did you participate through the church at all?
SST: I'm sure you did. In school, we used to have to bring cans into school, empty cans.
ST: Right, okay, I've forgotten about that, yes.
SH: People talked about collecting the foil off of cigarette packs.
ST: Of course, they stopped using foil in the cigarettes. They said, "Lucky Strike went to war," was one of the things they said and of course, the cigarettes were packed differently and of course you couldn't get nylons and a lot of things. Gasoline, of course, was rationed. Food was rationed. There were some difficulties, but we managed.
SH: Did your father ever consider becoming a chaplain in the military?
ST: Yes, yes--my mother wouldn't hear of it. There was no question in her mind.
SH: I know some people became chaplains at local bases.
ES: Sounds like your mother was pretty strong-willed.
ST: She gets her way usually.
SH: Who was the disciplinarian in your family?
ST: Well, anything serious my father was involved, but my mother I remember taking out the wooden spoon. ... We were pretty good kids for the most part, except my brother, but that's another story.
ES: Do you want to tell us about when you took a swim in the East River?
ST: On the East River. We used to swim in the East River, that's before they cleaned up the sewers or anything. ... We crossed the railroad tracks and the river ran along the railroad tracks and, you know, of course, we didn't have a bathing suit on or anything. We all were healthy and still healthy, so I don't know what all the fuss is about, because it was pretty dirty.
SH: Describe what the neighborhood looked like and what young boys would do for fun.
ST: Most of my recollections when we lived in the Bronx, ... there was a playground close by, ... played basketball, handball, and stickball, and that type of thing. Of course, when we lived in Manhattan, they didn't play stickball in the streets, you know, we lived there for maybe a year-and-a-half or so, then we moved to Queens.
SST: Tell them about your room at Queens.
ST: Oh, my father had a church in Queens Village and the parsonage was above the sanctuary so whenever there was a service or meetings going on, of course, we couldn't walk. We would go over to a neighbor, or go up in the attic, because the insulation in those days was not great, you walk across the floor you hear them. That was a strange arrangement because that's not the norm in any of the churches, but this was a large building that had been converted from a home to a church, with our parsonage above. ... It was difficult at times.
ES: Can you tell us about how you felt at age eleven about the attack on Pearl Harbor and where you were?
ST: ... I think we have just come home from church. ... We heard it on the radio, we didn't have any television and, you know, it was a shock of course. ... You were unhappy about it, but I don't remember anything else.
ES: Do you remember being afraid that it might happen to New York City at all?
ST: Well, they made us aware of it in school where we were constantly going into the air raid drills, and so forth. You know we were aware, but again Japan was so far, like it would be on Mars as far as we were concerned, you know, at that time and transportation, you couldn't even take an airplane trip across Europe. ... When we went to Norway in '47, we'd take a boat, we were nine days on the North Atlantic and so, you know, it's not like it is today, where you're hours away from almost any place in the world.
SH: As a young man growing up, did you and your family travel on vacation or to conferences?
ST: Yes, it was important to Dad that he have a vacation. ... He had a month off from church, and that was spent, originally we spent it up in the Catskills, and then, we camped ... and so forth, and we spent the whole summer up in the Adirondacks. My father would come up, you know, for the month off. ...
SH: You bought a house in the Adirondacks?
ST: Yes, but before that, you know my mother would be up there with the kids and my father would be back home. No radio, no car, no phones, you know, and it was fine, ... had a good time. ... We had a little rowboat right on the water, and then, finally he bought a little cabin up in the Adirondacks in Owls Head, New York which is a small town. ... Well, we were camping that time and my father was due to preach at the church, this was a Sunday morning, and we were just going out for a walk, and we got lost in the forest. We couldn't find out way back.
SH: Your father and you?
ST: No, myself and the three kids and, you know, we kept walking and couldn't find our way home, and the kids are screaming, my little sister was screaming, and so finally we found a stream, and so we figured, "Well, that's going to go to some kind of body of water," so we followed that because we were right on the lake, the camp site was. We followed that, we ended up on the other side of the lake, and then we walked along the shore because we were not going to go back in the woods. By that time the rangers were out looking for us, and my father couldn't go and preach because he had kids [lost], you know. So, we got it that day. ...
ES: Were you gone all day?
ST: ... I would say it was about eight o'clock when we left. ... It was after one o'clock by the time we got home.
SH: May I ask what they said or did?
ST: Of course, my mother had been crying. ... It was one of the things. I didn't get in trouble very often. I was a good guy. My brother was the one that was always in trouble. He wasn't as smart as me. I got away with a lot of stuff. Well, anyway, that's the story on that one.
SH: Spoken like a true big brother.
ES: Did you know a lot of people that went overseas during the war?
ST: Not too many but two good friends enlisted and were in the Pacific area and saw action but came back safely.
SH: Were there young men in the church that you remembered?
ST: There might have been a couple, I don't know.
SH: Do you remember seeing the flags in the windows of those who had children who were serving?
ST: Yes, and if they lost somebody there would be a gold star in the window. ... There was a lot of people that had flags.
SST: ... In those days they had neighborhood plaques, they put out monuments, and put the names of the people in the service that lived in your area.
ST: Yes, I remember that. ... They shielded us from a lot of the things going on, and my parents didn't keep us up on all the things that were going on.
SH: Did you read the newspapers or was there a favorite column that you watched?
ST: No, not really, not until I got out of high school.
SH: Did your father and mother listen to Roosevelt on the radio on the fireside chats?
ST: I can't remember them doing it. They may have, I mean, I don't know.
SH: It was not something the whole family did together?
ST: No, we only had one radio, so.
SH: How important was music in your family?
ST: My father, it was very important to him. ... They sang all the time, go any place and he would be singing, we'd all be singing. My father, he played the musical saw. ...
SH: Did he really?
ST: Yes, and he played the piano, he never took a lesson or anything, but he was very musical and my mother and father sang often in church, the duet, and so it was important. ... Most of it were religious songs, and so forth. ... He wanted me to take piano lessons. After about a month-and-a-half, I think, the teacher told him he was wasting his money. ... He couldn't afford to do this, and it was not going to do any good, so that came to an end.
SH: Were any of your siblings successful?
ST: Well, my sister was, she didn't take lessons, but she could play. She'd hear a tune and she could play it. My father was like that.
ES: What about Uncle Ken and the spoons?
ST: My younger brother, he plays the bones they called it, you know, and he did it in state fairs, and so forth, out in the West. ...
SST: ... Didn't he play a guitar?
ST: I don't think so. ... His wife played the piano.
ES: Do you remember the celebrations in Manhattan on VE Day or VJ Day?
ST: Yes, I mean we were not part of it. ... That was down in Times Square and so forth. We didn't do that.
SH: Did young boys play war or cowboys and Indians?
ST: Oh, cowboys and Indians is always, not too much wars, the only wars we played were with cards. ... When I was fourteen years old I got a job as a caddy up in the Adirondacks. I went up there. The last day of school, the next day I went up there and I spent the whole summer and of course in the caddy shack, you'd sit there and play. Mom and Dad weren't around so, you know, but it was great, really great.
SH: Did you play golf?
ST: I caddied and, yes, I played once in a while. Now I play, we try to play, this year, once a week. ...
SH: Were there any sports that you were involved in high school?
ST: No, I worked. I didn't have time.
SH: What was your after school job?
ST: Well, I worked as a soda jerk.
SH: Was that a good place to meet girls and things like that?
ST: Not really. ... I wasn't that interested at that point. I wasn't allowed to dance, I couldn't do any of these things so, you know. I didn't go to the prom because I wasn't allowed to go to the prom.
SH: Were you involved in any sort of academic clubs?
ST: No, no. The less I had to do with school the better. I was not a good student in high school.
SH: Really, you are confessing that now?
ST: I've said it all along, but I did manage to graduate.
SH: Did you plan to go to college right after high school?
ST: No, because we went to Norway, you know. I had a job over there.
SH: What did you do in Norway?
ST: I worked in the bicycle assembly plant. They'd get parts of bicycles, and they would assemble them, because bikes were a big thing in Europe. You couldn't get a car and gasoline, and so forth. I worked there, I guess, about seven months, and then I came back to the United States. I always had a job.
SH: What was it like for you to be in Norway? Were you just a tourist or had you heard a lot about it because of your family?
ST: No, we heard so much about it. ... I lived with my cousin because my mother and father were traveling all over Norway because they went from one church to the next church, and so forth. There was a section in Sweden that they went to so I didn't go, the other kids went.
SH: They went with your parents?
ST: The girls, yes. I missed that a lot. I should have gone, but anyway we've been in Norway many times since. ...
SH: Were your grandparents still living when you went back?
ST: Just my grandfather. He had all his hair--wore a crew cut.
SH: What did your grandfather do for a living in Norway?
ST: He was a teacher.
SH: A teacher as well.
ST: And a botanist. ... In fact, some of his works are in the library in Stavangar which is one of the bigger cities in Norway. He was in one, like one of these one room school houses where he taught, you know, all the subjects.
SH: What are some of the customs that the family kept that you can remember? Did you celebrate holidays differently in Norway than in the United States?
ST: Christmas Eve was always when you got presents and that was always a big holiday, and then, at church, you know, it was a big celebration. In fact, they used to march around the Christmas tree singing Norwegian Christmas carols and English, both, and there were many others.
SH: What about the food?
ST: It was mostly Norwegian food.
SH: Was the food different in Norway?
ST: No, I was spoiled. They had to make what I liked.
ES: They did that when I was there too. They made me hamburgers.
ST: We took Emily. In 2000 we went over.
ES: When you got back from Norway you went to Northwestern. Why did you decide to go to Northwestern?
ST: My father had gone to Garrett Seminary, it's part of Northwestern. ... Northwestern was a Methodist school years ago. ...
SST: The head of Evanston was a friend of your father's. ... He was of Norwegian background.
SH: When you went there what was it called?
ST: Evanston Collegiate Institute. ... It was like a one year prep school maybe is what you call it here, because my high school record was not good at all, so it worked out okay. We were married, and I did the rest of my college at Upsala College in East Orange.
SH: This was before the Korean War broke out?
ST: No, it was during the Korean War.
SST: I don't remember when the Korean War started.
SST: We were married in '49. ...
ES: When you went to Norway was there prejudice against the Methodist Church being Norway was a Lutheran country?
ST: I really didn't feel anything like that, you know. You were born a Lutheran in Norway and you stayed a Lutheran until you decided to change it to something else. There are Catholics and there are some Jewish people, and so forth, but basically it's Lutheran. ... The preachers and the ministers are paid by the State. ... It's different than anything we had been used to, but the Methodist church in the town I lived in was quite large, and it had a pretty good congregation. ... People are getting away from that somewhat.
SH: You have seen that in the years that you have gone back.
ST: Yes, well we went, actually ... we went to the Methodist church in Arendal where Sylvia's family came from, and there the minister spoke English. It was a Methodist church and it was very interesting.
ES: After you got back from Norway, you went to Northwestern. Was it the norm for people in your family and community to go to college? Did your brother and sisters go too?
ST: No. ... Not my brother or my sisters. My brother ... learned photography and it was like a junior college. ... That's what he did for a while before he became a corrections officer.
SST: And Esther went to a beauty college, and Shirley went to some type of a technical school, because she did physical therapy.
ST: ... They were not college graduates.
SH: What gave you the determination to continue with your education?
ST: ... Well, originally I was going to become a minister.
SH: Were you?
ST: I decided that in Norway, and I went to school, I went to this school in Illinois which was connected both to Northwestern and to Garrett Seminary, but then, you know, during that first year I had a change of heart, decided well if I don't become a minister I'll do the second best thing, I'll become a teacher, and that's the way it went.
SH: You had to register for the draft when you were eighteen.
ST: Right. ... I don't even remember taking the physical, so they didn't classify me.
SST: I remember when you got your notice for the draft, it was a big shock, we had not expected it at all.
ST: Of course, by then the war was over, and of course, Korea. ... Then I went in. I wanted to, I had this foolish idea when I was in high school, I wanted to join the Merchant Marines.
SH: Did you?
ST: I wanted to but my father, "No way," and he ruled the roost, I mean in those days, you know.
ES: Why did you decide to transfer to Upsala?
ST: We were married. Before we married I had one year in Evanston and then we married in '49, and I finished the three years I had left at Upsala.
SH: Where did you get married? Did you get married in New York?
ST: Yes, in the Bronx, at the Elton Avenue Methodist Church, which was Sylvia's church at that time.
SH: Did your father marry you?
ST: Yes, my dad pastored in New York City and he and Sylvia's pastor, G. Franklin Snyder, married us. I know why they came East. They came East to baptize, ... they came and baptized my daughter. ...
SH: How did you meet your wife?
ST: In church, I mean that's our whole life. Their parents lived in the Bronx and they also were immigrants from Norway and this was the closest, I guess the closest Norwegian church was in Manhattan, and they came down there.
SST: ... We went mostly to that church just because of the ethnicity of it, and they met people that they knew from Norway, but as far as our church we went to a church in our neighborhood on Sunday, and for all the activities, but they had the service on Saturday and it was a place to eat and have a service and meet people. So, we've known Sigurd's family since we were children brought up together.
SH: You would go on Saturdays to socialize with other Norwegians.
SST: Yes, right, but there was a service.
ST: There was service then. They preached in Norwegian.
ES: When you graduated, what were your initial plans before you were drafted?
ST: ... In fact, I was looking for a teaching job when I got the notice that, you know, Uncle Sam needed me.
SH: Had you been paying attention to what was going on in Korea at that stage?
ES: What were your thoughts about what was going on in Korea?
ST: The war was going on. They talked about numbers of people, soldiers who were killed.
SH: Did you have children at that stage?
ST: No, Karen was born in 1956.
SH: Where were you first sent then after you got your draft notice and had to report?
ST: Fort Dix.
SST: No, no, you reported to Camp Kilmer, and then, you did your paper work, and then, you reported to Dix for basic training.
ST: ... I was in the sixteen week cycle, and they pulled me out after eight weeks and sent me to Kilmer as a clerk-typist. ... I type with two fingers, you know, and I did that for the rest of my time. I separated officers when it came time for them to leave the service, I got the paper work on them, and so forth, and, you know, bide my time. ... Then they closed Kilmer.
SH: While you were there?
ST: Yes, so if you had less than three months to go on your enlistment, they discharge you. There's no point in cutting paper work, and having you reassigned, so I got out, I guess, two months early.
SH: You went in on August of 1953?
SH: So the Korean War is winding down.
ST: ... I was twenty-six years old, I was married, I was a college graduate, and I would not go to OCS, I would not go to become an officer.
SH: Did they try to convince you to become an officer?
ST: Yes, several times. So, that's the reason probably why they sent me to Kilmer on the job training as a clerk-typist, and I got to be pretty quick on it, you know, two fingers, but it was standard, you know, it was just the name and the serial number.
SH: Where were you housed on Kilmer, in barracks or off base?
ST: For a couple of months I was, and then I lived ... in the Bronx and I commuted. I had an eight to five job. ... I put a lot of mileage on the car. I had to bring my clothing in and everything so I can pass inspection. ... Everything had to be spiffy clean, and polished. ...
SH: How did the officers treat you?
ST: Well, they treated me well. I really didn't see the officers. ... The woman that was in charge, she was a petty officer, she was in regular Army, but we got along fine, she actually wrote me a commendation. She put me in for promotion because I was only a PFC. She put me in for corporal, but at that time the promotions were frozen. The only promotions they gave was in Korea, so I never had higher than PFC, but I was very happy, that's fine, as long as I can be near home.
SH: Was there any chance that you would be sent to Korea or to Japan or Germany?
ST: I don't think so. They pulled me out of the sixteen week cycle.
ES: Why did they pull you out?
ST: Well, first of all I was not very good with the rifle. ... I couldn't qualify with the rifle, and I tried, I mean I tried to qualify, but it's just like I never fired, I mean I haven't fired one since, a gun or anything and, I didn't even have a BB gun as a kid. I was not good, and I think it may have been I was older.
SH: The war was over and now they have another glut of people.
ST: Yes, so I was very fortunate.
SH: Did they give you a hard time because you could not qualify with the rifle?
ST: Not really, because I was living at home. ...
SH: They did not give you a hard time in boot camp so to speak?
SH: Can you talk about some of the interesting things that you saw while you were at Kilmer or on this commute? That is not a short commute in those days.
ST: No, and you couldn't take any major highways either at that time.
SST: Tell them some of the things you did when you drove into New York.
ST: I would take, you know, when they came back from overseas, they had to go through Kilmer, I mean that was the point where they either got discharged or reassigned someplace else, and these kids would come back and they were anxious to get to New York--some of them are from the Midwest--and so I took them to New York because I was going home anyway. So I take them in and drop them off in Times Square and I would go up to the Bronx, but I didn't pick them up in the morning, that was their responsibility to get back on their own. ... It worked out. ... Usually they kicked in for gas and so forth, so they paid for my transportation back and forth. ... Towards the end there we got notices from headquarters that we were not to ferry soldiers any place in our automobile ... because the taxis were putting pressure on them. The taxis were lined up ready to take these kids and, you know, I didn't charge them what the taxi would charge them, because I was going home anyway.
ES: While you are at Kilmer did you notice anything interesting in the barracks from World War II?
ST: ... I didn't go into the barracks, so I don't know. I did have KP once in a while, I think once because they usually had plain soldiers come in and they had KP. Guard duty I never did.
ES: Did you ever consider joining the Reserves after the war was over?
ST: ... You were automatically in it until I got my discharge or whatever it was, but not active, I was in inactive. I went in because I was told I had to go.
ES: When were you discharged?
ST: In '55.
SH: Exactly two years it seems almost.
ST: Yes, and a couple of months, I think.
ES: Then you decided to go to Rutgers--did you use the GI Bill to go to Rutgers?
ST: Yes. ... I used the GI Bill. ...
SH: Had you gone over to the campus at all while you were at Kilmer?
ST: No, New Brunswick was a pretty bad place in those days.
SH: Was it?
ST: Well, you know, the prostitutes, ... because you had all these soldiers coming back from overseas, and they had time on their hands because it took two or three days to be processed, and so forth, so they go into New Brunswick.
SST: You wouldn't recognize the main street.
ST: It was so different than it was now. I mean now it's a nice town, you know.
SST: It was one bar after another, the main street in New Brunswick.
SH: When you started to go to grad school, did you move your family to New Brunswick or did you commute?
ST: No, I commuted. I commuted from Roselle Park. ...
SH: When did you make that move from the Bronx to Roselle Park?
ST: Right after we got out of the Army. ... I got a job teaching in Linden, and then we found a place to live and Karen had just been born, so we moved.
SH: On your pre-interview survey you talked about working in Curtiss-Wright in Woodbridge. When did you do that?
ST: That was when I got out of the Army and before I had a teaching job, because I was working there when Karen was born.
SST: You got out of the Army in '55, and you started at Curtiss-Wright, and you worked there until you started teaching in September of '56.
SH: In the meantime you were going to grad school.
ST: Yes. I think I was going to grad school. ... I started right in.
ES: Why did you choose Rutgers to go to?
ST: Grad school?
ST: Well, it was one of the few schools in New Jersey at that time giving advanced degrees and Rutgers was within commuting distance. Upsala didn't have a program like that. ...
SH: Your degree from Upsala, we did not really talk about Upsala and your experiences there. Your degree was in history?
ST: Yes, social studies, my teaching certificate gives me, I could teach from 7th through 12th grade, social studies, and my minor is English. That's crazy, I can't even spell for crying out loud. [laughter]
SH: Where were you housed, or did you commute?
ST: I commuted. ... I picked up the elevator which is the "L," which doesn't exist anymore, and then I had to take the boat across the Hudson, and from there I picked up the railroad, and took that to East Orange, and then East Orange to school, I took a bus.
ES: This was every day?
ST: Just about, once in a while I could get my schedule set so I could have half a day off, ... which was not too hard to do.
SH: Were there other gentlemen or women from your community that was going to Upsala that you knew?
ST: No, not at that time, no.
SH: Were you involved in any activities at Upsala?
ST: Yes. I was in Phi Alpha Theta.
SST: And you did go to those meetings.
ST: ... Nothing else. I did some homework while I was on the train and boat, and so forth.
SH: Did you have a favorite professor?
ST: ... I can't remember. ... When they ask me that, I really can't remember.
SH: Did American history continue to be your favorite course of study?
ST: ... Yes and then the thirty-three credits beyond are in administration and supervision, not that I had any intention of doing that. But then after I had been teaching twenty-one years or so, they offered me a position as the media person to the two high schools, a regular high school and they have a vocational school across the street.
SH: This is in Linden?
ST: Yes. So, then went back to school to get certified so I took another thirty credits at Jersey City State College. ... I'm a media specialist, that's what I did the last fifteen years or so. ... That was good. I was out of the classroom, I could pick the kids who assisted, and it worked very well, and you know, I built up quite a library.
SH: Was this fairly new to have a library specialist's degree?
ST: Yes, that worked out fine. I was very lucky.
SH: How diverse was Linden when you first went to teach there?
ST: It was predominantly Polish, a lot of Polish people, and there was a black section. ... We had a good number of black students. ... You know, the riots were taking place in the colleges, and it spills over. ... I was on the first floor and my windows are right on the ... teacher's parking lot, and they came in, the white kids came in after a couple of black kids I had. I tried to get them out of there, I call the office, but they were going up and down the hall banging on doors. ... The white kids, they were causing all of the problems.
ST: Yes, and a few blacks of course, but it was the "hardnosed rednecks," don't quote me on that.
SH: Were they protesting something?
ST: It was basically tension between the whites and blacks.
SH: They were not making any demands?
ST: No, no, they just want to get hold of those black guys.
SH: Were you trying to shelter them?
ST: No, well I tried to separate them, but I mean you had about seven or eight guys come in.
SST: You had some black kids working for you.
ST: Right. Yes, in the audio-visual, my media office.
ES: Did anything happen to other teachers?
ST: No. ... Chairs came out the window.
SH: How was it finally quelled? Were the police involved?
ST: The police came in, yes, and that was it. ...
SH: You were still living in Roselle Park at that point?
ST: Yes, we were living in Roselle Park.
SH: Were there any disturbances in Roselle Park where you were?
ST: There were no problems at least not that I heard of. There were no problems, no.
ES: Just going back to Rutgers for a second, was there anything memorable at the school that you can remember such as sports?
ST: No, not really. I didn't have time for those things. I'm trying to get lesson plans made and all this other stuff, and then going to school and I was also working for Flying Tigers at that time.
ES: Why and when did you start working at the Flying Tigers airline?
ST: 1960, and I was there twenty-nine years, part-time.
SH: How did you become involved with the Flying Tigers?
ST: ... Teacher's problem is in the summertime, no pay coming in, and so, I had several jobs. ... I was a playground director, I was a private detective, so finally somebody at school had worked there and he said, "Well, try Flying Tigers." So, I went down there and they wanted to know if I could type. I said, "I was a clerk-typist in the Army." ... They gave me a test and I could do the thirty words a minute or whatever it was. ... I had a job there as a traffic agent, and then, as time passed I became a supervisor, and then, I became the hazardous material specialist because, you know, on airplanes you had to be very careful what you put on an airplane, and so, I ran the whole gamut, did the flight planning and loading and all of this stuff, it's great. You flew any place you wanted to go.
SH: Did you really?
ST: ... We did Flying Tigers once, but that was the end of it as far as the family was concerned but we were able to fly on other airlines and we did. So, I've been to Finland, I've been to Austria, I've been to England, ... Norway, several times, Hawaii, Holland, Belgium, et cetera.
SH: Did you work for them only in the summer?
ST: No, nearly all year.
SH: Did you?
SH: What kind of hours would you have to keep?
ST: I would go in around six and the agreement they had was as soon as the airplane left, I could leave. Usually the plane left around midnight, so I worked from six to midnight normally, unless we had a delay and if we had a delay I heard about it the next day, but we didn't. ... Any delays we had were mechanical, and that I had no control over.
SH: Tell us the most interesting thing you remember shipping.
ST: We had a whole airplane full of cattle that were going out to Africa and then of course race horses we would get all the time.
SH: Did you? Where would you get them and where would you ship them?
ST: Well, they would come in to Newark, ... most of them were going to California. We had the whales ... from Great Adventure or some odd places. ... We transport them to Florida to California. ... They come in a sling, and of course they were white, they're covered with this substance that ... keeps them wet, and that type of thing. We had monkeys, we had dogs, all kinds of stuff.
ES: Would you just weigh them and put them on a big scale?
ST: They're put on pallets in stalls, in other words, they would build the stalls, we have stalls that are built, ... and each one had its own stall, and then, they were tied on to a pallet and the pallet went in and got weighed, and then, transported, and put on the airplane.
SH: What was the most difficult thing you had to do?
ST: There were a lot of things. [laughter] One thing, we had this huge, huge piece of equipment, it was like maybe thirty feet long, and so we had to load that and also we had to worry about weight and balance so, you know, you can't put something like that in the tail, you can't put it too far forward, ... then you had to make sure you have enough weight in the tail. ... That creates a problem, you get something that's larger than a pallet, and it has to be loaded lengthwise, because the pallets go in widthwise, but that wouldn't fit that way so we had to do that. ... We had to get a lift to lift it up to the airplane because forklifts couldn't handle anything, I think it weighed 25,000 pounds, and our forklifts weren't designed to do that.
SH: Where was it going?
ST: It was going to a place out in California, some place there. I don't remember, it was Menlo Park or something. ... The factory had broken down and they were waiting for this thing to get there.
SH: What about military transport? Did you transport personnel and troops?
ST: During the war we did. They didn't come out of Newark. ... They carried to Vietnam, they carried to Korea, because the aircrafts were all being transferred back and forth, the configuration could be changed, you know, hours that's all it takes because they just slide these things into the rails and it's transferred over. In fact, Sylvia and I, and Karen and John, we flew to California on one of these airplanes that had already been dressed and it was just being ferried out to California, there was just the four of them on the airplane and the kids could run and whatever, there was no one else. ... Once in a while like when the airplane is in, I'd bring the kids down and they can sit in the cockpit, and it's great, good company really. Unfortunately, they were bought off by FedEx.
ES: That is when you stopped working there?
ST: I stopped working there then.
ES: You worked there after you retired from teaching?
ST: Yes, I was there twenty-nine years.
SH: Did you interact with pilots and mechanics?
ST: Yes, the pilots all have to come into the office. In fact, I had an incident where one came in and he had alcohol on his breath, and I wouldn't let him fly, and this created a problem because then they had to dig up another crew and, of course, there was a delay, you know, but, you know, you can't let them fly if they had something to drink, and it's in their rules, they know. ... I think it's at least twelve hours before they do the flying. ... Yes, we saw the crew come in all the time, and get their paper work and so forth.
ES: When you moved to Roselle Park you were involved in the Masons. Can you tell us about that?
ST: Well, I was a Mason when we lived in the Bronx, and I really didn't become active in Masonry even in the Bronx. I went to the meetings, but when we got out to Jersey, ... I had too many things, too many irons in the fire.
ES: Why did you join?
SST: I'll tell you. Our minister in the Bronx was a Mason and he wanted you to join with them.
ST: [laughter] So, I joined and I kept it. In fact, I still pay my dues, so I mean I'm still a Mason, I just don't go.
SST: Tell them the reason you became active in the Masons in Roselle Park.
ST: ... It was because of Karen, my daughter. My daughter was a Rainbow Girl and, of course, that's a branch of Masons, and my being a Mason I could travel with her, and she was the state lecturer, State of New Jersey, so wherever she went I could go, like Sylvia couldn't go because she'd have to sit in the car. ... I got to go in and spend some time with her and so it was great and as long as she was in it, then I was very active.
SH: What about your son, was he involved in that?
ST: No. ... He was a Cub Scout. He was primarily a biker, and he belonged to Central New Jersey Bike, and they traveled all over, it was great.
ES: Were your children growing up involved in the Methodist church like you were?
ST: ... Your daughter was president of the youth group.
SH: Were your mother and father close by?
ST: They had moved out to Washington State. They moved while I was in the Army or just before I went in.
SST: Right around the same time.
SH: To a church out there?
ST: Yes. He was minister out there for about twenty years, and I guess moving around the State. That was another reason it was good working for Flying Tigers, I could fly out there. ...
SH: Did you fly out often?
ST: I did, yes. ... My mother was very sick, I went out, I think, six times in one year, I just get on one of our cargo planes and go.
SH: Hopefully one that smells good because of the animals.
ST: Most of them were good. ... I didn't fly in any that had animals not because I didn't want to, it was just, that wasn't the time I was going to go. I had to make sure I could get the time in school, work around the school holidays.
SH: Did you attend teachers' conventions?
ST: I did a few of them. I took Karen once, she went down and Sylvia went along, ... quite a few years. ... I mean it makes sense if I like the book and I the authority to do so, I could order a book and get fifty, sixty, maybe a hundred books.
SH: What about the teachers' union, were you involved in that?
ST: I was not. Well, we had the association. We didn't have a union. ... I'm a member of the NEA and NJEA and the retired NJEA, and that was our negotiating team, was the teacher's association.
SH: You said you had credits towards administrative eligibility. Did you ever consider being a principal?
ST: No, I'd have to give up Flying Tigers then, there's too many meetings at night. ... I like to teach, but now you're dealing with teachers, and so forth, it's not a lot of fun, and parents you got to deal with all the time--besides I was busy.
SH: Were you assigned extracurricular activities to oversee?
ST: No, I usually got a lunch duty, usually end up in the lunch room, but I didn't have anything else. ... I did most of the photography, the taping of all the basketball games, and I did the wrestling, and some of the soccer, only when they wanted it. The basketball they wanted it for the big games. ...
SH: Was this part of being the media specialist?
ST: No, I did this when I was a teacher.
SH: Did your children go to the same school that you taught in?
ST: No, we lived in Roselle Park, thank goodness. That creates problems sometimes with teachers, you know. Yes, a friend of mine was teaching math, ... and he had one of the teacher's kids, and he was failing. ... It was not a good situation, besides my kids were perfect anyway. ...
SH: Were you ever involved politically yourself?
SH: We talked about your father not really liking President Roosevelt.
ST: No, not really.
SH: Were there any discussions about the confidence that you had in Truman after Roosevelt died?
ST: No, by that time, I was gone, out of the house. ... Once I got back from Norway I went to school, and then, we got married and, you know, so there was very little after I got out of high school.
SH: Was there any discussion about the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
ST: At home?
SST: At our house, Marvin Greene was our minister then, and he was very active with bringing the maidens from Hiroshima back to the United States for medical treatment, and he is written about in a book.
ST: ... I can't remember which book it was.
SST: So, we were very involved with that, and Sigurd was converted into not being a Republican.
ST: ... Well, I was what my father was. ... My mother had no--I don't even know if she voted. ...
SH: Do you remember when your parents became naturalized citizens?
ST: My dad became a citizen in 1935 and my mom in 1946.
SST: I can tell you about it. Sigurd's father, as soon as he could, you know, filed the papers and became a citizen as quickly as he could, but Sigurd's mother had more of a problem with language and she did not file for her papers until the Second World War started. In that time period then, she became naturalized.
ST: ... My father spoke very well, I mean, you know, because he preached in Norwegian and in English and, you know, of course, he's done much more schooling, and so forth.
SH: Were there classes in Norwegian for you to continue the language?
SH: Did they encourage that at all?
ST: Not an encouragement, you know. We really couldn't tell the difference whether they were speaking English or Norwegian, it got to that point. ... My mother would be half Norwegian, half English or there would be Norwegian words in the middle. ... She was a housewife and happy, and whatever. So, I don't know about Sylvia. ...
SST: We spoke Norwegian in our family until we went to school, and then, we always spoke English, but because I learned it when I was very young, I can speak it and I can do some translating, whereas Sigurd has lost most of it and I've lost a lot of it now that we don't have relatives coming to visit. ... After the war, a lot of them came over to visit.
ST: They stayed at the "Hotel Thele." [laughter]
SST: They stayed at our house, and so my mother and I practiced a lot of Norwegian to get ready, but you lose it if you don't use it.
SH: Would these be extended visits that people would make to your home?
SST: ... I would say three weeks was the longest. ...
ES: Do you still talk to anybody you went to school with?
ST: We meet once a month. ... In fact, they were here yesterday and the day before. ... They come down once a month and we go up there the next month, and then we alternate.
SH: Were they also Norwegians?
SST: Harvey is Jewish.
ST: A fine Jewish boy, and the wife is Jewish. ...
SST: ... He was a history major, but never used it.
ST: Yes, we were in class together.
ES: Was he a Korean veteran too?
ST: He wasn't in Korea, was he?
SST: He didn't go to Korea, but he was in at the same time as you.
ST: I don't remember that. He wasn't stationed with me.
SST: No, no, he was at Indian Town Gap.
ST: Okay, now I remember. He never got overseas either. Us history teachers, they don't want us going over there.
SH: Were your children of military age during the Vietnam War?
ST: No, he's younger. He's about eight years younger than Karen. So, no.
SH: That would put him much too young.
ST: Thank goodness.
ES: Did you speak Norwegian to your children?
ST: Not really. Something we didn't want them to hear, we spoke Norwegian, but no.
SH: Did you raise your children with the expectation that they go to college?
SST: I think they were expected to do well in school, and then, it was up to them what they wanted to do.
SH: Were you as strict with your children as your father had been with you?
ST: No. We have certain rules, but it was not anything that was [like my father]. ... He came out of an old world tradition.
SST: Even he had changed, because by the time Shirley, Sigurd's youngest sister, by the time she went to her senior prom.
ST: Yes, by that time, yes. ... She's about ten years or so younger than I am, so things change. They became more American than the old world.
SH: Did your brothers and sisters stay around the area?
ST: No. I had a sister who was in Georgia, she just passed away, and then I have a brother and a sister both of them living in Washington State, so we try to go out there. We went out a couple of years ago, Karen and I went out, and Emily.
ES: Your brother and your sisters moved out with your parents?
SST: Well, Ken was in the Army, so when he was discharged he was discharged to them in the Seattle area.
ST: Both sisters moved out with him.
ES: I want to go back to Camp Kilmer. The Hungarian refugees were kept there from the revolution in 1956. Do you know anything about that?
ST: The place was closed. They were closed by then.
SH: You closed it up?
ST: Well, they were in the process of closing it, yes. ... I think it's been used for other things since.
ES: They had the missiles they housed there. Do you know if anybody had any qualms about them being there, the missiles in New Jersey?
SH: After serving in Kilmer, would this be something that if it appeared in the paper or on the news would be something you would be interested in?
ST: I would pay attention to it, sure, if they were doing something. Like I know that they were housing some classes there, I can't remember what it was. ...
SH: What do you remember about the assassination of President Kennedy? How was the reaction in your school and your neighborhood?
ST: ... I mean there was great shock and great, you know, people were very sad about it, unhappy, and so forth. ...
SST: I was pregnant with John, and we were out shopping for maternity clothes when we heard the news in the middle of the day, ... and Sigurd and I were going to a square dance that night, and everything was cancelled, all the social activities. It was a shocking time. It was on the television like twenty-four hours, stayed for the whole weekend, even maybe the whole week after.
SH: Did this affect the Flying Tigers schedule at all?
ST: I don't think so, they had things that had to be at their destinations, medical supplies and all kinds of stuff. ...
SH: Is there anything that we forgot to ask?
SST: You know I think the GI Bill was very important for us. I mean it meant that Sigurd could get his master's and his points beyond that. I don't know if he would have done that. I think that was pivotal.
ST: ... I was working for Curtiss-Wright and I was making $100.00 a week, which was good money in those days, and I took a job and was getting $3600.00. ... I had to have some other kind of income. ... Now, if we didn't have the GI Bill my problem would have been, I don't know when it would come to an end, but I probably wouldn't have been able to take advantage of it at all.
ES: Did you wife work?
SST: I went to work when my mother moved out to New Jersey from the Bronx, and she took care of Karen. Karen was about, well, six months old or so, and I worked for two or three years, that's all.
ST: She had to stay home and take care of the rowdy bunch we had. No, they were good kids. [laughter]
SH: Well, I thank you so much for agreeing to speak with us, both of you. Thank you so much.
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Reviewed by Nicholas Molnar 7/17/2012
Reviewed by Sigurd Thele 8/7/2012