Kurt Piehler: This begins an interview with Mr. Nathan Shoehalter on October 16, 1995 at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. I would like to begin by asking you about your parents and your father, who owned a delicatessen for most of his life in Irvington, New Jersey.
Nathan Shoehalter: That's correct. I was born in Newark and, when I was eighteen months old, the family moved to Irvington. My father started a grocery store in Irvington, my mother and father. I had an older sister. She was nine years older than me. The things that I remember about the grocery store was that we were open seven days a week, from seven in the morning until eleven at night, seven days a week, and the only times we ever closed was on Rosh Hashanah and a half a day on Yom Kippur. That was it. We had a car, my father had a car, and, on those days, we would drive down to Lakewood, or Lakehurst, and I remember seeing dirigibles and things like that. That's my earliest remembrance. I also remember that my father was arrested for breaking the blue laws in Irvington, the blue laws, you know. When I went back to research it, because I, too, am an archivist, they spelt his name wrong, and I had a hell of a time finding him in the Newark Evening News, but, there was his picture, smiling as he was led off by the cops for breaking the blue laws. The only reason he did that was because our competitor was open on Sundays, too, and we couldn't allow that.
KP: Your competitor in the neighborhood?
NS: In the neighborhood. A block away was Willie Ramo. Willie Ramo's nephew became my best friend. ... Artie Ramo was orphaned at an early age because his parents committed suicide during the Depression. ... The other thing I remember about Irvington, that's memorable, was that we were held up in an armed robbery on a Sunday night, a rainy Sunday night, and they got sixty dollars, which was a lot of money. It was an enormous amount of money. ... I remember, ... we lived just above the grocery store on, for archival purposes, 825 Stuyvesant Avenue, on the corner of Prospect Avenue, in Irvington. We lived above the store. I was upstairs, apparently asleep at the time, around nine o'clock at night. My sister, and my mother, and father were in the store. ... My father, describing this, had said, "Oy," and he clapped his hands together, and said, "take what you want," and he threw his wallet down, and they opened the cash register, and escaped. I remember, the next day, the police coming in their open touring car, in Irvington. It was kind of a yellowish thing. That's all I remember, all I want to remember about Irvington and the store. I remember, ... when I was going to high school, I worked for the New York Times. I delivered the New York Times at Irvington High School. It was a job that I got my Social Security card for, before I went to school, and school was at eight o'clock in the morning until twelve-thirty. It was a crowded high-school. I would open the store, and take the rolls that had come from the baker, and carry them into the store, and put them in the front window where we kept them. Then, I would trudge off to Irvington High School, which was about a mile away, and deliver papers. That was 1938, I guess, about that time.
KP: We saw one of the articles you wrote in the New York Times. Your father, like a lot of delicatessens, had a lot of credit customers.
NS: Oh, yes.
KP: That was the stand by.
NS: That's right. The only way I can do it is in Yiddish, forgive me, a tsetl. A tsetl was a note and we used to write the names of the person or we never knew the names of our customers. We just knew who they were and we trusted them. There was a translation, "the woman with the white dog," "the one who limps a little," those are the ones that come to mind, but, we had other ones, "the person who lives on Nesbit Terrace." Those were the memories I have. We used to have this spindle with a nail on it, and all these things would be on the spindle, and their names would be there, and we just happened to know where they were. ... We'd go find the names, Varians, or the Onions, or the Buechlers, whoever those names were, and we would write down that they owed us for a quarter of a pound of salami, or some ham, or rolls, or Jewish rye bread, or something like that, but, we never knew their names, really. Some people we did know their names, but, others, we knew just by description. That's the way he carried on his business. It wasn't until, I guess, 1939 or 1940, but, ... after being in the store since 1924, ... my father and mother decided that they would sell the store, because my father had gotten a job as a wine salesman for the Monarch Wine Company in Brooklyn. Actually, they were on Wooster Street in downtown Manhattan and they finally moved out to Brooklyn. He got the job through a relative of ours who owned the wine company. His name was unimportant at this point. I can't remember it. (Meyer Robinson) ... Anyhow, he got this job as wine salesman for Monarch Wine. It was a time when things were picking up. The Monarch Wine Company, eventually, became the distributors and fermenters of Manischewitz wine, the kosher wine. So, that was the big thing and my father was hardly a wine connoisseur. He didn't know anything about wine at all. He just knew how to sell, and he was very, very good, but, he was selling, traveling by car all over the State of New Jersey, and my mother, and my sister, and I worked in the store. My sister was a school teacher in the Irvington school system and we worked in the store until he would come home. He would come home seven o'clock at night, leave early in the morning, and drive to Trenton, or Camden, places [like that]. He had New Jersey, that was his territory. Then, in 1940, in June of 1940, I was accepted here at Rutgers. It was a thrill, really. I was scared shitless. I had no idea what this was all about. My sister had gone to college, obviously. She was a graduate of Newark State Normal School. She's nine years older, so, it was like a different world. I didn't know any of her friends, and so, I had no idea and she commuted back and forth from Irvington to Newark by trolley car, to Newark State Normal. So, I had no idea what college was all about or anything like that. No, I had no indication of what was going to be expected of me or anything and I didn't know what to study. I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian, and so, I decided that agriculture probably was the place for me to be and I enrolled here at ... the College of Agriculture. Yes. ...
KP: Your father must have found this traveling job, in some ways, very liberating. I mean, in the sense that he had been ...
NS: I guess so.
KP: ... Really, behind a counter.
NS: Yeah, sure. ...
KP: You know, as much as you enjoy your customers ...
NS: He was a very gregarious man. Both my parents were from Russia. My father was from Odessa, my mother from a place called Chochonov. She was born in a shtetl in Chochonov, in Russia, which she lived, she moved to Vitebsk, and Vitebsk is known for Marc Chagall's home. In the last years of my mother's life, when, I guess, things were just churning in there in her head, she said that her brothers used to play with Marc Chagall. Well, ... I would love to make that connection and I often thought of writing to Chagall when he was alive, but, I just never got around to it, but, anyhow, it was liberating for my father, very much so, to sell and travel, I think. ... For my mother, ... when we finished with the store, it was extraordinarily liberating. Her great thrill was to take the bus down from Irvington to Newark to shop at Bamberger's. That was the ne plus ultra for her and it was rare that you could get away from that store, you know. For my father, driving all over the state, it was wonderful for him. He loved it. Prior to our grocery store experience, his grocery store experience, he was a salesman for an outfit, a candy company called Safer Simon. ... He sold candies and, I guess, they lived in Hackensack at the time. It's real vague. Mostly, our parents never talked to us about their past too much. I knew that they were in Hackensack. I knew that they lived on Tracy Avenue in Newark for awhile, and then, they moved to Irvington. Gee, I'm remembering things like the landlord's name. His name is Brightman, Abe Brightman. A goniff my father used to say, a thief, but, Brightman owned the thing, and the store, and the apartments. ... Four families lived there and there were two stores ... on this block. There used to be a ... vegetable store next to our grocery store and they went out of business, and then, it became something else, and so on.
KP: Your father was a Socialist.
NS: Oh, yes, very much so.
KP: A Norman Thomas Socialist?
NS: ... He used to read the Jewish Daily Forward, which is the Socialist paper. He wouldn't read Der Tag. That was the left wing paper and he wouldn't read that. That was not his paper. He would read theForward and would only vote for Norman Thomas. He voted for Norman Thomas every time Norman Thomas ran, which was a lot of times, as I understand.
KP: So, he remained a Socialist all through his life?
NS: All through his life, until Roosevelt. I guess it was the 1936 election of Roosevelt. ... I don't know when Norman Thomas died, or when the last time [he ran], but, if Norman Thomas was on a ballot, probably, he voted for him, but, he liked FDR. We all did. He was just an attractive guy, but, he was a Socialist and agnostic. I never went to a Hebrew school, never was bar mitzvah. My mother ... went along with him on this. I didn't have any of those formalities. I'm a heretic. I picked up on that stuff because I'm a cultural Jew, I'm not a religious Jew.
KP: So, really, the only sort of ballast to tradition was closing on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
NS: That's right, and that was just because Ramo would close, and then, there was a third one, whose name escapes me. There were three grocery stores within a block of each other. ... The third guy, I forget his name, damn. Sorry about that, but, most of the merchants in the area were Jews, and so, we closed, not out of religious purposes, but, because it was the thing to do. ... "It didn't look nice for thegoyim," that was the way my father would say.
KP: It sounds like quite a bit of Yiddish was spoken in your family.
NS: Oh, very much so. That was the language. They spoke Yiddish all the time, and the secret language they had was Russian, so that, if there were any secrets from either me or my sister, it would be in Russian. ... I never learned any Russian. What Russian I did learn was skewed, because my mother would talk about an ugly looking person, "Oh, the krasavitz," and I thought that meant a beautiful person. It does mean a beautiful person, but, it was always an ugly person. So, I always thought krasavitz was an ugly person. So, I got screwed up with that. I speak Yiddish now and understand it, of course. I don't read it though. They never taught me how to read Hebrew. We just never [learned] and I think I might have been relieved about not having to go through the bar mitzvah. I heard such terrible stories about rabbis and how they were just not nice people. I mean to students, you know. It was meaningless. It really was meaningless for my parents and for me. I didn't know many Jewish kids when I was growing up, as a matter-of-fact.
KP: In your neighborhood, who do you remember?
NS: ... Well, I remember one, ... Herbie Zack said, "Go home and tell your mother she's a kike." I remember that very, very distinctly. Then, there was Leon Oxenford and my very good friend, Mickey Pascal, who was Italian, of course. I remember sitting in his house and his eating pasta fagiola. I didn't know what the hell pasta fagiola was. There were no Jews in our area. Most of the people who lived around us were Germans. ... As a matter-of-fact, the people who lived above us, the Kellerhoffs, were arrested by the FBI. My very dear friend was Teddy Eyrich, whose father might have been a Nazi, because he took Teddy and me to Andover, New Jersey, where the Bund gathered. I remember seeing that swastika flying above the flag of the United States. It didn't mean anything. It was 1939, 1940, something like that.
KP: But, your friend's father taking you to Andover, did he know you were Jewish?
NS: Oh, sure, everybody knew we were Jews. Sure. I mean, we were the grocery people, what else? Actually, Teddy's family didn't shop at our store. They shopped at the Ramo's, and Teddy and I, I don't know how we got to be friendly, but, we were. We used to go bicycle riding together on Route 29 and pick strawberries at one of the farms on Route 29. We used to go fishing together. We were just good friends. I never thought of him as German, or he thought of me as a Jew, or anything like that. It was never any of that. The only time was that one incident, where, "Go home and tell your mother she's a kike." Herbie Zack also gave me a scar. He hit me with a kazoo, but, I don't know, you know, childish pranks, but, there was never any overt anti-Semitism, that I was ever aware of. Never, but, I am sure it was there. Leon Oxenford, for example, he was a son of a bitch, a kid my age, but, he was a nasty boy, but, I didn't know why. You know, I remember Mickey Pascal telling me, "Your people killed Christ, you killed Christ." I don't know, "Who's Christ? I didn't have anything to do with it." ... That's the kind of thing we grew up with. Never discussed this with my parents at all.
KP: So, they never told stories about the pogroms?
NS: Well, that's an interesting thing, because, in 1935, my mother had been receiving letters from Russia, and then, she got a letter which upset her and my father terribly. ... It wasn't until later that I found out ... what the reason was. It seems that her two brothers, who were married, and, as she said, "Of the intelligentsia," they were doctors, or pharmacists, or something like that. They, and their wives, and their children were all murdered by the Stalinists in a pogrom in Russia. They never discussed this with us and the only reason I say this is that I found out later from a friend of my father, who was Dr. Heller, who went to Russia in 1938, and went back to Vitebsk, and found out what had happened, but, they got this letter in 1935 or 1936. I don't have any of that, nothing documented. I do have one letter that was written to my parents that I found when we were cleaning out our house in New Jersey, and I just shoved it into a trunk, and I carried it to California, and my daughter, who reads Russian, might know what this says. She reads Russian, but, I think it's in Yiddish. I think it's in Hebrew, rather. So, I don't know. So, there's something there, because this letter was saved. Someday, I'll have it transcribed, you know. Anyhow, I did find out from Dr. Heller about the death of my uncles and aunts, who I had never met, but, I have pictures of Reuven. So, those two are on my mantle in California, but, I know nothing at all about their wives, or their children, or anything.
Linda Lasko: When did your parents first come to the United States?
NS: Around 1904-1905, something like that. I have my father's papers, a mimeographed sheet saying the name of the ship, but, I can't remember. I was over at Ellis Island the other day, and, never been there, thinking that I would find out archival stuff, and they don't have anything. It was a big disappointment, but, I got addresses of where I might be able to find out more about this. It was around 1904-1905, I don't remember. I think my father was born around 1888 and my mother, she would never tell us when she was born. She was a very vain woman, very vain, very beautiful. She must have been a real knockout. She came to Newark and worked for a milliner, making feathered hats, and she lived with a girlfriend. My mother, I just found, ... I was up in New England visiting relatives on this trip, and I found out so much that I had never known when I was a kid. Oh, geez, I was so upset.
KP: What did you find out that was new?
NS: Well, I had been calling this family my cousins and we were very, very close. I used to spend summers in Massachusetts with these people. My mother used to call them members of the family and they are, but, I found out that my so-called tanta Hayka was orphaned, and my grandmother, my mother's mother, took in Hayka. She became my mother's aunt and my mother became her niece, but, we don't know if there is any relationship there at all. So, this tanta Hayka, whose kids, she had seven children, and then, there's another family tie, and they also had seven children. These people I'd been calling my cousins all my life. I don't think they're related, and I just found this out last week, but, I have to go, now, I have to try and find out what my mother's mother's maiden name was. I have no idea how to do that, but, I'm going to try. Somehow, I'm going to find out. So, all these things were kind of shattering to me, but, these people are still lovely people. The oldest one of the group still alive is eighty-eight years old, and just as sharp as a tack, and it's wonderful. ... Then, my contemporaries are the kids I grew up with. These cousins are about four and five years older than I am, and so, it's interesting to see them, and I haven't seen them in years, and years, and years. It was fabulous, it was a wonderful experience, really, a wonderful experience.
KP: How did your parents meet? You never found out what the romance was?
NS: I think my mother had another boyfriend who disappeared when she came to this country. She left from Liverpool, I remember. She left her home in Russia, so, she must have been fourteen or so. She had a tyrant of a father, I guess, who was in the logging business or used to sell lumber all over Central Europe. She never talked about him at all, as I recall. ... She came here very young. My cousin told me, this cousin up in New England, said that his remembrance of her was, when she came to Webster, Massachusetts, she was sitting on a banister on the piazza, and she was smoking a cigarette, and tanta Hayka saw her, and she was outraged at this young girl. She must have been sixteen or seventeen and was outraged that she was smoking this cigarette.
KP: Growing up, how good was your education in Irvington? You mentioned you had a very crowded high-school.
NS: Well, my sister, who preceded me by nine years, was a very, very good student. So, I had a hell of a time, because my teachers were her teachers, and they used to say, "Nathan, Pearl would never do anything like that." So, it was a good education. I think I had a heck of a good education. There was no such thing as kindergarten when I started school. We just started in the first grade with Mrs. Larney and worked up. I remember things. I remember my fourth grade teacher bringing us to tears reading Oliver Twist. She was Mrs. Carter and, I remember, we had to study Latin in grammar school, in the eighth grade. ... That was good stuff, and the math, it was difficult for me, but, I learned. I was not a terrific student, if you're doing research, it was pretty crappy, but, ... high school was wonderful. We had a terrific high school. I was in the band, and I was in the drama club, and we had a wonderful English department, Ms. Yates and Ms. Riedel, wonderful English teachers. She was head of the drama group and was so supportive. I'm sure she was a lesbian, now that I look back on it. I know she was a lesbian. Just a wonderful woman, just terrific. I mean, she lived with another English teacher in the high school, and they were just ... Ms. Riedel, Eleanor Riedel, and she went on to teach in Trenton.
KP: So, these two women, you are fairly convinced, were lesbians?
NS: Oh, yeah.
LL: What led you to come to that conclusion?
NS: Well, just looking back on it now, what I know about it. ... Of course, then, it never entered my mind. They were roommates, but, you know, I live in Berkeley and this is the capital of lesbians and gay life.
KP: How long had they been living together?
NS: Oh, I have no idea, I just have no idea, but, I just know, looking back on it, and I never made a study of this at all. ... I'm sure that that's so. It's like Ms. Morrison and I forget. Ms. Morrison was the mathematics teacher at Chancellor Avenue School where I went, elementary school, liked my sister very much, used to come to our store. She lived with another principal of a school in Irvington. I'm quite sure there was a lesbian relationship, you know, looking back on it, but, at the time, it was just, they live together, that's all. Nobody ever said anything. The only time, I'm glad you brought this up, ... I ever heard my father say anything, there was a guy who lived across the street with his sister and her husband. My father said, "See that man? He never shaves." I thought, "What's that got to do with anything?" you know, but, I think he was trying to tell me that he was gay, but, you know, he never said that. He just said, "That man never shaves." I can't remember their name, it begins with a P. I can't remember his name. ...
KP: Why Rutgers? Had you thought of trying to go elsewhere to college?
NS: No, I thought of Rutgers mostly because it was cheap.
KP: Had you taken the state scholarship exam?
NS: I don't believe so. No, it was ... forty dollars a semester. My father said we could afford that.
KP: Did cost influence your decision to apply for the Ag School?
NS: Yes, oh, yes. Yes, there was a difference in tuition. I don't remember what the tuition was for Rutgers College, but, I do know that the Ag School was much more, or much, much less expensive.
LL: You said your sister had commuted when she attended college. Did that thought ever cross your mind, that you would be commuting?
NS: No, no. Not at all.
KP: Where did you live when you were on campus?
NS: 111 Livingston Ave, with Doctor, ... he was the team doctor here at Rutgers. ... It begins with a C. I'll think of it, it will come back to me, come on, Hyman Copelman. I had a wonderful room, but, that was like commuting, you know, 111 Livingston Ave. ... I picked that because I was half way between the Ag School and downtown.
KP: Well, there were no campus buses then.
NS: No, there were certainly no campus buses. We walked. We walked across town. I think we had twenty minutes between classes, so, if you had a class here, on the campus here, you could walk across town in twenty minutes and make your next ... class.
LL: Just barely.
NS: Just barely, but, we did it. I'm not bragging at all, but, it was just a normal thing to do. Everybody else did it, so, we did it, or you tried to arrange your classes so you would have everything downtown, then, go cross town.
KP: Some people I have interviewed from urban areas felt some sort of resentment from some of the Aggies from farm families. Did you have any?
NS: Oh, no, no. Those kids were marvelous. I used to hear stories about these kids who grew up on the egg farms down in Lakewood and the corn crop. No, no. These were awfully nice kids. They were really nice kids. I was never very close to any of them. Quite frankly, I was never invited to become a member of a fraternity, for example. I was elected to Alpha Zeta and I didn't realize that they were a segregated honorary [fraternity]. They didn't allow blacks in. When I found out, I didn't know whether should I accept it. Should I not accept it? It was really ... a terrible thing. That was, I guess, my second year at school and coming, you know, from the Socialist background. I never went to school with a black kid.
KP: So, you never had any black students in Irvington?
NS: No, no. The minority in Irvington were the Jews and the Italians, the Piscitellis and the Rubalattas. ... My sister, who was a school teacher in Irvington, was always so appalled when the garbage truck would drive by, "Oh, Ms. Shoehalter," you know, from the top of the garbage heap. The Piscitelli boys were the garbage collectors. Oh, she was so mortified. [laughter] But, no, I never went to school with a black kid.
KP: How did you resolve this issue with the fraternity?
NS: I was initiated and I keep resolving it. I'm still on their mailing list. I never send them a penny. I was thrilled by the fact I would make an honorary society, and I remember my father coming down to the initiation at the Roger Smith Hotel, and was very proud of what I had been able to do, but, I shouldn't have done it, you know. In retrospect, I shouldn't have done it.
KP: This was before the war?
NS: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah. I think it was 1941, early '41, before. ... I guess it was, I don't remember.
KP: You were one of the last classes to enter before the United States entered the war.
NS: That's correct.
KP: What are some of your remembrances of pre-war Rutgers, especially compared to what you would see in post-war Rutgers? What are some of your distinct memories?
NS: Post-war Rutgers was fabulous, just fabulous. It was so vibrant, oh, it was so vibrant. Pre-war, I remember being asked, almost forced, to go daily ... to the chapel. Dr. Metzger, ... you've heard this story before, about how we used to sing the, "Amsterdam Dutch and the other damn Dutch," and he would say, "Boys, we don't say damn Dutch here."
KP: No, we have not heard that story. We have heard a lot of Dean Metzger stories.
NS: "The Amsterdam Dutch, and the ... darned, damn Dutch, and the goddamn Dutch." Something like that, and, oh, he was appalled at this, Metzger, oh, geez. He laid it into us.
KP: Because, people have said, he was of a very stern caliber.
NS: Oh, he was extraordinarily stern. Carl Metzger, is he still alive? Do you know? His son, Carl Metzger?
KP: I am not sure.
NS: Carl Metzger was the antithesis of his father, just a wonderful guy, just a wonderful man, but, anyhow, I remember I didn't want to go to chapel. It just had no meaning for me. It really didn't, but, I did go. One day a week, I went to chapel, and parenthetically, or as a footnote, I used to sit in seat number five. ... When they redecorated the chapel, they threw all those pews out. I was working at Rutgers, and I got a lot of these pews, and I threw them in the back of our station wagon, and to this moment, I have pew number four in my garage, which I keep redoing. It's a beautiful piece of furniture, and I gave a lot of those pews away to friends who ran a gallery here in New Brunswick, other friends in Cranbury have one of those pews. But, I do remember that and I still have the original gum that was on the bottom of the pew that I sat in. [laughter] ... That, I remember. That was the only onerous thing. I remember an interview I had with Professor Heller at the Ag School, which was very helpful to me, because he asked penetrating questions about where I was going, what I wanted to do. That had never happened to me before and he was very helpful. I remember that. I had some wonderful professors. A guy named Jacob Joffe, who was a pedologist and [Professor Fred R.] Beaudette, who was a poultry specialist, who developed the vaccine for laryngotracheitis in chickens, Newcastle's disease, it was. I can't remember his first name. It might have been Beaudette. Beaudette used to smoke a pipe and he always used to light his pipe with a Bunsen burner. I was so moved by that. [laughter] I had wonderful teachers, [Ph.D. Willard C.] Thompson in the poultry department. I don't remember the others. Nobody else comes to mind, but, Jacob Joffe, the pedology department, I remember very, very clearly. I remember him, because, when I was digging fox holes, I thought of him. I sent him a cartoon from Bill Mauldin's series, and, apparently, he'd seen that before, or somebody else sent it to him. He was a great guy.
KP: If the war had not come along, do you think you would have stayed on the biology track?
NS: Oh, yeah.
KP: And, become a doctor?
NS: No, a veterinarian.
KP: A vet, yeah, excuse me.
NS: Yes, yes. There was another guy who was an influence in my life, Fred Fender, who was a mathematician. Yeah, it might have been in this, ... no, it was over across in the Engineering building, we took math. Fred Fender was a frenetic little guy, just a tiger. He was great, just great. His classes were so exciting. Yeah, I would have stayed on and studied more of the [biology]. I think I would have, rather than gone into veterinarian medicine, I would have gone on to become a biologist in the floriculture side, I think. I think that's what I'm doing in my life now.
NS: Well, I'm a docent at the Berkeley Botanical Garden. ... So, I've taken courses, undergraduate courses, in order to be a docent. I think that's what I would have done, gone into [the] greenhouse business, or something like that. Oh, yeah, or chickens. [laughter] Canaries, actually.
KP: So, in a sense, for a city kid, you really became quite interested in farm related things?
NS: Oh, very much so, oh, yeah, very much so, and nobody pushed me into it. I did it on my own. ... I never had any counseling, not in high school or anywhere.
KP: So, in many ways, Rutgers almost came as an accident in your life.
NS: Yes, ... that's a good way of putting it. It was an accident, a happy accident. It was very serendipitous. It really was.
KP: You mentioned that your neighborhood in Irvington had a lot of Germans.
KP: Your family came from Russia. When did you have a sense of what was going on in Europe? I mean, your father was very well informed.
NS: Oh, yeah, we knew. My father was a junkie, a news junkie. At that time, radio didn't have anything comparable to what we have. Five minutes newscasts and a fifteen minute newscast in the morning. There was no television, of course. I remember very clearly his interest in what was happening in Europe. Whenever Hitler would speak, he would listen. Early morning, five o'clock in the morning, he would get up and listen to the radio. Not short wave, but, it was just broadcast. ... I remember listening to Hitler's speeches. ... It was just indecipherable, but, there was some sense of what he was saying. We were listening for the key words, Juden, ... I think 1937, 1938, when was Kristallnacht?
KP: I think '38.
NS: '38? I guess around that time that my father really became aware of what a dangerous man, what a dangerous thing that was happening. I remember how appalled he was when the Russians and the Germans got together and Chamberlain coming back from Munich. I remember that very clearly. Roosevelt, I don't remember anything my father was saying about Roosevelt on foreign relations. There was not anything going on there.
KP: Norman Thomas had remained a fairly active anti-war opponent. How did your father feel on the issue of American involvement?
NS: I have no idea.
KP: He never sort of said, "We were going to get into this," or, "we should get into this?"
NS: The word for war in Yiddish is Milkhome and he would talk about the Milkhome, or the coming thing, but, I think he was saying it by crossing his fingers, because I was at that age, you know. I would have been a soldier, and I think that he might have been superstitious about saying there was a war coming up, but, he never said anything to me or we never talked about it.
KP: What about your thoughts in 1940, and 1941, and even earlier? How did you see things?
NS: Well, we had ROTC here. I was not a member of ROTC, I was in the band. So, we went out with the troops, but, I never had any military training as such, you know. ... I didn't think anything was going to happen. Quite frankly, I was really ignorant and quite naive. Never talked about it in school, never talked about it in classes, about a coming war or anything like that. ... Did I have a political science course? I don't think I did have a political science course.
KP: So, Pearl Harbor really did come out of the blue for you?
NS: Oh, boy. Yeah, I remember that very, very clearly. That Sunday, I was home. I was in Irvington. I used to go home to do the laundry, and my normal practice was to come home, and do the laundry, and come back Sunday night. That afternoon, I heard the announcement, and then, that evening, went to Penn Station in Newark. ... Well, we were talking about conscription, and there was a draft, and what was the number, 128? It didn't mean a damn thing to me, not a thing, couldn't care less. I was seventeen or eighteen at the time, but, it didn't really mean anything. Pearl Harbor didn't mean anything. I knew we were at war, and the excitement at Penn Station was just palpable, but, I got the local train to New Brunswick, and the next day, Roosevelt made his very famous speech, you know. ... Dr. Copleman's house, it was at his house at around twelve-thirty. I remember Doc Copleman, and his mother, and his sister, Copleman was not married at the time, and I. His sister was a student at NJC, and we were sitting on the stairs going up to the second floor and listening to the radio when he made his famous December 7th, "Day, which will live in infamy," [speech]. Still didn't mean anything, not anything.
KP: So, you did not have the urge to go in and enlist?
NS: No, I was too young. I thought I was too young. I didn't have to register for the draft until I was eighteen, I guess. ... Then, afterwards, you know, the upperclassmen, you would hear about guys enlisting, or going off to Canada, or, you know, go to Canada to sign up for the ambulance corps, stuff like that. Just like in World War I, I guess, that kind of history, but, it didn't really hit me, ... because the news reports were so, you know, there was the disaster at Pearl Harbor. I use that term in retrospect, but, it was something that happened in a war. Sumatra fell, and Borneo fell, and Wake Island fell, ... but, Honolulu was still there, and there were no attacks on the United States, and nothing on the East Coast. There might have been brownouts after 1941, December 7th, but, it really wasn't, to my mind, a very [real thing]. ... I just didn't feel it until 1942. Then, a lot of the guys were leaving and that's when I enlisted. I enlisted in, I guess, November of 1942, without my parents' knowledge.
KP: What prompted you to enlist at the time, in November of '42?
NS: Everybody was doing it. Not everybody was doing it, but, I thought I'd be able to finish my education, quite honestly. That, if I were enlisted, but, still in college, that I might be deferred, or something like that. I wasn't thinking of deferment, really, I was thinking of finishing school. Everybody was going, and I just felt, it wasn't patriotism at all, it was just that it was the thing to do. That's what happened.
KP: Why the Army? Why not the Navy or the Air Corps?
NS: Who knows. I have no idea. I mean, in retrospect, I would have picked something that didn't put me in such terrible danger, afterwards. I had no idea what the hell was in front of me.
KP: A lot of the people that I have interviewed that were in the ROTC, one of the impressions I get was that they learned to avoid the infantry, to seek any other branch besides the infantry.
NS: Well, I was a wonderful follower. I was not a leader of men by any means and I think that's what happened. I was meat, a lot of us were meat. ... I thought the Air Force was fine, but, I didn't want to fly. I was scared silly about flying. You know, being in a railroad was enough for me, [laughter] scary, but, no, seriously, and ships, I would get violently ill on. I didn't want to be in the Navy and get seasick, you know, but, I never thought about my Army experience at all. I mean, you know, they need me, I'll do what they want.
KP: So, initially, you enlisted and how did your parents take it?
NS: Not well. Not well at all. "Oy," I remember my mother, "Oy, oy, oy," but, I learned a lot, though, by enlisting. I found out I needed glasses. I'd been going through college not seeing the blackboards, not being able to read, and they fitted me out with glasses, and, my God, I have twenty-twenty vision. I can see what the hell Fender was writing on the board.
KP: So, you enlisted in November, but, when did you actually have to report?
KP: So, you were able to finish out the semester?
NS: Well, a lot of us enlisted because we thought we would be able to do this. I guess I got a notice to report in March, March 25th, I think.
NS: 1943, yeah, so, it was four months.
KP: You were able to finish out the fall semester?
NS: I finished the fall semester and half of the thing. I remember Professor Keller, in the Economics department, saying, "Well, you'll have to take an exam." He used to smoke a lot and we were fascinated by it. He'd smoke like this and just, ash would [fly, he would] flip it into the ash can. We'd follow what he was saying, but, ... "Eh, you don't have to take your exam." I even remember the text book. It was calledParity, Parity, Parity. I had no idea what the hell this guy was talking about. It was economics, agricultural economics, so, he gave us a grade, and then, the other guys, too. Beaudette, he couldn't care less, and I don't remember, it would be fun to go back and look at my transcript, to see what the hell I got, but, I was a pretty good student in college. I think I was a good student in college, not too bad. You'd know. Did you look it up?
LL: Oh, no, they are actually sealed.
KP: We cannot look them up.
NS: You can't look up transcripts?
KP: No, transcripts are sealed.
NS: Well, let me lie then. I was pretty good, I was pretty good. So, yeah, but, I left school, I guess it was, I entered active service, I guess it was, March 25th, 1943.
KP: You initially reported where, Fort Dix?
NS: Fort Dix, yeah. That was traumatic because, I remember, I told my father, "I'll take the train, I'll take the train," "I'd take the bus," and we were supposed to meet at a certain platform in Newark. So, he said, "All right, take the bus." So, when I got to Penn Station, I looked across the track, and there's my father, looking, waiting for me over there. He just didn't want to see me go. Oh, boy, that was a traumatic experience.
KP: So, they really wanted you to stay?
NS: Oh, it was awful, it was just awful, but, when I got in there, you know, the first night, that first night at Fort Dix was scary as hell. They put you in, you're active all the time, do shots, and clothes, and do this, and do that, get up at four o'clock in the morning. This bastard, the sergeant, got out there. I wish I could remember his name, he was marvelous. I mean, you see him in the movies all the time. He was just like the movies, but, I remember not being able to sleep well, because some people were crying. Some people were having bad dreams and we were in double bunks, you know.
KP: So, it was a shock for a lot of people.
NS: It was a tremendous shock. [I] didn't know anybody. There might have been one guy from Rutgers who I recognized, but, it was an enormous shock.
KP: Had you been in, say, the Boy Scouts or anything, where you would have been in sort of a similar situation?
NS: Sure, I was in the Boy Scouts. I got to be a tenderfoot, same rank that I had in the Army. I could tie a knot. I used to go on hikes. I went to a week at Camp Mohican in New Jersey, but, that was a long time ago. ...
KP: How did you initially get processed? How did your stay at Fort Dix go?
NS: Well, it was very brief, because, then, they shipped us off, and I went down to Camp Blanding in Florida, outside of St. Augustine. They were starting a new division, the 66th Infantry Division, so, we were cadre. Didn't know what the hell a cadre [was]. "What's this?" I remember building boardwalks, and one of the kids in my tent was from Lima, Ohio, and he couldn't read or write. I remember reading letters from his wife to him and writing back to her. He was eventually discharged, but, he was a sad case.
KP: He could not read and write because he had never learned?
NS: I guess not.
KP: Do you think he might have been retarded?
NS: No, I don't think he was retarded. I think he never learned to read and write. ... Once he made his bed, you know, everything was strict hospital corners, once he made that, he would never get into the bed. He would sleep on the floor, because he didn't know how to make the bed. So, they got rid of him. I remember that. My first job in the Army was, when we got to ... Camp Blanding, I was put into the medics, in this infantry division. It was called the medical detachment, I believe, and my first job was shaving assholes of men who had pubic lice and that was my first job.
KP: It sounds like a rather unpleasant assignment.
NS: It was. Well, I was very young, and very naive, and none of this had ever happened, nor had I ever heard of anything like this, but, that was my first job. My officer was Lieutenant Irving H. Park, who was an obstetrician in Brookline, Massachusetts. Nice little Jewish guy who was the worst soldier I have ever seen in my life. He was a disgrace to the uniform, but, what a wonderful man. He was just a lovely guy. Kind of a high pitched voice, "Shoehalter," he'd say, "get out there and shave those guys' assholes," [laughter] and we'd lather them up. They would do the front, but, I had to do the rear. Forgive me, you've heard stories like this before.
LL: Oh, yeah, certainly.
KP: I just want to flip the tape.
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KP: How many weeks did you end up doing this assignment?
NS: Well, I was in the medics all the time, so, not only that, I used to give prophylactic infections. I didn't know what I was doing, really. I knew that you never inserted the sulfur into the head of the penis, because of the danger of syphilis. The guys, always, coming back, were always drunk, you know. "She didn't want any money, but, I gave her money, and she always ... Want a drink Doc?" I used to be in the green light. The sign of the green light, that's where we had our prophylactic stations. I used to brag that I gave one hundred and fourteen prophylactics one night at the municipal stadium in St. Augustine, which was where we set up our prophylactic station. I don't know how many I did, but, I did very many, very many. ... I was a virgin at the time and I didn't know what the hell they were talking about. You know, short arm inspections, fall out with your raincoat and socks, ... all new to a lot of us, you know. "If you're drippin', you ain't shippin'," you know, stuff like that. I didn't know what the hell they were talking about, except, I learned very rapidly, of course. I learned what condoms were. We never called them condoms, rubbers.
KP: In many ways, you have probably looked back and said that you were very innocent going in.
NS: Extraordinarily innocent, really.
KP: You said you were put in a position where you had to confront it earlier than you might have.
NS: I would never have confronted what I confronted in the Army, never, no way. I just can't conceive of how I could have been in this kind of situation, ever. The men with whom I associated, my squad, let's see, my squad at Camp Blanding, I don't remember any of them, because that was basic training. An interesting thing happened at Camp Blanding, which I recalled recently to a friend. My sergeant came over to me and said, "Shoehalter, when you go into the town, and go to the bars, and hear anybody saying anything, just talking about what's going on at camp, I want you to write it down and send it to this address." He gave me an address of a bank in St. Augustine, no name, nothing. He said, "When you go into town." I never used to go into town. I didn't drink. I wasn't interested in the women. I wanted to get the hell out [of] whatever it was, but, I never went in. I was just scared, I guess that's the word. Then, the sergeant said, "And, if you have nothing to report, I want you to write it down anyhow." So, I used to write in, "I have nothing to report." Finally, they told me my services were no longer needed as a spy. They never said this was spying, but, that's what it was. I don't know who they chose for this, of course. They just said, "Don't tell anybody that you've been given this assignment," and I have no idea why they picked me, but, it was pretty obvious I was a college person and could write. ... But, it was not obvious to them that I was not a drinker or somebody who [went to brothels]. ... It was such a pain in the ass to get into town from Camp Blanding. You'd get on these huge cattle car buses, ... no seats, you had to stand up for God knows how many miles. It was just awful, so hot and muggy. ...
KP: It was pre-air-conditioning Florida.
NS: Oh, it was just awful. It was an open bus. It was like a cattle car, literally. They'd schlep it, you know, somebody with a trailer.
KP: You mentioned, in one of your articles, we saw a little clipping of yours from the Rutgers Alumni Magazine, at one point, that you were one of the lowest of the lows, you were assigned to stretcher.
NS: I was a litter bearer.
KP: Litter bearer detail. Why did you refer to that as the lowest of the low?
NS: Well, I wasn't killing anybody and I wasn't making plans on the next battle. You know, if somebody got hurt, you picked them up and you brought them back. It was not a high paying job. It was just brawn.
LL: How far had you been, before you joined the Army, outside the New Jersey area? Had you traveled much?
NS: Massachusetts was the farthest I'd ever traveled outside of the New Jersey area when I was a kid. Yeah, Massachusetts, Boston.
LL: So, what was your impression of Florida?
NS: It was the ass end of the world. It was just awful. It was flat, and sandy, and chiggers, and humid. It was just awful, it was terrible.
KP: What about the men in this cadre? What were their backgrounds?
NS: They were from an Illinois National Guard group, as far as I [know]. ... Sergeant Tijerena, he was from Texas. Now, he came up from Texas and was part of the cadre. Then, the other two, the other sergeants, I don't remember their names, but, it was an Illinois group that was the cadre for this infantry unit, for the infantry division, the 66th.
KP: What did you think of the native Floridians that you encountered? Did you encounter any?
NS: No, the only one I encountered, we'd go to a rooming house for a weekend or something, you know, stay overnight in St. Augustine. I don't remember any of them. I had no intercourse with these people at all.
KP: You had applied for ASTP and you placed in it, temporarily at least.
KP: Where did you do your ASTP?
NS: Well, there was a thing called a STAR unit, and that was at the Citadel, and that was for a very brief period. Then, they assigned, ... after a battery of tests, we went to the University of Pittsburgh. I enjoyed that very much.
KP: Well, in many ways, it was like going back to college.
NS: Oh, it was, oh, yes, absolutely, and calculus, [I] got an A in calculus, because I could remember everything. DX, DY, but, I have no idea what calculus was all about. [laughter] Absolutely no idea in the world. Had a wonderful geography course. ... My geography was specialized in Pittsburgh, it had nothing to do with anything. Then, there were the kids in that, they were my age, all college people, in this ASTP. They were wonderful. I remember, my bunk mate, he could recite The Rub'aiy'at of Omar Khayy'am. It was wonderful and, you know, you never think of things like this. There was another guy, it was just a terrific experience.
KP: Well, it sounds quite contrary to the experiences you were having in Florida.
NS: Oh, beats shaving assholes, I'll tell you that, or giving shots. I gave a lot of shots. I was very good with a hypodermic needle and very serious about it, you know. You'd always hear, "Watch out for the hook," stuff, but, I was always very careful. We used to sharpen these needles, and clean them, and I was very careful, and I was very good at it, and very sensitive to these kids, ... or these men. I don't know what they were. I learned a lot from Dr. Park about the human body, really. He was a wonderful teacher, a lousy soldier, but, he was a good doctor. ... He taught us a lot, you know, why we did things and the care that should be taken of the human body. We had a lot of guys complaining of foot problems. That was always something that I learned a lot about and when somebody was goldbricking. Geez, I haven't used these terms in years, but, when somebody was just goofing off. Then, ... see, I remember, ... one doctor, and one of the guys who came in with me, were thrown out of the Army for homosexuality.
NS: Yeah, I remember, oh, my gosh. ...
KP: This was where?
NS: This was, must have been in Florida. Yeah, the doctor and the private. They had an affair and they had been discharged.
KP: Was this done quietly or was it done very openly?
NS: Oh, you know, it was very quiet, very quiet, and the only reason I found out about it was through Dr. Park. He and I became very good friends, actually, personal friends. He told me about it. I can't remember these guys names.
KP: Why do you think the military was so hush, hush about it?
NS: Oh, I have no idea. It was just, it was an unnatural act. I think that's the way they thought about it and we don't want to start any problems. So, I think that's what it was, more than anything, although, we never discussed it, never discussed it at all, never talked about homosexuality. [We] talked about getting laid all the time, everyone was talking about that. A lot of it was bravado.
KP: Well, in a sense, being in the medics, by the venereal disease rate, you could sense, what the proportion was of bravado versus the reality.
NS: A lot of it was bravado. The young guys who would get drunk, might get laid, and pay for it. In Pittsburgh, at the ASTP, ... I think it was just dating. ...
KP: Well, it sounds like it was a much more innocent world.
NS: Oh, yes, yeah. I used to date a high school woman and ... she was a senior in high school. It was a wonderful relationship and it was really, terribly innocent. It was lovely, it really was. We corresponded throughout the war. I got a Dear John letter from her, but, anyhow, it was innocence, really innocence.
KP: How long did you stay at Pittsburgh and what do you think of the university and Pittsburgh itself?
NS: Pittsburgh was a wonderful city for soldiers. Oh, God, it was so great. We were right across the street from a Jewish community center, so, Sunday mornings, when we could sleep late and didn't have any formations, the community center would have fresh eggs and toast, no bacon, but, it was just a wonderful group of people. They were so wonderful. We used to get tickets to, I remember listening to Ezio Pinza. He had a concert there and they used to give us free tickets to the shows in downtown. We were just above Forbes Field, but, it was the winter time, so, we never saw a baseball game. The people in Pittsburgh were very nice. They'd see a soldier, and stop, and pick us up if we were walking. Street cars were free for soldiers or anybody in uniform. They were wonderful.
KP: It seems like it was a very friendly town.
NS: Oh, I had a wonderful time in Pittsburgh, really, a great time. I was only there until, maybe, February or March of forty ...
NS: Four, yeah.
KP: So, did you finish out a semester there?
NS: I guess so.
KP: It sounds like you did, but, just barely.
NS: I couldn't care less, but, I do remember taking calculus and geography. I don't remember anything else.
LL: How would you say your experiences at Pittsburgh compared to, say, your experiences at Rutgers?
NS: Oh, I was prepared for Pittsburgh. I knew what an education meant. I was really a lousy math student here, but, the calculus helped me a great deal in Pittsburgh. The basic stuff that I got here at Rutgers helped me a great deal to understand the math later that I would be involved with. The instruction was very good, as a matter-of-fact. It was regimented though. I don't remember too much about it. ... We had homework, and we wrote papers, and stuff like that. I kept thinking about the other guys who were in language courses or ...
KP: You were in engineering?
NS: I was in engineering, yeah. I couldn't figure out why. Still, to this day, I've never used it, of course. Then, I left Pittsburgh and went to the 95th Infantry Division.
KP: How much of a shock was it when they, one day, announced, and I assume that in Pittsburgh, like a lot of other places, they announced that the ASTP is being disbanded, you guys were all going into the infantry?
NS: Well, no, not all of us went to infantry.
NS: A lot of us went to Air Corps. It was inevitable. The Army moves in mysterious ways and whatever they said, "Okay, so, stop this, do what we want." It was pretty obvious what was happening though. I mean, the North African campaign was moving along. There was no talk about invasions, or anything like that, that I'm aware of. I didn't think much about the war. I really wasn't attuned to what was going on there. I knew things were happening, but, I never thought that I would be involved with shooting people or being involved with people who were being shot. [I] never fired a gun, incidentally.
KP: Really, in your whole time in the Army?
NS: Three and a half years [and I] never shot a gun.
KP: Even in training?
NS: Even in training. Maybe eight rounds with an ... M-1, I guess the M-1, the long rifle, not the [short one]. What was the short one called? The Garand?
KP: I am not sure.
NS: Okay, the M-1 was the one, I guess. I remember, I was lefty, so, the sergeant didn't know what the hell to do with me.
KP: You left ASTP, probably, with a great deal of sadness?
NS: No, not ASTP, I left because it was ...
KP: No, I mean, you would have preferred to have stayed, I think. Would you have preferred to stay?
KP: You did not feel ...
NS: I didn't feel any great bonds to the University of Pittsburgh at all. I wanted to be with the people I'd been associating with for the past four or five months. Really, that was a shock, when ... a guy got assigned to the Air Corps and I was going off to an infantry division. I don't remember his name, I don't remember any of those guys that well. I can see their faces. One guy had terrible acne. He always had a big, blue spot on his nose, right here, a spot over here, kid from Philadelphia. Don't remember their names. Anyhow, but, it was not a big shock. I was sad about leaving Roberta, that was her name, Bert, but, you know, it wasn't where I was contemplating marriage or anything like that. It was just, so, the Army moves you, you go. ... That's why I'm not a great leader of men, I guess. [laughter] Or, wasn't at the time.
KP: You were back in an infantry division.
KP: A different one.
NS: At a different one.
KP: What were the differences between divisions? Did you have any sense of that or was it all the same?
NS: It was just the Army. I had a job to do, I knew what my job was. I was a company aid man. This is where we had our team of four guys, whose names are indelible in my mind. There's George Kelley, John Cope, and Jerry Goldberg. Those were the three guys on my squad.
KP: What do you remember about their backgrounds coming in? Where were they from?
NS: ... George Kelly was from a little town on the eastern slope of Colorado. If I saw a map, I could tell you the name of it, because it's the first stop in Colorado off of one of the routes. He was married to, Ada. He had some college background, George did, Kelley, George Kelley. Goldberg was also a student, I think from NYU, but, I'm not sure. John Cope was the mysterious guy and with whom I had very little truck. He was from outside of Pittsburgh. Where did they discover oil? ...
NS: Titusville, up in that area, in the north-western part of Pennsylvania. I don't know what his background was. Apparently, he was college also. We had a very educated group in our squad. This was the litter squad and we were all company aid men, of course. At the time, we all trained and carried morphine and bandages. ... That was when we were qualifying for overseas. We were at Indian Town Gap, Pennsylvania, and doing a twenty-five mile forced march with everything, ninety pounds, on our back. That was rough, and then, we did mountain maneuvers, mountain training, in West Virginia. ... It was on June the 6th, 1944 that we found out that the invasion had taken place and we were in West Virginia. Then, I knew we were going to be [sent over]. ... There was a guy named [General] Mark Clark, who was at the Rapido River, in Italy, and I thought, "That's where we would [be] going. We're going to fight in the Alps," because they were giving us mountain training.
KP: Which, you would think, makes sense.
NS: Sure. ... I remember "capturing" the town of Davis [&] Elkins, West Virginia, and we were way on top of a bluff and we had to evacuate a guy. This was all the maneuvers, down this mountain, and across a river, and up the other side. We had to build everything. We had to build a sledge to carry the stretcher. It's the first time I remember having a duck feather sleeping bag, wonderful, so warm. It was so freakin' cold out there in West Virginia. We did those maneuvers, and I thought, "Well," and then, of course, the rumors were always, "They're giving us summer stuff, so, we're going to the Pacific," and all, you know, the routine stuff, all rumors, all rumors. We knew we were going overseas, but, we didn't know where. Nobody would say anything, of course, but, when we had the twenty-five mile hike, and the maneuvers, and then, we moved out.
KP: Where did you move out from?
NS: From Indian Town Gap to Boston, port of embarkation, to a place called Camp X, on my birthday, July 22nd. I remember being on the train. We didn't know where we were going, had no idea where we were going, and we landed at Camp X. I guess it was called Camp John Alden, but, they said you were in Camp X and, "You're not to communicate with anybody, there will be no mail," and all that scary stuff. We came there by train. I had no idea where I was, but, then, I heard somebody say we were in Rhode Island. I had relatives thirty miles away in Attleboro. So, we had a night off, and I went to Attleboro, and I met my cousins. [I] called them up, said, "I'm coming out." I met my cousins and swore them to secrecy. I said, "Don't call anybody for three weeks, at least three weeks, and then, you can call my mother and father and tell them you saw me." Then, we left. We left from Boston. I don't know the date. It was some time early August.
KP: Did you get seasick on the voyage over?
NS: I've gotta tell you this story. This is a wonderful story. We were on the USS West Point, and we were loaded into ... the bowels of the ship, and eight high, stinking, smelling, the latrines swishing back and forth. I got so sick, awful, just dreadful, and I begged my sergeant, I remember, Sergeant Tijerena, "Sergeant, I gotta go top side, I'm so sick." He said, "You can't go top side, you know, you get lost there. There are twelve thousand guys on here. You can't go upstairs." I threw up in the latrine, and came back, and the sweating was awful, just dreadfully ill. [I was] so sick and I said, "Sergeant, I gotta go topside." He said, "All right, go topside, remember where you are." So, I get up top side, fresh air, and I look out, and we're still tied up to the dock. It was a traumatic experience. That, too, was traumatic. Then, about an hour or two later, we took off, out of Boston.
KP: How much of the voyage did you stay above deck, or try to stay above deck?
NS: Well, it was a constant, almost all the time, except, they made you go below decks, because they would wash off the decks in the middle of the night, the marines would. ... The mess line kept going. There were twelve thousand of us on board. You started at six o'clock in the morning, you stood in line and, finally, had breakfast, and then, you washed out your things, and, by that time, another line would start for lunch. It was, I don't remember it well, I remember, the blackness of night and the phosphorescence of the water. Oh, God, that was gorgeous, just beautiful.
KP: You were on light restriction, so, you really did not get to see much.
NS: Oh, yeah, there was no lights. They had double doors. I remember, before you could go out to the outer deck, you had to close the first door, and then, go out. ... It was black. It was blacker than a hundred midnights down in a cypress swamp, as the poet says. It was black and it was beautiful. ... Then, during the days, you'd watch for the porpoises jumping, coming alongside the ship. Then, about the fifth or sixth day out, a plane came over and there was that. We always had drills, of course. We were always wearing life jackets. All of us wore life jackets all the time. Incidentally, I didn't get seasick. No, it was just when we were tied up.
KP: That one time?
NS: Yeah. I guess you'd put that one up to stress. ... A plane came over and we saw British markings on it. ... Am I keeping you awake?
KP: No, no.
NS: It's the afternoon, you want to take a nap? Then, we knew we were getting close and we landed at Liverpool. [It was] the middle of the night. We got on to that little, dinky train. ... Looking out the window in the morning as the sun came up, and you saw all the gardens, right down to the track, you know, and you thought immediately of that wonderful phrase, "This tight little island." I remember that very, very clearly. Green, wonderful, just so beautiful. We landed at a place near Winchester, Camp ... it begins with an A. (Andover) Winchester, and, when I looked at a map, I noticed that we were near Stonehenge. This was at the time of the buzz bombs. So, I had that initiation. That was the first time I'd heard these things. I heard them going over, and then, they said, "If it stops, fall down." This was war. Now, I knew I was in the Army and mortal. I had a chance to go to London and stayed at a USO in London. I wish I could remember where.
KP: What did you think of wartime London?
NS: ... [I] didn't get around that much, actually. I remember being on the train going in from Winchester into London. ... I was awed. There were two or three of us walking down the street and coming at us was a general and some colonels. I'd never seen a general before. We walked right past without saluting. A colonel came up to us and chewed us out unmercifully. It was an accident. ... I didn't have any excuse, you know, my God, because we were constantly saluting anything.
KP: Even on leave, you would salute?
NS: Oh, absolutely. London, I mean it was wartime. I don't remember too much of London, honestly.
KP: Did you get to meet any of the English while you were there?
NS: No, never, nope. We were there very briefly. I might have been there a day, and then, we were called back, and then, we went over. I guess, I have no idea how long it was that we were in England, frankly. ...
KP: But, you never got enough time to go to a pub or anything?
NS: Oh, no, no, no.
KP: Did you do any additional training in England?
NS: You know, that's a good question. I don't think so, I don't think so. I think we were just waiting, just waiting for ships. Our division went over in dribs and drabs. I remember being on a little road, in back on one of those big army trucks, and seeing thatched roofed houses on this [road]. ... That was quite an experience for me. I had no idea that we were so close to Stonehenge. [I] went to Winchester, and went to a movie, and we saw Gone With the Wind.
KP: Had you seen it before?
NS: Oh, yeah, I'd seen it before, but, it was a movie. Then, I was so taken by the English, waiting at [when] the film was over, singing, "God Save the King."
KP: At the end of the movie?
NS: At the end of the movie, yeah. That was very touching, but, again, this was very murky in my mind now. I remember going over on the Channel in a stinky little boat, and climbing down on the ropes to get into a lighter, and that took us onto Omaha Beach, and then, being set up in an orchard. Our division was part of the Red Ball Express. I never had anything to do with that. I was strictly with the medics, but, a lot of our guys became truck drivers, all of a sudden, on this vast movement. So, that must have been August, or, yeah, it was August. ... Patton was moving ... toward Metz and didn't make it, or made it, but, didn't do anything. He was waiting for me. Then, I remember ... drinking cognac, not [cognac], calvados. One of the kids drank a hell of a lot of it and defecated and urinated in his tent for two days. He was just out, completely sacked out, just didn't know what had happened to him. He was a mess, but, we were in this orchard and I have no idea what was happening around us at all. Apparently, the Falais Gap was going on at this time. I do remember there was news that Paris had fallen. I don't remember when that was, though, but, I knew that Paris had fallen. Then, I thought, "Geez, how far is it to Germany? How far to Berlin?"
KP: So, in other words, I almost get the sense that there was some anxiety here and a hope that the war would end before you really needed to go in?
NS: Absolutely, absolutely. There was always anxiety.
KP: When you look at the chronology of war, you think that the war is pretty much over by the end of 1944, but, what I have really relearned from doing this project is, really, much of the hardest fighting had only just begun.
NS: Yeah, I haven't even gotten to that part yet.
KP: Well, I read your story in the Class of '44 book.
NS: Yeah, but, that's only a tiny bit. That's really only a tiny, tiny, tiny bit. Even that was truncated and edited.
KP: When did you finally learn that you were going up to the line, that the war had really arrived for you?
NS: I never thought it was going to happen, quite frankly. ... I knew it was happening when we were on trucks, and they off loaded us on the trucks, and I saw the Fifth Division coming my way, and we were going that way, and there was noise in front, and it was dark, and I saw these guys, these were veterans, these had been guys who had been [in combat.] ... I wish I remembered where I was.
KP: When you said they were veterans, why did you just sense that? By their look, by their dress?
NS: Yeah, just the way they carried themselves. Bent over, unshaven, dirty, no joy, no expression in their faces at all, just sheer, "Thank God I'm out of this, but, there's more." ... Us fresh troops, you know, saying, "Hey, what's it like, you know?" and no response, no response at all. It was always silent, because we were right there. We were literally yards away.
KP: You got up to the line and what was that actually like, being in position?
NS: Scary, it was scary. It was dark, and I was in a hole in the ground, and I knew the perimeter was right out there. Our guys were out there for the first time. I heard the Burp guns going off. I thought, "Jesus, don't do that, don't do that, they're going to fire back," and then, the joke about they killed a cow. There were tin cans on the wire, so, if you heard the tin cans rattling, you knew someone was coming in over the barbed wire. I was scared. I was alone in the hole. I didn't know who was over there. I didn't know where Kelley was, or Cope was, I didn't know where Goldberg was. I was in my own hole in the ground. Somebody had dug it.
KP: As a medic, where did you stay in relationship to your unit?
NS: Right with them.
KP: Right with them?
NS: Yeah, right with them. I was assigned to a platoon, so, I was the last guy in the platoon. The next morning, something had happened during the night, ... my captain, Haynes, said I should come up to the tent, to the medical battalion, which was the medical battalion tent, a couple of yards away, and I did. We were behind a berm. The medics were over here and I went out, I remember. It's when I first saw my first bodies. Never saw a dead body before. I loaded them on a jeep, on a litter, helped carry them onto the litter. Don't know who they were, but, they were ours. I remember that very distinctly.
KP: Why had you been summoned to the tent?
NS: To help carry the bodies. Yeah, help load them.
KP: Do you think you were brought there to sort of toughen you up or was it just that you literally were needed?
NS: No, I was needed. Just needed another body. When I tell you about the lowest of the low, I'm not kidding. The guys with the rifles were important. They were doing something, but, ... we did this.
KP: Did you ever wish you were in the rifle company?
NS: Oh, God, no. No way, no way. No.
KP: Not that you were exactly out of harm's way, to say the least.
NS: No, no, but, no, I never had any desire to be an infantryman. I had a terrible fear of being called to go out on a patrol. Ever since Camp Blanding, I suppose, when we were, you know, just put out into the swamp, and we had to find our way back as part of the training, I was scared to death about this experience. It was just awful, just terrible.
KP: When did you encounter your first casualty that you had to treat or carry back? Do you remember? How soon was it after you were up at the line?
NS: It was very close, it was close, it was close. Can't give you an exact time. I know the kid's foot was blown off. That was a shock to me, because it wasn't bleeding. Just shot off, no shoe, nothing, just a foot shot off. I remember hitting him with morphine, telling him how lucky he was, he got that million dollar wound. Stuck the tags on him, the tag that said we had given him morphine, looked for other injuries. He said he didn't have anything. He was awake, and we shipped him off, we carried him off, put him on a jeep, and sent him back. God, there was a lot of them. I can't tell you about the first one, I don't remember.
KP: You were to have quite a baptism of fire. Was that the story you wrote in the Class of '44 military book?
NS: No, no, my baptism of fire was earlier than the Metz incident, when we were cut off for five days.
[Mr. Shoehalter has authorized the Rutgers Oral History Archives of World War II to include the following material at this point. Mr. Shoehalter notes that, "what follows is the original material (unedited) of the story that appears in The Class of 1944 [Military] Book."]
November 17, 1994 marks the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the French city of Metz from German occupation. History books give scant mention of this pivotal American infantry assault. One volume listed in a World War II bibliography refers to the "unknown battle for Metz." The official Army history of the 95th Division, with which I fought in Metz, is straightforward and dispassionate, as military histories tend to be. Yet my memories of the surrounding events are as searing today as they were a half-century ago.
I enlisted in the Army in November '42 while still an undergraduate at Rutgers University -- 19 years old and remarkably innocent. My first taste of active combat came nearly two years later, in October of '44, when my division, the 95th, was charged with the capture of Metz and surrounding areas.
My family had saved all the letters I'd written home, letters with only vague references to my location ("somewhere in France") and full of reassurances to keep up their morale. In reading these letters for the first time just recently, I was overwhelmed by memories that I could never have shared with them. The horror and fear came rushing back. I cried as I read my letters as I was never able to cry when I wrote them. I remembered what it was like to walk in a permanent stoop, a kind of running lope, the better to hit the ground at the first sound of 88s or rifle and burp-gun enemy fire. The single thought was to find places that offered protection from enemy shells, a hole in the ground, a tree to hide behind, a fold in the earth.
Before my first exposure to active combat, I had naively assumed that fighting stopped at nightfall, to resume again only at daybreak. I soon learned that warfare is incessant and omnipresent; that the relentless din of artillery, rifle fire, and machine guns knows no timetable.
Our first encounter with the front line came when we were assigned to replace the Fifth Division regiments. We were dropped off at the front by a black soldier truck outfit. This was our jumping off point. I was a Company Aid man/litter bearer in an infantry division. That meant under the Geneva Convention I was not permitted to carry arms; all I had along with the three other members of the litter squad were morphine needles, lots of bandages, and sulfa powder, no weapon.
The men we were relieving trooped wordlessly past, haggard, slumped, with glazed expressions. Their weapons were slung casually, their uniforms were filthy, they carried nothing more than their ammo belts, and a raincoat. The only ruptures of the eerie stillness were the whooshing sounds of men walking and an occasional clink of metal as a rifle brushed against a helmet. The transfer was accomplished in total darkness and silence; the silence was essential because we were but a few yards away from the Germans, a few yards!
Someone in command of our outfit must have known exactly where we were to be placed in the line because there was no confusion as the members of the Fifth Division passed us and we took their places. I expected banter from the departing soldiers just like in the movies, a grin, a wisecrack, then on to the job of getting the war over with. Our silence was the silence of fear, where are the Germans, how many of them are there, where will I sleep, why is there shooting at this hour? Look at those tracer bullets! Why is it so dark? Who am I following in this vast night as we move into position? Is it Kelley, Goldberg?
Our foxholes and deep trenches were already prepared by the companies we replaced. The barbed wire in front of us was strung with cans and pieces of metal that would make a sound if anyone tried to come through it. There was some kind of comfort knowing that ours were so-called "safe" positions, yet we could hear the enemy close by.
The morning after our entry into the line I was called on to help load three bodies of our men who were killed the night of our commitment. It was the first time in my life I had ever seen a dead body, the stiffness, the torn olive drab covering the fatal wounds, all this was new and horrifying.
Our first attack assault on the German pillbox (not far from Metz) was launched from a crossroads in the tiny French village of Gravelotte. I remember the barn, it looked like a store, where we were assembled at night before the attack. I see the infantry guys lying around cleaning their weapons, some are writing, some are sleeping, there is no conversation as each of us, scared, prepare for the attack. I remember hearing the field telephone ring, and fearing that it might be from one of our platoons reporting an injury we'd have to go out and attend to. It was. And the four of us, in the blackest of nights, took off with our litter and only a vague description of where the injured man lay. The Very lights illuminated the modest homes of the town and cast an otherworldly silvery light on the scene; we froze in position in order not to be seen.
Early the following morning, in the cold darkness, we assembled at the crossroads and turned right, behind some houses, to find a place where we would "jump off" across a field to our objective.
On our left and right flanks were other companies who had been assigned to neutralize the bunkers that had been impeding our forward progress in the capture of Metz. We were told later that that city had never been conquered in 2000 years and that it was in Metz that General Patton had been stopped in early September, when he ran out of gas and ammunition for his tanks.
We were in the woods, at the edge of the open field that we would have to cross to get to our objective, a bunker in a line of bunkers that were erected to protect Metz from capture. The assault started hours before dawn with an awesome artillery attack. We knew about these "rolling barrages" from the "Why We Fight" training films. Outgoing shells fell in front of us and at our flanks, whistling closely over our heads. At no time were we told what to expect, artillery, incoming fire, woods, fields, nothing. As the hissing shells exploded with deafening roars, I remember thinking that if they hit a tree here in the woods, we'd be goners, dispatched by our own artillery fire.
Then, for some unfathomable reason, in the midst of this ferocious barrage, I had a vivid image of a phonograph album in the window of the Rivoli Music Shop on George Street in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where I went to college. The jacket of that album read "Komm Susse Todt" -- "Come, Sweet Death!" I remember thinking, hoping, that someday I would be telling somebody about this strange distraction in the middle of my first battle.
As it got lighter and the firing from our artillery ended, I could see from my prone position the banker which was our objective. Rifle fire spewed from its ports, and we returned the fire, "buttoned them up." Then two of our men rushed up to the bunker's steel door and fastened "bangalore" plastic around it. When the device exploded, it blew the door from its hinges. A handful of enemy soldiers came out of the bunker and were led away with their hands up. Our platoon and our company had met our objective. The other companies didn't fare as well. They were repulsed by the German fire and had to retreat to Gravelotte.
I remember standing up and running like hell to get to the safety of the bunker and then getting the call that one of our guys had been wounded and needed help. We had to go out and get him and fix him up.
We lived in that pillbox for four days, without food or fresh water, and cut off from our division. One of our wounded died there for lack of blood. We were reduced to drinking our own urine that we "purified" with halogen tablets. We drank the water that we pissed, that seeped through the ceiling of the bunker from a room above us.
It was outside this same bunker that I was shot at, even though I had the Red Cross brassard on my arm and Red Cross on my helmet. I was outside searching for some plasma that an artillery spotter plane had dropped in response to our earlier radio call for medical supplies. I remember seeing the parachuted material coming down and then the firing of the burp-guns as the plane circled. The plasma arrived, but we could not inject it because we couldn't find a vein he was so bloated. We tried everything, an arm, the ankle, his neck. I can still hear the burbling sounds as he drowned in his own fluid. Our patient died crying piteously for "momma."
On the morning of the fourth day, we were ordered to leave the bunker and head directly East. We were to be on an attack along with the rest of the 95th Division to take Metz. We left the bunker and as we were descending a hill, we could hear a horse drawn wagon approaching. It was manned by two soldiers and pulling an artillery piece. Since we were in a superior position it was easy for the infantry guys to kill the soldiers and the horses. There were no other attacks. I remember too, that when we got to our objective, a small farmhouse, we scrounged for something to eat. There was nothing there but root vegetables and a big bottle of red wine. We also got news that we would be getting a hot meal, something that we rarely got when we were in position.
The attack on the city began early the next morning, the black night again, not knowing where we were and what was expected of us. Fortunately for our Company it was surprisingly easy except that just before the attack one of our officers was shot through the head and killed. It was just getting light and his helmet with the gold bar on it was an easy target for a sniper.
Several of the forts surrounding the city had been abandoned and those that were still occupied we effectively suppressed. Our exploits were chronicled in the daily press. "3rd Army Completes Seizure of Metz--Nazi Line Falls Apart Around Sarrebourg."
Clippings from The New York Times, which I read decades later, reported that the capture of Metz opened the way to the Saar River and the coal producing areas around Saarlautern and other cities in the Seigfried Line. Missing from these reports are the notices of the numbers of men killed and wounded.
History books give short shrift to the Metz operation. The contemporary accounts in the press have long been forgotten. All that remains are the memories of those men from the 95th who were there and who have yet to tell of their exploits. Actually, since this was written, there have been several volumes about the Battle for Metz, one by an Englishman and the other by a retired English professor at San Francisco State, who was in my battalion but in "F" company. I was attached to "B" and "C" of the 379th Infantry Regiment of the 95th Division. He was wounded at Metz and writes of his being in a shell hole for three days and finally being captured by the Germans and treated for his wounds before the Americans took the town where he was hospitalized.
[This marks the end of the added material and the resumption of Mr. Shoehalter's oral history interview.]
KP: What was your first real taste of combat?
NS: Well, it was going into line and relieving the Fifth Division.
KP: How long were you stationary? When did you get your first really significant batch of casualties?
NS: Well, stationary, we were picking up kids who were hit, mortar fire, .88s, that's about the first time. Then, we were in the Maginot line, I guess this was in the Maginot line, the ruins of the Maginot line. ... You know, you are asking me these things Kurt, and I have a history of the division, and I have never had the courage to read it.
NS: Yup. I got up to page twelve and that was it. I don't know.
KP: Especially in the beginning of getting into the line, did you see many cases or know of any cases of self inflicted wounds?
NS: Yes, yeah, it came later.
KP: Really? It did not come initially?
NS: No, no. It came later. It was in a place called Saarlautern. I'd heard about catatonics and stuff like that, but, this was a kid that shot his toe off. That happened and this was, ... well, I was in the line for about ninety days. In the front, all the time, in harm's way all the time, ninety days, and it was really extraordinarily stressful. For some, for this kid, it was. This one kid shot his toe off. Another one went into a catatonic state. I'll never forget that, never forget that. [I can] see him sitting there in his uniform, just ...
KP: Just hunched up?
NS: Just hunched up and in that womb position. It was awful.
KP: Early on, did anyone in the unit break and run?
NS: No, no.
KP: Initially, you did not have any combat fatigues.
NS: Oh, no, no, no, not at all, no, not that I'm aware of, no. The only casualties were wounds.
KP: As a medic, I would imagine you often felt very frustrated, because, although American medicine had advanced quite a bit since the Civil War, you still had rather primitive tools to work with.
NS: I was not a doctor. All I did was shove a bandage on a kid's gaping guts, tie it, throw in sulfanilamide. God, I haven't heard that word in years. Give them a shot, if it were necessary. That's all, and get them out, just get them out. Treat as many as you could and get them out, but, ... I had no idea what was happening back in battalion or in regiment. No idea, didn't care.
KP: Could you always get to everyone who needed help? When could you not get to people who needed help? When were you overwhelmed by the number of casualties? Do you remember?
NS: No, once you got to somebody, there was always somebody around next to them who was also hit. So, I treated everybody who was within sight.
KP: You never had the situation where two people were wounded, and you could only get to one, and you had to make a decision?
NS: I didn't do triage.
KP: Most people I have interviewed, although there have been exceptions, in rifle companies, really spoke very fondly of their medics.
NS: I wish I could remember them.
KP: What was your sense of that relationship?
NS: I have no idea how they thought of us. They would call, that's all. They would just yell, "Medic, medic."
KP: So, it sounds like you really bonded with your fellow medics, rather than with your platoon.
NS: Oh, no, oh, no. Once we were company aid people, we were with the platoon. We knew the seven or eight guys in the platoon. When we were called as litter bearers, then, yeah, we were a group there. Battalion, that would be our headquarters, but, when we were on an attack, I was with my platoon. I was the eighth guy in Germany, at one point. We crossed the Maas River. I was the eighth guy who captured a bridge. It was thrilling. I never want to go through it, but, we got into a rubber boat. I didn't know what the hell I was doing and I was the eighth guy. I counted. I thought, "Someday, I'm going to remember this."
KP: And, that time has come.
NS: That time has come. Well, it's been here before.
KP: You said, when the trucks were coming out, these guys had the look of hardened veterans.
KP: When did your own division start to develop that look?
NS: Almost immediately.
KP: Really? Like within a week?
NS: Oh, yeah. Once you heard the things going off, and the .88s coming in, and ... you smelled the stuff, and you heard the whiz of something, or the artillery going over, you became a veteran, almost immediately, I think so. They didn't bother you to shave. You didn't have to shave.
KP: Well, in fact, a lot of the military discipline just went out the window, in terms of saluting and in terms of a lot of that.
NS: Well, the officers didn't want you to know that, you know. ... At one point, the officers used to have a stripe on their [helmets], the lieutenants used to have a stripe on their helmet. That was a wonderful [target]. It was a target for the snipers. So, they stopped doing that. We stopped wearing the red cross on our [helmets], because I'd been shot at, because I was wearing the red cross. I was a target.
KP: Really? When did you realize that you needed to get rid of the red cross?
NS: When they shot. [laughter]
KP: Because, the white was such a target.
NS: It was a target, yeah. The first time I was really aware of it was in this place called Saarlautern, Saarlouis, [Note: Saarlautern is also called Saarlouis in French. Both names apply to the same border town.] and we had just picked up a kid, and ... there was a church down at that end of the street, and one of our tanks was hidden here, and there was a street, and we had to cross the street. ... I was carrying the flag, the red cross flag, and we had a red cross here, and a red cross on our bvassaad, and I was on the front right-hand side. We got halfway across the street and they started firing at us from the church tower. ... That was the time we stopped. We just got different helmets.
KP: Was this a shock that the red cross not only did not give you any sort of immunity, but, that they were actually, deliberately trying to shoot you. Was this a shock to you?
NS: They wanted to kill us, that's all. It wasn't a shock. They wanted to kill us. They wanted to kill anything that was an American soldier, or a soldier, an enemy soldier. I didn't give it too much thought about why they were doing it. ... You know, I carried a red cross thing, the Geneva Convention, with my picture on it, and so on, which I'll send to you, but, I thought that we would never do a thing like that. I thought we would never do a thing like that, you know. It's wartime.
KP: So, when, say, the Germans wore the red cross, or the flag came out, or the red cross stretcher bearers ...
NS: I never saw anything.
KP: You never saw anything?
NS: No, I never saw anything.
KP: You never saw your German counterparts? There were never any informal truces on the battlefield where both sides would get their wounded?
NS: Not in my experience, no, no.
KP: I would imagine, especially when you were cut off for five days, were you ever worried about the potential of being captured?
KP: And, what that would mean for you?
NS: No. I never thought I'd get captured.
KP: Really? Even when you were sort of surrounded?
NS: Even when we were surrounded, I never had the fear that ...
NS: Yeah, I never had [that fear]. It's interesting you ask that. No.
KP: I partly ask you this because I know several have people raised the issue. One person, who was not Jewish, said he knew of soldiers who were Jewish who would wear other people's dog tags.
KP: In case they were ever caught.
NS: No, no. I'll tell you my story. In a place called Munchen Gladbach, which we came on very rapidly, it was a big city, my job was to find a place where we could set up an aid station. ... The aid station I picked out was a place that had a plate glass window on it and grave stones, marble grave stones. [I thought], "Oh, God, this is secure, because it's got power there." So, I'm not armed, and we're fighting, and there's all kinds of stuff going on in this little town. I rush into this store, and there's nobody there, and I hear voices, and I open up a door, and there's a cellar, and I hear voices. I wanted this place as our aid station. It was beautifully secure, because everything was just right. I ran down the stairs yelling, "Ich bin ein Jude."
KP: What was the response?
NS: That was it, and, fortunately, it was an old man, and an old woman, and a young girl. I just surveyed to see who was there and that, but, that was my gun, "Ich bin ein Jude," and ... this is very painful.
KP: I guess I would like to ask you some mundane questions about being on the line. What did you eat?
NS: K-rations, and when we went into combat, when we were going into an attack, we had a thing called a D-bar, a Hershey chocolate, eight ounces of chocolate. You shoved the K-rations into your shirt, where you kept your dry socks. If you were lucky, you could get to eat them, and, if you were very lucky, you get to heat the wax covered case of the K-ration as your thing, to make your, whatever the hell it was, spam, or spaghetti and meatballs, or that was spaghetti and hot-dogs, whatever it was, to heat them up, but, the food was dreadful.
KP: How many times would you get a hot meal when you were on the line?
KP: Really? Your division never got you hot food?
NS: Well, never is hard to say.
KP: It seems like it was infrequent enough to not stand out.
NS: It was infrequent, it was infrequent. I remember, one time, I got a hold of bread and a number ten can of ketchup, and we looted some onions, and I had an onion sandwich. That was so delicious. Wonderful, Army white bread, which we cut up with a kid's bayonet, but, I don't remember any hot meals at all.
KP: What about hot showers?
KP: Once, you got rotated off for a shower?
NS: Yeah, yup. ... Your pants, you know, they were stiff, dirt and grease. You just stripped down and walked into [the shower]. It was cold, it was November, and you went into this hot shower, and you stayed as long as you like. When you went out, you picked up a shirt, and pants, and underwear, and socks, and shoes.
KP: But, you must have felt like a million bucks.
NS: Oh, it was so wonderful, it was absolutely wonderful. ... I only had one hot shower in ninety odd, some odd ninety days, and it was behind the lines, you know. There was no fears, a wonderful experience. I was amazed that there would be such a unit, but, then again, I was so ignorant and so naive. I didn't know what the hell was going on. I knew there would always be bullets. I knew there would always be a truck waiting for us when we were put off the line. I knew there would always be a jeep to carry the litters out, but, I don't know. Somehow, it would all get there.
KP: You were on the line for ninety days. When did you finally get off?
NS: I was chosen, me and a guy named Williams. We were chosen ... out of a lottery by our chaplain. I went to Paris on the night of December the 16th, 1944.
KP: It was a grateful time to get leave.
NS: Right. We went to the Hotel Gare de l'est and the Germans bombed Eisenhower's train, which was in the Gare de l'est, right down the street from where we were. The next day, that evening, it was cold, rainy and cold. I walked out into Paris and the next ...
----------------------------------- END OF TAPE ONE SIDE TWO--------------------------------------
NS: It's guys like you that cause me a great deal of difficulty. My tape put over that, so, I can read. [laughter] So, the hotel, that night, all of us were told to go back to our units.
KP: So, you only spent one day?
NS: Less than a day in Paris, yeah. ... All rumors, all kinds of rumors about what's going on, I went back through Verdun, [France]. I don't know how I got back to my unit, but, I was stationed, I mean, we were in Germany, in Saarlautern. I don't know how I got back, but, I got back. ... We stayed there until sometime right after the New Year, because I remember the Christmas night we bombed the hell out of [the Germans], tremendous artillery barrage going over and not too much of a return fire. The same thing happened on New Year's Night, New Year's Eve, tremendous artillery. Then, after that, we went out back. Back meaning we went ... north through Luxembourg, up to join the movement of the Bulge, of flattening out the Bulge. That's when we went up to Munchen Gladbach, in that area.
KP: It was frightfully cold during the Battle of the Bulge.
NS: I imagine so.
KP: I mean, that is what people have told me. Do you remember?
NS: I wasn't in the Battle of the Bulge.
NS: It was cold. We had no shoe packs. We had knee length socks, two pair of knee length socks, and our regular combat boots, and they would get wet. We'd take off the socks, put on dry socks, and put the other ones around our body to dry them out, and then, just change them like that. There was a lot of this so-called trenchfoot.
KP: In your unit, how much of the squad came down with trenchfoot, roughly? Was it half the unit?
NS: Oh, I couldn't say, it was a lot. There were a lot of guys who suffered from freezing feet. I didn't. I had frozen feet, among other things. ... It was cold and we didn't have any special [clothing]. We had the Army coat and the jacket, ... not the Eisenhower jacket, but, the other, ... you know what I mean?
KP: Yeah, I cannot remember.
NS: Like a fatigue jacket, I guess it was. Yeah, it was a fatigue jacket. Had a brown sweater with three or four buttons here. We were dapper guys. Just a helmet and a helmet liner, nothing for the ears. I'm trying to remember stuff.
KP: One of the things that people I have interviewed who were in rifle companies said that they often tried to do was, if they ever could, especially in attacking a village, find a basement to sleep in.
KP: Was that a common goal?
NS: Yeah, well, if it wasn't a basement, I remember running under a bed, finding a bed and getting under a bed, with the mattress on top of me. It was that desire to get low. Yeah, whenever we went out, ... our aid stations were always located in basements. At Saarlautern, particularly, I remember that. We were in the back of a house. The houses in Saarlautern were part of the Siegfried line and the walls were very thick. I remember we were fighting room to room, at one point, in Saarlautern. The place where we had our battalion aid station was so secure and it was below ground. It was in a kind of basement, but, we didn't want to get too far down, because, then, it was hard to evacuate from.
KP: When your unit did combat, city fighting or town fighting, would they often blast walls to get at the enemy? Was that a common thing?
NS: We did everything you could, sure. Well, in this house, we were fighting room to room. Outside the town of Saarlautern, there were haystacks. Well, haystacks were just camouflage for gun positions. So, we'd be firing at a haystack. Not we, but, I mean ...
NS: Not me. I didn't shoot.
KP: It kind of sounds like you were really glad you did not have to shoot. Is that correct, or would you have if they had issued you a rifle?
NS: I wouldn't want to kill anybody.
NS: No, no. I think I say that in retrospect. At the point, at one point, I suppose, those sons of bitches ...
KP: If they had given you a rifle, at that moment, you might have fired?
NS: I don't think I would have fired.
KP: Although it has been very controversial, Army historians sort of made the argument that, in fact, a huge number of people felt like you and would not fire their guns in battle. Did you encounter or observe any of that?
NS: No, no.
KP: Everyone in your squad pretty much fired their rifles?
NS: It felt good, I imagine, to shoot a gun. No. Yeah, I saw that story in the paper the other day.
KP: It sounds like you are a little skeptical of that.
NS: I'm a little skeptical. You fire your gun, because, in my war, anyhow, you did that because it felt good, I guess.
KP: When you were invading Germany, what did you think of the German people?
NS: Never saw any.
NS: The only ones were my people in Munchen Gladbach.
KP: That was one of your few encounters?
NS: That was my only encounter.
NS: I never saw any Germans, none, none at all. [I] saw some prisoners. Young kids, they were just youngsters, I mean, younger than me.
NS: A terrible thing happened. ... My captain, in our battalion aid station, had, I forget, two or three youngsters, Germans, sitting in our aid station. We were bringing in casualties. The captain said, "Take them out and shoot 'em. Take them out and shoot' em," and they did. It was awful. He murdered them.
KP: Just like that?
NS: Just like that, in the heat of [combat]. You know, our guys were getting beat up. We were under stress and these three kids were taken out by infantrymen and shot.
NS: Just like that. No, I can't prove this.
NS: But, it happened. Yeah, Captain Haynes.
KP: Did that shock you? It sounds like that really shocked you?
NS: Of course, of course, because, if it happened to them, it could happen to me.
KP: Yeah. Did that blur any of the lines?
NS: I wanted to get the hell out of there. That's all. We wanted it to be over already. I mean, this was late. This was January-February that this happened. We'd been in too long. I mean, this ... was a long time we'd been [in]. ... It shouldn't have happened to any human being, should not happen to a human being.
KP: Were there any other cases of prisoners being shot?
NS: Not that I know of.
KP: What about Germans? Could you see when Germans tried to surrender while you were advancing?
NS: No, no. When we were going fast, they would come up with their, "Hander hoch," and we'd just send them back. There'd always be a rifleman with them and he would just send them back. I don't know what happened to them after that. They landed at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.
KP: When did you first start to talk about the war? It sounds like you did not talk about it for years afterwards.
NS: I still have not talked about it.
KP: You would get the Purple Heart. How did that come about?
NS: I was injured. I don't want to talk about that. What was your question?
KP: Well, one of the questions, it sounds like you only recently started talking about the war.
NS: Oh, yeah. I've been back to Europe several times since the war was over. I never had the courage to go back until about, maybe, four years ago. My wife and I traveled to Holland, and Germany, and France. It's like I had to close a lot of doors. In some places I did, and still, obviously, a lot of them are still ...
NS: I'm sorry, but, I can't go on with this.
KP: No, that's okay, that's fine. This concludes an interview with Mr. Nathan Shoehalter on October 16, 1995, with Kurt Piehler and ...
LL: Linda Lasko.
[Note: After the interview, Mr. Shoehalter left the room weeping and walked down College Avenue.]
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Reviewed by Bojan Stefanovic 9/25/99
Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 9/26/99
Reviewed by Sandra Stewart Holyoak 10/2/99
Reviewed by Nathan Shoehalter 10/99