Kurt Piehler: This begins an interview with D. Robert Mojo in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on November 25, 1994, with Kurt Piehler. I would like to begin by asking you a few questions about your parents.
D. Robert Mojo: Fine.
KP: Your family originally came from Spain, but, your father was born in Italy.
RM: Way back in the 11th or 12th Century. [laughter]
KP: Oh, that far back?
RM: Yes, but, no, my father was born in Italy and came to this country when he was twelve years old, by himself. ... My mother's father came to this country when he was nine, by himself. ... At the time that he came over, there was a plague going through Spain, and his parents took him to the ship's captain, who was going to America, and said, "Get him out of here [laughter] and put him wherever you can when you get to America," to escape this plague that they were having. So, he arrived at age nine in New York City. The ship's captain knew a grocer and he put him in the care of the grocer. The grocer gave him a job, and when he realized that he could write well, made him the bookkeeper, and that's how he started his career in the United States.
KP: Your father came over without his family.
RM: Yes, my father came over [alone]. His brother ... had come here earlier, but, he came over by himself, and then, met his brother.
KP: Did any other members of his family come over?
RM: Yes, eventually, ... some of his brothers and sisters came over.
KP: Did his parents ever come over?
RM: His mother did. ... I met his mother. For about three or four years, [I] knew her, but, she spoke no English, and so, there was not too much communication there. [laughter]
KP: Did your father attend high school in the United States?
KP: Where did he go to high school?
RM: In New York City, public school. ... Well, go ahead.
KP: No, please, continue.
RM: I was going to say, then, eventually, he began to travel. He and his brother formed a company, in the hosiery line, and ... they both traveled throughout South America and the Caribbean. ... My father arrived in Cuba, one time, and met my mother's father, and my mother's father invited him to the house, and that's how my mother ... and he met, initially, and they lived in Cuba until I was five years old. ... Then, we moved to the United States, just as the Depression was starting. ... When we arrived in the United States, we were in New York City for about six months, and then, moved to northern New Jersey, West Orange, specifically, and that's where I went to school, all the way from grammar school on up ... through high school.
KP: When did your parents first meet? You mentioned that they were in Havana.
RM: In Havana.
KP: Was it before or after World War I?
RM: That's a good question.
KP: You were born in 1923.
RM: Yes, it was after.
KP: Do you have any memories of Cuba?
RM: My earliest memory is, at age three, believe it or not, they had one of the most severe hurricanes that ever hit Cuba. ... I still have a couple of mental pictures of looking out the front door, and seeing the water about three or four feet deep, and ... [seeing] one of our dogs trying to swim from the garage, where they had put him, to the house, ... and then, just in general, seeing the effects of the storm on the palm trees and everything else, including the vegetation that was blown out. I still have that mental picture, [laughter] sixty-seven years later, yes.
KP: Do you remember anything else about your early childhood in Cuba?
RM: Yes, mostly various scenes. One thing that ... was very vivid, and still is, I remember that we took an automobile trip. We had a chauffeur, and the chauffeur drove us out into the country. I forget now where they were going, whether they were sightseeing or if they had a specific target, but, they finally passed what was then Camp Columbia, which was a United States base, Army base, and ... I forget what I saw, but, I can remember looking at it and being so impressed that this was the United States Army post, and then, shortly after, the car continued on to a village. ... There was a traveling circus in that village, and, as we approached from the main street, going down to the center of the village, there was an elephant that, apparently, ... had become enraged over something and he was trumpeting and walking backwards. ... Our driver was, I guess, transfixed by this scene, and he just kept going towards this elephant that was going backwards, and came within several, I don't know whether it was ... twenty or thirty, feet of it, and I can remember the fright in everybody in that car, including myself. [laughter] I was probably about four or five years old at the time. ... My mother or someone screamed, and that shook the chauffeur into action, and he put on the brakes and backed up, and that little vignette is with me for the rest of my life.
KP: When your father was based in Cuba, was he still operating his own business?
RM: Well, no. He became the representative for Underwood Typewriter in Cuba ... and that's what he did during the time that I was alive and kicking. [laughter]
KP: He was the Underwood representative. What did that entail?
RM: He was the manager in charge of the Underwood operation there.
KP: Was Underwood involved in some kind of manufacturing in Cuba?
RM: No, I don't believe so, but, they had an office there.
KP: Your mother was born in Trenton. Her family was from New Jersey.
RM: Right. ... I'm going to have to be very careful here, because it's a little hazy in my mind, but, my mother's father was born in Spain, and he eventually went to Trenton to live with a relative of some kind, I'm not just sure who it was, but, he, at the time, was the publisher of the Trenton paper. It was called the Trentonian, I think. ... That's all I remember about their being in Trenton, but, my mother was about ... one or two years old ... when her father decided to [move]. He heard that there were great opportunities in Cuba and decided to pack up ... and move to Cuba. He had not had much schooling, I guess. ... I don't know how much schooling, but, it wasn't a great deal, and he went down to Cuba, and, before it was all over, he had amassed a pretty good fortune. He built just about every bridge and highway that there was in Cuba, and that they're still using to this day, and he also had the largest furniture store in ... Havana and had other operations that I've long since forgotten, or I would have to look up. ... He became very successful and ... had the house built where I was born. It was about thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two rooms. ... [This was] in the good old days, when they had, [as] I mentioned, a chauffeur, a Packard and a Buick, a chief gardener and two assistants, a head cook and two assistants, a downstairs maid, who never went upstairs, and an upstairs maid, who never worked downstairs, you know, that type of thing, and I guess it was a pretty good life, but, I was too young to enjoy it. [laughter]
KP: Your earliest memories are of the big house and the chauffeur.
RM: That's right, and I can show you pictures of it, the few that we have left.
KP: Your mother went to college.
RM: Yes. ... First, she went to a school in Havana, and I assume it was the equivalent of a high school, and then, she went to Mary Baldwin Seminary in ...
RM: Virginia, Roanoke, I think. In fact I know. My wife and I have visited it since, and then, ... to Hollins College. ... She did not graduate, because her father ... became ill then, and she went back to Cuba, and then, never returned, but, I think she was at Hollins about two to two-and-a-half years, and ... had very pleasant memories of her experience at both of those schools.
KP: She also served with the Red Cross for forty years.
RM: She did. [She] began her Red Cross experience in Havana, for the American Red Cross, and was very active from there on out, and, when she came to this country, continued with the chapter in New Jersey, and then, in Oklahoma City, ... when my father died and she came to live in Oklahoma City, where we were, she was production manager [in the] production of bandages and assorted things.
KP: What were her duties? Did her work vary in each place?
RM: Yes, and I'm not too familiar with exactly what she did in the other places. ... She was a production manager of the same type in New Jersey, now that I think about it.
KP: Was she a volunteer?
RM: A volunteer all the way through and she received her forty year pin here, in Oklahoma City, at which I attended the function when she was honored.
KP: Her Red Cross service was very important to her, I imagine.
RM: It was important, and she loved doing things for people, and that's how she was able to do it, you know, where she had hands-on contact with actually making something to help people.
KP: Was she active in any other organizations while you were growing up?
RM: Oh, not particularly. She was an excellent housewife, [laughter] primarily. That was her main activity.
KP: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
RM: No, I did not. [I was] the only spoiled child, the spoiled brat. [laughter]
KP: Your family returned to the United States just as the Great Depression was approaching. Was your father still working for Underwood?
RM: No. At that point, he rejoined his brother and they formed a company called Galatex Incorporated, based in New York City, in the Empire State Building. ... My uncle was a very, very innovative person, and adventurous as well, and he designed anklets for children, with the designs that you see on the cuffs, and ... he was excellent at knowing what colors and what designs would sell in each market that they concentrated on, in South America, in the Caribbean, and Central America, and they would have the hosiery manufactured in mills in the south part of the United States, and Germany, and Italy, and maybe some other countries that I've long since forgotten. ... The hosiery would come from overseas into New York City, go into the Bonded warehouse, and then, it would be repackaged, according to the orders that came in from the South American market, and shipped to agents that they had in each country, and it was a very successful venture, and so was the Galatex name. When panhandlers could get hold of the little labels that held a pair together, they could automatically sell any hosiery that they had for ten or fifteen cents more, or a quarter more, whatever, if it had ... that label, that name on it, and so, he did quite well.
KP: How was your father's firm affected by the Depression?
RM: My father was affected quite a bit. He went from a very comfortable living to one of really having to scratch ... to make a living, to give the family a decent living, and so, he, temporarily at least, left Galatex and began to represent various companies. ... He traveled throughout the country, in those days, ... on trains, and would be gone for maybe a month, two months, even three months, and go to the various major cities, ... and take orders for whatever he was handling, and, finally, come home, and it was kind of tough for him.
KP: It was also tough for your mother and yourself.
RM: That's right.
KP: You rarely saw him. When was this?
RM: Well, it was in the middle '30s and late '30s, yes.
KP: He was on the road then?
RM: Yes, and so that, then, by the '40s, he had rejoined ... the hosiery business with his brother, and things got a little better, [laughter] and, as time went by, got, you know, back to what you would call normal.
KP: Your father was in the service during World War I.
RM: Yes. He was in the Army. He was a mess sergeant, made the best spaghetti that anybody in the Army ever had, and, on Sundays, [at] the camp where he was, Camp Shanks was one of them, he would prepare spaghetti, and I guess the odor must have permeated the entire camp, because people would desert their mess halls and come over to eat my father's spaghetti, [laughter] and so, he had that Army experience. He did not go overseas.
KP: Did he enlist? Was he drafted?
RM: I don't know.
KP: Did he ever join the American Legion?
RM: Not to my knowledge, and I haven't either, not really for any particular reason, yea or nay. [It's] just not something I've happened to have encountered.
KP: Your family resettled in West Orange. What type of community was West Orange at that time?
RM: It was a very nice, residential community. It was a commuting community. A great many of them ... traveled to Newark or New York City and it was a very pleasant experience, you know. The schools were excellent. I made friends that I am still in contact with to this day and, in fact, we had our fiftieth high school reunion awhile back, in northern New Jersey. ... We had a class of 310, I think it was, 309, 310, senior class, and I think there were two hundred and some at the reunion.
KP: Was it a very close group?
RM: Yes, ... quite close. When I went into the Army, there were about fifteen or twenty of us that knew each other. We went to Fort Dix and there was a group of eight of us that were in, I remember the tent number, 75. One of them was Brendan Byrne, who became governor of New Jersey, ... and, I remember, his father was nice enough to take my civilian clothing ... back to my folks, [laughter] after I got my uniform, Army uniform, and that Tent 75 group kept in touch for several years.
KP: Did you keep in touch with Brendan Byrne?
RM: I saw him ... at the reunion, two or three years ago, and we had a long talk, about twenty or thirty minutes. I always liked Brendan, and, as a matter-of-fact, I liked his ... sister, because I dated her. [laughter] ... Brendan was a person who I predicted ... would be very successful, because he was a great debater, and, when we had debating contests in high school, he always won them, [laughter] excellent speaker.
KP: Did most people from your high school class go on to college?
RM: A pretty good percentage. [Of] the people that I associated with, ... most were college bound.
KP: Did your parents assume that you would go on to college?
RM: Yes, even though it was financially right on the edge, whether they would have the money to send me. ... I was able to go, and, as I mentioned previously to you, I was at Rutgers for one semester, we thought that I'd be able to at least stay for a year, and then, when I went into the service, that ended the financial problem, and, when I returned, I was under the GI Bill and things were a lot smoother.
KP: You went to high school in the late 1930s and early 1940s. How much did you know about what was happening in Europe and Asia?
RM: Well, of course, I was conscious of the war and ... the effect that it had on us as civilians, the blackouts that we would ... undergo, and the gas rationing [of] automobiles, Class A, B, C stickers, and so on. ... I was interested in the war, but, I didn't relate it to myself, because, at that time, if I recall correctly, ... the draft was for people age twenty-one and more, and I was eighteen, and, in my mind, that was an eternity and I would not be in the service. Then, when I looked up one day, all of a sudden, they had lowered the draft to age eighteen, and I was just about eighteen, and it became very significant.
KP: Before Pearl Harbor, you really did not think about the fighting going on in Europe and Asia.
RM: It's interesting. In northern New Jersey, there were German groups that they called Bund meetings, that they would hold up in northern New Jersey, and I met the sons of some of the [men] ... who later became German commanders in the war, and I've forgotten their names, but, I remember one, Hans Keitle was one of them. ... I knew about two, three, maybe four of the children of people who later became German commanders.
KP: Did the sons of these Germans commanders go to your high school?
RM: I think they may have. Otherwise, I don't know how I would have known them. ... I'm not too sure of that, whether I knew them through an associate or whether they actually went to school.
KP: You knew about the Bund even without reading about it in the newspaper.
RM: I knew that they ... were holding these meetings and gatherings and that ... the authorities were alarmed about them. The other thing that I recall, there used to be an ice cream parlor, in either Orange or South Orange, by the name of Struby's, I guess it was in Orange, New Jersey, and it was run by a German family, and I had noticed that they were not particularly friendly when we'd go in to get ice cream. Well, time passed, I came back ... from the war, from overseas, and learned that they had had a clandestine radio, that ... they communicated with Berlin, or somewhere in Germany, and were reporting on whatever was going on [that would be] of significance to the German command. That always impressed me. [laughter]
KP: Now you know why they were not very friendly to you.
RM: Yes. I guess they weren't overly friendly for obvious reasons.
KP: How did the war affect your father's business? Did they have any government contracts?
RM: No, I don't believe they did have government contracts, but, the business flourished after the Depression, and the war, and so on. ... All of a sudden, my father died the day before our first daughter was born. He was on his way home ... from New York, and he was coming back to see the baby that night, you know, and he suddenly died, and, to make a long story short, I left the job that I had and went, in a sense, to help replace the vacuum that it caused in the family business.
KP: Where were you when you heard the news about Pearl Harbor?
RM: I can't remember that. I can remember more clearly H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds, ... when the radio program said that the Martians had landed in Newark, and I can remember that quite vividly. [laughter]
RM: We were visiting with a family in South Orange, and the radio was playing in the background, and there must have been about fourteen or fifteen of us in the living room, talking. ... All of a sudden, somebody said, "Did you hear what they said on the radio?" and all the conversation stopped, and everybody fell for that, hook, line, and sinker. They thought it was true, and I remember my folks said, "Well, ... we better get home," [laughter] and they were already invading Newark, and we were just outside. ... I remember that very clearly, but, I don't remember Pearl Harbor as clearly.
KP: Were you taken in by this report?
RM: We all were, the entire group, and then, eventually, somebody said, "Hey, well, now, wait a minute, let's ...
KP: "Check another channel?"
KP: When war was declared, you were waiting for your number to be called. You figured that you would be drafted at twenty-one.
RM: Yes, yes. I was at Rutgers, and, of course, some had left, or were in the process of leaving, and then, I was called up. I joined a fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta, became a Fiji, and ... some of the upper classmen were in the process of leaving when I joined the fraternity, and, incidentally, fraternity life, in my experience, was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. ... It prepared me for the Army, in a sense, and I made friends that I have to this day. When we go East, we get together with fraternity couples that we got to know then, and it was just a marvelous experience.
KP: How long were you there the first time?
RM: One semester, and then, of course, when I returned, after the war, we picked up where we left off. Our house had been rented to another group, and they had a fire, and the house was destroyed, and so, when we returned, we had no house. We met in ... a dorm for a while, and then, rented a house, 15 Union Street, and then, eventually, bought another house, which is, I think, still there now, on 78 Easton Avenue. I think it's 78. I'm not sure of that, either. [laughter]
KP: Did anyone from your high school go directly into the service? Was there a rush to enlist in West Orange?
RM: There probably was.
KP: However, among your friends, you all intended to go to college first.
RM: Yes. ... As I say, we had no idea we were going to even be in the service, and then, all of a sudden, when the age limit came down, then, we were drafted.
KP: Your favorite professor at Rutgers was Donald Cameron. How did you get to know him?
RM: He was a Phi Gam, and so, that's how I'd gotten to know him. ... He was a very, very good fraternity man, as well as a wonderful person, and he eventually became the chief librarian, and he taught English. I had him in basic freshmen English, and I'll never forget the first time that we were assigned a book report, and [it was] one of the few times in my life when I didn't prepare for a book report. It was supposed to be an oral book report and I thought, "Well, I probably won't be called, because my last name is M, and it'll take him a while to get there, you know, and I'll get ready for it tonight, and, ... by the next class, ... I'll be ready." Well, sure enough, he called on me and I stood up. I gave the name of the book and the author, and then, became speechless, and he looked at me, and he said, "Mojo, sit down," [laughter] and I can still remember the feeling of utter despair, and that was the last time in my college career that I wasn't prepared for an assignment. [laughter]
KP: Why did you choose to go to Rutgers? Had you considered any other universities?
RM: That's interesting. Some people that I knew went to Princeton, and so, I decided that I'd like to go to Princeton, and I registered and was going to start at Princeton. ... I went there about a week ahead, before the formal ... schooling began, and saw other students, freshmen, coming in with their families and their belongings, and I saw them unpacking them. ... I met some of them, went into their rooms while they were getting set [up], and I could see that these folks were really quite wealthy, and they were bringing in whole libraries of records, and record players, and things, and it struck me, as I watched them, "This is too rich for my blood," and I backed off. I think I ... had matriculated for three days, and then, I withdrew and decided I was going to go somewhere else, and the somewhere else was Rutgers. [laughter]
KP: It was a last minute decision.
RM: Yes, it was.
KP: Did you ever regret that you did not stay at Princeton?
RM: No regrets whatsoever. The people that I met at Rutgers were just terrific, ... especially the fraternity group that I belonged to. That was my home within a home, you know.
KP: You were only at Rutgers for one semester, and then, you went into the service.
RM: Came back a little over three years later, in time for the summer classes.
KP: Was that in the Summer of 1946?
KP: Is there anything else that struck you about Rutgers in the Fall of 1942?
RM: Fall of '42?
KP: That semester?
RM: Well, I was occupied with my being rushed by fraternities, number one. Number two, I remember being very impressed with the ROTC program. ... It was required and I really enjoyed that. I thought that the hazing was mild at the time and ... I had expected to be murdered or something, you know. ...
KP: Your hazing was not particularly brutal.
RM: No, and, I remember, we wore beanies in those days, as freshmen, ... but, you know, the whole experience ... was positive.
KP: What did you think of chapel?
RM: ... The chapel was a very positive experience and we enjoyed going to it. I can't say [why], ... probably [for] many reasons. It was a change of pace, a quiet moment, [laughter] and, you know, it was a good experience.
KP: Did you have any dealings with Dean Metzger in that first semester?
RM: No. I knew of him, but, ... I did not meet him, not in that first semester.
KP: Did you date at all during your first semester? I know that you eventually married someone from Douglass. Had you known her then or did that come later?
RM: Yes. I sure dated when I came back, but, yes. I remember, ... one house party weekend, I invited a girl from West Orange, from my home, who I had always wanted to date and never had the nerve. She was so beautiful, so popular, so everything, you know, and so, I invited her down to the house party weekend. I had just been pledged at the fraternity, and we had all the preparations for the girls who came from various places to stay in the fraternity house, and we had an orchestra lined up, and, you know, big doings. ... I remember going down ... with some of the other brothers and pledges to the railroad station and meeting our dates, and we walked back to the house, and my heart [was] pounding over the excitement of all this, and ... [we] had a very successful and enjoyable House Party Harvest. I guess it was called the Harvest Ball, if I recall correctly, and that was my first social event, and then, there weren't many others after that, and then, it was all business, and receiving the call to the service, and so on.
KP: You were at Rutgers when you got the call to service.
KP: You were drafted into the Army. Had you thought of enlisting in another branch of the service?
RM: Well, as I say, I was younger than the draft age, and, you know, it just never occurred to me that I would be involved, and then, all of a sudden, we were involved while I was at Rutgers, and it all happened so quickly. You know, I don't even ... recall if I knew that you could volunteer, you know. It just happened and I was drafted before I knew it.
KP: When did you report? You were nineteen when you reported.
RM: Yes. I was supposed to report in February, and I got something akin to the flu, and so, the whole procedure was delayed for me by a month. By that time, I was in pretty good shape again, and [I] went through the process, and that's where I met these folks that we were talking about earlier.
KP: You reported to Fort Dix and you were in Tent 75.
RM: Yes, Tent 75, and the first day we were there, if I recall correctly, the temperature got down to one of the coldest in New Jersey ever, like minus thirteen degrees. I may have added a few degrees over the years, but, that's the figure that sticks in my mind. We had a potbellied stove in the center, and, according to which side of you faced the stove, about half of you would scald, or burn, or feel as though we were burning, and the other half was freezing to death as the cold winter came in through the tent. ... I guess we were there just about a week or two before we went elsewhere.
KP: Were you interested in getting into a specialty branch of the Army? Were you aware of your options?
RM: No. ... When I went through the process of being drafted, after the day had passed and I went to see the person who had the final records, he said that I'd been accepted. I'd passed the physical. ... He took a big stamp and hit on the outside manila folder, "Special Assignment." I guess ... either I didn't have the nerve to ask him what it meant or I didn't think to ask him until it was too late, until I was gone, but, I wondered, from there on out, until I reported, why ... I had a "Special Assignment." ... To this day, I don't really know, except that, when I arrived ... at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, we were all assembled on a hillside, and they began calling, on this PA system, the various units, and it took about three or four hours. ... Pretty soon, there were about five of us left on that hill, and I was one of them, and I thought, "Well, they've forgotten us," you know. The five of us went into the reconnaissance troop, a cavalry reconnaissance troop, attached ...
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RM: ... to the 66th Infantry Division, and, to this day, I assume that that's why I had that "Special Assignment" stamped on it. ... I had visions. ... I had ridden a pony once, but, I had never ridden a horse, and I had visions of suddenly being given a horse and having to ride him and take care of him, and, much to my surprise, there were no horses when I reported to the troop. ... It had just become mechanized. They had received their first vehicles, which were motorcycles and, maybe, one jeep, and then, eventually, we received the twelve or thirteen armored cars, thirteen, I think it was, which is a tank on wheels, you know, and jeeps for everybody. We were completely mobile and we also were supposed to be the cream of the crop of the division. Our captain was a West Pointer. ... Soon after we began training, with forced marches, and runs, and so forth, he challenged ... any outfit in the camp to challenge [us to a] running or march contest, to see who could outlast the other, or who could do it the most quickly, or whatever, and so, it was a pretty good experience from that standpoint.
KP: Your training was very rigorous.
RM: It was very rigorous, and, in order for us to be able to compete with these other units, a group of us would get up in the morning, before we had to go to various classes and activities, and we would run, by ourselves, in the morning, before it got hot, ... and, that way, we were able to run with greater ease when the whole unit did the same thing. ... One of the things that I was proudest of, during basic training, was, and the whole time I was in the Army, I never fell out of any march, or ... any running march, and, if I was second, or third, or fifth in the column, that's where I remained, and then, I would move up as the others would fall out. So, that was one of ... the things that I was secretly proud of. I didn't go boasting about it. [laughter]
KP: It sounds as if your physical training was first rate.
RM: Yes, right.
KP: What about the other skills you learned, such as marksmanship?
RM: Well, I wear glasses, and I thought I was going to have trouble, but, actually, I was able to do as well as anyone else.
KP: Do you have any memories of your sergeant?
RM: Yes. ... The platoon sergeant I had, Sergeant (Mechling?), ... he had been a Ranger and he was a great guy, in addition. At least as far as I was concerned, he was great. ...
KP: Was he a career Army man?
RM: I think he had been in the service before the war started. I believe so. I'm not sure of that, but, I think he was. ...
KP: Please, go on.
RM: Well, I was just going to say that the training ... was excellent.
KP: Where did most of the men in your unit come from?
RM: They came from, really, all over the United States, ... but, as I recall, the number one state had about twenty-six men, I believe that was Pennsylvania, and I remember [that] New Jersey was third most, and I have the figures somewhere, in some of the material that I have here, but, there was a good contingent from New Jersey.
KP: What did you think of Fort Jackson?
RM: Well, what I remember was that it was sandy and that our orders were, anytime we went outside of the barracks, we ran, double-time. We never walked from one place to the other, and, every time I would run, I'd get sand in my boots, [laughter] and, by the end of the day, ... I'd have to shake the sand out. It was, you know, warm, hot, in the summer and damp and uncomfortable in the winter.
KP: When you were at Fort Jackson, did you ever go into town on liberty?
RM: Yes, and the thing that I remember most about that is that, we had our ... boots and spurs, and, when we would go into town, ... and the town was Columbia, South Carolina, and the town was just teeming with units, soldiers from everywhere, ... they would think that we were officers, because we had these boots, and spurs, and the uniform of the cavalry, which ... they were not familiar with. ... Why, they'd salute us, and we'd salute back, you know, and we were feeling pretty important, while we were in town at least, and the high command, pretty soon, learned of this and took the spurs away from us, and we kept the boots, and that ended the saluting, but, we used to have, you know, a good experience in town on our time off. We didn't get off very often, but, when we did, it was [good].
KP: What did most soldiers do in town? I have been to Columbia.
RM: Oh, really?
KP: It is not a very big city.
RM: No. It wasn't big at that time. ... We would go to the movies, we'd go to restaurants, we'd go to places for beer, and so on, and we'd walk out in the residential area, and we ... got to know one of the churches, and the girls who went ... to that church, and so on, but, we really didn't have an awful lot of time off ... during basic training.
KP: You did not stay with your reconnaissance unit. What happened?
RM: Okay, after basic training, I was one of about nine of us, we didn't all go at once, I was one of the first to go to Fort Riley Cavalry Communications School for radio operator training. ... We went to Fort Riley School, and, number one, I was impressed with the fact that it was a permanent base, number two, that there were still horse cavalry there in brigades, number three, that there were five camps at Fort Riley, with each camp having a division or it's equivalent. It was a large, large, very busy area. ... They had a bus that would go around the periphery, ... picking up people who went to town or just had to go to another camp on that same base, and it would take that bus about an hour to complete the circle, and it was pretty impressive.
[I] met the others in our class in the radio operators' training school and it was a great group. One of the fellows that I met, followed each other all the way through three years in the Army, [there were] just maybe two or three months when we were apart, and, to this day, we're still in touch. He was from North Dakota at that time, I was from New Jersey. The radio operators' school ... was interesting. The primary function was to learn Morse Code, and you did that by sitting in a booth where Morse Code would play at various speeds, starting off at, let's say, five words per minute, and, as you were able to take the required amount, over a certain period of time, without making any errors, various letters, and then, messages, and so on, then, you would advance to a faster speed, and we did that for three months.
... I started off at about six words a minute, and jumped up to ten words, and then, twelve words, fifteen. I just shot through, went ahead of everybody else, fifteen words a minute up to eighteen words a minute, and then, I hit a barrier, and, I found out later, everybody hits a barrier, where they suddenly have trouble jumping to a faster speed. I hit mine at eighteen. Most people hit theirs at ten, or twelve, or fifteen, and I worked on eighteen words a minute for about two weeks, and, one day, passed it, and went up to twenty, passed that right away, and went up to twenty-five words a minute. There were only two of us who hit twenty-five words a minute, with a pencil, without using a typewriter or some other means. ... I was kind of proud of that, [laughter] and it served me in good stead in one sense, in that ... it gave me [the] confidence that I could send and receive messages, but, I found out, when we got into combat situations, that you could only send and receive as fast as the slowest man in ... the network that we were communicating with. ... So, usually, the speed was five or six words per minute, and you repeated the message about five or six times before that slowest man was able to hear it, and it was not always his fault. There would be static and all sorts of reasons why you couldn't get the message, but, as I say, being able to take twenty-five words a minute gave me the confidence that I could handle it.
KP: Six words a minute must have seemed very slow to you.
RM: Yes. I remember, one night, we were in the net control station, up on the top of a hill overlooking the Atlantic. The Germans had a pocket, in front of us, of about 500 German soldiers and to the right of us was a pocket of 25,000 troops, German troops. On the other side, there were 40,000, and we were ... under the leadership of the FFI, the Free French Forces, and I'm talking about just our reconnaissance troop, but, we provided all the firepower that they had, firepower such as .37 mm guns and so on, and provided most of the communication for them. ... I remember, one night, we received warning from our G-2 section that there was a rumor that the Germans were going to try to break out that night, and I happened to be in the net control station, up on the top of this hill, and, pretty soon, in came a message, Morse Code, from the division headquarters, and we knew it was going to be pretty important. Well, there was static. The message was garbled. We started taking that message at six o'clock, ... just as it got dark, and we ... tried to get that message all night long and never did get it by the time that we were relieved. We usually would be on from four in the afternoon until midnight, and, at midnight, we'd be relieved, and, by the time we left, that message still hadn't cleared, and I don't remember now if it ever was received, but, the bottom line was that they didn't break out. [laughter] ... We were sending that message at maybe one word a minute, you know, just trying to get the communication going.
KP: Where did you go after radio school?
RM: At that point, we were asked if anyone was interested in going to [the] Army Specialized Training Program, and those of us who I associated with wanted to go, and, about a week later, sure enough, we were accepted, and off we went, and we went to what they called a star unit center in Laramie, Wyoming, University of Wyoming, and, about two or three days after I arrived, I got a note. I guess my unit back at Fort Jackson had not received word that I had been accepted by [the] ASTP and I got this memo saying that I had been promoted to tech sergeant. Well, in order for us to go to [the] Army Specialized Training Program, we had to give up our rank, and so, I was a sergeant for three days, [laughter] and then, became a buck private. ... I was fine. We weren't concerned, at that time, about having to give up our rank, except for the financial part of it. So, everybody at that Fort Riley Cavalry School, no matter what they had been before, were privates, and so, we were there for three months, and, at that point, ... I guess, the war was getting ... pretty nasty in Europe, and we'd lost a lot of troops, and the War Department decided that the Army Specialized Training Program had to close down. They needed the men, and so, all of a sudden, after we had been there the Fall of '43 and the Spring of '44, [we were pulled out]. Later, we learned that graduates would have become officers under the original plan.
KP: Was this at Missouri?
RM: At Missouri University, yes. The program closed down and, the next thing we knew, we were back in the "Army," quotation marks. We had never left the Army, but, we were back in active service, and we reported to Camp Robinson, Arkansas, in the 66th Division, and I was assigned to the 66th Reconnaissance Troop.
KP: You did a lot of traveling throughout the country during the war, first, to Fort Jackson, then, to Laramie, Wyoming, Fort Riley, and then, to the University of Missouri. Was the university in Columbia?
RM: Columbia, Missouri, ... and, incidentally, after ASTP, I was stationed at Camp Rucker, Alabama, with the 66th.
KP: What did you think of the country? Had you done much traveling before the war?
RM: No, I had not. I don't know that I was particularly impressed, one way or the other, because, you know, ... at most of the camps, if you've been to one camp, you've been to them all.
KP: Camp Riley impressed you, because it was very large.
RM: Yes, Fort Riley ... had been a permanent basic camp for years, and years, and years. ... Well, most of the leaders [of] World War II were cavalrymen, and so, ... it was, in a sense, an elite place to be, and I was impressed with the camp, with the facilities, with the permanence of the camp, I guess, primarily.
KP: As opposed to Fort Jackson.
RM: Yes, which was something that had been thrown together. I guess it had been there for quite a while, but, it didn't look like a permanent camp.
KP: What did you think of your academic training at the University of Missouri with the ASTP?
RM: I thought it was very good. It was difficult, ... and we had to work, and we did homework every day. It wasn't something that you just slid by [in]. The teachers were pretty good. Some were better than others, but, you know, overall, I would call them a good group. ...
KP: You had a very rigorous training schedule at Fort Riley.
RM: Yes, it was a full day. It would start about, as I recall, ... nine o'clock and go right on through to five o'clock. ...
KP: Did you attend classes six days a week?
RM: ... I believe it was either five or six days a week. I think it was six.
KP: You had several black soldiers in your training unit at Fort Riley.
RM: ... I had a few.
KP: That was very unusual at that point in time, since the Army was segregated.
RM: Well, yes, I guess maybe it was. I know there was a brigade of black cavalry soldiers. That just fascinated me, because they would be used to march down, on their horses, to the railroad station to meet any incoming dignitary, or general, or whoever he might be, and the night before they knew they were going to do that, they'd be out in the front of their quarters. ... In rhythm, you know, they'd be shining those boots, ... and it sounded like a band playing, you know, and they were just spotless, and, boy, they'd go down there, and they'd look like a million dollars, and sure impressed any visitor. [laughter] ... Now, in this class, I mentioned that ... I had been able to take twenty-five words a minute and the only other person who did [that] was one of the black students.
KP: Do you know what happened to the black members of the radio school class?
RM: No. ... We lost contact with everyone, except those of us who went into the 66th Division.
KP: You told me earlier that there could be dire consequences if you failed one of your courses.
RM: Well, what it meant was that the person went right back into the Army, as opposed to being able to go to school, and the latter was a lot more favorable. [laughter] ... We did have one student who had trouble with a physics course, as I recall, and he managed to flunk out by one percentage point, or close to that, and, as a result, he immediately went back to his fighting outfit, and went overseas, and saw all sorts of action, was, as I recall, captured, and suffered ... from that experience. ... I happened to see him after the war was over, coming back from the German interior. There was a whole line of troops and I noticed an armored car, which meant that it was the same type of unit that we had, a reconnaissance troop, and I looked up in the turret, and there was that fellow who had been sent [to the fighting unit], and he was a changed man. You could hardly recognize him. He had been a smiling, relaxed fellow and he was deadly serious when we met him on his way home. He was quite upset that he had been flunked out by the narrowest of margins and had suffered as he had ... and that's the last I've ever seen of him.
KP: Did you ever see him after that?
RM: Never saw him again, no.
KP: What were your feelings about the end of the ASTP? Were you disappointed that it was interrupted?
RM: Yes, but, I think it was more of a surprise that it happened. ... We had about ... a month's preliminary notice, prior to going back into the active Army again, but, we were kind of shocked and surprised that ... it had happened, and we were not overjoyed, particularly. [laughter]
KP: Were you surprised? When you were called back, the war seemed to be going fairly well.
RM: Yes. The tide had turned, apparently, from [what] little we read and heard, and so, I guess there, you know, ... wasn't too much trauma associated with going back into the service. We had done it before, we knew we could do it again, [laughter] to quote some song from way back.
KP: You reported to Camp Robinson. You were going to join a new unit.
RM: Yes, and the group of us who went back from the Army Specialized Training Program were all about the same age. We had all been to college, or had some kind of formal college training, and we went back into the 66th Reconnaissance Troop. The only members of that troop were the cadre, people who had been in the service for a long time, and they all had ratings, from corporal and sergeant on up. ... They were the grizzled old-timers, at least they appeared that way to us, and they had gone through all sorts of training throughout the United States, even before the war started, most of them. ... So, they immediately dubbed us as "the quiz kids," because we had been to school, and so, for a while there, there was kind of a division, a mental division, between ... the old-timers and the quiz kids. So, the quiz kids tended to stick together and to enjoy each other, you know. We'd go on leave together and so on, and then, over a period of time, we got to know the others, and that kind of all evened out, but, the one negative factor was that there was no opening for rank. Those of us who had given up our rank voluntarily, some of us never got a rank. I was one of them, because there was no place to get one, people already had it, and ... that really didn't bother me too much.
KP: You had been a sergeant for four days. When the ASTP ended, they did not restore your rank?
RM: No, no. We went back as whatever our rank was, which was either buck private or PFC. For some reason, when you're honorably discharged, you automatically are discharged as a PFC, regardless of whether you had that rank or not. Not this kid, they overlooked me. I was discharged as a buck private [laughter] and you know what? I didn't care.
KP: You mentioned the division between the cadre and the quiz kids. How long did that difference last?
RM: As a noticeable difference?
RM: Oh, I would say, we were at Camp Robinson, Arkansas, for a short period of time, I guess about a month or two, at the most, and I would say, about three months later, it all began to even out.
KP: Your reconnaissance unit was led by Captain Harry Ellis. What was his background?
RM: He was a West Point graduate, just as our unit commander had been in the 106th, and he was a very imposing captain. When he gave a command, people jumped, and, yet, I found him to be fair. I never felt quite comfortable in his presence, because ... he was an imposing figure, but, I had no complaints as far as ... how he treated us.
KP: How big was your reconnaissance unit?
RM: About 147 men total, and we were supposed to be the eyes and ears of the division, which always made me chuckle, because I wore glasses and didn't hear too well. [laughter]
KP: Were your sergeants experienced cadre?
RM: Yes. They were experienced and knew what they were doing.
KP: In your previous unit, you had done a lot of physical conditioning. Was your new unit also focused on staying in shape?
RM: Well, I remained in good shape. When I was at Missouri University, in the Army Specialized Training Program, I kept on working out. ... Missouri University had a head of the [phys ed] department who was in his sixties or seventies, and there wasn't anything that that man couldn't do, physically, and he motivated us to stay in shape, and we did. I ran. The last race that I ran while I was there was a 440, quarter mile, I guess it's called, and that's once around the oval, indoor track. I'll never forget it, because, as I was at the bottom end of the oval, I saw that the men who had broken ahead of me were beginning to enter the oval at the other end, and I decided that I wanted to finish pretty well in that race, and I took off from the bottom of the oval, and, by the time we got to the finish line, over here, I had won that race, and that buddy of mine that I mentioned to you, who had been all through the Army with me, came in second. The two of us caught up with the rest of that group and ... we won that race. ... I guess, number one, I was quite excited about having won the race and, number two, I guess it reduced ... my ability to ward off bacteria, because, the next [thing] I knew, I got sick and ended up ... in the infirmary. [laughter] ... To finish your question, when we went back into the 66th Reconnaissance Troop, we had to stay in shape, because ... we knew we were going overseas, and it got serious then, and we made darn sure we were in good shape.
KP: Based on your training, what did you expect combat to be like? How did this expectation compare to the actual experience?
RM: I guess I pictured our outfit being very mobile. I pictured us being ahead of the rest of the division, trying to gain information on what the enemy was doing, ... and then, reporting what we saw, and we used to do a lot of exercises that [simulated] ... just that type of operation. ... So, I guess I pictured [myself] doing pretty much the same thing, only under battle conditions, and that's the way it turned out. I had been in ... what we used to call the forward platoons, the First, Second, and Third Platoons. ... As we were going overseas, I was reassigned to the headquarters platoon, ... I learned later, because I could take code well, and they needed people who could take messages and send them without any slip-ups. ... So, I ended up in headquarters, which tended to be the reserve, or the rear, platoon, and so, my function was mostly staying in communication, by voice, with our forward platoons, who would be in the battle area. In fact, we had one platoon that used to occupy a village every morning, and they'd occupy it all day, and then, the German troops would occupy that village at night, and we would withdraw, and it went back and forth for quite a long period of time. ... So, they would send voice communication to us as to what was happening, and we, in turn, would have a phone connection to our troop headquarters, and we'd relay that message. ... Then, any messages that had to go to division headquarters were sent by Morse Code and we would send by Morse Code, messages to any other adjoining outfits that needed to know what was going on.
KP: Where did your unit sail from?
RM: From Camp Shanks, New York. Is that right?
KP: You sailed from the same camp that your father had been stationed at.
RM: I guess so. I hadn't connected that. Isn't that funny?
KP: What do you remember about the voyage?
RM: One thing in particular, I was seasick for five days. We were on His Majesty's Ship, the Britannic, the largest motor ship in their fleet, that had been taken over by the military, and so, it was supposed to have stabilizers and so on, ... but, I was sick for five days, and that's the thing that I remember most vividly.
KP: Were you way down in the hold?
RM: Well, ... on that ship, we were in the middle area, five of us in one so-called, "stateroom." One of us would sleep on the floor, and then, we'd rotate.
KP: You had a stateroom.
RM: Yes. We had two bunks on either side, and then, the fifth person slept on the floor. One humorous incident that occurred before we left the United States was, boarding the ship, and it was evening, we were along the dockside and we were issued seasick pills. They were brand new, apparently, and ... we were each issued about five of them, as I recall, and we went down into the hold of the ship, about ... midway down, and went into the stateroom, and I remember one fellow, after we'd been there about two or three hours, said, "Gee, I feel kind of queasy," and he popped one of them in his mouth, and, pretty soon, he said, "Gee, I really don't feel well," and he took another, you know. Well, to make a long story short, by morning, he not only had taken all of his, but, he had borrowed some more from the others, and it turned out to be Dramamine, which is enough ... [for] some people to get sleepy on one. He must have taken about a dozen of them, [laughter] but, he really felt seasick. Well, the next morning, we went to breakfast, and, before we went to eat, we went up on deck to see where we were. We were still along the dock! We hadn't moved and he had been seasick, mentally, in his imagination. [laughter]
KP: Were you worried about submarines?
RM: Yes. When we were crossing the Atlantic, we had all sorts of destroyers, and mine sweepers, and Lord knows what all. It was a huge flotilla of ships, and we would hear depth charges going off, periodically. We actually didn't encounter anything, but, there was a lot of noise and a lot of nervousness as a result.
KP: Was there any gambling onboard?
RM: There was plenty of it, yes. ... That kept people occupied and, also, got them to forget where they were and what was happening, yes. They used to shoot a lot of dice and play cards.
KP: Where did you land in England? What impressed you about England?
RM: We landed in Southampton, but, ... the first land that I saw was the Isle of Wight, and it looked green, kind of a play on words there, and then, when we saw London, everything seemed to be in miniature. The houses were all smaller, the cars were smaller, everything seemed to be ... shrunken, [laughter] and it seemed like a toy village, at first. I was fortunate enough ... to get a pass, and go into London for three days, and saw shows, and lived at the Red Cross Club.
KP: I am sure that your mother must have enjoyed hearing about that.
RM: Yes, it was a nice stay, and, after three days, we went back, by train, to our outfit, and as we got back to the unit, we saw that everybody was scurrying around. The vehicles, the motors were running, everybody was packing, and we found out that we'd gotten word, we were going to cross the Channel. ... In fact, the first sergeant was on the phone, just about ready to cross our names off to headquarters, because we hadn't gotten back in time, and they were going to have to take off, and, as we came into the orderly room, he said, "Whoops, wait a minute, put them back on." [laughter]
KP: Your unit might have shipped out without you.
RM: Yes, it came very close to it. ... What was your first question?
KP: What were your impressions of England?
RM: Yes, and so, the next thing we knew, ... we were at dockside and crossing the Channel.
KP: Your unit did not spend much time in England.
RM: I guess it was about two weeks, something like that, right about two weeks, and the thing that I remember most vividly is that ... we only had one vegetable, ... [which shows you in what] bad shape the English food situation was, brussels sprouts. I hadn't liked them particularly before, but, I learned to like them in two weeks, cause that's what we had every day. ... I eat them to this day, by the way, and the other thing that I remember vividly is the cold, because we slept on wooden bunks, flat, and they were about, ... maybe, six feet long, they may not have been that long, and I'm taller than that, so, my feet hung over the end. I had two Army blankets. That wasn't enough to keep that cold out. I got frozen feet, as a result, and I had those throughout the rest of the time I was in the service and for about two or three years after. I couldn't stay out in the cold for too long. ...
-----------------------------------------END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE TWO--------------------------------
KP: This continues an interview with Mr. D. Robert Mojo in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on November 25, 1994, with Kurt Piehler. You were telling me about your feet.
RM: Yes, we decided somebody should look at them, for evidence of gangrene. ... I talked the mailman, who was going into a large city to get the mail, ... into taking me to Bournemouth, where a huge American base hospital was located. ... As we drove up, the first thing we noticed was that the place was very active and it was the first wounded troops coming back from the Battle of the Bulge who were being sent back to this base hospital. People were scurrying around, trying to attend to them. So, as a result, 'frozen feet' weren't too important on the pecking order that morning and I remember sitting, waiting for somebody to come out to look at my toes for about three or four hours. ... Finally, a major came out and asked me what my problem was and I said, "Well, I have frozen feet and they thought, back at my outfit, that somebody should look at them," and so, he took out a needle, looked at my toes, and said, "Let's see if you feel this," and he proceeded to puncture each toe. ... I couldn't feel anything, and he looked up at me, and he said, "Well, you're right. You have frozen feet." ... He said, "What you better do is keep them warm." Well, I already knew that. [laughter] He said, ... "Change your socks three times a day," which was another humorous suggestion, and that was it. ... He sent me on my way. Well, what I determined was that gangrene hadn't set in, and that was the important point, and so, I went back to my outfit and tried to change my socks thereafter. ... I succeeded, about once a month, to do what he said, you know, but, in any event, my feet were uncomfortable.
Well, we crossed the Channel and I might change the subject [for] a moment. ... When I got on the ship, it was a Victory ship, everybody was so nervous [about] where they were going, and if they were headed for the Bulge, and, if anybody dropped a plate, people would jump. Well, we started off and I said, "I can't take this," you know. Everybody was just so nervous and tense. So, I hunted for a place to get away from it all and I found this room that had all the big ropes, and anchors, and all sorts of equipment. ... I was loaded down with I don't know how many pounds on my back, everything that I owned, practically, ... my gun and a tanker's uniform. ... I got into this room, it was quite small, and shut the bulkhead, and promptly went to sleep. We were all exhausted, [so], that wasn't hard to do. ... When I finally woke up, the first thing I realized was that the ship wasn't moving any longer, and, boy, I jumped up. ... Well, no, I didn't jump up. I had to ease myself up, with all that weight ... on me, but, anyhow, I got out into the main part of the ship and there was not a soul around. ... I went down below, ... where the armored cars had been and all the vehicles had been stored, it was perfectly empty. I looked at the end of the opening, ... this huge opening where the vehicles leave, and I had just put on my galoshes, and I didn't take the time to clip them together, so, they were flopping. ... They were more than galoshes, but, that's what I'm calling them now, and I ran down to ... this opening, and I looked up, and way in the distance, up on a hill, was my outfit, with all of the armored cars, and the jeeps, and so on, lined up. ... Somebody saw me as I was standing there, and they started waving their arms and going like this, meaning, "Double-time, get up here," and I started running up.
... That's how I landed on the coast of France, running up with these galoshes, tripping over them, practically, as they hit, and laughing so hard that, ... by the time, I got to my armored car, I was so weak from laughter that ... they had to pull me up [and] put me on the turret. Somebody blew a whistle and off we went. I was the last guy on and they were apparently waiting for me, you know, wondering where the heck I was. So, anyhow, ... we drove. It was about five o'clock in the evening, as I recall, and we drove all that night and stopped only about two times to refuel, and, the rest of the time, we just kept on moving, and we drove all that night and all the next day, ... or part of the next day, and, finally, ended [up] at an airport in Rennes. ... We took out our bedrolls and laid them out and we were going to sleep ... inside these bedrolls, where we had put a couple blankets that we had sewn in, so [that] they were pretty warm. Well, it began to rain, and it not only rained, but, it got cold, and, luckily, I had gotten in mine and zipped it up before it began to rain, and it rained all night. Well, my feet didn't like this at all. ... In fact, my legs felt like two blocks of wood by that time. They were really frozen solid. Well, I thought I was in bad shape, but, the next morning, when we got up and we looked up, ... [there] was a fellow right by me who didn't move, and, come to find out, the whole left side of his body had frozen in that wet [mud], that he hadn't had a chance to get the tarp down, or some raincoat, or whatever. ... The whole left side was paralyzed, and the last time I saw him, they ... took him off in an ambulance, and that was the last we ever saw of him. ... Once again, I thought I was lucky, with my feet being in the condition they were, and we drove, again, for the rest of the day, and, finally, got to ... the combat area. ...
KP: You ended up not going to the Bulge, although everyone expected to be sent there.
RM: That's right, and the reason we didn't get to the Bulge was that the first half of the division, that left a week before we did, was crossing the Channel, and a German U-boat was lying in the Channel, and a couple of our destroyers picked up [on] the fact that the U-boat was there. ... They dropped depth charges, but, they ... apparently didn't hit anything. Next thing you know, the U-boat had gotten ... inside to that troop ship. It was called the Leopoldville. It was originally Belgian, then, was taken over by the British as a troop transport, with British officers and a Belgian and Congolese crew. The ship ... caught a torpedo within five to five-and-a-half miles off the coast of Cherbourg, and the significant ... point was that it was Christmas Eve. ... The troops on shore, who ordinarily would have been in contact with the ship, were celebrating Christmas. They were having parties or whatever, and so, there was a delay there for a long time, a relatively long time, two or three hours before communication told the plight of the ship and before ... a British destroyer finally arrived. It was the first one there, and then, a whole flotilla of other ships came out, but, by that time, ... the Leopoldville had sunk. Well, the crew and most of the officers, everyone except the captain, as soon as the torpedo hit, rushed up on deck. Everybody said, "Get out of the way. Here comes the crew," and they thought they were going to lower the lifeboats, so that our troops could get on. Well, they lowered the lifeboats, and then, they promptly got in them, and took off, and left most of the troops on the ship, and the ship began to pitch and roll, because the wind came up and the waves got large. ... By the time the first destroyer arrived, ... the ship was listing. Things were pretty panicky on the ship and all of this I've either read about or been told about. I was not on it.
KP: Where were you when this happened?
RM: I was still in England. As a matter-of-fact, all we knew about the situation was ... that we were suddenly told, Christmas Eve, that we had to get our guns and fall out in formation. ... We were driven to various mess halls where ... the Christmas meal was stored, particularly, turkeys that were going to be given to the troops that had suddenly departed, and our assignment was to guard those turkeys, because people would steal them if they got wind that there was nobody left there. So, we spent Christmas Eve standing guard around these mess halls, and we didn't know why we were doing that, but, we could guess that our people, ... part of our division, had gone somewhere. ... It was a long time before we found out just what had happened, but, getting back to the situation, just off the coast of Cherbourg, when that destroyer came up alongside of the Leopoldville, the destroyer came up parallel to the ship. ... The waves were making the ships come apart, and come together again, and come apart, and come together, and our people, many of them, tried to jump from one deck to the other. [A] few made it and many didn't. They fell between the ships, and the ships would come together, and they'd be squashed. Also, there were other soldiers who were trying to climb down the rope ladders into the water. ... They would literally jump into the ocean, and, before they'd jump, they would take off their helmets and throw them into the water, just to get rid of them, and hit the people who were down there, and so, they were either injured or they drowned, and it was just, you know, a disaster. We lost about eight hundred men. In fact, the specific figure, I think, is 802.
KP: When did you actually find out what had happened? You were guarding the mess hall, but, you did not know why.
RM: We didn't know. The first time was when one of the fellows that I had been with at University of Missouri, and, from there, in the 66th, suddenly showed up one day, and he had been one of the first to jump into the water. ... There was so much panic going on that he had found two pieces of wood in the ocean, and he put one under each arm, and swam away out of the range of ... the searchlights that came later from the ships that finally arrived. ... So, he was one of the last to be picked out of that ocean that was just [freezing]. I think the temperature of the water was right around forty degrees, ... in December, the end of December. That's a cold place. ... Most people wouldn't have survived more than about five or ten minutes, but, he survived, somehow, and he was picked up about an hour later, and was one of the last to be picked up. ... He was in shock in a French or a government hospital, I'm not sure which, for about three months, and, finally, came out of it, and was able to return to our outfit, and that's when we really heard about the particulars of what had happened.
KP: He told you about what had happened.
KP: Your orders were changed as a result. When did you know that you were not going to the Bulge? When you were on the ship, everyone thought that they would be sent to the Bulge.
RM: Yes, and my understanding [was], there had been conflicting reports as to where we were headed. I've read some articles on that happening, that we were destined to relieve the division that was going to the Bulge, but, I've also read more accounts that said that we were headed for the Bulge, and I tend to believe that, because that's what we thought at the time. ... So, when we suffered that troop ship loss, ... at least my understanding is that we were suddenly diverted to contain those German pockets along the coast of Brittany, and relieve the 94th Division, who, in turn, were sent directly to the Battle of the Bulge. ... They helped contain it. ... There's kind of a unique, well, I don't know what you'd call it, ... thing that, here, we relieved the division that went to the Battle of the Bulge, and helped to finally contain it, and my original outfit, the 106th "Lion" Division was the division through which the German troops first penetrated, in the initiation of the Battle of the Bulge. ... It all came back in a circle.
KP: When did you first enter the battle zone?
RM: Well, we entered the battle area on a Sunday afternoon. ... As we entered the battle area, it was actually the outskirts of the town of Carnac, ... the first thing we heard were artillery [rounds] going off. ... As soon as the first few shots were fired, our leader had us pull off to the side of the road and we jumped out of the vehicles and went in alongside the ditch, on the side of the road. ... I looked up, and here were French civilians on their way to church, and they were completely [laughter] unfazed about the artillery going on, and [they] made me feel like an idiot. ... Here I was, alongside the road, in the ditch, and they were all dressed up, going to church. Well, later on, we found out that there was reason to be concerned when that artillery went off. ... Usually, they fired over our heads, aiming at a greater concentration of troops than we were. ... That was our first introduction to combat, we watched the French ... civilians walking on a Sunday afternoon.
KP: You were in the headquarters platoon.
RM: ... Overseas, yes.
KP: Since you were sending and receiving messages, did you have a clearer idea of how the battle and overall war were being fought, as opposed to the man on the line who was more focused on the stretch of land in front of him?
RM: Yes. As a matter-of-fact, the message that I'll always remember the most was, being on the radio one day, after we had been there for about five months, and I was listening to a battle that was going on between another outfit, another part of our division, further to the south of us. ... There was a pitched battle going on and I was listening to a call for ammunition to be brought up. ... All of a sudden, in the middle of that talk between the forward and the rear areas down there, all of a sudden, it cut out, and somebody came in and said, ... "The armistice has just been signed and the war is over." ... I was the first person in our outfit to realize that the war was over, somewhere. It wasn't over where we were, but, it was over in Europe. [laughter]
KP: Was there still strong fighting in May?
RM: Yes, this was the beginning of May, May, 1945. ...
KP: Most veterans who were with the divisions that went into Germany have said that, by February and March, the German resistance had collapsed. They were trying to move as fast as they could into Germany. Occasionally, they would run into pockets of fighting.
RM: Right, and, actually, our armistice ceremony, where the German commander capitulated officially, occurred about three or four days after the official end of the war in the rest of Europe. ... Actually, our area was the last to have any fighting occur before ... everything stopped.
KP: Did combat continue in your area after May 8th? You mentioned that you had received word of the armistice on May 7th.
RM: Yes. I think ... one of the areas stopped around May 5th or so. I may be off on that. I'd have to look that up, and then, a day later in another area. At the two ceremonies that we happened to attend, we provided the firepower, in case ... there was some trick that they might play. We lined up in a ... long field, as far as the eye could see, and ... we had troops on either side of this area that ended in a woods and a road that came out of those woods. ... The German soldiers, I mean, the officers, came into view, got out of their vehicle, and then, marched in-between our troops, and came up to our troop commanders, along with the French and British commanders, ... and handed over their pistol and formally surrendered. That all went smoothly. One thing that I can remember is that the French commander spit in the German officer's face, or spit at him, and there was a moment of tension there, but, other than that, the ceremony went off as scheduled. We were within about ten feet of the ceremony. ...
KP: We were talking about the surrender ceremony.
RM: Oh, yes. Well, it was ... a good experience, to have been in on both of those formal ceremonies, 'cause they were the last occurrence of World War II, in Europe at least.
KP: Before coming out to Oklahoma, I looked through an official Army history on the last campaign of the European War and your unit is mentioned briefly. The front that you fought on was not widely known.
RM: It was ... dubbed, "the Forgotten Front," and the reason it was is that the main activity was going on further inside Germany. ... [However], the German pockets along the coast of France, I would guess, probably numbered about 150,000 German troops, and, also, the submarine pens at Lorient. ... [It was a] potentially active front, it could have been, and so, you probably are wondering, "Well, why did you agree to this interview?" because, you know, I really didn't play a big part in the war. ... As I mentioned to you when we first talked, the main reason that I wanted to do this interview was so that the story of the sinking of the Leopoldville would become known in a few more places than it is now. ... What actually happened has been kept hush-hush by the War Department and anybody else related to the archives of World War II, ... apparently, because it was such a tragedy of mistakes, and oversights, and people not doing what they should have done. ... [However], those who actually experienced the sinking of the Leopoldville will never forget it. ... They are amazed that that story hasn't been told, but, there is a book that was published by one of the survivors that recounts the individual stories of what happened on that ship during that time. ... It will not be forgotten, but, my interest was that ... it would be better publicized.
KP: Before we began the interview, you mentioned that the 66th Division is among the most active divisions for reunions.
RM: That's true, and, probably because of that sinking of the ship, the survivors created a bond that was stronger than many other units, and, as a result, they're eager to get together when the division [meets]. Veterans' division reunions have been very well attended. [We] usually have taken over a hotel the size of a Marriott and filled it up. ... A majority of those who attend every other year were survivors of that ship.
KP: They are the group that always comes back.
RM: Yes, and then, of course, those of us who were on the periphery of that feel the bond there, too, and it has caused us to attend when maybe we would have lost interest over the years.
KP: I see in your scrapbook that you had a hand in organizing the reunions for the first few years, when you worked in New York City.
RM: Yes. I organized our troop reunions when I was working in New York City, and I would make the arrangements with the hotel, and the food, and the drink, and would send out the notification. ... It was a labor of love, because we were all anxious to see each other, especially those first few years. ... After the fifth year, I thought, "Well, I'm going to let someone else take over," but, nobody ever did. [laughter] ... We never met again as just a troop until about two months ago, and we decided to have our own reunion, and about twenty-three of us got together in Florida, and retold all the war stories that we've told every time we get together, and showed pictures, and exchanged information, and are determined to meet again, probably in about two years. ... It becomes a fraternity, in a sense, of people who have something in common, and, to me, ... that was the most important thing that I got out of my experience, were the relationships that I made with people who have the same interests that I have and have the same feeling of a close bond, that we experienced together years ago.
KP: You fought in a very important sector, but, a largely forgotten one. How long were you on the line for?
RM: Well, we were ... officially in combat for 133 days and, if my memory proves correct, we would have received the Presidential Citation if we had been in combat for 140 days. So, we missed it by a week, but, ... there have been several attempts on the part of some of our leaders to get the Presidential Citation awarded to us, even now, but, ... so much time has passed that there is little interest on the part of the Pentagon, or the War Department, or whoever decides such things.
KP: How many times a day could you expect to be shelled? Was that a regular occurrence in your sector?
RM: We would hear shelling just about every day. The Germans had, ... in their area, three French coastal guns, .340 mm guns. Those are big babies. ... They were built in a pit where the barrel could move in a 360 degree circle and there were living quarters along and below the gun emplacement. The barrels were large enough so that I could crawl into the barrel. Admittedly, I'm not very wide, but, I was just amazed at how large that barrel was. When that gun went off, and we were, ... I would guess, about five miles from it, when those shells were fired, the whole town would shake, we would shake, people would drop whatever they were doing, it would startle them so. ... Those French coastal guns could shoot with accuracy for about twenty miles. They were usually trying to hit our headquarters, that was ... about twenty-one miles away, and they would usually land about a block or two ... from the actual buildings that they were aiming [for]. ... So, when those shells went off, it sounded like a million newspapers all being rustled together in a ball and they would ... normally go over our heads.
One time, I was in a jeep with two others. We were headed somewhere, and one of the shells were fired [from] these large coastal guns, and the shell, I guess, misfired, and we had stopped when we heard the shell go off, and darn if it didn't land across the street from where we were, in a garage, an open garage. ... I happened to be looking at the two fellows who were with me as the shell landed and I saw their faces actually turn gray-green. I can still see that the blood was drained from their upper body. It made such an impact [laughter] and destroyed part of a house, I think, [which] was, luckily, not occupied. Well, we jumped in our vehicle and took off just as fast as we could go, because we thought they were aiming at us, or at least at our town, and that was as close to being hit as I was by big shells.
... Actually, I was ... pretty fortunate, in that the next closest time that I got to being hit by fire was after the war was over. ... We were having some foxholes, not foxholes, they were latrines, dug, latrine being the Army term for bathroom, outdoor that is. ... I was standing, looking at these German PWs who were digging these latrines, and, all of a sudden, bullets began to go right by me, and, yet, I ... couldn't hear any sound of firing. ... One of them must have landed about, oh, three or four inches from me and there were, I guess, about a dozen shots fired. [I] come to find out later, ... our PW camps were [for] Germans, and the wind was blowing toward them, so that we could not hear the sound of the guards firing at a German who was trying to escape, and the bullets were missing the person they were aiming at and landing right by my feet. ... That's as close as I came to being shot in the war.
KP: You were distant enough to be mainly worried about the artillery.
RM: Yes. ... Being in the headquarters platoon, where we were, in the rear areas, we were more concerned with the large artillery, rather than rifle fire.
KP: What about your advance platoons?
RM: The advance platoons were in active combat. ... In fact, there was one platoon that we would be in contact with, ... the platoon would occupy a village during the day, and the Germans would be watching them occupy the village, and there would be some firing exchanged and so on, and then, at the end of the day, we would withdrawal our platoon, and the German troops would occupy the village. ... It went back and forth like that for at least a month or two and we were in constant communication with an occurrence like that.
KP: How much movement was there?
RM: Of our unit?
KP: Of the division in general and your unit in particular, the advance platoons. You mentioned the first platoon going back and forth?
RM: Yes, I would say our area occupied about, oh, thirty to forty miles, ... if you drew a semi-circle, primarily. We would go outside of that once in a while, but, primarily, we were in that one area. We contained [the Germans]. Specifically, our troop contained a peninsula which the Germans had occupied. It was called the Quiberon Peninsula and at the head of that peninsula was this fort that contained the coastal guns and the heavy firepower that they had in the fort. ... There were French civilians who had been kept in that peninsula, they were not allowed to leave by the Germans, and they were mistreated. In fact, there was a group of them that were buried alive, and we had heard stories about this, but, ... when the final surrender came and we went in and occupied that area, we came upon the Free French Forces who, the particular unit there, were forcing a German sergeant to go in and open up this cave where these French civilians had been buried alive. ... As we came in, we saw these bodies being carried out by the Germans.
KP: What kind of stories did you hear?
RM: Well, ... probably not more than that, ... that some French civilians had been buried alive.
KP: When did you learn the whole story? You showed me, during the break, the pictures you took of them removing the victims' bodies. When did that occur?
RM: That occurred the day that we went in and occupied [the peninsula]. ... The German troops surrendered, they came out, they threw their weapons on the ground. As a matter-of-fact, I jumped off our armored car and picked up a Mauser machine pistol that I saw thrown over on the side of the road.
KP: What did you know about the incident when it was revealed? Did you ever get anymore details about what had happened and why the Germans were so vicious in this particular case?
RM: No, I really never did learn more than that. Now, there might be some people in our outfit who knew more about it, but, that's, for some reason, a subject that we haven't talked very much about, as a unit.
KP: Were you shocked that the Germans had been this vindictive and cruel?
RM: Yes. It was a shock ... and it was something that I've never forgotten. [laughter] ... When I hear, today, stories that certain people, both in Germany and here, in this country, maintain ... that this sort of thing never really happened, that this is some story that was concocted, with regard to the camps in Germany and where people were buried alive, well, when I saw this first hand, that's something that made me a believer.
KP: You knew about German cruelty. You knew that this was not propaganda.
RM: That's right.
KP: You were in the command post for quite a long time. What else do you remember about your time in the field? How was the food? You had problems with cold feet. [laughter] What else do you remember about being on the line?
RM: Well, we traveled a lot. We patrolled a lot in the area. ... As I say, being one of, I think, nine radio operators, we would work in units of three, ... as a result, we would be on for eight hours and be off for sixteen hours, which sounds like a lot of time off, but, boy, those eight hours, you were paying attention to what you were doing [laughter] and you got tired doing it. ... When we had time off, ... we would assist in various activities that occurred in the headquarters platoon, where they needed help, or we would help with the maintaining of radio equipment and that sort of thing, and so, from that standpoint, [I] had a pretty ... nice job, as nice as it could be, and, yet, it was an important job.
KP: Where did you sleep when you were in the field? Did you sleep in a tent?
RM: No. We occupied the shore area. I mentioned Carnac. Well, there was a village called Carnac-Plage, ... meaning Carnac Beach Area, and ... there were some shops and there were hotels. It had been a resort town before the war and it is a resort town now. ...
--------------------------------------END OF TAPE TWO, SIDE ONE-----------------------------------
KP: You were saying that you had mingled with the French civilians.
RM: ... I personally didn't get to know them intimately, but, I knew some of them where I would converse with them. ... You know, sometimes, we'd be invited to have lunch or supper with them, or something of that nature, when we had time off. ... At times, there wasn't too much activity, and then, at other times, there was a lot of activity. It would come and go. One incident that we happened to talk about at our last reunion, every night, three of us would go out on the beach. ... As it began to turn [dark], as night came on, we would take out a .50 caliber machine gun and a tarp, and we would dig an emplacement for the .50 caliber machine gun on top of the tarp. We also had our bedrolls. ... Our function ... was to make sure that German troops didn't come in by boat from their peninsula and catch us by surprise. So, we would take turns staying awake. Two of us would sleep and one person would be on for an hour, and then, we'd wake somebody up, and somebody else would watch for an hour. Well, when you watch the ocean coming in, and the tide going out, or in, and rocks appearing, ... your imagination begins to take over. ... You could swear that there was a fleet coming in of German ships and it would be rocks and the waves coming over them, you know. [laughter] ... One night, we were looking at that, ... all of a sudden, the Germans shot flares up in the end of the peninsula, and then, some shells were fired. ... We thought, "Boy, this is it," cause our imagination could see ships coming in. Well, to make a long story short, there weren't any ships, [laughter] and I don't know why they fired, but, those were ... long nights when you stayed out there.
KP: How often did you pull this beach duty?
RM: ... Each one of us would do it about ... once a month, I guess, sometimes twice a month, and the other occurrence on the beach that I'll always remember was the first warm day of spring. ... About five or six of us went out on the beach. Well, in order to get to the beach, our area of France was the most heavily mined area anywhere in Europe, and our mine detectors had carved out a path in an S shape, so that if anybody landed, they wouldn't be able to just walk up, because there'd be mines going off. ... So, we would go through this path that had been cleared, and then, out onto the beach. Well, we went out on this first warm day. It was about, oh, eleven o'clock in the morning and we were lying there, about five or six of us. We had two fellows catching a softball, right along the edge of the water. They were throwing a softball back and forth and there was an officer [with us]. One of our officers was on his stomach, reading a book, and I'd just got through saying, "Boy, what a crazy war this is. Here we are, probably, the Germans are looking at us, and we're lying here, sunning ourselves on the beach." I no sooner got those words out than a howitzer was fired and you could hear it coming, you know. My favorite description is newspapers being rattled, you know, "Sh-sh-sh-sh-sh," like that. Well, the first shell landed right in-between the two fellows who were having a catch, and the only reason they weren't killed was that a wave broke just as the shell landed, and it absorbed ... all the particles that were set in motion there. ... By the time the second shell went off, I was already on my knees and ready to run back, ... away from the beach. The only thing that I saw was that nobody was hit. I saw that one of the fellows ... who had been playing catch ... took a giant leap, and landed right on the back of ... this officer's head, and pushed his face into the sand. ... I still have that sight of the officer blowing sand out of his eyes, and nose, and ears, and so on, and I saw everybody starting to move, and I took off. ...
I took off so fast that I never even thought of the mines and ... I ran right through the minefield. I didn't go through the S curve or anything. I went right through, didn't hit any mines, obviously, and scaled a fence that I would not be able to scale again for the rest of my life. I hit that fence and, in one shot, jumped over it, and, when I went back a few days later and I looked at that fence, I said, "I couldn't have done that," you know, [laughter] but, I did. ... [I] ran through the motor pool, and we had dug foxholes where our billet was, in case we needed them, and I was conscious of somebody else running behind me, and I dived into the foxhole, and ... the fellow behind me dived into the same foxhole, and we became hopelessly entangled, legs, arms, you know, headfirst in that foxhole. By that time, about four or five more shells had gone off. Now, they were high explosive shells and they were bursting up in the air and spattering down, you know. ... About three or four weeks ago, I was with the fellow who jumped ... into that foxhole and that's why we were telling the story to the others, because ... we really had to laugh. We couldn't untangle ourselves. We were so hopelessly enmeshed in there, but, ... I wasn't at all nervous for about an hour, and then, about an hour later, my legs felt like jelly, when I realized what I had done, that I had run right through that minefield, that I hadn't been hit by the shell when it first landed, and that we had avoided the other shells. [laughter] ... That's the kind of incident that we at headquarters had on occasion.
KP: Was anyone from headquarters company seriously wounded or killed?
RM: We had one fellow killed by a mine on a road the first night we were there. The first night we ... came into the combat area, one fellow was killed, one fellow's leg was injured, and two others were slightly injured.
KP: How many casualties did the forward platoons take?
RM: We did not have anybody killed, and ... we may have had some injured, but, I've long since forgotten.
KP: Is there anything else that you remember about combat?
RM: Oh, I can remember, riding in a jeep one time, we were headed, ... I think, to pick up some supplies. ... We were paralleling the coast and one of the areas that we had to negotiate on this road, ... we knew, was open to the Germans. They could see us, if they happened to be looking at us, and so, whenever we got to this area, we drove just as fast as we could go. ... One day, sure enough, they spotted us, and they started firing, and we were ... going as fast as we, I think it was a jeep that we were in, could go. ... The shells were landing right behind us, and they never did catch up to us, and we finally got out of the way, [laughter] but, those are just some of the incidents. ... We were not [in a] World War I type of battle, even though we were stationary, even though we were containing units. The Germans, I think, were not anxious to cause trouble any more than we were. However, just before the war was over, apparently, our unit had received orders to invade that peninsula, the Quiberon Peninsula, which meant that we were either going to have to get through that fort that was at the head of it or we were going to have to go in by sea. ... We were sure glad that the war ended, because that would have meant a lot of casualties for our particular unit.
KP: Had planning begun for that particular assault?
RM: Yes, we knew we were going to do that. We were getting ready for it.
KP: Where would your reconnaissance unit have been?
RM: I think we would have probably spearheaded it. That was my understanding. So, we were fortunate that the war suddenly ended.
KP: Your unit often cooperated with the Free French. How did that go?
RM: Right. That's pretty difficult for me to answer, because our particular reconnaissance troop really didn't have that much liaison with the French, but, our other units did, particularly artillery units and infantry units, so, I can't really answer that.
KP: How long after the war ended did you remain in that area of France? Your division was eventually redeployed to Marseilles?
RM: Yes. I think we were only there for about two or three weeks, or maybe a month later, and then, we were reassigned to Marseilles, where the troops who were being redeployed to the China-Burma-India Theater in the Pacific were being ... prepared to go over. ...
KP: Were these the troops who did not have enough points to go home?
RM: That's right. Well, ... part of the troops throughout all of that part of Europe ... would go through the Port of Marseilles, so, a tremendous number of troops were funneling through. ... So, our particular unit, our job became one of acting as MPs. In fact, we were made MPs, and we used to patrol the areas of Marseilles, and our principle function was to put down ... any riots that occurred or any trouble that occurred between the civilians and the soldiers or between different units. ... There were two huge bus depot areas where troops would come in on leave or they were funneling through, either one, and they would spend time in the City of Marseilles. Marseilles, to this day, is still considered to be one of the toughest cities in all of Europe. Criminals can spend a lifetime there. They can hide in the narrow, crooked streets of Old Marseilles and never be seen or caught. ... So, our job was to protect our troops from being caught in there. A lot of those areas were off-limits, for obvious reasons, and our job was to get them out of there, 'cause those who went to houses of ill repute, or just who were looking for excitement, would be overcome ... by the criminal element, and beat up, and their money stolen, and their uniforms, and ... even their glasses would be taken. So, our job was to get into ... these off-limits areas and get them out of there and we did that. Usually, we'd be on duty from midnight 'til eight in the morning and we were busy.
KP: Did you have any close calls when you were out on shore patrol?
RM: Yes, we used to have ... some excitement. A couple of times, I can remember charging ... into a building, and there'd be somebody either stealing, or hiding, or whatever was going on, and, sometimes, there were shots fired, you know. There was excitement at times, and then, we were in one big riot at one of those bus depots that I referred to. One time, we were called on the radio to get to this bus area, because ... there was trouble. So, we roared over to that depot. I remember, ... we were in jeeps at the time, quarter-ton trucks, too, I think, and we parked along a side street, and we could hear that there was all sorts of excitement going on, right around the corner. We jumped out and went running around the corner and, here, all "H" was breaking loose, you know, everybody fighting everyone else. So, we formed a wedge, and we had nightsticks, put one hand on our pistols, ... to prevent them from being taken, and then, just swung the nightsticks as hard and as fast as we could, and made a "V" into the center of this trouble.
KP: What was the trouble centered around?
RM: Well, apparently, somebody had shot somebody else. ... First, we heard that it was a GI who had shot a Frenchmen, then, we heard that it was a black who had shot a white fellow, and then, we heard the reverse, you know, and everybody was coming up with all sorts of explanations for what was going on.
KP: Were American military people rioting as well?
RM: American military people, and French, and gendarmes, and [the] gendarmes sent in what looked like a large weapons carrier. It seemed that most of the trouble was going on in a bar. ... The fellow who was at our point was the first person in through the door. ... He had what we used to call a "grease gun," that was a submachine gun, and he jumped into the center of the bar, we were right behind him, and he whipped around and saw somebody aiming a gun at him, and he fired about, I don't know how many shots, and what he saw was his reflection in a mirror. [laughter] ... Needless to say, he had to answer to [someone]. He was quizzed for about two or three days by the authorities as to why he fired those shots, you know. ... Anyhow, this was a pretty big riot going on, and we finally got it all calmed down and under control, and it took about three or four hours. The weapons carrier departed, filled with injured rioters.
KP: Did you ever find out what had actually caused the riot?
RM: No, never did.
KP: Did you have any dealings with combat soldiers? Bill Mauldin often wrote about the experiences of combat soldiers dealing with MPs. You had been a combat soldier, so, you were not a regular MP.
RM: Well, I guess, you know, you're always going to have a certain percentage who want to get into trouble, but, really, the percentage was not that large.
KP: So, most of the soldiers and sailors …
RM: Were obedient, I'll put it that way. When we'd pick them up, you know, they wouldn't try to either fight you or escape from you, you know. They'd do what you told them to do and, most of the time, we didn't have any trouble.
KP: What would you pick soldiers up for? You were in a joint patrol with the Navy.
RM: That's right, and I worked with the shore patrol, because, if there was trouble between the Navy and the Army troops in the Marseilles area, ... each one of us could handle our own troops and could arrest them, if we needed to. ... With his patrol, we used to patrol mostly the off-limits areas and he knew every brothel that there was in Marseilles, through [the] experience of having patrolled all that area, to the point ... where the madams knew him, you know. ... They'd say, "Uh-oh, we got to behave ourselves," but, we would patrol those areas, and anybody who looked like an American soldier, sometimes, you couldn't tell [laughter] who was who, we'd pick em up, they usually had had too much to drink, you know, and put them in the vehicle, and ... tie them up in some way, and get them out of there.
KP: Do you think that the Army was mainly concerned about the off-limits areas because of the criminal element? Did you have any dealings with this criminal element? Where you ever called in to help an American GI or sailor? By the time you arrived on the scene, was the damage already done?
RM: Well, no. What we would do was to take them to the police headquarters, our military police headquarters, and we would turn them over, and then, we'd go out on patrol, again. So, we didn't handle [that end of it]. We'd tell ... the sergeant at the admitting area what had happened, what the person had done, what he hadn't done, what we knew, what we didn't know, and then, we'd take off and start patrolling again.
KP: You never followed the cases to completion.
KP: You were just looking for bodies.
RM: Yes. Our job was just to get 'em out of the way, or protect them, or arrest them, or whatever, and take them in, and then, somebody took over from there.
KP: You mentioned that you were patrolling the brothels. Your colleague actually knew them quite well from his shore patrol duties. Did you have any other dealings with the French civilians?
RM: Yes, we had more ... than the brothels, [laughter] but, I found the French to be [amicable], you know. I've always heard, had heard before and have heard ever since, and I've been to Europe, now, three or four times ... since the war, and I liked the French, and I've never found that they were mean to me, or rude, or whatever, you know, and, yet, people keep saying that. ... It may be true in a big city, like Paris, you know, where they get tired of visitors and people, ... "Ugly Americans" who don't behave themselves, and so on, but, personally, I've not encountered it. So, I have a good feeling about the French population, and I got along with them great during the war, but, ... I wasn't close to them, because, you know, there wasn't time to be close to them.
KP: You did not feel that they were a hindrance to your job.
RM: No, no. ... I didn't have any trouble. Now, one of our fellows, who I was with just at our last reunion, a couple of months ago, went back to Carnac-Plage last summer and met with the couple who owned a hotel, where they had stayed during the war, and the lady was over eighty years old, and the son was sixty years old. He said ... that they treated him as though ... he were their son, you know. They couldn't have been nicer, and they were so glad to see him, and they took him sightseeing, went to all the spots that he had been during the war that they knew he had been to, and just couldn't be nice enough. ... That's the kind of people that I encountered. ... I haven't gotten to Brittany, because it's either too expensive or there isn't time, but, I'd like to get back there some day.
KP: Were you scheduled to go to Japan? Were you destined for occupation duty? Did you know about that?
RM: I think we were probably in Europe. As long as that redeployment was occurring, ... we stayed there, in Marseilles, and then, we were redeployed to, first, Germany, and then, to Austria, Vienna, specifically, as occupation troops. ... There, we had really very little to do, but, various parts of our outfit were busy, and went different places, and were stationed in different areas, and they had varying degrees of work.
KP: What types of duty did you have during the occupation?
RM: I was very fortunate. When I got to Vienna, one of the first things that they were concerned about was keeping the troops occupied, and interested, and active, and happy, and so on, and so, ... one of the first things they did was to form basketball leagues. ... One day, ... I heard that there was going to be a basketball tryout, and my buddy and I, [we] had been together all through the Army experience, went to the first practice, and we made the team. ... Eventually, we were put on detached service and represented our company team, our battalion team, and [the] United States Forces in Austria team, which was a pretty big deal. I had not played basketball, formally. ... In fact, I had gone out for basketball in high school, in my senior year, had made the team, until the coach learned that I was a senior, and he kicked me out. [laughter] He said, "I'm not interested in you. I'm interested in next year," and so, I was a frustrated basketball player. ... I was really enthusiastic about having made this team, and I got to play on three teams, and almost learned how to be a good basketball player, and had a ball with it, if you'll pardon the pun. [laughter]
KP: Was that your principle duty in Vienna?
RM: That was my principle duty in Vienna. I was on detached service. The only time I knew I was in the Army was when we had to fall out on Saturday morning, and they checked to make sure we were all still alive, and, the rest of the time, we would ... be practicing. ... We would practice and practice hard for an entire afternoon, and then, our games ... were held at seven o'clock at night and at nine, doubleheaders, in the sports palace, and we would either be practicing in the afternoon or play basketball in the evening, if a game was scheduled. The rest of the time, we were ... on our own and we went sent sightseeing. We enjoyed life. [laughter]
KP: You saw quite a bit of opera.
RM: Went to the opera, saw fourteen operas, and enjoyed that, got to be an opera lover, I guess, whereas before, you couldn't have forced me to listen to an opera.
KP: Your interest developed from going to your first opera.
RM: Yes, it was the first one I ever went to, and then, also, I took a course, a math course, in the University of Vienna during that period. ... Getting back to the basketball, ... I guess it was a battalion team, I'm not sure which team it was, but, one of our teams had a scheduled game with Toulon Air Force Base, and that was outside of our area. Vienna was a four part occupation [city], Russian, French, British, American Zones. Toulon Air Force Base was, somehow, in the Russian Zone, but, it was a little enclave. We had this basketball game ... at Toulon Air Force Base. So, we got a three-quarter ton truck, and the team got in, and off we went. It was ice and snow, night time, and we drove without incident to Toulon Air Force Base. We started warming up, and I noticed that, as we were coming in under the basket, after we had done that for about five minutes, I felt kind of queasy, and I mentioned it to someone, and he said, "You know, I don't feel so hot either."
Anyhow, the game started, and we started running, back and forth, up and down the court, and, boy, I had to take myself out. I really felt nauseous. Pretty soon, somebody else took himself out and that happened all through the first half. By the time the half ... was over, I really felt bad, and I looked in the mirror, and my lips were bluish, looked purplish, and, [I] come to find out, after the ... whole game was over, that they had heaters that were fired by gasoline operated motors. ... They had hooked it up wrong and had the exhaust coming into the hanger that had been converted into a basketball court, with seats on either side. The seats were full with people. They were not affected. It was just the people ... who were active who were affected. We were getting carbon monoxide pumped into us and the heat was going outside. ... Well, I've never been so sick in all my life. For the next two or three days, all of us were, but, anyhow, we won the game. I have ... to mention that, because we won by two points, in spite of the fact that we were sick. ...
We got in our truck and started the trek back home. It was really cold by then and the tarp was over the truck, completely shut-in the back. I was in front. We had a German driver, a German PW driver. We started down a hill, and ... there was a village at the bottom of this hill, and, as we approached the bottom of the hill, we saw some kind of military [personnel] at the center. They had ... red berets of some kind, a uniform that I didn't recognize at all, and, when we got closer, the German driver's first impulse was to step on the gas and go on through, and then, ... I yelled at him, and he thought better of it. ... We stopped and here came these soldiers, surrounding the vehicle. They were Russian Marines. What they were doing in inland Austria, I don't know. ... I lowered the window and I said the only Russian word that I knew, "Comrade," for all it was worth, and they pointed to the rear of the truck. I finally realized [that] what they wanted was a ride into Vienna, [laughter] and so, they opened the tarp in back of the [truck]. The rest of my team thought they were being invaded or something, but, they all got in and sat on the ... flooring in back, and off we went. ... Add to that [our] feeling sick from the carbon monoxide poisoning, it was a big day that I'll never forget, or a big evening that I'll never forget. [laughter]
KP: Did you have any contact with the Soviets when you were in Vienna?
RM: Every once in a while, we would stray, unknowingly, into the Russian Zone, and, all of a sudden, we'd see a Russian soldier with his bayonet drawn, and he'd say something in Russian, and we'd get the "H" out of there. [laughter]
KP: There was not a lot of movement between the Soviet and the American Zones.
KP: Was there a black market?
RM: There was a tremendous amount of black market going on, but, I wasn't involved. [laughter]
KP: Did you know anyone who was involved? You do not have to use names.
RM: Well, there was one fellow that I'll always remember. He was the biggest wheeler and dealer that I've ever known. I won't say his name, 'cause he may still be alive, but, he wasn't in our outfit, originally, so, ... I never saw him again. ... He would collect condoms, [which] were handed out ... to the troops. Well, he would collect all the condoms that he could from all the various troops that he would encounter and put them in a suitcase, and, when he filled up the suitcase, off he'd go, on leave to Switzerland, and he'd trade the suitcase of condoms for a suitcase full of watches, and come back, and sell watches to whoever would buy them. Now, how's that for a black market? [laughter]
KP: You were on occupation duty in Germany for awhile. What were your duties there?
RM: Well, when we first went into Germany, we stayed in the town of Mayen, M-A-Y-E-N, lived in a schoolhouse for a week or two, ... and we're pretty much held to that schoolhouse, because it was too dangerous to walk around. The Germans were still taking pot shots. ...
KP: Where was this?
RM: ... Near the Rhine, and this was after the war was officially over, and we were going in as occupation [troops].
KP: You still had the problem of the Germans …
RM: Not being very friendly, is that what you mean?
KP: Yes, to the point where they were still shooting at you.
RM: Well, there were some incidents where shots were fired, so, we were told to not poke our nose out. We pretty much lived in that schoolhouse for awhile, and we weren't there for more than about three or four days, and then, we went on to Austria.
KP: You had very few experiences in Germany.
RM: Yes, very few. ... As soon as we went into Austria, the attitude of the people seemed to be more friendly, easier going, not as much animosity to the troops. ... It's interesting. We went on a concert tour recently, well, I say recently, about two years ago, a church concert tour, and we went to Germany, and Austria, and Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, and I noticed the difference in the people when I went from Germany into Austria, ... the same description that I just gave you. People seemed to be more friendly and more ... receptive to Americans.
KP: Than the Germans?
RM: Now, that could just be because I had experienced it before. Maybe I was being oversensitive, I don't know, but, I had that same feeling again.
KP: You have mentioned several incidents involving PWs, the escape attempt at the camp, your driver in Austria, etc. Did you have any other encounters with prisoners of war?
RM: ... Not very much more than that. When we were doing MP duty in Marseilles, there was a kitchen that was run by PWs and we used to go at midnight and get these magnificent submarine sandwiches, filled with sweet onions, and tomatoes, and ... olive oil poured over it. Why, I begin to salivate just talking about it. ... We used to get to know some of the PWs who worked in that kitchen, but, other than that, I had not very much more experience.
KP: Had you thought of making the military a career?
RM: Definitely not. When I was being discharged, I physically sat on my hands, so that I couldn't sign anything [laughter] that would keep me in.
KP: You were very much looking forward to …
RM: Very much looking forward to civilian life, yes.
KP: It sounds like you enjoyed your tour in Europe, though.
RM: I did. I enjoyed the whole Army experience. Of course, there were things like frozen feet and that type of thing that weren't fun, but, ... I enjoyed it, I guess, because I made friendships, and met so many different people and kinds of people, and got a taste of Europe, and the whole thing was brand new to me. ... I just kind of soaked it in. I thoroughly enjoyed it, you know. [laughter]
KP: When you were in Europe, what did you think would happen to you when you were discharged? Did you plan on going back to Rutgers?
RM: Oh, yes. That was my intention all the way through and [I] went back after I had been home just a few weeks.
KP: I noticed in the clippings that you showed me during the break that there was a lot of tension over the point system. What do you remember about that? You were not discharged until April of 1946.
RM: That's right. We just didn't have that many points. We just hadn't been there long enough. ... We were awarded a battle star, but, that still wasn't enough. We weren't high point enough ... to be sent home. ... While I yearned for a big plate of spaghetti, and sardines, and things that I used to eat at home, I really thought it was great to have experienced the occupation, which, for me, was learning how to play basketball, and getting along with people, and going to the opera, and going to school, and so on. ... So, that was fine with me, but, I have to admit, I was glad to get home.
KP: Did you get to know any Viennese while you were on occupation duty?
RM: Yes, ... not close relationships. I remember one fellow in particular. He had been in the concentration camp, I think it was Dachau, and ... he had been a Ping-Pong champion, ... I think it was of Hungary. ... When he was released, when he was saved, or whatever the term is, somehow, the Red Cross got him, ... I guess when they heard that he was a Ping-Pong champion, to be involved in USO work and so on. ... All of a sudden, one day, ... he showed up at the Red Cross Club, where we practically lived. ... I had played a lot of Ping-Pong, and I happened to be playing in the room ... when he walked in, and I guess it was his first day, and so, to make a long story short, we started playing Ping-Pong. ...
--------------------------------------END OF TAPE TWO, SIDE TWO-----------------------------------
RM: ... I was just saying that ... this Ping-Pong player from Hungary could have given me twenty points and he still would have beaten me twenty-two to twenty, because that was the most impressive display of Ping-Pong that I've ever seen in my life. ... So, you know, I used to play with him over a period of several weeks and ... really learned a lot about how to play Ping-Pong. [laughter]
KP: Did he ever talk to you about his experiences?
RM: Never, and I never brought up the subject, purposely.
KP: What was it like to be a civilian again?
RM: Wonderful. [laughter] Yes, I was really glad to get back. ... I felt as though I knew what I was doing and where I was, ... you know, that I really wanted to go to college and I really wanted to get a degree. ... Before, I did it just because everybody else went to school and it was the thing to do in my little circle of friends. ... I really didn't have any objective in mind, except to get an education. When I got back, I picked up on my electrical engineering course that I had started. Of course, [I had taken] only the basic courses in that first semester, and I continued with the engineering course, ... but, I think deep down, I realized that I was no longer interested in whether the answer to some engineering problem was 1.4629 or 1.4689, and my grades began to show it, and I knew that ... I just wasn't putting my heart into engineering. Well, when I came to the decision that I had to do something, somebody suggested to me ... that I go see the Dean of Men, Dean Curtin. He was a fraternity brother, but, I didn't know him. I just knew that he was a fraternity brother. So, I scheduled an interview with him, and I told him that I had taken engineering before the war, and ... picked it up when I got back, and that I wasn't doing very well, and I really didn't know what to do next. ...
He looked up at me and he said, "Well, why don't you quit?" and I felt as though he had slapped me in the face. He made me so mad that I ended the conversation about one second later and walked out. ... I guess that was the best thing he could have said to me, because, in that instant, I knew that, number one, I wasn't going to quit, and, number two, that I wasn't going to continue with engineering, and, number three, that I was going to take business administration, which I did. ... [I] went to see Dean Owen, ... [who] was the head of the department, and he was a nice gentleman, white-haired, great teacher, great person, and he welcomed me to the School of Business Administration, and fought to have some more courses counted, you know, as part of the credit, and I dived into [it]. I majored in economics, with a minor in business administration, I guess it was. Well, it was like a new world for me. ... I rolled up my sleeves and proceeded to get on the Dean's List practically ... every semester, and loved the courses, and got enthusiastic over what I was doing, and realized that I was in the right channel for me.
KP: You got involved with your fraternity again as well.
RM: Very, very involved. I was an officer of the fraternity. I was rushing chairman for two years in a row and I had a very unusual [position]. When we first started, it was important that we get membership quickly. We didn't have a house at that point, and so, I was given authority to pledge, if the occasion demanded, without having anybody else give the okay. We were a very democratic fraternity, when it came to voting and so on, but, for that one year, I had the prerogative to just pledge somebody on the spot, which I did, and they're still my friends today. [laughter] ... That, I enjoyed a lot, and then, I was, I guess, corresponding secretary and whatever else. The fraternity experience ... was one of the highlights of my schooling. ...
KP: How many veterans were in your fraternity?
RM: Practically all, yes. We all came back and we knew each other. Most of us knew each other for that one semester that I had been there.
KP: Large numbers of the Class of 1949 should have been in the Class of 1946.
RM: Right, yes, and it was just a great experience. ... We were a lot more mature. A lot of us were either married or going steady and it was just a completely different environment.
KP: Were you surprised at how some people had changed?
RM: Some people, yes. People had changed, and, yet, they hadn't changed. They were still the same person, most of them, but, they were a lot more mature, I guess was the main difference. ... I had a picture here that I just noticed. ... We were called "the Singing Fijis" and ... we won practically contest that we ever entered, the interfraternity contests and what have you, and this group, well, I just heard from them not too long ago. ... We've kept up as a group within a group. [laughter] ... Then, I was active in every sport, and I was awarded ... the Tops in Sports for my senior year, and I played everything, except wrestling and swimming. I'm the world's worst swimmer.
KP: Did you play on any varsity teams?
RM: I went out for basketball when I first returned, ... went out for the Rutgers basketball team. ... I was still on the team, still working out, I don't know if I would have made it or not, but, what I quickly realized, it was either going to be basketball or engineering, [laughter] and so, I chose engineering. ... I ended up being ... one of the business managers for the basketball team, and then, I disappeared from that activity, but, I played all the basketball intramurals and touch football. ... As a matter-of-fact, see this fellow here? This fellow's Bill Pellington and I used to play touch football with him. He turned out to be the defensive captain, played sixteen years, for the Baltimore Colts. [laughter] So, we had a pretty good team, won the Keller Trophy, I believe, one year.
KP: You met your wife while she was going to NJC.
RM: ... First house party that we had, since I was rushing chairman, I guess ... it fell on my shoulders to get dates for the first house party that we had. So, [we] went over to what we used to call NJC and is now Douglass, and went to the different houses, and asked if ... anybody wanted to go to a Fiji house party, and we got various gals to say, "Yes." ... [At] one of the last houses we went to, this redhead came down the stairs and I said to myself, said I, "No pledge is going to get that gal." [laughter] ... She said she'd come to the house party, you know, but, ... I hadn't shaved, so, I was staying in the corner. I didn't want to spoil anything. So, I just kind of kept in the background, but, the minute we got back to the Rutgers campus, back to the fraternity house, I picked up the phone and asked her for a date. ... That first date we had, we went to the Rutgers-Princeton game, number one. By the third date, we were pinned, ... which, to us, was engaged, and we've been married, what is it? forty some years since.
KP: How had the war changed your career plans? Before the war, it seems like you wanted to be an engineer.
RM: Yes. ... When I was a senior in high school, I took three days off and went to Steven College to have a Stevens aptitude test. Are you familiar with that? ... I took ... those tests for three days, and, at the end of three days, or when the write-up occurred, their recommendation was that, yes, if I was set on taking engineering, I could, but, not to get too specific, keep it very generalized. ... The other thing that I remember was that I had scored very high on tonal memory, and that happened again when I took the aptitude test in the Army, and that's why I became a radio operator. So, that kind of ... set the tone for what I did later on, but, in looking back over that report, they had doubts that I would be an engineer. ... Actually, I was taking engineering because it was considered to be the most difficult course, and so, I figured, "Well, if I can do well in that, then, I can do anything," you know. It was a kind of a challenge, and so, in a sense, I was misdirected on that aspect of my career. [laughter]
KP: When you came back, you switched majors to business administration. Did you plan on going into business for yourself or joining a large corporation?
RM: I think ... my idea was to join a large company. Unfortunately, when I graduated, there was a recession and companies were letting people go instead of hiring them. ... So, I took some interviews, and then, along the way, someone who ... my family knew asked what I was interested in, what I was doing, and I said, well, I was looking for a job and that I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do. [He] said, "Well, we have an opening in our company," and he was quite high up in the pecking order at the company, and ... it turned out to be assistant to the export and government sales manager of Pyrene Manufacturing Company in Newark. ... That was my first real job, you might say.
KP: How long did you have that job?
RM: I had it for about two years. It didn't pay very much, but, I was gaining a lot of good experience, and I knew that it was just one department, consisting of the manager, I was his assistant, and there was one secretary. ... So, for me to have gone on with that company would have been very difficult, you know, and I realized that after I had been there for awhile, but, I was gaining good experience, and I stayed with it, and, all of a sudden, my father passed away. ... I, in a sense, took his place. My uncle asked me if I would go with the family business, and I said, "Fine," and I doubled my income instantly ... and was there for about six years.
KP: What led you to shift out of that?
RM: Well, ... my uncle decided that it was time for him to ease up, and so, he told his two sons and me to start looking for a job, because he was going to just have himself and one secretary. He was going to maintain an office, just to keep busy, ... but, for the rest of us, there wouldn't be a job. So, for a year, I looked for a job. I built up a file like that, that thick. I went around to every company known to man, I think, every employment agency, and, once again, people weren't hiring at the time. ... By then, I had decided what I wanted to do and, ... when I applied at the employment agency, I said I wanted to go into sales. They would almost laugh me out of the place, cause they'd looked at my previous experience and I had had no sales. Well, the basis of my saying that I wanted to be in sales was that I noticed that I could sell more Glee Club tickets than anybody else and that I could get more for the United Fund than anybody else, going door to door, and that was the basis of my saying, "Well, I want to go into sales. I want to get out of an office." People who work in offices are the ones who really do all the dirty work, and they don't get the pay or the recognition, but, anyhow, that's an aside. ... So, I started looking for sales jobs, and, one day, an old school friend of mine stopped by the house to borrow something from my wife, and she asked him in for a cup of coffee, and, in the course of the conversation, said, "What's Bob doing?" She said, "Well, he's working, but, he's looking for a job," and he said, "Oh, he is? What's he going to do?" "He wants to get into sales." [He] said, "Oh, ... well, we have two openings in pharmaceutical sales," that's what he was doing, and he said, "Someday, tell Bob to give me a call." Well, of course, I called him that night and, to make another long story short, I was hired two weeks later and was with the company for twenty-eight years. I was a sales representative for two-and-a-half years and a manager for the rest of the time.
KP: Where were you based, initially?
RM: Initially, in northern New Jersey, ... as a representative, and then, when the promotion was offered, it was in Oklahoma City, and I never regretted it.
KP: When did you move to Oklahoma City?
RM: When? 1960, the year you were born. [laughter]
KP: Yes. Were you concerned that you might be called up for the Korean War?
RM: ... No, no. I was not concerned at all. I was an old man by then, I guess, in my mind. [laughter]
KP: Did your son ever consider joining the military?
RM: No. ... At the time when he might have been interested, there was no reason to join the service. He's been interested in what I did in the service, and so have my son-in-laws, but, that's about the only thing. They enjoyed reading about it and learning about it, cause it was brand new to them, just like it was to you, probably, ... but, no, they were not military minded either. Now, my cousins were in the service, and I happened to talk to one of them over the weekend, and I said, "Oh, by the way, I'm going to be seeing someone who's interested in my military experience," and I said, "Gee, I've forgotten yours," and so, he told me. He went into the service in 1942. No, he was in the New York National Guard, Seventh Regiment, '42 to September of 1943, then, went into the Navy, was on a destroyer from 1944 to '45, then, went to the Merchant Marine Academy, from September, '42, to December, '43, and then, went to the V-12 Program, the equivalent of [the] Army Specialized Training Program, at Colgate, and then, was relocated, or transferred, to the program at Holy Cross, and then, Brown University, and was discharged in June of '46. [laughter] My other cousin was in the Brooklyn Cavalry National Guard at first, and then, went into the service, and I'm a little hazy [on] his progression, but, at one point, he was, first, a warrant officer, I believe, and then, a second lieutenant, and he ended up planning the bomber strikes over Europe. ... I don't know too much more. One of these days, I'm going to have to ask him the details.
KP: Are there any questions that I forgot to ask?
RM: No. I think I can summarize it by repeating that ... I really enjoyed the positive aspects of being in the service, and had some discomfort of various kinds, but, so did everybody else, and survived, was not wounded, ... had some fun playing basketball in the service, and came back, and picked up where I'd left off. ... So, I've considered myself to be very fortunate, and wouldn't have missed the experience for the world, and the GI Bill sure helped in my family, yes. That was a lifesaver and I hope there isn't another one. [laughter]
KP: Another war?
RM: Another war.
KP: Thank you very much.
RM: You're welcome.
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Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 7/11/00
Reviewed by Sandra Stewart Holyoak 7/13/00
Reviewed by D. Robert Mojo 7/24/00