Kurt Piehler: This begins an interview with Professor Solomon Leader on March 6, 1995, at Rutgers University in New Brunswick with Kurt Piehler and …
Bret Marin: Bret Marin.
KP: I would like to begin by asking you a few questions about your parents. Both of your parents were born in Poland.
Solomon Leader: That's right.
KP: When did they come to the United States? Were they married when they came here?
SL: No, no. My father came in 1912, according to what he told me, and he came alone and he was not quite fourteen then. He had some relatives here. There were some relatives in Plainfield, actually, because he mentioned shoveling snow in the streets of Plainfield when he first came and he kicked around and slept on benches in Manhattan and got various jobs, was fired and quit one, because the boss told him to do something he didn't want to do, and ended up joining the Army at the age of fifteen, hardly speaking any English. He told them he was seventeen. They, of course, didn't believe him, but they didn't care, I think, because the recruiting sergeant had to fill his quota [laughter] and he was in the US Cavalry, … served two hitches. The Cavalry was in the Mexican Border War, when they were looking for Pancho Villa, whom they never found, and then, when the US entered World War I, they sent … his troop to San Diego. They turned in their horses, sent them to Hawaii, to the Philippines. So, he spent World War I in the Pacific and, as a result, he had a lot of overseas time. When the bonus came, he got fifteen hundred dollars, which, in 1938 or so, when he finally got it, was a lot of money. I remember him putting it in his safe and saying, "You can go to college on this," [laughter] on the fifteen hundred dollars. His father had been a watchmaker and … one of his aunts and, also, his uncle, who had preceded him to the US, and the uncle, I think, is the one who changed the name to Leader from Lidski, although I suspect it may have been the officials that wrote the names down. [laughter]
KP: Your father came through Ellis Island.
SL: Yes, right, and the uncle ended up in Belmar, … moved to Belmar around 1916, because I remember him saying it was the year … there was a series of shark attacks on the Jersey Shore, another interesting story, and so, that, ultimately, ended up with my father opening a little shop in Bradley Beach, the year before I was born. That was after his shop in Carmel, New York, burned. … Now, with my mother, I'm a little shaky, because, toward the end of her life, she said, "You know, I think I'm a couple years older than I thought I was." I think it was because she lied about her age so much that the truth was buried too deeply to remember. [laughter] … She used to say she was born in 1896, but, toward the end of her life, she says it may have been 1894. She never knew the precise date. She knew the Jewish holiday it fell on, which was in October. She came over shortly before World War I, but I'm not sure what the date was. I suspect that she was actually older than her sister, who was here in New York, but, since her sister was married and had children already and they wanted her to get married, they pretended she was the younger sister. … This is my theory; I have no evidence to go on why, you know, her age was all mixed up. Anyway, my father was born in 1898, so, he was a few years younger than my mother. They, apparently, met in New York. … She was working in the sweatshops in New York, the needle trades on the Eastside, and she worked two weeks, just as a learner, earned nothing, and then, I think she got three dollars a week, something like that, for a six-day week. When World War I broke out, … I think she said she was making six or twelve … dollars a week at one time, which was fantastic. My mother always treated money, like, you know, twelve dollars a week is a big salary [laughter] … and she spent it that way, and so, I grew up in Bradley Beach. I had an older sister, who was born in New York City. I think my father was working for various watch companies. He worked for the Ansonia Clock Company, up in Connecticut, I suspect he commuted from New York, before he opened up his own shop, and he was a regular, red-blooded American in some ways, many ways, and very left wing, was a committed Socialist. I think, for a while, he was even a Communist, because there was a letter sent to the then President Clothier of Rutgers when I was a student, right after the war, denouncing me as a Communist. [laughter] … They had a lot of the facts wrong, so, I don't know if it was anyone that really knew us very well. They said I was from Long Branch, which was wrong, but, anyway, how I found out about this letter and how it disappeared from the archives, you may want to strike that, is an interesting story, which I'm not going to tell you. [laughter]
KP: Your father served in the military. What did he recall about his experiences?
SL: Basically, he was very upbeat about it. I mean, he was very impressed with the ordinary Americans. He said, you know, there was a sense of fairness and so on. Well, he was a little guy and, if a big guy would pick on him, some other big guy would come over and say, you know, "Take it up with me, somebody your own size." He liked that and he got along very well with people. He'd give a stranger the shirt off his back, which annoyed my mother a lot, and was a very generous man and, unfortunately, he died the first year I was teaching at Rutgers, in the summer of '53. He was only fifty-five. He smoked. He learned to smoke in the Army. I have a picture of him in his uniform, this kid with a cigarette in his hand, his natty uniform. He became a saddler in the Cavalry. They taught him a trade and he always liked to work with leather. He would cut … his belts down for me when I was a kid and was a very handy guy, … a marvelous watchmaker. His bench was meticulous, just absolutely neat. … I worked for him for a while and he would remember watches I had repaired and what I had done to them and so on, you know, a year later and I couldn't remember them and I figured, "This is not for me." My mother, … who was always worried about money, said, "Oh, you know, learn watch making, learn watch making. You'll always have something to fall back on," you know. [laughter] What can a watch repairman do today? There's not a big call for it, just like steelworkers in America. What else can I tell you about my background? I went to school in Bradley Beach, Bradley Beach Grammar School, which I hated. It was good preparation for the Army. …
KP: Why did you hate it so much?
SL: Very harsh environment. They treated us like we were felons, you know, like we were evil, wicked. There were a few very nice teachers, but they were a rarity and the teachers were under a lot of pressure. They had very low salaries, long hours, miserable conditions. There were quite a handful of very good teachers, some of whom I had, but I had some real pills.
KP: As a teacher, what do you remember about what they did wrong and, for the good teachers, what they did right?
SL: The business of punishing the group for individual actions.
BM: An old Catholic school trick.
SL: Yes, well, it happens in the Army. It happens all over, where you have large groups of people, punish the group for anything that goes wrong, just injustice. Well, when I was very small, I was intimidated, so, you know, I wouldn't answer back. Even if I was innocent of something, I would never say so, because they never asked me whether I was or not. They assumed I was and there's at least one occasion [where] I was grabbed for something, you know, sent to the principal's office, completely innocent, and I didn't say a word. … I knew he was just going to bawl me out and, at the end, if I'd hang my head down, he'd lift my chin up, so [that] he looked me in the eye. This tall, six-foot-four rail of a man looked me in the eye and said, "Is that right?" and I'd say, "No, it isn't right." He said, "Well, don't do it again," and then, I knew it was finished. [laughter] I put up with that, rather than come out and tell them, you know, they're wrong. I would never say that. Well, about the seventh grade, I rebelled and I became very obnoxious and stayed after school a few times for things I did do, [laughter] actually, things I said. I had a big mouth, which I continued to have on into adulthood. It got me in trouble in the Army, too. When I first arrived at this infantry outfit, as a replacement, coming up in the dark, they threw us in with these guys. You don't know anybody. Everybody looks alike. Their faces are all dirty. Everybody's dressed the same. Now, "Oh, here's your squad leader, So-and-So," you know, and the first sergeant said, "Any of you replacements had infantry training?" Apparently, they were shoving guys in with no infantry training and … I'd been in the Army over a year, in the Ordnance [Corps], the Signal Corps and I had had eight weeks of advanced infantry training in Texas and I said, "Yes, great stuff." You know, I made some kind of remark and he said, "We don't joke around here." He said, "Men are getting killed here." He said, "We're all serious here." He really put me down, because everybody was looking so, you know, down, I figured, well, let's be upbeat about it. If we die, we die, which a lot of us did, but let's get back to school.
SL: Yes, it wasn't all bad. I learned a lot of grammar, you know. They pounded the subject matter into us and even taught us Latin cases and so on and, of course, today, I wince; you read a newspaper or look at people on television, [who] are supposed to know better, [they] use … "I" in place of "me," invariably, because somebody told them "me" was wrong, because they were using it in the nominative, rather than the accusative case and they don't know the difference. … Well, that's something else. I learned a lot of grammar that there's no use for today. High school was much better. Asbury Park High School was, apparently, a good school. All the teachers were excellent, as far as subject matter went. Still, it wasn't the free environment you see today. Students had no rights, you know, absolutely, but I learned a lot in high school. When I arrived at Rutgers and they insisted I take the first year math course, it was all stuff I'd had in high school and I tried to get the next course and couldn't schedule it and I had them talked into letting me take calculus as a freshman and they couldn't schedule that, either. I ended up taking, Spherical Trigonometry With Naval and Military Applications was the title of the book, which is a very nice course, but sort of a dead-end course. It was fun.
KP: Did you know what you wanted to major in?
SL: Yes, I thought I wanted to be a physicist. This is when we thought there were only ninety-two elements. [When] I came back after the war, I was shocked. I took scientific German and they said, in German, "How many elements are there?" and I said, " Zweiundneunzig," ["Ninety-two,"] you know, and everybody looked at me, "What kind of idiot is this? Where has he been?" By then, there were over a hundred, I think, in 1946.
KP: Did you know that you were going to go to college while you were growing up?
FL: Oh, yes. I always planned on it. My best friend in grammar school, we were sort of like a little island of intellect in Bradley Beach Grammar School, [laughter] was Jules Hirsch, who came with me [to Rutgers ]. His brother, … Class of '42 at Rutgers, who's now deceased, had gone to Rutgers on a State Scholarship and Jules looked up to him, you know. He worshipped him and, whatever his brother read, he would tell Jules about it and Jules would tell me about it. So, I knew a lot about literature and politics and even football, which I didn't care too much about, and so on from Jules, who was, you know, just a sponge for everything. He became an MD before he was twenty-one. He was in medical school before he turned eighteen. When he went to register for the draft in Texas, they wouldn't believe that he was in medical school. He didn't shave, yet, became a specialist in internal medicine at twenty-six. He's now a professor at Rockefeller University. According to Hans Fisher at Rutgers, Jules is one of the top three people in his field in the world, but he never graduated from Rutgers. He got two years credit and you could get into medical school during the war. So, here's a guy who's a full professor at Rockefeller University, never got a bachelor's degree. He was at Rutgers, I think, eighteen months. He went summers. So, Jules was saying, you know, "I'm going to do what my brother did, apply for a State Scholarship and go to Rutgers," and he said, "That's what you should do," and I said, "Okay." So, all through high school, that's what we did. When I met Jules, in fifth grade, he had taken summer school through the third grade, because his folks wanted to push him ahead, and so, he got pushed up a year. So, he was eighteen months younger than I was, still is, and, when I met him, he knew exactly what his life was going to be. He said, "I'm not going to work in grammar school for this junk," you know. … He was getting Cs all the time and the teachers would just constantly get on him. They said, "We know you have ability, we know you have ability, but here you are, getting Cs," because he wouldn't bother studying what he was not interested in. He had his medical book at home [that] he was reading and quoting the things out of, like, some things I argued with him about, like, masturbation caused tuberculosis. I said, "What are you talking about?" He says, "I'll show it to you. It's in the book." I said, "I don't care if it's in the book. That's nonsense." [laughter] I sometimes bring that up to him when I see him. Well, so, this is where I knew about Rutgers, and so, we both applied. We both got scholarships and we even told our friend, our Armenian friend, from Asbury Park High School, Girair Nazarian, who is a professor of chemistry out in California, to apply, too. He did not get a scholarship, but some guy, who was a very poor student, got one whose father had gone to Rutgers, who flunked out the first year. Anyway, after one semester, I think, Girair … also got a scholarship and I think he got a Masters degree in chemistry at Rutgers, ultimately, before he went off to Caltech. Anyway, so, I got a pretty good education at Asbury Park High School.
KP: What were Bradley Beach and Asbury Park like when you were growing up?
SL: Asbury Park was a very nice town. In those days, it had lovely parks, a lot of greenery, fairly quiet in the winter. Bradley Beach was dead in the winter. There was very little business in Bradley Beach, because people went to Asbury Park to shop.
KP: Where was your father's business?
SL: Right on Main Street in Bradley Beach, next to the First National Bank, right in the middle of Bradley Beach. In fact, he rented his place from the bank, essentially, an extension of the bank building, for many years, until they expanded and pushed him out. So, things were very slow. He made his living on repairing watches. He was very good, had a very good reputation, had more work than he could handle, occasionally, would sell some jewelry and we survived, somehow.
KP: How did his business fare during the Great Depression?
SL: That's when things were tough. He really made his money in the Christmas rush. People would buy things for Christmas, jewelry, and [he] put in very long hours. Well, as he told me, he says, "People say you should go into business for yourself; you'd be your own boss." He said, "The truth is, you're your own slave," and it was true in his case. He worked very, very long hours.
KP: You did not see very much of him.
SL: Well, we lived right nearby, so, I would walk into the store at all times of the day or night while he was working and, often, I spent hours standing by his bench, talking to him and so on, and this is where I got to know him and I realize how valuable that is today. Very few boys are that close to their fathers, that they can stand alongside their father when he's working and ask him about what he's doing, why he's doing it, and hear stories he'll tell and comments on his views, and so on. So, I was closer to my father than I realized, after he's been dead, what? forty years, forty-five years, and I still miss him. There are things I want to ask him, things I want to tell him.
KP: He told you about his journey to America and his stint in the Army.
SL: Yes. Well, some things didn't come out until later, like, for instance, you know, I asked him, you know, "How come they sent you to America alone?" and he'd say, "Well, I was the oldest of eight. My youngest brother had just had his briss when I left," and he said, "There were too many mouths to feed," and so on, and, finally, once, he said, "Well, … I had a bad reputation." At four years of age, they took him to the local Hebrew school, which was just a rabbi's house, and he didn't like that. He said they stayed from, I think, … nine in the morning until nine at night, or eight in the morning until nine at night, apparently had his meals there and so on, and just learning by rote and, once, he glued the rabbi's beard to the table, because the rabbi used to fall asleep and, of course, they knew which of the kids did it. [laughter] Another time, he told me, he was swimming in his uncle's mill pond, only it wasshabbos, it was the Sabbath, and all the local Jewish people were crossing the bridge that he was diving off, nude, on their way walking to the synagogue, where they saw him and somebody told his uncle and he got beat up. So, he said he had a bad reputation there. He figured he should get away from that town. [laughter]
KP: It sounds like your father was something of a freethinker.
SL: Oh, yes, yes, yes. I have no idea how he became so literate, you know. Where did he learn to read so much? … He read a lot of things. Well, he told me he had read Jules Verne novels in Russian when he was a kid. So, apparently, he was a reader way back and he read a lot, but, mostly, it was newspapers and magazines. He didn't have much time to read books and he talked to everybody. People would come in the store and they'd get into political arguments. You know, he was known as the local radical, I'm sure. He used to get the Daily Worker in the mail. He was disenchanted with Stalin.
KP: Before most on the left were?
SL: Yes. I remember, some guy came in and he was telling me, he said, you know, "You should join the Communist Party." My father was shaking his head. [laughter]
KP: How did he feel about Norman Thomas?
SL: He didn't like Norman Thomas. Norman Thomas was considered a traitor by the Communists. Well, you know, there was this split at the Russian Revolution, that some of them thought, "Well, this is the second coming of Christ, you know. This is the millennium, you know. This is it," and others said, "Well, this doesn't look … like the real thing." They fooled a lot of people.
KP: Your father was more to the left, very supportive of the Bolshevik Revolution.
SL: Yes, oh, yes. Well, he didn't like the bosses. He had worked, when he was very young, for a lot of mean-spirited people and working conditions were miserable in the country and I remember him telling me about how they imported labor in the Philippines. … Apparently, they had to pay an importation tax for each worker they brought in, each farm worker they brought in, but it was cheaper if they came as married couples. So, they would pair off these strangers and have them live together. As they got … to the gangway on the boat, they would say, "You, you, you're man and wife." [laughter] They would marry them off on the boat and he was appalled at that.
KP: What else did he say about his tours of duty in Hawaii and in the Philippines?
SL: Oh, he loved Hawaii. In 1917, it … must have been unspoiled and he knew a lot of the generals in World War II who had been second lieutenants in the Cavalry. A lot of them were in the Cavalry and the Army was very small then. I think it was something [like] one hundred thousand, at most, three hundred thousand, later. He knew General Terry Allen when he was a second lieutenant, knew all his foibles and so on, and he would open up theNew York Times and read the obituaries and he would say things like, "Oh, my, 'Caliche' George is dead." I said, "Who, who? What, what?" He said, "Oh, this colonel, Colonel So-and-So," you know, and I said, "Well, how did he get that name, Caliche George?" He said, "Well, in the Southwest, in the Cavalry," he said, "he'd always come around, you know, and always find things for the troops to do, work. He'd say, 'Get a load of caliche and get a couple of men to fill that hole in the road,' you know. 'Get a load of caliche and fill that in over there.' So, the troops called him Caliche George." So, they had nicknames for all the generals of World War II that had been officers in the Cavalry [that] my father knew.
KP: Did he ever join the American Legion or any other veteran's groups?
SL: He didn't like the American Legion, because he knew it was started by the National Association of Manufacturers to promote Americanism, which meant anti-unionism. It was to promote union busting and he joined the VFW and, some time after the war, they sent back his membership dues that he had sent in, his check for his dues, saying they'd been ordered by state headquarters not to accept your dues. … Someday, I'm going to write off and get my dossier from the FBI and see what's in it. [laughter] I'm sure it's loaded and mostly garbage, but it will be interesting. Well, my father was also a ladies' man, which I found out, … well, he had a girlfriend when, I think, I was eight years old and I was very loyal to my mother and she had me following this woman to find out where she lived. She came to Bradley Beach in the summers and she's the one that got my father to initiate divorce and so on and, finally, he realized, you know, how nasty she was. She told him things like, "Oh, six dollars a week is enough for each kid," you know, when he gets divorced, to support [his] kids. This was around 1938, '39, I guess. … Well, I was eight years old, so, it was in the mid-'30s, went with this woman for years. Well, he used to work six days a week. Sundays, he would often go into New York to get materials, buy jewelry and so on, because he went to down around Maiden Lane, where the jewelry business was, and they were all run by Jews and they closed up on Saturday, but they worked on Sunday and, of course, that worked very well for the retailers who'd come in to do their business there and I used to go in with him, sometimes. The streets of New York were cobblestone then and there was horse manure all over. There were still a lot of horses and wagons.
BM: Down by the seaport?
SL: Yes, yes, just below the Holland Tunnel area, in that area. Yes, it's still there, pretty much, I guess. Oh, they used to have long rows of tables with these women who were just vibrating hairsprings. You put a new hairspring in, you'd bring the balance wheel, to get a hairspring fitted to it, and they would jiggle it up and down with a stopwatch and just get it to the five beats per second, breaking off the ends of the hairspring until they got it just the right length, so that it had the right beat, and then, they would make a little bend in the end to fit the stud in and pin it into the upper part of the thing that holds, what did they call that? I forgot the terminology, [the part] of the watch that holds the top of the balance wheel. That was a trade, just balancing the vibrating hairsprings. It was all women. I asked my father, "Why is it all women?" I said, "Don't men do this?" He said, "The women are much, much better at this." That's all they did.
KP: How did your mother fit into the picture? You said that you were very close to your father.
SL: My father was very outgoing. Well, I was very emotionally attached to my mother, which, I'm sure, she fostered. In later life, … you know, if a girl just put her hand on my arm on the beach, my mother would see it from afar. I'd hear about it, you know, and she would be denouncing this terrible woman that … had plans to snare me and spend all my money, which I didn't have. [laughter] This was when I had no prospects, a job or anything. Oh, she was something. No, I only realized later in life how attached I was to my father, because, … for a while, he was the enemy, you know. He was breaking up the family. I followed his girlfriend and let my mother know where she lived and so on and my father would often take me to New York to visit this woman. … When he went on Sunday, he would do his business in the morning, and then, spend the afternoon with her. I'd go places with them.
KP: She lived in New York.
SL: Yes, yes, and I'd come home and I'd report everything to my mother, where we went, what we ate, you know, and she ate it all up and, of course, … it was just making her seethe, I guess, [laughter] and I had no idea what I was doing, you know. I thought I was doing the right thing.
KP: Your trips to New York must have been very exciting, compared to the relative isolation of Bradley Beach.
SL: Oh, yes, yes. Well, my mother also had her sister and family in New York, who, in the '30s, lived in the Bronx and, later, in Brighton Beach, and we often went and stayed with them during Christmas vacation and so on and, yes, I remember going to Radio City Music Hall as a kid. That was a big thrill. A stage that revolved, you know, that was something in the '30s.
BM: How did you get to New York?
SL: My father drove us, usually, but we'd take the train. I remember taking the train and the train going across the river on the ferry. I must have been four years old, because I was impressed with the way they hoisted the ramp and so on. So, that must have happened more than once. I definitely remember being on the ferry with my mother and being among all the pushcarts on the Eastside. She would go down and shop on the Eastside, amongst all the pushcarts, where nobody spoke English. [laughter]
KP: Was your mother more religiously observant than your father?
SL: Neither of them were, no, no. …
KP: They never went to services.
SL: No, no, absolutely not. No, they were both [non-practicing]. My mother really had no concerns with politics, you know. She didn't want to be involved with politics, but she was very cynical about it all. [laughter] I realize now, my father was much healthier, emotionally, than my mother, very outgoing. He got along well with people and my mother was very shy, … her sister was a complete opposite. My mother felt that everything was too good for her. She was … strange. Yes, I didn't realize it until I came back from overseas and I walked in and observed my mother and my sister, that my sister was becoming the same way, you know, shut off from people, suspicious of everyone and concerned about everyone. Everyone had plans … against them, you know, this kind of paranoia. My sister would come home from work and pour out all these stories to my mother about the terrible things that this person was doing to her in the office and that person. My mother would come back and reinforce it. My mother had no idea who these people were, really. It all came from my sister. … I said, "What is this?" I said, "These people, they go home, they don't even think about you, you know. They have their own lives to lead. They're not going to worry about you," and my sister, unfortunately, killed herself at the age of forty-nine, jumped off her condo in Miami Beach, sixteenth floor.
KP: Do you know why?
SL: Well, she was suffering from depression for years. I don't know. They had moved to New Mexico and I didn't see them much, and then, when my mother died, after a few years, my sister moved to Miami Beach and she always saved her money and she had a lot of money when she died, although, when I talked to her on the phone, she said, "All my money is gone," and so on. My cousin was taking money from her, you know, in essence, stealing, because she didn't know what was going on. He should have known better. … This was the cousin, my older cousin, twelve years older than I, whom my mother said, "Eat your spinach and you'll grow up to be like your Cousin Leo." I looked up to him when I was a kid; here he was, ended up stealing my sister's money. …
KP: What was it like to grow up in a Jersey Shore resort town, where you had a large summer population? How many people lived there in the winter?
SL: Yes, I think the population was two thousand or under in the winter and Bradley Beach, you could walk around in an hour, a little thing between two lakes, and … I enjoyed it. I had my gang, which was, you know, these people that lived along Main Street, which were the lower classes. There were Italian kids whose mother hardly spoke any English. They had eleven kids, not all of them survived, I think, a sprinkling of Jewish kids. One family spoke Spanish. There was one kid, whose folks were deaf mutes, … who didn't speak at all when he came and we taught him to speak. He would say things when he was getting to about three, he'd say, "You basket, you," because he didn't get the word bastard right, [laughter] when he should have picked it up. So, when I was very young, I grew up with this gang. … I still have a scar from a gang fight when I was four years old. Can you imagine? [laughter] It was the gang against me, as I recall. I was all alone. Later, I got friends who were literate and so on. Finally, I met my friend Jules in fifth grade and we were inseparable, up through the time I left for the Army from Rutgers, in early '44, and, after that, I didn't see much of him. He was in medical school.
KP: Do you still stay in touch with him?
SL: Yes, yes. He called me up about six months ago, "We've got to get together some time," but we haven't yet. The last time I saw him was at our fiftieth high school reunion in … the summer of '93. He lives up in Englewood. So, I should call him some time, again, and say, "Come on, let's get together."
KP: Did you ever witness any Ku Klux Klan activity around Bradley Beach and Asbury Park?
SL: Klan activity? No, but I remember somebody, I think it was Joseph North, who was a reporter for the Daily Worker, got my father's name, came into my father's store, because there had been a cross burning someplace in Monmouth County and he went to find out about that and, apparently, he came in and introduced himself and said, "I'm reporter So-and-So from the Daily Worker," and my father, who was always a joker, said, "That Communist newspaper?" and I was in fifth grade and had this teacher who was a proto-Fascist, you know. She indoctrinated us against unions, against Mediterranean peoples, you know, all her prejudices just came out, openly, you know, and you know how it is with kids, somebody like me, who's very cynical, you reject eighty percent of it, but you still accept twenty percent of it. [laughter] You get twenty percent lies, you know. Anyway, he said, "Solomon, … tell this man what your teacher says about the Communists," and I gave him this anti-Communist tirade and he sort of flushed and said, "Well, I'm sorry, you know. It must be some mistake." [laughter] He started to leave and my father said, "No, there's no mistake," [laughter] and then, he talked to him about this incident and told him, you know, where it had happened and told him he didn't know anything about the Klan. I never knew of any [activity].
KP: Was there any anti-Semitism directed at you?
SL: Oh, yes, that was a constant, from certain people, never from my young friends. I never heard it from the Italian kids and so on. Several of them, the last I heard, I picked up the Asbury Park Press about twenty years ago, two of them were in jail for receiving stolen goods, but … these were good kids, you know. These were kids I liked. They were, basically, decent kids. The father used to come out with a cat-o'-nine-tails for some infraction and they would run the gauntlet … to get into the house before he whacked them with it. One at a time, they would run and he's say, "Come on, come on, get in the house," and they would just linger back. Finally, one would run in and he'd whack him. [laughter]
KP: Of your gang, how many went to college, if any? Were you the only one?
SL: Of the Italian kids, I don't think any of them went to college. I don't think some of them finished high school even, or went to high school. The Jewish kids, mostly, went to college, I think. It was a cultural thing, I think. You know, there's this virus that makes the Jews excel and, somehow, the Chinese and the Japanese caught it from us, right, [laughter] because they come over here, they excel, now. It's a cultural thing, I think. If the parents value learning and so on, the kids learn from the parents. Of course, if you're in a hopeless situation, you realize, no matter what you do, [it] isn't going to help, there's no point in going to college. So, that's what happens.
KP: In the late 1930s, what did your father think about events in Europe regarding Germany?
SL: Well, we were all anti-Nazi. The Hindenburg would come over and Jules and I would make Jewish curses on it. It would fly right over Bradley Beach, going to Lakehurst, because they'd come and fly over Manhattan first. It was a big thing. I fiddled while the Hindenburg burned. I had forgotten that, but Jules came and visited a few years ago and said, "Well, that was the night we played in the concert." Each of us had a violin solo. We were both violinists; so was Girair Nazarian, our Armenian friend that we knew from high school. I think he's the only one still fiddling, [laughter] but each of us played a solo. I played humoresque and Jules played minuet in F, I think, and I hadn't connected the two, because, after the concert, people came in and said, "Oh, the Hindenburg burned."
KP: Could you see it from where you were?
SL: No, no, no, but a lot of people jumped in their cars and there was a big traffic jam, which was unusual in the '30s. This was 1937. Kids came to school the next day that had gone, not only with pieces of fabric, [but] one kid had a chunk of the aluminum girder from it, brought it to school, yes. [laughter] Well, there was no show-and-tell, it was all surreptitious, "Hey, look what I got," you know, passing it around. [laughter]
KP: Was your father ever a Zionist?
SL: No, no, absolutely not, because that was not the left wing, Zionism. You see, the Socialist ideal was, everybody's equal, you know; there's no cultural differentiation. Ha, you know, try that in Bosnia, you know. There's the working class and there are the bosses, but even my father would say, you know, he said, "A lot of rich people … are very nice people," [laughter] and he says, "A lot of working people are bastards." [laughter] … He would judge individuals, but he had so much respect for anyone who had an education. Anybody … who seemed to be educated could tie my father up into knots, get him to do anything, you know, invest money, you know. He trusted them; he thought they were angels, if they had an education, and he never learned otherwise.
KP: Your father must have been very proud that you went to college. That must have been one of his great achievements.
SL: Yes, yes. I remember when I got my PhD, a year before he died, he said, "You know," we were looking at cars and he said, "I wish … I could buy you a new car or something. Here, you got your PhD, I can't buy you an appropriate gift," and I said, "I was just thinking the other way, you know. You supported me for so many years. You worked so hard, you know. I've got this degree. I should buy you something." … Oh, my mother was very proud when I graduated from Rutgers. All these people were sitting behind her, making comments in Yiddish, not knowing she was Jewish, and they said, "Oh, Solomon Leader … graduated summa cum laude, look at that," you know, and my mother was soaking this all in, oh, boy. [laughter] … The graduation was in June, then, … and, living in Bradley Beach, I was in the ocean in May already. So, I was very tanned and, when I came up afterwards, after the program was over and my mother kissed me and so on, my father hugged me, these people behind said, in Jewish, "Oh, I thought he was a black." " Ich dachte, daß er ein Schwarzes war." [laughter] My mother got a kick out of that. The strangers saw me embracing these white folks.
KP: Where were you when Pearl Harbor was attacked?
SL: I was at home. I was sixteen years old. I was a junior in high school and, like everybody else, very angry. Oh, the whole country was angry, you know, unlike anything that had happened before. There was hardly anybody against the declaration of war. … Well, once Hitler came to power, … I was a little kid, I knew I was going to have to fight the Nazis, someday. When I was drafted, they wanted to put me in the Navy, which I should have said, "Yes, sure," you know. Instead, I figured, "I want to go where the real war is." I said, "No, put me in the Army." [laughter] That was a mistake. Well, I was, … you know, an ideologue. [When] I got in the infantry, I realized, you know, there's nothing much you can do. You lie there, you dig a hole and they're pounding you with artillery. You've got this little rifle that isn't worth a damn. You don't see anybody, you know, very rarely. The first time I saw a German, he turned and ran. I tried to shoot him in the back. I missed him, you know.
BM: Pearl Harbor did not change your views at all.
SL: No, no, no.
-------------------------------------END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE ONE---------------------------------------
SL: … What changed my father's views was when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. [laughter] Well, no, we were always anti-Nazi and I didn't like it, but, you know, I'd look at the Daily Worker he got and they were anti-war, and then came June 21, 1941. Suddenly, they were pro-war, you know.
KP: Your father did flip-flop in that sense.
SL: … No, he was always anti-Nazi. He was always fighting with them. His whole family was wiped out, pretty much. He found out, years later, from some survivors, how his family had been murdered by one of these special forces, what did they call them in German? … [ Einsatzgruppen ], that went around just shooting Jews and the people fled from his village, the Jews, and they split at the fork in the road, in the woods, and the people who survived, that he got this story from, said they heard shooting on the other road and, when somebody went back and looked that night, they found all the bodies. So, they were massacred right there. My father's father was still alive. He was murdered in his seventies and he had a lot of brothers and sisters, all murdered. The youngest brother survived, was fighting with the partisans, behind the German lines, joined up with the Russian Army when they came through and was in on the capture of Berlin, apparently, was killed in a jeep accident in Berlin, from what my father heard. Right after the war, he died. So, none of my father's family survived. He never talked much about it, but he left when he was thirteen. He was very attached to his grandmother and, … I found out recently, that may have been one of the reasons he wanted to come, because his mother had so many kids and he was the oldest. They sent him to live with the grandmother, on an uncle's farm, and I remember her. She was still alive when I was a kid. She fell down the stairs and broke her leg when she was visiting us, when I was a little kid, and died a few years later, because my mother didn't believe in burning lights at night, had all the lights out, and the poor old lady was trying to go to the bathroom, ended up falling down the stairs in the middle of the night. It was the first time I saw my mother cry. She was washing the bloody sheets the next morning and crying and that upset my sister and me and we said, "Don't cry, don't cry. Mothers aren't supposed to cry."
KP: Your grandmother was living here.
SL: It was my great-grandmother, my father's grandmother. His uncle in Belmar, … his uncle and aunt, it was a double connection, two sisters married two brothers. One sister was my father's mother, the other sister was his aunt and the aunt married his father's brother. The two brothers were married to two sisters. So, what was the question? [laughter]
KP: Your grandmother …
SL: My great-grandmother.
KP: Your great-grandmother …
SL: Lived [here] and knew me and made a big fuss over me. I remember that I would, sort of, say, "Get away, get away." …
BM: Did your father encourage you to go into the war? You were drafted; did he want you to enlist?
SL: No, no, no. He said, "Wait until they come after you." He said, "Go to college. You'll get a year in, maybe," you know. I said, "Okay, sure." Well, Jules was going. I went wherever Jules went, [laughter] my buddy. We didn't room together. Oh, I know why. He boarded where he got kosher meals. My friend Jules was Orthodox, I mean, as Orthodox as you can get in Bradley Beach. He was so Orthodox, his father looked down on the synagogue and he had a private Hebrew teacher. In fact, he even taught me some Hebrew, which I've mostly forgotten. It's interesting, my father, who didn't care for any religion, he was the devil's advocate. When I was in high school and doing the clock repairs for him, we repaired the clock for the synagogue and my father said, "We can't charge them. It's the synagogue," he said, "but I'll pay you." So, he paid me my share, you know, which was the whole thing, because he let me take in all the profits from the clocks, because he was just happy that he had somebody to do them. Early in World War II, there was, you know, a labor shortage of all kinds. …
KP: You ended up working for your father before going to Rutgers.
SL: Just weekends and summers, when I was in high school, and, after the war, I really learned how to do watches with him, in my spare time, essentially, you know, weekends and poking around. I had my own bench in the back of the store.
BM: Did he encourage you to join the family business?
SL: Well, he originally said, in his will, [that] he was leaving me all his tools. … He loved tools. … He was always reading things about horology and so on, very technical books. Some of them [had] a lot of math, which I'm sure he didn't understand, because he thought, you know, I might use them and he didn't want me to be a watchmaker, but he also felt, you know, it was a trade you'd have to fall back on, [laughter] some falling back. He said, "You know, it wouldn't hurt you," you know, and, of course, he wanted to pass on his skills, I think. He was very proud of his skills.
KP: Do you still know how to repair watches?
SL: I doubt it. Well, you know, I know how to assemble, disassemble and so on. I guess I could replace a balance staff, things like that, main springs and so on. [If] I'd get stuck with things, I'd come to him. He'd tell me what to do. Sometimes, he'd end up doing it. [laughter] …
KP: How did the war change Bradley Beach and Asbury Park?
SL: Well, for a while, the idiots were burning all the lights along the shore and the wreckage of torpedoed ships was streaming ashore. That was the first oil spills we had, ruining the beaches. Bodies were coming ashore. Kids would come to high school with gloves they pulled off corpses, these poor guys in the Merchant Marine, because they'd just be silhouetted against the lights and, finally, they got smart and issued a brownout. Well, who was this admiral in charge of the Eastern Seaboard, who was an incompetent? King, Admiral King, who later became chief of the whole Pacific operation, Chief of Naval Operations, who knows? Eisenhower, in his diary, wrote, "The only way we're going to win this war is if somebody shoots King." I read that recently and laughed. [laughter] My daughter's father-in-law, ex-father-in-law, she's divorced, was sunk in the Indianapolis, told me all sorts of stories about it and the captain of Indianapolis [Charles B. McVay, III] was court-martialed, unjustly, he did nothing wrong, really, only because King ordered it. He contravened the orders of the people below him. It turns out, King had been under McVay, McVay was the captain of the Indianapolis, under McVay's father's command in China in 1931, had a letter of reprimand put in his file. So, I've read three books on the Indianapolis after talking to my daughter Shana's father-in-law many times about the Indianapolis.
KP: He is one of only a handful of survivors.
SL: Yes, yes. Well, they were left in the water for something like four days and nobody knew it, because the Navy had fouled up its orders. They had orders not to report on [the] arrival of combat ships. Well, does arrival mean non-arrival? Also, they managed to get off a radio signal before it went down. It broke in half immediately. They hit it with something like six torpedoes and these were the most advanced torpedoes in the world, apparently. See, the Japanese were good already, before they were selling Hondas over here, [laughter] and it went down very quickly and the radio shack was blown up, but they had an emergency one that they jury-rigged and, apparently, some ship … hundreds of miles away got the message and I suppose they said, "Oh, well, you know, this must be in some big convoy. Isn't this interesting, a ship is sunk?" and didn't report it, because the guy who reported this story said they were ordered to keep their mouths shut, because they'd get into a lot of trouble, [laughter] not having reported this SOS. That's another story. That's not my story, is it? You hear all sorts of stories. I was on jury duty a couple of years ago in New Brunswick. We never got called, but there was a bunch of veterans and it was the most interesting day I ever spent. It went so quickly, you know. These guys were telling me all these stories. You should have recorded it, great loss.
KP: When you say that bodies washed ashore, did you see any bodies?
SL: No, no, but we saw a lot of wreckage.
KP: You saw the wreckage coming in.
SL: I saw one of the Navy blimps sink a sub one day, right off the beach.
SL: Yes. It was dropping depth charges and it looked like it was half-a-mile off. It must have been further, but, you know, from the size of the blimp and so on, I could see the charges drop and hear the explosion, not too long after I saw the big gush come up, and, next day, in the Asbury Park Press, I read that the blimp had sunk a sub, where'd they say? off Ocean Grove, someplace like that, you know, which I can see. I figured that was it.
KP: How did the war affect the tourist trade in Bradley Beach?
SL: Not at all. They had very good summers, because people had money. [laughter] The people on the boardwalk did a good business. Well, you realize, in 1934, the Morro Castle disaster, it burned and it floated ashore and almost rammed the convention hall. That was in September of '34 and it sat there until the next April. All through that winter, people came from all over, especially weekends. They were stamping images of the Morro Castle on pennies and selling them for fifteen cents in 1934. All the concessions opened up in Asbury Park. That saved them from the Depression. After that, they never lost money again, until recent years. Now, [the] Asbury Park oceanfront went down the drain, but, no, they did very well during the war. Apparently, these poor soldiers walked up and down in full battle dress, in the sand, in the summertime even, trudging up and down. On Long Beach Island, where I have a summerhouse, now, apparently, they went on horseback. …
KP: For training?
SL: No, no, patrolling, actually guarding the beaches. [In] one place, in Bradley Beach, there was a little filled-in area covering the sewers. They used to dump the raw sewage in the ocean, but only between November and April. They would store it in this underground thing. Over the top of that was a miniature golf course, at one time, and that died and, during the war, they put a little gun emplacement there that they built in about a week, and then, nobody was ever there anymore. It just sat there through the whole war, with sandbags around it. No, just the brownouts; three blocks from the oceanfront, they had to have everything blacked out and all the streetlights were dimmed. So, it was very dark. Of course, the streetlights weren't very good in those days anyway, [laughter] not like today. So, it was very dark in the winters. I remember dark winters even when I was a kid. It was dark and quiet, so quiet in the winter. We had a trolley line, used to run from, I guess, Allenhurst down the shore. I don't know how far down it went; I know it went down to the hospital in Spring Lake, where I was born, and maybe went beyond there. For a nickel, we could ride the trolley.
KP: Were you active in the Civil Defense?
SL: Yes, active, I was a runner in Civil Defense. They came around. We were standing in front of the newsstand in front of Rosen's Stationery Store and one of the guys from the bank, one of the officers of the bank, came around, he was in charge of Civil Defense, and said, "Can I get you kids to be runners?" and we said, "Yes, sure," and he wrote our names down. He said, "Okay, as soon as you hear the alarm go off, you run to the town hall and we'll send you out from there, wherever we need you." So, when the air raid siren went off the first time, I went running out of my apartment and this Benny Simon, this dumb air raid warden, grabbed a hold of me and said, "Come in, you can't be in the street now. You've got to get in here." He pulled me into this drugstore. He said, "You've got to get off the streets. This is an air raid." I said, "I know. I'm a runner. I'm supposed to go to the town hall," and, you know, here I am, this kid that's not very forceful. I listened to him, instead of saying, "Go to hell, Benny Simon," you know, because he was an adult; I was a little kid. I was intimidated by adults, and so, I never showed up to be a runner. I hope somebody did. So, I spent the whole air raid drill in the drug store across the street from where I lived. That was my experience as a runner. … We never had any more; I guess we had some more air raid drills, but I wasn't around then.
KP: You mentioned that the Army patrolled the shores. Were there ever any rumors about Nazis landing somewhere on the coast?
SL: Yes, well, some did land in Long Island and they must have been provisioning in Florida and I know they were provisioning … up in Canada. They'd go up the St. Lawrence, because a lot of the French-speaking people were anti-British. … You know, I hear stories from Navy veterans, and so on, they captured a German sub and it had local butter in it, you know, local provisions from Canada. … They knew what town it had come from. I had a friend in the Navy on a destroyer. They sank a sub off South Carolina and they would fish up all the debris, trying to find anything of value, to identify the sub, or codebooks, or anything that came up, and they fished up that day'sMiami Herald. So, the Germans were getting stuff from shore. It was easy to come ashore in Florida. It was empty space, I guess; so was the New Jersey Shore. I would go down and walk on the beach a lot as a kid, you know, especially in the war, and it was empty. You would hardly see a soul.
KP: Are you surprised by how populated the Shore has become?
SL: Oh, yes, yes. It makes me sad. Well, most of the streets were dirt streets when I was a kid in Bradley Beach. There were no traffic lights when I was little. I remember them putting up the first stop signs, when you got to Main Street. You'd hear horrendous crashes during the summer. The summer people would come and there was this folkway about right-of-way, which I think was for horses and wagons, you know. The person on your right had the right of way, because you could see what's on the left, I'm not sure, one way or the other. They'd get it mixed up and they didn't have safety glass. You'd hear the glass flying, "Crash." … Yes, it was pretty quiet, except in the summertime, it got crowded, yes, never had big traffic jams, … until about the mid-'30s. You started to get a lot of traffic, especially in the evenings, when they were going to Asbury Park. [laughter] Everybody went to Asbury Park, because that's where the amusements were. We couldn't get through Ocean Grove. It was sealed off, essentially. It still is. You still have to go around it, but, now, they can't seal it off on Sunday, completely.
KP: Did that ever amuse you?
SL: Oh, yes, yes. I have mixed feelings about Ocean Grove. It was very charming, in ways. I loved to walk through there on a Sunday. You could walk down the middle of the street. Pigeons were all over, undisturbed, quiet. It was nice, very Methodist, though. I felt sorry for these people sitting on the boardwalk on Sunday, in their Sunday finery, women with their white gloves. It's about ninety-eight degrees. They're looking at the ocean. [laughter]
KP: They could not go swimming.
SL: No. Later, a lot of people moved to Ocean Grove because they liked the town, but they didn't like the Sunday blue laws. They would park their cars in a big parking lot in Bradley Beach and they would swim in Bradley Beach. They would buy beach badges in Bradley Beach.
KP: When you came to Rutgers, did Rutgers live up to your expectations for college?
SL: I was disappointed when I first came, because a lot of the things I took; well, in the math, I was disappointed, because it was just repeating stuff I knew from high school. I figured, "I'm just spinning my wheels here." The physics was great, but the physics, you really should have had calculus for and they tried to demonstrate, I remember, simple harmonic motion. They tried to explain [it] without using calculus and, essentially, you need the derivative of sine and cosine, things like that, and they did it all geometrically and it wasn't too convincing. Yes, it was tedious, but the physics was good. The history courses were good. I think we even took geography. No, the courses were pretty good.
KP: Do any professors from that period stand out in your memory?
SL: Yes, but I can't remember their names. [laughter] Oh, well, the one I had for spherical trig was Harold, a Scotsman, Harold Grant, great. It made the New York Times when his daughter ran off to Florida in the '50s, [laughter] when I was his colleague at the time.
KP: Why was it such a big story?
SL: Oh, in those days, in the '50s, that a girl should run off with some boys to Florida … in the family car? Somebody's family car; I guess it was the kid's car. Nothing really happened; they just got in the car and took off for Florida and it was a big story in the '50s. Those things weren't done. I remember, I came back in the '40s and there had been a big scandal. Just after I left, the Sammy House burned down on the corner of George, … across from where those brick dorms are now. There's dorms there now. Four people died in the fire and it was … the night of a party. Apparently, among the four dead were some girls, at least one girl, I think, who weren't supposed to be sleeping there, in the fraternity house. That was a big scandal. … I had hardly heard about it. I was in the Army by then. When I came back, there was a headline in the Targum, it says, "Sammy House Reforms," and the Sammies wrote a long letter objecting to this headline, this ambiguous headline. [laughter] I think they wanted a hyphen between "re" and "forms."
BM: While you were in the Army, did you ever receive copies of the Targum?
SL: No, no. Gee, at those times, I remember, somebody disappeared and his folks contacted the University and said, "What's happened to our son?" you know. "He hasn't come home in so long." The University checked and they found out he'd been drafted. [laughter] He'd just left for the Army and nobody knew, apparently, except the Army. I don't know. His folks didn't know and I guess Rutgers didn't know, until they looked at the records, that he had withdrawn. Well, everything was done by hand in those days.
KP: What did you think of Dean Metzger and chapel?
SL: … Didn't like it, didn't care for it.
KP: Did you go?
SL: Yes, it was required. Well, they read announcements there, you know. It made sense; it was a way to get everybody together and communicate what had to be communicated. You saved a lot of paper that way. … It was read. It began with a Christian prayer, of course, Dutch Reformed Church. … One time, we had a talk by "Whistling Willie," Willie Demarest, the ex-President of Rutgers, who talked about everyone whose portrait was hanging in Kirkpatrick Chapel and I think he knew them personally, you know. He would talk about them and that was very interesting.
KP: Given your long association with Rutgers, do you ever think back to that talk and the various Rutgers presidents?
SL: Oh, yes, yes. I remember, it was Dean Marvin, was it? very New York accent, he was telling me why I should take geography, because I was saying, you know, "I want to take calculus. I want to take this." I went to everybody then, trying to, you know, get a real, honest college program. I was willing to give up geography and Marvin would argue. By then, you would go up and see somebody right at the top. There were, what? three hundred civilian undergraduates in 1943, mostly freshmen. I think there were a hundred and some freshmen, at least a hundred freshmen. We all fit in Kirkpatrick Chapel, the whole freshman class, and he was saying, "Well, … you should know geography." He said, "How many people knew about the Solomon Islands until we invaded Guadalcanal?" … I said, "Oh, I knew about them, because my name is Solomon, you know. I looked on a map and said, 'Oh, Solomon Islands,' when I was a kid." [laughter] I had him there.
BM: Do you remember any notable speakers during that time?
SL: No, we didn't have much in the way of outside lecturers. There was not much going on, culturally, on campus. This was a very small school. You have no idea, you know. It's transformed several times in my time. When I came, the Math Department was in what is now Murray Hall, it was the Engineering Building, and, if you enter and look at the first doorway on the left, I think it's the mailroom for the English Department? Is it still the mailroom for the English Department? They expanded it. It was a little, narrow office with three desks; that was the Mathematics Department, the whole thing. They had ten people, three desks. They had ten coat hooks, each one had a coat hook, and the chairman referred to them by number at their meetings. I got all this from Fred Fender, who … later became my colleague when I joined the department, who came in 1937 to the faculty and he was number ten, I think. [laughter] Number one was the chairman and, if a student came in for help, then, you'd use one of the desks, but, if you didn't need the desk, you got up and gave it to somebody who needed it, I guess, because I came in and talked to them there, I remember, in that little office, trying to get to take calculus, which I didn't get to take until after the war.
KP: What was your relationship with the ASTP? Did you have any interaction with them?
SL: We had separate classes. We just saw them marching up and down College Avenue. They went to classes in formation. They marched them in, sometimes, large groups, small groups. They would all assemble, I think, at this end and march off to the College Avenue Gym, which was their mess hall. They cooked down … in the locker room level there and sent it up with the elevator. So, we couldn't use the main gym at all. We had an outdoor gym. In fact, I remember, December of '43, being outdoors, taking gym in our little shorts.
BM: Did you take ROTC?
SL: Yes, that was a must and Major McCready was very happy that we were all so serious. He said, "The boys didn't use to take this seriously," but terrible uniforms. The winter uniforms were these mustard colored things with blue lapels, blue for infantry, … but, in the summer of '43, we had regulation suntans, so, we looked like real soldiers. So, here I was, seventeen years old, I had this uniform, I would wear it to hitchhike home. Everybody stopped to pick us up, but Jules and I waited. Once, we timed [it], fifteen minutes before a car came from either direction on Route 18, a fifteen-minute hiatus, waiting for some kind of vehicle to come in either direction. It was semi-rural there. There was hardly any business there at all, just a few little places. Chet's Liquor Store was there, I remember, but, otherwise, it was empty. There was a golf course. It was a three-lane highway, two travel lanes and a death lane, for passing.
KP: Are you ever surprised by what Route 18 has become in East Brunswick?
SL: Oh, yes, yes, and I saw much of it happen, because I used to drive home on Route 18. Well, it only went to Old Bridge then. Then, you'd either get over to [Route] 9 or go through Englishtown and, later, it got extended.
BM: You saw the school gradually getting bigger and bigger.
SL: Yes, not so gradually. I came back in 1946, after the war, and the transition was taking place very rapidly. The Math Department was over across the street in 50 College Avenue, had a whole building, [laughter] my God. … The campus was just flooded with people, mostly veterans, all very serious students, [laughter] wearing their old Army outfits.
KP: How serious were the students in 1943?
SL: They were serious, yes. There was a war on and nobody knew how long they'd stay. Yes, there was not much fooling around, played a lot of touch football.
KP: Did you consider joining a fraternity during that year?
SL: Oh, no way, me in a fraternity? no way, no. Neither Jules nor I were interested in the fraternities. I don't think the fraternities were very active during the war, anyway.
BM: I read in one of the Targum s from 1942 that one of the fraternities ran a blood drive for the Red Cross.
SL: That could be, yes. No, I never believed in fraternities.
KP: Neither did Jules.
SL: No, no.
KP: Since you were in the ROTC and you were aware of the fact that you would be going into the Army, did you ever attempt to enlist or enroll in an officer's training program?
SL: No, no. I knew they would take me as soon as I turned eighteen and my father encouraged me to go to school, yes, but, under the quarter system, it was three-quarters to make two semesters, to make a year, and I finished two quarters and just started the third quarter and I had three weeks of [it], it was a twelve-week quarter, three weeks of the twelve week quarter, and my pre-induction notice came, for the physical and so on. … No, I guess I went for my physical first. I guess they called it a pre-induction; maybe it was an induction notice. The call for the physical is the pre-induction. My induction notice came, … but I think it didn't have a date on it, but, anyway, I quit, because I knew I wouldn't finish the semester, but, then, it was a couple of weeks more before they actually called me, you know, I guess, according to how many people showed up and how they filled out their quotas and so on. So, I left from Asbury Park on a bus to Fort Dix, into the Army, and realized I should have let them put me in the Navy. [laughter]
KP: At the induction, they wanted to put you in the Navy.
SL: Yes, yes. I was a healthy eighteen-year-old. They thought, "Here's material for the Navy," and, like a dummy, I said, "No, I'm going in the Army." Well, my father had been in the Army. He talked to me about it. I didn't hear any of the downside of it until I came back from the Army and told my father some of the terrible things they did, you know, really, and then, he told me some of the terrible stories they did to him. After two hitches in the Army, they asked him to re-enlist and he said, "No," he didn't think he'd re-enlist again. They put him on KP and stable police for a whole week before his papers came through. [laughter] I hadn't heard that story before. …
KP: What else did he tell you about the less pleasant side of the Army?
SL: That was about all. No, he basically liked the Army. He had some … great times. … Once, there was a rattlesnake, when they were down in Arizona, Texas, wherever, in this mass of cactus and it started to rattle and all the horses panicked and they were throwing riders and the whole troop was breaking up. The Colonel came riding up and said, "Somebody shoot that goddamn snake," and my father took out his .45 and his horse was rearing around and he just fired blindly and blew its head off, just by accident, and the Colonel said, "Good shooting, soldier." [laughter] My father thought, "Boy;" it really made his reputation. About a week later, there was one just crawling around and he emptied his gun at it and couldn't hit it. [laughter] I said, "It was good the Colonel wasn't there that time."
KP: What was it like to report to Fort Dix? What were some of your experiences there?
SL: It was very depressing. It was winter; it was miserable weather. It was hailing the day we came. I remember, this one guy was bald and we were laughing at him. He said, "Wait until you guys get older and lose your hair," and I said, "Ha," [laughter] little did we know. He was, I don't know, thirty-five, thirty-six. He was twice as old as us eighteen-year-olds and it was miserable. I only spent a few days there and they shipped me out, because they thought I was a watchmaker, [laughter] because I had checked that off, "Check off anything, you know. Tell them you can do anything." They sent me to the Ordnance [Corps], fire control instruments. I thought that was fire extinguishers, [laughter] what did I know? and, suddenly, we're … talking about binoculars and BC scopes, … battery commander telescopes, and I realized it's artillery fire they're controlling. Basic training was miserable.
KP: Where did you go for basic training?
SL: In Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, the Ordnance, but we only did nine weeks. The trouble was, I'd never been in a hospital in my life, except in the Army, three times. I got scarlet fever after three weeks of basic training. So, I was in the hospital for three weeks, quarantined, which was nice, beautiful nurse, I remember, wow, about my age. Oh, everybody loved her and nothing to do but lay there and act sick. Well, I was pretty [feverish]. I had [a temperature of] 102 or so when I went in. At that time, they had the sulfa pills, which they gave us. Then, they gave me a three-week furlough. So, I'd spent three weeks in the Army, three weeks in the hospital, three weeks at home. Then, I went back. Of course, they started me all over from scratch in basic training, a new company. I had to sit around and wait until the guys arrived for the new company. Then, I got poison ivy, either on bivouac or on guard [duty], I think on bivouac, because, in the little handbook I had when I was kid about scouting and woodcraft, you always trench around your tent, right? Don't go to sleep without trenching, because it is liable to rain at night, and I arrived in the dark at the bivouac area, because I'd been on guard duty when the company went out. In the dark, all the good spots were taken, so, I went into the brush and I was trenching around my tent and, the next morning, I woke up, I saw it was all poison ivy and I just broke out. My arms were all blistered and my face and my eyes started to close and they wanted me to get out and hike. … I guess it was in June, yes, or late May, because I was in the hospital with poison ivy on D-Day, I remember, woke up early in the morning and it was on the radio. I got into the hospital because I told them I couldn't see. You know, my eyes were swollen. I could see, but I figured, "I'm not going to go hiking. Every time I start to perspire, it just breaks out," and I was miserable. … So, I was in the hospital with that, in the Clinic for Dermatology and Syphilology. They weren't too careful about how they segregated people. There were people that came in with poison ivy and ended up with scabies, which they couldn't do much with in those days. The other time I was in the hospital in the Army was right, three weeks, after V-E Day, after the fighting ended. I went through [the war], never had a cold in combat. I would lie in a foxhole with my teeth chattering, with the snow coming down my face. My foxhole buddy woke me up once, because he couldn't stand my teeth chattering. Anyway, three weeks after the war, I came down with hepatitis, which a lot of people got over there, but the most interesting part was ending up in the infantry. [laughter] …
KP: You were in the hospital twice at Aberdeen. When did you leave Aberdeen?
SL: Well, I went through a third basic training company. Fortunately, they started me [later]; I'd already fired the '03 rifle. I was an expert rifleman, which made my father very proud, because that's what he had been, and I think the guys in the pits were pulling for me. I think there was one on the edge and they called it a bull's-eye and it was a four, from what they told me later. They said, "We were pulling for you." [laughter] They gave me a t-shirt with the flaming bomb for the Ordnance on it. After that, I went to ordnance training, to school. We were in class at seven-thirty in the morning and marched back for lunch and back to school until three. Three-thirty, we fell out in full field packs and rifles and we played soldier. In the afternoon, [we] went on long hikes and even night problems and so on, but that was great. We were in regular barracks, with a latrine. The latrine was in the building. You know, you didn't have to take this outdoor walk from one tarpaper shack to another, to the latrine, … and then, we went for three weeks of field training in Virginia, Camp Pickett. That was nice. We had a seventy-two-truck convoy. It took two days to go from Maryland to Virginia. [laughter] We spent the night in AP Hill Military Reservation, stopped over there. It took about fifteen minutes for the whole convoy to stop, because they stopped and closed up, you know. … That was nice. I liked the field training, although I got stung on the tongue by a yellow jacket. [laughter] We were in the woods and, [for] the mess area, they had just cut some trees and laid a log across two stumps, two logs, actually, it was, to make sort of a flat place and you sort of straddled that and put your mess kit on it and you would eat and stuff would get spilled and it was just full of yellow jackets. This was in August of '44 and one, apparently, got on the marmalade on this bread I was eating and I bit into it and he let me have it, right on the base of the tongue. Oh, I crawled into my pup tent and said, "That's it. I'm gone." I just lay there. A couple of hours later, I was fine, no after effects. I was surprised. The week before that, we'd been in a swamp area. It was full of snakes. [I] woke up one morning, opened up the flap of the little pup tent and there was a snake skin. This copperhead had shed right there and I jokingly said, "Gee, I bet he's right under this stump," and we had our tent tied to this stump and I pulled the rope off and I kicked the stump over and there was this copperhead, with a beautiful new skin, … being very angry, because I think they're very touchy when they get their new skin. … It came out of there and was striking and I was trying to pin it down with my rifle butt and I pinned him down, except he slipped out a little and he had about a foot of him sticking out, with the head going around, snapping, and I didn't know whether to let go and run or just stay there and hold him and I said, "Somebody do something to get this snake," and one of the guys said, "Wait, I'm tying some string," [laughter] and he was tying a little loop, very methodically, you know, while this snake is thrashing around, and, finally, some guy put his entrenching pick together and he went over and he whacked it on the head. … The mess sergeant hung it by the mess tent. So, you'd come get your food, everybody would pass this dead snake and he had a sign on it, "This is a copperhead. It is poisonous." [laughter] That's my snake story. One guy had a snake crawl over his neck while he was sleeping there and, in his sleep, he just brushed him over and it bit him on the hand. Fortunately, it was not a poisonous snake. He had a little horseshoe bite. So, after I came back to Aberdeen, in the middle of the night, my buddy, who was on duty in the orderly room, came and said, "Orders came through for you. You're going to Fort Monmouth." I said, " Fort Monmouth?" It turned out, everybody else went off to California to get shipped to the Pacific. [laughter] I went to Fort Monmouth, to the Signal Corps, oh, boy, to learn, it turned out, weather, meteorological instruments. I figured, "This is great." They were forming two signal base maintenance companies, which was fifth echelon maintenance and, as they said, … "Fifth echelon is the furthest back you can be from the lines and still be overseas," and I said, "That's fine." I said, "I'll do this." Well, it turned out that they decided they didn't need two companies. They only needed one. So, they broke mine up and shipped us all off to the infantry.
KP: Did you have any training at Fort Monmouth?
SL: No, no. I was actually not in Fort Monmouth. I was in Camp Edison, Sea Girt, about two miles from where I was actually born. It's now a State Police camp. When I was a kid, we used to go look at the Reservists camping there. I guess it was the National Guard, in their pyramidal tents, but I would get on the bus for ten cents and go home if I didn't like what was for chow at night. Unfortunately, I was there only a couple of weeks, about three weeks, six weeks? … No, it must have been in October of '44 and I left, got shipped out, either [at the] end of November or early December. They took us up to Camp Wood by truck, outside of Fort Monmouth. I remember, the women workers on the post at the windows in tears as they were marching us all off onto the train, because they all knew we were going to the infantry. I figured, "Why are these women crying?" [laughter] but the sergeant who was in charge of our shipment to Camp Maxey, to this infantry training post, was a wonderful guy. … He'd been a cook for three years at Fort Monmouth and [had] been living off the post with his wife, three kids. …
-------------------------------------END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE TWO--------------------------------------
KP: This continues an interview with Professor Solomon Leader on March 6, 1995, at Rutgers University in New Brunswick with Kurt Piehler and …
BM: Bret Marin.
KP: You were telling us about this sergeant.
SL: Yes, it was Sergeant Popek, who had been a cook for about three years in the Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth, had a nice, stable position, living off the post, like a civilian, and, of course, having been on the North Jersey Shore and going to New York a lot, he knew all the train stops along the New York and Long Branch Railroad and, knowing I was from Bradley Beach, he would read off all the station stops and he would really, he had a great voice, … shout out, "And Bradley Beach, next stop." He did this on the troop train, going to Texas, and, later, on the troop train in France. After the war ended, I learned that Popek had been killed by a German machinegun in the Ruhr. We went through Canada to go from New Jersey to Texas. Don't ask me why. I suspect there was so much freight coming East, going to Europe, because we had invaded the Continent already, this was before the Battle of the Bulge yet, and so much stuff was coming on the main lines that they just diverted us. So, we went up to Buffalo, went around Lake Erie, came back in through Chicago. It took us five days.
KP: That is a long trip.
SL: Yes. I enjoyed it. We had a Pullman. Most of the guys had these troop cars, but we had a Pullman, because they used anything they could get. In fact, they even had a Pullman porter to make the beds. We said, "What are you doing? We can do that," you know. [laughter]
KP: You reported to Texas.
SL: Yes. I had eight weeks [of] infantry training. It was cold and wet, mostly. If the sun came out, it was lovely in the winter, but cold and wet. I remember throwing my raincoat down in this puddle where I had to lie the down to fire my rifle; [laughter] it disappeared. I threw my shelter half down; it disappeared. I figured, "Well, that's it." I flopped down in the water, but all our stuff was wet. We had two pairs of shoes and you'd have one pair in the barracks, drying, but they didn't run the heat very much and things would just stay wet, and so, the next day, you'd put on the old, wet stuff and it was kind of miserable. I loved that, though. Camp Maxey, it was great. We did no close order drill. Well, one morning, we did close order drill for some reason. In the middle of it, some fancy maneuver, I forget what they called it, "Battalion front," or something, … the whole long line turned on a pivot and we never used it again. Mostly, you just went out and fired weapons. We were outdoors. They'd bring food out to us for lunch, went on a terrible bivouac. The company commander insisted we take everything, our extra shoes. We had packs that must have been over one hundred pounds. We had to hike seven miles in the mud and you just couldn't walk. It was so slippery. One guy fell down with the pack on top of him and almost suffocated, because his face was in the mud. [laughter] We had to run, get his head up and help him up.
KP: What were your sergeants like, in all phases of your training?
SL: Oh, in basic training, they were nasty, you know, not basically, but because they'd learned, that's what you have to do, and I found out, having been through three basic training companies, [laughter] that many of these guys weren't even corporals. They gave them the two stripes to wear. They had been through the basic training, the ordnance training, the field training, then, gone to so-called cadre school, where they learned to be obnoxious, [laughter] to chew ass, and then, they put them into a basic training company and they were training troops. Some of them were delightful. There was one I remember, Corporal Gray from Mississippi, a long, lean guy, wore his helmet at a rakish angle and was full of these folk sayings, these Southern folk sayings. He was very good-natured, really never yelled at anybody. I mean, if he did, he'd make a joke out of it and I think everybody loved this guy. He was … just entertaining, you know, and most of them were decent, really, you know. I'd get to talk to them between basic training companies, when nobody was around, and they would, you know, just be like ordinary people, but, as soon as the trainees arrived, there was that wall they put up and, if they were obnoxious enough, they would get to actually keep the corporal stripes and be corporals. … The officers, you hardly saw. They just came out and took the roll call in the morning and walked at the head of the company on the hikes and so on, didn't have much to do with the officers in basic training. … Basic training everywhere was harsh, in some places, more than others, but, as I say, Bradley Beach Grammar School had prepared me for that. [laughter]
KP: What were some of the differences you noted in the men in each type of training?
SL: Well, in the infantry, we were trained by some old soldiers, guys that had been in the Army in peacetime, and they were good. They were not loudmouths, you know. They didn't bark at anybody that much; they didn't have to. … You respected them, because of what they knew, what they could do, and they were very, you know, emotionally balanced people. Well, I don't know how emotionally balanced. I threw my one hand grenade, on the hand grenade course in Camp Maxey, and nothing happened. You jump in this little foxhole and you throw your grenade and what I think happened was, the fuse broke when it hit. Somehow, it was faulty; it didn't go off and I figured, "Well, I'm not going to get out of this hole while that thing is ticking away." I'd never thrown a live grenade before, and so, they're waiting for my grenade to go off, nothing happens. The sergeant comes walking over and he says, "What happened?" I said, "Well, I pulled the pin, threw it, heard it pop, … nothing happened." This guy walks over, looks at the grenade lying there and he kicks it. [laughter] Now, explain that; what did he expect to happen when he kicked it? I never figured that out.
KP: What did happen?
SL: Nothing happened. It rolled over. It was defunct, fortunately. … You know, it was a long time after I had thrown it, [laughter] but, you know, one never knows. It could have a very slow fuse or something.
BM: Was most of your equipment in pretty good shape?
SL: Overseas, they gave me a terrible rifle. I think it had been left out in the open with some dead guy for a couple of weeks or something. It was all pitted and I tried to clean it and the officer kept looking at it and said, "This doesn't pass inspection." I said, "Well, cleaning it isn't going to help. It's all pitted," you know. That's the rifle I had; no wonder I missed the first German I shot at. Another time, I thought I'd killed this poor German. [laughter] … This was in the bridgehead, Remagen Bridgehead. We were going along this little dirt lane, … through the pine forest of the Westerwald, and this guy, Arky, who was one of the company characters, had walked off the roadway, into the woods, to relieve himself and, suddenly, he came stumbling down with his pants around his knees, saying, "The woods are full of Krauts. The woods are full of Krauts." So, the company commander, who was only a second lieutenant, the captain had been killed a few days before I arrived, was our platoon leader [and] was also company commander. He was always sending his platoon first and always sending our squad first, because he liked our squad leader, [laughter] who was our acting squad leader. Well, he took half the squad, maybe that's all that was left, he said, "You, you and you," me, "go up this way." He says, "I want to take the rest of the company around." He said, "Don't fire until you hear my machine gun going." He had one of these little grease guns, we called it, … whatever it was, [M3A1] fired .45 slugs. So, we went up. At that time, I was carrying the bazooka, which was the old one. It was in one piece, this big rain pipe, kept catching on the trees. [We were] going up this very steep hill. I had to pull myself up the trees. Three of us went up. I had kept my rifle. When you carry a bazooka, you're supposed to get a carbine or something small, so [that] you're not too encumbered, but I didn't want a carbine. [laughter] I wanted a rifle. So, I had my rifle and this bazooka clambering up this hill and, of course, we got up there much quicker than the company going around to come around from the other side, and so, we got to the edge of the woods. There was this clearing. The Germans had, apparently, had a field gun there that they had removed. We found out, later, they were waiting for a vehicle to come back to pick up all the ammunition, because there was a bunker full of artillery rounds, and so, this was the artillery crew, I guess. They were leaning against the trees, smoking, the Germans. It was the first time I'd really seen Germans clearly, you know, just standing around and there was this officer in a leather coat. So, we crawled up, got to the edge of the woods and I laid a bead on this leather coat. I figured I'd put a hole in him. [laughter] You know, I didn't care much for the Germans, I didn't care much for officers in general, you know. I figured, "Boy, I'm going to kill this guy dead," because he's just leaning against this tree, and I'm waiting and waiting. It seemed like forever before the rest of the company came up, and then, the damn lieutenant fired. He was many, many yards away. We must have been twenty-five yards from these guys. You know, we could almost hear them. We were just lying there, quietly. I've got a bead on this leather coat. [At] the very first burst, everybody disappeared. Leather coat went down [laughter] and he was gone and we're pouring fire, you know, on them and this idiot with me, [who] was behind me, was firing right next to my head, I remember, and I said, "If you want to fight, come up to the frontline," you know, and that was Westfall.
BM: Did you use your bazooka?
SL: No. [laughter]
KP: Did you ever use the bazooka?
SL: No, I never did. … At that time, we'd just gotten a new replacement, this guy Johnson, was an interesting guy and he was gung-ho and I said, "How would you like to be a bazooka man?" [laughter] He said, "Yes, okay." So, I gave him the bazooka and, by then, we'd gotten one of the newer ones that folded. It wasn't as bad. So, I carried the two rounds for him in a little side thing, wasn't bad. … They did send us out after a tank once, that's another story, which we didn't get, but [it] almost got us. … While we were up on this hilltop, where this artillery emplacement was, one of the Germans stuck his head up to see where the others were, he wanted to join the others, and I fired and it looked like his brains flew out. I figured, "Boy, that guy's dead," and, after a while, they couldn't do anything, because we were just pouring fire on them. A rifle came up with a dirty handkerchief on it and they came out to surrender. This guy I had shot at stands up; he's got a little hole in his ear, trickling blood, you know, just a neat, little hole, looked like he could put an earring in it. [laughter] … I was disappointed at the time, you know, but, now that I look back at it, I'm not sorry. [laughter] You know, I didn't know who he was; maybe he deserved to live. Oh, chasing the tank, … I remember this because our squad leader, whom I despised and I think despised me, both for good reasons, sent me and the bazooka man charging down this street in this town we were taking and I thought our guys were in the buildings. He said, "There's a tank at the other end of town. Go get it, go get it." We're running down and, of course, this thing is in two pieces. You've got to put it together first, you have to load it, wire it and so on, and we're running after this big Tiger tank and it's taking off out of town. I figured, you know, "We're not even going to catch this guy," and I figured, "He's just going to get up to where he's in a good position and turn around on us," and so, as I look up, I see these muzzles sticking out of the windows up above us. It's German rifles, you know, German Mausers, [laughter] and I grabbed Johnson, who was this gung-ho [guy]. … I said, "Let's duck into this house here." He said, "No, let's go get the tank." I said, "Forget it, forget the tank." I said, "There are Germans in these houses." So, we went in, downstairs … in the next house. I was hoping there were no Germans up in there. I didn't see any rifles and, fortunately, there weren't, but the house we'd just passed was full of Germans, and so, I run down in the cellar. "Boom," the tank blew the corner out of one of the houses; it wasn't ours, one next to it. The German tank was up on a rise. Later, one of our tank destroyers knocked it out and one of these tank destroyers came up. These are like tanks, but they had an open turret on top, with a .90-mm gun. I heard this tremendous explosion and I look out the window. This tank destroyer is right up at this house, turned his gun around, the muzzle was almost touching the wall of the house, and he blasted. I mean, this guy is standing there. I figured, you know, something would come back at him. I guess it had so much inertia, it just pushed everything in, blew the roof off the house, and then, he was loading up to fire again and all these Germans came running out to surrender and I went down in the cellar, found some food to eat, I remember. We had a terrible kitchen. We often didn't see the kitchen, you know, for a long time. [In] our first attack, in the Remagen Bridgehead, we didn't see the kitchen for something like four days and they gave us a day's K rations, that I ate the first day, and, after that, [nothing]. The worst thing was, we didn't have any water. We were up in the hills. So, it was no wonder I missed that German. We finally got into a village; it was full of food. That village was great.
BM: How did a bazooka fare against a tank?
SL: They were very inaccurate, but, if you hit it in the right place, it would punch through. It had a shaped charge. I fired one after the war. I wanted to get rid of the ammunition and the damned thing didn't have enough explosive in there or something, in the rocket, and it just kind of went down and it hit the ground in front of me and exploded and a piece hit me right in the knee and it hurt and I realized that those things are dangerous. [laughter] Of course, if you're at the back end, you'll get killed, you know. You've got to stay away from the back end.
KP: Going back to your infantry training in Texas, where were most of the men in the training unit from?
SL: From all over, yes.
KP: Did the Ordnance or the Signal Corps attract a better-educated group of men?
SL: I didn't notice it. By that time, they'd broken up the Army Specialized Training Program. All those guys, pretty much, went to the infantry. When I joined the 99th Division, some of them had become squad leaders already, only because of casualties, but they were … the underdogs, the early underdogs, and then, the replacements were the next underdogs.
KP: How did you travel to Europe?
SL: On the Louis Pasteur. It was a French liner that the British had spirited off when France fell. It was a British Navy ship, troopship, went on its own, because it was so fast. It is now the Bremen. I think it became the Bremen.The French were going to scrap it in the early '60s and the Germans bought it up and refitted it. In fact, I went to Europe with my family in 1967 for the first time, from New York, on the United States, and right next to us was the Bremen, which was the troopship that I had last crossed the ocean on and that was great. I enjoyed it, except I felt a little queasy the first day. Well, I went to sleep on the floor, the deck, as the Navy calls it, while other guys slung hammocks, and then, got sick at night and I looked up and this guy was heaving and it was coming at me [laughter] and he just stuck his helmet under in time and I rolled over. … Next morning, I got up, I felt a little funny and, after that, I slung a hammock every night and felt fine. Yes, it was a great trip. I didn't want it to end. [laughter] You just spent the day leaning on the rail, looking at the ocean. We went to Liverpool. … Well, you know, here it was, February of '45 and, yes, I figured, "Well, we'll have to get to a unit, get unit training." [laughter] … I was in combat three weeks after we left New York. … We went through England overnight. [They] immediately loaded us on a train and, overnight, went from Liverpool to Southampton, got on a troopship and waited for dark, crossed at night. Next morning, we were in Le Havre. They pushed the thing, with an Army tug, up against the rubble. We walked across the rubble, stayed overnight in a little camp outside Le Havre. The next morning, [they] shipped us out and the troop train had a train accident in Belgium. They'd unhooked their locomotive to give us another locomotive and, of course, everything was blacked out, because of the German planes that came over at night, and the locomotive ran into us, at moderate speed, and we were in the baggage car, with our heads up against the bulkhead, when … I heard this, "Clickety-clak, clickety-clak," and figured, "Well, it's on another track," and then, I heard, over this clickety-clak, some GI yelling, "Slow her down, slow her down," and then, I lifted my head off the bulkhead and, the next thing I knew, all of us, with the little bit of baggage, went flying and our car hit the second car, which hit the third car, and the third car broke in half, jackknifed, and some guy hurt his back in that one. Other than that, there were no injuries.
BM: In training, did you notice that black soldiers were trained separately?
SL: Oh, it was absolutely segregated, except in the hospital.
KP: Which hospital?
SL: No Army hospitals were segregated. Well, when I had scarlet fever, it was all white guys in the ward, but, you know, maybe none of the black guys had scarlet fever. I don't know that they had any black guys in basic training there, but they had black troops in the Ordnance, because there was one guy in the ward with me when I had poison ivy and I, like an idiot, started to tell a racist joke, and then, realized, you see how we all get poisoned? here's this guy, two beds from me, you know, everybody's listening and I said, "Oh, I forgot the punch line," because that was the only part that was racist, [laughter] but it was the whole point of the joke. It was about … a woman who's suspicious of her husband sleeping with the colored maid and she arranges with the maid to take her place at night in bed, but not to tell anyone, that she can go off and have the night and the day off, and here's the door open, this guy comes in and, you see, it's not a terrible joke, yet, but, then, when the guy is working away real good, she says, "Oh, Henry, don't you think there's something wrong?" and he says, "I sho' does ma'am." Racist joke, you know, but, … you know, without the racism, it's no joke, right? [laughter] but I realized, "I can't tell this." That really made me feel like, you know, I was getting poisoned by racism.
BM: Was there any animosity between the white soldiers and the black soldiers?
SL: Well, there was very little contact. There was a black outfit that saved my ass … when we transferred from the First to the Third Army, after the Ruhr Pocket. We went through this town and had eighty-four prisoners. I know, because I kept having them count off, to keep them busy. They left four of us to guard them. This was after we crossed the Danube. I'm going to go biking on the Danube in April, about fifty years from the time I last crossed. They left us with eighty-four prisoners, yes. We had them all in this big garage. They used to have these big garage doors, with little windows kind of up high, and, unfortunately, between the river and us was a company of SS laying there. [laughter] As soon as our guys went through, they came back across this open field, firing as they came. Here's this company, probably depleted company, of SS and there are only four of us, with all these prisoners, and the shooting's going on. Prisoners are starting to jump up, trying to look through the windows. … I figure I've got to keep them from finding out what's going on. [laughter] I'm thinking where I can run off to hide, maybe. I never thought of surrendering, somehow, you know. That wasn't in my scenario. I didn't want to surrender to the Germans. … Some guy I talked to that was captured in Africa, from my hometown, was captured around the time I went into the Army, no, before I went in the Army. He said, before he was captured, he threw his dog tags away, because he didn't want them to know he was Jewish. I think, pretty much, they respected POWs, except when they shot them, without any prejudice, at Malmedy during the Bulge. Anyway, in comes this volunteer outfit of black guys, because they didn't get into combat unless they volunteered for it, and they were in segregated outfits, often under white commanders. These guys came in with tank destroyers and none of them had rifles. They either had Browning Automatic Rifles, a twenty-pound thing with a big clip or .30-caliber light machine guns. … They'd get an asbestos glove to hold the barrel. They'd throw the tripod away, just fire from the hip, swing it from the hip, and these tank destroyers. … Apparently, I heard a story that, the day before, one of our companies had attempted to cross the Danube and got mowed down. They paddled across in these stupid little boats and the Germans were dug in on the heights, had no artillery support. Patton came up the next day and gave them all hell. I didn't see it, but I heard about it and, anyway, apparently, some black troops got across and some of their dead were mutilated by the Germans and this was discovered when these guys crossed and they weren't taking any prisoners. They mowed down these Germans. Supposedly, some of them tried to surrender and they mowed them down. That's what I heard. I was in there with the eighty-four prisoners. I was so glad to see those black guys.
KP: You had eighty-four prisoners and there were only four of you.
SL: Four of us.
KP: The SS was attacking.
SL: Right, yes. That was it. Now, I don't know, you know, how far away this outfit of blacks was, but they came in … very quickly. We had no idea they were there, even. All we knew [was], it was just the four of us and nobody had any ideas. [laughter] I remember, you know, "What do we do?" Well, my idea was to have the Germans keep counting off. I was marveling at the different dialects in counting. Some of them sounded like Yiddish, you know, from the Rhineland.
KP: You were surprised by how quickly you were thrown into battle. You were expecting more training. What happened once you got to Belgium?
SL: … Oh, we were in the so-called "repple deps," the replacement depots. We were in Verviers, which they called, "Ver-vi-air," in, I guess, what was an old laundry. It was about a four-story building. We were up in the top, had a nice skylight, and we were there a few days. That's where these kids would hang around, with their little tin cans, waiting until the mess was done and the mess sergeant would give them the leftovers, after, you know, anybody that wanted seconds had it and he would constantly harangue the troops about not sharing your food with these kids. There was one old lady among them, too, as I remember, but they were in a bad way, as far as nutrition went, but you couldn't stop it, you know. … I remember taking this kid back in the stable with me there and sharing my food with him, [laughter] out of sight of the mess sergeant, but he would have given me hell if he'd caught me, but, you know, you sit there eating out in the open and these kids are standing there, looking at you, you know, hungrily. That's no way to live. You can't do that. I think many, many of the guys were sharing their food with the kids. [laughter]
KP: What about chocolate and candy bars?
SL: Oh, they were worth a lot of money, not to me. In the infantry, what we wanted, we took, in Germany. I did buy a dictionary, a French dictionary, in Verviers. I was walking back to the quarters when they were calling the roll. I threw the dictionary away. We were leaving for Germany that night and I was in Aachen the next day and we stayed there a few days, terribly ruined. We drove in at night, through all this rubble, all bombed, tramcars turned turtle, upside down. They'd taken a bulldozer, I guess, and just bulldozed right through the ruins, down the middle of the street. There was just this narrow lane for the trucks to come down. We spent a couple of days there, because I remember exploring the cellars where the Germans had holed up. The Germans had been pushed out, and then, they pushed the Americans out, and then, they'd been pushed out again. So, it was well fought over and the cellars were full of German munitions. I remember piles of neatly piled mortar shells, and then, in another part of the cellar, you'd find a latrine, [laughter] with the remains still in it. Another place, you could see, was where they had been eating. There were the remains of food.
KP: Were there any bodies?
SL: No, not there. No, I had never seen a dead person. I led a sheltered life. I think, when my folks went to funerals, they didn't take us or something. Well, Jewish funerals, you never show the body. The Orthodox, of course, they wrap them in a sheet and put broken crockery on their eyes, to keep the evil spirits out. I'd never seen a dead body, really. … Coming down that long walk, for about twelve miles, to the bridge, the Ludendorff Bridge, … they told us that morning, "We've got a bridge and you're going to cross it." I figured, "Oh, great." We found out, they had about a nine-by-three-mile bridgehead on the other side and they had about a hundred tanks across when I crossed. … I was one of the twenty-five thousand that went across the Ludendorff Bridge. I'm quoting from the article in the paper, yes, Sunday's paper, yesterday's paper, had a fiftieth anniversary of the capture of the bridge [article]. It was on March 7th. Tomorrow will be fifty years.
KP: What a time to conduct this interview.
SL: Yes, that damned bridge. We were just walking and walking and cold, wet, rainy, snowing.
KP: You were still a replacement.
SL: … No, I had gotten to the company as they had reached the Rhine, on the Cologne Plain, at night. They were taking apart the kitchen, so, we just about managed to get some food that, you know, they managed to scrape off the pots before they dumped them out. They didn't send for us until late in the day, until they were ready to move. They'd been sitting there for a couple of days, after they'd taken this town. They waited and let the "repple dep" feed us, I figured, and just sent for us when they were ready to move and, as I said, it's dark. They said, "Oh, here's So-and-So, here's your squad." Well, the first question they asked was, "What size shoe do you wear?" because we came with two pairs of shoes, [laughter] because they were looking for spare shoes. Their shoes were wearing out and they said, you know, "Here's your squad leader." He was our acting squad leader. Our squad leader was in Paris on a pass. He missed the Rhine crossing, this guy that wrote himself up for a Silver Star later. That was … when he sent us chasing after this tank. He wrote himself up for a Silver Star. Here are these guys, … they all looked alike. This one guy's throwing packs onto a truck, getting ready to leave, and said, "Would you give me a hand here?" "Yes, sure." He's the company commander, Lieutenant Schiavone. He was a good guy, had his collar turned under, with his little bar on it, you know, so [that] the Germans wouldn't shoot him [laughter] the way they shot the captain, right through the eye.
KP: He had been wearing his insignia.
SL: I don't know, but he stood up and said, you know, "Stop shooting, they're surrendering," and some of the Germans weren't surrendering and they shot him. It was about two days before I arrived.
KP: From what you heard, what did they do after he had been shot?
SL: Our second lieutenant, who was our platoon commander, became, also, the company commander. He was running the company, running his own platoon. As I say, he kept sending our squad out, [laughter] because he liked Mike, who was the platoon guide, who was acting squad leader, who was also very good. … Later, he was wounded, and so, I saw him, just by accident, on the troopship coming home and I could ask him about, you know, what happened when … we took this hunting lodge. "What was that big explosion?" Suddenly, he turned and ran, you know. He looked around the corner of the building and he turned and ran. The squad had come up, you know. Lieutenant Schiavone said, "Go up and have a look, you know. Mike, take your squad up and have a look," and he put his bayonet on. I didn't have a bayonet. They had never issued me one. … I figured, "Somebody's around there," and he peeked around the corner and just turned and ran like hell. It was dark, it was before dawn, and so, of course, the rest of the squad ran like hell, too. We hit the dirt … and there was this explosion, "Boom," and I never found out what it was, until after coming home on the troopship. There was Mike again. He'd been sent back to division headquarters, after being wounded and coming back. So, he never got back to the company and he said, "There was a German there, holding a potato masher, you know, waiting to throw it. So, he knew we were there, I guess." That was a bad time, on that hill there. The one guy I liked in the company got killed there and, somehow, either he got up ahead of me, going back, after this grenade got tossed; well, we were lying halfway in the clearing, between this shed and the woods, and I hear Lieutenant Schiavone saying, "Get a bazooka up here and put a bazooka round in that shack," and I said, "No, don't do that, I'm here." [laughter] They fired this bazooka rocket over me. If I had known what I later found out, that some of these rockets hit the ground early, [laughter] I would have really been concerned. I said, "No, we're hugging the ground here." They fired, I think, a couple of bazooka rockets into the shed and, finally, I never found out what happened up there. It was a hunting lodge, though, because we were in it the next morning, before dawn, when we pushed off again. We pulled back to the military crest of this hill and, as we … straggled back, Mike said, "You, you, dig in here. You, you, dig in here," and I was separated from this guy that I'd dug the first hole with ever, before we crossed the Rhine and who told me what was what in the company. He had been with the company from way back, great kid, a twenty-year-old. He was older than I was. Harold Sanders was his name. I'll never forget him, because he was such a great guy. You know, if anybody should have survived, it should have been him. He had been through all these close calls. Well, he ended up digging in a hole with one of the Minnix twins, who had come from Camp Maxey with me as replacements, and one of the Minnix brothers was evacuated that morning for an injury to his leg. I don't know if he was wounded or hurt his leg somehow. I don't know what happened to him. I don't know if he got hit or what, but he had been evacuated and the other twin was digging in with Sanders. I dug in with this guy, Westfall, whom everybody hated, very obnoxious guy. After the war, he was much better, you know, without the stress, but he was … impossible, you know, just very nasty and … you share a hole with a guy for, you know, like, twenty-eight hours and you're almost wedged in there. You know, [if] one of you rolls over, you both have to roll over, it's bad and I was very upset that I was separated from Sanders, whom I really liked. Anyway, a German shell landed right in that hole, within an hour after we dug in, and I didn't even want to go look at them. Westfall went and looked at them and said, "I think they're dead." Well, somebody from the other side, … or from somewhere, yelled, "Medic," you know, when the shell hit. I looked up when I saw the smoke coming out of their hole and I had felt the concussion. I knew that it had hit very close.
KP: Was that the first time you had been shelled?
SL: Oh, no, no. No, the first time I was shot at seriously was the very first hole we dug in when we arrived just west of Remagen, too damn far west, I think it was a dozen miles, and we were dug in this very muddy field. I dug in with this guy, Sanders, who was telling me all his experiences, [laughter] and we're standing outside our holes, because the Germans are on the other side of the Rhine, a dozen miles away or more, and it's foggy as usual, misty, cold, wet, drizzly, snows a little, and I'm looking and I see this plane flying very low, coming out of the mist. What did I know? You know, I didn't know the Army Air Force wouldn't fly in bad weather. Our guys didn't come out unless the sun was shining. They got lost too easily, probably, and didn't fly alone. Here's this lone plane. I could see the guy in it. He was very low, right nearby, and he turned over, did this very nice roll. I'm standing there, looking at him, and it looked like a Mustang to me, P-51. I didn't know what it was; … all this training of aircraft identification didn't help. Anyway, as soon as he was lined up on us, he let go with a short burst that was hitting in the mud right by us and I hit that hole and I can just see the guy pulling out as I dived. So, he finished firing by the time I dived. Sanders came in on top of me and we just roared with laughter, you know. It's silly, you know. Why laugh? … We've almost been killed. I guess we laughed because we were alive, and then, he just took off. It was a nice maneuver, [laughter] but he was so close, I could see his face, his goggles, he had a helmet on, you know, and his head was turned. He was looking sideways at us as he rolled.
KP: Was anyone killed?
SL: No, no. He missed everybody. It was just a short burst. He just wanted to let us know he was there. No, theLuftwaffe was essentially gone. Well, they were trying to bomb the bridge. I did see some terrific dogfights when we were across the Rhine, dug in, waiting for our attack to begin. No, the first dead bodies I saw were on the streets in Remagen, all dead GIs, and I guess they were picking up wounded guys, but they weren't bothering with the dead and everything was pouring through to the one bridge. They were trying to build some pontoon bridges, Bailey bridges, but the Germans kept hitting them and they'd get partway across and get hit. Apparently, I don't think they hit the Ludendorff Bridge. It didn't matter. The thing fell of its own weight, it had been so badly damaged. When they blew it up, it actually lifted off and, years later, I found that our Air Force had destroyed it in October of '44. They had bombed it and it had fallen off its foundations. The German engineers had jacked it up and propped it up and wired it together. So, it was a mess and it had been planked over, so [that] they could run trucks and tanks over it. So, it had a lot of weight on it, but I remember these dead bodies. In fact, in '88, I went back there. I insisted on going back there when my daughter was in Germany. We were visiting her and the three of us, my wife, daughter and me, walked down the street, which was now asphalt. The very nice cobblestones were gone, but I remembered where I'd walked through this mud puddle and looked down and it was blood. You know, it was just full of blood from my fellow Americans. Then, there were all these dead guys lying around and they all looked like me, you know, young guys, dressed the same as I was, you know, wearing the same kind of junk. One guy [was] cut in half cleanly, I remember, one guy without legs, legs completely disappeared, you know, just lying there with their eyes open. … Their faces looked like figures in a wax museum. This was the first time I'd looked at dead people, you know. I was looking at myself, not knowing whether, in the next thirty seconds, I would be reduced to that. My morale went down, down, down. [laughter] Finally, on the other side of the bridge, in all the rubble, was a dead German. I figured, "Well, that's better." [laughter] …
BM: Did many soldiers take ammunition and guns from the dead Americans or Germans?
SL: Pistols, they could. I never bothered. I was throwing stuff away, constantly. I threw away, you know, all sorts of toilet articles, anything, you know. I was just so … weary. I left a pile of pistols up on that hill where that artillery group was. One of the guys came walking out, had a long string on his leg and I picked it up and pulled it and, at the end, he had a Very pistol, one of these flare guns. I don't know what he was thinking of doing with that. He was going to bluff his way out of captivity with a rocket pistol, I don't know, a flare gun. Anyway, I cut it off him, but I took pistols off these guys and I just piled them up there and left them. I wasn't going to carry that stuff. Later, when we liberated this POW camp, we were lying in a ditch; mortar shells are coming in. This was with the Third Army in Southern Germany, right near the end of the war, after we'd crossed the Danube. We were waiting to cross the Isar River, which we crossed on a little catwalk, [laughter] across this little narrow dam and here are all these guys who'd just been liberated from this POW camp. They'd been given some lump sum payment, I guess. They had American money. We were paid in occupation Marks and guys would offer two hundred dollars for a pistol. They'd say, "We're going home. We don't have any souvenirs." … You know, I'm thinking of, "How am I going to survive, you know, crossing this Isar River here?" I'm lying in this ditch, mortar shells are coming in; they didn't care. They were just going from infantryman to infantryman, … even a rusty bayonet, you know, anything, [laughter] crazy, but, at the Rhine crossing, we got hit when we got to the first village. We got across the bridge okay. Somebody said they were shooting down on them, still. We crossed March 11th. … The bridge was captured late in the day, March 7th; so, … it was the beginning of the fourth day that they'd been expanding the bridgehead. Apparently, some German got back on top of the cliff. Some guys, not in my company, another company, said they were fired on from up above. When I went back in '88, there was this German man there that had moved to the States, was a kid then. His father was up on the Erpeler Ley, this big cliff overlooking the bridge. He was in an antiaircraft unit, had these antiaircraft guns. They couldn't depress them below horizontal, because that's the way they traveled. They were made for antiaircraft, because they were .20-mms. They couldn't depress them to fire down, even into Remagen, across the river. [laughter] So, he and his buddies just deserted. This guy said his father came home. They deserted.
KP: The war was over for him.
SL: Yes, yes. Oh, we met a lot of deserters. They'd be in civilian clothes and you'd ask them for their soldbuch.Every German male had a soldbuch, giving his whole military record. …
-----------------------------------END OF TAPE TWO, SIDE ONE----------------------------------------
KP: They kept their books.
SL: Oh, yes. You had to have your [ soldbuch ]. It was like a passport, practically.
KP: Even when they were deserting.
SL: Well, sometimes, they'd throw them away, I think, because everything fell apart. The Germans were very well organized, but, as soon the organization came apart, everything came apart.
KP: Were you surprised by how much combat you saw, entering the war so late?
SL: [laughter] The surprise wore out very quickly, you know. We knew it would end shortly, but I didn't know whether I was going to survive it or not, and it was very depressing. … I was very down, most of the time. Well, I must admit, there were times when we were lying in this open field, across the Rhine, waiting a couple of days, while we were in reserve, for us to begin our attack. Finally, the Lieutenant got us together in a barn, the whole company, and said, "We push off on the attack in the morning. So, I want everybody to get a good night's sleep," and I was elated. I was sitting in my foxhole, cleaning my rifle and polishing up every one of my rounds of ammunition. [laughter] I was up. It's crazy, I was up, you know. We're going into this attack, which, it turned out, lasted about four days, just pushing, hardly any sleep. We didn't get fed. That's where my buddy, Sanders, got killed.
KP: This was when you were across …
SL: Across the Rhine, yes, but I remember this sense of elation, and then, again, when we broke out of the bridgehead, I had never stepped into a vehicle from the time they dropped us off in this muddy field west of Remagen, after that terrible overnight ride. There's always some guy in the outfit that said, "Beats the hell out of walking." We'd be in this truck, jolting up and down. … They couldn't see where they were going, because everything is blacked out at night, and they would run up against these tree branches and a tree branch would whack you in the head. You're trying to sleep. [laughter] I lost my thread of thought. …
KP: You were discussing this elation from combat.
SL: Oh, yes. I hadn't been in a vehicle the whole time through the bridgehead, until, I guess, it was March 25th [that] we broke out of the bridgehead. The day before, we got to this clearing and we stopped at the edge of the woods and rushed across, one at a time, didn't get fired on, and I made a rush across this clearing and, suddenly, I feel, it's solid under my feet and I looked to the right and left, I'm in the middle of this superhighway. This was the Autobahn that the Germans had built, actually for military purposes in the '30s, under Hitler. There was this empty Autobahn, just empty of cars, this big, multiple-lane highway [that] you've got to just run across. I realized, you know, "That was the Autobahn." I just ran across until I got to the woods on the other side, but, once we hit that Autobahn, the armor broke out. They put us on tanks and we rode on tanks and there were all the white sheets waving in the German towns. Suddenly, the whole German front broke open. It was like liberation, you know. I was ecstatic by riding on this tank, didn't have to walk, you know, and we were moving, you know, rather than this back and forth and being shelled almost constantly. Now, the first shelling, we got to the first town going upstream along the Rhine and I was so beat by then. I would sort of double-time and get up at the front of the company, and then, drop down in a ditch and just try to get myself together, until the end of the company went by, and then, I would catch up again, work my way up to the front. … At the end of the company was the first sergeant, who said, "Come on, keep with it, keep with it." [laughter] I'd get up and go again. Anyway, the company got into the town and the infantry company was very well stretched out. You're supposed to have fifteen paces between troops. Sometimes, you bunched up more and [we] weren't supposed to lose contact and they were way up in the far end of town. As I found out later, one of the guys discovered a German radio transmitter hung up in a tree, across from the church at the far end of town, turned up and any time a truck, or especially a tank, came through, they would hear it and they would send in a flight of shells, and so, apparently, that's what happened, because … shells had been going over all the time. I thought nothing of it. You hear this, "Whoosh," you know, and then, "Boom, boom, boom," way back behind us, and nothing had hit close. Suddenly, the shells are landing right among us, you know, "Wham, boom," and I hear the zing [laughter] of the shell fragments and I was way back. I think I was the last one in the company. The other guys were way ahead of me and they were strung out. So, most of them got into this church and one of the squad leaders, this guy named Squires, who was apparently a good guy, he was worried about the replacements in his squad that weren't there with them in the church and stepped out of the church to go looking for them, just as a shell hit the church and a piece went right through his head, because Westfall, this jerk, was standing next to him. Westfall had his helmet blown off and picked up what he thought was his helmet, but it was Squires' and [he] looked at it and it had a hole in it, and then, he looks down and there's this guy, Squires, lying dead. I felt a little bad about that, later. … I wasn't the one he was looking for, though. He was looking for his squad. My squad leader was in the church, Mike. He wasn't going to worry about us. [laughter] Anyway, I think I jumped across this jeep when this first shell hit, but, actually, it was a jeep trailer and I think I went across the trailer hitch. I don't think I was in any shape to jump. Well, you've had these nightmares, where you can't run? I have lived that, because we had combat boots and we had overshoes and around the overshoes was a clod of mud, you know, [laughter] three inches around each side. I had this long overcoat, which I cut the bottom off [from] after that, because I felt I couldn't run. The first sergeant said, "Any of you guys cut off your coats, you're going to pay for them." It never happened. [laughter] I abandoned that overcoat when it got warm one day, when we're getting shelled up in the hills, later. I was sorry, later on. [laughter] It was cold right through into May, but, at the time, I threw that coat away, threw the overshoes away up there, too, because we were up high; there was no mud. We got down in the mud again later. Anyway, I was trying to run with these shells digging around me and I jumped this trailer hitch. I don't think I went across the jeep, let's not lie. I didn't jump the jeep [laughter] and here was this destroyed house, just smoldering ruins, you know, not even a first floor, the whole thing was caved in, but there was a cellar window and I just dived, blindly, into this cellar window, with all my equipment. I had grenades hung on my suspenders, you know. You had a big rifle belt … with so much ammunition that you had suspenders to hold it up and I had several grenades. One was a white phosphorous grenade, which I got rid of later, and my grenades fell out, the way they were hanging. … I landed, fortunately, in a pile of potatoes, but in among the potatoes were my grenades. So, I was searching in the dark for my grenades and I found the white phosphorous grenade. I never found the fragmentation grenade. I always worried about that; [laughter] some poor German looking for potatoes would pick up a grenade. I couldn't find that grenade and somebody else barreled in after me, a few minutes later, and then, there was somebody lying outside the window, huddled down. I remember, the other guy asked him if he was hit and he said, "No," and, [when] it got quiet, we came out of there. I remember sitting there, I was so hungry, I was peeling raw potatoes and eating them. I found out, later, my wife says that raw potatoes are poisonous. I was eating the little green ones, they tasted better, and I found the rest of the company and we slept indoors that night, except there was a privy there. It was just an outhouse built indoors, between the shed and the house. It was all closed in. [Where] I was sleeping, everybody that walked through to go to the john, they'd step on my head. [laughter] Well, actually, I was sleeping in my helmet, so, they'd step on my helmet, but there were dead cattle around, bloating. … Before dawn, we went out to where we had our positions dug in, outside this church on the end of town, and we walked through a shell hole in the church and these guys that I had known from Camp Maxey had dug in when we arrived and spent the night out there in the holes. They'd not dug in very deep holes; they were very shallow, one-man holes and I got into this hole, was just about to lie down. The first sergeant says, "I don't want anything showing." He says, "Comes dawn, … I don't want the Germans to know we're here. I don't want to see a rifle muzzle or helmet, nothing," and, why, I couldn't move hardly, [laughter] because the thing was only, you know, about a foot deep, I think. It was just a shallow grave-like hole. I'm just lying in there and, of course, I had to move my bowels later that day and I remember the stories, guys telling me about shitting in their helmet. [I] couldn't do it there. I'd stick my belly up in the air. I finally ripped open a K ration box and used that and it wasn't quite on target and I had to throw out the turds by hand. [laughter] I remember lying there, … you get bored when you're in a one-man hole, and reading everything on the K ration boxes. I remember Chattanooga, Tennessee, was where it was manufactured and it sounded like home to me, [laughter] never in my life been to Chattanooga. I said, "Gee, I wish I was in Chattanooga, Tennessee."
KP: You would agree with Mark Twain when he says, "War is boredom with occasional moments of terror."
SL: Yes. I always entertained myself with my thoughts. I was a good loner, but it was always better to have somebody in the hole with you, except Westfall. I'm sorry, Westfall, if you're still alive. [laughter]
KP: Your division had been pretty beaten up in the Battle of the Bulge.
SL: Not as bad as some. Yes, I wasn't there then. I was in Camp Maxey.
KP: What was the lore that you heard from the men who had been at the Bulge?
SL: Oh, they boasted of it constantly, "Back in the Bulge, back in the Bulge." The later replacements, that came after, they got sick of this, … they would mimic this and they would make up stories, "Back in the Bulge, back in the Bulge," [laughter] and that stopped them. Actually, … my whole regiment was lost and cut off from the rest of the division and decided to find the Germans and surrender, from what I heard. This is just hearsay and, instead, they blundered into the rest of the division, [laughter] and so, they ended up on the north flank and they were dug in in Elsenborn and they were dug in for weeks there, apparently. They were blasting foxholes with TNT, because the ground was frozen, but they had little stoves in their foxholes and they had warm up houses to go to. … They found that they had to leave their rifles outside, because, if they take them indoors, they'd warm up. [When] they took them outdoors, they'd freeze up, because the air was so damp. Moisture would condense in the weapons, and then, you'd get ice in them.
KP: Did you learn, during the war, that "screw-ups" got killed very quickly?
SL: No, no, it didn't happen that way. It was pretty much random, in my view.
KP: Can you tell us a little bit about the men in your squad? Where was Lieutenant Schiavone from?
SL: … He was from Ohio, from where, I don't know, but I had a good opinion of him, except he should have told us … what he knew. There were times when he didn't. I remember, I got blamed for the company getting scattered and losing contact and they'd never told us what they wanted us to do. There was a report [that] there was a company of German paratroopers in this woods and this was after the breakout from the bridgehead. The bridgehead was the worst I saw. Nothing else was that bad. The company, a company has, what, 180 men at full strength? [We] had twenty-six killed and I think six of them were that day that we attacked that hunting lodge. … The walls were completely filled with little bitsy stag heads, looked like mice. They had little, tiny horns on them. [laughter] I saw a beautiful buck that came out of the woods when the Germans shells were hitting quite heavily, scared the poor animal, came running right down the lane, right past all these infantry guys with guns. We were all looking at him with sympathy. He had a beautiful rack on him, a stag.
KP: No one shot at him.
KP: What about your squad sergeant?
SL: Our squad leader, Del Pizzo, got the Silver Star, I despised him. He was … obnoxious. He was a know-nothing. Well, as you say, the original infantry guys, I think, were of a lower caliber than the later ones and he was … someone who was in when they formed the division. He was very loud-mouthed and obnoxious and, oh, he did stupid things. The first I saw him, we had taken this town, where I fired at this German; … I wanted to chase after and drag him back. … Oh, in our squad was this guy from LA, Tony Ramirez, very handsome guy, twenty-five years old, old man. I was nineteen. He said, "You'd better not go down there." He said, "I saw them running down with a machine gun into the woods," and, sure enough, these Germans fired on us and they killed some guy, I don't think it was in our company, from one of the other companies, [that] came in after us. So, I didn't go running after this guy I'd shot at. I guess he survived. He dived into a shell hole. So, there was Tony Ramirez; he carried the BAR. He survived. He had a German girlfriend after the war; he was a guy with a wife and three kids back in LA. [laughter] The first time I got to LA, years after the war, about ten years later, I opened up a phonebook. I figured, "I'll look up Tony Ramirez." I really owed my life to him, in many ways. When I lost my shovel once, he "found" me one. [laughter] … It belonged to somebody. He looked out for me. There was a page-and-a-half of Antonio Ramirezs, never found him. There was some guy from Louisiana, French, (Trayhan?), little guy. He was always telling me what was going on, as far as he knew. He would say things like, "Hey, you smell that odor?" I'd say, "Yes;" there was this acrid smell. He said, "That's the fuel the Germans use in their field kitchens. … We're getting close … to the Germans." … A couple of days later, one of our white phosphorous shells hit short, not far from where I was dug in, and I saw this big puff, and then, the wind blew my way. I could smell the white phosphorous. I said, "That's it. That's what we were smelling the other day." It was our white phosphorous shells. The Germans didn't have white phosphorous shells; so much for rumors.
KP: What other kinds of rumors would circulate? Do any others stick out?
SL: No. You didn't get much chance to converse. If you dig in, you're tired. You'd talk to your foxhole buddy about anything and everything, you know. That's how I learned so much about Sanders, who I only knew a few days, actually.
KP: Replacements, often, were neglected by the old-timers and, therefore, had a very short lifespan. Was that the case in your squad?
SL: We were looked down on. We weren't part of the family, definitely, and we got blamed for things that weren't our fault. The first time I saw this Del Pizzo, … whatever his name was, I think he was also from Ohio, he was buddy-buddy with the Lieutenant, because, you know, they had been together since the division was formed. He came down into our cellar. We'd never seen him before. He'd come back from his pass in Paris. I never had a pass the whole time I was overseas. He had a three-day pass to Paris. He'd come back, missed the Rhine crossing, missed our big attack across the Rhine, until we took this village. He said, "Come on, you guys, we're going on patrol." We say, "Who the hell are you?" He said, "I'm your squad leader." Go out with him, it's dark, before dawn, doesn't tell us anything about what the patrol is about, nothing, no word. He goes out and there's this little isolated church on the peak of the hill, off from the main village, which was sort of built in an L-shape. In back from the L was this church, up on the hill, a little church that you could see from everywhere. He goes to this church because that's where … they had marked the line, from the map, where he was going to go. Now, he's got to set his compass, didn't set his compass back in the cellar with us, or back in the CP, you know, where you could make a light. He starts lighting matches. Of course, all the windows are blown out of this church. Everything had been shelled in this town. … First strike of the match, within seconds, a shell comes in, lands behind us, "Boom." He's still lighting matches, trying to set his compass. Another shell comes in, in front of the church, "Boom." I said, "I don't know about you guys; I'm getting the hell out of here." [laughter] I took off, because I was one scared kid. … There was no reason to be hanging around. I wasn't going to hang around; let him set his compass. I took off for outside and, you know, find some kind of cover, away from the church. [laughter] Of course, everybody followed me. The squad leader looks around, he's got no squad. [laughter] He's got his compass set, that he should have set, you know. You can set a compass anywhere. … I learned that at ROTC. … He comes out looking for us, … "Who gave you guys orders to take off?" I said, "Nobody; nobody told us to stay there, either." So, he didn't like me from the start and I didn't like him. Anyway, [he] still didn't tell us anything about this patrol. We go down, in the dark, down into this draw. Now, we knew the Germans were on the other side of the draw. Later, I find out, we had a bazooka team with us. We were supposed to [do] two things; we were supposed to find this German tank that they had heard down there. They wanted us to destroy a tank, not a big deal, and we were supposed to meet up with another squad from another company, I guess, from the battalion, I don't know. Nobody ever told me this, until later I found out. Now, when you go out on patrol, the procedure is, you're supposed to get a chain of command, who takes charge if the squad leader gets killed or wounded, what you're supposed to be doing, what your objectives are, you know, and have some idea of how to get back. [laughter] We're going out in the dark with this guy we never saw before. He never saw us before.
KP: He took out an entire group of replacements.
SL: No, no, no. Trayhan and Westfall, … three of them, at least … had been with it, yes. Trayhan may have been a replacement from way back, I don't know. You see, they filled it up with ASTP guys before they went overseas. There were at least three of the old guys in there and Tony Ramirez. … In a few days, I was the only replacement that had come up with me in that squad and I think they had filled the squad up to nine people. I don't know what happened to the other guys before that. You're supposed to have twelve in a squad, according to the book. We had nine people when we began the Rhine crossing, including these twins, one of whom got killed and I think his brother never heard about it, until a long time later. His brother had been evacuated that morning. One guy couldn't keep up, ended up with the kitchen. We found him later, when the kitchen came up, so, he wasn't really a casualty, but there were three of us in the squad, plus the squad leader. … I was the only replacement that had come up before the Rhine crossing. So, there were a few of the old guys. … We didn't get more replacements until a few days later, but, anyway, on this patrol, we came down, we couldn't find anything. The squad leader, creeping around the woods, said, "All right, dig in." So, we get out our entrenching tools and he says, "No, no, don't dig in. They might hear us." So, we don't dig in. I figured, "This guy, you know, doesn't know what he's doing," and, you know, we have no idea what we're supposed to find. We did blunder into some woman with a white flag and two children, a German woman, fleeing and [she] told us her children hadn't had their frühstück that morning; they hadn't had their breakfast. I said, "That's tough, lady," and I was thinking about my relatives that had been murdered. You know, we knew they were dead. We knew they'd been killed, pretty much. We didn't find out any details until after the war, but that's … the only people we met down in that draw, and so, finally, we came back. He brought us back and the first sergeant got on the radio and called back to battalion, regiment, whatever, and he said, "You're going to have to go down there again," because, apparently, the other patrol was down there and they were supposed to meet us and they weren't going to come back until they found us and all of the old guys said, "The hell with it. We're not going." This is the Army. So, of course, all of us replacements said, "We're not going either." Us replacements? just a few of us; it was just me. There must have been another replacement, but I said, "Well, no, I'm not going, either, you know. I'm with them." [laughter] I wouldn't have said that myself, "I'm not going." I figured, "It's no big deal. We'll go down there again. It's quiet. There's nobody down there." Then, apparently, he got a call back that they had come back. They checked their company. They had come back, because they couldn't find us, I guess, but that was the first time I realized that, you get an order in the Army, you say, "To hell with it, we're not going to do it." [laughter]
KP: Did that surprise you?
SL: Yes, that surprised me.
KP: The give and take.
SL: Yes, yes.
KP: I am still struck by the fact that your lieutenant was loading this truck when you first ran into him.
SL: There was nobody helping. He was doing it himself. He was loading the truck with the packs from the company
KP: In training, officers are more removed.
SL: Oh, officers would never do that. In fact, they would tell the sergeant, "Get the men to do this." They wouldn't even tell the men. Oh, Schiavone was great. He would jump out of his hole. He would walk about three steps. He would just sort of turn his head halfway and say, "Let's go," you know, and everybody felt, "Hey, don't leave me here, you know. [laughter] Don't leave me here alone," because, if he just sat in the hole and said, "Okay, we're going," nobody would move, I think. I think he learned that. He would jump out of his hole with his little machine gun, submachine gun, and sort of half turn, say, "Let's go," not even looking to see if we're coming, and everybody would say, "Hey, we're going to go with him," you know. [laughter]
KP: That must have taken a lot of bravery.
SL: Yes, yes. … Well, sometimes, I found I was brave to the point of being foolhardy and, other times, I was scared to death.
KP: When were you the bravest?
SL: [laughter] Gee, I really … couldn't say. When you're firing your rifle, all you think about is firing your rifle, you know. Well, it's a great relief, to be, you know, active rather than passive, because, most of the time in the infantry, you're getting hit by either the enemy artillery or your own, and there was a lot of your own. The worst shellings we had were our own. Well, when our squad leader, Mike, got hit, it was our own artillery. It was in that same village. The weapons company lent our depleted squad a light machinegun and two young machine gunners. Our cannon company was firing over the village at Germans on the other side. As the two machine gunners were leaving the house inhabited by our squad, a defective shell fell short and hit near the house. The exploding shell blew an arm off one of the machine gunners. (Lieutenant Schiavone thought the man would also lose a leg to amputation.) Inside the house, Mike was struck in the face by plaster blown off the walls. While he waited to be evacuated, the squad insisted on cooking a hot meal for him, which he managed to eat. When the shell hit, I was on guard in my foxhole outside the village. I returned to our house to find a severed arm by the doorway.
KP: You were probably not surprised by the controversy over friendly fire in the Persian Gulf.
SL: No, no. … The first night, we were dug in, in foxholes, just to get some sleep, on this ridgeline on this hill. We could look along to the next set of hills and our artillery was firing these barrages. I was timing them with my watch, twenty minutes at time. It was just constant. The whole skyline was just lit up, because there was a continuum of explosions, of shells. I figured, "Boy, the Germans are getting slaughtered up there." We found out, the next day, … some of our guys were up there and a lot of them got killed, but those were the worst barrages I ever saw. The heaviest ones were our artillery. [laughter] I remember, once, our artillery hitting us and it was hitting a coal pile. This was when we were in the Third Army. It was the day I chased that tank, I think. We pulled back out of town and dug in. There was a coal pile across [from us] and the shells were hitting the coal pile. [laughter] I was getting hit with pieces of coal. I thought I was getting wounded and we knew it was our own, you know. It was coming from behind us and I was just beating my shovel. We hadn't really started to dig in. I think I'd taken a shovel full and I was banging the shovel in the ground and cursing our artillery. I was just mad. I wasn't frightened at all, I was just mad. When the Germans shelled us, it scared the hell out of me, [laughter] because they're trying to kill us, you know. Our guys aren't.
KP: When were you the most scared?
SL: The most scared? We were up on this ridge, it was the day I threw away my overcoat and overshoes, in a pine forest in the bridgehead and the Germans, who were running low on artillery, Hitler ordered all firing orders to be relayed back to him, so [that] he could approve of any artillery fire. Can you imagine? [laughter] Still, they threw a lot at us, and so, they were firing a line of shells, hitting in the trees. Tree bursts are the worst. You dig a hole; it doesn't help. The stuff just explodes down. [When] they hit the ground, a lot of the force gets reflected upwards and, if you're lying low, it'll go over you. … We're caught out there in the trees and they're raking the woods, getting closer and closer to us, you know. Every couple of seconds, the next one hits and I'm digging furiously. I remember, I had a blister in the heel of my hand. I kept digging and it was just bleeding, … had it on the end of the shovel, and then, I hit a rock [laughter] and, each time a shell came in, I was sticking my head in the bit of hole I had, my butt sticking up, feeling very insecure, and I look over; there were two guys that had been laying a coil wire, this telephone line that the infantry was always laying for communications, and they were huddled down. There was an embankment there. I figured, "Well, you know, they're protected on one side. Maybe I should just give up my little hole, where I can just put my head in, and go run over and hide with them. … One hit very close and I figured, "The next one isn't going to hit with the others. It's going to come right down on us," and I was so scared … and all I could think of was, "I hope it doesn't hurt too much." I thought I was going to die, you know, or at least be grievously wounded. I remember thinking, "Jeez, I hope it's not too painful," [laughter] and that one never came. They stopped. That's all the ammunition they were firing on that mission. … The next one never hit. If they had continued, the next one would have come right down on us and the Lieutenant says, "Okay, let's go," you know, "Grab your stuff and go," and I look over; one of the guys reeling wire had gotten up with the wire. The other guy was still crouched down, you know, waiting for that next shell, dead, had a little hole in his side, oozing blood. A fragment had gone right through his chest, I guess. All these guys were young guys, too. We had guys wounded by our own antiaircraft. When we were lying out in this field, when I told you I was so elated, finally, they said, you know, "We're pushing off on the attack tomorrow." It's like a movie, right, Errol Flynn. We're lying out in this open field and it cleared. Well, anyway, German planes would come in and try to bomb the bridge and they'd come in either single [or] two at a time. They couldn't get through all the antiaircraft fire. I read, later, that was the most concentrated antiaircraft protection around a single target in history. … As soon as they got the alarm [that] there were German planes anywhere, each battery would fire on its assigned location in the sky. They would just send up all this stuff and, of course, what came in our direction came down in the field. One of the guys who had been with me in Camp Maxey had a piece go right through him. He threw himself down on the ground and it went right through his chest. I assume he survived, but he was badly wounded. See, you had to learn either just to stand or to just sit in your foxhole, if you're tired, and just put your knees … up to your chest and just let the stuff rain down. When it cleared one day, our Air Force came out, in the P-38s, … they had sort of a twin fuselage, and they would get on these German planes and just get behind them and the German planes were highly maneuverable. They would zigzag, zigzag. The P-38s would just go on a steady course and you could see the tracers burst each time the German crossed in front. These were low level [dogfights], maybe two thousand, at most three thousand, feet and we could see the guys in the planes, you know. It was a real movie. … It happened the whole day. It kept happening. These German planes kept coming in. None of them got through. They jettisoned their bombs before they got through. When we were in that town, the bombs were falling on us, because they couldn't get to the bridge. They'd jettison their bombs and swerve off. I found out later, after the bridge collapsed, the Germans came and took photos of it and brought them back to Goering and said, "We knocked out the bridge." Many Germans would tell you that their Air Force, the Luftwaffe, knocked out the bridge, not true. [laughter] We knocked it out by walking on the thing.
KP: If someone were wounded, how good was the medical attention they received in the field?
SL: The medics, right with the infantry, were terrific, I mean, utterly selfless. The guys I came in contact with, they never hesitated. The worst shelling, [if] somebody yelled, "Medic," they were up and out. They'd go. There was one medic from another platoon [who] was kind of a nut. He would just walk around in the heaviest shelling. He would not take cover. He had his Red Cross on his helmet and he had his little armband with the Red Cross and he'd walk around. He'd go up, looking. … We'd be shelling this house, up on a little hill, out in the clearing, and he's walking up the clearing to go take a look at this house that they're shelling. You know, he felt he was non-combatant, I don't know. [laughter]
KP: Did he survive?
SL: Yes, yes, this guy did. There was another guy who was also very, very bold, you know, no hesitation about going out, no matter what was happening, and he got shot by a sniper through his armband. Of course, the armbands got all rolled up and muddy and so on and he just threw some sulfa powder on it and bandaged it up himself. He was sorry later, because you got points for Purple Hearts. [laughter] Two days later, he got evacuated with mumps. I talked to him after the war and he lost one of his testicles, but the medics were great. I think all the medical people were pretty good, from what I saw of them. We came on into this German house when we were with the Third Army, right near the end of the war, and a German civilian was lying on this cot, ill, apparently had a fever. His wife was feeding him soup and we just barreled in and lay down on the floor and went to sleep and, at best, we ignored them or insulted them. … They were just part of the scenery. You weren't supposed to fraternize with the Germans, such as talk to them and so on. I often did and we were there a while and this guy on this bicycle comes riding up, runs into this house and he's got British Army pants, German shoes, a GI jacket and, oh, totally unkempt and we said, "Who are you? What's happening? What's going on?" He said, "Oh, I was a POW. … I just got out." He said, "I was shot down over Germany in this bomber," and he was with the Air Force. He said, "And I was in Moosburg," which was this place we liberated shortly after. Liberated; the Germans ran away. The prisoners liberated themselves, actually, and they knew where everything was in town. They had been working in the town for months, you know. Some of them had girlfriends in the town. Anyway, this guy jumped on a bike and [had] come back here, because he was worried about these people. He said he had escaped sometime earlier and had found some kind of Underground network. I guess, they got certain instructions, if they escaped, to go to certain places, with code words or whatever. I don't know what the mechanism was, but, anyway, he was passed from safe house to safe house and he went through these people's home. They had sheltered this guy and passed him on to the next place, and then, he was recaptured and he was worried that the whole network had collapsed, that the Germans were wise to their whole thing, that these people had been shot. … The first thing he did when he was free was to come back and find out if these people were alive. So, we started giving them K rations and things. … The guy was sick, so, … we got hold of the battalion, the major, who was the top medic in the battalion, to come over and tend to this guy, which you weren't supposed to do, I think, you know, civilians. He gave him some penicillin, I think.
KP: Do you have any idea why this couple did this?
SL: No, no. We never had any conversations with them. They never told us anything about it. … A lot of the Germans would run up and say, " Nicht Nazi, nicht Nazi," you know. You couldn't find any Nazis.
KP: That is a remarkable story.
SL: Yes, yes. So, that made me, you know, tend not to judge the Germans, because, boy, I don't know if I would have done something like that. The Germans shot something like ten thousand people, civilians, in World War II, whereas in World War I, they'd shot, at most, a hundred or more. I don't know what the statistics are, but, no, that thing had happened at the very last push of the Third Army, after we crossed the Isar River. We were lost, as usual, and they took the guys they wanted to get rid of and sent us to the battalion as a security guard. The battalion had never put guards out at night. They figured they're the battalion command post, you know, they're surrounded by all this infantry. Some German had kicked in their door and emptied his machine pistol while they were all sleeping in this room. Missed everybody, fortunately, but they got very upset [laughter] and they asked each of the line companies to send some riflemen back to form a security guard and guard the CP twenty-four hours a day, and so, my company sent anybody they wanted to get rid of, … goof-ups like Bob Herman, who was probably the most intelligent guy in the company, whom I got very friendly with.
KP: Why was he such a goof-up?
SL: He was living in another world. [laughter] … We'd say, "There's no room on this tank," when we were riding on tanks. "Bob, you get on that tank," and … it's a General Sherman tank. It's roaring its engine, you know, spinning its turret around. He says, "What tank?" [laughter] He was out of it. He was a guy whose face was totally black, they said, during the Bulge, because his stove didn't work right in his foxhole. He's completely black. He never washed, apparently. He survived. …
KP: Do you know what became of him?
SL: No, no. I wish I knew. He's the one that knew what a planimeter was when we found one in the ruins of this factory in the Ruhr. He pulled open this drawer of this desk and knocked it over and said "Oh, a planimeter." [laughter] I had no idea what it was, for measuring areas. He was always looking for cameras. He took some pictures of us in a camera he liberated and, … actually, sent them back to be developed. I don't know how, never came back, of course. Things were just so chaotic.
KP: You were telling us about this command post assignment.
SL: Oh, yes. So, they had something like, I don't know how many you had, to guard the command post, but these were all the goof-ups and the guys they wanted to get rid of, you know, guys that didn't play the game. Me, I'd gotten blamed; … we were clearing the woods of these so-called German paratroopers. It turned out, they weren't there, I think. The company got all scattered. Well, I had come up to this; we'll get back to the Germans later. … They had strung us out along this dirt road. I had no idea what we're going to do and we were fifteen feet apart. They passed the word back, "All right, everybody into the woods." That's the word that came back and I'm standing there. In front of me is this huge embankment. It's impossible to climb. You know, I start to try to climb it, can't get up it. It's too steep. You know, there's nothing to hang on to, bare embankment, because the roadway had been cut through and the embankment was just, you know, where I was. So, I either had to run to the right, which I should have done. [laughter] I would have kept contact with the head of the company, [who I] had lost contact with, but I ran to the other side, okay. Now, what was happening [was], they hadn't told us what they were going to do, … they were going to wheel the whole company around through the woods, thinned out, fifteen paces between. So, we were strung that way. Do you realize how fast the guy on the end has to move for the other people to move at all, you know, in close to the pivot? …
------------------------------------END OF TAPE TWO, SIDE TWO--------------------------------------
KP: This continues an interview with Professor Solomon Leader on March 6, 1995, with Kurt Piehler and …
BM: Bret Marin.
KP: You were recounting …
SL: Oh, sweeping through the woods, looking for the German paratroopers.
KP: Yes, the pivot maneuver.
SL: Yes. Well, I look off to my right and I see these guys running away from me, running straight to the right, because, apparently, they had lost contact up there, because, I guess, they didn't know what was supposed to happen, either. I figured, "I'd better not lose contact," and I turned and I start running and I was already way spread out from the guy to my left as we moved through the woods, because he had encountered some obstacles, too. [laughter] You can't just go straight through the woods, and so, I'm running and I make contact, and then, the other guys were all straggled out and we all end up piling up together there, finally, and [we were] getting bawled out by my squad leader, Murphy, who blamed me for getting the company lost. [laughter] Of course, the contact was broken behind me, you know. I had just run and these other guys, running, had already lost contact, obviously, when they suddenly saw there was nobody there and they started to run and, of course, the further back down the line you go, the more scattered you are, the faster you have to run, the worse it is for the guys at the end, and he blamed me for that and I just didn't say a word. I'd had it with him. Anyway, when the opportunity came to get rid of me, they said, "You go back to battalion with … these goof-offs." That wasn't the way they put it. It turned out to be a good deal, because we didn't hike much. [laughter] We rode with the battalion. They didn't walk, but, anyway, we got lost a lot. … Anyway, we were looking for the battalion CP. We were moving; everything was pushing. We could see our shells hitting in the hills up ahead of us and it was getting dark and I saw this guy I knew from battalion, one of the jeep drivers, and I stopped him and I said, "Where's the battalion? … Where's this battalion CP?" He says, "Right up this road here," and he took off that way, and so, we're going up that road and it's getting darker and darker and we were just leaving this little town. Out comes this German civilian, down to us, running from this alley between two houses, and he says, in perfect English, "Don't go up there. … Don't go up this road." He said, "A company of SS just went up there." I said, "Yes? Our battalion CP is supposed to be up there." He says, "Well, I just saw them. … They went up there." He says, "I wouldn't go up there," and I was suspicious. He was a German and I said, "Where did you learn to speak English?" He said, "I was a baker in Brooklyn in 1928." [laughter] So, you know, it sounded reasonable. So, we had a little discussion. There were six of us lost. The guy in charge was a corporal and he said, "I think we should go up the road," and I said, "I don't think we should. You don't want to run into this company of SS. There's six of us here. We don't have that much ammunition," and so, he listened to me. So, we took this other road and got lost, of course. So, we ended up knocking on some farmhouse door and piling in and just going to sleep and we didn't even post a guard, which was stupid, and I had noticed, when these shells were hitting, I couldn't hear them, for some reason, and it was very close. It looked like half-a-mile away or less. For some reason, I couldn't hear them. So, we didn't hear a thing that night and, next morning, we got up. My company was together with the battalion in this little L-shaped apartment complex, where engineers had lived for this … hydroelectric project. It was a dam and a reservoir and they generated electricity there and the workers had lived in this complex, which was isolated. It was all empty country around it, meadows. The Germans had completely surrounded it. It was this company of SS. They were even in the garden, inside the L. We found that there were dead Germans in there. There was a string of them outside and my company said, "Where were you guys?" They were all, you know, pale, hadn't slept at all, been up firing their rifles all night. We said, "We were back in this house … [laughter] a half-a-mile away," and one of the guys I knew from Camp Maxey was severely wounded that night. Now, what saved them was, they called for our artillery which had zeroed in the day before, I guess, and they called for artillery fire and they sent in these timed shells, … proximity fuse shells, which burst very close to ground level. … In one place, there were seven dead Germans, all laid out from one shell burst. So, we never saw any combat after that. That was the last of it.
KP: If you had been there just a little bit earlier …
SL: We would have been in that building with the battalion command … and my old company, [laughter] who had tried to get rid of me, or we might have met the SS company on our own.
KP: When was this?
SL: That was the end of April. No, it was May 1st. No, May 1st was that morning [that] we came back up. It was the night of … April 30th, because, I remember, it was May 1st and it snowed. I said, "My God, it's snowing in May." It covered up the dead Germans with snow, I remember.
KP: On April 30th, Hitler killed himself.
SL: Oh, yes, yes. We were in the Ruhr when that happened. I remember when FDR died. One of the guys told me, they were going down this street and this woman ran out and said, " Roosevelt is dead. Why are you still fighting?" [laughter] and I remember Hitler's birthday, because I had a hot shower. The Ruhr Pocket had collapsed. A hundred thousand Germans had surrendered, three hundred thousand, God knows what it was, and, mostly, I remember, they were pouring in, on half-tracks, with their weapons. Our quartermaster came up and said, "We have clean clothes." I said, "Great." I still had the clothes I'd come overseas in, all of which I was wearing, you know, heavy underwear, two pairs of pants, two shirts, GI sweater, field jacket.
KP: You wore all of that.
SL: Yes. I'd thrown the overcoat away, yes, constantly. A few times, I worked up a sweat, but, mostly, it was cold and damp. We were outdoors, mostly. Nobody caught colds. I guess we didn't have contact with people who had colds [laughter] and we got clean clothes. We said, "Gee, this is great," you know, and then, they told us, "Oh, we have hot showers," someplace else. So, we got on the trucks and went for the hot showers, in the clean clothes, on our dirty bodies. We took off our clean clothes quickly, had hot showers and I didn't think they'd ever get me out of that hot shower. I'd had a shower in Belgium in February. I remember some officer talking to us in the replacement depot in Belgium, saying, "Well, you won't get a chance to wash very much," he said, "but you're all outdoors." He said, "You'll all smell." He says, "After a while, you get to like it;" [laughter] not true. That's another time I felt up, after that shower and the clean clothes. I was floating. Oh, I just felt, you know, "Life is wonderful." You get a hot meal and your morale goes up. You think, "Well, I'm going to survive, you know. I'm going to make it."
KP: Not having the kitchen for four days must have really brought you down.
SL: Yes. … The morale was low. You could tell, everybody was very low. Nobody was talking much. Everybody was fatigued, too, and, at times, you feel you just don't have the energy to be frightened anymore. I remember shells coming in and I said, "I'm not going to dig anymore." One day, we dug in five times, never completely, you know. You'd start your hole, never quite finish it, you know, not eating and digging holes and not getting sleep. Even when you're in your foxhole, dug in at night, sleeping holes, you had to stand guard.
KP: How much of a threat were snipers?
SL: I don't know. When I was guarding … the CP, I kept hearing this, "Zing, zing," and there was a German shooting at us. I was standing my guard for about an hour, [laughter] so, I guess he was shooting at me. [He] couldn't hit me. He was so far away, I guess, he couldn't hit anything. No, we never had any problems. At that stage in the war, if you closed with the Germans, [if] you got close enough to them, they would surrender. You know, they were just waiting to surrender. They would fire like hell at you, until you got close. Then, that's it. They'd surrender. On a road in the Ruhr in mid-April of '45, I passed a body on a stretcher covered by a blanket. The top of the man's head was visible and the curly, blond hair looked familiar. I lifted the blanket. The dead man was "Woody," a tall, good-natured lad from my barracks back in Texas. He was a BAR-man, shot in the back of the head on his nineteenth birthday by a German sniper. On our rapid advance to the Ruhr, our tank crews often rode standing up in open hatches. The Germans "sniped" at them with .20-mm antiaircraft guns! One morning, the captain of a tank company told us he had just lost two men to this sniping.
KP: Did you take part in the liberation of any concentration camps or slave labor camps?
SL: Recently, I was reading Modern Maturity, when they were asking veterans to send in letters telling about their experiences. Some guy from the 99th Division wrote in a letter about liberating Dachau, which was the first of the concentration camps, just outside of Munich. Now, that's when we came down with Patton's Army, down to the Danube, and he must have been on the other end, the west end, of the division. We must have been on the east end, because we were quite a ways from Munich when we crossed the Danube and I had no idea that my division had liberated Dachau, because I never saw it.
KP: You did not see any smaller camps.
SL: No, only places where they had slave laborers that we liberated. I remember, we liberated some Russian prisoners, who were sitting in a house and had a lot of liberated food and drink and maps. They were pouring over the maps, figuring out how to get back home. One of them gave me a little ring he'd made out of duralumin. He was working [on] building airplanes, an airplane factory, for the Germans. When they weren't looking, he would make jewelry and he said he would trade it to the hausfrau for bread. That's how he survived. I gave that ring to a girl after the war. It's gone now. [laughter]
KP: Did you ever see any chaplains when you were in the Army?
SL: Oh, in the Army?
KP: Were they ever near you in combat?
SL: Never came up to the lines at all. I never saw a chaplain. No, I don't recall seeing chaplains. They may have been back. They must have had them with the division, maybe even with the regiment, I don't know. No, I didn't see any chaplains. You could never tell. Everybody looked the same. [laughter] Eisenhower came up to the front one day. They said, "He's going to visit our division." I said, "Oh, you think we'll see him?" He got up as far as regimental command post [laughter] and that was it.
KP: That was as close to the front as he came.
SL: Yes. I resented it, after the war, when I read about Eisenhower being called away from his dinner, while in the middle of his dessert, to be told they had captured a bridge across the Rhine. [laughter] Forgive me, he's eating dinner.
KP: What did you think of officers, not necessarily your lieutenant, whom you had a lot of respect for, but those further up the chain?
SL: The GIs thought Eisenhower was great; so did I. We had nothing to go on, really. Having read some things from his diary, he's gone up in my estimation, [laughter] like, yes, "We're not going to win this war unless somebody shoots … Admiral King." [laughter] Well, King sent out these public relations things, like orders to the civilian population not to report any sightings of German subs being captured, German subs being towed in. There were none. This was just to give people the impression that the Navy was capturing German subs, pure and simple.
KP: How did it feel to be in Germany as an occupier?
SL: I wanted to hate them, from, you know, the viewpoint of my family. The people that were murdered, I didn't know personally. My father hadn't seen them for many years, since he was a teenage kid, but I never met a German I didn't like. …
KP: Did that surprise you?
SL: Yes and no. You know, they were very highly civilized. … I saw things in Americans that made me think you could have Nazism in the US. There's a base for it, you know, and there were people who'd go along with it. I had no idea how much prejudice there was until I got into the Army and it wasn't just the Southerners talking against blacks. They hardly did. … You know, they were very defensive about it. They'd say, "Well, that's the way I was brought up." It was the Midwesterners, the industrial Midwest. I guess a lot of blacks had migrated up to Chicago and, you know, into the automotive industry and so on, and so, there was a fight for jobs, you know. People who are low look for somebody lower to kick. … In the infantry, I was in this company in the 99th Division and I'd hear these guys talking, didn't even know me, "See any Jews? Jews are all back at desk jobs in the rear." [laughter] I said, "Gee, I missed mine, you know. Why didn't you guys tell me about this?"
KP: Were they surprised?
SL: I don't know.
KP: Did you ever talk about sex when you were in the foxhole, or were you more concerned about food?
SL: No, guys talked about their girlfriends back home. [laughter] When we got transferred from the First Army to the Third Army, the first thing they did was gather us together and read us orders from Patton about self-inflicted wounds. They were exacting terrible penalties for SIW and rape and looting. They were very concerned about rape and looting. There was a lot of looting, but I only took what I felt I could use. I ate a lot of their food, [had] gotten very sick as a dog once. In fact, it was when we crossed the Danube. … Just before we crossed the Danube, I was sick. I was losing it from both ends. I was standing guard, too, just squatting and heaving. We got into this house and our guys were eating this stuff and I started eating these preserved pears, I think it was. … It had sort of a metallic taste, but what did I know? I was eating this thing. I was hungry. I found out later, that had been opened by the Germans, you know. Our guys hadn't opened that container, [laughter] which had been there for days, I guess, festering, and I got violently sick that night. It hit me when I was on guard and I didn't want to wake up the next guy. It wasn't his turn yet. I just was in the stable there, heaving and squirting from my bottom, and, the next day, they set up a field kitchen right in the courtyard and they had all this food, but I couldn't eat. I couldn't eat a thing, and so, what happens? That night, we crossed the Danube, we moved out, and Fox Company from my division, my regiment, had been slaughtered … trying to cross the river. A couple of the boats got across and pulled back at night. That night, we moved downstream and crossed. The Germans had pulled out, pretty much. I saw one dead GI on the other side and we crossed in DUKWs, which are the mechanized things, but I was dragging myself along. I'm laying on the bank, waiting to get on this DUKW, and this captain comes along and, very apologetically, says, "Would you carry these .81-mm mortar rounds across for us?" He said, "You guys will appreciate this if you need our support over there." I didn't want to say no to this guy and took these mortar rounds. I figured, "See, if I go in the river, I've got to dump these," and I got across in the DUKW with these mortar rounds. I handed them back to him very quickly. … I was in no condition to carry .81-mm mortar rounds. I think there were four of them. They were in a thing that slung two in front and two in the back and I was dragging myself along and, by the middle of the night, I was starting to feel very hungry. I was just dying of hunger and just dragging along, you know. Fortunately, we didn't meet too much resistance. The Germans had pulled back and, the first house I got into, I found some food and I just gorged on it. [laughter]
KP: That was fairly common.
SL: Oh, yes, for us. I don't know, Harold Kovarsky, [who] was my roommate at Rutgers after the war, said, in the 100th Division, in his company, they got one hot meal every day, no matter what.
KP: Which would have impressed you.
SL: Yes. Now, maybe they were in places where there were roads. I can't really blame the kitchen. They had a kitchen truck; they needed roads. We were out in those hills.
KP: Did other men in your squad or regiment feel differently about looting?
SL: Oh, yes, yes. There were people who thought, you know, it was great, take what you wanted. They even thought of … getting stuff to take home, souvenirs, this and that.
KP: When did the non-fraternization with the enemy rule breakdown? Did it collapse before V-E Day?
SL: It didn't mean a thing to the combat troops. … When I was back with battalion, … there was this one captain, Captain Allen, who everybody hated, was a West Point man. His father was a colonel, also a West Point man, and he bragged that he was going to outrank his father, ultimately. He was a weirdo. He would say things to us like, "Keep me covered while I take a leak." [laughter] I guess he was afraid somebody would shoot him while he was unkempt. … I'd watch him; he'd take out his .45 and he'd put it under his armpit to go take a leak, good, old Captain Allen. He gave hell to one of the sergeants in the battalion. It was this older guy. He was a Polish guy, who spoke Polish, and he was talking to some of these Polish slave laborers that we had liberated and Captain Allen came over and gave him hell. He said, "Don't you know there's a rule against fraternizing?" and he said, "But these aren't Germans. These are Poles. These are my countrymen," and he said, "It doesn't matter." I don't know if it did or not. It sounds weird. What else can I tell you? The Germans had bad parachutes, I'll tell you that. … That day I was watching the dogfights at the bridge, every German plane was shot down by the P-38s, not one got back, and, quite a few times, the Germans would parachute out; not one parachute opened. It must have been, maybe, half a dozen. One plane, two guys came out of it, neither chute opened, they just trailed. Streamers, they called them and we jumped up and down and cheered and you see these guys holding the shroud lines and just looking down, you know; … nothing, just a limp chute, plummeting to the ground. Most of them never got out of the planes. They went down with them.
KP: Where were you on V-E Day?
SL: On V-E Day, … did they start to move us already? I'm not sure. We may have been in that apartment house, where that last attack was, by the hydroelectric plant. We stayed there a few days, because, … I remember, rumors came through that the war was over, which weren't quite true. It was around May 3rd [that] we heard the rumors and, apparently, it had ended in Italy, but the rumors came and, finally, when, you know, it was confirmed that the war was over, it was kind of hard to believe. There wasn't any jumping around or cheering, none of this wild celebration that took place in the civilian world. Everybody just stood around, thinking. You know, it got very quiet. Guys said, "Gee, it's over, you know. We're alive." Then, for about three weeks, I was … walking on the air. I think the other guys were, [too]. I mean, it was just, you know, so great.
KP: Did you have any concerns that you might be sent to the Pacific?
SL: Yes, but that was far off. I had images in my mind of jumping ship, you know, getting lost, deserting, you know. I was not going to go, no way. That's what I told myself. Later, I read stories about guys who had survived the North Africa campaign. They'd burned their clothes, they were such a mess, being gotten together and this general told them they were going to lead the invasion into Sicily and they ran after his jeep as he was leaving. They wanted to kill him. The guy just tore out of there at full speed, but they went. You know, they felt, you know, "Let some fresh troops come in. We've done our share," but they didn't have enough fresh troops. It wasn't that easy to keep bringing men over. Ships … were being torpedoed.
KP: Looking back, how well trained were you for the battle zone?
SL: Well, the infantry training in Camp Maxey was pretty good. … Well, they didn't want to spend a lot of money on exploding live ammunition over us, artillery. … The last week, we had one exercise with rolling artillery fire. They would send the shells over our heads and, as we advanced, they would raise the guns and fire further ahead and it didn't impress us, you know. We'd never seen what they do to people. We had no training in infantry tactics.
KP: The noise is not frightening by itself.
SL: Yes. Well, when they hit close, the concussion really gets you. Under artillery fire, I used to open my mouth, so that my eardrums would not blow out, and we never tied our chinstraps, because the helmet could blow off and take your head off. I lost my helmet once. I slipped on a hillside, as we were sneaking along before dawn. [laughter] Lieutenant Schiavone gave me a dirty look as I went running down after it. It went tumbling down this pasture. We were along the edge of the woods. We had these rubber-soled shoes that just slipped in the wet grass.
KP: How much did you know about what was going on in the war while you were on-the-line?
Did you ever read the newspapers?
SL: Not a bunch. Occasionally, Stars and Stripes would come up. You didn't get much.
KP: Did you send letters home?
SL: When I had the chance, I would write, if I'd find some paper, because I didn't even have paper, writing paper, with me. You know, you just threw everything away. I just carried what I had to carry. …
KP: Did you get any mail?
SL: Yes, but it was very slow in coming. I'm trying to think when I got mail. Yes, I think they brought us some mail after we broke out of the bridgehead. I'm not sure. I know, when I got back home, my folks said they'd sent me something like three packages, which, of course, never got to me. Everything was stolen. Eisenhower got very upset because he couldn't get enough supplies up to the front. It was just getting frittered away by all the thievery. There was a big black market going in France. There were guys that deserted and were just in business, running [the] black market. All kinds of stuff disappeared.
KP: Did you ever have any hostility towards the rear echelon?
SL: Oh, yes, yes. We hated them. … Guys that smoked were furious, because they never got the good brands of cigarettes. All that came up to us was Chesterfields and Kents, not Camels, what do I know? I don't smoke. Chesterfields and Kents and one guy liked Chesterfields. Was that (Arky?)? That was the guy who cooked the chicken once and he said, "I can kill it. I can't stand to pluck them." I said, "I'll pluck them." [laughter] … Yes, we caught a chicken in somebody's farmyard and we cooked it. We ate chicken. That's when we had a lot of food around, too. The rear echelon had no monopoly on theft. One or more of my fellow soldiers stole my K rations on the Louis Pasteur as we were about to land in Liverpool. So, I had no food on the thirty-hour trip to Le Havre by train and ship.
KP: What movie best captured what you went through in World War II?
SL: There was a movie called Eight Iron Men that I liked. Of course, it was about Italy, which was a different kind of war. Guys couldn't even dig in with shovels there. They all had picks, because it was all rocky. It was one of the first movies that Stanley Kramer made. Was it Stanley Kramer? … Eight Iron Men; it was about one squad and this one guy gets pinned down, because there's a sniper in the tower. He's lying there in the mud and the company commander refuses to leave without bringing that man back and there's some concern [that] this guy's lying out in this cold mud, in this puddle, freezing to death. It turned out, the guy had some Syrettes of morphine with him [in] the first-aid kit and he shot himself full of morphine [laughter] and he's lying there. Anyway, one of the guys, the goof-off in the company, goes out and he manages to kill the sniper and get this guy back, but just, you know, the misery in the infantry. Everybody down. …
KP: You could relate.
SL: I could relate to that, yes.
KP: Did you like occupation duty?
SL: I liked it. It was fine. We were in this little town, Konigshofen. It was right near the border between us and the Russian Zone, American Zone and the Russian zone, a little country town, yes, and it had an outdoor swimming pool that the GIs had thrown ammunition in. … We even found a rifle in there. They tried to drain it, to clean it out, but it was spring fed, so, it kept filling up. So, they pretty much cleaned it up and we swam in it. The Germans had it in the morning, the civilians, and then, … the German manager would [shout], " Alle heraus." He would kick out the Germans and we'd come. The troops would swim in the afternoon. … You know, it was like going from hell to heaven. You know, we got three hot meals a day. Of course, the battalion CP was right in the town with us. I was back with my company then and Lieutenant Schiavone would take us out for a hike, you know, a training exercise, whatever, and we'd get out. As soon as we got around the bend in the road, he said, "All right, scatter in the woods, [laughter] come back around four. … Don't let anybody see you." [laughter] We'd come marching back at four-thirty, looking very fresh, but we played a lot of softball, which I never cared for. This guy, Johnson, whom I had promoted to bazooka man, had been a journalist, a major in journalism at the University of Kansas, and he got into this German print shop in the town. There was a five hundred-pound bomb lying in there, a dud, that they worked around and one of the bombs had exploded and, of course, the print was all over the place. He gathered up all this type and got some guys that had been printers to organize it all, but they mixed all the typefaces. It was the old German script and the new stuff, but, you know, you'd bring stuff to him and say, "What's this?" and he'd say, "Oh, that's an S," and he put out a company newspaper and I have some copies of it.
SL: Yes. That's where I read through a death list for the company and found out that this guy Erickson I knew had been wounded in the very last fight was not listed among the killed. So, he must have survived. The company had twenty-six men killed.
KP: You got hepatitis.
SL: Yes. In the squad I ended up in when I came back from battalion, out of twelve guys, I think eight had it within a short period of time. I didn't even know what I had. I was dragging myself around. I'd lost my appetite, which I should have known was bad, and just had no energy at all and the whites of my eyes would get yellowish and one of the guys came back from the hospital and I said, you know, "What did you have?" and he said, "Hepatitis," and he described his symptoms. I said, "Hey, that's what I got." So, I went next door to the major, the old battalion medic, and said, "I'm sick and I know what I got," and he said, "You got a dose?" You had gonorrhea. [laughter] I said, "No, I have hepatitis," and he said, "How do you know?" So, I read him off all the symptoms, both mine and some of the other guy's symptoms. He said, "Yes, you've got it." [laughter] They sent me back to Wurzburg, ultimately, which I made in a several days trip. I was in the hospital on top of the hill. I've seen it in movies.
KP: Did you ever get back to your unit?
SL: Yes, yes. I got back after I got out of the hospital. In fact, I felt very down. I missed the damn company and I couldn't stand most of those guys. There were some good people, but, you know, the guy I really liked had been killed. A lot of the guys that came with me from Camp Maxey were gone, killed and wounded, and, yes, I was almost in tears, I remember. … I couldn't get back directly to my company. They made me go to a rehabilitation hospital. … They were in pyramidal tents. In Konigshofen, we were living in houses at least. I had a bed there; I had no mattress. I just put a rug on the springs, put my sleeping bag on it. In rehab, they'd blow whistles to have you fall out. Blow whistles? [I had not had] people blowing whistles at me since I left the States. "What is this blowing whistles?" "So, you're back in the Army again?" I wanted to get back to my company. I was miserable. Unfortunately, I'd signed out for blankets and they said, "Well, you can't go directly back. You've got to go, you know, through the chain." So, they sent me to Bamberg, to one of those replacement depots, and then, it took me several days to get back to my company. I remember, I was at division headquarters, on the river there, when a guy came running out of the radio van. There was this big trailer with a short-wave radio in it. He said, "A plane just hit the Empire State Building." That was in July of '45, so, I was coming back from the hospital then, but I left Germany at the end of July.
KP: Where did you expect to go next?
SL: 95th Division, which was due to invade the Tokyo-Yokohama area in Japan.
KP: Where were you when you heard the news about the atomic bomb and V-J Day?
SL: On a troop train going through France, on my way home, … but we were going to England. So, we were actually in England on V-J Day, I guess, which, to us, was nothing.
KP: However, you knew then that you were not going to Japan.
SL: Oh, right, right, yes. In fact, the 95th Division was deactivated and they lost my records. [laughter] I got a complete new issue. I got back to Fort Dix, came home with a barracks bag full of stuff, and I just left a lot of stuff home. I figured, "The hell with it. I'll pay for it. I'm not going to carry it all." [When] I got back, they didn't have a Form 32, whatever it was, of your supplies. … I got to Camp Campbell in Kentucky. They said, "Well, we'll just make you out a new Form 32," and they gave me a whole new reissue of everything. [laughter] For years, I had stuff from the Army. I had picked up, when I was in the Signal Corps, two 1918 canteens, the aluminum cans. These are beautiful. They had sat in a warehouse between the wars and I had picked them up when one company went overseas, when I was in Camp Edison, in the Signal Corps, and we were cleaning up after them. They left all this stuff and, before they inventoried any stuff, I stole some of it. I took it home. I only lived, you know, a bus ride away. I took these two beautiful canteens, lost them in the Delaware River, years later. Our canoe capsized, actually, in the Beaver Kill.
KP: Did you consider staying in the Army?
SL: Oh, absolutely not, no, no. After the war was over, I was in Camp Campbell. I was doing KP, while the German prisoners have their surveying classes and so on. [laughter]
KP: Where was this?
SL: Camp Campbell, it's now Fort Campbell. It's on the border between Kentucky and Tennessee. I just wanted to get out. I was miserable. I was twenty years old. I was still nineteen when the war ended. I hadn't had my twentieth birthday. I figured, "I'm not a teenager now. I should … go do manly things, get out of this damn Army, this kid stuff."
KP: You mentioned that you decided to return to Rutgers, in part, because it was so easy to re-enroll.
KP: You just sent in a postcard.
SL: Yes, it was a penny postcard. …
KP: What was it like to come back to Rutgers?
SL: It was great. There were so many more people around, you know. It was a very busy, bustling place. Of course, if you had a car, very few people had a car, you could park anyplace on College Avenue. [laughter] You just pulled in and parked, anywhere. The trees were a lot smaller and the campus was a lot more spacious. They put a lot of buildings [up]. … This thing [Van Dyck Hall] was here since, I think, '37 and Ford Hall was here.
KP: Where did you live when you came back?
SL: Let's see, in '43, I had lived in Winants, actually. It was still a dorm then. When we came back, that was all offices and, well, later in '43, I'd moved off campus, because somebody had some rooms that he wanted to share rent with that were too big for him and I ended up rooming with him afterwards and his younger brother. This is where I met Harold Kovarsky. He lived with us, because he knew these guys, the Rosenzweig brothers. They'd had an older brother killed in the 95th Division, which was the division I was supposed to go to later. So, I lived off campus, where was I? on Prosper Street in '43, for a while, and then, on Hamilton Street, 121 Hamilton, right next to the church that's now part of the Music Department, only, then, it was a church. That was bought by my physics professor, Professor Miller. Oh, I liked Professor Miller, you know. He was great. He bought this house on Hamilton Street and had rented out the second floor to Professor Weiss in Physics. … I got friendly with them. He's now retired, up in Maine. His wife just died recently. … The third floor had two rooms, big, spacious rooms and a bath. It was, essentially, the attic, had a bath, and four of us lived up there and I lived there for three years. It was very nice, very close, half a block, well, what is it, two short blocks?
KP: What was it like to return to school as a veteran?
SL: It was great. We didn't have to take ROTC. [laughter] They didn't want us in ROTC, I'm sure. Did we have to take gym? I remember taking gym or maybe I just went over to workout. I'm not sure. I remember doing homework in the locker in the gym.
KP: Did you have to go to chapel?
SL: No, no. There were too many people to get into that chapel. I think it may have been voluntary. I'm not sure. I never went. I think we went the first time we came back, because I remember seeing Eric Rasmussen, who was a sophomore in 1943 and I got friendly with him, who was at Fort Dix when I was inducted. I didn't know that until [I found that] he was in the shipment with me to Aberdeen and ended up in my training company in Aberdeen, but we got separated and I never saw him again, until Kirkpatrick Chapel in '46, when we came back, because I went to the hospital with scarlet fever and he went on, ended up in the Pacific, stayed in the Ordnance, though. I think he was a company clerk. He'd come back to finish, worked in the library for years.
KP: Did you ever have any run-ins with Dean Crosby?
SL: He taught math one semester, when I was an instructor. We were short of people. I think it was '52. He felt very insecure about it, but … he did very well. He said, "I'm not prepared, you know. What do I do?" … I said, "Just get up there and, you know, give them the material, answer questions." Yes, he taught math for us. That's how I got to know him at first. Afterwards, I served on judicial boards and so on. I was very fond of him. I thought he did a good job, until things got so chaotic that they were beyond control. … He tried to keep students from breaking windows and was accused of being intolerant. I don't know. I don't know what happened with him. He was a classmate of Jules Hirsch's brother, I think, Class of '42.
KP: No, I believe he was in the Class of 1941.
SL: Oh, that far back? Could be, yes; well, anyway, Chester Hirsch said he knew him and said he was a big man on campus then. … He's still alive, isn't he, Crosby?
SL: Oh, he died?
KP: Yes. Crosby Hall is named after him on Busch Campus.
SL: Oh, I didn't know that. Which is Crosby? Is that one of the dorms?
KP: One of the newer ones that they put up. I was the resident advisor in Crosby last year.
BM: When you came back, or even during the war, did you always want to be a professor?
SL: … I had no idea what I would do. I was interested in physics. Before that, I thought I wanted to be a mechanical engineer, but, then, I got interested in physics, because science appealed to me. When I got back, I was a physics major and got into the lab in, what was it, atomic physics? and couldn't get the equipment to work right, spent hours and hours, you know, and you'd spend thirty hours writing up one experiment. I figured, "This is crazy," you know. The equipment is so bad. They wanted us to do the statistical work on it and I said, "The statistics is meaningless, because you don't have good data. We should just throw out all the data and do it again," but there was no time. Everything was rush, rush, rush. I figured, "The hell with this." I decided to become a math major, I guess, just because it was the easy way out. [laughter] … I had no idea what I'd do with it.
KP: You were not always a mathematician.
SL: No, no, no. I always liked math, always did well in it. …
-----------------------------------END OF TAPE THREE, SIDE ONE-------------------------------------
SL: Jacques Dutka, the instructor in a probability course I took at Rutgers, asked to see me. He gave good lectures, very well organized. He handed out notes, too, that were all mimeographed, in those days, and I asked him what he wanted to see me about and he said, "You know," he said, "I've been collecting the homework and grading the tests," and then, he said, "You're head and shoulders above everybody else in this class." He said, "Have you thought about what you're going to do?" I said, "No, not really." He said, "You should … go into mathematics." [laughter] I figured, "Yes, really? Great." Then, I went to graduate school in Princeton, whew, among the geniuses. They had this sophomore named Jack Milnor, [who] became one of the geniuses of the twentieth century, this nineteen-year-old kid. Here I was, a twenty-three-year-old graduate student, beginning graduate student; he already knew things I didn't know, but that's what I became. One of my fellow graduate students at Princeton was John Nash.
BM: When you returned from the war, did you feel a bond with your father because you were now both veterans?
SL: I always had a bond with my father.
BM: However, now, you had something else in common.
SL: … Yes, well, when I talked about the Army, it resonated with him, you know, in little conflicts and so on, goofing off, talking back to the sergeant. [laughter]
KP: Did you use the GI Bill for graduate school?
SL: Oh, yes. I relinquished my State Scholarship when I came back after the war and went onto the GI Bill, which paid my tuition, paid for books and paid, I think, seventy-five dollars a month, which was, I think, the pay of a private, at that time. It had gone up to seventy-five dollars. It was originally fifty and, well, I had been getting ten dollars extra when I got my Combat Infantry Badge. My father got five dollars extra a month for being an Expert Rifleman and, at that time, the base pay was, I think, five dollars a month or ten dollars a month and he got fifteen. No, base pay was fifteen. He got five [as an] Expert Rifleman, so, he got twenty dollars a month. Well, the guys still used to joke in World War II, "Another day, another dollar." [laughter] They were getting fifty and, later, it was seventy-five, but that got me through my first year of graduate school, with my … three years undergraduate and, after that, they gave me assistantships, research assistantships.
KP: Did you enjoy graduate school?
SL: I loved it, except [that] the pressure was all internal. Nobody said, "You have to do this, you have to do that," and I wasn't used to that. So, the pressure was all from my own conscience, you know. … There's always stuff I don't know, you know. "I've got to learn it. It all seems so hopeless," and, after I got my degree, I learned a lot more than I knew when I got my degree. [laughter] I'm still learning things about mathematics.
KP: What was your dissertation on?
SL: It was on analysis, real analysis, function theory, having to do with integration, which I'm working on now, another aspect of it.
KP: How did you land a position at Rutgers?
SL: Not through my doing. [laughter] I was very passive about applying for things. I applied to only one graduate school. I applied to Princeton, because the people here said, "Oh, you're very good. You should apply to Princeton. You know, that's one of the best places to go." I should have known better. [laughter]
SL: I was on my own a lot. I don't know, [I should have picked] some school where I would have gotten a little more personal attention as to what I was doing and so on. I was embarrassed to ask questions about things I didn't know. You know, I tried to go look them up myself to find out. I learned a lot from other graduate students and you only learn what you teach yourself, really, you know, in the long run. So, it was a good experience, I think. Anyway, Professor Feller, who was in probability theory, took charge of me. I think the faculty got together and decided, you know, "You should look after this student and … see that they get through, get jobs and so on," and he was making phone calls and he called up at Rutgers and said, "We have this student of yours that's finishing up," and he told me, he said, "You know, Rutgers is rehiring." They had fired everybody they could the year before, in '51. They just didn't have the funding. Anybody whose contract came up for renewal, they let go, and so, they were really shorthanded in '52. So, I just hit it, by luck, that they were hiring. They hired something like four new instructors in the department, one of whom later became chairman, Ken Wolfson. The others didn't stay forever, the way we did, and so, I called Professor Stark and he said, "Yes, come up for an interview." Apparently, there was a flaw in the communications. Feller, apparently, who had a strong accent, said something about he wanted me around the area, so [that] we could finish up work we were doing together and Professor Stark had the idea that I wasn't finishing, getting my degree yet, and I only wanted to work half-time at Rutgers. So, they didn't have the money for me, apparently. All the other instructors that came got an extra increment. The base pay was 3840 dollars. They got an extra sixty, I think. So, they made 3900. I was the only one hired at 3840 dollars a year. [laughter] I was thrilled. It was wonderful; it was great. All I had to do was teach, you know.
KP: You stayed here for your entire career.
SL: Yes, yes, I stayed, golly, yes.
KP: Are you surprised that you stayed here for so long?
SL: No, no, no. Rutgers kept getting better and better. You know, I felt a little conscience stricken, that I was making judgments on hiring and firing people that were much better mathematicians than I was. We just kept hiring better and better people.
KP: How has the faculty changed, from your perspective?
SL: Oh, in mathematics? There's just no comparison. Rutgers Math Department is big league now.
KP: However, when you started …
SL: Yes, it was a minor offshoot. There was nobody much doing research, except Malcolm Robertson, who was a Princeton PhD, [laughter] and he was running the whole graduate program. He started the graduate program at Rutgers. He had his little filing cabinet, kept track of everybody, what courses they were taking. He was great. He's retired up in Vancouver now.
BM: When you were at Princeton, did you notice an attitude difference between the students here and there? One of my professors recently said that the difference was attitude, not ability.
SL: Oh, yes. … Well, yes, I was a graduate student around, what, 1950? That's a while ago and the undergraduates all wore a prescribed uniform. They always wore a clean, white shirt, impeccably laundered white shirt, and the dirtiest suntan pants you could find. They never washed the pants, apparently, and had white buck shoes. That was de rigueur, that's what they had to wear, and they just seemed to talk about getting drunk on the weekends and the parties and so on. [laughter] So, the graduate students had no respect for the undergraduates. The ones I taught, when I had teaching assistantships, were very good. They were good kids. I got to be very fond of them. They're very hardworking. So, you know, … you can't judge by superficialities. I think they were of a higher economic class, certainly. In fact, the Rutgers students were [also], years ago
KP: How has the Rutgers student body changed since you were student?
SL: They were never very good, I thought, at least from the time I started teaching them in '52, [laughter] and they got worse, then, they started to get better, as the standards tightened up. Then, they got worse again. It went up and down and, in recent years, what bothered me, and which was why I jumped at retiring earlier than I had intended; as soon as I hit sixty-five, I retired. They offered an incentive of a year's pay. [laughter] Why not? [It] was the hostility of the students. We'd never had that before.
KP: Even in the late 1960s and the early 1970s?
SL: No, no. The students weren't hostile. … You know, they'd be poorly prepared and I would always try to go meet them on their ground, because, if you talk over their heads, you're just wasting everybody's time. You have to find out where they are and try to bring them out, even if you have to repeat a lot of elementary stuff they should have learned in high school, but students were always poorly prepared. That's what shocked me when I first came to Rutgers, how poorly prepared my contemporaries were.
KP: What do you mean?
SL: The general run, yes, as a student myself, the things they didn't know, which sort of pulled down the level of the courses. Now, I'm thinking mostly in math courses, where you could really measure those things. You know, [in] the English courses, it's hard to say.
BM: In the beginning, you said that you knew all of the grammatical rules of English.
BM: When I was in school, we spent perhaps two days on grammar.
SL: Oh, really?
BM: When you reach the college level, you have professors correcting your grammar, but we never learned the basic rules.
SL: Well, the English language is a disaster, right from the word go, you know. You can't expect people to learn it by logical thinking. [laughter] It's a language of too many fathers, I think. You know, it has one foot in the old German and Middle English, and then, the French came over with the Norman invasion and made it into French.
KP: Can you tell us more about the student hostility you mentioned earlier?
SL: Well, the students were poorly prepared and, therefore, they couldn't do the work and weren't willing to try. I said, you know, … "The rules of algebra are not that complicated and there are not that many of them and, once you learn them, they have many applications, but you have to learn to recognize the forms. You have to do a little [thinking], work your mind a little." They didn't want to do that, but they wanted a good grade. They just wanted to get through the course. "Why can't you just give me a good grade?" That was their attitude. My daughter, living up on the Moose River in Maine, once had two kids come through canoeing and I guess she invited them up to give them some food. They were Rutgers students and she said, "Oh, do you know my Dad?" and she told them who I was and they said, "Oh, yes, he's tough." [laughter]
KP: Rutgers experienced many momentous changes during your career. For example, in 1956, we became a full-fledged state university. How did that transition go?
SL: Yes. It went in spurts, you know. Well, there were big changes right after World War II, when all the veterans came back and the GI Bill … enriched the universities, and then, of course, there was the big "Red Scare," you know, the Cold War, where the Pentagon was pouring money into basic research and … they put money into mathematics. The mathematicians think they still should. [laughter] I have mixed feeling about that. I think mathematics is something we should do in our spare time; we may have to cut that. [laughter] No, I mean, the mathematicians will kill me, "Why should the public support mathematics?" [laughter] [When] mathematicians talk to me, I have to tell them I don't know what they're doing, you know. I need to know the basic definitions, what the history is, what its roots are, and then, maybe, you can understand it.
KP: You mentioned that there was a letter in your file. Were you concerned about your career during the "Red Scare?"
SL: Oh, yes. Well, I got fired from a summer job in 1950, just before the Korean War broke out. [laughter] One of my roommates was a younger guy from Bradley Beach that I got to room with us at 121 Hamilton Street, who majored in physics, became a physicist, got a job as a laborer in Camp Wood one summer, and so, I applied, too, just to be with him. It was in the summer of '47; I don't know when it was, right after the war. … So, we worked, [in the] summer, for the government. So, I guess they had my name on file, and then, in 1950, … you see, I was a graduate student in mathematics, I applied for a junior research something, I forget what the title was, with the Signal Corps, at that little Signal Corps place they have out on Shark River, Camp Evans, and I went to work there for a couple of days and came to work one day and they said, "Oh, you're supposed to see Lieutenant So-and-So," and he said, "Oh, I have a security form for you to fill out." He gave me this whole form to fill out, you know, asking all sorts of questions, much more than you people asked me, which I dutifully filled out, as best I could. "Do you have any relatives working for the government?" and so on, and so on. Then, he took this thing and he said, "You're going to have to go to Fort Monmouth. You're being barred," … I forget what the word he used was, "as a security risk." I go see somebody at Fort Monmouth. Nobody would tell me anything. So, I never found out what it was. I'm sure it had to do with my father, of course, but I said, "Can I go back and get my lunch?" [laughter] He wouldn't let me go back. He sent somebody back for it or sent somebody back with me, I forget, but they were very concerned. [laughter] I'd been coming to work for almost a week, but, apparently, they had a file on me from my previous job, a few years earlier, for the government and I figured, "Boy, now, I'm blacklisted," and I got to Fort Monmouth and I saw this guy, who was a civilian, and, you know, I told him, "Hey, I'm a veteran," and so on. "They just fire me without any hearing or anything, you know, no accusations, as a security risk," and … I got him to be very sympathetic. Of course, he couldn't do anything. He said, … "Are you sure you haven't appeared in demonstrations?" or so on, and so on. Now, at this time, there was already this letter denouncing me. Oh, it said I was going to put Communist books on the shelves in the library. [laughter] I think I know where this came from. I had been … helping out some people in the [Henry] Wallace campaign in 1948 around Asbury Park and we'd been meeting in somebody's house in Long Branch, which was where whoever was denouncing me had heard all this, and this guy organizing the whole thing, who I think was a Communist, they got very active with the Progressive Party, just, you know, the things he said to me, the way he talked, had said to me, "You're a student at Rutgers." He said, "You can take some of our literature," you know, Progressive Party literature, Wallace campaign literature, "leave it on campus," he said, "around the library, you know, wherever students go, you know, in the eating hall." I said, "Yes, sure, I'll take the literature." They never gave me any literature. That's how organized they were and I think the reporter this got to, whomever wrote that letter, [jumped to conclusions]. That's the only thing I can figure out that did it, but it may have been one of my father's old girlfriends getting back at him, I think, no names mentioned, who denounced him. You know, they had my father clocked as a Communist, I'm sure, because the VFW sent his membership dues back, said he couldn't be a member, with his drinking buddies, there.
KP: What were the political views of your fellow students, both in 1943 and after the war?
SL: Nobody talked about politics much. FDR was President forever, you know. [laughter] … Yes, FDR, I was seven years old when he was elected and, here he was, my Commander-in-Chief when he died. [laughter] That's a long stretch, you know, for a young guy to look back on. My father was very angry at Truman, because of reversing, I don't know if he really reversed US policies, bringing all the Nazis over here. We found it was even worse than we thought. … Books have been written now about … cooperating with the Nazis in Germany, you know, as part of the Cold War.
KP: Your father was angry even before this surfaced.
SL: Oh, yes. Oh, he was furious when they attacked the Bonus Marchers in 1931.
SL: '32, was it, '32? They were run off Anacostia Flats. Who was in charge? Douglas MacArthur, whom every soldier hated. I talked to a guy from World War I who hated him in World War I and his adjutant was Major Eisenhower, of course.
KP: Did your father have any run-ins with MacArthur during his stint in the Army?
SL: MacArthur? I don't think so, no. No, he never mentioned the generals much. I think Pershing was in charge of the Mexican Border War. No, he knew the colonels and the lieutenants and the majors. They were all generals in World War II. Some of them died before then, though.
KP: You mentioned that the returning veterans did not talk about politics very much.
SL: Well, yes, I think they didn't. There were some who did. Others were just very concerned about getting their degree, getting a job, you know. These were people who'd grown up in the Depression, you know. A job was everything.
KP: How have the political views of the Rutgers student body changed over time?
SL: Well, of course, you had the New Left in the '60s. … Yes, of course, the Vietnam War really sparked that, and then, there was the reaction to that, always. I don't know; I've gotten to be very pessimistic about people.
KP: In what way?
SL: Their political insights. They're very easily led. As I say, if you're constantly bombarded with lies and you're smart, you discard most of it, but some of it sticks, you know. [laughter] You figure, "Well, there must be some grain of truth in there," and, often, there isn't. You know, people are very easily led. I don't know, … but, sometimes, you see people just do marvelous things, people who are bad characters, and someone suddenly emerges, you know, to be heroic.
KP: Which President have you most admired since Roosevelt?
SL: None of them, really. I never liked Truman. You know, they talk about McCarthyism. It started with Truman, with the loyalty oath in 1947. McCarthy wasn't even in Congress then, I don't think, or was he? He came in in '48. No, McCarthy just figured, "Hey, here's the way to get ahead." They'll find a new scapegoat. Now, it's the liberals who are the menace, right? It's hard to call everybody Communists, you know. I mean, that's kind of innocuous, [laughter] freethinkers, maybe.
KP: What did you think of the various presidents that you experienced as a faculty member?
SL: I didn't think much of Eisenhower. He caved in to the rabid right wing, although, as I read about him, you know, after his death even, he's come up in my estimation. [laughter] When you look at what came after, Eisenhower wasn't that bad. He was smarter than he pretended, I think. He certainly knew how to run a huge organization, I think. I mean, … he had his battles with Montgomery and Patton and so on, keep them from falling apart. Oh, Eisenhower, he warned us against the military-industrial complex. That surprised me. He was the military-industrial complex. Who'd we have before that, Truman? Truman did some good things, but he started the whole Cold War. That was a funny bit of business. I think the Russians were so weak. I talked to some Russian that had worked with the Russian Army behind the lines and he was a Jew, fled with the Russian Army when the Germans invaded Poland, and he said, "They can't fight." This was in the '40s. He said, "The Russians can't fight an aggressive war." He said, "They don't have the food," which was true, is true; it's true now, I'm sure.
KP: What did you think of the presidents of Rutgers that you served under?
SL: It was never clear what the presidents were supposed to do, [laughter] to me, go around and make speeches, raise money, you know. I thought Gross was interesting. He initiated a lot of new things. Clothier, I have no feelings about him. He was just sort of a face, you know. That letter that came to him, denouncing me, that said I was going to put Communist literature on the bookshelves in the library, students don't read, he wrote a little note at the bottom and he sent it off to, see, this is going back in the archives now, … Cameron, who was the librarian then, and said, "I don't know what to do about this anonymous letter." He said, "I leave it to you to decide what to do with it." [laughter] He figured the librarian should have it, if somebody's going to come putting books on the shelves.
KP: What about Edward Bloustein? What did you think of his tenure? How did the consolidation of the Rutgers colleges affect the mathematics department?
SL: It made one department out of many. I thought that was a good thing. Yes, I thought he was pretty good. Yes, I thought well of him, but, again, I really don't know what the presidents do, really. Do they really initiate that much? Do they come out with the ideas?
KP: Where did you see the leadership of the University coming from, in terms of decision-making, as related to the Math Department and the larger University?
SL: Oh, well, as for the Math Department, it came from our chairman, especially Ken Wolfson. He knew what was available from the National Science Foundation. … He got Hill Center. You know, he knew what you could get and got the Center of Excellence Grant. … That really built the Math Department up and he was … the last person you'd think would be an administrator.
SL: He made wry comments about everybody, [laughter] was not a backslapper at all. He was always complaining about what was happening. You know, when we were just instructors, he said, "You know, why can't they do anything right?" complaining. I said, "Well, don't worry about it, Ken. Just do your teaching and, you know, things will be all right."
KP: You were here during the Genovese controversy.
SL: Oh, yes.
KP: Genovese has a different appeal in the History Department, even though only a handful of people were actually here then. How did the rest of the faculty feel about the controversy?
SL: I think most of us favored him. I heard all sorts of stories, though, that Gross, [who] was president then, called up Hughes, who was governor, and said, "I know how we can get rid of Genovese," and then, Hughes gave him a very long lecture on the Constitution and academic freedom and so on. That surprised me. I would think it would go the other way. [laughter] So, I guess Gross was trying to make a compromise with the people around to do a hatchet job on Genovese. He said he looked forward to a North Vietnamese victory, when nobody else predicted it.
KP: How did most of the faculty feel about the Vietnam War in 1964 and 1965?
SL: Most of the people I talked to felt it was wrong.
KP: How did the students feel in 1964 and 1965?
SL: The students, I never could feel out the students, really. … With my graduate student guys, guys studying for a PhD under me, I would talk to [them]. I had one who said he was going to vote for Nixon, because Nixon was going to end the Vietnam War. I said, "Don't count on it." I said, "If you're going to vote for Nixon, you're not going to get a degree under me." I was joking, of course; he did. [laughter] Nixon's plan was, of course, to convince the North Vietnamese that he was crazy and he would do anything. They didn't care what he was.
KP: How did you meet your wife?
SL: I was going with a girl who was a student at NJC and my wife was in the same social circle with her, because they were commuters, and so, I met some of this girl's friends in the Silver Meteor once. I went in there for lunch or to get coffee, I guess, and was introduced to Elvera, who later became my wife, and so, that's where I met her, the Silver Meteor. That's where that new apartment building is now. … It was right down on the corner next to the railroad, across from the railroad station, famous diner, Silver Meteor. It was there for years and years, and then, I really didn't see her much and she graduated in '53 and was working in New York for an insurance company, Metropolitan Life, and she was a math major, it turns out. So, she was doing actuarial work and, whenever there was a holiday on a Wednesday, she would come to the Tuesday night folk dances in Princeton and I was sort of running them, because I was still around, having been a graduate student at Princeton, and so, every Tuesday, I went to Princeton. So, she would show up there, occasionally, and I knew who she was, I'd been introduced to her, so, I would dance with her and so on. … Ultimately, after a few years, I looked her up in New York and went out with her and started going out and we got married, in the Faculty Club.
KP: The Faculty Club?
SL: Faculty Club. Her brother, who was a Rutgers alumnus, belonged to the Faculty Club at that time, Faculty Alumni Club, and he leased it.
KP: Is that the one on College Avenue?
SL: Yes. It was new then, in 1960, before they had the fire. What else can I tell you?
KP: Is there anything that we forgot to ask?
SL: I don't know. What's on your list?
KP: There are probably more questions that need to be asked regarding Rutgers history.
SL: Well, you have my phone number. You can ask me to come back.
SL: Don't call me between April 20th and May 3rd, because I'll be in Austria, crossing the Rhine again, no, not the Rhine, the Danube. [laughter] We're going biking. …
KP: When did you start talking about the war? Many men have said that they did not talk about the war for years after.
SL: Oh, when I came back, I talked to my folks. I went over to my father's place, evening after evening, and they would say, you know, "What happened to you?" and I would tell them about it. I have no blockage against it and I never had dreams, except, recently, I think in the late 1970s, I had this dream. I was back with Charlie Company, walking in the infantry line, and it was very nostalgic and I felt very elated. I saw all these faces that I hadn't remembered even, you know, in my conscious mind. … It was so wonderful to be back with these guys again. [laughter] I wasn't thinking about death or getting killed or, you know, being half starved and dying of thirst. It was great, you know. I woke up and I wanted to go back to sleep again and get back, you know, with this line company, crazy. I wasn't with them that long; it was a few months. I was overseas, what, seven months?
KP: It strikes me that you look on the war as both pleasant and extremely unpleasant.
SL: Yes. Well, look, I survived, and so, once you know you've survived, the whole color of everything is changed. Nobody gets to talk to the guys that got killed. … They don't leave an oral history.
KP: Are you surprised by how well Germany has recovered?
SL: Yes, yes. Well, there was the plan to make Germany an agricultural country and so on. They never intended to do that, apparently. Who was that?
SL: The Morganthau Plan, right. Yes, Germany was pretty well [decimated]. The cities were in ruins. The countryside was not in bad shape. They had a lot of food, more so than any of the other countries I was in. I never saw any starved kids in Germany. Apparently, after I left, they had a hard time, the winter of '45 and '46. In fact, I read that the German POWs were starving. Eisenhower said, "Send me food or send me troops, because I'm going to have an insurrection, otherwise." No, I'm not surprised. The Germans are very, very industrious. I remember the German POWs in Camp Maxey. You'd get them to do some work and they just threw themselves into it. They worked hard.
KP: What was it like to guard these POWs?
SL: Oh, I never guarded them. No, … we just went out and trained every day, came back. That's all we did. I got on KP a couple of times. … That was just training, training, training, "Fall out with your combat gear." Often, they'd take us [for] miles on trucks; … well, the ranges were all in a circle, firing into the center, including artillery. So, it was a huge circumference of ranges. So, if you wanted to get from one range to another and you couldn't cut through, because they were firing, you'd have to drive all the way around. It would take an hour-and-a-half sometimes to get around the circumference, get to the mortar range or the machine gun range or whatever. Camp Maxey 's been all sold off. I met a guy in an elder hostel who bought some property on it.
KP: Your old camp.
SL: Yes. Anything else?
KP: No, thank you very much.
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Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 8/2/04
Reviewed by Sandra Stewart Holyoak 8/30/04
Reviewed by Solomon Leader 9/9/04