Shaun Illingworth: This begins an interview with Mr. William Kenny on March 7, 2003, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, with Shaun Illingworth ¼
John Eiche: ¼ John Eiche ¼
Lauren Bohn: ¼ and Lauren Bohn.
SI: Mr. Kenny, thank you very much for coming in to see us today.
William Kenny: My pleasure.
SI: To begin, we would like to ask you a few questions about your parents and your background. You came from an Irish Catholic family. Were your parents or your grandparents from Ireland?
WK: All my grandparents came from Ireland and my parents were born and reared in Paterson, New Jersey. My father went to work as a plumber's helper at the age of eleven. At thirteen, he got with the telephone company as a night operator, and then, he spent forty-six or forty-seven years with the company in various capacities. I'm the youngest of six in the family. I'm the fifth to attend and graduate from Rutgers University and there was a Kenny here from 1927 until 1947. I was originally Class of '45, but there was an interruption; I got out in '47. I grew up in Midland Park, New Jersey, Bergen County, attended parochial school in Ridgewood, and then, went toPaterson Central High School to study agriculture, and then, ended up at Rutgers.
SI: Could you tell us a little bit about what it was like to grow up in Midland Park and what your neighborhood was like?
WK: Well, Midland Park was a small town of about three thousand when I was there. It was probably eighty-percent Dutch. Why, I have no idea, but I guess the most famous person out of Midland Park was Johnny Vander Meer, who holds a record of pitching two consecutive no-hit, no-run games for the Cincinnati Reds. Unlike today. [There] were no fenced in yards; you just took the most direct route. I think it was a great place to grow up.
SI: It is not too far from Paterson.
WK: It's about five miles north of Paterson. It's adjacent to Ridgewood, New Jersey, and Wyckoff is on the other side of it.
SI: It is interesting that you brought up the baseball player, because several people that we interviewed who lived in and around Paterson mentioned the local baseball teams and all the players that came out of there. They said they were all coming from the Silk Sox.
WK: Yes, well, my father was a pitcher, and then, he became manager of the Paterson Silk Sox. I never knew this, because it was way before my time, but, at his viewing, a man told me that he brought in Honus Wagner to Paterson and Honus Wagner went on [to star in the] big leagues. The area also produced Larry Doby, played ball against him in high school. He was a crackerjack athlete. We were a little shorter then; I played basketball in high school. I think I'd be lucky if I was the manager today. [laughter]
SI: Were many of your neighbors second-generation Americans or immigrants?
WK: Most were second-generation. Very few went past seventeen years at school, unless they couldn't work, because of the Depression. My mother went to high school and I think that was rather unique back in her age. I only had one grandparent. Three [had] already left the scene. I knew very little about them at all. In fact, I did some research on the family, to pass it on to our grandchildren, because, on a scale of one to ten, my knowledge of my ancestors was about a one, at best. I'd bring it up to my mother and all she would ever say to me is, "We're Americans, period." That was it.
SI: In reading your brother's interview, I found you did some research on an accident that killed your grandfather. [Editor's Note: James Kenny, RC '42, was interviewed by the Archives on February 11, 1995]
WK: Oh, yes. Paterson was big time in the production of steam locomotives and one of the locomotives blew up in the plant and he was killed. My other grandfather, who I didn't know either, he apparently was some kind of a stonemason and the big store in Paterson was The Quackenbush Department Store and the stairs that he put in there were supposed to be, you know, something outstanding. I'm not an engineer, so, I don't know whether they were great or not, but everybody talked about it at that time. When that was built, I have no idea, but my brother, Charlie, got out of Rutgers University in '31. He got a job with the State. He was a civil engineer. Spent, a year with them, and then, took his ROTC commission and headed up a CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] camp in the State of Washington for a year, or two years, maybe, and then, he came back to Rutgers and got a Master's degree in accounting. He ended up as president of a big savings and loan on Long Island, and then, Joe was Class of '35. I followed him. He went to Paterson Central, too, for ag and I think he was the only guard in the country to score a touchdown in his senior year. They were playing Boston U out here at Neilson Field and I was a kid in the free stands. He stole the ball out of the quarterback's hands and he went twenty yards, made a touchdown, and I think he was out of breath when he got the twenty yards. [laughter] Frank was next. He was Class of '38 and he was an aggie, too, majored in agronomy and he was in cross-country and a mile runner here. Jim, of course, you interviewed and he was in lacrosse and 150-pound football. I'm going to start a movement on this Title IX stuff, because I played 150 for a while, too, but, now, with Title IX and all the women's teams, they cut out 150-pound football. [laughter] So, we're discriminated against, because a 150-pounder can't play against a two hundred-pounder and I was the "Last of the Mohicans."
SI: I want to talk about your brothers a little more, but it sounds like your parents really encouraged you all to go to high school and college.
WK: Yes, it was kind of mandated. When you went through, you had to kick back and help the next guy along and, even though I was the last, I still had to kick back in, but no complaints. My sister, I had a sister, she was number three in the family, and she went to Newark Normal School, at that time, and got a Master's degree and never did teach until, after she raised her family. She worked in New York … with a New York Niagara Electric Company. I guess the pay was a lot better than teaching in those days. Yes, my mother was very adamant about education. We had a dining room and, in the wintertime, the only place we had heat was in the dining room, the kitchen and the bathroom. Everything was turned off at seven o'clock, until we finished our homework, and that was it.
SI: It sounds like your mother was a very strong-willed, independent type.
WK: Absolutely, yes, yes. My pop was too, because he was quite a bowler and he gave up all that stuff, because it cost money and the money had to go to help us. That was about it.
SI: Did he ever talk about what he did with New Jersey Bell?
WK: Well, as I said, he was a night operator, and then, he moved up the line. He used to ride a motorcycle, he told me, for a while, to fix the lines, and then, he ended up as a desk man and, somehow or other, … he would read dials on the equipment and whatnot and he could tell them where the problem was, to tell the lineman what to repair. One of the linemen I was talking to, one day, as a kid, … he told me my pop could tell him where a bird crapped on the line. [laughter] So, I guess he was pretty good.
SI: Was he in the union?
WK: No, not that I know of. He went to Pace, at night, to get some electrical background on it, but my pop, he didn't say too much. He came down here for years. He saw all the fellows play sports, except me, even in high school, and I figured he just ran out of steam, you know, doing all this for so many years, but that was it. Otherwise, he would take me to see the Giants, over in the Polo Grounds, and he was a red hot Giant fan. He said the American League was just a bunch of newcomers who were hoping to play good ball in the National League, some bias there. I remember taking the ferry across the Hudson River to 125th Street and you go up to Giants Stadium, but I think that's all housing now. It was the Polo Grounds then.
SI: What else did you do for entertainment when you were a child and a teenager?
WK: Well, I used to set up pins in a bowling alley. I worked on farms; you'd get a buck a day pulling weeds as a kid. I used to clean the alleys on Saturdays and empty all the ashtrays and that cured me of smoking before I ever got started, because they stunk to high heaven. Well, we did camping, but most of my camping stuff was with some neighbors. Their parents kind of adopted me, because their two boys were in my age group, and they did a lot of camping up in Sussex, swimming and whatnot. And we had a good swimming hole in Midland Park. There was a rug mill there and they built two dams to get water supply to run the mill and I've been told that it was forty feet deep and it could be, because the dam, I know, was about thirty feet, in my judgment, and it was on a big ravine and we had trapeze swings on the trees. … We did flips off them and all that kind of stuff, but, now, I guess, it's all polluted and you can't swim in there anymore. It's really a shame. I guess setting up pins was about the best paying job I had in those times. I think I got seventy-five cents for three League games. If the other guy didn't show up, they only had two alleys and you had to work both alleys. … One of our tricks was that if a speed ball artist came in, … you never knew where the pins were going, so, you offset the pins, so they couldn't score too well. [laughter] They never caught us.
SI: Can you tell me a little bit about how the Great Depression affected your family and how you dealt with it?
WK: Well, my mother told my wife she never knew there was a Depression, because my father had a steady job. We all went out to work, regardless [of] what we did. I had a thirteen-mile paper route, delivering sixty-five papers, and got a buck-and-a-half a week, absolutely no tips, and I could understand that, because nobody had money. Even at Christmastime, it wasn't there, but that was quite a bit of riding for that kind of money, but at least it was a job.
SI: Do you think that you and your brothers were sent out to work because of the Depression or do you think you would have gone out and gotten jobs anyway?
WK: I think we would have got jobs anyway. If you stayed home, you had to work around the house. [laughter] No, I think everybody went for jobs. You had to take what you can get, that was about it even [after] you got out of college. I talked about Charlie, he couldn't get a decent job right away. My brother Joe, well, he took a six-six course in high school at Paterson and it took you five years to graduate, but you went to school six months, and then, you had to work on the farm six months and they graded your farm work as well. I took the nine-three course, which was a regular course, but I had two periods of Ag in the afternoon and they took us on a lot of field trips and that helped [you] make contacts to get jobs, too. You made contacts. In my senior year, I got a job with the (Dunwalke) Farms up in Somerset County and Mr. Dillon, his son was Treasurer of the United States [C. Douglas Dillon, Secretary of the Treasury from 1961 to 1965], he owned it and he had twelve hundred acres there. He had about two hundred Angus cattle and eighty Guernseys. One of the men that worked there as a herdsman for many years, he retired and, if you lived on the farm and retired there, Mr. Dillon retired you at full pay and you had lifetime rights to the house, including your spouse. He later gave the big house to Princeton Universityfor a conference center. I see it was recently sold with 160 acres. For sixteen million dollars. The younger people in the Dillon family apparently aren't interested in the farm. So, that's about it, but he was a good payer. He paid you at the end of the month, which was unusual. I worked on one farm up in Sussex all summer in my first job in high school, the Ag course, and your pay was room and board and he asked me to come back the second year and I would be paid fifteen dollars a month and room and board. I'm still waiting for the fifteen bucks. [laughter] It was good experience and, of course, it took a load off my mother too, because we were away and boarding someplace else.
SI: What drove you to Ag studies? Was it your brother?
WK: I felt, to some degree, I like to work outside and that was about it and, of course, there were a lot of Ag farms in Bergen County then. My brothers worked on celery farms over in Paramus. Can you imagine a celery farm in Paramus today? and, in Clifton, it was loaded with working farms. So, the farmers could harvest and take it right into New York City and make a pretty good buck on it. One of the farmers told me, his dad, he was up inCloster, New Jersey. A vegetable farmer, and he used to load up the wagon and it took him all day to get to, I guess it's North Bergen, where you go up the hill, and down to the river. Then, he would hire a team of horses, two more, to help the other horses pull the cart up the hill. When they came home the next day, he slept and the horses brought him all the way back to Closter and home. They never bothered with him. They were tough times, because everybody was in the same boat, so, I guess nobody really got too upset, you know. It was no use complaining.
SI: I have heard that farmers, perhaps, particularly in New Jersey, fared a little better during the Depression because they could grow their own food.
WK: That's true, that's true. I had an economics prof, over here at Rutgers, who taught that the best crop in New Jersey was land. He was absolutely right and that was way back in [the] early '40s. One thing I liked about working on farms, farm people, I thought, were great. I can remember, we used to go to other farms, when I was up in Sussex, to help each other out in thrashing and whatnot and the toughest part of the day was at noon. The women would fix these great, big meals and you'd sit outside on the table. You could hardly keep your eyes open in the afternoon. They really treated you well. They didn't have the money, but they sure had the hearts. … You know, they used outhouses and that kind of stuff. So, your bath at night was to go down to the local stream with a bar of soap and that's where you cleaned up.
SI: When you were a teenager, working on these farms, did you see any evidence of how the Rutgers Extension Service was helping these farms?
WK: Not really, but I'm sure that they were there and I learned a lot more about them after I got here. Well, my brother, Joe, he was a 4-H agent for a while, here in Middlesex County, and, even today, fellows tell me, you know, they're either retired or about to retire, … that Joe was their club agent and he certainly helped them a lot with what he taught them and whatnot. In fact, he helped establish the Baby Beef program in New Jersey, and then, they rounded up the high class restaurants out of New York to come down and bid on the animals and several of those fellows made enough money to pay their way through Rutgers. A buck a pound is that starting price at the auction and, in those days, a buck is a pretty good piece of change. Well, I don't know, it went for two-and-a-half, three dollars a pound. There aren't too many left now, but Extension has done a great job in getting the program established. There were two men up in North Jersey who put up money, they called it [the] Junior Breeder Fund. Mr. Frelinghuysen was one of them. He was a state senator and they would make loans to youngsters in the FFA [Future Farmers of America] and 4-H to buy cattle and whatnot. Their main purpose was to get purebreds into the mainstream and they figured, if they can get the children to take the purebreds, and then, their parents would see how well they did, that they would come out and start to buy the purebreds, which both of them were selling, and, even today, that program goes on to some extent. It was good training and the 4-H program was, I think, … invaluable, too. I think it exposed a lot of those children and their parents to the value of a college education and a lot of them went on to college. Many came right here to Cook. I guess Delaware Valleywas a big competitor, because it must have been cheaper. I don't know. When I came here, I think the tuition was eighty bucks. I don't know what you're paying now, but it's up there in the double digits.
JE: That is how much we pay for a parking permit.
SI: How would you rate your education in the Ag course? Was it like being in a technical school? Was everything focused on that?
WK: No, no, I spent more time downtown, here, than I did out there [on the College of Agriculture Campus]. When I graduated, … when I got out in '47, I wrote … to every veterinary school in this country and two inCanada. I understand Penn now guarantees so many slots to New Jersey students anyway I got one positive response from Guelph, Ontario. This was in 1947 and they would be happy to take me in 1954. So, I gave that up as a bad job. I've often thought about it, probably would have had to learn French, too, but I did run into a fellow, he went to Denmark to get … his schooling. I don't know if he was Danish or what, but, then, he came back here, went through vet school over there. It was all large animals for veterinarians in those days; now, it's pets and everything else. The large animal man, I think, is having a tough road to hoe, unless he is in on horses, because most of the fellows that run farms, the managers and whatnot, you know, they'd watch a vet do something, and then, they'll do it themselves. Kind of tough competition, but I think Rutgers was an excellent education and the traveling around, even when I was in the service, everybody that I bumped into, at least, knew of Rutgers. … You're not going to like this, but I think that I'd be surprised if more than fifty percent of New Jersey residents know that Rutgers is a state university. That's just a guess.
SI: Yes. That is why they have to say Rutgers, the State University.
WK: Yes, yes. Well, obviously, they see Rutgers and forget about the state university. Well, they got the Collegeof New Jersey and that's a new competitor, too. So, that's another story.
SI: Going back to Midland Park
WK: Midland Park, don't forget that one.
SI: What were your parents' political leanings? How did they feel about Franklin Roosevelt?
WK: Midland Park had two Republican clubs, the Republican Club and the Citizen's League, they called themselves. Why they had two, I don't know. I kind of guess that maybe it had some religious connotations in that there were a couple of big Holland churches there. I don't know what the deal was. My father was Democrat and he ran for council one year, and he was a high Democrat with twenty-four votes. So, you know what the competition was. [laughter]
SI: Were there any difficulties being an Irish Catholic family in a largely Dutch Reform town?
WK: Oh, yes, oh, yes, not that there were any fights or anything, but I can remember, as a kid, I'd join in hollering, "The Irish and the Dutch. They don't amount to much, but it takes a good old Irish to beat the dirty Dutch." That was about it, but, no, and, today, some of my best friends are [Dutch], but we had quite a strong basketball league up there. I didn't play in it. They were older fellows. At Ridgewood high school and I think that was the only sport or only thing … where they charged admission to get in and the big rivalry was between Mt. Carmel in Ridgewood, the Catholics, and the Rangers, which were out of Midland Park. It's kind of interesting because the Rangers, I know they brought in a ringer from Hawthorne, Johnny Rockema, and they also brought in a fellow fromPaterson by the name of Conklin. And a fellow I knew from Central High School and a close friend of Conklin's and he said, "Conklin wouldn't do anything unless he was paid." So, I guess he was paid and, Mt. Carmel, they had a guy from Englewood [who] came up and they had another guy from Fordham to come in. So, they were both playing the game, but it was good entertainment, anyway, but, today, I don't think the Dutch predominate inMidland Park anymore. It might be the Italians, but I'm not sure, but I doubt if you could find a building lot up there anymore. In fact, in Ramsey, my wife's uncle, he just passed away and he bought a house up there right after World War II for, fifteen thousand dollars, a rancher, and it sold for 300,000 dollars. Now many knock them down, build a new house. So, I'm glad I'm not buying a house these days.
SI: Did you ever hear about any Klan activity in the area or anything like that?
WK: No Klan, but I can remember the German-American Bund driving through town on motorcycles. They went up Godwin Avenue, which was the main drag, on their way to Newfoundland [Camp Nordland, in Andover, New Jersey,] and they had some kind of a camp up there and I understand, after the fact, that the State Police were monitoring what was going on, but I didn't know what they did, other than that they drove up on Saturday and came back on Sunday, all on motorcycles, black uniforms and having German helmets on. One of my friends, … he shot himself down in the war. He dropped a bomb and it was supposed to have a delayed fuse on it. Then, he was right on the railroad track, but it wasn't delayed and he blew up his engine and he was on the run for about seven days and they finally picked him up, the Germans, took him to a camp and the German said to him, "Well, for you, my friend, the war is over," and he said, "Where did you learn to speak English like that?" He said, "I'm from Pittsburgh," and I don't know if it's true or not and he doesn't know either, but the guy told him that he got a letter, in 1935, to return home or they were going to do something to his family. Maybe they were just softening their prisoners up or whatever, who knows?
SI: There were German-Americans that did that, though.
WK: Yes. Well, one of the farms [I] lived on up in Sussex there, one grandfather, came directly from Germany and, of course, they were all burned up about what happened on the Versailles Treaty and they took land away from Germany and he was pro-Hitler. … Of course, I didn't know much about what was going on there, and then, the other grandparent, he came from Prospect Park and he was a Dutchman and the only thing they agreed on was that the other guy was an idiot. [laughter] So, that was about it, but it was interesting. He wouldn't drive the other man's truck. So, I was fifteen at that time and we had to take the milk down to the creamery. So, he made me drive and it was about a fifteen-mile run, right through Sussex, of course, not much traffic like today, but I was waiting for the cop to pick me up, but he would just wave. So, I guess I wasn't the only one underage driving around.
SI: What did your parents think of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal programs?
WK: Well, they never said too much about it, but I think my father was a Democrat until he passed away. He may have changed, I don't know. If he had a job, I guess he didn't care too [much], you know. You figured, "I'm ahead of the game. Why buck it?" I know he was a strong supporter of Roosevelt. For myself, my first vote was for Truman, but I haven't voted for any Democrat since, except John Kennedy; why, I don't know. I just think the government is trying to do too much and I worked in government and probably big business is the same way. The bureaucracies grow and I think they bite off a lot more than they can chew, but that's a matter of opinion. Some great professor from Princeton, I can't think of his name, he said, "Where one stands depends on where one sits," and I think that's pretty right.
SI: Could you describe the effects of both the Great Depression and the New Deal in the Midland Park area?
WK: Well, I rode a bus from Midland Park to Paterson every day to go to high school and it was about a seven-mile drive the way they went and, all of a sudden, in '38, the bus got crowded and what it was, Wright Aircraft was starting to build engines for the British and I'll argue to my deathbed, what got us out of the Depression was the war, nothing else.
WK: That was a big change and I'll never forget, one day, two guys were sitting there, they're going to work the night shift and there were two flies on the window in the bus and they made a bet of ten bucks which one was going to get off first, of the flies. So, they were fat, dumb and happy, I guess; they had a job. The Depression, you know, I can never recall going hungry. Of course, in those days, we had little bitty closets. You had one good suit, which was used on Sunday or going out someplace, and you might have two pairs of trousers to knock around in and that was about it, but everybody else was in the same boat, so, it didn't bother you then. I used to get a half a pint of ice cream for fifteen cents. Well, that paper route would buy me ten pints, ten-and-a-half pints for the week, but I can remember people coming around, knocking on the door for food and my mother would feed them and my wife, she lived closer to the railroad tracks, and their family got a lot of them the hobos, all those that jump off, but people would take care of them. … I don't remember any crime, to tell you the truth.
JE: Did you ever talk to the hobos?
WK: I was too small, really, then. I think they ate and got out of town, but I know a lot of people that [struggled]. Our neighbors, they baked bread and sold it to make a few bucks. I remember being down in Atlantic City, this was in the '60s, and a fellow told me down there that, during the Depression, they survived by taking in each other's laundry. I guess that was about it. It had to be tough on a lot of people, because of the breadlines. You know, one thing about Roosevelt, he had the WPA [Works Progress Administration]. A lot of people criticized it, but I think it was a darn good thing and I think the CCCs were even better. In fact, I feel today, it's long overdue, they ought to get the CCC going again. Everybody is concerned about the environment, but how about getting some of these children out of the environment they're stuck in and get them to see, you know, some other part of the world and teach them a trade, but they built prisons instead, I guess. It's kind of sad.
SI: Since you had one brother right after the other at Rutgers, you were obviously aware of Rutgers since you were a kid. Did you come to the campus often?
WK: Oh, yes. I used to go to the football games and sit out in Neilson Field. At one end, they had the free stands, I think you had be under twelve, and we'd drive down, and then, drive back. Of course, in those days, you can make pretty good time. I can't do it today. I think we used to make it down here [in], like, an hour-and-a-half. You'd never do it today. It takes me almost an hour to come up from Trenton anymore.
SI: You have seen the Rutgers campus change a great deal since you first came here.
WK: Oh, a lot. In fact, even Cook, I can't get over the growth there and, here, the Raritan Club was a local fraternity, it's now Sigma Phi Epsilon. They're up the river there. In fact, I can remember walking down George Street here and the mill over there, it was a mill then, at least we called it a mill, but I had a roommate there. He worked the second shift at Johnson and Johnson. He went to medical school and he paid his way all the way through. I had a job at a restaurant down on Albany Street. It was called the Broadway. It was the best restaurant in the town, really, and I was a busboy and I got my meal every night and I had seven layer cake ala mode for dessert every night. It was a real good job and the waiters would tip me for helping, and then, I just got the food there, but, then, on the weekends, they let me work the counter and I would get tips and the meals and all. So, I lived pretty good, and then, when I came back here under the GI Bill, Prof Skelly asked me to take care of some cattle out at the farm there. So, I lived at the Phelps House for nothing. I think that's gone now, and then, I worked in a restaurant out there for my meals. So, actually, I was banking money when I was here afterward, but I was out of circulation. I worked, but it was a mistake. I didn't have a car and I played lacrosse out here in the junior year, and then, in the senior year, transportation got to be a mess and, you know, you're kind of out in limbo. I don't know how it is now, because a lot more people live out there, but that's the way it went. You got jobs in movie theaters here, being an usher. That kind of put them out of business, when we were ushers then.
SI: Which theater did you work at?
WK: There was one, it was the street that went to the left off Georges Street and I remember a woman was murdered there.
SI: Was it the Halls Mills murder?
WK: No, no, no. This was later, after that. It was in the early '40s. I wasn't an usher that night and I don't know what the whole deal was, but I do remember that some woman was killed there.
SI: Was it the State Theater?
WK: No. That was a good one, the State Theater. I never got a job there, but, when they hit Pearl Harbor, we all closed our books and went to the State Theater. I don't know what we saw.
SI: It seems sort of a natural that you came to Rutgers.
WK: Oh, yes, because it was a natural. I was going to be in the Raritan Club, the fifth guy there. I guess, you know, it was a natural, that it was reasonable. I guess my folks figured it was the only school they could afford, and so, we just went there, period, one after the other, and I don't think we lost anything. I think I had some real good profs. In fact, in those days, the department head would be your prof. Do you ever see that today?
SI: In history, you do. In others, especially in the sciences, I do not think so.
WK: Well, that's progress, I guess. I don't know how you make out, you know. You have this big [classroom]; what do you have, a couple hundred people in a lecture?
JE: The larger classes are often four hundred, but, every once in a while, you get a class of maybe only thirty or forty.
WK: Do you get a chance to ask any questions?
JE: If you want to. Most professors are open to questions.
WK: I only had one class like that and that was in organic chemistry, after the war, but, heck, some of the classes I had, you might have fifteen guys in it.
SI: Can you tell us about your first few weeks or months at Rutgers? From what we have learned from the interviews, it seems like Pearl Harbor broke many of the old Rutgers traditions.
WK: Well, the only thing that I remember most was that, as a freshman, you had to wear a dink, you know, a cap, and you had to say hello to everybody you passed on campus. That was a great thing. You got to know a lot of people that way, but I guess, today, you'd get laryngitis after the first day, but, well, it's a smaller school and, heck, we used to walk over to the gym and that kind of stuff, but I just saw the bus going out at Cook and it's a, not a double-decker, but they got a …
SI: An accordion.
WK: So, we used to walk out to the Ag school, by the way, and the classes there did not start until one-thirty, so, you had a half-hour to walk out, which was fine. A few guys had cars. One of my roommates, the fellow who worked at J&J, he had a car. That was a Ford, like a sedan roadster, and, one day, I was a freshman, so, they put a band cap on me and I was the chauffeur and they sat in the back seat, they both had derby hats, one with a raccoon coat and the other guy had a bearskin coat they'd picked up somewhere and we went cruising around the Coop [NJC], waving to all the girls. Then, they went to Bond Clothes and I had to sit outside, as a chauffeur, and, when we got back to the Raritan Club, the one fellow took off his coat and he had a brand-new sports jacket on and he made me get a box and put the coat in the box and mailed it back to Bond's and told them they had a terrible security system. [laughter] That was the end of that, but I can remember, as a freshman, I had to go over to the Coop and round up the dates for the night and all that kind of stuff. Quite a few of us, … proportionately, I guess, they married some of the girls that came from over there, which was a lot of fun, knocking on doors. I don't know if they do that anymore or not.
WK: All right, I've got to say, I don't know how the fraternities work now, but, at that time, all the radios were turned off at eight o'clock and they couldn't be turned on again until eleven.
JE: It is slightly different now.
WK: I guess so. I guess you don't study without the radio and in fact, the most noise I ever heard in that house, you know, during the day was when Pearl Harbor was hit. I remember, I was studying for a zoology exam and they banged on the door and that was it. The attitude in this country, in those days, is, "That's Europe's problem." They didn't want to do anything with it and, by the way, politically, I think that's too much of an attitude today, because, to me, I feel history repeats itself and, to me, this guy [Saddam Hussein] would be nothing but another Hitler if they turned him loose, because the first people he hit were the ones next door, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and whatnot, and I often think, if we didn't have that Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, which amount to nothing today, we could have been in real tough shape, because we were not ready to go to war and the fact that the training we went over with; these fellows today in the Air Force, they have forgotten more about combat tactics than we ever knew, because they've taken that in the desert there and they make them go through it. The closest we ever got to them was shooting at the sleeve from another tow plane, by playing follow the leader. You know, they did all kinds of crazy stuff and through the clouds and whatnot, but these fellows actually shoot at each other, not with bullets; I guess they use lasers, I don't know. If you don't make it, you don't go, but, again, the oceans and the British kind of saved our neck, I think.
SI: How much of a discussion was there of what was going on in Europe, or perhaps in Asia?
WK: Very, very little. You know, you had no TV. If you went to the movies, Pathe News would have a clip on it, but you didn't see much of anything, really, and I'll tell you the truth, I really didn't know anything about the war, unless I read it in the paper. You know, you read the headlines and they just lost this town. I didn't even know where that town was. It didn't mean much to me.
SI: Do you recall anyone taking sides on the issues, isolation versus intervention or people discussing lend-lease?
WK: There were a lot of people opposed to everything until Pearl Harbor and that changed a lot of minds and in the interim, Germany was going great guns. In fact, I think the biggest mistake they made [was], they decided to take the Russians on. We're pretty lucky, really. The industry here, the B-24, I think they cranked that one [out] every hour, Henry Ford's outfit. That must have been very discouraging to the Germans, because I don't think they could shoot them down that fast.
SI: You mentioned earlier that you could see how from 1940 to 1942, New Jersey was gearing up for the war. Facilities were opening up and that sort of thing.
WK: Well, of course, Curtis Wright …
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WK: … Was making propellers and there were all kinds of communication outfits around. Of course, DuPont was up in Pompton Lakes. So, there was a lot of activity, but, unless you were working there, you just figured people had a job, you know. I knew Wrights was making the engines, but I didn't even know what the engines were [for].
SI: The day Pearl Harbor was bombed and the following day, many feared an attack in the area. I have heard stories of people going to the roofs of their fraternities with rifles.
WK: Not to my knowledge. I think [of] one thing going to the movies that day. To me, life just went back to normal. The only thing is, they started to build Camp Kilmer and a lot of fellows got jobs out there, but, then, at that time, they didn't last too long, because they were drafted or whatever, they went in on their own, but there was a lot of activity around here with Kilmer, but, then, I was working in a restaurant and only a few soldiers came in. I think they must have been permanent party out there, because, most of the time, when you ended in Kilmer, you were there, period. You weren't going any place, but I had a few of them come into the restaurant. I never charged them for dessert. In the restaurant, the owner's daughter was the cashier, right opposite me, and she knew what was going on. So, I guess I was lucky she was a good patriot. [laughter] She never said anything to me, but she kind of looked at me once in awhile.
SI: Did students a rush off to enlist the next day?
WK: I don't know. Of course, I was here; I don't know that many students went out, not to my knowledge, but I assume, from the papers, there was a rush to go. Of course, the draft was already in effect. My brother, Frank, was about ready to get out when they hit Pearl Harbor. So, I guess people were either waiting for their number to be called or a lot of them just jumped in. They wanted to go.
SI: How did you see the war gradually affect Rutgers, in-between Pearl Harbor and when you went into the service a year later?
WK: Well, when I came back here, I got out in December of '45 and, of course, they had the 52/20 Club. So, I went down to Ridgewood to sign up, because they may give you twenty dollars a week for fifty-two weeks to make this change over. I gave the woman a big story. That I wanted to fly for the Chinese Air Force and she gave me a motherly talk. My interest was, I didn't want them to call me to go to job interviews, because I knew I was coming back to Rutgers and I figured they wouldn't give [out] any jobs for the Chinese Air Force, but, anyway, I was at it for two weeks and got bored to death. I took a job at (Black Millwork), unloading lumber on freight cars. I don't even recall what I got paid, and then, I came down here and they handled us in the gym and it was a real mill, I'll tell you. Well, since I had time here before, I went through a lot faster than a lot of the other fellows who were just trying to enter here, but I don't know, you know, I don't even recall going to a football game, but I must have after the war, because, to me, [after] what you've just been through, it seemed a little, "Who cares?" My roommate out at the Phelps House, he was a gunner on a Marine aircraft and he had splinters in his legs all shrapnel, where they got him and I remember him sitting in class and Prof [William] Skelly was teaching and he said to him, he said, "(McSorley), what the hell is wrong with you, running around like that, squirming in your seat?" He said, "Prof, my feet are really killing me." So, that was the first prof knew that he had problems and, after class, Skelly took him downtown and bought him socks, heavy socks. I don't know if Nick Sorley ever graduated or not. He got married when we were here, and then, I lost [touch]. He went to Brazil. As an efficiency expert for some American company down there and he told me they had upstairs maids, downstairs maids, because everything was so cheap, but he said, "I finished the work and I told them they don't need this kind, they didn't need that kind, they didn't need me either," [laughter] He came back home and I lost all contact with him. I don't know what happened to him, but it was a different world, so crowded. That was the first time I ever sat in, like, a room that you're sitting in and maybe we had a hundred or maybe a hundred-[and]-fifty people. It was in the oldChemistry Building over here, I think. Is that still there, the Chemistry Building? I don't recognize it. They probably knocked it down.
JE: You said that when you found out about Pearl Harbor, everybody went to the State Theater. What was on the newsreels that day?
WK: I have no idea. I doubt if there was anything on Pearl Harbor. I don't think they could get it here that fast. Yes, I hung in here, because I had three brothers already in and my mother was really upset. So, then, when December 7, '42, came around, I told her that I had to go enlist, because I didn't want to end up in the infantry.
SI: During that year, did you experience any of the, "Why isn't he in uniform?" type of attitude from anyone?
WK: Not really. I probably looked too young. Of course, in those days, I only weighed 125 pounds or something like that and there were a lot of students here. I know a lot of guys joined; I think they got in the ASTP or something like that. They wore a uniform on campus, and then, they were called up at anytime. I was talking to an old fraternity brother and he told me he was here quite a while before the Navy called him up.
SI: Were you in the ROTC?
WK: Yes, but I was only a sophomore, so, I didn't get up to get a commission or anything. Yes, they taught me how to read a map. My wife tells me I still don't know how to read it. [laughter]
SI: Many men say that they did not take ROTC as seriously before Pearl Harbor. Did you notice a greater emphasis on it afterwards?
WK: Oh, yes, absolutely, and in phys ed. The wrestling coach, I can't think of his name, [Fred Shepard or Wilfred Cann] and, to us, he was an old man, you know, he had white hair or whatnot, and you had to take phys ed and, boy, everybody was groaning, doing push-ups, and he was on a platform up there and he would do it with one arm and he would keep going until we all caved in. He was a good wrestling coach, too, I guess. I can't think of his name, though. …
I never joined a national [fraternity] and always had it for one reason. My wingman told me that he was at North Carolina State, and I don't know the fraternity, but it was a national, and they blackballed him and I thought, "Boy, if that's the way the Greeks are, I don't want any part of them, because I never saw anything wrong with the guy. In fact, he ended up … down in Redstone Arsenal, I think, he was a physics major, you know, down there, but, to each his own. I know a lot of Greek guys here are real nice guys.
SI: Can you tell us about how you became involved with the Army Air Force? Was aviation an interest of yours?
WK: Yes. I can remember, as a kid, passenger planes used to go over where I lived on their way to NewarkAirport and Teterboro and I can remember, as a kid, just lying on the ground, watching them. They just go across, you know, but, then, my brother, Jim, of course, he was already in as a cadet. He took a special program here where they taught him flying here, civilian whatever [Civilian Pilot Training Program]. Well, they didn't have it when I was here. I guess they had already closed it up, but I just wanted to take a crack at it. … They sent us to basic training at Atlantic City, and then, I got shipped to Gettysburg College and, up there, they gave you ten hours in a Piper Cub and, actually, the instructor did the flying, but a lot of guys quit right there. They either got air sick or it wasn't their bag, whatever, but I always enjoyed it. My instructor in advanced was from Montclair. His last name was Mozuleski; we called him "Cowboy Mo." He was disenchanted. He wanted to get in P-38s and … get into combat, rather than instructing. I remember, I only had a couple of hours in the airplane and he pulled me over and gets out on the wing and he said, "Kenny, give me your home address," and I gave it to him. He says, "Thank you very much; I want to know where to send the flowers." Well, that meant I was going solo. He was a character. I don't know if he ever got into combat or not. He gave us some rough rides playing follow the leader.
SI: Did you enlist directly into the Army Air Force?
WK: Four of us from the fraternity, Ed Schmierer, who was in Class of '43, Bud Stoddard was in my Class of '45 and I swear there was a fourth fellow, and I can't think who it was, and myself. Well, Ed Schmierer had come from a farm family down below Burlington and we went down there and they put us up overnight, and then, we went to Camden to enlist … as aviation cadets and, after we enlisted, we ran across the Delaware River to go to the Trocadero. That was a burlesque show. [laughter]
JE: The Trock is still there.
WK: Is it, really?
JE: It is a music venue now.
WK: Really? I wouldn't even be able to find it, but, anyway, then, we came back and we got called up at different times. I don't know when the other fellows went in. I was called up in February. I think I was the first to go and I know Ed Schmierer became a navigator and I don't know what happened to that Bud Stoddard or that other fellow. A lot of those fellows in the Class of '43, I don't know, I guess they gave them their degrees still; I don't know how that worked. I know, [in] '42, they just went and they got their degrees, but how they worked '43, I don't [know]. Now, maybe Ed stayed long enough before they called him up, like this other fellow I talked to, Ed Coda. He was in the Navy as ASTP here. They left him here for quite a while before they called him, so, maybe the same thing happened to Ed.
SI: Did Schmierer and Stoddard make it through the war?
WK: Schmierer did and I know Stoddard did, but the only reason [I say that is], I never saw him back here, but, [as] I say, I think I read about him in the paper that another fellow sent me. He was murdered by his wife. He was working in Washington. … He was a lawyer in one of the outfits down there. He came from Irvington, but I don't think too many guys came back. Some of the fellows in Ag School weren't called up, because they came from farms, and some of those may have come back, but I don't recall too many fellows. Anyway, those ones, probably, in my Ag classes came on the GI Bill and did not have time here before, as best I know, anyway.
SI: After you enlisted, how long was it before you went to basic training?
WK: I enlisted December 7th and, February 13th, I was gone and they put us on a train. We had to go toCamden. They took us over to Philly and put us on a train. They never tell you anything and we got off the train in Atlantic City, big ride, but, from there, they sent us to Gettysburg, too, I think the pipeline was getting clogged up and they're trying to, you know, open up the flight schools. That's my guess, anyway. I'm assuming it turned out that way, and then, once you got into the flight schools, you pretty well moved along, if you passed. Otherwise, they just wash you out and you become a mechanic or a gunner or whatever, but one of the reasons I was interested in flying, … also, you got seventy-five dollars a month, instead of fifty dollars, but you didn't get that until you started flying. So, I didn't get it until I got to primary flight school, but some of the guys I flew with came out [of] MIT and, well, all over. You name it you probably could find somebody.
SI: Before we talk about primary, do you remember any of the tests or the classification process?
WK: Well, the classification took [place] after Gettysburg. We went to Nashville, Tennessee, and that was the classification center and you could sign up for either pilot, bombardier or navigator. I don't know the kind of test they gave the other guys, I really don't, but there was a lot of physical tests and psycho tests and all this other stuff, and then, you checked the bulletin boards every day to see how you made out. If [your] name came out as a pilot, you were shipped out to Maxwell Field, where you went through, like, basic training and that was like being in … West Point, spit-and-polish. You had physical training, half-a-day, and the other half was school, reading books on navigation and all that kind of stuff, and then, what was school pretty tough. They'd come through on Saturday morning and they checked your footlocker and the guys with white gloves would come along and scrape the window sill and, if they found anything, you walked guard duty for the weekend, the whole barracks. It was pretty competitive, but it was good training. The big sign up in the shower room, "You leave this place as you found it," and, there, everything was spit-and-polish and clean. I was pulled out of a parade one day, to square it off, and they told me to go up on the reviewing stand. We had a parade every Saturday morning and, since then, I've seen the parades at West Point and the Air Force Academy and know, the one they put us through there, was as good.
SI: Your instructors and camp commanders were probably long time regular Army and Army Air Force.
WK: No, no. Most of our instructors were the guys that got there the month before you arrived. [laughter] No, who their bosses were, they were probably regulars, but that's the way they did it. At inspection they'd touch you, "You got anything in your pockets?" "No." I can't say the whole thing, but there was a guy standing next to me and I guess he got fed up and he wanted out and … he said, "Can I touch you, sir?" and he said to him, "Keep your hands off me," but he added a little adjective to that and he was gone. A lot of guys, I guess it just wasn't their bag. I can understand that, too.
JE: There was obviously a fairly high washout rate. Was it because of the work or was it because of that sort of thing?
WK: I think it was probably the work. You know you're going to do five mile runs and all of that kind of stuff, and then, they're on your back all the time. You're scrubbing the floor and this and that. They had us in a hotel inAtlantic City. I'll never forget it. We had ropes at the windows, five-story building, and that was your fire escape. You throw the rope out and you go down the rope and, every night, we had to take pails of water and soak the floors down, because it was a fire trap I come home after the war, in fact, they started to build casinos and that place was still in operation, with so many guests. Makes you wonder, but, having all of that, you know, it was real good training, but I tell the kids to impress them and they say, "Yes, oh, yes. But the big sign up in the mess hall was, 'Take all you want, but eat all you take,'" and they wouldn't let you out of that mess hall leaving anything on your tray. You go back and eat it. Of course, food was a little bit tight; they were shipping all of that overseas, so, they had to do that. I pulled KP once, I think, and I enjoyed it. That food was good when they came out, but, when it got on the steam tables for an hour or so, it was entirely different.
SI: You did not start flying at Maxwell Field?
WK: No, no. The training phase was in eight-week units. There's eight weeks in Maxwell, and then, you went to primary for eight, basic and advanced, and then, after you're out of advanced, you went for eight weeks to wherever you're going to go. I went to a fighter school. Some of them became co-pilots, whatever, pilots. So, I was fortunate enough that, in primary and basic, I had civilian instructors. The only time we ran into the military were on check rides. I had a nice experience. One of my bunkmates in primary, that's a biplane and it's open cockpits, and the instructor/test pilot sat in front and the stick [was] in the back and you talked through a hose, which is almost useless, but, anyway, the check pilot told him to do a slow roll and he did and the check pilot never put his safety belt on. He fell out of the airplane. He parachuted down, no problem, with a red face.
SI: Where did you go for primary?
WK: Primary at Camden, South Carolina, and basic, Augusta, Georgia. Advanced was [in] Napier at Dothan,Alabama, and then, to Sarasota, Florida, for fighter. Then, we were all set to go overseas, we thought, and they said, "No, we're going to send you out to Key Field, Mississippi, and you'll become tactical reconnaissance pilots." That's what I ended up as. Actually, we flew in two-ship formations. One guy, number one, he was like the traffic reporter of today. We spotted everything we could on the ground. Number two was to cover him, in case he was attacked, and it was kind of interesting, because, if we got a hot target, which would be a train or tanks or anything like that, we were under orders, we were not to shoot our guns unless we were attacked. We would call the controller, and then, they would have P-47s do the job. They carried two five-hundred-pound bombs and they could do it in a hurry. We also did artillery adjustment. They would give us a sector, say, a spot, well, thought to be an ammunition depot. So, then, they would fire us a shell, the artillery unit, and they would give you a countdown to zero and that was when it would hit the ground and you could see the smoke, and then, you would tell them, you know, how to shift, and then, when you were close enough, you just give a command, "Fire for effect," and this is one of my first missions. … At that time, I was the wingman. I was around five thousand feet and, boy, when that place blew, that airplane took a hop up in the air, too. So, they were right, it was an ammo dump. We would go out and I guess write it all down, and then, it went to intelligence and I know, one day, I was out there and they gave, "Fire for effect," and they told me the mission was over. So, I get back, and then, they tell me that they figured a German convoy would be coming through there at almost ten o'clock at night, they expected it, and they were ready to level in on them when the time came. Whether they got them or not, I don't know, but they had an intelligence officer with us all the time and [he was] feeding [information] back and forth. This aircraft was a Mustang, but it was, well, they called it an F-6. They had special cameras in it; you could take pictures and all of that. We would take pictures to confirm it, They also had a P-38 outfit with us and they would do the high altitude photo work. They'd go out as singles, with no guns or whatnot. They're hope was that they had enough speed to get away. We would see them coming back sometimes and often get on their tail, because we look something like an ME-109, and get them all upset.
SI: Were there any of the Mosquitoes that were on loan from the RAF in your unit?
WK: No. I saw them in the air, but we didn't have any. I think some of the units used some of the Spitfires. I saw Spitfires in the air, but I didn't know who they were.
JE: I have a question about training. In your brother's interview, he said that you had a mishap while flying a P-40 in Mississippi. What happened there?
WK: Well, we're out on a low level training mission and we were flying probably all [of] five hundred feet above the trees and it cut out on me. I was number four in the unit and I got it started again, and then, it quit again and I was too low to jump. So, I had an instructor in fighter school who flew them in Africa, Cpt. Sammy Say, I'll never forget him, and he told us, "If you ever have to belly in, don't worry about it too much, because the engine sticking out there will run a lot of interference for you." So, I thought I was putting it down in shrubs, but, by the time it stopped, I was going down a big ravine, knocking trees down. The only injury I got out of it, I cut my knee, shin, on a toggle switch and that was it. I think I got a scar. I had told him if we disagreed on anything, I was going to tell you that he hits the sauce too hard. [laughter] I got a picture of that someplace. While hospitalized, they offered me a deal. They would turn me loose every night provided my friends would stay away; they were upsetting everybody in the hospital.
JE: What were they doing that was upsetting the other patients?
WK: Making a lot of noise.
WK: Probably came from the club and had a few beers.
JE: It is remarkable that you only had that one injury on your shin. There is not much left of that plane in the picture there.
WK: No. When they got it back, they found metal chips in the carburetor. Nobody explained, to me, at least, how they got in there. It was kind of strange, but I had a picture I want to show you. What a great photographer I would be; go ahead, shoot the questions.
SI: In primary, you were flying a Stearman.
WK: Yes, a PT-17. They still use them today, some are crop-dusters, a remarkable airplane, I guess.
SI: Was this your first time actually flying an aircraft?
WK: Yes, yes.
SI: How did you adjust to that? How quickly did you get the hang of it?
WK: Pretty fast. Most of us would solo in less than ten hours. It was a great airplane, except, when you landed, you had to be very careful. It would do what they called ground loops; that was on the rear tail wheel. A lot of fellows got washed out on that, because they couldn't control a ground loop. I had a picture of Paris in here someplace; go ahead, keep talking.
SI: In terms of navigation, were you learning plottage or celestial navigation?
WK: We were really taught how to read ground maps and they had fantastic maps, I thought. You could find your position just by the curvature of the trees and whatnot, you know, when you look down at them, the woodlands, you know. You just learn to read maps and we flew long enough that we could read pretty good. The only time we'd use a compass is when we would take-off and they'd assigned us a sector. We'd figure what the compass heading would be, and then, you had checkpoints along the way, as to whether you were off course or whatnot. In other words, you would pick up things on the map and you know you should be there [at] 10:55 or whatever it is and do it that way, and then, when you came home, … you could call for what we called a steer. They would pick you up on radar and they would give you a heading to get there. When the war closed, I had one mission, they took stuff out of the rear of the airplane, some of the radio equipment, and they had put a fellow in there and we were flying them around to arrange for the troops coming home. I took the guy into Munich and I got to Munichand I couldn't get any fuel, and so, I thought, "Well, I'd go to Stuttgart." My brother, Frank, was there. He was with a P-47 outfit. So, I figured I'd get fuel there and I get there and the field is closed. So, then, I started out, "There's got to be fields around," but, then, I ran into bad weather and I had to get on top of the clouds. When I was getting ready to bail out, … I heard somebody on the radio, "Schweinfurt, "so, I called for a steer and the radio reception was pretty poor, but, fortunately, a B-17 in the area and he would relay the messages. They got me down in good shape. The thing ran out of gas as soon as I got to the parking spots. I was getting ready to bail, because you can't see through clouds, that's for sure.
SI: What was it like the first time you flew at night?
WK: Well, your first night flight, you had an instructor with you. That was in basic training and he was in the back seat, so, it didn't bother me at all, at night, really. When I was in chopper school, that was different. I stayed in the Reserve. I flew choppers after a while and they put you through this night stuff and, on a helicopter, you know, you don't glide too much, go down like an elevator to get the props spinning fast, and then, pull it up so that it would; you can sink into the ground. Well, at night, that's hard to do because you don't have any lights to use as to know how far are you above the ground. You use a light on the airplane, but it's still a problem. After that, we did cross-country at night and they had the airways and they had them for the commercial people, really, and you would read the Morse code on the airway and you would know your position from that reading and, well, at night time, it's no problem, really. At least I didn't think it was.
SI: Did you ever have vertigo?
WK: Vertigo? Yes, they really pounded you home on that, that you trust your instruments and they did a pretty good thing on that. You know, we had Link trainers, but, now, they call them simulators, but you get in there and, of course, you're under cover and they really taught you to trust your instruments, because they would chart everything you were doing, and then, when you got out, you saw where you went wrong and that kind of stuff. I think the biggest problem of fighters in fighter school is fellows that concentrate too much on their target and they get too low and we lost just one guy, but he hit the ground, really moving, couldn't get out of it.
SI: Were there any accidents when you were in training?
WK: I remember the fellow that went in. That was down in Sarasota. He went in the Gulf. He got too low. In advanced, somebody got killed, but I don't remember what happened. I didn't know the fellow, but, outside of that, I don't recall any accidents. They were pretty strict you know. In fact, they'd send you out cross-country, they tell you to do this and, all of a sudden and out of the blue, there would be a check pilot just watching what you were doing. If you didn't see him coming in, you know, you're supposed to keep your head turning all the time and looking out. If he could get right up behind you, they'd give you a good chewing out. "You better look outside."
SI: How would you characterize the men that you trained with? Where were most of them from? You mentioned earlier that most of them were college-educated. Did they have a gung-ho attitude, a fighter pilot mentality?
WK: Well, I know a General [Francis R.] Gerard, [who] headed up the [Air National] Guard in New Jersey, used to say that it was redundant to say a "crazy fighter pilot." Well, it's interesting. You go through school and they teach you to be coordinated in all your turns and all that kind of stuff, but, when you go into combat, it's altogether different. You kick the airplane all over the sky, because you don't want the guy on the ground getting a bead on you and you never maintain the same altitude. You're always diving up and down. The only fellow that had any semblance of straight and level flight would be the number one man, while he's writing and whatnot. I recall, one time, I was flying number two and we had gotten a train with five tanks on it. So, he called, "Rosalie," which was a command and they said, "Okay, call so-and-so." It was a P-47 outfit. There were twelve airplanes and at first, I hear the leader, "Anybody got a map of that place?" and no response. My leader said, "Where you at?" and he told us and he said, "Well, we'll come and get you." We went up and got them and they're at ten thousand feet and we started our up and down motion and I hear one of the guys say, "Christ, look at how those guys fly." [laughter] So, he wasn't impressed. They went straight and level. That airplane was fantastic. I'm sorry I never got to fly it. I saw those things come home with cylinders blown out and everything else. They'd still chug it back in. I thought I would end up in P-47s. The P-51 was good. I mean, we could outdistance them any time of the week, except, … maybe, diving. They had so much weight, they could really move in a dive.
I think we had something like 2,200 men in the squadron, I'm sure. These are mechanics, photo ops, armorers, and everything else and we're organized into four flights, A, B, C and D and each flight had about seven pilots. So, we were kept pretty busy. They kept us right behind the lines. In fact, at one airfield, we didn't even get our wheels up and we're over German territory, but our missions were short, compared to the bomber guys. If we were on an hour-and-a-half or two hours, that was a usual mission, because it only takes us like five minutes to get home, except if it was something special. The only thing that really held us down would be the weather. If you couldn't see, there wasn't any sense going up, but, outside of that, some days, we flew two missions a day, but that wasn't so bad, but the bomber guys, you know, they were up there seven, eight, nine hours. I think those guys, they really deserve the glory. I don't know how you could sit there and hold the plane straight and level with flak bursting all around you. It took a lot of guts, a lot of guts, and a lot of prayers, too. I had a good picture of Paris in one of these here. Oh, here it is. See the Eiffel Tower, right in the middle? It was taken from five thousand feet. I didn't take it. I don't know who took it. I thought it was a good picture. Well, we six of us lived in a tent at one field in Germany. Phil Gee, was a high school graduate from Kentucky, Joe LaPlant was a high school graduate from Toledo and Ralph Knight, he came from North Carolina. He was the guy they blackballed. He had a year-and-a-half in, like I did. I think Ben Godzinowick was with us and he had a year, almost two years, completed atNortheastern University, and then, of course, I had a year-and-a-half, but most of the older fellows were college people, except some "flying sergeants". I think they changed them to flight officers, but the one fellow, Cas Haboian, he was a flight officer and he was from Detroit and we lost him. … I guess he graduated high school, but they made some flight officers. I don't know what the whole story was, but, when they got promoted, they got promoted to first lieutenant, which, you know, is the same as applied to a second lieutenant. They got the same pay as a second lieutenant, kind of crazy a thing, I thought. Somebody in the bureaucracy thought it was a good idea. This is what some of those towns looked like in Germany; that's Cologne. [Editor's Note: Mr. Kenny is referring to a photograph.]
SI: Going back to when you were in training, it sounds like all of your bases were in the South, Alabama andFlorida. I assume you had not traveled very far from New Jersey before the war. What was it like to be in the South?
WK: Well, you know they had black drinking fountains and all this other stuff and most of the people [that] worked at the base were blacks and whatnot. So, you're really living in a white world. You know, our whole squadron, we didn't have any black fellows at all. Now, I don't know, with the infantry, whether they were in transportation, and, of course, the Tuskegee unit, they were down with the Fifteenth Air Force in Italy, but there was no change really. The only thing that struck me is that, sometimes, you'd almost go into the wrong restroom or something like that you know, with colored or [white]. Then, you don't even think about it living up here, but they were a different breed down there, but I never heard any nasty remarks about them in any place. Of course, you didn't see them.
SI: What about dealing with heat and the climate?
WK: I'll tell you what amazed me the most was, in Florida, Sarasota, of course, you wore flight suits and you come down and you're wringing wet and, yet, at night, in the barracks, you had to use a blanket, which surprised me, right on the Gulf. By the way, on our honeymoon, which was in '49, we went to Sarasota and I had a time finding the airfield. That's how much it built up in just a few years. Anyway, I stayed in; when I came back, they called me to join the Air Guard up at Newark. I didn't have any car or anything and I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I was figuring on vet school, really. So, I said, "No, I couldn't do it." Well, then, they came along with the Air Force and you had to transfer from the Army Air Corps to the Air Force, which I did, and then, I was working out in Pennsylvania and I did try to get in a unit out there, P-47s, and they were filled up. Then, we came back to New Jersey and, the New Jersey Air Guard had been on active duty for Korea, but they were just down south. So, they had some fellows quit and I got in there and flew with them for a while, and then, I was running out of time. You can only be in grade a certain number of years and you're either promoted or you're out. So, I was getting to the point, because I had all that down time and it was still counting. So, the General in charge of the Guard said, "Well, you come with the Army and, he said, "I'll get you promoted," because they were trying to build their own air unit then. So, I did and he never promoted me, but, I found a friend in the Reserve and he got me with the 78th Division up there and I became the aviation officer and, at first, the military, they would buy me flight time atPrinceton Airport, to stay current, until they got their own aircraft. Then, later, I went to helicopter school. Then, I got too old and they told me to retire. It was a great experience, but combat is another world. All the fun goes out of it then, especially when you lose a good friend to that kind of stuff, but, unfortunately, I think it has to be done now and then. We lost some good guys. I was going to stay in. It was such a mish-mash, trying to get all the troops, and I lost interest in it, and so, I went out, got back to school, but, then, I found out, one of the fellows I flew with, he stayed in and he had a crash landing in Germany in the early '60s and broke his back and another fellow that I paled around with, he stayed in and he was flying a jet and he was coming in for a landing and the airplane blew up. This was in the early jets, you know. So, I knew it's time to get out. I did get a little jet time, but not that much. It's no different than flying the A-5, but they just move faster, but they're nice and quiet. You sit in the cockpit there, you don't hear anything in those things. Of course, the engine is in front of you; in the jet, it's behind you. That's all the difference in the world.
SI: You first began flying the Mustangs at fighter school.
WK: No, Key Field. We did all our fighter training in P-40s, and then, that was the only good thing we felt about going to Key Field, they were going to put us in P-51s, but we only got about, I'll say, fifteen hours in the '51s. We used the P-40s there, too, for the navigation training and that sort of thing. So, then, by the time we left Key Field to go overseas, then, they shipped you back to Florida; I guess it's like a railroad station they put us in. Then, we went to Savannah, Georgia, and hung around there and the whole time, we're sitting around playing bridge and that kind of stuff. Then, they were shipping us out and we ended up in Kilmer. I said, "Where are we going to go from here?" Well, that was around Christmas and they gave us a twenty-four hour pass, so I could get up to Paterson real easy, but, then, they decided, we're moving again, they took us up to Thornton, Massachusetts. I had never been there since and we shipped out of Boston in a convoy and I think it took us ten days to go across because you only go as fast as the slowest ship in the unit. It was kind of boring, because all we'd watch were porpoises and that kind of stuff. That was the excitement.
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SI: This continues an interview with Mr. William Kenny on March 7, 2003, with Shaun Illingworth and John Eiche, Lauren Bohn. We were just talking about your crossing. Can you describe the voyage a little more?
WK: Fortunately, I didn't get seasick. Some fellows were really seasick. The officers, they had us like ten in a stateroom. Enlisted men were in big rooms, hammock above hammock. I got the duty, one night, to go down there, to keep everything under control; they had a big crap game going and one of the fellows won eighteen hundred dollars and he asked me if I would hold the money until the next day, I guess he figured he might get mugged, which I did. [laughter] I don't know how he handled that. He can go on; he can wire it home or whatever, but we spent most of our time playing cards or writing letters and that kind of stuff. Coming back, we came out of Antwerp and I'll never forget this. I stood on the deck, looking down at the people on the dock and whatnot and a GI came up alongside and they looked at him and he threw up and I figured, "Man, he must have had a hilarious trip. Just looking at it, he got seasick, but there was never a problem getting through the chow line, because so many of them were not eating.
Anyway, we got into France and they put us on a train and, man, it was cold, got us into Paris, stayed there. We thought we're going to see the town and we stayed there one night and put us in trucks and took us to Belgium and, when we got to Belgium, the Bulge was on and our unit had been shipped down to France to support Patton. So, we got back in those cold trucks and went down there. Never did get to fly, because the weather was so bad. I got to fly one day, just an orientation flight. We hadn't flown [in] so long, they wanted us to get back into the swing of things. That was the kind of weather there, because you know the Germans are around and you don't know what's going on and you're all alone. So, you spend most of your time looking, but, then, we went back to Belgiumand lived in a chateau. Some of the enlisted men lived with Belgian families, you know, the sergeants and whatnot, and, actually, there was a real good rapport with the Belgics. We didn't like the chow too much. We always placed some on the side and gave it to the children to take home. They were just nice people. I don't want to take a crack at the French, but I flew back to the airfield we flew out of in France a couple of months after the war ended and the fields hadn't been plowed or anything. I went back to Belgium [after] two weeks, just to look at the place. The fields were all plowed up. The airstrip was gone. It was just night and day, but I know a lot of the fellows, the enlisted men who lived with the families, they hated to leave. They were just like family with the people and, of course, they could bring some of the K rations and whatnot to them. I'm sure they appreciated it.
We went to another field near Venlo and this book, this was done by a Dutchman, and he flew for the Dutch Airline, he lived in Venlo and he retired and he was interested in this Venlo airfield. It was really a German airfield and we were the first to occupy and operate from a German airfield. So, he got a hold of my name, somehow, and I sent him pictures or whatnot. He did the book and its pretty nice job he did. My brother, Jim, I guess he told you about his trips back. He was on the food drops. He didn't go back this time. He's suffering with Alzheimer's now, so, I guess his traveling days are over, but, anyway, the Dutch were very appreciative of what was done for them. I can't say that of the French, not that I care. They don't owe me anything.
SI: Did you arrive during the Battle of the Bulge or just before?
WK: It was just before the battle started. I guess the attack started just before I got there, because they had already moved down to support Patton and the weather was so bad down there; we couldn't get off the ground. Patton was very appreciative. He shipped us a couple of cases of booze.
SI: Was there any fear that the Germans might breakthrough and overrun where you were or were you too far away?
WK: We weren't concerned about that. A lot of people who dropped out of the Air Corps, they were, you know, told to get out, ended up in that Bulge battle as infantrymen and I often wondered how much infantry training they had before they went in there. They gave us some infantry training in Atlantic City, but, you know, all of it is shooting at targets and that kind of stuff. I think it must be a little bit different in combat and how to take cover and that sort of thing. So, they got a bad deal. In fact, I understand that some of them were even in flight schools and were transferred out to reinforce the infantry.
SI: Was there any sort of a transition between what you had learned in training and what you had to actually do in combat, any kind of learning curve?
WK: No. The leader said, "You go and keep me in sight and you stay above me and keep your eyes open," and that was it. So, all you did was go back and forth and up and down while he's making the observations and go back home. The first time you go as a leader you're on your own and, actually, the way it works out, like, one of my roommates would be my wingman, and then, we reverse, that kind of thing, on different missions, but that was another thing. You know, the whole time you were in cadets and in training, physical training is topnotch. You get over to combat and the only physical training I saw were some guys playing volleyball and at night you drink your beer and whatever it was and you gained weight. [laughter] Of course, none of us were interested in physical training, really. You just did it to survive there, whatever it was.
SI: What do you remember about your first mission? How did you feel? What was the target?
WK: Well, that was the mission where we got the P-47s coming in and the leader asked if they wanted us to lead them on the target and he said, "No, thanks, I got it in sight," and they went in echelon, you know, and the first guy started diving and that whole sky opened up with tracers and flak flying up at him, but, by the time the third ship got there, there was no more gunfire. They just quieted them right down. I'll never forget, the leader's pulling up off the target and my leader says to him, "Do you want us to take you back to Weisel?" That's where we picked them up. He said, "No, thanks, I've already got a steer." So, he had called to get a radar steer for a direct flight back to the base. I know some fellows that I'd been in training with in Sarasota and they ended up in P-47s, somehow or other. I don't know how they did it, they volunteered, and the one fellow who was killed, but it was after the war, he got killed in a jeep. I guess they were out drinking and something else, but you talk about lucky. … At least the rumors [were], you never volunteer for anything, but we were sitting around in Savannah and we were getting itchy, so, … they came in, they asked for twenty volunteers and there were about twelve of us hanging around and we put our hands up and a couple more did. So, then, they told us we're going to Europe and the rest are going to the Pacific and I don't know if it's true or not, but the rumor was that seventeen of the guys that we trained with were killed in a transport crash on their way to Hawaii. I've never been able to confirm it. That's bad luck and I guess ours was dumb luck. I know one fellow, that he went to China. He got held up. He broke his ankle when we were getting ready to finish our fighter school and he went to the Pacific, but I think he flew P-40s over there, you know, the Flying Tiger outfit. So, I don't know how fast they got the '51s over there, because I think they loaded everything for Europe and they were using '38s. Now, there were very few P-38s used in Europe when I was there. Most of those were photo reconnaissance. The P-47s and the '51s, '47s really dominated, because they were making those earlier and they were good airplanes. I'll tell you now, for a while, after I was back and out of Rutgers, I was running a turkey farm out in Long Island. We grew fifty thousand birds and retailed all of them, Grumman Aircraft was right off the turkey farm and they were making fighters for the Navy and most of them were blue and the blue ones would come in; the turkeys paid no attention. Silver ones, and then, they're all going nuts. [laughter] So, I don't know what that was about.
SI: Did you feel like your unit was always well supplied with food and fuel?
WK: … You know, I got there later. The guys who were there earlier, I think they had a different history, but we were never short of food or anything like that, never short of ammo. I had a crew chief and he was awarded the Bronze Star. He was real. He started in England. It was originally a fighter group, and then, when they decided that they had to give close air support to the infantry and the ground troops, they shipped all the fighter pilots to other units, and then, they brought in fellows that were tac recon. Now, I think I was the Third Recon Class. Anyway, he had been a crew chief over there and his airplanes flew 140 missions without an abort due to mechanical difficulty. Some of the aborts were [due to] weather, but that's quite a record and you really had to depend on the crew chief. Those guys, they really lived it. They'd sleep with the airplane, you know. I never had any problems with the airplane. In fact, it got to the point, I guess, you get too cocky. Ordinarily, you'd run down an airplane's checklist before you take-off. You'd run it through certain procedures, full bore and all this, and it got to the point where you'd just taxi out and give it full bore and go, because you had that much confidence; stupid, but it worked. They would sweat it out. On my first mission, he told me, I could see, he was nervous as a cat; he wasn't too happy. He told me that would be his one hundredth mission and he hoped he would make it. He ended up with 140. They really sweated out that their aircraft would come back.
SI: From everyone that I have interviewed who was in the Army Air Force, it seems that there was mutual respect between the ground crews and the flight crews.
WK: Yes, yes. You know, I don't know, I think there was a fellow at Rutgers by the name of Chamberlain [Chandler?] and I think he might have been in the Class of '42 or '43. I vaguely remember him and, when we're moving to a new airfield, … I decided I'd want to go in a jeep, because I wanted to see the ground, the ground damage and whatnot, it was into Germany, and I swear we had to go through this town and this guy was directing traffic. He was an officer. Of course, you had to keep moving, but I almost, to this day, think that that was our RU Chamberlain. I'm not sure if that was his name, but I know he played 150-pound football with my brother and I remember him vaguely on the campus. I never got to talk to him, so, I don't know if it was him or not and I don't know how he made out, because, when I came back, I'm sure he would have been graduated with my brother. So, I never would have seen him again.
JE: Were you able to keep contact with your brothers and your parents?
WK: Well, I could write home. My brother, Jim, he was at a gunnery school. He would fly as a gunners for the bombers and give them target practice and he came to visit me when I was in Sarasota once, and then, he came to visit me in Key Field, when I was in the hospital, the leg thing, and then, on my first mission, my brother, Frank, came up from Stuttgart. He was with a fighter outfit down there. How he found me, to this day, I don't know, because he didn't even know I was in Europe, as far as I know, but he showed up and I talked to the Colonel. Frank had a brother-in-law in Liege with a refueling outfit, gas trucks, and I asked the CO if I can have the day off. He said, "I'm sorry, you're flying your first mission and we … have a big drive on today." So, he hung around until that day, and then, the next day, they did give me off. So, we went down to Liege to see his brother-in-law, and then, he brought me back and he left to go to Stuttgart again. But I kind of missed the boat. I never got to ask him how he ever found me. Then, I don't know how Jim ever found me, either. [laughter] Well, he knew where I was from my parents, but coming home on a ship out of Antwerp, it was a Victory ship and I loved it. It was November and the Atlantic was rough and I'd sit way up on the top deck and it was like a roller coaster. We did pass a Liberty ship that was breaking up and another ship was taking the people off it. And then, I read the book,The Perfect Storm, and then, I saw the movie and I think, when I saw, what an idiot I was sitting up there on that deck, [laughter] but it was quite a ride.
SI: When you crossed the Atlantic during the war, were there any U-boat alerts?
WK: No. The Navy had boats going back and forth between the ships. We were unaware of anything. I never saw German airplanes. I never saw anything German until I was in there. The first person I ever saw that was a dead German trooper in a town that we were going through. I often wondered what it must be like to live in an occupied territory. I can't imagine it. I just saw that picture, The Pianist, about the Polish/Jewish people. Man, I don't know how they did it. Now, I did visit one of the concentration camps, on a quick trip to Bergen-Belsen.
JE: During the war?
WK: Well, we had already passed them. They were released, but, you know, pretty, pretty sad and I certainly would never want to live in an occupied territory. I'm afraid that too many people think that everybody is nice in this world and everybody isn't nice. I'll tell you one thing, one of the fellows that flew with us, he knocked down two ME-109s one day and I've been corresponding with a German who teaches computer science in one of the universities over there. He does a lot better in English than I can ever do in German, but his hobby right now is to dig up war aircraft. We had Germans giving up, coming in when we were at Brunswick, Germany, operating out of there. The war was still on, and then, they would drop their landing gear. That was the signal they were giving up. So, the first one … was in a Focke-Wulf 190, a sergeant, a German sergeant, and the next one was a Blenheim, … it was a twin-engine job and there were about, I guess, between fifteen and twenty people in the darn thing. They had bicycles and everything and thought they were going to climb out and bicycle home. But, getting back to Johnston, this fellow in Germany is trying to get information from Johnston. He knows the two widows of the pilots that Johnston shot down. Johnston refused to respond, stating "That's not my bag I wasn't out there to kill people. I was out to knock enemy airplanes out of the air, so they couldn't use it again," and he would have nothing to do with it. You know, there were some reports of Japanese firing at guys in parachutes. If some Americans did fire at guys in parachutes, it went over like a lead balloon, because we were told that, [if] we were shot down, to try to get to the Luftwaffe. You had to be concerned about the Hitler Youth. They were the worst. The citizens were second, then, the Wehrmacht and the safest was the Luftwaffe. Fortunately, I never experienced it, but you have to wonder what some of the guys went through. They had to bail out or whatever happened. Now, the German thinks he's found Haboian 's aircraft, who was with us from Detroit. We don't know what happened with him. His number one man, said they caught a lot of flak and he told him to climb through the overcast and they would meet on top. Well, the theory is, they're not going to be able to see you when you're above the clouds. So, he said Haboian called him and said he was on top and he said, "Okay," and he said, "Go to ten thousand feet and I'll meet you over Essen," or someplace like that. He never showed up and, to this day, we don't know what happened to him. Now, I don't know if he went the wrong way; you can get confused. Now, one of our flights, got hopped by eight Germans, Hubley was flying number two and he saw number one up in front of him, after an ME-109, so, he flew along side, and then, he looked at his compass and he was heading east and he was flying on the German's wing. So, he says, "Fortunately," he said, "I turned around and they saw I was a '51," and he said, "but I poured the coals to it and I was too fast for them to catch me." You know, some crazy things happen when you got up, heads spinning around.
SI: What would you say was your closest call?
WK: Well, from flak, I think it was on the first mission, because they [were] really pouring it on them, and then. On another mission, we weren't supposed to get involved, but the fellow, the number one man, it was his last mission and he was going to go home. So, first, he shoots, put up some blimps, the Germans used to discourage dive bombing. So, he shoots a couple of those down, and then, we see a big dogfight. So, he said, "Well let's go." So, we go up there and see P-47s and ME-109s, there must have been maybe thirty or forty airplanes all over the sky. So, we see a Focke-Wulf drop out and we go after him and this P-47 came by like we're standing still. I don't know where he started from and he shot him down, but I thought in retrospect, we were kind of dumb, because we looked like '109s, pretty much. So, it's kind of stupid, but we got away with it, but outside of that we didn't see much of the German Air Force, because they had been pretty well cleared out of the sky. One day, at Venlo, we had a German jet buzz us. That was all. I forget what the number was on it, but what he did was kind of comical. He went and he turned around and came back, and then, he went back towards Germany, about, I would say, twenty miles out of the range our anti-aircraft started shooting. The ack-ack guns couldn't get near him, but the big rush was on for shovels to dig foxholes. That lasted about the first and second foxhole and that was the end of that. But the guys that were there before me, they really did the job. On their way back, they dropped down and strafed German airfields and everything else. I think they took a pretty good beating.
SI: What kind of casualties did your unit suffer?
WK: Well, in the month of March, we lost two and the tac recons started in January of '45 and I think, maybe, we lost sixteen altogether or something like that, but, see, the Germans were already on the run to some extent then. They lost the air. I guess it was one of the German generals that said when he saw American fighters over Berlin, then, he knew the jig was up, but they kept fighting anyway.
SI: What did you and the men in your unit think about the Germans as the enemy?
WK: Well, I don't think it got to us like it would to somebody in the infantry. You're in an airplane, you're by yourself; your buddy, you got him in sight and they're shooting flak at you and that kind of stuff, but I've got to figure it's got to be a lot different than somebody aiming a rifle at you. It's close enough to get at you. We could do this jig all around the sky. In fact, one of the fellows I flew with, he was an avid sportsman from Florida and he told me at one of our reunions that he went out duck hunting and he said they started shooting the ducks, started jigging around just like we did, and he said he put his gun away and he never went hunting again. It made an impression on him, but it's no fun, but, unfortunately, it's got to be done.
SI: You were stationed in France first, then, in Belgium and Germany. Did you have any interaction with the civilians in these places?
WK: We had close relationships with the Belgics. We had good relationships with the Dutch. We were inGermany, but right on the line. In fact, we picked up a bartender in Holland and he stayed with us until the end of the war. In Germany, you had a non-fraternization policy, which I thought was stupid. Finally, they changed it, but some of the Germans were pretty thick-headed. We let them get away with it. We were in Stuttgart and the war was over and, while we were waiting to see what was happening, they had no love for anybody wearing wings, because they took such a pounding, and, like, if you're walking on the sidewalk, they would want to force you to the end of the street, but they were old people, so, they know you wouldn't take a poke at them. So, you just ignored [them] and let them go by, but I think the non-fraternization policy, not to great, I don't know. How do you get to know people unless you talk to them? I've got the feeling that there were a lot of people in the German Air Force [that] are rabid Nazis and all that, but I suppose there were a lot of guys in there, too, that were kind of like us and were drafted into it and had to go, but I don't know for sure.
SI: When you did encounter German civilians, many people say that they always said the same thing, "Me no Nazi, me no Nazi."
WK: Well, I never got to really talk to any of them. I know, when I took that jeep trip, just to see what it was like on the ground, they had their white sheets hanging out the windows of their buildings and that kind of stuff, but I never saw anybody on the street. I remember, I wasn't in there too long, I didn't have my first mission, but [I] was trying to go to sleep at night and we were in a schoolhouse. This was in France, I guess, and the bombers were going over and I thought to myself, you know, it seemed to me like a couple of hours, and they were British bombers. I wondered [to] myself, "I wonder what's like to be over there when they come out and start dropping that stuff. I'll never know." I hope I'll never know, anyway.
SI: Were there any superstitions associated with flying? Did anyone keep rabbit's feet or did not want to go on the thirteenth mission, things like that?
WK: Not to my knowledge, but I'm sure there was. We had one fellow, he'd always take a brown bag and he would no sooner take-off and he'd level off and he would throw up in the bag, and then, he'd do his mission, but I guess it was just nerves until he got rid of that, and then, he was in good shape, but I'm sure there were some guys [that] had whatever. I did a lot of praying and [was] more religious, that's something else.
SI: That brings another issue to mind. Were you able to go to services? Was there a chaplain?
WK: Yes. I don't recall ever missing a Sunday service, or I may have. You kind of lose track of time, really. One day is the same as the other, but we always had chaplains. No, I think, in Belgium, I went to the Belgic Church. I'm not sure if we had anybody … when we were in Holland and, when we got into Germany, then, we had chaplains. I know that.
SI: Did you have ready access to hot food and laundry and other amenities?
WK: No. I think, in one field, we had an outhouse to use. Chow was usually in tents or a building basement. It wasn't the greatest, but it was the greatest they could put out for you. When we got into Germany and things started, well, I guess the war was over. We'd get a row boat and go out, a couple of us, and we'd throw a grenade into the water and that would stun the fish and it was my job to jump in and throw the fish in the boat and we had big fish fries and maybe fifty, sixty guys … [would] come in and enjoy the fish, but we had K rations for breakfast. Well, breakfast and dinner, in the mess hall, we'd eat, but, during the day, you'd usually eat K rations or something like that. When we did get into Germany, we had a German, invite us to dinner one night. He had rabbits. Oh, the guys were out taking cars. They had to confiscate their cars. They didn't have to, but we wanted the car and they took his car and he said that he knew where there was a much better one, a Mercedes. So, it was his neighbor's. So, they took that car, too, [laughter] but, then, he wanted to treat us to a rabbit dinner. That was the only contact I had with a German, I guess, but I don't know what he put in the rabbit, but it didn't agree with me the next day.
JE: Were you able to converse with him at all? Did anybody speak German? Did he speak English?
WK: He spoke a little English, but not much, and then, we're not supposed to do it. Now, one of the guys in our outfit; we didn't do a heck of a lot of laundry, I'll tell you that. The poor guys in the infantry, they'd go ninety days without doing laundry at all, but, anyway, this one fellow, he'd been in the Navy and he got a transfer to the Army Air Corps and we were in Nashville Center, where they figure out what you do, and he shows up in a Navy uniform and he's a crazy guy and the MPs asked him what was going on. He said, "Haven't you heard? The Navy is taking this place over." That went through Nashville like wildfire, until the top commanders brought it down, but, all the time we were in Germany, he would trade food for some gal to do his laundry, even though we were on a non-fraternization policy, but he didn't care, which I'm sure they agreed on. We went into Wiesbaden and the war was over and that had been a big German headquarters for the Luftwaffe and good buildings, but they were all messed up. So, I was told to get the plumbing fixed, pretty big concrete buildings. So, somehow or other, I found the unemployment office and there was a plumber there and I came to believe that he probably was involved in building that place, because he knew all the plumbing and he came in with a crew of about ten men and they had that thing all fixed up in about ten days on the second day, he asked me if I would take the guard off him. These fellows weren't going to mess up anything that they needed the work and the food. So, I said, "Okay." So, I took the guard off, but I told one of the guards just to nonchalantly check on them, because the guys would rather play softball anyway and they never messed around, anyway. They did a good job, but some of them could speak English.
One experience in Brussels, I was on leave for a day. So, Phil Gee and I were standing in front of a theater and I … [saw] this attractive girl standing there. I said, "Hey, Phil, there's a good looking chick," and he said, "Oh, I've seen better dogs in a Louisville pound," and, with that, she walks over to us and she said, in clear English, "Pardon me, but could I have a cigarette?" [laughter] It was a lesson. In '62, I took a group of farmers to the Soviet Union. People in Europe, they can speak English and many languages. You take it over here and you don't get to practice, and so, you know, what good is it if you cannot practice it? Anyway it was the Eisenhower People-to- People program and I had forty-two farmers that went and paid their own way. They would only move us at night, by flight, but all were overcast and, to me, the Soviet Union in '62 was just like this country in the Depression. So, I don't know what they were hiding, but, of course, the Cuban fiasco was on at the time and I met an agricultural engineer over there, who's instructing in one of their technical schools, and he took me to the school and his wife was an English teacher and he had this mock up of all these different parts and he said, "Do you recognize those parts?" I'm not a mechanic; I said, "No, I don't." He said, "They were all General Motors;" they were truck parts. So, that's what they were using for instructions, but, even there, they would take me to shows at night, you know, outside, outdoor shows, and some of the people they couldn't translate for, because it was so foreign to the Russian language, but it was interesting. Last time I heard from him was at least fifteen years ago. He had written a book on, what would you say? old-time philosophies and natural tonics for health purposes, and the book … had been approved for printing and had been in Moscow for almost two years, but they didn't have any paper, "Could I arrange to get him paper?" I told him to write to somebody else, but I don't know where he was going to get paper, but, in all the correspondence with him, he never acknowledged receiving a letter, but I could tell from what he was saying, he'd obviously received it, and then, when we had the Freedom of information act in this country, my son is an attorney, said, "Write to Washington. See what they got on you." I wrote down there. They had copies of all the pictures I sent him and everything else. So, we'd say, "Those dirty guys over there, they put their nose into everything." They're no different than we are.
SI: Can I ask one more question about that? How would you compare their agricultural system against what you know of ours?
WK: Well, they had all kinds of equipment and it reminded me of a military vehicle depot. It was all lined up. Most of it didn't work and the reason it didn't work was because they couldn't get parts and they're all state farms or cooperative farms run by the state. They had white leghorn chickens, which are common here, because they were able to breed them to lay the white egg. They called them, they came from Leghorn, Italy, but we were told they were Russian Whites, but they were way, way behind us and one of the fellows on our trip over there was Oscar Grossman, who has a poultry [farm] near Flemington. Oscar had a cage growing operation with about thirty thousand birds in it. So, I get a call from the State Department one day and these Russians were over here and we had visited one of their farms and could they visit some in New Jersey? So, I lined them up and led them to Oscar's farm and we went in there and, of course, they had cages where the chicken lays an egg and it rolls down an incline and goes on to a belt, going to the cooling house. You walked in there and you thought it was raining eggs. I said to Oscar, "What goes on here? I know they didn't lay that much." He said, "Oh, I turned the conveyor belts off at midnight last night." So, he built a stockpile of eggs for the Russians to look at, but he was quite fluent in Russian. In fact, he had a cousin who wrote for Tass and he would tell us at night what the farmer had responded to a question, as [compared] to what the translator gave us. Lo and behold, we left Moscow to come home, his notes had been confiscated. They didn't miss a trick, but it was an experience. They're nice people, Russians, but the young people are trying to get you down an alley to trade all kinds of stuff. You know, I feel sorry. My wife picked up a little clothesline for me to use and little plastic clothes pins that I had hanging up the bathtub or whatever and the Russian woman cleaning the room, boy, she was in tears asking me for that thing. Well, it was just starting out on the trip. I didn't want to get rid of it that early, but, if I had seen her on the return trip, I would have given it to her. Pretty sad, what they put up with, but I went into one of their subways inMoscow and it's clean as a whistle and we had little cards, New Jersey, I had run into a little kid, probably in the fifth grade, he looks at it, "Lake Owassa, New Jersey," he says. I couldn't read their Russian stuff, I'll tell you that, but, anyway, that's not the war.
SI: Could you tell us a little bit about the story behind this piece here? (view)
WK: Well, … in the war, the Russians were coming toward the west and we were going toward the east and it was agreed that the Elbe River would be the boundary line, but who knows? When you're flying, if you get into trouble, where are you going to land? So, these were issued in case we went down in Russian territory, to let them know we were Americans, and, I guess, if you read this in Russian, it says, "Please communicate my particulars to [the] American Military Mission in Moscow." How many fellows went down there, I don't know, but a fellow that I flew with, he hung around over there. In fact, he was going to stay in and he did stay in for a while, but they asked him to take a liaison plane to someplace else in Germany and he said he had an enlisted man with him in the back seat, and they got [to] talking so much, he forgot where he was going and they ended up landing in a field occupied by the Russians and they came out with submachine guns and everything else and he didn't know what to do. So, finally, an officer came out and spoke some English. So, he said, "Well, come in and have dinner anyway," and then, they let him go, but he said, "It's a good thing that Russian officer was there," he said. "We might have been goners."
SI: How did most American servicemen view the Russians?
WK: At least the few infantrymen I talked to, they're concerned about them, because they drank a lot and I guess they'd fire off their guns any time they felt like it. They tell me that the Russians, you know, we had these backpack parachutes and they got P-39s, they were flown from Alaska over to them, and I talked to one fellow and [he] told me that he took a ship over there and he said those Russian pilots would sit around on the ground on his backpack. Well, you hope that thing is going to open up if you have to pull the string on them. They flew the P-39s, and then, later, I guess [they] got some P-63s, but I never saw a Russian aircraft anywhere, but you should talk to an infantryman, I guess, or somebody like that. They probably had a lot closer contact with them.
SI: I get the impression that your life in the field was like a hybrid between an infantryman's existence and that of someone like your brother, who was in the Eighth Air Force. An infantryman is constantly in the field, whereas bomber crews were in combat for seven hours a day, and then, they were back to safety.
WK: Well, we went home at night, but, you see, most of our work was to support them, so, we would try to find everything that might get in their way and get it out of their way. When I rode in that jeep, I was just amazed at the carnage along the road. You know, they used horses and everything else to pull the guns and their ammo or whatnot. Dead horses and this and that, were abundant so, they'd really been worked over, I guess, by the fighter bombers. … I brought home a couple of guns, one is a pistol, but I gave them away, because I'm not a gunman. I appreciate [that] people have guns, other people, because they don't know, the crooks don't know, if I have one or not.
SI: Most airmen that we have interviewed say that they were very detached from the war. They would drop their bombs from thousands of feet up, but, at the time, it really hit you during that trip.
WK: Well, I think that; … of course, I never caught flak at that altitude.
--------------------------------------END OF TAPE TWO, SIDE ONE-------------------------------------
SI: Please, continue.
WK: Well, I was never caught [in] flak at that altitude, so, I don't know what it was it would be like, but, you know, we could see it. We could see the guns shooting at us and the tracers going by, so, I'm sure they could, too, but I think, probably, we got it more intense than they did, but, then, I don't know. Of course, they only had to (smoke their?) target there. They had a much bigger target, spread it around.
JE: You were never attacked by German aircraft.
WK: Aircraft? No, I figured they were scared to death of me. I've [been] going to reunions and ran into a lot of fellows who were in [the] 363rd when it was a fighter group and it's kind of interesting. They told me that their CO was relieved of his command because he didn't get enough kills, his unit; … well, in other words, he stayed with the bombers, to protect them. That's what he instructed his men to do. The Tuskegee Airmen, they're renowned for staying with the bombers to protect them, but this poor guy gets relieved from command for doing the same thing. That showed you a real crazy world, but I think there was a lot of competition among some of the commanders, you know. That's why we're prohibited from firing the guns, because they didn't want us horsing around, looking for enemy aircraft kills, rather than doing the job you're supposed to do and, when they nailed my leader for shooting down those blimps, he said, well, he considered them a hazard to safe flight, so, he had a right to shoot them down, but he didn't care anyway. He was going on his way home.
SI: Did anyone in your unit ever have any sort of mental difficulty, for example, could not go back out, could not bring himself to fly again?
WK: I think there was one fellow, but I'm not sure about it. They made him the PX officer and we didn't have a PX and I don't know what his problem was, but, then, there was one fellow they sent home. He had quite a few missions in, but they sent him home because, at the dinner table, they say he would use his fork to get the crumbs out of his mustache and all other nonsense and they thought he was trying to flip his lid, so, they sent him on, but most of the guys, I'd say, [were] solid. You don't know what's in a person's mind. I never knew of anybody to would refuse a mission.
JE: Did everyone mesh together and worked together well or were there difficulties there?
WK: None at all. We were all trained the same way. You know, the biggest problem I had, coming home, was driving a car, because I knew what the other guy was going to do in the other airplane, but, when cars were coming for me, I didn't know what that guy was going to do and, you know, it took me a good month to get over that; still crazy driving a car out there. [laughter] No, we were all trained the same way … and there was one thing you could always count on, is that the guy with you would stick with you and, when they did get separated, which was an occasion, they try to get together again right away, but sometimes they did and sometimes they can't, but, when they got separated, as far as I know, I guess there were a couple of times they were able to rejoin, but, lots of times, I guess you go all over the sky and there's all airplanes and you're looking for one guy, it's kind of hard to do. I'm sure everybody felt the same way. I think you'd be totally embarrassed to refuse a mission. Sometimes, the flight surgeon would knock you down. You know, [if] you had a bad cold or something like that, he'd say, "No way, you don't go." By the way, my CO was a Lehigh graduate and he was the highest paid man in the squadron. He was a light colonel, so, they'd all play poker and he would pretty well clean them out, but my roommate fromNorth Carolina taught me how to play bridge and we took him and his partner for a penny a point and we did pretty well. [laughter]
SI: What else could you do for recreation? What were your options?
WK: Well, when we got into Venlo, the Germans left a lot of motorcycles there, so, we started motorcycle races and the Colonel had to stop that before somebody got killed. That was wild, so, he confiscated all of them, but several fellows would find a place to fish. I wasn't much of a fisherman, but, if you got leave, you tried to get intoBrussels or someplace like that. I was offered … a trip down in the Mediterranean coast. I guess it was kind of dumb, but they weren't letting my buddy go on the same trip, so, I declined it. I think they did some of the stuff intentionally. [laughter] Who knows? but it happened after the CO came in to visit our room and the fellows who train with us were in the 161st, that was another tac recon squad, and they all got promoted to first lieutenant. … The CO came over to play bridge with us one night and we had, painted on the wall, "Morale Chart," and we had the line going down across the room and up the other side, because we didn't get our promotions yet. Well, a week later, we got the promotions, but I think that's why he nailed me on the trip. [laughter] He stayed in. He became a general. He came out of Lehigh. I guess he was an engineer, but I'm not sure, but he was a pretty nice guy, was from Grosse Point, Michigan. I was surprised, that a guy from Michigan, in car country, would send somebody to Lehigh. They must have had a good opinion of Lehigh.
SI: What about things like drinking and gambling?
WK: We got whiskey rations and the Christmas party had to be postponed on account of the Bulge and most of us hung on to our booze, and then, when [we] had the Christmas party, we put it on the bar for the enlisted men or anybody. I don't even remember anybody getting drunk though. When we got on leave, I'm sure they must have hung one on, like in Brussels or something like that. We drank champagne out of beer steins after the war, but you get enough of that. That was it and I think we could tolerate more than we could today. You know, one of those steins today would knock me for a loop. I didn't feel there was so much drinking. There was a lot of smoking. I never got to smoke. In fact, the cigarettes I would give to the other guys, but, you know, they go after the tobacco companies, I think they should have gone after Hollywood, too. Even today, they promote smoking. I guess it pays off. Do you smoke?
WK: I don't think a guy in his right mind would drink and try to fly an airplane, crazy, because, [if] he had vertigo and everything else, he wouldn't even know the difference. Going through Maxwell Field, they put you in these pressure chambers and they teach you how to use an oxygen mask, and then, they'd come along and they'd pull it off and they tell you to sign your name and you think, "Man, I'm doing great," and then, you look at what you signed, couldn't figure it out, but we were on oxygen all the time, even at low altitudes, because they didn't want you fiddling around, trying to put an oxygen mask on. What they do now, like, I know friends at the 177th, the Air Guard, and they take-off and they make a steep turn and they have a temporary blackout, but, if they don't pull out of that right away, they go back to the base and land, they don't fly. So, the G forces are pretty intense with what they're flying. They have F-16s now, which are pretty fast, but I suppose I don't know if anybody got sick … and had his own burp bag. So, if you want to look at pictures, you're welcome to it. I did an autobiography for my grandchildren and, of course, you tell them today and they say, "Oh, yes," and that's the end of that. I'm not going to give it to them until they graduate from college.
JE: Now, they have this as well.
SI: When the war ended in Europe, did you think that you were going to be sent to the Pacific?
WK: Oh, yes. [The] 161st was called and they were in Marseilles, on a ship to go to the Pacific, and we figured we'd be next, but they got home before us. We ran a taxi service at the end of the war for people who were sending the troops back and put them in the back. Then, we had to turn in the aircraft and this is government for you. You land and you taxi in. You get out of the airplane and they send an inspector out and the only thing he checked was the eight-day clock in the airplane. If that was there, everything was fine. I don't know what they did with the clocks. Maybe he was collecting it for himself. Oh, I thought we'd go to the Pacific, but that ended in a hurry and we weren't upset we didn't go. My buddy went there that had broken his ankle. … Well, he was in the Flying Tigers, but they were in the Air Corps then, but I guess he wasn't there too long when it ended, too. He didn't have too much to say [about] how it was. I don't believe they had much aerial opposition.
SI: How quickly were you discharged? What was the process of being discharged like?
WK: Oh, we landed in New York and they took us up to New York State. What's the name of that place? It's just across the; Camp Shanks. Then, I got on the telephone and my parents came the next day and I went home and I think, about two days later, I was down in Fort Dix and I was separated. So, it was real fast.
SI: Why did you choose to stay in the reserves?
WK: Oh, I always liked to fly and I thought I could contribute something. I enjoyed it, the camaraderie and [the] same kind of guys. Most of them were from World War II when I went into it. So, now, it's altogether different. I think they're really killing the Reserves, but that's personal. I've been very active with the State Committee for Employer Support for the Guard and the Reserve and fellows would go on duty, like your two-week training and all that. They were to give their orders to the employer ahead of time, so he could make adjustments, but, now, you know, for this thing, [the War in Iraq], they don't go for two weeks. They might go for three months or whatever and the employers, I think, are going to be scared off, because, if you're a small employer and … you have three employees, and then, they take one or two away from you, you're in the soup. I don't know what they're going to do about that, but it's working out great for the airline pilots right now, because so many got laid off. Most of them flew in the Reserve or the Guard anyway. When I joined the Air Guard down here, one of the fellows, he was an instrument instructor and a captain on United Airlines and on the Berlin Airlift. He was sent over there as an instructor. So, he comes back and Bethlehem Steel hired him as a corporate pilot in charge of their fleet and, two years later, they sold the fleet off and this poor guy had lost his seniority and everything. The last I heard, he was flying over in Africa. So, I don't know how he made out. Are you going to keep this?
SI: How quickly were you back at Rutgers?
WK: In February. Well, I got back before Thanksgiving, I think it was, and my day of separation was December 13th, and then, I was in Rutgers in February, so, that worked out pretty good, but, as I say, it's a different world here now.
SI: Were most of your classmates veterans or were they kids straight out of high school? Was it a mixture?
WK: It was a mixture, yes. I guess you could tell the veterans just by looking at their clothes. Most of us wore out our uniforms and would defer buying new clothes, [laughter] but there were a lot of young people in there just out of high school.
JE: Was there any tension between the veterans and the young kids?
WK: No. I think the tension, if any, was between the profs and the veterans. I complained one time about organic chemistry. To me, it was a lot of memory. I didn't see much sense in memory. I think you'd try to understand the problem and put it together and Prof Helyar was in charge of all admissions out at the Ag School. So, I complained to him about it and he said, "When you were here as a freshman, you wouldn't have sounded off like that." [laughter] So, I don't think it was any tension, really, but the guys would say what they felt.
JE: From what I understand, before the war, the professors were an unquestionable figure.
WK: Yes, it was. Yes, he was the big cheese. I know, I had an argument with an economics prof. I guess that was before the war, though. He came from Europe, but I don't know where. He had an accent and he didn't know why farmers didn't feed the world and I asked him, "Now, where do the farmers get the money from to buy the gas and the seed and everything to produce that stuff if you want them to give it away?" Oh, I'm sure he was a Socialist, but he never responded to me, but I think, after the war, I would have laid him out. I had a friend and he was in the Marines, maybe you know him, Grant Walton, he was the dean of the Ag School. Well, Grant was a 175- pound boxing champion in the Marines and he told me that he came back here and he was teaching a class, I don't know what it was, probably in the environment, because he did a lot of work in that field, and he said the students are there, talking to one another, and he said, "I said to them, Hey, the next one of you guys to open your mouth, you and I are going to step outside and we're going to see who can fight," and he said he never heard another peep out of them, but he said he was really burned up that they would sit there and, while he's trying to teach, … they interrupt the thing. So, I don't know if that goes on today or not. The rooms are so big; you don't have the personal contact
JE: People could be talking in the back and you would never know.
WK: Yes, and I'm sure.
SI: We talked about the changes between pre-war and post-war Rutgers. Could you talk a little more about your favorite professors or any interaction that you had with Professor Helyar?
WK: Oh, Professor Helyar and Prof Skelly and I can't think of his name, I had a histology professor here, I thought he was the greatest, because, if I had been introduced to him earlier, I think I would have given the medical route [a try], for he was really good. I never had any problems with the professors here. I thought they were all pretty substantial and they had personal contact with you. I don't know what happened before the war, but my wife and I, we weren't married at the time, we were having a few beers and Prof Skelly came in and he gave us a round; he didn't have to do that. That's just the kind of a guy he was. He'd do anything for anybody. I'm sure of that. He wasn't married and he had been a catcher in the minor leagues, but he'd never been a big time [player]. He came from Ohio, but I had one English professor here, after the war, and I wrote some kind of a paper, you know, we were obligated to do and I learned from Prof. Skelly that Swift and Company was going to give you a free trip if you had the best paper. It had something to do with meat marketing. So, I used that paper for English and I got a free ride to Swift, treated out there royally for a week. I told the English Prof and he was delighted. I'm sure he was impressed. I never got around to tell him that mine was the only paper he got from Rutgers and it was one guy from each ag school across the country, but he was a good instructor. No, I thought Rutgers was well worthwhile. It was just, the changeover, to me, became a factor, when I came back here, compared to what it was, … and that was a little bit of a let down, but that's life.
SI: How important was the GI Bill in your life?
WK: I told you before, I was banking money with the GI Bill, because of the other jobs, but I'm sure a lot of fellows had to hang right on to that for everything. My mother kept books and, when we got finished, my brothers and whatnot, you had to kick back in to help support the next one. So, I was the last one. It only cost me 850 dollars to go to Rutgers. So, I don't know what the other brothers paid or anything like that for four years.
JE: How did you and your wife meet?
WK: Well, I went to a parochial school in Ridgewood, and then, for the ninth grade, Midland Park had a ninth grade and they shipped all their students to Pompton Lakes High School. So, I met her in the ninth grade, but we didn't talk to each other, and then, she went to Pompton Lakes and I went to Paterson, and then, when I came home from the war, my buddy, he was already home and he was dating her girlfriend and he said, "Why don't you call her?" So, I called and she was nuts enough to go out with me. So, that started it and, four years later, we got married. … For one year, she went up to Centenary in Hackettstown. Her father had a lumber business inPaterson and she said the lumber business wasn't all that great and she didn't feel he had the money to be sending her there. I guess that was a pretty expensive school, so, she quit after a year, and then, she ended up in, … it was a plant in Clifton. She couldn't resist my good looking daredevil, so we got married.
JE: Pilot aura.
WK: No, not really, but, as I said to you before, we had two sons. There were twenty-three children in the next generation. I think all of them went to college, but only one came to Rutgers. To Syracuse, Georgetown, name it, they're all over the place. My one son applied here. He's the one who's an oral surgeon now and he never heard from them and I was down working in the Legislature one day and ran into the fellow who lobbied for Rutgers down there and I told him, about it and he said to me, "Why didn't you me a call? They would give him a five-dollar tour," and I thought, "Well, that's something. The State University and you've got to know somebody to get a five dollar tour." Anyway, he ended up in Drexel. Then, he ended up in dental school and, you know, it's an interesting thing, he waited until he got a biology degree up at Fairleigh Dickinson before he applied for dentistry and they told him they would have taken him with two years of engineering. It must have something to do with bridgework, [laughter] that's what I can figure. Well, I don't get [it], but they said they would have taken him. Then, he ended up over in Bellevue and the fellow told him to go over there. He said, "There's only one place you'll get that kind of experience and that's in the battlefield," and I guess he was right. I went up there once and, you know, they get into Saturday night fights, with broken jaws and everything else, and he had to learn to speak Spanish, to converse with them up there, but he's doing quite well now, so, he's not mad at Rutgers, either. [laughter]
SI: I have interviewed a number of aggies. I am always surprised by the variety of careers that come out of there. It seems like you are one of the few people that I have interviewed that actually went into the field of agriculture.
WK: Well, I'd have gone to Ag even if I was shooting for medical school because they said, "You get just as much or more science and it's cheaper." You know, to each his own; well, I don't know. I know some of them ended up as furniture salesmen and all that kind of thing.
SI: Yes, mostly doctors, scientists at the pharmaceutical companies, researchers that sort of thing, or they stayed in the military.
SI: Do you know Walter Kaenzig, from your brother's class?
WK: No, '42?
SI: They went down to enlist after Pearl Harbor. The Navy was there that day and they filled out their application and they put College of Agriculture. The guy comes over and says, "College of Agriculture? What are you going to do, raise potatoes on a battleship?" [laughter] and they said, "Well, this guy does not know what he is talking about, because we do a lot of science and technical stuff." So, they just said, "Ah, who's coming next week? The Marine Corps," and he was in the Marine Corps for twenty years.
WK: Like a friend of mine, he retired from the Air Force a bird colonel and he was in Europe and they asked him where he wanted to go for his very last assignment and he said, "Anyplace on the West Coast." So, he ended up at McGuire.
SI: Yes, sounds about right.
WK: But, he liked it here. He stayed here.
SI: Do you have any other questions?
SI: Do you have anything else to add?
WK: Do they teach shorthand anymore? [laughter]
SI: Do you want to say anything else about your career? We talked a little bit about the turkeys.
WK: When I first got out and I was waiting to get into the vet school, my brother, Joe, was managing an Angus breeding herd over at Red Bank. So, I worked with him until I got the word from the Guelph that I would be accepted in 1954. Then, I went with (CV Whitney?) out on Long Island. The Guelph Whitneys who owned it and they had a show herd of Angus cattle and they had a racing stable and the breeding herd was down in Kentucky. So, I worked with the show herd and we went to the nationals out in Chicago, went out on a special car on a train. Coming back, it was cold as could be and I slept with the cattle, because they were warm and they never complained a bit about my snoring either, which was kind of a relief, but, then, I decided to move on. So, then, I went with a Guernsey herd and you milk them three times a day, by hand, and, of course, you're getting the most milk out of them that you can and it gets very critical. If you give them too much feed, they go into what they call acetomevia and they wouldn't eat at all. So, you kind of balance; you're trying to push them, but not too far. Then, I decided that was a road to nowhere, either. So, then, I just went home and I guess I sent about sixty letters out to different feed companies and an outfit up in (Cayuga?), New York, came down and interviewed me and I was a service rep over in Pennsylvania; people having trouble with their stock, I'm supposed to resolve it for them and I stayed with them, and then, a fellow from Long Island contacted me about the turkey thing. We raised and sold a half million broilers and fifty thousand turkeys every year. It was all retail. In fact, when we ran out of turkeys, we would get down to Swift's and buy their frozen turkeys and pull the plastic off them and put a new hang tag on them and they were fresh killed turkeys, [laughter] but, anyway, I really liked it there and work with the pullets. I was in charge of the pullets. They come in, they were a day old and if it gets too cold they pile up and they smother each other and, [if] it gets too hot, they go out, and then, they get cold. So, you had to go out there and every couple of hours and walk through and make sure they're okay, but, anyway, I enjoyed it, but he had a son coming out of Cornell Ag School and the fellow he had as a top manager, he graduated from NYU and I figured, "Hey, I might be in a dead end here." So, then, I decided I'm going to go in the turkey business for myself, so, we moved back. I moved back home, with my wife, back to Midland Park and I was interested in [land] up in Franklin Lakes, but I didn't have the bucks, but, boy, if I had money to bum, I'll end up in Franklin Lakes and you'll never see me around here again, but, anyway, one thing led to another and I felt it was over my head, but what I was doing [was], I was working the shift at Wright's and I was a material review inspector. So, when the part came on, [if] it wasn't the blueprint specifications, I was supposed to determine whether it could be used or reworked or had to be scrapped. It was a joke, because the engineer had to come around and review my work, and if he didn't agree with me, he'd call the final shot, but that was all right, but I worked the second shift there, with the idea that, you know, I could look around in the daytime, but, I tell you, when you work second shift, you don't get to sleep until about three o'clock in the morning and, by the time you wake up, you're ready for lunch. So, then, my brother, Joe, was offered a job with the State Department of Agriculture. He wasn't particularly interested in it, so, he told me they wanted to talk me. So, I got in down there and I was, at first, with the Loan Fund for 4-H and FFA Kids, and then, I moved up from there and I retired as assistant secretary of the outfit. I worked with the Legislature and the Governor's office and that kind of stuff, of course, farmers. Farms are disappearing rapidly.
SI: Yes, agriculture has changed a lot.
WK: The only ones that might survive here, I think, are the nurserymen. Everybody wants a pretty landscape, although, the day will come; oh, they're already shipping out from Tennessee and those areas that can grow it cheaper down there than we can, but some of them are hanging on. It doesn't prevail any more, but I remember talking to one farmer and he was a soybean grower and he said, "I can compete with any of those guys out West," and I said, "How do you figure that?" He said, "Because I don't have a mortgage to pay. It's free and clear," but, you know how many guys today are going to start out and be free and clear of their mortgage and the equipment they build today. You know, you've got to have a hundred acres to turn the thing around. I'll tell [you] the price of machinery, but some guys will make it. One fellow I got to know pretty well, he was an advertising man over in New York and he got tired of sitting in an office and he went up into Morris County and he got into truck farming and he sold everything in his farm market there and he's quite successful, because he was a real goer and I ran into him a couple of months ago and he sold the place off and, now, he's a consultant to the Chinese government and he's teaching them how to grow asparagus and I said, "Really?" He said, "Yes, I go over three times a year, at their expense, working." He says, "How big do you think the farm is?" I have no idea. "Sixteen square miles." Can you imagine that? and he said, "What do you think of their irrigation system?" I said, "No, what do they do?" He said, "They use sprinkling cans." They have so many people over there, [to] keep them busy, that's what they do with them.
WK: So, if he's successful, we're going to have asparagus out of our ears. [laughter] I always liked farm people. I think they're down to earth. They've got a tough battle in this state. It's funny; I have a group I meet with once a month, the guys who retired from the State, budget office and all that kind of stuff, and they said to me one day, "How come agriculture makes out so well in the State?" I said, "Because the legislature doesn't know much about agriculture," and they said, "Well, doesn't that apply to everything else?" [laughter] I don't know.
SI: Were you able to work with Rutgers in the Extension Service?
WK: Oh, yes, very closely. Well, of course, they have the county agents in all the counties and part of my job was to go around and visit the county boards of agriculture and the agent was always there and, even when I was working for The Beacon Milling Company, they were in Pennsylvania, I had the southeast corner. If I had something I couldn't diagnose, I'd run over here to the college at the Poultry Building. The vets there would tell me what the problem was. So, we've always had a very close relationship with the college, … the department's seeds program, depends on the plant breeders up here to maintain a competitive program. I think we tried to help each other, though. The change in name, what do you call it now? Is it environmental science?
SI: Agricultural and environmental science.
WK: Well, politically, it was a good move, but some of the farmers got upset. Well, we have Garden State farmer on the license plates now. You've got to have research and you've got to be on top of things and, cut that back, it hurts them, because they're competing with people who do have those resources in their states. This is a highly populated state that presents unique problems for the farm community. … We're over seven million, right,New Jersey?
JE: 8.2 million.
WK: 8.2, yes. Was that yesterday or the day before. [laughter]
SI: If there are no more questions, is there anything you would like to put on the record or anything you would like to add?
WK: No, not really. I think we pretty [much] covered it. Rutgers is standing up and I hope they continue to prosper. They have a tough road ahead, I'll tell you that. Do you have any foreign students here?
SI: Yes. What is it, ten percent?
WK: I don't know what Princeton gets. They might get more.
SI: We will just conclude the interview. We will turn off the machine. Thank you very much.
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Reviewed by Hans Zimmerer 10/25/04
Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 11/16/04
Reviewed by William Kenny 1/19/04