Kurt Piehler: This begins an interview with Kenneth Kaiser on October 20, 1998, at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey with Kurt Piehler ...
SJ: And Steven Jonas.
KP: And I guess I'd like to begin by asking a little bit about your parents. ... Your father was originally from Jersey City?
Kenneth Kaiser: Both my mother and father, and I, were originally from Jersey City. We grew up there, and my parents had lived there all their lives, until 1942, when they moved out to Summit, and I moved with them. So, city born and bred, but the time that I lived in Jersey City, my folks lived with my mother's father on what he had had as a farm down in the Greenville section. It had gradually been reduced in size by sale of property, to a point where there were two gardens in it that measured, one about twenty feet by twenty, and the other one, maybe thirty by thirty. But there were flowers and lawn all over the property, which was about 150 by 200 feet, so it was pretty extensive. And I grew up in the big house, it was an 1865 Victorian type of house, and I grew up in the big house in the neighborhood. My yard was big enough for all the kids to play in. We used to play, actually, a shrunken size of baseball, we had a basketball court in the yard, and even a big barn in the back, which housed four cars, and we had a handball court up against it. So it was kind of like the sports arena in the place.
KP: It sounds like your grandparents, and your parents, did well by selling off this land?
KK: I suppose. Yes.
KP: What did your father do for a living?
KK: Well, he was chief accountant for the A & P during my growing up years. He had been in the banking business initially. But he worked in New York, commuted everyday.
KP: So he would take the Trans-Hudson?
KK: No, he took the Jersey Central Railroad, and then the ferry, and the subway in New York.
KP: ... Oh, okay.
KK: In those days we had train service. When I started to work I did the same thing. I worked down in the Wall Street area, and we used to pay fifteen cents for a round trip ticket on the train, after walking about six blocks to the station, and then get a free ride on the ferry. And we would buy a bag of peanuts before we got on the ferry, and throw the peanuts to the seagulls. So, we entertained ourselves.
KP: You mentioned you had the big house with the big yard for your neighborhood friends. What was your neighborhood like?
KK: It was mostly tightly packed houses. It was a combination, Irish and Italian neighborhood. I was probably the only Protestant boy there, and in my younger boyhood years, it was shortly after the first World War ended, and because my name was Kaiser, everybody associated me with being German, which my grandparents were. And I was always the bad guy, and I was always being shot down by the good guys. [Laughter]
KP: When you say you were always being shot down, you were playing war?
KK: We were playing war. We were playing airplanes. We had a back porch that went all across the house. One end of the porch was my cockpit, and I had my, so-called, machine gun there, and the others were down at the other end of the porch, coming down on my tail to shoot me down.
SJ: The Red Baron.
KK: Yes, not quite. But, almost.
KP: One of the things I, unfortunately, have never been into the two theaters, but Jersey City had some wonderful theaters downtown. Did you ever go to the movies?
KK: Oh, yes. The famous one we went to was right next to one of my schools. It was on Danforth Avenue. It was an old theater, and we called it "The Itch." We would pay a nickel, and we would go in on Saturday afternoon, and we would see two full length feature movies. This was in the "Rin-Tin-Tin" days. And we would have a comedy, and coming attractions, all for a nickel. Then we would come out. My mother insisted, the minute I got home, I take off all my clothes, put them in the laundry, and go take a bath.
KP: What schools did you go to in Jersey City? Do you remember?
KK: I went to the public school system. Public School Number Thirty. I started in the first grade. There were no kindergartens in those days. And our classes, our year, was split in two parts, so that I went into One-A first, and then I was promoted to One-B, and I went through the fourth grade in that school. That was about four blocks from home, and then I moved up to a larger school, which was Number Twenty on Danforth Avenue, right next to the movie. And I went through the fifth and sixth grade there, and then seventh grade was a long enough distance off that we sometimes took the public bus service, and sometimes walked. It was about a mile and a half to school. And I went from the seventh grade right on up through high school there, and graduated from high school. And that was Henry Snyder High School.
KP: ... I assume you were in the college track.
KK: Yes. We had four tracks. There was a college track, a general track, a commercial track, and an industrial track. And even though I was in the college track, and took more of what we would now call "the liberal arts" type of courses, we had to take some commercial courses, and we had to take some industrial courses. We had a woodworking course, and an electrical course, and a metal working course. And I took typing, and shorthand, and of all the subjects that I had in school, I think maybe my typing was the most valuable. Because I can trace promotions, both in the military service and in the business world, to the fact that I can sit at a typewriter and type.
KP: You mentioned you were the one Protestant kid in an overwhelmingly Catholic neighborhood.
KP: What was that like?
KK: Well, in some respects it was no different from anything else, because we were all on the same ball teams. We had neighborhood ball teams, we had neighborhood gangs. We would fight with gangs from other neighborhoods. We would play baseball against kids from other neighborhoods. The big thing about it was, that there was a lot of age rivalry. My age group was a pretty compatible group, but most of the fellows had older brothers. And we didn't get along no how with the older brothers, and they were always trying to pull stunts on us, and we were trying to get even with them. I lived a block from the railroad tracks. This was a main line on the B & O Railroad, and the Reading, and Jersey Central Railroad, and on the opposite side of the railroad tracks were wide opened fields. We used to have our ball fields over there. And from time to time, and in a sense of possessiveness, we would dig caves and try to cover them over with roofing material, and then put grass on top so nobody would know where they were. And ... the bigger fellows in the neighborhood loved to find these caves, and wreck 'em. And so it was a constant struggle going on. As I look back on it now, it was not what I would consider a peaceful existence, because it was always competition, and the competition often ended up with fisticuffs.
KP: So fisticuffs was not an uncommon thing in your neighborhood?
KK: Oh, no. No. It was very, very frequent.
KP: How did the Great Depression affect your family?
KK: Well, I think probably I was the only family in the area that was relatively unaffected by the Depression. My father had just started to work for the A & P before the Depression hit, and he was retained ... while most people, if their work continued, were asked to take salary cuts. My father wasn't. So we did ... very, very well. In fact, well enough so that my father could buy an automobile in 1931, which was right after the start of the Depression. And here we were with a shiny new Oldsmobile, and most of the other people didn't have cars.
KP: Didn't have one?
KK: Didn't have cars, no. See, I only had to walk a half a block to a bus. And ... there was a choice of bus lines. Half a block or a block, and we could go in different areas of Jersey City. So we really didn't need a car while we were ...
KP: While you were growing up.
KK: In the city. It was only when we wanted to get out of the city that we needed it.
KP: Invariably Jersey City in the '20s, '30s, and '40s is identified with Frank Hague.
KK: Oh, was it ever.
KP: Yes, I know. I'd be curious, you know more.
KK: My father was a avid Republican, and he used to go around nailing up posters on the telegraph poles in favor of the Republicans. There'd be a policeman following him to tear them down. [Laughter] In fact, my father was told he had better stop it, or else he'd end up in jail. He was not gonna give up on that.
KP: Yes. Because Republicans in Jersey City, particularly in that era, were very outnumbered.
KK: Yes. Right. Certainly were.
KP: What led your parents to move from Jersey City? Because ... you had grown up in Jersey City, and they had strong family ties there.
KK: Well, my folks wanted to get out into the country. They wanted to get away from Jersey City. They really didn't like it. None of us liked it. My grandfather owned this house which was deteriorating, and becoming increasingly expensive for him to maintain, so he was willing to sell. He wanted to get out into an area where it was more what we would ... now call "suburban." Actually, we moved into an area in Summit that was well built-up. So it wasn't that much different. But it was a totally different kind of community, and so we rejoiced to be able to be out of the city.
KP: So ... Jersey City was a place, it sounds like you had, even when you were living there, a love/hate relationship.
KK: Oh, yes. Yes. It's a community. I'll say it was, because the community has changed so much now, it's built up so much more, and so much more crowded. So I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Jersey City, but I don't want to go back and see it again. We've gone back a few times, and I'm not particularly enthralled with what I see. Although the way they're rebuilding the waterfront is interesting.
KP: Yes. The waterfront used to be all desolate, and now ...
KK: Well, there were always railroads. And when I was growing up the railroad activity was real brisk. But as soon as that died out, then the whole area deteriorated.
SJ: Just to go back a brief period of time, with the Depression, and when your father had bought that nice, shiny automobile, how did the kids and the neighbors treat you guys after you bought this nice new car?
KK: Oh, they wanted to ride in it. What ended up was that, as we grew up, and ... more and more of us went to the Snyder High School, which I said was a mile and half or so away, the kids were very happy that my father would offer them rides to school. So he would drive, and there'd be five or six of us squeezed into the car. That wasn't everyday, but in nice weather ... we would always walk. But whenever it was not too good, rather than get on the bus, which became very, very crowded, he would drive us.
KP: ... I take it your parents assumed you would be going to college, growing up.
KK: That is an assumption from the very beginning, and my goal was to go to Princeton. What happened, changed my goal, was that I decided, as I was going through high school, I became increasingly interested in journalism, and Princeton didn't have any journalism program. So I never thought of going into English, and advancing into journalism that way. That was not a part of it. I wanted to take a journalism course.
KP: You wanted journalism right away.
KK: And I wanted to be a sports reporter. So I found out that there was a scholarship offered, a Bacon Scholarship for a student from Hudson County who wanted to study journalism. So as soon as I found out about that, in my senior year in high school, I applied for it, and fortunately I received it. So that sealed the fact that I'd come to Rutgers.
KP: I'm curious, you were interested in sports journalism. I take it you were a sports fan growing up?
KK: Oh, yes. Sports was a big part of our life, and our conversation. ... I think all of my father's brothers, there were three of them, all played semi-pro baseball in Jersey City. And I had another uncle who also played, so that was a big part of our lives. And, as I said, we had a basketball, space for a basketball court in our backyard. So when we weren't into baseball, we were into basketball.
KP: ... What about teams, watching professional and semi-professional teams? Did you have any ...
KK: I wasn't even aware that there was any professional teams in other sports than baseball. ... The first year I became interested in baseball, was 1931, and the Philadelphia Athletics were in the World Series. And Lefty Grove was the pitcher, I was a southpaw, and anybody who threw with their left hand, I liked. And he was the star pitcher of that series, so I became interested in baseball, and him, at that time.
SJ: Did you have a favorite team?
SJ: I mean, being in Jersey City was very close to New York, and back then you had the Brooklyn Dodgers, you had the Giants, you had the Yankees. There was a big rivalry between them.
KK: Well, Jersey City had its own International League team, and that was what we rooted for, and the big rival was Newark.
KP: So you rooted against the Newark Bears?
KK: Oh, yes. Now the Newark Bears was a farm club of the New York Yankees. So while we loved the Jersey City team, which was called the Skeeters, and I don't know that they ever won a game, and Newark always won games, and we hated Newark, therefore we hated the Yankees.
KK: As a sports team. I have a cousin whom I grew up with, and he was a real fan of the New York Giants. So I used to support him in rooting for the Giants.
KP: You decided to come to Rutgers. Had you applied anywhere else?
KP: So once you got this scholarship ...
KK: That was it.
KP: That was pretty central. I guess one question, initially, in terms of journalism, you ultimately didn't become a journalist, but ...
KK: Well, in my junior year, which was when we really go into the full journalism mode, one of the courses we had was advertising, and that was so fascinating to me. Of course, two mornings a week we spent the whole morning as putting out a theoretical newspaper. We did reporting, we did editing, and so forth. And so, most of our time was spent on that phase of it, but we did have this minor course in journalism on advertising. And I became enamored with that, so I did go into the advertising business.
KP: So there is a real correlation between your journalism major and what you ... ultimately did.
KK: Oh, right. Right. Right.
KP: So, although you didn't become a sports writer, like you set out ...
KK: No. That ended my freshman year in college. [Laughter] I was the third assistant to the deputy sports writer for the Targum, or something like that way down the line.
SJ: Low man on the totem pole.
KP: I guess in terms of college memories, I mean, you came to campus in 1937. It was a much smaller campus.
KK: Oh, yes.
KP: Even by the standards of Rutgers of that day, because I've gotten the sense that, you know, sizes were very variable. With some of the years of the Depression it was really tough for students to stay here. Any distinct memories you have of your first year, particularly of freshman initiation, wearing the dinks?
KK: Well, the thing that impressed me, the first day on campus I was walking. My dormitory was Pell Hall, which is in the original quad, and I was walking down to Winants, to the dining hall. And this was the first morning, and there were a couple of fellows walking along in front of me, and we all had our little hats on. Something about them seemed like it was green. I don't remember whether the whole thing was green, or just the peak. But anyhow, we had them on, and this one fellow who was in front of me turned around introduced himself to me, and at that point he and I became good friends, at least for freshman year. He left school after freshman year. But that was, the thing that I realized was that, "Yeah. Here I was, walking by myself. If I want to be friendly with somebody, I need to stretch out my hand." So I learned real fast the value of initiating a conversation.
KP: From Rutgers?
KK: Yes. Yes, that first day. And so, that was helpful all through my life.
KP: You lived in a dormitory your first year. When did you join a fraternity?
KK: I had a friend who was a year ahead of me at Rutgers. He was a sophomore when I was a freshman. And the rushing season began in November. I think it was at the end of the first marking period, and he invited me as soon as the rushing season began to come up to his house for a meal. And I liked it so much that I joined the fraternity in February. And that was Lambda Chi Alpha, which is no longer on campus.
KP: And do you have any memories, distinct memories, of your initiation to the fraternity?
KK: Oh, yes. I was tired. We had to wear the same clothes all week, and we couldn't take them off to sleep. But there was no point to trying to sleep, because ... we had to do our regular school work, and then, every night, there was a study period. We had to spend about three hours in the evening studying, and then after that we had house assignments. Our class, going through initiation, had to paint the lower level of the fraternity house, the basement level. And I'll never forget. The paint was given to us, and it was a mild color of blue. Blue had always been my favorite color. And by seeing all that paint, and all these bleary eyed late night sessions, I began to hate that color. [Laughter] I still have a lot of blue on, but I overcame that.
KP: So I have a feeling that during your initiation, you weren't, sort of, dumped somewhere at night, or ...
KK: No, they didn't do those kind of things.
KP: It sounds like they ... just had you do things around the fraternity house.
KK: Yes. Yes. And as I was going through college, the idea of service projects during initiation came up, so that we were trying to do positive things. It wasn't the malicious mischief that everybody hears about.
KP: Yes, because a lot of people have talked about, I think particularly in some other fraternities, really remember hazing was actually pretty brutal.
KK: Yes, well, there were some things about it which weren't too kind. But for the most part it was a positive experience. One thing I remember, at the end of the week, on Friday night, the initiation into the fraternity began, and it lasted until ... Sunday afternoon. And the Friday night at dinner they told us that, "Okay, you need to be in good shape for this. So we will call off the hazing, and you don't have to work tonight, and you can go to bed early." So I guess most of us were in bed and asleep by nine o'clock, and along about eleven-thirty somebody comes along and shakes us up, "Okay, get up. We're gonna start now." [Laughter] So we were up for the rest of the night, and then the next day we had to wear formal clothes. We had to wear a tuxedo for the dinner part of the initiation ceremony. And I can remember we were the saddest looking bunch of sacks at the time we had our pictures taken. Well, I don't know, I guess there were pictures taken, but we had to go to the dinner all dressed up formally. And so, that was the end of the initiation.
SJ: At what point of your college career did you realize, I guess, the existence of Douglass College, or introduced to the merits of Douglass College?
KK: Well, we had a social interchange program in the very beginning. We had freshman dances in the Rutgers gym, which was up on College Ave. I guess there is still a gym up there.
KP: Yes. The old gym.
SJ: The old gym is still there.
KK: Yes. Okay.
KP: Then it was the new gym.
KK: Yes, then it was the new gym. Right. And so, these bus-loads of girls from what was then NJC would come over, and they would come in on one side, and we'd be on the other side, and supposed to mix up ourselves. Was nothing formal about it, but I got to know a couple of the girls from Douglass right off.
KP: I've also been told fraternity parties were very popular, and I've read in the Targums, fraternity parties were very popular.
KK: Yes. We probably had, well, there were three formal dances when we could invite guests to stay overnight in the fraternity house. In fact, they would come Friday night and stay 'till Sunday afternoon. There were three of those, and then we had two other house parties, so there were five parties all together. The other two were not overnight parties. And for the most part, I invited girls that I had known back in Jersey City to come down to those. I'd borrow my father's car, and go up and get them, and drive them back.
KP: How many people in your fraternity had cars? 'Cause you could borrow one.
KK: Oh, I never borrowed a fraternity brother's car. Weren't trusted. [Laughter]
KP: Did many of your fraternity brothers own cars?
KK: I think there were probably three cars at the fraternity.
KP: Out of how many fraternity brothers?
KK: Probably twenty-eight.
KP: One thing that I often associate with fraternity, when a fraternity gets in trouble, is Dean Metzger. Because Dean Metzger, most people have a memory of him.
KK: Dean Metzger was an institution. I'll never forget, I was down here on a four year scholarship. It was a $1,000.00 scholarship, and it paid tuition, general fees, and in my senior year my father got a rebate check. So that's a little different from what it is now. But, I came down here, and I was enamored by the freedom of being down here on my own, and I wasn't as diligent with my books as I should have been. And I had a chemistry course, I was telling Steve, the chemistry course almost pushed me out of Rutgers. But Dean Metzger called me, I guess it was in November, and he said, "Mr. Kaiser," he said "I've been looking at your grades." And he said, "We only have one half of a semester, but," he said, "I don't like what I see. You're down here on a four year scholarship, and Mrs. Bacon, who was the granter of the scholarship," he said, "I don't think Mrs. Bacon would think that you are really appreciating her generosity. What are you going to do about it?" Well, I was just sitting there shaking. I don't know whether I could even answer him. I realized I had to start buckling down. So things got better, scholastically, from that point on.
KP: So that was your one run in? It sounds like that was your one run in.
KK: Yes. That was my one run in. I had had an interview with him earlier, during the application/admission process. But, and this was the second time I had seen him.
KP: Because I have been told he could be a very intimidating presence.
KK: ... He was a monarchial presence. He was like the king. And he had a very, very stern demeanor, and a very resonant voice. He was the chief speaker at the mid-week chapel services that we were compelled to attend. And everybody visualized him up there on the podium, and so held him in a level of respect, and awe. ... This was still an era when people of authority got a lot of respect.
KP: That's my sense, and he, again, I've gotten that sense from people, that he wanted to maintain that air of authority about him.
KK: Yes, he was not an informal person. [Laughter]
KP: Speaking of chapel, what did you think of having to go to chapel?
KK: Well, the mid-week chapel was not much of a religious service. ... We had some prayer, and a little bit of scripture, but, it was more of an administrative type of thing, and it was only fifteen minutes. So it cut into our lunch time, because morning classes ended at twelve and afternoon classes were at one. So, for the most part, I lived way up at the other end of the campus from the chapel, so ... in order to go to chapel, it meant really scrunching on lunchtime. None of us were overjoyed with it, but it was compulsory. We were only allowed ... four times when we could be excused from it, so we just took it in stride. The Sunday chapel we had to attend at least one out of every two Sundays. So it was fifty percent. And I had been involved in Sunday school work attendance all through my high school time, so this, coming to chapel, wasn't that much. It was just like continuing the pace that I had been on.
KP: What church had you grown up in?
KK: I grew up in a Reformed Church, which was a large building, and a small attendance, but a very active Sunday school. And my family was very deeply involved in the Sunday school, so there was no question but I would be there every Sunday morning.
KP: And, in fact, Rutgers is Reformed.
KK: Right. Right.
KP: So, in some ways, it seems like you were very connected.
KK: Yes. ... Things went together very well once I learned not to play too much. [Laughter]
KP: So how much playing did you do? Were you just hanging out with your fraternity brothers?
KK: Oh, the big thing was going down for one of these huge, ten cent glasses of beer, and spending the whole evening throwing darts down at, I don't know, some place down in the Burnett Street area. I don't remember just where it was.
KP: So it's not like, just a lot of hanging out, really? No other activities that really ate up your time?
KK: Well, our fraternity, once I got into the fraternity, had a certain number of internal activities that involved us. I was into, we had a compulsory sports program in the afternoon, and I was assigned to run cross country, and then, for pleasure, after I came off running cross country for a while, then I would play a set or two of tennis. And by the time dinner came I, ... about the only energy I had left was to study, and quit. So we had a very compatible situation in our dormitory, and it was pleasurable among ourselves.
KP: So, you really enjoyed college?
KK: Oh, yes. Yes. I had a great time. My freshman and sophomore years were heavily related toward maintaining sociability with people at home, in Jersey City.
KP: So you'd go back a lot?
KK: Yes, I went back a lot of weekends. My folks used to love to come down and watch a football game on Saturday afternoon, and then I would go home with them, and maintain my contact at home on Sunday, with Sunday school, and so forth.
KP: You had mentioned that Professor Ellis was your favorite professor.
KK: Yes, he was my history professor. I had him two years, and he was a real stern person, but I think he did more good for me than most of the others did.
KP: Even more than your journalism professors?
KK: Yes. I couldn't even tell you now who my journalism professors' names were. But, his I remember.
KP: Ellis seemed really ...
KP: What made him such a good professor?
KK: Well, he made history fascinating. And I don't know whether I always loved history all my life, but he made me love it. He just brought me to the point where ... I could see history as an unfolding story, and the details of it, and the conflicts, and the development of the, well, I had him for US History. The development of the country was a wonderful, in my experience, a wonderful exposure. So that, I was happy to be able to study it, and I took copious notes, which when I went to cram for exams, I couldn't read. One thing he taught me was how to scribble, because he went so fast with his information that I just had to stop the nice cursive writing that I could do, and became a scribbler.
KP: I'm curious. You mentioned your father was one of the lone Republicans in Jersey City.
KP: What about you growing up?
KK: Well, I've always been a business oriented person. I understand the factors of economics, which require us to have a profit oriented business system, commercial system, and on that basis, I guess, I've been more sympathetic toward what some of the Republicans have stood for. At this point in time I'm pretty disgusted with politics on both sides of the aisle. So, ... if you were to ask me now whether I was a Republican or a Democrat, I'd say I am an Independent.
KP: I'm curious. What was your father's attitude towards Franklin Roosevelt? I know he had no love for Frank Hague. But I'm curious ...
KK: Well, if anybody was associated with a Democratic Party, he wasn't worth the skin of his, what's the expression, "He wasn't worth a nickel."
KK: My father absolutely disliked him.
KP: Really? All through the '30s?
KP: What about here on campus? What did you think of Roosevelt? Did you share your father's views or, did you ...
KK: I think I was pretty naive politically when I was in school. I wasn't yet of voting age, and I heard so much about the good of the Republicans, and the way Roosevelt was dragging the country into disaster, ... I just let it go at that.
KP: And this is a question that I meant to ask earlier, before asking about this, with the coming war, ... your mother didn't work outside the house, did she?
KK: Not after I was born. She had been a stenographer, ... I guess in a bank, I'm not sure. But she stopped working, I guess, before I was born.
KP: Was she active in any organizations growing up? It sounds like she was active with the church?
KK: Well, my whole family was active with the church, but I don't remember my mother being involved with other organizations. She was not a "joiner." And some other members of the family were, and my mother was not sympathetic toward that.
KP: Was your father a joiner?
KK: He belonged to the Masons. He was not as active in them as some of his brothers were, and I don't remember that he went to too many meetings. I think, my memories of my growing up years is that my mother, and father, and I, would spend our evenings together. I studied, and did my homework, and then we played games, or sometimes listened to the radio.
KP: Did you take many vacations growing up?
KK: Oh, yes. Every year we had vacations. ... Even the years that my father did not have a car, his father always had a car, and he had a good car. He had, in those days, a REO was one of the, well, that was like one of the better Buicks today. And my grandfather loved to travel, so our vacations were that my father would drive, and my grandmother and grandfather, and my mother and I, the five of us, would go on an automobile tour. And we went to many, many places. ... We would usually be gone for a week, not longer, so we did not go tremendous distances, but we went to Niagara Falls, we went up to Bar Harbor, Maine, and other places in between.
KP: What was the furthest south, and west? You made it ... pretty far north. Bar Harbor is not a short drive.
KK: No, it isn't. Back in those growing up days, I don't remember going south. I can remember, well, I shouldn't say I don't remember. I remember going to Atlantic City.
KK: That was a very ...
KP: You never went to Washington, DC, or ...
KK: Not then. When I was in high school. And I remember that we started going ... down to Washington, I don't know, with my folks. I think Washington was the furthest south. My mother's younger sister lived with us, and she was single at the time, and as I got older and got my driver's license, she and I started taking trips together. And I remember we went down to Pinehurst in North Carolina, Virginia Beach and Pinehurst, That's the farthest south I had been.
KP: It sounds like you grew up with a very large extended family around you.
KK: Yes, my aunts and uncles. And we all lived together in Jersey City.
KK: Once we moved out of Jersey City, in 1942, that began an exodus, which was suspended during the war, but after the war the others, one by one, moved out. My grandfather died in 1943, and my grandmother died in 1947, I believe. And this was my father's parents. And they kept the family as close together as they could. We were the first ones to break away, and that was not too well viewed in the family at first, but then everybody else decided they were gonna move out. So we became centralized more in Union County than we had been in Hudson County. And on my mother's side, my mother's father owned the house I grew up in. We lived with him, and his wife had died before I was born. He passed away in 1942, after we had moved out to Summit.
KP: I'm curious though, and concerned to ask a little about the coming of World War II. Were you in ROTC , the mandatory ROTC?
KK: We took the mandatory ROTC program two years in Rutgers, and I did not continue it.
KP: Because? Did you ...
KK: Well, ... in my freshman year I had had a problem that caused me to go to the doctor. And he diagnosed me as having a minor heart problem. And he told me to stop participation in any of the athletic programs, and he gave me the necessary certification. So instead of participating in going out, and running cross country during the last half of my freshman year, and that is when this occurred, I took First Aid courses. And when it came time to make a decision as to whether I was going to continue in an ROTC, or not, he said, "No. Don't do that. It's too much. It's too strenuous." He wanted me to take it easy and get over this. And that led to the fact that, when I graduated from college and took my physical for the draft, my heart condition was such that they classified me 4-F. So I did not go into service.
KP: So that original diagnosis, the Army offered you similar.
KK: Yes. Yes.
KP: ... It's always the "what if," is always hard to say. If you hadn't had this diagnosis, it sounds like you would have been ... continued to be very active in sports in college.
KK: Yes. I was never that good, so I don't know whether I would have continued.
KP: Yes, but it clearly was an interest.
KK: Yes. It was an interest. And I probably would have gone on with the ROTC because ...
KP: So that probably was very decisive?
KK: Yes. A lot of fellows in our fraternity went into the ROTC program, and they came out with officers' rank, and went into the military service right after graduation, as officers.
KP: And so, that was fairly decisive, not being able to continue on?
KK: Yes. I didn't realize as how decisive it was at the time. Because it didn't mean that much to me, the fact that I had to curtail things. It was something else going on. Then, of course, at the beginning of my junior year I met my wife. So that changed everything around, and reorganized my priorities in my life.
KP: How did you meet your wife?
KK: It was on a blind date. My roommate ... was going with a girl from over there who was a junior, and my wife lived in the same community that this other girl did. And so, ... this girl became my wife's junior sister, and my wife was her freshman sister. And because this junior girl was going with my roommate, this other girl wanted to setup a date right away. So I was the blind date.
KP: We'll come back to a little bit more about your wife.
KP: Because you actually got married during the war.
KP: I'm curious. In terms of the decision not to continue on the ROTC, did you have a sense that America was going to be going to war when you made that decision back in 1939? I know ... it's a long way back, but what was your sense, say in '38, '39, and '40 about the conflict?
KK: I don't think that the impending possibility of war was a factor in my decision about ROTC.
KK: That was a physical thing. The doctor said, "No." So that was it. I'm trying to remember as far as other factors in my life, relating to my attitude, or my belief, that we would get into war. My father was constantly telling me that Roosevelt was going to get us into war. And so, he's going to get us into war. It wasn't that big a thing in my mind.
KP: It sounds like, while your father was following the news very closely, you, really, were not.
KK: No, the news that I was following was mostly what came out on report cards, rather than the daily newspapers. [Laughter] Because ... I was really, at the time, I was really ... struggling to get my grades up, and doing a pretty good job. My first two years were kind of scholastic disasters, and the last two were a lot different.
KP: Yours would be the last class to graduate into peacetime.
KP: You graduated in June of '41.
KP: And although we were close to the war, we were not in war. How did you get your first job, if you remember?
KK: Well, my father and his work used to deal with several employment agencies to get new people, so he gave me referrals to all these employment agencies. And he was an accountant, as I said, so these agencies were oriented to the bookkeeping, accounting business type of environment, and they weren't oriented toward the advertising environment. So the first job I got was in September of 1941, and that was with a company in Jersey City, American Home Products, which had an advertising department. So they said, "Well, you start in the mailroom and then there will be promotions that come up, and maybe you can get into advertising." So I worked for them for a month and decided that was not what I wanted. And I went back to the employment agency, and they had an opening ... in an advertising agency in New York, for a messenger, and they told me that the messengers were the prime source for candidates for promotion. So I had that job for two months. So, let's see, that would have taken me into, past Christmas. And that job was not, in my opinion, going to get me anywhere. And one of the fellows in my fraternity ... with whose father my father and I became very friendly, worked for JC Penney.
-------------------------------------- END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE ONE ----------------------------------
KK: ... "You come on over and have an interview and see what develops." So in my job working for an agency, an advertising agency in New York, as a messenger, I had to be out on the street a lot. And so I was very easily able to arrange that on one of my ... trips. I would just stop by his office. Through him, ... I met this advertising executive, I liked him very much, initially. And he said to me, "Well, ... after the first of the year, why don't you come in and we'll see what we can work out for you?" So that was the only thing that was established before I went there and, as of this particular date, some time early in January of 1942, I went into him and he said, "Yeah," he said, "I want you to meet somebody down here." So he took me into another office, and it was through that that it was arranged, that I would start to work there. It was pretty informal, but ...
KP: But it was fairly significant, because you would spend your career with JC Penney.
KK: Yes, it was. It was one of those situations which, at the time that I began work there, people were leaving, and being called into military service. So there were a lot of vacancies, and I was able to move from one thing into another, and handle several different types of jobs.
KP: It sounds like, under normal circumstances, you'd probably wouldn't have had that same opportunity.
KK: I probably wouldn't have, and without the kind of training. I went into the art department first, and I had no art training, but I had taken some courses at Rutgers which, in the production end of newspaper work, I was able to apply those in the job I was in. And so that gave me an entree that, I think, was instrumental in keeping me there.
KP: I'm curious though, I want to ask you a few more things, because, ... before going to war, you ... were with JC Penney.
KK: Yes. I worked for them ... from January '42 until January '44, when I went into the Army. I was drafted then.
KP: Do you remember where you were during the attack of Pearl Harbor?
KK: Yes, I sure do. My college roommate lived in Allentown, New Jersey and we were down there, visiting with him and his family that day. And just after we had dinner, we were just about to leave, to drive back to Jersey City, somebody out in the street hollered something about, "War!" And we turned the radio on, and heard the news of Pearl Harbor. And so, our trip home that night was a very, very solemn trip, and one that was not a, we weren't talking about much that was very positive. And then, the next day at work, I think practically the whole day was spent just talking about it. I don't think anybody in the office did any work.
KP: ... You were still as a messenger?
KK: Yes. I was still a messenger.
KP: And you had already talked ... to this person at JC Penney?
KK: Not then. No, I hadn't talked to them until after Christmas.
KP: Yes, but you had talked to the one person.
KP: No. So you hadn't been in any contact?
KK: No. No contacts. I had no idea how long I would stay with this.
KP: This messenger job.
KP: You mentioned you were initially rejected by the military.
KP: When were you initially called up for a physical? Do you remember?
KK: I think it was probably in August of 1941, when my number came up.
KP: So you were serving in the peacetime draft?
KK: Yes, but ... you say a peacetime draft, but there was a build-up going on.
KP: Yes, that's what I mean.
KK: Yes. Yes.
KP: Yes, that's what I mean. But it was before Pearl Harbor?
KK: Oh, yes, it was before Pearl Harbor.
KP: So you had been rejected in this, sort of, this political peacetime, the 1940 draft.
KP: How did you feel about the draft before Pearl Harbor? Because there was some attention to it in the Targum in 1940.
KK: Well, ... I was relieved when I found out that I didn't have to go in the military service right away, but I was disturbed that this condition still existed. So I had mixed feelings. However, because my wife was still down in Douglass. She was in the Class of '43. I knew this was going to give me a chance to see more of her. So ... I was quite, a little bit, leaning towards the positive side of my deferral.
KP: And the Army didn't, in a sense, that 4-F designation stayed with you until 1944.
KK: Yes. It stayed with me, and I began to get some guilty feelings about all my friends going into service, and here I was running around at home, having social time, and working. And they were in the service. So I began to be a little bit discontented. And one of the fellows in the office was part of this Coast Guard Auxiliary, and he told me about it. And so, he found out for me where there was a branch of it that I could contact, and it was up in Kearney, which was not too far from Jersey City, and I could get there by public transportation. So I went there. It was at a yacht club on the Hackensack River, and I was able to sign-up and go out with them. And they were looking for people. ... As long as I had two arms, and two eyes, and two legs, I was okay.
KP: And what did you do with the Coast Guard Auxiliary?
KK: Well, we went out on the boats. Yes, we went out on small boats. We would say cabin cruisers, and these boats, initially, ... still looked like they had in normal times, but eventually they were painted gray, like the Navy colors. And our job was to patrol the, for the most part, the Hackensack River from up where the west extension of the Parkway goes, down to where it joins Kill Van Kull, in Newark, down through Newark Bay. And so, we would just cruise back and forth at very slow speeds watching for any boats on the water, and we would check them out. If they were tug boats we would go up and get identification from them. If they were other boats, which I don't think we ever ran into, we were supposed to try and stop them. It was a lonely, all-night vigil. It was cold in the wintertime, and then, gradually, as the organization expanded, ... the Coast Guard took us over and called us the "Temporary Reserve." US Coast Guard Reserve(T) was the official designation, and then we started getting into some of the administrative aspects of the Coast Guard. For example, having to take examinations. And so, we went ... in as the equivalent of seamen second class, which was like Private First Class in the Army. And then I took an exam and was promoted to seaman first, I took another exam and was promoted to coxswain, took another exam and qualified for bosun first class, but ... before I could get the official recognition I went into the Army.
KP: It's interesting. It sounds like ... what the Coast Guard was doing, ... very much doing with your unit, was doing things they routinely did in peace time, but now the regular Coast Guard couldn't do this they had ...
KP: They had ...
KP: They had to fight the German sub threat.
KK: Yes. Yes. They were out on the ocean, looking for that, and so this inland waterway stuff, they designated to us.
KP: Would you ever do any rescues?
KK: No. No.
KP: You never had to?
KK: The only rescue that we had was when I ran the boat aground, and we had to wait for somebody to come and pull us off. [Laughter]
KP: When you said you would go patrolling, when would you do the patrolling? Which nights? Was it the weekend nights?
KK: It was Thursday night, and we would go out at seven o'clock, and then we would come in at seven o'clock in the morning.
KP: And then you would go to work?
KP: So that Friday was a really long day?
KK: It sure was. [Laughter] Friday afternoons in our business, if we had the work finished up, Friday afternoons were kind of a relaxed time. So I picked Thursday night for that reason.
KP: And you still kept your weekends? Did you do things on the weekends with the Auxiliary or was that ...
KK: No. No. During the week we had a class night, which was from about seven till ten, and then we had patrol night, which was seven to seven.
KP: Wilamena Avery, who was in the Class of '42, ahead of you, ... he also was a 4-F. And he said it was a strange feeling, because all of the men in their late teens to early thirties were gone. I mean, ... he says, "I once took the train and I was the only ... person in my twenties in this whole train."
KP: Everyone else was in uniform, or they were older men, or, you know, boys; or, they were women.
KP: ... Did you have a similar sense as the war went on?
KK: Yes, I can remember having some of that, but the fact that I was involved in the Coast Guard, and had an opportunity to wear a military uniform, at least, even if it was only one day a week, helped to assuage that, to some degree. And I still had the hopes that I was going to be able to get this heart thing under control, and get into the Army, or whatever it was. Eventually that happened.
KP: Also, in terms of business, you mentioned earlier that, in some ways, because everyone was going off to war, a lot of jobs, ... were shifting around quite a bit. What types of jobs did you do before you were called into the Army?
KK: Well, I was always in the art department, the art section of the advertising department at JC Penney. And I was able to ... pick up different types of work that I could do, that didn't require professional art capability. And there were a lot of those. Some of them were administrative, some of them were mechanical work, which was taking the different components of an ad and assembling them together. And then, sometimes, we would have to do a little bit of drawing, ... and if something was in a box, we would have to draw the box. Light work like that, which didn't require tremendous capability.
KP: And the advertising that you were working on during war, this was aimed at newspapers?
KK: It was newspaper advertising, yes. ... Spread around the county. All the advertising for the company was done in the New York office. And so, we would issue it, and the stores would take it and use it.
KP: I'm just curious, ... 'cause I know now that JC Penney is a national chain. How big was JC Penney when you started?
KK: We had more stores then than we have now.
KK: Yes. But they were small stores. They were in small communities. What did we have in New Jersey? We had a store in Bridgeton, New Jersey, and in Salem, New Jersey. And I guess they were the only ones. Then we had one up in Derby, Connecticut, and that was all in this area. But getting out in the mid-west there were stores all over the place, and in the South.
KP: So you, in many ways, saw the evolution of JC Penney, change very much its focuses?
KK: I was deeply involved in it, which was one of the gratifying things in my business career. But that, of course, was after the war.
KP: Yes. That would come.
KK: That was primarily in the '60s.
KP: You were at JC Penney, doing the advertising for these small little towns in, you know, ultimately you would end up in these small little towns.
KK: Yes. Yes. Yes, I can remember that I got to the point where, when an ad was designed, we would have an artist draw in the figures and then I got to the point where I would put the type in it, the lettering and the type. And I could remember mens' shirts ads. We had two lines for mens' dress shirts. One sold for ninety-eight cents, the other sold for $1.98. And that was a real top quality. And shoes were $2.98 and $3.98. So, that was back in those days when I got started.
SJ: What kind of competition did JC Penney, ... currently JC Penney and Macy's are still in big competition. I mean, were they in competition with Macy's back then as well, or were they in a different niche?
KK: No, we were in competition with the local stores. I don't recall any thoughts, in those days, about our being competitive with anybody that I knew of. There were lots of independent family operated department stores scattered all over the country. And it was those stores that we were competitive with.
SJ: So Macy's, and the bigger stores, weren't even a factor? You were just gearing your advertising toward ...
KK: It was mostly the rural areas. Yes. I remember being told, after I came back from service I was in the copy department writing advertising copy, and I remember being told, we had a comforter ad to use up in Springfield, Massachusetts. And I was told, "Don't say comforter because nobody knows what that is. You have to say 'puffs.'" So, you know, it was pretty rural.
KP: ... I mean, one of the things that is striking about World War II is the shortages. How did that affect the retail trade, and the focus in advertising at the company? Do you remember at all? Did you do any paper patriotic advertising in your copy?
KK: Oh, we did a lot of patriotic advertising. ... That was ... probably half of what we did, was patriotic, and the other half was merchandising. And sure, the kind of merchandise, I remember ... the big shortage was in women's stockings, going from silk stockings to rayon stockings. And I can remember having to work on advertising, that it would extol the virtues of rayon stockings.
KP: I mean, silk stockings never came back. I mean, in that sense ...
KK: Well, nylon replaced them.
KP: Yes, nylon eventually showed that synthetics were better. Any other memories of things you have bestowed, or how you handled the war from a retailer's perspective?
KK: Well, I think most of our advertising, even merchandise advertising, had some kind of a patriotic twist to it. We had symbols, first of all it was "buy defense bonds," and then when we got into the war it was changed to "buy war bonds." And so there were symbols of that in every ad. And I don't remember that much else about the shortage aspect. I just knew we were living with shortages, and the merchandise that we advertised was becoming increasingly less diverse.
KP: In other words, there was less to advertise because there was less, literally, on the shelves.
KK: Well, there was less to advertise, but the advertising had to be ... a lot more intensified, in terms of trying to convince people that what we had was worth buying.
KP: Oh, okay. So like, something like rayon stockings is worth it.
KK: Yes. Yes. Right.
KP: You mentioned there was a lot of turnover in the company. Were woman hired to replace some of the men who were leaving? How many women had worked in the advertising department overall at JC Penney?
KK: Well, that was always at least half women. The administrative side of the department was probably three men to one woman. But the creative side was, probably, three women to two men.
JS: Really. Even after the war?
KK: Yes. Oh, yes, all through.
KP: All through. So war didn't mean this real shift?
KK: No. No. No, I think the big shift came in factory work, with women taking the jobs in the defense plants.
KP: So when you came back to JC Penney, you didn't see the women leave as the men were coming back?
KK: No. Actually there was enough expansion going on in the company, at the time, that the men could come back and the woman stayed.
KP: And the women stayed?
KK: Yes. So it was a very compatible situation that way.
KP: When did you get your notice that you ... would have to serve again, or that they were going to call you and, in a sense, try again, or did you try to get into one of the branches?
KK: Yes. It was kind of the reverse. I wrote to the draft board and asked for re-examination.
KP: So you could have just stayed at home?
KK: Yes. Yes.
KP: And waited for them to call you again?
KK: I could have, but I just decided that, "You know, this has gone on long enough," and I wanted to be more of a part of it.
SJ: Which branch, did you go through basic training, or trained you the most?
KK: Well, the draft board was putting everybody in the Army.
KP: Did you want the Navy or the Air Force?
KK: What I really wanted was to get into the Air Force, and get into the crash boat branch of it. Because where our base was, a Coast Guard reserve base was just in the Newark Airport area, and the Air Force crash boats would go in and out of the same waterway that we used. And I'd see them going by and thought, "Boy, that's what I'd like to be on." And so I went in, and during my orientation period in the Army I asked for something to do with boat work, because ... I had some credentials, some experience and some credentials, having been given a couple of promotions in the Coast Guard. And so I asked for boat work, and I was assigned into a harbor craft organization, which was a branch of the Army that, kind of like the Coast Guard situation. The Navy had run these inland watercraft, small freighters and so forth, and they wanted to focus on the battle end of it. So they turned this other over to the Army.
KP: So in a sense the Army had a little navy.
KK: Yes, it was. Because we wore Navy uniforms in the Army, and we operated under the code of the Blue Jackets Manual rather than the military code. And I wore blue dungarees, a blue chambray shirt, and a white sailor's hat. Of course, we had our Army uniforms, too.
KP: I guess, backing up a little, you were inducted where?
KK: In Newark.
KP: In Newark. That's where you had your induction, physical, and then where did the Army send you?
KK: Fort Dix.
KP: Fort Dix.
KP: And that's when you were classified for this specialized ...
KK: Yes, because when I went out of Fort Dix, I went down to Charleston, South Carolina, and was put into a harbor craft outfit.
KP: Right away?
KK: Right away.
KP: So you didn't do basic infantry training?
KK: Oh, yes. We had to do the same basic training.
KP: You did the same? The rifle ...
KK: Yes, the same basic training. It was a six week program, but the minute that our organization was formed, we were put on alert for going oversees, so that meant there was going to be an accelerated training program. So where basic training for many people was three months, ours was six weeks. And we had to go through the infiltration courses where we crawled through barbed wire, we carried our rifle, and we had a steel helmet on, and we heard machine gun firing going over us. Whether it was live or not, we never knew. But we did that. We learned marching, and so forth, and then I went down ... to Florida, outside of Panama City, for technical training, which is where we actually had some boats that we went out on. We had about eight steel tugboats. Fifty-five foot tugboats that we went out on, and took actual boat training.
KP: You had actually had a lot of experience on boat, because of the Coast Guard.
KK: Yes. Right. Right.
KP: How much was new, what you were learning in the Army, in the actual training for ...
KK: Well, the boats were bigger, and they were heavier, and we went out into the Gulf of Mexico, so that there was much more nautical work involved. The people I was with, for the most part, were professional watermen. For example, several of them were fishermen. And I think, probably about half the organization was that, and the other half were just ordinary soldiers.
KP: Because, unlike the Navy, I mean, there isn't, ... when the Navy expands there are a lot of trained people who sort of are the cadre for these ships, whereas the Army doesn't really have a Navy before World War II.
KK: No. And the officers in our company were teaching, theoretically teaching, things about nautical aspects, and they didn't know it themselves. [Laughter] ... Eventually when we got overseas, I was on a boat that had, as its skipper, a fisherman from Alaska. And I think he was the only officer in the whole company that had water experience.
KP: No one else?
KK: No, but I can remember some of the, we had a first lieutenant, four second lieutenants, and four warrant officers. And the warrant officers were supposed to be the technical people. And they would go out with us on the boats, and run the boats, when we got overseas. But back in our technical training days, these people would run training sessions and I can remember one of them in particular would always call on me to run the session, because I knew more about it than he did. It was on signaling, on navigation, the rules of the road, and other aspects of inland waterway navigation and so I could fill in for that. I figured, "Boy, I'm gonna sit pretty well, because I've been given all this advise and information, and even the officers don't know it." It didn't work that way.
KP: How long did your training in Florida last? Roughly when did you arrive in Florida?
KK: I don't remember when we arrived. It was probably in, let's see, let me go back. We were in Fort Dix, we went there the end of February, we were there for two weeks, we went down to Charleston, South Carolina for about six weeks. So that would put us into April. And then we went through basic training in New Orleans, and I said that was six weeks. And there was a little interval in between, so what is that?
KP: So you did training in New Orleans, too?
KK: That was where our basic training was.
KP: The basic.
KK: Yes. We started basic training in Charleston, South Carolina, and then were transferred to New Orleans.
KP: And that's still the basic infantry training?
KK: Yes. Yes.
KP: And then it was Florida where you actually got on the boats, and you actually ...
KK: Yes, that was the technical training. We probably got to Florida, maybe August, and we left there in December.
KP: December of ...
KP: And how did you get to the Pacific?
KK: Well, we went by train to San Francisco, and then we're put on a ocean liner. It had been a former Dollar Line, "around the world boat," and we were put on that, converted to a troop ship, and we were twenty-two days going to New Guinea. And when we got to New Guinea we stopped to fuel up, and then we were going to head up to the Philippines. And ... in Hollandia, now Jayapura, on Irian Jaya, Indonesia, there was a whole convey that was anchored there, and ships of all sizes and descriptions. And we were up on deck, when it was a Sunday morning, we were up on deck real early, and just admiring the weather, and trying to see some different geography, palm trees and so forth, and all of a sudden there was this big explosion in the water. It was a couple of hundred feet off our starboard side, and you know that created a lot of stir. "What's going on?" You know? "They tell us there's a war, maybe there really is." And it turned out that there was a Japanese sub, a mini-sub that had sneaked into the harbor and fired a torpedo at an ammunition ship, which was about a quarter of a mile away from us. And the torpedo glanced off the side of the ammunition ship and headed over toward our ship, and blew up right in between the two. But the concussion in the water was so great that it opened a couple of seams in our ship. So this was real early in the morning, and ... we never thought anything more about it. And along about mid-afternoon they said, "Well, start getting your stuff together, because we're gonna get off." So they towed us over to a big barge that was anchored to the shore, which was like a pier. And we got off that, and we were standing on it, and about that time it was dark, when all of a sudden we hear sirens, and see searchlights going over, and the word came out that, "There is a Japanese air raid going on." And here we were all clustered in a tight pack.
KP: Exactly what you were taught just not to do.
KK: Of course. Of course. And so, eventually, the searchlights were turned off and, presumably, nothing ever materialized. But then, we were told to get in the small landing crafts. And they were going to take us to an area where we're going to set up bivouacs. And so, I was the last one on our landing craft. It was not a huge one. It was a rather small one. And in order to get on it I had to, being the last one on, the ramp came up right in back of me, and then I was leaning up against the ramp, or turned around, and was climbed up half way on the ramp so I could look over the top of it as we were going along. And it was nothing but totally dark water. I don't know how they ever managed. But they went through a series of snake-like channels, and finally the word came out, "Okay, we're gonna beach now, and we're gonna drop the ramp, and you can walk ashore." They said, "Hold your duffel bag in front of you, get your rifle over your shoulder, keep your helmet well buckled," and we had our full field packs, "and we will give you the signal. So when you see the ramp go down, just get ashore as quickly as you can." Well, I was the first one, closest to the ramp. So last on, first off. The ramp went down and I went down, and [Whisking sound] in up to here. Maybe even deeper, but my field pack kept me afloat, and my duffel bag, and I felt a helmet strap under my chin, you know, pulling me up. Well, the water, you know, I was able to paddle along a little bit, holding the duffel bag and paddling, and I was able to touch bottom within a few feet. But there had been a little reef off shore that they didn't realize was there, and at night they couldn't see it. So when the whole bunch of us got a shore, we were saturated.
KP: And all your stuff was.
KK: Well, the thing is that if we packed our field packs properly, the outside of it was a shelter half. We put two of them together to make a tent. Two fellows had to buddy up for that. So that would keep the blankets and the other things dry. And the duffel bag, the way it overlapped and snapped, would keep the contents dry. And that turned out to be a good float. So we got ashore, and most of our equipment, except for the handles of our rifles, was dry. And so we got ashore and they told us to open our packs, take the shelter halves out, put them on the ground, and go to sleep.
KP: Did you have to maintain a guard, or ...
KK: Not that night.
KK: No. And then, the next day we started to get organized. And there was regular guard duty and other tours.
KP: When did you actually get on board boats?
KK: Well, right there. We were there two or three days, and we were assigned to a certain type of boat duty. My job was to operate what we called a "picket boat." What I didn't know until this point was that the area where we were, there were reefs all over the place. And the bay right in front of us was a naval storage area, where they had these big refrigerator barges that had their food in them, and that's where they were moored. And so, ... most of the work that we had to do was related to helping to maintain those barges. And there were a lot of boats that went in and out. So the boat that I was on was small, like a small cruiser. Another fellow and I, we would have to go out between the coral reefs, and when a boat was coming in, they wouldn't be huge boats, but they would be, oh, maybe the size of a tug boat, or a little bit bigger. When they were coming we would have to guide them between the reefs. And so, we were on that duty for about three months. That was one of those things that we worked eight hour shifts, three shifts to the day, and we were on every day.
KP: So seven days a week, eight hours at a clip. So you're ...
KK: Yes. We got a sixteen hour break when we changed shifts. ... One week we would be on from., like seven to three, or three till eleven, or eleven to seven. So every week we would change. And ... one of those shifts we would get sixteen hours off. So that was like a holiday. [Laughter]
KP: But seven days, there is no break in the routine.
KK: No. No. Seven days a week.
KP: And when you weren't actually on ship, how much control did the army have over your daily life? I mean, what would you do?
KK: It was very informal. There was no place to go and nothing to do, so we would say, well, we had heard that there were still Japanese up in the hills, so we would take our, we used carbines, and we would take those and whatever ammunition we could get, we would go up in the hills looking for Japs. We never found any. Because I don't think there were any there, but the story was that, you know, there were some there.
KP: Which ... there could have been Japanese there. You were, in a sense, looking for trouble.
KK: We sure were.
KP: Yes. Yes.
KK: Yes. Number one, we were under-trained for that, number two, were very ill-equipped for it. We didn't even wear our helmets. We had helmet liners that we wore, and so they should never had allowed us out.
KK: Things were pretty loose.
KP: ... How GI were your unit and the base you were on?
KK: Well, we were supposed to respect our commanding officers, but we didn't salute. We didn't have any interchange at all. There was no training going on. It was just doing the work that we were assigned to do, which was mostly assigned by sergeants.
KP: And it sounds like you were all in for the duration. You don't have any regular army people with you, do you? Are there any old-timers with you?
KK: No, this was all, the officers were all officers' camp, OCS products.
KP: And the sergeants, were there any old-time sergeants?
KK: Yes, there was one that was a first sergeant who was a career man. But he was a first sergeant in a line organization. When he came into our organization it was totally strange to him. So he didn't know which end was up. And the fellow who had been our first sergeant, who had been our company sergeant in our training period was with us, and he didn't know anything about it. So these fellows were really relegated to secondary roles. They were the communication link between the officers and ourselves, so they had some authority, and that was about it. But for the most part, we just went about doing our duty, and tried to stay out of trouble.
KP: ... You mentioned, I mean, for fun you would sort of go into the hills looking for Japanese.
KP: ... What else would you do to pass the time when you weren't on duty?
KK: Oh, we lived in a tent with four people, four people tents. And we were all bridge players, so we had a running bridge game in our tent. Now, what the others did, I don't know. But whenever the four of us could get together, and I was the only one that was on this kind of duty that I've described. The others all had ... other kind of duties, so they would be around on a more regular basis.
KP: ... Were there any native inhabitants of the island that you were based on?
KK: Not right where we were, but there were natives not too far away. And it's interesting, their skin was as black as this briefcase, and their hair was as red as those books up there.
KK: And, for the most part, they stayed by themselves. They came to us occasionally, if they were hungry and they wanted food, and we would give it to them. But we were under orders to have nothing to do with them.
KP: It sounds like that was pretty much the case.
KK: Yes. Yes.
KP: Besides the begging for food, was there any other contact with them?
KK: Not that I remember.
KP: They didn't do any work on the base at all?
KK: Oh, no. They were not ... there as workers. Occasionally they would paddle by in their ceremonial canoes just to make their presence known. But, for the most part, it was ... a completely separate situation. Now, in order to get into the area of the harbor where we were, we had to go through a narrow strait, and at that strait we had to be very careful where we went on either side of it there were houses. And these natives lived in these houses that were built on piles out over the water. And they survived by fishing, and with coconuts, and so forth. ... And they were thatched roof, really pretty flimsy, shacks. But that's where they lived for the most part.
KP: What was your daily food like?
KK: ... Generally Army rations, but one of the interesting things was that these Navy refrigerator barges that were out there. The Navy provided a small crew for each one, but they didn't provide any transportation for them. So if they wanted to go ashore for anything, we had a craft that had, it was like a bus but it was on the water, and it would go from our area up to the main port, back and forth. And that was all that they did. And it would make, maybe, three trips a day. And if these fellows wanted to go to port, they would have to call one of us to come over in our small boats, pick them up, take them to the landing where they would get on one of these landing crafts, and they would head on up to the port. Now, the reverse was true also. If they came back from port and they wanted to get to their barge, they would have to get us to ride them out. And very often, when we went out, they would invite us to come aboard and share some of their stores. The fellow with me, and myself, and the others who did this same work as I did, got fresh oranges, which were unheard of. We could get milk. We could even get some ice cream. So, it didn't happen too often, but ...
KP: But enough that ...
KP: Enough to break the monotony.
KK: Yes. It sure did. So our food was a little better than the average food. Because, I'm sure others have told you, that the Army cooks were experts at ruining any kind of food you gave them. [Laughter]
KP: What about something like a shower?
KK: Yeah, we had showers, salt water.
KP: Salt water.
KP: And what about ...
KK: They were out on a dock.
KP: Oh, okay. So in any ways, you really lived, I mean, the sea seems to be much more important to you. I mean, you're living very close to the water ...
KK: Oh, yes. Had a real orientation to it.
KP: What about things like movies and mail?
KK: Oh, yes. ... Mail was a daily occurrence, and movies were, there was a movie every night in the mess hall. So that was well taken care of.
KP: So you could go to a movie every night. That's actually pretty good.
KP: How big was the base? How many ...
KK: Well, this base was our company only. And there were, what, maybe 150 people in our company. And so, we occupied this area, and there is nothing around us but jungle except for the water.
KK: And then there would be similar situations other places, but I don't think there was anything within five miles of us.
KP: So you were, in some ways, you were pretty isolated?
KK: Oh, yes. Yes. Yes. It was as though they wanted to get rid of us. They put us way back. [Laughs] But, yes, you asked about recreation. One of the things that we could do if we were pretty sure that, let's say we were not on duty during the day. We had night duty, and we were pretty sure that the day was going to be calm, and there wouldn't be any interruptions, we would get the crew on the picket boats that we were running. And that was the official name of them, the picket boat. We would get the crew to take us over on the other side of the bay where there was a peninsula that went, jetted up toward ... the main port, and on the other side of the peninsula there was a beautiful beach. Beautiful, sandy beach, and they would take us over there, and we would spend a couple of hours in the water and walking on the beach. Of course, we didn't have any bathing suits, so we got fully sunburned. And I mean totally sunburned. Even in some of the tender places. But it was great. And I had had enough experience at the Jersey Shore so that I knew how to body surf, and I was teaching the others how to do that.
KP: ... I have a feeling that you had some real landlubbers who hadn't really ...
KK: Oh, yes. Yes. Some of the fellows were from the hills of Tennessee, deep hills, and their most desperate need when we got overseas was to find tobacco to chew. And there were plenty of cigarettes, but not chewing tobacco. And they were real, well, you know the term "hillbilly," and they were. They were uneducated, and they just about passed the qualifying level for the Army. And so, they were there in the midst of the rest of it, of the water, the boating, with the rest of us.
KP: What about if you got sick? Did anyone get sick from ...
KK: Oh, periodically. Yes, we had these big, blue-nose flies. And oh, we had some very, very disagreeable experiences with diarrhea. And there were some pills that they gave us. They were about the size of a quarter, and that would generally cure it.
KP: Any problems with malaria, or other ...
KK: Well, we were on atabrin, and our skin was almost yellow, but, no other effects that I knew of.
KP: Any accidents?
KK: Yes, there was one. Our boats all had gasoline engines, and one of the fellows in my company was the engineer on one of them. And he went to start up the boat, and he forgot to put the blowers on to blow the fumes out of the engine room, and the boat blew up. And one of the fellows was killed. That was the only accident we had.
KP: Which led to loss of life.
KK: The only accident we had.
KP: Really? That ...
KK: Well, there was another one, when one of the fellows stole a bulldozer and tipped it over. [Laughter]
KP: When would you leave this base, and this task, because you would be assigned somewhere else?
KK: Yes, well, ... we were being prepared to go up into the Philippines, and we were given larger boats. ... We left the small boats that we were using and we had three larger boats that had sixteen person crews, and they were about 120 feet long. So we were assigned to those, and the crews were put together, and then we were towed up to the Philippines. I think we got to the Philippines in about June of '45. Yes, that was just about three months before the atomic bomb. So that's about how long we were up in the Philippines ...
------------------------------------- END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE TWO -----------------------------------
KP: This continues an interview with Kenneth Kaiser on October 20, 1998 at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey with Kurt Piehler, and ...
SJ: Steven Jonas.
KP: And you were saying you were shifted. Which island did you leave from?
KK: Well, we left in New Guinea and were towed in a convey up to the Philippines. And our boat was taken into ... a small ship yard on the Pasig River, which comes right down to the center of Manila, and we were reconditioned, and were made ready to operate on our own.
KP: And, once again, you said that you set up an independent base camp.
KK: No, we were right in the city.
KP: In the city of Manila?
KK: Yes. Right in the city of Manila. And there was military all around us. And ... actually, by this time we were as a crew of, I would say, sixteen on board, and we were totally independent. The rest of our company was nowhere near us. They were assigned ...
KP: There were sixteen? That's really a crew.
KK: Yes. We were an independent organization, and we had orders. We took orders from the Port Authority, and the Army operated a Port Authority in Manila, and we took orders from them. And we were assigned to an engineer corps. By this time the war in Europe was over, the war in the Philippines was under control, but, there were still pockets of Japanese. In fact, the first night we were tied up on the Pasig River, we heard gunfire over us all night long, because the old Philippine treasury was right along side where we were docked, and it had been totally demolished. But there were pockets of Japanese still inside it, and ... Americans were trying route them out. So there was still stuff going on there. But that only lasted a short time, and then everything was pretty well cleaned out in the Philippines. So we were assigned to this engineering outfit, and engineering officers would come on board and we would take them around to different islands in the Philippines to inspect lumber yards, lumber mills. The Japanese had attempted to destroy them all before they left and we were there to see what needed to be done to refurbish them. And we didn't have anything to do with the lumber mills all we had to do was take the engineering officers there, and then they would do the inspection.
KP: ... How wide was your, I mean, the Philippines has a huge number of islands, some very large, and some very small. How many islands, what was the range?
KK: ... In the course of the three and a half months that we were on this duty, we got to every one of the major islands. And so, we would be out, generally, we would be out for maybe two weeks at a time.
KP: Those are real voyages.
KK: Yes. Yes, they are. And a lot of it was open water, still within the islands.
KP: Yes, but still, you can get lost.
KK: Oh, yes. We had to steer by compass.
KK: And, of course, for the most part, we would anchor at night, and there were spots on the charts where we could see good anchorages. And we would anchor at night, and then take off the next morning. I remember one place we got was such an idyllic place, it would be a great scene for a tourist. And the water was maybe twenty feet deep where we were. The bottom was coral, and the water was blue, and the shoreline was all palm trees. And it was so neat that we stayed there. We goofed off for a day, and we just swam. The big thing was to see if we could dive. We had a second deck, a flying bridge, and we'd see if we could dive off the flying bridge and reach down to the anchor, which was, I would say, in about twenty feet of water. And so, we just played around that day. For the most part we didn't do that, though. We were working.
KP: And so you would ferry these engineers. Did you ferry any equipment with them?
KK: No. They were just there for a look-see, and they had cameras and binoculars, and we'd put them ashore, and then we'd just have to wait until they came out.
KP: And so ... you would do this for three months, and then what happened?
KK: Well, then they started to put us on alert for going out to Japan. ... I guess we continued doing these runs while we prepared the boat. They put machine gun mounts on, and machine guns.
KP: So you had no weapons?
KK: We had a twenty-millimeter cannon in the front. And that's all.
KP: That was all you had?
KK: And that's all. And then they put this flying bridge, a gun deck above the flying bridge, and there were ... four gun mounts on it. And that was to be our defense. The control cabin on the boat was armored so that it could ... withstand light fire. But, for the most part, we had no training to operate a twenty-millimeter cannon.
KP: None of you? No one on the crew?
KK: No, we had no training in how to operate machine guns. ... That was to happen on the convoy when we were going out. That there would be a ...
KP: You would get trained on the way up.
KK: Yes, we would get trained on the way.
KP: Which is an interesting way to learn.
KK: Well, I tell you, things were not necessarily professional in every aspect of what we were exposed to.
KP: I'm curious, 'cause you said when you were in the Philippines. you really operated as crew, as a unit.
KK: Yes. Yes.
KP: I take it that your captain was Captain Glascock there, or was he the ...
KK: No. He was the company commander, and he was in the company offices, which were in Manila.
KK: And that whole organization was to be transferred someplace, and they didn't know where. But that would follow. Our boat was one of the first ones to go up.
KP: So he was more important when you were in New Guinea, when you operated in ... your new company.
KK: Yes. Yes, we had no contact with him after that.
KP: So who was in command in your new ...
KK: The skipper of our boat. The fellow I mentioned, was the Alaskan fisherman.
KP: Yes. You don't remember his name?
KK: Right now I don't, but it might come back to me. (Later, it was Mr. Demert.)
KP: Okay. And so, ... is he a lieutenant or a captain?
KK: Warrant officer.
KP: So he's just a warrant officer. ... That's the most senior officer you have? And then you have a sergeant?
KK: No. No. It was totally different. He was the skipper of the boat, and then he had a first mate. That fellow's name was Campbell, and he used to run towboats on the Mississippi River. So that was his training, and he was an excellent seaman. And then there was a fellow who was a chief engineer, and he could do things with machinery that were, really, almost impossible to imagine. And other than that, the rest of us were just the crew. We were assigned to different duties. I was the signalman on board. I had to operate the light, signal lamp. And others had different work. They found out that I could paint, so I had the job one day of sitting on what they called a "bosun's chair" over the bow of the boat, and painting numbers on it. There were a lot of informal relationships.
KP: So, in many ways, when you were out alone, it wasn't very top heavy with officers.
KK: Oh, no. Except for the visiting officers.
KK: And they were told to stay out of our way. [Laughs] I remember one trip we were on we had to go through the edge of a typhoon, and those of us on the crew were used to the motion of the boat and it didn't bother us. And we knew how to hold on the handrails all the time. But these officers, these Army officers, the engineers, they were miserable. Oh, they were sick. They found that the most secure things for them to do was to lie on the deck, and hold onto one of the hatches. And there were three of them. We felt so sorry for them, in a way. ... They were the only kind of officers, and they had no authority on a boat.
KP: They were just there for the ride.
KK: Passengers. Yes.
KP: Particularly when you said that at night you would anchor, where would you sleep?
KK: Well, we had a cabin down below. It was like a salon, where we ate, we slept, and we lived. Except for the fact that that was hot. And so, for the most part, we had cots, regular Army cots, and we would sling them up, and put the mosquito netting over them, and sleep on deck.
KP: So when you said you had cots, did you have hammocks down below?
KK: No, there were no hammocks. It was bunks.
KP: So you had bunks?
KK: Yes. Bunks with a mattress.
KP: How interesting.
KP: So in many ways ...
KK: The living was pretty good.
KP: Yes. It actually sounds, in comparison, because a lot of people talk about how Navy ships are very cramped.
KK: Our ship, as I remembered, was fairly spacious.
KP: Yes, if you had cots, that ...
KK: Yes. Yes. And in the day we would fold up the cots, and roll up the mosquito netting, and just store them on our bunks.
KP: And what about the food when you were at sea?
KK: Well, the food at sea was excellent. We drew from Navy stores and we had to be prepared, at all times, to take some of these officers on board. So we had a big gasoline operated refrigerator in which were kept steak and beer. And we can have all of that we wanted. And for the most part steak, beer, and bananas was what we lived on. Because when we would dock, we would put ashore, people would come down and try to sell us bananas. And that was a staple. And then, if the weather was too stormy for the cook to cook, then we would just live on the bananas.
KP: But then, otherwise, you were eating a lot of steak?
KK: Yes. Yes.
KP: Because Navy people have often prided themselves, they often remember fondly the Navy stores could be quite good.
KK: Oh, there were.
KP: And ... you mention that you would see a number of islands, and you would drop off the crew, the engineers. Did you ever come in contact with any Filipinos?
KK: Oh, sure. Many of the places that we went to were communities that were a good size. And ... we had limited supply of water on our boat, fresh water, and it had to be used for drinking and cooking. And so we got pretty grungy if we were out for a while. If we wanted to wash our clothes, what we did was tie a bundle of them in some of the line on board, throw it over the stern, and let the propeller wash, agitate it, and pull it back in, hang it up on the cables to dry. And then it would be stiff. Jeans would be like that. [Bangs on the table] Put them on, you get a, "creak, creak," as we bent our knees. [Laughs] So when we got to a place where there was a community, we would look around to try and find a shower. There was one place I remember in particular where there was a fresh water tank over a spring, and it was probably ten feet high. What's this ceiling, eight feet?
KP: Yes. I think about eight feet.
KK: Well, a little higher than that. And there was a bullet hole in the top, and the water would come spurting out of that bullet hole, and all we could see was that as a potential for a shower. So we all got clean clothes, clean as we could make them, and went up to this place, and it was deserted around it. There weren't any houses anywhere nearby, and we took off our clothes, got under this. Well, the water temperature must have been fifty degrees. Oh, man, it was cold! But it felt so good. We even had soap that we could use. Of course, on our vessel we had soap to wash with. And so, we had good showers. By the time we finished we looked, and I think everybody in the town was standing in a circle, laughing at us as we were taking showers. You know, we were white, and they were Filipino. So that was one experience. Another experience we had, when we tied up at this dock, the townspeople came down to see us because we had the American flag ... on the stern. We were the first Americans to come since the Japanese had abandoned the place. And so we were highly welcomed. In fact, we were so welcomed that they put on a special celebration for us and made us come to the celebration at night in the, they call him the king, he was actually the mayor. But they called him the king of the community, and we went up to his house, and they put on this feast for us of native food. And we had all these different kind of dishes that you eat with your fingers, you know? And then, for beverage they had beer made out of pineapples. Pineapple beer. Oh, I'll tell you, some of the fellows really enjoyed it. Some of us didn't. We couldn't stand it. So we had all we could do to keep from being unsociable. But they were just ... so pleased, and they wanted to honor us.
KP: So, in any words, you were the liberators.
KK: Well, yes, they gave us a credit for that, although we had nothing to do with it.
KP: You didn't, but became the recipients of ...
KK: Of their largess.
KP: You mentioned at one point you skirted a typhoon. Did you have any close calls in this duty? This ferrying duty in the Philippines?
KK: I don't recall any.
KP: It sounds very idyllic in a lot of ways.
KP: Except that you're far from home.
KK: Right. Right. And there were no dangers. No, the war was pretty well passed.
KP: So you never encountered any Japanese resistance on any of the islands?
KP: It sounds like you, for the most part, you didn't get too close to shore unless it was an inhabited island.
KK: Well, the information about the sawmills ... was pretty well identified. I mean, there were airplane over-flights to identify where they were. And if there was any Japanese resistance left, that was taken care of by air. So it was not a dangerous thing.
KP: When you got to these islands ... they were safe.
KK: Yes. So that is why I say, I didn't get into anything that was anything war-like. We were scheduled to get into the invasion of Japan, and that would have been mighty war-like, but we didn't have to.
KP: I'm curious though, just to learn a little bit more about the crew. Because it sounds like you really got to know those sixteen ... members quite well, at the time. You mentioned the two, it sounds like your warrant officer, first mate and the engineer, had real substantial experiences. What was the engineer's background to get all that experience?
KK: He was a mechanic of some kind, maybe even a boat mechanic. I don't know.
KP: But he still had a real mechanical background?
KK: Oh, yes. Yes.
KP: Where was the mechanic from? Do you remember?
KK: I don't remember.
KP: What about the other crew, do you remember anything about where they came from?
KK: Well, yes. There was one of them that came from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, whom I became very friendly with, and visited him in his home after being out of service. And there was another one who lived in Nutley, New Jersey, with whom I became very friendly. And he since passed away, but his wife and we still exchange Christmas cards.
KP: Oh, okay.
KK: Because ... our first home, after my wife and I got out on our own, was in Belleville. And this fellow lived in Nutley, but I would walk up to Nutley to get the bus every morning. I would walk right past his house. So I saw quite a bit of him.
KP: Anyone else you remember from the crew?
KK: There was a fellow by the name of Fisk, who came from Schenectady. I lost track of him after we left the service. And that's all I can tell you about now.
KP: You had a college degree, were you the only one on the crew that had?
KK: Our skipper had a college degree. And I think this fellow, Fisk, from Schenectady, I think he had a college degree.
KP: Did you ever think, you mentioned a lot of your fraternity brothers had been in advanced ROTC, and ...
KP: Did you ever think you should have been an officer, with a college degree because ...
KK: Yes. Yes. I often did, but I applied. There was no chance for us to go to OCS, because our outfit was put on alert when it was formed, and that meant that the OCS was out of the question. But we could apply for warrant officer training. And I applied for that just about every place I was, and because we moved as often as we did, the processing of it never came to be, so I was not able to get into warrant officer school. When we were in the Philippines, and the war was over, I still applied, and I think I was going to be accepted, and then my number came up for discharge, going home. Three of the fellows in the outfit were accepted and became warrant officers, and the rest of us went home. And while we were on the ship leaving Manila, these three fellows were in a small boat out there waving to us, because they had to stay in service.
KP: Why did they have to stay and not ...
KK: Because ... they had to commit to do that, in order to their warrant.
KK: And they thought it was going to be good. They didn't know. Our departure came up very quickly. We were scheduled, probably, for a lot later, and suddenly the Army decided they wanted to demobilize faster, and so our outfit came out. Our departure came maybe three or four months before it was expected.
KP: Because your experience in the Army is very much an anomaly for the Army.
KK: Oh, yes.
KP: There are very few precedence before WWII, and it's really not ...
KK: I don't guess there is anything like it anymore.
KP: ... I mean, there must be some. I wouldn't be surprised if there is some odd thing, but it seems pretty odd.
KP: Because even in the Vietnam War the Navy was the one that patrolled the Mekong Delta, so it's not like the Army has sought this role too often. When you had contact with other Army units, or other, you know ...
KK: Frankly, the only contacts I can remember with other Army units were on the boat coming home.
KK: And we were all exchanging stories, and we were all glad to be where we were.
KP: Did the people think it was odd what you had done in the Army, coming home, that you had been, basically, been a sailor?
KK: Well, most people had never heard of it.
KK: And when I came home with a pair of blue jeans, and a blue chambray shirt, and the white hat, people [said], "You were in the Army? That's Navy." So it was really unusual.
KP: How did the Navy look at you?
KK: They looked down on us, of course, because they were the tough guys and we were just doing the dirty work. Unglamorous. But there wasn't a lot of that. We had great relations with the Navy people when we were in New Guinea. Those we came in contact with, because we were helping them out.
KP: Right. I guess you were, in a sense, in jungle in New Guinea. But the Philippines, when you were at port, you were in Manila.
KP: I was told by others who I have interviewed, but also just from written accounts, Manila was a pretty devastated city. Do you remember? ... Did you get to know Manila at all?
KK: Well, yes. We were able to travel around in it a lot and, sure, devastation was all over the place. Most of the big government buildings were in pretty bad shape. Bullet holes in the wall, the masonry of just about everything, except in the shanties where the common people lived. That was left alone.
KP: And I guess one general question is, did you every go to chapel services when you were in?
KK: Whenever I could.
KP: ... How often would you have a chance to go in either New Guinea or the Philippines?
KK: I can only remember once in New Guinea that a chaplain came in. We sat on the edge of the water, under the palm trees, and had a service. On the troop ship going over we had them every Sunday, and I went to them. And up in Manila I don't remember that we had any.
SJ: While you preparing for the invasion of Japan, I mean, were you ... in hunger for action, or you were just, kind of dreading it?
KK: Well, we were dreading it because they had told us what our mission was going to be. And our mission was going to be close to the shoreline, and try to spot the mines and use our machine guns to set them off. And if we didn't see them ...
KP: You didn't do a lot of training. I mean, that's a pretty specialized task.
KK: Yes. Yes. Well, like I said, they had said they were going to get training on the way up. And so, hopefully, but we were kind of scared. And I can't tell you how relieved we were when we heard that the war was over.
KP: Because until the atomic bomb struck you believed you would be part of this invasion?
KK: Oh, yes. Yes. We had been indoctrinated that we would be.
KP: When did you ... learn about the atomic bomb? How did you hear about it? Were you at sea? Were you in Manila?
KK: Frankly, I don't remember. All I remember about is the surrender. And I think, probably, we were out on missions. And my recollection is, we didn't realize the impact of the atomic bomb when it went off. We just heard it was a real big bomb, and hopefully that the Japanese would come to terms as a result of it. And then when they didn't with the first one, and the second one went off, "Well, now for sure they will." So we began to have hopes, but we didn't have hopes for the surrender immediately. I was the first one on our boat to know about the surrender. We were down in an outpost in Southern Luzon, in a big harbor, and we didn't want to drop our anchor into the deep water because it's too much work bringing it up, so we asked permission, to tie up to a small freighter that was there. This was an Australian freighter. And so, we tied up to them and in the evening we had interchange with the people. And we had some beer, and they didn't, so we exchanged that. And I was on watch from four o'clock till eight o'clock in the morning, and about, it was just getting light, so that was about six-thirty in the morning, it got dark and it got light at the same time, each day, all year round. It was about six-thirty. ... I heard this commotion, and so I went over and said, "What's going on?" They said, "Come here and listen to the radio. The Japs have surrendered." So I listened to it for awhile, and I went back, and I started to wake up everybody on our boat. And they were cussing me, you know, and so forth. And I said, "Hey, the Japs have surrendered." "Aw, you're full of ..." I won't repeat it, but they were not very kind.
KP: Their comments were not celebratory.
KK: They were not celebratory, they were not believing, and they were disgruntled because I had awakened them. And then, one by one, we got our own radio on, and we got the word. So it was a really jubilant trip back to Manila after that.
SJ: So, obviously, I mean, the use of the atomic bomb, you didn't really know much about it, but when you got back to the States, a lot of people ... didn't necessarily like the use of the atomic bomb.
KK: Yes, it was controversial. We were ... delighted, and also very, very chagrined that it had to happen, that so many Japanese were killed. So therefore, we had mixed feelings about it, but the feeling of elation for having gotten away was the overriding feeling.
KP: Now, it sounds like you had no desire to stay in the Army.
KK: No, when they asked us the question in our demobilization, about our willingness to stay in the Army, and they gave us all the advantages, all I want to do is get out.
SJ: Even with your ... more pleasant experience in the Army? Compared to the people who were at the fronts, or actually on the islands, you had a pretty pleasant time.
KK: Yes. It was not a harrowing or harassing time, so it was, as far as military services goes, I'd say I probably had as good as a deal as anybody could get. And my concern was, I wanted to get back to my wife, start a family, get back to my job, and keep going. Because our company had guaranteed, when we left, that the job would be there when I get back.
KP: I'm curious. You got married, it sounds like, just before you went overseas.
KK: Yes. Right. I got married in September of '44. My wife came down to Florida to live with me for a couple of weeks in October, and then we were put under extreme ... I can't think of the term now, but it was kind of like we were locked in. No more leaves. Alert. We were on extreme alert. And then, early in December, we left.
KP: Do you think the war hastened your marriage?
KK: I know it did. Because my wife and I were engaged when I went into service, but I had no thought at all of being married while I was in service. And some of the fellows, when we were down in Florida, were having their wives down. And so, one day I just decided, "I want to be married." And I called my wife, and this was in June of '44. I called my wife and said, "I want you to sit down." And she said, "What's the matter?" I said, "Well, I'm going to get a furlough in September, and I want us to be married while I'm on furlough." "Oh!" [Laughter] She didn't think about it very long. And so, then she told her folks, and I wrote to my folks, and the wedding was arranged early in September while we were on furlough. So I had a two week furlough, fourteen day furlough. We were married the early part of it, so we had about at least a week to have our honeymoon. We went up to the Inn in Buck Hill Falls, and then we went down to our house, my wife's folk's house down at the Shore where we now live. And that was the way we spent our honeymoon.
KP: And when your furlough was over you went back to Florida?
KP: What did your wife do when ...
KK: She had a job working for a naval architectural firm called Gibbs and Cox. And her job was a tracer. She would work in the design department, and the original blueprints would be made up, and she would trace them off, make copies of them. They didn't have the kind of copying machines then that we now have, so her job was a tracer.
KP: It sounds like it's very much a war-related job.
KK: It was. Yes. What happened was, she majored in sociology. As her senior year was drawing to a close, and she wasn't sure what she was going to do, these different companies came down and recruited on campus. And Gibbs and Cox, the firm she ultimately worked for, came down and she signed up with them. So she worked for them the whole time I was in the military service, and for a couple of months after I got out.
KP: ... Was she glad to go back to being a full-time housewife? Did she look forward to that?
KK: I think she had mixed feelings. There was some health problems related to it, and at the time she stopped working we had not established a home of our own. I think we were living with her parents and one of her concerns was, and mine, too, we wanted to get a house of our own.
KP: How crucial was the VA mortgage in getting a house?
K.K.: Well, the first house we rented. We rented for three years. There was no mortgage involved. And then, in 1950, when we, in 1949 actually, we were looking around to buy the house, and we were able to get a combination mortgage that was VA, FHA, and independent. So different components of it, and at different rates.
KP: It sounds very complicated actually.
K.K.: Yes, it was. It was. And I know our builder made a mistake, and failed to get an inspection, so we lost part of the VA credentials. So it ended up costing us a little more money to buy the house than we had wanted. And that was an unhappy experience, but it worked out all right.
KP: While you're thinking, I had a question about, going back to JC Penney, and how did the war change JC Penney? Did you notice any immediate changes while you had been gone?
KK: Actually, so many of the people in our office had been in military service that it was a time of everybody trying to get readjusted to doing the work. And there were some different people. For example, when the head of our department went into service; somebody else was put in his place who stayed through the duration. Now, he had been put back in his original job and the original head of the department was taking over. He was kind of feeling his way in, so there was a lot of adjustment being made. But the question was, what kind of job I was supposed to go back into? And so, they gave me a job that was at a level higher than the one when I had left. And so, that was a neat experience for me to have to learn something right away.
KP: So you got promoted right away?
KK: Yes. ... But then things were moving pretty quickly. We were going from a war time footing to a peace time footing, and there was a great demand for the kind of products that we offered. So people were buying, and we were busier than we had been, and there was much more going on that involved the advertising end of the business.
KP: So it sounds like you came back and it was just growth. The department got bigger and ...
KK: Yes. The department got bigger, and I was able to benefit by that, in terms of getting a more diversified work. I built my work career on setting up new types of work, and moving into it, and growing through that.
KP: When you say you created a new department, what kind of departments?
KK: Not necessarily departments, but new activities. I started out in the art department. When I came back I had a job of supervising some work in the art department. And I could see that there were some things that we needed to communicate to stores, that were not in line of what the copywriters were writing on the merchandise, but on how to use the advertising. And so, I started writing in connection with that, and my boss was quite impressed with what I was doing, and that set up a path for me to expand that type of activity. And it became the basis of a good bit of my career. So, in other words, we had people who were drawing the ads, and people who were writing the ads, and then I was in the middle telling stores how to use them.
KP: What were the different ways that they could use them?
KK: Well, depending upon their budget, we would issue ads that were kind of like components of a total program. And I would show the stores how to put them together. If they had so many dollars to spend they could do it this way, other amounts to spend they could do it this way, and so forth. And I worked real closely with some people who had been involved in store work, so that we could develop a fairly realistic type of program.
KP: So, in many ways, all the advertising copy comes out of New York when you were with the company. The local stores have a lot discretion how it's used.
KK: Yes. Yes.
KP: In other words, ... you told them exactly how many ads to run, and when to run it.
KK: Well, their budgets would set that up.
KK: They would know how many to run and how much advertising space they could afford.
KP: But it almost sounds like they had some leeway. Some weeks they might put out more copy than other weeks.
KK: Well, the manager of the store had a semi-autonomous position. His responsibility was sales and profits. And how he got them, he had to work within company guidelines, which were very customer orientated, but how he got the sales and profits would be pretty much up to him. He had a lot of say in what merchandise he carried, and what quantities he carried. And if he was a successful merchant, and had what the customers wanted, he would be successful, and be promoted. If he wasn't, then he would not be promoted.
KP: Yes. So in other words, I mean, that would very much reflect what kind of copy he needed, too.
KK: That's right. Then, from that position of work, it grew into a situation where another fellow and I were going out and doing a lot of traveling, and helping the stores to do this kind of work. Particularly the newer stores, which were bigger and needed more guidance, because the people didn't have the experience.
KP: One of the things, I guess this is the time to talk about it. JC Penney really had changed. I even remember it in the '80s, one of the more recent changes of emphasis, but you saw JC Penney when you started back in 1942. It was really a small town mid-western, rural. Now I think of JC Penney stores in malls and major suburban centers.
KK: Well, two things happened at the same time. The concept of regional shopping centers began. They started out as strip malls, and then they became regional shopping centers. And I was in a position of going out and working with stores on how to set up their advertising, at a time when the strip malls were just starting. And so this meant that we could go out, and we could show stores how. They were larger volume, and that meant they needed more advertising, how they can use the materials that we developed in order to develop their advertising programs. And also to listen to them, tell us what they needed that we weren't doing. So it was kind of a two way street. And then, the bigger the stores, the more complex the promotional programs became, and then the company decided to ... offer credit cards. And I was assigned to work with the credit people. There were two people in our credit department, and I was assigned to work with them. So the three of us kind of pioneered the development of the credit operation in the company. So ...
KP: Which is interesting, because now it is so ubiquitous. Credit.
KK: Oh, yes.
KP: Credit cards [are] ... almost taken for granted.
KK: This was in the late '50s, and we had been a cash-and-carry operation, and now we were changing that. And it was a total revolution for the company, and sometimes I would go in to put on a presentation to some of our officers, and they were still not sure that we should be on credit. ... But that was an avenue that gave me a chance to work with a lot of the top-level people in the company. And out of that grew an understanding that I attained, that not too many other people had, about how the work that we needed to do to reach these customers interacted with the kind of merchandise we had to be able to offer them. And so, it was a lot going on in terms of a lot of different directions. And so, I left the active role in advertising and got more into an area of merchandising, and then general marketing, to see how the impact of what we were doing affected, and reached out to, the consumers. It was pretty interesting to me to be involved in this transition from a small country store, small-town, country store, to a large, metropolitan area department store.
KP: It is interesting. Some chains never made that transition very well.
KK: No. No.
KP: I think one firm, which was somewhat similar, was Montgomery Ward, seemed to have faltered along the way.
KK: Well, Montgomery Ward has closed down its operation in this part of the country, but they're still very big, and powerful, in other areas.
KP: ... But, they are now in bankruptcy.
KK: Yeah. Well, they've had their problems.
KK: And a lot of the organizations tried to open discount stores. Department stores trying to open a discount branch, but we tried to do that, too. And they failed, and sometimes that drags the whole store down. Other cases, big stores survived only because of mergers. The Dayton Company, the Hudson Company, now Dayton-Hudson, and Robinson-May out in California. The only reason they have been able to survive was because they joined forces. We were able to survive because we had the wherewithal, and the knowledge, of how to take a small town association we had with customers, and take it into a bigger community.
KP: It sounds like you were very concerned that you, in expanding, you didn't loose your original customer base.
KK: Or the original principles of the company. Mr. Penney wrote thirteen principals called "The Penney Principals," that still control the organization of the company.
KP: And that was really important?
KK: It was.
KP: Really? It wasn't just something you put on the wall, just because it looked nice?
KK: No. It was something everybody was dedicated to.
KP: It sounds like you still remember them, "The Penney Principles."
KK: Well, I couldn't tell you what they all were, but the biggest one was "to do what is just and right for the consumer."
KP: And that was really, it was a real effort to do?
KP: Any specific examples that you remember, particularly when you'd have struggles whether you should do it this way or that way.
KK: There was always a big controversy in the company whether we should peg our prices artificially high so that we could have dramatic sales. And the thought was, "Not everybody shops at a sale. Some people have to shop on an everyday basis when they need something. And we better have low prices everyday." So when the company decided to initiate a program of temporary price reductions, with sales, there was a lot of controversy going on, and we tried to maintain the low price integrity and still be able to have sales.
KP: But it sounds like it was quite a struggle, because that's what stores do. ... They jack up prices artificially high. ... But if you're the person who has to buy a shirt, and it's fifty dollars ...
KK: Yes, and you can't wait 'till it's reduced to forty dollars.
KK: And I don't know. I retired in 1979, and there were a lot of changes in the company since then. A lot of changes in the whole retailing picture.
KP: Right. No, JC Penney ...
KK: I don't know ... what the philosophy is now. I don't have that close of contact with the company any more.
SJ: You were in JC Penney for a pretty long time, and you saw the expansion of, you know, into different products. I mean, when Penney's first started it was in clothing, mostly, and ...
KK: Clothing and home furnishings.
SJ: Home furnishings. You saw a lot of new products that came about after World War II. I mean, what ones stood out in your mind?
KK: Well, I was involved with the store expansion program, and I got very close to some of these new departments: major appliances, paint and hardware, automotive. And I would be responsible for developing advertising programs for those merchandise lines. And the one that was my pet was painting and hardware. Because I just happen to love, I can be in paradise when I am in a hardware store. [Laughs] And so I worked with that, and then I also got deeply involved with the camera department, working with them, trying to establish a promotional basis. Now since I retired, the company has gotten out of most of those lines of business.
KP: Now it's interesting, because they have actually, somewhat, gone back to your original philosophy.
KK: The only one that the company has really been able to continue selling, according to the original plan, is furniture. And we have big furniture departments in a good many of our stores.
------------------------------------ END OF TAPE TWO, SIDE ONE ------------------------------------
KK: ... He with the merchandise, and me, the advertising, to promote and sell it. And I worked that way with most of the other head buyers in these new departments. So it was a real exciting type of career.
KP: It sounds like you had a lot of opportunity to shape company policy.
KK: Well, to participate in.
KK: Not necessarily to make the decisions, but to participate, and make recommendations about it.
KP: But it seems like some of your recommendation, and your desires were ...
KK: It was very satisfying.
KP: In other words, you thought this was the right philosophy, some of the expantion, particularly in hardware and cameras? ... Did you think there were any areas that the areas of expansion weren't working?
KK: Well, first of all, I want to say that I didn't have anything to do with the decision.
KP: Yes. So you didn't have a hand to expand?
KK: To initiate this expansion. But once it was decided, then I got deeply involved in how we were going to go about it.
KP: I just want to follow up, because while you had a hand in expansion, you were there, sort of there, in the beginning, with the ... credit card. When you first conceived credit cards, I mean, this is sort of, obviously, this is hard to perceive the path, but did you ever envision it would be significant, as it became for the company? Particularly when you think of modern retailing, now in the 1980s and '90s, was there any ...
KK: Well, let me just say that when we started to operate in the credit area it was before American Express came on with this total plan, and before Master Card and Visa. And so, we were thinking in terms of what the department stores offered, what the gasoline companies offered, and then the convenience of it. And we started out just doing it one pocket of stores at a time. The first area where we offered credit was in our stores in Denver, and the surrounding areas. I opened a credit account out in one of those stores, and so I have one of the earliest credit accounts of the company. But, yes, we knew that we were going to go big. And ... what was on the fringe of it all, and ultimately became the controlling factor, was the whole technique of computerization. Our first credit operation was a hand operation, and that only lasted a very short time, and then we were able to get some of the primitive types of computers. I can remember, as fast as the computer capabilities could be extended to other areas, we offered credit in those other areas. And so we knew it was going to be nationwide, and we knew that computers were going to give us the capability of having fewer offices. We started out with, oh, I can't tell you, but every time we opened a new area there was a credit office in the area. And now, of course, with computerization we just have one centralized credit operation. But as fast as the technology was there, we were ready to expand.
KP: But you did mention earlier there were some dissenters, who thought that the old-fashioned ...
KK: The old traditionalist. Right. Right. Yes.
KP: The old cash and carry.
KK: But they retired. [Laughter]
KP: So, it was really an aging process.
KK: The company had a mandatory policy for people who got in management, to retire at the age of sixty. It's still a practice, but not mandatory anymore because Congress took care of that. But a lot of the big decision-makers were well up in years, and so, they ... I have to say, that the ones who were the dissenters were not in the majority at all.
KP: It sounds like they were the vanishing old guard.
KK: They were in the minority. Sometimes they were kind of noisy, but, yes, a vanishing old guard.
KP: Is there anything else? While we favor World War II, but you had a long run with one company.
KP: Is there anything else with your years with JC Penney that we forgot to ask you about?
KK: Well, one of the things that I have always been happy for was the company's feeling about the integrity of the individual. I happen to have a lot of religious connection now, and I'm very active working in churches. But the standards of the company, and my religious beliefs were so compatible, that it was very easy for me to have like a dual track effort between work and religious work.
KP: In other words, I get the sense that it was a very ethical company.
KK: Very, very highly ethical.
KP: ... Because the retail trade can be ruthless. I've gotten that sense.
KK: Well, I think some people criticize Penney for not being competitive in terms of its lack of ruthlessness. But, since I retired, I understand that things have changed a lot, and the competitive aspect has become a more predominant thing. But I don't know that for a fact.
KP: Yes, but that's your ...
KK: My sense, yes.
KP: Well, it's a changed company, in part, because the headquarters moved after you retired, to Texas
KK: Oh, yes. I have often wondered what I would have done if the move had been twenty years earlier.
KP: Whether you would have stayed or ...
KK: Yes. Yes.
KP: Because it sounds like you enjoyed working in New York, too.
KK: Well, I didn't necessarily enjoy working in New York, but I enjoyed my work.
KP: Oh, okay. So you might have followed them to Texas?
KK: Well, it would have been uprooting the whole family. We were so oriented in this New Jersey area.
SJ: And your family was still around the area for most part? Did you keep in connection with a lot of your family?
KK: Oh, yes. We've maintained connection with our family. That's probably the priority of our lives. to keep the family connections current. We have four daughters, and when they graduated from college, and they began to establish themselves in careers, their careers took them into other parts of the country. So that my wife and I are the only ones in our family now who are in New Jersey. And so, our orientation is no longer as much New Jersey as it was, wherever the kids are is where it is. ...
KP: Where you are.
KP: You never joined any veteran's organizations.
KP: ... Did your group ever have a reunion?
KK: Military group? No. We had some informal reunions. These friends I had, ... the chief cook in our company, lived out in Gladstone. So ... we got together with him. The fellow in Nutley, and the fellow in Gladstone, and myself, and our wives, got together several times. But that was the only.
KP: And you mentioned the person in Nutley, who you used to always pass his house.
KK: Yes. Yes, we were quite friendly until he passed away.
KP: Did you consider yourself lucky when you came home, in terms of the war?
KK: I considered myself very, very fortunate. In terms of what I had done before being in the Army, and that I could use my experiences, my learnings from the Coast Guard Reserve days, to do better in the Army. And the things that I learned in the Army about interaction with people, and being in charge of people, were most helpful to me when I came back into the business world.
KP: Really? You ...
KK: So things never seemed ... I have a very, very strong faith in God, and I say that I can look back on my life and see how he was taking me step by step, by step, by step, by step, to the place where he wanted me today.
KP: It sounds like you have also been enjoying retirement.
KK: Oh, absolutely. I have been retired since 1979 and I don't know how I ever had time to work.
KP: You mentioned you were very active in the church.
KP: What else have you done in retirement, in keeping up with the family?
KK: Well, for quite a while my wife and I, and our kids, too, 'cause they were home at the time, were involved in the American Field Service. You know, the high school student exchange program? And we still have maintained our contacts in that. And then my wife and I got involved in a marriage growth program, called Marriage Enrichment. We have been involved in that now since 1975. We've just recently finished a couple of terms on the board of directors of the national organization, and we are on the council in New Jersey. We're leaders in this state, and we're getting ready to have a retreat at our house at the shore in two weeks. So that, we are deeply involved in it. It's been a life changing experience for us, and we are ... most eager to talk to anybody about it.
KP: I hope you don't mind me observing.
KP: Your heart condition, that had been such a fear, you've led a rather long and healthy life.
KK: Yes. I plan on continuing. In 1993, I had what my doctor calls a "silent heart attack." Where one of the blood vessels was eighty-five percent blocked, and I didn't know it. And so, it's been treated medically and is, ... has been, completely cured, up until just recently. I have to go for another stress test on Thursday, because there has been just a slight aberration in the wave length of the heartbeat. But, I anticipate that this is an aberration that can be dealt with.
KP: Just compared to the early, when you were a young man, you got this very severe diagnosis, which sounds like you were a bit concerned, enough to follow the advice of not playing sports.
KK: Yes, I followed the advise. I don't remember back whether I was frightened about it or not.
KP: Well, if not frightened, at least you were following ...
KK: Yes, I was concerned. Yes. And I know my mother was very, very concerned about it. So maybe it was out of concern for her that I ... [Laughs]
KP: I've had several people who told me about various things they were diagnosed with. I think some medicine got better, or the diagnosis wasn't so severe.
KK: I have a daughter who's a physician out in Wisconsin. And I run all these things by her, and she is pleased that I have been as healthy as I have been, and is not concerned about the current situation. So I don't know what's going to develop out of it, but I don't anticipate much difficulty.
SJ: At the beginning of the interview you had mentioned that you had come back to Rutgers for the Class of '41 reunion. What was your opinion on how much it changed?
KK: Well, I'm overwhelmed with what's happened down here since I graduated. And I can very easily get lost. It was interesting today, walking through, up from along side the chapel, an area that had been beautiful lawns, and now it's a parking lot. And I can't understand why that has to happen, but it was kind of interesting to walk down some of the paths I used to walk on, and walk across here, like where I met you, as kind of a commons area, an open area, a patio type of thing. Well, it was just two little paths. ... I came back for quite a few reunions right after I got out of service, and was able to see some of the changes. And then I was on the Board of Trustees of my fraternity, long before the problems came up, but I was on the Board of Trustees there, and ... had some associations. So I would say, my associations with the University were pretty active though 1955, or thereabouts. And, after that, it started to taper off, as the pace of other parts of my life increased.
KP: Did any of your daughters attend either Rutgers or Douglass?
KK: No. No. They wanted to get further away from home. We drew a line, a geographic line, and said, "You can't go any father than this." And we drew a dollar limit. "You can't go above that." And so, ... my oldest daughter went to Elmira College in New York State, number two daughter went to Bethany out in West Virginia, my third daughter went to Juniata in Huntington, Pennsylvania, and my youngest daughter went to the University of Rhode Island. They all have had specialized courses that they wanted, that I don't think they could find exactly what they wanted at Douglass. And I don't remember that they looked at it too carefully.
KP: Despite the family tie?
KK: Yes. Well, I've kept up my contributions and so has my wife, but I don't think we're very loyal alumni. [Laughter]
KP: Well, you're loyal enough to come down to give us your time.
KK: Well, I'm interested in this, but I think I am going to have to break.
KP: No. No. I was just going to ask you if you had anything else, about anything?
KK: No, I've been really grateful for the fact that I was able to spend the time I did at Rutgers, and for the benefits that my education has given me. So I do still hold a warm spot in my heart. I was just so thrilled with the football game, in Pittsburgh the other day.
SJ: One game. They beat Pittsburgh.
KP: Do you still go to the games at all?
KK: No. I haven't been to a Rutgers game since, oh, in forty years.
KP: Oh, wow.
KK: Yes. I don't participate as a spectator in sports to any great degree. I figure I find more if I watch it on television, and I don't even do much of that.
KP: Well, thank you very much. We really appreciated it.
KK: Well, I really appreciate your inviting me up, and look forward to whatever develops from it.
KP: Well, we'll definitely get you a copy.
KK: Well, I've enjoyed this.
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Reviewed 6-15-00 Sean D. Harvey
Reviewed 6-24-00 Sandra Stewart Holyoak
Reviewed 7-00 Kenneth Kaiser