KURT PIEHLER: [This begins an interview with] Samuel E. Blum on July 8, 1994. I guess I'd like to begin with your parents. Why did your parents come to the United States?
SAMUEL E. BLUM: They came for economic opportunities and to get away from pogroms in the Ukraine. Possibly my father was sent by his parents to avoid serving in the Czar's army, (twenty-five years in those days). They came here in their teens. My mother got here in 1914 and my dad 1915. My mother was 15 years old, and my dad was 20 perhaps. My mother had some family here, a couple of brothers. Father had one cousin who died during World War I, so he had no family here. My mother initially settled in Chicago and my dad in New York. He was a photographer, but he couldn't find work and so he apprenticed for a printer and that's the trade he worked in all his working life. My dad was in the U.S. Cavalry in World War I, at Camp Upton. When the war was over, my dad and mother married in 1918. My mother had worked in Chicago in a glove factory, as a seamstress. The rest of her life she was a housewife. I was born 1920 in New York. My father and mother summered out here in what is Piscataway Township, a place called Ferrer Colony. It's five miles from here. They built a shack that they and I summered in, until I was ten. Winters we lived in New York City and I went to city schools. In 1930, dad got his World War I bonus and that gave him enough money to build a house. He built a permanent winter home and we left the city. I enrolled in the Fellowship Farm School in Piscataway Township. It's a two room schoolhouse with two teachers. Miss Shuler was my teacher. She taught the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. I was in the 6th grade. I went to New Market School for the 7th and 8th grades, graduating in 1934. Attending Roosevelt Junior High School and New Brunswick High School and I got out in 1938.
When I was a boy, we lived in the country. And although we didn't have much land, it was a farming existence. The town we
lived in was self-sufficient in the sense that it relied on no support at all from the township government. The unpaved roads were
our own. We had no amenities. No electricity, no city water ...
KP: Initially there was no electricity?
SB: We got electricity in 1929, which was about a year before we moved out there permanently.
KP: Did you have an outhouse or a toilet?
SB: Yes, we had a privy, an outhouse.
KP: How far from Busch Campus?
SB: About 2 miles from Davidson Road. You cross Lake Nelson and right there was where I lived.
KP: And that was ... you called it?
SB: The Ferrer Colony. F E R R E R.
KP: And who lived in the Ferrer Colony? Who lived there? How big was it?
SB: Well, there were about a hundred families living there.
KP: And most from New York?
SB: Most of them had left New York to organize a school of their own choosing called the Ferrer School based on the
principles of a Spanish educator named Francisco Ferrer who was martyred in Spain in 1909. The school's principles were to allow the child to enjoy childhood; to be a child, to be anti-authoritarian; to allow the child to enjoy himself: they did not force the kids to do anything they didn't want, but they did have a kind of discipline. The discipline was to respect the other kids. You could do what[ever] you want but don't hurt or interfere or bother somebody else. Totally unregimented in a way, but on the other hand e.g. if you made a decision to work in the woodshop, then they expected you to work in the woodshop, and when you finished to clean up. Now I didn't attend that school, I went to the city schools. But the community had many kids that did go to that school.
KP: And one of the key things of this community is the school.
SB: Initially it was.
KP: Yes initially. Then it expanded to include other people coming from the city?
SB: The school had a following that supported their principles education. And there were others that believed in that kind of
teaching. Although not everybody in the community, myself included, went to the school.
KP: How many, was this Ferrer School, was this one of a kind or was this ...
SB: No, there were several other schools that followed the principles of Ferrer.
KP: To your knowledge were there any books written about the Ferrer School in Piscataway and this colony?
SB: Yes, Paul Avrich wrote one, he's a history professor and has written about the modern school movement.
KP: You mentioned the colony was very separate from the rest of Piscataway. You had your own school ...
SB: We also had a public school.
KP: ... There is a public school, but many people went, in fact, to the Ferrer School.
SB: Of the kids I grew up with, possibly half went to public schools and the other half went to the Ferrer School. The Ferrer
School was, of course, a private school.
KP: You had to pay tuition.
SB: Yes. It was very nominal but some people couldn't really pay in the Depression days. If you had to pay three dollars a
week that was a lot of money in those days. We're talking about people who, when they were working, would maybe make
$30 a week and that was good. ... This antedates the Depression. In the Depression they were lucky to get that much. And a lot of people were out of work. Two friends of mine, brothers, one went and the other didn't. Maybe the parents just allowed the children the freedom of choice. Presumably that was a big thing amongst our people. You know, that you be able to do what you want providing you don't hurt anybody.
KP: Even people who may have sent their kids to public schools, this was a fairly wide spread sentiment among many ...?
SB: Yes. For example, the Ferrer School never used to force a kid to learn reading. When he wanted to read, when his own
interests would drive him to want to read, then he would learn to read. Somebody would be there to teach him. I being a
product of the city school system at six years I was reading. Some Modern schoolers did not learn to read until they had to
attend high school (the Modern School did not keep children beyond about 14 years of age). Of course they surely would read by then. My close friend Izzy learned at 13. His brother, by the way, was a classmate of mine, he went through the regular public schools and was valedictorian of my high school class of '38 in NBHS.
It's important, I think, to realize that the school believed in freedom and allowing the child his childhood. Don't take it away,
don't regiment him. When I was a kid I had chores. Nobody forced me to do them, but my responsibility was to take care of
the chickens, clean the roosts every Saturday morning, to feed your pigeons, etc. That's what I was used to and that's how I
was brought up. To have a feeling of responsibility. But there was a great deal of freedom, a great deal of freedom. A lot of
doing what you want. Also I should say that in the sense of things religious, it was an irreligious community. We had no
churches, no temples, no synagogues.
KP: So it was very free thinking.
SB: I would like to say free thinking, whatever that means. Put your definition to it.
KP: Well, in other words, did people go to synagogues or churches?
SB: No, they didn't.
KP: A form of atheists, of free thinking.
SB: You could say they were atheists. But I'm not sure every one was. We were a non-observant home. We knew the
holidays, etc., but my mother never lit candles on the Sabbath. When my grandmother would visit, she would, but my mother
never did. My father was totally non-observant.
KP: What was the relationship between this colony and the rest of Piscataway?
SB: Well, we weren't liked particularly. We were considered an oddball group. Around 1917 or '18, before I was born,
someone raised the red flag there in sympathy with the Russian Revolution. The militia, or some group of horsemen came out
from New Brunswick to tear it down. ... You are really not part of the outside community and there's a great deal of animosity towards you. You felt it at school. At New Market School, some students would be rough on you. But by and large, although it existed, it wasn't a dominant thing in your life. You went to school and somebody there was anti-Semitic and called you a Jew bastard, so what? Or, they'd say it in Polish. You'd come home and you'd tell your father or your uncle and they'd say, come on, forget about it, this is the way it is. So you glossed over it. Not that you didn't feel hurt, and not that you didn't understand it, because when I was young I didn't understand, I'd say I'm not religious so why should you pick on me for my religion, but of course they weren't picking on me for my religion, they were picking on me for what I was or had come from. And it took me years to understand that. There was animosity by the outer community. But on a day to day basis, it didn't matter, because you were within your own community.
KP: Your father served in the military.
SB: Yes. My uncles did, too. My father and my mother's brother were both in the U.S. Army in World War I, and my mother's kid brother was in World War II. He was in the Navy.
KP: Your father ... I don't want to use any term to describe it. Was he drafted or did he volunteer for the Army and how did he feel ...?
SB: I don't know if he was drafted or he volunteered. I know this, though. He wouldn't marry to stay out of the war. He
thought people who did that were cowards.
KP: Oh, so he didn't ...
SB: He did not, say, "Eva (my mother's name), let's get married and I'll be able to stay out of the draft." He wouldn't do that.
And he despised people who did that. He thought that was cowardly. He was in a way patriotic. But I'm not sure if he
volunteered or he got drafted.
KP: In other words, he was not an opponent of the war that you could tell.
SB: No, not particularly. This is a very hard thing to deal with because in a certain sense I'm a pacifist. And I think my parents were, and a lot of people I grew up were pacifists but they would fight. I think they understood war and what it was and they realized the economic and nationalistic aspect of it which they didn't like. However, when a Hitler comes along you do something about it. And my Hitler started much earlier than 1939. Much earlier. The Spanish Civil War. That's when my Hitler started. And that's when the people in my hometown decided and did something about fighting Hitler.
KP: So the Spanish Civil War was a very formative event for you.
SB: In my community it was a very unifying thing. It was a left-wing community. The left wing is all kinds of left wings, and some of them were really rabidly against others.
KP: Would you have divisions in the community, say, between your honest to goodness reformers, progressive types, New
Dealers, but then maybe communists ...?
SB: We had communists, anarchists, socialists of several kinds, and New Dealers who really were pleased with Roosevelt
because he got us out of the Depression, (although literally he didn't, not until the war started). He at least could focus on
national needs and do something, WPA, PWA, NRA, etc. However, when the Spanish Civil War came, our people united to do something against Hitler and Mussolini going into Spain. It was war.
KP: Had you had members of your community volunteer?
SB: One guy went into the Abraham Lincoln brigade.
KP: And ...
SB: We wanted to raise money to aid the Spanish loyalists. We had a theater group, and gave plays. We performed here in
Middlesex County, South River, Manville, etc. With the money we raised we bought an ambulance and sent it to Spain. An
ambulance cost a lot. We reaised $1,500. Boy that was a lot of money!
KP: Especially in the Great Depression.
SB: This was '36, '37, '38. This project was nice because it's fun to give plays, it was fun to act. It was also gratifing because it
united people of disparate political views.
KP: So a common front really worked in your community?
SB: In that case it did. In a lot of other issues it never worked.
KP: What other issues?
SB: Oh, it ... didn't work on how they felt about the Soviet Union. How they felt about Stalin. Some thought he was a god and some thought he was the worst thing since Caligula. Although many were "Socialist" types, left-wingers, etc., they were
different. You can't cast them into one mold.
KP: Where did you come down in the '30s? If you had to identify which group did you ...?
SB: I wasn't part of any particular group. And that has to do with possibly my father, who was good observer of the political
scene. My father still had family in the Soviet Union. He would correspond, he had a sister and a brother and they were both in strong positions in the sense that they were educated and upper class, whatever that meant in the Soviet Union. But when things went bad there, which happened in my recollection in the middle '30s, he saw through it and he didn't like what he saw. He realized that in some way, the revolution was betrayed. And this was the era of the political trials of the middle '30s. My father was a skeptic. He and I were never politically active.
KP: You weren't enamored by the socialists ...
SB: Well, I liked some of the things they stood for. In those years who but the left-wing and blacks themselves did anything
about black rights, you also had to see what was happening in the Soviet Union, what Stalin really was, and to be able to
differentiate and still not throw out the baby with the bath so to speak. It's not easy because sometimes evil people will stand
for good things e.g. Farakkhan in today's world. You know, he's for black dignity and working and cleanliness and dressing up and all of that and at the same time he's a fascist. So what do you do? It's not easy. It never was and it's not going to be.
KP: When you speak of the farm. How ...
SB: A small farm. We had a few hundred chickens.
KP: So that's how you got into pigeons, pigeon racing.
SB: Well that was a hobby. I kept it up from about 1930 until I was a freshman in college and then I got busy with college
work and I didn't take care of my birds so my mother did the right thing and that's what we had on the table. We ate them.
Very traumatic period.
KP: How did the small farm help you in the Great Depression?
SB: Well, let me say that knock on wood, my dad never lost a day's work. He had a good job, he was part of what people
would call the labor aristocracy. He was a printer and worked for a law book publisher, Shepherd's Citations, now owned by McGraw Hill.
KP: Where did he work?
SB: On Lafayette Street right across from the Tombs in New York.
KP: So he was commuting ...
SB: He commuted.
KP: He would leave from the New Brunswick train station.
SB: Well, it was Metuchen.
KP: Oh, O.K.
SB: It was Metuchen.
KP: O.K., but he used to take the train.
SB: Right, every day. And he came home every night. He commuted. He loved gardening, that was his great passion. And on this little acre we had several hundred chickens and he would take the eggs to his co-workers and sell them. this was a source of income which was used for my tuition.
KP: So in other words, you went through the Great Depression, you were successful.
SB: We were comfortable. Dad built a new house in 1930, and lacked only $1,000 to finish it which he borrowed from a
relative and then paid it off within two years. In '36 we bought a new car. In many respects we were much more comfortable
than I am making over 20 times as much money as he ever made.
KP: I guess, how did the Depression affect the rest of the community?
SB: Badly. There weren't too many that worked full time. I don't think that out of 50, 60 working men, 5 had steady jobs.
Going to Rutgers was quite a burden financially. Tuition was, $340, plus, since I was a chem major, breakage fees, $30 to $40, a year depending on how many lab classes you had. It was a lot of money. The arrangement between my father and myself was for me to raise half the tuition. I had to come up with $200 a year, and he would come up with the other $200. Of course I lived at home. I had very fond memories of Rutgers.
When I got to the 9th grade in New Brunswick I found out there was a possibility to get a library card, from Rutgers
University, the Nelson Library. When I received a library card, it opened a whole new world to me. The stacks and everything else were so exciting. I was able to draw books from the Rutgers University Library. This was in the 9th grade, and I continued through high school, college, and graduate school. It was a great place.
KP: So you have very fond memories of the library?
SB: Most especially the library. The idea of going to Rutgers was pretty good by the time I was a senior. I took the exam to get a state scholarship but I didn't make it, which miffed me in a way. Not so much that I didn't get it but my best friend and
classmate who was valedictorian in the class ...
KP: He didn't make it either.
SB: He didn't get it. I never found out why he didn't get it. You could say, well, he came from "that" community and that was it, but I don't want to be paranoid about it.
KP: But you're not sure ...
SB: He didn't get it, that I'm sure of. I didn't get it either. State scholarships were pro-rated by county, and Middlesex County, being where Rutgers is, had the greatest number of people applying, so the competition was much greater. If you came from Gloucester County or Warren, you got in, whether your grades were high or not. In other words, they didn't segregate by grades, they segregated geographically. The toughest place to get the scholarship was from Middlesex County.
KP: They didn't tell you your scores.
SB: No, oh my God, no. You got a notice that we regret to inform you that you didn't get the scholarship, or hey,
congratulations you got it. For instance, Ralph Schmidt, I think he had an Upson, he had a football scholarship.
KP: Well, Ralph alluded to that. When he got out on the field and everyone else had the same scholarship. ...
SB: ... But at the time I didn't even think of the Upson. The state scholarship would have been great because it would have paid my tuition.
KP: You lived very close to Rutgers. How would you characterize the town and Rutgers. Was your experience with the library unique?
SB: I don't know that it was unique, but not too many people went to Rutgers.
In my home town one got his Ph.D. the year I got out of high school, one had just gotten his bachelor's degree at Rutgers and was going off to med school, and another guy was in the department of education getting a master's degree. That's three.
KP: There were a number of people who went to Rutgers.
SB: There were a few who went to Rutgers. And they did well. Two were Phi Beta Kappa.
KP: Did people go to say football games, follow Rutgers football?
SB: I did. But very few others did. I went to my first Rutgers game probably around 1934, school buses took us down to
Princeton. Princeton was playing Rutgers. Two things I remember about the game. It was raining that day and everyone was
holding newspapers over themselves. When the rain stopped they threw paper wads at each other. The other thing was that
Rutgers didn't win. Yes, I went to the football games, and I also went to the football games in high school. I enjoyed them.
KP: Would other residents go to the football games, Rutgers football games?
SB: Not that I know of, no.
KP: You didn't go with a bunch of friends to Rutgers.
SB: I went with, a few of my fellow classmates that got out of
NBHS with me.
After Nelson Field the new stadium was inaugurated; it was a great stadium, it still is. There were good spirits and of course we beat Princeton that year and that was great. Which led to something that I've never forgotten. After the game the students
marched down George Street, towards NJC. And I got the funniest feeling. I enjoyed being with the guys in the victory march but I also got a kind of apprehension (to say the least) of the mob. And yet I don't recall that we broke any windows or anything, but yet there is something about a mob like that that I don't like. That this could really be terrible. Just my emotional feeling about it. But it was very nice winning. And it was the best football game I ever saw. I'm sure a lot of my classmates feel that too.
KP: Did you participate in any sports at Rutgers?
SB: I went to gym but I was never in any organized sports, I'm not a particularly good athlete. I played ... but I didn't do any
organized sports. Also being a commuter being involved in a carpool ...
KP: So you felt ... many people have talked about this. There were big sharp differences between commuters and residents.
Even though you lived in Piscataway you still felt ...
SB: I had to come home, pick up Dad at the station. As a chem major, Ralph [Schmidt] will tell you this. We had full days. My class day started at 8:00 and ended no earlier than four. For many terms, there were Saturday labs. I had friends who [said], "Jesus Christ, I'm stuck with a 9:00 class." I said, what? Anyway, we really had a full day and so that if the days over at 4:00 you'd better go pick Papa up. You had no choice. Had I been an athlete maybe I would have found a way. The one thing I did do at Rutgers that I enjoyed very much I did alone. I learned to play golf at a summer job I had where they had a golf course. And I used to go out and play at the Rutgers golf course. All alone and I loved it. I always appreciated the golf course. Of course I'm a 150 player but what the hell.
KP: Did you go to chapel or did you get excused?
SB: Well, we had to go to chapel.
KP: So you didn't try to get excused?
SB: Oh, Sunday chapel, no. As a commuter you didn't have to. But the regular, yes. The one who led us in the chapel was
Dean Metzger, the Dean of Men, who was a strict Calvinist type and he would put a heavy on you, "forgive us for we sin,
forgive us for we cheat, forgive us for we lie," ... and I didn't do anything of those things. And I don't know why the hell he was asking for forgiveness. But anyway, that was the kind of guy he was. He was a tough nut in that way. And very stern; even if he smiled I wouldn't believe it was a real smile.
KP: ... What did you think of the whole experience of going, especially given the community was ...
SB: Going to chapel? It didn't bother me, it doesn't bother me to go to a church, I don't take Communion but I've been to
where people do. It's their thing, it's just not mine. But I feel that way about going to a temple. I'm not religious. When you're
young you have certain feelings and prejudices and bigotries and when you get older I hope you lose them. If you go on a civil rights march and you've got a thousand nuns walking in front of you you feel pretty good about it, frankly. I don't know what I'd do at a KKK meeting but that's something else.
KP: Before I leave that question, were there any ... New Jersey had a high level of Klan activity. Did you ...
SB: Up in the Watchungs, they used to burn the cross in the early '30s.
KP: Was any directed at your community?
SB: Not that I know of.
KP: You never had ...
SB: No, I don't recall anybody putting a cross on our lawns or anything.
KP: In your community ...
SB: I just don't remember any of that ever happening. That doesn't mean that there wasn't any antagonism but we didn't get that kind of demonstrable outpouring.
KP: ... People talk about the division of Rutgers between commuters and residents, those with money and those without. What other divisions did you see at Rutgers?
SB: Before freshman week, I got invited to a smoker at a fraternity house. And it was a Jewish fraternity house, SAM, Sigma Alpha Mu. I went and it was just a bunch of guys doing a lot of smoking, and in those days ...
KP: They actually had smokers for smokers.
SB: In those days I didn't smoke. There was a kind of a ... camaraderie, back slapping kind of gathering, what a great house
SAM is and this guy is in that sport and this guy's in that and all of that. Which was fine, but I kind of knew that I wasn't going to join a fraternity. Now there were three Jewish fraternities then, ... Sigma Alph Mu, Phi Ep and Tau Delta. Phi Ep was upper middle class, the kids were rich and came from educated homes. The SAMmies were in the middle and the other guys were like the radicals. Now, that's my recollection of it. But the only house I was ever invited to was the SAMmies. But the Phi Eps were pretty interesting because I had a lot of friends who were Phi Eps. At one time the grade point average of the Phi Ep house was Phi Beta Kappa average of 1.8. 1.8 was an A-, to B+ average and the whole fraternity had that average.
KP: What about politically, on campus?
SB: I was not active politically. I had my sympathies but I really had nothing to do with politics. I was talking to Lewis Bloom
when we were at the library and he mentioned things I remembered, but I wasn't involved with the campus politics.
KP: So in other words Rutgers for you was very much chemistry and lab work.
SB: Yes, I was going to school to learn. I had to get decent grades. Most other aspects of college life were absent.
Occasionally and very enjoyably, I'd stay late and go to CT and have a few beers with the guys I knew. I wasn't a stick in the mud or anything like that. But I had very little to do with campus affairs, very little. In my senior year, a friend, an agronomist at the Ag school, needed an assistant. He told me I could get a NYA job, (this was equivalent to the WPA) It was set up to give students an opportunity to work at the University. We were paid fifty cents an hour, which was a good salary. I worked there every Saturday and two days a week after school. I did routine chemical soils analysis. I felt very, very fortunate, because it was the first time I could work in what was destined to be my field. Some of my classmates had worked for Dupont and Hercules, etc. But I'd never. This was the first time I worked in my field and it was a great thing for me and I enjoyed it.
KP: Did you have other jobs?
SB: I did lots of odd jobs as an undergraduate.
KP: Before you got your NYA?
SB: In high school I worked in a local grocery store. I worked 25 hours a week for a year before I got out of high school,
before I entered Rutgers. I worked part-time for the New Brunswick Book Shop, which was near the corner of George and
Albany. It was in competition with the Rutgers Book Store. They could compete by selling second hand books, and Rutgers
never sold second hand books. In the winter time if we got a blizzard I worked on snow plows. In the summer I worked as a bus boy and then as a waiter in the "Borscht Belt."
KP: So you did work in New York?
SB: I worked in the summertimes as a waiter in the resort hotels.
KP: Your favorite professor was C. William Rieman. ...
SB: Caspar William Rieman III.
KP: And why did he become your favorite professor?
SB: Well, he was an excellent teacher. He was definite in his assignments. The book we used was one that he wrote.
Quantitative Analysis by Rieman, Naiman, and Neuss. Rieman would assign a chapter for the next class. At this class he might lecture on the chapter and then open the class for questions and discussion of the assignment. If the questions continued the rest of an hour, so be it. However, when there was a fall off and we asked no more questions he said, "Well, I'm going to ask some questions now," and he would hold a recitation. Send one or two people up to the board with a problem to solve and then he'd go round the class willy nilly, who knows what his system was, it wasn't alphabetical. And he'd ask you a question and he would grade your answer. At the end of the term, if you did well, he would exempt you from the final and you got an A. Now, if you're going to take five finals and you get exempted from one, it's much easier for your studying. Basically, Rieman was a good teacher, he was a really fine, fine professor. And he knew his stuff, he was a good professor. And that's why he was my favorite.
KP: Now you had left ROTC.
SB: I had two years. I didn't apply for the advance.
KP: Had you thought of it?
SB: Not really. It just wasn't the thing I wanted. The chem majors had a tough curriculum. Until my junior year there was no
chance for an elective. I elected physiology and biochemistry in my Junior year and in my senior year I elected sewage and
water treatment. I wanted to take one snap course, so I took music. I'm not a musician but music app was easy. I never had to study and I always did well and that was the one snap course I took in my college life.
KP: Which left quite an impression.
SB: It was easy, because I knew a lot of music. Not as a musician but as good listener.
KP: What music appealed to you?
SB: What music appealed to me? We always had music in the house. My parents don't play but we had good records, you
know, the Caruso's and other classicals.
KP: Did you like jazz at the time, was that your ...?
SB: Not really. That kind of music was for dancing. I didn't get to appreciate jazz till much later. I know all the songs of the '20s and '30s. But when it ... comes to just enjoying music, I would listen to classical music and the big bands.
KP: How did you feel, you were going to college in the late '30s and the '40s and you mentioned the Spanish Civil War, how
did you see the approach of war? Had you thought the United States was going to get into war?
SB: I don't know if I thought that far ahead. Of course what I sensed and felt was that England and France and the countries
that could have stopped Hitler never did. You know, Munich is just one example but there are others. They just never stood up to him, they let him get away with it. I sometimes feel that they said, "let him go, the son of a bitch, he's going to take care of Russia next."
KP: But at the time did you have that sense or ...
SB: That was my feeling about it. They didn't do anything to stop him in Spain, they didn't do anything to stop him when he
went into the Sudetenland, they didn't do anything to stop him when he took over Czechoslovakia, etc., etc. They could have
done something but they didn't.
KP: What did you think of the collapse of the Common Front, when the Communists do ...
SB: Which collapse?
KP: In '39, when you had the non-aggression pact.
SB: I felt it was terrible. I heard communists give all kinds of ex post facto reasons for it but I'd never buy it. They instituted a
campaign then that the "Yanks are not coming." They used to wear buttons saying the "Yanks are not coming." Meaning it's a
capitalist war, it's an imperialist war that's going on between Britain and France and Hitler and so we should be neutral. Well, I was dead set against that. (Of course, all that changed on June 22, 1941 which is when Hitler invaded Russia, the Soviet
Union.) But in that period, in no way did I feel that the wars character had changed just because of the non-aggression pact
between the Soviets and Hitler. I mean I had no idea why it took place, I thought it was horrible, and that's how I felt about it.
KP: When Pearl Harbor occurred, where did you think you were going, what did you think was going to happen?
SB: Well, I knew we were in the war.
KP: Did you think we'd enter earlier with Lend Lease or ...
SB: Well I didn't know. I thought Lend Lease was o.k. I wasn't an isolationist. On the other hand, I just didn't think Germany would attack the United States. I always had a feeling about the United States which I'm glad proved to be true. And that is, that if and when, we'd be formidable. Because I thought we had the greatest industrial plant in the world. I feel that way to this day. I feel the wealth of the people and their skills and the natural resources and just our industrial plant is tops. When Roosevelt said that we shall build 50,000 planes a year, it was mind boggling and yet I felt we can, because we stopped building cars and we used to build them by the millions so why can't we build 50,000 planes?
KP: Did you try to enlist in the military initially, or ...
SB: No. I wasn't drafted because I was too young and hadn't even signed up for the draft.
KP: Because you weren't of the age.
SB: I was too young. I had a job in a defense industry when I had to register for the draft. When I did I had a defense job and a 2B classification. Now, the 2B classification would keep me out. I worked for U.S. Rubber at a TNT plant in Pennsylvania.
KP: Where is it in Pennsylvania?
SB: In Williamsport, Lycoming County, north of Harrisburg.
KP: And you started up a new TNT factory?
SB: Brand new. ... In the Deer Valley, a ten mile by ten mile square. I was part of the start up crew.
KP: And your responsibilities were what at this plant?.
SB: My responsibility was to place the TNT plant into operation and continue its production of TNT.
KP: Now, were you part of management? ...
SB: No, I was on the start up crew and then production crew.
KP: So, you were in a sense, you were shop? Factory?
SB: Yes. Now, why did U.S. Rubber hire a hundred or more with bachelors degrees for what were chemical operator jobs?
Because they could use our smarts to start up the plant quickly. And they could get a deferment for us easily because we were professionals!
KP: So basically you all had B.A.'s?
SB: Most had B.S.'s.
KP: Very skilled.
SB: Being technically educated it was easy for the Pennsylvania Ordnance Works to get us deferments. Now of course, getting a deferment wasn't a bad thing to me. You did defense work, and what could be more necessary than making munitions? ... I worked for year and a half or so. But then I said, oh hell, this war, I've got to join it.
KP: Did you feel pressure to join?
SB: No. I don't want to clothe myself with undue patriotism but I felt I wanted to do something more active. I had a couple of friends, one was from Rutgers, another, John Wallace, was a co-worker of mine, and all three of us were looking into the
Navy. Initially, there was the allure of this great unknown, radar and another, PT boats, don't ask me why.
KP: The PT program appealed ...
SB: The idea of being on a fast mosquito boat appealed to me. I went to Pine Street in New York to apply for the Navy. They said since you have a bachelors degree you should apply for a commission. And you have a bachelors of science degree. So I filled out the forms and son of a gun if I didn't get a commission. I got commissioned right out of civil life and I quit my job. I didn't get sent into the radar program nor PT boats. I was sent to UCLA to study meteorology. (My friend Bruce Clyman, RU 42 was also at UCLA in a class ahead of mine and it was great to be with him because he was my closest friend.) The course was in the graduate physics department and it was designed to train weather forecasters. Upon completion I was sent to U.S. Naval Air Station, Floyd Bennett in NYC and then to Dugway Proving Grounds, Utah, for gas warfare training. My next duty was at the Fleet Weather Central in Kodiak, Alaska where I stayed for one year. My job was to clear planes for flights, ... analyze the weather maps, etc, etc, and run the meteorology station. And that's where I lived out the war. I never saw hard action. What we did experience was the continual buildup for the invasion of Japan.
KP: So it was like a staging ...
SB: The staging wasn't really at Kodiak, but at ... Cold Bay, one of the Aleutian ports. When the war was finally over we were glad because we knew it was going to be rough to go into Japan.
At that time I got an emergency leave because my mother was ill. I went to Washington and I asked them if they would put me on a ship because I had never been on a ship and I wanted to decide whether I wanted to go regular Navy or not, and I'd never been on a ship.
KP: So you thought of going regular Navy?
SB: Yes. Navy personnel changed my orders, and I got sent to a little carrier. I went out with a Marine air group to qualify
them for carrier operation. We went to Hawaii.
I had to decide whether I wanted to stay Navy or not. It was a good life. I must say that professionally, my job as a
meteorologist was a most satisfying job. I had a lot of responsibility and I felt very good, I happened to be a very good weather forecaster. ... So I enjoyed that ... but, I also could see if I were to become regular Navy I would become like many regular Navy men and be half a booze hound.
KP: The drinking really struck you.
SB: Not really the drinking. But there's a whole kind of social aspect in the Navy. A kind of atmosphere, and I knew I would
succumb to it.
KP: You might drink more?
SB: No, it would become a way of life that included drinking and socializing. In Kodiak that's what we did every night.
KP: But you thought maybe 20 years from now this might get a little stale?
SB: It just didn't seem like what I wanted. Now, of course, also, if you came out of the Naval Academy, then your values are different, because then you're going to get a command, that's what you strive for. To get a command, maybe when you're only a lieutenant you'd get a command.
KP: Whereas, if you weren't a Naval Academy ...
SB: But I'm not Naval Academy, I'm a specialist, I'd be a weatherman all my life. It would be a good retirement and all that. In a way it's a cop out, it's an easy way out, assuming you could even last the 20 years, because you don't know what can
happen. But it just didn't seem right for me. ... And there was the G.I. Bill then.
KP: So the G.I. Bill was really central to you continuing ...
SB: Partly. My time was up, I had enough points.
KP: But you did stay in the Naval Reserve?
SB: Oh, yes, 15 years, until finally they said enough. ... I enjoyed being in the Navy. ... You say you don't know too much
about the Navy. The Navy is a very class conscious organization.
------------------------End of Tape One--------------------------
This continues an interview with Samuel E. Blum on July 8, 1994 with Kurt Piehler.
KP: We left off talking about the class system of the Navy.
Could you elaborate as you observed it?
SB: It was a very class conscious place. The difference between officers and men was tremendous. Aboard ship once, one guy who had a gun crew under him, an ensign, and his crew was painting. He got bored just standing around. So he grabbed a brush and started to paint. And he got caught. They censured him. And kept him aboard ship for two weeks. He couldn't leave the ship. We were in port then.
KP: He was bored.
SB: He was bored, he just wanted to paint. An officer doesn't paint. How are the men going to respect him? The point is the
Navy is run by the officers and the officers who really run the Navy are the ones that went through the academy. And maybe
rightfully. Maybe it's like in Mr. Roberts. There's a reason for it, because they're trained to run a ship.
KP: Which leads me to a question. It seems, .... because people on smaller ships, one of the things they liked about it was, it
seemed to be a different Navy, it was the dungaree...
KP: There was more camaraderie. And the officers, there was still a difference between the officer and men, but...
SB: I can imagine that that was so.
KP: But the aircraft carriers, you saw that.
SB: I was on an aircraft carrier, the Badoing Straits. We also had the flag on it, we had an admiral. And the admiral has his
own section of the ship. And it's admiral country, and it's different, ... Everything is different for the admiral.
KP: So what did the admiral get?
SB: What does he get? Well, he's in charge of the flotilla. The captain runs the ship, the admiral runs the flotilla. So the admiral can't tell the captain what to do in running the ship. But nonetheless there's this demarcation. The admiral staff eats in their own dining room, they have their own cooks, everything theirs, is different from ours. And even with our captain, the captain eats alone, he doesn't eat with the officers. The exec eats with the officers, but the captain does not eat with the officers. Now, Captain Barker ...
KP: Now, was your captain an Annapolis man?
SB: Yes. My captain was a very distinguished captain, incidentally, because he had been a specialist. When he got out of
Annapolis he specialized in meteorology. And once you specialize you cut off any possibility of ever having command of a
capital ship. However, he did the weather work for Eisenhower, in North Africa. And Eisenhower was so pleased with what he did he gave him the highest recommendation and so the Navy gave him a capital ship, they gave him a ship to command. My being the weatherman on the ship, you know it's not exactly nice to have the captain being one of the best weatherman. But he never gave me a hard time. He would ask me about my confidence on a forecast. I had a couple of close calls but it turned out I was right and he didn't question.
KP: But you were very aware that he could.
SB: Oh, my God, yes. But he wouldn't interfere.
KP: What ship was this?
SB: This was the Badoing Straits. It was a jeep carrier, the CVE 116.
KP: And it was Captain Barker?
SB: Barker. And he was a good captain.
KP: What were the other officers like?
SB: They were fine. I got along with all of them.
KP: Were there any Annapolis in there or were you all ...
SB: Oh, sure.
KP: How many officers were there?
SB: There were about 1,000 men on the ship, 60 of them were Marine pilots. That's the air squadron. The rest were mechanics and men who run the ship. Now, I want to say something about the captain. We were once in port and I had the watch. And all of a sudden a fire alarm sounds. So you find out where it is and you run down there. The fire alarm was in an ammo hold. And you don't like running down there but you do. I'm not quite there yet but who comes barging past me, the captain. He went in first and I went in second. .... We don't know what's there, all we know it's a fire alarm in an ammo hold.
KP: He literally pushed you out of the way.
SB: He went past me. I'm running to get there and he's running faster. And he was a big beer belly guy, too. I had so much
respect for him. You know, he could have lingered awhile.
KP: Even though he wasn't on call.
SB: Well, he was always on call, he's the captain. I had the watch, but the captain always has the watch. The captain can never, you know how they say it happened on so and so's watch, he has the responsibility, and the captain can never, never avoid the responsibility. On the other hand, such a marked demonstration of responsibility to go into God knows what, where you have a fire alarm in an ammo hold! Would you, would I? Well, I had to but ...
KP: But would you go out of your way to try to do it?
SB: Well, you don't even think in those terms. It's just what you have to do and that's what he had to do and he did it. And I
had a lot of respect for him. I don't want to take anything away from the Naval Academy guys. It's their Navy, no ifs, ands, and buts. It's their Navy and the rest of us are sort of there too but not quite. You know, like Animal Farm, we're all equal but some are more equal.
KP: Now, you were on a large ship. What officers, what kind of contact did you have with the officers?
SB: Initially I was the weatherman and I reported to another officer in the Air Department. In time I became the senior officer. I had my duties as a meteorologist, to analyze the maps and make the weather forecast and clear the planes for flights. In addition photography reported to me. Photography took pictures of every landing. Also, CIC (combat information
center-radar) was administratively in my command.
KP: Now, as a meteorologist, would you have much contact with your average seaman?
SB: Just the men that worked for me.
KP: How big was your ...
SB: Two aerographer mates worked for me. They'd enter the data on the maps and I'd analyze the maps and put out the
KP: And how much in terms of your particular tasks, how much input would they have? Would they ever help you with
SB: No, never. They really weren't trained to do weather forecasting or weather map analysis.
KP: So you had learned how to become a forecaster ...
SB: At UCLA, yes.
KP: And now meteorology is a regular advanced degree. What was your training like? How long did the training last?
SB: It was one solid year of academic work. Laboratory work every day, map analysis and forecasting. The courses we
covered were Synoptic Meteorology, Dynamic Meteorology (the theory course), Climatology, and Instrumentation. And it was a very good course. And I'll do one bit of braggadocio, I was the number one forecaster in the class of 200. I never knew why, but I know I was.
KP: Had you thought of working as a meteorologist?
SB: After the war I thought of it. There were good opportunities. If I remember correctly, $8,000.00 a year in 1946, a lot of
money. An assistant prof at Rutgers maybe made $3,000.00. But you could be working for e.g. Pan Am on small islands in the Pacific.
KP: Pre-satellite weather?
SB: Oh sure.
KP: So you'd be making thousands but you'd be stuck.
SB: There were a couple of other opportunities. One was to take, take part in the atom bomb tests in Bikini, and the other was an experiment on carrier aircraft operations in polar waters. That would have been nice, but there was a personal reason I couldn't go. My mother was terminally ill, so I got out of the Navy.
KP: So, you also had gone to meteorology school, but you also went to gas warfare school.
SB: That was part of the Navy training. It was a short course at Dugway, Utah, about 100 miles from Salt Lake City. You
learn about poison gas: what it is, how to use it, and how to apply it effectively. Because ... if the weather conditions aren't right, A, the gas can blow toward you. That's the no no. And B, you want the gas to stick there and kill whoever you're going to bomb.
KP: That was part of the meteorology training?
SB: Yes, yes. You had to know meteorology, everybody in the class was a meteorologist.
KP: Ok. This isn't a separate course or school?
SB: It is a separate short course. In 1944 we didn't know where we were going to go, what we were going to do. And gas
warfare was never out as an option, there was always a possibility.
KP: Is that the sense you got from the school, that there was a possibility that we were going to use this or it would be used on us, or both.
SB: Oh no, no. We were learning to use it on them, on the enemy. Oh, absolutely. This wasn't a course in defense against gas warfare, it was to use it as a weapon should we have to. But my feeling was then and it is now, that we would ... It's one of those statements you make, but you're not quite sure of. But I don't think we would have used it first. But God, if they did, we were prepared [to] retaliate. Absolutely.
KP: Now how secret was this? Did people know that you were going to gas warfare school?
SB: No, nobody knew.
KP: So this was something you were told...
SB: I didn't know until they sent me there.
KP: And when you were there did they tell you not to tell other people or tell them what you were doing?
SB: Well, it was all classified work.
KP: In terms of your training for meteorology and gas, ... what was your other naval training? ...
SB: None. When I went to enlist I was told by recruitment that I should apply for a commission. And I said how come? Since you have a bachelor's in a science, you have calculus, you have math, you have these backgrounds, these are the kinds of things we could use and we will give you a commission because you have that kind of an educational background. This was a surprise and a delight to me, I didn't want to be in boot camp.
KP: So in other words, for officers, especially if you were into a specialty, they sent you right to [a specialized course]. In other words you didn't go through a 90 day wonder school and then they sent you to meteorology school. In other words you're given your commission ...
SB: Yes. We had an interesting class. We had about twenty women who were commissioned ensigns, one was a JG and one was a lieutenant. In other words, people who had been in the Navy for some time. The great bulk were like myself. There were no enlisted men. And there were about twenty who were from Latin American countries. The reason I got commissioned was that at that time they wanted people with that particular background and they were sending them to this particular course. It's a fluke, toss a coin.
KP: Now, ... you joined the Navy. You hadn't considered the Air Force?
SB: At one time I did, but I didn't want to go through a year of training.
KP: And you didn't want to slog around in the mud?
SB: Oh, no. I didn't want that. I didn't want to be a dog face.
KP: And even though you had been through two years of ROTC.
SB: Oh, but that's different. I knew what being in a foxhole would be. That was no fun.
KP: Now, it's a question I should have asked earlier. Growing up, what's the farthest you had travelled?
SB: The family took little trips. The biggest trip was to Niagara Falls, and we would go up to Watkins Glen from time to time. The longest trip I ever personally took was when I was sixteen. I, and a neighbor friend, took some rucksacks and a blanket roll and we hitchhiked to Washington, D.C and Baltimore, and then to Chicago, where he had grandparents. We stayed there awhile and then we came back. That was the biggest trip I had ever taken.
KP: And then you ... didn't go farther south than Washington?
KP: What struck you about Washington, you saw Washington, pre-war Washington, or your experiences ...
SB: I just liked it, it was nice. Our trip was an adventure. We would sleep wherever we could. We didn't go into motels, we'd sleep in places like abandoned car lots, and junk lots. Get out from the rain and the weather.
KP: And you hitched the whole way?
SB: We hitched the whole way. It was a good experience. We each left home at the beginning of August and we got home
before Labor Day. We each had ten dollars and my dad sent me five bucks more somewhere along the way.
KP: And you made it all the way to Chicago.
SB: Yes. And back. In Chicago we mooched with my friend's relatives. On the road we would buy a six pack of rolls and
that's all we would eat. A bottle of milk we would share. I can't recall going into a restaurant once in the month that we were
KP: Now you joined the Navy. You had travelled some, you had been to Chicago. And then you're sent to California.
SB: Actually, I was sent to Norfolk for a week, then I returned home and then out to California.
KP: What struck you about California?
SB: Palm trees. I got there at the end of November. I vividly recall Christmas Day because I went into the ocean and went
swimming. I telephoned home and said, guess what, I swam on Christmas Day in the ocean. You wouldn't do that in New
KP: What were your images of California before?
SB: Oh, it was glamour. The Hollywood aspect of it. That was the only...
KP: You didn't think of the Okies and the ...
SB: I didn't really think of the Okies.
KP: Not the Okies, but it was Hollywood ...
SB: The Okies was a different part of California, anyhow.
KP: What struck you as being so pleasant?
SB: One of the things I said, "My God, California makes me more money conscious than I ever was in New York." If you go down Fifth Avenue or Park Avenue you see big buildings, and you know there are big apartments there. In L.A., you see rich homes with land and with lawns, and that struck me. The evidence of wealth was so obvious there, and it hit me.
KP: Now, were you billeted in a Navy base?
SB: No, we got a rental allowance. I rented an apartment with a Rutgers friend, Bruce Clyman.
KP: So it was like the first year of graduate school.
SB: Yes. It was a very good period. I learned to drink, I mean hard liquor. We had a good time. And we worked hard. I
worked hard, academically. The study was hard, but the relaxation was nice, too. It was very good.
KP: Then you got sent to Alaska.
SB: Well, not quite. I got sent, when the course finished, to Floyd Bennett, which was in Brooklyn. I was there a few months, and then I was transferred to a joint Army, Navy weather bureau research project at N[ew] Y[ork] U[niversity]. I worked there about three months.
KP: What was your research?
SB: The research project was entitled "Storm Tracks of the Northern Hemisphere." There were eight of us. We tracked all of the storms, the high pressure and the low pressure areas on all of the weather maps of the 1900s. The weather bureau wanted to analyze the storm tracks in the northern hemisphere. And then I got sent out to Dugway [Utah]. And then from Dugway I got sent to Alaska.
KP: What did you know of Alaska before? Growing up ...
SB: Well, I didn't know much about Alaska. I certainly knew very little of Kodiak. ... Kodiak is an island beyond the tree line. The town was a dinky little town with wooden sidewalks. It had a reputation that there were long, long lines waiting for the whores in the year before I got there. But when I got there there wasn't anything obvious like that.
KP: But initially the reputation was for a lot of prostitutes?
SB: In the early war years before I got there, a lot of ships were coming to Kodiak. Japs were in Dutch Harbor. There was an Army base and a Navy station at Kodiak. The town was the only place the enlisted men could get liquor. Officers had all we wanted at the Officer's Club. We could buy a bottle a week at two bucks a bottle. The enlisted men had to go into town and buy it. Kodiak was a kind of wild west town in 1943.
KP: So you get there in '44 and it's pretty much ...
SB: Well, it's placid. You know, we're busy because we're building up for the invasion of Japan.
KP: Did you have any contact with Eskimos?
SB: No. We didn't have Eskimos. We had Aleuts and the usual things apply. When they're young they're very pretty, very
broad faced. I didn't see too many. But what happens is that a lot of them, they get on booze, like a lot of Indians do.
KP: So this was apparent to you?
SB: To the few you'd see.
KP: You had very little contact, in other words.
SB: Yes. Very little. Only if I go into town. Otherwise you wouldn't see them. They don't come out to the base. They weren't
brought in. We had ladies working there, you know, American women, maybe a hundred or so worked there in clerical and
other kinds of jobs like that. They were the ones you would take to the dance on Saturday night. Nobody ever brought an
Aleut in, as far as I know.
KP: What about other people who lived in town? What was your relationship with them?
SB: Well, they were in fishing and small boat industry and things like that. And merchants, I suppose.
KP: ... But the base was very much separate?
SB: Oh, yes, a few miles out, 4 or 5 miles out. The only time you'd have anything to do with downtown was if you went down for something. But the downtown never came to you. Besides the base was secured. You can't just come into a base.
KP: In other words, the base was pretty much a self-contained ...
SB: Oh sure. It was military, it was war time.
KP: You mentioned that there were a hundred women on the base. Are they in the military or ...
SB: No, civil service, civilians.
KP: But they lived on the base.
SB: They each had a little apartment. And the guys dated them. I think on Saturday nights they'd go to the Officers Club on a
date for the dance, and on Friday night to the Chief's Club and another night to the Enlisted Men's Club. They passed around.
KP: There were a hundred women, how many men?
SB: Oh, there must have been 3,000, 4,000. A lot of them were lonely. I mean, a lot of the men were lonely. The women didn't have to be. I mean, if they didn't want to, nobody was going to force them to date. But it was certainly, much like Alaska became later, and possibly still is today, where it is a good place for single women to go where there are opportunities to meet men. I don't know whether that was the driving force or patriotism or what.
KP: Did you find that as an officer you had a better chance of getting a date than say an ...
SB: I don't think that was so. But I really didn't date too often. If you went to a dance, you spent the evening sitting around
drinking. No romance developed between me and any of the women.
KP: One of the grievances, among the enlisted men in Hawaii, was the fact that there was so few women and then officers,
there was a real hierarchy, and they felt very envious, even hostile to these officers who could so easily get a date.
SB: Well, I did,'t sense this in Kodiak. I know that some of the officers...no, that's not the right way to put it. Some of the
women were kept by officers. In other words, the officers lived with them. Paid their rent, maybe, their provisions, who knows. They used to call it shacked up. I would say a small minority of them were shacked up. And even though I use that word, I really don't want to imply anything sordid about the affair. I mean, to me it was an honest affair between a man and a woman and their own business.
KP: What was the Navy's, you were on both a ship and a land base, what was the Navy's attitude towards ... The two people I've talked to about the Navy, for example, when ships get into port, it's really like sailors just get out and do whatever they
SB: If you're out at sea a while ... (when you're in your twenties or younger a week is a long time). Your libido builds up and all of that. When we got to port, we all wanted leave. I had a girlfriend in L[os] A[ngeles], and I would go up Friday nights, and was to be back by Monday morning at muster. I always was two hours late and nobody said anything because it didn't matter, nobody looked for me. The enlisted man couldn't do that, he'd have to be at muster. How much of that went on, whether I took advantage of a situation, I don't know. But the men...were held to much stricter rules than the officers.
KP: Well, the reason I asked in terms of shore leave or attitudes toward prostitution and other things is that in terms of, the
Army, for example, employed people to ride the train to make sure soldiers were in uniform when they were on the train.
SB: Oh really, O.K.
KP: And in the United States, there was a very stringent ... Although I'm curious, there's a story presented by a collaborative
effort by the War Department. But in talking to, I have a limited field so far, but the Navy's attitude is really like the men could go into port, as long as they don't shoot the place up, it seems that the Navy had a different ...
SB: I don't think we kept track of it. I know that when we were in port in Tacoma, San Francisco, San Diego, and in Hawaii, wherever ... well, San Diego is a seaman's town, and they'd go off and they'd carouse and they'd bum around and they'd go to pick up joints and whatever. ... As long as they don't get in trouble with the shore patrol, nobody is going to bother them. And they're nominally well comported. I never saw ...
KP: So officers didn't have this notion that they really had to worry about their men when they were on leave. That this was
really their own time?
SB: Yes. I would never worry about the guys that I had. Sometimes very funny things happened. I had the watch (in San
Diego) at a little standing desk. We supplied foil wrapped condoms, because we don't want the men to get the clap.
KP: That was one of the things you were concerned with.
SB: Oh sure, sure. One man I knew would take handfuls. I said, "You sure you got enough?" As far as I was personally
concerned, I didn't want to be concerned with what they did. You don't want them to get into trouble, of course. I don't
remember any incidents of shooting up or even fights. I can't remember a one.
KP: Tom Kindre had an incident where he had to rescue a guy who shot up a house of prostitution in Naples.
SB: He went berserk?
KP: He didn't hit anybody. Tom had to get him out of MPs. He had one or two other similar stories. That's in part why I ask. The Navy seems, the impression I'm getting is that [...] really didn't get into trouble.
SB: I can recall a lot of incidents but no violence. And sometimes the scenes are very sordid. I mean ..., I'm not going to say
there were whores all over the place, but there were a lot of loose women and the guys are horny as hell and all of that. I don't remember anything rough.
KP: The Navy, then, you could tell were very accepting of this ...
SB: Whether they were officially accepting or not, I don't know, look what happened with Tailhook. Who knows?
KP: Partly, I raised this earlier today, when you're an historian, you often work, a lot of historians work with paper. From
paper it looks like the military makes an effort to keep men away from prostitutes.
SB: I was never under that impression. No. We sure didn't want anybody to come down with a dose, I know that. We wanted them to use condoms. There were pro kits right there. I mean, you had to be a fool to pick up somebody and if you don't protect yourself and not use a pro kit. ... And listen, there wasn't any penicillin then. Syphilis and gonorrhea were tough enough. There was no AIDS, thank God. There was no quick cure then. Not then, not until penicillin. Strep came in and strep was only developed in '45 ...
KP: ... You were on a very big ship. What struck me about ships, people look at me when I ask this question. But even on an aircraft carrier, there's more room than on some of the smaller ships. The living quarters, even the captain's quarters. I looked at it on the Intrepid, I said what is that? To be honest, I had the image shaped by movies, and captain's quarters are viewed, I had this image, and I looked at it and I said you don't do this with the furniture, at least when you're on a ship with the living quarters. What struck you, you had been on base which is different, you got more room, when you get on a ship, even on an aircraft carrier which is different, because you have more room, it's huge, what struck you being on a ship.
SB: O.K., there are a couple of things that struck me. I had good quarters. I roomed with the chaplain, he was nice. Nice, kind of like Coffin, you know that kind, a Wasp chaplain, intellectual.
KP: Which ...
SB: William Sloan Coffin, he's the guy from Yale.
KP: Oh, William Sloan Coffin. You roomed with him.
SB: No, not with him, a guy like him. An intellectual, book reading, he'd handle the library and all that.
KP: Was he Episcopalian?
SB: Oh, probably ... He was a nice guy. We had two bunks. ... We each had a little ... desk. It was like a small room. I don't think the room was more than 9 X 12, something like that. Not bad. The men, however, could have very bad [quarters]. They had hammocks. There were several of them, three or four layers, and the commode could be right next to them. Someone sits down right on the, and the commode is nothing but a trough with saltwater running through it. And these guys are sleeping there or they're in a companionway, which is a hallway, and that's where they sleep. And they'd try ...
------------------END OF TAPE TWO, SIDE ONE-----------------
KP: You were talking about the tightness.
SB: As I said, they were in the companionway. And their belongings are hanging above them or they have a small locker. And no privacy, forget about it. They just don't. But the ship is interesting because the ship is a thing unto itself and it's a thing you preserve at all costs. I had some helium gas stored in a locker, and the locker somehow was getting condensation so the tanks were in water. I wanted to drill a hole to let the water drain. And you can't just drill a hole because you must never threaten the integrity of the ship. That's all it is. So you get to know that the ship comes first no matter what. And you'd behave and you act accordingly. ... I didn't find it onerous. Of course, like I say, I was an officer and I had a room with a nice guy.
KP: And you had very little contact, except for the two people under you.
SB: The people I worked with? I never really got to know say, the aircraft mechanics, who were all Marines. I got to know the pilots, some of them.
KP: Because they were officers.
SB: Well, also, you share certain duties aboard ship. I was on the legal committee and if we had a court martial, I worked with other men. So I got to know them that way.
KP: You just mentioned a legal committee. You went, you worked...
SB: Legal. I went to naval justice school, which is an oxymoron of course, everybody knows that. No. They sent [me] to a one month course on how to run a court martial. I learned how to handle the paperwork of a lawyer, of a trial at sea.
KP: And so your position, you were trained to do courts martial.
SB: Yeah, yeah, you were supposed to.
KP: Did you try cases?
SB: I had one case in which I was the defense attorney for a man accused of robbing the ship post office. I said, "Listen, we
can't try him because if he committed it, there was no way we could give him sufficient punishment under a summary court
martial." Therefore, for this crime, he should really get a general court martial. That was my way out. We recommended that the guy have a general court martial. Whatever happened to it, I don't know.
KP: So that was your only experience ...
SB: That was my only experience in the courtroom.
KP: Did you do any other work with military justice aboard your ship?
SB: No, that was the only thing that ever came up aboard the ship, thank God.
KP: Because it was a big community, 1100 is big.
SB: Yeah. Things happen, but most of them were minor like the Ensign caught painting. He was an officer, so the exec took
care of it by punishing him, he was restricted to the ship for two weeks. But you know, I never really got involved with it. But if something happened, then of course you're part of the investigation. You're either on the defense side or the prosecutor's side and that's it.
KP: Have you ever been through a typhoon?
SB: No. I've been through a hurricane in New York when I was at Floyd Bennett in '44. That was magnificent, I enjoyed it.
And I've been through a few hurricanes but never aboard ship. However, in the big one in the Pacific a lot of our ships
capsized. I was in Kodiak then, read the report of Admiral Nimitz' in which he just bawled the hell out of the captains. The
naval squadron had some prearranged formation they had to follow. The typhoon hit them and these captains were trying to
maintain the formation no matter what. And Nimitz said under these conditions you've gotta save your ship, and you don't try to keep in formation. Take care of your ship first before you worry about being in formation. It was a very interesting letter that he wrote. ...
KP: Because the people in the Navy, I'm limited so far, that was one of the things they really remember is ...
SB: They probably were in that one, the one in '44, in the Pacific, near Japan. Yeah, that's the one. No, I was in Kodiak, lucky.
KP: Is there anything else about the Navy that ...
SB: Well, all in all, I liked it. As I told you, being a meteorologist was very satisfying to me, I liked it very much. It was good
work and it was the best of all worlds. And of course, since I didn't get shot at that was good too. But at the time you didn't
really think of that. But I felt good about it. I felt good and competent, that meant a lot to me. The camaraderie amongst my
fellow officers and the men was very good. One of the them was First Class (Aerographer's) Mate Sam Patella, he's from
Bound Brook. I haven't seen him since Kodiak, but he was a delight to work with, and a few others. They were nice. Two of the enlisted men's rates are kind of special. They're special in that promotions are very hard to come by and when you give them an exam for promotion, the exam has to be approved by the Bureau of Personnel. The exam has to be sufficiently
professional to advance. And the two rates that are that way, are medical corpsmen, and aerographer's mate. ... These guys
are pretty sharp guys. They're good in math, they're good. In the old days you'd say they're college material. And I don't want to really put that kind of distinction on but that's what you would have said a long time [ago]. They were smart, sharp guys and they were all good. Because they had to do a lot of kind of things that involved ... math skills and things like that. Coding, decoding, etc., they were just sharp, they were good kids to work with. And they were kids, most of them were kids. I was 23, 24, and most of them were younger than I was. And aboard ship, I still think being aboard ship is a great experience, even if you're crowded. Something nice about being on a big ship. Especially today, now that they're going to have ladies aboard.
KP: Did you tie up in any ports in the Pacific when you were on the aircraft carrier?
SB: Only when I went to Oahu, Hawaii.
KP: What did you think of Hawaii?
SB: Oh, it was very nice. When I was there, the war was over. I was thinking of going back to school, to Hawaii, which is a
complete another subject.
KP: You were thinking, when you were in the service...
SB: By then I was starting to think, what am I going to do, I'm going to have enough points to get out soon. And I was thinking, toying with graduate school. And so I thought, boy what a nice idyllic place this is. But then I said, no, no way, I would never be able to study there. You know, it's 80 degrees and balmy all day, ... 365 days a year.
KP: But you thought, the idea ...
SB: Oh yeah, I said, oh, it's so nice here.
KP: Did you feel the same way about California because of the ...
SB: Yeah, I liked California. I loved California when I was there. After I got out of graduate school, I went back to California to try to establish myself. But times were a little rough then and it didn't work. I worked but it wasn't a particularly good job and it ended. So I had to come back East to get work. The problem is, that anytime there's a nice spot it seems to get spoiled, and the spot I'm thinking of now is San Jose, California, where I lived for a year or so and I thought was marvelous, too. From a climate standpoint, it's the best, I think, I've ever been in, it's just lovely. But it too crowded. The whole Santa Clara Valley, which used to be a vegetable and orchard place, is now crowded suburbia. ...
KP: That must, it's sort of jumping ahead, but has this surprised you, what's happened to Piscataway?
SB: Well, you know, Sharon [Suarez]. Sharon's from South Plainfield, and she asked me where I was from. I said, I'm really
from Piscataway Township, and she said you know, I'm from South Plainfield. I said, my God, we're neighbors. Now, there
must be 40 years between us, but we were talking about how it was when we were young, and where I lived was really
country, that's the only way I can describe it. And now it's cheek by jowl suburbia. C'est la vie. What can I ... And California's done it, and Seattle's done it. My son lived in Seattle and he left it because he didn't like that happening to it. I don't know what you do. It's just the way it is. Listen, there were a 120 million people in this country when I was in grade school, and it's double that now. Where are they going to go? I don't know, that's your problem.
KP: Now, you had considered grad school and you left the Navy. Where did you ... now, you wanted to go on for chemistry or you weren't sure?
SB: When I went into chemistry, I wanted to be a production chemist. I wanted to run a factory that made chemicals.
KP: Like Ralph Schmidt.
SB: Yes. That's what it was, production chemist. There was almost no such a thing as research and development. Research
went on in the universities and oh, those old fuddy duddies basically they teach and they do a little research. There was no
research industry as we know it. After the war, research and development work came into its own. And especially so, after
1948 when the transistor was discovered at Bell Labs. Now there's a whole new world, a new kind of profession opening up called research work. By that time I'm in graduate school. I'd like to say I went to do research work. Partly it was that and partly it was my father. He said, "you know, you just have a bachelor's degree, you gotta have more than that. And it would be a smart thing to go to graduate school." And I wanted to. I had a couple of job offers, but I didn't like them. They were technical sales type jobs. ....
KP: You decided to go to graduate school.
SB: Initially, I'd wanted to go to Caltech because Caltech had a great reputation for chemistry ...
KP: And you liked California.
SB: I loved everything about it. But my mother was ill and she was terminal. So I ... applied at Rutgers.
KP: Did you apply elsewhere, Columbia or Princeton or ...
SB: No, for graduate school, didn't even bother. I came back to Rutgers because I wanted to be home. And I got in, I guess
there was no problem.
KP: Now, I guess I have two questions. What was the standing of Rutgers as a doctoral program in chemistry? Who would
you sort of ...
SB: Oh. Well, when I got ... let me go back to when I got my bachelor's degree and tell you what my prejudices and my
feelings were then. There were certain schools that were thought of very highly. University of Chicago is one, Cal[ifornia] at
Berkeley, Caltech, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT. Now, when I worked at the TNT plant I worked with guys from all over, most from the Midwest, but there were some from Harvard and MIT and then the aura disappeared. They weren't any better than I was, they weren't any worse than I was, they were just guys. And so the feeling that I might have had that the other schools were much better, disappeared. Fred Kruger, who got his bachelor's with me, (we were in school from the sixth grade on), went to Ohio State, got his Ph.D. and his M.D. there, and we discussed this. And he said in no way was any chemistry course as tough or as thorough or as good as Rutgers' was. And I believe him. I really think, it was an excellent course.
KP: So your thinking really changed by being in the military and interacting with these others.
SB: Now I don't want to take anything away from Harvard. It's a great school, they've got great faculty and all that. But it's not the be-all and end-all.
KP: In other words, some of your images really had been deflated by the war.
SB: I have a more egalitarian view. You know Linus Pawling went to a very small school in Oregon. What's going to a big
school mean? I just know that I felt much better about Rutgers afterwards than I had.
KP: Now, I guess, ... you had been to Rutgers as an undergraduate and now you're a graduate student so you stood between, I remember when I was in graduate school, you stood between two worlds. You're still a student and now a professor, you may be a T.A. What did you think of the changes at Rutgers?
SB: Oh, they were phenomenal. Tremendous. For one thing, all the freshman junk went out the window. The dinks. You don't remember that. Freshmen wore a dink. He wore a green tie and he tucked it in. He wore white hose and he tucked his trousers into his socks. He had to carry matches should an upperclassman stopped him for a light. And if whistled at on Queen's campus, he had to run. You carried your stuff in a shopping bag. You wore a button with your name. With these G.I.s coming back after the war, in '46, '47, do you think they were going to do any of these things? They'd laugh at you. You couldn't do it. It went out the window. It just was completely different. And the new guys that came in, ... many of them were guys who in '38 ... couldn't afford to go to college. And that was good. The G.I. Bill was a great leveler and a great thing. I can't say anything bad about it. And I think it was a great thing for the country ... It gave men who never before would have had an opportunity a chance to go to college. Now, college was also something very different. The '20s and early '30s, things like the raccoon coat kind of baloney, and the proms and all was passe.
KP: But a lot of that went out. You could see, that went out.
SB: Right away it went out. Even when I was an undergraduate Rutgers wasn't that kind of a school, they had the freshman
silliness, but I didn't sense anything like the raccoon coat Ivy League stuff. It just wasn't that kind, because it was a more
plebeian school. People came from ordinary circumstances. Look at all the guys you're interviewing. How many of these guys come from rich people? Very few. Ordinary. In that sense, ordinary. But not ordinary in another sense. I'm sure that ...
anybody that sent his kid to school in the '30s had to sacrifice to do it. And that was a commitment and something they believed in and it was good.
KP: And it's interesting, the rituals and the dinks came back, I think that's probably the story of the '50s with the G.I. Bill, that's very interesting because the Rutgers Picture Book talks about college customs, and the ... was in fact brought back and sort of survived until about '67, '68 and it just fell away. What struck you about the intellectual caliber of the school, now that you were a graduate student?
SB: A graduate student. I enjoyed the intellectual aspects.
KP: Did you see improvement in terms of the facilities or in terms of new professors hired or?
SB: In graduate school, that was a transition period. That's when we had the Quonset huts, and the faculty housing, the Busch campus, off Davidson Road, was just starting. The chemistry building got built and was inaugurated my last year here. I never was in it.
KP: So you were in chemistry, on Mine Street.
SB: Right here, right near Willie the Silent. That building is now an office building. And the Engineering building was there, the
Physics was across ... Now there was something very nice and charming and lovely about Rutgers and traditional Ivy League
without being the Ivy League. It was a nice school. I liked it.
KP: So you enjoyed your graduate school ...
SB: I enjoyed graduate school and I enjoyed undergraduate school. I've got to say something about myself, too. I enjoyed
kindergarten, too, and first grade, second grade, third grade. I don't remember ever cutting a class. I had friends who used to cut at every opportunity. I always enjoyed going to school. It was a natural for me and I enjoyed graduate school, too.
KP: Do you think if you hadn't gotten the G.I. Bill you would have gone to graduate school easily, or that might have been more of a ... how much did the G.I. Bill help?
SB: It was a great. ... Now, I have friends who could have used it and didn't. They're bitter in a way. I'm not saying they're
bitter because of that but ...
KP: They regret it.
SB: I don't know, they dig me sometimes. "Oh well, not all of us went to school you know. Some of us had to work for a
living." Well, I don't say, hey you son of a bitch, you chose to build a house. You could have gotten your bachelor's degree. He taught here at Rutgers, even though he didn't have a degree, but he was teaching his trade. I think you can only go through once. And if you chose one thing over another that's your choice. Thank God you have a choice. But I don't want somebody to be mad at me because I was able to go to school and they didn't. I suppose if I had other values, or I wanted something else, I would have done that. But at the time it was great for me. And frankly, there was also a big question. You had no knowledge that you were going to make out and be better off by doing it. As a matter of fact, when I got out it was just the start of the Korean War, it was pretty rough. Finding a job was tough then. But fortunately, I also hit the job market very near the time when science had a renaissance. It started at the Korean War and it certainly got a great deal of impetus from Sputnik. And I'm sure Ralph and myself and others are the recipients of this great period in American science, which now show signs of dwindling.
KP: You said at the time, that science, that you weren't taking a gamble like you were in '39 or '40 in terms of going to
SB: I didn't feel there was a gamble then. I did it, as I said, I did it because it's best to be best prepared. What else can I say? And it was my way. Maybe because school was easy for me. I guess if school wasn't easy for me and I had other priorities or I wanted to have a home so badly or a marriage or whatever, maybe I would have done things differently. But for me at the time it just turned out, it was o.k. And as I say, and all the guys I worked with for 30, 40 years all say the same thing. We came into science in its halcyon years and we think it was marvelous. We wish it would continue again but it wouldn't surprise us if it just doesn't. Maybe today getting into stocks and bonds is the thing. But it wasn't with us, and I said this so much, it's a cliche, it's a marvelous thing if you can work at something you love to do, if it's fascinating and intriguing and you still make a decent living at it. That's what science was to me and I can't bitch about it. Not one bit. No regrets on that score.
KP: Now you had ... in terms of graduate school, was there a sense that we needed to get people, I wouldn't say through the door, because you said people didn't make it, there were people who got [...], but was there a sense that you really think that we needed to produce people because there were opportunities? Did you get that sense?
SB: No, I didn't get that sense.
KP: There was still the notion that we were going to try to weed people out.
SB: Oh, at the university. Oh no. No, I think, you had to qualify, you had to take your qualifying exams. They might give you
another chance in certain cases. In one case, one candidate didn't do well in his qualifyings and they gave him another chance. And the reason they did it was because his research project was magnificent. That's the only case that I know of where maybe they bent over backwards a little bit.
KP: Now you were, after you, had you considered going into academia?
SB: I did. At one time I wanted to, but my wife was dead set against it.
KP: Why was she ... ?
SB: Oh, she said, come on you've got to go into the real world sometime, you know. At one time I thought, gee, it might be
nice to teach at some university.
KP: Did you ever teach part-time?
SB: Yes. I taught here. I was a teacher's assistant. And I handled recitation classes. My first year, I was a lab assistant and
[had] a teaching assistantship. The second year and the rest of my graduate years, I had a fellowship. And the fellowship gave me more money and it also gave me the opportunity to handle recitation classes. Which I enjoyed. I enjoyed getting in front of a class and ... When I have to lecture on something, especially if it's in my field, I have no trouble at all, I enjoy doing that, too.
KP: Your first position after Rutgers was at [...]
SB: In California with a small paint manufacturer. This job lasted for about six months. After some personal losses I went to
work for Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio, doing contract research.
KP: And they do contract research for whom?
SB: The government and for private companies. The first company I worked for was a creosote importer. Investigating certain technical problems. And then I worked on developing an underwater piling camera for detecting deterioration. Finally got into semiconductor materials, a field I worked in until I retired from IBM 35 years later.
-----------------------END OF INTERVIEW-----------------------