For nearly thirty years, the Rutgers Oral History Archives (ROHA) has endeavored to document the oral histories of individuals in communities throughout Rutgers University and New Jersey, including men and women who served in the military. In 1994, Rutgers alumni founded ROHA to collect the oral histories of World War II veterans. Since then, ROHA has expanded its scope to become a repository of oral histories related to military history as well as social, cultural and political history.
Interviews of veterans of the 20th and 21st centuries provide rich narratives of the lives and times of individuals who witnessed pivotal moments in history and crucial developments in society. Each individual's story is unique, and through oral history interviews, the historical record becomes more inclusive and comprehensive.
Let us learn from the voices of lived experiences. The following are excerpts from the interviews of men and women who served in the Second World War and in wars in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan. For the full oral histories, visit the Interviews Menu.
Henry J. Bultman, Jr., U.S. Navy Air Corps, World War II
-On volunteering to help the wounded at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor after the second wave of the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941:
The second attack came about an hour afterwards, and then, I had duty. I was sent to the mess hall, trying to help the wounded and get them loaded, so [that] they could go over to the main hospital, over in the shipyard. … I got in there and you saw guys with the guinea tees that had been flash burned and it was just a solid blister, with the shape of the shirt or the tee, just had been burnt off. … One guy said to me, "I want a cigarette," and, unconsciously, I lit a cigarette for him, stuck the burnt end in his mouth and grabbed it, real quick. He said, "Don't worry. I can't feel it. I just want the taste." I mean, there were some awful looking things there. Guys went through torture. That was the first time sulfa was used, too, on burns, and I saw two or three of them afterwards that I knew, that your skin turns all white after the sulfa is [applied] and it heals. You could see where they had been burned. … There was no relief, unless somebody came out and gave you relief, no, but a human being takes and does what it has to. After it's over, then, you worry about it and get tired. … There was too much excitement and too much everything else going on. You were just lucky you're alive.
Pearl Paterson Thompson, New Jersey College for Women '41, U.S. Navy, World War II
-On the effects of the attack on Pearl Harbor on the nation and on her family:
Just [a] complete standstill, I guess, and knowing that, well, now we know we're going to war. Before we thought we were, but it wasn't definite, or when, and then, suddenly, there was Roosevelt declaring war on two fronts. ... My father had been in World War I, he had been in the National Guard. … He was recalled to serve in World War II as a special consultant. So he went back to war. My mother joined the Red Cross and she was allowed to drive into Camp Dix, the staging area for new recruits, at any hour of the day or night. Later when the wounded came back, she went up to the various veterans hospitals, and taught them skills such as they were able to do, leather work and copper work, and that sort of thing, whatever they were able to, so, … the entire family went to work.
I viewed it as, "My house is on fire," I have to help put out the fire. There were people, men, who thought that it was unladylike [to join the military], and didn't quite agree that this was a good idea. They weren't ready yet to accept this equality notion. … Even some of the various commanders of the Army and the Navy looked askance at their female recruits, you know, "What are we going to do with these?" The Navy asked Pathe Films to make this sex education film. As a result of that, I was tapped to appear in a sex education movie for Pathe Films on the request of the Navy because they said, "Here we got all these females to look after, we better tell everybody what they're in for," so that was how it happened that I got into that. … At the same, time, Life Magazine came through our camp and chose seven of the girls present at dinner, to pose for some photos of life in training and of the type of girl who would actually join in the service because they couldn't believe it. So I wound up on the cover of Life Magazine. That was March 15, 1943, and I happened to be in Chicago in February, one my friends wrote, "I saw you in Chicago," "Why did you happen to be there, why didn't you say hello?" She said, "I mean, I saw you on the cover of Life Magazine."
Walter G. Alexander II, Rutgers College of Engineering '43, Army Air Forces, Tuskegee Airman, World War II
-On being a student at Rutgers and hearing the news about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor:
[I was] in the dorm room, studying, and I heard all this [interruption]. First, I always had the radio on, and I studied, did everything, with the radio on, and I was there one afternoon, on Sunday, and something came in and interfered with what was going on on the radio, … enough to make you stop and listen. … That's when you knew that they had bombed Pearl Harbor and you got … all the details on how it had happened and all of that. … I was basically angry at first. … [That was] the first thing I can remember, being angry that somebody had bombed Pearl Harbor and that somebody had been lax enough that they were able to get close enough to bomb it, and I felt let down about that and that, from where the Japanese had to attack, the idea that they could put together a satisfactory bombing mission from aircraft carriers, that never should have happened, but did.
Thomas A. Kindre, Rutgers College '42, U.S. Army, World War II, Founder of the Rutgers Oral History Archives in 1994
-On arriving in Casablanca aboard the British troopship Andes during the Allied invasion of North Africa:
We're moving into Casablanca Harbor on this foggy morning and we're crawling along, because it's foggy, and we're crawling past the harbor buoys. … I'm on deck and I looked down and I see bodies floating by and all kinds of debris. … The ship's officer, the man I had been talking to, I sought him out and said, "What's going on here?" and he said, "The best we can determine is that German intelligence had picked up the Andes' sailing schedule and they knew we were coming today. … They had U-boats lying in wait, but they mistakenly torpedoed the ship just ahead of ours." They didn't get the Andes, but that was the ship just ahead of us and the debris and the bodies were still in the water. … That was my entry into North Africa.
Dorothy Dempsey, Rutgers Newark School of Education, U.S. Coast Guard Women's Reserve (SPARS), World War II
-On the attack on Pearl Harbor inspiring her to enlist in the military:
I said to my mother and father, "How could a little place like Japan attack us? We're the strongest country in the world," and anyway, we had to get out a huge map. … We didn't know where Pearl Harbor was, to see where it was, and from that time on, life really changed, and we were all like, we wanted to do something, and in the places like Pelham Bay, somebody had started, they didn't have women in the military. They didn't even think about it, and they, what they did was, they started something called the American Women's Voluntary Services. I said to my mother, "I'm going to go and join."
Charles S. Tracy, Sr., U.S. Marine Corps, World War II
-On his wife Helen's experiences on the home front and the effects of the war on her family:
She lived with her mother in Hillside, New Jersey. Her father was in [the Army in] Africa, her oldest brother was on the USS Santa Fe in the Pacific, her second brother was with the Marines in the South Pacific, her husband was at Pearl Harbor with the Marines, and her sister's husband had been lost at sea. He had been a Navy officer on an attack cargo ship. It had been sunk once. He was rescued off the coast of Africa. He was on another ship headed back, and that was torpedoed and sunk and he was lost. That was her sister. Her mother and she had all their family somewhere fighting. They used to say that when a letter would come in late to the post office, the postman was such a good friend that he would deliver that letter in the afternoon on his way home and not wait for the regular delivery the next day. So, everybody was interested in the war and helping out the people at home.
Wallace E. Felldin, U.S. Army, World War II
-On being a part of the 71st Infantry Division's liberation of Gunskirchen Lager, a concentration camp in the Mauthausen complex, in Austria in May 1945:
… Now, you're into May, and we went and we found this dirt road going through the woods. So, we would get more of our troops going along the road, on both sides of the road, walking straight ahead, and then, the others on the side, doing the sweeping. … You could smell something, and it wasn't a very pleasant smell. What we were smelling was Gunskirchen Lager, and I guess the town would be Lambach, but there's also a town of Gunskirchen, so, it was known as Gunskirchen Lager, and we ultimately came upon this camp, with all the wire around it. No guards; they had left maybe forty-eight hours before us.
Donald Van Blake, U.S. Army, World War II
-On facing discrimination while enlisting and serving in the segregated military:
Right after high school, we went down to enlist, in the Navy, the Marines and the Army. No, we stopped at the Army; a couple of us went in. The Marines wouldn't have us. The excuses were, "There's something the matter with the bite of your teeth," or something. This is because we were Black. The Navy said, "No, we can't have you, except as messmen. You can go in and cook the food and serve the [officers]." So, we said no to that, and there were a couple of us who did take the Army.
… We were very bitter about it being a segregated army. We were [an] all-Black unit and, mainly, we had white officers, and we all felt that, "Hell, the same injustices that we were fighting at home, we should have been home fighting them, rather than over there killing [Germans]," and that's the way we felt. We had hoped that, when we got back, that the situation in the States here would have gotten better, but there was no change.
This was the beginning of the feelings that came about in the [1960s, the Civil Rights Movement], what happened in the '60s, when the Black people, American Blacks, rose up and just said, "We've had enough of it. That's all. We want changes, for our children, for ourselves," and I also was very, very articulate and very much a part of that, back in the '60s. I organized and led marches, here in Plainfield, downtown.
Morton Deitz, Rutgers School of Law-Newark '55, Merchant Marines, Navy, World War II
-On being rescued after thirty days at sea, following the sinking of the SS John Drayton by a German U-Boat:
There were nine of us left on the thirtieth night. None of us was talking then, because our tongues were swollen thick. I was suddenly awakened from a nightmarish sleep by the sound of a plane. I could hear feeble movements near me, and whimpering sounds. I knew the other men had heard it. I began to drag myself on my stomach toward the nose of the boat, toward the one remaining flare. Three of the men stumbled toward me and helped me lift the flare. I moved it once, then twice, then a third time. I began to cry to myself. It didn't work. Its automatic striker was too damp. I took hold of a match. My hands were trembling with weakness and fear. I scratched it. It didn't light. I scratched again, and a feeble flame lit up the boat. I could see eight drawn faces watching me as I touched the match to the flare. The flare began to operate. Then red glows flashed in the air, stayed there a moment suspended on tiny parachutes. Then they floated slowly to the sea. But by this time, we no longer heard the plane. Minutes passed and grew into an hour, two hours. I closed my eyes. I think I slept for a while. Then suddenly I heard the roar of a plane again, and I was instantly awake. … The plane circled around us for a little while, signaled, "Ship will pick you up soon," and then flew away. Two hours later a Greek ship came and picked us up. I saw it coming, and touched the man next to me. "We're saved," I said hysterically. "Saved." Then I saw that the man was dead.
Melvin Silverman, Rutgers College of Engineering '49, U.S. Army, World War II
-On a close call during the Battle of the Bulge:
This is sort of a peculiar thing. I remember we got one brand new second lieutenant, and we're out there in a holding position, and artillery starts coming in. Now you can see artillery pattern as it lands. It's looking for you. It can't see you, because you're infantry, but it's looking for you, and you can see it's over the other end of the valley, and its marching down the valley, okay? You can see it's coming. So what do you do? You get up and you get the hell out of there. But this lieutenant says, "Okay men dig in." I look at him, and I said, "What are you talking about? I'm getting the hell out of here." He says, "We're going to court martial you, or I'll shoot you." I said, "Take your choice," and I took off. And everybody else took off. And the only guy left was the second lieutenant. And he's screaming at us for about two minutes and then artillery got him. … It killed him. … Maybe I shouldn't have disobeyed him. On the other hand, it's always nice to live.
William Neal Brown, Faculty, Rutgers School of Social Work, Army Air Forces, Tuskegee Airman, World War II
-On confronting racism in the U.S. Army:
On the way to Washington and Lee [for military training], I got off the train, which the station was about three blocks from the hotel. When I got near the hotel, two white soldiers were walking and I could hear them, one asked the other, "You going to salute?" And the one that was asked said, "Yeah, I'm not going to salute," and when they started to pass me, I stopped them. I saluted them and they returned the salute. I said, "You don't salute me, whenever you see this, this means this is an officer, that's what you salute," and I was a second lieutenant then. I said, "You salute these gold bars. You don't salute a man of any color. You salute … his rank."
-On meeting President Franklin D. Roosevelt at Fort Leonard Wood:
… On the way back to Washington, [President Roosevelt] was coming by the fort, Leonard Wood, and review the troops. … He did come by and so they sought me out and said they were going to put the 618th and 619th last in the line of march, that we should pass in review, and when we passed the president's car, we salute. So we did. We lined up and it was cold … when we got this call, and we paraded all week that week, paraded and paraded. …
Then the time came and he had a long car, it was like a convertible, a long touring car that he could sit in the back and the driver and someone else would sit in front. … There were, I don't know how many platoons lined up, he'd just come around and where we stopped and I was busy watching what they were doing and somebody said, "Brown, the colonel is calling you." So I looked up and the colonel shouted, "He's calling you." So I looked at the car and it was the President of the United States. I ran to his car and saluted and he returned my salute. He said to me, I was a fine young man. He didn't know me from Adam, he said I was "a fine young man." … I saw the President of the United States and earlier I had met and talked with Eleanor. So I saw him there and he moved on and about three days after that he died, but he did review the troops.
Lloyd Kalugin, Rutgers Graduate School of Education '75, U.S. Army, World War II
-On being a part of an Army unit that liberated Ohrdruf concentration camp during World War II:
After we captured Wiesbaden, we were mounted on tanks and ... chasing the fleeing Germans. At some point, one of our objectives was to capture the ... V-2 underground rocket factories ... that were producing the rockets that were bombing England. ... I guess we knew pretty well where they were, and it was just a question of finding them. I was on a patrol with the Fourth Armored Division. It was their tanks and ... we supplied the infantry support, and we mounted the tanks that morning, and we were going off to where we felt the factories were.
We reached the top of the hill and started to smell something burning. We still didn't know what it was, and as we went further up the hill, we were able to look down. We saw smoke and the odor was overwhelming. We saw a camp and we felt we had to look at this camp. So, the tankers took off, with us on them. ... And, as we approached the camp, we started to see fires. ... The lead tank, I was on the second tank, ... broke through the gate and we all dismounted and went in right after the tank.
Helen Walkinshaw, New Jersey College for Women '52, U.S. Navy, World War II
-On the development of the GI Bill while she was in the Navy during World War II:
I knew about the GI Bill kind of directly from the inside. I was still in naval civil liaison when they were working on the legislation in Congress, which we were maintaining our liaison with. So, in fact, we were called upon to develop some ideas about how it should take place, and what the requirements should be. We were also directly involved in the reformulation of the naval reserve which was part of that same thing, post World War [II] Unification Act, and reformulation and restructuring of the naval reserve, and all of the other military branches, of course. And the final formulation of the context and the provisions of the GI Bill. So we were sitting there in that liaison office, and I knew about it happening even as I was still in the Navy and I had another two years to go, and I said, "Well that's great. I'll still keep saving my money and we'll be ahead of ourselves." When I came off active duty [in 1948] and went back to Douglass, and stayed in the reserve, of course, I simply bought myself a car and decided I was going to commute instead of living on campus. I figured after five years in the Navy, living in barracks and government quarters, living in a college dormitory was going to be no source of education that I really hadn't had thoroughly worked over in communal living by that time.
Simeon Moss, Rutgers School of Education '41, U.S. Army, World War II
-On leading an all-Black unit in the 92nd Infantry Division in Italy during World War II:
I think the hardest thing is making your unit a fighting unit. What I mean by that is "organization." It's hard when you're out there with the unit and you don't know the nature of your enemy, and they come from all angles, and you really have to ... do a lot of "teaching." When I say "teaching," I mean that everybody's got to know what they're supposed to do at a certain time. And it takes a lot of training. A lot of training. People think you see them running across the field, and the thing bombs here and they drop down. I've seen it happen and it's not that way. It scares you to death. That's what it does. I remember hearing shells go over my head, and I thought sure they were coming down on me. [laughter] ... That night that … we were, maybe, a hundred yards from them, and I don't know who that was because I never saw them, … and we had a British unit behind us and we were giving them fire instructions, and the guys fired the thing almost in the middle of our unit. That scared me to death. I didn't know what to do: tell them to stop firing, to raise it fifty feet, or what. It was just one of these things. The first thing I wanted to do was to see if anybody was hurt. … You have vivid memories, but they go away pretty fast.
-On GI Bill benefits that enabled him to continue his education, becoming the first African American to earn a graduate degree at Princeton University:
I never even thought about education anymore, until I got out and I applied, I had to have my [teaching] certificate reinstated. So in '46, I applied for the certificate and I found out that I had pension rights all the way back to the day I went into the military service. So I said, "Well, I'm going to college." I went to Princeton then, under the GI Bill. There's one of the things that I think was most important to the military. ... To the young military person ... who had no career, the GI Bill, I think, was one of the most important things that ever happened to America. And the fact that he could get a four and a half percent mortgage. Find one of those for me. [laughter]
Albert S. Porter, Jr., Rutgers-Newark '48, Army Air Forces, World War II
-On a harrowing mission over Hamburg when he served as a turret gunner on a B-17:
… We flew our first and on our second, … the second mission is our co-pilot's first mission, because, the first mission, they always sent an experienced co-pilot along with you. They want to make sure that our pilot knew what he was doing after all the training, and so, this was his first mission and we were over Hamburg and we got hit with flak, a major hit, and it just so happened, I had the turret in such a position, luckily, that I saw it happen.
All of a sudden, there's a gigantic hole between number one and two engines in the wing and a shell had gone right straight through the wing and did not explode. If it [had] exploded, I wouldn't be here. Anyway, it knocked down one and two engines and all the oil came out, hit the turret, and the plane started straight down, straight down. Now, I have never experienced anything like this in my life, but the vibration caused by the two engines that were knocked out, had what they called runaway props, were spinning and causing such a vibration, it felt like the plane's going to tear itself apart, with no exaggeration. I thought that [it] was going to go any minute.
Donald Wernick, Rutgers College of Pharmacy '51, Marine Corps, World War II
-On the influx of veterans attending Rutgers on the GI Bill in the post-World War II period:
They affected the school. … A lot of things changed as far as how things were handled in the school. It isn't that the veterans took over, don't misunderstand it. I'm not trying to say that, but I am trying to say that there were a lot of changes that were made subtly in the school because of the presence of the veterans, and the faculty was very understanding that way, too. They were very helpful. … I was one of the younger veterans, actually. I went into the service when I was eighteen years old. I'd just made it to my eighteenth birthday. There were guys in the service that were twenty-six, twenty-seven when they went in. They had a wife and two kids and things like this. Essentially, you had somebody who was twenty-five and twenty-six years old who wouldn't accept carte blanche things that they felt were not absolutely right. They wouldn't rebel. We never had anything like that, but we had a very good class that way. We worked together and we worked with the faculty. There was no "them" and "us." It was "we" and we had a good faculty.
Daniel Martin, Rutgers College '50, U.S. Air Force, Korean War
-On his first day stationed at Yokota Air Base in Japan during the Korean War, when he served on the crew of a B-50:
Now, we’ve got an airplane full of World War II veterans, and they are very careful. Everybody’s careful. We landed … One of our squadrons’ planes was at Yokota at a time, … and we relieved each other. So the plane before us had flown probably the same number of combat missions as we did, twenty-five, twenty-seven. We flew twenty-seven. They’re waiting for us anxiously to get there, because when we get there, they fly no more missions. That’s the end. If we don’t get there, they have to fly another one …
So we get there, and we’re all in the bar at the officer’s club together. This is the very first night. Suddenly, there is this loud explosion. I mean, it rocked the ground, rocked the building, tremendous explosion. We had a lot of B-29s on that base. They were bombers, and we were search, reconnaissance. We all walk outside, now I wasn’t sure of this, I thought I dreamed this. It is true. We all walk outside, run outside, and at the end of the runway there is this huge ball of fire, a B-29 had crashed on takeoff with all bombs onboard. Now, you can imagine the hole. We stood there just watching; there’s nothing you can do. So one by one we went back into the bar and drank. We were relieving this crew, and they’re happy it wasn’t them, they were happy to be going home. We were a little bit shook.
William Prout, Rutgers College '43, Army Air Forces, World War II, U.S. Army, Korean War, U.S. Army, Vietnam
-On serving in the Korean War:
I went directly from [Japan] to Korea and I joined the Seventh Division. The Seventh Division ... had been heavily drained ... of some of its personnel and equipment to put the first couple of divisions into Korea when the North Koreans came across the 38th, but, when I joined the Seventh, it was in August of ‘50.
We were staging at Mt. Fuji, Camp Fuji, on Mt. Fujiyama, not too far north of Tokyo, and then, we loaded aboard ship, and the Seventh US Infantry Division and the First Marine Division made the Inchon landing on 15 September, 1950. So, I was early into Korea and Korea was the one war that I was with the infantry. I commanded the Seventh Division Signal Company, a company of about 380 men, eighty-five vehicles. We were scattered everywhere, from, sometimes, forward outposts to regiment [or] division [headquarters].
Eileen Witte Treash, New Jersey College for Women '49, Career U.S. Army Dietician, Korean War, Cold War
-On working as an Army recruiter during the 1960s:
I had one other officer working with me, and we covered the thirteen states of the Fifth Army area, at that time, and we visited, primarily, colleges and universities, and, occasionally, hospitals. ... We were recruiting for dietitians, physical, and occupational therapists, and the Army has training programs in all of those, and they're very excellent training programs, which is primarily what we were trying to ... find candidates for those programs. ... If we'd found a qualified specialist, we would've been happy to have them too.
Herman E. Bulling, Rutgers College '44, U.S. Army, World War II, Korean War
-On being wounded while serving in the infantry during the Korean War:
… I was the first one up the hill and, when I got up to the top of the hill, down[hill], going away from the hill, is a little path, going down and off to the left, and so, there were three guys who were just about to [get on] the path where it turned off and I popped the first one and he went right over. The second one went right over. The third one stumbled, but didn’t go over and I think I squeezed off a second shot and, just about that time, a bullet got me in the shoulder and it was an odd feeling, because it didn’t hurt, but I just spun around and went down.
The stupidity is that you don’t get up on the top of a ridge and stand there. You silhouette yourself against the sky and I’m still not sure how the bullet ever got through, because I was like this and that bullet went through my shoulder here. So, it was about three inches from my nose and went through and came out the back. I think I was extremely fortunate. There’s a bit of luck in that, too. The doc who examined me said, “You know, that was an armor-piercing bullet that hit you.” I said, “No, I didn’t know that.” He said, “The way that went through, and so clean,” he said, “if that had been regular ball ammunition, it would have probably shattered and possibly even got into your lung, but this just came through so clean.” They didn’t have armor-piercing ammunition, but they had captured some of ours and some of our guns and some of our ammo and I still, to this day, don’t know whether it was a North Korean or Chinese, because we were up against both, but I was extremely fortunate that, here, I got hit with the bullet that was the easiest.
Robert Billian, Rutgers College '49, U.S. Air Force, Korean War
-On the development of napalm bombing during the Korean War, when he served aboard a B-29:
… You heard about the napalm in Vietnam, twern’t nothing to what we did in Korea, and I don't think they even heard about it. ... We perfected the technique. We used these transports, which normally, when we had a re-supply drop, you'd have these things on plywood pallets on conveyer rollers. And, when you hit your drop zone, you'd pull the nose up, and you released the cable, and all the stuff would roll down the rollers and out the back end of the airplane. And then, the parachutes would open up and the stuff would descend to where you were trying to drop it. We perfected the deal where they put four fifty-gallon drums on each plywood palette and we had thirty-six planes in our troop carrier wing and we would go out and, on test flights, we'd drop four fifty-gallon napalm barrels, and, we ... obliterated one of the small Japanese islands.
Francis J. Brennan, Jr., Rutgers College '51, U.S. Army, Korean War
-On his first combat patrol as a platoon leader in Korea:
It was one of those things where you think, at least, "Here's the inevitable; you're going there," and the rifle platoon leader, in those days, was living on-line. We were on-line; we were living in a hooch. I have pictures, if you ever want to see them, of a sandbag hooch, three guys in a hooch, platoon leader, assistant platoon leader, who's a sergeant, and his assistant, radio, that's it.
… The first thing you could see out of the hooch, over the top of the hill, would be barbed wire, on a minefield, and paths through the minefield, and that's the way it looked. … There wasn't much time to worry about it, I mean, waiting for your first assignment, your first patrol. The mission, in those days, was to recon and get a prisoner.
Arthur L. Snyder, Rutgers College '51, U.S. Air Force, Korean War
-On his initial flight to Korea, piloting a B-26 during the Korean War:
To start with, the B-26B is the hard-nose. It has eight guns in the nose and three in each wing, fourteen forward firing .50s, and it did not have a bombardier. I really never flew the B-26C, which was the soft-nose with the Norden bombsight in it. So, I never had a bombardier, but, you know, you had a navigator who flew the right seat and he was kind of the co-pilot and the navigator, yes. We had a three-man crew, with an enlisted man, and, yes, we had a lot of training together. We went through combat crew training at Langley as a team. We went to Stead Air Force Base in Reno, Nevada, survival school, as a team. Then, we went to California and practiced some more bombing in the Sacramento Valley. We went to Travis Air Force Base outside of San Francisco.
Bryant Mitchell, Rutgers College '69, U.S. Army, Vietnam War
-On receiving his draft notice:
As you can imagine, it wasn't a surprising thing because, as you know, at that time everyone had had a lottery number once you became eighteen years old and registered for the draft, which all eighteen-year-olds had had to do. Male eighteen-year-olds. I had drawn the lottery number forty-two. So, I knew that I had gone through Rutgers with a student deferment because the Vietnam War was taking place during that whole time.
So, when I was in Canada [playing football] and I did get the notice that I had been called to be drafted. I discussed it with my father, who I mentioned before was an Episcopalian priest. He said that, "If you're interested in staying in Canada, I can loan you money until the season starts and you could [stay there]. It depends on what your conscience says, whether you wanted to defect or not," and I told him that I would not want to defect. It wasn't because--I disagreed with what my country was doing in terms of going to the war or not--it was because I realized the privileged life that I had lived, in that my friends that I grew up with back in Virginia and all who did not have all the privileges I had were being drafted and sent to the war. That I never would've been able to live with my conscience and my privilege in having a choice to defect or whatever. I wouldn't do that. I said, "If my friends had to go fight, then, I should have to go also." So, I did. I kind of expected it, but I never really thought it would happen, but it was very--what would I [say]? It was an enlightening experience, but it also gave me a chance to see who my age peers were in the entire United States.
Raymond H. Taylor, Rutgers Newark College of Arts and Sciences '71, Marine Corps, Vietnam War
-On dealing with the elements in Vietnam:
I think the jungle itself is so alien to our bodies or our bodies are so alien to the jungle. I was there only a couple of months and I got an infection in my leg which is ongoing to this day. I had cellulitis, infected leech bites, what I'll refer to as jungle rot as a cover-all for everything else, but it wouldn't heal. I was actually out of the bush for six weeks. At one point, they wanted to send me to Japan, because it just wouldn't heal in Vietnam. Because of the humidity and what all, it just wouldn't heal. Finally, it did. So, I didn't really want to go to Japan. I had the feeling that if I got there, I might not come back to my original outfit. So, I was fortunate in that respect, that it finally decided to come around, but I think the doctors were trying to treat things that they didn't know what you had.
In some ways, the corpsmen played a big role in that, in checking people out on a daily basis, making sure people took their salt tablets and, obviously, you try to be as covered up as you can, especially if you're moving through elephant grass. It'll cut you like a razor. So, almost all of us wore leather gloves with the fingertips cut out and long-sleeved shirts and just tried to be as careful as possible, because you get cut on something over there, there's no guarantee that it's going to heal right away.
Mary Jo Rice-Mahoney, U.S. Army, Vietnam War
-On treating casualties as an Army nurse in the intensive care unit (ICU) at the 67th Evacuation Hospital in Qui Nhon:
The ICU was an immense rectangular ... two-story building, but we were a very tall ceiling with windows along the top, and it was a 27-bed ICU. That's unheard of, because, when you stop and think about it, it was a major trauma center, and we had the triage area, which it was another building, where the guys were brought off the choppers right into triage. Their uniforms were cut off. They were stabilized as best they could. In triaging, they decided, literally, they decided who could not be saved, who could not be resuscitated, who could not be salvaged. That category was called expectant, and they were put off to the side. They were put behind curtains, and we had them in the ICU behind--you know those, not fancy curtains, you know those metal, like aluminum, and they had the white pieces of muslin or cotton and they were folding, accordion-ed, and they would be put behind the curtain and somebody would be with them constantly, talking to them, holding their hand. … The more stable could stay there a little bit longer, but the emergency had to go right to the OR [operating room]. They had to be cleaned, and they were all filthy, all of them. It was red, red dust, red mud, caked, plus perspiration and no bathing.
Ronald J. Stokes, Rutgers-Newark, '83, U.S. Army, Vietnam War
-On his truck breaking down while on a convoy in Vietnam:
We were coming back from Camp Evans, going back to Phu Bai, and it was two trucks. One of my trucks broke down just as we cleared the City of Hue. The convoy kept going, so, it was just me and the two trucks. We got on the radio and we called for a wrecker to come out. So, we waited and, while we waited, there was little local kids coming down, giving candy and gum. Everybody's friendly, this and that, smoking cigarettes and joking and carrying on. As soon as it's almost getting dark, the wrecker showed up, we got the truck hooked up. We start to pull out and, all of a sudden, we see machine-gun fire going across the road, in front of us and behind us. Now, I have no idea who was shooting or why they were shooting. The decision was, "Run it. The hell with it, I'm getting the heck out of here." So, we just put as much power to the engine as we could, took our weapons and just had them at the ready. So, by the time we got to a fork in the road, there's a break in the machine-gun fire, we got out of there unscathed. That was a pretty good time.
Marvin Apsel, U.S. Army, Vietnam War
-On a South Vietnamese soldier saving his life:
There was one time that there was somebody who saved my life. I was crossing a stream, over a log, a tree log, and we all had to move forward. Maybe because of the monsoon, this creek was now fifteen feet or whatever of water. I was crossing it. We were doing a dual mission with ARVN troops. These were Republic of Vietnam troops. I slipped on this thing and I fall off this log and I went to the bottom. I dropped my weapon. I tried to get up and I was drowning because I was weighted down. Even though I tried to get out, I was still drowning. Somebody, an ARVN guy, jumped in and was able to get me up, to get my head above water so I could get to the side. Did I ever tell you that? [Editor's Note: Marv Apsel says to his wife, who is present during the interview.] I survived. Then, I went down and got my rifle. You had to watch out for everybody, no matter what. These ARVN troops were working with us. I was very thankful.
Edie Meeks, U.S. Army, Vietnam War
-On witnessing wounded soldiers receive the Purple Heart at the Third Field Hospital in Saigon, where she worked as a nurse in the Army Nurse Corps:
The instances of taking your breath away, I remember this colonel came by, and he was handing out Purple Hearts, pinning them on the guys. We had this one fellow there, and he was missing two legs and an arm. We were stabilizing him, so we could send him to Japan [for further medical treatment]. He had his eyes covered; we weren't sure if he was going to be blind. He had a trach [tracheotomy]. The colonel pinned the Purple Heart on his hospital gown. It took my breath [away]. I thought, "Is that an even trade?" It was just so nothing for what he had given.
Carl Burns, Rutgers College '64, U.S. Army, Vietnam
-On reuniting with his wife in Vietnam:
Ruth Ann and I, again, as I said, we got married on Labor Day of '65, at her insistence, just in terms of the date, not in terms of the relationship, I mean. [laughter] She swore she was going to come to Vietnam for our first anniversary and I swore she wasn't … and she was going to bring the top of our wedding cake, which she did, with dry ice, and, as that article kind of explains, she got accredited as a correspondent, that Parade Magazine article, the Star-Ledger, what was then the Daily Home News, but, then, couldn't get any approval to go and she went up through Congressmen and all the way to President Lyndon Johnson. … Of course, her parents were not behind this at all and I wasn't. My colonel, Colonel Peterson, was very supportive, but, then, he comes to me the day before and says, "Your wife can't come. They won't give her any credentials," or what have you. I said, "Fine." She actually got a telegram from the White House saying she couldn't go, and you know Ruth Ann, [she] hid it away some place and hopped on the airplane.
Bruce McLeod, U.S. Army, Vietnam War
-On returning from R&R (rest and recuperation) and, as a combat medic, having to choose what to carry on the next mission:
I just want to say another thing, and that was the idea of carrying this because you're just on the road and it's a limited situation. ... When I came back from R&R, which was six months into my tour, the guys in my company, when I was back in battalion the first couple of days, were all calling for me to come back out to the field. ... It was good to hear that they wanted you and they felt that great about you, and on the other hand, you also felt a certain attachment to those fellows ... So, I went back out because the guys asked for me, "They were asking for you, do you want to really go out there?" I said, "Okay, I'm fine with that." So, I went back out for another six months … Medics, … I mean in a combat situation, it's easy to get knocked out, so to speak, put out of action, … because it's just the nature of their role.
... When we were out, for instance, on a recon and … you're going from A to B, and you never have a chance to go back to the camp, the question that you have a problem with, and that I had a problem with, is how much ammo should I take and how much medical should I take? ... You're never really comfortable about that because, you know, there's always this dichotomy of … I need to protect me or else I can't protect them, but … how do you make the right balance there? … So, yes, that was always an issue.
John Robinson, Cook College '71, U.S. Navy, Vietnam War
-On the cost of war while serving as a Naval Corpsman in a Marine unit:
I had a dear friend die in my arms. … We were stationed at Portsmouth together. We went to Vietnam together. He went to Alpha Company and I went to Delta Company. He was on a patrol in Con Thien, outside of Con Thien, near the DMZ [demilitarized zone]. He was shot by a fifty-caliber machine-gun through the legs. He was trying to save another Marine. When they told me there was a wounded corpsman in the middle of the field, I just ran, picked him up and threw him over my shoulder and brought him back. I had a feeling it was him and it was. I tried to save him. He had put a tourniquet around his own legs, but he was unconscious when I got to him and he had lost so much blood that it was a futile attempt to try to save him. He took his last breath in my arms. I wrote to his dad. … He said that I was one of the only people that ever told him the circumstances of his son's death and he thanked me greatly for it.
Anthony Villanueva, Rutgers Newark College of Arts and Sciences '73, U.S. Navy, Vietnam War
-On returning to civilian life after service in Vietnam:
It was like I was invisible. People didn't know how to act around me, and it wasn't just my experience. A lot of the veterans that I spoke to at the time felt the same way. They felt like you're here, but you're not here. People were tippy-toeing around you. Once they knew you returned from Vietnam, they wouldn't look you straight in the eye. They would like look off to the side if they had to talk to you about anything. … The only people that I didn't feel uncomfortable around were other veterans.
Jack H. Jacobs, Rutgers College '66, U.S. Army, Vietnam War, Medal of Honor Recipient
-On the meaning of military service:
For some people, if not for most, going off to war is the defining event of their lives. If for no other reason that there's nothing else in life that can possibly compare to it. It's not like getting a better job. [laugher] "Well, I was working for GE and then I got a much better job and I went to work for Banker's Trust." It doesn't matter that it was a completely different job, doing something totally different, responsible for many more people and getting paid a million dollars a year. No matter what you do, it cannot compare with going off and fighting for the defense of the Republic."
Tan "Joe" Nguyen, U.S. Marine Corps, Persian Gulf War
-On being a part of Operation Desert Sabre, when United Nations-coalition forces liberated Kuwait from Iraqi occupation:
… We pressed on, and here it is; all of sudden, we're pushing through, and the vehicle commander tells us, "Enemy contact front, enemy contact front," he's yelling loud to us, and the back of the vehicle, the whole door drops, and of course, I was in the first fire team, so they sent us out to go and actually engage. So, here's the enemy in plain view. Keep in mind, you're in the desert, so you can see kind of farther away. It wasn't like a triple canopy jungle or a wooded area, like a covered concealment; this is just an open plain field, but here it is; my first engagement with an enemy. Someone is trying to kill me.
Debora La Torre, U.S. Army, Afghanistan, Current U.S. Army Reservist
-On becoming a U.S. citizen while in the service:
One thing that I was very happy to do in Afghanistan, before leaving I had put in my application to become a citizen because I was still in this whole [mind frame of] if I want to be an officer, I have to be a citizen. When I was in Hawaii, the application process was a little easier because I was in the military, but the processing time was still about the same. It took a little over a year to get it processed. When I was in Afghanistan, my first sergeant calls me and three other individuals in, and we're like, "What's going on? I didn't do anything. I am not in trouble." He briefed us, "The embassy in Italy that covers immigration for the U.S. knows that your applications were approved and they're having a big ceremony because apparently there's about eighteen to twenty of you guys that can be naturalized as U.S. citizens while you're out here." I was like, "What?" It was definitely very cool to do that and to say I became a citizen of the United States while I was deployed in Afghanistan. My certificate says Processing Center, Italy, because that was the nearest one … It was definitely a high point.
Gabriel Suarez, U.S. Army, Iraq
-On serving in Iraq in 2004:
… You do what you have to do. You do what you have to do because, ultimately, what it comes down to is, your buddy is relying on you. What most people fail to realize is that it's not about the mission. For us, it's not about the president's sending us out there to do this, this, and that. I care less about that. To me, it's making sure that the guy to the left of me and to the right of me goes home, and in turn, he makes sure that I go home. That's the most important thing. Listen, you don't want to have to go home and tell somebody's family that you were there with them when they died. So, the human body is an amazing thing. You'll find the energy, and you'll find whatever it takes to make sure that you do what you have to do, in order to make sure that your guys come home, and that's all it is. Listen, it's a year's worth of making sure that every day you do you what you have to do to make sure that the person next you goes home. That's what war really is about. Yes, for politicians and for all these bigwigs out here that make decisions, it's different. Who knows what it's about for them? I can't tell you what my mission was, really, in Iraq; I can't. I've been home since 2005, so we're talking, what, twelve years? I still don't know what it was. If you asked me what the overall mission was of us being in Iraq, I cannot tell you. I can tell you, "Yes, I provided force protection for my post. Yes, I went out on convoy escort missions. What was the big picture? I don't know."
Taylor Lorchak, Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden '20, Army National Guard
-On her National Guard unit being activated and deployed to a veterans nursing home in April 2020 as a part of New Jersey's emergency response to COVID:
… It was a nursing home, but it's just for veterans. All the patients there either were veterans or were a spouse of a veteran. Specifically because it was a nursing home, all of the patients there were immunocompromised because of their age. That's really where Covid hit hard was any nursing home in general. Every nursing home was short on staff, was one example, so it wasn't really different from other nursing homes in that sense.
… All of us would work there pretty much every day. They would split us into different groups for each different unit. They had a bunch of different units and wings there. So, a couple of us would be on one unit and then a couple of us would be on the other unit, but we pretty much stayed, whatever unit we started with, we stayed there the whole time.