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2-Preparing for War
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How knowledgeable about the war were you before you actually joined the 10th Infantry?
I was interested in the war, so I think quite knowledgeable. I think I was as well informed about what was going on in the war as anyone.
How did you and the other people around you get information about the war?
In those days there wasn't television, so you learned more from radio. But also from periodicals and a magazine like Time would have a great deal of information about what was going on in the war. It was probably prejudiced a bit, but we were exposed to a lot of good information.
Did you have any knowledge of the concentration camps during the ware, or before?
We began to hear things that strongly suggested the camps. We weren't quite sure, we knew that the Germans were treating the Jews and Gypsies and maybe homosexuals in a vicious way, but I don't think—it took a while to realize how horrible they were being to these humans. I just know that we knew that people were being displaced and all that sort of thing. We knew about Kristalnacht and that sort of thing. But we didn't know—I don't think we knew—I forget when we actually began to become more and more aware of the possibility of camps, but we knew that there was an increasing influx of refugees particularly from Germany. Actually refugees began coming in when I was a medical student. Like for instance, there was a refugee who came in with a microscope and he wanted to sell it for funds. I would have liked to buy it but it was a little bit more than I could afford. That sort of thing, so I knew that there were people trying to get out of Europe, but I don't think that the early refugees were going because of the camps, they were going because of the other restrictions on them. They couldn't make a living, they were harassed and all that sort of thing. But I think the death camps evolved a little later than that. I forget the year that they really started being active.
How did you find out you were going to go to war and how did that make you feel when you first found out that you had to go to the different camps?
We expected to be in some military unit. When I was sent to the 10th Mountain Division it was a pretty elite division, so I wasn't disappointed by being sent there. You know I wasn't quite sure where they would go after they were organized but it was in Camp Hale, Colorado, which was quite high. We would maneuver at 14,000 feet. It was really tough there and I was an officer so I only had to carry a sixty pound pack when I was skiing, which is if you skied you know try to ski with a sixty pound pack. We had very good equipment, the best skis they had at the time, and the best clothing they had at the time. But when we went on maneuvers we had to live in the snow; they wouldn't let us put up tents. It was very rough. I remember that the worst maneuvers I was called in to help in the hospital because I had to treat so many people with frostbite.
As much as I liked the skiing and all that I wasn't really disappointed when I got moved out of the 10th Mountain Division, because it was really rough. They were a very rigorous training program and there were miserable conditions. It was really cold, like forty below zero. If you have to live out in forty below zero day and night it can get pretty miserable. So I was not all that disappointed to leave there though I didn't know where I was going honestly. I had orders when I left there to go to the 35th Infantry Division but I didn't know what the 35th Infantry Division was going to do.
Can you talk a little bit more about the training you received?
At Camp Hale the main thing—my job was to be a battalion surgeon, which was in theory to take care of the wounded, but there were no wounded because we were on the maneuvers. My main duties were to decide if a guy had enough frostbite that he needed to be evacuated. I was just learning about frostbite and I was keeping alive myself just living in those conditions. It was a matter of learning to survive, but I didn't learn anything about tactics or anything of that sort. I wasn't there for that long because I got orders to leave to go to this other division before very long.
In your book you mention a story about when you told your family that you were going to war. Will you tell that story?
When I was an intern at the University of California a professor was allowed to keep a couple of people to train and teach the medical students and that sort of thing, and he had selected me as one of those people who would be kept. So all the other people at my level had already gone into the service so I thought that I would be deferred for a while to finish my training and also to be teaching medical students and that sort of thing. So it was a big surprise to me that on Christmas Eve, I got orders to report for duty the day after Christmas. It was really a shock because all my—everybody else who had been called in at the hospital had been called in weeks before this. Obviously, the army decided that they couldn't defer the people that the professor had requested.
So I did on Christmas Eve—I had to report the day after Christmas, so a friend took me first to the Presidio to get—he was in the army so he knew what I would need, so I got army clothes. He arranged for transportation and then we went down town where I got fitted for dress uniforms and I had them ready within a few hours, they had fitted them and had me ready by the closing time on Christmas Eve. So, that when I went to Christmas Eve dinner with my family I had the uniform. I still have it. I have been wearing it for various occasions more recently than I did because back then that was one of the few times that we wore a dress uniform. I think that though my parents knew the rest of my—I had my sister, my brother-in-law, my brother, my nieces and nephew hadn't been really aware, it all was quite sudden. But they all thought I would go off and be in the hospital somewhere.
What did you do after Camp Hale?
Then I went to join a combat infantry division and it was in North Carolina they had already been in maneuvers and they were all trained. I was given a position in which what was called a Collecting Company. A Collection Company's job in the war is that there are battalion aid stations, and the wounded are taken from those stations to a Collecting Company which in turn takes them back to a field hospital or something of that sort. So I was given this appointment in the Collecting Company, but that was it. There was nothing I had to do and we had some lecture I think. We must have had some lectures on how to use a gas mask and stuff like that. But they had all been on maneuvers, they were all trained. So I had a minimum amount of training. These people were all ready to go. I had nothing to do there so I just had to sit around and see what happened. So this division was in North Carolina after I joined them for not long. In a matter of weeks they moved to New Jersey to get ready to go overseas. We went over—I forget the exact dates, but something like April we went over to England.
What happened between that time when you left in April and the time you landed on Omaha Beach?
We were stationed near New York City, so when we were waiting to go overseas I had a couple of leaves and had wonderful experiences in New York but then we weren't there long before we got on a transport to go to England. We were on an old German passenger ship that had been converted to a troop ship. They had at that time large convoys. They put the troop ships in the middle and then supply ships around them and then on the edges there would be a few destroyers. The were still being attacked by submarines that sank a lot of ships around that time. Our convoy was attacked a couple of times by submarines. I think we lost a couple of ships that you could see in the distance. But most of us got through pretty well. The convoy took a long time to go to London—I mean we didn't go to London, but to get to England—because they zigzagged across. And where there were more submarines we had a few more ships but there were no planes that could patrol all the way across at that time. We were a little bit afraid of the submarines but not a lot. The trip over was strange because we had soo many people crowded on to the ship. So what I and most of my friends did was we slept in the daytime because there would be more air and you could open the portholes and at night they were blacked out and stuffy. So, we would play cards most of the night and that sort of thing. It wasn't a bad trip over, the food was good. But the living conditions were cramped. You know the ordinary cabin that would hold two people we would have eight in with bunks all piled up,. But when we got to England the port where we landed had been bombed fairly recently and there were some fires going on and they rushed us ashore and on to a train very quickly.
As we were getting off the ship there were English women giving out donuts and things like that. It was pleasant seeing—even though there were bombings going on there they were there to greet us and it was pleasant seeing women too. We got on a train and the train went to Cornwall to a town called Bodman. And as we rode the train, the countryside was beautiful. I had never been out of the country except to Cuba. So England was—you know the countryside was lovely, so it was a beautiful train ride. We rode in regular English trains, you know with compartments and we arrived in this small town called Bodman and that was charming, that was my first experience with all the things of England, learning their language which was sort of fun. The town was pleasant; it wasn't very large. And we were treated courteously by everybody, so it was not a bad experience.
But when we arrived we thought, "All these troops have been here before us; if there is going to be an invasion we couldn't possibly be involved," that we'd be there to back them up sometime. And so we did road marches and we did some classes and I gave classes in first aid and that sort of stuff. But we didn't anticipate that we would be much involved in the invasion.
In your book, your initial response to being sent overseas was similar to that of a kid going to summer camp for the first time. You seemed excited or almost happy about the experience that was happening in your life. At what point did that start to change?
It is true that I really loved visiting in England. I liked the people, I liked what I saw. I like what was in the shops. I liked buying stuff and spending pence and tuppences and thruppences. And pounds. It was charming and everyone was courteous. It was a pleasant experience. But shortly before D-Day they got us all together and we were reviewed by General Eisenhower and Winston Churchill and General Patton and we began to think, well boy, that these guys wouldn't be coming to see us if we were just going to be support troops somewhere. So then we got a little more concerned that maybe we would be part of this invasion. Then when they moved us to a camp where we weren't allowed to write and we had to be confined to the camp, then we knew we were getting into something real. But we had been doing all these marches, getting off landing craft and all that, but we didn't really seem all that concerned because we didn't think we would get involved as much as we were.
So when General Eisenhower and Winston Churchill and General Patton came to speak to you, you said that Eisenhower spoke to you directly?
Can you describe what that was like?
What they did—I got a picture of that recently—they walked down the ranks of the division. You would line up in a parade form and they'd walk down the ranks and stop to talk to every third or fourth man, or maybe not that often but they'd stop and talk to somebody. Except General Patton didn't talk to anybody, he had been in some trouble in Sicily as some of you may know. But he was still the best American General. But General Eisenhower stopped to talk to me. He said 'Where are you from soldier" and I said, "I'm from San Francisco sir," and he said "Well, I love San Francisco, I was stationed in the Presidio, I really enjoyed being in San Francisco," I don't whether he used the term "loved." And then he said "Good luck soldier," and moved on. But it was impressive to talk to him. At that time Eisenhower was in charge of the invasion of Europe. So you know it was an important guy to stop and talk to me, so obviously here I remember it now.
Did this conversation motivate or inspire you in any way?
No, you know when I was there my feeling was I got a job to do I will do it. I don't know if I felt like a crusader or something. But the last letter that I wrote home—actually on the landing craft I said well you know I hope I can do some good and help to save some lives and you know that's what I was trained to do. Though I must say that when we were going in to land that I didn't realize how bad it would be.
In your book you had scanned in your letter which was from Eisenhower and the date was June 6th and it begins, "You are about to embark upon the great crusade towards which we have striven these many months," and then it continues. What were you feeling at that point when thinking of what you were going to be doing in the future?
If you are in the army, even if you're a well-trained soldier, you don't really know what war is like. You know it was a disaster early on for the Americans. The only reason that we survived was because of the large number of Americans that we had. Because the Germans had been to war before, they knew how to fight a war. We didn't. You could go to all the classes in the world and you wouldn't really know. Most people just don't realize how terrible war is; we certainly didn't. We really didn't have the remotest idea of how bad it was. You know some people were fearful and all that but I think that if they had known what they were getting into they would have been a lot more fearful.
After you received that letter where did you go?
It was a mobilizing camp close to where we were going to get on landing craft. Before that we were stationed in this little city of Bodman but they moved us closer to Southhampton and it was a camp surrounded by barbed wire, you weren't allowed to talk to anybody. You couldn't get out of the camp because it was supposed be secret about who was going and that sort of thing.