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6-The Importance of Telling His Story
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Why did you want to tell your story to the whole world?
During the war I wrote a lot of letters—as you know—I am sure over 200. It was a form of therapy in retrospect for me. All of those letters were saved. Most of them were to my mother or to my sister, but for some reason most of them were saved and returned to me after the war. I didn't look at them until I was getting ready to retire, so that was fifty years or so. And then I decided, when I got them out, I thought some of these letters are pretty interesting, maybe I should do something with them. I thought I should write, make something out of a book of some sort. I wasn't sure exactly what it should be, and then I decided that the thing I could do the easiest was to do a memoir. So I did. I didn't know if anybody would be interested in reading it, but then there was a publisher who wanted to publish it, and so that's what happened with the letters.
How did you find out the war was officially over and what was the first thing you did?
We pulled back from where we met the Russians because they told us to. We were in a lovely German city—on the edge of the city—in a nice home, and somehow or another the word got to us that the war had ended. We were overjoyed because it had been a horrible experience. We knew it was going to end but the fact that it was officially over was a happy day for us.
Did you come home shortly after the war ended?
Not at first. We were in occupation in Germany for at least six weeks. And then we went outside of Paris for another six weeks because we were getting ready to go to the Pacific for the invasion of Japan. But then, when the war in Japan ended, fortunately, they had already planned to send us through the United States to get to Japan—we were going to get some leave at home—so they just decided to let us go anyhow. So I got home much more quickly than most people. The war had probably been over for three months.
You talked about going to a Jewish religious service. What was that like for you?
The religious service was in Nancy, <France>. It was interesting that there hadn't been a Jewish service for years because the Germans wouldn't have permitted it. There was a mixture of civilians—soldiers from all kinds of different areas heard about this and went. It was an interesting experience but it was a much more conservative service than I ever attended. I didn't relate to the service too much, I was just pleased it was there.
Did it bother you that while you were in Europe other people in the US were living regularly?
It bothered me more when I got home and realized that people were complaining at home about rationing and all that kind of thing. It didn't seem to me that there was enough concern with what went on over there when you saw what was happening to our soldiers. It took me a while to adjust to the fact that people at home went on living, just like we are going on living now with this war going on in Iraq. We're not losing the number of people now. Anyhow, that's another story.
If you could go back in time, would you change anything about your wartime experience, and if so what?
At the time, I must confess, that I would have much rather been in a hospital working than what I was doing. I was capable of working in a hospital and being effective. They don't use doctors for what I was doing anymore because too many of them got killed and wounded. It was a waste, you know, all the years it takes to become a competent physician, and to have them doing first aid was sort of absurd. Now maybe I could do better first aid than you, but you could be taught to do as good first aid as I do, probably. It was a waste. If I had my choice then I would have been happier being in a hospital because I would have been doing something more effective. Also it would have been less risky. But I didn't have any choice.
If there is one thing that you have taken away from the war that has influenced your life, what is it and why?
The thing that most influenced my life, I think, is my absolute abhorrence of war. I think it's just a terrible way to solve problems of the world. The problems of that generation could have been solved in some other way than fighting the war, I believe. I just can't find any justification for war. All you have to do is see is one badly wounded person and you think, can it be worth that sort of thing? That's what I took away, is that I absolutely abhor war.
Do you have any thoughts about this project having high school students come interview you?
I don't know whether they will gain anything, but I hope they will. One of the things I have learned is that the people of their generation a lot of them just don't know much about WWII. What I'd like them to learn is how terrible it is, that wars are. I just wish that I could be more effective in trying to convince people that they have to try and avoid wars.
Thank you very much.
Photographs and Artifacts
Can you describe that first picture?
These are rows of bodies.
Over here is a man who is carrying a stretcher in which they have wrapped one of the bodies.
How about this one on the bottom left?
But most of these were just groups of bodies that were around there. They had begun taking them out of the buildings but they had not as yet wrapped them all in sheets.
This is us celebrating VE day.
There is a picture of me that was taken in Nancy right after I got out of the hospital.
Can you tell us what this is?
This is a dress shirt. In most places in the United States you didn't have to wear a dress uniform. If you went to, even out to a nice hotel or something, but this dress shirt, which I've used recently for a lecture, has some of the insignia, which are important.
Please describe the various medals
This is the shoulder patch of the 10th Mountain Division which is now—you'll see at the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is my division where I spent most of my time, the 35th Infantry Division patch. It's a National Guard division from Kansas and Nebraska. This is the captain's bars—I ended the war as a captain. This is the insignia of the Medical Corps. This is a presidential citation badge and actually this little oak leaf cluster represents—we had two. There weren't many presidential citations but we got this one for an action of my group near the Battle of Mortain, which I'll tell you about later. This one we got in Bastogne. This is the badge which I treasure the most. This is a combat infantry badge. The only people who could get a combat infantry badge were people who were at the very forefront of medical aid. They were the people who picked up the wounded. People who were in the Medical Corps beyond that first rank never could wear this badge so it had a great value and it was classified by the Army as the equivalent of a medal.
This is a bronze star ribbon. It has on it an oak leaf cluster because I got two bronze stars and it has a V on it because at least one of the bronze stars was awarded for valor. This is the ribbon, the ETO ribbon. The ribbon of the European Theater and it has a silver star which means I was in five battles. Then there's an arrow head which means I was part of the D-Day crossing the Rhine. There's another star for another battle. This ribbon there is—I still think is sort of a joke because it's essentially a soldier's medal for being a good soldier. There was a cartoon in the New Yorker, a General pointing to this ribbon and said, "I got this ribbon for getting all these other ribbons." That's probably true. This is the ribbon for the occupation of Germany. This is the ribbon for crossing the Atlantic while the fighting was going on and this is the victory ribbon. So that's what this shirt represents.
Can you talk through the various metals?
Well this is the bronze star with an oak leaf cluster. The ribbon has a V for valor. The next one is the European, which has a silver star for five battles and it has an arrowhead for landing on D-Day. The next one is like a soldier's medal. The bottom one is the occupation medal, the middle one is the North Atlantic, and the one on the right is the victory medal. Below that is the presidential unit citation for my unit. Below that is my division insignia. This at top here is the most important one, it's the combat medical badge.