with Elvin Frick (back
to WWII Project)
Elvin William Frick, and that's E-l-v-i-n F-r-i-c-k, Elvin
And when were you born?
And where were you born?
New Orleans, Louisiana.
And what were your parents' names?
My father was William Frick, Jr. Naturally, his father was a
William Frick. My mother was Myrtle Tardy, T-a-r-d-y. Her mother
was an O'Connor, so her mother, my grandmother, was Irish and
she married an Irishman and my grandfather was born on St.
Patrick's Day and so was my mother born on St. Patrick's Day. My
Daddy's Dutch, so I'm Dutch and Irish. And I was raised and they
settled in the Irish Channel in New Orleans.
And you had brothers and sisters?
There were five of us, I was the baby. My two older sisters
survived, I had a brother that died and a sister that died
before I was, before I was born. My brother died of pneumonia as
an infant, and my sister died of polio. My second older sister
died just three or four years ago, and I still have-- My older
sister's living and she is--
And you told me that there was something unusual about your
Well, I was born at home. I was delivered by a mid-wife. I was
the youngest. Mother, as I just told you, had four other
children. And I was quite large, I weighed eleven and a half
pounds at birth, delivered at home in May. And our home was
pretty warm in New Orleans, it's always hot in New Orleans. So I
can imagine what my mother went through that day giving birth to
me. And my grandpa was a Dutchman, we put up home brew and my
mother had twelve brothers and sisters, six brothers and six
sisters. And so I imagine waiting for me to come, I imagine all
my uncles were there drinking my daddy's home brew. And I can
just see them talking to my mother after I was born, especially
my youngest uncle, coming in that room, congratulating my mother
on a fine boy.
JW: I imagine that's every woman's nightmare, a houseful of
EF: Houseful of men full of home brew. I don't know that they
were drunk because my uncles could drink a lot of beer; but I
imagine that was a place to gather. They gathered at my house,
there was always either a fish fry, or fish was plentiful,
seafood was plentiful in New Orleans, so we either had a
crawfish or a shrimp boil or a fish fry with that home brew, so
I'm sure that's where they gathered.
JW: And what did your father do for a living?
EF: He was a baker. He was a baker and his father was a baker,
and my 2 daddy told me, "Son, I don't care what you do for a
living, but you don't ever want to work at a bakery." Because
the bakery that he knew was very hot, everything was done by
hand. And you fed the oven with what's called a peel board, you
stood in front of it and but that long wooden peel board. And
you slid those pieces of dough, they called a flute, into this
oven that you stood in front of. And when the bread was finished
baking, you slid a peel board under that baked loaves and pulled
them out, but that was very hot. And I talked to a local man,
Harry Shipley, and we talked several times about a bakery back
then and he knew what I was talking about. As a child, I'd go
down there occasionally and watch my daddy work. But he made he
made a living, and during the Depression, if you had a job, you
were fortunate because on a relatively small amount of money, he
was able to take care of us. And I had an aunt and there was no
work, so I had two aunts to move in with us with their husbands
and children. So I was close to my first cousins because we all,
I guess you could say, we were packed in that house we lived in.
But I don't anticipate any problems, course I was just a child;
but if times were tough, I don't remember. I was just a child, I
don't know what the adults went through. But I never knew a day
of hunger, we always had enough to eat. Daddy always brought
home bread and we were raised in a large neighborhood, I had a
lot a lot of friends and a lot of children my age and they liked
me because my daddy would bring home those day old cakes that
weren't sold, so we always had some cake. I guess food was
mostly, what I remember, my mother always had a big pot of soup
on the stove and had plenty of red beans and rice. Seafood was
plentiful and very reasonable because this was a day when, as
you know, refrigeration was nothing back then like it is now. So
everything that was caught locally was processed locally and you
could buy everything fresh because there wasn't a lot of seafood
shipped because of the availability of refrigeration, so things
JW: You had to grow up at a time when New Orleans had to be
about the most exciting place to live in the United States. Huey
Long in the Governor's office, and who knows what else, you
know. Do you remember anything from your childhood that--
EF: Oh, yeah.
JW: --would curl my hair?
EF: Yeah. I came up at an interesting time. And you mentioned
New Orleans, and of course everything that's gone on now because
of Katrina, I would recommend a book to everyone to read, "The
Rising Tide", and it was about the 1927 flood and the things
that went on then; not only in New Orleans, but up and down the
entire Mississippi Valley where states on either side of the
river would build their levees higher and higher than the other
side because of the flood. And the only thing that saved New
Orleans then, is they dynamited the levee below the city and
they flooded that same Knight's Ward. The same Knight's Ward
that got flooded now from Lake Ponchartrain was flooded back
then from the river, but it was 3 intentional, they dyamited the
levee. And the people down there were supposed to be compensated
for their homes, but from what I can understand, they never were
paid. But knowing New Orleans like I do, although it is a city
below sea level, the part of the city that I was raised in was
near the river, and the highest part of the city is near the
river. Because if you understand how the rivers used to flood
before we had levees, they would flood way out and then when
they came back in their banks in the summer, they would deposit
soil near the edge of the riverbank so those were the highest
places. This Katrina flooded land that had been reclaimed. When
I was coming up, that part of town out in Gentilly and near Lake
Ponchartrain was not too well inhabited. And so with modern
technology, when they built those canals and reclaimed that land
and built back there, I don't think they anticipated the flood
coming from the lake, everyone always was afraid of the river.
But fortunately, the river was fifteen feet below normal, I
understand, when Katrina hit. Had the river been up when Katrina
hit, it would have been even worse. But the area we were raised
in did not flood, and so we never experienced, although I'm sure
there were several hurricanes come up, I don't anticipate--
didn't remember having a problem with a hurricane when I was
coming up or people getting flooded. I'm sure the low lying
areas would flood from rainwater, but this is the first I ever
heard of Lake Ponchartrain coming in like that.
JW: Right. Were you allowed to go to the Mardi Gras festivities
when you were a kid?
EF: Yeah. It's annoying, though, when you see the news, all they
want to talk about is the French Quarter, everyone wants to talk
about the French Quarter isn't this but the French Quarter's all
right now. Native Orleanians, the people that I knew, you just
didn't go in El Ducarais (?), the French Quarter. It was a part
of town that had open prostitution, gambling. And what's tragic,
all you read about is New Orleans, the Sin City; but yet New
Orleans, there was just parts of town that was like that. The
Garden District and the Irish Channel and the Uptown where I was
raised, people go to New Orleans and they miss seeing the beauty
of the city. I mean they miss Ordinant Park, campus at Tulane
and Loyola, and the live oak trees that are in existence and the
pure beautiful history of New Orleans people miss. And I'm
fortunate that I have a cousin still living who's a guide now
and in the part of the French Quarter that's not Bourbon Street.
Part of the French Quarter is the Jackson Square and St. Louis
Cathedral and the Place Villions where the Louisiana Purchase
took place and the Cabildo and places like that is where people
should visit. And you know, you're here about World War II, but
I love history. And they miss going down to Chalmet where the
Battle of New Orleans was fought, and they miss all the colorful
history of Andrew Jackson and Jean Lafitte that fought down
there in the Battle of New Orleans. And Governor Claiborn, who
wanted to capture Lafitte, and yet Lafitte was one of the heroes
of the Battle of New Orleans. 4 But you asked me when I was
coming up in the Depression about Huey Long. In Louisiana, in
the Depression, from what they tell me because, remember now, I
was ten, twelve years old in the middle 30s, but there was no
such thing as a Republican Primary. You were a Democrat, and in
the Democratic Primaries, whoever won was the one that was going
to be elected because we didn't have any Republican Primaries,
and it was machine politics. Huey P. Long came along at a time
when people were anxious to hear what he had to say. He was a
Socialist, out and out Socialist. And yet, in spite of
Socialism, which I don't like, he did a lot of good for the
State. I mean he built roads and bridges, and people in
Louisiana loved him. But he did some things, he had a way of
getting things done, and I'm sure some of it wasn't quite legal.
I could tell you some stories that I heard. When they opened
Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, the circus was supposed to come to
town. And he called one of the either Ringling or P.T. Barnum,
one of them, and said, "We don't want you to be in town tonight,
we open Tiger Stadium and we don't want anything else going on."
And the owner of the circus said, "We can't change our schedule,
it's just that we open in New Orleans, go to Baton Rouge and
then Shreveport." So he said, "You better reconsider," because
he said, "I can tell you now if you don't change your schedule,"
he says, "we have a law, you have to dip animals coming into
this State." And he said, "I'm including your tigers and your
lions, and they'll be dipped at the border before they come in."
Needless to say, they changed it. I don't know how much you want
me to put on this tape but you're talking about a subject that I
know something about and maybe posterity might be interested in
this. But there was a very popular song that went on during the
Thirties that was called the "Three Little Fishes", and they
swam and they swam over the dam. Well, then someone put the
lyrics to it. And the Governor at that time was a man named
Richard Lesch, Dick Lesch. And when Huey P. Long went to the
Senate, he handpicked his successor as Governor, which was Dick
Lesch. And if you go through Louisiana now, you'll see signs on
the bridges "Built during the Huey P. Long Administration", Dick
Lesch, O.K. Allen, people like that. So someone put these lyrics
to the song after, when the Federal Government came in. And it
went: "Down in the meadow at LSU, stood Monroe Smith and Dick
Lesch, too. Run, said Dick, run as fast as you can while I hold
your resignation in my hand. Now, Bob told Dick you've gone too
far, you'll resign tonight or I'll tell the law. OK, said Dick,
I'll quit if I can, but you know darn well I'm in a hell of a
jam." And so it went. And course, had Huey Long not been
assassinated, they said that he would have been quite a rival to
JW: I remember Franklin Roosevelt was taking him very seriously.
EF: Yes, because he had a following and it was very, very
strong, especially, especially in the rural parts of Louisiana
where people-- Before Huey Long, they didn't have any paved
roads, they didn't have electricity. And so he put-- it didn't
matter to him how many poles they had to put up to give one
family electricity, they were going to have electricity. And it
didn't matter if they had to drain the swamp 5 to put a road in
there, he was going to put a road in there. And this is how he
won people over, he knew how to get things done.
JW: And you know, there's not a lot of difference between that
story and Lyndon Johnson stories doing the same thing in Texas
at the same time a lot quieter than Huey Long, but it's the same
thing. Electrifying the farmland, bringing people things that
they never had before because they were poor and no one cared,
you know. I met Gerald L. K. Smith one time when I was a kid.
And that was-- I barely knew who he was the day I met him, and
I've since learned a whole lot about him. And he said at the
time that Huey Long died in his arms and that may be true, but
you know, just reading biographies and that sort of thing, I
think maybe Gerald L. K. Smith was a larger devil than Huey Long
ever thought about being.
EF: Well, Huey Long knew how to get it done. And you know, when
he started all this paving of these highways, he went around on
the Gulf Coast of Texas and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and in
Louisiana and those shell beds. And I don't know whether he had
an option to buy them or what he did, but a lot of those shells
belong, and when he got the job as Highway Commissioner, this is
before he was Governor. If you look at them old roads in the
State, if you look at the old pavement, the cement wasn't mixed
with gravel, it was mixed with oyster shells. And so he knew
what he was doing and there was nothing wrong with shell.
Instead of gravel roads down there, you had crushed shell roads,
which served the same purpose.
JW: I've seen that in my lifetime.
EF: Sure. It served the same purpose, hard, hard shells, you
crushed them and they held up. So old Huey, he was smart, he was
JW: Well, did you go all through New Orleans schools?
EF: What happened was I finished grammar school at Laurel, it
was Laurel McDonaugh #1, they called it McDonaugh. In the City
of New Orleans, there was a man who was a philanthropist, he was
from Baltimore, and his home was either New Orleans or
Baltimore, I'm not sure which; but he left a lot of money to the
school system, and so the schools down there were named for John
McDonaugh. So I went to school at McDonaugh #1, which was right
around the corner from where I lived so we could walk to the
school until the 7th grade. And most of the kids I came up with,
when they finished grammar school, the whole thought was going
to work. Soon as we'd get out of school, we were going to go to
work. And so when I finished Laurel, I went to high school at
Peters. We were raised right on a car line, streetcar line, and
I had a bicycle and a paper route. So I rode my bicycle back to
school, it was about probably four or five miles to school. And
I rode right through bad neighborhoods going to school, but
there was never any problem. So in the afternoon when I got out
of school, I'd go pick up my papers and I had a paper route and
I caused it to grow and I was doing pretty good. And so I was in
my sophomore year that December when, I told you my birthday, I
was born in '26, so that December, I was fifteen when Pearl
Harbor was attacked and I was in my sophomore year in high 6
school. And a lot of boys I came up with, though, not all of
them, some, most of them went to Catholic school; but some of
them were already working at fifteen, they had a job, a fulltime
job. I had a job, but I was going to school. And so we came out
of the theater that Sunday afternoon. And they used to have
these in all the stores, I don't know how it worked, but run
across the screen was information like a teletype. And all the
talk was that Pearl Harbor had been bombed and we didn't even
know where Pearl Harbor was, where is Pearl Harbor? All I can
remember was it must be a pretty place to have a name like Pearl
Harbor. So they start enlisting. All of my friends, seems to me
like they were a year or two older, people that I ran around
with, played ball with. I was small in stature but it just
seemed like I was small for my age. And they were all leaving,
going. And so that summer, I finished my sophomore year in high
school and I had my route, plus my uncle was head of the
Pipecutters Union there and he gave me a job during the summer.
I made extra money working out of Camp Leroy Johnson, there was
an Army camp there on the lakefront. And so I'd see all that
military and everything going on and the war was not going our
way in '42. And after the Battle of Midway, where the YORKTOWN,
the old YORKTOWN went down, and I'd read about all of these
naval battles and everything going on and people waving the
flag. And I asked my mother if I could join. She said, "Son,
they won't take them at sixteen." I was sixteen that summer of
'42. And I said, "Yeah, Momma, they're taking them now, they'll
take any." And my daddy had been in the Army. My daddy was born
in 1888, so he was in the Philippines during the Philippine
insurrection. So I went down there to the custom house and had
to fill out an application. And if you were seventeen, if you
were not, well as I remember, even if you were eighteen, but if
you were seventeen, you had to get your parent's signature. This
is something I'm not proud of; I put my birthdate down as May
the 5th, 1925. And I brought the papers home, said, Momma, you
have to sign them, but I'll be okay because as young as I am,
they're not going to-- they won't treat me like they would
someone-- And as it turned out, I signed up without really
realizing it, in the regular Navy, not the Reserve, until I was
twenty-one. The recruiters back then, I've heard stories where
you'd go in there and tell them you're sixteen and they'd say go
around the block, come back and tell us you're seventeen. I mean
it was just a different time, a different war. And then all my
friends were gone, I mean they were gone. So momma said, "Are
you sure?" And I said, "Yes, ma'am." And I didn't tell her I'd
falsified my age, I think, until after I was in. So she signed
them and this is something that I know ever since then, didn't
realize what was going on, but naval aviation was the way to go
in the Pacific War. The old battleship admirals wanted to keep
building more battleships, but the people who knew what they
were doing, knew there was going to be a submarine and
amphibious forces, and naval aviation was going to do the war in
the Pacific. So in some respects, I really felt like I wasn't
treated right because I went from New Orleans directly to Corpus
Christi, Texas. I didn't go to a regular boot camp and I wasn't
by myself, a 7 whole contingent of us. And I had steel roller
skates and a bicycle, so this was my knowledge of machinery. I
mean we never had a car because we had a street car. Didn't have
to-- I didn't know how to drive an automobile, I didn't know
anything about engines. But I was turned over to a civilian in
Corpus Christi. And Corpus Christi hadn't been, that base hadn't
been open that long, but Pensacola and Corpus Christi were the
two largest naval air stations and they were training pilots. I
look back, we had auxiliary fields all over that part of Texas.
And it was mainly these training planes that we were working on,
single bank, nine, seven and nine cylinder air cooled engines.
But this civilian that I was turned over to, he knew what he was
doing and he had several of us. And so I worked on everything
connected with the mechanical part of an airplane, the engine,
the props, you name it. And was given the rating of an Aviation
Machinist 2nd Class, which is NFS test (?) which is equivalent
to a Buck Sergeant in the Army. But that November, I went home
on leave and then I went back; but then later on that summer,
well as I remember I was probably fairly proficient in what I
was assigned to, even though I had just turned seventeen. So the
Navy doesn't activate you as a unit like the Army does,
according to your rating. So this is getting kind of vague, but
seems to me like I was given a ticket, must have been a foot
long, to go from Corpus Christi to San Francisco. Caught a train
to Houston, changed trains in Houston and changed somewhere.
Anyway, I wound up at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay.
Treasure Island was the sight of the World's Fair that went on
in San Francisco before the war.
JW: I was trying to remember what year from memory and I can't
EF: But it was where the World's Fair was. So it's hard to
remember this, but seemed like I got off the train and there was
shore patrol there to look at my tickets and put me on a bus and
next thing I knew, I was in the middle of San Francisco Bay on
Treasure Island. And I can remember being very cold because they
put us in these buildings that had been used for the Fair and
they were very open and wide and wasn't heated. And they had
bunks all over the place where we were sleeping with all your
gear, everything you owned was in one sea bag. And you had to
look at the bulletin board to see where you were going. So well
as I remember, I was there two or three days. And one morning,
told me where to report to a truck, and everything you own, and
we went to Alameda, the naval air station at Alameda, over in
Oakland. And that's when I got my first look at the new
YORKTOWN, which is an Essex Class Carrier, I learned later. That
was the biggest thing I ever saw in my life. And so for some
reason, I thought that I was going to be ship's company on the
YORKTOWN. And I can remember this, I was a very slight-of-build
person, I was still growing; and I had to get help to get my
gear carried aboard that thing, up that gangway getting aboard
that ship. And here's all these cots, Army cots was on the
hangar deck. And it was after I got aboard that we found out
that so many of us, we were passengers on that YORKTOWN, just
passengers. And I was waving a 8 flag, still very patriotic; and
I didn't realize what I'd gotten into until we went under that
Golden Gate Bridge. And you know, that bridge didn't open until
1937, so it was fairly new. People on that bridge, waving,
carriers would come in. I come to find out the YORKTOWN had only
made one, it was launched in April and this was September of
'43. And it had made one raid, I think, Macon, I think, I'm not
sure; but when we pulled into Pearl Harbor, and this was just a
little over a year after it had been bombed, well as I remember
the OKLAHOMA was still being raised, but we went ashore on Ford
Island. And then my records indicate I was attached to Air
Transport Squadron 10. I'd had some training in Corpus Christi
in sea planes. And so there was a lot of air traffic in these
PBMs and Martin Mariner sea planes between Pearl Harbor and San
Francisco and all the islands, for that matter. But I don't
remember doing a lot in that transport squadron, I know I wasn't
part of an air crew. We were quartered in a masonry building,
but what was very vivid was going down to those hangars and
working on aircraft engines. And now that I realize what was
going on, these planes from these carriers, as they would come
into Pearl, they would fly off the carrier at sea, land on Ford
Island. The ones who needed engines or changed or repaired or
something, we would overhaul these engines and put them back on
the planes or put an engine on a plane that we had already
overhauled, and then take that one that needed overhauling and
overhaul it. Then when that carrier went back to sea for another
invasion, then these planes would fly off Ford Island and land
because it was a slow process to load planes with a crane. We
loaded some with a crane, but it was simpler to fly them aboard
than loading with a crane, and less dangerous. So for well over
a year, that's what I did on Ford Island, and it seemed like it
was work all the time, constant. And before these invasions,
there was a lot of work because not only would you work at your
assigned duties, and mine was of an aviation machinist and I got
to be fairly good at it, I guess; but loading these ships, you
would do anything you was asked to do. And these carriers would
come in and we would take days loading them and we'd load
everything under the sun, from aerial torpedoes to bombs to new
engines to parts to food to you name it. And as a result, I got
JW: Lifting all day?
EF: Yeah. So then Com Air Pack (?) commanding the Pacific, came
out with an ordinance that if you'd been out for a year and a
half, you get rotated. So I was a passenger. I didn't know--
There was a lot-- Pearl Harbor was just nothing but a hub of
activity, just unbelievable amount of activity. But you can
imagine when the war started going our way, it was just really
going our way. And when I mention that Essex Class Carrier, the
YORKTOWN, the keel had been laid, it was going to be the Bonham
Richer (?). And when the old YORKTOWN went down at Midway, they
changed the name to YORKTOWN, and these were called Essex Class
Carriers, and they must have built twenty of them, Essex Class,
that harbor was full of them. And somewhere in there, I don't
know or remember the exact 9 date, but I think it was before the
Marshall Islands Invasion, but one day, we were told to get on
our dress whites and the whole harbor-- Roosevelt was coming to
the Fleet. And I know now from what I read, he was coming to
meet with Nimitz and MacArthur. Nobody knew why he was coming,
but if my chronological clock tells me something from what I
read, this must have been what he was coming for, because Nimitz
and MacArthur were at an odds as to how they was going to fight
that war. So I think it was Roosevelt that negotiated with them,
and Nimitz got the Central Pacific, MacArthur got the Southwest
Pacific, Guadalcanal, New Hebrides, New Georgia, those islands.
Nimitz went through Saipan, Tinian, all the Mariannas. But I
think Roosevelt came out there for them to mend their fences,
but this was one of the most moving experiences. Submarine base
was located at one end of the Navy yard, and we were all on Ford
Island, all these ships at anchor, men dressed in whites, that
whole harbor was very quiet. And that Captain's gig left that
submarine base and was the only thing moving in the harbor. And
I think it was the BUNKERHILL where he was being piped aboard.
And you could hear that PA system, that bosson's (?) pipe, but
moving, you could hear that clear across that quiet harbor. And
then his little vessel, that little boat, disappeared behind
this BUNKERHILL, I think it was the BUNKERHILL. So how he got
aboard, as crippled as he was, I don't know, I don't know, I
didn't see that. But that was the second time I'd seen
Roosevelt. I had seen him before when I was in Corpus Christi.
He drove through in a convertible through a hangar when I was in
Corpus Christi one time, but just saw him in passing. But that
was a moving experience because that whole harbor was there and
the war was beginning to go our way and we had the stuff there,
because from what they told me, we had to fix things because
everything was being concentrated on Europe. Churchill and
Roosevelt decided we'd concentrate there. And I don't want to
put anything on this film that isn't true or can be documented,
but a lot of what I know now is what I've read. We were catching
holy hell in '42 in the Pacific, I mean we were losing ships
like you wouldn't believe. And to this day, I think it was a
disgrace that our men were expendable on Wake and on Guam and in
the Philippines. I think they had made a decision that they were
expendable, and we could have gotten them. In my opinion, I
think we still had enough ships, if we couldn't defend the
islands, if we couldn't save them, I think we could have
evacuated a good many of them anyway and not subject them to the
terrible treatment that they were subjected to following their
capture. And in all fairness to MacArthur, too, I think he
really believed that help was coming for what he had. I guess
you're entitled to your opinion on these films. When the war
broke out, we never had any troops in Europe, we never had any
troops there. Why should we concentrate on helping everybody and
his brother over there? Well, I know we needed to. We did in
World War I and it was a good thing we did in World War II; but
the point I'm making is why should we have gotten so excited
about concentrating over there first, when we had men, our
people were on these islands and were 10 told help's coming and
it didn't get there and it didn't get there.
JW: '42 was bad.
EF: '42 was terrible. And--
JW: And a lot of things about 1942 weren't released for thirty
or forty years afterwards.
EF: The public wouldn't have stood it. In Sebo (?) Island or in
the slot (?) there at Guadalcanal and when we lost those
cruisers and they were going down, and just I think overnight,
we lost some maybe five thousand sailors off of some of those
ships. But you can't fight a war without casualties and who am I
to know in my little part of the world as to what they should
have done or shouldn't have done. I just know when these silk
suit Johnnies make decisions, when they're up there making
decisions, it's those poor guys that are out there, and I just
can't imagine what went through their mind on those poor people
on Bataan that were left without enough ammunition, without
JW: There's lots of examples of that in 1942, especially.
EF: Yeah. It was just seemed to be unfair. But anyway, that is
another thing that I don't understand. This ship that came in
that I was a passenger on, well as I remember we had some marine
casualties and I think they were from Iwo Jima because this was
in March of '45.
JW: Do you recall the name of the ship?
EF: No. Either the EDGECOMB or the FAIRLANE because I was a
passenger on another-- Must have been the FAIRLANE. It was
either the FAIRLANE or the EDGECOMB, I'm not sure; but it was an
APA that had been converted to a hospital ship, I guess, because
I was just a passenger. And I worked my way back on that ship, I
think in the galley, to San Francisco. All I know is when we
pulled into San Francisco, the dock was lined with ambulances.
And if these were some of the men because they put into there,
they probably would put off a lot of men that weren't too
severely wounded at the Naval Hospital at Pearl, and the balance
of them them probably took home to the States. But I worked my
way back. All I can remember is that they had ambulances lined
up taking those people off. So I assume that's where they were
and were from. And I thought I'd inject this, I don't know how
many people would agree with this; but the more I read, the
B-29s were bombing, firebombing Japan from Saipan. And according
to what I read, we wanted to invade Iwo Jima because they would
harass these B-29s, the planes from Iwo Jima would harass the
29s on their way from Japan back to the Mariannas, Saipan. Well,
there was no water on Iwo Jima. I mean I don't know why we never
reinvaded Wake, and I don't know why, with all the carriers we
had and all the carrier-based planes we had and as many as we
had in 1945, we had some carriers, we had some highly trained
naval pilots, we had people that were kicking their butt; and
why we couldn't have used those Navy fighter planes to protect
those B-29s with these carriers, why we sacrificed twenty-five
thousand casualties to go into Iwo Jima, I mean I'll never
understand that. 11 There's a lot of things I don't-- Halsey
told MacArthur we don't need Peleliu. Halsey told MacArthur we
don't need to invade Peleliu, and he had in his mind we needed
Peleliu on his way back to the Philippines. Halsey convinced--
and I'm reading all of this, we didn't need Peleliu. We had
about eight or nine thousand casualties on Peleliu and they
never used it. It was just useless. But do you know what it was
back then? They were all expendable. I mean these admirals and
these generals, I mean they sacrificed these people like they
were two for a nickle. Today, we wouldn't stand for that, not to
JW: In those numbers, no.
EF: Those numbers, unbelievable. But anyway, here I am going
back in Alameda. Boy, you been out a year and a half, you got
your choice of duty. Because if you'd been out a year and a
half, you're not going to go back to sea.
JW: Oh, I see. You'd been in Hawaii for a year and a half?
JW: Okay, I'm with you.
EF: All right. So I had read about Washington, D.C. There were
ten women to every man in Washington at Anacoster (?) Field, all
these workers. I read about that, and here I am at that time, I
was eighteen in '45, I was still just eighteen years old and I'd
been in two and a half years. Kind of grown, though. But anyway
that's where I wanted to go was Washington, and the New Orleans
Air Base was my second choice. So here came thirty-six days
delayed orders to report to Combat Aircraft Service Unit in San
Diego. So I went home on leave and enjoyed being home, and saw a
friend of mine who, he was on leave, Navy man, come to find out
he was going back to the same outfit I was. He had been on board
an escort carrier that was in that typhoon. And I have his
ship's paper now where, during that typhoon, they used human
ballast to keep their vessel from-- So we went back to San
Diego. And by now, I feel like I'm grown and so forth. But in
California, you cannot drink unless you're twenty-one. So I
decided to take my ID card and change it from twenty-five to
twenty-three, I was born in 1923. It was easy to make a three
out of a five. So I'm ashore at San Diego and all I'm doing is
drinking a beer and here came the shore patrol. And evidently I
didn't do too good a job because they sent me back to North
Island, I was at Captain's Mass. And they said what are you
doing? I can remember, "What are you doing violating the laws of
the State of California?" Here I was, I had been two and a half
JW: Right. And you're eighteen years old?
EF: I'm eighteen, and you could not drink a beer. And I was
raised in New Orleans, I was raised where they make home brew.
JW: Raised in a houseful of beer.
EF: So they said, well, you can take thirty days restriction or
we'll 12 send you back to sea. Well, I was so annoyed, I think I
told the Skipper, I said this is not right, I mean I'm just
drinking a can of beer. So anyway I wound up back in San
Francisco aboard, I remember, I think it was the JOHN WAYNE--
that was the EDGECOMB, so the other one was the FAIRLANE. So
this ship was the EDGECOMB, that ship was the EDGECOMB. And I'm
in San Francisco aboard this EDGECOMB on my way to the
Philippine Sea front.
JW: And all right up to now. Everything had been all right up to
EF: Up to now. So I think finally got to the island of Samoa,
where we had an air strip. And then I was sea plane, that was in
my record, and we had put in a sea plane base in Leyte Gulf. So
I found myself on a little LCI with just a handful of other
fellows, well as I remember only about thirty of us. And to this
little island of Heneboat (?), right in Leyte Gulf out from
Tacluman between Samoa and Leyte Gulf and Leyte. The island was
called Heneboat and they tell me that's mosquito in Philippino.
Well, the Seabees had been there and put us up some Quonset
huts; but after they left, I mean our job, we found out we're
going to be servicing sea planes coming out of Australia, PBMs.
Every now and then a Catalina, but mostly PBMs. And so we found
ourselves without a place to take a bath, without a place to use
the can, so we built our own privy, floating man's privy (?) we
built and this was before the environmental protection agency,
so everything went in Leyte Gulf. We bent the eaves of the
Quonset hut to catch the rain, and we got a wobble pump,
commandeered one of them off of one of the planes and fixed us a
pump. And we had some tanks, we'd catch the water, it rained
every day, the sun would beat on that thing, warm the water and
we had a place to take a bath and we had a field kit (?). And of
course then the war's over and everybody had points, they were
getting out and--
JW: The war is over by this time?
EF: Yeah, yeah. This was '45, the war is over. We had then
secured the Philippines, and we had just finished Okinawa and
they had dropped the bomb and so the war's over; but I'm on that
island, I'm on this island in the Leyte Gulf.
JW: That's where you were when the war ended? Okay.
EF: No, no. The war had ended before I got there.
JW: Before you got there? Where were you when you heard the war
EF: I was still in San Diego.
JW: I see.
EF: I was still in San Diego when the war was over. I was in San
Diego, in that combat aircraft service. So the reason I was sent
back, well, for two was because I just told you came by (?) the
card. But the reason was I had enough points, but I was
[couldn't understand what you said here], I couldn't get out. I
had to serve out an enlistment until I was twenty-one. 13
JW: That's right, you had an enlistment, you weren't--
EF: I wasn't in the Reserves. So on this little island of
Heneboat, what an experience that was. They were shortlived, but
we took those engines and we took them off the planes, we
pickled them and then we took the hulls out and scuttled them in
the Gulf. And then after that, after going through all that work
of pickling them engines, then we took them out and scuttled
them. And I thought they'd forgotten us, and finally they came
and got us and put us on the island of Samoa on that air strip.
And this was my first experience with men coming in the Navy
toward the end of the war. These fellows were twenty-eight,
twenty-nine, some married, most of them married, didn't want to
be in, had only been in a short while and most had been drafted.
They used the draft-- When I went in, the Navy was all enlisted;
but then they started drafting them and put them in. So here I
was nineteen years old, I was 2nd Class by then, probably kind
of salty. And here these fellows-- It rained all the time and we
were in a privateer squad. This was a B-24 that the Navy
converted to a privateer, had a single fin, and they required a
lot of service. And whether it was raining or not, they had to
be serviced. And incidentally, up to that time, I had never
driven an automobile in my life. And they had vehicles all over
that air strip, trucks, jeeps, you name it, and this is my first
experience driving a car. Had a little button for the ignition.
But I can remember having to really get kind of rough with some
of these fellows who just wasn't going to go out there in that
rain, they wasn't going to do this. And I had to pull rank on
them and here I was nineteen, they were eight, nine years older
than I was and had to listen to this kid. But I had earned the
right to tell them what to do, and I didn't have too much
trouble getting the job done. And then when everybody was
getting out in the fall of that year with all the points they
had, I had more than enough points than anybody because [sorry,
I couldn't understand what was said here] I had to serve the
enlistment. So the worst experience is yet to come and was
April of '46, my enlistment was up in May of '46. I was supposed
to be twenty-one that May of '46 but I was still not even twenty
in April. So here's a ship at anchor in Leyte Gulf from Samoa
and I was going to be a passenger going back to San Francisco to
be discharged, and that thing was riding high. I asked the [?],
said, "Man, we going to take on any ballast?" I said, "This
thing's riding high." "Oh, no, we'll be fine, we're going to
make it back in eighteen days, we'll be back to San Francisco."
JW: Do you recall the name?
EF: JOHN LAND.
JW: Spell the--
EF: The JOHN LAND, well as I remember, the ship was named JOHN
EF: I think so, JOHN LAND. I think that was the name of the
boat, so 14 JOHN LAND, I'm pretty sure that was it. We skirted
north of the Hawaiian Islands. And I don't know who was the
fellow aboard ship who knew something about weather or what have
you, but we ran into the worst storm that I had ever been in in
my life. And that thing was not built to take the punishment it
was taking or take the list it was taking. And I had never been
so scared in my life because for two or three days it was
ka-pum-choo, just like that. And you couldn't go top, everybody
in the hole was sick. I wasn't sick, thank goodness; and this
went on, I thought she was going over, we couldn't go topside.
And if it had gone down, and those waters are pretty cold up
there, we wouldn't have survived. And I don't remember praying
as hard as I did in all my life. And then finally, the good Lord
calmed the waves; and couple of days later, we came into San
Francisco. And had signs up, "A Grateful Nation Welcomes You
Home". And so then checked into Alameda and got home to New
Orleans, I was at the naval air station and that's where I was
discharged. And I was discharged with them thinking I had just
turned twenty-one because I signed up until I was twenty-one and
I got out, and that was on my twentieth birthday, I was only
twenty. So I had been for three and a half years and was still
JW: Seen the world.
EF: And some other experiences in between, but basically, my
service, it was uneventful. I was never exposed to any real
danger except at sea that time coming back. And of course,
normal, people getting hurt or killed, and the duties I was
performing, had to be very careful with all of those propellers
turning up, you had to watch what you were doing.
JW: And it took that, you know, couldn't win the war without all
the bases being covered, all the jobs being done.
EF: Yeah. I brought that magazine and that's what this admiral
said about us mechs. And further commenting about Nimitz and
MacArthur and some of the decisions that were made and why they
were made, we had so many things and I happened to just mention
a while ago about how, in my opinion, we could have by-passed
Iwo Jima. Because I just know how many carriers we had out there
and I know how many planes we had out there. And I know how good
our pilots were and I know how good our equipment was in 1945.
Not so in '42, but those men in '42, they did a wonderful job
with what they had to do it with. So I just felt like after I
see how many Marines that we've lost and were wounded, why-- and
especially an island that, unless it's supplied, you can't live
there, there's no water on that island. And we could have
starved them out and protected our B-29s with our fighter planes
because with the carrier, you didn't have to have an air base
here, an air base there, an air base here. We had these carriers
on station, we had so many of them, they were just like floating
islands all over the Pacific.
EF: And too, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention, although I had
nothing to do with it, a lot of people don't know that of all
our 15 service vessels and all our aircraft, combined, did not
account for more sunk tonage than our submarines. Our submarines
are the unsung heroes of the Pacific War. And I have a book at
home that lists all the vessels we lost and how we lost them.
And the overwhelming majority of the submarines is just overdue,
overdue, overdue. They just never knew what happened to them.
JW: They were just gone forever.
EF: Gone forever. Communication was not. And even when you've
got supposedly good communications, things happen. That's what
happened to that poor INDIANAPOLIS. This book is Aviation
Maintenance dated July '45. And after recording this, my
interview, I'm sure to the listener, was not that colorful as to
what you did during the war. This fellow's got a title here,
"The Men Behind the Headlines". And this Admiral, Admiral
Ramsey, he wrote a lot; but this last paragraph I'd like to read
it. "When a Navy pilot takes off from a rolling carrier deck or
an island runway to seek and destroy the enemy, his skill and
training are useless if his maintenance men have slipped up on
the smallest detail. Teamwork counts in this relationship as in
few others. A pilot must be able to have complete confidence in
the work of his mechs." That's his mechanics. "And in the
conditions a plane which is to take him into combat and bring
him back. The outstanding role which the Navy maintenance men
played every day in the smooth operation of our air strength,
merits the warm gratitude of our airmen. I'm sure that I express
the sentiments of every pilot in the Fleet when I extend these
timeless hardworking mechs a hardy well-done." So it's nice to
read something like that and feel like, hey, in my own small
way, maybe I contributed something, you know.
JW: Well, you know, being the pilot had to be more exciting; but
he couldn't have got to be the pilot if you weren't down there
making the plane go.
EF: And then frankly, we had to scavenger some time parts. And
well, there's one part of an aircraft radial engine, the cam,
which goes around and the push-out housings that open and close
the valves ride on this cam. And when we tear that engine down
from wear, you had to take and stone that cam to smooth it out.
Well, when you stone one, it's going to cause wear on that cam.
And we'd have to take what's called a field gauge, when you'd
check the clearance of those valves on that engine because
that's a four stroke engine, that radial air cooled engine. And
sometimes on this stroke, you would read something, and you'd
bring it around on the next stroke, and they'd read something
else because it happened to hit a low place on that cam. But as
long as it was operating, we had to close it up, crank it up and
send it off because that's all we had. Now, it was a different
story starts coming back, and we really began to get more than
we needed. I mean then we had a surplus, it was either not
having enough or having too much, one or the other. But there
for awhile, we just had to scavenge it. 16
JW: Were you in a position because of where you were and all
that, were you in a position to know when they didn't come back,
the ones that you had worked on? I mean you worked on planes
that just came through and came through and came through?
JW: It wasn't like the same planes went out and came back and
went out and came back.
EF: Okay. I never had that. Frankly, I'm glad I didn't have to.
I'm glad I didn't have-- You get to be called a plane captain.
When you are in charge of that aircraft as a captain, you are
over the guy, the ordnance men who armed them, the electricians,
the metalsmiths, you was the captain over them all. And that was
your plane. And so I have talked to some-- well, not many
because sometime when these carriers would go in, I'd go aboard
them and different things because we could do that. I mean you
was free to roam around, and we'd go off and on those vessels
and those carriers. And I had an idea, I should have brought
my-- I got an ID button that's got my picture on it in that
area. But these plane captains, I mean I was responsible, it was
usually an aviation machinist, like I was, a captain was an
aviation machinist. And when they launched a plane, he had to
feel pretty responsible that that thing was okay, at least it
checked out as far as it could. But we lost, I'm sure during the
war, we lost a lot of planes from mechanical failure. We lost
probably a lot of planes-- I think it came about then what they
call that Marianna Turkey Shoot, when they shot down so many
enemy planes. I think there was a number of them, but they just
run out of gasoline, or sometime they couldn't find their way
back sometime. That's a big ocean, and from the air, a carrier
looks like a postage stamp.
JW: I've had several bomber crew tell me that they witnessed
accidents while flying in formation. They said that it looks
easy, but flying formation is hard as hell and was very
dangerous. And more often than people think, two planes would
collide, not in combat, just simply going across. It's
dangerous, it was all dangerous.
EF: And that hangar deck with those props turning up, you get on
a line, even on the beach, when you get that many planes,
working on them, you had to watch where you were walking, you
had to be careful.
JW: My father-in-law was a crop duster and he got hit by a prop
out in the middle of a field, just having a moment of not
thinking. And he was very lucky, but it was a terrible wound he
had to recover from. So I can only imagine if you're on a flight
deck with how many propellers spinning and the sea rolling and
everything else, you know, how many accidents-- just anytime
machinery is moving and there's human beings, there's somebody
that's liable to walk right into something.
EF: Uh-huh. Dr. Bost, I'm active here in the Bost program. And I
had a chance to speak to Dr. Bost, who was a pediatrician. And I
didn't know it, but he was down at Corpus Christi same time I
was. And he 17 was telling me some of his worst duty. See,
Corpus Christi was a basic training base. We had these Steermen,
the Army called them a Texan [?] and then the Steerman was
another, they call them a y'all apparel [?]. But then the Navy
had a plane called an N-3-N, it was a biplane and it looked like
a Steerman. And these were biplanes, two seated biplanes. And
these pilots, I mean training these pilots, that's what was
going on down at Corpus Christi, it was basic training. And he
was telling me that some of his worst experiences was treating
these young men for burns because so many of these pilots, and
remember, these were kids, and so many of those planes crashed.
And if they crashed with that high octane gasoline, they were
going to burn, and they couldn't get them out fast enough to
where they'd suffer these burns. And this is what he was telling
me, Dr. Bost was telling me, treating these burns was really a
terrible strain for him, him being a pediatrician.
JW: Burning is not the way any human being wants to go, they'll
pick anything but that.
EF: Well, so many things happened that, now, it's getting kind
of vague; but I think of something else that happened at Pearl
Harbor that is probably lost in history. I don't remember
whether it was the Marshalls or the Mariannas but there were
three LSTs of four Marines tied up at Pearl Harbor where there
was an explosion, while I was there. And I don't know how many
were killed because they were loaded with ammunition and
gasoline and you name it and there was a fire and explosion. And
I don't know how many, but the casualties right there and they
never even had a chance to fight, you know.
JW: Was it ever determined if it was accident, sabotage--
EF: I doubt if it was sabotage.
JW: It was just one of those mistakes, something went wrong.
EF: I doubt if it was sabotage. In fact, when I think now how
people can infiltrate, it's just a wonder that more sabotage
didn't go on because we didn't have that much security. I mean
you could go and come, I don't remember. And now that I read
about it, I think how really dumb the Japanese were. If they
wanted to cause us problems, they should have done something to
the Panama Canal or to the Golden Gate Bridge. I mean I don't
know what their thinking was. They could have done some things
that would have really put a big hurt on us. But if that Panama
Canal had been blocked, that would have been bad news.
JW: You were in Hawaii for roughly a year and a half?
JW: Did you get to enjoy being in paradise any, or was it all
work and then sleep? I kind of doubt it off the top of my head.
EF: Well as I remember, we stayed busy constantly. There was a
lot of-- That island-hopping required a lot of traffic. That was
the main place, so we worked; not only at my duties, at my
regular duties that 18 I was trained to do, but everything else.
It didn't matter, you worked. But you'd get liberty and I could
go into Honolulu. There wasn't nothing much in Honolulu. I
regret to say that on my 18th birthday, I went into Honolulu and
I got tatooed, I got an eagle put on on my right shoulder. And
then I felt like I wasn't naked anymore because everybody else
was getting tatooed. So that was not a pleasant experience
because these guys that get tatooed now, they tell me it doesn't
hurt and you don't bleed. But I had on a white jumper; and by
the time I got back to the Navy yard, that sleeve of my jumper
was solid red, bled all through. And I went to sick bay and they
told me get out of here, nothing we can do for you now. It
seemed like it took a month or two months for it to heal, but it
healed. And so that's-- I remember, that was-- if you want to
know what scars I have from the war, it was being tatooed in
JW: Well, when I was growing up and somebody had a tattoo, it
meant they were in the war. I don't recall running across
somebody who got it for nothing. They got it because they were
in World War II.
EF: You were either bored or you were scared and so bored, you
know, so this was something to do; but there wasn't nothing else
JW: What's a Navy man without a tattoo?
EF: And I've seen some that were unbelievable. But I welcome
this opportunity to be interviewed. I cannot, for the life of
me, look at 16 year olds today, I can't see them doing what I
did. And it's not because they couldn't, it's just because I
don't think they're raised with the kind of-- See, we were
already disciplined when we went in, we were disciplined people,
we came from disciplined families we were used to being
sacrificed. Sacrifice, I mean you didn't have your own way. I
was raised with a mother that said, "Son, I'm raising you for
somebody else. I want you to understand that." So that made a
lot of sense, you know, she was raising me for someone else. And
pardon the animosity, but that just proves to be very valuable
when I was married. Fortunately, I married, the first time,
married a registered nurse and we had six children. She didn't
work, but thank goodness she took care of those children. And
she developed Alzheimer's and I was very privileged to take care
of her at home. And then after she died, I was going to be a
grandpa, because I was sixty-three; and then I met a lady who'd
been a widow for nineteen years, and so we've been married now
eighteen years. So between us, we have a raft of children and
grandchildren, and I have teenage great-grandchildren in
JW: That's great.
EF: Yeah, it is. And I'm very fortunate. I enjoy very good
health for my age.
JW: You're in great shape.
EF: I garden, swim, play a lot of bridge, we ballroom dance, I
sing, like to sing. 19
JW: Well, back up a minute. When you did get out of the Navy,
what happened to you?
EF: All right.
JW: If we're ready for that.
EF: Yeah, sure. I got out--
JW: You got out in November of '46?
EF: No, May, May, on my, they thought, on my twenty-first
JW: They thought?
EF: They thought I was just twenty.
EF: '46. And so I felt like I needed to go to work and they had
what is called a 52-20 Club. You could get $20 a week for
fifty-two weeks. And that was about-- I was making $96 a month
when I got out. And I was second player[?], I was making right
out of the Navy. You know, you asked me questions that makes me
think about something. Before I got out, out at that naval air
station, they brought me in a room, I was 2nd Class Aviation
Machinist, had all my records and so forth. And they talked to
me at length about staying in because, I don't know that they
told me that, but we're going to have something big going on and
they needed people with my expertise. Come to find out it was
the Bikini bomb test that they were going to have. And had I
reenlisted, I would have probably been on that. And those men
were walking around on those ships that were in those Marshall
Islands, with a Geiger counter, with no protection. And I have a
cousin who was an electrical engineer, and he was an Ensign in
the Navy, he died, he was thirty-six, eat up with cancer. And I
know that's what it was from, he was in on that test, and all
those men got radiation poisoning. They had to.
JW: I wonder, my father was in Japan in the occupational forces
and they went anywhere and everywhere, and he died of cancer at
fifty- five. And I've always thought do I want to go look up
everybody that was in his Unit and see if they all didn't just
JW: Yeah, because you know, whenever there's an accident, they
say, oh, it will be uninhabitable for ten thousand years. And
then you hear about all these people in the Forties and the
Fifties that were right in the middle of it, walking on it,
setting on it, eating it, you know.
EF: These guys were walking around with them Geiger counters on
those vessels that weren't sunk and they were radioactive, and
they didn't know what was going on. So you asked me what I did
afterwards, I was tempted, because I loved the Navy and I guess
if I hadn't met and married, I probably would have reenlisted.
But AT&T had an ad, and I answered the ad, it was Western
Electric Company. And the telephone system, everything had been
put on hold during the war, so they were putting a lot of these
community 20 dial systems. And I was told that with Western
Electric, if I signed on, I wouldn't leave the State for five
years. Two weeks later, I was in Miami, Florida, and I was
working on putting in the dial system. And then when I came back
to New Orleans later that year, on early '47, I had met my wife.
And we married and she was encouraging me to go back to school,
which I did do, and finished high school. I went back at night
and finished high school.
JW: You met your wife in New Orleans after the war?
EF: No. I met-- After the war. I met her on a Greyhound bus. She
was working for the IC Railroad hospital, and I was on a
Greyhound bus. I had put in a job at Jackson, Mississippi, and
was coming home on a bus.
JW: For Western Electric?
EF: For Western Electric. And then in '49, we already had a new
baby, Western Electric laid us off, head of construction in '49.
And I went to work for the the Life of Georgia [?] I'd never
sold anything in my life, and I went to work for the Life
Insurance Company of Georgia in 1950, I stayed with them forty
years. And my wife was always encouraging me, so I went on and
got a degree, chartered life underwriter's degree out of Panama,
Pennsylvania. It's a degree that's conferred, it took me five
years and about sixteen hours a week, but anyway. And so I had a
career in management in the life insurance business, which
proves to be very good. I've moved around, company moved me
around a lot. And I came here in Fort Smith in 1980, turned out
to be the best transfer, I put some roots down here. And then my
wife died in '87. And I met and married my present wife, Sally,
in 1989. I'm very fortunate. I had a wonderful marriage the
first time, raised six wonderful children. And Sally had three.
Tragedy in my family, my oldest daughter had high fever when she
was two and it did brain damage, so she has a developmental
disability, but she had thirty years of special ed and she's in
the Bost program. And then in '76, my twenty-one year old son
got stranded in a duck blind down in Louisiana overnight and
froze to death. That's unusual, especially down there. But
life's been good and I think Sally and I are growing old very
gracefully. We're enjoying a life that was denied her first
husband because they were happily married and he died quite
young, took sick one day and died the next. And she had a good
first marriage and I had a good first marriage, and we have now
a good marriage.
JW: Do your kids live around here?
EF: No. My daughter's here, she's the one with the developmental
disability. My youngest daughter is a librarian at the
University of Tennessee. I have a son in Lafayette, Louisiana; a
daughter in Lafayette, Louisiana; and a daughter in Brookhaven,
Mississippi. Sally's children, she has a son in Maumel [?], she
has another son in Rogers. And then her daughter married a
career Army man, he is a Colonel and is due to become a General
this fall. I have a grandson that's a physician's assistant who
was in 21 the Navy in Desert Storm. And came back and got in the
National Guard, he got to be a physician's assistant and he was
in Iraq, he's been back now about a year. He served with those
people there, that's her grandson. On both sides, our
grandchildren are all doing real good, but we don't have any of
them in town except my daughter.
JW: But you've got a bunch of kids and a bunch of grandkids.
EF: Raft of kids, raft of grandchildren.
JW: And a blink, there will be great grandchildren, if not
EF: Well, like I say, I have teenage great-grandchildren in
college, in college, my great. So I've got a shot at being a
great-great-grandfather and so does Sally.
JW: I had a wonderful relationship with my great-grandfather. I
was twenty when he died, and that's one of the things that I
treasured because most people never get to know their
great-grandfather, much less get to know them for that length of
time and he was a character. So my four children never met a
grandfather. And you know, they don't know what they've missed,
but I know what they've missed, so I'm sad for them.
EF: Well, I don't know how much of this is being recorded. Is
this being recorded?
JW: You bet you, uh-huh. Just like candid camera, it's always
EF: It's always on. Well, we read about it and we talk a lot
about what goes on now and our future generation. I think that
these young people today, it's unfortunate that they didn't come
up at a time like we did. I think we were a happy bunch of kids
with nothing, you know. I think they missed out on so much. They
missed out on making houses out of cardboard boxes. They missed
out on looking forward to Halloween, when it was Halloween,
Thanksgiving, Christmas. Even though there wasn't a lot there,
you didn't have Christmas starting in July. And not that you got
a lot at Christmas and so forth, but it was just different. Now,
it seems like kids have to have things to make them happy. I
think they miss out on the unbelievable safety it is to walk the
streets like we could, and as kids, to go out on a vacant lot
and choose up and play ball without your parents being there. I
mean everything is so important to win. Us boys used to scrap;
but once we found out who could whip who, that was the end of
it, the parents didn't get involved with all that. And they
missed being close to their uncles and aunts because now it's a
society that moves, they miss all that. They miss out on getting
Christmas once a year, not every week. They miss out on what it
is to have to save to get something, to sacrifice to get
something. Those are the things that I think made us stronger
and happier. This affluent society takes all that away from
youngsters. I guess everybody had their style, everybody had
this and so forth. You'll never been able to explain it to them
because you have to have lived that. But I look at them, and
although they seem to be happy, they seem to have-- everybody
has a cell phone, everybody has a car, 22 everybody has a credit
card, but it's things, it's toys. I think in this society that's
becoming too socialistic, we miss out in the churches, when it
was the churches who went around giving baskets at Thanksgiving.
I think you have to go through a depression to turn to God every
day, and when you say give us this day our daily bread, it meant
something back then. It doesn't mean anything now, there's such
an abundance. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to go back to
sleeping without screens or in a hot house, I enjoy air
conditioning. I enjoy a regular transmission in a car. I enjoy
all the things that we have today; but I think I can enjoy them
because I know what it was not to have them. These children are
growing up not ever knowing what it is not to always have it.
But the kids today are much smarter, they're bright, smart
minded, more advantages. Some people say that today, there's no
more advantages like there used to be. You find somebody today
that has a good education and is willing to work, he's going to
stand out like a sore thumb. He'll go places if he's
disciplined. As I think Henry Ford said, he'd pay for a
disciplined human being than he would for somebody with ability.
But life's been good, I've been very fortunate. I could have
been-- They could have taken me in, they could have put me on a
submarine, they could have put me on a destroyer, they could
have put me no telling where and I would have gone where they
sent me. I was just fortunate that I wasn't exposed, so I was
one of the lucky ones. Now, them boys I was raised with, two of
them across the street, one went in the Airborne, the other was
in the Infantry, both of them were in the Bulge. Boy across the
street was killed the night of the Bulge. One next to him, a
good friend of mine, was severely wounded that night and was
taken prisoner. He would have-- He was bleeding, but it was so
cold that night, thank goodness, the blood just froze, because
otherwise he'd have probably bled to death. He was one of the
fortunate ones because when the Germans overran them, he was
telling me, they were looking to see who was still living. Some,
they were bayonetting. But the fellow who found him, the German,
picked him up and carried him back to an aide station, so he was
just lucky that a Christian German had pity on him and picked
him up. And he survived the prison camp and he lived up until
about two years ago. This fellow that I served with in the Navy,
that we was in the same outfit, he just died a couple of years
back. All the boys I grew up with are all gone because they were
JW: They were older than you, yeah.
EF: That helps because they were at least two years, most of
them, were two years older than I was. So that, although I went
in early in '42, that's another reason why I'm probably beating
the odds. I look at that cemetery out here, and boy, oh, boy,
we're dying like flies; but it's normal because we're living
much longer than what we were supposed to.
JW: Well, you know, I've talked about that. Remember what an
eighty year old man, active like and look like when you were a
boy? They set 23 on porches and rocked, and they couldn't get
around and they ate soft food because they had no teeth. And
people just blessed their hearts and left them alone. And heck,
I can't catch the Veterans that I talk to when I have a
question. They're never home, they're running around. I told one
of them, I said you're old, don't you know you're old, you're
supposed to stay home now and then so people can get ahold of
you. So that's great, it's great to be eighty years old and be
like you're fifty or fifty-five, that's great.
EF: I don't know how you're supposed to feel, like you say, used
to be somebody that was sixty, sixty-five. But I garden, I have
a garden. I cook [?] In the easement, so I cultivated the
easement. We have a pool and I enjoy swimming. We play bridge,
enjoy bridge. We ballroom dance. I met my wife on a ballroom
dance floor. We cruise.
JW: I know being active, that's got to be the key to it because
that's the one thing in common about, I'd say, about sixty out
of the sixty-six or seven people that I've interviewed are still
up and running. And the one thing in common is that they're
active, they didn't decide that, oh, I'm too old, I better slow
down, I better set down, I better sleep late, I better all that
sort of stuff. They move. And I think when you don't move, you
EF: You do.
JW: But I tell people that hundred is the new eighty.
EF: Well, Momma made it to ninety-four. And you know, this age,
another thing I feel like we were, we were responsible. I'd like
to say this as an example. I volunteer at St. Edwards and I've
been there since I retired eighteen years ago. And I only work
on Fridays and I work at the Center of Excellence. But there's
some Fridays I get up and I say, oh, man, it takes you awhile to
get straightened out. But I get to thinking, you know, I just
volunteer, I don't have to go there today; but then they're
looking for me and they're expecting me. And unless I'm sick,
and it's because I enjoy good health, I worked for one company
forty years and I missed three days in forty years because I
came from a generation that said you don't fake being sick, but
when you're sick, you're sick. You may not feel good, but a lot
of it's in your mind. And just go on, you'll feel better, you
know. And I think it has to do a lot with-- now, don't get me
wrong, there are some poor unfortunates that are sick, they have
problems, they got arthritis, you name it, and I know it. But a
lot of times, people give in to their feelings and then they
really feel bad. So if you got a job, people are depending on
you. And that's another thing, it's unfortunate that children
today don't have chores and they don't have things that they
have to do which, in my opinion, helps them grow, helps them be
JW: I tell mine when you get off the nest, if you don't know how
to do it now, you're going to have to learn it then. And it's
skin off your nose, not mine.
EF: Better learn it now, than when you really have to learn it.
Well, I don't know what else you want me to put on this tape. I
put a lot 24 of philosophy on it.
JW: I want to take an opportunity for the rest of the world to
thank you for giving up three and a half of probably the best
years of your life, to go off and set on an island and do what
other guys told you to do. We didn't think about it-- It took
fifty years to figure out that that was a big deal, but it
finally came to our attention that that was a big deal.
EF: It was a big deal.
JW: It was a big deal; and so we thank you for it, we thank you.
EF: Joe, you mentioned something. And when I see these kids
going to proms and their high school reunions, and I see them
going to these different things and having girlfriends, when the
good Lord breathed life into me, he breathed into me I am a full
blooded male with all the feelings and emotions of a male, but I
am a hopeless romantic. And when I think, hey, since you
mentioned that, I didn't have my teenage years, I didn't have
those years. And I didn't have a girlfriend and I wished I had
had one to write to. But if this is on tape, my kids will laugh
because I'll be hamming it up. But these fellows that I served
with would get mail, especially the ones with a girlfriend or
were married. And they'd take that letter, might have taken them
a month to get it, you know. And they'd say, "She wrote this. I
mean she licked this envelope. Can you believe that?"
JW: I can only imagine how that must have felt.
EF: And then they would take it out and they would read it.
"Say, How many times you going to read that thing?" But it was
something that was a closeness to that person that they dearly
loved. And see, not having had that kind of relationship, I can
imagine what it is now at my age because I'm still a very
romantic human being. And I can imagine someone who is twenty
years of age, twenty-one, maybe, who had a year or two of
marriage and he's left. He knows what it was like to have the
love of a woman. And all these poor guys who never ever lived
long enough to have that experience, they just never lived. But
going back to the letter, did you ever hear the lyrics to the
song "Love Letters"?
JW: Well, let's see. No, I'm thinking of "Love Letters in the
EF: That was Pat Boone. No, no, this was-- It describes
completely what I'm talking about. And can I put this on tape?
JW: Yeah, sure.
EF: Now, I want you to think of-- I've set the stage for what
this lyricist wrote. And he wrote, (singing beautifully) "Love
letters straight from your heart, keeps us so near while apart.
I'm not alone in the night when I am sure of the love you write.
I memorize every line, I kiss the name that you sign. And,
darling, when I read again right from the start, love letters
straight from your heart." Now, you would have to have
experienced that to understand these people taking a letter and
reading it over and over and over, 25 and they may not get
JW: The closest they came to a little touch of home, just a
fragment. And you know, I remember being that much in love with
a girl who lived over on 6th Street and I was on 16th Street,
you know, we were ten blocks apart. And I can just imagine if I
was on some forgotten island, three, four thousand miles away,
year after year.
JW: At that age. Not at this age, but at that age, it had to be
EF: It was, it was terrible. It was terrible to think and to
dream and to wonder, hey, am I ever going to get off this stupid
island. Especially when I was in the Philippines. Am I ever
going to get out of here?
JW: And every dead body that gets loaded up, am I next, you
know, am I going to miss that--
EF: Yeah, for eternity.
JW: Yeah. But you know, this all goes back to, everything goes
back to wouldn't it be great to think about everything involved
and do anything possible to avoid the next war. Because of the
million bad things you can say that happen in a war, tearing
people away from their loved ones, and then you've got the
horrible deaths in droves and all that.
EF: People being maimed. But Joe, it's not going to happen. As
long as you got men, we're going to have wars; and as long as
we're going to have wars, we have to have West Point and
Annapolis. We have to have a military, we have to have people
who are responsible, and we have to have some people running the
show that are not motivated by politics. And that Viet Nam mess,
we had McNamara who just wasn't too smart, we had Rumsfield in
this one. And then on the other side of the coin, people have
already forgotten what happened with 911. I mean these people,
and we better pay attention to the next guy who's running. This
business of terrorism is going to be with us, we're going to
have to fight these people from now on; but it's a different
kind of war.
JW: You know, people say that World War II was the good war, and
that's probably not the word to use, but it was the clearer war,
everybody was clear as to why it had to be fought and what was
going on and what the desired outcome should be, you know. And
ever since then, they've just become more vague and murky.
EF: Well, look at our own people. We talk now about the
collateral damage. Well, in every war, you're going to have
collateral damage. And then they have some people who said Harry
Truman shouldn't have dropped the bomb. What they don't realize
is we were firebombing Japan long before we dropped the bomb
JW: We killed forty thousand people in Germany on one bombing
EF: Sure. And look at what Hitler did in the Blitz in London. So
this is what war is about. But to fight it, like in this war, I
think Colin Powell and some of them had it straight. If you're
going to go in there, let's go in there big time. You know, you
can't halfway go to war. And it's all those little things that
mean when the war effort, the only thing I knew about was
everybody was behind the war effort. And that time I came home
on leave after being gone so long, and you know, people down in
New Orleans, they drink a lot of coffee, strong coffee. And my
poor Momma said, "Son, I don't have any sugar." But she had some
jelly beans that was left over. And so we used those jelly beans
and it was funny. And then I was smoking at the time, but not
much, and we were getting cigarettes fifty cents a carton, and I
knew eventually I was going to go home. I actually saved up, and
when I went home I had six or seven cartons of cigarettes. My
uncles liked to drove me crazy because even that was rationed.
JW: What a luxury.
EF: What a luxury to bring home and give them those cigarettes.
It was a different, different time.
JW: Yes, it was.
EF: But I was so young, it's hard to remember a lot of it and
the accounts, other than what you read. So if you read enough,
you can kind of put things together and see how things were. 1