|Oral history self interview by Richard Kitz for the Oshkosh World War II project. A transcript is on a computer file in the archives.
World War II Oral History Project.
Richard and Jeanne Kitz
Dictating this from our home in Dover, Massachusetts. [ ] of August in the year 2001. I will respond in sequence to the bulleted questions (18) taken from the sheet of queries sent to us by Brad Larsen, the Museum's Director.
The first question asks for names, ages and addresses during the 1940's. In December of 1941 the Kitz family included in this report lived at 230 East Irving Street in Oshkosh. Both of my parents were age 43, my older brother George was 18, [ ] At that time my wife Jeanne Logan Kitz lived at 260 N. Park Ave. in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. She was an only child and lived with her mother and aunt. Her father died several years after she was born.
The names of the Kitz family members mentioned above in sequence: father, George Edward; mother, Lona Schneider; older brother, George Edward; I was christened Richard John; younger brother, David Amand.
The answers to questions 2 and 3 are grouped together because they ask for because they ask for recollections in the several years preceding December 7th . Newspaper accounts primarily in the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern and the Sunday Milwaukee Journal were followed with interest but little concern except for perhaps my father. He had been in World War I. [ ] his principal concern was whether or not my older brother George would either be drafted or join a branch of the armed services. [ ] Ultimately resulted in a response from America.
No one in the family had been to Europe or the Far East. And those conflicts seemed far away indeed from the Midwest. The war in Europe was followed more closely when Germany invaded Poland. And I remember vividly the war scenes on the Warner-Pathe news that was part of every movie shown at the local theaters. I believe the news segment was introduced as "The Eyes and Ears of the World."
The general family sentiment was that we could stay out of the European war. But that building up our own military was important. I do remember family discussions which often included my grandparents and aunts who lived in a large house with a marvelous veranda on Church Street in Oshkosh.
The two programs requested by President Roosevelt that were most thoroughly discussed when I was present were those with Britain; the "Lend Lease" program, and the sale of fifty destroyers in exchange for three of the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, I believe. There was general support for this because it would, it was felt to help contain the war to Europe.
As a youngster I had my collection of soldiers which I cast myself from molds using lead that I bought at the Kitz and Pfeil Hardware Store. Books came out also that described the armaments of the various countries. I read those avidly.
As Hitler's armies that drove through the Balkans, and the Benelux countries and then on into France.
Dad became increasingly concerned as consideration of a draft was in the Congress and patriotism was very much on the rise. I remember vividly Dad's admonition, "War is hell," when rather romantic attitudes toward serving in the armed forces surfaced in some family conversations. Several of my brother's friends planned to enlist when they turned eighteen in 1940. My wife reports little family concern in Fond du Lac because only two uncles would be eligible for service in the armed forces should a draft or war make that mandatory. The progress of the European conflict was followed with only sideline interest in Fond du Lac.
Question 4 concerns family reactions on December 7, 1941. I remember them vividly. It was a family tradition for all members of the Kitz extended family to gather in my grandparents ample Church Street home each Sunday after church and for a noon dinner. It was pot luck for each of the sections of the family responsible for bringing various dishes. We all sat along, along both sides of a long table with my grandfather at the head and my grandmother carrying various service dishes from the kitchen. My grandfather, George Amand Kitz, ladled appropriate amounts on each plate which in turn was handed down to family members. This was done with great efficiency and when completed, with my grandmother at the opposite end of the table, granddad offered a prayer of thanksgiving before we ate a morsel.
The afternoons were sitting around in the large living room with coffee [ ]wine and a lot of conversation. The men often excused themselves to the veranda where they smoked cigars and the children went outside to play. All save the children convened at three p.m. to listen to Fulton J. Sheen - Bishop Fulton J. Sheen on the radio. And after that, we all got in our cars and went to the, to an ice cream parlor which was then called, "Last Chance." Located on the post road to Fond du Lac on Highway 45, I believe. The kids used to vie for the "rumble seat" of grandpa's huge Pierce Arrow car.
The next stop, with ice cream cones in hand, was the airport which was very near the ice cream stand. Steve Wittmann was known to the family and, on occasion when he was there we were invited to see several of his creations, "Chief Oshkosh" and "Bonzo." I remember Grandpa giving us all rides on a big Ford seemingly metal clad silver tri-motor. It flew over the lake and down to Fond du Lac and then came back up to land within a half an hour. It was a thrilling experience.
On December 7th, while the rest of the family was listening to Fulton Sheen, and the older kids were off by themselves, I sneaked into the front seat of one of the cars, quite likely Grandpa's Pierce Arrow. I was listening to "The Green Hornet" on the radio when it was interrupted to report that Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was being bombed by the Japanese. I ran into the house to find a similar announcement that had displaced Bishop Sheen's sermon. Everyone was startled. There was a general hubbub after the announcement. We all knelt down to pray but I'm not certain whether this was at the request of Bishop Sheen or whether the radio was off and my grandfather led us in prayer, and I think a Rosary was said too.
The principal concern for all present was my brother George who was the only eligible male. He was now eighteen years of age and in his first year as an aeronautical engineering student at the Parks Air College Division of St. Louis University in Missouri. The only concern was for his status and future and not really the fate of the country as I can recall. The family members broke up and went to our respective homes.
December 8th found the family huddled around the radio waiting for President Franklin Roosevelt's address to the joint session of Congress in Washington. I paid rapt attention as did everyone. I remember well his now famous phrases and sentences, "This day will go down in infamy." And, "Eleanor hates war, I hate war and Fala hates war!" Dad thought that it was one of the best speeches that Roosevelt had ever given. Because I had paid no attention to any of his other talks, this one I will always remember.
My brother George came home for Christmas vacation soon thereafter as the nation was put on an accelerated war time footing. George had considered transferring from the aeronautical engineering program to formal pilot training, either as a combined program or the latter alone. He now reported that he had made up his mind to become a pilot. I was proud but my parents most apprehensive. But it turned out that their apprehension was misplaced. George had had a toe amputated soon after birth because of a deformity. Although it did not seem to impair him at all, it was sufficient for him to be given 4-F status (declared ineligible for active service). On the other hand, he was told to complete, that he would complete pilot training in an accelerated program and then quite possibly then be assigned as a civilian pilot instructor for U.S. Army trainees. He completed his program in less than a year and immediately entered another program to prepare him to be a U.S. Army flight instructor. It was about a year as I recall that he was assigned to an army air force training base in Cape Girardeaux, Missouri where he served as a flight instructor until the war's end.
Because of my brother George's involvement and general interest, we followed the war avidly and were concerned about German U-boats and the wolf packs which sunk so much shipping across the North Atlantic to England. We were buoyed by the Doolittle raid on Tokyo, and I remember reading the book that came out somewhat later, "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo." I must have read it three or four times at least.
The Japanese campaign in the Philippines and the battles for the Bataan peninsula and Corregidor were causes of great anguish and concern, as well as the Battle of Britain. We seemed to be losing on so many fronts. But Dad and Grandpa were always most optimistic that the U.S.A. would prevail, 'because our cause was so right.' And the entire country was [ ] as it had never been before by the Japanese treachery.
Question 6 asks for family memories for the period from our declaration of war until V-E and V-J days. Because Oshkosh and Fond du Lac are juxtaposed to surrounding communities, there never was a scarcity of food that I can recall. Fresh vegetables, milk and fruits and meats seemed to me readily available. My mother may have thought otherwise. I just don't recall ever going hungry. Dad did give me permission to plant a garden behind the rose bushes in our home at 230 East Irving. And I grew carrots, beets, radishes, rhubarb, lettuce and tomatoes. We always had a MacIntosh apple tree that Dad personally cared for and each year yielded bushels of apples that we had throughout the year.
We made our own root beer and in 1943 Dad even made some wine. Though I don't recall ever tasting it. Because he never made another batch, I suspect the first didn't turn out so well! But the root beer was superb and we made it for many years thereafter. There was gas rationing of course and we certainly did not take any trips that I can recall, not even to Milwaukee, Port Washington or Green Bay which we had done just prior to the war. The furthest was a trip to Manitowoc on Thanksgiving, on a Thanksgiving to visit my aunt and uncle and their children.
I remember the slogn, "Lucky Strike Green Has Gone To War." Which I gathered meant that the foil from Lucky Strike cigarettes and green coloring were part of the conservation effort. But because no one smoked cigarettes in the family, it meant nothing. We did] on the other hand save the lead tubes from toothpaste, rubber bands and string. I think there were scrap metal drives and clothing too though I do not remember that because I played the B flat tenor saxophone and clarinet in an orchestra while I was a student at St. Mary's School, then as a member of the Oshkosh High School band. We followed the popular music closely. It was the big band era, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Woodie Herman were the 'Beatles' of our day. They were the Beatles and Rock and Roll of our day. I still like them!
I was an avid Boy Scout and Dad was an officer in the Scout movement serving as scoutmaster, and then at a higher regional level, and donating much time and some money to the Boy Scout camp at Twin Lakes, Wisconsin. I spent a number of summers there and in 1942 that changed. An organization called "Civil Air Patrol" was formed in Oshkosh and Dad became an officer in that too though I don't recall exactly in what capacity. I joined and many of my colleagues did and each week in the evening, and once a week in the evening we would go to the local armory where we would drill, and memorize airplane profiles and had courses in navigation and were issued uniforms. Once a month we were taken to the target range in the sub-basement for practice. The rifles were 22 caliber, I believe and I mastered that and became quite a good shot.
Question 8. Do you [ ] recreational activities? I was a typical older boy. I did a lot of swimming, played baseball, basketball and bought a Snipe sailboat. That marked the beginning of a lifetime avocation of mine that led to a series of sailboats including several offshore racing machines that raced to Bermuda, to Nova Scotia and down to Virginia.
The ninth question concerns special school programs. And I can only recall the drills that we had periodically in case of an air raid. We were instructed to get under our desks!
Question 10 has queries concerning local war industries. The only two that I can recall, well no three. There were others but they just scaled up the work that they were doing. One was the Victorylite Candle Company which was started I think, by the Right Reverend Wm. E. Reul, the pastor of St. Mary's Church. Everybody was lighting candles in church and his company turrned, turned them out by the thousands. I remember too, the Oshkosh B'Gosh Overall Company scaling way up as it tried to meet the need for military combat and work clothes. Many women worked in the factories as I recall. And I remember Mother talking about the calluses that some of them developed in 'running seams', whatever that is. Mother did not work as she had both my younger brother David and I at home. Dad continued as Vice President and Comptroller of Gibson Motors, Incorporated.
Question 11 deals with friends and relatives killed in action. Neither Jeanne nor I can remember any.
12. Queries about the lack of young men between the ages of 18 and 35 in town. Well I was only 12, 13 and 14 and so the lack of men of this age was not apparent to me. To my knowledge, it had no effect on our family.
Question 13 asks about my attitude, or our attitude towards the Japanese and Germans. Oshkosh, the entire state of Wisconsin was a most Germanic heritage and an eight foot bronze statue to Carl Schurz stands in one of our parks. I can remember Dad talking about his schooling as a boy. Classes were taught in German in the morning and English in the afternoon at St. Mary's School. This changed when World War I happened. He reported a distinct diminution of ardor to the German heritage from World War I on. We very much disliked the German-American Bund and I'm not sure even what that organization was.
Hate was an emotion I never saw displayed or talked about in our family. But dislike was another matter. And it was hard not to dislike the Germans, but especially the Japanese. This was so mostly because of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor while Japanese emissaries were attempting to negotiate peace in Washington. So our dislike would certainly be for the Japanese first, followed by the Germans and then the Italians.
There were no members of the Oshkosh community of Japanese decent that I can recall. But Dad and the family were optimistic that the war would be won by the allies. I can remember Dad saying that, "After we defeat the Germans, we ought to go right on into Russia and beat them too." This attitude was certainly attributable to his very negative feelings concerning communism and atheism. He saw then, and quite rightly so, that Russia and communism would become a major menace.
Question 14 has to do with writing the servicemen. Neither Jeanne nor I wrote to anyone though I would include a word to my brother, George in letters sent by my parents.
Questions 15 and 16 ask concerning our activities and moods during D-Day, and later, V-E Day. D-Day was inevitable [ ] the war in Europe. And so was thought to be simply a matter of time before we would invade the continent with allied troops based in Britain. The general mood was, "Well, it's happened," rather than any joy. I remember that we were somewhat surprised by the number of casualties and the difficulties we seemed to have in initially establishing beachheads.
There was true joy when V-E Day came. We went to St. Mary's church and said prayers of thanksgiving for the nation as well as for George, who remained stateside. I do not recall parties or celebrations other than parades somewhat later. The Kitz family, by some tradition I guess, had somewhat muted celebrations which are somewhat understated and very satisfying but never marked by demonstrable enthusiasm or exuberance!
Question 17 has to do with the atomic bomb. We knew nothing about it of course and there was no way that we could begin to comprehend the immensity of the force and the problems directly attributable to its use. Because we had so little knowledge, it was not possible to form a learned opinion. Rather, we were lead by what was reported in the papers. It certainly seemed plausible that dropping the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki contributed to the quick end of the war with Japan and preserved American troops (and Japanese too) and our allies from the tremendous bloodshed that would accompany an invasion of the Japanese mainland. The Japanese people paid a horrible price.
Question 18 dealing with hindsight. It was certainly a great American driven victory and one that saw the country more united than it has ever been and perhaps ever will be. Certainly any thoughts of isolationism in America disappeared and cannot possibly return as active policy. And that is good. The victory vaulted, vaulted America to the very top as the most influential nation on earth for the last fifty years, though challenged by Russia which was later forced into secondary nation status. That makes me feel so very good. The post-war attitude and leadership of our elected officials, our elected and appointed officials, and backed by the country as a whole; to re-build Germany and Japan to become democratic members of the league of nations, rather than crush or subject them to humiliating reparations. George C. Marshall, Presidents Truman and Eisenhower together with the American people deserve great credit. We are proud to be Americans.
Those are our recollections. They were assembled by Jeanne and me after several thoughtful and rather lengthy discussions from which I transcribed notes and have dictated this report. I'm grateful to our friend Brad Larsen for giving us the opportunity to participate and to the agency that has provided funds for the project. Thank you very much.
|Oral History Interview with Richard Kitz
-WORLD WAR II
-Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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