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|Oral history interview with Reuben Drexler, Henry Kriha, and Edgar Lenz by Brad Larson for the Oshkosh World War II project. They discuss Their experiences in the 32nd Infantry Division in the Pacific Theater. A transcript is on a computer file in the archives.
INTERVIEW WITH EDGAR LENZ (E),REUBEN DREXLER (R), AND HENRY KRIHA (H)
MARCH 6, 2001
EXPERIENCES IN THE 32ND DIV WWII
L: This is Brad Larson. It's March 6, 2001, and I'm sitting in my office with Edgar Lenz, Reuben Drexler and Henry Kriha. We're gonna talk a little bit about your experiences in the Second World War. You know, the way I like to start this out is...you were all a member of the 32nd, weren't you?
H: All the same company, too.
L: All in the same company? What was your company?
H: Service Company.
E: Service Company, 127th Infantry.
L: Did you all join the National Guard together?
H: No, I was drafted.
E: Reuben and myself left with the National Guard, October of 1940.
L: So were you in high school then when you actually...
E: Just had graduated.
L: What made you join the National Guard? Do you remember?
E: [laughter] Why'd you join Reuben?
R: These guys asked me to join to get my year in - I was twenty years old at the time, in 1940. And Johnny Tomasko, I don't even remember who else was all in...
E: Eddie Troxell...
H: You guys were all in the same neighborhood.
L: Where was that?
R: On the corner of 4th and Knapp. They asked me to join with them to get my year in. Hang out with a bunch of guys I knew. I thought that was a good idea. One year turned out to be five years and three and a half years was over seas.
L: Edgar, what about you?
E: I joined for the dollar a week that we made. We got paid every three months - got twelve dollars at that time, every three months. And that's the main reason I joined.
L: Were there a lot of your other friends in there from high school?
E: I had a lot of relatives in there. The two Tomasko boys were cousins. I had a Radig - Bill Radig's uncle. Harold Radig was in there at that time. Then Bill Radig's dad came in.
H: Norm [ ] go in.
E: My uncle was in at the time, Bill Robl, he was in at the time, but his time ran out before we got called up in 1940. I had joined about a year and a half earlier. I think I joined in November of 1938. And that's probably the main reason I got in there, because I had some relatives in there, and like I say, it was a dollar...we had a drill every Tuesday night, and at the end of three months you got twelve dollars.
H: They always used to say, 'That's a good way to make some cigarette money - join the National Guards.' We used to go up there and watch you guys up at the old Armory.
E: Yep, Armory B on Merritt and...Merritt and Jefferson.
L: The war was happening in Europe when you joined the Guard.
E: It hadn't started yet when I first joined. But when Reuben did, yes.
L: Had you thought that with the war in Europe, that maybe it would lead to America entering the war? Had you talked at all about that? Did you think about that at all?
E: I think in the summer of '40, before we had gone to camp, and I think we were on maneuvers up in Camp McCoy for about twenty-one days. And already then it was coming out that we were gonna be called up, but at the time they said only for a year. But they got a different calendar than we work on, 'cause their year is a lot longer.
[laughter] We had a hunch that we were gonna be called up, but I never expected, really, to have it last that long, you might say.
H: Wasn't there a song made up, 'I'll be gone for a year, little darling?'
R: You know, the United States was an isolationist at that time, so we didn't think we'd be called up. I thought I'd get my year in and that's it.
H: Wasn't Finland real popular at that time? They were one of the first ones that gave up to Germany.
L: So, did you talk at all among yourselves about Japan or Germany or...
E: Japan, no, it never entered the picture at all.
L: So where were you when Pearl Harbor happened?
H: Camp Livingston.
E: Camp Livingston, Louisiana.
L: And what did you think?
H: The guns were moving out that night. What they call the coastal guns, the big long ones.
R: But you know, we had our year in. The 15th of October, we had our year in, and at that time they said, well, we gotta serve six more months. Then the scuttlebutt got around that most of us would be home by Christmas and that we'd only have to serve an extra three months and go back home. And here December 7th came along.
E: They already extended our enlistment in August of 1941, when we first went out on maneuvers.
L: Do you remember what you were doing when you heard the announcement that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor?
H: That was Sunday morning.
E: I do. My dad was in the hospital there in Camp Livingston and I was up visiting him. And when I went up to visit him, he said to me, have you heard the radio this morning? I said no. And he says, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the Philippines.
R: This was in the afternoon, though, wasn't it?
E: Pretty close to noon or somewhere right around there, I think.
R: They did it in the morning but then it was back time, you know...
E: We were five hours behind them.
L: Do you remember your reaction?
E: Another day.
R: We were very, very put out, I'll tell you.
H: Well, I thought we got the news Sunday morning.
R: I thought it was sometime about two or three o'clock Sunday afternoon. 'Cause they bombed in the morning but we didn't get word until...
E: I was up, just before dinner, to the hospital, by my dad, and he was picking it up over the radio. And he said, the Japs are bombing Pearl Harbor and the Philippines. And he said, it don't look good, that's all he said. That's all we knew at the time, really.
L: So what happened then? What happened after you heard the news?
H: They spoiled my trip to New Orleans for my first time. I was gonna drive the troops down like we did, that's the first time I was gonna go and, bingo, no good.
R: I remember Foxy Roberts coming over and saying that we're on alert. Don't go anyplace, no leaves, no nothing.
E: Now, see, I don't remember that Reuben.
H: We couldn't go no place, because that night the big guns were moving out.
R: We couldn't go anyplace.
E: Shortly after that, some of our people were home on...some of the engineers were home on furlough. And they were gonna move the engineer battalion out. And they came over to our outfit and picked up people from the Infantry and put 'em in the engineers and shoved them over to England, wasn't it?
E: Then when their people came back from furlough they were assigned to the Infantry.
L: It wasn't too long after that, that the 32nd was going to be sent to Europe then and it got switched...
H: It went to Fort Devens.
E: The year I left Louisiana, around the 14th of February.
H: 29th of February we left. Camp Livingston.
E: We went by road. Convoy.
H: We moved out of Livingston the 29th of February.
R: I thought it was about the middle of the month.
E: We got to Devens around, I thought it up was around the first part of the month.
E: Anyway, we got up to Devens we had all our stuff gridded up. And we had it all stenciled, 'Port of Embarkation Brooklyn, New York.'
R: Yep, we're going to Ireland.
E: And so, when we got up to Devens they said, well, paint that out, and put a number on there, and then we start loading it onto the railroad for taking across country to California.
R: I don't think we were there a week.
H: Two weeks. They claimed it took them two weeks to load the ships up.
E: We had to unload some of the stuff, then we had to reload it back all onto the trucks and load them onto railroad cars, and everything was shipped 'cross country by rail.
L: Did you know where you were going?
E: We were going to California, we knew that.
H: Ford Ord, California.
L: That's all you knew?
E: Yeah. We stayed at Fort Ord for about a week while they were loading the ship. And then we loaded on the ship - we shipped out of San Francisco on the 22nd of April.
H: 22nd of April. May fourteenth we hit Australia.
L: Did you go escorted or did you go alone? Did you have warships with you?
R: We went escorted.
H: That's when they had that big battle. Midway, was it?
R: They had the Coral Sea Battle going on at the time. We got down there and we had to go around and come up - we were supposed to land at Brisbane, in Australia. But then they circled us around and we landed underneath, in Adelaide.
H: The rumor was the Japs were out to get the 32nd.
E: We were the first outfit to go over in one convoy.
H: We had 22 ships.
R: I know that we all liked, where we slept and everything on the ship, way down in the fourth hole...
E: Yeah, oh yeah.
R: Boy that was tough. We had four cots. I used to feel sorry for the guy that slept up on the top because he was always getting kicked from the guy below, the third guy was gonna kick him. That was a sweathole and the mess hall - we couldn't sit in the mess hall, we stood. And we had to eat in shifts. The Mt. Vernon was so crowded. I liked it best when Foxy Roberts would call me up - he had a stateroom - he and another officer, Charlie Peterson, and I could go up there and type and sit up there and lay around up there for awhile - they had a big stateroom. But they never let me sleep up there.
L: So what happened when you got to Australia?
E: They unloaded us from the ship and put us on a little train, and we thought it was a little amusement park out there - we were watching that train from the boat deck. And we thought it was like a little amusement park. And pretty soon we got off the ship and they put us on that little train! It went, I guess, what, about twenty-five, thirty miles out to a place they called Sandy Creek. There was some Australian militia there, and they had a big kettle of coffee brewing - no tentage - [laughter] they said they weren't expecting us. I can see why, because I think from that Coral Sea battle they shoved us way around to the southern part of Australia, see? And these Aussies...
R: There was not a thing set up. A lot of vacant land, that was it.
E: Sheep pasture!
R: We had to put up everything.
H: We had some metal huts. Metal buildings that we slept in.
E: I don't remember sleeping in no metal building.
H: We did one night.
E: The first couple nights I slept out on the ground
R: I did too!
E: Then, pretty soon they started getting some tentage...
R: Then we put two tents together.
L: So there was a period of training down there when you were in Australia. Did you feel you were ready? When you got there did you feel you were ready to go? You wanted to fight the Japanese?
R: I wasn't!
L: Talk a little bit about that training that you went through down there. If you recall anything like that - what exactly did you do in Australia? What kind of training did they have you doing?
R: Mostly supplying the troops.
E: Yeah, right.
R: That was our job.
H: Edgar and I, we were in the motor pool.
R: Supply the troops with clothes, with ammunition, with food, with tentage, everything that we had. Everything that was owned, the Service Company gave to them.
E: When we first got there - the first week or so, it was mainly getting the stuff off the ship, and getting it back out to where you could set it up, see?
It wasn't too much of an idea of where you were gonna go or anything like that. It was a matter of what you gotta get done in order to go to work for tomorrow, you might say.
R: We had a regular Army Colonel that was in charge of us at that time.
H: Stafford, was it?
R: No matter how much work there was, Wednesday noon until Thursday morning reveille you were off. Period. Saturday the same thing.
Saturday noon until Monday morning reveille you were off. He didn't relent from that all, did he?
E: No, he never did.
H: That was Stafford, wasn't it?
R: Ben Stafford. We could go to Adelaide, we could go to Gawler... And he never went with us overseas. I think it was account of his age, wasn't it? I'm not sure anymore, but anyway, he never went with us overseas.
E: He went with us over to Australia. Because they had him on a ship...
R: Yeah, he went with us to Australia but I mean over to New Guinea.
E: No, he never...no...they relieved him... he was too old. They relieved him when we got up to Brisbane.
R: He was a good colonel. He was a real good colonel.
E: On the way going over we'd cross the Equator, you know? and they have to give you the initiation into the...
H: Order of the Deep.
E: Order of the Deep, right. And he said he'd been to Pearl Harbor seven different times but he never crossed the Equator, so he had to get initiated the same as we did.
L: I heard a little bit about those initiation ceremonies...
E: Well, they couldn't initiate all the enlisted men. They initiated some of the gun staffers and a couple of his staff I guess, that was about all they could initiate, otherwise, they had four or five thousand people on there.
R: I remember the sailors that were on board, came down in the fourth hole and it was stinking down there, and the ship was rolling so your stomach wasn't any good, and you'd lean over the railing like that, you didn't know any better, it would come back and hit you back in the face and then the sailors would stand there and laugh... finally we learned enough to get on the other side to throw up. I was sick, I think, for three days. 'Til we got out. Half the guys I think were.
H: Remember Al Schroeder? He was sitting on there with his arms over the railing, throwing up, and Proctor would say, 'Save me the big chunks for breakfast.'
R: I still remember when we hit Sandy Creek and we put up our own tents and everything like that, and where do you go when you have to urinate or, do number two you know, well, there's your shovel, boy, we did a lot of shoveling. Dig a hole, you know, and cover it up again. And then they put up a tent that was about five foot tall. And they put tin buckets inside, about six of them. And they had what, three or four rows one... in case one would still be go to the next tent...And then on Monday morning...
H: The "honey wagon" would come.
R: These Aussies would come along with the "honey wagon." A flat-bottomed wagon with sides on, you know, tin sides that the stuff wouldn't roll out. And they'd pick up these buckets, and dump them in there and they'd use that for the farms. This one time this guy came by and the two buckets he was carrying and one slopped over, I was sitting there doing a job and all of a sudden [noise of vomiting] did that make me sick and the stuff was rolling over, aw jeez, and anybody that walked by could look in there and see who was sitting in there.
L: What about going to New Guinea? Let's talk a little bit about that. That was in the fall, was it, that you went?
H: Yeah, we landed there Thanksgiving Day, '42.
R: Yeah, the fall of '42.
H: Thanksgiving Day. I got a picture of that.
L: Did you know we were going there?
E: Yeah. We knew we were going there after awhile.
R: We knew we were gonna land at...
H: Tokyo Rose...
R: ...at Fort Moresby.
H: ...even greeted us when we hit New Guinea. She says, 'Welcome 32nd Division.'
E: That was the second time went back up. The first time...I had been on the advance up to Brisbane from Sandy Creek and I remember Ed Schroeder, he was a major, that was with us on the advance, and I remember him, this was about the end of July, and they read in the newspaper that the Japs had landed at Buna and Gona. And they said, that's gonna be rough, he said that's gonna be rough getting them out of there. And he got killed up there.
R: Major Schroeder, yeah.
E: So that was about in July, and in the fall there, we went up to New Guinea, and that's when they were trying to kick 'em out of Buna already.
L: Do you want to talk about that a little bit?
H: How many days did that take us, Edgar?
E: Well, I'll tell you what. It took the Division... don't forget, the 128th, they flew up there. They were the first airborne troops ever flown into battle. The 126th was up there, but then one battalion, they hiked over that mountains.
H: Owen Stanley.
E: Yeah, one hundred and five airline miles, it took them thirty days. And we flew up over the mountains, and landed at Dobodura.
R: There was a path through the trees, through the mountains, there was a path, an airline path, I don't know how...
H: They called it 'The Gap.'
R: And the plane flew through there. If it was crowded in, they couldn't fly - they couldn't make it over the mountains. But just that one path and they went through. And we were sitting there, looking down, and I asked that one airplane guy, how close are we to the trees? He says, stick out your hand! That's how close we were to the trees, flying through there. We were just in these C47s.
H: Who was that one bunch that flew through there - some major - and they attacked them when they were going through that gap?
R: I don't remember...
H: Because the Japs were watching that gap to see the major coming in.
E: Later on, I was laying in the hospital, and one of the guys laying down on the cot, three or four cots down, he said I knew right when we got to The Gap - they had to twist the plane sideways in order to get through it.
R: That was something, that gap in there. Without it we'd had a hike, too.
H: The day I left there was DC7s... C47s like they got at the airport, here? and that one guy says, what time is it? The guy from the Air Corps says, what do you want the time for? He said, I want to set my watch. He says, take that watch and throw it away, because when you get on the other side of The Gap, in the morning, the Japs will strafe you at 10:00 and in the afternoon at 3:00, he says, that's all you need. That's just what happened.
R: Every day.
E: Then around 4:00 it always started to rain.
L: So what happened once you landed there? You flew through The Gap and you landed...
H: We went on Dobodura air strip little village you had some native huts, that's where we stayed. You'd be sleeping nights, the big rats running were running over you, stuff like that.
L: What was it like there? If you could describe the physical condition of what it was like, if you could paint a mental picture for somebody, and try to tell them what it was like in New Guinea, what would you try to tell them?
H: All jungle, a lot of rain.
R: You were always wet.
E: Always wet.
H: It was 110 in the shade.
R: No matter what you did you were always sweating.
E: You were either sweating or out in the rain, one or the other.
R: Ten minutes later it would stop raining and then the steam would be coming off of you. Twenty minutes after that it would be raining again. That New Guinea, that was terrible.
E: We were picking up some rations, they were dropping some rations...
R: At first they dropped rations, then later on...
E: ...they flew right in and landed there. It wasn't that much later. I know, they'd come over and bomb just about every night.
H: I'll never forget that Christmas Eve, 1942. Six o'clock in the evening 'til six in the morning, continuous - one bomb... the plane would come in, drop its bomb...he used to tell me, the guy from Omro, he says, I don't mind them guys dropping those eggs, but he says I don't like the ones that break open. They had us...in and out of that foxhole all night long. I'll never forget that Christmas Eve.
E: It was either Christmas Eve or Christmas night, I don't remember which.
H: It was Christmas Eve.
E: They had us hopping all the time.
L: The Service Company's job was to take those supplies and take them up to the troops that were fighting?
H: The natives would take them so far too. And then the natives would come back with the wounded. And we'd have to put them on the plane. But if they'd see those bombers up there they'd drop their patients and they'd go in the woods. Dobodura in the bush, they used to say.
R: Remember that well close to Dobodura when they had to take the patient and give them his water? That real good water? A couple of times I saw that happen, they'd be carrying a dead Jap or a wounded Jap back, in order for them to get a drink, they'd just walk away, you know they were carrying him on their shoulders? They'd just walk away and let the guy drop. If it was Yanks, they'd set them down real carefully and go for water, they'd bring back water, but the Japs I never saw 'em...
E: Here's how they brought some of the wounded back. Now that guy jumping off that bumper, that's Bill Radig's dad.
L: Has he seen this photograph, do you know?
E: I want to give that to him. So if you see Bill give it to him.
H: Jerry Collier on there, he's the driver.
E: The driver is a guy from Oshkosh that used to run Collier Plumbing.
R: Jerry Collier.
E: The forward hospital, what'd they call that Reuben? That hospital that was...Portable. Anyway, that hospital was only about 200 yards behind the line. The guys would get wounded, they'd struggle back there, pretty much themselves. And then they hauled some of them back on a Jeep like this, they got two or three of them on there, and then the natives carried a bunch of them back.
L: Was it tough fighting the Japanese?
R: Oh yeah.
R: You couldn't find them.
H: They were in those big...
R: Especially at Buna where they had those...kunai grass was growing up and right in with the kunai grass they had mounds. One here, one over here, one back there, one over there, and there were Japs in all of them, and they had tunnels. If you knocked out one mound they'd be over there. If you knocked out this one they'd be over there. You never killed anybody - they had tunnels all over. Of course, they were there for months before we were.
E: That's right.
H: The grass was all grown over, it's natural...
R: You couldn't find them, you couldn't see them.
E: This kunai grass, it grows about five, six feet tall; it's just about like marsh grass, only thing about it is, the ground underneath it is solid - you can walk all over it, or drive Jeeps on it.
L: And there were bunkers built into the ground?
E: Yeah, they had bunkers made out of coconut logs.
H: They had slots just wide enough they could run their machine guns, or either their rifles. We used to go up there with flame throwers, try to get them out of there.
E: But our flame throwers didn't work very good.
L: Why is that?
E: Hell, they just weren't no good, they wouldn't throw from here to the wall.
L: So how did you get them out of the bunkers?
E: One of the ways was, you'd tie a quarter pound piece of dynamite on the end, or TNT, and put a grenade fuse in there, and tie that all to a stick, and then you'd shove it in through the opening, and hold it in there until it went off! And that's the way you kind of got them out of there!
L: Slow process.
R: It was. We didn't make any headways at all.
L: They didn't give up.
R: They sure didn't!
H: Oh, they were stubborn.
R: The thing that used to bother me up there was when they came out with those knee mortars. Remember those? Those knee mortars. They'd aim for a base of a coconut tree. And the shrapnel would spread out. And if you were in the way, boy, you got hit. One thing about a knee mortar, you can always hear it go off. You'd always have time to take cover.
L: It made a distinctive sound?
R: You could hear 'nip!' You dove. Anything! Lay down in a foot trench, you didn't care where you do it, as long as you get on the ground. That shrapnel would spread out.
E: It would spread out. It would go up that way.
R: You never could tell. When a group of Yanks got together, nobody had any stripes on, nobody had any bars on, so they couldn't tell who was in charge. 'Cause they had snipers up there in the trees and they were tied to the tree. You could kill them, sure, after they killed someone you could go up there and shoot all over the tree, kill them up there, but they got whoever they wanted to.
E: When you got through with Buna, that was a big coconut grove. There wasn't a top on of them coconut trees. They were all blown off.
H: Uncle Sam paid for every one of those trees.
E: They probably did.
L: I read this article here, it was in Wisconsin Magazine of History, it was about "Red Arrow's Heart of Darkness," about that battle, and they talked a little bit about how terrible it was. And it sounds like all of you are telling me the same thing.
E: I think that's that Guinea Gold from when Buna was done.
H: It was before Buna fell. Remember when they had that artillery on the track? They used to lower it down, shoot it, bring it back up, load it back up?
L: And you brought up supplies under fire then, to those men - bringing up the supplies? The Australians were also there...
E: Oh yeah.
L: What were they like? What were the Australians like?
R: I'm glad we had them.
H: According to General Blamey the Aussies beat the Japs. We didn't beat them, the Aussies did! That Blamey used to run all the whorehouses in Australia. [laughter] But they were good, they were fighters.
R: If they were told to take a certain point they went and they took it.
H: Most of them came back from the Middle East, had to go up there.
R: The Yanks, they say, we gotta figure it out, How you gonna do that? How you gonna do that? The Yanks, it might take a couple days thinking about how we're gonna do it. But the Aussies would go right in.
H: I got a book that said Sanananda... the one you got...
E: [ ] Sanananda, yeah.
H: That gives the whole battle from Dobodura all the way up to Buna and Sanananda ...Gona...
E: Well, you see, that whole campaign there, the Australian general was in charge. MacArthur was running the whole thing, but the Australian general was in charge of the Buna/Gona area. So he wanted to take Gona, which was where the Australians were going. He wanted to take that before the Americans took Buna. But he would come over, and order a battalion of the 126th of the American Infantry to go up to Gona and help fight up there. And then the next day...couple days later he'd come and get a battalion from the 128th Infantry. And it wasn't until after MacArthur relieved our Division Commander, Harding, and sent Eichelberger, a three-star general up there. And when he sent that three-star up there, then this Australian general...the three-star wouldn't give this Australian general any more American troops. But by that time they almost had Gona. And so all that was left was Buna. But there was a bunch of Aussies fighting for Buna there too.
L: What did the troops think about when the generals changed? When Harding was sacked?
R: They didn't like it.
E: Didn't like it, no. I'll tell you what, at Buna we lost four generals within two weeks, was it, Reuben?
H: The reason why they left Harding go was because he didn't want to sacrifice his troops. That's the reason why they got rid of him.
E: The thing is, they kept... Blamey always kept getting a battalion or two from Harding, and Harding didn't have enough troops left to go and fight for nothing.
L: Then after Eichelberger what happened?
E: After Eichelberger got up there he told Blamey you don't get no more troops. And so he said we're gonna use them here and clean up Buna. And MacArthur gold Eichelberger, you go up there, relieve Harding, and if you can't clean up Buna, don't bother to come back. That's what he told him.
L: Did you know that at the time?
E: No. A little bit later.
H: Who was MacArthur's sidekick? The skinny guy? Tall, slim...Sutherland?
E: Sutherland was a general who was captured under Blamey.
H: I think that was Sutherland.
R: Which one was it? That was still at the Philippines.
L: That was Wainwright.
R: 'Cause I know who you mean then, but I can't think of his name.
L: What happened afterwards, then?
E: After Buna? We went back to Australia to rebuild and get filled up with more troops - replace those that were lost - and we were back in Australia for...eight or nine months...
R: I don't think we were there that long...that second time...
E: We came back in March and we left in October again. We were back up in New Guinea for Thanksgiving. That's the time when Tokyo Rose welcomed the 32nd Division back to New Guinea. In fact, she pinpointed a little island by the name of Goodenough, that the division headquarters stayed on. She pinpointed division headquarters. She said 'I want to welcome the 32nd Division back to New Guinea to Goodenough Island.' So we made a big secret move.
H: There was four Australians that were traitors in that first campaign.
E: There was what?
H: There was four Australians that were spying for Japan.
R: Where was that place we landed when we came back the second time in New Guinea?
E: Milne Bay.
H: We went up to Finschhafen from there.
L: What did you think when Tokyo Rose said that, I'd like to know what was the reaction when she said 'Welcome 32nd Division?'
E: I'll tell you what, we always listened to her because she had the most up-to-date records. Very good records from Bing Crosby, always listened to her. That time she was absolutely correct. But later on, when we were up in Finschafen, we were on a big side hill and we could see the whole bay and she said, the Jap planes had come in that day and bombed a couple of ships out in the harbor at Finschhafen and according to her they raised particular hell. There was no plane come over at all that day. So, half of it was propaganda and you could tell when she was giving the propaganda part out, or you could tell when she was saying the truth, too.
H: I left at April '44. How long did you guys stay at Finschhafen?
E: We moved out of there right after that. April 22nd we landed at Aitape.
H: I left April 22.
R: I had to be there, we had the Driniumor River campaign.
H: See, from Finschhafen we were supposed to go to Rabaul. Then that Sunday the priest gave us a security talk - Don't even mention to your best buddy what you know about where we're gonna go.
E: Previous to that when we were at Milne Bay, that's when Jensen was...
we were supposed to make a landing on New Britain. And Jensen, our executive officer was going somewhere and he stopped to get his shoes repaired. And the guy repairing his shoes asked him what outfit he was from and stuff, and Jensen told him the 127th, and he says I hear your show has been called off. And Jensen said what do you mean? Well, he says, you were supposed to go up to New Britain, it's been called off. So he's the exec. officer and he goes back to regimental headquarters and he says, what's this I heard our show's been called off? And the colonel told him, yeah, that's right. He said, where'd you hear it? And he says, the guy who repairs shoes told me! And he says, yep, the beach we were supposed to land on, I think ten days or a week before that they take aerial photographs of it, and there was nothing there. And then within two or three days of when we were supposed to take off they took some more aerial photographs, there's ten thousand troops sitting on the beach waiting for us.
H: And we were supposed to hit that with rubber boats. It was on a Sunday night when the chaplain told us that. - He says, 'Don't even mention to your best buddy,' about this stuff that's going on. We were down in Adelaide, Saturday night, Ed Dumke and I would go to that place where you have steak and eggs, and there was a young girl, beautiful looking girl, the way she was asking questions I says to her, are you a spy? Boy, she got up and away she went. That's what she was. She was getting information from the guys.
L: Here's something that I ask all the people that I interview. Did you think America was gonna win the war?
E: We thought it was never gonna end.
H: I never expected coming back.
E:...any of us would get back home.
E: Because, after the first time, you might say, and you see how many got hurt - didn't make it back and stuff, and you figure, well, the next one there's gonna be just as many gonna get it again, and if you're gonna keep on going like that, there is no end, you couldn't see no end in sight, so you just figured, well, naturally, your chances were just gonna run out before you got home. That was it.
H: Well the way they were buried in there and if you get closer to Japan they were gonna be buried heavier - more supplies.
E: And if they would have had to made a landing on Japan I'm sure hardly anybody would have got home.
H: I read a article, there was some tropical storm that was supposed to have gone in there before we would have attacked Japan - he said we would never had made it. The storm was so great, it just wiped the ships away.
E: You were...up in the Philippines, see, I had gone home after Aitape. But they told me that the 127 was gonna be one of the spearheads. Right?
R: Right. That's when I got out. That's when General Gil at that time, in the Philippines, General Gil was our commanding officer. And he lost Colonel Coulter and his [ ] officer in the G4 section. Both had got malaria. And General Gil called Colonel Murphy and set up our S4, which was [ ], at that time, John [ ]. And he said I'll send you up a better man than [ ]. So Colonel Murphy called me over, you gotta go up there. At that time I was a [ ] officer, junior [ ]. So I went up there, acting G4. But I got to know this General Gil real, real well. He had his tent here and I had my tent there, real close. We used to sit and talk. And I remember before I left, of course like you say, here, I was over there for better than three years already, and here I'm getting the first time we ever had bazookas. We practiced with bazookas. And we knew we were gonna get shipped out. And I don't know how many hundreds of points I had already, and I told General Gil I don't wanna go! I want to go home! Gee whiz, here I was three years and three months already I was over there... What am I doing here, after all this time?! I never thought I'd make it, I had no idea, especially when you came out with bazookas, practicing bazookas... you stood behind the guy and attacked the shoulder, and bing! you'd fire. That was something.
L: So did you think America would eventually win, even though you might not make it?
H: As far as, I thought, we didn't have time to think. You just got up, that was it - get your day in.
R: You really didn't have time to think about it because we were all so darn busy. Like after Finschhafen, we got to Aitape and we had the Driniumor River campaign. We went up there, and I don't know how long we fought up there, coupla months, and the Japanese... then we had Hollandia to look forward to and we made the landing on Hollandia, and some of our troops went over to Mindanau, and you just didn't have time to think about it.
E: The thing is, it was probably about a year and a half before you got done...from Buna to Aitape. And you covered a thousand miles, maybe, and you still had fifteen hundred miles to go. So you couldn't see no end really, you figured you covered a thousand miles in fifteen, or eighteen months, and the next eighteen months you got another thousand to go and you got another five hundred after that, there was no way of figuring it out. So you just naturally figured you weren't never gonna get home from there, and that was it.
H: I actually thought I'd never make it. If I knew I was coming back, I would loaded up on opals and everything else. But why buy the stuff? Went out and had a good time. Enjoy yourself while you can.
E: And at Aitape, we didn't realize it at the time, but that was where we finished off all the Japanese Army in New Guinea. That was the end of them in New Guinea.
L: You didn't know that at the time, though?
E: No, we didn't realize it at the time. We knew they had come up, we had bypassed them, they had come up the coast about 80 miles, hit us along the Driniumor River, they decided they had to break out somewhere in order to out of New Guinea, that's when they start trying to get to that air strip that we had in Aitape. They pushed us back about four or five miles that one night, but then next day they were starting to push them back down toward the river.
L: Some of the other veterans have told me that they hated the Japanese. That they hated them. Do you think that you hated them?
R: I really didn't hate them.
H: No, because the closest I got to Japs was over in [ ] where we had that little stockade there, before we put 'em on the plane - they were the only ones we see that were alive. The other ones, that one time we had to go out on a patrol and then we had to go out and collect ammunition, we didn't have enough ammunition. We had to go out and - what the guys abandoned - we had to pick that up and bring it back to the supply house.
L: Did you know what the Japanese were doing to people in China? Had you heard any of that...rumors...
H: We had Chinese there as forced labor. Where was that place where they had that wheel - where they walk with that, and they were pulling the rope up in there?...You forget so much about where it is. But that was all forced labor that they had.
L: Did you know about that at the time?
H: Well, yeah, we see 'em
R: At the Driniumor River campaign there, Bluenose was up with me at the time. The air strip, they flew over, and they would kick off the rations. They went out there, and they'd buzz the field when they had, when the planes were empty you generally had three C47s, they flew over, one after the other, and they'd kick off all the rations. We had to run out there and pick them off before the next convoy came, and another three planes would come in, carry all the rations. Pick them up. A couple of times some of the natives didn't get off the field enough, and I can remember this one guy - I heard that thing and I was just sick - he got hit in the chest with one of these cases, and of course he was killed. But boy, I said, that's a terrible feeling. But the pickup, that was the first, where they had airdrops of rations. And this one time, it was funny, but it wasn't at the time. We had our jungle suits, and they were issue jungle suits. And it was the first time we ever had any army bread. And army bread was that round and about that high. And hard as a rock. But it was good, and it was filling. And these guys back in Aitape, they would get this jungle suit, and they put loaves of this bread in there, and it was arms out and everything, it's head...
E: Tied an outfit on it...
R: ...and then Lenny Reef, I can still hear him laugh yet - he was one of the guys, he was in our supply section, he was one of the guys push the loads off - and this guy came flying out of the hut, 'oh my god' and here we got over there, and it was loaded up with army bread. The plane come over and when they'd buzz us and '[ ] how are you [ ]' and they were laughing like crazy, but that was something. But boy, I was sick when I saw this...
E: Were you along that time we dropped that load on [ ] and we came back to the airport to load up again, and they said, where you dropping? They said did you drop at [ ] and we said yeah, and they said, no, don't take no more up there, Japs got it now. So we dropped that load...
L: Did you get letters from home, and packages from home...very often?
E: We got letters...
H: Letters, but not too many.
E: And packages, you didn't get many, I'll tell ya.
H: The only package I got was when we got that from the Red Cross was that - toothpaste... it wasn't much.
R: I can remember one time [ ] what's his name was in charge of the Red Cross - Vandeburg? Vandeburg, wasn't that his name? My mother sent me about a dozen records. And it included one with Bing Crosby, singing "White Christmas." And I told Van, when the records come, take them so you can play them over the loud speaker. This was back in Port Moresby. When we got back from Buna, here they were playing "White Christmas." And this was in January, something like that, it was about 120 degrees out, playing "White Christmas," but that still brought tears to my eyes.
And this one, we stood there at the airport for awhile because this one flying fortress, his wheels wouldn't come down and he didn't know what he was gonna do, I mean, he was just running around the field, burning gas, and when he finally came down he landed right next to the airport, and it dug a hole just as nice as could be and nobody was hurt. He landed on his belly, and nothing. Just as nice, he came in just as nice, smooth as he could. And dug up the dirt and everybody ran over and helped the crew out. The body of the ship was all covered up, but they got everybody out. It was something I experienced.
L: Did you think of what was happening at home? War production? Or anything happening on the home front?
H: I didn't.
R: [ ] girls, how were they doing? And a lot of them got Dear John letters. Quite a few.
H: My girlfriend, the guy told me, he says, she got married! I says, she didn't mention it in my letter! She got married but she's still writing to me yet! [laughter]
R: That happened quite often.
E: Girlfriends weren't gonna wait two years, three years for the guy to come back...
H: She wanted to get married when were out at Fort Devens. I says, No! why should I get married, come back a cripple, I don't want to spoil your life!
L: When you would get letters did they talk about what was happening back home - did they talk anything about war production, or patriotism, anything like that?
R: My girl didn't.
E: Not too many, I'll tell you. Our letters that went back home, they were censored so bad that they were cut all full of holes! They'd cut out anything that would refer to possibility of where you might be, that was cut out. If you had mentioned somebody else, it probably was cut out.
L: You know, being overseas for all those years with, let's face it, very little communication from home, sporadic letters and no telephone calls or anything like that, that's hard to imagine today, because we have pretty much instant communication. Was it hard...
H: Yeah, but we were all young kids at that time.
L: Was it hard on you not to have that kind of...
H: I don't think it bothered me over there.
E: It didn't bother...
L: You were all unmarried?
H: You couldn't take no pictures. They wouldn't let us have cameras.
R: The M.P.s took my camera. I took a picture of General MacArthur making Hollandia and Leyte there, and I was laughing, and he reached up and grabbed it and that was the last I saw of the camera.
H: I'm surprised Ed Dumke...
E: Dumke was the only guy that had a camera.
H: He wanted to take the pictures of those native girls. They came with the old pot of water and their boobs were hanging there. He used to call that the 'titty parade.' I sure wish I would have got them pictures before he...after he passed away. You know he was up at Robbins [Restaurant] here in October? [for the 32nd Division Reunion] His daughter was there. She was five years old when he left.
R: I remember, this was at Buna when I had a picture of Eleanor...
H: Oh yeah, they stole it from ya.
R: One of the natives. My wife was a real blonde. My girl at the time, she was a real blonde. And I had a picture sitting right by my cot, and one afternoon I walked in there and the picture was gone, and what the heck did I have there? Some kind of a coconut...
H: You told me that they stole it from you.
R: They'd take them and then they'd leave something in its place. But my picture was gone. Of course, when I would show that picture around, the natives they thought [ ] blonde...like a god...
H: They got all that corned beef, about 70 ton of it they claim? That native was underneath that trailer and a case of...it hit the fender and it cut his ear off!
L: Well now, you all didn't go home at the same time, did you?
H: I got a big surprise when we were stationed at Finschhafen. And I was, like I says, I was a draftee. And for three days in a row my company commander, I was behind him on the mess hall, for breakfast, in the tent,
He says to me, 'Lucky Kriha' and I says, 'what do you mean lucky?' And he wouldn't say nothing. The third time he says, 'You're going home.' And I said, boy, it was a shock - didn't even know it - but, I came back. I was a draftee and these guys were all National Guards, how I got it...but they claimed you had so many day of combat - I had the Good Conduct Medal - how I ever got that I don't know!
R: It depended on your job that you had, too.
H: I sure was surprised.
L: What happened when you got back here?
H: I was on a drunk for twenty-three days. [laughter] Be out 'til four, five, six in the morning, drive around town with Ed Wolff's old Oakland, we'd go out, I'd come home, there'd be blocks of ice on the bumpers...
L: When was that?
E: You got reassigned though, didn't you?
H: Then I had to spend a year and a half down in Attison, Alabama, Ft. McClellan. Infantry replacement. And that Colonel [ ] from Neenah, see the list, and he says they just got back from New Guinea. They were gonna send us back over! He says, you got a lot of troops from the east coast. All those Italians and all the guys from...what was the name of skid row...
R: On the east coast?
H: in New York...The Bowery. Send them guys over there!
L: Did you think you were gonna have to go?
H: The way they told it we were gonna go but he stopped it! Otherwise you'd a went back there again!
E: I got home and I had twenty-one days at home, and then they had to go down to Hot Springs, Arkansas for reassignment.
H: But then you guys had two weeks vacation on top of that...R & R...
E: I didn't get that.
H: You didn't? I didn't either.
E: In fact, they said they were gonna give us twenty-three days delay en route.
H: That's what mine was, twenty-tree days delay en route.
E: That's when we got down in Arkansas, at Hot Springs, they said, no, that was furlough, it wasn't delay in route, so they took it off your furlough time. But then I got reassigned to Advance Infantry Training Center in Texas. I was down there for, I guess, about six months, and then finally Germany surrendered and then they came out with that point system. There was a bunch of guys from that [ ] outfit that were up in the Aleutians, mainly in this camp, so that put us guys from the 32nd that were assigned there way the hell up on top, so we were some of the first ones to get out of there, get discharged out of there.
L: You were the last one home?
R: I got home in July, the latter part of July, 1945.
R: The war was over with in Germany. And on the way home, or shortly after I got home, the war with Japan was over with.
H: That was over in August, wasn't it?
R: When I left, like I'd mentioned, I was [ ] Officer Junior Grade, and General Gil called me in and says here's your Senior Grade. And I looked at him, and of course by that time I knew him quite well because I was serving with him for about two months, six weeks, something like that. And he said, but you have to stay. General, how long do you think my life is gonna last? If I stay some more yet? And I knew that we were getting ready, in about a month, we were getting ready to go hit Japan. Of course at that time the war was over and I didn't know it. If I'd have known that the war was gonna be over that soon I would have stayed. So I could say that I went through the whole thing with the 32nd Division. But then the
32nd Division went over as the Army of Occupation.
L: So you were in the Philippine campaign?
H: When did you get discharged? '45?
R: Yeah, in November of 1945.
H: You were in longer than I was in. I got discharged September 28, '45.
R: I had so many days vacation coming...
E: I got discharged in June of '45.
R: I had so many days coming, of vacation, and it was in November of '45.
E: See, they paid us for our furlough time.
R: When I got back here I thought I was gonna get out. And I had to report to Fort McCoy and I told the [ ] there, I wanna get out. He says, you got further orders, you gotta go report down at Fort [ ] Alabama. No way! I'm gonna get out! How long do you think I'm gonna last! So he said, well, he'll find out, and I told him I said, ask the National Guard Bureau in Washington. So the telegram came back in a couple hours: 'This officer will report as directed.' So I had to go down to Camp [ ] Alabama. And who's down there that I report to?! The 125 Infantry! It was part of our division! when we first were inducted in 1940. We had a Square Division. We had 125, 126, 127 and 128. When we left, 125 was left behind. And they were made a Triangle Division. And the 125 stayed back here and protected the west coast. That's who I report to when I got down there. The first two or three nights that I got down there, I was sitting around with a general, a colonel and reporting on all my experiences overseas, and they begged me, and begged me to stay with them, because they were sent over to Japan.
E: They were occupation huh?
R: Occupation, and no way. So I finally got out.
L: So what did you think when they dropped the atom bomb on Japan?
E: Good. Very pleased.
H: Darn right. We're still getting blamed for it. They're the ones that started it.
L: I want to talk about that a little bit if you want to talk about that. I'd like to talk about that. You saw what it was like trying to get the Japanese out of places like Buna, and Hollandia and the Philippines. What would have happened, in your opinion, based on your experiences...
H: If it wouldn't have been for that bomb?
H: I think we all would have stayed over there, under the ground.
R: If the 32nd would have had to land at Honshu, like they scheduled it, we were supposed to land - with the 127 - landing on Honshu in Japan, I don't think any of us would have made it. In the first place I don't think they'd have let me come home at that time if those were real orders. It was directed already, at Honshu, we knew we were gonna land there. I don't think the 32nd was gonna...
E: The Japanese don't surrender. I found this out later on - if they surrender, they and their family are written off - they are no longer in existence.
R: On Leyte already, they had these Kamikazi planes, when we got off our Liberty Ship on Leyte we turned around, and a Jap plane hit the smoke stack and blew up and that's what they were doing. Every ship that they could, they blew right into the smoke stack so it would blow up the ship. And we just got off! We just got off!
H: We had some Japs, they thought they were in Texas when they were in New Guinea. See the line of bullshit that they got?
E: That's why [ ] Buna - there was supposed to be, what, twelve thousand troops there? You had, I think, seven Japanese surrender. You had, I think about three or four Chinks, and I think about six or seven Koreans. And out of all that, that's all the people that surrendered. Now, the Japanese, I found out later on, they were meant to sacrifice themselves, but at the same time, if they did surrender, they were written off and their families were written right off with them.
L: You experienced all of this first hand. You were there. What do you think about the revisionist historians today, and specifically what they write about the atom bomb, and dropping the atom bomb? What do you think about that?
E: I don't agree with them.
R: I don't either.
E: There's a lot of these professors and stuff, say they should never have dropped it. In fact, I was watching TV not too long ago here on Channel 2. And they got a guy up there saying that there was no need to drop that atomic bomb. Well, I'd like to know where the hell he was!
L: OK, so what would have happened if we wouldn't have dropped that bomb? What do you think would have happened?
E: There would have been a big slaughter on the part of both Americans, and the Japanese. 'Cause the only way you got onto Japan was to kill the Japanese! And by doing that, you'd had to kill a lot of Americans. It was a no-win situation. But that bomb made it final.
L: I know my father was in the Philippines training to be on that first wave, so I'm glad they did too. But that's not part of this interview, but...
R: When I heard about it, good. Good. Good. Even the second one.
H: They had it coming!
R: Even the second one. I have no regrets. I know what a slaughter that would have been if we'd a had to make that landing on Japan.
E: They were fanatic.
H: That book, it tells you where that, remember that night we had to get out all those patients in there, at [ ]? Their arms were just hanging on the skin, here they were bombing our hospitals.
E: From ah...
H: [ ] - starts with an 's'...
E: [ ]
H: That's where the hospital was that they bombed.
E: They dropped what they called the Daisy Cutters. They had a long fuse. They'd blow up about so high off the ground, and mow the grass like a lawn.
H: That night they brought all those troops in we had them in our village there, boy, pitiful.
R: Look at all the fighting we did on the Villa Verde trail at Luzon. Gee whiz. You'd climb up onto those mountains like that, here they had caves all over those mountains and they were shooting down at you - what the hell could you do? You couldn't get any mortars up there, you got mortars up there, but if you hit one hole, they'd be over there, in the other hole! We talk about Buna and stuff like that but there was nothing like that Villa Verde. Boy, those mountains, just going up like that - Japs all over in those hills, in those mountains, and they were shooting down like that. It was a regular mountain and they had all caves built in it! I think that was the worst, even with Buna...or Driniumor River...
L: Of course you had some combat experience by then and that made a difference...
R: Oh yeah, we had a lot.
H: Yeah, but up there, you're down there, you're licked.
R: That was terrible. We got hit so bad at Villa Verde. Oh, we got hit.
L: Of all the memories that might stick out in your mind over the years, do you have any particular ones that you want to talk about, anything that really comes to mind - if somebody talks to you about that war years?
H: Well, the fun part of it was, at [ ] we had a guy - was he from California? - he was bragging how brave he was. So we had a bunch of ration cans tied in the bush. And we had a rope that we were gonna pull while he was sleeping, see what the hell would happen. Well, that night we got a report that 200 Japs broke through our line and they're coming for us. So our company commander got a phone call, we listened to him, he says, I got my men on guard, they'll be relieved every eight hours. You had the whole works on at the one time!
[laughter] E: Nobody to relieve us!
H: And Reuben and I were sitting in that [ ] and it was it's so dark and you think something's moving out there! Imagine it! But that's one night I'll never forget.
R: This one Bluenose and I were on that Driniumor River campaign, they wanted to know if we need any more help, and a message came up, yeah, send up a couple more guys and Bluenose with the Second Italian says send up my helper, Eddie [ ]. And Eddie came up there a couple days later and the first night he started getting the shakes, and he just couldn't stop shaking, shooting all night long, of course. He just could not stop shaking, so we had to send him back. I think that ruined that poor kid's life. He just couldn't stop shaking - he was crying, you know.
L: Did that happen very often?
R: Quite a bit.
E: Quite a bit. When we were in Finschhafen we had that, the showers were way down in the creek bed down there, and I remember I was running water point at that time, and some guys were down there taking a shower and all at once you started to hear the worst screaming you ever heard in your life, so I went down there and here a guy had kind of flipped his lid, 'cause he said he just couldn't go back into combat again.
H: Well, when we came back to [ ], they were shooting some of them officers that were forcing these guys...what was there, twenty-two that committed suicide after we got back.
R: Well this Eddie [ ], we had to send him back on a stretcher. [ ] on a stretcher. Oh, I felt sorry for those guys.
H: Was there a Miller that they shot when they were training the new guys that were coming? He was up in the tree as a sniper, and they shot at him?
R: How about Colonel Meyer? When we were in Leyte?
H: I wasn't at Leyte, though.
R: We had an officer, he was from Oshkosh. And he left our infantry regiment before we went over seas. And when we were over at...Leyte...[ ] with us at that time...I think he was on Leyte, and this officer, by that time he was a full colonel. He got transferred to some outfit, I don't even know if it was the 41st division or was it ours...I don't even know if it was the 32nd. He came back to the 32nd. And he was in a foxhole one night with his .45, and he started shooting. He started shooting early in the morning and [ ] and I, we crawled over there and told him, "Ed, Ed, watch it, watch it, Ed, we're coming..." He knew us. We had to calm him down quick. I think it was either the first night or second night he thought the Japs were after him. And we were in a clear area. He was sent back right away.
H: We had our company commander was Jensen. Miller was his [ ] by that
was in charge of the company and we had...
R: That's what we to do at Buna for Jensen.
H: We had a regular company party, drink all you want and the company commander comes in, and he says to the [ ] officer, get the booze off the street. And he told the company commander, he says, get up to your hut where you belong. He says, I'm in charge of the company. Let him have some fun, he says - we don't want no more - there was 22 that committed suicide just before that - he says, I don't want my men to commit suicide. Let them have their fun while they can.
R: We used to have passwords, especially at Buna, I remember walking down, especially at night, in the middle of the night or for some reason if you had to go, every step you took you said a password. It was something like 'Lord,' 'Lord,' because the Japanese couldn't pronounce it. Or some other word that the Japanese couldn't pronounce. We had to say those words.
H: I think, Reuben, it was anything with an L in it.
R: They couldn't pronounce it.
E: L or R.
R: I remember [ ] was walking along, he had to come back from the Third Battalion, back to headquarters, and he was 'Don't shoot, Lord, Lord, Lord, don't shoot!' It wasn't funny at the time, but when you stop to think about it, it was.
L: How did these experiences change you or effect you? Do you think that they have any lasting impact on you today?
H: Well, I don't have no use for Japanese at all. I know guys, like Elmer Wokosin, he went up there by that Japanese up there, and he called them Japs, and that Jap girl says, 'Don't call us Japs, we're Japanese.' And I guessed he told her off. Good!
R: I don't have any enmity toward them at all.
E: As far as any flashbacks or anything like that, no, not as far as I'm concerned.
L: You other fellas? Anything like that?
R: The one thing that does get me when I think about it right now, is that submarine that raised up, and they want an apology. The Japanese want apology, after apology, after apology. And I keep on thinking, what did they do for us after World War Two?
H: What are they doing there in the first place? Why aren't they staying by Japan?!
R: That's the first thing, though, if we should apologize, what did they do? They didn't do a darn thing. They didn't say they were sorry, or anything like that. And they want us to go over there now and say we're sorry!
E: I'll tell you, I watch some of these documentaries and you can see some of them are just trying to switch around, to elevate Japan, that we were the ones causing all the problems. I don't know where that started, but it's out there. Some of the people really think that we were the bad guys.
R: Look at the kids now-a-days, they think that all the atrocities over in Germany didn't happen! You know, we made that all up!
E: In China they had a regular contest going between officers - who could behead the most!
H: That's why we gotta look out for China. And I don't trust Russia either.
E: And they did behead a bunch of people - a bunch of British airmen, and stuff like that.
L: With that in mind, then, do you have any suggestions on what we oughta be putting in our educational project that we're working on?
What's your suggestion? What should we be communicating to today's students?
H: Get rid of the war mongers, that's all you gotta do. Don't let them get the power that they got. Like this Kosovo now - that crook - he's gonna get by with it, you watch and see if he don't! He's got millions and millions of dollars buried someplace.
E: That's the other thing. All the programs, or anything you see referring to the war in the Pacific, is always up through the central Pacific. There's very little about the route that we took. And it's all goes up through Okinawa, Iwo Jima, the central Pacific route, and very little about MacArthur's route. And in fact, the thing that always gets me is, when they show a lot of these films, they show the landing craft coming into the beach, well the only way you can take that picture is if you got some guy standing on the beach! And if some guy's on the beach with a camera, photographing all this, he's not getting the first wave, he's just getting propaganda out there! In fact, we hardly ever had a photographer with us, the only photographer we ever had with us...I don't know about in the Philippines, but in New Guinea, the only one we had was a Life photographer, and he was with us in Buna.
H: Our Signal Corps was taking quite a few pictures.
H: In New Guinea.
E: I don't know what they did with them.
H: I don't know.
R: Ernie Pyle came with us after awhile.
E: Up in the Philippines.
H: Our Signal Corps was taking a lot of pictures.
R: In fact, Ernie Pyle, if I'm not mistaken, he got killed up there. He's buried in Hawaii someplace.
H: And, like I says, I lost four and a half good years with that war.
R: I figure five years of my life went.
H: Before I got in service, I was working 80 hours a week 30 cents an hour, and when I got my check, here, Ma, I gave my money up.
One thing I'll say, I found a home in the Army. I had more money. But then I was so used to working. I was taking in laundry work, I used to put on stripes and that, sew it on. Do K.P. for guys. I bought me a $40.00 camera at Camp Livingston! I was only making $21.00 the first four months. After that it was $30.00 a month. But, it's my life, what the hell you gonna do about it?!
E: That's why I brought that along about that Buna Mission bell. I was gonna ask you, I got a newspaper clipping...
H: Who's got the bell now?
E: Well, that's it! The last I knew I got a clipping home that says it was put on loan to the Oshkosh Museum by a...
R: By the Aulers?
E: No, Steckbauer!
R: Bill Steckbauer?
E: Not Bill Steckbauer, there was a Steckbauer in H Company.
H: From Berlin! Ed Steckbauer
E: I think it was Ed Steckbauer.
H: Used to work for Public Service. He's gone.
E: Is there any guy from H Company that can identify this bell? He says they think they got the bell here but they can't identify it.
H: I thought it was at the...
E: This is a newspaper clipping and it says...
H: Edgar, I thought it was over in Fort McCoy, over there, in the museum...
R: Here's this General Gil. He commanded the 32nd when we landed at Luzon.
E: No, I don't think so. No, it's not over there. Somebody claimed...Bloechl. Had it under his bed.
R: Here's the way it was being carried back and forth.
L: It looks like you kept a scrapbook through the war.
R: My mother kept it for me.
L: Is it just about 32nd or is it everything?
R: Everything. When she had 32nd then she really cut that out. Manila - we didn't do too much fighting at Manila. That was kind of easily taken.
L: Well, as we come down to the end here, gentlemen, is there anything else that you want to talk about, or anything we should be discussing?
H: Let's say how good the Aussies were to us.
R: They sure were. I don't know what we'd a done without the Aussies.
H: I met a couple that came to one of our reunions in town here. She wrote me the first letter, she says, Hank, be thankful that you got the country that you got, there's no other country like it. And they come over here and visit, they thank us, you know, being so friendly, what the hell, we gotta pay them back, they were good to us.
R: It was Sergeant Edward Steckbauer, Berlin, Wisconsin. I got that article. "Buna Mission bell brought to New Guinea [ ] will be run by returning heroes of war."
L: Do you all go to the reunions?
H: Oh, yeah.
H: Reuben, you had the last one.
R: No, I didn't go to Marinette.
H: No, I mean you had the last one in Oshkosh.
H: Then Edgar had it, then I had it in 1978.
R: I haven't heard anything lately about it, that the 32nd Division...National was gonna be here in Oshkosh.
H: That's what I heard!
E: I haven't heard a thing either.
R: Just in the 32nd Division news. They mentioned it, but I thought by this time we'd get some more information.
H: A guy from Milwaukee is supposed to come here and talk to these. I hope so.
L: Well, it's a perfect spot for it. It is an ideal spot for it, considering the men from Oshkosh that served in the First World War, and the Second World War, the wonderful Red Arrow monument...Could you ask for a better spot?
H: Our 27th reunion, we had a better turnout than the National did! We used to have over 300 people. 'Course now it's getting kinda slim - they're all passing away.
R: Here's an article about Ed Sweeney 'Veteran of War Dies in Hospital.'
H: Yeah, his dad come over with the telegram.
L: Well, ok, thanks very much.
|Oral History Interview with Reuben J. Drexler, Henry V. Kriha, and Edgar G. Lenz
-WORLD WAR II
-Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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