Oral History Interview with Robert Heise.

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Record 53/959
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Admin/Biog History Oral history interview with Robert Heise. Bob was born in Racine, Wisconsin in 1923. His parents came from the Union Grove area. His father was a tinsmith at J.I.. Case Company. He had one brother, several years older. His childhood was happy until the Depression when his father was laid off. An uncle on the farm helped them a lot with foodstuffs. They were on "relief," as were many of the families of Bob's friends. They made do with what they had but those were tough times for them.
Bob graduated from high school at age 17 and was aware of the troubles in Europe and the Far East before Pearl Harbor. He took a job at J.I. Case until he was drafted in March, 1943. He was assigned to the Navy and trained as a hospital corpsman after boot camp at Great Lakes N.T.S.
Bob's first assignment took him to a hospital in Bremerton, Washington, then to another Navy hospital just south of San Francisco. Life was pleasant with almost every other day being off duty for many of the corpsmen. Then Bob shipped out to Hawaii and served in a hospital on Oahu. Duty again was easy.
Bob eventually went to Saipan where his unit backed up two Marine Divisions. He served in a 500 bed Naval hospital with the rank of Pharmacist Third Class. He performed the duties a nurse would ordinarily perform. Casualties were heavy with many men sustaining head wounds.
After Saipan was secured, Bob's hospital unit participated in the invasion of Iwo Jima after a short rest in Hawaii. The hospital was set up in a secure area and only strafed once by the Japanese. He saw only two Japanese soldiers while in the islands; they were prisoners. He considered them very tough opponents. Casualties were heavy on Iwo also.
The end of the war in the Far East found Bob in a hospital unit on Maui. All rejoiced to hear of the dropping of the atom bomb, knowing that it helped bring an end to that war. Bob was sent home in October of 1945 and discharged. He worked at Massey-Harris in Racine for a short time, then went to the UW-Madison where he obtained a bachelors and then masters degree in theater arts. Bob was married in 1959. He did some professional acting before coming to Oshkosh in 1963 as a professor of speech and theater. He managed the Frederic March theater as well. He retired in 1990.
Classification Archives
Collection World War II Oral History Project
Dates of Accumulation October 10, 2003
Abstract Cassette recorded oral history intervie with Robert Heise, US Navy Corpsman serving with the Marine Corps on Saipan and Iwo Jima.

Robert Heise Interview
10 October 2003
Conducted by Tom Sullivan

{T: identifies the interviewer, Tom Sullivan; R: identifies the subject, Robert Heise. Open brackets [ ] or bracketed words indicate that either a word or phrase is not understood or that proper spelling for the word is unclear}.

T: It's October 10th, 2003 and I'm Tom Sullivan at the Oshkosh Public Museum with Robert Heise who is going to tell me about his experiences in the Second World War as well as his other life. Are you ready Bob?

R: Sure, any time.

T: Let's begin then by having you tell me when and where you were born?

R: I was born in Racine, Wisconsin on August 4th, 1923. And so obviously I wound up a Depression kid. I grew up in Racine during that time.

T: Were your mother and father both from that area as well?

R: My mother was from Union Grove. Actually she was adopted by people in Union Grove from Clinton, Wisconsin. Her mother died and her father couldn't handle it and so she was put up for adoption. My father however was born, I'm not quite sure although he told me many times, his father came from Germany, from Kossel in Germany. His mother came from Leipzig in Germany. They met in New York, in Schenectady I believe. And came here but there was a good deal of wandering and I'm not quite sure. I think my father might have been born in Oklahoma.

T: What did he do for a living in Racine?

R: My father?

T: Yeah.

R: That's a very interesting question, what he did. When I was a kid, he was a tinsmith and he worked for the J.I. Case Company most of the time. A very, very interesting background before that though. I'll spend a couple of minutes if I may on that.

He lived, he was born but not raised on a farm out near Wind Lake, Wisconsin which is west of Union Grove. And his father had bought a parcel of land out there that was a swamp. And he drained it. He got together with a bunch of farmers in the neighborhood and made farmland out of it. Beautiful farmland. Very black and rich farmland.

But my grandfather was a very old strict Prussian type of person. He looked like the Kaiser. He really did. And he acted like one too. So that the kids developed the farm, his children. My father being the oldest did most of the development. He tells about how he was the first man, or first person to turn a furrow on the farm. And of course being an old swamp, he plowed a furrow and when he kicked the plow around to take, make the second one, the first one folded back in. And he had to do it all over again.

And his father, my father referred to his father as "the best rocking-chair farmer in the world," in that he never did anything himself. He had his kids do everything. At the time he was a stationary engineer in the water plant in South Milwaukee. Tended the boilers, in other words. And so he was there all week long and he left a list of things for the kids to do while he was gone. And so that was my father's background.

And he got tired of that. It may be indelicate to say so but he got tired of looking at a horse's ass all the time. And he asked his father, his father was perfectly willing to let him join the Navy. And he joined the Navy and oddly enough, being a farm boy you know, you wouldn't expect him to be a sailor and they stuck him down in the boiler room. And guess what? He learned how to run boilers just like his father did only on a battleship of course.

So he went into Union Grove. In those days you know, this was 1911-12. In those days going into Racine was quite a chore, being about 15-20 miles out, you know. And so he looked for something in Union Grove and he found tending a boiler in a greenhouse. They had a big greenhouse there. It was a commercial greenhouse. Supplied Milwaukee and Racine with flowers. And he did that for a couple of years but being sophisticated with boilers, he'd set the boiler up for the day and two or three times a day, he didn't even have to coal the thing because he'd bank the fires. So he worked around the place and got a reputation as being a good worker. Which was difficult in Union Grove because he was a sailor and they were wicked, you know. Girls weren't allowed to go out with him you know, because he was a sailor. But he was a farmer and so he had some action but not very much. But he did get a reputation as being a good worker.

And there was a man named Frank Miles who had a large acreage in hemp and he also had a factory, a hemp factory. That sounds impressive. It was a very small unit but it was the biggest unit in Union Grove. And so he hired Dad away to tend his boilers which were considerably bigger but not much. And he did the same thing. He'd bank the fires and so he had nothing to do. And so he'd go around the plant fixing things. Farm boys you know, are good at that. And they learn how to do all kinds of stuff. So he started doing stuff around the plant other than that. And finally it was one of those situations that anything needed to be done, they went to him. And Frank Miles was impressed with this and made him foreman of the factory. And this oddly enough, opened the door for my father getting married.

My mother having been adopted, was adopted by a very prominent farmer in the neighborhood and he was retired and lived in Union Grove at that time. He saw that Dad was interested in his daughter and he didn't approve because of that sailor thing, you know? And so he packed up mother and sent her to Long Beach, California to visit his wife's brother and keep her out of there and away from Dad, see?

T: Out of his clutches.

R: And being hired by Frank Miles who was very prominent in Union Grove opened the door. If Frank Miles approved of Dad, then he must be all right. So he brought his daughter home. And it's a very funny way he proposed. He finally got to the point where he was allowed to walk her, to walk out with her of a Sunday afternoon for two hours.

And one Sunday afternoon they were out walking and some of the girls in town were on the other side of the street. And he had been flirting with them while Mother was in California. He was flirting back again. And you know, he just forgot about Mother. He didn't realize, he just forgot about Mother being alongside of him, boiling like a boiler, you know? And finally they were so far down the street and he was walking backwards. And he turned around and ran face first into a tree. And she suggested that since he liked trees so much, maybe he ought to start one of his own. And he proposed then. And they were married and he worked there. They bought a house and he worked for Frank Miles and my brother came along in 1919.

T: How many children were there in your family? Just the two of you?

R: Yes. My brother and I and of course I wasn't there yet. And John was born and everything seemed to be fine and then of course along came the 20's, the roaring 20's. And also people started smoking grass - hemp. You know, marijuana. And of course the hemp that was grown for making ropes, doll's hair and all kind of things like that was not the same thing at all. But Frank Miles was a very shrewd man and he saw what was coming, the disallowing hemp being grown. And so he sold the business and he offered Dad to come along with him.

And he moved to Manila and set up a factory over there. And Dad didn't go because Mother didn't want to I suppose, among other things. And so he was really out of a job. An interesting corollary story here is that Frank Miles went there. He was very successful. He opened a hemp plant there and bought fields there and did everything.

But when the Japanese occupied that, they took everything he owned. And he was in Santo Thomas prison camp for four years. But, when they were liberated, he went to his old home and it was in perfect condition. It had been occupied by Japanese officers who were very fastidious people. So while well worn, it was not disheveled at all. It was very well kept. And what is more is the Japanese, in order to keep the natives happy, paid rent on it. Because the woman across the street had convinced them that that was their house and Frank Miles had only rented from them. And so they paid rent. And so they saved it and gave it to Frank when he came back. They'd also used the hemp plant and so it was in perfect working condition. And so he had that.

But he'd had enough of that and so he sold everything, came back to the United States. And all of his investments in the United States had burgeoned. And he had a fortune waiting for him when he came home. I met him when he came home. I was out of the service by that time, and met him when he came home. He was a very nice pleasant man and he just came home to visit and see the old stomping grounds and everything. And then he retired and he retired to California.

And the interesting part of it is, is that when Mother was sent to California, she was sent to this brother-in-law of her father's in Long Beach. And Frank Miles, the guy that made it possible for Mother to marry Dad, retired to Long Beach, California. Interesting circle. And what goes around, comes around. And I wasn't even here yet and here we got this part of the interview going and I wasn't even in the picture yet.

T: Well, let's get your dad to Racine. How did that happen?

R: Well he was out of a job. And so he searched around. By that time, being married and a guy in his middle twenties, he knew his way around a little bit better than that. He went into Milwaukee and looked around and got a job as a riveter at A.O. Smith. He went and stood in line. This was at the time of the Depression in the early twenties. And he went there and they had a long line of guys looking for jobs. And the guy came back along the line and said they were only interested in one thing, "We need a riveter." And Dad said, "I'm a riveter."

T: Good move.

R: Yeah. He had never done any riveting in his life but he had been in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and he'd seen people riveting all the time when he was there. But he wasn't paying any attention to them doing it but he had seen it anyway. Knew kind of how they moved and everything. So they took him into the factory to test him out to see whether he really was or not. They weren't that stupid, you know. And he watched them for awhile. He said, "I've got to watch them to see what your technique is." Because he says in Brooklyn they may do it differently than you did here, you know. Baloney, you know. But he needed a job and there was a little depression there and he needed a job. So he watched them for awhile and the first rivet he did was perfect and so they hired him. And he tells about, he made mistakes but even the veterans make mistakes, you know. Nobody thought anything about it. And since he hadn't done it for awhile, you know, they passed him.

And so he worked there for several weeks. He said after the first day, he said he could hardly get out of bed in the morning because of the, his muscles were just worn, weren't used to that. My dad was a very strong man, beautifully developed body because when he was in the Navy he was stroke oar on their racing boat. And of course he shoveled coal [ ] in the black gang and everything. I have picture of him at home. He looks like Tarzan. Has a beautiful body on him and he looked like that when he died at 97. Just beautiful shape he was in.

But that didn't last very long because he didn't like it. It was noisy and dirty and everything so he looked around and he finally wound up, I don't know what he first did at the J.I. Case Company but he wound up at J.I. Case in Racine where he was to spend the rest of his career. And ah, but along the line he learned tinsmithing. He wound up before he retired, he retired when he was 67, as foreman of the maintenance, sheet metal maintenance. Putting up new pipes and stuff like that throughout the plant. So he had a successful career doing a number of things. I think probably having been a farmer, you learn to do so many things and you see em once or twice and you can do it. Crudely at first but you gain it. That's how he learned his trade.

T: Tell me about growing up in Racine.

R: Racine was, in my recollection of it, of course I was born in 1923. And that was a very pleasant era in Racine. All of the sicknesses and illnesses of the early 20's were gone and it was prosperous before the 1929. From about '22 to '29 were very prosperous happy years in Racine. Everybody was working and the town was a very pleasant place to be. And enjoyed working at the plant. And we used to travel; tent camp and that sort of thing. And everything was fine until of course, 1929.

T: Then you were about what, seven or eight years old?

R: Well in '29 I was six years old.

T: So you probably have some recollection of the depression era. Did it affect your family?

R: Oh yes.

T: Your dad worked at J.I. Case. Were they laying off people?

R: Yeah. Well, like most of the factories, they stumbled along for awhile but the farmers were in a depression too and they were better off in many ways than other people because they certainly had enough to eat, most of em. My father grew up on that farm at Wind Lake which his brother now owned. So as far as food was concerned, we had plenty to eat. My uncle would send in potatoes, and apples, eggs, chickens, that sort of thing. We had one set of neighbors who were very nasty. Dad had a friend who ran a garage and he set it up with Dad. If Dad would take him to work in the morning at his garage, he could use the car and go out and work for his brother on the farm. And then his brother wasn't making much money but they did have plenty of food. And then the neighbor next door turned us in. He was, we were at that time, we were on relief and she tattled you know. Actually Dad wasn't earning any money from his brother. His brother had plenty of produce but no money.

T: I understand.

R: Yeah. And so that was knocked out. It finally took our family physician to go to the relief board or whatever it was called, and lay down the law to them. Because we, for my brother and I were given a quart of skim milk every other day. And that was…

T: For growing boys that's not very much is it.

R: No. Well the neighbors a couple of doors down got four quarts of whole milk for their two boys. And he raised hell. We had a nasty, nasty woman. I remember it was just like Dorothy and the witch in the Wizard of Oz. She was mean. She was downright mean. And after she was turned in, she was even meaner. But she did not any longer withhold anything. And one thing I can remember most of all, we had relief clothing too. And that meant knickers with buckles on them; and wool and that would not do you know, to a kid.

T: How about your friends; were they in the same boat?

R: Some were. Some were, some weren't. There were for instance, some of the men the fathers in the area were oh, like a foreman in a factory. Some of them, across the street was an executive at the Walker Jack Co. And they were doing well, not well but they were getting paid anyway. And we weren't getting anything. And Dad would walk the streets every day.

I remember I found 50 cents on the street one time and my mother confiscated it and we lived for a week on it. Because everything was so inexpensive in those days. But we managed to get through it even though it was embarrassing for kids, you know, not to have anything. I got to the age, you know in the late '30's of wanting to date girls but I couldn't afford to do it. So that was embarrassing too. But overall we had a lot of fun and …

T: In those days, kids could make their own fun. They didn't have to have the things that children have today.

R: Oh, that's right. We were a very imaginative group. The kid across the alley from me, his father was working. He was the foreman of the steel house at Massey-Harris Co. and they had money because he was getting paid. But he and I played hours; we made model airplanes and we had an airport and everything, you know, to play with. And we did stuff like that with all the kids. Sword fighting with garbage can covers for a shield. We did all kinds of things and we had a lot of fun. Because everybody was pretty much in the same boat and you understood this.

T: When you went high school, was the Depression still something that was…?

R; It was in its last, in it waning days, the Depression was. Dad was back to work. The wages weren't huge but it was better than nothing certainly. And it was better than being on relief, certainly. If nothing else that your pride was blossoming again. Pride in what you did. And so we, it was recovering. And of course, while we weren't at war, the rest of the world was, practically. And …

T: Did you think about that very much? Other people that I've interviewed, some of them were quite aware of things going on in the rest of the world, but there were some that just had no idea of the troubles in the Far East or in Europe for that matter. Were you aware of what was going on?

R: Oh yes. Racine was, I found this out in the service. My high school education was far and away better than most. The educational system in Wisconsin was, must have been vastly superior. During the war, and of course I'll get to that in a minute, but I was a hospital corpsman. And to be in the Navy. And to be a hospital corpsman, you had to have a high school education. And some of the guys that were hospital corpsmen were high school educated but they didn't learn anything. They must have had a terrible, terrible education and they were mostly well, what we'd call generally, hill-billy types.

T: I've heard people from the South comment about that. Teachers that have taught for a period of time in the South, saying that their educational systems down there were much inferior to those in the North.

R: Well I had a guy threaten to, his name was Ford, he was one of these hill-billy types. And he had a high school education but he and his friends, their grammar was terrible and you'd mention something and they didn't know what you were talking about. And it was second nature here in Wisconsin. We all talked the same way, you know. Ford offered to beat me up one time because I was using fancy language. And I was using the language that we all used here in Wisconsin. It wasn't anything unusual at all.

T: When did you graduate from high school?

R: In 1941. June of 1941. Right into World War II.

T: You were prime meat really.

R: Oh yes.

T: Do you remember Pearl Harbor, what you were doing then?

R: I can tell you exactly. I graduated when I was 17. And that meant I couldn't get a job because you had to be 18 in most places to get a job, because you were a minor. Well you were a minor even when you were 18 in those days.

But I went to the J.I. Case Company because so were all my friends who worked there. In the mailroom. And I became a mail boy which seems redundant because of them. God, one of them became a General. Yeah. But we all knew each other from - one way or the other. And we, I went there right out, as soon as I graduated because I'd heard about this job. And they wouldn't take me because I was only 17.

But the day I was 18, I went there and they hired me. And that was nice. I enjoyed the job except my boss was a perfect jerk. Here he was, he was 55 years old and he was the boss of the boys, you know. That didn't tell you much about him, you know. Because anybody could have done what he did, which was practically nothing. And I didn't like working there because of him. But I got the job primarily because of my father working for J.I. Case, you know. So they factored me in when I was 18 years old. So that's the first thing I did.

And so the weekend of the 6th of December, I went up to visit my brother. Now my brother was a chemist. He'd graduated from college the same day practically, that I graduated from high school. He was exactly four years older than I am. We were both born in August. And I went up to visit him, just for the heck of it, for the weekend. Going to Milwaukee was easy in those days because of the North Shore Railroad. And so I was up there. And I can remember the night before, we went to the Riverside Theater to watch a movie. Whatever that was I don't know, but I do know that they always had a movie and vaudeville of some kind. And the vaudeville of that night was Les Brown and his Band of Renown. Do you remember that?

T: Oh yes, very well.

R: You remember that he was heavy brass. Lots of brass. Lots of trombones. Lots of … And my brother groaned because he was a snob from the university, you know. Only symphonies were good enough. But when he heard Les Brown playing some of these symphonies in jazz form with all this solid brass, he was impressed. And we'd both been in the Boy Scout Drum Corps down there. And to hear that kind of music coming out of just horns impressed him.

But the next morning, we went down to a local greasy spoon someplace. And this was on Wells Street or Prospect or something like that. As we were sitting there having breakfast, they announced Pearl Harbor. And I can remember my brother sitting there and says, "Well, there goes my career."

And oddly enough, it did in a way. A very interesting story coming up here because it's part of the war, even though it's not combat per se.

My brother worked for Johnston Candy and Cookie Company. And one of the projects that he started working on were these candy bars that you found in K rations. The kind you melted down and made cocoa, or you could eat them if your teeth didn't break because they were very hard. And he was working on the development of this. And because of this, he was, even though the war had started by this time, he had - what do they call it - it's when you can't be drafted.

T: 4-F?

R: No, no, no, no, no. Nothing like that.

T: A deferment?

R: Deferment. He got a deferment because of this. It was a war industry you know, and a very important one. And that held and I wasn't, I was registered for the draft of course. I was 18 but nothing was happening. And then the interesting thing happened. They found out that the guy that was the chairman of our draft board in Racine, because my brother was in the same draft board I was, was taking the numbers of younger men, the ones that were not likely to be drafted yet, and giving them to his son. He'd take his son's number and give it to the kid he'd take the number off of. These kids, I don't know, to this day I wonder how many of those young fellows (who) were drafted earlier than they should have been were killed.

Yeah, he did that. And then he started doing it for his friends' sons too. And when the time came you know, that my brother was called up for the draft, he asked for his deferment because he wasn't through yet. And this guy refused. He refused; "You've had enough deferments." This kind of attitude he had. And my brother joined V-7, which was an officer's training thing for the Navy and became an officer in the Navy. But he wasn't able to finish his deferment at all.

But before I was called off, they caught him. And he had fouled up the records so badly it was a year and a half before anybody in our draft area was drafted. My brother [ ] so fast, he'd have been making chocolates yet! I don't know how many years he spent in jail for doing that.

But in the meantime I had left J.I. Case, went to work for Massey-Harris and wound up in the production department, the office, production office. And I had I think it was two or three dozen accounts. I was only 19 years old but they took me out of the factory and had me doing this. I was, what I was, was a production expediter. And this was not deferrable because anybody could learn it if they had you know, at least a reasonable education. But in that whole time, I took a guy's place who was drafted and for a whole year and several months, it was well over a year, I was doing that. And enjoying it very much. It was exciting because Massey-Harris at that time was making tanks and shells, artillery shells. And what I was doing were little component parts for this and that, that were… It was a very, very exciting time and being 19, you know this was incredible really, that I was able to do it at all. Just marvelous. Interesting part of it is that when the war was over, the guy that I replaced came home too. And we all, we both got our jobs back and of course the jobs were totally different because we were back to making tractors, and combines and that sort of thing. But it was kinda nice to see him back again. Because we did work together for several weeks; he was teaching me what to do.

T: When did you go into the service, Bob?

R: I went into the service in March of 1943.

T: Did you enlist in the Navy?

R: No. No, I was drafted. I didn't want to give up my job. And I knew it was inevitable but I waited. And so I went up to Milwaukee to get the physical exams and all that sort of thing. And an interesting, when you're up there, you hope that they'll find that you're too ill to serve but when you get there with all the other guys, you would be ashamed if you weren't.

But I was drafted into the Navy and I was sent down to Great Lakes Naval Training Station. And it was kind of nice being so close to home, although I couldn't go there. I was close. And toward the end of the boot camp, they give you a battery of tests to see what you're good at. And my test scores showed that I would be, or was capable of being a hospital corpsman or a um, well for goodness sakes, quartermaster. And I knew better than to apply for quartermaster because my math skills aren't what they should be. And I had visions of me taking sightings and things like that, and steering down into Antarctica or some damn place. Because I didn't know what, to do the figures correctly. So I became a hospital corpsman.

T: Where did you get your unit training, you training as a corpsman? Where did that take place?

R: Great Lakes.

T: It did, eh?

R: Yeah. They had, the neat part about that is, by this time I was engaged to a girl, of course. I was engaged. And when you were at hospital corps school, you had liberty every weekend. And the North Shore ran right through the middle of Great Lakes. And so every weekend I'd go home. And that was kinda nice.

T: Your girl was in Racine then.

R: She was in Racine, sure. And so that was nice. Every weekend, it's just like working and dating your fiancée on weekends. No different. So that was a very nice deal. But that isn't the end of my good fortune. I think if somebody were to ask me to say what was the outstanding feature of my time in the service, I would say luck. I had all kinds of lucky things happen to me. And of course I'm home, that's lucky enough.

But at any rate, I was there until I graduated. And I was there for a couple of weeks more until…

T: How long was that period of training?

R: The training was eight weeks, two months you know. That's kinda nice. And so they shipped me out to the Bremerton Naval Hospital in Bremerton, Washington, which is across Puget Sound from Seattle. I worked in the Naval Hospital there. And of course that was a Navy shipyard. And a very interesting part about my being there, I think, was that the Enterprise, the "Big E" was in for repairs after Midway. And we'd go down and look at it you know. And that was kind of interesting.

But interesting still, was I knew that a friend of mine with whom I was in high school moved there, practically within a month of graduating from high school. Leo Heide, his name was.

T: How do you spell that last name?

R: Heide? H-E-I-D-E. Heide. And he was sort of a [Danes] in Racine. His father and mother were. And he was out there and he had gotten married you know, in the interim here. And so I went to pay a duty call on him. He was a purser in the Merchant Marine on a merchant vessel someplace. And he was out to see but I didn't know that of course. But I went to see his wife as a duty call. Because we had been corresponding for years. And his wife was a very nice person but he was out to sea. And his parents were very nice, her parents were very nice to me. I never did see his parents. As long as I knew him, I never saw his parents. They were strange. Grumpy people.

But at any rate, I went to see her and they said, "Why don't you come here on week-end?" You know. So I did the whole time that I was in Bremerton. I went there every weekend. I dated his wife so to speak. We went places and of course the question of hanky-panky or anything like that, I wouldn't do such things, you know. Certainly not when he's out to sea. But his parents had trusted me, you know. So we had a good time for a long time. They had, he was working for the city and had plenty of gasoline as a result of it. So they took me all kinds of places and showed me a high time.

And then I got shipped out to San Francisco and I called em up to tell them I wouldn't be in any more. And they said, "Oh, I'm glad you called because she'll be, she won't be here. Leo's ship came in and she's gone to visit him." I said, "Oh, that's good." She said, "Yeah, she's out in San Francisco." And I said, "Well, what do you know!" I said, "I'm being shipped out too and I'm going to San Francisco." She said, "Let me give you their hotel number." And I said, "No you don't; he's gonna [ ]. And I'm certainly not going to barge in on a couple that haven't seen each other for six months." And I said, "If I run into em, fine." I didn't. But I was there for a long time.

I was stationed at a very interesting place. Tan Foran Race Track. That was south of San Francisco.

T: How do you spell that?

R: Tan Foran?

T: Yeah. I've never even heard of it.

R: Well, T-A-N Foran.

T: F-O-R-A-N?

R: It was a big race track. It's along about where I think, where I think Candlestick Park is. Somewhere in that area.

T: South end of town.

R: Yeah. And that was the internment camp for Japanese. You remember when they interned them all over the West Coast? Well, before we were assigned there, that's what it was. And so we moved into the same barracks they were in. And if you think it was sad that they did that to the Japanese nationals, Japanese-American nationals, you should have seen those barracks. They were just big wooden barns and the floorboards were that far apart in there. Drafts coming up. And if you say, well it's San Francisco. Couldn't have been so bad. In the winter at night, it's bad; it's cold. So, well they had lots of lumber there and we were able to put in floors for ourselves and everything.

But after that happened, there was nothing to do. We were assigned to a unit; it was called a "cub unit." These were medical units, field hospitals really, that were intended to be on islands after they were taken. And the wounded from other operations were to be flown in to these islands.

Unfortunately, the idea of the cub unit, and there were others called lion units, same thing but just bigger, were thought of before the Pacific was secured enough for them. And so the ones that they did activate were bombed a lot and the casualties were so high it was ridiculous. And so they figured well, the best thing to do is to attach these things to Marine divisions. Because those would be covered even though they were close to combat. They will be covered with air cover and all that sort of thing. And likely to be safer.

So our whole unit was transferred to the United States Marines. The Navy consists of three parts: the Fleet, the Hospital Corps and the Marine Corps. So we weren't actually out of the Navy, we were just out of the part of the Navy that was the Fleet, you see. And so transferring em was what these units were for. The Marine Corps initially was the army of the Navy.

So we were transferred to San Diego from there. But an interesting thing, we didn't have anything to do. One thing about being a hospital corpsman is, is that your duties had to be medical. You couldn't be forced to do anything unless it was a medical watch of some kind. In other words, we couldn't be on KP. You couldn't be on work details unless it was related to work. Even our own supplies being packed up for combat, we couldn't do that. Marines had to do that. Because it wasn't a medical watch. Well of course we didn't moan and groan about that.

T: I wouldn't think so.

R: No, it was really nice to do that. But we didn't have anything to do. At Tan Foran. We had liberty every other day.

{The first tape ends here}.

R: We didn't have anything to do. We got tired of going into San Francisco. Can you imagine that? We had so much liberty we, this was not the only time this ever happened to us either. But, we had a guy named Rosenthal. He was a First Class Pharmacist's Mate. I was a Third Class Pharmacist's Mate at that time. And he said he was bored. And so he said, "Let's go out and march; it's something to do." And so we went out. And we had learned to march in boot camp of course, but marching wasn't big in the Navy. Now I had been in a drum corps and I knew a lot about marching. Been in the Racine Boy Scout Drum Corps for many years.

So he'd take the whole company out and we would march, for a couple of hours. And we did that every day for weeks. And we were good. He really put us through, he'd get so that he'd put us through the drill doing everything under the sun. And then he came across a manual that said, that described the Marine Corps Marching Manual. That's the one where they pound the butts and twirl the rifles and all that sort of thing. And we learned that too.

And the reason I mentioned that was because when we were transferred to the Marines, the first thing that they thought they had to teach us was how to march.

T: They got a surprise.

R: Well, you know here we were. I was a Third Class Pharmacist's Mate; that's the same as a three star sergeant. {Bob means three stripes}. Rosenthal, a First Class Pharmacist's Mate; he was the same as a two rocker sergeant, Master Sergeant. {Master Sergeant has three rockers}. And here was this three-stripe sergeant was to be our drill instructor. And it's kind of a funny situation to put him in because most of us outranked him. And we were given a lecture on being nice to him. Which is certainly different than the Marine Corps training stations.

But he got us out there and he was explaining how to do this and how to do that. We listened to him very patiently. And then he said, "Now we'll start." And he started marching us. And everything he asked us to do, we did perfectly. And so then he started throwing some other stuff at us and we did that perfectly too. And he stopped us. And he said, "You've done this before, haven't you?" And we said yes. And he said, "Have you got any other surprises for me?" And he pointed to Rosenthal and he knew he was in charge of it because he had marched us to the grinder. And he said, "Okay, you take over and show me what you can do." And when we did the Marine Corps Marching Drill, the guy almost fainted. And when we looked around, here were a whole bunch of guys standing with their eyeballs bunging out like that, seeing a bunch of sailors. Because we didn't have Marine Corps uniforms yet. And we were in our sailor suits. And it just boggled their mind that we could do that.

But they did put us through another eight weeks of training, training we didn't get of course in Navy boot camp. Crawling along under fire and all that kind of thing. We did all that and that was a rugged go. But here again, we had liberty every single weekend. We were only a half an hour drive by bus to San Diego. And so we went there.

And then the big surprise came. My fiancée's brother was a drill instructor at San Diego, a Marine training station. And she came out to visit and stayed in his apartment. And so for eight weeks, my fiancée was right there. You see what I mean about luck? Everything fell into place. And that was very nice. And then her sister came out and stayed too. So that gave a date for some of my buddies. And so we had a real good time out there during training period.

But of course the time came when she had to go back. Running out of money, to her job.

T: Did you go overseas?

R: Oh yes. I'm coming to that.

T: When did that occur?

R: Shortly after Dorothy, that was her name, came back from, or went home. Shortly after that. We knew it was, it had to be soon. I mean you look how long I'd been in the service and never even thought of going overseas.

But one thing I remember about that. Before we went overseas, we had to go through a physical. Any time you made a move you had a physical. We were sent to a psychologist and I remember this; here you are stark naked, standing in front of this guy. And he said, "Do you want to go overseas?" And I said, "No." He said, you could just see him - ah, I've got one - you know. I was a live one. He said, "Why not?" I said, "Anybody's a damn fool that wants to go overseas and get shot at." I said, "I'll go because it's my duty as a citizen. But do I want to? No way!" That was just a little incident.

But went over on a single ship convoy, if you want to call one single ship a convoy.

T: That's sort of unusual. When was that Bob? What was the year and the approximate date that you went over.

R: You know, I couldn't tell you. I'd have to have my discharge in front of me.

T: What Marine unit were you attached to? What division.

R: What we were when we went overseas, it was the, let's see, FMF Hospital, gosh I used to be able to rattle that off. But was, Medical Battalion, FMF. Fleet Marine Force. Medical Battalion. In other words, we were headquarters troops. And our hospital was, superceded any unit hospitals that they may have. We were bigger. We were a 500-bed hospital which is sizable. It's as big as the one we got out here. Not as pretty but we had that. And so we went overseas as that.

And we went to Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands for preparation. And never received any training whatsoever. The Marines packed all of our gear and everything. We were all ready to go. We had liberty every other day. And believe it or not, here you were in Hawaii and you go sick of going ashore all the time. But we had nothing to do in it. It's just, it seems to me that it's strange that there wasn't some kind of unit training. But there wasn't. And we were halfway, we were stationed in a tent camp that was half way between Oahu, er Honolulu and Pearl Harbor. It was in the middle of an old pineapple field. They were growing along the fence line. We'd pick em and eat em like an apple, after we peeled them of course. Little tiny ones like that are good. And so we were there long enough for some of the guys to take a job at the Dole Pineapple Company. Instead of liberty, they'd go and work for the Dole Pineapple Company.

But that wasn't long. It was a very, very short period of time. And then they shipped us out. We shipped out of Pearl Harbor and for a month and a half we were on our way. We stopped at the Marshall's and camped there for a long time. Day after day after day. Boring, aw it was terrible.

But at that time, when we upped anchor from there, that they told us they were going to Saipan. And most of us didn't know where Saipan was. Been told, they said it's in the Mariannas Islands. I knew where that was from geography in high school. And Guam, you certainly knew where Guam was.

And so we were on our way to there. And we never encountered any trouble until we arrived off the island. But even then, until we started the landing proceedings, nothing was happening at all. But they'd been bombarding the island for days, and days and days with battleships and cruisers and things. And of course a lot of aircraft coming in there. There were a lot of aircraft carriers around. And you'd swear that nothing would survive it. But we learned the hard way during that war that you could bomb until eternity and there would still be some there to get you.

But they landed, we had speakers on the ship we were on, speakers on the ship, you could hear the guys talking back and forth to each other on the island. And I remember one guy saying, "This landing was positively easy." Well, by noon it wasn't easy anymore. But it was a very well done operation. What they would do was, I keep looking at the deer every time that clock strikes. In that they were very, very carefully plotting out where there artillery was.

T: Where the Jap artillery was.

R: The Jap artillery. And the minute they'd find one, they'd take it out. And this was to prove invaluable. By the time we landed which was D-6, being a large hospital unit like that, they didn't have, there wasn't any place to land to and put up our tents and everything. By the time we landed, I don't think there was an artillery piece in existence on the island. Everything else but not that. And we landed at a city, town really, of Cha Lan Kanoa. {Spelling taken from a map of Saipan}.

T: How do you spell that? That sounds like a tongue twister.

R: No, if I had my book here, I could tell you how it's… But Cha Lan is with a C. And Kanoa. And it had been a sugar factory town. The sugar factory of course had been blown to cinders by this time. But there wasn't a building up in that town. Just wrecks of em. I remember right in the center of the town was a crater of the size of which you wouldn't believe. Where a single 16 inch shell from a battleship had landed. It was the size of a city block. And how anybody lived through that, I don't know.

And we were there for a few days and then when the area where we were going was cleared, we went there and set up our hospital. And it was interesting because well within view, probably about oh, 5-600 yards from us was an army hospital too. There was one division of army in the battle of Saipan; two Marine divisions and one of, we had the 4th Marine Division and think the other one was the 5th. And this, I think it was the 15th Division of the Army. But I've got a book at home that tells all of this.

T: When did you start filling up those 500 beds?

R: Almost immediately. Oh yeah, they were, we were set up and ready to receive within 24 hours. I remember because during that, what was happening was we were setting up these things. What we were doing was setting up cots for the wounded to use. And it came time for a rest and so we stretched out on em. We were practically half-naked all the time on that island because it was so hot that time of the year. And as we were lying there, we had put mosquito net over it because there were mosquitoes and flies mostly, to keep away from you. And we were lying there dozing off and shooting the breeze and the Japanese strafed us. Every so often they came in and strafed us. And we tried to roll off of our cots, although I don't know what good that would have done, being on the ground or a foot and a half in the air. But we couldn't get out because we had our mosquito bar underneath it. So we were all hanging off the side of our cot in our mosquito bar, laughing our heads off at what we were being strafed. Because it was kind of ridiculous, all these naked guys sittin there, you know.

But we ended up with that and we had a Seabee outfit on top of the hill. There was a part about this that was not so nice. Beyond the strafing we were never bothered with anything.

T: I was going to ask you that, if there was any other Japanese…

R: No. We were well behind the lines there. But we had some of the most brilliant surgeons you'd ever want to meet in our whole hospital unit. But you've never met snottier, nastier human beings than those doctors. They were rotten. They were all conceited as hell. They were good, there's no question about it. You saw their work and it was just… We had one guy who was one of the nicer ones and his name was Palmettier. And he was a brain surgeon. I think he was in the top five in the United States. Unfortunately he was an alcoholic. They'd shoot him with caffeine and he'd go in and operate brilliantly. And then just collapse - he was so drunk.

T: What was your job at that particular point? What kind of work were you doing in this…?

R; Well I was a ward corpsman. You did whatever needed to be done. You know what we were, was male nurses. That's what it amounted to. Probably seeing things that happened to human beings that were much worse than the nurses ever see in hospitals here. There were no nurses in those days. We were the nurses. I know that when we did encounter nurses, we knew more than they did. Because many of the nurses in those days were two year wonders. They didn't have the whole nursing training because they was rushing them through in it. And I've worked with some of those nurses. They had me do everything because they didn't know how. And it was kind of pitiful but the Marines liked em because they were women, you know. And of course there were some of them that were excellent nurses as well.

One guy, this is a very interesting story, he was a male nurse. He had been a male nurse for 15 years. And when he went into the service, he had every right to expect, being a registered nurse, that he'd be made an officer. And all they'd offer him was Second Class Pharmacist's Mate. And he said, "Why? I mean, there's women out there that have not had as much training, certainly not the experience that I've had. And they're officers. How come I can't be an officer?" and they said, "It's because you're a man." And he said, "What has that got to do with it?" They said, "Well, you can't sleep in the nurses quarters. You're a man." And he said, "Well, why can't I bachelor officer's quarters then?" "You can't do that because, well, nurses don't sleep in bachelor's officers quarters. That's not allowed." He was in a 'catch 22'.

T: Pharmacists had the same problem.

R: Yes they did. Because we had one of those too. He was a pharmacist and he had been a pharmacist for 35 years. He was just within the age limit and they wouldn't make him an officer either because he was a man.

T: What kind of casualties did you see during your stay there? Were they mostly from small arms or were they from artillery? Because you said a lot of the artillery had been knocked out. What was the nature of most of the casualties?

R: Oh, most of em were infantrymen. Naturally some of them were officers too but they were officers of infantry units.

T: Had they been treated anywhere before they got to your hospital?

R: Oh yes.

T: They'd been in the battalion aid station or something like that?

R: Usually the corpsman in the field treated them first. That was just what they could do at the moment. And then they shipped em back to a battalion aid. And from battalion aid they received better treatment, and then they'd come back to us. And we'd ship em off to hospital ships or whatever.

T: I was going to ask what was the next step. So they went to the hospital ship from you.

R: Yeah, it was mostly that. We did have an interesting situation though. Before we left Cha Lan Kanoa for our position, there was a huge internment camp for [Chamorro} Indian, not prisoners but natives of the island. Chamorros they were called. And there were men and women. And they were civilians. Most of em had been working in the sugar plants, the sugar industry in there. Men and women and children and they had this huge camp where they took them. Because while they were natives of the island and hated the Japanese, you never know whether they were all that way or not.

So they were interned under guard. But they had set up a hospital for them and we were the hospital that was set up. We weren't doing anything anyway. We couldn't go, and in between Cha Lan Kanoa and, gosh I can't offhand think of the other city. It was the capital city at the time, of Saipan. But, begins with a G but I can't remember. But anyway it was halfway between there. And aw, sanitary conditions were miserable. You could smell that hospital camp a mile away.

But we went in there and the ward I was on was all women and children. And it was kind of interesting you know, for us. We were all young men and the women were half-naked. But it was so pitiful, there wasn't any lust involved. Because the beautiful, some of these women were just gorgeous women. But they were so severely wounded and one of them that was from, one of my patients, she had a baby and she had pulmonary edema which means that her lungs were filling up with fluid.

She had been in a cave and what the Japanese did is that they'd push all these civilian men and women alike up ahead of them. And they'd be behind them in the cave. And when our flame-throwers came along - because they used them liberally on Saipan - they'd blow it in there and these women would breathe this hot air, and the children too. And the Japanese were way back around the corner. And I suppose some of them probably got that, happened to em too. But mostly not. And they were back far enough and didn't inhale that superheated air.

But she had pulmonary edema and it was so pitiful to see here trying to breathe. And her husband came every day from the prisoner camp - they did that - to see her. And I was with them when she died. The man was just devastated and so was I because I had gotten to know her, you know.

T: From what you had seen and observed, what was your opinion of the Japanese soldier? Were they a tough opponent?

R: Oh yes. They were good soldiers. No question. On Saipan, I saw two. They were patients too. This same hospital I was talking about that had the civilians in also had them. There were only two in the whole hospital. But I worked that ward one day. And they weren't terribly wounded but disabled enough so that they… And they were sullen, nasty. You'd bring em food and they wouldn't eat it. We didn't care. We'd put it down there. If they didn't want it, they'd knock it over. We just let em, if that's what they wanted to do.

It rained quite a bit on Saipan. And one day it rained and the water started to leak into the tent from outside. Because it was hot and the tents were rolled up and everything. And so the commanding officer decided these should be trenched, these tents. And when they came to this tent with the two Japanese in, they were the only ones in the tent of course. Under guard. And they handed em a shovel because they weren't so disabled they couldn't trench it in. And they refused to do it. So we called the interpreter over who was a Chamorro, and emptied a, we emptied a rifle out of sight. Gave him the rifle. He went in there and he, both those guys moved like greased lightning! Then trenched their tent. So you talk about the Japanese soldier being…

T: Did you get word from home? Did you get mail fairly frequently?

R: Oh yes. Usually the first few days of an operation you got nothing. Because there weren't any ships coming in because it was a war zone. But after about a week or so, then the mail started to come in and of course you got tons of it. If anybody was writing you at all, you got a whole bunch all at once.

T: What was the life like otherwise? The food and the living conditions? I know it was hotter than blazes but can you describe what the life was like, you daily life there?

R: Yes. When we first came ashore, we slept in foxholes. Because the battle was, you know, so close. But after we got to our position, we put up our shelter halves and slept in those. The whole time we were on Saipan we slept in shelter halves. And this wasn't very pleasant because that island is infested with scorpions. So you had to be very careful. You'd inspect your tent every night and in the morning you'd knock out your shoes to make sure that you… And as far as I know, nobody ever got bitten by one. We'd see them, you know. But they apparently…

I talked to you about our officers. They had a pyramidal tent which is about the size of this room. And I think in theirs they only had four, but they'll take eight cots. When we were in Honolulu, that's what we slept in. Had eight cots. And before we were in that position a week, they had decked it in, they had mosquito bar around inside the tent. Not over their cots but inside the tent. And a door that was all screened in. And it was beautiful.

And what they were doing, they even had a corpsman come in and make their beds in the morning. And this was, down at the other end of the company street was another one of these tents all set up. And that was the officers mess. And that was immaculate. They were served on plates, cups and saucers, and their silverware. And they had cocktails before lunch and cocktails before dinner.

And right next to it, about 50 feet away, was a great big tent. What it would be, the same size as our wards. And half of it was a kitchen. All the food came from there. The other half was the enlisted mens' mess. No screens. Nothing to sit on. You sat on the ground and you ate out of a mess kit. And flies and, war zone, you know where those flies came from.

T: Yeah, yeah. Where they'd been.

R: Yeah. Well that came to an end. Much to our enjoyment. The corps surgeon, who was the head of all hospital units on the island, came off his ship on inspection. And they proudly showed his all these things. They invited him to lunch and everything. And the luncheon steward was a Third Class Pharmacist's Mate. And he just sat there and he enjoyed his lunch. And then he said to the corpsman, "Go about your business. We have officer talk here." Or something like that.

But Roger, his name was Roger Helen. He was from up north here, went out of the tent but he ducked down around the cabinetry and listened. That guy chewed their butt out. "A hospital corpsman serving lunch? You don't do that. Your men are sleeping on the ground out there and you have officer's mess. Your men are eating where there's flies and no screening? And you have a screened in tent, chairs, cutlery. You sleep in those tents down on the end of the street and your men sleep on the ground with the scorpions." And he went on and on like that.

Well things changed but not very much because you could almost count on the fact that the corps surgeon isn't going to come every day and inspect you. But they did, they got a Marine. They had Marines that ran all the ambulances and jeeps and things. And served them things. They didn't serve themselves, which they should have done. They should have gone through a chow line just like we did.

I was put in charge of the tent that had the wounded officers in it. And there was a lieutenant came in. He had been hit in the small of the back with a rock that had been blown up by an artillery shell. And so he was disabled because of it. And the doctor came in to look him over, and the others of course. But he was ambulatory and he says, "Why don't you come into officer's mess for lunch?" And he said, "Okay." And after he left, he said, "Officer's mess? What is he talking about?" He said, "Officers mess in a war zone? So why aren't they eating with the men?"

T: He thought a little differently.

R: Yeah. And so he went and he came back and he said, "I was served - with linen - in a war zone?" He said, "I sit with my men and eat." He said, "I see these guys over there, sittin on the ground with mess kits. Who are they?" I said, "Hospital corpsmen, and the Marines attached to us." He said, "Who sleeps in those tents?" I said, "We do." He never went to officer's mess again. Never. He would walk up there and he would go in the enlisted men's section. One of the doctors chewed him out for it and he told them, you see he was an Army lieutenant, not a Marine Corps lieutenant so they had no hold on him at all. How he got with us I never figured out. I think they were full up or something.

T: How long were you on Saipan?

R: About a month. Probably five weeks. Because when you get to the mop-up stage, time just passes.

T: What happened after that? What happened after Saipan?

R: After Saipan they loaded us back on the ship again and took us back to Oahu. And why, since we had already captured Saipan and captured Tinian as well, at almost the same battle, why they didn't set up camp on one of those islands, I'll never know. But they take us all the way back there, which we didn't object to of course. And we were at practically the same camp between… And we stayed there, oh, a year. Had all the liberty we could handle. It was very nice.

Then all of a sudden we were shipped out and we were on our way to Iwo Jima. And it was pretty much the same kind of thing. The weather was rougher because it was a different time of the year. It was February. And oh my gosh, we were in a convoy with flattops accompanying us. And you could see, the water was so rough you could see the top of the flattop. You'd look out there and you could see the whole top of it. And they were landing, flying airplanes off that. I don't know how the hell they did that.

T: Doesn't sound like it's possible.

R: Yeah. And once we were attacked, well not attacked exactly. A Japanese "Betty" {medium bomber} came flying over, right down the whole length of the convoy. He didn't do anything. He was just looking, you know. But we didn't see anything more. We knew there was some submarine activity around the place because when you're below decks on one of these ships, you can hear the "click, click, wroomp; click, click, wroomp." And those are mines going off. They were shooting em at the Japanese submarines.

And we didn't see any real action until we got to Iwo Jima itself. Oh, what a miserable place that is! It's just terrible. Grey, and it's just as you see in the movies. It's just a gray lump sitting there. And we were all there and you'd see the bombardment by the battleships. Wisconsin was there for awhile. And interesting, I noticed it on Saipan when we were watching the battle of Tinian going on. The battleships would shoot off a round and you could see the round in the air. 16" rounds were so big you can see em in there.

Another Saipan anecdote: I had a toothache and so I went to the dentist. Going to the dentist was never a pleasant thing in those days anyway, no matter where you were. But I was there getting this fixed. And all of a sudden I felt like I was getting turned inside out. And the drilling stopped and everything because I looked at the dentist and he was… like that. What had happened was one of those shells had hit a munitions dump over on Tinian and what we were feeling was the concussion of it. It was awesome, just awesome to feel that.

At any rate we watched this happening on Iwo Jima. They did a very good job. They too, were spotting the artillery, trying to get them. We were attacked one night by aircraft and we came back on deck after the thing, it was a big major raid. We saw the little flattop that was sunk there. We saw that on fire and beginning to turn turtle. And that's the last we saw of Japanese aircraft, that night. Our Navy really kept them away from us on that…

The only, the closest I came to having a major problem personally, was off Saipan, er Iwo Jima. When it came time for us to land, they had loaded all of our equipment into a Landing Craft, Tank. Which is not an LST. It's a smaller craft than that. But it took a couple of tanks, I guess. But all of our equipment fit in it.

And they wanted to send ashore, a couple of us with it to protect it - more from the Marines than from the Japanese. Because there was medical alcohol and stuff on it. And since we swiped it ourselves, we knew they would. They loaded it all on this and then a guy, a pharmacist's mate leaped off our ship onto this landing craft. He was one of the guys with me that was going to guard it overnight. His name was Luck. He owned three filling stations in Arizona. For some reason or other, I remember that. He was a nice guy. And he jumped off and got on there all right.

I threw my pack down there and he caught it. I got outside the rail and I stood holding on to the rail like this, just ready to jump. And I was just in this position about to let go when the lines parted. And within a flash, that thing was 50 feet away from us. I'd have gone into the drink and it was rougher than hell out there. I couldn't swim. I had a belt on. Probably would have come out of it all right. But maybe not. But that's the closest I came except the first couple nights on shore. The area was shelled by the Japanese. But that was short-lived. They really knocked out their artillery.

T: Then you, I assume you set up your hospital pretty much like you did on Saipan?

R: That's right. Moved over to the other side of the island. Set it up. This time we were in a more protected area. The area in Saipan was an open field. Just open field. You could see our hospital, the other hospital, you could see "B" camp. You could see em all clearly. This one you can't. I've got a picture of it. After we got back from Iwo Jima I was transferred to the 4th Marine Division. This was preparatory time for landing on Japan. But, I don't know what I was going to say. Yeah, we were in this kind of a gully type thing. The big problem we had was setting up. Iwo Jima, you've probably heard of the black sands of Iwo Jima. It was black sand; what it was, was coral ash, er volcanic ash. And it was dead black. Black as coal. Black as the back of those pictures. And chunks about that big. Coarse, very coarse sand. And the Japanese had made terraces out of it. And these terraces were five, six, ten feet deep. And we discovered that the landing day. Even tanks were bogged down on it. There wasn't enough substance there to hold them up. And of course then they'd shell the bejeebers out of em when they were there. Lost a lot of men that first day until they figured out how to handle it.

Well, when we got to our place, it too had a lot of sand there. And we started to put up our tents and the stakes wouldn't hold. Because the sand was so deep. And we had an officer who had been a First Class Pharmacist's Mate at Pearl Harbor. Now he was an ensign. And he was our Provost Marshall. And it was his job to get the camp set up. Doctors didn't do a damn thing. And he looked at the job and couldn't figure out what to do.

Then he recollected that we had a 105-mm. Howitzer battery just a short distance from us. And the shells in those batteries come in clumps of three. There's a cap on either end holding them together. And it's just the shell, not the load, just the shell. And when they fired them off, the things just leap out of the cannon and they're just lying around. So what he did, he took a group over there; he got a whole bunch of these things with the end caps, filled em with sand and put the caps back on, tied the tent ropes around em and buried em.

T: That's a pretty good fix.

R: Oh, he should have gotten decorated because we set that thing up in less than 24 hours. We should have gotten a citation for that because they didn't expect us to set that up in under five days. And we did it in 24 hours and we were receiving patients already.

T: There again, I suppose that you had quite a heavy casualty load.

R: Oh yes. Oh yes. I told you about this brain surgeon. He had one whole ward of all head wounds. There was a lot of, on that island particularly, there was a lot of sticking your head up to see, you know. And they were getting shot that way. So he had lots of head wounds. And he had a whole ward full of em. 48 guys, all with head bandages on em. Their heads all toward the middle so he could treat them readily. They weren't wounded anywhere else. But they had that. He never lost a patient. Not one. The interesting part of it is that he ended up in naval prison.

T: For what reason?

R: He was shipping back home medical supplies for his office. This was after the war was over. He probably had that stuff on the same ship we did, coming home. They caught him at it. And they should have let him off with what he did because he was, who cares? You know what they did with the medical supplies anyway; they left them there.

T: Yes. And I believe that occurred with a lot of our supplies.

R: Oh yes. Tanks and all sorts of things.

T: Where were you when they dropped the atom bomb?

R: I was in the 4th Marine Division working in a dispensary in the 25th Marines. I was 4th Marine Division, 25th Marines. And…

T: Where was that Bob?

R: On Maui. When we left Iwo Jima, we went back to Maui to Camp Haleakela. The mountain on, the big mountain, extinct volcano on Maui is Haleakela. And this camp is on the side of it. And we were on the side of it too in a little village named [Paiea], Paiea Heights. And it was a little, actually all there was to it was a school, a children's' grade school. And that's where we set up our hospital. These grades schools, there weren't any corridors. It was all outdoors. You go from one classroom to the other outdoors. But there were houses there for the teachers. That's what we lived in when I was with the hospital unit yet. But up there you were just like another Marine, you know.

T: Yes.

R: And I can remember it very well because it was an ordinary day with nothing unusual about it. And I didn't have the watch at night. So I was in bed. And the guy who had the guard, one of the posts of watch, came in to waken his replacement. And I can still hear this. He said, "Hey Charlie." Charlie "Blah, blah blah." He says, "Charlie, wake up, wake up. The war is over!" "Bullshit!" "No, really it is. They just announced it over the radio. The Japs have surrendered." "No shit." "Yeah, it's true." "Time to take guard; I'm tired." And you could hear the camp noise. Everybody just fell back to sleep again. And then in the chow line the next morning, everybody was saying, "Is that true? Is that what we heard last night?" They couldn't remember it, you know.

T: Generally how did the fellows, and you included, feel about dropping the bomb on the Japanese?

R: Oh, we were jubilant. We were jubilant. And why not. Here I was in the 4th Marine Division. We knew we would probably be beachhead fodder. Of course we were happy about it. Of course we didn't know much about it. I probably, in our particular group, knew more about atomic bombs than anybody just because of Buck Rogers. If you read science fiction, you heard of atomic bombs a lot of times. You know that all that kind of literature disappeared from the market when they started developing it because they didn't want people asking questions about it. But I knew all about it when I was a kid. They talked about atomic bombs. Yeah, but I didn't know how it worked or that. I still don't know how it works exactly. I know about fission and fusion and all that sort of thing. But at the time I didn't. But we were very happy that they had a super weapon. It was part of the conversation occasionally. We would come up with a super weapon and whack em all out - and then we actually did it. It was kinda hard to grasp.

T: When did you get back to the United States and when were you discharged from the service? Shortly after that or did you have to…?

R: Well, not shortly. No. Well relatively. What happened was is that they sent the whole 4th Marine Division back to the United States. We were in a camp for oh, I would say about three weeks or something like that. Just a camp for the guys that had enough points to go home. And we were sent home. We were sent home on well the [Kachin] Bay, the little aircraft carrier. And we landed in San Diego and were taken immediately to Camp Pendleton and we stayed there for several days and then when they'd figured out who was to go home and who wasn't, on leave, they kept all the corpsmen. Somebody had to give them their physicals, see?

T: Makes sense.

R: And so we were there for a couple of weeks more just giving physicals, wanting to go home just as badly as anybody else did. And finally the doctors gave us a physical and we got home. I got home in October of 1945. And just in time for Halloween, I remember that.

T: Were you discharged then or were you just…?

R: No. I had to get back in my sailor suit and go back to San Diego. And they sent me to a dispensary south of San Diego. I can't remember the name of it now but it was about halfway to Tijuana from there. And we just ran this dispensary. I don't know to this day what in blazes they had it for. But there was a lot of sailors there. I don't know what they were doing but we were there for oh, a month or so. And then we were discharged and sent home.

T: At some point then, you went back to school.

R: When I came home, and was discharged, after a suitable length of time fooling around, I went back to my old job at Massey-Harris. And I was there for a number of years but I was disenchanted because all the excitement was gone. I mean there was something about building component parts for a tank that isn't matched by building component parts for a tractor.

And the actual boss of the department who had been in the service when I worked there before, came home and he was a perfect jerk. Nobody liked him, and my boss from before was assistant to him. And he was the nicest guy you would ever want to know. But he was good at his job and this jerk stayed there, and came on and I didn't like him and after a while I said, "I got the GI Bill. What am I hanging around here for?"

So I quit and went to college.

T: When did you get your degree and what was it in?

R: What was the degree in? Well, the degree at the University of Wisconsin at the time was in speech. But most of my work was in theater.

T: You told me before we started when you came to Oshkosh but I can't remember that. When was that?

R: 1962. Yeah, I came in the fall of 1962.

T: Had you been employed in the theatrical line before that?

R: Yes. When I was going to college, my summer work was Summer Theater. I was a professional actor in Summer Theater. Acted with people like Shelley Berman, Betsy Palmer, Tom Bosley; people like that. They were just starting out too, but they were there. Of course they've been successful. Of course Berman screwed up somehow and he disappeared off the scene. You remember how big Shelley Berman was?

T: Oh yes.

R: And all of a sudden you didn't see him anymore? If I know Shelley, he's probably screwing around with somebody's wife that was too important to do that. The other theory I have, one Christmas in one of the trade magazines was a cartoon profile of Shelley Berman. And no signature, just his profile. But who had been doing that for years was Jack Benny. He put his profile in, no signature, and just said, "Merry Christmas." Because he was a Jew, you know. And he was, you know, playing the Christmas game without betraying Jewishness, I guess. But Berman did the same thing, but Benny was big, real big in the business. And to have this little jerk who had suddenly appeared on the scene do the same thing, Benny had enough power to do him in if he wanted to. Benny did.

T: When did you get married?

R: I got married in 1959, not to the one I was talking about before though. She 'Dear Johned' me after I got back from Iwo Jima.

T: That happened to me too. Got a Dear John. A lot of em did.

R: The thing was, we got back from Iwo Jima and I got this big mass of letters from her. She was a very good letter writer. Kept me informed all the time of everything. They were cheery letters because she is a cheery kind of person. And so I put them in order. And I read them one after the other and they were all cheery and was catching up. And I got to the last letter and it was a Dear John.

T: Too bad you didn't read that one first.

R: Yeah. I wouldn't have read the rest of them. But I'm glad I did read the others. And the funny part of it is, back in I think it was '89, although I'm not sure about this, I was sitting in my office at the university and doing stuff you know. And the phone rang. The secretary said, "You've got a long distance call." And I said okay. I couldn't imagine who would be calling me long distance. And it was here. It was Dorothy. And we talked for about a half an hour. She sounded exactly the same as she always had. But there was a little hint of born- again- Christian in the way she was talking. And I think what she was doing was kind of apologizing. Never heard from her again.

T: What was your position again Bob at the university?

R: I was a professor of speech and theater. I was the scenic designer at the Fredric March most of the time.

T: Did the war change you?

R: Oh, it matured me of course.

T: I think most of the guys said that. Went in as kids, came out as men.

R: Oh, yeah. There's no doubt about that.

T: Were any of your friends from Racine that you'd paled around with killed during the war?

R: One. There may have been more but there was only one I heard of. His name was Russell Jensen. And he lived across the street from me, oddly enough when we were in high school. And he was an Army Air Corps pilot. Flew one of these twin engine boom…

T: Oh yeah, P-38.

R: P-38, yeah. He flew one of those and he just disappeared over Italy. And they never found his plane or him or anything.

T: Do you think very much of the war today?

R: No.

T: Some guys do and a lot of em don't. Some things bring back memories of the war.

R: You talk to the guys that, you see em around the American Legion, and the Marine Corps League and everything.

T: Do you belong to any of those organizations?

R: Not anymore. I belong to the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. I belonged to that big drum corps in Racine at one time. For a couple years. And that couple of years in there, between '45 and '50, we were quite active in the war things. Most of it because you were seeing guys you hadn't seen for a long time. And you do your reminiscing, where were you and what did you do, and all that kind of stuff. Then after a while you just get a little weary of it. And of course you get busy. Once you start college, boy you don't, the only reason I quit the American Legion - I didn't quit, I just stopped; when I went to Madison I didn't have time for that any more. The Veterans of Foreign Wars either.

T: When did you retire from the university?

R: In 1990. No, some of these guys, you know, they just hang on, and hang on and hang on. Once a week they get together and talk war all the time. And I don't believe in that. I fought it and I'm proud of my service to the country and all of that. But the country doesn't owe me anything. They gave me an education. I mean, master's degree and the bachelor's degree were all on the GI Bill. Now who's going to complain about that. But you hear some guys talking about having an additional bonus, you know? They don't owe me anything.

T: Well Bob, I think that just about wraps it up. I'm very glad that we had a chance to talk to you. It's been very, very interesting. I wish we could talk more but they're going to kick us out of here in a couple of minutes.
Event World War II
Category 6: T&E For Communication
Legal Status Oshkosh Public Museum
Object ID OH2001.3.57
Object Name Tape, Magnetic
Location of Originals Oshkosh Public Museum
People Heise, Robert
Subjects World War II
United States Navy
United States Marine Corps
Hospital ships
Medical aspects of war
Medical personnel
Pacific Theater of Operations
Title Oral History Interview with Robert Heise.
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Last modified on: December 12, 2009