||Ray Pable was interviewed this morning at the OPM. He was born in Oshkosh on May, 1922, one of five children, to parents who were also from Oshkosh. All his brothers and sisters are still living. His father was employed as a salesman, his mother was a housewife. They lived on Boyd St.
Ray was educated in St. Vincent's grade school and graduated from high school in 1940. He attended Teachers College for one year and was drafted into the army on September 19, 1942. His family was not affected by the Great Depression.
Ray took his basic training and unit training in Texas and then was assigned to an Ordinance Company which embarked for India from Virginia. They passed through the Panama Canal, arriving in Bombay after 42 days at sea. Ray volunteered for KP duty to get more to eat on the ship. His company journeyed across India by train to Calcutta where he and four others were assigned as guards to a barge carrying ordinance up the Bramaputra River to Assam.
Ray's company consisting of about 200 men, part of the 173rd Ordinance Battalion. It was stationed in Tinsukia, a small town up in the northeast corner of Assam. They handled ordinance which would eventually be airlifted to Kunming via the "Hump." Ray went on leave once to Calcutta, a city with extreme poverty evident in a densely packed population.
The weather at Ray's station was warm and humid; the monsoon came in the summer and lasted for about a month. Wild animals were frequently seen - monkeys stole anything shiny. One of Ray's pals kept a "tame" leopard on a leash. Another aquaintance killed a tiger with his Jeep. There were many working elephants used by the villagers that were interesting to watch. After the end of the war, Ray was shipped back to the states and discharged in February of 1946.
Ray worked for the Leach Co. for two years, then went to Miles Kimball where he did catalog preparation and editing until retirement. He met his wife at Miles Kimball and was married in 1953. They have four children. Ray is an accomplished watercolorist. He won an art contest in kindergarten, did much sketching and painting in the service, and continues to paint as well as instruct here in Oshkosh. He never had formal art training but has sold much of his work.
||World War II Oral History Project
|Dates of Accumulation
||September 1, 2004
||Cassette recorded oral history interview with Raymond J. Pable, who served in the 173rd Ordnance Battalion, United States Army in India during World War II.
Raymond Pable Interview
1 September 2004
Conducted by Tom Sullivan
(T: identifies the interviewer, Tom Sullivan; R: identifies the subject, Ray Pable. 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 September 1st, 2004 and I'm Tom Sullivan at the Oshkosh Public Museum with Ray Pable, that's spelled P-A-B-L-E who served in World War II. Ray is going to be telling about his experiences in that war. Let's begin then Ray by having you tell me when and where you were born?
R: In Oshkosh, May 10th, 1922.
T: Were your mother and dad both from this area?
R: Yeah. They were.
T: What did your dad do for a living?
R: He was a salesman.
T: Was your mother employed?
T: I guess in those days most women were working in the home.
R: Oh, she had five youngsters to take care of.
T: Are any of them still living besides you Ray?
R: Yeah, all of them.
T: Where did you live in Oshkosh? Where was your home located?
R: On the East Side. Boyd Street.
T: Tell me about your childhood. Where did you go to grade school and what sort of things did you do for fun after the school was in session?
R: Oh my, we went to St. Vincent, no Franklin School for kindergarten where I won a prize for my painting, my drawing.
T: So you were doing a little bit of that work at a tender age?
R: Yeah. I could tell you that my dad would draw pictures for me and when I went to kindergarten I was drawing too. But the only thing that I could draw really was a cowboy in his big ten-gallon hat. And always a profile view and always with his mouth open. And I could draw a horse with the cowboy on him, rearing, and trucks and things like that. Well my teacher at kindergarten kept all my little drawings and she mounted them on a big piece of cardboard I suppose, and she took em to the fair here in Oshkosh. And I won a prize.
T: I see. Well, that's great.
R: Yeah, I won first prize in my category. Fifty cents.
T: That was big money in those days.
R: Oh yeah.
T: So you went to Franklin. Did you go to Franklin all the way through grade school?
R: No. Then I went to St. Vincent for three grades and then we moved to the North Side and I finished high school at St. Mary's.
T: When did St. Mary's High School quit? I know they had a grade school there when I was a kid but I didn't know they had a high school. When was St. Mary's High School discontinued?
R: Well, St. Peters and St. Mary's both had high schools and they both discontinued them, oh I guess about, well I left high school in 1940 so maybe about 1942, something like that.
T: So you graduated from high school in 1940. When you were growing up we were pretty much in the depths of the Depression. Can you remember things about the Depression? Did it affect your family at all?
R: No, it didn't. My father was still employed and we always had a loaf of bread at the table. So in that respect, no it didn't bother us.
T: It's been said that Oshkosh in general was fairly severely affected by the Depression. And I've had some fellows tell me that they really had tough times and were on "relief" as it was called then. Can you remember pals of yours that didn't have it so good, that had troubles during the Depression?
R: Well there was one family, there were four boys in the family and the father was dead and the mother worked at the Overall, Oshkosh B'Gosh. And she held everything together but they had it pretty tough.
T: When you were in high school probably, there was war in the Far East and there was war in Europe. Did you ever give much thought to those wars and ever think that maybe the United States would get sucked into those conflicts at some point?
R: No. No we never talked about that. Those were far away.
T: Yeah, I guess it was that way with most of us. We never thought that we would be involved. When you were in high school, what kind of outside activities did you engage in then? Did you have any hobbies or were you active in athletics or anything like that/
R: Yeah, we played sandlot football and I played a lot of tennis and some softball. Things like that. Mostly sports.
T: Where did you play tennis? Where were there courts where you could play?
R: Menominee Park.
T: I see, because I know there were some courts right behind my house, between Washington and Merritt. There was, the high school team used to practice there. There were two or three courts there and I just wondered if you ever had occasion to play on those courts.
T: After you completed high school, that was in 1940, did you go to work then or did you continue on to school?
R: Well I went to Oshkosh State Teachers College then for oh, I dunno, about a year I guess. And then…
T: Where were you when Pearl Harbor occurred? Were you in Oshkosh at the time.
R: I was, yeah I was playing cards at a friend's house and over the radio came the announcement. So we stopped playing cards.
T: I guess everybody remembers that event; they remember where they were and what they were doing. So you were prime material for the armed services. Did you enlist then or were you drafted? How did you get into the Army?
R: I was drafted.
T: You were drafted. And when was the date of your, when you were inducted into the service?
R: September 19, 1942.
T: So I guess you probably didn't have a choice about what part of the service you wanted to go to. Uncle Sam told you where to go. Tell me about your basic training, where did take you take your basic training and so forth?
R: It was in Texas.
T: What part of Texas was it?
R: Well we were at Camp Swift, which was near Austin, Texas. Then we moved to Camp Maxie, which was near Paris, Texas in northeastern Texas.
T: Were you attached to an infantry division?
R: No. Ordinance.
T: Where did you get your unit training, where you learned what you were going to be doing eventually in the service? Was that in Texas as well?
R: Let's see. I didn't really have any technical training.
T: What does ordinance mean? When they say the word ordinance I think of ammunition and that type of thing. Is that a mistake? What is ordinance?
R: Well supplies, everything from rifle gun patches to tank parts.
T: I see. So it's the whole gamut of the supply…
R: Yeah, with the exception of the quartermaster which was more clothing and food and that sort of thing.
T: When you were trained, after your training period was completed, where did you go then?
R: Let's see. I was in Texas and I went to Wisconsin on a delay en route. And I went back to Texas and then to California and I was in a camp there awaiting overseas duty. And then, oh I had the strangest trip. I worked part time in the post office while I was waiting, being assigned. And finally I was assigned and I got on the train with a lot of other fellows and we went across the United States. I remember stopping at Chicago and a friend said he could see his house but he couldn't get off the train.
And we had to go on, we went to Virginia. We got on a ship in Virginia, a huge, the George Washington. We had 5000 people on the ship. And I had met somebody along the way, I think when I was in California I met a fellow who, it's kind of hazy, who was a classmate of mine in high school. And he told me that he saw my name on a list and they were going to ship us to India.
So we got on the ship in Virginia, we start sailing east and I passed the word around that we were going to India. "India! We're going to Europe, we're going east!" Well then we started turning south a little bit. We went past San Salvador and I went through the Panama Canal which was quite an experience.
T: Yeah, I'll bet.
R: Yeah, it really is. That ship was as close as from here to the wall, the rocks you know, that they had blasted out.
Well anyway we got through the Panama Canal and then we continued in a sort of southerly, easterly direction and we went past, between the north and south islands of New Zealand. And then finally around and we landed at Bombay. When we were oh, a couple of days out from Bombay we were escorted by two battleships and airplanes overhead.
T: How long did that trip take from the states to Bombay? I imagine that being a circuitous route that must have taken a long time.
R: It did, yeah. We were on the ship; we didn't get off the ship at all anywhere. We landed at Melbourne, Australia, I suppose to take on supplies or something, but we had to stay on the ship. So we were 42 days on the water.
T: Was it a calm sea that you traversed or was it, did you have some bad weather?
R: No, we didn't have any really bad weather. Some heavy weather but not real bad. Mostly it was calm. We could take showers but it was salt water [ ] not taking a shower. On the way over we, another fellow and I, asked if we could have some KP duty so we could eat better. We had…
T: Some guys stayed away from the food, you know they got seasick.
R: Oh, a lot of em did. Sure. Didn't bother me at all, thank heavens. Oh yeah, they were terribly sick. One was sick for 42 days.
T: Were you accepted for KP duty? Did you get that?
R: Yeah, I got on KP duty then. We only had two meals a day so this way I was getting a little extra in between. On the way over a man jumped overboard. And the sea was just swells like that. And everybody was out on deck looking. And I spied him and I yelled out and they lowered a big boat and they went out, two fellows were on the boat and they went out and picked him up. And one was giving him, you know, pumping the water out of him. And the other was driving the boat. The rumor was that he ended up in the brig, probably so that he wouldn't do it again.
T: I thought that a ship probably wouldn't stop for something like that.
R: Oh yeah, it did.
T: Were you in a convoy or were you all by yourself?
R: All by ourselves.
T: So apparently they didn't have to worry about Japanese submarines or that sort of thing. Maybe the ship was fast enough so that…
R: It was a very fast ship and it was armed. They had those "poom, poom, poom" whatever they called em. And they also had a couple of long cannons. And they periodically practiced with those things. They'd let up a balloon and the artillery group on the ship fired the cannon at the balloon and they were very good. Yeah, they didn't miss ever.
And okay, so the ship finally landed in Bombay which is on the west shore. And we were there oh I dunno, a week or so and then we transferred all the way across India by train. And there were some, we saw a lot of India that way, from deserts to jungle and cities and…
T: I'll bet that was an interesting experience.
R: Oh yeah.
T: Because it'd be so different than anything here.
R: Yeah. One of the, every time we would stop, a whole bunch of children would come, knowing you was Americans. And I remember that they cried out, "Candy boxees, Sahib!" "Candy boxees," Sahib." Whatever in the world did they want with candy boxes? So we tossed whatever candy boxes we had. Later we found out that "boxees" meant the gift. They were asking for a gift of candy and we threw them empty boxes. I wonder what they thought of Americans then?
T: Oh, that's too bad. Bunch of disappointed kids.
R: Yeah, yeah. So then we landed in Calcutta and we were in a holding camp there. And finally I was assigned to someplace, I didn't know where. And they put us on a train and there were five of us. And we were train guard. And we lived in a boxcar. Couldn't take showers or anything. And we were there two, or three or four days. And we were going north.
T: Was this a troop train?
R: No, just supplies. They transferred the supplies onto two barges, big barges with a tugboat in between, operated by Indian people. And they were, I don't remember what the cargo was but I do know that it had a lot of PX supplies. And so we helped ourselves to some cigarettes and things like that. And we, it comes to me now, we stopped, when we were on the train we stopped at a British outpost and the five of us went to the office there. And we told the fellow, the British fellow that we were starving, that we didn't have anything much to eat at all. So he gave us some bread and some cans of fruit and oh, I dunno, something else. And in the meantime one of the fellows, he was an American Indian I remember, he went around the back and he stole a bunch of chickens. And he put em on the train and the British didn't even know about it. He had a lot of nerve.
T: Yes, because they usually make some noise to begin with. Hard to get away with something like that.
R: Yeah. And well we were inside and he was outside. Anyway we gave the chickens to the people who were operating the tugboat. And they cooked some up and they gave us some. We ate with them. We gave em some cigarettes and they were thankful.
And then a river police launch stopped our barges and he came aboard. So we had a long chat with him. He had a servant, an Indian servant, and we gave him some chickens and he said that he would have his servant cook them up, prepare them. And we were welcome to go onto his launch.
T: So you were on these barges now and were you on a river?
R: Brahmaputra River.
T: Okay, so that's the river that runs right up through Assam. That's a big river, isn't it?
R: Oh yeah, oh yeah that goes from Calcutta all the way up to Assam, India. That's a big, big river. My steel helmet is on the bottom of the Brahmaputra.
R: Yeah, because we used to fish up a helmet full of water in order to…
T: Bathing and so forth?
R: Yeah. So he cooked up this chicken and he brought out some good Scotch whiskey. And we had some of that and we gave him a few cases of beer from our PX supply.
T: It sounds like you were really living. You had all your supplies that you needed.
R: :Yeah. So finally that reached its destination and then I can't remember how I got in touch with Americans. We split up, the five of us split up and I was on my own then quite a ways up in Assam which is way up in the corner of India.
T: So your supplies then were delivered to their destination. That was the end of that.
R: Yeah, I suppose that was the connection. We asked those people and no, they didn't know.
T: Didn't you have any orders that said Ray Pable is going to do this and when he gets there he's going to do that?
R: Yeah, I did and I had em right on the top of my duffel bag. But they didn't know about these people, and they didn't know about these people…
T: I see.
R: So then I shunted around quite a bit and finally landed in somebody who would accept my services. And so there I was in Assam in a little place called Tinsukia.
T: Can you spell that for me?
T: Okay. A lot of those names are quite difficult to spell. And talking to other fellows who have been in that part of the world, you go to a map and try to look up some of these places and I guess the names have changed in some of these places, they've just disappeared. They have a different place name for some of these towns for one reason or another, politics and so forth. They change the name. But this is where you were stationed then pretty much? Or did you make some changes as you went along?
R: Yeah, I was with the same company but we moved to different places.
T: What was your specific duty then at that time? What kind of work did you do?
R: Well, I was in the office and we were, we had large warehouses made of bamboo, woven bamboo. We were right across the railroad track from the bamboo jungle so building materials were readily available. And they had thatched roofs. And they were large, very large buildings. And one of em stored all tires. Another one right next to our office stored paint and paint supplies and related items. Another store, you know, small arms; another one, heavy. And so on.
And in the office there were records of all the material that were handled by us. And incoming, outgoing material.
T: What was the approximate date that you arrived and began working in Tinsukia?
R: Well, let's see. I was one and a half years overseas so back up one and a half years from when I was discharged. And when would that be, May or June..
T: You were discharged in February of '46. February of '45, let's say mid 1944, that was when you were there? Mid '44?
R: Yeah, mid '44 to, yeah that would be about right. Mid '44 to mid '45 and then, yeah, to my discharge. And then we would make out requisitions for 2 million gun patches, you know. And so on. And armament.
T: How many men were in the army unit that was in Tinsukia? How many guys were involved? Was it quite a few or were you a pretty small group?
R: No, we had I would think about 200 people. There were people located in each one of these huge warehouses. And in the office itself there were a number…
T: How big was the community of Tinsukia itself? You know as far as the native population goes, was it a little burg or was it a good size town?
R: It was good sized. It was probably about as big as say all of the North Side of Oshkosh. And we were maybe five miles from there.
T: Did you have to, was there any concern about the enemy at that time, the Japanese? Were they active fairly close to you or wasn't that a problem for you fellas?
R: Well, they did enter India, Assam, but they were repulsed and I did get a battle star but I never saw any action.
T: I just wondered if it was a concern, if you were close enough so that they could give you trouble. For instance bombers, Japanese bombers or something else of that nature.
R: Well in our area there were a number of airfields and these fellows would fly "The Hump." Because the Burma Road had been cut off. So supplies could go in. And the Lido Road was built to bypass and then join up with the Burma Road. It later became the Stillwell Road.
T: So a lot of the material that you guys were handling was eventually flown by the C46's and so forth.
R: Sure. They all landed in Kunming, China. And there was more than one airfield around there.
T: Yeah, I talked to a fellow that was stationed in Chabua and there was a big airfield there where they flew those things. Was your duty fairly easy duty or was it difficult, tough work?
R: It was easy.
T: What was the daily life like there? What was the food and your living conditions like? Can you describe that for me?
R: We had fairly permanent installation there. We lived in tents and everything was raised. The sidewalks were landing strip pieces and shaped like this and the sidewalk was here. And the reason for that, the tent areas and everything, the reason for that was during the monsoon season oh, it really, oh it rained.
T: I guess it was different.
R: It rained and it blew, yeah. Well it was like a hurricane.
T: When did the monsoon come? Was it the same time every year?
R: Yeah. I think as I remember it, it was July or June or July.
T: How long did it last?
R: Oh, several weeks.
T: Your activities were probably a little bit curtailed. What did you, was your food pretty good?
R: Yeah it was pretty good. We had to take an Atabrine tablet to prevent, not prevent but if we did catch malaria it would keep the symptoms down so that we could continue.
T: Was malaria a big thing over there? A tropical area I assume.
T: What were the temperatures like, the daytime temperatures throughout?
R: Oh it was hot, yeah it was hot.
T: How hot?
R: Oh I don't know.
T: Did it get to 100, or…
R: Not up there. Probably, down around Calcutta, there it was a hundred probably. But in the north, 90's.
T: Did you get mail from home very often?
R: We did get mail regularly.
T: What did you think about the Japanese? I know you weren't real close to them but what was your opinion of the Japanese as far as their abilities, their fighting abilities and so forth? Were they considered a formidable foe?
R: Oh sure they were. The closest we ever came to any action at all was movies of the war. We had an outdoor theater and the Indian people in the area would come over. They didn't know what was going on but they did enjoy it.
T: Did you ever have any live entertainment? They had these USO shows that would travel around and…
R: Yeah. Let's see, we saw Pat O'Brien, the movie actor. I don't know, there was a black group and there were a lot of black soldiers in the area and they would come to see this. This was sort of a jazz thing and it really turned them on.
T: Now at that time the services weren't really integrated at all were they? The black units were all separate from the white units.
R: Yeah they were. While I was back in the states I worked in a medical group too. And I worked in a hospital and I remember that there were two wards of black people, only black people there. And the rest of the wards were white. Yeah, it was separated.
T: Did you have opportunity to go on leave or on pass while you were there?
R: Yeah, we could. I never did but some of them would go to ah, I can't think of the name of the city but it was quite a popular place, maybe a hundred miles away. And some even went as far as Agra to see the Taj Mahal. I just wanted to get home.
T: When you were there, did you have much contact with the native people, the people that were living in that region?
R: Not really, no there were people working…
T: Some of them worked for you?
R: No they were, I would remember how they were digging something. Preparing for a building probably. And there were dozens of people, men and women. And I remember seeing the men with an adze, a tool, one the handle and one on the chopping part. And they would loosen the dirt. And another one would take it and put it into a basket, a shallow large basket, probably like that. And put the dirt in there and then they'd lift it onto the head of a woman and she would transport it somewhere and then dump it and come back. And it was a steady stream and very primitive.
T: Well that was, as I understand it that was mainly a farming or agricultural area in there wasn't it? Didn't they raise a lot of rice and that sort of thing?
R: Well, tea.
T: There wasn't big industry.
R: No, no, no. Assam tea is…
T: What was the terrain like? Was it relatively flat where you were or was it quite hilly?
R: It was pretty flat where we were because we were not far from the Brahmaputra River. But in the distance we could see snow-covered peaks.
T: Most of us that have been in the service can remember fellows that we served with that were unique in some way. Some guys were real characters. some were just exemplary types that you really admired. And there was the other end of the scale and there were some guys that were the dregs of society. Can you recall any people that you knew while you were in the service over in Assam that were colorful characters.
R: Well there was one fellow who, I didn't know him but I saw him, he'd walk along on these sidewalks that we had and he had telephone lineman's spurs on. And he had, he got an old campaign hat from somewhere and he was trying to give the impression that he was a cowboy. And they took him away; he left us. Went to some hospital.
Yeah, there was, attached to our group was a small medical unit and I became pretty fast friends with one of them. And he, after awhile he invited me over to his tent. And I went over there and holy cow! The tents had big bamboo poles, two of em in the center and a piece across, and then the tent. And we would take the flap, the sides of the tent and pull em out and you'd cut some bamboo and make sort of an awning. And you had mosquito netting all around. So they were quite comfortable.
T: How many guys to a tent?
R: Well in our tent there was one, two, three four. But I went over to this place and attached to that big pole was a chain and then on the other end of the chain was like a dog collar. And in the dog collar was a leopard, a live leopard, full-grown live leopard. Oh and then he'd be lying on the floor and you were at a distance so he couldn't touch you. But he'd look up at you and he'd just look and look - oooh!. They'd take him out for a walk on a leash, a chain. And an officer had him when he was a cub. Then he left to go somewhere else and he gave the leopard to these fellows and they raised it. Whatever became of it I don't know but…
T: Well, I don't think you can take the wildness out of those things completely. One would have to be very cautious of an animal like that. You never know for sure.
R: And there was a railroad track between the jungle and our camp. And then along the railroad track was a beaten path and every day we would see working elephants going along there.
T: I imagine that was interesting to see how those animals did their work.
R: Yeah. And there were monkeys, a lot of monkeys in the area. And they would steal things. Anything that was bright, you know, they would steal it. And tigers were down the line aways. We had a newspaper called "The Roundup." And there was an article one time about a fellow who hit a tiger with his Jeep. And he didn't kill it but he knocked it unconscious. He went over to it and took a knife and he cut the thing's throat I guess. And anyway he killed it. And then he hauled this thing back to camp and had it strung up by its hind feet. And oh gosh, that thing was huge! And fangs like that, you know. Huge.
T: So there was certainly a lot of wild life around there.
R: It was all jungle. The whole thing was jungle. And there were cities. [Dibrughar] was a pretty good-sized city.
T: How do you spell that Ray?
R: Dibrughar. D-I-B-R-U-G-H-A-R. I think. And Mahatma Gandhi was going to come to Dibrughar and so they issued us our rifles just in case it would be, you know, riotous situation. It wasn't. It was peaceful. I didn't see him at all but…
T: I guess he himself was a peaceful guy but there was a lot of conflict because of him. Well that would have been interesting to see a guy like that who was really one of the big players on the world stage so to speak.
R: Well we went to Calcutta. Yeah I went to Calcutta one time on a furlough. And we did some shopping on [Chowringi] Road. In one of the places, I bought a chess set and the fellow that I was with, let's see, the owner of the shop asked if we could play chess. "Sure. We'll challenge you to a game."
(The first tape ends here).
T: Okay, I guess we're ready to continue with tape two of our interview with Ray Pable.
R: So he challenged us to a game and we, the two of us, played against him. And he beat us.
T: Were you a fairly accomplished chess player?
R: Oh, I had played chess for a number of years but I was nowhere as good as he was.
T: What was the chess set made of that you bought?
T: I see. Was it expensive or was it quite reasonable in price?
R: Well you had to bargain. You'd barter with these people, you know.
T: I guess that's their normal way of doing business.
R: Yeah, yeah. And I got it for a pretty decent price. I asked the price of everything except the chess set, which is what I wanted. And tried to beat him down, you know, on all the items. And then, no, there was nothing. So we started to walk out and he said, and he called us back and he pointed to the chess set. "We have a chess set yet." "Oh, how much?" And I can even say that in Hindustani, "[Kitnit pysah?]" And he told us so many rupees and so, "Oh no." We went back and forth. He lowered his price. We raised ours and I bought it for quite a reasonable price. It was an inlaid board that folded and then inside were the chess pieces. It was a hard set to play with because the only difference between the two sides was that the black had two black inlaid rings around the base of each piece.
T: I understand. So all the pieces were white except for…
R: All the pieces were white except for, you had to look for those black rings. But yeah, I gave that set to my son who plays chess.
T: What were your impressions of Calcutta in general? You hear people talking about big cities in India like Calcutta. And many years ago I guess there was extreme poverty in some of those areas.
R: It was colorful. There were shops, and shops, and shops and shops. And people, there were so many people. Everywhere you go there were so many people. It's such an overpopulated country. And poor, extreme poverty. There were some wealthy people, yeah. We ate in a place called [Firpo's] which was run by an American. A restaurant, it was on the second story of a place on Old [Chowringee] Road, which was a big shopping center. And there were Indian people in there and they were the well-to-do people. And they lived quite handsomely. But there just didn't seem to be any middle class. Oh, they were so poor!.
T: Did you see these so-called sacred cows that were wandering around the streets?
R: Oh yeah, yeah.
T: How about odors, smells?
R: Oh, very smelly. When we were landing at Bombay we could see the city and I think, as I remember, there's a great big arch and that's sort of a monument or something. But anyway as we got closer you could smell that city and it never left your nostrils until we left.
T: I guess they did something with cattle dung. They plastered it up against the side of the buildings and let it dry. And then they would scrape it off and use it for fuel or something like that. I'd heard that that was where some of the odors came from because it was their habit of doing that sort of thing. I'd never heard of that before. Was that an experience that you noticed?
R: I'd never heard of that. But yeah, there were buildings that were plastered.
T: The end of the war came with the dropping of the atom bomb. Can you recall how you heard about the end of the war? Were you at your post at the time? Were you in Tinsukia?
R: Yeah. We heard it, we had a Teletype machine which, on the other end of it was Lido which was the terminus of the Lido Road. And we had a Charge of Quarters at night. Oh I must tell you about that Charge of Quarters. He got the new over the Teletype from Lido. And then he passed it around and of course it went like wildfire.
T: Now at that point, everybody didn't pack up and go home. How long was it before you got orders to vacate that particular area? To go back to the states.
R: I don't know exactly when those bombs were dropped. Do you know?
T: I don't remember the exact date. It was in or June or July I guess.
R: Yeah. Well I was discharged in February. So from June or July until the end of January when I came back to the states, that's how long I was there. After the bomb was dropped.
T: I assume that you came back by more or less the same route that you…
R: No, we took a totally different route. We flew, oh I just wanted to tell you one thing. Our buildings were about that far apart. And they were end to end, you know, like that. And maybe a couple here, more here. And in the office where I worked there was a Charge of Quarters every night. Only he was there. Everybody else was gone. And he had a little lantern at night which was ah, must have been kerosene or something. But it was flammable and he knocked it over by accident and it started a fire. And the fire just consumed the office. And next to it, about this far away, was another one. And that was full of paint and supplies like that.
T: Flammable stuff.
R: Very flammable. Well we had a group of Indians, it was sort of like an adult Boy Scout group. They were not combat at all. They served and they helped us. And they were called the Pioneers. And they were young men. They were older than Boy Scouts but young men. Oh to see those fellows, how they scrambled up on those thatched roofs and threw down the flaming straw and the bamboo. They ripped it all apart.
T: I imagine that bamboo burned like crazy.
R: Oh yeah. We were all out there with water, you know, trying to, and these kids were, boy you gotta take your hat off to them. They were pretty brave to do that.
T: Probably risked their necks.
R: Oh sure. So the way back, we flew from Chabua down to Calcutta and we were at Calcutta, oh I dunno, a couple weeks probably. Until they could make up a shipload. And then they transported us to a ship, the Marine Fox, which was a much smaller one than the one I came over on. And we went south around Singapore. You could see the city of Singapore. And then we went to, we were pretty close to Japan, that is 4-500 miles maybe. And then somehow we got to Corregidor and Manila. And then, and I was only 21 days on the water then. And then we landed in Seattle, Washington. Took a train to Camp McCoy and then I was discharged.
T: Now that first trip, when you were going over there, I think you said it was something like 42 days on the water.
R: Yeah. But the 21 days, that was a little more palatable.
T: Well you were on the way home too. You were probably excited about getting back.
R: Yes indeed.
T: And what was the date of your discharge then?
R: February of '46.
T: Ray, early in the war when we suffered some setbacks immediately after Pearl Harbor, was there any doubt in your mind whether we would win the war? How did you feel about that? Did you think that at some point we might not be able to win the war?
R: No. I never thought that at all.
T: I guess most of us didn't.
R: Couldn't wait to get in and…
T: After you were mustered out of the service, did you go back to Oshkosh State Teachers College or did you do something else? You had put in about a year at Oshkosh State Teachers College.
R: I didn't go back there.
T: What did you do then?
R: I was pretty old then. I was 24 and these little 18-year-old kids…. Yeah, that's a mistake that I made. I didn't go back. Another fellow and I, Norm Getschel, he was a photographer for the Northwestern…
T: "Fuzz" Getschel.
R: Yeah, his son and I wanted to, we went to the Veterans Administration and we told them that we wanted to go to school. And "Oh, good, where do you want to go to school? What kind of school do you want to go to?" "To an art school." And, "Where's the art school?" And we told them that it was in Mexico. "Ohhh," We weren't really, I don't think that we would have gone."
T: Apparently they turned you down, wouldn't give you any financial aid to do that. So what was the next step? What did you do then?
R: Well I got a job.
T: Did you go to Miles Kimball right away or did you work somewhere else?
R: I worked at Leach Company in their production department, in the office for a couple of years. Then I went to Miles Kimball.
T: What kind of work did you do at Miles Kimball?
R: I was involved in the preparation of the catalogue. I edited it and then did a lot of re-buying during the rush season from September-October to December.
T: How did you meet your wife? When did you get married?
R: She worked at Miles Kimball Company.
T: And you met her there? When did you get married Ray?
R: May 2nd, 1953.
T: Do you have children?
R: Four, two boys and two girls.
T: Do they all live in the area or have they sort of spread out?
R: No, I have one daughter in Oshkosh. I have a son in Oshkosh. I have another son in Green Bay and I have a daughter in South Elgin, Illinois.
T: Do you think the war changed you in any way, being in the service, being in the war. Do you think it changed you?
R: Oh, I don't think so.
T: Some guys say that's how they grew up; it made a man out of them.
R: It made me realize what I've got, you know. Thank heaven!
T: Yeah, you went to a part of the world where life was certainly a lot different than it is here.
R: Oh yeah.
T: Were any of your friends from Oshkosh killed during the Second World War? Pals of yours, guys that you were in school with. Can you recall any that were fairly close to you that were killed?
T: Do you remember their names?
R: No, this fellow wasn't killed, no. He died shortly after but no, he wasn't killed.
T: Do you think of the Second World War very much today? Is it something that comes back to you in one way or another, perhaps when you listen to a song or see a movie or that sort of thing?
R: Well, yeah. If you hear songs like you say or see movies, then it comes back.
T: Is there anything else that relates to World War II that perhaps we haven't covered. Some interesting facet of your experience that maybe we missed. Can you think of anything else Ray?
R: No. I could have gone on the first convoy from Lido but I wanted to sit home and write letters, so I stayed in my tent and I missed that historical occasion.
T: Well early on, you told me about your artwork in kindergarten having won a prize. As I know you've done that sort of thing in your adult life as well. Can you tell me more about that, how you got into that. When, for instance when you were in the service, did you do any artwork then? Drawings or paintings, perhaps of the area where you were?
R: Oh yeah. Sure, sure.
T: Did you ever have any formal training? Did you ever take art classes somewhere?
R: No. Unh, unh. Yeah, I made a lot of sketches, drawings of aspects of Indians and their life.
T: Did you save all of those things?
R: No, I gave em to my tent mate.
T: Gee, I think that was a mistake! I think you should have saved those.
R: And we had kind of a luxury place. A PX and a day room. And word got around that I could draw so they asked me to make some drawings that they could put on the walls of the day room. Sure. So I got some big pieces of paper and I got some colored chalk, pastels. And I made some pin-up pictures.
T: We all appreciate those in the service.
R: So yeah, they liked those. One thing that I did quite a bit of was make drawings of the fellows. Some of em would come into my tent and I would ah, oh I did that even in the states. Yeah, in the states I was going home on a furlough but I didn't have any money to speak of. And so I was working in a hospital at the time. So I made a drawing of one of the nurses, a portrait sketch about that big, maybe. Just the head and shoulders. And I charged $5.00 for that. And that went well. I made two or three of them. I worked all night. And that, coupled with the dollars that I had in my billfold, I was able to by a ticket home, a train ticket home. But yeah, I made a lot of those - portraits. And then they would give me sometimes, pictures of their sweethearts or wives and then ask me to make a drawing from that. And I would do that too. I made quite a number of those.
T: Now in civilian life, you've done artwork too. Is your medium mainly watercolor? Is that the thing that you work with?
R: Pretty much watercolor. I like that the best. I've done almost all of it but..
T: Have you sold your things?
R: Oh sure. I had, just for example, I had the Oshkosh National Bank on Waugoo and Main Street, which is now a different bank, they were going to build a new bank. Do you remember that? Well anyway the bank that is there now, they were going to have their grand opening and they wanted to give their customers, and new customers something in remembrance and appreciation. Like they used to at the movies, give dishes and, but they didn't want anything like that. So somebody came up with the idea of having some paintings and they thought that was a pretty good idea. They contacted me and asked me if I would make a painting of something Oshkosh. And they knew that I painted in watercolor at the time. I said, "Sure, I'll do it." And the next day they called up and they said, "Instead of making a painting of Oshkosh, will you make five paintings of Oshkosh, five different things?" So I said, "Sure, I'll do it."
And then I made the paintings. One of em was the Legion and they had a walkway out where they have a little harbor, like. And my son and I went out there and I was painting the clubhouse with a few sailboats in front. And some little boys, this was in the morning, ten o'clock, some little boys were on the steps and they spied us and they came out leisurely on the thing. And then they walked past me, looking to see what, and they walked out to the end, you know. To pretend that's really where they were going. And then they came back. "Hey mister, you sure do paint well."
So of those five paintings, they made 250 each of prints. Full size prints. And they gave a print to every customer or to everybody who came in and opened an account. And so in the City of Oshkosh, there's 1,250 of these prints.
T: Your work is throughout Oshkosh.
R: Oh yeah, I had a lot of mileage on that. I had the Children's Day Parade was one of the South Side. And in fact somebody wrote a very nice book about Oshkosh in connection with this Sesquicentennial that we had. And quite a nice book. And he has one of my paintings in that book as one of the happenings in Oshkosh - the Children's Day Parade.
T: I see. I'll have to look for that. Well that's very interesting, Ray. I think we've covered quite a bit of ground and it's been very interesting and I'm certainly very appreciative of your coming here and talking to us like this. I'm really very glad we had a chance to get together. Thank you very much.
R: Well, I don't have any heroic tales to tell.
T: Well, most don't. But we know that all of you did your part. You did what you had to do.
R: Well that's true.
||World War II
||6: T&E For Communication
||Oshkosh Public Museum
|Location of Originals
||Oshkosh Public Museum
||Pable, Raymond J.
||World War II
United States Army
China Burma India
||Oral History Interview with Raymond J. Pable.