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|Cassette recorded oral history interview with Robert Pable, who served on a Landing Ship Tank (LST) in the United States Navy as a signalman in the Mediterranean in North Africa, Italy, and France.
Robert Pable Interview
13 September 2004
Conducted by Tom Sullivan
(T: identifies the interviewer, Tom Sullivan; B: identifies the subject, Bob 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 13th, 2004 and I'm Tom Sullivan at the home of Robert Pable who served in World War II. Bob is going to be telling me about his experiences in that war. Let's begin then Bob, by having you tell me when and where you were born.
B: Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
T: Okay, and what was the date of your birth?
T: Were your mother and dad also from the Oshkosh area?
B: Yes they were.
T: What did your dad do for a living?
B: Oh, he was a salesman for Jewel Tea Company most of the time. And then he worked at the Axle a little while.
T: Was your mother also employed or was she a housewife?
T: I guess most gals were housewives in those days.
B: I think so.
T: Do you have brothers and sisters?
B: Yes, I have three brothers and one sister.
T: Are they all living?
T: They're all living. Are they in the Oshkosh area? We know Ray of course.
B: We had five children in our family.
T: And are they still in this same area, in the Oshkosh area?
B: No, no. I have one brother in Florida and one in Arkansas, and my sister's in Beaver Dam.
T: Tell me a little bit about your childhood Bob, where you lived and where you went to grade school for instance.
B: Well, grade school was at St. Mary's School down there on Merritt Street. And we lived on Boyd Street, right straight through from here where I am now.
T: I see; so you're pretty close to your roots. What sort of things did you do for fun when you weren't in school, when you were in the grade school?
B: All sports. Basketball, baseball, everything. Not good at too many either.
T: Did you go to high school in Oshkosh?
B: Two years at St. Mary's and then they closed down.
T: I remember when St. Mary's had a high school.
B: And St. Peters did too. And then I had to go up to Oshkosh High.
T: When did you graduate from high school?
B: June of '43. I didn't stay around here very long. I was in the service already.
T: When you were growing up, when you were a kid, we were pretty much in the depths of the Depression. Did that affect your family directly? A lot of families in Oshkosh were affected. I just wondered how yours was affected.
B: Oh yeah. Fellows never made a lot of money in them days. And we always just had to pitch in and do everything. And that's what we did.
(Mrs. Pable asks here if Bob's father bargained with farmers for food).
B: No, they gave em food. They would go out to Omro, Winneconne and them places, sell em stuff and they'd pay em and they'd give em a bushel of this or that. We always had enough to eat.
T: There was a lot of barter going on in those days I think. My dad was in business in Oshkosh and some of his patients would pay him with eggs or a chicken or something like that. I can remember that very vividly.
In the late thirties and the early forties there was war over in Europe and there was war in the Far East. Did you give any thought to that? Did you ever think that gosh, maybe someday we'll be involved in that or didn't it come to mind?
B: Oh, I knew I was gonna be involved in it because I, when I got out of high school they set me up in the draft. And I went to Milwaukee to get my physical but I got in the Navy instead of the Army.
T: Were you able to enlist in the Navy or were you drafted and then…?
B: I was in the USNR, that's the reserve. And you could enlist but that went directly to the Navy. You didn't have to go to Milwaukee for that. But they had some choices at that time so I took the Navy.
T: I see. Why did you pick the Navy?
B: I didn't feel like walking in the Army. (Laughter). Oh, I wanted to get on a submarine but I couldn't on account of my eyes.
T: A lot of fellows were interested in the Air Force. A lot of us made model airplanes and liked to fly.
B: That never interested me.
T: Can you remember where you were and what you were doing when Pearl Harbor was attacked?
B: Yes sir, I was down in St. Mary's bowling alley. And that's when it happened. I guess pretty close to one or two o'clock.
T: We found out early in the afternoon, I think. I was listening to the radio when we found out about it.
B: We couldn't even, we used to set pins there just before forty or after forty. We'd get something like four or five cents a game. It wasn't much you see. You'd give it to your dad, your dad would take it and give it to the doctor.
T: Did you have any other jobs that you did when you were in high school for instance, any part time jobs that you did besides setting pins?
B: I had some summer jobs like at Paine's woodworking, nailing together grain bins for the [west]. And I had a job bottling Bierle's Orange Aide. But there wasn't that many jobs open.
T: I guess that's right. I guess a lot of fellows were having a difficult time getting work. Tell me now about when you went into the service. What was the date that you went in? It was in July of '43, right?
Where did you go for your basic training, Bob?
B: Great Lakes.
T: How long were you there? Were you there just briefly?
B: It was pretty briefly because they needed men at that time. I'd say maybe five weeks.
T: I see. Then what was the next step after Great Lakes?
B: Well you had a little leave and then I had to report to Norfolk, Virginia. From Great Lakes I went to Little Creek, Virginia; Fort Pierce.
T: What kind of training did you receive when you went down to Virginia?
B: Small boat, amphibious training. Going right into the shore. But I didn't have that kind of, I was on a [ ] staff and I had to go in at the southern France invasion with them. And I was a signalman and I had ship to shore radio. They said they needed ammunition here or hospital here, because it was about a hundred-mile invasion from March 8 to…
T: Well, we'll get to that a little bit later.
(Bob's wife asks him what he did at Fort Pierce).
B: Amphibious training. At Fort Pierce, Florida. That was all amphibious training.
T: After your unit was trained, how long did it take Bob, to complete your training before they sent you overseas? Was it several months?
B: Oh yeah. I'd say maybe a half a year or so.
T: And then were you shipped out overseas? Were you attached to a fleet or…?
B: We went over on a Merchant Marine vessel. And I helped em out with signaling. But otherwise I was always…
T: Where did you head for when you left the United States?
B: Africa. We went to Africa. And from there we went up, and our home port was Palermo, Sicily.
T: Did you spend much time in Africa?
B: Back and forth every so often, yeah.
T: Now when you say back and forth, that was from where to where?
B: From Oran and [Orzu] area to Italy and places like that. Then come back and then we did get one [ ] from Florence, Italy to Marseilles, France and back. And I still don't know what it was for. It might have been secret stuff.
T: These trips that you made, what were you carrying? What was the load? Was it carrying troops or doing some other type of work? I don't really understand.
B: Well it was just our ship's company that was there. But we had plenty of people to protect the ship.
T: What was the purpose of the trip? Maybe I'm not making myself real clear. Why were you going from Africa to Sicily and Italy? What was the purpose of that trip?
B: Well I finally found out we used to haul some wounded down from, I can't think of the invasion over there, we would bring em down to Naples. That didn't last long. And then we swung around the "boot" and went up to Bari, Italy. And from there we went over to Greece.
T: How big a boat were you on at this particular time?
B: God, I can't think how big it was but that's a Landing Ship Tank (LST) and the bow doors opened up and the thing goes down, and it held six tanks in there. In the tank deck.
T: At that particular point did you have any contact with the enemy, with the Germans or the Italians? Was there any bombing or that sort of thing?
B: Over in southern France there was. There was the invasion over there.
T: When you were making these trips in the Mediterranean was there any enemy activity there?
B: Over in Greece. Now what it was all about, I'll never know. They said that the U.S. were fighting the Greeks for some reason. And we didn't stay there too long. I don't think we even should have been there.
T: When you left the states, you went to an area that is quite a bit different than we're used to here? What were your initial impressions of places like Africa, North Africa?
B: Poor. They're very poor people. And the French and the Italians, they had the invasion there so I don't know what it was like before that. They say that Florence was a great city for the arts and stuff. But I don't know what they did. And we were headed over one time to England and we dropped a port screw on the ship and we had to turn around and go back to Palermo and get it fixed. And then I finally found out we were headed to Normandy. Glad I got outta that one.
T: If you hadn't dropped the screw, you'd have been in Normandy.
B: Sure, sure.
T: I see. Was this LST that you were on, was it armed in any way?
B: Oh yeah. We had 20-millimeter guns on the side. But they didn't have these big ones, three inchers. That's battleships and stuff.
T: Were there any instances where they had to use those weapons? For instance against aircraft or any other things like that?
B: They might have. Because just down the shore from us one of the things got hit and you could see the smoke billowing out but I don't know what hit em. The Germans had a pretty good gun with that, what the heck was the name of that thing, "eighty-eight."
T: Yes, eighty-eights, a fearsome weapon, I guess.
B: Yeah, that's what they had at Anzio. But I went in with the Army on the beach. I dunno, they give me a pack with a rifle and bayonet. Cripes, I didn't even know how to load the gun!
T: Now your buddies on the ship, were they in the same boat? Did they give them the same kind of duty?
B: No. You just had to be a radioman or a signalman. Because we were actually shore-to-ship stuff. Where they're bringing things.
T: So the fact that you were a signalman made it possible for them to have you do that kind of duty with the Army.
B: I was still with the Navy because I was on the small boat that took us in. But when I got there they had a bunch of German prisoners on the shore already. And I went in, in the second or third wave. I can't remember which one it was. I think it was the third but could have been the second with all the Germans they had there. But after that they moved in pretty fast and we didn't really get much after that.
T: You did not have to go inland further then.
B: No, we [ ] shore.
T: You stayed with your unit more or less.
B: If they needed something, they would get down to us guys. We had one about every ten miles or so.
(Bob's wife asks him about a berthing incident where they wanted Bob to signal something).
Oh, I was in Africa and, she don't know what berthing is, they would come into the port there and request berthing instructions. And that's like you would say, parking a car. Just parking a boat, that's all that is.
T: It's a little more complicated though. Was it your job to give them instructions about which way to go.
B: Well I had a sheet up there which berths were open. And could tell em.
T: As a signalman, how did you communicate with these boats? You think of these little semaphore things that send Morse code or the flags, what was your method of signaling these ships? Or did you talk to em on the phone?
B: Mine was a searchlight about like that with shutters on it. And if you wanted to say like, SOS, you go dot, dot, dot; dash, dash, dash,; dot, dot, dot.
T: I've seen those things used in the movies and that's what you used.
B: That's what I did. And then they had flag hoists. Like if you were in a convoy, and the head ship wanted to turn a different direction, you just pulled off a bunch of flags and when they added theirs all up and we'd pull er down, that's what executed.
T: Was being a signalman your main duty when you were in the service? That was what you did most of the time?
B: Right up at the conning tower, yup. Well I hadda work with the quartermaster because we hadda chart ways to go. But they had all the stuff for it. Like they'd bring something down to the water's edge, a sextant I guess they call it. And that was mostly quartermaster work. But if something woulda happened to him, I would have had to step in there.
T: Tell me Bob, about your daily life on the ship. What was your quarters like and your food and so forth?
B: Food was good. The food was the best in the Navy on the Merchant Marine because they hadda pay for their food. And they give us [ ].
T: You didn't get the C-rations and things like that.
B: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I didn't spend all my time on that. Only once. But that's the LCM, right there. (Bob shows Tom photo of vessel). (Bob's wife asks him if he had to work in the kitchen once in awhile, serving fish).
Oh that was in Boot Camp.
T: I see on this particular photograph, are you on any of these pictures?
B: Yeah, that is me.
T: That is you, okay, just was wondering. And this is also you in this picture.
B: And that's my mom and dad. My mom and that's my dad. And this was good times. I think that's in Sicily.
T: I see you using the flags here. This is the instrument you mentioned before with the shutters on it that you used.
B: Yeah, the searchlight. And they used to have a real big one about like that, that run on two carbons. But we didn't have to use that very often.
(Bob's wife asks him where he missed the boat).
Oh, in Oran. I got back there. Now see that's what you were talking about.
T: Were your duties difficult Bob?
B: No. That was way up on a hill. (Bob is pointing out features in photos).
T: It wasn't something that was difficult to handle.
B: Well, everybody couldn't read light or memorize flag hoists and stuff like that. That's what we did when we were striking for the job.
T: During that time were you in touch with your family? Were they able to communicate with you?
B: Just through letters.
T: Did you get letters very often? Or were there gaps where you didn't get any?
B: There were gaps. There were sometimes when you wouldn't get nothin for a month. But I knew there was letters always coming.
T: Did you get a chance while you were over there to go on leave or to get a pass?
T: Where did you go when you had a chance to get away?
B: God knows! Bars. I wanted to get one when we was to go from Florence to Marseilles. Because I wanted to go down to see Rome. But every time I got a pass they were ready to pull out again and of course me being on the flagship, I hadda go with em right away. I don't know, Marseilles had some nice places too. They were a little shot up but their places of worship were just gorgeous. Some of em used to have five masses in one building. And well you know when you're in the Navy, you don't get inside much. Just the shore, shore stuff.
T: What was the weather like when you were over there?
B: Hot in Africa. And fairly cold in the eastern part of Italy, but we were way up north by that time.
(Bob's wife asks him where they hit the hurricane).
Yeah, that was the tail end of a hurricane in the Mediterranean somewhere. I can't remember where it was.
T: The kind of vessel that you were on, the LST, how did they do in bad weather? Did they pitch and roll a lot? Some ships rode em out pretty good.
B: They called that one the "bucking bronco" fleet. They had a bow. Most ships in the Navy's bows are like that. We had a bow like that because the bow doors opened and you would push waves instead of cuttin. And we had some Englishmen aboard one time and they'd look down the tank deck when we was in a pretty rough sea. And we were goin, and he asked me, "How are these put together, with hinges?" But they weren't bad. They didn't pull down much of a draft. You didn't have to worry too much about getting torpedoed. Because they go right into the beach. And then when they come off, they go on an anchor, pull em off.
T: What was the draft of a vessel like that when it was loaded?
B: It all depends on how much ballast they put into her I guess. But they didn't pull much, I think the bow was about six feet and the stern was about ten-twelve feet.
T: When you were moving troops or cargo were you usually in a sort of a convoy or did you go by yourself.
B: Oh no, we had several.
T: I imagine the German subs were operational in that area.
B: They probably were but they couldn't, if they tried to get us, they just go underneath. Yeah, we was right in with destroyers, battleships, cruisers, aircraft carriers and that stuff - depending on where you're going. Now if you're going to go to like Normandy or southern France or invasions in Italy or Africa, you had the whole big thing with you.
T: Now the LST as you said, stands for Landing Ship Tank. Did you transport a lot of tanks or was it a little bit of everything?
B: Well, they called it Landing Ship Tank but most of the stuff was these big trucks that the Army used. They'd have em side by side like that and they'd just drive off.
T: How about just plain troops? Did they use a different kind of a vessel to transport troops like infantry guys? Or did they use vessels like yours?
B: Oh yeah, the infantry guys, they went in these LCI's. That's Landing Craft Infantry. That's what I went into the shore with, with them guys. But those guys were pulled off a Merchant Marine transport. They have all your soldiers and that. Because sailors never got, like there was four of us. We got off and they took us to different stations.
T: You did your work in North Africa and also in Sicily and the west coast of Italy. Then went up to France and that area as well.
B: Southern France. That was the Riviera. [ ], Nice, Toulon.
T: Now that would have been a pretty good place to go on leave.
B: Yeah, if they didn't have too many "Krauts" in there, it would have been. That's where Hitler got screwed. He had Normandy, Southern France, and then Patton up there, then Bastogne…
T: During your period of service did you have any contact with German prisoners at all? Tell me about that. What was your opinion of the German soldier?
B: German soldiers were fine. They didn't like being in the Army any more than we did.
T: I suppose that's true, yeah.
B: But they had a whole bunch of em on shore. And I wanted to get a souvenir. They had these hammered belt buckles, had a swastika in em. And I wanted to get one. And I was offering the guy some cigarettes for that. And a tough-assed sergeant come in and he says, "What are you all doing here?" I said, "I'm trying to get this belt buckle." He grabbed it like that and cut it with his knife. He says, "Here, now get the hell out of here." (Laughter).
T: Well, I guess that's the easy way.
B: I had a, not a swastika, I had a German Beretta, Italian Beretta and a German P-38. And I landed back in New York and got in OGU Pier 92, 91. And that was one of them things, you turned around and checked in the mirror how you are. You turned back and something's gone. Oh, there were so many people there.
T: I suppose that can happen. Where were you when the war in Europe ended, Bob.
B: Norfolk, Virginia.
T: You were back in Virginia then.
B: I was in New York and then I went down to Virginia and that's where I was when the Germans surrendered. I remember because I could not get off that ship; they wouldn't allow it. Because that is a big Naval port down there at Norfolk.
T: Yes, I've seen it.
B: My grandson's at Norfolk.
T: In the Navy?
B: Yup. He's got a special [ ] though. He lives out towards Omro on a farm. And I know that a Navy hitch is four years. But he's got a special thing because he was good with computers and stuff; six year hitch. And now he's going on his, what, third year?
(Bob wife states that the grandson is in communications now).
Satellite stuff. He does a lot of satellite stuff. He'd have a good rating if he wants to stay in. 'Course you know them kids, they want to get out and see the world. He's never been on ship yet.
T: I suppose that can happen for many people in the Navy. You never get ship duty. Probably a lot of em are just shore duty. How many Atlantic crossings did you make, Bob? You went over initially. Did you go back and forth at all across the Atlantic?
B: No, not until I came back for good. But went up around Gibraltar and them places and all through the Mediterranean. Egypt, all them places.
T: When did you get mustered out of service?
B: March 10, 1946.
T: Between the time that you got back to Norfolk and were mustered out of the service, what kind of work did you do then? What were your duties?
B: We helped with the amphibious force.
T: You mentioned that you thought you'd probably be going the other way, to fight the Japanese.
B: Yeah, the ship was all, on our thirty-day leave they painted the ship and put all the stuff in. We got down there to get aboard and that's when the Japs surrendered.
T: Was that in Norfolk also?
B: Yeah. Because there is one time when we put our ship into decommission. We came from Norfolk to Jacksonville, Florida. And we went through by the St. John's River. And there was a big bridge there and this ship that went through there and made a turn into the St. John's River. And that's where we got decommissioned from. Then I got my orders to report to Great Lakes for my discharge.
T: I was going to ask you, when you went overseas initially to Africa, did you go on an LST or was it another vessel?
B: A Merchant Marine vessel.
T: I was just wondering, if it had been an LST, how long it would have taken to get across?
B: I was on an LST all the way back, about 18 days.
T: I could imagine that it would take longer than for a regular vessel.
B: Oh yeah, like I say, you're pushing the waves, you ain't cuttin em. That slows you down quite a bit.
T: Because of the fact that this LST was made to open those doors in front, did they have a tendency to take on water? Was there a pretty tight seal?
B: Oh yeah, it was a real good one.
T: After you were mustered out of the service, what did you do then?
B: Oh, I was going to go to school. I took the college exam.
T: Was that here in Oshkosh?
B: I lasted seven days, That was enough for me. I was doing quite a bit of bartending. And then I got a job up at Kimberly-Clark and that's where I stayed until I retired.
T: When did you meet your wife?
B: When did we meet? Too soon. (Bob's wife states that today is their 49th anniversary).
T: Oh, well happy anniversary!
B: Thank you. (Bob's wife states that she and Robert knew each other for about four years before marriage. Guys from the Roxy and Peacock were just like a big group. They all hung out together).
Oh, there was so many guys coming over, there was a party everyday.
(Bob's wife states that when he got out of service, she was only ten years old. They got married in 1950 but started going together around 1948).
Somewhere in there. Because we broke up once, then we got together again. But I was up at Kimberly-Clark when we got…
T: When did you retire, Bob?
B: From Kimberly-Clark? Well let's see. I was sixty-two and I'm 79 now. That was 17 years ago.
T: Were any of your pals from Oshkosh killed during World War II?
B: Yeah, one of the friends I played football was killed over at Pacific.
T: Who was that? What was his name?
B: Howie McClue.
T: Oh yes, I knew Howie. He was in a bird study class with me.
B: Oh, you know him?
B: He was quite a football player.
T: He was one of the first guys that I can remember that got killed. He was in the Boy Scouts or something and J.H. Evans from high school would take us guys out every Saturday morning on these bird study classes. And Howie McClue was one of em. And I can remember when I heard about him getting killed, I thought gee, that's a…
B: He was about the only closer guy I had. Harry Lee, I think now he got killed in Normandy, I think. I'm not sure. Oh, John and Richard Urban, they got the thing named after him at the Legion.
T: Were they both killed?
T: Oh, I see. I don't remember that.
B: John and Richard.
T: Do you think very much of the war today or is it just something that you put aside?
B: Oh, I'm sorry to see these kids go over there and get nothing out of it. And that's what's happening.
T: I guess my question was directed mainly toward World War II. Do you think back of your experiences in World War II very often?
B: No, they kinda drift away.
T: I guess it's that way for a lot of guys. Do you think the war changed you in any way?
T: In what way did it change you?
B: You just don't take too much for granted. And I like Harry Truman because he said, "The buck stops here."
T: I guess a lot of fellows grew up when they were in the service. They went in as kids but they came out as men.
B: And I still think they should have a draft for these kids for a year. Now they're taking guys from the reserve and the National Guard who meet once every two or three months. They're not properly trained to go over and fight. They do it, thank God for em, but it's not fair to em.
T: Is there anything else Bob, that relates to World War II that we haven't talked about, that we should talk about? I was going to ask you about some of your pals in the service. I can remember guys that were just princely fellows. They were just wonderful guys, but there were also some rather strange characters that you meet in the service. Can you recall any people like that, that were really strange and different and weird?
B: From the South there was one fellow, his name was [Soberod]. He was from East Moline, Illinois and his buddy was a Mexican. And if you've seen anyone that raised h-e-l-l more than they…
But good h-e-l-l. There's bad stuff and there's good stuff. They didn't hurt anybody, just fun to be with. But outside of that, when I was in Great Lakes, they held me back because they thought I had a spot on my lung. But I didn't and I lost all that time up there at Great Lakes. And all the friends I went in the Navy with, they were gone. And I was with a bunch of guys from Tennessee.
T: But once you were in that unit, that LST thing, were you with the same guys all the way through or were there some changes that took place then as well?
B: No, because I went to school for awhile to learn my rate. No, I don't think so.
T: But once you were overseas in the North Africa, Italy area you were with pretty much the same bunch of guys.
B: Unless like I say, I was on the staff and if he was gonna go somewhere, that was the ship that leads us because he was a Lieutenant Commander and these other captains just had the rank of J.G. or…
T: Were there usually a number of vessels that would go when you did things. When you took things from one place to another, were there usually a fair number of ships?
B: Oh, from ten to fifteen. That was just amphibious force LST's.
T: Then you had your destroyer escorts and so forth.
B: Yeah, if you were going to go to a battle area, yeah. You hadda have the big guns there.
T: Do you still maintain contact with any of those guys that you knew in the service?
B: I knew a couple from Minnesota but they're gone. And like I say, most of em were from the South. No, not really.
T: Well I think we've covered all the points that I wanted to cover Bob. I'm very happy that you allowed me to come and talk to you. I appreciate it very much. Thanks a lot.
|Oral History Interview with Robert Pable.
-WORLD WAR II
-Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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