|Cassette recorded oral history interview with Seraph Kaprelian, who shipped out to North Africa in November 1942 with a National Guard unit from South Carolina, landing at Casablanca. He was assigned as a clerk-typist in Headquarters Company under the 5th Army as it moved across North Africa. In June of 1944, Seraph's unit went to Italy. They were stationed in the Po Valley in Verona. Seraph became a Warrant Officer, JG in April of 1945 after passing an exam. He was assigned to a Military Government unit in Vienna, Austria in August 1945 where he remained until he came back to the U.S. in February 1946.
Seraph Kaprelian Interview
3 November 2004
Conducted by Tom Sullivan
(T: identifies the interviewer, Tom Sullivan; S: identifies the subject, Seraph Kaprelian. Open brackets [ ] or bracketed words indicate that either a word or phrase is not understood, or that proper spelling for the word is unclear, in that order).
T: It's November 3rd, 2004 and I'm Tom Sullivan at the Oshkosh Public Museum with Seraph Kaprelian who served in World War II. Seraph is going to be telling me about his experiences in that war. Let's begin then Seraph by having you tell me when and where you were born?
S: I was born in Adana, Turkey.
T: How do you spell that, the name of the city?
T: Okay. And when were you born?
S: February 22nd, 1920.
T: Were your mother and father both from that area?
S: Yes they were. They were involved in the genocide during 1915. In 1915 they were rooted out of their village and they had to walk from the central part of Turkey down towards Syria. I don't know how much of that you want me to tell you but…
T: Well, I know that there was this big conflict that occurred in Turkey but I don't know anything about it. I guess most of us don't, of the persecution of the Armenians. And I guess to this day there's problems.
S: Oh yes. The Turkish government denied that there was such a genocide but in 1915, in July of that year, my mother and father with their whole village were routed from the village and marched down toward the Syrian border. And that would be a distance of approximately one hundred eighty miles. The village - my father told me - had about one hundred, excuse me, one thousand inhabitants and when they got through at the end he says only about fifty survived. And they survived primarily because they were in the prime of health.
My father was twenty-six, my mother was sixteen. And only because of their age and their strength they were able to shall we say, survive. And at that time my mother was pregnant with a child and just about two or three weeks later she gave birth to that child. But the child died of malnutrition and no food.
T: Oh gosh, that sounds like a terrible experience! How many other brothers and sisters did you have?
S: The first one, who died in 1915, and I had two other brothers and two other sisters.
T: So then your folks settled in Adana?
S: No. They were more or less back and forth. More or less refugees back and forth. And it was just a case that they were in Adana at the time that I was born.
T: What did your father do for a living? How did he earn his living in a situation like that?
S: You mean at that time?
S: Well they were just struggling and trying to stay alive, if you can say. And they were not able to get any food and so on. And they would do certain things, like my father mentioned that they would go out into the woods and gather sticks and bring those into, and sell em to the bakers for money to buy flour in order to make stuff, to get something to eat. Then also I guess he said sometime they were hired as watchmen for the different orchards so the people wouldn't go in and steal, steal the apples or whatever was being grown at that time.
T: At some point did your family become more settled? Were they able to pick a spot to live and be more settled?
S: At that time, no. It was just back and forth and it wasn't until about, I would say, 1922 when my uncle who was in Racine, Wisconsin sent him money to get from there to the United States. And it was only because of my uncle that we were able to escape what would have happened to us.
T: I see. And then did the whole family come together to the United States? Your mother and dad and brothers and you?
S: No. There was only my sister and me. So at that time my mother and father and my sister and me, and I, I should say, came to the United States. And we left Beirut, Syria. And from Beirut, Syria we went to Marseilles. And Marseilles was more or less like a holding place while we're waiting for an exit visa.
So we finally got one and in 1923 we left Marseilles. My mother, father and sister and got to, came to Rhode Island, Providence, Rhode Island. And at Providence, Rhode Island we found out that the quota for our particular nationality was filled so they kept us in detention and sent us back to Marseilles. And then the following year, luckily my uncle again sent us enough money to come to the United States and we left Marseilles and came to Providence, Rhode Island again. And my uncle met us there and took us to Racine, Wisconsin. And that's where I grew up in my childhood years, in Racine, Wisconsin before I left for the service.
T: So when you went to Racine, you were still a real little fellow.
S: Three years old.
T: Do you actually remember any of that, of those trips back and forth? Or is that pretty dim?
S: That's pretty dim. But just vaguely I remember being on board ship where we would go back and forth on board ship. And going and being in bunks and climbing up to the top bunk on board ship. But that's about all I remember.
T: Now when you settled in Racine what did your dad do for a living there?
S: When we got to Racine, my father, through my uncle was able to get a job at the Bell City Foundry Company where it was a foundry and he was a grinder there. And he worked there, very hard work all of his years.
T: What year was that then that …?
S: That would be 1923 and '24.
T: And then did you go to grade school in Racine?
T: How did you handle the language business? When you came I assume that you probably speak a word of English? And your parents either perhaps.
S: No. The language that we spoke was Turkish. That is, we were Armenians but we were, they lived in a community where Turkish was the accepted language and they were told that they had to speak Turkish, not Armenian, because if they did the Turks said they would cut out their tongues. And for that reason, that was the language we spoke at home.
So when I started Kindergarten, I did not speak English very well. In fact I knew very little. And so there I guess they kept me an extra half a year and so you can say I failed Kindergarten!
T: I think my younger brother failed Kindergarten too.
S: Well what's so funny about that is that I'm a schoolteacher. I was a schoolteacher and when I would hand back the papers in Algebra class - I taught Algebra for a few years - and I said, "Don't feel too bad; Mr. Kaprelian failed Kindergarten." They got a kick out of that.
T: Can you think back of how long it took you to become really proficient with the language, you know so that you could communicate with everybody and make them understand what you were trying to tell them.
S: I would guess probably a year or two because as you in school plus talking to the other little playmates that you had, it must have been two or three years that I can say that I was able to speak English as well as I should.
T: How did your folks fare in that department, in the language department? Was it more difficult for them? You know young kids I guess can soak up these languages more easily.
S: It was difficult for my father and my mother. My mother of course didn't get out much but she caught on quickly and she knew enough so that she could go shopping and make herself understood. And my father of course was very interested in making a go there so he went to citizenship classes and he learned a little English and enough to become a naturalized citizen.
And I just assumed that since we were minors when he became a naturalized citizen, that we would become citizens too. But then when I was in the Army, they had this particular directive saying that if you are not a naturalized citizen, you could become one since you are serving in the Army. But there was no paper or anything there so after I got out and when I was teaching school, I said, "Well I don't have any paper or anything to tell me that I am a naturalized citizen." So I just applied for that and I became a naturalized citizen when I was probably about thirty, thirty-five years old.
T: So then you went to grade school in Racine and high school as well.
S: High school in Racine. Horlick High School.
T: When did you graduate from high school?
T: Were you active in any sports or music in high school? Were there any activities that you engaged in?
S: No, not classes, High Y club. And I guess the Drama Club and I guess that's about it.
T: When you were growing up the United States, and the world for that matter, was in the depths of the Depression. How did that affect your family? Can you recall how the Depression affected your family and if not yours, maybe the families of kids that you knew and palled around with?
S: My father, working at this foundry, Bell City Foundry, during the height of the Depression he was only able to work maybe two or three days a week and there's a minimum amount that he got. And I would say that we struggled like practically all the people at that particular time.
T: But at least he was able to maintain some employment. Because there were some people that went on "relief" as they called it in those days.
S: Well, we didn't get much relief. At that time there wasn't much that was given to the people.
T: In the late thirties and the early forties there was war in Europe and there was war in the Far East. Did you give that any thought at all? Did you ever think that maybe the United States would be drawn into that conflict? Or didn't you think much about it?
S: Well I think we were well aware of it because we knew that we were going to be of the age if the United States got involved, we would probably be ones that would be drafted. In fact one of my friends, I remember him saying, "You know," he said, "They're waiting until we're just old enough so that we can be drafted into the service." And that's about what happened.
T: Well, when you graduated in '38 did you get a job then or did you continue on with schooling?
S: Well jobs were not very plentiful at that time so I went to what they called the Extension Center; university courses in the Extension Center at the Vocational School. And so I was able to get close to two years of college credits through the Extension Center.
T: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when Pearl Harbor was attacked? A lot of people can remember that quite easily.
S: Yes, I can remember. I was on State and Marquette Streets and the guy with me said, "Did you hear what happened?" "No." Then I realized what had happened.
T: And I imagine you, at that time you would have been probably…
T: Twenty-one years old. The perfect age!
S: Prime! Prime! Prime!
T: You probably knew that they were comin after you pretty soon. Did you wait for the draft or did you enlist in the armed services?
S: We went and got our physicals before that. And I knew that it was just a matter of a month or two before I'd be drafted so I enlisted. This is my, I think the time that I got in was January 3rd, what does it say there? (Service records are being examined). January third…
T: January third of 1942. Seraph, did you enlist in the Army or did you try to get into one of the other branches?
S: It was the Army.
T: Why did you pick the Army? Some guys were interested in flying or in the Navy. Why did you pick the Army?
S: Well, one of the branches in the Army, or one of the schools was Water Purification School. The reason why I thought that would be something I could do, I had been working in the lab of the water purification system in Racine, Wisconsin. On what they called NYA, National Youth Organization.
T: I'm not familiar with NYA.
S: National Youth Administration. They gave, they were able to hire kids my particular age in different things and that was something I was apparently qualified to do since I knew, I'd taken science courses and that's why I went to the lab there. I helped in the laboratory.
T: Tell me about your basic training, what happened right after you enlisted. Where did you go?
S: Well from Racine we went down to Fort Sheridan and took our different tests there. And from there I went down to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
T: And was that where you got your basic training, in Fort Leonard Wood?
S: Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood.
T: What was the next step then?
S: Then I was able to go to the engineering, that is the Water Purification School in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
T: I see. A lot of times a guy wants to do a certain thing in the service and the government has their own plan. You go here and…
S: You become a cook!
T: Yeah. How did that transpire. Apparently it was something that they needed.
S: Yes. And also I got a pretty high score on my aptitude tests.
T: And again that was in Fort Belvoir, Washington?
S: Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
T: How long was the training there and what did the training consist of? What did they show you how to do?
S: It was three months. And what we did, we had classroom phase plus also going out in the field. And what we did is take the different equipment out in the field and purified water that might be stagnant or free flowing. All different types of water that you might run across if you were in with the water purification groups.
T: I don't want to get real technical but how did you purify the water? Was it a filtration process or was it chemicals, or both?
S: Both. It was filtration through sand beds plus an addition of chlorine.
T: After you were trained at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where did you go then? What was next?
S: I was next assigned to the 175th Engineering Group, a National Guard outfit out of North Carolina.
T: Did you go to North Carolina then? Was that where you were sent?
S: No. We ended up going down to Fort Moultrie, South Carolina. Over on Sullivan Island. That's where Edgar Allen Poe wrote The Gold Bug.
T: When did your unit go overseas? Was it quite soon after that?
S: We went overseas, I have some of that information here…
T: And this was the National Guard unit that you were with. You stayed with them all the time, more or less?
S: No. There was changes. We departed for overseas on the 2nd of November '42. We landed in Casablanca, North Morocco. Landed there in Morocco on the 18th of November '42.
T: That part of the world is certainly different than what you were used to in the United States. Can you tell me a little bit about your impressions of that area? Did you stay in that particular part of North Africa very long?
S: Yeah there was a little time there. We were at Casablanca and we stayed there for probably a month or two and then we went across North Africa, that is across Morocco, Algeria and were in Tunisia. Bizerte, Tunisia.
T: What was your impression of that country, that part of the world?
S: Quite destitute. When we were on board ship we looked out, that is when we landed in Casablanca. We'd look out and we could see the Moslems, the Arabs. And they looked quite haggard, ragged. And of course they looked like they were ah, needed food. And of course the GI's offered food to some of them. And some of the GI's were kinda mean. They knew that they didn't eat pork so they offered them Vienna sausages which were pork.
T: Yeah, I guess that happens. Your duties then were in the water purification department?
S: There was no unit set up there and so what I did is at the headquarters, they asked for volunteers of people who could type. And so I helped there in the main headquarters, typing and doing things there since I knew how to type quite well.
T: At some point you made rank. How did this occur?
S: Well I didn't get a rank until I was with the… I ended up typing and they made me a clerk. And when I became a clerk they made me a corporal.
T: Were your duties difficult in that respect?
S: No, not in that respect. It was kind of interesting. You were able to see things in operation. That is the headquarters. And at the company, I was in Company E of the 175th Engineers.
T: Were you attached to a division?
S: Yes. I'm trying to think of what division. I think it was the 5th Army but I'm not sure.
T: What was your daily life like then outside of your duties in the headquarters company? Did you have any spare time at all? What was the food like and did you get a chance to go on pass to any of the local areas?
S: Yes, we did. When we were in Casablanca we were able to go in town but it was not recommended because things got kind of hairy there. And when we got into Bizerte, which is in the northern part of Tunisia near Carthage, we were able to go into town and into Tunis. And I remember going in to look at the ruins at Carthage and it was very interesting.
T: I'll bet that was. Were your food rations the C rations or did you have a better type of diet?
S: There was a kitchen and we were able to get meals through the kitchen.
T: What kind of quarters did you live in? Did you live in tents or…?
S: There were tents in most cases but when we got to North Africa there were buildings that were battered and so on and we could go and live in the part that wasn't shattered. And the only problem there was that we had blankets but no pillow or anything soft to sleep on. So you put the blanket underneath you but it would be a tile floor. You slept on that. You just woke up in the middle of the night stiff and sore. Sore as can be.
T: And I hear that parts of the area over there were quite cold. You think of the desert as being quite warm but I guess from what I heard there were some areas that were very cold.
S: This is the Atlas Mountain Range and it was cold and the reason, what I remember is that just before we got up in the area I went to get a haircut. And the guy says, "Why get a haircut?" The barber, he says, "Why don't you cut your hair off just like all the rest of the guys?" And so that's what I did and I was bald-headed. The only problem was when you went to sleep and if you had your skullcap on and if the skullcap came off, then you froze. Your head was cold from that.
T: Did you hear from your family at that time? Were you in touch with them?
S: Oh yes. We would send V-Mail. And I heard from my family because my sister Helen would write and tell of things there. And I would write and tell em what a nice time I was having over there!
T: At that time, could you still converse or speak your native language?
S: I ran across a couple people, that is not there, I'll have to take that back. It wasn't until I got to Italy. And there wasn't anybody that I could speak Turkish with. Just before we were getting ready to leave North Africa to go to Italy, we went back, our unit, I was with the headquarters group now. We went back to Algiers, Algeria. And we were in pyramidal tents there in Algeria.
And I remember one time I came down and there was a bunch of people congregated around a fellow who was a native. And I said, "What's going on?" I asked one of the fellows and he said, "This guy seems to be able to speak any language that you talk to him." And of course somebody would say something to him in French; he knew a little French. And he knew a little German. So I said to him,
"[ ]" In other words I said to him, "Do you understand how to speak Turkish?" And his eyes just popped out of his head. And he said, "Yes, yes," in Turkish. "Come back later on. I would like to talk to you." And so I came back later on and he was an Armenian who was living there and he told me stories of how he got there. In Turkey I guess he had been a rabble-rouser so he had to leave in a hurry and he ended up in Casablanca.
And while he was in Casablanca he said when they asked him who or what he was, he was an Armenian and they didn't pay any attention because he was a Christian. But he said, "I got smart," he said, "So after awhile I told em when I moved from there, I told them I was a Turk. And being a Moslem then they accepted me." And in fact there he was there, and this is really comical, he said, "I have a wife, in fact I have two wives. One here and one over on the other side of town. And the reason why they are separated is because they fight." He says, "To top it off," he said, "I'm the one who goes up to the tower and calls them to worship." And he told me his name. His name was [Armin Zahasian] and he had brothers supposedly in the United States, in Detroit. And so I wrote one of the gals who I knew who would be in Detroit but nothing ever came of it.
T: I see. Well, the reason I asked about the language thing is because sometimes the occasion will arise in the service where they can use somebody who can speak that particular language, whether it be Italian, or French, or Turkish or what have you. I was just wondering if there was some point where they used your language skills.
S: No. I was not able to use that. The only other time I was able to use it, meeting another Armenian person when I got to Italy.
T: When did your unit go to Italy then?
S: They left, let's see, they left North Africa on the 19th of June, '44, arrived in Italy on the 22nd of June, 1944.
T: So actually you were in North Africa for quite some time.
S: Yes, close to twenty months or more. Quite a long time.
T: At that time did your outfit have any contact with the enemy at all?
S: No, when we left Casablanca and got to Tunisia that was just about the time that Rommel was chasing these allies into the Kasserine Pass. And they were able to stop him there. And we got just a little behind that, otherwise we might have been involved in some of that. The only involvement we got with the enemy was when we had air raids. And they came quite often in Bizerte. You could tell a certain time that air raids would come on because I think they were getting ships ready to go over to Sicily.
T: And so the Germans were probably after…
S: The ships and so on that were there.
T: Did you have any contact at all with the Germans or Italians when they were prisoners? Did you see any of them? Sometimes they used prisoners for certain jobs.
S: Well in North Africa we were finally in what they call a French barracks. A great big barracks. And there in that particular area they had German prisoners that we were able to, in fact I was able to talk to some of them. And they were young kids and they were homesick and they were sick of the whole thing. The one boy that I know in particular, his name was Helmut [Stroelow]. And he had been with the tank corps and he was captured.
T: What was your opinion of the German soldier in general? Were they a pretty formidable foe?
S: Well, we didn't see them in their gear. They were prisoners of war and they were quite nice and clean and so on, compared to the Italian prisoners. Italians were a sad group.
T: I've heard there was a difference there. Tell me about your going to Italy then and what you did there in Italy?
S: Well, in Italy we came after the, see Salerno was a spot where they were finally able to get into Italy. And then our group came, this headquarters outfit came and we ended up in the Po Valley.
T: Was your duty there pretty much the same as it had been in North Africa?
S: Yes, we were headquarters company.
T: At any point did you get into the water purification business?
S: No, that fell by the wayside. That fell by the wayside.
T: I guess that's the way it goes in the Army. Were you close to combat areas when you were in Italy?
S: No. They were far enough away and I guess there was a lot of, this is during the winter months mainly, rain and of course the troops that were more or less, you might say, the infantry troops were in sad shape with the mud and everything else. And there was a lotta bombing of Monte Cassino. The United States troops were, the Air Force was bombing the abbey that was up there that was more or less keeping the people from going up the valley.
T: When you're in the service you come in contact with guys from all over the place, all over the country. And I can recall meeting some fellows that were just exemplary characters, fellows that were really the kind that you looked up to. And then there was a lot of just ordinary guys like us. And then there were some that were a little bit strange. Oddballs, and some of them were the scum of the earth too. Can you recall any guys like that, that you knew during your time in the service?
S: Oh yes. There were a lot of nice fellows that I ended up, after I got out of the service, where I kept on corresponding with them, sending Christmas cards and so on. Of course what has happened through the years, most of these fellows that I corresponded with have died off.
T: How long were you in Italy then? Were you there up until the end of the war?
S: No, during that time I was able to take a test and I became a Warrant Officer.
T: Yes, I noticed that on your bio.
S: I became a Warrant Officer. I'm trying to find that here. April 13th in 1945 I became a Warrant Officer and then I was moved from that into a military government group.
T: What did that entail? What did a military government group do? Is that like military police and that sort of thing?
S: No, more or less administration. And then see we went from Italy into Austria and on August 6th, '45 in Vienna. I ended up in Vienna. But on the way before I ever got there we were in Italy and northern Italy in Verona. And we lived in the middle of an olive grove. And from there you were able to go into Verona and to Milan on leave.
And while I was in Milan one day I looked in the phonebook at the hotel. And I was looking for my name Kaprelian. There was no Kaprelian but there was a Mr. [Kasabian], good Irishman just like me. So I called the number and I tried to speak Italian which of course was very futile. So I said, [ ] "Can you speak Turkish?" He says, "Yes, I can." And so he was one of those Armenians, an older fellow who spoke both Turkish and Armenian. So he asked me where I was and I told him where I was. He said, "That's just around the corner from where I am. I'll come down there." So I came down there and we met and we were able to converse. And he was in the import-export business and was doing quite well for himself.
T: That's unique. That's pretty nice that you were able to contact somebody like that. And you were able to go to Milan and other Italian cities on leave?
S: Mainly Milan. That was the biggest one nearby.
T: And that's in northern Italy isn't it?
S: Yes it is.
T: I guess that's really a very big city, it rivals Rome I guess.
S: Yes, it does now. And I guess there are, I'm not sure whether it's fashions, fashion business and automobiles, or just what it is that they manufacture there now.
T: When you were in Vienna, and now this is probably getting pretty close to the end of the war, in this military government unit, what kind of work did they do? How was your work different than what you'd been doing before?
S: Well it was essentially just administration work in the office, but I don't know if you know that Vienna at the time was divided into four zones.
T: I didn't know that.
S: Yes, the United State, Great Britain, France and Russia. And each one of these countries took turns administering the ah, whatever had to be done in the city.
T: Sounds like Berlin.
S: Yes, it was exactly the same thing. The United States, well each one of them were responsible for supposedly getting rations to the general public who were very much destitute. There was lack of food and different things there. And the United States was able to supply many things to the Austrian people in Vienna. But when it came to the Russians it was a different story. And I remember some of the natives saying, there would be pictures of Stalin up there and they'd say in German, "He is the king of the peas. All he sends us is dried peas," or something like that. Compared to what we were able to furnish in rations.
T: Well, the Russians probably didn't have all that much for themselves.
S: That's right, they didn't. But when they came to town, what you could see and what had happened there, the Russians sent their old wagons down the streets and then went from house to house and pulled out the telephones and threw em out the window and they just put them on the carts. And they went into the factories, dismantled the machinery and put em on the cart, and all of those went back to Russia.
T: They were just raiders, more or less.
T: That's too bad. Then you were in Vienna when the war ended?
S: Yes, the European phase.
T: Did you stay there? What happened then?
S: I was in Vienna on let's see, I'm not sure whether I've got that date or not.
T: How long were you there before you were sent back to the states?
S: I would say about eight or nine months. And then I left there, supposedly to be, about that time I guess Japan had surrendered so we started going back.
T: You didn't have to worry about going to the Far East.
S: So we left, I got to LeHavre, France on the 10th of February, 1946 to get on board ship. And came back to the United States and arrived in New York on the 20th of February, 1946.
Then it was the case of being discharged, going from there to Fort Sheridan. Then from Fort Sheridan I was let go, discharged.
T: And you were discharged with the rank of Warrant Officer?
S: Warrant Officer Junior Grade.
T: And I noticed here that you received the Good Conduct Medal, which I guess we all got. Or most of us got. And two Bronze Service Stars. Tell me about the Bronze Service Stars. How were those earned Seraph?
S: Well just being in that area I guess.
T: Sort of a unit citation more or less?
S: Right. This one was for Tunisian campaign, one of the Bronze Stars. And the other one was for the Rome/Arno campaign in Italy.
T: When you were in Italy, and it was for a fairly considerable length of time, did you have much contact with the civilian population other than the other Armenian gentleman that you…
S: Well, we went to, let's see, when I was in the Po Valley we had a chance to get down to Naples. And from Naples it was a short distance to Pompeii. And so we went to look at that.
T: I bet that was interesting.
S: It was very interesting.
T: You were able to see a lot of interesting things there. How was the civilian population in Italy? Were they severely affected by the war? Did they have things pretty tough?
S: Oh yes. They had it very, very tough. And the thing that you would see, when you were on the road supposedly, we were on trucks that would go from city to city or back on leave. It looked like in the crossroads, the people in Italy, the ones that were in the north were down in the south and the ones in the south were trying to get back and forth to where they were originally. So there were many of these Italians on the roads trying to get to wherever they were supposed to go.
T: Lives completely disrupted. I suppose that was the way it was in Germany, or in Austria too.
S: I would think so, yes.
T: Well, when you were discharged, what did you do? Did you go back to Racine?
S: I went back to Racine and, see I had originally been working at a tannery outfit in Racine and I was able to go back there and I was just biding my time because I was going to go on to the University in Madison. To continue and finish up my degree. I had close to two years of college credits and so I was hoping to get back and that's what I did.
T: So you went to the University of Wisconsin at Madison. And did you graduate from Madison in two years?
S: Yes I did.
T: What was your degree?
S: I was in education.
T: Did you begin teaching then?
S: I graduated and I was able to get a job in Oshkosh in 1948. Mr. Tipler, the superintendent of schools called me up in August of that year.
T: And what did you teach in Oshkosh?
S: At that time I started out teaching general science and from general science to math. So I taught both math and general science.
(The first tape ends here).
T: So you got the job in Oshkosh in 1948. Why did you pick Oshkosh?
S: It wasn't a case of picking Oshkosh. At that time there weren't very many openings for teachers. And I just happened to have the qualifications that Mr. Tipler wanted. That was a science teacher and somebody who could do a little athletics with kids. And the teacher that I was going to replace had just gotten married so I was just replacing a teacher who had just gotten married.
T: And was this at Oshkosh High School?
S: No, this was the junior high school.
T: Which one was it?
S: South Park Jr. High School.
T: How long were you at South Park then?
S: I was at South Park for twenty-four years.
T: When did you meet your wife? When did you get married?
S: I met my wife in one of the education classes down in Madison. And we started going together and she was in Spanish. She was a Spanish teacher. And she got a job when we graduated in, both of us graduated in 1948. She got a job in New London, which is just a short distance from here. So after two years we both saw that what she should do is teach successfully for two years to get her lifetime certificate. And that's what she did and we got married in 1950.
T: And she came to Oshkosh?
S: She came to Oshkosh in 1950.
T: Did she practice her profession in Oshkosh as well?
S: Well, when we got here, we went to the superintendent's office, hoping that she'd be able to get a position too but Mr. Tipler just laughed. He said, "We don't hire married teachers, or married people."
S: It's true, at that time. And so my wife didn't teach but what she did do is, you see after, I kept on going to summer school. I got all my college degree through the GI Bill of Rights. And we were able to keep on. I had more credits so I could go and work on my Masters Degree. And I did. I got my Masters Degree and when…
T: What year did you get your Masters?
S: In 1952. And my wife, in the meantime there was an ad in the paper for somebody who knew Spanish and who could type at US Motors. US Motors, which was a going concern here in Oshkosh. So she applied there and she got the job there. In fact she got a very, very good job as typist and also as interpreter, interpreting their Spanish and Portuguese letters.
T: There weren't many Hispanic people living in the Oshkosh area at the time, at least very few. So it was all correspondence.
S: Correspondence, right. She was able to do that.
T: Do you have children?
S: We adopted one boy. That was in '58, we adopted a boy and so my wife had to stop her job at US Motors but they kept sending her stuff through the mail to interpret all the time.
T: She became pretty much a full-time housewife then.
S: Right, exactly.
T: Seraph, do you think the war changed you in any way?
S: I think so. I think everybody was, before the war, was so naïve. And we didn't know really what was going on. And I think being able to get out in the world, had I not gone, I probably would have stayed there and vegetated and not really done much at that time. But by having the GI Bill I was able to go to school and get a degree, in fact two degrees, Masters and also credits beyond.
T: That GI Bill I guess was a great thing for a lot of people. Early in the war things were not really going very well right after Pearl Harbor. Was there ever any time when you just wondered whether or not we would prevail? Was there ever any doubt in your mind whether the United States would come out on top with that thing?
S: I don't think so, because knowing the resources of the United States Government, I'm sure that just in time after things were built up again, we would prevail.
T: It took us awhile but once we got rolling it was terrific. Were any of your pals from Racine killed during the war? Fellows that you had grown up with?
S: Yes, there were. There were several of them that I knew that were killed.
T: Do you maintain contact with guys that you were in the service with? I think you mentioned that briefly before, that a lot of em were dying off. But do you still have some that you maintain contact with, or do you go to reunions? Does your particular branch have reunions?
S: No. I think most of the ones that I knew, see I'm 84 years old and these fellows were in their 80's. And the ones that I did correspond with, the one daughter told me that her father had died. And a couple other ones, I used to get Christmas cards from all the time, and they've dried up and they're not there anymore. And even to the point now that we used to have class reunions from my Horlick High School. And now that's stopped because I think the ones who were instrumental in leading that, I think they have passed away. There are just so few of em.
T: Yeah, I know that's happening. My high school is going to have its last reunion in a couple of years. We've said, "This is the last one we're gonna do because…"
S: 50th, or 55th?
T: This was 1946 that I graduated from high school. And they're leaving us too. It's one of those things. Do you think about the war very much today?
S: No. Try more or less to forget it.
T: Is there anything else that relates to World War II that you'd like to talk about that perhaps we forgot to touch on? I can't think of anything right off hand but can you think of anything? Some interesting experience that you'd like to tell about that we didn't hit on?
S: No, I can't really, oh, while I was in the service, one of the things I was able to do was to go on leave from Austria and to go down to Monte Carlo. I got a leave, ten days or so and I went on board the train through Munich, Germany, through France and down to the Marseilles area. Instead of going on to Monte Carlo I got out at Marseilles and went to visit these relatives of ours in Marseilles. And they in turn were there, see they never got a chance to come to the United States. They ended up being in a little village outside of Marseilles. San Antoine. And I was able to, what I did - I knew that they probably didn't have much. I saved cigarettes, chocolate, soap, and I had my bag all full of that stuff.
T: And these were relatives of yours?
S: Relatives, right. Cousins. So I was able to get down there and it was a very nice time.
T: Why weren't they able to come to the US? Was it because of the lack of money?
S: Lack of money. My uncle was the one that got us there. If it hadn't been for my uncle who lived in Racine at the time, we would not have been there. Well, my mother had four brothers and herself. All four of those brothers died. My father at that time had his mother and several sisters. They all died too. Remember, only 50 out of that 1,000 survived and they were all… The way that my father used to tell me stories about, they would be marching along. Anybody fell by the wayside, they tried to cover em up as much as possible. And he looked back and the dogs - which were vicious - would scrape away the dirt and start eating on the remains.
T: That's terrible. That is a real tragedy. You're parents really had themselves quite a time of it. I imagine when they came to the United States that must have been like going to heaven in a way, really.
S: They were not very wealthy and so on but they were in heaven compared to what they would have been into.
T: Even though times were probably a little bit rough here. But certainly a lot better than they had it there.
S: My mother always used to say, "Oh, this place, it's so cold and these people here are terrible. The men go out with other women and the married women go with other men." And as she was saying it was terrible, I said, "What would you rather do? Rather go back there?" I said, "Remember, they don't have any running water and they don't have this and…?" "That's right." So she realized that.
T: Well it's been very interesting talking to you Seraph. I appreciate your willingness to come down and do this at the museum. Thanks very much.
S: I enjoyed it too.
Oral History Interview with Seraph Kaprelian.
-WORLD WAR II
-Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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