Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Time With Sy Ellenhorn

JR, Sy Ellenhorn, Nicolle, and Nancy
One of our latest interviews has been by far one of the most exciting for me out of all of the interviews I have done so far.  Sy Ellenhorn, a waist gunner on a B-24 based out of Italy from 1943-45. During his service in the Second World War he flew 40 missions over Germany, Austria, Italy, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. During one of his missions between 1943 and 1944, he and the rest of the crew were forced to bail out of their plane over the Adriatic due to battle damage. He was picked by a British convoy and given temporary rest before going back to fly again. It was shortly after his return to flying that he was informed that he was now a member of the Caterpillar Club, which was joined by having successfully bailed out of an inoperable plane using a parachute. He was given a pin and certificate that he showed us during the interview.  Along with the pin and certificate he showed us many of the photos that were taken during his service as well as his service medals and his leather flight jacket.  After the interview he posed for photographs in his Army Air Corps jacket and even gave us the tour of his 1850’s home. I have to say that Sy is one of the funniest and most hospitable people I have ever met in my life.
After our interview with Sy our group managed to get him in contact with William Landis, who was our first interviewee and also a B-24 crewman.

--JR Bauer 

James Ireland: The Story of an MP

Going into the interview with Mr. James Ireland, I was both excited and nervous. I had learned a great deal from watching Mr. Buckley interview William Landis the day before. But this was the first interview that JR and I were going to be participating in. Mr. Buckley would be there to guide us, but we had to prepare and ask questions.

The morning before the interview, Mr. Buckley briefed us on the information he had gotten from Mr. Ireland over the phone. JR and I then started to research and prepare some questions about Mr. Ireland’s service. We knew he was Military Police (MP), and that he served in both North Africa and Italy during the War.
Mr. Ireland with Brady and J.R.
When we got to the interview, Mr. Ireland was very reserved, and said that he was not sure how helpful he would be because he believed his service to be uneventful, and his job not of importance.

James Ireland is a native of Kent County who enlisted in the Army. He was excused from the draft do to a childhood injury that left him blinded in his left eye. Mr. Ireland remembers telling the recruiter that he would not leave without enlisting. The recruiter told Mr. Ireland that he would spend the War state side, and he agreed. Six months later, Mr. Ireland was deployed to Casablanca and later Italy.

During the War, Mr. Ireland's duties included watching German and Italian soldiers who had been captured. Mr. Ireland said he was never concerned about prisoners trying to escape, and he believed this was because none of them wanted to return to the front lines.

His other duty was patrolling the towns watching out for the off duty soldiers who were blowing off steam before heading back to the front lines. Mr. Ireland recalled that most of the solders were very unappreciative of his duty giving all the MP’s nicknames like “Military P****”.

Ireland's discharge paper
During his time overseas, Mr. Ireland remarked on the different cultures he was able to experience. He remembered vividly the time he was able witness a volcano exploding, and how extraordinary those experiences were.

At the end of the War, James Ireland was sent on a plane filled with German prisoners back to the states where he continued to guide them until he was honorably discharged from the Army in 1946 after around three years of service.

I want to thank Mr. Ireland for his openness and for taking the time to share his story with us.

--Brady Townsend 

An Afternoon At Levindale

Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital was a day long endeavor for interviewing veterans, and meeting some unexpected new resources. With the help of two employees of the hospital, John Otten and Helene King, we set out to go room to room with a list of names of possible veterans to talk to. At the end of the day, we had two men with strong stories, and I had met someone along the way with stories of World War II from a concentration camp.

Frank Lebow, a doctor now residing in the nursing home, was on the USS Missouri when the Japanese was signing their treaty of surrender. As a teenager, Lebow enlisted in the Navy, and was put onto the ship after training. Lebow also saw Pearl Harbor, meaning he had the experience of being with the war from the beginning to the end, something not many can claim. On the topic of being a Jewish soldier, he said he was not treated any differently, everyone had one goal, and that was to get home at the end of the day. Frank Lebow also had family in World War I and spoke highly of his parents keep him on track during this time, encouraging reading and educating himself during this time.
Mr. William Mazer

Walking into William Mazer’s room, we found that the room was empty, and a man hunt ensued for this man to share his story. Going to a community activity to see if he was there, as we rounded a corner, he came out of nowhere saying that he knew he was running late to find us and he had a lunch in forty minutes that he had to be to, then starting laughing. Mazer told us of how his family comes from Russia and he was moved to the United States when he was around one year old. He joined the Army as a teenager and moved from base to base during training. Eventually after 3 years in the states at bases, Mazer was informed that he would be sent overseas, but when he reported, they told him he couldn’t go. They had lost his records, he did not exist to the Army, and was soon offered discharge, which he greatly took and reunited with his wife.

After two interviews so full of information, I was mentally exhausted and talking to my mother who was visiting my grandmother in the same building, when a man approached us. His name is David Friedman, and I was immediately taken back by the first thing he said to me, “out of everything bad comes something good.” He knew who I was because of my mother talking about me to fellow residents about what I was doing in the building that day, and told me I needed to hear a story from the World War II era.

My mother eating lunch with my grandmother in the garden

Friedman knew of a man named George, who was born on Pesach (Passover), and on his 8th birthday the Germans came and brought him to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. After spending years in this camp, George knew that something big was happening, because the Germans had started shooting just about everyone in the camp, but had run out of bullets with many still alive in the camp. They soon combined the prisoners of war in the camp and the Jewish people together, and were giving them bread. For the Germans to be giving these men bread was something incredibly unexpected, but George was so hungry that he was not going to question the motives of his captors. Before he could eat the bread, two Russians who were prisoners of war beat him and took his bread; George went to sleep hungry that night. The next morning, George was the only one alive in his hut. The Germans had poisoned that hut’s bread and the Germans in charge of that hut soon left after, knowing that the liberation was near. Bergen-Belsen was liberated that Passover. George said that it was מלאכים, the angels, and the Americans, saving this day for him to be liberated.

I know Levindale still has so many stories to tell and I plan on going back soon to try to help this stories get preserved in the way these will be soon.

--Molli Cole

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Looking the Enemy in the Eyes - A Story from Bill Campbell

Tuesday, June 17th 2014

Today was my first day working on the Oral History project for Washington College, and it was definitely not what I expected. The rest of the group has been here for a couple of weeks, (besides Rachel Brown who just joined also, but has been doing this since 2013 so she’s already basically a pro) and have already had experiences with interviewing. So, for today I acted as a shadow while Molli Cole and Brady Townsend had their first group interview with Bill Campbell. 

To be honest, I was very timid about interviewing a World War II veteran. I had never done an actual interview before, so I was afraid I was going to be awkward and therefore make the interviewee feel uncomfortable. Also, I had the expectation that veterans would be reluctant to share their stories and that it was going to be all up to me to prompt them to be motivated to want to talk. But Bill Campbell, aka “Soup” by his shipmates, changed my perspective completely. He was very warm and welcoming, showing us his “pad” and the back porch he uses for bird watching. He brought us into his office, which was like walking into a room of his history being involved in World War II and the extra 10 years he stayed in the military, filled with pictures of his destroyer, pictures at award banquets, medals, uniforms, awards, and files that held information pertaining to what he did while in the war.

When we first sat down with Campbell, he gave us the rundown of what happened during his time out at sea on the destroyer USS Melvin. As the interview went on, we asked him more questions that gave us more detail of his experience. 

When Campbell was assigned to the USS Melvin he was the assistant gunnery officer. So, when the gunnery officer left for his downtime or rest, it was Campbell’s job to take his place. He told us that his first experience however, was a lot more extreme than expected. It was his first week on USS Melvin, and while watching over the gunnery office they were attacked by the suicide bomber kamikaze planes. These planes must have been terrifying, because not only are they bombing and attacking you…but even with two of their wings blown off, they will keep coming at you. 

One of the kamikaze actually dived down so close towards the destroyer that it was impossible for USS Melvin to shoot it down because the bomb attached to it and the debris could destroy their ship. As the kamikaze was getting closer, all the gunners could do was waiting to see what would happen next. As Campbell watched from the gunnery office, his and the Japanese eyes met...something that would most likely be the last thing that a soldier sees, but to their astonishment the kamikaze  lifted up and flew just barely over the destroyer. After that, they shot the kamikaze down. This was particularly interesting to me, because you rarely hear stories of how two opposing sides share an intimate moment such as making eye contact and then live on to tell others about it.

As this is only one of Bill Campbell’s stories, he had many that he shared with us. He and the rest of his crew were successful with their other battles and missions, and they also helped with the occupation in Japan after the war. They did this from July all the way to December, and after hitting a typhoon, the USS Melvin finally made it back to San Francisco to return to their wives after a long period of their life out at sea. He graduated from the Navy in class 1944, and is currently involved in the committee for setting up reunions for his graduating class. 

I will always appreciate how open Campbell was with us and how fun he made me first interview for me. I’m very excited about what else I will get to hear from our veterans in their moments of bravery serving our country. 

-Nancy Louck

The Life of a B-24 Pilot: Wilson A. Landis III

Going into our first group interview this summer; it was very exciting to finally get started. When we first arrived for the interview I noticed Mr. and Mrs. Landis had laid out various items of memorabilia including Mr. Landis’s flight jacket and a shadow box containing some of his service medals. Wilson A. Landis III was a B-24 bomber pilot who completed approximately 35 combat missions during World War II. He was shot down, had to evacuate his plane in the middle of a foreign country, lost close friends and saved the life of his navigator by carrying him wounded through the forest in Yugoslavia. 
What stands out the most to me is the humbleness he displayed when sharing his story even though he was incredibly courageous and faced great dangers during the war. Also, it was evident that Mrs. Landis is very proud of her husband’s service. Mrs. Landis shared a few stories and also showed us a piece of his parachute she received by mail when he was overseas. She told us while all the other ladies were receiving jewelry in the mail she received a piece of cloth. It wasn’t until Mr. Landis came home that she fully understood the significance of the gift and now she cherishes it as the parachute is what saved his life when he bailed out of his plane. I have often wondered what it must have been like living through a war such as this. When asked what advice he would pass on to this generation Mr. Landis stated “We have to be ready to defend our country, we weren’t expecting a war nor did we want to go to war, we were just enjoying our lives, attending college when the war happened”. It must have been surreal to one day be a college student and the next day you are at war. I want to thank Mr. and Mrs. Landis for telling their stories; it was a true pleasure meeting them!

-Nicolle Gamez

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Under and Up Again: Our Time with Edith Noordewier Foley

When we first arrived at the Foley household, we had expected to obtain an interview about a young girl who lived in Nazi Germany, and later wrote a book about her time in the country. Little did we know, we were actually walking into a soon friendship with Edith Noordewier Foley. As we were sitting down for the interview, Edith told us she was not sure she had anything to contribute to our Oral History project. In fact, she handed us her book “Under and Up Again” and told us to read the back and see what she could further contribute. We were more than ready to ask questions after reading the summary of her book, and wanted to immediately jump into growing up in Nazi Germany.

Edith started her story and grabbed our attention for the entire hour long interview. There was not a moment where we were not intertwined in what this woman had to say, from having different food stamps and being ostracized, to watching her father smuggle Jews away from Germany which she later learned was just one of his jobs during the war. Throughout the entire interview, one segment was stuck in my head and I do not think I will forget it, “war does not happen fast, you see it slowly take away everything you know.” This rang true in Edith’s story, she lost her father, her mother became ill, and eventually Edith was taken from Berlin to the Netherlands where she could continue schooling and try to achieve normalcy in a time of war.

While Edith was not German, she felt the repercussions of having a German accent when she went to attend a boarding school that was specific to war torn girls, many from Japanese concentration camps. She was talking in the school one day, when a Jewish girl came up to her and slapped her across the face when the girl heard Edith’s accent. There was no way to react, Edith just stood there, and she knew why the girl had hit her, just because she SOUNDED like a German.

After hearing about Edith’s long journey that eventually led her to America, we looked down at the tape and realized that we had over an hour of audio, and decided it was a good time to stop recording. The second we turned off the machine, Edith offered us a drink and told us about her family history, the inspiration for her book “Never Gone.” After around another hour of conversation just as people, not as the interviewer and the interviewee, it was actually sad to have to leave the Foley residence. I felt bonded to this woman, not because I knew her story, but because she took the time to learn ours, and let us into why she chose to write down all of her memories. Eventually, we had to say goodbye and Edith had told us that she was glad to have met us, but I think Brady and I were more honored to have the chance to meet Edith.

--Molli Cole and Brady Townsend