An open interview: My grandfather is a 91-year-old American WWII medic who served in England, France
My grandfather is a 91-year-old American WWII medic who served in England, France, Holland, Belgium, and Germany, liberating a POW camp. Ask him Anything!
What was the first thing he did once he returned?
He says he kissed his mother :) He'll never forget when he was walking down the street when he first got home and recognized his own mother walking in front of him, and came up to her and kissed her. She was shocked to see him!
What did he dream of doing while overseas?
He says he dreamed of getting laid. BAHAHAH.
I understand he was a medic but to what extent (if any) did he have to use his weapon?
Did he injure the enemy in any way? Thanks for doing this. He says he bandaged a German officer but then said: "Drop dead, you son of a bitch," and then he walked away. Also, medics do not carry weapons during combat -- he walked around with a weapon most days but never used it against anyone.
Good story though: Once he threatened to kill one of his own medics because he deserted his post during combat; he held a gun to the guy's head and said that if he ever deserted during combat again, he would shoot him himself!
Thank him for his service please. Where was the POW camp and what condition were the prisoners in when freed?
The camp was in Mannheim Germany and housed mainly British POWs. He says they were in very poor condition -- they were ill-fed, poorly clothed, and he observed evidence of torture. He won't elaborate on that last bit though, sorry.
Which camp did he liberate? What were the occupants' reactions? What is his attitude to Germans and Japanese people, both now, and straight after the war?
He doesn't remember the name of the camp, but it was in Mannheim, Germany. He says he still has an unfavorable opinion of both the Japanese and the Germans. It took him literally 50 years to be able to get into a German car -- I remember him refusing to get into my mom's BMW.
I've gotta thank your gramps for what he went through. My question is this: How prepared were you mentally for the rigors of war? Were you told just how brutal it could be?
He says he had no concept of how brutal it would be. He said he was once asked to indoctrinate 6-7 new officers because he had the most combat experience in the battalion at that time so he told them the only thing they could do to survive was to "keep their head on their shoulders"...literally, and make sure they went back home to their mothers.
Would he be able to describe how he learned about the concentration camps? Was it through the media, or within the military?
He learned about the camps through actual survivors, after they were liberated. He also had friends in platoons that liberated some of the camps, who told him about them and showed him photographs. In other words, he didn't know about them until late in the war.
Have you kept any mementos of the war, besides your memories and medals? He brought home souvenirs that were "liberated," including weapons, Nazi flags and arm bands, a Nazi helmet, and other military equipment. He also took photographs of bodies stacked up in the Buchenwald concentration camp that were given to him by military officers he knew.
Have you heard of people taking "war trophies" home after/during the war? If so, what were some things brought back?
He says other people he knew brought home mostly weapons (pistols, rifles, etc).
What was the most gut-wrenching, tense moment he experienced in all the war?
He says this question is unanswerable, because it was all horrible. But he says the most difficult part was just day to day, standing up and hearing bullets go by your head and not knowing if one has your name on it.
Did he participate in any specific battles, go through any specific towns/cities? Memorable expierences?
There was a coin toss between two companies about landing on D Day because the commanding officer was looking for volunteers. The other company won the coin toss and they landed on D Day, and he landed two weeks later. So basically I would likely not exist if he lost that coin toss. He was in Normandy and a bunch of little towns in France, including Isigny.
Does he think their should still be a draft? What does he think of the treatment of veterans today?
He thinks there should still be a draft because if the country needs it, we should do it.
He says that veterans are not treated well today, but he won't describe in what sense...
How has his time in the war affected the years since?
He says he had PTSD when he came home: nightmares for 6-8 months and general anxiety. He used to dream about artillery shellings and would jump under the bed for cover, even after he woke up.
Do you remember any moments of beauty amongst the chaos around you? Also, what would you say to young people considering enlisting in the army? Thank you for taking time to answer our questions!
He doesn't remember any beauty, except for a woman he met in Switzerland, and another woman in France...lol.
And as far as enlisting...he says good luck. :)
Did he ever save an enemy from dying?
He says the POW camp he liberated also had civilians in it, because Germans took civilians from other countries and housed them in these camps.
Where did he enter Europe? Involved in any major battles? Sleep in a foxhole? See a German tiger tank?
He says he was stationed in England and then sailed to Normandy from there. He did sleep in a fox hole many times (and envied the guys in the Navy because they always had clean, dry beds) and saw a German tiger tank (and was scared!)
What base was he at in England? We just returned from RAF Mildenhall :) Let him know that a random Air Force wife thanks him for his service. He doesn't remember :/
I know this has been said time and time again but tell him thank you for his service. My great-grandfather served in France and was killed during a battle in which his unit was pinned down. Was there ever a time in battle where his unit was pinned down by enemy fire?
He says that when he was in France, his unit was pinned down by German fire. During that time, no soldiers he knew died, but he says that he felt guilty for living while those around him died.
Can you ask him about some of his memories from VE Day and VJ Day? Was he fortunate enough to be back home for either of those?
He says he was preparing for Japan's invasion after VE day, so he wasn't lucky enough to be at home -- he was still in Germany. He remembers it being a really joyous day :)
He says the same of VJ day. He's not super descriptive sometimes -- wish I could type more!
What is the greatest hardship he faced while serving?
He says the greatest hardship was being away from home, which was even harder than being shot at on a regular basis. He also says the Germans had an .88 mm canon, which was scary.
What was the most interesting thing that happened to him while serving? And if he knows what CoD is, what does he think about it? Also tell him how cool he is for doing this and tell him I said thank you for serving.
He says the most interesting thing that happened to him was not getting killed (LOL). I asked him what else was interesting, and he said, "Not getting killed more than once." A straight shooter, he is.
He has no idea what CoD is, but you're welcome!
Can you give your grandpa a high five for me? Tell him Pedraam said hi.
Hahaha sure, thanks for your support.
Also, would he do it again if he had the choice?
He says no, he wouldn't, because it was so rough for him. He saw a lot of men die "aimlessly" -- basically a lot of senseless death that he wouldn't volunteer to see again. He enlisted voluntarily before the draft, btw.
I know it was a long time ago in the middle of the biggest war in history, but during non-combat down time, what was his favorite/most liked country while he was in Europe?
He says he really loved Switzerland, where he passed through during his time off.
What are his opinions regarding the events in Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Was he generally for or against the bombings?
He says he didn't know anything about them at the time, but was happy to hear about them after they happened because he was just happy to be going home sooner. The sad realities of war.
I would like to thank your grandfather for his service. Did he keep in contact with any members of his platoon? Also, what did he do specifically to earn the Purple Heart and Bronze Star? Thanks again!
He says he kept in contact with only a few members of his platoon, but not really.
In November 1944, on Thanksgiving Day, he was in a small town in Germany and his position came under mortar attack, and he was hit by shrapnel -- that's how he won the Purple Heart.
He won the Bronze Star for meritorious service -- not for a specific action.
What kind of music does he like? Favorite musician?
He says he used to like Wagner but then found out he was an anti-Semite and stopped listening to him.
He likes Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra.
Thank you for doing this! My grandfather is also a vet of WWII. He was in Europe at the beach landings at Normandy, at the Battle of the Bulge, assisted in the liberation of a concentration camp and was in occupied Berlin.Thank you to your grandfather for his service as well!
Until the last few years, most of his memories of what he had experienced were repressed. He talked about the Battle of the Bulge and Berlin post war. He loves telling stories and my mother and I were really surprised when my grandfather started talking about Normandy and concentration camps, something nobody has heard him talk about.
Has your grandfather had any similarly repressed memories or things he didn't really want to share? He isn't too shy about sharing anything -- he says his life is an open book -- but only recently told us about his PTSD after the war. In addition to that, he isn't very descriptive, partially because of his personality but also I think because it's painful for him to talk about.
I've read that the winter in 1944 was pretty cold, especially in Belgium and north Germany. Was he there then? Did he participate in the Battle of the Bulge? Does he remember the Malmedy massacre?
He says he was there and remembers freezing his ass off. He was in the Battle of the Bulge, and remembers the Malmedy massacre -- he heard about it from within the military.
Ask him to describe his feelings when he first heard the news about Pearl Harbor. It was obviously enough to get him to enlist. Did propaganda play a role that he now recognizes?
He says he kiddingly told his girlfriend (my grandmother) that he would voluntarily enlist, and then he actually did. He says that propaganda did not play a role -- he says everything he did, he did voluntarily, of his own volition.
What if he had to say, was his biggest regret of the war?
He says his biggest regret was that his father died while he was away (in August of 1944), and he didn't know it until the end of the war because his mother didn't want to tell him anything that would potentially disturb him and cause him to be careless and lose his life during combat.
I've heard the German 88's were extremely accurate. How did you deal with that kind of firepower when you were on the receiving end?
He was scared of them, and said he just ducked and stuck his nose in the dirt, keeping his head covered!
How did you fare with the ladies in Europe?
See previous answers -- he did VERY well. haha :)
What is his best/favourite memory of his time in the armed forces?
He says his best memories are with the women he met hahah.
What were his motives for joining?
His motive for joining was knowing that it was the right thing to do -- his patriotic duty.
Did he come into contact with any bandsmen?
He says he never met any bandsmen.
Has he been back to Europe since the war?
Yes -- he went to France, Belgium, Holland, Italy, and England. Wouldn't go back to Germany. He enjoyed it but says it's a "qualified" enjoyment because it brought back bad memories too. He says the countries were stripped bare.
Does he have an opinion on the early surrender of Belgium and Holland?
Even today there's a discussion here about wether or not the governments at the time were cowards or just realistic. He says that they didn't have the guts to stand up to Germany, haha. And you're welcome!
Did he meet any Canadians?
Not really, he says. Haha.
I'm 27, struggling with life. what is the best advise he would like to offer on motivation and whatsoever?
He says this is a difficult question, but you should try to seek out whatever makes you happy, and give yourself reasons to live out every day by looking for the good in everything you see. Sorry, this is a really good question and I wish he could give more detail but it's difficult for him to answer open-ended questions now.
Which job does he feel was more rewarding between platoon leader and combat medic?
He experienced combat (which was horrible) all the time when he was in Europe.
Let's assume he could go back in time and relive his service days but with current modern day technology. What technology would your grandfather want with him during his time fighting?
He says he served both of these roles -- his commanding officer appointed him to that position, and actually wanted to make him an officer and put him an officer school (which he purposely failed because he felt too guilty getting better treatment than the other soldiers). He doesn't know how to answer this (he doesn't really know modern technology) -- sorry!
Another message from an Internet stranger, but thank you for your service. I think that's a part of history that will never ever be forgotten. Was he married at the time of the war? If so, how did leaving/fighting/coming home affect their relationship?
He met my grandmother before he left for the war and she wanted to marry him before he left, but he didn't want to marry her because he didn't know if he would be coming home. My grandparents corresponded the entire time he was away, and married when he came home :)
Hello, Please do thank him for his service and agreeing to do this. I'm Jewish and cannot thank him and his generation enough. Moving on: If we can learn one lesson from him/his experinces what would he like that lesson to be? Did the war change his views on race, racisim, fellow humans? Does he regret anything he did during that time?
He doesn't know about the lesson -- it seems to broad for him, sorry :/ The experience did change his views on the world for the better actually, because it made him more observant of facts. He says that people who are intolerant just do not have all the facts and don't understand te problems of others. Basically, he became more tolerant and understanding of other races, religions, nationalities, etc. He doesn't regret anything he did, but I typed somewhere else that he regrets not being home when his father died.
Please thank him for his service. I have a BFA in Film Development and production, and a debated topic among a few classmates and me is the profitability around war stories. In another response, your grandfather said that he disagrees with making war video games, as it's little more than profitization. In his opinion: Does converting war stories into film lessen the value of people's sacrifices made in the war? Or does it extend the memory of good people and remind the public of the selfless sacrifices made during the horrors of war? Or does it do something entirely different? And lastly, if there was one thing that got him through the war, what was it?
These are good questions, but my grandfather has lost a lot of ability to articulate things that aren't straightforward questions -- he has trouble with critical thinking now, so he's unable to answer them. Sorry about that!
Did he ever hear any English kid use the line “Got any gum, chum?” Also what does he think about the current system for combat medics where the medic on the ground patches them up, the chopper crew keeps them alive and the doctors on base fix them up?
He says he did hear that line! And he says that's the chain of evacuation -- doesn't have any more to say about that lol.
My best friend is a combat medic for the PA National Guard, he is due to head to the middle east in September. As a combat medic what would he experience overseas? He tells me that medics are walking targets, is that true? Also, where was your grandfather trained to be a combat medic?
Medics are walking targets as much as anyone else, as they are in full sight, on the ground, during combat. And he was trained in the United States.
Does he remember what his officers were like?
He had a lot of respect for his officers, and was actually placed in officer training because his commanding officers wanted him to serve a full military career. I gave more detail elsewhere, but basically he purposely failed out of officer school and rejected a longer military career because he felt guilty for getting "special" treatment and just wanted to go home. But anyway, he really liked them personally!
What was it like adjusting to "normal" life back home?
He says it was like everything he experienced was in a "make-believe world" -- it was hard to believe he actually experienced all that, and saw everything he did, once he was back home.
Was he in Arnhem or Nijmegen?
He says they're two names for the same place, haha. And yes, he was in both Arnhem and Nijmegen.
My grandpa also served in WWII, but in the Pacific Campaign. I want to know if your grandpa had ever seen the Band of Brothers series and how accurate it is. I know its pretty accurate already but I want to know if that's the closest thing to the real deal.
He actually loves Band of Brothers! And if he loves it, it means it's accurate, because my father (his son) wanted to watch Hogan's Heroes while he was growing up, and my grandfather wouldn't let him because it depicted the Germans as stupid, which was inaccurate. My grandfather says over and over again that the Germans were SO smart, even smarter than the Americans.
Could you ask him how morale changed after finding out that Hitler had committed suicide.
He says that things became more relaxed, and he was happy to hear that news. He also just said a huge part of evil was eliminated from the earth when Hitler left the world.