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My name is Stuart Hodes, originally Stuart Hodes Gescheidt. I was born in Manhattan on November 27, 1924. I grew up in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. My father had trouble with his ears and went to a warmer climate. I think he and my mother just were happier apart. I attended PS 98 for elementary, then Brooklyn Technical High School, which was all boys. I didn't like that. But I loved the things we studied, which included every kind of shop - sheet metal, woodwork, forge, foundy... I enjoyed working with my hands.
I was aware of the war as far back as 1938. I was fourteen then. I remember the day of the Pearl Harbor attack very well. My brother and I were in the kitchen of our apartment in Flatbush, and we jumped up and down in excitement. We both wanted to get into the war.
I wanted to be a pilot. I'd read the ads in the paper and in 1942 I went to a recruiting office in Times Square. I was almost eighteen by then. I asked about it and they said, ''Well you're going to be drafted in a couple of months anyway.'' They gave me all the papers. They told me that once I was drafted I should turn them in. And I was drafted into the Army Air Corps in March 1943 - we didn't call it the Air Force yet. We wore army uniforms. I went to Camp Upton in New York.
I spent basic training at Miami Beach, where I'd spent a year as a child. I was able to visit my old house. I had planted a palm tree after a hurricane and there it was, all grown up. From there, I went to Sioux Falls, South Dakota in June for training as a Radio Operator Mechanic. I submitted my papers there. I was halfway through the course when they sent me to pre-pre-flight training.
I went to pre-flight itself in August, in Santa Ana, California. Ten weeks of tests. They tested us for everything. We had color blind tests. We were put in a room with tear gas. All the stuff an army recruit went through. One of the tests was to see if we could swim. We went to a pier and were told to take off everything except our shorts, so we left our clothes in piles and walked a few blocks away. They were going to count to ten and anybody not in the water by then was going to get washed out. I'd been a competitive swimmer, so I was pleased to lead the parade back to our clothes.
Each stage of training took about eight weeks. When it came time for assignment, the cadets there were going to either become a pilot, a navigator or a bombardier. My first training was in Wickenburg, Arizona. Everybody wanted to go to Oxnard because Jimmy Stewart was an instructor there. I got Wickenburg, a desert training facility.
And I loved it there. I had an instructor, one of the best teachers I ever had of any kind. You were allowed to get about ten hours of training, then you had to fly solo. I soloed at about nine hours. The instructor got out of the plane and walked away. He told me to take it around and land. No sooner had I gotten the plane off the ground when it hit me that I loved flying. I loved being in charge of the machine. Entering a new dimension. I was absolutely crazy about it.
I flew around and from then on I wanted to fly every single second. After we had our daily hour - we had a lesson two or three times a week - we would have to sign out a plane and practice. I would sign out a plane and after the hour in the air, I'd come down and ask if I could get another plane. Most of the time, they assigned me another.
Then I went to Bakersfield. I discovered a town about sixty miles away from there called Selma. I was in love with a girl with that name, so I'd fly over the town and at the end of my flying, I would always do a turn onto my back. Right into Selma . . . very Freudian, I was aware of that.
Another moment of truth came when I graduated. You had to go to school for multi-engine planes, bombers, or for single-engine planes, which were fighters. I was sent to a twin-engine school because they needed bomber pilots. Part of the reason you wanted to be a fighter pilot was the glamor, but the secret was that they were also safer. The casualties were fewer than bombers. We weren't fire-breathing Top Gun types. We wanted to survive.
I was in the air one day, practicing. Being a co-pilot in the right seat. My instructor gave me a skill building exercise. You put it into a climb and give it a little more throttle. You put it into a dive and you pull back throttle. The idea is to keep it at exactly the same speed. The cruising speed was 140 knots and the instructor showed me how. The needle moved slightly. And he told me to try. When I did, the needle didn't move at all. He said, ''Wait a minute. . . let me take it.'' He thought the gauge was broken. He was a wonderful guy and I was real lucky. He said, ''I'm going to make sure you go to first pilot school,'' which he did.
I almost missed the war. When I got to Italy, we were two months from the end. My high point as a pilot was flying the Atlantic. We left from Labrador to fly to one of the Norwegian fjords, but it was socked in with weather, so we flew to the Azores instead, and from there to Morocco. The flight to the Azores was very nice, very thrilling. The reason we didn't go to the fjord was that a storm passed overhead. We were cancelled. The next day we passed through the same storm. This was when I put all the theory to use. It was a large front, six hundred miles each way. So you find a saddle and you go through it. I went through at about 12,000 feet and we were smashed around. But we came through fine and spent the night in the Azores with the rain coming down. The next day we flew through it again. But this time it wasn't so bad and I went through low. We stopped at Marrakech and the storm passed over. The next day, on the way to Italy, we passed through it a third time but now it was weak. We landed in Cairo and spent the night. From there to Foggia in Italy, not far from the spur of the boot.
We were given tents. I guess we flew about two missions a week. I flew seven of them. One night I'm looking up and they're shooting flares and that's how I found out the war was over. Because I only flew seven, I wasn't qualified to return home early.
Another mission, we were sucked in. The target was covered by clouds. We were allowed a Target of Opportunity. I think this was my sixth or seventh mission. We looked for a bridge. We were over the Alps. We found one and bombed it. I turned the plane on one side because I wanted to see if we'd hit the target. That was the first time that I got a real sense that I was maybe killing people.
I was reassigned to the army during occupation. But first there was a project to fly troops back to the USA on their way to the Pacific Theatre, which turned out to be a lot of fun. We were transferred near Naples, to a town called Pomigliano. About two or three times a bunch of soldiers would climb into a B-17, which was a very bad transport plane. It couldn't hold many. The bomb bays took up too much room. There were thousands of planes sitting on the ground, millions of gallons of gasoline, why not use them? We'd fly across the Mediterranean, past Sardinia, along the coast of Africa, then we'd turn through the Straits of Gibraltar, drop our soldiers off and fly back. It was a two-day thing. I don't know how many of those I did.
But on one of them, flying to Italy, I heard on my telephone that the Japanese had surrendered. It was Victory in Japan Day. I told the soldiers, ''You're going home now. You're not going to go to the Pacific.'' By the time we landed in our field they were all too drunk to walk. That was a nice day.
Not long after that, I was sent back to Foggia for the occupation. Instead of a tent, we lived in a very nice building. That's when I discovered I had no job. They didn't need pilots anymore. I was being assigned dreadful tasks. Officer of the day, latrine inspection, god knows what. Someone asked me if I'd like to join a newspaper. I said, ''Sure.'' ''Well you'd be our pilot because we have stories in Rome and in Pisa.'' I said, ''Well, fine.'' So I joined and I got out of all the other stuff. They began to let me write articles. That's when I discovered I loved writing.
We had press cameras and we had our own jeep. We had a dark room and all the film we could conceivably use. What they called the Class 10 Warehouse. The size of an airplane hangar filled with lab equipment. Cameras, enlargers, the works. We interviewed people like Padre Pio, who's now Saint Pio - we wanted a picture of him holding his hands up with the stigmata showing. But we didn't dare. That turned out to be one of the best years of my life.
We were offered a chance, some of us, to go to college in Zurich or Lausanne. I could have gone to either one, but I wanted to get home, so I did in the summer of 1946. It was great to come home and see my folks and go back to college. I went to Brooklyn College, attending to be a journalist or a writer.
But then an odd thing happened. My first job was as a publicity director for a summer theater in Bennington, Vermont, where an actor friend of mine - I'd known him from college - told me that he was studying dance with a woman named Martha Graham and I went back to college with her name in my head.
One day I was down in Manhattan and I looked her up in the phone book and found that her studio was very close. Lower Manhattan on Fifth Avenue. I signed up for a month of lessons. Long story short I became a dancer, a foolish thing to do. I stayed a dancer most of my life. Until I was eighty-five. I don't know why except that I enjoyed it. And this, people don't quite understand... it's like flying. When you fly, you're magically taken away from the everyday world. When you dance, the same thing happens only you're still on the ground. But you're really in another place. I guess I liked that.
I stayed with Martha Graham for eleven years. I started doing Broadway shows. Some roles I was a replacement and some I was there from the start of the production. I started doing night clubs because it was extra money. I did television between shows. Then I started teaching and I worked for a while for the New York State Arts Council, which I liked. When I was offered a job running a dance department at NYU, I took it.
I was in my late sixties when I stopped dancing, and I was deciding I would try to write again. I wrote a couple of books and one was published in 1996.
My name is Michele Montagano. I was born on October 27, 1921, in Casacalenda, Italy. My father was an elementary school teacher there and we used to live in a small town. I studied in Casacalenda and then I went to Campobasso High School. I finished my high school almost the same day that Mussolini declared war. I graduated high school in 1940. On September 14, 1940, I travelled to Rome to study law. In 1941, I was called back by the state to enlist as a soldier. Thus I joined the army on Feb 1, 1941. I took an official army course and became a sergeant. I was sent to Cephalonia and Corfu in Greece with the Acqui Division of the Italian Army. It is the same division that Hitler destroyed in 1943 in the Cephalonia Massacre. I returned from Greece soon, as I had to take another course to increase my rank in the army. I was promoted from sergeant to a lieutenant in Italy.
In September 1942, I was sent to North Italy in Gorizia. I was one of the GAF, who were a group of soldiers fighting against the Tito Partisans. This group of soldiers resembled Alpini soldiers, as they used to wear similar hats. It was a tough situation as it wasn't only the army against us, but there were people without uniform all around the mountains and valleys who were fighting us. In the daytime, they were smiling and saying hello to us, but at night they were our enemies. Tito's Partisans did not have uniforms, so you never knew who they are, which made it very difficult. Besides that, temperatures were freezing that winter, which I'll remember for a long time.
In September 1943, the state ordered us to immediately return from Yugoslavia. We had orders to bring with us all the people that we could on our way back to Italy: teachers, civilians, farmers, etc. Thus we had to take every one we found on the road. Thus we had quite a sizeable crowd of civilians and soldiers heading back to Italy. On the other hand, the German Nazis were still in the city of Cremasco, Italy. It was easy for the Germans to arrest all these people and put them on the train to Germany. Italy just became the enemy of Germany and they didn't know that all these people were from Yugoslavia. Therefore the Nazis caught us on September 11, 1943, exactly two days after we returned from Yugoslavia. They put us in the train wagons and the German soldiers then asked us, ''Where do you want to go?'' They further asked, ''Do you want to fight for Germany or you want to fight with Allied Troops?'' There was a German soldier who was asking these questions to each one of us as they were putting us on the train.
But everyone provided the same response: ''We don't fight against the United States and England because our King said now our enemy is only Germany!'' Just a few freshmen accepted to fight against the Allies, but the vast majority refused to fight against their country and they willingly chose going to the prison camp. Therefore the train took us to the German camp, but we were given a choice. The point is that this was the first and the only time that Nazis asked their prisoners to choose whether they want to fight with the Germans or with the Allied troops. They never gave a choice to any of their Polish, English or any other prisoners before, and had directly sent them to the camps. The worst thing was that the Germans treated us like animals. We had been punished in a really bad way. There were about 50 or 60 passengers in each train car, which was closed and we remained inside without fresh air for nine days. We also remained in the train wagons without food and water. The German soldiers used to stop the train at five o'clock in the morning each day, in the freezing weather, and would give us two minutes each to attend to our personal needs outside.
We were then taken to various places, including Chesnokova, on October 1, 1943; Ternopil, Ukraine, on November 2, 1943; and to Ciche, Poland, on December 27, 1943. They were really angry with us and they gave us very little food, about one piece of bread to each of us per day! It was very cold in December and January but we had to stand outside, either during the day or during the night, so that the Nazis could count us. We couldn't sleep well. We had been severely suffering from cold, hunger and lack of sleep.
The Italians still fighting for Germany had a newspaper they put out. And German soldiers would give it to us occasionally hoping that some of us might think about joining the German Army after all. They hoped we'd become like some other Italians and would fight against the Allies. From the newspaper, I came to know that my father was also a German prisoner in a nearby camp. So I asked the German officer if I could see my father, and he said yes! It was the first time I heard a Nazi saying ''yes'' to anything. I later found out why he said yes.
In my father's camp there were a lot of high ranked officials such as lieutenants, a captain and a colonel and a few generals. A few of them had died because of the cold weather and from starvation. The people who were left accepted the offer to fight with Germany against Italy, including my father. That's why they took me to see my father, because when I returned to my camp I could tell my fellow prisoners about the situation in my father's camp. I could tell them that if we didn't agree to fight against our country, we would die here!
It was a beautiful reunion with my father. Everyone in the camp got emotional and happy when I kissed and hugged my father. A few minutes later, my father told me that he was going to join the Mussolini party and fight with the Germans. Though I respected the decision of my father, which was made very much out of necessity, I felt like I was going do what I had set out to do, and not join the Germans. Therefore we were father and son by nature, but enemies by politics!
They let me stay with my father for 20 days. But I didn't change my mind in these 20 days. However, my father did change his mind once and told me that he would not join the Mussolini party, as I would be left alone here. But I told him that, ''No, you have to join the party as your other sons are waiting for you back in Italy.'' I told him that it could be the only way he could be freed from this prison. After 20 days, my father was set free and taken back to Italy. I was taken back to my prisoners' camp. Before leaving, I told my father, ''I swear on the flag of Garibaldi to have my faith in the Italian republic and Italian King.'' I further said, ''Now, I swear I will never give even one of my fingers to Hitler.''
When I went back to my camp, I told them the situation about my father's camp. Thus the prisoners in my camp divided into two groups. One group consisted of the people who accepted the offer to go against their country, and the second consisted of those people who didn't agree to fight against their country. I was among the second group. The people who agreed were also taken back to Italy. Other people, including me, who didn't agree, were taken to another prisoner camp. The other camp was close to Poland, and the rumor was that there was a strong Polish resistance growing. So we had a hope that we will be freed. They took us all completely naked. They used us like a shield because the Polish people knew that there were Italians who didn't accept to fight against the Allies.
The Polish people tried to save us and to take us back from the Germans, but they couldn't stop our train. We were taken by railroad to another camp in Sandbostel, Germany. We arrived in Germany on March 24, 1944. In Sandbostel camp there were a lot of university teachers. They all used to have discussions about international law. I designed a regular discussion panel, similar to university courses, in the camp. There were discussions with the professors, and it was like taking courses at an Italian university. I was 21 years old and I used to listen to the professors with intense concentration. However, some kind of sickness broke out and the Nazis stopped coming inside the camp. They used to bring food and water on a rolling cart and just leave it by the door. At that time, we suddenly felt free, as we didn't see the faces of Nazis for a long time.
An agreement between Mussolini and Hitler took place, which required that all the army officials and soldiers would be considered as civilians. They should also go to work like civilians. But all the officials said, ''No, we are officials and we would not do the concentration camp work.'' They refused to work and give up their uniforms. They took us from the Sandbostel camp to another camp where there was no more military people. For the next five days we refused to work as civilians. In this camp there were 214 soldiers and Italian army officials who refused to work. The German soldiers then divided these 214 officials into groups of ten. For every ten people, they picked one person. In this manner, they picked a total of 21 of us. And then one of the German prison guards said, ''You're never going to see these friends of yours, as we are going to shoot them.'' At this moment, 44 of other officials, including me, came out of the camp and said, ''If you will kill our friends, you have to kill us, too, because we will never work for you. As we are officials and the international law says that you cannot make official soldiers do civilian work.'' The Nazis then took us instead of the 21 they picked earlier, and took us outside to be shot. Most of the soldiers had pictures of their wives and kids and they started looking at them and praying. We waited for six hours to be shot, but nothing happened. Later we heard that it was decided on the government level to leave us alive to avoid conflict with the Italians who were loyal to Germany. Anyway, we were transferred again to a new prison, where they had all kinds of people. The guards were mostly Russian and Polish, and those people were animals. They used to kick the prisoners all day long to let them die with broken heads and bones. This camp was called Unterluss, where our destiny was basically death for everyone who ended up there!
We stayed there for 40 days, and six of our fellow soldiers died. One of them died by getting shot in the head and the other five died because of the beatings. We stayed only 40 days and then the Allied troops appeared. Just like that, in a day, the Allies took over everything and we were free. We exploded with happiness when we heard on the radio that our war was officially over. That was in the beginning of May 1945. At the same time, I was worried about my father.
Right before the Americans came, we asked the Germans to give us some bread before leaving, as they made us starve. They said, ''If you want bread, you have to sing for us, because you are Italians and you are good singers.'' We started to sing and after that they left us all the bread they had. The Americans facilitated provisions of the most basic things we needed, as we were not only starved, but naked, too. The Americans also took us to the hospital, and we stayed in a hospital in Celle for like 15 to 20 days. We were then taken back to another camp where approximately 14,000 Italians were waiting for the train to take them back to Italy. However, the Vatican assisted by sending hundreds of trucks to pick up the Italians from Germany. I was on one of these trucks.
When the truck passed through the Garda Lake in Italy, I saw the blue sky, the blue water and suddenly my heart felt joy and I knew I was home! I came back to Italy on September 1, 1945. I rushed to see if my father was alive and I was really happy to see him at our home in Maurizio. However, I found a catastrophic situation in Italy because my mother and father had three more children who had no food. These three kids were my cousins. My mother adopted them after the death of their parents. I only stayed for a few months with my parents and my little cousins.
Then I decided to leave for north Italy to search for a job. I found work in Milan at Shell Petroleum, but I was really depressed because of the horrific thoughts about the German camps. However, I fell in love with a woman in Milan and forgot about all the misery and pain of the concentration camps. Later, Shell sold the company to an Italian company and I lost my job. I came back to my family again in Maurizio, and started to study. I graduated and then started working again at a bank in Campobasso. I then fell in love with a young lady in Casacalenda and we got married. We rented a house in Campobasso. We had two kids, a boy and a girl. Unfortunately, my wife died and left us all aggrieved seven years ago. I live with my nephew now, who takes care of me. My daughter also lives with us and my son lives close to us. We get together four to five times a week and we have dinner together. The only sadness in my life is that my wife left me so soon.
My name is Urszula Hoffmann. I was born on June 15, 1922, in Poznan, Poland. When I was young, I was homeschooled. I really wanted to go to school where there were other children, and eventually my parents allowed me to attend one with my sister, Elizaveta. At the time, we all lived in a three-bedroom apartment on Wiankowa Street, in one of the houses the Germans had left behind after the First World War. But my mother wanted to move to a bigger place, so we moved into a six-bedroom apartment on Ogrodowa, where I began middle school. The war started in my fourth year.
At the time, I was part of the Zwiazek Harcerstwa Polskiego Polish Scouts Organization. We were mostly older kids, even some who finished school already and were attending university. One of them was Irena Petri - a girl who took lead and helped to organize the scouts. Once the war started, we decided to take boys into our circle. Then some of our members brought their friends. It was important that we could trust everyone in attendance.
We were a group of thirty scouts. We called ourselves The Beavers, and we soon integrated into the Gray Ranks - the underground resistance. We had decided to name ourselves The Beavers because we gathered every week near the river, in a small town near Poznan called Lubon. We would build a small camp near the river each week and when we returned it would be destroyed. We couldn't figure out who was doing this, it was such a desolate place, but we soon realized it was the beavers. So we took the name.
The functions of our organization were broad. One thing we did was provide basic education to Polish children. During the occupation, children weren't able to have a basic Polish education, so we would go to houses and teach the school program. And we tutored one another as well - geography, history, writing, literature. No one wanted to learn mathematics because it was just such an awful subject. We were hoping the war would end soon and we could go on with our normal studies. We also taught some foreign languages, including Russian, as many of us understood that sooner or later the Russians would come. We organized small celebrations of Polish holidays as well. For example, May 3 was our Constitution day, November 11 was the Independence of Poland, as well as some religious holidays. All of these were banned.
The funny thing is that we moved our headquarters across the street from the Imperial Castle in Poznan, where in the same building was the office of Poznan Gauleiter - Arthur Karl Greiser, who was responsible for overseeing the German occupation of Poland. His office was on the second floor and we were on the first floor. We were very brave back then.
Before the war, my father worked in a company that sold coal. During the occupation, the Germans took control of the company, and the man named Erich Steffen was appointed director. He left my father employed there, but soon they began to send Polish men to labor camps in Germany. My father managed to escape this fate by agreeing to become house help for the new director.
In 1940, the Polish resistance was becoming more organized. Our group that was already part of the Gray Ranks began reporting to Armia Krajowa, which was the primary resistance force at the time. Our functions soon varied from underground parcel and mail delivery to sabotage. We were young and very reckless and some of us were caught and killed. The Germans didn't tolerate or spare anyone they suspected as taking part in any resistance. Some, like myself, were lucky to survive. We had a simple phrase in the Gray Ranks that said: ''Today, Tomorrow and the Day After.'' Today meant the fight for Poland's independence. Tomorrow meant the liberation of Poland from any occupants. The Day After stood for rebuilding the country to its former glory.
At the end of the war, we moved to the basement of a house in one of the Poznan neighbourhoods, called Gorczyn. The Russians were coming through Poland at the time. I remember them knocking at our door and very uncomfortably asking for some coffee.
In January of 1945, I returned to my house here. The condition of the place we were staying in had become intolerable. My house had also been destroyed, and was without heat and water, but my father used his connections to bring in a firm to help us restore some parts to the house to make it livable again.
I started work at a print company - one of the few around here with a printing press. I wanted to continue my education, but most of the schools had been destroyed. I occupied myself with work. I remember my boss joking that after I'd go and get my diploma, I'd be better than him because he never had a chance to finish his studies. The following summer, I intended to study French philology. But sometimes things don't turn out the way you plan. I had gone on vacation with some friends, where I met a professor of the Merchant Academy. He persuaded me to switch my interest to the academy he taught at, so I did. In February of 1946, I continued my studies there. In 1948, I finished my education, something I had been dreaming of for so long. I started to work and teach at the University of Economics in Poznan.
Later, I became the secretary of the World Organization of Armia Krajova, and kept in touch with many of the people I knew through the war. In fact, I saw some of them at my 90th birthday. With some people, you share something so precious that you want them to stay in your life forever, cherishing it.
I was born on March 28, 1927, a few months after Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic Ocean. I spent most of my childhood in Northeastern Italy, in a small village just 20km from Udine. My parents worked on a farm. I attended a school where all the farm children went. It was never interesting to me. From an early age, my interest was in engineering, but I could only attend a technical school once the war ended.
I must say, I didn't care for the war. I didn't support either side, despite being Italian. I was interested in aviation. I was fascinated by how precise everything had to be in order to operate a machine as complex as an airplane.
There were a lot of air battles around Udine between Americans and Germans, Italians and Americans, between factions of the Italian army. After September 8, 1943, Udine went under German administration and we were bombed a lot, mainly by the Americans. I always got excited when a plane was shot down, so I could go explore it. I would rush over to the site of the crash and tried to recover whatever parts I could. I would take them home where I had a small workshop, where I dismantled and reassembled all the parts I found.
Italian partisans carried out some attacks in my village in 1944. They came to our house one night. I was frightened and didn't know how to deal with them. They were suspicious of the German presence in the village. But the Germans stationed there were mostly engineering and construction staff, and worked on building runways in the surrounding areas. You see, this location is a convenient distance from Munich, Slovenia and Monaco. They wanted to search the house. My father got into an argument with them because he didn't want guns in the house. They searched and didn't find much - my father once had a rifle, he was a hunter, but it was confiscated by the Germans after they'd come through the village.
I found work as a mechanic in a nearby village. Two Germans ran the shop. One specialized in engines and the other was a general smith. Three others worked for them. They were very kind to me, and very keen to teach me. I helped German soldiers repair their trucks and tanks. I also worked on the airfield. I am still thankful to them for setting the foundation for my future career. I was interested in the work, not the politics. The Germans were here and we had to live with it. Many people understood that fighting them wasn't worth it. But of course, many people also resisted. My brother worked with partisans and I was unaware. He had a radio transmitter in the attic of our home and no one knew.
In the spring of 1944, Todt, a German organization, began working on a project nearby. This organization basically existed to coordinate large engineering projects around Europe at that time. Of course, that late in the war, most of the projects were now dedicated to defending Germany. There were plenty of trucks and tanks, all kinds of necessary machinery, but there weren't enough people to work on them. So they asked the locals. People came from all around - some from Padua, from Treviso, Pordenone, Frioli, Udine. There were so many they had to build barracks to host the workers that arrived. Even my brother worked for the Germans for four or five months. I remember some locals were displeased because their horses and cars were confiscated for transporting dirt and cement to build runways.
Some runways were already functioning in full, in Gemona and Risano, some other villages around Udine. Usually German planes took off in the evening to bomb around Bologna, in Central Italy. They would return, having to land at night or early in the morning, when it was extremely difficult to see the runway. There were many incidents when bombers crashed after missing the runway. Lots of German pilots died that way.
By autumn of 1944, the Americans attacked so often and intensely that German troops began to withdraw. Construction stopped. They just left everything behind - empty runways, abandoned mines, construction sites.
One night, American planes bombed our area. I stood on the roof to watch it. One of the trains on the railway exploded. I think it was carrying tanks or some sort of heavy machinery. This was fun for me, because of the explosion and the fireworks, the flare from the blast. That's what it was for me at the time, a kind of entertainment and excitement. I had no idea what war really was, I didn't understand the scale of what was happening. I never thought the Wehrmacht occupying our village was a bad thing. I was always fascinated by their technology, and I didn't mind working with them for the sake of playing and studying these machines.
After the war ended, in a year I joined the army and went into aviation mechanics. I passed the tests with flying colors. After that, I attended a mechanical design school. Not only because of my interest, but because times weren't easy for my father's farm. We needed machines to farm more efficiently. I wanted to learn how to design them.
I almost emigrated to the United States because I couldn't find work. There was a committee working and interviewing people who wanted to work in America. They asked me what my profession was. I told them I was a mechanic. I was asked to show them my hands. I hadn't worked for several weeks and my hands were clean. They thought I was lying and I didn't get to go.
I worked hard all my life on things I truly love. I am proud of my family, my faith - I'm a Catholic - and last but not least, I am proud of my craft.
My name is Anatoly Gavrilovych Uvarov. I was born in Moscow, to a family of government workers. Both of my parents worked in the Supreme Soviet of the People's Economy - that was a large government institution. At the time, both of my parents were planning engineers.
In 1931 I started first grade at a public school. I studied there for nine years, then in 1940, there was the possibility to attend one of several special military schools. I wanted to be either a pilot or a sailor, and I went to the first one that became available, which was the naval school. So in my tenth year, I continued my education at the military school and graduated exactly a week after the war broke out.
Everyone who graduated was then sent around the country to continue their military education. I was sent to Leningrad, which is now Saint Petersburg, to be trained at the Dzerzhinsky High Naval Engineering School. In summer of 1941 I went through basic training. That autumn, the school had to be moved from Leningrad because the Germans were steadily approaching the city. We managed to move everything just days before the Siege of Leningrad began on September 8, to a town called Gorky, which is Nizhny Novgorod now.
We attended lectures and further training at a nearby town called Pravdinsk, but the number of students had been reduced by nearly 70% because many of the cadets had been sent off to the front, or had stayed behind in Leningrad to fight. Most of them died because they were basically a shield. You have to understand that this was a very hard period for Russia - someone had to stop the German war machine. Their soldiers were well-trained and well-equipped and we didn't have much of an army at that point, so we did what we could. About a million and a half kids who had just gotten out of school were killed within the first two months of the war. Some were my classmates.
Out of about 2,000 people, there were around 500 left. I was among them. This was October 1941, and the German army was approaching Moscow. The Soviet government needed to act to defend the capital, so they were creating new battalions. One was a Marine battalion that was joined by another half of our school. So just a few months after the evacuation, there were 250 students. But those who were on the front line weren't there for long. Stalin ordered to return all of the students from the front lines to their schools.
We trained on military ships in the summer. Even though it was wartime, my classmates and I attended our first naval training with the Caspian Flotilla in May 1942. There was a lot of action there, because there were a lot of Germans going through the Caucasus trying to get to Baku and capture the oil rigs. The 'floating anti-aircraft battery' I trained on was basically a regular vessel that had been rebuilt for war use with one anti-aircraft gun on the bow of the ship and one on the stern. We were acquainted with its operation, but mostly we carried the shells and handed them off to the gunners. There was a lot of fighting there.
The oil traffic was busy. Tankers came from Baku and transferred the oil to smaller tankers that would go up the Volga River to the refineries, and the Germans learned this was happening. They began to bombard the transfer points. All of the Caspian flotilla was involved taking down German planes.
Our ship was called Polyus. We were effective and active enough that the Germans were forced to bomb from higher altitudes, reducing their accuracy. I remember only one bombardment that reached a tanker. It was a night and the oil had spilled and caught fire over the water. A terrifying scene. It looked like the sea was on fire. I could see people jumping from the flaming vessel. There was nowhere for them to go but into the fire in the water.
I spent the summer of 1942 on this floating battery. Initially, we were defending the oil traffic. Later, we transported soldiers from Astrakhan to Makhachkala. The Germans were still approaching Baku and we tried to get more army personnel there.
We went to Astrakhan to pick up the soldiers. God, it was hot, so many mosquitoes you wouldn't have known where to hide from them. We made eight trips because we could only take up to 500 people each time. Most of the soldiers came from Central Asia and barely spoke Russian. They were poorly dressed. Some didn't even have shoes. But we needed to take as many as we could. It was nearly impossible to get through the deck, it was so full of soldiers. When we needed to change shifts near the engine, we'd have to search for gaps between them.
The Caspian Sea isn't big, but it's very unusual. After a storm, it has these strange, swelling waves - long and very tall. And many of these soldiers were uneducated, poorly fed. We would lose them during a storm. They would sit on the edge of the deck to, you know, relieve themselves. A wave would throw them off the ship. It was pitiful to watch.
Soon I returned to the academy and was there until the winter of 1943. I graduated in early 1944, and that winter I was sent with the other cadets to join the Northern Fleet, where I served on a small submarine M-201, a so-called Malyutka, which means "the little one." It broke down almost immediately after I joined the crew and was recalled for repair. I was approached by my direct superior and asked if I wanted to join one of the submarines that was headed into battle. Of course I said yes. He sent me to the town of Molotovsk, which is now Severodvinsk, where another submarine was being repaired and was almost ready to rejoin the Northern Fleet. The submarine was a beauty, an S-16 (Stalinets series) - new and large, with a powerful diesel engine, six torpedoes and a crew of about sixty people. I was appointed to the engine team, because I was formally educated in diesel engines. We did some drills, and soon headed straight to Polyarny, where the base of the fleet was located. In October of 1944, we embarked on our first combat mission, to Nordkapp, which is the northernmost point of Norway. This was a crossing point for the Northern Convoys, a group of vessels that carried strategic supplies to Murmansk and Arkhangelsk: food and various goods, military gear. These convoys were formed in various ports of Iceland and Scotland. Each would consist of fifteen to thirty vessels and would be guarded by few military ships until they reached their destinations. German planes regularly attacked those convoys. These were goods delivered under the Lend-Lease program between the Soviet Union and the Allied Forces.
The day the war ended, I remember I was on night duty at the submarine. Everyone was asleep. I heard on the radio that Germany had surrendered, but I couldn't celebrate with anyone because I wasn't allowed to wake people up. I had to wait until morning, when I woke up the crew with a fife. Everyone was ecstatic. Someone started a pillow fight. We didn't have much of a celebration. When we returned to the base, there was a fireworks show, with pistol signals on the outskirts of the town we were stationed. We went to a small restaurant nearby, had a bottle of wine to warm up, then returned to base. I continued to serve for another five years, on submarines in the Baltic Sea. One of them, interestingly enough, was a trophy boat from the Germans. It was very well-made. I spent two years improving it and learning how it was put together. After finishing my service, I decided to continue my involvement with the military and went on to teach. First, I was sent to Sevastopol, where we just reopened a Naval academy. Then I returned here, to Pushkino, near Leningrad. In 1983, I retired from the military sector. I continued to help out with classes, as a civilian.
I was awarded a medal, "For the Victory over Germany" and this happened during the Victory Parade in Moscow, on June 24, 1945. It was . . . something outstanding. An incredible parade that occurred just a month and a half after the war, by order of Stalin. About 15,000 soldiers took part in the parade. I will never forget the day. It is something that's stayed with me my entire life. I have some footage of the parade. Sometimes I show it at schools during talks, or to cadets at military academies. The youngsters are always so interested.
I learned English and can proudly say that I achieved a good comprehension of the language. I've been to the United Kingdom a few times, meeting with my brothers in arms - people who took part in the Polar Convoys. Also, I've been writing articles about the experience, I have been active in sharing my experience during the war.
My name is Dmytro Verholjak and I was born in Manyava, in the Ivano-Frankivsk province of Ukraine. When the first Soviets came, my brother told me he'd rather flee to the West than serve the Russians. Later, I searched for him, and with God's help found him, after fifty years of not seeing him. He was in Australia. Our family had been heavily repressed by the first wave of Soviets, then the second wave almost wiped us out.
During the German occupation in the war, I moved to the Ternopil province and found work on a farm. There was no work where I lived, and when I left home my mother told me: "The bread you earn with your hands will taste the best." It was hard to say goodbye to my mother, we loved each other very much. Another thing she told me was that no matter how hard things got, to never take my own life, that it was the biggest sin you could commit. I remembered that so clearly, how she said it, especially later on, when I was in a camp.
The people I worked for on the farm were very nice, civilized. I am very thankful to them for all they did for me, for what they taught me. I was there for four years, and by the time I returned home to Ternopil province, the Russians had arrived as so-called "liberators" - throwing some people in prison and sending others to work in the mines in the Far East. I saw how they tortured people and humiliated Ukrainians. I felt there was little for me to do but join the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. I spoke with the partisans in my area and said, "I'm going with you." They didn't want me because I was still a kid. They said, "We have our path, but you have to wait to follow this path, in twenty or thirty years." I told them I wasn't leaving them. So one of them shrugged his shoulders and turned around so I followed them.
The first time I was injured was a year after I went underground. Five bullets in my foot. I was living in the forest with a few others, all young kids. We were busted in the forest by the NKVD, the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs. There were five of us and they fired at us. I got hit then, in my left foot. I wanted to blow myself up with a grenade so they wouldn't take me alive, but once I realized I could still walk, I threw the grenade in the direction they were shooting from and ran with the others. They fired more shots, blindly, but didn't hit anyone else and we were able to escape. I had a total of three injuries when I was with the insurgents. That first injury has haunted me all my life. A nurse bandaged me once after that incident and for three or four weeks after that no one took care of the wound and it was literally crawling with bugs. It smelled badly enough that people didn't want to be around me.
One time I was left alone, because I couldn't walk, while two others went off to the village to get some food. I was found by Honta, an older member. He asked why I was all by myself and why no one took care of me. I told him the story of how I got injured and no one attended the wound for a month. He got angry and told me to hang tight, told me that wasn't the order of things, that he would take care of it and I would never be left alone again like that. Then he left.
Later that night, my guys came back and told me that they'd never leave me again. The next morning the nurse found us in the forest with another partisan. When she took the bandage off, we saw that the wound was crawling with all kinds of insects. She kept saying, "Don't worry, if there are bugs it means there are no germs." I don't know what kind of medical school she went to, but at that time, I had no idea what she was saying. Now I understand she was trying to get me to calm down. As she was cutting my pants with scissors, I was thinking these are my only pants, what am I going to do? The nurse said that when you're alive, you can get new pants, but if you're dead there'll be no pants for you at all. She stepped away momentarily with the other partisan she'd arrived with, our commander, and started yelling at him: "How could you let this happen? How is it that your soldiers aren't even trained to change a simple bandage?" Soon after, those in command decided that the nurses would need to train the soldiers to treat each other. I knew a little Latin, so it was easier for me to learn than for others. But for the most part, we didn't even know simple hygiene at the time. We didn't have paper or pencils, not to speak of medical instruments. And I was learning to do everything with my own wound. After I learned many of the simpler things and could walk, they asked me to travel to one of the insurgent centers in a different village, where there was a wounded person that needed to be taken care of. I learned how to give injections there. I practiced on pillows, of course, before I did it to people. After this, I was sent from one village to another, taking care of the wounded as well as acting as a message courier between groups.
Doing that, I learned all the paths through the mountains. I walked everywhere - my legs were so huge that if I sat, my knees would practically be under my chin. I was a big, healthy guy at that time. They gave me a nickname: Oak, like the tree.
Even after the war ended, we carried on fighting against the Soviets. They were as bad as the Germans, if not worse. The NKVD were everywhere, looking for insurgents. They tried to bribe or scare people for information. So many of us were killed or sent away. I was finally arrested in 1952, after being sold out. They tortured and interrogated me, put chemicals in my food. There was an agent with me in my cell that was on a "special diet" while they basically fed me poison.
My health declined there and eventually I was sent to a camp in Potma, somewhere near Vorkuta in Mordovia, for twenty-five years. There were Poles, Russians, other Ukrainians there. Everybody. They quickly learned I had been a medic and I was sent to work in the camp's hospital. The warden was against this, he was screaming, "Do you know who he is? He's a nationalist, a Banderivets!" and the nurse told him, "I don't care who he is, as long as he is treating others, he will be working here." That was twenty-five years of my life. They were "correcting" me and didn't correct anything. When they released me, I was very nervous. My sister arrived to meet me at the gates. It was 1980 when I finally got back to Ukraine. But even free, they didn't let me do much. I couldn't work as a doctor or a medic with my record. I had to stay in my village all the time and I wasn't allowed to leave my house after 10pm. This was my freedom.
But I got a job as a masseur. It was tough to even get that job, but I managed it. I worked as a masseur for ten years, from 1981 to 1991, when Ukraine finally gained independence. Now I'm here in Markova and the people from the village help me a lot. I have a pension.
This is how I only started to live freely after I turned eighty.
Herbert Killian ,
I was born in Austria in 1926, in the city of Korneuburg. I attended high school in Stockerau. At fifteen, I was conscripted. At the time, I was not enthusiastic or fanatical, but I did admire the regime. I was happy and felt well-protected. For me, the war began in 1933. They supplied us with food vouchers. We were taught about the war in school, and we helped out, focusing on civil activities, like providing the population with water, as well as construction efforts. For twelve years, I was part of the Hitler Youth. As part of my duties, I supported farmers during their harvest seasons - this was because many farmers were also soldiers. As a consequence of this, our lectures were limited. The public required our service.
In 1943, I was stationed at Wiener Neustadt, working for the Luftwaffe. We defended against American bombers. Later, I was transferred to a different unit in Poznan, Poland, that helped provide medical treatments. After this, I returned home and became an active member of the military. By June of 1944, we received orders to repel the invasion of France. But when I got to Paris, I was immediately sent home because the Americans had landed successfully. By that September, I was transferred to Slovakia, as part of an attempt to reassemble a Panzer division that had been destroyed during the Russian campaign. In December 1944, we moved to Germany, near the Eifel mountains, where Gerd von Rundstedt unsuccessfully mounted his counter-offensive. After this, we marched through Luxembourg to Belgium because most of the transportation had been destroyed. We were very poorly equipped at this time. We lacked winter equipment and we were starving. We spent much of the time on our journey hunting deer in order to feed the soldiers. Along the way, some farmers and other military units we passed provided some relief. We intended to meet the Americans in Bastogne, but we lacked the equipment and necessary support and failed. For instance, we had to sew our own winter clothes out of things like curtains and cushions. The population suffered because we were taking their stuff. The Americans detected us early and repelled us. I am very lucky that I wasn't wounded. Many other soldiers with me were wounded or killed. I was then tasked with gathering the wounded and caring for them at the hospital.
There were three of us tasked with caring for the sick and I was the only one with a gun. We searched the grounds near the hospital, which was a territory that had been captured and subsequently abandoned by Americans, and we found food in the forest - breakfast foods, chocolate, things we hadn't seen for a long time. But when we found it, we were spotted by the Americans. I wanted to open fire, but the others asked me to surrender. We had no chance.
They imprisoned us and we found ourselves sent to the camp that already had a lot of our fellow soldiers. They questioned us, hoping to find out if we knew anything about the "wonder-weapons" they suspected our military was developing. After that, they moved us to a former German airfield in Compiegne, France. We were integrated into a larger camp, which totalled about one hundred thousand people. We lived in tents, in January cold, and we had little food, no beds or winter supplies. Then one day, we received many supplies. They gave us straw for the ground, a stove, some more food. We were surprised by this. It turned out there was an independent commission arriving from Switzerland, consisting of Americans, British, Swiss and Germans. They were there to check on the quality of the camp. Once they left, the supplies were all taken from us.
I had a friend in this camp. Together we decided to escape from our imprisonment. Escape was relatively easy, as there were few guards - it was basically an open field, so we just snuck away. After three days we met a young farmer who was inquisitive of where we were from, where we were going. We spoke little English, but we pretended to be Americans. He didn't believe us. When the farmer went to notify the authorities that we were hiding, other farmers from the village surrounded and captured us. One of them spoke German and treated us kindly. Much to our surprise, we were taken into a house and he cooked for us and we were allowed to eat as much as we liked. I asked why he was feeding us and he said he had been a prisoner of the Germans and they treated him well, so he wanted to give back something. We were hoping to be freed, but they still intended to hand us over to the French police. We were then taken back to the camp which we had escaped from.
In March, we were asked to volunteer for a labor camp. I did so because I thought it would take me farther east, closer to Germany. I was lucky because I ended up in the city of Russ. I was tasked with maintaining the garden of the headquarters there. They provided me with plenty of food and it was not a bad time.
There were three of us, as before, and one of us worked in the kitchen. He snuck us extra cans of food. We stored them in the yard and planned for another escape. We waited three weeks to leave, and this time we had plenty of supplies. We only traveled at night and no one detected us. However, one day, we were feeling thirsty and we had an orange with us, and two of us wanted to eat it and the other wanted to conserve it. He left after an argument over an orange.
The two of us who remained ran out of food by the time we reached Verdun. There, we passed some fighting grounds of the First World War. There were many signs warning us to beware of landmines. It was here that my friend decided he would rather surrender than continue the journey. We agreed to one more night and then he would surrender. Eventually, we discovered railroad tracks and walked along them, expecting a train to pass us eventually. Instead we came across a train that was starting up and we waited for it to begin departing and jumped on. The train was guarded by Americans and we lost each other there. I didn't know if my friend had gotten on the train. This was a cargo train and I found many boxes in it. I hoped they would contain food. I realized that someone was moving from car to car, and at first I thought it was one of the guards, but it was my friend coming towards me. When I asked him if there was food on the train, he said, "No. All of these boxes are filled with weapons." The train was headed east. It soon passed a train station and it was bright and there were many French and American guards. All but one of them overlooked us - a French soldier spotted me. I saluted him and he saluted back and nothing happened.
The next day, as the train was crossing a large river, I said to my friend, "This could be the Moselle river," which I knew was the border. On the other side, the train decelerated to go around a curve and it was there that we jumped off. We watched it pass and at the end of the train there were American soldiers with machine guns. When they saw us, we saluted them and they saluted us back. We were very lucky. For a month and a half, we walked across Germany. We rummaged through the ruins of homes, searching for supplies left behind by their former occupants. This was 1945 and the war was over.
By May of 1947, I was back in school. I lived in an apartment and the house beside us was occupied by a Russian soldier and his family. The Russian barracks was across from where I lived. One day in June, I was studying and heard a lot of noise outside. Some Austrian and Russian kids were fighting. I shouted at them and they left. Later, they returned, teasing me and throwing rocks at my window. I got into a physical altercation with one of the kids and got arrested. I was taken to Vienna and given a short trial and sentenced to three years, the maximum penalty for hooliganism. Over the next several weeks, I was shipped across the Soviet Union by train, all the way east. Because I wasn't a political or war prisoner, I was categorized as a common criminal and sent to a Gulag labor camp among murders and thieves, harder criminals. They took us by boat to Magadan, in the Kolyma region, where there was a goldmine. I lived in temperatures as low as -50 degrees Celsius. I got weak from the scarcity of food and couldn't fulfil my duties. There was a quota and because I didn't meet it, they gave me even less food. After a while, my weight had dropped to just 36 kilos.
One day I escaped the camp and survived nine days on my own without food. Based on my experience in France, I had thought that it would work out. I was lucky that after nine days, without orientation in the area, I somehow ended up back at the camp. I fell unconscious shortly after arriving. This was a psychologically difficult period. I didn't think I would ever get out. There were no Austrians. It was mostly Russians, some Germans. I was alone.
Much to my surprise, I was eventually released from the camp.
Immediately, I went to the police and told them that I wanted to go back home. The officer asked me if I had money and I said, "No. I have nothing, but I expect that the Russian government which has taken me here for free, will also take me back for free."
The officer replied that when I was taken to Siberia, I was a prisoner.
Now I was a free man and it was my responsibility to get back. I had to find a job, which was difficult, because I had no work experience. Luckily, I found one at a nearby hospital, utilizing some skills I learned during the war. After four and a half years of this, someone advised me to write a letter to the Austrian embassy. I did and got a passport sent to me. At this time, I was living in a barracks with a lot of ex-criminals, some of whom had been sentenced for over twenty years.
The day we heard on the radio that Stalin had died, everyone was crying. I didn't know how to hide my feelings because I was happy he was dead.
The passport I got was valid in all of Europe, but I wasn't allowed to travel beyond 20km of the town I was working in unless I transferred. I wrote letters to multinational corporations, asking to be moved from the area I was restricted to. I got permission, finally, in October, 1953. I soon sent a letter to the embassy and asked them to remit the money for my journey home. But I never heard from them. I hadn't spent much of my pay and had gotten extra wages from a labor dispute with the hospital where I worked. I traveled to the port, where the last boat was leaving the next day.
After that, the water would be frozen for eight months and you no longer had access to the river. I couldn't get a ticket and the boat left without me. My permit to leave would expire in just four weeks. So I went to the airport, which was thirteen kilometers away, only to find out that there would be a three week wait. Frustrated, I went to an officer of the secret police and I lied, putting my passport on his desk, that I was an Austrian journalist and there was a conference going on in Moscow and I was stuck here. He looked at my passport and found no proof of entry, but he believed me and supplied me with a voucher to get my ticket for the next day.
It was a small airport surrounded by mountains. The only way to get to this region, even to this day, is by plane or boat. There are no trains or roads. Every day, only five planes departed from the airport. They were small, seventeen-passenger planes. After we took off and were passing the mountains, I looked down and saw smoke - it was one of the airplanes, the exact one that had departed just before mine. The flight to Khabarovsk was five hours. I went from there to the Trans-Siberian rail station and found I couldn't get a ticket for two weeks. Luckily, I still had enough money for a direct flight to Moscow. There, I discovered that the ambassador of the Austrian embassy was a relative of mine, which I didn't know. I made it to Austria by train.
I learned that my mother had died during my time away. There was no home waiting.
It was a challenge reintegrating, from a society of criminals to a civil, European society. I had left home at fifteen and now returned at twenty-eight. After all this, I finally finished school. But I didn't want to socialize with anyone. I didn't want to speak to or meet new people. I wanted only isolation and so I decided to become a woodsman. I felt like a foreigner in my own land.
At the end of the war, we did get to see American footage of the concentration camps and the massacres, and we thought it was propaganda - we laughed at it. None of us knew about the crimes of the Nazis. We only learned long after the war was finished, and even then we couldn't believe it. I only reconsidered my thoughts about the regime after I returned from Russia.
One time, my sister asked me whether I'd like to see my father in the north. She recommended that I take a bus. I asked how far it was. She told me it was eighty kilometers. I replied that I didn't know why I should buy a bus ticket for that distance. I could walk it.
Eventually, I met a woman. I had lived for years among only men and they had been paranoid, some criminals, others spies. I just wanted to build a family. The forest where I worked belonged to a nobleman. I had to apply for his permission to have the marriage approved and he declined my request, so I terminated my employment and got married anyway. I am still with her.
Rosilda Cravero ,
My father moved to Argentina in 1915, during the First World War, but he decided to return and enlist. He became a hero, because the army was fleeing after a defeat and forgot a cannon on the field. During the night, my father went back alone to retrieve the cannon with a cart. He was shot between the ribs. This gave him asthma. And when the Germans came to our door during the Second World War, my father went downstairs and they took him. We thought we would never see him again. The Germans thought he was a partisan, then they determined that because of his asthma he could never be an active partisan - though he might be someone who aided the partisans.
From 1943 to 1945, we were basically between a rock and a hard place. We feared the Germans would lose the war. The partisans had become stronger.
Two young partisans, who were friends of mine, were discovered by Germans and displayed in the square, hung from meat hooks, left to rot in the open air. By then, it had become a common opinion that the Germans were now an enemy. And the partisans were just as out of control. They started stealing food and robbing people. They were an armed political party, which you couldn't fight back against.
When the war ended on April 25, on Liberation Day, I was headed to work. I met a man who was a fascist and he asked me why I was going to work. He told me not to go to work. "Today is a special day," he said. "Nothing is going to happen." There were a lot of people gathered in the town square. The partisans were able to come out of hiding. They gathered twenty people they suspected of being fascists and put them in trucks and took them to the woods and shot them. I knew a girl that owned a hotel. The Germans had occupied it during the war. The partisans decided she was a spy, though she only owned the hotel, and they killed her. After killing those fascist men, the partisans displayed their wives in the square with shaved heads. But this ended when it began to storm and everyone scattered. Eventually, with the war over, the curfews ended and there were parties in the stables.
During the first election following the war, I worked as a telephone operator. I aided old people with voting from their homes. The election was basically between the Republic and the Monarchy. I was for the Monarchy but they lost.
I met my husband in 1947. He had escaped from his military headquarters after the war, and stole civilian clothes from a window. When I asked what he wanted to do for our honeymoon, he said he wanted to go to Venice so he could return the clothes that saved his life. So we did that.
After that, I worked in a government office for nine years. Then I worked for a shoemaker. My husband died in 1961. Everyone that came back from Russia seemed to die young.
Kriviy Rih, UkraineMORE...
I am Lidiya Dolzhnikova. I was born in the Kherson region, in Kotovskiy district, somewhere on a farm. My childhood was not that memorable. We worked a lot and I grew up with my mother and my brother. Of course, I remember the famine of 1933 and 1934. My little brother was bloated from hunger. So my mother took us to the seaside with her while she caught fish.
When the war started, we were in Crimea. My brother and I were very active in the resistance from the beginning. I was only fourteen and my brother had just turned twelve. We dug trenches and dugouts around Ishun, at the big defensive line guarding the entrance to Crimea. The Germans were coming at us on land and we were doing everything possible to keep them from getting into Crimea. But in the autumn of 1941 there was a horrific battle. The Germans broke through the defense line. So many of our soldiers were killed and had drowned in the salt lakes that surrounded the trenches. It seemed like water, earth and skies were on fire. Our soldiers were falling left and right, and Germans were just coming through, one tank after another, one motorcycle after another. I couldn't see the end of it. How we didn't die there I don't know.
All the kids that were helping the soldiers there and managed to survive were taken to Ishun. Meanwhile, the Germans were moving along the western coast of Crimea. They made it to Balaklava, where they won another battle, and then went all the way to Sevastopol.
Before the Germans came, we had anti-aircraft guns sitting in our backyard and they were firing all the time. I was very scared. One time I was outside and they started shooting those guns, and something hit me. Apparently the side of a shell had just brushed my side. The doctor told me, "You must be a very lucky girl." Our soldiers took good care of me. Then our house was bombed and destroyed. We were moved to another place to live, where we stayed for the duration of the war. This was in a village called Pravda. We shared the house with another family. Then some Romanian soldiers who were coming through with the Germans took over the house. They made all of us live in the kitchen while they took the living room and the bedrooms. They would come to the kitchen and ask for food. They didn't speak Russian so they would try to explain that they want some food. My mother would say: "No food. I have my kids to feed, not you."
Then they left to go down to central Crimea, and all of them, as far as I know, were sent to Sevastopol. There were horrible, bloody battles there too. Life under German occupation was frightening. They started sending people back to Germany to work. We were lucky to avoid it - my brother had to hide in a chicken coop, or wherever he could, during raids. I was saved by an old woman by the name of Tanya Shedavchenko who hid me in her stack of straw. I was a healthy young girl, and I was afraid of being taken to Germany. My mother poured acid on her shoulder, so every time Germans would try to take her, she would show them her shoulder and they'd leave her alone. They wanted to avoid any deformed or sick people.
Nevertheless, life went on. Our mother was an educated woman. We were very artistic. She spoke Russian and Ukrainian, and taught us languages and literature. My brother and I would stage little plays in the Village House of Culture for the people in the village. We staged scenes from Gogol's Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka. Our mother taught us to dance and to draw. We wanted to be children. There were good aspects and there were difficult aspects.
I remember a German officer came with a goose once. He handed it to my mother and pointed to the stove. He said, "Cook it." So she did. When it was ready, the officer cut edges of the wings with his knife and handed them back to her. He pointed to us and made a motion like he was eating with a spoon. He was saying, "Feed your kids too."
Most people from that time are gone now. Crimea was different before the war - it was very diverse. After the war, the Germans left, the Estonians left. Jews were killed or left. The Tartars were displaced. There were very few people left. Then Russians from the Tver region settled here.
After the war, I studied at a technical school. After graduation, I worked as an electrician for a year. I was transferred here to Kriviy Rih, where I worked in the coal mine for a while, as an electrician. Then I was transferred to the Factory of Mining Equipment, because that would allow me to get an apartment through work.
My husband had passed away by then. We had a son together, but we lost him when he was young. I live by myself now. My nephew lives nearby and helps out. There is a social worker that comes around and also helps. I need it sometimes. I have Parkinson's disease. She comes around twice a week, making my life much easier.
My name is Hans Brandt. I was born in Chemnitz on December 25, 1925. I went to school here.
I was sixteen when I was conscripted. And when I was seventeen years old, I started to learn how to work with anti-aircraft systems. I was sent to Czechoslovakia first, in Mahrisch-Ostrau, for training. I advanced in rank while rebuilding our units, then we went on to France in 1943, near Paris. There, we built new units. I was tasked with securing airports. I don't remember the names of the towns anymore.
When the Americans arrived in France, on D-Day, I went to Regensburg. We were given the orders to retreat and that's when I was captured. I was eighteen.
They paraded us through many towns in France, to display us like a symbol. There were two or three thousand of us imprisoned in the camp. We got very sick, because for several days we didn't have anything to eat or drink, we could barely stand. We were told that the food we did get was from destroyed German shipments. They also divided us into several groups, and I was part of one tasked with going into the forest to cut firewood.
By the winter of 1944, I was in a place called Wood Camp 2 in the north of Normandy. I remained there until 1945. Before the Americans came, it had been a fully-equipped German camp, but it had been destroyed, and we had to rebuild everything for the winter weather. I think this was in February.
Later, I was transferred to another camp in Le Mans. In March, I was taken to Marseille, where I remained until April 3. From there we went on a ship to Gilbraltar, and on to New York. The journey laster twenty-six days. By then, Germany had surrendered.
In May, I was sent to a smaller camp and was put to work with dairy machinery. We were observed by Americans, but they were forbidden to talk to us and we weren't allowed to talk to them. I never learned any English. I only ever spoke German with other prisoners. There was an American woman who gave us orders directly, but this was forbidden so the Americans shot her in the leg. Just because she spoke to us. But the man who shot her, he was sent to Japan to fight because her punishment had been too severe. Mostly, we communicated through motions, moving arms and legs. Some of us communicated through English. We didn't understand at the time why he shot her.
We were in groups of ten people in the camps, and we wanted to survive so we decided to say we were all artists, all musicians. To avoid the harder work. The Americans believed us. There was one very tall man, a man who looked like he'd worked hard all his life. They asked him what instrument he played, and he said, "I play the harp." They never asked us to play these "instruments." I said I played the trumpet.
In November, they moved us to Boston, where I worked at a paper processing plant. At the beginning of December, we were sent to La Havre on a big ship The George Washington. There were three or four thousand prisoners aboard.
From there we left by train and the Americans turned us over to the French. We arrived in Berlin, and from there I was sent along with few others to mine in the mountains for coal. We were to be paid, but we only got half of our salaries, with the other half promised to us once we were free. I tried to flee the mine in April, but I was recaptured within a few weeks. I stayed there until June 4, 1948. Eventually, the prisoners in the east were turned over to the Russians. We came to Eisenach and we were checked out in the hospital for illness and injuries. I was freed on December 6, 1948. We never got our money. The French kept it. The Russians gave us a single Deutschmark each, in small change.
I returned to my town, to the place where I had worked as a locksmith. The manager asked me if I would enroll in studies because many educated men had been killed in the war and those with good education were in demand. I was interested in studying something, but I had no background, so I began my education in Chemnitz, in a facility for workmen and agriculture workers. Then I went to Dresden and studied to become an engineer. I finished my the university in 1957.
In the meantime, the town changed its name from Chemnitz to Karl-Marx-Stadt. I worked so well when I came back that I was promoted to Second Director. We built cooling systems for trains.
In 1967, however, I became very sick and was too ill to continue working. And when I regained my health, I worked only in the planning aspects of my profession. By 1990, when everything changed again, I was sixty-five. I was lucky, because after the train factory closed that year and many people lost their jobs, I was able to retire.
I had been friends with my wife before the war. She was a widow and had a son. Her first husband had died in Slovenia. We married in 1950 and had four more children together. The children all went on to have good professions. They were able to travel after 1990, as before they were only able to travel around East Germany. Later on, they traveled around the world.
We had a wonderful garden that the family would work on together. I just prepared it for the winter. But I'm getting too old to tend it now.
The beginning of my childhood was difficult after the First World War. Eventually, my family had managed to acquire some land. By 1939, we were doing very well. I remember these as good times. In 1938, we could afford a bicycle.
We had no thoughts of going to war. In school, we were taught that Germany was our biggest enemy. But in 1940, when the Red Army occupied Latvia, that perspective shifted dramatically.
When Germany attacked Russia on June 22, 1941, we thought they would be our liberators. On May 1, 1943, I attempted to volunteer for the army. I was sixteen, so they didn't take me. A general had us all in a line and said, "Those who are underage, step forward." There were fifteen of us. They sent me back to Bauska. I found work at the police station. By then, Latvia was under German administration.
In 1944, the Red Army was pushing back and closing in on Bauska. On July 28 of the same year, I joined the volunteer force. I was finally eighteen. But there were people who were as young as fifteen and as old as eighty years old, and everyone wanted to fight the Russians. No one wanted another Soviet occupation. We waged guerrilla war for several weeks. I was injured on September 14, 1944. That's where the war ended for me. I was injured in the fight where twenty-eight Soviet T-34 tanks went up against two hundred Latvian conscripts. We were trying to cross a river, but the Russians came at us from all sides. There were planes flying over, tanks on the ground, artillery fire. It was hell. Many men died trying to swim across the river. We had six mine throwers and all the men that knew how to use them were dead. I tried to use one from a rooftop, but a tank fired at the building and everything caved in beneath me. I was brought to a German hospital. My right arm was only attached by skin, so they cut it off. My left was completely smashed. The doctor there told me I had twenty-eight injuries total.
By February 1, 1945, the Americans had invaded Germany. The soldiers put signs on hospital doors that forbade patients to leave the area. After a few days, all the Latvians there got together and literally cried, not because the war was ending, but because they knew Latvia will be once again occupied by the Russians. On April 9, we were free to go. I knew a Latvian woman who had married a German. I went to see them and they gave me a room, but they were short on food. I stayed there until the Americans handed that territory over to the Russians. I no longer remember the name of the town we were in. Eventually I was arrested for taking part in the resistance.
I was moved across different concentration camps in Germany, Poland and Russia. Most of the people held alongside me ended up in Siberia, where they would remain for decades. I was the only one that didn't go. I hadn't done anything wrong. I told them if they thought I had, I wanted them to shoot me right away.
When I was free, I returned to my home, only to be mistaken for a vagrant by my mother before she realized who I was. After three days back in Bauska, I tried to get my documents. But I was arrested and jailed for two weeks. They asked me for a list of names of all the people I worked with during the war. I gave them one and was set free. I still didn't have any documents, so I couldn't find work. I yielded to failure and left Bauska. I married a woman in Riga. I found a job there as a security guard for different shops. When my boss discovered that I hadn't served in the Red Army, he fired me after only three months of employment. I couldn't find another job. I started my own business and that's how I earned money to raise my children.
Jaakko K Estola,
I was born in Finland after the Civil war, in a time of great deprivation, on December 8, 1918, just outside of Helsinki. My father ran a shop. My two sisters were tasked with raising me.
Germany began to display its power in 1939, when it attacked Poland. Things seemed critical. I was told to make sure I was too skinny and too small to join the army. I didn't even show up to the calls. But when the war with Russia began, all of my friends were drafted. Because of this, I then felt the need to join. I was rejected, but later proved myself to be fit enough in 1940. Up until the last minute, everyone was saying there wouldn't be a war. Then it came. I can still remember the patriotic feeling that comes over you when you have to defend your country. I felt that I had to do something. I couldn't remain there on the home front. I had to believe that Germany was strong enough to defeat the Soviet Union.
I was sent to a small town, where the army had converted a school into a training camp. I went through ammunition and weaponry training, but at the school we didn't have any real weapons so we would chop wood and train with pretend ones. It was very poor training.
Anyway, I moved up in the army and the following year I entered the war. I was stationed at the Finnish coast for two months. There were only two particularly exciting incidents that happened there. During one, we had to go through Russian territory and on the way back we took a break and found ourselves trapped in a crossfire between the two sides.
Another time, some of us took our bikes for a ride to the front lines, south along the coast. We turned back after coming across some of our own troops. We were coming back along the same route and passed a pile of pine tree needles. These were usually set to mark a salute or to signify danger. We continued on until someone yelled to us that the road was mined. I could have been blown so high I would've seen the church towers of Leningrad.
In August, we were ordered to attack. By then the Russians had retreated to the old borders, where they had taken their positions and were ready. But as our tanks reached the river crossing, their soldiers began to retreat. This was a good feeling.
It was mostly peaceful on the southern front. Every so often Russian planes would fly over and harass us. It was very sandy there and we decided to go up on a dune and shoot down the next plane that flew over. When one got closer, we aimed our rifles. But it attacked us at the same time. We buried ourselves in the sand, attempting to hide. It was hard to see and the sand blew everywhere. A bomb fell several meters from where we were and a massive wall of sand washed over us. We were covered and it was very hot from the blast.
Another time, in 1942, five or six of us were walking. Something exploded beside us. Some kind of a silent bomb. I felt small stings in my back. Like children had been shooting me with pellet guns. The injury wasn't life threatening and they removed the shrapnel. It left a scar, it's like a tattoo memory of the war.
Toward the end of January in 1943, we formed a new brigade and traveled 700km into the Russian territory by train. These were different circumstances. It was -20, -30 degrees Celsius. After only three days of fighting we lost seven hundred men to the weather. The next month, we were attacked at night. There was a full moon out and we were lying on the ground beneath enemy fire. I was staring at the moon and asking for help. But the moon was spiteful. I'm sure the moon didn't understand why we were there. This was supposed to be revenge for the Winter War. I assume the moon wanted to kill us, to let us freeze in the ice.
It turned out the base was very restless and we were in constant conflict. The Russians tried to take prisoners almost every night. There was lots of trouble with our housing. Cases of lice, lots of rats, water damage. But when summer came, we enjoyed the warm and sunny days. We listened to military radio, and sometimes they played requests. They played one of our songs.
On the morning of January 16, 1943, I was on my way to train at the base camp. This was after a heavy snow. I walked up to the barrier around the base and I was shot from a hundred meters out, where the enemy line was. I felt a wetness on my back. I thought I'd been shot from behind. I fell with blood in my mouth, certain I'd been shot through the lung. But it turned out I was shot in the neck. Another bullet had gone by my spine and broken some of my ribs. Chips from the bones tore a large hole in my back. I received treatment over six months and was deemed fit to serve again, but they sent me back to Finland and I experienced the Soviet bombing of Helsinki in February of 1944. But I don't feel comfortable talking about that.
The rest of the time I served was peaceful and I was glad to give up my uniform and reenter civilian life. The life of a young man was still in front of me. Still, after the war ended, I felt hollow. I wondered if this was finally peace. But because I soon turned my focus to studying, I didn't have many thoughts about global issues. I didn't think about anything but rebuilding our country. I wasn't happy about the defeat but I also wasn't sad about it. Though there wasn't much food, I was glad to be alive and healthy and surviving. That's the term I would use: surviving. Because Finland hadn't been invaded. The outcome was okay, considering how large our enemy had been. And I was in a hurry to get to university. When I considered what courses to take, there were two boys that suggested I study agriculture. It was a strange idea to me because I wasn't from a farm. I started to study it and it was very close to nature and I found joy in that.
It was 1948 when I graduated. I worked at a dairy farm. I worked in a mill where they harvested feed for animals. It was 1956 when I got a job for a large company. There I became chief of a department in charge of processing animal feeds and manures. I developed supplements to improve the quality of animal feed.
Now I am content, happy. Family always comes first. My children and grandchildren always call to see how I am. Soldiers have a saying, "No one is left behind." This is a saying in my family as well. I get to watch them all grow. The peace I've found in life is very important. I am not alone.
My name is Alexey Svyatogorov. I was born in 1925, in the Caucasus, as my father used to work there at that time. He was a civil engineer and they would give him commissions in different parts of the country. So we traveled to Siberia, Ukraine, and many other places. I had two elder brothers - Anatoly, born in 1913, and Pyotr, born in 1917. We were in Luhansk in 1941 when the war broke out. My brothers were students at Dnipropetrovsk University of Civil Engineering then. In spite of the difference in age, they were both in the same year of study. As for me, I was at school.
Hardly had I finished my ninth grade that our troops retreated and the Germans took Luhansk. It was in July of 1942. The German vanguard detachments were the first to enter the city, followed by the Italians a couple of days later. So we had to discover what it was like to live under occupation. I remember there was a girl, Lida Teppel, who was the secretary of the Komsomol (Young Communist League) unit in our school. At the beginning of the war, her father, who had a German background, was deported to Siberia, beyond the Ural Mountains. She must have held a grudge against the Soviet state because of that. In fact, when the Germans came, she immediately put on their uniform and an SS armband, a piece of red cloth with a swastika on it. Our family, together with other remaining citizens, was supposed to be evacuated, but my father had just undergone a serious surgery and we had to stay put. He had cancer, and the doctors told us that he would die in about a month. And so it happened.
It was not long after my father's funeral that I got arrested. It was Lida who had betrayed us. They took us in November, and I was released only on February 14, 1943, when the Soviet troops finally took the city back. When the Germans retreated, they blew up the prison, the former KGB building. The walls of the basement, where we were kept, were massive, so they made sure that the explosion was really strong hoping that the prisoners, who were presumably working for the Soviet state, would die under the ruins. We were actually buried under the debris but, fortunately, rescued by our soldiers. When I finally got home that evening, my mother was so full of emotions that it took her some time to get the key into the keyhole. She had already lost all hope to ever see me alive.
My two brothers were at the front. They were supposed to be graduating from Dnipropetrovsk University and they already had their diploma theses ready. Naturally, because of the war everything was cancelled, and they were drafted and deployed first to Kharkiv, and from there to Moscow, and from there to Nahabino, where there were instruction camps organized by Kuybyshev Military Engineering Academy. There they studied for six or seven months to qualify as military engineers. After that, they both joined the troops that defended Moscow. As far as I remember, one of Anatoly's assignments was to blow up Krymskiy bridge in Moscow, and Pyotr had to blast some railroad bridge. The conditions for blasting were quite peculiar in both cases, but I won't go into the technical details now. Luckily they both survived those assignments. Pyotr got into the Guards unit and was appointed deputy commander for military engineering, and Anatoly was a bridge builder in a different battalion. Pyotr was killed on March 23, 1942, near Moscow, and Anatoly survived. He marched all the way through to Germany until the Victory Day. Later, when the war with Japan began, he went there as well. Nothing ever happened to him, no wounds, no shellshock.
As for me, I was supposed to be drafted right after I was rescued from the ruins of the building, but I was too feeble and weak after the imprisonment. So they let me stay at home for some time and gain back my strength. In March, however, I was already in the army, with the 5th motorized infantry brigade that came from Stalingrad and had a camp in Peredelsk, which is near Luhansk. I stayed with them during the whole summer training, and my mom came to see me sometimes. It was sheer luck that I and all the other young guys like me did have some training before we were sent to the front.
I was trained as a mortar gunner. My first battle was in Donbass, in a small town Yama, which is now called Seversk. It was terrible but successful, and it certainly made a huge impression on us, especially on those of us who saw a dead soldier for the first time in their lives. That was a man called Okrainets, the commander of the battery. He would urge us to go faster, which wasn't an easy thing to do, as it was autumn already and it started to rain. A 82mm mortar weighs around fifty-six kilos, and you and your partner have to drag it up the hill, and the wheels are all covered in mud! It happened so that Okrainets got killed. He was standing with his back turned to us, when a stray bullet, a shell splinter to be more precise, hit him in the chest and tore out his heart. It was extremely depressing for us. Nevertheless, we successfully marched through Slavyansk and took Kramatorsk. I think it was September 5. Interestingly, the day of liberation of Donbass is celebrated on September 6.
I took part in the liberation of Ukraine all the way from Luhansk to Izmail. After Donbass we headed for Nikopol and crossed the Dnieper there. The Nikopol beachhead was known as the cemetery of German tanks. There were as many as six rows of tanks stuck in the mud along the distance of eighty kilometers. We had to blow them up in order to get through. Then there were Ingulets and Belozerka, but it wasn't until late in the fall of 1943, that the infantry finally managed to clear the way for our motorized detachments and we could rush towards Zaporozhye. We had good German machines, brand new two-axle Opel Blitz, taken as trophies at Stalingrad. We drove those trucks across the whole Europe.
In Izmail our 5th motorized infantry brigade, which used to be an independent unit, had to join the 57th army, with Gagen as the commander-in-chief. Later, in Belgrade, we were renamed, and by the end of the war we were known as the 32nd Guards mechanized brigade. Zavyalov was our commander who stayed with us until the end of the war. In fact, whenever I have a talk with young people about the war, I always mention people who distinguished themselves and received awards for their bravery. So, there were as many as eight people in my brigade who were awarded the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest distinction in the country. Zavyalov was one of them. He received this award for liberating Izmail. So we went all the way through Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Austria. As for me, I was also awarded the Order for Bravery for liberating Kramatrosk and many other medals as well.
Well then, later we were heading for Budapest, when suddenly, 200-260 kilometers away from the city, we received the order to turn left. Who knows, maybe it was the thing that saved us, as all the major troops were directed to Budapest and the battles were quite severe there. We were sent to Pecs instead, moving in one big column: the tanks in the front, followed by AFVs and artillery units, then machine guns, mortars and motorized infantry. It was night and I fell asleep. I had a dream as if I was standing near the truck, disassembling my watch. Suddenly the mechanism fell out of my hands, but I managed to catch it just in time. I listened carefully and made sure that the watch was fine. I woke up and told the guys nearby that I was about to be either killed or wounded.
At that moment the Germans who were moving at a certain distance from us decided to start a fight. By the time our trucks came closer, the battle was already in full swing. We stopped and some of our guys jumped from the trucks into the side ditch without waiting for the command to get to the ground and get the mortar ready for action. Not daring to jump after them, I was waiting for what was going to happen, listening to the sound of bullets swishing over the truck. Suddenly I felt as if my head was torn away from my shoulders. I touched it, making sure it was fine, then turned around and felt an awful pain in my chest. I suddenly stopped being afraid of the bullets and jumped into the ditch. There the guys took off my shirt and saw that a shell splinter, the length of a finger, went through my clothes and got stuck in the chest injuring the lung.
They took me to the medical unit. I remember lying there in pain when I saw some other soldiers who were not injured as badly as me. They were drinking wine, so I pleaded with them to help me, and they did. Funnily enough, it was the only shell that actually hit us. Besides me, its razor-sharp fragments also wounded Klushin, the commander of the battalion, and Suhachev. As for the latter, a tiny splinter, as small as a needle, got into the white of his eye. All they had to do was to take it out carefully and that was it! Another man, Shcheposhkin, the platoon commander, wasn't wounded at all. A shell splinter got stuck in his pocket, which was luckily full of documents, money and other stuff. So the guys in the medical unit brought me a mug of good Hungarian wine. When I drank it, I suddenly felt so light and easy! I even thought, "Why on earth should I go to some hospital?" The thing is that after hospital they could send you to any first unit that would come across, and I really hated the idea of having to join any detachment other than my own.
I was evacuated to a hospital in Timishoara. I had to wear a funny sort of a bra with a suction drain and a small jar. As I didn't have to stay in bed all the time, I would put on my coat and my boots and sneak away to some restaurant, where I would place the jar directly on the table. However, I stayed in hospital from November 1944 till March 1945, which gave me plenty of time to get to know all the ins and outs of its bureaucracy. So when I was about to be discharged, I asked the girl who was in charge of issuing references and sick leaves, to give me a referral to my former unit. They gave me all the necessary papers, some money, clothes and food supply, and I set off to catch my unit.
Our unit hardly ever failed a battle. In fact, we were special in a way. I mean that other troops would make a breakthrough for us, and our job was to use this opportunity and drive as fast as we could deep into the territory, trying to gain the rear of the enemy. We could cover several dozens, or even hundreds of kilometers in one go, gaining lots of trophies such as cars, trucks and other equipment.
I remember how we entered Tatarbunary. It was a dark night and our commander ordered us to switch on the headlights. Much to our surprise, the officers showed us the way through the whole town taking us for the retreating German troops. That was unbelievable! The trucks were German indeed, but our soldiers were sitting on them without even trying to conceal their identity! Yes, we frequently found ourselves far ahead from the rest of our troops. From time to time, they would send a small airplane that would drop some food and ammunition for us. This is the way the whole brigade gradually moved further gaining the rear of the Germans.
Not long before the victory we had a major breakthrough towards Graz. I remember we were approaching the city when we saw the bright lights in the distance. We were sure that we were facing a head-on battle, the most dreadful thing that could happen to a motorized infantry unit. In this case, you are lucky if you manage to turn around and get everything ready for the fight. But if not, you are in for a smashing defeat. You can't imagine how surprised we were when we came closer and saw that those were not headlights, but street lamps! We hadn't seen any since 1941!
One peculiar thing happened to us in a village near Graz. Our assignment was to take the city by storm, but we realized that there was nobody to fight with. Here and there we met scattered German troops who told us that the war was "kaput", meaning "over." They were completely dispirited and passive, sleeping in the streets, leaving their guns almost unattended. However, when one of our soldiers ran after some of them, trying to attack them, they turned around and shot him point-blank.
We were quartered at the outskirts of Graz. It was May 9, and we were planning to celebrate Kolya Astakhov's birthday. So we set the table, gathered some food and drinks. In fact, we had a lot of alcohol available then. Cognac, wine... There were two handicapped German soldiers staying in that house as well, and the Austrian woman, the landlady, took care of them. One of the Germans was wounded near Odessa, and the other lost one arm and one leg at Stalingrad. We switched on the radio and heard the Moscow news saying that the 9th of May is the Victory Day. I can't describe to you the euphoria that overcame us. We were beside ourselves with joy and we even invited those Germans to share our food and drinks, and memories about the war, of course. Several hours later, however, we had to move on, further into the Alps, where some German units would not give up the fight. So we were in a war for another few days. As for Graz, there was an agreement with the Americans that the city had to be taken by them. Our task was merely to get hold of as many cars, trucks and other equipment as we could. It meant that anybody who could drive at least a little was to get hold of the steering wheel.
We stayed for some time in makeshift camps in the Austrian mountains, relaxing and enjoying the most beautiful landscapes I had ever seen. It was during that time that they sent us a message to delegate a representative for the parade in Moscow on June 24. One of our guys, Kolya Chumakov, the commander of the submachine gunners' unit, was sent there. Funnily enough, when he came to Moscow, he refused to take off his boots, which he had actually borrowed from his commander especially for the parade. They couldn't change his mind, and he returned back to his unit. Later he moved to Rostov and became a pilot, the commander of Tu-124.
After the war I stayed in the army for another five years. It turned out that it was not possible to organize a new recruitment, as there were no people available. It wasn't until 1948 that they could finally make a new draft. So we were sent to sergeants' schools to receive additional training. There we spent two years and were finally promoted to the rank of sergeants. As a sergeant, I was in charge of a platoon, and I am really proud of that.
In 1948 those guys who had been wounded at least once could finally leave the military service. If I had been wounded twice, I could have returned home as early as 1945. But, like I said, I was hit only once, in my chest, near the city of Pecs in Hungary. So, I remained in the army, and in 1948 we were obliged to stay at the sergeants' school to train young soldiers who had been drafted after the war. So it wasn't until two years later, in 1950, that we were finally discharged.
When I left the army I went to live with my brother in Poltava. He was busy re-building airfields and roads destroyed during the war. In fact, Anatoly had been moving around the whole country, together with his family. He had built hundreds of airfields across the whole Soviet Union. Siberia, the Caucasus, Ukraine... you name it! Later he went on to build rocket launchers. Somewhere in the 60s he came to Kharkiv, where he took part in the construction of the Opera house, the peak of his career as a civil engineer. He died in 1999 here, in Kharkiv.
I followed my brother wherever he was commissioned. No sooner had I joined him in Poltava that they sent him to Novosibirsk. So I went there with him. There I finally finished my high school studies and received the certificate of secondary education. I entered Novosibirsk University of Civil Engineering and I was finishing my first year of study when Anatoly was sent to Tbilisi, where he was to build another airfield. I followed him and got transferred to Tbilisi Polytechnic University where I studied until 1953. It was the year that Stalin died, and I remember enormous crowds of people in the city commemorating the death of their compatriot. That was the time when I decided to move to Kharkiv and live there with my mother. We had some relatives here, my mother's sister in fact. She had a big family, and me and my mother stayed at her place.
As I yet had to obtain my university degree, I did a part-time evening course in Kharkiv University of Civil Engineering. After I finished my studies, I took various engineering positions there, and was finally promoted to the head of the department that dealt with construction organization. Altogether I worked there for forty-one years and eventually retired in 1994. I still keep in touch with my co-workers. They do remember us, veterans, and help a lot indeed, even financially.
After the war our lives became extremely busy, as a great many of enterprises in Donbass had been destroyed during the war and had to be rebuilt. I was lucky to be at all the steel plants there, doing my bit to restore their industrial facilities and infrastructure.
We did work hard at that time. Besides, I got married and received an apartment. I had two children, a son and a daughter, but my daughter Olga died two years ago. Life does have its ups and downs.
Today many of my fellow-soldiers are already either confined to their beds or can hardly move. Most of them have lost their eyesight. My eyesight is not great either, I should tell. I can't read or write without a magnifying glass. I try to write by touch but it's no good, as the lines keep getting on top of each other. This is how my wife, Valentina, and I live now, helping each other the best we can. We have a son Mikhail and a grandson Misha. He works at the same factory I worked. Recently his daughter Dasha, my great-granddaughter, was born.
Anna Nho is my name. I was born in Vladivostok, Primorsky Region, in the USSR, on November 25, 1927. My family was Korean, and my mother taught Korean, and my father was a fisherman. Our family owned this small island and a motorboat for our fishing business. When our dad died early in life, he left 12 children, and I was the youngest. So we had to look for some sort of help from the government. One of my sisters' husbands was the first secretary of the local Communist Party branch, and he was able to arrange a personal meeting with some high-ranking government officials to find a way to help my family. We agreed to give our business and island to the government. In exchange, they would give us a house and land for farming. Life was more comfortable after that.
In 1937 many Koreans were deported from the Far East. We were transferred to Karaganda in Kazakhstan. They put up tents for housing. A few families lived in each one, but it was so cold that someone died every day. Then they suddenly decided to move all of us to Bukhara in Uzbekistan. They just loaded all of us up on freight trains and sent us there.
Our uncle who was with us and couldn't take it any longer, decided to go and meet with Stalin in Moscow. He actually met Stalin before. He had a picture of them together, which he carried around. So he packed a bag and just went away. He said he would walk to Moscow if he had to. We all thought he died but he did make it. He looked like a homeless man and tried numerous times to get into Kremlin. He was finally let in after one of the NKVD officers told Stalin that there was a very persistent man determined to see him. Stalin remembered him so they fed him, cleaned him; and then they finally talked.
Stalin said to him, "I can't help you, but I can offer you this: I'll send you to Ordzhonikidze where they don't know how to grow rice in the Caucasus. You can help them organize a rice kolkhoz. Ordzhonikidze will help you with everything." Some time later we saw in the paper that our uncle was looking for us, so we went to the Caucasus and joined him. After that, things were fine; mom remarried and studied and worked.
Then in 1941, when I was in the 8th grade, I heard on the radio that the Great War broke out. I saw a notice on the bulletin board in school that our motherland needed volunteers. So I passed all of my exams for the 8th grade in June, and on July 1st I signed up as a volunteer and as a daughter of my motherland. I was a Komsomol member on the Northern Caucasus front. At the time, our duties were mainly digging trenches. So I was doing that during the day, and in the evening I started taking medical courses to become a nurse. I became a field nurse, giving first aid to our soldiers before sending them to the hospital. I was on the front lines until Stalin ordered all underage volunteers to return to their studies in November of 1943.
So I went back to my family. Shortly after that we were evacuated to Kazakhstan. I worked various jobs and moved around a lot, but it was troubling to realize how people treated me differently because I was Korean. One guy in a kolkhoz I was working at told me that I was a liar - that no Korean was allowed to be on the front lines. I got so angry that I threw an inkbottle at him and he got all dirty. I almost got kicked out of Komsomol, but shortly after that incident my family moved again. We were ordered to work on a rice kolkhoz in the Far East, but I worked as a nurse. There was a typhus epidemic at the time and anybody who knew medicine was in high demand. I worked in the hospital room in the morning and at the Komsomol office in the evening (I was once responsible for the Party agitation in our kolkhoz).
As it was, I had always been devoted to the Party and was always loyal to the ideals of Komsomol. This always remained so despite how my family and other Koreans were just thrown around and constantly relocated throughout the Soviet Union by Stalin and the Communist Party. I guess my youth and that of other Koreans was pretty rough because of this. Still, loyalty was an important thing.
In 1948 I moved to Almaty without any papers, only my Komsomol card and medals. I struggled at first because it was virtually impossible to work without identification, but finally I got new papers and found a job as a cashier. After that, many things happened. I continued my studies and working in retail. I worked once at a train depot too. I was very active in my community, and I always remained loyal to the Party and to the Komsomol. I always believed that my work was to do good for the society.
In 1949 I was happily married. But my husband worked for the government and was killed on duty. Both of my sons are also dead. The first one died from sickness, and the second one died tragically while in the police service. He was a policeman here in Almaty at the time, and saved a woman during a fire. He saved her, but couldn't save himself. So yes, life has been hard. But many are the memories that give me joy and happiness.
My name is Tadakazu Usami and I was born in the village called Otsuka in a year Taisho 9, which, in translation to the Western calendar, I think means 1920. My kids tell me my birthday is January 20th, 1920. My youth was modest and busy - I was an active child.
We were being prepared to fight since an early age, my school had military classes and I learned to shoot a rifle when I was just 12. The draft age for young men was 20 at the time and I was looking forward to the day I would join the Armed Forces of our Emperor. The day I turned 20 I volunteered for the the army. Sino-Japanese war was already in full swing and after completing my basic training I joined Aoyama infantry, 7th regiment, and was sent to Hebei, China.
We didn't consider it a World War or anything like that, we saw it as a war to prove the power of Japan and our Emperor, no one knew that things would turn out the way they did. I was a young kid, of course propaganda played a trick with my mind and I was fanatical about the war.
China was very exciting, but not in a very good sense of this word. Wherever we went from day one, there were people dying next to me, bullets flying in all directions. That was a real mess. But what could I do, our commanders would say, "we are moving here tomorrow" and we move here. They say, "move there" and we move there. We had to honourably follow the orders of our leader, we were soldiers. At that time I started understanding what the war really is about and most of all I was just missing my home. It was tough to survive everyday, to go through all the atrocities and violence; you had to distance yourself from your body and become a different person. And just fight to win, like they taught us in our training.
One particular fight was crucial for my regiment. We were going back and forth the Great Wall for a few days trying to confuse the enemy and get them where they least expected us. But at some point we got surrounded by the Chinese army and my whole regiment was practically wiped out. I got shot in my right arm during that fight and I was among the very few who survived. I still consider myself lucky to be alive.
After some time I ended up in a hospital in Peking and ended up spending 2 years there. Then I returned to Japan to be re-enlisted but because of my disability I wasn't fit for active duty, so I worked at various military-related jobs. I was working at Tsudanuma Railway regiment as a security person, then I continued my duty in Wakayama city ship engineering, 9th regiment. At that time some people started talking about the fact that Japan was losing the war. I declined to believe that, I thought it impossible.
Later I was sailing military transport ships to Korea and back. And that's when the war ended. I felt a great shame and couldn't speak with anyone for days, I still feel ashamed even though now I have a much clearer image of what was going on and how we all have been fooled into believing what we believed.
There is nothing else to say, I hope you will excuse me. I often have dreams about my fallen comrades calling me from beyond the grave. I feel guilty that I was more lucky than many of my fellow soldiers.
My name is Ken Smith. I was born on April 12, 1922 in Portsmouth. My parents were very religious. I was in the dockyard choir. I left school at thirteen. I worked on houses. I used to make flights of stairs until the war, when timber became so scarce the government commandeered all of it.
I remember the day the war broke out. I was in church that day. At eleven, Chamberlain was going to make an announcement. I ran home. I remember him saying, "We are at a state of war." We were told to be ready for air raids. The first thing I did, I went down to the bottom of the garden and dug a big trench about eight food long. I was there the whole day, expecting an air raid that night. But during the night, it rained heavily. I couldn't stay there. The next morning it was filled up with water.
I loved football and a friend of mine said, "Join the Royal Marines, you'll get plenty of football." I joined when I was eighteen. I did six months of training near Dover, where we expected the invasion to begin. Every night we used to stand on the beaches. When the invasion didn't happen, I was moved to Plymouth where I did a naval gunnery course. I passed two naval gunnery courses, and was sent up at a ship in Newcastle, HMS Manchester.
We used to go around Iceland looking for German weather ships. Those days they depended on their weather ships to forecast the British weather. We'd live on the upper deck in the bitter cold. We'd live around the guns. We pulled into Scapa Flow for supplies and I was on the meet party to our biggest battle cruiser, which was the HMS Hood. I went aboard to get supplies to take over to our ship. The next morning, I received a telegram that said my father was dying. I tried to get leave to come and see him. And I put in a request to see the commander. Because I was a gunner, he said no. I asked for the captain of the ship, he said no. So I said, can I see the admiral? He was on the Hood. I put in to see the admiral. I had to dress up in my best uniform. While I was doing that, they spotted the Bismarck coming out. The bugle went and we shot out of Scapa Flow. I was dressed in my best and had to go down to help hoist the ship's anchor.
We went looking around the north of Iceland, up the east coast. The Bismarck went around the Denmark strait. The Hood went along the south. The Bismarck sunk it, blew her to bits. We chased the Bismarck until we ran out of petrol. We were lucky enough that the Bismarck was sunk about a week later.
We took a convoy down to Malta, stopping at Gibraltar to organize a larger convoy. We were near Malta when we got attacked by torpedo bombers. The stern of the ship was blown away, we had a lot killed. The ship was heeling over and I fired. I tried to aim uphill where we were tilting, where the deck was covered in blood and oil. There were bodies all around. Anyway, we managed to make it back to Gibraltar and we were patched up there, but they weren't equipped for all the repairs we needed.
Those days, when you left port, you never knew where you were going. You were zigzagging all the time, avoiding U-Boats. And after all those days at sea, where we were living around the gun, I said to the gun crew, I wouldn't be surprised if we were going to Canada or America. Shortly after, the commander of the ship said over the radio, "The ship is bound for the United States of America." Within ten days we approached the American coast, then up the Delaware river to Philadelphia. It was marvelous, seeing it all lit up. Hundreds of workmen came aboard. Right away, they started to repair us. They weren't in the war at the time. This was hush-hush because they didn't want to be involved. We spent months there. It was a lovely experience, traveling around, playing football.
In December, I was playing for the ship's football team, against an American representative team in Camden, New Jersey. I was on duty that day, so I had to go straight back to the ship after the game. I was at a bus station in Philadelphia, where there was a news office with these big, glittering lights flashing the news. I looked up and saw "American Battleship Sunk" with various names. I couldn't believe it. It was only when I get back to the ship that I learned what happened. The Americans joining the war was a blessing for us.
Once we were repaired, we went down to Florida, then to Bermuda, where we met one of the worst storms I've ever encountered. I thought, oh no, we'll never get out of it. We pitched and tossed and rolled. We eventually arrived back in England and I left the ship so the repairs could be completed. I was sent to another ship, the HMS Penelope. The Manchester was sunk the very next convoy.
Right away we went to the Mediterranean. We were known as HMS Pepperpot, we were hit and blown up so many times. The Germans were about to invade Greece in 1941, so we left Algeria and bumped into a German invasion armada on the way. We sunk most of it. While leaving, we were hit with a bomb. We had a lot killed on the gun deck. The Sergeant Major asked me if I would like to be a commando. I said, "Anything to get off this ship." They were forming a special air service, which was top secret. I was sworn to not to tell anyone. I joined the unit and left the ship. The Penelope went out shortly afterwards and she was hit with three torpedoes and 417 men went down with her.
We boarded a train in Alexandria, to Cairo, then caught another train to Palestine. That's where they had their base, in Haifa. I continued doing raids after my training. I did ski training, I did a parachute course. I took a gunnery course in Jerusalem. I got sent to Cairo to do a few days sniping course. I went to the pyramids where they had a range. I was a patrol sniper. We were sent up the Dodecanese islands. I was attached to the special boat section, on two man canoes. During the training, we would go to sea every night and get out and we'd have to swim back to shore. If we didn't make it, there was only one punishment - return to the marines. Luckily though, I was very fit. I was sent to Italy. From there, to Albania. We lived in the mountains for a couple months.
We did commando raids on various islands. I got a bullet in the arm in 1944. It's still there now. We did one raid where we landed at night on the island of Lusin, in Croatia now, and climbed the mountain with a guide. He knew we were going to blow the place up and he wouldn't show us. We tried again another time, but the Germans had taken over from the Italians and were waiting for us. They opened fire. I got hit then. We got under a tree. It was dark and I said to the sergeant, "I think I've been hit." My hand was all sticky. When we heard the whistle to evacuate, we got about forty yards and the house was on fire.
Later, we discovered a German in the bushes. He had a stick grenade. I took it from him and lifted him and slung him on my shoulder, dragging him along. Then I heard this bang in my ear. This prisoner had gotten his gun and shot himself. I heard it drop and I thought, I'm going to have a souvenir.
I was at the back as we were going up the mountainside. I lost a lot of blood and I could see that I was in trouble. So the officer came and took over for me and said, "Go up front." One of the marines was guarding a prisoner, and I was going to take the prisoner from him and escort him back to a ship, on the other side. The prisoner was older than I was. He was badly wounded and mumbling. I told him to shut up. It was getting to be dawn.
They sent a few sailors to shore to help and they paddled us back to the ship. The German soldier had messed himself, he had his trousers down.
Smothered in blood, resting on the deck. They helped me up and told me to go down to the mess deck. Just as I was about to go, I collapsed.
I came to in Yugoslavia, on a cruiser. There were a lot of sailors there. Around me, a lot of other people in stretchers. I was flown back to Italy. The hospitals were so full with the wounded I was laid on a stretcher in the corridor. From where I was, I could look out and see all these badly wounded chaps with legs hanging up in the air, all wearing awards. I wasn't a serious case.
After a few days, I was sent back to the front line, to Lake Comacchio. It was my birthday. We would be out in our two-man canoes, marking the way across the water for the fleet to come through. Then I heard the Germans going on the roadside. It was all horse and car then because they had no petrol. I could hear the Germans singing as they walked and I was fascinated. As they approached, they started firing. I said to the officer, "I'm twenty-two today, sir." He replied, "Everybody paddle for your bloody lives!"
We zigzagged, paddling until we got out of range. A few hours later, the officers sent for me and congratulated me on being awarded with the highest award, with wings over my medals instead of my arms.
When the war ended, I was sitting on the roadside watching hundreds of thousands of prisoners go by. The Royal Marines in this SAS unit were ordered to return. I was on the first boat back to England. I got a couple of weeks leave before I was sent to China, to fight the Japanese in Hong Kong in late 1945.
After that, I was recalled to Malta. I had to teach young marines arms drills. But I dropped the rifle when a pain in my shoulder was too much for me, where I was shot. I was sent back to England and discharged. I was considered disabled. I took up building again. I retired at 65. I had nine children.
My only hobby is growing chrysanthemums. I love growing them. They're so expensive, but so rewarding. I live for them. First thing in the morning. I spent all my time sifting the soil, getting a nice mix.
I'm still here. And the only reason I'm still here is because I was a choir boy. I was brought up in the church and that's the only reason I'm still here, I think. The years are hard to remember, but I can recall the exploits like they were yesterday.
Tikri Kalan, IndiaMORE...
My name is Munshi Ram, and I was born in India in 1921. My family were farmers, which fuelled my lifelong love of agriculture. Many of us in India were in impoverished circumstances, and the farms were our only means of thriving.
In 1939, my country was in serious conflict. British Viceroy Lord Linlithgow declared our entry into the war and India started seeking volunteers. As I remember it, if you had a certain number of men in your family, they would let the oldest men into the service. I happily volunteered to serve my country and provide for my family, who needed serious financial assistance. I had married my wife then and felt a duty to make her life more comfortable
Once I was enlisted, I was sent to Bareilly to train for six months. There, they taught us everything we needed to know about being effective soldiers. I gained stealth survival skills and became adept at different tactics of combat. We were trained as relentless fighters, ready to fight our enemies to the death. I can remember the long, hard days of training, and the mantra we were taught: "Never step back!" As I was building myself into a warrior, I realized that even if it came down to losing my life, that's just what would have to happen. It was all about the greater good.
From training, I was sent to our Border Security Force, where I learned even more combat techniques. We then traveled by ship and plane to Europe. Upon arrival, a Senior General of the Allied Forces met us. I can't quite remember his name, but I believe he was American or British. In any event, the General took us to our base camp and briefed us on our mission. He divided us, and then sent us to different borders of Germany. Our duty basically was to make sure no one entered the country.
It didn't take me long to realize that the Germans were the most powerful people in the world. The Nazis were fighting numerous countries at once and were successful in just about every conflict. The Germans even managed to get a portion of my own country's citizens fighting for them as the Indian Legion. Luckily, our regiment was deployed at a time when the Germans were starting to have difficulties. We gave them a tremendous fight. We were there for about three years before we were sent back to Bareilly via ship, with Germany defeated and in shambles.
Time has faded my memory of the rest of our mission, but I know we were in China and Tokyo as well during and after the war. I am an old man now and may not remember much, but history shows our side was successful, and I am proud to have contributed to that. I left the Army for good in 1954. After I left, I rejoined the farming business. I then had two sons and one daughter.
My vision has failed me since those days, but I often visit my farms and family. I still have a strong love for the agricultural industry.
My name is Sidney Owen Kendrick and I was born in Birkenhead on September 3, 1917. I had two brothers and one sister. I went to Park High School and left when I was sixteen and took a job as a post boy for Buchanan's Flour Mills in Liverpool. I delivered mail to various corn merchants we dealt with. Eventually, I was given a job in the sales department. One year, my girlfriend and I walked across Wales, using youth hostels as we went.
When war broke out on my birthday in 1939, I tried to enlist. I was in Birkenhead. I went to the Naval Recruiting Office because I thought I would like to be in the navy. When I got my call, I went back to the office and said, "Look, I don't want to be a conscript. I volunteered on the third." I told my girlfriend I was joining the Royal Marines. She was concerned about the fact that I would be going to sea. She started to knit me a nice blue heavy pullover. When I got to Portsmouth, I discovered when I went through the gate, that they were all in khakis. So I wrote her to tell her I wanted a khaki one instead. I was sent to Portsmouth in early December, 1939. I joined 19th Squad there.
I went to the gate and they took me to the company office, where I saw a sergeant. And he said, "What's your name?" and took all my details. He said, "Do you want to go home for Christmas?" I said, "Yes sir." He said, "You don't call me sir, you call me Sergeant." I was there for a fortnight and I got leave over Christmas. I was in a marine uniform then. Next time I went, I was in officer's uniform.
It was a rough time because all the other newly appointed officers had a three month course to prepare them, but I was just thrown into the deep-end. I was given charge of the 13th Platoon in B Company, under Major Phillips. The battalion formed on April 1. The next month we were put on a twenty-four hour notice to go on an operation. We weren't told where we were going. We were only told to take care not to upset the natives. It turned out to be a takeover of Iceland. We set sail up the North sea in two cruisers and it was a rough passage; there was a gale blowing. Only some of the chaps had ever been to sea before. There was a great deal of seasickness. The Icelanders were pleased to see us. Denmark had just been taken over by the Germans and they were worried about what was going to happen to them.
Together with the Company Major, we were fifteen platoons. We set up a camp in the cow shed. There were three marines to a stall. We worked in the night and slept at daytime. It was the only way we'd be warm enough to sleep. We spent three weeks there putting up positions. The Company was given the task of going to the Germany Embassy to ensure that the German Embassy staff were taken prisoner. But the ambassador was not there. One of the chaps that went with Major Cutler said, "There's smoke coming out of that window, sir!" So they broke the door down and found the ambassador's wife and daughter burning papers in the bath. They stopped that. Then they found the ambassador elsewhere. He was at a hotel with a girlfriend and they found out which room he was in, and being a gentleman, Major Cutler said, "Stand back, we'll wait until he's finished before we arrest him." Of course they arrested him and took him back to England and he became a prisoner of war. We were able to control the island, and had we not done that, then the North Atlantic Convoys bringing food and munitions from America and Canada would not have been able to work. So the people of England would probably have starved.
We returned to England after a few weeks. Three months later we were on orders. This time we were going to Dakar because General de Gaulle had persuaded Churchill that the people of West Africa would be delighted if he appeared. That would mean that quite a big portion of Africa would be on our side. We marched through Liverpool with our pith helmets on. Everybody knew we were going somewhere where it was going to be sunny. Some of the doctors said, "Oh, yes, you're going to Dakar." The doctors always knew what was going on. But it wasn't until we were halfway across the Atlantic that we learned exactly what we were going to do. We left Liverpool in July of 1940.
We got to Dakar in August, ahead of our tremendous fleet of several cruisers and lots of destroyers. The theory was that we would land there and the Vichy French would realize that we were a very strong force and there was no point in them not allowing General de Gaulle to take over. Unfortunately his ideas weren't right. They sent a boat in with a flag of troops, with two officers, and they were fired on and came back. There was a thick fog so the French could not see this armada of armed ships that we had outside. After about two days, they decided that General de Gaulle was not going to be welcome in that area and so the operation was cancelled. We went to Freetown.
Two of the battalions went to England and two remained in Freetown, ready to deal with a possible attack on the Cape Verde islands. One of my jobs there was to censor letters the lads had written. We couldn't write home and say "I am now in Freetown." It was not allowed. Each letter had to be censored by an officer to make sure that they hadn't disclosed where we were.
One of the amazing things that happened while I was there was that my father was in the merchant navy and I recognized his ship coming into port. He used to trade down that route. He was surprised to find me there and I was surprised to see him. I spent the night on his ship. He went and sailed down the west coast of Africa to the various ports. About a fortnight later, they came back. My father was welcomed into the officer's mess by the colonel and he had a good night. The next day, his ship sailed from Freetown. He stood on the deck and waved to me and I waved to him. That was the last time I saw him. His ship was bombed by German aircraft just short of Ireland. He was one of the unfortunate seven that were killed.
After six months, we went to Gibraltar. We formed a rugby team there and challenged the army to a match. We thought that because they were tough lads, they were going to beat us. But we managed to beat them. Some of our chaps were suffering badly from malaria, but they got sorted out. We spent some time putting up barbed-wire fences on the slopes of Gibraltar. In case the Germans or the Spaniards decided to have a go. We stayed there and I was made a Captain. Second-in-Command of B Company. On the way back, we took four Free French nurses onto the ship. The French of the various officers improved considerably on the way back to England.
I got married in a hurry on December 4, 1941. I was due to be married on a Saturday, but I was told on the previous Monday that we were going on an operation. I had to ring up my fiancee and say, "Can we get married on a Thursday?" So she scurried around and we managed to get ourselves organized. We went to Edinburgh for a short honeymoon. On the Saturday morning I rang up the battalion and said, "Am I due back?" And they said, "No you're all right. We cancelled the operations." They were always cancelling operations.
I was appointed CO of a beach group gathering in Hampshire. I spent probably a year retraining them and loading ships. Putting out beach roadways. Being able to use landing craft. In 1943, the beach groups were disbanded because they were too small for what was intended in the D-Day landings. I was transferred and I was reduced back to Captain. We did landing craft training. We learned all sorts of things about calculating, dead reckoning, etc. Eventually we were all well qualified. I was at Iceland Camp and our job was to train men in landing craft and taking off again. Shortly after that, I was drafted to HMS James Cook, which was in Scotland. After a three week course, I was retained there as an officer. I was in Scotland during D-Day. My wife was with me. We managed to find some digs up in Scotland and my son was also there. I got the signal to report in as soon as I could. We got to Glasgow, during Fair Week, which wasn't easy and returned to Liverpool and set sail. Many people I trained were at D-Day. Some were killed, some got back. But we spent our time training how to navigate and how to land troops. That was my contribution to the war effort.
At the end of July, 1944, after the invasion had taken place, I was drafted to HMS Prince Baldwin, which was a Dutch ship that'd been taken over by the Royal Navy. A fellow captain was in charge of the flotilla that worked from HMS Princess Beatrix. We set off and sailed down to the Mediterranean. Our job was to land the first battalion of the American Special Forces on the two islands which were in a position to threaten the main landing in the south of France. We did a few exercises in Corsica. The Americans would be toed towards the shore in rubber boats. When we got to within a mile of the shore we released them and they paddled their way quietly and landed.
I was sent to Valetta in 1945. We were told to await orders. The only order we got was to send three landing craft north of Italy to help bypass the Germans. They came back and joined us again. Four or five months passed and we decided to tell somebody that we were here. We took a trip across Italy in a van and went to the headquarters just short of Naples. We found the fleet marine officers office. We introduced ourselves and they said they've been looking for us. The next day we got orders to get back to England.
The lads were sent to harvest, because they were desperately short of labor on the farms. In due course we were given orders to land in Flensburg, where we tried to control the Germans trying to get across to Sweden. After four weeks, we returned to England. I was discharged in December, 1945 and I was granted the War Service rank of Major. I had been a Major several times during the war.
I went back to the firm that I worked for and managed a small mill in Darby. I was soon made the manager for five counties. From then on, I progressed in the company. I became the general manager of a bakery, and eventually one of five regional sales managers for the whole country. From there, I was promoted to the Area Director of the Midlands RHM Bakeries. I was made a member of the Order of the British Empire for my services to agriculture and the food industry. And that's it.
I try to keep busy. I've got children who come and look after me now and again. I play bridge. I'm a member of an organization for professional businessman who've retired. I'm a member of the Methodist church in Warwick. On the Sixtieth Anniversary of the landing in the south of France, I went there with two daughters and a granddaughter, and we were allowed to join in the commemoration. The Americans and the French were there. I was the only British officer there. And we had a tremendous time. Eventually we had prayed and the veterans lined up. One of the amazing things was that while we were in our seats, youngsters, teenagers came around and shook us all by the hand and said, "Thank you for what you did." We were presented with a certificate by the mayor, whose surname was Napoleon!
Jean-Jacques Auduc ,
Le Mans, FranceMORE...
My name is Jean-Jacques Auduc. I was born on July 9, 1931, in Cerans-Fouilletourte, to a modest family. My father used to make windmills. He was supposed to emigrate to Canada, but then he met my mother. She was a secretary. I went to school in Saint Pavin. I was nine when the war started. Our father was imprisoned by the Germans, but he escaped. On his return, on May 10, 1940, he arrived at an orphanage on the border between France and Belgium, where they had slaughtered a hundred children. They had killed everyone there. That's when he decided he would go into the resistance, thinking about his own children.
To form his group he decided he would only ask people from his own family, to avoid any issues of trust. So my parents, uncles and aunts, and grandmother joined. I was just entering my teens. But I could go everywhere that adults couldn't. Because we were forming a resistance in the south, our job was primarily to gather information, but also to take care of American or British soldiers who parachuted or whose planes had crashed. I used to carry messages. I would go retrieve messages from a hotel, where they were hidden behind a radiator there and I would bring them to my grandmother's house. I kept them in the handlebar of my bicycle, and I cycled the 25km distance. It was very difficult to get out of Le Mans at the time, because of the German and French police everywhere. But I could manage. As a child, it was quite easy. I never had problems.
One mission I had came from the British photos of the airfield in Le Mans. They noticed there was a fleet of planes, and were worried about their purpose. It was impossible to approach the airport without trouble, so I went there with my kite, to play. The German soldiers were quite old and not very frightening. They even played with me.I realized the planes were made of wood. They were fakes. They hadn't even painted them underneath. So I sent the message and the British dropped fake bombs carved out of wood, like a joke that was also an intimidation tactic. They wanted the Germans to know they didn't have complete control, that there was resistance. To make them paranoid of spies hiding everywhere.
Guns were sometimes parachuted behind my grandmother's house. The whole family had to be there because there was much to be carried away immediately. I used to keep watch, in case anyone arrived. Once, I thought there was a problem. I gave the alarm. In fact, it turned out to be just some cows in the distance. But they still congratulated me for this, because I was eleven and I was doing my job carefully.
The Americans had a lot of planes, but not so many pilots. When the planes were shot down, they would come retrieve their men. A few Allied pilots had been shot down around the surrounding villages. One of them was David Butcher, in Poille-sur-Vegre. He was a tail gunner for a B-17 bomber. The tail section had been shot and he parachuted into a field. The nine other men onboard were all killed. We kept these survivors at our home because we couldn't take them through the Pyrenees at the time, we would've been arrested.
We had to wait for another group to be formed to help us with the escape. The four of the Americans stayed in a small room in the attic, but after a week, we needed to let them out. My mother made fake papers for them, identification cards, at her secretary job. They were supposed to be deaf and dumb. I was the one that escorted David Butcher around and I was apprehended for it. I was scared, I was twelve then. But he gripped my hand to signal me not to run away. He took papers from his pockets that explained his condition. The Germans seemed apologetic. We were very scared, but they let us go. Butcher said he thought he was too close to them, it was better when he was in his plane.
My parents were arrested in early November, 1943. One of our neighbors was waiting for me at the end of the street and told me not to go home. She told me that the Gestapo was waiting. They wanted me, because as a child, they knew it would be easy to make me speak. They waited at the house a long time for anyone that might show up. My family had expected that something like this could happen, so there were plans. I was to go to Paris in the event of this, where somebody from the organization would be waiting for me. When I arrived, there was nobody. That person had been arrested also. I didn't know what to do. However, I was lucky because at the time there were men helping with the luggage in the stations. One of them approached me after seeing I was alone on the platform. I explained the situation and it turned out this man was from the same village. He took care of me for a while.
Three months later, my parents were sent to a camp. Our mother in one, our father in another. Everyone separated.
I had several addresses where I could go, but I never stayed long. There was one place I stayed for three days and the Gestapo arrived the day after. I had to keep moving. The last people I stayed with were prostitutes in Montmartre, who were very nice to me, because some people didn't want me in their house - it was too dangerous. But the prostitutes kept me safe. Eventually, I was able to return to my grandmother's house, where my brother was, because the Gestapo had ceased to be interested in me.
I was with her on D-Day. We used to listen to the British radio and that's how we knew the landing had taken place. There was mainly hope, the end of the nightmare. The possibility to see my parents again.
When the war ended, the hope was in the Americans. As a child, I couldn't think of what would happen after. I thought only about seeing my parents, my mother. Most people didn't know what the concentration camps were. We thought they were like factories where people were sent to work. The horror was unimaginable at the time. One of my uncles was killed there. My father and another uncle managed to return. While my mother was in a camp, she was sold to a laboratory for experiments. 98% of these women were killed. But she came back, though in a bad state. The doctors said it would good for her when she got better, that she should have another child, it would be good for her. She died five months after my sister was born, at 41 years of age.
Later, I ended up taking lessons through correspondence, studying forestry. I spent my time in the forest with animals, as my father had done. I currently belong to the Franco-American Association, with responsibilities to this area. I have a medal that was presented to me by General Eisenhower.
Jack J. Diamond,
My name is Jack Jerry Diamond, which is not my birth name. My birth name was Udell Moishe Diamond. I was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 23, 1925. I grew up as a kid in Brooklyn and then my dad bought a property on Long Island. He was building us a home outside of Huntington. My dad learnt about the automobile business during WWI, when he was in the army. However, my father was told to enter the gasoline business, and he listened to this advice. Therefore, he bought another property in Brooklyn at the entrance of the Brooklyn Bridge. He built a gas station on that property. Unfortunately, my father got killed by a drunk driver when I was only 8 years old, on Feb 1, 1934. At that time, we were in Huntington. After his death, we moved back to our grandparents' home in Brooklyn. We also had family in Miami, Florida. I had an uncle in Miami and he got us moved into his partner's apartment building on South Beach.
The Second World War started when I graduated from Miami Beach Senior High School. My uncle sent me to join the Riverside Military Academy in my senior year. I enlisted in the army before I turned 18. I ended up in the 106th Division and we were stationed at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. We provided close support to the infantry. Our field position was on the frontline. I spent a short time in a military school in Indiana, ranked as an army private (PVT). We left from New York on a ship known as Aquitania, and landed in Scotland. We were stationed for some time in a small town outside England. Our division crossed the English Channel and landed in France where we went to our first combat position in Belgium. And BOOM! It was the time after D-Day and there were not many Germans left in France as the battle moved to Germany.
The Battle of the Bulge was our first point of combat that was happening in a small town called St. Vith in Belgium. Our division got wiped out by the Germans, practically all, and I became a German prisoner of war. We spent approximately 19 days in combat, and the Battle of the Bulge was completely unexpected. Our division had no prior experience of any real combat. However, we destroyed all the evidence that the Germans could use against us before we got captured by them. I was a Jew, so I told them that I was a Jew and an American, so take me as I am. A person is a person no matter what kind! There were two German armies: the Wehrmacht who were trying to wipe out Jews, and then there was the SS who operated under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.
I was captured as a PFC (private first class) and it was during the coldest winter in Europe. I was wearing my galoshes, but my feet already got frozen, and it sucked! The Germans knew about my feet and two of them took me to the hospital. But there was nothing the doctor could do as I had no boots. However, there was a German officer who made sure that I didn't have to walk on the woods with other prisoners without putting on my galoshes. There was not enough food for the Germans themselves, so they gave us next to nothing to eat. All Americans were treated this way, not only the Jews. There were all types of prisoners there, but they segregated us. For instance, the Americans were in one part of the prison and the Canadians in another. I was never segregated on the basis of being a Jew, but a dogface will be a dogface no matter what army he is in!
The U.S. Army also sent a telegram to my home stating that I went missing in action in Germany. The telegram was received by my sister who was 13 at that time. She did not want to tell this news and upset my mother as she was a widow. So my sister never told my mother that I was missing in action and she kept it to herself. My mother came to know, however, when the army sent another telegram stating that I became a prisoner of war. At least she knew that I was alive. Later, we got transferred from the St. Vith 2A camp to another camp in East Germany. I stayed there the whole time until the Russians came along, and that was several months later. I was freed from the camp by the Russians in May 1945. The Russians came through East Germany.
Ah! It was like moving from a German prison into a first class hotel in Paris. But the food didn't get any better with the Russians. We stayed there and helped the Russians. A few Americans came later in the combat trucks and took us back to America through France. Luckily we got shipped back from France directly to - guess where - Miami Beach! I was stationed at a hotel about three blocks from my mother's apartment. My mother did know that I was a prisoner of war from the communication sent through the American Army. However, she did not know that I was back in Miami. So I went to visit her, but she was not in the apartment. She was visiting our relatives in New York. Later, she came back from New York quickly when I notified her that I was back in Miami.
We were examined by doctors as soon as we landed in America to identify what shape we were in. I must say that nobody was in good shape. I was then sent to New York on a leave. I was in the army until we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, and then the war was over. I was discharged from the U.S. Army at the Miami station. I did not want to go someplace cold to continue my education because of the memory of my frozen feet in the war. So I thought of southern California, but that was approximately 3,000 miles away from home. So I decided to earn a degree from the University of Miami in general education. After getting my degree, I knew that I wasn't going to move towards the northern part of the US. Therefore I had to do something in Miami.
I loved the ocean and there was a club, the Riviera Cabana Club, which had cabanas and a pool. I had a concession stand at the back of that club. Therefore I got into this beach stand business. I had another stand in a hotel in Miami Beach. At that time, my uncle was in the nightclub business and he also had a liquor store. I ran his liquor store and I learned that business as well. I also learned about the surfing business. I got my name registered in the local phonebook as South Beach Surfers. I used to rent surf boards to the surfers at the beach. Apart from working in the food and entertainment business, I was also working at the dog track at night. I also used to give the beach weather report over the phone to people calling my surfing business. This was because sometimes it might be sunny in the town, while at the same time cloudy at the beach. I gave the best weather and surfing reports. No BS!
I got married to Julie on March 1, 1978. Julie is the love of my life, though she is not my first wife. We did not have any children together. But I had two children with my first wife, a boy and a girl. Julie has two kids, too, and she had them from her own first marriage. I am very involved in the American Ex-Prisoners of War Organization. When I stopped working, I started volunteering at the age of 62 at the Miami VA Hospital as a service officer. I helped people get compensation from being prisoners of war and for injuries they had during the war. In 2014, I had 24,000 hours drawn for charity and I was the volunteer of the year at the VA hospital.
My name is Marko Vruhnec and I was born on June 9, 1922. Following the First World War, my parents lived in Ljubljana. Later they moved to Belgrade, in Serbia, where I spent my early childhood until I was nine years old. I learned French there. We moved back to Slovenia and my father became the director of a coal mine. Our family was well-off and we were very happy.
In 1940, the Italians occupied the territory, after that the Germans and Hungarians arrived. In 1941, the war divided our family. My father was sentenced to thirty years in prison and they confiscated our home. My mother was sent to a concentration camp in Germany. On July 14, 1941, I had to go to Italy where I was imprisoned. I was released and soon after I joined the Slovenian partisans.
It's difficult to think of specific memories from the war. What I remember is that there was a huge difference between the warm and happy home I'd grown up in and the rain and fog and winter that came as a result of the fighting. My father managed to escape from prison. He also joined the partisans and we were reunited on January 1, 1945. My sister was also an activist. We were together until the capitulation of Rome, which was where we lived at the time.
I was injured in the second half of April, 1945. It was a complete miracle that I survived. I couldn't walk. But I believed that everything would end and I would be okay. I remember the bright moment when I returned to Ljubljana, and everything had been worth it. The fighting. Everything was waiting to begin again. The Germans and Italians had already left Slovenia. I searched for my sweetheart and found her, immediately we wanted to get married. On July 12, 1945 we did just that. We had known each other since we were seventeen. She had also been imprisoned and tortured.
I had wondered whether my mother would return from the camp. I learned five days before the war officially ended that my sister had been killed. On one hand, there was a feeling of euphoria of the war being one. On the other, it was an emotional, heavy time for us.
Everything in Yugoslavia was in ruins and there weren't enough supplies. But it was rebuilt and became one of the best places to live in the world. Because of Tito, I think. He was very popular. He was the President of the Non-Aligned Movement. I worked in his cabinet as a leader. Because I had worked with Intertrade, I had fifteen years of experience and he saw potential in me. I was his economic advisor. I did this for three years. I also earned a doctorate in law. I was a professor at two major universities in Slovenia, where I taught world trade and economics.
The world has changed since then. We have new centers of power. From technology to economy and so on. I'm not trying to be too romantic about history, because it won't repeat itself and it shouldn't. It's normal that everything transforms.
My name is Kikuchi Haku. I was born in the Ibaraki Prefecture on June 10, 1929. I was born into a family of farmers. I didn't find much difficulty in getting food. Generally, the quality of life was low in Japan. It must have been hard for others. My father was a fisherman, before he was married. He sailed on a big ship, traveling all over the world, to America and Great Britain. He married a woman from the next town over. I was the fourth of six children and the only boy. We mostly farmed when we were young. The other men in the area went on to be soldiers.
I began training in 1941, in Kashima City, at twelve years old. I was young. I wanted to help out Japan. I had no fear of death. We had been taught that we should be honored to die for the country. Everyone was brainwashed. We all thought it is noble to die for Japan. So I applied to become a child pilot when I turned fourteen.
All these American planes would fly over and bomb us. When the Japanese airplanes met them in the air, the Americans would shoot them down. I do remember being very scared then. Once, a bunch of B-51s flew over. There were so many I couldn't see the sky. They shot up everything.
Emperor Hirohito had the ultimate power over all the citizens. When I heard the war was over, I thought everything was ended. I didn't even think about what would happen next. We had been told we were winning. We couldn't believe it at first. Then again, we were brainwashed to believe the Emperor was god. After we heard his admission that he wasn't god, we lost our will to fight. There were so many people that died for nothing in the war. We were embarrassed.
The Americans came and made bases where we had our training centers or where our old bases were. They were waiting to see if the citizens would do anything against them. But I never thought to attack. They didn't really affect our lives directly after the war.
My father, having traveled so much, spoke a little English. Some Americans would come to our place and they'd meet to go hunting with him. He found them very friendly.
The biggest problem was poverty after the war. Even the people with good jobs had difficulty. There was so little distinction between the poor and those who used to be rich. I only saw some difference in the 1960s. Industrial progress began to pick up then.
After the war, when I reached adulthood, things were still difficult. This was a time when if you were stronger, you got to survive. I fell under the influence of some people I knew and became a Yakuza. I realized later that the government should be the most important aspect of society. I started to work for a politician, in government. I retired when I turned fifty.
Now I'm much older. I've given up many hobbies. I have a weekly group I meet with young people and listen to their stories, and give advice.
I was born in Texas. Between Fayette and Bastrop. St. Mary's Colony, down toward Houston. It was alright growing up. When I was twelve, I knew what to do for myself. I worked on bridges. I built houses. I picked cotton. I pulled corn. Hauled trees, hauled shrubbery. I did all kinds of work.
I didn't want to go to war. Uncle Sam picked me, he enlisted me. I didn't have a choice. I went to the army in 1942. The South Pacific. I went to Iwo Jima. I was part of 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalion. The lucky men got killed, that's what I remember. I got back here safely. A lot of them didn't get back safe, a lot of them didn't get back at all. I lost a lot of friends. Everybody in the army was my friend. I did regret going, but after I went, I was glad I went. I learned a lot.
We'd leave one island, get on to the next island. Get on a ship and move. I joined the war in 1942 as a Private, got back home in 1945 as a Sergeant. I did a lot of shooting, a lot of fighting, a lot of running, a lot of work. I drove the officers. I was treated well. We were fighting. I loved to shoot.
I was a hundred miles out of Japan when the war ended. I didn't think I was going to go to Japan. But we were fighting them. They were nice people.
Coming home was the brightest memory I have from the war.
After the war, I came back home. I went to see the people at the furniture company I worked for before the war, and they wanted me to start back to work the next week.
I got one eye. Doctor put one of my eyes out. I used to go to the range. I don't shoot anymore. I still can shoot. You have to know how to hold your gun.
I drink whiskey like everybody else. I don't get drunk. I drink it like I do medicine. Put it in your coffee, good medicine. I don't take medicine. I take whiskey.
Rena & Ioanna,
My name is Ioanna, and I was born on July 8, 1933 in Chania, Greece. My older sister Rena was born on September 8, 1926. We sisters had a wonderful childhood. Our parents were loving, giving people who always did the best they could to provide for us. We had a big house and a beautiful garden.
Our life was carefree until the war started. The Germans were tyrants who were rapidly invading Europe. It was pretty clear that Crete was in line to be invaded by the Germans, especially after they occupied mainland Greece. At that time, our family leased our house to the British consulate. The British were here to protect us, as well as a lot of soldiers from New Zealand and Australia. Still, we all felt very uneasy about the possibility of war.
In May 1941, my father took us to a village north of Chania, trying to find a safer place to live. Soon the German invasion began. There was heavy fighting and the British soldiers fought for our island like it was their own. Still, the Germans won and Crete was under occupation. We remember the first day of the battle. We were playing in the yard when out of nowhere a plane appeared right over our heads. We saw a German pilot pointing his gun at us. Our mom ran out of the house and dragged us inside. That plane was flying so low we still can remember the expression on the pilot's face.
Later, when we returned to Chania it was already governed by the German administration. One day my mother walked me through our neighborhood. I saw our home and ran to go inside, but saw a strange man on the porch. I was very confused. My mother quickly grabbed me and told me it was no longer our house.
The Nazi commanders were living there now. Thinking that it was British property, they took it over and made it their residence. We were afraid to say a word, so of course my family didn't even try to tell them that it was our house. We moved to our aunt's house and stayed there.
Thus began the terrible, terrible times. Our childhood innocence was stolen by this worldwide conflict I had no understanding of. Germans would patrol through the town, banging on doors and screaming. My aunt had covered all of her windows with dark materials and paint so they couldn't see inside. Our parents would hold us tight during these contentious moments, protecting us with their very lives. My family had already lost their home, the last thing we needed was to lose each other, too.
The family had a rice factory that the Germans pillaged, stealing all the food for themselves. They even had the audacity to barge into my aunt's home and taunt us, saying, "The war isn't over, we'll be back one day." And giving my parents a key to their own factory.
I had a friend in a Jewish family a couple of homes over, and I remember one morning my father telling me the Nazis had taken them for prosecution. I never saw them again.
It was a never-ending terror until the British Army came back into our town in 1945. We were relieved that the Nazi threat was being neutralized. The battle over Crete began again. Only now, our liberators were trying to kick our occupants out. And they eventually succeeded.
The Nazis occupied one part of town, and the British had another. We didn't hear many gunfights, but I vividly remember a British soldier banging on our door one day. Rena opened the door, and he was huge. He told us there were many Nazis chasing him, and he just needed a glass of water. My family happily gave him something to drink.
Once the British Army kicked the Germans out, the war was finally over! We were liberated, and things could go somewhat back to normal. On their way out of town, the Germans burned everything they could. I can recall seeing clouds of smoke billowing off in the distance.
We returned to our family house in 1947. It wasn't in very good shape at all. The young soldiers hadn't been very respectful of our home. It was dirty and had minor structural damage. Both forces left behind things that we decided to keep and store in the basement as a mural. The British left a "British Consulate" sign, and the Germans left a drum. I guess there wasn't much time to play songs once the British were coming.
We later turned the home into a hotel. One time, a German guy visited Chania and stayed with us. Once I saw him walking around the hotel and checking everything out, looking at things and inspecting door knobs, windows, frames, etc. I was curious as to why he was so interested in the details of our place. So he turned to me and said that he had stayed here during the war. I asked him why he hadn't told me before, and he said he wasn't sure at first. Had we known, I'm not sure if we would've let him stay. The Germans did a number on our town.
After the liberation, we kept in touch with the British soldiers who we remembered. We got their names, and every time the town had an anniversary celebration, they were free to stay with us as our personal guests. We greatly appreciated them for their work in liberating us from the German rule.
These days we still run our hotel. Our parents have passed on, but their memory lives on through us and our historical hotel.
Ichiro Sudai is my name. I had a very happy childhood and had very good scores in school. I was always getting awards from education committees. I was selected to be the Vice President of the Student Committee. These were very good days for me.
I remember that the quality of paper decreased in war time. There was a lack of materials. So the awards were all very thin, on very small sheets of paper.
I was in the army for only two years. When I joined, I didn't think Japan would win. But I couldn't say this because I would have been punished. In June of 1945, I was selected for a special team of 180 people from a pool of 5,000 candidates. I trained in Chiba City to dive into the sea and signal where the planes needed to dive to attack ships. We lacked enough planes, and each plane only held one person. I would dive with flag. I had an oxygen tank on my back. The war finished before I ever had to do any of this.
Everyone was brainwashed then. I didn't feel afraid to die. If I did, it would have been with my colleagues. Of course, I was afraid of dying alone. But I was okay dying in solidarity. And at the time, there weren't many luxury foods available either. Only rice. Before the war started, I ate 1.8 liters of rice a day. In the army I had smaller amounts. Everybody was hungry. They would always talk about being hungry.
Colleagues would have to bring the bones to the family after the bodies were incinerated. One colleague was given lots of food by one of the families he returned the remains to. He came back to tell us about it, and everyone was saying, "Go to hell, we had no food!"
The kamikazes were very proud of their duty. They felt as though they were much better than other parts of the military. There was a lot of pride. Lots of jealousy. Before deploying in kamikaze planes, of course, the pilots would be afraid and lose sleep. It was forbidden to tell your family that you would go. But I made a promise I would tell, and I did so with a postcard. Normally Japanese handwriting goes top-down. I hid the message inside the writing.
After they were notified of their duty, kamikaze pilots would have small farewell parties. We exchanged sake and drank. One side of a table was the kamikaze people and the other were people of a higher position, who were not seen often. It was a respectful, farewell sake. But toward the end of the war, we didn't have sake available. We only had water.
With the kamikaze pilots, they didn't return the bones. We cut our hair and our nails and put them in an envelope or a small bag with a message and this was given to our families when we died. Our families would receive a white box with these contents.
On August 15, 1945 there was an announcement that everybody had to go to the grounds and change their clothes. We listened to the radio. I couldn't hear what was being said. But I could tell it wasn't very good news. When I found out we had lost, I was very happy. I had made amends with the idea of death, that it would be my destiny as a pilot.
After the war, there were no factories where I lived. Very few jobs. But there was lots of forest area. I worked there cutting down trees for two or three years.
Then a cousin told me about a medicine company that was hiring. I worked there for thirty-five years and retired at age 61. I studied woodworking and gardening. I worked on temples and shrines. I was a volunteer fireman until 1978. I lived for my hobbies. I wrote poetry and grew flowers. I've made over thirty gardens. I also used to run a lot. I still have a very strong body. I go to the mountains in spring and fall and pick flowers and mushrooms.
My name is Endre Mordenyi, and I was born on June 10, 1930 in Godollo, a town situated in Pest County, Hungary. I belonged to a traditional military family. My father also served as an army officer and moved to Godollo after the First World War. I believe that I had the innate qualities of a soldier as I have always observed a military environment in my home. When the war began in 1939, I was very young. I applied for the military school in 1940, but I did not get selected because of my poor health. In 1944, I applied again and got admitted to the Gabor Aron Artillery School. The school was located in Romania, but the Soviets invaded the Romanian front in the fall of 1944. Therefore, the Romanian Army capitulated and the school was moved to Sopron, Hungary. Later, when the Hungarian government escaped from Budapest, they moved to the same building where the academy was, so the school was moved again to Sumeg, a town located on the north of Lake Balaton in Hungary.
I attended my first training session for four months in Hungary. During the training period, we did not encounter any fighting, although a little accident happened on the railway lines and a few soldiers were injured. But thank God nobody died! After the training, we went to Bretzenheim in Germany that was a few kilometers away from our training camp. However, on the way there American soldiers captured us and took us to a camp in Tirschenreuth, Germany. At first, I was afraid that I was in the custody of the Soviet Army but quickly realized that it was the Americans. The U.S. forces were just closing and vacating this German town. Initially, there were not many prisoners, but as soon as the war started to end, the U.S. forces brought more and more captives every day. There was not enough space for more prisoners in the camps, so the American soldiers placed us all in a field where we used to spend our whole day on our knees with limited food.
We spent two weeks in that field and there was almost no food, so every morning when we woke up, there were five to eight dead prisoners in the field. We were kept without food one time for four consecutive days. At first, there were American soldiers guarding us, but they soon left and the French Army replaced them. The area was about the size of a European football stadium, and there were 50 such fields next to each other, which were all fenced by the barbed wire. The prisoners were not supposed to cross the three-meter zone near the wire. One night, we were sleeping close to the boundary when we heard the guards shouting and there was a flash of light. We saw a German prisoner trying to escape through the barbed wire, but the French soldiers shot him dead. After that incident, the guards used to fire shots every now and then as a warning sign for the remaining prisoners to stay in their place. We were really very scared of the French guards as the American soldiers were much better trained. I remember once a few prisoners tried to escape but the American guards shot directly at their feet so that they couldn't run. The American soldiers were more capable than the French soldiers and they abstained from killing the prisoners.
After a few months, we were transported to France and while we were walking through a town there with a group of prisoners accompanied by soldiers, the French people started throwing tomatoes and stones at us. There were no fatalities, but a few prisoners got injured. I also got wounded by a stone on my head, but it wasn't too serious. When we got captured I was just a student of the military academy and not a soldier because I wasn't even 18 years old. However, I was wearing the wrong uniform and the symbols on it reflected that I belonged to the group of officers. The officers were separated in this camp from the soldiers, and the supply of food was a little bit better for them as compared to the other camps. And because of this uniform mix-up, I ended up in the camp with the officers.
In July and August, a few human rights organizations stepped up and started a dialogue with the government for the release of prisoners of war. There were all kinds of prisoners including Germans, Russians, Hungarians and Hungarian Germans. The Russians did not want to go back to their country as they were captured by the French soldiers when they were fighting alongside the Germans. Which meant they would be executed or sent to another camp if they went back to the Soviet Union. In the end of October 1945, we were again transported to another camp. While we were travelling in the train, I was sitting near the door of the wagon that was carrying approximately 60 prisoners. Another train crossed us carrying French people, and when that train was passing, the driver threw a big piece of coal towards us that hit my leg and I got injured. Probably, the driver of the other train recognized us as German soldiers and saw our uniforms.
During that time, I was pushed around eight different camps in Germany and France including Tirschenreuth, Kulmbach, Wurtzburg , Bajreuth, Bad-Kreutznach (now Bretzenheim), Voves, Foucarville, Cherbourg and lastly in Mailly de Camp. The Voves camp was near Paris, and it was the central camp for French Foreign Legion recruitment. In this camp, a French officer came to us once and started selecting a few prisoners to organize another foreign legion. He selected six prisoners, including me, to form this legion, and after a while two people from this group were selected to receive a Medal of Honour in France. And two others were selected to come back to Hungary and later participated in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. I was among those two people.
I came back to Kaposvar, Hungary, where I signed the papers of my release. I returned to our home in Godollo where I found my mother and our house completely destroyed after the bombings. There were no windows or doors left in my home and it was only a structure of bombed-out walls. I came to know that my brother and father also got captured. My mother didn't know anything about them, but she got a letter in 1947 that they are being held somewhere in Russia. My brother was released later that year in July and my father came back to Hungary only in 1951.
I finished my school, and in 1950 I enlisted in the army again. I joined the army as a private and was promoted to a lieutenant after three years. Later, I enrolled myself in the reserve and began my training at the machinery technical school to get a job. In 1956, I got an invitation from the army to rejoin as it was the beginning of the Hungarian Revolution. In a few days I was made the leader of the National Guards of Godollo. There were hundreds of guards, as there were around 35 Russian tanks in the city. On November 4, 1956, I went to the nearby barracks to get some 300 machine guns for the guards. But the officers in the camps disappeared by noon and later by 10 pm all the soldiers capitulated to the Soviets.
However, we got lucky as we didn't kill anyone during the revolution. But we were called several times to the police station for further investigations afterwards. I did not have any alibi, so I was punished and got demoted to the rank of a private again. Having that on my record made it almost impossible to get a job, but I got lucky again as a big factory opened not far from Godollo and they were in desperate need for workers. The factory was manufacturing washing machine motors and there were hundreds of people applying for jobs. I was a technician, so I easily landed a job there, and after just three months I was also awarded as the best employee. I worked in the factory for a few years and later moved to Budapest and got a job in a company that used to manufacture aluminum doors.
In 1968, the same company transferred me to Szekesfehervar where they opened a new manufacturing plant. I stayed here and retired from work in 1979. I was still under surveillance for my active participation in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. In 1980, I started my own business for manufacturing aluminum windows and doors. I stayed in this business until the year 2000. I was working from dawn till night. I also had two kids, but they couldn't be a part of this family business because of a funny story. Well, funny in a way.
In 2000, I had a heart attack and I was admitted to the hospital. But I escaped the very next day and sold my business that very same day as my cardiac arrest was caused by a lot of stress. From then onwards, I believe I have a healthy heart condition. Now I am helping veterans and their families in Szekesfehervar County, with the help of my wife. I am working as the editor of a website and we are working with several partner organizations including the HOHE center of Budapest, Armed Forces and Society Circle of Friends Szekesfehervar Organization, Wathay Fraternal Association and a few others. We conduct regular general meetings of the county's membership organizations to improve our service toward veterans and their families.
New York city, New YorkMORE...
My name is Max. I was born on August 6, 1929 in Poland. I was raised in a small village with about 60 Jews. We didn't have much, but we made ends meet. My parents would go to the flea market in the larger villages and sell different meats and fruits. I had a pretty carefree childhood, and I went to school faithfully. I had three brothers.
In 1939, tensions were high in Poland. The war was looming, and my parents were worried about the future. Shortly after Germany invaded Poland, Jews were sent en masse to labor camps and ghettoes were created, we knew that it's time to run. There were people smugglers who would help the Jews flee to Russia. One night my parents took my three brothers and myself to the Ukrainian border, and we were smuggled into the Soviet Union for about 25 zloty.
From there, we were all on our own. After we crossed the border we met some men who were helping people like us find work. My brothers and I were advised to go deeper in Russia to work in a kolkhoz - a collective farm. It took a few days to travel through Russia on a horse wagon. My brothers were split up, and I was taken to a town near Stalingrad. It was a dark night when I got dropped off and the smuggler pointed me in the direction of a farm to work at, and from there I was all alone.
Luckily, farming was a big industry in Russia, so I had a stable income. It was very hard work on the farm. I can remember pulling the potatoes out of the grass for hours at a time in the hot sun. But we were treated fairly, and most importantly - we had a place to live in and food on the table. At that point I feel like it was just an animal instinct to survive knowing what was going on in Europe.
There were a lot of other Polish people on the farm. While I was working, I thought about missing my family, especially my parents. I later found out they were murdered at Auschwitz.
As hard as it was to cope, I frequently convinced myself how blessed I was. I was alive, I was healthy, and I was making a decent living for myself. I'm sure the children back home weren't quite as lucky. On the farm, we would hear rumors from back home about entire villages being callously murdered by the Nazis.
Perhaps the feelings of happiness I felt were forced, and I was no different from an animal that left his parents in the wild. I was forced to fend for myself without my parents or brothers. All I had was my uncle who lived in the United States.
I worked on the farm for two or three years. After the war was over, I returned to Poland to see what was left of my country. I managed to make a decent living for myself. I was married in Poland, and had a son. We came to America in 1949 on a big boat. Passing Ellis Island was a beautiful experience.
When I first got to America, I worked in construction. My time on the farm instilled a certain work ethic in me. My uncle was a tailor, but I liked blue-collar work. From construction, I started working at a Canada Dry factory in Long Island in 1950. From there, I went to a bigger factory in Maspeth, New York. I retired 12 years ago.
I've often tried to figure out what happened to my brothers, but I could never find much information. I have no idea about their fate after we said our goodbyes on that dark night somewhere in Russia. Records weren't kept well. It's heartbreaking to think about all of my uncles, aunts, cousins and more that I lost just because of war.
These days, I don't do as much as I once did. I have money, a nice home, a loving family and my cat. Most importantly though, I have my health.
I was born in San Lorenzo on February 11, 1923. My father used to work in a public transport company in Rome. I had two brothers and one of them went to volunteer for the Italian navy, when I was very young. I started studying at the age of 6, but at 9 I stopped going to school because of I was discriminated by the kids from more affluent families. I started working at the age of 12 as an assistant in a metal store, where they used to deliver drain covers. They provided me a manual trolley on which I started delivering drain covers. Once I was taking the trolley and a heavy metal cover caused a misbalance as it moved down and the trolley moved up and as a result of which I was flying in the air holding the handle of the trolley. The people walking around helped me to get back to the ground.
When I turned 17, I started working for a transportation company like my father.
In 1940, I was working as a ticket collector for a local tram. During that time, I could easily spot the difference in the society as it was divided up on two levels. One level belonged to the upper class consisting of white collar people and the other was the working class. The white collar used to go to the events where Mussolini was directly addressing the people. One time I was on a tram, which was driven by a very old driver who was quite slow and there was a big queue of people waiting at the bus stop. One of the people waiting at the stop was dressed in a fascist uniform in whole regalia - with all the symbols and everything, the other people were Italian civilians. Accidentally, I closed the door when this person was entering the bus and his hat got smashed by the door. This guy called the concerned authorities and also wrote to my boss, which generated a lot of problems.
In 1942, I was called by the state to join as a soldier but there wasn't much work so I signed up as a parachutist in Rome. I attended a few months of parachute training in L'Aquila. From there, we were moved by a train to Sciacca where an aircraft was ready to take us to the war zone in Tunisia. However, our aircraft came under attack when we were just about to reach Tunisia. We were lucky that our aircraft survived as all the other planes caught fire and got destroyed. After crash-landing in Tunisia, we were moved close to a place called Sfax, with the Italian army. We had been resisting the continuous bombing for 13 days but eventually we surrendered. We were captured by the Allied soldiers when all the Italian armed forces surrendered. There were about 35,000 Italian and German soldiers in a queue who were all divided into different groups to be taken to the American, British and French prisoner camps. All the Italian soldiers were hoping to be moved into the American camp. Unfortunately, I was moved with the French who were little upset with the Italians at that time. They painted a red square on the backs of Italian people to identify us in the French camp. Before getting to the camp, all the captured Italian soldiers from my group including myself had to walk for about a thousand of kilometers from Tunisia to Algeria. Later, some of us were transported to a camp in Casablanca. During the imprisonment in Casablanca, I was selected to work at a pork producing farm near Algerian border. I knew nothing about the nature of work at the farm, but I watched a documentary on pork production and I knew a few kinds of pork. It helped me in correctly guessing the different kinds of pork at that farm, which helped me in getting selected for work.
However, I escaped from Casablanca trying to find a camp managed by the Americans. I succeeded in finding an American camp, but they already had too many people so they moved me back to the French camp. I again managed to escape from the French camp in an ambulance with 3 other POWs and reached the Casablanca Hospital. From there, I went to another American camp located near the Casablanca airport from where many American soldiers were flying to Italy. I also tried to escape from this American camp with the help of Italian personnel, who were collaborating with the American soldiers. I managed to hide in a plane that was scheduled for taking air mail to Italy and I waited for so long inside, but it didn't fly. Therefore, I came out of the plane but I got caught by the American soldiers and they moved me to another POW camp again. I was tortured at this camp with electric shock. Later, I was again moved to the French camp in Casablanca. I got another chance to escape from this French camp and go to the American camp. The first thing I did after reaching the American camp was to take a shower. It was very nice as we could have four meals a day and take showers any time of the day. Comparing to any other camp that one was a vacation. This camp was so good for all the Italians and nobody wanted to leave it. There was a swimming pool and we could also play baseball but staying there was quite risky for me because there were already too many people and they were trying to get rid of the extra people. My fears came true and I was again moved from the American camp to a French one located near the Casablanca port. However, this time I was dressed as an American POW as I borrowed the uniform from my last camp. All I remember is that I have been always escaping from one camp to another during the war. Anyway, there was an American freighter, Isonzo, loading at the port and I tried to flee again by hiding under a chair on the ship. I believed that I was alone but there were 24 other Italians escaping from the French camp. There were American soldiers as well as Italian workers on the ship and one of the Italian workers helped us avoid the search. I was still worried as one Italian prisoner told me that he had tried escaping on the ship before, but the authorities at Nador port sent him back to Casablanca. However, the person who helped us to hide on the ship also helped us to get to a safe place after landing. We found a man travelling to Rome, who demanded a huge fare from us and we assured him that after reaching Rome our families would pay him. Therefore, he took us to Rome. When I arrived in Rome, I found a newspaper with my photograph on it that had a caption "Missing person from war." I was absolutely astonished to see it, as it meant that my family didn't give up the hope and was looking for me.
After the war, I started working with the ATAC public transportation company in Rome and later got married. I was financially stable and we were able to buy a beach house where we used to spend most of the time in summer. I have two sons and three grandchildren.
I am Uli John. I was born on October 22, 1922, in southwest Germany. I had a peaceful childhood. I had a lot of fun around the village, with the boys and girls there. I lived on a farm. I loved the farmer's work. Sometimes my father hit me for getting in trouble.
In 1940 I finished high school. Then I was a volunteer for the army. I was sent to Czechoslovakia for training, then to Poland. I was stationed in these places in the war: 1941, Poland. 1942, I was in the Russian campaign, where I became ill, and was sent back to Germany on recreational leave. I attended an officer school in Berlin. In 1943, I went to France. In 1944, to Italy to the front against the Americans, in the fight for Rome. In the end of that year, I went to Belgium for the Ardennes offensive and on December 31, I lost my left arm.
I got a letter: You must become a member of NSDAP, of the party. I wrote a letter to my brother, who was also an officer in the war. He wrote me back: Do not become a member of NSDAP, because we don't know how the war will end. This was the same year.
There was an order from the highest levels of the army, from maybe Hitler himself. It said that all the injured should be amputated, people with legs injured, arms injured, because it would be faster than being treated in a hospital, so that the wounded could rejoin the fight. So four weeks later, amputees would be at the front again. After an operation in 1945, I went back to Germany to the final fight against the Americans.
The soldiers on the front lines had no idea what was happening at home. We were told that we weren't going to war against America, or against France. We were going to rescue the homeland. This was told to soldiers across the fronts. Because soldiers were often apolitical. Perhaps many of us were of good intention, doing wrong things.
I remember once, on Christmas Eve, in Russia, the soldiers were throwing presents they'd gotten from home to each other, across the lines. There was still gunfire, but it all went high, for show. The packages were full of sweets or cakes, small things sent over. Cigarettes, perhaps. A symbol for the holiday.
The last year of the war was a real mess. I was an officer, commanding my unit, and I did something forbidden: I dissolved it. I wrote everyone passes, for groups of two or three people, one weapon between them, so that they could get home. I could have been shot for this, but I did it because the war was ending and I felt they needed to get home. Everyone made it back. I traveled with a bicycle and on foot from a French zone, which became an American zone at the end of the war. Not far from Bavaria.
The village I returned to was occupied by the French first, then by Americans. I had learned to speak French in school, so I was able to communicate. The mayor of my village had been imprisoned, he was a Nazi.
Before the war began, I had wanted to study French. But the year after the war, I studied forestry. They told me I couldn't do it because I only had one arm. But I worked a year in the forest to show that I could, then I was accepted and began my studies in Freiburg and Breiscau. I started my career as a woodsman, cutting down trees. I later became a teacher in the forestry school. I taught about construction of forest territories, hunting, shooting, sports, horn blowing, etc.
I was married in 1956. We had three children, all boys.
We established many contacts in foreign countries, to France and Russia, the United States, other veterans of war, some through family members and forestry colleagues. I made some friends of former enemies. People who fought in the war and know what war really means.
David Victor Clarke,
Belfast, Northern IrelandMORE...
I was born on February 27, 1924 to T.S. Clarke and Mrs. Sarah Clarke. My father served in the First World War at the age of 35 and he served four years in France.
At that time, we lived outside the small town of Donaghcloney in county Armagh, and then subsequent to that we made several moves from outside Lisburn to Bendooragh to Cookstown and then to Omagh. The Second World War broke out when I was in Omagh. I was at the Omagh Academy when I heard about WWII on a wireless. And let me tell you, it wasn't the wireless that we have today, you know. It was the one which operated with wet batteries.
They begin to form the Home Guard for underage deployments at the beginning of the war in 1940. I went to log on the second night in the beginning of June 1940 to join the local company. At that time, my father, in his fifties, was the platoon officer in the company and told me that "You're underage, but you can go if you like. But don't blame me if you don't get accepted." But I went along and stood at the end of the line and the boy standing just before me happened to be 17. However, a sergeant came to me and asked my name and said, "I suppose you're 17, too?" And I just nodded my head, and I was in. After four months of my experience with the Home Guard in September 1940, I was promoted to flight sergeant. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the school and in the Home Guard.
When I left school I went to the Northern Bank in Belfast in 1942. In October 1943, I volunteered for aircrew duties in the Royal Air Force. I was called up in December 1943 and went over to the Aircrew Reception Center in London and the St. John's Wood London beside Lord's Cricket Ground. And I stayed there for a few weeks and did certain basic training. I also remember a funny incident that occurred when we got in the plane. The pilot was in the front and the cadets were in the back. There is a parachute, and you had to strap it through your shoulders and then up over your thighs. On this particular occasion I didn't tighten my straps enough. So when the plane went upside down I moved a few inches and my feet came off the paddles, and it was quite an experience. But I made sure it never happened again. After that, I went to Cambridge University. I did not really study subjects related to university but related to aircraft flying, such as recognition, navigation and meteorology.
After that, I went to Sywell and I completed my basic training on the Tiger Moth bi-plane aircraft there, and completed my 12 hours of flying to identify whether I was able to take the test to be a fighter pilot. I was fortunate enough to pass my fighter pilot test. I was flying at the age of 19, which was new and exciting. At Sywell, I remember there was a Dutch chap. And when we were taking the aptitude test for flying, he was flying solo and he looked down from his aircraft and on one side was the Dakota and the other side was a Glider. He panicked somehow and he came down and crash landed. The next morning, very early, he was up on the flight again and tried to get back his courage as quickly as possible.
From there, we were sent up to Heaton Park in Manchester where there were about 10,000 aircrew cadets, who were coming for and going after the training as it was a reception center. During that time, I provided my service on airfields with loading bombers and I was sent out to bomber stations and then to sort out the bombs at the bomb dumps. The aircraft I worked on was the Halifax Lancaster heavy bomber. But I loved working with the Mosquitoes aircraft which is very fast and is used to working with several things. They were fighters and fighter bombers, but I was with the Path Finder Squadron that carried bombs.
On one occasion, one plane did not come back from an evening mission. But we discovered the next day that it landed in south England and for some reason it had not been able to drop bombs. It came back and landed another air drone in the South of England. It took off 24 hours later and flew back to base and it was loaded with 500 primed bombs and it was put on for quarantine for 24 hours. The volunteers were then asked to go and disarm the plane, and I was one of the volunteers who disarmed this plane. The fact that I am still here today is a proof that we disarmed it satisfactorily.
In January 1944 I was posted to Southern Rhodesia and I got there by ship, and during that time the aircrew cadets were used as anti-aircraft gunners. But fortunately we did not encounter any enemy. We sailed and crossed through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal and Indian Ocean, landing at the shore of Mombasa, and went to a transit camp. The camp was several miles out of town and was very well supplied with a swimming pool, tennis court, etc. I remember two things about Mombasa: the bananas were very fresh there and we used to buy a bunch of bananas for only a shilling. The other thing was the beach with crystal clear and warm water, which was lovely and you could stay for a whole day in there. The plan was to stay for a short period of time in Mombasa, Kenya.
Unfortunately D-Day intervened and the planes that were supposed to take us to Southern Rhodesia were diverted to UK. So we ended up spending three weeks in Mombasa and taking a small coaster to Durban, which was quite an experience for us. We hadn't seen a city with lights on in a long time due to the blackout in all cities, but landing in Durban was absolutely a fantastic experience. We thought of an opportunity to go to the shore and have a nice meal, but they put us directly on the train for 24 hours to Gwelo, Southern Rhodesia. We started our training there on Fairchild Cornell aircraft, also known as Chipmunks. We went to Harvard for graduating in coveted wings, but the war in Europe ended in June and the war in the Far East ended in August. And we were not due, to complete our training until October. The war intervened and a lot of us could not gain our wings. I had probably flown 100 hours, but to get the wings, I was supposed to fly for 250 hours. I was quiet relieved that the war was over, however. But at the same time, I was disappointed that I couldn't get my wings.
During our time in Southern Rhodesia, we treated the black Rhodesians very well. For instance, if they did something for us, we have always said, "Please" or "Thank you" to them. We were thankful to the boys who did our laundry there and we had always given them something in return. However, the native Rhodesians or South Africans wouldn't have said please or thank you to them. They were a bit more like kicking up in their bottom to say thank you. We definitely treated them way better than they were used to being treated.
After the war ended we were told that we could either convert to RAF or convert to the Army. But we decided to go back to my country. We waited in Cape Town for about three weeks for a suitable ship to take us all to the UK. I was discharged on May 1946 and repatriated through Cape Town, and then rejoined the Northern Bank in May 1946. Later, I became the inspector in the Bank and started inspecting branches all over the place.
In 1948 I decided to join the Territorial Army (TA), and requested permission from the Bank. I joined the TA as a gunner in Coast Regiment RA (TA), and then in 1949 I was commissioned, and then promoted to the rank of captain in 1952. In 1956 the regiment converted to Royal Engineers and became the 146 Corps Engineer Regiment. In 1962 I retired from the TA as second in command and was awarded the Territorial Decoration. After retirement from the Northern Bank, I joined St. John Ambulance Association to provide volunteer services as a Director of First Aid Training for general public and business in Northern Ireland. In 1996 I retired as a commander of St. John Ambulance.
Now I like to play golf twice a week!
My name is Arturs Vidners. I was born on August 14, 1925.
I went to school here. My father was in the army, an infantry commander. In June of 1940, the Russians came. They took my father to the garden and shot him in front of me.
In 1943, I turned 18 and volunteered for the army. I wanted to avenge my father's death.
I was sent to Germany for training, we were initially trained to fight Americans, but we refused because we wanted to fight the Russians. Soon, we were sent to Denmark for more training. Then to Czechoslovakia, then back to Latvia. I could have stayed in Germany, to fight there. But I wanted to return to my country and help gain freedom. I returned in 1944.
When I got back, I participated in major battles. I was awarded six medals.
In 1944, on December 23, we knew a fight was going to take place. We knew how big the Russian army was. They thought we were going to celebrate Christmas. But the fight was very bloody, because there were 23 Russians for every 1 Latvian.
There was no moment in that battle when Latvians wanted to run. We stayed and fought because we knew how much each person counted. There were soldiers on the field that couldn't move. Some went to the field to try and help them, and they shot at us, and the soldiers weren't because of that. During the Christmas fights, we needed to get ahead of the Russians. There was a moment when a Russian man was below me with a gun in his hand. I thought I was going to get shot. There were shots from elsewhere and the man fell dead in front of me. I never saw the guy who saved me. Not far from where we are, there's a special cemetery for Legion soldiers. In 1944, the Germans were helping because the Russians had tanks and they could shoot us from farther away than we could hit back. One time, another soldier and I were in the woods, surrounded by Russians. We understood that if we approached them head-on, we would be killed easily. So we ran out in a zigzag in different directions and together killed over two hundred men with our guns, over 4km. We got medals for that fight. But we didn't feel courageous, because it had been necessary, because had we not done that, we'd have been killed. One of the last episodes I remember from the war took place in 1944, on March 22. The Latvian Legion had to retreat, and I remember that I couldn't sleep. I was at a house and the Russians found us and surrounded the place with tanks. There were eighteen men inside. We proceeded to destroy five of the seven tanks and the other two fled. We won that fight. After that, on March 23, I was badly injured on an ammunition run when I was hit with shrapnel, and that was the end of the war for me. I was in a hospital when I heard the war was over. We were happy the war had ended, but we were upset also because the Russians had won. After the war, I was stuck at home, without documents, but fortunately I had a classmate who was a policeman and he helped me get documentation. Afterwards, I attended music school. It was hard after the war, because no one had money. Food was scarce. I tried to earn money by playing accordion. I didn't finish the education. The director of the school was Russian and he didn't allow me to take the exams. After that, I went on to work odd jobs. Like fishing.
Belfast, Northern IrelandMORE...
My name is Alfred Martin, and I was born in Finaghy, near Belfast, on March 26, 1920. I was educated at the local primary school and then I went to secondary school in Lisburn. I passed my senior certificate in 1936. At that time, the world was in chaos in Northern Ireland and in Britain because of the King Edward VIII abdication crisis, as well as of Hitler and Mussolini's desire to take over Europe. There was a lot of publicity and pressure from the government to increase the strength of the forces. In 1938, at the time of the Munich Agreement, I made an application to join the Royal Air Force to fly on weekends. I signed up and went home that evening, but my mother indicated the dangers of flying and suggested I cancel it. Therefore I went the next day and cancelled my joining notice.
In January 1939, things were still heading towards the war and I felt very nationalistic, so I joined the Territorial Army Royal Engineers. I was in the Territorial unit where we were paid 5 pounds a year as a bounty, which is roughly equal to a hundred today. The officer in charge was Maynard Sinclair, who later became the Minister of Finance in Northern Ireland. I was in the camp in June 1939, but after that I continued my civilian job at an insurance company. I was away for company business when I received the telegram from my office on August 28, 1939, to immediately report to the TA. Thus I took a bus and travelled to Kilroot, which is beyond Carrickfergus, from where I walked down to the camp.
On the following Sunday on September 3, 1939, we were all on Church Parade for the first time at the camp. I spent a total of 20 months with the Royal Engineers and our duties were looking after search lights, which were protecting the land against intruders. We had nothing to do with aircraft as we were strictly handling the search lights to identify enemy ships. We performed our duty at Helen's Bay at Grey Point and then also at Kilroot. Later in 1940, we looked after the search lights in Magilligan. We all enjoyed our time at Magilligan and it seemed like a summer camp, as it was summer and there were beautiful beaches everywhere. There were about 20 of us just looking after ourselves. I returned back to Grey Point, and in April 1941 I read on the notice board that the Royal Air Force was looking for volunteers for an aircrew. I applied along with everyone in the camp because we were tired of doing very little. I was selected for the interview along with three others. However, I was told that I would do better as an observer instead of being a pilot. The observer helps with the navigation. The role of a navigator was becoming increasingly important because of the lack of navigation aids within the continent. I agreed, but later on I wished I had asked them to take me as a pilot. I would have liked to be a pilot as I had a car when I was very young. Although my parents never had a car, so I think I was mechanical minded in many ways.
I was called up in May 1941, and the first place was Shakespeare County where we stayed at the Shakespeare Hotel for six weeks. Later, we stayed at the Grand Hotel in Scarborough doing our initial training. From there, we found ourselves all aboard to Canada. At least we thought we were going to Canada, but we ended up being dropped off at Iceland. We spent 16 days in Iceland, it was summer and we enjoyed swimming in a hot water pool, which was very lovely. Suddenly we were told to return to Reykjavik (the capital of Iceland), and we were put on board the HMS Wolfe (formerly known as the Canadian Pacific Liner). So back we went towards Belfast and then towards Halifax, Canada. I was then stationed at Prince Edward Island for like five months doing the navigation training all over the area. At Christmas 1941, we were declared okay as navigators and we were then sent to Picton, Ontario. It was January and it was really cold, which made it difficult standing up and firing machine guns, but we got through another three or four weeks before we were declared okay for bombing and gunnery. We also had a wings parade where we were all promoted to sergeant and then sent to Boston. On return, I found out that I and five others have been commissioned, so that was a change of uniform. This ended our training in Canada and we returned back to the UK, to Liverpool. From there, we went to various camps including Harrogate and Oxford.
I remember one incident where we were flying back to Oxford from Scotland at nighttime and we landed poorly somewhere in the middle of the night. I remember myself climbing out of the wing and on to a tree. I also remember hearing the rescue people looking for us and shouting, "We will find you." And they did find us. We were then put on medical beds. The next morning when we woke up they put us on a train back to Oxford. Our survival of the crash was due to the fact that our landing speed was only 68 knots, which was very slow, and I think that saved our lives. The only person injured that night was our pilot, who broke his wrist and was sent to the hospital. And we never saw him again.
Later in September 1942, we did our first two raids on Hamburg and Dusseldorf. After that, the men of our crew were posted to Pocklington, and that was my station for nine months. That is, from September 1942 to April 1943. I did a number of operations there involving navigating bombing on targets. My role was to assist the navigator as much as possible in helping the pilot target the enemy and press the button to drop the bombs. There were all sorts of fires burning on the ground and we did not have modern navigation aids at that time. Once we also got hit with machine gun fire on our way back, but the pilot managed. A few minutes later, the pilot came and said that our engine was on fire. I was beyond the escape hatch on the aircraft, and when they lifted up the escape hatch we started dropping down through the hole. Unfortunately due to the heavy wind, I had to disconnect my intercom. I had my parachute on my chest when I jumped from the edge of the door. It was five past four in the morning and I was able to see my watch, but I did not know where I was heading. After dropping out, I saw the tail of the aircraft pass over my head and I pulled the ripcord and it opened beautifully. I was drifting down at a very low level (I reckoned at about 5000 feet) and I thought it was very risky for the rest of the crew. Suddenly, the ground hit me and I rolled over on my back. I stood up immediately and looked for a place to hide the parachute. I started walking towards the southern side, although I wanted to go west. But I had an idea that the aircraft landed west, so it wasn't a good idea to walk towards it.
I walked all morning through the fields and I didn't see people. By the time I made it through morning, my feet were soaked in heavy dew. I had to hide in the daytime to avoid people. So I hid between two hedges and sort of slept. Around one p.m. I heard some noise that I couldn't identify and all of a sudden a cow appeared. A little boy was riding the cow, who stopped as I stood up. He looked at me up and down and then he stood back and saluted me. He went off but it boosted my morale. I finally had to find a place to sleep through the night as I was tired and miserable. I found a shed and I lay down there while trying to get some sleep, but I had to get up every few minutes to keep myself warm by doing some exercise. It was the night of April 17, 1943, and it was a Sunday.
The morning came and I moved on again while trying to look into some farmhouses there for help, but at the same time making sure that they had no phone connections. Finally, I was given a map and told to look for a train. I walked all evening until I got to a very small village and I did not know what to do next. There were some men, but they didn't pay attention, so I just kept walking alongside the road. Later, I saw a lady to whom I said, "Could you help me?" The lady seemed frightened, but I managed to gain her confidence and she led me up to the road. It was just getting dark (about nine o'clock), but she took me to a farm house and knocked at the door. It was opened and I was taken in, but I was told that I could stay the night. Eventually I stayed there for about six weeks.
There were notices that the people who were helping us would be shot, but I spent six weeks there with the farmer. I had to dye my hair and whenever there was a search, they used to hide me under the straw in the barn. One evening, a couple came and took me away to the railway station where we had to wait several hours for the train to Arras. I spent about five or six days at the check post at Arras. We were then led to the train station again by walking, where we took a train to Paris, and there were people in Paris waiting for us. They took us to a safe house and two of us got to renew our cards, photographs and identity cards.
I spent about five days there, and then we got a new guide who took us to the railway station for a train to Bordeaux. When we reached the station there were several men standing in a group, and I looked up and one of them was my pilot. It was quiet emotional as we both walked toward each other and patted each other's back. I also came to know about the other crew members. Two members were able to return to the UK (one was the navigator and the other was the wireless operator), two were taken prisoner and one other was killed.
Anyway, we were taken on the train overnight to Bordeaux and from there we were again taken by train to Dax and later to the Spanish border. We spent a couple of days in a safe house. Later, we were taken to meet a smuggler who used to take people over the border. We were taken through the River Bidasoa to South Sebastian to a safe house where we spent about five days. We then drove to Madrid where we spent a few days in the Embassy, and there we were able to send letters to our parents for the first time. Later, we were sent to Bristol on an aircraft from the air force base across the border, and we arrived in Bristol on June 20, 1943. From there it was a trip all the way home to our air force station.
In February 1944, I completed the staff navigator course and became the instructor for staff navigator courses. The students were very lively and it was quiet fun. I was sent back to England in October 1945, and stayed there for a couple of months before I was discharged. Later, I returned to Belfast and took up the civilian job that I had in the insurance industry. I stayed there for over a year and I considered moving to Canada where I spent several months looking for a job.
Finally, I ended up joining Northern Insurance Company in Canada. And when I resigned, I was the deputy manager for Ontario. I stayed for about 21 years in Canada. In 1952, I proposed to my wife who I met back at home in 1943. We got married in December 1953 in Toronto. We had our honeymoon in New York. However, she was eager to return, and then I decided to also return and have my own business back at home. My hobbies now include playing golf, gardening and being connected with the armed forces. I am also Vice President of the local Royal Engineers Association and I am president of the Aircrew Association Northern Ireland branch.
My name is Pyotr Koshkin. I was born in Obolenki village, in the Mikhayov district of the Ryazan region, on July 2, 1924. In 1939, my dad took the whole family to Likino, which is in the Zvenigorod district, Moscow region. There I went to school, first to our local school and then to a different one in the neighboring village. However, in 1940 they introduced a tuition fee for studying in high school. Our family had six kids and we weren't rich by any means. Dad used to work in a kolkhoz (collective farm), which meant that we could hardly afford to pay for my education. So, I had nothing to do but to get enrolled in a technical school. I received my cum laude degree in 1941 and started working at the aviation factory that was located near the Aeroport subway station in Moscow.
One night a policeman, accompanied with the officer and the head of the village council, came to our house and took me to the army. No questions asked, no military enlistment officers, no medical check-ups, no documents, nothing! They simply took me to the Minsk highway where there were already a lot of trucks standing by. I wasn't the only guy who was captured this way. There were many more of us around the same age as me. It was a real manhunt rather than a normal draft.
First we came to the Ershovo, Zvenigorod district, Moscow region, where we were busy building fortifications. Then they gave us the uniform of the 144th Infantry Division, where I actually remained until November 28, 1942, training as a mine picker and putting land mines. Then, on November 28 there was a massive air raid, and during some moment of silence between the bombings our platoon commander sent me out to place some land mines. It was just at that moment that a new air raid began, and I was wounded in my left arm. They stitched and dressed the wound, and on the next day I was summoned to the officers' dug-out. There they told me that according to the new decree of the National Defense Committee, I, together with 14 other soldiers, would be released from the military service and we were to go to work at some plant in Moscow. I asked them to commission me back to the factory I used to work at, and so they did.
I showed up at my factory on December 1, and got immediately put to work. I was technically inclined and already had some experience, so I quickly gained the trust of my new supervisor. I used to train young workers and made samples of the manufactured parts to show them how everything worked. It was all young kids, 14-15 years of age. Many workers were evacuated to the east of the country and a lot of people got sent to the front, so we had to train brand new personnel. Most of the time we were patching up Shturmovik IL-2, which was the battle plane most commonly used by our air force.
Sometime in late February or early March of 1942 we had a crush landing on our strip. The plane was pretty beat up, we could see trails of bullet holes in the fuselage. The pilot was in a bad shape himself, his face and his hands were all badly damaged, and there was blood all over his uniform. But he jumped out of the cabin like nothing happened and came towards us. He said that he wanted to talk to the main specialist, and all the guys pointed at me. The pilot didn't believe them at first, as I was a 17-year old kid, quite short and skinny. So he found our senior foreman, and the latter pointed at me too, saying that there was nothing I couldn't do. So we sat down with the pilot and he told me about his IL-2, which was the best of its kind, with bulletproof armor and four missiles. It could melt down a tank with only one strike. Besides, it had two bombs, 250 kilos each, and a large-caliber machine gun in the front part, which was very effective against enemy infantry. However, it had no protection whatsoever in the rear part, which meant the German fighters could fly up as close as they wanted and destroy both the plane and the pilot. Just like that his regiment lost 60 planes in a single battle near Moscow a few days before.
So the task was to make another cabin for a co-pilot and gunner. I will spare you the technical details. More importantly, two months later the new modified plane was ready. In its very first battle, on May 1, it shot down two German fighters. From then on, our planes could not be brought down as easily as before. This helped to boost the morale of our soldiers significantly as it happened in the sky over the battlefield. A commission came later to the plant to examine our work. Then a package arrived with a government seal on it, and a letter of commendation inside.
I was awarded a medal for special merit. Later on, we had a visit from Ministry of Defense specialists, and not long after that they began mass producing IL-2 planes with the second cabin, just like the one I designed.
After the war I decided to stay in the military. I continued my study at the Murmansk Academy of Communications, and I was specializing in wireless and radio. I stayed in the military for 27 years, traveled all around and worked on improving communication methods in the army.
In 1950, I got married to this great woman who is sitting here with me. Please meet my wife Lydia. We had a baby boy in 1951 and named him Victor.
Now we live here in Odintsovo, near Moscow. I am really into gardening these days. I love to spend all of my time in the backyard. I always remained devoted to the ideas of Lenin, Stalin and Marx and I am still active in trying to spread the word of socialism. I give out leaflets and write for a local Communist paper.
I am also active in the veterans' affairs. I often meet with youngsters and tell them about the war, I also meet with the veterans and reminisce about those days occasionally.
My name is Robert Quint. I was born in Le Blanche on July 5, 1925.
I started school at four years old, in 1929 and I was there until 1936. After that, I worked for the government at SNCF (the national railway company) until 1942. In 1939, the Germans invaded and soon they were in the countryside. I didn't like seeing so many Germans everywhere. They were in the schools, in the shops, and in the houses. I saw Jewish people being sent away. I couldn't stand to see that, people herded like animals onto trains. It was a shock for me, so I decided to become part of the resistance.
It was forbidden to listen to the radio. There was a curfew and everything was shut at night. They would publish photographs of those they had executed for the purpose of creating an atmosphere of terror. But I didn't care. I listened to the radio. To news from London and General de Gaulle. News from the resistance.
They gave us tickets for food rations, but sometimes they were fake tickets. People were starving. I wanted to fight against that. But we had to be careful because the French police didn't have any choice but to collaborate with the Germans. It was very dangerous for us.
The Germans would use the trains to send supplies. My purpose with the resistance movement was to work very slowly, and to make mistakes. Sabotage. We had time cards for work and I used to burn them. We counterfeited our own so they would think we worked longer hours than we did. Once, we wanted to put the French flag on the roof of the central station. I was the skinniest boy on the whole crew. I went to the roof to do it, but they saw me and we had to escape.
The President of the SNCF was killed by the Germans on March 13, 1942. This motivated some of the employees to join the resistance. Mostly, I sabotaged trains. I stole repair equipment. I did this alone. The resistance group was instrumental in making sure it went smoothly. But I want to say the truth here. For me, it was normal to do this. It wasn't to be heroic, it was a desire for a return to normality. There were little actions every day, little problems created on every train in Paris. For example, we put an old part on a train to stop it for a few weeks. Anything to slow the Germans down and to starve them of resources. Some of us had collections of train parts in our homes. I was very lucky to not get caught.
The station was the first place the Americans bombed to disable the transport lines in 1942. When the Germans withdrew in January, 1945, SNCF fixed the rail systems within two weeks or so. This was to help the Americans, British and French forces advance.
By May, the war was over. I tried to become a pilot for the army. It was my passion because of all the time I had spent watching planes. I was refused because I was too weak. I was too small, malnourished from the war. So I began my life. There was freedom. I went to the bars, I danced. I played football. It felt like a second birth when the Germans left France. I had a beautiful youth after. Later, I met my wonderful wife and I made my life here, in La Blanche - now I'm happy. I've lived in this same house since 1931.
My name is Alistair Cormack. I was born on the 2nd of March, 1921. My parents had a hair saloon, and they were both hairdressers. When my father died I was only eleven years old, so it was very difficult growing up until I joined the RAF in 1940. The war had begun already in 1939, but I was part of a new regiment of defense for aerial fair fields. We all had wanted to join the Scottish regiment but since we weren't allowed to do that we had to make our own way. So I volunteered for the RAF, one of two other highland divisions. I went to Blackpool for training and progressed from there. I was made a corporal a couple of years after and then a sergeant following that. I first got my training on aircraft guns; all sorts of different ones like Brownings. I even finished training on charging up a Borfor 40 mm gun and taking down an aircraft - enemy of course. So when I went into action, real action, I landed in Normandy and fought there for about three months, from June to about August.
When the war had first started I was attending a cycling event. I was a member of the cycling club and we would always compete on Sundays. We had just finished a race that day when it was announced that Chamberlain had been in Germany. He was there for some sort of peacemaking, or whatever you may call it, and that was when the war was declared. So we left Aberdeen to go to Blackpool for training. We were all spread out between villages, houses, and small hotels. We were there for about three weeks and we did all of our training on the promenade. It was basic training, marching up and down, training on different weapons, and this sort of thing. That was the whole purpose of the training, nothing very serious at that point until RAF regiments were formed.
Our RAF regiments were formed when Churchill suggested that Britain have a defense of its own and leave professional soldiers to do the job that they were employed for, rather than hang around the air force. So there were a whole lot of regiments made up, and each squadron had 180 members as far as I can recollect. They compiled these regiments with what you could call volunteers. "You, you, and you" they'd say, until 180 of us were picked. We were allocated to an airfield in Mid England near Nottingham. We took various training courses like commando, jumping off of boats, and that sort of thing. It was always leading to something that would be useful when we went into action.
During the evacuation at Dunkirk a lot of soldiers lost their lives. There were actually fleets that saved a lot of lives though; they were small sailing crafts leaving from the South of England. They came and rescued them. So after this a rumor started that the Germans would move over the tunnel and invade Britain. The rumors never materialized, but we still made preparations to return to France.
We had a lot of false alarms before we actually went into action in Normandy. Everything was done under a certain amount of secrecy. You didn't know everything that was going on until you learned it was real and near. We knew something was going to happen, but nobody knew exactly what. We soon discovered that we would be leaving soon. We didn't know which exact day; some thought it to be the 5th while others thought it to be the 6th. So when we left Southampton we left in a tunnel of convoy vessels all the way to Normandy, and we came into contact with E-boats from Germany. We bombed a couple of their boats and a couple of their aircraft. And they sunk one of ours. We had three different crafts: 45, 46 and 47. I think it was number 46 that was sunk. The LCT that I was on was bombed, destroying our landing gear for the ramps. So when we first got close to the beaches we didn't go right in because we couldn't. We had to go through maybe two feet of seaweed to make our way onto the beach. All of the landings were prepared for water so they had to be dismantled on shore. Our engines were sealed off also as a temporary measure until we were on shore. A few of our members were killed. There were more that lost their lives as well, all buried at sea. I hear there was a memorial service for them. One of my colleagues I kept in touch with from England told me about it.
After Normandy we went up into Belgium, then Holland, and then finally to a place called Eindhoven. We were based there until the war ended. In Eindhoven we were defending an airfield once when a supplies raid was made. Our gun placement was credited for taking one of the two aircrafts down. Unfortunately, one of our chaps was killed in the raid. There was quite a few others killed along the airfields but only one in our particular squad. But that's how it all finished off. The war was finished. I forgot the actual date of termination, but there was a lot of celebration during that time.
I was quite young when both of my parents died. I used to live with my elder brother and his wife, and I didn't get on particularly well with her. So when the war broke out I told them that I would go to the front. Quite timely I should say, as they were enlisting young girls of my age then. One of the officers wasn't quite sure about me as there was nothing in particular that I could do. But I pleaded with them and told them that I was a nurse. There was a great turmoil in the beginning of the war, so they didn't go into detail and got me enlisted. They got us all packed into wagons, which had been earlier used for cattle. A political instructor got inside as well, and when the train was already in motion we started to give the oath. It wasn't long before someone opened fire on us, and we were lucky to get through.
Our destination was the 189th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion in western Ukraine, and when we finally came there they gave us our first assignment which was to dig trenches. I was 15 then, and I spent two years on the frontline. The Germans used to shell us from Messerschmitts and Henschels 111. When the bombing became too heavy, we would move to a different location. Sometimes we changed our positions as often as three or four times during the day. In fact, we moved quite a bit around the country. Almost the whole western Ukraine, Bila Tserkva, and even as far as Rostov. I can't remember now the exact locations. Once we were lodged in some village and I remember a woman, the mistress of the house where I stayed, who was very kind to me and treated me to some homemade crackers.
In fact, I had several jobs during the war: a combat medic, an instrument technician on the anti-aircraft artillery unit and a telephone operator. As an instrument technician, my task was to watch the gauge of some huge device and tell this information to our gunmen. You know, the bearing angle, the altitude and the distance of the plane. This is how we managed to shoot down a lot of planes from the ground. There were 90 girls in my squad, and whenever a girl at the machine gun got killed, I would take her position. The device itself was tricky enough as you had to watch it all the time almost without blinking in order not to miss a plane.
Once the telephone line got torn, and the commander ordered me to fix it. I remember going out there all by myself, finding the damaged place, fixing it and coming back. And there was another case when they sent me to the command post with an important message to deliver. I can't say that I was very scared. But it was already getting dark in the forest, and the birds stopped singing. I was walking through the quiet of the forest, thinking of my chances of being shot, and repeating the name of the Lord quietly to myself, for it was the only prayer I knew. Somehow I managed to get to the command post and delivered the message. "Well done!" they said, and asked me if I was afraid to return back to my location alone. Afraid? Who said anything of being afraid? Nothing like that!
My commander would always tell me to go straight to the shelter in case of shooting or an air raid. But how could I? When I saw so many wounded people I couldn't do anything else but go out there and drag the wounded back to the trenches. The commander would curse me for that. I remember one wounded soldier with his guts falling out. He was pleading for help, and I tried my best to save him.
There were people among us who used to encourage others to desert from the frontline. They spread all kinds of demoralizing rumors saying that the war was as good as lost. I should say that I was pretty good at identifying this sort of people. I would watch them closely and share this information with a special unit. Some people were even tried by a military tribunal. And I received an award for that.
Once there was an air raid with plenty of Henschel planes. They started dropping the bombs, and I got buried under the ruins of our shelter. When they dug me out, I was shell-shocked. I guess it happened somewhere near Bila Tserkva. I was sent to a hospital straight away. When I came around, I found myself stammering badly. I even asked my doctor - the one who had a funny beard just like biologist Michurin - to give me some medicine that would make me fall asleep and never wake up again. "Darling," he told me, "how could you ask me for such a thing? You're so beautiful. Just wait and see. You will get over it! You are in for getting married yet. I am your doctor and I promise that you'll be fine. You are a nurse yourself, so don't you worry!" And he gave me some medicine that was so bitter it almost made my eyes pop out! Later, in September, they sent me to Ryazhsk, in Moscow region, where I fully recovered.
The war ended and I decided to train as a nurse. I read in a newspaper about a medical college in Makhachkala, Dagestan. So I got enrolled in that college and studied there for a year. I was a good student and I think I would have continued my studies there but for one accident. The thing was that I rented a room with one Armenian family. Once my landlady wrote a letter to her son Borya, who lived in Baku, and told him that she had found a fiancee for him. I was out dancing the evening he came. I used to have a good dancing partner, a very handsome young man, who would always pick me up and see me home after the dancing. So Borya came to the dancing club and made a great fight there scaring away a lot of people. It was 11 pm when he finally came home, threatening us with a knife and shouting at his mother blaming her of failing to prepare Ania - that is me - for his arrival. We couldn't sleep that night. In the morning I came to college only to find the principal, who asked me to leave the city and stay somewhere for a while. So I returned to Ryazhsk and found a job as a nurse there. I never told this story to anyone.
There in Ryazhsk, I had a job in a military college that trained officers. I worked in the college canteen, checking the quality of food and tasting the meals. I looked lovely indeed in my snow-white uniform and with a nice headpiece in my hair. No wonder I had a lot of suitors! Some of them were really handsome. There was a pilot among them - a top-class navigator, to be more precise. He proved to be the most persistent of all. He would follow me wherever I went. But I didn't like him very much and I didn't want to marry him. However, I could see that he really loved me a lot. I remember once I saved up some money for a pair of new shoes and went to the shop. And guess what? I was about to pay for the shoes when he appeared as if out of nowhere and paid for the shoes himself! My landlord - I used to rent a room then - kept praising him. "You are so dear to him! No other man will take better care of you," he would always tell me. But the fact was I didn't love him! However, sometime later our military division was to be transferred to Sakhalin, and I had a difficult choice to make. So finally I gave up and agreed to marry him.
On our way to Sakhalin we spent nine days on board a ship. We all felt so sick that we could hardly move. Everybody, except my husband. He was very healthy, so he took care of us all, bringing the food and taking away the waste. Besides, he did know a lot about planes. It wasn't a big deal for him to approach a top general or an admiral and ask them all sorts of questions about planes. And those generals would ask our commander to quiet the insolent Potap. They used to call him this because of his surname: Potapov.
We spent six years at Sakhalin, altogether. When we first arrived there, it was barely habitable. There was nowhere to live, and everything was extremely expensive. Besides, there was deep snow everywhere, which made life even more difficult. At first, we stayed in some basement with a group of soldiers, having nothing to eat but canned pork. There was no running water, so my husband made an ice hole in the river and used to bring water in a small mug so that we could cook something to eat. I caught a bad cold then, with a terrible fever, which was even more dangerous as I was pregnant at that time. Soon they gave us a separate room to live. When we first came there, it was all entangled with all sorts of cables and wires, for our neighbor used to keep chickens there. Finally, six years later, my husband got discharged, and started wondering where to go. Some clever people advised us to go to Ukraine. It was believed that one had more opportunities there. So we decided to take this advice.
When we arrived here, we were completely broke and with no place to live. My husband found a job at the Malyshev plant and worked tirelessly. He was a very good worker indeed and stood a good chance to get a nice flat. And he did. In fact, this is the same flat where I live now. As for me, I had an eventful social life then: dressmaking classes, volleyball, all sorts of things. I was the captain of the volleyball team. We had a lot of amateur clubs, a very good choir, dancing classes.
In the evenings, we used to leave our husbands at home babysitting the children and went dancing. It was a beautiful life regardless of all the difficulties. Food was very expensive then. Milk, meat, apples, everything was expensive. However, we were young and full of energy, so nothing seemed too hard or too frightful.
Much time has passed. We are still at the same apartment. I have to take full care of my husband; he is almost disabled after having two strokes. Sometimes I think what would have happened with me if I didn't marry the man I never loved.
My name is Charin Singh and I was born in the town of Nangal Thakran, Delhi in 1918. I had no interest in going to school, so I got involved in the family farming business. I also enjoyed playing the drums as a youth.
When I reached my teens, I often asked my friends in the neighborhood what they wanted to do with their lives in the future. Given that I had missed so much school, certain jobs weren't attainable, and my family farm wasn't making much money. We decided joining the Army would earn us a decent income and give us purpose. My cousin took me to Bareilly, and I joined the Army on January 10, 1941.
India was under the British rule at the time. I was in a British Army camp in Bareilly for six months. There we got in optimal condition and learned how to operate weapons and machinery. Upon graduating from basic training, my company was deployed to Singapore to take part in combat.
At the time, the British had a stronghold in Singapore. After Pearl Harbour, the conflict in the South-East Asian theatre of war had ratcheted up. Japan was trying to take control of Singapore and the surrounding areas to grab a piece of the natural resources in the area, including rubber.
During my time in Singapore, I was a truck driver. I drove for the Army, transporting supplies like food and weapons from base to base.
Along with my time in Singapore, I was also involved in combat in Sumatra for eight months. I was a gunman for my battalion. We were in combat with the Japanese and their tactical acumen was impressive. Their soldiers would go into the mountains or other high areas and pick us off. We couldn't see them, but they saw us. They were so effective with that technique that they could take on 10-15 of us by themselves.
One of my friends from my home village was also in my battalion in Sumatra. He was killed by the Japanese. The pain from his death was one of the the most memorable moments of my combat experience.
I don't quite remember when, but I was arrested by the Japanese soldiers, and they sailed back me to Japan on a ship. It took them 22 days to transport me. I spent seven long years as a prisoner of war. I don't remember much about my prison experience in my advanced age, but it was inhumane. They treated us terribly. I'm sure once they surrendered in 1945 they were even more upset and took it out on us.
At one point, around 1948, the Japanese started making a nursing space in the jail. The area was unsecured, and I took advantage of that. I fled the jail from that room, and I traversed the forests to freedom. I remember eating berries from trees just to survive in the harsh Japanese wilderness. I swam and crawled through many waters, which were sometimes all the way up to my neck. It was a long journey with numerous obstacles, but I was determined to reach home.
Once I reached civilization, I was able to board a ship back home. It took me three months to get back to India, but those months paled in comparison to the seven years of captivity.
When I reached my home village in 1949, everyone was shocked. My fellow villagers thought I was dead. By that time the war was over, and I hadn't yet come home, so I understand why they assumed that. Everyone in my village and even nearby locations came to visit me. It was a relieving time, until I learned that my first wife was so depressed by my presumed death that she died of shock. I was devastated to hear that.
I got married to my second wife, and rejoined the agricultural business at my family farm. I've been retired for about 20 years. These days, I spend a lot of time resting at home. My old age has kept me from being as active as I once was, and I don't have a great memory, but I'm still happy to be alive.
Hong Kong, ChinaMORE...
My name is Chenping Ching. I was born in 1918 in Putian, Fujian Province, China. I attended middle school in my hometown. When I was 13 years old, I went to Amoy (Xiamen) to study maritime navigation at Jimei Navigation Academy. Actually, I did not meet the admission requirement as I only had middle school certificate, but I sat for the entrance examination nevertheless at the insistence of my brother, and was admitted, to my surprise. I graduated three years later. I then went to Shanghai to get apprenticeship on board a Chinese mission ship.
It was 1937 and I was four months into my apprenticeship when the Japanese started bombing China. I was in Shanghai then. My brother who was in Jakarta had wanted me to join him in Indonesia, but I wanted to stay in China. During the Japanese bombings, I was deeply moved and angry, having learnt the plights of so many victims in Shanghai. So many children were killed. I wanted to become a pilot to protect our country and applied to be a pilot with the Chinese Air Force. I successfully joined and was assigned to train with the 12th Chinese Air Force Division. The Japanese had been attacking all the provinces and cities along the Chinese coast, so we had to be based more inland. We trained to fly in Kunming, Yunnan Province, progressing through primary, middle and advance levels.
In 1941, the Kuomintang government decided to secretly ask for American support; Americans would train Chinese pilots for an elite joint American-Chinese air force unit. I was selected to participate in the program. There were fifty of us. Retired US Air Force officer Claire Lee Chennault ran the program. General Chennault arranged for us to train all over again at Dale Mabry Army Airfield in Tallahassee, Florida and at the Arizona Thunderbird aviation school in Phoenix, despite having received trainings on the same courses, with the same aircraft and using the same systems in China. Naturally, we felt little insulted and were not happy.
To our bemusement, when we reached the base we found out that our American instructor announced to the press that we are talented and well trained pilots, and it seemed like American public was surprised. You see, in the 1940s, the American society was still racially charged. At that time, we learnt that many Americans regarded "brown men" and "yellow men" as third class citizens. Colored people were to sit at the back of buses and at assigned seats in the cinemas. So, General Chennault, with good intention, wanted to correct the American perceived bias by dispelling the notion that the Chinese were inferior people. We felt shortsighted for thinking he was insulting us earlier on. Needless to say, he earned our respect for his effort. He was a good leader.
I graduated from the Training Unit in 1942 and returned to China. Out of the fifty Chinese pilots, only forty-two graduated. We flew from Florida, through South America, through Africa, through India and finally reached Kunming. In Karachi, which belonged to India at that time, we flew the Vultee P-66 Vanguard parachute fighters. Each of us piloted one plane, from Karachi, through India and over the Himalayas to Kunming. Which then was the only major air base controlled by the Chinese government.
We then carried out a mission to deliver planes to Chengdu, Sichuan province. The flight from Kunming to Chengdu took almost three hours. I was in the last group of six pilots and the youngest one. It was daytime and it was raining. About two hours in, the squadron leader suddenly dove through the clouds and down to the ground, from about 1000 feet. The other Chinese pilots wanted me to force land because they were concerned I may crash into them since the route involves flying through bouts of thick clouds. But we graduated from the US Air Force. We even underwent night flight training. Regardless, I was ordered to force land. I was angry. I wanted to save the plane, so I circled the plane above to look for landing sites.
Luckily, I found a river, it was dry season and the river water level was low. The river was 5 to 10m wide. I could see the dry riverbed and force-landed there. I got hurt during the landing. My head had pounded against the instrument panel. My two legs had to bear very hard impact and felt like they broke. I felt numb. But there was no damage to the plane.
Two Chinese soldiers came over to the crash site, they thought I was Japanese. When we bought the planes, it came with American insignia - there was a white star with a red circle inside so they confused it with the Japanese insignia. I was dizzy at first so I could not talk. The soldiers cautiously aimed their rifles at me. But as soon as I spoke to them in Mandarin they lowered their guns and they quickly got me out. The plane was later repainted with a Chinese insignia. The two soldiers brought me to a military station near by. The plane of the leader was also landed on a river, and that one was damaged. The other four pilots made it to the base. My plane was later retrieved. To this day - I don't understand why he ordered me to force-land and had to do it himself. But I couldn't question or discuss the decision of any commanding officer.
After that incident, I was unimpressed with the Chinese Air Force. How could they fight the Japanese with such inferior attitude and unity?
On March 7, 1943, I was asked to report to the 14th Air Force, the Chinese-American Composite Wing. There were twelve of us Chinese pilots selected, the only few who graduated from the US air force operation unit. We were later known as the "Flying Tigers" and we flied the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk. The plane is culturally iconic because of the painted shark face on the engine cowling. To my knowledge, only President Chiang Kai Shek, his wife Madam Soong and the Commanding General knew of our existence. My family must have thought I was killed, as I couldn't contact them for more than six months of missions.
There were three squadrons: 74th, 75th and 76th. I was assigned to the 75th squadron. The squadron base was in Guilin and another one in Kunming. I was based in Liling in Hunan Province. The Japanese were based in Hankou, Hubei Province, with over 100 fighters to attack Hunan Province, and also 150 fighters in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province to attack Guilin. To attack Kunming, the Japanese would use their Hanoi base in Vietnam.
The Japanese were crafty and strategic. They had challenged us to engage them in air battles. Somehow, via small transport aircrafts, they managed to drop these letters at our air bases. The letters basically said this: "if you have guts, meet us tomorrow morning 9:30am about the river". The Japanese called these the "Letter of Challenge".
But General Chennault was at least equally wise, strategic and cautious. He knew that it would be futile for us young Chinese pilots to engage in these dogfights with more experienced Japanese pilots. So he ordered the more senior American pilots to fight instead. He also instructed to attack the Japanese planes from a higher altitude and above them because the American planes would lose to the more agile Japanese planes if they were below them. He said to strike at higher altitude once and then return. As a result, for every one of our planes the Japanese managed to down, we shut down three of theirs. So in a way, we were winning.
When the Japanese challenged us the third time, General Chennault ordered us not to take up the challenge. That day, we were all ordered back to Kunming air base. All the pilots were angry as it gave the impression to the Japanese that we had chickened out of the battle. When we arrived in Kunming, the fighters from Guilin pilots also came back. The next morning, 40 Japanese planes attacked Kunming. I think they must have been surprised that more than 50 pilots had return to defend Kunming. General Chennault once again had been wise and could see through the Japanese intentions. It severely deterred the Japanese attack. Again, we were shortsighted for he was proving himself a great leader.
I could still recall my last mission. Yunnan province was an important target for the Japanese because Kunming airbase is the terminus for the "Hump route", a major and only military materiel supply line from Assam in India, which passes through the Himalayas. It was an important source of external support for the Chinese war effort. Chennault sought priority to protect Kunming. The Japanese had wanted to cut this strategic supply line, but realized they could not attack Yunnan Province from Burma. They had difficulties moving the tanks across the country. So they changed their base from Hanoi to Haiphong in Vietnam, which had a rail connection to Kunming. So the Japanese started to concentrate their air force, navy and army there with intent to attack Yunnan province.
We studied the situation in Vietnam intently for two months and prepared an action plan. On October 10, 1943, we decided to embark on a pre-emptive strike to bomb the Japanese navy and their warehouse infrastructure at the harbor in Haiphong. My mission as a P-40 fighter pilot was to escort the big B24 bombers. For the past five missions, fifteen unescorted bombers were downed. This time round, we had learnt our lessons. The bombers had to be escorted. We went with forty planes: twenty-one of B24 bombers, seventeen of P-40 fighters, and two of P38 fighters. After we finished bombing the harbor, we headed back to Kunming.
When we flew over Northeast Hanoi we engaged in an air-battle with more than 30 Japanese planes. I managed to hit one Japanese fighter, but it did not go do down, though I reckon the pilot was shot dead. However, soon after, my plane was hit by the artillery. I realized that a fragmented bullet had hit me on my right shoulder. I did not feel pain at first but it became increasingly pronounced. I continued flying. About ten minutes later, white smoke appeared from the back of my plane. It indicated that the engine cooling system was in trouble. I realized I had no choice but to bail out on the situation as more white smoke emanated. I parachuted out and landed on a big tree.
My parachute covered the tree. I used the knife to cut the parachute and to free my bag. My bag contained medicine, fishing net and a water sterilization filter. When I tried to reach for my bag, the tree branch suddenly broke. I tried holding on to the tree with my legs, but eventually felt head down. I lost consciousness for some time and when I woke up, my body was in pain. I realized I had fallen on a big pile of dead leaves, which had definitely mitigated the impact of my fall. I found a dried out creek so I walked along that creek. Then unsuspectingly, I stepped into a pile of green leaves and fell into a hole - it was some sort of an underground cave. Luckily, there were some branches inside that I was able to grab on and climb out. Even after 50 years since that happened I still have recurring nightmares about falling in that hole.
I continued walking along the creek and it was getting darker. On the first night, I slept in the middle of the creek on two big rocks surrounded by water because I was afraid an animal can attack me at night. I felt vulnerable as I had lost my pistol and knife.
I kept walking along the creek. On the third day, due to exhaustion, thirst and hunger, I began hallucinating. I began to imagine a woman with a child on top of hill nearby. I remembered repeatedly trying to climb the steep slopes only to find there was no one. For the next couple of days, I would follow the creek. In the evenings, I would find shelter and security in hollowed out trunks of old trees where I would sleep.
On the sixth day, I was extremely weak and very tired. I have had no proper food and water for six days. I was resting and sleeping on in a field when suddenly I saw something moving. I thought there was an animal so I stood up. But it was a naked old man with long hair wearing grass and animal skin, a native wild man. I was afraid he could kill me, so I pretended to have a gun, holding my belt, and partially showing him my empty holster.
I think he was scared too, but he motioned me to come with him. We headed south for an hour, crossed a big river and then turned right. He led the way and I held on to his left shoulder, as I was afraid he would run away. Finally we got to a cottage, a grass house. I went around the house to check if anything seemed suspicious. By the time I was done checking and wanted to thank the old man, he was already gone. A woman opened the door and I gestured that I wanted to eat. She cooked me a big bowl of rice. After eating I felt tired and felt asleep. It was very hot outside. I then awoke to the sound of a rifle recharge. It was a French army officer. I felt relieved - they were our allies. I showed him my jacket with the Chinese-American insignia; he understood and then hauled me up with his rifle. He offered me more food, a chicken, but I told him I was full. It seemed that the cottage belonged to the French intelligence.
Outside I noticed some mules, twelve of them there by the cottage. Apparently, the French officer had heard of my plane crash. It took him two days to get to his headquarter from the cottage, two days to report the crash and prepare the mules, and then two days to walk back to the cottage. They thought there would be casualties, hence the mules to carry the bodies.
From the cottage, we headed to the French headquarters. On the way there, we bumped into a Japanese soldier. I was very nervous. I tried to hide myself, but I had no hat and my face was covered in blood. The kind French officer assured me not to worry. He told me not to run away and just keep quiet. I spent a night at the French station and some nights at their hospital. After six days, I was told I would be transferred to the Japanese. My heart sank, I strongly protested. The French officer apologized, explaining that they are subjected to give any prisoners to the Japanese since they are technically located on their territory. I accepted the reality as there was nothing I can do. I was transferred to a Japanese hospital.
I developed a strong fever shortly. The Japanese only sent Vietnamese medical officers to attend to me. They placed ice packs on my head. After four days, my fever subsided. Then I was sent to an airport where I met an American pilot from the 76th squadron. He was captured at the Port of Hanoi. We were flown from Hanoi to Nanjing as the city was occupied by the Japanese at the time.
We were placed at the Nanjing military prison, in a small cell, three stories underground. Each meal was a bowl of rice mixed with earth. After four days, they sent me to the hospital to operate on the bullet wound on my shoulder. But two days later, it got worse. There was a bad smell, the wound got infected. It seemed they had operated without applying any medicine. I learnt later that they had treated others similarly, leaving them to rot to death. It was a dirty policy.
After the hospital I was transferred to an American Concentration camp in Jiangwan, Shanghai. There were 850 Prisoners of Wars there from Wake Island in the South Pacific captured by the Japanese. The Japanese thought I was American, so I was sent there as well.
I was already very weak when I got there. On the sixth day, I was so motionless they thought I was dead. They were prepared to bury me, but found I was still warm. The American doctors attended to me and gave me blood transfusion. It felt like an out-of-body experience. I remembered seeing a bright light and seeing my own body from a corner of the room. I only learnt later from others with similar experience that I had probably briefly died, but was resurrected. The American doctor and assistant said I was lucky to have survived, usually those with blood level below 32% would not. My blood level was 28% and I survived. Finally, after three weeks, the Japanese asked me if I am an American or a Chinese. I said I was Chinese. The next day, they sent me to a Chinese war prison in Nanjing.
Unlike in the concentration camps, the Chinese prisoners were managed by Chinese officers. I learnt that about a quarter of the prisoners die of hunger and sickness every month. But I was relatively lucky. As a pilot, I was well respected and so was well taken care of. The prisoners also grew to respect me because of my defiance to the Japanese. Every time the Japanese came, I would decline to bow to them, and they would use rifles to hit me on my back. The Japanese threatened to punish the entire batch of prisoners whenever I undermined them, but I stood my ground. I thought everyone was suffering already, what more do we have to lose, why do we give in? My fellow prisoners understood this code of honor.
The Chinese high officer managing the camp assigned me as the Chief Secretary for the prison. In reality, it was just a title without any duties, so that I can get more food - three bowls of rice for each meal. But since I could not eat that much, due to my degenerated stomach, I only had one bowl and gave away the rest. I was also assigned a young helper to take care of me, to put my clothes on, etc., as I could not move my right arm.
Those working outside in the field would sometimes hide wild rats, cats and vegetables in their clothes and sneak back to cook in the kitchen. Sometimes, the Japanese would ask the prisoners to bury dead horses, so the prisoners would also sneak in horsemeat. They would make sure I have more than my share.
There were some Taiwanese nurses working in the prison for the Japanese. They were kind too. Once, there was a Taiwanese nurse who helped me with a fever. She requested the Chinese doctor to give me an injection. Had a Japanese found out about that, that nurse would have been probably killed.
On 22nd of August 1945, the Chinese prison high officer informed me and some others to prepare ourselves to meet Japanese officers the next morning. When morning came, the head of the Japanese army saw us and bowed silently for about 10mins. I thought they were going to kill us. I was resigned, ready to accept my fate. But to my surprise, he told us we would be released. He told us to place our hands near our hearts on the way out. This symbolized a no-revenge pact. The Japanese officers wanted us to keep good conscience and did not want us to haunt them even in spirit after we die. The gate then opened and just like that we were released.
A car by the road picked us up. The driver was a representative of the Chinese intelligence. We were told that the war had ended. The Chinese intelligence knew the Japanese were going to release us, so they were there. I had been imprisoned for twenty-one months by the time the war ended.
We were sent to the Nanjing airport where I boarded an American C- 46 transport plane. At first I was rejected onboard as they did not know who I was and did not believe I was a pilot. I was angry and thought they were impolite. Then an American pilot came. He tested my knowledge of flying and I easily convinced them I was indeed a pilot.
I was eventually sent to Chongqing to report to the Chinese Air Force headquarters. I met with the Deputy Commander General of the Air Force who nonchalantly told me to go to the hospital across the river by the mountain. I felt no one cared that I had nothing to eat and no money to spend, and no possessions to keep. One month later, I was given honorary medals and a $50,000 reward - I was credited for downing a Japanese plane. But at that time, $50,000 was of little value. I exhausted the money quickly on hospital fees and five months of food. There was no other support for me thereafter. That was when I decided to leave the KMT government.
I could have returned to the "Flying Tigers" and join the American military if I had wanted to, but I had dedicated and sacrificed so much of my life to China and I remained patriotic even if the KMT government was conspicuously corrupt. Once a Chinese, always a Chinese.
After eleven missions risking my life fighting for the country I love, I chose to move to Hong Kong as a civilian in 1963. I married a Hong Kong wife and became a merchant with a small business. I did not want to expose my background, so I changed my name.
Regardless, the Chinese government in Mainland China, by then the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), knew who I was. They treated me much better than the KMT government, that is now in Taiwan. The CCP sent a representative to visit me in 1975, asked me how my health is and if I needed government assistance. When my mum died in 1985, I went home to Putian. A Chinese Colonel was even there to represent the CCP. Traveling through Mainland China then, reminded me that all Chinese have black hair and brown skin. We are from the same family, of the same blood. I hope can China get stronger and that all Chinese will love their country.
Personally, I have nothing else to wish for. I am blessed with a good family. My wife is 90 years old now. I am lucky to have such a beautiful and understanding wife. She is from a large family and did not care about my background of a poor Chinese air force pilot. My son has retired. My daughter is still working.
I am 98 years old. I am ready to go. I was born in China and I am a Chinese - so when I die, I will also be a Chinese in spirit. That is my unchanging philosophy.
My name is Harold Edward Holland. I was born on August 31, 1922, in West Kildonan, in northwest Winnipeg. I was from a family of fourteen children: six boys and eight girls. As far back as I can remember, we spent our summer holidays on a farm in Saltcoats. It's in Saskatchewan, near Yorkton, which you've probably heard of. I went to standard public schools in Winnipeg, and college much later in British Columbia, where I earned a degree in mechanical and aeronautical engineering.
When I heard that the war had broken out, I was working as an apprentice at the CNR in Winnipeg. I knew I was the exact age for joining up, and I knew I was going to be conscripted, so I went and joined right away voluntarily. I didn't know what was going to happen, but I did what I needed to do. It was just around my 18th birthday in 1940.
I knew I wanted to be a pilot, but during my medical examination I could not cross my eyes, so they told me I could never be in the aircrew. You can't have depth perception if you can't cross your eyes, and as a fighter pilot you have to have pretty good eyes. So they sent me to do guard duty. And guess what? During my guard duty that summer I attached a bayonet to my rifle and spent hours putting it up to my eyes. By the time I finished guard duty two months later, I could cross my eyes as well as anyone. That allowed me to become aircrew, so I continued my training and became a pilot.
I stayed in Canada, on the west coast, for about a year, continued my training while defending the country in case of a Japanese attack. But the Japanese never came, so I was sent to England. My time was easy there. I did nothing but chase girls. They were expecting a German invasion at that time, and I sat on guard duty, waiting. The Germans never attacked, so I was then posted to Burma. My commanding officer called me and told me, "You're going to Asia. Burma." I didn't know where it was, but I thought it was a great idea. We travelled southward from England, all around Africa by boat and landed in India. I reported in and was sent onward to Burma, where I stayed for six months doing fighter pilot courses.
It was an interesting experience arriving there, because I had to cross a body of water to get into Burma and then I was supposed to take a train. When I arrived at the railway station, it was just getting dark, and someone was supposed to meet me. I sat at that railway station by myself all night, listening to the tigers and lions howling nearby. It was frightening, but at 8 o'clock the next morning someone came to pick me up and took me to the base. I ended up at a training camp with four other people also just coming into Burma. We did exercises flying the Hurricane fighters that would be used in operations. I was there for about six months or so before, with the luck of the draw, I was posted to the RAF Number 11 squadron. When I arrived, I reported to the squadron commander's tent and introduced myself as Harold Holland. The commanding officer said, "I have never known a Holland that wasn't called Dutch. Your name is Dutch." That was a long time ago, but I've been Dutch ever since.
The first night I arrived at the squadron I had one of the best dinners I ever had during the war. Someone, a New Zealander, had gone out with his rifle and brought back a couple of dozen ducks. I think they were farmer's ducks, but we had a great dinner - the best during the war. From there on in, the food was lousy. But we ate better than the Japanese. They ate us, I was told. We were given poison to keep in case we were ever caught. I almost got captured by them once and I remember thinking, "Oh God, I don't want to be a prisoner of war." But fortunately, I got out of that situation.
I spent the next three years initially training with Hurricanes, then fighting the Japanese on the Burma front. I was flying once when my engine failed. I was about a hundred miles into the enemy territory when I saw my instruments indicate that the engine was starting to fail. So I flew a hundred miles back toward our lines. I didn't have many options on where to land. I was going to land in a lake that I saw, even though I had never learned to swim. I would have drowned landing if it hadn't been for a voice on the radio. Someone directed me to fly up a bit higher, over some trees, until I saw a swamp. With wheels retracted, I landed right at its edge. It was a frightening experience, but I got out of it without a scratch. I never found out who it was on the radio that told me where to land.
For two days and one night, I ran like hell from the Japanese. I was near the British lines and several British soldiers from Nepal, the Gurkhas, helped me back to their camp. I had gone two days without any food before arriving there. It was just after supper, around 9 o'clock. I went straight for the kitchen and found the cook. I think I slept for about two days after that. But I survived it and then returned to my squadron, hitchhiking back. It was a hell of a long way, but I eventually got back.
I remember one mission, when we were flying very low, about 500 feet, when one of my boys suddenly said, "Oh, I see a target!" And immediately he turned his craft over, stalling the airplane, and crashed, killing himself. That was a real shocker. I was leading this flight, leading him, and I didn't have a chance to say anything to him. That shook me quite a bit. It wasn't a valid target, but a derelict truck I had destroyed a few days before. I knew that as soon as I looked at it, but I didn't have a chance to tell him before he killed himself. He had been a good friend.
I was near the British army another time, when we had to help them get supplies across a valley. They were stuck because at the both valley ends there were Japanese soldiers. They had guns and were shooting into the middle. In order to get the army through, I flew out from my squadron, into the middle of the valley and set myself up as a target. It was a foolish thing to do, but while I was out and they were firing at me, the remainder of the army were able to sneak through. I had to do this several times because even though I told my team what I was going to do, they began shouting, "They're shooting at you! Get out of there!" They were so intent on watching me instead of looking for the Japanese gunners on the ground, I had to repeat my action two or three times before everyone passed through safely. So, the British got through, and that's why I think I later got my Distinguished Flying Cross Medal.
In March 1945, we stopped the Japanese who, up to that point, had been advancing. We avoided the need for a huge battle and started driving them back with our support in the air.
Before the war was over, I was sent back to an army base in Vancouver to be demobilized. Once they discharged me, I went straight over to the University of British Columbia and signed up to become an engineer. I spent five years there and, one night, while on the bus heading home, I met my future wife. When I met her, I was still in uniform and I asked her for a date. We hit it off very well, and a year later we were married.
Once the war ended in 1945, I re-joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) because they offered to pay for my university education. I was employed as both a pilot and engineer, managing the maintenance of the aircraft. In 1955, I was sent to England on a course for guided missiles. I was one of the first of people to get involved with this in Britain.
After retiring from the RCAF, I got a government job and went back to Burma. Burma had tractors and other equipment for their timber operations, but they were rusting away. No one in Burma knew how to fix them, plus they didn't have the necessary parts for them. I was brought over with a bunch of maintenance people to get all of this equipment back on the road. I developed a complete scale of tooling for maintaining the vehicles. I spent about three years there, managing and training young engineers and mechanics before then going to Tanzania on another project. I taught and trained mechanics there too before I came back to Canada.
I am now involved with adult day programs with other veterans. Until the end of last year I used to recite "A pilot's prayer" at military ceremonies. I had the whole prayer memorized and would recite it at annual gatherings such as the Battle of Britain parade. For a while, I was involved with the Air Force Museum. I also like to play golf ...when there is no snow.
Passaic, New JerseyMORE...
My name is Harold Dinzes. I was born December 24, 1916 in the back of the old Opera House on East 36th Street in New York City. I was raised in Brooklyn. We lived on New Jersey Avenue, in East New York. My father built office partitions, then the Depression hit. I was fifteen. My father went to work for my uncle, for practically nothing, so he could keep food on the table. One Sunday, I was over at a friend's house in Clifton, NJ and we had the radio on and we heard the announcement that the attack on Pearl Harbour had happened. Both of us got into the car and ran it to New York. I don't know why, but we went there. Everybody was up in a dither.
In June 1942, my number got drafted. I was sent to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to the engineering school. For some particular reason or another, I was interested in explosives. I took a liking to the instructor and paid attention to what was going on, eventually got the chance to go to officer candidate school and took it. Before I knew it, I was a second lieutenant.
When I first got into the service, I was in the 169th Combat Battalion and all of a sudden they changed everything around and created the Air Force. My outfit became the 164th Aviation Battalion. I started teaching about demolitions and booby traps. I went all over the country to different forts, camps, teaching and learning. Because I was good at what I was doing with explosives, I gave lectures to all the officers that were way up in the line, including, once, a general. I taught everything I knew. I like to believe that because of the lectures, I saved an awful lot of lives on our side.
I was stationed at an airfield in Tallahassee and was going with a girl from the Tallahassee State College for Women. One night, we were out on a date and she started crying. I said, "What's up?" She said, "You're going overseas." I said, "What are you talking about? I didn't hear a damned thing. How did you find out?" And she said, "You know, what's-his-name's girlfriend, she works in the offices at the base." Sure enough, we shipped out within a couple of months. They boxed up our equipment and sent us to the West Coast. This was 1943. It took over a week to get across the country, on a tube train that had been in use since 1918, from the days when they had "40&80." Forty horses and eighty men. In a goddamn boxcar.
We boarded the ship at San Francisco, if I'm not mistaken, and sailed across the Pacific in about three weeks, unescorted. Japanese subs were all over the place, but we didn't use evasive tactics, we just went as fast as we could. On the way there, they told us we were going to New Guinea. There must have been, I'm guessing, eight thousand troops aboard that ship and I bet maybe ten people on the whole ship knew where New Guinea was, or what it was. I happened to know because I had always been interested in faraway places and read about them all the time. I lectured on where we were going, but it was impossible to tell these guys we were going to the jungle because all they could think about was exotic girls, all the rest of the stuff, you know, the hula girls. They were sadly disillusioned when we got to Milne Bay.
The jungle came right out to the waterline. I got off the ship and stepped on land and there was a native there, standing with his bow and arrow, his spear. He looked at me, I looked at him and it was like we were from different worlds. I had studied the books they gave us on the language, Pidgin English. I still have the books. He was shaking like a leaf. I asked him, "Where is your house, where do you live?" And he looked at me like where the hell did I come from? From Mars. They have no concept of time. He tells me his house could be ten days or ten years. You never could tell where they live or where they are. After a while, I got to be pretty fluent.
We got put to work helping with the airfields that were in the process of being finished. At the time, I had about 166 men underneath me and I had to keep them fed with the rations we were getting from the service, as well as stuff we were getting from Australia. We never starved to death, but it wasn't the kind of food you'd like to eat. To enhance the meals, we would do some fishing. With hand grenades. The fish would float up and the natives would tell you which ones you could eat. Soon, the fighting was going our way.
The Japanese had some very high class marines who had seen previous combat, but they had to pull them out because we had the Australians there, who were also very good fighters. From that point on, it was the Japanese backing off from island to island, and you know what happened then, the history of the war. I can't praise the Australians enough for the fighting that they did. Once, when the Japanese marines were coming through the jungle, every one of our available men, whether sick or wounded, dying, it didn't make any difference, went up on the line. They came across one of the airfields and we had all our guns lined up, shooting with no obstruction whatsoever. And they kept charging across. The massacre was so great, we buried six hundred men in a common grave, with a bulldozer. We couldn't take the time and give them a courtesy of a proper burial, because after one day in the jungle, everything started to rot and pop apart. Six hundred in one common grave.
Even after that, there were still Japanese in the jungle. There would be enemy fire and we'd get there and wouldn't know where they were. I got sick and tired of it, so one day I requisitioned two .50 caliber anti-aircraft guns on mounts. Bullets that would take your arm off if they hit you. And we put them in the jungle and opened up, sprayed the place to hell. I didn't care who we killed. I never knew whether the Japanese were in there or not, but we didn't get bothered too much after that, after we sprayed the place. We also sometimes sent the natives out as scouts, to find someone to interrogate, and they would bring back heads. I told them I couldn't talk to a head, I had to get some information. When the first Japanese POWs came in, we put them to work. There were so few that gave themselves up. It was so uncommon, people actually showed up from hundreds of miles away to see one. They just never gave up. There would still be soldiers out there, refusing to stop, decades after the war, some of them.
Anyway, there was a demand for aviation engineers to different places because we needed airfields badly. I got alerted. We didn't know where we were going to go. You got an alert, you have so much time to load up, get your equipment ready. They sent us off in convoy, on a ten thousand ton steamer. We went up the coast to Manila and I'l never forget when we got to the harbour, which was a deep sea harbour where ships could come right up to the land. The whole bay was scattered with blown up ships, all you could see was the mast sticking up, a funnel here and there because it was a big ship. The captain of our ship was an old Dutchman who had been a Navy man, he'd been called back to service, he threaded that ship through there like he was driving an automobile. I stood on the bridge and watched him maneuver the ship into the bay, and I thought he was going to blow us the hell up. He got us in safely.
There, the Japanese had taken bodies, dead animals, refuse and thrown it all in the reservoir. They knew what they were doing. It would occupy nine or ten people to take care of a single person in a hospital. Not just wounded, but sick. The diseases that were going around, people were dropping like flies. Everybody in my outfit had malaria, myself included. The pill for it tasted horrible. An order had come down to stand there while my men swallowed it. I'd line the guys up and give them the pill and make sure they took it. But a guy would swallow it and the moment you'd turn around and go on to the next person, they'd spit the damned thing out.
We had filtration systems set up. But it was so hot. They'd tell you not to drink the water. When you're dying of thirst and there's so much of it...
Eventually, I got injured and got an infection in my ankle. I couldn't get it fixed where I was, so I found an outfit nearby that had an army doctor. An overweight man in his forties. I asked what he was doing there. He had volunteered. The bone was beginning to stick out of my foot. He gave me a concoction he himself had created, and it worked. He put a bandage over it and told me to keep my foot dry. But the minute I stepped out of the tent, there was water waist deep. You couldn't keep dry. It was impossible to do.
When the war was ending, I was at a field hospital. I had my bed on the veranda outside, because there was no room inside. There was a medical captain to my right and an eighteen year old from a Filipino combat outfit that had been fighting against the Japanese. The kid came running up to where we were one day, saying, "Captain, they just said on the radio they dropped a bomb equal to 15,000 tons of TNT." I said, "Get the hell out of here. Go back to whatever you were doing and don't come bothering me like that." When I used TNT in the service, the most I ever used was ten or twenty pounds at a time. To blow up a bridge. To mine something. Set traps. This was an unheard of sum. He ran away, then he came back and said, "Sir, they're saying it all over again on the radio." So I went there. I didn't know what the hell an atom bomb was. I couldn't conceive of anything that powerful. Nothing like that existed. It couldn't be. But it was, of course.
The day, that night, when we thought that was going to be the end of it, one of our ships full of ammo blew up in the harbour. Everybody started firing their guns. The guys were going crazy, thinking we were being attacked. Bullets bouncing off the embankment. We got under our beds. I was praying, thinking "it's a hell of a time to get killed," you know. Fighting's going to be over and one of our guys is going to kill us. Finally, the MPs got control of what was going on. They took the weapons and got everything calmed down.
About six months later, everybody started going home. They prioritized people by how much combat they'd seen. How far you'd been overseas and where. I was in the Philippines for almost two years. I remained there for several months after. This was 1944. McArthur's Manila.
One day, I got a call from the officer in charge and he told me to get dressed because I was being considered for promotion. I had no nice clothes, I'd been out in the field. I dug into my duffel bag and found an old uniform, put it on and went there. I rode in a coupe with some others who were up for promotion. Everybody was dressed clean as a whistle. I was sweating like a pig, I was nervous as hell. I hadn't seen that much brass since I got out of the States. All the sudden, we're at attention and a two-star general walks into the room. He tells us to be seated. "Don't worry, the guy you're going to see is not that bad, he's a nice fellow." He put us at ease. Because my name started with a D, I was one of my first guys called to be interrogated by this group of army officers that was there. The general was sitting in the middle of them. He asked me questions pertaining to mathematics with the engineering we were doing, which was so basic that a kid in high school could have passed. He was smart as a whip. He knew I was jumping. And he says, "That'll do, Captain." He was telling me I got promoted. Right there.
I was also put in for an award by a commanding officer. He put me in for the Bronze Star, without my knowing it. Eventually, without my knowing it, I got it. The army works in mysterious ways. I am now 95 years of age. I still have trouble with my injury. I'm a disabled vet. The army has taken care of me with the problems I've had since. I've got stories. I could tell stories till I'm blue in the face.
Kandy, Sri LankaMORE...
My name is JP Jayasekara; I was born on the 21st of April in 1921 in Teldeniya, Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka back then was known as Ceylon, and we were a colony under the British Empire. After the outbreak of the Second World War so many British troops came and established their camps here. I joined the Civil Defense in 1941 once I finished school. At that time the purpose of the Civil Defense was to aid as a service for casualties, attending to victims of the war. And from there I joined the army - the Ceylon Signal Corps.
When Hitler attacked Poland and the Japanese sunk two of Great Britain's most powerful battleships, the HMS Repulse and the HMS Prince of Wales near Singapore, Great Britain was quite shaken up. They appealed to all of the Commonwealth countries for help.
Ceylon was a poor country with no money to give, but we were able to provide the men power. Forty thousand youth were recruited from Ceylon; some of them were sent to the Middle East, some to Singapore, some served in Burma, and others joined Ceylon's Naval reserve. Most of the men were still schoolboys at the time.
On Easter Sunday, April 5, 1942, at 7am, we heard cricket noises. Or at least we thought they were crickets. They turned out to be gunshots. We all ran out of our barracks and saw Japanese planes coming at us. They were coming in groups of four, bombing and shooting at us. First people panicked, but then our artillery started working and we all scrambled into action. That was the day they attacked the Harbour of Colombo. The fighting went on for a couple of hours, and a lot of people died on both ends. It was a tragic day for Colombo and all of Ceylon. After that the capital became a dead city. All of the schools closed, and colleges moved inland. There was not even a place to have a cup of tea.
After that I was reassigned to Trincomalee where I was still a part of the Ceylon Signal Corps. My job involved operating wireless radios and being responsible for communications between the navy and army bases. That was in 1943. During that time more and more British soldiers were coming and putting up bases all over the island and digging trenches - from Colombo to Trincomalee, from Trincomalee to Kandy; they were laying down underground cables for communication.
At the same time the British established the South-East Asian command unit, and Lord Louis Mountbatten had arrived in Colombo. He was a member of the Royal family and was made the Supreme Elite Commander of South-East Asia. Recruitment centers were opening all over the place. Their advertisements said, 'Join the Army and see the World' to attract the youth.
In March 1942 Sir Geoffrey Layton was summoned to overlook the Defense of the Civilians. There were a lot of things done to defend the civilians in case of any air raids. Underground shelters were built, fire brigades were organized, and many people were recruited for first aid purposes. Every time the Coast Guard would sight Japanese planes they would inform the Central Command and activate alarms. The marketing department was reorganized; food items were rationed and coupon books were issued to the people. Co-operative stores were also opened throughout the island where people drew their rations without any difficulty.
'Looting is punishable by death'
'Black marketers will be jailed'
'Grow more food'
'Growers are winners'
These were some of the slogans written on parapet walls; they were better than the election posters of today.
The British did a lot of things at that time and they looked after the affairs of civilians well. I was fulfilling my duties with the Signal Corps where we had a phone, radio, wireless, and pigeons. A lot of messages between stations were coded.
For us, the remainder of the war went by quietly. There were a lot of foreign units brought from all over - American, British, Indian, South African, and Australian - that set up their camps on the island. There was one particularly interesting set of people, African Negroes, who had their mouths padlocked. They were man-eaters and the British would put locks on their mouths.
The war ended with Japan unconditionally surrendering. When we heard the news we were of course all very happy. But details from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki all shocked us. It shocked the entire world.
After the war ended, we had a lot of rolling stones. My family had a business, a bakery and a hotel, so I was lucky to have a job. Then I became interested in agriculture. I was always active in sports and still to this day take part in competitions in my age group. Look at all the medals. I was also involved in social services and in prevention of cruelty to animals. I also took part in some politics and was a village counselor for a while.
I got married and had one daughter. My wife has passed away already. Now I have grandchildren so I stay active. I also wrote a book about the graves of the perished servicemen in Ceylon. I got the idea to do this because so many tourists come here to search for graves of their relatives but can't find any information. I did it for their benefit.
My name is Leon Lebowitz. I was born October 18, 1921. I grew up in Waco. My father had a clothing store in East Waco, called Dave Lebowitz Dry Goods. My mother also worked in the store, which meant that as a youngster I was raised in the store until my two younger sisters were born and my mother stayed home more. My folks had an apartment to the side of a very large house on 5th Street. I went to Waco High School.
I went to Baylor Law School until 1942-43. I was in the Army Reserve, otherwise I'd have been drafted to go into the service much earlier. I worked in the library of the law school, as an assistant to the law librarian. I was called into active duty in 1944.
I reported to Fort Walters in Mineral Wells. From there I took basic training at Fort Riley, Kansas. It was an old army cavalry base, and there were still some horses there. I attended advanced training in Forte Meade, Maryland. From there, we shipped off to North Africa, going from Casablanca, Morocco to Algiers and Oran in Algeria, eventually ending up in Naples, Italy.
After some difficulty with the Germans, we occupied Rome. We were in relatively small groups. I remember visiting different parts of the city. The Vatican, the Coliseum. I got to see a lot of the relics the Romans had left behind. There were some Italians that were glad to work with us while we occupied. They got rations, food they otherwise might not have had.
We went back to Naples for more training, then took part in the invasion of Southern France. We came up through the Rhone Valley, to Alsace-Lorraine. To Germany. I was in Nuremberg when the war ended. I read about it in the Stars and Stripes. I was excited to get home. By that time I was First Sergeant of my company. I got along well with my men. I returned once the war in Europe ended because I was in the reserve unit. I was discharged at Fort Riley in December.
They had closed the law school I attended because of the war, and it reopened when I returned. I got a teaching job there. I helped put the law library back together. I taught classmates of mine who went into the service and were finally returning to finish their education. I got married and had two children. I taught for fifty-five years.
Roy & Jack Vanasco,
Brooklyn, New YorkMORE...
I was born Rocco Vanasco, January 5, 1926, in Fort Green, Clinton Hill in Brooklyn, at my grandfather's house, at 178 Clermont Ave. My brother Jack, who's here with me, was born on March 5, 1928, he's two years younger. We were five brothers and grew up there with my mother and father, my grandfather, my grandmother at that house. It was a quiet neighborhood.
I attended the local Precinct Community Council's Police Athletic League, and I learned a lot about boxing, it was an enjoyable time. I graduated from the John Jay High School. But before that, I was a member of the New York National Guard, 27th Division, with my brother Jack, my brother Joe, and about a dozen friends of ours. When the war broke out in December 1941, we all joined the Home Guard, which later became the National Guard. But we weren't old enough; we lied about our age when we joined. They wanted to ship us out to Hawaii with the Home Guard, and all the parents on the block and in the neighborhood, whose children lied about their age, all stormed in to see the general, and the general reprimanded the mothers: "You never should've signed the papers to enlist your sons in the Home Guard." But he gave us all honorable discharges, one is up on the wall there, and my brother Jack has his.
I graduated from high school in January 1943, and enlisted in the Navy. As I joined the Navy, I left home, and I headed up to upstate New York where we trained. I have to say, being trained with the Home Guard gave me a huge advantage and once my superiors found out about that, they made me a supervisor on the floor that we were on. And it was a little easier on me, I didn't have to wash the toilets and do all that, because I was busy helping the newcomers like myself, still suffering from leaving Brooklyn with getting accustomed to the new settings. As for the most of us - it was the first time we ever left Brooklyn. Maybe we went to New York to see our uncles or something, or on vacation some place up in the Catskills, other than that, none of us really got out.
Some of them were pretty downhearted, someone cried. I was good. I comforted a lot of guys. We had all kinds of nationalities: black, white, Hispanic - all coming from Brooklyn. And we enjoyed the two-months training. It made a man out of you right away. I mean, you weren't mamma's little boy anymore! You did your own washing, you took care of yourself, you protected yourself. And my brother Joe who was Master Sargent in the Home Guard with us, he always said: "You always gotta fight for yourself, and never take any bullshit from anybody, no matter how big or small they are - you gotta fight." I was a boxer in the PAL, and I learned how to fight from my brother Joe who was in the Golden Gloves. There were a couple of guys who were rough, and I wouldn't take anything. I always remembered: "Fight back, fight back. Don't sit back and take any bull crap from anybody, no matter who they are. But you gotta be right. You gotta be right." I always thought about what my brother Joe told me and always fought back.
After we trained upstate, I got on the train and went to California, where I waited to be shipped out to Hawaii. At San Diego I was put on the first carrier, which was a baby carrier. I had my seabag and all my stuff. There were no bunks at that time so we had to use our hammocks. After being out in the Pacific for some time doing routines I got transferred to another ship, the aircraft carrier 70 Fanshaw Bay. There I caught pneumonia and ended up in Balboa Park hospital. I stayed there for some time and was cured. People in California were real nice to me. They invited me and other sailors to visit, because their houses were empty, all their kids were away, except the girls, their daughters. And that was great for a sailor, you know.
When I got over pneumonia, I ended up going back to San Diego and getting on the DE-164 Osterhaus. It was a destroyer escort. We were at the Admiral Halsey's fleet most of the time, protecting battleships, aircraft carriers. It was our duty and our main purpose was to protect the fleet. It was our job to weave in and out from the outside in case the Japanese let go of any torpedoes. That was the job of destroyers and destroyer escorts. We always traveled in groups of six destroyers. We were a team.
So, when we left San Diego, we went out on a shakedown cruise, and everything was good, we came right back, and then about a week later, we finally left. We went underneath the bridge in San Francisco, and we headed for Hawaii. And that same night I was sea-sick. I was sea-sick for five days. And the guys who were good seamen, helped me with crackers and things like that, but I had to carry a bucket so if I had to, you know, relieve myself, it was in the bucket, not on the deck that I had to clean. In five days I was cured, I was a real seaman, I was a real sailor now. We had our tour of Hawaii and all that, we were there a couple of weeks. We had to load up the ship with food, and that was another job of somebody new who got on the ship. We would find any food that we could load up on the ship to go out for months. And that was the job of young, 18-year-olds. The older guys, the 25-years-old - they were old. Thirty years old - oh god, they were old men. We were 18 years old, so we had plenty of energy.
And from Hawaii we just went from one island to another. We had a lot of encounters with the Japanese, but no hits. There were plenty of kamikaze planes. When we were in a convoy, they hit ships: aircraft carriers, the Hornet, the Essex... They were looking for big ships, the big carriers, but they hit destroyers too. And once they did hit a destroyer in our convoy, and almost 250 kids got killed right away. Our own ship was never hit.
One time we were in a convoy with USS Franklin, that's an aircraft carrier. And it was hit. They said it was going to capsize and sink, but it didn't. So, as a convoy, we took it - in case the Japanese would try to sink it - we took it to another island where they were going to repair it. And it got there safely. We were like the Coast Guard, you know.
I liked being on a small destroyer, rather than the aircraft carrier, because you only had 250 guys there. On the aircraft carrier, that baby aircraft carrier, you had 2,500. And I didn't like the fact that on the aircraft carrier you had to wear dress blues at dinner. On the destroyer, all you had to do was wear clean clothes.
My own job was below the deck, on the bottom of the ship, which was technically speaking a diesel electric destroyer. I had to take orders from the captain; he would send the signal down to where I was, in the engine room, on the electric board, with meters and all that. And I would repeat the numbers that were sent down to me on my board. This would rev up the diesel engine, just like in happens in a car. These were Rolls Royce engines, and they were 20 feet, 30 feet long. That noise! 24 hours a day! They were run by diesel, but the electric was on the board, that's how it ran.
I was below deck and didn't know what was happening up there. I mean we had our headphones on, so the captain could inform us, but other than that we could only guess. So when the Japanese would attack we had no idea what was happening. We had to take orders and there wasn't much time to think about anything else. You were frightened when you first heard the whistles and all that. But I got used to it.
Towards the end of the war the kamikaze planes became very dangerous. When we saw what they did to some of the aircraft carriers, and some of the other transport ships that they sunk... And there were submarines everywhere too! We were lucky not to get hit.
About ten islands we hit, before we went to the island where the war ended. My last island was Miriam Island. And that's where the B-29 took off. The one that broke the war - the Enola Gay. And we were protecting that island when it happened. They took off at night, very early morning. We heard them, but we didn't see them. We didn't know that the planes are gonna drop the A-bomb. You know, as sailors, you didn't know anything. Scuttlebutt, it was called. Everything was always scuttlebutt. We were going to Japan, we knew that. But we never did end up going. In a few days we heard our captain on the loudspeaker, and told us what happened. He said: " The war is over". Everybody was dancing, yelling, screaming, crying... The war was over. It was a great day. The war was over, we were going home. We were gonna go home. The war was over. Most of us cried. Patted each other, hugged one another. And I still cry, as I remember that day.
When I got home, well... When you come home after the war, you gotta cry. You're home, you're alive. My older brother was alive, my other brother was alive. We were four brothers in World War II, and we all came home! Jack just got in towards the end of it, he was drafted in 1945 and was in the tank corps. He ended up in Japan working for General McArthur's headquarters. My brother Terry went through the war, Joey went, I went, Jack went, we all went. Tommy didn't go because of his ear perforations.
When I got back we docked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, two blocks away from our home. It was unbelievable, I just walked couple blocks and there I was at my house - my mother was happy, my father was happy. And I started a new life. It wasn't easy, because you could be home, in your house, and you could be happy that you were alive. That you lived, that you survived the experiences you had with the Japanese Navy, Japanese kamikaze planes... But thousands of kids got killed. We lost about 15-18 of our friends. We lost a lot of our friends that we grew up with. I had a close friend of mine who went on an island and got killed right away. He was in the Marines. His name was Ernie Marino. I played second base, he played third base, we grew up together. He died getting on the island. He didn't even have a chance. He was my next door neighbor, we played softball together...
My brother Joe was the one who got discharged because he hurt his back in the Army. He passed away due to a health problem he had, but essentially he died from penicillin. We lost Terry some years ago, and we also lost Tommy. So it's only Jack and I who are left.
After the war, I got a job, training for Genuine Refrigerator Company at 203 Atlantic Ave, where my brother Tommy was already working as a refrigerator mechanic, and I learned the trade and became Tom's assistant. I stayed there for a while, I learned every trade, and then I went to work for General Electric as an outside repairman on Northern Boulevard, and my father brought up the idea that I should open a business. So I looked around on Myrtle Avenue, and I found a place at 595 Myrtle Ave, and I opened up a business. This was a tuxedo store, the man passed away, his wife wanted to sell it, and I bought it for, you wouldn't believe it, $5,000. Which is now worth millions of dollars, after I bought the property next door from the city of New York. And this is where I am, and I'm proud to say, people have heard that we're leaving, and they come into my store, and they say: "Roy, you took care of my mother, my grandfather, they always talked about you, we used you..." - it made Jack and I really feel proud. That people came into the store, and they come here, one by one, they're hearing that we are selling and there's not going to be a store around where they can get stove parts, refrigerator parts, to fix their own appliances. There are no other stores in downtown Brooklyn or anywhere else! And all this that you see, all these photographs, all the years going back fifty years!
I became the 57th district leader. I opened up a Republican club, and I ran for the assembly, I ran for Congress, I ran for state senator as a Republican. When I was chairman of the community board, I was one of the first people to ask to remove the Brooklyn elevated train that used to run right above our store. I made the train come down and made the neighborhood change the way you see it today. And as chairman of the community board and the one who began the Myrtle Avenue Merchants Association, whatever you see on Myrtle Avenue today, it's the result of the Association's work, and I was its chairman for over forty years.
Another thing is that Jack and I have given our life to Brooklyn War Memorial. This is something very important to us. The Brooklyn War Memorial is a building that was built over 25-30 years ago, and hardly ever used. There are names of 2,500 soldiers inside this building, which is never used... So Jack and I took it upon ourselves to try to reopen the Brooklyn War Memorial on Fulton Street. The NYC Parks Department was trying to do some work there, and they didn't have any money to do it, so it started to deteriorate. But now we are finally going to get the money, and it's going to cost us $5 million to fix it. We've been pinpointed by the Parks Department to get this place open, Jack and I. That's what occupies my mind and time these days.
New Delhi, IndiaMORE...
My name is Surjan Singh, and I was born on July 29, 1921 in Kharia, Delhi. I had a pretty good childhood. India didn't have a great education system, but I made the most of my formative years. I was a playful, energetic child, always interested in having fun in my village.
When I reached 15, my family believed it was the time to begin working on the family farm. The fun of my childhood was over when I realized just how bad things truly were. The British were in control in India, and they were basically pillaging our land.
So many people across India were forced to work in the agricultural industry, but eventually it got to the point where so many were doing this so that it was very hard to actually succeed. Besides that, there was mass malnourishment across India, and my family felt it as bad as everyone else. What little farmland we had, it wasn't producing enough to keep us properly fed.
How would I survive if I was literally dying of hunger? So by the age of 18, I felt my best option was to volunteer for the Army. They paid 15 Rupees a month, which was vital income for my family. Additionally, I wanted to serve my country in this terrible conflict that was going on.
Upon enlistment, I was sent to Madras for basic training. My memory is a bit hazy, but I can remember learning how to drive, how to conserve my body, and how to be an effective soldier overall. We used to run for kilometers at a time. In the military, I also became familiar with pistols, hand grenades, and rifles. By the time I had graduated basic training, I felt like I was suited for combat.
We Indians were the lowest rank in the entire Allied Forces. Our entire command was British. They didn't even have the decency to learn our language, we had to learn theirs. We would be in the trucks, training, and they were saying, "go left, go right". As we had such a poor education system, we had no idea what they were saying sometimes, but we soon had to learn or risk catastrophe. A misunderstanding in a combat situation could be fatal.
We got deployed to Burma first. Japan was a formidable enemy. We had tanks, machine guns, rifles, and even horses for combat. All of us were prepared for the worst, but it soon became apparent we weren't prepared for the Japanese tactics. The Japanese were waging aerial attacks against us, shooting and even throwing bombs out of planes. Our regiment spent most of the time hiding in the mountains and forests from overhead attacks. We had weapons that were capable of many things on the ground, but not in the air. So we couldn't even use them! What would a rifle or even a machine gun do against a plane?
I can remember once, we were traveling through Burma and I was eating in the car. Our cars were relatively low quality. Instead of windows, we put up bamboo sticks to shield us. The car made a sharp turn and I was flung from the car like a cartoon character! It's funny in hindsight, but my fractured knees and one month stay in the hospital wasn't very funny.
One story that's not funny at all is what happened to a gentleman from my village that was also in the war. He, along with a few other soldiers, was arrested by the Japanese, and kept as POWs for six years. Many in the village thought he was dead as there was no trace of him. He very nearly was, as he told us later Japanese were going to kill him. They had thousands of POWs, but after losing the war were in no condition to feed and maintain all of them. Their initial plan was to mass murder the Indians, but the revolutionary Subhas Chandra Bose's affiliation with Japan got him and the others spared. On his say, all Indian prisoners were released and sent back to India.
In 1945, we heard the atomic bomb was dropped. As devastating as the effects were in Hiroshima, people a hundred kilometers away were also getting sick. Our commanders gave us masks, so we wouldn't be affected by the radiation. After we heard the news about Japan surrendering we were ecstatic. We all chanted, "We're saved!" and rejoiced in the possibilities of going back home. Not long after, we were sent back to India.
Once I got back to India, I was faced with the same issues of my past. I wasn't educated, so I couldn't get a decent job. I went back to the family farm, and lived off my pension from the Indian Army.
Soon, India was divided, and the Muslim portion of the country was renamed Pakistan. There was a lot of tension that grew into a conflict, so splitting the country was seen as the best alternative.
After retiring from the Army, I married my wife Khajini Devi in the 1960s, and had four sons and one daughter. Today, I mostly spend my time relaxing with family. This life is much better now.
My name is Takeoka Chisaka and I was born on February 3, 1925 in Hiroshima, Japan. When I was born, I was so weak my parents asked my uncle in Miyajima to take care of me. They believed the clean air of Miyajima's mountains and water would help me get better, and they were right. It was such a beautiful place. I loved to be with nature, especially the deer there. After school, I would swim all the time. It was a wonderful experience. Once I felt better, I went back to Hiroshima and enrolled in women's school.
The war started when I was 11. We were embroiled in a conflict with China. In my sophomore year at Yamanaka Girls' High School, they stopped teaching English. Because of this, I wasn't able to study to be a doctor which was my dream. When I graduated, I went to work at a military weapons factory like everyone else. Outside the building, people thought it was a factory for making jam, but we were making weapons inside. I was 17, making submarine artillery and bombs for the Japanese military.
In the early morning hours of August 6, 1945, I was walking home from an overnight shift at the factory. It was still dark outside. I had planned to go to Miyajima with 3 friends because we were off for the upcoming day. We agreed to meet at 8:15 am at the Koi Station. As soon as I opened my door, there was a huge explosion. I was blown away and knocked unconscious.
When I woke up, my head was bleeding, and I was 30 meters away from my home, or what was left of it. My house didn't catch fire, but the wind blew it away. I looked up at the sky and there was a dark, gray cloud. The bomb detonated 3 kilometers from my home. I later found out the cloud carried massive amounts of radiation. When it started raining that day, we called it the blood rain. It was hysteria. So many people were trying to escape the area. People were badly burned, awkwardly walking. Everybody wanted water. Everyone was looking for their family. I managed to get water for people, but I didn't have any medicine. There wasn't much I could do.
Later that day I went to the top of a mountain to look down at Hiroshima, and there wasn't a single house in sight. Everything was burned to the ground.
The next morning I went back into the city to find my mother. She was working as a nurse at an army hospital. She was so busy healing injured soldiers that she stayed at the hospital and rarely came home. While I was traversing the city I saw thousands of dead bodies strewn about. I went to the factory I used to work at, but I couldn't see any co-workers who were still alive. I went to the Aioi bridge, which was over the Ota river. There were layers of dead bodies rotting in the river.
I was screaming out my mother's name in hopes I'd hear her. One body looked like it may have been her but it wasn't. I closed my eyes and kept my mind set on getting to the hospital. When I finally arrived, there were so many dead bodies there as well. The bodies were so burned you couldn't recognize any of their faces, so unfortunately I didn't find my mother there.
I went to the Red Cross hospital next and saw what looked like three mountains of deceased bodies. I surveyed the entire city for six days but still couldn't locate her. I went to a school in Eba. There were many injured people there. I went into each classroom, and there was death everywhere.
I finally found my mother in one of the classrooms. She was badly burned, but still alive. Somebody had put bandages all over her face. I called her name many times. My mother's voice was weak, but she called my name back out. There was a man who helped me with a cart to carry my mother out. She was badly dehydrated, as she hadn't had any water in six days. We put her body in a cart, and brought her back home to me. There were so many flies on her body it took three days to clean her.
My neighbors were so happy to have my mother back. One of my neighbors took the bandages off my mom, and we saw her eyes were badly burned, her eyeballs were falling out of the scull. She couldn't see anything. We had no food, no medicine. We couldn't do anything for her.
I was so mad. I wondered to myself who even started this war. I looked at the bomb as a killer, which killed 80,000 people at once. I couldn't forgive the United States for what they did.
Eventually, some doctors came from another city to treat injured people at a small elementary school in my neighborhood. I took my mother to the school. There were hundreds of people there. It smelled so bad, I can still remember the stench from all the burned bodies. I waited for three hours to see a doctor. The doctor couldn't do much for her, because eyes weren't his specialty. All he did was re-bandage my mother.
On our way home, my mother thought the doctor was my father, her husband. She couldn't see but could tell by his voice. I was so delirious from seven days of starvation that I didn't realize the doctor was my father! He didn't realize it was my mother because she was so badly burned. I dropped my mother off, then went back to the school.
When I got there, he had left already. His shift was over and he was driving to another city. I couldn't get in touch with him.
It was hard for Hiroshima to recover. After the war, Japan was so damaged. No one came to our city to help us, they were too busy repairing their own towns. We made small houses out of the trees we found by the river. They were so small your leg would be outside the house when laying down. We drank water from the river, but there was no food. I lived in the mountains, so I ate the grass to survive.
Eventually I took my mother to another hospital. People said there may be food, medicine and doctors there, but the doctors had died by the time we got there. There was only one person there, and he was a veterinarian.
He said we should take the eyes out of my mother's socket. He didn't have the proper tools, but used a knife and took them out. I heard my mother screaming while they took her eyes out. It was so hard for me to hear this. It was so hellish, I resolved that war should never happen again. No one should have this experience.
I wanted to go to America and fight them, but in reality I had no money, and no plane or boat to even get there. In lieu of going to America, I decided to work for peace. I was a peace worker in Japan after the war.
I finally got to America in the 60s and met one of the people who created the atomic bomb. There was a big meeting at the United Nations in New York. I talked to him and he apologized. He said he felt sorry for the people in Hiroshima, and he could never sleep well after that day. He told me when he was making the bomb he didn't know how much damage it was capable of. He also said that since the bomb was dropped, he had been anti-war.
I pray for peace all over the world. I think it's so important for everyone. Weapons make human beings evil, and war is always taking someone's life. We don't always have to fight, we can talk things out. No more war.
My name is Themistoklis Marinos; my friends call me Themi. I was born in Zakynthos on February 8, 1917. My father was working for the Cable and Wireless company in Zakynthos and we had a big family: four brothers and one sister. I finished my school in Zakynthos and then moved to Athens in order to study economics. To finance my studies I was also working odd jobs. When Italians attacked Greece, I was called to arms and thus I stopped studying.
When the war was declared we were very enthusiastic and we were looking forward to fighting against the invaders. The Germans and Italians took over Greece, and I left for Crete which was still free.
With no practical experience in the military, I took part in the Battle of Crete. The Germans attacked from the air on May 20th 1941. We fought alongside the British soldiers and for a while we thought we were not going to let Germans take over the island. But after 10 days and a lot of casualties on both sides, Crete was surrendered.
I had to flee to Cairo, where I joined the Greek Army again. I was an officer in the department that was the official link between the Greek and the British Armies. When the British Army created the office of Special Services in Palestine, I was transferred there. Thus I became a member of the Special Operations Executives, the department responsible for the creation of the Sacred Band: a new special forces regiment, which was entirely Greek.
During September 1942, before the battle of El Alamein, the General Office formed a group of soldiers in order to sabotage the Bridge of Gorgopotamos because the Germans were using it to supply weapons and provisions for the occupying troops. The group consisted entirely of British personnel and myself. I was the only Greek. It was one of the most important operations of the war for us because it managed to give hope to the Greek resistance.
And what an operation it was! Like I said, all the command was British, and I was the only Greek who took part in arranging and organizing the sabotage. We were parachuted in the central Greece around the Gorgopotamos River in three groups, and established connection with the local resistance and guerillas. The viaduct itself was heavily guarded and we couldn't just go there, put the explosives under the bridge and walk away. It needed to be meticulously planned and perfectly executed.
Our operation began on the night of November 25, 1942. One of our groups cut the telephone lines and almost at the same time about 100 people from the Greek resistance launched an attack on the garrison that was set up to guard the bridge. We were waiting for the signal to set the explosives under the base of the viaduct, but it wasn't coming. The attack on the fortresses was delayed and taking longer than we planned. Eventually our command sent us anyway. There was a fear that Italians guarding the bridge would somehow call for reinforcements and we wouldn't be able to complete the mission. There were a few explosions and the mission was a success. All of the people who took part in the operation survived, I think we only had but a few wounded. Later, I found out that the reinforcement was on its way, and if we didn't lay the charges in a timely manner, the mission would have failed.
I also have to note that this was the only battle where the Communist Greek resistance group ELAS would fight alongside the EDES, the National Republican Greek League. Later, these groups became enemies and clashed in the Civil War.
After this incredible mission our group stayed in the area to support and train various guerrilla groups. In July 1943, when the allied invasion of Sicily was about to take place, we were organizing some operations to trick the Germans into believing that the landings were going to take place here in Greece. Great battles took place at the western part of Greece, and Germans were sending additional troops to strengthen their defenses there instead of sending them to Italy.
One of the most memorable fights was the one that took place in the mountains of Makrynoros. Our group stopped a whole armored division that was heading to Sicily to support the Italian army during the invasion, and delayed them until it was too late. During the battle I was calm and serene. In these cases you don't feel or think about anything else other than how to succeed.
Already at that time we were in confrontation with the Greek leftist resistance movements. They thought we were working for the Germans, but we knew they are getting help from the Soviet Union and wanted to establish a Communist regime in Greece. One time I got caught by some partisans from the Greek People's Liberation Army. Aris Velouchioti, the leader of ELAS, interrogated and tortured me himself for a whole night to make me claim that Fotios Zambaras, the leader of the opposite group, EDES, was cooperating with the Germans. He wanted me to say that so he could spread this false information. But I managed to escape. The moment I broke free was one of the happiest moments of my life.
At the end of 1943, I got back to Cairo. I was the instructor at the Secret Services Department. We were training Greek soldiers undercover without informing the related official department. As a result, one day our British superiors arrested us and I had to prove to them that I was training Greeks to fight on the side of the Allied forces. It got me into some trouble. Everyone was suspicious of everyone back then, and for a good reason.
In April of 1944, I was transferred to the General Headquarters located at Argostoli in Kefalonia. Through the Ionian Islands the Germans were controlling one of the main entrances to the Peloponnesus and the Greek mainland, and our main goal was to kick them out of there.
In September of 1944 we tried meeting the Germans for peace negotiations. The only condition was that we wouldn't attack each other during the day of the meeting. We agreed on the time and place, and when we met, we offered them to surrender unconditionally and in exchange we would guarantee them a safe passage while they were vacating Greece. They refused and also said that once they concluded these talks they would attack us immediately. They were upset that the British RAF bombed them the night before, even though we agreed for a seize-fire on that night. Thankfully, nothing like that happened and we went our separate ways.
But soon after that meeting, the Germans started retreating anyway. Not without a fight, but still. The Soviet Union was making a strong advance from the east, and the Italians by that time became the enemies of the Greeks, and the Bulgarians didn't have any power at all. On October 14 the British and Greek Armies liberated Athens. Greece was free at last!
I stayed on the island for two more months after the Germans left. We were there to take care of the civilians with the help of the Red Cross. Then we returned to Egypt in December of 1944.
I came back to mainland Greece in the beginning of 1945. Greece was liberated from Germany, but the civil unrest was starting to boil over. The Communists wanted to take over. And soon, with the help of the newly created Communist governments in Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, the Greek Communists started a civil war. But that's a different story.
After the Greek Civil War, I tried to work various jobs but then decided to finish my studies that were interrupted by the war. So I enrolled at the London School of Economics for a master's degree. When I finished my postgraduate studies, I worked both in Greece and abroad for the World Bank, the United Nations and for other organizations. I also got married to my wife whom I met in Bulgaria where she was a cipher officer. We have been married for thirty-six years now. I was using her services frequently, but it seems that I overused them! The most important thing that came out of this war was that I met my wife!
My name is Ye Yuliang. I was born in March 1922 in Beijing. My ancestral home is in Fuzhou city of Fujian province. My grandfather was a Jinshi in the former Qing Dynasty. Which meant that he was an advanced scholar who passed the triennial court exam, a very high honor. But after the Nationalists took power and Qing Dynasty collapsed my dad lost his job and the family moved to Beijing, where I was born and went to primary school and middle school.
When the Marco Polo Bridge Incident happened on July 7, 1937, I happened to be on the way to Nanjing. I left Beijing on 6th of July and arrived in Nanjing on the 8th. I had an uncle there and we were afraid the war would come to Nanjing too, so together with the wife of my uncle, I fled to Fuzhou, my ancestral home.
In Fuzhou, I continued to go to school. Back then, the Sino-Japanese war has already started. The leader of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-shek, announced that all Chinese men, no matter how old or young, living in North China or South China, must take part and fight the Japanese. I was too young to join the army still, but we had military training as part of the school program and propaganda lessons, where they would prepare us to fight the Japanese in the near future.
I stayed in Fuzhou for one semester before I was able to get in touch with my family in Beijing, which was then called Beiping. They sent money to me and asked me to go back to Beiping. After I received the money I went to Tianjin first by ship and after that, I needed to take the train to Beiping. Back then Japanese Army already occupied Beiping and Tianjin and when I was trying to get on the train, it was very crowded so I clung to the door of the train. A Jap was trying to get on the train and I didn't make way for him. He gave me a hard kick and himeslf got on the train. I wanted to fight back but was stopped by a Chinese man that was standing near by, who told to me: "he is Japanese. He can kill you and receive no punishment. This is the world of Japanese now." So I endured this humiliation and had always borne grudge against the Japs since then.
After I came back to Beiping, I continued my education. My classmates all hated the Japanese but didn't dare to talk about it in public. I had a relative who was a member of the underground resistance and it was basically a secret unofficial organization made out of volunteers for assassination of the Japanese and local traitors. As we talked a lot about anti-Japanese movement, he sensed strong sentiment in me and asked, "Would you dare to join the resistance?" I said, "I would." That's how it all started.
The underground resistance started in Tianjin and our organization in Beiping originated from that movement in Tianjin. Originally, I was responsible for communication and investigation. Later, I took part in assassinations.
After joining the organization, I had only one contact, Li Zhenying, who was the leader of Beiping underground. We called him the "principal". He was kind of my mentor, teaching me how to do investigations and gather information on collaborators. Later, he also taught me how to use weapons, bringing a real gun to teach me how to assemble and clean it, how to aim and shoot targets.
My first assignment was to investigate the president of the chamber of commerce. Incidentally, his nephew was my classmate so used this connection to visit his place, and came to know how to get to his home, when he went to work and got off work. After I'd collected all the information, I passed it to Li Zhenying. Together with another killer, Li Zhenying planned the assassination and scheduled a day. On that day, when the chamber president drove away from his home, they shot at the car twice. However, when the news was published in a newspaper, we found out that the bullets missed him but hit his wife instead. We killed the wrong person.
Another assassination was targeted at Shu Zhuanghuai in Beiping, who lived very near to me. He was the director for the department of public works. The responsibilities of this department included building barracks, trenches, etc. His daughter was my schoolmate in primary school. I was asked to find out where he lived. After my investigation, Li Zhenying brought another two killers to carry out the assassination. As soon as Shu Zhuanghuai came out of his car at the gate of his house, they shot him. The traitor was shot in his eye but wasn't killed at the scene. He died afterwards in the hospital.
We also attempted to kill Yoshiko Kawashima and that was my first assassination assignment. It was on her birthday. Yoshiko Kawashima was a Japanese spy and a puppet of the Imperial government. Well, she was a Chinese princess but was brought up in Japan and was collaborating with them. Anyway, she was going to celebrate her birthday in Xinxin Grand Theatre. She booked all seats upstairs. Tickets for seats downstairs were still being sold. That day, Li Zhenying led me there to kill Yoshiko Kawashima. I followed Li Zhenying and we bought tickets in the front row, from where we could turn back and see what would happen upstairs. The opera that day was quite famous and was played by Yan Jupeng and his daughter. Yan Jupeng's daughter was Yan Huizhu. That was her first time on stage so there was a big buzz about this and many people in the audience.
We waited. The opera had started but Yoshiko Kawashima hadn't arrived. Later, we heard some noises, turned back and saw her and her posse settling down. She was upstairs and sat in the middle. She was wearing men's clothes, a long gown and a Mandarin jacket, a pair of shades. We had to wait for a while, as it was too crowded. Then we heard some commotion again, turned back and realized that she was gone - went downstairs and left. We rushed outside, but she was already in her car driving away. We failed.
On 7th of July 1940, the Japanese celebrated Third anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. They set up a stage at the Altar of Land and Grain in Zhongshan Park to make speeches and a lot of people went there to listen. The event was co-chaired by Wu Juchi and his Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Chen. Wu Juchi was the Editor-in-Chief of Xinmin Bao newspaper, which was an official newspaper for the Japanese puppet regime. And we decided to kill them.
This assassination was very significant. Li Zhenying brought Feng Yunxiu, Liu Yongkang and me. We were in the crowd listening to the speech. When the speaker was condemning anti-Japanese armies and people, one of our guys was getting really worked up wanted to shoot him right on the stage. Li Zhenying quieted him down and said, "We can't take action here. There are too many people around and among them traitors, spies, special agents, policemen, and plain-clothed police... It's too dangerous to shoot here."
Later, when the ceremony ended and the crowd was dispersing, we followed Wu Juchi and Chen. They went to a restaurant at Qianmenwai so we waited outside. After a while, Wu Juchi came out. Li Zhenying and Feng Yunxiu followed him outside to the South Xinhua Road. And all of a sudden, there was a funeral procession passing by, playing horns, gongs and drums. This was a perfect distraction and Feng Yunxiu rode his bicycle towards him and shot Wu Juchi in the head twice. He was instantly dead. Then they ran away. The policemen came immediately. The whole city was searching for the killer. Meanwhile I was still waiting for Chen with Liu Yongkang. Li Zhenying sent someone to inform us of the search and tell us to abort the mission. So we left and Chen was not killed. This assassination caused a great sensation and none of us got caught.
Soon, we were planning another mission - to assassinate a newly appointed officer in the general office of construction, Yu Dachun. Liu Yongkang and I were assigned to execute the mission. Our investigator gave us his exact location at Fengsheng Hutong and the time he will be arriving. We were both on the bicycles, Liu Yongkang was in front and I was behind. Liu approached him first and shot him from behind. I was following and was supposed to make sure he's dead. But he wasn't - when I approached him he was laying down bleeding out, but still mumbling something. So I shot him. And I killed him.
Immediately after this assassination, the military police launched a large-scale search. Liu Yongkang was arrested. As he had the list of members on him, our underground organization was almost fully exposed. All members were arrested, including our leader, Li Zhenying.
When the Japanese military police came to my door to arrest me, my family had no idea I was part of the resistance. I hadn't told them. After the trial in the Japanese court, I received my sentence - life in prison.
Then I was sent to a prison specially set up to hold anti-Japanese and resistance people, under the supervision of Japanese Army but administered by Chinese. It's called the First Prison for Asylum of Entrusted Prisoners. As the prison wasn't well armed like Japan's, to prevent us from running away, each of us had chains on our feet. We had to walk and sleep with those chains on, they never came off.
In the beginning of my sentence the food wasn't bad. But around January 1942, after the Pearl Harbor Incident, Japan started war with US. They needed more food for soldiers. So at that time, outside of the prison, rice was for Japanese, while Chinese could only have wheat flour. In the prison, we didn't have wheat flour but ate steamed corn bread. Afterwards, we even ran out of corn flour and started to eat sorghum flour, bran and potatoes. Many prisoners died of malnutrition or hunger. I was luckier. As my family lived in Beiping so they could send food to me in the prison.
Since I was sentenced for life, there was nothing for me to be afraid of... The Japanese translator came to talk with us on behalf of Japan and told me we shouldn't argue with the prison guards and fight against Japan. I told the translator, "You are wrong. You invaded our country, sent forces to China and transported resources back to your own country. You are invaders." We didn't reach any conclusion in the end. I remember, here was a Chinese guard beside us that said to me: "Are you crazy? If he came back and told others, you might be shot by them." I answered, "I'm not afraid of him. I'm not afraid of death now." However, nothing happened after that.
The most difficult period in the prison was when I got ill. I was sick for 35 days. I got typhoid and had a severe fever. I recovered naturally after 35 days, but almost died. It was tough in prison. Food was getting worse,
Finally, on 15th of August 1945, Japan surrendered unconditionally. After I knew China won the war I was so happy that I jumped up. We broke the chains on our feet, dashed outwards but were stopped by the guns of Japanese soldiers. So we came back and waited inside the prison. While we were waiting, we were treated better. People outside were sending food to us. We didn't have to eat bran or potatoes any more. We got better food, like steamed corn or millet bread. People from some patriotic organizations also sent some dishes to us. Some traitors also sent something in order to please us.
On September 3, I was released. On 10th of October, the surrender ceremony in North China was held in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony of the Forbidden City. Commander Sun Lianzhong accepted the surrender of Nemoto Hiroshi, the Japanese commander in North China. I attended the ceremony and was sitting behind Sun Lianzhong.
After being released, at first, I worked in the Beiping Guard for one year. Then I came back to Fuzhou, my ancestral home, and worked in the tax bureau for another year. After that, the finance ministry transferred me to the financial management bureau in Wuhan. When the communists occupied Wuhan, I didn't leave my position but was re-employed by the communists. All of us in the financial management bureau were transferred to a financial management department in the People's Bank for Middle and South China.
When the communists started to suppress "anti-revolutionary", I was arrested to receive reformation through labor in March 1951. After completing the sentence imposed by the communists, which lasted 11 years, I could visit my families in Beijing every year but was not allowed to return back.
In 1975, after the special amnesty, I came back to Beijing. Because when I was in the Japanese prison and when I was receiving this reformation through labor, I was manufacturing clothes, I got a position in a clothing factory in Beijing too. I retired at 62.
Now I'm staying at home enjoying my life. There's nothing much for me to do. I love watching TV, chatting with friends on WeChat and playing on my computer. I use iPad when there's Wifi and I use it to communicate with my friends and relatives. I even got in touch with my former classmates.
Looking back at the days when I was in the underground organization, I feel I have fulfilled the responsibilities as a Chinese. We should be patriotic but in different ways. I wasn't able to go to the battlefield so I took part in those underground activities.