• Stuart Hodes,
    New York cityMORE...

    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.

  • Michele Montagano,
    Campobasso, ItalyMORE...

    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.

  • Luigi Bertolini,
    Udine, ItalyMORE...

    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.

  • Anatoly Uvarov,
    Saint-Petersburg, RussiaMORE...

    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.

  • Dmytro Verholjak,
    Markova, UkraineMORE...

    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 ,
    Vienna, AustriaMORE...

    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 ,
    Bra, ItalyMORE...

    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.

  • Jaroslaw Wietlicki,
    Sroda Wlkp, PolandMORE...

    My name is Jaroslaw Ferdinand Wietlicki, and I was born on October 8, 1925, in Wejherowo. When I was a toddler, the whole family moved to Brwinow, which is near Warsaw, where my father worked as a teacher at the local agricultural school. Later on, I studied at the primary school there, and also took part in the Polish Scout organization.

    In 1939, I got enrolled in a grammar school in Pruszkow, which is also near Warsaw. While I was getting ready for my exams to enter the grammar school, I heard some alarming news about the war, which started on September 1, 1939. I was too young to understand the real meaning of this word. Of course, I heard our teachers and other people talking a lot about the coming war, but I couldn't really imagine it. It was only later, on the night of 12-13 September, that I finally understood what it was all about, when I saw a real battle between the Polish and the German troops.

    I saw the Polish troops retreating. It wasn't a panic flight at all. They had to retreat, because the German army was far too strong for them to resist. After one of the German air raids I saw holes in the ground five meters in diameter! I was really proud of the bravery of our soldiers. Once I saw a Polish officer who was wounded in his leg. He couldn't walk anymore, but in spite of this he kept shooting at the approaching enemy, and he even managed to kill two Germans. Then he crawled into a hiding place in some basement, but the Germans found him there and shot him dead, which wasn't a very common thing in the beginning of the war. In any other situation like this the Germans preferred to take prisoners. But not that time.

    Back in May of 1939, the citizens of Brwinow bought a machine-gun cart, one of those things often used by Makhno's army. They gave it away to the Polish army, and it was standing on the market square. In the beginning of September, right before the German attack, I heard one of the officers say to the local people, "It was a good job that you bought that machine-gun cart! Now it is going to protect you!" And they did make a good use of it in order to defend our town against the enemy.

    The Germans took Brwinow on September 13, 1939. They surrounded the house we used to live in, and told everybody to come out. Fortunately, my aunt was staying with us at that time. She was a teacher of German language, so she could explain to them that the house was not a military unit, but an agricultural school. I think this saved our lives, because they were definitely about to shoot us. Besides, they noticed our school flag that featured a peasant with a plough. They understood that it was a school indeed and allowed us to return to the building.

    120 Polish soldiers were killed on that memorable night of September 12-13. The Polish Red Cross gathered the bodies and buried them at the local cemetery. As for that wounded officer I have told you about, the one who was shot in the basement where he was hiding, we buried him near that very building, together with those two Germans he had killed before his death. In the evening of September 13, I walked the same way as the retreating Polish troops and found 4 short rifles with full ammunition belts. Being a Polish scout, I understood that those were Polish weapons and that they must be hidden somewhere. I didn't think much of the consequences. The only thing I knew was that I had to hide them. Be that as it may! So I found a good hiding place in the attic of an abandoned building, although it turned out later that the Germans arranged their headquarters in that building. However, they never searched the attic, so the rifles were safe there.

    I knew that those rifles would come in handy one day. It wasn't very difficult to get them, as the Germans often left the building with only one or two guards. However, I believed that the time wasn't right yet. In fact, two years later those guns gave me a wonderful opportunity first to join ZWZ (The Union of Armed Struggle), and then Armia Krajowa.

    I was a Polish scout then. During the war we were known as Gray Ranks (Szare Szeregi). However, I was willing to join the real armed forces. That is why I told noone of my scout friends about the rifles I had found. The father of one of my friends was a lieutenant colonel in the Polish army, and he knew about my aspiration. So he advised me to go straight to the Union of Armed Struggle, and then to Armia Krajowa. He also gave me a good reference, without which I couldn't have gotten there.

    In 1940, I started attending a clandestine school in order to finish my secondary education. Some courageous teachers continued their work regardless of the new rule that prohibited teaching in Polish. The same applied to my father, who used to teach wine-making in the local agricultural school before the war. As he was now deprived of his job, he decided to use his knowledge in a somewhat different way and to earn his living by making home-distilled spirits. I remember taking those huge bottles of homemade alcohol to Warsaw, where we sold them to a couple of restaurants. We didn't earn a lot, but at least it was something. To finish up with this story, I'll tell you that in 1943 father fell badly ill, so my mother and I had to continue his business until the end of the war.

    It's needless to say that life was pretty hard during the war. We were constantly short of money. From time to time my father received some grain from his school, and mother used it to make brown bread. It was a great moment when once a week we weighed this bread and divided it between the members of our family. There were five kids, and since I was the eldest, I was in charge of dividing it among my siblings. Besides that, we used to grow pumpkins on a patch of land near the school, so we could cook a lean soup with this pumpkin. It was delicious, especially when our mother added some milk in it. In fact, we ate so much pumpkin, that I couldn't bear the sight of it for several years after the war. But during the war, we were happy to have any food whatsoever.

    My mother managed to keep some hens that gave us eggs. She also tried to keep a pig, but it proved to be impossible to find enough food for it. Besides the pumpkin, we also managed to grow some vegetables, you know, carrots, parsley... But it was very scanty indeed.

    Heating was yet another great problem. We had furnaces, but there was no coal, because it was all taken away by the Germans. So I either stole some coal from them or went with my dad to a nearby field to cut some willow. But this wood was very bad for heating, of course.

    In 1942, I finally joined the Union of Armed Struggle and did a course in communication. During the following two years, together with my mates, I had to watch the movement of the German troops and transmit this information further, so that the Polish command could know the exact location of the German units. I became really well-versed in their symbols and codes. I believe this job also developed my observation skills.

    The training course was far from easy. For example, one of the assignments was to disassemble a pistol and then to assemble it again. It wasn't difficult in daylight, but we had to do it in pitch darkness. And we did it! The training we received was really good. It couldn't be otherwise though. After all, we were supposed to work for a secret military organization.

    After a year of training I became a member of the communications service. Because of my dark skin, they nicknamed me a "negro." There were other nicknames as well, but that one was the most popular.

    My major responsibility in the communications service was to transmit information. For example, some important information was written on a sheet of paper, encoded of course, and it had to be transmitted. There was an agreement that I would leave this note somewhere near a tree or a bench, and when I was doing it, another AK member was already watching me from a hiding place. He couldn't approach me straight away, of course. Only when I was far away, he would come up to this bench and take the note. The information was very well encoded, so nobody but a trained person was able to read it. This is how we worked.

    In autumn of 1942, we found out that the German troops were marching towards Podkowa Lesna. So I was sent there, together with another mate, to transmit this information. It was autumn, and I remember wearing a raincoat. Anyway, we came there and left everything with a Jewish family. Unfortunately we spent a bit more time there than we had to, because when we left the house, we found ourselves surrounded by the Germans. I got scared because I had a notebook with some codes in my pocket. What a fool I was to take it with me! The Germans frisked us, but apparently they were looking specifically for weapons. Luckily, we didn't have any. I, for one, never carried any arms at all. So, having found nothing, they let us go. We found out later that they didn't hurt the Jewish family either. The master of the house was quite well-off, so they just enjoyed his hospitality a bit and most probably took a handsome bribe.

    I remained with the local AK unit until the first half of 1944. On August 1, the Warsaw Uprising began, and I found myself in Warsaw on that day. The thing was that most of my relatives, including my grandfather, lived there. In fact, one month before the uprising we were told to shuttle all the weapons from Brwinow to Podkowa Lesna. So we understood that something was about to happen, but none of us knew what exactly that would be. We all hoped for some massive breakthrough though.

    As we found out later, the plans of Armia Krajowa were the following. After the beginning of the uprising, they were planning to announce a massive draft, and all the AK units were supposed to pull in towards Warsaw. However, it turned out that the eastern units were not able to join the fight, because they had all their arms taken by the approaching Soviet Army. The same thing happened to the southern AK units. As for our unit, we didn't rush to Warsaw, although it wasn't that far away from where we were located. The truth was that our commander, lieutenant colonel Zigmund Marszewski refused to send us, young boys with almost no weapons, to a place where we would certainly be killed.

    So we remained in Podkowa Lesna, watching the well-equipped Polish troops march towards Warsaw. We met them, and I gave them some grenades, which I had found in the beginning of the war, hoping that they would make better use of them.

    Later I found out that a Pole, who was working for Hilfspolizei, or the so-called Blue Police, reported to the Germans that a Polish military unit was staying in Podkowa Lesna. Surrounded by the Germans, the Polish soldiers hid in a barn, and when the enemies entered the barn, they threw those grenades that I had given to them. However, the Germans had already closed the door, so the explosion took place inside the barn. All the people rushed outside from the back door, trying to save their lives in a nearby grove. The Germans opened machine-gun fire, and got everybody killed. They say that one wounded soldier managed to escape, but this information was not confirmed. Either way, the high command of Armia Krajowa found out about the incident and made sure that the Polish polizei who had betrayed our soldiers was put on trial for treason and executed.

    After the Warsaw Uprising, the Germans signed an agreement, according to which AK members were considered to be soldiers, so they were not to be taken to concentration camps, but rather be treated as prisoners of war. Moreover, they promised to establish hospitals for the wounded. One of such hospitals was organized in the same school building in Brwinow where I used to live. So I worked in that hospital as an assistant, transporting the wounded soldiers from other hospitals to Brwinow. Once I was carrying a stretcher with a soldier who was wounded in his lungs. I slipped on something, and the soldier fell to the ground. We put him back quickly on the stretcher and rushed to hospital. I was very afraid that he might develop internal bleeding because of this fall, but luckily everything turned out to be fine. I was very happy about that, because if he had died because my stupid action I don't know how I would have lived with that burden.

    There was another unpleasant situation connected with that hospital. I used to have a girlfriend Barbara. Once we were strolling near the hospital where we both worked. Suddenly we heard some Germans shouting something to us. We didn't know what they wanted from us, so we got scared and took to our heels. We ran into some abandoned building, and it appeared that we had no other choice, but to jump from a window. Barbara was afraid to jump, but I persuaded her to do it. And she did. But that was an unlucky jump for her, since she ended up with an open fracture of two bones of her leg. To make it worse, I suddenly realized that the German soldiers had already given up on the idea of looking for us and were going in a different direction. I carried Barbara to the hospital. Unfortunately, the break didn't heal well, and she remained handicapped for the rest of her life. I still feel guilty for ruining her life. She managed to get married after the war, but her husband wasn't a very good guy. Her life was very difficult. I will never stop blaming myself for persuading her to jump out that window.

    I continued working in that hospital from the second half of 1944 until the very end of the war. We tried to cheer up the wounded by arranging some parties, reciting poems, celebrating Christmas, of course.

    In January 1945, the high command of Armia Krajowa officially declared the suspension of its activity, and everybody was allowed to serve our country in any way they wanted to make it a free, independent and democratic state. However, for me the war was not over yet, as in March 1945 I was arrested by NKVD. Surprisingly enough, I can't remember how much time I spent in captivity. The only thing I remember were those two guys, Sasha and Misha, who "took care" of me. Once, I asked Misha if he had a mother. "Sure," he answered. Then I asked him again, "Imagine you were arrested like me now, and your mom knew that you didn't do any harm, that you were totally innocent. What would she think about those people who kept you in prison? Huh? Now listen what my mom would think of you!" He got furious and started shouting at me. Nevertheless, I think that conversation saved my life. Since that time they treated me a bit differently, and finally released.

    When I was still in the NKVD prison, they asked me if I wanted to join the pro-Communist Polish Army. Naturally I couldn't say anything else but yes. I also added that I could work as a driver, because I had a driving license. When I was released, I went straight to General Florian Siwicki who was responsible for recruitment. I told him that I was too young and I had exams to take in August in order to get my secondary education certificate. I pleaded with him to let me go and finish my education. He wasn't sure what to do with me. Eventually, when I came the next morning, he gave me an official note that allowed me to go home.

    In August 1945, I passed my exams and received the so-called "minor" certificate of secondary education. I only asked them to release me from Latin. We didn't have a course in Latin at that clandestine Polish school. So now my certificate of secondary education has a note saying specifically that I didn't sit an exam in Latin.

    After the war I found a job as a teacher at a vocational college in Radzymin, but in 1955 I was fired. The first reason was that one my students smeared a portrait of Stalin with ink. Besides, some students asked me if they could go to church for confession. I told them that in our country it was not prohibited to go to church, so anybody could attend a church service if they wanted to. And on the very next Sunday the whole class appeared in church. Finally, it was revealed that I had served in Armia Krajowa. So they blamed me for perverting the youth and exerting bad influence on them, and I lost my job.

    I moved to the Poznan province and found a job at a technical school. Everything was good until the Polish Communist agents found me there. They approached the headmaster and told him that I had a bad reference as a teacher.

    This crazy hunt continued until 1970. During all this time I was constantly interrogated by various agents who would always find pretexts to pick at me. Only in 1970 one of them told me that Armia Krajowa was already becoming history. He also added that I had been very smart to avoid all sorts of bold statements, so nobody could find a good reason to accuse me of anything.

    Finally, I must tell you that I was really lucky to survive that long war since its very beginning in September 1939 until its very end. Thank God for that! Yes, I had some small wounds and injuries, but it doesn't count. Now every time I come to church, I always talk to God and thank Him for sparing my life.

  • Lidya Dolzhnikova,
    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.

  • Hans Brandt,
    Chemnitz, GermanyMORE...

    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.

  • Jack J. Diamond,
    Miami, FloridaMORE...

    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.

  • Imants Zeltins,
    Bauska, LatviaMORE...

    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,
    Helsinki, FinlandMORE...

    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.

  • Alexei Svyatogorov,
    Kharkiv, UkraineMORE...

    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,
    Almaty, KazakhstanMORE...

    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.

  • Tadakazu Usami,
    Narita, JapanMORE...

    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.

  • Ken Smith,
    Portsmouth, EnglandMORE...

    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.

  • Konstantinos Korkas,
    Athens, GreeceMORE...

    My name is Korkas Konstantinos. I was born in a village in Greece called Poullitsa, which is close to Vrachati, on January 7, 1921. I am now 93 years old. I attended high school at Kiato, also in my homeland of Greece.

    Our childhood years were difficult, because we had to walk one hour and fifteen minutes every day to get to our school in Kiato, and the same distance to get back home. After school, we would have lunch and then work in the fields. Our families used to produce olive oil and wine. After dusk we would then return home and do our homework for the next day, usually up until midnight. By the time we went to bed, we were already exhausted. It was a hard way of life at our village that made us strong. So, later on, the military was a piece of cake for us. But this is how we withstood the hardships of the war and its extreme circumstances, because war was an adventure to us.

    I joined the Hellenic Army Academy on October 2, 1940. War was declared on October 28, when the Italian Army invaded Greece from Albania. We were still students. But we were very happy. For we had no idea about the war, only that we were throwing our hats in the air shouting "WAR! WAR!" We were yearning to go to war, because we were young back then. Yes, we wanted to fight, but we did not know much about the war or fighting battles at all.

    Then, when the Germans attacked us on April 5, 1941, we had asked to go to Thermopylae, to fight where the ancient Greek leader Leonidas had fought the Persians centuries before with his noble Spartan army of 300. But the military leadership did not allow us to do so.
    On May 20, 1941, the Germans landed at Crete, and this was the first time we fought with the German paratroopers. We did not join the battle because we had to, but because we wanted to. Our military leaders had prohibited our involvement. But we joined the battle in spite of their orders, on our own. We had to commandeer buses and trucks, but we got to the island and fought.

    It was a difficult battle. Some of our classmates lost their lives. In truth, war cannot be described or comprehended. It is hard, weird, cruel. You have to keep on fighting the whole day without food, water or rest, while your mates are getting killed or wounded. Even I cannot properly describe it despite the 10 years of war I experienced.

    We tried to climb the White Mountains aiming to leave for Egypt, but we did not make it, because there were not many ships available. As a result, we got captured by the Germans at Sfakia at the end of May. And we were held for two and a half months at a concentration camp close to Chania. There were thousands of prisoners there, of various nationalities. The Germans treated us very well, however, and they kept us at a separate place from the other prisoners because we were students of the Military Academy. Then, in the middle of August, we were transferred to Piraeus, and the Germans had set us free.

    From there, I walked all the way home. One had to obtain a permission from the occupying Italian forces to travel to his village, because travel and movement within the country were restricted. But I was not granted the permission I needed, and I didn't have the money to pay for the transportation. So, as a result, I walked for twenty-four hours to arrive at my home.

    In December of 1941 I joined a technical college to become a civil engineer, but during that time there was a strike at the college. By that time, Greece had been taken over by the German Army. We had lost our freedom, and food was scarce. As a result, I decided to leave for the Middle East. So I got on a ship bound for Turkey. And from Turkey I made it to Cyprus and then to Haifa. All the countries that had been taken over by the Germans were organizing their armies at Haifa. There were Polish, French, Ukrainian and Greek army soldiers there. So, I joined the Greek Army.

    Later, the British Army began to hold seminars and organize training programs. And we were trained by them in such things as using British weaponry, strategy and army management. In the end, two Greek brigades were formed, with four or five thousand soldiers each.

    The leaders of the brigades were in constant conflict with each other, and this resulted in the punishment and restriction of a group of soldiers. This was due to a great extend to their hypothetical political affiliations. A number of volunteers from a group of soldiers formed the special unit called the Sacred Company, or "Ieros Lochos," on September 6, 1942. We were, in a way, simply volunteering to die, since paratroopers have to face grave dangers daily.
    Soon, all of us participated in the Battle of El Alamein in Egypt, where Montgomery and Rommel were the leaders of opposing forces. The battle lasted for 11 days, from October 22 to November 2. Then the Germans started to lose ground. Many battles followed El Alamein, in Tobruk, Benghazi, on the island of Sicily, and in Tunisia.

    We won the battle In Tunisia, but we were almost captured. The British, French and Greek soldiers participated in the battle,and it lasted for three day,s from March 10 to March 13, 1943. At the end of the battle we were waiting for the replenishments of food, water and fuel. But our supply truck drivers were captured through a mistake of their own. We had to endure two or three days without food or water. Then the Germans surrendered, but were subsequently set free.

    After this battle, we joined the Second Brigade of New Zealand. Together, we proceeded to liberate many major cities until the end of the war. We returned to Cairo, then went on to Egypt and Palestine, and arrived at Dodecanese. More than a thousand new soldiers joined our ranks on the way there, and we progressed to set the islands free one by one. On October 31, 1943, we landed on Samos a little bit after midnight. We were two hundred and two paratroopers. The rest arrived by ship.
    The weather was stormy and windy. The pilot made a mistake and released us over some rocks instead of a field. As I was falling, I could not see the ground and I wounded my head, my hip and my shoulders. I lost consciousness. When I regained it, I went on to search for my men. All of them, however, were lost. By midday, I had found none. Fortunately, I found them much later on.

    Then we left from Samos and got to Cairo through Turkey, because the Germans once again took over the islands we had liberated. Thus we kept on fighting. Personally, I was trained by the British in Haifa to the methods of the secret war, and subsequently I was transferred to Naxos on April 12, 1944, where I stayed until the end of the war.

    When the German Army surrendered at Symi, their leader left his weapon on the table. Then the British brigadier gave it to the leader of the Sacred Company, saying that this trophy belonged to the Sacred Company, the liberators of the islands.
    After that I was transferred to Kalymnos, to collect the hostages. They surrendered without resistance, and I collected their weapons. During the process almost 350 Germans marched before me, singing that Germany is above all. After a week, they were moved to the concentration camps in Africa.

    At Kalymnos, there was a reception party in our honour. During a toast, our brigadier said to the German general that he was sorry for all the pain and destruction Germany had to suffer. Then the German general replied that they should not be worried about Germany, because they would make it better than before.

    The mayor of the city called us to the town's cemetery, and he gave a speech to the dead. He called them to wake up and rise, because after all those years of occupation, we were all now free. I remember all of us there, crying like small children.
    In the end, the Sacred Company was dissolved on September 15, 1945, and we created the New Army, since during the occupation there was no Greek Army. I became a four-star general and retired as a leader of the Greek Army.

    I met my wife in the United Stated, while I was studying for the army. I knew her family from Naxos, and we met again in Washington, DC. After the end of the war, she returned to Greece to take care of her family's property. The next year, in 1955, we got married. We have a daughter who is an archaeologist. And we also have a grandson.

  • Munshi Ram,
    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.

  • Sid Kenrick,
    Warwick, EnglandMORE...

    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.

  • Marko Vruhnec,
    Ljubljana, SloveniaMORE...

    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.

  • Richard Overton,
    Austin, TexasMORE...

    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,
    Chania, GreeceMORE...

    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,
    Takayama, JapanMORE...

    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.

  • Endre Mordenyi,
    Szekesfehervar, HungaryMORE...

    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.

  • Max Boimal,
    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.

  • Nicola Struzzi,
    Rome, ItalyMORE...

    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.

  • Uli John,
    Freudenstadt, GermanyMORE...

    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.

  • Agostino Floretti,
    Udine, ItalyMORE...

    My name is Floretti Agostino. I was born on August 21, 1920. I joined the army on February 15, 1940. I was sent to Cividale del Fiouli, which is a small city 20km outside of Udine, to the east. That was where I put on the uniform for the first time, as a soldier.

    On February 25, I was sent to Albania. I left from Bari by ship and disembarked in Durres, we were sent to Puke, which is a small mountain village. We began weapons training, mountain training to become familiar with the terrain. On October 28, 1940, we went to war with Greece.

    We arrested a Greek soldier at the border, he was the only survivor of a group. I was charged with escorting the POW. Eight of us at his back with rifles. I got the feeling he was trying to escape, so I threw a grenade at his shoulder. It still had the pin in it, I was trying to scare him, but the terrain was rocky and the pin got knocked out and it went off. I don't want to tell everything, because it's quite harsh, an ugly image I still remember. We no longer had a prisoner.

    A few days after that incident, it started snowing. When we reached a river, it wasn't possible to cross it, so we had to build a bridge. Before that, there were some fights, but nothing substantial until we reached the mountains and the Greeks returned with stronger attacks, and encircled us. We had to withdraw then. On the way back to Albania, we suffered. We were angry and thirsty, freezing. Fortunately there were relatively few deaths on our end. After we crossed back over the border, we received food and shelter and our situation improved. We started to dig trenches, but the Greek counterattack was very strong so we had to withdraw again and again. We quickly became dispirited. January 8, 1941, I was wounded in the leg by a mortar shell. It went through my leg, just missing any bone or major blood vessels.

    When I heard more shooting, I moved in the opposite direction, trying to escape. I found an hole where there were two soldiers relaying data to direct fire on the Greeks. They told me the route to reach a Red Cross truck nearby. I was lucky when I reached the road because a truck was passing right at that moment and I was picked up. But just before we reached the field hospital, two English planes bombed the area and shot at the tent. Two Italian doctors died, as well as four people in the tent. We left the area immediately and drove two more hours to a bigger hospital. After fourteen days in the hospital, a German transport plane arrived with reinforcements and loaded up the wounded and flew us back to Italy. I was put up in another hospital, in the south, and it was nice to sleep in a real bed with sheets. And food - they gave me a sandwich with Mortadella, which was really fantastic. After thirty-five days, I was sent home for two weeks leave, to recuperate. And after that, I returned to my battalion and we were sent to Yugoslavia.

    We reformed the Julia Division, to commit to Russia. But after Greece, the division had been nearly destroyed. We had to started over.

    I was sent to Tricesimo where we were being reorganized. I became a driver for the Cividale Battalion. In August 1942, we loaded trucks and equipment onto trains, and when everything was ready, we departed for Izium, Ukraine. From there we traveled to the Don River. I was in charge of driving the truck which was loaded with the hospital supplies for another battalion, the Gemona Battalion. I was lucky there, because I didn't have to march - this journey was about 280km, so those marching took ten days to reach the destination.

    We reached Saprina, where there was a command center, and unloaded the hospital supplies. We were immediately attacked by two Russian fighter planes, but a German Messerschmitt plane counterattacked and destroyed them.

    I was stationed in a small area, 10km from the river. I was surprised to see how the other alpine soldiers created their refuges. To escape from the winter cold, they'd dig big holes in the ground and sleep there. It was more comfortable that way.

    In the following months, until the real beginning of the Russian winter, it was okay. We mostly spent time digging the holes we stayed in. The bunkers. We had the principal bunker where we ate, slept, cooked and washed. And there were windows so we could see the river. Machine guns set up in case the Russians came. Had everything continued as it was, without confrontations, we were sure we could survive there for five years, easily. We were confident there.

    On December 4, 1942, we got the order to move west, because the Russians had broken through the defensive line and destroyed three allied divisions. They were strong. They had over a thousand tanks, and half as many heavy artillery guns. They had waited for the rivers to freeze over so that they could cross with tanks.

    The Julia Division was tasked with repairing the front line, to stop any advances. But the tanks were already 300km within the German-Italian controlled area. We were mountain troops, and the Germans had moved us to the river. We were unprepared, untrained for that terrain. We had no tanks, just trucks and riflemen. Our equipment was leftover from the First World War. They were unstoppable. Our artillery just bounced off. We could sometimes disable their capability to move, but never their capability to shoot. The division was almost immediately destroyed once the fighting started.
    Eventually we received the order to withdraw, but we had to march because we had no real transport. The German troops were motorized, and they withdrew first, leaving us to act as a buffer, protecting them.

    From the day they ordered us to leave the bunkers until the end of the withdraw, we walked 870km. We only slept in the open air, despite the freezing temperatures. We were only able to eat what we could find around us. Everyone was thinking, "I hope god will send me a bullet, because I can't stand this anymore." Those who could not walk anymore, we laid them on the field, and when the Russian tanks arrived, they were crushed. These were terrible days. Soldiers were going crazy. People died continuously. The road back was littered with frozen bodies. I never talk about the events I lived, because it's still strange to me that it happened, it's something incredible.

    When I heard the war was ending, it was on the radio. I was in the local police at the time, for the last two years of the war, that's what I did. The street was full of people happy about the end of the war.
    In 1945, the Germans left Italy. It's a miracle I am still alive.

  • 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!

  • Valentina Kulinich,
    Irpin, Ukraine MORE...

    My name is Valentina Gavrylivna Kylinych, and my maiden name is Smolyar. I was born in what it is now Cherkassy region, in a village called Vilshana. My family were peasants, though not very typical ones. The thing is that my father, when he was only a kid, was sent to a big city, Dnipropetrovsk, to a Jewish tailor so that he could teach him his trade. As for my mother, she was a peasant. Before collectivization we had had two hectares of land, a cow, and a couple of pigs. That wasn't a lot, but it was our own, which is most important, as my parents had five kids to feed.

    I was born in 1920, and I was the eldest child in the family. Then, two years later my sister was born. A little bit later in 1925, our brother Ivan was born. Then there was another boy, Mykola. Much later, when my mother was already thirty-nine, as they say, in the evening of the youth, she gave birth yet to another child - Volodymyr. He was the most handsome of all the brothers. Unfortunately, he passed. So, our youngest brother is no longer with us, but my two other brothers and the sister are still alive.

    Before the war my parents had to join the collective farm (kolkhoz), like all other peasants. They had no choice. It was difficult to earn one's living while in kolkhoz, but we had our own cow that gave milk and helped to feed the kids.

    However, in 1932 this cow could not help us any more, as it was the year when Holodomor began. I was twelve then. Some people say that it was a man-made famine, and some say it wasn't. I know for sure that it was Holodomor, meaning that it was planned by the regime. If it hadn't been for my father, nobody from our family would have survived. I remember very well how it all happened. It was the time for reaping, and I used to help my mother in the field to cut the crops and make sheaves. Hardly had we finished this job and left the sheaves to get dry that we were all sent to build some dirt-road, around 10 kilometers long, allegedly because of the threat of the war. They took all the horses and the bulls from the village, and all the adults were obliged to put all the other work aside, take their spades and build this road. In the meanwhile autumn rains began, and by the time the people were allowed to return to the fields and take away the crops, the grain that was lying on top had already started to sprout. Everything that remained dry was taken away straight to the regional centre in Vilshany.

    It was always like this then. Most of all the crops a kolkhoz managed to reap were to be given away to the state. They took the harvest to the regional centre from where it was to be distributed, but none of us knew how. We were allowed to keep and store in our local granary only those crops that had begun to sprout. I remember the head of our kolkhoz violated this rule and secretly hid some good dry grain in the local granary. Somebody reported him and one day all three of them, the head, his deputy and the granary manager, were taken away and were never to be seen again. Since that day they were known as public enemies.

    My younger sister and I used to roam the fields and gather occasional ears of wheat that were left after all the crops had been removed. However, it was forbidden, and there were special officers who patrolled the fields on horseback and drove away all the people like us.
    Looking at this alarming situation, my father understood that we should better go somewhere else where it would be possible to feed the children, before it was too late. And so we did. One day we boarded up all the windows and the doors of our house and left the village. As for our belongings, we only took the sewing machine - as my dad was a tailor - and some clothes - no more than a couple of shirts for each of us. My father had definitely heard something about the coming famine, as we went as far as to the Volga. Somewhere in Kuybyshev region (now - Samara, Russia). We stayed in different houses, where my father sewed clothes in exchange for food and shelter.

    This is how we survived through that winter of famine. In spring we decided to come back to our home in Ukraine. My father didn't want to return so fast, but my mother insisted saying that we shouldn't lose the precious time for planting vegetables in our garden. And so we went, although, in fact, we shouldn't have. We ourselves were in bad shape, but when we came to our village we saw some terrible things indeed. Half of the village had starved to death. Anyway, I don't think it is time to speak about it now. It is enough to say that it was difficult to survive, and besides, it seems we had a sort of bad luck. First we lost our cow, and then my father had been cheated out of money trying to get a better house, but in the end we lost both our house and the money. In a word, everything was going downhill.

    In 1937 my sister was already studying in a vocational school, but I decided to finish secondary school and enter the so-called workers' courses (rabfak) that gave the possibility to get enrolled in the university without admission examinations. I was really eager to study and after finishing rabfak I successfully entered a teachers' institute.

    It was the year of 1938. I began going out with a young man, Petro Kulinich. He was a soldier who was doing extended military service and planning to go in for further military career. He proposed to me, and I agreed. It was the best choice for me, since my parents were still staying in some other people's house, and they had younger children to take care of. Three months after our wedding my husband received an invitation to a military school. It was his dream to become an officer. Though he was from a poor peasant family, he was made for this career, as he was an extremely organized and self-disciplined man, my husband. But on the other hand, I was already three months pregnant... So, what were we to do? I supported my husband, and he accepted the invitation. It was a good choice, and some time later he even received an apartment. My parents came to live with us, together with my little brothers: Ivan, Mykola and newly-born Volodya, who was only six months older than my first-born daughter, the one who already died. We lived together with my parents until the beginning of the war. In March 1941 my husband finished the military school and became an officer. At that time I was staying in Western Ukraine, working there as a Ukrainian teacher. It was a common thing then - to be sent somewhere far away from your home place. Being a member of Komsomol (Young Communist League) I couldn't refuse. In March 1941 Petro finished his studies and brought me back home. We had to give up our apartment, as he received a posting in Kuybyshev. So we all went with him.

    In Kuybyshev I got a job in one of the military units. The thing is that many of the officers did not have secondary education, which was an obligatory condition for an officer. So, they organized schools where they could catch up on their education. I for one taught them Russian. I worked there from March to May 1941. And in May the whole unit went to a summer training camp some place in Orenburg region.

    Two weeks before the beginning of the war, our commander-in-chief announced to us that instead of the summer camp training, the unit was supposed to go to the western border of the country to take part in some training maneuvers. We all came back to Kuybyshev, and on the very next day the war broke out, and the unit did go to the western border. And this time they were going to a real war instead of a shooting range.

    Some time later there was a threat that the Germans might take Moscow, so the whole government moved to Kuybyshev. A lot of Ukrainian plants and factories had already been evacuated deep into the country, beyond the Urals, while the Moscow-based ball bearing plant was transferred to our military camp in Kuybyshev. The officers' families that still remained in the city were given a choice either to go to Central Asia or to stay here in Kuybyshev but with accommodation reduced to only one room per family. As we were a big family: me, my daughter, my parents, three brothers and a sister, it was hard to imagine how we could squeeze into one room. So we decided to move to Central Asia. As for me, since the beginning of the war I had already been doing a training course to become a nurse. After all, my husband was at the front, and many other school teachers had already re-trained as nurses. Why couldn't I do the same? So I received a diploma of a nurse, which gave me the right to work in hospitals and at the front. It happened so that on the way to Central Asia, my daughter fell ill, and she died on the very first night when we came to our final destination. After that I decided to go to war as a volunteer.

    First I worked as a nurse in a hospital. Then there was a massive retreat from Kharkiv towards the east, all the way up to the Volga, and my hospital was evacuated deep into the country. I didn't want to return back to where I started so I asked for a posting in a fighting unit. As all our fighting units retreated massively up to the Don river, there was a huge confusion and before too long it became almost impossible to figure out which army was where. I remember the horrible mess at that crossing over the Don, with German air raids from above and a huge congestion of our trucks, tanks and other machines on the bank of the river. I came up to some tank that belonged to the 6th Guards tank brigade, which was moving from Belgorod to Stalingrad. They took me across the Don, and I stayed with them, as a combat medic, in the 2nd separate tank battalion.

    When our military unit finally left Stalingrad, there was in fact only one tank left, and even that one had been badly damaged. You should understand that, as privates, we never knew the full picture of what was happening around. It was only after the war that I met one commander who told me that out of every hundred people in his unit who went to Stalingrad, only three people would remain unharmed, and another five would end up in hospital. It means that only eight people out of hundred survived that great battle.

    Having crossed the Volga in early November, our military unit was transferred from the 62nd army to the newly-formed 28th army that was to go to Kalmykiya, and from there to Rostov and further to Ukraine. It was there, in Kalmykiya, near Elista, that I was wounded. I spent a month in hospital in Astrakhan and then I was sent back to the front. As many other soldiers after some time in hospital, I had to join a reserve battalion, instead of returning to my former unit. A "buyer", as we called them, from a reserve battalion would come to a hospital and recruit necessary people.

    So I found myself in a front-line military hospital for cranio-cerebral injuries. We received the wounded straight from the battlefield. There I stayed until the end of the war. When the war was over, all the hospitals returned to their former locations, but I, as an educated person, was to remain in the headquarters of the 28th army, to work with papers. That was in Bautsen district in Germany.

    As for my husband, I received a "killed in battle" notice as early as in September 1941. But in fact, he wasn't dead. He was taken prisoner but managed to escape. During the whole war he fought in two partisan regiments: the 28th and the 15th, and was awarded the orders of Red Banner and Red Star, as well as the medal of Partisan. He was wounded twice, and after the second injury he was able to come to Ukraine, which had already been liberated by that time. So he came to Poltava region which was his homeland. As it was a liberated territory, people were allowed to return to their places from evacuation, though not all at once. One had to receive an invitation first. It happened so that by some mistake they issued an invitation to his sister (his mother and two sisters had been evacuated as well) instead of me. So his sister met Petro and told him everything she knew about me. They offered him to stay in Ukraine, but he refused and went back to the fighting unit to the front. He was killed in the very end of the war, on April 29, 1945.

    After the war I got demobilized and returned to my home in Ukraine. As I didn't have a husband any more, I decided to take my parents to live with me. Moreover, I was their eldest child and I had a degree with the prospect of a good job. So I got back to teaching at school and besides I was actively engaged in Party work. Soon I married my second husband. Five years younger than me, he was also a veteran. It's recently been twenty years since he died. Together we built a house in Mironivka and lived there with my parents. So, step by step, life returned to its usual routine. As for my brothers and sisters, the eldest brother Ivan had been drafted in 1943 and was sent to the Far East. Volodymyr, the youngest, got enrolled into a law school. My sister also got married and was working. My parents were staying with me all the time, first in Mironivka, and then here, in Irpin, where they died.

    In 1946 my second child was born - a daughter. She was a still a student in Kyiv when she got married and gave birth to a child. In order to help her somehow, we sold the house in Mironivka and bought this one in Irpin. I have been living in Irpin for forty years already. I got a degree from the local Academy, which is now the National State Tax Service University of Ukraine. Funnily enough, I am considered to be veteran of the University, although it used to be a mere college when I first came to Irpin and started to work here, teaching social science. In Mironovka I used to work as the head teacher at school, but parallel to that I was studying part-time to get a degree in social science. Besides teaching, I was also actively engaged in social life. In Irpin I organized the Club of veterans of war and labor. It is called "Pam'yat", meaning "memory". We have a good choir of veterans where we sing a whole range of war-time songs, Ukrainian folk songs and classical music.

    I believe it is important to enjoy life as it is. To move forward against all odds, to follow this stream of life, if you understand what I mean. Love for life and for other people - this is what has always given me a lot of energy.

  • Arturs Vidners,
    Liepaja, LatviaMORE...

    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.

  • Alfred Martin,
    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.

  • Pyotr Koshkin,
    Odintsovo, RussiaMORE...

    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.

  • Robert Quint,
    Paris, FranceMORE...

    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.

  • Alexei Georgiev,
    Moscow, RussiaMORE...

    I am Alexei Vasilyevich, my last name was Priemyshev, which I inherited from my dad. But he went missing in 1937, and my family changed our last name to Georgiev. We didn't actually know what happened with my father, one day he just disappeared and no one could ever tell us anything. It's a long story, my mom, and later myself, spent years trying to find a trace of him... But we found nothing. I never believed that my father could leave us like that, and the circumstances of his disappearance were very mysterious.

    I grew up in Kirilov, where all my ancestors came from, it's in the Leningrad Region. After dad disappeared, my family was forced to relocate to Kirov, where my mom got a job in the garage. When the war broke out, the Germans were advancing very quickly, and we were evacuated along with the others to the east. My family ended up in a village called Khalturino, and my mom got a job at the local school as a cleaner. I was studying in that same school. Life was poor, to say the least; we barely had anything to wear and we were very happy when we had something substantial to eat. Nevertheless the locals were understanding and we felt welcomed. And when I look back on all those years, I still think that I had a happy childhood.

    As the front line was moving eastward with the Nazis advancing, we had to move again. This time we got evacuated to a city called Gorky, it's called Nizhny Novgorod now. My mom found a job in the hospital. I think she took up some courses to become a nurse and began working in that hospital. I finished the eighth grade and started my technical education when I was 14 years old. The war meanwhile changed its course, and we were kicking Germans' ass.

    In 1944, the hospital where my mom was working was ordered to be transformed into a field hospital and to be moved all the way to the Carpathian mountains, to the front lines. So we were called to move as well. The trip took a whole month. On the way there I saw total destruction - cities and villages turned into rubble, burned-out railway stations, true horror. By the time we got to Western Ukraine I turned 17, which was the draft age. We arrived on December 5, 1944, and on that day the hospital warden offered to enlist me as a hospital aide. He said to me, "Just stay with your mother. And after the victory is ours, I'll give you a good recommendation and send you to a medical school." But I said, "No, I want to go and fight." That was it, I went to the nearest recruiting station with my papers - it was in a town called Kolomiya - and enlisted in the Red Army. They gave me a gun right there, dammit! So there I was... A soldier. I already went through my Army training and knew the basics, back then it was part of the school program. So I was ready to go. My mom didn't argue with me, she understood that I was capable of making my own decisions.

    I started my service right there, in the Western Ukraine. The situation was complex - we didn't really know who our enemy was. First of all, most Ukrainians didn't want us to be there and didn't recognize us as their liberators. Our mission was called "Giving a brotherly hand," meaning that we were freeing them from the Germans. In the meantime, we were just grabbing a part of their land, to be completely honest. So a lot Ukrainians were fighting against us, they had partisans hiding all over the place, and the local people didn't exactly welcome us with open arms. And, of course, there were the Germans too, mostly the ones who didn't manage to escape.

    It was nasty. Sometimes we would surround a small village, if we had information that Ukrainian insurgents were hiding there, and just shoot everything out. I was just following orders. But I never thought that I was doing anything wrong, never thought about dying myself. I never shot a person in front of me, only shot from far away. If I killed someone - that I will never know. We arrested a lot of the people from the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and sent them to the concentration camps in Siberia. Of course, back then we called them "correction camps."

    I didn't really feel hate either towards the Ukrainians or the Germans, but war was war. I feel like the people who were fighting there didn't care for their life as much. It came to that point.

    We heard over the radio that Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945. I can't even explain how ecstatic and happy everyone felt, it was a real euphoria. We were shooting rounds after rounds into the sky. Well, Germany had surrendered, but the war didn't actually end. The fights with the Ukrainian partisans continued all the way into 1950s. And the war with the Japanese was still going on, and a month or two after celebrating the victory over Germany I found myself with my comrades on a train to Vladivostok, going to fight Japan.

    The train ride was not luxurious to say the least, each car had about 50 people in it and just bunk beds. No sheets or anything. Couldn't sleep on those beds. It was a very, very long journey through the entire Soviet Union. Even though, of course, we saw great deal of destruction along the way, but also a lot of beautiful nature. I specifically remember Lake Baikal - it was if someone had put a perfect piece of mirror onto the land, it was so still and gorgeous.

    Once we arrived at Vladivostok, we boarded some boat and shipped to an undisclosed location. The trip took 20 days and I found out what sea sickness is in full. We went through some horrible storms, and I was more scared for my life on that ship than at any time during combat. Ironically, that boat then brought us back to Vladivostok, because Japan had surrendered while we were at sea.

    After arriving back to Vladivostok I thought I was going to be demobilized, as the war was over, and I didn't think there was anything else for me to do in the Army. But no - I was sent to work at a POW camp in Kamchatka. Almost all of the prisoners in my camp were Japanese. The Japanese were nothing like we were told and what we saw from those propaganda caricatures and posters, you know where they would draw Japanese soldiers like some sort of short idiots with tiny eyes and crooked teeth. No, these guys were disciplined, tough and well trained. Even as prisoners they maintained their order and showed their pride. Mostly everyone got along - they worked all day long and tried to study Russian. They would surround me, holding their notepads and pencils, all smiling, and ask pointing to a table or a chair, "What is that or what is this," and I'd tell them what's what. They all would nod and write it down. Funny people.

    I served as a guard in Kamchatka for 5 years - 2 years over my term. Many of us back then over-served in the military for 2-3 years, some more. And none of us complained, I didn't hear a single person say a word to the higher-ups that they want to be demobbed. We all understood that we are there for a reason, and that we will stay as long as our country needs us to stay.

    I got back home in 1951. My mom didn't recognize me when she first saw me - I left a boy and returned a man. Shortly after returning home, I continued my education - I wanted to become a geologist at first. I knew that education was the key to life, and I spent 7 years studying. The last two years were at the Moscow State University. Then I went into teaching, and would go on numerous expeditions all around the Soviet Union. I got married, had a kid. After 25 years of hard work I retired.

    I took part in two Victory Parades. One of them was attended by Bill Clinton, by the way! He was up there standing, looking at us marching through the Red Square. That was in 1995. Yes, I have things to reminisce about: I've traveled through the length and breadth of USSR, been to all 16 republics and drank vodka in each of them! I've always written poetry, it just comes to my mind, and sometimes I write it down. But I never considered myself a poet, it's too much of a title for me. I had a long and exciting life and now I often sit here in this room, browse through my photo albums and proudly look back at all those years.

  • Alistair Cormack,
    Aberdeen, ScotlandMORE...

    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.

  • Anna Potapova,
    Kharkiv, UkraineMORE...

    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.

  • Bogdan Osolnik,
    Ljubljana, SloveniaMORE...

    My name is Bogdan Osolnik. I was born on May 13, 1920. My parents were refugees and they had tried to escape Italy. After I finished school, I started studying law in 1941. When Slovenia was divided into quadrants, mostly between Germany and Italy, I decided to leave my studies. They wanted to force everyone to become members of a fascist party. From there, I decided to participate in the war as a partisan.

    We weren't only occupied, the idea was to erase the statehood of Slovenia and rebuild it under the ideology of Hitler and Mussolini. It was just a battle for freedom, it was a battle for life and death. I joined the militia when Italy and Germany were in top military condition, while partisans had no weapons at all. We had to somehow take their weapons and use them against them. Within three years, we organized into divisions. We grew into a structure.

    I wasn't on the battlefield much. I was more involved with organizing the rebellion. I handled food and communications and healthcare. We organized secret hospitals for the injured. I want to point that this wasn't just to combat the enemy, this was also the process of forming a new nation, one that hadn't existed before.

    Yugoslavia was attacked on April 14, 1941. I was a soldier in the south, in Kosovo. I liked to walk on the railway at night, alone. I knew the area. One morning and officer came and approached a girlfriend. They told her I shouldn't visit her anymore. They had trained a rifle on me. The girl told them I was at home. But there weren't many tall men around, so they knew it was me. I thought no one had seen me. Luckily, my height saved my life. They'd been watching for an Italian advance. At first it was easy to fight together, but when the enemy found collaborators, the battle grew more complex, because those people knew secrets.

    I was put in Croatian prison, then I was moved to an Italian prison. I came home in the first week of July, 1941 and I returned to my studies. In the first days of October, I got my degree in law. Then I became the leader of the partisan forces. By July, 1942, I was with the partisans full time until the end of the war. I moved around the country helping to establish a system of government. Prior to the capitulation of Italy, I was leading the administration of the partisan government.

    I was sent to Maribor, to mobilize people there. I took over a radio station that had been set up by the Germans. I gave the news that the war was over and everyone was free. I stood on the balcony of the city hall and watched them have their evening celebration. The following day, which was my birthday, I took a train from Ljubljana to Novo Mesto to visit my parents. This was the day the war and my youth both ended. My brother soon returned from being with the partisans. He had joined them when he was fourteen.

    Everything was in ruins after the war. We had to rebuild. There were no bridges, no roads. The partisans had instituted a scorched earth policy, to prevent or slow an occupation. An entire system had to be established. Our internal image was no very bright. There were border disputes with Italy and Austria. But despite the poverty and lack of development, there was an overwhelming sense of solidarity among us. Nobody was dying of hunger - there was always a solution.

    I began working in education and culture, as an assistant to the minister. I did the same in Belgrade, Serbia, where I worked in the field of science. The Cold War was beginning at this time and there was much tension in the world. When the situation escalated, I became the leader of the Yugoslavian National Radio. We worked in several languages. Our mission was to legitimize Yugoslavia in the eyes of the world, in Europe. To discourage Russia from an invasion. I also worked for international organizations, such as UNESCO. I co-founded Yugoslavian National Television. This was when satellite television began to appear. This had been a topic at UNESCO. I was part of the MacBride Commission that produced the "Many Voices, One World" report.

    Nowadays the world is much different and people have many more choices. There's been progress in what medicine and technology can offer us. Unfortunately, everything's not like that - we still have wars. We are still entrenched in a system that doesn't work. What I see, what I hope is that the world will go on the path of humanity and respect and dignity.

  • Charin Singh,
    Nangal, IndiaMORE...

    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.

  • Chenping Ching,
    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.

  • Claire Keen Thiryn,
    Fordingbridge, EnglandMORE...

    My name is Claire Keen. I was born in Belgium on July 26, 1924. My parents belonged to a middle class family. My father was a Belgium officer during WWI and my mother was a refugee in Britain. I had a sister and a brother who were born during the First World War. In 1940, we were occupied by the German Army. But just prior to feeling the difficulty of the German invasion in November 1940, my grandmother died leaving us a huge sum of money. The money provided us the freedom to do the work we needed to do at that time. My brother followed my father in the army and he became a prisoner of war, but he came back in November 1940. During the war, there was no organization for providing food to the people of Brussels because the Belgium government fled to the United Kingdom. My father was asked to organize an emergency rationing system for the people of Brussels.
    Therefore when my brother came back from the prison, he was engaged in working with my father. He was forming an organization for rationing, which allowed him to have a pass to go anywhere in Belgium. We had a British friend of ours who had married in Belgium. He started to get in touch with Britain through the SOE in order to inform them on the various things they needed to be informed about. My brother was asked by the British government to liaise with the various British groups to form a resistance group. It is because of my brother that I had a vague idea of the Belgium resistance.

    To begin with, the Belgium resistance was fragmented between various small organizations. It was not until 1942 that the Belgian resistance became well organized. Before that, it was useless because of very little coordination among the groups. My brother played a strong role in organization the Belgium resistance. In the process of organization we were in touch with everybody, which means that whenever anybody needed to hide, we had to protect him in our house. Prior to that in 1940, we provided shelter to my father's Jewish friend Mr. Magnus and his family. During the time they were able to go to France, it was still in the French free zone, but I believe they went to America. However, I am not completely sure what happened to them. Magnus had been an officer in the Belgium army.

    In the beginning, the Belgians were far too quiet in forming the resistance groups because the German army behaved impeccably. So, for someone who was a normal person without having a strong religious or political status, life went on quite normally in Belgium. The British didn't really like it. And there was no doubt about it: we had to create a situation where the population of Belgium should go against the Germans. This is typically called a resistance! We were secretly asked to create events as they didn't want to disturb the Germans. It was necessary to create disturbances and the best way to do it was by killing German soldiers. That was the easiest thing!
    Therefore it became important for the security of the resistance to start employing professional killers. But the professional killers wanted to get paid in return. They wanted to get paid only in gold. My brother was in charge of receiving gold from Britain. Now those who collected the gold had the tendency to keep some of the gold for themselves because there was no control in the resistance group. There was no way of stopping anybody to do anything, and it all became dependent upon the honesty of people. This meant that we were not able to pay the killers their price and they were threatening to go back. There was always this kind of uncertainty in our work.
    On November 11, 1941, my brother was arrested by the Gestapo. The Gestapo came into our house at six o'clock in the morning and took my brother. The Germans thought we had guns in the house, but we had none. At that time, most of the work we were doing was providing information to Britain. Thus he was put in jail for two months. As a result of which, he met more people from different resistance groups and that helped him in his job.
    From 1941 onwards, when the Germans invaded Russia, we also worked with the communist groups who were working for the Red Orchestra. They were not collaborating with us because they had been better organized. It was a very funny thing working with the communists. For instance, we found a woman who had lived by the railway line and it was important for us to know the number of trains coming and going through the station. All this woman had to do was take a record of the trains on this railway line, but she was afraid of working for us. Of course, this was the most important information not only for Britain but for Russians. My brother was mostly involved in all of the activities of resistance groups, and we only did what he asked us to do.

    I finished grammar school in 1942, and I started my training as a nurse. It was one year training for auxiliary nursing. It could allow me to have a job that would keep me in Belgium. So I went into nursing. But most of the time I used to steal bandages so that I could give them to the resistance. I also learnt to give muscular injections, and I used this knowledge in giving caffeine injections to men who were going in front of the Germans. The Germans used to see if they were fit to go to Germany. These are the kinds of silly little things that we did, and it was making resistance very boring. It wasn't as exciting as it is portrayed in a film.

    In 1943, the resistance became much more black and white in terms of the British, as they were ready to take over the government and liberate us. We had an idea that whatever information we could give became relevant to what was going to happen for D-Day. The Russians were becoming victorious in the field. It became easier to send messages, although the Gestapo became more efficient. But the population sensed that there was going to be victory on the part of the British. The Americans became more active too, which made a difference. The Germans were being beaten everywhere including Russia and North Africa.

    We had a little Jewish girl and we hid her for about four to five months. She eventually made it in Delaware, and I was very pleased with that. Another problem for the resistance was the fact that it was in Belgium. And the forces had to fly over to go bombing, which meant that a lot of planes were being shot down in the north of Belgium. We believed that it would be possible to establish an escape line from Brussels to Spain, which indeed was possible. But there was a cost of many people getting caught. We also had two English and one American pilot in our house for about six months from August 1943 to January 1944.

    We had to get rid of them as they were endangering us, especially one of them. It was difficult to keep three young men in a house, in an occupied region. The only problem was that in every situation, you always have some people who try to take financial benefit out of the situation. In my situation, there was a Canadian named De Zitter, who gained knowledge about the resistance and provided this information to the Gestapo for financial benefit. De Zitter also offered to take these pilots to Britain, and so he came to our house.

    After the war, this man went to work for the Americans. He made a fortune, as he was a very clever man. My brother was also arrested because of De Zitter in May 1944. I found out about De Zitter after the war was over, when I was in the American Army working for G-2. I found out that the Americans were also looking for him. I think you have a De Zitter in every country!

    Thus the resistance was kind of very secret work. I had a best friend of mine who I met regularly every day. I found after 20 years, after the war, that he was actually working for the same group of the resistance as I was. It was this secret! You work in a vacuum and you had all the dangers of working in a vacuum, but you also had the security of working in the vacuum.

    When the war ended, we were liberated. I was 21 and it was fun. However, the question of freedom was no longer relevant as we had lost what we have fought for! My brother had died after being in the prison in 1944. We realized that quite a lot of the resistance was political. The work we did with the Russians and the communists wasn't anymore such good work because of the Cold War. Our approach to the communists, who we loved, became somewhat a dirty action. After I came to Britain, I went to an art school in Brussels. I was free to do what I wanted at that time. So I went to France and stopped at a youth hostel and met my husband that way. I started training as an art teacher and came to Britain. My husband left me with a child. I needed to earn a living, so I was offered a two-year training course as a teacher. When I accepted the offer, I was forced to take English as a subject. So I became an English teacher.

    I started my training in 1954 and became a teacher in 1956. I have taught English ever since. I taught in Brighton, Bristol and eventually I retired. I also did some tutoring after retirement. And I was asked to teach in a Madrasah, where I taught English to Muslim students, and I loved them. I have four grandsons and I see them often. One is in Brussels, the other one in London and two of them are here in Fording Bridge. Accidently, my eldest grandson's wife was offered a job in Brussels. She is very qualified, so they moved to Brussels. I keep myself occupied, as it is very important. I am a spinner and I spin wool, as well as do crochet. I also belong to the University of the Third Age where I give seminars on the EEC. I am a firm believer in an United Europe!

  • Coleman Magrish,
    Cincinnati, OhioMORE...

    My name is Coleman Magrish, and I was born May 19th, 1925 in Cincinatti, Ohio. I grew up without a father, but still managed to have a pretty normal childhood. I took an interest in Electronics, and later went to school to prepare for a career as an electrician.

    There was heavy sentiment that we would soon be engaging in war, but I thought less of it. I felt we proved we were too strong of an Army for other countries to test us. It turns out I was wrong, as the Japanese soon bombed Pearl Harbor. I still thought they were going to apologize for their mistake, but things didn't go that way. The war soon commenced.

    I was still in college, but I felt duty called. I was prideful in my country and wanted to avenge that horrific attack. On July 17th, 1943, I enlisted into the Army.

    After enlistment, basic training began in Ohio. I don't quite remember the name of the base, but it was an unforgettable experience within it. During camp, I was properly conditioned and mastered our artillery. Our superiors also trained us how to operate tanks, which I did particularly well. At the time, our regiment had M4 Sherman Tanks. Each tank carried five men: the tank commander, the driver, the assistant driver, a gunner, and a loader. Our tanks were good, but they weren't quite as well put together as the Russians'.

    I soon graduated and became a member of the 14th Armored Division of the US Army. From the name alone, you could tell we'd be heavily involved in combat. The infantry was transferred to the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York, then flew out to France. We flew across the great Atlantic Ocean, landing in Marseille, France on October 29th, 1944. The primary thing I remember upon landing was the decent weather for late Fall.

    The 14th Armored was assigned to the US 6th Army Group on November 1st, and the Seventh Army on November 10th. We were under the command of General Albert C. Smith. General Smith ordered us to the docks to unload our supplies and tanks from Navy Ships. The tanks had accumulated a little wear in the trip overseas, so they had to be tested, cleaned and loaded with ammo. This process didn't take long. The tanks were soon ready to go, and we manned them for a trip up the Rhone River Valley in France. We were propelled right into the war, in pursuit of the Germans.

    There were fierce battles going on in the Gertwiller, Benfeld, and Barr areas of France. The Allied Forces were getting the better of the Germans in France, so they retreated towards their home country. They crossed the border before we could catch them, but we continued in our chase. By December 17th, we had crossed the Lauter River, and were in Germany.

    In the early morning hours of December 31st, 1944, the Germans broke out with a huge counter-offensive, Operation Nordwind. The Germans mounted a strong attack on the 62nd Infantry and the Task Force Hudelson. They had advanced ten miles on us. The Task Force did a tremendous job of holding the Germans until they were able to get reinforcements. Once the 45th Division blocked any further advancement by the Germans, so they attempted to breakthrough elsewhere. The Germans came into Hatten and Rittershoffen and unleashed a huge offensive right.

    We engaged them in combat from January 1st, to January 8th. There was such chaos that I didn't know who was winning or losing during the operation. As a tank Operator, all I knew was to attack when I saw Germans. For over a week, there would be moments of searching for them interspersed with tremendous gunfights. We controlled the Western part of the villages, whereas the Germans had buildings in the Eastern portion.

    They seemed to be getting the better of us, and resupply was increasingly difficult day by day. Our perimeter was shrinking, but we safely withdrew from the villages and joined the rest of the Army. We had killed many Germans, but there were many dead on our side, and many lost resources. We put up a valiant defensive against an overwhelming number of German soldiers. Even German col. Hans Van Luck gave us credit in his book.

    We rehabilitated from the battle for a couple months, then by March we got back on the offensive.
    By this time, Germany was purely on the defensive, desperately retreating towards Central part of the country. We stormed through the Siegfred line, and fought through five towns before liberating three Stalags: Oflag XIII-B, Stalag XIII-C, and Stalag VII-A. We also discovered and freed forced laborers and prisoners of concentration camps. It felt good to know all the violence was ultimately for the cause of freeing people from Germany's oppression.

    Ultimately, we reached a town called Landshut, where Germany finally gave up. When we advanced on them they literally had their hands up in surrender. We showed mercy on them. I get the sense that the country was split on Hitler.

    I came into contact with civilians, and they frequently said "(Hitler) is no good" and other Anti-Nazi rhetoric, but at the same time I saw hundreds of pro-Nazi signs strewn throughout Germany. I never saw any revolts from citizens, through they apparently were against what was going on. I felt that many Germans were living a lie, in denial about the presence of Nazis in their country. Maybe the civilians who said they were anti-Hitler were just scared of us and saying whatever they thought we wanted to hear.

    That wasn't always the case though. I remember a time we were dealing with German POWs who were tasked to pick up trash and other duties. There was a specific soldier who got upset at us about wanting to eat more. He was causing trouble and refusing to work. Somewhere in the midst of the argument one of my partners told him "go to hell!" He arrogantly said "will do." We told him "if you don't work, you don't eat." Ultimately, he relented. He had no other choice.

    In Landshut, the infantry moved into civilian houses in until we got further instructions from command. I can recall we were also stationed in Czechoslovakia for a bit, milling about the town. It was pretty boring, and we were soon transferred back to Germany.

    August 15th, 1945 started out as a quiet day. There I was, in the house with my other soldiers when we heard a giant "hooray!" bellowing out from another camp. We instantly realized the war was over. Soon, another infantry came and took the Germans prisoners we had, transferring them to another prison.

    I thought the carnage of the war was over once we got to Camp Lucky Strike in Cherbourg, but it wasn't quite done. One day, I was walking along a coastal road near the camp with Sgt. Walter Arp. Walker. Some new Army recruits were canvassing the area. The war was over, but we were still shipping in replacement soldiers for our camps in France. While I was talking to Walter, we heard a deafening boom, which was the unmistakable sound of a landmine.

    A soldier then came out of the woods, wounded. He told us two of his partners were badly injured. Luckily an Army bus passed by and I hopped on to get some medical help, as well as mine detectors to safely traverse the area where the wounded soldiers were. By the time I got back, I saw one of the soldiers on the ground being attended to, and Walter standing there with a blood soaked jacket. I asked him what happened, and he matter of factly told me he carried the soldier on his back through a minefield. I was incredibly impressed.

    Walter was 38, had just been through the war of a lifetime, and had a newborn baby to come home to. He still risked it all to climb a barbed wire fence and cross a minefield while carrying a wounded soldier on his back. Unfortunately, the third soldier was fatally injured, but without Walter's help, the gentleman he saved could have been as well.

    Soon after that, we finally go the order that we were being shipped back home. I happily boarded a train through France, before flying back home.

    When I got home, I applied for a job as an electrician at the WLWT TV station. I had been reading a book on television throughout my time in the War, and I felt I had gained an expertise. The station agreed and hired me!

    Although I had a job, I didn't completely retire from the service like some of my comrades. The country needed Army Reservists, so I joined the Air National Guard and applied my electrical expertise to the service. I traveled to Korea, servicing Chinese and Russian planes, then later there was a scare in Germany that we attended to. There was talk that the Russians were going to invade Germany, so we went to protect Germany. The irony!

    These days, my fellow comrades have been dying out, which is too bad. I've been holding on pretty well though.

  • David West,
    Williamsburg, MA, USA MORE...

    I'm David E West. I was born and brought up in Haydenville, Massachusetts. In 1943, at the age of 18, I was drafted into the service and became a member of the 66th Infantry Division and was assigned to the 870th field artillery battalion, Headquarters Battery. The 66th division was activated in Atlantic, Florida on April 15th, 1943.

    From Florida we went to Kent Robinson, Arkansas where we did our maneuvers. After 8 months in Arkansas we were sent to what is now Fort Rucker, Alabama. It was then called Camp Rucker. There, they prepared us to go overseas. After 8 months in Alabama we were called. After being down South for nearly 2 years, in November 1944 they put us on a boat and sent us to Europe. We spent 13 days in an English luxury liner that was converted to a troop carrier. We landed in South Hampton, England 18 days later.

    We boarded a train and were sent to Down House camp which was somewhere in England. On Christmas Eve, we were preparing Christmas diner and got the call that they needed us in Europe. The Battle of The Bulge was going on that time and they needed us there. We gave the dinner to the English people in the area and boarded our boats.

    Some of the infantry was put on the Leopoldville, a Belgian liner converted into a troop carrier. I was on a Landing Ship Tank. The Leopoldville was right beside us. About 5 miles out of Cherbourg, France, the Leopoldville was torpedoed by a German submarine. An SOS distress signal came through that they'd make it to shore but that never happened. The boat was sunk and we lost several hundred men. 800 men went down with the boat on Christmas Eve, and Christmas was not a very happy time at that particular stage. We landed in Cherbourg on Christmas morning, not knowing where we were going or what we were doing.

    They sent us to an airport where we camped. My friend Jake Derrick and I found a bomb-hole and we set up camp in there. We were there for a couple of weeks. It wasn't too bad. It was winter, but we had enough equipment to keep us comfortable. From there we received orders to go to Saint-Nazaire and Lorient pockets on the South-West coast of France. There were up to 80,000 Germans in those two pockets, and there were submarine pins in both of the towns.
    We relieved the 94th division. There were only 7000-8000 soldiers left out of my division, so we moved in there. The 94th moved up to The Battle of The Bulge. We settled in and set up our artillery. I was the 105 outfit, and the Headquarters Battery was communication primarily. I was in the wire gang and was a switch board operator.

    We stayed there for 133 days and nights. The Germans fired on us constantly. The day before V-Day, the Germans surrendered. We went in and marched them out of the pockets. How many there were I can't tell you, but there were many. They had plenty of ammunition, they could have fired on us for another 133 days but they where out of food and had no way to get it into their base. The men were starving, and that's why they quit.

    After a few days cleaning up we were sent to Baumholder, Germany to process Russians that were going back to their homeland by the hill. They called it the Fort Sill of Germany. They emptied out the Red Angel hotel so we'd have a place to live and it was quite interesting. You didn't understand Russian and you didn't understand Germans and you just had to go by motion. The Burgomaster could speak English so we were able to communicate pretty well with the Germans. We'd get these people together and they'd be inspected, and you'd put them on a truck and take them to the railheads and send them back to Russia. The Russians were starving. While we were stationed there the Russians would sneak around Baumholder and take chicken or food from any source just to stay alive.

    The Germans, they were trying to clean up their land. We would take 4 or 5 Germans and march them out to the field to clean up the debris from the war there. It was a mess. Baumholder was an appropriate name for that town because it was loaded, bomb holes everywhere. It really was a nice little town.

    The people there accepted us for what we were trying to do. We were helping them and we helped the Russians go back home. The Germans didn't care about the Russians being there and I don't know if they cared about us being there, but we were doing a service for everybody there.

    We were in Baumholder for a month or so then we were transferred to Arles, France to process our own troops that were going to the Pacific. We thought our chances of making it home were pretty slim, but we had great hopes that this was the end of this war, the warring business in the world. Enough was enough. We had our orders to go at a certain time and my hero Harold Truman had the orders to drop the atomic bomb. That was 3 days before we were to go to the orient, so that meant if you had enough time served you'd be on your way home.

    Everybody says they should have never bombed the Japs but the Japs didn't have any problem with Pearl Harbor, and the Germans were running all over everybody so I don't think the atomic bomb was a bad thing. I know it wasn't a nice thing but when it comes to war there aren't any nice things. If they'd just sat down and talk things out, and work things out we'd be a whole lot better off.

    I was in a chorus that was formed in the field artillery back in basic training in Florida, and after the war was over they called us together and sent us on a tour to entertain troops. We spent time in the Riviera. I played on the same stage in Nice with Bob Hope and Jerry Colonna and Francis Lanford and all the old timers. Maurice Chevalier came out of hiding and joined the entertainers, and we performed at hospitals in the field. One program we had 50,000 people in the National Amphitheater in Southern France.

    We went to La Havre, France and we were to entertain there, but I was beginning to feel the effects. I went to the captain and 'I said I cant take it anymore, I'm not sleeping, I'm not eating, I need some help' and they put me in the hospital and that was the beginning of my trip home. I was in hospitals throughout France, then I was sent on a train to Cherbourg to board the Francis White Slanger ship, named after the first American nurse killed in the war, in Europe.

    Seven days later we were in New York and I was entered into Mason General Hospital. I was given a free call home so I called Tucson, Arizona and they didn't know where my folks were. I didn't know where I'd be sent, and being in the army you go where they tell you to go. After a week I was sent on a hospital train and that was going to San Francisco. On the way I asked the Red Cross girl to see if she could locate my folks and she did! By the time we got to Salt Lake City, I got news my folks were in Preston, Arizona and still doing OK. We went to San Francisco, then I went to Menlo Park into Dibble General hospital, where I stayed until December.

    In December I got my discharge and some back pay and some travel pay to Massachusetts, which wasn't much in those days. I met a friend who had a taxi and he took me out to the main highway and I thumbed my way down to Glendale where I had some friends. I had a friend who grew up in Haydenville, his folks had moved to Glendale and while I was visiting there for a little bit my friends sister came in with her husband and I told them my plight. They said they'd drive me to Preston and I was one thankful vet. I really felt that this was a godsend. We drove day and night, it was probably 500 miles and I got home. My kid brother was in the service too, I don't know where he was stationed but it wasn't long before he came home to Preston as well.

    I've kept in touch with a good many of my fellow soldiers. Every September we'd have a reunion as long as we could, we always would do something. There aren't many of us left. Two of my Sergeants put together a newsletter. They put out the newsletter on a regular basis, probably 3 times a year and kept track of all the guys that were in our battery, but they've since passed away. I haven't been in touch with hardly any of them since. I do have contact with one person down in Pennsylvania, Sgt. Wendell Roberts.

    My best buddy, the one I went all the way through with, Jake Derrick signed up in the reserves after the war. They put him in the Air Force and he made good connections there and became a staff sergeant. They sent him to Korea in the Air Force. He married a French girl before they left France during the war. They moved to California. I got word from his sister - Jake went to work one day and came out after work, got in his wagon and keeled over. Dead of a brain tumor at 44 years old. I kept in touch with his family.

    It's kind of heartbreaking but many of these guys are in their 90s. Down to one person that I knew. With transfers and such there were probably 200-300 in my outfit. Where they are I have no idea.

  • Dominic Mangialardi,
    Westchester, New YorkMORE...

    My name is Dominic Mangialardi. I was born in Bronx, NY, on September 3, 1924.

    In the summer, we took frequent walking trips to the zoo, which was a couple miles from our house. In those days it was a pleasure to walk around the streets. You had no problems with other people. I had two brothers. My father was a barber. He came from Italy as a young boy. He opened a barber shop and did very well.

    I was with some friends in a diner in my neighborhood when we heard on the radio that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. I guess I was about fifteen. It didn't quite register. I'd never heard of Pearl Harbor. I met my wife at that time. She was a drum majorette. I was playing the drums in the band. I used to know her brothers. They were neighborhood people. So we all knew each other. In fact, we used to march in all of the parades together. I got my draft card when I turned eighteen. I volunteered for the navy because I didn't want to go to the army. I heard stories that they would spend weeks and months in the woods eating out of canteens and all that stuff. Going to the bathroom in the woods. I said, this is not for me. I heard that in the navy you had cold and hot running water. Cold and hot food, a bed to sleep on. I often tell my family, as young people, we really didn't think about what was going on. We thought more about what our parents were fearing. That we weren't home with them.

    I reported for duty on March 26, 1943. I met with a few fellas from the neighborhood and we took the train down to Penn Station. At the recruiting office, they assigned us to a group. They put us on another train and we went up to Pennsylvania, up New York state, almost to the Canadian border. I think it was Geneva, New York. Sampson Boot Camp. After our long ride, they took us for breakfast. What was our breakfast? Beans. Navy beans. Who ever heard of having beans for breakfast? They made us shower and they gave us clothes. We had to go through a line and the guy would just look at you and he knew your size. That was the first day. That was Sampson, New York.

    We'd get up at 0500 and we'd run around the track. Maybe a mile or whatever it was. Then we'd have breakfast. Then we went to a documentary orientation. I spent three months there. I remember a few guys there, but I didn't keep in touch. I lost contact with everybody after the war.

    We were all assigned different places. I was assigned to the Philadelphia Naval Hospital. I worked there for a few months. After that, we went to Lido Beach for a few days before disembarking. I used to come home at night, because it was right by the Long Island railroad. The night we learned we were going to leave the next day, I went home and didn't tell my mother. I left my keys on the refrigerator.
    We sailed out on the Queen Mary without an escort, because she was supposed to be the fastest ship on the water. There were thousands of men on the ship. Army guys and navy guys. It was mostly army, because they were preparing for the invasion of Europe. We ended up in Scotland. We stayed for a couple of weeks. I was assigned to a construction battalion. I was with them for a while. We visited Glasgow and Edinburgh. I have a picture of me in a kilt. We visited London and some other places in England. I never worked with British soldiers, but I did meet them when we went into town. Officers read your mail so you couldn't give any information away. As D-Day neared, we were given orders to return to the United States.

    I came back to Boston, where stayed a week or two until we got reassigned. We all got leave to come home. As we were on the train coming home from Boston, I was with five or six guys from my area and we were comparing our leave papers. My papers said thirty days leave. Another guy's papers said a little longer than that. So I said "I'll come back with you." We all met at the same time, the same day. Sure enough when I went back to Boston, they grabbed me at the door because I was over leave by one day. They said, "Look, you come back when your papers say to come back. And not when your friend's papers say to come back." I was restricted to the place for a while.

    They reassigned me with another group of guys to pick up a new landing ship outside of Chicago. While we were there, most of the guys had gunnery practice in the Great Lakes, shooting targets in the sky. Naturally, me being a medical man, we weren't allowed to carry a firearm.

    We had to go down the Mississippi river with the ship partially built. From Chicago to New Orleans. There, they assembled the rest of it. Then we went to Mobile, Alabama, then out into the ocean for a shakedown cruise to check the ship out. We came back to Mobile and they loaded us up with ammunition. We sailed to Panama and they kept us in the bay because we were carrying ammunition. When they saw a clearing for us they gave us an okay and sailed us through the canal. They wanted us to go through as fast as possible. Roosevelt died during that trip.

    We had time to kill and our captain took the ship fishing on the way. We were headed for Okinawa. Guam was our first stop. We used to sit up topside in the evening, smoking cigars. Once it got dark there was no light outside of the ship. It was like a cruise. Somehow, before we got there, I got orders to return home. I never made it to Japan. In that period of time, the war ended.

    They put me on another ship back to San Diego. I was going home on leave. I said, "I'm never going back to California, the war's over." Sure enough, after thirty days, I went to the navy yard in Brooklyn and they gave me orders to go back to California. I picked up another ship there. We went up and down the coast. That's where I spent the last days of my service. Then they sent me to Lido Beach, Long Island, where I was discharged on March 6, 1946.
    When I came home, thousands of guys were out here getting jobs. There were really no jobs for guys like me because I got out late. I applied for a couple of schools. I couldn't get in. It was crowded. Everyone went for the GI bill in those days.

    I found a few jobs temporarily. I did side jobs to make a few extra bucks. I worked as a taxi driver. I worked in the garment district in New York. I worked for another man who was making office cabinets. Finally, a friend of my brother's told me they were looking for butchers. I wasn't a butcher but I'd worked in butcher shops for a long time. I went and they hired me and sent me to their school, and that's where I ended up.

    I kept in touch with Nancy. We were going out. That was 1946. I used to go out with this gang of guys and she used to go out with this club of girls. We used to go out Saturday nights with them. We danced to jukebox music. We used to meet once a month. One guys house this month, another guy's house the next. Before you know it, each one of us was getting married. We all started having families. My oldest daughter was born in 1950. My second daughter was in 1955. My son came later. I have three kids. My oldest daughter is a Catholic school teacher. My son is a lawyer and he's in the New York State guard. I retired in 1989.

  • Dr. Roscoe Brown,
    The Bronx, New YorkMORE...

    I'm Dr. Roscoe C. Brown Jr. I'm from Washington, D.C. and I was born on March 9, 1922. I graduated from Springfield College in Massachusetts in 1943.

    Many people are not aware today that the military in this country was racially segregated. Most black troops in the past had been laborers and quartermasters. But because of the desire of many African-American youths like myself to fly airplanes, we were able to enter the Tuskegee Airman, after the NAACP and the black press pressured the president to establish a flying unit for African-Americans.

    My training occurred in Alabama, where there was a famous black university, the Tuskegee Institute. I graduated as a fighter pilot in March, 1944. I left to go overseas and join the 332 Fighter Group at Ramitelli Airfield. I flew my first mission on August 21, 1944. Because we flew B-51s with shiny red tails, we were known as the Red Tail Angels.
    We lived in tents all through the airfield, which was about 5,000 feet long, going right down to the Adriatic Sea. Many of the Italian civilians worked with us and brought us eggs and chickens and so on. And we would give them a little money to help clean up our tents.

    When missions were scheduled, you would have to get up at 05:00, go to the briefing where they told us the target and you'd take off around 08:00. Then you'd fly the mission and come back around 12:30 and go to a debriefing. Then you would rest, play a little poker. Have dinner. Go to bed. The next day you were flying again. I was there almost a year. Every day you knew you were going to have to fly. After you flew four or five missions you'd have a day off, and after you flew about ten or twelve missions you'd go to a rest camp in another part of Italy. I flew sixty-eight combat missions until the end of the war.

    Our missions were memorable, because you were sitting in a single-engine plane for five hours, flying over enemy territory, escorting the bombers. But the most dangerous missions were strafing missions, where you'd come close to the ground to shoot up airplanes or tanks on the ground. That's where we lost most of our pilots. Once, I got too low shooting at a train and hit it, and bent up half my wing. But I was able to control it and flew the 500 miles back to our base and was able to land it.

    On March 24, 1945, I was one of the first American pilots to shoot down a jet plane. I shot down an Me-262 over the heart of Berlin. Near the end of the war, we went there to bomb a tank factory on the edge of the city. We didn't know we were going to meet any enemy fighters. Then we heard them. They had jets coming out to attack the bombers. I flew down beneath the bombers, turned away from a jet so he didn't see me, then turned back and blew him up.

    We flew our last mission in April, 1945 and stayed another few months before getting transferred back to the United States.

    I resumed my academic career and earned a PhD in 1951, and became a professor at New York University. Later, I became the head of the Institute of African-American Affairs, which was one of the first black studies programs in the country. In 1977, I became the President of Bronx Community College, where I served for sixteen years. Presently, I'm Director for the Center for Urban Education Policy at the CUNY Graduate Center. I think it's important for people to realize that World War 2 was a watershed. Not only fighting fascism, but racism. We became aware of the fact that an African-American can do anything anyone else can do. And all of us knew we'd made a sacrifice. We had the G.I. Bill, we went to college, we got degrees, we started businesses. That began, in a sense, the Civil Rights Movement.

  • Dutch Holland,
    Ottawa, CanadaMORE...

    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.

  • Elena Garkusha,
    Kriviy Rih, UkraineMORE...

    I was born in Kovarivka village, which used to be in the Kolarivka district, in the Zaporizhzhya region. I went to school when I was eight years old, which was a common primary school starting age at that time. I enjoyed school and had excellent marks. My father was working in a local union of consumer organizations in Kolarivka. When Nogaysk (modern Primorsk) became a new administrative center for the district, my father took the whole family there. I was about to start my fourth year at school when the German Army attacked us.

    My dad was a driver and a car mechanic, so when the Nazis were approaching Nogaysk, he was told to take important documents elsewhere so they wouldn't fall into German hands. They loaded the cars with all the important papers and equipment. And using his position, my father managed to spare some space in the last car for us and our neighbors. We didn't have time to take anything of our belongings - no clothes, nothing.

    On the next day, early in the morning, my mother with that other woman, a neighbor, walked back to Nogaysk to get some clothes. They covered 20 kilometers on foot and took everything they could carry. On their way back they were caught by Germans on motorbikes right in the middle of some field. They scattered all the clothing and belongings about shouting, "Russo soldat?" The women got scared out of their wits, but the Germans saw that there was nothing in their bundles but children's shoes, clothes and some other household things. So they let everything lying about the ground and their chief said something which sounded like an order, and they all got on their bikes and sped off.

    When my father came with the last car to the river crossing - we needed to cross Dnieper - it turned out that they transported only military equipment and soldiers to the opposite bank and refused to spend precious time on refugees and civilian cars. And hardly had they transported our troops and the Germans appeared. My father suggested hiding our cars in a ditch. The Germans didn't notice us, so we waited until they went away before we could return to our homes.

    During all this time, my grandmother remained in our old house in Kovarivka. There was a big cellar in that house where my great grandfather used to store homemade wine. He used to have vineyards and made his own wine. So they gathered all the local children in that cellar, which seemed to be a safe place. In the morning, the Germans came to the village riding their motorbikes, and started to bang loudly on the doors shouting, "Russo soldat!" My grandmother unlocked the door and came out to meet them. With a machinegun against her back, she showed them the house. The Germans rummaged around the place but found nothing suspicious.

    Besides the children in the cellar, my grandmother also had a young Jewish girl hidden in the attic. It happened so that she hadn't manage to leave the village with the rest of her family who used to work as doctors in our village. So my grandmother had her hidden in a pile of straw in the attic. There was no firm decking in the ceiling - just wooden beams and some reed between them, the one you couldn't step on, of course. So the Germans just walked a little on those beams but never reached that corner where that Jewish girl was hiding. My grandmother was really worried about her and did her best to help her to go to some place safe.

    The Germans went from house to house looking for Russian soldiers, but found nobody. There was a whole swarm of those motorbikes. Just like bees.

    Then the Germans started to gather the local people. We had our own tractor repair station in our village. People from all over the area used to bring their tractors, sowing machines and other equipment so that we could repair them. The Germans told us to gather all the people who knew a thing or two about machines. So we gathered six people together, with four who were from our street, and they began to work at the station. Among them there was an elderly Russian man named Egor. He and another neighbor often used to come by our place for tea. Once I heard him say that it was high time to start doing something. By something he meant small diversions against the Germans. For example, to add some sand to tank engines. Soon one tank failed to reach its destination, then another, then a third one; and before too long the Germans smelled a rat. They took them - Egor, my dad, our neighbor and one more man - to prison in Berdyansk.

    It was a big two-storey building at the foot of the central hill. They started to interrogate them. You know how they did it: with shouting, beating, all sorts of things. Egor tried to protect his colleagues and took the whole blame upon himself. After all, my father and our neighbor had five kids each. They spent a long time in prison. As there was no transport to Berdyansk, my mom used to go there on foot to see them and bring something to eat. Eventually they released my father and our neighbor. As for Egor and that other man, we never knew their destiny. The only thing I know is that when our army was approaching and the Germans started to retreat, they set the prison on fire. People shouted for help behind the bars, but in vain. It's impossible to describe.

    Then there was the so-called labor service. People were sent in batches to Guryev to work at the plants. My father was sent there as well, as he was a mechanic. So he worked there for five years transporting coal. It was hard work, and when he finally returned home, he found us almost dead with starvation. There was a terrible famine during those years, with no harvest in the fields. People literally had to crawl in the grass in search for something to eat. So when my dad returned home, he borrowed a bicycle and rode all the way to the coast, which wasn't very far away after all. He brought a whole sack of small fish called sprat and he told our mother to do whatever she could with it. You know: dry or fry it. In order to feed the kids.

    He also used to go to his younger brother who lived forty kilometers away from our village. Uncle Vanya worked as a storekeeper and he managed to provide us with some food: a little bit of grain or a bottle of oil. Looking at these hardships my father decided to go to Berdyansk and find a job there. He found a job which was to wash some peculiar black sand on the coast of the Azov sea. I don't know what it was, probably uranium ore, because a small sack of this sand weighed as much as 50 kilos. He used to take this sand to Mariupol where they would dry it and send somewhere further.

    There was a lack of equipment after the war, so my father was sent far away to Russia to some big car factory to get some cars. He and three other men went there by trains, but on the way back after they had finally received three cars, they were majorly delayed because of bad roads and rain. It took them a month to get through. That was in 1948.

    Little by little life became better. We received some food rations from the state, and eventually our father took us to Berdyansk. My three brothers still live there. My forth brother was already dead. When in Berdyansk I used to do a lot of sports - athletics to be more precise. In 1953 I graduated from technical school with a degree in mechanics. And as I was a good student, I was allowed to choose my future place of work. So I chose Dnipropetrovsk, because there was good a train connection between Dnipropetrock and Berdyansk. All my fellow-students were sent to various places across the whole Soviet Union.

    I worked for nine years in a tool-making workshop at the plant that produced metallurgical equipment. During the first six months I was learning from the foreman of that workshop and then I started to work as a manager of technical processes. It was hard work, but it was ok. Soon I got married and gave birth to a child. However, the living conditions were not very favorable. The plant could only provide a small 13-square-meter room. No wonder that I grabbed the opportunity to get transferred to Krivyi Rih to work there at the plant that repaired mining equipment. They gave flats to their workers! So I got that job in 1961 and in the same year I received this three-room flat, where I am still living.

    I worked at that plant until my retirement in 1985. Then there was the time of Perestroyka, and my grand children were born. I tried to support them with anything I could. I have two daughters. They both have university degrees. One lives here in Krivyi Rih, and the other lives in Dolinskaya. She moved there to work at the newly established ore processing enterprise, although it doesn't function as well as it used to.

  • Fateh Singh,
    New Delhi, IndiaMORE...

    My name is Fateh Singh, and I was born on June 14th, 1920 in India.

    As a youth in the 1930s, our education system was very poor. We didn't have much economic opportunity, and the schools were very strict. I remember our teachers beating us badly if we were not studying or working. One day my mother brought me to school, saw a teacher beating us, and took me out of the class.

    She told me it was better to work with the family at the farm than be abused by the teachers. I never went back to school from that point.

    In the 40s, I saw people joining the Army seemingly left and right. India had one of the biggest volunteer Armies in World history. I was motivated by all the volunteers eager to fight for our country, and decided to join myself. I went to the Lal Quila in Delhi and enlisted in the Army at the age of 19.

    I was then sent to Meerut and Lahore to train. During training they conditioned us, taught us how to use guns and also how to repair them when they broke. We also learned how to use landmines properly, which would later come in handy.

    After the training finished, we received 28 days of holiday leave. I went home during that period. Once the holidays were over, we returned to the Army and went to Nagpur. News soon came that we were being sent to Northeast India to combat Japanese fighters in Assam.

    When we got the order to go to war, I was excited, but a little worried. There were relatively few of us compared to our enemy. Despite being outnumbered, I knew deep down we had the spirit to win. Amongst my regiment, we comforted ourselves by noting that even though there were few of us, we were on the safe side of the mountains. That was our solace, and our advantage. We used landmines to defend ourselves from encroaching Japanese tanks. As they tried to approach us they were destroyed.

    Soon, our Army's resilience overwhelmed Japan, and they surrendered to us.

    Once we defeated the insurgents in Assam, we went to Rangoon, Burma to fight more Japanese soldiers. Through sheer will, we overwhelmed the Japanese army and they surrendered there as well. The faith we had in ourselves helped us prevail against the harsh odds. Japan had given us thousands of weapons when they surrendered, and we gave them to the British Army.

    Once we successfully defended our home front, we were sent to China via ship. In my old age I don't quite remember the experience in China, but I know I made it back! When we came back from China, I went to Rawalpindi, which is now Pakistan, to decompress. We were given a few days off for the holidays to rest. After the break was over, I returned to the rest of my comrades in Lahore. The leaders there told us the war was not over, but we had the individual option to leave and go back home. Quitting was no option for me, so I went back to the front lines.

    During our time patrolling the home front, we were frequently sent to patrol for Japanese soldiers infiltrating our general area. One day, a fleet of us went out to oversee the countryside. On the way back from patrolling, I stayed behind the rest of the troops, watching for any potential attackers from the rear. Then I saw some Japanese soldiers but it was too late to react - they noticed me and opened fire. I was shot in the left leg. I was in immense pain, but I couldn't even scream and alert my troops. If I did, the Japanese probably would have shot me dead. I stayed silent and waited it out.

    I ended up lost in the forest for 11 painful, lonely days. I later found out that my family was informed that I was dead during this time and they even had a funeral. In the meantime, I was writhing in pain, laying wounded in the forest. I managed to gather myself and traverse the woods. I eventually found a village, of which I can't quite remember the name. The village people had mercy on me and took me to a hospital. After basic treatment at the hospital, I was sent back home.

    My family was ecstatic to see me. Just imagine their transition from believing I was dead to seeing me in relatively good health! I recuperated amongst my family for the rest of the war.

    I was married in 1948 to my wife Shandidevi, and had two daughters and three sons. I retired from the Army in 1952 and went back to the family farm. I was getting proposals to work at railways, but I always denied them. My family wanted me to stay with the farm, and that's what I did for the entirety of my life.

    These days, I don't do as much as I once did. I'm in frequent pain, but I still enjoy the good moments. I live with my family, who take care of me. The light of my life is waking up and playing with my grand children. Every August 15th, Indian Independence Day I hoist the countries flag in my neighborhood. I'm proud that I was apart of that struggle.

  • Francois Savard,
    Montreal, CanadaMORE...

    My name is Francois Savard, and I was born near Quebec City in July of 1925. I grew up in a big family, with six siblings and my father was a member of the Royal 22nd Regiment, so I was brought up in a military environment.. Like most military families, we moved very often. By the time I went to high school in Montreal, I had been to 10 different schools.

    When the talk of war first broke out in 1939, my father was mobilized and sent to England. At the time my mom had six children, and was pregnant with the seventh!

    Of course, my mother was worried about his well-being, but us kids didn't worry too much. We knew our dad was an officer, and military life was his business. He wasn't involved in direct combat either, so we looked at it like it was his routine. We were accustomed to my father participating in various military exploits.

    In 1942, my father came home from England with 70% disability. He was in his 40s, and at that point the strain of the military experience was just too much for him. My older brother, who was a year older than me, joined the air force and he was sent to be a navigator.

    In 1944, just before I finished 12th grade, a recruiting officer came to our school to tell us about military engineer training that the Army was offering boys like us. The training took 15 months, at the end of which we'd come out as lieutenants. I was excited for the prospect. Being from a military family, this was right up my alley.

    I went to the recruiting office with a classmate, and we were ushered into the Colonel's office. We told the Colonel we were both interested in the training. He looked at my classmate, who was already six feet tall, then looked at me and said "Actually boy, it's men we're looking for." I turned around and slammed the door.

    I immediately went to the air force recruiting office, and they were more receptive. When they asked me what I wanted to be, I said I wanted to be aircrew. So they sent me to pre-flight school in London, Ontario, where we were tested to see what position was best for us. Most of us were destined to be navigators and bombers, but if you were physically fit you got a chance to do pilot testing. We tested on a link trainer, which was a simulator. I had three runs on the simulator, but they didn't go well. The instructors said "This is not for you". They told me not only would I break my neck I'd break her Majesty's airplane.

    I did much better as a navigator, so they assigned me to be one. On May 5th, 1944, at the end of the 20-week training, I graduated and got my wings as a navigator.

    From there, I boarded the Empress of Scotland, which was headed to England. That ship had been called the Empress of Japan, but once the war broke out they changed the name. It was an eight-day journey that I didn't particularly care for. It was so crowded that the bunks were stacked four high, and you could only have two meals a day.

    I was excited, but I had a little reservation. When my brother was being trained as a navigator near Montreal, he used to come home on the weekend, and he'd bring home a sextant, an instrument used to determine positioning and altitude. The sextant was in English, which was my second language. Mastering the art of celestial navigation in English was a tough prospect, but I figured I'd deal with that when the time comes. And the time has finally come.

    Once I got to England, I checked in at the reception center in Bournemouth, which was on the South coast. From there, I went into what was referred to as Bomber pipeline. There were different stages of training during this period. My squadron was comprised of six French-Canadian soldiers, and I was selected to be on that squadron. We were a part of the 425 Alouette Squadron. Our crest was a bird, and we would be flying Halifax Bombers. I was excited because my brother also flew in a Halifax Bomber!

    From there, I went to advanced flying school in Anglesey, North Wales. That was a one-month course.
    In August 1944, I went back to Bournemouth to wait for the next stage, which was the operational training unit, or OTU.

    We formed our crew there. The crew was primarily full of sergeants. I was the only officer in the crew. Because of that, I made $2 a day to my comrades' 75 cents. We went through our training and we graduated at the end of November. After training, we were given 30 days leave. The guys decided to go to London and spend the holidays there. We were a group of five French-Canadian Catholics, and most of us were very religious. Every Sunday we'd go to Mass, but one of the guys, our tail gunner, would never go. He always had a tough-guy hat that he put on.

    On Christmas night, we decided to go to midnight mass, and he decided to come with us. As we walked into this church, silent night was playing. The scene was so beautiful that even Mr. Tough Guy started sobbing!

    Upon returning to base, we had a one-month commander training. There were so many soldiers at this training that they didn't know what do to with us. We spent two months at that place, before we finally reached the last stage of our training.

    During my time in commander training, I found out my older brother died. His plane was shot down right on his 30th mission. He had written my parents that very day, telling them to get all the liquor rations they could because he planned to celebrate upon his arrival back to Canada. My parents received the telegram announcing his death before that letter.

    Just a few weeks later, In March '45, we started operations. My parents at home were sick with worry. Our base in England was this small village called Tholthorpe, which wasn't far from York.

    Our first target was Leipzig, which was very far into Germany. That was on April 10th, 1945. Over 700-800 heavy bombers flew on this mission. I remember that as we were approaching our target, there was a Lancaster bomber going down in flames 200 yards behind us. Seconds later, another one went down 100 meters behind us.

    All of a sudden, we heard a loud kaboom in our air craft. The Germans hit one of our engines! I looked back and saw a huge hole behind me. Our aircraft operator narrowly missed the missile, as he was standing in that spot just a couple seconds before! You know, people wonder how they would react in the imminent danger of death. In my case, I started shaking, but I quickly told myself "Hey, you gotta get a hold of yourself - you've got work to do!" They weren't going to take us like this! I was determined.

    There was a lot of noise in the front of the airplane, and the air was rushing in at over 180 miles an hour. Because we lost our oxygen, we couldn't stay at the altitude we were at, so we had to go down to 10,000 feet. Our pilot expertly led us to safety, but in the back of my mind I was thinking "this is going to be a long tour!" It was an eight hour right back to base, and we were thanking our lucky stars for every minute.

    A few nights later, we were on a mission to bomb a submarine base in Kiel, Germany. On the way, we were hit in the tail of the airplane, exactly where the turret was. Our tail gunner had his gun turned at 45 degrees, so he was trapped in the turret portion of the plane. I heard him screaming "I can't move! I can't move!" on the radio. Our flight engineer said "who is that?" He couldn't understand the French.

    The next thing I heard from the radio was gunner was praying. This was the act of contrition that Catholic children were taught. He was getting ready to die. Luckily, our pilot once again got us out of peril and flew us back to base. Our tail gunner was so thankful that he survived that he went to church every Sunday for the rest of his life.

    On the next part of our operation, we were targeting an island in the North Sea. We were loaded with five tons of bombs and two tons of petroleum. As we were taking off, we immediately lost the right engine. Some luck we had!

    Normally, that would be a death sentence, but our pilot was so skilled that he managed to keep us in the air. We got down to 10,000 feet and assessed the situation. He told us the plane was too heavy to land, but we could do two things: we could orbit the base, which would burn out our fuel and allow us to land or we could go out to sea and dump the bombs, which would also allow us to land.

    We decided to just dump the bombs and chalk the mission up as a failure. A hundred miles later though, as the plane destabilized and we got closer to the target, we reconsidered. Our aircraft was within striking distance, and we wanted to get credit for the mission. So over the island we went, dropping our bombs. But by the time we had gotten there, all the other bombers had left.

    As we were on our way back, six German planes came toward us. That was bad news with one engine stopped. Our pilot said: "don't shoot first." Strangely, they never ended up shooting at us!

    On our way back, a second engine started to cough. We were prepared to bail, but the flight engineer managed to get the engine started. By the time we got back to base, we were listed as "Missing in action" on the board.

    Three days later, the target was Bremen, Germany. The Canadian Army was trying to advance through Northern Germany and was stopped by sturdy opposition. Our job was to bomb the area so our Army could travel more freely. The regiment sent 800 heavy bombers, but our target was just 500 yards ahead of our troops. It was so close that command told us to abort the operation if there were any clouds over our target.

    We went into formation in our normal manner: 150 heavy bombers every five minutes, dropping 1,000 tons of bombs. That day the first two waves dropped on the target, but there was a cloud when we were about to drop. We had to abort the mission.

    We were disappointed, but there were no chaotic circumstances so we were fine. In our brief time during the operation, we had been through perilous situations, but on the last day of April 1945, we faced perhaps our most dangerous test.

    Our next target was the German naval gun batteries that were keeping the Allied forces from going into Wilhelmshaven and Bremerhaven, They sent about 1000 of us, each with 5-6 tons to hit those guns in broad daylight. As we were approaching the target, our engineer said "look up!" There was another bomber directly over us! Our pilot managed to lean over to the left with his wing tip below the right wing of the plane next to us while the plane above us was dropping bombs. Our engineer saw six tons of bombs go between our plane's tail and wing. He said that it took 10 years off his life, and I don't blame him for feeling that way.

    During that mission, we lost seven aircrafts. I personally saw four of them try to parachute, but none of them were rescued.

    During our operations, every six weeks we'd get a week off. The break was referred to as "Operation relief." During one such relief, we traveled to London. That day turned out to be V-Day! The town was going wild, as there were many American soldiers in London at the time.

    In a crew of six people, you tend to hit it off with one or two guys better than others. In my case, I got really close with the gunners. Whenever we had our relief period, we would travel and party together. We were together during this D-Day hoopla, but I told them I didn't want to party just yet. Inside, I was sort of in a contemplative mood. I had very close to death multiple times, and my older brother died during his last mission. I was happy it was over; I just didn't feel like party.

    We later got back to our squadron and one morning, a Captain of our regiment gathered us in the briefing room. He told us that we have been selected as part of the Tiger Force, which was Canada's contribution to the war against Japan.

    The Tiger Force would be made of volunteers, who would learn how to fly them. He told us whoever volunteered would be led in a formation of 15 Lancasters over to Montreal. I decided to go along because I didn't have any other prospects at the time.

    By mid-June, 1945, we were in Montreal. From there, I took the train back home, and my family was waiting for me. They were gracious to see me, but a little upset that I was volunteering. Two of us brothers had went overseas and only one came back. My mother was particularly brokenhearted. She asked me, "how could you do this to me?" Later on, I figured out only 20% volunteered to go.

    After a month's leave, I went to the base in Nova Scotia to begin training. I was surprised to see that there were much more female volunteers than men. Not even a month into training, the US had dropped the Atomic bomb in Japan and the whole war was over. So much for that mission. I was sort of happy I wouldn't have to go to Japan.

    Then I though about my future. I faced the prospect of not being an officer anymore. The pay was $7 a day, tax free. Where could I make that kind of money? What would I do? Not only that, I was proud of my uniform. Plus the girls used to love it, and I used to love that fact. Because of those reasons, I decided to stay in the air force. I hung in there until January 1946, when they told me they didn't need me.

    Soon after, I ran into my old friend from High School who had been invited to that engineer's course. He told me he was only a private in the Army! Secretly, I thanked that Colonel for rejecting me way back when.

    Anyways, I figured the smart thing to do with my life was go back to school. I registered in McGill, and chose Geology. Well, after some deliberation. I met a couple ex-Air Force guys who knew something about geology, and they influenced my choice.

    To be honest, I was quite bored with geology and thought about alternative careers. One day I saw an old squadron friend of mine. He told me he had just got back from Tokyo, where he was stationed with the 426 squadron that was on a Korean airlift.

    It sounded pretty exciting. I visited the recruiting office, but the officer told I should finish my degree and get a permanent commission. After graduating from McGill, I went back into the Air Force. I bounced around for years in various positions throughout the world, recruiting and teaching.

    While recruiting in Neuville, Quebec, an old Air Force buddy told me to meet a lady friend of his. I was 28 at the time. We went on a double date, and we ended up marrying both of our dates. I was married to my wife for 60 years! Soon after, I had two children. Our family loved camping, which we did for over 45 years, all over the world.

    Though I never got to the 426 squadron, I enjoyed my second tour in the Air Force. My last job was management engineering in France. At 45, I finally retired from the Air Force.

    I got a job in civil service, where I worked for 15 years before retiring in 1984. Since then, I've spent my time vacationing, camping, and spending time with friends at the veterans home. Every morning, I get about seven miles of walking exercise. My wife isn't in her best health, so I spend a lot of time taking care of her. I don't mind it at all though, it's still a wonderful life.

  • George Dellon,
    The Bronx, New YorkMORE...

    My name is George Dellon. I was born on August 9, 1921 in Kings County Hospital, Brooklyn. My childhood was very dull and as I got into my teens I was becoming athletic. I specialized in handball and because of that I met my wife, believe it or not. My handball partner was my future wife's cousin and that's how we got together. Happy days!
    After finishing school, the war broke out and I got drafted in 1942. I had my basic training at the Atlantic City and it was very nice - fresh air, the ocean! We were staying in a hotel and I was sharing a room with another G.I. It was a wonderful room with private bath. We were getting all our training done on the boardwalk, it was like a vacation. Well, just with rigorous exercises.

    I was then sent to a replacement depot in Salt Lake City, Utah. There, I was assigned to the B-17 group as a gunner and went to Washington. We spent a few weeks there and then moved to Great Falls with the 20th squadron. It was a small town with couple movie theaters, few bars, a main street and once we arrived - quite a few soldiers. The population was only around a thousand people. We performed various kinds of exercises there. I was in Great Falls with the 20th squadron, whereas the other squads were in Glasgow, Lewistown and Cut Bank, Montana. We all got together at a particular place and carried out our training assignments

    And after several months of training our squadron was sent to North Africa, believe it or not. In 1943, I ended up being in Morocco. We stayed there for a month or so. The experience in North Africa was great for me as I haven't seen such things in the United States. When we were staying in Morocco, we saw different kinds of people, mostly Arabs, who used to travel on donkeys. It was like a vacation to me. I got to meet people who were very unlike me and who were totally different form the people I grew up with. But, the Arab people were always looking for something to steal. Particularly in the evenings - there would always be an Arab thief walking around the camp area. They would get shot occasionally by the guards. And one time, I heard yelling and I got out of my bed. I saw an Arab that was shot on leg and the doctor was trying to remove part of clothing from his leg. But, there were layers and layers of clothing. I don't know if that fellow ever took a bath.

    When traveling in North Africa we sometimes would buy meat off Arabs. One of our guys would go into a village or a market to get some meat from the Arab stands, which were usually pretty dirty and full of flies. Also, we had no refrigeration system so we would dig a big hole in the dessert. We'd put the remaining of the meat there to keep it a little cool for the rest of the day. That was the best we could do in order to have relatively fresh meat. Everything else was canned food.

    From Morocco, we travelled to Algeria in a town called Aïn M'lila. We stayed in various towns for another 6 or 7 months in Algeria and then moved towards Tunisia and ended up in the capital, the city called Tunis. In Tunis it was very interesting as our 5th Bombardment Wing Headquarters was in the city. I met a few Jewish people in Tunis, but sadly they lived very much like the Arabs. I was very impressed to see them as they were poor and you know, they didn't speak my language, I didn't speak theirs so we couldn't really communicate. When I met them, I only said "hello" and they gave me couscous to eat and that was it. There were also a few French people there. There was one French family and they invited us for dinner one night. They made couscous, it was very good. I wish I had a picture of this French person as he was wearing knee-length pantaloons and slippers that night. He used to operate the salt mines. So, I have met people like that whom I would never come across before.

    We stayed in Tunisia until we were finally able to get into Italy. Once we got into Italy we started flying air missions. I was a gunner on a B-17 plane. We'd have 3 air rides a day sometimes. The Battle of Monte Cassino was happening at that time and the Germans were holding an abbey on the top of the mountain. We started bombing the peak of the Monte Cassino and we hit them 3 times, couldn't get them out of there. Eventually the infantry had to take them out by hand. It still remains a very famous battle.
    Our base was in Foggia, a city in Southern Italy, and there were many, many airfields in this city. One time, Mussolini conducted a phony air show there and brought all his aircrafts to one place so that people would get impressed by the quantity of planes and the size of his air force. When we were in Foggia, our group was flying so called "shuttle missions". We used to take off from Foggia, bomb a target in Romania and land somewhere in Russian. We would spend a day and a half in Russia, and then do the same thing again - take off, hit the target and land back in Italy. One thing impressed me about the Russian base - the guards were all women; tough ladies, heavy drinkers.

    We remained in Foggia until the war was completely over and we carried out all missions from there. We also hit Berlin which was a long trip for us, many hours coming and going back.

    We lost several lives and it didn't bother me when I was young. But in my late seventies, I began to get bad dreams about it and I could hear people screaming as they were going down.

    Towards the end of the war my boys flew our 500-th mission; there was a reporter with a photographer and everything, I think it was more of a publicity thing. But I wasn't there for that because I right about that time I got hospitalized.

    I ended up in the headquarters because I couldn't fly anymore as I had contracted several diseases. I had dysentery, which put me out of commission for some time. I was out from the hospital in a month or two and then I contracted yellow jaundice. When I came out again from the hospital, I was grounded from flying and that's how I ended up in the headquarters. My last commanding officer was General John D. Ryan, also known as Three Finger Ryan. He later became the seventh Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force.
    After the war was over there, people were being rotated and sent back to the United States based on the number of points. There was a system where points were assigned for everything including time in service, rank, evacuations, missions etc. I was among the very first groups coming back to the States. At that time, the war with Japan was still going on. I came home on the Liberty Ship and we docked in Newport News, Virginia. We got there at night and in the morning the band there began playing "Welcome home". We went to the shore and we were served fresh steak and milk. It felt really good when they were asking how we would like our steak done, rare or medium! I was home! Everybody went crazy as we were also able to have hot showers. Back in the wartime, we could only bathe ourselves with water we could get in our helmets. It was good, really good. But, I still had the orders to report to Rapid City, North Dakota for reassignment into as the war was still going on in the Pacific.

    Luckily (or luckily for only some people), the A-bomb got dropped my re-assignment was to stay home. I was in Fort Dix for two days and they wanted me to stay longer. I told them I could stay if they would give me payment and rank, but they declined. I said, "Let me out then", and I got out just like that in two days. That's how much I wanted to get out! My parents threw a party for me after being released from the military.

    I started working soon and realized that I did not have that many skills so I was floundering between jobs. Worked in a store, tried my hands on insurance, but that didn't last. I ended up operating at the parking facility and made my living from that.

    Now, we like to spend a lot of time at Riverdale Y Senior Center performing activities with people like ourselves. Sometimes, we even go there for lunch. We also get busy with our grandchildren. I am having a little difficulty walking these days and I walk with a cane. My wife is a big benefit to me and she thinks she is my mother. We have been married now for 66 years.

  • George Simpson,
    Brechin, ScotlandMORE...

    My name is George Simpson, and I was born May 24th, 1924 in Forfar, Scotland. I was one of four children. I went to a school called Forfar West, which my whole family attended. Once I finished school, I started looking for work.

    I did various jobs. My most memorable one was being a delivery man, delivering bread to people throughout my town. I remember when the war started in 1939 in Europe. Even though we declared war on Germany it was very quiet in our part of the country. Only later when the air rides began I'd hear the planes fly by sometimes and then hear on the radio that Dundee or Edinburg were bombed.

    On December 17th, 1942 a letter came to my home. When I opened it, it was the news so many other youngsters throughout Scotland were receiving: I was being "called up" to the military. I can recall so many of the factories in my neighborhood being taken over by the Army. The reality of the war set in when those buildings were changed from vessels of industry into military posts.

    Once I was officially registered, I was sent to Fort George for basic training. They conditioned us well and taught us how to utilize weaponry. I had no idea what regiment I was going to be sent to, but I knew they were working us hard to excel wherever we were sent. Training was a physical and mental expedition. After six weeks, I passed the basic training and my superiors told me I was going to be a driver. That was a bit of a relief.

    I was posted to Carlisle for driving school. I learned how to drive various military vehicles in Carlisle. Once I learned all I could there, I was transferred to Northampton in the beginning of 1943 for even more training.

    After D-Day, our forces were enraged and ready to fight. Our infantry was put on a ship and deployed to France. It was my first time in the sea and it was a long, arduous trip. I can't remember much from the journey, but I do recall being seasick. Once we landed in France, our regiment settled and traveled to Belgium.

    The Germans were terrorizing Europe, exploiting so many smaller countries that couldn't defend themselves. We felt it was our duty to neutralize them. When we got to Brussels, the citizens were overjoyed to see us. They may have felt overwhelmed under the thumb of the Nazis, but the Allied forces represented a turn of the tide. Now, they would have someone to fight for them.

    From Belgium we continued onto Holland, then Germany. I can't quite remember all the details now; a lot of memories have faded because of my age. I do remember in October 1944, I was wounded in Germany. One day, our regiment was getting ready to move out on patrol. In the process of the conflict, I was shot in the left arm. My adrenaline was pumping so much I didn't realize I was hit until after the gunfight, when our superiors were doing a headcount.

    A friend of mine, Fitzgerald was also wounded in his bottom which was actually quite comical - he was hopping on one foot holding his arse. We were sent to a medical hospital back to England. They called my wound a "bodily emergency." After we recuperated, I was sent out to Germany. By then, the Allied forces had Germans retreating by the day. Their defeat was inevitable.

    Eventually, our superiors got us together and told us the Germans surrendered and the war was over. We were all ecstatic. After the war, I was stationed in Hamburg. Our official duties were to get the Russian soldiers back to their lines.

    It was a festive time, more than anything. There was a victory parade in London, while I was still stationed in Europe. I remember us soldiers had their own celebration one night at a boating point. We were drinking merrily, and some of us had a little too much fun. I for one ended up falling over the boat into the water.

    I stayed in Hamburg for a few months, and then returned to Scotland in 1947.

    Upon return to Scotland, I retained work as a construction worker. I met my eventual wife in 1956, and was married in 1962. In 1960, we were set to move to Australia, but I had a bad accident, and ended up staying put. I had a son in 1965, and a daughter in 1966. I started a business with my brother, which I kept going until 1982. I was also involved in my local Village Hall with my wife for 19 years.

    I've been in my current home for three years. These days, I just enjoy what I have provided for my family.

  • Gimat La Hura,
    Burari, IndiaMORE...

    My name is Gimat La Hura and I was born on March 10th, 1923 in a small village near Lahore, what is now Pakistan. I studied in my local school and I was an excellent student and so my higher studies I was send to a better school in a village called Allibagh, it's in Jammu and Kashmir State. I even used to get some pay from the school - 5 rupees a month. Which at that time was very good money, especially for a kid.

    After graduating school, I had the option to join the family business, but I declined and joined the Indian Army on November 5th, 1941. Many of my relatives were either on the police force or in the Army. I didn't join the Army because I was patriotic or anything, I merely figured I was resigned to choosing between the Army and family business.

    At the time I looked at fighting in the war like I was simply fighting for the British, who ruled us. I was sent to basic training in Lahore. Once I started training, I was consumed by the conflict that was going on, and I realized how much I truly wanted to fight. They taught us all the basics of combat. The more I learned, the more I was prepared for the war, and I wasn't worried about dying. After three months of training in Lahore, we were sent to train further in the Jabalpur section of Madhya Pradesh, India for about nine months.

    From there, I was transferred to Peshawar, then to a company in Delhi. From Delhi, we were transferred to another company in Bangladesh. I didn't see much action myself as I was mostly responsible for the truck repairs and maintenance and for the most part stayed behind the front lines.

    On one instance in 1944, when we were en route to Chittagong, Bangladesh to supply our soldiers with food and artillery shells, we came across Japanese soldiers. It was late at night, so we couldn't see very well. We didn't know how many Japanese soldiers there were. As a mechanic, I had responsibility to fix the trucks and make decisions if one of our vehicles was compromised. So I ordered everyone to take their positions and prepare for an ambush. I presume the Japanese realized we were aware of their presence because they didn't attack.

    I was based in Bangladesh for almost two years and then had a short leave. After more movement, I was ultimately sent to Mumbai, where we boarded ships that took us to Malaya for combat. We spent good 6 days on those ships before finally arriving there.

    Upon arrival in Malaya, we set up a base camp. I was an Army mechanic and craftsman, tasked to maintain our vehicles. We unloaded supplies and equipment from the ship, and then stored it in a garage.

    In Malaysia, not only were we up against the Japanese, Subhas Chandra Bose's Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army) was also there, fighting for Indian independence. I remember they had the Indian flag hoisted very high at their camp. Even though I wasn't fighting for him, I respect what he was trying to do for our country. If it wasn't for him we might not have received independence until much later.

    During our deployment, we had a pretty good relationship with our British superiors. We fought and conducted ourselves as one Army. Two captains in particular, Cpt. D. Beur and Cpt. D. Halliwal were good to us. If our family ever had issues, they would be empathetic to our plight. They weren't cold or overly demanding.

    In August 1945, we received news the Japanese had surrendered. We all celebrated the good news. I retired from the Army on May 25th, 1946, and we went back to our families and villages. Soon, Pakistan and India separated. Pakistan was declared a Muslim country, and there were many Hindus who no longer wanted to live there. Hindus began to face violence in Pakistan. At the time, we lived in Jhelum, Pakistan. We fled with the other families and moved inside the Indian border to an Ambala, a civil Army camp. We stayed there for about a year, then left for Chandigarh in Punjab state.

    Our family was in a dire situation once we left the camp, and were trying to figure out how to survive. We decided to move to Delhi in 1948 and start a business selling painting material. The business wasn't very successful, so I moved onto another job that I worked until March 1982. I had married my first wife Krishna Wandi in 1943, but she died in 1951. I married my second wife, Rambyari and had three daughters and one son. One of my sons sadly passed in 2005.

    These days, I have a grandson who's a real estate agent. I help him at his business from time to time. My family takes care of me very well, and that's the reason I'm still here.

  • Harold Dinzes,
    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.

  • Irwin Rosenzweig,
    Ambler, Pensilvania MORE...

    I was born in Philadelphia on August 17, 1921. For the first three years of my life I lived in my grandfather's house, in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, then we moved to Poplar Street, which was the inner city. It was the worst slum in Philadelphia, but there was a veneer of Jewish merchants along the street. I went to Central High School.

    When I lost my virginity, I must have been sixteen years old. It was two dollars. You got a towel and a condom. I knew the condom, I could figure out what you did with that. She was lying on the bed on her back and I got on top of her and she was saying to me, "Don't just lie there, you have to go up and down." I said, "I am going up and down. Your hips have to go up and down." She taught me how to get into sex. I had a very good professor, a two-dollar high yellow in Atlantic City in a back alley, somewhere with really red lights. The whole street lit with red lights. I was sixteen. I was very impressed. Now I know I was a little shit, but in those days I thought I was a big shot.

    Before the war I was going to the University of Pennsylvania. I was in the second year and they were getting pretty close to my draft number. I wasn't too eager to be in the army, but I knew I had to be. There was a war on. I left school and I went down to Washington, D.C. to work in the Pentagon building, where I worked for two years. I enlisted in the army, into a training school for fixing radios and airplanes. We moved around. One part of it was a semester at Johns Hopkins University, and then I finally went into the army at Fort Mead, Maryland. From there I was sent to the army airbase in Columbia, South Carolina, where I did my basic training.

    Then I was shipped overseas. It took us five weeks to cross the Atlantic, because we were zigzagging to avoid submarines. We always had airplanes flying over us, looking for them. Luckily, none got near us.

    I was stationed in Norfolk, England for two years during the war. I was attached to the 8th Air Force B-24 Bombers. With other guys in my unit, I took care of the radios. The planes had to speak to each other. They had to speak to the tower. And they each had a magnetic radio, so they could find their way home.

    We must have had thirty or forty bombers out on the field all the time. Every morning at 0500, they would start making a formation and by 0800 they would start on their way to Germany. The Americans bombed in the daytime. The English bombed at night.

    There was no oxygen in the cabin. They all wore oxygen masks and there was no heat. They wore sheep lined jackets. Each guy on the flight wore a parachute in case there was a problem, they could jump out and parachute down.

    I stayed on the ground. I admired those guys, but I wasn't one of them.

    I never flew in combat, but I flew every chance I had. Sometimes the pilots would fly up to Scotland to buy Scotch and I would go up with them. When I flew it wasn't dangerous.

    They had to do twenty-five missions and then they could go home, back to America. I would say 70% went back.

    One time, our planes were coming back and there were some Messerschmitts that had followed them back and were shooting at them. One plane must have been hit, because the guys in the plane all jumped. I saw these six or seven fellas coming down in parachutes. I always used to think that the parachute would billow down side to side, but they were coming straight down. I knew they had to break their legs when they hit the ground. That's the only time I saw our men parachuting.

    If a plane was damaged there was a large runway where planes that had been hit could come down because they didn't have all of their equipment. Often, when our planes came back, there were ambulances waiting for them. They had radioed ahead they had people in them who were injured.

    On several occasions, the Germans came over at night with flares and they lit the base up so they could see what was going on. We felt kind of helpless. They were at a high altitude and we couldn't reach them, and they dropped flares and took pictures.

    Finally, I was discharged and went back to Washington, where I had been working before the war. I matriculated at the American University School of Law and was there for one year, before transferring up to Philadelphia, where my family was. I graduated from Temple Law School.

    I met my wife when we were working on a political campaign. We knew each other, but not all that well. One day I took the train up to New York. I'm walking down the aisle and I see a young lady sitting there. From the back I didn't know it was Frieda, but I slipped in beside her and it turned out to be Frieda, and we were talking and she told me she was going up to northern New Jersey to dump some guy who had been a date. I figured any girl that would go that far to dump a guy must be pretty nice. Any time a girl dumped me, she called me up and said, "Listen, we're through." We had two-hours to talk to each other. When we came back to Philadelphia, we started dating.

    We were married for sixty years and we had three children and seven grandchildren. I had a general law practice. I did everything from adoptions to tax matters. After two or three years, I started to make some money. We were able to move out of a little house we were in, into a bigger house in Elkins Park, which is a nice neighborhood. I practiced law in Philadelphia for thirty-five or forty years, running from courtroom to courtroom, trying to scrape out a few bucks for my young family.
    Anyhow, I did alright. I came up from nowhere.

  • Isao Miura,
    Hiroshima, JapanMORE...

    My name is Isao Miura and I was born on October 27th, 1926 in Hiroshima, Japan. I grew up with both parents, and had 3 siblings: one sister and two brothers. My Father worked for a bank, and my Mother stayed home and took care of us children. When I was a kid, I loved animals. My father would often take me to the Zoos in Tokyo or Osaka. I liked to go fishing, and play with my siblings. It was an enjoyable childhood.

    Once I got into Junior High School, the climate in our country began to change. Resources were scarce, money was low, and it became harder to get what we needed to survive. I remember in school, my teachers would tell me I had to prepare to serve my country. Even during P.E. class, my teachers told me I had to train myself to become a strong man and win the war. I felt a great deal of pressure from all the adults around me.

    Around 1943, I could no longer take my general classes. My curriculum was only Army education. The training was extremely strict. I had to learn how to shoot, condition my body, and many other things that would prepare me for life as a soldier. We once went to the east side of Hiroshima to a gun range. We all got rifles and practiced our aim.

    I vividly remember December 4th, 1943 when the breaking news of Leipzig's bombing came in. I heard marching band music outside, and I knew that war was impending.

    I knew it would be a difficult fight, but with the guidance of our emperor, I believed we would win this war. I was soon dispatched to factories as a mobilized student, to make equipment for the soldiers. Soon after graduating Junior High school, I got into a medical school in Nagoya, where I was again dispatched to Osaka as a mobilized student. In Osaka, I helped make medicine for the Army.

    I remember air raids almost every day, which were terrifying. It was a serious time for me. I couldn't sleep at night. I couldn't focus and study during school. I even saw bombs explode in front of me and kill dozens of people. Many of my friends from school were killed in the air raids. I was constantly in fear of falling under attack next.

    During the war, I was in between Nagoya and Osaka. The food was extremely scarce in Nagoya. I had a food ticket which was supposed to get me two meals a day, but often there just wasn't enough food. Sometimes I got to eat rice my classmates would give me, but I would still be hungry. Luckily, the army would give me a decent amount of food when I was at the factory in Osaka.

    On August 6th, 1945 I was in Kyoto for a holy day. I soon found out an atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. I couldn't call anyone as I had no phone and there was no service or electricity in Hiroshima anyway. I was worried sick for my family, but a couple days later they sent me a letter telling me they escaped and were safe. Unfortunately, many of my neighbors didn't make it.

    Next day I decided to return to Hiroshima by train to see what was going on in my home city. The Hiroshima train station was destroyed, so I had to get off a couple stations before Hiroshima. When I walked into the city, all I saw was smoke and a big empty field. There was a scary silence. The dead bodies made the city smell like rotten fish. I searched for my home, but nothing was there. All I saw was dead bodies, including a neighbor. I didn't see her husband, and I wondered if he had escaped.

    I soon noticed that he wrote his location on a wall. Later on when I got there though, I was informed he had died too.

    On August 15th, I was in Osaka. My team leader told us there was a very important announcement from the Emperor at 12pm. I couldn't really hear what he was saying, but from the reaction of other people I realized the war was over, that we had surrendered. I also heard that all the POWs were freed. We happily marched through Osaka, as an expression of relief that the war was over.

    I was happy the war was over. I thought of the new horizons and possibilities in my life. With the war over, there would be no more air attacks, no more hunger, no more anxiety. I felt a renewed hope. Soon my family came back to Hiroshima and built a new house.

    By the fall of 1945, I began studying medicine again in Nagoya. After I graduated, I worked for a Prefectural pharmacy in Hiroshima. There were many people who had suffered radiation from the atomic bomb. We were trying to develop medicine to counteract those negative affects. Many people asked me if we had medicine to treat, but I had no answer as a novice.

    Eventually I worked as a pharmacist for the biggest drug store in Hiroshima, before opening my own pharmacy. I got married in 1962, and have two daughters. War is all loss, but since then, I've gained a lot.

  • Jerry Berk,
    New Rochelle, New YorkMORE...

    My name is Jerry Berk and I was born on September 1st 1922 in Manhattan on the Lower East Side. I grew up in Brooklyn though, and I went to high school there too. I then went to Brooklyn College and spent three years plus before joining the Army. I asked for an early deployment because in those days if you chose to extend the draft date you were not able to choose the type of service to go into. So I chose the Army Air Corps because I wanted to become a meteorologist; I had studied some of that in school. I was inducted into the Army Air Corps on Dec 23rd 1942, and I reported for active duty on January 1st, 1943.

    I was in Kearns, Utah for my basic training when the meteorology program was closed before I could join. Instead of being discharged and then possibly drafted into the regular Army I chose to stay in the Air Corps. I became a medical technologist and from that point on I was in various station hospitals throughout the United States. There was a great need for personnel back then because the Army was expending a great number of troops in Europe. Because I spoke a little French I was put into advanced infantry training, and then they sent me with an evacuation hospital unit headed for France.

    So we went overseas and were the first ship to go directly from the United States into Le Havre, France, bypassing England. From there were traveled to a place in Germany called Bad Kreuznach where we occupied an Army hospital. We stayed there for quite a time until we were deployed into the south pacific through Marseille. Our unit was then shipped to Reims in France where we stayed for awhile.

    In Reims my cousin was in a nearby camp, as a major, and we took advantage of the proximately to Paris by going there quite often. We visited the Louvre one day and I saw something so amazing, a coincidence that was unbelievable. When I was a sergeant in Bad Kreuznach, and the war was winding down a lot of French slave laborers, holocaust victims, etc were being released. I was asked to go aboard the trains and pick out those who were in poor health for commitment to the hospital in Bad Kreuznach. All of these people were housed in forty- and- eights destined for Paris. A forty-and-eight is a boxcar; filled with straw to accommodate either forty men or eight horses. The train stopped in Bad Kreuznach for our surveying. On one occasion, one of the squad members came to me and said there's a woman who doesn't want to be sent to the hospital but is obviously sick. She was crouched to the corner, sitting on hay and trying not to be recognized. She was tremendously emaciated and looked like she was on her last leg. I went over to her and I said in French, "We'll have to put you in the hospital because you're quite ill." She said to me, "Sergeant, I don't want to go. If I'm to die I want to die in France and not Germany. I couldn't refuse that plea so I let her go back with the rest to Paris. When we were in Reims and visiting the Louvre that day I spoke about, my eye caught something that was unbelievable. There sitting was this woman, who had refused to be put into the hospital, painting a copy of the Mona Lisa. She was no longer emaciated but recognizable and I looked at her and she looked at me and we smiled. But I never spoke to her because I didn't want to renew old hatreds.

    After that we were deployed to Marseille and awaiting deployment to the south pacific when the war ended. That was May 8th 1945. We were all excited about it of course. Our hopes were that we would not be shipped to the south pacific and sure enough we were not. It was a great excitement, great joy. But the war in Japan was still going on. So we were on one hand thrilled that the war in Europe had ended, but on the other hand people were still dying. It was mixed feelings.

    I was young going into the war. I was twenty, I was pretty immature, hadn't been around much, hadn't been overseas and to me it was a big adventure. I never thought of any danger involved because you always feel that you're not going to be the one that gets it. So I was looking forward to the experience and to the different people I would meet. It was never a question of getting hurt or getting worse than that, killed.

    We landed in Newport News, Virginia when we came home. I was struck by the fact that in the camp, well fed Germans with well-pressed uniforms was serving us. This seemed a little odd to me because here was a group of guys who had suffered under terrible conditions being met by these prisoners of war who were sleek and well fed. It was a little frustrating for us to see this.

    After I was discharged inFort Devens Massachusetts I got a job in a small pharmaceutical plant in Manhattan for forty bucks a week as a chemist. Shortly thereafter I married my high school sweetheart, Jean. She had waited for me while I was away. I continued to work at the plant until I became part of a small pharmaceutical factory in Mt. Vernon. Once retired Jean and I joined a group called the IESC, the International Executive Service Corps. It sends executives with a certain expertise aboard to help companies in developing countries grow and prosper. We went to various parts of the world, maybe 30-40 countries. We were the first IESC people to go to China. It was right after the Cultural Revolution, and we made some good friends there.

    I was an immature kid when I went into the Army and it changed me. Some of those things I saw and heard and smelled made an impression that was lasting. You can't get rid of it. Every once in awhile I think of it. The pictures have dimmed over the years but we've changed; every one of us has changed.

  • Johannes Teravainen ,
    Helsinki, FinlandMORE...

    I was born on June 30, 1923. My father worked as a machine operator in the biggest paper mill in Finland. My mother was Polish and she went to an art school in Paris. She was very good at drawing and she used to design evening gowns at a company in Paris. We had a big house in Enso, which was Finland at that time and later became part of the lost territory; the Russians renamed it to Svyatogorsk later. I was the youngest among my four siblings. We used to spend our summer vacations in a big summer villa that was located near the beach in Carolina. My mother wanted me to become a Catholic priest, but it didn't happen. I used to be sick during the times of school, so I had to stop studying. I started going with my father to the factory to learn work and eventually ended up with working for about 40 years in the same factory.

    My oldest brother joined the air force as a volunteer when he was only 18 years old. There was a pilot who served with my brother, and he was not permitted to fly the aircraft as he had been doing some scary stunts with his plane. Once, my brother was in a plane with him and as soon as they got seated he performed some dangerous stunts. And the plane started going up and down and eventually hit the ground, as a result of which everybody died including my brother. I was four years old when my brother died.

    During the World War II, the State was recruiting soldiers every now and then because of the continuous need of more soldiers for the war. However, I got delayed at first because of being underweight to participate in the fighting. I was 185cm tall but weighed only 58 kilograms. So I got back to work, but I got recruited in the summer of 1943. I was still too skinny, but the doctor cleared me as they needed more people for the war. I spent three months in the basic military training at Lappeenranta, Finland.

    During the training, the captain asked for six volunteers and I raised my hand along with five other volunteers. The next morning the captain took us to Vyborg and showed us six beautiful horses. He asked each of us to ride a horse from Vyborg to Lappeenranta, which was about 60 kilometers away. We had been given orders not to get off the horse under any circumstances as there were land mines covering the entire route. The captain also asked us to manage our bathroom needs while sitting on the horse. It was a horrible experience for me as I had no knowledge of riding horses and my buttocks were on fire when I reached the military camp. After the completion of training, we were taken to the battlefield in Sortavala by train, and it was awful! The noise and the scenes at the frontline were very disturbing.

    We were six young boys who were divided into different groups and I was sharing a military camp with the captain who was very nice to the soldiers. The enemy was about 150 meters away and we could smell the cigarettes they were smoking on their side. It seemed that the enemy used to come even closer at night as we had been checking with our binoculars. We also had the traditional alarm system made with a wire and a bell to protect our side if we spotted someone from the enemy on our territory.

    In 1943, on Christmas Eve, it was very quiet outside and some of the soldiers decided to stand on the roof of the military camp. We were about six soldiers, including the captain, who decided to go on the roof and sing a song. We sang "God is my castle," and I didn't hear a single shot when we were singing this song. However, when we were coming down the roof the enemy started throwing grenades towards us, which meant that obviously they didn't approve of our singing!

    One night that winter all of the soldiers including myself were so tired that we decided to rest for a while in a forest. We made a bonfire and slept around it. But suddenly I woke up and saw my fellow soldiers shaking me and saying, "Johannes your leg is on fire." I burnt my whole right leg. My fellow soldiers took me to an Army first-aid camp that was about a half a kilometer away from our camp. From there I was taken on a horse to a military hospital that was a few kilometers away. After looking at my leg, the doctors at the military hospital told me that my leg has started to rot, as it was summer and it was too hot. The doctor further told me that the hospital did not have sufficient anesthesia to make my leg numb. So I was told I could scream as much as I wanted. And he started opening my leg from the middle part to the kneecap with a sharp knife. I only received one aspirin that day.

    After a few days they told me that there is a train leaving for Finland and I could go there. The soldiers on the train were able to depart at any station as the army was guarding the train stations in Finland. So I got off the train at Jyvaskyla where my sister was living, and stayed with her. I also went to a military hospital in Jyvaskyla and when the doctor there looked at my leg he immediately said, "Okay, we'll cut your leg from the knee. Next patient, please." I replied, "No sir, you cannot cut my leg." The doctor became furious and he disapproved of the fact that I was challenging his decision. We starting arguing. And I said I came here for the treatment, and if the condition of my leg was this bad they could have cut it off back at the field hospital. Eventually, they treated my leg for two months and then I was able to get back to the base in Sortavala in the summer of 1944. At the base, there was an order for the troops to pull back from the frontlines.

    While withdrawing our troops, we had an intense battle in which we were exposed to various explosions and cannon fire. The fight lasted for five days and we lost a lot of soldiers. As far as I remember, the Continuation War ended with this battle. However, the Lapland War started in the summer of 1944, and we were transported to Liminka, a small town in Finland. From there, we were taken to the Finnish-Swedish border that mostly runs through water. We were aware of the fact that the Swedish soldiers were vigilantly attentive to any movement on the Finland border. We were accommodated in the boats moving towards Lapland to expel German soldiers from the Finnish territory. However, it was reported that the first boat carrying Finnish soldiers was shot up by German troops. As a result, it sank and the people who didn't know how to swim drowned in the river.

    We carried all our weapons and started moving towards Lapland on our boat. But halfway in the river we saw naked female dead bodies floating on the river and all of them were shot in the head. We had no idea of what had happened to these women. In general, the invasion through Tornio River on the Finnish-Swedish border was relatively easy because when the German troops saw our boats coming loaded with soldiers and weapons, they evacuated the place. However, very little combat happened between the Finnish troops and German soldiers, as we chased the Germans out of the Finnish territory. The Germans had a habit of burying their dead soldiers on the same field where they died. And they used to put a stick, the helmet of the dead soldier and the time of death on his grave. As we were chasing them out of our territory, we saw many such graves of German soldiers, and sometimes the time recorded on the grave was just a few short hours ago. So it meant that they had died from our cannon fire. The most difficult part of the Lapland War was that we had to walk very long distances, such as we had walked from the Tornio River toward Lapland, which was more than 300 kilometers.

    Then a messenger came and told us that we could head back home tomorrow, but I immediately asked him, "How are we going back home?" He replied, "You have to walk again." So, we started walking back taking a different route as we had an idea that the German soldiers may had set some landmines on the previous route. Eventually, we arrived back at Tornio River where a big ship was waiting to take us back to the port of Vaasa. From there, we were transported to Oriola where we got our military passes. It was in November 1944 that our war was finally over with the Germans. When we arrived at Vaasa, we all wanted to go grocery shopping despite of the fact that we all had very little money. However, nobody was speaking Finnish in Vaasa and the local people were only speaking Swedish as we were actually in Sweden.

    Our captain came to us and asked what we had been buying. But we told him that nobody here spoke Finnish, so we could not buy anything. Hearing this, our captain got furious and took out his gun and asked loudly while looking at the civilians, "Well, nobody speaks Finnish here?" Suddenly, everyone started speaking Finnish and we got what we needed from the grocery store. This is the same captain who I had shared the military camp with back in Sortavala. So he offered us to visit his farmhouse. We took a train from Vaasa and we arrived at the big farm of our captain. He had been always very modest to all of us during our war time in Sortavala, and had always made sure that none of the dead soldiers were left on the battlefield.

    When the war was finally over, I remember thanking God for my life as I believe that life is the biggest gift we have. I also remember that I did not have a positive opinion towards Russia as my family and me had suffered a lot and had been forced to leave Enso where we had our beautiful villa and also the grave of my brother who died earlier in my life. For me, returning to civilian life was quite exciting, and at the same time quite weird because some of the young Finnish people were questioning us if it were fun to kill people out there in the war.

    After the war, I started studying at the art school learning landscaping as I had been always good at drawing. I believe it is a genetic gift that I received from my mother. But life hasn't always been like a party for me. When I got married, I came to know that we couldn't have children. I have always wanted kids so we decided to adopt. We had to take permission from the social board to adopt kids, and they refused us at first. But after looking at our economic status they agreed that we could adopt two children.

    Later, I got a call that a baby girl was born and we could adopt her. When I first saw the little baby girl at the hospital, she looked like an ugly squirrel to me, but when we brought her home she started growing up beautiful. When she was a year old, we decided to adopt another kid, and we went to the homeless children's center. There were so many kids that we couldn't decide how to pick a boy. But suddenly I heard the voice of a little boy from behind me saying, "Please take me home." This is how we got our second child. The boy is now a teacher in a school and our daughter got sick, so she is hospitalized.

    I believe that veterans are always respected and I would like to share a recent experience when I went to a supermarket in Switzerland. As I was walking into the supermarket, a grey-haired lady almost ran past me, and at first I thought that she was in a hurry. But she opened the door for me. She said, "During the war times we had been listening on the radio that if a tiny country like Finland can stand against a superpower like Russia, then Switzerland also has the right to remain free." I believe that war is all about defending your country, and it is the duty of every person to defend his country till his last breath.

  • John R Newell,
    Ottawa, CanadaMORE...

    My name is John R Newell, I was born in Ottawa in 1922, on the 26th of September. It was a great early childhood, and then I moved onto growing up into the Great Depression that Canada and the United States went through. It was a horrible time and most of the people were out of work.

    After the Depression, the Germans started infiltrating parts of Europe, which started the Second World War. Great Britain was sort of unprepared to face the German airforce that continually bombed London and the rest of the United Kingdom. They needed to recruit and train new pilots, build planes and do all sorts of things to be able to fight back the Germans. So the Canadian Government undertook the mission to become the aerodrome for the United Kingdom. That was in early 1940, we started the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. This plan encompassed airports across Canada to be used as centers, to provide air crew and ground crew members place to train. Canada employed thousands of people to build this system, multiple aircrafts had to be purchased, aerodromes had to be built, the whole works in order to make this plan work. It took off and as a result we trained a 139,000 airmen to go overseas and fight the Germans.

    As the war progressed, and I became of age, I joined the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force), hoping to become a fighter pilot. When I came home that day, I said to Mom and Dad: "Dad, Mom, I enlisted in the Air Force." Well, you should've seen my Dad's face drop, because for centuries my family were army men. My Dad was in the Royal Horse Artillery in the First War, my brother was in the Royal Horse in the Second War, and here I come home and say "I'm going in the Air Force." That was in 1941.

    I started out at the Manning Depot in Lachine, Quebec. This is where you learn the basics of military life, and there was initial training, and you received your uniforms and clothing materials, and you started learning how to parade, how to drill, and do all that muscular stuff. After about four weeks at the Manning training I was sent to the elementary flying school, which was in Victoriaville, Quebec. This is where you learned the basics of flying, and the aircraft used was a Fleet Finch. It was a two-wing aircraft, similar looking to those aircraft used in the First World War. It was a beautiful plane to fly. We did all kinds of courses at this school, learning how to navigate, learning the drills of starting the engines, how to control the aircraft.

    For service training I ended up at Uplands, in Ottawa here, to my good luck, because that's where my family was. And on top of that, most of the crew that I was at elementary with went with me, so I had few friends here.

    The service aircraft was a Harvard, and if you could fly the Harvard, you could fly any fighter plane within a very short time of familiarization. Learning where the controls were, learning where the handle was, all the little different items that you have to know in the fighter type of aircraft. This course lasted for about three or four months, and we spent hundreds of hours studying. Besides learning to fly, you also learned navigation, wireless, all the things necessary to be able to find out where you are, where you're going and how you're going to do it.

    We practiced false landings, we would fly out to the aerodrome, to a farmer's field, and practice coming in as a landing, but would never touch down. You just came in, brought it down and took off again. And you did this, and you had to be careful of the fences that guard the approach to the field, the bushes that normally surround the farm, you had to make sure that you left the ground soon enough in order to get above those trees. During the training period in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, Canada lost quite a few students and instructors, mainly because of pilot error, being lost, running out of gas, and things like that. I remember, even twenty-five years after the war, a Harvard aircraft was found in a farmer's bush, and in all those years the farmer never went in there.

    Besides the training, we were learning all the things that you have to know to become a fighter pilot - machine guns, bombing exercises, mechanics, how to operate cameras and few other things.

    After we learned the bombing exercises, what they did, they took the guns out of the aircraft for air-to-air firing, and they put cameras in. And then two of you would go up, and one would be the good guy, and the other one would be the Canadian, and you would take half an hour each trying to shoot down the other aircraft. And as you did this, the cameras moved, and when you came down, they developed the movie and told you whether you lived or died. So, anyways, that was fun. And I should also mention that we used to have to put our parachutes in for repacking every now and again, and the favorite saying by those chaps who did the packing was, as we were leaving: "If it doesn't work, bring it back, and we'll give you a new one." After all the air training at Carp for learning how to be a real fighter pilot, then we graduated. I graduated, I received my pilot wings from our Governor General, the Earl of Athlone. His back was as straight as a ramrod. And a very handsome man. And he presented me my wings and he also presented me with my commission, which made me an officer in the Air Force.

    Unfortunately for me, because of my high marks and my different abilities, that instead of becoming a fighter pilot like I had trained to become, they made me an instructor in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. And this plan, as I mentioned earlier, was started in 1939 and took place from 1940 until 1945 when the war ended.

    At the peak of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 94 schools operation 211 sites across Canada. 10,800 aircraft were involved, and the ground organization numbered 104,113 men and women. Three thousand trainees graduated each month at a cost of more than 1.6 billion dollars. A 131,553 pilots and other air crew members were trained to go across the oceans to fight the Germans. This Commonwealth Air Training Plan had a lot to do with the early cessation of the aircraft battles during the war.

    I was an instructor up until the end of the war. I continued instructing after the end of the war, and we put quite a few airmen through. Very few of them failed. In fact, none of the courses that I participated in, actually failed a chap going through as a fighter pilot. The Canadian boys had a keen interest to become fighter pilots and go overseas to help fight the war. It was a great honor to be able to train young men with that ambition to help end the war. Their studies, like mine, were quite intensified. You had, besides all your training to become a pilot, your navigation, your wireless, your everything, your gunning practice. Everything involved, you had to study, when you got done flying for the day, at the evening. So, your day was pretty well spent, and generally you were pretty tired when you went to bed at night.

    It wasn't all training and everything else, there were few times when you had a good laugh. For example, there was an English chap with us at my station, and apparently, from what I understand, he would just take his detachable collar off his uniform and his boots, and he would climb to bed. Well, after a couple of days like this, he began to reek, so the boys around his bunk said: "You're gonna have a bath tonight, eh?" And he told them "I will have a bath when I want." So they picked him up and put him in a cold shower, with his uniform and everything on. They let him soak there for about twenty minutes. When he came out, they said: "You're going to get a regular bath, aren't?" and he said "Oh yes, oh yes." Another time, at that same station, we had the oldest chap in our group, and we called him Pop. Because we were just 20, and he was 25, I guess, when he went through, and he was a wonderful guy. One day was having a shower, and so one of the chaps went outside - this was in February - and he got a bucket of water from the fire water barrel outside the building, and he brought it in, and he poured it over the curtain, in the shower, onto Pop. Well, when Pop caught his breath, the door opened, and out he came, bare naked, and the guy's standing there, laughing, and when he saw Pop charging at him, he took off and Pop chased him outside into the snow, and if he'd ever caught him, he would've killed him.

    Naturally, every weekend or two weekends or so, we would go up to the chief flying officer's tower and we would request overseas posting. And, of course, we knew that they threw our requests in the garbage before we even left the door. We had one job, and it was instructing, for quite a few years, and so every now and again we would fly to out west, to the Toronto area, and maybe deliver Air Force top officers for meetings or something like that. One of our instructors, Cap Borden was gonna pick up an officer to bring him back home. When he went in, he streaked that airport, he flew between the ground and the top of the flag, right past the observation tower, and rolls, acrobatics, everything that you don't do over an aerodrome. So when he landed, it happened that the chief of our area, happened to be at the meeting at that time, he was the one he was gonna pick up, and he said to the commanding officer of the station: "Are you gonna charge him or am I?" Well, the station officer had no choice but to charge him. He was court martialed, and they asked him why he would do such a stupid thing? And he said: "I've been training pilots for years. I'm so bloody fed up with it. And like everybody else, I trained to be a fighter pilot, and I just couldn't help it, I had to let myself go." He was court-martialed and he was reduced to the rank of sergeant, and they said to him: "You are going overseas. You are going to become an elementary flying instructor in England." And that's how he spent the rest of the war, doing elementary flying instead of service flying. He paid his price, but he made his point.

    The war was coming to an end in Europe, so there were a lot of publications - what was never known before, started to appear in the papers, so you were up to beat on that. And when the war ended, Ottawa had quite a celebration for that - it went on all night.

    I was disappointed that I never got to go overseas and fight. That was my purpose when I was starting out. After the war was over the Air Force offered me a job, but I turned it down - I was fed up with them.

    So I left Air Force in 1945 and started my civilian life. It wasn't hard for me to find work because I was a great student and won all kinds of medals and stuff like that. So I started working in the British-American Banknote Company, which is a printing company that printed Canada's money and all kinds of bonds, certificates, Canada's postage stamps and many other things. We even have the contract to print all the Visa checks all around the world, all types of jobs like that... We were very-very successful, we even printed the Chinese money, and we had to ship those packages of money in a wooden case with a tin liner inside, in case the boat got sunk, they could retrieve it.

    A funny story happened to me shortly after I came back home and started my job. During the war we got a word that one of the chaps I trained with was shot down and apparently killed. And that day I had to take the bus to work, because I had my car in for repairs, and I'm walking towards the end of the bus, and here's this fellow, sitting there, and I nearly dropped dead. And then I looked at him and I said: "Aren't you so and so?" and he says: "Yeah, and you're Johnny Newell, aren't you?" And I said: "Yes." And I said: "We got word that you were killed." "Oh, no, - he says, - I was shot down, but I was taken prisoner." But the word we got, he was killed. And so it was quite a shock to see him sitting in the back of that bus.

    I worked in the British-American Banknote Company for forty-seven years, and I became the person in charge of production and inventory control. I trained a lot of people in the business, and they ended up as supervisors of different departments and things like that. Eventually I trained one person to do my job and I retired in 1986, and the insurance companies hate my guts, because I've been retired for 30 years now, and they've been paying my pension ever since.

  • Joseph Koen,
    Athens, GreeceMORE...

    My name is Joseph Koen. I was born in Athens on the 12th of December, 1938. I am 77 years old and I have lived a whole adventure with my family that started since the occupation of Greece by the German Army on the 27th of April, 1941.

    I remember the year the newspapers were reporting that the Germans had occupied Greece. The German Army had announced that all Jews living in Athens would be able to live in the city safely provided they reported their names at the synagogue for the German official records.

    Many Jews did not believe them and joined the resistance. My father did not believe them, either. As a result, we escaped to Marousi where we were protected by a resistance group called EAM. We also changed our name from Koen to Papadopoulos for our protection. We were changing hiding locations very often so as not to be traced by the Germans. One time we were all sleeping at a very small side building of a villa that was meant to be inhabited by the security guard. He used to give us every now and then a single potato for the family to eat. Most of the time we were starving.

    My parents could not work because if they did so, they were risking being recognized by the Germans. My father was pretending to be a tuberculosis sufferer to justify the fact that he was not working. When he had to go downtown he was always going on foot following side-paths. He was never using a bus because they were frequently stopped and checked by Germans with the help of informers in order to arrest more Jews. Sometimes these informers were giving false information to them, making them believe they were indeed turning in Jews and members of the resistance in order to win their favor.

    One day my father was too late for our lunch and we were very worried. When he got back he was pale and frightened and said that we should immediately leave the place because they had arrested the Jews at the synagogue. On Friday, the 24th of March, 1943, the Germans said they were going to distribute flour at the synagogue and called all the Jews there. Then they locked the doors and captured everyone present. In the afternoon a track showed up and they were all taken to a jail in Chaidari.

    Sometime later, we had to live to a house next to a horse stable and I contracted psora. My mother took me to the Christian priest of the town--who knew we were Jews--and he sent us to the hospital in the German military camp where one of his friends was working. The problem was that the doctor would find out about my circumcision and he would understand that we were Jews. He indeed found out, but he chose to ignore it and he went on to treat me with the suitable drugs.

    In spring 1943, I was walking with my sister on the street and a German truck stopped before us. A number of Germans got out of it and my sister panicked and screamed that we were arrested. Then one of them approached us, asked us to excuse them and informed us that they were performing a military exercise.

    One of the most traumatic experiences I had during the war took place in Neo Hrakleio in Athens. We had gone there with my father to find food and supplies and we ran across about six dead bodies of citizens who had been executed the last night.

    In general, we changed about six houses during the war. When the war ended we were informed by a man called Nikolopoulos that the occupation of Greece had come to an end. The end of the civil war that followed found our family financially destroyed. We had sold everything we owned to survive. I finished school and went on to study at the university to become an architect. I was taught and influenced by the best professors. When I finished my studies I got married and I now have two sons. The first one is an architect and the second one an artist. I have an incredible grandson, as well, and I live happily with my family.

  • JP Jayasekara,
    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.

  • Kila Singh,
    New Delhi, IndiaMORE...

    My name is Kila Singh and I was born on January 1st, 1920 in Samashpur Khalsa, Delhi. I went to school for about five years until my Father passed away when I was 10. It was a devastating loss for our family. I had to leave school and take care of my mother and two younger siblings as the oldest son. They were only toddlers and I needed to start taking part in the family farming business.

    In 1939 I decided to join the Indian Army. Partially out of necessity, partially out of desire to help the county. I started basic training in Allahabad, India. There, I learned how to operate vehicles and various weaponry. I impressed my British superiors so much that I was selected to train other soldiers. They saw that I was a great trainee, and I had natural leadership abilities that would help me train others.

    After nine months in Allahabad, I was sent to Jhelum, which is now part of Pakistan. In Jhelum, I was a training instructor. I conditioned the soldiers, taught them how to use their weapons, and how to drive. It was pretty amusing for me - just a few month earlier I was just a kid working on my family farm, then I was a rookie just signing up for the Army and here I was training other soldiers and telling them how to handle their rifles. Each training session was about three months, and then a new regiment of Indian soldiers would arrive.

    After four months, we were transferred to Chhindwara, a heavily wooded area that emulated the forests of the areas we were planning to fight in. I was taught how to combat the enemy in the forest, as well as how to hide and gain a good vantage point. In turn, I trained the rest of the infantry from what I had learned.

    After two years in Chhindwara, I felt I it was time for me as well be sent to the war. I had a strong desire to fight for my country. I asked my superior when I would be deployed. He told me in so many words that he wanted me to stay as an instructor, and that I was to never question him again. I felt that my acumen as a trainer was the primary reason they kept me on the base.

    In 1946, after years as a training instructor, I was deployed to Razmak, in the North-West frontier. Here, we were having significant problems with Pashtun soldiers. I had been such a good instructor, I felt now it was time to actually act on what I was teaching.

    Unfortunately, nothing much occurred there. We were in the midst of building roads that connected us with the Waziristan regiment, to maintain one district. We were rarely in combat. The roads were always closed, and only opened for official military business.

    We were ordered to stay within the confines of our containment camps because the Pashtun soldiers were so dangerous they would kill us on sight. Kids as young as 12 were armed with rifles there.

    Once, my platoon was traveling from Razmak to Bannu and took a break in the middle of the road. One of my fellow soldiers took out his lunch from his backpack, and as soon as he opened his mouth to take a bite, he was shot in the mouth. There was a Pashtun sniper hiding 500 feet away in a cave. We were then ordered to take our positions, and attempted to chase him down. Unfortunately, we weren't able to catch him.

    Soon after that, I was sent to Peshawar, which is now part of Pakistan. We stayed there for two months until we were sent back to Jhelum. Finally in Jhelum, our British superiors dismissed us. I feel like the British government was not able or didn't have enough resources to continue controlling so many territories so they decided to give independence to India and Pakistan. All Indian soldiers wanted one unitary state with Pakistan as a part of India but the British decided to split our country into two separate states. Many of us soldiers wanted to continue in the Army and asked why we were being dismissed. We were informed the war was over, and they simply didn't need us. It was frustrating, because many of us didn't feel like our war was over with Pakistan getting separated from India and also we didn't have much to go home to. The agricultural business was relatively stagnant, and we could make more as soldiers. But it was over.

    I retired and was sent back home in December 1946 and in August next year the Britons left. I only had six hectares on my family farm, which wasn't enough for a profitable business. Somehow, I managed to carry on with what I had and live a prosperous life. I got married, and had four sons and two daughters.

    These days, I haven't been working as much. I enjoy my time with family, and live peacefully. I'm glad to say I was a part of gaining that peace.

  • Lachman Singh,
    Pooth Khurd, IndiaMORE...

    My name is Lachman Singh, and I was born June 2nd, 1914, in the village of Pooth Khurd, Delhi. As a child, I wasn't very interested in going to school. India had a poor education system. I spent most of my childhood and formative years working on my family farm, where we grew wheat, rice, sugarcane and various vegetables.

    Time has faded my memory, but I believe I joined the Indian Army in 1942. I enlisted in Lal Quila, Delhi. As I grew, I realized our family's farming business wasn't very lucrative. As a primary breadwinner in my household, I told my family I would join the military because they were offering good salaries. I wanted to join the Army to serve my country and support my family.

    After enlisting, I was sent to Bareilly for basic training. I went through formalities such as a medical checkup and physical conditioning test. I passed both with flying colors. In training, we learned combat and how to operate vehicles and weaponry. In Bareilly is where I honed my skill as a grenade specialist.

    Once we graduated, we were sent to Manipur, India then deployed to Burma, which Japan had seized from the Allied forces during a contentious battle in the region. Upon arrival, the main thing I noticed in Burma were the narrow roads. This meant that air transport was a major factor in our infantries' efforts.

    Recalling the circumstance to the best of my ability, I served three tours in Burma. After each tour, we were allowed to have a rest for 1-2 months. We deserved it after the carnage we had gone through.

    During most of my stay in Burma, my infantry operated in tandems. If one of us slept, the other soldier kept surveillance for both of us. We alternated throughout the day and night. We had to be on constant alert, as the Japanese forces were highly dangerous. They were masters of stealth.

    I can recall an incident where Japanese soldiers threw few hand grenades at my company and killed dozens of soldiers. As I was also a grenade specialist, my British superiors asked me to do the same thing back to them. Which I did.

    As if this constant paranoia wasn't bad enough, our Army couldn't even provide us with consistent meals. There was a painful famine among British Indian troops. They had deployed us but made no arrangements to feed us! We had to use our survival instincts and ingenuity to find food for ourselves from day to day. We marched through Burma, very hungry, engaging in constant combat.

    I can recall once another soldier and I saw two Japanese soldiers in a bunker, one of which had a machine gun. We killed the soldier with the gun in his hand, then the other Japanese soldier fled in fear. We took the Machine gun and went back to camp.

    Along with being a grenade specialist, I was something of a medical assistant in my infantry. When my fellow soldiers were shot, I was one of the first on the scene with first aid. We had a firm border between our camp and the Japanese soldiers' territory, usually the Chindwin river. For those shot within the "safe zone", I would provide help. My job was to clean their wounds, help mend them, then keep them safe until they were able to be escorted to an Army hospital.

    Little did I know I would soon need my own medical treatment. The Japanese soldiers had an awful tactic of gutting us Indian soldiers then dumping our bodies in the river. The aforementioned scarcity of food made water a paramount resource. We were constantly ingesting the water, but we soon realized the decaying bodies had contaminated it. In my last tour in Burma, I fell ill along with many of my fellow soldiers. I ended up in a Hospital camp for allied soldiers, where I spent the rest of the war.

    Even though I was on the sidelines, I was kept well abreast of the proceedings. After the Battle of the Sittang Bend, Japan's stronghold of Burma was significantly weakened. 10,000+ soldiers died from their side. A couple weeks later, the atomic bombs dropped and they were pretty much finished. The Japanese quickly surrendered.

    After we won the war, my senior officers announced that anyone who had died or had serious injuries would be compensated by the British government. We didn't get anything from them though, the only pension came later from the Indian government. After the war, we were sent back to India. As I was still sick, one of my family members brought me back home to Pooth Khurd from the camp in Bareilly.

    When I regained my health I renewed my love of agriculture on the family farm, where I worked for over 60 years. During the 1950s, I had three children, two daughters and one son.

    My health hasn't allowed me to stay as involved in the farm as I once was. On January 24th, 2015, my only son passed away. My son's death has made me feel terrible. The pain hurts me tremendously, but the rest of my family helps me and lets me know how much they love me.

  • Leon Lebowitz,
    Austin, TexasMORE...

    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.

  • Leslie James Ranson,
    Woodmansey, EnglandMORE...

    My name Leslie James Ranson, and I was born April 5th, 1922 on the outskirts of Hull, England. My father died when I was one, but my mother remarried when I was five, and my stepfather was good to me. I had a big family, with two brothers and three stepbrothers. We were a big farming family, and owned a farm on the near Hull.

    My family moved to Woodmansey England in 1932. I was in school until the age of 14, when I entered the workforce. I was first an errand boy at William Jacksons, then I worked for a dairy farmer for about six months. From the farm, I began working with my stepfather as a tractor driver. I got another job as a driver, which I maintained until I was called up for duty in March 1942.

    I had my basic training in Glasgow, where I stayed for six weeks. From there, the military transferred me to Sheffield where they "taught" me how to drive. I was already driving for years, but they insisted I learn things their way.

    For a year, I was posted to a holding company in Halifax. In early 1942, Winston Churchill created an Airborne division of his military and called out for volunteers. This seemed like an intriguing opportunity, so I signed up to join the infantry. The military send me to a base in Wiltshire, where the 250th company was stationed. I remember we made two shillings a day, which at the time wasn't that bad.

    It was here where I first learned to fly gliders and become a parachutist on a nearby airfield. For two weeks, we flew and glided through the sky. It was an exhilarating experience.

    I remember one particular time, we were in a fog, and our glider ended up stuck in the trees during an emergency landing. We landed in a field and jumped out of the air raft, but the toe rope got caught on a tree. Our sergeant told us to guard the glider while he got help, but we ended up leaving and telling someone else to watch it for us! We had a good time there. Every night we would go out on the town or find some fun to get into.

    After three weeks of training, I went to Royal Air Force Ringway in Cheshire, near Manchester to get my wings. There were eight jumps we had to nail to pass the text: two light jumps, four air jumps and two jumps out of a balloon. With my newfound expertise, I passed all of them easily.

    In March 1943, when the army command felt the division was ready, we were deployed to North Africa. The Allied Forces were already having great success with Operation Torch, and our division was brought in to continue the efforts. Our army, along with the Americans was successfully fighting off the Italians and Nazis throughout the region.

    We landed along the Mediterranean coast. Our superiors ordered us to drive a convoy of vehicles and supplies from Algiers, Algeria to Tripoli, Libya. Once we got to the coast of Libya, we drove our vehicles and supplies onto a ship. In October 1943, we were sent to invade Italy. My infantry was put on an American destroyer, and we set out to sea. I can recall they had fresh bread on the ship, which was the first cooked bread I had seen since leaving England. I enjoyed that with some corn beef.

    Once we got to Italy, I noticed there was nobody there. The Italians must've known our impending arrival. I can recall seeing a train with a Beretta Revolver stuck in the rear. When we pulled the gun out, the train started to spark, and then exploded! That must have been the Italians "thank you" gift for invading their country.

    Further enraged, we traveled to Brindisi, Italy. The infantry came across what had to be about a thousand Italian soldiers in a fort. Our power, combined with their relative weakness at the time made them vulnerable. We barged into the fort and asked them bluntly "are you going to surrender?" And they all surrendered. It must not have been a hard decision with guns drawn.

    The experience in Italy was pretty memorable. I remember once an Italian tried to sell me a watch on the street. I told him I wasn't interested, but undeterred, he dropped it in a bucket of water to prove it's durability. Then slammed it up against rocks! It was impressive, but I still didn't want the watch.

    Another time a couple soldiers and I were enjoying downtime with some lady friends on a balcony in Rimini. We saw a Fiat 500 pull up, and who was in it but Victor Emmanuel 3rd, the King of Italy! We watched him and his entourage for a bit, but ultimately it cleared up.

    After the bombing of Foggia, we left Italy. We left Sorrento and set sail for England. Unfortunately, an engine died on the boat and our trip was delayed. On Christmas Day, 1943 we finally got back to England. Upon landing, the infantry was sent to a Naval establishment in Boston, England, which was a valuable port at the time. After three weeks there, we were sent to Branston, Lincolnshire for more conditioning and practice in the air.

    I remember once, another soldier and I left for the weekend, but coming back we missed the bus in New Holland and had to walk back to camp. Fearing punishment for being late, we snuck back into camp from the back.

    One day in September 1944, the division was doing an exercise near Hadrian's wall. We were then called back and given a briefing about future deployments. British Field Marshal Montgomery was attempting to force his way into Germany, and to do so he needed to seize a significant part of the region near the Waal and Lower Rhine.

    We were to be deployed to Arnhem immediately to assist in that mission. So many soldiers were deployed that there wasn't enough aircrafts for everyone, and some of us had to take gliders. It took three whole hours for that cavalcade to travel.

    It was dusk when I arrived in Arnhem. I immediately found myself in the midst of combat. There was a machine gun on top of a building, shooting. I ran down a slick way to protect myself from fire and watch the machine gun from a safe distance. I later climbed up a wall, and saw three more Germans. I managed to get away.

    Walking along the street, I saw a burning building. It was a police station! I walked further down the street and ran into some of my platoon. Since I was in charge of them, I told them we were going into a nearby Council building. There was a soldier named Len Evans who I asked to guard the door. He was a bit shell shocked, and perhaps scared a little, but I told him he'd be alright.

    We went upstairs and in the restroom. Suddenly bullets started flying. Someone was shooting us from a nearby Bell Tower. Some shrapnel landed on the back of my neck, but I was OK. We stayed in there for three days and three nights. There were only three of us at that time.

    On September 21st, 1944, after four days, we decided to leave the building. The area was overlooking the Arnhem Bridge. I jumped over a guardrail and walked down a passage. When I walked into the street there were Germans standing right there! One of them asked me if I spoke French.

    They immediately took our weapons and snatched our uniforms off. Oddly, they didn't take my wallet.

    The Germans took us into a big theater, and we sat there for what seemed like a week. They didn't even feed us. Eventually, a German came in and told us we were to march to Apeldoorn to be interrogated. As we marched along, I saw the German tanks and soldiers patrolling the streets and taking photos.

    Once we got to Apeldoorn, the Germans told us we were prisoners and interrogated us. They asked us for our name, rank and number. The Germans didn't ask much else, and we weren't going to give them any more information anyway.

    After about 20 days, we were put in cattle trucks and driven off to a prison camp. They had taken our boots off, so we were all barefoot. There was a German guard on top of every boxcar, and we heard them shooting at the Dutch to scare them.

    We soon got to Lindbergh prison camp. I can recall big tents, but nothing to lay on inside but the grass. It was a terrible circumstance. There were 2,000 prisoners, and those Germans only had the water on for two hours a day. You'd be lucky to even get a drink of water. And on top of that many new prisoners were coming every day - mostly Russians.

    After awhile, we were put in more wagons and taken to Stalag IV-B near Dresden, Germany. This was one of the biggest POW camps in the country.

    While we were there, the Germans would sarcastically play Bing Crosby, "What a Beautiful Morning" every morning. There was a German officer who would come in with a billy club and make us get up. We would have to wake up at 4AM to go to the repair depot, where we did odd jobs. I worked as an electrician most of the time.

    They treated us pretty awful, as one could imagine. There were about 20 of us in my individual area, and we were given just two loafs of bread a night. Every night a different person was assigned to cook, and you can believe there were 19 pairs of eyes on him to make sure he didn't try any funny business.

    On February 13th, 1945 the Allied Forces began bombing Dresden. After the bombing, the German soldiers placed us in a general area while they decided their course of action. I can remember, a shaken German officer, all trembling and dirty. He told the Sergeant in charge of us he wanted some of us to helps salvage the area. When he said "all my family is gone" my fellow soldier Chucky White laughed. That officer was infuriated, pulled a luger out and stuck it in Chucky's ribs. Chucky was terrified. Luckily, the Sergeant made the officer to stand down.

    We were then sent out to attempt to clean up what had once been one of the world's most beautiful cities. We went into houses, all the people would be dead in the bunk beds from asphyxiation. It was one big killing field. I can recall being in the street one day cleaning rubble when an Englishman walked right up beside me and said "Sheffield". I had no idea what he meant.

    Another time, I went to see other British prisoners at a Slaughterhouse. I had a two-way cart, and was there to pick up food. Suddenly, another British soldier and I resolved we had had enough. After a brief discussion with a German officer, we decided "we're off." We walked off across the field in broad daylight. He told us to come back or he was going to shoot us. I said "well, shoot then!" At that point there wasn't much worse they could do to us.

    I guess the trauma of the war had softened him, because he didn't shoot, or chase behind us. We kept walking until it got dark. About a mile up a road, we were captured by German guards. Luckily, they took it easy on us. They gave us soup, and took us back to a barn the next day.

    The next day, we continued walking again, and came across a village full of Germans. We knocked on one woman's door, and she looked like she saw a ghost when she opened the door. She was terrified to let us in, but let us sleep behind her house in a pigsty. They next morning, when we woke up the Germans were gone.

    Along our journey we spotted a wagon with three lugers inside. Now we were armed! The word was out that Germans were shooting all escaped prisoners, or "werewolves" as they called us. There were dozens of people fleeing from the camps after Dresden started burning. We would need to be able to protect ourselves along this journey, because being caught was certain death.

    Soon, we reached Czechoslovakia. We knocked on another door, and a woman answered again. We told her our story, and she let us stay in her house for a couple days.

    Around this time there was a rumor that the Allies had made peace with Germany and were fighting the Russians now. One day, we saw a German washing his feet by a stream. He told us "you beat us but you got to fight the Russians back", which was nearly true.

    We were listening on the radio one day and suddenly a broadcast came on: "RAF save us! RAF save us!" The US had accidentally bombed Prague. Soon after, a German Tank came through the neighborhood with people on it. They yelled, "we're going to Danzig, the war's over!"

    We set off on the road, and there were German convoys all over the place full of dead bodies. Soon, I heard a sound off in the distance. I knew that sound and would recognize it anywhere: American GMCs. The entire US convoy passed us before we were able to talk to the last one. He said "Who's your guys?" We told him we were Britishers, and he said "hop on!".

    At last we had some protection, or so we thought. The soldiers dropped us off at an airfield, because they were off on another mission elsewhere. They saw that we weren't critically injured or wounded, just a little thin. Perhaps they figured from there, someone else within the Allied forces could help us.

    We stayed in a control tower at the field for a couple days. Eventually we saw a Dakota plane. I ran over to the pilot, and asked him where he was going. He said Rennes. I asked him if I could fly with him, and he said sure! From there, it was all over!

    From Rennes, I took a Lancaster bomber to Wiltshire. I was so glad to be back home. After a day at an RAF base, we were given railway warrants to get back home.

    By this time the war was over. I was given eight months of leave, then went back into the Army. I had to go through all the training over at Yeovilton. There was a huge notice there that read: New intakes are forbidden to fraternize with the POWs. I thought that was hilarious!

    While I was at Yeovilton, they were about to draft some of us to go back to Germany! We got that squashed though. I went to four or five different places, primarily as a driver.

    In October 1946, I was demobilized and got married the same month. After a Honeymoon in Edinboro, I began work again. I had a daughter with my first wife, who recently died of cancer.

    I was a driver from January 1st, 1947 to 1953, then I became a pig farmer. I had 1,000 pigs at one time, which was on awful lot. My first wife developed multiple sclerosis, which she suffered from for ten years before she died. I was later re-married, and had a son and a daughter.

    My older brother was an engineer in the Air Force. He was killed in Lourdes, France in January 1943. I felt he was too old for flying. The average age for pilots was 22, and he was 32. It was his 33rd operation, but the British Army wanted more from him. Unfortunately, he was blown to smithereens by a bomb. He was married with a child. His wife didn't believe he was really dead, and always thought he would walk through her door again. After awhile, her hope eroded and she committed suicide about 15 years ago.

    I can't do as much as I once did, but I still manage to enjoy my time. Nowadays, I like to play dominoes at the pub, and cut grass on my farm. I honestly wish I could do more work.

  • Lev Kaganovitch,
    Carteret, New JerseyMORE...

    I was born in Kirovograd on September 25, 1926. We lived there till 1941, and then were evacuated to the Rostov oblast, to Golubinka kolkhoz. But by the end of 1941, the Germans was already approaching Rostov oblast. We left for Stalingrad and were living near the Volga River on a boat. Later, in the winter of 1942, we moved to Pugachev where our uncle lived.

    Five families were living in one room there, four occupied the corners and one was in the middle. I was in my sixteenth year so I started to work with my mother. There was a water mill in town, and a generator. So I found work as an electrician's apprentice. And my mom was working at a spaghetti factory where they made noodles for hospitals. I worked at the mill till 1943, and then I turned seventeen, which was the draft age in the Soviet Union. So on October 1 I was called up for service.

    We were brought to Saratov. We were outfitted there and sent to the Rifle Regiment 534 outside Stalingrad. We only caught the tail end of the Battle for Stalingrad where the Germans were encircled and destroyed very soon after our division arrived.

    After Stalingrad, we were sent to Primorski Krai, to the town of Voroshilov-Ussuriisk. Then we walked 70 km to the Japanese border. It was pretty quiet there; no one tried to attack us. We were building defense lines, digging trenches. We had few alarms and a couple of close calls but really nothing to tell about. The Japanese were occupied fighting the Americans in the Pacific and the English in India then, so we were not their primary interest.

    In 1945, the Great Patriotic War as we call it, ended. Some people call it the Second World War, but for us it has a different meaning. But the war with Japan was still going on. On August 8, 1945, there was a regimental formation and the commander read out an operation order that on August 9 at 4:00 a.m. we were to set out against Japan, because they had taken over the whole of Manchuria.

    With the nightfall we arrived at our starting points. It was raining very hard and I had never seen such a downpour before. The water was running right along the trenches, and we weren't allowed to unroll our coat rolls. You would lie on one side till it got cold, and then you'd roll onto the other side. At four o'clock sharp there was a green rocket, which meant get up and go! We passed the frontier posts: all the Japanese soldiers were taken care of - our reconnaissance worked well. The order was not to touch anything and just pass by.

    Then we reached a frontier town, which we had to storm. The entrance into the town was a tunnel. Japanese soldiers were waiting for us and the attack was not successful. We didn't get through and we lost a lot of men there. We were withdrawn before nightfall and during the next night our artillery and aviation started their part. They did their work there, and in the morning we came in again. Everything was clouded with smoke. There was no one left in that town already, but there were these pillboxes where the samurais were sitting and waiting for us. They were offered to surrender but they didn't agree - I heard that the Japanese almost never gave up, for they were very proud people. So we did what we had to do.

    Then we proceeded to Kharbin in Khabarovsk Krai where there were a lot of Russians meeting us with bread and salt. All the Japanese soldiers retreated. We moved to the Yangtse direction where the Kwantung Army had their headquarters. On the way there we faced serious resistance from the Japanese, a few fights and a lot of casualties. I somehow managed to get away without a scratch, even though I never hid behind the backs of my fellow soldiers and was proactive in every fight.

    We passed by the Khingans, and there were only mounds and hills further on. One day we were marching through a hilled area and it was very peaceful and quiet, and then suddenly a machinegun started firing from somewhere. We were ordered to take the position, and figured out where the fire was coming from. We stormed the hill where the enemy was, and when we got to the top we saw just one samurai chained to the rock who was shooting from his machinegun. He got killed, of course. I guess his comrades had left them there to die.

    We finally reached Kwantung Army headquarters. It was September 3, and they didn't know about the capitulation of Japan yet. We were informed but their army commander didn't know anything about it. So we wanted to inform them about this before engaging in a fight, hoping they would surrender. We dispatched a few people to come to their outpost to talk it over. So they did, but the Japanese commanders didn't believe us, saying that there is no way Japan would surrender - and if they did, wouldn't the Japanese Army know first?

    Our guys were smart and said "We are giving you one day to contact your authorities. You are surrounded and don't stand a chance in a fight. But we don't want to kill you, for your country is lost and there is no need for more people to die." The next day we got a message from the Japanese that they got in touch with their people. And so, they surrendered. The whole Kwantung Army surrendered to us without a shot fired. I was happy we didn't have to kill anyone.

    We took over their headquarters and their food and weapons. We took them as prisoners of war, and later they got transported to a camp in Primorski Krai, somewhere in the Ussuri taiga. I know that some were sent home and some remained in various labor camps. Many died in camps as they weren't used to the cold.

    I got demobilized later, and proceeded with my life. Many things have happened since then, which I'm not particularly keen on talking about right now. The biggest event was that I moved to the United States with my family and I really miss my home now. That's all I want to say.

  • Ludwik Miesiek,
    Poznan, PolandMORE...

    My name is Ludwik Miesiek, and I was born on September 12, 1926 in a small town Pleszew. There I studied in primary school and was about to enter grammar school in 1939 if it wasn't for the war that broke out and ruined all our plans.

    My father was in the military and his unit was stationed in Pleszew. In early September the families of the military officers were to be evacuated to the south of Poland to keep them from the approaching front line. We all hoped we'd be safe there.

    So we were heading for a small town Komarno, near Lviv which was still Poland at that time. The distance was about 450 km, but we had to cover a good 1200 km, as we had to make a lot of detours because of the Polish soldiers marching westward. We were supposed to arrive at Komarno on September 2, but we came there only on the 9th. Right when we were arriving to our final destination we were attacked by the German planes. Out of 280 people who were present there - mostly women and underage children - I for one was only 13 years old - 116 people were killed, and the rest were wounded, including me. My brother died lying on the ground by my side. There were six planes: some dropped the bombs, and the others shot at those who tried to save their lives hiding in the nearby cornfield.

    Later in September 1939 the hostilities were halted, and a new borderline was marked between Germany and the Soviet Union. We found ourselves on the Soviet territory with no possibility to come back home.

    It took a while before Germany finally signed an agreement with the USSR so the Poles could go back home. We didn't return to Pleszew though, but to a small village near Ostrow Wielkopolski where my father's parents lived. Some time later our dad joined us there. He had been fighting at the front and was taken prisoner near Warsaw. After a lucky escape from the camp he headed straight to the village where his parents lived, and the whole family was reunited. The local people didn't know much about my father as he had lived in Pleszew. Since nobody could report to the Germans that he had been in the army, my father pretended to be a musician. That wasn't much of a lie, as he could play a lot of musical instruments indeed and he had been a conductor of a military orchestra. So, the Germans issued a new passport for him, without ever finding out that he had been a military officer and had taken part in Wielkopolske rebellion back in 1918.

    I remember when we were still staying in Komarno I was once arrested by a Ukrainian militia man near Lviv opera house. I think it was because I was wearing my gymnasium uniform. He checked my documents and having found out that I was from western Poland he said that I was exactly the kind of person NKVD (The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs) was looking for. At that time the NKVD office in Lviv was headed by colonel Serov, who worked under a pseudonym Ivanov and was Beria's right-hand man. His job was to ensure the resettlement of Polish intelligentsia from Lviv further to the east of the USSR, to Siberia. Of course I was too young to understand all this at that time. So, when they brought me to St.Bridget monastery where NKVD had its headquarters, and a man called Ivanov started to interrogate me, I was completely unaware who that person was and how dangerous it might be. He asked me about very common things, about our everyday life in western Poland before the war, about our family relations, about the way people treated each other in general, life at school, common holidays and celebrations... This kind of stuff.

    There was only one interpreter, a very beautiful woman, the wife of a Polish major who was at war and had not returned yet. I have no idea why she was working for NKVD, maybe she was forced to or maybe she volunteered. Anyway, when Serov was called to pick up the phone, she told me that she was deeply impressed by my story and promised me to do everything she could to set me free from NKVD. I was very surprised to hear that. Why should they keep me imprisoned if I had committed no crime? She told me that I was too young to understand what NKVD was really about. When Serov came back, she did arrange things in such a way that they let me free.

    In May 1940 when we finally managed to return to Poland, to my grandparents' village Topola Mala near Ostrow Wielkopolski. At first I just stayed at home, with my family, studying languages - German and Italian. However, in 1942 there was a threat that they could send me somewhere to public works in Germany. So my father helped me to find a job in a dairy factory in Ostrow, so that I could receive a document confirming that I was officially employed.

    We both - my father and I - worked at that dairy factory, supervising the trucks that brought milk from the local farms to the factory and then went back to the farms with butter. Farmers were allowed to receive some butter in exchange for their milk. At that time my father became involved with a secret organization which was first called Polish Military Organisation (Polska Organizacja Wojskowa, POW) and later renamed as ZwiÄ…zek Walki Zbrojnej (ZWZ), meaning "The Union of Armed Struggle".

    And in 1942 following my father's steps I also joined ZWZ. Soon after that it was renamed as Armia Krajowa by a special order of general Sikorski who commanded it from his exile abroad. At first I did some office work, but later I was given more responsible tasks, such as transferring messages to other AK units across the region.

    My father was my immediate superior at that time and he gave me tasks to transfer messages to other regions of Poland. So I worked as a courier, riding my bicycle sometimes as far as several dozen kilometers away from home. I should note here, that according to the rule established by the Germans, a Polish person was not allowed use a bicycle unless his place of work was situated more than two kilometers away from his place of residence.

    It was the night of September 13-14, 1943 when the Allies planes dropped some weapons, maps and other intelligence for us in Tursk, which is near Pleszew. It was important that the Allies and our Polish secret organizations had the same maps so that they could know for sure where to drop weapons next time. In October 1943 I was sent there to get the maps. I forgot to mention that the Polish were required to paint a white stripe on the back of their bicycle seats so that the German police could tell who was riding. I made this stripe from a piece of white paper and would stick it to my seat with a chewing gum when necessary. This helped me to pretend to be German, which wasn't very difficult with my blond hair. Everything was ok on the way to Tursk, but on my way back to Ostrow I ran across a checkpoint. There was a Pole from Hilfspolizei standing with his back towards me, and two other policemen at some distance behind him. I didn't know what to do. As I had no white stripe on the back on by seat signifying that I was Polish, there was no other choice but to pretend to be German. I was supposed to greet a polizei with "Heil Hitler" slogan, but since the Pole was quite an old man and most probably hated Hitler, I decided to greet him with neutral "Guten Tag". In fact, he didn't see me coming, so when I approached them and said "Guten Tag", he got so startled that he let me pass without asking any questions. The two other policemen must have thought that the polizei knew me, so they didn't do anything either. I rode past them without accelerating the speed in order not to betray my fear. It was only when they remained far behind that I rushed forward and returned home half dead with fear.

    When my father gave those maps to the officer who was responsible for the contacts with the allies, he also told him about the checkpoint that I had run into. It was crucial information because we were planning to transport the weapons dropped by the Allies' planes by the same road. For that valuable information I was promoted to the rank of senior strilets (rifleman), which was one rank higher than that of a private. I was also awarded Bronze Cross with swords. A Bronze Cross was usually awarded in peace time, while the one with swords was awarded during the war. Besides, I was enrolled to a clandestine sub-officers' school. I was 19 at that time. In summer 1944 I passed all the necessary exams and was promoted to the rank of corporal. After that I became head of the raiding group of the Ostrow region of Armia Krajowa.

    January 18, 1945, marked the beginning of the mass draft for an open fight with the Germans. It took us only two days to drive the enemy away from Ostrow. Nevertheless, the AK commandment understood that the Soviet troops were approaching from the East and they were going to arrest all the members of Armia Krajowa. That is why a new draft was organized in order to protect the city. We arranged 5 brigades, known as Volunteer Defense Brigades.

    The Germans tried to recapture the city in order to get hold of the stocks of fuel and food. On January 24 they made an attack, but we managed to capture a German tank, turned it around and opened fire against the enemy. They got really scared because they thought that it was already the Soviet Army, as the AK troops could not possibly have such equipment. We managed to defend the city all by ourselves until the Red Army came to help us.

    The Red Army had a very peculiar style of fighting the Germans. Several tanks, the so called "cholewky" would cross the front line and hide somewhere waiting for the possibility to attack the enemy either from the rear or from a side. In our area they chose three locations: one was located near Krotoszyn, another was not far from Grabow, and the third one was in the vicinity of Odolanow. We sent our messengers there asking the Red Army to help us defend Ostrow. Our first messengers went to Krotoszyn by car, but the Russians took both the car and the weapons and our guys had no choice but to return home on foot. Аnother person went to Grabow by motorbike. This time we sent a former member of the Polish Border Corps, who was fluent in Russian. It proved to be very helpful indeed, because he managed to convince a Soviet commander to help us. They did send us three tanks that helped us defend the city.

    The Eastern front finally reached Ostrow on January 25, 1945. Major Fedchin thanked the defenders of the city and gave us three days to lay down the arms. AK members discarded some weapons indeed, but only those that were of the worst quality. According to the order issued by the AK commandment, we were not to disclose ourselves. In fact, there were 7 thousand armed AK members on the territory of the Third Reich. Rumors had it that the Soviets were failing to find a common language with the English, so the latter started negotiations with the Germans, which would mean World War III.

    In April 1945, lieutenant-colonel Andrzej Rzewuski, head of the Representation of Armed Forces in Poland and the last commander in chief of our local AK unit, created a new clandestine military organization which was called Wielkopolska Independent Military Secret Organization, uniting former AK warriors. However, by the end of 1945 it was totally eliminated by NKVD that launched an active campaign against all the remaining secret organizations in Poland. In November 1945 Andrzej Rzewuski received an order from the Polish government in exile to dissolve his organization, and in December he was arrested by Polish Communist group in Poznan. During the investigation he was kept in prison, where he committed suicide. At least, this is the official version. It is highly probably that he was killed.

    Throughout the whole period of German occupation we have changed 7 commanders in Poznan region alone, 5 out of whom were killed. This proves the fact how difficult and dangerous it was to organize the activity of such secret organizations as Armia Krajowa.

    I took up sport and joined our local flying club, without telling anybody about my former involvement with Armia Krajowa. The truth was only revealed in 1950. The thing was that I became really good at flying those small engineless planes (gliders), and in 1950 I took the first prize in the qualifying round for the First International Competition in Gliding. So I had to fill in a form where certainly there was a question about my previous involvement with any public or military organizations during the war. I thought that a lot of time had already passed, and all those events were already history. So I wrote that I used to be an AK member. This little fact caused an enormous scandal. The whole administration of the club was at the risk of being dismissed. Fortunately, our administration proved to have strong connections in the party and was supported by other clubs. So they gave me good references and explained that I was very young when I took part in the activity of Armia Krajowa. I escaped punishment, but I wasn't allowed to fly planes for a long time. Luckily, many of the former AK people were also members of local flying clubs. So they helped me to resume my flying career. Some time later I was even part of the Polish national air-gliding team.

    I started my professional career in 1952 building bridges and roads. One of my first bridge designs proved to be very suitable for our local Polish conditions, so it became a prototype of more than 500 bridges built throughout the country in those days.

    At first I worked as an independent engineer running my own design office. Later, in 1963, I was offered a position in Investproject which was a state-run design bureau. I accepted this invitation and took part in designing Winogrady and PiÄ…tkowo, new housing estates in Poznan. We also had major commissions in other parts of Poznan province, e.g. in Zielona Gora, Gorzow Wielkopolski, etc. I was involved in all kinds of projects: housing, sports centers, roads, you name it! I was so active and versatile that my work attracted the attention of Polservice, a state-run enterprise that worked outside Poland. They gave me a posting in Libya, in a city called Sebha, Fezzan province. It is located 1,000 km away from the Mediterranean coast in the Sahara desert. Our team was responsible for providing technical facilities for commemorating the 10th anniversary of Gaddafi revolution. You should have seen how much money was spent to organize that event. While in Libya I also witnessed a diversion against Gaddafi. I stayed in Lybia from 1977 to 1980, and then came back to Poland where I continued working for Investproject. In 1986, at the age of 60, I took my retirement. In addition to usual pension I also receive some bonuses as a veteran.

    After the political reforms in 1989 we created the World Union of Armia Krajowa members. I was its cofounder meaning that I personally established 15 local units ("hurtka"). I also became member of the okreg commandment, first as the head of the Southern Wielkoplski ispektorat, and then as the deputy head of the Poznan okreg. I am still holding this position, which I am very proud of.

  • Lydia Zellner,
    Regensburg, GermanyMORE...

    My name is Lydia Zellner, born 1920 in Hamburg. We had a nice and quiet childhood in Eimsbuttel, my father worked as a caterer on cruise ships and sometimes we would't see him for a long time. But once I turned 14 I started accompanying him hon cruises. That was an unforgivable experience, we went to Copenhagen, Zopott, Heligoland...

    I studied in Hamburg and after I finished my apprenticeship I thought about going to Switzerland to continue my education. I remember how excited I was about it, I got accepted to a university there and already had my hotel arranged, but my father told me - 'Forget about it, the war is gonna start any day now'. And so it happened.

    At that time I worked in a hotel called Reichshof. We had guests all over the World, a very diverse and multicultural atmosphere. When the war broke out everyone was gone, all guests left and the hotel was empty. Soon after all the young men were drafted and it was just a few women us girls and an old men left. At that time Hamburg was quiet, even though the War was happening in Europe not much was going on in our city. The British were dropping leaflets from the planes, only later it was bombs instead of paper.

    The first air raids came in May 1940. We cleared out our cellar to have a space to hide from air strikes. Everyone had to bring his own stool and a cooking pot - as protection for the head. Around that time a home for disabled children in Hamburg was bombed and 45 children died in ruins. There was a man staying at our hotel, an SS officer named Hestner. After this horrible tragedy he said to me "don´t fret, they are just useless eaters". That was how these people thought about other humans. He died shortly after that in Poland.

    One day in Hamburg I met Elfriede, she was my former schoolfriend and it was the day of her wedding. The roads were bombed, and the church had been shut down but she got lucky and managed to marry just before it got closed. Later she pregnant and her husband left to the war. He never came back.

    On August 15th 1940 the cruise ship business was cancelled and my father was out of work. Our family started to look for a restaurant to manage. We found one in Ulm so we moved there. Um was much quieter at that time as it wasn't targeted by the Allies as much as Hamburg.

    But in 1944 the air rides began in Ulm as well. And one day the bombings destroyed the city to ashes. It was a Sunday, the 17th of December, we were open for business, the music was playing a lot of people were dining in our restaurant. And suddenly the sky turned dark, we heard the sound of sirens and rushed to the cellar. The house burned down from top to bottom, we barely escaped through the trap door. Everything around us was burning, dead bodies everywhere. We ran to the water, towards Danube and stayed there for some time. The city was in rubbles, about 80% of the building were burned out and destroyed and 25000 people were left homeless. I don't know how many died.

    We lost our home too so we moved to Dieterskirchen, a small village in the Bavarian forest because we had relatives there. It took us 3 days to get there because many stations were bombed out so it was hard to find trains we needed. On the way we had to stop a few times and seek cover in the woods because a train would stop if there is a bombings somewhere near.

    Dieterskirchen was a very small village but even there people would have a ceremony for a new fallen soldier every week. The war was coming to an end and the mood was very bleak. I remember I had a typewriter that I saved form all air raids and brought it with me. Someone told me that the SS will come and confiscate it eventually. And they really came. When I saw they were coming into the house I asked for some olive oil and poured it all over the types. The SS-officer came into the house and when he spoke too me asking if I have anything that can help the German Army I said - "I have a typewriter but it doesn't work". The officer grabbed the typewriter and said "we'll see about that". He put the sheet of white paper in and tried typing but the keys would get stuck because of the oil and he left the typewriter. I cleaned it later and it worked again, it was very dear to me because I carried it throughout all the hardships of war.

    One day we were sitting on a hill on the outskirts of the village and we saw the prisoners who were being transferred from the KZ Flossenburg to the KZ Dachau - a trek of hundreds of famished miserable people constantly beaten by the soldiers. Four people just fell down - dead. Once the soldiers left we picked them up and carried to the local cemetery. Later we had a wake and buried them in that cemetery.

    The Americans came soon after that incident. They were on a tank and took a hostage just for fun - a local farmer. They made him sit on their tank with his hands up for a long time. Before the military administration took control of the situation the American soldiers did whatever they desired - lived in the houses they wanted, took the food they wanted and made us live in barns. Everything came back to normal later but it was humiliating.

    The war was over in 1945 and we were left in destruction and poverty. But we had to move on and we did. Few months after the war was over we all cycled back to Ulm and started our life all over again. We needed to find work or open our business, we decided we'll try to open a restaurant again. We were lucky enough to find a good place near the station and we named it Ludwigsau. That was November 1945. The food supply was very limited and most of the food you could get from the black market. I would stay up for hours after work to glue the food vouchers like "50g meat" or "5g fat" on sheets of paper so we could buy food which was sanctioned.

    The winters of 45 and 46 were extremely cold and I only had one pair of summer shoes. I never want to freeze again like I did back then. But we survived

    Now almost 70 years passed since those days and before the 70th anniversary of the end of the war I am reminded about it a lot from TV and papers. I wish I wasn't. I wish I could forget all about that.

  • Man Luk-Bun,
    Hong Kong, ChinaMORE...

    My name is Man Luk-Bun. I was born in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, China on August 28, 1918.
    I came from a well-educated family. My grandfather was an Imperial scholar in the Qing Dynasty, having passed the Imperial Civil Examination and achieving the dynasty's highest academic honor. My father however did not have the opportunity to sit for the examination as it was later abolished. He became a teacher in a private school organized by the village. The Qing Dynasty ended in 1911. Following that, China went into a power vacuum, but was eventually governed by the Chinese Nationalist Party in the early 1930s after initial period of internal wars.
    After I graduated from high school in 1938, I wanted to apply to Wuhan University, which was one of the most prestigious institutions of the time. So, I embarked to Wuhan for the entrance examination. However, the Japanese invasion of China had just begun to spread to Wuhan when I got there in July 1938. The Japanese had occupied Shanghai and Nanjing by the end of 1937, and had been attacking the big cities westward along the Yangzi River, towards Wuhan and Changsha. Wuhan University had to close. And so I never got the chance to sit for any entrance examination. Many other prospective students were affected as well.
    The KMT government called upon us students to relocate to the Southwest of China behind Chongqing as Wuhan was no longer safe. The initial plan was to group us in Kunming and then for us to proceed to Chongqing. So in July 1938, we all marched from Wuhan to Kunming, passing by Changsha. The journey took us about one odd month.
    By that time, the Japanese had occupied Beijing and Tianjin. Some universities had to relocate. Subsequently, three of the most prestigious universities - National Peking University in Beijing, National TsingHwa University in Beijing and Private Nankai University in Tianjin - all relocated to Kunming and co-founded the Southwestern Associated University. So instead of continuing my march to Chongqing, I decided to sit for the entrance examination at the Southwestern Associated University in Kunming. I was admitted to study literature at the Faculty of Arts.
    Shortly after, on May 3, 1939, Japanese planes began bombarding Chongqing. We all became worried. The thought was: what future would we have if the second capital also falls? With that in mind, many of us took our own initiative to join the army. As a Chinese idiom goes, we decided to "lay down the pen and take up the sword".
    I applied to the branch of the Whampoa Military Academy in Kunming. The academy was the premier military school of the time in China, fostering potential military officers. It was originally located in Guangzhou but had to relocate after Guangzhou fell to the Japanese. For the entrance exam, I was tested on Chinese history, Chinese literature, mathematics, and physics. I passed the tests and was admitted as a student officer of the 17th class.
    On the first day at the academy, my head was shaven and I was given a uniform. But the school did not provide us with shoes or boots to wear. We were simply given a pair of woven sandals, which did not last long. So, all of us were taught to weave our own sandals from grass.
    We followed routines at the academy. In the morning, we had to wake up at 5:30 am and within 10 minutes, we had to assemble at the drill square to sing songs of the academy. Then it was time for breakfast, for morning exercises and later for practicing military drills. Whoever was late for these activities was punished. We had simple meals. It was congee with peanuts or bean curd for breakfast. Lunch was also simple - there was no meat, no chicken and no fish - just vegetables. We learned how to shoot various weapons three months after the admission. I was at the academy for two and half years from 1939 to 1941.
    After graduation, I was assigned to the 19th Army and was ranked the Second Lieutenant, Platoon Officer, one bar. Soon after, I was asked to report to the headquarters of the 19th Army in Gaoan, together with five other young officers from Jiangxi. As my home was on the way to the headquarters, I decided to drop-by to see my family before reporting for duty. Upon arriving, my father told me to get married there and then. It is in the Chinese culture to secure a heir. And this was especially so for soldiers like myself who may not ever come back home again. My wife-to-be was the daughter of a family friend. It was an arranged marriage and it was decided on before we were born. I haven't met my wife-to-be prior to the wedding day. I went ahead with the marriage and spent two more days at home. That was our honeymoon.
    After that I went straight to the headquarters in Gaoan. It was June 1941 and it was near the end of the Battle of Shanggao. We learnt that the Japanese were advancing towards Nanchang but they first had to cross the Jinjiang River, and that's where I was sent. So, we were on one side of the riverbank and the Japanese on the other. On our side, we had barbed wire around trenches, which were camouflaged. The Japanese started firing artillery to cover for their soldiers who were trying to swim across the river in few groups. Most were killed before they could reach the shore.
    After successfully defending several waves of attacks, on the third day, a small group of Japanese soldiers managed to get over to our side of the riverbank and even managed to climb over the barbed wire. We had no choice but to fight with our bayonets. There was one particular soldier that I fought with that I remembered. He plunged his bayonet at me. In turn, I managed to deflect his bayonet against mine. That action saved my life as I was only wounded superficially. I managed to stab him. He fell to the ground. That was my first fight, first kill. It was a chaotic scene so I did not have the time to reflect deeply on my feelings back then, but I remember I was somewhat happy to have won that fight. This was one of the most memorable moments for me as a soldier. That battle lasted three days and three nights.
    In 1942, the highest commanding general of my army, Commander Luo Zhuoying, was designated to be Commander in Chief of the 1st Route Expeditionary Force. The force was tasked to support the British army against the Japanese army in Burma. Commander Luo selected four of us to assist him. So, in mid-1942, we flew from Kunming to Ramgarh Cantonment at the northwestern border of India. When we arrived there, Commander Luo was already replaced and I was then redeployed to the Division Commander Liao Yaoxiang of the New 22nd Division.
    The main force including the New 22nd Division was still in Burma. I set out to join my division in Shin Bway Yang, Northern Burma. I was assigned to the 66th regiment and was promoted to Lieutenant, Platoon Officer overlooking the machine gun platoon. By the time I joined them, they were already retreating following the defeat by the Japanese. Some of us tried to go back to China, while the others retreated to Ramghar Cantonment with the British. In our retreat, we had to go through the Burmese tropical jungle during the raining season. We had three-days worth of supply of food and drinks with us. After the third day, we ran out of everything including medicine. Many of us were wounded beforehand. Many of those who were seriously injured collapsed due to worsening wounds. Others died of thirst, starvation, insect bites, animal attacks and sickness. There were notably many leeches. We marched days and nights without any sense of direction. The hardship was unbearable. I cannot believe that I lived through that and survived.
    Later, we managed to make our way back to Ramgarh Cantonment. There, at the base, we were re-equipped and re-trained by the British and American forces. We ate rice and bread supplied by them and wore American supplied uniforms.
    The counterattack took place in northern Burma. It started in late October 1943 along the Hukawng Valley. We fought the Japanese to Makaw in early 1944. During the counterattack, my Company Commander died. I was promoted to Captain Company Commander. I was shot once in the leg but I could still walk. The medical team took out the bullets after the battle. Before the counterattack campaign ended, I was ordered to go back to China to participate in the Battle in Hangyang in Hunan Province. Hanyang is a significant and strategic military point that connected the southeast and southwest of China by air, water, rail and road.
    We were assigned to defend the city of Hangyang for two weeks. There was supposed to be reinforcement but it only came after two months. And when they did come, it was only to cover us for our eventual retreat as we were ordered to do. Only 37 out of 180 of my fellow soldiers in the company survived. We found out later that the Japanese were impressed that none of us surrendered in the 48 days that we fought. I was wounded in the back by shrapnel.
    It was near the end of 1944 when the Battle of Hanyang ended. We were ordered to go to Leiyang in Hunan Province, en-route to Chongqing. In Leiyang, I was selected to join the 208th Division, which was a division in the Youth Expeditionary Force. I was promoted from a Captain to a Major, a Deputy Battalion Commander of infantry to train all of its student officers in the force.
    On August 15th 1945, the Japanese surrendered. I was in Yichun, Jiangxi Province that day. We did not have a radio, so we only learned of the Japanese surrender in the evening after the political officer of the division told us. When I heard of it, I was very delighted. We celebrated and jumped for joy. Civilians everywhere were setting off firecrackers.
    After the Japanese surrendered, the 208th Division was supposed to take over Taiwan after 50 years of Japanese occupation. So we advanced to Fuzhou in Fujian Province. As my division was about to set sail to Taiwan, our mission was cancelled. The Governor of Taiwan had rejected us and wanted his own troops to take over Taiwan. So from Fuzhou, we went to Wuxing, Zhejiang Province where three hundred odd young soldiers from Jiangxi were demobilized and went back to their hometown.
    I also went back home after that. This was in the mid-1946. Upon my return to Nanchang, I found out that both of my parents, my brother and my sister-in-law had all passed away during the war. I also learned that I had a son.
    It was supposed to be a two-week holiday. But on the second day I was back, I received a telegram from the Regimental Command asking me to head to Qingdao in Shandong Province, to deploy a new division for the KMT. This new division was brought to Nanjing to join the 202nd Division. The purpose of setting up the 202nd Division was to protect against the communist forces taking over major cities. I was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, Battalion Officer in 1946.
    On May 24, 1949, we had a meeting onboard a KMT flagship on the shore of Shanghai to discuss how to defend Shanghai from a communist takeover. In the evening, I heard some bombings coming from the city. While the meeting was going on, the anchor was lifted and we headed to Xiamen to report to Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the KMT. In Xiamen, six of us officers were taken to the airfield and we boarded a plane where I saw Chiang Ching-Kuo, son of Chiang Kai-shek. I was introduced to him. I had no idea where the plane was heading and why six of us were selected. We were the lowest-ranked among the officers. I did not bring any belongings with me. Eventually I found out that we were heading to Taiwan.
    I did not go back to Mainland China afterwards. I lost all forms of contacts with my family, relatives and friends. In the years following, I became a Colonel, Regiment Commander. Later, I was recruited by the Military University, and from there I was slowly promoted to be a One Star Major General of the Nationalist Army in Taiwan.
    In the 1960s, the KMT government in Taiwan implemented a new policy allowing military Generals and those ranked above to early retirement, allowing them to reside in neutral places outside Mainland China. Having learned of this, I wanted to retire early. But Chiang Ching-Kuo, somehow knew of my intention and urged me not to retire. But he was also ready to help me. So, I was deployed to Hong Kong in 1970 to look after Chinese overseas nationals. In 1984, I retired.
    In 1985, China underwent Chinese Economic Reform. In light of a more open China, I returned to Jiangxi where I was reunited with my wife and son. I learnt that my family had for a long time been blacklisted in the span of the Land Reform Movement, the Cultural Revolution and other political movements in post-independent China. Everything in our house was taken away. The family genealogy book was gone. My wife had to work as a maid and was contented with working for some food without any pay just to survive and to raise our son. At one point, she was even forced with torture to marry another man. She strongly resisted it, even though she did not know if I was still alive or not.
    My wife now resides in China where I would visit her sometimes. My son is now 73 years old. My great grandchild is now attending university. As for me, I still pursue my passion in reading, and in writing poetry. I have published two books of poetry.

  • Marios Sousis,
    Athens, GreeceMORE...

    My name is Marios Sousis. I was born in Athens on February 9, 1938. I had a good childhood. My father was quite wealthy. I had four siblings. I was the youngest.
    We sometimes went on trips to around the Acropolis. I used to hug the statues of gods in the Theatre of Dionysus below the Acropolis and think of them as my friends.
    The years of the war went quickly for me. When I was four or five years old, the war had already started. My mother and father were wondering where to hide; they were being looked for. I asked my parents if my grandfather was a Jew. When they asked me why I asked this, I said we should go hide with him, because as a child I felt very safe with my grandfather.
    My parents acquired fake identification cards. Where our name had been Sousis, we went by Giorgopoulos. We hid in different villages around Attica. One of my uncles didn't leave - he hid in Athens at the house of a seamstress. But his wife carried many valuables with her, and when the seamstress found out, she called the Germans and they were arrested on November 17, 1944.
    There was a law that if Jews were registered and were attending service every Saturday, they weren't going to be bothered. My father and his brothers tried to raise the funds to bail them out.
    Many Greeks collaborated with the Germans. They got into contact with some of them who offered to bail the family members out. Two of the collaborators were the Rekanati brothers and they were convicted after the war, as traitors to the country. One was executed, and the other exiled to Brazil. Worst of all, it turns out they were also Jews. Anyway, they negotiated with our family, that if the family members were registered as Jewish, they would set them free.
    So my grandfather and other relatives were declared. On March 25, 1944, they went to the synagogue and they were arrested by the Germans, and imprisoned in the building. On this day, several hundred Jews were arrested and locked in with them. It was all the same people who had declared their identities. After that, the Germans were arresting their families and going through their homes.
    My parents were attending that day. When my mother saw they were arresting people, she got word to the lady whose home the children were hiding in. My mother told her to take the children and leave because the Germans were looking for us. We hid at another house and the Germans arrived at the first house with our father and didn't find us. As they were leaving, a young girl named Daisy, also Jewish and in the house, approached them and asked, 'What did we do to you?' One of the Germans asked her questions, but she couldn't understand and shook her head. When my father saw her, he turned his back, pretending he didn't know her.
    That night, my mother showed up and took us to another house. I remember this night - my mother and grandmother walking behind a driver, and one of my brothers carrying me on his shoulders. We walked all night. When we arrived where we were going, my mother and I stayed at one home, and my brothers and Daisy stayed at a different home. We were resting by the fireplace and the old woman that lived there tried to console my mother. But she stared at the flames, crying the whole time.
    When I woke up the following day, I went outside and the sky was bright. This was the end of March, 1944. I saw everything outside, the sun and animals. Having been born and raised in the city - seeing nature this way was wonderful.
    Soon we found another home to stay in, which was just a room in the middle of a forest. We worked at a farm, taking on many of the duties. I remember being asked what I'd do when I grew up. I used to say I wanted to be a shepherd and raise animals. And that's because everyday the shepherd would get a big plate of food. I would work where they raised the cows. I used to clean the manure. And once a week I'd brush the cows for lice. I would also collect chamomile from the fields with my grandmother. She was teaching me how to pick it for tea. I asked her why we picked it. She said that when my father returned, he would be sick. We would fix him some chamomile to make him better. This made me very dedicated and focused on picking the flowers. There were other things I learned. How to capture birds with nets and other techniques. I learned everything about the fields.
    When my father was taken away by train, he gave a note to a member of the Red Cross to give to my mother. It said: 'Today, April 2, 1944, we left by train.' Listing the names of everyone with him. 'Kiss to the children. . .' The man from the Red Cross gave it to the doorkeeper of the building we had lived in, and that man got it to my mother. We heard nothing from my father after that.
    We were hiding in Halandri, and in October that year, we saw planes in the sky. And they were dropping what looked like silver papers. We were terrified, not knowing what these things were. We later learned they were messages of the liberation of Greece. People were coming out of their homes and cheering.
    We soon gathered our things and returned to Athens. But when we tried to get into our house, we couldn't - it was emptied of our possessions and belonged to the state. Luckily, a neighbor had kept all of our things and later returned them. The government had seized the building because of vagrancy. When a home was unoccupied, especially if it had belonged to Jews, the government would take it over and let others live there.
    There was the question of what had happened to my father. We asked a man who had returned from Auschwitz, but when he told us of the atrocities there, we thought he was mad. It was unbelievable. Then others returned and repeated the same things, and this was when we learned it was true. We never believed that my father died and we awaited his return. If you don't see a body, it's difficult to believe a person is gone. We were always expecting that someday the front door would open and he'd be there. But this never happened.
    After the occupation ended, civil war broke out. We stayed inside and rarely went out, mostly when my mother left to get supplies. There was a food shortage then. We had brought a pet rabbit back with us from Halandri. It was a beautiful rabbit. White with red eyes. When there was little money for food, my mother asked a police officer to kill it. We just couldn't. So the office picked it up by the feet and hit it.
    I attended school, and there I would be around children whose fathers were still around. I felt different. I used to cry all the time. My father's shop had been destroyed. Everything looted. So my family started to make undergarments to sell. And when the children finished school, we started to work for them. It turned into a big business. We exported throughout Europe. The company employed 270 people. But in 1986, there was a financial crisis and we went out of business.
    And I kept searching for my father. I continued looking for information on him. How he might have died. But when the Germans fled Auschwitz, they destroyed the records. So there's no way of knowing the full story. In 2007, I sent emails to Mauthausen, Austria, where they had marched prisoners. I got word back, finally, that my father died of pneumonia on February 17, 1945. This is because during the Death March, they made the prisoners shower with cold water, and they made them stand nude with their clothes at their feet.
    One day, I was at the Jewish Museum of Greece, searching through documents. I found one that mentioned my father, along with other names. It was a list of people who had revolted in Auschwitz on October 7, 1944. I felt very proud. And despite the attempts to exterminate us, in a way, we won by creating families. I'd met a beautiful woman at the business school I'd attended. I married her and we had three children. They went on to good schools, and they now have their own beautiful families. I have six grandchildren now, between two and fourteen years old.

  • Mickey Ganitch,
    San Leandro, CaliforniaMORE...

    My name is Mickey Ganitch. I was born November 18, 1919 in Mogadore, Ohio, which is a little town just outside of Akron. I graduated from high school in 1937. Due to the stock market crash, jobs were very scarce. I came to California in 1939.

    I joined the navy on January 21, 1941. When I went to boot camp in San Diego, they asked me what I'd like to do. I became a quartermaster, whose job is steering the ship and helping to navigate. They assigned me to the USS Pennsylvania on August 15, 1941, which was a battleship at Pearl Harbor. I also joined the ship's football team. We trained at sea during the week and stayed in port during the weekends. In December, the Japanese attack came while we were dry-docked because of mechanical issues with the propeller. We had a game scheduled that afternoon with the USS Arizona, for the fleet football championship. We were scrimmaging in the morning when the phone rang.

    My battle station was up in the crow's nest, about seventy feet up in the air. I didn't have time to change clothes. I had all my padding on except my helmet and spikes, and up I went. By the time I got there, planes were buzzing around, buildings were burning, ships were burning, everybody was shooting in all kinds of directions.

    During the second attack, they hit us with a five-hundred pound bomb. It came between me and the smokestack and missed me by about forty-five feet. It went through two decks before exploding. Had it exploded on contact I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you. We lost twenty-three men, with many more injured.

    Later, in the Philippines, there was a whole fleet of ships because the invasion was going on. A kamikaze hit one of the destroyers and it set off the torpedoes. I had one hand holding on, another hand trying to turn the ship. One torpedo went right underneath us. When it went off, the ship was tilted enough that it just missed.

    By the end of our time in the Philippines, our guns would no longer shoot straight. They sent us back to the States to get refitted. We were back for about three months. In the meantime, we got ready for the invasion of Japan. On August 12, 1945, after both bombs were dropped, we arrived in Okinawa and that same night, a Japanese plane aimed its torpedo at my ship. It hit the propellers on the right side. Twenty-six quartermasters died that night. The next morning, the Japanese asked for peace. We were towed to shallow waters so that if we sank, we would just sink in the mud instead of any further down. We were able to stay afloat. Then they towed us to Guam. The war was over.

    We started having problems with one of the remaining propellers on the way back to the States. We stopped the ship and put divers over the side to see what they could do for it. Then sharks surrounded the ship and we pulled the divers back out of the war. We put marines with rifles in boats to keep the sharks away from the divers while they worked on the propellers. They got them fixed so we could get back.

    The military wanted to see what effect the atomic bomb would have on ships. There were plenty of damaged ships from the war to use for tests. This was September, 1946. We operated on a skeleton crew at that time. We scheduled two tests. One in the air, one underwater blast. They put us in the harbor and we anchored the ships and they told us to look away from it. Even with my eyes closed, I still saw the flash. After testing on ships, they wanted to know what effect it would have on animals. I'm a farm boy, so they put me in charge of the animals. Pigs, goats, mice, sheep. We put them various places throughout ships and spread the ships out. We put an atomic bomb at the middle of all the ships, under water. We watched a big wall of water go over the ships. I took inspectors aboard to show them were all the animals had been. After that, they told me to throw away my clothes and take a good shower. That was all the protection I had. Must not have affected me too much because I have all these grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren. In 1948, they decided our ship had become too radioactive. They ended up torpedoing it.

    That same year I was assigned to the USS Mt Katmai, an ammunition ship. Our job was to supply other ships so they wouldn't have to come back to port. I was on that for sixty-eight months. This one day, the lookouts reported a floating mine dead ahead. We had eight-thousand tons of ammunition. We steered and the wash of the ship had pushed the mine aside. We had nowhere to go. I could count the spokes on it. We were very fortunate it didn't go off when we passed through it. We set it off with rifles later.

    I married my first wife in 1953. I adopted her three kids. My first wife died in 1961 and was single for two years. I met my second wife when I was recruiting. I married her in September, 1963. I retired from the navy a month later.

    Those last couple years I was in the navy, I worked in a bowling alley in East Oakland. One of the bowlers there asked me to come work for him. He was a fishing net manufacturer. I worked for him for twenty years. After I turned sixty-five, I ended up working security in the naval air station in Alameda. I worked there until they closed in 1996. I've been on the unemployed list ever since.
    I've been to Japan many times since the war ended. They were our enemies once, now they're our good friends. To me, it's like a football game, like a sport. You're enemies on the field, maybe you'll go out to supper after. I have no animosity whatsoever. I drive a Japanese car. What is done you can't change. You look to the future.

    Now I'm associated with the Fleet Reserve Association, the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Masonic Lodge, the Disabled American Veterans, what's left of Pearl Harbor Survivors. I've been the head usher of my church for forty-six years. I'm a volunteer at a VA clinic in Oakland.

    Beyond that, I don't do much of anything. I just goof around.

  • Miechyslaw Pienkowski,
    Poznan, PolandMORE...

    My name is Miechyslaw Pienkowski. I was born on September 5, 1925, in Fordon, which used to be a separate area but is now a district in Bydgoszcz. My family had some troubles sustaining a living there because of my father's political past, so later we moved to Lublin, and my father worked there and I finished the first grade of the elementary school.

    In 1933, we found ourselves in Poznan. There my father took a position in the region administration. He was in charge working with the German national minority. Ever since World War I there had been lots of Germans here and they held strong positions in our community. My father noticed how the Germans were getting organized into Hitlerjugend and Hitlermadel, the League of German Girls, and beginning to prepare for the war. For example, they would hold some sort of sports competitions among themselves. But in reality they would gather to do drills and practice shooting. It was all hush-hush, but a lot of people were aware of those activities.

    Also, the Polish government was working with the Jews whom Germany was sending abroad. They were brought to the railway stations around western Poland, and my dad, under the government's special instruction, helped them find their relatives in Poland or a place to stay.

    In Poznan we were living in a three-bedroom flat on Kosciuszko Street. I had three sisters and a brother, although my youngest sister, Varvara, was born later, in 1941, in Sanok. My mum finished the conservatory and I remember we had a grand piano in our apartment. In 1938, I began to study at the Paderewski gymnasium. But already in August 1939, understanding that the war was approaching, my parents decided to move to the east.

    We the children, moved in August, and our parents set out on the night between September 2 and 3. They had different adventures on the way, with Ukrainians attacking the bus, but eventually they managed to reach Sanok. There we stayed with our grandparents, Karol and Maria Nowak. We were living on Potocki Street near the River San.

    On arrival to Sanok, my father purchased a bicycle and rode it to Warsaw, which was 400 km away. There he met his colleagues from a Polish military organization, which was then called Zwiazek Walki Zbrojnej (ZWZ), and got the position of an inspector in the locality in the Podkarpackie district. As for me, from 1940 I began studying at a two-year commerce school, and finished it. Then I started working as a cashier at a mill. That was why we were always able to get some flour and we never lacked bread. Besides, my father, as an Armia Krajowa inspector, also made quite good money.

    Later, having a desire to help my country, I joined the struggle as well. I made an oath to ZWZ, to a lieutenant Czastka on a private estate. We often changed the headquarters of our underground organization to avoid detection. One period of time we spent in Zarnowiec, where Maria Konopnicka's estate house was. At that time, her daughter was living in the house and my father was working in one of the rooms. All in all, our clandestine activity was quite successful: none of our people were caught, because we followed security measures. The problems started only when the Red Army arrived.

    Mainly, I was working as a messenger and getting assignments from my father. Most often I would deliver some messages or payments, sometimes documents or maps. There was a regulation that one couldn't turn on the lights, and so I had to ride my bike at night without a single light.

    Most often I was riding at weekends as I normally worked from Monday till Friday. It was quite dangerous because the Germans paid the Ukrainians 15 zloty for each Polish officer or underground group member caught. So the prisons were full of Poles. I never stayed long at any household or at a coffee house. I always had some bread with me. I also had some candles, as we were selling them. I was always careful and wary, so they never caught me.

    When in June 1941 Germany started the war with the Soviet Union, our life seemed to become easier, as the majority of the Germans went to the Eastern Front and there were fewer of them in our area. But the problem was that the Ukrainians, which knew its own neighbors much better than the Germans, were hunting down any Polish rebels quite aggressively, as they considered this was their land. So for us, it was much more dangerous.

    I had a friend who had studied with me at the commerce school; we also worked together in the resistance. But he wasn't careful. He got caught even before the war between Germany and the Soviet Union began. He actually frequented coffee houses and sang English songs there. They caught him and threw him in prison. Later, he perished in Auschwitz.

    The Russians entered our town at the end of July, beginning of August 1943. So they came to us very quickly. From what I remember, the Soviet soldiers were very poorly dressed and took away everybody's watches. However, the majority of the soldiers were Kalmyks under the command of a Russian, and their attitude to Poles was rather amiable.

    My father was an interpreter in Armia Krajowa, as he could speak both Russian and German. Together with Colonel Zworny, who was responsible for the district of Rzeszow, he was holding negotiations with the Red Army. There was this demand that Armia Krajowa was to be subordinate to the Red Army, but Armia Krajowa refused. A lot of people got arrested after that.

    In 1945, together with our mother, we moved to Poznan in an American car which the Soviets had. My sisters remained in Sanok. I began to work at a Poznan Cegielski plant. Some German prisoners of war were also working there. We watched over them and sometimes traded with the Germans because they always had very good cigarettes.

    After the war I entered the lyceum on Slowacki Street in Poznan. In 1946, I passed exams for my general certificate, then I entered the High Commerce School.

    In 1956, I passed exams for my master's degree and graduated from the High Commerce School. At the same time, I was working at the plant where I met my future wife. We had been engaged for four years and then got married. I considered continuing studying at the post graduate school but there was already no time for that, as we had two children and I had to take care of the family.

    After the war, my father could not work as a clerk because of his service in AK. So he worked at an enterprise, which was selling fish in Poland. When the trial proceedings against the fascist criminals started in Nuremberg, the Americans summoned my father to court as a witness. And after he came back, the Security Service searched our apartment and turned it upside down. They gave us a paper that said that the flat was searched in connection with the fact that my father had had contact with capitalists.

    While my father could not find any job after the war, he stayed at home and wrote down his memories. I, on the other hand, was the chief accountant at a different state enterprise and also I checked banks' financial statements in different Polish cities. Also, when I finished high school, I had to do my service. I was brought to Gniezno, which is in the north of greater Poland. There I had very good conditions and a good position. It was because I had already earned my master's degree and there were the People's Army officers preparing to take their general certificate exams, so I was training them.

    In the 1980s, I was working in the tax office in different positions, and I retired in 1990. But I continued working as an internal audit director at a private enterprise called "Finansist."

    After the fall of the communist regime in Poland in 1989, we organized the World Union of Armia Krajowa members. There I'm responsible for the financial matters in the greater Poland district because I've been dealing with finances practically all my life. I started keeping books while a young man at the mill in Sanok, and have kept doing it throughout all my life.

  • Mihael Butara,
    Ljubljana, SloveniaMORE...

    I began actively working as a volunteer for the Liberation Front in Ljubljana in April, 1941. In June, my first interaction with the Gestapo was being beaten by them. I decided I would continue with my activities.

    When I joined the partisan movement on July 6, 1942, I began to go by Aleks. I joined the Tomsic Brigade, which was the first national brigade. I illegally smuggled gear for other activists on a bicycle. When a village near Ljubljana was razed, I informed the resistance where the weapons were hidden so they could go and fight. I remained a member until December, 1943, when I transferred to the Sercerjeve Brigade and assumed a higher political function.

    After the Italian occupation, we had to relocate from some of the Slovenian regions. I remember that when twelve of the families in the village left, they became refugees. By autumn of 1943, of twenty-six people involved in the resistance, eleven of them were killed. The war finally ended for us on May 15, 1944. Though Germany had surrendered weeks prior, there had remained several German brigades and SS units that had continued to fight the locals.

    My division moved to Vojvodina, Serbia, and later on, Varazdin and Zagreb, Croatia in 1947. There, I joined The Ministry of National Defense, a counter-intelligence sect. I attended army and intelligence training in Novi Sad and Sarajevo.

    I became the commander of Ljubljana military district in 1964 and remained so for four years. In that time, we were given the highest grade in Yugoslavia for the work we did. We contributed 7,500 fully-equipped soldiers to the national level. The weapons were old, but they were weapons we had won in the past.

  • Mitsuru Kusakawa,
    Tsu Shi, JapanMORE...

    My name is Mitsuru Kusakawa, and I was born on May 10th, 1927 in a village called Hachimura. I grew up in a family of farmers. I was the second youngest of six brothers. Five of us enlisted in the military.

    Before the war began, Japan was already fighting China in the Second Sino-Japanese War. There was a constant climate of war in Japan. Everybody in the country felt we would eventually declare war on the United States and the British Empire. Even when I was 15 I had the intuition that things were coming to a head, but we were confident we would prevail.

    I was deployed in April 1943 as a member of Nippon Kaigun, the Imperial Japanese Navy. I went to a military school in Yokosuka in Kanagawa Prefecture, where I trained for 6 months. It was actually a fun time. Sometimes an eight-man crew would row from Yokosuka to Tokyo. When we got to Tokyo, we would eat sushi and have a good time. I was happy once I graduated the academy, because I was proud to fight for my country.

    From military school I went to board a ship in the Bungo Channel, between Kyushu and Shikoku Islands. Once I entered the Navy I found that the training was more arduous and strict than military school. The violence from our superiors was particularly harsh. One time I was hit by a stick from a superior. I thought at one point I couldn't bear it. It was tough, but ultimately it helped me build my discipline.

    I was a part of the night surveillance of our ship and watched the sky for US aircraft. On April 7th, 1945, I was a member of one of the two crews who escorted the Yamato battleship towards Okinawa. She was on a one-way mission to the island to deploy soldiers and protect it. We rowed alongside the submarine to ensure her safety, but unfortunately she was sunk by American carrier-based bombers and torpedo bombers. Their aircraft spotted us south of Kyushu.

    In the summer of 1945, an American Grumman fighter aircraft attacked my boat as it was stationed near Shikoku. Three of my fellow soldiers were killed in front of me. We couldn't have a full funeral so we put them in black blankets and put them into the sea, our typical Navy funeral.

    I was on the ship when I heard the war ended. I was very sad when I heard we lost, but on the other hand I felt relieved that the war was over. So many horrible things happened during the war. I saw friends die, it was like hell. I haven't been afraid of anything since the war.

    Initially after the war ended, I became worried because I had no idea what I would do with the rest of my life. I got a job on a Navy ship as it went to pick up our soldiers deployed in other areas. I went to Saigon, Taiwan, and various small islands including Guadalcanal. I remember we once had to travel up the Mekong river for three hours to get to Saigon.

    I also went to Sydney, Australia to retrieve the Japanese soldiers fighting along the many islands around Australia. We left for Sydney in February 1946. It was so cold on the waters that I got hypothermia, but by the time I got to Sydney it was summer so I felt better.

    After I finished that mission, I came back to Hachimura. All of my brothers made it home safe too, which was a miracle. It was hard to find a job initially, but I joined the police force in January 1948. I've lived a good life since then.

  • Mortimer Sheffloe,
    Sun city, TexasMORE...

    My name is Mortimer Sheffloe. I was born in Crookston, Minnesota on November 27th, 1924. I had 5 siblings, all girls. My youth in Crookston was a pleasant time. Mothers didn't worry about their kids, we could do whatever we wanted. Us kids enjoyed that freedom.

    My father passed away when I was in 10th grade. My cub scout master looked out for me and helped me find jobs. My mother was working, and I needed to as well. I had worked a newspaper route as a kid, but our family needed more income. During High School, I got a job with the gas company as a meter reader. I used to miss about a week of school a month on that job.

    I also worked with the telephone company on toll patrol, and during my senior year I replaced our school janitor who was drafted. I wasn't very competitive or athletic in High School. I played football but was only 138 pounds, which even then made me pretty small. Academically, I was about in the middle of my class.

    In April 1943, I took a test administered to boys throughout the country to determine qualifications for the A-12 Army College Training program. I took the test, and four weeks later I learned that I passed and was able to enter the Army.

    After entering service, 35 of us were put on a train at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, headed for basic training in Texas. We got to Dallas, then took a bus to Camp Fannin in Tyler, Texas. At the camp, we had four companies of trainees, with 4 platoons in each company. We spent 13 weeks of training in the heat of a Texas summer, from July to September 1943.

    When training finished, the entire battalion was put on a train to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. We all would have rather gone somewhere like Southern California. Texas A&M was an all boys school at the time. We were enrolled as army students in their basic engineering program, and took general classes with the rest of the student body.

    I went to the theater one Sunday evening for a movie. They had a long newsreel on the Marine landing on Tarawa, which was a horrible battle with a lot of casualties. After seeing the destruction, I wanted to get out of the program and leave school altogether. I didn't ask for a discharge though, I just quit studying.

    When my roommates were studying in the evening, I silently read magazines at the latrine. That lasted for 3 weeks, and my grades suffered. In January 1944 I was extracted from the program. They placed me in a temporary basics program. We served my former classmates and washed dishes.

    We were then sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana but never got on the base. We were trucked out to the woods of Louisiana, where our platoon unloaded the truck and made a bonfire. We spent two days around the fire until we joined a company headed for basic training in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

    When we assembled in Missouri we realized we were extremely understaffed. Undergoing basic training all over again was a hassle. In March 1944, the battalion was granted a seven day furlough. I went home to Crookston for two days, then headed back to Missouri. When I returned, I found out our base had received members of the Air Force. They were overstaffed while our Army base had a dearth of members. Anyone in the Air Force who was deemed less useful came to our infantry. I was sleeping among some unhappy people.

    The Air Force had minimal basic training, so we once again started training. The training didn't last long though. They shipped all of us who had already been trained to Fort Meade, Maryland. We were there for five days, four of which I spent in the hospital with food poisoning. From Maryland, we were shipped to Camp Shanks in New York.

    On May 10th, 1944 we sailed from Camp Shanks to Glascow, Scotland. From Scotland, we took a train to Bristol, England. Our company trained every day in a huge training facility. On the morning of June 6th, while on the field after breakfast, someone asked me if I had heard the planes the night before. I hadn't heard them, but our Sergeant then told us D-Day had occurred.

    We stayed at the depot for a few more days then were shipped to another camp in a place called Yeoville. At that time of Summer the sun was out until 11PM in England, and we wanted to take advantage of all the daylight. We would go out into Yeoville and talk to the young ladies there, but us corporals had to be in early. One time I got the bright idea to sneak out past my curfew and put silver foil on my helmet to pretend I was a Lieutenant. If I was a Lieutenant, they wouldn't mind me coming back later. It worked, but it was too risky to try again. In another instance, a guard caught me and another soldier sneaking back into camp and made us spend a night in Army jail. We had to do some scrubbing as punishment, but it wasn't all that bad.

    On July 10th, they placed our battalion on a train headed to Southampton, where we were loaded onto a ship. We sailed to Utah Beach and headed to our camp south of Saint Mere-Eglise, France.

    We drove to what was called a replacement depot and dug foxholes to protect us from potential enemy fire. In the foxhole, one person slept while the other would sit guard. We switched every hour. Our food was packed for us in small cardboard boxes. When we got toilet paper, we stuck it in the lining of our helmet to protect it. I spent two months in that foxhole.

    One morning, we were all urged to assemble near a truck that had just shown up. The officer in the truck assembled 12 of us and took us right outside Saint Mere-Eglise. We ended up being distributed among several platoons. I made it to the 121st regimen of the 8th infantry division, in the 8th core. Our different companies were spread out throughout the area. None of us knew what the other companies were doing. We were all busy preparing for Operation Cobra.

    We relieved the 82nd infantry on the 4th of July. On July 25th, the United States mounted about 3,000 airplanes to attack St. Lo and bomb enemy positions. That began a period of Germans retreating, and our platoons chased after them. I had the job of 2nd scout on the night patrol. We would go straight out for 500-1000 yards looking for Germans. We never met any resistance.

    Our infantry was rolling through Normandy, 6-7 miles a day until we made it to Coutance, France. In August, we were taken to a battle in the Brittany Peninsula, where there was a pocket of Germans. Along with the 83rd infantry, we enclosed the German's pocket day by day. They finally surrendered, and we were trucked to Denain. We then continued West.

    One time while I was on patrol, we ran into a French woman who was washing her clothes in the river. She told us she was visiting family at a nearby house, and our six man crew went to their house and partook in a festive atmosphere. They were grateful for us and certainly showed it with wine and kisses.

    We continued West along the peninsula. On September 10th, 1944, my platoon arrived at Ft. Bouyon at around noon. It was an old, battle-worn fort with rifle holes and bomb craters. We were there for about ten minutes when our Lieutenant was shot. I was in the vicinity when he was shot, so he gave me his maps. We moved out 100 yards alongside the fort, and word came from our Lieutenant to maintain our positions.

    Our Lieutenant asked me to bring the squad back together. In the process of making sure everyone was going back, I was shot through the back, in the lung and liver. I had a "sucking wound". With every breath, I was making a gurgling sound, which was extremely frightening. It felt like someone swung a baseball bat in my ribcage. After being shot, I fell 8 feet deep into a bomb crater.

    I still remember the sound, and looking up from the bomb crater. In the next crater was the aid man. He came over with rocks and gravel. He cut off my shirt, field jacket and undershirt and put compresses on my wound. He covered me up with my raincoat, and put my helmet on. Four hours later, two aid men came in. They got me out of the hole, and got me to the Battalion Aid station, which had doctors and trained aid men. I was there for a half hour, where they gave me gauze, taped me up and took me to an ambulance.

    At 10PM that night, I reached the field hospital. I had surgery that night to clean up the wound, then had to stay there for seven more days. I took my first Airplane ride in a C-47 aircraft to Yeoville. The replacement depot I was at had become a hospital. I had major surgery there. I stayed there for about 3 more weeks, then was transferred to another hospital that specialized in lung/chest cases. I stayed there until May 1945.

    The war was over May 8th, 1945, and on the 10th I sailed back to New York. When I returned to New York, I went to Halloran General Hospital in Staten Island. I spent a week there, then took a train to an army hospital in Walla Walla, Washington. After 10 days there, I got a 60-day convalescence. I then took a train to Fargo and hitchhiked home to Crookston for the summer. My furlough was up August 14th.

    We dropped the atomic bombs, and it became a tenuous time. I tried to get an extension on my convalescence but was denied. I set out to return to Walla Walla via train. When I got off the train in Spokane, Washington, the cars were driving down the street honking horns. It was V-J Day!

    I was discharged on August 31st, 1945, categorized as 100% disabled. I went back to Crookston to work for the telephone company. I left there, enrolled in the University of Minnesota to study electrical engineering. I graduated in 1950 and found work in the telephone and toll industry for the next 30 years. I had many positions, moving all the way up to Engineering Supervisor for a telephone company in both Dakotas and Nebraska.

    I retired in February 1982, then came out of retirement to work for Aramco in Saudi Arabia. Working for Aramco was a great experience. I came back stateside and found a job as a systems superintendent for a realty company. I moved to Sun City, Texas in 1999. I've traveled to Europe numerous times, including Normandy about 10 times. I was in Normandy for the 40th and 50th anniversaries of D-Day. I'm physically limited, but socially active.

  • Morton Rosenberg,
    Summit, New JerseyMORE...

    My name is Morton Rosenberg, and I was born on April 22nd, 1917. My father was born in Lithuania, and my Mother was born in Massachusetts. When I was a young child, my parents moved to Thomas River, NJ where they built a commercial poultry farm. I grew up on that farm until the age of 17, when I enrolled in Rutgers University.

    In 1941, I was enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Wisconsin Graduate School. When Pearl Harbor occurred, I left school the next day, went to the Great Lakes Naval Station and enlisted. I thought we had been attacked in such a cowardly way and had to defend our country. I didn't even wait for a draft. Not only was I outraged, I felt it was my duty to defend my country as a familial obligation. My Father always said he thanked God he could raise his children in America. He came to the US at 16 years old and he understood the blessing of liberty and opportunity.

    My 4 years in the military service moved in a direction I would have never anticipated. As a pharmacist I was sent to the San Diego Hospital Core School as an instructor. Because of my teaching ability, they suggested I apply for an officership in the hospital core.

    As it turns out, there were no positions available and I was ordered to reintroduce my application as a line officer. Coming into the service did not wish to be an officer because I didn't want to be responsible for the lives of other people, but I became one regardless. Without any training I reported to a Naval station where I served as a personnel officer. I was sent to the Amphibious command, where I was assigned to an Landing Ship, Tank. We were actually the first crew to utilize that particular ship for combat.

    Our core proceeded from Boston through Atlantic waters and the Panama Canal. We ultimately reached the Pacific, where we were in a number of engagements over a period of 22 months.

    From the time we deployed, we moved continuously West. First we moved to Pearl Harbor, where we were loaded for the invasion of Guam. We were totally unprepared for the invasion - lost our stern anchor, which was designed to keep us from turning sideways and getting stuck onshore. None of us had any real experience on an LST. Only three of us had ever been to sea. We had never performed any of the functions that involved landing.

    Our Captain misjudged the distance onto the shore of Guam. We had 900 feet of anchor and ran it all off the ship. When the captain came to me and asked how much anchor we had placed ashore, I jokingly said "1,200 feet". My captain replied, "there's only 900 feet", and I quipped "but the bitter end is 300 feet of stern." He didn't find that very funny.

    During our time at sea, we had very little contact with the enemy. The nearest we came to them was an instance where a ship behind us was torpedoed in the midst of our convoy leaving the shore. We heard the explosion in the dark and received a message to drop out and standby. We ended up towing that LST 15,000 miles, ultimately dropping it off at Pearl Harbor.

    We came closer to combat than the professional Navy, because we hit the beach, whereas they were always beyond the horizon. It was truly the Army and Marines who did the grunt work though. I felt guilty when we'd hit the beach, the military dropped down, and we'd leave them. It felt like they were carrying the bulk of the war.

    The soldiers we picked up from Guam were pretty shell shocked, most suffering from dengue fever. They had been through a horrendous experience of personal combat with the enemy for 21 days. They told us a tactic the Japanese used of asking an American soldier for a cigarette in English then shooting the soldier as he reached for them. During the time the operation was completed and we were taking the soldiers back to the Guadalcanal, we were ordered to never approach them from the rear, because they were very likely to turn and shoot.

    After that there was invasion of Okinawa and the coral in the water had destroyed the bottom of two small boats we used to unload ammunition. After continuously dropping them into the water for a 24 hour period, the propellers were destroyed by the hard coral.

    When we got to the Guadalcanal our Captain told me to get two replacements for them. We had a vehicle on the ship we stole from Guam, which I drove around the canal looking for small boats. I eventually came upon an Army depot with a bevy of beautiful boats. I asked the captain running the depot for a vessel, but he said wouldn't give it to me because I was in the Navy and there was too much paperwork involved in the transfer.

    He then invited me into the depot for lunch. We were eating spam, and I could tell he didn't like it. I asked him how long it had been since he had fresh meat. He rolled his eyes and said he didn't know when. I offered him 12 cases of turkey, which we had stolen from a food locker in Guam. The Captain acquiesced and gave me a small boat for the turkeys.

    We participated in 4 additional D-Day invasions: Leyte, Mindoro, Luzon and the Philippines. Each time, we would return with additional material and personnel. The most interesting missions were the D-Day invasions. Our ship was never struck by any fire, but did take one shell, a portion of which hit a spot on the deck I was standing in just two minutes prior! I was very lucky to go through five invasions and find myself in imminent danger only once.

    We were rarely near any combat or members of the enemy. I remember one time, a Filipino ran toward us and said "pesos for sale". My fellow soldiers wanted to buy some as souvenirs. They crowded around him and gave him American Dollars for pesos. At the time the Peso was worth 50 cents on the American dollar, so he was making a 100% profit off of us. I couldn't help but think about how stupid we were, but we wanted the souvenirs.

    It was a very brutal war. I didn't leave the military with any sense of regret, I was just glad to go home. I was away from my family and friends for four years, and I wanted to get home and continue my career.

    War is the most horrible experience that anyone can be subjected to. It's full of unintended consequences. There's no campaign that's carried out as it's planned. It distorts personalities and brings out the worst in us.

    I came home and resumed my graduate studies four days after. It took me three and a half years to complete my doctoral work. When I graduated, there were only three jobs offered to me. All the good positions had been taken by Canadians while we were at war. I took a job at the university of Hawaii and stayed there for 24 years, where I ultimately became Dean for 17 years. I married my wife two days after a blind date in Washington State, and she came to Hawaii with me. I retired from the university at 55, because I wanted new horizons in my life.

    I moved to New Jersey in 1972, where I've been for 40 years. I use my time doing things for others, particularly family. I'm primarily involved in living a good life with my wife.

  • Nathu Singh,
    Ujwa, IndiaMORE...

    My name is Nathu Singh, and I was born on December 13th, 1922 in the village of Ujwa, India. My country didn't have a good education system under British rule, so I never went to school. I spent my formative years on my families' farm.

    When I was 18, both of my parents passed. At that time I felt there was no more purpose in my life, as I was the only son. Listless, I joined the Army on November 25th, 1941 in Delhi. I was sent to Meerut for basic training, where I was assigned to the motor company. The British trained us with their state of the art artillery and their rifles, ray guns and tommy guns. I also learned proper driving techniques on the GMC and Chevrolet vehicles they equipped us with.

    I trained for three and a half months in Meerut. Upon graduation in early 1942, the regiment was given 14 days leave, and were then deployed to Jhansi, India to engage in combat. From that point, my platoon was consistently on the move. We went from Jhansi, all around Madhya Pradesh, to Ranchi, then finally Nagaland in Northeast India by the Burmese border.

    During the war, us Indians were considered the lowest rung of the Allied Forces. The Americans had their own commanding officers but our command was British. Our commanding officers were respectful to us, but we always stayed in separate camps from the British Army.

    I remember a few nights into our stay in Nagaland, I was standing in the road with my car. This was about 10PM. I saw two Japanese soldiers in our territory! I radioed my commanding officer, and he ordered us to move towards Burma.

    We crossed two rivers on the way. One was the Irawati River, and the name of the other has slipped my mind. What I do recall is crossing both rivers on boats, and being in continuous combat with the Japanese! We traversed the rivers, then a hill-filled commute from Nagaland to Burma, all the while fighting the Japanese. They put up a fight, but they were in our country and we outlasted them. Not only were we giving them trouble on ground, the Indian Air Force was attacking them from above.

    I was a motor mechanic, so my main job was to salvage vehicles and transport tanks from base to base. I didn't take part in much combat, but I could tell it was taking a toll on my Infantry.

    The Japanese had hundreds of casualties, but we didn't care. It was the nature of the war. We were on our way to Burma, and fought them until we reached Rangoon, where I stayed for two years. Many other soldiers in my regiment moved towards the border, but I stayed there. My primary objective in Rangoon was to unload ammunition and supplies from the ships the Navy pulled into the port.

    Not only were we dealing with Japanese soldiers, some of our own had turned against us. The Indian National Army (INA), led by Subhas Chandra Bose, was fighting for the Independence of India at the same time. The Japanese wanted Bose to fight alongside them, but he wanted the INA to be its own entity. I think he believed that the British would leave us alone eventually but if Japanese would invade India, Japan would forever control our country. We soon heard that a Major in the INA, I think it was Mohan Singh exposed that their army had no ammunition, and could not withstand a serious attack so no one was taking them seriously. But Subhas Chandra Bose had great intentions and he was a good leader that eventually helped India gain its independence from the Britishers.

    I heard a story once that the Bengali government sent ten girls to infiltrate Subhas Chandra Bose's inner circle in Burma, to ultimately kill him. Those ten girls were told whoever could murder him would become the governor of West Bengal. One girl somehow managed to reach a higher status than the others, and his bodyguards surmised that she was a potential spy. She was confronted, and the underlings found a gun in her property.

    When she was put in front of Subhas Chandra Bose, he apparently gave her mercy. He asked her where her allegiances were, whether she wanted to have an independent country or merely be the governor of a country under British rule. Subhas Chandra Bose was so convincing that she and the other nine women joined the INA. He was a charismatic leader of their Army.

    In mid-August 1946, we found out the war had ended a couple days earlier, as two bombs had hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japan surrendered. When we heard that, we had a huge celebration. And on December 14th, 1946, I retired from the Army. I had served five years, and felt I had done enough to serve my country. I was the only child, so I had the entire family farm to myself. I came back to my wife in early 1947 and started my own agricultural business. I received a job offer from the Indian government, but I declined it. I felt I had reached my allotment of government service for one lifetime.

    Today, I don't do much. I roam around my village and my family takes care of me. I'm around family, friends and neighbors, and I enjoy my life.

  • Okill Stewart,
    Saint-Lambert, CanadaMORE...

    My name is Okill Stewart, and I was born on March 10th, 1941 in St. Lambert, Quebec. My father was an executive with Ogilvie Flower Company. I had a nice childhood. At an early age, I was sent away to Bishops College boarding school in Quebec's eastern township. I attended school there for seven and a half years before transferring to Gordonstoun in Scotland.

    In 1939, while I was still schooled in Scotland, I received a latter from my father where he was sharing his thoughts on what was going on in Europe; in that letter he said that the was imminent in Europe and I should get back to Canada.

    When I got back here, my dad called his cousin, who ran a paper operation in Northern Quebec. He arranged to get me a job as a surveyor in Chicoutimi, Quebec. I thought I'd do some work and learn French. Well, I didn't learn much French, but it helped prepare me for the impending war. In Chicoutimi, we had no radio, television or other means of communication. In the Spring of 1940, we bumped into a lumberjack and he told us the war had been going on for three weeks already!

    I remember it like it was yesterday: I went home, told my father I wanted to fight for my country, and he grabbed me on the shoulder. My father stared into my eyes and said "Good boy!" as my mother wept. My father was deaf in one ear, and that ailment kept him out of World War I. He was pretty resentful of not being able to fight for Canada, but was proud of me and my brother Campbell for volunteering back then.

    He called his friend in Longdale, Hamilton Lane, who was raising a battery to go to Europe. The next morning, my father took me to the Place Viger recruiting station in Montreal, where I signed on the dotted line! I had become a member of the 81st Battery.

    After enlisting, I did a bit of training and marching. Soon thereafter, we were sent to Petawawa, Ontario where we became a part of the 14th Canadian Field Regiment. In Petawawa we learned about artillery, specifically 25-Pounder guns. I had trained so well that my superiors offered me commission. When I spoke to my father about the offer, he advised against it. He felt I was too young.

    In Spring 1941, we boarded The Empress of Canada, a ship that had just been to the Mediterranean. There were 10,000 of us aboard the ship. We were separated in bunks of three below deck. In those days, there were no ship stabilizers, so the trip was a rocky journey. So many of the soldiers became seasick that a stench developed on the ship. It was unbearable, so I slept out on the deck at night. That deck was the only place I could get some rest.

    The Empress started out in a convoy when we left Halifax, but in no time we had left the other ships behind. Our ship was three times faster than the rest of the convoy. The ship traveled in a wide arc to Europe. Along the way, we got one air alert, and one submarine alert. Aside from that, the boat ride was rather uneventful.

    The ship arrived in Greenoch, Scotland and we were immediately sent down to defend the coast. We were a huge regiment, but we only had 25 guns. We were extremely under armed. If Hitler had only known how unequipped we were he would've walked onto that island with his hands down!

    From Scotland, we were sent down to the South of England with the Third Canadian Field Regiment. I was granted a leave around that time. And I can remember on December 16, 1942, I happened to be in London on leave. I was in a hotel room with a group of buddies. My memory is a bit hazy, so I forget what exactly we were doing, but I didn't forget the message that came over the radio that night: Pearl Harbor had been bombed. I remember everyone bowing their heads for those poor American soldiers. We were in dismay, but then this one soldier clapped his hands and said, "Hooray, hooray! Now we're going to win the war!" Prior to that we felt that we had no hope in hell.

    Anyway, we all knew the D-day is coming, but no-one knew when. It was decided then that we would be one of the six Canadian Batteries in the D-Day invasion. And we spent the next two years preparing for that day.

    Our regiment ran several schemes. There were times we set sail, but didn't know if the landing is gonna happen or not. Whatever the case, I knew we had to be on point. During these trainings, we'd reach the French coast and our hierarchy would bait the Germans into attacking us. We were trying to find out where the Germans were. The Germans were smarter than that though, thank god.

    On June 5th, 1944 we set sail for France. When we passed the Isle of Wight on the mainland, they let us know D-Day had arrived. This was it. Our ship's interior was protected by heavy barbed wiring with balloons on top. This setup warded off any German planes that wanted to come down on us as we sailed.

    For this mission we were issued M7 Priests by America. They were like Sherman tanks with sides that came up straight. Thanks to the weapons the Americans had given us, we had to learn about self-propelled equipment on the fly.

    I was assigned to a Sherman tank. The Sherman was an LCT, or landing craft tank. We didn't know how to fire the thing so we threw most of the bullets out of the tank. We needed more room for our cigarettes and equipment anyway. In all, we had six vehicles: four M7 Priests, one Sherman tank, and another carrier full of rifles.

    The sea was rough that day, and the crossing was rather uneventful, until we got close to the shore of Juno Beach in Normandy. As our infantry was assaulting the beaches, we began trying to engage the Germans without hitting our own infantry. As they fired away at the shores, we were firing over them. It was extremely difficult to fire as the ship was bouncing on the waves.

    We approached shore at 6AM on June 6th, 1944. When I looked out, I saw more ships than I ever thought existed. It was as if you could head back to England hopping from ship to ship! There were five beaches to hit in all. The Americans had two, the English had two, and us Canadians had one.

    All of our ships had extended sides and extended exhausts for the possibility of landing in deep water. Just like we had prepared for, one of our landing craft hit a mine, and the craft sank. The first vehicle off was our Primary Reserve regiment The Queen's Own Rifles. Their vehicle had high-extended sides. It went through 30 feet of water before it hit a mine. No one got out of that accident.

    The next vehicle out of the landing craft was our tank. Fortunately, we made it to land safely. Behind us were our guns, which also landed successfully. On the way in, I looked out of my tank's turrets and saw German prisoners and Canadian infantry men under the sea wall. It was quite a site. There were so many boats with tiers of rockets firing away.

    When we got on the beach, we were about an hour waiting for our weapons to land. We then made our way to Beriniere Sermere to settle.

    While we were ashore, we were strafed only once by German aircraft. There were also a few German shells firing. Once we got to Beriniere Semere, we realized another battery had taken our position!

    We quickly resolved to go back and find another unoccupied field. At that time, a young Frenchman came up to us and said "don't go into that field!" My French is limited, but I understood every word he said. I asked him "why we shouldn't go to the field?" The young chap told me the Germans made him lay down mines there. He told me he knew where the mines were, but when I asked him to show me the way, he said "hell no!" I raised my gun and made him show us. We got into that field with our equipment and didn't hit a mine. Sometimes you get lucky.

    After that, we did a lot of foot slogging. Our infantry badly needed to find an airport for reconnaissance. Carpicet Airport was a few miles inland from the coast, so we sought to take it over. It was a very arduous fight. I remember our infantry boys would seize a part of the airport and find out the Germans were behind them. They would get into tunnels they dug and come right back!

    My friend Bobby Mueller and I, we had a motorcycle, and there was a big pig running loose. Bobby was driving the motorcycle, and I was hanging on the back. We were sick and tired of the rations we had been eating. I wanted anything but those gross dehydrated foods. So we picked the pig up, and obviously the motorcycle was running slower with all the weight on it. As soon as we picked the pigs up, we saw Germans! They were in our sights the whole time we were there with the pig. At this point the smart thing would've been to let go of the pig and zoom out of the area...but we were determined. Damn fools we were, but we held onto the pig and got out of there! We had some good food that night.

    From Bernieres-sur-mere, our infantry continued traveling. Once we got to Caen, we saw it was pretty well obliterated by our Air Force. There was so much rubble that you couldn't even get into town. I had to pass word back to send a huge bulldozer to clear our way. We had to be careful because the rubble made natural hiding spots for German snipers. We got through it safely though.

    In France, we quickly learned that the money the Brits had given us to spend was worthless. In that country, there was only one currency with value: cigarettes, specifically American and Canadian cigarettes. We had the tastiest cigarettes because our boxes were preserved with cellophane. British cigarettes were always stale because they had no seal. They could keep those for themselves.

    Anyways, our infantry finally got through the ruins of Caen, and eventually found ourselves in the midst of the Battle of Falaise. In this battle, we teamed with British and Polish infantries to come into town on one side, and the Americans and General Patton took the other. We startled the Germans with our smothering attack.

    I remember one night at my command post I received a message from the forward observation post. They told me Germans have advanced in our direction. They were nearly on top of us! We had seven tanks, and luckily that was enough to stave them off. We attacked them relentlessly, and the Germans eventually retreated. Our Forward observation post was also left intact.

    A day or so later, the Germans tried to get out of this part of Falaise. I guess they've had enough. The problem for them was that there was only one escape route and before they could escape, we unleashed our Typhoon aircraft at them and destroyed their infantry. For my money, once we gained control of the air from the Germans, we had won the war. Our barrage of airborne fire left more destruction than I had ever seen to that point. There were burned pieces of equipment of all shapes and sizes. Not only that, there were hundreds of dead Germans, as well as cows, horses and pigs. The stench was unbearable.

    After wiping the Germans out in Falaise, we cleared out various other French towns while traveling up the coast. From then on we Canadians had to clear the channel point in various French towns. We left it up to the 2nd Canadian Division to clean up the messes they made. We got to Leopold Canal, where a lot of action was during the First World War. But for is it was thankfully quiet.

    Along the way, there were a lot of dirty tactics by the Germans. They were knocking out our tanks and playing the fields. I remember one night I went to bed in the field, in my tent. Early that next morning, I woke up to wetness all around me. I initially thought I had wet the bed, but I opened the tent and there was water all around us. The Germans had blew open a dyke!

    Anyway, around that time for the Germans it was all about conquering the Port of Antwerp. The Germans wanted to take it over so they could block us from getting supplies, but we weren't going to let that happen. We wanted to take the Port immediately, but our ships had to get through the Shelde to get back into the Port of Antwerp.

    Eventually, our infantry was set to settle in Cadzand, Holland. My job was to come in ahead of everyone else, survey the field and figure out where the best places to line up our weapons were. Me, a signaler, and the driver of our Jeep pulled up one night, and the town was deathly still. As I was unrolling my survey weapons, I looked in the distance, I saw a German. I also heard more German Helmets chiming. They were well within a rifle shot, I frankly was wondering why they hadn't killed us.

    My signaler said, "they're waiting for bigger and better things." I guess they figured waiting to kill our entire infantry made more sense then just killing us. I told him to get in touch with the infantry and tell them it's best for us to set up shop a bit further back. He had a walk-talkie, and in those days they were extremely unreliable. If it wasn't the battery being faulty, it was the tremendous amount of noise they made. Unfortunately, we couldn't get in touch with the rest of the infantry.

    I said the best thing to do would be to go back ourselves and wait for them. We went back, and I set up my survey equipment beside an embankment. On the near side was a ditch, and immediately before the ditch was a barbed wire fence. I figured that was a good place to set up shop. This way, when I was giving information to the guns, I'd have somewhere to duck.

    My signaler was right in his estimation, because as soon as our tanks arrived, the Germans started attacking us. We would dive in the ditch, jump up to communicate with the next tank, then dive back inside. This messy situation continued until we knocked out all the Germans shooting at us. My uniform was ripped to hell, but I was in one piece.

    From there, we went into Belgium for a two-week rest. After we had recuperated a bit, we went into the town of Nijmegen. We were taking over for a British battery. I remember coming in and trying to get the records from their Captain, which was custom of taking over a territory. He told me he wouldn't give it to me, he wanted an office. I guess he figured I was only a bombardier with a couple stripes. But once I told him we'd leave town if he didn't give the records, he finally passed them over.

    Nijmegen marked the first time we got the chance to rest in private homes. I slept in the home of a chap named Mr. Tolin. I remember one morning he woke me up and told me all our guns had been taken! I put my clothes on and dashed out of there. It was then that I found out the Battle of the Bulge was underway. It was a scary moment because I wasn't sure where exactly the Germans were. Bridges had been knocked down all over the coast, so their path was unpredictable. I only knew they may be in range, if not already at Antwerp.

    I later heard that the Germans got around Boulogne-sur-Mer and were coming in not far from us toward the Port of Antwerp. Little did they know, General Patton was a couple hundred miles away from them. His army traveled day and night up the Rine to get to Boulougne-sur-mer.

    On top of that, The Allied Forces had the local airport secured. Once the weather cleared enough for a flight, the US Air Force knocked the hell out of the Germans, and they retreated back to their Fatherland they loved so much. That battle was the Germans' last major offensive in Europe. After that they were done. And I still think that only reason we won the war is because we got control of the air.

    After Antwerp, we weren't involved in any heavy fighting for a month or two. When the spring offensive started in March 1945, I can remember being in Cleve, where I was in a command post. The Germans had fled Cleve for Germany by that time, and they left behind perfectly useful dugouts. Along with the dugout there was a potbelly stove and a lot of coal. And all of a sudden this German shell landed shaking up the entire area! The bag of cordite we left near the stove fell inside the stove, and it mushroomed into a ball of fire. Luckily, the encasing helped the cordite from exploding, but there were still tremendous flames.

    We finally got the flames down, and everything went back to normal...for them anyway. But within a few days, I developed a heavy sunburn that resulted in blisters all over. I ended up having to go to the hospital for a couple weeks. Unfortunately, I wasn't there for my mates for a couple of their battles.

    I got back near the end of March, and we headed towards Holland. Our regiment moved through Leerort, and Leers. On May 4th, 1945, we received cease-fire orders. The Germans didn't officially capitulate until May 8th, 1945, but the war was over for us. Now we just had to worry about getting home.

    The Brits were able to jump in across channel ferry and head home to England, but it was a bit different for us. We had a lot more water to cross then them. Our command sent us to barracks in Utretcht to wait on a ship that can take us back to Canada. The Americans, by and large went into Germany. We didn't have anything to do until the ship came, so a few of my chaps went to the meat-packing district and took over a yacht club. The club had 24 lovely sailboats, sleeping quarters, and beautiful cooking facilities. I never ate or drank better than the time I spent there. The chaps in our regiment would bus over to the club around noon, and not even leave until the middle of the night. We were probably having the best time in town.

    Not only did we have food and drinks, women seemingly came from nowhere to patronize the club. I guess they heard about the good time we were having. The last bus would leave town at 2 AM, but every night there were still women left at the club! Out into the river we'd go every night out, and I always enjoyed their company.

    Some of our comrades would go out to the historic sites. Soon after, it was announced that a convoy of five corvettes would be shipped to Canada, and they held five people each. I was one of the first volunteers to head back to Canada. Our crew got fresh fruit, rum, and headed out for Halifax. Back then, there were no stabilizers, so it was a rough ride.

    Once we got to Halifax, I took a train home. I remember getting off at St. Lambert, and it seemed like the whole town was there! I saw my parents, and they were beaming with pride. My father told me since I had been away for such a long time it was a good idea to take a trip. From there, we took a weeklong holiday trip.

    After I came back home, I relaxed a bit, but after awhile my parents wanted me to think about my next steps. My mother asked me "have you ever thought of working for a living?" Even worse, my father wanted me to go to Oxford! I didn't want to leave the country again.

    All my friends were making nice livings as salesman, so I told my Dad that's what I wanted to do. My father called Sam Milligan at Dominion textiles, and I got a job within a week. I started off making $150 a month, which was good money back then. After a year, I was looking for a raise. The senior commissioners were doing much better than me, but I saw no growth potential there.

    Around this time, the real estate industry was booming. Soldiers were coming back home, and companies were paying realtors to travel state to state. It was an opportunity I had to take. I learned the ropes at various firms in Montreal, and went out on my own after two and half years.

    Working hard was nothing new to me, but now I was making a lot of money from it. Within a few years my business was so successful that I built an office building. I got involved in appraising of hundreds of properties near the seaways in St. Lambert, and did quite well for myself.

    In 1990, I sold my business and retired.

    These days, I'm very active in Military affairs. I'm the honorary Colonel of the 78th Highlanders, a re-raised regiment that saw service in Quebec in the 1700s. We even went over to Scotland and performed in front of Prince Phillip and Queen Elizabeth II! I got to speak with her, and it was a wonderful experience.

    Many of the joys of my life have been gained from my military experience, and I truly appreciate it.

  • Otto V. Koos,
    Budapest, HungaryMORE...

    My name is Otto V. Koos, and I was born on December 3, 1915, in Szekesfehervar, Hungary. My father served as a soldier during the First World War, or as we called it back then: The Great War. Who knew at the time that even a greater one was coming in the near future.

    At the end of the First World War the country was racked by internal chaos. After a few political decisions, the Hungarian government became committed to the Germans as they awarded us some parts of Transylvania. That explains the close political ties with Germany before the outbreak of World War II.

    After finishing the military academy in 1938, I graduated as a second lieutenant. The war was approaching and seemed inevitable. Also, there was still a lot of ethnic and territorial tension within the country that needed to be solved. I continued my service in the army and on October 27, 1941 I received my order to be dispatched to Ukraine.

    When I was traveling to the front, I was thinking about the Hungarian Soviet Republic that was formed after the First World War and lasted only for a few months. I was against communism, and therefore I felt patriotic and considered it as my ultimate duty to protect my country, as I didn't want something like that to happen again.

    However, when I arrived in Uzhgorod in western Ukraine it became clear that it wasn't the communists I would be fighting with, but it was the Ukrainian Insurgent Army who was fighting against Germany and the Soviet Union at the same time. They had a well-equipped partisan army with modern weapons and we couldn't fight well against them. They were attacking us and at the same time they were also fighting the Russian army. It also became a legal issue, as the partisans were technically civilians, and we weren't allowed to fight or kill civilians. Of course, when bullets are flying no one is going to ask to introduce themselves and show their papers, so we didn't really care. They were our enemies.

    During one night in 1941, I was on patrol duty when the partisans opened fire with a machine gun, and I got hit. For a second, it felt like as if someone had punched me on my leg, but then I looked down and knew that I got shot. I was sent back to a hospital in Hungary. The wound was more serious then I expected, so the healing process and then recovery took more than two years.

    In 1944, I got engaged to the girl I loved here in Hungary, and then I returned back to the front. I wasn't very lucky this time, either. I got captured by the Russian Army and was taken to Oroshaza with other prisoners. We were a group of 200 captured soldiers, but many died while we were being transported to the camp. I can't remember exactly how many people actually made it. I was treated as some sort of criminal by the Russians and not as a prisoner of war. Eventually I spent 12 years in various camps including the camp in the Oroshaza Mountains and in Vorenzh. Though according to all international laws, I should have been released after the war was over because I never committed any crimes and I was just a soldier serving my country.

    Meanwhile, on September 17, 1944, my family house was destroyed by an American air raid because it was located not that far from a military base and they missed the target. The Soviets then captured my mother and grandmother and made them walk to the prison camps located in Germany. My mom and grandma were walking slowly because of their old age, so the Russians shot them dead on the way to the camp. My grandmother was almost 90 years old.

    At that time, my sister was married to a guy who used to work at the Mission School in Hungary. The Russian forces were approaching the Hungarian border, so my sister and her husband decided to move the school to Germany. While they were transporting everything to Germany they got captured by the Red Army and killed. That's how my whole family got wiped out by the Russian soldiers during the war.

    And I remained in prison camps until the 1950s. Life there wasn't a picnic and I was actually sentenced to 25 years for participating in fighting against the Soviet Army. Ironically, I never really did, for I had been fighting mostly with Ukrainian partisans and a lot of them ended up in the same camps with me.

    In the first camp, the prisoners were starved for a long time and a majority of them eventually died. We used to work all day and got very little food. The routine was pretty much similar every day. After a while, the remaining of us got used to starvation. Later in another camp, there was a German teacher, and I felt very hopeful as he started teaching in the camp.

    In 1955, the negotiations in Moscow began for the release of Hungarian prisoners, myself included. And finally, on November 21, 1955, I was a free man and traveled back to my home in Hungary. Little did I know, but I when reached Hungary, the local police arrested me and sent me to Jaszbereny along with 270 other prisoners of war. Apparently, our suffering in the Soviet prisons wasn't enough for the communist regime.

    Later, I was moved to the Budapest prison and eventually got released on October 8, 1956. I still didn't know that my mother and grandmother had died. I found out soon after my release. All my time in captivity I was looking forward to the moment when I would see my family. And then I found out. Later, I discovered the fate of my sister and her husband as well. The war took everyone and everything I had.

    Life went on. I got married on November 17, 1956. We had a son and I started working as a skilled laborer for a company. After a while, I was promoted to a supervisor position and I retired from work in 1980 when I was 65 years old. I have my driving license and I can still drive! I enjoy my life and I talk a lot to youth about the atrocities that war brings.

  • Pyotr Alaev,
    Riga, LatviaMORE...

    My name is Pyotr Alaev, and I was born to the family of workers in 1922 in Biysk, which is in Altay. Funny enough, when I was in primary school, a teacher asked us what we wanted to be in the future, and I remember writing on a piece of paper that I wanted to be a pilot. And so it happened. When I was in the seventh grade, a man from a local flying club came to our school. You know, there were these flying clubs that belonged to the Union of Societies of Assistance of Defense and Aviation-Chemical Construction of the USSR, an organization that trained military staff in peace time.

    So that man came to our school to talk to us kids and tell us more about the club. I remember that he was rather well-dressed, wearing a suit, a coat and felt boots. I think it was in March of 1937 or 1938. It didn't take me long to decide to join that club, and I immediately signed in for the medical check-up. When I told my mother about this decision, she got surprised and asked me what was to become of me in the future then. What kind of question was that? A pilot of course!

    I studied in the flying club for about two years, without giving up secondary school. In 1939, I finished my training in the club, when a representative from Omsk Aviation School came to our club recruiting student pilots for their school. So I accepted that offer. I got enrolled in February 1941, and in June the war broke out. We had already had some training before that, on small agricultural biplanes. Besides, we used to have those R-5 planes, similar to the modern An-12. Having finished the obligatory course, we went on to training on SB planes, which were the most advanced modern bombers for the time, as well as I-16 fighter planes, which had a nickname "ishak" (Russian for "donkey").

    When we were finishing our training, things got pretty tough. A lot of other pilot schools from western regions were being evacuated to Omsk. For example, the one from Rogan, which is near Kharkov. So, instead of four training squadrons in our school, we had 12.

    The overall situation in the country was very complicated. We were attacked from three different sides: Berlin, Rome and Tokyo. So after graduating from the aviation school, I as well as my 120 other fellow students were sent to the Far East. That was in 1942.

    They gave us the military ranks of sergeants. In fact, we were supposed to become lieutenants, but I guess the economic situation in the country was too tough to make it happen. Because if they make you an officer, you should be given higher wages, a new uniform - this sort of thing. But as long as we were sergeants, we could go to the war wearing the same clothes as we did when we were in the pilot school. However, the wages were a bit higher, as we were pilots, after all. It wasn't until 1943 when Stalin issued a decree saying that military school graduates should be promoted to the rank of officers, that we finally became junior lieutenants.

    We were doing pretty well in the Far East. I and some other guys from my regiment were given special assignments. Once, it was the first day when hostilities started on the border with Manchuria, near Bikin and Khabarovsk, we were given the assignment to destroy all the communication lines of the enemy, which basically meant hitting the wires from above. They even organized some training for us, so that we could practice hitting such narrow targets.

    You can't imagine how patriotic we were at that time, but it's hard to expect anything else from 19 to 20-year olds, right? We even thought of raising some funds and buying our own plane. A small biplane could cost say, 47 thousand. By that time we had already bought some clothes, boots, etc. So the plan was to club together and buy another plane. And if we didn't have enough money, we could always cut the wood in taiga where we were staying and sell it. Our political supervisor (deputy commander in charge of propaganda) kind of liked the idea, but then his superior officer came from Khabarovsk and criticized us, saying that it wasn't good for a fighting unit to engage in that sort of trading.

    Interestingly, three months later, somewhere in April 1944, we found out that our commander had gone away to headquarters and was expected to bring some news. When he was coming back on an SB plane whizzing low above the ground, he made a special stunt in the air, and our officers understood that we were about to set off to get some new planes. So two weeks later we flew to the west, to Zaporozhye, where we were trained to fly on the Bi-2, which is an experimental dive bomber. There we finally received our planes, straight from the Kazan aircraft plant. In fact, those planes came as a gift from Lozova, a small place in the Kharkiv region. Kolkhoz farmers from that area gathered money to buy us those planes, so our squadron was called Lozovskiy kolkhoznik. Another squadron received planes from Kegichevka, which is another small town in the Khakov region.

    In 1943, we had our bases on airfields which were literally fields, or agricultural fields leveled with rollers. You can imagine having to land on this! Once we had a flying mission to bomb the Vistula. There were nine of us in the group of bombers. Usually there were 12 planes in a squadron of fighters, and nine in a squadron of bombers. A usual bomber plane crew consisted of a pilot, a navigator and a gunner who was also a radio man. The latter was sitting in the third cabin, the so-called F3. The battery was also located there. So when we were already coming back, the gunner told me that the battery was boiling. I told him to switch it off; but once he did it, the communication ceased as well. I was about to land, but noticed that the previous plane had not yet exited the runway. So I took another circle around when I understood that the plane was in complete disorder. I had to land it as soon as possible, but that field was a complete mess. You know, snow mixed with earth and god knows what.

    Before too long I realized that I had lost the right course, and my airfield remained somewhere aside. Luckily I saw an IL-2 attack plane flying ahead of me. I guessed that it was heading for its airfield, so I followed him. I got a warm welcome there. Planes that had a forced landing were usually received well. Then they checked my plane and found out that there was an oil leakage in one of the two engines, and the anti-freezing liquid was leaking in the other. They wired to my unit so that they could send a car to get us home. It turned out that it was 30 km away. On the next morning I came back to get the plane.

    You should understand that being a pilot you don't really have time to look around. Your main job is to fly the plane and keep up with the rest of the group. If you lag somewhere behind, you'll definitely get hit. Besides, there were usually four fighters escorting us - two on either side. It felt safer that way.

    I remember one assignment when we flew out to bomb some crossing. The problem was that one of our pilots was not allowed to fly that morning, because he had got loaded up on the previous night. As our group was incomplete, they gave us a new guy. Well, he wasn't really new, he even seemed to have more experience than us. All his chest was covered with medals. So he was in the leading group of three planes, flying on the right-hand side in front of me. We were about to make a turn and fly back home when he suddenly started to fall back on me. I naturally fell back on the one behind me, and the whole formation got disrupted. To make things worse, my radio man reported that there was a strange plane approaching us from behind with an unusually long body. German planes, Messerschmitt for example, had just this kind of long body. So I told the radio guy to give it a burst from his machinegun. We actually had two of them: a large-caliber 12.7 mm short-range machinegun and a Shkas, but the former one got stuck. Some sand grain must have gotten inside. That was a hot battle, I should say. Luckily we survived it. Then I found my partner, the one who used to fly on my right, and we returned to our base together.

    There was another case when we suddenly noticed that we have a problem with our fuel tank. At first I thought that it was my partner who had a problem, but then I realized that the fuel was evaporating from our tank! I remember looking at the gauge and watching the pointer moving fast towards zero. We only had 150 liters left when I saw an airfield with a special sign saying that we could land there. I landed, and people came running to us to help. After they fixed the tank and filled it with 500 liters, I went to their headquarters - a mere dug-out in fact - to ask for permission to leave.

    The commander, however, told me to bring a reference from the weather forecasters to make sure that the weather was good enough to fly. It turned out that it wasn't. I went back to my crew who was standing beside the plane waiting for me. I can't help mentioning that my navigator was the father of Gennagiy Troshev, the one who commanded the 58th Army in Checnhya in the 90s. So I came up to my crew and suggested a way to leave. So guess what? An escape ensued! How? Very simple! We told the guardsman that we were about to check the engines, then removed the braking clamps and took off! As simple as that. And the weather was just fine, by the way.

    You know, when you take off from a field, you find yourself in such a thick cloud of dust, that you virtually can't see anything. I was the last one to take off, so I told my navigator to watch carefully so that we didn't lose our group. When I finally reached the necessary altitude I saw a group of planes in the distance, but when I came closer they turned out to be our neighbors! My mates had already flown away while I was circling in the dust. We radioed to our base asking them if we could land with bombs on board. Luckily they allowed us to do so and didn't even scold us for that. It's a dangerous thing to land a heavy plane full of bombs, but I managed to do it very smoothly.

    Later, in September 1944, we were sent to the 1st Belorussian front. Brest-Litovsk, Brest, and then Warsaw. We made flights with all sorts of missions. Once we even bombed the ice on the Vistula River, so that the retreating German troops could not cross the frozen river. We also attacked groups of tanks, mostly at some crossroads where they were most visible. Our regiment bombed Finsterwalde, Frankfurt an der Oder, and some other German towns.

    Not long before the war ended we had a flying mission near Werneuchen, which is a big air field. They had a major crossing of roads there with a large gathering of machines. I also took part in three air raids in Berlin. We bombed the railway stations where most German troops were located. First Silesian and then Stettin railway stations. Besides, we had some flying missions in Seelower Hohen, as well.

    I have already told you that if you are a bomber pilot you don't really see anything in particular. All you have to do is to operate the plane and follow your group. However, one thing I remember very well is Berlin. It really struck me to see its gray dim buildings, which were very unpleasant to look at. At least this is how they seemed to me from above. It was very different from Zaporozhzhye, for example, with its pretty white houses and tile roofs.

    Once we flew to Steszew, and our task was to bomb a road there. However, when we arrived there we saw a huge number of German troops, so the commander of our squadron told us to attack them, forgetting the initial assignment was completely different! So we did hit them, and quite successfully, I should say, but none of us got awarded for that, because we were not authorized to change the task. Discipline should always come first.

    We were staying near Landsberg, a town on the Warta River, which is now known as Gorzow Wielkopolski, when we learnt about the victory. They told us about it at night, and our guys started to make a great noise firing their arms to celebrate the happy news. There in Poland, I continued my military service after the war was over.

    In December 1949 there was rotation, and I found myself in Vilnius. Because of my deteriorating eyesight I couldn't fly anymore, so they transferred me to the command post. The Cold War started. Our job was to send our fighters to patrol the air space, so that everybody could see that we were not sleeping there and the border was being guarded. Once in a while the Americans would send out their planes flying along the Baltic border, so we had to send ours too as a warning. We had 24-hour shifts, and sometimes we had to send as many as 20 to 25 planes during one single shift.

    Then I was transferred to the Far East, and then back to the west, to Germany. In 1956 I was sent to Sakhalin, where I served for three years as an aircraft controller. It was already Khrushchyov's time when a lot of people in the army were made redundant. Some people had only one year left before their legal retirement after 25 years of service, and they were made redundant all the same.

    I was lucky to survive those redundancies. In fact, I was sent again to Germany - me and three other men from my command post - where I stayed until 1967. I was even promoted to the rank of a major, and I served as a deputy commander of a unit.

    In Kaliningrad I used to work with one major Ryabov, who was a very good navigator. People said that during the war his regimental commander would always take him in his crew, because he was that good. Once they had some young pilots joining their nine-plane squadron, and the task was to bomb the German battlefront. You know when they dug trenches, our troops on the one side and the enemy on the other, they would always mark the first row of trenches so that the planes would not drop bombs on their own troops. So their squadron did the task well and came back with good photos. There were several photo cameras in a squadron that used to take a record of our performance. After each mission we would take out the cassette and analyze our work.

    So everything seemed to be all right with Ryabov's squadron, but some time later they received a complaint from the infantry. It turned out that some bombs did hit our fortifications. Certainly they made an investigation trying to find the one who "dropped the ball." As Ryabov was the main navigator of the group, he had a hard time proving that he was not the one to blame. Later, it turned out that it was the fault of a young pilot.

    The thing is that a bomber carries bombs inside the plane's body, and it is the navigator's job to open the bomb door. So that guy was watching his partners flying ahead of him and opened up the doors when he was still above our battlefront.

    The tribunal sentenced him to serve in a penal company, the one which was in the very front line followed by anti-retreat detachments. Later, he told us about his experience. Their task was to distract the Germans in order to gain some advantage for our leading units so that they could easily win the battle. Everybody understood that it was sheer suicide, but they had no choice. Luckily, he and seven other people from his company managed to accomplish the task and stayed alive. Five days later they let him leave the penal company saying that he had done enough to atone for his guilt. And he returned to his former regiment.

    What else can I say? It was a war, after all, so it wasn't much fun. However, have you ever watched that old Soviet movie "Only Old Men Are Going to Battle"? Where Bykov's character organizes an amateur music band in his squadron? We also had something like that. There was that talented guy - Sasha was his name - who wrote poetry and music. We even had our own small orchestra! You know, bottles with different levels of water in them to make different notes. One would make a melody on this makeshift xylophone and somebody else would accompany him on the accordion.

  • Richard Pelzer ,
    Swansea, WalesMORE...

    My name is Richard Thomas Pelzer. I was born in the village of Llansamlet near Swansea on the 20th of May 1924. I'm the third of four sons and one daughter of Mr. John Hubert Pelzer and Margaret Pelzer. In senior school I excelled in science, metal work, and woodwork so when I was fourteen I left school to begin learning trade. I was attending night school instead and learning trade with director Rosser, a builder and undertaker, until the bombings occurred and interrupted my education.

    I was in town when the first bombings came. I was living in Llansamlet and going to technical college in Swansea. To get home you could either go out pass the docks or go the long way, by the police station. It was a new narrow street, and there used to be a barbershop with a large window there. When they dropped the bombs the window fell completely, and it dropped against the wall. I was leaning right against it. If you go past the old police station in Swansea you can still see the wall. It's got big lumps in it from where the shrapnel went.

    I had been a volunteer guard for the past eighteen months before I received my calling up of papers from the army. I was nineteen years old and I entered on my birthday, May 20th. After primary training and then engineering training I was posted to a port maintenance company that worked on underwater demolitions. Because I couldn't use my mason trade here I took up another trade as a diver. The underwater demolition dealt a lot with recovery. When a ship was being loaded we had to go pick up any site EODs, or explosive ordnance devices in the water. We also had to inspect all locked gates that went down in the water because the lockets might have been booby-trapped by Germans frogmen or even the Japanese. So it was kind of like port clearance, making sure the ports were all clear.

    After the underwater demolition we were sent to Scotland to work on the secret Mulberry Harbour project. It was an artificial harbour to get supplies. We were the number 9 port-operating group, and our role was to put the anchorage down, otherwise the tide or storms could carry it away. The British had a Mulberry Harbour and the Americans had theirs too. It was a secret because if the Germans were to find out, they'd bomb it and then the invasion would have collapsed because there would be no supplies to get to shore. When we finished up our Mulberry harbour my squad and I went down to a place called Marsh Ward in Southampton to work with the Americans who were a little bit behind with theirs. From there then we were briefed on our trip to France.

    I landed on Juno beach in Normandy, France on June 6th 1944. We had a specific job: make clearance for the rest of the people to come up to the beach. We were the boys to lead the way and to get the other boats in. Everyone was equipped with a mini-set of tools; we either blew up the obstacles or cut them up. When working we were fired from everywhere. Matter of fact, we were even shelled from the French boats. They were trying to shoot at the Mulberry Harbour, but a couple of shells dropped short and wiped out a whole company of engineers. We were on flat ports at the time. They're just ports you lift the sides up of and drive with a little motor and propeller. We drove these onto the beach. After D-day we spent the night in a little garage. It was part of the ledger on Juno beach in the Nan section.

    I lost my best friend on the beach one day while we were doing a job on one of the invasion fortresses. He was a corporal, corporal Ray, and we had a bulldozer pulling this big fortress out of the way. We were all in a circle, about nine of us, and he was standing the furthest away when this explosion happened. He went down and I got peppered with bits of metal. Once my hearing came back I turned and said to him, "Come on corporal, it's all over." But when I went to him he was dead. The explosion had left a mark on him, blew his lungs out. We were all there, in a circle, but no one else had gotten hurt.

    After August our job was to go along the coast, capturing all of these inland ports so that the German army couldn't be supplied. We did this until we got up to Bourlon. From there I returned to the UK until I received orders to go to Burma. But when I got into Kalyan, India, instead of going to Burma we were ordered to stay there and prepare for the invasion of Singapore. The code name for the invasion was Operation Bow and Arrow, but it ended up not happening because of the atomic bomb. We were in the Malacca Straits when an announcement was made that the Allied forces had released a secret weapon on the Axis. We didn't know what it was at the time so we remained in the Malacca Straits for about three days before we went down into Singapore. Our job there was to secure the release of all prisoners of war. I was supposed to go home in May 1945, but they told me I was being kept on for the emergency. So I was kept on duty for eighteen more months.

    I was in Singapore from August 1945 until May 1947. We didn't do any engineering work, just general duties and training. The company I was with did undertaking, so we mostly did ceremonial work. There were so many British prisoners of war that died when they were released from the camp. So we were responsible for giving the bodies a funeral. Our job was to more or less police in Singapore. We would get the prisoners water and see that they weren't abused. I gave them a lot of food because there was nothing on them. I spoke to a couple of them. They were very grateful. In the Changi jail there was once a Japanese commandant who would not surrender his sword because the officer, now a prisoner of war, was I think either a captain or a major. So this major got promoted to a brigadier to accept the sword from the Japanese officer and have him surrender. Funny thing is I knew him quite well, but I didn't know of his promotion till after his death.

    When I was selected to go to Japan to take some readings on the atomic bomb my captain at the time said to me, "You've done eighteen months already; I'm leaving you behind in Singapore." He went instead and this officer, he only lived about two months after. He passed away with leukemia. They reckon he caught it when taking samples from the atomic bomb.

    So in May, instead of going to Japan, I boarded for my six weeks journey back home. Once home in July I took a week off from work. If I had taken off all of my leave from work it would have been two hundred and ninety six days because I hadn't been home for all five Christmases. Those were the worst moments of all during the war - Christmas time. But on Christmas in 1947 I got married to my dear wife. We've been married now for sixty-six years coming this year.

    At the end of July I went back to working in construction, and I worked in that till 1953. I was working with a local builder once, doing small jobs, when I fell thirty-four feet and damaged a muscle in my right leg. I fractured my coccyx, and fractured my spine too. I had to give my trade up so I sought a light job with the local authority as a janitor and handyman. I lived on the premises while I was there; my wife was employed with them as well. One day they asked me if I knew anything about photography and I did because I had done some underwater photography with old cameras before. They turned around and asked me if I'd more or less be the official photographer for them. While I was there, for thirty-two years, I shot every royalty you can think of including the Prince of Wales.

    I gave up that job when I turned sixty-five years of age, but in the meantime I've been associated with many organizations like the Royal Engineers Association. I was the secretary of our chapter for twenty-six years. And back then we lived in a flat, right on the sea front in town. But we've come into the accommodation here where my daughters live just down the road, and my granddaughter lives just around the corner. So my wife and I, we're quite happy.

  • Rinaldo Budin,
    Treviso, ItalyMORE...

    My name is Rinaldo Budin. I was born in Pola, Croatia, to a family of shipmakers. At that time, Croatia was part of Italy. I had two brothers and one sister. My sister died when she was young.
    I enlisted in the army in 1940, working in radio transmission, a year before the war. Lots of people were enthusiastic about it, lots supported Il Duce, Mussolini, fascism. I wasn't excited about the war. I didn't care for it. The army didn't give a particular explanation for the invasion of Greece, but we knew why - Mussolini gave a speech in Rome, and I saw this as a consequence of fascism - we invaded for ideology.

    I left Italy on January 4, 1941 from Brindisi, and we went by boat to Albania. When we got to Greece, I felt like a tourist because Italy had already occupied much of the area. In June, I had to go to the hospital because a donkey went into a river and I tried to rescue it, because it was carrying supplies. I was injured by the animal when it stomped on my foot. From there, I was in and out of the hospital, after making friends with a doctor, who managed to keep me out of a lot of fighting.

    It was during summer. It was a nice time. I got to know the locals, and my relationship with them was okay, and there were times we met with Greek soldiers. One soldier I met was a pilot that had been bombing Italians, so I even met my enemy and the relationship was friendly. The locals used to call us "chickens" because we had a feather on our hats.

    When I was in Athens, because I was recovering, I used to hang out with the locals. I got to know some youths. I spent some time with them, talking about history I learned in school, about ancient Greece. I was learning to speak Greek. When I was twenty years old, everything was easier to learn. Within a couple of months, I could communicate easily.

    The truth is, I didn't experience much of the war. I didn't make many friends in the military, and I didn't stay in touch with those I had met. While my company in the army went to Samos, near Turkey, I kept getting leave to recover from my injury. In March 1942, I returned to Italy for further hospitalization, before being sent back to Pola in July of the same year.

    I realized in 1943 that Italy was losing, and the USA and England were very powerful. I was hopeful that this part of Croatia I was from would remain part of Italy. However, this didn't happen. I wasn't pessimistic about the future, and I had a brother living in Germany, and another brother fighting with the English in the south of Italy. There were options. The military deemed me unfit for duty that year. However, on paper, it appears as though I remained in the war until the end.

    I was married December 26, 1942. I started working as a banker in March the following year. After the war, I went with my family to the mountains - I had the option to go to Trieste to work for a branch of the same bank. I chose to find a house here and settle down.

  • Robert Benett,
    Englewood, New JerseyMORE...

    My name is Robert Bennett, I was born Beno Benczkowski in the Free City of Danzig on March 15, 1933. I lived there with my parents and my sister and in 1939 Mr. Chamberlain gave Danzig to Hitler and it became very uncomfortable for us so we moved to Lodz where my family was from originally.

    My father started his business in Lodz and was doing pretty well for about a few months when the Germans came in and we were forced to move in the Lodz Ghetto, where we all lived in one room with my father, my mother, my sister and my grandmother. In the Ghetto we worked in a factory that made uniforms for the Germans. I was at the time 7 years old and I worked on a buttonhole machine.

    We didn't have much food, but the whole family was together. Every so often they would clean out the Ghetto. My aunt was a pharmacist, so she had a special pass, and she was able to get in and out. She sometimes would put a lock on our door from outside. That's how we survived many of those clean-outs-the Germans thought that there was no one inside the room, since it was locked from outside.

    The life went on, we managed somehow. But in 1944 we decided that we can't keep on living like this and the Ghetto was almost empty, so we went to a meeting with this German officer, who gave us a German word of honor that we are going to this other place that will be much nicer, where they will give us clothing, better food, we'd be getting a new job...

    And that's how we wound up going to Auschwitz-Birkenau. When we got off the train they separated us-men to one side and women and children to the other. They told us we'd be getting in a shower and getting new clothes, which I thought was a shame because I had this really nice coat on. I figured they wouldn't let me take a shower with my mother, so I stayed with my father.

    Finally we got to this man, who I later found out was Mr. Josef Mengele himself. He asked me how old was I and I for some reason said - twenty-one. I didn't look anything close to twenty-one obviously, but I did speak perfect German and maybe that's why he let me go by. Then everyone needed to be examined by a doctor and by that time we were all completely naked. Out of a sudden a Capo pulled me from the line to the right, to the other side where the people who already went through the doctor were standing. I never found out who this person was but he saved my life; I'd never make it through the doctor, as they were looking for the strong, able men for labor - all others were sent to the other side.

    Of course, we didn't know anything at that point. In fact, when we were going through all that mess I smelled something in the air and to me it smelled like, you know, when my mother used to clean out the chickens and she would burn up the feathers. I asked my father, "What's that?" and he said, "Ah, they're probably cleaning up the chickens to cook." But it was burning hair from the chimneys.

    Then the night came, we wound up in this hangar. And every few minutes we heard "Whoever has gold, diamonds, whatever hidden - drop it, because we will x-ray you and find it". And sure enough, there was stuff laying on the ground. That went on all night long. Finally they gave us uniforms and we went to the barracks.

    On that morning, they lined us up. I was in the first line because I was the smallest kid. The officer that was doing the count had it in for me. When he got close to me he swiped me with his hand, and he broke my nose.

    My father applied for all kinds of jobs because we knew that if we didn't get out of Birkenau we would end up in the ovens. But they didn't want to take me. Finally came a guy from BMW, and my father told him, "Yes, I'm a mechanic"-which wasn't true-"and my son has golden hands." I guess that man was a nice guy, and he accepted us together.

    On the way to the train we passed... We passed the women camp and someone recognized my father and called my mother. That was the day I saw my mother and my sister for the last time. It took me a long time to find out what happened to them. Eventually I discovered that they were sent to Stutthof concentration camp and that's all I know.

    We were on a train and ended up in Gorlitz, Germany. And same thing - there was a camp and the officer who was in charge was this little Czech guy. From the signs on his uniform we could tell he was a criminal, but he was in charge of the camp. Anyway, they lined us up and he was walking along the line and once he approached me, he looked at me and guess what, he hit me in my nose. Again!

    In our camp we were working at the Messerschmitt factory, and I was working on the landing gear. Particularly on the pump, my job was to put a leather sleeve on the pump. This pump would close up on me, so in order to avoid that I would put a wrench inside to hold the pump and then take it out. One day I forgot to take it out.
    Two Gestapo guys came and said "Sabotage". They took me to the head of the factory who happened to be the guy who interviewed my father in Aushwitz. So I explained the situation, thankfully being able to speak perfect German, I told him what happened and he said - Yes, he's right, it wasn't a sabotage, just a mistake. That only got me 10 lashes, which was better than being killed.

    That headmaster saved my life twice. First when he took me and my father out of Birkenau, and this second time with the wrench. Later I was trying to locate him or his family, I wrote to BMW and they said that the factory was completely destroyed along with all of the records. So I never was able to thank him.

    The guards at the camp were Ukrainians, some of them were nice to us, some of them weren't. We only got a piece of bread in the morning and soup during the day and sometimes the Ukrainian guards that didn't finish their soup would give it to us. But some would just throw it away. I used to be on the cleaning duties at the dining room and as a matter of fact, on the first day a Ukrainian soldier came to me, nodded and smiled, made some motions with his hands mimicking the mopping of the floor that I was doing and then later that soldier came to me and gave me his whole soup. There were also some Russian soldiers and some Russian women among the workers and a Russian woman would give me a potato once in a while. So there were some nice people.

    One day in May we heard the noise and we saw silver planes zooming over. Someone said - Americans. Soon after that day, one morning we wake up and there is no one there, all the Germans are gone. We cut the wires, but were afraid to go outside because we didn't know what was outside. We finally decided to go outside of the barracks when the guards started to shoot at us. Got me right here, under my left arm, but I ended up escaping anyway.

    When we were in town and Germans started inviting us in their houses, saying "Come on, we'll help you". At the same time Russian planes were flying very low, barely over the roofs of the houses. We stayed in the basement of a German who said that he was a communist. Out of a sudden, all Germans were communists.

    Next morning the Russians entered Gorlitz and, oh boy, they were in a rough shape. The first Russian I saw was on a bicycle with no tires and he didn't have any boots on, just some rags tied around his feet.

    Anyhow, my father, myself and two other guys took over a house and stayed there for couple of weeks until we were recuperated enough and then we started to march back to our home in Lodz.

    There was no transportation so a lot of people were marching in every which direction. We had a little wagon on which we put a lot of scraps, food and stuff we took from the Germans and there were a lot of incidents along the way, as you can imagine. Everyone was afraid of the Russians now, because they were all crazy for 3 things - bicycles, motorcycles and women.

    When we finally got back to Lodz we started looking for our relatives. We couldn't find nobody, except one cousin. There was only about 500 Jews that left out in the Ghetto. And those 500 were made to dig graves for themselves, I guess Germans didn't want any witnesses and wanted to clear the Ghetto. But the Russians came just in time. That grave is still open as far as I know, and those 500 were lucky not to be in it. Among those 500 there was a friend of mine. I saw him shortly I got back to Lodz, and what was funny - we were the same size when I left the Ghetto and now he was twice as big as me. But I gained weight and strength soon enough.

    So we went back to Danzig for a little, but there was nothing there for us. We then went to Prague and from there we worked our way West to Paris. There my father got in touch with my aunt who was in America. She wasn't able to get us visa to the States but we arranged a Cuban visa. We were in France for about three months waiting for the visa to get approved and then we wound up going to Cuba. We actually went through New York and spent about a month here and what big mistake it was, not just staying here. But we couldn't think about doing something illegal like that, so after 30 days we went to Cuba.

    It took us 5 years to get a visa to get to America and finally December 31, 1951 we arrived here The Korean War was going on, and five or six months later I was drafted into the American army. I was in the army for three years. I got back in May, and in September I got married to my wife. I was working as a cutter. Later I started my own business, Superior Pants. I started with making pants, then leisure suits, and later tuxedos.

    I miss my work. I try to play some golf; I go to the gym every day and play with my dogs. I have my family: one son and three daughters. I got fourteen grandchildren, and as of yesterday I have my third great-grandchild. My family today is twenty-four people. Just imagine if out of these six million that were killed, an average person would have a half of that-how many Jews would there be today.

  • Ronald H. Quadt,
    Fort Lauderdale, FloridaMORE...

    My name is Ron Quadt. I was born in South Amboy, New Jersey on July 1st 1924. When I was eight years old my dad gave me a .22 rifle, and we used to shoot out at my grandfather's garage. So by the time I got in the army, fourteen years later, I was a very good shot, and I was afraid actually that I'd be called as a sniper, which isn't that great a job ya know. But I was always in the top 500 shooting.

    In August of 1942, I was drafted and took a train down to Mississippi for training. From there I went to Camp Kimer in New Jersey. It was about six miles from my house, so every night I would hop over the fence to go home. After camp we took a ferryboat to New York and from there we got on a ship to go overseas. Because no one was sure about when we were going to begin the D-day landing, I was given ammunition to practice my target shooting. Probably shouldn't tell you this but I was having little fun sometimes during those days. When the captain and no one else was looking, I'd shoot at these big buzzards that were always flying around. It was a lot more fun, and like I said, I became a very good shot.

    Finally in February of 1943 we landed in France and trained until our captain received the plans for D-day landing. Luckily we didn't go in early but came after noontime. I remember we had to climb down the rope sides to the landing boards. I was standing close to the front when they dropped the front down. I was one of the first ones into the cold water where we passed by a lot of dead bodies that hadn't been picked up yet. When we got to the beach there was a home about a quarter of mile up, and we spotted a sniper hiding behind the chimney. Our captain in charge brought up a tank and I fired at him, bringing him down, the chimney down, and everything else with it. That was my first shot fired.

    The next day the lieutenant assigned me and another guy to go into the hedges of a road and stand guard at night. During that time we always had centuries out keeping guard. So I was keeping watch and I was about forty feet from the road when I saw a pair of boots sticking out of the row. The boots had little cleats all over the bottom so I knew it was a German. I was waiting for him to come out with a machine gun, but with everything running through my head at the moment I couldn't wait, so I fired. I clipped the top of his helmet and he gave up right away. So I took the first prisoner on our second day there. It was scary but you gotta do what you gotta do. It was something interesting everyday.

    Sometimes we kept guard in long holes covered with big branches and a small opening at the end to squeeze in. When it was time to relieve the two fellows on duty in the hole one night, I said to my buddy, " Well we got a couple of minutes, let me finish my cigarette." As I finished my cigarette a couple of 88s came in and hit the hole where we were going to relieve the guys... they got taken care of. That's why you didn't get too friendly with anybody. It was tough.

    So that was the beginning. We continued to travel along at night, jumping from one town to the next town. And every time we would set up our guns, each about a hundred and fifty yards apart. We ran telephone wires along them so we could talk to each other. One night we didn't run the lines and we heard a tank coming down the road towards us. It stopped by our first gun and nothing happened, and then it came down near the second gun, and as it was coming down a guy in the tank shot a flare up in the air. Well we're in position, but we can't just get up and move the gun because this guy is going to see us. So everybody is quiet when the tank comes down to the third gun. And then our sergeant, who is on the third gun, gets up and hits the tank with his bazooka, and we managed to get a few shots in before ten to twelve Germans took off. When the morning light began to come in we spotted a tank coming down the hill. I threw a shell in the gun and tapped my gunner on the shoulder, signaling that we were ready to fire. He fired, and evidently, the tank fired at us at about the same time because his fire came within inches of hitting me. He fired again and hit our tank's gun. I went about fifteen or twenty feet up in the air before landing back on the ground. I was just glad I was in one piece, but our gunner lost his arm. We all ran for cover through the countryside, and I found four or five SS troops. I took them prisoner, and luckily I didn't fire because soon a jeep full of even more German troops pulled up. They would have killed me if I had fired. So what are you going to do? You gotta give up at that time.

    The SS troops pulled me in a smaller tank and began firing towards the American lines. After a while it became a plateau because the Americans were far out of range. So they got the idea to push me out in front. So I'm out there leading the Germans, but the American troops - they must have seen me in my uniform - didn't hit me. Their bullets whizzed by me. After getting pushed out front three times I was taken in to meet their officer in charge. He spoke English, was educated in California, and he saved my life. He stopped a kid from shooting me in the head. I really thought for sure I was going to get it at any second. When this happens things go so fast through your head, such as when you were a kid that you're not even scared anymore because you know you're going to die.

    Well this German officer, he was losing a lot of guys so he gave me a white towel to go wave. I went outside and waved it and of course the Americans stopped. Once they surrendered I took my field jacket off and told the Germans to put their pistols on top. I collected thirty pistols in all and brought in fifty-one prisoners. When I got back to my guys I said, " Who wants this? Who wants that?" I had some nice ones including a really nice luger. Before taking the prisoners, however, I wound up getting shot in my heel, and my ankle was as big as a balloon tire once back at camp. So I spent a few days there after an operation on my heel. The King Sisters came to visit the hospital once. One of the sisters sat right in my bunk and sang to me. All of the guys were hooting and hollering. It was real nice.

    After about five days I was flown back to Paris to be admitted to the general hospital there. That's where I stayed for my ninety-nine days. I don't know how true it was, but there was a saying that if you had to stay more than ninety-nine days in the hospital they flew you home. Well I had three doctors and two of them wanted to amputate my foot, but Dr. Howell, the head doctor, said no way. She came up with exercises for me to do instead and I healed quickly so when I got out of the hospital I was put into the Labor Supervision Company, supervising German prisoners. For a couple of months I was assigned to mess sergeant. I didn't want the job at first, but it was nice because I didn't have guard duty. The engineers pulled all of those duties; I only had to pick up the food for the German prisoners.

    After about three months though, a whole gang of us were sent back home on a liberty boat. We left for home and came into Camp Myles Standage in Boston, Massachusetts. I stayed at the camp for about three or four days before I got a train back home. Everyone was glad to see me. We had a big bake out to celebrate, and my aunt took down the star that hung from our window. My neighbor was a headman at an ironworker place, and every morning when he'd come out and see me he would offer to put me to work. I said no because at the time I was collecting twenty percent disability every month. So finally one morning he came out and asked me again. I said, "What do I need?" He said, " Well you're going to need pliers, a six inch ruler, and a pair of gloves. Come down to Union Hall and I'll put you somewhere." And that's the way I started work; I did it for forty years. My first job out was on open steel, three stories high. It was scary at first, but by noontime I was running across everything.

    In 1946 I got married. My wife and I actually went to school together, but I didn't know her then. The day I was discharged I went out to a really nice bar, under this hotel, with three other guys. We wanted to have a couple of drinks. There were three other girls on the other side of the bar, and the guys dared me to go ask one for a dance. I refused. I didn't want to get married yet because I just was getting out of the army. Anyway, a couple of drinks later I walked over and asked her to dance. We had a good time, and the next thing I knew we were going dancing every month. We would go to these ballrooms and dance to big name bands, and she would wear flowers in her hair that I bought for her. We were married for 63 years; she was the greatest girl and my soul mate.

  • 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.

  • Shiro Aray,
    Tokyo, JapanMORE...

    My name is Shiro Aray and I was born on March 27, 1925. My hometown is Edosaki, which is located in Inashiki District, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan. I spent a normal childhood and I always used to get good scores at school.

    We were five brothers and sisters and my eldest brother had his own textile business. My brother's business was suffering from the export ban so he had to give it up and become a policeman. I also moved to live with my brother and began studying in high school in Tokyo. At that time, the war was spreading around the globe rapidly. Therefore, the Japanese Army started accepting applications for the position of a soldier from individuals 18 years of age. The usual age for submitting an application for a soldier was 20 years before. At that time, I was 18 and a high school student so I applied for the military academy. I passed my test and started my training as a soldier. At the military academy, I observed that not only me, but also everyone else wanted to serve this country in the WWII. We all worked really hard during the training period and wanted to join our fellow soldiers in the war zone as soon as possible. One day, we were all gathered at the academy and our leader told us about the launch of a secret project by the Emperor. I always wanted to be a pilot so I thought that the secret project might include training for pilots. Therefore, I decided to volunteer for this secret mission and got selected. Approximately 200 soldiers were chosen and I was one of them. After our selection, we left the school but we didn't know exactly where we are being taken or what this secret mission is about. I was really hoping it would be related to flying. Soon I realized it wasn't. However, we left from the city called Tsuchiura located in Ibaraki Prefecture and took a train to Yokosuka. After arriving in Yokosuka, we began naval training. The exercises and drills were quite simpler and easier than the ones I had in the military academy. Then I finally found out that our secret mission was not all that I thought it was - I figured out it had something to do with motor boats. Those were fairly small boats we were practicing in and overall the operations seemed unambitious. However, the Japanese Army does not allow you to share your personal thoughts and opinions about any project or activity. Therefore, I kept my disappointment to myself.

    Even though no one talked about it, Japan was loosing the war. We were also not that mighty in industrial terms - we didn't even have enough power to build decent motor for those boats. They converted old truck engines to be used on these boats. The whole secret operation was that the boat used to carry 250 kilograms of explosives and we were supposed to sail it to the American ships and blow it up as close to the target as we possibly could.

    Our trainings went on until November 1944. At our graduation we were visited by a ember of an Emperor family and one of the Navy's top commanders. It was a memorable day for all of us. Each of us got honored by the Emperor's relative and given a special sword engraved with the names of Navy's top officials. The hilt was also embossed with a sentence "protect our country".

    I was very happy to meet these people and all my initial discontent disappeared. It felt that we serve a purpose; we were about to embark on a mission blessed by the Emperor himself. Everyone felt quite patriotic and we honestly believed in our victory then.

    After graduation, we were divided into four groups of 50 soldiers. The 50 members of my group were further divided into four subgroups and each subgroup had its own leader. We were then sent to different locations in the boats with our leaders. At first, we didn't know where we were heading but later we arrived in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture. However, we were still in the deep sea at Sasesbo when we started moving again along the coast of Korea and China. There were many American ships along the coast of China and we didn't know where exactly we are headed, but we knew that it was North of Taiwan. We were moving a lot from one base to another and spent few weeks at sea without any understand where we are going to end up and what our mission will be. Everything was under the seal of secrecy, which I understood. But I really wanted to be useful and finally see some action.

    Eventually we came to know that our destination was the city of Keelung. Anyway, we all got off the boat and took a train towards the city to start building our base. The weather was good in Taiwan and I was feeling content that finally I would be able to represent my country in an actual battle.

    At first I was mainly responsible for hiding the boats and building the base. It took us two months from December 1944 to January 1945 to build the Japanese base in Taiwan. Every day we used to perform rigorous exercises as part of our training. There were hot springs at a distance of 6 kilometers from the base and we used to go there every weekend. Our boats were not yet deployed to the actual fight so we were only practicing at the base.

    At that time, the American soldiers were moving to Philippines after destroying Okinawa. On their way back, they bombed our base and continued bombing for a few weeks. However, we did not have any casualties. One night I was on a patrol duty on the beach, around our base, and an American plane flew by. Suddenly, the pilot started firing on the beach and one bullet hit the sand 2 meters away from me. I ran away into the forest and was able to escape. However, I caught malaria later and suffered from it for the whole month. I was being treated at the army hospital in Taiwan.
    Later, a leader of the Japanese army from another city in Taiwan came to our base and announced the conclusion of the WWII. As you know, Japan had to surrender. We all felt absolutely empty. We were ashamed to loose the war and we were ashamed of the fact that we never took part in the missions we were trained for.

    There were no boats to go back to Japan so we stayed there until further notice. We started to grow vegetables as we didn't know when we would be able to go back. We stayed there until December 1945. All of us were very disappointed, as we never thought that Japan would be defeated. At that time, our leaders also ordered us to throw our special swords in the sea so that the Chinese or American troops can't take them away from us. We had a fear of being captured by the Chinese or American troops. Thus, I believe that none of the 200 soldiers were able to bring back their sword to Japan and everybody threw it in the sea. Later, the Japanese army gathered us all in the same place and boarded us on the American ship to go back to Japan. It took us only 3 days to reach Japan in the American ship. On the contrary, it took us three weeks just to reach Taiwan in our boats from Japan.

    The Americans took us to the port of Hiroshima from where I boarded the train back to my hometown. The Japanese army provided us the transport fare and food. However, I got to know that my hometown was completely destroyed by the American bombing. Somehow, I also got to know that my family was in a safe place with my relatives in another city. On the other hand, my family knew that I joined the secret mission of the army and they thought that I was dead. Of course, they all were very happy to see me alive as I was their only son who took part in the war. My elder brother was still working for the police and my younger brother was a junior high school student. After coming back to my country, I graduated from the University in Japan and begin working at a company in Ginza for three years. Later, I moved to the city of Fukuoka where I stayed for three years and then moved to Osaka and stayed there for six years. Finally, I got back to Tokyo and stayed there until my retirement at 60 years of age.

  • Sidney James Taylor,
    Norton Canes, EnglandMORE...

    My name is Sid Taylor, and I was born in Norton Canes, England in 1920. I had a great experience as a child. I was in the Boy Scouts for a number of years.

    When I left school, I got a job as en engineer with a vehicle manufacturer. In 1939, the possibility of war was becoming a reality. My father told me "If I was you I would join a good outfit, because you could be sent anywhere."

    I took his advice and joined the Territorial Army. I started at a Drill Hall, doing manual work such as erecting portable bridges. At that point, many were deployed into combat missions to Europe, but I was merely among the soldiers sent to another training camp. I stayed at that camp until early October 1939, when I was sent to France. When the war started, no one knew what was going to occur.

    At that time, the war wasn't as serious as it would become just a couple years later, it was even called a "phoney war". I was a driver, part of an advance party. We traveled from Southampton to France, set to arrive before the rest of our party. By the time we got there, the other party was already there! They left three days after but got to France before us. We didn't how that happened.

    We went to Coutiches, a couple miles from where the Battle of the Frontiers took place. While we were there, we built pillboxes. Pillboxes were those ugly concrete structures that were used as fortifications along the defense line. We were there for several months. From Coutiches, we went towards the Maginot Line. The area we were at was essentially no man's land. We had a couple skirmishes there, but nothing serious.

    We soon got word the Germans broke through France, and were called to defend Dunkirk. 70 miles out we realized the Germans were already there. Our party was then sent Southeast. Along the way, we were doing demolition, blowing up crossroads and bridges to keep them from advancing. Little did we know at the time how far they had already advanced.

    We soon reached Lille, where we actually saw Germans in the town. This put us on guard, we had no idea they would be there.

    On June 10th, 1940 I can remember suddenly hearing tanks in the distance. We didn't have the proper ammunition to fight back so our party jumped into the cornfields to hide. We thought that was a decent hiding place, but the tanks were very tall so the German soldiers still saw us. They swooped in, "told us the war was over for us" and took us in as prisoners of war.

    The Germans put us in trucks and drove us to Holland. We were then put in car barges and sent to a prisoner camp, Stalag XXA, in Poland. I grew sick and ended up in the hospital for a short time. I was at that Stalag for four months, then sent to a second camp in Bromberg. At this Stalag, we dug irrigation ditches and performed road repair throughout the town. The Germans would gather us together and send us way out into the woods. We didn't know where we were on most jobs because we had no knowledge of the area.

    In the summer of 1943, I was moved to a farm in Marienberg, Poland (now called Malbork). The farm was so big it had three captains. I initially worked in the field. I remember once I was using a tractor and forgot to put it back in the barn. I was almost shot over that. The Germans took me off that assignment and made me work in the office. Honestly, I figured sitting down was better than being in the field anyway.

    While I was on the farm, I met a Japanese prisoner. He got a letter from his parents saying his wife had left him for another man. He kept telling me he had to escape the camp, presumably to go back and win her love. I told him I would escape with him. One day we were out in the field doing work and scurried away from the rest of the prisoners. Apparently they didn't realize we were gone until they did a head count on the truck. They eventually found us and shot us both, killing my friend.

    In hindsight, it was a silly decision. Of the 5,000 prisoners of that camp only 29 actually ended up escaping throughout the war. Those people had connections, and being in a strange land, we had none.

    Our time at the farm ended when the Germans suddenly decided to leave and take us with them. Us prisoners had no idea what was going on. I later realized the United States and Russia had invaded Poland. The Yankees came on the west end, and the Russians were coming from the East. The Germans must have realized they would soon be ambushed if they didn't leave, so they escaped fromPoland.

    It was an arduous journey through a Polish winter. There were 12,000 of us prisoners marching along, locked in threes. We would walk 25-30 kilometers a day. We had no idea what was going on or where we were going. Sometimes a prisoner would get too tired to march and fell by the wayside. We would pick them up and keep going. Eventually, the Germans just shot whoever fell by the wayside. They would beat and assault us at will. Four months later, we got to Dresden. There were only 6,000 of us left.

    While we were in Dresden, Allied Forces bombed the city. The Germans fled and left us behind. The Yanks found us and wanted to send us straight home, but were too busy with combat. They first took us to Leipzig, then flew us to Brussels. There we waited in groups of about 25 prisoners apiece. Day by day, the forces would come in with Lancaster bombers and fly us home to Dunsfold.

    In Dunsfold, we were fed and given new uniforms. We were then put on trains to Birmingham. I got to Birmingham at 1AM.

    I remember knocking on the door of my house. My grandparents shouted out from an upstairs window, "who is it?" I told them it was me. My family was so excited to see me. It had been six months since we had last had any contact! We could send letters at the farm, but once the march started there was none of that. My dad told me he was trying hard to get information on me but couldn't find anything.

    After a short while, I went back into the Army. I was in group 22, the highest group for my age and service, but not quite eligible for demobilization. I was sent to a civil settlement union. They wanted me to become re-acclimated to society. After that, I was officially demobilized.

    I didn't do anything for my first three years, but soon after I took a job as a driver. I retired in 1965. I'm now active in my community and talk to the local regiment. I live on my own, sometimes my daughter visits. Considering my experience, I'm doing quite alright.

  • Stadler Franz,
    Weberndorf, AustriaMORE...

    My name is Stadler Franz. I was born here in Weberndorf on March 1, 1921.

    After primary school, I attended further schooling to become a farmer. Unemployment had been high following the Austrian Civil War, so I worked for my parents. I was drafted in 1941 and went to work as a soldier for the Wehrmacht.

    I was in Russia most of the war. I can't remember many of the names of places there. In 1943, I was shot in the arm and hospitalized. I was transferred to France and my duties there were much easier. I had two horses and my responsibility was transporting supplies. My assignments were things like buying fish, even though I knew nothing about fish. I was kept from battle for a long time because I lacked mobility in my arm. I worked in France for an entire summer, which was quite nice.

    At the end of 1943, I was granted two weeks of holiday before being sent to Russia again. We were very close to the enemy lines and my gun jammed. I could see a Russian soldier. He shot me three times in the leg. I was quite lucky because the shots only grazed me. This meant I could be hospitalized again and avoid more combat. I got four weeks of leave this time. It was around May, 1944.

    I was to be sent back to Russia again in June. But we stopped at a training facility in Poland and joined another division that was returning from Russia. We were sent to France instead. When we finally reached the place we were supposed to be, we found ourselves surrounded. Sometime around Christmas, I sent a radio message to my parents. "I'm healthy, I'm doing fine."

    In March 1945, the bunker we were in was bombed and I was injured again. Shrapnel was stuck in the back of my head. I was in the hospital when the war ended and when I was well enough I was imprisoned by the French. Being held captive was very boring. There was so little to do. We were constantly searched. There was this saying that if you left the Germans with even a tin can, they would build a tank. I was with lots of Austrians. Finally, I was joined by some of the people who had been in my division. It was less boring with company.

    I was released in March the following year and transported to Salzburg. It wasn't very easy to get home from there. That part of Austria was under Russian administration. I was in American territory. I did not look forward to meeting Russians again. I'd already had enough of that. I stayed a while with my aunt and uncle and we tried to figure out a plan. There were rumors that the Russians were sending anyone returning from war that was still fit and shipping them to camps to work. I went to the police to get a passport, but they wouldn't help me get a pass. They told me instead to go to a different district in another part of Austria, where I could go to the Russians to get one of these licenses. I didn't want to do that. I managed to get a baker to smuggle me through in a horse carriage under some bread boxes.

    Within thirty minutes of my return home, the Russians knocked on the door. But by this time I had gotten rid of the uniform. I was hiding and didn't attract too much attention. The Russians would come and ask for food sometimes. We had to hide our guns and valuables. It wasn't so bad. I worked at this same farm I'm in now. I got married here. I had my kids here. But now my vision is going and my hands don't work as well as they used to.

  • Stan Bond ,
    Gravesend, EnglandMORE...

    My name is Stanley Bond, and I was born on September 9, 1923 in Gravesend, England. We used to live in the city next to the county cricket ground. I went to the Gordon School in Gravesend, which was named after General Gordon.

    When the Blitz began I started working as a fire watchman in a local building after my studies. One Saturday night I was on my fire-watching duty and suddenly all the lights went off with a loud bang. Immediately, I ran outside and saw the sides of the buildings were completely demolished--and with those first bombs dropped, the War began for me. I was a bit scared, but I carried on with my fire-watching duties.

    After that, I also worked during nights and weekends on the migration plan for evacuating children off Gravesend. There were eight pleasure boats that sailed from the city to the East Coast.

    On July 4, 1942, I received a draft that asked me to report immediately to the nearest recruiting center. So I packed my things and travelled down to the station where I spent four weeks in the barracks during my basic army training. Later, I was posted with the Royal Engineers as a sapper. We were stationed in Chatham, Newark, Halifax and then Yorkshire.

    At the time we were stationed in Halifax we had parades two times a day - in the morning and at lunchtime. All soldiers posted there who were even arriving at night, had to go to the parade the next morning. And one day I was put on the cook fatigue when the rest were on the general fatigue. If you are put on general fatigue, you have to go to the parade in the lunchtime even if you're arriving in the morning. So, they all went for the parade and later that day, they were all asked to join a company going to Italy to fight, except for me. They all took part in the famous Salerno landings in Italy and they all got killed. I was the only one from that company who survived because I was on the cook duties that day.

    In March 1943, I was posted to Edinburg where I stayed till May 1943. I travelled to various places in the UK for my training but ended up in Scotland. I was commanded at the British First Corps for work on planning for D-Day on the west coast in Scotland. At that time, we didn't know that we were planning for D-Day and it was just the basic exercises for the military. We were also told that the bridges were being demolished so as a part of Royal Engineers we would have to work for providing materials to replace and rebuild bridges after the landing. For instance, the equipment required in rebuilding and the bricks needed to reconstruct a bridge. We also had to decide that how many vehicles would be required, what would be loaded on the trucks and how would the material be transported. All of this information had to be sorted out beforehand. The army was providing us with a little information of what might be happening when we reached our target area.

    Later, we were in charge of building the famous Pegasus Bridge between Caen and Ouistreham, in Normandy, France. It would only take a certain amount of traffic, so we had to build a Bailey bridge alongside the Pegasus Bridge over the Caen Canal.

    After the trainings in Scotland, we were ordered to board a big American landing craft on June 3, 1944. This American ship was very similar to the cross-channel ferry boats today, which are not so big. We boarded in the evening, sailed down the coast, crossed Gravesend and reached a small town where we stayed until the afternoon of June 5, 1944. Later, we sailed from the same place into the channel where the weather was pretty horrific, and it was the only reason that D-Day that was transferred from June 5th to June 6th, as far as I know. We were then taken to the Normandy beaches, but we didn't know that we were going to be part of the fight at Normandy. We came to know about the combat when we landed on Sword Beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944.

    The next day, we realized that an intense battle was taking place on these beaches. There were ships of all shapes and sizes, and guns and canons were being fired everywhere. It was exciting in a way, but at the same time it was quite scary. We drove in vehicles to our very first location that was a few miles away from the beach. On our first night, we heard several gun fires and shell fires, but our navy was shutting the German gun placement that was located near where we had to spend the night. There were also rumors that a Panzer division was coming towards us, and there was a moment when I thought that we wouldn't be able to make it until the morning. However, the navy fought bravely and protected us as we were not a combat group and were the Royal Engineers unit for supplying materials particularly for the bridges. The following morning we moved a little further inland where we were based for some time.

    One day we were traveling to supply materials for the bridges when we found the dead bodies of two German soldiers hanging from the trees. We covered them with blankets and waited for the morning to prepare for their funeral. We buried them and put a cross on their graves. I believe that later the bodies were shifted to a local cemetery.

    My 21st birthday came right at that time in which I received a parcel from my mother containing a homemade birthday cake, a package of coffee and condensed milk. It was lunchtime and I didn't want to cut the cake until the evening. So we all just had coffee. In the evening when I opened the box, I couldn't see the cake for the ants, and there were thousands of ants on that cake. It ruined the cake, but we had a good laugh.
    From Normandy, we travelled through France and then Belgium. However, we didn't come across any big fights as we were not a combat group. I still remember when we were crossing through Brussels, we stopped for a ten-minute break on the street leading into the central town. An old lady came out from her house in a Belgian traditional costume and asked us if we would like a drink. We all said to her, "Yes, please." So she went back to her house. When she came back, she had a lovely tray in her hands with a dozen cups of coffee. We were very careful with the cups as they looked really expensive and we didn't want to drop them. Anyway, she came back a few minutes later and collected the empty cups. We were thankful to her for her kind gesture. Later, we travelled to Holland where on one occasion when we were exercising outside of our barracks we heard German planes flying across and firing onto the ground. We stood there and tried to shoot them down with our rifles but we were unsuccessful.

    From Holland, we proceeded towards Germany. When we got into Germany we took over some Nazi barracks that they had left in haste. The local children used to congregate near the gates and fences asking for chocolates and cigarettes. In exchange they were offering their assistance in any work. Of course we didn't take them up on the offer but we'd give them treats once in a while. At those barracks we also found a stack of Calvados in the basement of the premises evicted by the German soldiers. It is a type of fine whiskey, and we had to lock it under the supervision of our commanding officer as we didn't want the locals to find it.
    My company was stationed there till the day Germany surrendered. I remember that day quite well. When we heard about the victory, we planned to reach the hotel of our commanding officer, who wasn't generally liked by all of us, to throw him into the pond. But he wasn't at the hotel. He was a strict disciplinarian and quite a few of us had a beef with him. Once, he put me on a charge because I lost a company bicycle, and it wasn't even my fault. He put the blame on me and I got several days of detention. The bike I lost was given to me by the company to run errands across the camps. One day, we were getting ready to move to another camp and I had an accident while riding it so I was taken to the hospital where I stayed for a few days. When I came out of the hospital, the officer asked me about the bike and I told him where it was left. He sent someone to pick it up from the place I mentioned, but it wasn't there and he didn't consider my excuse. Anyway, he wasn't there so we couldn't throw him in a pond. We'd had gotten in serious trouble for that, but hell, the war was over, we didn't care.

    Anyway, my rank was lance corporal when I was in Germany, but I was later made the Acting Company Quartermaster Sergeant. The commanding officer was so pleased with my work that he cancelled my release order when it first came. I was very upset as I had planned my wedding after being released from the army. However, he told me that he doesn't want me to go as he really depended on my work. He also cancelled my release orders the second time, but the third time he couldn't cancel it because of the strict military language on the notice. So he let me go eventually. And we had drinks that night, but I had to go to bed early in order to get up at five in the morning to catch the train to Holland.

    After reaching there, I travelled to the Dutch coast to get the ferry towards England, and from there I went to Halifax to hand over my military possessions to the army base. Finally, I went to Gravesend and got married. So in 1946, I got released from the army and took on a normal civilian life. I got retired from work at the age of 60 years. I also did voluntary work with various organizations including 26 years with a citizens' advisor bureau, providing advice to people. I was also very involved in the Town Training Center between Gravesend, Germany, France and the United States. I like reading biographies and non-fiction books on traveling and I have a good collection of stamps.

  • Sunao Tsuboi,
    Hiroshima, JapanMORE...

    My name is Sunao Tsuboi, and I was born on May 5th 1921. I was born in Hiroshima and grew up with my parents and brothers. I'm the fourth of five brothers. As a student I was very modest, but I was good at studying. I was a class leader too. Because I really liked math and science I wanted to become an inventor. I tried to become one until the war happened. I was ten years old when the war started with China. My two eldest brothers went to war there and never came back. Then when I was sixteen years old the war against America began, and our school introduced military classes into our educational system. We were told to not study English and to not use English words. We couldn't even use words like "baseball" and had to use Japanese replacement instead. During my senior year I had to switch my music classes to marching classes. Everything I learned was related to the military and to the war. Boys over twelve years of age had to learn how to shoot guns; they would go to shooting ranges to practice. The Japanese government controlled every school, including the universities. We were taught that we all eventually would have to go into the field to fight the enemy for Japan, for the country.

    When military education first started in school, I was really frustrated. I couldn't do what I wanted to do, and I believed my dreams had perished. But gradually my feelings changed. I began to feel the spirit of loving this country. I wanted to go into the war and fight to protect Japan. Because I grew up with all brothers, I was usually around men and our priority when talking was always the war. We talked about going to the field and fighting the enemy. My friends and peers, we always thought this way. My college mate was called to go to war. On the day he was dispatched we all came together to cheer him up. Some of us gave him messages on cloth. At that time, I cut my finger and with my own blood wrote something like, "I will follow you so you will be successful." It was a normal thing to do back then. Fortunately my friend came back from the war and lived a long life.

    Before the a-bomb exploded, the connection between people and their town, especially between their neighbors, was really close and tight. While the men were at war, women and girls stayed home protecting our towns and cities. All of the men were dispatched to the war so they had to do things men usually have to do. They would get together and form women's groups to help each other with farming, business, and everything else like putting out fires. We helped each other and were well coordinated, but after the a-bomb people became more self-centered. In a sense, it was to survive, to live, but socially there became a lack of togetherness.

    On the day of the bombing I was on my way to the university. I was twenty years old and a senior. I was walking when suddenly I saw a flash, a big explosion, and I fainted. When I awoke I was ten meters from where I was walking, and I didn't know what to do.

    I could still see the mushroom of clouds over my head. I couldn't see a hundred meters in front of me; it was all smoke. I looked down at myself and was shocked because my arms and legs were bloodied, and my clothes were all torn. I began walking when I felt this ache in my back. I took off my jacket and saw that it was burning. I was walking for about twenty minutes with a fire on my back.

    While I was running I saw a lot of people injured from the explosion. I saw a lady with no eyes; they were pulled out from her eye sockets. I also saw a guy with his stomach out of his body. I saw dead people all around me. It was worse than hell. I was injured myself, but at that moment I only thought about how I hated the enemy and how I would get revenge. Gradually my body weakened and I shut down on the corner of a street. I thought I might be dying. My feelings changed from strong desire to revenge to desperation, I thought I am going to die any second. I even scribbled it down on the road: "I die here."

    I just stayed there until a military truck came. A guy stepped out and said, " Okay, only young men can get on this truck." Women, children, and the elderly could not. They were seen as garbage and only young men were seen as important. I became really mad at this idea. The government's only concern was to win or lose the war, and human beings were just tools. I wanted to say to the military guy that everyone is the same and we are all human beings... I wanted to fight him but my body was too weak so I couldn't do anything. There was a girl, about six or seven years old, who wanted to get on the truck. She wanted to survive but was told to get off. I wanted to say something but I just couldn't. So she got off and ran crying into the fields that were still on fire. I hope she survived. I still remember the fact that I couldn't' help her, and I felt so guilty. I really hated the military and the war at that moment.

    After the incident, I was sent to Enoshima Island. They had a military hospital there so I was able to escape from the ghost town of Hiroshima. There weren't many nurses in the hospital so victims just lay on their beds dying. Something like eighty percent of people were dying everyday so everyday I thought it was going to be my turn to die.

    One day my mother and uncle came to the island searching for me. They couldn't find me and at that moment my mother insanely cried my name, "Sunao! Sunao! Sunao!" I was almost dead when I heard my mother, and I unconsciously raised my hand. In that way I was miraculously saved. I was unconscious for fourteen days after that so I didn't even know that the war was over. When I came back to consciousness I was home and my mother was looking at me. I said, " I'm not supposed to be here. I'm supposed to be fighting the enemy; take me back so I can fight." My mother told me the war was over but I couldn't believe it. I thought it all false. That's how brainwashed I was from the Japanese militarism.

    With the war over I didn't have much energy for jobs, but eventually I chose to become a teacher. I found a job teaching eight hours a week at a school for women. I began to teach there, and in the end I found my wife. I was about twenty-six years old, and she was a student. I really wanted to marry her, but her parents were very opposed because I was a hibakusha. That was the term for survivors of the atomic bomb. They thought I was going to die in two or three years, and then she would be a widow. So they kept her in the house so that I couldn't see her. When she wanted to go out she had to go with a female friend, but then I would meet her. Our love was so strong that we decided to commit suicide together with sleeping pills. Maybe in heaven we could marry. But the amount of pills we took was not enough. I woke up when she was still sleeping so I was going to take another pill but then she woke up too. We were so sad because we couldn't even die together. It was the saddest moment.

    Since the war I've been hospitalized twelve times. Out of those twelve, doctors have told me three times that I wouldn't live, but with the help of everyone I have survived, and I have even had cancers cured. I carry medications with me, and I still go to the hospital every two weeks for drug infusions, but I'm alive. Since I can't die I have to live. I've survived to tell people that the life of human beings- not nukes, not war, not terrorism, not murder - is the most important thing. I'm here and alive to convey that message.

  • Surjan Singh,
    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.

  • Takeoka Chisaka,
    Hiroshima, JapanMORE...

    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.

  • Tatiana Kouznetsova,
    Kapustino, RussiaMORE...

    My name is Tatiana Stepanovna Kouznetsova, I was born in Moscow in December of 1924. My mother was a doctor, father was an accountant. Childhood wasn't easy at that time, but I studied well and almost finished my school in 1939 when the war intervened. Just a few days before the war broke out my brother and I were sent to Samara.

    We left Moscow approximately on June 20 and came to Samara literally a half day before the beginning of the war. Our grandmother met us there and everything was fine. And next day the war was suddenly declared. Of course it was terrible. We didn't know what to do. We tried to call to Moscow, but we didn't manage get ahold of anyone.

    And then the war started and I stayed in Samara. I continued my studies and worked in a hospital. II wasn't employed officially because I was underage, but I went there every day to help: applied bandages, ran some errand for doctors, later on I was making injections and taking care of the patients. It was a hospital for wounded soldiers and there were some very serious cases. Soldiers were always very happy to see me. We read to them, told them stories, we recited poems and I danced for them occasionally. So we were doing our best. And of course they fed us at the hospital. It was another thing that stimulated me, because people everywhere really starved at the time. My stepfather worked in the Department of Agriculture and was evacuated to Middle Asia, where he got sick with tuberculosis. So he couldn't help us. And my mom was sent somewhere toward the front lines to work in a field hospital.

    It was a tough time for my family - my grandma was very ill, my mom worked long hours and I felt responsible for my little brother so I took care of him. Besides, I had to study and work in the hospital. I don't remember exactly how I started there - I think someone I know mentioned they could use a hand in the hospital. First I was just helping to make beds and do laundry, then later they started giving me some jobs like tending after injured soldiers, bandage them, bring medicine. Later they would even trust me with working in the operation room during surgeries; nothing serious of course, just general assistance and cleaning.

    Some of the patients got really stuck in my memory. I remember one day a young soldier was rushed in. He was covered in blood, his guts were hanging out of his stomach, burned legs and arms. But the face... His expression was of absolute calmness. He looked at me and said: "It's ok, everything will be fine, sister." I remember this very well. He survived.

    One of patients was very old, and we all nicknamed him Grandpa. He was in a bad way, but he had such a positive attitude and funny way of talking that he made everyone laugh. He'd always tell me "daughter, first we eat and then we talk". I would read to him and he often helped me with my algebra. Because I didn't have any free time, between the school and the hospital I would have to do my homework when I had downtime in the hospital. And often the patients helped to do my it.

    Of course I recall doctors and nurses as well. It was something else... The war can really bring out maximum out of a human being. They worked non-stop and lived in that hospital. Doctors would wake up early in the morning and operate all day and throughout the night, catch a nap here and there and have a bite to eat. Same with nurses. I don't know how these people were living like that but it was a miracle how much they were able to do.

    Even to think about those days is frightening. We had no idea where our parents are and everyday there were the rumors that Germans are getting closer and closer. Finally in the my mom came to visit us on her leave. She was exhausted and sick, she caught typhus somewhere along the way. Thankfully soon she got better. The front was moving westwards so we decided to go back to Moscow.

    In the summer, after we got back to Moscow I was sent with other young kids to a so-called "Labor Front". The country was in ruins towards the end of the war and the State was trying to utilize people to do all sorts of work - general labor, construction, cleaning up the debris etc. Our camp was about 100km south of Moscow and our mission was actually quite funny. Apparently a lot of people in that area had lice and we had to go door to door and inspect each head, literally, for lice. If the family did have lice we would help them get rid of it with pretty old-fashion methods - by sitting them on a very hot furnace, washing and burning their clothing and bedding.

    The war was over soon. It's impossible to explain and describe my feeling when I found out it was over. I was overjoyed, I felt ecstatic. It was like a new beginning, start of a new life. It was pretty funny that day - my little brother who was maybe 12 came back home totally drunk. My mom and I were absolutely shocked. "How?! Why?!" And he looked at us and said very seriously "I was celebrating the Victory Day".

    It sounds strange now but back then everyone was drinking and toasting "To Stalin"! We all believed that he got us through this mess and he will lead us to better life after the war.

    I graduated from my school with very good grades and enrolled in a medical institute after the war. I studied for 5 years and worked in a clinical laboratory. Then, maybe on the third year of my studies I started working as a nurse. I didn't have my diploma yet, I did have my experience in the hospital so they hired me.

    I wanted to go to a graduate school, but due to the fact that my father was repressed because of his political views in the 30's I wasn't accepted. It wasn't clear for me why with such good grades and recommendations I couldn't enroll in 2 separate colleges. And afterwards my mother told me one day, that my real father and academician Nikolai Vavilov were arrested for their scientific and political views before the war. My dad was an agronomist and Doctor of Philosophy. He spent many years in camps and I only saw him one last time at his funeral.

    Later, after Stalin's death the name of my father was restored, and I was treated differently. I did my post-graduate studies and started working in scientific research institute. And in 1960 the Institute gave recommendations to join the World Health Organization. I was among the first group of Russian doctors, who went to work abroad.

    We were sent to study in Geneva for a few months and then ended up in Egypt. I worked with WHO Regional office In Alexandria for more than two years. I concentrated on outbreaks of various diseases in Africa, specifically cholera.

    And when I came back, I was asked to work in the Ministry of Health. I worked there for more than 20 years. I retired in 1984 only because my husband became very ill, but the Minister didn't let me leave the job for another year. My husband was a disabled war veteran, suffered 3 heart attacks and had big problems with his heart. So my only choice was to retire and take care of him.

    First five years after retirement I spent all my time taking care of my husband, his cardiologist even said once that I saved his life by being with him. But I lost him eventually and my life never been the same without him.

  • Themistoklis Marinos,
    Athens, GreeceMORE...

    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!

  • Thomas Blakey,
    New Orleans, LouisianaMORE...

    My name is Thomas Blakey. I was born in Nacogdoches , Texas on October 22, 1920. I was raised in Houston, Texas and schooled there too. I went in the army early in 1942. I went from basic training in Mineral Wells, Texas, through jump school in Fort Bennett, Georgia, and went to England in the latter part of 1943 and I joined the 82nd airborne division in late 1943.

    England was a fun place to be, we did a lot of training there, we did a number of practice jumps during training. We knew we were going to Europe some place, some time. The weather was lousy in 1943 - 1944, it was a bad winter, a lot of snow and quite cold and that had some bad dealings with our training but we made it work. Everybody was doing about the best they could and it worked out well in the end. We were a very good outfit. We were sharp, everybody wanted to make this jump into Europe.

    There was only 2 ways home: a bad wound, or a trip through France and Germany. Nobody wanted a bad wound but everyone wanted the trip through France and Germany. We didn't know when it was gonna happen, but we figured it was gonna happen in spring of 1944 some place and it did.

    We trained until D-Day came along. The Original date for D-Day was June 5th. We loaded planes on June 4th. Some were in the air on the way to France when they were called back and put away for 24 hours.

    Everyone went to the station, and it was a down feelings. Nobody felt good about it. Weather was bad. We didn't know how long it was gonna be bad. There we were sitting on the bus waiting to go again. It was very bad morale, but we made it through the night, made it through the next day and that evening we got back in the planes and started off.

    We didn't know if we were gonna make it or not because the weather was not that good again, but we made it all the way to France. At that point the front had gone through the beaches, but it wasn't quite through where we were.

    When we jumped it was about 1 AM in the morning of June 6th. It was raining, everybody was cold and wet. I would guess the temperature was in the low 50s, mid 40s. But we made that work too. We went to where we were supposed to be, which was 10 miles from where we were dropped. Our mission was to secure this one bridge over the Merderet River. We got to the bridge early daylight and it was full of Germans.

    The thing affected me the most was this little man, a German fellow I shot. I saw him standing from far away and aimed right at his chest. I couldn't see above his chest to his face, so I couldn't tell he was a young man or an old man. But it didn't make any difference. The Germans moved closer and I pulled the trigger. He leaned back, threw his hands in the air and dropped his rifle. There I knew, I killed him.

    In a couple days he showed up in my mind for a few seconds. I was afraid that some of my guys will think I was a coward. In fact, I couldn't find a reason to tell anyone about it. And I haven't for years. The little man kept coming back and haunting me.

    I was mad for no reason, I was critical of my family. I did things to them, which I shouldn't have done. Because of that little man.
    Anyway, We cleaned those Germans out and took this little bridge. And we held that bridge for four days. In that period we had 500 casualties. No MIA or POWs, only wounded or dead. But we kept that bridge and therefore we kept the Germans from getting to the back of Utah Beach and the back of Omaha Beach with their tanks.

    We went from there through little towns and secured the road that was going from Cherbourg to Paris. We cut that road to keep Cherbourg from being reinforced with new German troops. The 4th division was on the other side of the Peninsula going up to take Cherbourg, and we were there to make sure ne German is leaving or coming.

    In July, General Lewis H. Brereton took over the airborne troops in Europe. I was pulled out of the 82nd and went to his staff and I spent the rest of the war on General Brereton's staff. We followed the 82nd then 101st a great deal.
    One of the most shocking moments of that time was this prison camp we took over. It was a German prison camp called Wobbelin. And there were a lot, a lot of dead people stacked up like corn. The people that came out of those huts were just skeletons with skin hanging from them. At that moment I knew - this is why we are here. This why we need to end this war. But I was just shocked, couldn't say a word.

    My mates did what they could for these poor people. Medics would take it over. They needed to be medicated and had to have their strength built back up with food. But we had to move further. We went on.

    I had no sympathy for the German soldiers; even though we knew they were young like we were and were doing the same thing for their country, but that didn't make any difference. We had seen some massacres up to that time and we had no problems killing Germans. After we saw Wobbelin we had even less problems with it. We took a lot of German forces. We didn't let them misbehave. After we were in Normandy for 30 some odd days, we were sent back to England to get re-equipped and refitted with men. Then we went to Holland on September 17th, 1944. We were moving and shooting. I took part in Operation Market Garden, Battle of Ardennes and bunch of small fights. It was cold, snow, ice and death. During the Battle of the Bulge I got called up to go to Paris with General Brereton and stayed there till the end of the war.

    In the beginning of May 1945 General Brereton's aide Major Joe Givens called us on the phone and told us Germany had surrendered. Champagne flowed freely, everyone was celebrating. It was finally over.

    I was aware of the fact that all of us may wind up going to Japan. Somebody had to go. There wasn't enough over there to take it. With time I got to know what their plans would have been if we did a land invasion. And was supposed be a great occupation. They were going to use 5 airborne divisions to go in there.

    And every Japanese person on the island would be an enemy. Six year old kids had a bamboo stick with a poisoned sharp point to stab in your leg. So that kid would be an enemy. I'm afraid if we had to take Japan, if they had not surrendered, we wouldn't have a living Japanese person on that island.

    I was discharged in September of 1945, and January of 1946 I moved to New Orleans, Louisiana to go in business for myself in oil. It was very successful. I did well, got married, had a house and had children. Business was good. I moved an office to Lafayette, Louisiana and from there I moved to an office in Houston, Texas, so I had 3 offices at one time.

    I sold my business in 1975 so my wife and I traveled a lot, played a lot of golf and spent time with our children. We went back to Europe several times. My wife had a stroke in 1988 and she passed away in 1994.

    I went back to Normandy on June 6th 1994 for the 50th celebration of D-Day. I enjoyed that, came back, and ever since I've been here in New Orleans. Ever since the D-Day museum was open on June 6th 2000, I have been a volunteer there and seven years later several senators changed it from the D-Day museum to make it the National WW2 Museum.

    It has been astounding. We have a tremendous place now, we've expanded into a number of buildings and we're sill expanding. It's a wonderful place to be. I'm still working there. I have obtained close to 13,000 hours in volunteering and I have enjoyed every day of it and I'm still enjoying it. I'm doing what I can do, it's made my older life far more pleasant and fun.

    But as long as I live I wanna go to that bridge one more time. Though I can't make any long time arrangements any more.

  • Touji Shinich,
    Himeji JapanMORE...

    My name is Touji Shinich, and I was born in 1929 in Himeji City, Japan. I have six siblings: four brothers, two sisters. Three of my brothers joined the military. I grew up in a family of farmers. At that time in Japan, food was scarce. I can remember our family being mandated to give rice to the country because all the farms were suffering. Even at my school they would use the yard to grow pumpkins and other foods.

    In 1944, at the age of 15, I started work at a Konishi aircraft factory. It was a milk factory, but when the war came it was converted. There were many other employees, and we worked all day and night. On average, we constructed about one fighter aircraft per day. We then sent the plane to our local naval base on three horses.

    On June 22nd, 1945, our supervisor at the factory was telling us about the war, and how Japan was losing. He told us we had to pick up our pace and make as many fighter planes as possible to help our country. Around 9:30AM, I heard what sounded like sirens in the distance. I soon realized the sound came from fighter jets. We were ordered to immediately leave the factory and we did.

    As soon as I we left the factory, I saw six B-29 fighters making a formation overhead. One plane flew over me, descended down to about 25 meters and dropped bombs. The plane then flew away. 5 minutes later, another six jets came and dropped more bombs.

    They were huge explosions. People were running away, but after multiple bombs, everyone was too scared to move for fear of finding their way into a bomb's trajectory. No one was climbing, running or even screaming. I saw hundreds of wounded, powerless people. Some started to pray.

    The formations came six times, all with bombs. Everything around me was completely destroyed, including the factory. Looking around, all I saw was debris and a few trees that weren't toppled over. I thought I was going to die, because I had nowhere to run.

    The entire morning, I was at the river, watching our factory burn. By 2:30PM, the factory employees regathered and my youngest brother came looking for me. He had a lentil box lunch my mother had made. I shared the lunch with my friends, who were all grateful.

    One friend was so thankful he wrote "thanks for the white rice" on my New Years cards for the next 20 years. The trauma of that event seemed to bring us together, as we became very close friends. I was so thankful to my mother for making the rice, and my brother for bringing it to me.

    In the time after the bombing, our priority was cleaning up the area. We were cleaning the debris and finding bodies strewn about the area. Luckily, my dormitory was fine. I stayed there for a little longer, but sadly my dormitory was destroyed by another B-29 bombing. That one destroyed over 4,000 houses.

    I knew Japan was significantly weakened by these bombings and the rest of the war's circumstance. I felt helpless. It was a scary summer.

    On August 15th, 1945 I was at my parents house, listening to the radio. They broadcast that the war was over, and we had lost. I knew that moment was coming, but I still felt terrible about it because I didn't know what the future held. We all thought there was a chance we would still face attacks from America and be killed. One of my brothers was killed in the war, but my two other brothers came back. After the war, I helped my parents on the family farm for four years. My parents then moved to the countryside, where they stayed for the rest of their lives.

    In 1951, I started work as an inspector for a steel company. I stayed there for 38 years. After that, I worked for the Hyogo Profecture as a civil sovereign for 4 years.

    My up-close reminder of life's fragility instilled me with an earnest desire to live. For the rest of my life, I've appreciated every single day like it could truly be my final one.

  • Wallace Eugene Snelson,
    Georgetown, TexasMORE...

    My name is Wallace Eugene Snelson, and I was born on March 28, 1923. My friends call me Pete, and it has been my nick-name for many years. My hometown is Grandfalls, Texas, where I went to public school prior to going to the Texas College of Mines at El Paso. My parents were involved in ranching and farming for many years. There were six boys in my family, and five served in WWII and one in the Korean War. We all got back home safely from different parts of the world. I enjoyed my time at the Grandfalls school where I participated in events such as the establishment of a newspaper published by our school body. It got me interested in becoming a newspaper reporter. Therefore I enrolled to study journalism at the University of Texas at El Paso. While studying, I got an opportunity to achieve my dream of becoming a sports editor for the El Paso Times.

    When WWII started, the spirit of love for the country bubbled up in the U.S. and it made me decide that I wanted to defend my country. In 1943 I joined the U.S. Army and enlisted in the Reserve Corps which was specifically for students. Serving in the Army Reserve enabled students to continue studies until they are needed in the service. However, we were all called up to active duty in May of 1943. After completing my basic training, I was sent to the University of Nebraska to study the German language in order to become professional in the language and to learn as much as I could about the culture and history of the country.

    After completing my work there, I was assigned to the 44th Infantry Division within the New Jersey Army National Guard. I completed my training in Camp Phillips, near Salina, Kansas, before going to Europe. In May 1944, we were dispatched to Normandy and we were the first group of soldiers to land directly at Normandy from the United States. We entered combat by relieving another division which had been on the defensive position at the frontline. I'll never forget our first night on the frontline, it was on a Saturday and the Germans had a tank moving across the frontline broadcasting messages such as, "Welcome to combat!" Their major purpose was to encourage us to surrender, have fun and play games instead of fighting back. Certainly this wasn't something any of the soldiers would be willing to do at any point. But it was an interesting technique that the Germans used.

    On the second night we were informed that some Germans wanted to surrender, and it was my turn to go to the borderline to welcome these Germans. However, none came that night when I reached the border, but two days later we had a few Germans who surrendered. On November 13, 1943 we were on active duty in a town where Germans attacked us, the result of which a soldier friend of mine was killed. I also got wounded in the same attack in that town which was close to the Vosges Mountains near Sarrebourg. I was taken immediately to the field hospital and then shifted to the General Hospital AmeriCorps France where I spent almost three months recuperating from my wounds.

    I was then assigned a replacement and was interviewed to join Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC). I was selected as a Special Agent for the 307th CIC detachment at the 7th Army Headquarters to serve in Germany. Our main responsibility was to de-Nazify the Germans and we had various assignments to protect the security of our forces. We had developed a lead on Josef Spacil, who organized the German Hitler Youth that consisted of young men between 17-18 years of age. Therefore we knew the Germans would try to harass the American forces.

    In order for us to find out the details about this there was a young German man who volunteered to assist us in trying to prevent future violence and to prevent the path of further destruction. We named him "Mouse," and it was a code name for him. He followed the leads and was very helpful in providing us with useful information to prevent violence. Eventually we got him a U.S. passport in appreciation for what he had done for us. Later, I came to know that this person "Mouse" had also served as a professor at Northwestern University, but he never disclosed his identity to anyone in the U.S. Anyway, we came across a lot of different people in Germany who had been guilty of war crimes. We encountered all kinds of stories and excuses for the war crimes. But most of all it was so sad and terrible to see the things we saw in the concentration camps.

    I was assigned to a camp in Dachau in 1945, and after reaching there I was in great shock! I thought to myself how ironic it was that hundreds of human lives were perishing there in the camp. It is hard to describe in words but it was as cruel as anyone could imagine. I didn't get a chance to interact with any of the prisoners, but we had a team who did interrogations about what had been happening in the camp. I also had an opportunity to meet Dr. Klaus Schilling, who was famous for his research on malaria by experimenting on humans in concentration camps. My duty was to bring back Dr. Schilling who was the head of medical research in Dachau. He told me that he was able to find a cure for malaria but he wasn't able to record the cure in his book. He also asked us to go by his house and bring some books, which we did. He was a man who could think of anything gross as he used thousands of prisoners as guinea pigs to test his malaria cure. We took him to Augsburg where our interrogation headquarter was located. In 1945, Dr. Schilling was tried for his criminal activities and executed in 1946.

    Therefore I was in Augsburg when the war ended. After the war, I remained in Germany for six months participating in denazification programs. At that time, there was a great deal of interest in locating any valuables such as artwork which might have been displaced during the war. As a result of that, everyone was on the search for any documents that could be of historical value. One of our agents had an informant who indicated that he had some important information about such documents. He told our agents that there was a trunk containing a lot of these documents supposedly buried, and we found it with his help. This trunk contained a lot of valuables, which was worth probably a million dollars, including Hitler's uniform when he got wounded in July, as well as a sterling set of silver, photograph albums, stamp albums and other valuables. The photo albums contained photos of Hitler and Eva Braun. There were also a lot of photographs of a child, and the speculation was that it was Hitler's kid.

    We felt a need to preserve those albums for the future. I had the trunk with me for a few weeks until we decided to send it to Frankfurt to our headquarters. In December 1945 we all came back to the U.S. feeling victorious. I went back to my hometown in January of 1946. I worked as a history teacher at Grandfalls High School, as it was too late for me to take admission at that time of the semester to complete my remaining degree. It was an interesting experience being in a classroom with young people. I was discharged from active duty in March 1946, but I remained active in the Reserve Corps. I was named a commander of the Counter Intelligence Corps at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas.

    After teaching History for a semester, I completed my degree at the Texas College of Mines and decided to continue my career in education. I got my journalism degree in September 1946. I was then employed by the college in El Paso to become a director of sports activities. In 1948, I enrolled in the masters of journalism program at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. After receiving my master's, I chose to enter the advertising agency field, and continued for the next 30 years. At the same time, I started becoming active in political affairs at the state and national level. As a result of which, I was selected to be elected as the state representative for West Texas. Four years later I was elected as a member of the Texas Senate where I stayed as a senator for about 20 years. I had the opportunity to participate in various major activities of the Texas legislature. I am proud of my service in political affairs. At the same time, I am proud of the opportunity I had to serve in World War II.

  • Willie Glaser,
    Montreal, CanadaMORE...

    My name is Willie Glazer, and I was born in Bavaria, Germany, in 1921. I'd like to make a note, that even though I was born in Germany, I am not a German Jew, my family were Polish Jews. I was one of five children, and lived a happy childhood with my three sisters and a brother. My father worked in the toy export industry, and his job took him all around Europe.

    Soon, the Hitler years arrived and it became very tough. The economy, and even our peace of mind was gone. My father worked frantically to get us out of the country. He wanted to take the whole family to England, but was unable to make it work. He managed to send one of my sisters there and then finally in 1939 he arranged for me to leave Germany. I was 17 then.

    My sister and I would frequently travel from England to Belfast in Northern Ireland, which bordered the Irish free state of Eire. My father was in France, and my mother and other siblings were still in Fürth, Germany. It was hard to communicate with them, but I did what I could. The people I stayed with had family in Dublin, that could correspond with Germany. So I would send them my post cards, and they would forward them over to my mom. Every two to three weeks, she would mail me and my sister.

    I'll never forget the card she sent me on my 20th birthday. She wrote, "May the Almighty protect you from all evil and bad things." I sincerely believe that this blessing put a guardian angel on my shoulder. By the end of 1941, the correspondence ceased with my mother.

    In the beginning stages of the war, I was working in England at a garage. We had significant work to do after the London Blitz had destroyed so much of the city. In the shop, we repaired ambulances and other vehicles. The destruction even affected the garage, but we managed to fix the damage.

    Slowly but surely, all of my friends were called up to the Army. Eventually, I was practically by myself. In that solitude, I resolved that it was my duty to join as well.

    I went to the British recruiting office in Northern Ireland, where they had a bit of confusion on where to place me. The sergeant on duty told me that because I was Polish I had to see the officer on duty. He was just as unsure as to where to place me. After making some calls, he determined that because I had a Polish passport, I had to join the Polish army, which was just forming in Scotland after the Dunkirk evacuation. There was a small Polish brigade that had evacuated back to England, and that was the nucleus of the Polish Armored division.

    I went to the recruiting office, and they gave me a food voucher and ticket to Scotland. Once I arrived, I reported to the Polish reception camp, where I was placed in the "White Eagle Soldier's Club". The camp had opened up because a lot of the volunteers from the United States and from South America had come there. In the midst of all these volunteers, here I was: a German-born Jewish boy. I barely knew what was going on there, as I couldn't speak a word of Polish.

    Because of my inability to speak Polish, I was exempted from guard duty. That would've been a good thing if not for the cook, who told the camp commander that I wasn't pulling my weight. I was assigned as the cook's helper, and woke up every morning at 5AM while he slept in. I had to prepare the porridge and coffee for breakfast. After a while, the soldiers actually told me I made the best porridge and coffee!

    After two months, I was assigned to the 6th Company (heavy machine guns) 2nd battalion, 3rd independent infantry brigade up the coast of Scotland. At that time, the British government asked the Polish government for an armored division, which replicated British military structure. I was assigned to guard the area.

    When I first arrived there, the regimental chaplain introduced himself. We had a long conversation, and after excusing me from Sunday morning service, he told me he would tell the Jewish chaplain to visit me.

    Soon, I met the chaplain, and he would tell us what was going on with the Jews in Poland. He received much of his information from the findings of Jan Karski, a legendary Polish resistance movement fighter. Karski was an emissary between the "Jewish underground" in Warsaw and members of the Polish government who were exiled in London. He would frequently relay information between Warsaw and London.

    Karski was a brave man. In order to learn the specifics about concentration camps, he infiltrated the circles of Nazi collaborators. He told the Polish government everything he learned, and then there were a couple more steps before the information got to us.

    I had a pretty slow two years at this camp. Most of my time was spent participating in military exercises and holding guard duty. I did go to Edinburgh every other weekend and attended Shabbat services at their local synagogue. I developed a friendship with one of the members of the congregation, and he began inviting me for Friday night supper and Shabbat dinner. One of the highlights of my experience in Scotland was participating in Passover and Jewish New Year events in Edinburgh.

    I had developed a wonderful relationship with the people of Scotland, as did other soldiers. They loved us. The bond we shared can be seen on the emblem at the Polish HQ, which features a Polish Eagle and Scottish Lion.

    We were so close that rumours spread of 2nd battalion members becoming honorary members of the Stewart clan, which entitled us to wear the Royal Stewart Kilt. I thought the rumour was true, so I wore a kilt to a dance. What did I wear under the kilt? Just gym shorts.

    When I returned to camp, it turned out that the rumour was false. I was fined two weeks' pay for being "out of uniform," which was a hefty fine. I understood it though, as HQ didn't want to see soldiers walking around in kilts.

    Eventually, I got a bunk in the "Balfour Club," which was a facility for Jewish soldiers. I finally found two men who, like me, were born and raised in Germany. We quickly found out how much we had in common.

    One day, me and my friend Pinchas Bokser saw Winston Churchill at the Cupar Fife train station! He had two security guards in tow. We saluted him, he smiled, and began to quietly read from his newspaper. It was amazing to be in his presence, but our train soon arrived. My guess is that he was in the area inspecting a military facility.

    In 1943, I was transferred to the First Polish Armored Division. The 10th Polish Mounted Rifles regiment was born, and they sought the cream of the crop. The interview process was pretty intense, but I didn't sweat it. I was just 20, and in great shape, so I was exactly what they were looking for. The sergeant major who interviewed me assigned me to the tank regiment as a radio operator, which I had reticence about. My Polish was still pretty shoddy, but the sergeant wasn't worried. He said, "Willush, if I'm not worried, why should you be?"

    After that, the name Willush stuck with me. Our regiment had several reconnaissance tanks, and from that time on, we learned how to operate them. The training process was fairly arduous, but I didn't mind. We trained at various places in Scotland, including Dalkeith Castle near Edinburgh. The cold, drafty rooms of the castle are unforgettable.

    In summer of 1944, bad news came about the Jewish people in Poland and other occupied territories. Here I was on my big tank, but completely powerless to directly help my family.

    During that time, the war was reaching a fever pitch. Many of my friends were dying, including over 50 comrades killed in action. One of my biggest comrades, Gustav Goldstaub, was killed when his tank was struck. The driver was also killed, and the three crew members wounded.

    The regiment was well aware that D-Day was coming, we were just waiting on the order. Finally, we were commanded to get our tanks ready and head to Southampton. From there, we put our tanks on the ship and set sail for Normandy.

    There were so many regiments landing in Normandy, that the Allied Forces had to find a way to accommodate everyone. The Brits ended up creating concrete structures that served both as a landing space and a dock for the ships. Our ship arrived eight days after the invasion commenced.

    Upon landing, we immediately proceeded inland. Our regiment was composed of what we called tank troupes. Each troupe had three tanks, with five men to a tank: commander, loader, radio operator, driver and co-driver. I served as a radio operator.

    The close quarters of the tank were almost like a tight subway car. I soon learned harmony was the key! We all had each other's lives in our hands, so if the soldiers didn't click, the commanding officer would split the crew up.

    Communication was key during one incident in the country side of Normandy. After entering what was previously German-occupied territory, we came across an angry German soldier. He was yelling and screaming, so we asked him what was wrong. He told us he was sick of the war, and knew of 35 seriously wounded Canadian and Polish prisoners of war nearby. It turns out this angry soldier was a sergeant medic. After we had encroached the German lines, they withdrew and left him behind with those POWs. They had been captured just a couple days earlier.

    The way he spoke of the wounded soldiers, it was as if they were his family. Tellingly, he referred to me as "Du," which was generally only used for friends or family. This kind of friendliness was unheard of, but I gave him a pass because I realized he was shellshocked.

    Within weeks, we were thrust into one of the biggest battles of the war, The Battle of Falaise or the famous Falaise Pocket. Over fifty thousand German soldiers were surrounded and pounced on by the British, American and Polish armies. We conquered the Germans there with a collective onslaught of fire.

    Since I was a German speaker, I was given the task of interviewing the German soldiers who had survived. I learned that some of these men were officers of the 12th SS Hitler Unit, Hitler's very own bodyguard regiment. These men killed over 5,000 POWs, mostly along the Eastern front. Hitler sent them to Normandy to reinforce the German stronghold in the area.

    They could terrorize no one else once we had taken them all as prisoners. One of those soldiers in particular provided a shocking experience. When I asked for his identification, his ID showed that he was from Fürth, in Bavaria! I nearly dropped the ID. I spoke to him in my Fürth dialect, asking him things only a resident of Fürth would know. He looked at me surprised, and then I told him he was being interrogated by a Jew. That admission really knocked his socks off.

    After we finished interviewing the prisoners, we sent them to POW camps and soldiered on through France. Eventually we got to Belgium.

    Antwerp in Belgium had been destroyed, and there was no way for our tanks to cross certain paths. In order to cross, we had to wait for bridges to be built. This would happen periodically, and leave us stranded in one part of the city or another. During one such stoppage, I walked into a nearby house and saw dozens of Jewish people who had been hiding. They were all either from Belgium, or people from Poland who migrated to Belgium. I felt terrible for them. Did they know where their families were? Did they know what happened to their mothers and fathers, their sons and daughters? True horror.

    There were about 10 Jewish soldiers in my regiment, and we had an army chaplain named Major Heshel Klepfish who kept us in the loop. Whenever possible, he would do a synagogue service for us. He had holy scrolls and prayer books.

    After the service, we would have a sip of coffee and discuss some of the news from Poland. He told us about the Warsaw ghetto uprising and the destruction of those areas by SS units in the spring of '43. The Warsaw uprising was the first atrocity of the Holocaust that was publicized in German papers, but we got the in-depth story.

    At the same time through various channels I was trying to find out the fate of my family. Was my father still in France? Had my mother gone there? Or were they able to cross to England? These were thoughts that plagued me as we trudged along through Europe.

    No matter my worries, I had to stay focused. That was the exact advice of my tank commander in August of 1944, right before the invasion of a German SS stronghold. We were tasked with taking out SS Panzer Grenadiers, and LSSAH's tanks. We reached a wooded area and began observation. The tanks fired on several farmhouses, which we thought concealed the Germans, but there was no trace of them.

    The Germans called their tanks by feline names, "tiger" and "panther." As radio operator, I often spoke of these tanks as "cats" when communicating with my regiment. In this instance, I told my COS that, "the pussycat ran away or doesn't want to come out and play."

    My COS had a knack for sarcasm, and replied "Willush, why don't you send the pussycat a mouse?" It was a much needed source of humor for the guys. A couple of days later, they gave me a cat who was sitting in a Waffen-SS steel helmet. For weeks afterward, I received good natured ribbing about the incident.

    Another funny moment came back in Belgium, where we thought Germans had infiltrated our stronghold. There was a distinctive clicking sound coming from inside a restaurant. We had our guns at the ready, approaching this restaurant. As we flashed through the shot-out window, it turned out the clicking came from a cat who was playing with cue balls on a pool table! We felt pretty foolish.

    The regiment traveled on through Holland, and then hit Germany. In Germany, we were sent to Wilhelmshaven naval port, which was surrendered to my commanding officer by the town's mayor.
    While in Germany, I got in touch with my uncle Benjamin. He had emigrated to Palestine in 1935. In my heart, I felt like I would never see my family again. He was the saving grace that gave me a glimmer of hope about them.

    In my quiet moments, I pondered what this entire war experience was even about. I had no idea how my old Christian playmates were capable of killing so many innocent people. At six and seven, we played at each other's houses, and were fed by each other's parents. Throughout my time as a child in Germany, everyone knew I was a Jew. It was never a problem. Not with my friends, or the firefighters who let me help clean their fire engines. All of a sudden though, war had turned them into monsters.

    It was heartbreaking to think about, but I couldn't let it break me. Our naval base soon became out of bounds once all the navy ships, submarines and U-boats had begun to dock there.

    At that point, we headed south to Oldenburg, Germany. My regiment was given the task of policing the occupied area. A lot of SS soldiers and high-ranking German officers were hiding among the prisoners in the extermination camps, hoping to escape apprehension by the Allied Forces. Myself and two other German-speaking soldiers were tasked with finding these officers. Into the camps we went, dressed as prisoners. We made friends, stayed observant, and sniffed out the Germans. They were placed under arrest, and from there I'm not sure what had happened to them.

    Other than that, there wasn't much going on in that period. There would be the occasional gunfight, but nothing resembling the carnage of the early days. After two years in Germany, we finally got the call: the war was over!

    At that time I came down with a really bad cold. I was just laying at this featherbed, you know, how they have in Germany and I remember the hausfrau at the farm giving me hot tea and nursing me back to shape when everyone else was celebrating.

    Once I got back on my feet, I stuck around in Germany until we were called back to England. There, my regiment formed the Polish resettlement core. We were unarmed, and we basically did patrolling and surveying of England in its transitional period.

    During this time, many of the Polish boys didn't want to go back to Poland because of the Communist regime. Some boys went back and got arrested, but I stayed in England. To their credit, the English did try hard to assimilate us Polish soldiers into the English society, but the results weren't always successful.

    After a couple of months, a notice came that the Canadian government was willing to take in a couple hundred Polish vets. They would pay the expenses for us to travel over on one condition: we had to work on a farm for one year.

    I was all by myself, my sister was in Belfast, and London was still stricken by destruction. Why not go to Canada? I went there, and landed at the Military College in Saint-Jean, Quebec. There we were officially demobilized.

    We stayed in Saint-Jean for a few days, and then there was an event where we met the farmers we were going to be working for. They had all kinds of drinks, pastries, and sandwiches, and we got to know all the farmers. Once you sort of got friendly with the right one, you could sign papers and work for them at a certain pay rate.

    I ended up working for one year on a farm in Quebec. After my contract was fulfilled, I came to Montreal, and I got very lucky and found a good job in an experimental testing laboratory. It was a summer job, but by September of that year it turned into a regular job. I worked there for a while, and even met my wife there. She worked as a bookkeeper.

    Later on, I worked selling insurance, but my wife didn't like me being gone for long periods of time, so I had to do something else. Eventually, I found a job at Simpson's Department store here in Montreal, where I worked for 30 years before retiring as a manager in 1980. I made a glorious life with my wife, but she passed away seven years ago. It was a tragedy for me; she was my friend and life partner. I couldn't imagine life without her. So as not to let my sorrow consume me, I got involved in all types of things and was trying to stay busy.

    After the war I tried to find my parents, but failed to do so. Years later, my interest in what happened to them led me on an expedition to find the truth. After extensive research, I was able to find out that my parents and three siblings were murdered in the Belzec concentration camp. I even found where their mass grave was. I've visited there twice.

    About 20 years ago, I was able to speak with the great Jan Karski. We got him to speak at the McGill University in Montreal, and we had a great time. I spoke with him about the war, and thanked him for the job he did as a resistance fighter. My first inkling about Belzec that helped me to find out the fate of my parents actually came from him. So just like he was helping us with the information during the war, he helped me personally to find out what happened to my parents.

    There are only about 10 men still alive from my regiment. I try to communicate as much as I can with them. I'm also busy with the Montreal Holocaust Center. I found a girlfriend, and we travel often. On another exciting note, I've written a novel, which will be published in May or June. Look out for it!

  • Wong Kwong Hon,
    Hong Kong, ChinaMORE...

    My name is Wong Kwong Hon. I was born in Guangzhou, in Guangdong province of China on March 19, 1925. My childhood was very simple. I spent some time studying in an old-style private school and I just remember that what they taught us was very difficult to understand, so I wasn't very interested in studying. Later on, I switched to a modern primary school and it was a bit better. My father was a chef, and my mother an ordinary village housewife. She gave birth to 15 children, but only 6 of them survived. I had 3 older brothers and then one older and one younger sister.

    In 1938, before I even graduated from school, Japan began to bomb Guangzhou. Once, I saw a bomb drop on the opposite side of the street from where I was, but luckily it didn't explode. We really hated Japanese at that time and that was the reason why later on I insisted on joining the army.

    Same as in other parts of China, people in Guangzhou started to resist the Japanese invasion. A unit was formed that provided military training for both male and female youth. I think they were called "Guangzhou Society Training Team." In 1938, this unit established another group for the teenagers that was called "The Junior Company." They provided military trainings for younger boys and girls, aged twelve to eighteen. I told my family that I wanted to join the company, but wasn't permitted to do so. One of my older brothers even laughed at me, saying, "How can you join when even a rifle is taller than you?" Yet, I insisted on joining the unit, so I did it without my family's permission. The training I received at the Junior Company was more or less the same as the formal military one. The weapons were the same size as the real ones used in army, except ours were made out of wood. Anyway, I enrolled in the unit in July of 1938. Every day we had 3 field trainings and 2 lectures. The activities took all day and by evening everyone was absolutely exhausted. Each company had 144 members. We were divided into 3 platoons, and each platoon was further divided into 3 squads. There were 16 people in each squad. The instructors were very strict, and if we didn't obey orders, we were put in a disciplinary cell as a punishment.

    Around October 1938, the Japanese were getting close to Guangzhou, and the government decided to disband the Company and relocate, but asked if we would like to stay. Around 40 people decided to stay, but majority decided to follow the leaders. I was among the second group.

    Oh, and I also would like to say that our Company was very unique as our leader and 3 platoon leaders were all female.

    So, we moved to Guangdong for a little bit, in the northwestern part of China. We settled in Shaoguan, a small city in the north of Guangdong. And we were taken to the Guangdong province children's home.

    I remember the roof of the house was made of pine bark. The life was quite tough, we ate pumpkin for almost every meal, and there were no tables or chairs, so we had to sit on the ground for meals. A lot of people got infectious diseases. One of those was night blindness. And another one was malaria. When the sick people felt chilly, they would shiver even with a few blankets on them. Only Quinine could cure the disease. Others got rashes and skin diseases, some were infested with lice.

    It wasn't easy, but with time things got better. The children's homes became better organized and they hired more teachers. In our group, they hired the Cantonese Opera actor Kwan Tak-hing as our Cantonese Opera teacher. Our Dean wanted to introduce the kids to the arts and to have them learn Cantonese Opera, drama and magic tricks for public performances.

    We didn't receive any actual military training there. I was 14-15 years old at the time. But despite the hardships, I look back on those days with gratitude to my teachers. I got extra attention from the Dean and the teachers as they thought I had a talent for acting, and I performed in a few drama plays while I was there.

    Unfortunately, it was later discovered that my teacher was having an affair with some female team members. Because of that, the divisional commander decided to disband the team. After the propaganda team was disbanded, people got relocated, the teacher was punished, and I was sent to learn telecommunications only because I could speak a little bit of English.

    That was still in 1940, and the Army lacked the talent for radio and communications at that time. I began as a warrant officer, but soon I was promoted as a Second Lieutenant.
    I joined the army as a warrant officer, which was the lowest officer rank, but I was still an officer. So soldiers had to salute me as a higher ranking officer when they saw me and let me tell you, they were not happy. They even discussed this with our commander; they wanted him not to commission me as a warrant officer and give me a rank of the staff sergeant instead, but the commander refused.

    I spent three months learning telecommunications. Mainly it was just basic knowledge of the machinery, telegraph code and also transmitting and receiving messages. I can't remember the salary we received, but in general the welfare was only so-so.

    In March 1942, our 6th army received the order to go to Burma as part of the expeditionary force. Unfortunately, only three months later we had to retreat back to the Yunnan province. At that time, there was a huge quality gap both in personnel and equipment between the Japanese army and us, and we were simply not good enough to fight the Japanese.

    I didn't know the content of the messages, as I was just receiving the codes, giving them directly to the office, and then transmitting the codes back whenever necessary. The messages were all encrypted. The staff with security clearance did all the decryptions of the coded messages. We were not armed and didn't even receive the training on how to use guns or any other weapons. I only had some weaponry training back when I was in the Junior Company, but those were wooden guns. Our communications squad had around 10 people: a leader, four or five radio operators, and several other soldiers, also unarmed, who would carry our equipment. When I was promoted to be the squad leader, and took charge of the team, I named my squadron WKH, after my own initials.
    Although I was not on the front lines, I understood the reason for our failure very well - we were undertrained and ill equipped. The Japanese soldiers had proper backpacks, while we were using a big square cloth to hold our possessions. They had boots, and we were wearing straw sandals. That's just the basic stuff, I'm not even talking about weapons and equipment. So that's why we retreated.

    Our base was very close to the road, and one day we received the order to retreat. We passed the orders, and about half an hour later we saw a convoy of cars and armored vehicles coming in our direction. One of the guards at the checkpoint got on top of an armored vehicle and was immediately shot, because those were the Japanese soldiers coming.

    Thankfully they didn't see us. They searched the area and fired in our direction, but I don't think they saw us. Finally they moved on.

    When we joined our retreating troops, I heard a rumor about the Division Commander. As we expected the retreat to happen, we were all well prepared. Yet the Division Commander was asleep when the order for retreat was given, and he didn't even have time to dress.

    During the three months we spent in Burma, our salary was paid in Indian rupees. And the first meal we had in Burma was unforgettable for me - the rice there was so white, smooth and fluffy compared to the brown rice we had before. The weather in Burma was quite hot. As we retreated back, walking through the tropical jungle, we saw lots of leeches, black ants, and other creatures. Black ants were huge, and you didn't want them to bite you, it was pretty painful.

    After retreating to Yunnan, we stayed in Tengchong for a short time. We were stationed on top of a hill for a while. I can't remember how long we were there, it should have been like a month. On some occasions, we would fire at the other side called Songshan - there were some Japanese stationed there. Later on we moved to Baoshan. When I was in Baoshan as part of the 6th army, there were no specific tasks given to us. We were there for quite a while, more than a year, for sure. We didn't have any radios, so there was nothing for us to do, but we still received the salary. We didn't stay in the military camps, but instead lodged in normal households. I remember I was staying in a two-storey stone house, and we were living upstairs. Our equipment was also there. The landlord's last name was Wong, and both him and his brother didn't have any sons, just daughters. He once asked me to marry into his family by taking his youngest daughter, but I refused.
    Anyway, then the US became China's ally, and I was relocated to the Sino-American Training Center. The aim of the center was to train the Chinese military officers to use the new American weapons and telecommunications equipment.

    When we arrived at the training center, we saw that the equipment introduced by Americans was completely different. When I first learned telecommunications, the transmitter was around 2 ft. long and 18 inches high and was stored in a wooden box. We had to manually generate electricity for the transmitter. The receiver was like an ordinary radio, and we had to wear earphones to use it. We had to use two 1.5V batteries for the receiver, they were pretty large. I remember their transmitter was more or less the same size as ours, but with a stand that could hold the transmitter. The most powerful transmitters were mounted on big GMC trucks. After the training, around 1946, I was relocated to Shenyang.

    After the war ended, we were disbanded, and I moved to the northeast. I left the 6th army and moved to Shenyang. I was transferred to the central telecommunications unit of the government. I was under the command of the Anti-rebel force. Same as before, I was working on transmitting and receiving telegrams. I left the army in 1947. I had been away from home for eight or nine years. Like many other guys at that time, I didn't want to be involved in the civil war. Yet it was really hard to leave the army. In the end I bribed the commander, and without any proper procedures I left the army.

    I went to Tianjin, and from there I boarded a ship of Swire group to Hong Kong as my older brother was already there. I couldn't get a job in the Hong Kong telecommunications company called Cable and Wire, as they required employees who were born in Hong Kong and fluent in English. I was not qualified. I went back to Guangzhou in 1948 and worked as a bus conductor selling tickets. I tried to search for jobs in telecommunications, but couldn't find anything. Later, in 1950, I went to Hong Kong again and stayed for good. By that time Guangzhou was already under the Communist regime. I worked as a coach driver for Hong Kong China Travel Services Company. I retired in 1984.

    I'm glad to see that two parties, the Nationalists and Communists are talking. I don't want to see things like the civil war ever again.

    I didn't think much about my life. After all these years, I finally got in touch and saw some of the people that were in the children's home with me. I found out that some of our teachers were jailed for almost a decade during the Cultural Revolution. Some of them had a really tough life.

    Now I spend my time playing with computers, and I just keep learning and learning.

  • Ye Yuliang,
    Beijing, ChinaMORE...

    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.

  • You Guang-Cai,
    Beijing, ChinaMORE...

    My name is You Guang-Cai. I was born in Taierzhuang on Third of September, 1919. My grandfather and father died when I was 4. We were very poor, though some of our relatives were well off. I still remember that when I was a kid every time before the Spring Festival my mom would send me to our relatives to ask for money. Our situation changed for the better when my elder brother found a job on a coalmine. He was able to support the family and we moved from Taierzhuang to Yi County when I was 9. And a year later I started my primary school. After graduating from school I got a job as a librarian in Yi County.
    In 1938 the Sino-Japanese war was already raging. KMD achieved a great victory in the Battle of Taierzhuang. The Japanese army changed their strategy and deployed more forces to encircle Xuzhou from the north and the south. In March 1938, the Japanese army approached our city.
    Out of patriotism, I kneeled down to bid farewell to my mother and left my home. I wanted to join the war effort and defend my country.
    The plan was to walk to the Huangpu Military Academy and enlist. When I was approaching Xuzhou, I saw two Japanese military hot-air balloons in the sky, directing the artillery to fire at Xuzhou. I was very scared and didn't know if I was in the enemy's area or KMT's. Later that night I came to know the Chinese army was having a big retreat towards Henan province. That was the Xuzhou Breakout.
    I followed the retreating army along with other civilians. We walked day and night on foot, over mountains and across rivers. We arrived at Fengyang, crossed Huai River and walked to Huangchuan County of Henan province.
    KMT was enrolling youth in Huangchuan. I couldn't head to the capital city Wuhan directly so I took the exam and was enrolled in the youth corps led by Li Zong-Ren. Later, we relocated to Wuhan and joined the No. 1 Officer Training Regiment of Huangpu Military Academy. The list of students is still kept in Wuhan Archive and my name is still there.
    Wuhan was for several times sieged by Japanese. When I arrived in Wuhan, the city was completely encircled so the Republic of China decided to move its capital city to Chongqing of Sichuan province.
    In the officer training regiment, there were different departments to train armed police force, political officers and military officers, etc. I volunteered to receive military training and joined the military department.
    At the end of 1939, we graduated in the southern part of Chongqing, near Qiqiang River and became the 16th class of Huangpu Military Academy graduates.
    Normally the education would take three years to complete but because of the war, they were rushing each class to graduate so we can join the battle... So my military education lasted less than a year.
    Due to my good performance, I stayed in the school regiment as a team leader, training cadets. For this reason, I didn't take part in the battle of Changsha where most of my classmates went. Almost all of them ended up being killed there...
    I also should note that at that time, even though we were at war with the Japanese, there had been serious internal conflicts between the nationalists and the communists.
    Soon our Academy got disbanded and someone recommended I join 54th Army that was led by General Huang Wei. In Huang Wei's army, I eventually ended up as the platoon commander of the special operations unit for a little over a year. I was very close to Huang Wei as I was always staying beside him, protecting him.
    Three divisions of Huang Wei's army were all deployed in the western area of Yunnan. The Japanese were trying to cut the Yunnan-Burma Road, which was essential for supply and transportation. It was a tough time, food was in scarcity and we had soldiers deserting just because they were getting too desperate, loosing their faith in a possibility of defeating the Japanese
    Right around that time Japanese successfully launched a surprise attack against United States in Pearl Harbour. America declared war on Japan and decided to support China in its war with Japan. That was a big relief.
    In April of 1944, when the Allied Forces started to counterattack Japan, 50th Division and 14th Division of 54th Army were transported to India and that was my first time on a plane. Our flight took about two hours. After those breathtaking moments of being in the sky and then landing, I was so excited that I wrote a poem.
    After arriving in India, we joined the Battle of Myitkyina. At that time, I was guarding the 50th division commander, General Pan Yukun, and the 30th division commander, General Hu Su. Three regiments attacked Japanese in Myitkyina by surprise. Before the attack we had an arduous journey to Myitkyina, tramping over two tall mountains.
    We joined forces with the Americans under command of Joseph Stilwell and launched the attack. The attack was flawless, a lot of Japanese fled and we secured the airstrip. About half an hour after the attack, the American officer leading the attack sent a message that read "The Merchant of Venice" to General Stilwell - that was their code for successful operation.
    I have to say that at that time I felt that fighting in the war was very exciting. I needed to release my hatred by fighting. The Japanese imperialists invaded China and I truly hated them. Being able to fight them gave me a relief.
    We pressed on and were moving further into Burma. In the second Battle of Hsipaw, I was the company commander of the special operations unit for 50th Division, part of the newly formed 1st Army. Our company was responsible for safeguarding and normally wouldn't take part in the fighting directly. But my soldiers wanted to fight and were asking me to send the request to our Division commander.
    I remember there was a bugler, Zhou Yong, an 18-year-old boy. He was very adept at using his bugle to signal during military routines. One day, before the morning exercise, he came and saluted to me, and then asked solemnly, "Mr. company commander, have you sent our request to the Division commander?" I felt a little embarrassed and mumbled, "OK, I'll do it."
    We got the permission and I led my three platoons and fought in the second Battle of Hsipaw. As we were moving towards the enemy line, we got under sniper fire. I turned around and I saw Zhou Yong was bleeding on his chest. I ran toward him and he died in my hand. I remember his last words were "I... won't... be able... to blow the bugle... for you..." I realized why Zhou Yong loved his bugle so much. He wanted to see how powerful it would be on the battlefield.
    I was amazed by my soldiers' loyalty and bravery. And in the battle of Hsipaw, we made our mark. That's the reason I was praised on the battle report: You Guang-Cai, loyal and brave, strong and resolute, commanded his troops calmly and acted resolutely to break through the enemy's defense line and pursued after the enemy for several miles, making it hard for the enemy to resist. This is my proudest achievement. The report is still kept in the Second Historical Archives of China.
    After the Battle of Hsipaw, in a military training exercise, a soldier stepped on a landmine and the it went off right beside me. I was wounded, but luckily the wound was not fatal. I was sent to the US hospital and returned to Hsipaw after four days. I still wear a scar from that incident.
    Soon we came back to China and were getting ready to attack Leizhou Peninsula in the southern part of China. When we arrived at Guixian, I heard the good news: the enemy, Japan, surrendered unconditionally. It was not announced to the soldiers because they wanted us to keep the fighting morale. However, when we reached Wuzhou, we saw the civilians all coming to welcome us. Then we knew Japanese had surrendered.
    After that, we stayed in Guangzhou. There were two prospects for New 1st Army which I belonged to: if the talks between the nationalists and the communists succeeded, we would go to Japan as the army of occupation; if the talks broke down, we would fight in the civil war. I hoped the talks would succeed, or I would have to go to the northeastern part of China to fight the civil war. And that's what happened.
    I also have a lot of feelings about the civil war that I'd like to mention. The result of the war was, in November 1948, the communists "liberated" the northeastern part of China. I surrendered and was asked to fight for the communists. I refused to do so because I didn't like the current situation in China caused by the civil war. So I came back and became a civilian. I was issued a certificate to prove I was an obedient civilian and settled down in Shenyang.
    I got married just before the end of the civil war in 1948. My wife was introduced to me by one of my comrade-in-arms. After KMT was defeated I was charged as a "Counter-Revolutionary". I was abandoned by society. No one wanted to employ me. I tried several times to learn new things while working with my true identity disguised, but every time I was found out. On the New Year's Eve of 1958 I was arrested by the police at a clinic I worked in Beijing. In 1962, my wife divorced me.
    The counter-revolutionary charge haunted me for 32 years. And I was nearly starved to death when I was "re-educated" through labor.
    In March 1965, I was sent back to my hometown, Zaozhuang City (Yi County) and received re-education under supervision. I moved to a village about 10 km from the city. In 1980, I was finally exonerated from the "counter-revolutionary" charge. As I knew some English, I became an English teacher in the middle school. With my good performance, I assumed the official status as a teacher, which meant I could enjoy all the social benefits from the government.
    In 1992, I got retired. In 1993, my daughter wrote to me and asked me to come to Beijing. In recent years, in order to promote the peaceful reunification of Mainland China and Taiwan, I became a communication officer in Chaoyang District of Beijing. I published a lot of my memories and won several awards for my work in this area.
    I have also got a lot of media exposure in recent years. In December 2010, I was invited by the Chinese Patriot Elites Charity Foundation Limited to share my stories in Hong Kong.
    I'm Catholic. I believe everything is our God's arrangement. I felt young even when I was already 92. Now I'm reaching 97.
    We are still experiencing the aftereffect of the civil war. Mainland China today... China today is in crisis. There are complex internal conflicts, problems within the society... There are threats from outside... These things are not good for China's development. I hope President Xi can reverse the bad situation. We can't afford another war in China, no matter with the nationalists or other countries. These are the last words I want to say.

  • Shiu Narain Dagar,
    New Delhi, IndiaMORE...

    My name is Shiu Dagar, and I was born in Samasbur Khalsa, Delhi in 1923. As a child, my parents wanted me to go to school, but I wasn't interested in wasting my time with our poor education system. I spent most of my youth living a relatively normal, fun life.

    When I was 18, I traveled to Nagpur, India to visit my older brother Hathi Singh, who was in the Jat regimen. While I was there, he strongly encouraged me to join the Army, so I enlisted and began basic training in Nagpur.

    The British conditioned us, and taught us how to use their weapons and vehicles. We learned how to use pistols, steam guns and various artillery. They fed us well, but it was not a pleasant experience. At the time, I felt like for all the hard work we did, the Britishers underpaid us and my current pension from the Indian Government pretty much confirms that.

    On top of being underpaid, we weren't treated very well by the British officers. They would beat us for every little mistake, and never grant us a leave. Some soldiers would be in camp for a year before they were allowed to go home for a break. Treatment was awful, but it was to be expected of people in power. The British controlled us.

    I graduated from training in two years. I remember right before we were to be deployed, our senior command gave us alcohol, and fired us up about heading to war and killing all our enemies. The British also told us if we were successful during the war, they would leave our country and grant us our independence. That evening we were all very motivated for combat, but once we started traveling, the nerves set in. With every mile closer to our destination, the possibility of being killed seeped into our minds.

    We traveled from Nagpur to Lahore via train and then proceeded in vehicles towards Afghani border. In some places throughout Afghanistan we had to travel on foot and were attacked multiple times by local tribesmen. You see Afghanistan was not taking part in the War as they pronounced neutrality after the Blitzkrieg, but they had economical and political ties with Germany back then. And neither British or Soviets trusted Afghani government so we had a small military presence there. But the local tribes did not want us on their land so someone constantly attacked us. Not only did we spend our waking hours battling them, they would invade our confines during the night and gut us or drop hand grenades in our camp as we slept. I wanted badly to go back home, but the war was on and I couldn't go anywhere.

    We were mainly stationed around Indian-Afghani border and soon realized there was a water deficiency. It was hard for us to find water to even bathe or stay hydrated. Our camp was in the mountains, about seven miles from civilization. The terrain of the mountain made using vehicles impossible, so we had to walk everywhere. We would ride donkeys into town to get water or food, but sometimes the Pathan soldiers would kill the donkeys, leaving us without nourishment. Our camp would go 2-3 days without even eating.

    The Pathan insurgents hid behind stones in the sandy mountains firing at us from a distance. We couldn't always see them, but they could surely see us. They would even cut our telephone lines so we couldn't communicate. They would kill us then steal our ammunition. I can remember entire 25-30 men platoons being murdered by the Pathan, who would steal all their weapons and artillery.

    I can remember one instance; I was in a group of five soldiers patrolling the area. It was dark , but we still saw the Pathan coming to attack us. We shot at them and they scurried away. They must have been the soldiers who only had knives, because they didn't shoot back.

    Also they would kidnap our platoon members. I remember once, we received a message telling us that a local tribe wanted ammunition, and if we didn't give it to them they would kill our comrade. We negotiated for two months before they finally released him. Upon his return, he told us about his terrible ordeal. He said they were barely fed, and often beaten.

    The British were aware of the threat, and would only send us Sikhs and Hindus out on the dangerous missions. I felt they were scared of the tribesmen. They would escort us occasionally, but if the terrain we were to travel was too risky, we were sent out alone. I can recall that when we were transferring to other areas in the mountains to set up a camp, we would never know exactly where we were going. The British would tell the senior command, and we would simply follow them through the mountains. When they stopped, we realized we were at our new destination.

    After three long years, we returned to Bareilly in 1947. Over half of our platoon was dead at the hands of the Pathan soldiers. 14 other people from my home village enlisted with me, and I was the only one who survived. The commanding officers told us we could continue on in the Army or be discharged and go home. I immediately decided to retire.

    After a couple more months, we were finally free from the British rule. I started a farming business with my three brothers. We evenly split our 150 hectares of land, and ran our own businesses.

    I was married in 1951. I had two Sons, and now I have three Grandsons. When I left for the Army, our family was in dire shape. Because of the efforts of my Brothers and I, our family is now quite prosperous. We made a nice living, and now my oldest son takes care of me. The war was a frightening experience. I can remember so many moments of hoping to be home, and luckily I got that wish and have lived a full life.

  • Hakushu Kikuchi,
    Tsukuba-Shi, JapanMORE...

    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.

  • Urszula Hoffmann,
    Poznan, PolandMORE...

    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.

  • Alfons Bink,
    Regensburg, GermanyMORE...

    I told the priest that I was skeptical. I told him, "Now we invaded France and everything's gone well, but let's wait and see what happens."

    I didn't feel enthusiastic about the war, because we'd already experienced the First World War. After seven years of school, I was sent to the Netherlands for military training. We marched down the streets singing chants. I was embarrassed about this.

    After that, I joined the war in Monte Cassino. We were getting bombed and had no ammunition to fight back. It was quite clear we wouldn't win. I remember cycling around Italy, going from one place to another, thinking that Americans would land there, but they never did.

    At the end of the war I returned to Dresden and the Russians were already there. They didn't capture anyone because they were drunk. They were celebrating. I escaped and was captured by the Americans in Bavaria, but they released me after a few days. I was one of the first to come home. I had been wearing my uniform, but there were no badges from my unit because the Russians had taken them. I looked plain.

    I soon went to work for the justice system. Because we had been allowed to reopen the government almost immediately after the war. I was a supervisor. I got married in 1951. I practiced law in Regensberg. I had two children, a son and a daughter. I received my pension in 1988.

  • Dr. Hans Ransmayer,
    Bischofshofen, AustriaMORE...

    My name is Dr. Hans Ransmayer.

    I was born and raised in Bischofshofen, in the alps of Austria. I spent my childhood there. During school time, I was a leader in the Hitler Youth. Along with the rest of my classmates, I was conscripted from the seventh grade onward. The whole class from my school joined the Wehrmacht in 1939. At the time, there was a lot of enthusiasm for the war. I trained in Germany to become a paratrooper.

    I was stationed in Braunschweig, then in France, where I was injured during a training exercise. At the time, the morale was still very good. And we were very strictly disciplined. On one occasion, some soldiers from my unit confiscated some wine from a vineyard. The day after the whole unit had to stand in the barracks and the French farmer was allowed to pick out the soldiers who took the wine and it was returned. Another time, we captured a French civilian that had been out after curfew. No one was supposed to leave their homes after dark. He'd hid from us under a car, but we found him and took him to a cell. The next morning we let him out with a warning. He was terrified.

    I was captured on the southern front on November 7, 1943. I was part of the Gustav line, a defense set up to halt the southern approach of the Americans and to allow for defenses in Monte Cassino to be set up. During an attack, many of my friends died or were injured, and the rest were captured. The Americans took our equipment. They took other belongings. But we were treated fair. We were sent to the south of France. There, I was inspected by Eisenhower himself. He was there one day and inspected the POWs. I was sent from France to Italy, to Africa, where I changed camps every couple of weeks to reduce the possibility of any escape attempts. This was a regulation in place for elite soldiers, often paratroopers or SS.

    Eventually I was sent to an interrogation camp near Algiers. Other German soldiers had nicknamed it "The Pressing Mill" - I was interrogated here for ten days by an English officer. Each prisoner there had one officer assigned to them. Some were French, others English or American. In these ten days, the officer could treat you as he wished. He could come with gifts of cigarettes and chocolate. Or with beatings. The officer interrogating me preferred violence.

    It was December and we were kept naked. It rained everyday. We were beaten and starved, isolated. One man in each cell for ten days straight. Afterward we were allowed back around the other prisoners. We didn't know why they chose those they had. Now I realize they wanted to claim a range of different people. Young, old, big, small. From every village, one dog, as I say. There were thousands of us and only twenty or so went through the heavy interrogations. There was no possibility of rest.

    Then we were sent to Norfolk by ship, then from there to the States. We were sent to Camp Grant, in Illinois, near Chicago. The conditions in the camp were very good. I was then transferred back to France by ship for repatriation. In France, I was kept in an American camp where I was again treated poorly.

    The prisoners in the camps were used for labor, there were many different types of labor. I was used as a translator in the camp administrations. I was paid 80 cents per day, camp money. We were able to buy some things from a small shop in the camp itself. It would have been impossible in Germany to think of some of the things there. Chewing gum, chocolate. But no cigarettes and everything came in small amounts.

    In November, 1947, we were transported by train from France with American soldiers to a small camp near Salzburg and were released there the same day. I returned to a very bad economic situation. It was difficult in the years after the war to get the things you needed for a normal life. Many of my relatives were in captivity or missing. My father had also been in a prison camp. He was a military doctor, and he was imprisoned a year longer. He died eight days after his release, after returning home.

    It was a very hard time for the family.

    I studied medicine after the war. I worked in mountain rescue, as a doctor and as a parachute instructor. I taught servicemen about parachuting. It was important for them to use parachutes to get to people in the mountains in the event of emergencies.

    I had three children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. I am almost ninety-years old. Now to get to one hundred.

  • Mitsuo Ishihara,
    Takasago, JapanMORE...

    I was born February 27, 1922 in Takasago City. I had an older brother; he was eight years older than me. We were very different. We never fought because my brother was stronger when we were young. I was mischievous as a child. I tricked my mother once. I burned an orange peel, and because it looks like coal, I showed her and she became angry.

    I don't remember how the war started. I was going to go on a picnic and it started to rain. I thought there would be no more picnic. I ate my lunch a little. The weather improved and I continued the picnic.
    My brother was called by the military. He was skinny. He weighed only forty-two kilograms. I thought Japan would lose the war because he wasn't able to fight.

    When I finished school, I was a barber, so when I joined the military, I cut hair for the senior officers. Because of this I was given bread and tobacco. I was sent to a school to learn anti-tank operations, where I participated in drills and trained for six months. This was in Ono City, Hyogo Prefecture. I learned also how to hide myself in my surroundings. I learned to dig a hole and when a tank went over to get beneath it. In the mornings, I did these drills and in the afternoons, I paved roads that had been destroyed. I did these things for two years of the war. I was a foot soldier. I had no experiences driving a tank. I only learned to destroy them. I had no days off.

    When an officer informed me that the war had ended, I wasn't sure what would happen next. Whether I would stay where I was or be allowed to return home. Some other soldiers and I got together and tried to leave, but the railroads were destroyed. I walked several hundred kilometers and arrived back in Takasago on September 4, 1945.

    On October 8, I went back to the barbershop where I had worked. It was very busy and I was able to start there again. I did this profession until I was sixty-eight years old.