Skip to main content

tv   AHTV - World War II Veterans Stories  CSPAN  May 8, 2020 2:50pm-4:23pm EDT

2:50 pm
world war ii's european theater. american history tv and washington journal mark the anniversary with a look at the leadup to the surrender and the meaning for europe and the rest of the world. americansurrender. american history tv now and over the weekend on c-span 3. up next on american history tv, a panel of four veterans discuss their lives in the u.s. military and combat experiences during world war ii. participants include veterans of the d-day invasion in the normandy, the battle of the bul bulge, the battle of oak nokina. it's about 90 minutes. >> ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us for this panel discussion this morning as we get ready to talk to some of our most treasured american
2:51 pm
heros with, our veterans of world war ii. and we thank them for joining us this morning. my name is mike hydeck. i'm honored to be here with friends of the world war ii memorial. and the foundation. i'm the morning anchor at wusa channel 9 here in washington, d.c. and the goal of this discussion is to hopefully share some of their most personal stories from our greatest generation. the thought being their emotional first-person accounts can help galvanize the stories of world war ii for you as teachers and students head back to the classroom and you can enhance your lessons, hopefully, and had a more personal understanding of what these gentlemen and their come patriots have gone through to make it here today. we know that the gentlemen sitting here in front of us and the is other events we do honoring world war ii veterans,
2:52 pm
we have a short time to connect with them and understand they made it through one of the most horrific experiences in the world history. it's amazing that they're sitting here with us today. we also want to make sure that everyone in the audience has a chance to participate and ask questions of their own, that you'll find valuable in your classrooms and for your. and when you ask them, i will probably step forward to make sure i can hear you properly, repeat the question so the audience can hear and the c-span audience can hear and our honorees can hear, as well. so let's introduce our panel. first, to my left, in the handsome red blazer, charles mcgee, one of the tuskegee airmen and a career officer in the united states air force for 30 years. he holds the u.s. air force record, 409 fighter combat missions flown in world war ii, korea and vietnam. and to his left, herman zeitchik, who i met on my very first world war ii event.
2:53 pm
pleasure to see you, herman. he landed on normandy beach, france, where he and his fellow soldiers endured heavy machine gun tire, extreme bloodshed and personally witnessed the loss of at least 5,000 troops. to his left, allan wilford howerton. he and i have a bit of a connection. he has a soft spot for broadcasting. it's one of the things he was working on before he got into world war ii. he was in the 84th infantry division. mr. howerton served with company k, 335th infante as a rifleman, messenger, a radio operator, and a communications sergeant. he served both in germany and in belgium. he's tried his hand as writing, too. on the end, journal james riffe, u.s. army retired. he started in the army as a private and finished as a
2:54 pm
colonel. 30 years. finished in 1972. he was in the infantry. he commanded a platoon that invaded the japanese island of okinawa. he attended airborne school, got parachute and airborne glider badges. he commanded an airborne battle group and airborne brigade and was the chief of staff of the 82nd airborne division. before we get started, just a little context. oh, also, by the way, two other people to mention. we also like to recognize here in the audience carol george, seated in the front row there. raise his hand. he wanted to come and by a part of this, so we appreciate him. he was in okinawa and he now lives in falls church, virginia. he's with the u.s. coast guard, served on a battleship, as well. and we also, so you know we invited barbara martin from the women's medical corps.
2:55 pm
she had to cancel her appearance, but we want to have her in our next event but we want to recognize her and the fact that she committed to being here today but had to back out at the last minute. so before we get started, just so set a little context, let's talk 234bs here. 1939 to 1945, we were in the midst of great depression and the allied forces, including the united states and britain and others fought against the forces of germany and japan and others. battle fronts all over the world. these gentlemen were teenagers, 20 somethings, similar ages to
2:56 pm
our high school and college students now that we talk to a o a regular basis.. both my reportinging as an education reporter, u.s. teachers and students. they left college. they skipped out of high school. they lied on their application saying they were 18 getting ready to go and serve. that's how much it meant to these gentlemen and how many other people who did the same thing. these 20 somethings and teenagers were killed and did killing. 60 million dead over world war ii. some say it's upwards of 80 million dead overall. the stories of survival are legendary as they faced down tyranny, these gentlemen did. we want to thank you them for their service and hear their personal stories and try to put it into context of the students who we know today to try to help them understand that they were their age when they decided to take this on for the fate of the world as we know it.
2:57 pm
and that's not overstating it. if we could, i would like to start. the first question, and please, by all means, raise your hand and i would love to jump into the audience and raise questions so we can make this valuable for you. we want you to have a take away for you today. let's start with mr. mcgee. as a tuskegee airman, nowadays when you are greeted in person, you're considered a national hero. you are told so much to your face and we appreciate your service and we want to continue to tell that. initially when you started and you decided i'm going to go for this career, how were you treated initially? was your race a major factor? did they just need so many people who had the guts and the
2:58 pm
determination to help save our nation in the world? how were your first days in the military? >> well, race, indeed, was a factor. also the experience that i have, the early years all through the end of the war and still the united states air force operated from the ground forces. there was segregation, but it begins with a 1925 war college study determining how this one-depth of the population now called black would be used if america got involved in another war. paragraph 4 of their reports, fact bearing on the problem. physically qualified, yes. mentally inferior, morally inferior. in other words, second class citizen, if you will. that report came to washington to say yes, use in service roles. dig ditches, build roads, fine. do anything technical? impossible. so that was the attitude and washington bought that as far as
2:59 pm
policy was concerns. so when world war ii broke out, civilian pilot training program was established to have pilots for our military units. initially didn't include black college but it subsequently did. but there, graduate from howard university's program here in the washington area. i went in and said i want to be an army pilot. the army said we don't have any black mechanics, so we can't use a black pilot. also, there was a young man who graduated from west point in '36, benjamin o. davis jr., who when he graduated pretty well up in his class, but segregated through his training years said he wanted to be a pilot and they said, sorry, they don't have any black aviation units. so he was denied that. so it took world war ii action in our country willing to help our allies in europe and pressure was it the aurm said,
3:00 pm
well, we know it will fail, but you keep pressing us, we'll authorize a squadron, be glad to talk on that as we go down the line. but segregation was the name of the game. segregation went overseas, came back home, it took our united states air force to make a decision. >> in your biography, it says you have a record of 409 combat missions, which means over time i would think that attitude started to change and you started to be considered a valuable member is, an effective fighter pilot. when did you start to notice the tenor of communications with you and added responsibilities? when in your military career did that start to change where you started to get more respect? >> that is interesting and you didn't want me to lukt
3:01 pm
temperature for 20 minutes. >> so what you're saying is you have plenty to tell. >> but what happened was the air force ended segregation here in the states in jump of 1949. we were shattered around the world. i received assignments overseas that i would not get here at home. and, in other words, lockbourne air base training had closed in '46. it was a segregated base near columbus, ohio, now ricken backer for those that know the history. and when that base closed, that was july of '49. i became commander of richards air base in the 1840th air base win in june of 1972. first such level assignment in the states from the end of segregation. >> wow. >> so change came very slowly.
3:02 pm
we received assignments overseas we would not get here at home. i commanded a fighter squadron for two wreers in the philippines. i commanded a fighter squadron in vietnam, reconnaissance squadron. was in the cold war. we hadn't even gotten credit for the cold war because we didn't fire anything. but, again, commanded units during that deployment against russia. change came very slowly. that's something to understand. the value lessons that sustained us in those days are just as important for those young people today who are america's tomorrow and they need to uvend that. >> mr. zeitchik, utah beach, normandy, france, how old were
3:03 pm
you? >> 18. >> did you enlist at 18 and immediately get sent there when you got started? what was your -- were you drafted, first of all.? or did you enlist? >> what happened was we were playing stick ball out on the street and the boys came over and told us that japanese just bombed. and then we went -- president roosevelt was the president at the time. and he said, everybody 18 and older had to register at the local post office. i went to the local post office with my dad and they gave us a number. sure enough, that number came up very quickly. from there, we reported to ft. dix, new jersey.
3:04 pm
3:05 pm
3:06 pm
>> before you go, what was the conversation like in your household? how did your family respond as soon as you found out you were drafted that quickly? did you have a conversation and say, look, this is your duty, you have to go? >> well -- >> did your mom and dad get
3:07 pm
upset? were they supportive.? >> they were sorry to see me go. didn't want me to go. but it's either register at the post office or i guess luck out.. no choice. >> were you scared? >> no, i wasn't scared because i was a boy scout. and -- and it was used to going out, sleeping overnight, spending time in the woods. >> there isn't artillery fire in the boy scouts. he were very brave, sir. >> and then after training, the most important thing i can tell you is i happened to take a course in typing. and everything in the army is typed. everything is typed. nothing handwritten. so there can be no errors. and. because of that, they sent me to ft. bragg, north carolina, home of the 102nd airborne. there, the training put me into a howitzer unit, 105. it's a big gun, the kind that the president used fourth of
3:08 pm
july here. and them after the training, they sent me overseas to england, spent training in england and finally they put me into the fourth infantry division can artillery. with that, i did well. you learn a lot about fighting and the next thing we knew it, the few short months flew by and we were on a ship heading for utah beach. landed a normandy on "d" day, h-hour. that day, they tell me that we lost 5,000 boys first day, first -- >> what time of day was that? >> friday morning. >> and describe what it sounded like. what does it did it sound like that morning, do you remember? what were the sounds? was there a lot of artillery fire when you landed? was it quite the moment you landed? what did it sound like? >> i'm sorry? >> what were the sounds like?
3:09 pm
>> what were the sounds like that morning when you landed on the beach sthp what did you hear? >> oh, across the english channel, it's only about 23 miles. rather quickly because there must have been about 500 shis. we weren't the only ones. on the invasion. but it so happened there were two points to go in and ours happened to be utah. we landed there just as the light was starting to come in. and then we -- i'm sorry. >> continue, please. >> absolutely. mr. hourererton -- i'm going to on let you collect yourself, mr. zeitchik, and i'll ask the question again in a moment. mr. howerton one started your college career, started your education and some of it was interrupted. that's how you got in. so how old were you when you started in the service and describe what led to you getting into the service.
3:10 pm
>> well, all our our experiences are unique. i grew up in western kentucky. in the 1920s and 30s. a very deprived area at that time. there was no tv aid. so i grew up in a pretty deprived area. but i was a book worm kid and the schools down there must have been very, very good at the time because i think i got an excellent education at a small high school. i was an academic inclined at that time. i finished the second in my class, but there was no money for college. so i wanted to get out of the house and i wanted to make some money and try to figure out how to get an education. i was 17 years old, graduated from college, turning 18. so i ended up in, of all places, northern new jersey working for white castle system incorporated. you all know what white castle
3:11 pm
system is, i'm sure. >> hamburgers. >> one of the great original restaurant chains. i was able to live on $18.50 a week and i was able to audition and get he rolled in a radio broadcasting school within the vicinity of radio city. so when i was not flipping hamburgers or working on curb service at white castle, i was reading soap opera scripts and learn to go be a radio actor and radio announcer which was my interest at the time. so pearl harbor came along. i had worked saturday night, woke up sunday morning maybe at noon or 2:00 in the afternoon, turned on the radio next to my bed and learned about pearl harbor. well, i didn't enlist at the time. he was patriotic, but i didn't enlist. i was waiting around to see what really was going to happen. so while i was waiting, they
3:12 pm
lowered the draft age from 20 down to 18 and so in february of 1943, i got the greeting. greetings, you have selected. so -- >> for the infantry. >> huh? >> in the infantry. >> well, no, i was at ft. dix. i entered at ft. dix, new jersey, took a bunch of tests. ended up training as a medic in virginia. i had no interest in medicine, but they needed medic trainees at the time, so you, you and you become medics. when i finished there at the end of 910 days, basic training, except medics didn't get any weapons training. so when i finished, i was called in to the cp one day. i was expecting to get an assignments overseas somewhere as a combat medic. instead, there was a were corporal sitting behind the desk. he said, howerton, you have to make a choice. well, i looked at him and i said, i can't believe it. the army is going to give me a choice or some smart aleck
3:13 pm
remark like that and he said, yes. he said, you can go to medical administration ocs, officer candidate school, or you can go to the astp. so -- >> which is? >> which is -- that was my next question. >> what is that act row minute? >> what is the astp, corporal? he said, i don't know. he fumbled in his desk and pulled the out a brochure, handed it to me and then i knew what it was because i knew that there was a college program. this is called the army specialized training program. the army put about 200,000 young men into american colleges across the country. the idea was to develop a trained cadre to go overseas and rebuild whatever was being torn down during the war. we were studying engineering and various other things like that. i learned later in doing some
3:14 pm
research on that book i wrote that there was another reason the university presidents were raising cane with the defense department because the colleges were -- some of them.were going bankrupt. they were depleted. so -- >> they were taking all their college students and their prospective students. >> so we became college students and so i ended up at the drexel institute of technology studying engineering. i had no interest in engineering. i was interested in history and english and social science and those kinds of academic things. but you get pretty good grades by lisping to what was being said and boning up on tests, so i was able to get pretty good grades there. well, right at the -- after the first nine months in april 1944, the army decided because of
3:15 pm
severe manpower shortage, a problem with the invasion and so on, 1943, i mean, with the invasion coming up that they really needed troops. so they made a decision to break up that program halfway through. well, we had not a stripe on our shoulders, so we ended up on the troops ring, 2800 men from northeastern schools. among them was henry kissinger, by the way. >> no kidding? teachers and students, imagine this, a train pulling up and saying, you're 18, get on that train. we're sending you off to training right now. imagine that happening today. never. never. and imagine how -- we were joking beforehand, right? i said you were like cattle. and you said -- highly educated cattle. >> we were cattle and cadets, cadets without any stripes. so we end up on this troop
3:16 pm
train. so we go down to louisiana and late at night when we finally detrained, stay in your seats until your name is called, get out on the platform, follow a sergeant into your company. so here i am out on a platform, all my friends let me tell on the train. i have no idea how they selected people. at random, i presume. so we marched through our bare barracks late at night. the next morning, stood formation. here was a very competent first sergeant out there, a drill sergeant, typical world war ii drill sergeants. he was from georgia and he had a wonderful accent. so he stood out in front of the company and he says, y'all men here.. you know you're not supposed to move your heads in my company.
3:17 pm
however, you can move your eyeballs around if you wish. but don't move your heads. but when you move your eyeballs, you're going to see something here. you heard about these here young men, these college students coming down the hill to help us win this war and we're going overseas. well, they're right in here among us and you can tell them because they look like they haven't had no sun in six months. that was my entrance into the infantry. >> let's get over to current riffe. that's a great story. i love that story. colonel riffe, you had a varied experience when you started in the service as an army pilot and you finished as a colonel, over 30 years. you had a chance to see all different sides of the service. how old were you when you first
3:18 pm
saw combat and what was that like? >> well, i was 21 years old when i first saw combat. it was on the island of okinawa, which was the last battle of world war ii and it was the bloodiest battle in the pacific, particularly for the navy. i was entering the service in august of 42 as a private by. by december, i was a staff sergeant based on my previous military experience with rotc and a program at that time called citizens military training camps, which most of you probably never heard of, but if you attended that camp for four summers, you get commissioned as a second lieutenant. the program was terminated in 1940 because the military bases
3:19 pm
were being used for the training of national guard folks. i was a staff sergeant when i was ordered to go to ft. benning, georgia, to attend the infantry officer's training school and i graduated there in march of 1943 as a second lieutenant. my first assignment was as a student at an officer's school in california. the school's mission was to train company grade service for assignments in the pacific theater. after the one-month course, i was selected as instructor where i stayed for a year. after that, i was sent to the pacific. first on the island of new caladonia. i was there for a short time and went to new haberdies.
3:20 pm
ended up on an island where i joined the 27th division and that began my real military career as a first lieutenant infantry platoon leader. >> in the infantry, what were you responsible for doing when you were in position? >> well, you were the leader of an inif a tri platoon, which consisted of three squads, 12 men in each squad. each one with a staff sergeant. then there was the blah too many toon headquarters for -- there was a platoon sergeant and there was a 3.2 bazooka team, which was two people. so about 40 people led by a lieutenant. >> a bazooka shell is how big? >> what is that? >> a bazooka shell is how big? >> 22.36, one of the first
3:21 pm
bazookas they had in world war ii. it was a small -- >> how big of a hole could a bazooka put in this wall? what kind of damage does that weapon do? >> it had a range of about 75 to a hundred yards. and it would destroy a machine gun nest. it would destroy a mortar position. but it didn't have much penetrating power. i suppose -- of course, on okinawa, there was nothing to pen straight except trees and mountains and holes and things like that. we did use it particularly if we knew where a machine gun was located or with we saw a hole we would train the bazooka on that hold to destroy it. as a platoon leader, you're responsible for leading your men into ground combat. and the motto for a lieutenant was follow he.
3:22 pm
and i think that's why i survived the military combat, because i was always leading up front. i was normally have maybe one or two scouts in front, maybe a b.a.r. team, and the rest of the blah too many toon i would leave behind on the command of the platoon sergeant until we contacted the enemy. of course, you always have plans as to what you're going to do, but when you contact the enemy, then you have to make new plans. you have to be very flexible because you can't anticipate exactly what you're going to run into. how many people, what kind of guns they have, where are they located, the artillery, the mortar. so i was wounded, but -- and i started out with 29 men and three weeks there were nine of us left. of the 20 who were evacuated, seven were killed and 13 were
3:23 pm
wounded. so out of a platoon, i started with 29 in three weeks there was nine of us because 13 had either been wounded or killed. >> so now you're in your early 20s, coming from home and doing all of this training. how did seeing all that death so quickly affect you emotionally? >> well, it's something you never forget. to me, it was like it happened yesterday. >> even now? even now you feel that? >> i beg your part? >> even now you feel as if it happened yesterday? >> this is the first time i have ever talked about oak mow what i've been invited by the history club of fairfax county. the history club of arlington, virginia, to talk about my experiences in world war ii. but this is the first time invited by holly rotunda, the memorial friends.
3:24 pm
but everything happens like it was yesterday. >> yep. >> yesterday. yeah, you never lose it and it's -- >> does it still hurt? do you still cry? do you still have nightmares? what is your life like when you recall it? do you try to put it out of your mind? >> i am very sad and i don't want to talk. my wife often asks me, jim, what's wrong? and i say, well, i'll be okay. but i think people who are here will -- can also confirm that it's an experience that lives with you forever. the biggest problem i was, of the seven men under my direct control who got killed and the 13 who were seriously wounded and evacuated is to what happened to them and what happened to their families. and, you know, when you're up
3:25 pm
front and a man this close to you is killed, and you can hear the bullets going with by your head, sing, sing, sing, and this man is killed and you can hear the bullets but you survive and you always ask why not me? and i, to this day, i don't know why i survived. families. and you know when you're up front and a man this close to you is killed and you can hear the bullets going by your head and the next man is killed and you can hear the bullets but you survived, you've always asked why not me? and to this day i don't know why i survive that and became a citizen of my country. serve in the army for the lower 30 years of their wonderful challenging experiences. and i'd be happy to answer any
3:26 pm
questions. my experiences in world war ii. >> so now that we've had a chance to go across the board, does anybody have questions they'd like to ask? yes, sir. >> young men that went into the army -- as they road into the army, would you all see your life -- >> the question was that as
3:27 pm
young men going into the army now as you look back, could you envision your life in any other way? >> not with the war declared. >> not with the war declared. you felt a sense of duty and you had to do it? herman, would you envision your life than any other way than going into the service. >> i didn't hear consider it by this other way. >> i don't know whether i would go again, my primary thing is that i wanted to continue school but the germans wouldn't let us. [ laughter ] there was a notion on each side of us. don't do something quickly, i'm worried about that. but i did want to say one thing, it was a bad war, world war ii was a bad war, especially malmedy. i don't know whether you people remember malmedy. we had a company of soldiers,
3:28 pm
3:29 pm
young soldiers that were surrounded, the officers surrendered. they marched the soldiers off to a field, there were trucks german trucks, this was the winter of '44, it was the worst winter europe had and i was part
3:30 pm
of the group that went out and happened to see everything and it was frightening, absolutely frightening. then another place we went to, the germans had confiscated all the art work, hid it in caves, mountains and we found some of the caves art in crates that they were sending back to germany. and then there was the battle of the bulge which the germans tried to push the american troop s and get to the gasoline and oil that they needed but we wouldn't let them. i think the battle of the bulge was the final big battle of world war ii. another first was the liberation of paris which was great. french people woke up in the morning and found the american trucks sitting on a main thoroughfare and there where we were they brought down their
3:31 pm
whatever food, flowers and just want to do everything with us, i have pictures of all my happenings. >> as we listen to you talk we can see in your eyes that you're accessing those memories and it's probably very, very clear. would you change anything, you wanted to be a broadcaster, you thought you were going to be an economist, then you're in the war. looking back, if you could have, would you have done something different? >> i'm sorry, if i could have, what? >> would you have chosen a different path? >> that's a hard question to ask. i suppose so, i think, yeah, i would have chosen a different path but i would like to say this in response to the question, i actually was in the war twice. in the '90s i gathered up all
3:32 pm
the records of my company because i really didn't know what had gone on there. so i wanted to find out what really happened. i got the records together and i set up a database and looked for my 72 men serving in company k during six months of combat, company k was less than 200. >> you can see the turnover, you explained it very, very well. we had similar experiences. so i wrote a book took me years and years to do it but it went back through the war again day by day, the book is called "dear captain, the agonies and ecstasies of war in the memory." so in one regard the young man who fought the war in a sense is actually not sitting here today. why is that? because after going through it a second time this young fella seemed like somebody else, not
3:33 pm
me. and i've recommended to world war ii veterans that they don't have to necessary publish a book, but write down the experiences, put it down on paper. when you do that, you see perspectives that you never knew that you had when you have to write something. so words very, very important. i have the memory of it, sure, but by going through that a second time i purged an awful lot of the terrible memories that we all had coming back and i have tried to tell the story in a very, very objective way and i documented every casualty. and we had 41 men killed in action, more than 100 wounded and evacuated for various other reasons, 90 men captured. most of those people came home but every once in a while you hear a story about someone in
3:34 pm
that group who did not. i learned just last week through web sites i have that and i used to research world war ii that one of those men who was captured at the first battle in the siegfried line had died in prison camp. i didn't know that. so it goes on. the knowledge, the research, and the -- so you remember it but you put it behind you if you can. i think i was reasonably successful in doing that, but it took years after the war. >> and you mentioned that you realized you did suffer post-traumatic stress but it just wasn't called that back then. both mr. mcgee and colonel riffe, you chose to make the service your career. you could have gotten out. you went through everything you went through, the pain, seeing people killed, being in the
3:35 pm
middle of combat, you chose to stay in. i'll start with you mr. mcgee, why? why did you stay in as long as you did? >> well, i had planned when i was in college to be a teacher because i was very fond of my high school teachers and i went to a very small high school in southern west virginia where a teacher, as i recall teacher coaches, they would teach classes in the morning and they would coach in the afternoon and i experienced three years of that with the same coach and i admired him. and i went to college with that in mind. and then the japanese bombed pearl harbor and of course that changed not only my life but the life of practically all americans. one thing i do want to say about world war ii and that period. i believe it's the only time in
3:36 pm
the history of our country when we were completely united. i don't think we've been united before that, and we haven't been united since. everybody that i knew and heard of and saw and met, they were behind the united states and defeating the nazis in europe and the japanese in the pacific. and if you go to a restaurant, probably they wouldn't charge you for your meal. if you road a taxi they wouldn't >> well, i had planned when i was in college to be a teacher because i was very fond of my high school teachers and i went to a very small high school in southern west virginia where a
3:37 pm
teacher, as i recall teacher coaches, they would teach classes in the morning and they would coach in the afternoon and i experienced three years of that with the same coach and i admired him. and i went to college with that in mind. and then the japanese bombed pearl harbor and of course that changed not only my life but the life of practically all americans. one thing i do want to say about world war ii and that period. i believe it's the only time in the history of our country when we were completely united. i don't think we've been united before that, and we haven't been united since. everybody that i knew and heard of and saw and met, they were behind the united states and defeating the nazis in europe and the japanese in the pacific. and if you go to a restaurant, probably they wouldn't charge
3:38 pm
you for your meal. if you road a taxi they wouldn't charge you, if you went to hitchhiking, which we all did, if there was room in a car they'd never pass you up. so what i remember the good thing i remember about world war ii is the unity of america, our hope that in my lifetime i would like to see that again. i'm not very enthusiastic that i will but that's my hope and prayer. >> and mr. mcgee, why did you choose to stay in the military? >> well, there are a couple of reasons why i stayed. i was called in to go to cadet training with this two years of college so i hadn't set that course although i was in engineering and i did like flying, training was good and although i fortunately came through combat all right in the late '50s, i was kind of interested in getting into commercial aviation but at that
3:39 pm
time the airlines weren't hiring blacks or women. >> that was the only place you could fly. >> so i -- because i enjoyed the flying i stayed in the service and ended up as you have said. but it was doing something i enjoyed. i couldn't have written a script for better opportunities that i ended up with, although i didn't know that in front but it also prepared me and one other thing i would say because of service and education was mentioned earlier, i was able later to go on and get a college degree because of what the service offered. and that served me in post-service career time. but it was the circumstances that caused me to stay in for a career. and as i'd like to pass on to young folks today, i hope you find something you like doing, although i wasn't for fighting, it turned out to be part of the
3:40 pm
experience but the fact that i loved aviation, it's hard to tell somebody what it's like to be able to get in the air and to loop roll and spin and come back and put your feet on the ground. [ laughter ] and the other side of it was to be able to fly a plane at 40,000 feet taking off at sunset, see the sunset again, see the stars come out, make you realize we individuals are just one small aspect in a mighty grand universe. >> it provided by an amazing opportunity for you to grow and learn and what an amazing career. any more questions from the audience? yes, sir? >> first of all, i'd like to say thank you to all of you gentlemen. you guys have the right stuff. my question is for colonel dr. mcgee. every black pilot in the cockpit, whether the military or the commercial industry are standing on the shoulders of you
3:41 pm
guys and particularly what's going on in society today. i want to ask you this question. at the time, did you have any idea of the impact that you would ultimately have on the lives of those who came after you? >> did you have any idea of the impact you would have on the lives of those who came after you, mr. mcgee? >> i would say not at all. [ laughter ] it was mentioned earlier, countries came out of ten years of depression when war was declared. everybody -- it was mentioned, the country came together behind that act. the jobs that were now available, you can talk about a car in every port and it was a different time. the country came together because of what was going on in europe and what hitler had done and so even though there was segregation, again, it was america. our country, willing to put our lives on the line as well as
3:42 pm
anybody else for the freedoms that we enjoyed. we say freedoms we enjoy, we don't all enjoy all of them in the same way or even to the same extent but it's still america when you look at what's going on around the world. >> thank you, very much. i, too, am in awe of the service. but i tell you, i'm very interested in knowing your perspective on military service given what's going on today and the opportunities the military should offer young people. if young people are the audience that we're going to be using in these lectures, i think you have something special to say about education, youth, commitment to the country and as it pertains in today's context and what i'm also impressed about is that it appears it's a question that you obviously have been thinking about also. thank you. >> your impression of the
3:43 pm
military, its value to young people, and how it can play in their lives. >> today. >> today. how it can play in their lives today. >> well, i really wish we had everybody serve two years and then go about their business supporting our country and whatever you want. then we would haven't the problem that we have faced with military. we've made it a problem because it's voluntary and what we have to take care of the soldiers when they return. but the future of our country requires those who will take that step. very quickly, i'd put for you teachers and so on, get the kids four ps -- perceive, dream your drove but find your talents to support the country. prepare, get the education. you'll learn to read, write, and speak well as well as develop your talents. perform, let excellence be a goal in everything. we're talk about kids being bullied and so on. let excellence be your goal treating others as you want to
3:44 pm
be treated. and finally, persevere. don't let the circumstances be the excuse for not achieving. it's too much of that going on. >> mr. howard? >> one of the things i would like to say about that question is that i think one of the great things that happened in mobilization for world war ii was the selective service system. i say this because it brought together men from all walks of life. and one company, my company, in the 84th infantry division we had illiterates, we had people who had graduate degrees. we would never have crossed these open's path except for the selective service system. we learned a lot about each other. now, i know that the volunteer army is about the only thing we can do in today's situation where you don't need masses of people but i do think we have a problem in that there's clearly unequal sacrifice when it comes to military service.
3:45 pm
i have always favored for most of my life some sort of a universal service requirement and supported various schemes along that line. so far none of it has come to pass, one of which would be a military option. but i think the phrase you so often, thank you for your service is somewhat of a guilt complex. but my perceptions but is that when we came back from world war ii, that phrase was strange to us "thank you for your service." everybody was in the service of the country in one way or the another. and i quibble with the term greatest generation, i'm not sure that was much more than an excellent marketing slogan for brokaw's book. i have come to term with it and i accept it, i think, only if we include those t whole country. as you said. the country was unbelievably unified. it did it -- it happened in an instant but it stayed right on through the war. and how we get that again none
3:46 pm
of us here in this audience can say today, certainly i can't. but the unity was the great thing during world war ii. >> my grandfather used to tell me -- and this could translate to some students -- prior to seeing the movie you would see a newsreel regarding the war and it would say "please don't buy canned food, we need to ship it to the soldiers." it would be general public items, things you do everyday would help the entire war effort so both on the radio movies, everywhere you would see some sort of effort, you are at home but you can pitch in, you don't see that anymore. >> you were welcomed home as the troops are today i'll tell you a humorous story. we were on a troupe ship going out of a new york harbor and when the convoy was making up outside new york harbor we had a collision with a tanker and so knocked the whole bow of the hms is "sterling castle" and we went
3:47 pm
back in the next morning. well, when we came back into the port, same port we'd left from, we were considered to be returning soldiers because -- [ laughter ] returning soldiers were beginning to come home. [ laughter ] so on the ferries coming across new york harbor we were waved and everybody was yelling "bravo, bravo" [ laughter ] and we'd been gone 24 hours. [ laughter ] and the bands were playing, people were passing out doughnuts and coffee and we were welcomed home. i didn't hear anybody say "thank you for your service" but they said "we're glad to see you back, fella." [ laughter ] ten days later we went out again. >> colonel how important it is to help today's youth understand how we need our military and what can we do to help them understand the sacrifice that you all have made, the millions have made is something that can play into their lives now today. >> how as our attendee decided,
3:48 pm
how can we stretch to high school students, college students, how the military can play a role in their lives. you chose it as a career. it's still an option for a career today. is that important to impart, do you think? i was asking -- i'm sorry, i was asking can colonel riffe. >> i believe that there should be some kind of universal service. today only about 1% of americans are serving in the military forces. i believe we could unify our country again if all people, ladies and gentlemen, would have to perform some type of service for our country. it necessarily doesn't have to be in the military but some positions, some organization that supports america and our values and i believe that would also help us unify because today we are not a unified country, unfortunately, and, of course, we are seeing the conventions for the republican nominations and next week for the democratic
3:49 pm
nominations and according to what i see on television there's a great divide between those who claim to be republicans and those who claim to be democrats. it appears to me, unfortunately, that many politicians have put party above country. country should come first. party should come second. but i don't see that today. [ applause ] i don't know the extent of americans in uniform today and of course we're still in afghanistan. we're going to stay there for quite a while. we're sending more troops to iraq, we've got troops in jordan and we've got military personnel practically all over the world. i get a map once a week showing the location of all military personnel and we have military personnel of all the branches truly serving in probably 35 or 40 countries in the world today. but i was at fort bragg, i was a paratrooper for 25 years and a member of the 82nd airborne division as a major, a
3:50 pm
lieutenant colonel and a colonel so it was a great opportunity for people who serve in the airborne to get together. and while i was there i got a call from the japanese television, they had first in one percent. i believe that we could unify our country again if all young people, ladies and gentlemen, would have to perform some type of service for our country. it necessarily doesn't have to be in the military, but some position, some organization where it supports america and our values, and i believe that would also help us to unify, because today, we are not a unified country unfortunately. and of course, we are seeing, the conventions for the
3:51 pm
republican nominations and next week for the democratic nominations, and according to what i see on television, there's a great divide between those who have claimed to be republicans and those who claim to be democrats. it appears to me unfortunately that many politicians have put party above country. country should come first. party should come second. but i don't see it today. [ applause ] as i mentioned today, only one percent of americans are in uniform today and we are still in afghanistan. we are going to stay there for quite a while. we're sending more troops to iraq, and we have troops in jordan, and we have military personnel practically all over
3:52 pm
the world. i'll get a map once a week showing the location of all military personnel. and we have military personnel of all of the branches truly serving in probably 35 or 40 countries in the world today. and of course, it is costing us a lot of money. but i recently attended what they call the airborne week at fort bragg. i was a paratrooper for 20 years and a member of the 2nd airborne division and lieutenant colonel and colonel and great opportunity for the people who served in the airborne to get together. while i was there i got a call from the japanese television. they had first in april they had come to my home with a television camera, a director and asked me questions that i thought they were going to talk
3:53 pm
about the pacific world war ii, but they were only interested in talking about secretary curryke visit to hiroshima. and later in fort bragg on the telephone call, i didn't know it, but president obama had visited hiroshima, and i said that no case should any official of the united states government go to hiroshima, because i believed that the japanese would consider it a apology for the two bombs that we dropped on japan on august 6th, and august 9th. have i asked your question or have i gotten off course a little bit. >> a wonderful answer. >> yes, sir. >> vi two questions. one is for jim, and then the second question is going to be for all of y'all. jim, i know that the battle of
3:54 pm
okinawa was fierce and 21 medal of honor winners on okinawa and i met with the 96th infantry division. can you tell me in your unit how many medal of honors and distinguished crosses and silver stars and how many bronze stars and purple hearts in the division? >> all i can tell you is that, e had two of my squad leaders are recommended for the silver star are recommended for the silver star. and seven or eight members of my platoon i recommended for the bronze star. so what happened when for example you recommended somebody for the silver star, you had to go through the battalion and the division, and so oftentimes they would change it. myself, i was recommended for the silver star for battle in
3:55 pm
which the entire battalion was pinned down and the battalion commander asked me to go around the flank, and see if i could find the enemy's flank and destroy them. and i led the platoon around and the platoon, we conquered the battalion objective with one rifle platoon and i was recommend in order the silver for that and downgraded to the bronze star. i got two bronze stars, but i, that is the only information that i have about, and i know that there were some men in the division, and my division the 27th, there were several people who got the medal of honor. of course, there were a lot of distinguished service crosses and silver stars, but, the silver stars, i recommend for two of the squad leaders. i don't know whether they
3:56 pm
received them or not, because they were both wound and evacuate and i don't know what happened to the recommendation. i do know that i should have recommended my platoon medic for more than a bronze star. because we were fighting to retake cockazoo ridge, and i was leading a platoon with two scouts in front, and b.a.r. man, and we had ran into a japanese strong position and the lead scout was killed immediately. the b.a.r. man was seriously wounded in his leg and i could hear him and crawled up to see what i could do for him. some way or another, the platoon medic which is back in the draw heard about it, and he came rushing up, and he was, he
3:57 pm
reached into his bag to get a bandage to put on the b.a.r. man's leg and as he was doing that, he got killed. so i only recommended him for the bronze star, but in looking back, he gave his life to try to save another man. and somewhere along the way, i believe that whoever read the recommendation somewhere along the way looking back now i believe they should have upgraded it to at least silver star or distinguished service cross, because here is a man who was treating a wounded man, came out under fire, gave his life and today that individual would get the medal of honor, but things were different in world war ii. >> my second question, and this
3:58 pm
is to all of y'all, if harry truman were here today standing here or in the audience, what would you say to him? >> what would you say to harry truman if he were here in the audience today? >> i would like to answer that. >> he's on a roll. >> harry truman made one of the most important decisions in the history of our country when he authorize the atomic bomb of japan. and first of all on the 6th of august, they bombed hiroshima, and the death toll was anywhere from 120,000 to 170,000, 140,000. that did not convince the japanese to surrender unconditionally, and so on the 9th of august, the president
3:59 pm
authorized the dropping of the second atomic bomb on nagasaki and the death toll there was half of what they said it was in hiroshima, around 70,000. there are people even today who say that those atomic bombs saved lives. saved lives, because we had planned to invade japan in november of 1945, and then in the spring of '46 we were going to invade tokyo, honshu, and it is estimated that invasion would cost 150,000 american lives, and it would cost 10 million japanese lives. so on that basis, people today are saying, oh, okay, so the atomic weapons killed say 240,000 people, but if we had invaded japan, we'd have killed
4:00 pm
10 million japanese. so, i believe that president truman by authorizing the use of the atomic bomb saved hundreds and hundreds of thousands of lives both american and japanese. another thing which some of you may or may not know about was the military, the army particularly was segregated. in other words, i served during world war ii in my division and i never saw a negro soldier. i never saw one. and after the war, it went on and on, and in 1948, president truman said that we are going to quit the segregation of the military and we are going to put all of the people together. so president truman is the one
4:01 pm
who said that we will no longer have segregation in military service, and we will put all people together. at that time i was chaommandingn infantry company in salzburg, austria and i had a command all negros, all black, and i would call my men together, many of them from the south, and i would say, that we are going to get some black soldiers, and they are americans and they will be treated like anybody else so i made sure that when we got three black soldiers to my company, that we had a special welcome for them. a special welcome for them, and integrated them and they were just like we were all together. we were all americans. unfortunately, i looked back today, and i cannot understand why america has been segregated for so long, so very, very long. it is unfortunately, it is today, it seems like there is more controversy among the
4:02 pm
blacks and the whites today, and this is very sad. but at least president truman did something when he decided that there would no longer be a segregated military service. so for two things that i applaud president truman for the atomic bombs and ending segregation in the military services. >> mr. howard, that is okay. go ahead. >> we owe president truman even more than that, because he is the president who said "the buck stops here." he issued two executive orders. the air force said that we need to integrate because we need to use people based on training experience and where needed and not happenstance, and we are not getting enough money to keep the base open segregated and meet our requirements, we need to integrate. ten months later, truman issued two executive orders. 9981, is the one that mandated
4:03 pm
all of the services need to integrate, and he backed it up. but he also issued 9980. there should be equal access and equal hiring throughout the federal government. unfortunately, even though that executive order was written, it has not been followed throughout, as you know. but truman was a very -- you need to read his history, because he was a southerner from southern missouri, but he believed in america and what america should be all about. >> mr. howerton, do you have thoughts on president truman as well or mr. zychek? >> the only thing that i would add to this is that i did receive four bronze clusters and two years ago , the french
4:04 pm
president, the french legion of honor made me a chevalichevalie just receiving the medal by the french government put a highlight to my life. thank you. >> mr. howerton? >> yes. what i would like the say abo e this is that i, too, saw very few in any black soldiers and so, to me, the cultural mix that we had otherwise was great. and if i would say anything that is in response to the question of how can you advice people going into the military today, it would be that, you know, a couple of things. first of all, they are going to be exposed.
4:05 pm
thank god. to all americans in the military even with the volunteer army, i think. so, another factor about that is that the military will give a young person a family. a second family. i think that we would all agree to that. i think that those of us in combat units and i know that in my case those of us in company k with the heavy casualties knew that we knew in our own minds that we may not ever come back. and so these people are family. we might never get back to our families. so i think that is kind of bonding that still exists. i think it does, but i don't know for sure, and i think it is modern american military units,
4:06 pm
and i think that is very important. and ironically for a few days, those of us in my unit coming up from normandy beach, and well after the fighting, but on the red truck line that took us to the war, and we were in command for about three days of black drivers, and the bulk of the drivers of those trucks were black drivers, and the segregated black driver unit, but those guys were in command. we listened to what they said. when they said ten minute break, they meant ten minute break, and we were back in the trucks. if we were not back, they saw to it that we were. and that little bit of exposure was great. i came home as a radical civil
4:07 pm
rights guy. growing up in kentucky in the segregated school and that today seems remarkable to me, but i did. in college, i was in the forefront of the civil rights movement, an organization that closed the bar near the campus of the university of denver and sitting in one time and that bar went out of business, but it started serving black students or comrades from the university. and so, regardless of the problems that we have, we have come a long way, folks, i think. >> one last question before you go, many of the students and the teachers who teach them, they talk and they have conversations with them, and they try to teach world war ii, and they are the age that you were when you enlisted or were drafted. do you have any advice, life advice moving forward for students that these teachers can impart from prince georges
4:08 pm
county today in the audience today as they move forward and choose a career in life, and their connection to the nation as far as patriotism is concerned, can you impart 1 last bit of advice to them before we leave today? >> i am not sure i can directly answer the question, but as i go around to talk to students and schools, there is certainly to me a need to include what is taking place in our country. i ask often youngsters and who knows what the horror and the thrust of one of the commercial airlines is todayb a daday and why aren't you teaching us where the technology is taking us. technology is taking us way beyond what i flew, but our youngsters are not getting it. so how can they take us to
4:09 pm
another place. something is wrong with the textbooks. i like talking to the middle schools the most, because at least the middle school kids listen. >> present company excepted. >> high schools, that is another story. but to you teachers, hang in there. i know that you have got such a challenge, and it is too many parents are coming to say don't, you know, don't tap my kid. we are missing the boat, folks, for the future of what our youngsters need besides the education complete, and all of the best to you. >> mr. howerton, any suggestions for our youth? >> i think it is important to remember for our teachers to remember that the students today are as far from world war ii as we were from the civil war.
4:10 pm
>> wow. >> so what did we know about the civil war? not too much when you come down to it. i heard about the skirmishes of the forces in farm communities in western kentucky, but we didn't know much about the civil war in high school. so, i have a lot of confidence today, in today's young people, and i think that they are curious, and high school groups have particularly that i have talked with, i think that i get a couple of reactions. one of them i get is intensive interest on the part of a few students in the classes and in others, they seem to be sleepy.
4:11 pm
i would think to emphasize on the teachers not to focus entirely on the military aspects. today, every world war ii veteran is a hero, and that is not true, and all of us know that is not true. we appreciate that, but we were not all heroes. we were ordinary young people. good, bad, effective and not. but i think that the support that jim made is extremely important. the unity of the country that resulted for one reason or another from world war ii is important to teach, and what went on, on the home front, and the wonderful things that the war was managed, and i have studied this economics and political classes and history, and the war to me was managed
4:12 pm
greatly and ingeniously by the administration at that time, and the war production act, the mobilization of american industry, the institution of price controls and fashioning all of those things made the home front what it was and supported the troops serving overseas, and so never forget that as teachers. we're not all heroes, but there is a lot of heroes on the home front as well. so, it is a very hard subject, think for you the teach. >> mr. zychek, some advice for the young people? >> sorry? >> would you like to give some advice for the young people, the high school students about life? >> i will tell you that when i was discharged, i missed my high
4:13 pm
school graduation. while i was landing in normandy, my class was graduating. 70 years later, i got a call that the governor of new jersey wanted me at the high school to accept my high school diploma. 70 years later. i did go there. and it was wonderful, but i'll tell you i was a musician. i played in the band, sang in
4:14 pm
the a capella choir, did a lot of musical things with sort of a gift to me and it made me so much better in the army. i don't know how using a gun and playing music mix, but evidently, it worked with me. thank you. >> and colonel? >> well, i believe education is one of the primary factors to success in life, and the department of education does have statistics to show for example high school graduates what their annual salary would be. filled with a baccalaureate
4:15 pm
degree, the higher chance of success you have. i learned that sort of in the hard way in 1937 and '38 i was in the civilian conversation corps. i shouldn't have been there, because you were supposed to be 18 and i was 16, but i lied about it, because i could not afford the go to school. so the time i was in the civilian conversation corps in '37 and '38, i realized the importance of education. so i asked to be released the go back to high school. i finished high school and i had the opportunity to go to college on a scholarship, and then of course, pearl harbor came along, but after the war, i did everything that i could to increase my educational, and i went to school at nighttime, and weekends, and finally 1957, and the army is sent me to the
4:16 pm
university of maryland to get a bachel bachelor's degree of military science and then a few years, i was sent to george washington university to get a master's degree in international affairs and then later on i went tonight school again, weekends, and i got another masters the degree from george washington university. so when i got out of the service and i presented to particular employees, my educational background and i had fortunate gotten many, many job opportunities, including an opportunity from the university of north carolina and george washington university anded a member of the staff, and not the faculty. i got an opportunity to join the railroad as their training officer. i got many other officers, and i contribute that all to the fact that i have a pretty good sound background in education.
4:17 pm
so i would encourage our young people today and parents who can influence them and friends to get all of the education that you can, because the department of education has statistics to prove that the more education that you have, the better opportunities that you have for success and that's as i say, that department of education has statistics to show that it is true. and just recently, there were some articles in the "washington post" comparing the salaries of high school graduates to college graduates with the b.s. or the four-year degree versus those who had advanced degrees. >> thank you, colonel. we appreciate it. before we make the final remarks i would like to call josiah bunting iii up to speak and make some remarks and thank some people for today. >> only for about 30 seconds here. first of all, we have a
4:18 pm
representative of the enterprise corporation, jack taylor, who was the founder of enterprise died two weeks ago at the age of 96. he is responsible for this program and for many of the programs that world war ii memorial is able to sustain. so our hearts go out to his family and our gratitude to you. [ applause ] if anyone here doubts that these gentlemen are members of what should be called the greatest generation, those doubts have been erased this morning. thank you.
4:19 pm
>> herman zycheck and mr. howerton and colonel, thank you. one last comment, as we know that we are about to get a new president in the coming months. it is important to remember as our leaders make decisions to send our young men and women in harm's way to remember that it is these families who sacrifice for our freedom. it is not just numbers or a location around the globe. you got to hear the personal stories this morning about how these people not only save the united states, but save the world. thank you, and god bless. >> can i make one comment, please. >> of course. have at it. >> it is about world war ii, and i wanted you to know the sacrifices. in world war ii, 16 million americans served, and of that
4:20 pm
numbers 408,316 gave their life. 408,316 gave their life out of the 16 million gave their life for this country. thank you. >> than you, ladies and gentlemen. this saturday, live at 8:00 a.m. eastern on american history tv. a look at the advanced placement u.s. history exam. our guests are matthew ellington and jason stacy, coauthors of "fabric of a nation" will talk about the exam structure and advancement strategy. they will take student questions by phone and on facebook and twitter. saturday at 4:00 p.m.
4:21 pm
eastern, the 1965 u.s. army documentary and covering the attack on pearl harbor to the japanese surrender. >> on the 2nd of september, 1965, the japanese signed the articles of surrender on the battleship missouri in tokyo bay. at 7:00 p.m., we will look at events that led to germany's surrender with pulitzer prize winner. on american tv on c-span3. every saturday night, american history tv takes you to college classrooms around the country for lectures in history. >> why do you all know who lizzy borden is and raise your hand if you have ever heard of this murder, the gene harris murder before this class? >> and we will find the true meaning of revolution was in the transformation that took place in the minds of the american
4:22 pm
people. >> so we are going to talk about both sides of the story here, the tools, the techniques of slave owner power and also talk about the tools and techniques of power that were practiced by enslaved people. >> watch history professors lead discussions with their students on topics ranging from the american revolution to september 11th. lectures in history on c-span3 every saturday at 8:00 p.m. on lectures in history and also available as a podcast. find it wherever you listen to podcasts. 75 years ago on march 9th and 10th, 1945, nearly 300 u.s. b-29 bombers executed operation meetinghouse. the fire bombing of tokyo. much of the city was destroy and the estimates of civilians killed ranged from 80,000 to 130,000. next on real america, the last bomb. this aca


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on