Albion Central School Veterans History Project – Interview Transcript

Interviewee: James Walsh
Interviewer:
Ryan Campbell
Place of Birth:
New York City
Date of Interview:
June 16, 2004
Date of Birth:
November 08, 1923
Place of Residence: Albion, New York

War(s) in which Interviewee Served: World War II
Branch of Service or Wartime Activity: U.S. Army Air Corps
Battalion, Regiment, Division, Unit, Ship, etc.: 437 Troop carrier Group, 85 Squadron
Method of Induction: Enlisted
Service Dates: February, 1943 – February, 1945
Location of Military or civilian service: George Field, Illinois; Malden, Missouri; Ramsburt, England; Villa Coublais, France; Marfa, Texas.
Other information: Rank: First Lieutenant

Transcriber’s Note: Comments/notations that appear in brackets below indicate uncertainties in and/or corrections to the original oral interview. A question mark within brackets [?] indicates that the preceding word/place name was difficult to hear on the audio tape and may not be correct or may be misspelled.

Transcript:

Campbell: I’m Ryan Campbell. I’m a junior in Albion High School and I am interviewing James Walsh about his experiences in World War II. So, what did you do before you joined the service?

Walsh: I worked for the Bell Telephone laboratories down in New York City. I was a clerk, just out of high school.

Campbell: Were you living there, also?

Walsh: Yes. I was living in Westchester County.

Campbell: Did you enlist, or were you drafted?

Walsh: I enlisted.

Campbell: What branch did you serve in?

Walsh: Army Air Corps.

Campbell: Why did you choose that branch of service?

Walsh: I was working with some other friends in the phone company and we had registered for the draft when we were 18 and we knew that the 18-year-olds were going to be called up shortly, so he said, “Let’s go down and enlist in the Air Corps. It might be better than being on the ground.” So, although I had never much interest in the Air Corps at that time, I followed his idea and we went down and both enlisted down in Grand Central Palace. I was sworn in and he flunked. He didn’t pass. So he left me.

Campbell: How were your first days of service?

Walsh: Well, we went…the first thing we did, we went to basic training down in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and that was…I enlisted in December and went down there in January. We did the regular routine army basic training…you know, the rifle range, the marching, the whole bit. And that was for a couple of months, a few months, before we went to the flight school.

Campbell: So you joined because you were friends?

Walsh: Yeah, he was interested in the Air Force, my friend.

Campbell: So, where were you on December 7th, 1941…Pearl Harbor?

Walsh: I was at home. And my parents had the radio on…at the time, there was no television, of course. And we heard an interruption on the radio and the president came on, President Roosevelt came on, and said that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. I think it was a Sunday afternoon.

Campbell: How about when war was declared?

Walsh: Let’s see…when it was...well, that would have been almost the next day, I guess they declared it…didn’t they? I think, I’m pretty sure they declared war the next day, after the Japanese had… Congress, you know… I was…if that was a Monday, I probably would have been in school.

Campbell: What were you doing when D-Day…the invasion of Normandy…?

Walsh: I was teaching. When I graduated from flying school in March of ’44, the Transition Schools all backed up…they had a surplus and they couldn’t handle it, so they assigned us to teach. So they gave us five students and we would teach…I was teaching two-engine, flying it out in George Field, out in Lawrenceville, Illinois.

Campbell: What do you think about the atomic bomb droppings on Japan?

Walsh: Well, I really thought it was a necessary thing. You know, it was something that we had to do because it would…otherwise the war would have been prolonged and we’d of had a lot more loss of life. So, I really…we weren’t unhappy about it. I was still in service when that happened. I was home from Europe on leave and I was up in Canada when it happened.

Campbell: Early on in the war, the Germans had the upper hand. Were you surprised when things started going bad for them and everyone, all the allies started marching on Berlin?

Walsh: Yeah, it was quite a turn-around. We were, you know, we had a tough time right up through the Battle of the Bulge, you know I guess, and then afterwards we kind of broke through and I think probably the…one of the things you could see the tide changing was when we crossed the line, when they went over that bridge, that Remagen [?] Bridge that time. And also, we actually invaded…our outfit, I towed paratroop [trails off]… uh, glider pilots [more confidently:] gliders and men and equipment across the line when they dropped the war on the other side of the line. Seemed like then they just took off. Patton and his Third Armor Division, they just took off and raced into Germany. And it looked then like pretty good for our side.

Campbell: What did you think about the Russians. They were communist under Stalin and had been former allies with Hitler.

Walsh: Yeah, I was hoping that they would have let Patton go to Berlin. But you see I guess they were appeasing. They pushed themselves, towards Austria down that way. It was, well, I don’t know if that was the lesser of two evils, having him on our side because he did take quite a beating in the Savra [?] and over on that Russian front. Saved us some men, I guess.

Campbell: What did you think of Italy’s role? They had Mussolini, who was also another one of Hitler’s allies.

Walsh: I guess Mussolini was like Hitler. It was the same, you know, type. And I’m not too sure if the people were that happy with him or not. But he was a tough opponent because they had the Germans down there, too, in Italy, fighting, with the Italians, fighting us, you know. So we really were spread out on a couple of fronts. God, they went from Africa to Italy and then they went over to France. So it was a tough struggle.

Campbell: Was it surprising to see the Axis dictators, like Hitler and Mussolini, who were once so powerful, die and commit suicide?

Walsh: Yeah, it was. I didn’t think they would do that, I thought they’d at least die like a soldier and not take the easy way out. I guess they didn’t have it.

Campbell: What did you think about the war in general?

Walsh: I thought it was a justified war. I mean, we definitely had our backs to the wall and we had no choice. We had to do it. No such thing as justification---they were wrong and we were right, period.

Campbell: When the Japanese declared war on us, was that a surprise to you?

Walsh: Yeah, it was! As a kid, you don’t know that much, you know how kids, you’re not that involved in politics and things, but that was a surprise. I didn’t know what we did to justify something like that happening to us.

Campbell: Where did you serve at?

Walsh: As I said, in the states, when I graduated from flying school as a second lieutenant, we were made pilot instructors and we taught twin engine for about six months. And then we went to a transition school out in Missouri. And I started to learn to fly C-47s, which is a transport type plane, troop carrier. When I finished that, they sent us overseas. They sent us over to Europe with the troop carrier command over there.

Campbell: Did you see any combat?

Walsh: Yeah, we invaded…I was on a couple of minor missions but the biggest one was the Rhine Drop. We carried two gliders, we double-towed…they called it double-tow. And we were stationed in France at the time, because we moved from England to France. And we had two big runways that the Germans had used JU-88s on and when we took that over, we brought our whole group, the 437 troop carrier group in on that. We had five squadrons. We had 50 planes and 100 gliders on one runway. It was like a 10,000 foot runway. And that’s how you lined up…you just lined the gliders up behind you, with the tow ropes, one short and one long tow rope. And we took off and crossed the Rhine in the northern sector, up near Wessel. And the British were dropping troops and gliders, they came from England. So that was the invasion of the Rhine, when they crossed it that time, which they were successful, of course.

Campbell: What was your most memorable experience in your service?

Walsh: I don’t know…I think maybe what I remember better about probably a pleasant experience was after the war ended, we were still stationed in France. The 12th Army Group, part of Eisenhower’s command, they were over in Luxembourg and they went over to Germany on the Rhine. They were at Weisbaden and they called our group and asked us to supply a plane and pilots to set up an air line. And this was right after the war ended. And the air line was to fly to the different army groups in northern Germany and southern Germany and shuttle them into Paris every night. These were people on orders. So we went up and set the air line up. It took us about three or four days to set it up. They took us to every single one of the groups, the army groups. They told us exactly what they wanted us to do. So we told them we’d need one more plane in order to fly it, because it was too much for one. So we had a northern route and a southern route in Germany and then each day we’d send a plane, one of the two planes, into Paris with people on orders and then bring them back, bring people on orders back, the next day. So we set that air line up for quite a while. We were there for a couple of months working that air line. It was very interesting, flying all over Germany and meeting different people. We used to meet generals and big shots who were traveling on orders that wanted to get someplace in a hurry. It really, that was very interesting, I thought. I remember that better than most of the other things.

Campbell: World War II had generals like Patton, MacArthur and Eisenhower. How popular were they with the public?

Walsh: I think probably Eisenhower was very popular. Bradley, Omar Bradley, was another very well-liked general. And Patton, well, the type he was, you know, he was gung-ho, no-nonsense. He was just strictly soldier. He did some job, although we kind of…we re-supplied him when they had that drive into Germany and they veered him off into Austria. We would go there with re-supply every single day. We’d fly in with gasoline. We had Jerry-cans, they were 5-gallon cans. And we’d take 56-hundred pounds and strap it in the cargo area of the plane, tie it in. And deliver gasoline to him, because he’d out-run everything else. We dropped him gasoline every single day, either gasoline or we’d bring him shells, almost every day. And he was, he had just little pockets, you know, that you’d go into and you’d just drop the stuff and get out as quick as you could. So I think Patton was probably the most colorful.

Campbell: Do you think if Patton could have marched on Berlin, would he have been successful?

Walsh: Definitely. Definitely. There was no…he was the type that just wouldn’t stop. Give him his supplies and he’d go. I can remember when he first crossed the Rhine, there’s a little town on the Rhine, I think it was Frankfort-on-Main, and there was some resistance in there, quite a bit of resistance in there. So he just went around it, he said, “Forget it.” Just leave them in there, you just circle around them and kept right on going. But when they sent him south, they turned him away from Berlin. He went all the way down to Austria, because we used to go down to… they wouldn’t let us cross the Elbe River because the Russians were there. So we’d go down there as far as the Russians were. In fact, we’d meet them when we’d drop supplies for him. But he would have…I don’t think anything could have stopped him. He was that type.

Campbell: On all of your assignments, were you ever fearful of anything?

Walsh: Well, you know, you’re probably 19 or 20 years old and it’s hard for me to say now, but I probably was on a mission where there…you’re behind the enemy lines and, although you’re not getting too much flak because we flew low---we were at four or five hundred feet, we never flew any higher than that---but we’d get small arms fire, you’d get a lot of shells hitting the plane and that. You might have been a little bit scared then, but as they say, I was still too young to really let it effect me, you know, you’d still go back the next day. Although some guys, we had the plane in front of us when we were going in to cross the Rhine that time, the plane in front of us was hit and burned and I knew the crew. One of our guys, he knew them real well. But the four of them bailed out, at five hundred feet, they jumped. And they were all got down on the ground and behind the lines and I think they got in with the either the Canadians or one of the American divisions. And they were back, they were back within a few days, they were back home. And they said they swore they’d never fly again. So they sent them down the Riviera for seven days and they came back and they were…when I left…they were still flying. Right back.

Campbell: At the beginning of the war, before it started, the European nations were trying to please Hitler by letting him keep all these nations he was taking over. Do you think that was a smart thing to do?

Walsh: What…now what were they trying to do?

Campbell: Appeasement.

Walsh: Oh, appeasement…yeah. Well that was what, after the Eton [?] or some of those? Yeah. They tried that appeasement before but it wasn’t working because they were…Germany was in the mood to just move. They went to Poland and they went…you know, they had that Panzer Division. And I don’t think, I don’t think you could have appeased them at all. I really don’t.

Campbell: Do you think the Russians were…had any right when they were marching towards Germany to spread communism to all the Western [should be Eastern] European nations?

Walsh: Well, that was their belief, so I guess they figured if they were conquering the nations they’d also require them or request them to follow the lead. I don’t know, I guess they pushed their communism. So, yeah, I guess that was their right.

Campbell: What did you think about the whole idea of communism?

Walsh: I am not for it at all. I mean, I just don’t particularly like it. It’s not the freedom and democracy that we have, you know. It’s ‘all for one’ or ‘spread the wealth’ and you know, to me, if you earn it, it’s yours. You shouldn’t have to…not that I say you shouldn’t be generous, but half of mine shouldn’t be half of somebody’s that don’t want to work. I’m not for it.

Campbell: Was news of the Holocaust in Germany wide-spread or was that kept pretty down low?

Walsh: It was…I don’t think it was that wide-spread. It seemed to be afterwards. When the war ended, since we had the transport-type planes, we went back over into Germany from France with all our planes and we took American prisoners back to Camp Lucky Strike, you know, so they could be sent home if they were physically able to move and not wounded, you know, not hospitalized. When we finished with the Americans, we took the British back to England. Took all them back. And then, when that was over, we took the French back to LaBourgee [?] in Paris. You know, the ones that were there…including some of the prisoners and that. But they were pretty beat up, I mean. We still didn’t realize what it was all about, what they were….although they were out there, there were pictures in Stars and Stripes and other things of when they liberated some of those concentration camps. The death and the furnaces and…it just started to sink in a little bit. I think afterwards, when there was more written about it, they realized how bad it really was. I don’t think, at the time, we realized how bad they were.

Campbell: What did you think of the Nuremburg Trials that followed the war?

Walsh: Well, I thought it was the right thing to do, you know. It was…that’s the country where it happened in and they did it, they conducted the trials and I think it was pretty well-done. It was the way it should be. I think that was okay, that was good.

Campbell: How was the process of things returning to normal after the war with the threat of the Nazis still being there?

Walsh: Well, most of the German…I shouldn’t say most, but when we were up in Weisbaden, stationed there, flying those different groups around, we’d have a day off here and we’d go into town and the army required us to carry the side-arm. You couldn’t go in without being armed. But we talked to some of the Germans, some of them were fluent in English, and I don’t feel that the average person that were there had too much animosity. They seemed to be maybe relieved to some extent. Now, I don’t know about the die-hard Nazis…I’m sure there were still some of those around. But I think the people themselves were…when they realized that some of the atrocities that occurred…I think they felt kind of guilty about it, you know?

Campbell: How did you pass the time during the war?

Walsh: I don’t know about passing time. We, well, you know, we were busy most of the time when we were instructing, when we were teaching. We had five students and we flew every day. When we were over in Euro…well, over in England it was kind of slow because the weather was so bad. Over there, you couldn’t get up too often, you know, with the fog and the rain. Seems like England was rainy and foggy all the time. Time just goes by, I guess, it just, you know…

Campbell: Did you keep in touch with the people at home?

Walsh: Oh, yeah…well, your [my] parents. At that time, of course, I was single and I’d write home to my parents. That was about the extent of the communication. I didn’t have any friends, or any friends that I had in school were all were in the army, in the service.

Campbell: How were holidays overseas?

Walsh: Same as any other day. Just another day.

Campbell: What were some of the things you learned from your experiences in the war?

Walsh: It’s hard to say what you learned. Well, you certainly learn how to be a little bit independent and on your own. Your going from a stable home where you very rarely left home for any reason, and then to be thrown in together with a bunch of other guys... You’re really on your own. You have to kind of look out for yourself. So I think you got some, certainly some independence and maybe some self-confidence, as they say. Going through flying school wasn’t easy, because the classes, you had classes, and you had… of course, the flying part was fun, but the studying and the other classes were not that easy. You made it. Persevered.

Campbell: How were the food and provisions where you were?

Walsh: That depends. When we were in the primary school, that was a civilian school…food, everything in there was great. When you get back into the army, when you get into basic and advanced flying school, you’re back on the, on a government diet, an army diet. But it wasn’t bad, I mean, we never went hungry. Overseas, well, the food overseas was what you could get. It wasn’t that, you know…I supposed it was nourishing. We didn’t think so, at the time. Where everybody had some common names for…the grapefruit juice, they called it battery acid and it was pretty powerful. And the eggs were powdered, you know. You never got fresh eggs. And milk was powdered. And I don’t know much about…the meat over in England, you’d get Bully Beef now and then. That’s what, when we went into the British bases, that’s what they eat in there was Brussel sprouts and Bully Beef. I guess you either eat or starve, so... wasn’t the best. Wasn’t Mom’s home cooking, believe me. And we always swore that the chicken that they served over there was World War I chicken, because the bones came apart, too…everything came apart. But we survived.

Campbell: Did you have much interaction with civilians overseas?

Walsh: Not really, no. Well, in England, yeah, you did in England. We’d be allowed into London. If you had some time off, you could go into London and we’d go in on the train. We’d get on the train and go down a station and go into Paddington Station in London. And then, you know, then, ‘cause they’re English speaking, and you’d go to the pubs and the places, you’d meet a lot of English. Well, English are a little bit more reserved than Americans, you know. I guess they put up with us. Over in…we weren’t allowed any…over in German, you weren’t allowed any fraternization afterwards. We couldn’t fraternize with the Germans. And the French, well, we didn’t really have that much contact with the French, you know, very little. We’d go into Paris maybe…we were about 30 miles from Paris and we’d get a day off once in a while. I remember being into Paris on Easter Sunday, we went to Norte Dame Cathedral on Easter Sunday, in Paris. But you didn’t…they didn’t…there weren’t that many of them that spoke English. Maybe in the stores they did, some of them. It was interesting, you know, just to go around and see their culture. Little bit different than ours.

Campbell: What did you think when Berlin finally fell?

Walsh: Ahh, that was great. That was, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back, that one. That was, yup… Yeah, we were really, everybody was happy about that.

Campbell: Did you ever think that Britain would fall after all the German air-raids on them?

Walsh: Well, I have to give them credit, you know. They really were…had their backs against the wall. And the Germans just continued to pound them. They had…

[School P.A. announcement interruption]

Walsh: (continued) …okay, yeah, they did a real bombing job on London. Although the air force fought. They bombed their factories and slowed them down a little bit. But then they came up with the V1’s and the V2’s, those rockets. And they would just come over and you’d hear them….when you didn’t hear the sound, you knew that it was coming down. I have to give the British credit...they took a tremendous pounding. But they hung on and, you know, for a while I didn’t think they would. But you got to give them credit.

Campbell: Was there any ever strong feelings that the Germans would fully take over Europe and all the nations?

Walsh: Oh, yeah, in the beginning it looked…they moved, you know. They had those Panzer outfits and the Blitzkrieg and they took Poland and they took France, and they took them so easily that it looked like they could go anywhere they want. It was…it didn’t look well. And, of course, we weren’t that prepared. We had to start from scratch and build. Build everything from scratch. Mobilize.

Campbell: Did you know about the race to make the atomic bomb or any other weapons like that?

Walsh: No. We never heard anything about that. Nope. I remember seeing B-29’s. Of course, that’s what…I was on a cross-country flight one time down in the…it had to be in the summer time…down in, it was Tennessee, I think. And they made us cut our engines and just sit there on the taxi strip. A B-29 came in and I had never…we had never seen anything like that…it was huge! And they wouldn’t let anybody near it. They put a guard, an armed guard, right around it as soon as it got in there. But we didn’t realize it. Eventually, that’s what would drop, that B-29. But we didn’t have any inkling at all of an atomic bomb.

Campbell: What was competition like between the United States and Russia? Both were trying to make the atomic bomb…

Walsh: I really wasn’t…we weren’t really paying much attention to that, you know, about the…we didn’t know what atomic bombs even were. We had no idea, so it’s far from your mind.

Campbell: Where were you when World War II finally ended?

Walsh: The Japanese?

Campbell: Yeah.

Walsh: Let’s see…I was up in Canada. On a…I had a 30 days leave. And I had…I spent some time, I lived in Canada when I was smaller. And I still had aunts and uncles, a lot of them there. And I went up to Canada and when the first atomic bomb was dropped. And when they dropped…I was there when they dropped the second one…still there, because that wasn’t that far apart. And then the war….then they declared the war was over. I guess…I might still have been up there…I guess I can’t quite remember. I think I was still up in Canada when the war ended. See, we were going to go…we had 30 days leave and we were going to go over to the China-Burma-India Theater. Because I didn’t have enough points to get out of service. So they were just going to send me over to…our group over to CBI. So I was kind of happy that that happened, you know. We didn’t have to go. That ended it.

Campbell: What do you think about the Japanese and their treatment of prisoners, like the death march and their camps.

Walsh: Terrible. We were just thoroughly disgusted. You just shouldn’t say it, but you had hate for them because of the atrocities. You just said, “well, we got to get even with them some way,” you know. That was awful. Terrible.

Campbell: In the United States, Japanese citizens were put into internment camps for the war. Do you think that was justified?

Walsh: Well, I supposed at the time they were being ultra-cautious. I mean, now that it’s an aftermath when we think about it, I guess it was a rather unfair thing to do because they were still…they were Americans and they came over like any other foreigner that comes to this country like, well, our parents. And they became citizens and I think they were treated rather unfairly.

Campbell: Did you ever hear any stories about any spies getting into each other’s governments?

Walsh: No, not really, no. I…only maybe what you read in the paper about those things, but no, we never discussed anything like that….spies getting in.

Campbell: Each nation…the United States, Germany…they had their own propaganda. Were you ever exposed to any of that?

Walsh: No, but I know they did. Sure, they…the stories they put out.

[end of recording]