This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is being recorded on October 5, 1999, as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society’s Oral History Project. The interview is being recorded at the home of Mr. Herbert Grossman at 400 N. Columbia Avenue, Columbus, Ohio. My name is Dave Graham and I am interviewing Mr. Herbert Grossman and now we’ll begin.
Interviewer: Okay then we’ll begin with a little background of the family
tree then. We just saw an interesting family tree on the wall there. Let’s
start with the Grossman branch at the beginning of that family tree.
Grossman: The beginning of it is my parents Ben and Rose Grossman who came to
Columbus from New York I believe in the very early 1900s. I don’t know what
date but I think it was about ’05 or ’06, something like that. My father
came but not my mother.
Interviewer: Any idea what brought them to Columbus?
Grossman: Yes, they had relatives here. And their parents came over to this country in the 1890s. So my father was the first to come to Columbus. And then during the, he was, went to the Army, the Navy in 19–, and let’s see was it, it was at the beginning of World War II, when the United States entered the war.
Interviewer: World War I?
Grossman: World War I. In World War I he was in the Navy and he met my mother in New York before he went overseas. And in his return from the Navy after the war was over,
they were married in New York and moved to Columbus.
Interviewer: Okay. Now your family shows origin of the family in Austria?
Grossman: The, that’s the Rapp part of it, of the family, yes. Not the
Grossmans. The Grossmans was in Poland.
Interviewer: In Poland?
Grossman: Well it was called Ukraine at that time. Well it’s still Ukraine.
They’re from a small town called Baditua. Yeah. My father came from there, father’s father, my grandfather, came from Baditua.
Interviewer: Does anybody know what his occcupation or business was there?
Grossman: No, I don’t know.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Now you said you knew what business your grandfather was
in or your father?
Grossman: Well my grandfather on my mother’s side, when he came over here,
he became a barber. And he was also very active in a organization that was bringing
Jews over, Jewish people from certain places in the Baditua area in Russia. And he was very active getting them settled here in New York. And anybody who was having trouble went to his barber shop and he took care of them.
Interviewer: Ah, that’s interesting. Now your father came to Columbus?
Grossman: My father’s parents came to Columbus and my father was, he was
born in New York. Yeah he was very young and he was, he lived there his whole life.
Interviewer: What was your grandfather’s work here in Columbus?
Grossman: He was in, he had a, some sort of stand for food downtown. Years
ago they used to have places there where they used to sell foods and produce and
stuff like that.
Interviewer: How about your father?
Grossman: My father went into the recycling business very early through a
cousin of his. They went into business together and they started it I think in
around 1920. And it lasted up until just recently, 1999.
Interviewer: When did you become involved in recycling?
Grossman: When I was a young kid. And even in high school, I used to go down
and help out and then after high school, I worked for him for a year and I knew
I was going to be drafted in the Army for World War II. Which I was and I had an
older brother who was also drafted into the Army and then I have a younger
brother and he was drafted and he went to the Army but just after closing the
war. He came in late. And he didn’t go overseas.
Interviewer: Your older brother?
Grossman: He went overseas, yes.
Interviewer: What unit did he serve in or what part of the Army?
Grossman: He was in the signal corps. And he was in Italy also.
Interviewer: Did he survive the war?
Grossman: Yes, uh huh.
Interviewer: What was the name of the family recycling business?
Grossman: It eventually was called Grossman and Sons.
Interviewer: Grossman and Son?
Grossman: Sons. And that lasted up until the latter part of the 70s and then
we called it Grossman Industries. And it was that until we sold it all.
Interviewer: And you just sold it this year?
Grossman: We sold the last remnants of it, yes. We sold it over a period of
Interviewer: Is that right? Interesting. A little bit more about the family
background. Did the family speak any foreign languages in the home for example?
Grossman: Yes, my parents spoke Yiddish, yes, which I know some of the words
what they mean. But the children never spoke Hebrew or Yiddish. But my parents
Interviewer: How about attendance at synagogue or religious services?
Grossman: Yes, my parents had three sons, no daughters. And all three of us
were Bar Mitzvahed and we went to Sunday School and we were members of
the Tifereth Israel Conservative Temple.
Interviewer: Tifereth Israel?
Grossman: Uh huh.
Interviewer: Okay. All right. Now this maybe just a final question about the
family. Were there any particular members of your family then that were most
influential on your life, Mom or Dad or grandparents or . . . .
Grossman: No, my life, I was influenced by my father. He was a wonderful man.
He was very honest and he loved people and he was outgoing. A good man.
Interviewer: Okay, that’s fine. Well then let’s begin with the World War II experiences. You had mentioned that you were eligible for the draft. What year was that?
Interviewer: Okay, well let’s start with that as your story. Did you have a
sweetheart then at the time?
Grossman: Yes a girl. And I think one of the reasons that I was happy to get
drafted, they could call me then, ’cause I was, I wanted to break up. And so it was a reason to do it, and so I immediately, they called me in and told me when I’m going to leave and that was it.
Interviewer: Okay, so you were officially drafted?
Grossman: Yeah drafted early in February.
Interviewer: Okay. What happened then? February of what, ’43?
Interviewer: ’43. And you’re what, 19, 18?
Grossman: I was about 18 or 19.
Interviewer: Yeah? Okay. February of ’43?
Grossman: Uh huh. I went to the base and they sent me to Cincinnati, across
the river from Cincinnati, where they were going to decide where you were going
to take Basic Training. So I was in that place, I forget the name of the town,
for about a week and then they shipped us to Atlantic City to, for Basic
Training. They had a lot of…they say the Army took over all the housing and
then the hotels. But it was so cold that it was almost impossible to have Basic
Training that year, a very, very severe winter. So they sent most of us down to
North Carolina. All this was going on within a month.
Interviewer: Now did you know what your unit or whether you were going to be
in the Air Force . . . .
Interviewer: or anything?
Grossman: I didn’t volunteer for anything.
Interviewer: So you were being trained as what, a rifleman?
Grossman: At that time it was Basic Training. When you finished Basic Training they sent you someplace else. They decide where you’re going to go.They put me to an Air Corps Base. And they gave me a job of doing, handing out some supplies to Air
Corps people or whatever it was. Very boring.
Interviewer: Where was that base?
Grossman: That was in Tampa, Florida.
Interviewer: Oh, Tampa, Florida. Okay, then what happened while you were in
Grossman: Well while I was there they posted something on the board that
those of you who are eligible, have a certain I.Q. and this, that, can take a
test to go to Army Specialized Training Program. It was a training, they would
send me to college.
Interviewer: A.S.T.P. it was called.
Grossman: A.S.T.P., yeah.
Interviewer: I’m familiar with that.
Grossman: Okay, well that’s what I was in.
Interviewer: And you went back to school then?
Grossman: Then went back to school. I went to Randolph Macon College in Virginia. Ashland, Virginia. And that was my first part which I enjoyed. I had a lot of friends
Interviewer: Wow. How long were you there?
Grossman: About six months.
Interviewer: Six months?
Grossman: Yeah. And that broke up. They decided it was more important to get
soldiers overseas than to try to train them. It was too late.
Interviewer: Okay. How, what took place then when it broke up?
Grossman: They sent me back to an Air Corps base. I forget which one they
sent me to but then from there, I decided I wanted to be a pilot. So, but I knew I was going to have a problem because my eyes, I wore glasses and I, my vision was 20/30, not 20/20. But I read a book on how to train, how to get your eyes in shape and I thought I was able to pass the test. So I took the test and I passed the 20/20 but I couldn’t pass the depth
perception. The depth perception. And to this day I still can’t do it.
Interviewer: Is that right?
Grossman: Yeah. And because of that they wouldn’t let me be a pilot but
they said, “You can become a crew member”. I said, “Fine, I’ll
become a crew member, whatever”. And that’s how I became, and they sent
me to different air bases. One was in Laredo, Texas, where I learned about guns,
the machine guns. And then I went to armor school in Colorado.
Grossman: Yeah, they, it’s a, they call it armor–, whatever they call…I had to take machine guns, know how to take them apart, put them together within a certain length of time.
Interviewer: We’re talking about the armor. What was that now, at school?
Grossman: It’s a school to teach you how to maintain machine guns. In other
words, my position on the plane was going to be that I had to, I was in charge
of all the machine guns. They were all, what do they call them, 55 millimeter.
Interviewer: 50 caliber?
Grossman: Yeah, 50 caliber, yeah. And I had to be able to load them and I had
to inspect them before we’d take off for a combat mission and things of that
nature. Also I was in charge of the bombs that they loaded on the plane, that
they came in, that they were all sealed and saw that they were properly placed.
Interviewer: This was your training?
Grossman: That was training.
Interviewer: Did you use that training then in the . . . .
Grossman: Oh yeah.
Interviewer: You actually inspected the bombs?
Grossman: Oh yeah, yeah. As a matter of fact, when we had a mission, during the mission,
within 15-20 minutes prior to going to, or over our destination, I had to put on
an oxygen mask, go out in the bomb bay in the middle of the plane and pull the
pins out of the bombs.
Interviewer: You did?
Grossman: Yeah that was all my job.
Interviewer: How long did that take?
Grossman: Well if everything goes right, I was able to pull out bombs and be
back in in10-15 minutes.
Interviewer: Now that was on the ground or what?
Grossman: No, no, that’s done, that’s upstairs.
Interviewer: You were up in the air?
Grossman: Up in the air. Not allowed to touch those until you’re up to a
height. And then the captain of the plane tells me to arm the bombs. And then that, which means you have to pull the pins out.
Interviewer: That’s interesting. Let’s back up to your training on firing
the machine guns. That was in Laredo, Texas?
Grossman: Yeah, Laredo or Colorado. I don’t know, I’m…
Interviewer: Well how did that go? Were you able to learn quickly or did you
have a certain number of targets you had to qualify?
Grossman: No you, first thing you learned the guns real well. And by “knowing them real well”, they even blindfolded, you had to put it together blindfolded.
Interviewer: Is that right?
Grossman: And make sure it’s working right. And then is how to shoot the
gun. We had a low range, in planes we used to go across and pull the trigger,
the machine guns. I burned up one of them once by shooting too much too fast.
Interviewer: Oh what happened to it?
Grossman: Well they called the captain of the place in and myself and scolded
us and told us not to do it again.
Interviewer: Oh is that right? It got too hot, is that it?
Grossman: Got too hot.
Interviewer: Did the barrel . . . .
Grossman: The barrel just broken open and yeah.
Interviewer: It broke open?
Grossman: That was the only time it ever happened.
Interviewer: Were you actually in an airplane when you were practicing or was it . . .
Grossman: No, it, yeah, in the plane.
Interviewer: You’re on the ground?
Grossman: Off the ground.
Interviewer: Off the ground?
Grossman: Yeah off the ground. We’re off maybe 3-, 400 feet.
Interviewer: Oh. What were you shooting at? What was the target?
Grossman: They had targets set up.
Interviewer: What kind of target was it?
Grossman: A huge amount of land, it’s all flat and . . . .
Interviewer: Oh, oh yeah?
Grossman: Yeah, it’s a large area.
Interviewer: Okay. So if I understand right then you were flying. What
position were you in the plane? Were you the belly gunner there or . . . .
Grossman: No, not . . . .
Grossman: that would, that had nothing to do with planes. That was just how
to handle the guns, the machine guns.
Interviewer: Okay. Well did they train you in the ball turret?
Grossman: They trained, I trained, yes in the ball turret. They had a brand
new up-to-date what do you call it, the Sperry, it was to aim the guns. When you
looked through the . . . .
Interviewer: The gun sight?
Grossman: The gun sight, this thing here did it automatically. It puts it
together and it was much better than they ever had of anything else. And it
compensated for the wind, the speed of the plane and everything.
Interviewer: That was in the ball turret?
Grossman: Yeah in the ball turret. Uh huh.
Interviewer: Were you practicing that in the United States or . . . .
Grossman: Yeah, I practiced that in the United States too. Yeah. There were several turrets. There was one in the front of the plane, one in the center where I was, and there was one in the tail.
Interviewer: In the tail?
Grossman: Yeah there were gunners in all three positions, besides the gunner
looking out the windows.
Interviewer: Okay. You’ve been trained. What happened next after training
Grossman: Well this training took a couple years. No, quite a while, at least
a year, a year and a half to get it all done. So then we went to Lincoln, Nebraska, where we formed our crews. There was all the guys that I knew during Basic Training, they were no longer with us, or with me. I’m long gone, they were gone. They were trained in the same
things I was and we all broke up. We never saw each other again. Then we become crew members in Nebraska and then from Nebraska they put us on a vessel. They flew us into New York somewhere and we got on a steamship and they shipped us to Italy.
Interviewer: So you didn’t fly in a plane over? Was that unusual to not . .
Grossman: Not then, no.
Interviewer: Is that right?
Grossman: Coming back, yes. They flew me back. But going over there, no. They
were, there, too many of them that the . . . . And not only that, they had on
the steamships, they had maybe 15 or 20-30 steamships all going together.
Interviewer: Oh I see. A large convoy, huh?
Grossman: Yeah, very large convoys because they found out it was safer than
Interviewer: Oh I see. Well that’s interesting. So you arrived in Italy?
Grossman: Arrived in Italy . . . .
Interviewer: In December of ’44?
Grossman: Yeah that’s right. And then we went around the heel of Italy in
an English boat and they took us over from Naples to Proja. Not Proja, to
Toronto. Toronto, the Italians call it (with accent) Taranto, something like that. It’s a naval base, the largest one in Italy. And that’s where we were based, our, they had an airfield down there.
Interviewer: At Toronto?
Grossman: Yeah, Toronto. We arrived there just before, in December of ’44.
Interviewer: Okay. Well how did things go when you arrived in Italy? Did you
have a barracks or a tent?
Grossman: No, the crews were constantly being rotated ’cause you had so
many flights, then you were allowed to go home and then they’d bring others
over. So the ones who had just left for home, sold us there, they looked like
igloos, the little homes. They weren’t homes, they were just large enough to put in say
eight to ten beds. Yeah that’s, yeah. And so our crew, we bought it from them.
Interviewer: Would that, oh you bought it?
Grossman: Yeah. Paid them maybe $10-$15 or $20, whatever.
Interviewer: You had to buy your own place?
Grossman: Yeah, yeah. Well we did that instead of taking a tent. But the
government gave you a tent. This way here we had a stucco home. It was small but it was pretty nice.
Interviewer: Reminds me of the quonset hut they talked about.
Grossman: No, not a quonset hut.
Interviewer: Wasn’t a quonset hut? It was just a homemade . . . .
Grossman: A square thing. It looked like a, one large room.And the whole place was dotted with those.Yeah and so all the crews that come over bought their own place and
they never used much tents.
Interviewer: Now where would your captain and the other officers stay?
Grossman: They had their own.
Interviewer: They had their own place? So you were with the other eight,
eight . . . .
Grossman: Yeah they had a cot– hut right next to us.
Interviewer: Oh yes. Right next to you?
Grossman: Yeah, uh huh.
Interviewer: Okay. Well December’s probably pretty cold in Italy at that
time of the year?
Grossman: It was chilly, yeah. It was chilly.
Interviewer: How long was it after you arrived until your first mission?
Grossman: Very shortly. I don’t remember when the first mission was but we
started taking off then and that’s the reason that you don’t meet any, you
really don’t meet any people other than your crew members. You seldom do
anything else in there. And the days you don’t fly, you sit around there and,
or whatever. I used to, I loved Italy and I liked being out in the road. I used
to go out and hitch rides out in the country and, just to look at the
Interviewer: Who would pick you up?
Grossman: Army trucks.
Interviewer: Army trucks?
Grossman: Yeah. There was no problem getting around. And you always hitchhiked. But most of the time was spent on the plane.
Interviewer: Do you recall a list of missions? You had 21?
Grossman: Something like that.
Interviewer: Twenty-one missions? Do you have a list of each mission or
Grossman: No, don’t recall. I don’t remember now what, but I do know the
majority of them were missions over Vienna.
Interviewer: Over Vienna?
Grossman: Uh huh. But not all of them.We made a mission over St. Valentine some–, whatever it was, and Lubersheh–. Actually in those days there were so many planes and they flew so much that a squadron would follow the lead plane. In other words, there’s say 10 planes in a squadron. But when they dropped the bombs, we dropped the bombs. In
other words, the navigators weren’t even necessary at that time. Yeah. A lot of planes didn’t even have them. All they had to do was drop the bombs with the lead, as long as the lead plane wasn’t shot down, it was fine.
Interviewer: Just follow the lead plane?
Interviewer: Well at what point during your flight, let’s take a typical
mission, you’re sitting somewhere in the airplane when it takes off?
Grossman: Takes off and then I, then something, we get up to altitude. First
of all, it’s 60 below zero and that plane’s had, none of the planes were
pressurized so you had to have an electric suit on. You had to have heat in your
mittens. You had to have heat in your shoes. You had to have heat all over.
Interviewer: Yeah I guess we have to interrupt here. Taking your position in
the aircraft . . . .
Grossman: Yeah my position and during the flight, I go out into the bomb bay
and I pull the pins out. And before I do that I notify the captain and the crew
that I’m out there.
Interviewer: Pins out of the bombs?
Grossman: The bombs.
Interviewer: You were given an order to go do that?
Grossman: Yeah I had to do it each, otherwise the bombs wouldn’t go off.
Interviewer: But the captain told you when?
Grossman: He told me when he’s up at altitude.
Interviewer: Okay. So you had a radio receiver . . . .
Grossman: Oh yeah.
Interviewer: or head set?
Grossman: Yeah the crew was able to correspond with each other. We had that. I had one experience and it wasn’t very nice of an experience. I was out in the bomb bay pulling the pins out of the bombs . . . .
Interviewer: I just turned this on here. I want to record it on this too
then. This could be something we’d want to get here. Okay, what was the
Grossman: I went out in the bomb bay to pull the pins out of all the bombs
and then come back in. Well the bomb bay area is only about 10 inches wide and
you hold onto the foundation of the airplane during, on that small trestle that
I’m walking on. And I leaned over and had to pull the keys out of the bombs.
Well while I was out there doing that, all at once the bomb bay doors open up.
What happened, the gentleman who was in charge of the radio and whatever other
mechanical things, he was making tests and one of his tests was to see that the
bomb bay doors open up all right. But apparently he didn’t listen when I told
them I was going out and so he opened up the bomb bay doors and when he opened
up the bomb bay doors, my oxygen mask blew off and I grabbed hold and held on
with my gloves on to a post hoping that he’s going to shut those things. Well
he looked down, as he looked out there to see the bomb bays if they were open or
not, he saw me. Well he saw me. I saw his eyes get big as bubbles and he
immediately closed the bomb bay doors and he reached his hand in and helped me
get out. And ever since then I’ve been kidding him about it. About that story.
Interviewer: Well were you subject to a lot of wind?
Grossman: Oh terrible. When you open up a bomb bay door, the wind just whips
in there and just wants to pick you up.
Interviewer: What did you do to hold on? Did you . . . .
Grossman: I held on to the, there were places you could hold on to in the
bomb bay. You’re walking on a small trestle but there’s also places there
where you can hold on to.
Interviewer: Did you look down?
Grossman: Yeah. The supports for the bombs, that’s what you hold on to. That’s right.
Interviewer: So if you looked down you would have seen clouds and earth and…
Grossman: Oh you could look down, but it blew my oxygen mask off and I had to
get oxygen so the main thing I was worried about is how long that bomb bay door
was going to be open. And not only that, it was 60 degrees in there and I was, I
didn’t have my suit plugged in. I couldn’t plug in until I get back into the
body of the airship.
Interviewer: It’s 60 degrees below zero?
Grossman: That’s right. Every mission that’s what it was.
Interviewer: And you’re not plugged in for warmth?
Grossman: That’s right.
Interviewer: Your oxygen has been blown away?
Grossman: Yeah. And I was out there, it seemed to me like it was an eternity
but it was probably about five minutes.
Interviewer: Wonder how long you would have lasted.
Grossman: I don’t know but I got back in time and I plugged in and I got
another oxygen mask, put it on and started cussing him over the radio.
Interviewer: So they shut the doors?
Grossman: Yeah, to the bay, yeah. That’s just one incident.
Interviewer: Well that would be quite . . . .
Interviewer: quite scary. Wow! Okay well we were talking about a typical
mission then. You have to arm the bombs?
Grossman: Then after that I notify one of the crew members that I’m going
to go into my belly turret and I want him to lower me out of the plane. And they
tell, say, “Okay,” and then they all know how to do it. So I got into
the thing and shut the door and they lowered me out.
Interviewer: There’s a door?
Grossman: There’s a top door.
Interviewer: A top door?
Grossman: Yeah, there’s a door in the plane.
Interviewer: Ah so you’re closed in there?
Grossman: Yeah, no, I’m not closed in. I can get back out.
Interviewer: You can?
Grossman: Yes, it’s open. There’s an area open. The door I’m talking
about closing is to close the door of the bomb, of the belly, of the ball. Yeah the ball. But there was an opening in the plane for that.
Interviewer: All right. I was looking at the image that you’re now sealed
off from the airplane.
Grossman: I go in there, I step down into this and then I pulled the cover,
they’ve got a top cover, so then I can take this and I can roll it any place I
want to, roll it around, rotate it. See the belly, this turret rotates.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Well I think what I’m thinking about is some movie of
World War II and a man is trapped in the belly, the ball turret.
Grossman: In the ball turret?
Interviewer: The door doesn’t open – they can’t crank it up . . . .
Grossman: Well that’s possible.
Interviewer: because of the damage, flak damage. That’s possible?
Grossman: That’s possible.
Interviewer: It’s possible that you could be trapped in . . . .
Grossman: I heard of things like that.
Interviewer: Okay. But you never experienced . . . .
Grossman: No, yes I did. They can’t crank it up. There’s a real problem.
But you can get out of it unless the door is damaged, because you can open up
the door of the . . . .
Interviewer: Open the door?
Grossman: the ball. And open that up and go back in. But the only thing is that the plane would have a hard time landing.
Interviewer: Yeah with that on.
Grossman: with that on the, I don’t know how they would do that.
Interviewer: Well let me ask you this. What time during the flight or at what
point would you decide to get in there?
Grossman: After I did all my chores on the guns, I looked at all the machine
guns around the plane, after I went out and took the pins out of the bombs, and
them I’m ready to go back in there. Now I usually got into the ball turret at
least 15-20 minutes before we get to our destination.
Interviewer: Fifteen or 20 minutes?
Grossman: Twenty minutes at least. In case the Germans had planes in the air.
I had to do it then.
Interviewer: Now since you’re very busy with a lot of things, the guns,
arming the bombs, then you get down in this very precarious body, are you given
any special benefits?
Grossman: Oh yeah. I can look at the Swiss Alps on that . . . Every . . . .
Interviewer: I thought maybe you got an extra day off, skip a mission . . . .
Grossman: No, no . . . .
Interviewer: You know, a trip to Italy or Naples or some big city every other
weekend . . . .
Grossman: No it’s . . . .it didn’t, for some reason in that part of my life, I wasn’t
scared about going into the ball turret. Most of my crew members would never get
in there. In fact none of them would. One tried it once and he got out, and
Interviewer: Your other crew members would NOT get in there?
Grossman: No, no, no.
Interviewer: And you (laughs). Well can you recall then a mission? You’re
down in there, what might have happened on a typical mission?
Grossman: Well on one typical mission, I’ll never forget this one. They told us that there wouldn’t be much flak, German flak, because it’s a small town and they probably weren’t armed. It was called St. Valentine’s in Austria. And therefore we can go in low over there and bomb and there’s a plant though. There was some sort of industrial plant that we were
going to bomb. So we came in over there and but the flak was so intense that
there was, it was, I stared at black smoke right below me. I looked down and the
shoot of it comes in three, putt-putt-putt, putt-putt-putt. It came so close to
that window that I was looking out that I got scared and I jumped out of the
ball turret. I stood up and I yelled at the cap, I said, “Get the hell out of here, they’re going to kill us”. (Laughter) But nothing happened.
Interviewer: Was any pieces of the flak hitting the airplane? Sometimes I’ve
heard . . . .
Grossman: Oh it happened quite often. As long as it doesn’t hit anything
that’s other than the skin or something, it’s all right.
Interviewer: What does it sound like?
Grossman: I was having lunch coming back from the, on our last mission. We
lost an engine over Vienna. They, the flak, the flak would just scratch the
metal . . . . then floating in the air that’s going to hit you. It knocked out
an engine and when they knocked out one engine our captain couldn’t keep up
with the rest of the squadron. So he left, and he had to go down, instead of
26,000 feet we went down to about 20,000 or 18,000. And we flew back to, we were
going to fly back ourselves. There’s no, and we didn’t see any problem with
it ’cause we had three good engines and the plane was flying well. But
unfortunately, there was a, we flew over a small town called Marlborough,
Vienna. It’s a, not Vienna, Austria. It’s on the border of Yugoslavia and
Austria. And no one notified the captain there was a town down there so he flew
right over it instead of out in the country and they hit us again. This time
they severely damaged the plane. They knocked out two engines and the flak just
missed me by that much. I was sitting there eating in the body of the plane.
Interviewer: Oh you weren’t in the ball turret?
Grossman: No, not then. We were going back. We thought we were out of danger. Then the, and it exploded the oxygen thing right next to me but it didn’t hurt me.
Interviewer: Did it burn?
Grossman: No, nothing burned. And then that’s when we were shot down. The,
he held the, the plane went into a nose dive. He pulled it out. He was able to
straighten out the plane around about 6,000 feet above the ground. And he was
shouting over the intercom to all the crew members, “Out, get out”. He says, ” I can’t hold it. Get out”. And so we all ran to our stations where we were going to jump out, put on our parachutes and jumped out.
Interviewer: So you had your parachute available them?
Grossman: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I always kept it next to me.
Interviewer: Okay. You’re bailing, you’re bailing out. Was there chaos in
the plane or was it an orderly exit?
Grossman: It was, we, I never saw more than just one other person ’cause
the only person I saw was the someone who was standing at the window at the time
in the body of the plane, just one other person. And there was only two of us
and we knew that there was a trap door behind the ball turret, right in here.
You open that up and you sit down and you fly out, and you go out.
Interviewer: What did you do?
Grossman: O’Dell, his name was Milt O’Dell. He was first. He sat down, he
looked at the ground, he looked at me, he looked at the ground again. His eyes
were getting larger and I said, “Jump, jump”. He knew he had to do it
but he wouldn’t do it. He just froze. So I picked him up and moved him out of
the way of the gun. I sat down and I said, “Milt, you better come right
with me.” And I just rolled over and went out. And he came down after me.
Interviewer: He did?
Interviewer: Had you any training in pulling ripcord or anything?
Grossman: No, never.
Interviewer: Did you know what . . . .
Grossman: I knew that, what I was supposed to do. You’re supposed to not do
anything. You roll out of the plane, wait ’til the slipstream wind stops, you
know the wind is terrible. And as soon as you hit a quiet, it was nothing, you
don’t hear anything, turn over on your back and pull the cord.
Interviewer: Is that what you did?
Grossman: That’s what I did but I had a little problem with that. I put my,
I had my gloves on and I put it on, and before I jumped out of the plane I
grabbed it and I held on to the ripcord. But I got my glove into such a position
that when I pulled, I wasn’t pulling anything. I wasn’t pulling the ripcord.
So I, then I pulled off my glove, grabbed the thing again and pulled it again
and it opened up.
Interviewer: You pulled off your glove?
Grossman: Yeah. Pulled off my glove. It was gone and I pulled the ripcord and
it went up.
Interviewer: Did you have a chance to look back at the airplane on your way
Grossman: Yeah. At first I thought it was going to fly away without me. I
said, “That son-of-a-gun’s leaving me”. But the smoke was terrible
and all the engine was smoking but it went over a hill and then I heard a big
crash and it was gone.
Interviewer: You were that low that you heard the crash?
Grossman: Oh yeah, yeah.
Interviewer: Well back up in the airplane when you were jumping, was the
airplane filling with smoke inside it or?
Interviewer: Okay so, okay. But you were in a place where you only saw one
Grossman: That’s right. Now the captain of the plane, the rumor was that he
was critically injured. He was hit by flak or whatever and he kept his wits long
enough to get everybody out of the plane but he was unable to get out. Why I don’t
Interviewer: How about the co-pilot? Did he get out?
Grossman: The co-pilot got out. The co-pilots, usually you may not even know
them because they change them all the time. You fly with one pilot, then you’ll fly. Conway was always our pilot. The other pilot, I don’t remember who it was.
Interviewer: What did you think about Conway as a pilot and leader?
Grossman: Very good. He was a good pilot. Well he was the only, well he was, he and Millard Dill were the only married fellows on the plane.
Interviewer: Oh really?
Interviewer: You know where Conway was from, what part of the . . . .
Grossman: Yeah, Texarkansas.
Interviewer: Is that right?
Grossman: Yeah and he was in touch with my father. My father, he wrote so
many letters to everybody.
Interviewer: Your dad did, to the other men?
Grossman: Oh yeah. Uh huh. It was all of the families. In fact I still have
some of those letters that they wrote back to him.
Interviewer: Is that right?
Grossman: Uh huh.
Interviewer: So he was that friendly with the other crewmen? Well what
happened next? You’re in the air coming down in the parachute.
Grossman: Well I’m in a parachute coming down and I know I’m going into a
woods ’cause it seemed to be a heavily dense woods. And I didn’t see anybody
else. I saw a couple of parachutes in front of me as I come out.
Interviewer: Oh you did?
Grossman: Yeah. And I landed in a tree, way up in a tree, way up. And the, also I
looked on the ground and there were people coming in there. They didn’t look
like soldiers. They had, some of them had guns but they didn’t look like
soldiers. They looked like just peasants living around there and I couldn’t
understand what they were speaking ’cause they wasn’t speaking English. And
I didn’t know if I should yell at them that I’m up here or wait and let them
go away or something. I didn’t know what to do so I decided after about five
minutes I’m not going to get out of this thing by myself I don’t think. And
so I yelled at them. And so they looked up and they didn’t know what to do either. But
in the meantime I was taking the shroud strings on the thing and pulling them
tighter and tighter so I could swing more and more over ’til I got to a heavy
branch. I finally got into a heavy branch and I cut off everything and I climbed
down out of the tree.
Interviewer: What kind of a tree was it, was it a fir tree or . . . . like an oak?
Grossman: No it was like an oak tree. Maple or oak or something. Yeah it was
Interviewer: Okay. So you’re not in a fir tree forest?
Grossman: No it wasn’t fir. It wasn’t a pine tree.
Interviewer: All right. So you’re able to swing over to a branch?
Grossman: Yeah and I eventually got out of it.
Interviewer: Got to the ground?
Grossman: Yeah, yeah. And everything was fine except I had my shoes tied to
Interviewer: Tied to the parachute?
Grossman: My shoes. When you fly, you had boots on. And I took my shoes, everybody takes their shoes with them and they usually tie them to a string of the parachute or do something.
Interviewer: While you’re in the aircraft?
Grossman: Yeah, when you’re in the aircraft. Well when I got out of the, I knew that if I got shot down, I’m going to need shoes. But I lost my shoes. They broke off or something and I never found them again.
Interviewer: So you had boots?
Grossman: I had a pair of boots.
Interviewer: Big, big boots?
Grossman: Big, they had wires in them. And they had sheepskin and they was that kind of boots. The way I overcame that was I tore off all the wire off out of the boots and I cut the
boots down and I put a bark in the boots to build up a heel. It just took some
time but I had a lot of time.
Interviewer: Well these people that came, were they shooting at you?
Grossman: No they came and helped me. Anyway, when I got on the ground a
couple of the men took me and told me to follow. And I followed them and on the
side of a hill, the hills were quite steep, there was a like a den, an opening,
a rock den. And he said, “You stay here,” and he said he would come
back in the evening. So they put me in there and they put some wood in front of
it. And they did come back that evening.
Interviewer: Wow. And what happened when they came back?
Grossman: They came, they were looking for all the parachutists who were
coming out. They found two more, two of my crew members, and they brought them
back. I don’t know if it was the same guy, I don’t remember now. But I was
the first one in there and then they brought in one other one and then they
brought another one in.
Interviewer: Where did they take you?
Grossman: They, all to this den. Inside of the . . . .
Interviewer: Oh the other guys came to the den?
Grossman: Yeah it was large enough to hold several people. And we stayed
there. I know we slept there two or three or four nights.
Interviewer: That long?
Interviewer: Did you have anything to eat?
Grossman: Yeah they brought some food. From time to time, they’d bring
food. But we didn’t leave there until we decided that we’re going to have to
go on ourselves, the three of us. They said, they let us know it was too
dangerous to go because the war was coming to an end. The Germans were being
defeated. They were backing up and the Germans that are below us are going to
come back through this area. And he said it would be too dangerous for you to go
anyplace. They advised us to stay with them.
Interviewer: Did you know what country you were in?
Grossman: Yes, oh yeah.
Interviewer: Where were you?
Grossman: We were in Croatia.
Interviewer: Croatia, Yugoslavia?
Interviewer: These were Croats then, these . . . .
Grossman: Pardon me?
Interviewer: These people were Croats?
Grossman: Croats. But I found out that the Croats, and there were a lot of
Serbs in the Army. But the Serbs were fighting for the Allies and the Croats
were fighting for the Germans. And I didn’t know anything about that. But
luckily if they were Croats that helped me, they did it because they knew that
Germany was going to be defeated. They knew that.
Interviewer: Oh I see. That’s interesting. Well then what happened after
three or four days then?
Grossman: The three of us decided to leave. We had maps in our emergency
escape kit. They give you maps of the area that you may come down.
Interviewer: Were they made of cloth?
Grossman: Yeah. I got one still.
Interviewer: You still have one of them?
Interviewer: One of your original maps?
Grossman: Yeah, yeah . . . .
Interviewer: That’s good. Well we’re coming to near the end of this side
of this tape. I guess before we turn over, you were saying you had maps of the
Grossman: Maps of the area.
Interviewer: So you’re planning where to go?
Grossman: We were planning to go to Budapest or Belgrad.
Grossman: Belgrad because it was in the hands of, we knew that the American Embassy took over a few months before that.
Interviewer: Any idea how far that was from your position?
Grossman: No, we knew it was at least 200 miles.
Interviewer: Two hundred miles?
Grossman: Uh huh. And we were going to walk there.That’s the only place we know . . . .
Interviewer: . . . . Yeah, excuse me.
Grossman: They told us maybe we’d be better off to go to the Russians. But we didn’t want to do that.
Interviewer: Okay. Well let’s stop on this Side A and then turn it over and
begin on the other side. This is the end of Side A. Okay, we’re beginning on
the other side, Side B, with Herb Grossman describing his experiences now after
he’s been shot down. Okay so you’re planning to go towards a major city?
Grossman: To go to Belgrad if we could . . . . we figured we were going to
walk at night and try to find a highway or a path leading, and stay in the woods
all the time and we would stop at different farm houses for food. Which we did.
Interviewer: Did you think that was risky, not knowing about these
Grossman: We didn’t, you have to take a chance, if we did.
Interviewer: So you didn’t have any Croat guys with you or anything?
Grossman: No, no. They wouldn’t go, none of them. And none of them would
help us other than hiding us in that cave.
Interviewer: There’s three of you now?
Grossman: Three of us.
Interviewer: Is that right? Is there snow on the ground? Is it winter?
Grossman: No, it was March 22nd.
Interviewer: Okay. So the snow is gone?
Grossman: No, it was cool but it was nice Spring weather. It wasn’t bad at all.
Interviewer: Okay. Well how did that go then?
Grossman: Well the three of us started out and we did fairly good. We walked
at night and we thought we were walking the right direction. We knew the sun and
this and that, we would tell. And we decided that, no, no, we kept walking. We
walked very well for about three or four days.
Interviewer: Were you climbing mountains or sticking by the streams . . . .
Grossman: No, the hills. It was all hills. They weren’t huge mountains. They were just large hills.
Interviewer: So you had to climb hills?
Grossman: Yes we did.
Interviewer: What did you have a path or what, what, how did you follow it up?
Grossman: Well we found paths, paths. Yeah, that’s how we did it.
Interviewer: And you’re moving at night?
Grossman: And we’re moving at night. We’re walking at night.
Interviewer: What did you do during the day?
Grossman: We stayed in one place and usually sat there in the woods
Interviewer: In the woods, okay.
Grossman: But then we got a little bolder. As we went on we found a peasant
in the woods. He had a flock of sheep or whatever, whatever he was doing. And we
went up to him and he pointed to a certain place. He said, to let us know that
we got food, we could get it, and it was a castle. And he said, “They’ll
be friendly to you ’cause they’d taken in Americans before”. And so the
three of us went there and we walked and we walked and we finally got to this
castle. It was a neat little castle with a little moat around it and we did what
he said and walked there, and a woman greets us.
Interviewer: A woman greets you?
Grossman: Yeah a woman greets us.
Interviewer: What did you do, walk up to the front door?
Grossman: I forget how we got in there, there’s something that we got there
and she spoke English fluently. British and she was educated I think in England.
Interviewer: What age was this lady?
Grossman: Well I think she must have been about 35-40. And she had a daughter, young, beautiful daughter. And they lived there alone but there were two of them. And they agreed to keep us and to let us stay there at night and in the daytime to go out into the woods and sit on the mountain or something and then that’s what we did for a few days. She was very
nice. She always had a meal for us when we came back.
Interviewer: Do you know her name now in . . . .
Grossman: No, I didn’t write any of them down . . . . I was afraid because
if I got caught, they would be caught.
Interviewer: So to this day you do not know?
Grossman: No. Well I’ll tell you what, I intended to go back and I had
someone to take back to look at all these things but he had a heart attack and
he died. What happened eventually, I met a Serb who befriended us. This was
later on. But anyway, from this castle we decided that we couldn’t stay there
much longer. First of all, we were being eaten up by lice. The lice was
horrible. The body lice. We used to spend all day just taking, in a sunny day
just sitting out there taking our clothes off and breaking these little white
eggs that grow in your clothing.
Interviewer: Well I have to ask you. You’ve only been on the ground a week
or so. How did you pick up body lice?
Grossman: This, because this was, now we were in the second or third week.
Interviewer: Yeah but you must have come in contact with some contaminated
clothing or, or was it from the . . . .
Grossman: No we were sleeping in farm houses, in the farm barns.
Interviewer: Okay, the barns.
Grossman: In farm barns.
Interviewer: From the barns you picked up the . . . .
Grossman: Yeah, once we left the partisans, we were out maybe three or four
or five days.
Interviewer: You’re sleeping with, animals are there?
Grossman: I don’t know where, well sure, yeah, with animals.
Interviewer: Yeah, so you got . . . .
Grossman: Well we were loaded with lice.
Interviewer: Your conditions are getting better?
Grossman: I didn’t have it on our face or anything but our clothes. They were body lice. And they would only come out when you tried to sleep at night and then they’d start biting. Oh and you’d scratch them and the blood comes out. It’s terrible. It was enough to drive us crazy. And we had that for quite a while. So we were anxious to keep on going.
Interviewer: How many days had passed now? You’re at this castle. How many
days had you been on the ground?
Grossman: I had, I know the total amount. I was on the ground 59 days, 59
Interviewer: Until you were . . . .
Grossman: The 59th day was May 6th. That was the last
battle of Yugoslavia. That was it.
Interviewer: You were on your own for 59 days?
Grossman: Uh huh, yeah, the three of us. And two of us made it and one didn’t.
Interviewer: What happened to the man who didn’t?
Grossman: When we left this castle, the lady, this, she was crying. She said
we shouldn’t do it. She told us not to go but we decided to go and she gave us
a farewell and she packed us a lunch and so forth. And so we traveled for a long
time without eating, maybe two or three days. Just walking and walking and
walking. And this, see, what happened, we started walking in the daytime and we
went across a railroad track. A railroad track and all at once we heard banging,
just bang, bang, bang. And we looked down and there were Germans shooting at us
with rifles. Well the one fellow had a pistol. He had a 45, an Army 45. I never
carried a gun. And he was a . . . . fellow. But he started firing back at them
but I told him, I can’t run because I got these boots that were, they just
wouldn’t let me run fast and I said, “I’m going to hide in the woods.
You guys can go on.” He said he was going to go run on. But one of them
didn’t want to leave me, O’Dell. So he said, “Herb, I’ll stay with
you”. And so we went into the woods but it was not a densely populated
woods. We just, you could look through it. So we stayed right near the edge of
the woods and we had a lot of scrub wood there and we put it on top of each
other and we waited ’cause we knew they were coming up the hill. And we heard
their voices. They came within ten feet of us.
Interviewer: Did they have dogs or just they were . . . .
Grossman: No, no dogs.
Interviewer: They didn’t have that kind of . . . .
Grossman: No, if they had dogs they would have had us. ‘Cause that, my heart was beating so hard when I heard them coming and talking German, that I thought they could hear my heart. I really did. But they didn’t stop. They just kept walking and shooting into the woods. They had guns and they’d just shoot at random. I could see they’re shooting
randomly into the woods. But they kept on walking. So O’Dell and I just stayed there all afternoon and around 4:00 in the afternoon we were moving around a little bit and apparently I put my foot across a path, a little path in the woods, and some girl came, an older girl, about an 18-year-old girl and a 14-year-old girl or 12-year-old girl coming into the path. And they saw my leg and the little girl screamed and the larger girl stopped her. And she looked at us and we looked at them. Then she turned around and left. And so we decided, what are we going to do. Is she going to be friendly to us or not because you
can’t tell? In those days some of the Croat sides turned us in and some of them didn’t. They were very good to us. This girl came back by herself around 6:00 before dark and brought food and everything. No she didn’t, she didn’t do it that way. She came back and told us to follow her. That’s what happened. So we followed her. We followed her through the path and we went in the house and her mother. They didn’t have the father there. Just the mother was there and the mother was shaking like this. And so I gave her a $5 bill or
$10 bill out of my emergency kit to calm her down. I thought that would, but that didn’t make her anything. She didn’t want that. She wanted us to eat and go. Oh she was shaking. But the girl was wonderful.
Interviewer: A young girl?
Grossman: A young girl.
Interviewer: What age do you think the young girl was?
Grossman: The little girl was small. She was, when she yelled and screamed
the other girl stopped her. And I guess she was about 18 years old.
Interviewer: So a teenager has saved you at this point and gotten you food?
Grossman: Oh yes. She. And so we asked her which way to go. We couldn’t
stay there at night. Her mother was too upset. So, but we told them we’ll
leave. This was not it was already 12:00 at night. And it started raining. And
my friend was an avid cigarette smoker. Well he didn’t have any cigarettes any
more. He was going crazy. He was worrying about cigarettes more than anything
else. He was just, he couldn’t take it. In fact he finally took out some of
the leaves, some dry leaves, and wrapped them up and smoked that. But anyway, we
walked all night. We walked all night and when it started getting light, we saw
a road with a sewer running under it. It was raining and the water was running
under the sewer, the cave or cavity or whatever, and we decided to go crawl
under that, not to go on the road but crawl there and go up a hill, which we
did. But one person, we heard one shot. So we don’t know if they saw us or
what it was. Whether they were, but we just kept running. And we ran to a, it
was not a village, but a small home near a village. And we knocked on the door
and a woman takes us in. An old woman. She was an older woman. She must have been about 50-60 years old. And she was so nice. We were soaking wet. We were like drowned
rats. She took all our clothes and put ’em in next to the stove and she heated it and she insisted we go to her bed and sleep. And we did. And we woke up, she was still there. She was nice and she didn’t call anybody. She was, and she let us know that she had a son who was in the German Army.
Interviewer: I guess you must have looked terrible by that time?
Grossman: Oh yeah.
Interviewer: Beards, dirty.
Grossman: I don’t know. We were young, we could take it.
Interviewer: Lice. Yeah.
Grossman: O’Dell was not young. He was in his late 20s or early 30s.
Interviewer: So you both slept in this bed?
Grossman: Yeah and then we got up. All our clothes were dry. She gave them to
us. She made a meal and she said, “You could stay here”. It was the
first time anybody let us stay in the house. We stayed in barns, a lot of barns. And this was real close. There was a knock on the door about 9:00 at night. So we hid. She goes in, looks up, and opens it up and there’s her son.
Interviewer: Her son?
Grossman: Her son.
Interviewer: He’s the German Army?
Grossman: German, yeah. He had a blue uniform on.
Interviewer: Where were you hiding?
Grossman: No she went, she told him right . . . . “I got two Americans here.” First of all, we found out later that he deserted because in those days, he lived right in that area so when he came he was retreating with the Army. He just left. He just left the Army and went home.
Interviewer: You’re still in Yugoslavia?
Interviewer: Somewhere in Croatia?
Grossman: Yeah. And he was just primarily responsible for us, to get out of that
whole damn mess.
Interviewer: Did he speak English? Did she speak English?
Grossman: No but I had a book and I marked down names. I speak, I understand
a little German. You know?
Interviewer: So they were speaking German?
Grossman: Gay schloffen. Go to sleep. Gay essen. Eating. And
“shtoy” what they were yelling when they were shooting at us. But we knew enough that we trusted him. He didn’t want us to sleep in the house. So we slept, he told us to go out in the barn. And he said the next morning he’ll come over and take us, walk with us a mile or two down the road and he’s going to show us how to get out. “Then you’ll be with
Interviewer: Oh really?
Grossman: Yeah. That’s what . . . .
Interviewer: He’d take you to partisans?
Grossman: Yeah, armed partisans. Ones who were fighting. And he did that.
Yeah. But he was real nervous too. He was, he was a wreck when we first met but
after a while he finally brought out and we had a little liquor or something and
he had a few drinks and he was nice. Blonde boy, he was a nice guy.
Interviewer: Do you know these people’s names or anything?
Interviewer: Or what village that was?
Grossman: No, no, I don’t know. But I was going . . . . one of the . . . . let me go on and I’ll
tell you what happened. He’d take us down, a road, a small path, he never, well it was
just a path and he told us, showed us a large mountain. There was a chain of
them. He said, “That one there. You go over that between that one and the
other one,” he told us, he said, “If you,” and he says, “over the hill, over that mountain you are going to run into a partisan group there”. He knew they were there. Even though he was fighting them, but he knew they were there.
Interviewer: That sounds exciting.
Grossman: Yeah. And what he showed us, it looked like it was only maybe 10-15
miles. But it was a walk. So we walked and we walked and we didn’t eat anything for another day or two. And we finally got to the hill that he told us about. We went up and started coming down and we saw a man, another peasant with a horse or whatever, I don’t know, some animal. And we went up to him and we asked him, “Partisans, partisans”. “Oh, oh,” and within ten minutes, they had 100 partisans who were surrounding us. Within ten minutes.
Interviewer: No kidding? Were they armed and all this?
Grossman: All armed. All armed. None of them could talk English except one.
One guy named Peter. Peter was born in the United States. His parents left
during the Depression and never came back. And he was born in the United States.
Peter was born in the United States but he had left when he was still less than
one year old here. They went back. But anyway he talked well enough that he was
able to tell the commander, the commander wanted to know who in the hell we are,
what we’re doing. See? So Peter was our spokesman and so the Com- mander told
Peter to stay with us the rest of the time. So we stayed with the partisans
until the war ended.
Interviewer: Where they put you?
Grossman: Wherever they went, wherever they go. They was in charge of the
town and it looked great and we went into a house there and we slept on the
floor. You’d never take off your clothes, never. You can’t. I don’t care
how many crabs you got or lice. We, in the middle of the night, Peter had said, “You guys got to, we have to go. Go, go quick now.” The Germans are retreating. They go
in there, and they came in at night and they had a battle.
Interviewer: With the partisans?
Grossman: With the partisans. A small battle right there. But they, in the
meantime I saw everybody was running down the field, in a field, running
downhill. So I said, “Milt, let’s go down the hill”. So, but we lost
Peter right then. So the two of us we ran out and they were shooting tracer
bullets ’cause we could see them. They were shooting way too high ’cause we
were still going way down. And the next day we attended a funeral for the ones
that got killed. Yeah, we went there. And it’s amazing. Well we went there to bury
Interviewer: Was it back in the village or they took them out?
Grossman: No they never went back to that village.
Interviewer: They gave up the village?
Grossman: Yeah I think so. Yeah.
Interviewer: How many dead were there?
Grossman: Just a couple. Just a couple.
Interviewer: Speaking of dead, back to the third member of your group that
had the pistol. Whatever became of him?
Grossman: He was captured.
Interviewer: He was captured?
Grossman: Yeah he was a nasty guy and demanding and he liked to pull a gun
out and let you know he’s got a gun. And apparently what happened, I’m not
sure ’cause I never saw him again. Someone said, when he went to the camp,
prison camp, some of my crew members were there.And he told them that they took him in and were feeding him but someone ran out and told on him and they came back and got him.
Interviewer: And captured him?
Grossman: And the Germans got him. Yes.
Interviewer: Did he survive the war?
Grossman: I think he did. But no one ever saw him. I never could find him.
Interviewer: Hmmm. What was his name?
Grossman: Um . . . .
Interviewer: He was a crew member of Conway’s crew?
Grossman: Uh huh, yeah, Conway’s. Uh huh.
Interviewer: Well maybe we can research that.
Grossman: He was an M.P. before he came into the Air Force.
Interviewer: Is that right? Well let’s go on to, you’re with the
partisans and they’re burying their dead.
Grossman: Yeah. And then we found Peter again and he stayed with us until the
Interviewer: Was there a name for this partisan group?
Interviewer: There was a leader?
Grossman: No, they had, they must have had 30-40 groups around there.
Interviewer: Did you know whether they were part of . . . .
Grossman: They were all Serbs.
Interviewer: They were Serbs?
Grossman: Yeah all Serbs.
Interviewer: They were Communists or?
Grossman: In fact, during all this time, I wondered why in the world there was so much fighting. And no one there could tell me. And he couldn’t tell me. “Why do you hate the Croations so much?” I never heard anything about Muslims. They didn’t talk about them. It was just the Croats and Serbs. And they were burning each other’s houses down. I went through villages, watched, I saw that.
Interviewer: You saw that?
Grossman: Saw all these things that are happening today or just a few years
Interviewer: Recently, yeah.
Grossman: They hate each other.
Interviewer: You saw them fighting each other?
Grossman: No I didn’t see the fighting. I saw the results of the houses.
Interviewer: Burned down?
Grossman: They burned them down.
Interviewer: And they were not Germans doing this?
Grossman: No, no. They, the Serbs who lived in Croatia, they immediately took
up arms for the Allies. And the other ones, now you start fighting each other.
That’s what they were doing, they’re fighting each other.
Interviewer: And that was still going on when you were . . . .
Grossman: Oh yeah, yeah, that was like, terrible.
Interviewer: And you were with a Serb group?
Grossman: I was with a Serb group, yeah.
Interviewer: And before that you were with a Croat group?
Grossman: Was partially Croats. I think they were.
Interviewer: And now you wound up with . . . .
Grossman: I really couldn’t tell the difference. I finally found out if you
go in the house, if they’re Roman Catholic, they’re Croatian. And they have the crucifix shown in the house. The other ones were Greek Orthodox. The Serbs are Greek Orthodox and their picture’s a little different. So I could tell. I was able to tell ’em apart.
Interviewer: And you learned that while you were there?
Interviewer: The difference?
Grossman: Yeah. I just took it for granted that’s how it had to be because
I couldn’t figure out what the hell was happening. They looked alike and
everything but they . . . . .
Interviewer: They spoke the same language?
Grossman: Yeah and it was that. It was . . . .
Interviewer: So you’re back with Peter again? We’ve got you back there.
Grossman: Yeah. Okay. We got back with Peter. The war ended. I was . . . .
Interviewer: How did you know the war ended?
Grossman: Because they, everybody said, on May 6th they had a huge
battle right where I was, a huge battle.
Interviewer: Wait, I’ve got to change something. I want to get that on
this. We’ll stop this for just a minute here.
Grossman: Civil war thing.
Interviewer: What do you mean?
Grossman: The fighting would, we overlooked the field. They were putting
white sheets over the dead.
Interviewer: It was that big?
Grossman: Oh yeah. It was really big. And they were putting white sheets over
the dead. Peter was telling us. He asked questions: what’s going on, how, what
had. The Germans continued running up north. They were trying to get away
because they did not want to be captured by the Russians. That’s what the big
Interviewer: Well who was fighting in this battle, Serbs?
Grossman: The partisans were the only ones I saw.
Interviewer: This was a battle of the partisans?
Grossman: Or maybe it was the Russians. I don’t know. I didn’t see the
fighting. But by six in the evening, the fighting was completely over and
everybody’s moving on. I saw horses pulling the guns out, leaving. I saw so
many peasants out there with sheets, putting them over the dead. And then Peter
said that we’re going to walk back and sleep at his house that night. He said,
“The war is over”. He said that. “There’s no more
fighting.” And there wasn’t any in that area. And that was on May 6th.
I understand the war didn’t end ’til May 8th. But there was no
fighting after May 6th in any of that area. That area was calm. But
we walked through the battlefield. I never seen anything, I never walked through
a battlefield and I said, “Peter, that sheet is going up and down. That
person’s alive.” And Peter looked. Yeah. So he called the man over there,
another soldier. He said, and he talked and talked, and then Peter come back. He
said, “He’s too wounded so badly. They have no nursing, nothing here. He’s
going to die.”
Interviewer: They left him? He was a partisan?
Grossman: Yeah. And he was dying and so he . . . .
Interviewer: They had no medical facilities?
Grossman: No, no medical whatever. Nothing.
Interviewer: The other casualties were Germans?
Grossman: I don’t know.
Interviewer: You don’t know?
Grossman: I don’t know. I have no idea.
Interviewer: And there were vehicles or, you say, or cannons or what?
Grossman: They had everything. They had mechanized equipment and they had a
lot of horses. They must have had 100 horses pulling different wagons.
Interviewer: Had they been caught in the fighting too?
Grossman: I don’t think so. They were on the road. I saw them afterwards.
But there was a lot of white sheets out there. And so Peter told us to keep
walking. We were going to walk until we get to his house. He was, he lived about
ten miles from there. So we walked to his house. And we stayed at Peter’s
house that night.
Interviewer: Nice . . . .?
Grossman: Uh huh.
Interviewer: Still with Serbs somewhere in Yugoslavia?
Grossman: . . . . but there’s more to it than just that. Peter eventually
came over to this country. I had him come over.
Interviewer: You have. You have met him since then?
Grossman: Oh yeah, yeah. I, I don’t know the people who lived in that
palace or the castle. I don’t know where those people are. I don’t know the
name of the woman who took us in out of the rain or her son. I don’t remember
them. And Peter and I
were going to go back and he was a fairly healthy guy. And we planned on it,
the two of us. We were going to go back and do the whole thing in a car.
Interviewer: Retrace your experience? Okay.
Grossman: Retrace our steps from the time I was shot down to then. We were
all set to go and he got a heart attack and died. Here in Columbus.
Interviewer: Here in Columbus?
Grossman: Yeah. He, oh this is, Peter came over after the war. And I even got an article. They wrote it up in the newspaper here. You want to see it?
Interviewer: Yeah I would like to see that in a minute. I’ll just make a
note here. What was his last name?
Grossman: Vitonovic. V-I-T-O-N-O-V-I-C. Vitonovic.
Interviewer: Yeah I’d like to see that paper. Well all right. Let’s go
back. Your experiences then, it’s . . . .
Grossman: I had more . . . . experiences after I was shot down, more so than
before. Because before I was shot down, I was only over there for three months. I got there in December of ’44 and our plane was shot down on March 22nd.
Interviewer: Yeah so you said.
Grossman: And that’s only two or three months and . . . .
Interviewer: Twenty-one missions and you said you didn’t claim having shot
down any enemy aircraft?
Grossman: No there was no aircraft. Germans wouldn’t waste their planes on
that because they’re doing very well with their 88s.
Interviewer: And you said, you described two major events, the time the bomb
bay doors opened and you were out there.
Interviewer: The other being when the plane was shot down. Was there any
other major event in the, on the mission?
Grossman: No, no, not on the mission. Nothing on the mission.
Interviewer: Okay. Let’s go back to your rescue then. It’s May 6th
and you’re still with the partisans. How do you ever get back to allied
Grossman: That was a problem. I had to get to Belgrad. We had to get to, ’cause
there’s no Americans anywhere. So the, Peter tried to help us by going to the
general, the Serbian general, whoever he was there. And he said he can’t help
us because there’s nothing going down there. There’s nothing going there at
all. He said he would suggest that we go to the Russian lines ’cause they can
take you anyplace. So that’s what we did. So we got in a half track and with a
bunch of Russian infantrymen, the two of us, and we, they took us to their base.
Interviewer: The Russians?
Grossman: The Russians did. And so then I’m through with the Serbs. I didn’t
see Peter any more after that or anybody else.
Interviewer: I just have to ask then how did you find Peter again?
Grossman: Well . . . .
Interviewer: After the war?
Grossman: Well I gave him my number, our, my number. After the war ended, I gave, I, yeah, I gave . . . .
Interviewer: You gave him your address?
Grossman: I gave him the address of this house. Yeah, when I was at his
Interviewer: He had your address in the United States?
Grossman: Yeah, uh huh.
Interviewer: So he contacted you after the war?
Interviewer: Okay. Back to the Russians then. You’re with the Russians?
Grossman: The half-track takes us into their camp or whatever it is and they
said we had to be interrogated by a certain captain, or whatever, so he
interrogated us and he was, he was a nasty guy.
Interviewer: This Russian?
Grossman: He was young and . . . .
Interviewer: He spoke English?
Grossman: No he didn’t speak English but he spoke very sharply like we’re
traitors, we’re, he doesn’t know who we are. We may be spies. He didn’t
know that. We kept laughing. We were two young guys who’d just got, we
explained to him what happened to us. Anyway he decided to let us go. And he’ll
put us on a train to Belgrad. Yeah. And that’s how we got on the train. And
then we went the 200 miles down to Belgrad, wherever we were at that time. Then when we got into Belgrad, they picked us up . . . . No the, somebody from the Embassy came over and picked up the two of us and took us to the Embassy.
Interviewer: The American?
Grossman: Yeah the American. Yeah, yeah. And the first thing we had to have
done ’cause they wanted to burn our clothes. That’s what, they had to do it.
I said, “No, I want to take it home for a souvenir”. They wouldn’t
let us. They burned our, took and burnt the clothes. They put them in an
incinerator or something in the building there. And then we washed up, took
showers. Oh it was great. And we had a meal.
Interviewer: Is that right? Were you able to keep the meal down? I mean,
after all that time not having real food?
Grossman: I don’t remember. I didn’t . . . .
Interviewer: It didn’t make you sick?
Grossman: No, they didn’t give you too much.
Interviewer: Didn’t, okay.
Grossman: We had . . . .
Interviewer: It didn’t make you sick?
Grossman: Yeah and they told us they were going to give us an apartment to
stay in until we go back. And I said, “The first thing I want to do, I want
to send a cable, a Western Union to my family”.
Interviewer: Here in Columbus?
Grossman: Yeah because meantime the Army, the Air Force sent letters to my
father that the plane was missing in action and it was probably was going to be
all right and here the time was going on. It was now about maybe May 10th.
I’m still pulling, it was, and they wouldn’t let me, anyway they wouldn’t
let me send it. He said, “If you’re a prisoner of war or missing in
action. You’re not allowed to call or be in touch with anybody for 30
days.” I said, “The war is over”. But they wouldn’t let me. So
I got around that. And they put us in, when I got into, back to Italy, they put us in
a hospital for just examination. And in the hospital, I was able, they had a
telephone. I knew my brother’s place where he was in the Signal Corps. I
called him and I got him.
Interviewer: From the United, from, where were you? In Europe?
Grossman: No I was in Italy, back here in . . . .
Interviewer: You were in Italy?
Grossman: Back at a hospital in Italy.
Interviewer: Oh I see.
Grossman: They flew me back. They flew the two of us back from Belgrad to
Bari Bari, Italy . . . . is the headquarters of the, and they put us in a hospital. In the hospital, I got ahold of my brother and he sent Western Union to my parents and that’s how they found out. So they found out about two weeks after the war was over.
Interviewer: After the war was over?
Grossman: Uh huh.
Interviewer: And you recovered okay in the hospital? You didn’t have any…
Grossman: I didn’t have any, I had an infected finger. Running through the
field one day when the Germans went into that town, something happened. I don’t
know what it was. But my finger became infected. I didn’t even have a Band-Aid
to put on the damn thing.
Interviewer: That big battle, or?
Grossman: Yeah. No, the little battle when we were going with the partisans.
Interviewer: Oh, down the hill?
Grossman: That downhill thing.
Interviewer: You were escaping many times . . . .
Grossman: Yeah that’s right.
Interviewer: Okay. So you had an infection and they fixed that?
Grossman: Yeah I got an infection in finger and I knew it was infected but
they fixed it at the Embassy.
Interviewer: And that was in . . . .
Grossman: And they gave me some medicine or something.
Interviewer: And things were okay . . . .
Grossman: Yeah, I didn’t, I didn’t put them in for anything. I just wanted to be home.
Interviewer: No Purple Heart or anything like that?
Grossman: No, no.
Interviewer: Okay. Well let’s go ahead and see how it is that you managed
to end the war.
Grossman: Well the war was ended.
Interviewer: Okay and your part in it then where?
Grossman: I wasn’t allowed to, they gave me a choice. Either go back to the
States or I can go to the Pacific where they’re still fighting. And I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to go home. And so they said, “Where do you want to go in the States?” I said, “As close to Columbus, Ohio as possible”. He said, “How about Lockbourne Air Base?” I said,
“Fine, that’s where I’ll go”. So I went to Lockbourne Air Base. So they said, they just knew that I had to stay there until the other part of the war was over. They weren’t going to release anybody . . any soldiers until the war, the Japanese were defeated.
Interviewer: So you had to keep serving then?
Grossman: I didn’t do much. I just went out to Lockbourne Air Base and
fooled around a little bit.
Interviewer: Did you still, where did you live at that time, where did, did
you have . . . .
Grossman: I lived in Columbus.
Interviewer: You had to stay here?
Grossman: No I stayed at my parents’ house.
Interviewer: Oh okay. You stayed at your . . .
Grossman: Yeah, at home. I stayed home.
Interviewer: And you . . . .
Grossman: I stayed home. That was my house. It’s in the east end of
Interviewer: Uh huh. And you went to Lockbourne from there . . . .
Interviewer: They didn’t . . . .
Grossman: I used to drive out. Drive . . I drove a car out and . . .
Interviewer: You had to put your uniform on?
Grossman: Yeah and drive out and we’d go out there and look around. They
had me inspecting parachutes or something. And . . . .
Interviewer: Is that right?
Grossman: Whatever it was, it’s, it was nothing. And that’s how, then
when the war ended, when they dropped the bombs, I celebrated with everybody
else . . . .
Interviewer: What did you do?
Grossman: at Broad and High Street.
Interviewer: Oh you did?
Grossman: Oh yeah.
Interviewer: What did you think about the dropping of the bombs?
Grossman: I think it was the right thing to do. I don’t know why they had
to drop the second one so fast. To me I think I would have waited but they must have had
information that if they didn’t do it that way that the Japs will never give up. The Japanese really intended to fight, in my opinion, to the end. But they knew with this thing that they were going to be extinguished and so they couldn’t do that. They’re smart enough to finally
surrender. But I don’t think they would have surrendered.
Interviewer: So you celebrated down at Broad and High Streets?
Grossman: Oh yeah, yeah.
Interviewer: Big celebration?
Interviewer: Uh huh. Well we got a little time left. Just to touch on some
major things. How about your religious participation or services? Did you have a
chance during that time in Europe?
Grossman: Well one thing, in Europe, the only thing I ever thought, when we
went to Belgrad and they told us we’d stay in an apartment that evening, for
the next, until they were going to fly us back to . . . . They, the apartment to
me looked like Jews lived there. And I’ll tell you why. They had certain
things arranged that, well first of all, they had the Ten Commandments thing and
they had a Star of David built into the furniture somehow. Somehow, and I am
certain that apartment belonged to some Jews.
Interviewer: Well maybe because it was empty, it was available, available?
Grossman: Yeah. Well they weren’t available. They were taken out . . . .
Interviewer: Nobody was living there now?
Grossman: No one was living there. At least it was taken over by the American
Interviewer: Were your dog tags identified as you being Jewish?
Interviewer: An “H” is what they put on it . . . .
Grossman: Yeah, “H”.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Did you have a chance at . . . .
Grossman: . . . . think about it. I thought about it every day while I was
walking. But I decided, I finally decided I’m going to keep them. I brought
Interviewer: Oh you still have them?
Interviewer: Did you wear them on the ground there in . . . .
Grossman: Sure. Around my neck.
Interviewer: for those 59 days?
Grossman: Uh huh.
Interviewer: Knowing that you were surrounded by Germans? Okay. I want to . .
. . experience any anti-Semitism at any time during the war?
Grossman: Not really. I ran into a lot of West Virginia boys. When I was taken into the
Army, drafted, they sent me down there into West Virginia, right across the border.
And they were real hillbillies there. They, and they used the word “Jew,” “Jew me out of this,” or, “You act like a Jew,” and all that. But they didn’t, they never knew Jews. Some of them I’d become friendly with and when I’d tell them I’m Jewish, they’d laugh. They said,
“Oh you’re not”. They thought Jews had horns. They really did. They couldn’t believe that Jews were like they were.
Interviewer: Just in a manner of speaking, huh?
Grossman: They had, they’d never, no they, they were taught that stuff handed down from family to family, I guess.
Interviewer: In your aircraft crews did you have other Jewish friends?
Grossman: No, there was no Jews in my crew. And as I said, there was no place to go. You don’t, the crews didn’t intermingle. First of all, it was only three months and you really didn’t have time to . . . .
Interviewer: You didn’t get to know . . . .
Grossman: No. So we really didn’t, that’s why with these reunions, I
refused to go to any of the reunions because I wouldn’t know anybody. And my
friends didn’t. A couple of my friends from my crew, they went to it and there
was nothing there. So they didn’t, they quit going. But we decided now, about
four of us or five of us are going to get together.
Interviewer: Down in Branson?
Grossman: Yeah Branson.
Interviewer: That’s gotta be great fun for you?
Grossman: Uh huh.
Interviewer: Well how did you get back to civilian life?
Grossman: They all knew I was Jewish, all my friends.
Interviewer: All the crew men did. Okay, so they knew. And so all right. Was
there a rabbi on that base, do you know?
Grossman: No, nothing.
Interviewer: Nothing provided?
Grossman: No. Now up at Foja, the main base, they may have had it up there. But
this was a small base. They only had two or three squadrons on my base. I think
the 717, ’18 and the ’19, something like that. There’s the two of them there.
Interviewer: Okay, pretty small?
Grossman: Uh huh. It was small.
Interviewer: How did you get back into business again after the war ended?
Grossman: The war ended. Well my dad needed, you know, he, my brother and I,
my older brother and I, we worked down there at his place and he needed us.
Interviewer: When did you meet your wife then?
Grossman: Oh (laughs), I’m thinking, I’m thinking.
Interviewer: Had this been a . . . .
Grossman: I met you in ’76 didn’t I?
Grossman: I mean in 1946.
Voice: Okay, graduated college, no, in 1947 I think.
Grossman: Forty-seven? Forty-seven. She was going to Ohio State. She was graduating at Ohio State and I met her at . . . .
Voice: We met at Hillel at a dance.
Grossman: At a dance.
Interviewer: At Hillel? Were you a student also, Herb, at the time?
Grossman: No I was a night student. I was going to . . . .
Interviewer: You were a night student. So you met at the Hillel Foundation?
Grossman: Uh huh.
Voice: Sundays they used to have dances. That’s the time when you, the places that you were staying in the dorms, they didn’t give you dinner. You had to go out and buy your own. So you went hunting for someone to take you out to dinner.
Interviewer: I see. And how long was the courtship Herb?
Grossman: I didn’t know, I took her out every Sunday for about three weeks,
didn’t I, four weeks?
Voice: It was more than that. We got, we met I think in March and got married
Interviewer: Got married in November?
Grossman: What happened, I was coming back, I was in night school and then we’d
go to Ben’s Tavern or something, whatever, and have a beer or whatever and
then I’d drive home. Well one day I fell asleep at the wheel driving on 17th
Avenue. It was out in the, 17th Avenue in those days was out in the field. And I just, I woke, I drive off the way and I’m in a cornfield. I said, “Hell, I can’t do this anymore”. And so I decided I’m going to ask her to marry me. And so she said, “Okay,” but she said,
“we have to go meet my parents”. So I drove her to Fallsburg, New York.
Interviewer: Is that right?
Interviewer: She was from New York?
Interviewer: Okay, well that’s interesting. We’re about at the end of the
tape here. Covered a lot of history.
Grossman: Now Peter brought his whole family over here. And he worked for us for years.
Interviewer: He did?
Grossman: And his son, one of his sons, he has one son, when I sold the
business and there’s no more employees, he’s the only one I kept.
Interviewer: Is that right?
Grossman: Yeah. He still works there.
Interviewer: He still works there today?
Grossman: Yeah, yeah. He’s, he maintains our property.
Interviewer: And what is his name?
Grossman: Goita, Goita Vitonovic.
Grossman: Vitonovic, V-I-T.
Interviewer: Okay, well we’ll end this tape here.
Grossman: I can show you . . . .
Interviewer: We’ll take a look at some artifacts.
Transcribed by Honey Abramson.
Proofread by Marvin Bonowitz
Edited by Toby Brief