This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is being recorded on December 11, 2002 as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History Project. The interview is being recorded at the Melton Building in the Conference Room at 1175 College Avenue, Columbus, Ohio. My name as the interviewer is Dave Graham and I am interviewing Mr. Irv Lichtenstein. And now we’ll begin.
Interviewer: Now as I’ve kind of indicated for our interviewer, we would like to know some of the family background, origin of the family, the Old Country, family names, grand- parents, far back as you’ve heard, and, you know, your family here in Columbus and occupations, and then we’ll get into the war aspect.
Lichtenstein: Okay Dave. Well there’s no better place to start than with my mother and father, okay? My dad came here in 1914 from Poland. He came to Columbus to go to work with his brother Morris who at that time was a partner in the Independent Towel Supply Company with the Siegel family. Some of the old-timers are going to remember the Siegel family, right? So Dad came in 1914 and in 1917 we were in World War I and he was in, he enlisted and he ended up in the Rainbow Division and my dad was seriously wounded and lost a leg in the first World War. He spent a full year in Walter Reed Hospital in Washington when he came back. And at that time there was no G.I. Bill. A lot of us went to school on the G.I. Bill when we came home.
But in World War I wounded veterans were entitled to educational benefits. The only difference was the Government told you where you were going to school. They sent you to where they wanted to send you. They sent my dad to Valparaiso University, a very small town, a very small university in a very small town in northwest Indiana. A lot of us have heard of it now because now they have a good basketball team. Back then, it was not much. So he met a young lady there who was the oldest daughter of Morris Lichner, the only Jewish family in town, and that’s how my mother and my father got together in Valparaiso, Indiana, and they hit it off and they were married, although it didn’t come with the full blessing of my mother’s parents. They wouldn’t understand why their oldest daughter was going to marry a one-legged, crippled man. But it worked out beautifully.
Interviewer: How did they meet? Do you know? Just as students?
Lichtenstein: Just as stu–, she wasn’t a student. She was working. She was the oldest daughter and if you remember how it was in those days, there were six kids in a small town and the oldest daughter took care of the kids and my mother took care of her siblings, okay. And they just got around and my father probably went in the store one day and saw Bessie and that was the start of it all. And from there after the marriage, they did move back to Columbus. When I was born in 1924, we lived on Mound Street, Mound and 18th, right across from the big brick barn there where the streetcars used to sleep every night, okay. They brought all the city streetcars in there and they serviced them. Then we moved to Fairwood Avenue. That was a delightful time in my life. There were all guys there, all the guys my age, okay. And very few Jewish people, very few Jewish fellows. Dick was there, my very closest and best friend …
Interviewer: What’s Dick’s last name?
Lichtenstein: Dick Lewis, Richard Lewis.
Lichtenstein: Yeah, who ended up being the preeminent travel agent in Columbus. When he got in, nobody else was there. Now he’s got, now he has a little competition. Who else was there? The other Jewish family was just mentioned, the Liebermans, Betty Alice Lieberman. She was on our street, right across the street from us. We were the only Jewish people there. And all the time we were there, we never ran into any, I didn’t anyway, any problems with any of our friends as far as religion was concerned.
Interviewer: What was your family’s orientation towards religion?
Lichtenstein: Well we were, we belonged to Tifereth, Tifereth Israel and how, my father came to Columbus, of course he was not associated with anything and he was recruited by Rabbi Zelizer, okay. For five dollars a month, our family joined Tifereth Israel, okay.
Interviewer: Did you attend Hebrew School?
Lichtenstein: Yes I attended Hebrew School and was Bar Mitzvahed at Tifereth Israel. Yes I attended Hebrew School. Remember the building in back of the Temple on Broad Street very well, very well. After, then we moved from Fairwood Avenue and went to Berkeley Road and went to East High School, graduated East High School and enrolled into Ohio State University. Graduated East in ’42, June of ’42. Went to OSU and of course, in December on my 18th birthday, I registered for the draft and I was called by the Draft Board to be inducted in April, after two quarters at The Ohio State University.
Interviewer: Now you say “called,” and I’m sorry to interrupt. Did they send you a post card or?
Lichtenstein: Yeah they sure did.
Interviewer: How did that work out …
Lichtenstein: They sent me a post card and said, “You’re in and report downtown on April 2nd,” okay. “And you have one week to get your affairs in order and then you’re gone.” When I was in school, I was in the Pharmacy School so of course the government in their infinite wisdom assigned me to the medics. I was a medic. I went to basic training in Kearns, Utah, which was terrible, terrible.
Interviewer: What was wrong with it?
Lichtenstein: There was nothing green, okay. It was all hard-packed dirt and it was just all, the guys all remember your Basic. So then they came after a couple of months and they said, they asked for volunteers if you wanted to become, to go to a tech school to become air crew. Go to a tech school, go to a gunnery school, be a radio operator on a bomber, anything to get off the ground, okay. Put my hand up, went.
Interviewer: Now were you trained at shooting a rifle by that time?
Lichtenstein: Oh yeah, it was basic, yeah.
Interviewer: Trained in the regular Army gun? Okay.
Lichtenstein: Oh yeah. They gave us the rifle and the …
Interviewer: You were regular Army?
Lichtenstein: …I was ready. They gave m that and I was going to be a medic anyway.
Lichtenstein: So I was assigned, I took testing. I was assigned to radio operator school. So the first thing, I was going to radio operator school. There were two schools in the country for radio operators. One was in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and the other was in Miami Beach, Florida where the government had handily acquired two hotels and rather than tell you where, which one I wanted to touch …
In the winter we had to dig out ’cause the snow drifted as high as the roof on the barracks. So I think you’ll figure out where I ended up, okay. (Laughter.) After radio school, I was assigned to a troop carrier. Never know why we didn’t go to, make to gunnery school. About 90% of us, 90% of them went to gunnery school and but the other 10% was assigned to troop carrier. I had no idea what troop carrier was, what it was, but I knew it wasn’t, I wasn’t going to gunnery school, so I wasn’t going to be in a bomber. So we went to Sedalia, Missouri, a little town outside of Sedalia called Knob Knoster, with a “K”. While I was in, no that was after Sioux Falls. We went to Sedalia. By the way, while I was at Sioux Falls I had visitors. A couple at once, my mother and my brother and my future wife Mitzi came to visit me when I was at Sioux Falls and that was the highlight. And I’ll never forget those days.
Lichtenstein: So you already knew your…
Lichtenstein: Oh listen …
Lichtenstein: …your future bride?
Lichtenstein: Yeah that’s another story, okay. We don’t want to get into that.
Lichtenstein: I was 15 and she was 13.
Lichtenstein: But only from the aspect that you did know and maybe she wrote you letters and you corresponded.
Lichtenstein: Oh letters, we had, yeah. Dick told me I shouldn’t mess around with that girl ’cause I was robbing the cradle and so (Laughter)…
Lichtenstein: Oh I see, that’s the…
Lichtenstein: When you go back to the letters, let me say this, I was going to mention it after- wards. Nobody was, while I was in service, nobody ever received more letters and packages from home. Mitzi wrote me every day and I got packages from my parents. My mother used to send me chocolate chip cookies which were all crumbs by the time they got there but she, they, I was deluged with good stuff, good stuff. She even sent me tuna fish which she had to spend her stamps on or something. She sent me cans of tuna fish…
That’s got nothing to do with the war. There were some religious ceremonies at all the bases I recall. Passover the people from whether it was Sioux Falls or Sedalia, Missouri, would come in with their Pesach…
Lichtenstein: Even during training?
Lichtenstein: Even during training. Yeah with their Pesach…
Lichtenstein: Did you have any Jewish friends at that time?
Lichtenstein: In service, very, there just weren’t many Jewish guys. There were very, very few.
Lichtenstein: I can’t, I can’t, the guys I remember in service, none of them were Jewish. None of them. Don’t remember…
Of course at that time I wasn’t all that pious and I’m no more pious now than I was then. I did go to service on Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur so that’s that. So then we, in Sedalia, we did our first training. We were training in that beautiful airplane, okay, that C-47.
Lichtenstein: You got to see the aircraft then?
Lichtenstein: Yeah. That’s, they, in Sedalia the airplanes were there and we got all the training and we practiced constantly in formation flying.
Lichtenstein: What did you think about that aircraft when you first saw it or whatever?
Lichtenstein: Well I thought it was very ugly okay, because I really wanted a bomber.
Lichtenstein: Ohhhh, you wanted a bomber, huh?
Lichtenstein: … to be so I can shoot back. But…
Lichtenstein: Oh, okay.
Lichtenstein: that is a delight, that airplane. I mean it’s exactly, it’s a painting, it’s exactly, there’s nothing amiss there. The doors open and the guy’s going out the back. When we practiced tight-order formation flying, when you were wing-to-wing, I mean really, really close because they were going to drop all the paratroopers at one timer, one stick, and we did night flying because originally I guess they thought they were going to have, D-Day was going to be a night-time operation, which it was. D-Day on June 6th at Normandie. Most of the paratroopers were dropped in the dark time of the day, between midnight and 2 and 3:00 a.m. in the morning.
Lichtenstein: So you trained at night, huh?
Lichtenstein: We trained at night. Did a lot of night flying. So when, back to D-Day, when they dropped at night, they had so many, they realized, what they did, they thought they’d do it at night because it would reduce the losses to the planes and the para- troopers and the crew would know where they were dropping and that turned out to be so. We had that drop at Normandie and all the…(undecipherable conversation for a few seconds-mike not picking up) After training at Sedalia and we were ready to go overseas. And all the rumbles and rumors were that we would be going to be going to the CBI, that’s the Pacific area of the war, where they were fighting the Japanese. ‘Course we were all hoping to go to the ETO, to go to Europe. London and Paris sounded great but we said, “Well we’re out and we’re not going to make it”. So we were then deployed to, they took us planeloads across to Barefield which was here in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Barefield. And there we picked up our new, brand new C-47…training. Brand new and also when I was there, I was there for a couple of days and my parents came and Mitzi came. I never forget going through the, looking through the fence at them. Couldn’t get any closer to the fence.
Lichtenstein: Is that the first time you saw them in a long time?
Lichtenstein: No they came to Sedalia.
Lichtenstein: And I saw Sioux Falls and then to Barefield. That was about a year apart.
Lichtenstein: About a year apart. So we had, the orders were that we got in the airplane, to open the envelope after we took off and they would tell us where to go. Well I had a little code with Mitzi. The code was the key person was “Terry and the Pirates”. Everybody remember “Terry and the Pirates” in the comic strip and where was Terry all the time? He was in the CBI. He was always on the other side fighting the Japanese and whoever they were fighting on that side. So I wrote her a note after we took off from Barefield when I got to England, I wrote her a note and I said, “Well Honey, I guess I won’t be seeing Terry, and she knew exactly that I wasn’t in the CBI, I was in Europe. Because we had to do that, because all the letters were censored. Now when we left, we went to Barefield, the first stop, when I knew we weren’t going because the envelope said to go to, they gave us headings to go to Bangor, Maine. Okay? When you’re going up to Bangor, Main, you’re not going, you’re not going to India, okay. You know you’re going to Europe. So, and our airplanes, the airplanes were all equipped with, in that cabin, inside there, they, we moved the seats up and they would fold, we had two large, large auxiliary gas tanks ’cause we were going to fly over the ocean. Now that looks big in that picture and it looked big then. But if you look at a C-47 now, a DC-3 at an airport and when you’re taxiing by you’ll see some of them along the side, compared to the size of the jets today, that was a, that was a, that was like a cub, okay. Anyway we took off from Bangor and we went to Gander, Newfoundland. From Gander we were going to fly to Reykjavik, Iceland. We were going to Iceland. And while we were flying to Iceland, one of my duties was to check in with Greenland to make sure that everything, the flight was still on. When I checked in with Greenland, they said, “Turn around,” in double code, “turn around and go back because Iceland is socked in”. Okay? So we turned around in the middle of that dark ocean, that navigator put us right back there. Now all this formation flying, when we flew overseas, they were in individual airplanes, okay. They didn’t want formations to be flying over Ireland and England and be jumped by German fighters and maybe knock a half a dozen off at one time. So we went individually.
Lichtenstein: No, no. We flew on, we flew at about half-hour intervals.
Lichtenstein: Uh huh. You might begin to touch on your job. You were functioning as a radio operator on the way over?
Lichtenstein: As, oh yes, a radio operator on the way over.
Lichtenstein: So what had you learned to do that?
Lichtenstein: Well in school, at Sioux Falls, I learned how to be a radio, how to get Morse Code…
Lichtenstein: Okay so you were a Morse Code operator on the way over?
Lichtenstein: Morse Code operator and lights, you know, like they do in the Navy ships, lamps.
Lichtenstein: Is that how you got the message to turn back was Morse Code?
Lichtenstein: No there was no, it was all, yeah in Morse Code.
Lichtenstein: Morse Code. They were…
Lichtenstein: So you were functioning then? You were…
Lichtenstein: Oh yes, I was functioning as a radio operator.
Lichtenstein: You were engaged in your…
Lichtenstein: In your job…Okay.
Lichtenstein: Absolutely. It what I was trained…
Lichtenstein: No more training. That probably was the most important thing I did all the time was make sure I got that message right when we were going overseas in the middle of the ocean. Okay? The rest of it was (Laughter)…
Lichtenstein: What I thought we might do in the interest of time and the amount of tape we’ve got, we, I understand from previous questions you were based in England.
Lichtenstein: That’s correct.
Lichtenstein: But you did then support certain combat operations? Now I think flying out of England you did support the one in September?
Lichtenstein: Right. I got in…
Lichtenstein: I go there the latter part of August just in time for Market Garden which was the drops over Holland at Arnhem and Neinmegen and Eindhoven.
Lichtenstein: Uh huh.
Lichtenstein: Okay? That was in September. So…
Interviewer: What do you remember that you could kind of recount of that event as you began to be involved in it?
Lichtenstein: I flew two missions. The first mission we dropped the airb–, I forgot whose Airborne it was. It was the 82nd or 101st and that’s exactly what it looked like, okay. Except you don’t see the flak coming up, do you? Those are just parachutes.
Lichtenstein: In other words the boys got into your aircraft?
Lichtenstein: The boys, oh yeah, the paratroopers were in our aircraft.
Lichtenstein: Did you ever have a chance to talk to any of them as…
Lichtenstein: No, when they were going on a mission, the only time I ever talked to them was in training in Sedalia when we were in training.
Lichtenstein: Oh I see. So you’re busy…
Lichtenstein: We never talked. I was up front and they were in the back and they don’t talk to anybody. All they’re doing is, half of them, you’d peek back, they’re sitting and reading their little issued Bibles, okay. And there’s another…
Lichtenstein: You do recall that?
Lichtenstein: Oh yeah. No frivolity, nothing, because they don’t know if they’re going to live once they put their foot out of the airplane. Okay? So there’s no joking around. It’s all business, all business. So we dropped at Eindhoven and the next bridge over was at Arnhem and the British dropped at Arnhem and those of you who know history and I know Dick knows it, Arnhem was bad news. It was a bridge too far like they made a movie out of. They were trapped there and they lost a lot of people.
Lichtenstein: I want to refresh you a little bit. Can you actually recall the weather that day, the sights…
Lichtenstein: The weather was good.
Lichtenstein: The sounds?
Lichtenstein: The weather was good. You could see the ground. The weather was clear. You could see the ground. You could see the…
Lichtenstein: Blue sky?
Lichtenstein: blue sky. It was a good day. It was just like that except they were shooting at us. Okay?
Lichtenstein: Now I realize you’re operating a radio. Did you have a window next to you?
Lichtenstein: No we had a, no we didn’t have a window. I had a little slit about this big, I think it was more for morale than for anything else. You couldn’t even see out of it.
Lichtenstein: So you really couldn’t…
Lichtenstein:…see a whole lot?
Lichtenstein: No. You couldn’t see it. You couldn’t…
Lichtenstein: So you’re kind of relying on the sound?
Lichtenstein: I was in the, in the, the radio operator had a little 3X5 nook behind the co-pilot. Okay? It was very small, very small. There a picture of it…
Lichtenstein: You were right up front?
Lichtenstein: Yeah right up, right up in front. And then the second day, frankly there was a lot of, a lot of…I was only overseas two weeks and they were throwing me into the fray. Okay? Because they’d lost some people at D-Day and one of the guys had screwed up so they needed an extra, I didn’t have a, didn’t have a crew that time when we went overseas and didn’t have a plane at that time. Okay? I picked up that plane in November and that’s when I was promoted to Staff Sergeant and so what we did, training after Holland we did nothing but train, train, train. And then in, we were still in Aldemasten and then about the 15th or 16th of December, when everybody thought the war was pretty close to being over, the Germans attacked, a big offense in Belgium and they came and we lost a lot of people and they overtook a lot of cities until they came to Bastogne. And Bastogne, they couldn’t take Bastogne. The, that was the infantry group and including the 101st Airborne was sent in and in other words, they went up to the city of Bastogne. They couldn’t take it so they went around it. And there was a bulge in the German lines and that’s why it was called “the Battle of the Bulge”. Okay? And we always called, they referred to themselves as “the battered bastards of the bastion of Bastogne”. Okay?…
Lichtenstein: Were you still based in England?
Lichtenstein: Still in England, still at Aldemasten, still in England.
Interviewer: Wasn’t that a long way to fly?
Lichtenstein: That was a long way to fly, long way to fly, long way to fly. They didn’t, there wasn’t enough air fields in France to move everybody up.
Interviewer: Did you have any idea that there had been a breakthrough?
Lichtenstein: No well we just, all we heard was, we heard about it. We heard about it just like everybody else did. Well there’s a breakthrough. We read it in the Stars and Stripes and it was scuttlebutt and…
Lichtenstein: You knew that it was happening.
Interviewer: By that means?
Lichtenstein: Right and also we were told to fly immediately, that as soon as the weather broke we were going to resupply the fellows in Bastogne. Okay? So the weather broke probably on the 23rd. Now you remember we weren’t dropping any planes. We were just resupplying at Bastogne, resupplying.
Interviewer: You weren’t dropping any paratroopers?
Lichtenstein: No paratroopers. We had parapacks under the airplane. They were large tubes and they were stuffed with different…
Interviewer: I’ve heard of that.
Interviewer: They strapped things on the outside…
Lichtenstein: That’s correct.
Interviewer: of the aircraft?
Lichtenstein: That’s correct. And the pilots could pull a lever and release them. They’d go down on parachutes. But we were in the back, the crew chief and I were in the back with our doors open and we had a lot of stuff and we pushed it out. We had our parachutes on and we tied ourselves into the plane in case…
Interviewer: You tied yourselves…
Lichtenstein: We tied, yeah we tied ourselves…
Interviewer: So you’re back there…
Lichtenstein: We’re pushing stuff out…
Interviewer: pushing stuff out?
Lichtenstein: pushing stuff out. We’re pushing stuff out.
Interviewer: Now you could of seen a bit more, couldn’t you then?
Lichtenstein: Yeah you could see plenty. You could look down, you could see off in the field there, ‘course that’s at Market Garden but at Bastogne the ground was snow covered…
Lichtenstein: Yeah, and you could see German tanks off in the distance.
Interviewer: You could see German tanks?
Lichtenstein: You could see German tanks out in the distance, yeah. But we flew right over Bastogne and when we flew, we pushed them out and then we were going back up to the cabin and as we were going back, we felt the airplane shudder. Okay? So we walked up to the front. I looked to the right side of the wing and Jim Parish who was the crew chief looked at the left side and he said, “Come over and look,” and there was a hole about the size of your fist in the left wing. And it had gone through a gas tank. Okay? We did not have self-sealing gas tanks and obviously it was not an incendiary shot, obviously. So the gas immediately flowed out the bottom and another, we did not have enough gas to get back to England. So the pilots were looking for a quick airfield. This was all, visually looking for an airfield to land quickly.
Interviewer: So is it the four of you, the two pilots, and and another guy?
Lichtenstein: Yeah, two pilots and myself and the crew chief, that’s all.
Interviewer: That’s about it, huh?
Lichtenstein: That’s it.
Interviewer: Did you have a parachute?
Lichtenstein: Oh yeah I had a parachute.
Interviewer: What did you think about that?
Lichtenstein: I was never, I told myself and told whoever, that if the pilot ever said, “Bail out, we’re in trouble,” I would say I wasn’t going to bail out until I saw him get up from his seat ’cause I wasn’t going out that door.
Lichtenstein: After you saw, if you looked out that door and looked down, it’s…
Interviewer: You were in a situation where…
Lichtenstein: Yeah. Didn’t, didn’t, wasn’t going to jump.
Interviewer: Well what happened next then?
Lichtenstein: Next we found a quick airfield to drop. It was a B-26 base. That was a medium bomber. They dropped, we landed there and it was about 25 miles back to the line.
Interviewer: Easy landing?
Lichtenstein: Oh yeah, no the landing was fine. It was not an emergency. It was just get down quick, okay. Didn’t have enough gas to get back to England and we weren’t going to try to get anything close to the Channel.
Interviewer: Now was the pilot able to, I always like the little details…
Interviewer: was the pilot able to tell you what’s going on or are…
Lichtenstein: Nope, nothing.
Interviewer: you sitting back there wondering where are we, what’s going…
Lichtenstein: No, no, you know what’s going on. You see that hole there, you know it’s in the gas tank.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Lichtenstein: And then we go up front and we’re going up to our cabin and the pilot says, “We’re going down”.
Interviewer: So you were talking to the…
Lichtenstein: Oh yeah, we were talking to the pilot. He said, “We’re going to go to the first airfield,” and that was fine with us.
Interviewer: Well back up there when you first got hit, did you hear things hitting the aircraft?
Lichtenstein: No. I’ll get, I’ll … we didn’t, at Bastogne they did not have anti-aircraft batteries. They just had guys shooting their small-caliber rifles and a couple of, a couple, larger-caliber…
Interviewer: You mean the Germans?
Lichtenstein: The Germans, yeah. They didn’t have flak batteries set up.
Interviewer: So you didn’t see great big balls…
Interviewer: …of fire coming up at you?
Lichtenstein: No. We did that at Wessel when we crossed the Rhine. I’ll tell you about that in a few minutes. Okay?
Interviewer: So Bastogne is…
Lichtenstein: Bastogne was…
Interviewer: …not the big explosions?
Lichtenstein: No, it was not, the tough, no it was not the big explosion. The tough part were the guys on the ground, you know. They were, they had it very difficult. When we supplied them, the 23rd, they were almost out of food, almost out of ammunition. They were hanging on.
Interviewer: Do you recall how many times you flew in Bastogne before you got hit?
Interviewer: This was your first…
Lichtenstein: And that was the first one.
Interviewer: Only time?
Lichtenstein: ‘Cause the weather, the weather had just opened up and we went, the 23rd. There were other, other days but because of the fact that our plane was hit and we went, we had to make an emergency landing.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Lichtenstein: And we landed and we spent the night, we, it was a nice, comfortable tent. But then about midnight the other fellows in the tent, the B-26 radio operators said, “Hear the noise? He’s comin’ over.” And coming over was, the Germans sent over a small plane every night and strafed all the airfields around there. So everybody got up and went outside and there was bomb craters that, it used to be a German airfield and it is where we had bombed and there was no water in it, no ice, but they were just hard and deep and I spent the night in a foxhole. And I found a new regard and appreciation for what the infantry people went though, okay. ‘Cause they lived, there’s Dick laughing, all they went through and they lived outside all the time. Okay?
Interviewer: Do you recall whether you got to sleep at all in the…
Lichtenstein: No not much sleep.
Interviewer: I can’t imagine being outdoors in the winter…
Lichtenstein: Well you have to imagine those guys that went through the Battle of the Bulge and lived outside.
Interviewer: But you were out there all night, out in the foxhole?
Lichtenstein: One night. One night.
Interviewer: Were there any other disabled aircraft coming in there…
Interviewer: …from that mission?
Lichtenstein: No, no, just one. Just one.
Interviewer: How’d you get out of there?
Lichtenstein: Well we loaded the, filled up the gas, the other three tanks and then the B-26s were flying on a mission that morning, the following morning. And that’s a medium bomber. They all took off and after they took off, they let us take off, to go back to England. Okay?
Interviewer: Sounds like you’re a little mascot…
Lichtenstein: Well we were, you know, we were an adjunct to their airfield. It was an operating bomber base and we, so we flew back and we got back on Christmas Day. It was Christmas Day…
Interviewer: That’s right.
Lichtenstein: and we landed, very bad weather, we landed and they relieved us so we didn’t have to fly another resupply mission to Bastogne because of that.
Interviewer: A couple of details here. How did you find Bastogne?
Lichtenstein: Oh we had coordinates. We knew how to fly with coordinates. We knew how to fly.
Interviewer: Were you involved in plotting that?
Lichtenstein: No that was all done by the radio and by the navigator at that time.
Interviewer: Okay, so you’re back there ready to unload when you get in?
Lichtenstein: That’s right. Our job at that time was just to push those things out of the airplane and then come forward and check the wings. And when we were walking up to the wings, we got hit.
Interviewer: So in comparison to Holland, did you have to vector your aircraft to that drop zone?
Lichtenstein: Yeah well you just followed, the trail to going to Holland was about 200 miles long, of airplanes.
Interviewer: Oh so you just followed airplanes?
Lichtenstein: We just followed the lead group, that’s all. There was, can you imagine 200 miles long all the way over from England over the Channel? That’s how many planes were dropped ’cause once you got there, they spread out and went to Neinmegen, went to Eindhoven, went to Arnhem. And…
Interviewer: So basically those were kind of uneventful. You got there, followed aircraft over and back?
Lichtenstein: That’s right.
Interviewer: Didn’t get hit? Nothing hit the plane?
Lichtenstein: No not in, we didn’t get a scratch at Holland.
Interviewer: Did they call that a “milk run”? Did they have names for that?
Lichtenstein: Yeah ours did but you have to remember always, if you read that book, you’ll see that there were a lot of loses from troop carrier. Different groups took hits there. They went over certain areas where there was more anti-aircraft fire and ground fire and there were losses.
Interviewer: I see. Okay…
Lichtenstein: There were losses.
Interviewer: So you just didn’t happen to be over the…
Lichtenstein: We were fortunate to be where there wasn’t that much stuff. And…
Interviewer: Do you recall that whether you were over Eindhoven or Arnhen or…
Lichtenstein: It was not Arnhem. It was…
Interviewer: …what town…
Lichtenstein: That wasn’t Eindhoven yet, Reimegen, Reimegen…
Lichtenstein: Neinmegen, that’s right. We were dropped at Neinmegen, yeah…
Interviewer: Okay. So I was wondering if you had been in some of this, how could you get back on the aircraft and then head out to another place like Bastogne?
Lichtenstein: Well you did. That was your duty. That was your … Hey, that’s your duty. That’s, you’re assigned. By the time we had Bastogne I had my own airplane. In other words, I was assigned to a certain airplane.
Lichtenstein: Yeah. The name of that airplane was “Suga,” S-U-G-A. It was named after a pilot who was lost at D-Day. That plane couldn’t fly, it was being serviced and he, the plane he was on went down and he was lost. So that was the plane I was assigned to coming back. It was S-U-G-A.
Lichtenstein: Suga, yeah.
Interviewer: Do you know where that name came from?
Lichtenstein: Yeah, his wife. That was his nickname for his wife.
Interviewer: Okay. All right. How about you? Did you have a nickname?
Interviewer: Where did that come from?
Lichtenstein: My brother. My brother named me, called me Lichty all my life, okay. Just stopped doing that about a year and a half ago. (General laughter)
Interviewer: That is typical of guys having nicknames, they…
Interviewer: shorten. Okay.
Lichtenstein: Then after Bastogne, then we were still doing training. And in February we packed up and we came to France. We packed the whole group and we went to France, a little air base called Mormellon and at that air base, Mormellon, the 101st Airborne was stationed, was there for R and R, rest and recuperation. And they were called up to Bastogne and we went in and took their place.
Interviewer: Oh I…
Lichtenstein: Yeah we took their life, we took their place. So we did training there.
Interviewer: I hear they left some souvenirs behind when they left like cases of champagne…
Lichtenstein: No they took them all.
Lichtenstein: They didn’t leave anything.
Lichtenstein: So we were training there and we were, we knew that the next thing was going to be the 17th so we were doing some training with the l7th Airborne ’cause they were going to be dropped over the Rhine River. Okay? Over the Rhine. And of course the Rhine was, that’s the big thing. We thought if we dropped over the Rhine, we crossed the Rhine, we’re really into Germany then and that’s going to shorten the war. So we prepared for that.
Interviewer: Did you have a chance to meet the 17th guys?
Lichtenstein: I met them, yeah. Some of the … Yeah when there was, in training we could talk to them, you know, when they…
Interviewer: So you got a little bit more contact with the…
Lichtenstein: Yeah we just talked to them a little bit.
Interviewer: 17th Airborne Division?
Lichtenstein: That’s correct. Then the rest of the guys. ‘Cause remember, I wasn’t there D-Day. And I wasn’t there to train D-Day. I didn’t get over till August and D-Day was in June.
Interviewer: Did you get to see any other parts of France while you were there?
Lichtenstein: We got a couple of passes to Paris. That was very interesting. The one part of France that I missed, as we, on the base approach when we were training at Mormellon, we flew out to get on, you’d look down and you could see old World War I trenches, overgrown World Was I trenches and I said, “I wonder, if my dad was ever down there in this area”.
Interviewer: Oh my.
Lichtenstein: But you know, once we come back, when we landed, I said, “Boy it’d be great if I got a bike,” ’cause that’s the only way you can get around and go out there. But once you landed, you were back in this war. I forgot all about it. Never went, never went, never. And I’m sorry to this day that I didn’t.
Interviewer: Any other cities in France that you might have seen besides Paris?
Lichtenstein: We were close to Reims, okay.
Lichtenstein: If you remember the Reims…
Interviewer: Reims Cathedral there.
Lichtenstein: it was a big cathedral and it was sandbagged all the way up to the top. It was, yeah, they wouldn’t let us in because it had been weakened somewhat by bombing so…
Interviewer: It sounds like you got a fair amount of sightseeing. Anything toward the south of France?
Lichtenstein: Sure. Never thought about this until just now. We used to take some paratroopers, now this was in the spring, we would take some paratroopers down there for their R and R and I remember we landed once and I talked to the pilot and I said, “It’s beautiful, beautiful down here.” He said, “Yeah,” he says, “I think we’re going to be weathered in”. So I radioed back to our base and said “We’re weathered in here,”…
Interviewer: He’s joking of course?
Lichtenstein: Of course he was joking. But we spent three days in Nice.
Interviewer: This is the French Riviera?
Lichtenstein: Yeah the French Riviera. I’ll never forget how blue that Mediterranean…
Interviewer: Did you have bathing suits?
Lichtenstein: No we didn’t have bathing suits. But I’ll tell you what. We had, they were G.I. rations but they gave them to the French chefs in the hotels and boy, you can imagine what they can do with Spam. It was good eating for three days. Okay?
Interviewer: Oh my.
Lichtenstein: Then we had to come back to the war. But that’s, that was it. It was just one pass and I got the usual arrogance in Paris, even when the war was going on. Okay? It’s the same as I did when I went back 40 years later. Okay? Same thing.
Interviewer: During this time now, there were some Jewish holidays. I want to, you know, touch on what you did, how did that…
Lichtenstein: I went to on base, I went to Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur…
Interviewer: Over there?
Lichtenstein: Yeah, yeah, over there.
Interviewer: That’s interesting.
Lichtenstein: Uh huh. Yeah. Over there.
Lichtenstein: Okay so we’re at Reims. We’re at Mormellon and we’re getting ready for the 17th, to drop the 17th at Reims. And that was the most hairy, that was a difficult situation. The flak there was immense. We had the 17th Airborne. They were in the back, we were up in front with the door closed and we’re looking out that front window and the flak was so heavy, it was so black, it was black. And you know, and you could see other C-47s in the groups ahead of us going in, being shot up, being shot down, engines starting a fire, and then you’re very apprehensive. Okay?
Interviewer: You saw all this?
Lichtenstein: Probably not smart enough to be scared ’cause I was only 19 then. But very apprehensive. And…
Interviewer: The noise?
Lichtenstein: The noise and the guys, you know, they’re going down, and when we flew over and dropped, they dropped. We would turn on the light and they dropped and then we were going through the flak and flak sounds like if you take a handful of marbles or a handful of gravel and throw it against the side of the airplane. That’s what, con- stantly, like if you’re driving in a car and somebody would take a handful of gravel and throw it at the car, that’s what flak sounds like. But that part of the flak is not dangerous. That’s expended shrapnel. It isn’t going to hurt you. Okay? It’s the part, the explosion. When the explosions get you, if they hit your airplane or hit too close to the airplane, that’s what’s going to get you. So…
Interviewer: Did the plane shake any?
Lichtenstein: Yeah it shook, it shook, it shook. Yeah. The plane shook and after we dropped the paratroopers, I remember we got out. The pilot said, “We’re going to get out of here under full military power”. And boy, remember when you drop the paratroopers, these C-47s would cruise at about 150 to 160 miles an hour. Compare that to your jets today. When we dropped the paratroopers or any kind of resupplies, they had to slow the plane down to about 110. Okay? You went very slow. It made you an easier target. We went very slow. And…
Interviewer: Now I have to ask…
Interviewer: all this is going on. You have a job to do. Are you doing the operator radio stuff?
Lichtenstein: No. During that flight, let’s say during he 17th, there was no radio, no radio communication. It was silent. So really myself and the crew chief were super-fluous for that flight. Okay? The only thing is…
Interviewer: You could have stayed home?
Lichtenstein: Could have stayed home. Could have stayed home but they wouldn’t let me. And the…
Interviewer: A lot of good.
Lichtenstein: after the paratroophers dropped, after they went out, then we immediately went back to the cabin, Jim on the left side, me on the right, to make sure that there were no holes in the, that the engines weren’t going to be afire, or there’s no holes in the wings. But we got out of there quickly and came back. We had, there’s nine in the squadron and there’s four squadrons in a group. That’s 36. And we lost one plane in that group. One plane took a direct hit in back of us. I didn’t see it thankfully. But it blew and down she went.
Interviewer: Did you know those guys?
Lichtenstein: Yeah. Knew those guys, knew those guys. But our losses were nothing compared to what the bomber boys had.
Interviewer: Oh yeah?
Lichtenstein: The bombers lost …
Interviewer: I think as you said, depends on the squadron you’re in.
Lichtenstein: That’s correct.
Interviewer: You know some over Bastogne were shot down in 17 planes?
Interviewer: So you just happened to be in a certain plane…
Lichtenstein: At a certain time at a certain place…
Interviewer: But you’re stretching your luck a bit now…
Lichtenstein: Yes you are…
Interviewer: as you get…
Lichtenstein: Yes we are, yes we are. So we got…
Interviewer: Was that one out in back?
Lichtenstein: One out in back, that’s all. And that was out and then we circled around and then we came back.
Lichtenstein: And I’ll never forget, we came back. And on the planes coming back from the air strip we had a group of POWs there, for instance who did a lot of the K.P. work and ground work around the base. And we were on the truck yelling at them, yelling at them. And they were standing on the fence. They were probably as happy as we were ’cause they knew the end of the war was coming.
Interviewer: German prisoners of war?
Lichtenstein: German prisoners of war. The one thing I remember about the German prisoners of war, we ate, into out mess hall. We had our mess kits and we would go through. And when we were done, then they would go through and they all had these big, remember in service you had gallon cans. You can still buy stewed apples in gallon cans. Okay? Big, large cans.
Interviewer: Bulk quantity, huh?
Lichtenstein: Yeah large quantity, had the wires over them and they all went through the line, the chow line, and they took that bucket and they put everything in the same bucket, okay, whether it was applesauce or mashed potatoes or, everything was in the same bucket and they were in heaven. They loved it. They ate it like it would be their last meal. I’ll never forget that.
Interviewer: Isn’t that something?
Lichtenstein: I’m sure they ate…
Interviewer: They were living well?
Lichtenstein: They were living well. I’m sure they ate better than they’d ever…
Interviewer: What did you think about that? Did you know, had you gotten any word about the Holocaust that was taking place? Any sense of that?
Lichtenstein: Okay. Once when we were, I’m going to come to that.
Lichtenstein: We were, the next thing that we did after, that was in March. The next thing we did and the most difficult thing that I had to do, that we had to go through, was in the month of April where we resupplied General Patton’s tanks going through Germany. Okay? We had to, we had to bring them up gasoline. There’s a picture in that book, I almost, you all know what qvell is? I qvelled when I saw the picture in that book. We loaded the planes, the inside of the planes, with gasoline. Five- gallon cans of gasoline called “Jerry cans,” with gasoline and there were probably about 100 or 110 of them in there and we had to lash them down so they wouldn’t shift. We would load the planes, the crews would load, the pilots and the crew chief and myself would load those airplanes in the morning. We’d fly them to a field in Germany. It was an airfield and it was temporary because it was, they picked any, some of the flat fields, and they had steel matting. They used steel matting for runways. And we’d land. We would land and German POWs would come and unload. This was in Germany now, we’re in Germany. They would come and unload the gas, put them on big 2 1/2 ton trucks and off they’d go. And after they’d gone, came the ambulances. And they would bring the stretchers. We would bring, they’d put stretchers, we’d bring the wounded back after that. And I’ll tell you, Patton didn’t relieve any of his wounded until there was no chance of them coming back. Okay? Those guys … were without eyes and with a guy that was going to lose a leg. They all had their, they’re laying on the stretchers and they had their X-rays, all had their X-rays on their chests. And in the plane would come along a nurse and a medic.
Interviewer: And a medic?
Lichtenstein: Back to the medics. And a medic.
Interviewer: Oh my God.
Lichtenstein: And we would fly back to our base and they would take them off in ambulances, off to the base hospitals or the field hospitals…
Interviewer: They’d load the airplane with them?
Lichtenstein: They loaded, yeah.
Lichtenstein: No they’d, we…
Interviewer: You had a full load?
Lichtenstein: We had a load. In other words when we had the gas, they took the gas out and then we would take the stretchers and put them down. We had them tied up against the wall and we’d take about, there was three, three, three, three, six, about 18 guys back. Okay? And they were all seriously wounded. Anyway they were unloaded and then we loaded the gas, the tanks, we loaded it with gas again. We did this twice a day for at least three weeks. We only missed one day because we had to take out plane out and get a 100-day inspection. A hundred hours.
Interviewer: Forty or more trips?
Lichtenstein: Yeah it was…
Interviewer: Now my understanding…
Lichtenstein: We were wore out, we were obliterated.
Interviewer: Crossing the Rhine was one out and back?
Lichtenstein: Yeah it was one out and back.
Interviewer: Bastogne was one our and down?
Lichtenstein: That’s right.
Interviewer: And Holland was how many trips?
Lichtenstein: I did two trips.
Interviewer: Two trips for Holland?
Lichtenstein: That’s right. But this was…
Interviewer: But now you’re…
Lichtenstein: But this was going twice a day. Now there was no fire. The Germans were way up front. So there was no hostile fire, no hostile fire.
Interviewer: What did you think about flying with gasoline though?
Lichtenstein: (Laughs) Well I was hoping the same, it was the same kind of bullet that came up, that went through the, through our gas tank at Bastogne, if it had to be. But they weren’t, they were gone. The Germans, Patton was chasing them. But what I’m saying is that … we put the gas on it, we loaded again and then they would bring up cold sandwiches and coffee ’cause you couldn’t go back to our tents because we had to stay there. And they would give, and then they had big trays of bread and they would have trays of marmalade. Okay? Marmalade? And if you took the marmalade, you took the marmalade and you put it on the bread and before you ate it, you had to dig into that marmalade and take the bees out. Okay? Remember this was the French countryside and you had to take the bees out.
Interviewer: Now what flavor marmalade was that?
Lichtenstein: It was peach. Okay? And to this day…
Lichtenstein: to this day my family knows that when I go to a restaurant and order jam, I say, “I want red jam”. I haven’t had marmalade since. Okay? ‘Cause I don’t want to look for any more bees. (General laughter) But we did that twice a day. Okay? Up and back and we’d come back at night and we were obliterated. We slept quickly and got up in the morning and we did that at least three weeks, minus one day, and it was, that was right to the end of April and if you recall, I think the armistice was signed May 7th…
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Lichtenstein: if I recall. But it took us a long time to recuperate from that. It was wearing on the planes and wearing on the crew and frankly, that was the toughest thing to do, those three weeks of resupply.
Interviewer: Did you ever just fall asleep from fatigue on a mission or?
Lichtenstein: No, no, no, no.
Interviewer: You were able to stay awake?
Lichtenstein: Yeah, stayed awake, stayed awake.
Interviewer: Being that you were flying into Germany, you were on the ground in Germany, do you recall…
Interviewer: anything in particular?
Lichtenstein: Yes I do. Couple things. One, by the way we would land at one, that airstrip and maybe the next day at the same airstrip but never more than two days in a row. They’d always be moving up and we would follow Patton and his tanks. Okay? The next airstrip, deeper into Germany, deeper into Germany. And one I recall, there was an old Messerschmitt, not an old, a new, a jet, one of the new jets. And it was sitting off to the side. It had been strafed, it wasn’t running any more.
Interviewer: Did you have any idea what it was?
Lichtenstein: One of the Germans. We heard what they were and we got up close and we said, “That must be one of those new things,” and it was…
Interviewer: … didn’t even know what it is?
Lichtenstein: No it was just about all engine and those things were not that effective ’cause they couldn’t fly any more than about 40 minutes. Okay?
Interviewer: You saw one?
Lichtenstein: Yeah. ‘Cause they were very, very, very, very new. And also at one time, we were landing, some of the guys walked up the road just to walk up the road. And they came back with a pale look on their face. They said, “About a half mile up the road there were some Jewish people that were killed”. They were killed. And they said, “The bodies were still steaming.” The Germans killed, a small group of Germans…
Interviewer: Now who told you this?
Lichtenstein: These other crew members. Guys that I knew that were flying with me in other planes.
Interviewer: Did they know you were Jewish?
Lichtenstein: Yeah they knew I was Jewish. But I wasn’t going to go up to look. Okay. Wasn’t going to go up to look.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Lichtenstein: And that’s the closest I came to anything like that. I’m taking their word for it and I know they weren’t kidding. You could tell the way…
Interviewer: Did you wear dog tags when you were…
Lichtenstein: I wore dog tags and I wore something else. Before I left, Mitzi gave me a little Star of David and I never took it off. Okay?
Interviewer: Along with your dog tags?
Lichtenstein: Along with my dog tags.
Interviewer: Your dog tags were marked with what religion?
Interviewer: And you knew what would happen to you if…
Lichtenstein: Didn’t even think about it.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Uh huh.
Lichtenstein: Just wasn’t that smart. I was 19 years old. Anyway…
Interviewer: Death camps, we’d mentioned you had…
Interviewer: that story but you never actually saw any…
Lichtenstein: …never got …
Interviewer: other than you knew down the road?
Lichtenstein: Yeah…down the road.
Interviewer: Okay. Did you see any American soldiers up close or British soldiers?
Lichtenstein: Okay. Yeah, okay. After the war was over, that’s in May, then our next duty was we had to fly to some of these certain stations to pick up POWs, prisoners, our prisoners of war. Okay? And we picked up during the month of May, we brought a lot of POWs back. Mostly were in our sector, we brought a lot of British guys, British boys back. And I remember they were gaunt. They were not skin and bones. They were gaunt. I remember one of them, the longest one of them was a pilot of a Halifax bomber pilot who was there since l940. He was five years POW and…he wasn’t talking, he wasn’t talking. I don’t think he could believe that he was getting out. He was getting out.
Interviewer: But he said enough to tell you that he’d been in there that long and…
Lichtenstein: Yeah he told me, he said he’d been shot down in 1940 and…
Interviewer: Did he express any wishes, something he wanted?
Lichtenstein: No, no, no, I still, he didn’t, he talked very, I still think he couldn’t believe it. Okay? Couldn’t believe it.
Interviewer: Did you ever exchange, I’m just thinking here off the hand, did you ever exchange home addresses with somebody over there saying, “Hey, you know, let’s keep in touch after the war?”
Lichtenstein: Yeah, yes I did, with a couple guys in my outfit. And we wrote a letter or two but…
Lichtenstein: It fell apart. Okay? Nobody…
Interviewer: Turned the thought there.
Lichtenstein: Yeah. The only thing I really did bring home, only thing I brought home was my…
Interviewer: Oh souvenir?
Lichtenstein: A souvenir. One escape kit. Okay? We were issued these on every mission. Okay? If you want to come out and look at it afterwards, you’ll see what’s in it. My grand—, my dear David grandson and granddaughter, who are here with me and my son and my daughter-in-law and my brother and sister-in-law and my Gary…
Interviewer: Well tell us what were you supposed to do with this thing.
Lichtenstein: Well if you ever got shot down and you could make an escape, what was in here was a compass, a saw, a hacksaw, a chocolate ration. It’s still in here. Eat it very slowly ’cause it’s concentrated. Bouillon powder to mix up with water. Malted milk tablets. Remember the malted milk tablets we used to eat, guys, when we were young? Benzadrine to keep, stay awake. Aspirin if you had a headache. Halizon to purify water. And antiseptic ointment to…
Interviewer: This was after you had come back from the war?
Lichtenstein: No this was back, this was still when I was in Sedalia, Missouri. When I was at Sedalia, training in Sedalia, Missouri. We used to get three-day pa—, we used to get three-day passes…
Interviewer: You came all the way home from Missouri…
Lichtenstein: Yeah I would leave at 4:00 and take a train to St. Louis. At midnight I would take the train from St. Louis to Columbus. It took 12 hours from St. Louis to Columbus and I had to sit on my duffel bag all the way because you couldn’t get a seat. Okay? And not only that but the three-day passes were not to go further from St. Louis so when the M.P.s were coming through I used to go and lock myself in the john so they wouldn’t see my passes. To see Mitzi.
Interviewer: My goodness. So you got letters in, while you were in Europe also. You told us about it at camp.
Lichtenstein: Oh yeah, all the time. Europe, all the time…
Interviewer: So you got letters in Europe?
Lichtenstein: followed, yeah. I did go back to Normandie in 1984, 40 years from D-Day, just to go back even though I wasn’t at Normandie, I wanted to go back. I wanted to go see St. Maragise again and I wanted to go walk the beaches, which I did. And then I walked through the cemetery which should be required viewing for every European. Okay? Every European should be made…
Interviewer: This is as a tourist to places you had not had any contact during the war?
Lichtenstein: That’s right.
Interviewer: Other than Paris. You were in Paris?
Lichtenstein: I was in Paris, yeah. But the cemetery of course was constructed in, buried from the fellows that went down, that died at D-Day. Yeah. But I went to Paris. I was there once. Spent a three-day pass and it was nice. I remember they sent us to a hotel. The hotel’s name was the Hotel Montana, you know. It’s funny when … and it was across the Seine and…
Interviewer: How did you get to Paris from your, did you ride a truck or something?
Lichtenstein: Now we flew in, we flew into…
Interviewer: During the war I mean?
Lichtenstein: Yeah we flew in ’cause we knew, we had three-day passes. We flew in.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Lichtenstein: We flew in. And all the, this happened mostly after May, after the war was over, May and June. And then I came, then we, after the war was over it was June and July and we knew we couldn’t stay there and they said, “Well you’re going home and you’ll get your orders when you get to Stone”. They flew us all to Stone, England. There’s a Stone, England. It’s a port. It’s a port city. And they said, “You’ll get your orders there”, and our orders there were to go to Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas and you were, and I was going to a radio operator instructor for other guys going to the Pacific.
Interviewer: So you thought you were going to go to the war in the Pacific then?
Lichtenstein: I thought it was until I got that order to be an instructor. But I don’t know what they’d have done once I got there. Okay? So remember this was in July and the war was till going on in Japan. So the next thing that happened is we walked out to the ship and lo and behold, it was the Queen Mary. So I came home on the Queen Mary. And that was delightful. Went over in that puddle-jumper and came back on the Queen Mary. And went to, while I was home on 30-day delay en route, they dropped bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the war ended in Japan while I was home in August.
Interviewer: What did you think about dropping of the bomb or do you recall?
Lichtenstein: I thought it was the best thing that could ever happen.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Lichtenstein: Okay? The best thing that could ever happen and you talk to anybody in service, especially the fellows that were over there, that island-hopped, and there wasn’t anybody that said this was the greatest thing that ever happened.
Interviewer: You feel it saved your life?
Lichtenstein: Well I don’t know, they told me I wasn’t going to go. I don’t know. But it saved, how many lives did it save? A lot of lives. You saw how many people died on the islands over there, Iwo Jima etcetera and Okinawa. We’d have lost hundreds of thousands of people because they’d have all fought to be there.
Interviewer: When the war ended in Germany, I didn’t ask you, what were you doing? Do you recall that day, you know?
Lichtenstein: Had a bottle of champagne and was walking through the camp. We were drinking a bottle of champagne out of the bottle. Okay? That’s what I remember. We were all happy and thrilled and no more combat flights and nobody’s ever going to shoot at us again.
Interviewer: That was known as V-E Day…
Lichtenstein: That was V-E Day.
Interviewer: Victory in Europe.
Lichtenstein: Victory in Europe, yeah. The only thing I, some of the guys were on pass to London that day and…
Interviewer: Oh they weren’t there?
Lichtenstein: They had a big time. They had a big time.
Interviewer: Almost better, you were on one of these airstrips out in nowhere?
Lichtenstein: Yeah we were, yeah. We were in Mormellon, we were in France.
Interviewer: Mormellon? Okay.
Lichtenstein: We were in France.
Interviewer: So you were doing all this work out of Mormellon then?
Lichtenstein: Out of Mormellon…
Interviewer: …aircraft and its operation?
Lichtenstein: You know, and of all the maps that I’ve looked for, in France, trying to find Mormellon, I didn’t find Mormellon until you brought me those, well these two books are about troop carrier books that David has and I looked through them and there was a map in there and Mormellon is right on there and I couldn’t believe it. It was very, very small and it was close to Reims as I said…
Interviewer: I wanted to ask you, then as you’re back home after the war, did you have any nightmares that we hear about combat veterans having?
Lichtenstein: Not a one, not a one.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Lichtenstein: The only, we had one guy in our tent, radio operator, and we had a tough mission coming up. His name was Rick Doyle and he was from Rochester, New York and he worked for Kodak. And he would wake up in the middle of the night screaming. He had nightmares. So we nicknamed him “Marbles,” okay…
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Lichtenstein: …as in “he’s lost them,” okay. He was known as “Marbles” and he accepted it and that’s, I never had a nightmare.
Interviewer: Had he had a bad experience?
Lichtenstein: No, no, he just, (mixed voices) he was just Marbles. But I remember, the one thing about Marbles, he smoked, he’s got to be, he can’t be alive now. He’s got to be dead. He smoked, he got out of bed, before he got out of his cot in the morning he’d light up a cigarette. He smoked like a chimney.
Interviewer: You were given cigarettes free, weren’t you?
Lichtenstein: Oh no, we had to pay. We got them at the P.X. And they…
Interviewer: Oh yeah?
Lichtenstein: got were, they were ten cents a pack I think or something like that. And that’s, they were basically Raleighs and all the brands you never heard of, that’s what we got. Old Gold.
Interviewer: I’d like to pause and just kind of reflect on the whole combat series we’ve gone through here, Holland, the Bulge and in the Rhine, you mentioned that supplying Patton was the most challenging for you.
Lichtenstein: Yes sir.
Interviewer: You were shot down. That’d be memorable. Any kind of third most or event or…
Interviewer: Wouldn’t want to miss anything significant or that just didn’t seem to…
Interviewer: …to fit in there.
Lichtenstein: No the…
Interviewer: Holland seems to have gone smooth. I’m sort of surprised about Holland.
Lichtenstein: Yeah. It, remember I was sort of in a daze then. I was there two weeks and it was sort of a fuzzy thing.
Interviewer: And you had a quiet drop in there?
Lichtenstein: We had a quiet drop. It was, it was fine.
Interviewer: Things got noisy as you were…
Lichtenstein: They got more noisy as I went along. At Bastogne…
Interviewer: I know what I wanted to ask. Did you ever see any enemy aircraft …
Lichtenstein: No, no.
Lichtenstein: No, no. I remember at Wessel when we dropped over the Rhine, we could see fighter planes off in the distance and you looked and, you know, we had courses, things that we did in training…
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Lichtenstein: they would flash different planes so you could identify them. Well there was a P-51 of ours, a Messerschmitt 109.
Interviewer: I see.
Lichtenstein: And we would look and look and, “Boy,” I said, “they sure look like P-51s”. They were always P-51s.
Interviewer: Made you feel…
Lichtenstein: We had at Wessel, even though we got a lot of flak, and lost planes there, we had perfect air cover. They were, if they had any airplanes left, the Germans, they wouldn’t have got through our air cover.
Interviewer: Just to make sure I understand your job as a radio operator, a lot of times you were doing other things?
Lichtenstein: That’s true.
Interviewer: Do you recall any key time when you were really working those radios or doing that…
Lichtenstein: Best time…
Interviewer: …up front.
Lichtenstein: …best time was when I was going overseas in the middle of the ocean.
Interviewer: That one there, huh?
Lichtenstein: That was, that was the most memorable one.
Interviewer: That’s interesting.
Lichtenstein: Yeah. And then during missions we were always, we’d have to stay, until we got right to the drop zone we’d have to stay on the radio to make sure it wasn’t aborted in any way.
Interviewer: Oh I see.
Interviewer: Did you throw any of these switches to turn the lights on for the paratroopers to jump out or?
Lichtenstein: In training remember, no that was on the pilots. We would…
Interviewer: The pilot did that?
Lichtenstein: The pilot did that. What we did, in training in the States, when we’d pull gliders, I didn’t recall it earlier but I do remember that we would, I would come up with a lamp and there was an astrodome right over my head. No it was back further. You couldn’t, the most, barely you could see sideways. It was occluded, and you would stand up in there with this gun and…
Interviewer: Canopy like?
Lichtenstein: Canopy like. And you would flash a red light and that means “get ready” and when we were near the drop zone, we were going to drop, it changed to green. I’d switch and put it on green and flash it…
Lichtenstein: We flashed the green, they would cut the tow ropes and the gliders would come down on their own.
Interviewer: So you were trained to do that too?
Interviewer: And you didn’t…
Interviewer: get that assignment?
Interviewer: Well we’ve covered a great deal of territory here. Let’s see if we can transition you hack into civilian life briefly. Did you come back to Columbus?
Lichtenstein: I came back to Columbus and I got married. Mitzi and I were married in ’47 and I, her father-in-law and I built a motel on East Main Street and we needed financing and we found a finance company, a mortgage company to finance it, and I didn’t want to be an operator of a motel all my life so I went with this company and I became an officer of the company and I am a retired mortgage banker.
Interviewer: What’s the name of that company?
Lichtenstein: It was Yerke Mortgage Company.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Lichtenstein: And I decided one century was enough. I quit January 1, 2000.
Interviewer: Oh I see. How about the motel building? Is that still standing?
Lichtenstein: No it’s history.
Interviewer: What was the name that it went by?
Lichtenstein: It was Key 53, Motel Key 53.
Interviewer: Key 53?
Lichtenstein: I remember that.
Interviewer: General review of family, kids and all that?
Lichtenstein: Well I have a brother and his wife. Sandy was just five years younger and he has a wife and he has three children and grandchildren. I have a daughter who lives in Cincinnati who has given me two grandchildren. I have my dear son Jeffrey, Lizette his wife, David and Anna. Jeffrey is in the mortgage business now. He has his own company. They live in Worthington and the grandchildren are the love of my life and…
Interviewer: Let me ask you one nearly-final question.
Interviewer: Did you ever sit down with your children and tell them about the war?
Lichtenstein: (addressing children) Have you heard all of this stuff? I don’t think so.
Interviewer: You did not.
Interviewer: Any particular reason why you…
Lichtenstein: Have you heard all this?
Voice: Not all of it.
Interviewer: Is there any particular reason why you didn’t sit down and kind of say, “Now, I’m going to tell you about the war?
Lichtenstein: Yeah well we just did. How long we been here? It’s over an hour and I…
Interviewer: Well you have been with kids all…your whole life.
Lichtenstein: Yeah well that’s true.
Interviewer: Okay. All right. No it’s typical. It’s typical. How about your father? Did he ever sit down and tell you about the war?
Lichtenstein: He just told us about that he lost his leg. He didn’t have too much to say. That he lost his leg. He don’t remember being hit. He remembers waking up in a field the next morning and somebody had wrapped a tourniquet around his leg. But they couldn’t save it. And I know he spent a year in Walter Reed Hospital. Now these fellows lose a leg and they put, they put the leg on them and in a couple of weeks, they’re walking on it. And my dad carried a very heavy wooden leg all his life and had a very distinct limp. But that was World War I.
Interviewer: Okay, so he shared that much with you?
Interviewer: Well I’m just checking my typical question there, list here. I think we’ve touched on all the subjects. Do you have any other recollections that…
Interviewer: we might want to put down here?
Lichtenstein: Although I’ve never gone this deep into it.
Interviewer: Carol I don’t know, we might turn, say we could open the floor to some, you know, questions. Anyone have, want to?
Voice: Irv, specifically what did you do as a radio operator? Were you talking on the radio frequently?
Lichtenstein: It was code. The pilot’s talking orally. We did everything by code.
Voice: Morse Code?
Lichtenstein: Morse Code. Morse Code, dit, dot, dit, dot, dit, dot.
Voice: Dit, dot, dit?
Lichtenstein: Okay? Everything was coded. Okay? Everything was coded. Each morning before our flight, no matter whether it was training or what it was, we could pick up our kit in the radio shack and each day would have a different code, okay. A different code, a different code.
Interviewer: That’s an excellent question because you think “radio operator”. He’s sitting there talking to somebody on the radio.
Voice: Did you ever carry on any miscellaneous conversations in code, you know, find out the news…
Lichtenstein: No. no.
Lichtenstein: I had a radio that could, I could listen. Okay? One of the, the 522. It’s called a 522. I could listen. Okay? In fact if I heard something good like Radio Free Europe or something like that, I would tell the pilot to, “Click on Number 4 and you’ll hear some good music”. Stuff like that. But you couldn’t respond to it. You couldn’t respond to it. But they were…
Interviewer: So you could hear radio broadcasts?
Lichtenstein: Oh yeah. Yeah we could hear…
Interviewer: From communications on…
Voice: What kind of messages were you involved in with Morse Code. In other words, what sort of message would you get and what sort of message would you answer?
Lichtenstein: Well let’s say we were going over the ocean. I checked in with, what did I tell you, with Greenland and it came at a certain time and this is, we had a code letter of our ship and we just, checking in. And when I checked in then they came back with a long message in double code so I had to get out the code of the day and decoded it. In the code it said, “Turn around and go back”. So I radioed back to them with dot, with code, to reassure, is this right or is this a German sub down there sending me something? But who knows? So they went over it again, it was so, so we turned around and went back. That was all code, all dot, dit, dot. Nothing, the radio operator did not do anything orally.
Voice: Well then when you were flying back and forth in France from your base…
Voice: and supplying the front lines, would you have any radio communication…
Voice: At all?
Lichtenstein: No. We were superfluous. All we did was push, you know, watch for stuff in the airplane, push stuff out of the airplane. Okay? Make sure that there, that if some- thing happened that they couldn’t drop the, if some, we were told that if they couldn’t drop the stick, the paratroopers for some reason, mechanical, they want to know about it back at headquarters so we could tell them that our plane would not drop their stick. Okay?
Interviewer: Did the plane fly fairly low or did you have to put on a mask?
Lichtenstein: No, no. We always flew, for missions that we flew, we dropped paratroopers, we were usually 5- or 600 feet.
Interviewer: All the way there?
Lichtenstein: No, no. We were higher. We were at 3- or 4,000 and we would drop down.
Interviewer: But you didn’t have to put a mask on?
Lichtenstein: No, never. You didn’t have to have a mask until you were up to around 14-, 15,000 and our plane never went over 12. We couldn’t, these planes wouldn’t go that high.
Voice: Was that one hit the only serious hit that you…
Voice: took on your plane?
Lichtenstein: Yes sir, yes sir. Only one.
Voice: They say a Gooney Bird can fly around the world on one engine.
Lichtenstein: Uh huh. That’s another thing. We lost an engine once, okay. Coming back from a, it was coming back to England. I forgot what it was. I think it was a resupply mission. We were coming back to England and we got near the English Channel and the right engine went out. Never thought about it until just now. The right engine went out. Okay? And it was too late to turn around and find a place in France so we just, he raised it, the pilot raised it up another thousand feet to get enough and we flew back. And I radioed back to our base that we’re coming in on one engine and be prepared. And when we landed they had every, all the wagons out there but it was uneventful. We had flew on one engine. Okay? They flew on one engine. It was …
Voice: Good old Gooney Bird.
Lichtenstein: Yeah the good, that’s what it was. It was called a Gooney Bird.
Voice: Good pilot?
Voice: Good pilot?
Lichtenstein: Good pilot? Yeah nobody got shook up and you depend on the pilot. He didn’t panic. He was the guide leader. Our pilot panicked when we had a landing after Bastogne when they took the gas tank out. So.
Interviewer: Did you ever see any other aircraft crash or…
Lichtenstein: Saw them from a distance.
Interviewer: Actually saw them?
Lichtenstein: At Wessel. At the, over the Rhine.
Interviewer: You saw them going down?
Lichtenstein: Saw them go down. Saw them go down.
Interviewer: Oh my.
Lichtenstein: Yeah saw them go down. Saw a couple of them go down. And others were afire. You know, they’d come out with their engines afire. But that airplane took a lot of beating, a lot of guff. It was very well made. When they were manufacturing, they were manufacturing two a day at Douglass. It’s a Douglass aircraft. Right now you find DC-9s and stuff like that, Richard, right? And that’s who made this airplane, DC-3. Yes, Phyllis?
Phyllis: What kind of clothes did you wear when you had to push barrels back? You weren’t wearing your regular uniform were you?
Lichtenstein: Yeah wearing uniforms with, but if we were going to be taking flak, we had flak jackets on. They were very heavy metal flak jackets that we put on over our parachutes. Okay? Over the parachute. The parachute was down in the back and this covered us like from the waist up. So we had our uniforms on. We had flight suits on, is what we had.
Interviewer: How about a helmet? Did they give you a helmet?
Lichtenstein: Yeah we wore helmets. That, when we were going to come under fire, we put on helmets. Just like the same kind of helmets we wore on the ground.
Interviewer: Just like those?
Lichtenstein: Uh huh.
Voice: Question? Was this the same crew? Did you go with the same crew?
Interviewer: Same crew?
Lichtenstein: No I didn’t, didn’t, no. When we went overseas I didn’t, they broke us up.
Interviewer: Ummm. But after that, when you were flying, did…
Lichtenstein: Yeah. Then I was, it was, I’ll tell you, the pilots were not. It was myself and the crew chief were assigned to Suga. Okay? Our airplane. And we would usually fly with the same pilots but not necessarily. If they had too many flight hours for that month we would get another set of pilots.
Interviewer: What did you think about that?
Lichtenstein: I would rather have our regular guys but in fact, when we got the hole in the tank at Bastogne, it was a substitute pilot. His name was Flit, I remember…
Interviewer: Flit with an E on the end?
Lichtenstein: And he was cool. He was good.
Interviewer: How about maintenance crew, comes to mind. Did you ever get to…
Lichtenstein: The maintenance … every fifty hours, they would do light maintenance on the airplane, every 100 hours, more maintenance and every 600 hours they’d change engines.
Interviewer: The guys took care of that…
Lichtenstein: Yeah, no we didn’t take care of that. We’d just walk around when they were doing it to make sure they didn’t miss any of the spark plugs or anything. We just, no, when you’re flight crew, you didn’t have anything to do with the planes on the ground.
Interviewer: It’s interesting though that the paratroopers that rode along, they didn’t come up and ask you about the aircraft engine?
Lichtenstein: Oh no.
Interviewer: What do you know about the pilot?
Lichtenstein: No, no, no.
Interviewer: No contact?
Lichtenstein: No, no. They just, they all, they stayed to themselves. Stayed to, it was very good discipline, very good discipline.
Interviewer: But you recall them reading Bibles, huh?
Lichtenstein: I remember looking back, distinctly, at the 17th and about half of the guys had little Bibles. They were looking, reading Bibles.
Interviewer: Oh yeah. Question back there?
Voice: How many paratroopers were in the plane?
Lichtenstein: They were, I think eight a side, I think 16. Sixteen.
Interviewer: Not a whole lot, is it?
Lichtenstein: Not a whole lot, no. No. Eight a side. Because remember, they came on and they were loaded for bear with equipment. I mean they were…
Interviewer: Oh yeah.
Lichtenstein: They were carrying a lot of stuff…
Interviewer: Did you ever carry anything besides, you know, sometimes they put guns on there or…
Lichtenstein: No, no.
Lichtenstein: No, no, no. Yeah I know what you mean, no.
Voice:…Carry a side arm?
Lichtenstein: Yes on missions we carried a 45.
Interviewer: Did you ever use it?
Interviewer: What happened to it at the end of the war?
Lichtenstein: Oh we turned that in.
Interviewer: You did?
Lichtenstein: Yeah. We turned, they wanted the guns back, yeah.
Interviewer: Anybody ever want to trade you a German Luger?
Interviewer: None of that?
Lichtenstein: Huh, uh. No. They, one last thing. All the C-47s that were over there, thousands of them, they all stayed. We did not bring a, not a one C-47 was flown home. They stayed over there in Europe and all the ones that were on the other side of the world, they stayed there and some of those small countries over there are still flying those C-47s.
Interviewer: Yeah? …
Lichtenstein: As long as they’re maintained.
Interviewer: Another question here?
Voice: What did your dad say to you before you went into the military?
Lichtenstein: Yeah he was, he was, Sanford might remember, he was not a happy, he was not a happy guy. He was, he had trepidations, he had trepidations.
Interviewer: Did he give you any advice?
Lichtenstein: No, just “write your mother”.
Voice: Don’t volunteer for anything. (Laughter)
Lichtenstein: And I volunteered to get off the ground at Turns. Yeah, so. And when I came home, when I was discharged in October of ’45, I was 20 years old. So I was always the youngest guy in the outfit along with getting the most mail. So, you know, I look at my grandson who’s 24 and I can’t believe what I went through. And he’s 24 and I did this before I was 21. But those were different days. I was not alone. There was a lot of young guys, a lot of young guys.
Interviewer: … Did you have any friends who were killed during the war?
Lichtenstein: The one in training, that’s all. One radio operator that was in my barracks…
Interviewer: Oh yeah.
Lichtenstein: In training.
Interviewer: Okay. Well that, did we cover it? Okay. (General applause) This is the end of the interview with Irv Lichtenstein, conducted on December 11, 2002.
Lichtenstein: Two of my Columbus friends were lost in the war: Richard Greene, a pilot, was shot down in the last week of the war and Irv Godofsky (Martin Godofsky’s younger brother) a gunner on a bomber, was also lost.
Lichtenstein: Two of my Columbus friends were lost in the war: Richard Greene, a pilot, was shot down in the last week of the war and Irv Godofsky (Martin Godofsky’s younger brother) a gunner on a bomber, was also lost.
* * *
Transcribed by Honey Abramson
Edited by Toby Brief
Corrected by Irv Lichtenstein
Edited by Peggy Kaplan