This interview is for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society. It is being recorded on September 28, 1999, as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History Project. The interview is being recorded at the home of Marvin Brown on 180 S. Harding Road, Columbus, Ohio. My name is Dave Graham and I am interviewing Marvin Brown and now we’ll begin.
Interviewer: All right then. Why don’t we begin with a little bit of family background here, the origin of your parents.
Brown: That will be pretty sketchy.
Interviewer: Well, whatever you know.
Brown: All right.
Interviewer: Their names and . . . .
Interviewer: Places of birth?
Brown: Okay. It’s September 28, 1999, and this is Marvin Brown being interviewed by David Graham, a volunteer historian and interviewer for the Jewish Historical Society of Columbus, Ohio. By way of background leading to an outline of my World War II experiences, I was born in Boston, Massachusetts, March 17, 1926, which is an official holiday in Massachusetts. And my father was a druggist and a musician and a salesperson. My mother died of breast cancer when I was 7 years old. She was 31 and we lived all over New England. The longest I ever went to any one school was two years and finished high school in New York City, the borough of Manhattan, in June of 1943, when I was 17 years old. At that time I had tried to enlist in the army on the day after Pearl Harbor Day, which would have been December 8, 1941, and, of course I was too young. I think I must have been 15 at the time. My brother also was with me as were dozens and dozens and dozens of other kids our age.
Interviewer: Do you mean your brother was enlisting at the same time?
Brown: Yeah well, he was younger than I; he was a year and a half younger than I am. But after high school, I did take a test, and was accepted into the Army Specialized Training Program. And after working that summer in our jobs, I attended Cornell University under the auspices of the Army until May of 1944. At that time, I went on active duty; we were considered, as ASTP students under 18, as inactive members of the Army. And we were clothed and fed and housed and educated by the Army. And in the fall of, in the spring of ’44, I was inducted at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and I was extremely timid and shy as a teenager. I had wanted to get into the Air Force and be a fighter pilot but I had had a mastoidectomy before I started kindergarten and as a consequence of that surgery, had an inner-ear problem that disqualified me for fighter pilot service. My second choice was the tank destroyers because I liked the sound of it. I thought their patch was extremely exciting looking . . . .
and the panther crushing the tank, but I was so timid that when the interviewer at the induction center asked me any preferences I might have had, I never got it out. So in Fort Dix, New Jersey, my first taste of real Army life, as opposed to the protective atmosphere of Ithaca, New York, and Cornell University, I drew my first KP duty which included breakfast, lunch and dinner. Must have been about a 15 or 17 hour day. I was hauling metal trays and dumping them in hot water and my fingers at the end of the day were pretty raw and cut and creased and about mid-day, a red-headed Army sergeant, tough-looking bird, announced to us that there was going to be an inspection that afternoon and he wanted us to look lively and keep moving and keep things clean. And here I was a brand new inductee, not only at the bottom of the totem pole, I was at the part of the totem pole that was buried in the ground. So they couldn’t bust me any further than that. So just as timid as I was, I said “What in the hell do you think we’ve been doing all day?” and he never said a word, turned his back and walked away. So I learned there that authority was to be feared but authority had its limits. Anyway, we were put on a train out of Fort Dix and the scuttlebutt had it that all these guys who were better informed than us people on the lower end of the totem pole, the scuttlebutt had it that we were on our way to Fort Worth, Texas, for tank destroyer training. Two days out, they opened up some envelopes and announced to us we were on our way to Fort Worth, Texas, actually CampHood; we were in the temporary part of the complex. Camp Hood, Texas, near Killeen, or Temple, Texas, in Central Texas, God-forsaken place, and sure enough, I was headed for basic training as a tank destroyer. So even though my timidity prevented me from voicing my preference, someone was looking out for me and I got it. On the last week, we took our basic training in summer. It was brutally hot. The water was so vile the kids were ordering things like, I don’t know what they were in those days, things like mixes that flavored the water and, it apparently was heavily alkaline. The last week of basic training, I think we were already finished. We hadn’t been, oh, they were going to form a new battalion, a new tank destroyer battalion, and give everybody a chance to earn rank. The Battle of the Bulge threw that plan down the drain; they needed gun fodder and replacements for outfits that had been decimated by the Battle of the Bulge. At the last week, the last week I was in Camp Hood, we’d already finished our basic training, I got dysentery. In the Civil War, I would have died but I was in the hospital about a week and I guess with antibiotics, I think Sulfa was the main illness-fighter in those days. Anyway, that resulted in my being separated from my group that I trained with and I was, became a replacement in the 661st Tank Destroyer Battalion which was in Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, awaiting shipment to Europe. And I was assigned as a loader on the 76mm cannon on the, was it an M-18? You tell me.
Interviewer: M-18 in your . . . . that’s what you wrote in the book, the history book here.
Interviewer: Which I might add, for the benefit of this history, was one of the most modern armored fighting vehicles produced during the war, extremely fast and with a high-powered gun.
Brown: Right. My understanding, I’m not that knowledgeable, my understanding was that the tank-destroying concept was meant as a mobile anti-tank artillery force, primarily defensive in nature. They could move quickly, very fast. I think ours was probably a Pratt Whitney, powered by a Pratt and Whitney rotary engine. I think we could do about 32 miles an hour and the sparks flew on those cobblestone streets in Europe.
Interviewer: Might I just ask you now, when you first became a crew man in one of those vehicles?
Brown: Yeah, that would have been in Camp Lucky Strike, well, no, we assembled at a place called Camp Lucky Strike, near . . . . France, which wasn’t too far from Paris. Then from there, we proceeded eastward, I don’t remember the name of the place. It was like a chateau where we received our brand-new weapons. We had to decosmaline them all, everything was coated in cosmaline to protect the metal from the overseas voyage.
Interviewer: Had you ever seen the M-18 before then?
Brown: No, no sir. In fact, the very first time I shoved a round into the breach was in combat. I had trained, in basic training, I had shoved a round into a field piece.
Interviewer: Oh. A towed cannon?
Brown: A towed cannon, yeah.
Interviewer: But not a . . . .
Brown: Self propelled.
Interviewer: Self propelled?
Brown: Self propelled gun. Anyway, we proceeded through Belgium and Luxembourg and took up a position facing the Siegfried Line in I believe February of 1945. It was bitter cold. We slept in dugouts that had been prepared by the previous occupants of that real estate and they were covered with logs and pine branches, and so the first month I was in Europe, it’s a wonder I didn’t get trench foot because I didn’t have, I never had a pair of dry docks on my feet. I did get frostbite but not serious enough that I asked to be relieved or treated or anything of that nature. I wanted to stay with my outfit. On or about March 1, 1945, in a heavy snowstorm, prior to that, our only rounds were sort of practice rounds that we fired into the Siegfried Line. The Germans would raise a pillbox to do some scouting and we would fire at it to make them go back down. But most of the time we were idle. On March 1, we moved out, heading eastward. I do not remember the names of the towns and villages we passed through. I remember the immense destruction: entire villages flattened, livestock stiffened and bloated; the human bodies had been removed. I lost my helmet liner. It blew off my head when we were tearing down a road, I guess in Belgium, and I picked up the abandoned helmet liner of a GI who had apparently been wounded or killed in a field littered with the debris of battle and, the first time that I remember being under fire was in a heavy woods, a heavily-wooded area, maybe it was the Hertgen Forest, I really don’t know; I could maybe research it and look it up, or perhaps I should have for this meeting. I can fill that in later if you would like. And we, our mission was really in support of infantry, the infantrymen were up ahead of us. There were explosions and loud noises. The only . . . . that I heard but didn’t see any results of, the only things I saw were our tracers, tracers from our vehicles going over my head as I was in the turret of our destroyer. And after a while, the firing died down and I tried to fall asleep in the turret with my head leaning against the backs of the 76mm shells. If I slept, I slept fitfully. We pulled back after that, I don’t know whether the objective hadn’t been achieved or whether they decided to wait until daylight. But I don’t know where we were; no one told us anything. I was 18 years old at the time, still plenty timid.
Interviewer: You were actually 18 years old in combat?
Brown: Yeah, oh yeah.
Brown: Yeah, and we kept proceeding eastward with, as I recall, we were split up. Our battalion was split up. Our company, Company A, was attached unassigned to the 28th Division, which the Germans, which was called the Bloody Bucket Division. It was an icon in the shape of a keystone, I believe. Most of the guys were from Pennsylvania and they had been taking a heavy pummelling from the Germans in the early part of the invasion of Europe. And they were very experienced fighters. I considered that we had it pretty soft compared to the infantrymen. By, my, excuse me . . . . until to eat our lunch. I remember we were parked in front of a village which the scouts had entered and a GI from the 28th Division was shaking out a K ration, and when he shook it out, it hit a mine and blew his leg off and we found out from his buddies that he was married and had kids. Of course, he had bought a ticket home but, that was typical of what the infantry were up against.
Interviewer: Did you see that happen?
Brown: Oh yeah. It was . . . .
Interviewer: You actually saw him shaking it out?
Brown: That was no more than 25-30 yards at the most from where we were sitting in our tank destroyer. Another time, we were assembled for an assault in pretty much of an open field and the Germans were shelling with the 88, which I considered the best ground weapon of World War II, its versatility and its power. We were, there again, maybe this was a little further away, maybe 30 or 40 yards away. There was the armored carrier. It wasn’t a tank destroyer. It was an armored vehicle, lightly-armored vehicle. It had a ring for a 50 caliber mounting, the mounting of a 50 caliber machine gun for 360 degree coverage. And one of the 88 shells hit the ring and the GI who had been standing there, was reduced to a bloody stump. His upper body was totally disintegrated and the . . . .
Interviewer: You saw that happen too?
Brown: Yeah, oh yeah. And we were, the Germans, the intensity, I don’t even remember the date of this. I think it might have been on my 19th birthday, on or about my 19th birthday, which would have been March 17, 1945. And everybody got out of their destroyers to try to take shelter on the protected side, the side where the shells weren’t falling. But somehow or another, we wound up in an open field that had been tilled so the ground was soft and I remember being flat on my face, trying to make myself as inconspicuous as possible and digging into the ground with my fingernails, not very far, but you know, digging into the ground. And after a while, the shelling didn’t last very long, and we proceeded, we kept cross—, we were on the right flank of the First Army and on our right was the left flank of Patton’s Third Army. So we kept criss-crossing into territory that Patton had raced through and Patton, I think was the one who made use of the Spee, of the M-18 vehicles by using them offensively. The Germans were in full rout, they were putting up light opposition. They would fire when the town was invaded but they would pull back and not put up too much of a fight. And the infantrymen were capturing teen-aged kids younger than we were. I was now 19, an old man. The Germans were scraping the bottom of the barrel for . . . . In April of 1945, I think the day they announced that Franklin Roosevelt died, we were getting ready to go into full-scale offensive the next day and our tank commander, our destroyer commander, was a fellow named Billington from Indianapolis, and he sat off to the side brooding. And he had a 22 caliber pistol that he had picked up somewhere along the way, it wasn’t Army issue, and that night he reported being shot in the ankle by a sniper. It was a very small wound. We never did find his pistol and we combed that ground. We looked under every haystack, every buiding, every bed. We didn’t find any German soldiers at all. We suspected that he didn’t want to go into combat the next day.
Interviewer: Was he your tank commander?
Brown: He was our company commander. No, no, he was a sergeant. He was commander of my . . . .
Interviewer: Of your vehicle? I see.
Brown: But we went on. We crossed, I’m jumping around here. We crossed the RhineRiver at Coblenz on a pontoon bridge. It was actually a spectacular sight. The floodlights had it lit up like day. High on the banks on the other side of the RhineRiver were castles. It looked like a tourist poster. But the area had been secured by I guess the Third Army and somewhere along the line, our company was reassigned, reattached rather, not assigned, to the 69th Division which wasn’t as experienced as the 28th, but still it had more combat experience than our battalion. And we finished up the war with them. Oh, I started to say, to talk about Patton’s use of the armored M-18s offensively. We came through a village or a small city named, I believe it was Erfurt, and lined up on the road before Erfurt were a platoon, I guess you would call it, of six or so M-18s that had been drilled through with German 88s and were still standing there blackened and burned out, apparently ambushed by the Germans before Patton could take the town and I was so naive and so young and so ignorant of the geography, we stayed a while in that area, in Erfurt, long enough for me to have done some walking, and had I walked in the right direction, I could easily have walked to Buchenwald. Buchenwald was northeast of Erfurt. It couldn’t have been at the most 8 or 10 miles and I think from Erfurt we went on to Wertzlau. I hope I’m right on my geography. Our last battle was in Liepzig. There was a Napoleonic monument that looked like it might have been . . . .
Interviewer: That’s it.
Brown: A monument . . . .
Interviewer: A monument to the Battle of the Nations.
Brown: that had walls so thick that Long Tom 155mm cannons were firing direct fire at it and were just chipping the stone and . . . .
Interviewer: You saw that happen?
Brown: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
Interviewer: That’s the Napoleonic . . . .
Brown: We were close enough to the monument to see the rounds hitting it but far enough away that the shrapnel wasn’t coming at us. And we never fired our guns. The infantry, there again, was bearing the brunt of the action. And after a while, we sat there most of the morning. In fact, I had to climb out of the vehicle and climb into a culvert and relieve my bowels, as a normal, not because I was scared witless, but because we weren’t under fire. Just a normal bowel movement. And after a while, we saw some American infantrymen leading a German general with his hands clasped above his head, in the long, long overcoat that reached to their ankles, that was the hallmark of the German officer corps. Maybe the enlisted men too, I don’t remember. And that was the last time we were, the people we were with were firing at the Germans and the people that we were with were taking fire from the Germans. The closest we came to firing a round after that; we had our machine gunner was a prince of a guy named Ballina. Didn’t have a high IQ but he was a rock. He took a lot of ribbing. They called him “Meatball” was his nickname because he was always the Italian. But he was steady as a rock. And he was very observant. He saw this German kid carrying a German bazooka and he quickly swung the 50 caliber machine gun around and was prepared to blast that little kid into oblivion but someone yelled to the kid to drop it and the kid dropped it. So after that, we never fired another shot. We went into occupation duty in a little town called Lutzen near Liepzig. And, life was pretty soft for us there. We had wine, women and song and because of our brief combat experience and fresh, healthy condition, we were immediately sent back to the States. I think, was there a CampLaurel, no a camp near Laurel, Mississippi. And from subsequent reading, only recent readings, I found out that we were going to be in the Fourth Wave of the invasion of Japan because we were armor. And we were brought, before we went to our assignment in Mississippi, we were given a 30-day leave. During the 30-day leave, my buddy from Rochester, New York, and his fiancé and his sister, who was my date, toured New York City where my parents were still living and we did New York. And one day we went to, the Atomic Bomb had just been dropped. This was in August of ’45. We went to Belmont Park Race Track in Long Island and in the last race, there was a horse named “Russian Valor” and over the public address system they had announced that afternoon that Russia had entered the war against Japan and we cheered because we felt that anything that would speed the end of the war would help us save our lives. And we put five, we didn’t have much money in those days. We pooled our money and bet $5 on Russian Valor and Russian Valor won. (laughter) The horse won so they didn’t know what to do with us at that time, so they gave us another 30-day leave. But we finally wound up in Mississippi and then, well the invasion plans were called off because Japan surrendered in August of 1945 and they sent me to Fort Knox, Kentucky, to radio school. Then in about the eighth week of a twelve-week course, they discharged me. This is an outline, a brief outline, of the experience. There were very little casualties in our company, not for enemy action that I recall. The men who were hospitalized were from gun accidents, mishandling of fire arms. One kid was crushed when two destroyers banged into each other while he was standing in front of one of them.
Interviewer: Did you see that happen?
Brown: No, I was close by but my back was turned to him. I did see them take him away on a stretcher. He looked to be severely injured internally and in deep, deep shock. I don’t know whether he lived or not.
Interviewer: Crushed between two tank destroyers?
Interviewer: Well, let’s talk about some of the typical things that one might experience. You mentioned the concentration camp. Were you aware that the Holocaust was occurring?
Brown: You know, I pride myself on the fact that from the time I was eight years old on, I read a newspaper, I read at least one newspaper a day from cover to cover. And I recall very little about the early stages of the Holocaust. What I have learned about the Holocaust, I learned subsequently. I think one of the great . . . . I’m a journalist by education and profession. I think one of the great misfeasances of modern journalism was the New York Times lack of adequate coverage of the Holocaust and to this day, I fault the New York Times, that was Jewish owned but, they were what we called “white Jews”. They didn’t acknowledge their Judaism and played down . . . . you know, support Jewish causes, which is okay. Journalists have to be objective but I think they were horrible.
Interviewer: But you mentioned Buchenwald, I think?
Interviewer: You were near there. Did you know what that was?
Brown: No, no. I found out only recently that I was that close to it. . . . .
Interviewer: Oh, okay. You didn’t know . . . .
Brown: by reading about World War II and the Holocaust recently, within the past year or two.
Interviewer: Didn’t know . . . .
Brown: I didn’t know Buchenwald was there.
Brown: That I was so close to Buchenwald. Now I did have a cousin who was with one of the Airborne Divisions, the 82nd or the 101st, I think, and he helped liberate a concentration camp. I didn’t get to exchange stories with him until we were both discharged in 1945.
Interviewer: In re note of the buddy you had, Ballina. What was . . . .
Brown: B-A-L-L-I-N-A, I think.
Interviewer: How did he end up the war? Was he one of your best buddies or . . . .
Brown: No, we were in close quarters in a tank destroyer. There were five of us, or four of us. Five, weren’t there?
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Brown: I have a, I have a scrapbook . . . . should have some pictures.
Interviewer: Well, were you good friends with these guys?
Brown: Oh yeah.
Interviewer: Were you good buddies?
Brown: Yeah, yeah. It was, he was Italian, I was Russian-Jewish, uh Gavin was Polish. Gavin scared the living daylights out of me though. Gavin was a bragger. Ballina was quiet. Ferment Lindlay from North Carolina, F-E-R-M-E-N-T. His father must have . . . .
Brown: (laughs) . . . . not a joke but, some kind of humor there. I guess they had stills in North Carolina. He was a real country boy.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Brown: Very quiet. Those were the guys that I would trust my life with. Gavin scared the livin’ daylights out of me. When I pulled guard duty with him when I was still in combat zones, if he heard a leaf rustle, he would throw a, not a stun grenade, not the grenades that had schrapnel . . . .
Interviewer: A . . . . grenade or concussion?
Brown: A smoke, a concussion grenade.
Interviewer: Oh yeah.
Brown: And he just scared the livin’ daylights out of me. And after it was all over, he was the one that flaunted his ribbons and did the most bragging. He didn’t do any more or less than the rest of us but . . . .
Interviewer: Well, you mentioned being on guard duty. Was there a particular time when you felt you were in danger?
Brown: Well not in danger, but it was in that field where I picked up my helmet liner from a littered battlefield where I was on four hours’ guard duty. The ground was covered with snow. It must have had a blinding effect on my eyes because it was pitch black. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. And I was with another fellow. I couldn’t see him. The only thing we could have alerted our buddy, our sleeping buddies to was if we heard tank armor moving or heard commands being given by enemy soldiers.
Interviewer: . . . . that?
Interviewer: You didn’t dig fox holes?
Brown: No, no.
Interviewer: You were able to sleep in your vehicle?
Brown: No, huh?
Interviewer: You stayed in your vehicles?
Brown: No, we were just patrolling on foot.
Interviewer: Oh on foot.
Brown: We were patrolling on foot. And that was when I shifted from a, how do I express it, from a semi-believer in God to a total Atheist because I couldn’t conceive of a Being in charge of the Universe that would permit the wholesale destruction of the planet, physical destruction of the planet and totally insane mass deaths of good people, civilians and military on both sides. War is man’s ultimate insanity and I couldn’t believe that anyone who had planned the Universe, any Being who had planned the Universe, could have allowed such circumstances to occur and my Atheism has only become strengthened as I become older and as I near the end of my life.
Interviewer: So that was a dramatic change in your belief?
Brown: It was for me because in college, I took a ribbing. We had some skeptics and pretty bright guys who questioned everything, religion among them, and they would ask me for example, not just me, they weren’t honing in on me, “Do you believe the story of Noah and the Ark?” And I would say, “I’m willing to accept it as a possibility.” And so I took a ribbing because I was what you might call neutral about religion. I attended religious school and I was Bar Mitzvahed at age 13. But I wasn’t a committed, dedicated, Jew in the God-fearing and God-worshipping . . . . Jews aren’t taught to fear God; Jews are taught to love God. And I was neutral about God until, the one particular dark night in Belgium. I don’t know where, in what city I was close to, where I adopted what for me was my life-long philosophy, to a religion.
Interviewer: I see. Well, that’s . . . .
Brown: But I respect other people’s beliefs . . . .
Interviewer: . . . . experience, huh?
Brown: I respect, I’ve read a lot about religion and I like, if I were, if each person chose their religion, were just brought into the world without adopting the religion of their parents, I think I would opt for the Oriental religions. To me they make more sense than the Occidental religions.
Interviewer: Now, from historical purposes at the time, did you wear your dog tags with the . . . .
Brown: Oh yeah, oh yeah.
Interviewer: H for Hebrew?
Brown: I never denied my Judaism. In fact, I made a point of putting it on my resumes because when I applied for jobs after I got out of college, there were companies, you’re probably not interested in that aspect of the historical record, that did not hire Jews and I wanted them to know because my name . . . .
Interviewer: . . . . we would want to include that in the history. As you got out of the military, was that an aspect of your challenge in finding employers?
Brown: Yeah, it was. And because my name was Brown rather than Goldberg or Epstein or Brownstein, or whatever, I wanted people to know that I was Jewish. And I was rejected for a job by the DuPont Company and by the Southern Bell Telephone Company with great credentials that, because of subsequent events after my being rejected, where they said they were promoting from within or something like that, but they still continued, replaced the ad in the trade journals.
Interviewer: Well did you have a college degree?. . . . when you were 18, when you went in . . . . .
Brown: Oh yeah.
Interviewer: Did you use the GI Bill?
Brown: Yes, I used the GI Bill and the Uni—-, I had applied for Rutgers University because my parents were living in New York and the School of Journalism for Rutgers University was highly rated and it was close to New York and I was interviewed by a man who was impressed by the fact that I was only 19 years old, had a year of college under my belt, and had 22 months in the Army. And he said, “We want you at Rutgers.” And then he came back and said they’d closed the door on out-of-state enrollments. “We can’t take you.” So then I applied at the University of Missouri which had the highest-rated undergraduate School of Journalism; Columbia University of New York had the highest-rated graduate school. And I was accepted at Missouri, given a credit for a full year for my Cornell experience and in May of 1949, I found out before I graduated, my Class Advisor said that I could have gotten out the previous semester because I had enough honor points to have earned my degree. So I stopped my education there. I’ve since gone on to other college courses; I stopped my education there. There was a job request from Shreveport Louisiana Times for a copyreader. I did not want to be a copyreader. I had no particular desire to go to the deep South, but I was married; I got married in September of 1948 to a girl I had met there at the University of Missouri, and I had been two years in the Army. I was 22 years old. I felt it was time to start working so I applied for a job and was accepted and I had to look up on a map where Shreveport was. I drove to Shreveport, Louisiana, in a ’41 Ford coupe that I paid more for than the original owner had paid because new cars weren’t being made during the war years and used cars were going for high prices.
Interviewer: Well, this tape on this side has about run out so I’ll end this side and pick up on the other side to back up about your family, your parents and you said “Russia”, they came from there. We’ll start there . . . .
Interviewer: when we go over, so turning over to the other side. . . . Okay, we’re starting on the other side now. Touching on something we didn’t start with at the beginning as we typically do, the family background. Now you said Russian Jews. Do you recall names, last names?
Brown: My father’s, I don’t know. My grandfather brought my father from Russia, from the Ukraine, somewhere near Kiev. What their name was in Russia, I never knew. I always knew the name Brown. I’m sure it had been changed. There are some weird stories of what interviewers at Ellis Island did when they couldn’t understand what they were being told by the people they were interviewing. But Brown was the name that I had. It was a nice, simple, easy-to-spell name and I liked it.
Interviewer: What was your father’s first name?
Brown: And my mother’s name was Frances. Her maiden name was Kaplan. I’m still in touch with two cousins, two elderly cousins in Boston named Kaplan, and one elderly cousin in Washington named Foss, which was the married name of my mother’s sister.
Interviewer: So the family, you grew up in New England?
Brown: In Boston.
Interviewer: In Boston?
Brown: I went most of my school years in the Boston area in Dorchester, Roxbury.
Interviewer: What brought you to Columbus?
Brown: My father had gone into business, a correspondence school, with two partners in New York and all the time I was in Shreveport on the Shreveport Times as a, I eventually became a reporter. He was trying to hustle me to come to work for that company in New York. And we resisted because I liked the newspaper business. I wasn’t making much money. My kids do not believe me when I tell them my first job out of college was $45 a week. They think it’s one of those “walked three miles to school in a blizzard” kind of stories, that I’m making it up.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Brown: But that was my first job out of college, $45 a week. But we had a car, we had a house, we were starting to raise a family. We were very happy.
Interviewer: You met your wife at the University?
Brown: At the University.
Interviewer: Was she a student there?
Interviewer: Where was she from?
Brown: St. Joe, Missouri. We were married in St. Joe.
Interviewer: Did you mention her maiden name?
Brown: Kaminsky, K-A-M-I-N-S-K-Y. Her father had a small independent grocery and meat market and . . . .
Interviewer: In . . . .
Brown: St. Joe.
Interviewer: In St. Joe?
Brown: Uh huh.
Interviewer: I see. Well did she come from a large family?
Brown: Yes, well she had two brothers and a sister and lots of cousins and uncles and aunts.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Brown: Like, I’ve lost track of my father’s family and the cousins that I’m still in touch with are from my mother’s side.
Interviewer: And then your immediate family. Now you say you have three children?
Brown: I have two sons and a daughter.
Interviewer: Uh huh. What are their names?
Brown: My son, my older son Mark is a plastic surgeon in Cincinnati. My younger son Randy is in commercial real estate in the Kansas City area. And my daughter Valerie is the older, the oldest of the three, is married to an attorney in Washington, D.C.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Grandchildren?
Brown: Grandchildren. Valerie has a boy Sam who will be 11 in January and a daughter Lana who was eight last May. My son Mark has a son, an adopted son Michael, who will be 11 in January and a daughter, Melissa who was 10 in March.
Interviewer: Wow . . . . keeping track of . . . . Did you tell me your married daughter’s name?
Interviewer: What’s the last name?
Brown: Well she still goes by the name Brown. She’s a feminist and she has her checking account and does professional photography under the name Valerie Brown. But to me, she’s Valerie Goldenberg.
Brown: I’m old fashioned.
Interviewer: All right. We always like to get some family background like that. Now your religious views . . . . do you ever attend synagogue or . . . .
Brown: Oh yeah, I felt that for the sake of my kids, as a maverick guy; we spar verbally at the health club, the Jewish Center Health Club where I go six days a week . . . .
Interviewer: You work out?
Brown: Yeah, or play handball. Two days a week we play handball and four days a week I work out. He says I’m a hypocrite. But I think I did it for my kids to give them a foundation. I have a brother who married out of the religion and he said, “Let the kids decide,” and so they didn’t pursue any religion. And I wanted to give them some kind of a foundation and let them make up their own minds later in life as I did, but my son in Cincinnati I think is a devout believer. My son in Kansas City, he married out of the religion, is now divorced, and I don’t think he’s a devout Jew . . . . I’m sure he’s a believer.
Interviewer: Uh huh. You had a brother. Any sisters?
Brown: No sisters.
Interviewer: One brother?
Brown: I had a half brother who was younger than I was. But he died.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Has your wife passed away?
Brown: She’s out bowling this morning.
Interviewer: Oh it’s very quiet, I . . . .
Brown: Yeah, yeah, okay. By coincidence, this being a Tuesday morning, if she’s not bowling, she’s golfing.
Interviewer: Yeah, I’d like to have met her. Okay, well that’s good coverage of the family background. Well we can touch again back on wartime experiences. Well you know, I guess I typically ask what was the, let’s say, the most memorable event. You had mentioned the Battle of Nations now, that’s a monument, that’s quite . . . . . .
Brown: That was quite a . . . .
Interviewer: significant event.
Brown: That and the two infantrymen who, one blown to bits and the other losing a leg . . . . .
Interviewer: Witnessing that . . . .
Brown: were the most vivid. They come to me almost at regular intervals, you know, constantly.
Interviewer: Is that right?
Brown: Uh huh.
Interviewer: Well this event at the Napoleonic Monument, is written up in this history book here that your unit fired shells into this monument as well as an 8-inch gun. I believe you’ve mentioned a large gun.
Brown: Well, we . . . .
Interviewer: Did you witness that?
Brown: Well, they were Long Toms, yes. . . . . or sight . . . . of mind, point blank at it. I don’t think our destroyer fired at the . . . .
Interviewer: Your particular . . . .
Brown: No. There had been elements of our company that did.
Interviewer: It says in the book here, 60 rounds were fired through the front of this monument. That’s a lot of firing?
Interviewer: And there were 300 S.S. troopers in there?
Brown: Yeah, yeah.
Interviewer: So you were fighting the fanatical S.S.?
Brown: Right. Oh yeah.
Interviewer: Did you know about the fanaticism of the S.S.?
Brown: I must not have because in my youth and greenness, I wanted to be in the tank destroyers and go to Europe specifically to kill Germans. I must have known enough about the Holocaust then that I had that deep in my mind. That was an overpowering objective. I couldn’t wait to get over there. Oh I was assigned to a headquarters company when I went, when I was a replacement with the 661st. And I went to the captain of the headquarters company and I said, “Sir, with all due respect, I would like to be assigned to a gun company.” And he says: “Fine, we need guys like you.” The first casualty in our batallion was the company commander of headquarters company. He stepped on a mine and lost a leg. I didn’t see that, but it just shows to go you that you know, in a combat zone, everybody is a target. But I was determined to kill Germans. But . . . .
Interviewer: That’s interesting. Did you ever see any German aircraft attacking . . . .
Brown: No. Yeah, how green I was, after the signing, after the Germans stopped fighting, I and another buddy, Art Berman from Mandan, North Dakota, were stuck out on an intersection and told to stop every vehicle that came through the intersection. Don’t ask me why or what they were looking for, all we were supposed to be, that was my instruction.
Interviewer: Oh yeah.
Brown: Stop every vehicle, stop every person.
Interviewer: Did you have small arms with you?
Brown: Oh a carbine.
Brown: Yeah, which I never fired directly at an enemy soldier. I never had an enemy soldier in my sights. The only firing I was involved with was loading our 76mm gun to fire at either a pillbox or an enemy position.
Interviewer: Well you did, your vehicle did fire . . . .
Brown: Oh yeah.
Interviewer: in combat then?
Brown: Oh yeah, oh yeah.
Interviewer: But you did not . . . . visibility to the target?
Brown: I didn’t have, I never had an enemy soldier in my sights.
Interviewer: Or a vehicle or a bunker?
Brown: Not with my carbine, no.
Interviewer: No, I mean with your guns, of the main guns?
Brown: The pillboxes in the Siegfried Line were within sight. Yeah.
Interviewer: So your vehicle was firing on pillboxes?
Brown: Yeah, we were firing at pillboxes.
Interviewer: Any return fire?
Brown: No, no. They just pulled back down . . . .
Interviewer: I see.
Brown: when we fired at them.
Interviewer: So you did have firing machines?
Brown: Yeah, yeah. But the infantry carried the brunt of the action where we were. Anyway, so here I am at this intersection stopping everything. I would have stopped the birds from flying if I could have. And there was a tarpaulin-covered truck, open top but covered with a tarpaulin, and it’s a hot day in May. And after about an hour and I have everybody sitting in a culvert by the side of the road, some English-speaking German said he had an uncle in Chicago and tried to become my buddy and get me to let him go. And I told him in no uncertain terms to get the hell back where he was or I’d, you know, drill a hole through him. And about an hour or two later, in the hot sun, a German in soft military clothes, by soft I mean not combat uniform but like fatigues or something of that – comes out, obviously suffering from heat exhaustion and I yelled my lungs out at him, didn’t have the presence of mind to search him, didn’t have the presence of mind to search the truck to see if there were any arms, I just hauled his ass over to the culvert and had him sit there. I, in retrospect, I kicked myself dozens of times, constantly, for not seeing if he had an S.S. tattoo on his arm, and I would have found some excuse to shoot the son of a bitch ’cause I had not killed a German and I was going to go home without having killed a German and there was my only opportunity and I blew it.
Interviewer: Why, how was this an opportunity?
Brown: Because if he was S.S., if I had asked him for his ID . . . .
Interviewer: Was he S.S.?
Brown: I don’t know. I suspect he was.
Interviewer: Oh, he was your first captured soldier?
Brown: Yes, yeah.
Interviewer: Is that what you said?
(laughing and indistinct talking)
Brown: I didn’t capture him; he surrendered.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Brown: And he didn’t turn in a weapon. I’m sure he must have had one. I can’t believe he didn’t have one.
Interviewer: That makes me wonder, searching, retrieving weapons, did you get any souvenirs?
Brown: Yeah, I had a 45 caliber, a 40, not a 45, a forty-something caliber pistol which I brought home against regulations.
Interviewer: Where did you get that?
Brown: I . . . .
Interviewer: How did you get that?
Brown: I found it in someone’s house. I didn’t take it off a German.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Brown: Or a Belgian, no.
Interviewer: What happened to the gun?
Brown: I stuck it in my duffle bag in the basement of my aunt’s house where we stayed after I got out of the Army and my cousin, I think, when they left that house, took possession of that and some other souvenirs. Guys were sending home ermine furs and all kinds of valuables and I sent home swastika arm bands. (laughter) . . . . and things of that, and a German bayonet.
Interviewer: . . . . abandoned?
Interviewer: A bayonet?
Brown: I was really green.
Interviewer: Where are all those things now? Those artifacts?
Brown: I don’t have the slightest idea.
Interviewer: . . . .
Brown: Don’t have the slightest idea.
Interviewer: . . . . typical. Okay. Did you ever see any personality figures like Patton, Eisenhower, Bradley?
Brown: No, we saw some high-ranking generals but I forgot their names.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Interviewer: Oh I did ask you about aircraft. . . . You were not attacked by . . . .
Brown: No, the only aircraft I saw, the first jet I ever saw was an American jet.
Interviewer: Where was that?
Brown: That was in one of the last little towns where fighting was still going on. It wasn’t firing. It just flew low enough that if it wasn’t so fast, I probably could have counted the pilot’s teeth. It was that low. But it was there and gone in less time than what it’s taken me to tell you about it.
Interviewer: Did you witness any bombing attacks by American . . . .
Brown: Well, not the attacks themselves but we used to see, when we were in front of the Siegfried Line in February of 1945, we used to see from horizon to horizon waves of I guess they were B-17s going over, flying east. And then later in the day, we would see them coming back with big gaps in the formation. Their losses were pretty heavy.
Interviewer: Uh huh, yeah, they were bombing the . . . . during the day time.
Interviewer: At night time, was it fairly quiet where you were?
Brown: Except, the only night action I remember was that one night in the forest where I heard the explosions. I think I might have seen something light up in the distance, the comment was about something, about a bridge over a river. Maybe that’s what happened, maybe the bridge was blown up and we couldn’t cross and that’s why we pulled back. I really don’t remember.
Interviewer: How about those German secret weapons, the missiles, the buzz bombs and V-ls?
Brown: Oh, I . . . .
Interviewer: You never saw those?
Brown: No experience with that at all. They were aiming those at England, weren’t they?
Interviewer: Yeah, they were.
Brown: We were in central Germany. We were from Koblenz to Liepzig.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Brown: Zig-zagging, not in a straight line, Weslau, Erfurt, Kassel, I repeat, Kassel. I might have told you that the line of burned-out destroyers from a Patton element was in front of Erfurt. It might have been Kassel.
Interviewer: Had the bodies been removed?
Brown: Oh yeah, yeah.
Interviewer: It wasn’t that recent?
Brown: No. Well it was recent enough that they, usually they pulled those things, they retrieved those pretty fast and cannibalized them for parts and kept the strength of the armor up. So it had to be fairly recent. I’d say no more than a day or two.
Interviewer: Did you . . . .
Brown: I guess.
Interviewer: Did you see what German weapons had done?
Brown: . . . . an 88 was our judgement.
Interviewer: There was no 88 in the area though that could . . . .
Brown: Yeah . . . . there was . . . . the firing we were under, the shelling we were under was always from 88s.
Interviewer: Did you see destroyed German tanks at times?
Brown: Oh sure. Oh yeah.
Interviewer: Did you know the difference between the different models of German tanks? Had you been trained . . . .
Brown: We knew the Ti—, yeah, we knew the Tiger. I don’t think we came up against the Tiger.
Interviewer: Very few did.
Brown: Yeah, I don’t think we came up against the Tiger.
Interviewer: Mostly Mark 4s?
Brown: Yeah, yeah.
Interviewer: And Panthers?
Interviewer: Yeah, yeah. Okay. Artillery fire. Did you ever come under any artillery fire from the Germans?
Brown: Yeah, that one time when we were out in an open field, well it was the same day or another day, the day that the fellow in the M6 or M16, I forget the designation, but the little armored vehicle. It was like a small troop carrier, very small. They were, had rubber tires, big tires, and lightly armored. They had a 50 caliber machine gun, I think.
Interviewer: It was an M20 armored car.
Brown: Maybe that was it.
Interviewer: Like that reconnaissance would use?
Brown: Yeah, yeah.
Interviewer: And what did, what happened?
Brown: That was when the 88 shell hit the rim . . . .
Interviewer: Oh . . . .
Brown: of that, and then blew up the . . . .
Interviewer: So it wasn’t a half track troop carrier?
Brown: No, no, no.
Interviewer: It was a small . . . .
Brown: We, I don’t remember, we saw some . . . .
Brown: We didn’t have any. We had the M-18s.
Interviewer: Uh hum. So that was a shelling incident but your vehicle was not struck by shells.
Brown: No, I don’t think our vehicle was ever hit by shell. Possibly small arms fire, I don’t remember.
Interviewer: Okay. How about contact with the Russian troops? Did you see any of them?
Brown: No, but we were with the outfit, the 69th Division outfit, that met the Russians at Torgau on the Elbe.
Interviewer: But you personally didn’t . . . .
Brown: No, I didn’t. I talked with some of the guys who had been there.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Brown: They exchanged watches with the Russians and the Russians marvelled at our cigarettes and our equipment and our clothes and they were pretty crude. I was told, I didn’t talk with them but the guys that did go there came back and told us about the meeting and . . . .
Interviewer: So you knew that the Russians were over there?
Brown: Yep, close by.
Interviewer: Yeah, that was . . . .
Brown: And I was virulently anti-Communist and it was my proposal in bull sessions around the table at night. We were, you know, the war was over. We were idle, waiting to be shipped back to the States. We had guard duty on our motor pool but even though we could have been hanged for desertion, we weren’t pulling our guard duty. We were elsewhere.
Interviewer: Were there some German ladies in the neighborhood?
Brown: . . . . German ladies involved and they welcomed us. They were glad to see us. Anyway, I argued that we should continue on and, rather than do it later . . . . clean up the Russians.
Interviewer: Oh, you did?
Brown: Yeah, course you know I was in a minority.
Interviewer: What caused you to think that way at that time in history?
Brown: I thought Stalin was every bit as evil a man as Hitler and history has proved, he may have been more evil.
Interviewer: . . . .
Brown: . . . . you keep score by the number of people whose deaths he is directly responsible for, I think Stalin is responsible for more deaths than Hitler.
Interviewer: You had that attitude then?
Brown: Yeah, yeah.
Interviewer: Uh huh. That’s interesting. Do you recall the day the war ended, May 8? What you were doing or what happened that day?
Brown: The day itself? I’m sure we celebrated. There was ample supply; I’m not a drinker. I was, two glasses of wine would have been my limit. I’m sure that plenty of wine, German wine, French wine. Sure we celebrated.
Interviewer: Doesn’t really . . . .
Brown: It was restrained because we were going to go back to invade Japan. We knew it wasn’t over for us and I fully expected in that epiphany night of mine when I lost what little religion I might have had or what little belief I might have had, I was convinced I was never coming home. Convinced. Mines and tanks and airplanes and bombs and booby traps and everything. How could you survive? So we celebrated but with restraint ’cause we knew it wasn’t over for us.
Interviewer: Wow. Did you write home during the war? Did you have . . . .
Brown: Oh yeah, regularly.
Interviewer: Uh huh, to whom?
Brown: We were limited. We couldn’t, I remember writing to my buddy who was in the Coast Guard on a destroyer escort. And when I landed in Europe, I told him how badly I felt for him because of my big ship. I got seasick with the relatively light roll on it. I said, “Your ship went side-to-side. I don’t know how you could avoid being seasick 24 hours a day.” The platoon leader, first lieutenant, cut that out of my letter ’cause that was, he considered that, you know, military information in case the letters were intercepted by Germans.
Interviewer: Who else did you write to?
Interviewer: Who else did you write to?
Brown: My brother, my parents, girls, you know high school friends.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Brown: That’s about it.
Interviewer: And you got regular mail then?
Brown: Oh yeah, yeah. The military did a marvelous job of morale building in that respect. We had plenty of mail, the food was nothing to rave about, could have used some dry socks. But we were in good spirits. We felt we had filled the position that had been occupied by the 106th Division, which was a green division that German intelligence knew was green and was decimated in the Battle of the Bulge, I think they had like a 75% casualty rate.
Brown: That’s wounded, and killed.
Interviewer: That’s right. Okay, that’s interesting.
Brown: But we felt we were part of a victorious army and were going to whip their asses. We were confident, well armed, well equipped, unlike the poor guys who fought the Viet Nam War, who were almost looked on as scum . . . . and the people who do that ought to be dropped into a latrine pit. We were idolized.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Brown: Civilians couldn’t do enough for us.
Interviewer: Did you feel you were treated any different as a Jew in the Army by . . . .
Brown: Not by the miltary. Individuals, yeah. There was one particular big guy from Indiana, a Hoosier, I must have weighed 130-140, most. He must have weighed about 210-220. And he would make remarks like: “The only good Jew is a dead Jew.” And I would totally ignore him because he was too big for me to tangle with. And in retrospect, I think my ignoring him made him angrier than if I had risen to the bait and picked a fight with him. I wouldn’t have picked a fight with him. I was too smart for that. But other than that, we had Italians, Poles, other Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Mexicans. We had a guy in our basic training; stop me if I’m going out of, off the track.
Interviewer: Oh no, this is fine.
Brown: We had a guy in our basic training, tank destroyer training, was every bit as rough as infantry training, maybe rougher. In Fort Hood, Texas, the most I was able to dig a foxhole, the deepest I was able to dig a foxhole through the shale they made us dig in, was about a foot, and that’s why they had us dig it there because they knew we couldn’t dig through it. We had a guy in our basic training outfit from Louisville, Kentucky. His draft board was desperate for men and they drafted him and they sent him to Camp Hood, Texas, for tank destroyer training. He had had polio and had one shriveled-up leg. He couldn’t participate in our training and he tried every which way to get out and the only way he got out is he tanked up on beer every night and wet the bed every night and they gave him some kind of a discharge for that. But some draft boards did dumb things. I volunteered.
Interviewer: Yeah, um huh.
Brown: Yeah, I wasn’t drafted; I volunteered.
Brown: I couldn’t wait to get in.
Interviewer: Uh hum. At quite a young age though?
Brown: Well it turned out in retr—–, it turned out well. The Army educated, the government educated, course they thought that it was a good investment for them. They’ve gotten it back manyfold in taxes and that was one of the smartest things Congress ever did, I think. And I think they ought to do it for all GIs, combat or non-combat, because the better educated the populace is, the better off the country is.
Interviewer: That . . . . there. Okay, you mentioned one officer who probably, well, your sergeant probably shot himself in the foot.
Brown: Yeah, the ankle.
Interviewer: What did you think about your leadership in terms of your officers? Were they good, you know, leaders or . . . .
Brown: I respected them.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Brown: And liked them. I had very little con—–. I was a PFC in an outfit where everybody had stripes. The tank destroyers were all corporals and up and I was a PFC so I was low man on the totem pole but we got along fine. We were in a common cause. I think the genius of Steven Spielberg in “Saving Private Ryan” was showing how ordinary guys from ordinary walks of life, with dreams and ambitions and homes, got together and did a job that was assigned to them. It was a job and we didn’t question it. We felt we were right. The Germans felt they were right. And we did it and we got along well and it was a marvelous experience. It was a life-forming experience for me. I would – glad my kids never had to serve in the military.
Interviewer: How do you think it transformed your life?
Brown: It made me much more self-assertive and self-confident. There’s nothing that frightens me. You can’t name a thing that would scare me.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Brown: I’ve been, I faced death at an early age. I’ve seen death, undeserved death, by young men at an early age. And it just gave me a confidence that has lasted me all through my life because until then, I was a Casper Milquetoast.
Interviewer: We would call you a “nerd” today.
Brown: Yeah, yeah. I was very good in school but I was well liked. I was, I accept the nomenclature of nerd because I always did my school work. I loved school; I thirsted for knowledge. But I was very popular. In popularity contests, I was always voted at the top so I wasn’t a “geek”. Maybe there’s a difference between a nerd and a geek. I don’t know.
Interviewer: (Hearty laugh) That’s good.
Brown: But . . . .
Interviewer: That’s good. Well, we certainly covered a lot of interesting subjects, I think, and I appreciate the opportunity to have your experiences recorded for our oral history. Anything else that you might think I should . . . .
Brown: No. It’s unfortunate, and there again, this is a basis for my current belief or lack of belief, or however you want to put it, that World War I, which was the “War to End Wars”, World War II which I’m sure saw more deaths and destruction than any war before or since, and it’s going on as we talk, now. People are dying on opposing sides of military forces, and it doesn’t look like it’s ever going to end.
Interviewer: I don’t know.
Brown: It’s insane. Man’s ultimate insanity. Serbs are killing Albanians. Albanians are killing Serbs. Arabs are killing Jews. Jews are killing Arabs. Irish Catholics are killing Irish Protestants. Irish Protestants are killing Irish Catholics. Indonesians are killing the people of Timor. One tribe in Africa is killing another tribe. And as we talk, this is going on. Right now.
Interviewer: Well . . . .
Brown: It’s insane.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Interviewer: Well, we’re coming to the end of the Millenium here, so . . . .
Brown: It won’t end. Mankind was meant to be combative.
Interviewer: Uh huh, uh huh.
Brown: It won’t end.
Interviewer: Well I guess we’ll end the oral history at this . . . .
Brown: Okay. Well, I hope I helped you.
Interviewer: I think we’ve covered the topic.