Mathless: Some time ago, my mother and my Aunt Dorothy were interviewed, my Aunt Dorothy is still living.
Interviewer: So we have some family history there. Do you know when that was done?
Mathless: I don’t know, I think Dick Neustadt interviewed my Aunt Dorothy. And the girl, let’s see, Carol Folkerth. She’s the Assistant Director at the Center, interviewed my mother, I remember that. I think she was single then.
Interviewer: Well good, we have some background already. Well, why don’t you…if you would please, start with, well, your father, where the family came from…and what his business was.
Mathless: All right. My father came from Russia when he was 17 years old. He went to Saint, moved to St. Louis, and my mother came to this country when she was two. And they were second cousins, and they got married and moved. She and my father moved to Columbus. He had a filling station and parking lot, where the AEP building is on Long Street today, for about 25 years. He called it “Civic Center Service Station”. It was right across from the police station and the Federal building. And, it was during the Depression. He got ten cents all day for parking, a dollar and a half a month, right in the middle of the town. (laughs)
Interviewer: Is that right?
Mathless: And across the street was a tremendous lot, four times as big, he got a nickel all day. He used to see his best friends cross that busy street, to save a nickel to park there. I think AEP paid four million dollars for that property, to Nationwide. My dad could have bought it for, maybe, ten thousand dollars. They had it for ten thousand dollars at the time.
Interviewer: He had a gasoline filling station?
Mathless: Sunoco station.
Interviewer: A Sunoco station?
Mathless: Yeah. It was the only one, downtown. And, they’d have gas wars, where the guy 20 miles away would lower the gasoline a penny, and then, his customers would run there, to save that penny. And, sometimes, they’d sell below cost, so they got so competitive.
Interviewer: Did you help out in that business, any?
Mathless: A little, a little. I’d stand out in the lot, trying to wave in customers. And we worked very hard. It was the hottest place in the summer, ’cause it was open on the river, the coldest place in the winter. (laughs) I don’t understand how he could make a…how he made a living, but he did, in those days. You know, ten cents, he’d take in ten, fifteen dollars a croak, but, at that time, you could buy…you could hire a man for seven dollars a week, for eighty hours, you know.
Interviewer: With the wages.
Mathless: A dollar, or something.
Interviewer: Well, do you recall where, in Russia, he came from?
Mathless: No, I don’t remember.
Interviewer: Any names there? Okay. How about your mother, her family?
Mathless: She…she had two sisters and, like, three brothers or something. And my grandfather on her side had a scrap yard. And, he died in the middle of the Depression. So when he died, he was practically penniless.
Interviewer: So that was basically the…your family here in Columbus?
Interviewer: You say you had a brother. Any sisters? Any other brothers?
Mathless: I have two sisters who are twins, and a brother. There are two other children that, died, like years ago. And my brother was seven years older than I am. And I…and my sisters were two years younger. And, and, we, my sisters and I, graduated Ohio State the same time, June 1949, ’cause they caught up with me, ’cause I was in the Army, you know, so. So we had…all three of us graduated from the same college, at the same time.
Interviewer: Now, you say you grew up here in Columbus. What part of town did you live in?
Mathless: East end.
Interviewer: Was it, was it Bexley, then?
Mathless: No, no, Wilson Avenue.
Interviewer: What schools did you go to?
Mathless: We went to Ohio Avenue Grade School, and Roosevelt Junior High, and East High School.
Interviewer: Did you graduate from East High, then?
Mathless: Yeah. In fact, I…I started Ohio State before I graduated from East, because, due to the War, you could start like in your last…your last part of the year before you graduate, you could start at Ohio State.
Interviewer: Is that right?
Mathless: So I…I started Ohio State when I was 17.
Interviewer: Now, when did you first become associated with the Army?
Mathless: I took a test, and I…and I…I was supposed to go to college for like, four years, but first, I was supposed to…I was going to go to college ’til I was 18. And then, and the ASTRP, which was the Reserves. And, then go in the Army when you are 18 and you go, take your basic training, then go back to the army. I went to the University of Kentucky when I was 17. And the Reserves, I wasn’t in the Army, I was in…in the Reserves. And they gave us our tuition, and food, and books, but we didn’t get any pay. And, when I turned 18, I went to Fort Hayes, and I was in…in…I was in the Army. They signed me up for the Army when I was 18.
Interviewer: Had you completed your studies at Kentucky?
Mathless: No, I had three months, and they eliminated the whole program, the whole ASTRP prog…pre-program. So they, so then, I went to…I was at Fort Benning, I mean Fort Hayes, a little bit of time, maybe a month, and then, I was sent to Fort Benning for basic training. Then, I was sent to the eighty-seventh Division at Columbia South, Fort Jackson, Columbia, South Carolina. And, I was in the 87th, and I think I was in L Company. That’s what it said in the article.(laughs)
Interviewer: You have a…you have a book there called “F Company”, written by a daughter of one of the members of F Company. And your name is mentioned in there, just for our oral history. Let me ask you, while you’re in the United States, did you have a girlfriend?
Mathless: No, I’ll tell you why. There must have been 1000 soldiers for every girl there. It was too competitive. (laughs)
Interviewer: I see. And no one back in Columbus that you had?
Mathless: I had correspondence with a couple of girls, that’s all. I didn’t have any, I don’t think I had a date in all the time I was there.(laughs)
Interviewer: Well, then, during your training in the Army, what were you trained to be? What was, you know?
Mathless: I think I was an assistant B-A-R man, which meant that you carried ammunition for the B-A-R.
Interviewer: The Browning automatic rifle?
Mathless: Yeah. Or, I was either that, or a rifleman. I think I was a…
Interviewer: Were you trained to fire that weapon?
Mathless: No, the B-A-R, no.
Interviewer: How about the M-1 Garand rifle?
Mathless: Yeah. I was, I was taught, I was taught that. I wasn’t a very good shot, shooter. (laughs)
Interviewer: You weren’t?
Mathless: No, I shut my eyes. (laughs) I couldn’t, so…
Interviewer: Was there any other special training that you had?
Mathless: No. What we, we walked a lot. (laughs) Like a 25 mile hike, or something like that, so…
Interviewer: Was there any opportunity for them to use your, your college training?
Mathless: Oh, I didn’t, college. I only had three months at Ohio State. And what I had at Kentucky was practically a duplication of what I had the first year at Ohio State, ’cause it was, it was the beginning college course. So it was the same, it was the same course. So, they put, put all us college boys in the infantry. Or, most, most of them went in the infantry.
Interviewer: So, you had other college boys like you, then?
Mathless: Yeah, well all the…I think most of the guys from Kentucky went in the infantry, yeah. Some of them, I don’t know if they all went into the 87th. Might have been a few that go to the Air Force or something. But…and…we…trained at Columbia’s Fort Jackson.
Mathless: So I, I was in the orig…I think the Division had been, it says here, in 1942, I wasn’t in, in there ’til May ’43.
Interviewer: May of ’43?
Mathless: No, I don’t know. It was later than that, I think.
Interviewer: Later than that, even. What, what happened then, after, after training? Any, any major developments? Did you have a chance to come back home on leave, or…?
Mathless: I got a leave, before we went overseas. And, you were only allowed to travel so far, so many miles, you know, on the leave. I had to, like, cheat, you know, to get…I had to worry about being stopped by an MP, (laughs) or something. I remember the trains were so busy in those days, that you had to sit, like, on trunks. You couldn’t even get a seat on a train, you had to sit on your trunk, to…
Interviewer: Is that right?
Mathless: In the aisle, or something. And the USO in every little town, they’d give you coffee. And donuts, I remember that. And then, I don’t know what month we went overseas, I don’t know, it must be in the book, but…
Interviewer: Yeah. Well, let me ask you about your religious perspective. Had you attended synagogue and religious services, before going in to the military?
Interviewer: Did you have the opportunity during training to…?
Mathless: I think, like, for holidays or something, we were allowed to go back for services.
Interviewer: Did you?
Mathless: Didn’t have, like, Saturday services or anything like that.
Interviewer: Did you consider your family to be, you know, strongly religious, or what kind of view did your family have?
Mathless: Well, my father had to work every Saturday in his life, to make a living (laughs), so he was very well versed in the religion. Like, he could…I think he could do the Passover seder by heart, you know (laughs). And he, he was pretty religious in the, you know, but he couldn’t observe, or anything. We kept a kosher house.
Interviewer: You did?
Mathless: Yeah, my mother always did that. Fact, I didn’t…I never ate non-kosher food, until I went into the Army. Like, when I went to Ohio State, I had a peanut butter sandwich and a milkshake every day, I…my diet was… In the Army, I had to eat pork. Whatever they gave, bacon, I never had, I never had bacon before, you know. But, I think the…under those circumstances, the rabbis give you absolution. Except I know a rabbi went into the service, and he kept kosher all the time he was in the Army. And he came back, and he was, like, must have lost fifty pounds.(laughs)
Interviewer: Oh. (laughs) It’s a little difficult.
Mathless: Yeah, so…
Interviewer: Did you identify your religion on your military records? I know that sometimes…
Mathless: Oh yeah, on your dog tags.
Interviewer: Dog tags, you did? Did you carry any religious relics with you?
Interviewer: Did you have any Jewish friends in the Army?
Interviewer: Any buddies that were close to you, during combat, or just…?
Mathless: I had this one, one, one guy was close to me, yeah.
Interviewer: Did he survive the War?
Mathless: Yeah, and he came to…after the War, he came to visit me, and I went, he lived in Philadelphia, I went to visit him. We were pretty close, and I lost track of him for 50 years. And then, when Barbara had this book, it had the…he wrote many poems, and I didn’t know he was even a poet. And he, he did a lot of writing in this book that she quoted. So I wrote him a letter, telling him about my own history. And I gave it, sent it to Barbara to forward to him, ’cause I didn’t have his address. And I got a letter from his wife that he had died the day that, that letter arrived.
Interviewer: Oh, my gosh. Is he mentioned in the book that Robert wrote, “F Company”?
Mathless: Yes, Sidney Kessler. He was the closest, he’s the only name I know there, in all those people.
Interviewer: I see. He’s on…he’s on one of the first pages of this book called “F Company.”
Mathless: Yeah. He’s, he’s a…he must have, like…
Interviewer: Barbara Strang.
Mathless: Thirty articles in there, thirty, maybe more than that.
Interviewer: And was he a very good friend of yours?
Mathless: Yeah, we were close.
Interviewer: And he was Jewish?
Mathless: Yeah, uh huh.
Interviewer: There’s also Jules Korn. Did you know him?
Mathless: I don’t know, he’s a mystery man to me.
Interviewer: Mystery man. But you knew Sydney Kessler.
Interviewer: Well, any big events prior to your trip over to Europe?
Mathless: No. Except I got that leave, that was. I came home for furlough.
Interviewer: What did your parents or your other members of your family, think about the War, or your participation in it?
Mathless: Well, my brother was, you know, was overseas, before I was. And, I guess (laughs) they worried about both of us.
Interviewer: You say “worried?”
Mathless: Yeah, I would think so.
Interviewer: Did they encourage your role in it, or have any…?
Mathless: I think they were patriotic.
Interviewer: Well, what was the ship that you rode on, into Europe?
Mathless: Queen Elizabeth.
Interviewer: The Queen Elizabeth?
Mathless: Yeah, it was the biggest ship in the world, at that time. And they…I think it held, like, 2000 or 1500 passengers and 30,000 or 30,000 soldiers.
Mathless: I think. There were two divisions on it. I was down in the garage or something. We slept on hammocks. I think they fed 24 hours a day. And there was a crap game going on all the time. And I think by the end of the trip, when we arrived in England, maybe two guys had all the money on the ship, ’cause they were probably crooked gamblers. (laughs) ‘Cause the guy would win in one game, and go to a bigger game, and then…so…
Interviewer: Did you gamble any?
Interviewer: Yeah? Rolling the dice?
Mathless: Yeah, I rolled the dice.
Interviewer: How’d you do?
Mathless: I lost.
Interviewer: You lost?
Mathless: I didn’t know what they did with the money they won, because you weren’t allowed to… It’s almost impossible, the ship back to the United States had regulations against that. Well, you could ship a certain amount, but what good does the money do you? It was, like, say a guy’s gonna die, and you got a million dollars, what does it mean (laughs)? It’s meaningless.
Interviewer: What was the other division that was on the ship?
Interviewer: 106th Division, okay.
Interviewer: Well, anything, anything else about the trip over. Had you ever been on a boat before?
Interviewer: Did you get sea sick?
Mathless: Not too bad. It was big, I’ll tell you.
Interviewer: Well, maybe, as a guide to our discussion, then, in your experience in Europe, we have a history book of the 87th. And it has a large fold-out map here. And it shows that you went to England first. Is that correct?
Mathless: Right. I don’t know what month or how long we were in England, does it say? Couldn’t have been too long.
Interviewer: Well, you landed in France, December first. I don’t know how long you were in England. Do you recall anything in particular, London, or any place?
Mathless: We were outside. I was stationed in outside, Moberly Village, which is, like, 15 miles from Manchester.
Interviewer: Did you meet any English people?
Mathless: Yeah, I had an English girlfriend, Brenda Bell. She’s probably an old lady now.(laughter)
Interviewer: Was she Jewish?
Mathless: No, and I don’t think there were very many Jewish people in Moberly Village. And I think I went to London one time on a pass, and she was worried that, at that time, the bombs were, what do you call those bombs?
Interviewer: Buzz bombs.
Mathless: Buzz bombs. She was worried I was going to get killed or something, going to London. You know, that was dangerous.
Interviewer: Did she write to you, when you went to France?
Mathless: Yeah, right.
Interviewer: Is that right? Did you see any of those buzz bombs in England?
Mathless: No. I remember, in London, they had blackouts and, you know, the cars, it was like the whole city was dark. I don’t know how the cars navigate, they had some kind of lights where they navigated.
Interviewer: What did you do, ride the train in, to London?
Mathless: I don’t know how I got there, must’ve…
Interviewer: Train or truck, huh?
Mathless: I think I went to Manchester several times. It was close.
Interviewer: Any other events before France, then? Is that about it?
Mathless: Yeah, England. We did a lot of marching in England in the streets and all that, you know. I went to a couple, I went to some pubs, and played darts, and drank “half and half.” Whatever, I forget, let me see, must be beer and something combined, yeah.
Interviewer: I don’t know.
Mathless: “Haf and haf,” they would say (laughs).
Interviewer: Oh yeah (laughs), in an English pub, huh?
Mathless: Yeah, and they eat fish and chips. And all those people in England looked like they were starving to death, but they looked healthy, ’cause they were eating nothing but potatoes and fish. They gained, you know, they were heavy, but they didn’t have any nutrition. Like, I…if I gave a candy bar to my girlfriend and to her family, like a Hershey bar, you know, it was, like, it was a real windfall for them, you know, to get candy or a piece of fruit.
Interviewer: Oh, is that right?
Mathless: Or an apple, or something. I’d get from the PX.
Interviewer: And share that, huh?
Mathless: Yeah, you asked me if anything ever happened in England. We all got dysentery there. It was, like…a lot of that.
Interviewer: Gee, in England? I wonder how that happened.
Mathless: I don’t know, but they gave us some kind of medicine or something.
Interviewer: Well according to the…
Mathless: We didn’t have, like a shower there, but it was all cold water. In the middle of the winter (laughs), taking a cold shower.
Interviewer: Oh my gosh. Yeah, well, you were there in November.
Interviewer: ‘Cause according to the Division history…
Mathless: It was cold. And we were in quonset huts. And if you had a…if you were far from the stove, you froze to death. And if you were close to the stove, you were overheated, you know. (laughs). It was, it was cold there.
Interviewer: I see. Well, you arrived in France on December first, and, just looking at the history here, went from there from Le Havre to Ruan. Do you recall the travel all the way to, I believe it was Metz.
Interviewer: Would that be correct, Metz?
Mathless: That sounds right.
Interviewer: And then, at Metz, you may have had your first experience with combat. I don’t know, was that true of your unit?
Mathless: I think so. We relieved another division, so…And we, we were marching real close together, and everybody shout, “Stay apart, stay apart!” You know, ’cause artillery comes in, or something. We didn’t know, we were green. We were green.
Interviewer: Well, according to your information, you were in the 347th Infantry Regiment.
Interviewer: To begin with, perhaps it was L Company.
Interviewer: You were, then, later transferred to F Company. Well what can you tell us, then, about your experiences there? You’ve arrived at the combat area. What do you recall from that beginning?
Mathless: It was really cold, and we didn’t have proper equipment. We were wearing our same Shoes. And, I think they had more casualties from frost bitten feet than they did from the Germans. Some of the guys, their feet would turn black. And the, and the…my feet were, like, frost bitten, but I, you know, I never suffered as much. I wasn’t considered injured. I never got sent back.
Interviewer: Were you living outdoors, in foxholes?
Mathless: Yeah, and all we had, we didn’t have a blanket, we just had an overcoat. We were Wearing, and you’d get up in the morning and your overcoat was like a board, frozen. It was frozen stiff. And it was…sometimes it was too cold to dig a foxhole. You couldn’t get it to the ground. You’d have to go into an old foxhole or something.
Interviewer: Did you have a buddy that you would dig a foxhole with, and share?
Mathless: Well, I don’t know if he was a buddy, but we…sometimes they’d have two men in a foxhole.
Interviewer: Just another guy?
Mathless: Yeah. So…and…I never really saw a German, like with a rifle in his hand. You know, close.(laughs) It seemed like their artillery was firing at us. And our artillery was firing at them. But, it wasn’t like hand-to-hand combat, or anything like that. And, I think we lost a lot of men, because our own artillery being off base. And I think they had a lot of casualties. And…
Interviewer: So you came under artillery fire?
Mathless: Yeah, that was the main. I never, I don’t think I ever shot my rifle.
Interviewer: Were you still the assistant for the, you know, the ammunition guy for the B-A-R?
Mathless: I don’t know, I don’t know, I think I was just a rifleman.
Interviewer: But you never fired your rifle.
Mathless: Never. I don’t think I ever fired. If I would have fired it probably exploded cause it was full of snow and dirt. (laughs) It was…
Interviewer: Well, this artillery fire, do you recall how close it came to you, at times?
Mathless: Sure, a lot of guys got hurt.
Interviewer: Guys around you, near you?
Mathless: Yeah. And…I remember one time we were in Patton’s army and he wanted to advance, and…we marched so much, every time people would came to the town, men would drop out from exhaustion. And, by the time they got to their destination, the only one left was the sergeant and another guy, the two of them made the whole trip. And, then, the next day, they came, and it was, like, it was like mutiny, because they dropped out.(laughs) The next day, they came around and picked us up in Jeeps.
Interviewer: So, you were spread out, and all over the place?
Mathless: Yeah, guys would drop out at different times. They couldn’t go on any further. But Patton, he used us to protect the tanks. We’d go in front of the tanks. He was…and one time, the general came by.
Interviewer: Which general, of the Division?
Mathless: The Division, I don’t know what his name was. And he says, “Don’t eat snow, man”, (laughs) cause there was no water. I don’t know what was wrong with eating snow. Maybe that’s why I got yellow jaundice.
Interviewer: Ha. You mentioned General Patton, did you ever see General Patton?
Interviewer: Never came?
Mathless: In the movie, I saw him.
Interviewer: He never came your way. But you did see the general of your division?
Mathless: Yeah, he drove by in the Jeep and said, “Don’t eat snow, man”…I was…we got caught in a trap and there were a lot of men wounded, and they said, they told me, “Go after that wounded guy, bring him back”, you know. And…two or three of us. And so, we went there. I think we made a sling out of our rifles or something, and carried the wounded back. I eventually got the Bronze Star for that, for going after the wounded guy. And then, just before the War ended in Europe, there were four of us left from the original outfit, company.
Mathless: Four of us, yeah.
Interviewer: There’s usually about 200, isn’t there?
Mathless: Yeah, but four of them was left from the original. Again, we had replacements and all that. But they gave us all a pass to Paris, the four of us a pass to Paris.
Interviewer: Is that right?
Mathless: That was before the War ended. I think it was on Bastille Day, July, must have been, ’cause I remember, I don’t know.
Interviewer: Yeah, July 12th or something.
Mathless: July 14th.
Interviewer: The War in the Pacific is still going on.
Mathless: Yeah. It was after the War I got that pass. It must have been after the War.
Interviewer: It’d be after the War in Europe, but not after the War in Japan.
Mathless: Yeah. ‘Cause I got that pass to Paris.
Interviewer: Around Bastille Day?
Mathless: Yeah, I remember. And…we were in the…after the War, we were in Plauen, near Czechoslovakia. And that’s when I got yellow jaundice, and they sent me back to Belgium. And they wouldn’t let me rejoin the 87th , so I could go home with them. They put me in a evacuation hospital, as a typist. And we were on the coast of France, or something, and we had a pretty good time, ’cause they gave us nice food, and passes to Paris. They put us on a boat, to go on to Japan. And that’s where I was going when the War ended. And I got discharged at Camp Atterbury.
Interviewer: Could we back up to that Bronze Star…?
Interviewer: …incident. The man was wounded, was he badly wounded?
Mathless: I think…
Interviewer: Was it life-threatening?
Mathless: Yeah, I think so. There were a lot of guys were killed at this…
Interviewer: Do you recall the place? Was it a village, or a field, or forest or…?
Mathless: I think it was outside of town.
Interviewer: Outside of the town. Was there artillery fire at the time you went to help him, or was it small arms?
Mathless: I think it was small arms. They were hidden somewhere.
Interviewer: How many men went with you?
Mathless: I think it must have been at least three or four guys to carry him out.
Interviewer: Did you know the man you were saving?
Mathless: Yeah, he was in our company, I think. Our captain was killed at that time.
Interviewer: Oh my gosh.
Interviewer: Your captain was killed. Did you see this happen to him, or…?
Mathless: I don’t think so.
Interviewer: Didn’t you have medics with you that would help a wounded man?
Mathless: Medics was the worst job in the Army. (laughs) Because the guy would be wounded and there would be artillery fire and all that, and they’d say, “Medic, medic.” And he’d have to go out right in the middle of fire. (laughs) So medics, I think medics had a high rate of injury or casualty.
Interviewer: Yeah, see, that’s why I was wondering why a medic didn’t go get the wounded man. Okay. So your sergeant asked you or ordered you? I guess, asked you.
Mathless: I think it was an order. (laughs)
Interviewer: To go help on that. Was there snow on the ground at those times, or…?
Mathless: During the Battle of the Bulge, the snow…all over the place. It was high, and everything. And the Germans, like, wore white, so you couldn’t even see them. White uniforms. And we had…and…we never got proper equipment. We got cigarettes every day.
Interviewer: Did you smoke?
Mathless: Yeah. (laughs) The guys…we weren’t allowed to smoke at night, because of, they fire at you. The ember. These guys would go in the foxhole, and pull a blanket over them, and smoke. (laughs)… I have a standard joke.
Interviewer: Oh, yeah.
Mathless: I say, you know, when you went to Paris, cigarettes was more valuable than money.
Interviewer: Was that true?
Mathless: Yeah, the medium of the exchange. And, whether you get a girl for a week for…With a carton of cigarettes, and my luck, I didn’t smoke.(laughs) It was my joke.(laughs)
Interviewer: Oh. (laughs) Did they get food up to you in that snow, and all that ice?
Mathless: K rations, most of the time, is what we ate. I think, Christmas time, we got turkey or something, was some special meal. If we got a hot meal, it was, like, really a rare occasion, where the cooks were able to come up. Most of the time, most of the time, it was just K ration. We had cigarettes, and toilet paper, and some kind of food. You know something interesting? I never got a shower, all the time I was there in Europe. And he took us to Luxembourg City, and we threw in all our old clothes, and they had hundreds of showers there. It was like a shower battalion or something. That was all they did was… It’s the one…I got clean clothes, and it’s the first time in six months. When we’d clean up, it was called a “whore’s bath”. You take your helmet, and put water in it, and you heat it, and shave and wash out of the helmet. That was the…I had a shower one time in all that time.
Interviewer: Otherwise, you had to use your helmet?
Interviewer: You also sometimes had to cook coffee or stuff in your helmet, there.
Mathless: I never did that.
Interviewer: No, never did that?
Mathless: We had a canteen.
Interviewer: Had a canteen?
Mathless: Yeah. Or, there were apples all over France, and you’d take apples, and cut them up with a K ration. There would be cheese, or something like that, and combine the two of them.
Interviewer: Oh. Is that right?
Mathless: It was…
Interviewer: So, you had that to eat.
Mathless: It was a terrible life.
Interviewer: Did you lose a lot of weight?
Mathless: I don’t know. I still think about it, sometimes, at night. You know, when I’m trying to sleep, I think about it. It’s…I look at my own boy. I say, “My G-d, I was 18 or 19.” You know, he’s, you know, the different life. Thank G-d, he didn’t have to go through that, you know.
Interviewer: Not to experience what you did.
Mathless: We’re…I’m going to be 74 Wednesday. We’re going to be a lost generation. (laughs) There won’t be any.
Interviewer: Yeah, you had the Depression and the War, didn’t ya?
Mathless: That’s what I say, my timing was terrible. I was old enough for the Depression. I was six or seven years old. Old enough for World War II, and too old for the sexual revolution. Terrible timing.
Interviewer: Well, let me ask you a couple more questions about your experiences there, in combat. Did you ever see a German tank?
Mathless: Yes. That’s what we were afraid of.
Interviewer: Was it operational? Were there any Germans in it, at the time?…
Mathless: Yeah, I think one of them, they went over me. You know.
Interviewer: Went over you?
Mathless: Yeah, I was in a hole. They claim the German tanks were better than the American tanks. I forget what they call those big tanks.
Interviewer: Oh, they had Tiger tanks.
Mathless: Tiger tanks. That’s what we were afraid of, the Tiger tanks.
Interviewer: What do you recall about this one? You say it got close to you?
Mathless: Yeah. I think we were in bad shape, ’til the air cleared so they could fly over and bomb those tanks. That’s what saved the…
Interviewer: Now you say one drove over you?
Mathless: I think so.
Interviewer: Were you in your foxhole?
Mathless: Yeah. We were, I think they did the most damage, the tanks.
Interviewer: Was this day-time or night-time, when that happened?
Mathless: I think it was day-time. But I never really saw a German. The only time I saw a German, was after the War. Or they, I think thousands of them surrendered. Like, I’d see a soldier, and they’d say, “I surrender”, you know.(laughs) And…I think…
Interviewer: Did you see dead ones, from the combat?
Mathless: Yeah, I saw dead ones.
Interviewer: What’s sort of fascinating about a German tank driving over you, was this some kind of attack they made against your unit?
Mathless: Yeah, I guess so.
Interviewer: Wow. How about German airplanes? Did you see any German airplanes?
Mathless: I don’t think I ever saw one. I think they were pretty wiped out, by the…
Interviewer: How about, I guess no prisoners, if you didn’t until after the…
Interviewer: How about American tanks, did they provide you support and help or did you…?
Mathless: We provided them support. (laughs) They put us…we were like cannon-fodder in front of them. We had to march: either ride on them or march in front of them.
Interviewer: So, you rode on American tanks?
Mathless: I don’t remember… We did, most of the time, we did marching. Sometimes, they’d take us in a truck. I remember…we were so crowded in the truck, you practically couldn’t breathe, they had so many soldiers in that truck. And, if you had to urinate, you had to do it in a can and throw it out, ’cause there was no way of relieving yourself.(laughs) I remember that.
Interviewer: Pretty harsh conditions.
Mathless: Actually, I think all you wanted to do was, for the War to end, and you were…
Interviewer: While you were in combat, was there any opportunity for religious services? Did they…?
Interviewer: Anything. How about at Christmas time?
Mathless: No, I don’t think so.
Interviewer: Nothing then…Well, how did things come to an end, then, for you, in terms of the combat. I guess I could look at the map here, and say, if you were with them all the way to Plauen.
Interviewer: So you were in Luxembourg, you mentioned. And they went up to the Battle of the Bulge, to places like Hufallis, Hudance, St.Vith, Huen, Shernburg. Do you remember anything about that: Al, Pruen?
Mathless: They took Koblenz, I know. I wasn’t with them. I mean I didn’t go, I wasn’t…I didn’t go to Koblenz.
Interviewer: Oh, really.
Mathless: I remember Boppard. Is there a Boppard on there?
Interviewer: Yes, yes. That’s a…
Mathless: That’s where I spent a lot of time.
Interviewer: That’s a Rhine River town.
Mathless: That’s where they cross the Rhine.
Interviewer: Yeah, Boppard.
Mathless: And they left me behind.
Interviewer: Left you behind?
Mathless: To, like, salvage you know, protect. They went in the middle of the night, and they left, kids would come back,(laughs) kids would come around, pick up…what do you call them, when you throw them?
Interviewer: I don’t know.
Mathless: You know, those…those things…you know, you…
Interviewer: The soldiers had things?
Mathless: Yeah, you throw these things. They explode.
Interviewer: Hand grenades.
Mathless: Hand grenades. Kids, the little kids, would come around. I’m guarding that stuff, and they’d come out, pick up the hand grenade, and rifles, and anything else they left in the middle of the night. And I was supposed to protect that stuff.
Interviewer: Oh, you were?
Mathless: Yes, I didn’t cross the Rhine with them. I stayed behind at Boppard.
Interviewer: How’d you get across the Rhine, then?
Mathless: I don’t know.
Interviewer: Later on.
Mathless: I don’t know. But I remember Boppard.
Interviewer: Well yeah, it’s on the map here, Boppard. They crossed at Boppard, went across to Gamarich.
Mathless: I think they had boats, or something, that crossed the Rhine. I think the Navy took them across.
Interviewer: Then, I assume, later on, you caught up with your unit?
Mathless: Yeah…I was transferred to Headquarters for a while. I think, for Mail Company.
Interviewer: Oh, really? Yeah, ’cause then, I think, they moved rather quickly, didn’t they? On into Germany, with not much combat fighting, then, on to Branderdorf and Butzbach, and Alsfeld.
Mathless: We went in the Siegfried Line, I remember that. We went through there.
Interviewer: Oh, yeah. Was there any fighting at that time?
Mathless: Yeah, I think so.
Interviewer: Yeah, there’s places mentioned here in the Siegfried Line: Consdorf, Echternacht. Have you ever gone back to Europe?
Interviewer: Well, we’re coming to the end of this side. I’m going to say, “This is the end of Side A.” We’ll stop and turn it over, to complete our journey across Europe here, with the Division. Okay, we’re on the other side now. We’ll see about picking up the story. Well, anything you recall in your journey all the way to Plauen, there, at the end of the combat in Europe? There were quite a few places on the history map for the Division… places all the way through here. Tombach was mentioned as a place of combat for the Division. Anything…I could read some of them off: Ilmenow…I don’t know, but these places all the through here.
Mathless: I know, in Plauen, we were doing basic training, and saluting, and everything else. It was unbelievable. You know, it was, like, during the War, the Captain didn’t want you calling him “Captain”, or Lieutenant, “Lieutenant”, ’cause, then, the Germans would shoot you. Look for officers to shoot.(laughs) They didn’t want their ranks to be known. But, after we got to Plauen, we were saluting and everything else.
Interviewer: The War was over, then.
Interviewer: Do you recall the day the War ended in Europe?
Mathless: Yeah, I think, didn’t Roosevelt die when…I recalled when Roosevelt died.
Interviewer: Well, he died in April, around mid-April.
Mathless: Was this after the War?
Interviewer: Before the War ended.
Mathless: Oh, before the War ended?
Interviewer: A few weeks before. You remember when he died?
Mathless: I remember, I cried.
Interviewer: Oh, yeah.
Mathless: I don’t know where I…The War must’ve…practically over.
Interviewer: Nearly over, yes.
Mathless: And he died.
Interviewer: So you got word of his death?
Interviewer: How about the day, the War ended on May 8th. Do you recall that day?
Mathless: Yeah. I sure do.
Interviewer: Do you recall anything specific? How the Unit reacted?
Mathless: I think they were jubilant. They were worried about going to Japan. (laughs)
Interviewer: Oh. Already, you were worried about Japan?
Mathless: Yeah. The 87th went home. They eventually, probably, going to Japan. They went to New York, probably marched down 42nd Street. And I wasn’t there.(laughs)
Interviewer: You weren’t there? Why were you not there?
Mathless: ‘Cause I was in the hospital. And they put me in the repo-depot. And they wouldn’t put me back in the Division.
Interviewer: You said you had contracted…yellow jaundice. Was that while you were in Plauen.
Mathless: Yeah, exactly.
Interviewer: And, how long were you in the hospital?
Mathless: I don’t remember. But I couldn’t, couldn’t have been too long, a couple of weeks.
Interviewer: And, I think you said earlier, you were not sure why you got yellow jaundice. What caused that? Do you know?
Mathless: It’s gotta be the water…You had your canteen water, and it would freeze. You couldn’t get anything out. Your canteen would freeze. So, like, maybe you’d get water out of the creek or something, I don’t know.
Interviewer: Do you remember the German people, along your travels in Germany? Did you encounter any?
Interviewer: They had a rule against fraternization with the population.
Mathless: That didn’t stop some of the soldiers.(laughs) I wouldn’t, I can’t imagine…They were romancing the girl. Maybe her husband was killed by the Americans. My G-d, she could kill you, or something. I don’t know.(laughs) I wouldn’t mess with them.
Interviewer: Might be risky, huh?
Mathless: Besides, I think it was against the law.
Interviewer: Yeah, no fraternization.
Interviewer: Policy. Well, how about souvenir collecting? Did you participate in any of that?
Mathless: No, I didn’t get any guns, or anything like that.
Interviewer: Guns or…
Mathless: Watches. They would take watches off of the prisoners, or something like that. I would never do that.
Interviewer: I see.
Mathless: I don’t think I, I don’t think I have a souvenir. They’d bring home ammunition. (laughs)
Interviewer: Did you see any of the Russian troops that were in?
Interviewer: Did you know about any of the concentration camps?
Interviewer: Didn’t know about that.
Mathless: I don’t think we were near them.
Interviewer: Any other major events there, at Plauen? You got sick there. When you got well, where did you go?
Mathless: The repo-depot.
Interviewer: Where was that?
Mathless: I don’t know where it was.
Interviewer: Someplace in Germany or France?
Mathless: It was close to where the 87th was. I know it wasn’t far from them.
Interviewer: Oh yeah, okay.
Mathless: That’s where they put me in this evacuation hospital as a typist, and took away my combat infantry pay at $10 a month, ’cause I wasn’t in combat infantry anymore. And then these, these guys in the hospital, you know, were nurses and doctors and auxiliary, and they were telling me, I hear them talking about their experiences, war experiences, and most of their experience was in Paris.(laughs) I thought, my G-d, this is so ridiculous, after what I’ve been through.
Interviewer: Well, you had a friend named Sidney Kessler. When did you see him last? Did he go back, before you?
Mathless: He went home with the Division. And, then, he came to Columbus to visit me. And I went to Philadelphia to visit him. Then, I lost track of him. Then, I wrote him a letter to a second party that knew his address. I didn’t know his address. Then, I got a letter from his wife, saying that he died the day the letter arrived. So that was… Every once in a while, I run into somebody from the 87th Division. Last week, I ran into a guy at the, at the exercise room, I remember went to Ohio State with me, and was with the 87th.
Interviewer: Here in Columbus?
Mathless: Yeah. I know a couple guys that were in the 87th.
Mathless: I’m against all odds. I never got shot,or hurt, or didn’t have my feet frozen. You know, it’s against all odds. So, I guess I’m blessed.
Interviewer: Yeah, those were certainly common events, to have frozen feet, or injuries from shrapnel, or something like that. You avoided that, although you did have your illness. Have you had any recurrence of that illness, in any way?
Mathless: Well, they would never take my blood, because, I guess, it forever is polluted. For blood drives.
Interviewer: So, you’re not able to give blood?
Interviewer: You had mentioned, earlier, that you had some, was it nightmares? You said you thought about things at night. Was that…?
Mathless: Once in a while, I think about it, you know.
Interviewer: Was it combat events, things that would come back to you in combat…?
Mathless: Yeah. You know, I’d go over the…so many years ago, But, still, it’s hard to get it out of your mind.
Interviewer: I see. How did you get back to the United States? Was that a boat trip, again?
Interviewer: On the Queen Elizabeth, again?
Mathless: No. I don’t know what boat it was.
Interviewer: Something else.
Mathless: Much smaller boat.
Interviewer: A much smaller boat?
Interviewer: Okay. Well, how did you finally get out of the Army?
Mathless: I was discharged, when Camp Atterbury in Indiana. And, I went back to Ohio State, and …I started out in pre-med and I quit after…had a couple years of pre-med, and I quit. Switched to accounting, and I had to go four years in accounting to get my degree. So I Had…I ended up with a degree in Business and a degree in Arts, ’cause I went so many quarters. (laughs)
Interviewer: Oh, you had two…you got two degrees?
Mathless: Two degrees at Ohio State.
Interviewer: Did you begin working right away then, after…?
Mathless: Well, I graduated in June of ’49, and I got married in September of ’49. And, I got a job with the Internal Revenue. They notified me, in Portsmouth. I was there for a year. And, I came back to Columbus. I worked for a lumber company for a few months, and I worked for another CPA firm for a while. And, I quit, to start my own practice. And I got a few accounts. It wasn’t enough to make a living off of, so I went in with my brother. I was like a…I did work for him, like a subcontractor.
Interviewer: What was the work?
Interviewer: Oh, I see. What was his business?
Mathless: He was accountant, a public accountant.
Mathless: And, he passed his CPA, and eventually we were together. We moved, from downtown, we moved to Bexley in 1950. And, eventually, we, we merged everything. And I, later on, I became a part partner. And then, I became a full partner, fifty-fifty. And, we’ve been like that for…close to fifty years. And, he died in October of 1998. And, I sold the practice about November 1st. I sold it to a girl who worked for me. She became a partner in a big firm. She worked for me twenty years ago. She knew all the accounts, and she took over everything. And, she paid me off right away in front, which is a rare thing. And, I’ve been retired ever since.
Interviewer: What companies did you do the accounting for?
Mathless: It was various companies.
Interviewer: Uh huh. All in Columbus?
Mathless: Well, I had a couple accounts in Toledo. And most of them were in Columbus. One of them was, our biggest account was in Lancaster.
Interviewer: What was that company?
Mathless: It was Fred Hillman in Lancaster.
Interviewer: I see.
Mathless: And…I been, I’ve had…I’ve had health problems. I spend a lot of time going to doctors.
Interviewer: Well, it sounds like some of it was related to your World War II illness there, maybe.
Mathless: I don’t know. Couldn’t have helped.
Interviewer: Yeah. It certainly couldn’t have helped. Well, sounds like we’ve touched on most everything.
Mathless: How about my family?
Interviewer: Okay, let’s continue with that, then. Your children, is that it?
Mathless: Let’s see, I’ve been married 50 years. And, I have three children. The oldest is Carol. She’s a lawyer. Lives in L.A. She has three kids. She has two boys and a girl. And she’s married to a pianist.
Interviewer: What’s her married name now?
Mathless: Kahn, Carol Kahn. And, I have a daughter, Lauri Effronz. She’s a pediatric ophthalmologist. She lives in Cleveland. She’s married to Barry Effronz. He’s a cardiologist in Cleveland. And, I have a son, Steve Mathless. And, he’s married to Annette. And, he’s a lawyer in Columbus.
Interviewer: Oh, he is? Does he specialize in any particular branch of the law?
Mathless: Criminal law.
Interviewer: Criminal law, Steve Mathless. How about grandchildren?
Mathless: I have…Carol in L.A. has two boys and a girl. And Lauri in Cleveland has three girls, and Steve doesn’t have any children yet.
Interviewer: Steve’s the youngest?
Mathless: Yeah, he’s the baby.
Interviewer: How old is he?
Mathless: He’ll be, he’s forty.
Interviewer: And your wife?
Mathless: She’s Betty. She’s four years younger than I am.
Interviewer: What was, what’s her maiden name?
Interviewer: Is she from Columbus?
Interviewer: Cincinnati. Okay, that’s the family. That probably, pretty well covers it. Any other historic items of interest to Jewish scholars or…? Historical aspects, you know, from your World War II experience? I know it goes back a long ways, 50, 55 years, or so. That’s a long time to look back. Think we ought to end it at this point?
Interviewer: Okay. We’ll do that. Okay, so that’s the end of the Side B and the oral history of Gene Mathless.
* * *