War on Their Minds
Mr.Buchhalter in 1941   Barton Buchhalter
Age in 1941: 28

Interview Team: Mary McConnell, Miriam Sopin-Vilme
  Mr.Bucchalter in 2002

Q: Could you please state your name?

Mr. Buchhalter: Barton Buchhalter

Q: And what was your age in 1941?

Mr. Buchhalter: I think I was over 28 years old.

Q: Where was your place of birth, and where were you raised?

Mr. Buchhalter: I was born in in Denver, Colorado. And I was raised in Denver, Colorado, until 20 years of age.

Q: Ok. To what extent were you aware of the happenings in Japan, Italy and Germany during the 1930s?

Mr. Buchhalter: I was very aware.

Q: Do you remember when you first became aware?

Mr. Buchhalter: I first became aware in 1933 when Hitler was voted in the Reichstag.

Q: Explain how you first became aware of the dangers in Europe with Hitler and Asia. What made it obvious to you that him becoming voted into the Reichstag was a sign of danger?

Mr. Buchhalter: I read Mein Kampf, and I knew that he was out to get me!


Q: What was your reaction to the war in Europe...the invasion of Poland, the battle of Britain in the fall of 1940 etc? What was your reaction to the war at first?

Mr. Buchhalter: I thought of getting involved in the war.

Q: So when did you enlist?

Mr. Buchhalter: I didn't enlist. I was drafted, in April of 1941.

Q: What are your remembrances of the attack on Pearl Harbor?

Mr. Buchhalter: Its interesting that you ask. I was drafted in April, and November 28 I was released from the army because I was over 28. So I was freed of the service at that time. Seven days later, I was at a dance at the Waldorf-Astorian New York and that was the day of the Pearl Harbor attack. And so everyone was ordered to go back to the service.

Q: Did you want to go back?

Mr. Buchhalter: Yes, I did want to go back.

Q: So you were released because you were too old?

Mr. Buchhalter: People over twenty-eight were let out before the war. We weren't in the war yet. So, after Pearl Harbor, we were in the war, and twenty-eight didnt matter.

Q: What were your feelings about the American declaration of war?

Mr. Buchhalter: I was happy that we declared war.

Q: Did your feelings about the declaration of war ever change for you? Did you ever regret America's decision?

Mr. Buchhalter: No, no.

Q: So all along you were satisfied with America's decision to enter the war?

Mr. Buchhalter: We did the right thing.

Q: Under what circumstances did you enter the armed forces--you were drafted, correct?

Mr. Buchhalter: Yes.

Q: What branch of the armed forces did you join? Just the general army?

Mr. Buchhalter: Until the time of Pearl Harbor, I just had basic training. After that, I requested to go to OCS--Officers Training Corps. I was given a test, and I passed the test and was sent to OCS. And then, after OCS they I was comissioned in coast artillery.

Q: What was it like saying good-bye to your loved ones?

Mr. Buchhalter: It was difficult. It wasnt easy at all.

Q: Where were you when you had to say good-bye?

Mr. Buchhalter: In New York.

Q: So was that where everyone was? Your entire family?

Mr. Buchhalter: That's where my family moved to from Denver.

Q: What were your remembrances of basic training?

Mr. Buchhalter: It was difficult for me, because I was older than most of the soldiers. I had difficulty hiking twenty-five miles with a pack on my back!

Q: What special skill(s) were you taught in the armed forces?

Mr. Buchhalter: Discipline.

Q: How did your faith or your religious beliefs impact your thoughts of the war?

Mr. Buchhalter: Well my beliefs were very rigid, because I am Jewish.

Q: So, how did that influence what you thought about the war? Did it make you feel that it was right or wrong?

Mr. Buchhalter: It was right.

Q: What was your specific role in the armed services? Did you have a specific job?

Mr. Buchhalter: It changed from time to time. Originally, I was comissioned in coast artillery. And then after the Battle of the Bulge, they did away with the coast artillery, and they sent me to the infantry. And I wound up in the infantry for the rest of the war.

Q: Could you please describe operations or specific battles in which you were involved? Or a particular event that really affected you?

Mr. Buchhalter: The first day I got into combat. I was riding in a Jeep, and there were many dead soldiers on either side of me. I found that very difficult.

Q: Did you fight in the Battle of the Bulge?

Mr. Buchhalter: No.

Q: Were you ever involved in direct combat?

Mr. Buchhalter: Yes.

Q: What was the greatest challenge of combat?

Mr. Buchhalter: The greatest challenge to me was when an enemy soldier would shout, and he said, "Helfer!", which means "Help me!", I was not able shoot him, while the other men had no problem killing him.

Q: How did you stay focused through out the war, having to watch many people die around you?

Mr. Buchhalter: It was difficult. Actually, those five years that I spent in the army ruined my whole life.

Q: So all those deaths, and you still found that the war was justified? What do you feel you were fighting for?

Mr. Buchhalter: I was fighting for freedom. And for liberty!

Q: Can you describe your first encounter with mass death, and how did it make you feel?

Mr. Buchhalter: Well that was the first day! I remember it, and it made me feel terrible. I never got over it.

Q: Did you ever get used to it?

Mr. Buchhalter: No.

Q: What did you miss most about the United States?

Mr. Buchhalter: Well, this is the greatest country in the world, and I missed the freedom.

Q: When you say freedom, do you mean the freedom of being able to live and not having to hurt anybody?

Mr. Buchhalter: Yes.

Q: Did you send or receive any mail to loved ones?

Mr. Buchhalter: I did. A lot of it. I wrote home every day, and my sister wrote me every day.

Q: Was it hard not being able to see her?

Mr. Buchhalter: Very difficult.

Q: What was your attitude towards the Germans on a personal level?

Mr. Buchhalter: I disliked them--intensely.

Q: Did you hate what they stood for and seeing Hitler as the one behind all that? Were you more hating towards what they stood for as opposed to the true people?

Mr. Buchhalter: I hated what they stood for. Mainly because as a people I found them very good. They were clean, and they were decent, and they were kind, but I hated what they stood for.

Q: Have you maintained contact with any persons in your unit?

Mr. Buchhalter: I have until just recently. He died...my best friend.

Q: So there were a lot of special friendships?

Mr. Buchhalter: Yeah.

Q: Did you lose any friends or family during the war?

Mr. Buchhalter: Yes I did. Second cousins and so forth.

Q: And some friends?

Mr. Buchhalter: Many friends and a cousin of mine was a war prisoner for a long time.

Q: What was your most memorable experience of the war?

Mr. Buchhalter: Getting out.

Q: Did you fear coming home at all? Did you fear the fact that everything might have changed without you, or that you changed so much that it would be too much to bear?

Mr. Buchhalter: I was eager to get home, but in the four years or so I missed a lot. Career wise, socially, and economically.

Q: What did you do before the war?

Mr. Buchhalter: I was a salesman for a distiller in New York.

Q: Did you participate in any welcoming home celebration?

Mr. Buchhalter: I went to Times Square on the VE day, or VJ day. I dont remember which, probably VJ day, because VE day I was still in the service.

Q: What did it feel like to come home?

Mr. Buchhalter: It felt great!

Q: What was it like seeing you family and friends once again?

Mr. Buchhalter: I loved it.

Q: Were you married before you left for the service?

Mr. Buchhalter: I married shortly after the war.

Q: What things had changed in America since the time you had been gone?

Mr. Buchhalter: A lot had changed during that war period. People were more thoughtful after coming home.

Q: Were you aware of the internment of 110,000 Japanese-Americans?

Mr. Buchhalter: Yes I was.

Q: And what was your reaction?

Mr. Buchhalter: I thought it was terrible!

Q: So you didnt feel it was justified?

Mr. Buchhalter: No. No, no.

Q: Why not? Why did you feel that it was not justified?

Mr. Buchhalter: Because I knew many Japanese-Americans, and they were just as patriotic as I was.

Q: So, do you think Americans were aware of the fact that they were so segregated at home racially and also within the armed forces, but yet thats one of the things the country was fighting? Did people notice the irony of that?

Mr. Buchhalter: Yeah. It was terrible. I was stationed in the south for a long time. And segregation was awful!

Q: You said you were Jewish, correct?

Mr. Buchhalter: Yes.

Q: Did you ever feel, that you were ostracized or outcast because of your religion?

Mr. Buchhalter: Yes. In the south I found that blacks and Jews weren't welcome. On the Virginia beach, they had signs!

Q: What about all Americans in general, not just Southerners? Did you feel that they were accepting of different groups of people?

Mr. Buchhalter: It's much better now then it was then.

Q: What were your reactions to the German atrocities towards the Jews?

Mr. Buchhalter: I was revolted. I couldn't stand it.

Q: Also during the war there was a ship that came to America with lots of Jews, and they turned it back.

Mr. Buchhalter: Yeah.

Q: What do you think they should have done instead?

Mr. Buchhalter: Even at the time I thought that they should have accepted them.

Q: Do you still think that now?

Mr. Buchhalter: Yes!

Q: When did you find out about the camps and all that was happening to the Jews?

Mr. Buchhalter: I didn't find out until before I went over seas...just before I went over seas.

Q: Did you ever witness any of these camps? Did you see them for yourself?

Mr. Buchhalter: After the war. After they were liberated.

Q: How did you view President Franklin D. Roosevelts leadership during the war?

Mr. Buchhalter: I thought he did a good job.

Q: Were there any other American leaders that you felt performed well during the world war?

Mr. Buchhalter: I thought General Marshall did well, and I thought General Eisenhower did well.

Q: How did you react to the news of FDR's death?

Mr. Buchhalter: I was saddened by it.

Q: And a lot of other Americans were really sad about it, as well?

Mr. Buchhalter: Yes.

Q: Did you feel like you were very close to him? The fireside chats and everything?

Mr. Buchhalter: Yes. I think I was in Europe when he died.

Q: So how did you hear about it? Via letter or was it announced?

Mr. Buchhalter: Well, we heard it on the radio, and we had the Stars and Stripes, the daily newspaper. And we kept up with world affairs.

Q: So it was not like the news passed you by while you were away?

Mr. Buchhalter: No.

Q: What was your opinion of President Truman's war time leadership?

Mr. Buchhalter: I thought it was good.

Q: Did you think he handled the situation better or worse than FDR did?

Mr. Buchhalter: I couldnt make up my mind on one thing--the atomic bomb. I still have not got it straight in my mind.

Q: Do you agree with the first or second dropping of the bomb?

Mr. Buchhalter: I don't know...but it did stop the war! You can argue it both ways. It stopped the war, but it killed a lot of people, and it changed the world!

Q: Do you think there is a possiblility that almost every country knows how to make an atomic bomb?

Mr. Buchhalter: Yes, a lot more than before.

Q: Do you think the decision to drop the atomic bomb was justified?

Mr. Buchhalter: I do now, after giving it a lot of thought.

Q: So did you originally think it was not justified?

Mr. Buchhalter: I thought it killed a lot of people unnecessarily, but it was necessary.

Q: Were you surprised at what had happened?

Mr. Buchhalter: Yes, I was.

Q: Why do you think it was necessary now as opposed to before?

Mr. Buchhalter: Because it ended the war, which was a good thing. And it saved a lot of lives that would be lost if the war had continued!

Q: At the end of the war did you anticipate future wars, or did it seem that countries would find other means to solve conflicts?

Mr. Buchhalter: I thought they would find other means, but I changed my mind.

Q: After September 11 happened?

Mr. Buchhalter: Yeah. I thought maybe there would not be any war for a while.

Q: What are your feelings about September 11? Obviously it was awful, but do you see any comparisons between that and Pearl Harbor?

Mr. Buchhalter: It was worse than Pearl harbor. Much worse than Pearl Harbor. It changed our whole lives.

Q: Do you think that we as a country responded appropriately to September 11?

Mr. Buchhalter: As far as we could, yeah.

Q: So were you surprised by the lack of support, because I know that with the second World War there were lines that extended for blocks with people signing to join the armed forces, yet when it came to September 11, there wasnt as big as a response?

Mr. Buchhalter: Well, the reason for that is we didn't have a specific army to go after.

Q: Did you feel a renewal of nationalism after September 11?

Mr. Buchhalter: I'm sure everyone did.

Q: And did you, was that comparable to the way you felt after Pearl Harbor?

Mr. Buchhalter: It was different but stronger...stronger!

Q: What about foreign relations? As far as you just said, after the Second World War was over you thought that there would not be other wars. But do you think foreign relations are stressed now because of what happened on September 11 and do you think that they have a chance of getting better?

Mr. Buchhalter: I think it's worse now than ever!

Q: And do you think there is ever a chance that we can fix that?

Mr. Buchhalter: I don't know how...

Q: What were the lessons of World War II, for you?

Mr. Buchhalter: The lesson was: do not spend four years in the army!

Q: So, if you could do it all over again, would you not have joined the army?

Mr. Buchhalter: I would have gone, for that war. For that war! I couldn't dare refuse.

Q: What about for this war were fighting now against terrorism?

Mr. Buchhalter: This one? This war is more important than that war!

Q: So you would go if you had the chance?

Mr. Buchhalter: Yeah...but I'm over twenty-eight now!

Q: During those four years, would you have done anything differently?

Mr. Buchhalter: No.

Q: What do you think of today's generation of younger Americans?

Mr. Buchhalter: I think they are very patriotic!

Q: Do you think we are different in any way from when you were younger?

Mr. Buchhalter: Not really, not really.

Q: So you think in a lot of ways we are really similar?

Mr. Buchhalter: Yes.

Q: Do you have any parting advice for the youth today?

Mr. Buchhalter: Be like you. Be like you three.

Q: Thank you!

Q: You said that you got married shortly after the war, and I know that love is a very big thing, very strained. How do you feel that it survived the four years of war? I mean, the fact that you could maintain a relationship with a person, without knowing if you would live to the next day?

Mr. Buchhalter: Well, I really didn't have any roots with love at that time. So, in my case it was good that I was not married at the time. If I had been married, it would have been more difficult.

Q: Did you feel that after the war you appreciated your loved ones more?

Mr. Buchhalter: Yes.

Q: We do not have any more questions. Thank you you very much for your time!


Mr. Buchhalter describes the trauma of combat (Quicktime)


Mr. Buchhalter's Military ID