War on Their Minds
  Mr. Peter Drevinsky
Age in 1941: 16

Interview Team: Martin Adler and John Peterson

Q: What is your name?

Mr. Drevinsky: Peter Drevinsky.

Q: How old were you in 1941?

Mr. Drevinsky: 16.

Q: Where were you born and raised?

Mr. Drevinsky: Wilboro, Massachusetts.

Q: To what extent were you aware of the events that preceded the war in Europe?

Mr. Drevinsky: Yeah, certainly through classes. We were pretty much aware, particularly of Europe because the Brown Shirts were getting into some kind of power and Hitler. This is before war was declared.

Q: You mean Mussolini in Italy?

Mr. Drevinsky: Yes certainly we were aware of him and Hirohito in Japan sort of keeping an eye on things to that point.

Q: Hitler was named Time Magazine's "Man of the Year" and was very popular when he was bringing Germany out of the depression. How did you feel about Hitler before the war?

Mr. Drevinsky: Well it appeared that he was doing some good, but it also appeared that he was grasping for some power that he certainly was not entitled to. He certainly pulled Germany out of the doldrums. We could see it when we were going through, except for the farmland, the urban areas were quite modernized. Many of the conveniences that we enjoy today were introduced at that time so he did good in that sense. But I think it went to his head because he felt that he would be reaching a level where he could exercise a little power for his own benefit.

Q: Explain how you first became aware of the dangers in Europe and Asia. Was it through Pearl Harbor?

Mr. Drevinsky: Well, the Germans went into Poland and other areas where they did not belong. As far as Japan was concerned, I think it was like a sleeping dog, because I wasn't aware of what they could do and certainly Pearl Harbor came about as a complete surprise. I don't think people were prepared for the unexpected.

Q: What was your reaction to the war in Europe before the Americans became involved?

Mr. Drevinsky: Well, certainly it became apparent that something was going on in Europe that should not have happened. So there was a feeling that the bubble was going to burst in that something was going to have to be done involving the United States.

Q: Do you recall the feelings that you experienced after the initial attack on Pearl Harbor?

Mr. Drevinsky: Yeah, it was a devastating feeling. I remember when President Roosevelt went on the radio, I was a junior in high school at the time, and we gathered in the assembly hall and we had a big radio up onstage. We didn't have TV at that time. We all heard the announcement, that we had declared war on Japan.

Q: When did you join the armed services and did anything affect the branch that you joined? Were you drafted?
Mr. Drevinsky: No, when I graduated from high school I began summer school at Northeastern. At that time, I was made aware of the fact that the army was introducing a program called the Army Specialized Training Program, the so-called A.S.T.P within which you would have to enlist and take basic training for three months and then be sent to a school for either sciences, engineering or languages depending upon the skills that you showed in standardized testing that they gave. So in order to take advantage of that kind of program I enlisted, and within a few weeks was called in.

Q: At that point did you expect to be sent overseas?

Mr. Drevinsky: Only after a period of university schooling, so the answer to that question is, yes, I expected it, but I didn't expect it so soon. I expected it ultimately but of course it depended upon the progress of the war and the needs of the military in Europe and Japan. As it turned out, after basic training I was sent up to the University of Maine for three months at which time, it turned out that Patton needed some help from the infantry to back up his tanks, so the program there was phased out. The whole contingent was absorbed by the Yankee division on Tennessee maneuvers. Within a couple days we were out of the warm dormitories and into the cornfields of Tennessee so you can imagine what we felt about that and how we felt about the Tennessee people. We didn't like Tennessee at that time.

Q: What are some of your specific recollections of boot camp?

Mr. Drevinsky: Well, Boot Camp was before the University of Maine and some of the recollections that stand out were the camaraderie that was instilled in the trainees. As you can imagine that's one of the most important characteristics of a good fighting force, the melding of a group supporting each other. They certainly instill that in basic training. They also instilled the fact that there were some people there who didn't really belong, who weren't ready for something like that. I think the optimism, the general feeling of goodwill among the trainees was evident. As far as going through engineering courses at the University of Maine, they were top notch and we enjoyed that stage, although it was quite short. We then joined the Yankee division, and as I say, this is typical day of Tennessee maneuver weather, rainy. One of the maneuvers was the crossing of a river at night under battlefield conditions, and this is crossing the Cumberland river, which was swollen from all the rains. At that time, you had lots of flotsam and debris floating down the river just floating down the river, it was a fairly large gap that we had to ford and it turned out that one of the boats that carried us across was overloaded with heavy weapons, and a tree trunk happened to hit it and turn it over and six out of ten men were lost in that exercise. It was certainly risky to be in training, let alone being in combat, training itself was risky. So those are some of the recollections.

Q: After that did you proceed to Europe immediately?

Mr. Drevinsky: We went to Columbia South Carolina to Fort Jackson. Within a couple of months we were on a ship to Cherbourg, France and we landed there in early September or the latter part of August 1944. That would be two or three months after D-Day, I certainly wasn't involved there. We landed in Cherbourg and we could see the havoc that had been raised even in that port.

Q: Were you with them when they pushed on into Bastogne?

Mr. Drevinsky: Yes, before then we were near the Maginot Line in France, East of Paris by about a couple hundred miles. We pushed off as fresh troops there. We had relieved Patton's Tank division, the 4th army, and here we are of course coming in with freshly creased pants and well shaven and everything. We were made fun of because they were all grimy and looked like Willy and Joe in the Bill Malden cartoon characters. I don't know if you're aware of those. Anyway we were there. We were on the lines for awhile. We came back to a rest area in Mertz, France and were supposed to stay there for 30 days, this is in the latter part of 44, when unexpectedly, we were told to pack up. Nobody told us why. We boarded trucks and headed out, the next thing you know we were in Luxembourg.

Q: The Battle of the Bulge?

Mr. Drevinsky: Yes, I was not in Bastogne but the Yankee division was on the southern flank during the Battle of the Bulge, so that we were allowing the Germans to spearhead through, but not spread out, then we could cut them off. Our job was to prevent them from spreading south. Very cold there, lots of frostbite, and lots of shell fire every night. The Germans were trying to keep the lines open.

Q: What was your initial reaction to combat? How did you feel about it and react to it?

Mr. Drevinsky: Well, it's almost indescribable because its a matter of survival. Ultimately, I became a message runner. A lot of the information that came down from higher headquarters couldn't be broadcast by radio, so they had people who had to run the messages, usually at night. Being in regiment I wasn't at that time with a line company. I was originally a BAR man in the line company, but I ended up in regiment. I was aware of the goings on within the division and particularly got wind of the casualty reports as they came in. When you see people that you've befriended from the training camp to the University of Maine, 18, 19, 20 years old on the casualty reports, it was certainly very alarming. I didn't like to hear it, so it's certainly not a very great feeling of security. Your only security seems to be your fellow soldiers or the people that were with you at the time. It's an unbelievable feeling.

Q: To what extent were you aware of the Allied failures such as Market Garden? How did these affect you and those around you?

Mr. Drevinsky: Well it sort of spurred us on even more. But I might also add that we weren't apprised of these failures until after the fact. I mean you're reading history books now and you know what went wrong, the political decisions that were made and the animosity particularly between Montgomery and Patton. We weren't aware of that. We weren't made aware of that. Whenever we had rest areas between being on the line we would be shown films of the Russians fighting on the Eastern front and how in order to get through barbed wire and things like that they would sacrifice themselves by falling on the wire and having the other troops walk over them. Sacrifice, just all kinds of sacrifice as a means of prodding us on. Although, we didn't need too much prodding because at that time we were more than just a little angry at the Germans for what was going on. We were hoping that we could overcome that and we were hoping and praying that our counterparts in the Pacific theater were taking care of the Japanese. We thanked our lucky stars that we weren't in the Pacific because the feeling was that the task was equally difficult, if not more difficult with an enemy that was terrible.

Q: So you entered after 1944?

Mr. Drevinsky: Europe, yes.

Q: Were you told about the eventual goals of Patton?

Mr. Drevinsky: Not too much, except the goals, the immediate goals were evident. It was a case of the infantry securing the territory that the tanks took over, and wipe out any pockets that were left and had to be done by ground troops. So that was the immediate day-to-day goal, that and liberating territory as we went along. To us the goal was to drive the Germans into the Russian hands so that we'd be able to squeeze them out, the Russians from the Eastern front and the U.S and British and French resistance from the Western front.

Q: What were your feelings about Patton and Eisenhower?

Mr. Drevinsky: Positive feeling on both, particularly Patton. Of course he had the nickname of Blood and Guts. It was sort of an angry reverence, if you can imagine something like that. Angry in the sense that we didn't want to be there and reverence in the sense that he seemed to command a unit that was doing something, and we were part of it. I know you have stories about how he slapped people around. No doubt about it, but we didn't hear about it until after the fact. Eisenhower, the feeling was that he was kind of a settling force and we admired him too.

Q: At the end of the war how did you feel about the decision to drop the Atomic bomb on Japan?

Mr. Drevinsky: Happy, Happy about it because the war in Japan was over. I'll be truthful because when the European conflict was over, we then began training for jungle techniques because our next stop would have been the Pacific. We were absolutely relieved. Certainly relieved at the moment and, of course, the consequences and the era that it began just weren't understood at the time. It only became clear with time. The Atomic Age certainly had many minuses besides that plus. We were happy that the war was over and the question was how come? What happened? We could not fathom the full effects.

Q: So you didn't see that as the beginning of the cold war?

Mr. Drevinsky: No.

Q: When did you first hear rumors and ultimately learn of the atrocities committed against Jews by the Nazis?

Mr. Drevinsky: I probably learned about those... you know a lot of these events became apparent in the months and years after, I was not aware of that until sometime after I had been discharged. Just absolutely terrible events and some of the movies that we?ve had, I think they are essential to drive the point home even today that its important to know these atrocities. So to rap it up it was only some months after that it became apparent. The media made sure we were told of the events that took place, it was just terrible.

Q: Did you participate in a ceremony, or celebration when you returned home?

Mr. Drevinsky: No, because you see the troops were taken out of Europe and brought back home gradually. Those that had been in the service for a longer length of time were brought home sooner than others. It was a gradual return to home, the celebrations occurred just days after the end of the war. Certainly we were happy and celebrating in Europe. I was brought back to Fort Devin's and five or six of us who were heading back to Boston hired a cab, and I remember returning home on route two to south station. I hopped a train out to Middlebury and walked home, sort of as if nothing had happened.

Q: What were your experiences with reentering society? Was it really like nothing had happened or did people just want it to be that way?

Mr. Drevinsky: When people saw me they were happy to see me back and it was just a pleasure because you saw people that you hadn't seen for a couple of years. I got a job in the local supermarket and enrolled at UMass Amherst in the fall, and started my college career. I was in with a bunch of vets at the time and there was sharing of events and memories of what happened but it was back to business. At that time it was fairly easy to adapt although you remembered a few things. You didn't wipe out everything that you had seen in the past years, you often think about people you lived with. People who you might not see again. I did attend a couple of reunions but you know who attended them? All old timers, because the kids were in college. We had felt that we were a wanted group as opposed to the Vietnam fighters because we had an objective to stamp out an opponent who was inhuman. There was no feeling of US interest in Germany at that time, as opposed to Vietnam so there was a firm purpose and we felt like we had accomplished something. I think the people felt we had accomplished something which had to be done.

Q: During the war how did you feel towards the Germans and Japanese? Did you extend your feelings toward Hitler toward the ordinary soldier?

Mr. Drevinsky: Just the feeling that any German soldier was an enemy whether he was a prisoner of war or whether he was lurking in the woods somewhere, or behind a gun. Just absolutely an enemy. And in retrospect compared to what I had seen in my professional career, I had the privilege of working as a research associate with a couple of German people. They are absolutely human just like anyone else, one of them was a meteorologist during the war, he didn't carry a gun but he was a supporter of the Nazi cause. He was an absolute gem of a guy. It's strange but when you're pitted against someone you've got to consider him an enemy because if you don't you're not gonna be around too long. You can't stop by and shake his hand and talk about the weather; that's for sure. With regard to the Japanese, we had one purpose in mind. Fight the Germans. I wasn't that concerned about the Japanese at that time, I had more important business at hand.

Q: What were your feelings about the internment of 100,000 Japanese Americans?

Mr. Drevinsky: Terrible, terrible never should have happened. As it turned out in graduate school, I received a PhD in chemistry from Clark, my supervisor was Japanese, a cracker jack, a real whip. His parents were interned and he never said anything about it, but I found out about it and felt that it just aggravated the situation. It was a band aid reaction I am sure, it's just too bad that it happened

Q: In closing, what would you say was your greatest experience in the war and you worst experience?

Mr. Drevinsky: You know I always say that I wouldn't do it again for a million dollars but I wouldn't give up what I went through for a million dollars. That's not an experience but it's certainly an oratory about the total experience. There were many experiences that were memorable. Of the worst part I can remember people in training, I made mention of the fact that some people shouldn't have been in training. They were forced to undergo training that I knew they just couldn't handle, crawling under machine gun fire, forced hikes. Again one of the good experience was the camaraderie that came about I think that buoyed everyone up, if you let it support you it did. Some people couldn't let it support you, they shouldn't have been there. After the war in 1945 I was able to go to London, England for a training, with all the bombing that London had gone through there were many homeless people so a short distance maybe 50 or 60 miles away there was a lot of territory set aside to build a lot of homes to take in all the homeless and essentially establish another city. The reason for my being there was to take part in training for surveying of homes that ultimately would be built. So I was there for about 3-4 weeks and during that time I lived with a family. There were two GI?s living there and a number of people in the program and they all did the same thing, lived with other people. At that time the English people didn't have much in the way of food. They were still on rations and I remember on one of the first few days we were asked what we would like for breakfast. "Would you like some toast or some fried tomatoes?" And I said: "Fried tomatoes for breakfast?!?" Apparently, that was a staple at that time, fried tomatoes on toast so they would be eating tomatoes for breakfast.


Mr. Drevinsky describes readjusting to civilian life (Quicktime)

Part of Mr. Drevinsky's newspaper collection

Stars and Stripes