Q: This is William Fulton interviewing Mr. Freeman in the "tomb room" of Wayland high school on Friday, May 18th, 2001. Could you please repeat your name?
Mr. Freeman: My name is Benjamin Freemen, middle initial S, as in sugar.
Q: What was your age in 1941?
Mr. Freeman: I was 21 years old.
Q: What is your place of birth and where were you raised?
Mr. Freeman: I was born in Boston, raised in Boston, and went to school in Boston. You could say my childhood was very pleasant.
Q: To what extent were you aware of the happenings in Japan, Italy, and Germany during the 1930s?
Mr. Freeman: I was very much aware of the happenings in Germany because of his attacks on the Jewish people. I was less aware of Italy and Japan, although they were in the newsreels, showing the bombings, and so forth, although Hitler was more vicious.
Q: Explain how you first became aware of the dangers in Europe (Hitler) and Asia (Emperor Hirohito/War Minister Tojo).
Well, it actually goes back to 1933 if I can remember correctly. Im not sure of the day of what they call "krystalnacht", but thats when I really totally became aware of it.
Q: What was your reaction to the war in Europe (invasion of Poland, Battle of Britain fall 1940/ "Blitz")?
Mr. Freeman: My reaction was my family was in a business that probably could have earned me an exemption from service, but I elected not to seek that exemption, so my reaction was to get into it, although I was drafted; I did not volunteer.
Q: What were your remembrances of the attack on Pearl Harbor?
Mr. Freeman: I remember that vividly. A very good friend of ours was in the 26th division, and the division had been down in Carolina, training, and they had come back to Fort Edwards on about the 5th. On the 7th of December, we visited him at his barracks and when the word came in, we heard, so thats a vivid memory.
Q: What were your feelings about the American declaration of war?
Mr. Freeman: Good idea.
Q: Did these feelings change during or after the war?
Mr. Freeman: oh no, no. We had to do it, and we did it.
Q: Under what circumstances did you enter the armed forces?
Mr. Freeman: I joined by choice in a sense, but I was drafted.
Q: What branch of the armed forces did you join?
Mr. Freeman: Army
Q: What was it like saying goodbye to your loved ones? Where were you, and how did you feel?
Mr. Freeman: I was a kid, I didnt know anything else. I didnt go overseas right away. They sent me to basic training, and after basic training I was sent overseas. It was an adventure.
Q: What are your remembrances of boot camp?
Mr. Freeman: Not a hell of a lot. Our boot camp was not like the Marines, so we had obstacle courses, and so forth and other stuff.
Q: Where were you sent after boot camp?
Mr. Freeman: Initially I was sent overseas to Africa.
Q: What special skills were you taught in the armed forces?
Mr. Freeman: Well, I was in supply, so I learned quite a bit about receiving and storing and issuing of supplies; keeping records and so forth.
Q: So you were in the quartermaster corps?
Mr. Freeman: No, medical supply
Q: How did your faith impact your thoughts during the war?
Mr. Freeman: It didnt interfere. I went to services when I could, which wasnt that often.
Q: What was your specific role in the armed forces?
Mr. Freeman: Well after I got settled into a unit, which I didnt get into until I got to Africa, at that time, I was assigned a duty, accounting for the supplies, which meant receiving, storing and issuing; we issued in bulk.
Q: How big was the unit you were attached to?
Mr. Freeman: At that time, it was a big one. We had the whole African theatre.
Q: *whistle* so you were supplying Now, were you going down to the division level hospitals, the corps hospitals?
Mr. Freeman: Actually Army level.
Q: Wow, so youre talking 25 truckloads of something.
Mr. Freeman: Oh, we had quite a bit of stuff coming; we had a huge step-up.
Q: *laugh* Hes laughing at me saying "25 truckloads, that was an easy day", right?
Mr. Freeman: Oh, that was the day they brought in the liquor!
Q: where did you come ashore in North Africa?
Mr. Freeman: Casablanca
Q: Oh, so youve been to Casablanca.
Then I was on a (indecipherable mumbling)
Q: In Oran?
Mr. Freeman: yeah.
Q: Whatd you think of North Africa?
Mr. Freeman: It was a --- country, I met some nice people, French people, and its a great reason for you to take a good foreign language and stay with it, including high school.
Q: Please describe operations or battles in which you were involved
Mr. Freeman: I was never in any battles as such, but I can tell you about my first air raid if you want to hear an anecdote
Mr. Freeman: We had been taught or instructed that when the air raid alarm sounded, we were to fall out and into formation, then sound off. We had a little lieutenant, and when we heard the whistle of bombs coming, he yelled out, "Holy @#$&, its real!" and everybody ran.
So much for accountability
Q: What did you miss most about the United States?
Mr. Freeman: My girl my wife, actually. I got married before I went over, because otherwise I wouldnt have found her when I got back; that was for sure.
Q: Did you use the V-mail system much?
Mr. Freeman: I think thats what it was, the little thing
Q: What was your attitude towards the Japanese or Germans on a personal level?
Mr. Freeman: Germans, I hated as a people. The Japanese I didnt have any feeling towards; I was in Europe.
Q: Have you maintained contact with any persons in your unit?
Mr. Freeman: I maintained relations with one fellow with whom I served, who has since died, and he was from out of state. I didnt serve with anyone from this area.
Q: Did you lose any friends or family during the war?
Mr. Freeman: You mean killed? I dont remember
Q: What was your most memorable experience of the war?
Mr. Freeman: The reverse side of the Battle of the Bulge.
Q: What do you mean by the reverse?
Mr. Freeman: My unit moved up to the line, and all of the sudden for the first time, we were moved back, because General Patton had swung around to go north and we had to get out of the way. At the same time, you saw the movie "Battleground" was it, and they had the Germans dressed as Americans, that was very true and that was very fearful, especially for a guy like me, I did not know baseball, and that was the whole shtick
Q: Oh that was it; the sign and counter-sign was all baseball?
Mr. Freeman: More or less, you know. That was proof that we were American.
Q: The backside, thats interesting, the concept of not going forward after 6 and 7 months.
We went downhill, flipping over and righting itself and being able to find my glasses on the road.
Q: What was this, a vehicle you were in? Was it a deuce-and-a-half or something?
Mr. Freeman: No, not a deuce-and-a-half, it was a weapons carrier, and it flipped. It was a long convoy; we were going the wrong way, but it was a long convoy, and we had a trailer behind us, and that made us flip, but we got back, the only problem was we were freezing and the windshield gave no protection.
Q: Did you participate in the welcoming home celebrations?
Mr. Freeman: Only with my family
Q: What was it like seeing your family and friends again? Was it at all awkward?
Mr. Freeman: No, no. I was so glad. The war in Europe was over in May, and I didnt get out until November.
Q: How did you get home, on what ship?
Mr. Freeman: The U.S.S. Champlain. You want an anecdote about that?
Q: Oh yeah, wasnt that an aircraft carrier?
Mr. Freeman: Yeah. Theres a cute anecdote about that. I was an enlisted man, I was commissioned in 45, and I was shipped to another depot, so I was a lowly second lieutenant. From there, I got over to Austria in a field hospital. We had point counts about getting home. I had a lot of points. It didnt guarantee that you were going to go home first, but at least you were high on the list. Being a medical supply officer at that time, we always made the rounds of the medical supply houses of the area, and I was in Austria. The medical supply officer for the theatre was telling me that he wanted to get out of there, and knowing from when he got to go home that he was ahead of me on the list. I called some friends, you make friends as a supply officer, and I got a transfer to my old unit, which at that time was in Bennahabben (?). When I got up to Bennahabben, I told the captain I wanted to go home, and after cursing for a while, he thought I was going to stay, I got assigned to a hospital in England, which was getting ready to go and was breaking up. So I got to England and I got the job of breaking it up, because I was a supply officer, and then we finally got the order to move, and we were gonna go out in South Hampton. We lined up on the street, and I had the last group on the lineup and when we got to the ship they told us there was no room for us. Having been in the service for a while and having understood how things get done, I insisted on seeing the captain. I told the captain, which was a little lie, that my father was a very good friend of Senator Walsh, and we got on.
Q: So, no OCS or anything for you? They just pinned them on one day?
Mr. Freeman: Right, they pinned them on, and well, I went to a board. They needed some supply officers, and I was a big fish in a small pond at the time. When we left Africa they broke my unit into three. One went to Marseilles, and we went to San Eiffel (?) on the Riviera. It didnt last too long.
Q: Were you aware of the internment of 110,000 Japanese-Americans in detention camps?
Mr. Freeman: That was terrible. There was no reason.
Q: What was your reaction? Did you feel it was justified?
Mr. Freeman: No, no justification. They were citizens for the most part. We had some nuts in those days. They were so afraid of everything.
Q: Did Americans whom you knew ever note the irony of racial segregation at home and in the armed forces while fighting intolerance abroad?
Mr. Freeman: No, we never thought of it. In the service, the Japanese we saw were mostly very good fighters. I dont know what the percentage of it was, but they were among the most decorated unit in the service. The blacks got a bad deal. I didnt know, I didnt see too much of that.
Q: What was your reaction to the German atrocities towards the Jews?
Mr. Freeman: Bitter hatred. Im Jewish! When I got to Germany, they probably didnt know I was Jewish.
Q: How did you view President Franklin D. Roosevelts leadership during the war?
Mr. Freeman: As far as I was concerned, he was a great man.
Q: How did you react to news of FDRs death?
Mr. Freeman: Shock, and there was a moment of concern about the direction we would take, but by that time I knew where I was, but the war was over there in a very short time, so I wasnt ---
Q: What was your opinion of President Trumans wartime leadership?
Mr. Freeman: Excellent, excellent
Q: What was your reaction to Trumans decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Do you think it was justified?
Mr. Freeman: Excellent. If you had any concept of the deaths that would be visited upon the U.S. Service people, you would be very happy.
Q: At the end of the war, did you anticipate future wars, or did it seem to you that countries would find other means of settling conflicts?
Mr. Freeman: I didnt think about it, but I thought there might be war in Russia, because by the time the war was over in Germany, there were already stories about the terrible Russians. This seemed to indicate that there would be a build up of forces to use against Russia, but later proved that we would have been right. But they were beaten down; they needed our production, so they couldnt maintain a war against us.
Q: What are the lessons of WWII?
Mr. Freeman: Well the first lesson is you dont try to conciliate with a bully, as Chamberlain did with Hitler. I think thats the biggest lesson. If you analyze the recent concern about Bushs forceful statement that he would do whatever necessary to defend Taiwan you will see that he was attacked by many people. At least the Chinese know, unlike the Korean war; In the Korean war, one of the persons in the government, I dont know who, made the statement that they were outside our sphere of influence. North Korea jumped in, and then we decided it was in our sphere, so we went in. If we had been clear that it was our sphere of influence, then it would have never taken place. Same with the recent desert war, there are stories that the ambassador was a little wishy-washy about our position, and I dont know whether or not that was true, but there are stories that we gave them the go-ahead. Youve got to tell the world where you stand, emphatically, and dont try to be a nice guy in that kind of situation.
Q: What do you think of todays generation of younger Americans? How are we different and how are we the same?
Mr. Freeman: Theyre nice people. Youve got some nuts, though. My generation grew un in the Depression, and your generation grew up in a time of plenty. I think that may make your generation a little softer because theyre used to good things, and if they had to pay 3 or 4 dollars for gas theyd be upset, I would also, but thats life.
Q: Do you have any parting advice for the youth of today?
Mr. Freeman: Dont follow the crowd. I think that interferes with your prospects of success in your chosen profession. Stay off of drugs; learn how to drink alcohol in moderation, and dont be a stupid driver. Kids are being killed. Our generation saw quite a bit, and hopefully you wont see it. Service in the armed forces as a career is good.
Q: Thank you very much.
Mr. Freeman and Will Fulton
1944 Five Franc Note
Motor Vehicle Permit
Germany Troop Occupation Guide p. 1
Germany Troop Occupation Guide pp. 2, 3
Germany Troop Occupation Guide p. 4
Mr. Freeman's Pay Card
Troop Ration Card