War on Their Minds
Robert Gorman during the war   Robert F. Gorman
Age in 1941: 13

Interview Team: Nick Lordi, and Chris Ginsburg
  2001




Q: First we would like to know you full name and middle name.

Mr. Gorman: In the service you say your last name first then your first name and
then your middle initial. I would say Robert F. then you say your serial
name. But my full name is Robert Francis Gorman.


Q: What was your age in 1941?

Mr. Gorman: 1941. . .let's see, I was about 12 or 13.


Q: What was going on in that time in your life?

Mr. Gorman: I was going to a private school called St. Mary's academy, in Rhode Island, it was near Narragansett Bay, it over looked the bay as it comes in. I was in a musical group where I sang the song deep in the heart of Texas. I remember going to school, we had a matinee on a Sunday and that was December 7, 1941. I went home and my father turned the radio on and that's when we got the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.


Q: Were you drafted?

Mr. Gorman: I wasn't drafted, I wish I'd brought my tags with me. I graduated high
school in 1946, the year right after the war. The day I graduated, I went down
and enlisted. And that's just what you did. I was 17 years old, you did what your brothers had done before you. Everybody in your neighborhood was
in, it just was expected that you were to go and do your thing. They had to
have people who were below to occupy the countries that were just defeated,
Germany and Japan, That's what you do.


Q: Where were you first stationed?

Mr. Gorman: I got in, and was sent to a place called Fort Devens in Mass and
that's were they do a lot of the paper work and things like that. Then I went to
Fort Dix in New Jersey then they separate you as to where you are going,
you take examinations and things like that, of course I had a few brains in
my head so they sent me in to ordinance, and that has to do with managing
all the things that the army uses, tanks, weapons, everything. You go to
basic training and you learn how to be a soldier. You were handed a weapon
and from that day on, its 5 o'clock in to morning to 7 o'clock at night.
You have no time between because it's seven days a week.


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

Mr. Gorman: As I said, when you're twelve, Pearl Harbor, I had no idea where it
was. What did I know? I was a little boy, I lived in a town similar to
Wayland, farmers fields and cows walking down the street. I had no idea,
we were just told what we had to do, our country had been bombed. We had to
declare war, which was fine, I had no problem with it. I think even today
you should realize that if your country is attacked, whether it be your
homeland or satellite countries, you have to defend it.


Q: Under what circumstances did you enter the Armed Forces?

Mr. Gorman: We just walked in and signed up, there was four of us in our
neighborhood and we said, "well were going in right? What do you think?"
"Yeah, might as well" "we're gonna go, so why don't we go now? were young,
we've got plenty of time and nothing to do". Of course all the veterans were
coming back and taking all the jobs, so we said "you know there really won't
be too many opportunities for us". So we said "let's go" and walked in
signed our name and they said "Go home boys and have a nice week, we'll call
you in a week and a half" and two weeks later we were on a train going to
where we were headed.


Q: How did they prepare you for war, what skills did they train you in?

Mr. Gorman: One of the things you have to learn is, the way that things work.
There are a lot of rules that are not written down. I remember the time I
was lying in my bunk and we hadn't been signed yet, and two Sergeants walked
by, I was 17 years old, I didn't know a Sargent from an admiral. They had
their helmets on and their white stripe around it. I was only in the
service for about 4 days and we were waiting for our unit to get all filled
in. I said to him "Hey Mac! what time is chow around here?" I was just
acting like a big shot, and the guys said to me "On your feet soldier!" I
got my first lesson of what the military was going to be like. His nose
was up against mine he said "You see that stripe on the helmet, you see
those stripes on the sleeve? I'm a Sargent. When you talk to me you call me
Sargent" Oh man, I thought I had escaped with my life. That's what you
learn, You learn the little things like that. You learn that when you move,
you move. Everything had to be perfect. Our bunk had to be made. You had a
foot locker box, everything was in the sock drawer rolled a certain way,
your jackets and certain uniforms had to be hung with the stripes out, every
pocket had to be buttoned. Your weapon had to be absolutely spotless not even
a quarter of a spec of dust could be on it.


Q: When you look back at it, would you still join the army?

Mr. Gorman: I don't know if I'd join the army this time, I was thinking about it
and I would join the marines. I was saying that to somebody the other day,
because I like the service, I'm an outdoors man, I'm out hunting, I'm out
fishing. I have a canoe, I have my bass boat, I just came back from new
Brunswick Canada and went there for salmon fishing. I went ten miles
through the "never never land" land that I never knew existed. A few weeks
from now I'm going up to Maine to do 8 weeks of bass fishing. I like the
outdoors, and if I were a young man today, there would be no question that
I'd join the military. I wouldn˘t even think twice about it. They have so
many programs, unlike when I was there, I went to an ordnance school I was
lucky. Today you can choose what kind of an education you would like. The
military was a very good place, and it was one of the best business deals
that I ever made. When I went into the service I got the GI Bill which
allowed me to go to Boston University for four years of college. It allowed
me to buy a house with no down payment, the government backed that. When I
first started teaching, because I was a veteran, I got an extra 300 dollars
on my contract, which doesn˘t sound like much today but then it was a lot of
money.


Q: What specific role did you have in the army?

Mr. Gorman: In the army, I was in ordnance. First of all you have to learn how to
fight. Everyone has to fire in the rifle range and you have to carry a
weapon. You have to throw hand grenades. You have to go in places where
they put tear gas. You have to take off your mask and put it on, take it
off, put it on. Then at the end of your basic training, the last two weeks,
you go to a place called A.P. Hill in Virginia and you play war games. When I
was in high school I was an outstanding athlete. I was a track star, I was
third in the state meet in cross country. I could run, I could run all
night and all day carrying anything at all. The army likes that because the
Army like people who could run. I played the enemy force, they would take
two or three people from the each platoon, so there was about ten of us. We
would sneak up on them and we˘d tear their tents down and things like that.
So the games were very similar to war. That's how you prepare. After I
finished that they sent me to ordnance school, because they figured that I
had some brains. I came home for ten days, and then went to Seattle,
Washington. Then I was shipped over seas, and then when I was over seas I
worked in an ordinance company in Yokohama, around Tokyo Bay. But every third
day I had to do guard duty. We supplied the army with all the
supplies they needed for there automobiles. My job was that I had a big
warehouse, I had to work this section where the companies would send an
order and say: "We need 20 generators, 20 of this and that". We had
Japanese workers and they went through, picked it out, and filled the boxes.


Q: Before you went out to work for the armed forces, what where your
feelings toward the Japanese and German forces?

Mr. Gorman: I had people working for me that were probably close to being colonels
and captains in the Navy, they were Japanese. The war was over, they lost
and they needed work. Every day we would send two or three trucks down to
Yokohama. We'd have interpreters to talk to people and say how many men we
needed to work , and we'd say how much money they would earn in a day.
People would come out, and I remember I had a kid working for me and he was
a scout in the Japanese air force. He was so young, about 12 or 13 they
wouldn't let him fly combat. He would go out, fly and scout outside the
boundaries of Japan. He knew English, we had a fellow sitting there
next to him, not doing any work, and I said to the boy to tell him to
get to work, or he˘s not gonna get paid. I asked the boy "Is he the
emperor?" and he said "He's an admiral". He was an admiral in the Japanese
Navy, which was like saying he was a General Eisenhower or General MacArthur.
I said "Well you tell the admiral that if he wants to get paid, he has to
work. The war's over." To me I love the kids, we would always buy
candy bars and give them to them. It was a very hard thing for them. I'm
sure it was the same thing in Germany as well. They came home and there was
no jobs and no food. I think the GI's did a great deal. I would go around very proud and say that General MacArthur made Japan the country that it is today. With
hard work we turned it into a very good country.


Q: After the War was over, did you lose any family or friends?

Mr. Gorman: Nope. My brother was in the war ahead of me, he was 2 years older
than I was. He was on a destroyer escort in the Navy, he came out of it
with no problem. Although 2 friends of mine, their brothers had died. One
was a marine who was killed in a landing on a Japanese Island. It was very
interesting because he owned a dog, and the dog used to sit on the porch
waiting for him, because the dog didn't know that he had to go off to war.
One night the dog started howling, and it kept howling for 5 days straight.
On the fifth day, they got a telegram from the war department that their son
had been killed. That's really something, and there˘s a lot to be said about
that.


Q: What was your most memorable experience?

Mr. Gorman: Being in the service is great, it really is. The shooting was nice,
learning how to shoot a weapon. We had .30 caliber rifles, learned to shoot
guns and throw hand grenades. I think going overseas, first going to
Seattle Washington, being in the barracks. You wake up and you have
everything in the bag, it's a round bag. Then you go out to a big field,
there is a guy up on a microphone and he calls your name. If he calls you
name you go and get in line and your shipping out. If he doesn't call your
name you go back until he calls your name. We stayed and it rained for 10
days in Seattle and eventually he called our name. We went aboard this ship
called the Gulcher Victory. Now this ship wasn't any bigger than the top of
a table. It was a transport, it was basically build to transport troops.
You walked into a passage way and there were 4 bunks and your body is laying
right up against the steel plates. As the ship went through the water you
could see the plates buckle. There was another little aisle and then there
were 4 more bunks. The guy that was in the bunk that was right above me was
sea sick. It was not the best conditions in the world. I loved the ocean I
grew up on water so it didn˘t bother me. I had a friend of mine that
weighed 204 pounds when he got on that ship and I think he weighed 152 pounds when he got off. He was chalk white and they kept feeding him and he made it. You meet a lot of nice guys, there is a group of us that meet every so often in New Hampshire. We have guys that come from Texas and what have you, and we just talk about the good ol' days. That's part of it, the buddies, you get buddies and you work
together. You're basically sleeping adjacent to each other. Many of the
guys I went with, to basic training, ordinance school, and overseas, we
were next to each other from the day we got in until the day we got
out. Here is a picture of the ship right here, my bass boat is bigger than
that. Imagine traveling overseas in that piece of junk. I said "Hail
Marys" and "Our Fathers". We all had art work and the Japanese artists
came in . They'd do anything, and they would do it for cigarettes. They had
them but they weren˘t like ours, and we would be only allowed to buy a
carton of cigarettes a week. They were rations and they knew that if we got
all that we wanted, we would just sell them to the Japanese. I had a rations
card and when you bought them they would punch it to make sure you weren't
doing any black market racketeering.


Q: How long did you spend in Japan?

Mr. Gorman: In Japan, I was over there for just about a year. The enlistments you could join for 18 months, 2 years, or 4 years. We all decided to go in there, and we signed up for that 18 month to 2 year period. In the service your allowed a 30 day leave a year. We were very busy. We went to work every day, sometimes we got a Sunday off. So you didn't have time for a lot of social things because we were working all the time. Sometimes we would get a pass to go to Yokohama or Tokyo. I can remember a friend of mine who joined the marines, and after he graduated from B.U., he went in as an officer. We went to play golf at Fort Devens and I saw guys washing their cars and I said this isn't the army. The army I knew you didn't have time to wash a car. You washed your jeep maybe, but not a car.


Q: During the time you spent in Japan, what did you think of Franklin D. Roosevelt's leadership during the war?

Mr. Gorman: I think he was a great man. It wasn't so much during the war than it was prior to that. He came into the presidency when this country was very poor. It was called the Depression. Nobody had jobs. People stood in breadlines. Even if you wanted to work there were no jobs. And he did fireside chats. Radios were very big then. They were crystal sets. With a little crystal that came out of the ground. If you watched The Waltons, they were a good example of what it was like when I was growing up in this country. But he was a great man, he had a great idea of what to do for the people of this country. People listened to him. When he met with Stalin and Winston Churchill they did some things. They made some decisions I didn't really agree with, but on the other hand he had good generals. He had very smart men. He had Eisenhower, he had Patton. He had some real good men who knew how to manage a war, and his leadership was very strong. He would say he wanted everyone to not eat bread this week because were short on bread for the soldiers, and everyone would do it. And when he died, the war was still on, and Harry Truman made the decision to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


Q: What was your opinion on dropping the atomic bomb? Do you think it was justified?

Mr. Gorman: Oh, yeah, I might not be sitting here because I was at the right age. They had just invaded Okinawa and they were going to invade the island. They estimated that a million men would be killed because they taught the Japanese to be kamikazi's. People who dove there planes right into the ships. And it was an honor and a privilege to die for the Emperor. They told the people that the soldiers of the U.S. would kill all the women and children, and it was going to be a very tough battle to win, and I was at the right age where instead of going over there in the occupation, I would have been going over there with my bayonet fixed and coming off a landing launch.


Q: Was the US telling the people about the Atomic Bomb?

Mr. Gorman: No, it was very secret. It was a group of scientists. They had to keep it silent because obviously they didn't want the enemy to know about it, and they didn't want any of the groups in the United States that were opposed to it to know about it. But when you stop to think, your talking a million young men of the United States and your saying they started it. we didn't invade them. And even to this day when I see people saying "Ban the bomb." I say "Where were you on December 7th?" I want you standing up saying you shouldn't attack a country without warning. But also too, when you stop to look in your case, when that bomb dropped, it not only stopped me from going into combat, it stopped you from going into combat. Because the Korean war which they say was a police action and you have desert storm, Vietnam, and what have you. But you have not had another world war when one half of the world and another half of the world are killing each other because they all realize that during the next one their gonna blow the whole world up. Because let's assume when Russia was there, we had a lot of confrontations, but nobody wanted to be the first one to do it (drop the bomb). And we have to now worry about what would now be my main concern, the Chinese. There the country that would be the strongest one to give us a problem. This is why you have India and Pakistan over there, who are trying to learn nuclear fission, because if you have it, it's a very good thing to control. The only thing I hope is that some of those Russian small nuke bombs don't get in the hands of terrorists. But that atomic bomb kept you two out of combat, kept me out too.


Q: What was your day to day life like in Japan?

Mr. Gorman: I got up every morning at 6 o'clock, went in, washed my face, brushed my hair, made my bed. You had to make your bed so your Sargent could throw a quarter on it, and the quarter had to bounce. You had to pull your sheets in tight with hospital corners. We didn't have camouflage uniforms, we had the dark green ones. And you would fall out, and you would march out to breakfast, come back finish what you had to do. You had about 10 minutes. Certain people were on latrine duty, certain people were on barracks duty, other people were on guard duty. One thing you didn't have to do over there was K.P. which is kitchen police. They hired Japanese workers to do that. That was very nice. I would run my section of the warehouse every night. it was like a job. Say a guy lost a generator so they send out a requisition form. we pick it up, fill out the order, and it gets shipped out the next day. And every night, we went back to get out of our fatigues, and got into our dress uniforms, and we all went down took our weapon put it on our shoulder, and we marched every night in full formation. We had a band. And we went over to the flag pole, presented arms and they dropped the flag. MacArthur was there saying we must show these people that we did defeat them, and were here, were gonna help them, but we are still a military force on this island. I was standing there 18 years old, they were dropping the flag and you could see Tokyo bay. I was saying "I want to be home, I want to be in my bed." But it gave you a great deal of pride being an American and knowing that your country had people that would come and do this.


Q: Based on your day to day experience, What was the hardest thing you had to face?

Mr. Gorman: The hardest I think, you didn't have any free time. I have some pictures in my book of us just vegging out. We were allowed to drink beer and it was 3.2 alcohol, and you could drink 5 cans of it and it wouldn't bother you. And every once in a while we didn't have anything to do, and the captain would say "Noon time Saturday to Monday morning your off". But all I wanted to do was just sit there, and lie in our bunks and talk cause we never had 5 minutes of free time. I think when I got discharged the first three weeks I stayed in bed till 11 o'clock every morning. I just wanted to stay in bed. But you knew what it was going to be and it was fine. Some people just couldn't adjust to it. They just, for whatever reason, didn˘t have the background in their life, they didn't have the training, whether they weren't in athletics, or they weren't involved in some kind of an organization. They would just come in and all of a sudden they got a guy yelling at you, screaming at you, got his face in yours, your down on the floor with your tooth brush at 3 in the morning. It would be very discouraging to someone that couldn't accept that this is the way life is.


Q: So what happened to those people who couldn't adjust?

Mr. Gorman: There were some that you would see them, you would say "Harry's in trouble, the Sargent is on his case." And Harry would be up there, cleaning the barracks windows. They were like chicken coops. And he˘d get all done and they would make him start all over again. They were trying to give him discipline. Some of the times it didn˘t work, and if it didn˘t work they would bring you in and say okay your out of here. But most of the people enlisted. My dog tags say R.A. which means regular army meaning I enlisted. Everybody on my list were all R.A.'s.


Q: RA's were more respectable?

Mr. Gorman: Well, yes because I remember we had a Sargent. He was in our face one day during basic training and he says "All you draftees" and I said "Sargent take a look at these!" And I showed him my dog tags. And I was being brave then. And that bothered me because I was regular army, I enlisted. I wasn't a draftee, they didn't have to chase me. He says "Regular army, huh? And I said "Everyone in our squad is R.A." He changed his whole attitude. Most of the Sargents prior to World War II came out of the south, because the south was dirt poor. You ask your grandfather what it was like in Wayland or Natick or Framingham during the thirties. Down there, there was nothing. So the only place some people could get food is to join the service, and they were privates. And all of a sudden the war started. They needed men and these guys were already in the service. You went from private one day to Sargent the next. Pearl (Harbor) is coming up, now I don't know what kind of a job there gonna do on it, but if you want to see a good war picture Torah, Torah, Torah is an excellent movie. That's probably as close to what it was like at Pearl Harbor. Pearl (Harbor) is coming out by the end of this month, I think It will be an interesting movie. It was interesting, they sent out the big thing in the paper, a full picture of a Japanese plane coming down blowing up the Arizona or what not. They quoted Roosevelt as saying "A day that will live in infamy." And that quote is wrong, it is "A date that will live in infamy it was "A day that will live in infamy." No, it was "A date that will live in infamy." I'm trying to get on the computer and get to the producer and say "Gee, I hope your picture's gonna be better then your ad, because your ad is incorrect." And I mean that's big money and there's someone doing the advertising that has no background, probably some kid 24 or 25 years old, and he just remembered that's what the president said, and didn't take the time to research it.


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

Mr. Gorman: I'm a flag waver. I love my country. I go to bed every night and thank God that I live in the U.S. and my children live in the U.S. You've got to go and live in another country to realize what this country is all about. Now it has its problems, there's no question about it. But it provides you with opportunity, especially a community like this. You can't compare this town with say Worcester or Boston or Lowell or Springfield. This is like a private little institution. And Sudbury was the same way. They pay for the best teachers, the best equipment, you have the best education possible and the best opportunity possible for you. And the United States gives you the best opportunity anywhere. And they say they can't even do the Mass Cash and they're dumb, and in Japan they can do math in their heads faster, and all that, and I say "Yeah that's true but that's a totally different operation. We're educating everyone in the United States. They don't do that in Japan. They don't do that in Germany, they don't do that in other countries." You take exams before you go to middle school. However, I say, you know what's interesting, name two other countries besides the United States that have put a man on the moon? Tell me when the "sheik" of one of those lovely oil countries gets an ulcer, and wants to get operated on, do you ever hear him going to the Moscow hospital or to the Yokohama hospital?... He goes to Mass General. If we're not doing the right thing in education, where are all our engineers coming from? Who has the best technology? There are some countries that still don't have plumbing. You walk into your home and most of you have TV's and computers and half the kids in this school are probably carrying a computer. So, I said somewhere along the line were doing it right. Now we got problems, no question about it. But this country is the best place in the world. I stood and saw this with my own eyes. I cried. When you came out of the chow line in Japan, you had a tray, and outside that tray there were barrels and you took that tray and cleaned off your tray and dropped it in the barrel. I looked over on the other side of the barbed wire fence, and there were 5 or 6 people there waiting for the line to finish, and they were gonna sneak under the wire and dig and I watched them dig that garbage out and they put it in aluminum. Aluminum was a big thing. That's what they made most of their planes out of, and they just piled that garbage on. Because you know, you take a bite out of an apple and throw the apple away. They hadn't seen an apple in months. I said "Boy that's pretty tough."

 


Mr. Gorman explains his views on FDR's leadership skills. (Quicktime)

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Ordnance School Certificate

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