War on Their Minds
mr macdowell 1943   Kenneth MacDowell
Age in 1941: 20

Barbara MacDowell
Age in 1941: 11

Interview Team: Nick Nappi-Kaehler, Grant Van Ranst
  Barbara and Kenneth in 2001

Q: What is your name?

Mr. MacDowell: Kenneth MacDowell

Q: What was your age in 1941?

Mr. MacDowell: 20

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

Mr. MacDowell: I grew up in Newton, Massachusetts.

Q: And when the war came about, to what extent were you aware of what was happening in Japan, Italy, and Germany during the 1930's?

Mr. MacDowell: Well, I was aware of when Germany occupied the Sudetenland. That was Czeckoslovakia, and they annexed Austria. I was aware of that. And then the war started in 1939, actually, with the invasion of Poland. And I was in college at the time. And the Germans invaded Russia, and the war was going well for Germany for a while until the winter of forty one. So then, early in forty two, of course the Pearl Harbor happened in December of forty one. Then early in forty two, I decided to enlist in an aviation cadet program of aviation's officers. And actually I entered the service in June of forty two, but I wasn't on active duty then. I was called to active duty in December of that year, forty two. And then I went to get my training. You know you have to have military training regardless of your experiences. So I got that at Yale University, in the aviation cadet program for aviation officers.

Q: When you found out about this, how did you hear about it specifically? Through the newspapers?

Mr. MacDowell: Oh, there was so much publicity about people enlisting, and the draft happening. Guys in college were just leaving in droves, and it was just all in the radio and newspapers. I can't tell you exactly, but it was well spread knowledge, what these opportunities were.

Q: How did you react to it; did you feel it was something that the U.S. was supposed to be involved with, or that it was not our problem?

Mr. MacDowell: Oh, universally, everybody thought that it was our problem. Because, especially in the Pacific, the Pacific war was going very poorly, at first, with all our loss of ships at Pearl Harbor, and then the war in the Pacific not going very well at all. But by this time, the Battle of Britain was over, and Germany had really trounced Britain, badly, and Britain was our ally. So with the Battle of Britain which consisted of very heavy bombing of London and many other cities, the U.S. felt, universally I think, that it was going to be our war as well. Because the Pacific was extremely serious, and the war, the war in Europe was really going, and the tide had begun to turn on the battle between Germany and Russia. But the battle was not going well for the rest of Europe. Germany had occupied France and occupied the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway. So the Germans were running over Europe, occupied all those countries, and thenext thing to worry about was the possible invasion of England. So we really had to mobilize rapidly, both forces and materials, to counter this.

Q: And what do you remember about that attack on Pearl Harbor?

Mr. MacDowell: Well, I wasn't in the service then, I was home, but, it was very, very serious, and the losses were very large. I mean they announced very serious losses right off the bat.

Q: How did you gain the knowledge that Pearl Harbor had been attacked?

Mr. MacDowell: Well, through the radio.

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

Mr. MacDowell: Well I thought it was necessary. You know, between Germany and Japan, they were out to rule the World, if they could possibly pull it off.

Q: Did these feelings change before or after the war?

Mr. MacDowell: No, no, no. I've often thought in the past, that we didn't come, too far away from losing the war. If we hadn't mobilized as rapidly as we did, we could easily have lost the war. And if Hitler hadn't made a few, boneheaded mistakes, from his point of view, he could, you know, have occupied all of Europe including England. And, that would have been, you know, a very serious loss of freedom for everybody.

Q: So when you joined the armed forces, did you volunteer or were you drafted?

Mr. MacDowell: No I volunteered.

Q: Which branch of the Armed Forces did you join?

Mr. MacDowell: The Air Force.

Q: Any specific part within the Air Force? Or did they just put you in a certain section?

Mr. MacDowell: I joined the Air Force for a specific purpose of becoming a communications officer and the communications people that I was involved with both as a hobby and part time work. And, so I enlisted into the program called the Communications Officers Program. And that, that led me to about a four or five month training education program which was held in Yale University.

Q: What exactly was the Communications Program?

Mr. MacDowell: Communications involves all means of communication which were available at the time. Radio, teletype, you know, all sorts of means of radio, voice radio, code radio, and many kinds of facilities having to do with navigation, and so on. Communication of Aircraft.

Q: Do you have any specific memories that come up when you were being trained? Anything that stood out more than anything else, that surprised you, or had a great effect on you, when you were being trained?

Mr. MacDowell: No, it was, it was rather rigorous, you know it was a military type training as well as academic. So, you know, you're up early, you work all day, and you go to school all day. Then you have some drill, and various other physical type facilities to see that you're physically fit.

Q: And, as you were leaving to go off to Europe, what was it like saying goodbye to your loved ones and explain how you felt.

Mr. MacDowell: Well, after I got my training, I was in the, I had to go through more training in an actual fighter group. At the end of the training people were given some choice about where they wanted to continue their training and, and be more active, and participate in, in the actual hostilities in some way. So I volunteered to join a fighter group in Florida, and I was there for almost a year, to get more familiar with the actual equipment that would be used by the military force, by the Air Force. In those days it was called the Army Air Force. And, after about maybe ten months, ten or eleven months, almost a year, I was called to join a fighter group that was in South Carolina, and in that unit was destined to go to, we didn't know where at the time, but we suspected it was Europe. And the training continued for a short time there in South Carolina, and then we went by train to a de-embarkation point. Now, as far as the family's concerned, we couldn't tell them much because we didn't know anything. But there was very little warning about this transfer from the Florida unit which was another level of training for Air Force pilots. From that point, the training was, there was very little time between the training there in Florida and the time that I actually was assigned to the, to a fighter group in South Carolina. Are you sure that answers your question?

Q: What special skills were you taught in the Armed Forces?

Mr. MacDowell: Well, we learned a lot about the specific radio equipment at the time: radio and teletype equipment. And both of them having to do with the operation and maintenance. And, of course, you learn a lot about military procedures and military activities, and you learn that after you get out of the school that I was in Yale. In other words, the Florida training was, had a great deal of this sort of experience that went on. Learning all about navigation equipment and just voice communications equipment, and teletype, and all that knowledge was absolutely necessary when, when it got into combat areas.

Q: How did your faith impact your thoughts about the war?

Mr. MacDowell: Well I, I never thought much about it at the time.

Q: What was your specific role in the Armed Forces once you were sent to Europe?

Mr. MacDowell: I was a communications officer, which was to manage a group men which had to manage this equipment, and my job was to see that they knew their job, and that things went smoothly for the requirements for all the communications equipment.

Q: Now could you describe some situations or battles in which you were involved?

Mr. MacDowell: Well, I guess the best way to describe that will be to describe chronologically. When we arrived in Europe, we arrived in England, and we were based at a small field, and the unit I was in was the 404th fighter group. And they were assigned P-47 aircraft. And we set up all the operation of the whole fighter group. A fighter group consists of three squadrons, by the way, you have to understand that. Each squadron was assigned 25 airplanes, and they were directed by higher headquarters, the ninth tactical air command was the unit at that time, to fly various missions. They'd fly off the field in England, and fly to the continent. At the time, all the continent was occupied by Germany. So the whole idea was to interrupt their function, all their military functions as much as possible. That means knocking out railroad trains, and all sorts of troop concentrations, and just by means of dive-bombing and by strafing. And now these planes needed a lot of maintenance, a lot of help. And one of my jobs, one of my primary jobs was to setup homing stations so the pilots could fly back to our base. Now, navigation equipment was rather scarce at the time, and pilots flew just by contact, by visual contact; and they, of course in a strange land, it was all hard to learn all that at once. So we provided the stations that I was in charge of. They were DF stations, Direction Finding Stations. And they would provide the pilot with direction, to fly, to get back to the home base. That's basically what it was.

Q: What was the greatest challenge while doing that?

Mr. MacDowell: Well, the greatest challenge was making sure that everybody who called the station or navigation information was properly handled, properly responded to, in order to get the airplane back. And I guess now after leaving England we went, after the invasion, just a few weeks after the invasion, we were sent to the continent, through Utah Beach. And we had an airfield on at Normandy then, in which we would provide exactly the same type of function. But at that time we had front lines to deal with, that is the field we were on at that point was only five or six or seven miles from the line at the time. Heavy fighting was going on: artillery, infantry, and so on, and airborne troops and so on. And our function then was to support those front line troops, by knocking out tanks, all sorts of military troops and military vehicles, train supplies, troops concentrations, and all manner of targets. We were directed to, I was in the 404th fighter group, were directed to knock out as many of these targets as possible. Now you also have to remember that the, we weren't the only fighter group in that area. It turned out there were twenty-two similar fighter groups all stationed around Normandy, all doing the same thing. And all coordinated by the Ninth Tactical Air Command. which was providing the, the direction for attacking various targets.

Q: When you were in Europe, were you ever on the front-line, in a "hotzone" where the action was actually going on?

Mr. MacDowell: Well no, but I was pretty close. The one time, when we were in Normandy, the artillery was firing a hundred and fifty-five millimeter howitzers behind us and were shooting over our heads. That is our U.S. forces were behind us shooting over our heads, so there was a lot of action going on, but we were basically maybe five miles from the front lines at that time. And then later on after that, there was a big breakthrough in July of forty-four and that breakthrough amounted to a rout by the German troops. I mean they were just overwhelmed with both the ground-forces and the air forces. During that rout we, we then moved to another airfield very close to Paris. Paris was liberated in September of that year. And we were in an airfield very close to Paris. It was a French field; the French originally occupied it. And at that time the front lines were almost non-existent. The troops were on an absolute rout, and within a matter of just a few weeks, they were almost all the way back to the German border. But it stabilized there. And we had a long time to see that, to continue the same kind of attacks on German troops that we had been doing in Normandy.

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

Mr. MacDowell: Well, peace and quiet I guess. And you know it's when you're in that situation you really don't know what's going to happen from one day to the next. You know the Germans could have a counter-attack at any time. And they had an Air Force, it wasn't much of an Air Force by that time, but they attacked occasionally. So you did have an occasional bombing or strafing attack by German troops but not German Air Force. But it was very infrequent.

Q: What were your feelings toward the Japanese or Germans on a personal level, did you hate them?

Mr. MacDowell: Oh yeah, they were very hateful people, very hateful, absolutely. If you had a chance to shoot one, you'd shoot one. I never shot anybody.

Q: Was that accelerated, kind of etched in your mind by any propaganda that you were aware of, or was it just a sense, a feeling?

Mr. MacDowell: Just a sense that everybody had. If youre going to fight a war, you have to hate the enemy. There's no way to do it without a good strong feeling of hate. And, as such, you can become very insensitive to the enemys plight. And if they have, they have serious problems, then you cheered. That's the whole idea of hating the enemy. It's one of the things that you have to achieve, to bring yourself to that level of hate, the quicker the war is going to be over.

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

Mr. MacDowell: Oh yes. We have, my unit started reunions back in 1987, and we have a reunion every two years, and they are held in different parts of the country. It usually depends on whos willing to host them, host the gang. And we just had one, most recently, it was in April. We had a reunion in Tucson, Arizona. But, every two years we notice that there a fewer and fewer and fewer people attending.

Q: Why do you maintain this friendship?

Mr. MacDowell: Well, the experience of the war, for both people who were actually in combat, which includes the artillery and infantry people, and actually the pilots of World War II, fighter planes and bombers, the experience is very intense. The few years were very intense. It's not, you recall thousands of little incidents, I wouldn't say it's dominant in your mind, because you have a whole life to lead after this. But its, its something you don't forget. So you discuss some of the old days with different people. And you discuss, you know, you become better friends, to some extent. And you discuss other things that are going on today. You know its not just, you know, war experiences, but you know youre friends with them, so you discuss what they're doing, what their children are doing, what their grandchildren are doing, and all that sort of thing. Its just a natural affinity with people that get together.

Q: Now, during the war, there were some infrequent attacks that were on your group, did you ever lose any close friends during any of those raids?

Mr. MacDowell: Well, I tell you, the worst attack we ever had was being bombed by our own bombers. It was a saturation raid that was set up for a thousand, fifteen-hundred planes, all from the eighth Air Force in England. And they had you know thousands of bombers there. And this breakthrough that I mentioned, that happened in Normandy, was preceded by oh, maybe eight-hundred or a thousand planes that raided on the front lines. Now since we were so close to the front lines, mistakes are made; and one bomber dropped his bombs prematurely, and those bombs fell right on our area, and on our planes, and on our people. Several people were killed, only seven or eight, and more were wounded. Planes blew-up, and so on. So that was the worst thing we ever got, from our own bombers. Mistakes, a lot of mistakes. You know one of things people don't realize is that, in the Air Force units, a lot of losses come from accidents. Believe it or not, accidents accounted for a lot of loss of life. Airplanes are just kind of dangerous things and loss of lives, and just plain accidents. And that was just one of the accidents.

Q: What was your most memorable experience about the war? The specific thing that stood out more than anything?

Mr. MacDowell: Well let's see. Well maybe you have to define that a little better, but the thing that was most memorable, from a standpoint of good news, you know happy news, and you can also have it be the worst news. If you want to divide that up, the best news was when the St. Lowe [?] breakthrough happened, and we knew that we could move ahead, and we knew the Germans couldn't counter-attack, and drive us back to the ocean. You usually think of the Air Force as way back, and well they're safe. Well that was true maybe of the Eighth Air Force, which was heavy bombers, but among the fighters, where we tried to support the front line troops very, very close. The closer we were to the front lines, the more missions we could run in a day. You know, we didn't have to fly a long way out and all that, and all the way back. One airplane could fly, you know, ten or twelve missions in a day. He could fly out, dive-bomb, strafe, or whatever, fly back, load up again, fly back out, just back and forth, back and forth. The more missions you could run that way, the more effective you were. These fighter-bombers, which were twenty-two groups in Normandy, became very effective because we were so close to the front line. Being close to the front lines, you run the risk of being run over if an attack should happen, but it didn't. So that, that was a great relief to see that breakthrough happen. And the Germans were in a rout, they were just running as fast as they could.

Q: What was the worst news which you had come across?

Mr. MacDowell: Well, I guess the worst thing was that accidental bombing. From a standpoint of the whole unit. It was rather degrading, especially to be hit by your own troops. We had another, we did get attacked by German planes once, when we were in Belgium. It turned out that it happened on New Year's Day. And you know on New Year's Eve the guys are [celebrating] a little bit, as you can imagine. And they might be sleeping a little late in the morning, and we were surprised at about seven o'clock in the morning by a flight of German planes, strafing up the field, going back and forth. Oh they were having a great time. However, we had anti-aircraft on the field, because you know you never let your guard down. They were fixed in two or three other places around the field, to defend against this sort of thing. And they shot most of them down. But, I can, I have a vivid memory of when I heard all the shooting going on. I hadn't got out of bed either along with all the other people. When I heard all the shooting I flung open the window. We lived in German barracks, captured German barracks. And, looked out the window just in time to see an ME-109 about two-hundred feet over head with its belly tank blazing, on fire; and he finally realized he was on fire and he pulled up into a vertical climb, rolled over backwards, and bailed out. I don't know what happened to the airplane but he bailed out, successfully. And it turned out he was a really young pilot. He wasn't even eighteen years old. They were scraping the bottom of the barrel to get people, to get pilots to fly their airplanes. They had very few planes, but they had even fewer pilots to fly them. So you know they had very young pilots at the time. And it was one experience that stands out.

Q: Did you participate in any welcome home celebrations? Was it big or small?

Mr. MacDowell: Well. Everybody came home at different times. See thats the things. Each unit was deactivated at different times. First people were sent home on what they thought was on a leave. We came back from Europe after the war was over in Europe, but it was still going on in Japan. It took a long time by the time your unit, you kept going to different camp. It would be a camp in France, then a camp in Belgium, and then you finally got on a ship. All that took several weeks. Then it took the ship two weeks to go across the Atlantic. By that time new things were happening. So we thought, we were thinking we were going home on leave. Because then we would be sent to Japan or in the direction of Japan to pick up that war. Thats what we thought when we came home. But while on the way home, the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, so that would be August of 1945; and when we finally got home, I think the surrender had happened. But we didnt know. It takes a while for the troop organization people to manage that. So we still thought we might be going to some camp in California to go to Japan. But we thought it was highly unlikely. Now that the war was finally over, why would they need so many troops? After I just got home on leave, just starting, I got the word that I didnt have to report back at all. All these things came by slow degrees. You dont get all the good news at once. It comes in piece meal.

Q: We are going to backtrack a little bit. Were you aware of the internment camps of 110,000 Japanese-Americans? And what was your reaction and did you feel that it was justified?

Mr. MacDowell: Yes, I was aware of it. Certainly in retrospect it was not justified. People who lived on the West Coast may have had a different view. We did not understand it then. Still don't. I dont recall the size of the internment camps. I knew there was some kind of camp where the Japanese were interned. I guess I thought it was the safest way to avoid any potential sabotage. We didn't know what those peoples attitude was towards the U.S. or the troops. Maybe somebody knew. I mean I didn't know. Most people didnt know. All it would take would be two or three people in a group to work some type of sabotage, and then you'd regret not having them put in some kind of camp. Not enough knew about it. I didn't know enough about it. I don't think most people knew about it.

Mrs. MacDowell: They had very little news when they were in Europe about what was going on at home or in the rest of the war in the Pacific.

Mr. MacDowell: The Pacific War, I guess you get so absorbed in your own theatre. You dont think too much about what is going on in the rest of the world. You certainly didnt think about the interned Japanese. So what? You know. It really didnt matter that much.

Q: Did you have that same reaction for German atrocities for the Jews when they were put in internment camps?

Mr. MacDowell: Oh yeah. Some of the people in my unit, I wasnt a direct witness myself, but some of the guysåwent to the internment campsåI think it was Buchenwald, and they saw horrible atrocities, and they even took pictures and they were terrible atrocities. There is no question that there were horrible atrocities done by the Germans during that time. I dont think I need to go into the details. They were very bad. Everything you hear about atrocities is true.

Q: Do you believe that because the Japanese were interned here in America, people of German descent should also have been interned?

Mr. MacDowell: I think part of it was a language problem. I think it may not be true, but the assumption was that some of the Japanese didnt learn English very well or quickly, and the Germans might have had less of a problem with the language. Its hard to say.

Mrs. MacDowell: Its also that looking at the Japanese you know who is Japanese. Looking at Germans you dont know. Are you German? Am I German? There is something to that.

Answer: I'm sure the racial recognition was a big aspect of why there was a difference.

Q: I'd like to hear how you both viewed President Franklin Roosevelts leadership in the war. Did you feel that there was a great sense of leadership? Or did you feel that you were doing what you were doing?

Mr. MacDowell: I think there was a sense of pretty good leadership. He had the people on various boards and agencies. I think, especially in retrospect, he just did a tremendous job. People cant realize the mobilization that had to take place in the military and in the supply side of things. To build all those airplanes, to build all those tanks, and ammunition, and all the rest of that. The people who did that mobilization both for materials and for putting people in service and training, the people in such a short period of time, deserve an awful lot of credit. That was a monstrous big effort. The whole country åeverybody worked really hard. People who were mobilized worked hard. People who did the mobilizing worked hard. And the coordination that would take place. People would complain that we had gas rationing and they couldnt get butter and other things. But that was trivial. That was nothing compared to the effort that people put into.

Q: Did you have the same feeling on the homefront?

Mrs. MacDowell: Yes, I think so. We no longer went anywhere. We no longer vacationed in New Hampshire and things like that. People felt strongly that this was something that we did for the war. Strongly felt and not resented.

Q: Can you explain Victory Gardens a little bit?

Mrs. MacDowell: Well quite often if you had the land and you had the inclination, you planted a Victory Garden. We had not grown vegetables, but in the war we did. We canned them and preserved them. Im not sure how far this went toward winning the war, but it was one of those things that went on.

Q: How did you both react to the news of FDRs death?

Mr. MacDowell: I was in Germany at the time. I think it was a month before the Germans surrender. First of all we knew the German surrender was coming pretty quickly and the war was going pretty well in Japan. I didnt think it would have much impact on how the war was going. His organizationåyou have to give him a lot of credit. Its hard to know how much credit to give him and how much to other people who were behind the mobilization effort and the coordination. I suspect FDRåto his credit. He picked the right people to do it. He was not well. Off the record we knew for quite a while that he was not well, and he might have been losing his memory. There was some communication about that. As a matter of fact in 1944 he was running for his fourth term against Dewey, the Governor of New York, we had absentee ballot, so the people in the service, I could vote. I voted for Dewey. FDR had three terms. The war was going well, so I might as well vote for Dewey. But FDR won the fourth term.

Mrs. MacDowell: We got the day off from school!

Q: What was your reaction to Trumans decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Mr. MacDowell: I think it was good decision. There was no question in my mind. There was no question in my mind that it was a good decision to get the war over. Later on you realized, my gosh, if we had had to invade Japan, the number of casualties both Japanese and Americans would be enormous. And the Japanese fought tenaciously. You learn about this later on. Later on you realize when you see films and hear combat stories that in the Pacific Islands, Iwo Jima, how tenaciously they fought. I have meals on wheels. I had meals on wheels with a fellow who was on the front lines in the Marine division that originally invaded Iwo Jima. The stories he tells how for the Japanese suicide was nothing. To them you look at the Kamikaze pilots. There were 5000 kamikaze pilots in the Pacific. This has to do with dropping the atomic bombs. You realize how tenaciously the Japanese would have fought. They just wouldnt give up. The atomic bombs were very convincing. They are going to destroy your whole country and everyone is going to die from radiation. My point of mentioning that is without those bombs the casualties would have been enormous trying to invade and occupy Japan. It was a Godsend that it happened.

Q: You stayed in the Corps for some time after the war. Did you feel that the war would start over again?

Mr. MacDowell: No. I thought it was definitely over. But of course around 1950 the Korean War started. I was still in the reserve at the time and I thought I would be called up. It turned out I wasnt. Im not sure why. My number didnt come up or something. The Korean War went on for another four years and there were a lot of casualties there too. I knew the war in Japan and Europe was definitely over. Hitlers troops, they didnt have the tenacious aspect in their military that the Japanese did. There was a big difference between them. You can just sense that in all the news stories.

Q: What lessons do you think came from the world that had been brought to the worlds attention?

Mr. MacDowell: One lesson is that a country that has potential military might and has some kind of dictator running the country, looks like he can build his military and be aggressive, and starts to be an aggressor and takes advantage of his position and runs red shot over a small country, has to be put down. Dont let any military build-up happen even from a relatively small country that shows signs that he is going to override a country. It could be another Adolph Hitler. He started very small and very subtle in 1933. He got a lot of people on his side through propaganda and his military got stronger and stronger until people just werent aware. I think it was Chamberlain in 1938 who went to conference with Hitler and he came back with the famous line Peace in our time. So much for that. The threat wasnt appreciated. Thats the lesson to be learned. Watch out for these tinhorn dictators who start to be aggressive. Watch them carefully that they dont become too strong. I think of Iraq in the Gulf War in Kuwait. That was a good move in Kuwait to stop him early in the game. He had already run over Kuwait. Then it was to make him go away. President Bush was the president at the time and he learned that lesson. He organized the counterattacks on Iraq and I think it was good move. Avoids a lot of trouble later.

Q: What do you think of todays generation of young Americans? Are we the same? Are we different?

Mr. MacDowell: I think kids are all the same at the same age. Not a big difference.

Q: Do you have any advice for our generation?

Mr. MacDowell: Work hard. You might get rewarded.

Thank you.


Mr. MacDowell describes a close call. (Quicktime)

German Postcard: Side 1
German Postcard: Side 1

German Postcard: Side 2
German Postcard: Side 2

Hitler Youth Guide
Hitler Youth Guide

Hitler Youth Knife
Hitler Youth Knife


Military ID
Military ID