War on Their Minds
  George Roland Henderson
Age in 1941: 15

Elaine Henderson
Age in 1941: 9

Interview Team: Sam Melnick, Corey Katz
 



Q: Could you both state your name for reference.

Mrs. Henderson: Elaine Henderson.

Mr. Henderson: My name is Roland Henderson.


Q: What were each of your ages in 1941?

Mr. Henderson: That's too far back to remember.

Mrs. Henderson: I need a calculator, I was elementary school age.

Mr. Henderson: In 1941 I had to be about 15.


Q: Where were each of you born and where were you raised?

Mr. Henderson: I was born in Stoneham Massachusetts and I was raised in Cochichuate .

Mrs. Henderson: I was born in Norwich Connecticut and raised in New Canaan Connecticut.


Q: Did you know each other before the war started?

Mr. Henderson: Never even heard of each other.


Q: Were you aware of what was happening in Japan, Italy and Germany during the Thirties?

Mr. Henderson: The first I heard of anything is probably when the war started in Europe. That would be around ‘38, ‘39, otherwise I had no conception. Lake Cochichuate was big; that's about it.


Q: What about you (Mrs. Henderson); did you know anything about it?

Mrs. Henderson: I was born in ‘32, so I wasn’t really aware of what was going on until after the war had started.


Q: How did you first become aware of the dangers in Europe with Hitler and the dangers in Asia with Tojo?

Mr. Henderson: Probably by radio; and they used to have news in the theaters and you would see some of the things that were going on.

Mrs. Henderson: Not television, but they used to have news shorts whenever you went to see a movie; and also on the radio.

Mr. Henderson: It was usually about a week late, but at least you got to see what was taking place.

Mrs. Henderson: My grandfather used to sit by the radio with a globe next to him and keep track of where everything was. My father was a High school teacher and he would listen to the radio when he shaved and took a shower in the morning. The radio was going in the bathroom and I could always hear the news. He would try to keep track of his students that were overseas.


Q: How did you react to the news about the Battle of Britain, and the Germans invading Poland?

Mr. Henderson: Well, when Poland was attacked and invaded, it probably wasn’t a big deal at that time because I was probably too young to really realize what was really going on. It was just an other story; but of course when they were attacked at Pearl Harbor I was a little older and it began to dawn on me that this isn’t something good.


Q: How much do you remember Pearl Harbor do you remember exactly where you were?

Mr. Henderson: Yeah, most everyone does. In Framingham there was a theater called St.George theater; maybe you've heard of it or been there I don’t know. But it was on a Sunday afternoon I believe, and when we got out, there was a lot of talk on the street; people sort of gathering and talking, When I got home I heard all about it on the radio and everything like that. And I said forget it, I’ll never have to worry about it being in the service or anything. Wrong!


Q: Mrs.Henderson do you remember anything at all?

Mrs. Henderson: Not at that particular time.


Q: How did you feel when the Americans declared war?

Mr. Henderson: I believe that at that time I just thought it was the thing to do because people were being slaughtered for being who they were and things like that.


Q: So you were aware of all the reasons why the Germans and Japanese were attacking?

Mr. Henderson: Somewhat, yeah I think that we figured it was the wrong thing for them to be doing.


Q: Did your feelings about the Americans declaring war change during or after the war at all?

Mr. Henderson: Did I think differently? No. I thought we did the right thing, and our allies did the right thing, because Hitler was out of this world, and it was the thing to do and somebody had to do it; the United States and the allies did do it. At a high cost; but it had to be done.


Q: Did you volunteer for the armed forces or were you drafted?

Mr. Henderson: No, I volunteered. There were four of us were hanging out one day in down town Cochichuate; right where the crossroad is with the traffic light. There was big entertainment in watching the traffic lights change green; so somebody came up with the idea ‘why don’t we join the navy?’ and we said ‘lets do it,’ so we went into Boston and it was at the post office building I remember. So we went in to volunteer for the navy. Out of the four of us, three of us made it. The other person didn’t; I don’t know, for some reason, and a few days later we were gone. I guess it was just before Thanksgiving so some would go home for Thanksgiving dinner and then come back and we would be going to Rhode Island for boot camp and then from there I don’t know where.


Q: How old were you when you joined?

Mr. Henderson: All of us were 17 and 1/2 give a month or two.


Q: So what year was that when you joined?

Mr. Henderson: 1943


Q: What was it like when you had to say goodbye to you family and friends?

Mr. Henderson: I don’t know; I think we were on some kind of high. We couldn’t wait to go. At that time the draft was in effect, and a lot of people were being drafted. If you looked old enough to be in the service people would come up to you and say “how come your not in the service? What are you doing?” like it’s mandatory. We didn’t do it for that purpose, but that's the way it was.

Mr. Henderson: I remember a movie where someone wanted to get out of the draft and slammed his hand in a trunk.

Mr. Henderson: We had people who shot themselves in the foot.

Mrs. Henderson: And the rest of the movie was about how he was ostracized by everyone because that was the kind of patriotism that was being promoted at the time.


Q: Do you remember any brothers of friends or anyone going off to serve?

Mrs. Henderson: No, My brother was too young and my father was too old. All I remember where my fathers students. He would listen to the radio everyday and try and keep track of them. A number of them were killed. One of his male students that I had as a babysitter got killed. I was very fond of him, so I do remember the emotional pain that my father went through just with his students; never mind the family. We had no imediate family in the service.


Q: Mr. Henderson what do you remember of boot camp?are there any specific memories what was that like?

Mr. Henderson: It was in Rhode Island and I had a train ride down there and then the first thing they did was send us to see the doctors. They had a lot of doctors and everybody was running around naked. The doctors were in line, giving you one shot on each side. We walked through on both sides, and I don’t think they even had new needles; they would just wipe them off. It was quite a while before they served us anything to eat. Everybody was starving. Then they issued us uniforms and the next day you met your drill Sargent and he said “you will do this and you will do this and I can’t hear you.” All the familiar things that you hear on t.v. and stuff like that. But even if anybody was homesick they never said so. You needed to dare somebody to say . But we thought it was fun at first but as it became sort of a problem because if some person in the group made a mistake we would all get punished for it so we used to have to get up and potato and run around on a ball field about a mile and if somebody was talking when they shouldn't have been, or was out of step or anything “okay you guys don’t know what your doing ok that's why I’m here okay do it again” oh it was things like that.


Q: About how long were you in boot camp for?

Mr. Henderson: That was probably a couple of months because they were pushing.


Q: Were you eager to get into action?

Mr. Henderson: Well I don’t know how ready we were, but we were ready to go where they sent us because we had no choice. Some of us; if they found out that you might have some ability to do something like they sent me to electrician school for a while because I had a little background; not much, but they perhaps figured that they could teach me something like that.


Q: Where were you sent after boot camp?

Mr. Henderson: I ended up in; I think it was called Little Creek Virginia, and that was for an amphibious type of attack they had. You've probably seen movies of small boats and large ones that come up to the shore and open up and tanks come out and things like that. I was in the United States Navy and I went to many places in the United States. I went to Florida for a while for training. Then we had gunnery training in, I think it was Delaware, so we would practice shooting airplanes, but they would have a long trailer of half a mile long that somebody was supposed to shoot, not the plane. You got a chance to see the incendiary bullets go up. You could see them up there; they would light up, you see them in movies when they shoot every other one or something so then you can see where your target is, and if your way off you try to adjust for it. Then I went by train out to the west coast to Portland, Oregon and I was on a small ship there that came down to San Diego. Finally I got transfered onto a large ship that's destination was Guam. There were troops there; meaning naval personal who had been there for a while. We were the relief troops and this was about August 1945. As fate would have it just before we got to Guam, the war was over. They had dropped the atomic bombs. We still replaced the people who had been there. It was May of 1946 before I came back.


Q: What was you job on the ship what skills?

Mr. Henderson: When I was on the ship I was just a seaman. I did the jobs that nobody else wanted to do. When I was on Guam I became what they call a third class (petty?) officer which is no big deal, but it gave you one step up from where you were. You could tell someone else to do something for a change.


Q: Were you mentally prepared to fight if you were to encounter a Japanese ship?

Mr. Henderson: Well, we were trained a lot. But I had one experience when I was on board a ship. It was a small ship, and it was at night time. There was always a watch a person looking at the horizon, trying to make sure that there was no one sneaking up on us. There were two of us together, and I looked out said “look there’s a torpedo coming right at us!” I could see the wake. As it came in closer and closer I just froze... and just as it was about to hit us, it did a turn, and I saw that it was just a porpoise! It was the first time i ever saw one. When we told everyone and they said “you dummies it was just a fish!” But your naive at that age. But being prepared; I don’t know. I don’t know if anybody is really prepared to have somebody shooting at them.

Mrs. Henderson: In the movie shorts, they played up the papers and cartoons depicting the Germans, Japanese, and Italians as ogres. There was a lot of brain washing going on everywhere to prepare people emotionally for the fight.

Mr. Henderson: There was no respect for anybody like that. They were the enemies. Nobody had anything good to say about them.

Mrs. Henderson: They weren’t human beings any more. They were the enemies.


Q: Mrs. Henderson, do you remember anything about rationing, war bonds, or recycling?

Mrs. Henderson: Yes I do. My mother volunteered quite a bit. Gas was rationed; sugar I believe, and wheat. We flattened cans and put them in a big sack on the stairwell to the cellar. Everybody pitched in. Patriotism was very high, and little kids all did their part by picking up cans. I mentioned this before... we were over at the middle school and we were talking about how today people like to do their bit for ecology; well in those days it was even more important to pick up every bit of scrap metal. I guess they stopped using aluminum foil at the time. They weren’t making cars either.

Mr. Henderson: Everything went into the war effort then; which was a must. If you were looking for a new car you had to wait until 1946. I think they stopped as soon as the war started.

Mrs. Henderson: My father was an air raid warden. You had darkened curtains and shades that wouldn’t allow light in. If the sirens went off you had to make sure that all your lights were out and the air raid warden would walk around the neighborhoods and knock on any doors where people didn’t have their lights out.

Mr. Henderson: I remember I had a 1936 ford coupe with a ( ?) seat and wow I thought that was a great car! At the time it cost $75 used. My father and I split the money; but any way... before i went into the service you had to paint the top half of your headlights black, so that when you went driving you wouldn’t give off as much light if there was a plane coming. I never saw any planes, but you could still say it was kind of weird. You were punished if you didn’t do it; you had to pay a fine or something.


Q: Even though times were hard, did you feel everyone was united under a common interest?

Mrs. Henderson: Defiantly absolutely every American was pitching in

Mr. Henderson: I think everybody was more patriotic then we've been in any other wars because this was just like somebody attacking you home; you own house; so you just did everything you could. Most people did.


Q: Do either of you remember any women working in factories?

Mr. Henderson: Yeah, I worked in a shipyard before I went into the navy, and there were plenty of women working there. They were welders and doing everything everybody else would do.


Q: Do you think after the war was over women were given more respect, in terms of ability to work? Were there more opportunities after women showed that they were more than housewives?

Mr. Henderson: I think so. I think it was a good thing that took place then because it gave the women a break from staying home and making cookies all the time. If they had a skill of any kind they were taught like anybody else and they did a good job. You would see somebody (in the factories) and they would lift up their hood and all of a sudden it’s a woman talking. But you’d get used to it after a while. Like now you aren’t surprised to see a woman working somewhere.


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

Mr. H: Everything. I don’t know if I was really homesick. I think I sort of enjoyed myself and what I was doing. I didn’t want to do it forever. I was glad to go home.


Q: What was it like to go home?

Mr. Henderson: We left Guam on a ship. It was called the (Hermatash?). I don’t know how many people were on that ship, but we had to eat standing up. And the line (for food) never finished, I don’t know how many thousands of people were on it, but it was a huge ship. It wasn’t a battleship or anything. It was a ship that was confiscated that was probably used to hold a lot of troops so they could be shipped. In the daytime, if you didn’t get up on the deck early you wouldn’t be able to find a spot to sit down. It was just so huge. But the spirits were high because everyone new that it was over and we were going home. We couldn’t wait.


Q: What was it like coming home and seeing your family and friends again.

Mr. Henderson: What was it like? Great! It was like a gift.


Q: Did you notice a big change in life before the war compared to life after the war? Were there more jobs and opportunities?

Mr. Henderson: I don’t know in any particular area that I can think of now. I guess when we first got out of the service they gave us a little medal, not a medal, but a little button to wear on your lapel. It looked sort of like a little eagle flying. For some unknown reason it was named, the ruptured duck, by everybody. So you would see people and you would know they were another veteran, but after a while…


Q: Were you aware of the hundred and ten thousand Japanese-Americans in the detention camps? Did you know that was happening?

Mr. Henderson: Yes, I knew of that.


Q: How did you react to that?

Mr. Henderson: I don’t know if I had any particular reaction at that time. Right now I think it was a poor thing to do. We had troops in the Navy and Army that were Japanese. They called them Nisse troops born in the United States and Citizens. They were very good from what I remember. They had reputations for being good soldiers and so forth. But I didn’t really have a reaction to that at the time.

Mrs. Henderson: Tell them about the Japanese hiding on Guam as the war finished.

Mr. Henderson: …you’ve probably heard the stories of the Japanese that were prisoners that were hiding out for years after the war was over because they were afraid that it wasn’t true and they thought they’d be killed. So, when I landed on Guam, the island was full of Japanese. The army came in and dropped leaflets to tell them (the war was over), but they (the Japanese) wouldn’t believe it. Some would and some wouldn’t cause they figured as soon as they gave themselves up they would be shot. You couldn’t convince them that way because they were sure that that wasn’t true. There was a case in the early 1970’s where a man had been hiding in jungle for many years. He finally came out… The Marines were the ones who watched over the Japanese prisoners. They had a number of them cleaning up the area and cutting the grass with machetes… I was trying to learn how to speak Japanese. We had a Japanese officer who, while we were waiting to go home, offered to try and teach anyone that wanted to learn to speak Japanese. I failed at that, but anyway I tried to see if I could talk to one of the Japanese. I’d say something and they would start laughing because probably the pronunciation was wrong. But I made an acquaintance with one of them and almost everyday I would ask him what's the word for this and then he’d ask me a word. You couldn’t go and visit (the Japanese prisoners) or anything. It didn’t bother me… It was kind of interesting. It was not long after the war was over when some of us got on a small boat and went out to one of the Japanese ships that were in the harbor, which couldn’t leave. They were under surveillance all the time, but you could go out there if you wanted to. You could even go on board the ship, and the captains would be there and everybody would be talking in Japanese. We did that a number of times. We’d swap candy bars for cigarettes or whatever you had. I was trying to see if the captain would exchange his hat for something, but he wouldn’t do it. No sense of humor I guess. We had fun at that time.


Q: So you didn’t hate the Japanese? How did you feel about them?

Mr. Henderson: I felt that they were in the same position that I was in. They had no choice either. They might have enlisted, but that was the only choice they had. They just couldn’t say I don’t want to go. I didn’t have any strong feelings against them. It might have been different if I had been in combat and seen people killed. Then again, it’s not the individual, it’s the governments that create wars. I guess they end them too.


Q: Have you maintained contact with anyone that was in your unit or who you knew in the Navy.

Mr. Henderson: Most of the people I knew were not in this area. I did get together with three or four buddies I had in the service in nineteen sixty something. We hadn’t seen each other for a number of years. I guess that was about the last time I saw any of them. Most of them have passed away by now.


Q: What was it like seeing your friends after so long?

Mr. Henderson: We reminisced about different times we had had together, and about the different parts of the world. Some of us got to stay together. Like my name was Henderson and another person’s name was Harrington. Obviously if you went alphabetically you wouldn’t be too far apart. We were set up to go together that way by chance.


Q: How did you view President Roosevelt’s leadership during the war?

Mr. Henderson: I thought he was doing well. He’s like every other President; a lot of people dislike him and a lot of people like him. But I think he did quite well.


Q: Do you remember the fireside chats at all?

Mr. Henderson: It was no television then. Just the radio. I guess once a week he would have those fireside chats. He was quite a speaker. He had a little accent... it wasn’t a Massachusetts’s accent.
Mrs. Henderson: I remember being very sad when he died. I wasn’t very old, but I knew he was highly respected and honored person.


Q: What was your reaction when you heard that Roosevelt had died?

Mr. Henderson: You just couldn’t believe it at that time. You knew he wasn’t a kid, but you just figured he’d be there forever.

Mrs. Henderson: In those days I think there was a lot more respect for president’s than there is now.


Q: How did you feel about Harry Truman’s leadership in the war? He had the one big decision. Did you feel he made the right decision by dropping the atomic bomb?

Mr. Henderson: I’m glad he did.

Mrs. Henderson: You (directed at Mr. Henderson) might not be here if he hadn’t.

Mr. Henderson: I’m glad he did it, it was a hard decision, I’m sure. But you probably know the reason why. They added up the score of how many million people it would have taken to invade Japan. A lot more people would have died. Since we were in control of the atomic bomb, we made sure it wasn’t us. So I think he did the only thing he could do. I mean if its war its war. It brought it to an end just like that.


Q: Once the war was over did you think that something like this could happen again? Would the world let another Hitler commit such atrocities?

Mr. Henderson: We were under the opinion that things like that would never happen again because this was the war to end all wars. However no matter how far you go back in history people are crazy enough to start wars over petty things. If you don’t believe it look what's happening in the world today.


Q: What lessons did you take from WWII? What lessons did the World take from it?

Mr. Henderson: Don’t start a war unless you can win it. The first atomic bomb is just a toy compared to what they have now. So people are not to eager to start a war because it would almost be the end because atomic warfare would just be fallout. I would hope the lesson learned is that it is futile to start wars. Solve them by negotiation. And give a little here and there; don’t expect to have everything.


Q: Is there any last things you would like to? Anything we didn’t get to?

Mr. Henderson: When I went in the Navy I volunteered for submarine duty in lake Cochichuate, but they turned me down.

 


Mr. Henderson speaks about captured Japanese soldiers. (Quicktime)

prison
Captured Japanese Soldiers on Guam

MRH
Mr. Rollie Henderson, 1943

Guam
Down-Time in Guam

Guam
Fellow Wayland Volunteers (1943) L. to R.: Edward Burke, Rollie Henderson, Robert Gladu