War on Their Minds
Young   Norman Slawsby
Age in 1941: 16

Interview Team: Allison Bergman, and Kim Berman

Q: What is your name?

Mr. Slawsby: Norman Slawsby.

Q: What was your age in 1941?

Mr. Slawsby: 1941, I was 17 years old.

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

Mr. Slawsby: I was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and I was raised in Brockton, Massachusetts.

Q: To what extent were you aware of the happenings in Japan, Italy, and Germany during the 1930s?

Mr. Slawsby: 1930’s. I don’t know whether we were even... I didn’t know anything about Japan except what we learned in school and, as far as Italy was concerned, in those days, I don’t know… Oh, yes, the Italians were fighting in which became Ethiopia, in Africa, but I don’t remember the dates, but I know it was around that time, the ‘30’s. And, what were you doing? (Laughter) No…I’m sorry. What was the other country you asked me?

Q: Germany

Mr. Slawsby: I didn’t know too much about what was going on in Germany either. We were school guys just doing our studying. I hope that you don’t forget I was graduating in 1942.

Q: So, you weren’t aware of any current events going on?

Mr. Slawsby: Not in those times, no. I’m sorry, I did know something. I just remembered that I read the book Mein Kampf in high school. Now I don’t remember if it was 9th grade or senior high, I don’t remember. I mean as a senior. But I do remember reading something called Mein Kampf. It was a book by, supposedly by Adolf Hitler while he was in jail.

Q: Explain how you first became aware of the dangers in Europe, Hitler, and Asia, Emperor Hirohito and War Minister Tojo?

Mr. Slawsby: Well, everything that I would say would be prior to, no, it would be after Pearl Harbor. Nobody knew where Pearl Harbor was when it was attacked. I don’t remember exactly what I was doing at the particular time, and as far as Germany, we knew that Hitler was there and we didn’t realize how dangerous he was, what a psychopath he was. We didn’t know anything about (Tojo) until the war started.

Q: What was your reaction to the war in Europe? The invasion of Poland, the Battle of Britain in the fall of 1940, the Blitz?

Mr. Slawsby: Well, let’s see, the Blitz in Poland, that was the first thing that the Nazis orchestrated, and they went in and took over a country that hadn’t done anything to them and claimed that Poland had shot at them or started it first and then … The Blitz and the Battle of Britain in 1940 was an attempt of the Nazi organizations, military men, to take over or capture Great Britain. But that was after they controlled most of Europe, and that was going to be attempted, from what I remember, from the coast of France to the coast of England, which is only a distance, I think, of about 22 miles, maybe closer than that at points along the channel. And they tried it by air and they could never do it, they couldn’t do it by bombing. It really backfired on them. They thought they’d be able to bomb the civilian people into submission, and that they would complain, or harass the people in power and cause the fall of Britain. But what they did was bomb everybody, as I said previously, but the bombing was unsuccessful. So there was a point where the British defended themselves very well in the air and there was a point when Hitler just decided with his officers to forget about the battle of Britain and turn his attention to the East. As far as the blitzkrieg was concerned, the blitz was from the word blitzkrieg. What that meant was a fast type of war where, without any warning they would take over, like to just run into a country, and that was blitzkrieg. Capturing or fighting without giving them notice. Most countries years ago used to declare war and everybody knew what was going on. But they just took over these countries. With little problems developing to stop them. Of course, they had more weapons too which the other countries didn’t have.

Q: What were your remembrances of the attack on Pearl Harbor? You mentioned that you didn’t know where it was.

Mr. Slawsby: I don’t think any of us guys knew where it was at the time; I don’t remember where I was when I heard it. I think what happened was that I was out of the house, and this is my best recollection, and I came home. I had heard it on the radio and my family had heard it on the radio and that’s how I knew, but I didn’t know where it was or what it was.

Q: Would you pull out a map and follow it to try to see where the attack was?

Mr. Slawsby: Not really; I was 17 years old and we were just teenagers. We didn’t think the war was going to bother us or come to us. Eventually we found out that it was and it did, but then of course we were at home, taking back one of our islands that had been invaded by the Japanese.

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

Mr. Slawsby: Well, at that time, the declaration was done in 1941 I believe. President Roosevelt was the president and was in his second term or his third term, I don’t remember. And he announced in front of Congress and we listened to this, we didn’t have television, so we had radio, that he had declared war on Germany at the same time that he declared war on Japan. He declared war on Japan first because we were attacked by the Japanese and I guess he and the chief military generals of this country were trying to figure out some way of getting into the war in Europe, but the war in the Pacific had a priority. But we did help Europe with supplies up until the time we went in.

Q: Did you support this?

Mr. Slawsby: Oh, yeah, everybody, well all us guys. We wanted to go over right away and fight. We didn’t know what it was, we didn’t even actually know, well I’ll say myself personally, I didn’t know how dangerous it was until the first shell exploded over my head in Europe, in France. Then I began to figure out well, you know, live and die and so forth. When in our training they told us how dangerous it was, I think most of us lived with the expectation that we were going to die or get killed or wounded.

Q: But it didn’t start off that way?

Mr. Slawsby: It was part of a plan by the various kinds of armed forces, army, navy, marines, whatever else there was. It was part of the psychological thinking with regards to if you tell them that you are a better soldier, you were going to die anyway, you might as well go in and fight, and fortunately we lived and the ones who died were the great heroes.

Q: Did your feelings change during or after the war?

Mr. Slawsby: My feelings changed actually during the war. As I told you down at that end of the table, was that as much as the German people say they didn’t know anything about this, of course the Nazis did. And how the German people can say they didn’t know anything about it, it’s difficult–the smoke, the fumes, the railroad cars loaded with prisoners, etc. It was a genocide that I’m sure they all knew about but won’t admit it. As far as the Japanese being interned, we talked about this, I think in Arizona, I think they took all the Japanese-Americans afraid to leave them on the coast, because of the fact there might be spies in amongst them, so they took them and put them into, they were not concentration camps, but they were prisoner of war camps actually. They had a lot more freedoms than prisoners of war had, but it was a move they thought was right, but later on in years to pass I guess everyone agrees that it wasn’t right.

Q: During the war did you think what you were fighting for was right and did you agree during your time in service or after the war that what you were doing…

Mr. Slawsby: Well before the war, before I went into the service, of course now I was eighteen years old. It was a way of living then, you go into the service, I mean everybody going into the service was thinking about going to college, but we never went to college, we went into the service. I graduated high school in June of 1942 and I was in the service in early ’43. I had to wait until I was 18; I was 17 when I graduated high school, 18 when I went into the service. Six days after I was 18 I was drafted.

Q: How old do you have to be to volunteer?

Mr. Slawsby: You had to be at least 18 years old.

Q: If you hadn’t been drafted, would you have volunteered anyway since you were then 18?

Mr. Slawsby: I don’t know, I don’t know. Of course I didn’t know what war was; it sounded like a nice adventure. I didn't realize that I was going to get killed or wounded. In those days that’s how most people felt, but when we start seeing all our friends being drafted at the same time, in fact we had a picture of my group that was drafted at the same time, all my friends. It was just a way of living in those days, that’s how you went; everybody went to war, you went to war. Everybody went into uniform, you went into uniform. And this was the way we were going to win the war.

Q: What branch of the armed forces did you join?

Mr. Slawsby: I didn’t join any branch of the armed forces, what I was, I was drafted into the Army. They told us where we would go. You were drafted into the Army or the Navy; the Marines you had to volunteer for, they specialized, as you probably know today. They always went in first; the Army went in and took their place after they bombed the things. We had maybe a little bit of advantage of living where they did not. Did I choose my final position in the tank destroyers? Okay, let me go back a little ways. When I was drafted, I was sent to Camp Devens in Ayer, Mass., to be issued clothing and told our destinations, and take shots and issued uniforms and so forth. We were there for three days and I was put on, myself and a number of other men, were put on a train and our destination was Fort Bragg in North Carolina where we were going to take our Basic Training. Fort Bragg, North Carolina was an artillery school and that’s what we learned, field artillery plus everything else you learned. I didn’t choose tank destroyers, they could have put me in anything they wanted to, and that’s what they did. They said that they needed some people in tank destroyers so they sent myself and another man …out of Fort Bragg, they sent myself and another man after we went through the 16 weeks training to the desert in California to be in a tank destroyer battalion.

Q: At this point had you traveled very far… before the service?

Mr. Slawsby: The only place I was before the service was New York City during the 1939 World’s Fair, I believe.

Q: Your going to North Carolina was a huge distance and very far from home.

Mr. Slawsby: Well, North Carolina was a long distance from home and it was Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and it was quite a different experience going there because, unfortunately, it had segregation at the time.

Q: And there wasn’t a whole lot in Massachusetts at that time?

Mr. Slawsby: Segregation? No, down there it was real severe to the point where it was even on the buses. And the first time I learned that was when I got my first pass out of camp with another chap. We got on a bus, got out of the camp to go to some city, Fairfield maybe, North Carolina, or something like that, and there was a white line across the middle of the bus and we didn’t know anything about it, we didn’t know anything about segregation, and of course in those days they were called black people and now we call them African Americans, which they really are. And when I got on the bus, I got my first experience at what segregation, desegregation meant. Later on, when I got on the bus, there were two out of three of us that wanted to go to Fort Bragg on just vacation… not vacation, days leave, and we wanted to sit in the back of the bus like we did in high school when we were going to school. So we went to the back of the bus, we sat across the seat, the big seat. And we were talking, having fun, and other people came on and some were white and some, as I say, were black, we’ll refer to them as black —African-Americans is something new that came out later on. The terminology was — to make it easy, there were blacks and whites. And the bus driver wouldn’t go. He yelled back and he says "you guys got to move up front, you can’t sit with the blacks" because anything in back of the line was for blacks, white people sit up front. And that was my first experience, so we all had to .. And he said "If you don’t move up, the bus is not going to go anyplace".

Q: Even though you were wearing new uniforms?

Mr. Slawsby: Yup. That’s the way it was. And then there were drinking faucets on the streets for whites and for blacks - said colored in those days but I never liked that particular word. When white people were walking along the street and black people coming against — in a different direction walking — they had to get off the sidewalk and get into the road and come back onto the sidewalk beyond the white people. And there were bathrooms, restrooms all marked that way too. As a Jewish person who knows what some discrimination can be, and maybe a lot more so has come to light in these years because of what Hitler had done to the Jews, it was very degrading, I thought, for these other people and very embarrassing for us because we didn’t know what the rules were supposedly in the Southern states. And that’s about it. Later on it became desegregated and its been that way ever since, which is very nice. They mixed them in with the soldiers, they had their own separate divisions and battalions, fighting and that’s the way it went. … It was a long time ago. The Southern people, the Southern whites, always felt that the blacks were inferior to them. Today we know that they’re not and that they are intelligent and have feelings like we do and everything else. They are entitled to everything, they are, like everybody else. … You won’t encounter it (racism) so much anymore, although my brother-in-law went into the service before the Vietnam War, he was a dentist so he went in as a Lieutenant and became a Captain automatically, and he had a friend who was a dentist and was a Captain also. They were pals, so to speak. And they used to go into town down in Charlotte, North Carolina. One time my brother-in-law told us this story that he was with this friend who was also a black captain, he was as I said a captain, which is a pretty high rank. And he went into a restaurant with this black captain and the person came out, the manager came out and said this man can’t eat at this restaurant. My brother-in-law, of course, knew what it was all about but he said why, he wanted to hear him say that it was because he was black, so he said ‘if he can’t eat here I’m not going to eat here.’ And they got up and they left. So it happened not that long ago. It was in the 60’s, somewhere in that area. So those things did happen. I think some people still feel that way, but with the way things have gone, what they do and what they think are two different things, and its unfortunate.

Q: What was it like saying goodbye to your loved ones?

Mr. Slawsby: That was kind of difficult. As you know, I had a girlfriend, that was before I went into the Army, and her name was Adele. She lived in Brookline. She was more than just … we were very, very good friends. I just seemed to go out with her most of the time. Sometimes I used to go by bus to Brookline. When I had the car (Dad owned an automobile) and I used to drive in and we’d go out on dates. We were very close; we were like childhood sweethearts so to speak. I thought a lot of her and she thought a lot of me. When I was drafted we went up to the mayor of the town, in Brockton, and gave us all a goodbye speech. My father, my older brother, took me to the city town hall, which was middle city Brockton, and we got on the train and we went to South Station and transfer from South Station to North Station and went up to Fort Devens. It was sad. I had to say goodbye to my mother. It was very emotional. She was from Europe and of course she had her problems and seen her problems when she was a youngster. My Dad was the same way. My Dad was drafted into the first World War. When he was given his physical, they found out that he had a mastoid behind his right ear and that they had to operate on him before they could take him into the service. I guess while he was recovering from the mastoid operation, I guess the war ended so he never went into the war. Basically, I’m not the kind of person to cry about things, and I choke up sometimes. It was not easy saying goodbye to my mother, who was a very good mother.

Q: Were you close to your parents at age 18?

Mr. Slawsby: Yes. To my Dad, it was a little easier saying goodbye because I knew he could handle it. My older brother - it was a little difficult saying goodbye. He was married and had a child. I was hoping they didn’t get to him to draft him years later, but they did. He had a serious situation happen to him in the Army. So, with my girlfriend, I said goodbye to her before I went in and I used to see her on furlough, on leaves and furloughs and things like that. As a matter of fact, she used to write me one or two times a week and I used to write her whenever I had a chance. It was very nice having a girlfriend or sweetheart in those days to think about. Then when I was going to … I got my first furlough out of Fort Bragg, it was like starting over. You’d come home and it was 30 days and then I had to say goodbye all over again! And this time, my mother and my father and my older brother, my younger brother - there was quite a difference in age between us - my older brother was seven years older than me and my younger brother was four years younger than me. So when I was 18 being drafted, he was 14 - so we thought maybe it would end before any of them went in. My brother had a child so certain deferments, postponements in the drafting And we all got in my dad’s car and they drove my back after my furlough, including my girlfriend. We all said goodbye and that’s the way it was. It was my first love so to speak.

Q: Did you think it was harder the second time?

Mr. Slawsby: Not really because I still didn’t know what was war going to be like. I knew it was training, it was soldiers, it was fighting, it was killing. But I really didn’t get the true effect, like I told you before, the true effect of how dangerous a position I was in was when the first shelling came in woods near the coast of France, because they hadn’t gone very far on June 6 by the time we went in. That shell exploded in the trees. We knew that we had to dig foxholes, but you really didn’t do it; but I tell you that any low depression in the ground was occupied for the next 10 or 15 minutes as long as the shelling went on, because these things were exploding, they were killing people and we hadn’t even been in the war yet, I hadn’t been in combat.

Mr. Slawsby: The day I got out of the service (I was discharged at Fort Devens), I took the bus to Boston and I took another bus to my girlfriend’s house. I walked in and hello - I had been gone for quite a while. I had been in combat for 11 months, I think. I changed clothes — we were going out — I had called her earlier and as I walked by her bedroom, I saw a picture of myself. Anyway, she had met somebody when I was overseas and she didn’t want me to know about it - she told me that night that she was engaged and I accepted it. I felt badly about it but it was the right thing for her to do. She didn’t know if I was going to live or die and I told her before I went away that this is how I felt - I was in a tank destroyer battalion and didn’t have good odds of getting back and she ought to go out. She never went out, toward the end I guess she did. So, I told her, why didn’t you tell me before, and she said well I was afraid you might rejoin, which was a silly excuse, but that’s what she said. So that’s why she’s not your grandmother, Allison.

Q: What were your remembrances of boot camp and training?

Mr. Slawsby: The Navy called it boot camp. The Army called it basic training. Basic training was learning how to march, memorizing certain parts of the manual, the field manual, so that they would allow you to walk guard at night; if you didn’t what these certain regulations, they didn’t give you that pleasure of walking guard, which all of us hated, because there was nothing to guard in the United States except equipment ……didn’t know it if was … or not. But it was quite an experience and it was amazing how I was assigned to an artillery battery (Artillery’s called it a battery; Tank destroyers called it companies). There were a number of people there and we took tests for our IQs so they could get an idea what to do with us and we took signal test, which were so that they could pick out people who could differentiate dots and dashes, which was the Morse code. And if they had the ear for it we thought they would send those people into the Signal Corps, which apparently they did. The rest of us, we had an opportunity to go into Officers Candidate School, if we had passed with an IQ of 90 or better, and I did have that opportunity (I’ll tell you about that sometime too). I met a lot of friends there. Basically, that’s what it was. We did speed marching and we did maneuvers. Basically, that was it - what our arms were about, our firearms, how to fire a 105 Howitzer, which was the main gun of the artillery. Smaller guns so they could take around as they went about …. fired, I don’t remember now, I’d guess it was around 6 or 7 miles. Later on, when we were in the tank destroyers we served … we went searching and destroying tanks, pillboxes, machine gun nests, things like that, we fired as artillery because we could out-range the 105’s by 3 or 4 miles because the fact that our gun was a rifle and their gun was a Howitzer. And, basically, that’s about the things we did. I learned one thing in retrospect, about the 5-mile speed marches with a full pack in the sand of North Carolina is that, if you were a smoker, you very quickly ran out of breath. You found it very hard to complete the 5 miles, although you did. But, in those days, we didn’t know if we were going to live or die, so how bad was smoking and we didn’t know that it caused cancer in those days we just knew that it gave you shortness of breath. But, eventually, I learned that that’s where it came from as the smokers struggled to march and do those kind of things.

Q: Did you smoke before joining the Army?

Mr. Slawsby: Yes, I did. Unfortunately, I had a friend of mine that smoked and it was something like, in those days, you didn’t know it was harmful, so you did it. Today, believe me, I wouldn’t have done it. But I stopped. Overseas, yeah, we all smoked.

Q: I heard that the cigarette companies gave out free cigarettes during the war

Mr. Slawsby: We got free cigarettes, but it wasn’t always the kind that we liked. Like names you never heard of: Fleetwood, Raleighs, Kools. The cigarettes that were in demand in those days were Chesterfield, Camel (which were the strongest ones), Marlboros, and there were other types but basically that’s what I remember about it. So, don’t smoke.

Q: You mentioned before that they’d put you in rooms with gas and you’d have to know your dog tag numbers …

Mr. Slawsby: Oh yeah, that was in basic training. The three days that we were at Dix, before I went Fort Bragg, we were told to memorize your number as quickly as you can. Serial number, because that was the number that you were going to carry all through your Army life and regular life. The dog tags that I showed you were identification and you always had to have them on and you’d have to remember this number. Mine was 31365574. I remember it until today even though that was over 50 years ago. And as far as the gas thing, they wanted to get us familiar with gas in case we ran into Japanese or went to Japan or went to Europe and might use gas and we had to learn how to put it on and take it off and to test us, in the early part of basic training, they’d put us through a tent where the drill sergeants and sergeants were wearing masks and they’d march us in under our arms in a carrier and they’d tell us and before you could exit the tent, which had a flap on it to hold the gas in, you have to give your serial number and you’d better do it from memory and don’t look at your dog tags because you’d be sent back to the end of the chamber again. It wasn’t really a chamber, it was a tent. And that gas was horrible, your eyes started tearing and you couldn’t breathe the pain in the eyes was mostly severe. And you put your hand on the man in front of you, you’d face the door and put your hand on the man in front of you, and you’d walk out and give your serial number and take your mask off. And if you didn’t know your serial number, they’d you’d have to go back into the end of that line again. And some of the guys did have to do it because they didn’t memorize the numbers. That’s good incentive to learn. Fortunately, we didn’t go through any gas problems in Europe and the second World War as they did in the first World War and so basically that covers that end of it. I’m sure that I’m leaving some stuff out but I just can’t remember a lot of things.

Q: What kind of special skills were you taught?

Mr. Slawsby: In field artillery, I was taught about what controlled the firing of the guns, how do you know how and where to shoot them, how do you know how far to shoot them, where do you shoot. I was selected to participate in what was called Fire Direction Center. For some reason, I don’t know if it was because of my IQ, I was sent in during basic training - a lot of guys went too, to what was called the Fire Direction Center, which directed the artillery. The Fire Direction Center was composed of 5 people: one of the men would do what you’d call the horizontal computing the angle of fire, the next one would be the vertical control and they would do the elevation so you’d know how far the fire was going to go; and they had 3 computers, and I was one of those computers. So it was 5 people and I controlled the firing for one platoon, no, for one company. Then when I got into .. They’d give you a number for what you were doing, (my number happened to be, I think it was 604, but I don’t remember.) which was called an MOS, which was the Military Service Specialty. Then when I got on the tank destroyers, where the tank destroyers first priority was to … seek, strike and destroy, that’s what it was, when we weren’t hunting for tanks, or killing, shooting up pillboxes and forts and things, we supported artillery. So, at the time we did two things. The second thing was supporting artillery because we could outshoot a 105 Howitzer. So, basically, that’s what I was trained for, and that’s what I did, besides other things.

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

Mr. Slawsby: My faith? Well, I’ll tell you, after the first shelling… My family was orthodox, I was brought up orthodox. And as I got older, it fell into a conservative type of religion, but during the war I became sort of very religious. Not in any actions, or food requirements, or anything like that, practices or anything, but every night I’d say my prayers, which I never did before. And that was a long time ago. Only because, when the first shell fell, as I told you, I sat thinking about dying and I asked God to sort of favor me through my.. and my family .. and my friends and that was the way.. I prayed every night before I went to sleep regardless of where I was, in a foxhole, in a tank, or sleeping in a bedroll under the snow, and things like that. So that’s how it affected my religion. My faith.

Q: Did your faith help you get through the war?

Mr. Slawsby: Yeah, I think so, but it raised a lot of questions too and I’m sure most people … like if we were … one instance I remember in particular is, if you divide this room in half, it was one road or one little town and, let me see, the roads were about that wide and houses on this side and house on that side. And you have to remember that the German Army had occupied this land in France, it was on the Moselle River, and we were billeted in this town waiting for further action, waiting for the Infantry to cross, the tanks to cross, you have to remember we were tank destroyers, although they’d use us for advances at one time or another. One time in particular, that young man at the extreme end of that picture there, right there (pointing at a picture), he came to one of our meetings in 1995, one of our reunions, and he wanted to find out who his father was, he never knew. He was brought up raised as an orphan very young with his two sisters and he came to one of these meetings because he had traced his father down, went to Europe and found his father’s grave, traced it back to the 807th Tank Destroyer Battalion and he came to us. Now his father was a very good friend of mine, his name was Dudwire (?), Earl Dudwire, and when he finally located his father, his name, he came to our Battalion meeting and we took him in as an honorary member and his father was a … I had seen him practically get killed and we were across the street from one each other. I was in a house with the… facing this other doorway across the street, which was a room away or two rooms away, and his father Earl Dudwire and another fellow, just retired, I can’t remember his name offhand, and they were taking up a defensive position in this window with a machine gun between them, in this doorway, and we were across the street and we were ducking behind a brick wall when we heard these mortars coming in. A mortar was like an artillery shell except it was a little smaller. And where the Germans had occupied these towns, they had all these areas zeroed in, which is a nomenclature, meaning they could shoot any place they want. They could put it in a barrel from the distance they were at. When they started shooting at us, we… everybody ….. they were coming back at us and so we all ran, and Dudwire and the fellow who was with him, and I said… I had no control, I said "why don’t you take that doorway over there and we’ll take this one over here." We went in there and ran down .. these things were coming in, when they come in you duck. They had set up a 30 caliber machine gun in the doorway at the advice of an officer and a shell landed between them and killed his father at that particular point. We saw the chap who was a softball pitcher, I can’t remember his name, he was a professional softball pitcher someplace in California, and the thought came to your mind right away, why them not me. You know, he was only maybe 20 feet away from me. There were times when people right next to you were hit with shrapnel and you didn’t. So that’s what you question religion about. But regardless of how you questioned it, you learned to live with it because the fact that this was one of the ways of comforting yourself was being … having faith. There were no atheists, so to speak, in foxholes. Everybody became religious after that first shell went off.

Q: What was your specific role in the armed forces? You said you were in the tank destroyers?

Mr. Slawsby: Tank destroyer, yeah. We did … In Tank Destroyers we could operate as tanks, we didn’t have the armor to protect us, the Germans had very big tanks, Panzers, and Tigerroyals and so forth … Tigers and Tigerroyals and the 3-inch guns that we had even when we got the tanks, our own tanks, the tank destroyers, we had a very hard time piercing the armor of the German tanks because in some places the armor was 3 feet thick. The armor that we had on the tank destroyers, the M-10’s that I showed you, was like 3 inches in the front and maybe an inch, inch and a quarter on the side. So we served in the tanks, we were trained to serve as tanks if we had a spearhead, which did a few times, in the infantry, we had to know how to be infantrymen, artillery men, and basically that was the things that we had to know to be good soldiers and apparently we were because a lot of us came back.

Q: Please describe operations or battles in which you were involved.

Mr. Slawsby: Well, there’s a lot of them. The first one that we were involved in is after we landed and we went as far as, I can’t remember that one, we landed on the Utah Beach, came in from England. Actually, we came in from Wales, we landed in Wales and came across…

Q: Utah Beach was one of five locations for D-day?

Mr. Slawsby: Yup. And we came across in LST, which were tank carrying boats and we came across the channel, which is pretty rough and I got a little seasick but before we got … we were going in and out of a mine field so normally it was 22 miles to go across, which would have taken at the most 2 or 3 hours … it took us almost 2 days going in and out of the mine fields until we could get to the French soil because the invasion had been like a month, 2 months ahead of it before we went across into combat and so basically does that answer your question?

Mr. Slawsby: The first big battle we had was the Battle of Metz. Metz was on the western side of the Moselle River. And on the eastern side was an Maginot Line that the French had constructed to keep out the Germans if they came that way, but they outsmarted us and…, I’ll explain that in a minute. What we did was we sat on the east bank of the Moselle River for quite a while because at that time we were in the Third Army and we had outrun the ammunition and gasoline supplies and General Patton was our Commander-in-Chief at that time and we just went as far as the gasoline went. But we had ammunition so we sat on the Maginot Line, which was just on east bank of the Moselle River, no, on the west bank. The Germans were on the east bank. And we just shot at each other, just to kill the time and about 3 or 4 weeks later we were told that we were going to cross the Moselle River. They were going to put up a pontoon bridge about 10 miles up the river and we to cross over coming to the Fort of Metz. It was originally built by the Germans, and when the French and Germans fought first the Germans would have it and then they’d move their people into it and then the French use it. This happened many times. It was the only fort in that area that had seven forts within the perimeter. It was almost impregnable. We came in from the north on November seventeenth we crossed the river came in from the north and artillery proceeded us in tremendous barrages. We came into Metz on the eighteenth, it was a foggy morning, and somehow on the road that we were approaching Metz through, there was a big very heavy fog. We got out of our vehicles and into the ditches along the road and because we couldn’t move. Something held up the traffic, and we didn’t know what it was, we never did find out. The Germans started shelling at with there famous guns. They were called the "88." It was also in the anti-aircraft that they turned into a field artillery piece and a tank-destroying instrument when they put it on their tanks too. And that was our first real experience with being under shellfire and that lasted about ten minutes, but it could have been, I don’t know a half an hour. And the shells were landing in the road but we were in these water-covered ditches with two or three feet below and we practically buried our heads and our bodies into this frozen water, cause it was in November. And, then we just proceeded into Metz and we couldn’t fight against the forts that day so we went into places we could get into. The bottom of a building and set up our guns so that we could shoot and German soldiers. And we were firing on Metz that night and we came into one of the forts on the north and I don’t really remember the name of it but it’s written down some place. And the next day we had a very traumatic experience. We had called in artillery, because our three-inch guns wouldn’t break down the steel doors that the fort had. And they were shooting back at us and we didn’t realize that that particular fort was being manned by the SS, which was a very high elite part of the German army. I hope I can do this with out choking up. So we called in this hundred and twenty two-meter rifle it was a Howitzer. According to the Geneva Conference, or whatever they called it, the League of Nations, you weren’t supposed to use anything over a hundred millimeters as direct fire. So at that particular point we had lost a lot of people and infantry, and so we backed off and brought the hundred and twenty two meter rifle which was a very powerful artillery piece. And with a couple of shots we broke the door down and the Germans came out surrendering, as we pulled in. Our platoon went in first, and our company commander was in an armored car, Captain Maloy. And just as we got into the road leading to the fort, it wasn’t very far from the fort, it might have been like a quarter of a mile. The German garrisons which was a hundred and some odd men, to the best of my recollections. They came out with their hands up in the air, led by a major, and it might have been a hundred of these soldiers that came out surrendering, under a white flag. And they walked off the road and they surrendered to us and we were pushing them back and then other battalions would take them over. Our troops then started going in. I think it was the ninety fifth division that we were with. And they were on the road that the Germans had just walked out of. My company commander and our tanks would start coming in to the side of the road. And the SS had left apparently a couple of men in the fort to blow the road that the Americans were on after
their men got out safely. And they did. They blew the road; I don’t know how many people were on the road at that time. From my position I could only see how many they’re were at the end, there were a lot. And I don’t think it was publicized in the newspaper or anything else, later
on. They blew them up, and I guess there was a lot of gunfire from our people afterwards. I don’t know if they were shooting at the prisoners or what because that was already beyond me. The SS had given themselves up. So that was probably the most dramatic battle that we had. On the
nineteenth, we captured Metz, and we stayed there for a couple of days and gathered our troops together and got replacements. And then we went on into France. Years later after the war, and many years later after we had the first battle field reunion (I wasn’t there), which was in France, in Metz. They awarded the battalion these big metals, and on them were engraved, the "807 Tank Destroyer Battalion, The iron men of Metz." So now we know ourselves as "the Iron men." So basically that was one battle. For the European campaign, our battalion was awarded five bronze battle stars for the various battles in France and in Germany, Akron and in Luxembourg, and Belgium, and Holland and Austria where we finally ended up the war. And one silver battle star besides the other work. So there were five major battles throughout Europe. And we were on the line, for something like two hundred and seventy nine days. We were always attached to a division that was pulled back. We were attached to them going in and when they pulled out we were automatically attached to the next division that took them. So we fought in almost all the armies in France and Germany and so forth. The major battles that I most recall, Hertzgen Forest. The black forests, the Ardennes, which was the Battle of the Bulge. We didn’t really go into Bastogne because the had already been liberated by someone else so we pulled back and went up to Maastricht which was in Holland, to pull some of the Germans that had gotten by, and Belgium. And then we crossed the Rhine River, which was a battle. And went through the Siegfreid Line and into the various cities. And we ended up in Austria at the base of the mountain of [Vergus] Garden on May the fourth or the fifth, I think we ended up in Europe on May the sixth if I remember correctly. And the Mountain of [Vergus] Garden was a pure White Mountain in the Austrian Alps where Hitler had had his "Birds nest," or whatever they called it. And it was defended on a fifteen-mile road that twisted up through the mountain by the SS troops. And we were getting prepared to go up there because we were ordered to take over, and leave infantry up there and the next day the war was cancelled. They surrendered and that was it. We stayed in Austria for a while and then we went back to Germany. In [Hawkwnhiem] and we did a little occupation work there. And a very sad thing that I saw there, don’t forget that the war was over, and they told us that we were going to be redeployed to the Pacific. Because the pacific war was still going on and we were going back to the states for a thirty days leave and meet back in Fort wood, Texas, one of the training camps. And then we would go over to Japan. So we were there in [Hawkwnhiem], and there was no war going on, and they had a theater and things that we went to and we walked around. And right opposite us there was this brick wall. And there were about twenty kids, no older than eight or nine years old. A number of us saw these kids on the wall and they were banging at something. We couldn’t see what it was. It wasn’t too much later that we found out what it was. It was a German mine, a tank mine. It had about twelve pounds of dynamite, and they were banging at the fuse and they blew it off. The mines had not been picked up yet and these kids were playing around with it. It was to destroy vehicles. They were banging it with rocks, and we didn’t have any idea what it was. And then all of the sudden we knew what it was cause it exploded. I guess it killed most of them. It was probably one of the most unnecessary types of things, children being killed. And we see it everyday now. We came back to the United States and we were discharged, and scheduled for redeployment. We took our thirty days leave, and we were supposed to meet back at Fort wood, Texas, which was the training center for training for Japan. I was shipped from Fort Dicks, Massachusetts to Camp Hood Texas, report upon arrival. We took our time; there were two of us. And then the war had ended while I was on vacation. We tried to get back to the battalion and it was deactivated on our way. And then we were discharged by the number of points. Metals counted for so much, I had seventy-six points, which was quite a bit. Overseas counted as two points so I got ten. I was short five points, so I was sent to a training camp in Camp Hood California, from Texas. We were there for a little while and then we got sent to another camp, Camp Roberts, California. There they put me in a training battalion to teach the new recruits what to do. And when it came time for Bivouac, I told them I had ten months in Bivouac, which was sleeping out in the open and fighting battles, and I conducted some classes in artillery and so forth. From there I was discharged. And went back home. It was over, that was it. And of course a lot of my friends didn’t get back I found out, at high school reunions over the years. The last one was in 1995 I believe. And that ended my army career.

Q: What was it like coming back?

Mr. Slawsby: We were joyous and happy. We came back on what was called a sea boat, a sea freighter. It was called Sea Robin. There were about three battalions on there, which were approximately 18,000 men. To keep us busy they gave us all a job. One of the battalions was doing security work. Another battalion was doing cleaning and so forth. We were responsible for the feeding and refreshments. And they gave us the keys to the lockers and the freezers. One of the things we did the first day that we shouldn’t have done was we, hadn’t had fresh milk for almost two years. And we defrosted frozen milk and we had just filled up with milk. Unfortunately for the next two days we fought diarrhea. That was coming back. Going across, we should of, made the invasion in June, but we didn’t because the ship that we were going across on was sunk. And if you remember back in 1943, we went across in convoys, because they found that the German submarines were torpedoing single ships. And the ship that my battalion went on with the division was a ship that was captured in New York. It was the sister ship to the Rex. It was a luxury line that they converted to a troop carrier. It was named the USS Heritage. And we loaded it. Coming back it was seven days, and going across it was fourteen days. The reason it was fourteen days was because you could only go as fast as the slowest ship. They loaded 10,000 troops on this, and if we ever got hit, the American people, they would have been walking the streets screaming too. You know "stop this war" like they did in Vietnam. We became the flagship and they put us in the center of fifty various boats. And they had destroyers running around the outside. And you saw off in the horizon flames and things that we figured were tankers and freighters. So we were very lucky we did get into Wales. I guess that ended.

(Clarification on previous questions) I didn’t feel that it was justified (Japanese Internment Camps). There were Italians there and Russians, every nationality, and race you could think of.

Q: But you didn’t know about it until after you got back?

Mr. Slawsby: Yeah, I didn’t know until I got back. The American, I think some of them knew about it, especially the ones that were around the camps. Like the German people said they didn’t know about the holocaust places like Aushwitz and other various camps. I did see one prisoner of war camp that we relieved. I did see another one that was west of Munich. I think it was Dachau, but we didn’t get into the camp. We just saw these people in striped pajamas that didn’t really look like human beings. And that was enough get you to cry. The Japanese, yeah they did a lot of damage to a lot of peoples that they captured, they killed them. But they didn’t genocide anybody in particular. With the Japanese Americans, it had nothing to do with their heritage. There were people that wanted to win wars and they didn’t and during the time that they were ahead at points. Where they captured a lot of people and treated them badly. I think the Japanese were more vicious than the Germans, although the Germans gassed people. Being Jewish, I felt it more. A lot of these people were Jewish and a lot of them were gypsies a lot of them were catholic priests. And they didn’t agree with them so they just killed them. And it was genocide basically. The Japanese, unfortunately for eighteen years they were supplying me with fish before I retired. And I got to meet a lot of them. And they didn’t seem to be as viscous, but I guess they were. They decapitated soldiers and they treated prisoners of war similarly to the Germans. People that they were supposed wipe off the face of the earth because of one mad man. You say which are easier to absorb or to remember? I don’t like either of them. Although I have gotten to meet a lot of Japanese that I do like, now. We did a lot of business in Tokyo and I went to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And I saw the devastation of the atomic bomb. And I met a lot of nice people. And you wonder, how did they do these kinds of things? People like that. You know it like us. We were told to shoot. If you had to kill people you killed them. And if you had to bomb them you’d bomb them. The air corps killed many people. Dropping bombs on cities. And the Germans did too. That’s how I felt about it and that’s how I still feel about it. They weren’t nice but I think the Japanese people were more honorable. It was their heritage to be polite and to be honorable. And then the war was over and everyone you talked to didn’t have anything to do with it. Although we had a group, six of them that had come to my office one time (I ended up as president), and I swore that one of the men that swore he didn’t understand English, did understand English. Cause they were using an interpreter in my office and, we talked after and decided he must have been one of the lead bomber going into Pearl Harbor. He looked like he was a soldier with a wiffle hair cut and he’s kind of a tall good-looking man. We never said it in front of him but we did say it behind their backs.

Q: Did you lose friends and family during the war?

Mr. Slawsby: Yes. Friends in the service and friends from high school. And relatives, we don’t know what happened to them in Europe. Basically, my mother’s father and mother, we have a feeling we know what happened to them during the war. We think they died during the war.

Q: What is your most memorable experience?

Mr. Slawsby: Unfortunately it was those children. Whether you call that as part of the war or not I don’t know. You get used to killing and just to shelling and you get used to seeing body parts around and burning vehicles and burning people, and dead soldiers and dead animals. But when you see live kids and the next minute there gone, that’s a memorable experience.

Q: Were you involved in any welcome home celebrations?

Mr. Slawsby: I was not involved in any welcome home committees. We did do celebrating. But not when we got home.

Q: What was it like to see your family and friends again?

Mr. Slawsby: It was great seeing my family and friends again. I told you about the "Dear John" letter, but that I was able to absorb easily. Do you know what a "dear John" letter is? Well, when you were overseas and the guys would say "oh this is a picture of my girlfriend and we’re gonna get married." They always talked about them. And then they’d get this V-mail which was a type of letter that you wrote on the film. It was easier than sending all this mail back home. And he’d get a letter from his girlfriend saying I’m married or I’m engaged. That was a "Dear John" letter.

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

Mr. Slawsby: I’ll tell you the three things that I really missed. When we were during combat we would sleep in our sleeping bags. If we were lucky enough to find a house that wasn’t too badly destroyed we would sleep there, still in our sleeping bags. In the states we’d sleep on cots before we went over seas. And what I most missed, one was fresh drinking water. The water we would be drinking was water that was treated with chlorine, and it tasted horrible. If you let it dry out in your cup it would turn to white powder on the bottom. That was one of the things I missed, was clear, cold water. Another thing that I missed was white sheets and a pillowcase. The other thing I missed was a toilet seat. I remember a replacement lieutenant come in to see us on the Saar River where we had lost a lot of people. And I was standing with a supply Sergeant in a brick building. And this new replacement came in , and the Sergeant was leaning on a shovel, and the Lieutenant had probably just gotten over from the states and he said to us "could you tell me where the officers latrine is?" And the Sergeant threw the shovel at him and said "where ever you dig it sir."

Q: (clarification) And you maintained contact through the reunions?

Mr. Slawsby: Yeah we have reunions every year. I don’t go to every one of them but I’ve been to a number of them.

Q: What were your reactions to the German atrocities?

Mr. Slawsby: We didn’t’ know what they were. Once we started capturing camps, freeing prisoners, in the camps, that were when we really found out.

Q: How did you react to FDR’s death?

Mr. Slawsby: I think he was a very smart man as far as the war was concerned. I think he did a lot of things he wanted to do with the advice of generals. Unfortunately he died before it was over. It would have been nice if he had seen it. What happened in the end and how we were victorious. I think he was really the best president, to a lot of people. But unfortunately, when I read the book Truman, I do think that president Truman and was the best president that we ever had. I think he was the best. He dropped the atomic bomb, was it right? Morally maybe no. Militarily and strategically yes. Because it was estimated that we would loose if we hadn’t done it. We would have lost between a million and half a million men. And one of them could have been me.

Q: Did you think there would be other wars?

Mr. Slawsby: Yes, I thought there would be other wars. I thought there would be small wars. I thought that the United States would intervene, and they could have successfully won them.

Q: What were some of the lessons of World War 2?

Mr. Slawsby: To make your self aware and knowledgeable, send these spies over let us know what’s going on. Maybe Roosevelt didn’t know about the atrocities that were going on over there in the death camps and the concentration camps. But I have to believe that he did and why he didn’t bomb them and kill them, it would have been a better deal them letting them go through what they did go through. I think he believed, because in 1939, a ship full of Jewish people, on a boat called the St. Louis, it went into three or four different countries. It was a refugee ship. They went to different countries and eventually went back to Germany because nobody wanted to take them in. They died in the concentration camp.

Q: What do you think of today’s generation of younger Americans?

Mr. Slawsby: It was the normal thing to join the army. You were drafted. If you wanted to get into a special corps then you would enlist. It was a different type of war. People were treated differently.

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

Mr. Slawsby: Well we were different. A good time to us was getting out at a quarter of two in the afternoon of high school, and walking down to the soda shop, and turning on the jukebox and doing some jitter bugging. If you had a quarter in your pocket you could buy a soda for a girl and yourself. And to go to a movie on a Saturday night for a date was a big deal. And we were different. I recommend reading one book, everybody. It was written by Tom Brokaw, The Greatest Generation. Going into the army at the time was the thing to do. Going into the army it was quite an experience. It made men out of some people. Some of the guys and women. And some of the guys couldn’t take it, and they cracked under pressure. Was I afraid at times? I was so afraid at times that my whole body would shake. I couldn’t control it. It wasn’t that I was afraid of anything, it was that you had to, you had to be fearful. If anybody said they didn’t believe in God, then they were lying. And if they said they weren’t afraid, they were lying. If you weren’t afraid you were either crazy or you were dead.


Mr. Slawsby tells of a wartime tragedy. (Quicktime)

Mr. Slawsby on fear during battle. (Quicktime)

Mr. Slawsby's Dogtags

Dollar that Liberated France with Mr. Slawsby

Read the Edges of this Bill

Tank Destroyers Patch

Model Tank