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Interview with Rudolf Michaels [5/29/2003]

Jane Cohen:

Today is Thursday, May 29th, 2003. My name is Jane Cohen, and I'm interviewing Rudolf Michaels. Rudy and I are sitting in a room at the office of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, otherwise known as RSVP, in Sacramento, California. Dave Coy is manning the camera. Rudy, who will soon be 87 years old, was in active duty during World War II from April 11th, 1941 to November 1st, 1945, then stayed with the Reserves until 1974. When he retired, he had earned the rank of major. Rudy has already given us an account of his service with the famed Fifth Armored Division. Today he has another story to tell; one that has received very little attention in the history of the war.

Rudolf Michaels:

{Shows Fifth Armored Division patch.}

Jane Cohen:

From here on in, we will refer to it as "The Ritchie Story." Rudy, how did it all start? Why, when, and where?

Rudolf Michaels:

Let me -- before I answer the question directly, let me do a little preparatory paragraph. Some years ago, a couple of years ago, when the Nisei story -- and that is not the service of the infantry, famous infantry regiment in the European Theatre, but rather the, until that time, unsung story of the interrogators, interpreters, translators, and code breakers in the Pacific Theatre came out, and all of a sudden there were stories and movies about it. And I started thinking that there was a group of people, of whom I was one, that did a very similar set of activities in the European Theatre, and up to that point, unsung. If I had known then what I know now and could do it over again, I would have probably sat down 20 years ago and spent a year at the Pentagon looking at record books. There is a book here, and the reason it's a story is the parallel to the Nisei. And now we get to Africa. Early and during World War I -- which is where most of the strategies and ideas on how to conduct battles came, and most of the ranking officers in the American Army at that time were -- had been, anyway, colonels and lieutenant colonels during that war. That was the -- the mindset, and that was a very static trench warfare. There were prisoners, but there was really not much point. Everybody knew everything about everybody anyway. And then when the American forces first entered, some -- some famous names started to show up. Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton began to participate in the North African Campaign between the British against first the Italians, and then the Germans in North Africa, which actually started in '42 or something like that. And eventually, massive numbers of American troops, a whole Army Corps was sent there. Highly mobile, tanks, armored. And all of a sudden -- and this was a wide area, from Casablanca to Cairo, and there were no roads. There was desert, and people were all over the place. And all of a sudden people kept prisoners, and it turned out they needed to be asked questions. And also, the mindset, the early mindset was that interrogations should be conducted by commissioned officers and -- who usually didn't speak the language. So there had to be translators, which not only slowed down the process, but also invariably losses in the translation. And so more or less, virtue born from necessity, some German-speaking noncommissioned officers were pulled together to become interrogators. They had had no formal training. It was all seat-of-your-pants, but you learn by doing. And the essence of it was then developed -- probably even in those earlier days, '42, '43 -- that one of these days not too far off, there would be an invasion of Europe and that people would be needed. And these people would have to be trained, and that idea took shape. There was an abandoned WPA camp in the mountains that divide Southern Pennsylvania and Northern Maryland, the Blue Ridge Mountains, called -- which was then given the name of Camp Ritchie. And a little Army post, 5,000 -- which is tiny in that framework -- was set up. The people from North Africa and some "cadre-on" (ph) officers were brought in to establish lesson plans, quarters, mess hall, all that other stuff. And then a class was formed, and the first course of instruction was developed, and it became a regular thing. And almost without exception, my guess, much of this is purchased -- not guesses exactly, but estimates and impressions. Probably 98 percent of the people who went through this course and eventually became interrogators were native-speaking German/Jewish soldiers who were born in Germany or Austria, lived a good part of their lives there, and then came to the United States, as I did, and became members of the Army. It was Army, not Armed Forces. In this case, it's all Army. And they formed classes, and most of the instructors were high-ranking noncommissioned officers who had been in Africa. It was a most intense training. 13 weeks including field exercises, practice interrogations. They crammed us with statistical data. We knew, by heart, the table of organization of every military unit in the Russian, Italian, British, German armies, and those were our tools. And then when our training was finished, the graduates were formed into teams of six. They were called IPW teams. Two officers and four enlisted: One master sergeant, who was the chief interrogator; two staff sergeants, who were the interrogators; and a corporal, who was also a German speaker, but a helper, a helper-outer. And these teams were then sent to Europe. There was a headquarters there, which was called MIS, Military Intelligence Service. E-T-O-U-S-A. We pronounced it "a-tow-sa" (ph). And that's where we were, quote, "assigned." And that's where we went, and from there we were -- there was some processing, and then the teams were sent off to become part of combat divisions or other organizations. I was in the 16th Class. I think altogether there must have been something like 1,000 people who were trained to do this, this work, and the story has never been told to this day. I knew some of them after the war because they lived here and, they were friends of mine, and some I've bumped into. And then there is one particular friend of mine, who lives in Bethesda now, whom -- with whom I got in touch with when I had this idea, and he made some major contributions. His name now is Dr. Morris Parloff, Ph.D, who is a clinical psychologist of great repute, but that's another story. Later on, I'm going to talk about, what did we do after the war? And so I had some source material. It is anecdotal and episodic and randomly chosen. I picked up a couple of stories with that, knowing full well it's not the whole story. And there -- we're talking about six or eight people here, when there were probably a thousand. And that's why I'm here today: To talk -- try to talk a little bit about that and put that on record.

Jane Cohen:

I will now -- you -- at this point in your narration here, you have graduated, right, from the training school?

Rudolf Michaels:

Well, that's what -- I was trying to say what happened.

Jane Cohen:

Uh-huh. RUDOLF: Yes, that's right. But they found, when they started looking -- "they," when the military started developing the idea, they had to find eligible students. And on every single solider's records, on this big card there was a little note whether he had any language skills, or she. So it was very easy to find out. And I don't know how it was organized, but recruiting teams were sent out by somebody. And the next thing I knew, I was doing something altogether different, and somebody comes and I get -- I'm interviewed. I'm not told why. "Fill out this questionnaire." And a couple of weeks later, orders assigning me to Camp Ritchie, Maryland for this, for this course. Some --

Jane Cohen:

Already --

Rudolf Michaels:

Excuse me.

Jane Cohen:

Oh, excuse me. Already then you had something kind of extra special in common with your fellows, since many of you had come from Germany; isn't that right?

Rudolf Michaels:

I didn't know that until I got there.

Jane Cohen:

Right.

Rudolf Michaels:

There was a rumor, probably not through -- that in Richie, you couldn't get a promotion unless you had a German accent.

Jane Cohen:

I see.

Rudolf Michaels:

98 percent at least, of the people, were native speakers. But here again, great differences in level. One of the sergeants in my own unit, eventually -- I'm skipping ahead a little here -- was a very, very bright young man who came to the United States with his parents when he was 12 years old. Went to high school and college, a couple years of college in New York. Spoke beautiful, unaccented, totally colloquial 12-year-old German. When he spoke German, he was a kid. When he spoke English, he was a 22-year-old college boy. The level of vocabulary was quite different, but the courses overcame that. By the time they graduated, they knew how to talk to prisoners of war. One of my favorite stories -- most of them were guys, were men, but during the practice interrogations that we had -- which were realistically staged. You sat in a place very much like the ones we eventually developed, and they brought in a prisoner, the MPs. And the prisoner sat down, and the prisoner was coached to react differently depending on how the interrogator approached him or her. And the idea was to get them talking and to keep them talking, and not to offend them or make them shut up or scare them to death or anything like that. And there were lots of different techniques. And I remember one was a young woman from Frankfort, young Jewish Corporal in the wax, and they bring her in. And I'm the interrogator, and it turns out she was captured -- she was a telephone switchboard operator who, in her head, had unit names and telephone numbers like a little living telephone book.

Jane Cohen:

Oh.

Rudolf Michaels:

I found out later -- I got her to talking, but I found later that if you made her unhappy, she just would begin to cry and not tell you anything. And those were the lessons we were taught that we were later able to use. It was very realistic, very realistic. They had patrols in German uniforms there at night when we went out and so forth and so on. And then, as I said, we were sent to England. In my case, a little -- we ended up in Normandy with the Third Army just before the breakout. I joined the Fifth Armored, still in England, went across the Channel with them.

Jane Cohen:

Could I go back, for just a minute, to Camp Ritchie? Were the people there, the other -- the other recruits, the people who'd been recruited, about your age? Were they all young? Had they been in the United States long or --

Rudolf Michaels:

Well, that varied a great deal. Ernie, the 12-year-old --

Jane Cohen:

Yeah.

Rudolf Michaels:

-- had been there 10 years.

Jane Cohen:

I see.

Rudolf Michaels:

I had been there five. Many were citizens. All of them were citizens by that time. There were some flaws in -- in the recruiting process. Every now and then, say, they would send somebody there that had -- didn't even have basic training. I'll have to come back to that a little bit. Every now and then, they would send somebody there who spoke very good German, but not very good English, and you had to be bilingual. Not in order to interrogate the people, but to get the information on to -- to the non-German speaking people who would or would not be able to use it. The educational level varied a great deal. The IQ level varied a great deal. One story was really a tragic story. There was a young man -- it's an anecdote, but it's a Ritchie anecdote -- who was a professional musician. He was a cellist and played in some orchestra in Germany. Young, you know. We were all in our 20s. Maybe 19 to 25, 6, somewhere. Some college graduates. Anyway, this fellow was a musician who was totally unaware of the real world around him. And so he immigrated, and he found a job with the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, where you don't have to speak. You know, you just read music and play it nicely, and that's how you make your living. And this young man gets drafted. And whoever looks at his resume sees he speaks fluent German, and he sends him to Cambridge. No basic training, nothing. In the first place, he didn't speak English very well. And in the second place, he didn't know a platoon from a regiment from the Atlantic Ocean. He had no concept at all. He had never seen or held a firearm. And he kept on flunking everything. This would put -- why they don't -- didn't send him back in the first place, I don't know. But he went through a couple of classes, a week or two, and became so despondent that he jumped out of the window of one of the hotels. Fortunately, he had not kil himself or hurt his hands. He broke a leg, they mustered him out, and he went back to Chicago and started playing the cello again. So it has a relatively happy ending, but it was one of the examples of the -- the assignments were sometimes hard to -- hard to figure out.

Jane Cohen:

Also, before you leave Camp Ritchie -- I think we're used to thinking of interrogation as -- well, we think of our men being interrogated, and we're worried that they're suffering from brutal treatment and so forth. But you mentioned that you were not to frighten them and not to -- so somehow there were no -- there was nothing terroristic about your training?

Rudolf Michaels:

Not physically. We -- there were ways of encouraging to talk, and usually the less comfortable people are -- for example, often in the field, when they were freshly -- freshly captured, we wouldn't let them take a bathroom break until we were finished up. "Can I go now?" "Not yet," and that would get them to talk. One of my -- they were all -- they were -- all German prisoners in the European Theatre that I ever knew or heard about were deadly afraid of the Russians. They were also afraid of the French because they feared revenge there. They didn't trust the British, and by and large, they were glad, if they had to be prisoners of war, to be in American hands, by and large. They did not really have the indoctrination that we have here, rank -- name, rank, and serial number. And in addition to that, each of them was required to carry a little booklet, a personal ID booklet that had all kinds of things in it that would have been classified here. Prior service and where and medical history and things like that. We were taught how to read those, and the first thing you did -- it's like when you go to a clinic, they take your weight and your pulse and your blood pressure. The first question always was, "Let me see your" -- they called it a "Soldbuch," a pay book. And you looked at the Soldbuch before you asked them Question One because you -- you had a head start on them. Every now and then, we'd get one who really wouldn't talk, and then that was it. Maybe later, someplace else somebody got them to talking, but we were -- we left them alone. We did occasionally -- when we had time, we would play this game of threatening them that we would send them to Russia. And if there was any reluctance before that, that was usually the end of it. Why they didn't catch it? Now, most of the time, they were nervous, you know, and afraid. My -- the 12-year-old that I mentioned earlier, we would usually often work as a team when we had a place to sit and so forth, which you didn't always have. And he would sit there with a clipboard, and we'd do this good cop/bad cop bit. And if the man became reluctant on me --

Jane Cohen:

Were you the bad cop or good cop?

Rudolf Michaels:

I was the main interrogator. I was the bad cop in those situations. I would turn to him and say in German, "Sergeant Benario, do we need any more people for the next transport to send prisoners to the Russians?" And he would lick his fingers and flip through a couple of pieces of paper and say, "Yeah, we need about eight more, sir." Total fixing, you know, but it softened them up. That probably -- I don't think it's an outright violation of the Geneva Conventions, but there were pressure points that we knew about and applied. And if it worked, fine, and if it didn't work, there was no brutality ever. No physical excesses of any kind, other than not letting them go potty.

Jane Cohen:

Well, that -- that was minor compared to the kinds of things we --

Rudolf Michaels:

It's --

Jane Cohen:

-- witnessed on the television, isn't it?

Rudolf Michaels:

Oh, yes, yes, yes.

Jane Cohen:

Well, I interrupted you. I think now you've graduated, and you are in England. Is that -- is that where we are at this point?

Rudolf Michaels:

Right. And another hitch in the communication system, a malfunction, if you will, was that they -- at Ritchie we were told unequivocally that, "You people -- we spent a lot of time and money training you people. You are not really all that expendable. You are not to -- when you are assigned to a combat unit, you are not to be sent any further in terms of organization, any further down than a regimental level." In other words, not battalion or platoon or front line or patrols. Right? Right. Well, the people in the Fifth Armored Division didn't know that. And as a matter of fact, if our experience there is any example, nobody knew who we were or what to do with us at the beginning. In every case I know of, this -- that ended in a matter of days. And then they started assigning us to jobs that were not necessarily consistent with what we had been told when we were training. And one of the things I regret to this day is that we were never trained to be combat soldiers at all. Some of us learned the hard way. Some of us never had to. The only thing we did was we had these ugly submachine guns that you couldn't hit the broadside of a barn, yeah, at 50 yards. Totally useless as -- as combat weapons. Fine to defend yourself. If somebody rushed you, you could put 19 holes into them, you know, in a minute, but totally useless. And probably there must have been many, many other cases parallel to my own experience where you suddenly became a combat solider, whether you wanted to or not. My friend, Dr. Parloff, who was on another IPW team, tells a story that once he got into a major German city before it had been really captured and occupied, and he and his sergeant are blissfully driving down the street. This was in Wiesbaden, which later became a focal point of the American forces. Driving through this town, and here is a platoon or something of German infantry marching down the street with a captain in command and fully armed. And here, the two interrogators, you know, in a Jeep. And he said he knew -- he was not trained for combat either, you know. He knew if they turned around and tried to drive away, they'd get devastating fire. So he said to the sergeant, "Drive to the head of the column," and they stopped and he got out and he spoke. He was American-born, college. He already had a college degree, but he spoke beautiful, beautiful German. One of the few. And he stopped and he stood in front of the commanding officer of this outfit that had them outnumbered, I don't know, 20 or 30 to 1 and said, "Captain, the city is in American hands, and you are now a prisoner of war. Drop your arms. Tell your soldiers to drop your arms right now. Do you understand?" "Yes." "Resistance is pointless. When I leave, you will take your troops to the city hall or courthouse or someplace like that where they will stack their weapons, and then you will wait until you can surrender to the Americans in due course and in due order. Understood?" And the German clicked his heels and said, "Yes, sir," and Maury got back in his Jeep and drove away. And a couple of weeks later, he found out that when the regular ground forces actually came into the town, they found inexplicably, in the main entry to the city hall, dozens of stacked rifles. Because apparently the captain had spread the word, and all the other people, whom he had not even seen or of whom he didn't even know, just went, you know, and threw down, totally disarmed themselves, and then sat on their behinds until they could formally surrender. That happened quite a bit. Today, I really don't want to talk me. That was nice last week. I want to talk about the Ritchie guys. Now, another thing that happened, Maury -- I call him Maury -- Dr. Parloff never interrogated a prisoner in the field in his entire career. And that's another thing they didn't teach us at Ritchie. These civil -- the matter of bringing some kind of order back into places that had been captured, getting the water to run again, and that's -- they used us a lot for that kind of stuff. I knew about me, and I knew about him. Now, the first big German city that was captured, that fell into Allied -- in this case, American hands, was the City of Aachen, A-a-c-h-e-n, which is to the west of the Rhine. More famous than large or very important because Charlemagne had his -- it was his capitol in the late 9th -- 8th and early 9th century, and a beautiful cathedral there, which he built. But it had -- I forget the number. Probably 100, 200,000 people. There was a fierce battle. Many of them were -- many of the civilians were evacuated, and eventually the military gained control. And knowing this, there was a team formed, which included my friend and another person whose name I will mention later on, and another double handful of people. And they were sent to Aachen to try to establish some sort of a civilian responsible political party that could actually carry out the things that were needed to put Humpty Dumpty together again. And when he got there, when they got there, they found out that the FBI was already there, a double handful of agents, who tried to speak to the population in French. Because the other name of the City of Aachen is Aix-la-Chapelle, Aix with a church, as distinguished from ?Aix-en-Provence?, which is a spa, the baths. And somehow these idiots thought that, given that name, French was the local language. The second that this other team showed up, the German speakers, they immediately did whatever paperwork there was to switch roles, and they became the team that did what later became a prototype for the rest of Germany as -- as we moved in. The experiences were recorded, some procedures were established and then modified, and so forth and so on. But anyway, that was the team. And they never taught us that at Cambridge, you know, before that. And because he was a psych major in college and spoke such good German, Maury was assigned -- rather than as an interrogator, he was loaned out to a psychological warfare effort in -- still in England, I think. Yes. And a couple of -- I'll drop a few names. A couple of the people who were involved in this later became well-known, and one of them was a man who had become a captain. I don't know how. His name was Hans Habe, H-a-b-e, and he was a published author. And he was chosen to head this, but there were programs to be developed and ideas to be developed and so forth and so on. That's Part One. I don't know how long he worked on that, but that was a fairly substantial block of time. Now, Chapter Two of that particular story is that my beloved Fifth Armored Division liberated the Duchy, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the City of Luxembourg. There is, to this day, a street named after it there. And the minute we moved in, I knew -- I don't know how many other people knew, but I knew, from my own childhood, there was a powerful radio transmitter in Luxembourg which was, for a long time, a neutral country. And right in the middle of Europe, people listened to it secretly until it became -- until it was captured by the Germans. But lots of other people on our side knew this also. And I can still remember, the minute we moved in there, Habe and his group went in. And I don't know that transmitter was off the air for more than 24 hours when they started using it for broadcasts, which come under the heading of propaganda, but, you know -- anyway, telling our side. And one of the people, "What did you do after the war, Daddy?" One of the people I -- Habe was not universally very greatly liked. He was distant and a little -- I'm not going to use any adjectives here. Not very good with people. But one of the men who worked for him, he had a -- some professional writers on his team, people who did that for a living. And one of whom later became, if not famous, at least well-known. His name was Joseph Wechsberg. He was a Viennese, who came to the United States after some real problems, and graduated from Camp Ritchie. And after the war, he began having stories published in the New Yorker regularly. And eventually, a couple of books were put together, anthologies with his stories in it. "Looking for a Bluebird" was one of them. So he became at least well-known, if not famous afterwards. I knew him quite well at the time, and when we were shipped off overseas, his wife and my wife were both there when we got on the train. And his wife was out of control with tears, so my wife took her by the hand and they took a taxi, and so we had another little connection there. Now, when the war ended, we were substantially employed to do whatever it took to bring some kind of normal living to Germany. As you may know or as we will recall, Germany was divided into essentially four sections under the Altar Agreement. One to be held by the Russians, one by the Americans, a small one by the French. People have not forgotten this. And the British, of course. Now, one of my boyhood friends who immigrated to the United States years before I did, early, early on -- his name was Joseph Bromberg -- showed up one day at Ritchie. We hadn't seen each other in ten years, and he was a linguistic genius. He spoke really fluent French, Italian, German, Russian, and Polish. Talk about invaluable. He also wore water-glass thickness eyeglasses, and he was short. And of course, what would, in their infinite wisdom, the people at Camp Ritchie do? They assigned him to an airborne corps headquarters. I don't know what -- I don't -- I know he never saw combat as such. Although the corps included the famous 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions, but he was with the unit above that, the corps headquarters. And the people who ran the corps headquarters, you know, the second they hit Germany they knew what a treasure they had in Sergeant Bromberg. And he had all kinds of jobs. Put the newspaper back into business, compile a printed history of the corps and the divisions. And so with all kinds of important and interesting and noteworthy things that they never thought about when they sent him to become a prisoner of -- to become an interrogator, you see? A few of them, a few of my fellow graduates, actually were assigned to airborne divisions. One of them was killed in action, and you really had no say. I think in most cases -- Let me change that a little bit.

Jane Cohen:

Can I ask a question, though?

Rudolf Michaels:

{Nods.}

Jane Cohen:

Would it -- would language be in any way effective in an airborne division?

Rudolf Michaels:

Sure. They took prisoners.

Jane Cohen:

Oh. Oh, I see. Okay. I think of them as flying, you know.

Rudolf Michaels:

Well, they come down and fight.

Jane Cohen:

I see. Okay.

Rudolf Michaels:

That's the real reason for their existence. The real reason for their existence is not to fly around in airplanes, but to parachute toward the earth and --

Jane Cohen:

I see. They're parachutists. All right.

Rudolf Michaels:

Now -- but he was not in one of those divisions. He had to go through jump school, but I don't think he ever had a shot fired at him in earnest. But he became extremely valuable and an important link in the immediate postwar efforts, as did Lieutenant Dr. Parloff. And departing from my premise, in a modest way, so did I. And I'm sure many, many others. Numbers. I wish I had had time to put some intern to work in Washington and get a count. The best I can do is an educated guess, and I'm basing the guess on two sets of figures: One, the number of teams that were actually -- the number of classes that actually went through this 13-week course. And there were about 50 people in each, and I was in the 16th, and there were a few more afterwards. So give and take, a thousand people. Which in the scheme of things, is not all that many, but when you look at the aggregate achievements and the contribution that they made, I think it's worth putting it on the record. That's what I'm trying to do here today. The other set of numbers, my -- I did a little research, yes, or at least I tried to do a little research. I have a book on World War II, and I tried to find out how many fighting divisions we actually had in Italy, Sicily, Italy, and Southern France, and then Northern Europe. I couldn't find that. My guess is somewhere between 20 and 25. Each was assigned two IPW teams, 12 people. That comes to something like 500. And again, based on my general knowledge and experience, about that same kind of number doing other things. Like Lieutenant Parloff, for example. And so I guess somewhere around a thousand is probably a good number. It may be more. I don't think it's any less.

Jane Cohen:

About how many prisoners did you interrogate, do you think?

Rudolf Michaels:

I don't remember. I never -- we never kept count. Sometimes you had a mass interrogation. I remember one time actually under fire. There was a whole little squad, 10 or 12, you know, that we just went down the line and quickly -- I don't know. Probably -- I don't know. I wouldn't even guess. I wouldn't even guess, but substantial number.

Jane Cohen:

Um-hum. What kind of information would you get from them?

Rudolf Michaels:

Well, my pride and joy -- if I may, I'm going to depart again and talk about me for a minute.

Jane Cohen:

Okay.

Rudolf Michaels:

Well, no. Before I do that, as I said a little bit earlier, going in, the people who ran the combat end of the units didn't know what to do with us or even who we were. Now, in the Fifth Armored, for example, there were three commons, three people who spoke fluent German and French. Mikum (ph), the commanding officer, Lieutenant Bronich, who was from Vienna originally and then studied at the University of Grenoble. Spoke beautiful French, and then graduated from Artillery Officer, Canada school, and became a Piper Cub pilot. There was an interrogator with wings, believe it or not. And then I was fluent in all three languages, and the third one was a sergeant in the intelligence section of one of the regimental-type units, who was an advertising executive in New York who was Swiss-born. Spoke excellent German and French before he came to the United States, and then became highly literate in English, and that was it. They soon found out, and then they began to -- putting us where we could be useful, not necessarily in accordance with the guidelines that we were given at the school.

Jane Cohen:

Were you -- I think you were going to tell us your --

Rudolf Michaels:

Oh, yeah.

Jane Cohen:

-- an interesting experience of interrogation.

Rudolf Michaels:

One of the first -- now, as they didn't know what to do with us, I had never been within touching distance of an armored -- that's not quite true. We saw armored units during the Louisiana Maneuvers, but I had never touched a tank. I didn't know the difference between an armored personnel carrier and a weapons carrier or a self-propelled gun or a tank. You learned very, very quickly. Most infantry divisions were divided into regiments and then battalions and companies. The armored, except for the First, Second, and Third, were not. They had -- as we mentioned the other day, they had nine major battalions, one armored infantry, one armored field utility, one tank. And then some other troops, and they were organized in what was called combat commands. Essentially, regimental-sized units. And when we joined -- when we joined the Third -- the Fifth Armored, they divided each of our little six-man teams into two, and one was with the division headquarters, and one with each of the three combat commands, one officer and two enlisted. And Bronich and I and Benario, the 12-year-old, we were the -- we were the team. And then I was often -- I was going to say "invited" -- asked, told to work with the recon people, the reconnoissance. And that -- from the calvary days, that was, in those days, still called a squadron, and the smaller units were called troops. F Troops, remember? So I spent a lot of my time with them eventually. Now, we found out soon that the tankers were really, really nervous about that high-powered German gun that could be used alternatively as an anti-tank gun and also straight up into the sky as an anti-aircraft weapon. 90-millimeter high-velocity murderous weapon. And again, we knew about this in the abstract and in theory. And then very early on, I found out that in France they hid some of these guns in haystacks, and they waited until somebody came within firing range. And one hit by one of those and that tank was history. From that moment on, whenever the lead units spotted a haystack -- mind you now, this is summer in France. Lots of haystacks. And we traveled on roads most of the time, on highways and roads. Whenever the lead unit spotted a haystack, we had this tracer ammunition, which was incendiary. They'd fire a handful of tracers into that haystack and send it up in flames. And how many of them had guns in them, I don't know, but the tankers felt a lot better knowing that they weren't getting shot at from that and that they were not at risk. The other thing, when you're sitting still a little bit, that universally the people we worked for really found extremely useful was the location and pattern of minefields. I don't have to explain why that was important. My friend, Maury, wrote a couple of things that broke his heart at the time, and I had one experience. Looking back now, as an elderly, peaceful, nonviolent citizen, I can't understand how I ever did that. But one time, when we were sitting kind of -- sitting still, we got a prisoner. And I found out that there was sort of a little front line on both sides, and the Germans were there in foxholes. And I -- and I found out that at some time everyday, as clockwork -- they had no warm food, of course, there -- a truck would come from their headquarters and bring hot food to the people in -- along this. {Indicates.} This wasn't a very big deal, you know. Maybe a quarter of a mile or something like that with a couple of dozen foxholes in it, but maybe 100 people. And each of the little groups would send one man with four or five or six muskets to get the food and then bring it to the people in this little immediate -- and I found that out. The commanding officer of the field artillery battery came to me. He says -- {Motions with hand to come here.} And we went on that hill, on the top of the hill with a map and some aerial photographs that I had. And we pinpointed the place where the truck would come, and we had field glasses. And this man had his gun zeroed in on that, these artillery pieces. I don't want to start telling you what the difference between a gun and a howitzer and all that is. I learned that the hard way and quickly also. And when the truck showed up and the guys with the muskets showed up, maybe 20 people altogether, he said, "Fire." And the salvo went on and pulverized them all. Just smithereens. I felt good about it then. I really don't anymore, but that was part of the job. And I cannot now understand -- well, of course, I can understand it, but it is so contrary to the rules I live by now that it's strange to think about. On the other hand, I know some of the -- some of this was based on other experiences. The worst thing that can happen to you, when you're in a combat situation, is to get strafed by an airplane. Because even if you're flat on the ground with no cover, you know he's shooting at you. There may be 2,000 other people all over the place, but he'd -- Now, briefly about what happened later. We all know about the GI Bill. I kept in touch with three or four of my Richie friends. Two of them because they lived in the Bay -- or in this area, in this part of the world, and one because we had become close friends. Two because we had become close friends. Now, Maury became a highly-regarded clinical psychologist. He headed up a major unit of the National Institutes of Health, did some earth-shaking research on couch sessions, psychotherapy. He told me about another man, of whom I had no knowledge at all, and his name was Schifter, Richard Schifter. He was part of the team that went into Aachen. He later became a lawyer and a very high member of the upper echelons of the State Department, a special assistant to President Clinton. And he is alive and well lives in -- near Bethesda, Maryland, and these two are still in touch.

Jane Cohen:

And we're very glad you are alive and well, and we wish that our time had not just about run out, so --

Rudolf Michaels:

Could we have one more?

Jane Cohen:

I think we would like -- yes, certainly, if we can see. We have what, about -- we have about --

Rudolf Michaels:

Okay. Now, here is another one. {Holds up booklet with picture on it entitled "Connections 2001."} This was a man named Kurt Klein, who became famous after the war because he was one of the people who liberated a camp, including a young woman who had not had a bath in three years. Long story short, fell in love, got married, and then became lecturers here in the United States. They came to Sacramento. I spoke with them, and didn't get to know them, but at least went up and says, "You're a Ritchie Boy?" Sure enough. Then the next question was, "What class were you?" Anyhow, he passed away a few months ago. She is still -- they did a TV show one her life. They wrote a book, and so he also achieved some fame. And then there was another one that came out of the woodwork not very long ago when something I had written was published where I mentioned my interrogator experience, and he became a college professor in San Diego. And so we got into touch and started telling each other stories, and Walter Gerson was his name. So many of them went on to extremely useful and productive lives later on, and I'm sure every single one of us wouldn't trade the experience for the world.

Jane Cohen:

That was a wonderful interview.

Dave Coy:

Yes. Thanks. Can you show that?

Rudolf Michaels:

I pulled it out a little while ago, but I'll do show and tell. {Displays Fifth Armored Division patch.}

Jane Cohen:

Well, I think it was a group of remarkable young men to begin with, and their experiences were remarkable, and so they became even more remarkable. It was --

Dave Coy:

That's the patch of the Third Army?

Jane Cohen:

That's the patch of the --

Rudolf Michaels:

-- Fifth Armored Division.

Jane Cohen:

-- the Fifth Army Division.

Rudolf Michaels:

Armored Division.

Jane Cohen:

Armored Division, right. Thank you very much. This will be a really worthwhile interview for scholars and generations to come. (Interview concluded.)

 
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  October 26, 2011
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