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"What am I doing talking to this Hitler clone—in Yiddish!" (Video Interview, 32:08)

   Irwin Robinson
Image of Irwin Robinson
Detail from a photo of Robinson standing at his battle station on the USS Bibb, Atlantic [1943]
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: Coast Guard
Unit: USCGC Bibb (WPG 31)
Service Location: New York; Sandy Hook, Connecticut; New London, Connecticut; Bizerte, Tunisia; Palermo, Italy; Atlantic Ocean; Okinawa Island (Ryukyu Islands); Pacific Theater; European Theater
Rank: Pharmacist's Mate Second Class
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Irwin "Rocky" Robinson was a shipping clerk when he enlisted in the Coast Guard, sweet-talked into that branch by a clever recruiter who saw him standing in a long line to join the Navy. Robinson became a Pharmacist’s Mate aboard the lead ship in a convoy, with the only doctor for miles and miles around. Their patients ranged from a buddy with an inflamed appendix to a German prisoner whom Robinson, a New York Jew, was able to communicate with in Yiddish. He saw action in North Africa, where he attended services in a historic temple during the High Holy Days; Sicily; and in the Pacific, where they dodged kamikaze planes. In his spare time, Robinson did a little boxing, which is how he earned his nickname.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (7 clips)
»Complete Interview  (41 min.)
  Photos
»Photo Album  (19 photos)
 Creative Works
»Poem by Robinson, "Sea Duty" [4/1944]
 Memoirs
»Selection from memoir relating to Robinson's war experiences
 Official Documents
»Official memo announcing combat awards to the U.S.S. Bibb crew [12/30/1945]
 Other Materials
»View List (3 items)
More like this
»They Also Served: Coast Guard and Merchant Marine
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (7 items)
Pharmacist's Mate on ship; went to Columbia College of Pharmacy, worked in hospital in New London, CT; enlisted; shipping clerk at time; went to enlist in Navy; long line; Coast Guard recruiter talked him into going with a smaller service--better chance to advance —and a shorter line; training at Manhattan Beach; Coast Guard had boxing program; Jack Dempsey was involved; lead ship on two convoys, one to Bizerte, North Africa, the other to Palermo, Sicily; converted to communications ship, took on admiral; sailed to Pacific in preparation for invasion of Japan; kamikaze attacks off Okinawa; doctor from their ship transported to burning ship; just as he boarded the distressed vessel he slipped and suffered fatal injuries. (04:45) In Africa for the High Holy Days; went with three other sailors to temple in Bizerte; the atmosphere was reminiscent of Biblical times. (00:49) Used a code in letters he wrote to communicate with his mother and with a buddy serving in the Army; he was able to tell them where he was going, had a rendezvous with his Army pal in Hawaii because of this communication method. (00:58)
Anchored at sea when he heard of the Hiroshima bombing; typhoon hit in the month after the Armistice; they rode it out; devastation in the harbor of Yokohama wrecked much of Japanese fleet; he compares it to “divine wind” from Japanese history which is the literal meaning of the word “kamikaze.” (02:05) Went into the service as a kid; when it was over, he was mature; advice to young seamen; admiring of captain who got them through the typhoon; his battle station was right next to anti-aircraft guns; that led to hearing loss. (02:52) Assisting in emergency appendectomy aboard ship; doctor had never performed an operation; Robinson and other men assisting also inexperienced; used packets of sulfa drug which had just arrived; patient recovered; he was Robinson’s manager and trainer for his boxing matches; called Robinson 20 years later to invite him to reunion; told Robinson's wife that Rocky had saved his life; only ship in their convoy with a doctor, so patients were transferred to them, including a German prisoner with a Hitler mustache; Robinson spoke a little Yiddish and could communicate with him. (04:52)
War is a shared experience in different degrees; one of his buddies spent the war in Hawaii; another was in Guadalcanal for 3 weeks and came back an emotional wreck; one guy from his neighborhood died in Belgium, a violinist whose brother also played violin, at Radio City Music Hall; the experience of serving in uniform may have been more maturing afterwards than during. (01:11)  
  
 Other Materials (3 items)
Newsclipping: "Passover aboard a Coast Guard Combat Cutter in the Pacific" Magazine article: "Bibb splashed a Jap plane at Okinawa" Article: "How three amateurs and one professional saved John Dragonetti's life!"
  
 

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  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
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