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Interview with Robert Joseph Auer [4/7/2004]

Tom Swope:

This is the oral history of World War II veteran Robert Joseph Auer. Mr. Auer served in the U.S. Army with the 96th Division. He served in the Pacific Theater and his highest rank was corporal. I'm Tom Swope and this interview was recorded at Mr. Auer's home in Willoughby, Ohio, on April 7 of 2004. Bob was 80 at the time of this recording. Where were you living in 1941?

Robert Joseph Auer:

East Cleveland.

Tom Swope:

East Cleveland? Were you still in high school at that point?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Yes.

Tom Swope:

Do you have specific memories of December 7, 1941?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Not other than the fact that I was in the locker room when it all took place, at Shaw High School, that's where I graduated from.

Tom Swope:

What was your reaction when you heard the news about the attack on Pearl Harbor?

Robert Joseph Auer:

I really didn't have much reaction. I was just bitter naturally. I mean I thought it was a pain in the neck that they should do that, but I didn't have any physical reaction or anything like that. I didn't run out and join the service.

Tom Swope:

Did any of your classmates?

Robert Joseph Auer:

No, no, no. We all wanted to graduate, because we graduated in January of '42 then. And we knew that eventually we would get drafted. And then the day that we were ready -- when they dropped the age and they were going to draft us, I ran down to downtown, I was going to enlist in the Navy, but it was too late. They wouldn't let anybody enlist there for a while, so I ended up in the Army. And that's what happened.

Tom Swope:

So you did enlist in the Army then?

Robert Joseph Auer:

No, I got drafted.

Tom Swope:

You did get drafted?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Yeah.

Tom Swope:

When did you get drafted?

Robert Joseph Auer:

January of '43.

Tom Swope:

In that year between, did you do anything for the war effort on the home front?

Robert Joseph Auer:

January --

Tom Swope:

After you graduated.

Robert Joseph Auer:

I worked as a butcher out at -- in Euclid, Ohio, on 185th. And then at that time, why the people were turning in all their fats and everything, I don't know if you remember that or not, but --

Tom Swope:

I heard that.

Robert Joseph Auer:

-- they used the fat, and we used to pay them for the fat, to bring it in, and then, I guess they processed it into ammunition, I don't know. I, as I say, other than that, no, I wasn't in the -- my dad was one of these air warden guys. But my dad was the one we were worried about getting drafted, because he and my mother had me when they were very young. Well, that's when they dropped the -- they said they weren't going to take any more over 38, and they dropped the age, so they drafted me. So otherwise my dad would have gone before I went or we -- I don't think we could have both been in the service at once, because I believe that if you had one in the service they wouldn't take the breadwinner. I don't know. My dad happened to be the breadwinner then. So it was interesting.

Tom Swope:

Was rationing much of a problem in that first year?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Yeah, I think the gas was rationed, yeah, because my dad always got these -- he worked for Belle Vernon, which was a milk company, big -- took over by Sealtest over at Dukamore(ph), and they used to get gas allocations, the tickets, so many. And it was, yeah, it was gas was all rationed. I don't think anything else was rationed if I can recall. I don't think so.

Tom Swope:

So you were drafted in early '43?

Robert Joseph Auer:

January of '43.

Tom Swope:

When you had to report for induction, was it a tough adjustment to be with guys from elsewhere in the country?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Not me, because I went to Camp Atterbury down in Columbus, and a lot of my friends left with me. We all went together. And then we got dispersed in about a week down there. And then they had, when they were -- when they were dispersing us, we had to go through a line which like on these rides where you ride and they have a height that you go one -- okay, everybody under a certain height went this way and other people went that way. So then naturally we start surmising that we were all going to be MPs because we were the tall ones. And we ended up getting on a train, went up through Canada and out and came down, we didn't know where the hell we were going, and we ended up in Colorado, in Denver. And then they took us out to these barracks, and we still didn't know what was going on. And all of a sudden we were oriented and they told us we were going to be on the mule pack. I didn't even know they had mules in World War II. So we went into World War -- into the city and had to unload the boxcars. And each one of us had to get a mule coming off the boxcar with a -- we didn't know crap about them. But they did have a lot of guys from Missouri, mule skinners, who had an IQ just barely enough to get into the service, but they turned out to be real nice guys, I mean the fact that they didn't have the IQs or anything. And so that's where I ended up, in the mule pack. I don't know if that's what you wanted to know or not.

Tom Swope:

Yes, that's exactly what I want to hear. Tell me more about that. Tell me more about your training.

Robert Joseph Auer:

Well, in the mule track, you learned to take care of -- well, I became what they called an instrument operator. And what I did was I fired -- I was a forward observer -- I fired the Pack Howitzer, which was a 75 Pack Howitzer, and they had -- we carried those on a mule. We had a top part that went on the mule, a bottom part that went on a mule, a tube that went on a mule, and so forth. So every day our daily chore was to walk, I can't remember if it was 20 or 25 miles with the darn mule, rest them every hour, undo the cinch so that they were comfortable. And after you get that all done, clean their feet out, they only had shoes on two feet, then you got to sit down and rest yourself for a few minutes. And we used to have to have those every day, every single day. And then we'd spend all the afternoon learning this and learning that and saddle soaping saddles and all that crap. And then you get all this other education I'm in. You learned to fire your arms, you know, and crawl under the wire and all that crap, all your basic training and that. Every morning we had to get out in the cold weather, because it was cold, and exercise. The first thing we did was exercise in our long johns, and then from then on we just spent our time with the mules. So then we had a bivouac where we had to really -- well, then I'd spend my weekends, if I was off, get a horse and a mule, with a couple of other guys, and we'd go up into the mountains there, catch these trout on pins, for crying out loud, and we just lived a life, a nice outdoor life. But we did that all during the year, too, I mean during the week. So it didn't matter. But it was just the fact that we didn't have anybody over us, that we could just do what we wanted to. And then we went on this maneuvering. And when we were fording the river, we lost so damn many mules that we didn't have any guns we could possibly fire, after we had learned how to fire these 75 Pack Howitzers and all that crap. So that's when they disbanded and we didn't have the guns anymore. I mean we just were a pack outfit. And so I had a choice of going either to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, on a cadre or to ASTP. I had taken the exams and I passed them all, so I went to Nebraska University, that was my star unit, and from there they shipped me up to Wisconsin University. And I thought I had the war by the tail then, boy, I'm in school again, I'm -- because I had started school before I got drafted, too, by the way, I forget to tell you that. So I went up to Wisconsin University, and three months up there and they discontinued the program. Everybody had to take a bus to go to ASTP. So then we took -- and I had three months only, and they disbanded to fill up all the divisions that were going over to the Pacific. So that's how I ended up getting out of the mule pack. And that became the 10th Mountain Division, which is still prevalent, by the way. Then --

Tom Swope:

Was that the Mule Pack Division, too, was it still the 10th?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Uh-huh, yeah.

Tom Swope:

So you went, after the ASTP, you went back with the 10th then?

Robert Joseph Auer:

No, I went with the 96th Infantry Division. Well, you want to jump up now when I get out of Wisconsin? That's all right with me.

Tom Swope:

No. Continue on. I'm just -- I thought you were probably in the 10th because I think I remember you told me that before.

Robert Joseph Auer:

Yeah. Well, it was the 10th Mountain Division, and we all had to take bus to it. I could have had a sergeant's rating going to the cadre, but I decided when I took the tests for ASTP and passed them all, then had to take some more in Nebraska University, I just felt that it was for my own good and I was going to get my education, so. But as it turned out, I ended up as a private to Wisconsin University and had three months, which I got credit for when I came out. So between that three months and the other time that I had before I got drafted, why I went to, on the GI Bill of Rights, and that's when I graduated, got married while I was still in college, had a kid while I was still in college, all those things. But anyhow, that's the story of the mule pack. It wasn't much of a life except that we'd go into Colorado Springs quite often on the weekend, if we got a pass, and you'd rent a room and sleep in on Sunday morning, that was the height of our activities on that time when we didn't go up into the mountains. And I didn't drink at the time so I used to be the guy, the designated guy, to get them all home, or back to a room someplace. And these rooms they rented to you were very, very, just one room with a little wash basin and a little stand in it, you know. And these guys that I learned to really, really liked, these so-called hillbillies, and whatever you want to call them, they would get, they'd get their moonshine from back home, then they'd go into the city and they'd get loaded. And it was cold and we'd get -- most of the bars were down below level, ground level. They'd come up -- even if they were above a level -- and they'd walk out, whoosh, the cold, you know, the minute they hit the cold, they were out. Then that was my job. I had about five of them that I ran around with, and they knew that I was always sober, so I always took care of them. Nice bunch of guys. We called them mule skinners. And then when the weather would get nice, while I was still in the mule pack, we used to have rodeos on the weekend. And these guys would ride those darn mules and they'd kick like mad and everything. And I, being the instrument operator and the forward observer for them, I always got the gentlest mule. And all the mules had numbers on their necks and mine was 393B. And I had to take care of him all the time. But these darn mules, if you'd get their hind legs and holding them, they'd bite you in the butt if you weren't careful, depending on how you were doing them. But because I had the instruments on my mule and the range finders and all that crap, why, when we'd go hiking into the mountains, those were pretty high roads, pretty rough terrain in there, I had these stakes that I used for surveying and so forth, and I used to take -- and you'd hold them, I'd hold the mule's tail in front of me, because they couldn't kick you while they were walking up the hill, then I'd give them a jab every once in a while with a stake, you know, if they were too slouchy, but -- no, we had a -- I had a lot of fun in that period of time, but it was, basically it was just wasted time, you know, as far as I was concerned. That's about the story of the mule pack. I can't remember anything else that we did in there that was interesting.

Tom Swope:

75 Pack Howitzer, that was a mortar?

Robert Joseph Auer:

No, it was an artillery piece.

Tom Swope:

It was a small artillery piece?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Uh-huh. It had a shell about that long, about that round, and then the rear -- actually, what it was was, it had a top sleigh, a bottom sleigh, a tube, a thing that would line up your targets and everything, then a rear sleigh and a rear thing came back like -- it looked like an old-fashioned cannon, exactly what it looked like, only it was in pieces. So they were good little guns, but they were useless. They're probably the equivalent of what the -- we had some black units there who were mechanized and they'd drive by and they had these little, they looked almost the same except they were modern, that they pulled behind them in their Jeeps, you know, so that they were quite outfit. But these guys, again getting back to the moonshiners, they just did not like the Air Corps. And they're constantly in fights with them, God. Yeah, the Air Corps was in, the Academy was in Colorado Springs. And once in a while when we really felt foodacratty(ph) we'd go into Denver, take a train over to Denver, but not very often because it was too expensive. We had our -- well, the one thing was I loved to gamble, or I was always lucky at it, let's put it that way. So if we wanted to go in and go to town, we didn't have enough money, these guys would all put the little bit of money we had together and then I'd go in to one of the barracks where there was a crap game and shoot the craps. And if we won, we were going to walk the town; and if we lost, we just stayed there. So it was fun, I mean. But I was the one, the designated one in order to play poker, but most of the time it was craps. But when I went to Wisconsin University, man, what a change that was. We lived in a frat house right on Lake Mendota. We marched every day to our classes. We'd march to the cafeteria to eat. I did my first ice boating on Lake Mendota. I did my first ice fishing there. I had skied at home. I went down my first slope and out over the lake, well, on the skis, which was quite an experience. Yeah, I had a lot of fun up there. Oh, I also was the -- the fraternity house had one main room where you entered. It had a desk in it and it had its own bathroom and its own bed. It was like a little suite. And that's where the guy who was in charge of the house should stay. So I was in charge of the house. Well, I had it made there. The only problem I had was I was supposed to keep all these guys under control. And on the one side we had a sorority house. And this place went down like this, built on a hill, so it had these windows on the side where you could get in and out. And these guys are constantly sneaking over to the sorority house over there. But I didn't. I never clamped down on them. I let them go. As long as they were doing their homework and all that crap. And we had some good poker games in there. We had -- we were allowed to do that. That's about all I can think of.

Tom Swope:

So after ASTP, you went into the 96th?

Robert Joseph Auer:

96th Infantry Division, yeah.

Tom Swope:

More training with them then?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Oh, yeah, God, that was -- well, because I was the forward observer, I still was attached to the 362nd Field Artillery, that was my -- those were the battalion and my guns and all that crap. But I lived with the Infantry. I went up with the 382nd Infantry, and we left Wisconsin University and we went out to Fort Lewis, Washington. Then we went on down the coast. I never once went back to the 362nd, I lived with the 382nd. And then we went down the coast. And because I was a forward observer, I got to drive a Jeep all the time, drive ahead, which was really nice, you know, and stopped the traffic here or stopped the traffic there, or we could stop in and have ice cream, we could do anything we wanted to. So eventually we went all the way down the coast, and we went to San Diego and took our amphibious training at the Marine camp down there. I can't even remember what the name of the camp was, but it's still there. And that's where --

Tom Swope:

Was Pendleton there?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Yeah, Pendleton, yeah, that's it.

Tom Swope:

Okay.

Robert Joseph Auer:

Yeah, we took all our amphibious training there. And they threw us in the ocean off the piers that go out there and then we had to hit the beaches and all that crap. And then from there, after we -- I don't remember how long we took that, we went over to Hawaii, got some more jungle training. They'd take you out in the middle of the night and drop you off someplace and you're supposed to find your way back. God, it was ridiculous. Well, it wasn't ridiculous, I shouldn't use that term, but it was unnerving as hell, because if the stars weren't out, you couldn't see from here to there, you know. Fortunately most of the time we had a good lit night. So then we took our training there, yeah, basically jungle training. And then we went, got on the boat, and we went to -- and we'd talk. We were supposed to -- well, first we stopped at Iwo Jima so they could -- we could see what the island looked like, where the Marines had taken it and all that crap. Then we went down to Enewetak. And then they announced to us that, at Enewetak, that we were becoming a part of General MacArthur's return to the Philippines. But on the way, for our initial battle, we were going to go to Yap. Fine. So we get on these convoys, and I'm sure a lot of these guys have told you about these convoys, you had to have the curtains on the doors and all that crap. And then they'd try to have movies, so you could go into the movie and be in the movie and watch that. So we went to -- we were on our way to Yap and they decided that it was time to hit the Philippines, so they diverted us. They announced to us that we were going to hit the Philippines. And our objective was to take, the first day, I think it was called Dagami, or something like that, in Leyte. And it was going to be 10 or 12 miles in. Well, we never got off the damn beach for cripe's sake the first day, the first night. And of course, the first night it -- any of us had been in battle. Well, maybe there were a few guys, I don't know, probably the sergeants or somebody had been in battle, but none of us had been in battle. And we just, we dug our foxholes straight down, uncomfortable all night long. Had to have our watches. Every time we'd turn around we were firing, half of us were firing tracers. We didn't even know we had tracer bullets in the damn gun. And then the next morning we got up, all we had was dead caribou. There wasn't a Jap around. We never saw a Jap or anything. Obviously it was just nerves that first night. So then we got into the battles with the Japs and that was on Leyte. I don't know, I don't remember how long we were there. Then finally we start forming up that we were going to hit Okinawa next. So we went up. And on that trip we were on this Liberty ship and they had put the bunks up in the -- they're down in the holes and everything. But we slept up on the deck. And then they had these piers that kept banging against the boat all the time, these portable piers that they put in. And we hit Okinawa on Easter Sunday morning, so they gave us steak and eggs to eat that morning on the ship. And then they couldn't get in, so they dropped us off on all this coral and we hit right in the middle of the island. I'm sure you've heard this before. All the Jap guns were pointing down the island and we hit them up here, behind all these guns. And they didn't have big guns up here. So the first, I'd say probably the first week or 10 days we didn't have any Japanese to worry about. But, oh, the poor guys in the Navy that were still out in that harbor. These kamasaki(ph) planes, you could just watch them. And there was nothing but fire all night long out in that harbor, because they were hitting the Navy, hoping probably to knock the Navy off so we couldn't get any supplies. But then we went down to Okinawa. Then I'm sure you heard about the -- they were planning the invasion of Japan. What they were going to do instead of sending us men in to get shot up and blown up by mines, they were going to send a bunch of cattle in. That was their -- that was the war plan, so. But we never did get up there, we never got up to Japan.

Tom Swope:

So that was the plan is to land cattle on the beach basically?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Yeah, to run them to ex- -- yeah, to blow up the mines and everything instead of human beings. Have you ever seen the, I'm sure you have, that battle of Iwo Jima, the movie?

Tom Swope:

The John Wayne movie?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Well, I don't remember if it was John Wayne or not, but anyhow, it was pretty true to what happened. You could run on that beach and you don't know if you're going to step on a mine or you're not going to step on a mine, I mean it -- so, yeah, they were going to run cattle in.

Tom Swope:

Any other details you want to give me about Okinawa that would be fine.

Robert Joseph Auer:

No. Okinawa was just a -- it was a tough one. It was altogether different than the Philippines. Okinawa was probably, I don't know, it was terrible. First of all, they were hidden in these damn caves so that you always had to get close to them and then get a flamethrower in there to drive them out, and half the time they didn't come out. There's one thing we did on Leyte that we didn't do on Okinawa, that was we used to send our -- we used to go out and looking for targets and the Infantry would take us. And we'd have two BAR men, Browning automatic rifles. Then we'd go out and we'd go behind the Japanese lines even looking for targets for the artillery. Because at this stage of the game, we had -- we could -- we had our own battalion, we had division artillery, we had any division's artillery if we needed it, we had ships that could fire in, and we had air power. So we had one heck of a lot of power that could fall in there. And at the beginning in -- I'll get back to Leyte -- the forward observers are not really thought much of. We sat -- we were out on the outer perimeter all the time. And when you dug in at night, you know, the perimeters, and then we had to fire the shots and lay these salvoes down. Well, after the -- about a week, maybe 10 days of this crap, they made damn sure that the forward observers were in the center of the thing. We didn't have to sit out on the outside of the perimeters anymore. Another thing, and I'm sure these people have told you about this, Japanese were very, very sneaky people. So that you didn't put your strap on your helmet at night. When you were sitting there on guard and so forth, your tie, your -- you left these hanging, so that if they'd come up behind you, they'd pull your hat, they'd choke you to death, but they couldn't do that because everybody left their straps undone. Now, to get back to Okinawa. Yeah, it was terrible because there was a lot of civilians, and I'm sure we killed a lot of civilians acci- -- not on purpose, but there were just bombs falling all over the damn place. Yeah, it was a bad one. And as I say, they get in these damn tombs there. Oh, before we went on Okinawa, they scared the hell out of everybody. They said that we probably would have to be scared of snakes. Because they really hadn't had a good surveillance of Okinawa per se. So everybody was worried about snakes. And one of the things I dreaded my whole life, more than -- I can't say of anything I'm scared of except snakes. And a little garden snake, I don't like garden snakes. So here they are telling us this place is loaded with snakes. But there weren't. And the only real time I got hurt was in Okinawa when I jumped in a -- they had these bins where they had, they're like sump holes where they had their pigs. And so we were running into this one village and I jumped into this damn place and a stupid Jap had been in there and left his goddamn bayonet laying there and I ran it right in this leg right here. Well, I went back to the medics for three days. A friend of mine from Shaw High School, Jim Reed, was in the medics, he fixed it. I went back up -- never got a Purple Heart or nothing, because I never applied for it. I mean there was no place to apply for this stuff in the field. And I still have that scar. But that was scary. I had a shovel shot off of my back once, but I never got hit. A guy hit -- they were machine gunning us. Yeah, that's it. Yeah, that's about all I can tell you about Okinawa. From Okinawa we went back down to the Philippines. And then this point system you were talking about, I had so many points I was supposed to be one of the first ones out from Mindanao. And when I got out, it was fine, I was one of the first ones, but I got out on a converted Liberty ship to come home. And my God, when you can see a ship pass you on the ocean, it's going to take a long time. So I spent Thanksgiving, Christmas, got back to the States about the 22nd of January -- or, no, that's when I got discharged -- about the 15th. And when we got back to the States on the west coast, they were having some kind of a strike, I can't remember if it was a railroad strike or -- anyhow they were talking about taking us down and sailing us through the Panama Canal, everybody east of the Mississippi, and disembarking over in New York or someplace. And boy, they almost had a revolt on their hands, after we'd been out there all that damn time. But it -- I guess it was a railroad strike. They settled it and they sent us back. And then we got in and got discharged from Camp Atterbury, Indiana. That was January of '46. So I spent three years in the service, about half the time here and half the time overseas.

Tom Swope:

What was your reunion with your family like when you got back?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Oh, it was very nice. I mean, God, they had everything planned. My sister was there, my dad, some friends over, and we just had a good time. By then I was drinking beer. I started drinking beer on the way home from the Philippines, because they had rationed it on the boat. And also on the boat when we were coming home, I worked in the bakery so that I could get a breakfast every morning. And all we did all day long was -- oh, I started smoking a pipe and drinking beer. And the beer you get one can a day. And when I get back here, they got all this beer rationed. And this is when I liked beer, you know, and they got it all rationed. That's all I ever drank was beer, to this day that's all I ever drink is a beer, but I drink enough of that to float a battleship probably. But my end reaction, my parents were happy to get me home. And my sister was happy. And then she was ready to get married, because she met this lieutenant who was in the Air Corps, he came home, and they were getting ready to get married and all that. And I was out trying to hustle up beer, you know, beverages, because it was so hard to get them. And I'd get six cans here or six bottles, I guess it was mostly bottles in those days, six bottles here, six bottles there and -- because they had a nice reception, East Cleveland. And that's about it, I don't --

Tom Swope:

You headed overseas probably what, in late 1944?

Robert Joseph Auer:

No, early in '44.

Tom Swope:

Was it early '44 or early '45? Because you mentioned you went to Iwo Jima after Iwo Jima had been secured, right?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Yeah.

Tom Swope:

So that would be like the spring of '45, I guess.

Robert Joseph Auer:

No, I had to be there earlier than that.

Tom Swope:

You were there earlier than that? I can't remember, Iwo Jima was I believe in February of '45.

Robert Joseph Auer:

Oh, no, it had to be earlier than that.

Tom Swope:

Well, they were shelling the heck out of it for a long time.

Robert Joseph Auer:

I know, because we hit Okinawa in Easter of '45.

Tom Swope:

Right, yeah, what was that, like April 1 or something?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Yeah, whatever the day that Easter was.

Tom Swope:

Whenever Easter was that year, right.

Robert Joseph Auer:

So that was '45, and we already had the battle in the Philippines.

Tom Swope:

Yeah. That was early '45, right, in the Philippines?

Robert Joseph Auer:

And I went straight from -- no, it had to be '44.

Tom Swope:

Again --

Robert Joseph Auer:

It had to be '44.

Tom Swope:

It had to be '44. Because ASTP I think was in early '44.

Robert Joseph Auer:

I was in ASTP --

Tom Swope:

Until what, March or something or spring of '44 --

Robert Joseph Auer:

-- until -- no, I started there in the fall, so the spring of '44.

Tom Swope:

-- is when they discontinued.

Robert Joseph Auer:

And then they discontinued it, or at least for the guys that were only in the first part of it. I don't know if the other ones ever got to finish or not. So then they shipped us out to the Philippines. First we had to take general training in Hawaii.

Tom Swope:

Did you have any close buddies overseas?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Yeah, my best buddy got hit in Leyte. He was from east up there, someplace, some town, some area. He got hit on Leyte going in. And they sent him back to the Crile Hospital over here on the west side, and my folks would go over and visit him all the time. And then whenever he got halfway decent where he was feeling better, or could move around, they went and brought him over to our house a couple of times and he stayed at our house. And my sister used to make sure that he always had cookies and all that crap. As far as my best buddies, the ones in the mule pack, I left them all go because they were from, most of them were from Missouri and Kentucky, and I never kept in contact with them. 96th Infantry Division, they had a lot of reunions. I never went to them. They had a history book that I gave to my grandson in Philly. But no, I didn't -- my buddies that I ran around with and graduated from high school, some of them I envied, some of them got killed in Europe, because they went to Europe instead of the Pacific. And the one guy I -- he was my best man at our wedding, he's dead now, but he joined the Navy. He went to Purdue University, got all his crap, while the war was on, he's spending all these years in Purdue University. He graduates, he's a naval aviator. His tour of duty, he had to do it in, was with the, I think it was the USS Roosevelt was the new carrier they came out with, his tour of duty was after the war was over. And he come out and I kidded him, Bill Sikes, I said, "Bill, I'm sure you had a lot of experience in battles and everything." But he's dead now. In fact, most of my friends are dead. Our whole wedding party is dead.

Tom Swope:

Did you lose any buddies over there?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Oh, yeah. There were forward observers. We'd turn them over like they were going out of style. Because you came -- when you lived with these people and you trusted your life with them at night, you got pretty close with them. But, yeah, I lost Lieutenant Herrig, lost some of the wire men, lost some of the radio men. I'd say the turnover was probably close to 70 percent. Most of the time it was casualties. And then they had this Plain Dealer guy who wrote all these articles on the 96th Infantry Division, right here from Cleveland, Plain Dealer. I think his name was Cobbledick or something like that.

Tom Swope:

Gordon Cobbledick?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Yeah. Didn't he write all those articles? Or if you are -- are you familiar with him? Anyhow they were about the 96th. My mother would read those things all the time. And then just like this stuff you're reading about Iraq, I'm sure that those articles -- she saved them all, I don't know where they're at -- a lot of those things were inflated just like this Iraq deal, I mean, but they got to do that, that's reporting. As far as buddies lost, I lost a lot of the buddies were high school buddies. A lot of them were captured by the Germans. Most of my friends and buddies, except there were the ones that went to the mule pack with me, they went back over to Europe. They were sent over to Europe right away. They either got captured or hurt.

Tom Swope:

How early did you go in on Okinawa, what wave, do you remember?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Did I go in?

Tom Swope:

First wave? Second wave?

Robert Joseph Auer:

I was the first wave.

Tom Swope:

It was the first wave.

Robert Joseph Auer:

Yes, yes, yeah. We always got in there first.

Tom Swope:

Right, forward observer.

Robert Joseph Auer:

Yeah, we got to -- they give us bronze stars for that. Got two of them for the Philippines and two of them for Okinawa. And then the bronze arrowheads, they give us those, too, that's right, I forgot about those. I think those were the ones for -- I don't know.

Tom Swope:

Any memories of what you were thinking when you were heading for the beach on Okinawa?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Not really. I think you were just in a, I don't know -- I don't think, I don't think I ever thought anything. The only thing I ever thought of when I was in the service was if I lost a limb or something I was going to commit suicide. That's all I ever thought about. I did not want to go home with one arm or one leg or something like that. That's all -- that's all that went through my mind all the time. And on Okinawa, the one thing I did do every time, no matter where I was at, the minute I could get ahold of a -- see, being a forward observer, all they gave us was a carbine, which was a little pistol-type, I mean a little no-good gun. So the minute we could get our hands on an M1, we picked up the M1s. That's one of the problems we had when we first fired on Leyte, when I told you we were shooting tracers, which were the dumbest thing in the world, but there were no Japs around anyhow. Yeah, that's about all I can think of.

Tom Swope:

Do you have memories of mail call?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Oh, mail call, cripes, yes, you used to sit there and wait for the letters. And my mother used to always send goodies and they were great. And I had met this gal in Wisconsin University while I was up there. She was a student at Wisconsin University. Her father was the, oh, what the hell do they call them, he was the state head of the educational system, whatever the heck you would call them.

Tom Swope:

State superintendent or whatever it was?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Well, anyhow, he had this big office, which he made me go down to meet him. God, he had about 16 secretaries on each side of this thing and we went to meet them. And then this girl, she just, she got fascinated with me. And she sent me stuff every single day, a letter every single day, and I got to the point where I was looking for the damn thing every day. And then she graduated. I went up to her graduation. And she came up to Cleveland and she interviewed down at Higbee's. She was some kind of a buyer. Anyhow, then she says -- oh, and she came up, during the war, she came up to visit my folks and she and my sister got along fabulously and all this kind of crap -- she says to me, "Well, you got to promise that we're going to get engaged if" -- now, to make a long story short, I forgot about her. Well, I got home, why, I was running around with these WAVES down at Hotel Allerton. They had a contingent of these gals. I'll never forget them because they were both from Boston, and I'd take turns dating them. And the one was named Ferris and the other one was named Harris, and at that time those were the two great pitchers for Boston. And then we were double-dating with this friend of mine and he -- she'd -- the girl he was dating was also from Boston and she was there. He ended up marrying the girl, but I never got that serious with any of them.

Tom Swope:

What kinds of things did you write about when you wrote back home?

Robert Joseph Auer:

It depends where I was at. When I was in Wisconsin, I would write home and tell them -- well, when I was in the mule pack, I'd just tell them, well, we went hiking again today, you know, forget that. And my mother saved all those dumb letters. And then Wisconsin, I wrote home that at the end of three months we would get a week's break so I'd be home and everything. And that was what I was looking forward to, getting home for a week. Because in those days you could go downtown and you could go to Woolworth's and they'd give you a free meal if you were a serviceman. Not bad, huh? If you like. But anyhow, we used to have a lot of fun. So then while I was in, going down the coast, when I got to San Diego, I wrote home and told them about my -- my mother had relatives living in San Diego. And I went to see them. And the one fellow, he was in bed and he had cancer and everything. And my mother didn't know this. And then Aunt Coral, that was his wife -- [Interview interrupted by a telephone call.] These people just keep interrupting. Oh, God, what were we talking about?

Tom Swope:

Oh, we were talking about the kind of things you'd write when you were overseas.

Robert Joseph Auer:

Oh, yeah. So then I wrote home about how bad Uncle Milo was and Aunt Cora. Of course, these are people I had never met because they lived in California all these years. And then we had another guy out there that was my mother's cousin and he had moved from Chicago, and my folks had visited him in Chicago, he and his wife, and they lived in Chula Vista. Well, this guy had a bar. He was also a distributor for Seagram's whisky. And he had two daughters, beautiful daughters, who I had never met. But they came over and picked me up at Pendleton there. They had a convertible. Now, this is during the war don't forget. They picked me up. And I never had so many friends in all my life. These two girls, two beautiful girls, come in this convertible, pick me up. Big deal, we went to the San Diego Zoo, because I didn't drink at the time, and then we could have gone to the old man's bar. But they came over and picked me up quite frequently. Well, I kept -- I kept my folks advised to -- and this is what I was writing about was all the relatives there and how nice they were treating me. And good time Charlie we called him. Oh, God, we had -- I had a good time in San Diego. But it was strenuous training, too, I mean it wasn't all play. And then when we went over to Hawaii, naturally I was writing home about all the beauty over there and how we arranged -- when we first got there, they got us in these little cars that they were taking us through all these fields. And we were so dumb, we didn't even realize that we have pineapple fields. And we didn't realize that pineapple grew like they did, and we got a kick out of that. And we wrote them, or I wrote them, naturally, about all the jungle training and how beautiful everything was there, which it was. Then I also told them I went down to the boat, because we had a -- my dad had a cousin who was on the Arizona at the time and -- I think it was the Arizona. Wasn't that the one big battleship that was sunk?

Tom Swope:

Yeah, that's the one.

Robert Joseph Auer:

Yeah, he was, this kid was a sailer there. And I had met Johnny. In fact, he had come up here and my dad had given him a job. His father was a quartermaster down at Fort Bragg. So Johnny came up here to work and my dad gave him a job -- he was older than I was -- gave him a job as a milkman at ?Telling's?. And then Johnny joined the Navy and he was over there at the time that -- and he was killed, he was killed in that attack. So I went out and looked at the names and all that, told them what a nice memorial they had put up there and all this shit. And in Hawaii why they had a lot of stores there to send souvenirs home. I sent more souvenirs home than you could shake a stick at. I don't know where they're at. But almost all my writing from California and there was about the status of the relatives. And then, and as Okinawa, I couldn't write too much. We could only send these little V-mails I think they called them or e-mails.

Tom Swope:

V-mail, right, the mini-trans.

Robert Joseph Auer:

Yeah. And couldn't say much of anything. I just told them, well -- like my mother kept this one article that was in the paper. I was over there for my birthday in November, my birthday is November 11, and that was in '44, so that was the Philippines. So I wrote back and told her that one of the natives had given me a couple of eggs for my birthday, which was nice of them, and I cooked the eggs in the helmet. And my mother told the Plain Dealer about it and it was written up in the Plain Dealer, and I don't know where that article is, about how the natives are very nice to the Americans, the guy had given me two eggs. Cripe. And that's about all I wrote about over there. Okinawa I didn't write too much at all from Okinawa because it was -- we just didn't have time. It was a busy, busy place.

Tom Swope:

Do you have any memories of shows, USO shows or anything like that?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Oh, yeah, the one I remember was -- who the heck was it -- anyhow it was in Hawaii and they had a bunch of Italian prisoners there, I remember that, a bunch of Italians prisoners, who they also let watch the show. And I can't remember who the heck it was in the show. I know it wasn't anybody real popular because I would remember it. We never had Bob Hope or any of those people. But I'll tell you how sad. When we were over in the Philippines we had to vote for a queen of the division. And these guys were so, they were so wrung out and everything, we made Marjorie Main our pinup girl. Christ. Betty Grable was popular and everything else, and we pick out Marjorie Main as the pinup girl. God, if that wasn't stupid. Yeah, I mean that was payoff. That's -- we didn't have many shows over there, by the way. They didn't -- oh, we were in combat almost all the time, or else we were supposed to be resting and planning the next attack, and so we didn't get to see them. Even at Enewetak, we were in Enewetak for I guess about a week, played basketball, sports, but they didn't have any shows for us. But we saw all these movies at night while we were sailing. Then when we left the Philippines we went up through the China Sea, that was a rough one. Most everybody was getting sick, which is not pleasant when you're on a boat with all these people heaving all over the place. It's not very nice. I think that's about all I know.

Tom Swope:

When you think about your experiences during the war, does one particularly vivid memory come to mind?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Probably that first night on the Philippines. That was so scary it was pathetic. We were just young kids, God, to be thrown into battle like that. And your imagination runs away with you. I mean more so than anything. Because the beach was not an easy landing. When we were going in, we were getting a lot of mortar shells and a lot of shots and everything. And it scares the hell out of you. But after a while, I think -- I don't know what happens to you, you just don't think. I don't know what it is. I can't explain it. You just, you go through the routine and that's it. I mean you get a shelling, you lay down, and you just -- or the airplanes when they attack, you lay down and hope the damn guys on their strafing don't hit you and all that. But it's a different feeling than I ever had in my life. I mean I just don't -- and I never liked to talk to it. I never liked to talk about -- that's why I'm surprised I'm even talking to you -- I never liked to talk about this crap. And my youngest daughter didn't even know I was in the service until she was 18 years old, because I had never talked about it. And the fireworks used to scare the hell out of me, not scare me, used to bother me when I first got back. I could not stand going to the fireworks and listening to those damn things going off. I just, I don't know. Yeah, there's nothing that -- the rest of the experiences, no, they don't stand out at all, I don't -- it's a terrible thing. War is not a nice thing. And I think the worst thing about war are the flamethrowers. When you burn people up, you don't even know who you're burning up. You know, I mean, they're in these caves. They could have been all good people, or it could have been all bad people. You don't know what's in those caves. But you've not going to go in and let them shoot you. So you shoot the flamethrowers in there first. It's not -- I don't know, it's not very mercenary. I don't -- no. I think that that's --

Tom Swope:

You think that covers it?

Robert Joseph Auer:

Yeah, I can't think of anything else.

Tom Swope:

Well, this is exactly the kind of thing that I do.

Robert Joseph Auer:

Okay.

Tom Swope:

This is, it's human interest, this is exactly what I wanted to do today.

Robert Joseph Auer:

Okay. Fine. I'm glad. As I said, you know, I said to my wife, "God, I hope this guy isn't wasting his time." Because I don't like to talk about a lot of the crap and I don't like to remember a lot of it. It's just -- and it's funny how it can weigh with you for this long a period of time. That's what bothers me with all these wars now. These young kids are going to war and, Christ, they don't know what they're getting into.

Tom Swope:

I know it. I mean these, obviously, like you, these -- what they're going through will stick with them for 60 years.

Robert Joseph Auer:

Oh, gosh, yes. In fact, it'd be worse I think nowadays. I don't know. At least, you know, some days we'd just, we couldn't advance, we'd just lay there on the side of a hill so that you couldn't get hit or something. Just lay there. Just lay there. Oh, God. And the rations.

Tom Swope:

How was the food?

Robert Joseph Auer:

We had tin K-rations when they could drop one to us. It was all right. In those days I ate almost all spaghetti -- spaghetti, spaghetti, spaghetti. I can't even face it now. Yeah, boy, it was great. Yeah, we were there when McArthur came aboard.

Tom Swope:

Came aboard -- were you there when he stepped back on the Philippines?

Robert Joseph Auer:

We were already there for two weeks when he came in.

Tom Swope:

Did you witness that at all?

Robert Joseph Auer:

No. Hell, no, we were fighting. No --

Tom Swope:

It's not like he --

Robert Joseph Auer:

We heard about it.

Tom Swope:

So he didn't exactly land with the first wave?

Robert Joseph Auer:

You can't expect him to. I wouldn't expect the God darn guy to get killed right away. We did lose -- I was probably 100, maybe 200 yards, which doesn't seem close, but to Ernie Pyle when he got hit in the head. Yeah, that went around fast.

Tom Swope:

What was the reaction of the guys when they heard that?

Robert Joseph Auer:

The same reaction as anything else. That's really rough. He was a good man, you know, and, oh, shit. It's just that you got to take it all. I think it was more shocking that Roosevelt died.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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