The Lead-Up: Pearl Harbor
It was a nice Sunday day, December 7, 1941. I was in my room in our apartment at 6 South Park Ave. in Rockville Centre, NY, listening to the Make Believe Ballroom, a NYC station specializing in swing and jazz music. A typical activity for a 17-year-old senior in high school. My mother and grandparents were talking in the living room. Suddenly, the music was interrupted by a special announcement-The Japanese have just bombed Pearl Harbor. The excitement and rampant rumors over the next few days was contagious, e.g., the Germans were going to bomb New York, Japanese invasion of Hawaii was underway, sabotage by Japanese-Americans was eminent, etc. We poured into one of our buddy's car to go out to Mitchell Field and watch the action. Of course, we didn't get any nearer than the entrance. Thus began one of the most important phases of my life and, indeed, determined almost everything that followed. My purpose here is to record my experience for the benefit of my children and their children, and anyone else interested in a personal description of this most exciting, dramatic, destructive and disruptive period in 20th century history. For the past year and a half, I have been collecting, summarizing, editing, scanning and writing material for use in the website of the 89th Infantry Division, an inspiration of my son, which has awaken many old memories which I wish to record before my memory also fades. So here goes.
The Lead-Up: Pre-Enlistment
In the spring, along with my best buddy Emil Eilertsen and other friends, I signed on for an after-class course offered by Oceanside High School (nearby) and sponsored by Sperry Gyroscope . We learned basic shop operations and, if we passed, would be offered an apprenticeship job by Sperry at their new factory in Lake Success when we graduated. Most of us, at least Emil and I, didn't think we would end up in Sperry because we planned to enlist as soon as we graduated from Southside High School in June, both of us by then having reached the age of 18. We decided to enlist together in the Marines and in May, just prior to graduation, visited the recruiting center in New York and took a physical. Emil passed and signed-up but I was rejected because of near-sightedness. The Recruiting Sargent, seriously, told me to go home and eat a lot of carrots and come back in three months and take another eye examination. Subsequent attempts by me to enlist in the Navy, Army Air Corp and the Army itself met a similar fate and I was distraught. The Army told me that the only way I could get in the service was to volunteer for the draft but they were only drafting 19-year-olds at the time.
Well, we graduated with all the fun, ceremony, proms, etc., and waited. Within a month, the guys in my shop group all started to work at Sperry, mostly on the graveyard and swing shifts, of course. We leaned how to operate and eventually setup lathes and other machines and soon gained the basic skills necessary to produce gyroscope and Norton bombsight parts. As a volunteer fireman, in the daytime I waited for the alarm to ring for some excitement. In a month or so Emil got his orders and when he and his Dad came over to our place to say goodbye, I choked with emotion and couldn't hold back the tears. It was the first inclination I had that war wouldn't be all fun and games.
Emil Eilertsen, Faith Austin, me, and Artie
My best buddies and first date on Graduation Day
In November 1942, Congress lowered the draft age to 18 and I immediately "volunteered". In what I soon learned was typical military style, my draft board and the Army collaborated so they could get me drafted just before Christmas, which they did. First, I was called by the Army for an entry physical examination, which took place in the vast expanse of the Grand Central Railroad Station in NYC. What a sight, thousands of half naked men going to various examination stations up and down aisles like cattle. One aisle had a series of little cubicles for privacy during a psychiatric examination. After hitting my knee with a hammer and observing that I wasn't a complete idiot, the examining psychiatrist asked me if I like boys? I said sure. Then he asked if I like girls and if I had sexual relations to which I answered yes and no, respectively. With a somewhat startled look, he checked my form, noted my age and gave me a big smile while patting my knee. I was, of course, one of the first 18 year-old "draftees" to go through Grand Central and, presumably, one of the few celibates he had seen. I always wished I could have had my army exit exam from the same guy. Needless to say, I passed but for "limited service" and received my "greetings" and orders to report about five days before Christmas, much to my mother's dismay but I was anxious to get in and be a soldier.
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