To honor all veterans, Mickey Brandt of The Grapevine sat down last week with three of them who reside at the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home in Vineland. The full transcript of the interview could not be published in print, but is available to read below.
You can also listen along here:
GRAPEVINE: Please tell me where you’re from and your branch of service.
JOE POSTORINO: North Bergen, Army
GV: Were you in any combat?
JOE: We relieved the Third Army at Stroudsburg in France. We were in, what do you call it…
HENRY SPEED: Battle of the Bulge
JOE: Now, we were in the Maginot Line.
GV: How old are you, Joe?
GV: I’ll be honest with you, Lisa Williams (NJVMH Recreation Director) mentioned somebody who was 102, and I thought, geez, it’s too bad that the 102-year-old didn’t come. I can’t believe it. I thought I looked pretty good for my age. I just can’t believe it.
JOE: You can tell why I’m getting to be a little forgetful.
GV: No, I haven’t noticed that yet. So, we’ll see.
GV: What is your name, please?
HENRY: Henry Speed.
GV: Where are you from, Henry?
HENRY: Atlantic City or the area. Absecon,
GV: I umpire baseball down there all the time. I go to Pitney Park now. It’s a new one in Absecon. And the Atlantic City team plays at the Sandcastle Stadium now.
HENRY: Mosquito heaven.
GV: The little gnats. The little—
HENRY: Gnats and mosquitoes. I watched ballgames there.
GV: What branch were you in?
HENRY: I was in the Navy.
GV: And did you see any action?
HENRY: Yeah. I was in action in the Atlantic and the Pacific. I got transferred to another destroyer and spent the last half of the war over in the Pacific. And the first half I spent in the Atlantic.
GV: That happened to a lot of guys, didn’t it? That happened to a lot of guys, I think; that once you wrapped it up or nearly—
HENRY: I was a torpedoman, and there was no use for torpedoes. And there was no use in the Atlantic or the Pacific, either. It was all the destroyers. They had torpedoes, all of them, but they were 200 miles from where all the action was where the aircraft carriers were, you know.
HENRY: All we did was try to protect them from submarines.
GV: Right. You went along with the convoys. You were there just in case.
HENRY: Convoys? We took, maybe, two convoy runs. And the first trip I made when I got on board ship, three days later, we made the invasion in North Africa. That was November 8th, 1942. It’s easy to remember
because it’s only three days from Veterans—
GV: The reason why I’m here, right, which is Veterans Day.
HENRY: And also, I think the Marine Corps’ birthday is on the 9th.
GV: And how old are you? This is going to be another surprise for me.
GV: Congratulations are in order.
GV: Congratulations or something. I mean, you’re healthy and—
HENRY: Well, I feel good.
GV: You look good.
HENRY: I do the dealing for them in the card game.
GV: I hope. It just makes me hope to live that long. I’m 67. We’re talking about—I’m talking about I could have 30 years and I can still feel good.
HENRY: He’s a kid. He’s 86. (Referring to Ernie) (Laughter)
GV: What’s your name?
ERNIE: My name is Ernest Webber.
GV: Ernest Webber?
ERNIE: Two B’s in Webber.
GV: Two B’s in Webber. And you’re 86. Is that right?
GV: And here do you consider yourself coming from?
ERNIE: Mickleton, in Gloucester County.
GV: My daughter just mentioned Mickleton. I forget what she was going to take my 3 year-old to in Mickelton. Some great activity. What branch were you in?
ERNIE: The Navy. I was on an aircraft carrier.
GV: And what were you in? What years?
ERNIE: I was in the end of ’45, ’46 and ’47. And we were in a conflict that was never published. When we kept Greece from being overrun, we kept the dictator in power at the end of World War II.
GV: Never been published?
ERNIE: No, never been published.
GV: Why was it never published?
ERNIE: Because you didn’t have world reporters or television. There’s a lot they do on aircraft carriers that they don’t publish. They’re not publishing what the aircraft carriers are doing over there right now.
GV: What are they doing right now?
ERNIE: Right now, they’re bombing the hell out of Syria and everything else.
GV: It reminds you of your active duty in Greece, some of the things that are going on now, where reporters don’t feel like going right now. That’s not, is it?
ERNIE: And we also had the atomic bomb, and we were keeping Russia in contact. You know, we the bomb aboard. That was never published.
GV: You had an atomic weapon on board your ship?
ERNIE: Oh, yeah.
GV: Can you tell me the name of your ship?
ERNIE: Sure. The Roosevelt. CV-42.
GV: Yeah. If you went in in ’45, you went in just before the end of the war.
ERNIE: We had between a hundred and 120 bombers and fighters.
GV: That’s a pretty good force.
ERNIE: And they didn’t sit on the deck. We had 18 five-inch guns, too.
GV: I have no idea what Greece politics was at that time. I imagine that there was some threat from the Eastern European Iron Curtain countries on Greece because of where it is. Do you remember the name of the dictator? No?
ERNIE: No. I had pictures of it. I lost it all now.
GV: How long were you in, Joe?
JOE: From ’42 to ’46.
GV: Did you volunteer? Did you enlist?
JOE: They drafted me. 292 was my number. When I went to boot, it was for two sessions before I went overseas.
GV: How were you wounded, Joe?
JOE: We were on combat patrol. It was the whole platoon. And we had our scout out and we had the platoon sergeant. He stepped on the mine. I went over to help him and I stepped on the mine. The scout had to come back and he stepped on the mine. People from the Weapons Department come out and rescued us, of course. They knew it was a minefield out there. They could tell. There was shooting out there. So, thank God I’m here.
GV: How did the other two guys come out?
JOE: They come out, too.
GV: They were all right?
JOE: The platoon sergeant had the worst. I lost a part of my leg. He lost—he wounded his knee. It went all the way up to his knee. I don’t know how the scout made out.
GV: Do you remember it? Do you remember what it felt like in battle at that moment and your war wound?
JOE: All I know, automatically, I put a tourniquet on my leg.
GV: I guess that saved your life.
JOE: It was in the training. I guess it was automatic.
GV: Yeah. I’m glad you stayed conscious so you could do that.
JOE: That’s right. And they strapped us in back of these weapon carriers and they brought us back. We went past the town I had stayed in before we took off. The little kids come running and they kept crying, you know. It was something that I’ll always remember.
GV: Yeah. Do you feel it was the most important thing that happened in your life, or one of them?
JOE: It showed how much they cared.
GV: Yeah. Sure. They were being liberated.
GV: How long were you in, Henry?
HENRY: ’42 to ’46. In March of ’42 I was 17. And I went down to the post office and—in fact, I was on my way to work; the shipbuilders, in Baltimore. I’m waiting for one street car to transfer me to take me to the shipyard right in front of the post office. And on the spur of the minute, I went in and enlisted.
GV: Spur of the minute. Just like that.
HENRY: Just like that. Three days later, I was in the Great Lakes. I enlisted for the duration cruise. You were in for the duration of the war plus six months. They had to let you out within six months after the war ended. I actually ended up just about four years. Maybe a day or two difference.
GV: Yeah. That’s one way—
HENRY: They didn’t give you any break on the six months.
GV: That’s one way to look at it, though. They had to let you out six months—
HENRY: They had to.
GV: —after the war.
HENRY: It was six months after. Within six months.
GV: Another way to look at that is that you were in for as long as the war went on.
GV: Another way to look at that is that is you were in for as long as the war went on.
HENRY: There’s nothing you could do about it. Of course, we didn’t know anything about the atom bomb coming up. And it looked like we were in for a long while, you know. The
Japanese still had a lot of power. If they hadn’t dropped the atom bombs, there would have been a lot more people wouldn’t have come back.
Believe me. I saw—We pulled into the Yokosuka. It’s a Japanese naval base, big one. And they had more
supplies and ammunition and guns. It was like a real big—sort of like a big hill. And that was three days after the war. And they had—Underneath of this, you could have dropped 10,000 pound bombs or atom bombs and you couldn’t have got it.
GV: The way they fought.
HENRY: It was fanatical. When they signed the armistice—or signed the peace, whatever, the Missouri, we were about 30 miles off. Probably 150 ships, in case there were some fanatics coming with kamikazes or whatever. We had a big circle around the guard because you didn’t know what was going to happen with them.
GV: How long were you in, Ernie, I think you actually told me already. ’45, ’46, ’47.
ERNIE: I was in regular Navy for that and I was about 14 years in the standby ready reserve. All the years I stood in the reserve, I served two days a month on duty, and then I’d take a trip to Florida or somewhere for two weeks in the summertime.
GV: Were you in the reserves when Korea happened or were you already out?
ERNIE: I was in the reserves. I—
GV: Was there any possibility—I mean, did you think you might get called? Was it possible that you get called for Korea?
ERNIE: I didn’t get called. My brother got called. He was a commander, retired. He got called up and went to Korea. He fought in three wars. And he made a career and he stayed in the Navy.
GV: He was in in Vietnam?
GV: What is the thing that you remember most from your service right after World War II—actually, during a little bit and after? What’s the most significant thing about your service, Ernie?
ERNIE: I think the most was the carrier. We were cruising off of Africa, and we hit a wall of green water 50 foot tall.
ERNIE: 50 foot tall. And we were the biggest carrier in the world. And it caved—the bow went. We lost 18 aircraft. And the skipper never made admiral because he had given us a break. We didn’t push the airplanes aft. We had been at air quarters station for a long time and we let the aircraft sit more forward. And when the wall of water hit, it tore the hell out of the aircraft carrier. And we were locked in compartments. Some compartments were flooded. I started to get sea sick. And then I got too damn scared to be sick. (Laughter)
GV: Too damn scared to be sea sick?
GV: I’ll go back to Henry. Don’t try to outdo each other or anything like that. I think that that’s always possible, but—what do you remember most in your service? What was most significant to you?
HENRY: We sunk a German submarine off of Cape Town, South Africa. We caught what they called a sea cow. These big German submarines would go out and refuel the other submarines so they wouldn’t have to go back and forth to Germany. And then we caught them refueling two other submarines on the surface, and the other two submarines got away. But, we got the big one. Maybe five or six hours after we sunk it, why, they picked up 18 survivors that were floundering around in the water. And they come aboard. We had no place to—You know, we didn’t have any brig or anything like that. We put them in a paint locker up in the bow. And two or three days later, they were transferred to a Navy carrier. And the interesting thing was that, oh, maybe 20 years later, we used to have reunions from the ship I was on, and we got a letter from these survivors, could they come to our reunion. We said fine, come ahead. But, we never saw them. I guess maybe they checked into how much it would cost and all to come to America. But, there were no officers. I doubt whether they were really Nazis, because they were little, puny-looking white things and hadn’t seen a sun—but, it was interesting trying to get them aboard.
GV: Did you go to look for them or were they just right there?
HENRY: No. We heard whistles.
GV: You heard them.
HENRY: They were blowing whistles. One was dead by the time we got there, but we did get his body.
GV: Wow. How did you treat them or feel about them or—
HENRY: Like I said, we weren’t prepared. We weren’t big enough. I saw them as we were bringing them aboard because I was helping. We had a Jacob’s ladder over the side there, getting them up the ropes. And you saw them then. And they didn’t look like any “Supermen”, you know. They were just little, skinny, undernourished—emaciated, I’d say, you know. And we locked them in the paint locker.
GV: That was the only place you could figure, right?
HENRY: We had nowhere else to put them.
GV: Did you tell me the name of your destroyer? You served on a destroyer as a torpedoman?
GV: Did you tell me the name of your destroyer?
HENRY: The Straub, S-T-R-A-U-B. 181 was the number.
ERNIE: There’s a picture of it outside, in the case.
GV: Oh. Wow. A picture of Henry’s ship?
ERNIE: There’s a picture of your destroyer out there in the case.
HENRY: No. That’s the picture of the one I was transferred to when I went to the Pacific. That was the 808.
GV: Joe, I mean, I guess, being wounded probably is your major thing. But, what’s your second major thing?
JOE: The second major thing was we were straightening out our lines.
GV: Where were you then? Where were your lines? Where were you in Europe?
JOE: We were in the Maginot Line.
HENRY: In the Ardennes.
JOE: And we straightened that up and we captured a forward outpost. So, our captain went up to the colonel. The colonel come up and says you’ve got anybody—to my captain—who can read a map? He says yes, Sergeant Postorino. So, he asked if I knew where a certain hill we had passed was, can you get back to it. I said, of course. And he said we have to make contact with F Company.
So, we took off, got back to that hill, and then—
GV: You led the—you showed them or you led them?
JOE: Yeah. I led them. He wanted to go to the left of there to straighten—to meet F Company. And meanwhile, shells started to fall. And he says to me, sergeant, he says, you go meet F Company, I’m going back to the main company. So, we advanced, and I come to a glen, a little glen. And, my God, I looked up and, there, about 2,000 yards in front of me were the Germans lining up with their mess kits to eat. I told my platoon to get down and we’re going back. I said the colonel could go to hell – he can go meet F Company himself. And we went back there to our area. and some of the fellas had been wounded because action took place there.
JOE: And so that was that. So, we were in that area for a day. and then then withdrew, and they waited again, before we went to straighten out the line.
GV: Joe—go ahead. You go ahead. I don’t want to cut you off. You were a sergeant. Is that—
JOE: Staff sergeant.
GV: Staff sergeant. That was your rank. I had forgotten to get these. And you commanded a platoon? At that time, you were a platoon commander?
JOE: Not me.
GV: No. Not you. You had another platoon commander?
JOE: We had a platoon commander.
LISA WILLIAMS: He was a map expert.
GV: Map expert.
GV: What was your rank, Henry, when you were—
HENRY: Torpedoman second class…which is about the same thing as a staff sergeant.
JOE: I was a sergeant at that time.
GV: And, Ernie what was your rank when you—
ERNIE: Seaman First Class.
GV: Oh. All right.
HENRY: The most money I ever got was $88 a month. (Laughter)
GV: Ernie, was your maximum pay more?
ERNIE: I don’t remember what the maximum pay was.
GV: Joe, do you remember your maximum pay?
JOE: No, I don’t.
GV: No Maybe not enough to send home, at least. Spend on leave.
GV: What did it mean for you, Henry, what did it mean to serve?
HENRY: You know, we were in bad peril of being dominated by the Germans or the Japs. They were a lot more—better prepared than we were. And everybody rushed to join up you know, right after Pearl Harbor. In Atlantic City, the post office, where you enlisted, there was a line probably three blocks long, people trying to enlist. I tried a half dozen times and never got near the head of the line. So, I ended up going down to Baltimore to work in a shipyard and—
GV: That’s when you saw that post office—
HENRY: It was in the back of my head to join anyway.
HENRY: And I just happened to see the sign that morning. I says, hey, let’s do it.
GV: Did you feel good about doing it?
GV: Do you feel good having served? Do you feel—
HENRY: Yeah. Oh.,yeah., I feel good about it. You know, I’ve been treated well. I mean, there’s a lot of things in the paper and all, but, basically, I’ve had a good experience with the VA. And I’ve had a good experience in here. I was 75 before I ever felt an ache or a pain, really.
HENRY: We had reunions every year for quite a few years, and it always felt good to see some of the, you know, the guys you served with.
GV: A special bond. They tell me it’s just such a special bond.
HENRY Oh. Yeah.
GV: Like there’s nothing like it.
HENRY: Oh. Yeah. You never get over that.
HENRY That’s all you saw for, you know, two or three years of your life.
GV: You got to know them a little, huh?
HENRY: I was never on shore. I never had a shore base. You go on one ship and went to the other one. And when I left that one, I was on another ship, coming home. I never—I mean, we pulled in to ports occasionally.
GV: You had a little chance to think about this, Ernie, because you probably knew I was going to come to one of you next. How do you feel about your service? How do you feel about what you did, what you didn’t do?
ERNIE: I thought it was a great time in my life. I was in the Navy. When you set sail, they had the band play, you had the Red Cross and all the politicians. And we even had the president of the United States stay with us for three days. I met Harry Truman.
GV: Harry Truman.
ERNIE: Yes. And when we went to sea, we went to the Med – we were assigned there for six months. And it was a great experience.
GV: It seems like having Harry Truman help see you off—
ERNIE: Oh, yeah.
GV: —had something to do with the importance or secrecy of—
ERNIE: Harry Truman, he stayed with us for three days.
GV: On board?
ERNIE: On board. We had the whole fleet out there And we had drones attack the aircraft carrier, and the whole fleet was shooting them down. And it turned around. One plane was diving for the carrier flight deck. It was crippled. Harry Truman, he run across it like a little kid. (Loud Laughter)
GV: Thank you.
GV: And, Joe, how did you feel about it all? How did you feel? What did it mean and how did you feel?
JOE: Oh, I was proud. I love this country. And I see it going downhill today. And even at my age, I worry about it. I’ve got all my little grandchildren out there. And I have quite a few of them. In fact, I could start a nation of my own. (Laughter)
GV: That’s great, Joe.
JOE: The part I liked a lot was, we were in the hospital, in Walter Reed, and General Patton came in, and he just emotionally said well, what can I say, fellows. And that was it. And I deeply appreciated that.
GV: How many grandchildren?
JOE: Oh, I can’t count.
GV: More than 20?
JOE: Oh, yeah.
GV: Wow. Okay.
JOE: I’m a hundred years old. I had eight kids.
GV: Well, that’s right. You had great—eight kids. Okay.
JOE: My kids were productive.
GV: The kids were productive. And now, of course, you have great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.
GV: What was your wife’s name? Did you have eight kids with one wife?
JOE: Ola Gray. She’s still my sweetheart. She’s great. She just died about ten months ago.
JOE: Yeah. She just died.
GV: Oh. I’m sorry, Joe. That’s—
JOE: I miss her terribly.
GV: Oh. No. It hasn’t even been a year. My God.
JOE: Right. And she was a great mother. And she not only took care of her children, but her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren.
JOE: She really—she was really something.
GV: Somehow, this doesn’t surprise me, actually. When I really let this sink in, this doesn’t surprise me. Was Ola here with you at all?
JOE: Oh, yes. For over a year. Almost two years. December will be two years.
GV: Where do most of your children live? All over the place or are some of them—a lot of them in one place? You don’t have to tell me where they are. I just wondered.
JOE: Some of them are deceased.
GV: Oh. That’s right. Of course.
JOE: My one son is in Forked River. My other son is in Bayville. My daughter is in Chicago. The others are deceased.
GV: Thank you for sharing all that.
GV: What is, was your family, Henry? What was your family? Were you married? Did you have any children?
HENRY: Four daughters.
GV: Four daughters.
HENRY: I have 20 great-grandchildren.
GV: This is great. No pun intended.
JOE: He can count. (Laughter)
GV: Were you married for a long time?
HENRY: It seemed like it was a long time. (Laughter)
HENRY: It was 25 years before I got divorced. I waited until all the kids were grown.
GV: That’s a fair thing to do, they say.
GV: Ernie, what was your family life, briefly?
ERNIE: I had two daughters, and one of them was a speech therapist, and the oldest daughter, she went to a Colorado college. And my granddaughter is a doctor out in the State of Washington now. And the other boy, has a college, degree. He’s in Maine.
GV: Another grandson?
ERNIE: Yeah. Grandson. And Monica’s oldest boy, he’s in computer science. He’s out there in Silicon Valley.
GV: Were you married for a long time?
ERNIE: Me? I was married May 27, 1950. My wife’s in the room with me right now.
GV: Oh. What’s her name?
ERNIE: Mary Eugenia Webber.
GV: You’ll probably be glad to know that this will probably be the last question. You guys can stay with this quite well, for a little longer than I expected. We’re coming up on an hour. I’m running this for Veterans Day.
This will be in next Wednesday, about a week before Veterans Day. It will be in The Grapevine, in Vineland.
GV: I wanted to get your thoughts, Joe, on Veterans Day and what that means to you and what you think of it, especially now, in 2014. What do you think of Veterans Day?
JOE: I always appreciated having Veterans Day as something that’s—your mind with veterans. I’m speechless. I’m trying—
GV: Well, I said you guys have been at this awhile And I appreciate your going at it, too. It’s going to make a wonderful story.
LISA: He wins at poker pretty heavily, too.
GV: You win at poker?
JOE: I just won at poker two days in a row. Don’t put me down as a card shark.
GV: You said don’t or do?
GV: I won’t put Joe down as a card shark, but he wins a lot.
GV: Henry, you’re the dealer. Do you win a lot, too?
GV: Do you win a lot, too? You’re the dealer.
HENRY: I win my share, but it’s kind of a blow to your ego when you get beat by two blind guys. (Laughter)
GV: Do you guys play every day?
LISA: Every day.
HENRY: Every day. 9 o’clock every morning, if we have enough players. And then Thursday night we have a game, too.
ERNIE: And then we play on Sunday morning.
GV: Oh. There’s something controversial. He just said they play on Sunday morning, too.
LISA: Then they go to church.
HENRY: It’s like having a regular job. (Laughter)
GV: Henry, you can comment more about poker if you want to, and then also the meaning of Veterans Day to you, especially now, in this era. What are your feelings about that?
HENRY: I think it’s nationwide with most people, that they get some awareness of how many veterans there are—or were. There were 11 million men in World War II, Americans. World War II, I guess we’re down below; maybe down to a million left. There was a lot of them. You know, World War II veterans have passed away, But, I think it does some good to some of the younger generation that they know what it was about. GV: I hope it reaches them. Any more on that one? Ernie?
ERNIE: I think it’s a very solemn day, And I appreciate that the school children always recognize it and the clubs and the organizations. And I think they should really participate in honoring Veterans Day. And the clubs are having an awful hard job today staying together.
GV: The veterans’ organizations?
ERNIE: Yes. The young people don’t seem to join.
GV: It is a different world. I think, you know, you’ve got to—you’ve seen so much. You’ve seen so incredibly much. What else do you have to say?
ERNIE: I think this is one of the best places in the country. It’s well organized and they really treat us nice here, that we get whatever we want. We have a few petty gripes. It’s a wonderful place.
HENRY: Yeah. We get three square meals a day. Out of three square boxes. (Laughter)
GV: Anything on that, Joe? Anything about being here? You’ve been here about two years?
JOE: I love winning in poker. (Laughter)
GV: He loves winning in poker. That’s great. And thank you for your service, Ernie, thank you. And thank you for your service, Henry. And thank you for your service, Joe.
GV: Lisa said, you know, it would be a good interview. It was a really good interview.
JOE: OK, now I don’t want to be late for the Halloween Party.
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