Interview with Bernard Frank Thomas
Interviewed by Max Thomas
Recorded on 10/28/2006 by Max Thomas
Transcribed on 11/19/2006-00/00/2006 by Max Thomas
[Interview starts at 000 on counter]
Max Thomas: Today is October 28, 2006 I Max Thomas am interviewing Frank Thomas at 7114 Koldyke. Mr. Thomas is my grandfather. He is 83 year old and was born on May 2, 1923. Mr. Thomas served in World War II and held the following rank: Private.
MT: Were you drafted or did you enlist?
Frank Thomas: I was drafted.
MT: Where were you living at the time?
FT: Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
MT: Did you pick the service branch that you joined?
FT: I asked for it, but I wasn’t sure that I would get it.
MT: What service branch did you ask for?
FT: Quartermaster Corps.
MT: Why did you ask for this service?
FT: Because I thought that I had background that could help me in this branch.
MT: Do you recall your first days in the service?
FT: My first days were at Fort Crook, Nebraska and I was acting as a clerk typist. I was typing up physicals of drafted personnel who were just coming into the service. I did that for a couple months and then I asked to be transferred to someplace else where I could get my basic training. Let me insert, here, that I had limited service and I had a limited service classification, so I couldn’t do some of the things. Not every place, not every branch of the army had openings for limited service men.
MT: Do you recall your basic training experience and how did you get through them?
FT: Okay, after being at Fort Crook, I asked to get out for basic training. I was transferred then to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas where I spent about a month waiting to be shipped out for basic training, I ended up at Fort Warren, Wyoming for basic training.
MT: What wars did you serve in?
FT: World War II.
MT: What camps or bases did you go to?
FT: Fort Crook, Nebraska; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; Fort Warren, Wyoming
MT: What was your job assignment?
FT: Other than Fort Crook where I was a typist, I didn’t have any assignments. I was just waiting to get into basic training. Then I started basic training at Fort Warren.
MT: Did you see any combat?
MT: Were you awarded any medals or citations?
FT: The only thing that I have been awarded was the World War II victory medal?
MT: How did you receive this medal?
FT: Just by being in the Army.
MT: How did you stay in touch with your family during the war?
FT: Through letters.
MT: What was the food like?
FT: It really wasn’t bad [Laughter]. It was all right.
MT: What was your favorite meal?
FT: I didn’t have one.
MT: Did you have plenty of supplies?
FT: Yes, but I didn’t need any supplies.
MT: Did you feel any pressure or stress while in the service?
FT: I suppose once I was admitted to the hospital there was some stress.
MT: Was there something that you did for good luck?
MT: What did the soldiers do to entertain themselves in basic training?
FT: Didn’t have much time or places to go where we could be entertained. I guess we played cards and that’s about it.
MT: What did you do when you had any free time?
FT: I had a weekend pass once when I was in Fort Crook and several of us went back to Sioux Falls, SD. That’s all the free time we had.
MT: Did you travel anywhere specific during your time in the service?
FT: Just to the two camps where I was stationed.
MT: Do you recall anything that was humorous or unusual?
MT: Do you have any photographs?
MT: What did you think of your other officers and soldiers?
FT: Some of them other fellas were fine. The officers were all right. I think when I was out at Fort Warren our company commander was a former ranger, I think he might have been injured in some other thing, and was put back to train us, he was a good fella.
MT: Did you ever keep a personal diary?
FT: Yes, a little bit. [Opening Diary] I wrote in it when I went to Fort Crook for induction into the Army on February 18, 1943. When I went home on a seven day leave and went back on the 26th of February. There really wasn’t too much to write I wrote about some of the fellas I knew and the university, physicals. In April 1943. Actually April 26, 1943 I was transferred to Fort Leavenworth. Then on the 31st of May I went on a train someplace and ended up in Fort Warren, Wyoming. Didn’t write too much there. Did some basic training. Then Monday June 28 I was admitted to the hospital for Rheumatic Fever. On the first of September I was discharged from the hospital. Then on September 13 I was discharged from the service.
MT: Do you know what caused you to go to the hospital?
FT: Yes, I had strep throat.
MT: What did you do in the hospital?
FT: Mostly laid in bed and that’s about it.
MT: Was the injury you had life threatening?
FT: I didn’t have any injury, it was just the strep infection caused the hospital visit.
MT: When you were discharged from the service did you feel a since of relief?
FT: I think so, probably.
MT: Were you ever made fun of or ridiculed by others for not seeing any combat during your time in the service?
FT: Not that I can recall.
MT: Where were you when you were discharged, Fort Warren?
MT: Did you work or go to school?
FT: About six months after I got out of the Army I started back at the University of South Dakota.
MT: Was your education supported by the G.I. Bill?
FT: No, I got my education under Public Law #16 which had been enacted much earlier to take care of veterans who had had a disability discharge.
MT: Did you have any friendships in the service that carried on after the service?
MT: Have you ever joined a veteran’s organization?
FT: I have. I was a member of the DAV, Disabled American Veterans, and I was a member of the American Legion.
MT: What did you do as a career after the war?
FT: After I graduated from the university, I went into the grocery business with my dad and from there I worked for the Keebler Company.
MT: Does you military experience influence you about the present war or other wars?
FT: No, I don’t think so.
MT: Did your time in the service affect your life in a negative or positive way?
FT: Not directly. I wasn’t in the service long enough for it to psychologically effect me.
MT: So you worked at Keebler or with your father during the war?
FT: Yes, no. State that again.
MT: Where did you work during the war after your discharge?
FT: Our family doctor wouldn’t let me go back to work back then in those days people weren’t to sure how to treat things I didn’t have any medication for it. I didn’t really work. Then in about six months I went back to school and after I graduated I began to work, but during the war I didn’t really work.
MT: How did you feel about the war while it was going on?
FT: Well, we felt it was necessary since we had been attacked.
MT: Did the ware change any of your habits or activities?
MT: Do you think that medical care changed because of the war?
FT: I think so.
MT: How so?
FT: Probably because a lot of the veterans that needed medical care got it. I think they did a pretty good job of advancing medical care during the war.
MT: Did you ever receive any benefits from being in the service?
MT: What benefits?
FT: I received a 10% Disability compensation, then I received most of my university tuition paid for by the government.
MT: How did you feel when the war was over?
FT: I was happy, but I hated that they had to end it by dropping the atomic bomb, but I guess there wasn’t much choice.
MT: Where and what were you doing when you heard that the war was over?
FT: I was in Vermillion, SD and everybody kind of dropped what they were doing and went downtown.
MT: During the war did you ever feel disappointed that you didn’t see any combat?
FT: I don’t remember how I felt.
MT: Did your military experience help you get jobs later on in your life?
MT: Where you or others treated differently because how you served during or after the war?
FT: Initially, I think I was treated differently. We did have an Army air base in Sioux Falls and I would ride the bus in my civilian clothes to go downtown and people would see a young man dressed in civilian clothes and wonder why he wasn’t in uniform.
MT: Did you know anybody who was killed or wounded?
MT: Would you like to talk about who they were?
FT: Well they were good friends I had when I was growing up in high school. That’s about it. I knew the from High Y different groups in high school we didn’t go to college at the same time, but I some what kept track of them. They were killed. Two fellows that were killed were killed in the Battle of the Bulge in November of 1944.
MT: When did you find out they had been killed?
FT: Almost as soon as they were killed.
MT: Did you ever worry that the United States wouldn’t win the war?
FT: No, I don’t think so.
MT: Did you ever receive any letters from people in the service?
FT: I suppose I did, but I don’t have them.
MT: Did you have any different responsibilities that you had to take on during the war?
MT: What were some of the changes that happened in life after the war ended and during the war?
FT: Well the changes were that I became ill and disabled and that I got back to school even though the war was still going on. There wasn’t any social activity going on as there was before. Out there in South Dakota it didn’t seem that we were hit with some of the things the more metropolitan areas had. I started in college in the fall of 1941 about three months before December 7th. Our social activities during that particular school I don’t think there was much of a change. All men knew the Navy called up to get men.
MT: Do you remember where you were when Pearl Harbor happened?
FT: In my room and I turned on my radio and suddenly this came over the radio and I couldn’t figure out where Pearl Harbor was. [Laughter]
MT: When you found out the details were you?
FT: I think everybody kind of dropped what they were doing and went back to the campus and kind of milled around that Sunday afternoon.
MT: When you found out the details were you angered?
MT: In college, did you notice that there weren’t as many people around?
FT: Oh yeah.
MT: What did you major in?
FT: Business administration.
MT: Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?
MT: Do you think the movies that portray the wars are true in any way?
FT: I don’t know.
MT: Basic training?
FT: Yeah, yeah probably so. The news we got through radio and newspapers and we’ve seen films.
MT: What exactly did you do during basic training?
FT: I really wasn’t in basic training for very long, we did get out and do some marching around. I spent 32 hours on AP after I got out of Fort Warren. Actually basic training had just begun a couple weeks before I went to the hospital. While we were in basic training we had class work and our platoon sergeant tried to teach us some thing about map reading and military history.
MT: Do you know how to read a map?
FT: Yeah, well just between the two of us our platoon sergeant didn’t really like me because he was teaching a class in map reading and kept asking questions and my hand always went up because I had had a year and a half of ROTC at the university and had a good map reading course there [Laughter] He didn’t really appreciate the fact that I knew all of the answers. [More laughter]
MT: Do you have any documents or papers about the war you’d like to share?
FT: No, not really.
MT: You worked at Keebler after the war?
MT: Were you ever unionized?
MT: When you had children did your children ever ask you about the war?
FT: Not that I can remember.
MT: How did you feel about the war newsreels?
FT: It was exciting. We either radio or newspaper and if we were lucky a movie or back in those days they always had a short replay of the news.
MT: Can you tell me about the food shortages and rationing?
FT: Well it didn’t affect me too much because I would eat in the service or at the university at dining halls. I’m sure maybe they made adjustments to the menu. Nothing too extreme. Sugar was rationed and coffee was rationed and gasoline was rationed and I had a little trouble getting clothing. When I went into the service my mother took my rack of clothes and suits and she tailored them for clothing for my sister so when I got out of the service I didn’t have any dress up clothes. I had a pretty good friend who owned a men’s clothing store downtown and he was able to get me a suit of clothes. [Laughter]
MT: How did your community, college respond to the war, civil defense or other home front issues?
FT: I don’t think they did too much. I’m sure that there were civil defense people in the neighborhoods that tried to get somebody from the university for air raids projects or whatever they may do. Out where we were I don’t think there was an awful lot. I don’t now weather the street lights were on during the war or not. They might not have been.
MT: Was there any hoarding or black market activity in you area?
FT: Not that I know of.
MT: Because of the lack of friends and people at college and the decline of the population, was there a lack of social opportunities because of the war?
FT: Yeah I think there was. Some of the dances we used to have or parties declined.
MT: What was your most memorable experience of the war?
FT: You mean for me personally?
MT: Yeah for you personally.
FT: You mean when it started and when it ended? For me being drafted. The biggest thing was receiving a letter that I was to report for induction just as we were taking our final exams for the 1st semester of that school year.
MT: Were you excited or worried when you were drafted?
FT: Not really, it applied to everyone.
MT: When the war started did you have a sense that you were going to be drafted?
FT: Oh yeah.
MT: Did you know anybody that wasn’t drafted?
FT: No I don’t think I knew anyone who wasn’t drafted. My high school graduating class people kind of split up after graduation so we lost track of people as far as I know everybody was either drafted into the Army or volunteered for service in the Navy or Air Force.
MT: Before you were drafted did you ever think about joining the Navy or Air Force?
FT: No. No you mean before the war started?
MT: How did you find out about the war or that it started before the US was involved?
FT: Through radio and newspapers. I remember reading a newspaper September of 1936 or 1937 Hitler marched into some of the European Countries. That was where the war started. That was before the US became involved.
MT: Do you ever think, like in 1936 that the US would become involved?
MT: Do you think that if Pearl Harbor hadn’t happened that the US wouldn’t have become involved?
FT: That’s, we probably would have because before we were attacked out at Pearl Harbor we did enter into what they call a lend lease program with England, ships and army units other stuff. I imagine that eventually we would have gotten involved. The country was still kind of not particularly interested in foreign affairs at that point. The United States tried to isolate us. They had quite a time getting the lend lease program started.
MT: Did you ever after Pearl Harbor witness any discrimination against Japanese?
FT: Not really where we were. Some of the larger cities out further west and stuff had some of those things. Most of the Japanese lived in camps. Where I lived we didn’t have any camps.
MT: Do you know about anything that happened inside the camps?
MT: Is there anything else I should ask you?
FT: No. You pretty well covered the lot.
MT: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
FT: Not really. [Laughter]
MT: Okay well thank you for letting me interview you.
FT: Your welcome.
Brief conversation about how taping was done. Then we have a conversation about some more stories with his wife and my mother.
FT: Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and it must have been close to 100 degrees in temperature and it felt like 100% humidity.
MT: This is how you got strep throat.
MT’s Mom: This was in May of?
FT: End of May of 1943. The next day we got off the train in Fort Warren, Wyoming. Which is getting close to a mile high and it was cold. At Fort Warren at that time they wore their woolen uniforms all year long. I asked the sergeant if I could put on my woolen uniform and he said, “No, you have to wait until everyone else had gotten theirs.” So the next day before everyone else got the complimentary wool uniforms, actually I wasn’t the only one became ill. I forget how many men in the my barracks ended getting sore throats and every morning we had to go through the company officer to get our throat swabbed out.
FT’s Wife: Tell them how they doubted you. Said you were ill and they didn’t believe you.
FT: Well, when I didn’t get ill in the barracks I given a light duty pass by the officer and I wasn’t going out on the basic training stuff. That evening, I wasn’t feeling well. And one of the fellas in our barracks had been in the hospital and taken a thermometer with him. [Laughter] And he said we’re going to take your temperature and it was 103 degrees. Sergeant, the platoon sergeant said, “Shake it down and take it again.” And it came up 103 again and the sergeant ran over to the company office and called the ambulance. The ambulance guys came and I was on the second floor of the barracks and they said, “Up come on.” And the platoon sergeant said, “He’s not walking you’re going to have to carry him down there.” And then when I got to the hospital they took me in and the fellas who were on either side of me in the hospital told me a day or two later that they thought I was dead when the brought me in.
MT’s Mom: Wow. I’m glad you asked.
FT: Then when I was at Fort Crook, Nebraska. It was right south of Omaha and it was what they called an Induction Center where guys would come around from Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska and come in and get their physicals and generally they would get in early in the morning and leave late in the afternoon. But every now and then if they were quite a ways away they would stay overnight and would have to have what they would call [Thinking] fireguard duty.
MT’s Mom: Now what’s that again?
FT: Well we had inductees spending the night in the Induction Center and we were in old barracks and we would have somebody patrol just keep an eye out so we would call them fire guard. And our 1st sergeant would take the new fellas and say this is what you do on fire guard, he would say, “Maybe you might want to faint and when you do okay just don’t lie there get up and do something about it.” [Laughter] Now see he was one of the people who went in the service during the depression, I’m sure he was. That time 1941 to ’43 he had been in the service for about 20-25 years.
MT’s Mom: Kind of a crusty guy?
FT: Yeah. That’s the end.
Click tabs to swap between content that is broken into logical sections.