Interview with Mr. Ralph Carmichael
Recorded on 11/11/03
Leigh Carmichael: We are here at Ralph Carmichael’s house on November 11, 2003. He lives at 2732 Parkwood Drive in Indianapolis, Indiana. Those attending are Tim Carmichael, Leigh Carmichael, and Ralph Carmichael.
LC: What wars did you serve in?
RC: Uh...World War 2.
LC: Where did you serve?
RC: European Theater of Operations.
LC: What was your rank?
RC: My final rank was Battalion Sergeant Major.
LC: What Branch of Service were you in?
RC: US Army.
LC: Were you drafted or did you enlist?
RC: Well, I was drafted, yes.
LC: Where were you living at the time?
RC: I believe it was Columbus, Indiana at the time I was drafted.
LC: Why did you join?
RC: Well I was drafted.
LC: Oh, sorry.
LC: Did you pick the service branch you were in or was it given to you?
RC: No, when you’re drafted at that time they try to pick out a service you are qualified for but it usually didn’t end up that way!
LC: Do you recall your first days in service?
RC: Oh yes, very much!
LC: What did it feel like?
RC: Well, it was different because most of us had just been inducted into the service and we hadn’t been away from home very far and you see all these people and you’ve lost your identity so to speak and it was certainly different.
LC: Tell me about your boot camp/ training experience.
RC: Well, we were shipped to Camp McCain, Mississippi in a swamp and we had to build a camp. And so we had a lot of problems down there with bugs and all kinds of things. But we had a good time. It was different but we thought we were getting not very good food, but we realized that we gained fifteen or twenty pounds so they were feeding you with the food that you needed.
LC: How did you get through it?
RC: I sort of enjoyed it. I didn’t hate it at all. I guess I had it pretty easy. I was lucky. One of the reasons I was lucky, because I came from a high school that didn’t have very good training facilities but they did teach us typing. And I was put in an outfit that a lot of people that were under educated that couldn’t type, so I got a choice office job right off the bat at headquarters.
LC: Ok, moving on to your initial experience in the war. Tell us again what war you served in.
RC: Uh...it was World War 2.
LC: Where exactly did you go?
RC: Well, we were first shipped to New England then shipped across the ocean on the ship New Amsterdam and this was sort of unique because most of the time you go over in convoys, but we were in this large ship that was fast and they told us that we could outrun the submarines, because the Germans were sending a huge number of our ships before they got to England and we landed in Scotland.
LC: Well, could you just tell us which countries you were in during World War 2?
RC: Well, we were in Scotland, then moved down to England then moved to France and got in convoys and moved up the Seine River. Then got in a convoy and ended up in Paris and our first major job there was putting wounded soldiers on air evacuation unit and later on we moved up to Belgium and Holland and Germany and further into Europe.
LC: Do you remember arriving and what it was like?
RC: Yes! The thing I remember most of all was not getting sick on the ship and you could hardly walk the deck was so slick with everyone throwing up. But on our way across the English Channel, I did get sick. It was REALLY rough! We were bouncing around like a cork in the ocean and I did get sick. That’s the thing that I remember most of arriving there.
LC: So would you say that it wasn’t a very pleasant experience going over there?
RC: Oh, going over and arriving in England was perfectly all right but going across the English Channel was not a memory to cherish!
LC: I can understand!
LC: What was your job assignment when you got settled in?
RC: Well, as I mentioned previously that my first job was in the First General Hospital in Paris and the Air Evacuation unit. My job was that they were bringing these people in that had lost legs and wounded and we were shipping them up the air evacuation. And I know I did something’s I know I shouldn’t have done because I changed a lot of their diagnosis. You know they had their diagnosis and what caused their injury and what should be done about it and how it should be treated. They had self inflicted wounds and I felt so sorry for them and they were just kids so I changed a lot of the papers they had about their injuries, so I did change a lot of them in fact!
LC: Did you see combat?
LC: Were there many casualties in your unit?
RC: Not in my unit, there were actually no casualties.
LC: Tell about your most memorable experience’s overall in the war.
RC: Well, uh the things I remember more vividly, well, first of all when we went right after Christmas, when we started moving up the coast in Aachen, Germany, I was out in the weather and one of these buzz bombs it just sounded like a truck really weird and all at once it stopped and all of a sudden it dropped close by and I also remember in Aachen I saw the first jet and I’ll never forget seeing that walking down the road.
LC: Were you a prisoner of war?
LC: Were you awarded any metals or citations?
LC: How did you stay in touch with your family?
RC: Almost all just by letter. It was the only way we could do it.
LC: What was the food like?
RC: It might not look good but it was wholesome and it was nourishing food.
LC: Did you have plenty of supplies?
RC: Well fortunately we did. In our unit we took care of the medical and hospital people and the collection people and hospital personal. We were also in charge of supplies so we got the first look at the supplies.
LC: Did you feel pressure or stress?
RC: Not really.
LC: Was there something special you did for good luck?
RC: No, this is sort of ironic because everyone I was in close contact with believed that they had a predestined future but after being there they changed their mind!
LC: How did people entertain themselves?
RC: Well there wasn’t much to entertain us with. Well, we did see the Glenn Miller’s orchestra in Paris but we didn’t get to see the nurses and Red Cross people and pass out donuts and things and stuff. The only things we got were passed out cigarettes.
LC: That’s ok too!
LC: Were there any entertainers that came around like Bob Hope and other entertainers?
RC: There were, but not where I was.
LC: What did you do when on leave?
RC: I did get a leave when I was in Germany down to the Riviera and spent some very enjoyable time there. But when I got back to my outfit, it took me about a month to get back to my outfit.
LC: That’s very interesting!
LC: Do you recall any particular humorous or unusual events while traveling in any of these countries?
RC: No, I can’t recall.
LC: What were some of the pranks that you or the others would pull on anybody else?
RC: Um, we would pull mischievous pranks. I know one guy, we had chemicals that we had sodium cyanide things and put them on people and they would turn to tear gas. Actually there was not much entertainment going on.
LC: Do you have any specific photographs from that time that you cherish?
RC: I do have some of the people I worked with.
LC: What did you think of officers or fellow soldiers?
RC: I enjoyed them. Especially I enjoyed Sergeant Johnson. He was my mentor because I was young and he had such an influence on me.
LC: Did you consider your unit like family while you were there?
RC: Yea, we were a close unit and there were only 25 people in our outfit and we had a lot of responsibility and we had to take care of supplies and we had a lot of responsibility.
LC: Did you meet anyone special in those countries that weren’t in your unit?
RC: After the war, these German people would wash our clothes and things like that for food and what not and this one little girl that used to come over that lived with her grandmother and I really liked her adopt her.
LC: How did most people that saw you when you came to their city or town react to you coming there?
RC: With the exception or the SS troopers and a few hardliners, the German people were very nice. I was certainly surprised. They would hug us and cook our food and messing the table and they just loved us and we had no problem at all with us.
LC: Did you make a personal diary or journal?
LC: Moving on to after your service in the war.
LC: Do you recall your last days in the service?
RC: Oh yes. Well, I came home early in the unit. We had some family problems and they were discharging people according to their points and when I came back I knew I would be discharged and yes I can remember that.
LC: Where were you when you got discharged?
RC: I was discharged in Missouri.
LC: What did you do when you got home?
RC:I hung around and chilled out and the atomic bomb had a huge influence on our lives and I wanted to be a scientist so I went to college.
LC: Did you work or did you just go to school?
RC: I didn't work, I just went to school. I was an assistant to some teachers in the science department.
LC: What your education supported by the GI Bill?
RC: Oh yes, I wouldn’t have been able to go because at that time they were paying for tuition and books and stuff.
LC: Did you make any close friends in the service?
RC: Well we were close in the service but after that war, we went our separate ways and sort of lost contact.
LC: How long would you say was the longest relationship you had after you left?
RC: Sergeant Johnson was probably the longest. I went to see him and his family in Ohio.
 LC: Did you join any veterans groups after the war?
RC: When I first got out, I joined but then I dropped it.
LC: Let’s go on to the later years after the war.
LC: What did you go on to do after the war?
RC: Well, I first went to college and went to Lilly and Company and worked on a PhD.
LC: Did your military experience influence your idea on war?
RC: I appreciated the attitude of the soldiers and it’s completely different than today. I just can’t believe the attitude of the soldiers then and today!
LC: How did your service and experience affect your life?
RC: Well, without the service I probably wouldn’t have been able to go to college and be a scientist.
LC: Ok, I have a few questions of my own to ask you.
LC: I was wondering what kind of sports did you play in your unit?
RC: When the war was going on, we didn’t have time but after the war we played body ball and softball.
LC: Did you know what kind of food you ate over there?
RC: That’s a good question because before we got over there it was dehydrated and we ate C- rations and when we got there we got German cooks that could make any food taste so good.
LC: Did you go through any towns that had been bombed but people still lived there?
RC: Oh yes, most of the towns had been bombed and leveled and those women and small children were out sweeping streets and cleaning.
LC: What was one of the most stunning things you saw there?
RC: The most stunning things were in Cologne, Germany in the Ruhr Valley before the war and you could see all the way across the city. They completely leveled the city. It was completely knocked down to street level.
LC: If you had to do it again, would you?
RC: In those circumstances I certainly would. I felt I was doing my duty to the country and I gladly went and served!
LC: Well I really appreciate you taking this time out of your day and I appreciate you serving and it really made a difference in our country and the way we live now so thank you.
RC: Your Welcome!
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