Interview with Robert Thomas Christian
Interviewed by Andrew Scales
Recorded on 5/2006 by Andrew Scales
Transcribed on 11/20/2006-11/27/2006 by Clay Moore
Andrew Scales: This is Andrew Scales for May 17th, 2006 I am interviewing Mr. Robert Christian. Here with him is his wife.
Andrew Scales: First may I ask which war you are a veteran of?
Robert Thomas Christian: World War II
YN: And your rank?
IN: Tech Sergeant.
YN: And where did you serve?
IN: North Africa and Italy.
YN: What were your reasons for joining? Were you drafted?
YN: Can you recall your first days in service? What was it like?
IN: Well we just went to Indianapolis to the Armory and went through the physical and took the oath, and was sent home for two weeks
YN: Where were you from originally?
IN: Lebanon, Indiana.
YN: What happened after you took the oath and sent home. Were you shipped out or what?
IN: Well, went to work, continued to work and then left on the train two weeks later for Fort Ben and was there for two or three days.
YN: Did you ever experience combat in World War Two?
IN: no, well not really. What you call combat, we were always five or six miles behind the lines, so we didn’t have any machine gun fire or mortar fire, artillery shell occasionally, but that’s all.
YN: What was the process that brought you from Indianapolis to North Africa and Italy?
IN: Well, with the train to Fort Ben[jamin Harrison], and then on a transfer to Fort Leonard Wood in engineer basic training and then went to University of Kentucky, stayed downtown in the University of Phoenix Hotel downtown. There were quite a lot of soldiers there because they didn’t have any use for them at the moment, so they sent us to school for three months. After that each class went to different well, one class went to California and our class went to Durham, North Carolina. We spent a month or so there at Camp Buckner and then went from there to Chenango, Pennsylvania which is up near Youngstown, and then went to Camp Kilmer in New Jersey to get ready to go over seas. Spent six days there, got six passes to New York City, the left in April for Casablanca, wound up in Casablanca.
YN: What time period was this in, which year, and what time of year?
IN: Well, went in August and went to Kentucky, Halloween we arrived in Kentucky in1942, then left Kentucky in January of ’43, and got on a boat on April 12th of ’43. Wound up in Casablanca a couple weeks later. Was there for six weeks didn’t get shipped out with all the rest of the guys that I came with. I was stuck there and finally they quite calling my name and so I met a fellow from Lebanon that I had gone to school with. But my dad, he was captain at the time, so he wanted me to, I forwarded mail for awhile and then finally he decided that maybe I could be company clerk, so he put my name in as company clerk and when they found out somebody had been there for six weeks, they decided, that phew, he’s ready to go, so I immediately got shipped out after that. Took a train to Oran out there, which was very nice. And then stayed there for a couple of weeks, took a boat over to Tunisia, joined 34th Division on July 4th of ’43. And within about six weeks over there then took a motor convoy back to Oran, where we stayed for a couple of months before we left for Italy. And on to Italy in September, then went over to the west coast turned and went over to the east coast, to keep the Yugoslavs out, back to Naples, back home.
IN: By then had the war finished, or—
YN: Yea, oh yea. We were up well, it was about over when we got the bologna why it was over. We traveled from one place to the next and then they��d say well go on, so we went to someplace else, then wed go to someplace else, and we finally stopped up in the foothills of the alps made a second I think it was where, the war in Italy was actually over then we just it was over along the French border to keep the French from coming in and went over to the Yugoslav border to keep the Yugoslavs from coming in that was were we spent from May to October, in October we went back to Naples.
IN: So after the war you stayed a few months in Europe and then.
YN: Oh yea.
IN: Describe some of your duties as a tech sergeant during the war.
YN: Well the most important thing I did in high school was take typing so when I told them I took typing, in Fort Ben, why next morning at 5 o’clock I was down running a typewriter for, well typing the stuff for the soldiers that were coming in, so then well I took geodetic computing at the University of Kentucky, which was just something they were giving soldiers to do something, not really planning to use them that way, and then after spending from April May and June in north Africa, I finally got assigned to the 34th Division because the clerk typist of the headquarters drowned in the Mediterranean, got caught in the undertow. So they needed a clerk typist. So I walked right in, so that’s what I did from then on was type up reports put up sepias [photos?] and take them down, move from one place to another.
IN: What are some of your most memorable experiences during your service in world war 2?
YN: Oh I don’t know, I guess one thing I saw the movie Casablanca in Lexington in January, and in April I was in Casablanca ha-ha.
Andrew: Was there any similarities?
Christian: Oh no. No similarities. It was a, well we pulled in Casablanca about 2 o’clock and it was a beautiful city from about fifty miles out into the ocean white buildings, really a beautiful site. So I spent six weeks in a training camp just south of Casablanca, then got to Casablanca a few times.
YN: What were the local attitudes like what were the people like towards American soldiers?
IN: Never had any dealing with the local people. Well, I wasn’t one to venture out, and a lot of guys, when they hit a place boy, they’d be out visiting with the civilians, but I ever did do that. I never had any dealings with the civilians other then in restraints someplace. Have meals in Casablanca, that’s about the only dealings I had with the civilians.
YN: What are some other experiences you have that are memorable?
IN: Well, they had, we had a photographer in Lebanon, that got in the army, and he was assigned the 5th Army headquarters in Caserta, Italy and somehow he found out there were several Lebanon boys in the area, so the end of February 1944, which happened to be a leap year, so its February the 29, seven or eight of us got together at Caserta and had coffee and saw a movie, So I got to see the guys I knew for that. Some of them were well one or two of them two of them were in my high school class, a couple of them were a year or two earlier not, but they were a little bit older then I.
YN: What were their experiences like, were they also tech sergeants?
IN: No I don’t know what one of them was a head of the officers club in Naples, and one of them had a I think he drove an ammunition truck in North Africa and I think he had some bad experiences I never did really know what, but he wound up working for the red cross delivering doughnuts to various, following red cross people around delivering doughnuts to different camps and that is what his job was. Let’s see, fellow took me down to the reunion he was in the field artillery in the 34th Division, and I don’t remember what the others were, but there were three or four Lebanon boys in the area that never got to come I never did know exactly why, they could have come, but they couldn’t get away ort they didn’t have a way to get there I never did understand why.
YN: What was the major difference between army life and I guess camp life or base life was it jarring or what?
IN: Well, it’s just a restrictive that’s all. The three months in Lexington Kentucky was very nice because we were off from the time we got out of school in the evening to 11 o’clock at night, so we had that freedom, go to movies, do what we wanted to do in the evening, and we had all weekend, we were off all weekend, too.
IN: How old were you when you were drafted?
YN: Twenty-one. I had two years of college so that’s why I was deferred until the middle of ’42.
YN: How did you stay in touch with your family during the war?
IN: Well letters via mail. I got home once I got home in December of ’42 from Lexington. That was an interesting ride home we got one of the soldiers I think his folks came down after him so I rode with him up to Cincinnati and then we took a train to Indianapolis and of course the train was packed And we were all standing all out there and the guys “here just jump into this mail cart” so we all piled into the mail cart and climbed up onto the mail sacks, so that’s were we spent our time on the ride to Indianapolis.
YN: Did you feel any pressure or stress while you were in the service?
IN: No, not particularly I want in any serious situation, want Marines, thank goodness, well, it was ,I didn’t like the army, I didn’t want to be in the army, but everybody else was in the army so guess it was the normal thing to be back in those days.
YN: What did you do after the war?
IN: well, got out Friday, and then went back to work at the prink shop, where I’d worked for what about ten years, went to work Monday morning. So that’s what I did just worked for the first three months, then finally in February I went back into Wabash College. There wasn’t anything real I could take because it was kind of a mid-semester. I took a few courses but didn’t really do any good. So when I went back in the fall I still had two years to go to finish up. Then I graduated in ’48.
YN: did your military experience influence your thinking about war or did it change your perspective?
IN: No no, can’t say it did.
YN: Are there other experiences that particularly influenced you during your time in service?
IN: no, I don’t think so. Got to see North Africa, that was unusual, and I got to see Italy, so.
IN: What was Italy like after the war, after the war had finished, what was the attitude or.
YN: I don’t know, really because we weren’t really associated with civilians at all, we were just in the camp, I didn’t get out much, we did take trips to Trieste, and we were over there, that was interesting. And I had a chance to go to Venice one morning but got up and it was raining like crazy, so I decided not to go.
YN: What did you and your comrades think during the war, what was your perspective on fighting towards the enemy, and the places you were in.
IN: I really don’t know. I we never did sit around and talk about it. There were 4 guys captured out of our outfit, they were, we were engineering and mostly we rode and stuff, and so they were out checking the road and things and got captured, and I think two of them escaped, and I think one of them actually came back to camp after being sent back to the united states he wanted to come back so he came back and was there again after two or three months after he’d been captured. And I think a couple of them had been killed I heard. It really didn’t sit around and talk about the war. We were just doing our job.
YN: did you have any times where you felt threatened as though there were, well you might have to get the heck out of there?
IN: Well, we had artillery shells coming in, we felt a little uneasy. I always slept in a fox hole ‘cause I was a little cautious. And a lot of guys just slept on cots, and cramped all in a tent. But I always had my fox hole slept in.
IN: So was your office close to the lines?
YN: Eh, it was far back. We didn’t have to worry bout anything besides artillery—once in a while. I can’t remember about once twice, I think we were once shelled in cosine and then once up north of Florence. But we were back far enough we didn’t have a whole lot of concern about that.
YN: What was the mobility of the army life, were you able to pack up and move easily?
IN: Oh yea, just take down the tent and load it up. And we were off. I suppose an hour I don’t know if it took that long to set up the tent, ‘course you was also in the trunk so there really wasn’t anything to do there. That was one of my jobs was to distribute maps to all the units, The infantry and the field artillery. They delivered all the maps to all area, I had to count them out see how much we had and break them up to different units and get the maps out to them.
YN: What was life like before and after the war? What had things changed for you and your personal experience?
IN: Well, really it didn’t change a bit as far as I’m concerned. It was just three years gone and instead of going to college why then I came back and went on and went back to college. Went on with what I was planning on doing in the first place. So it really didn’t affect anything besides being gone for three years.
IN: is there anything else you would like to add or any other experiences you would like to share?
YN: No, I don’t know. We did have and experience later on in life. Our son got married and at a reception they had, it was the wife’s stepfather was there. I found out later that he was the leader of the 34th Division band that used to come around in the field and play for us. But unfortunately I never talked to him and I never found this out until after this. It was kind of a disappointment I didn’t find this out while he was around.
YN: So you might have heard your future in-law play some music?
IN: Yea I did. I didn’t pursue it when I saw him and I didn’t, so we never got accounted that way.
Andrew: Well I suppose that’s about it and yes sir thank you so much for your time and your willingness to share your experiences.
Robert: You bet. Thank you!
Click tabs to swap between content that is broken into logical sections.