“When Boys Began to Leave:” Louisiana Recalls World War II

EPISODE 4   (21:37)

 

Group of U.S. Air Force pilots, ca. 1942

This month marks the sixty-eighth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Unites States’ entrance into World War II.  In this episode, we delve into one of the Center’s most popular series: Military History. This series includes interviews with veterans of the Korean and Vietnam War, but most of the interviews deal with World War II from the perspective of LSU alumni. Capturing a multitude of veterans’ voices epitomizes why we do what we do here at the Center and why we partner with the Library of Congress Veteran’s History Project. The narratives in our collection go beyond the politics of wars to the stories behind the strategies and to the lives behind the logistics. These stories transcend ideological debates, and these stories disappear when WWII veterans die, which is at a rate of 1600 a day in the US. This episode highlights Louisianan experiences of World War II. We’ll hear from a highly decorated Marine Corps general, the daughter of a former dean of LSU, a participant in the liberation of a concentration camp, a witness to the aftermath of the atomic bomb, and a Japanese POW camp survivor.

From all of us here at the Center, we’d like to dedicate this podcast to all veterans of military service, to the men and women currently serving our country, and to the veterans that we have interviewed over the years, especially those that have since passed away.

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AUDIO EXCERPT TRANSCRIPTIONS AND CITATIONS

JOSEPH DUPONT, JR.  is the key excerpt.  *For full transcription, see below.

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General Robert Barrow

ROBERT H. BARROW:  The only chance you saw of visualizing the war was if you went to the movies.  Pathe News would have some, obviously black and white film of . . . Say in 1940, U.S. Army getting ready to build up and also ’41.  You saw soldiers drilling with wooden rifles and you saw maneuvers in which there were no tanks but there would be a big truck come by with a big sign hanging on the side, “T-A-N-K” which it was to be . . . It was supposed to . . . simulated to be a tank.

And there was a double spread page in the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate sometime in ’42 in which the recruiter, I’m sure, had got it for nothing . . . didn’t pay for it.  Double spread page showing a World War I marine and his tin hat and leggings jumping out of a trench, not a foxhole, with an O-3 rifle.  The caption said, “Join the Marine Corps and we will have a rifle in your hand and a man to show you how to use it within forty-eight hours.”

Barrow, Robert, interview by Peter Soderbergh, audio recording, 1992, 4700.0097. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Mary Frey Eaton, 1943

Mary Frey Eaton, 1943

L.W. Eaton Jr., 1943

L.W. Eaton Jr., 1943

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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MARY FREY EATON:  And I remember calling home and asking Daddy if I could take our car.  And he came out to the campus and I can remember running out to the car, and I never had seen him look like that.  He looked sort of gray and he was listening to the radio and he said, “The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor.”  And I had no concept of what that meant.  I didn’t know what Pearl Harbor was, you know, I was kind of like, “So?”   But he understood and he just looked . . . Well, I never have forgotten that expression on his face.  It was just very grave and distressed, I guess you’d say.

And I remember when we got back in . . . Puna [L. W. Eaton, Jr.]and I were not going steady but we were dating.  He was on the freshman football team and he was in his room.  He was up on the top floor.  He said he was lying on his bunk, watching those pine trees, you know  the ones over there on the east side of the stadium?  And he was listening to it and really not grasping the full significance, but did realize it meant it was pretty grim.  And then, well, very quickly boys began to leave.

Eaton, Mary Frey, interview by Pamela Dean, audio recording, 1995, 4700.0504. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Joseph Dupont in China ca. 1940

Joseph Dupont in China ca. 1940

*JOSEPH DUPONT, JR.And they discovered these three men were missing from this one particular barracks.  So, they sent out a patrol and they caught them, and they brought them back.  Well, then they wanted to set them up as an example of what would happen if one would be caught escaping again.    Okay, they took these three young army guys and they tied them up outside the gate.  They tied their hands behind their backs in such a position where they were stooped over.  First, they beat them.  They had ax handles and other types of big clubs that they would beat them with.  Then, they made them kneel down and they had . . . They put a two by four board in between their legs, so that when they were kneeling down, this would cut the circulation off in their legs.  And their hands would be tied to the post behind them.  And a rope was put around their neck and it pulled against the stake in the ground, so that they were facing the sun. 

But anyway, after one day of this the Japanese came to them.  Of course, these men were just about out of their heads by this time.  The Japs came to them and told them that because they were merciful, because the emperor was merciful, they could be . . . they could request to be executed, which would end their sufferings.  Or, they would have three more days of this type of treatment because they escaped.  Well, these guys were out of their head.  I guess they were in so much pain.  They brought a little . . . set a letter there for them and they all scribbled their name on there indicating they requested to be executed.  So these men signed, all signed.

Then they called the whole camp out.  They had to set an example.  They called the whole camp out.  They took these three people, and they made them dig their own graves.  They dug them.  Then they stood them in front of the grave, and we were all brought out there and lined up to watch this.  They brought their firing squad up, lined them up in front.  Then they went to each man with a cup of tea and asked him did he want to have a cup of tea.  None of the men took the tea, I guess their lips were so banged . . .Then they offered them a cigarette, of all things.  And then after that, they offered them a blindfold.  They all took the blindfold.  And then they . . . firing squad marched in front and they gave the command and they fired.  They fell back into their graves.

Then, they issued an order that all men in the camp would be formed into ten-man squads.  They called them shooting squads.  What that was . . . that you had ten men.  If any one escaped, the other nine would be executed.  That was the rule.

Dupont, Joseph E., Jr.,  interview by  Jennifer Abraham, audio recording, 2001, 4700.1409. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Millard Brewer at the Ohrdruf Concentration Camp, Germany, 1945

Millard Brewer at the Ohrdruf Concentration Camp, Germany, 1945

MILLARD BREWER: And on the fourth of April, we come up on this concentration camp at Ohrdruf.  And this is also documented that it was the first concentration camp liberated of the many hundred of concentration camps located throughout Germany, Poland, Austria.  Some people think just of the big ones, Dachau and Auschwitz. Bergen-Belsen and so forth, but . . .  

But I know that I was there and I saw with my own eyes, those people that were able were in this one little street . . . this one little, like, courtyard.  This was a small concentration camp.  If I remember correctly, I think that only about seventy people [were] left.   And they were in this little courtyard.   And when we entered, they were actually crawling up . . . crawling on the ground, up to us and they would grab us by the legs.

And then on one side of the . . . this little quadrant, so to speak, there were bodies waiting to be burned.   And they had been kept in a solution similar to formaldehyde.  But they were stacked, very similar to cord wood, like head to foot.   And looked about like the size of a cord of wood, most people know.   And they were ready . . . They were ready for the crematorium.   

Brewer, Millard, interview by Jennifer Abraham, audio recording, 2003, 4700.1517 Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Charles Barney, ca. 1942

Charles Barney, ca. 1942

CHARLES BARNEY: The conditions that we found in Japan were unbelievably stark.  The . . . Our air force had almost destroyed everything there.   We went in with the marines immediately after the atomic bombs were dropped.  In fact, probably too soon after, as far . . . Now that we understand the dangers of radiation and these kind of things.  But we went in the next day and landed the marines and then . . . Of course, when we got in we didn’t know what to expect.   We knew about the bombs and we were . . . We didn’t have any idea of what the devastation would be.  They were just big bombs as far as we were concerned. 

But when we got there it was . . . the damage, the results were unbelievably horrific and the land . . . the landing, the areas that we went into were wiped out.  You look around what we’ve got here,  houses and buildings and things of that . . . were flat.  They were . . . it was flat.  That was all you could say about it. We expected to be challenged when we went in, because the Japanese were real fighters.  They were real fighters.  They did not back down from anything, but they were gone.   Nothing was there.  There were no people.  There was nothing, it was devastated.  We were fully armed going in, but it was unnecessary.  And this was in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and both of these are maybe . . . at that time were maybe 150,000 apiece . . . people.  And we went ashore and there was no one.  They were gone.

Barney, Charles, interview by Jennifer Abraham, audio recording, 2007, 4700.0944,  Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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JOSEPH DUPONT, JR.: We’re out there the next day about four o’clock in the afternoon eating whatever we could find and wondering what’s going to happen.  Shells still going back and forth, and hear all kinds of gunshots going on out there.  Then we hear a pounding on the back wall.  There was a section where there was a door, where they had boarded it up and we heard this pounding back there.   Boom! Boom!   What the hell is that?  The planks fell in and these big, huge people, huge people with green and new weapons we’d never seen before, new helmets.  They come walking in, they looked like they were from Mars.  But you see, they looked huge to us because we were all skin and bones.  These people were big.  And I’ll never forget it.  Somebody said, “Who the hell are you guys?” to them.  And they said, “Who the hell are you?”  [laughter].  

Dupont, Joseph E., Jr.,  interview by  Jennifer Abraham, audio recording, 2001, 4700.1409. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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IMAGES

Group of pilots, ca. 1942,  Warren Russell Lobdell Papers, Mss. 4532, LLMVC

Robert Barrow, ca. 1997

Mary Frey Eaton, LSU Gumbo, 1943

L.W. Eaton, Jr.,  LSU Gumbo, 1943

Joseph Dupont and a rickshaw in China, ca. 1940, courtesy J.E. Dupont

Millard Brewer, 1945, Ohrdruf  Concentration Camp, Germany, courtesy Millard Brewer

Charles Barney, ca. 1942, courtesy Charles Barney

 

MUSIC

King, Freddie, interview by Tatiana Clay and Eric Julien, audio recording, 2008, 4700.1921.  Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

 

This podcast is copyrighted by LSU Libraries Special Collections.

For a full transcript of the podcast, please contact Jennifer Abraham at jabrah1@lsu.edu.

 

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4 comments on ““When Boys Began to Leave:” Louisiana Recalls World War II
  1. Ryan F says:

    The accounts from these people are chilling.

  2. noteber says:

    thank you. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

  3. nice post about history.. like it

  4. Allen says:

    Nice and very interesting about the history. I’m always searching for this kind of post. World War II brought many changes in the world, WW2 aftermath, post war changes, etc. Thanks a lot for sharing this article.

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Welcome to the blog and podcast for the Williams Center for Oral History. Our goal is to provide updates on Center projects and activities as well as to share with you on a regular basis audio excerpts from our collection.

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