Albion Central School Veterans History Project – Interview Transcript

Interviewee: Robert James Christy 
Interviewer: Harmony Hagen
Place of Birth: Medina, New York 
Date of Interview: June 10, 2004
Date of Birth: August 3, 1912
Place of Residence: Albion, New York

War(s) in which Interviewee Served: World War II
Branch of Service or Wartime Activity: Army
Battalion, Regiment, Division, Unit, Ship, etc.: 29th Division
Method of Induction: Drafted
Service Dates: May 15, 1942 to October 26, 1945
Location of Military or civilian service: Northern Ireland, Southern England, OCS/USA, Iceland
Other information: Highest rank – sergeant; Quartermaster/Ordinance

Transcript

Hagen: June 10th, 2004 at 9:10 a.m. And I’m interviewing Robert Christy. My name’s Harmony Hagen. What did you do before you joined the service?

Christy: I was a printer. I worked for Petty Printing, Incorporation, Albion. Forty-nine years, altogether.

Hagen: Did you enlist, or were you drafted?

Christy: Drafted.

Hagen: Tell me about your first days in the service.

Christy: About what?

Hagen: Your first days in the service.

Christy: I went first to Fort Niagara. From there went by train to Fort Warren, which is just outside Cheyenne, Wyoming. Took us about five days. From there, I went to Camp Dix. And from Dix, we went to, well, we boarded ship and went to, well, the Clyde River. We boarded the Queen Elizabeth and five days…it took us five days to cross. We wound up on the Clyde River, Scotland. From there, we shipped on a smaller boat to Ireland. Northern Ireland. From Northern Ireland, later on, we went to southern England. Devizes, actually. And I had applied for OCS in Ireland and took my physical; passed it. It was several months later before I even heard…I had forgotten all about it. I was on detached service with the 29th Division. And one of our lieutenants came over…there were about 30 of us on this detached service. He came over to pay us our payroll. He said, he told me I had to go back before the OCS board. So, I went back with him. I didn’t figure I’d pass it because my uniform was in a barracks bag [unidentifiable comment---possibly: “still all ruffled?”]… There were only two of us passed it, I was one of them. So, we shipped out, back to the states about around March 1st. Went to Aberdeen for training. OCS, that’s where the OCS school was for ordinance. In the meantime, I was originally a quartermaster, but it was later changed to ordinance. So I went to ordinance school. OCS. I washed out, six weeks later. I went to Camp Miles Standish awaiting shipment. And we shipped out to Liverpool. From Liverpool, we took a tramp…[correcting self]…a Greek freighter to Iceland. And I don’t know the exact date we arrived in Iceland. But after that, after I was up there about a year, I qualified for furlough to the States. Detached service, actually. So I got home in 1944. Oh, December 1st, 1944, I arrived in New York. Went home for a month. Then shipped back to Iceland. Spent the rest of my service in Iceland. I crossed the Atlantic six times. So we came…after the German surrender, I spent a few months in charge of a refrigeration depot on the docks at Reykjavik. And when the Japanese surrendered, I was sent back to the states…discharged.

Hagen: What was your job as a quartermaster?

Christy: My original training was motorcycle mechanic. When I got over to England, they didn’t have any motorcycles. So they put me through small arms school. Well, about that time, we…they changed us over to ordinance---they were originally medium maintenance---truck. But they changed us to ordinance and they sent me to small arms school. About that time, I shipped back to the States for OCS. And when I went to Iceland, they didn’t have any reason for motorcycle mechanics or small arms [chuckles], so they gave me a job taking details out to different installations, stacking crates and all that. And then they put me in charge of a refrigeration… Oh, I ran an ice plant on Iceland for a few months. Making ice in Iceland [laughs]! But actually, in the summer, it gets up around in the 70’s, low 70’s, so they did need ice. When I left Iceland, I was in charge of this installation on the docks in Reykjavik. I was on the docks in Reykjavik when the Japanese surrendered. The harbor lit up with all the boats in the harbor firing guns and everything else…they couldn’t figure out what was happening. As you see, it was very uneventful.

Hagen: What exactly is OCS?

Christy: Pardon?

Hagen: What exactly is OCS?

Christy: It’s what?

Hagen: What is OCS?

Christy: Oh. Officer Candidate School.

Hagen: Tell me about you most memorable experiences.

Christy: In the service? I don’t think I had any. [Laughs.] To me it was mostly boring.

Hagen: Did you stay in touch with people at your home?

Christy: Oh, yes.

Hagen: What did you do for recreation?

Christy: Not much. We had movies. I can’t think of anything else we did. It was pretty boring up there. Did a lot of guard duty.

Hagen: How did you celebrate your holidays?

Christy: Pardon?

Hagen: How did you celebrate your holidays?

Christy: We didn’t celebrate.

Hagen: What did you do in the days after you left the service?

Christy: Well, when I came home, I got home October, I think it was, yeah. I went back to work for Petty Printing Corporation. I worked there until I retired at 65…that was in 1977.

Hagen: Where were you on December 7th, 1941, on the attack…with the attack on Pearl Harbor?

Christy: Actually, I had a band, a dance band, and we were broadcasting from WBTA in Batavia that afternoon. It was around two o’clock in the afternoon, I think. And they kept…I noticed they kept breaking in. Couldn’t figure out what…on the broadcast…I couldn’t figure out what was happening. So after we got through, I found out that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. So that’s when I did. And it was, as I said, May 15th before I went in.

Hagen: You said you served in London?

Christy: Pardon?

Hagen: You said you served in London, is that correct?

Christy: I didn’t serve in London, I was on pass at the time of the bombing.

Hagen: What was a usual night in London like?

Christy: What was what?

Hagen: What was the usual night in London like?

Christy: Oh, a lot of drinking. That one night I was there during a bombing attack…during a raid…several hundred people were killed, falling down in the subway. The subways in London are quite deep and there’s one set of stairs, goes from the top all the way down, straight down. And apparently, some…somebody tripped at the top of the stairs…the stairs were full of people. They all wound up in a pile at the bottom. And I think over a hundred people were killed in that event. That was one of the things I remember about it.

Hagen: You talk about a bombing raid?

Christy: Pardon?

Hagen: You talked about a bombing raid?

Christy: That was it. At that time.

Hagen: So the Germans came in? The Germans came and bombed London?

Christy: Well, the planes did, yeah. I was in a hotel there, right across from a park, and all of a sudden I heard all this artillery going off….this…anti-aircraft guns in the park across from the hotel. It was noisy. But the actual bombing was quite a ways from where I was.

Hagen: Did you make any close friends with the people in your unit?

Christy: Not really. None that I’ve kept in touch with. I traveled around too much. Even in Iceland, I kept getting transferred from one camp to another. I never spent…I don’t think I ever spent more than six months in any one place.

Hagen: How did your experiences…how did your experiences contribute to your thinking about the war and military service?

Christy: I didn’t think about it.

Hagen: Do you have any feelings about serving?

Christy: About serving? No, not really. I served and that was it. It wasn’t….I don’t think it was patriotism…it was just that I had to do it.

Hagen: Are you a member of any veteran’s or other organizations related to your service?

Christy: American Legion.

Hagen: Do you attend any reunions?

Christy: No.

Hagen: Were there any casualties in your unit?

Christy: Not that I know of. I was never in one unit for very long. I don’t remember if there were any…

Hagen: Were you ever fearful?

Christy: Was I ever what?

Hagen: Fearful.

Christy: Fearful? No, I don’t think I was, actually. Of course, you’re concerned. Any time you get on a boat, the boat might get torpedoed or something like that. But, no, I never figured I was in too much danger.

Hagen: Did you know anybody else that was serving in a combat unit?

Christy: Well, I had a lot of friends who were in combat units, yeah.

Hagen: During the time that you were over in London and in Iceland, did you meet up with any of your friends?

Christy: Yeah. I had a detail at a warehouse quite a distance from our camp and we were working there…I had this detail working…they were, what they were doing was baling up mosquito bars. They’d been shipped to Iceland by mistake, I guess. They thought they had mosquitoes in Iceland; there weren’t any. Mosquitoes were in Greenland. But they had all these mosquito bars and we were baling them up to ship out. And I got talking with a guy who was on guard duty at this installation. He was from a camp across the street. Across a road, actually. And I happened to mention that I was from Albion, New York. He said, “We’ve got a guy from Albion, New York.” So the next time…next time he came on duty, he told me this guy was across the road. He was digging some kind of a ditch. It turned out to be Casey Vagg…Otis Vagg…he was from Albion. And he…we had a conversation. And he said, “I’ll come over to your camp and pick you up and we’ll go down to Reykjavik and see Harold Knapp.” He was stationed in Reykjavik. So we went down, I guess we went to a movie, yeah. And I found out that at the time we had…there were six of us from Albion in Iceland. There was Harold Forman,…I can’t think…my memory’s slipping badly. But anyway, there were six of us at that time in Iceland. That’s unusual, because we only had, at that time, about 50,000 troops I guess there. At one time, they had 150,000 troops up there. In fact, we had more troops than there were people in Reykjavik.

Hagen: Did you ever get homesick?

Christy: Uh, yeah, I guess so, sure.

Hagen: In total, how many years were you away from home?

Christy: Well, my total service was about 3 years, 5 months, and 8 days. Of course, I came home in 1944. Well, I came home in---1943, or was it? Around March 1st, 1944, I guess it was. Then came home for OCS and I got a delay on route and came home. And then, when I came home on furlough, I was home for a month. So I wasn’t separated from my family for a very real, long stretch of time.

Hagen: Now, you’re married, right?

Christy: Hmmm?

Hagen: You are married?

Christy: I got married…I got married about six months before I went into the service. Let’s see, it was February to May…wasn’t that long…February, March, April…three-four months.

Hagen: Did you ever have any children?

Christy: Oh, yes. I have a daughter and a son. They both graduated from Albion High School. They … my daughter is about 56, I guess. My son is 52…somewhere in there…I’m not sure.

Hagen: How old were you when you were drafted?

Christy: Twenty-nine.

Hagen: Tell me about food and provisions were you were.

Christy: Pardon?

Hagen: Could you tell me about the food and provisions that you had were you were?

Christy: For the most part, our food was excellent. We had some pretty good chefs. But there were times when…see I moved around so much and you’re sure to get some not very good food. And I had field rations a few times. Aside from that, food was decent.

Hagen: What did the usual meal consist of?

Christy: Well, we got a lot of Spam. Spam was when they sent us all out to depots we were working in for lunch or something like that. Oh, it consisted of the usual.

Hagen: Where did you enter the service? Where did you go when you were drafted?

Christy: Fort Niagara. Then from Fort Niagara to Cheyenne, Wyoming, which was Fort Warren.

Hagen: How long were you at Fort Niagara?

Christy: About five days. I think I caught KP all five of those days. [Chuckles.] Kitchen Police.

Hagen: Overall, what was your biggest experience in the time that you served?

Christy: I don’t know.

Hagen: Is there anything you’d like to share?

Christy: Nope.

Hagen: Nothing interesting?

Christy: I was bored most of the time. [Long pause.] I never got seasick.

Hagen: Well, that’s good. You were on a boat most of the time.

Christy: Well, I crossed the Atlantic six times and from England to Iceland four times. I don’t know, four times I guess, something like that. I crossed on the Queen Elizabeth, first. Came back on the Queen Elizabeth. Then I went to…I crossed on the…in a convoy, which took quite a while. I can’t remember how many days. And then I went back…came back to the States on New Amsterdam, which was a big liner. And then went back to England for return shipment to Iceland on the Aquatania. And I came home on the…on a navy attack transport. That was it.

Hagen: All right. Well, I’d like to thank you for the interview.

Christy: You’re welcome.

Hagen: It was very interesting.

Christy: Not much of an interview, really, I mean… [chuckling self-depreciatingly].