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Robert Edgar video interview on experiences in World War II (transcript)

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WWII Veteran Interview Transcription


RICE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY

WORLD WAR II VETERANS ORAL HISTORY PROJECT

INTERVIEWEE: Robert Edgar

INTERVIEWER: Marian Poe

DATE: September 25, 2006

PLACE: Sterling, Kansas


POE: Now we are ready to start this interview. This is Marian Poe. I'm interviewing today Robert Edgar, who lives in Tucson, Arizona, now but was formerly from Sterling and is here attending the Sterling High School class reunion of 1942, among visiting relatives. So I'm now going to turn it over to you. If you'd just tell me again, state your name and where and when you were born.

EDGAR: Okay. My name is Robert Edgar. I was born May 22, 1925. Actually, I was born in Newton, Kansas, but my parents lived in Halstead, Kansas. My dad was a teacher. I moved to Sterling in the 5th grade and went through school from the 5th grade through high school here, graduating in 1942. I was just 17 the day I graduated from high school, and so I didn't go into the service immediately. I didn't get drafted until we were 18, and besides that I was doing some farming, so I attended Sterling College for one year and then went into the service in April of 1944. I was assigned to - I went into the Navy. I was assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Chicago and went through boot camp there. Then I stayed there to go through radio school. I was a radioman. And after that we were sent to Norfolk, Virginia, to put together a ships crew. Once a crew was put together we went to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where they made LST's. That's a landing ship tank, a lot of which were used in WWII. We took a new ship from the shipyards in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, sailed it down the Ohio and the Mississippi, and out New Orleans and down through the canal, and headed for Okinawa. We carried 1,250 tons of ammunition, going to Okinawa. Luckily the war was winding down when I got into it. And Okinawa was all secured by the time we got there. So, we were in the Pacific and did a lot of traveling in the Philippine Islands and around that area hauling people and tanks and that sort of thing. Then, when the war was over, we went to Japan. I was at our ship went in on the day we occupied [inaudible] and then made two more trips from the Philippines to Japan, carrying food and troops and equipment. So I saw a lot of country in the Pacific theater. Came back in you want the rest of the history?

POE: Sure.

EDGAR: Okay. My wife was Harriet Fisher, who also grew up in Sterling and graduated - we went through school together from the 5th grade on. We were engaged while I went over seas, but then we were married in August after I came back from the service. She had been going to school at Kansas State and had completed all but one semester when we got married, so we went to school together for one semester in Manhattan at Kansas State. And then I completed my business degree up there. After that I went into business and I - most of my business career was, I was president of the Service Oil Company, which was a petroleum marketing company based in Colby, KS. We lived there for 40 years. When I retired, January 1st 1994, we traveled with a 5th wheel, part-time. Normally we would go out for six weeks at a time and come back home. And we went to Tucson, Arizona, in the wintertime for three years and finally decided we might as well live there. So, we built a house down there and came back to Kansas and sold the house that we lived in in Colby. And we lived in Tucson then ever since then. My hobby is making silver jewelry, which I do, I still do it, and we have a great workshop in the place where I live. I also teach beginning silversmithing, through lapidary work I've got stones, and I sell a little of the jewelry in craft shows down there, and it buys some more silver anyway. So I keep busy. And since my wife died I live by myself. That's kinda up to date.

POE: Okay. So did you use the GI Bill in any way?

EDGAR: Yes I did. I used the GI Bill going through my last three years of school. I had had one year at Sterling College before the war, then the three years at Kansas State afterwards, and yes, I used the GI Bill for the whole thing. And the GI Bill offered an attractive interest rate when you bought your first house too, which I used.

POE: Where the benefits easy to obtain?

EDGAR: Yes.

POE: And how do think the GI Bill then affected your life?

EDGAR: I probably would have been able to go to college without it. But this way my parents didn't need to provide support for the last three years. And so, it made it much easier for me and also I was married at the time that I finished the last three years. We got $90 a month from the GI Bill, and although I was doing a little farming in the summertime, so I had a little other income, but that was the main part of my income while I was going to school. We were able to live on that.

POE: Did you know Harry Colmery?

EDGAR: No, I don't believe so.

POE: He's a Kansas Legislator who helped pass the GI Bill.

EDGAR: Oh, okay. He probably was working on it while I wasn't involved [chuckling].

POE: [chuckling] Yeah. Okay, whenever by the time that you got over into the Pacific arena, you said that the hostilities had pretty well stopped. Did you not see any combat at all then?

EDGAR: I didn't see any real combat, just a few kamikaze planes and submarine scares, but that was about it. In fact, as a radioman, I never even shot a gun. My duties my job was up in the radio shack and I didn't have a gun while I was we were the only people who did not.

POE: And, so while you were on ship, you had a lot of traveling back and forth. When you were off duty, how did you occupy your time?

EDGAR: Oh, if we got ashore - we got ashore in a lot of the Philippine towns, Manila and other towns that are in the Philippines. And we'd go to a bar, have a drink or whatever, there wasn't any planned recreation. Sometimes we would take little historical trips around the area. But at one time, we played mother ship to a bunch of, about six minesweepers. Minesweepers are small ships, down south of the Philippines, in the Sulu Archipelago and we would stop there, you know, in an area, the minesweepers would go out and sweep mines all the way around us and we would provide them with water because our ship could make fresh water from seawater. They could not, so we would provide them with water. We also carried provisions for them. At that time, we were able to go ashore of a lot of little islands, where there were apples, bananas, coconuts, we would bring them back aboard ship and they were very, very good. And swimming, that sort of thing was important. We could stop outside of an island someplace and they'd let the bow doors down and we could swim in the ocean or where ever - which was nice [chuckling].

POE: Then you didn't see any sharks or any other scary things while you were out there in the ocean?

EDGAR: Well, we watched for them, but we didn't see any. Sometimes jellyfish would bother you, but we didn't have sharks.

POE: And when, you mentioned that you were engaged whenever you entered the service. Were you enlisted or did you…       

EDGAR: No, I was drafted.

POE: You were drafted. And you were engaged?…

EDGAR: Yes.

POE: To your wife - what was her first name again?

EDGAR: Harriet.

POE: Harriet. And you were engaged to Harriet and so you probably corresponded back and forth. Did you how did your mail… You traveled around a lot, how did your mail, did… were you able to pick it up?

EDGAR: We picked up mail at different ports. I don't know how they decided where we were, but somebody knew where we were supposed to be going, and so we'd get mail sometimes, 2-3 weeks of mail at a time in a port and we could mail things. We didn't have any contact with the port while we were at sea, of course, but we got mail from home and we sent a lot of mail back and forth.

POE: Were the letters still being censored while you were…

EDGAR: Yes, the letters were being censored almost all the time and if you said something that you shouldn't have they cut it out of the letter.

POE: Like where you were and they still were keeping your troop movements…

EDGAR: Yeah, we weren't allowed to say where we were.

POE: Did you keep a personal diary while you were there?

EDGAR: Yes I did. I kept a log and so I have records of the days and every port that we were in, for a long time there.

POE: And you still have that?

EDGAR: Yes I do. Yeah. I use it at reunions we have, in case we have differences of opinion about when and where [laughing]. Yeah, I still have the log and it's fairly extensive. It tells every day. And I have some of the logs from when we were coming down the river because we'd get radio messages, and a few of them I was able to keep, as we came down the river in the first place. I wasn't engaged until just before I left. Harriet was in school at Kansas State and she came back to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I left where I got on the ship, and I gave her a ring at that time. But we had been going together for several years. We started dating when we were juniors in high school, so we had been dating for a number of years.

POE: Oh, American legion. When you got out did you join the American Legion or the VFW?

EDGAR: Yes, I'm a life member of the American Legion and the VFW both.

POE: Are you active there in Tucson?

EDGAR: No, not now. I was active in Colby the years I lived there, but no, not now.

POE: I know what I was going to say. You mentioned reunions; does your unit have reunions?

EDGAR: Yes, we still have reunions of the people that we can find who were aboard our ship. I don't know whether you want this. This is a kind of an involved story, but I'll tell you. I was aboard an LST, which is a landing ship tank, and after the war our ship was given to the Japanese. They used it for a while. We had sunk everything they had. But when the war ended, we were just off the island of Saipan. This was the invasion that was being put together that we were ready to invade the Japanese islands, but luckily we didn't have to. But the ship I was on was given to the Japanese for a little while, and then we took it back, and it carried supplies from the west coast up to the Dew Line . The dew line went across Canada. It was supposed to be an early warning line. So, for a while it carried supplies up there and then it was used in the Inchong invasion in Korea. After that sometime then it was scrapped. Some years later, all of the LST's had been scrapped, and I belong to an LST group or organization, we decided that we hopefully would try to get one back in the United States. Our group found one in Taiwan, and we thought we would be able to bring one back from Taiwan, but politics intervened and we couldn't get it there. So, we finally found one in Greece and about 5 or 6 years ago, 27 men, average age of 72, went over to Greece and brought that old ship back. It came into Mobile, Alabama, and my wife and I flew down into Mobile the day it came back into the harbor there. And they have been repairing it and refurbishing it ever since then. It floats, it runs, it's the only one in United States, it's the LST-325. I was not on it, but I was one like it. And so we do have one in the United States now. It was in Mobile for a number of years, but Evansville, Indiana, wanted it there, and so the city put up over a million dollars, I think, to build a dock for it. And so it is permanently based at Evansville, Indiana. And I've been back there twice to go aboard. We got acquainted with the skipper who brought it back from Greece, and so I've seen him a couple of times since them. So, it is a museum piece, and if anyone who lives along the river or the east coast, the LST-325 will go up and down and stop in different ports and people can go aboard. So it's the only one in the United States still able to go. It's kind of an interesting story.

POE: Yeah. So, you have a group that gets together? I was wondering, did you have any - so you have friendships that you made in the service that have continued?

EDGAR: Yes. I still get together with people that I was aboard ship with, uh huh. One of them that lives in Scottsboro, Alabama is a good friend of mine. And I took a trip this summer; I got on the Mississippi Queen in Cincinnati and went down the river, and went down the Ohio and then went into the Tennessee River. We were going by Scottsboro and he was going to come out. He said I'll either be on a bridge or I'll be in a small boat and come along side when you come by, but we didn't get there. One of the lochs was broken before we got there and the ship made a detour. We left and finally came back home from Chattanooga, Tennessee.

POE: And so you lived in Colby then most of your life?

EDGAR: I lived in Colby for 40 years.

POE: As your adult - you know, after your service, your adult life and you lived in Colby… Did you raise a family there?

EDGAR: Yes, I did. I have 3 children. My daughter and her family live in Omaha, Nebraska. I have one daughter who is not married who still lives in Colby. And a son and his family who live in Yorktown, Indiana.

POE: So you get to go to Indiana, and go visit the LST, right? [laughing]

EDGAR: [laughing] Right. I did. Last October, that's exactly what I did. We had a little reading in Evansville and there were 5 of us at that time. We used to have 20-25 members of the crew, but getting more than 5 or 6 together now is almost a problem. We've lost a lot of them.

POE: What kind of - you had your radio training and you were a radioman on the ship. And what was life like on a day-to-day basis on the ship? How many hours a day did your work? Was it an 8 hour day, 12-hour day, 24-hour shift? What? How?

EDGAR: We worked 4 hours on and 8 hours off and there were three of us, so we covered the 24 hour we had to stand watch which means we were listening to the radios 24 hours a day, over either sending or receiving or listening for them to call us. So we had to have somebody on the radios all the time. And that was just a normal day. 4 hours on, 8 hours off, and another 4 hours on, so that meant you worked 8 hours of the day and the 3 of us covered the 24 hour period. There was a time when one of our people got sent home and there were only 2 of us there and we had to work 8 on 8 off or 4 on 4 off or something, it doubled up our work for quite a little while. I came home from Civic Bay in the Philippines, we left our ship there, so they put us on a transport ship in Civic Bay and we came back into San Francisco and I was in Civic Bay for quite a little while and so it seemed like it took them a long time to find us passage back home, so I worked in a radio shack there just for something to do, until they found a spot to come back home.

POE: How is the… okay, you spent most of the time on board ship, so how was the ships food?

EDGAR: It was very good. Our cooks did very well, cooking food. I don't remember being upset with the food at all. Of course, when were out, when we were at sea, shortly you'd run out of fresh things and then sometimes we would be able to pull into a port and be able to load apples, oranges, things like that. But a lot of the time, you had run out of that when you are at sea for very long. But the food was good. The Navy is famous for it's beans for breakfast, which we had quite often [laughing]. But there was always plenty of food, no problems there. And we had nice, clean quarters.

POE: And then you'd spend your off time writing letters and..?

EDGAR: Writing letters, playing games. We played checkers, that sort of thing. We'd play games when we were off. And sometimes we had duty chipping the deck, you had to chip the rust and repaint. And sometimes we had some duty like that when we supposed to be off duty.

POE: You didn't get out of that. You just didn't have to carry a gun [laughing].

EDGAR: [laughing] That's right. I didn't get out we had to take care of our own quarters. The radio shack was clear up on the top deck, so we were away from some of the… I don't think I ever got into the engine room on that ship. But the guys down there were in a lot of heat and dirty circumstances, but, they all were at a different part of the ship and so I didn't really get together with any of them. The people in the area where I lived were all either radiomen, radar men, signalmen, quartermasters. The kinds of ranks that worked on the top deck of the ship.

POE: And you didn't have any scary storms either?

EDGAR: Yes, we did.

POE: Oh, you did. Okay.

EDGAR: Running from the Philippines to Japan, we ran into typhoons, at least three times. And the worst one, we there's no way to really go where you want to go in a typhoon, you just try to keep the ship heading into the wind. And we drifted until when things were finally over, we were only 200 miles off the China coast. We were about 200 miles away from where we should have been. In typhoons, the weather is terrible. You just - you can't get out on the deck without hanging on very tightly to anything [laughing]. You just stay inside. But, yeah, I was in several bad storms. Luckily the ship held together and we were able to get through it.

POE: Do you think that because you were on the upper part of the ship it was more affected than the lower parts of the ship?

EDGAR: Well, yes, we were swaying more than, obviously, that way but everybody was in the same boat. It was rough. It was a very rough ride when you were in one of those things and those big winds, cause the waves could be the ship really was in a trough and a wave, trough and a wave, just go up and over the hills. [Laughing].

POE: There are some people who have said that they were, they suffered from seasickness.

EDGAR: Luckily, I didn't - I was never seasick. You'd get a little queasy sometimes sitting in the radio shack. We were sitting sideways so the ship, as it rolls sideways, you'd go back and forth. But there were cleats on the floor, your chair fitted into cleats so it wouldn't move. Your dining areas had edges on them so your trays couldn't slide off the table. There were people who got seasick and I felt sorry for them, but luckily I never have experienced it.

POE: Is there anything else you'd like to add? Any stories you'd like to tell?

EDGAR: After I got back, in the early 90's well, a long time after I got back, but in the early 90's, I decided, you know, I know two or three people who were aboard ship and we were corresponding, but there were a lot of other people, it was a compliment of 110 people. At that time I was going to Washington every year to do a little logging for my business, and so on this one trip I went to the archives building and I was able to go up into the archives and I found the original log of this ship, which it covered maybe the first six months, you know, day by day. I don't know what happened to the second logs, they had more than that first one. But I was able at that time to get a whole list of all the names of everybody that was aboard ship, the name and serial number, but no addresses. And then when I was in the archives building I was able to go through the log of the ship to begin with, which gave me a list of the officers and an address for them, at least the address where they started from. So I did quite a little work trying to find people that had been aboard the same ship I was on and we found one officer and I found several of the men who I have notes and letters from them, things they remember and that sort of thing. Then, one of my friends in Missouri, worked for the telephone company and I suspect he had an open line. I think he can call any place, and he has looked up he got interested too, and we email each other regularly, but, he has looked up people from the ship and we've tried to find everybody we could. But you don't always do it. I found the fellow who was a radioman also, one of the three of us, I found both of the other ones. The first one we found, he was living in New York and he was in bad health when we found him and he had never been to a reunion. The second one we couldn't find. So, it just happened about 2 or 3 years ago, one of the people who was aboard our ship saw this obituary in a Milwaukee newspaper. This fellow had lived outside of Milwaukee all this time. And either he didn't look or wasn't interested or, somehow, we never were able to make contact. I had notices in the American Legion paper and the VFW paper and other publications so, I'd be surprised if he missed it, but maybe he didn't want to find us. I don't know. Anyway, we saw his obituary and we had kind of a similar situation. He had lived outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and he had been a salesman for Phillips Petroleum Company, in their propane division. Well, in the company that I ran, we sold propane and we were on we sold Phillips, we were branded with Phillips in the propane business. In fact, I have a watch from Phillips for being on contract for 25 years. Well, he had done the similar things to what I had done, you know, after the war, but we never knew each other. And I wrote his wife a letter after I found his obituary, but I never heard from her. So… it's a small world, you know.

POE: Uh huh.

EDGAR: That's about my whole… my whole life story, I guess, almost… [laughing]

POE: [Laughing] Now, what was the name of your company again?

EDGAR: The company was the Service Oil Company.

POE: The Service Oil Company.

EDGAR: Yeah. We had service stations in Northwest Kansas, we had 3 in Wichita, we worked into Colorado, had one in south Colorado Springs. And we did a lot of business with farmers. We sold a lot of diesel and gasoline to farmers. We had a Best Western motel, we had four restaurants. So, we catered to the traveling public. I ran that company for a long time. Retired from there. It's still in business.

POE: And now you are making jewelry for…. Your hobby has turned into…

EDGAR: It's still a hobby; it's not a business.

POE: It's not… no…

EDGAR: I do sell some things at craft shows, but, I try not to make it a business [laughing]. I can still go work on it whenever I want to, or not.

POE: Right [laughing]. Well, is there anything else you'd like to add?… Or?…

EDGAR: Oh, I don't think of anything right now. That kind of covers my life story.

POE: The only thing we didn't cover much about was whenever you were, you were born in Newton and, did you have brothers and sisters?

EDGAR: Yes, I have one sister.

POE: Older?… Younger?…

EDGAR: She is younger. My sister is Dorthea Fallan, who lives here in Sterling. And that was it. It was just the two of us.

POE: Just the two of you. Okay… and what did your parents do?

EDGAR: My father was a teacher and a coach, and he taught in several schools around this area. After both Dorthea and I were gone, mother was also a teacher earlier, and she and he both taught together in later years. He was also a farmer. We had land, some land here in Rice County and some land up in Jewel County, so while I was in school I farmed during the summertime. That's what he did. He would teach in the winter and farm a little bit in the summertime. I got my apprenticeship on the tractor and the combine. [laughing].

POE: [Laughing] I know what it's like. Okay, well, if there's nothing else then we will conclude our interview today.

EDGAR: Okay.

POE: September 25, 2006, with Robert Edgar from Tucson, Arizona, and formerly of Sterling, Kansas. Thank you. [Marian turns the digital camcorder off and the interview is concluded at this time]





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