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Interview on experiences in World War II

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The World War II Years: An Oral History Interview with Richard French

Note: Ellipsis (...) indicates a fragmentary or introductory utterance. Square brackets enclose information such as [unintelligible], the transcriber's best guess as to what was said, or editorial notes from the transcriber.

Interviewer: Today is October 2nd, 2007. I'm Nancy Porter, and we're at the home of Mr. Richard French in Baldwin City, Kansas, and with us is his wife, Marjorie, and his two daughters, Connie and Debbie. Mr. French, can you tell us when and where you were born?

Richard French: Yeah. Fort Scott, Kansas.

I: What year were you born?

RF: May 16.

I: May 16,1926?

RF: Yes.

I: Can you tell me how many brothers and sisters you had?

RF: One.

I: No, not your children. Your brothers and sisters. Your brothers and sisters,

RF: Donald French; he died. He was in the 101st Airborne Division in Spokane, Washington. He was the first one down. He kind of got his feet tangled up in his chute; he lit on his left shoulder; never did come out of it. He died from it. 101st Airborne Division, Spokane, Washington.

I: In World War II?

RF: Spokane, Washington.

I: Did you have any sisters?

RF: No.

I: What did your dad do for a living?

RF: He's a plumber, steam fitter, and a [unintelligible] fitter. Pipe fitter.

Richard French  

I: Pipe fitter? Did your mother work outside the home?

RP: No, she had arthritis. She was crippled; she couldn't do it, and she died, and my dad died in Fort Scott, Kansas. George French and Ruth Lantis French.

I: George and Ruth? Lantis? L-A-N-T-I-S?

Marjorie French: Yes.

I: Okay.

RF: They died in Fort Scott, Kansas.

I: What kind of chores did you have to do when you were a kid?

RF: Well, she has a lot of them...

I: No. When you were little, what did your mother and dad have you do? What kind of chores around the house?

RF: Well, I'd go to the store for them, and do any chores around the house, you know. I: Like mowing?

RF: Yeah. I'd mow the lawns, and everything, and then she had 'honey-dos' she'd have me do in here.

MF: He's talking about me.

I: Yeah, he's talking about you.

MF: Did you help your mom a lot? Did you help your mother?

RF: Well, sure.

MF: Had to.

I: Where did you go to school?

RF: Fort Scott, Kansas.

I: Grade school? What was the name of your grade school? Do you remember?

Richard French  

RF: I don't remember, but...

I: Okay. That's fine.

RF: I had a [unintelligible] and Mrs. Ron took him outside and fired him.

I: Is that right? Took him right outside and fired him?

RF: She didn't like him any [unintelligible]. Mrs. Ron took him outside and fired him.

I: Okay. Did you go to high school there in Fort Scott?

RF: In Fort Scott, Kansas, yeah.

I: You went to high school there?

Daughter French: No, dad. You went to Amarillo.

MF: You went to high school in Amarillo. Amarillo, Texas.

RF: High school. Amarillo, Texas.

I: Okay. So you moved to Texas?

RF: Moved to Baldwin City, Kansas.

I: You moved to Texas, and you went to school there.

RF: I bought this house with everything in it.

I: Okay, but we're not that far. We're still in Texas.

RF: For $140.

I: Well, that's good. We'll get there. Do you remember when Pearl Harbor happened?

RF: Sure do. Sure do.

I: Where were you?

RF: I was in the Philippines. Hilo, Hawaii.

Richard French  

I: Were you in Hawaii when the...

RF: Hilo, Hawaii.

MF: That was in'41, wasn't it?

I: Yes. December 7,1941. Wait a minute. Wait a minute.

MF: He wasn't there. He got in in '44. He was still in Amarillo.

I: You were in Texas when Pearl Harbor happened.

RF: Amarillo, Texas.

I: Yeah. Tell me about going into the service. You had to get your mom and dad to sign a paper?

RF: Hm-hmm.

I: So you went in when you were 17-18 years old?

RF: 18-19 years old.

I: You went into the Army?

RF: Yes.

I: You went into the 43rd Division, is that right?

RF: 43rd Division.

I: You have a picture of all your medals here?

RF: I just made PFC.

I: Did you?

RF: Private First Class.

I: [Can you get a picture of that, Dan, and we can let him put it down?] Where did you go to basic training? Do you remember?

RF: Fort Scott, Kansas.

Richard French

MF: No.

Daughter French: Basic training, dad. I: Basic training for the Army. MF: That place you don't like.

RF: I was a platoon leader.

I: A platoon leader?

RF: Yeah.

MF: What camp did you go to, though?

I: What camp?

MF: What camp were you in?

RF: Camp Hood, Texas.

I- Camp Hood. Did you like Camp Hood?

: V-Md* ~od can^dtnefoodservice Was good, too.

I- Was it?

M. Yeah, you'd go, and they had fee food, and everything.

, yeah, A1otof«hemnkedthefood;theyiustdidn,ltomarohing.

RF: Yeah.

I: Did you like marching?

RF: Oh, yeah. I didn't mind it.

I: You didn't?

RF- I was a PFC. I was platoon leader.

I: so youwentoversea, Where did you go first? To Hilo?

Richard French  

KF: I've been to Hilo, Hawaii. Yeah, Hilo, Hawaii,

DF: But where did you go first, dad?

MF: You went to Hawaii first.

I: You went to Hilo, Hawaii.

RF: Yeah, Hilo, Hawaii, and the Philippines.

I: Then you went from there to the Philippines?

RF: Yeah.

I: Okay.

Technical Assistant: What ship did you go over on?

RF: The USS [unintelligible]. The USS Esby [He says USS Esby, but that ship is not found on the list of WWI1 ships]. Had to pull into Pearl Harbor; had trouble with it, and had to work with it, and then went on into Manila, and then we got off, and I flew home from Manila.

I: So you went to Munda? Were you in Munda? No, he didn't go in until '43-'44.

RF: Hilo, Hawaii.

MF: It was late in the war.

I: Did you go to Luzon?

RF: Yeah.

I: Tell me about Luzon.

RF: Philippines.

I: Tell me about it. Were you in a battle there?

RF: Well, we had three Japanese, and 1 captured all three of them.

I: You did?

RF: Yeah.

Richard French  

I: All by yourself?

RF: Yeah. I didn't kill them. They went back to Japan.

I: Yeah?

RF: I captured them. They went back to Japan. I didn't shoot them.

I: How did you capture them? Were they in the trees or the bushes or caves?

RF: They'd come into the island; there were three of them, and I didn't kill them. 1 sent them home.

I: What did you do while you were in the military? Did you have a job you had to do? A particular job?

RF: Well, I was a PFC.

I: Yeah. Did you drive tracks?

RF: I was going for corporal. Oh yeah, yeah, I was a truck driver. We had new jeeps then, and they had radios in it [them]. And I flipped it on, and they said FDR had a heart attack and died.

I: You know that seemed to upset a lot of people. Did that upset you?

RF: Yes, it did, because he was a great president. He was better than the one we got up there now.

I: Yeah, that's what they say. That's what they all say. What did you think of Harry Truman?

RF: I liked him. Idid. Harry Truman was a good man.

I: Did you know much about him when he became president when Roosevelt died?

RF: Yeah, I knew him real well.

I: Did you?

RF: Yeah, Harry Truman.

Richard French  

I: Tell me about Tojo.

RF: Tojo?

I: Yes.

RF: They hung him.

I: They did? Did you guys capture him?

RF: They hung Tojo.

I: Did you drive him? Did you guard him? Were you a guard?

RF: No, but they hung him, and they hung Hussein [Saddam Hussein] too.

I: What about Tojo? Tell me about him. What kind of man was he, and was he a big man?

RF: Yeah, he was a pretty good size man.

I: Was he tall?

RF: Yeah, he was Tojo. He was Japanese. Yeah, he was a big man.

I: Did he speak English?

RF: Vaguely.

I: Just a little bit?

RF: Yeah.

I: How did he treat you? How was he to you?

RF: Oh, he done good. We were in Tokyo, Japan.

I: What about Tokyo Rose? Did you ever see her?

RF: I sure did. I sure did.

I: Did you guard her?

Richard French  

RF: She got out of prison... Tokyo Rose got out of prison, and went home, and had a heart attack and died.

I: But, did you see her personally?

RF: Oh, yes. She was a pretty girl.

I: Was she?

RF: Yeah. She got out of prison, and went home, and had a heart attack and died.

I: Yeah, so tell me about her? Did you hear her on the radio?

RF: Oh, yeah.

I: What did she say to you guys?

RF: I don't know.

I: Did she ever tell you, "Go home, Yankee!"?

RF: Tokyo Rose?

I: Yes.

RF: No, I didn't want to go home with her. I wanted to get out of there and go home.

I: Did she tell you to go home?

RF: She said, "Go home."

I: On the radio she'd say, "Go home."?

RF: She said to go home and be with your family.

I: Go home and be with your family. Did she play nice music for you?

RF: Then she had a heart attack and died.

I: Yeah, then she had a heart attack and died.

[Discussion with family]

Richard French  

I: Tell me about your weapons that you used.

RF: M-l rifle.

I: M-l rifle? Did it recoil?

RF: No, you were just shooting it.

I: Was that a new weapon for the Army?

RF: It was a new weapon, new rifle.

I: Did you ever use the old weapon?

RF: No, not really. I've got a shotgun I could use.

I: No, not now, but when you were in the Army, did they teach you how to use the old ones too?

RF: Oh, yeah, you betcha.

I: How did that compare with the new one that didn't recoil?

RF: No, it didn't have recoil; just put it up to your shoulder, and fire it.

I: And it didn't hurt your shoulder?

RF: No.

I: Were you a good shot?

RF: Oh, yeah. I got what I shot at.

I: That's good. When you were driving the prisoners around, where would you drive them?

RF: Well, I had a jeep at that time that had radios in them. And I turned it on, and they said FDR had a heart attack and died.

I: But, where did you drive the prisoners to? You drove prisoners around?

RF: Yeah.

Richard French  

I: Where did you drive them to?

RF: Prison.

I: What's the name of the prison?

RF: Guantanamo Bay. Guantanam Bay Prison.

I: So wherever they would take them prisoners, you would drive them from there to the prison?

RF: Yeah, and then 1 flew home.

I: And then you flew home? Okay.

[Family talking]

RF: Guantanamo Bay Prison Camp.

I: Tell me about that prison camp. What was it like?

RF: They had a lot of Japanese in there.

I: What kind of buildings did they live in?

RF: Well, they had rooms that they could sleep in.

I: Wooden buildings?

RF: Yeah.

I: Barracks?

RF: Yeah, but they had guards too. They had guards in towers up there, and if you tried to escape, they had a fence around you. If you tried to escape, you were gone.

I: How big a fence was it?

RF: Big, high one.

I: Was it a barbed wire fence, or a wooden fence, or...

Richard French  

RF: They had braided fence, but up on top, it had them old clips on them. They couldn't go over them.

I: That razor?

RF: But, one guy tried to cut it, cut a hole in it, but they shot him.

I: What did he try to cut the hole with?

RF: Tin snips.

I: Tin snips? Where he did he get those?

RF: I've got them out there in the garage.

I: Where did the prisoner get the tin snips?

RF: No, I had the tin snips.

I: Oh, you had them. But, when the prisoner tried to escape, how did he try to escape?

RF: They tried to go through a hole there, but they couldn't because it's solid. They couldn't go over the top because it had them prongs on it. There was three Japanese that I took prisoner.

I: Was Tokyo Rose a prisoner in that prison?

RF: She was a prisoner in prison, Tokyo Rose was.

I: In that same prison?

RF: When she got out of prison, and went home, and had a heart attack and died.

I: Did she stay in that same prison with the Japanese men?

RF: With the people that was in there. She was born in Japan.

I: Were you in any battles?

RF: Well, let's see.

MF: Where'd you get your medal from? Where'd you get your medals?

Richard French  

I: What are your medals for?

RF: 1 don't know. For bravery, I guess. I don't know.

I: Okay, let's talk about them. What is this medal for?

RF: That's the bronze star.

I: What did you get that for?

RF: For bravery.

I: For bravery where?

RF: In the war.

I: In the war. Whereat?

RF: hi the Philippines.

I: In a battle?

RF: Yeah.

I: What battle?

RF: Hilo, Hawaii.

I: No, not Hilo. What's this? [Referring to another medal]

RF: That's the bronze star, and here's the bronze medal.

I: What are these little things on your bronze star ribbon?

RF: Well, they gave me a star on them.

I: For victory. What's this?

RF: That's the...

I: Platoon patch? Division patch?

RF: i t.cm, "&"-•        

*: Yeah, right. That's what I wore on my uniform. Richard French

I: What's this up here?

RF: That's the bronze medal.

I: For shooting?

RF: Yeah.

I: You were a sharpman...a sharpshooter?

RF: Yeah.

I: Were you?

RF: I had to be over there.

I: Were you ever a sniper?

RF: Well, no, I shot the people I had to.

I: That you had to.

[Discussion with family]

I: Tell me about the Philippine natives. The headhunters. What are they like?

RF: Filipmos are good people. Oh yeah, real good people.

I: They treated you well.

RF: Oh yeah. We got along great.

I: Were some of them headhunters?

RF: My brother, Donald French, and I. We got along great. He just got out of the 101st

Airborne Division.

I: What was the food like over there in the Philippines?

RF: Good.

I: What did you sleep in? Barracks or a hammock?

Richard French  

RP: We slept in barracks.

I: Did you dig foxholes?

RF: Well, no. They had barracks that you'd sleep hi.

I: That's good. Did you get malaria? Did you get sick over there?

RF: I got malaria. Everybody did over there.

I: What's that like?

RF: Well, it makes you sick.

I: In what way?

RF: Well, you just don't want to eat anything and something like that, you know?

I: Did you have a high fever with that?

RF: Yeah, you can get a high fever with that, yeah.

I: Did that keep coming back on you?

RF: I had malaria. Not so much, not so much. It don't bother me.

I: You took those Atabrine tablets and you turned real yellow?

RF: Took tablets with it, yeah.

I: Turned yellow, huh?

RF: And, at the time, they'd come out with a new jeep with a radio on it.

I: Yeah.

RF: I flipped it on, and FDR had a heart attack and died out in Arizona. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The best president we ever had in our life.

I: How did you get home?

RF: Flew home.

Richard French  

I: Flew home? They flew you on an airplane?

RF: Yeah, we flew to the base camp out there.

I: CampBeal?

RF: Camp Hood.

I: Camp Hood?

MF: No, Camp Beal.

I: Camp Beal. Then what did you do? Take a train to get home after you got off the


RF: Flew home. They flew to the air base in Fort Scott, Kansas, and we got out of it.

I: Did you marry your wife after you got home?

RF: Yeah.

I: Did you know her while you were in the service?

RF: Yes, 1 did.

I: Did you write to her?

RF: My girl, yeah.

I: Now, were you in the service twice?

RF: Two years.

I: Twice. Two different times?

RF: Just one time.

Daughter: No, dad. It was twice. You went in and...

RF: It was for a year.

I: You went in during peace time and didn't like it?

Richard French  

RF: I just made PFC; made platoon leader.

I: So you went in during peace time and didn't like babysitting all them youngsters, huh? So you weren't in very long that time?

RF: I was 18 years old.

I: [Speaking to Mr. French's wife] Was he married to you when he went in the second time?

MF: We got married right before he went in. We got married in '49.

RF: Fort Hood, Texas.

I: Fort Hood, Texas?

MF: We got married in Bentonville, Arkansas.

I: Bentonville, Arkansas.

RF: Bentonville, Arkansas.

I: Yeah.

RF: Now we live in Baldwin, Kansas, 910 High Street, in a house that's paid for. I bought this house with everything in it for $140.

I: You have two daughters?

MF: Three.

I: Three daughters. Who's the other one?

RF: Debbie, Marjorie, and Connie. [Marjorie is actually his wife]

MF: Who's the other daughter? Who's the other daughter with all the little kids?

RF: Debbie, Connie, and Lisa.

I: [Talking with wife and daughters] Do you guys have any stories you want to tell us that he's told you before?

Richard French  

MF: Just what we hear, you know, that we've told you.

I: So he supported the prisoners around Manila there? Let's read this article. I'm going to let you read this.

Daughter: [reading article] Local boy still receiving medals for his bravery. Richard A. French, son of Mr. and Mrs. George French of 602 West 2nd, saw a lot of service in the Pacific during the late war, continues to receive awards from the War Department for acts of bravery. French, who is now employed at Interstate Roofing Company at 207 East 1st, was recently awarded the bronze star medal with [unintelligible], as awarded by Colonel Charles D. Carl, the presentation being made by Marvin M. Mathison, Army Recruiting Officer at Parsons, who made a special trip here to make the private presentation.

French frowns on public ceremonies. Transported Jap prisoners. "I can't see why I should be presented with all these medals from the war," said Richard modestly. "I didn't do anything more than the other boys."

After serving during the war, French was with the military occupation forces before being discharged on January 21,1945, and attached to a transportation unit, he aided in transporting military prisoners to and from Army courts in Japan. Six awards have been made to the Fort Scott boy - the Army of Occupation medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign medal, Philippine Liberation medal with one bronze star, Good Conduct medal, Bronze Star, and the World War II Victory medal.

News Welcomes

The bronze star medal citation from Colonel Carl reads as follows: "For heroic achievement in connection with military operations against the enemy at (it doesn't say) on the 16 of May, 1945. Private French, member of a squad using a new recoilless weapon, distinguished himself in action against a stubborn well-entrenched enemy, carried his weapon and heavy ammunition over hilly and muddy terrain, he placed his weapon at vantage points, and fired on targets of opportunity, and on fixed positions. Part of French's expert use of this weapon, contributed, in a large measure, to knocking out several enemy caves. Private French's exemplary courage, perseverance, and devotion to duty were major factors in the success of the mopping up operations on Hill (it doesn't say what hill).

The above decoration will be forwarded to the Commanding General of the 5th Army who will select an officer to make the presentation to you. The officer selected will communicate with you regarding the presentation. The Good Conduct medal and Combat Infantry badge will be forwarded to you from the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot.

Richard French  

The dates on them is July 10,1945.

I: Thank you very much for doing the interview.

RF: We thank you. You folks come visit us often. We enjoyed meeting you.

End Time: 24:03 [end of interview; a little discussion afterwards explaining to the family how to look up information on the internet about some of the WWII events Mr. French has told them about]

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