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Delbert D. Cooper oral history interview

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Material Information

Title:
Delbert D. Cooper oral history interview
Series Title:
Concentration camp liberators oral history project
Uniform Title:
Holocaust & genocide studies oral history projects
Physical Description:
1 sound file (58 min.) : digital, MPEG4 file + ;
Language:
English
Creator:
Cooper, Delbert D., 1923-
Hirsh, Michael, 1943-
University of South Florida Libraries -- Holocaust & Genocide Studies Center
University of South Florida -- Library. -- Special & Digital Collections. -- Oral History Program
Publisher:
University of South Florida Tampa Library
Place of Publication:
Tampa, Fla
Publication Date:

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Concentration camps -- History -- Austria   ( lcsh )
World War, 1939-1945 -- Concentration camps -- Austria   ( lcsh )
World War, 1939-1945 -- Concentration camps -- Liberation   ( lcsh )
World War, 1939-1945 -- Atrocities   ( lcsh )
World War, 1939-1945 -- Personal narratives, American   ( lcsh )
World War, 1939-1945 -- Veterans -- United States   ( lcsh )
Veterans -- Interviews -- United States   ( lcsh )
Genocide   ( lcsh )
Crimes against humanity   ( lcsh )
Genre:
Oral history   ( local )
Online audio   ( local )
Oral history.   ( local )
Online audio.   ( local )
interview   ( marcgt )

Notes

Summary:
This is an oral history interview with Holocaust concentration camp liberator Delbert D. Cooper. Cooper was a private first class in the 71st Infantry Division, which liberated Gunskirchen, a sub-camp of Mauthausen, on May 4, 1945. He arrived in Europe in February 1945, meeting the 71st on its campaign through Germany and Austria. The day after the liberation, he happened across his captain outside a railroad station, who told him to join a group bringing supplies to the nearby camp. Cooper did so, spending a couple of hours in the camp, during which time he had the opportunity to look inside one of the buildings. He describes the camp, initial relief efforts, and the condition of the prisoners, and recounts an incident when he captured a German prisoner who may have been SS.
Venue:
Interview conducted September 5, 2008.
Preferred Citation:
The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust (New York: Bantam Books, 2010) and Concentration Camp Liberators Oral History Project, University of South Florida Libraries, ©2010 Michael Hirsh.
Statement of Responsibility:
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
General Note:
This interview was conducted as research for The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust / Michael Hirsch (New York: Bantam Books, 2010).

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of South Florida Library
Holding Location:
University of South Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 021796840
oclc - 587258293
usfldc doi - C65-00022
usfldc handle - c65.22
System ID:
SFS0022079:00001


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Full Text

PAGE 1

COPYRIGHT NOTICE This Oral History is copyrighted by the University of South Florida Libraries Oral History Program on behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of South Florida. Copyright, 201, University of South Florida. All rights, reserved. This oral history may be used for research, instruction, and private study under the provisions of the Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of the United States Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section 107), which allows limited use of copyrighted materials under certain conditions. Fair Use limits the amount of material that may be used. For all other permissions and requests, contact the UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA LIBRARIES ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at the University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Avenue, LIB 122, Tampa, FL 33620.


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This is an oral history interview with Holocaust concentration camp liberator Delbert D. Cooper. Cooper was a private first class in the 71st Infantry Division, which liberated Gunskirchen, a sub-camp of Mauthausen, on May 4, 1945. He arrived in Europe in February 1945, meeting the 71st on its campaign through Germany and Austria. The day after the liberation, he happened across his captain outside a railroad station, who told him to join a group bringing supplies to the nearby camp. Cooper did so, spending a couple of hours in the camp, during which time he had the opportunity to look inside one of the buildings. He describes the camp, initial relief efforts, and the condition of the prisoners, and recounts an incident when he captured a German prisoner who may have been SS.
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xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript
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text Michael Hirsh: Okay. Your name is Delbert D. Cooper, C-o-o-p-e-r. I have a tape recorder on. And your address isAnd your birthday is what, sir?
1
00:00:9.3
Delbert Cooper: Sixteen August. I just had my eighty-fifth.
2
00:00:13.3
MH: Oh, happy birthday to you. (DC laughs) In 19the year was?
3
00:00:19.2
DC: Twenty-three [1923].
4
00:00:20.2
MH: Twenty-three [1923]. And you were withwhich unit were you with?
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00:00:26.9
DC: Fourteenth Infantry Regiment, Headquarters Company14th Infantry Regiment, 71st [Infantry] Division.
6
00:00:33.4
MH: Okay. Where were you before going in the Army?
7
00:00:37.1
DC: Where was I?
8
00:00:38.6
MH: Yes.
9
00:00:40.1
DC: Here in Dayton.
10
00:00:41.3
MH: And you were in school, or?
11
00:00:43.9
DC: Well, I graduated in 1941 from high school, and then I had various jobs around before I went in, in January of forty-three [1943].
12
00:00:54.9
MH: Drafted or volunteered?
13
00:00:56.9
DC: I volunteered, through the draft board. Yeah.
14
00:01:0.7
MH: And whered they send you?
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00:01:2.6
DC: They sent me towell, Columbus is where we went in from Dayton. And then they sent usI volunteered for the big guns, and they sent me up to above Chicago to Fort Sheridan, which no longer exists.
16
00:01:24.8
MH: I was actually based there and edited the newspaper there, when I was in the Army.
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00:01:29.4
DC: You were? Well, doggone.
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00:01:30.9
MH: In 1965.
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00:01:31.9
DC: A heck of a swell place.
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00:01:33.3
MH: Yup.
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00:01:33.8
DC: And it was theI think it was the 2nd of February of forty-three [1943] when I actually got up there to Sheridan from Columbus.
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00:01:48.8
MH: How do you finally find your way to the 71st Infantry Division?
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00:01:54.6
DC: Oh, God. We went from ChicagoFort Sheridanwe went out on maneuvers in Oregon and Washington, and then down into California. And then, we were sent over to Mississippi, and then Texas, and then, lets see. From TexasGod, this is so long ago. From Texas, I went as a replacementI came home in February for five days delay en route, in whichthe lady you talked to was my wife. We got married. Nineteen forty-five, yeah, February forty-five [1945].
24
00:02:52.8
Then, I left here and went over to the East Coast, going as a replacement overseas to Europe. And when I got over there, I wasthey were having that Battle of the Bulge, or just after it, you know. I think they needed some cannon fodder, to tell you the truth. But anyway, I got into France and then from France, I was sent into Germany. I was a replacement to the 71st.
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00:03:27.1
MH: Take me through, you know, up to Gunskirchen.
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00:03:35.0
DC: Okay. We went through GermanyI met the 71st about a fourth of the way through Germany on the other side of the Rhine River, and went on over through Germany, down into Austria. When we got into Austria, I was as a replacement into thewhich made me an extra man, like, reallywhich worked out real well for me at the time. I was a PFC [private first class] at the time. I got into Lambach, Austria. We movedyou know, kept moving, moving, moving; we were really rolling there. I went into Pattons 3rd Army to begin with, and they shifted us down into Austria.
27
00:04:25.2
The day I got into the campI went looking for some coffee, really. I had spent the night in Lambach, and I went down to the railroad station the next morning, relatively early. I spotted my captain, Captain [William R.] Swope, who is now deceased, I know; he was from Kentucky. I went through the railroad station, which was quite narrow there in Lambach, just a small place. I stepped through the door and, going out into like the railroad yards, something moved and I reflexed real fast. I saw a young fellow, like a kid, sitting against the wall of the railroad station there, and he was all scurvy looking and all that.
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00:05:38.0
I walked back in the building and I said to the captain, What is that out there, sir? and he says, Troop, theres a camp, a concentration campone of those concentration campsabout five klicks down the road. A klick was a kilometer. And he said, Theres a truck going to be coming up here with a couple guys. We captured that train out there last night. Its a supply, a German supply train. Would you go out and break open a boxcar and help those guys load? I saidthe captains talking, Im a PFC. I said, Sure. So, I went out there, broke open one of the boxcars, and the truck came up, backing across all the railroad rails over. I helped him load, and I thought, Well, I might as well go along with himsomebodys gonna have to help him unload this.
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00:06:40.9
MH: What were you taking out of the boxcar?
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DC: Supplies, German supplies.
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00:06:45.9
MH: Food?
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00:06:46.8
DC: Food. Yeah, we were hoping we were getting food. We were. And the boxcar I happened to openI either lucked out or the whole thing was loaded. I went with these guys, and as we were going along the road there in Austria, past Lambach, we started smelling somethingand also seeing a lot of people along the road, with their goods and so forth. And they were throwing their hands in the air and prayin and all that as we went by. We got out into where we turned off to go in these woods, and the people were just about to mob us, Ill tell you.
33
00:07:42.2
Anyway, we went on back into the woodsI dont know how far; a pretty good waysand people were laying around dead. Theyd tried to relieve themselves and all that. And anyway, they came running out and to us, and we got back in there and we had to stop. And we kept asking them to stay off the road, and
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00:08:8.0
MH: They didnt speak English, or did they?
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00:08:9.7
DC: Some did. Some did. We asked who could speak English because we needed an interpreter to help unload, you know, and so forth, and keep order. So, we got back in there and stopped, and we got these guys who could speak Englishprobably better than I do. But, anyway, we asked them to get order here, for people to stay back, and help us unload.
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00:08:41.2
MH: You were in just one deuce and a half [truck]?
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00:08:44.5
DC: Yeah.
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MH: And how many GIs?
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DC: There was two guys, the driver, and me, that went in.
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00:08:55.5
MH: So thats four people?
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00:08:56.7
DC: Yeah. And I seem to remember a major being in the cab, but if he was, thats all. I just dont evenI wouldnt even mention it. But anyway, the peopleyou know, this is something new to us. Were not used to anything like this. And we shot our guns in the air and everything trying to get em back and so forth. They were just trying to mob us, which was understandable. I want you to understand what were into there. Anyway, we had the people who spoke English to get some order for us, and we told em that we had a whole trainload of supplies, evidently, up the roadback down the road at Lambachand there would be more supplies coming. And please tell the peoplesome of them would just fall over dead, they were just so skinny and so diseased.
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00:10:3.5
MH: You could see that happening?
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00:10:5.1
DC: Oh, yeah. My God, right in front of you, you know, one would fall over dead.
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00:10:12.0
MH: How are you reacting to this? Youre only, like, three months removed from saying goodbye to your wife in the States.
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00:10:19.0
DC: Yeah. Well, we had some good training; Ill say that, some hard training here in the States. We was young, and justthat was it, you know. You were there, you were kind of numb. My God, they were deadof course wed seen dead people; I was in the infantry, you know, and all that. And we justone came up, I know. I dont know whether he or it, was gonna kiss me or something, and a hand shot across in front of my face and it was one of the guys who spoke English, saying, Whoa, what are you doing? and he pointed at the lice and everything on the person. I said, Oh, dont do that. Were gonna have medics coming along. Tell everybody to stay off the road, and well get em taken care of.
46
00:11:18.9
MH: Was there a wire fence, or a fence around this place?
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00:11:22.6
DC: I cannot remember a fence at all.
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00:11:25.7
MH: So you dont know whether you drove through a gate?
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00:11:28.2
DC: No, I do not. We just turned off the road and started back through the woods there. I would assume that there was some kind of ait was a relatively new place that they marched these people to, I guess from another camp down there. And there was a lot of em there. Anyway, I remember one old man sitting on a big boulder, farther back from where we were, and I can see right him now, throwing his arms upor hands up into the skyand praying, giving thanks, you know, that they were saved. And we kept telling em, Look, youre gonna be safe. We got food, medics will be coming. Weve got to go on; the war was still being fought.
50
00:12:10.7
Anyway, we came back out. I can remember coming back out and going back to the railroad station, and I checked the train. My father had worked on a railroad, and I was a little bit familiar with trains and how they operated, the steam engines. So I went to the engine on this trainit was hooked onto this supply trainand I climbed up in it, and there was a womanI guess she was a fireman, I dont know. But anyway, she was smiling and so on and so forth. Of course, she didnt know what I was gonna do, you know. What I did was to put my foot on the pedal and open the fire box door to make sure there was a good fire in there, and I told my captain, You know, sir, we might as well take the whole train down there, if we can get it down there, because the rails run right by the camp. Right along the road, you know. So, he drove the thing down, I guess.
51
00:13:14.3
I went on then. I did not go back into the camp. I went on to continue on. I got separated from the outfit, of course, and most people didnt even know that I had gone into a camp. It was anotherit was, I think, the 5th Regiment that had gone through the place in the night, I guess. I dont know where these couple guys that I was with were from. I have no idea where they were fromthe soldiers, you know. But we went along and it started raining and so forth, and we stopped at a farmhouse on up the road. I was looking for my outfit, then, you know. I wanted to find them so I wouldnt be considered deserting or anything.
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00:14:11.1
We stopped in a farmhouse to get something to eat. We just walked in, and whatever they hadif they had anything, wed just take it; you know how that goes. Even in Austria, cause they were still the enemy; however, we did notice a difference in their attitude. There were several German soldiers in there sitting at the table, and there was a couple of French DPsdisplaced persons, thats what we called em, DPs. One of em said to me, SS. I cant speak French; I couldnt speak German or anything. So, I told these guys we was with, Hey, this guy says theres a couple of SS around here, so Ill go with him. Big old brave me, you know. Anyway, the SS were the tough guys, and theyd just as soon shoot you as look at you.
53
00:15:13.6
I went out with this guy. I had picked up a couple pistols earlier in the war back there, when I first joined the outfit. And I went out with him, and he pointed towards the barn, and Ithis little old village, I dont know the name of it. Anyway, I peeked around the corner, and theres a guy, young fellow, standing out in the barn lot. Hes bare from the waist up, and hes got civilian trousers on. And this French DP said SS. I pointed and I said SS? and he said yeah. So, I put my hands behind me with the pistol and I started walking out toward him. He said there was two, there was only one; this is how you luck out.
54
00:16:7.6
So, I went walking up to this fellow and I said to him in German, Deutsch Soldat? and he just kept looking at me. I walked right up to him, and when I said that, he just kept looking at me. I whipped the pistol out from behind me and put it right on his chest and I started to squeeze the trigger; thank God they were new pistols. And I thought, Raise your armyou know, give me a real excuse to shoot him. Other than that, Im murdering him.
55
00:16:46.0
So, anyway, one of the other guys came around the barn, and he said, Shoot the SOB, Cooper. And I stepped back a pace, handed the pistol toward him, and said, You shoot him. Well, he wasnt going to murder him either, you know. So I says, We better take him with us. Now the German soldiers, we just took em outwhen we were going to leave, took em out to the end of the little lane, like, and pointed back. We had em in columns of twosthere were, I think, about eight of emand told em, March! And we took the SS guy with us.
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00:17:22.5
MH: Did you see a tattoo?
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00:17:24.5
DC: No. No, I didnt see it. I wanted him to raise his arm, you know. No, I did not see a tattoo. But this French guy, this DP, said SS, and I was gonna believe him, you know. And remember, I wasnt over there very long before Im into all this stuff. So anyway, I thought, Jesus, its started getting dark, and I have to find my outfit. Whatll they think? The captain was the only one I saw that I knew in the outfit, and knew that I had gone into this camp. So, I kept asking for the 14th Infantry as we went along and wed meet an MP [military police] or somebody stationed wherever there was a road, you know, to direct people. And the first one we came to, I said to this guy driving a jeepI dont know who they were at all, except they were American soldiers. I said, Hey, lets get rid of this SS guy. I had sat in the back of the jeep holding a pistol on him. So, we gave him to one of the MPs, and we kept asking people for the 14th Infantry.
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00:18:43.5
MH: Did you ever let the guy put his shirt back on?
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DC: Oh, no. I never even saw a shirt. Yeah. He wasthat was the easiest thing we couldve done with him, gave him his shirt if wed have found it. So, anyway, he was still in civilian trousers, and all I said to the MP was, This guys an SS man. So, I finally hitched a ride on one of these littleit was a little old Model A Ford, I thinkand I kept going up wherever it went, up to this little old village. I saw my captain in a little hut, working on his daily report. And I went in and reported to him, and he said, Troop, the boys are down in the barn. So, I went out and went down
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MH: Doesnt sound like he was too worried about you not showing up.
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DC: Oh, no. I think he figured I would, whenever I could find it. Or, maybe he was concerned that something had happened to me and I wouldnt, and then hed be in trouble. I dont know.
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MH: How many miles away from the camp do you think you were at that point?
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DC: From that camp?
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MH: Yeah.
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DC: Oh, God, probablywe were down, of course, to Linz, not too far from Linz, I discovered later, Austria. So, we must have been twenty-five, thirty miles. I really dont know. Remember, different conditions and times. But I have been back to the place where I ended the war, there at that little place. And, like I say, the next morning I got up and went up to the captain again, cause I worked directly for him, you know, and told him, Here I am, if theres anything. So, I went outside this little hut where he was in and wrote a letter to my wife, the lady you talked to earlier todaywho will be eighty-four in about a week, I think, the 1st of September. Yeah. (laughs)
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MH: I dont think youre supposed to tell those things.
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DC: Im not supposed to tell em, no. Big mouth, huh? (laughs) I made it through the war, anyway, and the next time she saw me was the last day of April, 1946. That was over a year, but we wrote, communicated and all that.
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MH: Did you write her a letter about the camp you had found?
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DC: Yes. Oh, yes.
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MH: Do you still have that letter?
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DC: I gave the letter to a museum in New York. I gave them that, I gave them the mess kitI wrote the letterused [the kit] as a desk, like, to write the letter on the back of it. I gave em two or three other things. Oh, one of the inmates had given me a little yellow star that the Jews evidently had to wear; hed taken it off his little dirty thing, and took it off and gave it to me. I kept that, and I sent it home to my wife and told her to keep it. And its in a museum up there in New York City, too.
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MH: Did you happen to keep a copy of the letter?
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DC: Oh, yeah. Ive giventheres a copy of the letter at the Air Force Museum out here at Wright-Patterson [Air Force Base], and one copythe original letterat the [Holocaust] Museum in Washington.
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MH: I just wondered if theres a way you could make me a copy and send it to me.
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DC: Probably.
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MH: Theres a couple things Id like. Do you have a photo of yourself from World War II?
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DC: (laughs). Yeah.
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MH: What Id like is a picture of you then, a picture of you now, and a copy of the letter. And what Id like to do is send you a photo envelope to mail it to me, and Ill scan it and send it back to you.
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DC: The letter?
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00:22:53.8
MH: The letter, the
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00:22:55.0
DC: Oh, the photo?
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MH: The photos, yeah.
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DC: Well, if I send them, you can keep them.
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MH: But, I mean, are they good copies? Cause, Id like to scan them so that I could use them.
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DC: Yeah. In fact, I just saw a copy two days ago, a copy of the photo, and it was real good. And I think it was an extra copy.
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MH: Okay. But if not, I have no problem with scanning it and sending it back to you. Ill send you an envelope so you can mail it to me.
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DC: Okay.
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00:23:23.4
MH: Tell me, when you went into that camp, do you remember what kind of day it was? And what time of day it was?
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00:23:32.1
DC: Well, it was in the morning, thats pretty obvious. It was probably, I imagineI want to guess probably 7:30 or 8:30 in the morning.
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00:23:43.1
MH: Was it a nice spring day?
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00:23:43.9
DC: Oh, it was a nice day, mild day down there in Austria. I think it was the 5th of May. I think that was the date.
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00:23:52.8
MH: Actually, I can tell you. Well, what they say here is that the 71st got there on May 4th. So, that might have been the 5th of May that you got there.
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00:24:1.9
DC: Mm-hm.
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00:24:2.5
MH: What else do you remember about the people in the camp? I mean, there was that one person sitting there at the railroad station. Did you ever see him again?
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00:24:11.4
DC: Oh, no. I wouldnt have recognized him anyway, Im sure. They were a pretty scummy looking bunch, you know; they were just so skinny and dirty and crummy, and there was those that had the lice and all that stuff on em. They were just a terrible looking bunch.
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00:24:36.2
MH: You said there was one person who gave you the Jewish star off his uniform. Did you see a lot of people wearing stars?
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00:24:46.5
DC: I dont recall. I really dont recall whether they were or not. I think most of em were Hungarian Jewish people; thats what somebody told us when we were in there. We wereactually, we didnt know when the war was gonna be over; all we knew was we were movin and movin fast now, right there at the very end of the war. And we knew if we were gonna be alive. Course, you didnt really worry about that; you just went on and did whatever you were gonna do and did it.
98
00:25:22.4
MH: You were carrying an M1?
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DC: I had an M1. No, I did not carry it. The rifle that was issued to me in Franceat Metz, FranceIm telling you, I never fired it one time after I left France. Any firing I did, I borrowed a carbineand shot a German oncefrom a guy. But that rifle, Im almost positive, had been run over with a tank or a truck, cause the barrel was bent. And I told everybodyI called it Mr. Suicide.
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MH: (laughs)
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DC: (laughs) I aimedwhen we were in France, in Metz, to do the firing practice whenthey issued you new uniforms and everything, or different uniforms, when you got over there, and the latest equipment. I shot atI was an expert rifleman, by the wayand when I fired that thing, it must have hit just in a relatively short range, three or four feet from where I was aiming. (MH laughs) And I told somebody, Im not going to use this damn thing. Thats pure suicide. Thats what I called it. So I justany firing had to be done, Id either use a pistol, or that borrowed carbine that time.
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MH: So you were on the truck going into the camp, you were just carrying a pistol then.
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DC: Yeah. All I had was my pistols. I went in there, and I had plenty of ammunition for em, Ill say that.
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MH: What were they, .38s, .45s?
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DC: No, 9mm.
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MH: Nine mm, back then?
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DC: Mm-hm.
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MH: They were American, or German?
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DC: I think Italian. Just a secondIll keep talking to you, but Ill walk in. I still have one of em. Somebody stole one, cause you had to turn your weapons in after the war. I had to turn both these pistols in, and they were brand new. They had cosmoline on them, the original cosmoline. I took em out of an old ladys bag inI think it was in the town of Amberg. We were going through, and wed just come in and things were pretty hot, you know. And she camethe Germans had to turn in any weapons. I saw some of the most beautiful swords and stuff you can ever imagine.
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This old ladyI go down by the place where they were throwing em through the window, probably the town house. Anyway, she came up, and the Germans carried big bags back thenstill do, I guess. She came up to me, sidled up to me, and opened the big bag. I looked in, and there were two big brand new holsters. And I thought, Oh, boy! I had my cartridge belt on, of course, for the rifle. And I had my jacket open, down. I was looking for just such an opportunity, and when I looked in and saw that, I reached in with my hand, grabbed both those pistols, put em in my jacket and zipped it up, thanked the lady and walked on.
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MH: (laughs)
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DC: I got em homesomebody, like I say, stole one of em. Ive still got the other one. I got it in my hand right this minute. In fact, Im taking it out of its holster.
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MH: Be careful.
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DC: Oh, yeah. Its a Beretta, and its a 9mm, 7.65 is what it says caliber.
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MH: And you had no problem getting bullets for it?
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DC: Oh, no. Oh, my God, no. This was definitely in use over there. Its a 1944 date on it, and Id say this was 1945.
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MH: It was brand new.
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DC: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Original cosmoline on em. And I just thought, Oh, boy, I gotta have a pistoltwo of em. And then I got home with one.
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MH: So, you were two-gun Cooper. (laughs)
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DC: Yeah. (laughs) Except no one know who I was or anything. We have a fellow that wrote a book about the camp, and he swore up and down I wasnt at the camp. I said, What the hell are you talking about? Did you read that letter that I wrote to the wife? How could I not be in the camp and write something like that? I wouldnt have gone to work when I got outId have been like you, a writer, I guess.
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MH: Who wrote the book?
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DC: Oh, God, Id have to
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MH: I mean, was it one of the GIs?
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DC: Oh, yeah; he was an officer. And he wroteI think it was On Guard, I think it was what he called it.
On Guard: The Fourteenth Infantry Regiment in Bavaria 1945-6, by Gerald McMahon. Published in 1990 by Yaderman Books.
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MH: You think hes still alive?
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DC: Uh, he could be. I talked to him a few years ago, once, when I told him that Id been in. After he wrote the book, I told him that I had been in there, and was still alive and all that. On Guard, I believe, is what he called it. Ive got a copy of it around here someplace or othera paperback, you know.
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MH: If theres a wayif you have some time, if you could find his name, Id appreciate that. But tell meyou probably spent what, less than an hour in that camp?
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DC: Oh, no, it was longerprobably a couple of hours.
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MH: A couple of hours.
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DC: Cause we had this truck to unload, andwell, the one thing I remember doing, a little extra. I walkedthere were some buildings in there, of course, and I walked over. I told these guys I was with, Im gonna walk over here and look in a building. And my God, the stench all over this placeyou know, the excrement was all over, piles of excrement all over. I walked over and I opened the door and looked in. And these photos that you see of two or three people laying on top of each other in little old wooden beds likeits true, cause it was there in that place. And the stench, I can still smell that place today, that camp.
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MH: When you opened the door and see the people, do they say anything?
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DC: They dont say anything. This makes you proud to be an American. They recognized the fact that we were Americans; I guess they heard us, probably out there, or maybe somebody from out there had gone to that building. And there was one guy I can remember, he raised up. He was laying on top of another guy, and he just raised up and looked really whiteyou know, pale, and all that. And just kind of, Oh, my God, were saved, you know. You could see that in his face.
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MH: They didnt say anything, though.
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DC: Not a thing. And I immediately went away from that place, I didnt want to get in there and go disturbing things around, you know, cause I was the only one over there by the building.
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MH: Are you wearing a helmet or a hat or anything?
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DC: Oh, yeah, you had to hear a hat.
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MH: So, have you got a helmet on, or just a hat?
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DC: I dont think I had a helmet on. I think I just had, like, the little cloth cap on. And I had on naturally a uniform. You wore a Class B uniform, really. You had on your green, you know, Class A uniform, except you had a field jacket on.
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MH: Youre not wearing fatigues or that sort of thing?
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DC: No, we were wearing regular uniforms. And the fatigue jacket, or the field jacket, thats more fatigue. I had that, of course.
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MH: You wearing boots or shoes?
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DC: Boots, the regularin fact, the Eisenhowerwe didnt have the leggings then. When we got over there, when they issued us new boots, they were really good. I dont know whether I gave thoseI probably gave those, if I still had em, to the Museum, too.
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MH: So, youre in the camp for a couple of hours. Did the people immediately start eating the food and stuff that was on that truck?
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DC: In giving them outthese were liter cans, and of course we werent used to liters at that time, you know; we used our method, sixteen ounce and so forth. Anyway, as we gave them to the people, we told them to have someonethe guys that spoke English, we told em, Have someone carefully issue them out, and put at least two people on a can. And that was probably too much, probably killed some of em, because too much at one time, you know. And that was it. I gave emwe, always, from eating C rations, had your little can opener.
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MH: The P-38.
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DC: Yeah, had plenty of those in our pockets, you know. And plenty of the little four-packs of cigarettes and all that, which we threw out to the people, and they really enjoyed a cigarette. We halved them and everything else to try to spread em and make em go as far as we can. Remember, we were all alone. We did what we thought we had to do, and I thought we did all right at the time.
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MH: It sounds like it. Nobody had warned you at that point about not feeding them because it could kill them.
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DC: Oh, no. No. You get in there, and there you are, you know. We told em, though, you know, Just watch it. We would tell em if they ate too much.
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MH: You give em matches with the cigarettes, too?
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DC: Yeah, you had your little packs of matches, too. We made sure they were all rightor we even lit them for em after we broke them in two and handed em to them.
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MH: Heres a test of your memory: what brand cigarettes?
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DC: I dont know whether they were Camels, Luckys, Chesterfieldsit werent one of those type. Phillip Morris; it was probably Luckys or Camels.
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MH: There were some GIs who gave cigarettes to the inmates of the camps and the inmates started eating them.
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DC: I wouldnt doubt that, yeah. They had to have something, you know. But they smoked these, what I saw, what little bit I saw.
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MH: When you came home, whens the first time you told people about what youd seen at that camp?
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DC: I dont recall, really. We were more interested in getting started with our life and getting a job and all that, you know. So, I really dont know when was the first time. Id written that good letterabout eleven or twelve pages longto my wife and asked her to keep it and have Dad or somebody make a copy, type a copy, you know.
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So, anyway, they kept it. And like I say, I went up to the State Department when they called for liberators to come up, and I went up. While I was up there I met the lady from New York, and she said sheI heard her say she had a museum in a high school. And I said, Hey, Ill try to get up there. Ive got some things Ill give you. And the wife and I went upI cant remember offhand, two or three years later. I came home in forty-six [1946], the last day of April forty-six [1946]. We went up and I gave her this stuff, and I told her, Its yours. Never asked for anything, never wanted anything, just get the word out to people and let em see that what theyve been reading and so forth was true.
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Well, she got it, and then they built a museum, in Brooklyn, this outfit did. And the wife and I went up one time and we were in athe wife doesnt care for large towns. So, we went in the museum and this lady wasnt there. She happened to be in some other office by now. So, we came back, and the wife wanted to get out of New York, so we left and came on back home.
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MH: Have you ever run into people who said that the Holocaust didnt happen?
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DC: No. They wont tell me that. Id say, Oh, it didnt? I wonder what I was dreamin and drinkin.
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MH: (laughs) Or drinking.
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DC: (laughs) Youre right, thats one of the things we looked for. We soon learned that there was good wines around over there and all that; the beer wasnt worth a darn, even then, because its probably about 1 percent. But the wines were very good and if we could get wine, by George! One of the hardest jobs we had was to open upthe wifes laughing (laughs)open up the bottles and get the cork out, you know. We didnt realize how to do it. You know, they got those corks down in, and then the little metal
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MH: Foil?
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DC: No, a metal wire that goes down and holds the cork in. Anyway, that was one of the hardest jobs we had to do. I think sometimes wed even just break the bottle open to get a drink. And somebody finally showed us what to do. You take both thumbs and put it on each side of the bottle, the wire container, and push and it just slipped right up. And then you can just put the cork back on, cause it doesnt fly off, you know, it just flips up. (laughs) And that was one of the hardest jobsI still laugh about thattrying to get a drink.
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MH: What did you do when you can home? What job did you have, what career did you have?
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DC: I wasId run a screwing machine operator; a screwing machine is likeyou know. And one of the things I did, I wanted to get in personnel. I kind of liked that, and I knew, just from my nature. Anyway, I went to workI took a couple of college courses here locally, personnel, administration and personnel testing. Under the VA [Veterans Affairs]I got under the training program. I got that, and then they were able to place me in the Huffman Manufacturing Company for six months of training. And, oh, that was one of the best jobs I had, really, back then. I really enjoyed that. I got in the training program and all that, and then when that was up, they had to let me go, Huffman Manufacturing, and they did.
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Then I was able to jack around in other jobs; you know, I ran machinery. In fact, I was working at the Standard Register Companyyou know, we had the GI Bill and GI Rights. Working in personnel, I knew quite a bit about it by then, and I put on to go to work for the government, because if you went to work for the government, you were almost assured you werent going to be let go. So, I was working at the Standard Register Company as an inspector on the night shift. A fellow by the name of Cooper, by the way, happened to be my trainer. You had to have extremely good color acuity because of the type of work they did.
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Anyway, I put in out here at the base. Wright Field is not far away from me, you know, the Wright-Patterson. And anyway, when I went to workput in to work with themand I got a notification to come to work, I told em, Put in at the Standard Register. They said, Are you sure youre leaving? I said, Yes. Im gonna take a decrease in salary, and so forth, but I will have some rights which I dont have here. Okay. I found outyou know what job they were going to put me in, at the end of this training? They were going to put me in charge of the personnel at the Standard Register Company. You may have heard of that company, I dont know. My God, Id really have been wealthy there, with the stocks and so forth I wouldve got.
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But I went on toI think I was a GS-4 when I went out to work as a clerk in supply at the Wright-Patt out here. I worked two years, and they were going to transfer me to Ogden, Utah. I said, No, Im a Dayton boy, and Im going to stay in Dayton. Anybody else around here hiring anybody? And they said, You might go out to the Dayton Air Force Depot, which is about the same distance from my home, but still here in Dayton. So, I went out, and I was able to transfer. Instead of going to Utah, I was able to go right out here.
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I stayed there for twenty years, and retired. I retired quite young, by the way. I retired the 30th of April 1972, from my regular job. I had a total of twenty-five years of seniority and so forth, and then I was able to go work at anyplace else I wanted to, you know. So, I did work at some other places.
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MH: You have children?
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DC: One child, who just turned sixty-one, by the way. Was it sixty-one she turned? Yeah, sixty-one the 14th of August. My birthday, my eighty-fifth, was the 16th of August. The wifes, like I say, eighty-fourthIll tell on her at any rateis coming up the 1st of September.
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MH: Did the stuff you had seen at that camp ever come back to you later in life?
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DC: You mean as a nightmare?
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MH: Yeah.
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DC: No. No, I think one of the things that kind of helped me was the fact that I had been raised in the country, like, on the edge of Dayton where theres hardly anybody, near farms. There was a farmer nearby, and hed butcher hogs and cattle and all this kind of stuff. And to kill a hog, you either cut its throat or hit it in the head and all that kind of stuff with a sledgehammer and ax. And I think that kind of helped me, because I was used to death, of a sort, but not of people. But then when it became people, well, you just had to do what you had to do. I became, finally, a sergeant before I left the Army.
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But no, the smellI can smell that place right now. That is the most lingering thing. And, of course, the people; they knew they were saved, you know, and it was so good to be an American. And the flagboy, I cant just stand anyone downgrading our flag, when these people knew we were Americans that were in this place.
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MH: You said that the German civiliansactually, you said the Austrian civilians had a different attitude than the German civilians.
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DC: It was a different feeling, like. We could sense it, you know what I mean? If you were sensitive at all, you could kind of sense the fact that, well, the Germans were a little bit apprehensive of us, you know, they didnt know what we were gonna do. I know we had some tough guys and all this kind of stuff, but still in all, humans are humans, you know. You gotta be human. And I never roughed any of em up. A little squirt like me, I could have. I could just hit em in the head and thatd been it, you know.
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MH: There wereI cant tell you how many veterans have told me that after they saw the camps, the line you hear is, We didnt take any prisoners that day, or, We didnt take any prisoners after that.
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DC: Well, I told you what I did. We took prisoners later that day, German soldiers, and took em outlike I said, when we went to leave to go on, I still had to find my outfit.
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MH: What kept you from being so angry that you just wanted to just retaliate against any German?
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DC: I think that you are either a murderer or a killer. I can be a killer, but I discovered that day I wasnt a murderer. And there is a difference. Now, had that fellowwhen I walked up to him in that barn lot, had he raised his arm to attack me likeI walked right up and put this pistol right here, almost against his chest, and that man knew he was dying, because I was going to kill him. And he was justI needed resistance. You just dont run out and shoot somebody, even right in the middle of the war, even after youve been in a place like that the same day. I didnt, anyway, and neither did these other guys, cause this other guy couldnt kill him either, whoever he was. I dont know who he was.
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But I was hopinIll tell you, in plain language, now, exactly what I thought: Raise your arm, you son-of-a-bitch. Thats what was in my head. I wanted him to raise hisgive me resistance, which I could construe as resistance. And when he didnt, Im not just gonna shoot him down.
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MH: But, I mean, there were other GIs who would make a different choice in the same circumstance.
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DC: Oh, yes. Oh, yeah, yeah, heavens sake. See, I hadnt been in combat all that long, either.
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MH: Maybe thats the difference.
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DC: That helped, even thoughdeath-wise, I remember one day going out on patrol with one of our guys. Wed had several wounded or killed at a river crossing. The guy in the charge of the I & R [Intelligence & Reconnaissance] platoon, the sergeantthe lieutenant, I think, had been shot. Anyway, he asked if anybodyhe needed some help. So, big old me, Ill help him. I went out with another guy in a jeep. You patrolled ahead of your unit, to see if theres any resistance up there, what youre gonna run into.
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We were goin down this road, and you learned real fast if the Germans put a white flag out, or a white tablecloth or anything, they were actually giving up. You could believe em. Now, remember, this was not far from the end of the war. So, as we were going down this road, we saw something up along the road. I was riding shotgun for this guy who was driving the Jeep, and I got ready to fire on what we were comin up on, if need be. We got up there, and there was an officer, a German officer, alongside the road. His brains were blown out of his head and his guts were ripped open and all this. I thought, Wow, somethings going through here. I think it was the Air Force probably really gave it to this guy.
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But then, a little later, we noticed: no white flags hangin out the windows. We both noticed it at the same time, we looked at each other, and we said, Lets get the hell out of here. So, he ripped that jeep around and went full speed back, and we told em everything was clear for several klicks on up the road. And that was about it. You just had to keep yourself, you know, under control, like.
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Like I say, I think there was about seventeen of us in my family that were in, cousins and brothermy brother was in the Navy. He was in the aircraft carrier Saratoga [CV-3] at Iwo Jima. I think it was four kamikazes or something that came into that thing. They had to come back to the States to get the thing repaired. And he never would talk about it. All I said was, You kind of got rattled around a little bit down there, didnt you? And he was down in a hold as a machineman, you know. He would never talk very much. He was quite reticent about talking.
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MH: Anything else you can think of telling me about that camp?
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DC: Well, I think I told the wife it was 1,500 or 1,700thats what somebody had told mein the camp, how many people were in here. And I guess it was more like 15,000 or 17,000. I knew it was a lot of em.
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MH: Right. Men and women.
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DC: Yeah. Oh, yeah. One woman came walking up towards me as we were helping unloading and direct these people. She was pointing in her mouth and, of course, crying and all that, and she came right up towards me. I knew to stay away, because of the lice and the disease, I guess.
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MH: How do you stop her?
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DC: Well, I just put my hand up, I was gonna stop her. I didnt try. One of the other guys did; in fact, he hit one of the guys, and I made him stop. Leave him alone. My God, they knew they were saved. I tell people, you couldnt be more proud of the American flag than going in there with us that day.
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MH: What did this woman do? She was coming towards you?
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DC: She came up, putting her finger towards her mouth; she was hungry. And, of course, we had given away about everything wed had. We didnt havethat we had on us, you know, and we were unloading the cans and stuff. There was quite a number of eggs. SomebodyI dont know whomust have been on the truck when it came up to us. I told one of the guys, Take these eggs and give em to the women and children. Now whether she ever got an egg or not, I dont know. Theres only so many eggs and thousands of people in there.
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But then, some of em would just fall over dead. Other ones were laying all over the woods with their trousers down where they tried to relieve themselves and just fall over dead. Once youre into that, you knowI wouldnt want to go into it today, but I would know basically how to react today, thats for sure. Yeah.
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MH: If I send you an envelope, would you be able to make a copy of that letter and send it to me?
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DC: I will do my very best. (to wife) Do we have a copy of that letter around her someplace? I know we do.
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Mrs. Cooper: We should have.
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DC: We should have, yeah.
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MH: Ill send you an envelope with a letter asking about the letter, and some photos as well.
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DC: Okay. Ill get the photoI know theres a photo, cause I saw it the other dayof when we came back into Germany. No photo of the camp, though.
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MH: Right. No, I understand.
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DC: When we came back into Germany, at (inaudible), I had a photoits a beautiful photo, I think (laughs)in a Class A uniform, you know, and I have that. Ill send that to you.
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MH: Is it a small photo, or is it large?
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DC: Small.
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MH: Okay. And if you have a current photoeven if you have a current one of you and your wife, I wouldnt mind having that to be able to use.
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DC: Okay, a photo of you and me, Joanne.
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MH: Ill send you a letter.
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DC: Oh, okay. Whatever you wantanything I send, if you can keep it, Ill just tell you to keep it, you know.
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MH: Okay, but I have no problem sending it back to you. Okay?
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DC: Mm-hm.
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MH: Thank you very much. Its really been wonderful talking with you. I appreciate it.
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DC: Well, its good to talk about it again, I guess. (laughs) Wait a minute.
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Mrs. Cooper: Did you get his address?
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DC: No, I didnt get his address. Hes gonna send meyeah.
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MH: Ill send youyou dont have e-mail, do you?
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DC: No, I havent gone in for any of that stuff.
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MH: Okay. Well, then, Ill send you a letter; itll go out tomorrow.
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DC: Okay.
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MH Thank you very much, Delbert. I appreciate it.
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DC: Okay.
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MH: Bye-bye.
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DC: Bye-bye.