Ray W. Peterson oral history interview

Ray W. Peterson oral history interview

Material Information

Ray W. Peterson oral history interview
Series Title:
Concentration camp liberators oral history project
Uniform Title:
Holocaust & genocide studies oral history projects
Peterson, Ray W., 1925-
Hirsh, Michael, 1943-
University of South Florida Libraries -- Holocaust & Genocide Studies Center
University of South Florida -- Library. -- Special & Digital Collections. -- Oral History Program
Place of Publication:
Tampa, Fla
University of South Florida Tampa Library
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
1 sound file (78 min.) : digital, MPEG4 file + ;


Subjects / Keywords:
Concentration camps -- History -- Germany ( lcsh )
World War, 1939-1945 -- Concentration camps -- Germany ( 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 )
Oral history. ( local )
Online audio. ( local )
interview ( marcgt )
Oral history ( local )
Online audio ( local )


This is an oral history interview with Holocaust concentration camp liberator Ray W. Peterson. Peterson was a member of the 63rd Infantry Division, which liberated Kaufering IV, a sub-camp of Dachau, on April 28, 1945. He was part of an intelligence and reconnaissance platoon assigned to scout ahead of the division. While on their way to Landsberg, his unit found a compound surrounded by a moat and barbed wire. They entered the compound and found the camp with several thousand prisoners still inside. Peterson radioed back to their platoon leader, who, fearing disease, ordered them to leave and continue their mission. After the war, while on occupation duty, Peterson was one of the soldiers who brought Wernher von Braun and his staff out of the Soviet-controlled region on their way to the United States. He also helped the 63rd become officially recognized as a liberating division.
Interview conducted June 12, 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.
Transcripts, excerpts, or any component of this interview may be used without the author's express written permission only for educational or research purposes. No portion of the interview audio or text may be broadcast, cablecast, webcast, or distributed without the author's express written permission.
General Note:
This interview was conducted as research for The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust / Michael Hirsh (New York: Bantam Books, 2010).
Statement of Responsibility:
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.

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:
024896769 ( ALEPH )
656422167 ( OCLC )
C65-00106 ( USFLDC DOI )
c65.106 ( USFLDC Handle )

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Peterson, Ray W.,
Ray W. Peterson oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (78 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (31 p.)
Concentration camp liberators oral history project
This interview was conducted as research for The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust / Michael Hirsh (New York: Bantam Books, 2010).
Interview conducted June 12, 2008.
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.
Transcripts, excerpts, or any component of this interview may be used without the author's express written permission only for educational or research purposes. No portion of the interview audio or text may be broadcast, cablecast, webcast, or distributed without the author's express written permission.
This is an oral history interview with Holocaust concentration camp liberator Ray W. Peterson. Peterson was a member of the 63rd Infantry Division, which liberated Kaufering IV, a sub-camp of Dachau, on April 28, 1945. He was part of an intelligence and reconnaissance platoon assigned to scout ahead of the division. While on their way to Landsberg, his unit found a compound surrounded by a moat and barbed wire. They entered the compound and found the camp with several thousand prisoners still inside. Peterson radioed back to their platoon leader, who, fearing disease, ordered them to leave and continue their mission. After the war, while on occupation duty, Peterson was one of the soldiers who brought Wernher von Braun and his staff out of the Soviet-controlled region on their way to the United States. He also helped the 63rd become officially recognized as a liberating division.
Peterson, Ray W.,
United States.
Infantry Division, 63rd.
United States.
Infantry Division, 63rd
v Personal narratives.
Kaufering (Concentration camp)
Concentration camps
z Germany
x History.
World War, 1939-1945
Concentration camps
World War, 1939-1945
Concentration camps
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
Personal narratives, American.
World War, 1939-1945
United States.
United States
Crimes against humanity.
7 655
Oral history.
Online audio.
Hirsh, Michael,
University of South Florida Libraries.
Holocaust & Genocide Studies Center.
University of South Florida.
Special & Digital Collections.
Oral History Program.
Holocaust & genocide studies oral history projects.
Concentration camp liberators oral history project.
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text Ray Peterson: Would you like me just to tell my story and then you can ask questions, or how would you like to do it?
Michael Hirsh: Thatd be fine but first of all, let me get your name.  Its Ray, P-e-t-e-r-s-o-n?
RP: Yeah, Ray, W. on the initial, P-e-t-e-r-s-o-n.
MH: Your address, please?
MH: And your phone number?
MH: Do you have an e-mail address?
RP: Yeah.
MH: And your date of birth, please?
RP: I was born the twenty-seventh of August, thatd be 8-27-25 [August 27, 1925].  Ill be eighty-three in August.
MH: Okay.  Why dont you tell me your story, and Ill come back and ask questions.
RP: Ask some questions?  Okay, I came to the 63rd Division out of the Army Specialized Training Program.  I had qualified for that, but if youre an historian of any matter, you know that the ASTP and the Air Cadet program were discontinued.  An awful lot of Air Cadets came back to ground forces as well as ASTP.  Hundreds of thousands of us went to the combat divisions.  The planners of World War II determined they were way shy of men in order to win the war in Europe and bring about the invasion and so forth, so we were all transferred into combat outfits.  I ended up in Camp Van Dorn, Mississippi, after going through some ASTP and all that good stuff.  Basic.
When I got to Camp Van Dorn, I first served with a line company, and a few weeks after I was there, I was told Id be in intelligence and reconnaissance platoon, an I&R platoon.  I dont know if youre familiar with what they are or not, but we were an I&R platoon for the 255th Infantry Regiment.  And, of course, our whole purpose in being, Mike, wasI call it the eyes and ears of the regimental commander.  We were to cooperate out in front of the lines an awful lot of the time, trying to gain information and intelligence on the enemy.  And we did this a number of ways: We manned observation posts, if we were someplace where we could do that.  Or we did a lot of Jeep patrols and then, of course, a lot of foot patrols trying to gain information.
When I got to Van Dorn in the I&R platoon, I was made a Jeep driver, so I was trained in operation of vehicles along with all the things that go with an I&R platoon.  And in the I&R platoon, we had seven Jeeps, which we could pretty well transport the whole platoon.  There was three squads of about nine in each squad.  We were a little different than a regular platoon.  And then, of course, we had the lieutenant for a platoon leader, and he had his own driver and stuff like that.  Anyway, thats what I trained at, and we trained at Mississippi and finally arrived at an operational point where we were considered combat ready.  Went overseas
MH: When did you go overseas?
RP: Went overseas in November of 1944, from POE [port of embarkation] New York, and we were on a convoy.  It took us fourteen days.  Went through the Straits of Gibraltar and landed in Marseille, France.  And we went outside of Marseille into a (inaudible) that was kind of a Delta staging camp, and there we waited until we got all our equipment and of course got our Jeeps off and got all organized.  And then we headed north, where the invasion had taken place prior to us getting there, and theyd gone uphad met the forces coming in from the Normandy area, too.  So, we traveled up this road, and finally we were in the area of combat and went into thewe didnt actually go as a division; just the three regiments went.  Division artillery and all that stuff came later.  We were assigned to other divisions to get some combat experience, and so
MH: As your platoon or separately?
RP: We wereas a regiment.  We were assigned tomy particular [regiment], the 255th, we went to the 100th Division, and we were around Strasbourg when we first entered combat, and we gained a lot of experience there.  And then, of course, it wasnt too long after we had gotten there that the Battle of the Bulge took place, and an awful lot of our men from our division were taken north to join Pattons outfit and try to liberate the 1st Airborne division that was encircled up at Bastogne.  But, anyway, we were operating on a big long front at that particular time, because we were reallyI think they just went down the lines already called, and about one out of every ten guys was told they were going to go to one of the Patton divisions.
Anyway, the long winter came on, and it was a bad winter in 1944, as you probably remember from history.  So, this more or less stabilized our position.  We did get together as a division after artillery and everybody else, support troops, came over.  I guess that wouldve been sometime in January or early February.  And then in early February, the spring started to kind of break in Germany.  It was still pretty wintry, but we jumped off into attack.  And I followed the 63rd all the way through.  We were doing our thing all the way, patrols and trying to get prisoners and all these routine things.
MH: What area were you in at this point?
RP: At this point, we were in the area of Strasbourg, France, if you know where that was, and we went north and east from there, made a big loop up through Germany.  We crossed over from France into Germany fairly quickly, went through the Maginot Line and through the Siegfried Line, made a big loop up to the north, came back down past Cologne and that area and headed in almost the direction of southeast during the spring months of 1944.  No, I take it back, 1945.  It was 1944, but now its 1945 because its after the first of the year.  Then we had all the typical experiences as a combat division.  We encountered a lot of different enemy types.  Some were SS troops, some were just regular Wehrmacht troops, but
MH: Was there a difference fighting them?
RP: Yeah, it was completely different.  The SS were more highly trained, more vicious in the tactics they used and this kind of stuff, so we had experience with both of them.  The other two regiments, of course, were the 253rd and the 254th that made up our division.  And we had the Blood and Fire patch; I dont know if youre familiar with that, but its interesting how that came about.  It had a sort of aId say shapedit has a point and kind of rounded on the end: a dagger with blood on it and all that good stuff.  It came about as a result of the meeting of President Roosevelt with Winston [Churchill]I cant remember whether the Russians were there or not.  But anyway, out of that meeting that they had at Casablanca, they werethe edict went out that the enemy would bleed and burn.  And so, somehow, somebody designed this patch for us, and we became the Blood and Fire division.
MH: Until then, you didnt have a patch?
RP: No, we had a patch.  That happened in 1943, so we had the patch before, when we became organized as a division at Camp Van Dorn.  The cadre for the 63rd came from Camp Blanding, Florida, and then it was formed as a division in Camp Van Dorn.
But anyway, we progressed pretty much, as I say, south, after we turned south; we went pretty much south and east somewhat.  Went down, they had a couple of combat divisions on both side of the course; as I recall, the 45th was on one side and the 36th was on the other, and we finally got down to about the time of April.  Now Im getting into the Holocaust stuff and how I got involved in this.
And we were doing fairly well by the time April came around.  Spring washad arrived, and we were having a lot of successes in the combat that we were involved in.  And we were going down through, oh, some of the places youd recognize I guess would beI dont know if youd recognize Wiesbaden and Karlsruhe, and all those kind of places like that.  And we were proceeding in a southeasterly direction, almost turning south at times.  And we got to April 28, 1945, and this is the day that my experience with the first Holocaust comes about.
This particular day, myself, being a Jeep driver; Hearl Hager, being the scout; and oh, boy, his name evades me, the radio operator.  I keep forgetting his name.  Ill get it for you here in a second.  Oh, William Turanski.
MH: How do you spell those names?
RP: T-u-r-a-n-s-k-i.
MH: And the other man?
RP: H-a-g-e-r, Hearl, H-e-a-r-l, Hager.  Lets see, I believe Hearl and I were PFCs and Turanski would be the (inaudible) T-4, about the equivalent of a sergeant.  Anyway, that constituted a platoon type of thing where wed do reconnaissance.
On this particular day, we were proceeding south towards Landsberg, and we were on a highway that parallels the Lech River, L-e-c-h, Lech River toward Landsberg.  We had no idea exactly what was going to happen to us this day.  Our orders from the regiment commander, Colonel Hatcher, and our platoon leader was Virgil Walters, was to do reconnaissance to the front of the regiment.  The situation on the battlefield at that particular time was very fluid.  The German troops were pretty much in full retreat, and they would stand and make some resistance, you know, but the line companies, they were using two-and-a-half ton trucks, and we were leapfrogging them down the highways, trying to catch up with the Germans.
But our ordersI say, the two or three of uswas to do reconnaissance to the front of the regiment.  We didnt have any idea what exactly was going on, but one of our primary missions was also to try to determine who was to the left flank and the right flank, because we were advancing so fast that it was the feeling of our commander, General [Louis E.] Hibbs, that maybe we would get attacked from the sides, from the flanks.  So, our orders were to try and determine if we had plenty of troops on the right and left of us.
So, thats what we were doing: we were going to the right and the left, and we made contact with our regiment, which was the 254th to the left of us, and we found it was a tank outfit, the 10th Armored, to the right of us, so we were all right as far as friendly forces on both sides of us.
MH: This is the 63rd Infantry Division?
RP: 63rd Infantry Division.
MH: The only reason I ask is that Im looking at my list of liberating divisions that came from the Army and the Holocaust Museum in Washington, and they have Landsberg on April 27 with the 130th Infantry, the 10th Armored, the 12th Armored.
RP: Thats where its erroneous.  Thats the point of the story Ive got to tell you about.  They got honoredthey got attributed for it, and Ill tell you how we finally got our flag there.  It should be in the Holocaust Museum now, because we proved to them it was on the twenty-eighth that Landsberg was liberated.  But it became a big controversy, and everybody wanted to take credit for these kind of things, right, for some reason or other.  But, anyway, as we approached going toward Landsberg at this time, we hadnt arrived at Landsberg, had no idea there was such a thing as a Holocaust, and I dont know at what level military or governmental levels knew about this thing.  Maybe President FDR and those kind.  I dont think Ike did.  Im not sure about him.  I know Patton didnt.
MH: They knew about it as of the libI can look at the listthey knew as of April 4, when Ohrdruf was liberated, and on the twelfth, Eisenhower went there.
RP: When the Russians started to hit them first, and the four Poland areas was run over by the Russians first.  They learned about them then, but we were not aware of any being in the American sector.  Anyway, as we were going down this road parallel with the Lech River, we noticed this enclosement [sic].  Looked like a typical barbed wire and type of enclosure, low-built huts.  But the curious thing about this, Mike, is I never had anybody tell me this before, was that being the Lech River was nearby, they had taken and built a moat around this particular whole compound, and the only way you could get in through kind of an arched bridge that went up over the moat.  There was no other entrances whatsoever.
But, anyway, we saw this, and so we thought, Well, what in the blazes could this possibly be?  It had buildings that resembled tarpaper shack-type things, and they were low built.  And we thought, Well, its all barbed-wired in; we cant get in.  The only way you can get in is up over the thing, so we went up over there, and this is when we first encountered the Holocaust-type of situation.
MH: Were the SS troops still there?
RP: No, they were gone.  There wasnt a guard to be seen.  Theyd all taken off toward the south, and we had no idea of what was there.  We went in, and we saw the typical sight that Im sure youre aware of.  The dead, half-dead, naked, some clothed in striped garbs and laying on these crude type of bunks that they had, and it was a typical type of thing that Im sure youve seen pictures of.
MH: Lets take it slower.  Did you drive in with the Jeeps or did you have to walk in?
RP: No, we had to walk upwe drove in with the Jeeps to this arched bridge that went up over the moat.
MH: Was this on your side of the river, or did you have to cross the river first?
RP: No, we could not cross the river.  The Lech River was completelyall the bridges had been dropped by the Nazis, either air power or blew them up.  There was no bridge across there.  But our troops eventually, on the twenty-eighth, did cross the river on boats and go into Landsberg city itself.
Now, the one Im telling you about here, the best I can research this thing through a lot of people Ive contacted and the literature Ive got is, we went into what I would call Kaufering IV.  There were four Kaufering sites, I, II, III and IV.  This particular one was Kaufering IV, best I can determine.  And there were around 7,000 to 8,000 concentration-type people in this camp.  A lot of em were Hungarians, as I found out, but they were typical concentration types, and they were using a lot of them as slave labor in Landsberg itself.  But there was a camp in Landsberg also and, like Im saying, our troopsand Im not sure if it was the 2nd Battalion or 1st Battalion, went across the river on some boats and got into Landsberg.  And matter of fact, they alsowell, youre well aware that this is Landsberg where Hitler was imprisoned, also, and his little fiasco.  Anyway, it was a big camp in Landsberg.
Now, heres where my story ends fairly quickly, because we had radio contact with our lieutenant and also Colonel Hatcher.  So, we radioed back and said, We dont know what weve come across here, but we found these 7,000 or 8,000 people in this campwe were estimating there were that many, anywaythat are in dire need of help, and we dont know what they are or what the place this is.  And so, our lieutenant, in consultation with a colonel, said, Well, you get out of there, because theres more than likely a lot of disease in that situation youre trying to describe to us, and well take care of it.  And he said, Besides that, youre supposed to be on patrol in front of the regiment, so get out of there and get on your way.
So, that was my encounter with the victims at that time.  Now, we proceeded on our patrol down further.  Now, this was on the twenty-eighth, morning of the twenty-eighth of April 1945.  We were not relieved until the next day, by the 103rd Regiment, which is part of the 36th Division.  Now, somehow, they and this 10th Armored and the 12th Armored claim they were in there before we were, but that is not true.  And the way I found this out, Mike, was I visited Washington, D.C., and I went to the Holocaust Museum with the intention of trying to find out some history about the 63rd and its relationship to the Holocaust.  And I got permission to go to the archives and the library there at the museum.  Have you ever been there?
MH: Ive been there once, but as a tourist and not as a journalist.
RP: Anyway, I got permission to look through their records, and they showed me all the records they had, and lo and behold, the 63rd is not shown as one of the liberators.  I said, Well, theres something wrong here.  They were showing me it was liberated on the twenty-ninth and the twenty-seventh and a lot of kind of stuff, and I said, That is simply not factual. We went into those camps, and if theyd had been there first, why wasnt there a bunch of American medics and other GIs around there trying to help these people out?  There was not a soul to be seen in the camp when we entered, this Kaufering IV, and there was no opposition in Landsberg camp.  They were completely by themselves, and that particular camp, Im told that some of theI dont know whats the proper terminology, concentration inmate dont sound right. But victims, anyway, had left the camp and were wandering throughout the city in Landsberg.  This was not true in the one we went in, entered into.  They were all within the confines of that camp when we got there.
So, I became very critical of this, and I think maybe the Holocaust is a bad thing to want to have credit for, but I always felt, Mike, that credits due where credits due, okay?  So, I started a little campaign.  I wrote an article in the Blood and Fire magazine, which is a little monthly thingnot a monthly, but a thing the 63rd has put out practically ever since we disbanded.  And I wrote a thing in there and said my experience at the Holocaust library and that we didnt get credit for this, and this little article stirred up a whole bunch of people in the 63rd Division who had experienced similar things to what I had had.
The end result of this was that we had a fellow, Clinton, by the name of Clinton, and he stayed in the military after the war and he finally rose to be a colonel.  And he lives in the Washington, D.C., area.  And he said when he got involved, he says, Ill handle this thing if youll give me the facts.  Ill take this to the people thats in charge of the Holocaust Museum and see that we get this record cleared up.  And he did.  He got all this information we assembled out of these 63rd guys that experienced these things, and he took it in and convinced them.  And to this very day, I havent been back, but our flag better be there, because I was assured by him that we are now credited with the liberation of Landsberg camps and the other camps in that area on the twenty-eighth day of April forty-five [1945].
And as youre well aware, Dachau was one of the main camps, and that dates way back to Hitlers time when he was imprisoned right therehe was already there.  So, Dachau, from what I was able to determine, and I know its true, was the center camp of all this area.  My research showed there was about thirty-two camps that surrounded Dachau, and Dachau was the extermination camp, as youre well aware; they had the ovens and everything else.  And these feeder camps (inaudible) like we were in fed the people into that particular area if they were gonna be exterminated, and of course the others werea lot of them were labor camps and things like that.  So, there were actually thirty-two camps that surrounded Dachau, and this is the one where we went into.  Now, let me see.  What else can I tell you about this?
MH: I have lots of questions.
RP: Its question time if you want to question.
MH: Lets back way up.  When you said you went through the Maginot Line and the Siegfried Line, what do you see there?
RP: Well, the fortifications were still there in the Maginot Line.  Of course, the Germans had overrun this when theyactually, they made an end run on the Maginot Line.  They went up north and didnt actually have to attack the Maginot Line, but they made an end run on France.  Anyway, when we got there, the Germans had taken over the Maginot Line, and the big emplacements or fortifications were still there, so we had to fight our way through the Maginot Line before we got to the Siegfried Line.
MH: So, youre fighting through pillboxes and bunkers?
RP: Yeah, and big fortifications of all kinds.  I dont recall there being a lot of big guns still in place in those things, but I dont know, but the Maginot Line was a huge fortification thing: went for miles and miles and miles across France and Germanys border, and was built up considerably and had huge underground railways through the thing where they could transport the troops back and forth along that whole line.  Now, we went through there, and I cant recall; mustve been January when we first encountered the Maginot Line, Im sure, and then of course the Siegfried Line was on the other side.
MH: How far apart are the two?
RP: Golly, I cant remember that, Mike, for sure, but the one wouldve been on Frances side and one on the German side.  But I dont know exactly how far they were separated.
MH: Do you recall them being within sight of each other or are they miles apart?
RP: I wouldnt think theyd be in sight of each other, as I remember.  But it might vary, you know, based on where you were, because when the Allies start to advance, they hit the Siegfried Line in the north much before we hit it in the south.  And, see, that thing kind of made ait wound back, as I recall, toward Switzerland and clear down that area of southern France.  And so, it could have varied in width, depending on where it was actually built.
MH: How did you adjust to combat?  Was it what you expected?
RP: Well, I think it was real opportune for us to be assigned to another regiment, our whole regiment being assigned to another division.  I believe that was a real boon to us, because it gave us the experience of troops that had already been through it, and I think that was real helpful.
MH: What do they do, bring people from the other units into your platoon level?
RP: No, we joined them.  We actually joined them and operated with them.  In other words, we were operated as an I&R platoon of the 100th Division, one of the regiments.  And our line divisions also became under the control of the regimental commander of the 100th Division.  In other words, they were line commies [commanders] themselves went into combat with the line divisions of that division, and we likewise cooperated with the I&R platoons and the recon troops.  Because those recon troops were always involved with the division, too.
MH: At one point nearwell, starting in early 1945, I think in that area of Germany there were a million and a half Americans.  I dont have the numbers right in front of me, but just a huge number of Americans.  Did you ever get the sense that every square foot of ground had an American on it?  Or were you guys spread out that far?
RP: Well, I dont exactlytell me again exactly what youre saying.
MH: That there were so many American combat troops there in the last, well, starting
RP: Thousandshundreds of divisions, stretching clear from England across the Channel there, clear to the Swiss border.  Now, we were operating, of course, by this time, in southern Germany, which was Bavaria.  And we were heading straight for the Alps.  As a matter of fact, when youre in Landsberg, you can see the Alps, the Swiss Alps, and this Berchtesgaden is where Hitler had his retreat, and this is where the war ended.  And some of the elite divisions got to go tothey pulled us out; I guess we werent elite enough.  But thats where we were headed, and had they not pulled us out, thats where we wouldve ended up, because the 82nd101st Airborne got into Berchtesgaden itself, and I think the 82nd was close by, and also these divisions Im talking about, they werethey had come up from Italy and were kind of considered the elite.  They got to go into the furthest reaches of where Berchtesgaden
MH: Those were the divisions that had already been fighting for years in the war.
RP: Yeah, they came up through southern France, or actually, started out in Africa, some of them.  Came to Italy and then came up across.  And then, of course, the others came across the Channel.  There was a lot of pictures taken of the camp we were in.  We had our own Signal Corps people, and they went in the next day and took some of those pictures, and I do have a few of those.  And theyre typical concentration camp, pretty gruesome type stuff, you know.
But one interesting thing was that in the Landsberg camp, they actually made the mayor come out there and stand in the middle of all those corpses, and then they had the people come out from those townsbecause heres another thing, Mike, I dont know if youve gotten into this, but the Germans denied completely the existence of these camps.  And how they could live within a short distance of those camps and see those people being used as slave labor and then in the death camps seeing the smoke rise out of those chimneys and the ashes and everything else flying out, how could you not possibly have known this was going on?  And Im sure that General Patton, General Eisenhower, General Patch and all of those knew this, and thats why they had these people come to these camps and take a look and actually bury a few of those unfortunate people, to get a feel for what they had done.  And as you know, Dachau was in existence still today.  It can be visited and is pretty much intact.
MH: You said earlier that there was a difference fighting the SS versus the Wehrmacht.  What was the difference?
RP: Well, I think they were more highly trained.  They were more vicious.  The pistolthe attitude that were built into them.  The SS troops were the elite troops.  They were supposedly these blue-eyed, blond, Aryan-type race, if you understand what Im talking about.  And so, they had the attitude that they were better than anyone else.  And so, they had this attitude that they were gonna win, come hell or high water, so they fought harder.  And then of course, toward the endthe Wehrmacht troops were the older men and young kids.  They had fourteen, fifteen, sixteen year old kids that were on the front lines, and they had older men that were there also.  They lost a lot of troops, as we did, but their numbers were much higher because, as youre well aware, there were 50 million people lost their lives in World War II, so youre talking about a lot of people.
MH: When you got into a battle, could you tell who you were fighting?
RP: Well, yeah, we had intelligence information.  It didnt take very long to figure it out: as soon as you got some prisoners and you could identify who they belonged to.  And the intelligence was pretty good in finding out through prisoners who they belonged to.
MH: If we can come to the time youre approaching the Landsberg camp and you see this, do you remember what kind of day it was?  You said it was in the morning.
RP: Yeah, it was a spring day, and as I recall, the weather was pretty darned good.  It was a pretty nice, clear day, and we were going pretty fast down these roads, trying to keep up in finding out what was going on.  Now, I dont know if youve run into this in your research, but General Eisenhower and the other troops, his staff, felt that, as we pushed the Germans back into more or less a cramped area against the Alps, that they would regroup completely in what they called a redoubt area.  So, we expected we would get a pretty vicious counterattack from that area as they regrouped.  But it never happened.  They were surrendering by the thousands toward the end, and we just sent them down the road toward the end, and that was it.  And you couldnt even take so many; there were so many prisoners.
MH: When theyre surrendering in that number, do you take all their weapons away from them?
RP: Yeah, thats another thing, an I&R platoon I recall vividly.  If I had a nickel for every rifle stock Id broken, Id be a millionaire.  As we would arrive in town on our patrols, wed get a hold of the Brgermeister, which were sure was equivalent to a mayor in our towns, and wed give him about thirty minutes to have all the weapons of thatall the civilians to bring all the weapons and anything else they had into thewhere the Brgermeisters office was, like a mayors office.  And so, within thirty minutes, we had all the weapons rounded up, and we just took and broke the stocks on them.
MH: How do you break the stock on a rifle?
RP: You just whack it against a building.  Whack against the building, and the stock breaks off.  And then sometimes wed bend the barrels.  So, wed made them completely useless as far as a weapon goes, and we used to have some of those beautiful shotguns that they had, but thats the only way we could be sure that no one was going to take reprisals on us while we were in the towns was to disarm them, which we did.  And I suppose maybe they did similar things to our guys.  I dont know.  I was never a prisoner, so I didnt experience that type of thing, but Im sure they took all their weapons away.  But these were mainly civilians, but they had a lot of military weapons, too, for some reason, that were laying around the town there, so we had both military and civilian weapons that we destroyed.
MH: When you first saw the Landsberg camp, did you smell it, too?
RP: Well, my wife asked me that this morning, because she knows Ive been talking about this and was going to have a talk with you.  You know, I cannot recall that, but when I look back on it, you couldnt possibly have not smelled that, the hideous conditions that existed in those camps.  And I know that other GIs have said the horrible smell that existed in the ones they went into, but I do not remember.  I dont know why I dont remember.
MH: I want to take you into the camp.  You park the Jeep before you go over the bridge?
RP: Yeah, before we went over the bridge.  It was a footbridge.
MH: You dismountoh, its a footbridge?  Okay, so you dismount the Jeep, and how many guys are actually going over this footbridge?
RP: The three of us.
MH: Just the three of you?
RP: Yeah.  We liberated that whole camp.  Myself, Turanski, and Hager.
MH: How did you know youre not gonna get, you know, enemy fire?
RP: Well, I suppose they wouldve been there in some form of defense perimeter, you would think.  I dont remember there being any towers or anything, so they apparently were just some kind of a perimeter defense of that camp.  I think Dachau had some.
MH: Dachau had towers.  But no towers that you saw here.
RP: No towers in the one we went in Kaufering IV.
MH: Was there a gate that was still closed?
RP: I dont remember a gate being in there, because once we got over the footbridge, over the moatId call it a moatwe just were right amongst the buildings.
MH: Are the inmates wearing the striped
RP: A lot of them had stripes, a lot of them were naked, a lot of them were dead.  A lot of them totally emaciated, still alive, and
MH: Do they come up to you?
RP: Yeah, they came up to us, and they were afraid of us.  They didnt know who we were.
MH: What do you say?
RP: Well, you cant communicate with them to start with, and we didnt know what to do with them.  And I dont recall whether we offered them some of our rations or not, but that wouldve been one of the worst things we couldve possibly done to them.  And they found that out when the medics and supplies started to arrive to those camps, Mike.  They tried to feed those people, and they simply could not take food.  They were so starved by then that when you gave them food, they couldnt handle it.
MH: I know medics told people it would kill them.
RP: Yeah, itd kill them, it actually killed them to give themso, they had to bring them back slowly.
MH: Did you go into the first building you came to?
RP: Yeah, we went into the first building we came to.
MH: What was that?
RP: It was just a line ofI call them tarpaper shacks.  They were low built, and inside they had woodenwell, not actually cots but they were, you know, like kids have, twin beds and type stuff, only racked up.  Some of them were laying in those, and some of them were, like I said, half-dead, just laying in the aisle ways.  But I dont remember, like other people at other camps Ive heard about, the people that were able to come out came out.  But we didnt encounter anybody on the bridge or near the bridge at all.  They had not left the camp, and thats why it makes me think that maybe the guards had not been gone too long, that they were still very frightened to come out much, because they werestayed inside the buildings.
MH: Whats going through your mind when you see all this?  This has to be a sight that nothing can prepare you for, and certainly nobody did prepare you for it.
RP: Well, no, we were totally unprepared for it; and like I said, I dont know what level command knew about these things, because we werent warned about it.
MH: Would a warning have made a difference?
RP: I dont know.  I really dont know, Mike.  I dont know whether we wouldve been any more prepared for what we saw than just going in cold.  I dont know whether it wouldve made any difference whether somebody had warned us about it.  But at least we wouldve made had some idea of what we were looking for.  But to just stumble on it was a total shock to us, because we had no idea there was such a thing in existence.
MH: You were in radio contact with your superiors?
RP: Yeah, our platoon leader.
MH: Whats the first radio message you send?
RP: Well, we said, as I recall, he wouldve said, Weve encountered some kind of a barbed-wire camp here, and its got all kind of dead, living, partly living people in striped uniforms.  And theres a huge amount of them here, but we dont know what they are.  I imagine thats about what he wouldve said.  As I recall.  And, of course, our lieutenant was the eyes and ears of Colonel Hatcher, and so Im sure he was right there with him at that particular time, and thats when they told us to get out of there.  They were afraid of diseases, and Im sure there was typhus and everything else in those camps.
MH: When you tell you to get out, how fast do you get out?
RP: Pretty darned fast.  We didnt hesitate to get out at all, and we just went on our patrol, continued south from there on our patrol, and we were on patrol until the next morning.  And the plan was, of course, if you understand how one division relieves another division, but what they do, they simply overtake you, and then start infiltrating through you until theyre up in front, and then youre relieved.
MH: You literally park along the side of the road?
RP: Yeah, youre just overtaken by their troops, and then you fall back.  And so, on the twenty-ninth of April, we were overtaken by the 36th Division, and we just had orders to retreat back through Germany and to take up occupational positions, and thats what we did.  We retreated back into Bavaria.  We went back, oh golly, probably 150, 200 miles before we finally stopped.  And of course the war was pretty much over in the nextwhat?  Thirtieth?  Thirty-first?  Is Maythirty-one days in Aprilthirty days in April, so, about nine days, it was all over.
MH: Do you remember the conversations the three of you had after leaving Landsberg?
RP: I cant recall what we wouldve said to each other, nope.
MH: Did you write home about it?
RP: I dont think I wrote my folks about it at all.  And I didnt say anything to anybody about this for many, many years.
MH: Because?
RP: And one thing Ive gotten involved in, one of my granddaughters was a fifth grader, and she has a teacher, had a teacher and is still a teacher in that particular schoolBates Elementary School here in North Ogden, and shes very conscious of this Holocaust stuff.  And she thinks its important that these younger generations understand what went on, so about April of each year, she starts telling themreads a book to them about the Holocaust and actually shows them some films about it.  And then shemy granddaughter was in her class and she got telling my wife about it, and she said, Well, told her, she said, Did you know your grandpa liberated one of those camps? and she said, No.  Her eyes went very big, and so she went back to her teacher the next day and said, My grandpa was involved in the Holocaust.
So, before I knew it, I was rounded up and asked to come over to talk to the fifth graders.  I guess this has been going on now for ten years, I suppose.  I go over every April, near the end of April, the first part of May, and I talk to a combined group of fifth graders, about 90 to 100 kids at a time, and tell them about the Holocaust.  So, that I try to do, and Im getting a little old for it, I guess, but I still try to do that.  Still got pretty good health, Mike, and so I try to do this every year with them.
MH: Was talking to her class the first time you spoke about it?
RP: I think so.  I have a lot of memorabilia from World War II, and I had it stowed away in the basement; they were just in boxes and stuff.  And my son saw some of it one day, somehow, and so he got asking about this, what all that stuff was all about in the boxes, and thats about the first time I ever talked anything about it, and that wouldve beenoh, I dont know, he was probably ten years old.  Thatd have been probably 1950s, 1960s, seventies [1970s], sometime around there, the first time I ever talked about it.  But the Holocaust itself, I dont think I told my family anything about that for many, many years.  I think the first time that Maureen, my wife, got involved was when we went back to Washington, D.C., and I took her to the Holocaust Museum.  I dont think she knew anything about it prior to that at all, so that wouldve been 1990s when we go to Washington, D.C.
MH: Did going to the museum cause this stuff to come back up inside your head?
RP: Oh, yeah.  Yeah, it was very realistic; the museum is well put together.  A lot of people think its a horrible experience to go though there, which I guess it was intended to be.  Its not a pleasant experience to anybody to be aware, and I still cant get straight in my mind how any one person could be that inhumane to another human being.  It just blows my mind that anybody, even with a Nazi-type of attitude, could as aeven a GI Nazicould be that so intolerant and so that inhumane to another person.
MH: The thing Im coming to grips with is the Germans recognized they were losing the warI mean, the order went out that no prisoner should be surrendered alive to the Allies.
RP: Thats true.
MH: And they just launched on intensifying the extermination of people.  In some of the camps, the last thing they did going out thethe SS did going out the gate was massacre people.
RP: Thats very, very true, and in DachauI dont know if youare you familiar with the history of Dachau liberation?
MH: Um, Im smack in the middle of the battle between the 42nd and the 45th.
RP: Okay, they both claim to(laughs) They both claim that they got their first.
MH: Yes.
RP: And I dont know who was there first, but have you got to the part where there was a prettythe guards were still there in Dachau.
MH: Some guards were there.
RP: Some of the guards were there, some guards were there.  And you heard about the massacre
MH: Theres a bunch of different stories about the massacre at the coal bin.  Ive heard a number of 17 dead and Ive heard 400 dead.
RP: I think the 400 is more accurate, because the GIs went pretty much berserk when they saw that at Dachau, and there was an awful lot of Nazis killed before they got them stopped.  I say, Good for them.  I think if we wouldve encountered the guards, wed have done the same thing.  Im sure we wouldve, because you cant encounter something like that with thewith some kind of a hatred coming forth at you real fast like.  Now, in the Landsberg camp itselfthat was in Landsberg citythey actually set the huts on fire before they left.
MH: They locked the prisoners inside and tried to burn them to death.
RP: And set fire to the huts.  These that we were in, I didnt see any evidence of any fire.  And like Im telling you, I thinkI dont think that the guards had left an awful long time before we got there.  I think those ones that were capable of moving around wouldve come out of there, come across the bridge.  But thats my feeling about it.
MH: Did you feel strange just leaving it?
RP: Well, I didnt know what to do.  The colonel said, Well take care of it, and they did.  They got medics and food down there very shortly.  And of course by then, the 36th Division was passing through that area also, and they, of course, claim they were the ones that entered the camps first, and thats not true.  Like I say, we finally proved that to the Holocaust people through the records we had and everything else that that was not true.  They were not the first in there.
MH: Is it possible that the 103rd and the 10th Armored and the 12th Armored were across the river at the other Landsberg camps?
RP: Yeah, its very, very possible, because like I say, there was at least thirty-two camps, major camps, and I dont know
MH: Theres hundreds of Dachau sub-camps.
RP: Hundreds of them.  If youve ever seen a map with all the camps that stretch clear from Poland over into Frances borders and south into the border of Switzerland and north to the sea up there, there was hundreds and hundreds of camps all over the place.
MH: Im actually looking at the list, and it says on April 30, Kaufering Camps, 36th Infantry.
RP: Whats the name of that one?
MH: It says Kaufering camps, 36th Infantry.
RP: I dont remember that one.  Maybe they encountered that one further on down.  I dont remember anything about the name, but of course there was different kinds of camps.  Some were extermination camps, the death camps.
MH: And some were slave labor where they worked them to death.
RP: And some of them, and I feel like one of these Kaufering camps was one of these medical experimentation camps.
MH: What makes you feel that?
RP: Ive heard and read about the records they were able to uncover.  They were doing medical experiments on the inmates.
MH: But you didnt see any evidence of that in any of the buildings you went into.
RP: No, didnt see anything in our camp.  No, I think they wereI think these people, if they were capable, they were taken across the river and worked in factories and stuff in Landsberg itself.  But the ones we saw, I dont know how any of them wouldve been able to do an awful lot of labor.
MH: Were you a religious person before you went to war?
RP: Yes, I was aI wasnt completely active as a teenager in my religion.  I did the things that normally would do, but you gotta remember, I grew up in the Depression time, the Great Depression time, and as a young boy, and we had it rough.  And the thing that happened to me on Sundays, the reason I didnt go to church, was, I went over to my grandpa and grandmas, who lived about five miles away from where we lived, and they had a farm.  And so, they had animals and gardens, which we didnt have in the place I lived.  They invited us over there on Sundays to have dinner with them, so instead of going to church on Sundays, thats where I found myself was over at my grandpa and grandmas.
MH: This is also in Utah?
RP: This was in Idaho.
MH: Idaho, okay.
RP: Yeah, Idaho.  I was born and raised in Idaho, came down to Utah as a senior in high school.  And so, I dont remember attending an awful lot of church, but I have a Christian understanding of all the things at that time.  But not as a young man, being totally committed, you know, of what I understood.
MH: Did your experience in war or your experience seeing what people can do to each other have any impact on your level of religiosity?
RP: Well, it made me understand that people can be very vicious, and I guess that the Nazi regime had such huge control over the people that its unbelievable to me that they could, through propaganda and military control of them, the SS troops and the Brown Shirts and all that stuff, they can control the mind of people.  The old saying of Nazism is, if you tell people the same thing often enough, theyll believe itand they did.  And, of course, he promised them the moon, a thousand years of a Nazi regime that was going to rule the world, and you and I wouldnt be talking on the telephone today.
MH: Not in English, anyhow.
RP: Not in English, and I dont suppose they wouldve tolerated me.  I wouldve been a dead duck in a hurry because of my affiliation with the military.  And like I say, wed have been speaking a different language, Im sure.  I dont know exactly what wouldve been the outcome of this country, but the Japanese and Germans wouldve divided it up somehow.  And you and I would have a completely different existence than what weve got today.
MH: What did you do when you came back?
RP: I came backof course, I wanted an education, and the GI Bill, Mike, is one of the most wonderful things that ever happened to this country.  I dont know if youve looked into that, but you cannotwithout looking at it, it paid for itself many, many thousands of times in the technology that came out of the GI Bill and the advancement of the technology that took place from 1945-forty-six [1946] through the next twenty years of our generation.  You cant believe the things thatall the advances that took place, and its because the people became educated.  They went to school.  The GIs, for the most part, took advantage of the GI Bill.  They got themselves degrees and advanced degrees.  I cant name a technology that didnt advance as a result of their education.  So, that is one of the finestand not because I got advantage of itIm saying that was one of the finest pieces of legislation that Congress ever passed.  It advanced this country through no ends.  I cant believe how fast, in the next fifty years after the war, all the technologies that you and I experienced, even in your day, medically, engineering-wiseyou name it, it was there.
Are you still there?
MH: Yeah, Im here.  Yes, Im listening.
RP: I thought I had lost you anyway.  Im getting on a soapbox.  But I wanted an education, so as soon as I got home, as soon as I could, I got enrolled in college
MH: Where?
RP: With Utah State.
MH: Okay.
RP: Utah State University, and wentin ASTP, the thing that I was going to do there was engineering.  It was a concentrated two-year engineering program, four years concentrated into two, and then you got through that school, got a commission as a second lieutenant in the engineering corps of the Army.  So, I was always interested in engineering, so thats what I went into at Utah State.  But I also went to ROTC [Reserve Officers Training Corps] at Utah State.  I thought IdI thought I might be subject to anotherI didnt think that was the end of the war that would ever take place, so I thought, Well, I did it the hard way last time, as a ground troop.  Im going to see the other side of it, so I enrolled in Air Force ROTC.  And I got me a commission in ROTC three weeks prior to Korea.  So I got me a commission in the Air Force.
MH: Were you called up for Korea?
RP: Well, thats another story.  We were in a slight depression when I got out of school in 1950, and jobs were a little hard to come by.  I had a lot of resumes out.  They didnt come into the college like they do now, and the universities, the colleges, didnt interview people; you had to go out on your own and do it.  So, I had a lot of resumes out to companies, but there was not an awful lot going on.  But I made contact with the Air Force somehow; I dont exactly [remember] how I found out, but they were building up as a result of Korea.  I found out there was openings in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and it was in the air training command, the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base, so about eight of us from Utah State applied, and we were accepted as technical training instructors out there.  And so, thats where I ended up in 1950going out to Francis E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, which was a technical training school for the Air Force.
I thought, Well, I wont be here very long.  Ill be on my way somewhere, and they did contactmade contact with me, the Air Force did, and they said, We want to know what youre doing.  Were thinking about recalling you in the Air Force, so I told them what I was doing, that I was a training instructor in the Air Force training Korean airmen, and they came back and said, Well, we think youre probably doing as much good or more training these airmen than you would be if we recalled you to the active Air Force, so they left me there.  And so, I stayed in the Air Force Reserve, but I never went into the Korean War.
MH: Im trying to think of theres anything else.  You worked as an engineer for most of your life, then?
RP: Yeah, I got tied up with the military, and all my adult life, Ive been tied in with the military.  I worked at Hill Air Force Base here in Ogden, Utah, for my career.  And retired from Hill Air Force Base afterI transferred back from Francis E. Warren, back to here, because all of my ties were back here and all my families and so forth.  So, I transferred back here, and I put in a career here at Hill Air Force Base.  Its still in existence today.
MH: How many children did you have?
RP: I have fourI have four sons and a daughter.
MH: And youve been married how long?
RP: We just passed our anniversary on the twenty-eighth of May, and so weve been married sixty-one years.
MH: Congratulations.
RP: Thank you.
MH: Anything else you can think of?  You said there were pictures that you had.
RP: Yeah, they were taken by the Signal Corps people of the Landsberg camps.
MH: Are there any pictures of you over there?
RP: Not at the camp.
MH: Anywhere.
RP: Yeah, Ive got a lot of pictures.
MH: Could you find one of you that you could send me that I could use?
RP: Yeah, I can do that.  Ive got one just of me.  Ive got quite a few that were taken in Europe.  Ive got some
MH: You dont have any of the three of you in the Jeep, do you?
RP: Ive got one when were in the Jeep, lets see.  Yeah, I know Turanskis with me in the Jeep after the war.  And, see, I was in the Army of Occupation for a year.  I didnt come directly home after the war.  We were retraining to go to the war in Japan, and in the meantime, when the war ended in August, my division was disbanded and came home on its own, and all of us who didnt have sufficient points, we were assigned to other organizations in the Army of Occupation.  I ended up with an I&R platoon in Frankfurt, Germany, and we were part of the Eisenhowers SHAEF [Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force] headquarters.  I had quite some experiences with them there thats quite a tale to tell aboutI got involved with the German scientists, if you can believe that, with V-1 and V-2 rocket scientists on assignment there.
MH: You mean finding them and bringing them to the U.S.?
RP: Yep, thats what I did.
MH: Howd you feel about that?
RP: Well, at the time, I couldnt understand, because it was all secret.  You want to hear this story?
MH: Sure.
RP: Okay.
RP: By August of 1945, my division had come home to the United States, and I was transferred again to the 100th Division for a little while, and then I ended up in the 29th Infantry Regiment, and thats a real old famous regiment.  Its been around for hundreds of years.  And we were part of the SHAEF headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany.  We worked just barely through the fence with SHAEF headquarters was where we lived, and we took a lot of orders from SHAEF headquarters, from Eisenhowers headquarters.  And on October 9, 1945, I was called up to my first sergeants office, and Mastrengelo was his name, became a judge in New Jersey.  Thats what the education got him.  And hes dead now, but Mastrengelo was my first sergeant.
MH: Strangelo?
RP: Mastrengelo, M-a-s-t-r-e-n-g-e-l-o.
MH: Okay.
RP: And he called me in the office there and said, Peterson, you and one other medic are going with me, and were going on a top-secret messagemission.  Ive been fully briefed by the colonel as to what were to do, but I am sworn to secrecy.  I cannot tell you and the medic what were gonna do other than you just follow my orders, and well do what were told to do. What were gonna do is, were going toweve ordered forty boxcarsnot forty, twelve boxcars.  They were 40 and 8syou know what a 40 and 8
MH: I know what a 40 and 8 is, yes.
RP: Weve ordered twelve boxcars, and were gonna take these forty men and their families, and theyre displaced persons, he says. Thats what they are, displaced persons, and were gonna take them from Frankfurtit was really Hanau, the station we left from, which is a suburb of Frankfurtand were gonna take them down to southern Bavaria on these 40 and 8 cars, take them and their families, and were gonna take them down to Landshut in Bavaria. And there, were gonna turn them over to another military organization, and then were gonna come back home.  Thats it. Thats all we need to do.  So, he says, Were gonna get on this kind of a train, and were gonna take them down there.
So, lo and behold, on the thirteenth of October, we went over to Hanau, loaded these people on these 40 and 8 boxcars, and I dont remember exactly how many membersthere were quite a bunch in their families, because they were mostly older types.  And there was forty men and all these women and kids.  And the thing I couldnt understand, Mike, was I thought, Well, here weve got millions of Europeans scattered all over this country as displaced persons trying to get back to their homes.  Why would the Army single out forty of these guys and their families and provide them transportation down to Landshut?  Well, to make a long story short, we took the train, and Ive got routes of all where we went and all this stuff, through the towns, and we got sidetracked because we were displaced persons, supposedly, and so theyd put us on the sidings and we would stay there.  Finally, it took us quite a while to go this distance from Frankfurt down to Landshut, four or five days, I believe it was.
Anyway, we took them down there, and we turned them over to an armored outfit, if you can believe this, and they were in Landshut there.  Then we got on the train and came back to Frankfurt.  Now, this is mid-1945, if you can believe this, Mike, and I onlythe only way I can explain this was, I mustve went on leave about that time.  I got leave, and I went to Paris.  I remember that and it must have been an extended period of time.  But anyway, fifty-eight years later, I kept track of Mike all this time.  We wrote to each other and exchanged Christmas cards and all that good stuff.  And so, he wrote me in 1998, I guess; anyway, it was fifty years, 1998, when he did this.
MH: Whos writing to you?
RP: Mastrengelo.  Christmas card.  And he said, Do you remember when we took Major [Wernher] von Braun, Dr. von Braun and the forty scientists and their families down to Landshut?  And I wrote back to him, and I said, I do not know the foggiest idea what youre talking about.  So, he said, Well, I thought you knew all about this. Our names and everything appeared in the Stars and Stripes that we did this.  Ive got all kinds of documents about it.  And I said, Well, you better send them to me, because I dont have the foggiest idea what youre talking about.
So, he sent me all these documents over the years, and it showed where we ordered the twelve boxcars, 40 and 8 boxcars, and we had orders exactly what to do.  And he said, Thats what we did.  It was Dr. von Braun and forty of the scientists that eventually came to Texas was the ones we took to Landshut, and they did.  They left their families in Landshut.  Forty of those plusI looked at this, too; it was 132 that actually came over here, and 118 stayed and came in illegally.  They were Nazis.  Came in as illegal immigrants into Texas at Fort Bliss.  And thats where they started their research.
Now, I dont know if you know the story of the missiles, the V-1 and V-2 rockets that they developed.  This is one of the secret weapons that Hitler kept promising his people was gonna win the war.
MH: They were building them, I know, in underground bunkers.
RP: Underground factories, couple of mile-long factories.  Ive even got pictures of those where they were building these beasts.  They rained down on England and Antwerp and all those countries.  Anyway, we were able, through their efforts, brought sixteen tons of documents over here of the research they had done on the rocketry.  Now, the Americans have a little reluctance to admit this, but Dr. von Braun and those scientists he brought over are the ones that got us to the moon and got the thing that, finally, equaled the Sputnik rocket that they sent up, and hes the one that did it, along with Americans, of course.  But the technology came from those German scientists.  Plus, they fired all these V-2s down there in White Sands rocket and got a tremendous amount of information about missile rocketry out of those.  And thats how we got all the missile technology, and they went down to Huntsville, and thats where it all was developed.  And we had some rocket experience through Goddard, a guy named Goddard that did some research onhis was more solid fuels than they were liquid fuels like the Germans did.  But, anyway, thats what it was.  Those forty were V-1, V-2 rocket scientists.
MH: There were their Nazis and our Nazis.
RP: They were Nazis.  In fact, Dr. von Braun was a major in the SS.  He had a commission in the SS.  Now, von Braun was a very brilliant individual, and he was a complete visionary when it came to rocketry and space explorations.  He could see way in the future on that stuff.  And I give him a tremendous amount of credit for not only our explorationshe got us to the moon and beat the Russians there, theres no doubt about that.  That Saturn V was his baby.
MH: Right, but how many slave laborers did he kill in the process in Germany?
RP: A lot of them, a lot.  Whole lots of them that worked in those factories were slave laborers, and he killed a lot of them.  And I think that he had some implications that he was, like you say, guilty of some of these things.  On the other hand, he had to have gone along with this, because he was directly under the control of a general that was in charge of all the rocketry programs for the Germans, and I think youre well aware, also, that when they overran Peenemndeyou familiar with Peenemnde?
MH: No.
RP: You know what Im talking about?
MH: No.
RP: Well, this is where all the rocket scientists were situated on the Baltic coast there.  Thats where they developed all these secret weapons.  A Messerschmitt 262, which was a jet rocket airplane, they had one of those, too, but the Messerschmitt jet that harassed the American Air Force came from that same facility as well as the V-1 and the V-2 rocket, all came from Peenemnde, which is on the Baltic Sea at a secret facility there.  The British were the ones that became aware, first through intelligence, that this is where all this stuff was going on, and they finallyI cant recall exactly, but they bombed that facility heavily and killed some of the scientists and a lot of slave laborers, but Dr. von Braun and most of them got out of there, and thats when they moved to the underground facilities in the Harz Mountains of Germany.
And thiswhat was I going to say?  Anyway, thats where they developed all this stuff, and thats where we were able to recover 100 of those V-2s that were brought over here and fired down at White Sands.  And some of the V-1s were actually fired out here in Wendover Air Force Base in Utah, a lot of the V-1s were fired there, and that, by the way, is where the atomic group was trained, at Wendover, that dropped the atomic bomb.  The V-29.  Now what else can I?
MH: Nothing.  What Id like to do is send you an e-mail so you have my address, and if you could find a couple of photos from World War II of yourself that you could send to me, Ill scan them and send them back.
RP: You got a preference of what kind you want?
MH: Um
RP: Do you want photos of me in my uniform or do you want one in the Jeep?
MH: One in the Jeep would be good, or a close-up of you in your uniform.  If youre carrying a rifle, thatd be good.  Something that looks like it was in a combat environment; and then if you have a current photo of yourself.
RP: Yeah, I could do that.  I could probably do that.
MH: Okay, and then Ill scan them and then send them back to you.  Ill send you an e-mail, though, with the address; thats probably the easiest way to do it.
RP: Im probably gonna link up herenow, Im taking all this information off of a thing here in the Blood and Fire magazine, and you must have contacted them and said you neededyoud like to contact people from the 255th.  Did you do that?
MH: I actually have a researcher whos been contacting division associations of a lot of the divisions that were
RP: You made up quite a nice write up on you here and about your Vietnam stuff and so forth.
MH: Yeah, I provided all that information
RP: (inaudible) your e-mail and phone numbers and everything is on here.
MH: The address is there, too?
RP: Hmm, let me get myI can see a long ways off, Mike, but I cant read close up.  Hold on.
MH: Okay.
RP: (inaudible) Hes collected thousands of pictures, both in our training and in our combat, and so forth.  Tommy, its on his website, and I can probably give that to you.  I wont take time right now; Im here for two hours now.
MH: Okay.
RP: But he has a website, and Im sure he has a lot of historicand we have an historian attached to the 63rd, so evidently, you have a man that works with the 63rd Division Association.
MH: Somebody contacted them for me.
RP: Okay.
MH: But again, if you knowwhat Im really interested in doing is talking to liberators who are still with us about their experience.
RP: Yeah.
MH: Okay?
RP: Well, I probably didnt do too much, cause I was in and out of there pretty fast.
MH: Its okay.
RP: But I did a lot of research on it after the war.
MH: Okay.
RP: All right?
MH: Thank you very, very much.  I appreciate it.
RP: Well, I appreciate talking to you.
MH: Okay.  Bye-bye.
RP: Bye.


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, 20 1 0 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 copyrig hted 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. Fo wler Avenue, LIB 122, Tampa, FL 33620.


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