First Person >
Interview Clip #1:
Paul's Early Life During the Great Depression, and Thinking about Joining the Military
Wait for each file to download, then click the arrow to play the audio.
Audio also available in MP3
NM: Today is Friday, July 24, 2009, and we are in the Memorial Libraries in Deerfield, Massachusetts at the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association and, this is Nathalie McCormick interviewing Paul Slater. Am I saying your last name correctly?
NM: Paul Slater, with the technical assistance of Rob Wilson from the Veteran's Education Project. So, Mr. Slater, [pause] shall we begin?
PS: Yes of course.
NM: I'd like to have you start by saying your full name, and your date of birth, your place of birth, and then talk some about your early education ...and any ...you can move from there into any memories you have of the Depression if ... you mentioned that earlier ... and ... and then we'll move on to your ...signing up to the military, to the U. S. Navy it was...
NM: ...right? And why you did that, and we'll go from there.
PS: Okay. My name is still Paul Slater, [NM laughs] I was born in Brooklyn January 8, 1924. It was a while back. And it was only a few years after that began what we call the Great Depression. And uh, in the relative scheme of things, we weren't too bad off because we were like everyone else. All of my friends and I had jobs, either before school or after school or on the weekend. And we just, you know, we watched our parents try and make things do, and they did.
MM: What kinds of jobs did you have?
PS: Well, my father was a paper hanger. He finally got a job with the Works...WPA, the Works Progress Administration. My wife, my mother was doing menial house work, washing floors and so on and so forth. But, she decided that was not the thing to do and she studied and became a Licensed Practical Nurse and she took care of babies for many years.
NM: What were your parents' names?
PS: Rachel and Isadore...
NM: Slater...They were...
PS: And uh, I don't think they had middle names either. I had no middle name, and we decided that because we were poor, my wife and I...neither...we don't have middle names. [NM chuckles] And you know, probably in the mid '30s or thereabouts, there was the insurrection in Spain, the fascist insurrection,interaction...older kids that we knew went off to war in Spain, so we began to think about that...business, even as kids.
NM: Thinking about the business...
PS: About war...
NM: ...of going off to the military or about war...
PS: About war. And then in '39, there was...the war broke out, and uh.... I of course was ...I was outta high school by then and, and working and I had gone off to a two year agricultural school. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, I was 17. I went back and I started to work in the, in the Brooklyn Navy Yard as an apprentice machinist, and we were all deferred from the draft as essential workers. But there was, there was just not possible. The tenor of the time was such that you just could not stay there. You know, when you see ships coming in all battered and what all, and you're sitting there in the Navy Yard and, you know, going bowling after work...So I joined the Navy. And that's it. I did...I did well in all the various tests and so on. So I, when I wanted to be assigned to a destroyer escort, that was what I got, and it was a very good, very good choice.
NM: Now, you joined the Navy in what year?
PS: In...late in '42.
NM: Late in '42, and you could request being assigned to a destroyer escort.
Interview Clip #2:
Paul's Life in the Navy Aboard a Destroyer Escort
Audio also available in MP3
NM: What does a destroyer escort do?
PS: Okay, I...tell ya...These are sort of inexpensive versions of destroyers, okay. They're faster to build, less expensive, and they do...they were designed basically to cope with the U-boat war in the Atlantic. And the battle of the Atlantic, actually...actually is the arguably the longest battle of the war because it went on from beginning to end. And uh, in fact the Atlantic is littered with the bodies of, of men and ships, you know. More than thirty thousand German sailors are down there, more than fifty thousand Allied sailors are down there, ... almost eight hundred submarines we sank. I mean they really put a tremendous effort into it. Anyhow, the destroyer escorts were designed to cope with submarines. It turned out that we also had to cope in the Mediterranean with aircraft, and so we were loaded up with additional aircraft, anti-aircraft weapons. But you know, they were very small...there's a World War II destroyer escort in Albany, which many classes come to visit to see what a...what a warship in those days looked like. And, you know, the hull was like a quarter of an inch thick or something. They called them tin cans and, by God, that's what they were.
NM: So, even though they're called a destroyer escort, you're not actually escorting anything.
PS: Oh, no! We escorted convoys. We took convoys across?
NM: Oh, I see!
PS: And uh, that was almost exclusively our duty. We did occasionally go on what they called "hunter killer" groups where they just...because we had broken many of the German codes, and so after a while we knew where we might find the subs. So they'd send out a hunter and killer group just to look for submarines. But most of the time we were escorting convoys across the Atlantic to...into the Mediterranean to support the troops and so on, that were there. So, yeah, no, we were escorts.
NM: Now what was your job on that?
PS: I was an engineer; I was a motor machinist's mate which was a rate that maintained mainly the big diesel engines, but almost all of the other machinery. Some of us were specialized; one of our men, he's in one of our pictures, was a refrigeration specialist. I was primarily with the main engines, and my battle station was with the main engines, and my watch station was...I was the leading first class, and, I was strictly, almost strictly after a while, with the main engines, which were huge sixteen v sixteen diesels, and pretty impressive, especially when you-when you feel that...when you realize that most of the crew was a collection of kids, many of whom had never been to sea. And everybody had to be a very quick study. There was always a few regular Navy people there to sorta break us in. But , ... almost everyone was learning on the job, including the officers. They you know, when I met the captain later, way after the war, and he talked about the first trip when the ship left the Boston Navy Yard on a, on a shakedown to go to Bermuda, and there was a storm. And he's on watch in the middle of the night, and he's the officer of the deck. The captain who put the ship into commission was actually a commander who was a mustang; he had risen from the ranks. And so he woke the captain and said, "Geez, you know the terrible storm da da da da da der." And the old man says, "Don't you ever wake me for that again. You?re the officer of the deck and that's it." And he slams the phone down, and this, and this man who now I think of as the skipper, obviously, when he became the captain...he says to me, you know Slats, three months before, I was a lawyer, and now I'm on this [chuckling] warship in a storm and you can't see ten feet ahead of you, and so on, he said. But that's, that's the way it was, you know? There were more than just more than five hundred destroyer escorts, not to talk about the thousands of other ships that had to be manned. You know they ended up with millions of people.
NM: How many men were on a destroyer escort?
PS: It varied. We had...it varied, but it was...it averaged probably about a hundred eighty-nine and ours was the, the prototype. There was...a newer version came out a little bit, little bit larger and had a few more men, but there were about fifteen officers. That also varied.
NM: What was the name of your ...
PS: My ship?
PS: ...is the Walter S. Brown, named after a man who was killed at Pearl Harbor. Destroys and destroyer escorts are named after naval heroes, okay? And uh, many of these ships went to the British navy, and they were called frigates in the British navy, and they were named after naval heroes. One was named after Captain Bligh; you may have heard of Captain Bligh?
PS: There was another one gonna to be named after Captain Coburn, until someone realized that his claim to fame was that he had sacked Washington, DC during the War of 1812, so they changed the name [chuckling] of that ship to something else. I don't remember what it was.
Interview Clip #3:
Paul Discusses Fear and "Close Calls" Aboard the Destroyer Escort
Audio also available in MP3
NM: Were you scared ... when you were on board that Walter S. Brown?
PS: I, I was never frightened that I was gonna die, because I somehow, you know?maybe it was my age...I, I just sorta knew that I was gonna come out of that war okay. And uh, there were times when I was very concerned, you know, that something might mess up. You know, when you're, when you're down there and they call for flank speed, and you're the guy that's responsible for those two engines, you know, you want to hear them really roar smooth and trouble-free, and so on and so forth. And you can, you can be concerned, and...but...no, I, I felt that I was immortal. And you know, people ask me, was I brave? I wasn't brave either, 'cause you have to be afraid to be brave. I wasn't afraid. [chuckle] I was, I was immortal.
NM: You were there doing your job, and you were busy at it.
PS: Yeah, that's right. And I was good. I knew what I was doing. So.
NM: Did you ever have...are there experiences on that destroyer that stand out?
PS: Well, yeah, you know, uh...We had, you know, we had a couple of close calls. I mean, basically, compared to friends of mine who served as combat infantry, man, I had a walk in the park. But we we survived a really bad storm, for Pete's sake. The great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944. I Googled it and, by God! They have it there. It was very impressive, and four ships went down, including a destroyer. And you know, I don't know...Maybe we had another ...Oh, well yeah, we had -we were hit once by dud torpedo. I guess that's lucky or whatever. And that's it. Oh, we almost had a, [laughs] we almost collided with a British cruiser, and that was really just, just luck. I mean we both had radar, but it was a terrible storm, and if not for lookouts like live people, I would not be here. So we had three close calls. But we once went...three good...we had like, maybe four, but not much, it was mostly routine duty, just you know, serving your time. Practicing, lots of practicing, lots of preventive maintenance on the equipment and so on.
Interview Clip #4:
Paul Discusses His Experience as a Jewish Person, and Anti-Semitism
Audio also available in MP3
NM: I want to ask you about...you are a Jewish person?
NM: And I want to ask you about that, um, a couple of questions, and the first is, how, you know, you hear sometimes that there were, was prejudice or anti-Semitism. Did you experience that when you were in the service?
PS: Well, yeah, you know, a little bit. I mean experienced it before, before the service.
NM: Would you talk about both? Before and during the service?
PS: Well, before, I...First of all, I came from a totally secular family. I mean, there was never any, any religious dimension to anything we did. We knew we were Jews; we were educated in Yiddish and Jewish history, learned some Yiddish, and so on. But uh, that was the extent of it. But, you know, if you went through our neighborhood, no matter where you were, you...somebody didn't like you, you know. It?was always that way, I mean even with the other, the other groups. Some, some, some places they didn't like people 'cause they were uh...or like where I hung out a lot, a lot of people, a lot uh...boy, they despise the Irish for some reason, which absolutely escaped me. My first love was Nora Keegan, so how could that...? [chuckle] I was twelve and she was fourteen, but whatever. Anyhow, in the Navy, right early on, I just didn't accept any garbage about it. And in those days I had a, I guess, a pretty terrible temper, and I was called into the adjutant who said, Look, I understand what's happening here, but you're gonna have to... he didn't say "Cool it", but that was the gist of it, because it's gonna into your record and you really don't want that to follow you through your career in the Navy. What career? I signed up for the duration of six months. Not a career. And , you know, once I made it clear that they didn't have to love me but I didn't want to hear anything; it took some making a clear effort, but it worked. And then I realized how it had to be handled, and when I went to a diesel school after boot camp, right away I made it very clear where I was coming from, who I was, and...But to some extent, being from Brooklyn was even much worse than being a Jew, for Pete's sake. You're from Brooklyn? Yeah, I mean, isn't everybody from Brooklyn? You know, and if you have a temper, you tell'em, you know, there's more people in my neighborhood than your whole state, so lighten up! And uh, that's about as polite as I ever got. And then when I was assigned to the ship, she wasn't completed yet, so we were put in a barracks up there in the Charlestown Navy Yard. Right away I made it clear what, what, what the situation was and if they didn't like it that was too bad, but I didn't want to hear anything about it. And it, it worked pretty well. And there were were several Jewish kids on the ship, as a matter of fact. And one of my friends who became a close friend on the ship, years later, we were walking around at a reunion. He says to me, tell me Slats, did you used to be Jewish? I said, yeah, and I still am, Bud. And then he sent me, where he got these numbers, the percentages of Jews who served in the ser...in the military during the war, and I think it was two percent of the population, so...half of them were women, I have to assume. But more than two percent were serving. The Navy was more than two percent. The Air Force was much more than two percent. The Army was more than two percent. The Marines were two percent. Heh! Which made sense.
NM: Why do you say it made sense?
PS: Well, uh?well, I'll tell...Well, I'll give you another anecdote if-You know who Tony Curtis is?
PS: Okay, he's a Jew, okay? From the Bronx. And uh, he was seventeen when the war broke out, and he was gonna sign up when he persuaded his mother to sign, and he describes, at one of our reunions, how he went to sign up, and they had these big recruiting outfits in?at that time. And the first one is a Marine, and the Marine guy calls him over, you know, how 'bout...you wanna sign up? And Tony says...tells me, he says, I wasn't gonna join the Marines. The Marines is too dangerous, he says to me. And he spoke with a Bronx accent, which I thought was amazing, 'cause in the movies he didn't. Anyhow, he s' too dangerous, he says, so I went and I joined the Navy, he said. Which is true, but he volunteered for submarine duty, alright? [NM chuckles] So that's how people make decisions. And I, I'd like to know how he experienced being a Jew in the Navy, also. But, it was quite clear after a while that everybody had to do their job - to most people - I mean there was some people that were totally uneducable or whatever, there's not - you know, we have'em today, so... you know, I see them at the viewing of nominations to the Supreme Court. [NM chuckles] Anyhow.
Interview Clip #5:
Paul Discusses What People Knew About "the Big Picture" Regarding Concentration Camps
Audio also available in MP3
NM: Well I guess a related question is, as a person in the Navy, as a sailor - Did you think of yourself as a sailor? Call yourself a sailor?
PS: Oh yeah.
NM: Okay. As a sailor, did you know what was happening in the big picture of the war? Did...when you were on your destroyer escort, did you know what was happening in the sort of the larger scheme of things, and ... say in Germany or in the camps, things like that. Did you know about that? And...
PS: Well we...I'm sorry.
NM: What was that like? If you?
PS: Well we...I had heard about that, before I went into the Navy. And uh, there were ...refugees that showed up in Brooklyn who had gotten out of Germany way ahead of time. And ...they had heard about this. I mean everybody...anybody who was a...was a Jew had heard about Hitler by then. But they had heard about camps and so on. I don't know if they knew about you know, crematoria, but they knew there were concentration camps. And uh, as far as? being aware of or not of the big picture while we were at sea...You'd get some news. In fact, Hitler made a speech which somebody picked up and printed out for me on the ship. I don't think I included that. Uh, you know, so we had heard that kind of stuff. We heard about Stalingrad, but most of it actually... to really answer your question, we didn't hear about it until we got someplace, either back to the States for repairs or to pick up a convoy. While we were at sea, you didn't get too much. Obviously, when Roosevelt died, we were told. I think there's a picture there, the flag at half staff; we were at sea at the time. But we were not all that well-informed until we got back home, or even if we got to some decent port in the Mediterranean. It's a good question. We really were not that well-informed, now that I think about it. Next reunion I'm gonna ask the guys what they think.
NM: It could be interesting to know what people knew?
NM: ...or thought about. What did you think...I don't know how too ask this. I don't want it to come out sounding disrespectful, so I'm trying to - you understand I'm working without my list of questions. Um, but what did you, when you were on the ship, what did you think you were doing? You were paying attention to the mission at hand, or to the days' work at hand and your particular thing-you were an engineer, and you were keeping things running...but did you know what...I mean, did you know what sort of...your mission...your larger mission was?
PS: Well, we knew that generally, the mission was to protect the ships that we were escorting. I mean that's what we're there for.
PS: And you know, just standing on watch, practicing, you know, getting to your battle station on time. That was all part of the preparation...But we were there to protect those ships. And we did.
Interview Clip #6:
Paul Discusses the Battle of the UGS 40
Audio also available in MP3
PS: One of the uh...I don't want to deal with a war story particularly. Well, one of the, one of the convoys that we brought in this was in the Mediterranean, was about...consisted of about sixty-five ships and about fifteen escorts which is a pretty heavy escort. And as we proceeded into the Mediterranean, two free French destroyers joined us, okay. So we, we figured if they're really beefing it up, we're gonna be in for something. And we were. In fact, this action was so successful on our part, that it made the, the history books. The History of the United States Navy in World War II has the story of this battle and the names of the ships that took place.
NM: What was the name of the battle, or what was...
PS: Well, it was just the battle of UGS 40. Uh, the United States Gibraltar Convoy. "S" is slow; it was a slow convoy. And uh, so that means you?re eating SPAM and Vienna Sausage a lot near the end. [laughs]
NM: So I don't understand the connection between what you're eating and the convoy.
PS: Well, because the longer...a slow convoy, you start running out of food, the real stuff, so you're opening cans. And uh, I'm glad you had to clarify that. Anyhow, they ...when this attack was imminent, we uh...our ship was assigned to what they call the coffin corner. Okay? And the coffin corner, depending on who on the ship you spoke to - because we always had these kinds of interpretations - some would say, well, we're in the coffin corner cause we're the best, and they always try...the air raids try to break in through that spot. Others would say, well we're the least worthy and they don't care if they get rid of us first. We're expendable, see? But the coffin corner was really a very important spot.
NM: What does that mean?
PS: It, it was just the, the spot in, in the convoy where these mainly torpedo planes try to break in to attack the ships that you're protecting. And by then, of course, you've generated smoke screens and hopefully the entire convoy is, is covered, concealed in smoke, and the escorts are out there...you know, fighting off the uh...these kids that are flying around out there. And uh, we took no losses at all, which was astounding. And I think it was the first air raid that had been repelled without losses, and this was already spring of '44. So it was, it was quite an achievement. And of course, later on, you know, in light of what we talked about a little earlier, we describe where we shot down three planes. Many years later, I realized, yeah, we also shot down twelve men. You know, but, you don't think in those terms. And I'm sure that they didn't think that they were torpedoing people either. They were trying to torpedo ships. And uh, that's what happens these old guys send young guys to do this stuff. Uh, but basically we were there to protect those, those ships, and then if necessary, to go down fighting. And plenty did.
Interview Clip #7:
Paul Discusses His Work with the Veterans' Education Project
Audio also available in MP3
NM: How did you come to think...How...how did your thinking about those events evolve from shooting down three planes to shooting down twelve men? How did you come around?
PS: Oh that, that is courtesy. This is due to the...to my great experience with the Veterans Education Project, 'cause I spoke with different, no different groups of, of not all kids. I don't think the college kids are kids; they are, but they're older kids. And you respond to questions and, and you...things that sort of gel in your mind that never would have happened. Yeah, you know, when we went into boot camp, we were we were all such a skinny bunch of kids. In fact, so many couldn't even pass, not only the Navy physical, they couldn't pass the Army physicals because of poor nutrition growing up in the Depression. And when we got to boot camp, for the first time in our lives, we could eat all the food we wanted. There was no limit. If you took it, you had to eat it, but you could go back for seconds and thirds and whatever. Now that didn't occur to me [chuckling] until a few years ago in a conversation with some kids were asking me questions that led me to this, you know, sort of an obvious kind of thing, that I should have realized right away. And when I mentioned it to a former shipmate, he says, gee, Slats, you know I gained twelve pounds in boot camp, and they were running us ragged. [chuckles] So, this is, this is the Vets Education Project. That did it. I hope I help some kids the way they helped me.
NM: What sorts of things to you tell the kids that you speak to?
PS: Well, the kind of things that we discuss. I don't...I try to avoid, you know, war stories per se, and they have to...I hope that they come away understanding that there's no glamour to it, that, you know, that uh...what's-his-name said, "You have to face the practical realities, boys. War is all hell." Sherman. And...another one that they have to understand...that men who have experienced the battlefield, are not the ones who speak glibly about the next war. That's something that Eisenhower said. And the kids have to understand that, that there are better ways to solve differences than through violence. And I hope that they come away with that. I don't want them to think for a minute that there's any glory there. And uh, and if I can tell them "Yeah, we shot down twelve men, and we killed twelve men," then maybe, maybe they think that they might have been one of those twelve men if they were on the wrong side. Excuse me. [tissue break]
Interview Clip #8:
Paul Tell the Story of His Experience with a German High School Student
Audio also available in MP3
NM: Would you like to tell the story that you mentioned before we turned on the tape about the student at the Academy of Charlemont?
PS: Okay. I had been describing my experience in the war, and it was all obviously where we served; it was all with Germans. And uh, I was at that time not a very, not very reconstructed. I was much more like I had been during the war than I am now.
NM: What does that mean?
PS: And uh, yeah, I was very harsh. I didn't... make any bones about it, I just ... didn't like what the Germans had done. And uh...yeah I mean a lot of it, you know, I mean killing all those, all those uh, those Jews and Poles and the Ukrainians and you know, that was not fighting the war, and I really despised them for that. And it came out, I think, pretty clear. And then one of the...she was a girl then. Now I guess she, she would be called a young woman. She was a, probably sixteen, and she asked me with this German accent how I felt about Germans now, at that time. And I'm not sure how I responded, but I, I, I, I think I tried to, you know, make a little more mellow, if that's the word. And that, and that was the end of it. But when I went home I was not happy with the way I had responded to her. And so I wrote a letter ... clarifying how I had felt and how I had ...her question had made me think about this, and that I had, had you know had somehow better...it would be better off modifying my attitude, et cetera, and I sent this letter addressed to her but in an open envelope to the teacher, and said, you know, if you approve of this letter I would appreciate it if you would give it, give her the letter. And he did. And in my comment to him, I was not at all that delighted still with the letter. I'm not sure why, uh, what bothered me there either. And I didn't do much with computers or I would have had copies of everything, which is too bad. And his response is the letter that I have, that he thought that my response was a good one and well-reasoned, or something to that effect, and, and a very flattering comment that he felt that he had been honored to meet me.
NM: Now that's the letter that you included with the photographs?
PS: And he's a former Coast Guard man, a boatswain's mate first class. Those are tough hombres.
Interview Clip #9:
Paul Discusses An Experience at a Destroyer Escort Reunion, and Prayer Before Battle
Audio also available in MP3
NM: I was also hoping that you would talk something about, you mentioned a reunion?an experience at a reunion. [pause] You didn't say what kind of reunion.
PS: Well, the destroyer escort sailors have reunions.
NM: How often?
PS: I'm sorry?
NM: How often?
PS: Oh, on an annual basis, and they've had them for about thirty years now. And uh, well, several things happened at, at reunions. Uh, one of them was, had to do with with black sailors who served on a destroyer escort that was manned by black sailors by order of Franklin Roosevelt responding to insistence from Eleanor and Adlai Stevenson. And uh, they reported that they were treated better in Ireland than they were back home in the country that they were risking their lives to defend, which was a pretty sad commentary. ...Oh, at another reunion, we were sitting around the table, looking at photographs, and almost every one of us had a portfolio of photographs even though it was verboten to have a camera. And uh, I turned a page and there was a picture of a group of German POWs, which was probably in Tunis - I'm not too sure, but it was probably in Tunis. And I looked at it and without even thinking about it, I blurted out, you know, "For Pete's sake! We were killing kids!" And one of my friends put his hand on mine, and he says "Listen Slats, you gotta remember, we were all kids." So those are two sort of salient things from reunions. Probably others might come to mind. Not at the moment.
NM: Do you want to mention or talk about the prayer before battle...you mentioned? Put that in context, if you can. How you...
PS: Yeah, sure.
Well, it, it has, has to do with my attitude toward the enemy and how it changed over the, over the decades. And this was a poem written by a lieutenant, Henry Lee, and it's a prayer before battle to Mars, the god of battle. And he writes, "Drained of faith, I kneel, and hail thee as my Lord. I ask not life. Thou need not swerve the bullet. I ask but strength to ride the wave. Oh, and one thing more, teach me to hate." And I'm sure he did learn how to hate, because he was killed when a Japanese prison ship was torpedoed by an American submarine, and he died there, with many other prisoners. But we were taught to hate, and that's how it, why it took so long to realize that we were shooting down people, and not planes, and that these prisoners were kids just the way we were. They were not some kind of special animal or anything.
Interview Clip #10:
Paul Discusses Life After the Military
Audio also available in MP3
NM: We have about fifteen minutes before the tape will end, and I was wondering if there are things that you were hoping to get to talk about that I haven't asked about? Things that stand out either in your early life, or during the Depression, or during your military service? And also I didn't ask you about what you've done since...when you got out of the service, and what you've done since then.
PS: Oh yeah, that's ... well, when I got out of the service,
NM: What year was that?
PS: I uh...in '46. I went in '42, came out in '46. And uh, I worked for a while driving a newspaper delivery truck in Manhattan, which was an adventure. And grew up because we really had to hustle. And uh, it's a very perishable item. If you don't get it to the subway station on time, people go down without their paper and that's garbage sitting there. And then I worked on diesel engines for quite a few years. Finally, we got our farm, and by then I was married. I married my child bride. She was sixteen when we got married. And uh...farmed for quite a few years. And, as luck would have it, the farm was strategically located between Douglass College and Princeton, and my wife decided at 26, ten years after getting out of high school, that she really should go to college. And she did, and she was very successful. She, she went to Douglass, and then she got her PhD at Princeton. And then, just about the time she was finishing up, I had a cerebral hemorrhage and had to quit...[laughs] had to quit farming.
NM: How old were you then?
PS: So I don't know, forty-something, I guess. But fortunately, she was, she had finished so she got a really neat job here at Hampshire College, which was a great place to work - especially since it was in its formative stages, so she could have some influence on that. I had taken various college courses over the years at night and whatever, and so on, and never very steadily, because I was always working before or after. But when we moved up to Massachusetts, I decided I'd go to go to college and I got a, a BS in '73 - very late bloomer - and I got a Masters in '76. And uh, my Masters was in Regional Planning, and I taught for several years at Hampshire College on different land use issues, some of which...one of, one course was almost a history of, of our, how our attitude toward the land in this country developed. And, and also some of it was to acquaint the students with the role of the USDA and the FDA and so on, and the land grant colleges, and how they lived up to these goals or failed to do so. And uh, I became active on some, on different boards having to do with land use or agriculture. Uh, became active with the Northampton SPCA. I heard about the Veterans Education Project which was a lucky break. And uh, you know, I sorta kept out of trouble. And, when I decide what I want to be when I grow up, I'll do it. [NM chuckles] But right now...
Interview Clip #11:
Paul's Letter Writing
Audio also available in MP3
PS: I still actually, I write a lot of letters to a lot of people and I get some pretty interesting answers.
NM: What do you write letters about?
PS: No, well depends. Right now, I think we need some huge improvement on, on our passenger rail service. You know, when I think about it, Germany and Japan have these phenomenal rail systems and they lost the war. I also...One of my pet peeves is that Amtrak will not allow pets on trains. Okay, they argue that the USDA made such stringent requirements that they can't do it. But they're allowed to take the assistance animals on, and if the conditions are adequate for that, why not for my dog? You know, I'm sure I've written on any subject that you care to mention. [chuckles] Health care ? don't start me on that!
NM: Do people respond to your letters?
PS: You get responses, yeah. You get...John Kerry doesn't answer his mail for some reason. I, I quit on him a long time ago. He disappointed me in his run for the presidency. Uh...Richard Neal [U.S. Representative from Massachusetts] answers, and it's to the point, it's not some sort of a form letter, you know, that you can see that. You know, I don't know that he himself reads it, but he has a staff that takes care of it. You write to the head of Verizon, you get results like right away. And I don't think Ivan Seidenberg has ever seen one of my letters, you know. But you get it done. Well, he's from the Bronx, so that helps. [NM chuckles]
NM: Do you tell him you're from Brooklyn, when you write?
PS: No. No, I mean if it would be relevant, I would do it, but, no. ...Now lately it's been about health care and the rail system, and, maybe that's it for now. I don't know what else. I'm sure I wrote other stuff. I'm always doing it. Most of the time it doesn't get published, but the letters to the editor, ...you know, almost anyone of any consequence that I write to, answers. I mean that's how I know that I knew something that Doris Kearns Goodwin didn't know.
NM: Do you want to talk about that?
PS: Well, it was about this destroyer escort that was manned by a black crew and I had mentioned it to her and, and it was in connection with the fact that these people were receiving, the black men were receiving ? black sailors ? bad...bad treatment here in this country and good treatment in Ireland. And I mentioned that...about this ship and that it was called ?Eleanor's Folly?, and she had never heard of that, which I thought was absolutely amazing because she really is very, very well-informed, ?specially on stuff like that. But you know she, you know, I mean she doesn't know me from Adam. She managed to find time to write a couple of times. I just, in my going through stuff on my computer, I found a copy of a letter [chuckle] from Jimmy Hoffa, and when I was a farmer (I forgot about this till this second) we tried to organize farmers to get them into a union. But, it didn't work. We...and we had support of United Auto Workers ? Roy Reuther was behind us. Couldn't do it. Jimmy Hoffa tried, and he failed also. And this letter is, is telling me that he's gonna go down to Vineland and see what he can do. And he didn't do it. And I found a letter from Konrad Lorenz, a German ethologist [study of animal behavior] who had written...wrote extensively on...especially about his greylag geese, and so on and so forth. And there was something in one of his books that I mentioned to my wife that she used in her dissertation. But even he answered. You know, here's this letter from this very famous scientist, from the Max Planck Institute in Germany someplace, and you know, people, people answer letters, I think, more often than not. Yeah, you know, unless it's just some, some insulting stuff. I don?t know, maybe they would send you a bomb...
Interview Clip #12:
Paul Discusses His Egg Farm, and He Closes With Comments on War
Audio also available in MP3
I found a letter recently from Hubert Humphrey [chuckles] encouraging me to, to go on and that he was not going to allow farmers to go under, that I would not have to learn to be a barber, that I would be able to succeed in farming, if he had anything to do with it.
NM: Had you mentioned that as a concern? That you would have to learn to be a barber?
PS: Well, no, no. I didn't mention that...I didn't want to learn a new trade. I mean I could have gone back to diesel engines. I wanted to be a farmer. And we did...we did okay. It was hard. We went in with almost no money, so that made it hard. But we survived. Produced good food, no chemicals, no added hormones, no nothing, and, boy, those days...that was an accomplishment! We had people coming from all over to get chickens and eggs from us.
PS: We were in New Jersey - there was one guy who used to come in from the Bronx with an order for people I guess from his whole neighborhood. He used to fill his car up. So we, we had a good product. You know, double-A quality from aperture to appetite. A good place.
NM: Aperture to appetite?
NM: It's a good slogan.
PS: Yeah, well the name of the farm was Clo Acres Farms, which for a poultry farm, and people who knew anything about the anatomy of a chicken, was...
NM: Clo, did you say?
PS: Clo-Acres, yeah.
NM: Can you spell that?
PS: Well, it was C-L-O hyphen Acres. A-C-R-E-S.
PS: But in New Jersey and Brooklyn, it's "cloacres" which is from the place from which the end, the egg, comes out.
PS: Okay. Well, chickens, snakes, they all have cloacres.
NM: I'm gonna look that up on Google when I get back to my office. [laughs]
PS: Google, Google cloacres. And no, we had a, we had a nice operation there. The Extension Service brought people from, not only from the United States; we had people from Scotland. We had one guy who made it very clear that he was not from Russia; he was from the Ukraine, and when he said it, it was the Ukraine. But he was not a Russian. Boy! He really wanted to make that clear. And yeah, we, we had some really very interesting energy-saving devices that I designed in those days. And even now they...I think they were pretty impressive. [chuckles] ...But, we had a good product, and we sold every egg that we produced right on the farm. We had fifteen thousand chickens, which in those days was a huge farm.
NM: So, we're down to the last few minutes, believe it or not. And, when you think about the idea that this interview will be used by teachers and students and...I'm wondering what takeaway...what's the thing you want to make sure that people hear from you- And, understanding that we only have a couple of minutes.
PS: Yeah, I, I was wondering also what I hoped they would take away. Well, I think basically I'd like them to take away the, the Veterans Education Project. I don't know if it's fair to call it the philosophy, but...that violence is to be avoided, that there are better ways of handling things. That if they want to take away the fact that you can produce good food without, without chemicals, that' s okay, too, but I don't think...I think there's enough ...There's a lot of that around now. You know Michael Pollan [Botany of Desire] and some of these people make it quite clear. But yeah, I think they have to take away, especially in this environment now that, that war really is not the answer. And if they just are convinced of that. And of course, war doesn't have to be - you know, it can be violence in the streets, you know, among one, among one another ...with, you know, gangs of kids and so on. You know if I can convince some people to be peaceful and reasonable, that would be great. I've almost convinced myself of that.
NM: [laughs] Well, thank you very much.
PS: You're very welcome. Thank you.
top of page