Fred Israel

Fred Israel was a sixteen year old college student when World War II began. Despite being in college, he joined the Naval Reserves as soon as he had the opportunity. In this interview, he shares memories from his naval training, as well as his reaction to the end of the war.

Drafted into the Navy

I get a phone call from my mother. And she says “You got a problem.” I’m at Great Lakes at this point, so I’m in the Navy. And she says, “Well, you have a post card here from the draft board. And it says that if you don’t show up and sign up for the draft, you could go to jail”. And I said, “Why don’t you send it to me, and I’ll give it to my commanding officer.” Because of course I was exempted from the draft because I was already in service.

Pre-Radio Course

The train goes from Altoona to Chicago and back to Great Lakes. And at Great Lakes I’m assigned, as we all were, to what was called ‘Pre-Radio’. Which was a one-month course. And where I was stationed for the one-month course, with all the other guys, was at Wright Junior College at Addison and Austin Street in the city of Chicago. Only now it had been taken over by the Navy. What was it like? We had two gymnasiums in which beds were stacked three high. Triple bunks. And all the lockers were in the hallways. And Pre-Radio was one week-one-month long. And during that month, the war now being over, they kept on asking us ‘What do you guys want to do? Do you want to get discharged? Do you want to finish the course? Do you want to go regular Navy? What do you want to do?’ And at the end of the first month they still didn’t know what to do with us. But nobody prepares for peace. Preparation is a wartime activity. Peace comes. And so what they did was send us through for another month with the same syllabus we had finished the first month. Same, just covered the same thing we had had, because they didn’t quite know what to do, and by that time they had started having a system for people who were going to be discharged, because at the end of the war we had 11 million men under arms -few women and when I say men I’m talking about the total it’s not a sex word that’s just a description- so you had to get them home.

VJ Day on the Train

So now I’m in the Navy. We were at Great Lakes for eight weeks, and then you get Boot Leave. So you come home. So I come home to New York City and then I’m going back to Great Lakes. And the day I’m going back to Great Lakes is August 15th, 1945 – the day the war ends. But we’re in a train. So we didn’t really know what was going on. And we pull into Altoona Pennsylvania. The platform is full of people. The train is full of people in uniform. On the platform – civilians. And we come in. And the doors of course open and they’re yelling ‘The war’s over! The war’s over! Japan has surrendered.’ And then they go like this [gestures] to pick up the windows. Now that’s before the days when they kept the windows closed for air conditioning purposes. And so the windows came up and they now started passing in cases of liquor. For the service men on the train. World War Two was total involvement of the population of the United States. And its children, and its fathers, and your brothers in the war. It was total.