Thomas O. Stanley

Thomas “Tom” Stanley was born in 1927 in South Orange, New Jersey. Tom himself was not able to join the U.S. Navy until shortly before V-E Day, but his older brother, Edmund “Ted” Stanley, served in the U.S. Army throughout the war. Ted was awarded a Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart for his service with the 175th Infantry in France and Belgium.

During World War II, Tom’s mother volunteered as a nurse’s aide and his father served as an air raid warden. One of his cousins from Germany was captured by the Allies and imprisoned in a POW camp in Colorado. Tom’s personal World War II experience was that of a teenager living on the home front.

After the war, Tom pursued a successful career in technology at RCA Corporation’s David Sarnoff Research Center in Princeton, New Jersey. He was instrumental in helping develop the Capacitance Electronic Disc (CED) concept, which lead to the VideoDisc.

In 1992, Tom moved to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where he was involved with several civic and educational organizations. He lived by the motto: “Listen to diverse voices / Seek new ideas / Embrace variety / Resist stereotypes / Respect diversity / Explore outward / Educate yourself.”

Tom Stanley died at his home in Oxford, Maryland, on January 18, 2019 at the age of 91, just four months after he participated in this interview.

The Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP)

Yes, my older brother, Ted, was just old enough to enter the service immediately after turning nineteen. He was a private in the infantry. I think fairly soon [he was] promoted to Private First Class. And because he’d been well educated and clearly intelligent—he was taller than I was but not sort of as beefy, not as strong—he was chosen to be in what was called the Army Special Training Program.

And of course, they had the unflattering song about [it]: [singing] “Your son isn’t over the ocean; your son isn’t over the sea. So, take down your service flag mother, your son’s in the ASTP!” It was regarded as sort of a goof off.

Of course, the tragic thing that happened [was that] the brightest, best educated, most promising recruits were largely in such things as the Army Specialized Training Program. The Germans surprised everybody by invading in the Battle of the Bulge. After initial success—so this was several years, of course, after the war began—[the Germans] made an offensive toward the coast, in the Battle of the Bulge. And so, there was a sudden need of reinforcements and there was one likely pool. [Here] were all these young men right there and they scooped them up. And so, there was a disproportionate casualty rate among the brightest and best-educated of the noncommissioned, anyhow, service people.

Carrying a Clipboard to Avoid Chores During Basic Training

[My brother] Ted was a pretty bright guy. He discovered if he was walking around, he would immediately be nabbed to go dig a hole somewhere or drag something around. And so, he went on—when he had a little bit of leave off the base—he went to hardware store and bought a clipboard. And just when he was on the base, he carried this clipboard. And people would see him with the clipboard and think “Oh, he’s doing something important!” [laughs]. And [they] left him alone.

Cousin Bib from Germany

AG: Tom, you had some family in Germany, didn’t you? Can you tell us about that?

The background of my family: my mother was born in New York of immigrant parents. My grandfather was a successful businessman; my grandmother was a fairly innocent visitor to the United States when she met my grandfather. But they all kept up very much with the family, and the family was very international—the Hasslacher family. There was a branch in South Africa, there was a branch in Portugal, there was a branch—as it turned out—in England, in the wine business. So they were a fairly international family.

And there was one young fellow named Bib, who was maybe two years older than my brother, who they thought, “Oh, he should have his education in the United States.” So he came and went to the school that I later went to and that [my brother] Ted went to. But one year was all that he could have because they called him back to serve in the Nazi Wehrmacht. So he was on the other side of the trenches. And we were very concerned about what was going to happen to Bib.

Ultimately, [an] interesting irony, he was captured [and] fortunately never had to serve on the Russian front. He was brought back to a prison camp, the POW camp in Colorado, and [he] recognized one of his classmates as one the American officers at the camp! [laughs] [He] returned to Germany, of course, at the end of the war. But ultimately, [he] then immigrated to the United States and spent the rest of his life here.

Rationing and “The Duration Blues”

[During the war,] you didn’t take any unnecessary trips with the car. You had to wait to decide what to use your clothing stamps for. You know, it was a discipline that one took in stride. But I was saying, gee, for this project you’ve got to dig up the song, a recording of it or something about the Johnny Mercer song, “The Duration Blues.”

[singing] “Food will win the war they say, and that’s okay with me. But when I go to the grocery store, what do I see? Well, there’s wham and spam and speckled ham, and something new called ‘zoom.’ You just take it home and heat it to the temperature of the room. And you can bake, flake it, take it any way you choose. That’s my situation. I’ve got the duration blues.”

Roosevelt’s Death and Praying for Harry Truman

This is a wartime memory, too: the death of Roosevelt before V-E Day. I’m not a religious person, but the first thing I did was to find some place to go pray when Roosevelt died. It was one of the churches on campus and I just thought, well, I’ll go in there and pray for Harry Truman.

AD: You prayed for Harry Truman? What kind of things did you pray for

Well, for Truman to be able to carry on after Roosevelt. That was my chief concern. If there’s anything up there that makes a difference, here’s somebody who may need it!

Hearing one of the Atomic Scientists Speak at Yale

At Yale, one of the atomic scientists had come to [campus] and talked. And in the bowl session afterwards, somebody said, “Are there any explosives greater than what we’re now using that may come into being?” And he said, “Of course, there’s the uranium bomb.” And we didn’t know what he was talking about. And that’s as much as he said.

And so, I remember a friend of mine on the beach [when] the atom bomb was dropped came and he said, “There’s been a very powerful bomb dropped in Japan.” I said, “Oh yes, it’s uranium!” [laughs] And [I] was looked upon very suspiciously! You know, I figured out that’s what they must’ve been talking about.