World War II Oral History Interview
Date: June 27, 2001
Veteran: Staff Sergeant Harold Seidler
USMC 12th Marine Air Wing
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Walter Borkowski
Harold Seidler was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1921 and later moved to Passaic. After graduating from high school in 1939, he began his first full-time job, cleaning large ovens in a cookie factory, at a salary of $10 a week. By December 7, 1941 he was making $32.50 a week as a truck driver’s helper for the same company.
Seidler recalled that “on December 7 everything changed. When they interrupted the [radio] broadcast and announced that the Japs had bombed Pearl Harbor, people were confused and surprised. We thought that the American and Japanese ambassadors were having a good dialogue about keeping the peace. Ever since the war began in Poland in 1939, there was debate on whether we should go to war in Europe to help Britain. After December 7, there was no more debate.”
In the months that followed Pearl Harbor, the federal government accelerated its military draft and, in February 1942, Seidler decided to “beat the draft” by joining the United States Marine Corps. He went to a Marine Corps recruiting office on Church Street in New York City to enlist. The lines were long but he waited his turn, signed up, then went home, celebrated, and quit his job. Within a few weeks he found himself on a crowded train heading for Parris Island, South Carolina for basic recruit training. He remembered that “the drill instructors knocked us down. They called us ‘shit birds’ and treated us like one. But they had a knack, in a matter of weeks, to turn you into members of an elite corps and combat ready.”
The Marine Corps emphasized individual rifle marksmanship, and Seidler qualified as a Sharpshooter during basic training, entitling him to receive three more dollars in pay a month. He was prepared, as were the other basic trainees, for desperate combat, and he remembered that “…one goal of all the Marines was to take your [Model 1903] Springfield rifle and go kill some…Jap.” Seidler was surprised, therefore, when he and some other trainees were selected to attend a service technical school rather than go to the Advanced Combat Training Course at New River, North Carolina.
Seidler went to Radio School in Jacksonville, Florida and did not receive orders to go overseas until April 1943, when he joined the Twelfth Marine Air Wing on Guadalcanal. After arriving on the island, he was assigned to a radio listening post monitoring air radio traffic up and down “The Slot” [A name applied to New Georgia Sound in the Solomon Islands, a body of water with significant warship traffic.] According to Seidler, “most days were dull,” but he recalled one incident when radar picked up a fleet of Japanese bombers heading toward Guadalcanal. Every plane at Henderson Field was “scrambled” and sent aloft. American bombers flew off elsewhere to safety, but allied fighter planes manned by American, Australian and New Zealand pilots “took as much altitude as they could and surprised the Japanese pilots. We saw some terrific aerial dogfights that afternoon.” He remembered the day’s air battle as “a total victory.” According to Seidler, an Australian “coast watcher” reported counting ninety-five Japanese planes heading toward the island and only about five or six returning. “We lost three planes,” Seidler said. “Two pilots were picked up and the third was reported missing.”
Seidler recalled that the Marines on Guadalcanal were harassed nightly by one Japanese bomber, whose pilot was nicknamed “Washing Machine Charlie“, because of the drone of his engines. Charlie’s main purpose was harassment, and he would drop one or two bombs and leave. Air raid sirens would sound during Charlie’s attacks, but Seidler said the Marines “would just turn over and go back to sleep.”
Seidler remembered that he and the other men in his unit listened to the “Tokyo Rose” propaganda broadcasts, because of the good American music she played. Authorized entertainment was provided by United Service Organization (USO) groups, including the Bob Hope Show, which he saw and enjoyed on Guadalcanal. He recalled seeing famed pilot Charles Lindbergh on Emilau Island, where Lindbergh gave pilots tips on how to obtain more mileage from their fuel tanks, which was much appreciated. [Lindbergh was not allowed to serve in the military by the Roosevelt administration due to his perceived Nazi sympathies, but flew some fifty combat missions in the Pacific Theater as a civilian consultant to aircraft manufacturers. His contributions in improving the training and tactics of US airmen were considerable.]
While on leave in Auckland New Zealand, Seidler met a Marine from his basic training class who had gone on to New River for advanced infantry training. “I could not recognize him,” he recalled. The First and Second Marine Divisions, including many of the men Seidler knew from basic training, fought at Guadalcanal, the Marianas Islands, Iwo Jima and other locations. “They were warriors,” he said. “Most were either killed or badly wounded.” By the last year of the war, he was one of the few still around. “I had a feeling of guilt. I can’t explain it,” he remembered.
Harold Seidler returned to the United States as a sergeant in October, 1944 and was assigned to Parris Island as a noncommissioned officer in charge of recreation and athletics. He was later transferred to the Marine air base at Cherry Point, North Carolina. The “scuttlebutt” at Cherry Point, he recalled, was that the invasion of Japan was imminent, but then the war ended with the Japanese surrender. “God bless the atomic bomb and God bless Harry S. Truman for having the guts to use it. He saved thousands of lives,” Seidler opined.
Seidler recalled the day he came home, when he met his mother and father at the Pennsylvania Railroad Station in Newark, New Jersey. His parents were there not only to meet him, but also to pick up his sister, a woman Marine who was back in New Jersey on a liberty pass from her post in Washington, D.C. Instead of going directly home to Passaic, Seidler and his family visited his grandparents in their old neighborhood in the “Ironbound” section of Newark, where they celebrated all night with relatives, old friends and neighbors. They played the piano, sang songs, and drank beer. Seidler recalled that he had a difficult time explaining to three young cousins how he, although a Marine sharpshooter, had not killed any enemy soldiers.
Seidler gave the interviewer his overall impression of the war on the home front, and its impact on American popular culture He displayed a “V-mail” reduced size letter, and spoke of war bond, scrap iron, and paper drives, ration stamp books for gasoline, sugar and coffee, air raid wardens and blackouts and “Rosie the Riveter.” He remembered how important and relevant the popular songs were to those who lived in that time and place and spoke of the USO Clubs that sprouted up across the world and the dances they held, the coffee they served and the other war time activities they provided. He also noted how well servicemen were treated during the war years, with people buying Marines, soldiers and sailors drinks in taverns, and offering them rides if they were walking or standing on a street corner.
Following his discharge on October 18, 1945, Seidler said he was a member of the “52/20 club” [A federal unemployment program created by the “Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the “GI Bill,” that paid discharged veterans $20 a week for 52 weeks.] for three weeks until he took a job making $22.00 dollars a week. In 1946 he joined the New Jersey State Police.
One of Trooper Seidler’s first assignments was to investigate the suicide death of a World War I veteran who hanged himself from a tree at the Veterans’ Hospital in Lyons, New Jersey. When, during the course of the investigation, the nurses discovered that Seidler was from Passaic, they brought him to meet a patient who was a World War II Marine veteran from Passaic. Harold could hardly recognize the man as the same person he knew at Passaic High School. There was, he remembered, “no recognition, no conversation, no nothing. He was like a zombie. There was no hope. He would die there.” At the 50th reunion of his high school graduating class in 1939, Seidler saw a list of twenty-five classmates who were killed in WWII.
In 1959 Seidler was assigned by the State Police to help organize a Municipal Police Training academy at Sea Girt, New Jersey. “There was nothing there but a few buildings,” he recalled. “We trucked everything in from Trenton.” Seidler stayed on at Sea Girt as a training officer, rising to the rank of captain and commandant of the New Jersey State Police Training Academy until he retired from the state police in 1972. In the years after the war he married, had four children and thirteen grandchildren.
In summation, Harold Seidler remembered the World War II years in an overall positive light. “In spite of all the hardships and heartaches in those years, we were proud to be Americans -- all for one and one for all. I don’t think that it was ever like that before and I don’t think it will ever be like that again.” As an example of the change, he pointed to the controversy over the Smithsonian Museum exhibit of the B-29 bomber Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.