Note: Milt's Memoirs are published here with the kind permission of Mr. Zack. The views expressed in the story are those of the Author. [The Webmaster]
RECUPERATION AND VACATION
All ex-POWs were given a 120-day leave for rest and recuperation. I spent the first 2-3 weeks of this leave in and out of the hospital at Fort Devons in Ayer, Massachusetts. I was given complete physical exams, concentration on GI exams, as my biggest problems were intestinal. I was told these would eventually straighten out, but they never did completely.
As part of our R&R leave, the government paid for a two-week vacation for up to three people for all ex-POWs. The ones from Germany went to Atlantic City, NJ, and those of us from Japan were sent to Miami Beach in Florida. We were given train or plane tickets and orders, we opted for the train, and off we went. When we arrived, a driver in a staff car met us at the station. He asked if we wanted a tour of the city first, which we opted for. He then dropped us at the hotel, which was the Flamingo.
In those days, one had to have money in order to afford a Miami Beach vacation, and the hotel reflected this. As we stepped into the lobby we felt quite out of place in the opulence. There was plush furniture and elegant marble and was like nothing we had seen before outside of the movies. We thought that the hotel was going to be all military personnel, but found that there were civilians there also.
We soon met up with other ex-POWs and had a wonderful two weeks. Everything was paid for with the exception of drinks. We had all kinds of tours, a couple of fishing trips, and could have attended movies, the races, and a number of other things at no charge if we had wanted. The best part was being able to order anything we wanted from the hotel menu. We couldnít stop eating. Finally, as with all good things, this came to an end and we returned home.
I had decided not to re-enlist and was officially discharged from the Army Air Corp in May 1946. I did, however, decide to enlist in the Inactive Army Air Force Reserves, which was no big thing since there was no weekend training or two-week duty involved. When the Korean conflict started, all reserve officers including me were ordered to report for processing. I was classified as 1A for active duty but, unlike many other officers, was never called for active duty. I requested a discharge from the Active Reserves in the early 1960s, and that was the end of my military career.
We will fast-forward now to the 1980s. During the intervening years life happened, no more or less interesting that anyone elseís. I earned a living, first as a pharmacist and later as a hydraulic/pneumatic equipment salesman, neither of which I liked much. I had a child, was widowed and remarried.
THE VASeveral times through the years I had gone to the VA for treatment, mostly for stomach related complaints but also for chronic pain and cramping in the legs. Frankly, at that time I considered the VA virtually useless, unresponsive and unsympathetic. Then somewhere in the 1980s it dawned on the medical powers- that-be in the VA that ex-POWs as a group had a unique set of problems, both physical and psychological. This was in large part the result of studies done with the returning Vietnam ex-POWs, but the findings were applicable to all ex-POWs.
One of the first benefits to come from all this was that the VA started a program of counseling for all ex-POWs. This consisted of both group and individual therapy sessions. I started to go to a group session in Boston and was amazed at what I found out. Many of these men had never told their wives or friends or anyone about their experience for a number of reasons. One was that when they had tried to relate to others what they had gone through, they met with disbelief. It is very difficult to empathize with someone who has gone through something you cannot begin to imagine. Another problem was that many were ashamed, they felt that they were looked down on as cowards for being captured.
So for many of these men, this was the first time since WWII that they talked about their nightmares, dredging up all the old memories. It turned out that some of these guys had behavioral problems and quirks that stemmed from their POW experience, and that no one knew why they acted as they did because they did not know they had been prisoners. One example was the man who was adamant to the verge of hysteria that his children all finish all their food. It was a trait that nearly caused a divorce, because his wife was unaware of his past.
The group I attended was coordinated by a VA psychiatrist, one of the greatest doctors I have ever met. He had volunteered for the job rather than accepting it as an assignment, and he couldnít do enough for the attendees. He listened to their stories, let them weep and rave, brought speakers to the group and was full of helpful suggestions on all manner of things. Whether it was the group or an individual session, you always felt better when you left him. He was able to make some of these men feel like worthwhile human beings again after many years of feeling subhuman as a result of the treatment received at the hands of the Germans and Japanese.
SHARING OUR STORIESAround this same time I was contacted by an organization call the American Ex-Prisoners of War and joined the group. They were involved in lobbying for benefits for ex-POWs and veterans in general, and had a monthly bulletin that described various bills and so forth that were up for legislation. We also did local fund raising, using proceeds to provide televisions, personal care items and other things for hospitalized veterans. And of course, it was also a chance to socialize and get to know other ex-POWs.
One of the suggestions that came out of this group was to organize a Speakers Bureau to provide people to talk to local schools about the war and POW experience. This was set up in two territories, North and South of Boston. I am about the least gregarious person you can meet, but for something to do I decided to volunteer for the South of Boston area, where I lived. The VA generously provided us with the services of an intern who contacted all the schools and scheduled the talks. We started out with about 4-5 speakers in our area and would usually speak in pairs.
As time went on, the VA went on a cost-cutting measure and we lost our intern. And for various reasons several of the speakers dropped out and we would up with only two of us, me from Japanese arena and Arden Schofield from the German. I took on the task of contacting the schools and we usually spoke at around 6-10 per year. Many times I was asked how much we charged, as school budgets were tight, and my response was "Coffee and donuts in the morning will do." But the usually wound up feeding us lunch, too.
We would speak to the Social Studies classes, usually Juniors and Seniors as those were the years they studied WWII in American History. We would share a period, which was 45 minutes long, which gave us each slightly less that 20 minutes after settling in time to cover four years of our life. I designed a questionnaire for students to fill out so we could improve our talks, and one of the questions was would they like one or two speakers per periods. They response was they would like two, but would like more time for them. Unfortunately this wasnít possible due to the schoolsí schedules. They kids seemed to be interested in our experiences, and we felt it was important to stress to them that war isnít the glory you see in the movies, it is really hell. And that their freedom shouldnít be taken for granted, it can be lost, due to manís inhumanity to man.
We also were invited to speak at a couple colleges several times, and a few times to the Air National Guard Base at Otis Air Base in Massachusetts. There we spoke to noncommissioned officers who were going to class there, and we had all the time we wanted. They were an extremely attentive audience, quite different from the high school students in that they were looking at the military as a career. We had many questions and discussions resulting from these talks. During a break at one of these sessions, I happened to mention to someone about the rationing and other hardships of civilian life during the WWII period. They were floored. They couldnít believe that something like that could happen in the United States. These were men and women in their late teens and early twenties, so their parents probably didnít remember this if they had even been born at that time. One of the reasons that we liked to go to Otis is that when we walked in, someone called out attention and they all stood to greet us. That felt good after 50 years. We were also interviewed by several local cable TV stations, which reran the tapes quite often.
As the years went on, we got too old to keep up the pace, and the last few years only went to two schools twice a year each, because the teachers at those particular schools begged us to continue. After about 10 years, one of these schools invited us to their year-end awards evening. They told us they were naming an annual award after us, the Schofield/Zack award. This would be presented each year to an outstanding social studies student who also had been active in community affairs. We were very honored. At the ceremony, which Arden was unable to attend but was represented by his daughter, we were called on to present the award to the first winner. After the presentation we prepared to return to our seats but were asked to stay on stage. They then presented us with two citations, one from the Massachusetts House of Representatives and one from the Massachusetts Senate, acknowledging and thanking us for our military service, and service to our community. We were deeply touched. We continued for another three years until the Spring of 2000 when I moved from Massachusetts to California.
OLD FRIENDS AND NEW
About ten years ago the 11th Air Force planned a reunion in Colorado Springs to coincide with the dedication of a wall at the Air Force Academy Cemetery tocommemorate the men who had served in the 11th. Shortly before that I had renewed contact with Walt Bailey, the tail gunner of our crew and the only other one left beside me. They were going to attend and we decided to make the trip also. It was, to say the least, an emotional reunion. It was the first time I had seen him since we were released.
We also met many pilots, navigator/bombardiers and gunners of the 77th Bomb Squadron, some of whom I had known while in Attu. A couple of them were very surprised to see me, because the last they heard we had disappeared over the Kurils and they assumed the worst. We finally found out what happened after we "left". Of the six crews that trained together and went over to Attu at the same time, one was shot down by the Japanese, one was shot down by the Russians, one was disabled and went down in Petropovlosk , Russia where the crew was interned but eventually made it home, we were imprisoned by the Japanese, and two crews went home intact with no mishaps. It was a great weekend. The stories didnít stop and comparing notes was very interesting, especially after all that time. We extended our stay by a couple days and did some sightseeing with Walt and his wife. During that reunion and one two years later also in Colorado Springs, we were able to tour the Air Force Academy and also were able to go through NORAD at Cheyenne Mountain. That was an experience! What a feat of engineering that is. It left us speechless.
There have been reunions every two years since them, of which we missed one. Unfortunately, shortly before the last one in 1999, Walt passed away. His wife decided to attend anyway and bring her son, who had always been fascinated by his fatherís military history. It meant a lot to him to meet all the men he had heard stories about and to hear some new ones first hand. The next one is to be in Alaska and for many reasons none of the people we know want to go. But since we were bemoaning the fact that we would miss getting together, we decided we could do that anyway, and are tentatively planning a get-together of our own for a bunch of us.
Now with the advent of the Internet, many of us are still trading stories and pictures via e-mail. Youíd be surprised how quickly some of us old warriors have embraced the new technologies. And weíre feeding information to a young man in Alaska who is doing a web site on the 11th Air Force, which you can check out on www.11thairforce.com. There arenít a lot of us WWII veterans left, which may be why there has been an increasing interest in this era lately. There isnít a lot of time remaining to obtain first hand stories.
Today I am doing well for my age, at this writing I am a couple weeks away from my 81st birthday. I am enjoying my new home in California and keeping active and interested in the world today. I recently spoke to the Orange County Mensa group about my military and POW experiences, so Iím still able to tell a tale. But time is passing, and I urge any of you who know a veteran of WWII to ask him for his story, or encourage him to put it in writing. Every man is unique, every manís story is different, and they are all important.
I would like to thank Milt Zack for sharing his experiences with us. A special thanks to Mrs. Zack for helping Milt and I bring these pages to you...The Webmaster...
Milt's War - Index
|Getting Into It|
|Prisoner of War|
|A New Home|
|The Beginning of The End|
|Waiting for Liberation|
|Recuperation & Vacation|
|Sharing Our Stories|
Returns to Main Index
Always looking for Material and Scans of the 11th Air Force and Associated Units to add to this site.