US Army, Chief Technician 5th Grade
World War II (1943-1946)
Joseph Pearlman, 92, of Novato California is a proud veteran of World War II. He was born in Detroit Michigan March 19, 1920. Pearlman grew up in Louisville, Kentucky having left Detroit as a baby. His father worked as an Optician and his mother was a housewife. After graduating high school he worked at the US Postal Office in St. Louis as a substitute clerk. Pearlman married Lillian on August 10th, 1941 and was later drafted into the US army in 1943. He shares, “I remember telling my wife, I wasn’t feeling good, St. Louis was kind of a smoky town, and I went to the doctor right before they called me up. I had spots on my lungs. I thought they would never take me. I said I would be back in a half hour. But they took me. The spots weren’t enough to keep me out.” Pearlman was the first of his family to serve in the military.
Joseph Pearlman’s service in the US army began when he was inducted in Jefferson’s Barracks. He and the other men were given a furlough to get their affairs straightened out before they went into the army. After about two weeks Pearlman returned back to the Jefferson’s Barracks. He remembers entering a huge room that had approximately 500 men. Pearlman recalled clearly a conversation between the captain and himself, “Sit down Pearlman, sit down. Did you ever think of becoming a fighter pilot?” Pearlman had a good physical and his IQ was good, and most importantly he wasn’t colorblind. “No, why do you ask?” responded Pearlman. “We’d like to make you a fighter pilot and we would like to send you down to San Antonio.” Pearlman left to talk to his wife about it, because in those days you had to get your wife’s permission for what branch of service you were in. That night when his wife came out to Jefferson Barracks to visit him before everyone was shipped out he asked, “What do you think of me becoming a fighter pilot?” She said, “You keep both feet on the ground!” Pearlman was then inducted into the regular US army.
Pearlman’s first basic training began at Camp Lee Virginia. Due to the war he took what was known as Quartermaster basic, not the full sixteen weeks of a traditional basic training assignment. While at Basic Training at Camp Lee he spent his time marching, hiking, running, and learning how to shoot different weapons. He became an expert with the Springfield O3 which is a World War I era rifle. Pearlman remembers spending the majority of their time climbing a three story wooden structure going up and down the ladder while carrying a 90 pound pack, Joseph Pearlman weighed only 145 pounds. Pearlman didn’t know that he was going to the Pacific at the time of his training, and felt that the ladder climbing was a bunch of nonsense. In the end he really valued the training, because in the Pacific there were no ports to pull in to. Troops had to climb up and down the rope ladder to gain access to the ships at each stop. Although they completed Quartermaster basic training at Camp Lee, the US Army did not have a spot in Europe or the South Pacific for their outfit. They were shipped to Petersburg Pennsylvania, for an additional seven weeks of training. The outfit then shipped to camp Roberts, an infantry basic training camp in California. His outfit was assigned 16 weeks of the same basic training they received in Virginia and Petersburg. Upon completion of their second basic training the outfit was split in two: half went to Europe, and the other, known as the 4th Base Postal Unit, along with Pearlman, went to the South Pacific. They traveled to Pittsburg California where they boarded a Dutch Freighter called the Tabitha, and left for Milne Bay, New Guinea. The Freighter was manned by a Japanese crew and held 1200 men.
When he arrived in Milne Bay it was raining cats and dogs. He was shipped to Port Moresby, which is around the Heart of New Guinea, to set up a post office. The first thing Pearlman and the rest of the crew saw when they were departing the ship were all the bodies that were being brought back from the frontlines. Pearlman was still a private who had just arrived from the United States. It left an indelible impression on him until this day. It was difficult to see the dead bodies of so many young men but knew he was there to do his job. The 4th Base Postal Unit was to handle mail and packages for the South Pacific. They worked 5-6 days a week and had Sunday off. Their general duties were getting the mail and packages to the Soldiers. Mail was a very important thing for the Soldier. Pearlman shared, that if you received a package or letter from home it was a huge thing, it kept your spirits up, he remembers it being very lonely. Pearlman’s job in the 4th Base Postal Unit was very specific; he handled code books, something he was very proud to do. There were code books for each island, and the outfits that were occupying it were designated by code names. Pearlman knew when we were going to make a move in the South Pacific, because he had to reroute the mail and get it to the different islands.
After being in New Guinea, Pearlman was sent on an advanced detachment to Hollandia with a one star General. On the way there they landed in Finchhaven, which was an old German trading post. He had just finished setting up his tent, when he saw a guy that he recognized, walking up the hill to take a shower. He thought it looked like his cousin, so he called “Hey Irving!” The man stopped dead in his tracks. It was indeed his cousin! They spent the day together, eating meals together. Later on during the war Pearlman found his other cousin who was serving in the Pacific. He went to go visit him in the hospital, but he was in bad shape. He had yellow fever and malaria. Pearlman felt very lucky to have been able to see both of his cousins during the war.
Soon after the United States took over Leyte, Pearlman and his unit were given a place where they would set up camp, since he was still a private he set up the latrine. A Captain came up to his commanding officer, Major Breckish, and told him that they were in the wrong area. Pearlman and his unit had to move 200 yards down from where they had been setting up camp, and set it up again. That same night, a long bomber, known as Washing Machine Charlie came over. The purpose of this lone bomber was to disrupt the sleep of the soldiers by flying with loud unsynchronized engines and dropping bombs on the camp, often missing its target. The plane was armed with anti personnel bombs, which are filled with screws, nuts, and bolts. The next morning, he found out that the area they had originally set up the latrine in, had taken a direct hit killing several men. Pearlman felt very fortunate that he was moved away from the old spot.
The living conditions were not great. Pearlman’s unit slept on cots in tents that held about 5 men and kept their weapons underneath them. Each man was given a carbine, a 15 shot clip semi-automatic weapon, which they used to spray into the jungle, instead of the Springfield O3, which they trained with. If anyone needed to go the bathroom in the middle of the night, they had to wake up two people to go with them, because the Japanese were in the hills. They tried not to go the bathroom at night. Everyone was also issued two pairs of shoes because in the jungle, if you did not change your shoes daily, they would turn green overnight due to the mold. All of the food was dehydrated; they had no refrigeration. Powdered eggs, powdered cream, bully beef, or canned fruits and vegetables were all they had. They had three good cooks, who made the best of what they had to work with, and again, Pearlman felt lucky. The cooks would take the bully beef and make vegetable stew. He said the food wasn’t good but it was edible. Pearlman also received care packages from his wife that contained canned goods that she had made. Lillian knew a gentleman who owned a cannery and was willing to can home cooked meals that she had prepared. She then sent them overseas to Pearlman in the Pacific. Approximately every three weeks Pearlman would get a package of canned goods which he would divide up among his fellow soldiers. He also set up a victory garden with his friend. Their wives sent seeds to them from the United States. They were able to grow numerous vegetables, including tomatoes! Pearlman remembers how every Christmas and Thanksgiving they managed to get turkey, as many of the units did. Every now and then a USO unit would come in, bringing entertainers such as Jack Benny, Lenny Ross, and Bob Hope. He recalled when two popular female singers came over and preformed for a large group of Australians and US Soldiers. They wore sequined dresses and were beautiful; all of the Australian guys threw their hats in the air, it was a very memorable experience for the soldiers, and a nice break from the war. The general moral of their unit was not bad due to the hard work of their cooks, the fresh food from home, and an entertainment provided for the troops. Mr. Pearlman remembers fondly his commanding officers. In particular, Major Breckish, from Arkansas, was a man he felt he could talk to, and Sergeant Dean was tough, but fair, according to Pearlman. He had no complaints about his officers and got along very well with his fellow soldiers.
In the Pacific, the Japanese had taken all the Quinine which was used for prevention of malaria. Unable to obtain Quinine for the troops, the United States government prescribed Atabrine, which soldiers in the Pacific took every day. After a week or so everyone’s body would start to turn yellow, but it kept them from getting malaria. Tokyo Rose, which was part of Japanese Propaganda, would broadcast every night from Tokyo, and they would tune her in on their radios. She would tell all the troops in the Pacific, “Don’t take the Atabrine or you will become impodent, and won’t be able to have children or have sex when you get home.” A lot of the soldiers stopped taking it and many of the outfits got malaria. The hospitals became full of sick soldiers. It got so bad that their 1st Sergeant, Sergeant Dean, forced them to take the Atabrine. He made them bring their canteens of water and line up, and then he would throw the pill down their throat and make them swallow it, this way he made sure that everyone took the anti-malaria medication. One day Pearlman got real sick to his stomach and stayed in his tent. When Sergeant Dean called his name out and found out he was ill, he had him checked out. He was transferred to MASH unit in an ambulance. Once he arrived at the MASH unit, the major came up to him and said, “Joe, you got something that has to come out”. Pearlman had appendicitis, which required immediate surgery. Following the operation, Pearlman had to remain hospitalized for 30 days. He was there that he gained a lot of respect for the nurses. “They were wonderful!” said Pearlman. Pearlman recalls a fellow patient in the bed next to him had been strafed by an aircraft machine gun, and had been hit 5 times in the back. The nurses never left his side, keeping him alive until he pulled through. Their dedication and devotion to this man made a lasting impression on Pearlman.
After Pearlman got out of the hospital, the Major asked him to go on another advanced detachment, but Pearlman could not go. Even though he was out of the hospital, his wounds wouldn’t close because the air was so humid. It took months to heal. Pearlman stayed there another 9 months until the United States dropped the Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He had earned enough points through the system that would allow him to return home, and was looking forward to the end of his service in the Pacific. However they then brought all the young troops in from his unit, including him, and were told them that they were going to be sent to occupy Japan. The new unit was shipped to Japan, in a convoy of 12 ships, including 6 Landing Ship Tanks on each side. They didn’t have enough quarters for 105 men, so they put a tarp over the top and had people sleep outside. They were about halfway to Japan, when Halsey’s Typhoon hit. This typhoon had winds over 100 miles per hour. Three destroyers were sunk and a total of 790 lives were lost during the ferocious storm. Numerous other ships were damaged, along with over 100 aircraft which were swept overboard. Pearlman and his unit were 50 miles out but it still hit severely where they were. Pearlman gave his life jacket to someone else who didn’t have one, because he was a strong swimmer. He remembers the water going over the ship, and a lot of people got sea sick. The Captain’s monkey, which he brought to keep the crew amused also, got sea sick along with the crew. They had to go around the backside of Manila, to shelter them from the storm; otherwise they would have been capsized like many ships were during the typhoon. Once it passed, they left for Japan, and landed in Wakayama Bay. It was completely mined with bombs by the Japanese so that the United States would be unable to navigate through the bay safely. The United States had also mined the bay so that the Japanese could not get out. In order to get in, they followed single file behind a Japanese cutter. Once they landed they unpacked and set up camp. One of Mr. Pearlman’s scariest moments, was when he was assigned guard duty, having to watch the supply shed. He walked around for two hours, with his finger on the trigger. Although the war was technically over, and the surrender had been peaceful, he was fearful of being attacked during his watch.
Pearlman and his unit moved up to Nagoya and set up their base at the Toyota auto works factory, which was the only building left standing after continued bombing during the war. They were stationed at the factory for 6 months. The barracks were quite large; they had two floors each housing 60 men per section, divided by a cloth. Each section had a little stove, which was a fire hazard due to the wooden structure of the barracks. One evening a fire broke out on the first floor and worked its way up to the second floor where Pearlman was quartered; they escaped the fire by kicking down the jammed door, and barely got out. The fire was unable to be contained and all five barracks and all of the supplies were destroyed. The only thing Pearlman was able to grab was his Samurai sword; all of his uniforms including his jacket were gone.
From Nagoya, Japan Pearlman and his unit returned to San Francisco Bay in 1946. He recalls being about 50 miles away and watching for the sight of the Golden Gate Bridge. Unfortunately on the day they arrived, the fog was so thick, he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face. Thankfully, once they sailed into the middle of the bay the sun came out, and they saw a large sign that read “Welcome Home Soldiers!” From San Francisco he boarded a train back to Saint Louis. At every stop along the way, he and every other soldier on the train stopped and bought a quart of milk! Of all the food items the troops went without during the war, it was milk the troops missed the most. He arrived home with a feeling of complete joy. Although it was 2:00 a.m. when he arrived, his wife, cousins, and several friends, came out to meet him. Pearlman recalls, being received greatly, and remembers all of the Welcome Home banners. On January 30, 1946, Pearlman was honorably discharged, from the United States Army. Through his service he was awarded numerous medals, including the New Guinea campaign, Philippine campaign, Asiatic Theater, Good Conduct, two bronze stars and a Marksman medal.
After taking a break for 10 days, Pearlman went back to work at the US post office as a substitute clerk. He felt lucky to have his job back and was paid 75 cents an hour. Although he was thankful to have a job, he knew he did not want to work for the Post Office forever. He dreamed of becoming a podiatrist, but he gave up the opportunity, because it would require being away from his family for four years while he attended medical school. He later regretted the decision, because he had always dreamed of becoming a doctor. Several years later, he was presented with the opportunity to purchase a poultry farm in Chicago. Although it was a small store, it was good business. With hard work and a loyal employee named Sadie Temple, he built a successful business. Pearlman enjoyed being his own boss, and making his own decisions. Mr. Pearlman retired from the business, and moved to the Bay Area with his wife when he was 86 years old.
When reflecting on the war Mr. Pearlman stated that, the toughest part of his service was the loneliness; everyone was lonely. He felt it was difficult to transition from family life to being a soldier. He knew of a few men that were given section 8 discharge because they simply could not handle it. Although he was proud of his service in the Pacific during the war, due to his Jewish heritage, he regrets not fighting in Europe, against the Nazis. Mr. Pearlman believes that that the dropping of the atomic bomb was justified and necessary. According to Pearlman the soldiers who were serving knew it was what the US had to do. Although it killed over 100,000, it saved millions of American and Japanese lives. He believes that the Japanese would have resisted to the last person and there would have been mass casualties on both sides. “The Japanese were ferocious fighters. Truman had guts” said Pearlman.
Mr. Pearlman believes that other generations would benefit from serving as he did. Although it was lonely and hard, it was good experience. According to Pearlman, “They make men out of boys, who aren’t yet.” He was proud that although he knew nothing about the military when he went in, they made a pretty good soldier out of him. He was also proud of his service he did, and grew to appreciate this country. Although the war was lonely, soldiers came home, with a deeper appreciation for their country and their families. He ended with, “We appreciated everyday more.”
Interview by Nicholas Langevin on July 17, 2012.