Machinist Mate 2nd Class — United States Navy
World War 2 (1942-1946)
Martin Dvorin has survived by realizing the importance of comedy. Whether it be overseas or in his education, Dvorin has led a life guided by laughter. This laughter has brought him fulfilment of not only a family, but military and career success. Mr. Dvorin serves as a great role model today as someone who has never lost sight of himself and let his quick-witted attitude and hunger for education lead him.
Born in Brownsville, Brooklyn on January 31, 1923, Martin Dvorin spent the first 13 years of his childhood in New York. It wasn’t until 1936 that his family uprooted and moved to Linden New Jersey. He stayed there through high school and was still living in Linden when he enlisted in the Navy in November of 1942.
His mother worked as a bemedaled stenographer for famous movie stars at the time, including Norma Shearer. According to Dvorin, in his childhood, “Hollywood was in New York City.” His father worked making women’s hats. Though neither parents served in the military, all of Dvorin’s cousins except one enlisted. None of them were drafted, and all of them survived the war. One of his cousins, Danny Dvorin, was at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed.
Before enlisting, Dvorin worked as a model and toolmaker at General Instrument Corporation in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Though his work was valuable, he recalled the anti-semitism he experienced there daily. “I was surrounded by a bunch of American Nazis. German-American guys. There was some talk about siding with Germany. They were anti-semites. I’m Jewish, so I was really sensitive to that.” Dvorin recognizes that he could have easily passed up on the opportunity to go to war, but seeing that many of his friends were enlisting, Dvorin decided to follow suit. He was in active duty from 1942 to 1946 in various positions in the Navy. When he told his family, he was met with an emotional response.
Dvorin chose to enlist in the Navy as opposed to another branch because, in his words, “I was afraid of water and didn’t know how to swim.” His basic training took place in Newport, Rhode Island. There, he learned to march and follow military procedures. There he also joined the entertainment team. “They discovered that I had a mouth. So I did stand-up comedian work and sang.” While Dvorin kept himself and many of his peers entertained with his natural comedic flare, he also began an educational journey in the Navy. During times that Dvorin was not on active duty, he was progressively sent to higher education. From Newport he was sent to the Wentworth Institute in Boston to learn about Naval Machinery. There he was the top of the class of 15,000 recruits, and even earned a medal for it.
From Boston, Dvorin was sent to the Great Lakes, Milwaukee, where he attended the Nordberg School for more training. There he received some preliminary engineering training of Uniflow engines. He also spent time in San Francisco on Shore Patrol, and eventually Sydney, Australia. It was in Sydney that he worked as security for the offices that were doing the secret codes for the Allied Forces in the South Pacific. His job was to protect not only the codes, but the people working on them as well. “The sign on the office door said, ‘John Sands Party, Ltd. Comic Books.’ We were doing the secret codes for the South Pacific Allied Forces.” In a frightening encounter, two members of Dvorin’s detail in Sydney were mysteriously found dead. The Navy pulled the rest of the detail immediately in case of a breach. Dvorin still wonders about the deaths of those two men, which easily could have been nothing relating to military work. Dvorin enlisted as an apprentice seaman and in his time in Sydney reached machinist mate 2nd class.
While in Sydney, Dvorin was put up in hotels. “I remember this. The elevator was run by hydraulic power, water. So you pulled on a cord to make it go up. You pushed on a cord to make it go down. We had contact with many music stars at the time. Artie Shaw, these were big bands and they came through.” Dvorin also spent time getting accustomed to Australian cuisine. In the memoirs Dvorin has written, he has a whole story entitled, “A Knife,” in which he discusses not only the Australian food, but the traveling path of a knife he bought in San Francisco in 1943. The knife went on to liberate concentration camps, in the possession of Dvorin’s friend.
For entertainment overseas, Dvorin spent time with his girlfriend in Sydney. They attended shows and Jewish services. Dvorin also had a girlfriend back in the states, which kept him plenty busy. Because of the unique location and assignment, Dvorin spent time interacting with the Australian military as well. “We got along very well with the Australian military. And the Aborigines. It was the first time I saw a black person with an English accent. Kind of blew my mind.” In Sydney, the group of 16 that Dvorin worked with, all spent time together as friends. When asked about how he coped with his experiences, he said, “There was no ‘coping’ to do. It was great!”
Though Dvorin was able to communicate with his family back home via letters, his letters were all screened before they were sent home. However, in general, Dvorin had a comfortable living situation in Sydney. There were no shortages he experienced. While in Sydney, Dvorin did not experience any injuries, though one of his friends did leaving him with 100 percent disability. “He was grateful to me for the rest of his life, having helped him,” Dvorin said. Dvorin also received some Overseas awards and a Good Conduct medal for World War 2.
Dvorin eventually commissioned a tug boat in Sydney, and took it up to Cairns, Australia on the Great Barrier Reef to continue his work. “The Navy saw that I was not a guy to be with a big bunch of guys doing the same thing. The Navy had special stuff for me to do.” Along the Great Barrier Reef, Dvorin worked in enlisting duty. Along the Great Barrier Reef, Dvorin remembered when the second-class bosun experienced severe injuries from 40-ton crane falling on him. On one seemingly normal day during his time on the tug boat, Dvorin was woken up by the skipper of the base climbing into his bunk. “He said, ‘Dvorin?’ I said, ‘Yeah?’ And he said, ‘Shave that goddamn beard. We’re sending you back to the States for engineering school.’”
In 1945, the Navy sent Dvorin to what he regards as the best school in the world: Columbia University. While at Columbia, Dvorin had to adjust to a new setting. “I was thrown together in a new population. We were all there to learn. The Navy considered us to be pretty good, having sent us there. Later in life I learned some of these students who had achieved remarkable things.”
Returning back to the states, Dvorin felt he was treated very well. A custom tailor he knew that had promised him a custom-made suit upon his return followed through and made Mr. Dvorin a custom suit of his own. However, Dvorin was amazed to meet Holocaust Survivors. “I got to know Holocaust Survivors pretty quick after I came back. And that really was a shock to me. Of course, a lot of us did not know what was going on in Germany.”
He remained at Columbia for several semesters in the mechanical engineering school until after the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war. The Navy was eager to keep Dvorin after the war, but after several months, Dvorin resigned from Columbia University to go back into general service. Soon after, he was honorably discharged in April of 1946. Dvorin went back to the general population with a new outlook on life, “I knew I was not going back to being a laborer. I went back to General Instrument Corporation, which was obligated to give me back my job after the War… I finally got employment with the assistant chief engineer, he said, ‘Hello Marty. What can we do for you?’ I said, ‘I want to be a technician on automatic record chargers. I want to start in two weeks. And I want to get $50 a week.’ That was big money then.” He did indeed start the job a few weeks later, which pleased both his wife and mother-in-law who questioned the availability of jobs for Dvorin after his service.
The course of his life had forever changed. The education he was able to receive led Dvorin to the path of his life: becoming a professional technician. He ended up receiving multiple degrees in engineering and earning himself some executive positions throughout his life. After his honorable discharge, Dvorin attended the New Jersey Institute of Technology and earned himself a degree in management engineering. He was even elected to the Engineering Honor Society, Tau Beta Pi. Dvorin also took some undergraduate classes in the fine arts at Rutgers University. Continuing his educational journey, Dvorin did graduate work at the Stevens Institute in Hoboken at the North Jersey Institute of Technology. He also earned a master’s degree at the University of Rochester.
Dvorin spent time working at Monroe Community College. Though his time in the Navy came to an end, Dvorin continued to contribute to the United States wellbeing through furthering the industry of technology and engineering. Today many of the inventions he has made and contributed to have been wildly successful. One of his inventions was used to plot lunar landing sites for the men on the moon. In 1959, General Electric bought the patents to a new concept for record changers that Dvorin had invented, and eventually they profited billions of dollars.
Dvorin is still very sturdy in his decisions. Though he risked things to be at war, spent nearly four years away from home, and made countless sacrifices, he knew that he had signed up for four years of service and needed no motivation to keep going. The friends he made throughout the service have lasted Dvorin his lifetime, though some live overseas. One friend stayed in Australia and got married to a girl he had met there. Dvorin recalls some meetings at Columbia University to gather his class again, though they were not official reunions. Today, he is a member of the Jewish War Veterans organization.
The most difficult part of service for Dvorin was leaving. “I had to make a decision to leave, and go into the unknown.” Throughout his service, Dvorin experienced an almost unreal version of the events he experienced overseas. “Everything is documented. Yet, it’s a fiction to me. You get the mindset. When I was out there, we took chances I never would have taken in civilian life, because my civilian life was a fiction at that time too. We were called to do some rescue work on a ship that had taken a torpedo. A lot of gore. We were called to rescue an East Indian merchant machine, marine, that had backed down on its hawser, the top row was towing it. We took a lot of chances, but it was work.” Dvorin doesn’t believe he sacrificed anything to be in the war. The experiences the Navy gave him built the foundation for his future. He recalls one time before he left for the Navy when he called his Rabbi in Linden, New Jersey. When he asked the Rabbi what he should do about the army feeding him non-kosher food, the Rabbi responded saying, “Whatever they feed you, you have to get strong and fight the energy, and beat Hitler, and save the Jews. So whatever they put in front of you, you eat! But don’t enjoy it!” Though Dvorin recognizes these sacrifices of being in the military, the guidance and foundation the Navy provided him was larger than any sacrifice he could make.
Being in the military gave Dvorin a new outlook on life. He focused on educating himself as much as he could, and still today continues to search for new knowledge. As a kid, Dvorin was told by his parents that even applying to college was silly because he and his brother were going straight to work. However, his brother is a chemical engineer and Dvorin had a very successful engineering career. Dvorin spent time after his service caring for several Vietnam Veterans, whom he felt were being treated very unfairly upon their return home.
Dvorin strongly believes that all young people should have not only a military experience, but a community college experience. Dvorin believes students can build upon military and community college experiences, and they are great opportunities. Dvorin also believes Americans should remember the losses from Vietnam and recent wars. He feels that World War 2 was the last war the United States participated in that was justified. His final advice for future generations was simple, “Build your schooling and education from a humble start.”
Throughout his life, Martin Dvorin has kept his head high and focus clear. His key to life after nearly 94 years comes from the everyday intangible item that heals all: humor. “I’m 93 years old, heading for 94. That’s a big number! I’ve had many, many scary experience, many near-death experiences, not all related to the military. What pulled me through each time, what keeps me going, is humor.” From his time doing stand-up at training to light-hearted jokes in this very interview, Dvorin has embraced humor his entire life.
Martin Dvorin embraced his time in the service to learn as much as possible. The Navy sent him on a lifelong journey of education and high aspirations as an engineer. Dvorin was able to conquer his industry and bring his quick wits and eager-to-learn attitude with him all throughout. Despite the challenges life can bring, Mr. Dvorin has survived and flourished, and will continue to do so.
Interview conducted by Emily Sweet on January 9, 2017.