Mr. Morton Hubert Tallen was born June 25, 1918 in Chicago, Illinois. His father had many occupations while Mr. Tallen was growing up, including a cab driver and working for a laundry. He credits his mother, a housewife, as the real breadwinner of the family. In spite of the depression that had gripped the nation, his mother managed to save $300 which she opened a grocery store with in their neighborhood. She worked long and hard, often 12 to 18 hours a day, but was happy doing it. His father quit his job and joined her to help run her grocery business. Mr. Tallen fondly remembers that his mother was a woman who could manage virtually everything. She was efficient and hardworking, while his father was a great talker, but not necessarily very efficient. He had a brother who also served in WWII. His brother joined the military in 1940, and went on to a long career in the military.
At the age of 24, Mr. Tallen had just finished law school. He had spent two years at Wright Junior College in Chicago, and an additional three years of law school at DePaul University. He finished law school in June and took the bar exam for the state of Illinois in September of 1941. He received the results that November. On December 10, 1941, three days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Mr. Tallen was drafted in the United States Army. He was ordered to report to Camp Roberts, California to attend basic training. Although he did not like being away from his family, he took the training seriously. Upon arrival at basic training he, and many others in his group, realized that they were not in good physical condition. However, at the end of basic training they were all “gung ho”, and were in the best shapes of their lives.
The law background that Mr. Tallen entered into the Army with was quickly put to good use. After graduation from basic training he was assigned to the 35th division. He served with the 35th division for 15 months, and was a Buck Private. His general duties were assisting the prosecuting attorneys for the division of court marshals. He would conduct the court marshal investigations. Most of the crimes wee committed through the various companies stated in the greater Los Angeles area, so he would travel by jeep and talk to the soldiers involved. Sometimes the soldiers were incarcerated, and sometimes not. During his preliminary investigation they would decide what level of court marshal the solider would receive. These included a Captains Court marshal, a special court marshal, or a general court marshal. The general court marshal was the highest, and could carry a death sentence. While serving with the 35th division, Mr. Tallen was involved in his only service related injury. He was in a jeep accident that resulted in a broken nose. General moral was good in the 35th division, and communicating with family was easy. He was able to write letters to his family, and went home to Chicago several times on leave.
The 35th division was also responsible for guarding against a Japanese attack of the Los Angeles area. However, after 15months, the Army realized that the likelihood of an attack was remote, and they moved the entire 35th division to Camp Rucker, Alabama for intensive combat training. Mr. Tallen applied for the Army Specialized Training Program, and was sent to the University of Pittsburg to learn Russian in a 9 month course. He believes he was accepted into the language program because he had taken French in college. After completing 6 months of the 9 month course, the United States government canceled the program and his entire division was sent to the 91st division for immediate combat. Mr. Tallen was selected out, and sent to Camp Richie, Maryland to attend a military intelligence camp. It was t here that he was trained as a photo interpreter, a job that he held for the remainder of his Army career. A photo interpreter is an important part of military intelligence. With the use of a stereoscope, images that had been taken at different angles could be combined to give an exaggerated depth perception. The photographs were obtained by flying air sorties over enemy front lines at over 20,000 feet. Because of the different angles taken, the pictures analyzed by the photo interpreters through the stereoscope would appear as if the picture were taken at 7000 feet. This allowed photo interpreters such as Mr. Tallen, to indentify targets for the air corps and artillery. The United States then knew where to attack, and what to expect from the Germans.
Mr. Tallen’s first assignment in Europe was when he was stationed in London. He was assigned to a new division, the 75th. He received intensive training on photo interpretation and practiced up on their skills. He remembers his living accommodations in London were pretty good. They were living in Chelsea, a suburb of London. Mr. Tallen recalls that at that time London was under attack by the Germans. The Germans had Buzz Bombs which is basically a jet plane without a pilot. They couldn’t be aimed well, but it was more of a scare tactic which worked well. The Buzz bombs were launched from France and were responsible for killing over 40,000 Londoners. He remembers that you couldn’t tell in advance where or when they were going to hit. Although 40,000 deaths in London was quite a lot, Mr. Tallen pointed out that during the bombing of Hamburg, the United States killed over 40,000 in one night. From London, Mr. Tallen was sent to the Luxembourg to pick up maps for interpretations. However they found out that Luxembourg had been captured by the Germans, and the Battle of the Bulge had begun. They were moved to the north side of the Bulge, where thankfully the fighting was relatively calm. Mr. Tallen recalls being subject to artillery, but at that point the Germans were running out of fuel and supplies, so they very rarely were attacked. Because the Germans were sending old training planes armed for combat, they were able to shoot down a few planes by simply firing their rifles. He remembers clearly being strafed one day. Not having much experience with being under attack, Mr. Tallen threw himself on the ground, directly across the path of the firing. Luckily he was not hit, but it was a memory that was forever etched in his mind.
The living conditions while fighting the Battle of the Bulge were not bad. Mr. Tallen was thankful that he was not stationed on the front line, as many of those soldiers were subject to freezing conditions and some had to have their feet amputated. In the division Mr. Tallen served in, they were often in houses that had been abandoned. They ate plentiful as well. They were given ample supplies of both C and D rations. According to Mr. Tallen, a C-ration contains a can of beans or something similar. A D-ration contains an appetizer, main course, and dessert. They even came with cigarettes! Not everyone liked the C and D-rations, but Mr. Tallen felt they were fine. His final assignment in WWII was being stationed in Switzerland. Mr. Tallen explained that how when the war ended in Europe, we were still fighting in Japan. The result was thousands of American GI’s, who in celebrating the end of the war, created a lot of problems with their behavior. This was particularly true in France, where GI’s were routinely getting drunk and not finding anything constructive to do. The American government was unable to ship the soldiers back to the United States as the ships were being used in the Pacific theater. The government came up with a plan to open schools in Switzerland, and transport the soldiers there until they could be sent home to the United States. Mr. Tallen was on the advance party, scouting out the schools and organizing the movement of American GI’s to Switzerland. He remembers it as the better part of his service, as the war had ended and the living conditions were wonderful. The Japanese surrendered abruptly on September 2, 1945, freeing up the ships to return to the European Theater and return the American GI’s to the United States. The plan to move the troops to Switzerland never materialized. In November 1945, Mr. Tallen was flown home from Switzerland, his first opportunity to travel onboard an airplane!
His service in Europe in World War II included the five battles of Normandy, Northern France, Arden (Battle of the Bulge), Rhineland and Central Europe. He was awarded the Victory medal, American Theater ribbon, and the European/African/Middle Eastern Theater ribbon. He was awarded a silver battle star which was indicative that he served in five battles. He is an active member in the American Legion, AMVETS, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Mr. Tallen was discharged on November 18, 1945 as a staff sergeant in Ft. Sheridan, Illinois and returned to Chicago, Illinois. Because he had passed the bar one month before being drafted, he thought he would join a law firm or start his own practice. However, thousands of other young men were being released as well with his same credentials, and he realized that the chances of getting a good paying job in the legal field was slim. He found out that the Department of Veterans Affairs was hiring attorneys, so he applied. He began work for them in 1946 as a Grade 7, and retired 35 years later as a Grade 15. He worked in offices in Chicago, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and San Francisco. He “retired” in Marin County in 1981. However, he didn’t enjoy retired life at all, and found himself visiting the Marin County Veterans Service office to offer to volunteer. As luck would have it, he entered the office on the day that the veterans’ representative was retiring, and they did not have a replacement. He was given the job as the Marin County Veterans Service Officer, a position he held for over 30 years. He retired from that position at the age of 92!!
When reflecting about his service, Mr. Tallen remembered a humorous event that happened to him while attending basic training in 1941. He was having dinner in the mess hall, with one of his new friends, and found a cockroach in his soup. His new buddy couldn’t take it and called the mess sergeant over, who in turn called the cook over. The cook was chewed out pretty well in front of everyone, and Mr. Tallen was presented with a new bowl of soup. Three years later, nearly to the day as Mr. Tallen recalls, he found himself fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. They had not had hot food for days, so he was looking forward to the bowl of soup that had been prepared. Floating in the soup was a cockroach. This time, Mr. Tallen simply scooped out the cockroach with his spoon and continued to eat.
His experience in the Army helped to shape his life. As he states, “As you get older you go through various things and gain experience. ”I got a hell of a lot of experience in the service”, he recalled. ”You make buddies, you create enemies, and I did all that while I was in the Army. You learn. You learn about human nature.” He hopes that future generations learn from the service of his generation. “War is stupid”, he explains. ”It’s so damn stupid. Success is marked by the number of people you kill, and the property you destroy.” After his service in WWII he thought to himself that he had done it. “It had been horrible, but it would mean that there would never be another war. I was wrong.” He concluded by remarking that he was not sorry he had served our country. He was glad to be able to do it, and to have come out alive, with only a broken nose to show for it. He never thought of not serving or avoiding service. He is proud to have served in the US Army defending the United States. He served our country in the Army, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and in the Marin Country Veterans Service office for over 70 years, until the age of 92.
Interview by Nick Langevin on October 26, 2012.