CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Harold J. Kauffmann
World War II Oral History Interview
US Army, Ordnance Corps
Date: May 2, 2018
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Rowan Elrais
Harold J. Kauffmann was born in March 1925. In his early years, he lived with his family in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Kauffmann was in high school when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Following his graduation in 1943, he was drafted into the army. When Kauffmann was drafted, his family did not have much of a reaction, as by that time it was normal for 18-year-old boys to be drafted. Although he lived with his parents and his sister, he was used to being independent. Kauffmann mentioned his motorcycle several times during the interview, and how the bike gave him a sense of freedom, so leaving home was not a traumatic change for him.
When asked what the biggest change the war brought to his life was, Kauffmann said everything before the war was a blur; but, he remembered that the biggest change while he was still a civilian was food shortages, and how it was difficult to get something as simple as a can of beans. There was not much for him to adjust to at the beginning of his service; however, he did make a joke about being a “Yankee” in the South during part of his training.
Kauffmann was sent to Fort Dix for basic training, then from there to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland for advanced Ordnance Corps training, where he put his high school electrical shop classes to use. Boot camp was not out of the ordinary for him. He considered some of his commanding officers great, and some not so much. After his training, Kauffmann was sent on different assignments, including working on tanks and helping with equipment experiments. He even worked on a captured German Tiger tank, which was later put on display at Aberdeen Proving Grounds’ US Army Ordnance Museum. By the time Kauffmann was done with training and special assignments, the conflict with Germany had ended, and he was put into “casual status,” at Aberdeen, which meant he was not assigned to any specific unit, just projects and training other “casuals.” Most of the work he did was engine related, but he was also a squad leader and helped train incoming troops in basic skills.
Kauffmann served a total of twenty-one months, worked on many projects and met many people. He had an abundance of stories, from a light-hearted tale of the time he gave two nurses a ride on his motorcycle, to more tragic ones, such as the soldier who lost his life on Christmas Eve. When Kauffmann’s training and work at Aberdeen were completed, the war with Japan was still on-going, so he and fellow soldiers took a train from New Jersey to Seattle, Washington. On the way, the train stopped at Rockport, Illinois, and the local civilians gave the soldiers care packages and wished them safe home. As Kauffmann reminisced, he mentioned that it was nice to have people care and go out of their way to bring gifts.
On reaching Seattle, Kauffmann and his comrades boarded a Liberty ship, where he worked in the kitchen washing dishes and sweeping the floors on the voyage. By this time the Japanese had surrendered, and the unit landed at Ishiyama, Japan, and then moved to Okinawa, where Kauffmann spent the rest of his time in service as part of the occupation force.
Kauffmann’s job on Okinawa was repairing and rebuilding American equipment, and he rose in rank from private to sergeant. One of his most memorable stories happened on August 31, when General Douglas MacArthur came to Okinawa to accept an award from the Navy. Kauffmann knew he was watching history be made.
Once the war was officially over, Kauffmann could not go home right away, because the military had a point system. The point system was intended to give credits enabling earlier discharge to soldiers who had been in service longer, and who had been overseas longer. He had many postwar stories about his time in Okinawa after the war, and his interactions with local civilians, including one about how he saved a local girl named Sumi from two drunken American soldiers. The village women were very kind to him and taught him how to count to ten in Japanese. Kauffmann noted that the Japanese prisoners of war at the base were treated better by the Americans than by their own government — they were paid for their labor, as well as driven to and from their villages, so they would not have to live on the base.
Kauffmann was sent home with an honorable discharge in April 1946, a few weeks after his birthday. He recalled that his family was not overly excited about his return, stating that; “it was as if I never left; I came home, and everything was still the same.” Kauffmann married his high school sweetheart, Cathleen. They had kept diaries for each other, writing about their daily lives, so they could exchange them when he returned home. He used his GI Bill, both to buy a home as well as to learn to fly a plane.
At the time of his interview, Kauffmann was living in New Jersey and was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. There were not many people he kept in touch with, but he did go to one reunion after the war, at his old commander’s home in the Bronx. At the end of the interview, Kauffmann went through photos from his time in the war as well as his wedding.
Harold J. Kauffmann passed away on July 6, 2020.