CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Martin S. Siegel was born in New York City in December 1916 and worked as a scrap metal dealer in Linden, New Jersey. He worked salvaging batteries and other discarded metal until he enlisted in the United States Army in January 1941. Siegel entered service at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and received basic training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, before being assigned as a rifleman to the 60th Infantry Regiment.
While serving in the infantry, Siegel applied for a transfer to the Quartermaster Corps, where he thought he could use one of his civilian skills, recapping tires. Instead, he was sent to Fort Custer, Michigan for Military Police training. While at Fort Custer, he became friendly with his first sergeant. The sergeant told him that his father was, at one time, Hitler’s piano player, and that he had later developed a relationship with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Whatever the truth of that unlikely tale, the sergeant was removed from a roster assigning troops to overseas duty and Siegel replaced him on the list. While awaiting that reassignment, Siegel qualified for Military Police officer candidate school at Fort Hood, Texas. Upon graduation and commissioning as a second lieutenant from OCS, he was transferred to Camp Beal, California, where he joined the 738th Military Police Battalion, which soon shipped out across the Pacific on a Liberty Ship. In late 1944, after a short time in New Guinea, the 738th became part of the American invasion force headed for the Philippines. The unit landed on Leyte, and subsequently lost several men killed, although Siegel himself recalled being under fire only once.
In January 1945, the 738th moved to Luzon where Siegel remembered being shelled by the Japanese. With the fall of Manila, the battalion moved across Clark Field and into the city, where Lieutenant Siegel established a local police station and established headquarters in a brewery. He recalled that the local people, liberated from the Japanese, were very happy to see the American troops. The girls were very friendly, although some of them later proved to be prostitutes, which the Military Police had to deal with, along with other routine policing duty, including arresting thieves and traffic control. In the course of his duties, Siegel recalled firing his weapon only once, at a dog that posed a threat to the safety of his soldiers. Once order was established in Manila, the army provided recreational opportunities for soldiers, including a baseball field with lighting for night games.
Siegel was in the Philippines when the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. He expressed his conviction that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks brought about the end of the war. The 738th remained in Manila after the conflict’s conclusion. Siegel became unit mess officer, charged with overseeing and maintaining the quantity and quality of food available for the troops. He recalled that during that time he observed the hanging of two Japanese prisoners of war for war crimes. Siegel also met the movie actor Lou Ayers, who had starred in the anti-war film All Quiet on the Western Front and was a conscientious objector serving as a medic in a hospital.
By late 1945, Siegel had accumulated enough overseas points to return to the United States. He sailed to San Francisco aboard another Liberty Ship and was assigned to Fort Lewis, Washington, where he guarded prisoners of war for a short time before being transferred back to Fort Hood to guard other German prisoners. He remembered that the Germans were treated very well, but that some tried, but failed, to escape by tunneling out of the camp. They would remove dirt from the tunnel, store it in their pockets and then dump it in inconspicuous places, but were discovered by US soldiers.
Siegel was eventually sent to Fort Monmouth, NJ, from where he was discharged in January, 1946. He subsequently joined his father’s small business. He recalled that although he had never shared his wartime experiences with his children, he had learned to keep healthy and happy, and enjoy each day to its fullest. He stated that he did not regret his service and would, if able, do it all over again should the country face a war and he be able.
Lieutenant Siegel was awarded the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Ribbon w/ 2 battle stars, a unit citation with one battle star, and the American Defense and Good Conduct Medals.