CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
World War II Oral History Interview
US Army Air Corps, 20th Combat Map Squadron
Date: March 23, 2016
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Dean Medina
Richard Eisenman was born in 1923 in Clawson, Michigan. He was living a rather simple and quiet life as a drug store clerk when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. As a result, Eisenman’s life would get much more complicated and less quiet. In early 1943 he received a letter advising him that he had been “selected” to be drafted. Eisenman reported as directed, but he did not think that he would be accepted, since he had poor hearing and was underweight. He was wrong.
And so Richard Eisenman left his quiet life behind for the U.S Army. He trained at Fort Custer, Michigan, Fort Sheridan, Illinois and then Fort Kearns, Utah. Eisenman recalled that the training was rigorous and tough, and a radical change from his civilian life. He wasn’t used to being rushed around and harassed by demanding drill instructors. Some people adjust well to military life, and others have to struggle through the sweat and mud — Eisenman was among the latter. One of his memories is of exhausted recruits being pushed to the point of collapsing during forced marches.
After completing his training, Eisenman was assigned to the U.S Army Air Force in the war’s Pacific Theater, where he served with the 20th Combat Map Squadron of the 5th Air Force as a medical technician, tasked with assisting more professionally trained medical men. Eisenman did not enjoy his trip across the Pacific. The ship he sailed on was large, but overcrowded, with severely cramped quarters. Men slept in bunks that were little more than jury-rigged hammocks. In addition to the lack of comfort, if a heavy or large man was in the bunk above, he would often make such a depression in his bunk that from below it appeared about ready to collapse on the occupant of the lower bunk.
After arriving at his unit, stationed in Sydney, Australia, Eisenman’s duties involved keeping patient records, driving ambulances and escorting injured men around the base, as well as assisting doctors with whatever they needed. Although he had received no real medical training and had no experience in medicine aside from working in a drug store, Eisenman was also assigned to perform nursing duties. Living was easy in Sydney, and because there were no combat wounded men on the base, he had a lot of free time. The one requirement Eisenman had to fulfill was showing up for roll call every morning. He and his fellow soldiers spent a lot of time touring Sidney, and he remarked in retrospect that he could sleep in a hotel in the city and still make roll call in the morning as long as he moved quickly enough.
After spending some time in Sydney, Eisenman was deployed to Port Moresby, New Guinea, where living conditions were much different from what they had been in Australia. On one occasion a wild boar and several snakes were discovered in the unit’s camping area. Insects were omnipresent and the heat oppressive. Although he was near the front lines, Eisenman was not allowed to carry a weapon on most occasions, although later on, serving in the Philippines, he sometimes carried a pistol.
After the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Eisenman was transferred to a camp near Manila, the capital of the Philippines, where he was tasked with aiding both soldiers and local civilians. He worked in a Filipino hospital alongside both Filipino and American doctors. Eisenman also worked at Clark Airfield. He often shared food with the Filipino people and thought highly of them, recalling that they were good workers and always ready to help. On one occasion, Eisenman was transporting a woman with a large laceration to the hospital in an ambulance, when he was suddenly pulled over by a military policeman for speeding. When questioned as to what he was doing, he told the policeman that he was trying to save a woman’s life, and was waved on his way.
Eisenman was transferred once more, to Okinawa, where he found himself stationed at the time of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which forced the Japanese government to surrender and end World War II. He recalled that the resultant celebration included a startling battleship heavy gun salute. Eisenman was relieved that he would finally be able to go home. Before he left, Okinawa was subjected to a powerful typhoon, which destroyed tents, food and other supplies. Eisenman remembered hiding underneath a large utility truck to take cover from the storm. The aftermath left him and his fellow soldiers without food, other than poor tasting, pre-packaged rations, for several days.
Eisenman remained in Okinawa for months after hostilities had ended. He arrived in Seattle, Washington on December 5, and was issued a winter coat, which was oversized. Since Eisenman was a rather slim man, he recalled that it made him look silly. He returned to Michigan and to his drug store job. In 1947 Eisenman visited an uncle who had a contracting business in Avon, New Jersey. He decided that he liked the New Jersey shore lifestyle; in 1948 Eisenman began living with and working for his uncle.
Eisenman met his future wife, Marge, in New Jersey. They married in 1952 and bought a house in Spring Lake Heights, using a GI Bill mortgage. The Eisenmans had two children, a son Donald and daughter Diane. Eisenman is now a great-grandfather. His grandson Justin followed his grandfather’s military footsteps by becoming a US army doctor. Eisenman retired in 1988 as a roadway superintendent. He said he enjoys retirement because he keeps active, playing cards and golfing with his friends. Eisenman said that his secret to life, simply put, is “Just keep moving!”
Richard Eisenman passed away in May 2019.