CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
In the immediate aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack, Kearny, New Jersey native Robert Hakim attempted to join the Marine Corps; but, his parents would not sign the required permission slip. Then he tried to enlist as an officer candidate in the Navy. Hakim passed all the required tests but was rejected for a lack of color perception. He decided to wait to be drafted. He worked at Wright Aeronautical Company as a clerk, as well as took night classes at Seton Hall University. On June 19, 1943, at the age of 23, E. Robert Hakim was drafted into the United States Army.
After his induction, Hakim was sent to Fort Dix for basic training, and then to Camp Grant, a medical training school in Illinois. There, due to his civilian job and college courses, he was trained in clerical duties. Hakim recalled: “I never touched a gun because it was a medical place, and medical people did not bear arms…so I took all my training there.” After completion of his training course, he was sent to Boston, from where he embarked for Great Britain. Hakim described his voyage as a rough one, recalling one time when the waves were fifty feet high:
“I got out of my bunk … crawled up to the top, and I have never seen in all my life, even to this day, such high waves. We were at the peak, and then one moment later we were slapping down to the bottom…so I crawled back down to my bunk, where in the meantime all the guys in the other bunks were throwing up. I happened to have the top bunk, and I was so glad, because the guys under me were getting wiped out.”
On arriving in Britain, Hakim received orders to go to London, where he was assigned to the Claims Investigation office at the Seventh U.S. Army Headquarters, where he became part of the office team. The office was located at the Hotel Stratford, across from Buckingham Palace. His job was to settle any damage claims brought against the Army by British civilians. Most of the claims dealt with theft, although a few were initiated because of rape and murder charges. He was authorized to settle the less egregious claims in amounts up to $5,000.
As to his time in London, Hakim recalled that it was a great assignment. “Life in London — we would go out to eat and go to the USO.” He spoke of a night where he and a friend went to a dance at the Astoria Ballroom, where he met Allison, an Irish/English woman who worked for a London photographer, and who would later become his wife. Hakim summed up his time in London as: “like a moving picture, because there was romance, war, and death — the whole thing. We would go out to the best places in London; in the meantime, V-1 “flying bombs” were coming down… it became a way of life…we had a good time.”
Shortly after D-Day, Hakim’s team moved to France. He remembered landing on Omaha Beach and seeing broken and abandoned equipment still scattered all over. Hakim and his fellow soldiers were transported by truck to Cherbourg, where they established a headquarters office. He recalled traveling with his lieutenant to a small town in Normandy to set up a smaller office for local people to file claims. Then they returned to the main office, which subsequently moved from Cherbourg to Coutainville. Hakim spoke about the scenery of the French countryside and getting to know the local people. He described Coutainville as a gorgeous resort and compared it to Spring Lake, New Jersey. Hakim recalled that, after his unit arrived in the town, “it was a moonlit night, and we had just moved in. We all went down to the water and jumped into the sea. I remember that very clearly.”
Once the American army advanced into Germany, Hakim’s office followed and was assigned to settling claims against the army made by German civilians. He thought the Germans were no different from the “regular man.” Hakim said that some were “just like us — some of the men in the army were drafted just like we were into the war. Maybe they didn’t want to go off to war.” He said they were (or at least claimed to be) unaware of the Holocaust. While in Germany, Hakim was issued his first firearm, an M-1 rifle.
Following the end of the war in Europe, Hakim’s office remained in Heidelberg, Germany, processing claims. He was able to get leave time to fly back to London on December 14, 1945, to marry Allison, the girl he had met before going to France. After the wedding, Hakim hitched a ride back to Germany with a lieutenant who was piloting a two-seater plane. Once in the air, the officer asked Hakim if he wanted to fly the plane, to which he answered, “yeah sure I’ll fly,” so he took over the controls and flew a plane for the first time in his life. They landed in Paris to refuel, and the plane started to shake as they were riding down the runway to take off. The lieutenant attributed it to the wind; but, when they landed in Germany, the aircraft began to veer all over the runway. Once stopped, they discovered that the cause was a flat tire.
When he was ready to rotate home and be discharged, Hakim was offered a civilian job with the claims office in Germany for $20,000 a year, but he turned it down and headed home, arriving back in New Jersey in early March 1946, where he was discharged at Fort Dix. His wife followed from England and arrived the following month.
Hakim described the day his returning troopship entered the Hudson River, and the soldiers on board saw the Statue of Liberty. He recalled that “every man on the deck was crying and cheering and shouting, “we’re home, we’re home!” and that you had to be there to perceive it. Hakim said, “here we were, home at last, and She symbolized freedom, She symbolized the United States of America, She symbolized basically why we were over there… there She stood — the Statue of Liberty.” It was a moment frozen in memory that he would never forget. E Robert Hakim reached the rank of Technical Sergeant and earned the WWII Victory Medal, the European, African and Middle East Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal during his two and a half years in service.
After his discharge, Hakim returned to college, finished his BS degree with the assistance of the GI Bill and became a teacher. He and Allison had four children. On the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day, the Hakims with their relatives toured France and Belgium, and they visited the military cemetery near Cherbourg. He said it reminded him of the World War I poem, “In Flanders Fields,” by John McCrae, and that such a visit should be compulsory for politicians.