Interview with George E. Laypoole
Interviewed by Mark T. McCracken
Interviewed on May 15, 2003
At Mark T. McCracken’s residence
MM: Today is Thursday, May 13th 2003, and this is the beginning of an interview with George Laypoole at this home at 853 North Washington Street in Marion, Indiana. Mr. Laypoole is sixty-nine years old, having been born September 8th, 1933. My name is Mark McCracken and I’ll be the interviewer. George Laypoole is my grandfather. He is my mother’s father. What war and branch of service did you serve in?
GL: U.S. Army… corps of engineers.
MM: And what war?
GL: During the Korean conflict.
MM: What was your rank?
MM: Where did you serve?
GL: I served in United States basic training Fort Leonard, Missouri and I went from basics to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey and from there to Germany, Bremerhaven port of deportation, from there, I was stationed in Munich with the seventh engineer battalion, fifth infantry division.
MM: Where were you living at the time?
GL: With my mom and dad at 816 North Branson Street, Marion, Indiana.
MM: Why did you join the army?
GL: Well, I… figured the draft would get me sooner or later, so I didn’t have no ties or attachments, no girlfriend or anything like that, no debts. So I figured “Well I’ll get in and get it over with, get my time in, get back home and get my life started again.”
MM: Why did you pick the army?
GL: Well that was… really… the best… service I could think of to get in right at the time other than the other services almost require careers. I didn’t want to make a career out of the military. I was in military training from the time I was nine years old till I was sixteen at Children’s Ohio Soldiers and Sailors Orphans home where we learned all the basics about drill and marching and arms and all this stuff and I decided I didn’t want no part of it. So, that’s why.
MM: Did you join the army before or during the war?
GL: During the Korean conflict. It was finishing up in ’53… and I joined in ’53. When I got out of basic training, they were more or less “mop up” operations in Korea at the time. I thought maybe I might go there, but I didn’t. My orders were cut for Germany.
MM: Do you recall your first days in service?
GL: Yeah, I spent a week, I think, at Fort Knox, Kentucky with the third armor division for pre-orientation and I went from there to Fort Leonard, Missouri for my basic training which was sixteen weeks. Bridge-building, rigging, engineer school, how to build roads, airstrips and so forth.
MM: What did it feel like?
GL: At first, homesick because you’re not used to that life and discipline and strictness and its just something you have to adjust to but after a month or so you get used to it, get in the groove.
MM: Tell me about your boot camp experiences.
GL: We learned how to build timber trussle bridges. We learned how to set up bridges for demolition, to blow them out. We learned how to minesweep and uncover personnel mines and the other types of mines… We learned how to take compass readings. We ran infiltration courses. Muddy, under barbed wire, gunfire over our heads. It was about like the real thing.
MM: Do you remember your instructors?
GL: Yeah, they were pretty strict, but they had to be to make us be the kind of soldiers we should be, to keep us from getting killed cause good discipline and good training goes into that.
MM: How did you get through it?
GL: Great. Came through with flying colors, with good physical shape and all.
MM: What did you think of the Korean War?
GL: I thought it was something that we had to do to keep the communists from taking over, which was our aim at that time and if we did not stop them there, we’d be stopping them somewhere else.
MM: Where exactly did you go?
GL: I went to Germany, stationed in Munich with an engineer battalion. Then we went out on War Games there in Germany. Simulating War Games: building bridges, went out to summer camps [unclear]. I went over there in November, just when it was getting cold and snowing and no sooner had I joined the company and they said “You’re going into the field.” So I went out into the field and stayed two weeks right off the bat.
MM: Do you remember arriving in Munich and what it was like?
GL: I’d never been in a foreign country and I was looking at all the buildings and the landmarks. I really enjoyed it because I like traveling myself. I decided while I was over there, I was going to see all I could see.
MM: What was your job?
GL: My first job was… a regular GI at first… learning about bridge-building and general engineer stuff, but then it wasn’t too long after that I went to cooking. I cooked there for eighteen months for all the troops. Enjoyed it.
MM: Were you awarded any medals or citations?
GL: I was awarded German Occupation ribbon, Good Conduct ribbon, and Expert Marksman Rifleman’s ribbon and there was one National Defense ribbon.
MM: How did you get them?
GL: By being in that theater at the time and during the Korean War, which I wasn’t in that theater but I was in during the time that was happening. That’s why they gave us the priority to wear them.
MM: While in Germany, did you see any wounded soldiers coming from Korea?
GL: No, but I did see soldiers who were in Korea that I talked to that were in my outfit cause the Korean conflict was already over with and they were shipped out of there to different places all over the world. Some of them came to Germany. I had a couple of buddies there from Korea and they really… said it was kind of a bloody mess there, but they got through it.
MM: Were local Germans resentful of your presence?
GL: No, they really welcomed us because we helped the local economy with all the GI’s and everything. We put money into the towns and the people around there bought all their stuff and the U.S. Army bought a lot of their farm produce: eggs, milk, bread, all that stuff. They really boosted their economy. They liked us.
MM: Was there tension with the Soviet Union being so close?
GL: Yeah, during the occupation, of course, three different countries occupied Berlin. The Soviets, they more or less surrounded it and wouldn’t let us in or out with truck, jeep, or anything like that. You remember the Berlin airlift that they had. They airlifted everything in and out. We overcame that obstacle.
MM: Were you ever updated on how the war was going?
GL: Yeah, we were taken in for orientation every once in a while about how it was going and when it was over with, there was a lot of celebration. We thought it was great.
MM: How did you stay in touch with your family?
GL: Wrote a lot of letters.
MM: What was the food like?
GL: Food was great, especially overseas in Germany. It was really good. I’d say better than what stateside was.
MM: Do you remember specifically what you had to eat at Germany?
GL: Yeah, we had the normal beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, and a lot of milk and butter. Hardly ever a sea ration. We had one sea ration a week, which wasn’t bad, because we got some good stuff out of it. Christmas-time, we had shrimp cocktail and all that. The best, we ate real good when we were over there.
MM: Did you have plenty of supplies?
GL: Oh yeah, there was plenty.. the supply rooms were always full and I never did see a time we ran out of food or anything.
MM: Did you feel pressure or stress?
GL: No, not really, after everything got going. We met the people there and got along. We passed into town and traveled around and used bicycles to see the country. It was really an enjoyable time.
MM: Describe a day in the service while in Germany, like from sun up to sun down.
GL: First thing, we got up, eat breakfast, Revelry was sounded and you got to be out, standing in formation. Everybody went to their job after chow until noon. Then, they had noon chow call, then we went in. Then we went back to our duties, which was normally schooling or learn bridge building. About five o’clock, we retired and the rest of the day was ours.
MM: How did people entertain themselves?
GL: GI’s.. we went out to the bars, party and all that and have a great time with all the German people. They were real hospitable. It was either that or bicycling around the countryside and see the country. It was a beautiful country over there, it reminds you kind of the northwest part of the United States.
MM: Were there entertainers?
GL: Yeah, we saw some German entertainers while we were there who were movie stars. I can’t remember some of their names, but we went in and it only cost about a dollar or so. Over there, the standard of living was pretty low because their mark was equal to… our dollar, I guess.
MM: What did you do when on leave?
GL: Traveled around, rested, but mostly traveled. We had the choice of flying stateside, but over there I didn’t. I figured I’d stay over here and see the country and when I get back, I’ll be back for good because once you get back stateside, you don’t want to come back. I just decided to stay there and travel around, see the country.
MM: Where did you go before you went back stateside?
GL: I was out in the field.. on War Games and I knew my time was getting close. The orders came down for me to go back in. They sent a truck, so I got on the truck and headed back to base. Packed all my stuff and headed for port of deportation at Bremerhaven. From there, I got on a ship to New York.
MM: Did you go from New York straight home or…
GL: No, we went by train from Camp Kilmer, New Jersey after we hit New York, to Fort Sheridan, Illinois, cross country that took about fourteen hours on train. We went through West Virginia and all that country. We saw a lot of pretty country through there while we were on the trip. It was an enjoyable trip too.
MM: Do you recall any particularly humorous or unusual event?
GL: [long pause] I wore my hair kind of long and GI’s are supposed to keep it short. This one company commander at Fort Sheridan caught me before I got discharged out and he said, “You’re gonna get your hair cut before you get out of here.” He said to report back at 18:00. I went and got my hair all shaved off just like a butch. I came back to report to him and he said, “OK, you get your orders now.” That’s happened there. Then I called my mom and she came to Fort Sheridan, Illinois to pick me and another guy up who was from Logansport [Indiana]. They took us back home, dropped this guy off at Logansport, and we went on to Marion, Indiana, which is my hometown. During that time, I saved some money, so the first thing I did when I got home was to look for a car.
MM: Do you recall the day your service ended?
GL: May 11, 1955.
MM: Where were you?
GL: Fort Sheridan, Illinois. “Mustering out” base where all the guys went from this area. They were mustered out.
MM: What did you do in the days and weeks afterward?
GL: I took about three months off. I didn’t have to be back to work for ninety days. Ball-Foster Glass Company was where I worked when I left for the service. They guaranteed me a job when I got back. I took it easy for about thirty days, went out and visited people, traveled a little bit, did some fishing and hunting, a lot of things like that. I just enjoyed myself. When the ninety days was up, I just went back to work.
MM: Did you make any close friendships while in the service?
GL: Yeah, I made a lot of close friendships. I kind of kept in touch, especially with one guy from Missouri. I went home with him a lot when I didn’t come home here when I was on leave from basic training. We kept in touch. I suppose he’s still alive, I haven’t heard he’s not. I made a good contact in Missouri and also in Saint Louis. I knew a guy that I liked real well. We’re good friends.
MM: When was the last time you heard from these people?
GL: About a year after I got home. I heard from them by letter. We corresponded for a while, but then after a while, it dropped off.
MM: When you got home, what was the first thing you did?
GL: I had fifteen hundred dollars in my pocket and I needed a car because the one that I had when I left, my mom got a hold of it, and, unbeknownst to me, she sold it, so I was without a car when I got back. The first thing I did was went out and bought me a 1951 Mercury Monte Rey, two door, and it cost me eight hundred fifty dollars cash.
MM: What did you do as a career after the war?
GL: I worked in the glass industry right after I got out of the service clear up to when I retired.
MM: Did your military experience influence your thinking about war or about the military in general?
GL: Yeah, I learned things had to be done to keep a country free. If we didn’t, they’d just run all over us. An aggressor starts like the communists or these terrorist organizations, you got to come up against them and stomp them out or they’ll run over you.
MM: How did your service and experiences affect your life?
GL: They made me a better man and person. Values I respected more, I appreciated things a lot better, life a lot more, and in general, I enjoyed living.
MM: Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview?
GL: I need to add this that I didn’t think of before. I visited Hitler’s headquarters in Bursch’s Garden, Germany and United States Corps of Engineers has a big nightclub there called the Casa Karaoke Nightclub. Where they hold winter ice capades with some of the big name stars. We got to go to that nightclub and see them perform. It was built right there where Hitler’s last days were at Bursch’s Garden with that big bunker there. Also, during the time I was in Germany, I had a steady girlfriend, it was one of the German girls. I went with her all the time I was over there. We went out and enjoyed ourselves dancing and having a good time. Not anything really serious, just good friends. During basic, I forgot to mention, we had to crawl underneath barbed wire, which was only a foot or so off of the ground and it was wet down, so it was mudhole and sand. They had a machine gun fire over your head forty-four inches above the ground. You didn’t dare raise up unless you wanted to lose your head. I got through that. I tell you, when we came out the other end, we looked like a bunch of mudhogs. We got back to the base and right away we jumped into the shower and got all that mud and stuff off of us. That was something else I neglected to mention. I can’t think of anything else right now. Maybe Mark can get another question. MM: Yeah, I thought of this, how did your family react when they saw you?
GL: They were with jubilation, really, when I got home, all the relatives came in, brothers and sisters, and they had a big party on me, “Welcome Home.” For about a week, different people visited and seeing how I was and what I’ve done. Like this interview, they asked a lot of questions and everything. They were really glad to see me. I was glad to get home; I was getting a little tired of being over there, a little bit homesick especially around the holidays. I spent two Christmases over there and its kind of rough when you have to spend Christmas away from home like that.
MM: Well thank you, George, for your time and for sharing your experiences.
GL: OK, thank you, Mark, for the interview and like I say: two years in the service will not hurt any young man, and in fact it’ll be good for them. I enjoyed the service while I was in.