Oral Historian: James Austin Easton
Interview Date: 29 May 2007
Interviewer: Steven Knepper
What's your birth date, Mr. Austin?
September 11, 1927
And what branch of the service were you in?
And what was your rank at the time?T/5
And what areas did you serve in during the war?
I was over in Germany. Salzburg, Austria, was where I went first. Then I came back to Germany, in a little town pretty close to Frankfurt.
Were you drafted or did you enlist?
Drafted…I reenlisted after I got in there.
Where were you living at the time you got drafted?
In Scottsville on Rt. 20 North.
What were you doing at that time?
I was working on a dairy farm.
And how old were you when you got drafted?
What did you think about being drafted and going into the Army?
I had 5 brothers already in it (the war).
Do you remember what your boot camp, your training was like?
I trained in Arkansas…just training for the Infantry.
How long was your training before you shipped overseas?
Where did you go from Arkansas?
I went to Camp Pickett, Virginia
Did you get to see your family when you were back in Camp Pickett?
And then where did you go overseas first?
The ship docked at France. We were put on a truck, and they drove us over to where we were stationed.
What are some of your most vivid memories from your time in service overseas?
I played baseball When I got discharged, I still played for Scottsville. I played in the Army.
So did you play some when you were overseas, too?
Tell me some more about that.
I played 17 years for Scottsville as a catcher. When I came back here, I became pitcher. Since I hit - I usually hit two home runs a game.
That's pretty good! When you were playing baseball overseas, did your unit have a team or were they pickup games?
Teams in different camps.
Was your team good?
Yes. I played a little basketball over there, too. One time a truck took us to a playground, and he swung out to miss some Germans on bicycles. The truck flipped over. When it stopped, the top of the truck was laying in the river.
Was this the truck you were on -- did you get hurt?
No, I was on the back and jumped off.
Did you see any combat while you were in the service?
I went in after the war was over.
What were your main duties while you were there?
I was guarding prisoners in Salzburg, Austria. Then I went to work in the kitchen and as a truck driver.
Which of those jobs did you like the best?
I liked the kitchen and driving the truck. I'd go out and get the food and bring it back.
What did you think of Germany and the country - did you enjoy it?
Yeah, I enjoyed it but I didn't stay long. I went over in March 1946 and came back the following April.
So a little over a year? Was there a lot of destruction from the war - a lot of work to be done repairing?
Oh yes. I did go to Hitler's home and saw his underground tunnels.
How did you stay in touch with your family during your time in service?
By mail, it was pretty dependable.
Were your brothers in the service at that time, too?
When I was entering the service at Ft. Pickett, one brother was being discharged there.
Where were your other brothers?
One was with Eisenhower and the other was with Patton.
You said you worked in the kitchen - what was the food like in the Army?
It was pretty good. I didn't like lamb, but I could get a ham sandwich.
Did you always have plenty of food and supplies?
Oh yes, way more food than you could think of.
When you had leave time, when you were in Germany, what did you do?
I didn't go anywhere---just stayed right there in camp.
Do you recall anything particularly funny or humorous that happened while you were there?
My buddy came over to see me while I was on guard duty. A German slashed him across the face with a knife. We caught him. They really gave him a work over. But the part about it, when I first went over, we had a peephole to look through while guarding those prisoners to keep them from committing suicide. I thought I was going to see them when they hung him (the German who slashed his buddy), but I didn't. I had to stay outside and guard.
Did you talk to any of the prisoners - did any of them know English?
We had one there - he wasn't a prisoner. He was a witness, and he could talk 7 different languages. He hid from the Nazis in the woods up in the mountains. He wasn't in a cell block or anything like that. He'd tell us when some big officer was coming - he'd give us notice that they were coming.
Did the prisoners cause you a lot of trouble - you said they cut your friend when he came to visit you?
They didn't give me any trouble. We had a break out, and I had to load them up and take them back to the prison place. But I didn't have to do anything - just drive and that was all. I had a guy that was a witness, who told us that a German big shots would spit in their bowl of food.
We had some women in prison, too - wives of some of the officers.
What was the prison like - what were the conditions like that they had to live in?
It was pretty good.
What did you think of the officers and your fellow soldiers - did you make lots of good friends?
Were there other people from Virginia in your unit?
Yeah, when I went to Richmond, they took us down there first and then took us to Maryland and from Maryland to Arkansas.
Did you keep in touch with them after your service?
You say that you reenlisted after you got back from Germany?
No, before I went to Germany. I reenlisted in Maryland in the regular Army. They give you a choice of getting out of the draft into the regular Army, and I did that.
When you got back from Germany, what did you do then?
I went to Brill Tree Service and then went from there back on the dairy farm. Then I went to Schuyler, Virginia - the soapstone place. And the last place I worked was delivering milk.
Do you belong to a veterans' organization?
I belong to the VFW over here.
How would you say that your time in the service and your trip to Germany affected your life?
All right - I haven't had any trouble. I went over to Maryland - that was in December - and there was a soldier from Esmont. He went over when I did. They never called my name for reveille. And he went down and made up to come home for Christmas. They never did catch me - they caught him. Of course, they didn't have my name to call in the morning. So I didn't get charged for AWOL. He didn't get charged for AWOL either - he just had to work on the camp grounds.
Is there anything else you'd like to add about your time in the service?
You know, back then during the war, cigarettes and stuff were rationed. I had plenty and we sold them.
How did you get so many?
We'd get so many cartons a week, and I didn't smoke then. So I'd take them and sell them.
What would you use the extra money for?
I just got all my money and sent it home.
Since you went overseas in 1946, that means you spent the whole war here in Scottsville, how did the town change from the time the war began until it ended?
I don't know. I had a brother who went in 1942, and he was over in France and England - over there. He could come and see me, but I couldn't go and see him. When I went in, I came here for three days and got snowbound. So I got to stay 5 days. When we went back, we had a reveille the next morning, and they still didn't call my name. So I asked the sergeant when he was going to put me on there to call my name out. He asked me where I had been? So I had to tell him. So he said, "So you and the boy from Esmont were together?" I said, "Yup."
I had a brother that got wounded - I had two brothers that got wounded. One got wounded in the back of the head but didn't know it until he put his hand up there and found blood. The other one got wounded in the arm. I tried to keep from going, but they said, "nope!"
What was the rationing like during the war here when you were at the dairy farm? Did you have trouble getting tires for your equipment?
Oh, yeah! I'd go around then. I didn't get a driver's license until I came back from Germany. I was just lucky, I know, that I didn't get stopped.
I had one brother who was drafted, but he was turned down 5 times. Finally they took him.
Why did they turn him down?
His eyes. He and the brother, who got wounded in the arm, met each other over in Germany but they couldn't get to talk. One worked for Patton, and the other for Eisenhower.
Did your brothers come back to Scottsville?
Yes, well one came back to Scottsville, and the other, to Charlottesville.
Are they still living?
No, all of them are dead now, but one who is living over in Farmville.
What are your brothers' names?
John W., Lawrence Wallace, Frank, (garbled), and David.
Which brother lives in Farmville? Is that David?
Are there any other memories that you have about your service or Scottsville during the war that you would like to share?
They give the Red Cross a good rating but I can't give it to them. When we got over there …cold…wanted coffee and stuff… they wouldn't give it to you. I had some kinfolk from Richmond, and they said they wouldn't even give them postcards or anything to write on so that they could send it home. And I used to give them blood, and I had a friend here in Scottsville that needed blood. And I told them (the Red Cross) about giving it to that friend of mine. "No, he's got to pay for it."
What kind of activities are you involved with at the VFW?
I used to be the commander for about 5 years. A lot of people have passed on over the years. An old Army doctor that used to be over here with us--he didn't believe in giving us shots. But I didn't mind it, because you never get sick or nothing. It keeps you going….. Dr. Moody.
Just wrapping up here today, I was wondering what you think of the Army today?
Well, I haven't much use for those who tore the place up, and why didn't they go on and finish it instead of killing all of our boys. They should have just gone on and bombed the place. Now they're talking about fixing it up. I'd let them fix their own place up. We've got people saying that the U.S. could use a little help, but it doesn't get it. People, who don't need it, will get help.
When my Daddy died in 1945, in June, and I was 18 in September. That was when they called me. I had a buddy here in Scottsville - he went to be examined at the same time I did. When they came towards him with a meeting time, he choked and never did go.
What did you think of President Roosevelt?
He was a good president. I liked old Clinton, and I liked ... the one who got shot (Kennedy). I thought he was good.