Through his time in the Army, Warren Rubin realized service wasn’t for him but is thankful for the relationships and experiences that came out of his time in WWII. Now at 93 years old, Rubin enjoys spending time with his family and reflecting on his life. Our conversation took place on April 3 at his home in Ocala.
When and where were you born?
August 27, 1924 in Peoria, Illinois.
In which branch of the military did you serve?
I served in the Army.
Were you drafted or did you volunteer?
I enlisted in late 1942.
What made you want to enlist?
I was afraid you were going to ask that…Well, there were three of us who were freshmen in college that weren’t doing very well. We decided they probably wouldn’t be asking us back, so we went up to Peoria and enlisted in the military.
This was with friends of yours?
One was my roommate and the other was a friend at school.
Where did you go to college?
I went to Blackburn College. You wouldn’t be familiar with it, it’s an unusual institution. Every student works, and they must put in 15 hours a week of work. With working, I was an ace. With studying, I was mediocre.
What did you work on?
Everything. I cleaned potties in the ladies’ dormitory. One night, I went down in the cold weather and the furnace had gone out – we had one furnace for all the buildings, it was only a small school. There were probably six buildings in the school, and they were all heated with one great big unit and it went out. The students did absolutely everything. The only paid employees were the professors, one lady who was a dietician, and another man was a construction supervisor. Everything else was done by the students, including the management of it…an unusual place.
Was that in Illinois?
Illinois. Carlinville, Illinois.
Why did you choose that school over others?
Because of the price. A semester, including housing and food, was $400. My father had just bought a little business, and he didn’t have any money at all to send me to school, so we worked at getting in there.
What was it like growing up in your house with your family?
Marvelous. I came from a very Christian family. My grandfather taught in a Lutheran school. My mother and dad went to that school and knew on another from the beginning. I couldn’t ask for a better family. We have been blessed. I attribute that to a belief in Jesus Christ. This has carried on with my own family – I have three of the greatest kids in the world. My wife died just recently, we were married 70 years, and the kids are taking care of the old man. As a matter of fact, they just left a little while ago. So, I have been blessed. Now I have two granddaughters and I have three great grandchildren, and they’re all great kids. I was blessed with a great son-in-law, and I’ve been blessed with a great grand son-in-law, so it couldn’t get any better.
When you first enlisted where were you sent?
I was inducted at Fort Sheridan, just north of Chicago and immediately shipped to California to Camp Roberts, right outside of Paso Robles, which is an infantry replacement training center. Many people went to a unit and were trained in a unit, we were trained in what they call a replacement training center. We took our basic training, weren’t assigned to any unit, we were waiting to be assigned when a unit needed people. After basic training, I went to northern California, right outside of San Francisco, and that’s a replacement training center where they work the replacements in. They called a bunch of names and finally after a week or so, they called mine, and I got on a train. My train was heading to New York, and I was at a replacement training center in Pennsylvania and I stayed there a week or so. Then they called my name out, and I got on a train and I headed back to Washington D.C. and went up to the Aleutian Islands. Early in the war, the Japanese had occupied two of our islands at the end of the Aleutian chain – Attu and Kiska. We finally, after a while, kicked them out of Attu, which is the smaller of the islands, but they had approximately 3,500 casualties. They anticipated having 5,000 casualties if we were going to kick them off of the island of Kiska. I was one of the 5,000 people who were sent up there to take the place of the wounded. Well, the battle never happened. The Japanese snuck all their people off by submarine. They tell me that we had approximately 105 vessels surrounding the island, and they took them off by submarine at night, evidently. They estimated there had been about 10,000 men on the island. When we went to invade them, there was nobody there, so they didn’t need us.
Was that a relief to you?
Well, I guess. I’m not sure I really thought about it in that particular way. You have to keep in mind, when you’re in the military, you really don’t know what they’re thinking – you have no idea. They think one thing and you just don’t know what it is.
Where were you sent instead?
I said I was not a good student, but I evidently had a very good military IQ. Because there were a whole bunch of us up there, there were a bunch of units that needed men – people had died or grown too old to be in the military. The Arkansas National Guard unit had been up there since 1940, before the war, and they had first choice of replacements. I’m one of the few guys that ever got out of the infantry and went to the Coast Artillery. Now, I was one of the Yankees in the Coast Artillery, in an Arkansas National Guard outfit. Yankees was not one word, there were two – damn Yankees. They thought I was a devil for a while. They didn’t want to talk to me, they thought I was terrible because I was a damn Yankee. They finally found out I was a human, and I stayed with that unit. We were up there for a year, came back to the United States, and they broke the unit up. They took our first and third battalion and moved them to the infantry. I was in the second battalion, and they retrained us on new weapons. After we went through our retraining, I went to Europe, and I was in Europe for probably a year. We were in England when they made the big push at Baston, and at that particular time they took any human being that could shoot a gun and sent them over to Europe. We were over there and involved in the attack on the Aurora River and Rhine River, and that wasn’t much for us. There was a week or so of moderate activity, but it wasn’t like the attack on D-Day. My contribution was very minimal. I was discharged at Camp Grant in Illinois on January 9, 1946.
What was never knowing what was coming next like?
It’s hard to say because there’s all kinds of rumors going around. In the military, you never know actually what’s going to happen – or, I didn’t ever really know. You speculate, and everybody speculates a little bit differently about what you’re going to do. There’s always a certain amount of anxiety – nobody wants to get shot at. It scared the crap out of you. I did not like the military. I think – maybe I pride myself a little too much – I think of myself as having a good, calm sense and a reasonable amount of intelligence. And to be involved in the military where you question nothing, whether it makes sense or not, I didn’t like that. I detested the fact that the officers could have a big, beautiful place to go, and we privates, had nothing. That bothered me. My brother and I met together in England when we were there. He was in the Air Force, and he was a lieutenant at the time. The Air Force took me into the officers club. They fed me, dined me, and we had a ball. That would’ve never happened in the Army, ever. Any officer that tried to bring a private into their club would’ve been ostracized, and that really bothers me.
Was that when he would send letters and his initials told you where to go?
I’m sure, yes. Well, he could communicate with me because we could communicate by phone. I was in the south of England and he was in mid England, so that was not a problem. When you were sending stuff back to the United States, that is where they absolutely covered everything up. I think I still have a few letters that have holes in them – what I was trying to tell my mother and father was cut out. They took scissors and just cut it out.
What kind of information would they cut out?
Where you were, your unit, unit strength, anything that had any military significance.
Do you think you would’ve enjoyed the military more if you had joined a different branch?
Well, let me put it this way, after I enlisted in the Army, I made an effort to transfer my enlistment to the Air Force – keeping in mind, at that particular time it was the Army Air Force, it wasn’t a separate unit. I went with 44 other guys and took a mental exam, and that was fine – I think there were only six or eight of us who got through. Then we went to have a physical, and there were four of us who got through. I went to see the flight surgeon, and there was one test I had not taken – I failed that sucker, and I did it again. They still would’ve liked to have me, and I did it again. The corporal doing the test looked at me and asked me how bad I really wanted in – I think $5 would’ve gotten me in, to be honest with you. But I attribute it to the good Lord – if I had made it in to the Air Force, I’d probably be dead. Percentage wise, the Air Force lost more people than any other branch in the service. Ernie Pyle was a journalist who went up with the troops and he used to write an article every week. His comment was that you could die in any of the three services. The difference was that the Air Force and the Navy died with a full belly and a clean shave, and that’s very appropriate to be honest. I’ve been hungry, I know what hunger is. Food never caught up with us for a while.
So the conditions were really bad?
Yes, but a lot worse for a lot of other people. At one time, our unit went into an old German pillbox, and we lived in that for quite a while. But in that pillbox was a bunch of German bread, I mean, several hundred loaves. And after about a week or two, refuges started to stream back. I took that bread out there and started to give it away, and pretty soon, I had a long line. One great big ole guy came racing around everybody else and was going to get in the front of the line, and I got my rifle out, cocked it, aimed it at him, and said to get back. I’m saying this just to give you an idea of what hunger would cause people to do.
For how long would you typically not have food for?
About three days we went without food. We had a few rations but not much. The military does an unusual job, it’s an unusual machine, it’s not my favorite thing.
Was there one moment in particular where you realized the military wasn’t for you?
There were always good moments and bad. I tell you I wasn’t all that fond of the military, but there were relationships that developed with men. When you’re in danger, you become extremely close to people. I had some really good friends and maintained them for quite a while.
Would you say that is the best thing to come out of your experience?
That would probably be it. Although, I was a small town boy, so it was interesting that I pretty much got to travel the world. Now when you talk about England, I have an idea of what it is. Same with France, Belgium, Germany, and the Aleutian Islands. These were experiences I wouldn’t have had if I wasn’t in the military.
Do you think the conditions today are better for people who are in the military?
No. In WWII, we knew what we were fighting for, and I’m not sure the kids do today. And I’m sure that affects them – they seem to have more emotional problems than we had when we got out.
Do you have any other war stories you want to share?
When we left El Paso, Texas, we moved to the east coast and we went over into Jersey. We went into New York, went to the top of the Empire State building, looked down, and the old Queen Mary was sitting there. About three days later, we got into the port area, walked into a building, climbed through a hole in the wall, and I went over on the Queen Mary. There were 15,000 of us on there, and every other night we slept on deck.
What was it like readjusting when you came home from the war?
I didn’t really have any problem. This was not like Vietnam. It wasn’t like you had college students all the time protesting. When guys came back from Vietnam, they just didn’t like them and what they had done – they were ostracized. That wasn’t true when we got back. Everybody was glad to see you. You were eulogized, actually, rather than condemned. The people in Vietnam were condemned and not liked. But that has changed in the last 5-10 years.
What was your life like after you came back?
I went back to school. I met a young lady. I went back to school at Eastern Illinois, and I did moderately well – I was a little older, a little smarter. But I wanted to get married and we couldn’t find a place to live. I decided I was probably going to go work for my dad anyway, so after the first year, I left school, got married, and went to work and have been working ever since.
When did you come to Florida?
My father’s business was like all businesses. Smaller businesses were being eaten up by larger businesses. My brother’s health was not very good when he got out of the military and he felt much better living in Florida. Plus, he married a girl who didn’t like it at all in Illinois. So, he moved down, and you could see my dad’s business was going to go to pot. And I was getting a little older and he said to come on down because anybody that’s willing to work can find a job in Florida. So, I just decided to come to Florida, and I came down and found a job and have been working here ever since.
What did you get a job doing?
I got a job in sales…the worst job I ever had.
Why didn’t you like it?
I didn’t like the company period. The company was still rather young at the time. They brought the sales force down to a meeting in Tampa. Well, the company brought in a whole bunch of young ladies, which didn’t suit me. What people do, that’s their business, but I didn’t like that particular attitude. Guys who were successful at that company did things that weren’t legal, and the company just thought it was great because they were selling houses.
Your brother mentioned you picked up some interesting vocabulary while you were overseas…
I’m sitting here telling you how moral I might’ve been but my language was not. Military language is different – a four letter word about every other word, and it took a little while to straighten that out when I got back. I felt bad for my wife – she was a beautiful young lady. Everybody that sees her picture asks what she saw in me. We lived together for a little over 70 years, and I see her picture up there every day…God bless her. In the first 65 years, we never had a loud, verbal argument. We didn’t always agree, don’t get me wrong, but we never shouted at one another, ever.
So what’s the trick to being married that long?
I attribute it to a belief in Jesus Christ. My family was in church probably every Sunday, and we had a strong belief. Jesus says love one another and do good unto them. So, you just be good to one another, that’s all. It’s that simple. You put yourself second and put them first. And when she puts herself second and me first, it works great.