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In the Navy!


Trekker Stephen and Navy veteran, Edward Packl, talk about what it was like to fight in WWII

When most of us study World War II, we read plain histories about things that happened way before we were born. We hear words like blitzkrieg and try to imagine how much 50 million deaths really is.

African-Americans, among many other minorities, fought in World War II, but some felt strange fighting in a foreign war while there was a racial holocaust still going on at home

Even though it is important for us to know about the politics and history of WWII, there is a lot more to the story than famous names and dates. On the U.S. side, there were deli workers, polo players, blacks, New York Times reporters, men who had pet monkeys, Jews, and entire families. Part of what is important when you learn about WWII is learning what the war was like for all of these people.


A Chilly Land of White Glitter

Today, I went up to the ninth floor of Milwaukee's veterans hospital to speak with Edward Packl, someone who had a very different life from most of us.

Mr. Packl is a veteran of World War II. For over 35 years, he served in both the navy and army. He participated in active naval combat while the U.S. fought in the Pacific. This is his story.

(NOTE: The following transcript is an abbreviated version of the interview between Stephen and Mr. Packl)


Stephen: Well, if we could, I'd like to start off talking about your family and where you grew up.

Mr. Packl: I grew up with my Mom and Dad in Milwaukee. My father was from Yugoslavia.

Stephen: What was life like for you growing up?

Like the pilot pictured here is doing, Edward Packl also sat in the cockpit of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the first Atomic bomb

Mr. Packl: I lived a clean life. I stayed out of trouble. I was a pretty good kid, I think.

Stephen: What were some of your dreams as a kid? What did you want to become?

Mr. Packl: I wanted to be a doctor.

Stephen: How old were you when you joined the service?

Mr. Packl: I was sixteen. I stole my records from my school and I took them with me so I could join the Navy.

Stephen: Why did you do that? Why did you want to join the Navy?

Mr. Packl: To break up the monotony of my life in Milwaukee.

warfdr.jpg: Roosevelt signing the declaration of war

Stephen: Did you have any friends that were joining up with you at the time?

Mr. Packl: Yeah, me and six of my buddies. But I was the only one who made it!

Stephen: Why was that?

Mr. Packl: I was healthiest. I couldn't believe it.

Stephen: How did you think joining the Navy would affect you?

Mr. Packl: I had no idea. And I was scared to death.

Stephen: How would you describe your first few weeks?

Mr. Packl: It was a living hell. You were away from home. Away from Mom and Dad and you had no idea what to expect. There was a lot of harassment.

Stephen: It was a violent time for you then?

Mr. Packl: Oh, yes.

Stephen: Did you develop strong friendships with people as you were sharing that experience?

The battle of Pearl Harbor made it clear to Edward Packl that the US was going to enter WWII

Mr. Packl: Oh yeah. Of course. We would all speak about what a raw deal we got and why we were there and how soon we would be going home. It was coarse living.

Stephen: How soon did you think you would be going home?

Mr. Packl: In a year.

Stephen: And how long was it before you actually got to go home?

Mr. Packl: 5 years.

Stephen: How would you describe your level of preparedness for the war?

Mr. Packl: None.

Stephen: No training, nothing?

Mr. Packl: Nothing.

Stephen: Were you involved in active combat?

Mr. Packl: Yes, sir. It was very scary. And very hairy. These guys were animals. The Japs would take their airplanes and sink the ships. They would hit their planes against the ships and kill themselves.

Edward Packl saw the A-bomb explode over Nagasaki, Japan

Stephen: Suicide missions? Did you see that happen?

Mr. Packl: Yeah. Not further away from me than that wall over there [pointing to the wall on the other side of the hallway]. They were called Harry Karry planes.

Stephen: Had you heard about the decision to drop the bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Mr. Packl: I was in Nagasaki when the bomb went off.

Stephen: You mean, you were offshore and saw the bomb explode?

Mr. Packl: Yes.

Stephen: Wow, did you know the bomb was going to be dropped?

Mr. Packl: No.

Stephen: Some historians argue that the Japanese troops were almost completely defeated at the time the H-bomb was dropped and that the incidents at Hiroshima and Nagasaki could have been avoided. What do think about that? What were your thoughts when the bomb was being dropped?

Mr. Packl: It couldn't have come sooner. Fighting the Japs was impossible. There were 20,000 of them to our one (laughing). I thought they were getting what they deserved.

Stephen: So you felt like Japan was winning the war at the time and dropping the bomb was necessary?

Mr. Packl: Yeah.

Stephen: It sounds like you still have a lot of aggression toward the people you were fighting against. Can you talk about where that aggression comes from?

War propaganda posters like this one played off the tragic realities of World War II

Mr. Packl: Well, the Japs and Germans were killing our people, innocent people.

Stephen: Had you heard about the Jewish holocaust?

Mr. Packl: Yes, sir. I would see movies about thousands of Jews being shot in a ditch. We'd watch the movies too so that we could see what would happen to us if we got caught. We would see women being put into rooms and then the room was filled with cyanide. The room was like five times the size of the lobby out there.

Stephen: You were in Germany after the war, correct?

Mr. Packl: Yes sir.

Stephen: What were some of the things you saw?

Mr. Packl: Oh, it was a mess. I was there for 'troop clean up'. We would see piles of dead people.

Stephen: And so after Germany you came back home?

Mr. Packl: No I went to Shanghai and then came back

In the glow of a Wisconsin sunset, Stephen takes a break from the emotional trek of thinking about WWII

Stephen: What was that experience like...coming back home?

Mr. Packl: I was thrilled to be home. It was like heaven. Seeing people you haven't seen or heard from in years.

Stephen: Do you remember your mother's face when she saw you?

Mr. Packl: She looked like an angel. She was an angel in my eyes.

Stephen: Do you feel like your experience fighting in the Pacific and cleaning up troops in Germany changed your ideas about war?

Mr. Packl: Oh, definitely.

Stephen: How was that? What were some of the effects that the war had on you?

Mr. Packl: Hatred. I learned to hate people. If a Japanese man were standing in front of me right now, I'd think he was an animal. Is this helping you, at all?

Stephen: Yes, it is. It is good for me to hear you speak about your experiences. It seems like you are getting pretty tired, though, so if you're up for it I'd like to ask you one more question.

Posing in front of a US tank, Stephen reveals he is part of a generation of youth far removed from the realities of war

Mr. Packl: Uh-huh.

Stephen: Pooling from your experiences during the war, at this point in time, what advice do you have for young people today?

Mr. Packl: Join the service and learn discipline. Get out of school on the 6th of June and enter the service on the 7th. I'm still amazed by young people. My granddaughter doesn't even know what a veteran is.

Edward Packl is now 73 years old and has been a patient at the Milwaukee Veterans Administration for almost two years. He looks forward to being released from the hospital in the next month and to returning to his wife and family in Milwaukee.


Please email me at: stephen@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Becky - Suit up! It's time for Zooting in Los Angeles
Irene - You are a U.S. citizen but we will still put you in a concentration camp
Daphne - Saving the world is a full time job