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Interview with Marion Reh Gurfein [5/16/2002]

Sarah Rouse:

Now, today is May 16th of 2002, and we are here, Mrs. Marion Gurfein and I, Sarah Rouse, are here in the Library of Congress. We are conducting an interview with Mrs. Gurfein under the agency of the Veterans History Project of the American Folk Life Center. And I think we'll just start off with some basic questions. And you're Mrs. Marion Reh Gurfein?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

That's right.

Sarah Rouse:

And Gurfein is your married name?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Right.

Sarah Rouse:

And what was your maiden name?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Reh. R-e-h.

Sarah Rouse:

R-e-h. And where were you born and raised?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Up in New York City.

Sarah Rouse:

New York City. What was your family background?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Well, my father was an artist, and I had a grandfather who was an artist, too, but I never met him 'cause he died when he was 35, but -- well, we didn't come from a long-living family. And my father was an artist, and when I was born in 1920 I came to replace the child that died during that terrible flu epidemic in 1918. During World War I my father worked on airplanes out at Curtis -- I think it was the Curtis Airplane Company at the time -- and mother told me it was in Freeport, Long Island, that the soldiers came back from war and were billeted near to my family, and, of course, the flu -- what did they call it at the time, the Asian, no, not the Asian Flu -- but that terrible epidemic swept through and my brother died within two days. He was 12 1/2 years old.

Sarah Rouse:

Oh, that's sad.

Marion Reh Gurfein:

And so two years later I came to replace him.

Sarah Rouse:

Were you educated in New York?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

That's right.

Sarah Rouse:

You were -- you went to college there?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

I went to Cooper Union Art School, and that's where I met my husband. Cooper Union is a very unusual place. There were only 60 freshmen in the art school. You have to be -- oh, you take eight hours of tests, and it's only for artists and engineers, but Joe came out so high -- he was in the engineering school -- that he won a $1,200 scholarship. And in those days, you know, during the depression, $1,200 was -- and I went there and I was very lucky to get a full scholarship, because my father had died when I was only 15 years old, and there was just no money to go to college, but living in New York, there were free institutions, and so Joe and I met in Cooper Union.

Sarah Rouse:

Was he a New Yorker as well?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

He came from Brooklyn. I came from up in the Bronx.

Sarah Rouse:

Okay.

Marion Reh Gurfein:

But believe me, the Bronx in those days were tiny little houses with a little church at the corner. It was very different from what it is now.

Sarah Rouse:

Well, I know you were an artist, and during your career, what is your current occupation?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Well, right now I'm retired, but I did retire from the Department of Commerce. I was deputy, deputy director of marketing at NTIS. And I don't know how it happened, because I always thought of myself as a slightly crazy artist. I mean, people kept telling me that -- writing funny poetry, being an artist, and suddenly when I was 40 years old I came back with Joe -- we had lived in France --

Sarah Rouse:

Was that Joe Gurfein?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Joe Gurfein, who was a colonel by then, and I went to work for Kay Jewelers writing ads. And I did that for four years 'till I could not stand it anymore, and so I went down to the press building, and I remember I went with American aviation magazines, and then I learned about direct marketing, how to market. And then when we were bought out by a big firm in New York City, I went with the American Chemical Society and stayed with them for ten years.

Sarah Rouse:

That's quite a career. And you live currently in --

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Arlington, Virginia.

Sarah Rouse:

At the time of the war, and I say "the war," although we're probably talking about World War II --

Marion Reh Gurfein:

World War II, yeah.

Sarah Rouse:

World War II. You were married before the war began?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Oh, yeah. Six month. Six very glamorous months. Joe was attached to the First Cavalry Division. We still had horses. We still had mules, believe it or not, and for six months we wore evening gowns every Saturday night.

Sarah Rouse:

And where were you posted there?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

We were out in Fort Lewis Texas, right on the Mexican border. So, that was very exciting for a girl who was born up in the Bronx. I mean, all of a sudden there was Mexico and bull fights, and --

Sarah Rouse:

And that would be 1940?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

'41.

Sarah Rouse:

Oh my gosh. Well, you didn't have children at that point?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Oh, no. No.

Sarah Rouse:

Did you have children at some point during war time?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Yes, unfortunately I was about four weeks pregnant when Joe left for war, and I didn't know I was pregnant. We were down in North Carolina, and I had to come up to New York. Joe's brother had to come and get me 'cause I couldn't drive, and I sold the car on the highway for $25 because it kept breaking down. And in those days you had to have ration books, you know, and as one tire would blow we'd stop a truck and they'd sell us a tire and take care of us. The trucks were marvelous, but it was a wild trip up to New York, and my daughter was born while Joe was oversees, and he didn't come back for 32 months.

Sarah Rouse:

Now her birthday is?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

When is her birth date? December 1943, and he came back in '45, and he met a little girl who promptly said, "Hello, daddy," and she pushed me away. So there was no question of her bonding with her father.

Sarah Rouse:

That's good. Where were you living during most of the war that he was away?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

I had to go back to New York to my mother. And we all lived in an apartment, 'cause my other sister, her husband had been drafted, and then I had a single sister, so we were all in one apartment. Let's see, that was four women and one baby. One baby to spoil.

Sarah Rouse:

And did you -- you were a full-time mom during that time?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Oh, yes. Yes. I had to be a full -- and everybody was full time moms in those days. Women just didn't work.

Sarah Rouse:

Did you -- was there pressure on people to do war time volunteering of any sort, or did you feel that at all?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Not when you had a child. You couldn't volunteer to do any work, because that was a full-time job. And I was so self-conscious and so uncomfortable to think that I had a baby that would cry at night, living with my sisters and all, but we all did our part. You know, we constantly -- we flattened all the cans and we gave every bit of rubber in the house. Even spatulas were thrown in. And you did everything for the war effort. And you wrote to your husband every single day. I wrote to Joe and he tried to write to me, but his letters would have trouble coming through. And I was in a terrible state because he was a paratrooper when he went over, and I didn't know if I would ever see him again. And I'd sit in the park with the other girls, and the telegrams were coming constantly.

Sarah Rouse:

Telegrams about?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

This one's husband was killed; this one's husband was missing.

Sarah Rouse:

Terrifying.

Marion Reh Gurfein:

It wasn't very pleasant.

Sarah Rouse:

Well I know that must have been nice for people to be with each other.

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Oh, yes. We all sat and consoled each other, and we'd tell these girls whose husbands were missing in action, "Oh, you know he'll turn up."

Sarah Rouse:

As a wife of a military person, did you get any particular benefits during the time he was away?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Good heavens no.

Sarah Rouse:

Like access to a PX?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Oh, there weren't no PXs in New York, and the Army never, never contacted us. I mean, there were too many people. Too many people were in the Army then. Almost everybody you knew -- there were no men around. It was an an all-woman society.

Sarah Rouse:

That's very interesting. I suppose there were leaders?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Well, I don't know. I wasn't near an Army base at all, and I had no contact with the U.S. Army. Even when my child was born I didn't use an Army hospital. I went to a regular civilian hospital and paid for the baby. And, of course, there was no such thing as Social Security then -- well, I'd say Social Security started in the '30s, I guess there was, but I mean, there was absolutely no help.

Sarah Rouse:

You were too young.

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Yeah, and I was too young.

Sarah Rouse:

I wonder -- I know that you said that you and your husband corresponded quite a bit, and that you have given a number of your correspondence materials to the Library of Congress.

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Oh, yes. That was the fun.

Sarah Rouse:

When did you start? How did that begin?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

I don't know. One day I decided just before Margie was born, I thought, wouldn't it be fun to send him a little newspaper every month and call it the "Goofein Journal." And so I started doing all this, and I also started painting funny little cards. I did it to keep Joe's morale up and to keep my morale up. But, I remember someone -- my mother-in-law or someone saying to her, "Oh, my daughter is crying and your daughter-in-law is laughing and making up funny cards." They didn't see me crying in private. In public I just carried on. I felt that was part of the war effort.

Sarah Rouse:

Well, I think -- I understand that that was just part of the way people conducted themselves generally.

Marion Reh Gurfein:

And that's how you kept yourself going.

Sarah Rouse:

Some of your cards are here. I wonder if you'd hold them up and let folks know who might be seeing this interview what you're referring to when you mention the "Goofein Journal" or any of the individual cards.

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Lets see -- I guess the cards are back here -- they are muddled. I remember sending this card to Joe from his little daughter who he never saw. And it said, "To my daddy. D-Day stands for daddy day. The whole wide world is his. At times like this, I wish I knew just what a daddy is." Well, that wasn't one of the funny ones, was it?

Sarah Rouse:

It's very war related, certainly, and it reflects your --

Marion Reh Gurfein:

And these were the little "Goofein Journals" -- everything that happened in our family. For instance, this was our anniversary journal. This was the second anniversary, and I wrote that this couple always, original, you know, are spending it 3,000 miles apart. And then I would -- Joe sent her -- I don't know where he got this, someplace in Europe -- he sent her a teddy bear, so I greeted him as a teddy bear coming into the family. No, it was our third year of marriage that this happened. And I'd constantly send him pictures of the family. If everybody was on a ski holiday I took pictures, you know, of my sisters and sent him -- told him where they were. And then this was another picture of his baby. And so I did try to keep him amused. And the most wonderful thing was that, I would do this every month, and he actually brought back all these "Goofein Journals." There's a picture of a Christmas gift I sent him, and, of course, it was much too large, and what he was going to do with pajamas, I don't know.

Sarah Rouse:

Where was he stationed at this time?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Oh, my heavens. Joe was all over the place. He started out in Africa, North Africa, and he was training other paratroopers, engineer paratroopers. There was a huge training center. And then he was up in Sicily and Italy and France and England and finally Germany. He did not go into the invasion, thank goodness.

Sarah Rouse:

Was he able to write you back as well?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Yes. Yes. But the letters would be kept and come in huge batches. I think -- I know I sent him -- I sent a poem to him telling him how, you know, that I would get them when the news was stale. But in those days we had three deliveries a day. So I would be downstairs at 8 o'clock in the morning; I would be downstairs at 11 o'clock, and downstairs at 3 o'clock. Now, either you would be delirious with joy or you had three different opportunities to say, "Oh, God, there's nothing from him." And every now and then a telegram would come from Joe. Now, what they did -- they had set little phrases. Like number 19 would say, "I miss you," and number 8 would say, "It's a beautiful day. I wish you were here." And he would send me these funny little messages. And, of course, I'd be sitting in the park -- it seemed I spent all my time, 'cause there was park right opposite our house. It was a beautiful park, and we'd sit there with our babies. And sometimes someone would say, "Marion, you got a telegram," and then your heart would just constrict, and you'd say, "From the War Department?" "No, it was Joe saying, 'I love you and I miss you.'"

Sarah Rouse:

Would he say, "I love you and miss you," or would he say, "Number 18"?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Well, it would say 18, and then they'd print out what it says.

Sarah Rouse:

I understand.

Marion Reh Gurfein:

But most of the letters came on this awful V-mail.

Sarah Rouse:

Was it awful because it was hard to read?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Very difficult to read, and you knew everything was censored, so you really couldn't, you know, put your intimate thoughts -- but when a letter would get through, Joe would write marvelous love letters. And one of the girls with a baby, you know, who had a baby, we were sitting together, and her husband had been a lawyer, so he was very carful about what he wrote so she would ask me to share Joe's love letters with her, because her husband was writing her as though he thought she'd sue him. So we did have fun between us, you know, laughing. And I would send Joe pictures of the baby and we took movies. In those days we had those awful -- I guess -- they were very primitive --

Sarah Rouse:

16 millimeter?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Sixteen and 8 millimeter, and we'd send that over to him, and he would try -- you know, he was a lot of times, Joe was in headquarters, 'cause he was a pretty smart cookie. And I remember once writing, "Generals cry for him Goofein," you know, "does it again, moo."

Sarah Rouse:

Is Goofein, as in Goofein Journal, a funny name that you all had before the war or is that something you developed in the course of the war?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

I used to fool around with the name Goofein.

Sarah Rouse:

You mentioned a park where you and your sisters and pals -- whereabouts is that park? Is it still there?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Yes, but it's destroyed.

Sarah Rouse:

Has it got a name?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Oh, yes. It was Joyce Kilmer Park, and it was a beautiful little park, and there was a boy's Catholic school right next to it. See, I lived on the -- the apartment house was on the concourse, and that was very, very high toned. There was a big hotel right opposite -- the Concourse Plaza Hotel. And the whole concourse had been planted with trees. After World War I, every soldier who died in that war and came from the Bronx, there was a tree with his name, so we were also conscious of that and all the big parades on Memorial Day would take place. So Joyce Kilmer Park had a magnificent, magnificent fountain. And it was all marble, and there were magnificent maidens and everything with flowers and frogs and everything. Years later the neighborhood changed. A different class of people came in -- I don't want to mention exactly what happened, but when I went back once they had smashed the statues. All the heads were off the statues, and they smashed the whole thing, and all those beautiful tulip beds were destroyed, because it was really very, very beautiful.

Sarah Rouse:

Have you been back recently?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

No. No. I won't go near that neighborhood.

Sarah Rouse:

Is it still --

Marion Reh Gurfein:

It's called -- well, it's called -- I guess you would call -- it's down near the Bronx County Courthouse, and also it's right near the Yankee Stadium, which is three blocks away. So right near the house, in the business section, there were lots of restaurants because after the baseball games people would gather there. And all the big baseball players would stay at that hotel. So the kids would run over to see them.

Sarah Rouse:

So baseball continued through the war, I guess. That is right?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Yes. I guess it did. It must have. While I was living there, there were games going on, which seems rather odd. You'd think they all would have been drafted.

Sarah Rouse:

Maybe they were too mobile, or forever, something like that. During war -- it was generally understood that this was a war. What kind of feelings did people have about war time?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Frightened to death. I used to dream at night that airplanes were coming over. You know, we'd see news reels. There was no television, so we couldn't see all that, but the radio was very important to us. And I remember General Eisenhower talking to us and telling us how there wasn't enough rubber for tires and how we had to conserve everything. And of course, funny things would happened. For instance, because of the Japanese being in the war and all the islands in the Pacific were closed to us, we couldn't get silk stockings. We painted our legs with makeup -- orange makeup. And we'd draw a line up the back 'cause we had seems in ours -- the back of our stockings.

Sarah Rouse:

How in the world did you get that line straight?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Oh my heavens, it was terrible. And then all this makeup would come off inside your dress. We were constantly washing our dresses. But nylons were just coming in. And once I went into a poetry contest, and I won the three pair of nylon stockings, and everybody envied me.

Sarah Rouse:

Did they have seams?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Oh, sure. Oh, yeah. We had seams up the back. But so many things were disappearing. You couldn't get crazy things like spices, pepper, and you couldn't get gum. Well, it was rubber, and it was from these islands. And you couldn't get silk. Now, we all could have survived without those things, but then meat started to disappear. Sugar. Oh my goodness, you couldn't get sugar, and you couldn't get canned goods because they were packing canned goods, sending it overseas. And you couldn't get shoes. We were all rationed for shoes because they were making boots for the army.

Sarah Rouse:

Did they use synthetic materials or just --

Marion Reh Gurfein:

We didn't have any synthetic.

Sarah Rouse:

You just wore out?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

We didn't have plastics. No, we didn't have plastics then. What do you think? This was way back in the dark ages, '41.

Sarah Rouse:

Well, did people remake dresses from other, older ones? Was there a lot of sewing and that kind of thing?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Yeah. I started to sew during the war. I had never sewed. My mother had a machine, but we started, and, of course, it was hard to get material, and dresses became very skimpy because they were saving cloth.

Sarah Rouse:

So hemlines rose?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

But you know -- yes, yeah -- it always does in a war. I've heard of that. And, of course, some people hoarded. When we moved into that nice apartment opposite Joyce Kilmer park, we found under -- I think it was under our refrigerator -- did we have refrigerators then? Yes, we did. And there were pounds and pounds of sugar that had been hidden, and it had all packed down. People hoarded. It was terrible.

Sarah Rouse:

And this was not thought well of?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Oh, no. Oh, no. In fact, tempers were very, very high. We were all nervous. We didn't know if we would ever see our men again. We were all nervous, and of course, with the shortages, you know, things were tight.

Sarah Rouse:

You learned to cook differently?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Oh, yes. Yeah. You cooked -- we used to have all vegetable meals. My mother would call it the blue plate special, you know, 'cause you saved money, then.

Sarah Rouse:

Could you have -- was there rice and potatoes and staples like that, bread?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Yeah.

Sarah Rouse:

Those were --

Marion Reh Gurfein:

I guess so. It was the meats and the canned goods. Whenever I could get some fancy canned goods I'd mail it to Joe. We could have five pound packages. We were allowed to send food overseas.

Sarah Rouse:

So you packaged --

Marion Reh Gurfein:

And we'd package -- if I could get him, say, figs and things like that, you know. I don't know who he shared with, but I know he appreciated it.

Sarah Rouse:

Was transport difficult, or were the same -- subways were going and taxis and automobiles?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Yes. I didn't use them. My sisters went to work. Of course, when I was home with that baby -- so, I didn't use them too much, but, yes, it seems the subways were running.

Sarah Rouse:

You mentioned news reels and radio. What other kinds of entertainment did you have during the war? Either going out type entertainment or between yourselves?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Not very much.

Sarah Rouse:

Just --

Marion Reh Gurfein:

We had parties. You know, we'd get together at parties and try to cheer each other up. All-women parties. And we'd go to the movies, you know, when my mother and sisters would mind my baby. We'd have movies, and that's when we'd see the news reels and could see what was happening. But the newspapers -- it wasn't like today where you knew exactly what was happening, and maybe it was a good thing because we would have been horribly, horribly upset.

Sarah Rouse:

Was it clear from newspapers that we were winning or was it always kind of a question?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Oh, they were trying to be cheerful, but at times we were worried. One thing -- we did have air conditioning in those days, and we lived in the top floor, and it would go up to 90 degrees in that apartment. And, of course, the baby would suffer, and I would suffer. So at one point we did go out to a beach. We took a little house, you know, my sisters, my mother, and I, and we went out to this little beach and took a little -- it was a tiny apartment. And then from that place, it wasn't far away -- we could take a bus to a beach and let Margie play and go in and out of the water. And I'd send pictures to Joe and show him how she was growing. By then she was two years old -- no, not two. She was one, one-and-a-half going on two, but we tried to make the best of it.

Sarah Rouse:

Just a quick question about the recycling of rubber and some of it. Was there a collection point for all of that stuff?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

It must have been -- if you lived in an apartment house there must have been bins, or we'd carry it someplace. They wanted fur, too. For the men who were, you know, up north. It was cold. So we'd throw in any fur that we had.

Sarah Rouse:

Did you have to line up at grocery stores to get certain things, or was it all pretty much --

Marion Reh Gurfein:

I'm trying to think in my neighborhood. It seems -- no, we could get into shops. But there was a great deal of -- if someone had too many. If she was buying meat. Oh, I once heard a woman say, oh, she said -- she must have had a lot of ration points, or she knew somebody. If you knew someone -- there was a black market, you know. If you paid a lot of money you could get anything you wanted. And she said, "Steak, steak. I'm so sick of steak." And I remember, I turned on her. I don't know what I said. But, I tell you, there were a lot of -- we were getting on each other's nerves. For instance, there were some people whose sons and husbands were in certain industries. They didn't have to go to war. And, of course, you resented that. You couldn't help but resent it, and you'd say why is he -- and they would brag about how much money they were making. Oh, yeah. Some of them -- for instance, if you had a clothing factory and you were able to make uniforms for the army, you were just raking it in. And, of course, there was resentment.

Sarah Rouse:

I can imagine.

Marion Reh Gurfein:

And then some people would not save their tin cans and would not, you know, cooperate, but go to the black market. So it wasn't all sweetness back home.

Sarah Rouse:

I think we see posters and all this very cheerful --

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Oh, yeah.

Sarah Rouse:

How about things like --

Marion Reh Gurfein:

You know, the woman -- we can do it.

Sarah Rouse:

Rosie the Riveter.

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Rosie the Riveter.

Sarah Rouse:

Very encouraging kinds of things, but I know there was a sort of dark side. Would you say people behaved more badly or better, generally, or about the same?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Some behaved -- brought out the very, very best in people, and in some it brought out the worst. And I guess it's still that way, you know. It was just human nature.

Sarah Rouse:

Do you think the war was -- did you have worthwhile experiences because of the war? I think it's, you know --

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Yes. I did meet -- before Joe went overseas we moved from post to post, from state to state. Oh, we'd be in North Carolina, and then down in Georgia where he trained as a paratrooper, and then we'd be in other little towns in the south. And I did meet wonderful people. We corresponded all during the war. 'Cause we'd go in and ring door bells and ask them if they had a bedroom that we could rent. I mean, you had to live. And I went with Joe all over. Some people stayed home, but I went with Joe from town to town, and I did meet some wonderful people who were kind to us, helped us.

Sarah Rouse:

So you didn't stay on the posts necessarily?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Oh, good heavens, no. I never got on a post until about six years after the war, and that was one of the first times.

Sarah Rouse:

So you saw the USA?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Oh, yes. I surely did.

Sarah Rouse:

And met a lot of people you might not have otherwise.

Marion Reh Gurfein:

That's right. That was the good part. The nice part.

Sarah Rouse:

Would you have any particularly humorous experiences that you would like to recall, other than what you said?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Well, I think the experience of selling the car coming up -- being stuck in North Carolina, and I had no idea that Joe's outfit was going overseas. No. No. He never said a word. Joe was straight, you know. You know, a straight West Pointer. At times too straight. But Joe was taking -- every day he would take a piece of clothing out of the closet, and I never noticed until someone called me and said, "Marion, go to your closet. Your going to see Joe isn't going to come home tonight." And so, there I was. I couldn't drive. Joe had the car. He was out at -- I forget the name of the fort. It's all wiped out in my mind. Anyhow, I had to get that car, so I called Joe's brother, who was a college student, and he came down. And the way I got the car was to call Joe's outfit -- they hadn't pulled out yet -- and said, "Would you please tell," -- I think Joe was a captain then -- "Captain Gurfein to please bring the car and leave it in front of the PX?" And then I took a bus out there and I hid and I saw him bring the car, and I ran over to him, and that's how we said goodbye. And Joe's brother came and drove me. Now, we were young, and we didn't know you had to really take care of a car, especially when it was a used car. So we got in the car and started to drive to New York. And it broke -- what happened -- oh, yeah, a tire blew. And we had a ration book and we were able to buy a tire. The second time a tire blew and a truck stopped and helped us. The third time we were out in Elkton, Maryland, and something happened to the car, and again it was the bad tires -- they were selling us bad tires. And I said, "Well Arthur, why don't you jack up the car. Someone will feel sorry for us and come along. Somehow, someone will give us a tire." And he jacked the car up and the jack slipped and it punctured the oil tank. Now, you know, gasoline was rationed, and the gasoline ran all over the place. And so he said, "I have to go for help." He said -- and he got a lift into Elkton, and he left me alone on the highway with this broken down car. And I was frightened. There were woods all around, and I was in a bad state. I was pregnant. I didn't feel very well. I didn't know I was pregnant, but I knew I didn't feel well. So I had a little toy gun. You know Joe and I had been shooting at targets. It was a little, tiny shot rubber little things, and I remember I held that in my hand, if anybody came near that car, you know. Well, a sergeant pulled up in a car, and he came and said, "You're sitting here all alone on a highway. I'm going to stay with you 'till your brother-in-law gets back." So he stayed with me, and Arthur came back, and someone came from a gas station and they looked at the car and they said they couldn't do anything with it. So, I gave the sergeant certain things that were in the car. And I said, "That's it. That's it. I'm selling it." And he gave me $25. That was enough to get up to New York by bus. So we got up to Elkton, and we had to stay overnight. And I had enough money for only one room, and I said to Arthur that if you tell anybody that you and I shared a hotel room. It was so funny. Poor Arthur, you know. We had twin beds and I said, "Don't tell anybody." Because in those days -- everything was so funny. And the next day we took a bus up to New York, and I came into my house crying. And my mother greeted me. The car was gone. And we asked the man down there to please ship everything up. You could.

Sarah Rouse:

Which he did?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Which he did eventually after lots of phone calls and letters and a few threats. You know, there was a suitcase in the car and there was a little radio and little things that we had that we finally got them. So that was quite an adventure, which I will never forget.

Sarah Rouse:

That's very vivid. I'm sure you were pleased when the war was over. And that the war ended in stages -- and how did that?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

It ended in stages. The first -- let's see -- that's right, it was the European war ended, and I remember my mother said, "Go out." And we were running in the streets -- look at me crying.

Sarah Rouse:

Happy?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

I know. I was so happy. And I don't know -- we ended up in a little neighborhood pub -- a sort of bar -- my sisters and I, and we were all cheering. It was wonderful. And then when the Japanese war ended I was out in that little beach resort with the baby when that ended. And I remember, too, that we all ran outside. And there was kissing. It was so marvelous.

Sarah Rouse:

Well, did your husband then come back right away or did he have to stay a little longer?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

He stayed -- for several months there was no sign of his him coming home, and then one day I received a telegram and it said, "30 days hath September" -- or was it November? Thirty days, I think, hath November and you and I. And, oh, he was going to come home for 30 days. And I remember we got the date. He came in to Florida on a ship, and I was getting telegrams not to contact him. And he would be arriving at such-and-such a time, and my in-laws came up, and we were all sitting there in the living room, you know, trembling, waiting for him. And I heard the elevator come up. The elevator was near our apartment and I could hear it, and I ran out and Joe stepped out of the elevator. And it was wonderful. And then my mother -- we went over -- we spent the night together at the hotel across the street. That was the treat. And we were going to stay there several days -- my mother was going to watch the baby, but Joe wanted to be with his daughter. So we came back to the apartment, and somehow we all fit in, you know. People slept on couches and things, but they gave us at least my bedroom. And he had his little daughter who took to him immediately.

Sarah Rouse:

And that would have been when, about -- the fall you said? November?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Yes, but we all had -- and then a telegram came to Joe. Somebody had passed a bill -- was it Congress or something -- said that no man would have to go back. If he came on leave, he could stay. And Joe called me into the bedroom and handed me that piece of paper. It was his orders. And I -- 'cause I always cry when I'm happy -- so I burst into tears, and my sister passed by and she thought Joe was telling me that he was going to divorce me. She didn't know why I was crying. So he stayed and his orders came for Providence, Rhode Island. And so he went up there to see, you know, to get, to see if he could find a place for us to live. And then I came up on my first airplane ride with Margie.

Sarah Rouse:

From New York to Providence, Rhode Island?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

To Providence, Rhode Island.

Sarah Rouse:

And there you stayed?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

No. No. Because after three months he received orders to go to Harvard and get his masters in engineering. And he went up there and he could not find -- it was right after the war. You couldn't find a place to live. It was impossible. They hadn't been building. So he had to go to Harvard. By then I was pregnant with the second child, and we couldn't -- he needed a car, but you couldn't get cars after the war. They put you on a waiting list. So that poor boy -- to make an eight o'clock class in Harvard, he would get up and walk and take a bus and then take a train to Boston and then take the subway. He'd get up at five in the morning, but he made those classes.

Sarah Rouse:

Well, I wonder if you could just think about ways war changed your life. You've mentioned some of those, and are there are some other things that you would like to me to ask you, or other --

Marion Reh Gurfein:

I'd like you to ask me about Korea.

Sarah Rouse:

All right. Well, let me make sure the tapes are ready.

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Yeah. This is long, but you can cut it and pull out what you want.

Sarah Rouse:

So --

Marion Reh Gurfein:

You know, five years after this whole thing was over and we had been in Providence, and we went down to Fort Belmore after that, and then we went out to Fort Knox, and Joe was going to Armor School. I don't know why, but they do send you to different schools. Then suddenly war broke out in Korea.

Sarah Rouse:

And that would have '50? '49?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

1950, yeah. It was only five years after the other war. It was still in your mind. And we didn't know that Joe was going to go to war. His orders came for Joe, and they were for Okinawa. And that he could take me -- he could take the family to Okinawa after eight months passed. And again, where were we going to live while he went off to Okinawa? So I went back to New York then. And there was no room for me with two children in that apartment anymore, so I stayed with my in-laws for several months, knowing that the kids were probably getting on their nerves, and then again we went out to the same beach resort. It was Atlantic Beach. And we got there, and it was -- stayed over the summer in a tiny little apartment in someone's house, and then the winter came and everybody took off for Florida, closed up their houses. And I stayed alone with the two children in a boarded up neighborhood with no telephone.

Sarah Rouse:

That's --

Marion Reh Gurfein:

At that point I did buy a car, which I described and told Joe about in the Goofein Journal. And I had acquired a car and bought the car, and that wasn't a very good experience. I mean, I had good friends about a block-and-a-half away -- a doctor and his wife, so in case one of the kids -- you know, and they were always falling off bicycles and things -- I could run and get help. And then -- by then Joe had been gone a whole year-and-a-half -- and he had been up in the Chosin Reservoir, which was very, very bad. And he had been surrounded, and he did lead a battalion out -- he's written up in several books on Korea. If you look in these books on Korea and under Gurfein you'll see that Joe got them out and they were picked up and saved.

Sarah Rouse:

What unit?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

But suddenly -- he was with the 10th -- the 10th -- you know, so many of these things are going out of my mind because I don't want to think about it -- 10th Corps. Yeah, 10th Corps. That's right. And by then he had become a Lieutenant Colonel, and if he had stayed there was a good chance, you know, that he could become a colonel and a general. But I wanted Joe home, and he wanted to get home. And other people that he was with in this headquarters that he ended up in -- other people that he was with had their wives in Japan. See, they had been sent over from Japan. And they could fly back. They kept flying back and seeing their families. And finally Joe said to the General Almond, who wanted him to stay -- Joe loved General Almond -- but he said, "Look, you are all going back and seeing, but I haven't seen my family for 18 months. And they're way back in New York." So I was real proud of him that he came home. He sent me a telegram. He came home the day after Valentine's Day. And I had baked -- you know, I bought the heart-shaped pan, and I baked a big chocolate cake. So every February 15 after that we had a home-baked chocolate cake, because that was the day that daddy came home. And the kids and I would sing, "When daddy comes marching home again, hurray, hurray." We kept making up songs, you know. Kept writing poetry and making up songs just to keep up everybody's morale. It sounds like I had a terrible life but I didn't because I had a wonderful marriage.

Sarah Rouse:

How did you support yourself when he was in the war?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Well, he sent money to me. Not much, but I couldn't work with two little children.

Sarah Rouse:

Did your children sometimes say, "Why does daddy have to be in the war?"

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Oh, the three-year-old little boy during the Korean war -- it was terrible. He said, "My daddy doesn't want to be here." How can you explain to a 3-year-old child?

Sarah Rouse:

You managed, though, I'm sure. Did the Goofein Journal -- you said was World War II, but then you picked it up --

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Oh, I had to pick it up in Korea again. I said we did it before, but who the hell wanted to do it again? And then when Vietnam came, Joe was in and out of Vietnam. Well, by then we had a great life -- well, you know, been stationed in Bermuda and stationed in Europe, and we were back in Arlington, and I had a career, and Joe was in the Army then, you know, he hadn't gotten out, of course, and we were enjoying life very much, taking trips. And then Vietnam came along, and at that point he would go over -- well, first he had a job -- he had to figure out what equipment would they need during the war in Vietnam for the engineers. How many nails and stuff like that. And eventually he went over with some general -- I forgot the name -- and they would go over -- they were investigating about floating piers in so they could unload equipment on the docks in Vietnam. And he kept going and coming back and going and coming back. And finally I said to Joe -- I don't know if this had any reason why he quit or he didn't believe too much in that Vietnam War -- and I said to him, "Honey, I can't sit out a third war. I just can't do it." And Joe said, "Don't worry. All right. I'm getting out now. I have 26 years in." And he got out and he ended up a professor at George Mason University. And he had 26 years in the army and 26 years as a professor. And as Joe said, he loved everything he did in the army and loved teaching, and if they didn't pay him, he would have paid them. Isn't it great to be in love with life? And so even before Joe retired from George Mason, they have a scholarship in Joe's name three years before he retired from George Mason. They have a scholarship in Joe's name three years before he retired for the student in engineering who best exemplified Joe Gurfein and his and life.

Sarah Rouse:

What a marvelous tribute.

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Yes. I mean, he would go down to Lawton and teach them math, teach prisoners math; come in to Washington Saturday morning, teach little children math; give speeches all over to women that they should go in for engineering. He was into that. He didn't believe that women had to be, you know, baking cookies.

Sarah Rouse:

Absolutely. Well, you have such a strong personality yourself.

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Oh God, too strong.

Sarah Rouse:

Not at all. I think it must have helped sustain you through all this.

Marion Reh Gurfein:

I think so. I had plenty of run-ins with the U.S. Army.

Sarah Rouse:

Is that right? You faced them down, did you?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Well, I got us fresh eggs in Bermuda. When we moved there Joe was sent over to build a hospital as an engineer. And he was the only army officer, which was wonderful. You get invited to all the governors parties and the bishops parties 'cause he represented the U.S. Army. There was one thing wrong. The food was terrible. We were only three hours from New York, but they used to send in eggs that came from cold storage with black spots on them. Well, I just happened to be on the post newspaper. I had a little column. And I started to kid them about these horrible cold storage eggs when we were three hours -- and the planes -- we were on an air force base. They were flying back and forth. We couldn't even get fresh milk.

Sarah Rouse:

This was in the '50s?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

This was in the '50s. '55. And after I kept this up, one day I looked out my window and, oh God, there's the commissary officer coming and this one and that one -- all these officers coming up to talk to me. And then we got the fresh eggs. So I always felt I did a few little things for the families.

Sarah Rouse:

Well it's important to have someone looking after the domestic side of life.

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Because you know it's a huge bureaucracy and things get --

Sarah Rouse:

Do you have any thoughts on the different wars and how back home there was a certain feeling about each war, probably?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Well, what I think is funny -- and now I sound like a the old army war horse, you know, the old army wife, but when the Gulf War broke out, my nephew, who was a captain in the Marines, he went over, and I think that war lasted four days, right? And I was reading about all these psychologists talking to these poor women whose husbands were gone. Some of them had to spend several months away from home. But, oh, isn't it terrible for the poor wives and how they were taken care of. And I thought, it was, you know, really funny. And I laughed so. And now when I'm reading about Afghanistan War, and I read about this soldier saw his child and won't see it again for six months. And I thought, who cares what happened to us back then? There was no feeling that anybody was going to take care of you. A psychologist help you? No. If you were depressed -- it all depended on yourself. If you're the depressed type, you're going to be depressed. And if you keep trying to see the funny side of things, you can get through all these different things that happen in your life.

Sarah Rouse:

But your having spanned three or four wars makes you special, I think, and so your observations are --

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Yeah. I think it's probably -- World War II, Korea, that's right, the Gulf War, and now -- no Vietnam, Gulf and -- that's five wars.

Sarah Rouse:

That's a lot. Those are the wars that the project -- well, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf, are all under this project, and not Afghanistan. I think your perspective is an interesting one -- the home front and married to an Army officer.

Marion Reh Gurfein:

I always felt a little guilty that I wasn't loyal to the U.S. Army. I went to a funeral about this woman, and the only thing they could say about her, she was loyal to the Army. And I thought, well, goodness knows they're not going to say that about Marion Gurfein.

Sarah Rouse:

Well, I don't know. You were a good --

Marion Reh Gurfein:

I was loyal to an Army officer, Joe. I kept him going, and he was very appreciative. The very fact that he carried all these things. He carried all these cards and everything through wars. He never mailed them home to me. He brought them home after each war.

Sarah Rouse:

They are a very wonderful record, personal -- a very personal record. They are very unique, obviously.

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Well, and that's the whole story of what happened to our families during the war.

Sarah Rouse:

Do you have any other thoughts you'd like to share for the record, here, about any of those?

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Yes. I only hope to God that we never see another one, because each one gets worse and worse. And we are no longer protected and far away. After September 11, we know exactly what will happen in the future. And I have grandchildren and I have great-grandchildren, and I hope for their sake that all this is over. I don't want to see any of them ever involved in a war. That's, I guess, how we all feel.

Sarah Rouse:

That's right. Well, I want thank you, Mrs. Marion Gurfein for sharing your recollections, and we appreciate your time and your wonderful contribution to the project.

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Well, I think the project is just lovely.

Sarah Rouse:

Well, we're honored to have you as part of it.

Marion Reh Gurfein:

Thank you.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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