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Interview with [October 12-13, 2001]

James H. Billington:

You call this place -- how do you describe it? It's not Charlottesville exactly.

John W. Kluge:

Yes. This is Charlottesville.

James H. Billington:

This is Charlottesville. Okay.

James H. Billington:

We're recording, and we're with Mr. John W. Kluge. I'm James H. Billington. We are on October 12 of 2001 in Charlottesville, Virginia. I'm the Librarian of Congress, and I'm here to ask Mr. Kluge, first of all, what branch of the service you served in, and with what rank, and in what theaters?

John W. Kluge:

I volunteered before the draft, because, at that time, if one volunteered, you would get out in a year. Well, I don't have to tell you what happened, because after that, we went into a period where we declared war, and I think I stayed in the service a total of four and a half years. And I went in as a private. I went to the Quartermaster corps and became a lieutenant, and later I became a first lieutenant, and later a captain. And I remember the first sergeant saying, "You know, you ought to become a first sergeant. Why do you go to officer's training camp, school?" I said, "Well, I think to better myself." He said, "You ought to become a first sergeant." I said, "Why?" He said, "You're the laziest son of a bitch in the camp." And that was my qualification. But I went on to officers training school anyhow.

James H. Billington:

And where was that?

John W. Kluge:

It was in Leesburg. Not Leesburg, but Petersburg, Virginia.

James H. Billington:

Petersburg, Virginia. And where were you at the time when you joined the service?

John W. Kluge:

Michigan. Detroit, Michigan.

James H. Billington:

Detroit, Michigan.

John W. Kluge:

Yeah.

James H. Billington:

And when was that? Was that 1940?

John W. Kluge:

Yes. I think it was 1940.

James H. Billington:

And why did you join at that time?

John W. Kluge:

Well, I joined because I felt I ought to go into the service, and I also joined because it was very clear cut that I would be out in a year.

James H. Billington:

Do you recall your first days in the service? What did that feel like, and what was your experience in the early training years, as an enlisted man?

John W. Kluge:

Well, as an enlisted man, the one thing I wanted to avoid was working in the kitchen. I hate the kitchen. But I remember it was Saturday, and I was so looking forward to getting a pass to go outside of the camp.

James H. Billington:

This camp -- excuse me -- was where?

John W. Kluge:

In Petersburg, Virginia.

James H. Billington:

I see.

John W. Kluge:

And I was peeling potatoes, and it was [in] a hall, and these sacks of potatoes were one after another. And I was rushing to get through, and he said to me, the sergeant said to me, "Why are you rushing?" And then he showed me down the other hall there were still lots of sacks of potatoes. But there wasn't such a thing as a reprieve in the sense that if you were peeling potatoes, you would continue peeling potatoes. And of course, after awhile, the green soldiers came in, [and] in the mess hall we would put that fellow in the middle, and on both ends, they'd say to him, "Pass this," and then "Pass this." Poor fellow never had a chance to eat. He was always passing back and forth. But actually, I had to numb myself, because I was already out of school and in 1940, I was 26 years old. So I was older than a lot of the enlisted men, and I would continually think of other things, because it was quite confining. But nevertheless, I enjoyed it. I didn't enjoy the length of time, but the thing is that I was the officer in charge of a black unit.

James H. Billington:

Now this was when? This was after --

John W. Kluge:

After.

James H. Billington:

-- Officers Candidate School?

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. And --

James H. Billington:

So where did you go from there, as an officer?

John W. Kluge:

To California.

James H. Billington:

To California.

John W. Kluge:

Yeah.

James H. Billington:

And that's when you were in charge of this unit?

John W. Kluge:

Yes. And actually, I could never understand just exactly -- I had some qualifications -- why I would then be put in the quartermaster corps, because I had some language skills. And then I found out, prior to my getting in the service, I met a girl who happens to be the niece of a schoolteacher in Detroit, and the schoolteacher with whom I -- in whose house I lived and did chores around the house for my board and room was friendly with this other teacher. And somehow or other, I had been in Europe just before. And she decided, because I had been in Germany and other places, that I was a German spy. And she wrote to the War Department, and that's why they sort of jerked me around. And then I was sent to the Aleutians.

James H. Billington:

This is right after the California --

John W. Kluge:

Yes. And I certainly was isolated in the Aleutians. And I was there during the winter.

James H. Billington:

How long were you in the California unit?

John W. Kluge:

I was based in the airfield outside of Los Angeles -- March Field. Which was an Air Force base. And there, part of the time I became the P.R. officer, and I remember that incident very well, because I introduced Marlene Dietrich to the troops, and I want to tell you, I never heard such resounding applause when she first spoke to them, and then danced, or sang to them. It was a highlight of my early experience in the Army.

James H. Billington:

Was that part of the origins of your long involvement in the entertainment and--

John W. Kluge:

I don't know.

James H. Billington:

-- media business?

John W. Kluge:

Well, what happened is, when I went into the Aleutians, where I was in charge of -- Assistant Army Transportation in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, that rather than getting drunk in the officers club every night, although some nights that was very comforting, I must tell you.

James H. Billington:

Long winters?

John W. Kluge:

Long winters. I was saying to myself, "I certainly am not going to be in this forever, and what am I really going to do, or where do I think, the future might be?" And I decided in early '42, that I would go into the service business. It took a little capital. And that's what I did after I got out of the army. But --

James H. Billington:

What was your actual assignment in the Aleutians?

John W. Kluge:

I was the Assistant Superintendent of Army Transportation.

James H. Billington:

And what did that involve?

John W. Kluge:

It involved --

James H. Billington:

Can you relate that to the war effort?

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. It involved when troop ships would come into the Aleutians, 15,000 men, to meet that ship and to make arrangements for where they were going to go, and to give them supplies in the interim, whatever they needed. And I remember, though, one time the quartermaster had a private yacht. I remember it belonged to the Zellerbach family in San Francisco. And the chief officer of Dutch Harbor was out there with this yacht fishing, and I was frantic. I needed this boat. And I told the operator to cut everybody off. And of course, I cut the commanding officer off. After awhile --

James H. Billington:

Cut him off. I'm not sure what you mean by that.

John W. Kluge:

On the phone.

James H. Billington:

I see. On the phone. Okay.

John W. Kluge:

And he called me. He said, "Did you cut me off?" I said, "Yes, I did." Well, he said, "You know, you're an officer now, but I think you might be better off being a private no class." At least private first class, you know, was something. But from his point of view, it was going to be a private no class. And I said, "Yes, sir, yes, sir, yes, sir." What else could I say? Well, needless to say, time passed. One day, after they cleared my record in Washington, I get this directive from Washington. The orders are secret, destination is secret by order of the Secretary of War. He called me, this commanding officer called me in his office. He said, "Who do you know in Washington?" Well, I said, "Sir, I know the president." Of course, I didn't know the president at all. "And I have certain ideas that I'm going to tell the president what's happening here at this post." And I gave him a smart salute and turned around and walked out of the office. Believe it or not, then I became an officer in military intelligence, General Marshall's staff in the Pentagon and at the --

James H. Billington:

This was about when?

John W. Kluge:

This would be about '43.

James H. Billington:

'43. Okay.

John W. Kluge:

By the way, I went to the officers training school, military intelligence, at Camp Ritchie in Maryland, which is right near Camp David.

James H. Billington:

Oh, right.

John W. Kluge:

And, as a matter of fact, it was from that officers graduation as a military intelligence officer that I was sent to the Quartermaster Corps, and --

James H. Billington:

You went to the military intelligence before you went to Alaska?

John W. Kluge:

Yeah.

James H. Billington:

Oh, I see.

John W. Kluge:

And you see, they put me in the Quartermaster Corps, so they would isolate me.

James H. Billington:

I see. I see.

John W. Kluge:

Well, here I am in Washington, and I'm on the dance floor of the Shoreham Hotel, and I bumped into this commanding officer, and I looked at him, and I said, "I told the president that you ought to stay in the Aleutians." And I said, "I'm going to certainly talk to him tomorrow." And went right on dancing. I wanted to scare the hell out of him. Anyhow.

James H. Billington:

Now, a couple of questions. What was he doing with a private yacht? Was this commandeered by -- for the war effort?

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. Yeah.

James H. Billington:

Right. Okay.

John W. Kluge:

But he --

James H. Billington:

So it wasn't a private yacht then, it was --

John W. Kluge:

Yes. Well, he was using it for his private purpose.

James H. Billington:

Purposes.

John W. Kluge:

And fishing and --

James H. Billington:

I see.

John W. Kluge:

-- whatever.

James H. Billington:

Now was it not also true, before we leave Alaska, that there was one bombing raid --

John W. Kluge:

Yes, there was. The quartermaster depot was bombed.

James H. Billington:

That was where you were stationed, at Dutch Harbor?

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. And I was talking to the commanding officer, and I said, "Isn't it awful the place was bombed?" He said, "It's the best thing that ever happened to us. Everything we ever lost was in that depot." And I understood, you know, because they --

James H. Billington:

This was the same commanding officer who'd been fishing on the boat earlier? Or it was a different commanding officer?

John W. Kluge:

I think it was a different one.

James H. Billington:

A different one. Okay.

John W. Kluge:

But I have very vivid memories of Dutch Harbor. Firstly, the tundra, and the rats were as big as rabbits. Not only do they sit on their hind legs, but they would glare at you. They weren't afraid of you. And there were so many of them around the kitchens and so and so. And we had these big boots on, so we didn't care. We would just walk around them, walk over them, whatever. But that was an experience.

James H. Billington:

When did this bombing occur? Was it just a one time --

John W. Kluge:

Yeah.

James H. Billington:

It must have been fairly effective, if they took out the supply --

John W. Kluge:

Well, but actually they were -- the Japanese were along that chain, Umnak, Adak, Attu. And they were there. And actually, our strategic plan was to divert the Japanese naval power to protect their country along that chain. And when we -- I think it was Attu. We went in Attu, the Japanese weren't there.

James H. Billington:

This was when? What --

John W. Kluge:

This must have been when the Japanese -- this must have been in the '41 period, '42 period.

James H. Billington:

Fairly early.

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. Very early.

James H. Billington:

They occupied Attu --

John W. Kluge:

Yes. They --

James H. Billington:

And then left it.

John W. Kluge:

And left it.

James H. Billington:

I see.

John W. Kluge:

Yeah.

James H. Billington:

And the bombing occurred roughly when?

John W. Kluge:

Well, I think it occurred in late '40.

James H. Billington:

Oh, it was early.

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. I think -- you know, it's been 60-some odd years ago.

James H. Billington:

Yeah. But it was relatively early in the war.

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. Right. And I remember in the toilet, some smart aleck wrote on the wall, "In case of an air attack, stand here. Nobody's ever hit it." Including the guys that are urinating there. You know.

James H. Billington:

In terms of your experience up there, did you have plenty of supplies?

John W. Kluge:

Oh, yes. We had plenty of supplies.

James H. Billington:

Plenty of supplies.

John W. Kluge:

Yeah, and I learned one thing, because I was also, in a way, working closely with the Navy, that the Navy takes much better care of their people than the Army does.

James H. Billington:

In what sense?

John W. Kluge:

Well, they seem to have better food, more variety. They had things that we talked about, but never saw. I mean, delicacies. And you know, when you're up in that area, that environment, even a piece of fruit looks like something that dropped from Heaven.

James H. Billington:

Did you have any entertainment, any diversions, any leave time up there? Or was it -- how did that work?

John W. Kluge:

They would give you leave time. I remember a nurse -- when I first came up there, the General walked in with the head nurse. And I've got to tell you, she was uglier than sin. And all these people in the dining hall, which wasn't that big, stood up and I said to the fellow next to me. I said, "Why all this fuss?" He said, "When did you get up here?" I said, "Well, I got up here yesterday." He said, "Wait 'til you're up here a month. She will look like an American beauty." She went -- talking about vacation, she went on vacation, supposedly for two weeks to Seattle. She was there about three days, four days. She came back. In other words, she got so much attention in the Aleutians, and she got no attention in Seattle, which I can understand.

James H. Billington:

So she voluntarily came back.

John W. Kluge:

She came back.

James H. Billington:

Just after three days. What did you do when you were on leave? You must have had some leave up there?

John W. Kluge:

No, I had --

James H. Billington:

You didn't have --

John W. Kluge:

No. All right.

James H. Billington:

Do you have any photographs, or any records of the time in Alaska?

John W. Kluge:

I don't think so.

James H. Billington:

Did they have photographers up there, I wonder? Not so much?

John W. Kluge:

All I remember up there is having a wisdom tooth pulled. And two young dentists, and they -- now they're talking to each other. "What are we going to do? We can't get this whole tooth." I want to tell you, they worked on me so that for 15 years, the nerve in my chin was affected. It took 15 years for it to regenerate.

James H. Billington:

Were there expectations in the early days, when the Japanese did move into some of those islands, whether --

John W. Kluge:

Well --

James H. Billington:

Were people fearful that they were going to keep on coming?

John W. Kluge:

Yeah, of course.

James H. Billington:

I mean, [were] there any preparations made up there that --

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. We would stand, of course, guard, and had all kinds of electronic gear. The people I felt really sorry for were the people on the submarines, who would go in this Bering Sea, and the Russians had much better topographical maps than we did. You know. They'd been up there for many years. And also, the flyers. Because the clouds would just come in, and it might be very clear, and all at once, it becomes very cloudy. And you know, up there, there's such a thing, it's called a williwaw. It's a snow that doesn't go vertical, but goes horizontal. It is -- and the wind just keeps driving. I mean, you just have -- and after you get used to it, and the williwaw, the thing that a number of soldiers did is committed suicide.

James H. Billington:

Really.

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. Because they couldn't take it. They weren't balanced, and they couldn't take it. And that's understandable.

James H. Billington:

Did you have any contact with the Russians?

John W. Kluge:

Oh, yeah. I did.

James H. Billington:

How did that work?

John W. Kluge:

I remember, we used to have these old rusty boats come in, and some of them -- the captains were women. And I mean, they looked -- I mean, they were five feet high and five feet wide. And they would bark these men around like nobody's business. They were to get only so many buckets of coal. You know, they were coal burning. And they would ply me with vodka. But I would always have a pencil, and when five buckets were put into the hold, I would put a scratch. And then after ten of those scratches, I knew that was 50 buckets. And then I'd do another one. Let's say they would get 150 buckets. When it got to 149 buckets, I'd say -- they didn't understand - "That's one more and that's enough for these jerks." And I'd smile at the Russians, and you know. And they thought, "Oh, boy, we've got this guy in the bag." As it got to be 140, I would become very expansive, and I'd act a little more drunk than I was, and I might have been drunk to start with. But when it got to 150, I got up and then walked down the plank, and the Russians would be talking to themselves, "What the hell happened," you know. They couldn't understand that you could be drunk and [not] forget the number of buckets. Yeah.

James H. Billington:

So what the Russians -- the contact with the Russians was basically refueling.

John W. Kluge:

Yeah, it was --

James H. Billington:

Were they on patrol, or were they --

John W. Kluge:

Some were fishing boats.

James H. Billington:

Oh, I see.

John W. Kluge:

And they were -- oh, they were the oldest looking boats. I mean, there was --

James H. Billington:

In addition to refueling and a certain amount of resupplying, was there any, so to speak, arrangements with the Russians in the Aleutian area that you were part of, or had a sense of, that could be called joint war planning?

John W. Kluge:

No. It didn't seem that way to me, because the boats that I would fill with buckets of coal were -- if they were part of planning, they certainly hid their talents under a bushel basket, because they were the toughest looking people, and it seemed to me that wherever a woman was in charge, the men seemed to be quite small. I don't know whether that was done with design, but I'll tell you, they were afraid as can be of a woman captain. Evidently, if they just didn't follow the script, they'd be, I guess, reported back when they got back to Russia. And I think they probably went to Vladivostock.

James H. Billington:

What was your impression, apart from the commanding officers, of whom you've already spoken, what was your impression of fellow soldiers there in Alaska? In general, in your military career up to Washington. We'll talk about Washington --

John W. Kluge:

Well, I think most people felt they weren't going to get home alive. I was one of them. And I remember one convoy where we had a fellow that was going to be cute, and he disappeared. We hunted all over for him, and we literally carried him on to the boat, and he went on the chain --

James H. Billington:

Where were the convoys going, and where were they coming from?

John W. Kluge:

Well, they were going along the Aleutian chain.

James H. Billington:

To where, though?

John W. Kluge:

Well, to Umnak, Adak.

James H. Billington:

Oh, I see. Right.

John W. Kluge:

I think the environment there was such that I think people were more concerned about the environment, you know, with these williwaws and I mean, you could literally be carried off in the wind. And as a matter of fact, when I came to the Aleutians, I came in the United Fruit Liner, and we couldn't land, or dock, rather, for a couple of days, because it was so rough in the Bering Sea, you only have about four minutes to live if you have to go into that water.

James H. Billington:

After you got to Washington, what was your duty there?

John W. Kluge:

I was active in the post called 1142, which is a secret post, and we were involved in the order of battle. I was on General Marshall's staff. And I had under me very bright young people. A lot of them were of Jewish faith who came from different parts of the Middle East or Germany or whatever. And they were promised that after the war, they would become a citizen of the United States. And they were bright. They were very assiduous. They were unusual people.

James H. Billington:

Were they in the service, or --

John W. Kluge:

They were in the service.

James H. Billington:

In the service.

John W. Kluge:

Now, I would interview, from time to time, German Generals, and I would drive them in my car around --

James H. Billington:

Captured German Generals?

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. And I would take them in my car and show them the Pentagon. And I said to these Generals, "You know, this is the annex. The big one makes this place look small." Well, you did all kinds of things with these people. You were working on their head. But we would know from past documentation who could understand English and who could speak English and so and so. And of course, they wouldn't speak any English. It's all German. And I would - we'd have a man dressed as a Russian officer, and he looked Russian -- he was Russian, and he spoke Russian. But he spoke English, too. I would say, "Look. We can't get any information out of this officer. All he would give is his rank, his serial number, and the unit he's with." And I would say to the Russian -- this was all pre-planned - "Look. We're going to give this guy one more day. Then I'm going to turn him over to you, and you can send him to Siberia or wherever you want to send him, and let your people deal with him. "Because you know, I'm sorry I have to tell you this, we're much nicer to these people. You people are very rough." And of course, the Germans were deathly afraid of the Russians. Deathly afraid of them. So the next day, things went a lot better.

James H. Billington:

Now, who were some of the Germans? Do you remember the names of any of the Germans?

John W. Kluge:

They were -- we flew them over, and --

James H. Billington:

I see. You were flown over from Germany to Washington?

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. To 1142.

James H. Billington:

I see. 1142 was --

John W. Kluge:

It's a secret post between the Pentagon and Mt. Vernon.

James H. Billington:

I see. And this is where these guys were kept and interrogated?

John W. Kluge:

Yeah.

James H. Billington:

Just for order of battle information?

John W. Kluge:

Right.

James H. Billington:

I see.

John W. Kluge:

Now, to give you an example, we would have the telephone directory of the Reichstag. We'd have, you know, certain of that information, which we got through couriers. We would also follow, in local newspapers, who went where. And of course, we knew the order of battle and the chain of command. We knew that 36 was a certain General, and 45 was another General, and they would communicate, and we'd say to them, "Look. We got all that information between you and so and so. We recorded it. "We know you went to Rommel's daughter's wedding. We know. We had someone there." We didn't, but, you know, it was in the newspaper. And I mean, these bits of information [were] very unsettling. I don't have to tell you that -- And this other information. For example, the 10th Panzer Division, which was going from Germany to Italy --

James H. Billington:

This was when? '44? Late '43?

John W. Kluge:

I can't tell you exactly. '43, '44. '43, I think it was.

James H. Billington:

You came to Washington from Alaska when? Roughly '42, three --

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. '42.

James H. Billington:

'42. Late '42, and --

John W. Kluge:

Yeah.

James H. Billington:

Okay.

John W. Kluge:

So in the 10th Panzer Division, there was a sergeant who sort of staked out the path. And one of his hobbies was visiting the local brothel. Well, we had the madams of these different places wired. You know, they were in our camp.

James H. Billington:

This was in Germany?

John W. Kluge:

This was in --

James H. Billington:

-- in France or --

John W. Kluge:

In Italy.

James H. Billington:

Italy. Okay.

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. And parts of Germany -- But primarily in Italy. And so in documentation, you take every bit of information. This was just one part, which corroborated the path that the 10th Panzer Division was using. You know, which was a tank unit. Very formidable. Well, they plied this German sergeant with liquor, and of course made him feel at home, and only the Italians know how to do this.

James H. Billington:

Wait a minute. This sergeant, this is a German sergeant?

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. German sergeant.

James H. Billington:

And he's in Italy at this point?

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. And he's in Italy.

James H. Billington:

All right.

John W. Kluge:

And he visited these various brothels, and he spilled his guts to different madams that, you know.

James H. Billington:

So you traced the brothel trail.

John W. Kluge:

Yes.

James H. Billington:

Okay.

John W. Kluge:

Right.

James H. Billington:

I see.

John W. Kluge:

Through this sergeant. But that was only one source of information. So there were many other sources they would follow. But the red book is the order of battle, and we handed that to Eisenhower, the latest, you know, when we landed in Normandy. And we had a green book, the order of battle, which was a Japanese--

James H. Billington:

There were, what, three of these? The yellow book, red book and green book?

John W. Kluge:

No. Just the red book and the green book. Yeah.

James H. Billington:

So that was sort of done by your unit there?

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. And the Pentagon. There was a civilian. They had a source in the Pentagon who was a researcher, who never took a bath.

James H. Billington:

Never took --

John W. Kluge:

Never took a bath. He was so busy researching, I guess, he never took a bath.

James H. Billington:

Who did you deliver this information to? What was the delivery chain from that unit? Your role in this unit was what? You were --

John W. Kluge:

I was head of the unit at 1142. That is of the order of battle section.

James H. Billington:

That was basically interrogating German --

John W. Kluge:

Well, and getting documents. You know, when we conquered a certain area -- [after the] battle, we collected all kinds of documents. Well, we went through those documents.

James H. Billington:

And this was German language material.

John W. Kluge:

Yeah.

James H. Billington:

And that material went to whom. Who was the --

John W. Kluge:

Well, we went through, and what we would do is glean out of it information, which then went to -- in the Pentagon -- to some Colonel or General and then went on up the command. If it was important, they would -- you know, they would get other information, you know, airplane information.

James H. Billington:

Just in human terms, what struck you about that work, or that whole period. For the rest of the war you were doing that, basically?

John W. Kluge:

Yeah.

James H. Billington:

'Til the end of the war?

John W. Kluge:

Yeah.

James H. Billington:

Any particular memorable moments in that period?

John W. Kluge:

Well, the most memorable moment, the head officer of 1142, we also had horses there. He loved horses. And I gave a cocktail party in Washington one night, and he got back to 1142. He let all the horses out, and I tell you, 1142 was never the same. And --

James H. Billington:

Did he do this by accident, or--

John W. Kluge:

No, he -- the point is, he was loaded.

James H. Billington:

Oh, I see.

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. He's a free spirit. Well, you know, in that kind of setting you get really tightened up, and when you --

James H. Billington:

Long work hours. Presumably, this was --

John W. Kluge:

Oh, yeah.

James H. Billington:

Tense stuff.

John W. Kluge:

Oh, yeah.

James H. Billington:

So when did you get out? What was your --

John W. Kluge:

Well, I got out. Yeah. I heard the announcement. Right in front of the University Club on 16th Street that the war was over. And I knew I would get out. And they said, "Don't leave. We're going to make you a Major." I said, "Thank you a lot." [Laughs] I said, but you know, when I come to think of it, I didn't know about this gal that wrote this letter. And she -

James H. Billington:

[inaudible] wrote you a letter--

John W. Kluge:

And she wrote -- no, that [I was] a German spy, and that's --

James H. Billington:

Oh, the one that wrote the letter.

John W. Kluge:

Otherwise, you see, I probably would have been behind the German lines, and might never have made it. So in a way, she did me a favor, you know? She wrote me a letter. She lived on 5th Avenue in New York.

James H. Billington:

Oh, you heard from her afterward?

John W. Kluge:

Yes. I heard from her, and she was very sorry that she did this. And she got this because my partner, Joe Brechner in the radio business, we started our first radio station in Silver Spring, Maryland. WGAY. And she read these articles in the Saturday Evening Post, and then made up her mind that I must not be a German spy.

James H. Billington:

Wait a minute. So that was when you got out -

John W. Kluge:

Got out, yes.

James H. Billington:

You set up this station.

John W. Kluge:

Yeah.

James H. Billington:

And that's when you heard from her after [you got out].

John W. Kluge:

Yeah.

James H. Billington:

I see. Do you remember -- I mean, was that right away after the war was over, or how soon?

John W. Kluge:

About a year and a half afterwards.

James H. Billington:

What did you do in the immediate aftermath of getting out, before you went to work?

John W. Kluge:

Well, I represented several paper companies, one in Lansing and --

James H. Billington:

You went back to Michigan?

John W. Kluge:

No, no. I never went -- I decided I would never go back to Detroit, and that's why I -- but I made my home in Washington.

James H. Billington:

I see. And did you -- from your service experience, did you make any friendships that you kept up with, or any associations? Did that have any --

John W. Kluge:

No.

James H. Billington:

-- you were working with, didn't have any --

John W. Kluge:

No. Well, there was one, but he died. He was a Major.

James H. Billington:

Was that in Alaska?

John W. Kluge:

No, in the Pentagon. Yeah. Actually, I didn't have too much in common, you know. I was older than most of the young people.

James H. Billington:

Sure. One aspect that we didn't cover too much was that before you went to Alaska, you said you were commander of a largely African-American unit.

John W. Kluge:

Yeah.

James H. Billington:

Did you have any particular observations? How did that --

John W. Kluge:

Well --

James H. Billington:

That was before --

John W. Kluge:

Yes. I got the unit together and I said, "I'm going to tell you. I don't want anybody to steal anything. Either in camp or off the camp. But I will defend you at every turn. I will be your best friend." Well, you know, when they would get some time off, they'd go into Riverside, let's say California, which was a very conservative community, and they'd buy a bottle of wine, and a couple of them would sit on a bench in the park and, you know, laugh and have this wine, and the police would just take them in. Well, they knew I would defend them at every turn, which I did. But at the same time, I would be a tough task master if they stole, you know, or did anything among themselves. I would also play tricks with them. For example, I would be marching with them, and some girls would be marching by on the right side, I'd give them "Eyes left." As soon as they got past, I'd give them "Eyes right." [Laughs] But you know, being of European descent, I certainly had no prejudice about commanding a black unit.

James H. Billington:

How long did that --

John W. Kluge:

Probably eight months.

James H. Billington:

Uh-huh. Did you keep any Reserve connection, or have you had any connection with veterans organizations?

John W. Kluge:

No.

James H. Billington:

Or anything of that kind?

John W. Kluge:

No.

James H. Billington:

Would you say that your military experience influenced your thinking about war, about the military in general, about world affairs?

John W. Kluge:

Well, I think I always feel that to be a pacifist in the long run is better, but I don't have to tell you, if it comes to a point where a peace effort can only be resolved by some kind of war action, I'm for it. It's not -- in other words, I've never been a rabid militaristic person. I always think you can resolve something by discussing it and trying to see the other person's point of view. But for example, I saw Hitler coming into a Berlin amphitheater, and his plane had some flames --

James H. Billington:

When was this?

John W. Kluge:

This was before we entered the war. This is before I went into the army.

James H. Billington:

You saw him in person, or you --

John W. Kluge:

Well, I saw his plane.

James H. Billington:

I see. This was in Germany.

John W. Kluge:

In Germany. And I said to my uncle, when I came [back], who also came from Germany -- but also lived in the United States -- came over in 1926. I said, "I want to tell you something. Hitler's a fool, and Hitler will put all of Europe afire." And my uncle and I didn't talk for ten years, because, you know, some of that older generation, even though he wasn't for Hitler, he was not of the mind I was. I thought he was a fool, and of course, I was, at that time, in my early 20s.

James H. Billington:

Were there any particular feelings you had as someone who had come from Germany originally, to be playing a role in the army that was opposing Hitler. You've already made clear your views on Hitler, but in general, how did that [inaudible].

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. I felt, even though I'm German, I've got to tell you, I'm not very German. And that came around about naturally. As a young boy -- I remember I was nine years of age, and my mother invited a family for Thanksgiving, and Germans don't have Thanksgiving. They never celebrate it.

James H. Billington:

This was roughly when?

John W. Kluge:

This is 1920 - let's see. It was -- oh, I was young.

James H. Billington:

You're still in Germany?

John W. Kluge:

No, no. In the United States.

James H. Billington:

You're in the United States. Okay.

John W. Kluge:

And -- 1920, let's see. '25. And my mother was in the kitchen, and this woman was in the kitchen. And she cut up two turkeys. She was a big woman. Her husband was a big man. The children were giants. And she cut up these turkeys. And I remember to this day, I remember exactly where I was sitting. And she said, "Hans" -- that's German for John. And she said, "How do you like the turkey?" And I said, "I don't know. I don't have any." But she did, she took potatoes all around, put the two necks in the middle, and then gravy. And I remember these two necks swimming around, and my mother was mad at me, because I was too smart an aleck, you know. But it was true. And I've had experiences like that, which -- I understand them, but I'm not their biggest fan.

James H. Billington:

Are there any other experiences, thoughts, or reflections about your experience during the war time years and in the service that we haven't covered that you'd like to mention, or that have occurred to you in the course of our discussion that we haven't explicitly questioned you about?

John W. Kluge:

Well, I think I felt proud to be in my effort, being a very small way in the American army, and when I think how lucky I was to come to this country in 1922 when I was eight years of age. I would have been fodder in Hitler's army. You got to be lucky in life. And I had absolutely nothing to do with it. My mother married an American citizen who was of German origin, and they met in Germany, and through common friends, and that's how I came to the United States. So I think, you know, I'm not only proud to be an American, but I'm proud that, in a small way, I -- in four-and-a-half years, which was actually a long time, considering my age at the time, but are probably worth-while in context of my own life, you know. Because I take freedom with responsibility as being the best combinations that can be in being a citizen of a country.

James H. Billington:

One question I forgot to ask, just briefly, why did you join the Army rather than, say, the Navy, or --

John W. Kluge:

Well, I could have joined the Navy, and I could have gotten a commission. But I wanted to start from scratch so that if I had a unit, I would have gone through the training, not just be appointed an ensign. I could have done that. That's not my style.

James H. Billington:

And you didn't have to, at least, peel any potatoes in Alaska. Was that --

John W. Kluge:

No.

James H. Billington:

You escaped that [inaudible].

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. Well, up there, I was an officer.

James H. Billington:

Yeah.

John W. Kluge:

Yeah.

James H. Billington:

Well, anything else? Any other final thoughts? This has been excellent, and we thank you for sharing so much and so many stories. Are there any -- your personal reflections are so vivid, I'm tempted to see if there's one more before we sign off. [BEGIN TAPE 2, SIDE A]

John W. Kluge:

-- artillery unit. And we were very excited, but nothing happened.

James H. Billington:

You were going to [use] anti-aircraft missiles --

John W. Kluge:

Yeah.

James H. Billington:

-- [if] they bombed L.A.

John W. Kluge:

Yeah.

James H. Billington:

I see.

John W. Kluge:

But you know, that was a real possibility, because, as you know, they bombed Pearl Harbor.

James H. Billington:

Were you well-prepared? If they had bombed L.A., did you have a good -

John W. Kluge:

In the beginning of the war, we were neophytes, because we weren't ready. There's one [story] -- I remember in Washington, I was at a cocktail party in Washington, and I think I had my uniform on. And I talked to this man, and I said, "The Pentagon is certainly a tough place to work, because it's so big," and so on and so forth. And he said, "I'm John McShane. I built the Pentagon." And I said, "My name is John Kluge. You forget you ever met me." So I had a lot of experience in research, which has stood me very well. You know, in my later life. And working with materials that were -- it's a lot of times farfetched, but you could trace back its meaning when you look it with other stuff. You know.

James H. Billington:

And that must have had some influence on your ability to think strategically -- your business in the investment world.

John W. Kluge:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

James H. Billington:

This is the --

John W. Kluge:

Absolutely.

James H. Billington:

So in that sense, it was a kind of building experience.

John W. Kluge:

And, as a matter of fact, you know, the army teaches a lot of very good disciplines, and I was always proud in the officer's training, you know, to pass the inspections. But one day, this officer with white gloves went under my bed and along the metal, and there was dust. And I looked at it, he looked at it. It was dust. And I didn't pass the inspection. But it was fun because they made you focus on a lot of the detail.

James H. Billington:

Well, thank you very much. This concludes the interview, with deep appreciation.

John W. Kluge:

And if you want to start this other, we can start.

James H. Billington:

Sure. We can. I don't want to cut it off -- are you okay with that?

John W. Kluge:

Sure. Let's do it.

James H. Billington:

[Interview with Mr. John] Kluge, conducted by James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, on October 12th the year 2001. Dealing with his life and career. Mr. Kluge, beginning with your years in Germany, what of importance happened in those years, or do you recall from those years that had ongoing significance for your later career as it developed?

John W. Kluge:

Well I came to the United States in 1922, when I was eight years of age, and we stopped at the Taft Hotel, which was --

James H. Billington:

Did you come by boat? Did you come through Ellis Island?

John W. Kluge:

We came on the S.S. Washington. We came by boat. I went through Ellis Island. In fact, I'm one of the big contributors personally to the Statue of Liberty rebuilding. But I came over on the S.S. Washington, which was a ten-day trip at that time. And we stayed at the Taft Hotel. I don't know, but those days seem that women always looked under the bed. I guess they thought maybe there would be some thief or something. I don't know. It was sort of a well-known event in women's lives. They'd look under the bed. Well, my mother saw piles of marks. She said, "Where did you get this?" I told her that when she and my stepfather were on their honeymoon in Germany, I would take a few marks out of his pockets every night until I had accumulated -- She said, "Why did you do that?" "Because if I didn't like the United States, I'd have money to go back." Well, you know, in 1922, I don't have to tell you the mark was inflated, [there was] inflation. You would go into a restaurant in the morning and they'd take this amount of marks. If you'd go in there the next morning, they'd take this amount of marks. In other words, the inflation was just out of control. So I would stick my head out of the Taft Hotel, see the fire engines, see Times Square. And it excited me. When we got to Detroit, I said to my mother, "I'm never going to live here. I'm going to eventually go back to New York."

James H. Billington:

Why did you move to Detroit?

John W. Kluge:

Because my stepfather's business was in Detroit.

James H. Billington:

Which being?

John W. Kluge:

He was a painting contractor. He wanted me to go into his business. I'd finished the first year in high school, and I didn't want to go into his business. I wanted to go on and get an education.

James H. Billington:

Just a minute more on the German experience, is there anything -- you don't remember anything of World War I and the outcome? You were, of course, very, very young, but do you have any memories of Germany that have played a continuing role in your life and thinking from your years actually in Germany, before you got to the United States?

John W. Kluge:

I was always a gambler. I mean, in those years, I gambled for nebs, you know, which was the little marbles. I'm not a professional gambler, but I love to gamble. So that certainly followed me. And also, that I didn't want to live in Detroit.

James H. Billington:

Didn't what?

John W. Kluge:

Want to live in Detroit. So I left home, and I lived at the home of a schoolteacher.

James H. Billington:

This is in --

John W. Kluge:

Detroit.

James H. Billington:

Detroit still.

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. And finished my education, but I had to --

James H. Billington:

In the public schools?

John W. Kluge:

In the public -- Northwestern High School. And because I needed a scholarship, I got a scholarship. I got several scholarships. I could have gone to the University of Chicago. I got one that I used in Detroit City College, which is now Wayne State University. And I got one from Columbia. But it isn't that I wanted to go to Columbia so much as I wanted to go back to New York City, and --

James H. Billington:

You told me the story about the interview with Columbia.

John W. Kluge:

Oh, yeah.

James H. Billington:

Which is --

John W. Kluge:

Do you want me to --

James H. Billington:

I think --

John W. Kluge:

Well, the point is, Ed Litchfield, who became president of Carnegie Tech. He and I were competing for this scholarship. He was very suave. He was on the debating team. He dressed smartly; I dressed like a country bumpkin. And I was interviewed by Alan Crowe. Alan Crowe was the first president of the Detroit Economic Club. And I asked Mr. Crowe if I could be interviewed after Ed Litchfield, which I was. And I said to Mr. Crowe at the end of the interview -- I didn't say anything, but I went to the front door and then the thought struck me. I went back, and I said, "Mr. Crowe, look at my hands." They were very rough, because I did a lot of work with my hands. "I don't know whether I'm going to get this scholarship, but I want you to look at my hands. They're going to see me through." And I got the scholarship. But you know, I tended always to push the envelope. After I got the scholarship, I wrote Columbia and said if they wanted me, they'd have to double the scholarship. Well, they did. But it took a month or so, and that schoolteacher, she and I would stop at Furndia, Michigan -- Box 63. It's a little box. And I would look into that window, that little box, and one day, there was a white envelope with blue printing, and I knew that was from Columbia. And, you know, I came out to this car, a little Ford, and I [showed it] to Ms. DaRatt, she said, "Read it." She said, "I'll bet they turned you down." I said, "I'll bet they didn't." It turned out, [that] they gave me the double scholarship. So I have been always very grateful to Columbia for it. So.

James H. Billington:

So then you went to Columbia. And you returned to New York?

John W. Kluge:

Well, I -- no. I went to Detroit. I went with a small factory.

James H. Billington:

Before you went to Columbia?

John W. Kluge:

No. This is after Columbia.

James H. Billington:

You went to Columbia, then you went back to Detroit.

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. You know, in 1937, jobs were hard to find. Now, I could have gone with a large company and gotten much more salary.

James H. Billington:

What did you major in at Columbia?

John W. Kluge:

Economics.

James H. Billington:

Economics.

John W. Kluge:

Yeah.

James H. Billington:

Okay. So then you came back --

John W. Kluge:

I came back, and I went from shipping clerk to vice president of sales in less than two years. So you can imagine how big the company was. Anyhow, I learned a lot, though. I've always felt you should start, before you ever become a boss, you'd better know the steps along the way. The worst thing in the world, from my point of view, is to start from the top. You have no feeling about people under you.

James H. Billington:

What did you learn that you didn't expect from those early years? What were the surprises?

John W. Kluge:

At Columbia?

James H. Billington:

No, no. After Columbia --Your first work experience.

John W. Kluge:

My surprise is, you know, Columbia is easy. It was easier than being in the outside world. But I loved it. I never stayed for the graduation at Columbia; I worked, that night, in Holyoke, Massachusetts. By the way, until just the recent several years, I've always hated the weekend.

James H. Billington:

I beg your pardon?

John W. Kluge:

Hated the weekend.

James H. Billington:

You hated the weekend?

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. Because I just loved doing what I was doing. And that has stayed with me all these years.

James H. Billington:

We were speaking about the period of your early work years, when you were --

John W. Kluge:

In my early work years, I worked for two tough Germans. Boy, were they tough. Just to give you an example, I would put in my expense account. I was on the road 40 weeks a year. In those days, I worked six days a week, except for a holiday. And I put down in the expenses, 5 cents. And Elmer Otten, who was head of the company, said to me, "What's the 5 cents for?" I said, "Well, in the afternoon, I want to re-energize myself, and I'll buy a Hershey bar." In those days, I stayed at the YMCAs. He said, "They have a cafeteria downstairs? Yeah. And they have a sugar bowl?" He said, "you take three or four of these sugar cubes, put them in your pocket, because a Hershey bar is nothing but sugar, and that's what gives you the energy." He said, "You know, you're on the road 40 weeks a year. 5 cents a day, 6 days a week, it's $12.00 a year. You know, you're never going to amount to anything." I mean, how low can you get? So I'm now walking out the office, and he says, "Come on back. That's $12.48." Interest was 4 percent in those years. In other words, "You're wasting $12.48 of this company's money." But it taught me something. It taught me how to be careful with expenses. You know, to this day, if I go into a restaurant in New York, I don't take a hat and coat. You know.

James H. Billington:

Uh-huh.

John W. Kluge:

There are certain things that have stayed with me. I remember, he used to wear a beret.

James H. Billington:

Who's he? Your --

John W. Kluge:

Elmer Otten. Yeah. In other words, these guys were so tight that they didn't have buffaloes on their nickels, they rubbed them so hard. And they wouldn't have a dime in their pocket, because that's too much money to carry around. [Laughter]

James H. Billington:

So [are there] any other either lessons you learned or experiences you had in these early years of working that influenced your later life?

John W. Kluge:

Well, I think I mentioned to the leadership people that -- I was in Detroit, going to Buffalo. And the snowstorm was -- so there were no taxi cabs. And I went out to this man's warehouse, and I had an appointment with somebody in that company. And I went all through the warehouse. Nobody was there, except on one floor, a man was in the corner. And I went up to him. He said, "What are you doing here?" I said, "I had an appointment with Mr. So-and-so." He said, "How did you get here?" I said, "I walked here." He was the owner of the business. He gave me the biggest order. And that stood with me. This is back in the late '30s. That carried on, so that in the early '60s, I was in Chicago, and I had to be at 9:00 o'clock in New York. I flew out of Chicago but in a snowstorm, so it was a DC-3 and we had to land in Cleveland. I got hold of a taxicab, drove all the way to Pittsburgh. Got on a train. Stood most of the way from Pittsburgh to New York, you know, a long way. And when I got to New York, believe it or not, no taxicabs. A snowstorm. Nobody. I had to walk from there up in -- from 33rd Street to in the 50s, and I had an appointment at 9:00 o'clock. And I got up there, nobody was there, but one man. So I went up to him, and he said, "What are you doing here?" I said, "I have an appointment with Mr. So-and-so." It was the first big money I borrowed. And he said, "Well, he isn't here." He said, "How did you get here?" And I told him it was Chicago to Cleveland, and then the taxicab and a train because I had a 9:00 o'clock appointment. He said, "You know, we have a committee that decides on these loans." And he took me to the elevator. He said, "You know, I head the committee. And I just want you to know, you got the loan." So the point is it carried on, you know, 25 years later, that experience.

James H. Billington:

Tell me a little bit about your first experiences in the media world after you got out of the service?

John W. Kluge:

Well, I --

James H. Billington:

And how did you get into that, and how did these early experiences in that area --

John W. Kluge:

I was walking on 15th Street in Washington, and I ran into Joe Brechner. He and I worked at the same company I was mentioning earlier. And Joe was working for the Veterans Administration. And I said, "Joe, I --"

James H. Billington:

How did you know this fellow?

John W. Kluge:

Well, he and I worked in the same company in Detroit.

James H. Billington:

Ah. Before the war.

John W. Kluge:

Right. And I said, "I just read in the Wall Street Journal where you could open up a radio station for $15,000." So he and I got together. I said, "You just keep your job, and I'll" -- and that was the first radio station, which went on the air December 7, 1946. WGAY. And I remember being at someone's house, and they said, "You know, I like the music you have on GAY, but I hear poundings of various types." I said, "It's got to be your set." The point is, we went on the air while the building was still being built, you know.

James H. Billington:

Was it an accident? That seems to be the fifth anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Did you do that --

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. I did it because I wanted to have the station start December 7th to coincide with Pearl Harbor, and also to beat a station that was going to go on the air in Bethesda, which -- we gave them so much competition, they became a black station, WOOK in the District. And Joe and I -- Joe had psoriasis, so he had to go down to a sunny climate, and we started -- we bought WLOF in Orlando, Florida, you know, real corn: We Love Orlando, Florida, WLOF. And --

James H. Billington:

How did you end up going from Bethesda to Orlando?

John W. Kluge:

From Silver Spring to Orlando.

James H. Billington:

Oh.

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. Well, I felt that Orlando was going to be a growing area, because Disney and --

James H. Billington:

Well, Disney wasn't there yet.

John W. Kluge:

No, but they were planning.

James H. Billington:

Ah, you knew that this was going to --

John W. Kluge:

Yeah. And also, the company out of Baltimore, the airline company manufacturer. I can't think of their name. They were going into Orlando.

James H. Billington:

So when you had the radio station, you were also getting into other --

John W. Kluge:

Well, Joe and I -- I said, "You know, this fellow is doing a black station in Washington. That's a very economic kind of station to have." But Joe didn't want black stations, so I went on and started one. I bought one in St. Louis and Fort Worth and Pittsburgh and, you know, I had a number of radio stations on my own. But WGAY, Joe and I, and Joe said, "I don't like those call letters. WGAY." Joe, Joe Brechner.

James H. Billington:

He didn't like what?

John W. Kluge:

WGAY.

James H. Billington:

Okay.

John W. Kluge:

I said, I never explained it to him, but I was the majority owner, and I said, "Joe, I want to have those letters." Well, anyhow, there was a country music person in the Washington area on WPIK. His name was Connie B. Gay. And I would have the news car, WGAY, pass by slowly. I knew when he was on the air. Well I told the news reporter to drive slowly there every day, the second day, third day, and country music was becoming more important, and Connie became more and more important. So one day, I get a call from him. He said, "John, I'd like to see you." I never asked him about what. I knew what he was coming for. And he said, "I'd like to buy the station." So I said, "Well, Connie, okay. 600,000." So he looked through the inventory. He said, "Where's that news car?" Well I said, "This is the inventory." He said, "I don't want to buy the station unless I get that news car." I said, "Connie, you've got the news car, but I'm not going to sell you the real estate. I'll lease it to you." Oh, he said, "I don't care about the real estate." But he wanted that news car, which was worth $600. So now, on Friday, I was supposed to pick up that news car. [But I had had] it painted out so it was a regular car, because now I'm selling the station. And I called the guy and you know, these shops, you can hear everything, and you try to cover up the mouthpiece of the phone. He said, "You know, the screwball that had the car painted out, he wants to paint it just the way it was, but he'll pay double the wages for the weekend." So they repainted the car, and on Monday, I had the car --

James H. Billington:

Had it painted back.

John W. Kluge:

Had it back.

James H. Billington:

Interesting. [END OF INTERVIEW]

 
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