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Interview with Harry W. Leavell [6/27/2002]

Elizabeth Elsener:

This is Elizabeth Elsener, and I'm here at the VA Clinic in Richmond, Indiana, on June 27, 2002. I'm here with Harry W. Leavell. His birthday is 3/9/1919. His current address is 730 South 12th Street, Richmond, Indiana 47374. Elsener: So were you enlisted, or were you drafted?

Harry W. Leavell:

I volunteered.

Elizabeth Elsener:

And what branch of service did you choose to go into?

Harry W. Leavell:

I volunteered to go in for training as a, as a pilot -- fighter pilot.

Elizabeth Elsener:

How old were you, probably, at the time?

Harry W. Leavell:

I was 23.

Elizabeth Elsener:

And what was the date?

Harry W. Leavell:

It was -- I made application, and after I made the application, I had to -- they had to call me in for a test. And I went over one day for a physical, and the next day -- or for an I.Q. test, intelligence testing, and then I finally got an appointment, and the appointment -- I left Richmond on August the 9th, 1943. The first place I went was to Fort Benjamin Harrison. You get clothes, and you get sworn in, and then it went from there to Biloxi, Mississippi -- to Keesler Field for basic training.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Tell us about basic training.

Harry W. Leavell:

Well, basic training you learn how to march, you learn how to drill, and you get gas experiences in different types of gas. You drill, and you march, and you run. And, of course, then you get all of your shots, and they make sure that -- and we're supposed to -- we didn't get a bivouac. You're supposed to go on a bivouac. And for some -- and then they had an opening for some more students at Tuskegee so they short our -- they cut our basic training short, so we could go to Tuskegee. And since I didn't have college, I went with what you called the 1170th College Training Detachment. And we stayed at the (?armories,) and all we did there was go to school and have physical education. Running, run, run, everything is running.

Elizabeth Elsener:

The hard stuff.

Harry W. Leavell:

Umhum. And then we studied civil -- civil air patrol, the manuals, and then we got ten hours flying in____, the small plane. And then we went from there to the base for what you call classification section. And there you got more screening, and some men would go into navigators, some of them would go into -- all of this, you see, I forget the term for it -- there's pilots, and navigators -- oh, for bombardiers, bombardiers. You see that the Tuskegee also had B-25 pilot's training -- twin-engine. Some went into the fighter pilots, some went into twin-engine. So they did the classification section to try to screen you to see where you fit in the best. And after classification, we went over to the Army Air Force Base for preflight training, and there you really get the real discipline. You run everywhere, and you have what they call Dodo verses. What made Tuskegee Airmen such an outstanding group was B. O. Davis, Jr. B. O. Davis was a graduate at West Point, and he brought all that drilling, all that hazing, all that camaraderie from West Point down to Tuskegee. And there's a movie you might have seen -- James Cagney -- called The West Point Story, and the first time I heard of a Dodo verse since I left Tuskegee was in this movie. And there's a whole group of them _____+ and, for example, you're eating, an upper classman would come up and put his thumb in your back, "have you had enough to eat?" You say, Sir, my ____ + integrity admonishes me that I have reached that state of degradation which is consistent with my dietetic integrity, Sir. And then, he asks, "how's the cow?" The cow? She walks, she talks, and she's full of chalk. The lactal fluid extracted from the female of the Bovine species is highly (prolithic) to the nth degree, Sir. But I heard -- that's what James Cagney -- he was giving one of those. I hadn't heard it since, you know, Tuskegee, outside of that. [ LAUGHTER ]

Elizabeth Elsener:

Yeah. You still remember the whole --

Harry W. Leavell:

Umhum, but Davis, you know, he was, he brought all of this. And, you know, on the base there you have what they call the classification, and preflight, and then you have basic and advanced. Basic and advanced, they're the dummies. They're the dummies for the upper classmen. And so in the morning you have reveille at 6:00, and they say, basic advanced, they're dismissed. And they go out and they find dummies, they called them, and we had to go where -- and clean up their barracks, hang up their clothes, clean their barracks, before we go to school. And they get gigged, or they gig us. So I never will forget one night, you know, we went over there, and the guys, you know, we were sick and tired of all this stuff, working all the time, scrubbing floors. And so the guys came back, and we're sitting around, and they said, "look, we didn't start this. This was here when we got here, and this is going to be here after you're gone, too. "Now this barracks is going to be cleaned up, and you're going to do it. Now you can sit here and take all night, and all morning to do it, or you can get in there, and get it done, and get back to your work." The guys sat around for a second, and they all got busy and got -- cleaned the place up. But it's a -- it's a method of keeping men disciplined. Now we had a major there, name was (Dunham) And he had to go up by Maxwell Field. Maxwell Field had B-24 training. So he had this BT -- BT -- B-23, I think it is. So anyway -- he tried to get in this traffic pattern, and these here B-24s, and they, of course, they wouldn't give him any space. So he got in there, and got in between two of them, and they came in, and, of course, when they got down, the B-24s swerved down, and, of course, he shot right underneath the wing. And the tower, they hollered, "who's that knucklehead in"-- you know, that gave them the designation. He said, "This is Major so and so, why?" "Nothing, sir." And after he got there, some colonel was there and chewed him out. But, you know, rank, it speaks. [ LAUGHTER ]

Elizabeth Elsener:

Yeah. Yeah.

Harry W. Leavell:

But I'll remember that incident. But this is the discipline that B. O. Davis brought there -- duty, honor, and country, and he'd make sure that every guy got that. That was a part of what made them what they were.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Were there other men from Indiana at the Tuskegee?

Harry W. Leavell:

Yes, here's, there's a picture here. Charles Meyers. He was -- he got to be our____, and he was from Indianapolis, he was in the same class, and I didn't realize how religious he was. And, of course, we didn't have college, and we had a rough time. And he sat at nights when -- he had a little pen light, and so he would get the bible out and read it at night. And -- but -- so a lot of these guys had college educations. One guy was James White. He had completed his B. A. in psychology. And he was talking about somebody "____ is he schizophrenic?" And he started talking about some of the symptoms, and I said, what he is talking about? And -- but we came up, you know, that type of caliber of men. And, of course, it helped us, that the simulation, you know, we learned, you know, in the classrooms with them, and we learned a lot, you know, just by osmosis. Being in there with them.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Sure. Sure. So how long were you at Tuskegee?

Harry W. Leavell:

I was there -- you see I went there, it was on campus for the basic college-training detachment, and we was supposed to be there five months, but there was a shortage, and we stayed three months. Then we went to -- from there back over to the base for preflight. And then we went from preflight back to the campus, and stayed in one of the dormitories, and that's called primary. Through a PT -- PT-19, and then the basic and advanced back on base. And so then they went through our record and found out we hadn't gone on a bivouac. So one night they said "get ready, we're going on a bivouac." So we went out and stayed out that night. And, of course, you have gunnery. Now the fellows would go in, the fighter pilots, they trap shoot, and then they have -- there's a link trainer, and they have a gunnery, you know, you practice it. But one of my classmates, (?James Harvey?)-- you heard of a Top-Gun program?

Elizabeth Elsener:

Yes.

Harry W. Leavell:

He was the first Top Gun.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Really?

Harry W. Leavell:

A black guy.

Elizabeth Elsener:

The very first.

Harry W. Leavell:

The first top gun in the program. They were over in Columbus, Ohio at the time. At Lockbourne Air Force. He flew a P-47, and the governor wrote to B. O. Davis and tell him, you know, what honor they brought to the state of Ohio. And it was out at Las Vegas, and they walked in, they walked there, and they couldn't go in the hotel because they was black. And he was the first Top Gun. And he wrote me -- and then he flew jets over in Korea. And he wrote me, and he said, "I guess you're the mayor of Richmond now?", and I said ______ and he said, "Harry, it's strange, my wife's family is here with me in Japan" and said "I go out, and fly my missions and come home every night." And I never answered him. I feel sorry that I didn't, but I was -- you know, come back, and, you know, I -- the job I had, they gave me a job at Perfect Circle, they gave me a basic-entry job. _____ pistol rings. And, you know, all of this education, you know, from the military, and they give me one of the worst jobs in the factory, and that -- I still gets angry about it, you know, but I wanted to go back to work, and I thought I would get, you know, a decent job. And now there's a guy named Bob (Bayer) He was in personnel, and he went to the Navy, and he came out of the Navy, and the next thing you know, he's president of Perfect Circle, then he left Perfect Circle. And have you ever heard of Ball Brothers -- Muncie? He was president of Ball Brothers.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Wow. Well, where did you go from Tuskegee? When did you leave there?

Harry W. Leavell:

Well, let's see, I had a lot of misfortune, family misfortune, when I was there. When I was in preflight, my father took pneumonia, and he died. And I came home for a week, and I was able to catch up. And then when I was in basic, my mother had a heart attack, and I came home. And so then she got better then I went back, and then she died, and they worked me back a class. So I was in two classes, I was in 44-I and 44-J. And so as I came home, riding _____+ trains, and my wife and I tried to go to the theater one night, and couldn't buy a ticket, because there's no section -- no room in the black section, and then I -- you know, I got, I lost some of my verve and zeal, you know. And so then they -- I wanted to be a fighter pilot, and I said, you know, I'll just go on to twin-engine. Twin-engine was located down here at Columbus -- Camp Atterbury. And a lot of those fellows that were there -- they were officers, and they wanted to go to the Officers' Club, and they wouldn't let them go. So they decided they was going to go anyway, and they court martialed them, and so anyone who tried to go to the Officers' Club they court martialed. So I was, I was glad in a way that I didn't go, you know, but, you know, then again I wanted -- I really wanted to do what I could, and I wanted to be a fighter pilot, and I wanted to go and I just lost my ____ but then I got into an engineer outfit, went down there -- left there and went to Tampa, Florida -- MacDill Field, and -- for re-assignment. And they sent me to Greenville air base -- 1816th aviation engineers. They put me in the ____ room, and I worked on the manning table -- selecting men to go onto different types of training. We had men who -- we could build anything -- concrete, carpentry, plumbing, electrician, heavy equipment, and so I helped fill out the manning table to designate guys to take certain types of training. And then when we went overseas. We didn't have anything but our ____ on Guam, and at first they landed us, there had been a battle zone, and with a lot of shells lying around, and, of course, we had our guns, but no shells, and guys got ____. And some guys would fire their guns at night, but we didn't know where we were ____+ they set us up at the edge of the jungle. And ____+ we had some canned tomatoes, and it was -- and guys knocked down coconuts, to eat some coconuts -- and tomatoes with nothing ____ just tomatoes, and we had the -- and then they gave me a job of getting the supplies from the Italian. And supplies -- meaning first we had to get lumber to build our base for tents, build platforms, had to build a mess hall, had to build everything. And then as we -- as we started getting our outfit accommodations, then we start working. Some of them started building runways, building roads. There was a place called Harmon Field. You're going to interview (?Russel Commons?), and Russel Commons -- we were roommates. I was down to Golden ____ nursing home until about five weeks ago, but Russel was a B-29 pilot, and in the morning -- the B-20 - the fighters would take off. The P-51 that ought to be me. That's where I left ____. They would take off and land in Okinawa. And then the bombers would come, and they'd escort the bombers in. And sometimes they'd come back and the engine would fall out of the plane, and guys would parachute out. And, I'll never forget, there was a load of children, they was getting ready to bring them back to the United States, and we saw an explosion -- the plane it crashed, blew up, all of them was killed. We saw a lot over there. That's -- then as I said, they gave me the job of going around and getting supplies. And then I worked ____+ out to build roads, culverts, put culverts in, and, of course, they had an opening, and they would put me, and that was first sergeant. We built quonset huts, we built warehouses and runways -- roads. And when we were working over in Harmon Field, putting in culverts, the mess sergeant called me and said, "can you save extra rations?," and I said, yeah. Of course, the Air Force gets top priority. They had steaks, chicken, sugar, canned jelly, canned hams, rings of cheese, and so they had to put reinforcement in the mess hall for all of that food I brought in. And the next thing I knew, they made me mess sergeant. [ LAUGHTER ]

Elizabeth Elsener:

Really?

Harry W. Leavell:

It was my food, you know, and I said, you guys just keep cooking, you know. As they find an opening, they'd pushed me into it. And then while I was out I -- there were natives working in these villages, I mean, working in these warehouses, lumber yards, and I know once Captain (Ray) he was head of (?SF3?) intelligence. He called me one day and said, "Sarge, we need some cement." He said, "we need a shower." I said you got a requisition, and he said, "no I can't get one." I said, I'll try to get you some. So these guys, they rotate in the Marines, rotating from Okinawa. And you don't sit down in the army, you know. You're always going to be doing something -- you're picking up butts, you know.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Sure.

Harry W. Leavell:

So these guys came back, and they were unloading ____ cement. And some of them they'd catch them, and some of them they wouldn't, you know -- and mad because they had to work. And I said, any time you've got a bag, any time you bust a bag, just put it in this barrel. And I got a barrel of cement, and I thought, you know, they're just going to toss it away. And I used to get passes from the natives to go to the village. And so I start taking cheese, and ____+ go up to visit the village and on the back of the island was where Magellan landed, and it hadn't been touched. So I got a special pass and went back there. And we took some of the fellows with us, and they cooked chicken and rice. Another time, there was another family and they said we're going to have something special for you today. And we -- what is it? They said look over there, and they had a basket, it had a octopus in there, and I said, well, I don't care for any of that.

Elizabeth Elsener:

So you say you didn't eat it?

Harry W. Leavell:

I didn't eat it.

Elizabeth Elsener:

I don't think I would eat that.

Harry W. Leavell:

You could ____+ [ LAUGHTER ]

Elizabeth Elsener:

Oh, gosh. When did you -- when did you leave the states to go abroad? When -- do you know what the date was?

Harry W. Leavell:

I'm not sure what the date was. It was in May, I think. It was in '45.

Elizabeth Elsener:

'45?

Harry W. Leavell:

Umhum.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Okay. And you first landed?

Harry W. Leavell:

On Guam.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Right. Right in Guam?

Harry W. Leavell:

First we went to Enewetak. And when we went to Enewetak, I looked over there, and we had all kinds of sails, and masts, and you know, just -- and then we had a movie that night. And, of course, when we left, there was a blue dirigible followed us out for a certain distance and then we zigzagged. When we got to Enewetak, we had a movie, but we had to ____+ the ship was dark all the time. Then we finally got to Guam, and so I go to -- I told you where we landed and what happened there. Of course, then we got to go back -- I got to build these villages. And so we went there, and I start from the -- the war had ended over in Europe, and they were transferring a lot of troops, you know, that were there for the Pacific theater.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Yeah. How did you feel when you first walked on to Guam's soil? What was that like?

Harry W. Leavell:

I always wanted to go to South Pacific as a youngster. I thought, God, this is going to be great. And it's beautiful.

Elizabeth Elsener:

It is beautiful.

Harry W. Leavell:

And we got to go to a place called ____+ Bay. And we could swim, and it was -- it was, you know, wonderful. And I would like to go back. Of course, I met a lot of people there. And I said -- I guess now it's a big vacation spot.

Elizabeth Elsener:

I bet.

Harry W. Leavell:

Guam, umhuh-huh.

Elizabeth Elsener:

I bet. How did you keep in touch with family at home when you were overseas?

Harry W. Leavell:

Oh, I would write.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Well, did you write probably every day?

Harry W. Leavell:

No, I didn't write that often. I always had something to do, you know.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Oh, sure -- pretty busy but pretty exciting when you would receive letters, I bet?

Harry W. Leavell:

Umhmm.

Elizabeth Elsener:

How often did you receive letters?

Harry W. Leavell:

Not a whole lot. You see, my mother and father died while I was in service.

Elizabeth Elsener:

That's right.

Harry W. Leavell:

Then I had a grandmother that died. And my mother's sister died. All in one year.

Elizabeth Elsener:

How about the food? I know you were talking about you being mess sergeant, and every once in a while having some good stuff, but how was the food over there?

Harry W. Leavell:

Well, as I said that -- well, Spam was one of the --

Elizabeth Elsener:

Oh, yeah, I hear my grandpa talk about that all the time. [ LAUGHTER ]

Harry W. Leavell:

That's right. We had Spam, but, there are some -- of course we had potted eggs. And when the holidays would come, they would get turkeys. Guys could really take some food, and, of course, when I got all the supplies over there, and all of this chicken, you know, they got a pack line to these other mess halls. Well, guys had plenty of good food. And, these fellas, they would make rolls, and they would do everything, and they had the stuff to work with. >> Umhmm. Good. How about -- were there many casualties in your unit? Did you --

Harry W. Leavell:

We had -- a couple of fellas that got killed, and it was something they had done themselves. They got themselves into it. We never got to the bottom of it, but we had a couple of guys that went AWOL. And they went to the village, and I didn't see them, but one of the guys -- some of the guys had saw them, you know. One of them's head was cut off, and one of them was shot in the middle of the head with a .45, and (McFarland), and (?McLellan?), and, of course, they were screwups. And they never did, you know -- we heard what happened -- said they tried to break in some native's village, you know, his home, and where did this guy get a U.S. .45 to shoot him with? You know. Then I didn't see it, but we laid pipelines, plumbing, and they're starting to put in a pipeline and there is a whole bunch of dead, you know, Japanese soldiers had been buried under there. And so they put the line right on down through there, you know. And, you know, expediency.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Sure.

Harry W. Leavell:

So like I said, those two, and then there was another fella, was getting ready to jump on a truck, and he slipped and fell, and the truck ran over him. And we left ____ the truck went up to his chest here, so I never knew what happened to him. Now, we had fellas got killed in training in Tuskegee. There's a guy named (?Irwin McGouan?), we were in basic and he'd do -- acrobatics was a big thing, and he and this instructor were out on the line, and the instructor said he was about to pass me the safety belt, and they went into a loop, and the instructor fell out, and I guess Raymond, he was sitting in the front, he thought he was still flying. And so the plane came around, and spread out, and come on down, and then crashed and then, of course, the guys standing around crying, you know, you got to be really, you know, good friends. And, so that -- he was killed in our outfit, and then I heard about some of the other guys got killed. There was a guy named (Coleman), James Coleman. And he was, I think he was flying a P-47. And, anyway, he had to fly with what is called manifold pressure. And he was -- he got hot, you know, revved it up, and the plane blew up -- killed him. And ____+ lost 15% of their guys in combat. And, I don't know if you ever heard, but they never lost a bomber. You heard of the movie Twelve O'Clock High?

Elizabeth Elsener:

I have actually, yeah.

Harry W. Leavell:

The daylight-bombing raids? The Tuskegee Airmen covered for him, and they never lost a bomber.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Oh wow. You should be very proud. That's amazing.

Harry W. Leavell:

Umhmm, and you heard of the Memphis Belle, the movie?

Elizabeth Elsener:

I don't know.

Harry W. Leavell:

Well, okay. It was a movie about a B-17, and, you know, they called it the Memphis Belle. It had a lot of -- a lot of them -- one of the things that came up, they said they would lose about 25% of the bombers on these rounds. And, of course, they would lose some -- and flak -- but then a lot of fighters would shoot them down. Well, when the Tuskegee Airmen started to fly cover, they never lost a bomber. They would get in between them, and they -- they brought down their share. Because then they lost 15%.

Elizabeth Elsener:

What were some of the scariest and most stressful times of your service?

Harry W. Leavell:

Beg your pardon?

Elizabeth Elsener:

What were some of the maybe scarier times, or more stressful times, while you were in the military?

Harry W. Leavell:

Well, one of the -- one of the ____ I was concerned about was when we went over.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Umhmm.

Harry W. Leavell:

And we went ____ we left Seattle, and when we got there, we couldn't go anywhere. We went down, went down to the warehouse, riding the ship down in the hole, and we had to stay down there until the ship, you know, got out. And probably next day, you know, we come up, and we were out at sea, and, of course, there the ship was zigzagging back, and you didn't see any cover, and you -- and there was some -- you didn't know what was going to happen, you know. Of course, submarines, of course, they operated more or less -- most of them was in the Atlantic ocean.

Elizabeth Elsener:

What were some things that you and the other men did for entertainment -- maybe at the downtimes or just things to kind of keep the stress away?

Harry W. Leavell:

Well, remember I was in college, and we didn't have any downtime. Of course, you know, we were ____ we were always in school, and as I said, I didn't have the background a lot of those guys had. And on weekends I would be trying, you know, catch up on the math. I took algebra, and geometry, but it takes solid ____ + advanced algebra, and I didn't take trigonometry, and I got some of that work at Perfect Circle and proceeded in instruments, how to what was called the sine bars, how to figure angles? And there were so many courses you have to take. And it's -- and I spent most of my time on weekends, you know, studying.

Elizabeth Elsener:

That's very admirable.

Harry W. Leavell:

Trying to catch up.

Elizabeth Elsener:

That's wonderful. Tell me about the natives in the villages. When you would go to the villages, you said with some other men, tell me about the natives that were there.

Harry W. Leavell:

Well, you know, they called them ____. They didn't -- some of them called them ____. And Magellan had some problems with them. They -- when they landed, I guess that they got out on the ship, and they started ____ everything they could get a hold of. They couldn't ____ +, you know, it was completely new to them. But there was a man named Father (Dranious) You ever heard of the movie No Man Is an Island? A guy named Tweed wrote a book called No Man is an Island. He was left there, and the Japanese had evidence that he was around, and they never could catch him. And so the natives would hide him, and so they said that the -- if you want, you know, tell us where he is, we're going to kill the priest, Father Dranious. And they didn't tell, and Tweed didn't come out, so they killed him. And then when Tweed came home, he worked Star Piano Factory, (Jeanettes), and the newspaper article came out, and they said that Tweed went back to Guam, and gave the people a car to -- that helped him. They said that the people booed him, of course, the people didn't understand what it was about. But their word was their bond. If they say they're going to do something, they're going to do it. And so they thought that he should -- they didn't tell where he was. They thought he should be man enough to come out and say, "here I am." And so that was, of course, that made a movie, No Man Is an Island.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Sure. I'm interested to know. Tell me about being an African-American in the military when there, I mean, there wasn't as many as there were white people in the military. Tell me about that -- your experience.

Harry W. Leavell:

Well, like I said, it's -- when we were down on in the -- in MacDill Field, Bob Hope came. Of course, they came, they got everybody out to see Bob Hope. And, of course, we had the -- you know, the whites sitting on down the front, and I forget where we were sitting now, but then again, the entertainment was something to do. Bob Hope, you know, he was going to visit the troops, and -- but, Lena Horne, I got to spend some time talking with her. I took that picture of her.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Really?

Harry W. Leavell:

And she was our pinup girl. And -- but when we were down on at the college-training detachment, we had one of the fellows, I'm not sure who it was, but he was Catholic. And he was going to go to church, and so he left on Sunday morning, and we didn't see him for several days later. He came back, and his head was all bandaged up. And I guess he got on the bus, and he was supposed to go around and get on the back. But he didn't know, and this guy -- this driver hit him in the head with a hammer, and, of course, there's nothing you can say. That's -- that's what they said, that was it. Then after 11:00, you weren't allowed in Tuskegee, the town itself. You had to ____ + the sheriff's name, but you better not be in town after 11:00 p.m.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Really. Wow.

Harry W. Leavell:

And at one time, this was before I got there, I guess there were some men that got fed up with it, you know, as regular troops, at the training, and what -- they weren't cadets, it was some of the regular soldiers, and they were about ready to go to town, you know, get this war over with, you know, and they stopped it. But a fellow named (?Noel Parish?) he got to be head of the cadet training, and he was a real fair-minded -- fair-minding guy. And his attitude was different than the guy who was -- that was before him. And some of them, they didn't -- they didn't want you to succeed, and they did everything they could to keep you from succeeding. For example, there was a man named Major (Boyd) and Major Boyd said that you couldn't fly instruments if you had a mustache. Well, we had a number of men in our outfit who had mustaches. They were first lieutenants, second lieutenants, they were officers that came in for pilot training. And so we wondered, are they going to shave their mustaches off? But they shaved them off. But there was another fellow, a major, I think, ____+, I forget, major -- what his last name was, but he was taken off in a B-13, and the plane crashed, and he almost died. He needed some blood, and the only blood they had of that type was a black man. And his wife almost let him die rather than let him take that blood. And the man named (Drew) he's the man who developed the technique for blood plasma. And they tried to keep blood separated, you know, white blood separated. They said there's no difference, blood's blood, you know. Skin -- what makes people colored is called melanin, and kerotin, everbody has it, some has more than others, you know. And there's something called plasticity of the human species. How you adapt to the environment, but, yeah, you know, his wife was going to let him die rather than take that transfusion.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Wow. It's hard for me to understand growing up now, and, you know, I don't see that as much so --

Harry W. Leavell:

Well, Indiana's not too much better. The school down in Franklin, Indiana, they just now, you know--

Elizabeth Elsener:

Yeah, I saw that.

Harry W. Leavell:

Now who is the guy that's with him? He's still walking the streets. And he knows who it was, but he won't even tell. Two of them, you know, killed her, one held her, and one stabbed her. And they won't -- and that's one thing that I give president Clinton, he was the only president we've had who's said we have a problem about race. And he actually went out and tried to do something about it. And then they fixed him. But no other president has ever addressed it like he has. I don't think any will.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Well, when did you -- let's see, is there any other memorable experiences you want to tell us about when you were abroad? When you were over in Guam, is there any other experiences you want to tell?

Harry W. Leavell:

Well, I -- I know that the -- the DDT, they sprayed it over there, and we came back, that's poison! And we got sprayed with D -- you know, they killed the mosquitoes, and, of course, the only thing is we lived in tents. Don't get out, but I -- but still the smoke will come in your area. I don't know whether that affected us or not. But that was, you know, after, of course, you know, it's like this Agent Orange, and how many men got exposed to that.

Elizabeth Elsener:

So when did you find out that you were coming back home?

Harry W. Leavell:

Well, see when the war was over, they got -- you came back on points. If you were married, and you had children, and so let's see the -- when the atomic bomb exploded you could see the flash on Guam.

Elizabeth Elsener:

You could see it?

Harry W. Leavell:

Umhmm. You could see the flash, and then -- let's see, that was in August. Of course, you know, we kept on, you know, you couldn't go home right away, you had rotation. And then our first sergeant left, and that's when they said, you know, we're going to make you first sergeant. I had a chance to go to Oahu for education.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Oh?

Harry W. Leavell:

I sent two other guys, and they went there for college before they went home, you know, to -- something to do, but I -- sometimes I say -- I wish I would have taken that.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Yeah. Oh, yeah. So what city in the United States did you land back in, on your way back in?

Harry W. Leavell:

When we came back, we came in to San Francisco.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Okay.

Harry W. Leavell:

And then we went to -- up the river there to some base, I forget what it was, and then they got a troop train that came home, came down -- came back through the southern route. And I got to see some of the country.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Yeah, I bet. What year was that? '95 or '96? When you came back?

Harry W. Leavell:

1946.

Elizabeth Elsener:

1946 -- February.

Harry W. Leavell:

Umhmm.

Elizabeth Elsener:

And where did you go from San Francisco?

Harry W. Leavell:

I went up, I forget some base up there. I want to call it (?Stahlman) -- that wasn't it, and then we processed there, and then we went -- a troop, a train, you know, and then we went to Camp Atterbury.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Oh, okay.

Harry W. Leavell:

We were discharged from Camp Atterbury. They had German prisoners there.

Elizabeth Elsener:

They did?

Harry W. Leavell:

Umhmm. They sat in the mess hall. And -- here's another thing too. As we were getting ready to go overseas, we pulled into Atlanta, and we couldn't go in the stations. And German prisoners were in there sitting down, and we couldn't even go in there. And then -- then when we would place this, you know, like we, you know, the troop train would stop, and then, we -- this was not allowed. One of the things that happened was one of the guys there, I forget his name, he came -- they went to what you call (Waterburrow), South Carolina. After they left Tuskegee, some of them went there for advanced training, and this fellow flew in there, in a P-51, and he told us about, you know, the way things were there. And he said that they had this barracks on the other side of the base and had discrimination, you know, here they were officers, and immediately ____ + it. My cousin married a fellow named (?Melvin Jackson) -- Red Jackson. Red was -- he was a squadron leader, and he was a couple of years ahead of me, as far as -- it must have been about 42-A or B, somewhere in there. But there's a movie called Battle Hymn -- Rock Hudson? There was a black pilot in that. And so Red never would talk about his experiences. I kept after him, and I said, Red, something happened. He said, "Harry, I'm not proud of what I did." And I said, well, what was it? He said that Eisenhower said that the jump plates would just go out, and they couldn't stay too long because they burned up too much fuel. He said ____ + type planes, and so they sent for some P-51 pilots and that's what he was. And they went over to train Korean pilots to train P-51s, and he says that they were out and somebody come over a hill to see a troop -- troop vehicles, a whole line of troops?

Elizabeth Elsener:

Yeah.

Harry W. Leavell:

And he said, "you open up." And he said, "you don't go down, take a look, and then come back" you know, "because they're going to be firing at you too." He said, "I came over there and there they was, and we came down and opened up my guns" -- and said "when I pulled up beside and looked up and saw a whole lot of women and kids in there. Harry, that made me sick." And he got shot down right after -- oh, not too long after that. Couple, several -- week or so after that. He had a skull fracture, but in this movie Battle Hymn it had that same scenario. And I said -- he said, boy, and he showed this guy hitting a sign ____ and he said, I didn't do that, but he said, it got to him.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Yeah. I bet.

Harry W. Leavell:

But he said the most important thing he did was he helped relocate the royal family. He said that's the most important thing he did. He said that they want to protect the royalty. And so he said that they got a kind of group, and they took them in a caravan, and he moved them. And he said that was one of the most important things he did. Although he did fly combat.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Umhmm. Gosh. Well, let's see, so when you got back, you got discharged from Camp Atterbury, and did you come back to Richmond?

Harry W. Leavell:

Umhmm.

Elizabeth Elsener:

What'd you do then?

Harry W. Leavell:

I went back to Perfect Circle.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Oh, yeah. That's right. That's right. Okay. Yeah.

Harry W. Leavell:

And they gave me a job.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Yeah?

Harry W. Leavell:

Different pistol range.

Elizabeth Elsener:

And you went back to school using the GI Bill?

Harry W. Leavell:

And then I left there and got a job -- on-the-job training, selling insurance. And then I -- I got a job on the fire department.

Elizabeth Elsener:

That's right. And then you went to ____ --

Harry W. Leavell:

-- and while I was on the fire department, I was -- got so I couldn't walk, and I went into the VA hospital. You ever heard of (?Dorothy Canfield Fisher?)? She was a author. Her book-of-the-month club -- she's the one that started the book-of-the-month club. And she said people aren't writing, aren't reading, she went into a bookstore with no one in there. And she was a great writer, but she wrote the preface to a book called Black Boy by (?Richard Wright?) and so I said, I could tell her a whole lot about being a black boy, more than you can say. So I wrote to her, and she start -- we started a correspondence. And so she said, I got a friend ____+ a guy used to be -- a fellow named (?William Reagan?) used to be head of Oakwood, a Quaker ____ school, and her kids went there, and, of course, they got to be close friends. And so she wrote to him and told him, you know, about my problem, and so they came and looked me up. And I started in IU, in the -- it was in the basement then at Irwin, and then when I -- that was in 1949. I remembered her biography, called Pebble In A Pool, and so I have these letters, of course, she wrote personal letters. And so the University of Vermont contacted me and said if I died, they would like to have those letters because they don't have a copy of them. And she is the one who put her hand on me, and said, you know, you should go to school.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Good, wonderful. That's really good. Well, is there -- what's the -- if you had to name one thing that you learned from your service in the military, and going overseas, and seeing the war, what do you think you learned from all the experience?

Harry W. Leavell:

The potential of people is tremendous. All they need is a chance. People don't know what they're capable of doing. I worked on a research grant at Irwin for the government. You ever heard of B.F. Skinner?

Elizabeth Elsener:

It rings a bell.

Harry W. Leavell:

B.F. Skinner was a behaviorist at Harvard.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Yes. Yes, I know.

Harry W. Leavell:

Well, he had two guys who worked with him. A guy named (?John Barlow?) and (?Dan Smith?). And so I -- I went back to Irwin and took experimental psychology and something called program instruction. B. F. Skinner was -- became dissatisfied with his child's performance in school, and he said there's a better way, you know, than what she's -- a better way of teaching. So we got a research grant from the government, and we had retarded youngsters, we taught them how to read rulers, how to read micrometers, and fraction equivalents -- unheard of -- and two Ph.D.s -- one Ph.D. from Washington came out to see -- what are you doing down here? And so anything you can reinforce people will keep doing. Repertoire behavior it's called, and is -- so you give -- there's a rule, you give them an example, and you give them a rule, and then you give them an example, and you give them another example. And there was one child that appeared to be retarded, but her response time was so fast. She would take once where some of them would take two or three before they would get it, but she would get it just like that. She had a psychological problem -- rather than a retarded. And then, I tried to get a job with the government, and I went over to -- over to Dayton. And so the guy said, just a minute, he called out to the base -- a guy named (?Dr. Morgan?), and he said, "what did you say you were doing?" I said I worked with some of B.F. Skinner's, operant conditioning. He said, "behaviorist, huh?" I said yeah. He said, how long would it take you to get ____ ?" I said, I don't know. And they said, "____ well, come on out to the base," he said, I have ____ bottles and textbook on his desk. And, you know, when they started the space program, they used animals, and, you know -- and condition them. For example, Skinner programmed a pigeon to fly a bomb. And a certain thing would come up -- and it would peck on certain -- on a guidance system. And that's behaviorists.

Elizabeth Elsener:

Umhmm. Yeah. So. That's really neat. Well, is there anything you want to add before we go ahead and turn the tape off?

Harry W. Leavell:

No. I mean, anything you want to add. You said how was it to be a race, I ain't going to tell you nothing about that. It's too bad, you know, that people don't know what they're capable of doing. And, however, I -- as I said, I studied biofeedback, and I've done this for -- I started that in 1973, and programmed instruction, I mean, I trained with some of the best healthcare professionals in the United States. Some time -- you have a computer at home?

Elizabeth Elsener:

Umhmm.

Harry W. Leavell:

Look this up.

Elizabeth Elsener:

I'm going to go ahead and turn this off.

Harry W. Leavell:

Okay.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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