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"What am I doing talking to this Hitler clone—in Yiddish!" (Video Interview, 32:08)

   Irwin Robinson
Image of Irwin Robinson
Detail from a photo of Robinson standing at his battle station on the USS Bibb, Atlantic [1943]
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: Coast Guard
Unit: USS Bibb
Service Location: Atlantic; Okinawa Island (Ryukyu Islands); Pacific Theater; European Theater
Rank: Pharmacist's Mate Second Class
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Irwin "Rocky" Robinson was a shipping clerk when he enlisted in the Coast Guard, sweet-talked into that branch by a clever recruiter who saw him standing in a long line to join the Navy. Robinson became a Pharmacist’s Mate aboard the lead ship in a convoy, with the only doctor for miles and miles around. Their patients ranged from a buddy with an inflamed appendix to a German prisoner whom Robinson, a New York Jew, was able to communicate with in Yiddish. He saw action in North Africa, where he attended services in a historic temple during the High Holy Days; Sicily; and in the Pacific, where they dodged kamikaze planes. In his spare time, Robinson did a little boxing, which is how he earned his nickname.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (7 clips)
»Complete Interview  
Download: video (41 min.)
  Photos
»Photo Album (19 photos)
 Creative Works
»Poem by Robinson, "Sea Duty" [4/1944]
 Memoirs
»Selection from memoir relating to Robinson's war experiences
 Official Documents
»Official memo announcing combat awards to the U.S.S. Bibb crew [12/30/1945]
 Other Materials
»View List (3 items)
More like this
»They Also Served: Coast Guard and Merchant Marine
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (7 items)
Pharmacist's Mate on ship; went to Columbia College of Pharmacy, worked in hospital in New London, CT; enlisted; shipping clerk at time; went to enlist in Navy; long line; Coast Guard recruiter talked him into going with a smaller service--better chance to advance —and a shorter line; training at Manhattan Beach; Coast Guard had boxing program; Jack Dempsey was involved; lead ship on two convoys, one to Bizerte, North Africa, the other to Palermo, Sicily; converted to communications ship, took on admiral; sailed to Pacific in preparation for invasion of Japan; kamikaze attacks off Okinawa; doctor from their ship transported to burning ship; just as he boarded the distressed vessel he slipped and suffered fatal injuries. (04:45) In Africa for the High Holy Days; went with three other sailors to temple in Bizerte; the atmosphere was reminiscent of Biblical times. (00:49) Used a code in letters he wrote to communicate with his mother and with a buddy serving in the Army; he was able to tell them where he was going, had a rendezvous with his Army pal in Hawaii because of this communication method. (00:58)
Anchored at sea when he heard of the Hiroshima bombing; typhoon hit in the month after the Armistice; they rode it out; devastation in the harbor of Yokohama wrecked much of Japanese fleet; he compares it to “divine wind” from Japanese history which is the literal meaning of the word “kamikaze.” (02:05) Went into the service as a kid; when it was over, he was mature; advice to young seamen; admiring of captain who got them through the typhoon; his battle station was right next to anti-aircraft guns; that led to hearing loss. (02:52) Assisting in emergency appendectomy aboard ship; doctor had never performed an operation; Robinson and other men assisting also inexperienced; used packets of sulfa drug which had just arrived; patient recovered; he was Robinson’s manager and trainer for his boxing matches; called Robinson 20 years later to invite him to reunion; told Robinson's wife that Rocky had saved his life; only ship in their convoy with a doctor, so patients were transferred to them, including a German prisoner with a Hitler mustache; Robinson spoke a little Yiddish and could communicate with him. (04:52)
War is a shared experience in different degrees; one of his buddies spent the war in Hawaii; another was in Guadalcanal for 3 weeks and came back an emotional wreck; one guy from his neighborhood died in Belgium, a violinist whose brother also played violin, at Radio City Music Hall; the experience of serving in uniform may have been more maturing afterwards than during. (01:11)  
  
 Other Materials (3 items)
Newsclipping: "Passover aboard a Coast Guard Combat Cutter in the Pacific" Magazine article: "Bibb splashed a Jap plane at Okinawa" Article: "How three amateurs and one professional saved John Dragonetti's life!"
  
 
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  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
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