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Interview with Victor Cerny [6/21/2004]

Tori Hubertz:

Today is Monday, June 21, 2004 and this is the beginning of an interview with Vic Cerny at the Northfolk Veterans Home at 600 East Benjamin Avenue in Northfolk, Nebraska. Mr. Cerny is 81 years old, having been born on October 30, 1922. My name is Tori Hubertz, and I'll be the interviewer. I'm a volunteer. Vic, could you state for the record what war and branch of service you served in?

Victor Cerny:

I was in the Second World War. The branch of service was the Air Corps, and -- what was the other part of that question?

Tori Hubertz:

What was your rank? Where did you serve?

Victor Cerny:

I'm sorry, I was a sergeant.

Tori Hubertz:

Okay. Okay. Now, you -- you reiterated but, were you drafted or did you enlist?

Victor Cerny:

I enlisted.

Tori Hubertz:

Where were you living at the time?

Victor Cerny:

I was living on the farm in Polk County, Nebraska.

Tori Hubertz:

And why did you join?

Victor Cerny:

Because most of my friends were already in the service, and I didn't want to wait until drafted because if I volunteered then I'd get a choice of the service I wanted to be in and I liked that part of it.

Tori Hubertz:

That's cool. Do you recall your first days in service or what it felt like?

Victor Cerny:

Well, the first days everything was new, of course. Somebody off the farm don't see a lot of things that we had to learn to know about in the service. The first few days I took the oath in Omaha, Nebraska, Fort Crook, and then they sent us down to Leavenworth, Kansas, where we got out our uniforms. And the first night at Leavenworth, Kansas, they put me on a fire watch. And we stayed up our point of time and just walked around the buildings and made sure they didn't catch on fire. And I thought, "How stupid is this. If it caught fire somebody surely would catch it." But then later on I got to thinking, "Well, that was the beginning of training already, that we had to be on guard duty."

Tori Hubertz:

How did you get through it? Do you remember like your instructors or friends that did it with you any...

Victor Cerny:

How did I do, or what did I do with them, or how did I get along with them you mean?

Tori Hubertz:

Yeah.

Victor Cerny:

Like I say, everything is new, and I listened, and I took every word they said as gospel, so I had no argument with any of them.

Tori Hubertz:

Okay. For your service where did you go?

Victor Cerny:

For my service? Well, after Leavenworth we went to Kentucky, Louisville, Kentucky for basic training. And after basic training we were set to Blythe, California. I signed up for aircraft mechanic in an aptitude test and was accepted, but they were so full that they didn't have room for us, so we were sent to California to wait out our term to go to the school. And while I was there I did a little amateur photography when I was at home. One of the young guys -- younger then -- and I told them about that, and so they put me in the lab out there -- photo lab. I got to liking it so much when the time come to go to the engineer school I says, "I'm happier right where I'm at." And that was what I stayed into, and I got into aerial photographing reconnaissance...

Tori Hubertz:

Did you get to use that a lot during the war? Did you put it to use at all, and do you still do it -- do you still use photography today at all?

Victor Cerny:

That's exactly what we did -- our photography. And from going from California we were sent to Colorado, at Bowman Field, Colorado, which is Colorado Springs. And we took overseas training which is just another boot training actually. But it -- whatever it was for -- at least we had our weapons and we learned how to use them. And then after that we was sent to Will Rogers Field in -- where's that at -- in Oklahoma. And from the Oklahoma we went to -- we shipped to, New Jersey -- Camp Killmore, New Jersey. And from there we got on a ship -- Queen Mary, incidentally -- and we sailed to Glasgow, Scotland. And, from Glasgow, Scotland -- Scotland, we went to an air base in England called Shelgrove. It was near Shelgrove -- city of Shelgrove. And we set up operations immediately when we got there. And our planes were flying over taking pictures, and we were processing them until D-Day. And then about six days after D-Day, we went across the English Channel to France. And they -- they had moved the -- the battle had moved off the beaches so it was fairly calm there. There was still a lot of -- of people, a lot of destroyed equipment there, and even some of the dead comrade were not picked up yet. And then from there on we were connected -- we were connected to the 3rd Army -- to Patton, General Patton's outfit. And we would -- he wanted us to take pictures of what was over the next hill so that when he went over there he'd know what he would run into, which makes a lot of sense. And he wanted them yesterday. He wanted them quick. And we had to re-gear our operation to get the photos out quickly and deliver it to him. And whatever time he made a move which was a lot of them we were -- we'd move right in behind him or with him. So we were in the combat zone almost all the time during the war. We were in Annecy, France when the Bulge -- the Battle of the Bulge -- was going on, and that was about 40 miles north of us, which is too close for comfort as far as I'm concerned. We were on Red Alert and we doubled up the guards. And we would get rumors that paratroopers were going be dropping in on us. Couple of young bunch - young kids, which I was only 19 -- most of them weren't older than I was -- to be put in a situation like -- that was kind of scary. Anyway, we moved and moved and moved, and finally the end of the war came. And we were in Alsace-Lorraine Southern France. And from Southern France we went to Nuremberg, Germany. The war ended when we were in Alsace-Lorraine, and we went to Nuremberg, Germany, and we -- more or less just waiting out our time to go home. And they send you home on points. The longer, the older you were and the more time you'd been in the service would get more points. They were the first ones to go home. So we had to wait around till our number came up which was quite a while and very, very boring cause all we had to do was eat, sleep and lay in the sack. There wasn't such thing is television then. Anyway, from there we went to Stuttgart, did some more waiting, and in Stuttgart, Germany -- and from Stuttgart, Germany, we went to -- oh boy -- it's in my head but it won't come out -- Belgium -- Antwerp, Belgium. And that's where we got on the -- on the boat to come home. But it took us four days to get over there on the Queen Mary. And it took us 14 days to get back on the Liberty ship. And about half-way home we hit a storm in the Atlantic, and they posted a map on the -- of the ocean on the bulletin board. And everyday they'd move a pin to show how much -- how much we'd traveled or how much we'd got done. During the storm they put two pins right in about the same hole cause we just sit there and bounced around all that time. Anyway, we got into New York harbor and back to Camp Killmore and back to Leavenworth, and then I was discharged.

Tori Hubertz:

How many points did you have to have to get out? Do you remember any of that?

Victor Cerny:

It seemed like you had to have 40 and I only had 30 something. So, I mean but the first ones went with above 40. I may be wrong on that, but that's what I remember.

Tori Hubertz:

Were a lot of people in your situation where they were just a couple points shy, and were a lot of people just waiting around to get discharged?

Victor Cerny:

Yeah. Yeah. There was a lot of them. Every one of these places were full of GIs because they were doing about the same thing we were -- just waiting till their turn came up.

Tori Hubertz:

When you were doing the aerial photography were you ever, like, under enemy fire? Any of those situations like combat? I don't know if that's what you call it.

Victor Cerny:

Okay. I was ground personnel. I didn't fly. Our pilots did run into problems and we lost some, but... Problems. Our airplanes were special -- specially made. They -- they didn't have any armament on them or they didn't have any machine guns on them, and they cut down everything they could to make the plane as light as they could. And the reason for that was that they wanted these planes to get over there, take the pictures and get home, and not get into any dogfights. And with all this reduction of weight, we had the fastest airplane in the air including the Germans. So our pilots did have an advantage. And then they could -- with the lenses they were using to take pictures -- they could stay pretty high, pretty much out of the flak areas. And some of our boys would still get in trouble somewhere along the line. We've lost several of them.

Tori Hubertz:

So as ground personnel what did you do? Like, what was your job?

Victor Cerny:

Well, that was the photo lab I worked in.

Tori Hubertz:

Okay. Yeah.

Victor Cerny:

Where you processed the film and printed the pictures and sorted them.

Tori Hubertz:

Cool.

Victor Cerny:

And got them ready to send to Patton. That was -- what Patton wanted was part of our work. Other part of our work was -- the C2 or the intelligence people would want to know about a certain area of enemy territory that they thought they had some target spots in them. So we would go out and take pictures of them and then bring them back and process them. And they would pick out what they thought was target areas. And the bombers would go off and bomb run over there and drop bombs on these targets. And then they would send us out a bit -- send out again to same spot which was called BDA that was bomb damage assessment. And if they knocked out the target, that was it. Or if they didn't, then they could plan on going back there and doing it again. That was quite a bit of our work too.

Tori Hubertz:

When you were discharged did you feel a lot different going back home and everything? I mean, like, what were your emotions? What did you think about it? Was it changed?

Victor Cerny:

I was tickled to death, glad to get out, but I did sign up for three more years of reserve. But I was never -- I was called to camp only once in those three years so I got by pretty light. But if I'd signed up for another two, three years, I'd have went to Korea.

Tori Hubertz:

Why were you called back once? What did they need you for?

Victor Cerny:

When I was called back? I wasn't really called back.

Tori Hubertz:

You said that something -- someone had talked to you once. You were asked once about something when you were on reserve for three years?

Victor Cerny:

Well, we go to camp for two weeks.

Tori Hubertz:

Oh, gotcha.

Victor Cerny:

That was down in Kansas.

Tori Hubertz:

Sorry. I don't know that much about the Army.

Victor Cerny:

Well, I didn't make myself clear. It's not your fault.

Tori Hubertz:

Did you get any awards, or medals or anything?

Victor Cerny:

Well, good conduct. You know I was a good kid so I got one of them. And we would go out on the rifle range, and I got a pretty good score on the rifle range, and so there was a medal for that. And then through our work with our aerial photography, we were given Presidential Citation and you first you'd get a ribbon for it or a medal. And then after that which we were -- we were -- we was -- Presidential Citation -- I got -- we got three or four of them -- then you'd get an oak leaf cluster to put on your ribbons which was pretty nice, I thought. And then there was European Theater of War. That was another medal we were allowed to wear.

Tori Hubertz:

What was Europe like? Like, what are your memories of where you served because you were talking about Germany and also Alsace-Lorraine and Belgium. What was it like?

Victor Cerny:

Well, we've seen it under -- we were seeing it under war conditions so it was kind of depressing.

Tori Hubertz:

Yeah. I bet.

Victor Cerny:

But if you would go there now I'm sure it would be modern, nice, good, and I appreciated the chance to see some of these places because it was the only the way I'd ever see them. I've never been back, and I don't imagine I'll make it now at 81.

Tori Hubertz:

Before you signed up for the -- for a -- to be in the service, were you married or did you get married after the war ended?

Victor Cerny:

I was single when I was in the service, and I got married shortly after I got back.

Tori Hubertz:

How did you stay in touch with your family?

Victor Cerny:

Well, they had what they called email. That's about what they called it I think. And what it was -- it was a -- you would write a letter, and they would -- I think they photographed it, to tell you the truth -- only in small -- they would reduce the size of it by doing that. And that was for the bulk. It helped the bulk to they could move more mail. And that's the way we sent our mail, and that's the way we got it back. And we weren't allowed, of course, to tell where we were or anything like that. So they would run it through a sensor before they sent it home to make sure we didn't let something in there that the enemy could use.

Tori Hubertz:

What was -- when you were in war what was the food like? What was daily life like? Did you have lots of supplies and you had to carry them around or -- what was it like?

Victor Cerny:

Well, we were in a photo lab. We had to set up a lab which was a portable situation. We had -- they was all in boxes. And we saved the boxes because we had to put them back in there and move them a lot of times. And we would just -- whenever we were set up there was no electricity, there was no running water or anything like that. But we could -- we could get a lot delivered to us in water tanks. And as far as electricity, we had generators, portable generators, to put out light, provide electricity for us, and supplies came in pretty good. We never really was short too much of anything. Did you ask about food?

Tori Hubertz:

Yeah.

Victor Cerny:

You did. Well, everything was either canned or dehydrated, and it was fairly decent. But there gotta be a way to take that dehydrated food and make it good, but our cooks never found it while we were there. You could eat it, but it sure wasn't nothing like the original.

Tori Hubertz:

when you were, like, developing the photos and stuff, did you ever feel, like, pressured to get things in on time for people? Did you ever get, like, stressed out about things or even just about when you said the war was 40 miles away? Did you ever feel stress or pressure about that? Any anxiety?

Victor Cerny:

Well, I told you that we were attached to Patton, and he wanted those things quick -- the quicker the better -- and I could understand that, so we took some short cuts. Normally, when you process the film you run it through the solutions, and then you -- you have to dry them. And then you have to print them on printing paper and then dry that finished product. Well, he suggested just to run it through the solutions, print it while it was wet, and deliver it to him while it was still wet. And I don't know how they turned out on the other end, but that's the way he wanted them. I can't help but think now in the end that the facility they have nowadays with instant photography, or television, or whatever, that he could have had his answers in a split second without all that. So if I were in the service today, I'd be out of a job. What we did they don't need anymore.

Tori Hubertz:

Do you remember any like, unusual or like, humorous situations that happened?

Victor Cerny:

{Laughing} -- Yes, I do. When we were in Colorado we were billeted in little-bitty huts, and about six men I think -- four or six, I don't remember for sure. But one day we came back from our training and there was a porcupine in there, and the door was closed. So it couldn't have got in there unless somebody put it in there. Well, I tell you, the only thing we could think about -- we had a broom, we opened door, and we tried to coax that porcupine out the door. And you know once we got him out the door that broom was just all in shreds where that porcupine had battled back with it. That wasn't too funny, but it happened. It was something that happened. Let me see. What were some others? Oh, one time -- I can't remember, but I think it was in Oklahoma -- we all pretty much got a pass to go into Oklahoma City, which we were right close to. And some of the guys either had to work, or they were being punished for something they did and had to stay back. Well, when we came back tired, naturally, all our bunks were in -- made up in one corner and blankets were thrown in piles, and all our shoes were nailed down just for a practical joke, so...

Tori Hubertz:

Oh, man. Did you take a lot of pictures while you were there? Not -- like non-military.

Victor Cerny:

Well, I even had a camera. Most of them did. I had a Voigtländer Bessa, which was a German camera. And it was equivalent to our box camera -- Box Brownie. It wasn't really fancy. But some of them had some real fancy cameras that they'd purchased from the local people cause the Army didn't issue them. That's unofficial pictures. We had to take official pictures. The Army had cameras for that, and they were darn good. Nice. Good. One I could never afford. So we did take a lot of pictures. And I still got some -- got some of them to this day. But my daughter's making a scrapbook out of all this stuff, and she's got them. I don't have -- I don't have them here.

Tori Hubertz:

Did you keep a diary?

Victor Cerny:

No, I never kept a diary. Nope, never did.

Tori Hubertz:

Did you write a lot of letters home with that email? Did you do a lot of that?

Victor Cerny:

Well, one a week at least. Maybe more often.

Tori Hubertz:

Do you remember the day that your service ended, when you were -- when you got enough points that you could go home? Do you remember it?

Victor Cerny:

Well, you really didn't gain a lot of points waiting. But the ones with the more points, they'd send them home, then they would have to lower their requirement to go, you know.

Tori Hubertz:

Oh, gotcha.

Victor Cerny:

Cause the ones with more points was already gone, and they wanted to get everybody home; so they finally get down to your points, and that's when you go.

Tori Hubertz:

When you got back home what did you do for education? Like, how far have you pursued education? Did you have a job or what?

Victor Cerny:

I didn't -- I didn't -- I took some GI training but not a whole lot. When I come back I did R and R. You know what R and R is?

Tori Hubertz:

Rest and relaxation?

Victor Cerny:

For a while. And then -- I got -- I got jobs. And then I finally took some -- some of the -- the training that was available and went to a -- a -- to a school for -- what the heck they call them now? Like the one across the road.

Tori Hubertz:

Agri -- Like an agricultural?

Victor Cerny:

Yeah. Well, not agricultural. Trade school is what I'm trying to say. And I learned refrigeration. And when I come back, when I got through with that, I went back to my hometown. And it was about the time that International Harvester started selling deep freezes and refrigerators. And so I was the one that had to service them for them. And then after that -- after that the -- one of my friends I was working with at International went over to the gas company -- natural gas company -- and a got a job. And he stopped back in one day and he says, "I got something better than what you got here." And I said, "What you talking about?" And he said -- he mentioned what he -- what he was doing. And they were hiring so I went over and applied, and I got the job. So I spent the rest of my working days in the natural -- natural gas systems. The air-conditioning training is something like heating so that helped me out and through the job.

Tori Hubertz:

Did you make any close friends from the service?

Victor Cerny:

Oh, you couldn't help but make friends. There are a lot of buddies. Sometimes we would get separated. Sometimes they'd go this way or that way. One of them was in Omaha, Nebraska. I got -- we got -- my family and his family got together and enjoyed visiting back and forth for several years. Then he died. He passed away, and that was the end of that. So... But most -- our -- our squadron was made up of -- I think one coast to the other. There was people from the East Coast and people from the West Coast and everything in between. So, they was scattered all over. Like I -- did I say something about Wisconsin? I guess I told you that this morning.

Tori Hubertz:

Yep.

Victor Cerny:

That was one of the old buddies. And the guy from...

Tori Hubertz:

Talk the about the guy who writes the letters about where everyone is. How he keeps in --

Victor Cerny:

Oh, he's from South Carolina. I never did -- I seen him at the reunion. I only went to one of them. They have them every two years. And I think they still do. But the members are getting fewer and fewer.

Tori Hubertz:

Yeah.

Victor Cerny:

But they go all over the world to do with some of their reunions.

Tori Hubertz:

Does your military experience influence your thinking about war or about the military in general?

Victor Cerny:

Will you repeat the question?

Tori Hubertz:

Sorry. Does your, like, war experience influence your thinking about, like, wars that are happening today or about, like, the military in general?

Victor Cerny:

I -- the first thing that I noticed was, you know there wasn't television or movies at that time -- there wasn't any television. You see these servicemen all dressed up in like what they call a Class A Uniform. When I got to -- to Kansas at Leavenworth, there were these guys out there in just kind of like work clothes and funny looking hat, and I thought they must be prisoners, you know. But I didn't think then -- that ain't a soldier's uniform. But I found out that was your daily working outfit, and that it was called a fatigue. And you had -- you had Class A Uniforms. You wore them to town in parades and stuff. But the fatigues are the ones that you lived in while you were working. So it surprised me a little bit there.

Tori Hubertz:

How did your service experience affect your life, and were you injured at all or anything?

Victor Cerny:

Come again.

Tori Hubertz:

How did your service experience affect, like, your life and...

Victor Cerny:

Well, with all this -- the things that we were getting into nowadays, I could kind of visualize what some of these counties and the people in them are suffering. And that -- that's probably true today as it was then. And it's bad. It's really sad and bad. They don't have nothing to -- nobody to fall back on, or -- especially the little children. They -- that's where you really get choked up about.

Tori Hubertz:

Do you have anything else to say that we haven't covered in the interview? We can go beyond any questions I asked or you asked.

Victor Cerny:

When we came into the harbor on the East Coast, they had what I suppose was a fire outrigger -- a boat that had a lot of high pressure water spouts from it. This was just almost like a sprinkling system coming out of that -- that boat. There must have been 40 or 50 civilians -- that I could tell they were civilians -- up on that boat. And they were -- they were singing "Sentimental Journey." That's what it was. I still... {laughing} Then when we got on shore they promised -- it was -- it was night time -- they promised us before we went to bed that they'd serve us a steak dinner at the mess hall. And the PX was open, so I and my friends went down to the PX, and we hadn't had whole milk for all the time we were overseas, so we each bought a half a gallon of milk. And we drank it, and it tasted just beautiful, wonderful. Well, when we went to supper we weren't very hungry, but I ate the most of it. I ate -- Mmm -- that was that. And I enjoyed it, and it was good. We didn't have anything like that when we went overseas.

Tori Hubertz:

Are we done?

Victor Cerny:

Huh?

Tori Hubertz:

Is that it?

Victor Cerny:

Probably right, if you don't have no more questions.

Tori Hubertz:

Well, thank you so much for your time. That's the conclusion of this interview.

 
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