Transcript:

Speaker Ask the same questions again. OK, who is this guy?

Speaker That guy is me. That picture was taken when I was 19 years old, I was a member of the 513 Parachute Regiment, I was in the second section of the demolition platoon. That's why that.

Speaker Paratroopers standing there has a little bit more gear on them than the average paratrooper because of the addition of the demolition equipment.

Speaker What was the demolition equipment?

Speaker Well, actually, in that particular case, those two bags each contain one anti-tank mine.

Speaker With arming device. Our mission was to set up a perimeter to prevent the British.

Speaker Are the British and the German reinforcements, there was the area behind where we jumped. There was a canal and several bridges. The thought was that they got the reserve. The Army Reserve was behind the canal waiting to see where we were coming, where they were needed. And our mission was to set up fields to prevent them from getting across and into the area where we were. We had anti-tank mines and we had demolition stuff to either blow the bridges or set up the mines to stop the tanks so they couldn't come through.

Speaker And was that pretty dangerous?

Speaker Yeah, OK, that's jumping with explosives can be a bit dangerous. In fact, one of the things that we are used to do with basic, really, when you think about it, we had these bags of Composition's C, which is a plastic explosive. You read about it now they're up to, I don't know, three, ten, something like that. We had the original plastic, which was just composition C and of itself. It's harmless. I mean, you can do anything with it, but you need a cap detonating cap or another device to make it explode and of course, it's useless if you don't have the caps with you. So we were jumping with caps and with 50 or more pounds of this explosive. And of course, the explosive is on your thigh and that one back on each thigh. So to make things safe, we should take the detonating caps and tape them to the inside of your boot. The thought being that if anything happened to the caps, the worst would happen, you lose a boot, which would be a shoe in it, but they're a foot in it. But at least you, you know, you didn't lose anything else more vital. But yes, it was to answer your question, yes, it was dangerous, but we try to minimize it.

Speaker So I'm going to ask you again what what the significance of this particular jump was?

Speaker Well, this operation was called Operation Ferocity by the military, and I think life was very aptly named at the last round because it was the the final surge, the big push to knock out the German army and total resistance.

Speaker Our mission, which was to secure the ground east of the Rhine River, north of a town called vessel, so that the British could come across and then after that initial and and meet up with them, we combined forces and turned south down through the River Valley, which was the heart of the German industrial area. And this did effectively end the war.

Speaker So you had said something that was the last thing you said the last the last round.

Speaker Yes, that was that was I thought that was very apt, that was lifestyle caption of the article. I called it the last round. And as I say, I thought that was well put because it was the the knockout punch. To end the war. And it did. Six weeks later, the treaty was signed, so it was pretty close. And and let's talk about.

Speaker Who took the picture and what did you know about who Robert Cappa took the picture?

Speaker I found out later at the time, of course, I didn't know who he was. I mean, when he was standing in front of me, I didn't know his name, let's put it that way. Had I heard his name, I knew I knew the name.

Speaker I knew what a great photographer he was. And but obviously at the time I didn't because otherwise I might have gone up looking for his autograph. But he took the picture and it was kind of odd. I was leaning over because the weight of all the stuff of shifting the load while we were waiting to get transported. That's why I didn't have the reserve on yet, that was sort of the last thing he didn't have to put that until we were ready to go. And I heard a voice saying, hey, Sarge, would you mind standing up, I want to take your picture. I think the reason he wanted to take my picture was the fact that I had to shave Morlock because I don't know if we got into that, but was a shiny Pnina, my demolition section, so that any time we went into combat, we used we went in with a show and we're like. Because it was our way of saying, OK, we're different, we're here, we're we're going to get hell.

Speaker And tell me tell me again about what that did for you, what the what the them in that way?

Speaker Well, for your car, it's a it's a case of it's a lot of war activity. Being to be successful is psychological. For example, if there's, let's say, 10 of you in a line and the. Commander is explaining to you where you're going and what you're going to do and how dangerous is going to be, they look at the time and say half of you aren't going to come back. You look at the guy on either side and say, too bad you guys aren't going to make it back. I will. I mean, it it has to be because otherwise, if you can't get that mental attitude, you're not going. I mean, it's that simple, basically. Well, you're not going to be effective, you might go because you don't have any choice, but you're not going to be affected.

Speaker And how did having this change that affect?

Speaker Well, this by doing this, it gave you an enhanced it demonstrated the Brotherhood, if you will.

Speaker Of the group. There were many others that did a lot of things like that, in fact, there was one unit went into Normandy and first they from the day I forget, I don't know, one day in May when they first were informed where they were going, what they were doing, they said, OK, we're not we're not going to take a bath or shave or do anything till after the jumps over. And they were known as the Dirty Dozen. Which I think they were by the time they dropped, but it was a bizarre thing that we saw was just. It's sort of something I think that actually was sort of instilled or started in parachute school.

Speaker Because you're doing something that is different. It's dangerous. Requires extra care, skills, whatever. You're in you're going to attempt to inculcate all kinds of psychological. Material into you, the idea is that if you are big enough, tough enough and smart enough, I think was it for demolition school, if you're if you're smart enough and tough enough, maybe you can be a demolition man. It's sort of a thing where. We're going to go and we're going to do it because we're better than they are.

Speaker That enabled you to do that. And you said something about Cappie being asked why you said he was fearless and you said something about him being the only one.

Speaker Well, as far as I know, he was the only one that ever jumped, made a combat jump with a regiment with none and. Normandy or Holland, and I don't know about the Pacific because I wasn't out there, but there were no well, I think the proof of the pudding, there were never any other photographs shown up anywhere like this series. If somebody had done it, they would have I mean. So but he was in fact, I think he was the one who distributed that if you want to get a good picture, you got to get up close.

Speaker Exactly. I want to show you some pictures. I'm not sure if they were in the yard for a second.

Speaker On this page, two of them I haven't seen. But of course, here we have we have another illustration, here's another deal of a haircut that these people, they have Mohawk's they're not us. But not, you know, not this these aren't Cheyenne, Moloch's Cheyenne was a clump in a front in a clump in the back and everything else was shaved. This is the straight for the down the middle.

Speaker So it's a different group of paratroopers. Yeah. As I say, everybody had their own thing, it wasn't. Today we're going to do this, tomorrow we're going to do that. It was our guy is going to do this and. We don't know what you guys do. And in fact, this I don't I'm not sure about that either, that doesn't. I don't see the faces are familiar, but the setting is obvious, it's.

Speaker And of course, here, obviously, Cap is on the ground in this picture because he's taking the. OK, as I say.

Speaker Looking at this, you can see, obviously, Cappa was on the ground when this was taken, so this was taken in Germany after he jumped, he was taking them.

Speaker The rest of the regiment coming down to that.

Speaker That I know that. I saw that. I saw that, too.

Speaker Here's a couple of what we call exterior decorations. We have the silk hanging over it draped over phoneline. This trooper, he managed to get down, you can see you get out of his harness, but he sort of didn't didn't steer clear of the lines of the all the way. This other guy, he's still hanging up in the tree. He sort of hit the rest of the picture. There was part of it on another page. That's. You can see some in and some out, you can see that a couple of empty parachute factories, which means they got out of them, like I say, the beauty of it, you hit that button and you're out because if you're too high off the ground, you want to hesitate about hitting that button. But if you're close enough to the ground, you hit the button and bingo, you're on the ground.

Speaker And then you have three of those guys. Oh, yeah. You sort of describe what happened if you got stuck there.

Speaker Well, depending upon the timing and the location, if you happen to land in an area where there were Germans standing there waiting for you and they were shooting at you as you were coming down. Obviously, they got a free shot because they waited till you got on the ground. You might get them, which is understandable. So sometimes some of the some of the troops didn't quite make it to the ground alive.

Speaker And what a wrote about all this stuff coming up in the trees. Or, you know, some of them were, of course.

Speaker Was a case of obviously, they all didn't steer out of the trees, but you could get if you were injured coming down, if you were anybody, if you are hit, you might have a problem trying to free yourself, in which case, if the Germans were there, they could hit you again. And then you didn't have to worry about getting out your horrendous. Just wait for somebody to bury you.

Speaker Here we have.

Speaker We have a glider and it's not a British glider coming in that's not one of ours. That's what they call a horse, which was we had Waco's here.

Speaker It's like the beginning of an aid station. Setting up a so you have medics with trying to treat the people on litters that are injured and.

Speaker Here you have here we have some soldiers surrendering.

Speaker You can see they had their hands behind their heads are coming around this one.

Speaker I'm looking for if I can find it, you'll see it, unfortunately, but they're all pretty much.

Speaker There was one picture which showed a woman and two children sitting in a shell hole in the middle of a field, which I thought was rather poignant, I have it. It's in the it's in the book. They were they were caught in the middle. They had fire coming from all sides and they had nowhere to go. So they were sitting in a shelter waiting for things to quiet down, hoping nothing hit them.

Speaker It was kind of the. Well, heart rendering.

Speaker Because there is nothing that they brought on themselves, really, I mean.

Speaker However, could you just say what nationality they are?

Speaker Well, they were German. I mean, we were we were pretty well into Germany. Anybody there lived there was German. We were east at around.

Speaker So now maybe you could just describe you get into that gear, get on the plane. And obviously, what's on your plate?

Speaker No, he was on our plane, no, but he experienced the same thing so we could just take us through that experience the way you and also Carol would have experienced.

Speaker Well, we load up and. It sort of.

Speaker And in know difficult to fully describe, because part of you isn't thinking or feeling part of you is. You're you know, you're going to hear planes in the air, you know, you're going and you're not exactly sure what's going to be there when you get there. You know what is supposed to be there. And you hope you'll get there. And so that's a real mixed emotion because you hope you'll get there and not have the plane shot down in the meantime, because if the plane was shot down in the meantime, you might not be able to get out of it. However, once you get there, you're going to be in rather extreme bodily. Damage, harm. So you're sort of in between things.

Speaker Capra wrote that when people did land, they kind of just lay there for a few minutes before getting up there.

Speaker Some did. It was a case of oh, boy.

Speaker I know I I kind of hesitate to, in a sense, to say what I was really feeling during that time because reading about and talking to other people. My feelings weren't. And in a sense, the same as other people.

Speaker Well, for example, when I left the plane, finally we had a burst of flak blow the body back in five and finally, Milliron going out the door. So we had to wait and get the door cleared so we could get out, which meant that when I went out, I wasn't too close to the rest of them because we were separated by the delay in getting out the door. I should opened and I looked down and I think. Oh, what a beautiful day.

Speaker Here it is, the grass is green, the sun is shining, oh, it's a great day for a picnic.

Speaker Only it wasn't I mean, it was was a great day for a picnic was was we were in the middle of a war so we couldn't have a picnic that day, which was a shame. But, uh, and when afterwards people kind of looked at me like, you know, you're odd. Well, OK, everybody has their own reaction to whatever. So I'm saying maybe it was sort of a denial of the danger. I don't know. I'm not a psychologist and I don't care. I mean, this is what I was this is what I did. You know, that was I think that actually, you know what that is.

Speaker Where's the fun now?

Speaker OK, OK, just keep rolling. I think that was great because. SWATters.

Speaker Because I think Kevin might have had thoughts like that, you know, in the most difficult circumstances, he was thinking about where to get a bottle of champagne in the middle of a foxhole.

Speaker Sure. So I think that's a wonderful, wonderful story.

Speaker I don't know.

Speaker You may have read this, but in Italy, when you went up with some parish paratroopers, a guy just before he jumped, you said, you mean you don't have to be on this plane? You know, and he said, I don't like your job, it's too dangerous, and then he jumped and he wasn't jumping. So so OK.

Speaker So imagine Kapper then he's got he doesn't have a demolition gear. Got his cameras. What would you say about a man who would choose to do this? He didn't have to do it.

Speaker Right. Well, of course, the general opinion seems to be that anybody's rather stupid to jump out of a perfectly, perfectly good airplane. But of course, when you have a purpose, you have a purpose. The parachute is your means of transportation, really. It's the only way you get from the plane to the ground at the point you want to be because the plane is not going to land and you want to be there. So the only way you get there is to. Take the parachute, the only real problem with the parachute, it doesn't have a reverse gear, you can't go back up.

Speaker But you had orders and he didn't.

Speaker This is true that voters we had orders, he didn't have orders, but he had an objective. He was there to get photographs. And you can't get them if you don't get their. So the only way you get the photographs is to be aware of it, where they're going to be taken and to get to that point, you had a. Of course, he could have taken a really rough road and taken a glider and. They were the people I used to sort of feel sorry for because. They they were they weren't volunteers, basically, I mean, technically, anybody could be assigned to a glider to ride. And but you had to volunteer to be the jump with a parachute. Cursing in our unit, our division. I would say approximately 85 percent of the glider glider in our division were qualified parachutists. The others weren't. Well, the idea was that they tried to get them all because they felt it would give you a better esprit de corps because you cut down the conflict between your glider and I'm a paratrooper.

Speaker But obviously, when you get replacements, they can't always you can't always get them qualified. So after a while, you end up with a mix, but.

Speaker This is do you think that the pictures that camera got there with his stuff, with the prisoner is just going to record Broton silently? This is with the freezer.

Speaker OK, I want to be sure it's OK.

Speaker OK, let's just roll them. Oh, yeah, OK.

Speaker OK, so the question is, do you think I mean do you think it was worth risking capital for of worth risking risking his life to get the pictures that he got.

Speaker Well, well as far as Cappa risking his life to get those pictures, it's the only way they were going to be gotten, if you will. And it's a case of balance. The pictures are worthwhile. The risk is. Voluntary, if you will, nobody put a gun to his head, say you will go, but he choose to do it and it was worthwhile. Of course, when I think about Cappa and I also think about another war correspondent, Ernie Pyle, we managed to take good care of them in Europe. They both survived the whole European war. Then they went over the Pacific and they both got killed. So we figured they weren't doing a good job of protecting their people as we did. But that's. Nothing to do with the current question.

Speaker That's strange. So did you feel kind of responsibility for Cappa or would the soldiers with him? Oh, sure.

Speaker What the heck I mean. Anybody that, you know, was. Anybody that was there that didn't have to be sort of say, OK, you're here to do a job, the job's important and you know, we help you out if we can. I mean, as far as we can. But I didn't have the opportunity because they say when. Because of the situation in the plane in which I was flying when I hit the ground, eventually I was not with the rest of my unit and the four of us together with the tail end of the stick. And we said, OK, now.

Speaker We're not exactly sure where we are because we're not where we know we're not where we're supposed to be, so we had to sort of get organized, get oriented, figure out where they were, where, how to get back to them.

Speaker And we managed to get a lot of little incidents that occurred, which.

Speaker If you lose your chance, you you're in trouble. And I know the one thing shortly after I get on the ground, actually, when I before I started looking for the others, I knew they couldn't be too far from me. I came across a British lieutenant, so we exchanged pleasantries and we were sort of standing a little bit away from obviously a little bit away from where all the activity was. And he looked down and saw the people scampering and turned around him.

Speaker And he said, I say, Did you ever see such organized chaos? I thought, yeah, OK, that's that's a good phrase. Organized chaos.

Speaker Yeah, that's about what it looked like. Certainly chaotic the way everybody was running, but it was organized because pretty much everybody knew where they were going. So I said, yeah, I think you're right. I'll see you later. And he took it where he went his way. And I went my. Never even got his name, but what the heck?

Speaker Then what is the value of those pictures of capture risked his life to get them what, what, what, what effect they had? What, what why was it important to get those seen by other people?

Speaker Well. All overall the effect.

Speaker They told a story, they showed what things were like, there was no other way really of doing it. If you can talk, you can paint. You can do anything you want. But if you don't actually have the actual visual, it's exceedingly difficult to kind of get your point across. I know in one case, in a particular case of that picture that he took of me, if ever a picture had a life of its own and that one did because it kept turning up and turning up and turning up throughout the years.

Speaker Tell the story about, OK.

Speaker My son, who in fact one of my children was in first grade, he walked into the school library and took out a book and started thumbing through it, went over to the teacher and said, This is my daddy. Al Qaeda in Yemen, pat him on the head, said, yes, man, OK, are you sure you don't believe me? Sure. Oh, sure I do. And he came home, told his mother they don't kill him. So she had to get the book out, sign a note before you get back to school.

Speaker I could say that again because I like the fact that he would not go back to school until he had to have the confirmation of the fact that it was or he wasn't going back because they wouldn't believe him.

Speaker And it was funny because they're ironic. I guess years later, a couple of the fellas, the boys that we had been in school with all the way through were aware of the picture from that incident and one of them joined the army. And was up in the do line, which was at the distant early warning system up in the south of the Arctic Circle. When he came home on leave, he said, hey, Matt, guess what? So your dad's picture up in a new line was it came up in a magazine up there and it just kept showing up.

Speaker And they say it actually had a life of its own. The old brown, brown, plain, plain brown wrapper story. I got a plain brown wrapper from Holland of a friend of mine who is a pilot. He had me walking down the street and I don't know, Holland some place and some part of Ireland on shortly after D-Day was the 20th 20th anniversary. This was this was a magazine similar to life. Which was called review, I just happen to have a copy of it here.

Speaker And they were doing a 20th anniversary commemorative issue of the invasion of Normandy, and they used the picture as a cover, in fact, but I got a kick out of all through it.

Speaker They put little inserts of the urinal. I won't be able to find them real quick. But you.

Speaker That is the exterior decorating shot, which they're using as part of Normandy, which actually wasn't Normandy, but, you know, here they various pages throughout the book as a continuity's, they use the same theme on the different pages. Well, of because it was funny, I got to put the magazine.

Speaker I knew who it was from, but I didn't have the foggiest notion what it said. I knew the picture. Obviously, I did have to find a Dutchman, genuine Dutchman who translated it for me. In fact, he wrote back to the magazine and they sent me glossies of the cover, which was nice.

Speaker It just seemed to keep coming up various like I have three or four here that are just for the heck of it I just mentioned in passing, this is an airborne forces history from 1940 to 1986.

Speaker It has the compilation of all the various odds and ends with a little higher.

Speaker Yeah. And.

Speaker I happen to have a page marked here somewhere I can find it real quick. We have. The picture.

Speaker And in this case, actually, they use it as an instructional photograph to show what a paratrooper wore in combat. They say that the prince fine, but they they identify all the various items.

Speaker The overview, sure.

Speaker This was. This was if this was sort of funny, because Cappa took the picture, he took a lot of pictures in Normandy, and this is sort of one it's not a place indicative if or whatever it could be anywhere. And so it's been used anywhere.

Speaker They then there was a.

Speaker Another one, you know, shortly after the war, there was this publication came out. Called the mightiest army, and it had all kinds of photographs throughout the war, various pictures, all kinds of things in somewhere in the midst of this.

Speaker You know, here, just to give you an illustration, I know if you can see it, but just bear it out. Here's a paratrooper with his walkie talkie. If you'll notice, there's a buckle across his chest here. That's the old style harness he's wearing. He still has his reserve one. So obviously hadn't jumped yet, but this is what they say was replaced with the newer version, which meant it was simpler to get out of. Which was helpful.

Speaker Somebody somebody pulled the pulled the page marker out of here, but honest, it is in there, but it's why that picture, why is there such a line?

Speaker Well, the picture itself was sort of, I think, an uneven picture. And every man picture it was an individual, but it was sort of a typical or. Stereotypical of a. The American soldier, at least the American paratrooper, over.

Speaker For the last 10 years or so, I have been visiting high schools in the area. Giving talks as part of a group called Living Links to History, we basically speak to the American history classes at the various schools. One of the schools, when I went into it, I go in with the Life magazine and show them the picture and then sort of use that as an introduction to try to get the attention getter to get them.

Speaker I mean.

Speaker One school, we had five classes I was visiting that day, the first class I went into, I showed them the picture and everything was fine. Then I went into the second class and before I had a chance to say a word, in fact, before the teacher actually introduced me, he said, Students, open your textbooks to page, I don't know, 248, whatever a number. And of course, they dutifully did and looked at the page and he said, you'll see a photograph there, says Photo by Robert Capa.

Speaker This is a gentleman who is appearing in that photograph. And of course, it was great for attention. The looks on their faces, they would look down at the picture and look up at me and look down at the picture and look up at me, when I left that class, I was getting in my subway. So how would you like to have something like that every day to get their attention?

Speaker So it's great thing you couldn't hear a pin drop the whole time.

Speaker I was talking to visual aids. Yes.

Speaker And I understand there's something special about that picture in terms of your own physical situation. But this was the last picture.

Speaker Well, you know, I always kid about I say that's the last best good photograph of my right foot because I left my right foot in Europe.

Speaker Uh. As a result of combat injuries a couple of days after the picture was taken. But why should I care about it, say, oh, yeah, I used to have a right foot and a very good picture like two days before. Well. A short time before I left it.

Speaker And was that also a jump that you did that when you when you lost your foot, what was the same?

Speaker It was the same jump. It was after this job was during the during the combat afterwards. We were in the process of. Trying to secure various areas. So what happened as far as our mission, we never really got to it. At least I didn't, you know, we really didn't, but. We were there was too much activity and trying to get back and forth, et cetera. We finally sort of gave up trying to go knock them off and just sort of helped out with the troops. In fact, I was working with the rifle company when I got hurt because they needed help. I mean, were you shot? Yeah, I get the.

Speaker Well, it's sort of if somehow there's some sort of doubt, the final analysis was that I got hit by a 20 millimeter high explosive shell which exploded on my femur. And it managed to totally disintegrate about three inches of above the artery scenarios, nerves sort of took out quite a bit of my leg. And when that finally got settled at the time, I was only I only saw small arms for. Rifles, machine guns, et cetera. And when I finally get back to control, I was picked up by the Germans. But after I finally get back and we were talking about, you know, what happened, I thought I got hit by rifle bullets, go throw it at me. Next thing I know, they're coming back with x rays saying this can't be a rifle bullet. OK, tell me what it was. And it's one major finally said, well, it had to be approximately 20 mm shell and it exploded on the bone. And he went through the whole detail that ignitable. Tell me something. If I had three inches in my to be torn apart. How come I didn't bleed to death because I didn't get any medical attention for two days? And he smiled, he looked at me, he said, well, a song. He said, you're lucky it was explosive shell and exploded on the bone because the heat cauterized the artery. And that's what kept it from bleeding to death. I said, oh, that's interesting.

Speaker That's kind of miraculous. Yeah. And. Do you think that it was a good thing that Kevin was doing taking pictures? These pictures are pretty gruesome. So what do you think of that?

Speaker Well, I think that the Catherwood did a fine service to the country by taking the pictures that he did. Because. There's this I mean, war is gruesome and somebody has to show it, in fact, lately they've been doing a lot of it with the some of the movies they've been coming up with, but. This was a case of he actually went there, put his life on the line and. As approved, he eventually did because he got killed in. Or.

Speaker In the Pacific, but nevertheless, it's something that needed to be done, and I admire them for having done it. In fact, I mean, I often wonder if I could have done it, to be perfectly honest with you. I mean, it's one thing to be going someplace where they're throwing things at you when you can shoot back in sort of another thing to go and not not be allowed to shoot back.

Speaker Back on camera, different kind of weapon.

Speaker Yeah, that's what I'm saying. I mean, you know, you can if you see somebody aiming at you, if you're a little quicker and more accurate than they are, they're not going to hit you. I mean, I I know this having done it, but. If you don't have anything but a camera, you don't stop bullets with cameras.

James Conboy
Interview Date:
2002-01-18
Runtime:
0:36:40
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-2n4zg6gk67
MLA CITATIONS:
"James Conboy, Robert Capa: In Love and War." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 18 Jan. 2002, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1124
APA CITATIONS:
(2002, January 18). James Conboy, Robert Capa: In Love and War. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1124
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"James Conboy, Robert Capa: In Love and War." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). January 18, 2002. Accessed July 02, 2022 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1124

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