My nephew, Jordan Freeman, is the co-director of the critically acclaimed documentary "Blood on the Mountain." I'm looking forward to seeing it when it comes to the area. Roger Ebert.com gave it four stars and it has an 86 percent rating at Rotten Tomatoes (that's a good thing).
This got me to thinking, heck, I wouldn't be much of a World War II oral historian if I hadn't interviewed some veterans who grew up in coal country, which, along with Midwestern farmboys, produced some of the best soldiers in World War II.
Cleo "Deadeye" Coleman, a descendent of the Hatfields of Hatfields-and-McCoys notoriety, was one of them. Myron Kiballa, whose brother Jerry was killed on Hill 122, was another. But the best description of coal country came in an impromptu interview with Eleanor Mazure, whose late husband, Frank, was a mechanic in Service Company of the 712th Tank Battalion. Forrest Dixon, the maintenance officer, described Frank Mazure as "the best thief I had," quickly adding that he didn't mean that in a pejorative sense. Rather Frank was able to steal or trade for extra spark plugs because the battalion was assigned only a limited supply. The tankers weren't supposed to idle their engines because it would foul the spark plugs, but try telling that to a crew on the front lines that might have to move on a moment's notice, or was trying to keep warm on a cold night. Thanks to Frank's ingenuity, the mechanics were able to pull the fouled spark plugs, replace them, and clean the plugs they removed. That might have gotten some men killed, Forrest said, because if their tank wouldn't run, they couldn't go into action, but it also might have saved a lot of lives.
Frank survived the war but passed away before I began recording stories of the veterans of the 712th. His widow, Eleanor, sat in on an interview I was doing with Ed Stuever, who was a maintenance sergeant in the 712th and had worked closely with her husband.
But I digress. It was Eleanor's description of life in coal country I wanted to share, so here's a transcript of that interview.
Interview with Eleanor Mazure
Widow of Sgt. Frank Mazure
Service Company, 712th Tank Battalion
Pittsburgh, Sept. 1996
Aaron Elson: How did you and Frank meet?
Eleanor Mazure: We lived in the same town, a small coal-mining town in Ohio, on the same street. There were eight or ten houses on each side of the street, and he lived down at one end and I lived at the other end.
Aaron Elson: How old were you?
Eleanor Mazure: I went with him for five years before we got married, so I was 16.
Aaron Elson: Was your father a coal miner?
Eleanor Mazure: Yes.
Aaron Elson: So you must have had a big family.
Eleanor Mazure: I was one of seven children, and Frank was one of 13. But a lot of them didn=t survive until they were adults.
Aaron Elson: That must have been a tough life.
Eleanor Mazure: Very, very tough.
Aaron Elson: Was there a lot of drinking?
Eleanor Mazure: Well, that was about the only recreation that the miners had. Once they came home from work on weekends, there wasn=t much to do in a small coal-mining town in those days.
Aaron Elson: Where in Ohio was it?
Eleanor Mazure: It was in a place called Piney Fork, Ohio, and Piney Fork is about 20 miles south of Steubenville.
Aaron Elson: Was Frank older than you or the same age?
Eleanor Mazure: He was five years older than me.
Aaron Elson: Did he work before he went into the Army?
Eleanor Mazure: He worked on what they called the tipple. The tipple=s on the outside of the coal mine. He didn=t want to go underground, so he worked on the tipple where the coal came out and it was dumped into. He worked there a short period of time.
Aaron Elson: Why do you think he didn=t want to go underground? Was he claustrophobic?
Eleanor Mazure: I don=t think there was any particular reason. I just think he probably foresaw that there wasn=t any future there. And he and another fellow told us for a long, long time that they were going to go into the Army, and nobody believed them. So he and another fellow went down to the recruiting place and signed up.
Aaron Elson: What year was that?
Eleanor Mazure: He went in in 1939.
Aaron Elson: Why do you think nobody believed him when he said he was going to go into the Army?
Eleanor Mazure: Because in a coal-mining town in those days there wasn=t any future. If you started to be a coal miner, that=s who you would end up.
Aaron Elson: Did he and his friend go into the same outfit?
Eleanor Mazure: No. Frank went directly to Fort Knox. And from Fort Knox, I don=t recall if it was in the first or second year, but he was sent to Y wait a minute, first they were in cavalry. Because they wore those pants, you know, the jodhpurs, I think they=re called. But then later on he changed to armor. He was sent to Aberdeen, Maryland, to ordnance school, and that=s where he learned how to be a mechanic on the tanks, and then from there he graduated. Okay, we were supposed to get married on the post but they only got three days= leave in between Aberdeen and Pine Camp, New York, so we just got married in Steubenville, and we went up to Pine Camp on the bus. We got married November the 3rd, 1941, one month before Pearl Harbor.
Aaron Elson: How much did Frank make? Was he a sergeant yet?
Eleanor Mazure: Well, he went in as a private, and each step B he didn't skip any, and he wasn't elevated on his merits, there had to be openings B plus I encouraged him. I always said, AYou can do better.@ So he ended up being a master sergeant in Service Company. A month after we were married, the war started, and that changed everything. In the beginning, he was making $21 a month, for a long, long time. I don't recall how much more he made when he was a Pfc, but he was already a master sergeant when he went overseas.
They wanted him to go to officers candidate school, but he didn't want to get out of his unit. He enjoyed his men immensely. When he came home B this doesn't have anything to do with this period, but when he came home from service, I don't know if he was shellshocked or what, but he used to get up in the middle of the night and start packing his barracks bag and crying, AI=m going back to my men. I=m going back to my men.@ He cared so much about the men.
Aaron Elson: How did Frank propose to you?
Eleanor Mazure: When he went into the service, he said, AWhen I get through with all my schooling and everything, I=m going to send for you.@ So we got engaged through the mail. And he sent me my ring through the mail. After he got out of school, he came home and got me and we got married in Steubenville, and then we just got on the bus and went to Pine Camp.
We got there too late to find accommodations on the post and we didn=t have a car. We found a place in a small town about three miles from the post, I don=t remember the name of the town, and Frank walked up there every day. I got privileges to go on the post and shop.
We lived with some real nice people. They made accommodations for us upstairs in their home, and it was really great.
One thing I did, I felt sorry for all these fellows because I knew eventually they were going to go overseas, so every Sunday Frank invited at least three fellows over for Sunday dinner. In the afternoon I would cook something that he really liked. I cooked cabbage rolls, spaghetti. I just felt that was my little contribution toward making Frank happy before they went overseas.
When we left Pine Camp, we went to Fort Knox. And then from Fort Knox, we were transferred down to Camp Gordon, Georgia, and then to Fort Benning. And from Fort Benning they were transferred to Fort Jackson, and that was where they left from.
Aaron Elson: What was your maiden name?
Eleanor Mazure: My maiden name was Berdjar.
Aaron Elson: Is that Polish?
Eleanor Mazure: Slovak.
Aaron Elson: And Frank was what?
Eleanor Mazure: One of his parents was Polish and one was Hungarian.
Aaron Elson: How many generations back did your family go in the States?
Eleanor Mazure: My father came over from Czechoslovakia when he was seven years old, and my grandparents on both sides came from Czechoslovakia. My mother was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. But all of my grandparents, when they came from Europe, we don=t know that history, but they all came to Pennsylvania and maybe were coal miners for a short period of time, and then they transferred to Piney Fork, where we all lived. That was the Hannah coal mining area that, everybody knows it, it was a real big operation at the time. They=re no longer in operation.
Aaron Elson: Were there strikes?
Eleanor Mazure: Yes.
Aaron Elson: And accidents?
Eleanor Mazure: Yes. When there was an accident, they would ring this loud whistle. The whole town heard it, and then we knew that there was a tragedy. The men used to go in on cars. They=d sit in these cars, they were open cars, and it would take them into the mine and then bring them out at night. It=s hard to imagine, but the coal miners never saw daylight for many months out of the year, because they would go in in the morning when it was dark, and when they came out at night it was dark. And, this is funny but the miners always had different omens. If sometimes they would see rats in the mine, and the rats would start running, then they knew there was going to be a cave-in. And there were several other things that they knew, and then they would clear the area.
In the beginning, miners were very low-paid, but later on B a lot of people didn=t like John L. Lewis but it was because of him that the miners gained some benefits, so we have to thank him. But Frank didn=t even have, he didn't have a high school education, because in those days, the high school was seven miles away and you didn=t have the money to pay the bus fare to get to, you know, so he only went through eighth grade but he did work his way up, I have to say that. Nothing was given to him. He worked. I even asked Dixon at the last reunion, I said, AHow did you ever choose Frank to be your motor sergeant?@
And he said, ADo you think I=d pick somebody that didn=t know anything? I picked the best.@
Aaron Elson: How did you feel when you knew he was going to go overseas?
Eleanor Mazure: Well naturally, we all felt very badly. We took it kind of hard.
Aaron Elson: Were there other wives in the same...
Eleanor Mazure: Yes, I came home, we departed, we stayed there as long as we could in Fort Jackson, we stayed there until the last minute, in fact the last, they didn=t know exactly which day they were gonna leave, so this one particular night it was raining as hard as it could rain, so a couple of us went over near that area and the fellows somehow, I don=t know if they came over by the fence or what, I don=t recall, but they snuck out to see us for a little bit, and that was the last time we saw them. So I came home on the train with Fernandez=s wife and Mrs. Greeley, West Virginia there. And that was it. But naturally we felt badly, and the thing of it is, we had been there nearly like, let=s see, like three years, and I was pregnant, I was gonna have a baby when he went over, so naturally, you know, that was... So anyway, my first son, his name is also Frank, and he was born while they were in the thick of the fighting.
Aaron Elson: So you were pregnant when he went overseas?
Eleanor Mazure: Yeah, see, because we didn=t know they were gonna go. So ...
Aaron Elson: Is he still alive?
Eleanor Mazure: My son?
Aaron Elson: Yes.
Eleanor Mazure: Oh yes.
Aaron Elson: Because I=ve only met Clark.
Eleanor Mazure: Well, this other son, he lives about, oh, 35 or 40 miles from me, he=s also a Vietnam vet. But Clark=s the one that=s interested in the history.
Aaron Elson: Okay, so you were pregnant with Frank Junior.
Eleanor Mazure: And then they went overseas, yes. And he was born on July the 9th, and they were in the thick of battle, because they had, I=ve forgotten the name of it but they had some way that you could send a telegram to the fellows to let them know. So I was in hospital, I remember when I woke up I kept saying, ADid you let him know? Did you let him know? Did you let him know?@ But he didn=t get the message for three weeks, because they didn=t know where they were. So, he said all his friends were congratulating him, AI didn=t know what they were congratulating me for because I hadn=t seen it.@ And so Frank was a year old the week that he came home.
Aaron Elson: Who named him? Did you decide in advance?
Eleanor Mazure: Well, I guess we sort of decided together. I could tell you something about that name. We named him Frank Fillmore, for the middle name, and Fillmore was one of Frank=s good buddies. I never got to meet the man because he never came to any reunions, but he thought so much of the man he said, AWe have to name our son Fillmore,@ so that was his middle name, but I never got to tell that man, they tell me he=s sick, I don=t know.
Aaron Elson: That would be Fillmore Enger.
Eleanor Mazure: Yes.
Aaron Elson: I=ve never met him.
Eleanor Mazure: I don=t know, what else can I tell you?
Aaron Elson: While he was overseas, did you have contact with his mother?
Eleanor Mazure: Oh, his parents were already passed away.
Aaron Elson: Really?
Eleanor Mazure: M-hm.
Aaron Elson: Both of them?
Eleanor Mazure: M-hm.
Aaron Elson: So I guess his father died young...
Eleanor Mazure: No, his mom died, she was kind of young, she had severe heart problems. His dad was older, but they weren=t that young. They were older.
Aaron Elson: So both his parents had died. It must have been pretty nervewracking for you with him overseas. It must have also been very tough. How did you support yourself, and survive? Did he send money home?
Eleanor Mazure: Yes, in those days, though, you know the pay was so low, well, I came back to Cleveland and I found a little two-room, through one of my relatives I found a little two-room efficiency, and I survived. I managed. You manage. You did without. You were used to doing without if you were a coal miner=s family, you know, you did with what you had and you made the best of it.
Aaron Elson: Now what was that about a three-cent loaf of bread?
Eleanor Mazure: Oh, up in Pine Camp they had a commissary, you know, it was the men could do some of their shopping there, so I got a little ID, it=s a metal pin with your picture on it, and I would go up there, I would walk up, and they=d let you in once they saw your ID, and the bread was three cents a loaf. And I don=t remember too much about the other prices but they weren=t much. But you know, how much could you carry? How much could you carry home? I really, Frank loved the Army, and I loved it too. I love traveling around.
Aaron Elson: What was that about the smoky trains?
Eleanor Mazure: Oh, you asked me how we got down to the different camps. Well, during the war, everything was used up for the war effort, so in my train to Louisville train it was so smoky and so dirty and so puffy, that when we got down there we were loaded with soot. But that=s the way we had to travel.
Aaron Elson: Now Frank Junior, he went to Vietnam?
Eleanor Mazure: It was almost like a repeat. Yeah, he was in the Reserves, okay, for like six or seven years, and his unit from Cleveland was the 233rd Quartermaster Corps, and there were about 230 fellows who were called up, and he was one of them. So in his case also, he had been married I don=t know, a year or two, and when he went overseas, his wife was pregnant. Not expecting to go. So his little girl was a year old when he came home. It was unreal.
Aaron Elson: Now you don=t talk about him much.
Eleanor Mazure: Well, I didn=t realize I could contribute something, because Clark is the one that=s into the history.
Aaron Elson: Was Frank Junior, did he come home, was he affected by being over there?
Eleanor Mazure: Well, he=s okay, I mean, you know, he came home alone.
Aaron Elson: Alone?
Eleanor Mazure: Sure. They came home one by one. There wasn=t anybody to greet them like there was the other fellows. But he was all right. I think he=s a nervous person, but other than that, he didn=t use Vietnam as a crutch, like some fellows do, he just said, well, you have to go on with your life, pick up the pieces and do the best you can do. So I don=t really mention him because I don=t ...
Aaron Elson: And when was Clark born?
Eleanor Mazure: He=s six years younger than Frank, so he was born in 1951.
Aaron Elson: Frank Senior, he really loved the Army?
Eleanor Mazure: Oh, he loved the Army, yeah. He would have stayed in, but he wanted to come home and see his child. And then they were going to send them over to the Pacific, and I think the fellows thought they had enough, being on the one front. But I have to say that he was very happy when he was in the service, and if he could have stayed in he would have been the happiest man on this earth because he just loved it so much, I can=t stress that enough.
Aaron Elson: How did he pass away?
Eleanor Mazure: Oh, he had a lot of things wrong with him. He was in the VA Hospital for a long, long time. He had hurt his foot in one of the tanks once, his knee, and he never put in a claim for it. So periodically, his knee would give out and I thought he was faking. But he ended up, he had a brace on his knee, and I think he had a stroke, and he had all kinds of things wrong with him, so then, you know, it just took its toll on him, and that was it. He had numerous things wrong with him, so they just all, you know how they take their toll and add up, and he just, one morning, he just keeled over, he was sitting in a restaurant, and he just keeled over.
Aaron Elson: How old was he?
Eleanor Mazure: He was in his, you know I get a little confused on all these people that died because my little granddaughter died when she was 2, Clark=s little girl died when she was two years old. And Mom died and Frank died, they all sort of died real close together, I=m getting the dates mixed up, not because I=m forgetting but it=s just such a ...
Aaron Elson: But what year was that, then...Clark=s little girl died or Frank=s little girl?
Eleanor Mazure: Clark=s. Clark=s little girl died when she was 2. She was born with a congenital heart defect, and she had a couple of heart operations, and she survived the one when she was five months old and later on another one, but when she was two then, she had another one, and she didn=t survive that one. She was in RB and C in Cleveland, which is a special children=s hospital, but she didn=t make it, so that=s been one heartache, you know, he=s carried, but he has three other children.
Aaron Elson: Would Frank come to the reunions?
Eleanor Mazure: No, he never came. He just, I can=t tell you, I don=t know. It=s just Clark that got interested in history, and that=s it. He just sticks with it.
Aaron Elson: About what year was it, it was the year after he passed away that you first came?
Eleanor Mazure: The first year I came was Rockford. But Clark came a year previous to that, which was a small reunion, I think the Service Company had it, it was in Detroit, Dearborn or Detroit, and the reason we found out about it was, Clark was always connecting himself with his veterans at his work, he worked for Caterpiller, and the one man was a World War II veteran, so Clark would every opportunity he would get he would talk to, so one day this man gave him one of the magazines, I don=t know if it was VFW or American Legion, and the 712th was listed in there that they were gonna have a reunion, so that was this little mini-reunion up in Michigan. So he went to that, and then the next year was Rockford, and he said, AMa, you have to come to that.@
And I said, AWell, you know, I don=t know if I=m going to know anybody there anymore.@
He said, AWell, you=re gonna come anyway.@
And he had been corresponding with Ray Griffin also, putting the pieces together, so I went, and I=ve been coming ever since. Because I remembered a lot of the people there.
Aaron Elson: And you save up all year for this trip?
Eleanor Mazure: Well, you know, you manage, this is my highlight of the year. I don=t go on other vacations anymore. I used to, you know, when our kids were small, we used to go, but this is my highlight of the year.
Aaron Elson: And where do you live now?
Eleanor Mazure: I live in, well, it=s like a suburb of Cleveland, Aurora, Ohio, which is where Sea World of Ohio is, and I have three brothers and they=re all single, none of them got married, so they bought a home and made a home for my parents. And then I moved out that way and I lived out of Cleveland for about, oh, I don=t know, ten or more years maybe, and then I moved back in, because I was driving to work from 40 miles a day one way. But you have to drive where your work is. You can=t always live on top of your work.
Aaron Elson: And what kind of work did you do?
Eleanor Mazure: I worked in a hospital for 28 years. I did various things, I worked in admitting, I have a lot of volunteer hours in, because I like people, I like helping people, that=s part of my makeup. And then I ended up, and I was a cashier, but I ended up being a claims person, claims processor they called it, and I=ve been doing all of the insurances but plus, I=m an expert Medicare biller, because I started to do Medicare, which I didn=t want to take but the boss said, AEleanor, you have to try it for two weeks,@ nobody else wanted the job. So they put me in it, and said ATwo weeks,@ and it ended up being like 18 years or something.
Aaron Elson: So that must have been when Medicare was first ...
Eleanor Mazure: The first day it was initiated they put me on it, and there wasn=t anyone at all to teach us, we had nothing, we had nothing. No one knew anything about it, the government just initiated it, and you had to pick it up on your own. And I did. And I didn=t mind it, I loved it, because basically I=m a hard worker.
End of side 1
Ed Stuever: On Tennessee Maneuvers, when my son was born, they were looking for me for two weeks at least. You know, Jen would almost write to me every day, and then when there was mail, the guy that called off the mail, he'd hand a letter to this guy and then he'd hand one to that guy, then Jen always had her lipstick on the back end, and everybody would take a kiss on it before I got it.
I'd always have Jen send me the hard salami, and I'd take a real sharp knife and I'd cut it in real thin pieces so everybody'd get some.
Eleanor Mazure: I used to send that. I'd seal it in paraffin, and then I would put it in some kind of a container that didn't break, like maybe a coffee can. And it never spoiled, but it took many, many weeks.
Aaron Elson: Did you save your letters?
Ed Stuever: I've got a box full in my attic.
Eleanor Mazure: I don't have any because I had a robbery in my house. I had a whole footlocker full, I saved every solitary one. Do you have a copy of that Christmas card that you fellows sent us from overseas, and it said "When the lights go on again all over the world." And it had two plugs, electric plugs, and they were ready to go together. It had different significant meanings to it.
Ed Stuever: What they meant was peace. Lights go on again all over the world was a famous song in those days. And don't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me. In Normandy we had nothing but apple trees. There was a lot of heartbreaking songs in those days.
Ed Stuever: the knob on top came loose, and I soddered that back on there, and I made a crystal out of celluloid cover, and it went through Tennessee maneuvers, and all through the war, and every night the guys would use it on guard duty. Whenever there was a flash of gun. And I'd never see that watch for weeks. And finally when the battalion got together, or our company got together, we're sitting under an apple tree, and finally it dawned on me. "Is my watch still around?"
"What do you mean your watch?" I was offered twenty dollars for it. What do you want to pay me twenty dollars for, I only paid a dollar for it. Oh, it's history. So I've still got it. It'll run for a little bit, but the springs all...
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