A Few Things Learned in World War II

(From the project Dialogues with Julian Moody: On Life, Business, Sustainability, and Other Things by Julian Moody and Brandy Walker)

Julian served as a forward observer in heavy artillery and photographer in the 273rd Field Artillery Battalion, XII Corp, of General Patton’s Third United States Army during World War II.

(Brandy's note: Julian and I spent a lot of time talking about World War II, but this was so early in our friendship that I didn't even think to record our conversations. My plan was to recapture them on tape, but unfortunately, Julian's health declined and he passed away before much of that could happen. What little I was able to recapture is contained here. Hope this little bit is informative and helpful to you.)

BW: I see you as a strong, brave person, but also gentle. I know, in general, you are against war and that you very much believe in nonviolence, but war is something you went through. Can you speak about your experience in World War II? What you learned.

JM: Oh my gosh, are you good for ten years of listening? You learn an awful lot in a war. You learn hundreds of things, probably thousands.

BW: I know it’s a very big topic. To help put things in perspective, if you could recall and convey the general atmosphere of the times and how it differed from how we experience war today.

JM: If you go back to the late 1930’s through 1940, Hitler had enough of a military set up and control of Germany that he was able to invade and occupy Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, Belgium, and Holland. The Germans were spread all throughout most of Europe. And so the people in these countries were living on very, very little in the way of food and were under the domination and control of the Germans. That kind of occupation by a foreign army is almost inconceivable these days. And it was also about that time that Hitler’s air force was building and eventually the Germans bombed London in a series of bombings. Our battalion, when we got there in ‘44, at times was pulled into London to help with the wounded, dead, and destruction and stuff of that nature. Many people figured that the way Germany was operating, the Germans would conquer England and dominate that country. So in America, before we became involved, everybody was uneasy. Very, very scared, because they had watched the progress of Germany across Europe. At the same time, the Germans had submarines that were destroying hundreds of our ships in the Atlantic. The Americans knew that we were subject to attack. Particularly as Germany developed long-range missiles. And so there was some mobilizing, but it was very difficult to get the political arena and the people in cities and towns to do something about it. Well, in 1941, as you well know, Hirohito and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched a video of the actual bombing, but it was devastating. Absolutely devastating. And I don’t know how many thousands of men were killed in a matter of one hour. Quite a few battleships were sunk in Pearl Harbor. And at about the same time they were beginning to realize that Japanese submarines were off the coast of California. So, suddenly, in 1941, it became obvious that we were very vulnerable and at this point, people said, “We have to go to war. We have to stop Hitler in Europe, and we have to stop Hirohito and Japan.” I would say within a couple weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, our whole country went into a major change. First of all, because Congress and the president declared war on Hitler and on Hirohito, and once they declared war, it freed up a lot of key people to begin to organize the country. So I would say, within a matter of a few weeks, we were on rations. I still was not drafted until October ‘43, so from December ‘41 til ‘43, that would be two years, we were on rations. At the time we were a family of six—my mother and father, three sisters and me—my older brother was not living at home. My brother was drafted first. If the sons were supporting the family, they would take the oldest son, which was my brother, four years older. So they took him. He decided to be in the Marines. And so he went into the service about a year ahead of me. Eventually, he fought at Iwo Jima and lost his leg there. As the war grew worse, and the casualties were greater and greater, then they took the last son in the family, and I was the last son. And so I was drafted in ’43. So until I was drafted, my memory is that our ration would buy us maybe a stick of butter a week. We might be allowed to buy a half a pound of hamburger. It was all done with stamps. You couldn’t get gasoline for your car unless you were doing war work. And so everything in the country changed. There’s no equivalent today. Iraq is a very remote war in comparison. People in this country have little idea of the devastation to our American soldiers in Iraq. There are many dead; many more crippled for life. Thousands that will never fully recover psychologically. Now during World War II, none of that was hidden from us. We knew what was going on everywhere.

BW: You were drafted in ’43 and joined the heavy artillery battalion?

JM: I went into basic training in North Carolina until April 1st of ’44. And when I left basic training—and I would have been what age? Let’s see, I was twenty-six or twenty-seven years old—I was shipped to a base in California and joined the battalion, and I was there until, let’s see, it was, I think at the end of July we shipped out for Europe. So this was the 273rd Field Artillery Battalion and these were the heavy guns, what they called the 155. 155 millimeters is about six inches in diameter, meaning a bore diameter of about six inches so these guns were huge and the shells and powder charges were huge—the shell itself weighed probably close to a hundred pounds. And they fired from twelve to eighteen miles and they were pretty accurate. And so the big guns, they would spread out over forty, fifty miles, and there were twelve of them. When we were doing forward observation we also had to do surveys. Our job in our little group of six was to survey every one of the guns and to get them positioned on the map, so that when we were observing the enemy, we were also looking at our map, and radioing the information back to the gun crews who could figure out fire direction based on position. So we were up front near the infantry watching when the shell fired. So we made our way and gained ground across Europe this way.

BW: Again, I realize it’s a big topic, but for our purposes here, can you summarize the things you learned that stand out in your mind, especially those things that helped later in your life and career?

JM: It is a big topic—war takes you totally out of everything. In a war, everything is turned upside down, nothing is the same anymore. Life is totally different. That’s why it haunts you and stays with you your whole life. But I think to be very simple and concise about it, and to start off with just the basics, one of the more obvious things I learned was self-reliance. Every man had to become well-trained and very self-reliant. Because you never knew when your buddies were going to be killed. Self-reliance was very important to learn. And to have faith in yourself. And by faith in yourself, I mean, you believe no matter what happens, you can somehow get through it. That’s another good thing I learned. I think you also learn a lot of things about yourself. One of the most important things I learned about myself was that I had a natural instinct for taking care of the wounded. Oftentimes, I would get to the wounded buddy before the medics would. It was a natural instinct for me. And I was not a medic, I was not trained so I didn’t know what the hell to do, but I did what I could. So I learned a great deal about the fact that I am oriented towards taking care of people. And then you learn all sorts of things that seem dull, tedious but they’re actually critical, important. For example, the army method of a dry run. When you’re getting ready for, let’s say, an attack and all the preparation is done the day before the launching of the attack, there’s what they call a dry run. Every squad lays out its equipment, its clothes and supplies and the sergeant checks to make sure that every person is properly equipped and prepared. And that dry run, they did everywhere. Even when we were in a camp getting ready to come back to America after the war, when they were getting ready to load the ship with 7,000 men, we all had to go outside and lay out our equipment to make sure we had everything we needed and we were prepared. Now that has helped me all my life to know that I just can’t jump into something new. I have to make sure I’m prepared and have everything I need. I need to do a practice run.

BW: What were the things you learned that helped you survive mentally?

JM: What I learned in the war that helped in that area and has served me ever since—and which I still look for—is what we call “camaraderie.”  It’s like the old Three Musketeers saying, “One for all, all for one.” In the army system, everything is eventually broken down into small units. Usually a squad, and a squad would be five to seven men. The men in a squad, not verbally, but in the way they operated and lived, basically took care of each other. It’s a feeling that is very hard to describe because it’s never talked about, but when you’re in the worst of a battle, part of the reason why you can survive psychologically is that you know, no matter what happens, your buddies will take care of you. And there’s even a book out called Comrades.1  In it is a marvelous story of General Eisenhower and his brother and how they operated as comrades. And basically camaraderie is what most people are looking for now when they say they are looking for community. It’s where people in the community take care of each other.

BW: Do you feel that is something that is lacking these days?

JM: I think for a period of time, maybe thirty, forty years, we were becoming very rapidly alienated as a society. I think there has been progress of moving back towards a sense of belonging, a sense of community. I think it’s gradually returning but in a new form. In the old days, way back before I was even born, but particularly in the twenties and thirties, every neighborhood was a community. We all took care of each other. And in many, many small towns and communities you had all the relatives, you had aunts, uncles, grandparents and they were all together as a community. Then came a combination of social, economic, and cultural forces—way too much to go into here—that eroded our communities. So we lost our sense of community. But I personally think it is slowly coming back. Just on our street alone, there are seven families and it is amazing how we all take care of each other. I feel surrounded by people that love me, care for me, and watch out for me. And over the past years I have heard other people talking about the same thing in their neighborhoods and communities. I’ve also heard there are new forms—I’ve been told people form communities on the internet. So that need for camaraderie and community—I first really became aware of it in World War II when I was serving. But we didn’t have a label for it.

BW: And I would think you learned a lot about leadership in the war.

JM: I was just a private so don’t have any big, fancy stories about leadership, but there are many examples of leadership. I think in the most simple form, one thing that jumped to mind when you asked the question, was a time when a couple other soldiers and I were lost in the woods somewhere. We got completely disoriented somehow. We needed to get back to the artillery unit and didn’t know which way to go. At one point, we sat down for a long time totally silent, despondent. I remember sitting there, thinking “So now what do we do?” and then all of a sudden, I just stood up and said, “Let’s go.” I can’t explain why or how, but I had the sense or instinct to go in a certain direction and everyone got up and followed. We eventually got out of the woods, found a road, and from there could trace our way back to the unit. That’s the most simple example of leadership I can think of, and by simple, I don’t mean something inferior. Simple as in basic, fundamental. You just make a decision based on some internal sense and others follow.

BW: So leadership, in its most basic form, has to do with being influenced internally rather than externally, say by other people’s opinions?

JM: Yes. In it’s most basic form. But that was a unique situation in which I was able to act as a leader. At my level, most of the time, we followed orders. I think that I learned a great deal about the power of a system of authority. In the army and in the war.

BW: This awareness and knowledge is something you carried into your consulting career?

JM: Yes, it served me well. But it should be clarified that business and war are not the same things. War is a unique, emergency situation. In the case of World War II, there was a very clear adversary and a very clear goal—Hitler and Hirohito had to be defeated—whereas business is more everyday, relational. But some of the same principles are applicable and necessary, especially in large-scale operations.

BW: In many ways, organizations and institutions seem to base their leadership on the military or at least hierarchical model.

JM: Basically, I would say for the past 100 years—maybe not so much in the last twenty years—a lot of management has been based on the military system. And to describe the military system, it would take quite a bit of time. But it’s a very effective system. And I became very aware of it going through basic training for six months. And even though we grumbled and growled about the hierarchal setup of management or leadership, or whatever you want to call it, when we got into combat, over in Europe, we were thankful for it. In the beginning you fight it in training because it is contrary to your normal life and here they’re putting you through very disciplined training. But over a period of time, I came to realize how valuable it was. For example, if an order had to be followed, we’ll say at General Patton’s level, and he was over an army of something like 200,000 men, 200,000 vehicles spread all over the map—when he was ordered by Eisenhower to move his entire army up to the right flank of the Battle of the Bulge, it’s amazing how thousands of men, thousands of vehicles, in an orderly way, could leave their camps and head north. And it was done through the army system of authority. And the system was amazing. If you ever want to get a picture of it, there’s a book that you need to read that is still a classic and it was written right after the war. It’s called Dawn of D-Day.2  The book focuses on one day and how all of the men and vehicles were organized and coordinated. It’s an amazing story. I think the military system that’s been worked out over hundreds and hundreds of years is really designed in many ways to solve problems and I think I learned a great deal about problem solving in the military system, because the military system focuses on three key areas that have served me my whole life. One of the areas is responsibility, the other is authority, and the other is accountability. And I began to see how this worked during the war, in the military. So when I started working with small businesses, one of the things I would search for in trying to find the cause of a problem was how the individuals viewed their responsibility and authority and accountability. And I found that in the majority of cases, they didn’t have a clue. The top management did a very poor job in general of helping people understand their responsibilities, holding them accountable, and not letting them abuse their power and authority. So I learned a lot about that during the war. Going back to camaraderie—which is often labeled ‘teamwork’ in the business world—again no clue. So this knowledge and awareness was tremendously valuable in solving problems in the business arena. But again, to clarify: war and business are not the same things. Business is more relational. Individual people with individual issues interacting with each other. We all have different attitudes, beliefs, various backgrounds we come from. In a war like World War II, there was a clear enemy outside of us. In a business context, sometimes we are our own worst enemy.

1 Stephen Ambrose, Comrades: Brothers, Fathers, Heroes, Sons, Pals (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000)
2 David Howarth, Dawn of D-Day: These Men Were There, June 6, 1944 (1st edition, London: Collins, 1959)