Mr. Kurt Heilbronn
This is an oral history interview with Mr. Kurt Heilbronn at his
home in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania on the ninth of March, 1993. The
interviewer is Mack Teasley of the Eisenhower Library.
MR. TEASLEY: I'll just start by asking you to indicate where you
were born, when you were born and when you came to the states.
MR. HEILBRONN: All right, I was born in Germany in 1910,
December 28th to Louis and Matilda Heilbronn. My father was a
butcher, and I had a brother, Paul, who was four years older, and
the years spent in Germany were enjoyable, until the era began
where I noticed that I was somehow treated differently. Later
around the ages of eight and nine years old, I learned that being
of a different religion was not acceptable in Germany at that
time. It was pretty tough to spend a happy youth from there on.
My father saw that the era of Germany, after the first World War,
was turning toward something other than a country that would
tolerate certain groups of people. He had the foresight to see
things going from bad to worse. My mother had a sister in
America, and we wrote to her. She sent all the necessary papers,
and in 1924 we all came to America via Cuxhafen, near Hamburg.
We came over on a ship, came over to America. We brought most of
all of our household goods with us, and some of them are still
here in my home, and they're approaching the hundred-year mark.
We landed in New York, on the S.S. Hamburg, on Memorial Day,
of all things. The funny thing was, my uncle and aunt were there
to receive us, and when we came onto the dock, I asked my uncle
why all the flags were out in America? "Why all these flags?"
He said, "That's because we told them that you were coming from
Germany." [Laughter] Later on, I found out that it wasn't so.
So we came to Philadelphia, originally, and lived with my
aunt and uncle for about, oh, I would say almost a year, until,
my father and brother had jobs. My mother was taking care of a
household. I found a job in a bakery where my brother was
working, wrapping bread on a night shift, and happily making
money. One night a truant officer came and informed me, through
a interpreter, that I had to stop working because I was underage,
and I had to go to school. And so, I went to a school for
foreign children, of all sorts, and no one spoke any English
except the teacher. I stayed there, until I think it used to be
at sixteen years you could stop going to school, and then I
resumed work. We needed to work because, funds were essential.
And as soon as possible then, I went into a candy factory,
and I learned the candy business, and became a candy maker. I
worked there, I don't remember exactly the amount of years, but I
would say seven or eight years. Then I realized that I didn't
want to work for people all my life, so I borrowed some money,
and I went into the candy business and started a candy store of
my own. My brother went in with me. He ran the store, and my
mother helped me with the candy making and the preparations. As
we progressed, and got a little more solvent, I decided that in
my spare time I should do something. A friend of mine who had a
paint store had an airplane, an airplane with the open cockpit.
He took me up to a place called Sommerton Airport, which was
owned by a German fellow by the name of Ernst Buhl. He took me
along on a flight while he was taking pictures, and gave me the
airplane saying, "This is what you do, turn left, and hold it
straight." I then knew this was what I wanted to do, rather than
be a candy maker and have all the grievances with customers who
complain about this wasn't right and that wasn't right. So, I
pursued the aviation career, and soloed after approximately ten
hours and . . . .
Q: Do you remember what year that would have been? When you
soloed? You've got it in your log somewhere.
MR. HEILBRONN: Yes, 1938, somewhere it's in the logbook, I don't
exactly know the date.
Q: But around 1938?
MR. HEILBRONN: Yes. I soloed, and then, of course, after
soloing, by that time I had the disease of wanting to just
continue flying. I found several fellows who were in the same
boat as I was, money-wise. We pooled our resources and bought an
airplane from Ernie, it was a Fairchild 22, an open cockpit
airplane. We shared the expenses, and gradually worked our way
up into a private license, which gave us the chance to take up
friends, but nothing for hire, because you have to have a
commercial license for that. To get a commercial license, you
had to accumulate, I believe it was 250 hours. After we attained
that, why then, of course, we took people, here and there, made
money, and paid for the airplane.
Then it got to be to the point where we got into the
conflict with Europe. In 1940, I got a letter from the
government that said, "We are giving free instructions in your
area at the DuPont Airport which you can sign up for. The
government will pay for it, and you can get your instructors
rating, and your commercial license." I immediately grabbed it,
took all the necessary tests, and went down to Wilmington,
Delaware, x amount of times. I think it was two or three times a
week. We pooled a car, and we drove down, which in those days
was quite a feat, because we didn't have the highways as we do
today. We went through the pilot training down there, and all of
us passed our instructors ratings and commercials. And, lo and
behold, nothing is for free, is it? In 1942, when we went into
the war, entered the European conflict, I got another letter from
Uncle Sam, it said, "Now that we have paid for your training as a
flight instructor, and a commercial pilot, we want you to pay us
back by being an instructor for us in a primary school. You are
to report to Bennettsville, South Carolina on such and such a
date to take a flight check in an PT-17, a Steerman. If you pass
this, you will be assigned as an instructor pilot to teach cadets
to fly." And that's what happened.
I took my flight test with Lieutenant Jepson, a navy pilot,
and I never will forget when we got up in the air and did all the
things he wanted me to do. We would get up to about, I think it
was 5,000 feet or something like that, and he'd call back and
say, "Have you ever been on your back?" I said, "No," and he
said, "You're about to be on now." With that he slow-rolled the
airplane, stopped it on its back, and I grabbed everything in
sight, I thought I was going to fall out. But we had chutes on,
and, of course, strapped in. That was my first indoctrination
into acrobatic flying, combat flying. He did slow rolls, snap
rolls, and loops and Cuban eights, and you name it, everything in
the book. By the time I got back on the ground I was as green as
the grass. But that disappeared later on.
Q: Had you become a citizen prior to this?
MR. HEILBRONN: Oh, yes. Yes. Oh yes, I became a citizen in the
allowed time, I think it was five years after being in the
country. And I couldn't wait to be a citizen.
Q: So that was sometime before. So when you tested out, then
did you get sent off to a school for training?
MR. HEILBRONN: No, the training was done right in Bennettsville.
An instructor pilot then took you over and gave you the "how-to
teach the cadets" and what they should learn and how to evaluate
what they were doing. You had to go through that test to learn
the procedures, and that took a week of intensive flying. Then I
was assigned five new cadets, and taught them from scratch how to
fly. Some already knew how. Some came in who already had
previous instruction--had probably taken lessons somewhere in a
field, but then you had to undo what they already had learned,
and we didn't want in the military. So, that worked out pretty
well. The school expanded, and got bigger and bigger and we
couldn't handle any more airplanes. We then, some of us, were
asked to transfer to a place called Jackson, Tennessee. They had
a new flight school there called McKeller Airport. It's still
there, and it's now a commercial field. We had Steermans there.
Q: How do you spell McKeller?
MR. HEILBRONN: M-C-K-E-L-L-E-R. We had at least, in the traffic
pattern never less than thirty airplanes. Sometimes fifty, all
flying the traffic pattern. I used to have a favorite thing that
I used to impress my cadets with. I said, "What's your neck size
on your shirt?" Say, for instance, fifteen and a half. I'd say,
"Well, when you get out of here, before you graduate, I want to
measure your neck, and I want it to be sixteen and a half,
because if you don't keep swivelling your neck to look for all
the other airplanes to avoid collisions your life insurance is
worthless." I said, "I want your head on a swivel constantly.
The best insurance you've got is right between your shoulders."
And that used to impress them, that there was no relaxation when
you're out there with all those airplanes. Yet there were times,
several instances when you send them out for the first solo
flight, mistakes would occur. I've seen a cadet land one on top
of the other airplane, and it was just one of those things.
Since the Steerman was a ground-looping airplane, it was very
hard to handle. It had a small tail wheel, and when you got it
on the ground too soon, with too much speed, or you got a gust of
wind, why it would just take that tail and swoosh it to one side,
what we call a ground loop. Invariably with thirty-five, forty
airplanes landing to the left and to the right of you at the same
time it was possible to collide with others, and just wreck them.
That occurred frequently.
Then, I don't know what the year was, '41 or the beginning
of '42 I believe, all of a sudden we almost had enough pilots.
We had trained so many pilots that they were scaling down the
amount of instructors they needed. So, I decided to go to
Memphis and apply to, it was called then Chicago and Southern
Airlines. It was a small airline that flew strictly from New
Orleans to Chicago, with intermediate stops at Greenville,
Mississippi and Biloxi and all these different places, I forget
what they were. I got on as co-pilot and flew for, well, maybe a
month or so, and then the Air Transport Command came in and--
confiscated is not the word--acquisitioned the airplanes that
they needed to transport materials, troops, and all that. They
took most of the airplanes away--they only had maybe four or five
airplanes left out of, whatever they had, maybe two dozen. I
tried then with American Airlines, and that didn't work out too
well, so I decided to go back to the Air Transport Command and
apply for a job there. And I did. I went across the field, took
their tests, and got into the Air Transport Command . . . .
Q: This was at Memphis?
MR. HEILBRONN: At Memphis, and I was then a flight officer,
after I got through the schools. My main function was to ferry
airplanes to the various parts of the world, battle fronts, and
there were all types of airplanes. In those days, the check-out
rate in a airplane simply consisted, most of the times, of one
day of ground school, and maybe three or six take-off or landings
in the daytime, and maybe half a dozen at night. After that you
had the airplane, it was yours, and you learned by trial and
error enroute, but it all worked out all right. We were not
allowed to fly in weather, because they didn't want to lose too
many, and also we did most of our flying in daylight. So I
ferried B-25s, 24s, B-29s, 17s and all different big airplanes
wherever they were needed.
Q: And where were you based? At Memphis?
MR. HEILBRONN: I was based in Memphis, at the 4th Ferry Group.
Q: And did you travel to North Africa?
MR. HEILBRONN: Yes, via South America at Casablanca, and across
Ascension Islands, into Accra [Ghana], Africa and then into
India, New Delhi, somewhere along that route, and finally ended
up delivering B-29s to Chiculia outside of Calcutta, probably a
hundred miles from Calcutta, India. We would then wait there for
a war-weary B-29 to be brought back to the base, and it was
sometimes just full of holes and tears, and you couldn't
pressurize it. It would be made ready by our crew chiefs, and
then we would work on it to make sure that we had halfway decent
radios. We ferried that airplane back, and the round-trip was
usually fifty hours to seventy-five hours to deliver one and
bring one back. The airplanes were then delivered to Texas, I
believe it was San Antonio, where they then took them apart,
repaired them, and then we would take them back again. We always
flew with a spare engine in each airplane to build up the stock
of spare engines at the other end of the ride.
Quite a few incidents happened. You had to be very careful
over there because of the Indians, especially in New Delhi.
There were a couple of mishaps where the workman, and some of the
other people, would run across the runway in front of the landing
airplane. They believed if they could kill their shadow, why,
they would live forever. But most of the time it was a fatal
thing for them, and this was bad. They used to run all over the
place just because of their belief, whatever it was, I'm not
sure. We had an incident where we had a B-29 that we were flying
back, and right after take-off the crew chief got on the intercom
and said that we had to land immediately. We had to shut off all
the electric systems in the airplane because we had such a bad
fuel leak, and the whole belly of the airplane was full of fuel.
So we shut everything down, and we hand-cranked the bombay door
open, and all the fuel spilled out. One of the connecting pipes
to the tank had burst or split open, so it was a lucky break we
didn't blow up. That's for sure, I'm still here. When I came
back from one of those trips I found out that I was slated to be
transferred from the 4th Ferry Group to Karachi where the B-24
tankers used to fly from over the Himalayas to China with fuel.
I had friends of mine there, and they never came back. It was
one of those hazardous routes. You either couldn't make the
altitude to get over, as the plane was too heavy, or you would be
intercepted by the Japanese enroute and shot down. So I had help
at the 4th Ferry Group, and got myself assigned to Europe.
Q: So you were transferred to the European Command. Where did
you report over there? England?
MR. HEILBRONN: Yes, I flew a C-54, when did I fly to Scotland?
I think I wrote it down here. Flew April the 19th. I picked the
airplane up at Gravelley Point, which is now called Washington
National, it was then Gravelley Point. We flew the airplane
through Scotland and landed in a place called Stornaway, I don't
know exactly how its spelled. It had a stone wall around the
entire airport, approximately four feet high. It's still there,
because I've landed there since. From there we refueled, went to
London, and delivered the airplane to Bovington, which was then a
military field. From there I was transferred to Paris, to Orly
Field, and I went with General Eisenhower. I was assigned to
him, and wound up in Frankfurt, Germany.
Q: When you went to Europe and you were transferred to the
European Command, how did you actually become associated with
Eisenhower's air crew? And this was in April of '45?
MR. HEILBRONN: Yes, April of '45. I don't remember, I believe I
was told that I was replacing a Dick Leib who was then mustered
out, he went back home.
Q: Was he a co-pilot or was he a . . . ?
MR. HEILBRONN: He was a pilot. I don't know whether my
knowledge of Germany, and my knowing the language, had anything
to do with my selection, because I'm sure there were other people
more qualified than I. But thank my lucky stars, I was picked.
So I reported to Frankfurt, and then met the General and all the
associated crew members, and Major Hansen--I believe he was
Captain, or was he Lieutenant? Whatever, it doesn't matter. And
there was another gentlemen by the name of Russell Ketchum, with
whom I flew for a while, but he also left. He was married, he's
still married, in fact, I've seen him a few times since. He was
married to one of the DuPont girls, in that DuPont family.
Q: So you first reported to Orly.
MR. HEILBRONN: To Orly Field, headquarters was at Reims. Then,
of course, we didn't stay there too long after we went
then . . . .
Q: After V-E Day then . . . .
MR. HEILBRONN: We then went to Frankfurt, and operated from the
I.G. Farber Building. I was still a flight officer, after quite
a while, and it caused me to feel uneasy, because wherever we
landed I would have to request from somebody, not give orders,
but tell them what was needed, and they could be maybe two or
three ranks higher than I. I made my discomfort known, and they
decided I should get my air force wings. So, in typical military
fashion I had to go through the whole procedure to learn to fly
an airplane, and take a flight check, which Captain, probably
Lieutenant [Charles I.] Bennett then gave me. And after that I
got my wings, and became a second lieutenant and life got a
little bit easier. The times with the General were just
Q: You flew several different types of aircraft there?
MR. HEILBRONN: Well, we had the C-54 and two C-47s and we had a
B-25, it was a "stripped 25," for real fast trips but only held
two people and two pilots. We could put a jump seat in, but we
never did. And we had several small L-4s, I believe they were
called, used to be a Cessna, made by Cessna. We had a small air
force. We had crew chiefs that took care of the airplanes. We
had three navigators, the names aren't important I guess, what
all the peoples names were. We had various duties if we didn't
fly. We knew about the flights quite in advance, but when we
were not flying we had different things we could do. We either
trained on the airplanes, or if we had a flight to make that was
coming up, we would sometimes fly the entire trip just to
familiarize ourselves with the terrain and the airports that we
could use in case we had a problem. And, also, to coordinate the
time that we should be enroute and arrive. That's still being
done today, even with the President's airplane, everything in
advance is worked out. Because the General would go to various
military functions, and we always made sure that we arrived
exactly at the time that it was scheduled for him to be there.
If we had tailwinds, or we got there too fast, we would either
throttle back, or go sight-seeing for five or ten minutes. Then
we'd come back on course just to make sure that he got there at
the time he was supposed to be.
Q: Did he ever come up to the cockpit?
MR. HEILBRONN: Yes, he used to like to come up, and talk, and
see what was going on. And sometimes he'd sit up there. If we
had a trip that was long, and he wasn't busy in the back reading
one of his favorite Zane Grey cowboy books. His right-hand man,
Sergeant Moaney, supplied him with westerns and always made sure
that he didn't read the same book twice, because he would
remember it if he'd read it. He'd say, "Oh, I've read this one."
But, another incident which always endeared him to us, was
that whenever we got to either where we were based, or any other
place where we landed he would go into the flight operations.
When he saw a "Purple Heart" GI he would immediately go over,
shake hands, and introduce himself. He'd ask the GI's name, and
"where are you headed," and "where were you," "how did you get
your Purple Heart," and so forth. If he was going where we were
next scheduled to fly and if seats were available in the
airplane, whichever one we were at the moment operating, there
would be a seat for that particular "Purple-Hearter" or two or
three or four depending on how many seats were empty there.
These were just some of the things that made the man--just
characteristic, just sweet habits, I would call them, inbred in
He just liked people and he had a smile for any situation,
most of the times. I remember one time we were going to Berlin
for a conference, and several of the top generals were to join us
at Y-74, which was our homebase. It later became the Rhein
Main. I think take-off schedule was seven o'clock in the
morning. The General was already in the airplane, and so were
the other gentlemen. The only one missing was General Moses. At
seven o'clock the General looked at his watch, and sent Sergeant
Moaney up to the cockpit. Moaney was to tell us to come back,
close the door, and start the engines. Said, "We were scheduled
to leave at seven, we're leaving at seven." As we were rolling
for take-off, why, there came General Moses' car at high speed,
onto the ramp, and we just never reduced throttles, we just put
them right up to take-off, and took off. We left him right where
he was. I think that he probably learned. [Laughter] Oh,
you've heard about the General and punctuality?
Q: Yes. You talked too earlier about how when you landed the
General always came up to cockpit before he left the plane and
made sure that you were okay.
MR. HEILBRONN: Well, not that, but he never left the airplane
until the crew was outside, standing at attention, and then he
came down the steps. Before he left the ramp he would always
inquire of whomever was there to greet him, or meet him, if the
crew had proper quarters, transportation, and everything that was
for our comfort. Being reassured he would thank us for the trip,
and then he would say, "You will either be notified by phone" or
"Such and such a time is when we want to go back to wherever we
were next going to be." And this was another one of his nice
traits that came with the makeup of the man. His consideration
of the staff.
Q: I was going to ask, did he ever take control, take the
controls of the aircraft? You know, he was a frustrated, he
wanted to be a pilot himself.
MR. HEILBRONN: Oh yes. Well, he had a pilots license, as he had
at one time flown a light plane. He would come up and sit in,
but most of the time he'd just sit and look at the instruments
but he never stayed that long. Most of the time he had things to
do in the back, and things to arrange.
But coming back to when we weren't busy flying, I went and
did all the investigating. We had thousands of letters from
German Americans delivered when we were in Frankfurt to inquire
about their relatives, and aunts and uncles, and sisters and
brothers, and whatever. And these letters were all given to me,
because I was elected to do the investigating and find out where
these people were, whether their homes were still there. I had
an automobile in the garage where we were billeted, near the
Farber Building, and it had no wheels. It was then what they
called the Daimler-Benz, which is now the Mercedes Benz. The
motor pool came and they put wheels on it, and got it in shape.
I put one of General's flags on it, and I had blanket orders that
I could go into all the occupied territories of the French, the
Russians, and the English to look for these people. I would be
gone sometimes for three or four days, sometimes a week. I'd
write a report on it, and then each one of these letters, if we
found out where they were, were answered either with the
information in it, or not, if we weren't able to find any trace
of these people. That was part of the staff's work that we had
going there. Everyone got an answer, it was never ignored. One
other thing that came into the office were gifts from all over
the European countries there. They were all catalogued, and
properly documented, and thanked, I imagine, in a letter of
acknowledgement, and were put into storage. Now where they are
today I'm not aware of, but I guess some of them are in the
Q: Some of them may well be in our museum. Did you ever do any
direct translation for Eisenhower in German, I mean, he was maybe
talking with some German officials?
MR. HEILBRONN: No, the only thing I did in translation was in
his household. Where did he live? I can't remember the villa
that he had. It was outside of Frankfurt. They had a German
staff, cook and housecleaning, and so forth. I'm sure that they
had been investigated thoroughly by intelligence, or whatever.
But I did a lot of translating there when they had problems with
not doing this or that, or something wasn't right, or they wanted
to change something in the household. That part of interpreting
I did, other than that, no. The other thing I used to do was
when we went out, the pilots, and the other crew members like our
crew chiefs and navigators, we all palled around together. The
ladies out of the office, the WACs, and all of us would go into
maybe a Bierstube or someplace. Whatever went on there, what the
Germans were going to do to us, what bottle of wine they would
give us, which was probably watered down, I would just tell the
group that this is what's going to happen now. Knowing the
language, and understanding them, why, we were forewarned before
we would be taken. It happened quite frequently over there,
they're all trying to make a little money.
We had a household lady, her name was Mrs. Schafner, she was
an elderly woman, and she liked to drink. And we, of course, had
our whiskey bottles sitting in our room, and it didn't take long
to find out that she was helping herself. So what we used to do
was, we'd have a bottle, and we'd make a mark on it on the label,
or somewhere on the glass that she couldn't see too well, where
the whiskey was. Then when she had been nipping on it, why, we'd
just fill it up with water back to that mark again. So it was
getting weaker and weaker all the time. [Laughter] But Frau
Schafner, that was her name.
They had it well where they worked, the Germans, because I
think they found that the Americans were just as generous as
victors, as they would be if they were living in our country
here. We treated her very well, she always got coal from us and
things to take home for dinner and we'd buy stuff at the PX and
they appreciated it.
But still there was something there that seemed to irk the
Germans. Especially our GI at the gate before you went into the
Farber Building, you'd have to pass a checkpoint. There would be
a GI with his necktie crooked, and his shirt opened at the neck,
and his gun loosely at his side, and maybe lounging and pointing
his thumb "you're past." They just often wondered, they talked
to me in German, and said, "We cannot understand how you won the
war with soldiers like that." It was just one of those things
that cropped up frequently that they couldn't understand.
There's something here that I'm going to say that probably not
many will understand. Some of our soldiers had put graffiti
marks on some of the walls over there, "U.S.A." And the Germans
made a joke out of that. They said, "Yes, we know that. You
liked Hitler because you are commemorating him everywhere where
you have ¸U.S.A.¸ put on there." I said, "Well, what do you mean
by that?" Well, in German we say that's ¸Unsere Seliger Adolph¸"
Q: "Our holy Adolph," right?
MR. HEILBRONN: "Our holy Adolph," yes. Unsere Seliger Adolph.
It makes sense in German, but doesn't make sense in English. But
I thought it was a cute way of being humorous.
Q: Now, Moaney and the westerns, to make sure Eisenhower didn't
read the same one twice, did you say that he then gave some to
MR. HEILBRONN: Yes, yes, we could get the ones that the General
had read, and he would give them to us, and then he'd get them
back later. I imagine he would turn them in somewhere because I
don't know where he got them, whether this was some type of
exchange or not. That was one of his rituals, that we always had
Q: Did you ever experience the general's temper? I know, he
could get angry, at least he was reported to be that way. As
President, I mean he was fair, but he would have these bursts of
temper. Other than leaving General Moses at the airport was
there . . . ?
MR. HEILBRONN: No, no, I can't say that I've ever seen him be
that way. No, I don't recall any time. Now maybe I wasn't at
places where things were more apt to go wrong than when we were
flying him. We were so careful of knowing his habits, what he
wanted, how punctual he was, how particular about detail, that we
did all this to make sure it wouldn't happen but . . . .
Q: What were some of the things you needed to do to follow his
routine? Punctuality was important?
MR. HEILBRONN: Punctuality was important, arriving at the time
that he was expected to be there. He wanted to be sure that all
his things were on board that he needed. And he . . . .
Q: Was that Moaney's job?
MR. HEILBRONN: Well, Moaney was the in-between, to make sure
that his clothes were there. He would then either change
enroute, and there were times when he came casually dressed, and
didn't want to sit there in parade dress uniform and would do it
enroute. These were some of the things he was particular about.
Most of the times, of course, he was accompanied by enough people
to make sure that everything would run all right, that there
weren't any problems. He was quite relaxed when he was among
friends and people he liked. When there wasn't any decision
involved that pertained to either the occupation forces, or
parades, or whatever you want to call it, or meeting dignitaries.
I'll give you a for instance, we flew some generals to a place in
Bavaria, called Schîngau. It was a small village known for
being right at the foot of the Alps where there were Gemsbock
[Chamois], what would you call them, mountain goats? He wanted
one of these beards that these mountain goats have to have them
made into one of these little--what do you call that? Plumes?
They used to put a silver little thing on the bottom that they
stuck the beard into. I'm sure you've seen them, I'm not sure
what. And the green lodenhut, jagthut [hunter's hat], and he
wanted to shoot the Gemsbock that it came from. Which he did.
We went there, and I believe it was Generals Bradley, Clark,
Moses, and Gruenther. I don't remember. We took the C-47 to a
town where there was an airfield because we had to fly into the
mountain passes to get into this little town of Schîngau.
Everybody was more or less in a relaxed mood, nothing was said
about war, and nothing was discussed. They just wanted to relax
which they did. We flew them in separately, two at a time, in
these L-4s until we had them all in there, and we stayed there
until we were all finished and he got his Gemsbock. There was a
church there, which was quite picturesque, and he took a color
photograph of it. No, it was just a snapshot, and he wrote the
colors down, and then later on he made one of his paintings from
that. And I have a lithographic copy of that in my home.
Q: That was at Schîngau?
MR. HEILBRONN: That was at Schîngau in Bavaria.
Q: Were there certain rules and regulation about take-off and
everything, no smoking during take-off or is that just today on
MR. HEILBRONN: That was today on airplanes. We didn't stick to
that, no. He could do what he wanted to. We were not imposing
any regulations on him. He was quite an easy man to operate
with. We had a train in Frankfurt which stood by in case weather
conditions were such that it wasn't conducive to fly. The man in
charge of that "Hitler train", which was not only Hitler's, but
also the top generals in his command, was Captain Craig Cannon.
He was the train commander and that train would be always at a
ready for him to use. He had his own quarters in there and I
believe that was converted from one of their generals to our
General. And the cars that we had were put into a special, what
was it, wagon? Not wagon.
Q: Train car?
MR. HEILBRONN: A train car which had an automatic ramp. You
drove into it, and by pushbuttons it would come out to the
platform and you would drive your car on it. It would elevate
the car, take it in, turn it around, and park it. It had room
for three cars in that. They always had two or three depending
on where we were going, and what was required. The train also
had a complete dining car, a car with a kitchen, and it had a
complete shortwave car on it that could be used to reach anywhere
in the world. This had been used by the German command but was
converted for our use. The train also had a running conveyor
belt, which, while the train was enroute from one place to
another, a meal cooked for a certain general, could then, by a
push of a button, have the food delivered to his car. It would
automatically stop there, and then, like a desk roll-top, remove
the food and serve it. Each general on Hitler's staff had his
own particular set of dishes and silverware, and, of course,
everything was emblazoned with the swastika. Engraved in the
silver, and also done in their crystal glasses, everything was
Q: I know you have some souvenirs from that train.
MR. HEILBRONN: Yes, yes, I liberated a few things that I don't
quite know where they are. Oh, there it is up there, on the top
shelf. The tea strainer.
Q: And on your wall downstairs . . . .
MR. HEILBRONN: Yes, I took that off of Hitler's personal train
before we left Frankfurt to come back to the states. We all
unscrewed one of their, what do you call it, insignias, the eagle
with the swastika on it? Made out of some kind of pewter
material, and that's hanging in my rec room.
Q: I was going to ask you about some of Eisenhower' staff and
your observations. We already talked about Moaney, is there
anything, what was special about him, or what impressed you about
MR. HEILBRONN: What impressed me about Moaney was his complete
devotion to Eisenhower. All he wanted to do was live and die,
with the man, or for the man. He was always present, but rarely
visible. He took care of all his personal things, his clothes,
his shirts, period. Everything was laid out, he knew exactly
what to do. He was just like a, well, let's call it a mother-
type. That's all Moaney wanted. When the General became, under
Truman, Chief of staff, Moaney went too. Only a few of the World
War II staff stayed with him at that time. During the Columbia
presidency, SHAPE, and the White House years only General Schulz,
Kevin McCann, and Sergeant Moaney remained.
I want to come back to the fact that I was born in Germany,
and when I was stationed in Frankfurt, I had about a week off.
My navigator Captain Leonard and I took one of the L-4s, we
loaded it up with fuel, and we flew to my hometown of Plettenberg
in Westfalia. I said, "Well, we'll just take a look at it, and
see what it looks like." And when we got there he tapped me on
my shoulder, and I think it was about a forty-five minute flight,
and he said, "Hey, look down there, there's where you were born."
I told him it was--I don't want to use profanity. He was a fool
for trying to make me believe that that little town was where I
was born. I said it was much bigger than that when I was a kid.
And he said, "No, that's it," and I recognized it was. Then I
said, "Let's look for the old soccer field where I used to play
soccer when I was a boy," and it was still there. It was open
and lent itself for a good approach. So we landed the airplane,
and we had a British garrison in the town, luckily. We walked
there and got them to station soldiers around the airplane and
keep an eye on it. They got fuel for us, and fueled it up.
He walked into town with me, and on the way in I stopped in
at my doctor's place, the man who brought me into this world, Dr.
Wilmes. He was then up in years, a pretty old man. I had
brought some things along like whiskey, cigars, chocolates and
things like that. I had an idea we were going to be able to land
in Plettenberg, but we had an airport picked out about fifty
miles from there, but we decided to risk Plettenberg because of
the soccer field. Now, back to the doctor's. I rang the
doorbell, and his wife came to the door. Speaking in German, she
asked me what I wanted. She was quite taken aback to see
somebody there, an American officer in uniform with pilot wings.
I told her I wanted to see Herr Doctor, and she asked me what I
wanted with him. I said, "Well, it was something, I had a little
problem." So she asked me to wait, and then he came in and
opened the door to his office. I don't know how many times I sat
in that little office and waited for that door to open when I was
a kid. When he came in he asked me what my problem was. I said,
"Well, I have a little scar that I'd like you to look at," as I
have a scar on my left arm from an operation he had performed
when I was nine years old. He looked at it, and he said he
couldn't see anything. I said, "Well, think back," and I kind of
guided him back, and then, finally I told him who I was. Well,
he started to cry, and we had a good old time. We stayed there,
had tea with him, and gave him some cigars and things like that.
His son, Robert, with whom I had gone to school, was a doctor
also, but he was in a Russian prison. They wouldn't let him come
back because they needed doctors in Russia, and they kept him
there. I promised the doctor that I would try to do something
for his son, for Robert. When I returned to Frankfurt I talked
to Tex Lee, and it was arranged that he was out in four weeks.
We got him out. And later on, years and years later, when I went
over there to visit the little town again with my wife and
children, Robert was home, and we had quite a reunion. He
couldn't thank me enough. In the meantime he has passed away
so . . . .
Q: You probably saved his life.
MR. HEILBRONN: Yes, yes. Well, it wasn't easy for Tex. I
imagine he got the General's help, because the General was quite
friendly with Zhukov. I think through him the thing kind of got
squared away. From Doctor Wilmes I went to my old school teacher
who used to live with us when I was a boy. He was a teacher in a
Catholic school. His name was Bernard Schulte, and Bernard was
then in his early seventies. He had been put out of a job as a
teacher because he was not completely in accordance, or agreement
with the Hitler regime. Knowing that he had lived with my
parents--in the same house with Jews--why, he automatically was
pounced upon. They said he could no longer teach--that he
couldn't be trusted. But he stuck it out, and I saw him for
years and years later. Of course, he kept his whiskey, cigars,
candies, and all kinds of things that I had packed away, and we
stayed there for a few days. I went from there to a little
Jewish cemetery. There were only six Jewish families when I left
our town of six thousand people. I imagine it's now probably
twenty-five thousand today. We went to the Jewish cemetery,
which had completely been destroyed by vandals. All the
tombstones had been turned over, and the place was overgrown with
weeds and grass, and the fence destroyed. Captain Leonard, and
I, went to the burgermeister [mayor] and I confronted him and
told him who I was. I gave him forty-eight hours to get a crew
in there, take all the weeds out, clean out the cemetery, and re-
cement all the stones. I personally went there, and showed which
stone belonged to whom. I could easily tell because of the way
they were knocked over. So, our friends, and my grandparents'
graves were restored. Today the German government takes care of
all that. They have the town crews, maintenance crews that take
care of the cemeteries. The fences are painted, and everything
is in good shape. I've been there several times, and it's being
taken care of. So then we, what else happened, anything? The
next morning, two days later, three days later, we took off and
went back to Frankfurt, to our jobs.
Q: An interesting trip home, though.
MR. HEILBRONN: Yes, but I didn't find a Nazi in the whole town.
They all just went along for the ride because they had to. The
Q: You mentioned Tex Lee, I was going to ask you, how was it
working with him? I was just going to ask you to make some
observations about Tex and, was Harry Butcher still around on the
staff? He left shortly after you did?
MR. HEILBRONN: Yes, he did, yes. Tex Lee did all the high-level
arrangements, and paperwork, and ran the entire office, the
financial parts. He was the right-hand man to the General after
Harry Butcher departed. I guess you've been in the Farber
MR. HEILBRONN: How do you like that crazy elevator?
Q: I don't know that I can remember it.
MR. HEILBRONN: It's open. It has no doors on it. Remember?
It's on a running band.
Q: Oh, yes.
MR. HEILBRONN: You step in, and there are no doors. And I don't
know whether they have replaced it today, or not, but when I was
there, stationed there . . . .
Q: I would have been there in '61.
MR. HEILBRONN: Well, you stepped in, and you got off at the
floor, and then it went slow enough that you could just walk out.
I rode over the top of it to see what the thing would do. Well,
you got up to the top, and the whole thing turns, so it comes
down the other side and faces the floors on the other side, going
down. So it always comes back the same way. Amazing piece of
engineering that they did on that. But you know the story about
the Farber Building, don't you, don't you know how it remained
Q: Intentionally so it could be used later or something?
MR. HEILBRONN: Yes, yes.
Q: I had heard that.
MR. HEILBRONN: Yes. We bombed right up to the street corners
with the Norden bomb sight on B-17s and the Germans knew it. The
people that I spoke to later on, and befriended, said, "Oh yes,
you people were the only ones who would come over in the daytime.
The British would bomb us at night, and you people would do it in
the daytime with your shiny B-17s, never painted . . . ." I
said, "We camouflaged them." But I said, "Later on we didn't
have to because there was no opposition anymore." "Yes," this
person said, "yes, when we had the air raid sirens going off
then, and we were all rushed to the Farber Building, we'd sit on
the lawn and watch you bomb around it." [Laughter] There wasn't
a stone turned on that. They bombed that accurately all around
it. I think some of the pictures I gave you are from around that
area that I took pictures of.
But the minute the war was over, they started to clean up.
You could see the people in these bombed out buildings with
little hammers knocking off all the mortar around the stones.
They would neatly pile them up, and they were immediately used to
rebuild. But the fuel situation was so bad, that around the
Wiesbaden airport where they used to have beautiful old trees,
they were all cut down, because they had nothing else to burn.
So all the trees had been just simply burned up, even the green
wood, just down to the roots.
Q: I notice in your flight log that you made a trip with
Eisenhower to the Lucky Strike POW camp?
MR. HEILBRONN: Yes, and I'm trying to remember just where it
was. I think it was near Cherbourg, I'm not sure. You know, the
years erase a lot of your recall.
Q: Do you remember anything about that trip in terms of, did you
go to the camp too?
MR. HEILBRONN: Yes, I'm sure we went to look at it. But the
POWs were treated fairly, and they weren't--not like they did our
POWs. It was a crowded camp, but nothing like a concentration
camp, and I think he wanted to see personally that the camps were
kept the way they were supposed to. What the reason was for the
trip, I don't remember. Talking about camps, we had newspaper
people from the United States come over on one of their trips to
personally visit some of the atrocity camps. I was assigned to
fly to Paris and pick them up. I picked up, I'm trying to
remember all their names, Sulzberger, Pulitzer, McCormick, McLean
and somebody from the Baltimore Sun, and another New York Times,
who was it, Sulzberger I believe. Well, they were all the top
newspaper people from the United States, the heads of them. I
flew them to the various camps, and I took some pictures which
are in the collection that you have. Then I took them to
Frankfurt where they had dinner with the General. That was
arranged by Captain [Kay] Summersby, I believe she was a Captain
then. She did most of the arranging for these dinners and
meetings and luncheons. The next day I flew them to Paris. I
think they took, who had the constellations, TWA, I believe so,
back to the United States.
Q: Do you remember any of the press reaction to seeing the
MR. HEILBRONN: Well, yes, I mean they were all horrified. They
had been briefed on the sights that they were going to see, but I
don't think they were prepared for that.
Q: Did you go through with them at that time?
MR. HEILBRONN: I went through with them that time and before
that. Mr. McLean, of the Bulletin, knowing that I came from
Philadelphia, would put greetings to my parents from me in his
nightly report. He asked me when I left them off in Paris what
my intentions were after I finished flying for the General? I
said, "I really don't know."
"Well," he said, "in case you'll be looking for a job, we
don't have an airplane now, but I think in the future we should
have. There's a great need for transportation in the business
that we're in. You come and see me, here's my card, and we'll
buy you an airplane, and you can fly for us."
And that's what I did after we came back to America. I
decided not to pursue a military career, which wasn't in keeping
with my background, so I decided to go with the Bulletin, which I
did. We had a nice relationship, for twenty-nine years, I worked
for them until the evening newspapers in America were no longer
something to further our thinking. We'd rather listen to [Tom]
Brokaw, [Dan] Rather, and people like that to be convinced of
what we should believe, rather than read about it.
Q: You mentioned when we were talking earlier when we were
talking about Eisenhower's staff, you mentioned Kay Summersby and
how efficient she was in running an office. Is that your
MR. HEILBRONN: My observation was that she was not only a very
fine-looking person, but she was also very efficient. Impeccably
neat, and very devoted to the General, just like the rest of his
staff. We all wanted to do the right thing for him, and not to
ever embarrass him. It was quite a happy relationship, I
believe, with the whole staff, and I admired her greatly. I
think she was an easy person to get along with and would never
make you feel as if we weren't working for the General, but for
her, no. She was very, very easy to work with.
Q: I noticed you have her first book autographed, dedicated to
you in the inscription, so you must have kept in touch.
MR. HEILBRONN: Yes, we kept in touch after she came to the
United States and like everything else, after thirty years you
kind of lose touch with people. My saying always is, if you live
long enough you're going to outlive everybody and be all alone.
And that's getting to be, pretty rapidly, my case. I'm going to
be here alone.
Q: Do you have any memories of the other VIPs that you carried
around? Any anecdotes about . . . .
MR. HEILBRONN: Let's see, well, the only person that I ever
found that was a little testy was Admiral Tower, or Towers, from
Texas. He was a Navy admiral. We used to have at the evening
Bulletin, we had, for years and years when the Bulletin was in
business, what they called the Bulletin Forum. They always had a
group of high-level people as speakers in various subjects, it
was known as the Bulletin Forum and was held every year. They
used to bring all these different people like Carl Sandburg,
Admiral Nimitz, Admiral Tower, Admiral Anderson, who else did we
have? Dick Nixon.
Q: There was a Senator Tower from Texas, that's not . . . ?
MR. HEILBRONN: No, no, he may be related, he may be a grandson
or something. But anyway, we went to pick him up at the, up here
on Long Island, what is that, the navy base there, Quantico? No,
that's down here.
Q: It's not Ipswitch, or something like that, it's . . . .
MR. HEILBRONN: Well, wherever, it doesn't really matter, I
guess. We landed there, my co-pilot and I, and no Admiral Tower.
So, we went into the ready room, and had a cup of coffee. After
a few minutes, somebody came dashing in and said, "Are you the
pilots?" "Yes, we're the pilots." "Well, Admiral Tower is
sitting in the airplane, he's steaming." So we went out, and I
introduced myself, and he said, "Young man, in the Navy when we
say 1500 hours, we mean wheels up at 1500 hours." I thought that
was unnecessary. I didn't speak a word to him, and I didn't ask
him for an autograph or anything, which I usually did.
[Laughter] I was teed off because he wasn't there when we were
there, but he was a little testy. Harold Stassen was a very nice
gentlemen. We flew him quite a bit when he was vying for the
presidency, and in his other endeavors. He used to live right up
here in Chestnut Hill for years and years. I have some pictures
of him somewhere in another collection.
When the General left Europe to become Chief of Staff under
Truman, we all came back, and that was quite a trip. We came
through the Azores, and we were going to land at Boston Logan
Field. We couldn't make it because the weather was down to the
ground, so we landed at a little base other than that, a Navy
base, Squantum. It's the same level as Boston, but a little
farther, the weather was a little better there. We landed there.
Everything was to be shifted from Boston Logan Field to there.
There was quite a rhubarb, when Bob Schulz was then handling all
the ground arrangements. I think it was, Mayor Kerrigan, whoever
was there, but he wanted to be top dog. Bob Schulz made some
concessions to the politicians satisfaction, got it all arranged
and straightened out. From there, after the meeting, we flew to
Washington, and landed there, and everybody greeted everybody, I
went home. And then a few weeks later, why, we're told we were
to go back to Frankfurt and close out everything. So, I imagine
the warehouses, and all the things that were there, came back
then. I remember coming back, boy that C-54 was loaded to the
gills with everything.
Q: And you brought a lot of the staff back at that point?
MR. HEILBRONN: Yes, all the staff and things. The other stuff
was shipped back by ship, I imagine. I didn't know all the
details. Bob Schulz was a traffic man actually, that's where he
came from, and he knew what to do with all of that. So then I
was stationed at Andrews Air Force Base. I was assigned to the
VIP pool. I flew there for a while until he became Chief of
Staff, and then those of the staff who wanted to were reassigned
to Europe. I didn't want to stay in. Most of them did, some
mustered out, and I took up the Bulletin offer and flew for them
for twenty-nine years. I always kept in touch with everybody,
which is one of my things that I like to do. I don't like to
lose people. I don't like to not ever see them again, or hear
from them. Even today I pick up the phone, sometimes I even call
somebody that I haven't seen in ten years or so and just see if
they're still there, and converse with them. Sometimes it
becomes one-sided, and you wonder why am I doing this, but it's
something I like to do. So when the General became, was it
before, no, he was president of Columbia . . . .
Q: Then he went to NATO from Columbia.
MR. HEILBRONN: Yes. At Columbia, of course, I saw him quite
frequently. I made a lot of things which we have pictures of
today, for his grandchildren, because I know he adored them, and
he would get joy from them. And then when he went back to NATO,
when he decided, wasn't it overseas?
Q: He was at NATO when he came back to run for the presidency.
MR. HEILBRONN: The presidency, yes. We all got together and we
all felt that Washington, and the politicians, the way it was, we
didn't have much faith in their loyalty. We all felt that he
should not do it, and I think most everybody who loved him, as we
did, advised him not to. But he felt that he owed it to the
country. If they wanted him, that's what he wanted to do, and he
did. I made a White House for him, I'm sorry I don't have the
picture, I wonder what happened to it? I know it's someplace,
but if I ever find it I'll make sure you get it. I made him a
candy White House all out of icing. Exact replica. I forget, it
was probably, I would imagine about two, two and a half feet by
whatever, and put it on a platform. I called my friend, Craig
Cannon, and he arranged to have MATS, which was Military Air
Transport Service . . . . I drove the thing to Mitchell Field in
New York, on Long Island, and they flew it to Paris. I put a
note in telling him that I wanted him to look at this, and that's
about as close as I would like him to get to the White House.
[Laughter] Then, of course, I saw him so many times later on in
Washington. I was luckily invited to some of his state dinners,
and the functions. It was a happy interlude in my life, and I'm
quite grateful that I was able to do that for my country. It was
great. I think that's about all I can cover.
Q: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
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