Interview with Ted and Betty Skokos    (back to WWII Project)

CB: This is Carole Barger. Libby Orendorff and I are at the home of Ted and Betty Skokos today, February the 13th, 2006. We're here to record their World War II experiences. Betty, if you would start and tell us your full name and your birthdate, where you were born and your parents' name and we'll go ahead and start.

BS: I was christened after two grandmothers, Jenny Elizabeth Campbell.

CB: When were you born?

BS: (DELETED CONTENT), in Van Buren, Arkansas.

CB: Who were your parents?

BS: Mamie Lorena, called Laura by all of her children and grandchildren, Momma Laura; and my dad, Frank Lesley Campbell. Momma was Mamie Lorena Paine, P-a-i-n-e.

CB: Did you have brothers and sisters? What were their names?

BS: Two brothers, Frank, the younger one, Frank Lesley Campbell, Jr., and older brother, Robert Paine Campbell.

CB: What was the date of your marriage to Ted?

BS: I've forgotten. Ted?

TS: Flag Day, honey, June 14th.

BS: I'm just kidding. You don't think I'd forget that.

CB: What year?

BS: June 14th, 1945.

CB: Where were you married?

BS: In the Navy chapel.

CB: Where was that?

BS: On the Navy yard base. I had to work, they didn't even give me the day off. I had to work until four o'clock that afternoon and they gave me an hour off to get married.

CB: Where was the Navy yard base located?

BS: Philadelphia Navy yard.

CB: Tell us about when you joined the service, what were you doing before that?

BS: I was working on my master's degree at Oklahoma University.

CB: Why did you decide to join the service?

BS: Well, I was dating a Navy boy and I was taking, in summer school, nineteen hours plus a correspondence course out of Washington, D.C., in cryptography, and I got stuck in the cryptography and went to his commanding officer. And he said, "What are you doing still in school? The Navy needs you so badly." And I said, "Well, when I get my master's degree, I'll think about it." He said, "Oh, the Navy will let you get your master's degree." But he said, "I would like to take you to Oklahoma City so that you could pass to see if you were eligible or not." So the next week, he took me to Oklahoma City to pass the mental and the physical tests and promised me that I would                                                                             2 not hear again from the Navy until I got my master's degree.  Well don't ever believe a word of it. I got orders in a week's time.

CB: What are your children's names, please.

BS: The oldest is named for his father, but he didn't have a middle initial, a middle name, so I have gave him my maiden name. He is Theodore Campbell Skokos, so he's not a junior.

CB: Your second child?

BS: Lesley Skokos.

CB: And that's a girl?

BS: Uh-huh.

CB: And the third one?

TS: Did you give her middle name, honey? Jennifer?

CB: Lesley Jennifer?

BS: Uh-huh.

CB: Third child?

BS: Douglas Campbell Kemp Skokos, and Douglas Keen Skokos, the next, fourth.

CB: Now, four is who?

BS: Douglas Keen.

CB: Okay. And five?

BS: Stacia, S-t-a-c-i-a, Leigh, which is a family name, L-e-i-g-h, Skokos.

CB: Why don't you talk some now about when you joined the service, where you went first, what your assignments were.

BS: Where did I enlist?

CB: Uh-huh.

BS: I told you I was working on my master's degree at Oklahoma University, and dating a Naval cadet. And I was taking nineteen hours in summer school, plus this written course in cryptography, and I got stuck and went to him. And he was always such a wonderful help and said the Navy needs you because you've had so much French. And I said I'll think about it when I graduate. And he promised me that the Navy would let me graduate, but he said we should go to Oklahoma City so you would be ready, and take the written test and the physical, which I did, and I got orders in two week's time. So never believe what they tell you.

LO: They sent you to Philadelphia then, right?

BS: Yes. Oh, they told me, and I told you, to list the three places you'd like to go, so I got sent to Philadelphia instead.

CB: And what was your job there?

LO: I worked in the secret code department and it was real interesting because I'd had five years of French, so I got to decode                                                                             3 all the French messages. And I already told you this sad thing that happened, this little French sub came in. And when it went back out, it hardly got into the Atlantic until it was bombed and all men aboard were killed.

LO: That made it bad knowing them, didn't it?

BS: Oh, terrible; they were lovely people.

JW: Do you remember the name of the sub?

BS: Of what?

JW: Do you remember the name of the French sub?

BS: La Perle, meaning the pearl, the p-e-r-l-e. It means the pearl.

CB: How long did you stay there?

BS: How long did I stay in the service?

CB: In Philadelphia.

BS: Two and a half years.

LO: Was that until the two of you married? Were you there the whole time?

BS: Was there the whole time, yes. We were married in the chapel at Philadelphia Navy yard and a captain married us.

LO: Did you get discharged after your marriage?

BS: They wouldn't let me out right away, so we were stationed two different places. And I didn't have weekends off, it was not usual that I had a weekend off because we worked four days and then had time off, and another four days. It was rare that we had Saturday and Sunday off.

CB: What are some highlights of your experiences?

BS: The wonderful people that I met. I have never met a group of girls that I worked with that were so special. Nearly all of them were from-- I felt sort of that maybe I didn't belong in their society, they were nearly all from expensive girls schools and they'd had wonderful, wonderful training. And I still keep in touch. The head of our code room was much older than any of the rest of us there and her brother was a full commander at that time. And I kept up with her, but she only lived about ten years after I left Philadelphia. She was just a constant smoker, as were most of the girls in the code room. I didn't smoke and I thought, well, it's killing me, I shampoo my hair and everything with So Fresh, and I'd get out of that code room and everything reeked of smoke. So I thought I'm going to join them, so I bought a pack of cigarettes, I smoked three of them. And I tell you, I couldn't stand the taste in my mouth and I nearly scrubbed my tongue raw. And when I met Ted, he didn't smoke and I thought hallelujah, I've met the man of my dreams, he doesn't smoke.

LO: I imagine that was unusual during war time that people didn't smoke.

CB: Well, working in the code room sounds like there would be so much excitement if you broke a code that was really important 

BS: Oh, it was exciting.

CB: Tell us about some of those times.

BS: Well, we were the first to know the good news, so we had a lot of good news coming in. But we were also first to know the bad news, and that's how we knew the little sub, you know, where we knew all eight men on board. Usually, when a ship pulled in, not all the time but once in awhile, they were so grateful. We would have all the messages decoded, we knew when the ship was due, we knew when the ship had to go out. But when they pulled in, we had all of their messages already decoded and they'd send a messenger. And we would push it through this little glass opening in a glass window because we had no windows inside, and we'd push through the messages there. So when this little sub came in, we were so interested in it and the men were wonderful there, there were only eight of them aboard, and then so tragic when it went back out to sea. Some of the big ships before they'd pull out, would have us to dinner aboard the ship as a way of thanking us, so it was real interesting work. I would have stayed there forever, I think, if I hadn't married.

LO: Did you get the news about the atomic bomb first?

BS: Yes, we did, we did.

LO: How did that strike you? I mean did you know ahead of time they were going to drop it?

BS: Not until we heard the news, I didn't.

LO: How'd you feel about it when you found out they dropped it?

BS: Well, we had lost so many soldiers over there. I thought this is tit for tat. It's just our way of getting even, I guess.

CB: How much security was involved in where you worked?

BS: Very high security. No one came in that we didn't know ahead of time that had gone through everything to get in. And we had very few people that were allowed in there, very few.

CB: Were you able to tell people what you did or was that classified information?

BS: I didn't. I rode a subway there and back with a lot of people, and I didn't see many people. We had our own set of naval friends that we ran with and communicated with. And then after I met Ted, the Army boys, but we didn't talk because we couldn't talk about most anything because that was secretive, you know, the comings and goings.

CB: Where were you living? You said you rode a subway?

BS: Yes, I did. I was there in a hotel and spending every dime I had. I wanted to be in a real good hotel, and it took everything I made to just stay there. But the way the Navy is, they're going to get use out of you, no matter-- and I was working in the code room. But I had time off, and they had the enlisted Army girls living in that expensive hotel that was taking all of my money, a month of pay to stay there until I was sure I had found the right place to stay. And when this one Naval officer came in and said I've got the place for                                                                             5 you, I thought, hallelujah, where is it. And he said it's only one and a half blocks from the University of Pennsylvania and they have a little section there right near the University, you have a shoe shop, and anything you want, dry cleaners, wonderful places to eat. And I had been there six weeks and had never ventured out yet. And that was just wonderful, wonderful, once I got accustomed to that, and I couldn't have picked a nicer place. And I probably have already told you, one day, I had a list this long and went in the drug store first. And this young man was holding the door, and I was going to the shoe shop next. And he followed me and sat down in a booth next to me. And we left there and he kept following me, and I said I have a date tonight with a young man, Naval officer from Maryland, and I've got to get home. But we'd passed this place where the music was just wonderful, and I love to dance better than anybody on Earth, that was my one passion was dancing. And he said, "I'll bet you got time for one dance." And I said, "One dance, it'll have to be." So we went in and I thought that's the best dancer I've ever danced with in my life.

TS: Who was that?

BS: I'll date him just to dance. And the next thing, not only could he dance, but I found out that he wasn't jealous. And I thought that was a big plus because the boy I was dating, the Navy cadet from University of Oklahoma, flew up to see me and our doctor's son from Van Buren flew to see me. And both times I was working, and Ted had to entertain them. So I found out he wasn't jealous at all, so that was a real plus.

LO: So y'all started dating regularly right after that first dance?

BS: Yeah, right after that first dance. I thought I'll go with him just to dance.

LO: So dancing turned into love?

BS: It sure did. Well, you know, that's a wonderful attribute not to be jealous at all and he wasn't. You have to have a lot of assurance in yourself and he never ever seemed to be jealous at all.

CB: How long did you date before you married?

BS: I met him in February, about a year.

CB: When did you marry?

BS: When?

CB: Uh-huh. Oh, you told me that.

JW: Was he stationed in Philadelphia the whole year?

BS: Was Ted?

JW: Uh-huh.

BS: No, no, he wasn't.

JW: He was there for a short time?

BS: They sent him to Maryland and that was later, of course.

LO: So when they sent you to Maryland, how'd you feel about leaving her?

BS: Well, first, you were sent to-- Where was the first place you                                                                             6 were sent?

TS: We were married on the 14th of June. Of course, after I was inducted into the Service, that is we were in training, what we called Army Specialized Training, which was my last four months, five months of dental school. But actually, we were enlisted in the Service the previous year, that was in 1947. Not '47, no, that was in 1943.

BS: That's right.

TS: And I graduated in 1944, but we had to enlist to make our designation, otherwise we would have been inducted. So we were, on paper, tied to either one branch of the service or another. And I was in the Army division, and actually in a training program. And I finished my last few months of dental school there at the University of Pennsylvania and then we graduated in June of the following year, which was in 1944. And we graduated then, and all I remember then was -- and it's funny how you end up meeting someone that you love from another part of the country. But having lived in a small community in western Pennsylvania, I made up my mind that I was going to practice dentistry somewhere west of Pittsburg. And lo and behold, who do I meet but a girl from Van Buren, Arkansas. And I thought, my, am I going to practice there in Arkansas? Never had been to Arkansas. Well, anyway, my thoughts were elsewhere. Not only was I concerned about graduating and looking forward to taking State Boards, final exams, and the crowning effort was when I worked so hard, even though I was dating Betty at that time, but I felt fortunate enough there. But anyway, my main concern was to pass my exams, get my degree, then get my license and then be inducted into the service. And at that time, we were commissioned as 1st Lieutenants and that was the first time that I realized my wealth.

LO: Now y'all met before you even graduated?

TS: Yes, yes. We met February 4th, 1943, and I graduated in August in '44 and we were married in '45, June 14th, 1945, Flag Day. And we had the biggest parade occurring at the time we were getting ready to get on the train to Hershey, Pennsylvania, for our honeymoon. We had three days of chocolate candy. And Betty just loved that chocolate candy, that smell of Hershey coming in was just a wonderful situation. But anyway, I nearly didn't get on the train. I said, "Betty," I said, "I've got to get the tickets." She said, "You mean you haven't gotten them?" "No, the only thing I thought about was getting a license." And needless to say, I did get my tickets and the porters that were around there. And I said, "I've got my wife, just got married." And I said, "Help me. Where is the train taking off from?" And all of a sudden, I could hear that whistle and it was taking off. And the porter was right on in, and he said, "Come on, sir, come a running. I'll catch you." And I said, "Well, get my bags." And I took the bag and threw the bag on the last car. And it was one with a balcony, I just have a love for balconies. And so I threw that on and finally caught that train moving out. And Betty was up there, I had money jingling in my pocket, and I didn't even get my hand in there to give the fellow a tip, that helped me on the way. But I finally made it and there Betty was saying, "Honey, come on, come on." I thought she was really rooting for me, I was hoping she was. But anyway we had our honeymoon on the train. And when I got on                                                                             7 that train, I was just exhausted. I think I ran that last fifty yards in the quickest time that I could possibly run. I thought I was Jesse Owens running at that time.

LO: Sounds to me like you fell in love at first sight.

TS: Oh, yes, I did, I really did. In fact, my very good friend there in the drug store, and we all gathered there after class and after the day's work in the clinic to talk about what we did, the patient we had, how good they were, what we did and how we did it and so on. And our concern at that time was to prepare ourselves to take final exams, State Board exams and all that, because without either we couldn't have gotten our diploma, I mean we just had performed well. And anyway, at that time when I met Betty, my concerns at that time when my very good friend would nudge me, and he said, "Look at that good looking girl up there." And I said, "Not interested." I said, "I'm going to study," and I said, "my concerns are now towards final exams and State Boards." And I said, "And every weekend, I'm going to bone it and bone it and bone it." And then they said to me, said, "Ted, look at her." She turned around and was talking to the clerk there, I believe. And I looked at her and I thought, gosh, isn't she a doll. Well, first words I said to her was-- Well, what would anyone say in those circumstances? You've met people from all over the country, and the first word that you would mention or first question you would ask, you'd say, "Well, where are you from?" Well, you know, sometimes you get lucky. I was lucky enough to meet her, but I was even luckier that she told me she was from Arkansas. And I said, "Oh, Arkansas." "That's it. Now, that's where I met you and you're from Van Buren, Arkansas, aren't you?" And she looked at me in astonishment and said, "Well, how did you know?" I said, "I knew I had met you before, and you were brought up in Bob Burns' hometown." And her eyes popped out because any time she met anyone, she'd be asked, "Where are you from?" And she'd say, "Well, I'm from Van Buren, Arkansas." She says they'd ask her, "Well, where is that?" "That's across the river from Fort Smith." And they said, "Don't know where that is, where is Fort Smith?" She says, "Well, it's about a hundred and sixty miles northwest of Little Rock." Says, "Well, don't even know where Little Rock is." So she said, "Well, do you know where Hot Springs is?" Everybody knew where Hot Springs was, see, because Hot Springs was the gambling and the horse racing capital of Arkansas.

BS: Hot baths.

TS: Was it the hot baths? I didn't know about those. And then all of a sudden she perked up and we started to converse more about did she go to school and where and so on and about her family. And I said, you know, the reason I know so much about Van Buren, my daddy loved his program. And that was the program with Paul Whiteman and his orchestra, Bing Crosby and Bob Burns and Parkyakarkus. Now, Parkyakarkus was a comedian, he was a Jewish comedian that made a fortune pretending he was a restaurateur, a Greek restaurateur. And my daddy having a restaurant, see, wanted to listen to that program. And we always had a game of pool, we had a little small pool table. And my two brothers, Dad and I, would make partners and we'd play a game of pool. And he'd say now, boys, come nine o'clock, we're all                                                                             8 going to sit down and listen to Bob Burns, Paul Whiteman, Parkyakarkus and all the stars that they have. And I giggled everytime Bob Burns would talk and he had such good humor. And then Parkyakarkus would come in, and dad would just, he'd split his gaskets, so we'd say. And we looked forward to that Sunday night. So luckily, I met a girl from Van Buren, Arkansas. So how lucky can you get? And it was Betty. So I was very fortunate and you just looked at her and adored her then, and tried to get a date, but I tried two or three times and she turned me down. Well, she had another date then. Well, here I thought, well, no, she just doesn't want to date me, you know, I figured; but I'm going to try, I got persistent. I kept calling, and finally, she did say she'd go out and have dinner with me. Course at that time, I could only afford hamburgers. I mean I thought, you know, that would be all right, too, everybody loves a hamburger. Is that what we had the first time, honey?

BS: No.

TS: Did I take you out for a real good meal?

BS: Yes, yes.

TS: Well, anyway, so that is my story and how lucky can a man get. And little did I know that all good things would happen to me. And I've got to tell you this, when I came to Fort Smith, who do I have as patients but Bob Burns' stepmother. I mean how lucky can I get? And then she passed away and there was a patient of mine who was working at Whirlpool and he ended up, this is later after she had passed away. And this couple were just getting into a little side business and I encouraged them to buy some rental houses, see, they were thinking about buying one. And one day, they came in and said guess what? Said we bought Bob Burns' old homeplace. I said my heavens, isn't it wonderful, and I started to tell them the story, my story. And of course, I got to know them real well, a wonderful couple that I think still work at Whirlpool. And they ended up living in Van Buren, purchased that, and I think they still have it and have purchased several others. But of course, he ended up imitating Elvis Presley. He really strove for greater heights. And Bob Burns didn't make the money that Elvis made. And it just seems that everywhere I turned, good things happened to me. First, when I met Betty, then her family, a wonderful family and all her friends and relatives. I couldn't have been happier. And all good fortune has come my way. City of Fort Smith has just opened their arms to me. And I just can't tell you how blessed I am having had the five children that we still have, we've just been so fortunate.

LO: When you got out of school, where did you get shipped?

BS: When I got out of school, see, I went right in the service at that time and then was commissioned at 1st Lieutenant in I think it was August of '44, and we were married in '45, 14th of June. My first assignment was at Aberdeen, Maryland. And when a Major who was attached to the Medical Corps at Aberdeen, Maryland, saw my MOS, and he looked there and I played basketball, college basketball, at Washington Jefferson. And that's how I got my tuition paid for because of having played basketball in high school. And I got a request from the school to try out for the basketball team, which I did, and I was a member of the basketball team in 1941-42, no, '39,                                                                             9 '40, '40 and '41. And then 1941, in my junior year, I left to go to dental school and the rest is history.

CB: Where were you in school when you were on the basketball team?

TS: High school, I played high school basketball. And then in 1938 when I graduated from high school, I got to confess, I was in high school five and a half years. But not because I didn't have credits, I had so many credits, I needed eighty and I ended up with a hundred and twenty. But the only reason was that I needed to stay an extra half year because I would have graduated mid-term and that would have hurt my basketball season, so I stayed that half year. And then I wasn't going to pass or I wasn't going to take a course of democracy, which I needed to graduate. So I just went in, the principal of the high school said, "Why aren't you getting your measurements for your cap and gown?" And I said, "Well," I said, "I don't think I want to graduate." He said, "Well, you've got to graduate." He looked at my records, all A's, and I was top tenth of the class, and he said, "You're going to graduate." These athletes aren't going to stay here another half semester a year. And he finally called me back in with the athletic director and he said, "Ted, tell me, why don't you want to graduate?" I said if I graduated, I said, my daddy would not have been able to send me to college and I probably would have been in the work force. And I know once I started working, maybe I never would have had an opportunity to go to college. And I'm hoping that some small college would ask me to try out for the team. And luckily, at W.J., it was a small college that really, and I was one of the team members, that had the best record they'd ever had in the history up to that time. And lucky enough, I started two games, and that was against Ohio U, which we won that game and they had just finished playing in the Garden when the NIT was the big thing and the double-headers was the real sport event. And when they came, they had already played this Ohio University, had played Villanova, and they lost to Villanova by a couple of points, came to our place. And the coach says, "Ted, you're starting." The first time I ever started a game. I was a sub mostly and very happy, and I just did all I could knowing that there was one ahead of me that was a little better. But somehow, I just filled the bill and ended up playing a great game, held the highest score then on the team. I feel like I accomplished something.

CB: I think you have.

JW: I'm sure Fort Smith, the Greek community that was already here, was happy to see you coming.

TS: And you know, I met Mr. Kasabas, he was the first one and Mr. Abolus, and they were so kind to me and so happy that here I was with Greek parents. And you know, they were from Athens mostly, see, their homes. And my daddy grew up in Sparta and he grew up in the mountains. And he had to ride a donkey to come down into Athens, you know, when he wanted to come into town. And it was a wonderful little community with a little church, and my dad never got to go back. But after World War II, Dad passed away, Dad died in November of the year that we met. We met February 4th, 1943, and we were married in June of '44.

BS: '45 0

TS: June of '45, pardon me, a year and a half later. Man, I'm getting my dates mixed up here. Yeah, we were married in '45.

JW: Your father had passed away?

TS: November 4th in 1944, he was sixty-four years old, but he was such a proud man.

BS: And he was such a leader in the community that the Greek priest, he said if you don't start having the services in English, you're going to lose all of your young people. Up until that time, it was all Greek. And so Ted's father was the one who got the Greek church to have the service in English.

JW: Greek Orthodox church?

BS: Yeah.

TS: But he thought so much, and he was the first naturalized Greek citizen in the county of Mamouth County in Asbury Park, New Jersey. And that's why I never forget wearing my flag because he thought the flag was so important.

BS: When Ted told his daddy he wanted to be a dentist, his dad said, "Ted, where is the number one school for dentistry in the United States?" And Ted said, "Well, Dad, it's in Philadelphia, but that's also the most expensive." He said, "That's where you're going." So that's where I met him.

LO: Now, when you shipped out to Maryland, what happened?

TS: Well, I got orders to go overseas. And we, of course, being married at that time, Betty was still stationed at the Philadelphia Navy yard. And I got my orders after I asked Betty and she could have asked for a discharge and gotten it, because at that time, the war was over. And there I was still at Aberdeen, Maryland, and I said why don't you get out of the service and come down and we'll live together in Aberdeen. And I got this little apartment, I think we paid $65.00 a month and we had all my buddies go down there, we painted the walls. And see, I had my commission, and Betty had been an Ensign, and of course then she got promoted, and of course she was my equal. And of course, we had to decide together on spending every nickle and dime because we shared expenses and all. But she had more money than I did and that's really why I married her. I mean when I saw her, I said golly, I said my salary's only sixty dollars a month and I think she's getting about a hundred and sixty.

LO: For some reason, I think you married her for love.

TS: So here we are.

LO: So how long did you stay in Maryland before you were shipped out of Maryland?

TS: Well, I think Betty moved into our quarters and I think we were there maybe couple of months. We were there about two months and then I got orders to go overseas. So Betty had to come back to Fort Smith, and I was overseas I think about a year and a half when you came home.

LO: What country were you in overseas?

TS: Oh, I went overseas and my first assignment was with the 343                                                                             11 Engineers as their dental surgeon in Giessen, Germany. And of course on that trip is when I met a young man who ended up living here Tom Lamoreaux, and we met aboard ship and we were in the same compartment going to LeHarve.

JW: What do you think? Do we need to finish Mrs. Skokos's story and then get Mr. Skokos's name and birthdate and all of that to get caught up?

CB: Right.

TS: You mean my Daddy's?

JW: No, we need to back up and make sure that we're through with Ms. Skokos. I mean at least up to the end of when you were discharged and then we need to start back with you and get your full name and your birthdate and where you were born and that, and then start in again at going overseas. But I'll edit this and put it all in the right place, but I have to have all the information.

TS: Okay. You want her to go first?

CB: We need for Betty to tell us when she left the service. How did that happen, dates?

BS: I left the service in '45, but I could not be discharged anywhere up East. I had to go clear to Tennessee, to Memphis, to be discharged. I don't know why the Navy did that, you know, that's the most expensive way to do that.

JW: And you were discharged in 1946, is that right?

TS: I've got her dates there. Can you cut off the video?

JW: And so you went to Memphis, you had to go to Memphis to be discharged?

BS: Why in the world, why would they have done that? Why couldn't I have been discharged right there?

LO: Not real logical.

BS: Well, it would have been so much cheaper for the government.

JW: And at this time, Mr. Skokos was in Maryland?

TS: Yeah, I was in Maryland.

JW: You lived together two months in a little apartment and then got orders to go overseas, and you came back to Fort Smith or Van Buren?

BS: I came back home, Van Buren, and applied for a job at Chaffee and worked there awhile.

JW: As a civilian?

BS: As a civilian, yes.

CB: What did you do there?

BS: I was doing basically what I did in Philadelphia, but of course they didn't have any foreign language.

JW: Still code work?

BS: No code, I didn't do any code work, no. Incoming messages and would take them to whom they were sent or by phone, if I could 2

CB: How long did you do that?

BS: Not too long, less than a year, about eight months, I think.

JW: And then did you quit Chaffee after eight months?

BS: Uh-huh.

JW: Was there a reason?

BS: I wanted to do other things.

JW: And he's still in the service when you quit?

BS: Uh-huh.

JW: Okay. I want to get that straight.

TS: My service was done there at Aberdeen, but then I had an interim service in Pennsylvania where we took an abbreviated and extensive course in medicine, and as well as our future relationship as an officer in the Army ground forces.

JW: Continuing education class?

TS: Right there, yes. Everyone in the medical or dental corps or in the medical corps either as a physician or any other activity within the hospital, you see, services. They would go through an abbreviated and extensive course at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. And after that, why, we were given our permanent assignment. And they had got me back to Aberdeen only because of my MOS, and I was very thankful because Betty being in Philadelphia, she was on the fast track going to Aberdeen, Maryland, and I was on the faster track going to Philadelphia. And then shortly thereafter, I got overseas orders. I guess just trying to get the time, really, if we could take a break, I could go over those dates and give them to you.

CB: Tell you what let's do first. Let's just start at the beginning and you give us your full name and your birthdate, your parents' names and your brother's and sister's names. Could you do that, please.

TS: Yeah. My father's name was Sarantos, S-a-r-a-n-t-o-s, Skokos. However, when he came to America, an insurance friend of his told him, he says, "Sarantos," he said, "that name needs to be changed," and he says, "you've got to get Americanized." So the Americanized name was Sering, S-e-r-i-n-g. Now, how that becomes an Americanized name.

BS: I started to say that doesn't sound American at all, does it.

TS: And I must tell you, I picked up the paper the other day, just three days ago. And in it, I saw a name in the obituary column, his last name was Sering, S-e-r-i-n-g. I had never heard of that name being a surname, I just never had. But anyway, Dad's name was Sering Skokos. And I thought Sarantos is the way it's pronounced in Greek, and I thought it was very pretty. But anyway, he went Sering Skokos all his life from that point on. Now, as I said, there were a family of four. I had an older brother.

CB: What's your mother's name?

TS: Menedis, my mother's name was Angela Menedis. She was brought to                                                                             13 America by her older brother who had a restaurant in Brooklyn, New York. And she was one of I think four children, I believe; but the only one I knew was her brother that came here and started a restaurant on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, New York.

CB: Is that name spelled M-e-n?

TS: M-e-n-e-d-i-s. And my uncle Peter had two daughters and three sons. And of course, one son ended up with the postal service and retired from that in Washington, D.C. And the others were in the business with their dad. And he was responsible for introducing my dad to my mother. And of course, as I said earlier, that my mother had just looked at Dad, and she said I wanted that one with the pink cheeks and I thought that was really cute and Dad did have a pretty smile.

CB: What were your brother and sister's names?

BS: My older brother was George, his name was George. And it so happened that the boys were given Dad's given name as Sering as their middle name, and I was the only one that didn't get a middle name. But my older brother being an attorney, he decided at that time in life that we all needed our middle name. But I never did attach the middle name to my full name at that time because this was during the war. And after the war when he became an attorney graduating from Rutgers University in the New Jersey Law School. And then my sister who was the next child, she was just two years younger than my older brother and she became his secretary and worked for the civil service.

CB: What was her name?

TS: Her name was Constance. And then I came along. I told you earlier that the one brother who was the oldest was Theodore, he had passed away when he was three. And when I came into this world, they wanted to name me Theodore. And then my last one in our family was my brother, Peter, and he was just the youngest and the babied one, Mother thought he could do no wrong. But he has two children. But I lost my two brothers, and my sister still is alive and she's in a nursing home in California with her daughter. And my older brother had three boys and one of them is in the business world, one is an accountant and the other was an attorney. And my older brother was an attorney, as well.

CB: And where were all four of you born?

TS: We were worn in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

CB: What is it?

TS: Perth Amboy, P-e-r-t-h A-m-b-o-y. It's in the county of Middlesex, which today you kind of have to have a county name to be recognized for your legal documents. But anyway we still correspond with their offsprings. And my youngest brother's son, who's also named after him, married a lovely girl and they had a boy, first child, and then they had twins, a boy and a girl, they're the cutest things. And when I first got their Christmas card, Betty says, "Did you see this Christmas card, that envelope?" And I said, "Yes. What's so unusual about it?" And it had a picture of the twins and the                                                                             14 oldest brother in between them as a stamp. Have you ever seen them on stamps? And I overlooked it, and had a beautiful picture of the children.

BS: Have you ever seen one?

TS: No, I've never seen anything like that.

BS: I thought that was the cutest thing.

LO: Now, were you the only child that left the New Jersey area?

TS: Yes. My older brother stayed in Asbury Park, my younger brother stayed there. Then my sister married an engineer when he got out of the service, he was a graduate of Washington University in State of Washington, and he was a country boy, fine young man, and got out of the service as a major and ended up being on the staff at Huntsville, Alabama, at Von Braun's staff, he was on his staff when he was first assigned to Huntsville. And he applied, and being an engineer, Von Munstead asked that he be on his staff and so they lived in Huntsville, Alabama. And that's where she had her family, and her son is with the Attorney General of the State of Georgia, he's a graduate of the Georgia Law School in Alabama University in Georgia Law School. And then the daughter is in computers and is big with Apple Industry, and she lives in California. And so that's the story of my family and our offsprings. And my older brother, the older son is employed with with the State of New Jersey. And the other two, one of them is an accountant, a CPA, and then the other one is an attorney. So we have a bunch of attorneys in our family. But Dad tried to instill in all our young ones that they go to college and everyone went to college, except one in my family and one in my nephew's family. They were the girls, my youngest girl decided that studying wasn't the best thing, but she's a great mother and a great wife.

CB: Well, after you were in college, you told us something about your career there. Go through how you determined you would go into the service then.

TS: When I was in high school, he said, "Now, what do you want to do?" And I said, "I want to go to college." He says, "What do you want to go to college for? You want to study in a particular field?" And I said, "Yes, Dad, I want to be a dentist." And where I got to love dentistry, we lived in an apartment above Dad's confectionery story which he had earlier in his life and then got into the restaurant business. But he would make chocolate candy. And he and his cousin had the store, and of course, we had four children in our family and his cousin had none. And Dad would say, "Now, children, now it's not fair for you all to come down and get ice cream and chocolate candy and all that." He said, "It's a no-no for you." Because we called his cousin uncle, he said, "It's not fair. He has no children." So we weren't allowed to go down for ice cream or anything. But anyway, just between our living quarters and the confectionery store was a dentist. And he took a liking to me and I took a liking to him. And he would call me in, he'd say, "Ted," he knew I wanted to go into dentistry, this is when I was like ten years old. And he'd let me mix up the amalgam. Back in those days, we refrigerate the mercury and the silver. And he'd say, "Ted, mix me some amalgam." And I'd mix it up, he'd say, "A little more, a little                                                                             15 more." And I just was so thrilled. But that was my turning point. He took a liking to me and I took a liking to dentistry. I never feared it at all, and that's what I wanted to do. And when Dad asked me point blank when I was in my last year of school and I wanted to stay in and finish the year and then wanted to stay another year, he said, "Now, Ted, what do you want to be? Do you want a be a playboy or are you going to be a student?" Said, "Dad, money's too hard." You know, I lost all my savings during the Depression, I had saved eighteen dollars by saving dimes and pennies and we put it in the bank on Monday morning and I had eighteen dollars. And when the crash came, I lost all that money.

BS: You were lucky.

TS: Yeah. And Dad lost everything in the bank. At that time we were in Perth Amboy.

BS: Everybody did.

TS: No, the Depression, we were in Asbury Park, where we moved to, but I'm just very, very lucky.

JW: We didn't get your birthday.

TS: My birthday is July 11th, 1920. I'm just a lucky individual, 7-11, you know, we're a good combination. But I never gambled, I never took to gambling, thank heavens. So 7-11-1920 was a memorable day.

LO: So dental school, you got to go to dental school, you still had to fulfill your service?

TS: No, I was not in the service then. I had to go. Course, when I was in undergraduate school for three years, I had to work. I had to work in the dormitory, I had to clean the latrines, the showers, the stools, the wash basins, the floors, and I did that for fifteen dollars a month. Now, that's a job the coach got for me.

JW: That was a part of your basketball scholarship?

TS: Yes, right. And then, having been in the restaurant business working for my dad when we moved to Asbury Park, we had a restaurant on the beachfront, that was when I was in the 6th grade we moved there. And 6th grade through high school, we had a little restaurant right off the beachfront, and of course, I had to wash dishes when I was, let's see I was six years old in, I think 1930, when I was in grade school and then ended up graduating in '38 from high school. And anyway, I took several languages and I was very proficient in language. Having spoken Greek and going to Greek school, I had to go to Greek school right after grade school sessions were over with. So that went from like three-thirty until five o'clock each day. And I don't regret it other than the fact that my buddies would be playing ball and they'd all say, well, we're going out to play baseball today, we'll meet you out there if you can make it. So sometimes I'd play hookey. When I played hookey, I got a little swat. Dad would come home, he got the message first, and he said, "Where were you?" And I had to confess. And so anyway, if it weren't for that, you know, having played a little baseball and basketball at the YMCA, I never would have been able to have gotten a scholarship in basketball. So I stayed and graduated after five and a half years, a friend of mine whose father was Assistant Chief of Police was a good                                                                             16 friend of mine and we played basketball, but he was a year older than I, and he helped intervene and talk to the coach about me. And said, now, he's a good player and so on, fine boy. And the coach at W.J. was a lawyer that had played and he gave all his money and salary to supplement anything our players needed. Dad gave me a little money, but I worked as a bus boy, I worked as a waiter, I worked as a clean up boy, so I had extra money. But some of the others came from poor families, and if they had the good academics and were in the top tenth of their class, he would help them get an academic scholarship as I got. So that's the way I earned my way. And then when I got a job as a waiter, the coach says, "I've got a good job. There's a woman that's opening a tea room." He said, "Ted, now you worked in your dad's store as a waiter. Will you take over that job? I want you to secure this." This was in my junior year. She just opened a big tea room downtown and I was going to wait tables. Man, I was in tall cotton then because I made extra tips, I got my lunch or dinner when I worked, I would get food and have food on my belly, and besides having money in my pocket. I had the best of several worlds. And needless to say, that was my junior year, and good things happened to me on the court as well as elsewhere. And then I was admitted to dental school in my sophomore year, but I asked to give me the opportunity to enter in my junior year explaining the situation to them. And they did and I went as a junior from dental school. And today, you have to go four years. Back then, they were just, like Pennsylvania would never take anyone with two years of pre-dental work, but they were going to let me in. And then I asked them to beg off and they allowed me to wait until the next year to enter, so I was very lucky.

LO: How did the Army get ahold of you, though, in dental school?

TS: Well, back in that time, though, that was the year before I graduated when they conscripted us. They needed medics and dentists because the war was at its height then. That was in '41 when I got into dental school. From '38 to '41, I was in undergraduate school. And then '41, I went to dental school, and the war was still on then.

LO: But they let you finish dental school, they didn't fib to you like they did your wife, saying--

TS: No, no. The reason that I got orders to go overseas, just shortly after I asked her to get out of the service. And of course I just said, "Well, honey, things will work out fine." And when I was over there, I said how would you like to come over after about, I was over there I think about six or eight months. And then at that time, Betty was working and all, and I said I can bring you over here, they're going to allow this. Just the time element, the war was over in Europe. And of course, then when was the war over in-- the date of the Japanese?

CB: August 15th, 1945.

TS: That was in '45.

LO: But you had to stay an extra year in Germany?

TS: Yeah. I was there from, I remember I went over there in the end of the year that we were married, in '45. And I went shortly after we                                                                             17 were married, that's when I went overseas.

CB: When did you come home?

TS: I came home in '47.

LO: Were you just discharged then?

TS: '47, yeah. I was discharged at Hot Springs.

CB: Oh, really?

TS: Fact, I said well, I might as well just get to see the land out there. I hadn't been to Arkansas until after I came back from overseas, was already married and I'd never been to Fort Smith, didn't know anyone here until after I got out of the service.

CB: But you knew were going to live here?

TS: I just wanted to come here and I was going to take the State Board and I took the State Board after I got out of the service. I had my license in New Jersey, which at that time, I met Betty, but we were not married at that time.

LO: Well, Mrs. Skokos, were you afraid he might want to go to New Jersey to live?

BS: No, I had a little talk with him.

JW: That was set in stone, huh?

BS: That was set in stone, right. I loved it while I was there, but I did not want to live there.

TS: But isn't it amazing that I wanted to practice somewhere west of Pittsburg? You know why? All of my friends classmates would take me to their little homes, and there were towns like Mulberry, Van Buren, all along the Ohio Valley. And I'd go there and the parents were so good to me. Here I was, four hundred miles from home and that was a long distance back then, we'd hitchhike. I wouldn't hitchhike now. But anyway, when I'd go there, the mother would have the chickens out there grazing and having a ham hock in the barn. And boy, in the morning, I'd just smell those eggs and that ham. And I'd go downtown, and this is like on the weekend, and they'd all say Hi Jim, Hi Joe, everybody that you'd see down there, they knew one another. And I said that's the kind of a town I want to practice in. And when I came here, I was going to go to McAlester. My brother-in-law was living there and married a girl from there. He said why don't you-- he wasn't married when I came here, of course, I was at the time. And he was dating her and he was going to live in McAlester. And he said, "Why don't you take the Board in Oklahoma." Said, "You can come to McAlester, it's a great place to practice." And so I said, "Well, I'll take the Board." And then I said, "I'm going to take it, also, in Arkansas." But when I took it in Arkansas, I was going to practice in Fort Smith. And of course, Betty lived in Van Buren. And I liked Fort Smith a lot better, it was just eighteen thousand at that time. And being real close to Van Buren, I just thought that would be the thing. And the people there that I met when I first came, were so good to me. And the first one I met was Dr. Sternberg. You know the name? Dr. Sternberg was a dentist here and he was the first secretary of                                                                             18 the State of Arkansas Dental Association. And my commanding officer in Aberdeen was stationed here in Chaffee. And when we were getting married and I was dating Betty, he knew that she was from Van Buren. And he was just tickled to death that he had me and here I was marrying a girl from Van Buren. And she knew the one that my commanding officer knew very well here, and he was the commanding officer of the Dental Corps out here at Chaffee. And he ends up being mine in Aberdeen, Maryland. How lucky can you get? So the first one I met was Dr. Sternberg, and his office was in the Stevens Building, and he's history. And he took me in, everybody took me in. And there was only one graduate of Pennsylvania, and it was Dr. -- wasn't Dr. Black, but he practiced on the south side of Garrison Avenue, and he took me in. Everybody was so good to me. But I didn't tell you that earlier, but that was our connection. And back then, to have somebody from Pennsylvania practicing out here and he was an excellent dentist.

CB: Ted, what kind of experiences did you have in Germany while you were in the service?

TS: Experience I had was a great experience was being sad everytime Betty wanted to take a trip and anxiously waiting for her to come back. And no sooner than she'd come back, she'd say, "I don't want to leave you anymore." And then twenty-four hours later, her friend, who also had a hot foot, wanted to go and she said, Betty, why don't we go, first, it was Paris, France. Then it was the Netherlands. Then it was Norway and Sweden. She had a list and she's done letters that she wrote for the press artist, they were weekly letters of all her trips and they are really something to read.

LO: But you stayed and worked in the dental part?

TS: Yes, in Germany and that's what I did. And we had an outpost and I had to travel to my companies that were out in the boondocks in different cities. So they were close to DP places and near where there was a lot of previous action. See, the war was over when we took off, and I had to carry the Autobahn, I had to go from Bad Nauheim, which was like Hot Springs, and I had to go from there all around the Autobahn up to and around Berlin, Nuremberg, Munich, Heidelburg. And see, I had units there that I had to take care of, and I had to work from a field outfit, see, at that time. And I had a Singer sewing machine that I rigged up and I'd have the patient press the button, see. I'd say all right now, when you're ready, press the button. We had no anesthesia, no water spray. And I said, "Now, if it bothers you, just lift your finger off the button." It was just like one of those old push buttons and that's what they did.

CB: No anesthesia?

TS: No anesthesia, that's right.

JW: And the sewing machine was to take their mind off of what you were doing?

TS: Right, yeah. See, what it was, it was a little sewing machine and it would go fast. It'd go about six thousand RPMs and that wasn't bad. And when I started practicing, we had nine thousand RPM, and                                                                             19 when I retired, we had three hundred fifty thousand. But you see, that three hundred fifty thousand you had to spray water. And today, there are a lot of young men that would come out and they wouldn't spray the water and many dentists would just let it go. And a lot of times they didn't realize it, but having known just what would happen with that handpiece, it would move that burr that fast, and if you didn't just barely touch the tissue, I'm talking about tooth stitches, I'm talking about the enamel and the dentin, it would burn it. And there are a lot of people now that smell it and they wonder. And if you're ever in a dental office and you smell something burning, you better just pinch him and say I need some water because he'll kill the tooth and then you'll have a dead tooth and you'll have a root canal.

LO: Did you provide dental care to the citizens of Germany as well as the Army?

TS: We had to help the displaced people. We did that as a service to the displaced, the Polish, the Hungarian, the ones who were prisoners of war, the ones that were in DP camps, but not the officers.

JW: Does this mean that you were in Germany during the Nuremberg Trials?

TS: Yes. And in fact, I was as far from Goering as I was from that little teddy bear. And Hess was a little closer to me than Goering. Goering was despicable, just despicable. I mean if I didn't have the containment of my actions, why, I was about ready to jump all over him because I mean when they were quizzing him and interrogating him, I mean he was despicable. Now, Hess was like this all the time, he looked interested and all, seemed like he was one that was sorry for his deeds.

LO: You actually went to the trials and watched them?

TS: Yes, yes. See, my units were stationed in Heidelberg and there was one little town close by, Siegenberg, I was at Siegenberg, and we were in a key area where Hitler vacationed in the summer, in through the tunnels. And our quarters were in a wooded area that was very well concealed. I mean it was just concealed with a lot of brush and a lot of trees, and there were tunnels there in which many things were stored there. And we never were allowed there after the war, we were never allowed there, it was sealed and only certain people would investigate.

CB: This was the loot, the Nazi's loot?

TS: Nazi loot, yes.

BS: They would pick him up at four o'clock in the morning and I wouldn't see him until seven, and this was six days a week.

TS: We had quarters in--

BS: And I was not quartered with the Americans. This whole section was Americans, they didn't have anymore quarters, and we were quartered with all Germans. So I was--

TS: Yeah, when Betty came over, we had a little house in Bad Nauheim, that's when they moved up us into the hospital, all the dentists and the medics in our outfit. And we became part of the hospital staff.

BS: So he would come home every month and hand me his check, three                                                                             20 hundred and sixty dollars. And he said, "You know, I can't go anywhere, here's the money, take it." And so I rode those bombed out trains, no heat, light or water, carried the luggage that I needed to take, and you know, we went into these countries. And met one family, and the girl in that family, she wasn't quartered either in with the American women. And she and I would then take off and travel together. It was much nicer having somebody, companion. And we never spoke English. We'd dress like frauleins because that was too near after the war, the Germans hated the Americans, and we wore those scarves like they did, the shoes like they did and those old overcoats like they did and didn't say a word to each other. We wanted them to think that we were-- I don't know whether it was the way we walked, I have no idea, but we were talking together, not saying a word, and this one German with his attache case, took that case and hit me across the rear end and went on. How they knew we were Americans, I can't-- because we tried to dress like frauleins.

LO: I bet it was your posture, you probably had that--

JW: Maybe he hit every woman in the rear end.

BS: No, no, no, he knew, he knew, he knew we were Americans. And how, I will never never know.

LO: Now, you said you got paid three hundred and sixty dollars a month during that, working six days a week?

BS: Yeah, that's what he got.

CB: Tell us some more about the Nuremberg trials, that's fascinating.

TS: Well, it was in all several languages and we would get the interpreter. And at that time I was there, they weren't interviewing Hess, but he was taking it all in. And right next to Hess was Goering and next to Goering was the head of the Navy. Now, he was more of a gracious man, the navy head. But just to sit there, I mean you're just astounded to see these men and to know what affect they had on history and Europe. But anyway, that was my duty and I just had a little time. But I had a commanding officer and this was with an engineer outfit, see, and all our satellite groups were boys that were in the engineers. And they were assigned different duties within the towns that had a lot of destruction. And I would go from Bad Nauheim and it was outside of-- I mean Siegenberg which was outside of Bad Nauheim. And from there, first assignment was down at Wurzburg and then Honow, Germany, and then on down to Heidelburg, and Heidelburg to Munich, and Munich up to Nuremberg, and then Nuremberg to Wurzburg, which was a landing site, it was an airport there, a small airport. And down outside of Munich, was a DP camp that I had to go and serve.

CB: What condition were the people in the DP camps?

TS: Well, a lot of them had malnutrition and they seemed to be, you know, so pleased to be in the camp and to be under American rule, I mean they were happy. But it was still, they were still dissension there because they had a lot of Germans that were given civil jobs there, you see, and I think there was still a distaste for the German populace. But there were a lot of them that worked, and we had-- of course, we were given a girl to help us take care of our quarters to                                                                             21 clean house and all that.

LO: Were you shocked at what you heard about the concentration camps?

TS: Oh, oh, yeah. Well, of course we had heard things about Dachau and all that, we knew that was occurring at that time. But that was awful, that was just terrible, that was off-limits to us, you see. But the people there were very gracious and the people were honest, the towns people, the country folks, they were good people. Betty had given me a fancy gold fountain pen and pencil for a wedding gift and I left it in a hotel in Berchtesgaden. And do you know what? The little chambermaid that lived there in Berchtesgaden, which is a resort, and right up above all of them was Hitler, see. And I left it there and came back to Germany, that was our trip before we came home, Betty was with me. And I left it there and all I asked, I called and wrote a letter to the hotel custodian, he was a GI actually, or civilian that took over the hotel in Berchtesgaden. The main hotel for visitors for Army personnel and related personnel who were taking a leave, you know, two day, three day or weeks leave, and so we stayed in a hotel. And when I got on a train, I said, "Betty, I've left my pen in the room." Do you know, when I got back, I wrote a letter to the hotel and do you know they sent me my pen and pencil set to Van Buren? Can you imagine?

BS: Afraid that might not happen in the United States.

LO: We want to thank you for letting us hear your story. It's been wonderful. Really appreciate it.

TS: Well, did we tell you much?

CB: Oh, goodness, yes, yes.

LO: And if you don't mind, I'd like to scan some of your things, you know, maybe pictures or your paperwork