Golden Gate Wing Guest Speaker Archive

Presentation Date: April 24, 2008

COL John Roush

Speaker Photo

Jorg Cizpionka had to cancel, due to unexpected surgery for his wife. He will be our speaker in May instead.

John Roush attended San Francisco City College and was encouraged to join the Enlisted Reserve Corps in order to continue to study. He then enlisted and was sent to Santa Clara University in ASTP. Trained as an engineer he deployed to England and spent four miserable days on board a ship off of the Normandy coast awaiting orders to go ashore as a combat engineer.

Shortly thereafter the Army gave a number of enlisted men a rapid course in becoming an officer and John was commissioned. He joined the 83rd "Cyclone" Division and ended up in Graz, Austria as its Provost Marshal. Returning to California after the war he remained in the reserves and retired as a Colonel. With training in engineering, infantry and intelligence, John held many interesting positions, including the Army attache' to Norway.


The Origins of World War II

Col. John Roush

April 2008 Golden Gate Wing Guest Speaker

"It was a very complicated story, and I don’t think most people realize how complicated it was."

John Roush was born in Portland, Oregon and moved to San Francisco when he was six years old. He attended San Francisco Community College and enrolled in the Enlisted Reserve Corps, which was a way to ensure you could graduate without being drafted into the armed services. When World War II started he volunteered for the Army anyway. The Army sent him to Santa Clara University (ASTP program).

Roush was an enlisted combat engineer when he landed at Normandy, France on D-Day Plus 4. The Army, needing platoon leaders, then gave Roush and others with similar college backgrounds two weeks of training that made them 2nd Lieutenants in command of platoons.

Following World War II, Roush attended and graduated from the US Army's Command and General Staff College, the Industrial War College of the Armed Forces and the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. Department of State.

On one occasion, some 64 years ago, between Normandy and Germany, John Roush and his platoon of combat engineers was strafed by Messerschmitt 109s.

"One flew right over my head, close enough that I got a good look at the pilot. I still remember the intense expression of hatred on that face. Sometimes you have an experience that lasts for sixty years or more, and that one is still with me."

Now, nearly sixty- five years later, Roush says that while reading a recent newspaper story, he was interested to find out that high school students quizzed about World War II had a miserable failure rate.

"They just didn’t know anything about it. They couldn’t even tell the names of the leaders of the countries involved. And I’m afraid there’s a lot of lack of interest or lack of knowledge about why or how we became involved in World War II. Most people will say that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, but of course the causation goes back a lot farther than that."

Roush recognizes the roots of such conflicts break down into what he calls the "definitions of the vital national interests of a country. "

"I think those vital national interests were in great conflict in the perceptions of the leaders of the six major countries involved. I don’t think people really understand what those considerations were. We were rather unique in our country, insofar as public opinion greatly influences the decisions of our national leaders. That wasn’t true of the other countries involved.

"Even in Britain public opinion is not really considered very important. Morale is. But decisions are made by the group decision in the House of Commons and so forth. In the United States, we are still heavily influenced by public opinion as represented in our Congress. That was instrumental in deciding our involvement. In contrast, the other countries—our adversaries—they had totalitarian governments where in Germany and Italy, the decisions were made by one man. And we know how those decisions came about.

"In Japan, it was a little bit different. The titular head of Japan, the emperor, supposedly had the final authority. But he was a meek and mild person, and he acquiesced to the decisions of a group. In fact, in the Japanese culture, it is customary to try and reach a joint decision. The emperor had as his Prime Minister, Prince Kanoe, a relative, who was also not a very forceful person at all. He had a lot of background that people respected, but he was in conflict with leaders of the Army and Navy, who carried a great deal of weight.

"They identified their vital national interest as becoming a world power, in effect, fulfilling the word ‘empire’. They had a large colony in Manchukuo, setting up a puppet regime there, they had bases down in Korea, Formosa and Taiwan. And when our government put an embargo on Japan for oil and natural resources, and tied up their funds in the United States—after their aggression in China—they felt their existence was seriously threatened. They considered they had two alternatives: to go north or to go south.

Roush says Japan had only two years of oil supplies in reserve, and a move in either geographical direction was necessary to secure energy resources. When pressed by the embargo of resources imposed by the United States, Japanese had hoped for a settlement.

"Prince Kanoe made a substantial effort to negotiate a settlement with the United States but was limited by how far he could go. Both he and the Emperor clearly wanted to find a settlement, whereas the heads of the military were pretty much against it. "They did give Prince Kanoe a short time to work out a settlement. We (the United States) were adamant they should remove their forces from China. They were prepared to make some concessions, but were unwilling to give up their establishment in Manchukuo. And in response, they misunderstood that we were demanding they remove all forces in that area as well."

Roush says the diplomatic conflict between the United States and Japan was down to the wire and ultimately pushed the United States over the brink to its involvement in the war. We were already under significant pressure from Britain to try and help them in the war against Germany and Italy.

"You recall the drastic failure in France that resulted in the Dunkirk evacuation. Britain was fearful that it would be unsuccessful in extracting more than a small number of its soldiers. However it turned out quite successful insofar as they brought out almost 400 -thousand soldiers, including some of the French. But they had to leave without any of their equipment. So Britain was really in terrible straights. They also suffered greatly by virtue of German submarines impacting their supply lines.

"Roosevelt, when he stood for his third term in 1940, gave a strong assurance to the public that there would not be any expeditionary force of American soldiers. He was adamant that we would not get involved in a European war. But as time went by he finally realized that our national security was imperiled and if Britain failed we would be in terrible straights insofar as our sea lines and everything else would be threatened.

"As time went by, Roosevelt had to carefully consider a problem—eighty percent of the American public was adamant about not getting involved in war in Europe. And he knew, under the circumstances, Congress would never vote for a declaration of war.

He knew that in order for the United States to be involved it would take a good deal of provocation, not that he was encouraging that, of course."

Roosevelt also knew there were large segments of the American population who wanted to help Britain. In December of 1940, the president took a cruise on a navy warship to the Caribbean, and in doing so came up with a solution, which he delivered to the American public in the form of the Lend Lease Act. This was passed by Congress in March 1941 and started an almost immediate flow of food, supplies and war materiel to both Britain and the Soviet Union.

"He put it to the public with a simile that a neighbor, seeing his house was on fire, would ask the other neighbor for the use of his hose without the neighbor asking for any payment. He portrayed a similar situation that Britain was our neighbor and we couldn’t afford to see him lose.

Roush says that kind of help program went over pretty well with the public and eventually there was a change in attitude. But still a significant number of people didn’t want to get involved in war, and felt material aid was as far as the United States should go towards aiding the British Commonwealth.

By June 1941, nearly six full months before Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt, Congress and the War Department were monitoring events in Eastern Europe nearly as closely as they watched Britain’s conflict with the Axis.

"We knew that Hitler was going to attack Russia. We actually sent information to Stalin. But Stalin was a dogmatic, ruthless type that believed only he knew what was right. He was convinced it was a plot to confuse him, that the information was not correct.

"He had seriously hampered Russia’s ability to deal with Hitler and he had massive purges of the Red Army, including most of the top generals within a few years prior. So when the Germans did attack, they had tremendous success initially and took over six- or eight- hundred prisoners in the first month.

"Many Americans were hopeful the Germans and Russians would fight it out and we wouldn’t have to get involved."

But, it would take Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor—after months of failed diplomacy and the botched last -ditch effort to sue for peace before the bombs dropped on the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet—to awaken the United States to the seriousness of Axis aims at conquering territories around the globe. Thereafter followed 3-1/2 years of 100% Allied involvement to halt German, Italian and Japanese forces and to force those countries’ surrender.

By the end of the war, Roush was heading a military government detachment with a mission of Provost Marshal of Lenz, Austria.

"We were very fortunate. The Austrian people, most of them didn’t like the Nazis any more than we did. Although they would tell you that Hitler did a lot of good things. Well, we were really surprised when we got to the occupation, to see such beautiful freeways, something we hadn’t seen here (in the U.S.) at that time.

"We were able to apprehend a lot of top Nazis by virtue of the fact that we were informed by local people. We had no trouble at all that I can recall, except for one incident when some young people set up a machine. But they were taken out rather quickly. Unfortunately, they were just boys, youngsters. But otherwise, we had no trouble."

Roush recalls that during the occupation of postwar Germany one of his sergeants was given a work detail, and went to the local burgermeister (town officials) for manpower. The sergeant found out that one of the workmen had been a part of a similar work detail under the Nazis, and had performed the work even though he hadn’t liked the Nazis any more than the Americans did.

The sergeant ended up finding important papers that had been buried to hide them from Allied hands… plans for the V -weapons.

Germany’s V- weapons included the V- 1 rocket-powered bomb, the V-2 rocket, and the V-3 long -range cannon (with a 150 -mile range), on up to a V -12 program. The papers also included plans for a space station.

"Their technology was pretty well advanced, much more than ours, I thought."

Roush says word sent back to Allied headquarters resulted in a plane being immediately dispatched with a group of scientists. They wanted to see the materials, assess their validity and value, and recover them for the War Department.

For the most part, he says, the Germans’ use of the V-1 and V -2 rockets was crude and relatively ineffective, in that they were unguided weapons. But, Roush says, they did have effect on morale.

Among the many experiences from the Allied occupation of Germany, were some interesting discoveries made in warehouses. Roush recalls one large building, filled from floor to ceiling in cardboard boxes.

"I opened up one and there were little whips, about this big—a wood handle of about six inches and leather thongs about this long. Boxes and boxes of these little whips. Can you imagine such a horrible society that would have to have that many whips? It was just beyond belief."

Col Roush has authored six books, including World War II Reminiscences and other subjects such as hunting and fishing.