«Interviewer: Tell us your full name. David W. Meyer: David W. Myer. Interviewer: And where are you from, originally? David W. Meyer: Rockford, ...»
Interview with David W. Meyer
Interviewer: Tell us your full name.
David W. Meyer: David W. Myer.
Interviewer: And where are you from, originally?
David W. Meyer: Rockford, Illinois.
Interviewer: Did you grow up there?
David W. Meyer: No, my folks came here in 1924, so I grew up in Ogden.
Interviewer: So you're an Ogden boy.
David W. Meyer: Basically, yes.
Interviewer: And you went to high school there?
David W. Meyer: I went all the way through junior high, but I finished -- I came out, we moved to Salt Lake, or this area, Draper. I did my high school at Jordan High School.
Interviewer: Tell us about how you got into World War II and that sequence of events.
David W. Meyer: How far back do you want me to go?
David W. Meyer: Alright, basically, I went to Jordan High School and I learned a little bit about photography there. Two or three takes of this. I am just trying to think. They were building a steel plant, and I graduated from Jordan High School and went to Weber College for one semester. That's when I ran into Jay Heslot, he was just ahead of me. We were in the same dark room, but we just never met each other. Then my mother wanted me to stay home, so I worked in the steel mill for six months. Then my number came up, so I came up to Fort Douglas and that is when I started my military career, 1943.
Interviewer: Okay, 1943.
David W. Meyer: That's right.
Interviewer: So you were drafted?
David W. Meyer: No, they didn't count that as a draft. Like I said, I stayed home and commuted so my mother could have me around. We were living in Sandy then. When I came out -- it was in Social Hall Avenue, then I was called Motor Avenue -- that's where the induction center was.
I went through and everyone was home except me, they had a week or two back in the house.
They counted mine as an enlistment, and it shows on my card, that I came right to Fort Douglas.
So I was up here and I could almost see Sandy from the old barracks that were up there. After we got KP and got ourselves squared around and heard our Army number, we were shipped then to Camp Kohler, which our basic training, but we stayed in the station down there on the train for about a whole day. We spent the night -- these were the old Pullman cars -- before we could get on the main line to go to Camp Kohler. So we pulled into Camp Kohler and got our normal basic training.
I was scheduled, because of my mechanical ability, to become a teletype operator and a repairman. I happened to mention that I had done some work for yearbook, and for some reason it clicked, and the next thing I know, I was on the Overland Limited to Rochester, I mean to SCPC -- Signal Corps Photographic Center -- in Astoria, Long Island City. That was the start of my war training for the military. It turns out that I becamepart of a group of about eight to ten men who became guinea pigs because the signal corps just didn't know what to do with us. It was so new -- they knew signals, and they knew radio, and they knew wireless and that sort of thing -- but they never had anything to do with photography before. So one of the first things they did, before they found out that we were not infantry men, they sent us out to Fort Dix.
There were only about 20 of us in that group there. Our lieutenants were not infantrymen, they were newspaper photographers, but they had a rank, so now they were lieutenants. We went out there with a full pack, they had us run five miles, and we would go through the obstacle course on our bellies under the barbed wire and they are blowing stuff out and water is coming down, it was all full of mud. It was interesting because when we got out of that particular hurdle, there were some showers there and they had a large -- you just pull a trigger and then you had a deluge. We just walked under, our helmets, clothes, and all, and we just held it down and took off all our clothes, bit by bit, because it was our laundry at the same time. About a week later, the general commander came by to find out what's going on because he saw the size of it. We were only about 15 or 16 men, half the company was already in the hospital because the lieutenants didn't know what they were doing and they were pushing us too hard. On that basis, it was quite an experience there because they didn't know quite what to do with us.
Interviewer: So you had been assigned as-David W. Meyer: We had been assigned to the Signal Corps Photographic Center in Astoria because that was the training center. That was the old Paramount Studios. I was in one of the training films and walking around the stage and the set and this sort of thing. That’s where we were supposed to get our training, but there was only a group of us, it turned out, that had the credentials, experience wise, so we kind of became the guinea pigs. After about three or four months at SCPC, with those strange trips out into the wild, we didn't know what to do. I was selected as one of about 8 to 10 men that went up to the Rochester Institute of Athenaeum in Rochester, New York. That is where Dr. Thereonson and some of the others who were developing the chemicals for Eastman Kodak trained us. So we were trained, and they didn't know where we were going to go. We were developing to go -- if we would ever go -- to Alaska or Canada. So we were developing our negatives in ice water with ice cubes floating around to see if we could get it. Then in the jungles, the water was so warm, we had to watch out that we didn’t wash the emulsion right off the film. The negatives were dense and we had to print those.
So we had a full training of camera and camera use as they thought we might run into.
Later on, because the signal corps got into better shape, they found out that they did not have to have different kinds of processing facilities in combat. As a matter of fact, we were sent up to Peekskill, New York, and took over a park up there. My job, with a couple of other people, was to put black tar paper over all the rooms. We put a whole lab in there, because that's what we thought we might have to do in Europe. It turns out it was alright, it was great, but that isn't the way it worked, actually. On that basis, we had a great deal of specialized training. I don't know if the fellows were still doing it, but when I had the negatives, I didn’t know what to do with the darn things. They didn’t tell us. As we are sitting in the Rochester Hotel -- I was on the 9th floor, I remember that -- I had a desk there, so I would take cardboard or heavy stock and I would cut a window. I put two of them together and I would sandwich a negative in between so I could pick it up and look at it. Then you had your test material to go with it. So all of my negatives, from start to finish, were all in a big binder with these things here. I find out later that when we left -- they had to hand them in. And they liked the way I did it so well that, as far as I know, that’s the way they’re still doing it in their labs. I could see the negatives and put them in a loose leaf binder. But that was about it.
We got back into Rochester, I mean into the Signal Corp Photo Center, and the next thing we knew we were at Fort Dix just waiting. Then we went overseas, this group again of about eight, I think, that had boiled down. We were put on a cargo ship, and it had four staterooms on either side. It worked out beautifully for us because there were two men to a state room. There was a Jewish family on the other side I felt was interesting, but they were going to Jerusalem -- I talked with a couple of them -- and you could just feel that aura they had, they are going to Jerusalem.
The thing I thought was rather interesting was that we were still fighting in North Africa, but yet they were heading across the ocean. So we were on this steamer and we were part of a first great convoy. I think there were 80 ships in that convoy because they had just pretty well neutralized the submarine wolf packs. When we got off, we had a couple of submarine scares, but it wasn't much.
Interviewer: So, about month was this?
David W. Meyer: This was in September of 1943.
Interviewer: And you were then in England?
David W. Meyer: Well, we landed in Cardiff, Wales, and we went to call a place in England -we sort of had a ship to ourselves -- but we got to the Wellington Barracks. We were there for awhile, by the time they didn’t know what to do with us in London. Then our assignments were sort of split up and I was one of two or three -- I guess I was the only photographer that was sent to London, the rest were lab people and that sort of thing. So they ran our lab in London at 35 Davies Street, which is about a block from the embassy. Then I worked, and our assignment branch was that way.
Interviewer: So what were you taking photos of at this time?
David W. Meyer: Well, one of the assignments, I remember particularly, was out in the western part of England, west of London. You remember now, in that time, the only combat that was going on was the 8th Air Force, and they're bombing. So what is happening -- those are the only casualties -- but they were coming back with unique casualties because of shrapnel coming in from behind and below. So they were getting back injures and that sort of thing. That is what I was sent to the hospital to photograph, and I remember two particular things. They showed me some men sitting in wheelchairs, and they had their hands like this and they had a big washer on the finger and a string and various collections of nuts. And they would sit there and they would try to make those fingers work -- you know, by willing them. I remember was one man, they said all the nerves to that finger had been destroyed. He sat there and he willed that finger to move, and they said, actually, what happened is his body actually reconstructed the nerve endings out there to that finger just by exercising these day by day, he was just sitting there moving those hands this way. The other thing I thought was interesting was they said the lung injury men, in order to exercise their lungs, had learned to breathe with any one quadrant of the lungs. Well, that intrigued me, so on the way back to London, I practiced and I can. Today my grand children, I will say, “What part do you want me to breathe?” And they will put their hand on it. It takes a bit of concentration now, I have to practice, but I can make myself breathe here or here or here or there because that's what the fellows were doing as part of their therapy. To me, that was one of more interesting photographic areas I had to go in that respect. I photographed a mile and a half of locomotives all covered in plastic. They were just waiting to be put on board to be carried across to replace the trains they were blowing up in Europe on the other side of the border.
Interviewer: So this is before D-Day?
David W. Meyer: Oh yes, this is long before D-Day. This is 1943. And that's about the time, I don't know the date exactly, but I grabbed some photographs and drawings I made, when the (inaudible) started coming over, and the V-2s. I was part of a four-man crew turned loose in England, in London, to go and photograph these. We are going back in to the origination of what the duty of a photographer was. When they started to put these men out on the field, many generals wanted to have some PR work done. So nobody had defined what a combat photographer was to do. So that was part of this business when they pick me and one of my buddies to photograph the incidents because we were photographing the blast pattern and the trajectory and this sort of thing. They became aware of a lot of that lab work -- they no longer did that PR work for those generals and for history and that sort of thing, personal things. That's when the photographer -- that's when they saw that they could apply the technical aspects of filming. I drew in the cartoon, if you want to see it later on, I show myself in a Jeep -- the fellows going out in a jeep. They gave me command car, I don't know why, but I had a desk that would come up from behind the front seat -- it all opens, you know, over the top, heavy wheels -and I would pull that desk up and over my lap. Then we had an idea from some phone calls. I would guide us across London and around. A couple of interesting things happened there. One of them was the typical brash GI, was one who hit in the London docks area. Now I didn't know anything about London docks except there was a gate there and all these boats and all these good, wagons, and box cars. And we went and drove up to go in and they wouldn't allow us.
They said, “This is a restricted area.” Okay -- brash GI's. So we went and turned around, but they had something going on and, a fire truck had to go in. Well, what better do we need? So I just told the driver and we found a fire truck and pulled up and got a ways out to there, and there was this great hole and a lot of trackage. So I climbed up on what I call a boxcar and I was snapping away and all of a sudden I start seeing here was a man in a trench coat, there was a man in a trench coat, over here was a man in a trench coat. Well, they were the CID. They came up and were gently urged me down, and we walked in -- and ended up, they took my pictures, the folders. Then they called the CO and said, “What's this guy doing down here?” They let this assignment officer know that there are some areas in London you just don't go without a clearance, so that was that. We still kept photographing that day, and I know of another bomb that had dropped at Waterloo Station, so we drove around there. I could see where the blast was.