Sam Kamin was born January, 1919 and grew-up in Brooklyn, NY during the Great Depression. He is a WWII veteran, and had many great stories to share with us. He told us of his family’s struggles and experiences as well as showed us what it was like being a teenager in the 1930’s. Throughout the interview, you will see the great sense of humor and wit that the current Wayland, MA resident has maintained over the years.
Molly & Mo: Please state your name
Sam Kamin: Sam Kamin
Q: Do you remember the first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and what she was like?
Sam Kamin: She was a strange woman; she was a tall, skinny woman. She spoke very good, and was always involved in something good for the people. I liked her, a lot of people didn’t.
Q: Why didn’t people like her?
SAM: She was always with the people, doing this and that. She didn’t get along to good with FDR you know? It was just something that we as officers in his army knew. And when he died down somewhere in the south…he was a good man. Eleanor Roosevelt was a great public speaker; a lot of people respected her. She respected FDR. But when he died, somewhere in North Carolina, Harry Truman became President, and Eleanor kept going. She did this and that, I never understood it really, but when you have to worry about where your next meal was coming from,
She was very nice.
Q: Do remember every seeing a “Hooverville,” like during the Depression, homeless people, moving out west, it was a generally term?
Jayne: Did you ever hear of Hooverville?
SAM: Oh yes, Herbert Hoover, a Republican, not like FDR. He didn’t have the energy and the toughness. No, not like Roosevelt, we would have been in real trouble if not for Roosevelt. Herbert Hoover had some tough times; he wasn’t making very much progress. FDR hired so many guys to go to work it was unbelievable, he was like Obama.
Q: Do you remember any of the programs that FDR set up, like the CCC, AAA, WPA and NRA, etc.?
SAM: FDR set up the NRA, and all the initials. WPA, oh yeah, the worlds… I my god yeah, that’s about all the names, strikes home.
Q: Do you remember any of the projects they worked on, ever see anyone, or know anyone who participated?
SAM: Yeah, all these guys were coming back with money after working twelve or thirteen weeks.
Jayne: Doing what?
SAM: FDR came up with NRA they called it, and he hired guys from wherever, they wanted to go and start building highways, and they were getting paying them a salary.
Jayne: Anything else they did for jobs?
Jayne: Just building highways?
SAM: But remember they had money, and they put in the money, and the money started circulating.
Q: Were any of you or any of you friends in any of the organizations?
SAM: I don’t think so, we kids we lost touch, we moved out of neighborhoods into fancier neighborhoods. And when I say a fancy neighborhood that’s on top of a store. That was a fancy neighborhood. Now I don’t recall.
Q: Did you live in Brooklyn for most of your life, or do you remember when you moved out?
SAM: I lived in Brooklyn for most of my life. I lived in Brooklyn till’ I was maybe thirty-five, thirty-five yeah.
Jayne: You were in the service part of that time.
SAM: Yeah but my home plate…
Jayne: Then you came back to Brooklyn
SAM: The New York section of Brooklyn, beautiful section, that’s where Bunny Davis comes from, they put a couple bullets in his head.
Q: Did yourparents like FDR’s New Deal; did they think it was a good program?
SAM: Yeah, yeah, they thought happy days were here again. People started noticing that they had money now and they could do this and that. When it comes Saturday night and we wanted to go out so it was about my mother, not my father, my mother would give me a dollar. “Mum, you want me to spend the whole dollar?” And she’d say, “go ahead my boy; go ahead,” that’s how things changed.
Q: How long do you think it took for things to get good again?
SAM: It was a Tuesday, it was a Monday, Pearl Harbor was bombed on a Sunday, I remember Tuesday FDR wanted to make a speech to the public, and FDR said, “It is not fear to fear… and I say now we declare war against Japan.” Jeez what a day that was.
Jayne: She wants to know how long it took for things to get better after the depression.
SAM: That’s when things got better.
Jayne: When the war started?
SAM: Yeah, when they sent my mother and father $58.00 a month, this was unheard of then, but every solider that went in got sent money. Yeah that was the start, I started off, just to give you an idea, I started off with $1.29 a month, and today these cookies, don’t know their ass from their elbow, they’re making $550 dollars a month. Show you how cheap money has got.
Q: Did your family’s business survive the great Depression?
SAM: Yeah, sort of, they all passed away after the Depression.
Jayne: They didn’t really have a family business.
SAM: I think they died happy.
Jayne: your father had a lot of different businesses.
SAM: I know yeah, yeah, did I tell you this story, about Staten Island? …Well there’s a bay near Coney Island, the Hudson River, and over the Hudson River there’s this Grand Island. So we were driving up there, up the Hudson River and when the, the captain, captain there’s land over there. And the captain, the captain says, Staten Island, is it Staten Island, maybe it is Staten Island? Then they named the town Staten Island.
Jayne: So it’s called Staten Island, “Oh yeah is that Staten Island over there? Staten Island.”
Q: Do you remember any of the great construction projects of that period?
SAM: Yeah, I remember the Empire State Building that was something unbelievable; they came up the Statue of Liberty that was unbelievable, unbelievable.
Jayne: Were those construction projects?
SAM: They had all kinds of machinery to hook it in, I don’t know really, and then they built, in Brooklyn they built the Manhattan Bridge, from Brooklyn to Manhattan. They built about four five bridges back and forth. Today they’re closing down, I hear this morning they’re going to put a big mall there somewhere.
Q: Do you remember anything about the Hoover Dam or the Golden Gate Bridge being built?
SAM: I went to Vegas a couple years ago, Vegas is the place you play cards, and you go down ten fifteen miles you see this big hole in the ground.
Jayne: Do you remember them being built?
SAM: I don’t know, when I was there they were always fixing something, I wouldn’t like the be there when the doors open and the water starts running over. But oh I remember when they wanted to build stores there in Vegas, they wanted to keep all the water out and that was the beginning of the Las Vegas, after they kept all the water out.
Jayne: What year did they build the Golden Gate Bridge?
Q: While the country was in the Depression, do you remember learning about Hitler’s rise in Germany?
SAM: Yes I sure did. I wish I got a chance to put a bullet in his head.
Jayne: What did you always say about Hitler?
SAM: I told you he was a beautiful speaker.
Jayne: That’s what he remembers from those times, it’s an interesting thing to remember.
SAM: He’s like Obama; have you ever watched Obama talk? No, but the Russians moving into Germany, and he took the pill and killed himself, that’s the last we heard of him.
Q: What about Japan’s military advancements in Asia, do you remember that?
SAM: Japan was Japan, they stepped out of power, they didn’t belong in the war, but when they bombed Pearl Harbor, the certainly was, he was had this general guy, General McCarthur, ever hear of him? They went and they dropped a bomb, a bomb they say could blow up the world, they dropped it on town in Japan. And Japan stopped the war, and called the war off. That was some day that was an atom bomb, that’s what it was.
Q: Do you remember that day, what were you doing?
SAM: Oh sure, there were clouds in the sky that went up a couple hundred thousand feet. Wiped out the whole town. They were glory days, because we knew the war had ended, almost.
Q: Do you think we are still affected at all by the great Depression today?
SAM: Not as much as it was in the first one.
Q: How are kids different today then they were when you were growing up?
SAM: There a lot crazier, No really, I mean, we knew whatever he had, we went to momma, she ran the family, and now the kids do whatever they want, they do pot, and they’re hard to control. But we were much more controlled in my day as a kid. Everybody smoked.
Q: Did you get in much trouble when you were younger, get punished by your parents?
SAM: Yeah once, just shows you how, I was with my friends Charlie, we were shooting dice on the corner with some flappers, two cops jump out, and blah blah blah, everyone ran away but I tripped. And they say “you’re not supposed to do that. We’ll have to take you down to the station,” but Charlie, this kid had a mouth and he says, “give us a break, we’re kids, we meant nothing.” And the cop says,” hey Charlie what you think you are in movies?” And they take us down the station flappers and all, and when we got out, I say, “Charlie you rat.”
Q: was that the most trouble you ever got in?
SAM: Well, really until I met Jayne and then we were…
Q: How do you think we are the same today as you were back then?
SAM: Oh sure, we were controlled, and today a kid comes home with dirty shorts and says mom get me another one, in those years we watched everything we had to do. I’d say we’re mostly different from kids today.
Q: We’ve been hearing a lot about the stock market and the bad economy today, and how inflation is up and unemployment is up, and the war, and everything and the debt worth trillions of dollars. What are the lessons from the Great Depression today?
SAM: Sure, it would be the value of the dollar, cause I never knew if the dollar was valuable or not, because I would never have it, and when my mother used to give me money she’d say, “ here’s a dollar go have a good time” I didn’t know what to do with it. I have never had money so it was a big difference, like when I was in kindergarten, I would put a nickel a week in the bank and then they took it. You know kids say, “momma can we loan me five dollars” And I say, “You can hold my neck.”
Jayne: What lessons come from the Depression for the people today?
SAM: The value of the dollar.
Q: Do you remember the Bank runs at all back then, did you ever witness one of those when the banks were about to become bankrupt?
SAM: Yeah, the guys were crying and yelling, something that is different form how it is today. You know your money is insured in the banks today, but it wasn’t then so it was so sad. And my father came home and says, “Would you believe it? Look what happened the banks are closed down we have no money left.“
Jayne: That’s in his mind you see, cause when it started happening now he wanted me to go down to the bank, and he knows now that the money is insured, but it was still there from way back when. And I say, “oh what do want me to do put it under the mattress?” So that was a memory, there in his mind.
Q: Do you remember when FDR asked everyone to bring out their last savings and put them back into the banks?
SAM: Vaguely, FDR he was so overcome with problems, my god this guy, he was the governor of New York you know, you couldn’t believe, it was a tough job in those years. It was tough people but the Republicans gave him a hard time, but I liked, I’ll always like FDR and Eleanor as friends, I always will. I think they were good people.
Q: Do you think we’ve learned our lesson today?
SAM: Well I think you’ve learned a lot with comparing the last depression with this depression. I think that you can understand how this thing revolves, when you look at the TV the Dow Jones comes on at late night and shows you what happens in the market. We happen to have a market where everyone’s concerned, but I think it’s a different life completely, the kinds of money you can make years ago. I think the people are different. I think the whole world is just different, and when you guys question me I have to laugh because never heard of people besides FDR and Eleanor.
Q: Do you think life was better back then?
SAM: That’s a good question, what can I say about that? Well I’ll have to say life is better now if you can call this life. I’m having a little trouble laughing that’s all, and I get dizzy when I get up and walk. But Jayne and I dancing together, she gets mad when I start telling stories.
Q: Do you have interesting stories or anything you want to share with us?
SAM: This has been a good life here, I love Wayland, it’s a far cry from Brooklyn, and it’s a far cry from Manhattan and Staten Island. You see actually I love life I love my friends, I have no problems, and I’m very pleased I’m very happy.
Jayne: Sam, tell them the interesting story of your experience in World War II in London and Wales.
SAM: I was in Wales and I was a cargo security officer. I walked with a 49 and a 47 in my gun belt and I landed in some town in England and we were going to be stationed there, and we watched the troops come over. One day I walked out decided I was going to go to the movies, I went to the movies, and I had this long conversation with this girl, and she started walking alongside me and she smelled like a rose. And she opens up her hand and hands me a piece of candy, and I say, “This girl is gorgeous.” And we talk and we laugh and we got out and we have fun together. We liked to be together, one day she calls me, and she tells me that she’s pregnant. So thanks goodness I told my wife about it, cause she drifted away from me, and that’s why I love your name, her name was Molly, Molly Hodgins. And we got back to the United States and I’m getting discharged from the Army, I be getting out, and I told Jayne about it right away, I said, “I don’t know what this is, I hadn’t heard from her for four or five years.” But she was a good kid, we had fun together, we were good friends and we walked around London during the war at midnight it was daylight because when we’d come over it’d be daylight, so it was a different screwed up deal altogether. Anyway, I got back in my ship, and I come home there’s a letter, a letter there from Mr. Hodgins.
Jayne: Molly’s father.
SAM: And he says, “I’m Molly’s father, I’m said the same to you and the same to my daughter. Molly has had and dot dot dot. So, I go into my house and say, “jeez that’s strange.” What can I do I was back in Brooklyn. Couple months later I got a card, a letter, comes to me Sam Kamin. And it’s a letter saying we’re looking for a man named Sam Kamin.
Jayne: You need to stop dear; it was almost fifty years later, no communication for all that time.
SAM: Yeah something like that.
Q: So you didn’t know you had a child for 50 years?
Jayne: He knew he had a child, but Molly was supposedly going to marry a neighborhood boy, and Sam was supposed to forget about it. That’s what the father’s letter said.
SAM: But swifty here couldn’t wait a second and she grabbed the envelope and dropped it off saying oh we live on Newton street etc. and finally next week we get a call and I picked it up, and I say, “Molly you got to be kidding me!” Oh god, but now they come here every summer.
Jayne: The daughter is married has two beautiful girls. Nice people, I mean really, really, really nice people. And this came form his experience in the war. And all those years, and if the letter hadn’t come when I was here, he probably wouldn’t have answered it. I felt it should be answered cause they were looking for him, for her father.