“I was born in Jersey City and spent most of my life in New Jersey. I fought in the Coast Guard during World War II in North Africa, both coasts of Italy, and then onto England in preparation for D-Day. We made 55 landings at Normandy Beach including on D-Day. We delivered the tanks and soldiers early that morning. On one trip all of the men we discharged were killed except one. I also served in India. The poverty was terrible. Then we went to Shanghai, which I found fascinating. We also went to Korea but the line had been drawn between North and South Korea so there wasn’t much to see there.

I am a chef. I contributed some chapters to a book called The Professional Chef put out by the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). I was also a professor at the CIA. The CIA started out as a vocational school for training WWII veterans in the culinary arts. Because of my race there were few things I could do besides be in the kitchen. I washed dishes in a kitchen in Westfield. I got fired because I asked for a dollar raise. I got hired the same day and I decided no more dishwashing; I wanted to be a cook. I had cooking experience from home, and have been called an intuitive chef. My father taught me how to make bread. I did have some instruction by a wonderful chef—Sam Yamaguchi--who taught me everything I know. I think of him almost every day. I worked side by side with him in the kitchen. I was about 16 or 17 at the time. I made dough every morning before I went to school and worked after school too. I don’t know why a Japanese restaurant made cinnamon rolls, but people weren’t used to Japanese restaurants in those days.

The owner was a mathematician and he helped me with my homework. He was just the nicest man. But when WWII started the family was heartbroken. They were completely Americanized, but the government said he had to close the restaurant down within 48 hours.

Later on I was a food service supervisor for Howard Johnson and then I worked at Aunt Jemima Pancake house and Holiday Inn. When I decided to stop working for those chains I went to work for RCA. That led me to the Bahamas, in the late ‘60s, where I worked for a secret government agency, ostensibly operated by RCA. They trained torpedoes to go in a different direction. Very sophisticated. I ran their food service. Then I went to Alaska where I got a more lucrative job.

I have two children. My daughter is a paralegal. She has a master’s degree in forensic journalism. My son is an operating room technician. He never calls me but if I were to call him right now you would think we had a conversation yesterday. I don’t know why we are so distant. My daughter calls me often and we catch up on everything.

My wife had Alzheimer’s and she deteriorated slowly over a period of 12 years. She was an unusual person. When she got hooked on something she really stuck with it. We loved fishing together. At first she didn’t want to touch the worms, but one day she made up her mind. Darn it, she was going to put a worm on herself. She surprised me by wanting to go fishing every month. I said, ‘It’s freezing out there.’ She said ‘Well, we are going to have to buy you some gloves.’ The fishermen said, ‘I never saw anyone fishing with gloves before.’ My wife said, ‘Well, you ought to try it.’ She caught fish when I didn’t catch any. On the Jersey Shore where we used to go, there were very few black people. But there was one young black girl who was the best fisherman I have ever seen in my life. She had a little feminine tackle box. Nobody had caught any fish that day, but within a short time after she went out she caught a fish.

Physically I feel fine. I cannot do all the things I enjoy but I won’t specify! My days are extremely active. Three or four days a week I am involved in church activities. Last night I was downtown at a program called ‘The Theology of the Body.’ It is better than sitting up here looking at the boob tube. I also volunteer in a hospice. My wife ended up in hospice for five months and that is how I ended up volunteering there. I went there every day. When my wife died, one of her nurses called me, and she has called me every day since. She has taken me under her wing. I don’t have as close a relationship with my kids as I do with her.

I taught myself how to use computers. I even put a hard drive in myself just to see if I could do it. The telephone, cell phone, television are passé now. When I was little it was the radio.

I used to walk through Newark at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. Now I don’t even want to walk to the corner. So many cities in the United States are like that. Parents used to be able to guide their children, but not any more. I see young people today and I don’t get the feeling they have a lot of respect for old people.

A few years ago I converted from Protestantism to Catholicism. I had some fascination with Catholics. After my wife passed this nurse got me involved with it and everyone was so warm. I also studied at the Newark Theological Seminary for two years.

You ask what I wish I had done differently in my life. That’s an old question in my family, and my answer is nothing. I probably would have screwed it up if I changed something.”

Interview conducted by New Jersey artist Janet Boltax for this exhibition.