WAR, PART 1
For My Grandson, Brenton
The Impact of a Childhood Friend on my Military Service
I was ten years old and the world was a much simpler place then. My best friend, Morton Ross, and I were both in Miss Kessler's 5th Grade Class in Orange Street School. We were in friendly competition for grades. Morton lived only two blocks from the school but I had never been to his home because we had so much fun on the school grounds at recess and after school; --- football, softball, dodge ball, cork ball, red rover, and some games we just made up. --- We were still in the Great Depression when our parents were struggling to make enough money just to put food on the table. At Christmas we were lucky to get one inexpensive toy so we pretty much had to make our own toys and our own good times.
That changed in an important way on Morton's birthday when his dad gave him a Chemcraft chemistry set. It wasn't much as chemistry sets go. It was in a cardboard box, the smallest, least expensive, set they made, with one test tube, litmus paper, a few safe chemicals, and about a dozen experiments. Doing things with test tubes and chemicals excited Morton's imagination and he invited me over to join him in the experiments. I started dropping hints everywhere and, at Christmas, I got a Chemcraft set of my own, the next step up from Morton's.
Soon, Morton and I were doing odd jobs and spending whatever change we could get our hands on for test tube racks, clamps, alcohol burners, and chemicals. It was amazing how many "chemicals" could be found right around the house --- ammonia, bicarbonate of soda, acetic acid (vinegar), sodium chloride (table salt) --- everywhere we looked there were chemicals.
It did not happen overnight but bit by bit, over a fairly long period of time, we began to build rather formidable "laboratories." Morton's lab was in his garage and mine on our closed-in back porch.
As we grew older, some of our experiments were down right dangerous and we were lucky that no serious injuries resulted because, by then, we were well past the simple experiments in the Chemcraft instruction books.
By the time we got into high school, we were devising increasingly exotic experiments and in need of chemicals not usually found around the house, like sulfuric, hydrochloric, and nitric acids. These could be purchased from a pharmacist if one established a friendly rapport, and that is how we got most of our chemicals, but it ate up all of our available funds and left nothing for dates, movies, or even an ice cream soda.
One day, I was having lunch at home and Morton arrived out of breath on his bike. "Quick, turn on the radio, WFOY." I did, just in time to hear a commercial spot for a pharmacy, Touchton's Drug Store, located near my home. The spot was called "The Touchton Tele Quiz" and the idea was simple. The radio station would play two bars of a "mystery tune" and the first person to arrive at Touchton's and tell the cashier the correct name of the tune got $5.00 worth of merchandise, free. That translated into $5.00 worth of chemicals.
Morton had immediately recognized the bonanza that was falling into our laps.
In those late-depression times, automobile radios were luxuries that few could afford and, with only one local radio station, even fewer would want, so my closeness to Touchton's gave us a decided edge. Every day at noon, Morton would come by and quite often we recognized the tune. A quick hop on our bikes, correct identification of the tune, a purchase of a few chemicals, a casual ice cream soda, and back to school for the afternoon classes became almost routine.
Then it all ended abruptly. Someone was consistently beating us there with the answers. We decided to check it out. There was a No Parking Zone on Touchton's side of the street but, there, parked directly across the street was a car with a chrome strip on stand-off insulators running down the center of the roof --- an antenna, ---- undoubtedly attached to the first automobile radio in town. Dirty pool. There was no way we could get here from my house ahead of him. Well, we figured that he couldn't know all of the tunes but he improved his chances by bringing several friends with him in the car and Morton and I had to pick up the crumbs on the few days when none of them knew the tune but we did. Those were not good times and our experiments suffered for lack of supplies.
Ever resourceful, Morton once again came through in the clutch. He found, in Popular Science Magazine, plans for a one-tube battery-powered radio built in a cigar box. He proposed that we build one, fasten it to one of our bikes and park on the sidewalk right at Touchton's door. We could separate the headset and each listen to one of the two headphones then quickly jump inside with the answer. The scheme worked beautifully and we were back in control.
But not for long. We still had to stay at our bike to listen while the guy with the car radio countered by sending someone to stand at and block the door. They would yell the answer over to him and he would jump inside ahead of us.
Undaunted, Morton proposed that we take our cigar box radio right into the drug store, drink a soda, listen for the "mystery tune" and be standing at the cashier's counter, paying our bill, when the tune played. This worked quite well and we had usually identified the tune before the others could relay the answer in from their car. The guy with the car radio yelled, "Foul!" and demanded that the rules of the Tele Quiz be changed, making it illegal to have a radio inside the drug store.
The owner, fearing the inevitable altercation, was considering dropping the Tele Quiz altogether.
Again, resourceful Morton came to the rescue. He proposed to the guys with the car radio that we not kill the goose that was laying our golden eggs, but take alternate days. He even offered them the odd days. That gave them an extra day in most months so they accepted and both sides prospered because $5.00 was a lot of money in those days.
Spurred by the success of our cigar box radio, our activities soon became involved more with electronics than chemistry, much to the relief of our respective neighbors who were becoming restive over the colorful and sometimes noisy chemical happenings.
Unfortunately, Touchton's did not sell electronic parts and, since we could only use the $5.00 credit in that store, we usually splurged our winnings on ice cream sodas, sundaes, or boxes of chocolates for our dates --- and chemistry soon faded into memory.
I quickly moved on to building a one-tube regenerative short-wave radio receiver. The parts came partly from the trash bin of a local radio repair shop. I wound the coils on oatmeal boxes and toilet tissue tubes and ordered the type 30 tube, some Litz wire, and a few special parts from the Allied Radio catalog. A regenerative receiver had a remarkable characteristic. It could be made to oscillate if the feedback was increased beyond a critical point, but if you stopped just a hair short of that point, it had exceedingly high gain and would make extremely weak signals quite audible. With that single tube I could pick up short-wave broadcasts from all over the world.
I was fascinated by what was happening in Europe at the time and lost a lot of sleep listening, into the wee hours of the morning, to the BBC.
Sometimes I monitored a German short-wave station that carried Hitler's important speeches, with English translation. I would mock his tirades in something that sounded like German, but wasn't, and I got very good at it. Occasionally, at parties, I would wet my hair and comb it down over one eye, then hold a short section of my comb under my nose and go into the act. The other kids would answer with Nazi salutes and a chorus of "Seig Heil"s. It seemed like innocent fun at the time. We considered Hitler to be just a joke and a prime candidate for the booby hatch.
I was listening to the BBC when it aired the first report of Germany's invasion of Poland. Suddenly, Hitler did not seem so funny anymore.
In order to earn a little extra cash, I worked on Sundays, picking up remote broadcasts from the First Methodist and Grace Methodist Churches for radio station WFOY. These broadcasts aired precisely at 11:00 a.m. every Sunday. Time did not concern me very much in those days and I had no watch. WFOY had no cue lines to these two locations so getting on the air on time presented a minor problem. I solved this by purchasing a cheap Ingersoll wrist watch. It set me back about $4.00 which, to me, was a lot of dough. It lost about three minutes a day but I would set it on WFOY's 10:00 a.m. time signal before I left home, then make a mental calculation of how much it lost in the next hour so we got on the air pretty much on time --- until the day I went to the beach and forget to take it off before going into the ocean. Goodbye Ingersoll. I never had very good luck with wrist watches. This was only the beginning.
In time, Morton's family moved to another house, somewhat closer to mine, and right next door to an amateur radio operator. Morton was intrigued and decided to get a "Ham" license of his own whereas, except for my regenerative short wave receiver, I was more interested in such things as making door openers controlled by electric eyes.
Morton was serious about getting a "Ham" license and bought a real short wave radio, a multi-band Hallicrafter receiver.
Part of the Ham license exam was copying and sending Morse code at a prescribed rate. I was not particularly interested in becoming a Ham, but Morton needed to practice his Morse code with someone and, once I recognized the benefit of tapping secret messages back and forth across a class room with our pencils, got into code practice with some degree of enthusiasm. One day, we had a substitute teacher who could also copy code. He quickly threw cold water on that activity.
Morton loaned me his Nilson and Hornung amateur radio license manual and I began studying for the technical part of the exam. He took the exam, got his Ham ticket, let me help him assemble his first one-tube transmitter using a type 6L6 tube, and together we raised his antenna. What an exciting event to work Australia the first night on the air with just a one-tube rig. Finally, I was hooked and was scheduled to take my license exam on a Monday, actually, Monday, December 8th, 1941.
The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Sunday, Dec. 7th, so needless to say, no amateur radio license exams were given on December 8th and all amateur radio activities were shut down for the duration.
The Torpedoed Tanker
Several months had gone by since Pearl Harbor and the war still seemed a long way off. There were the usual Saturday night gatherings at the Surfside Casino on Vilano Beach and the Beach Hotel next to the pier on St. Augustine Beach. Both were hangouts for the teenage crowds. There was no "live" music, just the offerings of juke boxes but those featured the records of Glenn Miller, Atie Shaw, Count Basie, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Duke Ellington, Harry James, Lionel Hampton, and the rest of the big bands. One couldn't ask for better dance music and it blared away as loudly as the real thing, with the relentlessly pounding bass that was characteristic of both the big bands and the juke boxes of the time. The dance floor at Surfside was unsurpassed and much larger than that at the Beach Hotel but at the Beach Hotel, the tables were scrunched up closer together and the ambiance was more intimate.
My date and I had danced for a couple of hours at Surfside and then moved on to the Beach Hotel. Some friends made room for us at their table and we were discussing the newly imposed blackout regulations.
All outdoor illumination, street lights, and neon signs were banned for the duration. All windows that could be seen from the ocean had to be painted black or covered at night by light-proof shutters. The purpose of these regulations was to eliminate the possibility of an enemy submarine detecting the presence of the shore-hugging freighters and tankers that were so important to the war effort.
Automobile headlights were painted black except for a tiny open triangle at the bottom of each lens. This provided no help for the driver. Its main purpose was to make the vehicle visible to pedestrians. Obviously, the usual speed limits were no longer safe so they were generally reduced to ten miles per hour after dark and five miles per hour in the busy area around the Plaza.
It was April 10, 1942. As a gag, I had devised a belt on which was mounted a battery, a switch, and a red bicycle tail light to make me visible to those blind drivers and I was wearing it at the time. My date and I got up to dance and I turned on my tail light.
Suddenly, two flashes of light found their way through the blackout provisions and into the darkened club. They were followed, in about ten seconds, by two explosions, loud enough to be heard over the pounding bass of the juke box.
I clicked off my tail light and we rushed outside to find out what had happened. There we were faced with a horrifying spectacle. About two miles out was a tanker, the Gulf America. It had apparently taken two torpedoes and was ablaze over the entire bow area. Burning oil was pouring into the sea. We could see the crew scurrying about on the deck and as the flames approached them they dove into the burning oil on the surface. We ran down to the beach and even out into the water, filled with a feeling of utter desperation and helplessness. We were waist-deep, fully-clothed filled with rage and pounding the surf with our fists, wanting to help but unable to do anything. Many got violently ill.
We watched as the tanker's stern rose into the air and then slowly slipped beneath the sea. All that was left was a huge area of burning oil. Eventually it broke up into patches. Over the next few hours, these extinguished one by one until there was no visible trace, --- no life boats, ---nothing.
Over the next few days, the beaches became covered with black sticky tar-like oil and debris. Framed pictures of loved ones and other personal items floated ashore, but worst of all were the horribly burned bodies of those helpless seamen who didn't have a chance.
Pearl Harbor seemed to be half way around the world, but this was happening right here. It was my first painful experience of the war.
A-12 or V-12, the Big Decision
While we were in high school, some officers from the Army and Navy came to the school and gave an exam to those who wanted to take it. Morton and I both recognized the fact that neither of us could afford college so we signed up for the exam. It was explained to us that there were two absolutely identical programs, the Army A-12 and the Navy V-12 programs. Those scoring high enough on the exam would qualify to be sent to college to study engineering because both services needed engineers.
We were told that, if we qualified, we would be permitted to select the college that we wished to attend. The application form had two boxes --- check one, Army or Navy. Mort and I had not conferred on this choice and it turned out that I checked Army and he checked Navy. Mine was a spur of the moment decision. At the time the choices seemed equal.
After a few months, Morton started getting all sorts of packets from the Navy, with more forms to fill out and eventually received notice that he had been accepted in the Navy V-12 program. Meanwhile, I received nothing and assumed that I had not scored well enough on the exam. Then one day, I received an envelope. There was no accompanying letter but the envelope contained a small yellow card stating that I had been selected for the A-12 Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP). Only one instruction was printed on the card, "Give this card to the interviewing officer when you are inducted into service."
As it would turn out, Morton's insistence that I learn Morse code would significantly affect my military career.
Civil Defense Activities
I soon got involved in Civil Defense activities, helping Mr. Crookshank, my high school chemistry teacher, who conducted gas defense classes, and joining the Aircraft Warning Service (AWS). In the AWS, I took several four-hour night shifts a week.
My spotting post, designated K-63, was located at the bridge tender's shack on a rickety old wooden draw bridge connecting the mainland to Vilano Beach. Initially, the bridge tender and the AWS spotters were alone out there but we were soon joined by others intent on guarding the bridge against all possible intrusions. The number of guards on the bridge grew in number and they soon got in one another's way, checking out everyone who crossed the bridge in either direction. The situation might be described as overkill. There was a soldier, a sailor (Navy), a Coast Guardsman, a Marine, and a member of the U.S. Border Patrol. Luckily, the Air Corps was still part of the Army at that time or we probably would have had an Airman, as well.
If the night was chilly, the guards took turns sitting in the warmth of the bridge tender's shack, but I had to stay outside for my entire shift, except when I briefly called in reports of aircraft in the vicinity.
There was a special phone in the shack connected directly to the AWS plotting board operators. The location of that board was a well-kept secret. When aircraft were spotted, I would pick up the special phone and a female voice would say, "Report."
The report followed strict guidelines. A typical report might go something like this, "One, multi, high, seen, Kay-six-three, south, three, west." This told a lot. It translated into "One multi-engine aircraft at a high altitude, was seen from Post K-63; it was located south of the spotting post approximately three miles and headed west."
Most of the reports were routine but there was provision for reporting unusual events. For example, the sinking of the tanker off St.Augustine Beach could have been seen from this post and was probably reported by the spotter on duty that night. In a case like this, the spotter answered the "Report" command with, "Red Flash!" After a brief pause another voice came on the line, "This is the Red Flash operator. Authenticate." At that point we gave an authentication code that changed from time to time. If the code was correct, the next thing heard was, "Report." To the extent possible, we were supposed to follow the aircraft reporting procedure, substituting, for the aircraft description, the unusual thing seen or heard.
It started out as a pretty routine night. A few planes were reported flying due south, probably commercial airliners.
The Coast Guard had recently taken over the world class Ponce de Leon Hotel for a boot camp training station (really tough duty). The Coast Guard had outfitted a deep sea fishing boat with a spotlight and converted it into a harbor patrol boat. I believe that this was the first night on which that boat patrolled the harbor.
Ever since the start of the war, the shrimp boats, in fact all boats, had to be back in port by sundown because their running lights might be eclipsed by a passing freighter or tanker, revealing the ship's presence to a German submarine lurking offshore. By this time many freighters and tankers had been sunk along the entire eastern seaboard so the threat was very real.
The patrol boat caught our attention as it churned up the bay toward the new harbor entrance channel. This was the first nighttime activity on the water that any of us had seen since we had been involved in our various duties, so we all stood at the rail watching it, only mildly curious.
When the patrol boat came abreast of the entrance channel, its searchlight suddenly came on. It struck us all that this action could be fatal to any passing ship and we became acutely alert. The searchlight swept across the channel slowly, then swung back, paused and then instantly extinguished. The patrol boat turned around sharply and then headed back into port at full speed.
In that brief moment of pause before the searchlight went out, we all saw it. The searchlight had illuminated the deck, deck gun and conning tower of a German submarine. Submarines of that day had to surface frequently to charge their batteries. This operation generated poisonous fumes so it was essential that this be done on the surface where the interior of the submarine could be ventilated. This was always a risky operation in hostile waters because a surfaced sub was very vulnerable to attack.
The commander of this submarine had apparently observed the inlet for some time and, noting that there was no traffic in or out after sundown, decided that it would be safer to surface right in the inlet channel than to surface on the open ocean.
The crew was scurrying about on the deck and we wondered if they might take a shot at the retreating patrol boat with the deck gun but the sub captain obviously decided that his presence was already known and that his best course of action was to get out to sea and submerge as quickly as possible.
The guards (Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine, and Border Patrol) all huddled to decide what they should do. It appeared that they had no instructions for incidents like this, no special phone line, and none of them had radios.
The AWS came to their rescue. I grabbed the special phone and upon hearing, "Report," shouted, "RED FLASH!"
The Red Flash operator asked for authentication, which I gave her, and then she said, "Report."
I probably stammered a bit but my report ran something like this, "One German submarine, low --- very low --- on the surface ---seen, Kay six three, southeast, one, stationary."
For a moment there was dead silence on the line, then she said, "A what?"
"A German submarine!"
After a pause she said, "Repeat report."
I did, pretty much the same as the first except eliminating the reference to its altitude which, with hindsight, seemed ludicrous.
Another pause. Then a stern male voice came on the line, "Is there anyone there who can verify this report."
I replied," Yes, I have personnel here from the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marines, and U.S. Border Patrol --- and the bridge tender. We all saw it."
The voice said, "Put on the Navy."
I put the petty officer on and, after a brief exchange in which he gave his name, rank and serial number, he verified my report and answered several questions concerning the details of what he saw. The conversation ended and the sailor hung up. That solved one mystery for me. It's just a guess, but they trusted the Navy guy so the secret plotting board was probably at some naval base in Jacksonville.
We all stared at the inlet trying to make out the outline of the sub but it was too dark and he was very likely backing out of there as fast as possible.
It took about a half an hour for it to start but eventually several flights of five or six planes each flew over the ocean near the inlet and dropped bombs. They didn't sound very loud. We all discussed it and decided that they were probably practice bombs with very light charges, not likely to blow a sub out of the water unless they scored a direct hit. I got so interested in the activities that I almost forgot to call in the reports on the flights of planes but I did call in another "Red Flash" when the planes dropped flares and the bombing started.
They didn't get the sub. It made a clean getaway.
Shortly after this incident a long time friend, Kenneth Beeson (later to become mayor of St.Augustine), was out in his boat and returned to port towing a German rubber raft. It later developed that it was one of the rafts used to land saboteurs at Ponte Vedra. These saboteurs were landed from the same sub that also landed a group of saboteurs on Long Island.
All of them were caught before they were able to do any damage thanks to the courage and intelligent actions of a Coast Guardsman on the beach on Long Island.
It is not clear whether the sub that surfaced in the entrance channel to the St.Augustine harbor was the one that dropped off the saboteurs or was one involved in sinking coastal shipping.
Whatever it was, it gave us all an exciting evening.
Incidentally, there was no mention of this event in the local papers. Presumably, some authority thought that this story was best untold. After all, we did not want the citizens of this sleepy city to know that a sub (or subs) had been surfacing, with impunity, right in our harbor entrance channel. That would surely have played havoc with local morale.
For more,see: ADDENDA , Submarine Update.
A Most Unusual "Educational" Opportunity
During my senior year in high school, I attended classes in the morning and, in the afternoon, worked as an electrician's apprentice, for Crutchfield Handly Electric Co., an electrical contractor.
The minimum wage at that time was 25 cents an hour. For this work, I received 12½ cents an hour (half the minimum wage) but I also received high school credits in the Diversified Cooperative Training (DCT) program.
I was about to get an education never envisioned by the educators who devised the DCT program.
Camp Blanding had opened up just a few miles away and was busily training infantry divisions for combat. These troops needed weekend recreation. St. Augustine with its world-class beaches was an ideal spot to relax after a hard week on the firing range and obstacle course. In addition, there were several Navy bases around Jacksonville so lots of sailors visited St.Augustine on the weekends, as well.
Convoys of five hundred (and sometimes more) army trucks, loaded with soldiers, came to town every weekend. A tent city was set up behind the Recreation Center to provide adequate, if Spartan, sleeping accommodations for them. The USO did its best to provide a good time, but some of the troops coming to town had more on their minds than the USO and the beaches.
One of the local madames, known only as "Billie" saw a potential bonanza in this situation and, as a patriotic citizen, she felt that it was her duty to help in the war effort by doing something for the boys in service. Her problem was that she had always run her business in a house in West Augustine that had several bedrooms, sufficient for her local customers, but totally inadequate to handle this enormous influx of servicemen every weekend.
Billie quickly grasped the situation and took pencil in hand to devise a facility that could handle this large volume of customers. By the time the electrical contractor for whom I worked got involved in her project, she had already leased a plot of land running all the way through the block, close to her house, and fronting on Travis Street.
Billie planned to be her own general contractor, subcontracting the electrical, plumbing, carpentry work, and painting, as needed. There would be no bids. She knew the reputations of the local trades and had already made up her mind as to who would do the work.
She called Crutchfield, discussed the general scope of her project with him, and asked him to come by to go over the plans. I was assembling some electrical fixtures when Crutchfield said, "Stop what you are doing and come with me. We have a job that ought to be very interesting."
Crutchfield did not elaborate on the nature of the job so what happened while we were there caught me pretty much by surprise.
Billie invited us into the kitchen where she unrolled a set of drawings on the kitchen table. She had made them herself and, while she would never qualify as an architect, the drawings conveyed the essence of her plan quite well.
It was not easy to keep my mind on the plans because from time to time, her "girls," as she called them, would wander in and out of the kitchen dressed only in filmy see-through sleeping attire with nothing underneath. My boss had difficulty paying attention, too.
Billie was a very practical woman who had some knowledge about lumber. She wanted this facility to go up quickly and cheaply. Her plan was designed around the ¾ inch four foot by eight foot plywood sheet. It was her intention that, wherever possible, there would be no time wasted sawing wood. The plywood sheets would be used as-is for almost all of the construction so everything was designed in 4 by 8 foot modules.
The facility, as she envisioned it, would be built like this. Running parallel to Travis Street, she planned an open shed 48 feet long, to keep the troops out of the sun and the usual Florida afternoon showers. Long before they showed up in such places as the World's Fair and Disney Land, she planned a series of swinging gates that could be used to ensure an orderly flow toward the main entrance. If the line was short, the gates could be arranged to allow for that but if there were many customers, the gates could be arranged to organize a serpentine cue that flowed back and forth under the shed, eventually arriving at the entrance. At each end of the shed she planned to have a Coke machine, in case the troops got thirsty.
According to her plans, upon entering the main entrance, the customer faced the cash register. Off to his right was a sixteen foot square room which served a dual purpose, which I will get to later.
Looking beyond the cash register was a long spaciously wide entrance aisle. (She planned to mirror-image the interior facility if business conditions dictated. However, she planned to keep the shed and main entrance common to the entire facility). Along the right side of this aisle was a set of upper and lower berths similar to those in a Pullman car. Each berth had heavy draw curtains and a generous 4 by 8 foot interior. She planned to have a local mattress manufacturer make extra large mattress pads for the berths. Two sets of berths constituted what she called a "quad." On the opposite or exit aisle from each "quad" was a 16 by 16 foot room containing a real double bed, a partly concealed toilet in one corner, an inexpensive 5-drawer chest of drawers, a small table with two chairs, and a wash basin with mirror.
Down the main entrance aisle there were six "quads," each sixteen feet long, containing a total of 24 berths. Across the exit aisle from each "quad" was a 16 by 16 foot square bedroom like the one described above. There were six bed rooms in all.
Crutchfield asked Billie to explain how it would all work and, turning to me, said, "Pay attention. This is the part you will probably design."
Another one of the skimpily clad girls came into the kitchen for a glass of water and distracted me again.
After regaining our attention, Billie described how it would all work, "Lets say it's the weekend and a lot of soldiers are in town. They are all cued up under the shed and I am open for business. A soldier or sailor boy comes in and steps up to the cash register. If he looks to his right, he will see the 16 by 16 foot area where I am accommodating the Military Police (MPs) and Shore Patrol ( SPs). The serviceman will know that no nonsense will be tolerated here. They will make sure that this is an orderly place."
"At the cash register he plunks down two bucks and gets a ticket. One ticket is good for three minutes or get finished, whichever comes first. The cashier looks at a panel of colored lights next to the cash register. Down the aisle, there is a small sign identifying each berth. Each sign also has three tally lights next to it. They are red, green, and yellow. Red means the girl is there and engaged. Green means she's is there and ready. Yellow means she is on her break. Those lights will be repeated on the cashiers tally-light panel. The girls will rotate, getting a 15 minute break each hour. During their break they can retire to the bedroom across the exit aisle to relax. On a regular weekend, each girl will have her own berth and one berth will always be empty in each quad, but on a really busy weekend I will call up the reserves, so to speak, and all of the berths will be in use at all times. Then, there will be five girls for each quad. The girls will still get a break every hour but when a girl returns from her break, she will go to whatever berth is opening up. Each of the girls working a quad would be assigned a drawer in the chest of drawers in the room adjacent to her quad. She will keep her street cloths, makeup, personal items, and whatever in her drawer."
Crutchfield interrupted, "Wait a minute. You're going too fast. I've got a couple of questions."
Billie was impatient, "Whatever they are, I've probably already thought of them. Let me finish and if you still have questions, OK. Where was I? Oh yeah, I'll bet that you were going to ask when the guy gets a chance to look over the girls and pick one. Well, he doesn't. That's over for the duration. The cashier directs the guy to go to a berth with a green light, lets say, Four Upper, when he opens the curtain, what he sees is what he gets. She might be nice or she might be a dog but what can I do? You can't always get beauty queens for this business. OK, he climbs into Four Upper and there is a handle on the curtain like in a voting booth. When he grabs the handle and closes the curtain, the timer starts."
"Oh, I forgot to tell you. When he climbs in, he will be looking at a large three-minute timer mounted over the girl's head."
She got out a timer she had purchased and showed us. It was about a foot in diameter. The face was divided into three equal pie-shaped one-minute segments. She started the clock and it ticked off the seconds quite audibly.
"God, what pressure. How can a guy ever expect to finish in three minutes, especially while staring at that clock?"
"I'm sure most of them will get done in time, but if they don't, out they go, Unless---."
"Unless they bought more than one ticket, as insurance, in which case, they give the girl another ticket; she restarts the timer and they keep going. If a guy isn't sure he can finish quickly, he should buy several tickets."
"But what if he doesn't use all of his tickets, does he get his money back?"
"No, but we treat him right. The ticket has no expiration date and can even be used by someone else. I don't care. A customer is a customer. The ticket can be used any time. We like satisfied return customers so we treat 'em right. Anyone with a previously purchased ticket doesn't have to wait in the long line. He can get in the --- didn't I tell you about it? --- the express line and will be the next one in."
"You probably noticed that there are two separate aisles, one ‘in' and one ‘out'. A guy rolls in one side of the berth and out the other. This avoids any possible traffic congestion problems. At the far end of both aisles there is a common restroom and clean-up area and across the street, I am going to put up a building that I plan to donate for a Pro Station. I already have a lease option on the lot. Neat, huh?"
"It doesn't seem very private. Everyone will hear what's going on in the adjacent berths."
"That's the whole idea. It will get them more aroused and speed up the process. The girls are paid on the basis of the number of tickets they turn in at the end of their shift. Also, this payment arrangement discourages the girls from giving a guy a little extra time when the clock runs out on him. No tickee no ---well, you know."
"But what about your regular customers, the local Johns? They aren't going to tolerate this two-dollar three-minute ticket business with no chance to mingle with the girls and pick out one for the night."
"Right, and this war won't last forever so I've got to treat them right, too. Here is how that will work. Remember though, they will pay a bit more than the special rate I'm giving our servicemen. Lets say it's a week night. You wouldn't believe the high class guys that come here --- doctors, --- judges, --- lawyers, --- you name it --- even some preachers. Hell, we even get cops --- no charge for them--- it avoids hassles --- part of the cost of doing business. If any of the town bums show up we won't take them. I chase them over to "Big Margaret's"down the road. I run a high class place and I plan to keep it that way.
"OK, lets say a local muckety muck arrives." Billie points to one of her drawings. "See this room by the entrance where the MPs and SPs stay on the weekend? Well, the girls will be in there to mingle and socialize before the local John picks out one that pleases him. Now, see the rooms where the girls take their breaks on the weekends? Well, the John takes his girl to one of those rooms. Its comfortable, its private, and he can spend as much time as he negotiated for, --- on whatever activity he negotiated for."
Billie smiled and boasted, with obvious pride, "It will be the most efficient cat house in the world."
She then asked, "How soon can you work up an estimate? I want to get started on this as soon as possible."
Crutchfield gave her a date by which he expected to give her the numbers, rolled up his set of drawings, and we left. He was sure he would get the job so he had me design and build the tally light system. After all, at 12½ cents an hour, the price was right.
He sent her the estimate but before she gave the OK to proceed, I was inducted into the army.
I cannot honestly say that the facility was actually ever built. I served my hitch in the army, went to college, got married and then lived in New York for my entire civilian career. It was nearly fifty years before I finally retired and returned to St.Augustine.
One day, curiosity got the best of me and I drove over to Travis Street to see if the building was still standing. There was no trace of it. It would have been as temporary as an army barracks. Perhaps it was torn down when it had outlived its usefulness. Maybe Billie finished the project, maybe not. She seemed very enthusiastic and determined at the time.
I somehow think that I helped design, and that she actually did build and operate, "the most efficient cat house in the world."
Camp Blanding, Florida, Induction Center, July 1943
I was inducted into service at Camp Blanding, Florida on June 28, 1943. Camp Blanding was probably like all other induction centers. A lot of things had to be done to process a bunch of civilians into something vaguely resembling soldiers and sailors. Physical exams were given and uniforms issued. I was given a set of stainless steel dog tags to wear at all times. They were embossed with my name, religious preference (P), blood type (B+), and my serial number, 34788981. The latter was to distinguish me from all of the other Anderson Pierce Evans Jr.(s) in the Army. Army inductees had to take the Army General Classification Test (AGCT) which was sort of an IQ test. A score of 110 or better was required to qualify for Officer Candidate School, and a score of 120 or better was needed to qualify for ASTP. The officers didn't tell us about this additional requirement when we took the initial test back in high school but I scored a 138 on the AGCT, so no problem.
We were issued uniforms (both "suntans" and fatigues), boots, socks, leggings, underwear, raincoats, mess kits, canteens, and a pile of other impedimenta, along with two barracks bags, an "A" bag and a "B" bag, to keep it all in. Specific things were supposed to go into each bag but no one could remember what went into which.
We were supposed to get two sets of green herringbone twill fatigue uniforms but they issued me only one set and said that I would get the other set later. We wore fatigues as our work uniform every day. With only one set, I had to wash them every night and put them on wet every morning. Well, I assumed that this would probably end in a few days when I would be issued another set. I was wrong.
At the induction center there were a few guys who had been in the Army for two or three days already. They had already been processed except for their shipping orders so they were given black arm bands with corporal stripes on them and made "acting" corporals to prod us along through the processing. We called them "Hollywood" corporals.
Every morning, at reveille, a Hollywood corporal would show up and ask a question like, "Who would rather be a ‘G-Man' than doing what you are doing right now?" Anyone dumb enough to raise his hand spent the day collecting garbage and in July that was a pretty rotten assignment.
The first lesson you learned in the Army was NEVER VOLUNTEER.
Hollywood corporal "Mess Police" stood at the garbage cans and if anyone did not have a clean tray after chow he was sent back to clean it up. One recruit got caught scraping food off his tray under his table. He was told that at evening mess he would have to eat his food off the floor. When he complained that the floor was dirty, they made him scrub it with GI soap and a brush until it was clean enough to eat off of. Then, after he ate off of it he had to scrub the mess hall floor again. The second lesson learned was TAKE ALL YOU WANT, BUT EAT ALL YOU TAKE.
At Camp Blanding, I learned about another kind of volunteer called a "GI volunteer." There is not much you can do to defend against it. A Hollywood corporal showed up after breakfast and said, "I need three volunteers, You, you, and you." The three "you's" were GI volunteers. He put us on a truck and took us to a muddy football field. He said, "Today you are going to be engineers. Drive this stake right here. Tie this string to it and follow me." We did it, unrolling the string for about a hundred and fifty yards and he said, "Drive another stake here and tie the string to it, pulling it tight. O.K., our problem is that this field doesn't get adequate runoff after a heavy rain. You are going to engineer a solution to that problem. Here is a shovel for each of you. Dig a ditch under that string, three feet wide and three feet deep. At chow time I will go to the mess hall and get you a baloney and cheese sandwich and refill your canteens. You can have a ten minute break every hour but we are going to stay here until that ditch is finished so get to it, and neatness counts."
After that, I tried to make myself scarce when Hollywood corporals were around.
After several days at the Induction Center, I was called into the office of a 1st Lieutenant. He had my orders on the desk in front of him and was just starting to give them to me when I remembered the small yellow card. Luckily, I had remembered to put it in my shirt pocket.
"Are you the interviewing officer?" I asked.
He nodded, "Yes."
"Then I think I'm supposed to give you this." I withdrew the card from the pocket of my still wet fatigues and handed it to him. It was damp but readable.
He took one look at it and then ripped my freshly-typed orders to shreds. After an unprintable epithet, he growled, "Why didn't you give this to me earlier?"
"Because, Sir, I have never seen you before in my entire life, Sir."
"O.K., O.K., Don't be a smart ass. Get out of here and come back in exactly one hour."
I went back in an hour and new orders had been cut. I was going to North Camp Hood, Texas for basic training along with a bunch of other inductees headed for a regiment to be composed, except for officers and cadre, of all ASTP candidates.
The Train Ride to Texas
On this trip, we would, for the first time, be out in public as soldiers so we had to put on our ill-fitting suntans and the wet fatigues went into one of my barracks bags. New army clothing was covered with tags inside and out. No matter how hard you tried to remove them all, when you first wore newly issued army clothing there was always at least one tag sticking out someplace where it was invisible to you but not to anyone else. We had not yet become expert at tag removal so we spent a lot of time picking tags off of one another like a colony of grooming monkeys.
The trip to Texas was going to take two days. First, one member of our group was given a manila envelope containing the orders, train tickets, and meal tickets for our group. Harrison D. Griffin from Deland was given our envelope and the task of guarding it with his life and the rest of us were ordered to stick to him like glue. Both Harrison and Bert F. "Rebel" Erwin (from Winter Haven) soon became good friends of mine.
Dragging our "A" and "B" bags, we were loaded onto a troop train with hundreds of other new recruits headed for bases all over the United States. That train took us only as far as Jacksonville where everyone detrained and each group found the train that would take it to its destination or, at least, start us in the right direction.
Actually, our train took us from Jacksonville to Memphis. We changed trains there and boarded another headed for New Orleans where we changed trains for the final time and boarded a train, destination Waco, Texas. All of these trains made many stops, sometimes for an hour or more. The most noteworthy of those stops was in Texarkana on the Texas-Arkansas border. We used one of our meal tickets in a track-side diner. All of us had chili. For the rest of the trip, all of us had diarrhea, or as the Army called it, "The GIs."
"Rebel" Erwin immediately went on a foraging expedition, took the packets of toilet paper from the toilets in all of the cars on the train, and gave each of us a packet to hide in our "B" Bag. By the time we got to Waco "the GIs" had pretty much run its course but we were each down to the last few sheets in our packets --- and very thankful to "Rebel" for his resourcefulness.
The trains we rode in were quaint by even the standards of 1943. There were comfortable diesel air-conditioned streamliners on all lines (the East Coast Champion, The Silver Meteor, the Santa Fe Chief, just to mention a few), but the trains we rode on were all pulled by steam engines and were not air conditioned. The only way to cope with the summer heat was to open the windows. From years of operation with the windows open, the soot and cinders and black smoke from the engine was ground into the seat cushions and covered the floors so thickly that there was no way to tell if they had ever been any color other than black.
There were no lights in any of the cars so there was nothing to do after dark but talk or try to get some sleep on the floor. Each car had a potbelly stove and a box of wood at each end, which obviously served no function in July other than to make it difficult to move about. Each of the trains that we boarded had started its journey somewhere else so by the time we got on, all of the seats were taken. We had to sit in the aisle on our "A" and "B" bags, further hampering movement.
During one leg of the trip we rode in a unique car. It apparently had been a private car at some time in the distant past. Each window was set off by an intricately carved mahogany frame. Though dingy, there were superbly executed paintings on the narrow wood panels between the windows and on a pair of panels that seemed to have been a wall with a door, long since removed, enabling one end of the car to be closed off from the other end. The ceilings were covered with paintings on concave wood panels. There were also gas light chandeliers that probably were hooked up to gas mains whenever the private car was on a siding. That car must have been a real showplace in its day. Who could have owned such a car?
North Camp Hood, Texas, Basic Training
Several army trucks were waiting for us when we arrived in Waco, in the early hours of the morning. We climbed aboard and were soon in a casual area set aside for incoming recruits. We were marched to a supply room where we were issued a mattress and, struggling to handle our "A" and "B" bags and our mattresses, were marched to a barracks where the lights were off.
It was 4:00 a.m.
The sergeant said, "Find a spot to flop for the night and we will sort you out after reveille."
There were no bunks and the barracks was already pretty well filled with other recruits who had arrived earlier although it was so dark that we couldn't see them. We stumbled around in the dark, falling all over those guys, but, eventually finding open spots big enough for our mattresses, we hit the sack.
Then it was 4:30, reveille, and before we could even get our eyes shut the shrill sound of the sergeant's whistle jarred us back to life.
We immediately double timed to a medical building, without breakfast, although none of us were sure whether or not we could handle breakfast, anyway.
We stood at the entrance to the dispensary in an unmoving line for five hours until 9:45 when the line slowly started into the building. (Hurry-up-and-wait soon became a way of life in the army). Once inside, it was hard to believe the conditions. About two thirds of the recruits were sitting haphazardly all over the floor with their heads between their knees. They were as pale as ghosts. The other third was passed out cold on the floor. I found myself between two medics wearing white lab coats and holding long ugly hypodermic needles.
I received a shot in each arm.
One was a tetanus shot. In those days, this was made from a serum taken from horses. The human body did not like to be invaded by horse serum and it took a substantial amount of it to be effective. The guy giving that one had a big syringe with a large diameter needle.
In my case, the reaction was slightly delayed. I took several steps toward the exit and was half way through thinking, "Gee, that wasn't too bad," when it felt like someone had taken a full swing at my shoulder with a base ball bat. It literally knocked me across the room but I found myself still on my feet staggering out the exit. The problem with the guys on the floor was mostly psychological. The first two or three had really bad reactions and everyone who followed expected the same.
When the man behind me saw that I made it out the door on my own two feet (but just barely), he managed to do the same and after that, most but not all, of the guys made it without passing out.
I figured that there was a lesson there and for the rest of my army life I saw it work over and over again. It only takes one man to get up and get things moving even though he may not have the foggiest notion where he is going or why.
Later, during combat, a lot of the men who got things moving got medals (but there were no medals handed out in basic training for getting the line finally moving out of the dispensary).
Basic training was jam packed with new experiences for everyone.
There was a contingent of German prisoners of war on work details at North Camp Hood. They were from the Afrika Korps, some of General Rommel's best, and we saw first hand what we might be up against. They were blond with deep tans, muscular, in excellent physical condition. They marched with spirit and double timed whenever they passed a group of GIs on a break. They proudly sang German marching songs and behaved in every way like the victors rather than the vanquished. We looked pretty puny by comparison.
If they were representative of the entire German army, we were in for a long hard war.
Basic training was thirteen weeks of a hot sweaty blur of activity.
Close order drill, a combat conditioning course with machineguns firing overhead, hand-to-hand combat, double timing everywhere, field stripping and cleaning weapons, barracks scrub down with GI soap and brushes, lectures on everything from personal hygiene to military courtesy, KP, obstacle courses, especially one with an aptly-named final obstacle, "puke hill", guard duty, written exams,bayonet drill, orientation movies, fatigue detail, manual of arms, village fighting, KP, days on the firing range, firing for record with the rifle (a pre-World War I Enfield bolt-action rifle),light machine gun, 45 caliber automatic pistol, Thompson sub machine gun, hand grenade, and M-3 "grease gun" ("Rebel" Erwin was a crack shot and scored Expert on everything); written examinations; guard duty; gas mask drills; bivouacs; KP; digging foxholes; KP; inspections; night problems; attack and defense; ---(everything done "in the following manner" and "by the numbers"); more guard duty; still more written exams; and dirty fighting and booby trap school (one of my favorites). ~~~and did I mention KP?
Our bayonet and dirty-fighting instructor was a cocky strutting 1st Lieutenant, who wore snug custom-tailored shirts, machine-stitched with sharp military creases, three down the back and two in front. He swaggered about waving a riding crop that he slapped against his riding breeches (there was no horse to be seen anywhere) when he wanted to emphasize a point. He wore leather cavalry boots and tight yellow pigskin riding gloves. He clenched his fists open and shut as he lectured. After a few dirty fighting classes he quickly earned the nickname "Blood and Gloves." He lectured from a raised platform about six feet off the ground with his audience seated on the ground looking up it him. He was an imposing authority figure, looking down at us like that, and this was his personal theater in the round.
In one dirty-fighting lecture, he asked a volunteer to show, in slow motion, how to poke his eyes out. The volunteer jabbed his separated first and middle fingers straight at the instructor's eyes. The Lieutenant put his right hand in a position in which he appeared to be thumbing his nose at the volunteer. As the volunteer's separated fingers straddled his hand, he closed his hand around one finger and bent it upwards and backwards, bringing the volunteer to his knees. Blood and Gloves then came up with a knee that would have crushed the volunteer's face if this had been done at normal speed. As it was, the volunteer got a badly swollen lip.
"OK, We are not playing kids' games here," yelled Blood and Gloves. (He prefaced almost everything with, "OK.")
"OK, In a real combat situation he would have more than a fat lip. He would be dead. When you go for the enemy's eyes, go scratching and gouging with all fingers of both hands. When you get fingers into both eye sockets, hook them around the eyeballs, pull them out on the cords, twirl them around and around and then plop them back into their sockets. It will make them so dizzy that you can kill them any way you choose. Personally, I would gut them or slit their throats, but if you like some other way, use it."
"O.K. I want another volunteer. You!" He pointed his riding crop at a GI who was nodding off in the front row. "And bring your rifle and bayonet."
The "GI volunteer" apprehensively climbed up onto the platform. "OK, fix bayonet and try to stick me."
We practiced bayonet drills with our scabbards on the bayonets for safety so the GI volunteer fixed his bayonet but left the scabbard on.
"Bare that blade soldier, I want to see cold steel."
"But, sir ----."
"No buts soldier. Get that scabbard off and stick me."
Blood and Gloves pulled his leather gloves on tight and assumed a defensive posture.
"OK! Stick me! Don't take it easy on me! Stick me, damn it, stick me!"
The GI lunged, tentatively, at Blood and Gloves with a long thrust. The Lieutenant sidestepped and neatly parried the bayonet with his gloved hand. Quicker that the eye could see how he did it, the bayonet speared into the deck of the platform and the GI flipped high into the air coming down awkwardly. With a sickening snap his left leg broke midway between the knee and the ankle. He cried out in pain. The knife-sharp end of the bone penetrated the muscle of his calf and punched through his skin and the fabric of his fatigues and partially penetrated his thick canvas legging. His wound was bleeding profusely.
The rifle rocked slowly back and forth on the flexing bayonet blade imbedded deeply into the platform.
Blood and Gloves looked briefly at the GI's leg and shouted, "OK! Call the meat wagon --- and give me another volunteer!"
The dirty fighting course was not all lectures and demonstrations. We got a lot of hands-on training as well. During these sessions we would line up in two facing lines and pair off. At his signal we would charge at one another screaming, "Kick 'em in the balls!"
If it wasn't done to his satisfaction, he would come down from his platform and show you how to do it.
Blood and Gloves was a frightening opponent for raw recruits but we always wondered how he would have fared against a real enemy, like a Jap trained from birth in the martial arts.
It was a hot steamy day when we had a demolitions lecture and demonstration under a grove of trees. It was good to get out of the sun for a change. We learned how to safely handle and properly use dynamite, blocks of tri-nitro-toluene (TNT), Composition "C," primacord, blasting caps, fuses, and flashless fuse ignitors. Here we learned that dynamite, a very stable explosive if properly stored and handled, is nothing more than sawdust or a fine clay soaked with nitroglycerine (by itself, a very unstable explosive). Teams of us unwrapped dynamite sticks and stuffed GI socks with the raw dynamite and composition "C." Nitro, absorbed through our sweaty skin, gave us nasty headaches. We smeared the socks with heavy axle grease and jammed fused blasting caps into them.
The finished product was called a sticky grenade. GIs had two other names for it, a "blivit" (derivation unknown) and "two pounds of feces in a one pound bag." The idea was simple. A GI armed with a sticky grenade would crouch in his foxhole as an enemy tank approached, light the fuse with a flashless fuse ignitor, and throw the grenade against the body of the tank. If all went well, the grenade would stick to the body of the tank long enough to explode before it fell off the tank. If it stuck to the tank body, at the moment of explosion it would blast a hole in the tank and the occupants would be killed by shrapnel ricocheting around inside the tank. (No one explained how we would just happen to have a spare GI sock, several pounds of dynamite or composition "C," a blasting cap, a fuse, a fuse ignitor, and a big can of axle grease in our foxhole but the point was ---- improvise!)
The class ended with a practical demonstration. One person from each team got the honor of throwing his team's grenade at a crippled beat-up old half track, from the shelter of a previously prepared trench.
The one thing we worried about was the wisdom of staying in a foxhole as it was about to be run over by a tank. The next day we had an exercise designed to relieve our fears. We marched out to an area where foxholes had already been dug. Each of us was assigned to a hole and given a GI sock to fill with sand, simulating a sticky grenade. As we crouched in our holes, a light tank came straight at us. Someone yelled, "OK, let's see you nail that tank with your blivit."
Most of us threw prematurely and missed the tank completely but "Rebel" Erwin waited until the last second and threw his right at the narrow slit that the tank driver used to see where he was going. It hit the sharp edges of the slit; the bag ripped open; and the tank driver got a face full of sand.
The tank driver saw "Rebel" duck back into his foxhole and headed straight at him. The tanker ran one tread of the tank directly on top of "Rebel's" foxhole and idled for a few seconds then he spun the tank on that tread pouring dirt in on top of him. Bert had a lot of dirt down his collar but eventually emerged unharmed. The demonstration was probably much more effective than originally intended. It became clear to everyone. Stay in your foxhole and let the enemy tanks run over you. You'll be all right.
Every day was a new adventure. Events all ran together in the frantic attempt to make soldiers out of raw recruits and, through it all, I had only one pair of fatigues that got caked with salt and mud and had to be washed every night and put on wet the next day. The supply sergeant at North Camp Hood insisted that Camp Blanding should have issued them and refused to issue another pair.
Two of the most popular items in the Post Exchange (PX) were Chapstick (to protect against the merciless Texas sun) and Kotex. The latter was pinned inside fatigue jackets to protect delicate shoulders against the bruising kick of those Enfield rifles during the long days on the rifle range firing line.
Since our last names were, alphabetically, close together, John Donlan, "Rebel" Erwin, Bob Enterline, Gustav Enyedy, Harrison Griffin, and I often wound up in the same groups organized for one purpose or another. As a result, our friendships grew and we helped one another through the tough parts.
Weekend passes were rare but when they came, two or three of us usually went to "Big D" (Dallas) together and just hung out at Fair Park, a huge amusement park next to the Cotton Bowl. Rebel would wear his Expert marksmanship medal with bars hanging half way down to his waist to impress the girls. After breaking the ice, he even managed to line up a few dates for himself for the following weekend but usually gave someone else's name, rather than his own, because he knew his chances of getting passes two weekends in a row were nil.
During all of this we caught a lot of flack about the AGCT scores we had made. As noted earlier, an AGCT Test score of at least 110 was needed to qualify for Officer Candidate School (OCS) but a score of at least 120 was required for ASTP. We were called the "Hi I's" and must have heard at least a hundred times, "So you guys are supposed to be ten points smarter than an officer --- Well, we'll see about that."
Our Company commander, Capt. Broyles, once dressed us down after a badly performed night reconnaissance exercise, and ended his tirade with, "You are the smartest damn men but the dumbest damn soldiers I have ever encountered in my entire military career."
We were frequently brought in from the obstacle course caked with mud, seated at a desk in an oven-hot barracks, and given additional exams covering every conceivable subject.
At one of those exams I was given a form to pick the college that I wanted to attend.
I picked Duke University.
Our ranks started thinning out as guys were shipped out to parts unknown. Eventually, what started out as a full regiment had dwindled down to less than a battalion and we began to wonder if any of us would make it to ASTP.
After thirteen weeks of hell, basic training ended abruptly. We went on a three-day bivouac and at the end of it we all got our orders. A fairly large contingent including me, "Rebel" Erwin, Harrison Griffin, and some of my other buddies from the first day at Camp Blanding and some new ones from Camp Hood, including John Donlan, Bob Enterline, and Gus Enyedy were going to ASTU 3890 the ASTP Unit at North Texas StateTeachers College in Denton, Texas.
North Texas State Teachers College?????????????
What happened to Duke?
They said I could pick the college I wanted to attend and I had picked Duke University.
I should have read between the lines. They said that I would be permitted to pick the college I wanted to attend, --- but they didn't say that they would actually send me there.
ASTP, Denton, Texas, Winter '43 - Spring '44
Upon our arrival on campus, we were marched in formation to a house that served as headquarters for ASTU 3890. We stood at attention as a Captain, in sharply tailored dress "pinks", followed by a 1st Lieutenant in officer's "greens" stepped out onto the porch. The Captain's cap had an "Air Corps crush" and he wore it with the bill pulled way down over his eyes. He had a swagger stick tucked firmly under his left arm. The similarity to "Blood and Gloves" and his riding crop struck us all.
The Captain introduced himself, "I am Captain Connette. It rhymes with bonnet. I am the Commandant of ASTU 3890."
He said it in a tone that suggested Stalag 17 rather than a college campus.
"This is my adjutant, Lt. Mc Giver."
The 1st Lieutenant nodded.
Captain Connette then said, "If you think, Joe College, that this is going to be a soft assignment, you are wrong, dead wrong."
He then went into a half hour harrangue in which he told us how heavy the class load would be, how many hours we would have to spend each night to keep our heads above water. The little martinette strutted about the front porch occasionally flourishing his swagger stick and whacking his palm sharply for emphasis. He pounded on the point that most of us would flunk out in the first few weeks and would then be sent to the "real" army. He made it clear that this was a military garrison and he intended to run it like one. Captain Connette kept us standing at attention for the whole brow-beating speech. He finished by saying that we looked like a bunch of hoboes and bums and ordered us to have our uniforms custom tailored and pressed before the first formation Monday morning.
" Lt. Mc Giver will assign your quarters."
The captain did an "about face" clinched his swagger stick firmly under his arm and strutted back into the building.
Lt. Mc Giver said, "At ease", and gave us a rundown on the location of the mess hall and other facilities, briefed us on a our room assignments, and then told us that we would be free for the weekend to get our bearings, and explore the campus and Denton. We liked Mc Giver right away.
He then said, softly, "He means
it about your uniforms. Get them done by Monday." He then handed out shoulder
patches to be sewn on our uniforms. He explained that the patch symbolized
the ‘"lamp of learning and the sword of valor", told us where the local
tailor shops were located, and dismissed us. Lt. Mc Giver was both a gentleman
and a gentle man.
Lt. McChesney, Lt. McGiver, T/5 McCAnn, S/Sgt.Molinaro
Standing next to me during this briefing was Tom Lutze, a fellow of great wit, and instantly likeable. He looked at the new patch and said, "Well, I guess that we are now in the "Gravy Boat and Butter Knife Corps".
Denton wasn't so bad after all. There were about 250 of us in the ASTP unit but there were three or four thousand female students on the North Texas State Teachers College (NTSTC) campus and more than double that number at the Texas State College for Women (TSCW) on the other side of town. Texas is noted for its beautiful women and it seemed like all of them had been assembled in a veritable smorgasbord in Denton.
Captain Connette had told us, in no uncertain terms, about our studies. We would be carrying 24 credit hours plus military instruction, close order drill, and physical ed.
How in the world would we be able to do it all ---- and still have time for those studies?
The first night at evening mess I discovered that a friend from my hometown, Jack Steptoe, was already there. He immediately filled me in on the layouts of the town and the two campuses, the location of the USO, and other important matters.
We had only been on campus for a week or two when, at our evening retreat formation, Lieutenant McGiver stepped out onto the porch at headquarters and said, "Captain Connette has been assigned to another post. For the moment, at least, I am your new Commandant."
There was a roar of approval from the ranks.
The rumor quickly spread through the unit that Captain Connette had been put in charge of a Prisoner of War (POW) camp somewhere out on the desert. Perhaps a little wishful thinking was behind that rumor.
Major Menefee, Captain Connette's replacement, arrived in a few days. Lt. Mc Giver stayed on as his adjutant. They made a good team.
We were quartered, initially, in near-campus houses, available because the civilian student population had dwindled somewhat due to the war. Chilton Hall, a new men's dormitory, was temporarily occupied by Air Corps Cadets but when they shipped out our new Commandant, Major Menefee, made a successful pitch to get ASTU 3890 into Chilton, a major improvement over our original quarters.
Chilton Hall was a U-shaped two-story dormitory with a quadrangle in the center that was well suited for military formations and close order drill.
Our room assignments in Chilton Hall were along alphabetical lines. My room mates were Bert Erwin, Bob Enterline, and Gustav Enyedy.
There was a great USO in Denton and we had dances in the North Texas State Gym every weekend. The ASTP unit contained some excellent musicians who organized a band (along the lines of the famous big bands of that era) and they had all of the latest arrangements of Glen Miller, the Dorseys, Benny Goodman, Harry James, Artie Shaw, --- the works ---, so the dances were outstanding.
At one of these dances I spotted an attractive young lady who lived right there in Denton. I thought she might be a good candidate for a Denton "steady" so I danced with her almost every dance. Then it turned out that Jack Steptoe already considered her his own private preserve. Who would have thought that with that many females in Denton, two guys from the same town would both be attracted to the same one?
There was no need for a confrontation over this. With thousands to pick from, I just found another girl, a lovely young lady from Dallas residing on campus in Terrill Hall.
There were many lovely young ladies residing on campus. Close to Terrill Hall was Marquis Hall.
Within these two halls resided the most marvelous collection of Texas pultritude ever assembled.
We all dreaded the days when our regular Physics professor, Dr. Carrico was absent. On those days, the Department Head, Dr. Black, would take his place. Most of Dr. Black's lectures were given, in a soft voice, while he was facing the blackboard. He held the chalk in his right hand, wrote the formulae chest-high on the board and holding the eraser in his left hand, carefully erased everything before it came into view. We sat there for an hour of his whispering, chalking, and erasing and learned absolutely nothing.
The studies were tough. Some nights there was just not enough time to read all of our assignments. In Physics we were studying heat transfer and one morning Dr. Carrico gave up a pop quiz. One of the questions was, "Define a perfect black body."
One student who obviously had not read the assignment wrote, "Lena Horne."
He got no points for originality.
When I was in high school, I did not realize it at the time but my teachers were excellent, too good, in fact. I found that if I just paid attention I would really learn the subjects being taught so I did not study at home at night and never learned good study habits. At NTSTC I spent many long hours in the library without learning as much as I should have because I had not learned to study efficiently or to take good notes. As a consequence, the courses were difficult for me.
It wasn't that the professors at North Texas State didn't know their subjects. They did, but they were not exceptionally good teachers so I had a hard time with some of the courses.
There was also the problem that some of them had absolutely no sense of humor. Professor Clifton, in particular, an English professor, epitomized this category. He had asked for a paper, any subject, and I had turned in what I thought was an especially witty one. However, he somehow supposed that since we were in uniform, we would write about "Army" things, like how to take apart a rifle. Mine had nothing to do with the Army and he gave me a "C" on the paper ----- no points for humor.
The ASTP program was national in scope. There were units at a large number of colleges and universities. The Army wanted to know not only how well each student was doing compared to all of the other students in the country but, also, how each professor ranked against all of the other professors teaching the same subjects at other colleges so, across the U.S.A., they gave all ASTP students periodic standardized exams.
After the standardized English exam, Professor Clifton was busting his buttons with pride. He announced that the entire class had done well, but two of his students had "set the point," that is, had gotten a 99.9 percentile score on the exam, the highest possible. He then said, "One of these students was Mr. Bingham who has always gotten straight ‘A's in class, and who has contributed prize winning articles to AVESTA, our literary journal, and who has helped the English department in its literary research project and blah, blah, blah, blah, ad nauseam," extolling the virtues of Mr. Bingham and then continued with, "----- and Mr. Evans. -------," He took off his glasses, held them up to the light, and, after spotting a speck or two, polished the lenses using the end of his neck tie.
Professor Clifton continued.
"Frankly, Mr. Evans, your class work has given no indication of this
level of proficiency in English ------- but, you were sitting on the opposite
side of the room from Mr. Bingham during the examination, so please
satisfy my curiosity. How did you do it?"
I replied, "It was very simple, Professor Clifton. They just asked questions that I knew the answers to. If your tests were like that I would ace them, too."
The class had a chuckle at Clifton's expense but he apparently failed to see the humor.
I don't know whether setting the point on that exam had anything to do with it or not. Maybe Professor Clifton saw me in a new light, or maybe I tried a little harder to live up to that score. Whatever the reason, my grades in English ratcheted up from "C"s to "B"s.
In ASTP we marched to and from classes so there was never any possibility of being late to class ( unless the entire section was late due to circumstances beyond my control). I didn't really need a watch, but while wandering around Denton I spotted an Omega in a jewelry store window. It was on sale, so, on the spur of the moment, I bought it. Several weeks later, I made the mistake of wearing it while playing intramural basketball. I went in for a layup (which I missed) and when I came down, my wrist slammed into the head of teammate Tom "Big Toe" Lutze. Tom had a huge knot on the top of his head and I had a sprained wrist. My new Omega was a sprinkling of broken crystal, springs, stem and gears all over the basketball court. It was totaled.
In every outfit there is always someone who seems to be just a natural target for everyone's humor. It doesn't take long for the other guys to start picking on him in a hundred subtle (and some not-so-subtle) ways. He either takes it in good humor without complaint or his life is hell. It is up to him.
In ASTU 3890 there was a book worm, a natural target. He was Art Manfredi. In this account Art Manfredi is a composite of several people. The name is fictitious; the events are not.
As previously noted, we had all been to booby trap school at Camp Hood and some of us had developed the fiendish way of thinking needed to be good at it. Bert and Harrison decided to have some fun with Art.
Bert came up with the first idea.
From Professor Spurlock's chemistry classes we knew that iron pyrites (iron sulfide) and sulfuric acid, when mixed, produced hydrogen sulfide, a gas smelling like rotten eggs. On the wooden crosspiece of Art's bunk a few inches below his mattress spring, Bert placed a small glass dish containing sulfuric acid. Then he suspended a chunk of iron pyrites under Art's bedspring with a short piece of fiberglass string so it did not quite touch the acid.
When Art got into his bunk for the night the pyrites dipped into the acid and started generating hydrogen sulfide, filling his room with the smell of rotten eggs. Naturally, his roommates blamed Art for the foul odor. Art got up and opened the windows and aired out the room and, of course, without his weight on the mattress the pyrites were lifted up out of the acid and stopped generating the gas.
He eventually closed the windows, got back in his bunk, the pyrites dipped down into the acid again, and the drama replayed. This happened over and over all night.
This kept Manfredi up all night but he eventually caught on that the awful stench started every time he got back into his bunk. He checked underneath and found the booby trap but had no idea who had done it to him so he could not retaliate.
Then it was Harrison Griffin's turn. He caught a tiny little dog that was in heat and being chased all over the quadrangle by about fifty other dogs of all shapes and sizes. Waiting until Manfredi was sound asleep. Harrison slid under the target's bunk and tied the dog way back in the corner. We then opened all of the dormitory doors leading to his room.
Manfredi woke up to find his room full of barking dogs and they were jumping all over him. As soon as he opened the door to push one dog out two more would wiggle in. His room mates, of course, were in on the gag so they did nothing to help him. They just yelled at him.
Eventually, he noticed that the dogs were only jumping all over his bunk and, remembering the rotten eggs, checked underneath. He didn't see her at first but eventually found the little bitch tied under there and managed to get her out of the dorm.
Manfredi was harassed in dozens of other ways. The Library was a favorite spot for these assaults on his dignity. One trick that worked several times was to stuff an embarrassing object (like a Kotex left over from our days on the rifle range) up the sleeve of his field jacket and tie it securely to the wrist strap. When, at the end of the Library session, he put on his jacket, the object dangled and flopped around and generally attracted attention to itself.The other sleeve had the wrist strap wrapped several times around and rebuttoned, sealing off the wrist and imprisoning his other hand making it virtually impossible to quickly remove the offending thing. Luckily, for Art, we soon turned our attention to other targets.
Gus Enyedy's pranks were directed at general rather than specific targets. One of them was an automatic "hot foot." He sealed some sulfuric acid in a bent piece of glass tubing, put it in an envelope along with some potassium chlorate and set it on a concrete surface where someone was likely to step on it before they saw it. When the unsuspecting victim stepped on the envelope the glass broke, the acid hit the potassium chlorate and large amounts of heat, light, and smoke were generated. It certainly made the recipient of the hot foot jump in alarm and at night it was quite spectacular.
Stuart Friedman was a man who liked his sleep so, one cold morning, he fell out at 06:00 for reveille with only his overcoat and boots on --- and nothing else, expecting to jump back in the sack until breakfast at 08:00. He was in the front rank. Before we were called to attention, the man on one side of him (It may have been Bob Enterline, my roommate) said, "Friedman's got nothing on under his coat, let's take it off."
I was standing behind Friedman in the second rank. Stuart locked his hands together and swung his elbow at the guy on his right. He missed him and his momentum carried him completely around and his elbow smashed my nose over onto the left side of my face. By this time, he was facing me and, reflexively, my left fist shot out and caught him squarely on his beak and dropped him. The whistle blew and we stood reveille with two profusely bleeding noses. After reveille we headed for the dispensary together apologizing to one another along the way. My nose was broken and is still a little lopsided on my face. I never told him this but if I had been one of the two GIs on either side of him I would have tried to take his coat off so I sort of deserved what I got. (No Purple Heart for that injury.)
It was not all fun and games at North Texas State. Twenty-four credit hours plus the military time was a heavy load to carry and some of the guys flunked out. Actually, they didn't all flunk out, some were victims of North Texas State's ignorance of how we got there and how the Army perceived our grades.
North Texas State had civilians taking the same subjects as we were taking and they were graded on the curve. However, what they did not realize was while the civilian students represented a normal (bell curve) distribution, the ASTP students had been through a rigorous selection process that eliminated the lower two thirds of a normal bell curve distribution so the Army expected us to make only "A"s and "B"s. When NTSTC tried to grade us on a curve it didn't work. Students doing a level of work that would normally have earned a "B" found themselves pushed down into the "C," "D," and "F" end of a badly skewed bell curve. Recognizing that something was wrong they tried to combine us with the civilian students for grading purposes, and we pushed most of the civilian student population down into the "D" and "F" end of the curve so they gave up on that.
Meanwhile, we got numerical grades that were scaled in a somewhat arbitrary manner. NTSTC considered 70 to be a low "C," a passing grade, but the Army considered 75 to be a "D" and they considered a "C" to be the lowest passing grade. A "D" wouldn't cut it. The bottom line was that a lot of guys busted out of ASTP when both they and the college administration thought that they were getting passing grades.
There came a day, in the Spring
of 1944, when none of this really mattered anymore. All good things
come to an end and the Army decided that it had an urgent need for more
Infantry troops. The ASTP programs were summarily terminated at many colleges
and most of us were shipped out to infantry divisions.
We Get The Bad News
15 March 1944, Chilton Hall Quadrangle, Denton,Texas,
Major Menefee, Lt. Forsee, Dr. Dickey-Registrar, NTSTC,
Lt.McGiver, Dr. McConnell-President NTSTC
At North Texas State Teachers College they had put our feet to the flames of the "Lamp of Knowledge" and we were about to find out about the "Sword of Valor". In the upcoming months, many of the young men of this unit would be severly tested in combat and decorated for valor.
We had a military ball in the NTSTC Gym and one bittersweet party in the dining room with just the ASTP candidates and the faculty. It was a good party, one that I will never forget. There were comedy skits, a great jam session by some of ASTP's finest musicians, singing of the oldies but goodies, and some new songs including "Pistol Packin' Mama" that we had converted into a fine marching song back at Camp Hood, and one or two maudlin speeches by faculty members that we did not let dampen the spirit of the party. We concluded by singing "Let's Give a Cheer for North Texas State" (the NTSTC fight song) and "The Eyes of Texas are Upon You," then "God Bless America," and the party was over.
Well, that was it; our ASTP unit was broken up. Because of my electronics knowledge and the fact that I could already copy Morse code at better than 15 words a minute, thanks to Morton Ross, I was shipped to nearby Camp Howze, Texas and assigned to the 103d Infantry Division Signal Company as a radio operator, without ever attending an Army radio school. John Donlan also went to the Signal Company as a radio operator because he had been in an Amateur Radio Club while in high school.
Most of the other men in ASTU 3890, including Tom Lutze, Bob Enterline, Gus Enyedy, Harrison Griffin, and "Rebel" Erwin, were also assigned to the 103d Division but ended up in infantry rifle companies. I did not know it at the time but our ride to Camp Howze was the last time I would see Bob, Gus, Rebel, and Harrison for the duration of the war. In fact, I would not see either Rebel or Harrison for more than thirty years. --- And I did not see Bob Enterline or Gus Enyedy for more than fifty.
Morton Ross, my grade school and high school friend, through his friendship, resourcefulness, and unbounded enthusiasm for new things had guided me unerringly from the 5th grade school ground, to chemistry, to the cigar box radio to support our chemical labs, thence to electronics, and finally to the Morse code practice table. Morton was the focal point of a multitude of little things that culminated in my being able to send and receive Morse code at 15 words per minute. This resulted in my assignment to the 103d Infantry Division Signal Company.
Had I not been able to copy Morse code, I hate to speculate as to what road I might have followed after ASTU 3890 was broken up. It could very well have been a short one. My friends Harrison Griffin, "Rebel" Erwin, Bob Enterline, and Gus Enyedy all ended up in rifle companies and managed to survive although "Rebel" was "wounded" by the severe winter weather. He spent months in a military hospital with frozen feet. He had what was called "trench foot." After recovery, Rebel became a successful dentist in Winter Haven, Florida. Harrison Griffin became an attorney and eventually a County Judge in Deland, Florida. John Donlan, Bob Enterline, Gus Enyedy, and I all enjoyed successful engineering careers. Stuart Friedman was severely wounded and lost a leg but survived. He became a professor. Other ASTPers, among them Tom Lutze and other class mates not mentioned elsewhere, Harold Class, Harold Burkhard, Bayard "BD" Dodge, Carl Christensen, Daniel Gasch, Al Lamb, Bill Lang, Ed Luebke, and John Seay, were not so lucky and did not make it back home.
I will forever be in Morton Ross' debt for the major role he played leading to my Signal Company assignment. It may have saved my life.
Morton's Time in Service
Morton had an interesting Naval career. He was sent to the college of his choice in the V-12 program, spent the entire war studying engineering and walked across a platform to receive his engineering degree, his commission in the Navy, and his Navy discharge, in that order.
He had obviously checked the right box.