PAPA'S WAR,   PART 2

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Camp Howze, Texas,
The 103d Infantry Division Signal Company

It was cold when we arrived at Camp Howze. We were put up in identical tar-paper shacks to those at Camp Hood, but unlike the searing heat of Camp Hood, these were like refrigerators. We spent a lot of time feeding the potbelly stoves at the ends of each barracks trying to get warm.

 It hadn't mattered in ASTP because we wore either Class-B uniforms or our Class-A dress uniforms every day, but now, I had to drag my single pair of fatigues out of my barracks bags. The Signal Company supply sergeant refused to issue a second pair, insisting that I should have gotten them in Camp Blanding. It was miserable washing them every night and putting them on, not only wet but cold, every morning.






 Otherwise, life at Camp Howze was much like basic training all over again except that we got weekend passes more often and I usually headed straight for "Little D"(Denton). The USO was still my home away from home and I knew a lot of the college girls who came there on the weekends. That made Camp Howze a bit more bearable than Camp Hood.

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 Back at Howze, we endured much of the rigorous training that had typified life at Camp Hood. There was a difference, however. Every aspect of the training seemed much more serious --- and it was.

 Clearly, the 103d Infantry Division, also known as the "Cactus Division" because of the circular patch worn on our shoulder showing a green cactus against a yellow sky, was headed for one of the theaters of war. It had already gone through intensive training at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana and had been through lengthy maneuvers involving many other units before coming to Camp Howze.

 Of all of the buddies who survived the ASTP wars at North Camp Hood and North Texas State Teachers College, only John Donlan and I ended up in the 103d Signal Company, but we were joined by other ASTPers from colleges all over Texas and elsewhere. We were also joined by Air Corps cadets unceremoniously dumped into the infantry division.

 We did not know whether we were going to fight against Japan or Germany but The 103d Infantry Division was getting ready to fight someone. Everyone paid a lot closer attention to instructions. What we learned now might someday save our lives.
 
 

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 The 103d "Cactus" Division was commanded by a spit-and-polish officer, Major General Charles C. Haffner, who was strong on discipline and military courtesy.
 
 


Major General Charles C. Haffner





The notorious Courtesy Patrols sent into nearby "Big D" (Dallas), "Little D" (Denton), and Ft.Worth hoping to catch a GI without a good shine on his shoes, or with a button unbuttoned, or failing to salute an officer, had slim pickings as far as the 103d was concerned.

 Officers on these Courtesy Patrols often found it necessary to lurk deep in the recesses of darkened store fronts and then jump out and nail some hapless GI for failing to salute him as he passed by. Or, they would pop out from around a corner and lift a GI's pass for not saluting soon enough, "recognition distance" being, on a sunny day, one to two blocks.

 Two could play the saluting game and many GIs from the 103d Division took great delight in playing it their way. The enlisted man's motto became,"Seek out officers and, when you find them, salute them."

 A group of GIs on pass got a lot of pleasure from stringing out in a long line and forcing an officer to return each of their salutes, individually.

 Those of us in the Signal Company who were designated as vehicle drivers were issued short coats instead of the long overcoats normally worn by enlisted men. Those short coats, resembling, in the dark, the short coats worn by officers, often drew salutes at "recognition distance," sometimes as much as a block away, even at night. 103d GIs were taking no chances. Those coats caused the men of the 103d to have strong right arms from saluting not only officers, but every enlisted man encountered after dark who happened to be a driver.

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 One day we marched ten miles out into the desert to watch a demonstration of artillery in action. All of the 103d Division's artillery plus the regimental cannon companies aided by tanks and tank destroyers clobbered a hill with their firepower. It was good to know that we could do that but the realization that the enemy had the same capability was sobering.

 After that, when we dug foxholes, we dug them a lot deeper than we did in basic training.

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 We were not an airborne division but we trained to be air and glider transportable. We loaded and unloaded C-47 cargo and troop carrying planes and CG-4A gliders. Everyone hoped that those skills would never have to be put to use.
 
 

               C-47 Cargo/ Troop Carrier                            CG-4A Glider
 

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 One evening while we were standing in the chow line, a crow with a broken wing hobbled into the area. Some of the guys saved some bread crusts and threw them to him so he adopted us and hung around the company while his wing healed.

 He liked bright things. Someone threw him a new penny and he grabbed it, fluttered away and hid it somewhere. Others followed suit and soon he was collecting pennies, nickels, and dimes at every chow line.

  A couple of us in the Radio barracks found out where the crow was hiding his loot ( behind a cement block supporting one of the barracks ) so we "salted the mine," so to speak, by flipping a few coins to him to get things started while standing in the chow line. Others did the same and we picked up about a buck's worth of change every night. However, we never took his entire hoard for fear that he would find a new place to hide the money.

 Inspections in the motor pool involved, among other things, the laying out of a canvas on which was stenciled the outline of each tool in the vehicle's tool kit. Warrant Officer Edwin St.Cin, Motor Pool Officer, hit several drivers with statements of charges for the loss of small tools until one Saturday when, during the inspection, the crow was seen by all struggling to drag a wrench about as long as he was (and probably twice as heavy) across the motor pool. They let him go to see what he did with the wrench and watched where he hid it. Upon checking the stash all of the missing wrenches were recovered, to the relief of all concerned.

  The Radio Section reported to Master Sergeant Emil Boitos. We called him "The Buddha." There was a group of us who were not high on the Buddha's list of favorite people. He, aided and abetted by Tech Sergeant Arnold Schumacher, gave us all the dirty details, the coolie labor, so we started referring to ourselves as "The Coolies." We hung around together when there was nothing else to do (which wasn't often) and at times two or three "coolies" would go on passes together. We also pulled a lot of KP together. 

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 One weekend, while on a pass in Little D, I went to the USO where a dance was in progress. While there, I was shooting the breeze with several former ASTPers from North Texas State. One of them recognized a coed and broke in to dance with her. In a few minutes he returned, splitting his sides with laughter.

 He said, "You are not going to believe this one." ---- And then he explained, "I don't know if you knew this, but I didn't. After they shut down ASTP they turned Chilton Hall into a women's dorm. She now lives there. She said that they love the dorm except for their complaint that all of the ASTPers must have had athlete's foot really bad because every girl in the dorm now has it.

 Then she told me that what they like most about Chilton Hall are the special basins in the lavatories for washing your hair. When she described them to me I said, ‘You've been washing your HAIR in those? Sweetie, you are going to have more than athlete's foot. You are going to have athlete's HEAD. Those things are NOT for washing your hair; they are urinals.'  I swear, I thought she was going to pee right on the dance floor. She took off and I think she is in the lady's rest room rinsing her hair out, right now."
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 One of the Radio Section GIs, Bob Rushing, had his weapon field stripped on his bunk and was diligently cleaning all of the parts. The crow flew into the barracks and landed on the foot of Rushing's bunk. He sat there with his head cocked watching every move but one small bright spring caught his eye and his attention kept coming back to it. He hopped off the end of the bunk and made a grab at the spring. At the same instant Rushing made a grab for the crow but missed. The crow flew straight for the door but did not have a good grip on the spring. Rushing took a swipe at him with a broom; the crow got out the door with Rushing in pursuit; the next swipe of the broom caught his tail feathers and he dropped the spring. Rushing came slowly back into the barracks carefully wiping off the spring only to find that the crow had flown to the other end of the barracks, in the door, straight to Rushing's bunk and crapped right on his pillow before escaping the way it had come in.

 You cannot convince me that that crow was not every bit as smart as Bob Rushing.
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 Dalton R. Coffman also lived in the Radio Section barracks. He could not have had the slightest inkling that a few trivial actions on his part would have a profound impact on my life.

 It probably started much earlier but the first time I noticed his somewhat unusual behavior was when he walked past my bunk as we were preparing for a barracks inspection one morning and bounced a quarter off my bunk. "Pretty good," he mumbled and, returning to his own bunk, bounced the quarter off of it. Apparently satisfied, he pocketed the quarter.

 Eventually, I noticed that he was making other comparisons. The GI shoes (combat boots) that we wore at that time had the smooth side of the leather inside to make them more comfortable. The rough outside could not be polished so the prescribed treatment was to waterproof them with "dubbing," a Govt. Issue concoction made with goose grease and similar water repellent substances. When properly applied, it went into all of the stitching and creases to keep the insides of the shoes dry in all kinds of weather.

 Now, I could understand someone comparing how well his shoes were polished relative to mine, but comparing the dubbing seemed a bit much.

 At first, I surmised that he just wanted to be a good soldier and was making comparisons of one thing or another with everyone else in the barracks to make certain that he was measuring up. It soon became apparent, however, that he had singled me out and it began to get a little annoying, even though, I must admit, he never actually pointed out that he thought his was a little better than mine, whatever the comparison.

 It even reached the point where he would bring his shirts and trousers on hangers and check to see if they were pressed as well as mine.

 I could have understood all of this if I had been a Gung Ho "spit-and-polish" soldier but I was not. I was just an ordinary GI doing what I had to do to get by, so why me?

 With hindsight, I suspect that his father told him that it was in his best interest, while in the Army, to aspire to mediocrity, to get lost in the middle of the pack and not be "the best that he could be" or the worst either. The worst get all of the dirty details and the best get shoved out in front to be reluctant heroes. Neither was an appealing prospect. I must have been the best example of mediocrity he could find.

 Eventually, I decided to see just how far he would go with this. The opportunity came when we went on a 25-mile hike. I made certain he saw me pick up a large rock in each hand and carry them for the full 25 miles. At the outset, he asked why I was carrying the rocks and I answered, "endurance." Damned if Coffman didn't pick up two rocks just a little larger than mine and carry his for the full 25 miles, too. God, they were heavy. I thought that my arms would fall off before we finally got back to camp but I was not about to get rid of them and he carried his without complaint and never mentioned the incident to me.

 I have no idea how far this would have gone if the 103d hadn't embarked for Europe. However, Dalton reappears and the story picks up again at the point where the war in Europe had ended and we have returned to the U.S.A. It is there that the Dalton R. Coffman saga reaches its climax.
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 The 103d Signal Company had among its complement one of the Army's legends. Everyone in the army has heard about the soldier who camouflaged his truck so well that he couldn't find it.

 The story gets embellished somewhat in each retelling and usually the teller cannot give the soldier a name.

 The truth is that it really happened; the soldier really has a name; and his name is Art Vernon.

 The incident occurred before the 103d Division came to Camp Howze. It was during the maneuvers at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. Part of the military problem on this particular day was a camouflage exercise.

 Art had paid close attention to the instructions regarding the camouflaging of trucks. He smeared mud on his headlights, covered his windshield with O.D. canvas, and cut large and small branches to hide his 2-1/2 ton truck. He was careful to place the branches topside up and smeared mud on the cut ends so the white freshly cut wood could not be readily spotted. Then he backed away from the truck sweeping the grass that had been pressed down by his wheels back into a vertical position. He did this all the way back to the rutted dirt road that he had turned off of to hide his vehicle and headed down the road to get chow.

 After eating, he headed back toward his truck but couldn't find it. The longer he looked, the more panicky he became. What would the Company Commander do to him if he couldn't find it? Captain Bernard Beck was a strict disciplinarian, known for dealing out excessively harsh punishment for relatively minor infractions. "My God," he thought, "For losing a truck? What?"
  He searched farther and farther from the rutted road with no luck and soon came out of the woods into a paved road where he flagged down a jeep containing a lieutenant and a T/5 driver.  He explained that he could not find his truck and the lieutenant told him not to worry, the driver had probably moved it.

 Art said, "No way. I am the driver."

 The lieutenant offered to take him to the Division Command Post and he suggested that he contact the Company Commander from there, which Art did.

 Captain Beck blew a fuse.

 A detail was organized to go find the truck but they returned empty handed. Eventually, most of the Signal Company spent the better part of a day looking for the truck. Some had actually come within a few feet of it without finding it but finally, someone found it,  much to Art Vernon's relief.

 However, Captain Beck was not finished. Despite Art's pleading that he had done nothing wrong ( after all, the purpose of the camouflage exercise was to make the vehicles hard to spot, and Art had done that to perfection) he was given company punishment consisting of digging six by six by six holes every night for a week, after the normal training day was over.

 Another soldier on company punishment for a minor infraction was given the job of guarding Art and making certain that he kept digging all night.

 Art dug one 6 by 6 by 6 on each of the first two nights. When Beck came out around midnight of the second night to make certain that his orders were being carried out, he almost fell into one of the holes so he ordered Art to fill them up before digging any new holes.

 After that, Art just faked digging in one of his old holes and Beck never realized that the digging was being done at the same spot in the woods every night. Digging out the old hole was much easier than digging a new one so the guard, who thought that it was ridiculous to punish Art for doing everything right, suggested that Art get a little sleep down in the hole and he would wake him up if anyone came around, which he did. Beck never found out that Art only dug two holes in the Louisiana hardpan and the rest of the nights just shoveled some loose sand in and out of the same hole.

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  The radio operators all worried about the "carry-all" vehicles in which our SCR-193 radio sets were installed. They were like station wagons but had no side windows, no tail gate, and only one door on the passenger side. The SCR-193 was installed along the side behind the driver and the operator sat sideways facing the set. The passenger-side seat had to be pushed forward in order to get to the radio set in the back of the vehicle or to get out. We were concerned that if we got ourselves into an emergency, there was no easy way out of them. They were nicknamed the "Rolling Coffins."
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 The 103d Division was on maneuvers in the Red River Valley during the first week in June 1944, but our radio team stayed at Camp Howze and acted as the Division Headquarters radio in the Division Command Network.

 We made up messages to send to the various stations in the network simulating administrative traffic. Then the news broke. It was June 6th, D-Day, and the troops in the field didn't know anything about it so instead of making up messages, I encoded news reports about the landings on Normandy, the number of ships, planes, troops, news about the progress being made inland. It was an exciting day but it brought the war suddenly right into our truck and we knew that it would not be long before we would be involved directly in it.

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  After D-Day our training intensified and all worn out clothing and equipment were replaced with new gear.

 Finally, I was issued a second set of fatigues. What luxury, not having to put on wet fatigues every morning.

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 Civilians in Gainesville right outside the main gate of Camp Howze proclaimed that the Division was to be sent to Camp Shanks and the New York Port of Embarkation.

 As it turned out, they were, as usual, well-informed.  In early August the division was alerted for overseas duty and I got a short furlough home.

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 It was evident that it was now just a matter of weeks before we would say goodbye to Camp Howze. There was an excitement and a flurry of activity throughout the Division as all of the units and the officers and men started to follow the official instructions and procedures for the troop movement and each individual began putting his own personal affairs in order --- preparing wills, sending home excess clothes, personal gear, pictures, etc.

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 Tensions ran high.  We had to let off a little steam.

 One night, we had a company beer party in the mess hall. After a lot of singing and merrymaking, Joseph M. Patterson from the Message Center Section asked for a volunteer to be hypnotized. He explained that if you didn't want to be hypnotized that he couldn't do it but if you were willing to try, he might be able to hypnotize you because he had done it before. John "Andy" Anderson, a wiry little guy from the Radio Section, volunteered.

 Patterson managed to get him under, told him to behave like an ape, and pretended to hand him a banana.  Anderson went through the motions of peeling and eating the banana and scratching himself under his arms. He then sat on his haunches with his knuckles dragging on the ground and grimaced while making ape-like sounds. Patterson got him to do a number of ape-like things that were quite amusing. Everyone thought that Anderson was putting on an act. Suddenly Anderson leaped onto one of the tables then up to the rafters and swung from rafter to rafter up and down the mess hall. Patterson finally got him down, offered him his hand and headed for the latrine (by this time, the beer was applying a little pressure). Anderson grabbed a couple of fingers and followed Patterson, loping along with his other knuckle dragging on the ground. Patterson stopped at the latrine door and told him, "Wait here."

 When Patterson came out of the latrine he was talking to someone and forgot all about Anderson. After a few more beers, Patterson headed back to his barracks and sacked out. Meanwhile, Anderson was still sitting on his haunches where Patterson had left him. Early in the morning someone spotted him still hunkered down outside the latrine and, assuming that he'd had a couple of beers too many, tried to get him up and back to the Radio barracks. Anderson resisted and after help was obtained he resisted ferociously. Under hypnosis he had been told to wait there and he damned well was not going to move.

 Six of us, thinking that he was drunk, carried him kicking, biting, and screaming into the shower and turned on the cold water, to no avail. There were three of us on each arm but he slammed us around that shower like rag dolls. Summoning extra help, we took him to the Radio barracks and put mattresses around the walls so he wouldn't hurt himself and forcefully confined him to that end of the barracks until the medics came in an ambulance and took him away. Meanwhile, Patterson was sound asleep, oblivious to everything that was going on.

 It took several days for the medics to figure out what was wrong with Anderson and eventually they got him un-hypnotized, perhaps with Patterson's help, I don't know. When he got back, he acted like nothing had happened but there were several blank pages in his life and I don't know whether he ever figured out what happened during those days when he was still under hypnosis and susceptible to post hypnotic suggestion. I hope no one "suggested" anything untoward.

 As a result of this event, we got one of the strangest notices ever to appear on the 103d Division Signal Company bulletin board. It ordered that effective that day and thereafter, amateur hypnotism was prohibited in the company area.

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  As departure time drew nearer, we became a highly disciplined machine.

 Naturally, all noncoms were expected to know exactly how to report to an officer and to do so whenever the circumstances demanded it. When the ASTP troops arrived to fill out the ranks of the division, all of the slots above the rank of private were filled  so we expected to remain privates for a while. Promotions were a long way off for most of us.

 Earlier arrivals at the 103d Division had moved from private to PFC or from private to Technician 5th Grade (T/5). A T/5 was pretty far down the totem pole. T/5s rarely, if ever,  had others reporting to him and most of us did not really considered T/5s to be noncoms.

 However,  --------- Let's set the scene.

 At Camp Howze, The Signal Company Radio School was directly across the street from Division Headquarters. A code practice class was taking a ten minute break behind the school. The students were mainly privates from throughout the division including some from the Signal Company. The instructor noncoms were all inside the school setting up for the next session.

 At this moment, Major General Charles C. Haffner, Jr., Division Commander, decided to stretch his legs and strolled across the street and behind the school. The students were all smoking and shooting the breeze. Having a major general suddenly appear in their midst was the last thing on anyone's mind. Someone finally noticed him and called "Ten-Hut!" The students all jumped to attention, many trying to figure out what to do with their half-smoked cigarettes. Everyone looked around to see who had to report.

 Seated on the ground around the corner of the building, and out of sight, was one of the students, T/5 Fred Horne, Radio Section, 103d Signal Company. Upon hearing the commotion he got to his feet, strolled back to see what was going on, and came face to face with General Haffner.  Haffner was fuming, waiting for someone to report to him. Horne looked around and saw that he was the highest ranking person there (other than the general) so he ran up and saluted. He managed to stutter his name, rank and serial number but then got tongue tied and just stammered some gibberish. The general finally got out of him that he was from the 103d Signal Company and incorrectly inferred that he was in charge. Horne didn't have the foggiest notion where to even start to explain who these GIs were and what they were doing there.

 None of his buddies blamed T/5 Horne for what happened to us that night. He was just a victim of circumstances.

 General Haffner dressed down the Division Signal Officer (DSO), Lt. Col. Carolus A. Brown, and Capt. Bernard Beck, Company Commander of the 103d Signal Company got severely braced by the DSO because of the poor discipline and lack of military courtesy in his company. Beck vowed that never again would any soldier in his company fail to report properly regardless of circumstances.

 That night a formation was called after evening mess. We were marched out to the field where telephone poles were set in the ground for Signal Company linemen to practice on. A line of GIs was formed facing each of the poles and about a hundred feet away.

 The order was given, "Squat!" --- We squatted. Then --- "Ten-Hut!" --- We jumped to attention.  "Report!"  The man at the head of each line ran to his designated telephone pole, saluted the pole, and reported to it, by the book, name, rank, serial number, exactly what we were doing there, and why. An officer was designated to observe at each pole. If anyone faltered, he returned to the front of his line and repeated the process until he got it right and then returned to the rear of the line.

 This process was rough on the legs and continued until well past midnight but when it was over there was no one in the 103d Signal Company who did not know how to report to a telephone pole (unless he happened to be on KP, on Guard Duty, or on leave that night). However, It is a matter of conjecture whether we became any more proficient reporting to officers as a result of that exercise.

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  Every day, we policed  the area until we thought our backs would break. Anything that did not belong there was picked up and thrown into the trash bin.

 The Sergeants would yell, "I don't want to see anything but your butts and your elbows! Now police up them cigarette shorts and match stumps!" ------- But they seldom said it that politely. If it was too big to pick up we painted it white and if it moved we saluted it.

 Some ex-103d GIs have to reluctantly tell their grandchildren that they spent D-Day white washing the rocks in the company area.

  As September rolled around, we started having showdown inspections, one right after the other. God help the GI who, after the first inspection was missing anything or had one more of anything than he was supposed to have.

 We crated all of the heavy signal equipment. The barracks were scrubbed down with GI soap one last time and boarded up. Then we climbed into trucks for the trip to the troop trains, transferred, and the trains pulled out----destination Camp Shanks, N.Y.

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The Troop Train to Camp Shanks




 We did not share this train with any civilians. The cars had been designed and built for transporting troops. Every man had his own bunk. There were special mess cars for the sole purpose of feeding the troops. They were not meant to be aesthetic. They were sterile, functional, and efficient.

  The food prepared on the trains was not bad. We had nothing much to do except eat, clean our weapons, and talk. We spent most of the trip speculating about whether we were bound for Europe or the Pacific. Camp Shanks favored Europe, but the Army sometimes tried to confuse the enemy by sending troops in a direction that seemed to suggest one theater of war and then actually send them to another.

  To further confuse the enemy, we had to remove all identifying insignia from our uniforms. The Cactus shoulder patches came off our uniforms and would not be sewn back on until we reached our destination, wherever that might be.

 Whether to confuse us or the enemy we could not be sure, but we were issued copies of French and German phrase books. That action seemed to favor Europe.

 The troop trains bore relentlessly eastward and the longer we headed in that direction the more it looked like Europe.

 The skeptics, however, pointed out that ships could leave New York and still go to the Pacific via the Panama Canal so we were not absolutely certain. We would just have to wait and see.

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 Camp Shanks, New York, Port of Embarkation




 Camp Shanks was decidedly different from Camp Howze. The barracks were not all black tar paper shacks like Camp Howze. They were dull shades of brown, green, yellow and a number of other nondescript colors, as one GI put it, "Every known shade of fecal matter." Maybe they were color coded for a reason but none of us was able to crack the code.

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 Everything at Camp Shanks was done in a hurry. The war was not going to wait for us any longer.

 We were double timed to a gymnasium. In the gym, tables were arranged in a rough oval. A doctor was seated at each table (some just had chairs) and each doctor checked only one thing. We stripped to our bare butts and double timed around the oval to each doctor. One looked at our eyes, another in our ears, another up our noses. We bent over in front of one and turned our heads and coughed in front of another. Each doctor checked a box on the paper that each of us carried around the oval. If you were still warm when you completed the cycle, you had passed the physical.

 Eventually, we arrived at two pairs of tables. We were supposed to stop between two tables and get our overseas shots, one in each arm. While two medics were giving one set of shots, the two medics at the second pair of tables were reloading, getting ready for the next man.

  One poor GI thought that he was going to get just one shot and was watching one arm when the second medic gave him the shot in his other arm. It took him by surprise. He turned around and said, "Hey, What are you doing?" and backed up a step right between the second two tables. By this time, the two medics at these tables had reloaded and, seeing two fresh arms,  hit him again with a second set of shots.

 He was so ill that he spent the entire trip over in sick bay being fed intravenously.  Compared to what some of us got to eat on the way over that doesn't sound too bad.

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 I got into New York City once before we embarked, ate at Jack Dempsey's Restaurant, saw Charlie Barnett's orchestra, and caught the show at Radio City Music Hall --- or was it the Roxie Theater? Rockettes or Roxiettes ---- all I remember is wall to wall legs.

 The next morning, October 5th, 1944 is a blur but we would somehow get to the docks and loaded onto the troop transports that would take us to ------ where?

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 While at Camp Shanks, the men of the Signal Company rearranged some of the company equipment and records and re-packed  them into a form better suited for transportation overseas.

 There were constructed or re-constructed a number of portable record and equipment boxes or chests which were large and heavy.  The installation of handles on almost any sized box supposedly made it "portable" as far as the Army was concerned.

 All who saw these threatening burdens hoped never to be called upon to help with their lifting and transport, ---  handles or not.

 Each Signal Company soldier's personal equipment was formed into a backpack that looked like that of the French Foreign Legion troops.  There was a horseshoe shaped blanket roll strapped around the G.I. musette bag with its supporting shoulder straps. This combination of unwieldy and unbalanced weight was very difficult to manage on the trip from the barracks, on and off the train, and then across a long pier and up and into a very crowded ship.

 I don't remember whether it happened at Howze or Shanks, but somewhere along the way, our "A" and "B" barracks bags were replaced by a single large duffel bag. This made it easier (by an infinitesimal amount) to board our troop train.

 In addition to his backpack, each soldier carried (or pulled) his fully loaded duffel bag, his rifle and a few miscellaneous pieces of field equipment.

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 CWO Howard Hopple, Assistant Supply Officer,  and others from 103d Division Headquarters had gone ahead of the main troop train to New York.  They were headquartered on Long Island and were told to get all of the company records in trucks down into the hold of the Queen Mary, the Cunard liner converted to a speedy troop ship.  Hopple did as instructed.  But a day or so later there was a change of orders. The party was now instructed to go back down into the Queen Mary and retrieve those records.

 So, we are left with the thought that we were headed toward England, originally, and probably would have wound up in the 1st, 3d, or 9th Armies, instead of the 7th.  Also, it would have been a  very crowded, but speedy, and less choppy trip across the Atlantic, and, ultimately, a much different set of experiences for all of us --- but that was not to be.

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 It was Saturday. Loaded down, we marched off to the train at noon and struggled aboard.  The train chugged down past little Hudson towns to the 42nd Street Ferry.

 Some of the guys from the midwest had never seen anything bigger than a row boat and thought that we were going all the way to Europe or wherever on the ferry. They were apprehensive about its seaworthiness.

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                           The Atlantic Crossing Aboard the Henry T. Gibbons


  Dripping sweat, we crowded onto the ferry for the short ride across the Hudson to the troop-loading piers. Those duffel bags were heavy!

 We entered the North River Port of Embarkation (P.O.E.) Terminal Building and waited for what seemed like forever.  Then, we trudged out onto an open dock, and up the gangplank of our ship, The USAT Henry T. Gibbons, sounding off our first names and middle initials when our last names were called.

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 The order of ascending the gangplank of the ship had been prearranged and printed on a very long list - each soldier had a definite place and number in the "Boarding Order". It was not alphabetical; it appeared to be arranged by operating sections of the Signal Company.

 The men of the Construction Section were the last of the Signal Company to  board.

 This created two unusual situations for them. One concerned the baggage that they carried aboard and the other was their location during the voyage.

 When all of us assembled in "boarding  order" as shown by large letters and numbers chalked on our helmets, some of the men of the Construction Section  found themselves standing next to the dreaded "portable boxes"  at the beginning of the long trek down the dock.  Those hapless soldiers became responsible for carrying the company records and equipment in addition to their own personal baggage.

 The order to execute was simple, "You men, right here; drop your duffel bags and grab the handles of them boxes; and you men, cringing over there, pick up the extra duffel bags, and all of your own equipment, and all of you make your way, as best you can, down this here long dock, and up into that there ship!"

 The whole miserable process of getting down the dock, up the gang-plank, and to the storage place for the boxes was a terrible ordeal for the Construction Section.

 It was a time to be grateful for the fact that we were in the Radio Section.

 But it got a little better for the intrepid Construction Section. When they finally did get on the ship, they learned that the only available space for them would be in cabins on one of the top decks of the ship. Yes, there is a God.

  Somewhere between 20 and 40 men of the Construction Section were assigned to 3 or 4 cabins with built-in bunks with mattresses and all the comforts of a cruise ship.  There were army cots placed on the open floor spaces and some rotation of the men between the cots and the mattresses, but it was absolute heaven compared to the condition of the lucky Radio Section men assigned to "the hole" below decks.

 It was a hot, crowded walk, down to "H" deck, pushing, shoving, and stumbling around to find a bunk.  I found a lower bunk and laid my aching back down to rest. The lower bunk seemed like a good idea at the time but later turned out to be a poor choice.

 The Construction men with the extra duffel bags belonging to the box carriers got them as far as the upper deck of the ship and then started down the passageways into the bowels of the ship before they abandoned the bags.

 This created chaos in finding the misplaced bags again. Some didn't locate their duffel bags for several days.

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  The USAT Henry T. Gibbons was a small US Army Transport Ship, so small, in fact, that it was completely overlooked in both of the 103d Division histories. Both histories list the Monticello, the General Brooks, and the Santa Maria as the ships that transported the 103d Division to Europe. The small size of the Santa Maria is mentioned several times in both histories but the Henry T. Gibbons was even smaller. One other ship, the tiny freighter Mormac Moon carried some of the 103d Division's impedimenta but no troops.

 All of the troop ships had one thing in common. The enlisted sleeping accommodations consisted of a rectangular frame of steel tubing about two feet wide and six feet long with a taut canvas sheet laced to it. These were stacked four high and each soldier had to share this "bunk" with his weapon and his duffel bag packed with everything he would ever need, except his meals and a few expendable items, like toilet paper.

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 The USAT Henry T. Gibbons had a slightly perceptible rocking motion while still at the dock. This was enough to make some GIs sea sick. For them, it was going to be a long voyage.

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 Eventually, the engines started to throb with a deeper, more powerful, sound and it was obvious that we were under way.

 We hurried up to the crowded enlisted men's deck for one last look at the USA. The last thing to drop out of sight over the horizon was the parachute drop tower at Coney Island. Then there was nothing but water. Our convoy had picked up several destroyer escorts ("tin cans") and a converted carrier that had once been a merchant ship and several other troop ships carrying the 100th Infantry Division.

 The sky was blue and the breeze freshened as we cleared New York Harbor and made a definite turn to the south to avoid the submarine wolf packs that prowled the North Atlantic.

 There was a lifeboat drill soon after we sailed, for the purpose of training and drilling the ship's crew members in the method of launching the lifeboats. While we watched, standing unobtrusively out of the way, along the starboard side of the ship, several lifeboats were prepared for lowering away. Three crew members got into a boat that was extended out over the rail on its davits and then the process of lowering was started.

 It did not go well.  For some reason, the holding hook on one end of the boat released and the boat was left suspended, swinging in the air at a rakish angle.  The crew member in the center of the boat tumbled head over heels into the member at the free swinging end. One of them almost fell into the sea.  Both of them were injured to some degree.  The swinging end of the boat was secured by using a boat-hook and the lifeboat and the badly frightened crew members were recovered.

 Most of us were hoping that if there ever was a real reason to use the lifeboats, we would make a much better getaway.

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  As previously noted, some members of the Signal Company got accommodations in the First Class cabins, but I, like most other Signal Company men sailing on the Henry T. Gibbons, was way down on "H" deck, below the water line. We wondered what would happen if the ship was torpedoed. We found out in the first drill. All watertight hatches and doors were closed and latched shut. ----- So much for any notions of getting out of there in the event of an attack.

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 On the second day after leaving port, Capt. Beck decided that his First Three Grade Non-coms should have the cabins occupied by the men of the Construction Section and the men of the Construction Section would take their rightful place below decks with the rest of us peons. The rotation movement had just started when a lieutenant of the Transportation Corps interrupted it.  He explained to Capt. Beck that as Officer-In-Charge of the Army Transport, he would put those being transported where he liked, and he just loved the existing arrangement. Capt. Beck was not happy to have his scheme interfered with, especially by a lieutenant, but there was nothing he could do about it.

 Captain Beck, stung by this event, volunteered all of the Construction Section for special details such as sweeping down the decks fore and aft and emptying all GI cans over the fantail.  As a result of this labor assignment, the Construction Section had special meal tickets for three meals a day (instead of the two meals a day allotted to the rest of us). They were also given permission to cut in at the head of the chow line so that they could go about their business in a timely manner. It is highly unlikely that Captain Beck issued the order for these privileges.

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 When we got down to the latitude of North Africa, the convoy turned to the east and soon ran into a storm. The sky darkened and the seas grew higher. As the USAT Henry T. Gibbons came through one of the monstrous waves it projected out of the wave and then crashed down into the trough. The deck dropped out from under our feet. It was fun at first but as the waves got bigger, the free-fall drop got bigger and bigger. After a few sprained ankles, we were all ordered below decks for the duration of the storm which turned out to be a hurricane.

 By this time the "tin cans" were plowing right through the heavy waves which swept over and around the bridge. At times only their rotating radar antenna was all that was visible. Those "swabbies" should have gotten submarine pay.

 Occasionally, a wave would even roll down the flight deck of the converted carrier. Clearly, this was not your everyday variety of storm.

 Seasickness hit nearly everyone, some more than others. It seems to be a law of nature that the least seasick would be those in the lower bunks and the most seasick would be in the upper bunks where they would moan and groan for hours on end and puke all over those of us who had been smart enough to grab the lower bunks when we first boarded.

 Some of us who were issued M-3 submachine guns ("grease guns") as our Table of Organization & Equipment (TO&E) weapons were assigned to guard the secret SEGABA cryptographic machines all the way to the Marseille staging area. The crates holding these machines were placed in the "D-Deck Square" on the USAT Henry T. Gibbons. They could not be lashed down due to concerns that they might fall into the hands of the enemy if our ship should be torpedoed and had to drop out of the convoy.

 If capture seemed imminent, we were supposed to loosen the dogs, open the D-Deck hatch and shove the crypto crates into the ocean. The weighted crates would then sink straight to the bottom.

 The daily routine of the guard detail was, in many ways better than that of most GIs on theUSAT Henry T. Gibbons. The downside was that storm. The heavy cryptographic machine crates skidded back and forth, banging off of the D-Deck hatches, and the bulkheads, and the guard detail did not get a second to breathe, dodging the sliding crates until the storm subsided.

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 The crypto-machine guard detail ate at odd hours, out of the regular rotation, and got only two meals a day. The meals were identical, one liverwurst sandwich and a canteen cup of lemonade twice a day for the whole two weeks trip over. ---- Not very good fare for a bunch of seasick landlubbers ----and just to rub it in, we had to get our meal tickets (that hung around our necks like dog tags) punched to get that.

 When the storm was at its worst, the wurst was at its worst.

 However, a few of us who grew up on the water had no trouble with the rolling and pitching. Two sandwiches a day were not enough for growing boys so, while standing in the chow line, we would start describing the liverwurst in graphic detail, --- its color, its texture, the fatty sliminess of it, and its liver taste. By then the guy next to us in line would turn green and lurch toward the companionway up to a head. As they staggered away, we would yell, "Leave your meal ticket. We'll get it back to you in a couple of hours." (It took about that long to go through the line again).

 We had, indeed, passed through a real hurricane that had crashed across the Caribbean Island area and Cuba.  John Donlan came up with the following timetable of the storm edited from a New York Times story:

 October 14, 1944 - Caribbean area ALERT/WARNING

 October 18, 1944 - All crops on Cayman Islands destroyed,

    Havana, Cuba; 5 deaths, 200 injured,
    heavy wind and rain, harbor craft wrecked

 October 20, 1944 - New York and New Jersey coast, heavy wind,
    rain and hurricane damage.

 Eventually the storm abated and we were finally permitted to go up on deck again. Sometime during the storm, the aircraft carrier had left the convoy for Casablanca. We passed a burning freighter and were told that we could mention it in letters home if we said it reached port safely. They told us that while it was still on fire and far from land ---- how could they be so sure?
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 Soon we turned northeasterly and the African coast came into view on the starboard side. We followed the African coastline on a northeasterly  course, turned into the Mediterranean at Gibraltar and then hugged the North African coast seeing Tangiers, Tetuan, and Oran, while enjoying some of the best weather of the entire trip.

 As we turned north toward Marseille, bad weather started  all over again. It was not as bad as the Atlantic storm, but bad enough, as we once again had to dodge the skidding crypto equipment.

 That trip across the ocean confirmed the correctness, however casually made, of my initial choice of the Army.  No Navy duty for me!

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Marseille Harbor - Oct.20, 1944, Marseille Staging Area


 We entered the harbor at Marseille early in the afternoon of October 20, 1944, but did not disembark immediately. We were the first convoy to arrive there since the invasion of Southern France. The city and harbor had been pounded by bombers and there were overturned hulks of ships all over the harbor that we had to maneuver around.

 That night, we were welcomed by a German aircraft. As it flew high over the harbor area even the novices from the 103d Division could tell that it was German. The Krauts had never learned to synchronize the engines on twin and multi-engine aircraft and the distinct throbbing sound caused by the out-of-sync engines could not be missed.

 Air raid warnings sounded and lights started blinking off all over the harbor area as Marseille blacked out. The large "D"Deck Square hatches were wide open on the USAT Henry T. Gibbons and the lights from D-Deck shown like a beacon across the harbor. We imagined that since this was the only visible target, the USAT Henry T. Gibbons would soon be under attack. The aircraft apparently was only on a reconnaissance mission and, after looking around, left the area. It was a good thing because when we searched high and low for a switch to turn off the lights we found nothing and were about to shoot out the lights when the all clear sounded.

 The next morning the guard detail got the cryptographic gear loaded onto trucks and we drove to the Marseille Staging Area located on a high plateau above Marseille. There, we turned the crypto crates over to the cryptographic personnel and eventually found where the Radio Section was bivouacking.

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 At least we got to ride to the staging area while most of the GIs had to walk in what came to be known as "The Marseille Death March."

  For those who had to march to the staging area, the roads were narrow and the passing convoy trucks seemed to be moving through the darkness with reckless abandon.  When there was an opportunity to stop for a brief rest, it was difficult to get back and safely away from the passing traffic.

 An amphibious  truck, DUKW, roared by very close to the troops who sat on, or tried to lean back on a wall, along the road.  One of our buddies had not pulled his M1 rifle far enough back out of the way. The DUKW ran over his rifle stock, breaking it off from the barrel assembly.

 For any soldier who knew that his rifle was a sacred object, this was a traumatic experience. What to think? Who to tell? What kind of punishment would be waiting when daylight revealed his embarrassment?

 All of these were future problems.  The more immediate problem was, how do you carry a rifle "at slung arms" when the rifle sling is connecting two unsightly pieces.

 The marchers continued to get up after each short rest period, but as the night began to grow longer, colder, and damper their strength and their resolve began to fade away.

 Already there was murmuring, even bitching, and an occasional "discouraging word" as the proposed destination became a more and more distant and unobtainable end to their misery.

 To just fall out and refuse to go on, was desertion! In spite of this imperative, men began to drop out and move out of the line of march singly, in pairs, or small groups, saying, "not another step."

 Many just finally gave up and walked off the road, through a dewy field, to the shelter of something, anything, covered up some way, and waited for the dawn and strength to return. They were apprehensive about their fate for such a breach of military order and discipline.

 At daybreak they started out.  Along the road for the last two or three miles, other men were rejoining the hike, in front of them and behind,  as far as they could see over the rolling hills.

 When the marchers finally arrived at a disorganized camp on a dismal, rocky, barren site only about a quarter of the company was there.

 Some officers and non-coms leading men, or pretending to, arrived later that morning or in the afternoon. The good news was that so many fell out of the march that it was not likely that there would be any disciplinary action for doing so.

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 At the rain-swept Marseille staging area, we slept on jagged rocks in pup tents that constantly fell down because the wooden tent pegs could not be driven into the rock. There was inspection after inspection to make certain that we had everything we were supposed to have and had nothing that we were not supposed to have. For these inspections, everything we owned had to be displayed on a shelter half (the one-half of a pup tent that was issued to each soldier). We did this in the unrelenting rain so everything we owned was soaked.

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 At mail call, I received a small package. It was a birthday present from my mother, an elegant wrist watch, a Vacheron. I wore it with much trepidation because I had not had a lot of luck with watches and we were working under terrible weather conditions preparing for our introduction to combat. It spent more time in my shirt pocket, protected by my new combat jacket, than on my wrist.

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 The Engineers blasted deep holes in the rock and covered them with wooden boxes having 10 holes cut in the top. A urinal trough was installed at one end, emptying into the common hole in the ground. These were king-sized outhouses --- except that there were no roofs and no privacy screens around them.

 As was usual, these latrine areas were located as far as convenient from the living area of the company. In our case, they were lined up along an unimproved road at the rear of the company areas.  The road continued to be used by the civilian population, male, female, and others.  Most of the civilian traffic was on foot.

 In spite of the occasional freezing rain and cold wind, there were no protective canvas walls around, or ceilings over, these rustic toilets.  Privacy was not even considered. The civilians could be seen approaching some distance away by those seeking relief. In most cases, the women and girls could be identified, and would cause various reactions and responses by the men.  Some would cut short their business and retreat quickly. Others would react in a number of ways.

 In the group who remained behind to be exposed, there were those who chose to ignore the passersby, others would smile or speak, the really savoir-faire gentlemen would tip their hats and/or offer the ladies a seat.

 It was nearly time for our first formation. George Bartlett a mild mannered bashful Midwesterner was using the 10-holer when a French girl, pedaling her bicycle along the road, noticed the facilities. Feeling the urge to relieve herself, she got off of her bike and plopped down on the hole right next to George. The whistle blew for the formation but he was not about to get up first and the girl was obviously in no hurry. I don't remember how it played out. For all I know George might have been sitting there for days.

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 Back at Camp Howze, the radio operators had all worried about the vehicles nicknamed the "Rolling Coffins" in which our radios were installed.  Much to our relief, we got brand new, and quite different, vehicles at the Marseille staging area. They were ¾ ton weapons carriers. The driver and assistant driver could each get out of his own side and the radio operator(s) could get out the rear over the tail gate.

A 3/4 Ton Weapons Carrier

 We went over our new vehicles with great care, making certain that all liquid levels were proper and there were no oil leaks or leaks in the brake lines or the transmission. We lubricated the wheel bearings and all grease fittings. We checked the electrical system, checked battery fluid levels, belt tensions, and tire pressures. We did not miss a thing because there would be no handy neighborhood garages on the battlefield.

 After we finished, we checked everything again, just to be sure that we had not missed anything the first time.

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 We were installing the SCR-193 radio sets in our trucks. The arrangement was much better than the arrangement in the Rolling Coffins back at Camp Howze. The SCR-193 set was installed across the bed of the truck snugly up behind the driver and assistant driver seat. The benches along both sides of the truck bed had compartments for the heavy-duty truck battery, tire chains, extra antenna sections, etc. Initially, the operator had to sit on one of these hard benches but after a few weeks in the field we would find a solution to that problem.

Signal Corps Radio Set SCR-193

                                                  Upper left: BC-312 Receiver
 
                                                   Right: the SCR-191 Transmitter
The SCR-193 was housed in a box having a roll-down
canvas cover to protect the components from the weather.

 We were busily installing the radio sets when a serious thunderstorm hit the plateau. A lightning bolt hit one of the cables of the high voltage power line that ran over the staging area and forked into a half dozen or more branches, each of which found one of the whip antennas that we had physically installed but had not yet hooked up. The trucks were insulated from the ground by the rubber tires so, after the lightning strike, each still held a substantial electrical charge. Someone saw the lightning come down our antenna, I don't recall who, and ran toward our truck yelling, "Is everyone O.K. in there?" He couldn't see us because the canvas was rolled down to keep out the rain and we were working by flashlight.

 I yelled back. "Stay away! Don't touch the truck!" Too late. He put his hand on the wet canvas and promptly got knocked flat on his butt. It would have been much worse if he had touched the metal truck body. As it was, only his dignity was damaged. We yelled to the guys in the other trucks to stay in them and not try to get down on the ground. I said, "Find a way to hook your tire chains to the body of the truck and then throw the free ends out where they will contact the ground and discharge your trucks." The tire chains made some sparks when they hit the wet ground but they did the trick.

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 We finally got all of our radio transmitters and receivers installed in our trucks and checked them out. We then stenciled our unit identifications and vehicle numbers on our bumpers.

  It was November 1, 1944. There was nothing left to do. We were as ready as we would ever be.

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The Move up the Rhone River Valley to the Front


 The order came to leave the staging area. Each driver was given a strip map, essentially a single line map showing a wiggly line connecting the towns that we would be driving through, and giving the approximate distances between towns.

 We formed up in a convoy turned on our headlights and moved out.

 It seemed simple enough. Stay in line; keep the proper distance from the vehicle in front of you; keep the convoy closed up; and we would all arrive at the next assembly area together.

 That was before other convoys started trying to pass us. They also had their headlights on. And there were individual army trucks that were not parts of convoys darting in and out of the column. Several other convoys merged with ours.

 The "Red Ball Express" carrying supplies to the front got priority treatment. This further fragmented our convoy. Before long, we were hopelessly strung out along our route.

 The war had been here just a short time before. There were many knocked out German vehicles and tanks alongside the road and the green troops from the 103d did a lot of rubbernecking further exacerbating the problem by stretching our column out even more.

 Every time the column slowed, the French kids climbed all over our trucks.

 "Bon bon ?" "Chocolat ?"  "Cigarette pour ma ma ?"  "Nice sister!"

 We gave them K-Ration cigarettes and chocolate, whatever we had, but could not stop ---  so no one had time to check out the kid's sister.

 We drove on into the night feeling the commitment to battle drawing near and becoming concerned that there were no other vehicles from the 103d Division in sight. We noticed a glow in the sky up ahead but it was a complete surprise to drive into a town where there was a brightly lit traffic circle at the point of convergence of five or six roads.

 In the center of the circle was an MP up on a platform brilliantly illuminated by a ring of floodlights. He was wearing a white helmet liner, white belt, white leggings, and white gloves. He checked the mud splattered bumpers of each vehicle entering the circle, noted the unit identification and unhesitatingly directed each vehicle down one of the roads. He did this with so much flair, confidence, and authority that no one even slowed down going through the traffic circle. We assumed that he knew what he was doing. ---- We were wrong.

 After we got clear of the town I asked the assistant driver, Mike Schindler, if he was sure we were on the right road. He pulled out the map board and said, "I don't know but if the next town is not on the strip map we are lost. This map only shows the towns we are supposed to go through. It doesn't show anything else."

 After about an hour we had traveled far enough, per the strip map, to have seen another town and were getting concerned when an MP stepped into the road with a flashlight and waved us down. He shoved the flashlight into my face and bellowed, "Turn off those damned headlights and get your blackout lights on. Don't you know that you are in a combat zone?" He then waved us off the road into a large vehicle parking area for convoy stragglers.

  We parked and then started looking around. We found a lot of 103d Division vehicles so we, and their drivers, nestled them all up together like sheep in a thunderstorm, and then got some sack time. At dawn, an officer who had a real map, not a strip map, consulted with an MP, and figured out what we had to do to get back onto our original path, so we did it.

 Our 500-mile route took us up the Rhone River, ---- Avignon, Valence, Lyon, Dijon and finally to a staging area near Docelles. We arrived there in light snow.

 It took several days for all of the stragglers to finally assemble at Docelles and then it took a few days more for everything to get sorted out.

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3d Infantry Division

 Upon arrival at Docelles, we talked to some of the "old timers" from the 3d Infantry Division who had already seen a lot of action. They had some interesting and frightening war stories. They warned us about touching or moving enemy dead. Some of the bodies had been booby trapped, apparently in the hope that a dead soldier would make someone pay for taking his life.

  One of them asked me if I still had my mattress cover.

 I did.

 It had been issued to me all the way back at Camp Howze and I couldn't see any earthly use for it.

 Then he told me. It was to be used as a body bag if I should be killed.

  Well, mine wasn't going to be used for that. I was not about to carry my own coffin around with me.

 We left everything we didn't absolutely need in storage at Docelles.

 That included my mattress cover.

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