5. 103d Signal Company Purpose and Organization
This description of the 103d Signal Company applies to the "Combat Ready" unit that was engaged in overseas action. During training, manuevers, etc. the organization of the company may have been different.
The 250 officers and men of the 103rd Signal Company, commanded by Capt. Bernard BECK at the rear Division Command Post, supplied radio, telephone/teletype wired, and messenger service communications for the units from regimental headquarters to division headquarters and beyond to the 6th Corp. They also provided the communications network laterally from division headquarters to the many attached support units of the division; heavy artillery, tank destroyers, anti-aircraft, etc.
The five sections of the company supplied telephone, telegraph, teletype, messenger, and radio communications plus cryptographic code services. The majority of the company was normally located at the forward Division Command Post or with the Regiments.
(1995 Editor's note: There is some difficulty in defining the location and movement of the Division Command Posts. It is my impression that the administrative headquarters of the division and the signal company were located at the "rear Division Command Post". The Generals and their staff officers, the signal company administration, support and supply, and Captain Beck and his office staff were also located there. At the "forward Division Command Post" were the operating section officers, senior NCOs, Message Center, Wirehead, and the wire construction and radio operating teams that were assigned to follow those same type teams assigned to the regiments and the tactical units attached to the division. Most of the tactical direction and control of the operating sections of the signal company was from the forward Division Command Post.)
The basic sections of the 103d Infantry Division Signal Company; Radio Operating, Wire Construction, Message Center and Telephone/Telegraph were the main elements of the communications activity of the company.
They were supported within the company by the Administration and Supply and the Division Signal-Supply and Repair sections.
With its primary mission to service the operating sections of the Signal Company, the Headquarters Section under the direction of Capt. BECK included the Company mess group, the Company supply group, the Motor Maintenance group, the Headquarters group and the Division Signal Supply and Repair group.
The service groups were part of the Division Rear CP, with the exception of the Division Signal Supply and Repair groups which were normally located at Division MSR,(Main Supply Rear).
CWO HOWARD HOPPLE was in charge of the Division Signal Supply and Repair groups which supplied the Division combat units with radios, telephones,switchboards, telegraph sets, batteries, etc. and then had the responsibility to keep all of this vital but actively used equipment in good repair.
T/Sgt. PAUL GRANT and a very small group of specially trained men were responsible for the repair and maintenance of all of the division's radios and the mine detectors.
T/Sgt. AL WILLIBRAND and his very competent small group were responsible for the repair and maintenance of the divisions teletype equipment, telephones, telegraph sets and switchboards.
The Motor Maintenance section under direction of WOJG. EDWIN St.CIN kept the company vehicles in repair and operating. Many of the trucks assigned to operating sections were on-the-road so much that only the most basic maintenance could often be done - there were very few mechanical breakdowns, more often a collision or combat damage would put a unit out of operation.
Before it is possible to analyze the operation of the men of the Signal Company, it is necessary to become acquainted with the ultimate users of most of the communication information handled by the men in the boxes on the diagram.
Those "Ultimate Users" were the men fighting for their very existence in the holes (man made and other), war wreaked fields, forests, villages, and the terrifying open spaces - the officers and men of the infantry, and their close-supporting, miserable companions.
The infantry squads, platoon, companies and battalions maintained and operated mobile and in some cases, make-shift small networks of radio and wire communications.
The infamous "Handi-Talkie" radio sets and the EE8A crank and battery operated telephones were shown in a zillion "Hollywood War Movies" with desperate men in very dramatic situations who were using these main technical tools of the front-line foot soldier.
The basic high-technology communication of the foot soldiers was augmented by hand signals, whispering, shouting, throwing rocks and message service by crawling, walking or running between the fire-control and movement points of the confusing battlefield.
These systems functioned fairly well most of the time to coordinate the action of tactical units from the infantry squad leader up to the commanding officers and men at the battalion level.
The methods of communication between those last three groups in each regiment and the regimental commanding colonel and his staff used the same basic telephone equipment connected together with light- duty field-wire, however, greater strength radio equipment mounted in backpacks was also used to cover slightly greater distances.
The Construction Section consisted of six or more wire teams using trucks to run telephone and telegraph lines between the forward CP and the three Regiments, Division Artillery, the rear CP, and to units attached to the Division.
The Telephone & Telegraph Section ran the telephone lines at the Division Headquarters, manned the Division switchboard and provided teletype communications to the 6th Corp.
The Radio Section like the Construction Section provided teams assigned to each of the Regiments, Division Artillery and attached units. A net control station at Division Headquarters also provided radio communications to 6th Corps.
The message Center section included personnel to supply cryptographic encoding and decoding of messages and also for messenger service.
The Headquarters Section included the administrative, supply, mess, motor pool, and electronic repair personnel.
Perhaps a better understanding of the purpose and organization of the Signal Company can be gained by visualizing the mostly small semi-independent groups of men and equipment doing their daily (and nightly) work.
Extending back toward the Division Command Post and the rear areas was a communications system operated by the 103d Division Company men and their superb "Government Issued - G.I." equipment that had been "innovatively" modified to make it fit the environmental conditions and provide the necessary creature comforts so that,"seldom was heard a discouraging word", almost.
At each of the 3 Regiment Command Posts was a Signal Company truck-mounted radio-operating team composed of a sergeant and 3-5 men, each of whom was proficient in sending enciphered five-letter groups of Morse code. This was the most common method of transmitting information between the members of each one of the three regimental radio teams and the very much stronger radio transmitting and receiving equipment operating in a large van at the Division Command Post.
The operating team in the van was in constant radio contact with the regimental operators, other units in the field, and the next higher tactical unit, 6th Corps.
These four radio operating units, supplemented at times by additional mobile and radio relay units were the main components of the Radio Operating Section.
Teams of men, members of the Construction Section and their equipment from the Signal Company were stationed with, and for all practical purposes were under the control of the commanders of each of the three regiments: 409, 410, and 411 to install telephone and teletype wire lines to division headquarters and beyond to units directly supporting the regiments.
These wire-teams operated from heavier more open trucks than the radio-teams because they carried several heavy reels of wire containing up to one mile of heavy twisted copper and steel wire that could be placed on a motor driven spindle capable of feeding out wire from two reels as the truck moved down the road.
Each time the regiment CP or one of the support units attached to the regiment moved, the wire team would install a new wire network linking the Regiment CP to its support units and the Division CP.
Telephone lines were normally laid on the ground as quickly as possible when the Division was on the move. Lines damaged by tanks or other vehicles were repaired by trouble shooters. If time was available, the lines were later placed in more secure overhead locations by men with pole climbing equipment.
Between major moves of the command posts, there was always plenty of work for the regimental teams supplying incidental communication for the regimental commander and his staff or resupplying themselves by recovering unused wire from the roadside using the motor driven spindle that was capable of recovering and rewinding wire that was no longer being used for its initial communication purpose or picking up new supplies of wire, gasoline, field rations, etc., usually from division headquarters.
The wire teams assigned to the regiments operated as semi-autonomous units and had a great deal of flexibility and responsibility in maintaining vital communications under very hazardous and difficult conditions at times.
At the division CP there were 3-4 wire-teams using similar equipment and trucks to those used by the regimental teams.
These teams were also composed of a sergeant and 4-5 men but they had varying assignments depending on the movement and deployment of the division CP and its attached units, the relocation of the regimental CPs, etc.
For example, the 103d Infantry Division Signal Company furnished radio and wire communications crews to front line elements of the infantry regiments, to organic combat units such as field artillery battalions, and to tank battalions and other combat units attached to the division.
The attached combat units included, at various times, the 756th Tank Battalion, the 761st Tank Battalion, the 781st Tank Battalion, the 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion, the 824th Tank Destroyer Battalion, the 534th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Auto-Weapons Battalion and the 991st Field Artillery Battalion (155 mm Gun SP).
The division wire-teams were assigned to their work by Technical Sergeant FRAZIER, a competent, experienced and demanding but fair leader. The NCO in charge of the Construction Section was M/Sgt. LOVELL COLLINS, who joined the company just before it was sent overseas. In general the teams were engaged in laying wire to units attached to the division CP or laying wire in the direction of a regimental CP to meet on the road the incoming regimental wire team to re-establish communication after a move of the division or regiment CP.
Most of the many wire lines laid by the division wire-teams originated or terminated at a massive interconnect terminal block known as the "Wirehead". After a very short period of operation overseas, a one ton trailer was used to mount the 36 line terminal block and a multi-wire cable was used to connect the trailer and the Message Center. This configuration was located adjacent to the Telephone and Telegraph operating facility, usually an acquired building, sometimes a more primitive temporary shelter.
Within the T&T facility were located the switchboards necessary for routing the many communica tions, the telephones and telegraphs necessary for the local operation and the interconnections necessary to route lines to the various Division Staff operating locations.
Very close to the T&T location was the Message Center, the operations and control point for the Motor-messagers arriving and departing usually in jeeps carrying written messages directed to and from 6th Corps headquarters, Division headquarters, regimental CPs, units attached to the division and any other tactical location to which a written message was appropriate. The motor messagers often covered hundreds of miles in a day over good roads and bad, through territory well behind the front lines, and at times into unfamiliar and hostile areas near the action.
Signal Company trucks with radio equipment or wire teams were choice targets for enemy artillery and mortar fire. The trucks therefore did not usually remain in one place very long unless they were in a more secure area.
(1993 Editor's note: This
description of the organization and operating of the 103d Division Signal
Company relied heavily on the contributions of many individuals, officers
and men of the sections, those who had been with the company from its early
organization and training days. Almost every man who at one time or another
attended a reunion, and some who have not, are responsible for the facts
and figures. The errors, B.S., etc. that cause disappointment are
supplied by the editor alone.)
103 SIGNAL COMPANY
LT. OLIN JOHNSON\JULIUS SEDENDSKY
M/SGT. LOVELL COLLINS
T/SGT. LYNDALL FRAZIER
WIRE-TEAMS ATTACHED TO INFANTRY REGIMENTS
|409TH REGIMENT||410TH REGIMENT|
|S/Sgt. Durwood J. Brown||S/Sgt. Wilmer R. Lee|
|Charles A. Little||Homer L. Wright|
|LeRoy A. Stender||M. Gene Naney|
|Donald R. Gray||Gerald D. Nelson|
|Donald W. Vincent||Warren M. Hilliard|
|Rosario R. Natolie||Gorden A. Kaufman|
|Eugene Santisteven||Thomas M. Brown|
|James Currier||Robert S. Dash|
|S/Sgt William J. Donohoe|
|Lawrence L. Morgan|
|LeRoy A. Stender|
|Charles H. Ware|
|Melvin Yuds (Replacement) *|
WIRE-TEAMS ATTACHED TO DIVISION HEADQUARTERS
|Sgt. Eugene D. Jones||Sgt. Jack Cohn *|
|John Anania||Donald "Bunny" Rogers|
|William Barclay||David Emerick|
|Rudolph Dortman||James W. Brooks|
|Wilbur Ellis||Marvin Ellis|
|Ralph T. Larson|
|Heber W. Tisch|
|Carrol "Pop" Kruegle (Replacement)|
|Michael Matricardi||*Killed In Action|
|Sgt. Paul Murray|
|Arthur W. Decker|
103RD SIGNAL COMPANY MEMBER ASSIGNMENTS
WIRE-TEAMS ATTACHED TO DIVISION REAR ECHELON
Sgt. Donald R. Gray
Sgt. Raymond W. Barby
Joseph Lafata Joseph Lafata
Patrick Faulkner Patrick Faulkner
Jerome Waldref Jerome Waldref
Sidney Tillman Sidney Tillman
Herman L. Hollabaugh Herman L. Hollabaugh
Sgt. William C. Lemon
Allen H. Bush
(The N.C.O. assigned to the Rear Echelon Wire-Teams changed from time to time, but some of the teams members remained the same for longer periods of time.)
CONSTRUCTION "TROUBLE SHOOTING"
(2 man Teams)
Donald R. Gray
John A. Lazarz Sidney Tillman
Merrill V. Lett
Ralph T. Larsen Harold M. Patterson
John A. Lazarz
Thomas Brown James E. Abshire
103RD SIGNAL COMPANY MEMBER ASSIGNMENTS
CAPT. BERNARD BECK
1st/SGT. JAMES FINKBEINER
Sgt. Robert J. Hess
Sgt. Maurice B. Giles
SIGNAL SUPPLY MOTOR POOL
Lt. Jerry L. Butler
W.O. Edward C. St Cin
W.O. Howard E. Hoppel Joseph A. Pershon Raymond E.Kester
Paul Fousset Henry J. Rackers Edward C. White
Everett E. Herin Ingold C. Berge Johnie Ramsey
Charles A. Young Gordon L. Cruikshank Edgar C. Wilson Frank C. Bramos William C. DeGroat
TELEPHONE-TELEGRAPH REPAIR RADIO REPAIR
T/Sgt. Al. Willibrand
T/Sgt. Paul Grant
Frank P. Kraft Edward J. Jalloway Orville C.Carver
James T. Allen Henry G. Kolander William R. Schmidtz
Alfred J. Nixon Benedict Novotny Leonard V. Churilla
H. Earl Star Walter J. Toruta Ervin C. Kuhlenschmidt
H.Q. CLERKS, ETC.
S/Sgt. Sigman J. Corley Capt. Bernard Beck
Sgt. William G. Mee 1st. Sgt. James A. Finkbeiner
William W. Ambrose Maurice B. Giles
Oral W. Brown Robert Hess
John Childers Robert Sheldon and Clarence Day
Clifford Carlson were drivers for Capt. Beck
Ralph Clemmer Joseph Aterno and Edgar Wilson
Howard N. Radke were drivers for Col. Brown
103RD SIGNAL COMPANY MEMBER ASSIGNMENTS
LT. REGINALD LYMAN
M/SGT. EMIL BOITOS
RADIO OPERATING TEAMS ATTACHED TO INFANTRY REGIMENTS
S/Sgt. Gordon J. Swindells S/Sgt. Robert L. Gill
Elwood Godfrey Arbye Curtis George Lake Dalton R. Coffman
Louis Ross Donald Benz M. Bud Zinc Frank A. Tullio
Ralph E. Meyer Frank Applebaum Matthew Kovats
S/Sgt. Novel E. Hennum
Michael J. Schindler
RADIO OPERATING PERSONNEL ATTACHED TO DIVISION HEADQUARTERS
John C. Sheward
Paul D. Henson Immanuel J. Wilk
Dale Davidson Lewis Rosenblum Henry Keller
Bernard L. Conn John F. Phillips Anthony Zachacki
William J. Adams
The following radio Men's assignments are unknown, varied, or they did not go overseas.
James W. Allen Lowell
H. Helmick Ralph F. Meyer
John Anderson Hamilton Leonard R. Nelkin
Lloyd M. Bair Alfred W. Horne Harry Novack
William G. Ballantine Fred A. Lawrence Robert G. Olesen
George Bartlett Hancel C. Light Jack Owens
James W. Carr Norbert N Lloyd Kenneth Paulson
Edward W. Dillion Karl R. Matle Robert Phillips
Rudolph Ellsworth Albert Merz Vito Pizzo
Ernest Godfredsen lyde W. McIntyre Clemens Post
Richard E. Preston Gerald Rivard Robert G. Rushing
John C. Sauls Earl R. Schultz Arnold C. Schumacher
Stegmeir Thurman K. Wolf Lewis Rosenblum
103RD SIGNAL COMPANY MEMBER ASSIGNMENTS
REAR COMMAND POST
Capt. Bernard Beck
Lt. Ray Vanderby
TELEPHONE & TELEGRAPH
Thomas J. Cavanaugh John K Carlson
Ralph W. Stonebraker Joseph M Patterson
Robert L Brounsdorf Lester C. Houlihan
Robert R. Shaw Lewis M Cowell
Alvin R. Kutchins James T. Zanotti
Frank R. Hoch Irwin J. Cohen
Robert S. Dash Wilbur H. Clevenger
Arthur K. Vernon
Jack R. Copeland
Donald R. Gray John F. Phillips
Raymond W. Barby Frank Applbaum
William C. Lemon Lewis Rosenblum
Patrick Faulkner HEADQUARTERS
Jerome Waldref (Most of the section Allen H. Busht except some of the cooks) William Strayhorn
103RD SIGNAL COMPANY MEMBER ASSIGNMENTS
The following Construction Men's assignments are unknown, varied, or they did not go overseas.
Edward Bialecki Kenneth
Willie S. Blanton John b. Hayes
John F. Bolton Robert Jackson
Edward Brietenbach Robert J. Kelly
Lloyd O. Bull Richard MacLeay
Cogdill Thomas Micek
Leonard A. Coons O'Hara
Cosgrove Kenneth J Perrington
John N. Cuppy Joseph F. Riemenschneider
Arthur W. Decker Edmund W. Diederich Harry A. Shaw Ted J. Dines
George E. Spisak Dorfman
Ferdinand Tiefenbach Wilton W. Frank
Cosimo F. Viola Lee C. Gilmore
Emlen V. Wistar George R. Wooster
Michael H. Schirm was with us and then became a
2nd Lieutenant assigned to one of the regiments.
Emlen Wistar was with us in the mud of Marseille.
The following Headquaarter
Men's assignments are unknown,varied, or they did not go overseas.
Ames Maurice A. Henderson
R.L. Anderson Charles W. Henderson
Roger B. Andrews Fred C. Jenderson
Raymond P. Baldwin William B. Langston
Jerome P. Beard John P. Kuehn
Bingham Eugen B. Lull
John O. Busby John C. Mitchell
Leonard V. Churilla Milititsky
William E. Czich Morford
Damon Frank W. Moser
Charles A. Dews Harold L. Murphy
John N. Droulard Peter P Radosevitch
Wilbur H. Edens Johnnie O. Ramsey
Charles J. Engelman Olin Smith
Odes F. Gill Lyle R. Wentworth
John D. Gould Edward R. White
Charles L. Gummo John Gurecky
Edgar C. Wilson
103RD SIGNAL COMPANY MEMBER ASSIGNMENTS
The following Message Center Men's assignments are unknown,varied, or they did not go overseas.
Joseph A. Allison Max Gould
Charles K. Bishop Philip W. Gunderson
Raymond DeYoung Walter L. Hess
Stanley T. Drewniak Henry Hook
Thomas Druggan Kiely
Ray C. Newman
The following T&T Men's assignments are unknown, varied, or they did not go overseas.
Everett E. Campbell Lloyd
Dennis Delaney Donald C. Parent
Gustave M. Nordstrom Sirrine
6. A.S.T.P.- Army Specialized Training Program
The Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) was started to provide continuing education for the many college students enrolled in the private and public institutions of higher learning throughout the United States. Many of these young men had enlisted in the Army Reserve to delay being drafted and/or to continue their education in an orderly manner. It was also possible for men who had completed high school to take the Army General Classification Test (AGCT) and qualify for pre-induction assignment to the program.
In addition to these major groups in the ASTP, there were a number of soldiers already serving in the Army who for whatever reason had requested transfer to the program. "Smitty" was one of these men, joining after a period of "arduous service" in the Army Air Corps.
It may have been planned and anticipated by the Army that the soldiers completing the program would not be available for "field service" until late in a war lasting into 1946 and beyond and then would be used as technical support in the Armies of Occupation. Some of the soldier-students chose as a cynical theme a variation on a World War One song; "We're coming over, but we won't be over 'til it's over, over there!"
By April, 1943 the Army decided to call all of the reserve students into active service for assignment to basic military training before being sent to selected Universities which would conduct the intensive ASTP training.
OUR MEN: FADER
Shortly after my 18th birthday I was called up and assigned to a special training program in radio/radar and sent to Syracuse U. and then to Philco in Philadelphia. Apparently my selection was connected to my AGF test score. Finally, in July 1942 I was put into uniform and assigned to the Air Service Command as a radio/radar repairman and my basic training was in the sand of Columbia, SC. Then I was assigned to Dale Mabry Field in Tallahassee, FL where I poked at blood spattered radio sets and tried to fix them. It was a P-47 Thunderbolt training base and almost every day a plane would dive nose first into the ground or crack up in other ways. The P-47 was a powerful but tricky plane to fly. It kept the pilots honest.
One day at Dale Mabry I was called into the orderly room and told that I qualified for ASTP and OCS and asked which I wanted. I chose ASTP and was placed in the engineering program.
OUR MEN: ROREM
At the end of October, 1943, 2000 men happily left Camp Fannin and arrived at the A&M College of Texas in College Station, Texas. I was assigned to the 6th Student Training Company and life here was true luxury compared to Camp Fannin. Four men were assigned to each room in beautiful brick dormitories and the food was better than anyone could imagine. The Navy also had men studying at the college and they allowed us to use their "Ships Store" where we could purchase anything from candy to clothes.
The men who came from Fannin were joining with men coming from other camps to form the student 'sections' assigned to the college training programs.
Texas A&M was not a coeducational institution at that time. It was a Land Grant College college in which almost all of the civilian students were "cadets" in the ROTC program and wore distinctive uniforms similar to the standard army officer uniform of the day. Cadets wore "pinks and greens" and "khakis" or "suntans" with cadet brass.
During the fall of 1943 the cadet student population was only 2205, compared to the fall of 1942 when was 6549.
The environment on campus was unique. All of the Armed Services had men in training there, Army (us); Army Air Force, Navy, Marine Corp, and Cadets (them). All day there were small, and not so small, military groups marching back and forth to classes or drill exercises.
The military bearing of the groups was distinctive; the Marines were the sharpest (lots of fancy routines), the ASTP men with their infantry drill training looked very good, the Cadets had some unusual style, the Army Air Force fellows moved about fairly well, the Navy - in their rumpled, washed-out-blue dungarees seemed to get from place to place as a free spirited semi-group of individuals.
We were all there for Thanksgiving day and the BIG GAME between the "Longhorns" of Texas University at Austin and the "Aggies" of Texas A&M with all of its campus spirit, giant bonfire, hard fought football game with the Cadets standing every minute as a supportive "12th Man". Bear Bryant was still coaching at A&M before going to a record setting period at Alabama. According to Andy Beck, and son of Capt. Bernard Beck, A&M lost the game the game to UT, 27-13.
OUR MEN: ROREM
After three months and the completion of the first quarter of basic engineering we were given a six day furlough from January 31 to February 6, 1944. The 2,000 men leaving on furlough filled several trains and had a distinct slow down on the train schedules.
OUR MEN: BARCLAY
Jerome WALDREF and I were rooming together as the only occupants of a first floor, corner room intended for 4 men as the result of careful planning and pleading by Jerome. Why Jerome had picked me as the beneficiary of this and later 'preferential treatment' remains a mystery. Perhaps he knew even that early in our service I would need special help.
For some reason, also unexplained, we started off hitch-hiking home to Los Angeles. In spite of the fact we looked like real members of the Armed Forces, at the end of the first day and night into the second day, it became evident that we were not doing well out there west of the Texas Panhandle.
During one of our few rides, Jerome grew so alarmed by the erratic driving of the old cowboy in his dusty, well worn sedan (I was trying to sleep in the back seat) that Jerry insisted that we be left by the side of the road in one of the most desolate spots in the wide open west.
When the discussion (argument) of our sorry position; physically, geographically, and financially had ended, it was decided that we would get 'some way' to the next town with a railroad station and finish our trip in some style. We did finally reach El Paso, Texas - just half way home to Los Angeles, and continued our trip sitting up for the worst parts of 2 days and nights.
At the end of our furlough time, Jerry, Mike Schirm, and I drove back to Texas A&M in Jerry's car, a sporty 1941 Plymouth cabriolet.
The car was in good condition until it had passed through a sand storm and an Army tank exercise being conducted in a "Desert Training Area" that had been set up by General Patton before he left for North Africa. We had also sideswiped a longhorn steer, and lost a door handle and some paint just north of Austin, Texas.
OUR MEN: ROREM
By mid March 1944 and the middle of the second quarter, the Army decided it needed Infantry men more than Engineers and 1000 of us were sent to the 103d Division at Camp Howze near Gainsville, Texas. The other 1000 men went to the 12th Armored Division. The four men in my room were split evenly.
John Roselli and Mark Rosenquist went to the 12th Armored Division while Wilson Rodgers and I went went to the 103d Division. John Roselli and I were the ones who survived the war.
Our studies were intensive, the living conditions in modern college dorms were great, the dining in great dining halls with eight-man tables served by A&M Cadets working their way through college was as good as it sounds. It just had to end. It did end for us as well as many other ASTP soldiers all over the country as outlined in Harold Rorem's narrative.
Smitty's narrative outlines his transitions into and out of the ASTP program from a different point of view.
OUR MEN:WILLIAM R. SCHMITZ - ("SMITTY")
In October the training cycle was coming to an end, our basic Air Force training was nearly complete. It was announced that a program was being started that offered qualified soldiers an opportunity to go to college.
It was called ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program) . I had already enrolled in the University of Wisconsin prior to enlisting, the Air Force didn't tell me what my assignment was to be, the ASTP announcement did. So I applied for the ASTP program, was accepted and by November sent to an ASTP testing and reclassification center at Stetson University in Deland, Florida.
Deland was a sleepy college town within pass-distance of the beach at Daytona. We lived in a dormitory and dined in a co-ed cafeteria. There were no formations and no weapons. Eventually, in late November, the assignments were made and I was sent to Oklahoma A&M at Stillwater to join 1200 other soldiers of the ASTP Program. I studied American history, and a contingent of WAVES who were enrolled in some other program.
By January 1944, it was rumored that the ASTP program was not to last. On 20 February 1944, the axe fell. Over the nation, 110,000 ASTP students were to be transferred to combat units, including 900 from Oklahoma A&M. The order read, "the time has come for the majority of you to be assigned to other active duty to break the enemy's defense and force their unconditional surrender...". My basic training was certain to strike fear into the hearts of the enemy!
Some of the reassigned men from Texas A&M went to the 12th Armored Division and some of us went to the 103d Infantry Division at Camp Howze.
On the troop train, with a full load of men headed north through Dallas toward Howze, officers and NCOs from the companies of the 103d went from car-to-car with a complete list of all the men on the train and their assignments. We all expected to be put into infantry line companies, but as each car was completely processed it became apparent 2 or 3 lucky men out of the 40 or 50 seated there were being assigned to companies of the Special Troops segment of the division.
WALDREF and SCHIRM traveled in Jerry's car and probably managed some delay enroute'.
One day at Dale Mabry Base I was called into the orderly room and told that I qualified for ASTP and OCS and asked which I wanted. I chose ASTP and was placed in the engineering program.
After being shuffled through two staging colleges in Florida I was sent to Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State Univ.) in Stillwater OK where the winds blew in one direction all day long. Started from scratch studying electrical engineering with a very large group--well, introductory physics etc--and found that I liked it. Since all study and no play does dull, I decided to become a newspaper editor. I convinced the editor of the college newspaper, Daily O'Collegian, that with so many GIs (and Navy V12??) on the campus, one page should be reserved for us. So I started writing articles under various pseudonyms since I couldn't interest enough of the ASTPers to become newspaper people and I even had a sports column. Now, Oklahoma A&M had one of the nation's best college basketball teams, if not the best. This wasn't much of an accomplishment since most colleges they played had under 18-year olds or military deferred players. Oklahoma A&M had a 7-footer who played center. (I can't remember his name, but he went on to become a star with the Philips 66 Oilers.) I believe he was the first of that size in college ball. Consequently, they won every game by tremendous margins. At one game they played a team from a small local college with very small players and as the A&M score mounted, the A&M students kept screaming for their team to run up the score against their overmatched opponents.
This disturbed me and so I wrote my next sports column criticizing the students regarding their sportsmanship and the humiliation piled onto those poor small college players. It had quite an effect. Whenever we marched by in formation past A&M students--we always went from class to class in formation--I was booed.
On top of that my "buddies" tried to ostracize me because they found that most coeds would not date them. The sins of the...etc.
Toward the end of the second "semester" we were informed that the ASTP program was discontinued and that we would be reassigned to an army unit. But, we were told that we would all have 3-day passes with St. Louis being the farthest East we could go. Since I had been in the AF/Army for almost 18 months without a furlough, I decided to go home to NY.
The train schedules seemed to be in my favor, but I forgot there was a war on. I did make it home for 24 hours, but on the return found that I missed my connection from St. Louis to Tulsa. My train into St. Louis was delayed--the war, you know. With a charge of AWOL facing me I prevailed upon the conductor to write a note stating that the train was late.
Finally arrived at Stillwater and found the barracks area completely deserted. I went to the orderly room and there was the company clerk with one of the 2nd lieutenants waiting for me.
When they saw me they threw papers at me, gave me train tickets and told me that I was assigned to a division signal company and to get to Camp Howze as fast as I could.
OUR MEN: BERMAN
In 1942 I was attending C.C.N.Y. Upon learning that the entire student body of our engineering school was soon to be drafted, I opted to enlist and I chose the Signal Corps and was able to take a radio repair course as a civilian and was sent to Camp Crowder in Missouri for basic training. Upon completion, I was given the opportunity to attend ASTP at the University of Nebraska Star Unit 8 from there to Oklahoma University to study engineering.
This was from autumn 1943 to spring 1944. At that time the entire army student body was shipped to Camp Howze and the 103d Division.
OUR MEN: EVANS
While I was 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. 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. I checked Army. It was a spur of the moment decision. At the time the choices seemed equal.
After a few months, a friend who had checked Navy 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."
Upon graduation from high school, I volunteered for immediate induction.
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 yellow card. Luckily, I had remem bered 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 my pocket and handed it to him.
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 returned 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 unit composed of all ASTP candidates.
Basic training on the Texas desert was literally Hell.
During basic we caught a lot of flack about the AGCT scores we had made. 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 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.
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, we all got our orders. I was going to ASTU 3890 the ASTP Unit at North Texas State Teachers College in Denton, Texas.
North Texas State Teachers College? What happened to Duke?
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.
Denton was wonderful but, in the Spring of 1944, ASTP was summarily terminated and I ended up in the 103d Infantry Division Signal Company.
Men from the Army Specilized Training Program Assigned to the 103d Signal Company.
Harold O. Rorem Jesse L. Metz
Michael H. Schirm
North Texas State
Anderson Pierce Evans
Oklahoma A & M
William R. Schmitz
7. Final Preparation of OUR MEN in a Combat Signal Company
The completion in November 1943 of maneuvers and the transfer of the 103d Division to Camp Howze initiated the process of seriously preparing the Division and the Signal Company for active service in the war being waged in Europe.
The planning for deployment of the U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps forces to overseas assign ments for initial engagements, reinforcements, reserve status, etc. and the actual utilization of our forces had been going on for some time.
It is probable that just a few of these high level moves, events, and strategies were not noticed or completely understood by the officers and men of the 103d Division and the many other similar units in training.
One thing was apparent,
the focus of the U.S. forces was to bring to full combat readiness as many
infantry divisions as possible and to send them to England or elsewhere
for the invasion.
The realization that the 103d Infantry division was being prepared to actually be committed to combat brought an urgency to all the units of the division, including those somewhat isolated Special Troop companies.
OUR MEN: NANEY
After Claiborne, we moved from Louisiana to Texas by motor carrier and it was good to get away from Louisiana. But Camp Howze was a different story altogether... more discipline and more training. But aren't you glad you had it when we got into trouble? It served all people the same, and we had a lot of work ahead of us in the next year or two.
Gainesville, Texas, where you could only find booze in an elevator in the hotel. But Dallas or Ft. Worth was a different story altogether, right? The Bounty Ballroom in Dallas was glorious, as well as helpful in many ways. And then there was Pirate's Cave in Ft. Worth, such beauties in there, and when you were A.W.O.L. in Ft. Worth you paid dearly for it. I know...I had four days hard labor and 30 days restriction. Those rocks on the sidewalks didn't grow there. Me and another guy put them there and whitewashed them. Such fun. They all came from around the water tower. Then we had latrine duty with all of it. Beautiful. Ha Ha!
How many can remember not saluting GENERAL WICKS out on the parade field? Well, we got out of that with COLONEL BROWN helping and Captain BECK got restricted for trying to get us to sit down, get up, salute, sit down... great. I wish I could remember names, but it has all slid away from me in the past few years. I can look at the picture and can't seem to put a name with the faces.
How many can remember guard duty on the chemical dump? Some of us had to have that duty and, of course, the motor pool with all the radios.
OUR MEN: LOUCHART
Beth Wheatley and I were married on July 20,1943 in the romantic town of Alexandria, Louisiana.
The training and maneuvers at Claiborne were hard work. The general conditions of the camp were poor, the weather was hot and humid.
I met and had lots of good buddies; ANANIA, LaFATA, NATOLI, NANEY, LEMON and many more.
I remember the trip from Claiborne to Howze, the field problems there, the train ride to New York, the boarding of the ship, the terrible storms at sea, the landing at Marseille and going over the side of the ship on the landing nets. It was nearly 50 years ago - the details are a little hazy.
(Editor's note, 1994) Joe Louchart knew the good guys when he saw them, the first three in that group were as wild and crazy as any trio of characters who ever ended up in one company. The others he named were capable of following these three around, helping them through the important stuff, and doing their own work also!)
OUR MEN: BILL ERMELING
Our division is what the army calls hot. We are going through an intensive training which includes advance and attack on a small village, the attack on a fortified position and long marches. Today we had our booster shots for smallpox, tetanus & typhoid.
My arm is as stiff as a board right now!
I am still in HQ - however, it won't be for long. The latest T/O calls for one 1st sergeant and one clerk. S/Sgt. HESS will be the one to stay. He was part of the cadre and is a top notcher. There are a lot of ratings open in the message center. The work is pretty interesting and I have a good chance of getting back into headquarters again if the T/O is changed.
OUR MEN: GILL
Once arrived, we said goodbye to some of our old buddies as they left to fill in as replacements for other outfits - and hello to another group of kids from the ASTP. Then began another period of fun - initiated, I guess, by the first field problem out of Camp Howze when a guy got snake-bit and while being transported to the camp hospital the jeep flipped over. Ah - them were the days.
OUR MEN: COLLINS
When the 103d was alerted for overseas duty, Captain Beck - who was one sharp Captain - had been looking over my form 20 and he talked me into taking the Construction platoon back to Europe.
I had been in the army for some time (and had some most unusual experiences in the United States and overseas, including the first days of the war in the Pacific and the early days of the war in Europe!).
I did my 13 weeks of basic training at the Presidio of Monterey, California overlooking Cannery Row. Basic was a vacation for me since the high school military was so much stricter, and where I grew up, we "cut our teeth on the sights of a gun".
I was sent to Ft. Monmouth for Dial Telephone Installer and Repair training. I was first in my class and had the option to choose my next training. I chose Dial Central Office Installation and Maintenance.
For the completion of that course, I was sent back to my unit in California and assigned to the Bell Telephone school in nearby Richmond. I was the only G.I. in the school, all of the other students were "Ma. Bell" personnel. As part of the training, we were assigned to go into the field for practical experience.
During one of these field experience days, we were learning about pole-line installations, etc. when the field instructor fell out of a tree and broke his arm. I took the guy to the hospital and then went back to my other assignment of installing telephones, I was in full military uniform. The lady customer was suspicious of my appearance and called the police. I was taken off to jail, the cops wouldn't believe anything I said for some period of time.
After completing this civilian course, I joined a Composite Company selected by M.O.S. (Military Operating Specialty) that was being sent to the Philippines to install permanent telephone equipment for use by the Army.
We assembled in Pearl Harbor to get our equipment, etc. On 6 December 1941, about 1400 hours we left Pearl Harbor on one of the commercial President Lines passenger ships. All of the passengers were civilians except 228 military men.
Signal personnel at the time were armed with Army .45 caliber automatics - the only guns on board.
About 2000 hours on 8 December we were notified of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Our ship was turned around and headed back toward the west coast, bypassing Pearl Harbor and sailing a zig zagging course as a defense against submarines. We landed in San Diego five days later.
Back on firm ground, each of us was given a strip map, put on a passenger train and told to report to the Presidio of San Francisco, in Golden Gate Park. It took seven days to make that short trip, there were many interruptions to accept the hospitality of civilians grateful for the war effort of us "war veterans" returning from the combat zones.
We were, after a short stay, assigned to the 54th Army Signal Operations Battalion stationed in the Rose Bowl at Pasadena, California assigned to help provide West Coast defense communications.
My first job was to supervise a platoon of 48 men in building a pole-line from Blythe, Calif. to near Parker, Arizona across one of the world's toughest deserts. Nothing but sand, rattlesnakes, those big black birds just waiting for you to drop, and an occasional bush. It was 140 degrees in the shade, and no shade.
(Editor's Note: At the end of that telephone line was an internment camp for American citizens and others of Japanese descent who had been moved away from their homes and property in Southern California.)
When this job was completed,
some of us were assigned to a project in Iceland, a place of the opposite
temperature extremes. We left from Camp Shanks, New York (which the
103d Division would pass through some time later). In Iceland, there
were two months of hot weather - about 45 degrees, with little kids running
around in short pants. And then, ten months of cold and colder.
My task was with an Installation and Maintenance platoon installing telephone, teletype and line for remotely controlled radio equipment. All of this was in lead covered cables buried in the lava rock. By this time, I had over 200 enlisted men and a 2nd Lieutenant in the platoon.
The Navy CBs (Construction Battalions) were building a large air base adjacent to Patterson field. It had, at that time, the longest runways in the world. Presently, it is the Islandic International Airport. We installed a lot of lead covered cables around that field.
This field was used by the military for stop-over and refueling during the ferrying operation of the thousands of airplanes sent to Britain during the war.
Twenty months after arriving
in Iceland, I came back to the States through the hospital with a frostbitten
kidney and no hair or teeth because the lava rock had no mineral content
In April 1943 after being repaired and rehabilitated, I was assigned to the 103d Division at Camp Howze - even that looked good to me after my two adventures across the Pacific and the Atlantic. Since I was not trained for a division MOS, I was assigned to special duty at the Post Signal Telephone Exchange. I then joined the Signal Company.
OUR MEN: "SMITTY"
On the 8th of March 1944, I stepped off a train at Camp Howze, Texas. The assignment was Company L of the 409th regiment. I soon found out what that meant. It was a different world. I wondered what it would have been like had I stayed in the Air Force.
The barracks were covered
with tar paper and heated with a coal stove. It was cold and treeless.
There was a party every Friday night... everybody attended and scrubbed
the wood floor. There was a rifle rack, and everybody had a rifle,
a kind we had only heard about before... Garand.
There were helmet liners with steel helmets to match. The back packs looked suspiciously like something I had seen in World War I movies.
The noncommissioned officers were mostly southerners, or so it seemed. They didn't fraternize with the privates, and when I attained the rank of Pfc. in late April, I found that they didn't fraternize with them either.
There was a particularly worrisome reminder of the future at Camp Howze. It was in the form of German POWs. I never got to see them up close... they were usually lounging about their fenced quarters, or playing soccer.
To me, they all looked like
tall, blond, muscular giants... the enemy! I, on the other hand,
stood at 5 feet 6, weighed 125 pounds (soaking wet), burdened by a 9-pound
rifle, helmet, liner, ammo belt, bayonet, canteen, pack, shelter half,
a couple pounds of Texas mud on my boots, and another pound in the form
of dust on the rest of me... their enemy. It would be a short war.
Miles of road marches, infiltration courses, hand grenades, mortars, bazookas, wet runs, dry runs (many in the mud), compounded by inspections at every turn. In April I was granted an 11-day furlough. I made the trip home (Milwaukee at the time) and had time for reflection. I found that in spite of my distaste for life in the rifle company, I had acquired a pride in it. My comrades were not scholars, but they were good soldiers who had outlived Louisiana maneuvers and they were still going strong. Besides, each Sunday morning something happened that I will always remember... each man could order his eggs done the way he wanted them!
I was assigned as an assistant Browning automatic rifleman. The BAR man I assisted was Pfc Patrick H. Robinson of Santa Fe, New Mexico. I learned later that Robinson and his assistant then, Pfc. Jacob A Tillema of Kalamazoo MI, were the first casualties of the 3rd Battalion of the 409th Regiment. They were both killed by a German land mine in the Vosges on 9 November 1944.
During a period of time while I was assisting the Company clerk of L Company, 409 Regiment it became apparent that the division would very soon be sent into action and I was asked if I would consider a transfer in rank (PFC) to the Division Signal Company. I requested transfer on 28 June, 1944.
On the first day of July I was ordered to report to the orderly room of the Signal Company, where a Captain Beck said, "You're in the Signal Corp, what can you do?".
SMITTY has noted that when he joined a line company of the 409th as a rifleman, his sense of responsibility for his own safety and the well being of his companions brought a greater interest in, and concern for the effectiveness of daily activities.
The officers and men of
the Signal Company began to experience these feelings of uneasiness and
intensity. When those soldiers who were "unprepared or unqualified"
for physical or other reasons were transferred out and bunches of
ASTP boys were arriving to fill-in the very bottom positions of the Table
of Organization, there could be no doubt - "Damn, this could be serious!"
The fact is, the signal company the ASTP fellows were joining was already a Combat Ready Signal Company, we did our very best to supplement the training, experience and spirit that already existed.)
Those assigned to the 103d Signal Company from Texas A&M, were BARCLAY, BIEBEL, ORAL BROWN, FORCHHEIMER, NOVOTNY, JOSEPH PATTERSON, ROREM, SCHIRM, and WALDREF. Each of those men had some particular experience, history or training that indicated he just might be able to contribute some positive service after being given additional training by the highly skilled, friendly, courteous, and kind officers and NCOs of the very cosmopolitan signal company.
At the end of the railroad line, there was row after row of 2 1/2 ton trucks to take the hundreds of men to the infantry companies. There were a few jeeps or weapons carriers bearing the identification; Engineer, Medical, Military Police, Ordnance, Signal, Quartermaster, Headquarters, Etc.
Pierce "Andy" EVANS joined the 103d Division Signal Company after basic training at Camp Hood, Texas followed by ASTP classes at North Texas State Teachers College in Denton, Texas. John DONLAN had also been in the ASTP program at NTSTC, perhaps they were acquainted during that period.
"Andy" had spent time learning the Morse code and the technical parts of the Amateur-Radio operator's license and was scheduled to take the test on Monday, December 8, 1941 - all testing was canceled. Pierce "Andy" Evans was assigned to a radio operating crew, his written contributions to this narrative will be included in the form:
OUR MEN: EVANS
It was cold when we arrived at Camp Howze We were put up in tar paper shacks identical 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.
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.
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 Division 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.
When all or most of the ASTP boys had arrived, the officers and NCOs had the task of determining the assignments for each of them to a Section of the company based on his experience and/or ability to perform or be trained to perform the duties of the open positions in the several operating units of the Signal Company.
In some cases the placement was an obvious and fairly easy procedure by examining the practical experience or talent of the man. Some other placements were more difficult and the man was moved about among the sections to find the proper assignment or he would be assigned to a more formal learning environment such as radio code class.
OUR MEN: BARCLAY
A few of the ASTP boys did not seem to have any real purpose in life, or recognizable talent. These hapless individuals were temporally tried in one technical assignment or another but were eventually assigned to the Construction section. I was one of these marginal or "difficult to place" boys. Some of us did learn to pull telephone wire off a reel on the back of a truck and then to lay the wire on the ground. My only special talent was to put the wire up in the trees or on poles or buildings by using a long 'pike-pole' and my height advantage. In a few cases most of this education was gained overseas under less than academic conditions.
We few very lucky fellows (occupationally deprived persons) who could not learn to do the most basic operations of the lineman MOS-641 were often left on the road behind the moving truck with its well qualified team of crew chief and his talented helpers. We would wander as "carefree, wayfaring strangers", without being properly uniformed or armed for combat defense or offense. Doing what we could to protect and install the wire, and doing our very best to protect and amuse ourselves.
ANANIA, in spite of the fact that he could do all of the difficult things required of a competent wire team member; drive a truck, climb a pole or tree, splice a telephone line, get along with the crew chief, etc., more often than not chose to accompany me into all kinds of misadventures and mischief. It may have been he was aware that the wiremen had by far the most casualties in the company.
There were times he may have been motivated by wanting to protect, me, his careless companion. Perhaps he thought that the less he, Anania, followed the trade of the traditional wireman, the safer he would be.
But more than any other reasoning, he did it because he was and is one of the kindness, friendly fellows I have ever met. I was just one of the many men in the company privileged to enjoy his wonderful personality and continuing friendship.
OUR MEN: "SMITTY"
I was ordered to report to radio repair chief, T/Sgt. GRANT. Radio repair included T/5 Hank KOLANDER (Ann Arbor), T/5 Eddie JALLOWAY (Chicago), T/5 Earl STAR (Minneapolis), Pvt. Leo CHURILLA (Detroit), Pvt. Ben NOVOTNY (Casper, Wyoming), Cpl. Orville CARVER (Nampa, Idaho) and now SCHMITZ (Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin). My life took on a new purpose... it was radio, radio, radio. There were lots of inspections, Army Ground Forces physical examinations, equipment was water and fungus-proofed.
OUR MEN: DONLAN
I wasn't at Camp Claiborne, but rather joined the 103d Signal Co. (I was in the Radio Section) from ASTP at North Texas State, Denton, Texas in March 1944 at Howze. The assimilation of ASTP "School Boys" into an infantry division was a bit tough, until the differences were worked out. The ASTP'ers had been through 13 weeks of infantry (before college) basic, so things got better when we began Signal Company training - going on hikes, field problems, training sessions, doing KP and yard duties, and generally becoming soldiers once more after a short stint in college dorms trying to be "soldier- engineers".
OUR MEN: FADER
Upon arrival at Howze, after a fast trip from Stillwater, Oklahoma, and presenting my papers to the 103d Signal Company first sergeant, FINKBEINER, I was told that they had no information about me and that I should temporarily stay in the cook's hut until matters were straightened out.
So I found an empty bunk and for about two weeks lived with the cooks and got to know the Sheriff quite well and some of the "beverages" they brewed. Ate "good", fell out for roll call and then fell in for sack time. Then reality hit. I was assigned to Sgt. BOITOS and a radio crew and learned how to operate a radio and all about 10-mile hikes and KP. I was rotated among several different crews. Hennum was not my crew chief until we were getting ready to ship out.
What do I remember about my stay at Howze? Bill BARCLAY stands out--the "Preacher" who read his verse almost every night and with whom I had some interesting talks.
...BERNIE BECK, our esteemed Captain, and more about him later, and that I tried to endure Army life and some of the stupidities and artificial bravado exhibited by non-coms whose names I will not mention. And living in close proximity with so many different personalities from so many different places, I also learned quite a bit about people.
The 1940s were not like the 1990s socially and morally. I had a solid, orthodox upbringing. I knew full well who I was and how I should live. On occasion I would speak out if I thought something was improper. This, of course, endeared me with BOITOS who, I think blessed me with week-end KP and other unpleasantries. One afternoon, not long after my arrival at the 103rd SC, a notice appeared on the company bulletin board stating that Jewish enlisted men would receive passes into town to attend religious services sponsored by the Jewish Welfare Board. I was the only one who applied and I remember the astonished looks on some of my co-religionists who had not when I left the barracks in pressed suntans and walked to the bus stop. But then those were other times.
The daily routine at Howze is lost in fog. (I do remember and can still see all the crew chiefs except ZACHACKI. What a contrast between Immanuel WILK and some of the others. I think he used a protective cloak the way I did at times.)
On good authority, it has been reported that Immanuel WILK's "protective cloak" was a large manila envelope. Early every morning, he would disappear in the general direction of Division HQ carrying that official looking envelope under his arm as though he was a man on a highly classified mission. Presumably no one dared challenge a person carrying such an OFFICIAL-looking package and Wilke was able to wander all over Camp Howze every day without ever doing a lick of real work. No one remembers ever seeing him doing calesthenics or on a 25 mile hike.
At least, that was the scuttlebutt.
OUR MEN: TOM BROWN
I graduated from High School and enrolled in Bliss Electrical School, from which I graduated with an equivalency electrical engineering degree. I was hired by Bell Telephone Company and placed in the Alexandria, Virginia Central Office, a part of the Washington, D.C. system.
I was drafted in February 1943 and sent to Camp (Fort) Lee just south of Richmond, Virginia. As part of the induction process I was interviewed by a T-5 to determine my military MOS.
He had difficulty in understanding my telephone company title of "Cross Bar Dial Switchman" Refusing to admit his ignorance, he gave me an MOS of 097 which was Telephone Company "Installer- Repairman," a person who installed telephone instruments and did minor repairs on the instruments. This was a gross error that I could never get changed throughout my army career. I was sent to the newly formed 87th Infantry Division at Camp McCain, Mississippi and assigned to a rifle company of the 345th Infantry Regiment.
Eight months later I transferred
to the Air Corps and qualified for pilot training. In the spring of 1944,
while in the Aviation Student program at Tuls University, the entire program
was canceled, and I was reassigned to the 63rd Infantry Division at Camp
Van Dorn, Mississippi. After two months I was reassigned to a rifle
company of the 103d Division at Camp Howze, Texas.
Once again my civilian record was reviewed, and I was transferred to the Division Signal Company.
While still at Howze I made the division baseball team as a pitcher and outfielder.
One of the exciting,stimulating and terrifying events of the training for combat was GLIDER TRAINING! A group of dynamic and spirited instructors and their training equipment set up a training area in the camp and then most of the units of the division - Infantry companies, Engineers, Special Troops, etc. were assigned for the training there in 5 day sequences.
The training equipment included a number of mock-up wall and floor modules that simulated the cargo area of a glider that were used to teach loading and lashing of equipment and other tools that created "hands on" training experience for men who at some time in the future might be called upon to participate in a glider tactical operation.
An inspection of the men we were training with and our own personal feelings led most of us to feel that this was a worst case scenario. We certainly hoped that the General Staff would arrange the war so that the real "Commandos" or Rangers could do all of the glider landings.
The main focus of attention at the training sessions was real gliders that looked very much like large plywood boxes with wings.
When we had a chance for closer inspection, we discovered that to be just what they were, "large plywood boxes with wings!" except there was a large door that opened vertically like an overhead garage- door that had been contoured to look like the nose of a turtle or an unconventional airplane that had encountered a concrete wall.
The glider had no wheels,
only skids on the underside of the body. It didn't have an engine,
only a hook on the front for towing by an airplane such as a C-47 (military
version of Douglas DC-3).
The conventional way of getting the glider aloft may have included temporary wheels and a standing start from an airstrip with the glider and the airplane coupled together by a towing rope.
For the purposes of our training, those careful and reasonably safe procedures would not be used.
The infantry men were shown that it might be possible to actually get the glider off the ground (if not high enough for flight) a reasonable number of times by having the C-47 fly over the glider and snatch it from the ground with a tail hook on the end of a short boom attached to the tail of the airplane.
They demonstrated this dramatic procedure to the partial satisfaction of a small number of men in each training cycle. When the spectators realized that an empty glider might perform better than a glider full of these very men and their equipment, the satisfaction level almost completely disappeared and was replaced by apprehension and anxiety.
The Signal Company had just a few bivouacs and field exercises after the ASTP boys arrived, the company had been participating in many such training experiences for the men at Camp Claiborne and at Camp Howze before the ASTP boys joined the "real war effort".
The time for training was running out and the time for putting the whole division into shape for overseas shipment was upon us.
Because going into the field with a signal company was new and challenging for some of us, many of the experiences made lasting impressions.
One field exercise took place in the "great outback" of Camp Howze, far away from the main operational areas of the division, that had been used as a landing area for mortar practice, artillery shells, and hand-grenade throwing, etc.
The fields and countryside had a number of shell and grenades that had landed in the area during "firing practice".
All of the areas of the "outback" had been used for a very long time by thousands of men in training and evidence of their activity operating on and under the grounds was plentiful.
One of the first things ground troops do when thy stop walking and plan to stay in an area for anything more than the briefest period of time is to "dig-in!".
The most familiar "dig"
is the fox-hole, usually a pit deep enough so that a soldier can stand
upright in it or to squat down for protection and cover.
Another type of entrenchment was the "slit-trench", a "dig"" long and deep enough for a man to stretch out in for resting and/or sleeping. This was the type of protection that generally was done on an overnight or several day field exercise.
The order from the officers
or non-coms was, "Get off the road, and dig in!" (Most of the orders issued
during training were very dramatic.) The new boys watched the experienced
men to see just how it was to be done. We observed a wonderful potentially
labor conserving scheme unfold.
Because many men in past training exercises had already dug trenches just off the road, the job for the new arrivals looked easy. We began to remove leafs and debris that had partially filled the existing slit trenches.
The process would have been a complete success if several men had not almost simultaneously discovered snakes (possibly rattlers, in the shelter of the leaves and debris).
The road quickly became filled with a long and excited extended column of men who had heard the cries of alarm, or who just intuitively, joined any rapid and unexplained movement of their comrades.
After some counseling by officers and non-coms, we did go back "off the road", but carefully picked areas that were more clear of ground cover. We dug fresh trenches and/or looked for better and safer places out of trenches, beyond the benevolent supervision of our leaders, and off the ground if possible.
OUR MEN: BARCLAY
This was at a time when I was still being examined by the leaders for any possible technical talent. Because I had made a special effort before being called to active service to obtain a FCC Radiotelephone, First Class license, there was some thought that I might be able to learn enough code to be of some value to a radio operating team.
Before coming out on this field exercise, I had been assigned, as a temporary, potential, trainee radio operator.
I soon realized that trying to be a radio operator in a 15-25 word per minute network, with a 3 word per minute ability, just wasn't possible.
OUR MEN: EVANS
The 103d Division was on maneuvers in the Red River Valley during the first week in June 1944.
Our Radio truck 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 6, 1942 D-Day, and the guys 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, and 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.
The physical arrangement of the "Company Area"of the Signal Company was a long row of side-by- side tar-paper covered barracks each of which was long, narrow, ugly and bleak housing for about 40-50 men.
Opposite the barracks row, across an open assembly area, was the latrine containing long rows of toilets, wash basins, a community shower room, and at the end, in a separated room a hot-water heater of minimal useful capacity and maximum aggravation for the poor "latrine orderlies" assigned to keep the whole drafty complex orderly and warm.
The Headquarters Office or Orderly Room was to the left of the latrine and separated by a sufficient distance so that screams of outrage and disappointment regularly emanating from either place, were only occasionally heard in the other.
Some of us thought this was just another example of a military organization designed to keep the commanders and the 'real soldiers' from developing common purpose. Others thought it was just an accident of nature, like the location of Camp Howze. It is possible that one or two members of the company, whose minds were focused on just getting through each day, didn't even think about it.
At the far end of the assembly area was the favorite gathering place of the enlisted men of the company - the Mess Hall (Kitchen and Dining-room), a wonderful place serving pretty good food on a regular schedule.
The officers had a separate mess for which they paid, but often several of them would be dining in the mess hall. The reason given for this practice; officers should know how and what the enlisted men ate, it was thought that it might showed interest and concern.
An attempt was made to put the lower-grade non-commissioned officers and the private soldiers of each operating section in each one of the barracks for what-ever organization unity and control would result. There was a Construction Barracks, A Radio Operating Barracks, etc.
There were two notable exceptions to this arrangement of troop housing. The first-three-grades of non-commissioned officers, Staff Sgt.,Technical Sgt. and Master Sgt. were all housed in a separate Barracks closer to the Mess Hall.
The reason for this arrangement was to give the primary directors - these very important men - of the company operations the opportunity to share their experience, methods, problems, etc. It was a good productive arrangement.
The second exception to the troop housing was a building that from most outside appearances could have passed as routine and normal military personnel housing. It was not.
It had the best position in the Company Area, right next to the Mess Hall, as far as possible from the Orderly Room - that center of oppressive command and control of the company, and its complacent and anxious-to-please-soldiers in the barracks.
This "home-away-from-home" was known as "The Cook Shack!" Entering it, from the well-ordered environment of the rest of the Company Area, was an adventure into strange and wonderful deviations from any other military housing and life style.
Part of the difference was that the majority of the men assigned there were the company cooks and their regular helpers, who needed to be in the kitchen at various and staggered hours of the day, preparing food and cleaning up after regular dining periods.
They also had many odd hour (very early morning and late night) assignments to prepare bread and bakery items, or other longer tasks. As a consequence the sleeping schedules of many of the men in the 'Shack' were quite different than the Reveille to Taps (actually Tattoo) bugle calls of the more nearly normal military day.
The "Cook Shack" was occupied, noisy and disarranged at times when all of the other men in the company were more or less forbidden to be in their quarters - they were in the field or company work areas training, etc.
During the normally quiet and dark hours of the signal company and the whole of Camp Howze, strange routines, activities and diversions were happening in the cook shack.
The military system of command and control just hates variations and exceptions to its traditions and schedules, and as a consequence there was more than a little effort to exercise some discipline on the natives of the shack.
The opposing consideration to increased control and direction of this motley group was the imperative need to keep the "real soldiers" of the company well fed in a comfortable and happy mess hall.
If the cooks and their helpers, and their support group, the KPs who helped with the serving, and whose attitude and feelings depended a great deal on the staff "living" in the Cook Shack, were not reasonably content with their status as VIPs, the Mess was an actual mess and not a happy place.
Both sides in this complex controversy, were well aware of the opportunities for the men of the shack to maximize their special status, freedom and deviate life-style, with an evolving series of events and extensions.
Into this environment were introduced a few former ASTP boys and some recent transfers of regular men who had been assigned into the Construction Section for training. They had not been able to be assigned to the Construction barracks because it was already filled to capacity.
Sgt. Jack CONN, Pvts. JOE PATTERSON, BARCLAY, FADER and some others were assigned bunks at the end of the barracks closest to the company assembly area, while the cooks, etc. occupied the other end of the barracks. There was a section in the middle of the barracks that was not occupied.
The military as well as nature abhors a vacuum, and this no-man's area only added to the unusual circumstances, especially during the normal Saturday morning inspections.
The inspecting officers
and orderly room record keepers did their very best by observation and
penetrating questions to determine who was, or should be present and awake,
to be responsible for the "unusual conditions". Even the regulation
soldiers, members of the Construction Section at their end of the barracks
couldn't quite reach a level of acceptable appearance and military bearing
in the unusual environment. A "body" partially asleep, drunk, dead,
or "heaven only knows" at the other end of the building was completely
beyond understanding or justification.
Officers and other "by the book" supervisors just are not capable of dealing with inert bodies during a formal inspection, when rigidity and respect are almost mandatory.
The end of the "not quite routine" inspection always seemed to end in confusion, disappointment and frustration by the opposing forces; and some "murmuring", and perhaps a few discouraging words by the departing inspection team.
One of the ASTP boys was
outstanding as an unusual member of the shack group. Private JOSEPH PATTERSON
did not seem to be well suited to the military occupation any more than
many of us. In addition to his other negatives, he turned out to
be an amateur hypnotist.
This skill gave him immediate standing in a group noted for having and admiring unusual talent and behavior.
His unusual ability was revealed to the company officers and men during a bizarre late night event in which one of his first subjects, a member of the cook staff "others", while under Patterson's control became wildly "crazy", very noisy and no longer in touch with the "real world" (or Patterson, who may very well been a part of it). It was very alarming to all present inside the shack, and many outside in the nearby barracks, First-three-grades, etc.
Patterson became an individual of special interest to those in authority, resulting in many special details (work assignments), lots of direction and "consultation", etc. It almost seemed that Patterson would never become "just another man." That status was a goal of many privates who recognized the fact that being recognized in a military organization was not always an asset. That oppressive situation lasted for several weeks, until Patterson became an even more unusual and recognizable private soldier.
The Commanding General of the 103d Infantry Division, "Two Star" CHARLES HAFFNER, sent his staff car one evening to the Signal Company to Pick up Pvt. Joseph Patterson, to have him join the General for dinner in his private quarters.
The recognition that young Patterson had sought to avoid in the Signal Company was now compromised by the sad fact that he was the favorite nephew of ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF WAR, ROBERT A PATTERSON - who met regularly with PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT and ARMY CHIEF of STAFF, GENERAL; GEORGE C. MARSHALL.
This "unfortunate, but true" change in his condition seemed to change the way the officers and men of the company viewed 'Just Plain Private Patterson'. He was still a "stranger", but special details and assignments of a different, but more rewarding kind became his way of life. Kindly assistance and encouragement were substituted for his previous "Involuntary Servitude" and derisive treatment.
There was another Patterson in the Signal Company - HAROLD PATTERSON. He was a little older than most of the men but had a special talent for individual initiative and trouble-shooting communication wire circuits. He served with distinction in combat with MERRILL LETT on a 2 man "Trouble shooting team" in the Construction section.
One of the very special occupants of the cook shack was BILL AMBROSE- known as just "AMBROSE", with a lot of personal regard and appreciation. He was dedicated to being the entertainer and uplifter of morale in the mess hall and any other place he happened to be; which never seemed to include formations, inspections, or any organized or mandatory activity of the company.
At one time, by accident and not design, he did participate in a hike to the bivouac area, but only after he had removed all heavy or bulky pieces of G.I. equipment the rest of us considered mandatory to pack, and with which we were loaded down. He even removed the extra heavy bolt firing mechanism from his "Grease Gun" shaped machine gun - a notoriously heavy piece of equipment, leaving only the very light frame of the weapon. His gas mask bag had its "inners" removed and cool, light, moist edibles were substituted.
With all of these advantages, AMBROSE still had a difficult time with the exercise in spite of his light hearted spirit and desire to please. Almost every man in the company made an effort to help him succeed. He loved the attention.
Ambrose could be seen and heard out and around the barracks during the after duty hours, at times dressed in costume as a sailor of a strange navy, and playing his accordion, while telling fanciful tales and jokes.
He really was a guy who made the tedious duty more bearable, and he was given more than a little latitude by the officers and non-coms. He was allowed and encouraged to weave his magic, and do what he did best - make all of the other guys forget for a little while that we were all far from home.
Sunday usually was a very special and extraordinary day for Camp Howze, including and maybe especially the Signal Company. The mid-day meal on Sunday was a very informal affair. The men, who had been lounging around in the barracks, came out in the most unusual dress to await for the opening of the mess hall. Perhaps the present day rules posted at all of the best Dining Salons, "NO SHIRT, NO SHOES, NO SERVICE!" started at just this time.
Included in the strange group of soldiers, lining up outside the mess hall on these special days, were occasionally members of the soldiers' families. Women, children, parents, etc. who seemed to be making a special effort to ignore the loud and outrageous kidding, teasing and scuffling of the spirited men and boys of the company.
On one particularly hot Sunday, there was in the rowdy and boisterous line a particularly casual G.I. He had apparently been resting in the barracks, completely unclothed, and had slipped on a pair of unlaced shoes and a loose fitting jumper or mechanics coveralls with a full length zipper. Nothing less, nothing more.
The temptation to create some embarrassment in the assembled group of soldiers and civilians, prompted one of the soldiers in the rowdy line to pull the full length zipper down amid lots of laughter, hooting and glee.
When the fun-maker pulled the zipper up with a vigorous sweeping motion, it caught the full length fore-skin of the "particularly casual soldier" in its flesh lacerating teeth, and turned him into a white sheet of agonizing pain, filled with dismay and screaming resentment.
Fortunately, close by in the line there was a quick thinking (but insensitive) soldier, who just happened to have a pair of pliers on his person.
Before most of people, foreign and domestic, became aware of the tragedy, the nimble good samaritan had grabbed the zipper operating tab with his handy pliers, and had returned it down past the lacerated obstruction producing additional damage to the member of the member of the Signal Company and adding anxiety and pain to the victim of outrageous misfortune.
None of the regular members of the "dining group" were going to miss a good meal without a good reason, the sight of tragedy, blood and gore did not seem to constitute that. When the door opened, they rushed in, pushing and scuffling and laughing, to the amazement of the few family members, who for whatever reason had not timidly wandered off to dine elsewhere.
The weeks passed with many on and off duty training and diversion experiences. For some reason never fully explain, the man in charge of the mess hall, Sgt. WILLIAM MEE was replaced by a Staff Sgt. who came to the company for that purpose.
He was from the South, but he was no gentle-man. Right away, he told the men assembled in the mess hall for his first appearance, that he was running a tight and firm operation; clean, orderly, fast and quiet eating, no loitering, etc.
He became a real favorite with the diners and the kitchen staff about as fast as it takes to mumble the words, "Horse's Ass!".
When the order came that the 103d Infantry Division had been alerted for overseas service, all furloughs and leaves of absence were canceled, and security was tightened. All mail leaving camp and the mail leaving the post offices of the surrounding towns would be censored and packages inspected.
Most of us were surprised when this wonderful S/Sgt. decided this was the optimum time to mail home a box full of rattling G.I. tableware - knifes, forks and spoons, etc.
The Court-Martial sentenced him to reduction in rank to private and to hard time in the stockade as a collector of garbage from all of the mess halls, including his former "Imperial Territory", the Signal Company's humble building.
We saw him occasionally, working off the back of a truck, while being guarded by a 'shotgun toting' Military Policeman.
After his tour of duty as garbage collector, he was assigned to the T&T section as a private. This soldier returned to his original position and rank as Mess Sgt. while the signal company was overseas. The proximity to armed combat mellowed him a great deal - he became almost kindly and benevolent.
(1993 Editor's note: During the convention at Chicago, a small group of us was sitting around and I had an opportunity to ask Sedensky to relate some of his experiences. A part of that oral history is included here.)
OUR MEN: SEDENSKY
About ANANIA - I don't want to put this in the book, it is too sensitive even after all of these years. Anania, he was on guard duty at the motor pool and fell asleep in the general's car. The officer of the guard caught him. He called me at the orderly room where I was officer of the day (night) and asked me what I wanted him to do about it.
I told him, "you have to do, what you have to do". So Anania was given a summary court-martial. Johnnie was just a young man, you read him the book -if you go by the law, "in the time of war" the penalty for falling asleep on guard could be DEATH!
In our situation, the duty was far from any real threat to national security -you carried a gun, but no ammunition, were pretty limited in how aggressive you could be.
He ended up with company punishment, had to hang around the warm company area while the rest of the MEN were out busting their buns continuing to learn to be real soldiers, who wouldn't even think about leaning against the general's car while they were on guard duty, much less getting in there where the general had actually seated himself from time to time.
I am glad it hasn't effected his life - he talks about all of the other skirmishes he had, in training and overseas, and it seems to be such a happy part of him. He is such a nice fellow!
(Editor's note: In 1993 at the time of this recording, I assured "Sid" he didn't have much to worry about. John may have been in "custody and confinement and missed being able to join the company and the construction section for the historic picture-taking that all of us value so much. And of course for a while there was all of that uneasiness when John would join us in the chow-lines - times that usually were easy, pleasant and somewhat spiritual.
I think that occasionally while we were overseas, one or two of the fellows associated with John on JONES' wire team would question his background, integrity and "duty-to-his-country" - but the most part, the memory of the sordid experience of being court martialled for desecrating the general's car has probably been lost in the mist-of-remembrances of all of the other times that he led his trusting buddies, and particularly one of the most easily dominated by a strong personality, into misadventures, goof-ups and the kind of stuff that can really scar a sensitive, caring person like John Anania.)
OUR MEN: SHEWARD
On January 30, 1943, May Jean Keith and I were married in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. We are still together after more than 51 years. Mary was with me at the numerous places set forth below until we were sent overseas.
Our first daughter, Pam, was born while we were en route to Le Harve. Marcia, our younger daughter, was born in January of 1947. We have four grandsons, one granddaughter, and two great- grandchildren.
We were sent to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, Indiana for induction. I was assigned to the 56th Armored Infantry Battalion of the 12th Armored Division (I cannot recall the company.) We were stationed at Camp Campbell, Kentucky. When basic training ended, for reasons that were never apparent to me, I was sent to Regimental Radio School and from there to Armored Force Radio School in Ft. Knox, Kentucky. I graduated from this school after 4 months of 8 hour-a-day, 6 days-a-week radio training. By a stroke of good fortune, my old company had just finished maneuvers when I finished at Ft. Knox, so I missed that experience.
We then went to Camp Barkley at Abilene, Texas. Nothing of great import happened at Barkley. I took a rather lengthy examination for the Army ASTP Program and was told that I would be sent very soon to some college or university for additional education. Nothing happened, so I applied for Aviation Cadets and took 2 or 3 days of exams before finally being accepted into Cadets and sent to Shephard Field at Wichita Falls, Texas for another round of basic training. We had basic training at Camp Campbell immediately after induction.
Apparently, someone in the higher echelons of the military establishment was intelligent enough to determine that, in all likelihood, the war would be over before those of us just starting Cadets finished our training. One sad morning, the announcement came, "All those who have not finished pre-flight will be reassigned to the ground forces."
This was the last thing any of us wanted to hear.
From Shepherd Field to some camp in Louisiana (the name escapes me, possibly Camp Polk) for a few days and then to one of the infantry companies in the 103rd Infantry Division at Camp Howze in Gainesville, Texas.
From the flight training I had hoped for, I suddenly found myself with the base plate of an 81mm mortar strapped to my back and my third round of basic training in full force.
I think that during most of the time from the Camp Barkley days, I was a PFC and promoted to corporal by the infantry company that had made me communications sergeant and in full charge of a walkie-talkie. This was our most sophisticated, in fact only, piece of radio equipment.
My duties as communications sergeant included riding with the company commander in his jeep at all times in the field. As I recall, my C.O. in this company was a Captain McCall. He was a very nice fellow. I heard, but could never confirm, that he was killed shortly after the unit entered combat. His jeep hit a mine.
I was transferred to the
Signal Company just a few weeks before we were shipped to Europe.
I was not with the company long enough at Howze to have many experiences
of interest there. I do recall that the Signal Company had a very
good baseball team spearheaded by GORDIE SWINDELL, who later had an accident
involving lye water in a wine bottle and was sent home.
I had almost no training with the company. I had just finished 6 months of radio school and could pass the Morse code tests when I got to the company. I passed the code tests the first day I was there.
One fellow I knew rather well and played cards with a lot was JACK CONN. Jack was killed March 15, 1945 .
OUR MEN: THOMAS BROWN:
While still at Howze I made the division baseball team as a pitcher and outfielder. On one hot 105 degree day we had an away game with another team. I started and had a no hitter going for the first three innings. With three outs I went to the pitcher's mound, picked up the ball and almost fainted, with black spots before my eyes, and the field swimming around in circles. (The heat and the exertion had taken its toll) I tried to pitch anyway but had lost my fast ball and my control and the other team creamed me.
By 1 January 1944, The 103d Infantry Division was well established at Camp Howze, the men assigned to the ASTP program at the various universities were well into their programs of study and not aware that the progress of the war in Europe would very soon cause a major change of their future assignments. (It may be interesting to note that all of the ASTP men would be assigned to combat units destined for action in Europe, none were assigned to the Pacific war.
As outlined in the historical chapters of other serious history books; the Allied North African invasion and campaign had been successful, General Eisenhower had completed his assignment in that area and was on his way to Washington D.C. for consultation on his new duties as Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Exipeitionary Forces on the Western Front.
The invasion of Sicily and then Italy had taken place and by early February 1944, elements of the US 7th Army were stalemated at Anzio beach on the southwest coast of Italy. The tactical events in Italy, and the disagreements between the political and military leaders in Washington D.C. and London were beginning to determine the time and place of the landing of the 103d, and a number of other divisions, in Europe.
On 6 June 1944, the Normandy Invasion, OVERLORD, by a massive allied force had taken place.
On 15 August 1944, the ANVIL invasion of Southern France by the US 7th Army had taken place and the drive north through the Rhone valley toward final link-up of the OVERLORD and the ANVIL forces on August 30,1944 France was virtually free of Germans for the first time since June 1944.*MARS
After the Marseille landings and the port had been restored to limited service, Eisenhower had gained the port capacity to supply his gasoline and supply short armies. Montgomery's troops had captured the Antwerp, Holland port facilities intact on September 4th had bypassed the German units still controlling the Scheldt estuary leading to the port so that it was not possible for any of the much needed supplies to unloaded.*MARS
Only after the failure of the MARKET-GARDEN airborne assault did Montgomery belatedly move to open the Channel. The first Allied convoy would not dock until November 28; by then winter was hard on the land and Eisenhower's offensive had frozen from the Netherlands to Switzerland.*MARS
At Eisenhower's request, on the 6th of October, General Marshall and a civilian "Manpower Mobilization Director" James Byrnes arrived from the United States to discuss the rather serious problems of manpower assignment and utilization on the western front. The winter offensive had to be considered, and many of the combat units had suffered casualties, sufficient replacements had not been found in spite of the efforts of Eisenhower and his staff.*MARS
Although the policy of putting the emphasis on winning the war in Europe first and then moving all available force to the Pacific War was understood and well established, General MacArthur and Admiral King and their forces certainly needed supplies and reinforcements in the Pacific war and Marshall and Byrnes were anxious that every available combat soldier assigned to Eisenhower's support and rear echelon units was being used.*EAW.
The two generals and Byrnes reviewed the problems of having enough fighting men to sustain the drive toward Germany. Eisenhower expressed interest in having replacements or new divisions sent from the United States. Marshall explained that there were only two divisions in training, no more would be available. When the two divisions had been assigned, possibly into the Pacific, further training in the States would be only for replacements of casualties in all theaters of war.*MARS
There were more than 2.7 million Americans in Europe, 437,000 were airforce personnel and 470,000 were attached to ComZ (the supply and transportation units of the European forces). Slightly more that 50% of the remaining 1.23 million were combat soldiers.*EAW.
8. They Went That-A-Way
By the middle of August 1944, the 103d Infantry Division received the "official word" that it was alerted for overseas movement at some date in the near future. The time and the direction of the movement were a military secret - that is members of the German or Japanese Armed Forces and/or any officer or enlisted man not a part of the commanding general's staff would not be told.
OUR MEN: "SMITTY"
Civilians in Gainesville 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.
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 - sending home excess clothes, personal gear, pictures, etc.
The radio gear was packed, along with weapons (little light-weight carbines, instead of those Garands that I had grown so used to). The small arms repair truck (adapted for radio repair) became a storehouse for test sets, tools, and replacement parts, along with some suntan uniforms and other contraband of which I had no knowledge or desire to know.
OUR MEN: DONLAN - Preparation
Lots of shots, Rifle range and infiltration course, Glider training, Full field inspection, Showdown inspection, Radio equipment checks, Getting motor vehicles ready, Crating equipment covered with cosmoline, Barracks inspections with usual gigs.
Lots of poker games, MEYER and LAWRENCE spruced up for big last trips to Dallas, Last ping-pong and pool games in the day room, Dental and doctor visits, Last trips to service clubs and dances, Issued all new uniforms and duffel bag, Lots of calisthenics, Last guard duty by the motor pool water tower.
The Signal Company had a tremendous amount of operating equipment: radios, power generators, teletype equipment, wire handling equipment, tents, kitchen appliances, field stoves and tools of all kinds. All of this and more had to be packed in over-seas shipping containers, after having been prepared to operate properly in any environment - in the Arctic, tropical islands, or the Sahara desert. (After all, we did not know where we were going!). Some of the packing cases were as big as 6'x 6'x 12' or more and were moved about and loaded, when the time came for movement, by heavy transfer equipment. Some of the packages were very small, but essential to the operation - these also required special handling.
There has never been a movement of military units since the beginning of time that did not include at least some items that were not on the official lists for movement. As a matter of fact, there has always been some packing and loading of items that are on the lists of things that 'WILL NOT BE PACKED OR CARRIED!'
This packing and moving session was no exception. As "SMITTY" has noted, there was some storage in the Company Equipment packing cases of the special personal items of the packers who would be the un-packers, when the cases were delivered in that 'far off unknown'. Of course that was considered a "right of passage" by the workers. What could it hurt?
The individual soldier had a more challenging task to take "important stuff" with him. He had only his own duffel bag in which to store his issued equipment and not an item more. There will be inspections, names will be taken, asses will be kicked!
This is just the kind of a challenge that brought out the very best innovative talents of a few men who were experts at using the military system for their own personal purposes.
Among those who did not have the advantage of being assigned to the packing and crating operations, and therefore were denied the greatest opportunity for slipping in equipment for their personal use, there was none who was able to get more contraband identified, packed, shipped and delivered than Pvt. Jerome WALDREF.
Waldref had developed a system and organization for the mutual benefit of his "helpers" and himself beginning the first day that he had reported to Camp Howze and the Signal Company. His garrison duty had been a series of wonderful experiences and special considerations.
Preparation for the overseas experience was just as thoughtful, innovative, and successful. All that had gone before was just prelude to his extraordinary preparation for a "guest tour" through the combat zones that he was planning to take, while the rest of the company was preparing to join in the war effort.
On the 20th of September, the dishes disappeared from the mess and mess kits replaced them. Little thought was given to the possibility that those dishes would not reappear until the 11th of September of the following year (on the return to Boston in 1945). Considerable time was given to erasing identifying unit and personal information. We said goodbye to Texas on September 27th and boarded troop trains for the trip to New York.
OUR MEN: EVANS
We crated up all of the heavy signal equipment. The barracks were scrubbed down with G.I. 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.
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 indicate one theater of war, and then actually send them to another.
The troop trains bore relentlessly eastward, 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 that it really would be Europe. We would just have to wait and see.
On the train trip from Camp Howze to New York an incident occurred that illustrated the difficulty for the military justice system to always be rational in its application.
Soon after the train had left north Texas, a group of celebrating soldiers were in an open railroad coach with a closed bottle of whiskey; or perhaps it was a closed coach with an open bottle of whiskey. In any event, an officer entered the car, to the surprise of the travelers, and assumed that drinking of alcoholic beverages was taking place.
There was one fellow in the midst of the group who seemed to be the owner of the bottle(s). Pvt. Jerome WALDREF was "placed under arrest" and given into the custody of S/Sgt. William DONOHOE. He was to be confined to quarters, in a car of the moving train, with Donohue carefully watching him for any transgression. It was a terrible ordeal for the two of them. They had to have special dining and sleeping arrangements, couldn't get off the train for mandatory exercise, calisthenics, inspections and the other "hassles" of troop-travel. They were excused from special details; Waldref did not have to do any chores, including K.P. and Donohoe did not have to travel in a troop-car crowded with hot and sweaty men.
The only thing that could
have been worse would have been to put Pvt. Waldref off the troop train
to be sent home to Hollywood, in the custody of S/Sgt. DONOHOE, with possible
delays-enroute for renewing old friendships. Fortunately, Capt. BECK,
a compassionate man knew when severe punishment can be overdone and
he removed all restrictions on Waldref when we arrived at our destination,
Camp Shanks, New York just in time for Waldref to continue his careful
preparation and packing for the overseas voyage and to have as much freedom
to visit New York City as any other member of the company.
OUR MEN: DONLAN
I remember going from our company area (after scrubbing down the barracks) by truck to our troop train.
It consisted of sleepers and kitchen cars. I was on KP the first day as we traveled in summer heat through Oklahoma and Arkansas. We kept doors open for a breeze. I had the upper or third bunk in the sleeper.
The next day, woke up for reveille at 6 a.m. in Memphis, Tennessee and we moved through Kentucky. Through Cincinnati, Ohio the third day. Meals were fair and we stopped for calisthenics outside the train. Some of the G.I.'s family members were on the platforms at stops - even though it was supposed to be a Top Secret movement. The 4th day, we were up for reveille at 4:30 a.m., policed up the train and got ready to leave. We traveled through northern New York, down the Delaware Valley in heavy fog and wearily disembarked at Orangeburg, New York on the Hudson River at 12:30 p.m. There we immediately marched to the Camp Shanks barracks, ate a big (and good) dinner at 2:30 in a large, neat mess hall.
I remember that people on waiting platforms at stations waved to us with cheers and flags on our long cross-country journey.
OUR MEN: FADER
I remember our shipping out by train which seemed to change direction every hour stimulating a debate as to whether we were going to Europe or the Pacific. Finally, we Easterners saw familiar territory and when the train pulled in to Port Jervis NY we knew we were Europe bound. The train stopped there for awhile and the Tech Sergeant in the wiremen section, who was a RR employee there, got word out and all his relatives flocked to the station to greet him. Then to Camp Shanks on the New Jersey side of the Hudson just north of New York City. (So near and yet so far.)
An announcement was made that everyone would receive overnight passes into New York and then as we were getting ready to go, the passes were canceled.
OUR MEN: NANEY
Now we are getting ready to go over, so let's try to recall what we can of that train ride from Texas to New York. Wonderful??? The 24-hour-pass to New York. What a night. I got lost in a subway and if a boy from the Company hadn't been down there, I would still be, I guess. I have no idea what his name was, but I was sure grateful.
OUR MEN: SMITTY
On the first of October we arrived at Camp Shanks. In the few days there, passes into New York City were given and I got to see some of the wonders of the urban world... Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, 42nd and Broadway, et al.
OUR MEN: GILL
Seemed like the last had year slipped by awfully fast and suddenly we were playing double-deck pinochle all the way from Texas to Camp Shanks - the first order of the day on our arrival was the unceremonious pitching of the two decks of cards into the old round oak stove. Seems like the pitcher uttered some words to the effect that it was "gonna be the last time he was gonna be beat by his own cards."
OUR MEN: BARCLAY
Jerry WALDREF and I made a trip down the Hudson River Valley on the commuter rail service to New York City, as thousands of soldiers had done before, and as some of our buddies were doing at that time.
Our visit did not include the whirlwind of activity that John DONLAN and some others had, but it was noteworthy and interesting.
Our uniforms were as rumpled as many of others that had been worn for the occasion, the best folded and protected G.I. blouses and pants when taken out of duffel bags after long hard journeys were sorry sights. The military-base tailor and pressing facilities at Camp Shanks were badly overloaded normally, and more so when a transient division of 15,000-20,000 men was seeking service.
We did have one advantage in dressing up. While most of the soldiers had long ago sent home any extra "dress up" items like low-cut civilian shoes, Jerome had brought with him two pairs of oxfords in good condition.
Jerome put on a pair, and just so I wouldn't embarrass him, or feel less than splendid, he loaned the other pair to me.
We looked a little better than average on our arrival at Grand Central Station, but not good enough for a visit to Fifth Avenue and gracious dining that was on our social schedule.
We found a "Clean and Press" shop and Jerome stripped down to his shorts so that his shirt and tie could be ironed, his jacket and trousers could be pressed.
I was feeling fairly handsome just as I was outfitted; after all, I was wearing classy shoes and had the great military bearing of a potential, future, overseas, heroic, combat veteran.
We took a taxi (or a street car) to an address on Fifth Avenue where a friend of Waldref's family operated a perfume manufacturing and sales salon.
It was a wonderful experience for us to be shown just some of the technology and behind-the-scenes development and marketing of fine perfumes.
Jerry especially enjoyed
renewing acquaintance with his family friend. We both enjoyed and
appreciated a wonderful lunch with our host at one of the nicer restaurants
along the Avenue. Both of us were glad that we had "dressed" for
the occasion - class has a way of showing itself.
The rest of the day fades into the mists of the mind, except for two very memorable experiences. We went to the top of the Empire State Building, at the time the worlds tallest and stayed that way until the 1970s. The view was grand. We felt slightly superior to most of all we could see. This was the first memorable experience.
The second experience reminded us that we were still members of an Infantry Division. Our feet were killing us! We were accustomed to walking around wearing army boots, they are not much for looks, but for hard walking a well broken-in pair of boots was really grand. Jerome took charge of the tactical situation, he said, "Let's change shoes".
Being as he owned both pairs of shoes, he was in a strong position to command. So there on the top of the world, we sat down on the floor of the Vista Deck and got partially out of uniform for a few minutes to the amusement and wondering of the normal sight-seers.
The exchange may have helped Jerome to feel better, all of the shoes had originally been fitted to his feet. My feet still felt like veterans of a 25 mile hike in borrowed, ill-fitting shoes.
OUR MEN: EVANS
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 color of fecal matter). Maybe they were color coded for a reason but none of us were able to crack the code. Everything 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 came out of the gym, you had passed the physical.
9. Cruise Ship To The Unknown
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 to be transported overseas.
There were created or reconstructed 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 soldier's personal equipment was formed into a backpack that looked like that of the French Foreign Legion troops. There was a horse shoe 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.
In addition to the backpack, the soldier carried (or pulled) his fully loaded duffel bag, his rifle and a few miscellaneous pieces of field equipment.
OUR MEN: DONLAN
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 speedy troop ship. Howard did as instructed. But a day or so later further instruc tions to the party were to go back down into the Queen Mary and retrieve those records - change of general orders. So, we are left with the thought that we were headed toward England originally and probably would have wound up in the 1st, 3rd or 9th Armies, instead of the 7th. Also, it would have been a speedy, very crowded, less choppy trip across the Atlantic - and - much different experiences than those we encountered.
OUR MEN: BUTLER
I was sent with the advance group to Europe. All of the units of the division had men in the advance group. Our job was to account for administrative duties and records pending arrival of the troops.
We were expecting to go
to England. This was not firm. After about 7 days, our orders were re-
written to wait and join our units on their arrival from Texas
If Mr. HOPPEL said while the advance group was in New York, the company records, etc. were put aboard the Queen Mary and had to be retrieved, he was probably right, he was on the Table of Organization of the Signal Company in a position to know. He and I worked as a team on the Advance Group.
OUR MEN: "SMITTY"
It was on the 5th day of October that we boarded the train to leave Camp Shanks. The march from the train to the gangplank of the ferry that was to take us across the Hudson River, I cannot forget. For some reason I was given a pickaxe to carry. The pickaxe wore against my pants leg as I walked, unable to readjust its position. It wore right through my uniform and started on the body beneath. I remember thinking that this was not the way to go off to war, or to pass the next inspection.
The gangplank of the liberty ship, the Henry T. Gibbons, awaited us on the east side of the Hudson. I put my foot on it at 1448 hours.
OUR MEN: DONLAN
Loaded down, we marched off to the train at noon. New York City train down past little Hudson towns to the 42nd Street Ferry. Dripping sweat, we crowded onto the ferry for the short ride across the Hudson to the troop loading piers. Those duffel bags were heavy! Entered the North River Port of Embarkation (P.O.E.) Terminal Building, Saturday, waited, then up the gangplank of our ship, The Henry Gibbons, sounding off our first name and middle initial when our last name was read. A hot, crowded, pushing walk, down to the "E" deck, stumbling around to find a bunk. Found a lower bunk and laid my aching back down to rest.
Equipment had to go in the bunk. We were two below main deck and three deep in the bunks. Watched them load cargo on board from Pier 84. Many other ships in dock and river alive with tugs and ferries. Long wait for pretty good chow.
Recall there was a band playing when we boarded ship. No sailing until next day, we were told.
OUR MEN: ROREM
The troop ship stacked our "bunks" four high and as tight as sardines. The bunks were metal frames with canvas stretched across and they folded up when not in use. When folded down, there was scarcely room for a man to squeeze between the rows of bunks.
Going up the gang plank only a few blocks from Times Square, I was the last man of the Signal Company to go aboard as I had to check all my men and officers aboard first. I watched that endless procession lug their much too heavy gear as they answered roll call one by one. There was a sort of fog to lend to the atmosphere. Red Cross women were constantly passing out hot coffee, doughnuts and Hershey chocolate bars. They must have had an inexhaustible supply -not only of coffee but of energy.
The slow roll call went
on: "Smith" and he would reply "John A." Up he went.
The heavily laden men, thousands of them, continued that steady walk up to the ship. Typical G.I. kidding and American good humor prevailed.
The roll call went on: "Jones" - "John J."
And the Red Cross tirelessly
followed each G.I. with some refreshments, and a word of cheer. No
bands. No crowds. No flags. No identification whatsoever.
Secrecy was the order of the day.
The lights started to go on in the city. I could hear taxis honking their horns. A street car in the distance. And always that slow gathering rumble that is New York City. People were leaving their places of business to go home for supper. Others were going out to dinner. Many were probably getting prepared to go out for an evening of fun an gaiety. Up on Times Square I could picture that horde of people crowding each other to get into restaurants, theaters and clubs. Rush. Rush.
When we finally sailed no one saw us - nobody was there except a lazy old watchman who continued to puff on his corncob pipe as he leaned up against a pillar on the water's edge. Why he didn't even move. All he did was puff on his pipe and read the "NY Journal-American".
BECK, DONLAN, R0REM, 'SMITTY',
EVANS and others have described the agony and the physical strain of the
trip from the camp leading to the systematic loading of the ship placing
them into very cramped bunks in the crowded lower decks of the ship - it
was a terrible experience.
The order of ascending the gangplank of the ship had been prearranged and printed onto a very long list - each soldier had a definite place and number in the "Boarding Order". It was not alphabetical, perhaps it was 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 was the baggage that they carried aboard and the other was their location during the voyage.
OUR MEN: BARCLAY
When all of us assembled in "boarding order" as shown by large letters and numbers marked on our helmets, some of us Construction men found ourselves standing next to the dreadful "portable boxes" at the beginning of the long trek down the 'Ferry Dock'. We exceptional soldiers became responsible for carrying the company records and equipment in addition to our 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 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 terrible.
But it got a little better when we finally did get on the ship, and learned that the only available space for us, would be in cabins on one of the top decks of the ship.
About 24-40 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 hundreds of men assigned to "the hole" below decks.
The guys with the extra
duffel bags belonging to the box carriers did get them as far as the upper
deck of the ship and then started down the passage-ways into the bowels
of the ship before they abandoned the bags.
This created chaos in finding the misplaced bags again.
OUR MEN: BECK
By the time I do get to go home I'll be so happy and excited I wouldn't know what to do with myself. That Statue of Liberty will so different than when I passed her going the other way. I remember that I had on my "Mae West" and was peering out of a porthole. Initially, we were all out on deck, but they made us stay under cover for security reasons. First we'd look at the Statue and then dash across to the port side to see Brooklyn. I saw Fort Hamilton. Then we passed Coney Island. I played my field glasses on the shore-line. The big ferris-wheels were silhouetted against the gray winter sky. And it was cold! Coming up from Texas in khakis and then hitting the bitter icy cold of the North Atlantic - it kind of made you feel lost.
OUR MEN: DONLAN
On Friday, October 6th, the day after the boarding, we had reveille at 6 a.m., chow at 8 a.m. and noticed we were still in dock. So we folded up bunks with equipment on them. We were told on loudspeaker that all military personnel must go below decks soon after 10:30 a.m. Tugs began to pull us out into the Hudson. I watched through a door at the top of a gangway and could see the New York dock area as we moved down river. Many ships in docks - Cunard, U.S. in other steamship docks.
We were off! On port side of ship saw tall buildings of lower Manhattan, Wall Street and Brooklyn. Into the lower bay, past the Statue of Liberty, Staten Island and the last thing we saw was Coney Island in the fog. By now, I was seasick! We were guided through the mine fields by the Coast Guard. Other ships appeared, and soon we were forming a convoy with destroyers zigzagging between us. Two small aircraft carriers joined us also, and cruisers. We could see nothing but water. Navy blimps joined overhead. We were the second ship from the rear of the convoy.
The Henry Gibbons had a slightly perceptible rocking motion while still at the dock. This was enough to make some G.I.s sea sick. For them, it was going to be a long voyage.
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 crowed 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.
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. 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 Henry 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 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.
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. This was not your every-day variety of storm.
OUR MEN: TOM BROWN
...boarded a Liberty (or Victory) ship, which was a converted troop ship. My bunk was at the very stern of the ship, and I could hear the ship's propeller (screw for you Navy types) churn against the water. I was assigned to the Navy gun crew and that was the only duty I was called on to do, which allowed me to catch up on my "sack time."
When we left dock, a hurricane
was lashing the southern Atlantic, and it caused huge swells in our part
of the ocean with the ship pitching and rolling. Soon almost everybody
on board was sick. There was a rumor that even the ship's captain
was sick. We were implored to eat as that was supposed to alleviate
seasickness. I remember the poor devils lined up in the passageway
to the mess-hall, sick as dogs, and vomit rolling back and forth across
the passageway with each roll of the ship. If a man wasn't sick when
he came to chow then the stench finished him off while waiting for it!
One poor chap had to have glucose pumped into his veins to keep him alive.
Then the hurricane got closer to us, and the ship was turned into the swells, and the weather got really nasty. I remember lying in my bunk and waiting while the ship plunged bow first down into the sea causing the stern to ride high into the air with the screws completely out of the water. When that happened the screws, in turning, vibrated the entire ship so violently that I thought it would break in two. And sometimes when the ship plunged down bow first I thought that it would keep right on going to the bottom.
That trip across the ocean confirmed my choice of no Navy enlistment for me!
OUR MEN: BARCLAY
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 to be "lowered away". Three crew members got into a boat that was extended out over the rail of the ship 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 in some way. The swinging end of the boat was secured by using a boat-hook and the boat 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 get-away.
On the second day after leaving port, Capt. BECK decided that his First Three Grade Non-coms should have the cabins we were occupying and that the men of the Construction section would take their rightful place below decks. 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.
Beck did volunteer all of
us for special details of sweeping the decks and emptying the garbage over-
board each night, etc. As a result of this labor, we had special
meal tickets for 3 meals a day and permission to cut-in at the head of
the chow line so that we could go about our business in a timely manner.
OUR MEN: CHAFFEE
I remember our sleeping quarters on board ship. I had one of those canvas cots that didn't always stay put when the ship rocked. I worked down in the galley after meals. I had to watch that the guys dumped their mess kits, and sometimes their stomachs. Then we cleaned the tables and floors.
As I recall, there were two double-high bunks on each of three walls. Crowded into the floor space were about 8 cots for the "overflow". There was some rotation of men into the bunks, but some guys just liked the cots, or didn't want to be bothered with moving about.
OUR MEN: FADER
The holds were stifling and confining and I volunteered for pantry duty on the ship--one of the best decisions I made in the army. All the way over I sat in the pantry--was it with Bill BALLANTINE??--handed out whatever the cooks needed and ate fresh fruit and vegetables (officers' mess) and drank whole milk. Occasionally opened tins of fish as desired. It was loverly. (Before leaving this sanctuary we loaded our knapsacks with tins of food which made the first few weeks in Europe somewhat endurable.)
On the trip over in convoy nothing exciting ( Where was HE during the hurricane?) until we saw the northwest coast of Africa...then hugged the shore, sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar, and apparently when south of our destination in Southern France we headed due north across a very choppy Mediterranean with a boat load of seasick soldiers.
OUR MEN: ROREM
When we were on our way and out of sight of land we were allowed on deck. Within an hour I was overcome with seasickness and this was the beginning of 14 days of misery. The only rays of hope during the days of hurricane weather were the oranges that Bill Schmidt brought me at night for three days. I was not alone with the seasickness, especially during the hurricane weather when we were not allowed on deck and were required to stay in the cramped quarters below. Our steel helmets saved those in the lower bunks from the results of the seasickness. The stand-up eating facilities, with water sloshing back and forth, didn't help things either.
OUR MEN: BECK
It's quite comfortable aboard this ship (name withheld). My quarters resemble more a hotel room than anything else. Here they are called "staterooms." Private bath, porter service, desk, etc. Of course, not all parts of the ship have these facilities. The E.M. are quartered below decks, three high and for them it is another stinking hole. All in all it's quite clean.
My room mates are a couple of captains, (one of which is Raymond Defarge) and John (GALLAGER?). The first day at sea I drew O.D. I walked my feet off that day and night, checked on the various guards and items like that. At night the ship is blacked out and all port-holes closed. It was my duty to check the decks at midnight. It was as black as coal. No moon - and no streetlight. Gosh! It was dark. Everything was quiet except for the sloshing of the sea against the side of the ship. Inside, in the officer's lounge, the music was playing, and the inevitable card games were in session and everyone was having a good time. Outside - the stillness and solitude reigned. Although they couldn't be seen, many pairs of eyes were on duty on night-watch, looking, looking, into the blackness.
OUR MEN: "SMITTY"
In the next few days I convinced myself that it was right for me to have joined the army and not the navy. In later years I was to tell my children that, of the 21 days that I spent on the high seas, I was seasick for 26 of them! There were sick troops everywhere, at least four of them in the bunks above my own.
OUR MEN: BARCLAY
On the second day after leaving port, Capt. BECK decided that his First Three Grade Non-coms should have the cabins we were occupying and that the men of the Construction section would take their rightful place below decks. 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.
Beck did volunteer all of us for special details of sweeping the decks and emptying the garbage over- board each night, etc. As a result of this labor, we had special meal tickets for 3 meals a day and permission to cut-in at the head of the chow line so that we could go about our business in a timely manner.
Not long after this incident, the Construction men of the "deck detail" were pressed into moving provisions from the ships storerooms into the lifeboats. Jerome WALDREF was one of first to recognize the possibilities of this project - he was a master at gaining the maximum benefit from such a golden opportunity.
We did a fairly creditable job, most of the boats were properly provided. As a fringe benefit of the activity, it became possible to divert more than a few gallon cans of peaches, pineapple, etc. as well as a few edible "survivors rations". These precious items were briefly stored in the crevices of the cabins until they could be enjoyed in after-hours dining.
There was a good deal of sharing our ill-gotten gain with some of the men bunking in the crowded holds of the ship . Many of these unfortunate guys could not go back down into the hot, smelly bowels of the ship to eat the regular meals. All of us spent as much time in the open, fresh air of the deck as possible. However, the terrible storm that we passed through made being on the deck impossible part of the time.
OUR MEN: GILL
I figured on the trip overseas the Signal Co. boys had some pretty good duty - like the guy that was working in the ship store and had access to all those goodies - 10" round cubes of cheese, canned goods of all kinds, etc. Almost every evening when he returned to the compartment he brought some of these goodies and repeatedly tossed out some of his clothing and stuffed the goodies in their place. When reminded that it might just be cold where we were going, he said one of his buddies told him he could find lots of clothes on the other side but rations would be short. "They aren't gonna starve this ole boy!!", he said. He was generous and some of us close to his sack shared his goodies. I purposely kept my eye on his duffle bag when it was dropped into the landing craft in Marseille Harbor - Ka whump!! - thought it was going to go right through the deck. Recall also watching the fellow that was unlucky enough to have to drag it off the craft - first tug about set him on his can.
After we had been at sea for some time, orders were taken for candy to be purchased from the ship's store. It was a wonderful benefit. It would have been even better if the 'Babe Ruth' bars etc. did not taste so very much like the diesel oil they had been stored close to.
OUR MEN: SHEWARD
I think that "shipped" properly describes the way we went over seas. I remember that trip well. I would estimate that 90% of those on board were seasick and the stench down in the holds that held our bunks was nearly unbearable. Fortunately someone, I think Emil Boitus, gave me the assignment of copying news from WWR for a ship's newspaper. This was done in the ship's radio room, where I stayed for the entire trip and only returned to my bunk just before we disembarked in Le Harve. Apart from my news copying, I also had access to the ship's storeroom and accumulated a decent supply of canned goods such as corned beef, that I stuffed into my duffel bag. You may recall that we each took a duffel bag to carry to the place where we camped. You just grabbed one. I cannot recall who got mine, but he was very unhappy about the extra weight involved.
OUR MEN: FADER
On the trip over in convoy nothing exciting until we saw the northwest coast of Africa...then hugged the shore, sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar, and apparently when south of our destination in Southern France we headed due north across a very choppy Mediterranean with a boat load of seasick soldiers.
OUR MEN: DONLAN
By Friday, October 6th we were moving down the Virginia and Florida coasts before heading out to sea. Calm seas, boat drills, fire drill by crew. We were in a convoy of 13 ships. Played chess with Bob Rushing on deck.
On October 7th we were told we were headed for France - probably southern part. We were issued French phrase books. Still a bit seasick, had a detail mapping class and we had three meals a day. At night, a songfest on deck. We all had some details. Phosphorescence on water beautiful at night.
On Sunday, October 8th attended mass in the lounge. As we crossed the first time zone in calm weather, advanced our clocks. Usually felt seasick before breakfast - still didn't have those "sea legs". Found the best "cure" for seasickness was to go up on the bow and lean over. Read, played chess and watched flying fish scooting along and lots of seaweed! I wrote a "V" Mail letter home. So many different shades of blue in the water. A sailor told me we (convoy) were moving along at 14 knots (17 m.p.h.). I don't think we maintained this after we encountered the rough weather.
Woke up on October 10th (5th day out) to definitely rougher weather. Now, others joined me in seasickness. Many of us only nibbled at our meals.
OUR MEN: D0NLAN
Rougher at night and rain. We were under strict blackout at night and the convoy drew closer together. On our port side was a former luxury liner, the S.S. Washington. Another was the S.S. LaFayette. The aircraft carrier rolled along on our starboard side.
Wednesday, October 11 - We advanced clocks another hour. As the seas cranked up another notch of "roughness", spray coming over the decks. We tried to eat something, but it grew less appealing. Many sick on deck and in the hold. Even the bow is rough-riding now. The ship is rocking and rolling in the heavy seas.
Thursday, October 12 - Now restless and sick at night, too, as we start our second week at sea. Very few of us midwesterners have ever been at sea, much less in a bad storm. No lightning or rain -just big waves. We must be north of West Indies now. This night they turned on the navigation lights in spite of the blackout. We had nearly rammed another boat in the convoy. I believe we were in the heart of the storm.
No food trays allowed on open decks, but it was hard to keep any food down below decks. Eating lost all interest for most. Now the waves were monstrous and slow-moving. The ship would often dip lower than the surface of the water (C deck). None of the other ships could be seen. Had some chow in the sailor's galley, felt better and began to get my "sea legs". Many guys deathly sick and just lay in their bunks day and night. Oftentimes there would be a sharp crack below decks as the main beam of the ship banged with a deep roll plunge. Also, the screw would come out of the water and set up a horrendous vibration. All of the above weren't very conductive to sleep.
By Friday, October 13 (Lucky!), the storm wore down and the boats in our convoy could be seen again, including the small ones. Felt better and ate a big chicken dinner. Still not allowed on deck at night. Now the sea was almost a dead calm and sanity returned to The Henry Gibbons - 8 days out of NYC. Reading, chess and orientation classes on France and landings occupied our days. Light rain at night.
Saturday and Sunday, October 14th and 15th passed without incident. Clocks advanced regularly every 500 miles or so. We struggled to read and say a few French phrases, but "Parles Vous Francais" didn't come easy.
By Sunday, October 15th we were back eating good meals, but instead of being seasick in calmer seas, we were sick of the sea.
Monday, October 16th - Advanced clocks again. Lots of anti-aircraft practice fire in the convoy. Weather turned warm and sea calm and blue. Must be getting closer to Mediterranean. Anxiety increased by the hour. We had a good supply of Penguin paper-back novels, so sitting on sunny deck and reading - not too bad duty. Clouded up and turned cold by evening. Had daily masses.
OUR MEN: GILL
Not much I can add to the tales already told about the 14 days at sea except that, fortunately, I was spared the misery of seasickness - I had a pretty good feel for what the unfortunate were suffering, however, as I had a like experience aboard a fish tug on good old Lake Michigan. I erupted in pretty good fashion when my buddy offered me some Mulligan stew for lunch - yuk!
Did have a time during the 4-day blow when I wondered if I might again experience a similar eruption. I slept in the middle pipe berth and was awakened by some wet splatter in my face - opening my eyes revealed some joker standing alongside, upchucking into his steel helmet, which he was holding just above the level of my face - yuk again!!
OUR MEN: DONLAN
When we were several days from entering the Mediterranean ocean, a fire started on one of the freighters and it and both aircraft transporters (I think) left the convoy and headed in the direction of Casablanca in North Africa, the nearest safe port, and perhaps the original destination of the aircraft which could be put in service there much sooner than anywhere in the Mediterranean.
Tuesday, October 17, 1944 - French classes and good time watching boxing matches on deck. The aircraft carrier on our starboard side departed our convoy in early morning. So long - glad to have had you. Two small boats accompanied it for protection (one of the ships appeared to have fire aboard that was only partially controlled).
Was this carrier the Wasp or Hornet? (It was only a cargo ship with many "packed-for-transport aircraft) Headed for Casablanca or Rabat, possibly.
Now, excitement! About 4:30 p.m. on the distant horizons on the starboard side, we first sighted the distant and hazy coastline of Africa. By 6 p.m. we were passing a rocky piece of land jutting out into the ocean from the High Atlas Mountains. What a welcome view! After 12 days on the briny. Land also in view on the port side - distant coast of Spain as we nudged toward the Straits of Gibraltar.
We moved on until we saw the coast of Spanish Morocco. Soon we came to a large, white town near Tangier and Gibraltar. There were small boats (fishing) in view, too. Now we're in the Straits of Gibraltar - around 7 p.m. we saw a spectacular ball of fire sink into the ocean in the west as the setting sun disappear. What a view - and on the port side, the Rock of Gibraltar.
They were signaling by light to our convoy from the rock base - asking for identification. We passed the Rock about 8 p.m., but it was so dark, we could only see the lights on its southeastern side. Directly on our right was a large mountain peak, into the clouds. Beyond was the well-lighted city of Ceuta, Morocco. We went below and had our last song program of the voyage. Large schools of sharks and porpoises were seen as we went through the Straits tonight. We passed through the Straits of Gibraltar on the early evening of the 17th. It was good to see something that stood still. The ship turned away from the African coast and toward the north. All hopes that the passage on this smaller sea would be calmer were dashed by three consecutive days of stormy weather.
Wednesday, October 18th - Very calm Mediterranean on all sides at dawn. Later hugged the hazy African coast all day. Sheer rock cliffs rise out of the ocean with occasionally a sandy beach. A showdown inspection in morning in preparation for landing. We had radio programs on ship P.A. system and basked in the Mediterranean, October sun. We had a little action with destroyers firing at night. We were supposed to be turning northeast around 9 p.m. Don't know if we did or not.
Thursday, October 19th - Cloudy skies and sea on all sides. We are headed north by northeast - probably for Marseilles. I'm not sure. We weren't ever told firmly that this was our objective. We were issued cigarettes, "K" rations and Red Cross kits in the morning. We also had a physical in raincoats - br-r-r - cold! The sea got quite rough by late afternoon and remained so through the night; but the stars came out. I went to mass, we had a small chicken dinner and turned in early - sort of seasick once more. Thought that was over! Found my lost gas mask. This wasn't looked on too kindly.
OUR MEN: BARCLAY
I remember spending most of my spare time crawling over bags trying to read the name stenciled on each one, hoping to find my own. I did eventually find it, and was able to store 2 canvas bunks from the ship's supplies that I later used to enclose a more durable sleeping-bag assembly.
That was some kind of a bag! It eventually had the heavy canvas covers held together by copper wire and stuffed with 2 or 3 G.I. wool blankets and inside that heavy comfort pack was later placed a G.I. "mummy bag" of wool. If the guys on Jones' team had not helped me get this monster in and out of the truck when it was necessary for sleeping, and/or putting the "tools of our trade" and lots of W110B wire in its place, I certainly would have spent many more cold, sleepness nights than I did.
OUR MEN: NANEY
Now... on the boat or ship, whichever was appropriate. We had ships' bunks with white sheets. Great. But we had to get out on deck every night to throw over garbage. Nice! Only on a stormy night we had ropes tied to us. Storms. Storms. We go to North Africa first, then on into the Mediterranean to land. Remember the Rock of Gibraltar? Then there was the bill hill in France. We got everything issued to us and all laid out to check when we got soused with so much rain from such a little cloud that it washed everything downhill.
STORM AND WEATHER
REPORTS SUPPLIED BY DONLAN
(Attached article from New York Times shows we were on the northern edge of a real hurricane that had crashed across the Caribbean island area and Cuba.)
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.
OUR MEN: NATOLI, 1994
Hey, what's this - the last entry in the chapter!? I was on that boat also!! Just because I started that complaining about the way we deserving men were going to be thrown out of the really good cabins by some of the "swell officers", was no reason for ANANIA and even lil' Joe LaFATTA and some "chicken- little" others (you know who you are!) to suggest I could be charged with encouraging mutiny, and that maybe I should hide out on the "Poop Deck" until I can sneak off under the cover of darkness.
And now BARCLAY (one of
the unnamed?) is putting my "recalls" at the very end of his lousy book
in a "[special chapter]" where if anyone wants to see how it really was
for us real soldiers they will have to look for it.
HANSON, HAROLD H.
6151751 *FINKBEINER, JAMES A.S/Sgt. 33266644