There Was Still A Lot To Do “Over There” After World War II
Editor’s note: Longtime Canarsie activist Seymour Weiner is 83 years old. He said recently that he has told stories about his experiences in the Army just as World War Two ended, to family, friends and others and, “sadly, many of those tales are not remembered by them.” Then he says, “This in some ways is a good thing because it allows me to recount my stories.” And recount them he did — in the following installments of a few chapters of his U.S. Army autobiography. When reading them, we thought they were quite interesting, funny, philosophical and, well, just plain fun to read.
As Mr. Weiner says, “Enjoy!”
On March 20, 1945, I received a letter from the President of the United States, Harry S. Truman. “Greetings: You are hereby directed to report for a pre-induction physical at 1111 Rutland Road, Brooklyn, N.Y. at 10:15 AM on the 6th day of April 1945.” In reality, the exam took place in a large area of Grand Central station. Months earlier, as a member of the East New York Vocational High School track team, I was required to take a physical. To my surprise and shock, I was told I had high blood pressure and no longer could compete. Therefore, when I went for the selective service exam I was fearful, as I desperately wanted to serve.
Try to picture a huge room with thousands of mostly young men, sprinkled with middle-aged ones, wearing only shorts. The area is set with numbered stations, each one for a different test. I am sailing along until I get to the B.P. check. The doctor, after taking my blood pressure, tells me to lie down. He asks me if I ever had rheumatic fever. After consultations, I am sent to a holding area for further evaluation. This facility was staffed by U.S. Army personnel. I am sent for a whole battery of tests, but there is no conclusion. They would wake me up in the middle of the night and check my blood pressure. It remained high.
We were being fed food prepared by army cooks. I was surprised one day to find out the delicious lunch main course was ham, which was the first time I had ever eaten non-kosher food. On my third day, the doctor who examined me was, as I was, a rabid Brooklyn Dodger fan. We were discussing the team as he took my pressure, and to my great and surprise and joy it was normal. On my certificate of fitness he checked “#1 – physically fit, acceptable for general military service,” and I was sent home.
On June 13, 1945, I received an “order to report for induction” at 8:15 AM on the 5th of July 1945 at my local draft board.
Since the board was required to furnish transportation, I was given a nickel to get to a Manhattan induction center. At the center, a young second lieutenant, after swearing us in, said, “Gentlemen, you are now members of the United States Army.” We were given a few hours off before our departure. Knowing one of the other recruits, we tried to get in to see a movie, which was free of charge for members of the Armed Services. We were turned down, as we were not in uniform. I called my sister at work, and she took us out for lunch. Reporting back, we were taken by bus to Fort Dix in N.J.
After only one day in the Army, I was put on KP (Kitchen Police), serving mashed potatoes. The line seemed endless and my arm hurt. Washing floors and setting tables was another chore.
After a few days, getting many shots, haircuts and uniforms, we were put on a train to an unknown destination. It took more than three days to get to Camp Wheeler in Macon, Georgia and we arrived on July 12. The camp was an ITRC (infantry training replacement center).
As the war progressed, no new armies were formed and the nine existing ITRCs supplied infantry men to replace combat casualties. On the train going south, I became friendly with two recruits, Clyde W. Sloan from Lakeville, N.Y. and William F. Spezzano from Wadsworth, N.Y. They were in my company all through training.
On the morning we arrived in Macon, looking out the windows we saw hundreds of GIs, with rifles in hand, looking at the ground. We soon found out they were “policing the area.” We were a mixture of backgrounds, but all white, all male. We were mostly young and older married men with children and for the most part from the eastern part of the U.S. (both North and South).
Our first meeting was with our first Sgt., who was a lifer from the Deep South. His message to the married men was “it was their little red wagon, not his” and he did not want to hear their marital problems. In 2010, I was reading a biography of General Colin Powell (a career soldier). In his photograph on the cover, he is wearing a dark blue suit, and in his lapel was a pin that said “A little red wagon.”
See Chapter 2 in next week’s Canarsie Courier.