Going From Place To Place And Finally Arriving Overseas
As we were nearing the end of a 17- week cycle, our entire company spent two weeks in the field. On the day of departure, I was on K.P. and the cooking crew and I were driven to the site on a high plateau. Besides the mess tent, stoves and everything else needed to feed the troops, we had some personal stuff belonging to the men. After we finished setting up the kitchen, the mess sargeant gave us time off until supper.
All of the company was out learning how to use flame-throwers. I looked around, found my pack and my partner’s pack. He was Henry Smith Jr. from Tennessee, and a farmer in civilian life. We became close friends. We each had half of a pup tent. I put the two halves together, staked them to the ground and, using my experience as a boy scout, dug a ditch around the tent to keep out rainwater. As we were in a pine forest, I filled the bottom of the tent with pine needles, for warmth and comfort. I had written my mother a week before we were gong out to the field, and had her send me a bunch of very large safety pins I had used on scout camping trips. I used them to make a sleeping bag out of our four army blankets. Just as I finished, it started to rain heavily. When the company returned to our location, Henry found me in the tent with all our stuff. He was extremely happy. We were the only three members of our platoon with dry clothing for the next two weeks.
Even though it was August in Georgia, up on the mountain it was terribly cold, and none of us had appropriate warm clothing. One night I was awakened by the corporal of the guard to report for guard duty. That was the coldest night I had ever experienced. There was a fire in a large barrel next to the mess tent. I did not care about getting caught and I kept leaving my post to warm myself.
On one of the training assignments, my squad had to knock out a pillbox on the top of a valley. I volunteered to carry the bazooka instead of my rifle. We ran down to the bottom of the valley and started to the top of the other side. Even though I was in the best shape of my life, by the time we got to the position where I had to fire, I was breathing so hard that the rocket flew over the top of the mountain.
We were happy to finish two weeks in the field and return to camp. We were nearing the end of training so I started to think about our ten-day furlough. When finally the day came we turned in our rifles and other combat gear, and with my pass in hand I boarded the train home, which stopped in Washington, D.C., where I had to wait for another train that would take me to New York. Arriving home, I was reunited with my family.
My home on Avenue B and East 89th Street was a large wooden structure. It was built for the most part by my grandfather, a carpenter, with help from his sons, my father and his brother. The house was built on the foundation of a burnt-down house. Each of my grandparents’ children had an apartment and I grew up with all of my uncles, aunts and cousins. All of the men living there had served in the military. My brother Aaron served in the Navy submarine service, my cousin Edward was in the Air Force and cousin Norman served aboard a Navy destroyer. In addition, my sister’s husband Morris was in the Army Signal Corps and was involved in the invasions of North Africa, Sicily, Italy and the landing in southern France.
The ten days I spent at home were great and went by fast before I reported to a camp in Virginia. After three days in Virginia, we were sent to Fort Drum in upstate New York.
After a week there, we were sent on a troop train to NYC for embarkation. It was March 14, 1945. We approached the pier to find the ship that was to take us to an unknown destination. As we got closer, I was amaze to see the U.S.S. Randolph, an aircraft carrier, which had seen much action in the South Pacific. The ship and crew had been highly honored. As we approached the gangplank, we passed Red Cross volunteers, who gave us coffee and donuts.
We were led to the hangar deck, where normally the planes would be stored. In their place there were thousands of bunk beds stacked ten high. I was lucky to get a top bunk, which made reading possible due to the lights above. All of the barracks bags were stored in a pile.
When I was home on leave, my brother in-law Morris, a veteran sailor, suggested I mark my bag to make it easier to find. I painted a large yellow triangle on it and it worked. He also told me to try to eat every meal, even if I felt seasick. Those in charge had set up a P.X. (post exchange) on the ship. I loved candy, but the only bars they had were Clark bars, and I bought a whole box (I never ate a Clark bar again). I spent a lot of time at the stern of the ship, watching the ocean. The endless movement of the water was fantastic.
Every morning, we were awakened to hear this message over the loudspeaker system after the flag was raised: “Sweepers man your brooms! Give the ship a clean sweep-down both fore and aft.”
Every chance I got, I would get on the Navy chow line because I liked talking to the sailors, many who had fought in the South Pacific.
There was room on the hangar deck for a basketball court. Our army personnel played against the ship’s crew, but could not beat them because they were used to the roll of the ship. Soon after leaving NYC, the ship turned south, I think, to avoid the stormy North Atlantic, and then turned east. Suddenly, it was warm enough to play ball and watch boxing matches.
We knew our destination was Naples, Italy, because it had a harbor that could accommodate the deep-draft carrier. First we had to go past Gibraltar, a British crown colony with a fortress dominating the Strait of Gibraltar that leads to the Mediterranean Sea. After arriving, we disembarked and were taken to a processing center for assignment.
In the center was a large group of German POW’s (prisoners of war)). It was my first of many encounters with them. We were then taken by truck with our bags on trailers. As we rode through the streets, we saw colorful wagons being pulled by donkeys, and small cars with charcoal burners on the roof providing fuel. When our convoy stopped for traffic, young boys jumped into the trailers and tossed bags to confederates on the road. My bag, fortunately, was not among those stolen. We finally arrived at an infantry company near Pisa. There was confusion—it seems there were too many of us. We were interviewed, and when they found I had a radio and electrical background, I was sent to the 3195 Signal service company in Leghorn.
Chapter 4 will be in next week’s Canarsie Courier.