George's training took him to a technical school in Chicago Illinois which is near The Great Lakes Naval Training Center. There he was able to visit others from Stewart County like George Weaks. They went to a Major League Baseball Game at Wrigley Field! This was also the first time that George was in a big city! He found out his brother was passing through Chicago on his way to the East Coast. His brother was on active duty assigned to a Tank Destroyer Battalion. George also while in Chicago was able to hear some Big Banes at the Chicago Theatre.
Time for Chapter Two: Basic Training
On 17 September 1943 I was transferred to Camp Crowder near Joplin Missouri for Basic Training. After three months of basic training, I took specialization training in telephone field wire and pole ling construction. The worst part of basic training is Fire Guard. I had to keep the fires going in front of the barracks, Company HQ, and Battalion HQ. The problem was the sad sacks on duty before me let most of the fires die out and were clogged with soot! I had to clean out all the furnaces and build new fires. To make matters worse it was in the low twenties and the company was due in from the field in two hours! I finally got all the furnaces going which was a chore!
From Camp Crowder I went to Camp Shenago Pennsylvania. (Formerly known as Camp Shenango was a World War II Military Personnel Replacement Depot located on what is now Transfer, Pennsylvania in Northwestern Pennsylvania.) At this camp we received overseas assignments shots, new issue of clothing and instruction on preparation for departure from the USA.
On 11 April 1944, we parted Hampton Roads Virginia aboard a Liberty Ship in a slow-moving convoy. There were 500 soldiers in one hold of the ship.
We slept in bunks stacked 5 high and they were spaced so close that one could barely turnover without disturbing the soldier around us. One of the unknowns was the type of material that was being transported in the other holds on this ship. We could never get the sailors to tell us what it was! Enroute, we had several submarine alerts with much depth charge action. During these submarine alerts we had to stay in the hold. If we had been hit by a torpedo we would have drowned like rats! I said a slow boat because the convoy was travelling at about 6 knots per hour. In spite of the threats, we finally arrived at Casablanca Morocco on 3 May 1944 at about 2 A.M. We were loaded on 6 x 6 trucks and driven by Arab drivers who had more experience. We arrived at a temporary camp outside of Casablanca. Since we only had one blanket, we had to put on extra clothing to sleep comfortability in the cool semi desert air. The next morning several of us walked down to the highway to see some local sites. Immediately we saw an elderly Arab come riding by on top of a high load of sticks on a very small donkey!
We were so engrossed with this activity that we didn’t see an Army Car drive up behind us. It contained an U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel who proceeded to chew us out for not saluting him when he drove by. A piece of chicken …..!
In a couple of days, we were loaded on a train with luxurious cars called “Forty and Eights”. They are box cars which received this name during the First World War which means the car had wooden floors and carry forty men or eight horses! The vintage of these cars was probably the First World War and if they could talk! We were lucky because we only had 35 soldiers in our car. Our bedding was straw on the floor and the toilets facilities were outstanding! One stands at the door and des his business out into the desert. The food was C rations, which the old “C” rations was a choice of either a can of meat and beans, beef hash, or beef stew supplemented by a cans containing hard biscuits, a pack of dried coffee (Nescafe), four pieces of the hard candy, a small pack of four Chesterfield Cigarettes and a couple of pieces of toilet paper! The train was pulled by two coal burning steam locomotives which almost asphyxiated us as we traveled upgrade in several tunnels of the Atlas Mountains. One of our sources of entertainment was to throw the pieces of hard candy to the Arab children as we traveled through small towns and watched them fight for the candy. We traveled for several days in this mode until we arrived at Oran Algeria.
At Oran, we were assigned to a “Rippl Deppl”, which is a replacement depot from which soldiers are assigned to Combat U.S. Army units to replace personnel who have been killed or severely wounded in action or for processing personnel back to their units who have been in the hospital or other medical problems.
After a couple of months at Oran we boarded 40s & 8s again and traveled to the port of Algiers, Algeria where we boarded on a “Limey” (English) ship Arundel Castle. Traveling aboard this ship was some experience. We slept in hammocks and had bully beef (Australian Beef), boiled potatoes, pickled mackerel and tea and custard drink. This was one time I was glad to get a can of “C” rations! After we moved of the ship, we traveled to a staging area which we called the “dust bowl”. It was very dry and dusty there and we only had water for drinking and light washing. We slept in put tents which is constructed from two soldiers shelter halves. Since water wea very scarce, we marched to the seashore to take a bath and wash our fatigues. The fatigues were saturated with salt which became in order during the night from the moist seashore air. It felt like wearing a wet blanket when we put on the fatigues in the morning. This is where George got the ring!!
The staging area was an accumulation of organizations in preparation for the invasion of Southern France. Later we boarded an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) anchored near the Naples Harbor. While laying at the anchor, we had a great time diving off the ship into the sky-blue waters off the Tyrrhenian Sea. Sometime around the first week of August we headed in convoy for Southern France. Enroute in the Mediterranean Sea we ran through the roughest sea conditions that I was exposed to during my sea travels. We estimate that the waves were 30 feet deep at times. The troughs of the waves were so large that the LCI would climb off the peak of the wave and fall completely into the next trough with the propellers out of the water. This would cause the engines to revive up where they sounded like they would fly apart. Then came the shock of the ship falling in the bottom of the though. To put it lightly, it was frightening! I was one of the lucky ones who did not become seasick. This being the case, I was able to eat the Navy’s chew chow since most of them were sick otherwise our chow consisted of “C” rations and North African Oranges which were delicious. While in Oran North Africa George picked up a ring with Oran Africa 1944 on it. It is a great piece for the Museum
We landed in Southern France near St. Tropez about one week after the assault of the Seventh Army which had proceeded inland. About the first of September near Besancon, France, Fred Welch and I were assigned to a Heavy Weapons Company in the 7th Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division. When we arrived at the Company Headquarters, we were assigned to a squad who were staying in a barn. Welch and myself slept in the loft on soft hay. We thought it was strange that we had the loft to ourselves while the remainder of the squad slept in the dingy and odorous cow stalls. After a couple of nights, a messenger arrived and advise the company commander that there had been a SNAFU and that we were supposed to be assigned to the 3rd Signal Company. As we were departing all the men in the squad told us how lucky we were to be leaving a front-line infantry company. As were walking back from the front-line area we observed that many of the houses and barns had hugh holes in the roofs resulting from artillery fire. Then we knew why the veterans let us sleep in the loft alone! This assignment to the 3rd Signal Company saved our lives for we heard later that most of that Infantry company was wiped out in combat!
Upon arrival at the 3rd Signal Company, 3rd Infantry Division I was assigned to a wire team consisting of a Staff Sergeant, a Corporal and four privates. There were: SSG Ernie Vegel, Herbie Link, Pat Lamocce, George Julian, and Ernie Poganig. I worked with this team until wars end. It was our responsibility to provide two telephones circuits of w110B field wire between the 7th Regiment Headquarters and the 3rd Division Headquarters at all times except when we were in rapid transit. This regiment provided some interesting experience as well as some hazardous exposure even though we were not a line unit, we were often in the very vicinity of the battle lines. There were times when we were laying wire between the Regiment and Division Headquarters, and we were ahead of the combat lines!
The Hazardous exposure was sniper fire, mortars, artillery fire, and aircraft strafing fire. Sometimes we would encounter booby traps. I will relate some hair raising and dangerous events we were exposed to.
The first one occurred shortly after I joined the team. In a small town in Southern France, I was installing a telephone line and I climbed a telephone pole to secure the line over a roadway when I heard two airplanes approaching. I assumed they were enemy planes, and they were! They were German Messerschmidt planes! I cut out and slid down the pole with the hope that I could dig my spikes in while sliding down the pole near the bottom. They dug in enough to slow my fall. It was fortunate for me that one of the planes was strafing in the middle of the road and the second was strafing on the other side of the road.
On the night of November 1944, our team was tasked to lay wire behind the 7th Infantry battle position as it made an assault advance towards the small town of Saales which was sound west of Strasbourg France. The 3rd Division had broken through what was referred to as the Hindenburg Line near St Die on the near the Meurthe River. Therefore, the Germans were fighting a delaying retreat toward the Rhine River. The Battle Patrol consisted of a battalion of infantry riding on top of tanks. After the town of Nayemont was taken the patrol encountered a roadblock where a fire fight ensured. During this fight a a tank attempted to move a mined Flak Wagon out the road and it blew up damaging the tank. After that they started moving two Saales France. Our traveling behind the assault ground was very spooky because it was dark, and we didn’t know what we might run into. We did not use any lights and the drivers of the ¾ ton truck had to follow the Sergeant who was holding a luminous dial watch to guide him. The operation of the wire reel on the truck was as noisy as a tank. There was also a potential of stepping on a shoe mine or activating mines by hitting the trip wire or being ambushed by an enemy patrol.
We continued to under this condition about 15 miles until we arrived at Saales at about daybreak. We breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed our guard! The Commander of the Battle Patrol selected a house for an advance regiment command post. I started to pull a telephone wire across an opening towards the house when the ground ahead of me, about half a foot in front of my foot, smoked. Shortly thereafter I heard the sound of a rifle. The shot came from some woods about 200 feet from us. A Company Commander sent a squad of infantry to the woods and a fire fight could be heard. Afterwards the squad returned with about eight German soldiers as Prisoners. The said they had killed five German soldiers during the fire fight. It was very lucky that the Germans who shot at me did not allow for the drop of the bullet while aiming at that distance. This fire fight was reported in the 3rd Division History on page 272.
We arrived in Strasbourg on about 27 November 1944 and there was a lull in the fighting. Our team found an abandoned three story house with steam heat and running water and we setup shop to enjoy the Thanksgiving Holiday. This didn’t last very long because an the 3rd of December 1944 we commenced moving to the Colmar Pocket to relieve the 36th Infantry Division. The 36th Infantry Division had a lost battalion surrounded by Germans which was eventually relieved by the Nisei Japanese Battalion. (Note: The Nisei 442nd Battalion relieved the 1st Battalion of the 141st Regiment Texas National Guard on 30 October 1944.) The Colmar Pocket was the plains area around the City of Colmar which was about 40 miles south of Strasbourg on the Rhine River. This was the last area the Germans possessed on the West side of the Rhine River in France.
In the middle of January 1945, our team moved into a neat little French house in the outskirts of Jebsheim, France. Since all the plains around Colmar was a battle zone, most the civilians had moved out of this area. It was usually our procedure to all sleep in one room while we had a fire. We moved the mattresses from a room in the rear of the house to sleep on. The next morning an 88-millimeter artillery projectile exploded on the top of the house and there was shrapnel all over the room from which we had removed the mattresses. The Germans 88-millimeter artillery piece was on the most accurate and lethal weapons the Germans utilized. They had shells designed for anti-personnel, anti-tank and anti-aircraft. We thought the artillery like lightning, would not hit in one place twice! Two months later, we decided it was a foolish assumption when one of the 88 -millimeter projectiles hit the kitchen stove in the next room demolishing this neat little house. When we rushed out of the house, we were white from mortar dust and perhaps a bit of fright! Only one soldier had a small splinter in his backside. Two infantry men who had stop by to warm by our fire said they were going back to the front where it was safer! We were extremely lucky to have avoided any physical damage.