On September 4, 1942 I had turned twenty years of age. Although
it would be at least one year or more before I would be eligible
to receive a Selective Service Board draft notice, in keeping
with family tradition, as my father and his father had done before
me, I made the decision to volunteer to enlist in the U.S. Army.
This would allow sufficient time for me to sell my car and wrap
up my personal affairs with the tentative enlistment date of
December 1st in mind. At the time I was employed by the J.I.
Case Company, Racine, Wisconsin as a milling machine operator
milling tank links; these are the connecting links on the tracks
of the Sherman tank. As had many of my friends and former classmates
at Horlick High School, I had aspirations of becoming an aerial
gunner on a B-17. Joining the Air Corps would end my remote affiliation
with tanks and tanks parts, or so I thought. While this disconnect
was in the back of my mind, I never gave much consideration that
these idle thoughts would come back to haunt me within a year.
Our daily local newspaper kept the city aware of who had entered
the Aviation Cadets or the Aerial Gunnery schools and were undergoing
training with their photos of the candidates in brown leather
flight jackets accented with a white parachute scarves, wearing
leather flying helmets, with goggles attached on top. No doubt
this patriotic publicity attracted many applicants, myself included.
After a few visits to the Army Recruiting Office in the Arcade
Building, I was convinced this was my choice and earnestly inquired
about the qualifications. With only a high school diploma I did
not qualify for Cadet Training, at the time, and so I settled
on the Aerial Gunner program. The Army Sergeant advised me up
front that there was no guarantee that I would be assigned to
the Air Corps, as my enlistment would specifically be in the
"Army of the United States, for the duration, plus six months
-- unassigned." However, as a typical Recruiter would
promise, the Sergeant said that anyone who requested enlisted
flying status would have "no problem" being accepted,
for everyone on flying status had to be a volunteer. Being in
good health without vision problems or corrections required,
I wishfully assumed that I would soon be at an airfield in Texas,
or California if lucky, undergoing gunnery school immediately
after receiving basic training.
The remaining days and nights slipped away rapidly and soon
the end of November had arrived. Being single and unattached
spared me the need of asking anyone special to "wait for
me." Came the morning of December 1st, my mother called
me early at the crack of dawn and had a hot breakfast waiting
for me before we said goodbye. I walked up old Milwaukee Avenue
in the fresh fallen snow to the corner of High Street and Douglas
Avenue to catch a streetcar to the train station; there I caught
the first train out to Milwaukee. In the train station at Milwaukee
a Corporal was paging all in-coming Army enlistees to gather
around for instructions. After collecting a large enough number,
he then formed us into a group and marched us off to the Main
Recruiting and Induction Center nearby at 341 N. Milwaukee Street
in downtown Milwaukee.
My civilian life, while expected to be placed on temporary
hold, was on the verge of ending for a long period of time
- much longer than I had ever imagined. It wasn't until thirty-two
years later on November 1, 1974, that I received my final discharge
from military service to the country. From this day forward of
my enlistment all decisions, both minor and major, would be made
for me by others, whether I agreed or disagreed, as the military
is not a democracy. This latter point would be hammered home
to me on all too many occasions in the decades to come as I later
pondered each new set of superiors, duty assignments, circumstances
and situations. Admittedly, a difficult challenge for one who
had been a "free-thinker" and not used to the strict
regimentation of military life dealing with mundane routines
and repetitive asinine instructions, and often rendered in a
threatening manner by my superiors. Along with the ever present
silent command of,"Comply or else!" But, I suspected
all this when I volunteered and raised my hand in taking the
Oath of Enlistment accepting orders from all those commissioned
and non-commissioned appointed over me.
Due to the large number of volunteers on this first day of
December, I was held over with many others until the next day
when the oath was then administered and I was given the serial
number AUS 16155906. I was now a number among the million others
and no longer an individual person. We were quartered overnight
in a downtown hotel where my roommate was Thomas Gillet from
Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, serial number AUS 16155905. After receiving
our physicals and being sworn in, our group was marched to the
train station and boarded a Chicago Northwestern train enroute
to Fort Sheridan, Illinois, some fifty miles south.
Our first stop was to the Army Reception Center where we were
informed of the procedures we would undergo in processing. After
the vaccination clinic we were assigned to personal interviews
followed by mandatory insurance indoctrination (sales).
No one was permitted to leave the latter room until you "volunteered"
to sign for the GI insurance policy and Government savings bond
drive as the Post Commander prided himself with 100% participation.
Next came the batteries of IQ tests known as the AFQT (Armed
Forces Quotient Test) to determine your mental category ranging
from I through IV. Category I being collegiate and Category IV
border line illiterate. I scored in the upper Category II and
was assigned to the Signal Corps much to my chagrin and disappointment
of not being assigned to the Air Corps. There went my dreams
of flying off into the wild blue yonder -- my wings were clipped!
I was being transferred to a Signal Corps Training Center to
become a Radio Repairman. The next day about 24 of us designated
for Signal Corps schooling were put aboard a train coach car
with military escort; next destination unknown. We changed trains
in Chicago, then St. Louis and then Kansas City. Sometime the
next day our car was shunted to a siding and we all asked, "Where
the hell are we?" Our answer was soon coming - Neosho, Missouri.
This back water community on the border of Oklahoma in the southwest
corner of the state was the last stop outside the gates of Camp
Crowder Signal Training Center. To borrow an old Army cliché
expression, "If America needed an enema; they would have
inserted the tube here." We were at least 100 miles from
nowhere. The nearest town was Joplin, Missouri, a small cross
roads over night stop before the war - with Sunday liquor Blue
I was assigned to Company B, 28th Signal Training Battalion
under the command of Captain George A. Patterson. Our Platoon
Commander was 2nd Lt. John Richard Webb, who would become a post
war movie actor with his own TV program called "Captain
Midnight." Close friends in my platoon were Tom Gillet (Wisconsin),
Joe Cowgill (Indiana), George Deeley (Wisconsin), and Bernie
Tatcher, a tough street smart Jew from Philadelphia. Thirty-five
days later on 7 January 1943, my name appeared on Special Orders
#6, Transfer # 2658, Paragraph 38 and promoted to Tech 5th Grade
Temp By order of Major General Prosser: Signed by Lt. Col. F.
Butler, Field Artillery, Adjutant.
After the initial phase of Basic Training was completed, I
was assigned to Company A, 33rd Signal Corps Training Battalion
on the other side of the Post. While undergoing additional military
indoctrination of viewing training films and attending lectures,
we would be attending night classes at the same time on a monthly
rotation basis. The dual schedule consisted of Monday through
Friday, while Saturday mornings were reserved for the standard
barracks inspections. Our days began with Reveille at 0600 hours
followed by four hours during the a.m. of training followed by
six hours of schooling until 2000 hours (8 p.m.) for a long grueling
14 hour day. Fighting sleep in class was a challenge as the instructors
droned on and on in monotone explanations and instructions of
amperage, electrons, ohms, volts, resistors, circuits, tubes,
VHF receivers and transmitters, wave lengths, wattage, current
-- positives and negatives, continuity, conduction and a myriad
of electronic technical terms studied and read from an Army Signal
Corps manual. The military instructors stood at their desks and
blackboards with a yard long wooden 12" dowel rod with an
empty brass .45 caliber shell casing attached to the end. The
moment the NCO instructor saw a dozing student's head bobbing
and chin resting on his chest he would walk up silently and tap
the sleeping soldier on the head with the brass end of the pointer.
All of us suffered the rap of the .45 shell casing more than
once during the night classes. The seeds of resentment had their
beginning in this style class instruction.
One day in late spring, an announcement on the Company Bulletin
Board said the Air Corps had adopted a new policy and was accepting
applications from qualified candidates with a minimum of a high
school diploma for pilot training. I obtained the necessary forms,
wrote to my former high school for the required verification
copies of my scholastic records, obtained three letters of recommendation
(including one from my former high school assistant principal
Robert Smith) and two others from hometown businessmen, Joe Jacobson
and Dr. Hyman Soref, along with a copy of my birth certificate
and submitted my complete application immediately; knowing full
well it would take time to process and time was not on my side.
It wasn't long before the warm weather arrived and my thoughts
turned to outdoors and other possible pursuits - namely, escaping
from this school before I passed the point of no return in this
ten month course. Luckily I found the sympathetic ear of my Electronics
Instructor by the name of 1st Lt. Auriello Santa Ana. I explained
that I had enlisted for the Air Corps Aerial Gunnery program
and instead was shuffled into radio repair. Whether it was the
Army's way of putting the square peg in the round hole or just
a case of burn-out, I convinced him that I wasn't suited for
this technician bench work future. By being up front and explaining
my candid lack of interest in becoming a Radio Repairman for
the duration that working with tube testers, ohm meters, walkie-talkie
hand held radios, VHF radio chassis and soldering irons had become
a boring way of life and I needed a change. He then advised me
on how to submit a voluntary request for a withdrawal from the
class and a transfer to another field. After a week on hold,
the school headquarters processed the request with orders transferring
me to the Field Wire School. In doing so I knowingly lost my
two stripes and became a buck Private once more. It was well
worth the trade.
The Wire School on the other side of the Post was conducted
in an area the size of a football field with dozens of wooden
30 and 40 foot tall telephone poles implanted about ten feet
apart. This was the outdoor classroom. The pole climbing class
would have to wait until we had learned about the different types
of wire ranging from the small handheld reel of Infantry combat
wire to the larger jeep/truck reels of standard W-110 field wire.
One class involved the use of the basic field telephone, known
as the EE8A. It was the standard issue to troops in the field
in combat, using a hand crank with handset in a leather case.
It was destined to later become one of my constant companions.
We were taught how to field strip the wire and make a splice
using the square knot and friction tape. The TL-9 leather case
containing a pair of side cutter pliers and a folding pocket
knife; this was standard issue to all wiremen and carried on
the web waist belt.
The pole yard class separated the men from the boys. We strapped
on Lamon steel spur-climbers to the inside of our leg from the
instep of the heel of our shoe to just below our knee joint.
The safety belt was not hooked around the pole as you climbed
up until you had reached the top - then you would unsnap the
keeper on the belt and circle it around the back of the pole
to your other hand and then hook it onto your belt. It was also
the "tool rack" for carrying extra hand tools and became
the "seat" after you had reached the top of the pole.
Climbing the pole was altogether another challenge. After months
of daily class wear, the creosote coated wooden poles had become
a mass of slivers from top to bottom. We were issued heavy leather
gloves to lightly grasp the sides of the pole as we kicked the
sharp 112 inch steel spur into the wood and straightened our
leg to stand, alternating each straight leg as we went
up. The trick was to keep your weight on one lower leg straight
with that spur dug into the wood. Bend the lower leg and the
spur would fail to hold and down you went! We were taught not
to look down at your feet, but to look up where you could see
what was above you. The Nervous Nellys would freeze half way
up the pole and the instructor would climb up under the recruit
and try to quiet his fears and to stop him from hugging the pole.
By the time the recruit got down from the pole, more often as
not, his face had souvenir splinters imbedded. Those of us who
quickly mastered the climbing were then given a basketball to
toss back and forth while "seated" in the safety belt
- all this built confidence and became easy as one-two-three.
Lost in the details was that in Europe they used concrete and
metal poles -- not wood. The six week course ended and I was
given the Army Military Occupation Specialty number MOS 641,
Field Lineman. Ready for my next assignment.
On October 7, 1943, a large number of us newly graduated from
the Wire School were transferred by train to Shenango Personnel
Replacement Depot, located at Transfer (actual name), Pennsylvania.
It was just another temporary stop along the line. We were now
a part of the growing military replacement system known in Army
lingo as being in "The Pipe Line"-- being funneled
to overseas assignments for the pending invasion of Europe. Shortly
after my arrival at Shenango, the personnel records clerk discovered
that I was one of the rare exceptions in that I had not received
the traditional ten days "last furlough home" before
shipping overseas; however, before they could issue the furlough
orders I was placed on new orders for the final train ride to
Camp Shanks, located outside New York City near Orangeburg and
the Port of Embarkation. Next destination - overseas. Time was
running short. My journey in life was undergoing a radical change,
in less than a month each new succeeding chapter would begin
to unfold in a manner in which I never suspected possible. Rather
than describe these following experiences as chapters, I will
identify them as Diary Entries extracted from my personal journals.
"Think where man's glory most begins and ends.
And say my glory was that I had such friends."
-- William Butler Yeats
Publication or reproduction, in part or whole,
is prohibited without written permission from the author, Don
R. Marsh. All rights remain the sole property of The Marsh Family