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By Don R. Marsh

The "war to end all wars" was over, the welcome home parades and merriment of the returning servicemen had long come to close; finally it was time to get back to "normalcy." A whole new era was commencing. The country had returned to civilian employment and thousands of ex-service persons sought education in the higher institutions under the GI Bill of Rights. Lacking further personal interest in academic achievements, I declined the use of this gratuitous extraordinary veteran's benefit and my pursuits soon turned to other interests.

The weeks passed by rapidly and soon turned to months. I knew that I was drifting aimlessly without a goal or motivation. Something was missing. For some, myself included, the return to civilian life had become very dull and boring. After having seen New York City, London, Paris, Berlin and other European places that I had only read about, Racine was a dismal place to think of spending the remainder of my life working in industry with a two week vacation every year. I yearned to see the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Northwest and other parts of the world. The wanderlust in me wanted to escape, but I needed to find the resources.

My meeting with the local Army Recruiting Sergeant at our VFW Club was more than just circumstance it had to be fate. This was to be my means to depart from this rust belt industrial small hick town. The nomadic military life and camaraderie once again beckoned. I heard the "Lorelei's call" and I made what many thought was a questionable decision to re-enlist in the Army to become a Military Escort on special assignment.

The Sarge had informed me of a new Army program about to be set into motion. The 80th congress in May 1946 and passed into Public Law No. 599 in a repatriation program for soldiers who had been temporarily buried overseas during the war. The families and next of kin were given these options:

1. Internment of the remains in a permanent American Military Cemetery overseas.

2. Returning the remains to the United States for internment in a private cemetery.

3. Return of the remains to the United States for interment in a National Cemetery.

4. Interment of the remains in a private cemetery overseas.

Among the notables buried in overseas cemeteries are: General Patton is buried in Luxembourg among his troops. General Maurice Rose is buried in Margraten, The Netherlands. Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Mart Bailey, Jr. is buried at St. Laurent, Omaha Beach, Normandy, France. Today the Military Cemeteries overseas hold thousands of the fallen soldiers lost in WWII in which the families declined to have their remains returned home: Brittany, France 4,410; Cambridge, England 3,812; St. Laurent-sur-Mer, Omaha Beach, Normandy, France 9,386; Netherlands 8,302; Henri-Chapelle, France 7,989; Ardennes, Belgium 5,328; Luxembourg 5,076; Lorraine, Moselle, France 10,489; Epinal, Vosges, France 5,255; Sicily-Rome, Nettuno, Italy 7,862; North Africa, Carthage, Tunisia 2,841; Rhone, Var, France 861; Florence, Italy 4,402 and in the Pacific the Manila Cemetery 17,206. In addition to the World War One cemeteries in Belgium and France.

Once you cross the Rubicon, there is no return.

A new session of my life was about to begin; but soon after reporting for duty at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, in reality it almost seemed as though I had never left the Army. The post war Regular Army had now been drastically reduced in numbers evolved from the millions of men called to duty via the Selective Service call up. The draftees had all been discharged and those who remained in uniform were now all volunteers. It was a radical experience to compare the two time periods. All military branches were ordered to become integrated. Gone were the 90 day wonders and misfit officers. This "new army" would thankfully never take on the appearance of the pre-WWII "old army"; also the hectic days of WWII were also a part of history. However, this new peacetime Army was very much the same as the old Army SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) that I knew during the war, in one respect "hurry up and wait." The more things are said to change, the more they appear to be the same. Only the pace, at times, was much slower and unhurried. These people were marking time until the next call to arms; it would come sooner than anyone expected, June 25, 1950 on the Pusan Peninsula of South Korea.

Processing in was a repeat performance of filling out forms and drawing all new uniforms once again. No more living in the temporary war time wooden barracks, but assignment to the permanent Parade Ground brick buildings built at the turn of the century for the Artillery Brigade. These were the very same buildings in which my father was quartered in during World War One, only now upgraded with modern conveniences. In the beginning, while the Escort Company Table of Organization was being nationally recruited many vacancies remained unfilled. As the nucleus of the first troops with the Cadre, we were only required to report for morning roll call and then the remainder of the day was spent on sports activities and personal free time.

The word had been sent out to all commands across the USA for qualified applicants to apply for this selective and honored duty, the need of military escorts to return the bodies of the fallen soldiers from their overseas temporary burial military cemeteries to their home of record or a National Cemetery. In time the Company rapidly filled the T/O vacancies with Regular Army decorated combat vets. Prior service in a combat unit was a basic requirement needed to apply. The T/O was not bound by rank restriction, only numbers. At one period we had thirty-seven (37) NCOs wearing First Sergeants chevrons on the double over-sized company roster; with numerous Masters, Sergeants First Class in addition to Staffs and Bucks. Many had formerly served as Company Grade officers during the war and accepted grade reduction to Master, Sergeant First Class or Staff Sergeant to enlist upon reentry. Former commissioned fighter pilots returned as Staff Sergeants.

My section of the barracks was the domain of First Sergeant Lyle W. Stevens, a grizzled Old Soldier in the Old Army who was captured on Corregidor; where he was awarded two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star and the Purple Heart all within two weeks before the island capitulated to the Japanese on May 6, 1942. He spent the remainder of the war in a prison of war camp at Hokkaido, Japan. Our Chief of Operations, Master Sergeant Forrest H. Kelly, had served in the Air Corps with the rank of Lt. Colonel during WWII. With the post war Reduction In Force in effect, he accepted the rank of Master Sergeant to complete his 30 year career, for pension purposes.

Another decorated combat soldier was Sergeant First Class John R. Rice; "K" Company of the 126th Infantry Regiment of the famous 32nd Infantry Division, one of few men entitled to wear 4 stars on the Asiatic Pacific Ribbon. He was a Winnebago Indian, assigned to escort the remains of the Native American Indian soldiers as needed. The Army's policy was to assign an Escort by rank, race and religion whenever possible.

Our Commander, Colonel John L. Turner, Artillery, who had risen from the ranks after enlisting as a Private in World War One, conducted the final interview of applicants, which required his personal approval for acceptance. I'll never forget his final question after inquiring what combat unit I had served in during the war. I was standing at attention in front of his desk when he asked, "Soldier, can you go three or four days without taking a drink (meaning hard liquor)?" In a firm voice, I answered, "Yes, Sir!" Drinking, while on assignment escorting the remains, was a Cardinal sin and would be dealt with severe disciplinary action we were told.

Having met the basic qualifications and after having passed the screening process, I was sent to attend a special Fifth Army school with daily training sessions at the American Graves Registration Service, Distribution Center No. 8 , Chicago Quartermaster Depot at 1749 West Pershing Road, Chicago, Illinois. Classes were conducted in all phases ranging from examining the casket for odors emanating from the hermetically sealed bronze casket, folding the flag into a triangle with only the stars on the blue background visible, maintaining constant exemplary personal conduct, meeting with the grieving family, obtaining a signature of release on the government forms and documents, performing functions at the military funerals and what to expect in train travel. Although the casket was shipped in the baggage car in a flag draped shipping case; we were issued tickets for either a sleeping car or coach, depending on the distance traveled. It was drilled into us that it was our responsibility to arrive at the destination together. That meant close coordination with the conductor on every train to prevent being separated from the baggage car. Wherever that baggage car went you went, regardless of the time of day or night. Lose that casket and you were gone!

Just prior to the end of the classroom work we were offered one last chance to drop out of the course, without prejudice, due to the potential psychological effect the duty would entail with the highly emotional circumstances of the assignment. I successfully passed all school requirements to become a military escort assigned to the Fifth Army Headquarters in Chicago.

Money was never a motivational factor to me, so by serving in this capacity I was giving back to my friends Bob Rosenberg, Norm Steele and Lowell Dillard who were Killed In Action and didn't return. Some of my assignments were to escort the remains of men from my hometown, Racine, Wisconsin and in doing so, I knew members of the soldiers' families, which made the duty all the more challenging. I was on the road with another assignment when my nephew, PFC Gilbert Lindgren, was returned for burial in Racine, or I would have been assigned that daunting task.

God and the Soldier, all men adore in the time of danger and not before,
When danger is past and all things righted God is forgotten and the Soldier slighted. Anon.

At every burial ceremony I witnessed the reopening of the emotional heart-wrenching pain of the widows, Gold Star Mothers and family members of the men lost. If requested by the family, I would attend the burial ceremony if a military funeral were to be conducted. After the firing squads had fired their volleys, the bugler would blow Taps; then with the assistance of one pallbearer I would fold the flag in the blue triangle with only the white stars visible and present it to the next of kin. The family grief stricken, sat there sobbing and numb as I placed the flag in the outstretched hands of the recipient. I had to steel myself so as not to lose my composure. I always made eye contact as I said to them by rote, "I present this flag as a token of appreciation from a grateful nation." Adding my personal regrets, I would render a sharp hand salute, do an about face and exit to find the hearse for a ride back to the city and another assignment. Often new escorts made only the initial trip and asked to be relieved, unable to handle the emotional and psychological stress of their first experience.

I would have on average one trip a week, depending on the distance involved. Local trips in Chicago and suburban areas were made by an Army ambulance to deliver the casket to a local funeral home. My assignment trips by rail ranged from winter bitter cold of the flatlands of North Dakota and Minnesota to sweltering summer humid heat of south Mississippi and Texas, plus all the mid-western states in between. Our per diem was five dollars per day for our meals all three of them! Dining car stewards would cringe when I handed them the military meal ticket for a paltry $1.25 per meal, which they were obliged by law to accept.

During the frequent lulls between receiving boat load/rail shipments from the overseas military cemeteries to the AGRS Depot, we were given generous time off as "verbal passes" for R & R. I was also active on the Post's seasonal basketball and baseball teams in season to stay in shape. Early morning physical training workouts running up and down the Lake Michigan shoreline banks gave us vigorous workouts. That was until the wife of the Fifth Army Commanding General, Lt. General Walton H. Walker complained that we shouted cadence too loudly while passing their lake front residence on Post. Apparently, the lady was not an early morning riser as we were accustomed to doing. We rerouted the lake bank drill to accommodate her wishes.

General Walker and the ranking Admiral from the Great Lakes Naval Station made an inspection of the Graves Registration and Quartermaster Depot facilities and the hand picked group of military escorts, including our 5012 ASU Military Escort Company, plus a large contingent of Marine Corps senior non-coms and another large group of Navy Chief Petty Officersall former combat veterans. When the Admiral and General Walker "trooped the line," General Walker, having served as a former armored force commander of the XX Corps in the 3rd Army under General Patton, stopped when he noticed my Belgian Fourragere decoration and 2nd Armored Division shoulder patch. He asked, "Sergeant, what unit were you with in the 2nd?" I replied that I served in Headquarters Combat Command "A" under Brigadier Generals Rose and Collier. He said, "Two good men." and moved on down the line of inspection.

After a few months of this solemn duty under my belt, I wrote to several of my former ex-Army buddies from the 2nd Armored Division that I had re-upped, with the intention of becoming a "lifer." They could not believe it! To a man, they asked, "What the hell were you thinking?" I could only answer, "To each his own."

"This is the life we chose." Don Corelone, The Godfather

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 Trust.

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