My Army Service in World War IICraft Harrison
2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion
The early days as a draftee
Training at Fort Bragg
Invasion of Sicily
On to the boot of Italy
On to Germany as a POW
Stalag Luft 3
War ends, head for home
Liberty Ship to USA
Back on American soil
Texas - marriage - discharge
The early days as a draftee
In 1990, almost 45 years after leaving the army, I decided it was time to write down some of the events that happened during my time with the army. May I say that some of the time was not too bad, and then there were times that we wished to be away from it all. The worst part was being away from home and being told when we could come and go and what we would be doing. Some of the good was that we made many new friends and learned much about working with other people. We learned to take the good and the bad as an everyday part of life. This was hard to understand during the early part of army life as the change was so different. We were all in new and strange places with new and different people that we had to get used to living with. Everything was different and seemed all wrong. As the old saying goes There is a right way and the army way. It took some time to finally get used to it all.
It all started in November, 1941, when a bus load of men left Lampasas, Texas, to be drafted into the army. We arrived at Fort Sam Houston the day before Thanksgiving so, due to the holiday, we were not inducted until a few days later. According to my army records, I entered the army on November 19, 1941, at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. We were issued army uniforms and got the usual burr haircut. We were given some initial "breaking in training" while we were there, such as learning how to march in step, doing laundry and getting used to army chow. I remember the long chow lines and it seemed sometimes we would never get to eat. We stayed at Fort Sam Houston about two weeks before being transferred to a basic training station.
I do not have a record of the transfer date but it would have been the last days of November, 1941. We boarded the train late in the afternoon at San Antonio, Texas, bound for Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland. The trip started on the Santa Fe Railroad, by way of Houston and New Orleans. On this train, we had a supper of steak with the trimmings, which was real good, and we thought the trip was going to be great. This all changed when we got to New Orleans. First, we were met with a pouring rain and a transfer to another railway service, the Atlantic Coast Line, I believe. I might add here that there were about ten men being sent to the basic training station. We boarded the train for a three-day trip ending at Washington, D.C.
The railroad traveled parallel to the Gulf of Mexico most of the way and it rained every mile of the trip. The food was not too good either, getting worse the further east we went. One good thing about the trip though was that we traveled by Pullman all the way, the only Pullman travel I had while in the army. We continued our trip by train to Baltimore, MD, and were picked up there by army truck to take us to Edgewood Arsenal, MD, the basic training station. We arrived at the station about 11 p.m. and were given cold cuts and canned fruit to eat and then were assigned quarters. It was a miserable night but I finally slept some. We were all pretty tired after the travel. The big surprise came at 6 a.m. the next morning when the post cannon fired for reveille. It seemed to be right under my bed, although it was about 50 yards away, but was very loud as it fired in the direction of the barracks.
This training was to last about six to eight weeks. It consisted of various kinds of basic training, daily exercise, close order drill, care of equipment, use of firearms, health care, long marches and guard duty. The bombing of Pearl Harbor also happened shortly after arriving in Maryland, so that put an end to the one-year draft. We were in for the duration of the war. The ten of us joined other men to form several companies of men. I was placed in Company A, which then had about 100 men.
After a few weeks of basic training, I was fortunate enough to be chosen for driving school. This consisted of some classroom work about engines and vehicles in general. I was able to do pretty good with this as it was very interesting to me. I scored 100% on all the written tests. After driving school was completed, I was assigned to driving a truck. All the personnel that passed the driving test were transferred to Headquarters Company, and became a part of the cadre for the basic training base. After passing the driving test, I was assigned a truck to have whatever was needed to be moved within the base. I started by hauling coal as it was still cold weather. Coal was used there for most every need cooking, heating, and even the trains used coal to fire their engines. It was interesting to see the fireman shovel coal into the firebox on the steam engines. If I wasn't hauling coal, I usually hauled garbage. We had prisoners to do all of the loading and unloading, so all we did was drive and be responsible for the truck. The prisoners also washed the truck at the end of each day. I liked this job because we did not have to do any extra duties. The garage mechanics did all the maintenance on the trucks. We also transported troops to various training areas in the field as needed. The base of Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland, was a base for chemical warfare training. It was also a storage area for all the warfare gases, including the deadly mustard gas. Much of the base smelled of chlorine due to small leaks from the storage tanks. We were required to carry gas masks at all times when we were on duty. I never had to use it except when we were subjected to tear gas, which made your eyes water and caused some burning. It didn't last very long when you got some fresh air. We were also subjected to other gases, which were simulated and not dangerous, in order for us to distinguish the odor. Mustard gas smells like geraniums. It is the only one I remember.
I stayed in the driving job for several months until I decided to try and get closer to home. This was somewhat of a mistake. I asked for and received a transfer to Fort Bragg, NC, about March 1942, which was only 400 miles nearer to home. It was still a thousand miles away, so it didn't help much. At Fort Bragg, I was assigned to Company A, 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion, and was among total strangers even though they had all been transferred from Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland, but in a different company. I believe the next few weeks were the worst part of my army time. I felt pretty lost until I was able to make some friends and learn my way around the post. This was where I met my friend, Gerald Swilly, and we remained very close until we were separated during the invasion of Italy. I have not seen him since, although we have kept in touch after the war. He now lives in Kansas.
At Fort Bragg, we continued regular army training in a more advanced style and some of it became quite difficult. There were the usual exercises every day, more close order drills and many long marches. There were lots of overnight field trips when we slept in pup tents. They held two men and each soldier had one-half of the tent in his pack. The two halves snapped together to form the tent. We also had the necessary tent poles, stakes and ropes to erect the tent. A pup tent is OK if it is dry. It is pretty hard to keep dry if it is raining. We had to learn to utilize whatever equipment that was available.
Training at Fort Bragg
The 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion was made up of five companies: Hq, A, B, C and D, and was an independent organization on the training base. I was in Company A. Our responsibility was to function as a chemical warfare unit, and our basic weapon was a 4.2 inch, hand-operated mortar, which is a kind of short, thick artillery gun. It consisted of a barrel about four feet long with the bottom end sitting in a metal base, about three feet square. The front or open end of the barrel was held up by a tripod and was adjustable for height and side movement, in order to obtain the needed firing direction. The shell was about two feet long and weighed about fifteen or twenty pounds [25 pounds - ed]. I can't remember the exact amount. On the bottom end of the shell was a place to insert a powder charge which resembled a shotgun shell. Instead of loose powder in the shell, powder rings were used. One or several rings could be used, according to firing distance needed. The forward end of the shell was armed with a similar charge which would cause the shell to explode on impact. As the shell exploded the charge would break the outer casing into hundreds of small, sharp pieces of metal. It also had such force that one piece could badly injure or kill a person if hit in the right place. It was a very deadly weapon, but that is part of war. You stop the enemy in any way you can. We moved the mortars on a small, two wheeled cart that was pulled by four men. I am sure we pulled those carts and guns thousands of miles during our training and while in combat. Sometimes after we were in a combat zone, we hauled the guns on the trucks in order to be in place at the proper time. The mortar had about a three-mile range and each shell would clear the grass from an acre of land.
During the course of training at Fort Bragg, NC, we also had other types of training such as rifle firing, first aid and summer maneuvers. We liked the maneuvers, since it was like camping out and we didn't have to keep everything in order as much as when on post in the barracks. It was warm weather and it was not uncomfortable outside. It was good to be outside for about six weeks, and the training gave us good appetites. Most of the training was in an area covered with pine trees and we could use the pine needles for a bed. They were both warm and comfortable. I do not remember ever seeing a snake of any kind, which makes being outside a lot more pleasant.
Later we had some sea training which was a lot tougher than the land training. We were loaded on a large ship (it held about 500 troops, plus crew) and went out a short distance and would practice land invasion. The troops would go over the side of the ship, down a type of rope ladder, with full field pack and rifle, into a landing boat. The landing boats would hold about 30 men with equipment, were approximately 30 feet long, 14 feet wide, and 5 feet high. A large metal ramp that was the entire front end of the boat, was let down for the troops to unload on when they reached land. Although they were flat bottom boats they never quite got to the shore. We usually had to wade waist deep in water to get to land. The worst part was waiting to land. In order to make a successful landing, a lot of troops were needed to land at the same time. This required the first troops that got in the landing boats to circle around on the water until all troops were loaded. This is when lots of guys got seasick. I was well included in that group. After we hit land, we would immediately be very hungry. It was strange how quick the seasickness went away when we reached the land. All in your head, I guess, but you sure felt it in the stomach.
While at Fort Bragg, we also went to Florida for sea training in the Gulf of Mexico. We were there about 10 days and it was at Christmas time. It seemed strange to go swimming on Christmas day. The water was just right for swimming. One day during our training there, the troops had all been in the water except the company commander. Since we didn't want him to get away with that, we threatened to throw him in the water. He was a good sport however, and jumped in the water himself. I mentioned earlier that it was warm in Florida while we were there. It was very cold in North Carolina when we left for the trip and traveled in snow and freezing rain the first day out. We spent the night at Fort Benning, GA the first night before going on to Florida the next day. The second day saw some rain and the weather got better when we arrived at our Florida destination. It was an interesting trip. The main training was firing our mortars from the landing boats. A box about six feet wide, twelve feet long and one foot deep was placed in the landing boat and filled with sand. The mortars were set up on this well packed sand and were fired at the shore line or further inland. The idea was to clear the land of enemy troops and make for a safe landing of ground forces. It was pretty hard on the gunner (the man who dropped the shell in the gun) as the noise and repercussion was very strong near the gun. The boat acted like a huge amplifier of sound and it all hit in your ears. Cotton in the ears helped a little. We all had to drop a shell or two to get the feel and experience of this operation. We took all of these rigs with us overseas but was never used in any invasion. In my opinion, they would not have been very effective as the firing was not very accurate in a bouncing boat. From Florida it was back to Fort Bragg for more training to get ready to go overseas.
At Fort Bragg, we continued the usual training of rifle practice, forced marches and general physical toughening to get ready for being a combat soldier. We had some training on what to do if we were captured by the enemy. None of us believed at that time we would be captured. How wrong we were to think that way. Little did we know what waited for some of us in the months to follow.
In about March of 1943, we left Fort Bragg, transferring to Camp Pickett, VA. We traveled about two days by army convoy to arrive at our new destination. This was a transient camp where troops were stationed before going to a staging area for shipping overseas. We stayed there about two months, continued training, and getting all our gear in battle condition. We left by train from Camp Picket, headed for Newport News, VA. This was huge naval station, where many troop ships left for destination in Europe. This was the largest concentration of troops I saw during my army career. About one week later, we walked up the gang plank to the troop ship that would take us to our overseas destination. We loaded in the afternoon and about 10 a.m. the next day we pulled away from the dock headed for North Africa. We were soon joined by other troop ships and by destroyer escorts. When we saw the land disappear after about two hours at sea, it was a sad feeling to know that we were leaving the good old USA and going into an unknown land and unknown conditions, never having been in a combat war zone. There were ships as far as we could see each way, which made us feel less alone. We encountered some rough weather on the trip which caused much seasickness, me included. We trained every day on the way over and the ship food was not too good (such as beans for breakfast). At the ship's store, a few things like peanut butter, candy and cookies could be purchased. I kept some of these at my bunk (triple decker) which helped with my eating.
The diesel smell was so strong on the ship that it made you feel sick all the time. It was not all bad though, as there were many mechanical things on the ship that were interesting to me. There were winches run by steam, welding shops, and of course guns of all kinds and sizes all over the ship. They also had a small jail, which often had someone inside. There was a good medical area with doctors and other medical personnel on duty at all times. It was called the sick bay. I was fortunate enough to not need to go there during the trip.
It took 14 days at sea to reach North Africa. This trip was on the Atlantic Ocean from stateside to Spain, going through the Straits of Gibraltar and entering into the Mediterranean Sea. We made our first stop at Oran, Africa about the middle of May. We docked there for about 2 days, but were not allowed to leave the ship. It was good though to not be bouncing on the ocean waves and we got a little rest during this time. From there we went to a place on the coast of North Africa for some rest and to get our "land legs" back. We did some training there to get ready for the invasion of Sicily, an island off the coast of Italy. Just before we left for the invasion, we had a company party down on the beach. The company bought a 50-gallon barrel of wine made in Africa and many of the men drank too much, getting drunk, and most of them became very sick. I think they tried to drink it like beer, but it didn't work that way. The alcohol content was very high and the troops were not used to that kind of drinking, especially after being at sea for awhile and not having any alcohol to drink. They all survived though and somehow got back to camp that night. I was not among those who drank the wine as I stuck to soft drinks.
Invasion of Sicily
About the first of June, 1943, we loaded back on the ship and headed for Sicily for the invasion. My group was fortunate to be in the rear and some of the last to hit land. The paratroopers and infantry along with planes and artillery had cleaned the beaches of the enemy and we landed without any problems. Just had to wade water from about waist deep to the shore as the landing boat could not go any closer to the shore. We had to pull our mortars and equipment, along with ourselves, to the land. This was our first taste of combat and some of it was not a pretty sight. We saw several Italian soldiers who had been killed before we arrived. Just before we left the ship to get in the landing boat, we got some machine-gun fire from enemy planes. I thought it was hail hitting the deck, but later found out it was bullets. Most of the men were below deck so, as far as I know, no one was injured. It just lasted a few seconds. Guess I would have been a lot more scared if I had known what was happening.
Since we were bringing up the rear, it was marching all day long, trying to keep up with the fighting troops. The enemy was retreating very fast and it only took a little over two weeks to gain control of the island. That is, after we landed. According to the encyclopedia, the campaign lasted 38 days. The attack took place on July 10 and ended about August 20, 1943. The unit I was in (1st platoon, Company A, 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion) operated the 4.2" heavy mortar. It was a gun which was fired from the ground, had a barrel about 4 feet long and fired a shell about 18 inches long and about 4½ inches in diameter. It was a high explosive shell with a range of about 3 miles. It was a very deadly weapon and I saw one shell clear about one acre in practice of every blade of grass and weeds on the ground. It had an explosive device in the nose of the shell, which on impact would set off a charge of explosive, breaking the shell into thousands of fragments. Each piece had very sharp edges which would injure a person any place it might hit them. Later on in the war, I was hit in the calf of my leg with a small piece of shrapnel from enemy fire. It was the only injury I received during the war and I still have the scar.
We did very little firing while in Sicily, only twice that I remember. We traveled about half the night one time to get into position. About 2:00 a.m. we got our mortars set up for firing and ammunition ready. After digging fox holes we were all very tired and I sat down and fell asleep. Just about daylight all hell broke loose and I thought the enemy had arrived. It turned out to be our own artillery firing over our heads. Nevertheless we got a pretty good scare for a few minutes. A short time later we got orders to start firing. We were receiving our orders by telephone from a forward observer with view of the enemy location. We fired about 10 rounds per gun over a period of 15 to 20 minutes. I have no idea if we hit anybody. These shells also were filled with smoke which laid down a smoke-screen, giving our troops a chance to advance without being seen. Our battalion was broken up and one platoon was attached to an infantry regiment for ground support. I understand the mortars were used quite a bit during the campaign in Italy.
Near the end of the campaign in Sicily, I discovered we had gone completely across the island, walking most of the way. After marching most of the night, we had stopped to rest a short time before daylight. As morning came, I saw something I did not recognize at first. It turned out to be the sunrise coming up over the ocean. It was pleasant sight and I knew we had gone clean across the island. We stopped for the day and I remember getting a bath and washing our clothes. We were near what had been a very fine home and it had a good spring of water nearby. It was a very hot day and the cold spring water tasted very good. A cold bath felt good also. We washed our clothes and laid them out on a tree to dry. They would dry almost as soon as you hung them up it was so hot. The spring had been walled up with concrete about four feet high and it ran all the time. It must have been an artesian well as it never stopped flowing.
After the campaign in Sicily was over, we camped nearby the banks of the Mediterranean Sea for some rest and to get ready for the invasion of Italy. We would go swimming every day, as the water was really nice. It was so clear you could see the bottom 20 feet deep. Of course it was salty as all sea water is. One group of us, about four truck loads of men, got to go into Palermo for a day and had a pretty good time. There had been so much damage it was not a very interesting place to see. I had one man in my squad that could speak Italian who contacted an Italian family and the lady fixed about four or five of us a good pot of spaghetti. I remember it being very good after having field rations for so long. I think we paid them a few dollars for the meal. They didn't have a very fine place, but it was clean and they were nice to us. We also went to a movie that afternoon. The talking was in Italian but it didn't matter too much as I had already seen the show with English talking. Can't remember the name. We paid with currency specially printed for overseas use. It was similar to regular money but a little different color. I guess the army had arranged with the foreign countries to accept it. The stores seemed ready to take it. There was very little to buy in the shops as they had not had time to re-stock.
On to the boot of Italy
In early September, we kind of reorganized and got ready to ship out to Italy. It was not a long trip from Sicily to the tip of Italy where we would land. We got aboard the troop ship on about September 7 or 8, 1943 and headed for Italy. On September 10, 1943 early morning, we landed on the Salerno beachhead without any problems, as the beach had already been cleared of any enemy troops. We marched inland about two hours and then stopped for the day. We just rested and were able to wash some of our clothes, mostly just socks. Clean socks are very important when you are walking a lot. If you don't have clean socks, just putting on a pair that are dry will help your feet to feel better.
After stopping for the day of Sept. 10 and checking our equipment, we started walking toward enemy lines as soon as dark came. We marched all night with a short rest about every two hours. I remember being very tired and dozed off to a short sleep while we were stopped. I awoke suddenly to what I thought were birds flying over. It turned out it was artillery shells being fired over our heads by our own artillery. Shortly after daylight, we set up our mortars and fired a mission. We did not know what we were firing at. We just set the guns in the direction we were told, and fired. I guess it may have scared the enemy enough to make them retreat. After all, we were trying to push the Germans back into Germany.
After firing this mission, we loaded our equipment and men on trucks. We started to travel to our next mission. That turned out to be a bad move for some of us. Before we reached our next position, we were stopped by an officer who was in an observation position who wanted some troops to give him some protection. My squad and one other were given orders to dismount and help the officer. One of our officers went along with us. We were about 200 yards from where the trucks were parked and near a vacant building. We had been there about an hour when an advance party of about 20 men came by where we were and went on past toward the front line. Shortly after, we heard enemy fire and later we were to find these men all shot down by machine gun fire from an enemy tank set up a few hundred yards from where we were. About this time, we must have been spotted, as artillery shells began to hit the house near us. I received a small wound in the calf of my leg. I don't know if there were other injuries. At that time we discovered our officer and all but about 10 men had left us and returned to the trucks. I don't know why he didn't take all of us along, as the observing officer had already left and we were not needed to be there any longer.
On to Germany as a POW
At any rate, about this time the German troops broke through and before we knew what was happening we were surrounded and were taken captive by enemy troops September 11, 1943. It is hard to describe our feelings on being captured. It is a pretty low feeling as we did not know what might lie ahead for us. The only thing to do was to do as the Germans told us. They searched us for weapons and took a knife I had on my belt. The Company had given each man a knife before leaving the states. They did not mistreat us but had very little to offer in the way of food and transportation. We went by the tank that had killed the American troops and went on foot for about an hours walk to an abandoned barn in which we were locked up. By this time, they had gathered up about 50 or 60 American troops. This was about four o'clock in the afternoon. Shortly after, we were taken from the barn and started marching further up into Italy. About dark we stopped for the night and were told we would stay there for the night. It was good that the weather was warm as we slept on the ground that night without any bedding. About midnight they finally gave us some food. I think it was some kind of barley soup. It was hot and tasted pretty good as we had not eaten since breakfast. The next morning we got some more of the same, although it was quite cold by that time.
About mid-morning, we were marched into the nearest town (name unknown) and loaded on flat railroad cars to start our journey to Germany and our future prisoner of war camps. I think it took about 3 days travel to get to our first camp in Germany. We only traveled during the daytime. I suppose the train lights might be seen by American planes if we traveled by night. Food was still limited. I remember stopping at an apple orchard and got all we could carry. They were getting ripe and tasted pretty good as we were getting hungry.
We arrived at Stalag 7-A at Moosburg, Germany on September 20, 1943. This was kind of a transit camp where we had a chance to clean up and get a shave. We were getting pretty cruddy by this time as we had no equipment or extra clothes with us at the time of our capture. Some of the troops did have razors with them so we were all able to get a shave. I remember finding a razor blade someone had thrown away. I got the blade and made me a holder out of a piece of wood and got a pretty good shave. At least I looked a little better. We stayed here just a few days with not much else happening. The Germans just used the time to get us organized for the next camp.
On about September 26, 1943, we were loaded into cattle freight cars with what food and clothes we had, one full gallon can of drinking water per car, doors locked and we headed for the next camp a train load of U.S. soldiers. I don't remember stopping along the way but we may have somewhere along the trip. They may have given us some water, as the can we had lasted only about a day. We then used the can for a latrine as we were not allowed to get off the train.
On September 28, 1943, we arrived by train at Stalag IIB, Hammerstein, Germany. I think it was in the far northwest part of Germany. This was also a transit camp. Our G.I. uniforms were taken from us and we were given old Russian clothes instead. They were warm enough but looked pretty bad. I remember getting a new toothbrush, some hand soap and a few other things from the Red Cross. We had not received any food parcels at this point. I remember having some barley soup and heavy German bread which tasted pretty good. I can't remember what we might have had to drink, but it was probably tea. Most everyone had tea in Europe. Near this camp we saw some German soldiers in training doing the "goose step." It looked kind of silly but of course Adolph Hitler did a lot of crazy things. Not much happened at this camp. Just had to get used to being a prisoner of war or POW for short. We stayed in a large open building at this camp. It may have been a barrack at some time. I really could not tell. I remember it being rather cold there but the building was well heated. I think it was the only camp I was in that I felt a little uneasy, as we had no idea what the Germans might do to us. However, nothing unusual happened. Just had to assemble each morning and be accounted for. I believe by this time they had recorded our name, rank and serial numbers along with some other information the Red Cross representatives needed. (Note: In our state-side training, we were told to give only our name, rank and serial numbers if we were ever captured by the enemy.) On the advice of some of our higher ranking soldiers, also POWs, we gave the Red Cross our home addresses so our folks could be notified a little sooner. I suppose it was the best thing to do, since I never heard of any trouble it might have caused. We were allowed to be outside in the daytime so as to get some exercise if we wanted to.
Stalag Luft 3
On October 19, 1943, we left Stalag IIB on the way to Stalag Luft 3, Sagan, Germany, arriving October 22, 1943. Luft means air or air force, and it was a camp for American air force officers who had been shot down and then captured by the Germans. We also traveled by the usual first class for POWs, cattle cars. We must have traveled pretty slow since it took about 3 days. I can't remember much about the trip, just that we were real glad to get off of that train. The first thing I remember after leaving the train was seeing this sharp looking German soldier, in a German air force uniform who could speak good English. I suppose he was assigned to the Luft 3 camp, as we saw him most every day at the morning head count. Most of the time they only counted by the number of men, but on occasion they would check by name and photograph. At this camp they took our picture and set up our POW file. I don't remember just how this came about since the Germans had the files. I suppose they were turned over to the American troops that arranged our release. At any rate, it has been very helpful in getting Veterans Administration and other stateside records established. I can't say much for the photo though as I needed a shave and some better clothes. At least it was an accurate photo.
Luft 3 was by far the best POW camp that I was in. The Germans seem to respect the air force personnel better than the army for some reason. They were furnished better housing, food, clothes and privileges. We had inside plumbing for night use, as we were not allowed to leave the building after night. All the air force officers only had two men to a room. We, as enlisted men, had 10 men in a rather large room. It was not too bad since the beds were double decked. A smaller adjoining room had four men. The building had a central kitchen which we all used. Each room was assigned a time of day to use the kitchen as it was in use most of the day. We also had a small library with some books that we could check out and read. The camp also had a large central kitchen where some food was prepared. They mostly cooked potatoes and sometimes they would make soup. The kitchen was equipped with several large vats for cooking. They held about 300 gallons each. They would fill these vats with potatoes and when cooked would furnish each man a ration for about 3 or 4 days. We ate lots of potatoes but they were good when used with other food we had. We fixed them every way possible. They would not let us have uncooked potatoes as that would be food we could keep if we escaped. Some tried to escape but very few succeeded.
The officers at this camp were pretty good at getting items from the Germans. While I was there they were able to get enough material to build a theatre that would hold about 200 people. They also built a stage and individual seats. The seats were built from shipping crates and boxes of various kinds. Through the Red Cross they were able to get a number of band instruments and a little later were able to put on a show. There must have been people from every trade possible as so many things got done. There seemed to be someone that knew how to handle any job that came up. One of the reasons for asking for material for a building, was to give the men something to do and also to use up material from the enemy that might find use for it in their war effort. The first show was a musical with about half of the band being dressed as women. That was a treat for the rest of the guys. Some of the guys made pretty good looking women.
I need to mention why our group of enlisted men were sent to this camp. We were told that we would be orderlies for the officers. This did not mean any personal duties for the officers, but duties like cleaning the latrines, sweeping hallways, cleaning the library and some outside cleaning jobs. Well, I lucked out on that count. The men in my group decided they didn't want to cook. So my friend Herman Bergman and myself volunteered to do the cooking. The rest of the men agreed to do all the other chores. The cooks were given all the food furnished by the Red Cross and Germans and we planned and prepared the meals, mostly two meals per day. In the morning we usually had toast made from German bread, with margarine and jam spread on it along with coffee. Each person more or less took care of his own breakfast but usually near the same time for everyone. We had a coal stove in our room that had a flat top which made it handy for toasting bread or other cooking that might take awhile to do, like beans or when someone would get a parcel from home. The folks sent me a few food parcels, but most of it would be ruined by the time it arrived. Everything had to come through Switzerland and the transportation was very slow. We had it pretty good at this camp though, as the food supply was usually adequate.
During my stay at Luft 3, I got a case of jaundice and had to spend some time in the infirmary. This was a small kind of hospital where the sick ones could be kept separated from the other troops. At first there were only Russian doctors there and I didn't do very well with their treatment. A little later some American medical officers were brought in and the Russian doctors left. The new doctors changed my treatment and I soon became better. In a few weeks I was able to go back to the regular camp. Since this problem affects your digestion, I was given white bread. It was much better than the heavy German bread, being similar to French bread we get in the states today. During my stay in the infirmary there was a kind of German inspector came to check on the place. At the time, my ration of white bread had run out and I was not getting it. He got on to the Germans in charge of the infirmary and my ration of white bread was restored.
Another interesting incident happened during my stay in the infirmary. Most every day there would be some men who would need some medical attention. A German guard would bring them to the infirmary. While the men were getting treatment the guard would wait in the waiting room. All the Germans wanted American cigarettes or tobacco of any kind. This particular guard was an older man and I guess had the same desire. When he thought no one was looking, he was getting the cigarette butts from the ash tray and removing the paper to get the tobacco from them. He put it in a small container and placed it in his pocket. All during my time in the prisoner of war camps, cigarettes were just like money. We could trade them for most anything the Germans had to offer. It was usually for some kind of food. One time, I recall, we had very little salt for our food. Everyone was complaining about the lack of salt. I lucked out about this time as a Polish prisoner came into the camp to work and he had some salt. I traded him some cigarettes for about a pound of salt. That news seemed to spread like wildfire through the camp and I soon had to share my salt with others. It worked ok though, as we soon had an ample supply of salt.
Several months after I was able to leave the infirmary the group of army men were told we would be leaving the air force POW camp. We wanted to stay because it was one of the better camps. However, on August 2, 1944 we left for Stalag 3-B which was at Furstenburg, Germany. We traveled by boxcar pullman, as usual, and arrived the same day. During this move, our group from Luft 3 was broken up, so we ended up with just 3 of us from the old group being together, Pap, Bergman and me. All continued to pool our food and did our cooking together. They told us we were going to Furstenberg but the town nearest the camp was Frankfort on the Oder. This was on the Oder River. On one side of the camp there was a canal on which houseboats and barges would come by. This was interesting as it gave a little diversion from the daily routine. Stalag 3-B was somewhat different from Luft 3. The building just had two large rooms, which housed about 100 men in each room. It had double-decked bunks and enough buildings for about 4000 men. There was a large homemade stove in the center of each room where we could do our cooking and to heat the building. In the summer we cooked outside. There was also a central kitchen where potatoes were cooked and sometimes soup was prepared. Here again, cigarettes were traded for any kind of food we could get. We also had a medical officer at the camp along with several medical personnel. I only had to go on sick call one time for a sore throat. The camp was guarded by German soldiers in towers around the camp. The towers were about 20 feet high, with a floor and roof, but were not enclosed. I imagine it got pretty cold in those towers on a cold winter night. There was also a guard outside the entrance gate at all times. These men wore large straw type shoes over their regular shoes to keep their feet from freezing. The straw shoes were about 6 inches thick. They were kind of strange looking, kind of like big duck feet.
All of the camps had about an eight-foot netting fence around them. The guard towers were on the outside of the fence. About 20 feet inside this fence was a single barb wire about two feet high. This was as near the outside fence as we were allowed to get. That 20 feet was no mans land and we knew not to go there. Inside the low wire was a walking or running track we could use. Some men did some running, but most of us walked some each day for exercise. We also had sports equipment, like basketball, volleyball and baseball. Some of the camps had set up chinning and other exercise bars. Some of the guys got pretty good on the bars.
Earlier I mentioned cooking outside. Of course, you need some kind of stove or furnace. Someone came up with an idea for a small forge. This consisted of a small stew type pan about four inches high and six inches in diameter for a fire box and a small blower turned by hand. We burned whatever fuel was available, wood, coal or coke, usually. Any of them worked pretty well. An army canteen of water could be heated to boiling in about five minutes. The air on the fuel made the fire get very hot. We also cooked food in a skillet, which also worked very well. Later, when we moved to other camps we took these little stoves with us.
There was not much to do to pass the time at this camp. We spent lots of time reading, writing letters as allowed, and re-reading all the letters we had received. Once in awhile we would have a German movie. Couldn't understand it but it passed a little time. We had head count each day but it was done in each barracks. There was not much chance to escape anyway and no one was prepared to know where to go. We had no maps or instructions on how to contact friendly troops. At 3-B about the worst things the Germans would do would be to make us leave the barracks while they looked through our belongings and took anything they thought we should not have. They were looking for radios, knives, information or stored up food. They didn't find much of either. They always seemed to pick a cold rainy day to do these checks.
A few months before we left 3-B, there was a shift of POWs and I got placed in a different part of the building from Pappantoniou and Bergman. I was not able to pool my food with them anymore, so I teamed up with a soldier from Mart, Texas. His name is Edwin Terry. I will tell you more about our association a little later.
On January 31, 1945 we left Stalag 3-B. It was about 8p.m. when we left the camp. It was a very cold night with snow and ice on the road. If I remember correctly it was completely cloudy and of course we had no lights of any kind. I might mention we were marching on foot and taking everything we owned with us. Some men were carrying their belongings in a back pack and some made sleds on which to carry their things. Of course, I tried to carry my things in a back pack, but soon saw I could not hold up under the weight. After about half hour walk we were crossing the Oder River Bridge and I decided I would have to dispose of some of my stuff. I remember the river being frozen over, so I threw several items over the side of the bridge. I remember a pair of shoes, an O.D. army shirt and a log book with information about prisoner of war life. I kept all the clothes I could and of course all the food I had. At this time I was traveling with Edwin Terry as a partner since Pappantoniou and Bergman had left before we did. Unfortunately, I never got to see those two friends again. I still keep in touch with Bergman, but Pappantoniou passed on several years ago. He was quite a bit older than some of us.
This move was the worst of any during my time as a POW. We walked all night in the snow and part of the next day. During the day the snow begin to melt and we walked in the slush the rest of the day. Of course, our shoes and socks were soaked, along with our pants legs up to the knee. It was dark the next day before we were allowed to stop to rest. We did stop every two hours on the march as the German guards were also walking. So I guess they got tired too. It was quite something to see, with near 4000 men marching down the road, about six abreast, just as far as you could see in front and back of where I happened to be. That many feet made lots of slush in the snow.
It was February 6, 1945 when we finally arrived at the next camp. It was called 3-A and was located near Luckenwalde, Germany. It was a very poorly equipped camp and after a lot of rain it looked like a pig pen with all the mud around. My group only stayed there two days and then walked about 25 miles to the next camp. It was called Kommando 483C, Stalag IV-A, arriving on February 9, 1945. The nearby town was Ludwigsfelde, Germany. It was a very hard walk as we made it in one day. This was a pretty good camp with only about 400 men in the camp. It even had a central heating system for the several barracks in the camp. They burned coke in the furnace and the barracks were usually pretty warm. Of course, there was no central kitchen, so we did our own cooking outside on whatever means we could. Some men just made a small camp fire and others used a small forge-like apparatus on which to cook. It was made from a small powdered milk can, a board, a piece of shoestring, and a tin pan for a firebox. Inside of the milk can was a paddle like fan that produced air to the fuel. It worked pretty good as the air made the fuel get real hot. It would heat a canteen of water to boiling in about 5 minutes. It was also good for cooking with a skillet, which would make a pretty good stew with a little meat, a few potatoes and maybe an onion.
At this camp Ed Terry and I continued to pool our food and this seemed to make it go further. Ed had been a cook in a cafe back home for awhile, so he seemed to know how to make the most of the food we had. We were able to get some flour, so we used this to thicken stew, etc., and to make lots of gravy. Some gravy helped to make that heavy German bread taste better.
One time at this camp we ran short of salt. This seemed to bother all of us as the German food was not too good without some salt. One day I was outside when a group of Czech prisoners were brought in on a work detail. One of them had a small bag of salt which he traded me for some cigarettes. I felt pretty good about getting the salt, but it was not long until the whole camp knew about me having some salt. Anyway, I ended up sharing my salt as far as it would go. I guess that was best though, as others needed salt too. I think there would have been a riot if I had not shared the salt with the others. It seems our bodies need some salt to survive.
It was along about this time that our Red Cross food parcels failed to get through. There were plenty of food parcels in Switzerland, but the German transportation was being knocked out and they had no way to get it to us. We drew parcels on January 30, 1945 and the next one came on March 11, 1945. During that time all of our Red Cross supplies were used up and all we had was what the Germans gave us. It was not near enough to satisfy our needs and there were times when we went to bed hungry. I guess we got enough to make it on though, as when we awoke the hunger had kind of gone away. Terry and I rationed our food so we had about the same each day. I think this helped us to make it much better than eating all at once. Part of the time we got half rations from the Red Cross and some men would eat it all at once. This would make them sick and there would be no food for them until the next truck came in. Of course, they had the small amount of German food to keep them alive. I feel lucky to have teamed up with someone who was willing to ration our food. A person has to have experienced the lack of food to know what it is like, since most of us here in the states have ample food. Unfortunately, there are some among us who do not have enough.
Several times at this camp there would be air raids by allied planes which might be 20 to 30 miles away on some German munitions factory. We were made to go in air raid shelters which were underground, although we were not in any danger of being bombed. One time we were able to see results of a bombing. It was the biggest fire I have ever seen, even though it was at least twenty miles away. Someone said it was at Berlin. I have no way of knowing for sure. I suppose it helped bring the war to an end a little sooner. I don't remember seeing anyone bombing after we left this camp.
We left Ludwigsfelde, Germany, 483C, Stalag IV-A, on April 22, 1945. This move was also on foot and lasted most of four days, arriving at Stalag XI-A, on April 25, 1945. This camp was at Altengarbow, Germany.
The first day we all marched together with German guards. The first night we stayed in some vacant houses and some barns. A small group of us were placed in a small barn and I guess without any guard as we found out the next morning. No one woke us in the morning and when we got up most of the group was gone. We traded a German lady some soap for some hot water to make instant coffee. After we had coffee with a little breakfast, we started out in the direction the German lady told us the main group had gone. We traveled all day without any guards, not knowing where the main group may have gone. I guess we were kind of lost for that day and could have escaped if we would have had a plan. Instead we just followed a road and just before night we caught up with the main group. We were put under guard again and spent the night there. I can't remember if we were inside or spent the night outside. Probably outside, as I remember it was not very cold.
After arriving at Stalag XI-A, Altengarbow, Germany we were again confined to a compound which had a fenced area and was surrounded by guards. They were older men, mostly 60 to 65 years old. I don't think they were too interested in what they were having to do. This camp was a tent city and we were all placed in a tent somewhat like a circus would have, rather large. They furnished no bedding, so we dug a hole about one foot deep and placed some hay in the hole to make it a little softer and mostly to provide a little warmth. I remember it being very cold in the tent at night and it was hard to keep warm. Terry and I slept in the same hole and put all the blankets and overcoats we had to help keep us warm. We had to sleep front to back for the blankets to cover us, and if one had to turn over, the other did also. This was not a problem as we both were ready to turn about the same time. Here again, we had to do our own cooking and we still used the small forge on which to cook. The food at this camp was also in short supply and the German food was of a very poor quality. I remember some soup that was made with the vines from beans. It was not fit to eat. I think we may have used some of the juice. Just a few days before our release, I was able to get a small bag of potatoes so we had food at the end of our confinement. The day I left, I gave what potatoes were left to another soldier. I don't know if he left the same day or not.
War ends, head for home
On May 1, 1945 we received news that the war had ended. This was a very happy day for everyone and we hoped it would not be too long before we would be released. We continued to live as usual for the next two days. On May 3, 1945 a convoy of American trucks and troops came to the camp. One by one they called names and we were allowed to leave the camp. It seemed a long time before my name was called, but it finally was called and I was allowed to join the group that had been released. It seemed rather odd to walk past the German guard to be free, but of course he made no effort to stop us. I am sure he had his orders on what to do. When enough men were released to fill a truck, we marched about a mile to where the trucks were waiting. We just waited near the truck in which we were to ride until, I assume, all the men had been released. This took several hours for everyone to get to the trucks. One thing I remember while waiting was our truck driver with a loaf of white GI bread. I remember it looking so good and he finally gave each one of the ex-POWs a slice. The best cake could not have tasted better.
After everyone was released and arrived at the trucks, we loaded up and left to go to a transit camp at Hildesheim, Germany. I think we left about four o'clock in the afternoon and rode for 7 hours, arriving at about eleven o'clock. The building had been a former German air coop barracks. It was a vast improvement over the tent in which we had been staying, although we were not assigned bunks that first night. We may have been the first to arrive there as the rooms had no beds. Shortly after arriving at Hildesheim, we were given 10 in 1 rations for supper. I don't remember just what it contained but I guess it tasted pretty good as we had not eaten since breakfast except for the slice of bread. I don't remember taking any food with us from the camp. Probably didn't have much anyway, except the few potatoes I gave away.
The first night I did not sleep very much, as all we had was a blanket on a tile floor. It was cold and hard, but no one complained as we were free once again. The next day bunks were brought in and we were assigned to rooms. I think about 8 men to a room. The bunks were homemade double-deckers, with excelsior filled mattresses. This was the only kind of mattress I ever saw while in Germany. Maybe Hitler had something better to sleep on.
While at this camp we were briefed on what was to happen in the near future. We were given some new clothes as needed and were given a physical examination. To our surprise, we seemed to be in pretty good shape. We were supposed to stay here only a day or two, but the weather turned bad, with rain and fog, so we ended up staying five days. It seemed like a lot longer as there was very little to do.
Finally on May 8, 1945, we were loaded on C-47's and flown to Nancy, France. It was about a two hour flight and was a pretty rough ride. It was my first time in an airplane. I remember when we landed, my ears were blocked until we got on the ground. I was glad to be on the earth once more, although I would have accepted any kind of transportation to get out of Germany. After arriving at Nancy, France, we were taken by truck to a USO building operated by the American Red Cross. I seem to remember eating lunch there, but can't remember what we had. I do remember each soldier getting a coke. The first one we had had since leaving the troop ship that took us overseas. It was only a small bottle and it was served to us in a cup. It didn't matter though, as it really tasted good. Guess they had to keep the glass bottles for return.
Soon after lunch that same day, we were taken to the train station and loaded on box cars to travel to Epinal, France. There was one difference this time though, the box cars were not locked. We were again free and making our first leg on the long trip home. A short time after we left Nancy, the train made a stop for some reason. It just happened to stop where there was two car loads of army field rations stopped on a siding. Since we still had some healthy appetites from former POW life, we lost no time in helping ourselves to the rations. It didn't last long though as the guards soon came and made us leave them alone. We did get enough for everyone to have at least one meal. When a person is hungry, they will try to obtain food in whatever means they can. I guess you could consider that we were stealing the food, but it mattered little to us as it belonged to the army.
The camp at Epinal was called a R.A.M.P. Camp. (Recovered Allied Military Personnel). It was somewhat of a transit camp for troops on the way home. We were able to get a hot bath and some clean clothes. We lived in army tents at this camp. I think we got any needed medication and some briefing on what to expect during the rest of our trip home.
On May 10, 1945, we left Epinal, France by train again to travel to a shipping camp called "Camp Lucky Strike", a very fitting name for a bunch of POW GIs. We traveled by coach this time, no more box cars. It was a 34 hour ride and we arrived on May 12, 1945. This was also a transit camp and while there we were given additional supplies such as toothpaste and a new toothbrush. Rations were a little better, but were mostly of the field variety.
On May 17, 1945, we moved to area D for further processing. Got some more new clothes and a few personal items. At this camp, we were assigned to smaller groups and were given a designated number which would be used in further troop movements to help the processing move efficiently.
On May 18, 1945, we moved to Saint Valery, France. Stayed here a few days but didn't do much. Just getting a little closer to the trip home.
On May 22, 1945, we moved to the 15th Replacement Depot at Le Havre, France. This was the final land camp before loading on the ship to start home. At this camp, we went through the final processing of getting organized for shipping home. We had close inspection of all of our belongings. They made sure there were no guns or other dangerous articles in our possession. We got rid of all unneeded items and were given new barracks bags to place our few personal items in on the way home. During our few days stay at this camp, we had a chance to visit the city of Le Havre. It was about a 30 minute walk into town. We stayed a couple of hours, but there was not much to see and very little to buy in the stores. It was so soon after the war ended that the stores were not re-stocked. I would like to see the change that must be there today. I do remember a small carnival operating there in the town and I think we rode the merry-go-round. I remember a Frenchman on a swing. He was standing on the swing seat and after a few swings began going completely around the swing bar. It looked pretty scary but didn't seem to bother the man swinging. He went around several times and then went on his way. I seem to remember buying a few small items to bring home but don't remember just what they were.
We stayed at this camp a few more days, mostly waiting and making final preparations to board the ship to come home. No one told us we would be leaving soon, but everyone seemed to have a feeling it would not be too long. Lots of rumors were flying around, but none were very accurate.
Liberty Ship to USA
On May 31, 1945, a group of about 12 men were chosen to be the advanced detail of personnel to be taken on board the ship. I was among that group and it turned out that we would have a few privileges that the other men would not have. We, of course, had the choice of bunk beds and were to be the first in the chow line. This was very important at the time, as we had not caught up on our need for proper food. The food on the ship was pretty good, as I remember. Much better than on the ship going over. Of course, the circumstances were much different.
There was a little catch to being in this group, however. It turned out we had to so some work on the ship. It was nothing very hard and we enjoyed doing something practical for a change. We had to wash the deck down each morning. This comprised pulling out some hose, hooking it up to a pipe and turning on the water. The ships crew had high pressure pumps going so we just hosed or washed the deck off each morning. The ship was large enough to require washing in about four different places. Probably took about 30 minutes. Of course, we had plenty of water. We also had to help get the other troops assigned to their bunks and give some instructions about the ships regulations and schedules. As I remember, this advanced group spent about two days on board before the rest of the troops came on. I remember noticing the tide changing each day as the ship would rise and lower as it changed. The ship was docked at the port and the water line would change on the concrete wall on the land side. I might mention that this ship was called a Liberty Ship, and was much smaller than the troopship that took us overseas into the war. It was a cargo ship of approximately 10,000 gross tons, equipped with a reciprocating steam engine and there were many in use during World War II. Of course, we didn't care what kind of ship it was, just as long as it was headed toward the United States.
For the most part, the voyage on the ocean was a pleasant trip. Outside of the duties we had of cleaning the deck, we had little to do except watch the ocean go by. It was sometimes interesting to see the dolphins swim along near the ship. There would be schools of them, maybe 25 or 30 together. They would swim along with the ship, going in and out of the water as they would go into the waves. Sometimes they would follow the ship all day. We would see them most every day. Of course, we could not tell if it was the same group each day.
Another interesting observation, was that the weather on the ocean is similar to that on the land. The sun shines and it rains, can be hot and cold, and sometimes it storms. The bad weather is what I disliked most. One night we were in some kind of a storm and we were a little scared. The ship was bucking up and down and it felt like it might break in the middle at any time. The front of the ship would raise when it hit a wave and break in the middle of the ship. This was a tremendous impact on the ship and it continued over and over until the storm was over. It not only shook things up on the ship, but caused a lot of stomachs to begin having trouble. This was the only time I became seasick on the way home, as we ran out of the storm in a short time. It sure was good to just stay on your bunk and lay still. Only one morning was I unable to help with the deck washing.
After having been in the POW camp for so long, we were somewhat low on certain vitamins. Everyone had a craving for citrus fruit of any kind. Of course, there was no fruit on the ship, but the canteen sold grapefruit juice. We had been paid some money after getting on the ship, so we were able to buy some available items. Grapefruit juice was a popular item for about one day. It didn't take long to get filled up on the juice. One man bought a whole case (about 6 large cans) and the next day he was trying to sell it for about half price. He didn't have much luck as our needs were already filled. Of course, there were some other items available, such as candy, cookies, peanut butter and perhaps other things I cannot remember. Of course, anything different from the camp food was good as we were still catching up on our diet.
The rest of the voyage was about the same routine and, if I remember correctly, the weather was pretty normal for the rest of the trip. On the morning of June 11, 1945, we were able to see land in the distance. In a little while, we passed near the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, which was a very beautiful sight to see. We knew we were getting close to the good ole USA. We were told that a signal was flashed from the statue saying, "Welcome Home". It was a grand feeling to hear such words.
Back on American soil
Shortly after passing the Statue of Liberty, we were met by a harbor tug, which would take the ship safely into the loading dock. A tug is just a smaller boat with lots of power and it is tied to the large ship at each end of the tug boat. They are then able to slowly nudge the ship into the dock. I think this may have taken about two hours. This was very interesting to see such a small boat move a large ship so precisely into the loading dock. The gang plank was put out, and in due time we started single file to leave the ship. It was a great feeling to have land under our feet, and especially since it was good old USA soil!
There were enough army trucks waiting to transport us to the processing camp. I would estimate about three hundred men. We were taken to Camp Shanks, New York for necessary processing. If I remember correctly, it was only a short ride to the camp, arriving there late in the afternoon. We were hurriedly assigned to barracks and given a chance to clean up and change clothes, and by that time it was time for supper. They gave us a big steak dinner with all the trimmings, dessert, drinks and the works. I can remember how good it was to have some good solid food, since living on navy rations for several days.
After we had eaten this good meal, we did some processing that evening. They did some record checking, issued some clothes as needed, and gave us a partial pay. I think it was about two hundred dollars each. We hardly knew what to do with that much money, since it had been so long without using money to purchase anything. In the POW camp, cigarettes were usually the medium of exchange. American money didn't work in Germany.
There was one thing at this camp that kind of surprised me: most of the kitchen workers were Italian POWs. That was OK, as they did a good job of cooking and serving food. What surprised me was the fact that they had a free run of the camp. There were no guards around. I don't think it mattered though, because they had it so good they didn't care to leave.
After we had a good nights sleep and a good breakfast, we had some orientation and some additional processing. We then had some free time to walk around the camp and pass some time. I remember going to the barber shop for a haircut. This was on post and it was big mistake, as I got the most butchered haircut that could be had. The barbers knew we had money and they didn't care how we looked, they were just trying to get all the money they could, because we would soon be gone to never return. It should not have been allowed but no one seemed to care.
After spending the day doing various things, we were called to assembly about four o'clock in the afternoon and given information about leaving the camp for our home station. We were told that we could wait until the next day and travel by pullman or leave that evening by coach. You can guess what our decision was. We all agreed to leave that day. We were heading for Fort Sam Houston, Texas. By 6 p.m., June 12, 1945, we were loaded on the train and were on our way to Texas. There were men from many other states, but we all went to the same place for discharge or re-assignment. About an hour after we left New York, several of the men got into a fight, and one man received a broken nose. We left him in a hospital in Annapolis, Maryland.
Texas - marriage - discharge
The trip to Texas riding in a coach train was not too comfortable, but who cared, we were going home. We had to sleep in shifts as there was not enough room for everyone to lay down at once. We were served meals on the train by army cooks but it was not the best. A good bit of the food was field rations. We didn't go hungry, however.
We traveled day and night only stopping to change engines and the train crew. This was about every 24 hours. A few times during stops, we had a chance to talk briefly to the train crew. They were always very nice to us and answered questions we asked. Somewhere in Ohio we made a stop for about two hours. This gave us a chance to get some good food, and buy a few things to eat for the rest of the trip. I guess we did pretty good at this stop; we only had one man who did not make it back to the train. They put him on the next train so he was not too late arriving in San Antonio. The rest of the trip was mostly routine. We just rode along and watched the telephone posts go by. At times we traveled pretty fast. There was not much to do, so we read some, ate at mealtime and slept a little now and then. We reached Fort Worth, Texas on about June 15, 1945, where we picked up a new train crew. This was early in the morning and we stopped there for about an hour. This crew would take us to our final destination. After leaving Fort Worth, we traveled to Ennis, Texas before stopping. We stopped for about two hours so we were able to get off the train and walk around some. We were all still hungry so we started looking for a place to get something to eat. I found a small snack shop near the railroad and was able to get an apple pie. With this I was able to get my hunger satisfied. I was unable to eat it all, so I shared it with some other men.
After leaving Ennis, Texas, we were on our last leg of the trip to Fort Sam Houston, Texas. I don't remember making anymore long stops. The train took us right into the camp, and it turned out to be the very same place where I had entered the army. We arrived at Fort Sam Houston about four in the afternoon and were assigned quarters for the night. We had a good hot meal and settled in for the night. Some of the men lived in San Antonio, so they were able to contact their folks that night.
The next morning after breakfast we began the necessary processing and received some needed clothes and shoes. We were all given leave papers, good for 60 days. On the evening of June 16, 1945, I was on a bus heading to Killeen, Texas. It was an old bus and didn't travel very fast. We got to Georgetown, Texas and the bus quit running. This was about midnight. About 2:00 a.m. another bus arrived. We loaded up again and were able to make it on to Killeen. I was able to get a taxi cab to take me out to where my folks lived. Everything I had with me was in a barrack bag, which I left at the bus station until the next day. I arrived at their house about 4 a.m. on Sunday morning, June 17, 1945.
During my 60 day leave, I visited friends and relatives and enjoyed the rest and many fine meals furnished by everyone. On July 14, 1945, I was married to Mabel Word, and as of this date November 18, 1997, we have been married over 52 years.
At the end of my leave time, I returned to Fort Sam Houston, Texas with hopes of being discharged from the army. We had to have a certain number of points to get out of the army. We got credit for length of service, overseas time, and the number of campaigns or battles we had been engaged in. When my points were established, I lacked five points of having enough to be discharged. I was then assigned to go to Fort Gordon, GA until I could qualify to get out. This was in the Quartermaster Corp. I didn't like this idea very much, so I started trying to find a way to qualify for those extra five points I needed. This I was able to do by claiming frozen feet during one of the marches. I did have some frostbite on my toes, so this was good for the five points I needed.
I was then taken off the shipping list and began processing for discharge.
After going back to Fort Sam Houston, on about August 17, 1945, I went through the process necessary for soldiers returning from overseas. This was to bring all records up to date, including service, pay and medical records. We would then be reassigned or discharged. As stated before, I finally was able to qualify for a discharge. This started a new process of paper work along with a complete physical examination. About all I remember getting done was having a wisdom tooth pulled. Much of the time was spent waiting for the necessary paper work to be done. They took us on a tour of Randolph Field one day which was quite interesting. We got to see a lot of different airplanes and go through some of them. After all of the records were completed, that great day finally came. On September 16, 1945, I received my honorable discharge. This was a good day for me, and in a very short time I was headed to the bus station to start home. I tried to get to the station for a 6 p.m. bus, but missed it, so had to wait until 10 p.m. for the next one. I think I arrived in Lampasas about 2 a.m. the next morning. Mabel, my new wife, surprised me by meeting me at the bus station. This was a very happy feeling to know I had all the army and war years behind me. I feel very fortunate to have gone through the war with only one small injury. It could have been very different.
This is a once in a lifetime experience and one I would not wish to have again. However, in looking back, I learned some things about life I would not have otherwise learned. I found that the human body and mind can endure much more than we think. We just took each event as it came along and didn't think too much about it. We were not alone and each man depended on others to help accomplish the job at hand. I hope those who might read these few pages will get some idea of how army life was during World War II. War is not pretty, but it has changed the lives of most of the people who were a part of it. I wish it would have not been necessary to have had a war, but it seemed necessary. I find some satisfaction in having been a part of it. I would not wish anyone to have to be in a war, but if you are required to, just try to do your very best as you would at any job.
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