Hull and Doug Donahue and I had said our final goodbyes. Home addresses
exchanged and promises made to keep in touch after we each get home. I’ve been
with these two men well over a year through good and bad times – in a true
sense, they are my brothers and I’ll miss them. But time now to hop in the
back of the truck taking me along with others to the port embarkation staging
area. There are two located in
truck pulled into a tent city on the far outskirts of the city in a wooded area
in the middle of nowhere, known as the Calais Staging Area. The camp was
bare-bones no frills temporary establishment out in the boondocks with the bare
minimum of necessities – tents and out door latrines with a cold water tap.
Cold water showers were available to those brave enough to withstand the chills.
Many decided to forego the pleasure. Processing began immediately as we were
assigned to the 102nd
of us had retained much of the German Occupational currency we carried when the
US Postal and Army authorities, without notice, shut down the conduit of
obtaining Post Money Orders used to ship funds home. The 102nd
Finance Officer would permit us to exchange, but not to exceed, precisely the
maximum payroll amount we had drawn each month since the inception of the
Occupational payroll currency. Our payroll records were checked against the
exchange. This did not include any Occupation currency other than that printed
by the US Army. The mandatory first digit in the serial number being a numeral
“1.” Any other Occupation currency was unacceptable. This sum total amount
was then converted to US dollars; leaving most of us who had dealt on the black
market stuck holding several hundred dollars of worthless Occupation German
marks. We greeted new GIs arriving in camp from the States with a fist full of
German marks and told them to spend it as they pleased when they got to
next surprise was approving weapons we were bringing home as war trophies. We
were all assigned to 12 man squad tents with wooden floors containing folding
canvas cots. At an unannounced early morning roll call, we were ordered to
standby for an inspection. We called it the “junk-on-the-bunk” routine
(harassment) by having to empty our duffel bag on the cot. Several officers went
through everything laid out confiscating all US Army military weapons – mainly
.45 automatic pistols. If you had a weapon other than an Army issue, you were
required to declare it a “War Trophy” and register it on a US Customs form,
witnessed by a 102nd officer, including the manufacturer’s name and the serial
number of the weapon. I registered my Walther P-38 pistol as a legitimate
captured enemy weapon. Upon later research, from the serial number I was able to
determine that the
Those trying to bring home the prized German Schmeisser machine pistol (burp gun) were stopped from doing so and the weapon confiscated. We were also warned that if you were caught trying to smuggle an unauthorized weapon aboard ship you would be court-martialed and your trip home delayed. No one wanted to risk that and items were turned in with no questions asked. We also had to turn in any ammunition for the weapons we were permitted to retain. They made this check on weapons squeaky-clean. I knew of no one stupid enough to risk taking a chance and missing the boat home – not for any reason!
Gas & Time
20-days remaining of September passed and when October arrived, frustration
began to set in. Why the delay? Where are the boats? What’s taking so long to
get us moving? Nobody had any answers as anger resulted in the pent up GIs
acting stupid at night by burning the wooden tables we sat at to eat and the
wooden structures designed to hold our metal helmets to use as washbasins. The
By now the weather turned bad. It was very cold at night in the tents without any source of heat. To add to the misery and frustration, we experienced a lot of rain confining us to the indoors of the small tents. To break the monotony, some would roam the perimeter of the camp fence where the local prostitutes offered their services – the going price? One pack of American cigarettes for oral sex. The fear of becoming infected with a venereal disease and being scratched from a boat shipment served to enforce the abstinence rule.
full month of October passed and still no information of when we would ship out.
We wondered how much longer we would have to wait. Finally, on November 4th,
we were told tomorrow was the day. Everyone was up early and packed raring to go
on the BIG day. Semi-cab trucks with open stake-bed trailers were loaded to
capacity to haul us down to the docks. As we drove through the city of
arrived down at the docks to see a single ship tied up awaiting our arrival. I
could not believe my eyes – another God damn
medical officers from the 102nd shared the topside rooms that had
been reserved for the US Naval gun crews during the war and now absent. We were
in the holds in the tiered bunks as the ship pulled away from the docks headed
out into the
Naturally, gambling was the primary method of breaking the monotony. For others, such as myself, I found a comfortable place topside to sit and reflect – reviewing my notations of where I had been and what had happened in the past two years I had spent overseas. The sights, sounds and even smells were recalled each step of the way that would never be forgotten – not to mention the faces of those who weren’t coming back.
I was deep in thought about going home as I switched off that memory of the recent past and began to think of what might I expect when I arrived home. I knew nothing ever remains the same and knew there would be changes. Both the world and I had changed. At the same time, I was well aware that my personality and rationale had also undergone a change. The expression “You can’t go home” fits in here perfectly. The home you once knew no longer exists – physically or mentally.
Lingering in the back of my mind, I had a “slight problem” I would have to deal with upon arriving home. During my first furlough home in February 1943, two years prior, I foolishly acquiesced to an unplanned engagement to my attractive nineteen year old Italian girlfriend, with whom I had been intimately involved, prior to enlisting. It was one more glaring example of my folly of youth. Upon arriving home, agreeing to cut the Gordian knot after a two year absence would not prove to be too difficult for either of us, as it developed.
There was a lot of uncertainty I had to reconcile at the appropriate time. I set it all aside and let the world go by, counting my good fortune – I’m a survivor coming home, even though it was on a very slow boat. On deck with my thoughts to myself, the fresh salt air and sunshine served to clear my head so that I was able to take stock of where I had been; in addition to what I had done and where I might be headed Rather than be overly concerned with the unforeseeable events in the future, I really did not contemplate any long-range thoughts. Not knowing what the future would hold (Destiny held all the cards) it all could wait until I arrived home and I would sort them all out one by one. The Army had taught me what would become a life long problem-solver – “Take ‘em one at a time.”
days after we departed
On the 23rd they sorted us out and loaded us on to trains headed to all parts of the country. The troop train I was on left late in the day, but I was too keyed-up and unable to sleep as my mind wandered. I sat up and remained awake all night just staring out the window at the beautiful sight of seeing towns, villages, homes, city streets illuminated with bright lights after two years of total darkness. This was one of the many small simple pleasures of life taken for granted that I had missed.
End of the Road
The last day, November 26th was the final check out with the clerks typing the Enlisted Record and Report of Separation (Form DD214) with all the essential information required. Included with the person’s service time, overseas time, grade at discharge, awards and decorations and the important finance data. I received $2.95 travel pay to my home of record and $399.99 Separation Pay.
Other than the clothes I needed to wear going home, I declined any offer of my clothing. The one exception was that I had to surrender my tank jacket, which I had wished to retain, but would not let that single item stand in my way of receiving that piece of paper I long sought – my Honorable Discharge from the Army! The sun had gone down when they finished all of my records, paid me in full and wished me good luck. I quickly made the short walk to the train station and began my return to civilian life once more.
Had I been able to have foreseen the future, back then I might have reenlisted in Major General Ernest Harmon’s post war Regular Army, the Army of Occupation of Germany Constabulary; rather than having accepted the discharge and reenlisting later.
amigos. It has been one helluva experience of life.
Don R. Marsh
from the author, Don R. Marsh. All rights remain the sole property of
Marsh Family Trust.