A World War 2 Historical Site

Don R. Marsh: Introduction

     On September 4, 1942 I had turned twenty years of age. Although it would be at least one year or more before I would be eligible to receive a Selective Service Board draft notice, in keeping with family tradition, as my father and his father had done before me, I made the decision to volunteer to enlist in the U.S. Army. This would allow sufficient time for me to sell my car and wrap up my personal affairs with the tentative enlistment date of December 1st in mind. At the time I was employed by the J.I. Case Company, Racine , Wisconsin as a milling machine operator milling tank links; these are the connecting links on the tracks of the Sherman tank. As had many of my friends and former classmates at Horlick High School , I had aspirations of becoming an aerial gunner on a B-17. Joining the Air Corps would end my remote affiliation with tanks and tanks parts, or so I thought. While this disconnect was in the back of my mind, I never gave much consideration that these idle thoughts would come back to haunt me within a year.


Our daily local newspaper kept the city aware of who had entered the Aviation Cadets or the Aerial Gunnery schools and were undergoing training with their photos of the candidates in brown leather flight jackets accented with a white parachute scarves, wearing leather flying helmets, with goggles attached on top. No doubt this patriotic publicity attracted many applicants, myself included. After a few visits to the Army Recruiting Office in the Arcade Building , I was convinced this was my choice and earnestly inquired about the qualifications. With only a high school diploma I did not qualify for Cadet Training, at the time, and so I settled on the Aerial Gunner program. The Army Sergeant advised me up front that there was no guarantee that I would be assigned to the Air Corps, as my enlistment would specifically be in the “Army of the United States , for the duration, plus six months -- unassigned.”  However, as a typical Recruiter would promise, the Sergeant said that anyone who requested enlisted flying status would have “no problem” being accepted, for everyone on flying status had to be a volunteer. Being in good health without vision problems or corrections required, I wishfully assumed that I would soon be at an airfield in Texas , or California if lucky, undergoing gunnery school immediately after receiving basic training.


The remaining days and nights slipped away rapidly and soon the end of November had arrived. Being single and unattached spared me the need of asking anyone special to “wait for me.” Came the morning of December 1st, my mother called me early at the crack of dawn and had a hot breakfast waiting for me before we said goodbye. I walked up old Milwaukee Avenue in the fresh fallen snow to the corner of High Street and Douglas Avenue to catch a streetcar to the train station; there I caught the first train out to Milwaukee . In the train station at Milwaukee a Corporal was paging all in-coming Army enlistees to gather around for instructions. After collecting a large enough number, he then formed us into a group and marched us off to the Main Recruiting and Induction Center nearby at 341 N. Milwaukee Street in downtown Milwaukee .


 My civilian life, while expected to be placed on temporary hold, was on the verge of ending for a long period of time – much longer than I had ever imagined. It wasn’t until thirty-two years later on November 1, 1974, that I received my final discharge from military service to the country. From this day forward of my enlistment all decisions, both minor and major, would be made for me by others, whether I agreed or disagreed, as the military is not a democracy. This latter point would be hammered home to me on all too many occasions in the decades to come as I later pondered each new set of superiors, duty assignments, circumstances and situations. Admittedly, a difficult challenge for one who had  been a “free-thinker” and not used to the strict regimentation of military life dealing with mundane routines and repetitive asinine instructions, and often rendered in a threatening manner by my superiors. Along with the ever present silent command of,”Comply or else!” But, I suspected all this when I volunteered and raised my hand in taking the Oath of Enlistment accepting orders from all those commissioned and non-commissioned appointed over me.


Due to the large number of volunteers on this first day of December, I was held over with many others until the next day when the oath was then administered and I was given the serial number AUS 16155906. I was now a number among the million others and no longer an individual person. We were quartered overnight in a downtown hotel where my roommate was Thomas Gillet from Wauwatosa , Wisconsin , serial number AUS 16155905. After receiving our physicals and being sworn in, our group was marched to the train station and boarded a Chicago Northwestern train enroute to Fort Sheridan , Illinois , some fifty miles south


Our first stop was to the Army Reception Center where we were informed of the procedures we would undergo in processing. After the vaccination clinic we were assigned to personal interviews followed by mandatory insurance indoctrination (sales)

No one was permitted to leave the latter room until you “volunteered” to sign for the GI insurance policy and Government savings bond drive as the Post Commander prided himself with 100% participation. Next came the batteries of IQ tests known as the AFQT (Armed Forces Quotient Test) to determine your mental category ranging from I through IV. Category I being collegiate and Category IV border line illiterate. I scored in the upper Category II and was assigned to the Signal Corps much to my chagrin and disappointment of not being assigned to the Air Corps. There went my dreams of flying off into the wild blue yonder -- my wings were clipped! I was being transferred to a Signal Corps Training Center to become a Radio Repairman. The next day about 24 of us designated for Signal Corps schooling were put aboard a train coach car with military escort; next destination unknown. We changed trains in Chicago , then St. Louis and then Kansas City . Sometime the next day our car was shunted to a siding and we all asked, “Where the hell are we?” Our answer was soon coming – Neosho , Missouri . This back water community on the border of Oklahoma in the southwest corner of the state was the last stop outside the gates of Camp Crowder Signal Training Center . To borrow an old Army cliché expression, “If America needed an enema; they would have inserted the tube here.”  We were at least 100 miles from nowhere. The nearest town was Joplin , Missouri , a small cross roads over night stop before the war – with Sunday liquor Blue laws!


I was assigned to Company B, 28th Signal Training Battalion under the command of Captain George A. Patterson. Our Platoon Commander was 2nd Lt.  John Richard Webb, who would become a post war movie actor with his own TV program called “Captain Midnight.” Close friends in my platoon were Tom Gillet (Wisconsin), Joe Cowgill (Indiana), George Deeley (Wisconsin), and Bernie Tatcher, a tough street smart Jew from Philadelphia. Thirty-five days later on 7 January 1943, my name appeared on Special Orders #6, Transfer # 2658, Paragraph 38 and promoted to Tech 5th Grade Temp By order of Major General Prosser: Signed by Lt. Col. F. Butler, Field Artillery, Adjutant.


After the initial phase of Basic Training was completed, I was assigned to Company A, 33rd Signal Corps Training Battalion on the other side of the Post. While undergoing additional military indoctrination of viewing training films and attending lectures, we would be attending night classes at the same time on a monthly rotation basis. The dual schedule consisted of Monday through Friday, while Saturday mornings were reserved for the standard barracks inspections.  Our days began with Reveille at 0600 hours followed by four hours during the a.m. of training followed by six hours of schooling until 2000 hours (8 p.m.) for a long grueling 14 hour day. Fighting sleep in class was a challenge as the instructors droned on and on in monotone explanations and instructions of amperage, electrons, ohms, volts, resistors, circuits, tubes, VHF receivers and transmitters, wave lengths, wattage, current -- positives and negatives, continuity, conduction and a myriad of electronic technical terms studied and read from an Army Signal Corps manual. The military instructors stood at their desks and blackboards with a yard long wooden ½” dowel rod with an empty brass .45 caliber shell casing attached to the end. The moment the NCO instructor saw a dozing student’s head bobbing and chin resting on his chest he would walk up silently and tap the sleeping soldier on the head with the brass end of the pointer. All of us suffered the rap of the .45 shell casing more than once during the night classes. The seeds of resentment had their beginning in this style class instruction.


 One day in late spring, an announcement on the Company Bulletin Board said the Air Corps had adopted a new policy and was accepting applications from qualified candidates with a minimum of a high school diploma for pilot training.  I obtained the necessary forms, wrote to my former high school for the required verification copies of my scholastic records, obtained three letters of recommendation (including one from my former high school assistant principal Robert Smith) and two others from hometown businessmen, Joe Jacobson and Dr. Hyman Soref, along with a copy of my birth certificate and submitted my complete application immediately; knowing full well it would take time to process and time was not on my side.


 It wasn’t long before the warm weather arrived and my thoughts turned to outdoors and other possible pursuits – namely, escaping from this school before I passed the point of no return in this ten month course. Luckily I found the sympathetic ear of my Electronics Instructor by the name of 1st Lt. Auriello Santa Ana. I explained that I had enlisted for the Air Corps Aerial Gunnery program and instead was shuffled into radio repair. Whether it was the Army’s way of putting the square peg in the round hole or just a case of burn-out, I convinced him that I wasn’t suited for this technician bench work future. By being up front and explaining my candid lack of interest in becoming a Radio Repairman for the duration that working with tube testers, ohm meters, walkie-talkie hand held radios, VHF radio chassis and soldering irons had become a boring way of life and I needed a change. He then advised me on how to submit a voluntary request for a withdrawal from the class and a transfer to another field. After a week on hold, the school headquarters processed the request with orders transferring me to the Field Wire School . In doing so I knowingly lost my two stripes and became a buck Private once more. It was well worth the trade.


The Wire School on the other side of the Post was conducted in an area the size of a football field with dozens of wooden 30 and 40 foot tall telephone poles implanted about ten feet apart. This was the outdoor classroom. The pole climbing class would have to wait until we had learned about the different types of wire ranging from the small handheld reel of Infantry combat wire to the larger jeep/truck reels of standard W-110 field wire. One class involved the use of the basic field telephone, known as the EE8A. It was the standard issue to troops in the field in combat, using a hand crank with handset in a leather case. It was destined to later become one of my constant companions. We were taught how to field strip the wire and make a splice using the square knot and friction tape. The TL-9 leather case containing a pair of side cutter pliers and a folding pocket knife; this was standard issue to all wiremen and carried on the web waist belt.


The pole yard class separated the men from the boys. We strapped on Lamon steel spur-climbers to the inside of our leg from the instep of the heel of our shoe to just below our knee joint. The safety belt was not hooked around the pole as you climbed up until you had reached the top – then you would unsnap the keeper on the belt and circle it around the back of the pole to your other hand and then hook it onto your belt. It was also the “tool rack” for carrying extra hand tools and became the “seat” after you had reached the top of the pole. Climbing the pole was altogether another challenge.  After months of daily class wear, the creosote coated wooden poles had become a mass of slivers from top to bottom. We were issued heavy leather gloves to lightly grasp the sides of the pole as we kicked the sharp 1½ inch steel spur into the wood and straightened our leg to stand, alternating each straight leg as we went up. The trick was to keep your weight on one lower leg straight with that spur dug into the wood. Bend the lower leg and the spur would fail to hold and down you went! We were taught not to look down at your feet, but to look up where you could see what was above you. The Nervous Nellys would freeze half way up the pole and the instructor would climb up under the recruit and try to quiet his fears and to stop him from hugging the pole. By the time the recruit got down from the pole, more often as not, his face had souvenir splinters imbedded. Those of us who quickly mastered the climbing were then given a basketball to toss back and forth while “seated” in the safety belt – all this built confidence and became easy as one-two-three. Lost in the details was that in Europe they used concrete and metal poles -- not wood. The six week course ended and I was given the Army Military Occupation Specialty number MOS 641, Field Lineman. Ready for my next assignment.


On October 7, 1943, a large number of us newly graduated from the Wire School were transferred by train to Shenango Personnel Replacement Depot, located at Transfer (actual name), Pennsylvania . It was just another temporary stop along the line. We were now a part of the growing military replacement system known in Army lingo as being in “The Pipe Line”-- being funneled to overseas assignments for the pending invasion of Europe . Shortly after my arrival at Shenango, the personnel records clerk discovered that I was one of the rare exceptions in that I had not received the traditional ten days “last furlough home” before shipping overseas; however, before they could issue the furlough orders I was placed on new orders for the final train ride to Camp Shanks, located outside New York City near Orangeburg and the Port of Embarkation. Next destination – overseas. Time was running short. My journey in life was undergoing a radical change, in less than a month each new succeeding chapter would begin to unfold in a manner in which I never suspected possible. Rather than describe these following experiences as chapters, I will identify them as Diary Entries extracted from my personal journals.


“Think where man’s glory most begins and ends.

And say my glory was that I had such friends.”

--William Butler Yeats 


Publication or reproduction, in part or whole, is prohibited without written

permission from the author, Don R. Marsh. All rights remain the sole property of

The Marsh Family Trust.

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