Chapter 3

 

Chapter 3

 

Here I am sitting in Fort Thomas, Kentucky waiting for assignment. We are looking like recruits as we have only GI gear and that is not the most flattering clothing you would ever wear. I had some pictures taken in a little machine where you put $.50 in and they would come out through a small slot. I look at those today and wonder how I ever made it. But, I was barely 18 years old and had a long way to go through life. If I would be lucky enough to escape some of the hazards that lay ahead.

We stayed around Ft. Thomas for a couple of weeks with not too much Military Discipline just waiting for an assignment. Most of the Estill County boys were shipping out to their assigned units and since the Army goes by alphibetical order I was down the line with the letter M.

Soon my name was called and I was to ship out to the Field Artillery Training Center In Fort. Sill, Oklahoma. I felt pretty good about that as some of my friends were shipping out to Infantry Divisions for training. I thought, Man am I lucky?

We boarded a train for Oklahoma not knowing what to expect. After a couple of days on a troop train loaded with soldiers I was glad to get my feet back on the ground. We started out by getting more gear like a .30 calibre carbine and gas mask and a rifle belt with a canteen and first aid pouch.  We wore a helmet liner for training. They were made out of plastic and were very hot during the summer.

The outfit that I was assigned to was, Company D. 32nd Batillion 8th Regiment Field Artillery Replacement Training Center. Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

We arrived there around the first of May and it was beginning to get hot in Oklahoma. I was in for hotter weather as we moved into June, July and August. It was so hot that we could hardly sleep at night. I would take a cold shower and sleep with my skivvies on and then it still was so hot you could barely sleep in the barracks. Lights out and revilee became the daily routine. and also at 5:00 PM we would stand retreat and then the day was over until revilee the next morning unless you had KP duty or you was unlucky enough to have been selected for guard duty.

My platoon leader was a Corpal rank and his name was Corpal David Grounds, He was an American Indian and had brown skin and looked like an Indian, But he knew how to train soldiers. If it was not for him and his thorough training methods I don’t know where I would of ended up. I thought about this many times when the going got tough. He had an Indian friend who was a platoon leader in another company and they used to box until they would bleed from the nose. His name was Corpal Gosney. Cpl. Gosney was a Golden Glove Champion from the State of Oklahoma and was a bit taller than Corpal grounds. They would box for what seemed  hours at a time. But they were great fellows. They would demand a lot from us enlisted men but they were very fair and treated us well.

Our day started with revilee and fall out for inspection. Dismissed for chow and fall out again for the days activities. That included calestantics for hours it seemed and classes on different types of firearms, Hand grenades and also communication equipment. The EE8A field telephone which was packed in a leather case and had a head set as it was called. We had to learn how to operate that and also install it  at a specific point. Also how to splice a telephone wire and wrap it with insulation so it wouldn’t short out. I knew all of this but I didn’t know it the Army way.

When you splice an Army telephone line it has to be tied in a square knot. That is why they put me in the communications section of the field Artillery as I had worked for Mr. Hatton and had experience in the telephone /business.

We also had training on the BD71 and BD72 switchboard. These switchboards were used in the field and were very rugged. Telephone lines were layed to the switchboard and the switching was done there. So we had to learn how to operate the switchboard. Of course this was all done in the field. We would set up a tent city as it was called and there was communications all through the city. Anyone could call just about anyone they wanted to. So we got a lot of experience in setting up and repairing communication. gear.

It was so hot the classes would be held in the shade of large trees. There would be large wooden benches with a back set up under the trees and a class on different subjects would be taught there and then we would march to the next place and they taught us another subject. One day we marched us to one of the class areas to learn about the hand grenade. The Lieutenant that was giving the instruction was standing  on a platform telling us how to use a hand grenade and how it was constructed like a pineapple and when it exploded it blew into small pieces  which made a lot of schrapnel. He was telling us how to pull the pin and holding it up he accidently dropped the grenade. Man all Hell broke loose. You are supposed to hit the ground, But guys were running over each other benches were flying pockets were torn off of fatigue pants, finally after a time we knew it had been a set up.

The Lieutenant  was trying for a reaction from a loose hand grenade and he got one. One of the Chicago Boys said, I knew it was a dummy all the time. We said, Then how come you were one of the furtherest from it? We never let up on those guys.  We were issued a .30 cal.carbine, Which is a smaller rifle but if you called it a gun during training you would 10 laps around the field in the hot weather and you only did that once. We would learn how to disassemble and re-assemble it an keep it spic and span. We had inspection every day and if your rifle was a bit dirty you had to clean it again and take it to the orderly room and have the OD (Officer of the day) inspect it before you was free to go for the evening.

I was off of the farm and working for Mr. Hatton so I was in  good physical condition. I soon had met a buddy as you would soon do when you are in a large group. His name was Richard Burns. He was from Marion Center, Pa. He had also grown up on a farm and his age was almost the same as mine. Mine on the 17th of January and his on the 23rd of Junuary. We were buddies and hung around together most of the time We weren’t getting very much money per month and I was saving some of mine in savings bonds as the Army would have you do so we didn’t have a lot of spending money. We would go to the PX and drink beer after a hot hard day of training. A pitcher of 3.2 beer was $.50 cents and we would put away a few before we went to bed for the night. Some of our buddies would join us and they would buy one once in a while. When we didn’t have money to buy beer, We would buy a pint of ice cream just to cool off during the evening. The recruits were from all over the country. Only two fellows from Ky. in the Company and they were both from Owensville, Ky. One fellow  was named Hill and he was learning to be a Funeral Director there, And the other fellows name was Risner.

He was a farm boy like me and he chewed tobacco. He had brought a supply along with him and he would chew while we were marching. Corpal Grounds would holler at him, Risner get rid of that chew. Old Risner would make like he was getting rid of the chew by putting his hand to his mouth and removing it, But he would put it back an his mouth and let it lay there so the Corpal would not see it. I used to feel sorry for him, As I knew how he liked his chew and Dad always liked his too. Ole Risner would take a drink of water with a chew in his mouth and all of the fellows wondered why it didn’t make him sick.

Richard and I were a couple of seasoned men in that we were in pretty good shape and we used to razz the guys from Chicago who were from the city and were pretty soft. They used to call me a Hillbilly from Kaintuck and wanted to know if I had brought my muzzle load rifle with me. We used to call them Chicago Gangsters and if they worked for Al Capone. Richard and I used to challenge them, Come on you Bastards and we will see who is the biggest man, But they never took us on. Richard was about 5’10” and built like a boxer. I was 6’1” and skinny as a rail so it must have been Richard that intimidated them. But we got along fine after we claimed our ground.

Richard and I had a lot of fun if you can have fun in basic training. We would conspire to come in first no matter the task. If we were going on a 12 mile hike we would say we would never fall out and ride back to the barracks in a truck. Our butts were so galded and we would be hurting so bad that we had to hold one cheek so it wouldn’t rub the other, But we never fell out. We would always be up front and when the cream puffs fell out and rode back to the barracks in the trucks that picked them up we would give them the big RA RA and they didn’t ever know how bad we were hurting. At revilee the next morning we would be looking at them like we were Iron Men. We really gave it to those Chicago Gangsters.

I don’t remember the names of some of the Guys, but that is not important, But we really gave it to them. Richard had a very high IQ and was asked to go to Officers Cadidate School. He declined because he was so short and thought he would be intimitaded by his subordinates. He was a Hell Of a Guy, We were just like brothers. If I had a dollar he had a dollar and vice versa. We used to go into Lawton, Ok. on a weekend pass but usually we stayed on the base as we didn’t have a lot of money and we had a lot of fun going to the movies on the base. We had first run movies at the base theatres and it was very cheap to see a good movie and we did that.

At 11:30 AM each day we would go to an area and listen to the news of what was happening in the war and also a lot of military music. I listened to so much Military Music that I didn’t want to hear anymore for the rest of my life. John Phillip Sousa and all of his marches. But it was nice to hear about the war news and what was happening in Europe and Japan. We knew we were going to the front but we didn’t know just where.Europe or Japan.

I would write to my folks and let them know how I was doing and keep them informed. The food was good at Ft. Sill as most of the people in the USA was on rationing and we troops were getting most of the good food. We would have Kellogs Corn Flakes, Bacon and eggs for breakfast. We ate a hardy breakfast as we were doing a lot of training and after a day in the field we were hungry. I remember I used to think about the good green beans and cornbread that Ma was cooking back in Kentucky. Dad and Ma used to write to me and Etta Clay would write and tell me what was happening back in Ky. at Estill County Hgh, But now I was having a different kind of career.

We had 17 weeks to finish our basic training at Fort. Sill and after that we would be assigned to a Line Company as the Army called it. We did just about everything that could be done in the Field Artillery. I did my duties and I had to work every position on a .105 MM Howitzer just in case the gunner had been disabled. I would push the shell into the chamber and a guy would close the breech and another would pull the lainard. I did get to pull the lainaird some times and all hell would break loose about a half mile away. A big explosion would erupt and I would say, did I do that? Oh well we were only Kids.

We would march out on a hot day to watch a artillery demonstration. Out about five miles to a spot on a hill where we could what was going on below us. There was a crack outfit  of Black Artillerymen based at Fort. Sill and they were going to demonstrate what the big guns could do, As we had only fired a few rounds to acquaint ourselves in case we had to use them in an emergency. My training was communications to all of the Gun Batteries.

Pretty soon those big guns opened up and you could see where the shell were hitting as the dust would fly. There was a moving target of canvas representing a tank moving across in front and they blasted it to pieces. They also demonstrated time fire. The shell had a time fuse on the nose and they would set the fuse so that they would explode about twenty feet off the ground.  This type of artillery was used against ground troops and was very effective. Nothing out in the open could live under a barrage such as that. After the demonstration we would march five miles back to camp. The Platoon Corpal would always give us a ten minute rest every hour when we were marching and that always felt pretty good especially when we were carrying a full field pack and a rifle. We had very good training and I thank the U.S.Army for that. We would crawl under machine gun fire at night and we could see the tracers flying over our head and as you would get near a fox hole a 1/4 lb stick of TNT would go off and it would just about knock you out. I can thank Cpl. Grounds for the experience. Cpl. Grounds and Cpl. Gosney were Cadremen and I suspect they had been in combat, but they never said anything.They would never share their experiences with us trainees.

We would go night manuevers and set up just like the soilders did in combat. (As I was to find out later) We set up a command post and posted guards and had passwords and challenged anyone that was roaming around the area.

I remember one evening when I was on guard duty at the intersection of a road, Someone was approaching and I challenged him with the password and he couldn’t respond. I racked my rifle and told them to advance and be recognized

Very carefully I asked them what they were doing in this area and that this was a Military Establishment and what buisness they had being in this area. I was starting to get a little rough with them. Pretty soon they advanced to where I could recognize two Second Lieutanants,

They said they were just out for a walk and didn’t have the password. I instructed them that in the future to make sure they had the password if they were going to take a stroll during the night. Hindsight says they were checking the guardposts to see how we would react to them not having the password. We did a lot of night activities. After we took our driver training in the 6×6 trucks we were given tests to see who would get their drivers permit. We had a lot of fun watching some of the guys trying to master the big trucks. I didn’t have a problem as I had driven a truck for Mr. Hatton before I went into the service. The big trucks would lurch ahead and back as the inexperienced driver would push and let up on the gas pedal. Good thing we were out in a big field or someone would smashed one up for sure.

The instructors had been here before. Finally the day to take our test. One by one we climbed into the big trucks and put it into gear and roared down the road with a load of soldiers in the back. Shifting gears and going through small creeks and up and down hills and around sharp curves. Finally the instructor would say , Stop and another fellow would get in and more of the same. It was a pretty rough ride as some of the fellows were nervous and hit the pedal and all of us would go flying all over the back of the truck. We would be yelling at the driver and that would make him even even more nervous. When my turn came I was in pretty good form and I took her down the road with the dust flying and we came to a curve with some trees hanging over the dirt road. I hung her a little left and the guys got brushed pretty good with the overhanging branches and I thought, That will teach those Chicago Gansters a lesson. Later we all fell out one day as they were passing out drivers permits to the fellows who had passed the test. I felt pretty good about it when they called my name. This permit allowed you to operate any Military vehicle up to and including a 6×6 truck excluding a motorcycle.

Then we began training on night driving. We would go out into the Oklahoma desert and drive with no lights except for a blackout light that was mounted on the right front and rear of all vehicles. It had a luminious slit that you see close up but you were at the mercy of your eyes and instinct in the dark. We would go flying down those dirt roads with the dust so thick you could hardly see anything. Its a wonder that we didn’t pile all of those trucks up, But we didn’t. We were pretty sharp by now as we were nearing the end of our training. Even Ole Risner with his big cud of tobacco in his jaw was looking a lot different than we arrived for our training. Military Courtesy and Discipline had done wonders for all of us. Week fifteen and sixteen we are going to the field for training, Week seventeen would be cleanup week and get ready for our assignment.   We went to the flatlands of Oklahoma and Texas for our final two weeks of training. We were sleeping in Pup tents. Each fellow had a shelter half as it was called, Each fellow had a 1/2 part of the tent and two guys slept in the same tent. His half and your half made a complete tent. We would select our favorite friend, Or the Corpal would assign two fellows together and we would set up our tent and drive the stakes into the ground and dig a little ditch around the tent so the water wouldn’t run in just in case it would rain.

Bingo, It rained while we were out in the field. Talk about being miserable. All of our blankets and bedroll are soaked and the Army doesen’t give a Damn. They said we can’t be there to take care of you always. I said to my partner, To Hell with them, I’m looking out for myself. Guess what? Thats exactly what they wanted us to do. We finally dried out our blankets and not before some light aircraft  bombed us with paper bags of flour. Damn, The flour mixed with the wet blankets and was a mess. The vehicles we were using in the field were all covered with flour and was also a mess. We had to clean all of this equipment the 17th week so that other recruits could use it after we moved out.

We cleaned a lot of equipment that last week of training along with our barracks and all of the windows.


 

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