Chapter 1

GOING TO WAR

March 3, 1943. In compliance with my draft notice, barely two months after my eighteenth birthday, my pre-induction physical was passed satisfactorily in a building on West Jefferson near downtown Detroit. On March 9, from the house at 17395 Birwood, Detroit, my father drove me to the imposing Michigan Central Railroad station on Michigan Avenue where I boarded a special train for Ft. Custer, Battle Creek and, unknowing at the time, the beginning of a lifetime military career. As all of the young men were then, I was eager to get into the war before it was over. There is something innate in young men’s desire to enter combat that must go back to earliest man. We detrained at Ft. Custer in the rain. The next few days were filled with endless processing of records, drawing of uniforms and medical examinations. There is a group picture of us taken outside the barracks at Ft. Custer. After four or five days we boarded a train not knowing our destination. The train proceeded through Jackson and then direct to Toledo. I did not know there was such a branch of the Michigan Central Railroad.

The rumor on the train was that we were going to the Air Force which made me very happy. I have always wondered if it was the luck of the draw, or were we thought to be specially qualified for air force duty. The train had only coaches, no Pullman sleeper car berths for us. There were three men to the two facing bench type coach seats. There was no way we could stretch out to sleep. It was very uncomfortable. We found ourselves in Cincinnati by nightfall, and I spent the night looking out the window at the black landscape with a passing isolated street light and an occasional house light wondering just where we were and trying to get some sleep. I had some idea of our location having traveled that part of the country with my father during earlier summers when he was on the road for the Chrysler Corporation. The next day about noon we were in the Atlanta, Georgia railroad yards. Some black boys entertained us by dancing by the tracks as we waited for the train to proceed. It was my first time in Georgia. The rumor was that we were on our way to Florida About four AM of the next morning, we were off the train, on to some trucks and taken to a tent city which I believe was a golf course on the west side of St. Petersburg. Surely, we will be allowed a day to sleep after two nights on the train. Not so. We immediately began our processing and qualification examinations. I remember the first morning as the sun rose, and I could see the pines around our tent city and thinking: “So this is Florida”. After a few days we moved to a hotel on the north side of downtown St. Petersburg. I believe the name was the Mt. Vernon. The hotel still existed in the 1970’s. Here our basic training began in earnest.

Every day we ran the obstacle course on the Tampa Bay beach at St. Pete. The Coast Guard Station now occupies the site. The obstacles were not so bad, it was running through the sand from obstacle to obstacle that wore us out. The day-in, day-out sunshine began to wear on me. I wondered if it ever clouded up or stormed. Our flight leader was a tall, thin man who wore the two stripes of a Corporal. We called him “Sir” until he finally convinced us that title was for commissioned officers only. The messhall was in a single story business building that might have been a corner drug or grocery store, up the alley from behind our hotel a few blocks west. The orderly room was on a side street adjacent to the hotel. I was happy to find my memory was correct about these details when I visited the area years later.

Basic training was completed in April. We boarded a troop train, this time with Pullman sleepers, and departed for Buckley Field near Denver. Here we received the initial training as armorers that required us to have a thorough understanding of how to field and detail strip and clean the .30 caliber and .50 caliber machine guns and the 20mm and 37mm aircraft cannons. One of our buddies was very difficult to wake up in the morning. We simply hauled his cot outside one morning while he slept and left him in the street with the problem of how to get into the barracks.

After three weeks we were transferred to Lowry Field at that time on the edge of the city of Denver or more properly, the city of Aurora. The first week was a solid seven consecutive days of KP (Kitchen Police) in a very large consolidated messhall. I was on the night shift helping to run one of the several dishwashers handling the metal trays. Part of the challenge was to obtain one of the pies set out to cool without the mess sergeants find out. One of the guy cleverly took a mop cart, moved along the line of cooling pies, surreptitiously put the pie in the mop cart and proceeded, casually mopping, back to our dishwasher. Besides the satisfaction of eating the pie was the pleasure of watching the mess cooks count the pies repeatedly and finding they were short one pie without ever knowing how.

As a Lieutenant Colonel, on a temporary assignment to Lowry in 1967 shortly before retirement, I revisited the messhall and while I was looking and remembering the pranks of a private, a mess sergeant came over and asked if there was anything he could do. I told him, “No, I’m just looking around.”

At Lowry, we learned about explosives, ammunition and the intricacies of the Sperry hydraulic upper and lower turrets used on the B-17’s, the computing gun sights used on these turrets, the Martin electric turret used on the B-26’s and a little about the new and still unseen B-29 and it’s central fire control system.

I found the hours very pleasant. Springtime in the Rockies, as the song goes, was delightful. We went to school from six to midnight. Then we marched to the huge messhall for breakfast and then to bed. Some of us found that we could beat our class marching formation to the messhall by placing ourselves at the rear of the marching troops where, at the right moment in the darkness, we could drop off the back of the formation without being seen, run a short-cut to the messhall and be in line before the rest of our classmates arrived. We were up about 9AM for the daily calisthenics and then free for the day until class time. The time in Denver was very pleasant with lots to do when we had passes for town. Elitch Gardens amusement park was one of our favorite places. Everyone in Denver was very good to all of the thousands of GI’s in that town during the war.

While at Lowry Field there was a bivouac training requirement. We marched and camped in pup tents along a dry creek bed in the wild dry country of the Colorado scrub a few miles east of the base. I vividly remember how hot and dry it was. The drinking water was in canvas lister bags heavily treated with iodine. A heavy thirst was frustrated by the foul tasting water. I believe it was a deliberate ploy to keep us from drinking water to our satisfaction. Horseplay was a favorite past time to offset the drudgery and discipline of the training. In the dry bivouac area we were constantly on the alert for rattlesnakes. Rapid shaking of a box of dry cereal produced a sound similar to that of a rattlesnake.. One night, I crept out of my pup tent, with the knowledge of my buddy, over to a nearby pup ten. Rapid shaking of the box of cereal in an intermittent manner just where I knew the occupants heads would be, produced the desired instantaneous reaction. A whispered “Did you hear that?” followed by a panicky and noisy evacuation of the tent. Much laughter all around and the profane verbal recriminations of the victims.

We finished our training at Lowry in July 1943 and departed by train for Las Vegas, Nevada for aerial gunnery school. We boarded the troop train right on the base. The train moved to the main station in downtown Denver for a few hours. That gave us the opportunity to say good-by to the girls we knew. Shortly, we were on our way by way of Cheyenne, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

We finished our training at Lowry in July 1943 and departed by train for Las Vegas, Nevada for aerial gunnery school. We boarded the troop train right on the base. The train moved to the main station in downtown Denver for a few hours. That gave us the opportunity to say good-by to the girls we knew. Shortly, we were on our way by way of Cheyenne, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

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