Part I - Beginning March 30, 1942
Written by Charles Harper
Monday, 18 March 2002
The morning of March 30, 1942, dawned bright and clear with a slight
frosty bite to the air. This was the setting for a new and much
different life for Charles Harper. This was the day he was to join a
group of his friends and other young men at Norton Kansas and after a
short briefing by the American Legion Commander they were taken to the
Bus depot and were soon on there way to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, where
they were to be given their final examinations and inducted into the
Army of the United States.
Yes, we all had butterflies in our stomach as we pulled out of our
hometown, leaving many close friends and relatives behind. However we
all felt that we had a job to do and with that thought in mind it gave
us the courage and determination we needed to carry us on. At the time
no one knew where we would eventually be assigned or where in the
States we would be sent for training. With each of the passing miles we
were being carried farther from home and we all knew that there would
be some of us that would not return, yet each was willing to give all
he had and carry on to the bitter end if necessary. Not much was said
on that trip as everyone was pretty well lost in his own thoughts.
At noon the Bus was stopped and lunch was eaten at the Government's
expense I am afraid it wasn't very much enjoyed though, and soon we
were on our way again. Supper was eaten at the Fort, anyway we decided
that was what they called it. A greasy stew that tasted very much of
goat, boiled potatoes, and a few other things to go with it.
After that was over we were all taken back to the barracks and assigned
bunks. They weren't called beds any more and we had to make them up
ourselves. Well some did and some didn't. As it was only eight o'clock
none of us were ready to go to bed but as we weren't allowed to leave
the building there wasn't much else to do.
The charge of quarters came in at nine o'clock and turned the lights
out and informed us that there would be no talking or turning the
lights on the rest of the night. He was only a Private First Class but
to us he might have been a General so we took him at his word and it
wasn't long 'till all was sleeping as well as could be expected.
Morning came too soon for most of us and we were awakened by the
orderly and instructed to fold up our bedding and be ready to go to
chow in thirty minutes. We were to take all our personal belongings
with us. That is why we had been instructed to travel light before we
left home. After breakfast we were taken to a large room where we were
to wait `till our name was called for examination, as soon as that was
over we returned to the same room to wait `till we had been classified
and assigned to companies.
As soon as the companies were made up we were assigned to barracks and
given bunks. After that was over we drew bedding from the supply room
and were shown how to make a bed the Army way and that was the way we
were to make them from then on. They were inspected a short time later
to see that we had done it correctly and didn't have any wrinkles etc.
If some fault was found we had to make it over ˜till we did it right.
After all of this was done we were taken to another building where we
joined several other groups and were all sworn in and now we were
officially in the Army.
Now we also dropped the Mister from our name and exchanged it for a
number which was to identify each of us through our Army career and we
were also known as privates now. Our pay was $50 per month and all our
food and clothing were free. After we were sworn in we were taken to
another building where we were fitted with our clothing and got all our
equipment. We were also issued two large bags to carry all our
equipment in and also anything else that we wished to take along. All
our civilian clothing was to be sent home excepting some small personal
items that didn't take up much room. We had to carry the two bags full
of our issued equipment about a quarter of a mile to the barracks and
by that time we had decided to get rid of everything that we didn't
have to carry with us.
Upon arrival to the barracks each of us were carefully checked to see
that we had been issued all the equipment we were supposed to have,
then we were told to get all our things together that we were going to
send home and get them sent that afternoon so it was a very busy place
getting it all ready to go and finding the post office to get it
About four o'clock that evening a group of us were picked out to work
in the mess hall and I was one of the group. We had to serve the tables
and then clean up the tables and mess hall after chow was over. It was
about ten o'clock when we got it all done so we went back to the
barracks and were told that we were to have a practice air raid in
about an hour and told where to go out of the building, etc. After that
was over we all went to bed and slept till the charge of quarters woke
us up the next morning.
We were all marched up to the mess hall for breakfast then back to the
barracks and a few minutes latter we were all called out again and told
to police up the grounds. That included picking up all the trash and
paper that we found laying around in our area. It didn't take long but
some felt that it was beyond the call of duty never the less. We didn't
realize how many more times we would be doing that very same thing in
time to come.
Well back to the barracks again and we were told that the same group as
the night before would report to the mess hall again at ten and work
till four in the afternoon. So off we went but about and hour later the
charge of quarters came in and rounded us all up with information that
our shipping orders were there and we were to return to barracks and
prepare to leave some time in the afternoon.
It wasn't long till bags were packed blankets were folded and sheets
were checked back in to the supply room and we were ready for the next
step of our journey and the big mystery was we didn't know where or how
far. By this time we had learned not to ask questions but to wait until
we were told what to do so we sat around in small groups waiting
developments. We were soon marched to the mess hall again for lunch
then back to the barracks to pick up our bags then to a large building
where we were all split up again and reclassified. That operation took
about two hours.
We had been instructed to wear our overcoats as they wouldn't go in the
bags and it was plenty hot so we were near roasted when we were loaded
on busses and taken to the train which was waiting for us. At least we
got rid of the overcoats when we got on the train and that was relief.
After all was loaded on even though crowded we were soon on the way.
First came Kansas City then we headed South and West. Some thought we
were going to California and others said they heard we were going to
some place in Kansas. Well it turned out that after two nights and a
day on the train we ended up in Texas.
The camp we were in didn't look like much and it was hot as all get out
and we had to put those overcoats on again. Nothing could be seen but
camp and low hills in the background. So with our bags over our
shoulders we got off the train and into another large building where we
were again split into different groups and a man in charge took us
about a half a mile to our barracks. Our bags had all been left at the
dock and were to be hauled to the company area. That was a big help as
the field we were to cross was quite muddy and the tracks of many feet
made it even worse but we made it and so after getting our bedding from
the supply tent we proceeded to make up our bunks and so went to wash
up and take a much needed shower.
Well at least we felt better so we began to inquire around to see just
where we had landed and what company we were in. We found we were in
company M of the 90th Division, that however didn't mean a great lot to
us, we also learned that the camp was just being built and the nearest
town was about ten miles away. That was Abilene, Texas. Well we all
settled down on our bunks to have a nap but as usual it didn't last
long. We were all called out and told to pack up, we had been assigned
to a different company and were to move out immediately. This time we
were to take our bedding with us.
This move was about a block from where we were so didn't take long. We
were again assigned to huts and made up our bunks for the second time
that night. The huts were made of canvas and plywood and weren't too
well made at that. By that time it had started to rain again and we
wasn't long in finding out that the roof leaked pretty generally all
over. Well we remembered that we had a thing called a shelterhalf in
our bags and it was supposed to turn water so we dug them out and
spread them over the bunks. Of course there were some leaks but as a
whole we got through the night in pretty good shape.
The next morning after reveille and chow we were all lined up in the
Company street and given a briefing as to what the score was and what
was to be expected of us. We learned that we were now attached to
Headquarters Company of the 359 Infantry of the 90th Division and that
was to be our permanent address. Our training was to start immediately
so after that it was training going to the Medics for more shots then
more training and more shots.
As the days went on our records were checked to see what we were most
fitted for and we were given tests to see what we could do. I was sent
to radio school to learn code and the operation of the Army radios.
This course lasted six weeks and by the end of that time we were issued
a diploma that said we were radio operators and by that time we had
spent several nights in the field operating our sets to prove it. By
then I had decided that I wanted in the motor pool so I started to get
myself in it. Well it proved to be quite a job but I finally made it.
As soon as I was in there I was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia for more
training in that line. My transfer came through the 3rd of September
1942 and I was then officially in the mechanical dept. of the Company.
A few days later several other men from the regiment and myself got our
orders to prepare to leave for Ft. Benning to attend the maintenance
school there for a period of 12 weeks.
September 21, we were at the school and were assigned to the 20th
Company 1st Student Training Regiment 4rh Battalion, Motor Mechanics
Class No. 57, Infantry School Service Command. Our Classes were to
begin the next Monday so we were taken to the school and shown around
so as we would know where we were to go.
Monday morning we all fell in on the parade ground and were marched
past the Co. officers for inspection. Each week the Co. which marched
the best during the week was given a pennant which was to be carried at
the head of the column there after. If the next week another Co.
performed better the pennant was forfeited to it. Well our Co. was
pretty good and never lost a pennant and finally got good enough that
we were awarded the gold flag for efficiency.
Needless to say we all felt pretty good. Classes at school was pretty
tough and we had to learn it fast to keep up. Every Saturday morning we
were given tests to see how we were getting along. We were never told
what score we made. The only thing we knew was that if we passed we
stayed in the class and if we failed three weeks straight we were sent
back to our Co.
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