58th A.I.B - Co. 'C' - Personal Story
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  3. Basic Training

Ft. Thomas, Kentucky - May 1943

May 7, 1943 - British, American and French forces break through the line in Tunisia and win the Allies' first decisive campaign. Led by tankers of the elite 11th Hussars, the British 1st Army takes Tunis, capital and largest city of the French protectorate, and the US 9th 'Varsity' Division leads the US II Corps into Bizerte, a French naval base.
    President Franklin D. Roosevelt tells Appalachian coal miners they are now employees of the federal government and do not have the right to strike.

I was inducted into the Army on May 7, 1943. and two friends were inducted in the same group with me. One was James Tawney, a distant relative, and the other was Melvin Howell who was the son of the Baptist minister. We were the only three from our town scheduled for induction that day. I had a very rapid physical and was finished by noon. While I was waiting for the next move a couple of men from the Navy came over and tried to talk me into joining the Navy instead of the Army. I decided that I could walk a hell of a lot further than I could swim so I picked the Army. The Navy men neglected to tell me that before you may have to swim, you get three meals a day and a nice, mostly dry place to sleep.

We were sworn into the Army later that afternoon. The three of us had finished our physicals so close together that we received serial numbers within 4 numbers of each other. Two of our numbers were consecutive and the other was one removed. The Army immediately gave us a one-week leave before having to report.

I spent the week at home saying goodbye to relatives and friends. Most of the guys in my high school class were older that me and had already enlisted or been drafted. I spent my last night at home on a date with Donna Belle Young. The next time I saw her was almost fifty five years later at a Clendenin High School reunion in 1997. She hadn't changed much like the rest of us had and I recognized her on sight.

May 16, 1943 - In Poland, the SS completes the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto. An estimated 56,000 Jews have been shot or sent to Treblinka's gas chambers.

After the weeks leave, we reported on May 14, 1943 and were transported to Ft. Thomas, Ky. for processing and assignment. I had majored in chemistry at the College of William and Mary before being drafted so I was classified for medical training and given orders to report to a medical replacement training unit at Camp Grant, IL. James Tawney was sent to a camp in Arkansas I think and I can't remember where Melvin went but I think it was someplace in Texas.

I think the weeks leave that the army gave new recruits was a gimmick because it went on your record that you had a leave that year and meant that it would be a year before you were eligible for another one. Why would you need another week at home before you even went into the Army? You usually got two weeks furlough a year and if you had sense enough to decline it you would be entitled to a regular furlough much sooner. Army people are a sneaky bunch.

We were in Ft. Thomas about 10 days or so. During that time I was on kitchen police (KP) two or three times. I stayed in Ft. Thomas a little longer than Jimmy or Melvin did so I got more KP. I was eventually assigned to Camp Grant just south of Rockford, Ill. around the last of May. Camp Grant was a medical replacement training center and I was assigned primarily because of having taken chemistry classes in college.

Camp Grant, Illinois, May - August, 1943

Basic training was from May until the middle of Aug. 1943. Nothing too exciting happened except we took a lot of hikes and had a lot of medical training which I was not too excited about - particularly learning how to give shots. I had one 3-day pass near the end of basic training and went to Chicago to see my Aunt Willa Jackson who had friends there. I stayed with them but didn't see too much of Chicago. I do not recall getting any evening passes into Rockford while we were in basic training. I believe we were restricted to the base for the entire time.

May 22, 1943 - The US Navy announces all the warships sunk or damaged at Pearl Harbor - except the Arizona, Oklahoma and the target ship Utah - have been repaired and are now operational.

The main thing that I remember most about basic training was being tired almost constantly. I was not in very good shape physically because I rarely got much exercise except for an occasional basketball game. By the end of basic training all of us were in excellent shape. We could go for hours and rarely got tired. I really think the exercise was good for me.

The only other memory I have of basic training other than the routine monotony was hiking past a German prisoner of war camp near our training area at Camp Grant. They were mostly Germans who had been captured in North Africa and they really had a tough life. They were always playing soccer or some other sport when we passed and they would stop and run to the fence to yell at us as we passed. The war was over for them and just getting started for us.

June 2, 1943 - The Senate sends a pay-as-you-go income tax bill to President Roosevelt for his signature. The nation's first withholding tax takes up to 20 percent of worker's wages.

During basic training, we wore fatigue uniforms most of the time. Very few passes were handed out - most were for emergency leave - so we didn't need to dress in uniform very often. Khaki uniforms were required if you went on leave or left the company area for such things as parades, retreats or when we went to the PX or to the movies. I guess basic training was very much the same at every army base except the medical units did not have to carry the Garand M-1 nine pound rifles.

June 11,1943 - SS Chief Heinrich Himmler orders the liquidation of all Polish ghettos.

Near the end of basic training recruits were given a battery of tests. After the results were analyzed we were given several choices of assignments. My options were Fitzsimmons General Hospital in Denver for advanced surgical training for assignment to a M.A.S.H. unit, Officers Candidate School, or return to college in the Army Specialized Training Program. I had decided by then that college was much better than the army was so I selected ASTP. Besides, at the time I was only 18 years old and looked 15 so I didn't believe I would make a good officer. I was also not overwhelmed with the idea of being in the medics.

June 19,1943 - Army and Marine infantrymen now carry the M-1 Garand rifle and 15-shot carbines and bazooka rocket launchers. Even the combat rations are different. New 10-in-one packets contain Spam other meat, bacon, cheese, coffee or tea, and cigarettes.

Basic training was completed around the middle of August, 1943. When it was over, we were given interviews and told either where we would be sent for our next assignment or in some cases given an option or choice of where to go. I was given a choice of either applying for Officers Candidate School (OCS), going into the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), or being assigned to Fitzsimmons General Hospital in Denver, Colorado, as a surgical attendant. I selected the ASTP program because in it you got to go back to college.

July 4-12, 1943 - The war's largest tank battle takes place with the German 4th Panzer and 9th Wehrmacht Armies attacking the Red Army's heavily fortified Kursk salient. Marshall Georgi Zhukov has massed 1.3 million men, 13,000 big guns, 6,000 anti-tank guns 1,000 rocket launchers, 3,600 tanks and 3,100 planes. Spies have warned Moscow of the German plans and they are waiting behind 15 lines of trenches protected by minefields and barbed wire. The battle cost Hitler 70,000 men, 3,000 tanks and 1,400 planes.
    The full-scale invasion of Sicily begins on July 10, led by Lt. Gen. George Patton's 7th Army with 180,000 men. 3,700 Allied planes and 3,750 ships and boats support them.

I was sent to the University of Illinois, Champaign, IL for reassignment to one of the ASTP colleges. We were at the Illinois campus for about ten days. Most of my group were sent to the Univ. of Wisconsin but there were eight of us who had previous college and we were sent to the Univ. of Detroit for some reason. We could never figure out why the Army sent the eight of us to the Univ. of Detroit with the 400 other men who were in the first year of college. In any event, this was very nice because it was a lot closer to home than the Univ. of Wisconsin. It was a much shorter train ride to W. Va. from Detroit than it would have been from Wisconsin.

Aug.1, 1943 - Nearly 200 U.S. B-24 Liberator bombers knock out 40 percent of the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, but pay a heavy price: 54 aircraft are lost, including seven forced to land in Turkey, where their crews are interned.

I still think that the campus of the Univ. of Illinois was one of the nicest that I have ever seen. William and Mary had a nice campus but it was very small compared to the University of Illinois. I don't know if going there directly from basic training had any thing to do with that opinion or not but being in a civilian atmosphere was much better than being in an army one. I was only there ten days or so but it was great after basic training.

3a. ASTP

ASTPArmy Specialized Training Program (ASTP)
University of Detroit, Detroit, Mich. - Aug, 1943 to Feb, 1944.

The University of Detroit is a Catholic University located at 6 Mile Road and Livernoise Ave. in Detroit, Mi. We were stationed there for about six months. The army personnel carried out most of the army functions at the school, holding reveille, roll call, taps, and performing most of the other army administrative functions we were subjected to but they had no active role in the classroom schedules. Regular students would stand around and watch the Army routines and would cheer at the more stupid events and screwups that transpired.

Aug. 17,1943 - Americans win the race to Messina. Gen. George S. Patton personally leads the 3rd 'Rock of the Marne' Infantry into the city two hours before Gen. Bernard Montgomery's British 8th Army marches in. The Germans and Italians have had 164,000 killed, wounded or captured while the Allies have suffered 22,000 casualties.

We arrived at the Univ. of Detroit in late August in 1943. There had been a race riot in Detroit only a month or so before we arrived so the city was still very tense. There were certain areas that it was not safe to go into but we didn't get all that much time off anyway. We did get off on weekends and we got to see some Detroit Tigers baseball games and some Lions football games. We were allowed to ride the busses free and we received free admission to see the games as servicemen so we had relatively cheap weekends.

Sept. 9, 1943 - The U.S.- British 5th Army lands at Salerno, 25 miles south of Naples, and runs into stiff German resistance. By the end of the day they have established a 36-mile-long beachhead with a 10-mile hole in the middle.

I was one of eight upper classmen at the school. There were about 400 army students in total but none of the others had finished their freshman year. We were organized in sections. I was in section 8 with seven other men. It was a big joke at the time because section eight in the regular army referred to people who were being evaluated for mental or psychotic discharges.

The IQ's of the men in my section ranged from 135 to 165 so they were smart enough to come up with many ways to get us out of work, studying, exercise and into trouble. We also had a lot of fun doing it and even learned quite a bit.

Oct. 14, 1943 - Fighters and flack shoot down 60 and damage 140 of the 291 U.S. Flying Fortresses attacking ball bearing plants in Schweinfurt, Germany. Henceforth, bombers will be escorted by P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang fighters.

We had both good and bad instructors at the University of Detroit. Our calculus teacher was outstanding. He was a Jesuit father and was one of those gifted teachers who made learning easy. He taught calculus in a way that kept our attention and made it interesting and easy to learn. He trusted us and when he gave exams he put us on the honor system and left. We just put our papers on his desk when we were finished. We were in a very small classroom but he never made us move or put empty desks between us. I don't think I ever saw anyone in the entire class cheating on a test in his class.

Oct. 19, 1943 - The United States' involvement in World War II has reached the halfway point. The hardest and bloodiest 23 months lie ahead.

On the other hand, we had a civilian physics teacher who was as bad an instructor as the priest was good. Our classroom for physics was one of those large lecture halls seating about 200-300 people. When this teacher gave us an exam, he would spread us out over the entire room with about 10 to 15 seats and several rows between each of us. Because he didn't trust us we devised ways to cheat on every exam he gave us just to show him we could do it. He always gave multiple choice exams, which were easy to cheat on. On one exam, we would devise a way so half of us on one side of the room got one score and the other half got another one. The next time maybe we would all miss the same identical questions and/or make identical scores. He knew were cheating but could never find out how we did it and it used to drive him crazy.

Our class schedule ran from 8:00 am to 3:00 PM every day. I am not sure how many semester hours that consisted of but I think it was about 20-25 credit hours. After class was over each day, we had two hours of physical training. This consisted of one hour of supervised calisthenics and one hour or more of some type of organized sports activity - usually touch football since it was the fall season. After dinner in the evening, we went to supervised study hall from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM every day. Lights out came about 11:00 PM each evening. Saturday morning we usually had a relatively easy inspection and if we passed we could get a pass until 7:00 PM on Sunday night. There were no passes for Sunday night because it was study hall as usual.

Oct. 31, 1943 - The German General Staff estimates the Wehrmacht has suffered 1,786,000 casualties on the Russian front during the past 12 months.

The supervised calisthenics were a group of specific physical exercises which had times or numbers associated with them. For example, you may be required to do 50 sit-ups in 3 minutes and 100 push-ups in 4 minutes. There were other events also like 100-yard dashes and other field events. Each event had a time limit or number limit associated with them. You were penalized for each second or number you deviated from the average. Once or twice a month these trials were timed for performance and if you fell below the required minimum total score for all events, you were suspended from the ASTP program and reassigned back to the regular army. Needless to say, very few skipped the calisthenics program.

The University had an extensive tunnel system containing the heating pipes, electrical wiring, etc. Someone in our group found a hidden doorway into the tunnels that was not locked. This was used frequently by those who wanted a little extra time outside of hours to go visit friends, bars, bowling alleys or other amusements in the area. I don't believe anyone was ever caught. Roll call was taken at study hall every night so some of the men would sneak out the tunnel after checking in and could have a very nice evening on the town.

Nov. 14, 1943 - A near tragedy produces one of the war's most quoted lines. It happens in the mid-Atlantic as the battleship Iowa is carrying Roosevelt, CNO Ernest King and Air Force Chief of Staff 'Hap' Arnold to the Cairo and Tehran conferences. A destroyer, the William D. Porter uses the Iowa as a practice target but a clumsy sailor accidentally fires the torpedo at the Iowa. It is destroyed but Adm. King is furious. His temper doesn't improve when Arnold asks "Tell me, Ernest. Does this sort of thing happen often in your Navy.' The Porter is shortly banished to the stormy Aleutian Islands.

Life in Detroit also had many other benefits over army life elsewhere. The only two army installations of any size in the Detroit area were Selfridge Air Force base about 20 miles north of Detroit and our ASTP unit. We could go on pass on the weekends and usually we would not even see another serviceman except from our own unit. We also were allowed to use the public bus system free anytime we wanted to go anywhere. This was not usually necessary since all we had to do was stand at a bus stop and wait for the right colored car with the right type girl to stop and offer a ride. The girls almost always came by before the busses did too.

The daily required uniform for classes at ASTP was almost always Class A dress uniform. Fatigues were worn during our daily calisthenics but the rest of the time it was a Class A uniform either with or without blouse. Wool shirts and pants was normally the uniform for attending classes. Some of us had our shirts tailored at the sides and then got them pressed at the cleaners. We had military presses put in them which were three creases down the back of the shirts. They looked really sharp but the army cadre didn't like it too much but let us do it most of the time.

Nov. 20 1943 - The 2nd Marine Division storms Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands.

We were required to wear a blouse on pass of course but during classes we usually wore just the olive drab (OD) shirt and tie. We wore field jackets during the day outside and when the weather got really cold we wore the army overcoat which weighed about ten pounds but was warm. We had inspection every Saturday morning and then everyone got a weekend pass until 6:00 PM on Sunday when we had to report back for study hall.

I made quite a few friends in the ASTP unit at the University of Detroit. There were seven other men in my section, which I have listed below as I remember them. I also made friends with other ASTP men. Some of them were Calvin Seitz and Henry Koopman both from Grand Rapids, MI, Thomas Coefield from Detroit, John Anderson from Jacksonville, FL, Ferry Hamblin from Kanab, Utah, James Johnson from Rockford, IL, Gordon Billheimer from Montgomery, WV, Bill Fulton from Springfield, PA. and John Carter from Nashua NH.

As I mentioned, the Detroit Lions and Tigers ball games were free to all servicemen. We went to see a few Tigers games but I don't remember seeing any Lions games. The Tigers won the pennant in 1945 and it was nice listing to the games overseas after the war was over and remembering seeing most of the players play while we were there.

Dec. 7, 1943 - President Roosevelt selects Dwight Eisenhower to command next years invasion of northern France. The operation, called 'Overlord', is scheduled for May.
    In Italy, the battle of Casino begins.

One other activity that I recall was our bulletin board for parties, invitations to dinner, special events and just about any other type of activity that you could want. There were messages posted on the board that anyone who wanted to could take advantage of. The messages had a description of the event, number of soldiers invited and the phone number to call to accept. Most of them would even come by and pick you up if they had gas for their car. There were also some regularly scheduled activities like dances and bowling parties that you could go to every Saturday night. Life sure was tough in the ASTP.

I met a very nice girl while I was stationed at the Univ. of Detroit. Her name was Merilee Ziegler and she lived in Redford, Mi., a suburb of Detroit. It was only about a ten-minute bus ride from the University. Redford had a serviceman's center and a group of us would get together and go to USO dances there or other places in the Detroit area on Saturday nights. One of the hit songs that were played a lot at the dances and on the Jukeboxes was 'Beseme Mucho'.

Merilee had two brothers who were in the service. I was invited to her house several times for Sunday dinner. We corresponded regularly during the war but it tapered off after I came home.

Christmas in Detroit, 1943.

The terms in ASTP were very similar to a regular college except we took about 20-25 semester hours instead of the normal 15-20. The fall term ended just before the Christmas holidays in 1943. Almost all of the men in the ASTP program were given Christmas leave except for the men in my section. Since there were only eight of us in the advanced program, we were notified that we were going to be transferred to another university that had an advanced program so that the Univ. of Detroit would not have to set up another special program for just for us.

Dec. 26, 1943 - The German Navy's only operational battleship, the Scharnhorst, is sunk in the Norwegian Sea. Only 36 German crewmen survive.

As the army does things, something happened and we did not get transferred - all we did was lose our Christmas leave. This was not all bad. Except for not getting home for Christmas we all had a great time during the holidays. The bulletin boards were full of offers for Christmas parties, dances, and dinners and there were only eight of us available to accept them. In addition, the mess hall had to remain open so they acted like a restaurant for us. We could come in for breakfast anytime until about 9:00 am and the cooks would fix us anything we ordered. The cooks were civilians and felt sorry for us not getting home for Christmas so they treated us great. All in all, this probably was the best two weeks I spent the whole time I was in the army.

Jan. 22, 1944 - The bloodiest battle of the Italian campaign begins with 36,000 U.S. and British troops splashing ashore at Anzio and Nettuno, small fishing village's 35 miles south of Rome.

I do not think there is any doubt that ASTP delayed my joining the real army (Infantry) by about six months. It's tough surviving six months in the combat infantry so I have little doubt but that being in the ASTP program helped very much toward that end.

Jan. 27, 1944 - The United States is stunned by reports from escaped prisoners that the Japanese murdered or starved to death 5,200 Americans and Filipinos capture at Bataan and Corregidor. The estimates are far too low: 7,000 died during the Death March, another 19,000 in prison camps during the next two months and additional thousands during the following year and a half.

All good things must come to an end and the ASTP program was canceled in February 1944. On March 3, 1944 we boarded a train that was to take us to join an armored division in Louisiana. The trip to Louisiana took about two days. It was a fairly straight route down the Mississippi River. We had to pull over occasionally for freight trains but we were not in any hurry anyway. Freight trains usually had the right of way over passenger trains during the Second World War.

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