58th A.I.B - Co. 'C' - Personal Story
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  5. Louisiana - Camp Polk

8th AD   8th Armored Division
May 1944 - October 1944

We were assigned to one of the two story barracks used on most army bases in those days. They were wooden frame buildings, not the permanent type used on bases designated as forts. We slept on double deck bunks with each person alternating where his head was. They said they could get more troops in the building without anyone breathing on each other but I doubted that. The non-coms slept in more private rooms at each end and we had one large latrine for all of us to use. Latrine duty was not nice but I didn't get it often. Latrine duty and KP duty were usually saved for screwups as punishment. I do not think I had KP the entire time I was in Louisiana.

May 3, 1944 - The U.S. House of Representatives approves the G.I. Bill which will give every vet a $300 mustering-out bonus, help one million ex-servicemen attend college, provide low-cost home loans, guarantee preferential job placement and assure $20 per week unemployment benefits for one year.

After our return to South Camp Polk during the first part of May, the supply office had to be set up again in permanent quarters. Since some of the men that had been sent out as replacements worked for supply Sgt. Taschner, he asked for some men to help out in the supply office for a while. I was one of those selected (I never volunteer) to work there for a while and it turned out to be pretty good duty.

While working in the supply office, we were excused from normal training activities like classes and hikes. This went on for a couple of weeks while all the company's supplies were reinstalled in a permanent office. We were primarily restocking supplies, issuing replacements to men who lost items while on maneuvers and generally filling out a lot of forms.

May 18, 1944 - The Allies finally take the Benedictine Abbey near Cassino, last stronghold of the Germans' Gustav line. During the past five months, 45,000 Americans, British, Indians, Poles, and Germans have been killed, wounded or captured during four battles for Cassino and the ruined abbey.

After two or three weeks, we completed the big rush to get the office set up again and were ready to be reassigned to our regular duties. Sgt. Taschner asked me if I would like to be assigned to the supply office full time and get promoted to T/5 since he was authorized to have some help. The fellow that I would have replaced had been shipped out with the other replacements without receiving proper training and I did not want this to happen to me.

No one knew when another shipment of replacements would occur. I didn't know at the time if it was wise to turn down the job considering that I would be working in the supply room instead of in an infantry squad. After thinking about it for a while I decided to return to my squad for normal training. A fellow named Bob Dove took the job and promotion I was offered and stayed in the supply room. He had also worked with us in setting up the office. Sadly, I guess I made the right choice - after we got into combat, an air-burst artillery shell exploded over the supply half-track and killed Bob Dove.

June 6, 1944 - D-Day. Nine Allied divisions storm ashore at Normandy. Shortly after midnight, 18,000 paratroopers of the U.S. 82nd, 101st, and British 6th airborne divisions seize landing zones on the eastern and western ends of a 60-mile bridgehead. The issue is in doubt for several hours but, aided by sharpshooting Navy destroyers, the GIs scale steep cliffs and push inland. D-Day costs 10,000 casualties, including 3,000 at Omaha Beach. But 157,000 Allied troops are ashore and expanding their beachheads.

We were on a training exercise on June 6 when we first heard of the invasion of Normandy. I remember sitting outside under some of the Louisiana pine trees when I first heard about it. Our first sergeant Siminoe came by to each of the training classes during the morning and told us that the Allies had landed in Normandy. There was much speculation about how much longer it would be before we shipped out.

Armed Forces day now is a semi holiday for the service and most units have open houses, field activities, parades, etc. and there are many activities open to the public. I do not what year it was started but we got to go to Shreveport, La. for a similar holiday around the middle of June 1944( this could have been sometime in May). It was then called Infantry Day. Only the infantry battalions and a few selected other units got to go. We spent quite some time getting ourselves presentable, cleaning up the vehicles and generally making ourselves look good for the parade.

June 13, 1944 - The German V-1 assault on England begins as four pilotless 'doodlebugs' hit England. During the next nine months, 10,500 V-1s will cause more than 33,000 casualties in England and Belgium.

We made a motor march of about 125 miles to get to Shreveport. We pitched tents and set up a bivouac on the county fairgrounds and set up many exhibits for visitors to see. The parade was held in the morning and the public could visit the exhibits afterward. They got to ride in some of the vehicles too which was a big hit.

June 15, 1944 - Twenty thousand marines of the 2nd and 4th marine divisions establish two beachheads on Saipan in the Mariana Islands.

Most classroom training at Camp Polk was outside under the trees. The one thing I will always remember about Louisiana was the weather. It was miserable the whole time. The summer temperatures usually were in the 90's and the humidity was even higher. There was no such thing as air conditioning except in the public theaters. Nothing on the base was cooled except maybe the beer at the local Post Exchange (PX).

June 20, 1944 - U.S. carrier planes end the Battle of the Philippine Sea with an attack that sinks or damages five Japanese carriers, a battleship, a cruiser and other ships. The Japanese shoot down 20 U.U. planes and another 82 run out of gas or crash during night landings. Adm. Marc Mitschner wins his pilots gratitude by guiding them home with searchlights and carrier deck lights.

We usually had a hike about once a week. These consisted of anything from about 5 miles up to the big 25-mile hikes. High temperature and humidity were particularly bad when we took hikes. All the hikes were bad exhausting but the really bad ones were due to the weather more than the length of the hike. The worst were when it rained and the humidity was near 100 percent. We would have to wear raincoats or ponchos and it was like being in a steam bath. We started off with three-mile hikes when we first began training and worked our way slowly up to the 25 milers.

Since a long hike with full field pack and a 10 pound rifle is very hard on you, someone developed a weight reducing plan. It consisted of leaving most of your full field items out of your pack and rolling two empty #10 cans up to look like a pack. This cut out a lot of weight and worked great unless they held a snap inspection where you had to set up all of your gear for review or deceided to stay out for the night and finish the hike the next day.

We had two of those that were very bad. On one of them it rained off and on and we had to wear our raincoats. On the other one, the temperature and humidity were so bad that we hiked at night. We were required to cover the 25 miles in eight hours with full field packs. Ambulances followed to pick up men who collapsed or couldn't make it for some reason. We finished in the allotted time and they even gave us the next day off. Needless to say we were in pretty good condition by the end of the summer.

Camp Polk was located between Leesburg and DeRidder, La, two little towns about the size of Clendenin, W.Va. They had a population of about 2,000 to 2,500. If you went on pass to either, you could hardly find a civilian because there were so many army troops around. At the time we were there, the 9th Armored division and the 11th Airborne were also training there. The MP's in town went in threes to try to keep order. With three divisions in training in Camp Polk, it would get crowded in town when you got a pass.

July 9, 1944 - The 25-day battle for Saipan ends with a mass suicide by 20,000 Japanese. Americans watch in horror as Japanese civilians hurl their children, then themselves, off 800-foot cliffs. More than 50,000 Japanese have been killed and 18,000 taken prisoner. U.S. Casualties exceed 14,000.

We wore fatigue uniforms while we were in training. They were olive drab, fit loosely and were pretty comfortable considering the weather. In the evenings if we were going someplace we had to change into class A uniform which was cotton khaki in Louisiana in the summer. There were some restrictions about when you had to wear a Class A uniform and where you could go in fatigues but I can't remember what they were. I do remember there were places we couldn't go while we were in fatigues. I do not think that I had my wool uniform on from the time we landed in Camp Polk until we shipped out to go overseas.

July 18,1944 - Stunned by recent defeats and the first air raids on Japan's home islands, Prime Minister Tojo resigns. Japan now wants peace, but feels they cannot accept the Allies' demand for unconditional surrender.

Conditions in Camp Polk sure made us appreciate how nice it had been in Detroit. I don't think I went to Leesburg or DeRidder more than once the whole time we were there. Most of the time I got a pass I would get together with a few friends and hire a cab to go to Shreveport. It was about 110 miles north and 4 or 5 of us could hire a cab for about $5 apiece.

When John Anderson was at Purdue, some of the girls there gave him the addresses of girls they knew in different parts of the country so he could call if he was sent there. He had some for girls in Shreveport who would invite us over to stay sometimes and have parties for us. They were great to us. Other times we would get a hotel room and all of us would sleep there. One of the names I remember was a man named Jacobs who was in the oil and gas business and also owned some other businesses in Shreveport. His family always treated us great which was saying a lot considering we were just a bunch of army privates. Many years after the war I was sorry to read that Mr. Jacobs was killed in a company plane crash on a trip.

July 20, 1944 - Hitler escapes an assassin's bomb at his headquarters in Rastenburg, East Prussia. He will execute 5,000 plotters and sympathizers, including Field Marshall Erwin Rommel.

Drinking in bars in Shreveport was no problem although it should have been. If you could reach the top of the counter with your money they would serve you a drink. The last time I had to show my ID to buy a drink after the war was over was in 1951 when I was 26 years old. I looked even younger in 1944 but it was no problem to buy liquor at any bar. In any event, I was of the opinion that if you were old enough to be in the Armed Forces, you were old enough to drink in bars. Driving however was something else again.

Getting around Camp Polk was no problem while I was there. The army ran a group of 6 x 6 trucks as a bus line. They had regular stops and there was no charge to ride them anywhere they went. There were three divisions in Camp Polk when we got there - the 10th Mountain Infantry, the 8th and 9th Armored Divisions - and the trucks covered the entire area. The trucks went by pretty frequently and all we had to do was wait for the next one going where you wanted to go. They stopped at the PX, Movie Theater and close to most battalion areas.

July 25, 1944 - Operation Cobra, Omar Bradley's offensive in Normandy, opens with 3,500 planes carpet bombing 4 miles of the German 7th Army's battlefront west of St. Lo. During the bombing, some bombs fall short killing 700 GI's and Lt. Gen. Lesley McNair, Chief U.S. Ground Forces in Europe.

During the month between paydays we would usually go to the movies or to the Post Exchange. On a salary of $50 per month you could drink a lot of beer and see a lot of movies - but not much else. Movies were ten cents and we got to see all the first run features. Beer at the PX was five cents for a large draft. Some of the men would drink enough beer to get drunk but I didn't like it well enough for that. One or two beers were my limit - mainly because it made me sick if I drank too much. We couldn't get hard liquor on the post. One of the big songs on the jukebox during the summer of 1944 was 'Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby' by Louis Prima. Every time I hear it I still think of the Camp Polk Post Exchange.

July 27, 1944 - Bradley turns to George Patton, America's most aggressive battle commander, to exploit the breakthrough in Normandy. Bradley gives Patton seven divisions and orders him to overrun Normandy's West Coast.

Each battalion had a recreation hall, which was open in the evenings. We could play pool, read, play ping-pong and use the other facilities available there. When we weren't going to the movies, PX or recreation hall, we would sit around and bitch about the army. There was always something to bitch about and if there weren't someone would make up something. I guess it took our mind off of other things.

July 30, 1944 - The fast moving 4th Armored division takes Avranches, opening the way into Brittany. Prodded by Patton, the 4th Armored rumbles 25 miles in 36 hours, the biggest advance since D-Day.

Training continued at Camp Polk for the rest of the summer and was a mix of films, lectures, field exercises, firing ranges and the like. Most of our classes were held outside, weather permitting, because it was so hot and humid in Louisiana in the summer. It was nice to be out in the fresh air.

Our battalion commander was a Lt. Col. Fowler and he was pretty tough on us. We used to complain about him constantly. Looking back on it, we were just getting some good useful training but it didn't seem like it at the time. He would walk along with us on 25 mile training hikes and harass the men who were slowing down. He seemed like a martinet until you considered that he was probably over 40 years old and would walk up and down the column yelling at us.

Aug. 13, 1944 - Gen. Omar Bradley infuriates Gen. George Patton by delaying the encirclement of the Germans in Normandy. Bradley later admits he missed a glorious opportunity. Instead, he orders Patton to halt his northward march to Falaise and rely on the British to close the gap. That postpones the encirclement for five days and allows 40,000 Germans to escape.

We spent considerable time on all kinds of firing ranges. Once on the rifle range, I saw Col. Fowler get down in the mud or dirt beside a guy he saw that wasn't firing correctly and show him what he was doing wrong. Then in 15 or 20 minutes he would be back on the firing line in a spotless uniform watching our training again.

One of the men in my platoon borrowed $5 from me once when he was going back home to Detroit on furlough. It had been over a year since the 1943 race riots in Detroit but he got caught in another little flurry of activity and got shot in the leg. He never returned nor did my $5.

Aug. 22, 1944 - The Battle of Normandy ends as 50,000 Germans in the Falaise pocket surrender. Falaise is so heavily bombed and shelled that it is impossible to tell where its streets are. Since D-Day, the Germans have suffered 440,000 casualties.

In August 1944, I received my only furlough from Camp Polk. It was for 14 days and I received five days travel time because it took over two days travel on the train each way to W. Va. and back. After all the training, it was nice to get away for two weeks and not have to do anything I didn't want to. The train rides to and from home were an experience. The passenger trains were always sidetracked when freight train caring war equipment came along so we spent much time on sidings. Some of the cars were so old that they had wood-burning stoves in the aisle for heat when needed. Fortunately I was going home in the summer.

Sept. 8, 1944 - The Germans first operational V-2 rocket explodes in a London suburb killing 13 people. Developed by scientists led by Wernher von Braun, each V-2 can carry more than a ton of high explosives 200 miles.

Our training got progressively more advanced as the summer wore on. After our return to barracks in Camp Polk we began having class training in the mornings and field exercises in the afternoons. We had started out holding squad exercises and by the end of the summer we had progressed through platoon, company and battalion exercises. Some of our more involved exercises took us out in the swamps again and even into Texas. There was nothing more exciting on maneuvers than digging foxholes on the Sabine River bank and fighting off ticks and snakes.

One of the more interesting kind of training that we received was firing on the 'OQ' range. I don't know why it was called or what the letters stood for but it was a firing range for shooting at aircraft. We would go to the range and fire by platoons. The targets were small radio controlled model airplanes. By small I mean 5 to 10 foot wingspread.

Sept. 17, 1944 - The largest allied airborne assault of the war begins with 20,000 paratroopers seizing three landing zones in Holland. The plan, conceived by Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery and later known as ' A Bridge Too Far', calls airborne divisions to seize bridges spanning six Dutch rivers and canals.

We had one memorable day at the OQ range. We took along 15,000 rounds of .30 caliber machine gun ammunition for the five half-tracks in our platoon. The first plane came down the line and the first half-track shot it down with the first burst. There were five holes in it when it came down. We shot the rest of our 15,000 rounds in quite a few passes of the planes and I do not think we hit another single plane. We were advised to stay away from air raids by enemy planes - very good advice.

There was another incident involving airplanes that occurred during our training. We were running some training exercises with a couple of fighter planes where they were supposed to strafe ahead of us while we attacked a hill. Something went wrong and the plane crashed into Peason Ridge, the hill were attacking. The pilot was killed. We never heard what went wrong or whether it was pilot error or a problem with the plane.

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