DAD GOES TO WAR
BY LYNN K. JUCKETT
These are my memories of WW2, the big one. I am writing them 50 years afterward and I am 70 years old. When you are that old, your memory isn't always accurate. These accounts are the best that I can do.
I can remember when WW2 started. It started on Sept. 1, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. I was on an Eagle Scout tour in Canada and we were on our way home when we heard about it on the radio and read about it in the newspaper that evening.
Prior to the United States entering the war it started to build up its army. Camp Custer was changed to a fort and was called Fort Custer. The draft had begun and men were being drafted for the army for a year's service. The draft age was between 21 and 31. My cousin Howard Maurer was drafted during this time. He was born on the day WW1 ended and was killed in WW2. WW1 was called "the war to end all wars" and he was killed in the next war WW2. My future brother in law Paul Tice was also drafted during this period.
I can remember the day that the U.S. entered W.W.2. I was playing a sandlot game of football with some of my friends when another friend, who worked at a PX in Ft. Custer, came down to the arboretum, where we were playing and asked if we knew what had happened. None of us knew then and he told us that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. This was on Dec. 7, 1941.
Things began to change rapidly then. The draft law was changed so that men between the ages of 20 and 45 were eligible and it was for the duration of the war plus 6 months. This was my age group. Rationing began. Sugar, meat, tires. Gasoline and numerous other things were rationed. All of the factories began to go full blast making war materials and everybody could get a job.
The government assigned the new men that was between the ages of 20 and 45 numbers and put them in a fish bowl. They then drew them out as they needed them. I can't remember my number, but it was drawn out in the late spring. I was ordered to report to the draft board some time in the early summer of 1942 and sent to Leila Hospital for a physical examination. I was found to be physically fit and classified 1A. This meant that I was physically fit for the army and could be called at anytime. The next time that I heard from the Draft Board I received a letter ordering me to report for duty on Aug. 26 l942. We were sent to Kalamazoo to the Armory for our physical examination.
The Armory was like a big gymnasium with a stage at one end. We had to take off our clothes and go from station to station for our examination. At one station we would be examined for our eyes and at another for our ears and another for heart and etc. In one of the stations we had to leave a urine sample. The sergeant in charge said to ďpiss in one of those bottles over there", one of the fellows behind me asked the sergeant "From here", this made us all laugh. Another funny incident was when we were all through with our examination we sat in the gymnasium part and watched the other draftees with their examination. There was one station that was on one side of the stage and you had to cross the stage to go to the next station. These draftees would leave the one station and start for the next station and before they knew it they would be in the center of that stage naked with everyone looking at them. You ought to see them run the rest of the way across the stage, when they realized that every one was looking at them. Needless to say I passed my physical with flying colors.
After our physical all of us that had passed, was sworn into the army and placed in the inactive reserve for 2 weeks. This was to give us time to settle our personal affairs. I didn't have too many to settle. All that I had to do was to tell Kelloggís that is where I worked, that I had to go in the army on Sept. 9, 1942 and tell my parents and friends goodbye. The department at Kellogg's, in which I worked, gave me a farewell party at Goguac Lake and the gang that I ran around with gave me a fountain pen set for a farewell gift.
On Sept. 9, 1942 I reported for active duty. We had to meet at the Stone Arcade, which is no longer there. It was located on Jackson Street near the intersection of McCamly and Jackson. That is where the bus station was located. There was a man in charge and he called off a roll call of all of the men that was supposed to report that morning just to make sure that we all reported like we were supposed to. There was also a little band there playing us some farewell Music, this wasn't the customary thing that they did, but one of the men reporting was in the musician's union and it was group of his friends that came to play him some farewell music. All of us that were reporting got the benefit of the music. The man's name that was from the musician's union was Hazen Sweet; he ran a music store in Battle Creek. After all of us draftees had reported, we were ordered to board a city bus and we were taken to Fort Custer to the Reception Center. Fort Custer was only about 2 or 3 miles from the city limits of Battle Creek so we didn't have very far to travel.
We arrived at Fort Custer at about 8:30 A.M. The army took over immediately and assigned a corporal to run us around. We had another physical examination, an army general classification test, this was sort of an I.Q. test, I scored a 127 on it, and a mechanical aptitude test, and I scored a 117 on it. If you scored 110 on the army general classification test you was smart enough to become an officer. If you scored 90 or above you could become a non commissioned officer. We also were given our uniforms that day. You always hear that the army just throws them at you and that nothing fits right. I thought they took great pains to give you a uniform that fit. I had to try on several shirts, pants, and overcoats before they were satisfied that they fit. When it came to the shoes they felt to see if they fit and they made us hold a couple of pails of sand, one in each hand, to see if they would fit when you was carrying a heavy load. Your feet spread out then. I was assigned to barrack 1012 for my quarters. I didn't stay there long as the next day I was moved to barrack 1351 after I was classified.
My stay at Fort Custer lasted 15 days. During the time that I was there my folks came out to see me several times and some of my friends came out also. I got some passes to go to town, and one week end pass. I spent some of my evenings going to the Post Theater and to the Service Club. Some of my duties while I was there were cleaning some empty barracks, passing out uniforms, and K.P. I signed up for a fire guard on the 15íTh so that I wouldn't get those crummy details. I had to walk guard duty from 12 to 2 both in the A.M. and P.M. While I was at Fort Custer, my uncle, Clyde Maurer was drafted and we were there at the same time. He was 42 years old at the time. He wasn't in too long as they changed the draft law and started drafting men from 18 to 38 and they let everyone out of the army that was over 38 if they wanted to. My uncle only served about 5 months. He had 13 weeks basic training in Florida and was shipped a post in California and was discharged from the army on account of his age.
On the 24íTh Sept., they made us get up at 5:00 A.M. and told us that we were going to be shipped out at 7:30 A.M. They had us down by the railroad siding by that time, but the train didn't come until ll: 15 A.M. This was a classic example of the army's policy of "hurry up and wait". It was quite cold that morning and there were a few snow flakes in the air. We had our winter uniforms on and were wearing overcoats. We were told that we would arrive at our destination in the afternoon of the next day. We ended up at Ft. McClellan the next day. We sure traveled a funny route to get there though. When we left Michigan we went into Indiana, Illinois, back to Indiana, then to Tennesse, to Alabama, then to Tennessee, to Georgia and then back to Alabama. The weather was quite warm in Alabama and we had to change to our summer uniforms.
Here I got my first 6 weeks of basic training. I was assigned to Co. B, 25íTh Bn. B.I.R.T.C., 7íTh Regt. The B.I.R.T.C. stood for branch immaterial recruit training center. Here we got in physical shape by running the obstacle course, calisthenics, and taking hikes.
We were also taught military courtesy, the articles of war, personal hygiene, how to shoot our basic weapon and to clean it, how to use the bayonet, how to use the gas masks and to recognize different types of gasses and about anything else you need to know to be a soldier. We had lots of drilling to do. We lived in tar paper shacks or hutments as the army called them. They held 17 men, 16 privates and a corporal to baby sit us. The rifle that I was issued was an Enfield left over from WW1. Ft. McCellan was an old army post and the old section of it looked like a college campus. It had brick buildings that were ivy covered. While we were there we were allowed to go into Anniston Ala. on passes. All that I can remember about Anniston was going to the Morris St. U.S.O. U.S.O.s were places where servicemen could go. They had recreation rooms where you could play ping pong, shoot pool, write letters and eat snacks. Most of them had a dance floor and dances were held for the servicemen. Girls would come from Anniston and the surrounding towns to dance with the soldiers. The girls wasn't allowed to date the men, however they were some dates made on the sly.
On Oct. 7, 1942 the Lieutenant that was in command of my platoon took me by the arm, as we were marching along, and put me up at the head of my squad and made me the squad leader. This gave me the rank of acting sergeant. This didn't mean too much as I got the same pay and didn't get me out of any details such as K.P.,guard duty and etc. Another thing that happened to me while I was at Ft. McCellan was that I was called before the Captain that was our company commander and asked if I would like to go to Officer Candidate School and learn to become an officer. If you made it through the school you came out a 2cnd lieutenant in 90 days. We always called them 90 day wonders. Each company commander had to interview 2 men that were likely prospects. Our company commander called 3 of us and when he got through interviewing us he said that all of us were good prospects so he put our names in a hat and drew out two. I lost and it was a good thing. If I would have gone to that school and passed I would have been a 2cnd lieutenant in the infantry and that is a dangerous job. There was a fellow in the next company from us, that was from Battle Creek and he went to O.C.S. and came out a 2cnd Lt., he lost a leg in battle. His name was Wendy Foltz. He became a sports writer for the Battle Creek Enquirer News after he got out of the army. I figure the good Lord was looking out for me because when I got out of the army I was only a corporal, but I had a whole skin.
On Nov 11, 1942 my name was read off to be shipped out the next day. On the 12íTh we were awaked at 5:15 A.M. and told to be ready to ship out by 8:15 A.M. We were to go by troop train, so they separated us according to the coach that we were to get on. I was put in with a bunch of Horsemen. Some was jockeys, some horse trainers, cowboys, and one was even a polo player. It made me think that I might end up in the cavalry. We traveled through Georgia and So. Carolina and ended up in Camp Butner No. Carolina the next day at 5:00 A.M. This was Nov. 13, 1942 my birthday. I spent 3 more birthdays in the army.
At Camp Butner I was assigned to company a, 309 regt., 1st bn, 78íTh Inf. division. The 78íTh Div. had been just recently reactivated and we were the first privates in it. It already had a cadre of its officers and noncoms. The camp was also brand new. Company A was a rifle company. It consisted of 3 rifle platoons and 1 weapons platoon. The weapons platoon consisted of 2 machine squads and 2 mortar squads. Each machine gun squad had one 30 caliber air cooled machine gun and each mortar squad had one 60 millimeter mortar. I was assigned as a basic to one of the machine squads. The basic's job was to take the place of the 3rd ammo bearer in case that he or one of the other members of the squad got shot. The basic was the low man on the totem pole. It was funny because when we went out to the firing range I scored the highest in my squad. You would think that I would be the gunner, but I wasn't.
For amusement while at Camp Butner we attended the post theaters and went into Durham the closest town that we were allowed to go to. Durham was about 16 miles from the camp. The army ran a bus line into Durham. There was always long lines waiting for the buses and sometimes we stand in line for an hour in order to go into Durham. In Durham we went to the theaters, ate in the restaurants, and visited the U.S.O. clubs. Durham was a town of about 50,000. It was the home of Duke University. It was in the heart of the tobacco country and had several tobacco factories there. In fact the army bus stop in Durham was in a tobacco warehouse where they held tobacco auctions. About every Sunday I attended chapel services. I always enjoyed them because the singing of the hymns and hearing the message reminded me of going to church at home.
There was a couple of incidents that happened to me during this time that I was in Co. A. On Dec. 4íTh I was called for an interview to play in a regimental band that was being formed. I was told to send for my cornet, which I did. The band was just forming and everybody was rusty so I kept up playing 2cnd and 3rd alright. My music career was short lived though, as I was transferred out on temporary duty before it got going. When I came back to the 78íTh Div. the regimental bands had been discontinued and they had just one division band. I auditioned for that band and was told that I was good enough to play 2cnd and 3rd cornet but they had enough of them. That ended my musical career in the army. It also made me wish that I had practiced more when I was a kid. The other thing that happened to me along the musical line was that our regiment was forming a chorus and I was called to sing in it. This got me out of regular duty several afternoons. The only song that we learned was "This is The Army Mr. Jones". One afternoon when some dignitary came we marched around in our regimental area singing that song. That was the end of the Chorus and my singing.
Our training became a lot more rugged. We hiked everywhere we went. Some of them were twenty miles long. We had a Major who would ride in his jeep and watch us march by at every intersection of the road. We used to complain about this. We would say if he had to march with us we wouldn't have to do all of this walking. I donít know if he heard our complaining or not, but one day he led us on a hike. We didn't stick to the roads that day. He took us across country and we had to run to keep up. After that we would rather have him ride in his jeep and watch us march by. We had more training in military tactics and had mock battles with other companies. Two of the scariest things that happened during this period of training was, digging a foxhole and getting into it and then they ran a tank over it with you in it. The other thing was the infiltration course. This course was a barbed wire entanglement with dynamite charges in it. You had to crawl through the barbed wire while a machine gun with real bullets was being fire parallel with the ground about 2 feet over your head and while you was doing this the dynamite charges was being set off. If you raised your head up a foot or so you would have been shot.
During this time I spent my first Christmas in the army. I must admit I was quite homesick that day. It was the first time that I had felt that way. We had the day off and we were served a wonderful dinner. The dinner menu was roast turkey and dressing, all of the trimmings, pumpkin pie, and each place setting had cigar and candy. There were a couple of bottles of wine on each table. After I got my stomach full my home sickness went away. Speaking of army food, most of the time while we were in garrison the food was pretty good. I think most of the men in the army ate better than they ever had. It might not have been cooked as well as it would have been at home, but I think that the menu was better and that it was more nutritious.
On Jan. 9, our company was confined to our company area because a shipping list was coming out. This turned out to be a false alarm. On the 16"Th I was notified that I was going to be shipped to Ft, Meade Maryland to go to school for 60 days. This turned out to be false also, as I was shipped the next day along with Sgt. Dale E. Birdsell to Ft. Meyers, Virginia. We were taken to Henderson N.C. at 6:45 A.M. on Sunday to catch the 9:20 train to Washington D.C. The train never arrived until 2:15 A.M. Monday. We arrived in Washington at 8:30 A.M. I was assigned to the Missions Detachment at Ft. Myers and was to work for the Adjutant General's department in the Pentagon building. I had to work there from 4:P.M. until 12:00 P.M. The Pentagon was a huge new building that housed the War Dept. I think that it covered 32 acres and it was in the shape of a pentagon it had every thing in it a P.X., barber shop, and other stores besides the offices. They were still finishing some parts of the building while I was there. The department in which I worked was called the Adjutant General's reproduction dept. We did all kinds of printing there. On my shift there was about 200 people working in it, about a dozen white soldiers and the rest black civilians. They were all very nice to us. The army sent a sack lunch with us for our supper and when it came supper time while all of us were eating they would offer us pieces of cake and pie. At first I refused their offerings. I didn't want to eat any thing that black people had cooked. One of my fellow soldiers pointed out that I ate in the restaurants in Washington and all of them had black cooks. After that I ate their pie and cake and found that it was very good.
For the first two months that I was at Ft. Meyers I was stationed at what was called the north post. This was the original part of the Fort. It was a cavalry Post and they still had two troops of cavalry and a battery of horse drawn artillery. One of the troops was a Negro unit. From watching them I was glad that I didn't get in the cavalry. They had all of equipment that an infantry soldier had plus a horse to take care of. Every morning they had to clean the stables and curry the horses. After that they had to exercise them. This they did by leading them around on foot. About once a week was they only time that they rode them. The horses wasn't to gentle either, as I seen one of the horses raise up on it's hind legs and come down on the man that was leading him and it broke his arm. The barracks was all brick. They to look like college dormitories. Our quarters were a wooden building. It was a converted stable. The food there was real good as we were on class rations. That meant that the mess sergeant bought the food. We had steak and fried chicken some of the times.
After I was at the north post we were moved to the south post of Ft. Meyers. It was located down the road about a mile and right across the road from Arlington Cemetery. It wasn't a very large post. It wasn't only about a half mile square. On one side of the post was a housing project that contained about 10,000 women government workers. Some of the women were waves and some women marines. The rest of them were civilians and all of them were young. If you wanted a date all you had to do was to go over there and look wistful and they would ask you for one. My quarters were in a standard wooden army barrack. Instead of sleeping in one big squad room like most barracks we had private rooms. Two men to a room. In my room we had three men part of the time. My first roommate was Don McKay after we was there he moved out and I had two roommates Roland Hammond and Jessie Curry. Jessie was married and had a little girl.
I really had a great time while I was stationed at Ft. Meyers. The work wasn't hard and all we had to do was the work at the Pentagon. We had regular hours just like any other civilian job. During the time that I worked 4 P.M. until midnight I spent the afternoons exploring Washington D.C. visited most of the public buildings and monuments and the Smithsonian museum several times. I also took in several games of the Washington Senators in the afternoons. When I started working from 8:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. I went to shows in the evening both on the post and in town. One of my favorite forms of amusement was roller skating. I never did much of that at home, but I started going with one of my buddies named Frank Peckham and my roommate Roland Hammond was an ardent roller skater and I went with him a lot.
There were lots of girls that would skate with you there. There was one girl named Emma Lou and I used to skate with her a lot. Frank Peckham skated with her girl friend Ella Mary. I don't remember their last names. Besides going roller skating I went to the Stage Door Canteen. Here I seen several big name movie and radio stars, also a lot of big time dance bands came there. Sometimes I went to dances at the Y.W.C.A; they had three dances going all at once. On one floor they had Jitterbug dancing, on another slow style ballroom dancing and on the third floor square dancing. One really had a choice. I also free loaded a lot of meals. One place that I really remember was the Foundry Methodist Church. They had a real home cooked supper every Saturday night and a dance afterward. I never stayed for the dance; they had some nice looking girls to dance with though. I usually ended up going to the roller rink after I ate their supper.
I also saw several of my old cronies from back home while I was there. I seen Dick Garfield, he attended a radar school in Washington. I saw Lloyd Vandenberg, He came back to Washington on furlough. He worked in Washington before he was drafted. He also lived on our street in Battle Creek before he went to Washington. Bud Geesin, another fellow that I went to school with had a weekend pass in Washington, He was in the navy.
While I at Ft. Meyers I got my first furlough. It was for 10 days. One of the fellows that was in my detachment had a furlough at the same time he was from Grand Rapids he was also about 10 years or more older then I was. He liked his booze too. We traveled on the train together and sat in the same seat. He went down to the parlor car to get something to drink so I stretched out in the seat and went to sleep, we were traveling at night. All of the sudden the train started jerking and when I woke up a nice looking young girl was leaning over me and said "what is the matter honey did the train wake you up"? I came to attention right away. She sat with me all of the way to Detroit. We got into some serious necking before the night was over. She said that she was going to Detroit and was coming back on the same train that I was. Her name was Margurite Savage and she lived in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
My furlough was from April 23, to May 3, 1943. While I was home I enjoyed seeing my folks and friends. I went out to the farm and seen my grandparents. My grandmother looked as thin as skeleton. I got bored while I was home all of my old friends were in the services and the girls that I knew either had soldier boy friends or had gotten married and was in some other part of the country. When I went down town it was just like going to Durham. The town was loaded with soldiers from Ft. Custer. After I had my visit out with my parents I would rather have been back in Washington. While I was home I got baptized and joined the Urbandale Methodist Church. I guess that I thought it would be good insurance in case I got shot. On May 2, I caught the train to go back to Washington. I left Battle Creek at 1:09 P.M. and had to change to the B. and O. in Detroit. There I got on the train and went down the length of the train looking for a seat and for Margurite. I didn't see her anywhere I figured that she had forgotten about me. Just as the train was pulling out she came down the aisle and sat with me all of the way to Washington. We had just as much fun going back to Washington as we did coming to Detroit.
After I got back to Washington I looked her up and had a date with her and that was the only one, I guess that I liked what was out at the roller skating rink better. On June 18, Jessie Curry and I got a pass to go to New York. While we were there we stayed at the Hermitage Hotel its address was 99 Park Ave. On the 19íTh we went to Coney Island. We took the subway there after the subway got out in Brooklyn it became an elevated train. When we got to the edge of Coney Island Currie said lets get off here and I said lets get off at the next stop as it was more in the center of Coney Island. Anyway he stepped off the train while we were still arguing. I was still on the train and the doors closed, and that was last that I saw him until that night at the hotel. I had a good time though, as a couple of Jewish girls sort of adopted me for the day and showed me around Coney Island. The next day we went to the Paramount Theater and seen Frank Sinatra I had never heard of him before. When he came out on the stage all of the young girls began to scream and holler. Some of them even fainted. On the 20íTh we took in some of the sights of New York the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and etc. We got back to Ft. Meyers about 1:00 A.M. on the 21íTh.
On May 21 a bunch of Wacs came into our department. It was rumored that they were going to take our places. They were sure a homely bunch of women. On the 25íTh the Wacs started to learn our jobs. On June 28 I was notified that I was all done at Ft. Meyers and that I could have a Furlough home and then I would return to the 78'th Division. On July 1, I turned my stuff in at the supply room and caught the 5:40 train for home. I was glad to get home again and did the usual things, visit my friends and relatives. I began to get bored again before it was over. On the 16íTh I took the train for Durham N.C. I arrived there at 11: 30 A.M. and reported to Div. Headquarters and was placed right back in Co. A 309 Inf.