Robert N. Wallworth - World War II - Part 1 - 1942 to 1943
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My World War II Experiences
By Robert N. Wallworth
Last updated on January 15, 2010 Friday
Part 1 --- 1942 to 1943
BEFORE I ENTERED THE SERVICE
June 1942 - April 1943
When I was graduated from High School in June 1942 the war had already started. As I was only 17 when I was graduated. I was not scheduled to be drafted for quite a while so I decided I had better get a job. The first place that I got a job was in the Great Eastern, grocery store in Ramsey, N.J. If I remember correctly I made the princely sum of $12.50 per week. The manager of the store was Eddie Allcott who was a nice guy except when it came to wages. After leaving the Great Eastern I worked in a sporting goods store in Suffern, N.Y. That job did not last long as the store was in the process of going out of business. The last job that I had, before I entered the service, was at Wright Aeronautical Engine Plant in Paterson, N.J. Even the defense plants didn’t pay much compared today’s wages.
Wright Aero produced aircraft engines for the Army and Navy. Two of the most well known planes that used those engines were the B-25 Mitchell Bomber and the B-17 Flying Fortress. I worked in the Product Engineering Department handling the documents used in the manufacture of the engines.
The pay in those days was pitiful compared with today's wages. I started off at $42.50 per week. This still was a lot better than what I received in the grocery store. One of the guys in our car pool was a skilled trouble shooter who was responsible for defining why an engine failed during test. Even with a responsible job like his he only got paid $125.00 per week. Most people made big money, for those times, by working overtime which was almost unlimited. Of course back then you could buy a new car for around $1000 but they weren’t making any. All the factories were busy making trucks and tanks.
Wright Aero was a very interesting place to work. The engines were designed, built, and tested at this plant. The factory was unionized and even though there was a war on they still called strikes. I remember one case where one of the lathe operators complained that a pipe above him was dripping on him. After waiting several days for maintenance to fix it, he got mad and climbed up and tightened the pipe fitting himself. The maintenance workers union called a strike because the lathe operator was not allowed to perform that type of function. Luckily the strike only lasted 1 day.
There was a magnesium foundry on the site. Magnesium was used to reduce the weight of the engines. They drilled holes in such things as the Crankshaft and filled the holes with magnesium. The only problem with magnesium is that it is difficult to handle as dust from machining can catch fire and explode. Magnesium and iron filings are used to make thermite for incendiary bombs. Any time there was a fire in the Mag Foundry very few people ran toward the building. It was still there when I left although there were several fires during the time I was there.
I used to go down to the Engine Test area when I had an excuse. It was an exciting place. Every engine (they were building the Cyclone engine at that time) after it came off the assembly line, was run in a test cell until it passed inspection. Then the engine was disassembled and all parts examined for wear. If it was okay it was re-assembled and tested again. The engines were run using a club bladed bakelite covered wood propeller. They had to use wood because if a steel bladed prop came off during test it would go right through the test cell wall. The wood props when they failed just splintered. Of course no-one was ever in the cell during a test. The noise in that area was deafening.
Some engines when being started would backfire through the carburetor and catch fire. Generally the testers would keep cranking it until it started running which would generally put out the fire. In any case the Army or Navy would not accept any engine that had been involved in a fire. They repaired them and shipped them to the Russians. Actually there was nothing wrong with these engines after all the wiring and hoses had been replaced.
As the weeks rolled by, while I was in Production Control, the other men who were older than I were drafted one by one until I was the only man left. The boss wanted to put me in for an exemption from the draft but I wanted to go into the service because being 17 I was one of the last ones in my High School Class still around. The way it was going it would probably have been 1944 before I would be drafted. My friend, Charlie Hosking, and I went down to the Draft Board in Ramsey, New Jersey and volunteered to go into the service early. Going in early supposedly gave us the opportunity to select the type of unit we wanted to be assigned to.
THIS IS A RECORD OF MY 30 MONTHS IN THE ARMY --
FROM RAMSEY TO FORT DIX, NEW JERSEY
May 1, 1943
I took the bus from Ramsey, N.J. to Paterson, N.J. and then to Newark, N.J. to take my pre-induction physical. They gave us Public Service bus tickets so we couldn’t say that we couldn’t afford to get there. I still have one that I didn’t use. They ran us through all sorts of medical and psychological tests. When they checked my blood pressure it was a little high but that didn’t faze them. They told me to lie down for a few minutes. They checked it again and it was okay. They know all the tricks people use to get out of the draft so they double check everything.
The last test that we have to go through was the color-blindness test. I passed the test and the guy running the test tried to get me to sign up for the Navy. It seems that the Army doesn’t care if you are color-blind. The Navy recruiter tried hard to get me to sign up as he only needed one more candidate to meet his quota for that day. I refused his offer and the Army stamped my papers “ACCEPTED”. I was expecting to be assigned to the Army Air Force for training as an aircraft mechanic.
May 8, 1943
Charlie Hosking and I left Ramsey, N.J. for Newark, N.J. by bus and then from Newark to Fort Dix, N.J. on a military run train. The coaches were real old and even had wooden seats. The only Army personnel that we saw were two Military Policemen. We were given a warning by the MPs about the use of drugs. They described all the drugs that were banned and also told us if we didn’t know what they were talking about to forget it. It was pretty quiet during the trip. I guess most of the men realized that this trip was the beginning of a phase of our lives that was different from anything we had experienced before. Everyone was a little apprehensive.
When the train arrived at Fort Dix we were lined up and marched to the supply room to get our uniforms, blankets, and toilet articles. All of these articles were stuffed into a Barracks Bag which is the GI’s suitcase. If you were lucky you got a uniform that fit. There were some men, who were extra tall, didn’t get any uniform at that time. They had to wait as long as two weeks before their sizes came in. The same thing was true if you had extra large feet.
After we got our equipment they marched us over to the barracks where we would live while we were in Fort Dix. Fort Dix was primarily a place to hold new recruits before they are assigned to their permanent bases. The camp was also used as a holding location for troops waiting for shipment to the European Theater. I found out years later that the 34th Infantry Division, which I later joined in Italy, passed through Fort Dix on their way to England in January of 1942 becoming the first U.S. Division to go overseas in WWII.
The barracks had two floors and our quarters were on the second floor. It was long room with many metal beds lining both sides of the room. Downstairs was a Day Room, Bath Room, Showers, and the Boiler for heat and hot water. The Drill Sergeant had a room at one end of the upstairs room where we lived. He was always on hand when something happened that he didn’t like. There was always at least one man in the barracks that was always screwing up. He got special attention from the sergeant.
When we were settled in they took us over to the mess hall. It was too late for supper but they did make us some baloney sandwiches. We were not too happy with this but little did we know that this was standard fare on weekends when there were not too many men remaining in camp. It would be several weeks before we would be eligible to get a pass off the base. As it turned out we were not in the camp long enough to get a pass.
May 9 - 17, 1943
We spent this period going to orientation talks, getting shots, and cleaning our barracks. Speaking of shots, they marched us over to the medics and on the way we got a lot of razzing about the size of the needles they were going to stick in us. I guess some of the men had never had a shot before and were very nervous. They gave us shots for Tetanus, small pox, and typhoid. Several of the men passed out when they got their shots or sometimes just watching the man in front of them getting his shot.
They gave us a lot of tests to determine what our aptitudes were. My IQ was 128 which made me eligible for OCS if they needed men to fill the next OCS class. I wasn’t too interested as most of the OCS officers were destined for the Infantry and I was looking forward to working on aircraft in the Army Air Corps.
One thing that the Army always has is rumors. This time the rumors about changes in our assignments were persistent. Many of us were upset especially those who had signed up for specific jobs.
May 18, 1943
The rumors came true. It seemed that almost the whole camp was put on trains for transfer to who knows where. We were loaded onto coaches for our trip. They weren’t too comfortable but at least they didn’t have wooden seats. The train headed South and then West. We eventually crossed the Mississippi River and then swung South again. We were on the train for 3 days. Not too much to do except to shoot the bull and smoke cigarettes. We only got fed twice a day so that didn’t take up much time. Speaking of smoking, most of the men ran out of cigarettes. One of the guys in our group happened to have some cigarette papers and tobacco. We had a great time trying to roll our own cigarettes. There was more tobacco on the floor than in the cigarettes.
They finally told us where we were going. Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg, Mississippi. We were going there for Infantry Basic Training. There was a lot of bitching and moaning as most of were scheduled to go to better assignments. Not much chance of my going to the Air Force now.
CAMP SHELBY, MISSISSIPPI
May 21 - 31, 1943
We arrived at Camp Shelby in the afternoon. It was a large camp that contained all the living quarters, mess halls, training areas, and rifle and artillery ranges for our division as well as for individual units such as artillery battalions. We were loaded on trucks and taken over to what was to be our company area. I was assigned to C Company, First Battalion, 272nd Regiment, 69th Division. Charlie Hosking was assigned to Cannon Company also in the 272nd Regiment.
The 69th Division was activated on May 15th so we were part of the original group. I was assigned to the Weapons Platoon as a Gunner in a 60mm Mortar Squad. I think we had two Mortar Squads and three Machine Gun Squads in the Weapons Platoon.
Infantry Basic started on June 1st and was scheduled to run for 13 weeks. The Weapons Platoon Leader was Lieutenant Apple and the Company Commander was Captain James T. Carter. There were 3 other platoons in the company. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd which were rifle platoons.
Life in a training camp is not much fun. A lot of time is spent getting everybody used to taking orders and following them explicitly. There is not time to debate whether you should do something or not when you are in combat. There are an awful lot of people in this world who don’t like following orders. The Army can’t make you do something but they can make you wish that you did do it. It was really amazing that you could take a bunch of civilians and turn them into a somewhat disciplined fighting unit in 13 weeks. Actually they never are really trained until they experience combat. There is nothings that can really prepare you for that. Once the unknown is experienced you know what to expect. That doesn’t make you less afraid but it is easier to face something that you understand than it is to face the unknown.
Most of our training cadre came from the 96th Division at Camp Adair, Oregon. Our First Sergeant, Sgt. Mundy, was from that group. He seemed quite old and even though he was only about 5 ft 2 inches tall he was tough as nails. He was always after us for doing something wrong. To give you an example, one day, when we fell out for morning roll call, he told us that the next guy he caught throwing a cigarette butt on the company street, which was only dirt, would wish that hadn’t been born. Sure enough the next day he caught someone. For punishment he made the guy dig a hole 6 ft by 6 ft and 6 ft deep to bury the cigarette but that he had dropped. He had to do all the digging on his own time. That was the last time anyone was stupid enough to drop a butt on the company street. I later heard that, Sgt. Mundy was killed on the Anzio Beachhead.
June 1 to August 7, 1943
This was the time allocated for our Basic Training. The time was spent learning Military Courtesy ( who to salute & etc.), Close Order Drill (marching), rifle Manual of Arms, the Articles of War, the General Orders, and other military requirements.
We also spent a lot of time getting into good physical shape. Some of the men were in terrible condition. They couldn’t do Pull Ups, Push Ups, and couldn’t run any distance. A lot of the men’s performances improved as they lost some of the extra weight they were carrying and developed their muscles.
Our Platoon Leader, Lt. Apple, could out run any of the members of our platoon. One day I decided to try to keep up with him. I found that if I didn’t let him get a lead on me that I could stay right with him. Nobody else in the platoon was able to do this but overall we did get in much better shape by the end of the 13 weeks.
After we had become what loosely could be called soldiers we progressed to weapons training. I had to qualify on the M1 Rifle, the M1 Carbine, the Browning Automatic Rifle, and the 60mm Mortar.
Before we ever fired the M1 Rifle we had to learn all about it. This included being able to field strip and reassemble it in the dark. After that we practiced Dry Firing. Two men worked together on this phase of training. One, using a leather glove, would hit the slide so that it travelled to the rear of the receiver. This simulated the action when the weapon is fired and the slide is kicked back to extract the fired shell and load the next round. This got us used to the recoil when we fired it on the range.
The Weapons Range was about 7 miles from our barracks. When we went out to the range we generally stayed there all day. Most of the time was spent firing M1s. We all had to qualify which meant getting at least a required number of hits on a target. This wasn’t too difficult at 100 yards but at 500 yards you could barely make out the bull’s eye. Some of the men had a very difficult time qualifying. Many had never even held a gun before let alone fired one. The M1 Garand didn’t kick too much as a lot of the energy that could make the kick painful was used to eject the fired shell casing and load the next round into the chamber. Even so many of the men flinched when they fired. This leads to sometimes even missing the target let alone the bull’s eye.
When I was shooting to qualify the man on my right was shooting a 50 caliber machine gun. Even though he only fired one round at a time it was so loud that my right ear rang after each shot that he made. I never saw anyone using ear protection during WWII. I guess it wasn’t practical when in combat. I believe that the loss of some hearing in my right ear dates back to that time.
Lunch was brought out to us. We ate out of our mess kits and later washed them in water that was heated in 32 gallon garbage cans. They took us out to the range by truck but they made us march back. The last couple of miles, where the road was paved, they made us Double Time (run) the rest of the way back to our company area.
Camp Shelby in June and July is very dry and extremely hot. We had shutters and screens on our barracks windows. When the wind blew, which seemed like all the time. If you forgot to close the shutters on your windows when you returned from training in the field there would be about a 1/2” of dust on your bed. It was so hot that many of the men collapsed during marches. This also happened even on the night speed marches which followed a path that was through loose sand. That was really exhausting. Exertion in such a climate as existed in Mississippi in the summer resulted in excessive sweating. After a day in the field you could see lines on your fatigues where the salt from your sweat had dried on the fabric. A loss of too much salt can be dangerous so we had to take salt pills every day. To make sure that you took them they stationed one of the officers at the Mess Hall exit and he tossed a salt pill into your mouth on the way out.
All your clothes got pretty gamey if you didn’t get a chance to wash them. There was a joke that to tell when your socks needed washing you threw them against the wall. If they stuck, it was time to wash them.
We also had to be careful about drinking too much cold liquid especially after coming in from the field. When we were dismissed everyone made a bee-line to the coke machine in the Day Room. A few guys ended up on the ground with severe stomach cramps.
During Reviews, where we had to stand out on the parade ground in the sun, we always had a few men falling on their faces. They said that they even had several men die from sunstroke during basic training. If there were any deaths they were not in our company.
As our training progressed we got pretty good at handling our weapons. Our mortar crew was able to set up and zero in our mortar in 30 seconds. We also got so we could put a shell in a barrel at 100 yards. They also showed us how to shoot the mortar holding the tube without a base plate or bipod. This was handy if you had to fire from a slit trench when pinned down. During practice with live 60mm rounds we were able to get a tree burst. You can see all the shell fragments as they hit the dust on the ground. It is very impressive.
Everybody was uneasy about throwing live grenades. You and an instructor are in a pit. You pulled the pin, held it for a second, and then threw it. When it leaves your hand the handle flies off and then it explodes in 5 seconds. Hopefully, if you dropped it after the pin was out, you or the instructor would be able to pick it up and get rid of it before the 5 second delay was up. All the practices I observed went without any one dropping one.
The training was tough, especially the bayonet practice. Every morning we had calisthenics followed by bayonet practice. Pushing around a 9 lb rifle with a 1 lb bayonet gets old after an hour or so. After we arrived in Africa we heard that the Infantry Generals were complaining that the replacements arriving, from the U.S., in Africa and Italy were too beat up and that training should relaxed somewhat.
There were many other types of training such as learning how to use a gas mask. You were marched into a building, that contains chlorine gas, without your gas mask on. When everybody was in they let you put on your gas mask. By that time the first men into the building were out of breath and some did inhale some of the Chlorine. There was an ambulance standing by and occasionally somebody had to be shipped off to the hospital.
Later in a class in gas recognition, the instructor dropped a vial containing a diluted solution of Phosgene gas. Several of us were affected by the gas before it dissipated. It felt like someone grabbed you by the throat and you couldn’t breathe in or out. The affects lasted only a few seconds but it was scary. I often wonder if the instructor didn’t drop the vial on purpose. We also smelled diluted vials of Lewisite and Mustard Gas so we could recognize it.
Another time, while marching along a road to our training area, a plane came down and sprayed the whole column with tear gas. Most everybody got their gas masks on quickly but when you are sweating tear gas stings your skin. When the plane came back for a second pass some of the men threw rocks at it.
One advantage of training as a division was that each company was self contained. We had our own mess hall where food was served on plates on each table rather than having to go through a chow line. Of course you had to be fast if you wanted your share of the meat. Those were the hungriest guys that I have ever seen.
Everyone had to take a turn at KP (kitchen police). It wasn’t too bad except that you had to get up about 4 AM to get breakfast ready. After everybody had eaten then the job of washing the dishes and pots and pans began. Even though there were only about 200 men in a company there was a lot of stuff to wash. After that we had to set the tables and help the cooks get ready for lunch. Most of the time lunch was in the field so outside of helping prepare the food there wasn’t much to wash when the meal was over. The men ate out of their mess kits and had to wash their own when done. While on KP you always had the opportunity of scrounging extra food for yourself but you had to be careful not to get the Mess Sergeant mad at you by being too greedy.
We had a lot of good times though. We used to go down to the PX for beer when we were off duty. The county where we were was a dry county, no hard liquor, and only 3.2 % beer. Even though the beer was 3.2 you could still get drunk if you drank enough of it.
They had a Juke Box there which provided some entertainment. Unfortunately for most of us, being from the North, the choice of records was not what we were used to hearing. Most of the songs were country such as “I’ll Reap my Harvest in Heaven” and “Great Speckled Bird” which for some reason were played much too often. I know that these songs are country and Mississippi where we were was certainly country. But enough was enough.
I remember two guys from Harlan County, Kentucky who used to get high on beer. One night at the PX, when the MPs were telling us it was closing time, one of these two guys poured beer into one of the MP’s hip pocket while he was talking to the rest of us. We were all horrified about what was going to happen. It was so hot that the MP didn’t even notice it.
Those two guys were a little crazy. They were always telling us stories about the county where they lived and how the sheriffs didn’t last very long as someone shot them. At that time we thought this was a lot of bull but years later we found out that it was true. One of the stories was made into a movie “Walking Tall” about Sheriff Buford Poser. I always wondered if those guys made it home alive and if so what type of work they got involved in.
Near the end of Basic Training we had to go through the Infiltration Course. This course consisted of about a 100 yard stretch of ground that you had to crawl over wearing your steel helmet and carrying your rifle. The course started out by crawling over a small rise and out onto the course. Behind us there were several machine guns firing live ammunition that was supposed to be about 18” over our heads while crawling. Out in the course there were several strings of barbed wire that we had to crawl under on our back. It was about 1 foot off the ground so some of the fat guys had a tough time. As we crawled through this stuff the officers running the test were exploding 1/4 lb charges of Nitro Starch in shallow holes distributed though out the course. We always worried that we might come face to face with a coral snake while crawling along. It never happened but there were several men who froze part way through the course and they had to stop everything to get them out.
We didn’t go through the Infiltration Course very often. They had another course called the Obstacle Course that we ran through almost every day. There was no live fire on this course. It consisted of many obstacles that you had to climb over, jump over, climb up, swing over, and crawl through in a specified amount of time. Some of the men that were overweight had a tough time climbing over a 6 foot wall.
Every day after we came in to the company area, from training in the field, we had to clean our weapons for inspection by the brass. After a day in the field there is so much dust on everything that it is almost impossible to get everything spotless. The officers looked at the outside of the weapons and also in the bore. When inspecting the M1 Rifles the Platoon Lieutenant came down the lined up troops stopping in front of each man. When he stopped we put our M1 at Port Arms (across the body). The officer doing the inspecting told us that when his shoulder moved to take our M1 to let go of it quickly. He said that if he dropped it he would clean it. If he found a speck of dirt you would be in trouble as well as having to clean your weapon until it does pass inspection. The Weapons Platoon also had to clean our mortars and machine guns as well as our rifles, carbines, or pistols.
On weekends we sometimes got a pass to go to town, Hattiesburg, Mississippi. That is if our barracks passed inspection and nobody got in trouble during the previous week. Cleaning the barracks was a weekly chore on Saturday morning. The floors and latrines were mopped and dust removed from anything visible. Everything had to be spotless and your bed and footlocker had to be arranged to meet specifications. Sometimes the officer doing the inspections was unnecessarily chicken and we had to do something over again. One week someone in the company had his wallet stolen. Nobody knew who did it or if they did didn’t say anything. The whole company was restricted to camp for that weekend.
Hattiesburg wasn’t much to look at but at least we were free for an afternoon and able to buy some milk and ice cream. We never seemed to get enough of those two items back in camp. You could also buy 3.2 beer and even though the county was dry they say you could buy some White Lightening from no other than the local police.
The people in town were not very friendly. We were mostly from the North and the last division that trained in Camp Shelby was the 31st the Dixie Division. A good portion of Hattiesburg was populated by the blacks. The area where they lived was Off Limits to all the troops. Two of us accidentally wandered into the Off Limits area and before we knew what was happening we were surrounded by 5 MPs. They took us down to the MP Station but when they found out we had passes they let us go with a warning to be more careful in the future.
August 14, 1943
After 13 weeks of Basic Training we took the AGF (Army Ground Forces) Test. This was a test to determine if each individual met the required physical condition and that the company was able to function properly as a unit. Although there were several men who didn’t make it the Company passed the test and that meant we were ready to start Advanced Basic.
September 1, 1943
I was advised that due to the marks that I got on my IQ and aptitude tests that I had been accepted in the Army Specialized Training Program. This meant that I would be sent to college for up to two years. It sounded like a better deal than being in a rifle company. I also had a chance to go to Officers Candidate School but decided against it as I probably would still be in the Infantry.
Around the end of the month we were told that we were going to get two week furloughs before we started Advanced Basic Training. Mine was to start the following week. One of my friends was scheduled to go two weeks later. He asked me to swap dates with him because he had some marital problems and had to get home as soon as possible. He was very upset so I said okay as I would only have to wait an extra two weeks to go. Little did I know that this decision would change the whole course of my life and could have led to my death.
The next week, when I should have been home on furlough, an order came down from high level command that they needed 3000 infantry replacements for the Mediterranean Theater. I don’t know the total they took from the 69th Division but they took 80 men from our company. No furlough for me and no chance to go to ASTP.
The day that we found out that we were going to be shipped out they restricted us to the company area until we were ready to move out. Two of us from the Weapons Platoon, because we didn’t like what they were serving for lunch at the Mess Hall, decided to go to the Service Club for lunch. We had just finished eating when our First Sergeant showed up. He chewed us out for being away from the company area and told us that the C.O. was looking for us. It seems that we hadn’t shot for qualification on the Carbine and we couldn’t be shipped out without being qualified. The Sergeant loaded us into his Jeep and drove us out to the firing range. We both shot for qualification without even getting a chance to practice first but somehow we both made it. The C.O. never did find out that we had been out of the company area without permission. I don’t know what he could have done to punish us anyhow as what could be worse than being sent into combat as infantry.
The night before we were to ship out our company had a party for us. It was not official and was mostly drinking and raising hell. I remember the Captain brought out a bottle of Canadian Club Rye Whiskey to add to what was already available. The next morning the company area was a mess. Somehow some guys had put one of their beds on the roof of our barracks. I don’t remember if there was any trouble from the brass but I know we didn’t care anyhow.
I would like to digress for a moment to tell you what happened to my friend, Charles Ernest Hosking, from Ramsey, N.J. who joined up with me in May 1943. Charlie had been assigned to Cannon Company of the 272nd Regiment 69th Division.
One Sunday while we were in Basic Training he came over to visit me. He said that he had heard about a good deal and wanted me to join with him. What it was that they were looking for volunteers for the Paratroops. Charlie said that he was going to take the offer. I told him he was crazy. It was bad enough that we were in the Infantry and now he wanted to jump out of planes too. I said no way. You don’t volunteer for anything while in the Army.
Charlie had a history of doing crazy things. Earlier, when he was 17, he and another guy ran away from home and joined the Canadian Black Watch (an infantry regiment) in Canada. His parents found out where he was and brought him back. Not too long after that he and another friend ran away again and were headed to Canada to join the Canadian Royal Air Force. They were caught before they crossed the border and were returned again. Sometime later Charlie took off again, this time by himself, and joined the U.S. Coast Guard. His parents decided to let him stay in the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard found out that he had had Rheumatic Fever and they discharged him.
Charlie did join the Paratroops and went to Fort Benning, Georgia for training. I did not hear from him again until after the war. He told me he had been sent to England and was part of a group that jumped into France probably on D Day. He was wounded (I found out recently, from his daughter’s book “Snakes Daughter” see page 1??) that he accidentally shot himself and was returned to the U.S.
He recovered from his wounds and stayed in the service. He didn’t seem to fit into civilian life anymore. While he was at Camp Campbell, Kentucky he was in charge of training men in the use of the Bazooka. During one of the training sessions a Bazooka round fell short and several men, including Charlie, were wounded. He recovered and stayed in the Army.
During the Vietnam War he served three tours of duty with the Green Berets. At that time he was a Master Sergeant. During his third tour of duty he was killed in hand to hand contact with a Viet Cong sniper. He was 42 years old. As a result of his action several other soldiers lives were saved. He was awarded the Medal of Honor.
I guess Charlie found his place in life as a soldier. He always seemed happy while he was in the service. He was a little crazy at times but maybe that’s the type of men that we need to do the dirty work in the Military that is generally left to the Infantryman.
GETTING READY TO GO OVERSEAS
September 2, 1943 Left Camp Shelby by train for a new location.
September 4, 1943 Arrived at Fort Meade , Maryland.
September 5 - October 17, 1943
Everybody is all bent out of shape because we lost our furlough. One of the wise guys from New York City got the bright idea of starting a petition to try to get the Army to give us our furloughs before we went overseas. Most of us were dumb and signed the petition. As soon as the officers received the petition they charged all of us with Mutiny. I didn’t even know they had such a thing in the Army. Well it turned out alright as our Captain, who was a West Pointer, got them to drop the charges and even got us a 3 day pass. I was fortunate being from New Jersey. I could get home and back in three days. Many of the men were from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York so it worked out alright for most.
October 18, 1943
A three day pass didn’t give me much time at home as at least a day was lost travelling both ways. I took a train from Baltimore to Newark and hitch-hiked from Newark to Ramsey, N.J. It was good to get home and see my parents and brother again. I didn’t try to see any friends because most of them were in the service anyhow. Little did I know that I wouldn’t be home again for over two years.
October 21, 1943 Returned to Fort Meade
October 26, 1943 Left Fort Meade for Camp Patrick Henry in Virginia.
October 27 -November 1, 1943
We arrived at Camp Patrick Henry. This was a holding camp for troops being shipped out of the Port of Newport News, Virginia. There was an area, near where we were quartered, that was surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by troops in two Halftracks with machine guns. We found out that all the men in this area were military prisoners from Stockades all over the country. They had been given the choice of staying in the stockade or going overseas in the Infantry. It sure was nice of them to get a choice, we didn’t.
While we were at Camp Patrick Henry, every day after breakfast, they hauled us down to the port at Newport News in cattle trucks. When we reached the docks they put us to work loading the ships that were to be in our convoy. Some of the group even had to load ammunition. We hoped that the ammo wasn’t being loaded on our ship. There were no passes from this camp. They had one of the biggest Mess Halls that I have ever seen. It was so large that they could feed 3000 men at the same time. I sure wouldn’t want to get KP in that Mess Hall.
SHIPPING OUT TO WHO KNOWS WHERE
On the Liberty ship named the Peter Minuet
October 27 - November 1, 1943
This morning they loaded us on the trucks, with all our equipment, and took us down to the port where we were loaded onto a Liberty Ship, the Peter Minuet. We sailed out of Newport News and joined a convoy that was assembling.
The forward hold on our ship had been converted to provide sleeping quarters for us. Actually it was a half a hold. There was a floor put over the cargo that was in the bottom half of the hold. All around the perimeter of the half hold were built in bunks five high. This was to be home to 500 men for however long it took to get to where ever we were going.
For once I was smart. I picked one of the top bunks. As soon as we left the dock some of the men were seasick and throwing up. I was safe up on the top bunk although I spent as much time as possible on deck as the hold became pretty smelly after a while. The open center of our hold quickly became the location of the many crap and card games that lasted through the whole trip and ran day and night.
Our ship was part of a convoy of about 30 ships. We sailed South toward Bermuda. The weather was beautiful most of the time and we used to lay out on the hatch cover over our hold. The rolling of the ship was quite pleasant to me but some of those who were susceptible to sea sickness hated it. I used to also like to spend time up in the ship’s bow. Sometimes dolphins would follow the ship and dive in and out of the bow wave of the ship.
While on the ship I met the movie actor Jean Pierre Aumont. He was married to Maria Montez at that time. He was going over to act as a Liaison Officer between the U.S and Free French. He was a regular guy and got along well with the rest of the men. He even gave some of the men lessons in French. We had finally figured out that we were going to Africa, probably Algeria. If we hadn’t met him we probably wouldn’t have found out where we were going until we landed.
The convoy swung South toward the South Atlantic and when it approached the coast of Africa it swung North and entered the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar. It was dark when we passed Gibraltar so the first land we saw on our Port side was some beautiful green fields which we were told was Spain. The convoy then headed along the African Coast toward Oran, Algeria. The trip was really uneventful. There had been no enemy action at least not in the area around our ship. By the time we reached Oran we have been at sea for 22 days. I had some friends who were in the Navy during the war and hadn’t spent that much time at sea.
We dropped anchor in the Port of Oran. From the ship the city looked very pretty. White buildings on a hillside that looked like the pictures you see of African cities in travel magazines or in the movie Casablanca.
LIFE AT LION MOUNTAIN, ORAN, ALGERIA
November 24 - December 27, 1943
We debarked in Oran. The city doesn’t look very pretty close up. It is quite dirty.
Lots of Arabs but plenty of Europeans too. We were loaded on 6 x 6s (2 1/2 ton trucks) and headed out of Oran to where our camp was located. The camp called Lion Mountain was located at the foot of a small mountain which I suppose was part of the Atlas range. A long time ago there actually were lions on this mountain. It is supposed to be where the Romans got the lions for use in the Coliseum.
While at Lion Mountain we trained just like we had at Camp Shelby. Every morning, before breakfast, we went on a five mile run led by a Lieutenant we called “Iron Legs”. He was much older than most of us, probably in his early 30s, but he could out run any of us. We also ran Obstacle and Infiltration Courses. The Infiltration Course was really difficult. The barbed wire that we had to crawl under was so low that you almost couldn’t get underneath it. The machine guns seemed to firing lower than they were in Camp Shelby and the explosive charges were on top of the ground not in a pit. When we complained about the course we were told “If you think this is bad wait until you get to the front”.
We occasionally got passes to go into Oran. It wasn’t too bad. There were a lot of bars where you could get beer, Triple Sec, and Cognac. Most of the bars had female bartenders but they only spoke French. I was lucky that my High School French generally was understood. Many GIs spoke Italian but that wasn’t too useful. Not many of the store owners spoke English but somehow they were always able to sell us something.
We were warned about some of the bottles of booze that the civilians were selling. I heard that some of the Cognac was spiked with chloroform. It wouldn’t kill you but it could eat away some of the mucus membranes in your nose if you drank it too often. We did find that it was good to help light fires in the stoves in our tents in the morning.
One day while in Oran we came across a military parade made up of troops from many different nationalities. Each group was carrying its country’s flag. When the U.S. flag passed by, we experienced a source of pride that most of us had never felt before. When you are away from your country the flag is a symbol of home.
We had a lot of trouble with the Arabs stealing from our camp. They were around in the daytime selling oranges but at night they were always sneaking around. The guards were always taking shots at them and after several had been hit the brass took the ammo away from them. It seems that a guard caught an Arab crawling under a tent and stuck him in the butt with a bayonet.
We used to occasionally take walks outside of the camp. There was a small Arab town called Assi Ben Okba nearby. There wasn’t much there and it was extremely dirty. We never felt too secure there as we didn’t trust the men hanging around. They probably weren’t too happy to see us either.
The day before Christmas (1943) it was rainy and foggy, About 10 AM we heard a plane flying around the area. We caught sight of it, a B25 bomber, just as it entered the clouds near the mountain. We remarked that he was too low and just at that time you could hear the engines roar as the pilot tried to gain altitude but it was too late, the wing hit and the plane slammed into the mountain. A group was sent up to the crash site but there were no survivors.
It rained Christmas Day too. We were saddened by the loss of life in the plane crash and also it was our first Christmas away from home. We did have a traditional Christmas Dinner though.
THE TRIP TO ITALY
December 28 - 30, 1943
We were loaded on a fairly large ship in Oran harbor for shipment to Italy. There were a lot of stories about how the infantry in Italy was suffering in the rainy cold weather. The ship was an old cruise ship, Dutch owned, British run, with a Javanese crew. It took about three hours to load the 3000 troops and I swear our small group was the last to get on board. By the time we got on board there were no bunks left for us. The crew put up some hammocks for us to sleep in. They weren’t too bad once you got used to them as they didn’t roll with the ship and you didn’t feel the ship’s vibrations.
The food was terrible. There was a Dutch baker who baked great bread but we could never get enough of it. The British probably thought that Kippers (some sort of fish with the heads on) was great for breakfast but we wanted no part of them. The food was so bad that the men broke into one of the ship’s holds and stole K Rations.
The trip to Italy was uneventful with the exception of the time a British Destroyer that was escorting us dropped a couple of Depth Charges. The noise that they make when you are below decks is really alarming. We never did find out if there really was a submarine out there. We also were escorted by a British Cruiser. I guess the British didn’t worry about how their ships looked. The British Cruiser looked terrible. This one was dirty and rusty. I never saw a U.S. Navy ship that looked that bad.
Many years later I found out that the ship we were on had been re-converted to a cruise ship after the war. On one of its voyages it caught fire and sank somewhere off Africa.
December 31, 1943, January 1, 1944
We arrived in Naples Harbor New Years Eve day. They didn't allow us to land so we had to spend the night on board. The Javanese crew had a great time celebrating. A lot of weird music and singing. We were not allowed to land on New Year's Day either. The port troops must have had the day off. We weren’t in a hurry to get to the front lines but one more day on that ship with the lousy food was too much.
Part 1 --- (this is Part 1)
Part 2 --- January to April 1944
Part 3 --- April to December 1944
Part 4 --- January to December 1945 (to be added soon)
Last updated January 15, 2010 Friday
By Robert N. Wallworth
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