Sure enough within a short time I and my duffel bag arrive at Ft. Jackson which was (and may be still is) just outside Columbia, South Carolina. The new assignment was to the 182nd Combat Engineers. Probably the regimental commander expected great things from a Pratt Institute guy. Well he just got me. It was a wonderful experience and gave me the opportunity to learn many things. Not only were the engineers required to know how to build and destroy physical things they were also required to know how to use all the weapons. My infantry training was a great plus to the platoon.
What lessons did I learn? well building bridges of various materials like metal and wood was one. Then we built a pontoon bridge across a deep river. We constructed barriers of concertina barbed wire, logs, stone and dirt. Digging was a major lesson. It seemed at times that instead of arms ending in hands they ended in shovels or picks. Explosives were a big-time learning experience.
Remember, I am still 18 (going on 35 in my mind), so one field trip we did some anti-tank mines as an exercise. Some of these mines were booby-trapped. (Note: the word comes from the idea that if you moved something placed by an enemy you were a booby.) All but one of these tricky little gadgets were real mechanically but had no explosives attached. That one had a * lb. Block of dynamite affixed. The trap was a pressure release type. This meant that if the mine was picked up the booby-trap would go off.
The Lieutenant asked if anyone felt confident enough in their abilities to disarm the mine. Guess who volunteered? With much youthful bravado and ignorance of the danger involved, I found myself prone on the ground with my bayonet and a ten penny nail looking at the dirt under which the mine was buried. Skillfully I dug around the mine being very careful not to lift or push down on it. Digging a small tunnel under the mine let me feel for the trap and its position. Then I made the discovery that it was a pressure release type. OK, that meant there was a way to prevent the firing arm from swinging forward and striking the detonator cap. All I had to do was to take the nail and insert it through a hole in one side and out the other side. The nail blocked the arm and it would now be harmless. In went the nail, up on my knees I went and began to uncover the mine. Up came the mine and there in the cavity was the trap with the TNT block attached. Off came the TNT, the detonator, and the trap cover. Whoops!! the nail had not gone all the way through and the arm had been blocked by the nail but was within a sixteenth of an inch of hitting the detonator.
Fleeting memories of working in and around rivers and lakes bring pleasant thoughts although the work was very hard and time consuming. Well we didn't have anyplace to go or money to spend anyhow.
The regiment was transferred to Camp Forest in Tullahoma, Tennessee. For some reason there was nothing happening. We weren't in training or anything. We did some drilling and a few marches but basically it was a very quiet and dull boring time. So boring in fact that a couple of other guys and I decided we would really like to be in the infantry. Let's ask for a transfer ..surprise, they did transfer us to the infantry in Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. The 37th Infantry Division, distinguished by a shoulder patch of a golden acorn.
Back in the infantry, which meant march, dig holes, pull guard duty, march, dig holes, KP, march, dig holes, firing range, obstacle course run and shoot, dig holes, etc.
Some of the fun things were learning how to take care of yourself and others in your squad/platoon. Since I was becoming a sergeant (three chevrons) my assignment was a squad leader of 12 men. Experience sure helped because it was old stuff for me to crawl on my stomach with a field pack under an open lattice work of barbed wire. Oh yes, just above the wire some of the cadre were shooting machine guns in a criss-cross pattern; real bullets were no more than 12inches above the butt so we sure kept pressing our bodies into the dirt.
There were the experiences of taking the pop up shooting range where cardboard targets, cleverly concealed, would suddenly rise up from their concealment; at which time you were expected to shoot or otherwise eliminate the target.
As a result of this more weapon ribbons were attached to my expert marksman medal. Big deal, now I could use a whole bunch of different kinds of things to protect whatever.
A really neat thing happened here (could possibly be with the Combat Engineers, time has blurred the event). A new group of recruits were arriving by train from the north. My assignment was to pick up the ones assigned to our company. On the list was Schuyler Kimball Sanborn with an IQ of 157. My anticipated perception was a small guy with horn-rimmed glasses. Just goes to show what prejudices are built into us as we go through life absorbing stuff that is put in the old noggin by outside influences. Kim turned out to be a really great guy and a good friend. He had a sister, Sandy, who lived with the family in Portland, ME. We began to correspond. More about this lady later.
Not very many months after my arrival with the 87th, there came a call for volunteers to join the parachute troops. OOPS! that magical beckoning word again. Away we go to Fort Benning, GA.
Ah!, Fort Benning; a permanent U. S. Army post where the Officer Candidate School was located. Brick barracks, post movie theater, post stores (Post Exchange PX) all were there and blissfully we thought for our use. Hah and again Hah, no way Jose'. These places were for OCS and permanent cadre personnel, not us lowly jump school types.
We were assigned to The Parachute School (TPS). We lived in the standard infantry barrack, but this time they were only one story not two. Our day began at 0500 with Reveille, followed by a five mile run. Then we could have breakfast and make our area neat; by 0700 we were in one of the training classes. Let's see there was Physical Training, Running, Physical Training, Proper Jump Position, Physical Training, Jump from Platforms of various heights, PT, Jump from Dummy Airplane Doorways, Run, Learn to Pack Parachutes, Jump from 35' Tower at least three times, PT, Run, and the real fun was Drop from 300' Tower at least twice and once at night. Oh yes, we were able to eat and sleep; Taps was at 2300, if you could stay awake that long.
Everyone was assigned to a platoon. Because I was a non-commissioned officer, it was my good fortune to be in one with other non-coms and commissioned officers. Our drill instructors were permanent cadre non-coms who felt it was there lot in life to make sure all of us in the platoon were adequately prepared for leadership by making our lives tougher than the other enlisted people. We ran farther, did PT longer and more frequently than the others. Also the sadistic trainers made sure any dereliction or faults we might have were more than severely punished with push-ups or running laps.
Each day some of the company would quit the program as being more than they could bear. These were transferred back to units not having the conditioning we were obligated to take.
Some amusing things happened during this school process. I found it very difficult to rope climb up 30 feet. It seems that my arms weren't very strong. This was apparent when we were doing small and big arm circle exercises during some of our PT training. These exercises comprised extending your arms full length in whatever direction the trainer shouted at the platoon. It could be forward, side, overhead, and very infrequently down. This seems like no big deal and it wasn't at first but then they helped us out by giving us an Indian club to hold in each hand. Once they figured some of us mastered that they gave us another I club to make it two per hand. My weakness was quite apparent when the order was to move arms to the side. That part was easy for the first minute, but from that point I had to bend forward at the waist to put a different set of muscles to work to keep my arms out to the side and making the circles required. Pain was no stranger to any of us in the platoon; this was excruciating for me.
I never thought in my wildest imaginations that I would be able to run 5 miles, but I did. The experiences in the infantry of forced marches with full field packs for distances of 9 or more miles had me in better condition than could possibly have been in my mind. Other marches of 25 miles or more also helped in my conditioning for the parachute school. Anyway after our runs we would come back to the company area. The mess hall would be open and there was always a great big stainless steel 25 gallon pot of lemonade. It was the best tasting stuff you can imagine and I took full advantage of using my canteen cup to see if I could drain the pot. Of course, after one or two canteen cups full I was so lemonade logged that it was hard to move. Nevertheless, on we went with the rest of the training.
There was a gradual increase in learning to land after leaving a perfectly good airplane. The first, of course, was just from a standing position we would fall down a certain way. Then we learned how to land from jumping off a platform about 3 or 4 feet high into a pit of sand like a kids very large sand box. Once that technique had been mastered we were taken to a 35 foot tower. At the top was a mock-up doorway of a DC-3 doorway. There was a parachute harness which was attached to a cable outside that door. The cable led off in a downward diagonal direction to a large sawdust pile roughly 20 feet high; the pile was 50 yards to the left of the tower. Each prospective trooper was required to climb the stairs to the to doorway. There he was fitted into the harness told to take the "position" and jump out as he had been trained. The correct way was to push off with your left foot, swinging your right leg out into what in an aircraft would be the slip stream. Both hands would be clasped across the belly (emergency) chute pack. Your head would be ducked down and forward to keep the metal harness rings from hitting the back of the head. Immediately after leaving the doorway and falling down to the end of the harness lines the jumper is supposed to shout out "One, one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand" and if there had not been a jerk indicating the parachute had opened, the belly chute release handle should be pulled. Well on the tower, since it was connected to the cable there was always a simulated chute opening jerk, so the belly chute never needed to be activated. My turn came and I was scared out of my wits. Jumping off into space 35 feet into the air was almost more than my instincts would let me do. However, not wanting to quit and not wanting to seem to be a coward, off I went. "One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, four one thousand, five one thousand, six one ...", I hollered; the last was cut off as I hit the sawdust pile. I could barely stand my legs were shaking so badly. The next few times were a piece of cake.
The next terrifying exercise was dropping from the 300 foot tower. There were three towers, each having four arms at the 300+ height. The direction of the wind on the day we were to jump determined which arms were to be used. Each arm had a framework which held a parachute and harness. Each trainee would be put into the harness and the framework with the parachute, harness, and trainee were lifted by a hoist in the tower to the top of the arm (remember 300 feet). The first time up the parachute was guided downward on cables so that after the trainee was raised to the top a release mechanism was triggered and the chute dropped to the ground directed by the guide wires. Not too bad; however, after the first time there were no guide wires. One of the cadre trainers would stand on the ground and holler to the trainee to be sure he was ready to be released. On my turn, when the chute reached the top there is a slight drop as the chute settles into the release mechanism. When that happened my heart seemed to jump through the top of my head. The trainer shouted up, "Ready on number 3"? To which I responded (as the ground seemed to have gotten at least 1000 feet further away), "NOOO"!! "Release 3", he instructed. And there I was dropping to the ground faster than I thought possible. Bang, bump, roll, just like in the training. Hey, not too bad after all. OK, this is handleable, what's next? Do it at night?? Are they crazy?? So one night there I am scared again. The trainer down on the ground says just guide the chute toward the light. So I did, then I found out that the light was a flashlight being held by the trainer and I almost hit him with my feet. HAH!
The next session was packing parachutes. Oh we still ran and did exercises but we were shown how to pack the chutes. We had two guys to a team and we had to pack two chutes. After the first day of instruction we were told that when we got the two chutes packed we were done for the day. My partner and I were never the first nor the last ones finished. We were kind of careful about what we were doing; not meticulous you understand, just a little slower. On Friday, the last day of chute packing training, we were told that the chute we were packing were the ones we were to use to jump from the airplane with on Monday, AAARGH! My buddy and I were very, very careful, you can bet on that.
The weekend was not as relaxing as I would have liked it. Monday we rehearsed a little then we went to the chute hanger, picked up our chutes and put them on. To keep from hurting yourself when you jump you must tighten all the straps of the harness just as tight as you can. It seems that when you jump the harness straps tend to stretch and if they are too loose when you put the harness on you will get some very nasty bruises and "burn" marks, not to mention a hurt in the groin area also. These marks were called “Strawberries”. Consequently, we waddled out to the DC3 aircraft and managed to climb inside. There we sat on a bench which ran the length of the cargo bay, one on each side of the plane. After take-off the pilot took us to the jump area at about 1200 feet up. The jump master getting the signal shouted, "Stand up. Hook UP." then "Check up." With the first command, those on the left side of the plane stood and faced the rear. Those on the right faced the front. At hook up we all took the hook on the static line and connected it to the cables running down the ceiling of the bay. At the check command each jumper looked and felt the man's equipment (chute and static line in this case) to be sure all was in order. Next came, "Stand in the door." and we all shuffled toward the door with those on the right turning at the front of the bay to start moving back toward the door. Now door is kind of a misnomer. There wasn't any door just an opening where a door would fit. The jumpmaster would have the first jumper right in the doorway and when he hollered "GO" the first guy would step out into space with all the rest of us shuffling upturning and stepping out like a line of lemmings. With the static line connected to the cable in the plane and the other end to the packed chute, when the end of the line was reached the chute would be pulled out of the canvas fold up, pilot chute first, and when the jumper, harness, main chute, and pilot chute reached the furtherest point, the string connecting the static line and pilot chute would break and you were on your way down. "One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, four" OH My god I've just been hit by a freight train, tracks, and each individual lump of coal, Ouch! that hurt. I'd been travelling at the speed of the plane (i.e., 100+MPH) and when the chute opened I suddenly wasn't. Yep, the harness stretches. The jump area was located in Alabama and was a plowed field. Nothing injured on the landing. Rolled up the chute, took it to the truck, got on the bus and back to the barracks. We all felt pretty doggone good, we'd made it. Oh, Oh, have to pack our chutes for tomorrow's jump. Strangely enough I wasn't scared of that first jump, but each one after that caused me to break out in sweat. That opening shock was really something.
So we had four day-time jumps, each one a little lower in altitude. Our fourth jump was from about 800 feet. The fifth jump, the last training jump, was a night jump into a field in Alabama. By now we were carrying rifles and field packs, some were carrying radios, etc. to simulate actual combat jump conditions. The night jump was from 1200 feet. It was a beautiful night. However, I landed on the only hard packed dirt road in the whole field. No harm done but it sure jarred everything in my body. This time we didn't have to pick up our chutes, just find the truck to take us back to the barracks.
That was the end of jump school. We "graduated." Got our wings and celebrated with a weekend leave. Next came a training period for combat. Many of the guys had never known how to dig holes or go through the combat and obstacle courses. The obstacle course was tougher than ones I had gone on before. In Alabama there was a terrible swampy area hidden somewhere on the course. After rushing through the muddy swamp you came to a wall about eight feet tall. Fortunately, there were ropes to climb, but with your muddy hands keeping a grip was very difficult. I managed to get over the wall finally but it was a real effort for me.
The training sessions were over and we were assigned to different units or places to go. I got a two week leave and went to see the sister of my friend Schuyler Kimball Sanborn. The family lived in Portland, Maine. I spent a couple of days there and the family was very nice as was the sister. Sandy was a beautiful girl and we were enamoured of each other. We had corresponded ever since Kim had given me her name to write to way back when he and I were in the same platoon. Taking leave from her was very difficult but had to be done because the leave time was short and it was necessary for me to go home to Cincinnati to see Mom and Dad. I caught the train out of Portland and reached New York City. Ran out of money and called the office at Fourth and Plum. Uncle Tex answered and wired me $100.00; however, there was a hurricane and wires were down so the moolah didn't get to me until the next day. So used the old technique of going to the Sharpe and Dohm laboratory to give blood. Finally arrived home and saw the folks. Strutted a little as I wore my jump suit and boots with fancy lacing. Most people Oohed and Aahed and I basked in my moment of glory. My high school girl friends had long since gone off to college or marriage so it was kind of nice that I met another girl, a red head, whose name escapes me this far away in time. Dad was proud of me and took me to the Mariemont Inn bar which was one of his hangouts. We drank an awful lot and I had no clue that he was becoming an alcoholic. Didn't even know that there was such a thing let alone that it was a disease. I must say that he handled his liquor very well.
Back to Fort Benning where I was put on a troop train to the West Coast.
The troop train was a boring experience. We had to be moved in a somewhat confusing fashion in order to mislead the enemy spies as to our final destination. Oh yes there were spies from the Axis powers, Germany, Italy, Japan, and even some U. S. citizens who disagreed with the participation of the nation in the war. Consequently we were routed in other than a direct route to San Francisco. We whiled away our time in reading, playing cards (sometimes for money), and shooting dice. It was one of those very rare times when everything was going my way. I made a great deal of money on the trip. So much that when we reached Fort Ord in California, I was able to buy my mother a real pearl necklace. I am not sure whatever happened to it, she kept it for a very long time.
While at a small army post near San Francisco I was picked to be one of the pre-boarding party assigned to the ship designated to take us somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. We were not told where we were going only that we were going. The party boarded a Liberty Ship in Oakland and then the ship sailed across the bay to another loading area and the rest of the paratroopers came on board. Within a day or two after that we set sail. I got very sea sick before we even got to the ocean. I was that way for two days and then got my sea legs and wasn't ill anymore. Again we had nothing to do except read, look at the water, play cards, gamble (my luck had quit with the train so it was smart of me not to participate) and play other games. Several of the guys started the old slap the back of the opponents hand game. It wasn't long before it was my lot to become the champion. However, one evening as a bunch of us were standing along the side of the ship, one of the guys said he would put his cigarette out on the back of my left hand. Stupid said go ahead and he did. It left a very bad sore and blister on my hand for several days.
We crossed the equator and became Shellbacks. The initiation ceremony by the sailors became very limited to what they were used to since we were paratroopers after all and outnumbered the swabbies by at least 20 to one. There was some good clean fun for us but the sailors who had not yet crossed the line were put through some vigorous initiations. Somewhere in my documentation is my Shellback certificate. There are gaps cut in the document which were made by the censor as a matter of security.
We docked in New Guinea and so on to the next chapter.
© 2000 Verne White.
OTHER ARTICLES BY VERNE WHITE
RECALLING MY WAR | THE BIG TRUCK CAVE
Corregidor - Then & Now GHQ | Coast Artillery - Harbor Defenses | 503d RHQ | 503d PRCT Heritage Bn. | Rock Force | Board
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