World War 2 Army 547th FA 9th CA

My memories of Texas, you ask? How about: heat - dust - poisonous snakes - tarantula and black widow spiders - mosquitoes - more heat and more dust. Oh yes, I must mention that beefsteaks were available whereas these were very hard to come by elsewhere in America, but in cattle country like rural Texas, they were to be had. Along with any steak in the typical roadside cafes you were given a loud dose of hillbilly music, later dignified with the title of country & western, I believe.

But, can you imagine having a jeep of your very own?? I could drive one anyplace and anytime, with one exception the rainy night I drove a deeply rutted back lane out in the middle of nowhere and got all four wheels off the ground simultaneously and had to walk quite a ways through a woods to find help back at our battery location. I was able to awaken Jimmy Burke,      (Jimmy Burke showing Gallagher where Hale kicked him) one of our regular truck drivers and a close friend, and talk him into driving his truck back to my trouble spot so we could hook up a rope between the two vehicles and he could pull my jeep back out of its predicament. With enthusiasm at feeling solid ground under my wheels I backed up much too energetically and wrapped the tow rope around one of my wheels which meant a few more wet minutes as we did some untangling in the mud. I'll bet his nice dry bed felt great to Jim when he finally got rid of me and my problem.

One of the fun sets of honors enjoyed by all of us was the naming of all our equipment with anything we decided as long as the name started with the letter "B" to identify it as part of our Battery "B". Since I was the sole "owner" of my jeep its name was my choice and from then on it was known as the "Boston Belle" in honor of my sweetheart back in Boston. Each of our four guns was given a "B" name such as Betty or Bonnie or Beauty, for example, and the names were selected by each of the 10 man gun crews. The trucks used by our mess crew were named by them and the trucks used by our wire crew were named by them and so forth. Each piece so designated had the name painted conspicuously on it and all of us took pride in having chosen so brilliantly. In the meantime, all the men of Battery "A" and Battery "C" had made their own selections and I never thought to check on the names of the equipment used by Headquarters Battery but doubt now that their names all started with the letters "HQ.....".

And so long as I could not be with my Boston Belle for awhile, I at least spent all my working time in Texas with her namesake    (Bob on hood - Sgt. Radlowski in driver's seat and Sgt. Willie McIntire in back). She and I did have some interesting and exciting experiences together, such as the time I ran over something which punctured two of the tires and since I had only one spare tire and , in fact, didn't know how to change a tire anyway, drove back to our motor pool where my old friend,    Sergeant Kempton who was in charge of this section did a commendable job of controlling his temper and maintaining our friendship rather than hang me from the nearest limb when he saw the poor crippled "Boston Belle". Somehow the radiator of the "B B" sprung a leak which was never repaired by our motor pool fellows because of the enormity of the job but this problem was easily solved by the use of a canvas bag I picked up somewhere and which served to carry water to the jeep whenever needed. This bag was really the type used by the horse Calvary to water and feed their mounts and was designed to be filled and then hung over the horses heads so that they could eat and drink whenever away from their barns. Of course the trick was to find water to fill the bucket and this is where my field training and map reading skills came in handy because I was able to keep track of all the streams and water holes which could supply the radiators needs.

On one of these cross country excursions to get water from a small stream, my route back to the roadway took me across a field where Battery "C"s telephone wires had been laid back to Headquarters and I didn't realize that I was entangled in the wires until my speed started to reduce unexplainably. After coming to a complete stop and getting out of the jeep to find out the reason, it was easy to determine that my right side wheels had snagged a wire which I would have to untangle by backing up and unhooking by hand. Just as this project was finished and I was again ready to proceed I could hear yelling down the road behind me and waving their arms so it seemed that the most logical step to take would be to casually put the jeep in gear and continue on my merry way. This I did and then forgot about the incident until one day shortly after when we had returned to camp from our field maneuvers and I was lounging on my bunk in the barracks I heard a voice at the door asking if Black was here. I recognized immediately Lieutenant Henzi     who had at one time been with our battery back at Fort Strong but then had been reassigned to "C" Battery. Also I couldn't help but notice that something had taken its toll on the good officer because he was using a crutch to help him walk. Doing an admirable job of holding his temper, he explained that his injury had been caused by the field telephone and its leather case having been torn form its mount on a tree while he was using it to talk to Headquarters and the wire having tangled itself around his arm, jerked him off his feet and dragged him several feet before stopping. See how this naturally ties in with my jeep having been stopped by a telephone wire? I did feel badly about the incident and apologized sincerely to the lieutenant who finally saw the black humor in the incident and laughed heartily at the ridiculousness of the accident. I'm sure this relieved him of the pressure and urge to wrap his crutch around Corporal Black's head.

Another of my memories of the "Boston Belle" days in Texas was the time it was unavoidable that she and I, along with all the other drivers and their vehicles, had to stand an inspection from some high ranking officer who was trying to adjudge our readiness for combat. Because of my complete ignorance on anything mechanical, it was most fortunate for me that Sergeant Kempton was accompanying the officer as he checked each of us and was able to help me answer a couple of the officer's questions by holding up his fingers or glancing with his eyes to the area being questioned without this coaching being noticed. I suppose everyone should have known where the shovel was secured to his vehicle and also what number grease was used but without Hank's help behind the inspecting officer's back, I would have been a dead duck for sure.

The heavy usage of the mighty little jeep did take its toll and eventually the muffler went bad and the noise, while of no concern or importance to me, did drive crazy the crazy Major from Headquarters who got in the habit of using me to drive him around to the battalion positions. Each time I would deliver him back to Headquarters he would order me to get the muffler fixed so that the noise wouldn't give away our position at night and for awhile I was able to disregard the instructions but finally while being his chauffeur on maneuvers I turned the matter over to good old Hank Kempton and his motor pool men. My driving for the Major was not all that pleasant because he had the habit of not talking to me and, instead, pointing or waving his swagger stick to issue his instructions. I did finally achieve a degree of understanding with his stick but it just never seemed as satisfactory as hearing him talk. More on this character when we arrive in England if these memories make it that far. Also, maybe I'll be able to recall his name by that time.

- Written March 1996 -

Upon arriving at North Camp Hood in mid March of 1944 our battalion was renamed the "547th Field Artillery" and training began immediately with our new 155mm "Long Toms". While there were similarities with our old 9th Coast Artillery and the 3" A A guns, the drastic change was that we were now going to be mobile and all 105 men in each gun battery had to adjust to doing everything on the run, so to speak.

Each of the four gun crews was much larger than the gun crews at Fort Strong and we now had to operate large vehicles to move our guns and the gun crews while carrying with us the ammunition in other large trucks. Our support sections such as the mess crew, supply crew, wire crew, survey crew and motor crew were all motorized operations now, unlike the good old days at Fort Strong, and the retraining to meet these different requirements was intense but most interesting to us all.

Under the Table of Organization for our battalion (always called the "T O") I was assigned to the new position of Liaison Agent with duties described in the previous chapter and I enjoyed the independence of the job because I really reported to no one in particular and yet had to be available for orders from both our headquarters and our own battery. Could this "T O" position have been a carry-over from the Indian fighting days when the scout performed some of the same type functions, I wonder? If so, I'm glad I had a jeep as my conveyance instead of a horse.

Four officers were assigned to each battery and it just so happened that those in "B" Battery were all new to the outfit and I'm not sure where they had served and trained previously. Our most junior officer named 2nd Lieutenant Page    had just graduated from Officer's Candidate School, (O.C.S.) I believe; our next junior officer was 1st Lieutenant Kovanda    who had "washed out" of pilot training in the Air Force and had been reassigned to our battery; our Executive Officer was 1st Lieutenant William Hansen from the state of Washington and our commanding officer was a Texan, Captain Eugene W. Sheehan. 

The training schedule was very busy and, no doubt, there was a deadline to meet in completing our readiness for combat. Many days were spent in individual training such as physical fitness, weapons proficiency with our Carbine rifles which were much smaller in size than the Garand M1 rifles and Springfield '03 rifles we had trained with at Fort Strong and with our other personal weapons - hand grenades and bayonets. A series of hikes were included in the physical fitness preparedness with each hike being longer than the previous one and leading up to the "final exam" hike of 20 miles within a specified time period. Hiking was an easy part of my own training and the reason probably is that I learned early that the trick was to work your way up to the front of the column and set the pace yourself instead of walking back in the pack and trying to keep up with somebody elses pace. Another trick I learned was to not walk or march behind someone with an unusual gate or walking motion which could throw off your own rhythm and pace terribly. In formal marching, it was always understood that the tallest men with the longest legs should not march at the front of the column without being governed by the pace of a flag bearer with middle sized or shorter than normal legs who could set a pace and gate easily copied by all others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Many days and nights were spent training "in the field" on maneuvers and this included convoy practice with everything we owned: guns, trucks and trailers, because the main function of a field artillery outfit is to move from here to there and set up for business as quickly as and secretively as possible. It took quite a while for us to get all of this perfected and finally we were ready to fire the guns. Upon moving into a firing position, everything except the guns and crews were removed to safer areas and the specialized sections such as mess and supply and motor pool would organize themselves for their support activities. As soon as our four guns would be positioned and then stabilized by spreading and digging in the long metal trails at the back of each gun, Lt. Hansen would set up his surveying type instruments in between the 2nd and 3rd guns and synchronize all four weapons so they were all aiming at the same thing as accurately as possible and so that he could figure out what variants each gun should be given when actually firing at a target. In the meantime, our wire crew would go into action by running our own telephone wires from each gun to our command post manned by Lt. Hansen as near as possible to a central location between the guns and then running wires from there back to our battalion headquarters which would set itself up in business behind us and as close to a center position as they could so that all three batteries of guns could be fired simultaneously at a target with some hope of accuracy, Our own Survey Crew composed of five or six of our smartest people would attempt to get themselves located in a place where they could see with binoculars whatever it was we were going to shoot at and where they could communicate to Lt. Hansen at our gun command post by walkie-talkie radio the corrections we should make in the firing of the next round of shells. Here their mathematical and surveying skills were important in figuring out as quickly as possible where we should fire next. Upon going into our firing position, all of us in the gun area would unload as quickly as possible our ammunition trucks and store the shells where they could be carried to each gun as needed. These trucks then could hightail it back to wherever all our other trucks were being hidden.

As soon as the guns were secured in position all the men in the gun crews and command post hurriedly dug "foxholes" into which they could dive whenever under attack by enemy artillery or aircraft. Too, each man had in mind making his own hole as comfortable as possible when used for sleeping so might improvise with a camouflaged cover of some kind to lay across the top. In fact, as we became more experienced we began to collect such items and carry these with us from position to position. Things got easier when we actually got into combat in Germany because we could set up our guns, if lucky enough to find the perfect spots, next to buildings which we then could use for protection about as satisfactorily as our "foxholes" could provide. Another advantage which we enjoyed in actual combat was the sighting of targets from two small Piper Cub type airplanes which had been assigned to our use. These, of course, were valuable in identifying targets far from our guns and much farther than our own Survey Crew could locate. Also, if our targets might be obscured from the view of our crew because of buildings or hills, the overhead observers were able to spot these from above.

During training all four officers were given practice in actually firing the guns at specified targets by acting as their own observers on a high hill overlooking the enormous range of land used for targets. As soon as they would call for the first ground to be fired, they'd watch with their field glasses for the ground burst and then could call back to their battery to adjust either the azimuth (horizontal) or elevation positions on the gun being used for this initial firing. As soon as the second round would explode they then could adjust again and keep repeating this until the burst was right on target. Here then, their command was for the other three guns to "fire" and, if Willie Hanson had them adjusted properly, their bursts should, theoretically, be right on top of each other. When the officers from all three batteries would direct their own weapons to the target the noise and ground devastation would be overwhelming as the twelve guns would fire simultaneously. Would remind us of a gigantic 4th of July fireworks finale back home!

- Written March 1996 -

On one of the long daytime convoy practice when every one of our vehicles were driving in a long line with probably 100 foot spacing between, I had Jimmy Mc Cormack  as my passenger and because of the heat we had to dig deeply to entertain ourselves and to stay awake in this monotonous situation. At this time the muffler on my jeep was on its last legs and I could create wonderful, loud backfiring noises by easing up and speeding up the motor so it was only natural that we invented a game to entertain the men on the mess truck immediately ahead of us in line. Jimmy, who incidentally a couple years later served again at my side as my best man at Dolores' and my wedding in his home town of Boston, would stand up and aim my rifle at the cooks while I would perform the shooting sounds with my muffler. Of course the cooks entered into the spirit of this idiocy by pretending fear and ducking down behind the large pans and cooking apparatus in their truck at each volley of shots.

To cool off we'd stop a few seconds at the next fording spot and sit in the middle of the stream being crossed while scooping up our helmets full of the refreshing water to spray on ourselves and finally just empty on our heads by putting on the helmets and letting the water cascade down. This was called improvising, of course, and we were really showing the originality for which the American soldier was supposed to be known as compared to the very regimented, staid and disciplined German soldier we were planning to meet quite soon. Or, so we told ourselves to explain anything goofy.

On another convoy drive to a several day long bivouac, I took with us a whole bushel of Michigan peaches which Puz and Nan Black had picked and sent to our outfit via railway express. These we opened at our camp area and treated all the fellows to a Berrien County fruit party for a big change in routine. Can you believe that things like this could happen in wartime?

Finally, after several intense months of training, we approached countdown time, and the final decision was made on exactly who would or would not accompany the unit on the eastern trip to the European Theatre of Operations. Because of my "1-B" classification and ineligibility for this type operation, my job and jeep and small brown box were given to Sergeant Willie McIntire, one of our old regular army men, who had requested the move even though it meant he had to accept a demotion to Corporal. As I, along with several others who were to be left behind awaited our new assignment the ingenious idea occurred to me to request our commanding officer, Captain Sheehan,  to have my service record altered, very easily, by simply changing the letter "B" to and "A" and no one would know the difference. Assuring him that I would be responsible if ever this would be revealed in the future, he agreed to do what he could, between just the two of us. There was a young Junior Warrant Officer in charge of our battalion administrative functions who was agreeable to doing what Captain Sheehan asked of him, so the forgery was easily accomplished and my name entered back on the list of men staying with Battery B for overseas duty. This same Warrant Officer, did another grand favor for me later on in Germany, and today I'm very sad that I've forgotten his name.

Everyone on the overseas list was issued a 10 day furlough. I caught a train so badly overcrowded that I sat on my duffel bag in between cars for at least a couple hundred miles, but eventually reached Boston for a glorious holiday with my love who had arranged for an apartment around the corner from her house. All I can remember is the euphoria of seeing her each evening for the next week and of the fun conversations with her mother each afternoon as I'd await Dolores' arrival from work. Her continuing at our furious pace when only getting a few hours sleep each night must have taken its toll but the week ended way too soon for me and it was back on the train for an unpleasant ride back to Texas. For Dolores it meant beautiful, beautiful sleep.

The remaining days in Texas were spent completing all the physical requirements, including again my battle with the 8' wall, and in preparing all our personal gear and our four 155's for the trip across the Atlantic. It was required that we heavily grease the guns with a gummy, sticky product we called "cosmolean", I believe, and I think we used this same stuff on our rifles and bayonets. Positively, this protected against sea spray and rust, but was extremely difficult to remove once we'd reached England and were preparing everything for combat.

The final days were spent doing a lot of loafing and letter writing and plain goofing-off as everything was ready to pack on train cars and leave but the departure orders had not been received. I can't guess how many games of "drive back" Jack Czarnik  and I played in the long field in front of all the barracks but can remember one uncanny kick by Jack which was caught by the wind and which I couldn't catch but did enjoy seeing the football bounce cleanly up and through the window of our orderly room and onto the desk of Captain Sheehan along with the glass shards which sprayed the room - and which, as I recall were quite hard for Jack and me to pick up prior to having to reglaze the window. Could the good Captain have been wondering about his decision to help Corporal Black  stay with him, do you think?

Part of each of the final, boring days were spent sitting on bunks in the barracks listening to lectures and refresher courses on just about every subject. On one of these days, Corporal Joe Default  sat right behind me on someones bunk and, to overcome his boredom, wrapped a sock around my neck and pulled it taught with the quick result that I passed out nice and gently. Reviving me relieved a bit of the boredom for everyone no doubt. Another time I detected a very strange aroma which I finally determined was coming from my own hand and more specifically my left thumb which had been squashed a few weeks earlier when I was pushing a buddy into an overcrowded taxi in Austin, Texas, and the driver reached over and slammed the door while my thumb was still in the door frame. Incidentally, to make matters worse, the unknowing driver sped off with me caught in his door and riding on the running board while screaming at him to stop. Anyway, the mysterious aroma was caused by the thumbnail finally coming off with a new nail already formed beneath. Everyone in the barracks was most agreeable to dismissing me from the lecture for a trip to the medics.

I did write one letter to my dad which I mailed to him at his office in the steel mill so that my mother would not know about it and in this letter I explained to dad that it was my decision to go all the way with my comrades rather than to stay back in the states and that I hoped he'd be proud of me. Patriotism was definitely one of my strong points as it was his. My mother never mentioned anything in later years about such a letter and of my desire to spare her feelings so I've always thought that dad considered the letter just mine and his.

When we finally departed the Lone Star state we left behind one of our comrades who had been killed during one of our maneuvers. a rather quiet but very friendly fellow named Kurt Throm.  Kurt did come along with us all the way though - - in our memories

- Written March 1996 -

One of our original "1-B" group who did not continue with us was a partially illiterate Kentucky man named David St Clair    with whom I had become friendly because of having done a lot of his reading and writing for him. David, who was affectionately known as "Ridge Runner" because of his hill-billy background had gotten married shortly before entering the service and his young wife was almost blind so she had a friend back home who could write her letters for her and "Ridge Runner" had me as his reader and writer. He was so distraught and worried about his wife that life in the service was almost unbearable for him. I recall talking to him several times about not deserting and, recall also having been concerned at the times of his leaving the post on a pass that he would not return but was always relieved when he would. One of his tools for contending with unhappiness was the devouring of many aspirins each day and while I guess this did not cause any great problem his aspirin expense had to have been mighty.

An interesting side note about Private St Clair was that one summer day we had gone together to Suffolk Downs, the local race track, and because he convinced me of his great skill in spotting good horse flesh due to his Kentucky background, it was only natural that he should make the selections of which steed parading before the crowd prior to each race looked to be the most qualified for an easy victory. He always blamed the warm beer we kept enjoying between races but his reputation took a terrible beating race after race when not a single one of his picks placed. After probably five or six races, it was agreed that I would do some picking and wouldn't you know, each of my blind selections came in, to "Ridge Runner's" complete embarrasment, and there was an awful lot of good natured kidding when we had returned to the post from our passes and adivised everyone there of our day at the races !

I do take credit for his having been discharged from the service at the time of our departure for Europe because I did present his case to Captain Sheehan as the final roster was being prepared and did convince the Captain that he would be doing a noble deed by letting David go home and be with his wife for good. David knew of my efforts in his behalf and when his name appeared on the "Discharge List" he gave all credit to me with great emotion and, who knows, maybe there was soon a wee St Clair named Robert, eh?

There was a great deal of last minute commotion caused by the number of men left behind and by the number of replacements assigned to our battery. Even though the new men had completed their training with other batteries their worth and ability was unknown to our officers and, I know that several of the replacements were unacceptable and were then reassigned hurriedly elsewhere with yet more replacements requested to take their places. I would guess that each battery was able to cull out those they did not want and put them on the reassignment list but then these people would become the concern of the next outfit and this shuffling and attempted outshuffling would just continue until time ran out and the final departures would be made with whichever troops were on the roster at that moment. I'd describe it as sort of a poker game with each set of officers trying to bluff other sets of officers and foist off on them any of the men they did not want. You can understand the commotion all this caused at the last minute. In my own case, having been kept on the roster but without a job since the Liason Agent position had been given to Willie McIntire when it was thouht I had to be left behind, Captain Sheehan and Lieutenant Hansen decided that I could be assigned the position of the latter's aide and serve in his place whenever he would be unavailable even though there definitely was no such position on the "T O" (Table of Organization). So this meant an increase in our officer compliment even though one of them was a lowly Corporal but when the time of combat finally arrived, their decision looked most wise whenever Willie Hansen could no longer keep his eyes open and I could fill in for him, at least on the simpler functions of firing the guns at targets specified by Battalion Headquarters.

- Written December 1996 -

Orders were finally received to make the big move we'd trained for and had been anxiously and suspensfully awaiting!!

I believe we had never been informed officially at that time whether we were headed for the European or the Pacific Theatre of Operation and, in fact, had been prepared for either with inoculations for tropical type disease as well as the typical precautions against northern climate problems. And so it was that when we finally got all our trucks and guns loaded on flat bed railroad cars and then eventually loaded ourselves along with every item assigned to us on passenger cars we still weren't sure which way we were headed. I'm sure that some of us were rooting for a western trip with the P T O (Pacific Theatre of Operation) as our final destination, but my own preference very definitely was for the eastern trip and eventual service in the E T O (European Theatre of Operation) because this was the area where my Dad had served in the First World War.

No doubt, the logistic specialists in the Army did their best to confuse any surveillance of troop movements and so even though our train headed in a generally eastern direction we couldn't be sure it would continue that way. I suppose the first positive indication of our destination was when we knew we were approaching the New York City area. Finally, after a couple days on the rails we arrived at an assembly area a few miles from New York City which I think was named Camp Joyce Kilmer. If this is correct, I also think my Dad and his unit had also used this camp for their final preparations a quarter century earlier. Camp Kilmer had rows and rows of wooden barracks and the usual mess halls, supply, medical and other typical camp facilities so once again we all settled in for the final wait before leaving the country. I'm not sure of dates now but we must have left Texas in mid to latter November of 1944. Our stay at Camp Kilmer was probably about a week and in that time we each received two twelve hour passes away from the Camp.

I can't say exactly where we were but it must have been about a half hour train ride into New York City and that there was a time deadline for the return to camp, about midnight, I would guess. My first excursion into the big city started with a bit of excitement when two soldiers sitting together a couple rows ahead of me got into an argument with the men sitting between us and things got out of hand in a hurry when one of the latter stabbed the one in front of him in the shoulder. Immediately, all of us in nearby seats moved at once to the ends of the car and left the arena to the three combatants. Soon, the wounded soldier and his seatmate raged out of control and by leaning over their seatbacks grabbed the knifer and began slamming his head against the window. At this point I couldn't take any more of this brutality so worked my way free of the group at my end of the car and rushed up the aisle to try and stop the crazy beating. The soldier I grabbed was the one who had been stabbed and he was considerably bigger than I but I got a grip around his chest and arms and was able to hold on until others could join in the rescue and process and contain the other wild man and help the poor fellow who they had nearly killed in their fury. About the time we got the fight stopped, the train had also stopped and all of us were ordered to keep our seats while the M P's took over the situation and marched the three trouble makers off the train. The whole disruption took probably only 15 minutes but this was still an unforgivable delay for the celebrants enroute to their big city night on the town in Americas largest and most exciting city. My overcoat had several bloody stains from my wrestling with the wounded soldier but this did not stop the evenings enjoyment.

Four of us, including 1st Sgt. Joe Radlowski, Cpl. Jimmy McCormack and Pvt. George Barker    spent the hours away from camp by eating dinner and then strolling the streets, gawking a lot at the big buildings and winding up at the Hotel Astor and the Jack Dempsey bar, both of which were landmarks we all had always heard about.

So what would you guess hundreds of G I's on pass in N Y C would do with their free time ? Of course! Stand in line at banks of telephones in the lobby of the Hotel to make calls to their loved ones.

My first call was to my sweetheart,   Dolores Lewis, in Boston! Knowing that my time was short before leaving for overseas, we made exciting plans to try and meet in New York City even if only for a few hours providing the U S Army would cooperate with us. I would guess now that we couldn't have been too optimistic about the success of this plan because we could remember a time about a year previously when the two of us had hoped to spend a few days together and with my friends Sergeant Hank and Kaye Kempton as chaperones, up in New Hampshire, but we found this idea completely unacceptable to Dolores' very proper and straight laced wonderful Mom, Kathleen.

This time though, Dolores had been saving her money in case my travel schedule would permit our rendezvousing in New York before my ship would leave and so we both let our hopes skyrocket that this plan would come to fruition for us. Before hanging up our phones then we had decided that I should try to find out as much as possible and as quickly as possible about Battery B's schedule and call again so that we could firm up both our plans at that time. With none of us at Camp Kilmer privy to Pentagon plans for our immediate future, my next call to Dolores a night or two later, at the time of my next pass into town was about as iffy and frustrating as could be and our only recourse was to go ahead with preparations so that we could move on short notice as soon as I could glean any kind of information and call her. By her getting completely ready to leave on almost a moment's notice she then would need only a few minutes lead time to head for Boston's South Station and then four or five hours enroute to our meeting at Grand Central Station in New York. Of course, our alternate plan was that if the Army destroyed these plans by loading the 547th Field Artillery Battalion on a ship and pointing it east, I wouldn't be able to phone and she'd know that we were on our way overseas.

As Dolores and I reminisce now about this little chapter of our lives, we both wonder how she would have confronted her Mom with her defiant intentions. Who knows. Her Mom may very well have accepted her daughters decision and given it her blessing. Or, who knows, she might have decided to accompany her baby girl in this truly war time high adventure. At any rate, to finish the tale of Dolores' war time romantic plans which had been squashed by military priorities, to compensate for her disappointment, she took all the money she had been saving and spent it on a fur coat. And, as we now enjoy old photos taken way back then of the Boston Belle and her beautiful fur coat,   weren't she and it gorgeous?!

- Written December 1st 1996 -

Another phone call I made during my two passes in N Y C was to my mother and father who by this time had left Gary and had moved to Buchanan and were staying temporarily with my grandmother Bulhand while they started to resurrect an old farm house they had bought near Niles, Michigan. Too, both my folks had gone to work for Clark Equipment Co. in Buchanan, doing war work jobs.

The call turned out to be quite remarkable because in 1944 our country's phone system was still very simple, almost crude, compared to todays and everything was handled manually by lady operators.    (Gary, Indiana telephone operators 1944)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Thinking that my parents were in Buchanan I advised the New York operator of the number and she soon was talking to my grandmother and asking her to put Floyd or Ruby Black on the line for Corporal Black. I could hear my grandmother nervously explain to the operator that they were not there, having gone to Valparaiso, Indiana, on an emergency. I asked the operator to please try to reach them for me and she was receptive to my request but the big hitch was neither grandma or I knew either the phone number or address in Valparaiso of my other grandparents, Henry and Aseneath Black, whom I knew were the ones being visited by my folks.

We would not consider this to be any kind of problem today, but for some reason it was quite difficult for the operator to find out the numbers she needed - perhaps there was no such thing as an information service or it might have been unavailable late at night at the time of our calling - but the operator kept calling whomever she and I could think of in Valparaiso until finally she got the correct number. I do recall that grandma and grandpa Black had a crank type phone which wasn't usable without a few brisk cranks of the handle and I also recall that they were on a party line with probably a dozen of their farm neighbors also having the same phone number, but with each phone having a certain additional set of rings for proper identification. In fact, even after the war and in the early days of Dolores and my marriage in Niles, our phone was on a party line with three others and each of us had a different ring - ours being three long and one short, Dolores recalls, with our phone number being 1542R. The fun thing about a party line was that everyone on the same line could listen in on the conversation.

Sure enough, with the N Y C operator's perseverance and compassion, the connection was made between the soldier leaving for combat service and his mother and father for a last conversation. The reason the folks were in Valparaiso was that my grandmother Black was mortally ill and, in fact, died later that month on the 22nd of December, so I should think that a call from their son must have been sort of sad and compounded their sad mission of visiting grandma at that time.

- Written December 1996 -

What better than a cold, dark, rainy December evening for a battalion to form into marching order out on the camp street with each man completely garbed with full uniform, overcoat, raincoat, helmet, back pack, gas mask, rifle, "U" roll of blankets on top of the back pack and duffel bag with all his worldly possessions. Roll call! All present and accounted for! Ready to go - four batteries of men, over 400 strong!

Immediately ahead of me in ranks as our march started was the shortest man in our outfit, PFC Joe Pacheco,   one of our cooks. Joe was as tough as nails but this night his handicap of having to carry one of the two Browning Automatic Rifles (B A R's) assigned to our battery was tormenting to him. The B A R rifle    was a great weapon which fired automatically as long as the trigger was pulled and, because of its size and weight was designed to be fired in a prone position with the rifle steadied on tripod legs to achieve some accuracy. However, its heavier weight and extraordinary length caused Joe to stagger and break his stride as the bottom of the weapon, slung over his right shoulder, would hit him in the back of his legs with each step he took. It was Joe's misfortune this night to have had this weapon assigned to him and the thinking behind this decision, of course, had been that cooks seldom if ever had to walk so the heavy, long rifle would be of no problem to them and in this way all the others would have the smaller, much lighter carbine rifles as their assigned weapons.

Finding myself with a free hand and recognizing Joe's struggles, I grabbed the bottom of his B A R and held it away from him for the long march through the camp streets to the rail head where we then boarded a train for the next part of our journey to the docks.

I really have no idea at all of the route we took that night but eventually we exited the train somewhere and boarded ferries which took us across the New York harbor and gave us all the thrill of seeing, even in moonlight, the Statue of Liberty as we sailed near her on our way to the dock area.

At last, a march through a long, open sided building and alongside what appeared to be a high wall just outside led us to a set of gangplanks leaning up against that wall which turned out instead, to be the side of the ship we were to board for our sea voyage. Naval personnel led us into the ship and down to our luxurious accommodations consisting of a large room with rows and rows of bunks, four tiers high, with extremely narrow aisles between the rows. My choice of a top tier bunk did permit me a peek out a porthole during daylight hours but also presented a challenge to try and not step on the heads or feet of those in the three bunks below as I made my climbs and descents. Our bulky duffle bags were piled in a heap at the end of the rows but everything else joined us in our bunks. Cozy it was.

The name of our troop ship was "S S Uruguay"    and it had been a beautiful passenger liner before the war but now had been converted to transporting troops across the Atlantic ocean. Signs of its former magnificence were easily detected, but it had been stripped to its bare walls, of course, to accommodate hundreds or maybe thousands of soldiers and nurses.

I can't recall how many decks there were but I do remember that only officers and nurses and civilians were billeted on the upper deck while all lower areas from the main deck downward belonged to the enlisted men. Everyone was free to roam anywhere on the ship as long as they stayed in their assigned areas. It wasn't long after boarding that many of us took advantage of this loose ruling and began our roaming to see what a large oceangoing vessel looked like from the inside. The first thing my friend, Ralph Borne,   discovered was the ship commissary or, Post Exchange (P X) as it was called in the Army, and he made purchases which seemed puzzling to the rest of us. When he made his triumphal return to our assigned area he had an armload of full boxes of candy bars, Hershey's and Baby Ruths, etc. When asked why such a large purchase and what he planned doing with the unusual quantity of candy bars he gave no ready answer but I wonder if Ralph hadn't heard that the children in the war zone were starving and he planned on doing his little part to alleviate some of their suffering. I don't remember either Ralph or any of the rest of us eating any of his horde so maybe it wound up in his duffel bag for dispersal a bit later. Nice to think this anyway and it wouldn't surprise me if this was the case.

A surprise development had occurred during our first evening and night aboard the Uruguay and this was revealed at the informal rollcall out on the main deck early the next morning when three of us were found to be missing. It was later determined that these three unfortunates had become quite sea sick and had found their way to the infirmary where they had been confined to bed while undergoing whatever medical treatment would bring them back to life. The flabbergasting mystery surrounding their "mal de mer" was the fact that they had become seriously sea sick while our ship was still tied up at the dock. Who can doubt the power of the mind over matter.

My own "malady of the sea" was merely a touch of queasiness our first day at sea as I laid in my upper bunk and focused on the porthole view of a vast, rolling sea which would slowly drop out of sight only to slowly return as the ship completed its roll. I was pleased that I didn't join the growing ranks of fellows who were letting their stomachs match the rolls of the ship and were spending uneasy moments in the latrine, and wonder if my memory of my dad's exploit of having been one of a very few on his ship returning to America from France after W W I who wasn't afflicted with sea sickness and who, in fact, had defied the seasick gods by spending time on the front bow of his ship during a violent storm with high seas while holding on to the flag mast for steadiness, wasn't the incentive for my success as a sailor.

- Written Deceber 1996 -

Having fallen into deep, peaceful sleep our first night aboard the Uruguay, all of us were astounded then the next morning at our first informal formation out on the deck to find the sight of land missing. Of course, our ship had sailed during the night and by morning was at sea in the company of many other vessels which had formed into convoy formation for the trip eastward. I believe there were two other troop ships alongside ours on the three inner rows with many freighters surrounding us on the outer rows and in front and behind us. Too, there were two naval vessels accompanying us and working their way constantly around the perimeter of the convoy, probably sounding for any undersea German submarine activity, we were comforted to believe.

The size of our convoy was increased as we were joined by a number of additional ships out of Boston and I believe the number reached about 35 finally. The second night there must have been some kind of alert and perhaps some naval action because, as I and several others were sitting on the floor (deck) of one of the hallways, leaning up against a wall, we could hear dim sounds of explosives and could feel a slight vibration of our ship each time. The following morning, our count of ships accompanying us found two or three less than the previous day, so we always wondered if we had lost them during the night to enemy torpedoes or to possible motor troubles which caused them to fall out of the formation and return to port.

Daytime activities aboard ship consisted of many groups of gamblers squatting    or sitting around someone's blanket spread out on the deck, playing cards or throwing dice, while others merely strolled the deck while smoking their Chesterfields or Camels or Lucky Strikes or Old Gold cigarettes. Inside activities consisted of roaming the hallways and laying in bunks either talking to buddies or writing letters home. Everyone anxiously awaited the three daily mess calls and the long lines leading to the serving and dining area with all personnel armed with great appetites to enjoy the creations of the Navy cooks who had immediately earned the highest accolades for their culinary skills and for the superior food available to them.

Another much anticipated joy was the magic hour each day when fresh water was available in the showers instead of the salt water available at all other times. We found the big difference the ease of soaping and rinsing in the scarce fresh water whereas even with a special soap for salt water usage the showers were time consuming and less than satisfactory.

About 4:00 each afternoon, a loud speaker announcement that the "smoking lamp was out" signaled all the many smokers to desert the outside deck during their smoking breaks and to assemble in what had been the main lobby during the Uruguay's peace time usage. Here, we all sat on the steps of the grand staircase while enjoying our cigs and at the end would drop the butts on the carpeting in front of us and grind them out with our boots before leaving to make room for others. I've often wondered why, when stripping the Uruguay of its luxurious accoutrements and furnishings the workmen hadn't also pulled the staircase carpeting but perhaps there had been some concern that the bare steps could be a slippery danger to big leather boot soles and heels or some such reason, but I still cringe at the memory of all the damage done by our cigarettes. At least we were thoughtful enough to not grind them out on the beautiful banisters.

One day we were interested in some unusual activity by the two or three Navy destroyers accompanying us and the next day learned from the daily newspaper written and published for our entertainment and edification that one of the sailors on the front destroyer had fallen overboard due to rough seas but had been picked up by one of the rear destroyers after the front ship had signaled the rear one of the problem. And so, without missing a beat or disturbing the convoy, an unfortunate sailor had become a most fortunate one, thanks to the skills of his comrades.

We could tell that we were approaching the end of our trip by the almost lack of gambling groups as we walked the deck. As it turned out, finally, all the enlisted men's money was in the pockets of one successful soldier. We learned later that similar gambling activities had been going on up above us where all the officers' and nurses' and civilians' money finally found its way into the pockets of the luckiest one of them. Now what? Even with the no-mingling rule, somehow the lucky officer and lucky G I were able to meet, secretly, before we debarked, and my memory tells me it was the officer who completed the voyage quite a few thousand dollars the richer with the last G I's pockets quite empty.

Another most welcome sign of the approaching end to our journey was the sighting of blimps which had come seaward from England to keep an eye out for submarine activity the rest of our trip. Even so, we were under almost constant alert and wore life jackets at all times as we sailed through notorious sub territory in the English Channel and no doubt the fellows up in the blimps were reporting dangers that kept all our ships -and us- nervous.

- Written December 1996 -

That land on our left must be England!! Those warships all around us must be English and those planes and blimps over us must be English!! We're almost there!!

We are there!! This busy port with all the docks and all the ships and all the big cranes for unloading is called Southampton and that big island we just passed is called the Isle of Wight. There is no way of telling whether all the freighters and troop ships in our convoy have docked here but more than likely some have gone to other ports along this English Channel separating England from mainland Europe while others have diverted up between England and Ireland for landings at ports of the Irish Sea. Anyway, thanks to the American and British navies and airforces we've avoided the German subpacks and, as far as we can tell most of our convoy has made the whole 12 to 13 day trip from New York and Boston harbors successfully. Nick work, all you sailors and flyers - - - and thanks!!

Another thrill to all us passengers was actually walking down the gangplanks and stomping our boots on solid, non-rolling land where we were met by the aroma of coffee and donuts being served by Red Cross volunteers as we worked our way through the dock area and out to a nearby railroad for loading and more riding throughout the night.

The usual thing about the night-time rail trip was the security measures surrounding it. The passenger cars were lit inside but all window shades were tightly closed to prevent any light escaping and no doubt the logistics specialists in England were careful to move troops and supplies at night to make it more difficult for the German aircraft to spot such movements. Our dinner enroute consisted of rations which had been handed to each man before boarding the train and water containers at the ends of the cars provided liquid refreshment for the diners.

An hour or two before dawn found us unloading from our railroad cars on to a long, cement platform and trying to form into some semblance of order as the train pulled out of the station. As we waited patiently for whatever troop movement had been planned next, I could hear a voice some distance away calling my name and could also hear others advising him that: "Black's on down the platform a ways". I could track his progress as his voice became louder with each inquiry. Finally, who should appear but my old friend, Major O'Neill, our Battalion Executive Officer, who had left us at Camp Hood several weeks before our departure with the mission of coming to England to make all advance arrangements for our billeting.

As I answered: "here, sir", the major ordered me to fall out of ranks and follow him and then led the way to his command car which he had parked nearby. Storing all my gear in the back seat, and taking the driver's spot while the Major joined me in the adjoining seat where his swagger stick directions would be most readily observed, we left the railroad and headed through the darkened streets in an industrial area and then through the narrow streets of a city until we eventually found ourselves at its edge and pulled into a long winding driveway leading to a large manor house. Here, the major hopped out of the vehicle and finally spoke the words, "okay, Corporal, now go back and get the battalion and bring them out here".

If only the major had alerted me when we were leaving the depot area to remember where he was going to lead me so that I could reverse the trip later I might have had a fair chance to perform his command, but since he hadn't, I'm sure I pleaded with Mother Luck to point me the right way and sure enough she did. Finding the factory area wasn't too difficult and then locating the railroad was even easier. The best sight of all though was seeing, in the early morning light a convoy of British trucks all loaded with the officers and enlisted men of the 547th F A Battalion just waiting for someone to lead them to our new billets. Finding once again the manor house and adjoining grounds of "Pettypool Manor" in Sandiway, suburb of Northwick, England, was a cinch, even though we all were driving on what I felt was the wrong side of the road but knew was the correct side in this England.

Our overnight train had taken us about 175 miles north of our port of entry, Southampton, and deposited us near the historical city of Chester on the Wales-England border and not too far south of the famous port of Liverpool. Northwich was a fair sized city, as I recall, and the suburb of Sandiway a typical English town. Our Pettypool Manor     was composed of a large manor house which Major O'Neill had arranged for the officers to use as their lodgings while all enlisted men were housed in metal Quonset huts which had been built in the formerly beautiful grounds of the manor. Adjoining the manor house grounds was a large field which was to be used to store our guns and vehicles while we prepared them for our combat usage. The big hitch here, however, was that the guns and trucks had not landed with us and it took a number of days for their whereabouts to be located.

By this time, Christmas season was with us and, since we were without equipment, the respite gave us an opportunity to enjoy scheduled passes to visit the nearby towns of Northwich and Chester and to get a feel of the wartime British lifestyles. One surprising sight to me was walking the downtown streets of the big cities and seeing all the store doors wide open, even though we were experiencing freezing temperatures. Of course, the British could see little reason to shut the doors when there was absolutely no heat in the buildings anyway. In fact, our officers in the Manor House complied with the English ruling that each person use only six pounds of coal per day for heating and cooking. With the manor house relying on fireplaces and stoves for heat, they learned first hand what our English neighbors were enduring. We enlisted men in the Quonset huts with three pot bellied stoves providing ample warmth while using less than the fuel allotment were comfortable but I do remember vividly that I was usually cold enough anyway to spend many moments squatting in front of one of the stoves and holding my arms in a circular position so that I could roast them and my legs nice and evenly. And two more related memories of camp life in jolly old England were being tired all the time and hungry to boot.

It took almost no time at all for the starving artillerymen in our barracks to find the kitchen area and to help ourselves to a goodly portion of bread and potatoes for an evening snack. To our amazement, we found the butter in our rations to merely slide around the mess kits used as frying pans instead of melting to accept the potato slices as we cooked on top of the pot bellied stoves and later learned that some military wizard had invented meltless butter which also could be used in the torrid climates of the south pacific and carried in rations without melting. Such efficiency! For desert, some of us had gone out into the snow and scooped up a quantity of the white stuff for creating snow ice cream and only the following morning did we notice the numerous yellow sprinkles exactly in the area of our scooping - - the marks of some kind of animal which had stopped for a nature call earlier. Oh yes, the next morning a crew was assigned the job of installing a jimmy-proof lock on the door of the kitchen and thus ended our plans for continued culinary adventures.

- Written December 1996 -

As all of us enjoyed our new temporary life of leisure, I feel sure the casual thought must have occurred to us: "where are our guns and trucks?", but more certainly this same question must have occurred constantly to the poor local townspeople whose pub near our manor we had taken over and disrupted their gentle and orderly lifestyle to a fare-thee-well.

A stroll of just two or three minutes from our encampment down the winding lane to the main road and past whichever one of us happened to be on guard at the moment would find us outside the "Blue Cap Inn",    an inn and pub which had been in operation since the 1500's or 1600's or maybe even earlier. The unusual name came from the name of one of England's famous hunting and racing dogs several centuries before. After all, our part of England had been the home of fox hunts and cross country horse riding for centuries too and one of the associated sports of the times had been the racing of the fastest dogs. The famous "Blue Cap" must have been quite a champion to have had a roadside inn named in his honor and to have a painting of him on the overhead sign hanging above the front door.

The pub rooms were quite cozy and always crowded with both American soldiers and English civilians. There was a game table of some kind and one or two dart boards on the walls and these were completely taken over by men in khaki uniforms. The English customers eventually gave up trying to continue their lifestyle of centuries past and took refuge of a sort at several tables along the walls. There never was any kind of problem between the two groups and, in fact, a pleasant camaraderie was evident, but as I look back now on those evenings at the "Blue Cap", the noisy, fast-drinking, overly friendly Americans must have left quite an impression. Too, I'm sure our ability to gulp down our drinks while the quiet natives coaxed theirs along and could make one pint of bitter last all evening must have made an impression and caused wonderment at our bottomless pockets and reckless ability to order drink after drink from the publican.

About a quarter century later, Dolores and I visited the "Blue Cap Inn" and the site of our Pettypool Manor while on a vacation in the British Isles, but everything had changed considerably since the war. The afternoon we arrived at the inn we checked in to what we were told was their notorious room number 1 at the top of the stairs, a room of dubious reputation because of the ghostly apparitions which were known to frequent it. During our overnight stay we had no such visitations, the possible reason being that we were chilled to the bone from the misty, cool weather, even in May, and perhaps the ghostly occupants were also chilled and sought warmer surroundings down in the main room with its fireplace. We were happy to turn on our electric fireplace in room 1, but the chill of an afternoons strolling in the constant drizzle was difficult to overcome.

After checking in to our room and enjoying a get-acquainted chat with the proprietor, we walked across the road and up the lane, this time not having to identify ourselves to a guard, but were utterly disappointed that there no longer was the large manor house or the beautiful, landscaped grounds which we had anticipated seeing after all the years of my regaling our little family with my memories of my earlier weeks at Pettypool. As we stood about, in the rain, with our confused looks, an elderly lady with her dog stopped to ask if we had any questions or a need for guidance. Upon hearing our story, she at least pointed out to us the old stone foundation which was all that remained from the large house and did tell us the story of its demise form a fire several years before. Of course, the temporary barracks which housed all us G I's in '44 were long gone with no evidence of their past existence except for our new friend's description of them during the war-time years and during her youth.

Upon returning to the inn, the proprietor informed us that there was a call for us on his desk phone. How could there be a call for us when nobody knew our whereabouts? The answer to this big surprise was soon learned when the proprietor admitted having been so impressed by our visit from America to renew acquaintance with a piece of my past that he had phoned friends of his whom he knew had been there during the war time period and they, in turn had been equally impressed and did want to meet us and offer any help in recreating the past. We did phone the Bormans and arranged for them to join us at the inn for after dinner drinks and a following tour of the whole area in their car and finally more chatting at their home, before rejoining our ghostly friends in old number 1 for a wonderful nights sleep, hot water bottles and all.

The Bormans confirmed my observation that the pub of my memory definitely did not match the pub of the moment because it had been completely remodeled and instead of having the old English dark wood motif it now featured a modern, bright look. Surely this remodeling hadn't been necessary because of our conduct many years before, had it? I prefer to think that perhaps we left enough American money in the till during our brief visit that the proprietor could do things he hadn't dreamed of previously.

With the call in the pub of "mind your P's and Q's everyone" about 9:00 or so each evening as English pub hours came to an end, there never was much danger of us revelers missing our own curfew at Pettypool and so we had plenty of time in late evenings to listen to such unusual and suspenseful sounds as the German flying missiles nicknamed "Buzz Bombs" as they would putt-putt along above us on their way to the big industrial areas of Liverpool and Manchester a few miles north of us.

- Written December 1996 -