University of Nevada, Reno

 

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I'm in the Army now

By Harold

 

HaroldOur first apartment was in West New York, N.J., where I worked. It was three flights up and not the best, but all we could find at the time. If nothing else, I got plenty of exercise with my work and climbing those three flights of stairs every time. After a while, we found a nice apartment on the ground floor that was very nice and life was just routine living day by day. In 1942, Sylvia became pregnant, so we were happy as well.


However, suddenly our lives took a drastic change. My daughter was born in November and I saw her for the first time in the hospital. A few days later, Sylvia and Judy were home and all was well. Then when Judy was one month old, I got a "How do you do?" letter from my draft board to report for Army duty. I did and got all my necessary regulations and was sworn into the U.S. Army and to report for duty to Fort Dix, N.J.


They did not waste any time. Judy was 1 1/2 months old, and I had to send them to live with Sylvia's father in Brooklyn. She would not be able to live alone in N.J., but our government did not care if you had to break up your home and find somewhere for a wife and baby to live. Thankfully, her father made room for them in his apartment. When after a few months, Sylvia received my allotment check from the government, she was able to find an apartment for her and the baby.


Upon my arrival at Fort Dix, life became hectic. You were treated awful. Do this, Do that, until you did everything their way. We got our physical, clothes, etc., and a test in a big room with all kinds of items and experiment and told us to find something we liked to do and gave us a time limit. I never saw most of the item on display there, but I saw one that had an electric bulk and wires all around the desk and the object was to hook it up and turn on a switch to see if it worked. I started working on that and when my time was up, they told us to stop, but I continued until finally someone came over to get me. I pulled the chain and the light came on. He then made some note on my form and I left. He did not say anything and I did not ask. After three days I was put on a train with a group of other recruits and were off to Atlantic City, N.J. It seems like I can’t get away from the ocean.


This was for my basic training and assignment for my duty. This was then in the U.S. Army Air Corps that I was in. It did not officially become the U.S. Air Force until after World War II. We did physical exercise on the beach. We marched and sang songs on the Boardwalk, had lectures in the convention hall and went out to the field for the obstacle course. I was a little fat kid and I could not climb over the wall. I had to run around it. Also, there was a rope that you had to use to swing across a stream, and I could not do that. I was always a chubby kid, and I weighed 25 more pounds than I do now. Well anyway, whatever I did on the obstacle course, I guess I was rated so and again written on my report.


My work in Atlantic City was finished in about one month, and I was sent to Signal Corps School in Fort Monmouth, N.J., for radio operator and repair. For some reason, they promoted us from private to corporal. That meant more pay, and I was able to take the train home to see my wife and daughter every weekend. On one such weekend, we visited my brother-in-law and he said to me, "Wow, a corporal in one month. You should be a general in a couple of years." But when the course in Fort Monmouth was finished, I was demoted back to private, because I failed the course. It was like Algebra again. Maybe the person who saw me hook up the electric bulb thought I was an electronic genius and not something favorable. I am able to learn how to operate or fix things if I am shown how and done so until I could do it right, but learning all the theory about transmitting and receiving this highly expensive radio sets was like Algebra all over again, but being dumb once again seemed to work out to my advantage and turned out to be smart.


I was then shipped to Tampa Bay, Florida, for further training. It seems I can’t get away from the oceans and bays. This was at Drew Field, which was a large air base. I don’t know if it still is there today. Since I had failed the school at Fort Monmouth, I did not get the special number for radio and still had my basic number. However, my record was listed as being a radio man. I had to do guard duty, kitchen work and all the odd duties when I was at the home base. The Air Force was dumber than I was and instead of getting a little smarter, they got dumber. That you will see as my time in the service continues. At Drew Field, when not at the base, we went out to the fields for operational training and I was the radio operator.


The picture of me at right was an example of this, although it was taken at a later time, in August 1944 in Glenmore, Louisiana. Me, my radio set, torn pants and all the radio is hidden from view to the sky, because we were to report all planes that flew overhead. Some were marked as ours and some as the enemy. It didn’t look like very much. From Drew Field, I was sent to air bases in DeRidder, Louisiana, and then Stuttgart, Ark. (That was the closest I got to Germany.)


At those bases, we did the usual operational training and maneuvers, for days at a time. I was always the radio operator and had my own van, with all the secret and high-class radio receivers and transmitters, which I never used, because I did not know how to properly operate them. I even had a tommy gun (machine gun), but of course, they never gave us any ammunition anytime that they gave us our rifles, or in this case, my tommy gun. We were issued small cans of food rations that we lived on for our meals during these times. Most of them were terrible.


The report for all these operations must have been very bad, but as I said, the Army seemed to be getting dumber, and I was doing what I was told to do, as good as I could, and everything went along quietly—until one day in December 1944 I got orders to go to radio school at Will Roger Field in Oklahoma. Do you believe that? It's true but dumb, because I failed again. I guess I never learn, but neither did the Army. So after two months of the schooling, I was back to my outfit in Stuttgart, Ark., doing the same tasks again.


Finally we left the base and went to live out in the field, miles from our base. We stayed there for several months, so we set up everything we needed for our day-to-day living. Somehow my dumbness turned smart during this time. We had a mail clerk who would travel to our base and pick up our mail and any information or orders he had to give to our officer. He had an assistant who would take over for him while he was gone. Mail clerk was classified as "clerk, non-typist" and had its own specialty number, which was "055." If filing or other clerical work was necessary, he or his assistant would take care of it. One day I heard that the mail clerk’s assistant was being transferred to another outfit. For some reason, I decided to ask the mail clerk if I could be his assistant. He said he would have to wait and see if the Army would send him a replacement.


They did not, and he needed more help. So he gave me the job unofficially. About two weeks later, he got orders to transfer to another unit, and stupid me was the only mail clerk. A week later, we went back to our base, and I had my own mail room. I did not need an assistant, because being at our own base, I did not have the extra duty of traveling there and back. I could get everything I needed and had plenty of time if I had any extra clerical work to take care of. I was doing good and no one seemed to care or question me. Life was good for a while.


After a couple of months, one fine day, I was told to report to headquarters for something. When I got to their office, there was a major, two lieutenants and two sergeants already there. They told me to sit down and they each introduced themselves to me. Now you are going to laugh. You would not believe it. The major said, "We are going to send you to radio school." I don’t know how bad I reacted, but all I said was, "I am not going to go to radio school." The major said, "I see your record shows Radio Operator, but you do not have the radio number. You still have the basic private number and are doing the 055 number, which is clerk non-typist." I asked the major how I was doing as mail clerk, and he said very satisfactory. Then I told him I went to two major schools for radio and failed both times, plus all the operational training and maneuver and asked him to put me up for 055. After I convinced him that I would not go to school again, he said he did not know if he could do that, but he said he would send in a good report on me to get 055, but could not promise.


Well, to make a long story short, two weeks later, I was officially a clerk non-typist, with an 055 number. Once again, my dumbness paid off.

 

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