Ft Knox, KY
Well, I am 75 years old now so may have trouble remembering everything we became involved in during my time in the service. I will try my best, of course, to present the account as accurately as possible. Some of my photographs have deteriorated and had to be touched up as best I could and a few of them disappeared altogether but there is enough left to give good account of my experiences during my terms of service. A few photos are not mine.
Being born July 4, 1937, I spent my formulate years during World War II when most of my uncles were serving in the army and the navy. My father was older, had five children and was never drafted. Of course, an impressionable young lad worshiped the uncles and all things military and couldn't wait to be a soldier himself.
So in 1955 when I was 18 years of age and was just setting with the other young men in the city park of the small coal-mining community I lived in my buddies, Bob Hudson and Gene Hamm, didn't have to ask me twice if I'd join the army with them. I was ready to go, so we went to the local recruiting office up in Centerville, IA, our county seat, and while there saw the posters etc. calling for volunteers for the 3rd Armored Division. Sounded really exciting, serving in the tanks. So .......
We asked the recruiter about it and he explained that the 3rd Armored Division had been deactivated right after WWII and that since the Korean war and the Russian aggressiveness in Berlin, Germany that the U.S.A. had decided to activate 2 more Army divisions and send them to Europe to help with the Russians. They were the 11th Airborne Division and the 3rd Armored Division.
The recruiter explained that we would enlist for 3 years, spend the first year in Ft Knox, KY training and then the entire division would be sent to Germany in early mid-year, 1956 where we would serve out our terms of service and return to the U.S.A.
Sounded good to us so we signed up for the 3 year enlistment. We enlisted as a "Buddy" unit and would all be together. He explained he could not guarantee that we would be side by side in a unit but did say we would all be in the 3rd A.D. We knew practically nothing about the army and we were lucky that our enlistment was during peacetime and we saw no conflicts of any kind and had an entirely peaceful enlistment for which I am grateful. We enlisted specifically in the 3rd A.D. so to speak and served only with that unit. Even my schooling in Aberdeen Proving Grounds was done TDY from the 3rd A.D.
We were told to report to Ft Dodge by Des Moines IA for the induction into the army.
We reported as instructed and were given the tests, physical examinations and all that.
BUT, for some reason, they would not let Gene Hamm go to the 3rd A.D. We were told because of Gene's eyesight. They claimed he would be going to a possible theater of war and that he had to have good eyesight. Anyway, they removed Gene from the unit and gave Bob and I some guy from Muscatine, IA that we had never met, Donald Crane. He was O.K., we just didn't know him.
Then we were sworn into the army and sent to Camp Chaffee, Arkansas. Actual date of entry into the army was Jul 21, 1955.
Now I don't know why we had to go there instead of Ft Knox, but I must assume the army had a reason. We all went there, Gene Hamm included, but upon arrival he was removed from the group and sent into some other outfit there for basic training.
We got haircuts, shots, clothing issue, the "flying 20", I.D. cards, bought a "grandma" sewing kit in the PX, etc there. Interesting thing, those haircuts, they cut it all off, right?
When we were lined up at the barber shop and I had worked my way up to the doorway/alcove and was next, the guy in front of me was setting down in the chair and the barber leaned over his shoulder and in a friendly way asked him, "Son, how much of your hair would you like to keep?" and the kid blurts out, "Well, as much as I can!" whereupon the barber whirls and pretending to look down the hallway I was standing in hollers, "Hey, Joe, bring in another paper bag will ya!" Some army levity to lighten the moment.
Those barbers sometimes had it rough too, I suppose. Since then I have wondered if they had ever had trouble in a barbershop when they tried to cut some of the draftees' hair. I don't imagine they were all passive and submissive to the removal of all of their hair and maybe mustache too.
When we were getting the clothing issue, they gave me a set of shoulder patches to sew on the uniforms. Problem was, they were 5th Army patches and not 3rd Armored Division so I felt obligated to tell the clerks of the error but they insisted that I had to take them. Well, I almost caused a riot because I insisted they had to be 3rd Armored Div. patch. The sergeant got really teed off and was ready to have me stood against a wall somewhere when I thought maybe I shouldn't be such a pain and when he promised I'd get the right patches over in Ft Knox I accepted that and the line started moving again.
Funny thing about that warehouse where we got the stuff. It had an odor to it that in my lifetime I could only associate with the army. It was generally most prevalent on the "web gear" we were issued and learned to use. Things like our web belt which was capable of having everything in the army but a tank, hooked to it. The tent shelter-half and our packs all smelled of the stuff. I think it was some kind of water-proofing chemical. Anyway, it had it's own distinct odor which was pretty strong when we first got the stuff. Anytime you smelled it, you knew the army wasn't far behind.
I remember that one morning right after "work call" we then went on "police call." They got us lined up to go through this area around this building. They told us what "police call" was and what we were supposed to do (pick up cigarette butts and paper stuff) and all of that. While they were lining us up and giving us the instructions, me and Hudson saw this huge hornet flying up the street towards us.
It was the biggest bee I ever saw! I thought it was a hummingbird until it got up close. And about the time it reached our position, it took off at a slant and went up under the building just to our direct front and at the same time as the sgt was saying,"do not go to the right or left, go straight through. If there is a building in your front, crawl under it, don't go around!
I'm not exactly sure about Hudson but I started hedging to the right and kept at it until I was close enough to the end I figured I could walk around it and I did. No one said anything, I don't know if they noticed me or not but I didn't think I had to get under there with the bees. Some of the guys, 3 or 4 maybe, went under and never got stung.
Did the cadre know there was a nest of hornets under the building? Hard telling but I would not doubt it.
If I remember right, they had a big messhall there which fed from 3 corners of a square serving line, probably 600-700 men. When I first saw it I figured no way could they cook and serve that much food and it be good but I was wrong. It wasn't the best but it was all right, not bad.
Heh, we had one deal there that I just have to talk about - the army gives every recruit what they called "a flyin 20" - a twenty dollar bill that they could buy toilet articles, etc for personal hygiene. We also purchased the "little grandma" sewing kits to sew patches on and repair uniforms. I can't remember whether we paid for our first haircut or not, I can't imagine that we did.
Well, the army PXs had all these items in them and it was cheaper than back home because they did not charge the taxes on them that civilian merchants were obliged to.
There was enough left over for some beer and cigarettes. So the guys wind up in the PX (that's Post Exchange to civilians) and are drinking some beer which we could do on post at 18 years of age. Some of them are getting tanked up (the beer wasn't much, not like back home anyway) and this one guy went to the music box and played the same song 5 times in a row (5 plays for a quarter, right?) and no one thought much about it but he went up there and did the same thing a second time, the guys start raising Hell with him. He ignored them and did it again and when he did, some guy jumped up, ran to the music box, drove his fist through the top of it, reached in and took the record out and broke it on the edge of the music box!
The guys were giving him a standing ovation when the MPs got there and the crowd tried to get them to let him go, but of course, they couldn't do it so the crowd insisted they take the other guy, too! I can't remember how it all came out and we left for Ft Knox in a couple of days, anyway.
They had another kind of funny one about the same time. We were in formation the next day and the sgt was telling us how we would be transported to our various assigned posts, etc. So he says something, can't remember what it was even, but when he finished, he said, "Any questions?" which is a natural thing to do and some vacant-eyed turkey raises his hand and sgt acknowledges him, and the guy asked him almost exactly what the sgt had just said and sgt was speechless for a second or two then yells out to the formation, "I'll be a son-of-a-bitch, 20,000 unemployed comedians in this country and you're trying to be one!!"
I know this and that and stuff but I thought he was at least kind of right. Why should we all have to stand there in the Arkansas July heat simply because somebody wasn't paying attention? Maybe even talking to and distracting somebody else! I can't remember what happened to the guy .......
Then we had an incident that wasn't quite so good but wound up OK due to good cadre. They had everybody in formation, I think when we were leaving Camp Chaffee, and I remember we had our handbags with us, etc and there were 3-4 sergeants there and the Staff Sgt who generally ran our affairs was in front of the formation and gave command to "dress right" for some reason (maybe the formation had too much disarray and he was losing track of things, I don't know), and one guy had a suitcase in addition to his other baggage.
Well, he was trying to manage his stuff but was having trouble so anyway, this one corporal, who thought he was pretty hot stuff kept harassing him to get "dressed right" and noticing his suitcase sticking out a little, hauled off and kicked it and it kind of spun sideways (he was just 2-3 guys from me and I saw the whole thing) and when it wound up located for the worse, he kicked it again and hit it in the side and the thing, cheaply made, just fell apart kind of.
Well, when it got to that point the fellow being censored remonstrated. That just made the corporal more angry and about that time, the staff sergeant intervened and in just a very few minutes, the corporal was headed to the PX to buy with his own money a new suitcase/bag for the soldier.
All in all, a very good demonstration of leadership at it's worst and it's best. I learned a lot in just those few minutes.
Having spent the better part of a working week in this activity there at Camp Chaffee then they put us on a bus and sent us on to Ft Knox where we arrived about 9:00 PM and they took us right off the bus into nearby messhall and gave us a steak dinner. Wasn't too bad but then, I never did get a good steak in the army (but their "yankee pot roast" was generally good). From the messhall we went to a "repple-depple" where we spent, I think, one night.
We had no more than got into our bunks and we heard the most awful broken-thunder-type noise, hard to describe. It kept getting louder and louder and we went to window to see what was going on and down the street lurches this tank. It'd go a few feet, the engine was roaring (sounded like no mufflers) and the thing started missing and cutting out then starting up again and lurched a little further down the street and the tank acted and sounded like some wounded medieval beast, not altogether a very favorable performance. I remember having then some second thoughts about tanks.
The next day they were sending us to the individual units we would be going to. Bob Hudson and Donald Crane went to the 36th Armored Infantry Battalion. Then I was told that I was selected for Ordnance, I wouldn't be going with my buddies. Well, I insisted I had signed up for tanks and that was where I wanted to go. If that couldn't be done then I wanted to go with my buddies. I wouldn't sign any documents, etc so the clerk got some sergeant to talk to me. This guy was, of course, a veteran and so forth so I was willing to listen to what he had to say.
He told me that my testing revealed an aptitude for things mechanical and all that and it would be to the army's advantage and mine to have me placed in a job beneficial to both. He said I would go to one of the army's technical schools where I'd be trained as some kind of mechanic and that the training would also be beneficial in later civilian activity.
Well, It all sounded good and upon reflection I felt I could do without the beast thing, but I was having trouble with abandoning my buddies. He reminded me they would be close enough for frequent visits and so forth. He was persuasive, even sensible, so I finally agreed to go to Ordnance and I'm glad I did, everything worked out for me and I owe that sergeant a debt of gratitude.
The sergeant then assigned me to 122nd Armored Ordnance Battalion and I reported there next day. Not sure exactly how but I wound up in Company B and when I got there, they explained that all basic training was being given by each company to it's own people so I took my basic training with Co B, 122nd A.O.B. The training was to have been about 6 weeks, I guess, because we were a support unit, not a combat unit. They were already into the only training cycle when I got there and I wound up getting only about 5 weeks of the training.
One of the first things they had us do was to notify our families of our safe arrival in the units. As you can see, they seemed to be pretty well organized in this endeavor.
We got signed into the company, through supply and orderly room, assigned to a bunk, etc. and probably got my 3rd A.D. patches with the rest of the stuff. I wound up in the 3rd training platoon. After basic training, we were re-assigned to sections pertaining to our duties and I stayed in the same building, same 2nd floor. Later, all I had to do was move my stuff across the center isle to the Instrument Section of the Armaments Platoon.
I just joined the basic training crew, so to speak, and started with them and from that point on got a little make up instruction for the tardiness and that was it, I was in the unit getting the training which consisted of handling and firing weapons, grenades, etc, marching of course, the "combat course" where you crawl under the wire amid explosions while machine gun fires over your head, map reading, first aid, communications, K.P., ....... all the things a soldier will be doing, we at least got to do it.
I especially remember the bayonet training and when me and my opponent were doing our thing, I didn't think it was too bad, but then the sarge said, "O.K., you've done one on one now let's try one against two then we'll do one against three and for the first time in my army processing, I kind of chilled a little. I had enlisted to do honorable battle against the other guy and had never considered being in a situation where I'd be hand-to-hand with two or even more opponents. It kind of woke me up, so to speak.
I remember being on the rifle grenade range and getting instructions on how to fire the thing. Boy, if that wasn't something! We had the M1 Rifle, 30cal. which fired a grenade using a fixture on the muzzle and a blank 30cal. round. The grenade weighed probably 3-4 pounds. I got up to the firing line and the instructor said fire from a kneeling position, hold the rifle butt close to your shoulder and lean into it so I did. I was a tall skinny kid with bones showing all over and when "I leaned into it" and fired, the thing knocked me on my rear-end and I thought it broke my collar bone but it didn't. Even though ....... it stayed sore for awhile.
I don't know what the deal was as all the other training we had the grenade was fired with the rifle butt on the ground. They even had a kind if mortar sight attachment for the rifle where you set your elevation then leveled the bubble on the sight to aim and fire it.
I fired the M1 rifle on KD range and I did better than average, being from rural area and accustomed to hunting but with small bore. The large bore weapons kind of intimated me at first but my familiarity with guns got me a head start with most of the other guys. I was accustomed to recoil as I had hunted with shotguns back home. My dad had a double-barreled 10Ga that'd put you in the next county when you shot it. Sometimes both barrels went off when you fired it.
And then there were the machine guns ........ Man, I thought I'd heard noise before but those things were definitely the nosiest things I was ever around. Wasn't too bad when you were firing the thing but if you were the loader you were positioned between the gunner and the gun's muzzle, just a couple feet and got quite a bit of the blast when the gun fired. Fortunately, being headed for Ordnance school, we didn't get a whole lot of the gunnery training. Later on, on the tank ranges, I'd just cover my ears with my hands when I could or use ear plugs when we had them.
We fired the 3.5 in. rocket launcher and saw the demo of what it'd do to some one who got behind it when it fired. Hell, it was more dangerous to the rear than it was the other way. I don't see how anybody could hit anything with it.
Kind of funny, I saw a firepower demonstration one time and part of it was rocket fire at an old junk car. Heh, the guy fired three rounds and no explosion and the officers started talking to the guy over the speaker system and finally got him to aim at the rear end of the vehicle and he did and they finally got their explosion.
I could see what was happening as I had some binoculars with me and we were setting on the side of this bluff sort of and far enough away you could barely see the rounds going to the car. But with the binoculars I could tell he hit the car every time (he was pretty close to it, I thought, but was far from us) and the rounds went through the windows, in one side and out the other then when he shot at the rear he almost knocked it off.
Speaking of shots, we got more of them. Someone said the shot records had been lost or got the records mixed up so just gave everybody a new set of shots - we never new for sure what the problem was but we sure got the shots.
That's me above in the "Saucer Hat" standing outside the Company's "Day Room" and in fatigues to the right with the Co B Hdqrs building in the background.
One time, right in our company area, we stacked rifles and were doing P.T. just right by the company/battalion street and this car with woman driver came through and she apparently was watching all the healthy young men and didn't watch the road and ran right into our rifles. Luckily it was the rifles and even then she just bumped a couple stacks and didn't run over or damage any of them, just knocked'm over.
We qualified with the M1 rifles on the "K.D." range (known distance range). Quite an experience and I think I may have fired on it 3-4 times. We fired the M1 rifle, the M1 carbine, the B.A.R. (Browning Automatic Rifle) and I think I fired on a rifle team with the M1.
I can't remember for sure, but there one time we were using spotting telescopes at 500 or 600 yards. Probably when I was firing for the rifle team. Anyway, It was hot summer day with a fair wind coming in from the right and we were firing at maximum distance and one man would fire and his teammate would "spot" for him, then they'd switch roles and the other guy would fire and you'd "spot" for him.
It was my turn to spot the shots on the target with the 20X telescope and when my buddy fired, I could see the path the bullet took through the air! It was the darnedest thing! You couldn't see the bullet, of course, but you could see it's passage through the air. It was more the heat wave disturbance in the air than anything.
When he'd fire, the bullet would go up into the air and off to the right a little then as it neared the target, come back to the left and fall right into the target. The geometry of it was astonishing as one didn't really consider the actual path the thing would take. All the shots were the same.
I kind of enjoyed the rifle range ........ marking the targets in the pit and seeing "Maggie's Drawers" and all of that. "ready on the right ..... ready on the left! Commence firing, fire at will ....... poor Will!
On the way back from the rifle range, on one of those forays, where we had spent most of the day and were marching back to our company and we took a break, pretty hot actually. And there were a few trees at edge of this field by the road so we moved over under the trees where there was shade for most of the guys - some were out in the sun but pretty soon one of the guys says, "hey, look up there! There is a snake in the tree!"
Well, I just happened to be right there and saw it and I'll be damned, if there wasn't one in the tree and HE WAS GREEN! Now, I'd never seen one like that. I didn't figure there would be any of them kind north of Louisiana, anyway. The guys started throwing sticks at it and everybody is hollering for them to leave him alone and let him stay up there as we then knew where he was.
But they drove him out of the tree and when he hit the ground everybody scattered and now we were out in the sun again and to top it off the NCOs figured that if we wanted to play we couldn't be that tired and ended the break and marched us all the way back to the barracks without any more breaks. Thanks a lot snake lovers .......
There are many memories, of course, but I'd be pressed to write of all of them. I had few pictures of the activities at Knox but here are some of them. I got to visit with Bob Hudson two or three times and there were two other guys from our home town area at Ft Knox but not in the 3rd A.D. We all got to see one another in the year I was there.
At the end of basic training, we were in formation by the Company Orderly Room when the 1st Sergeant announced that the different company sections were set up at tables inside the orderly room and that we would select that same day the jobs or training that we would be doing the remainder of our enlistments. He said that when he gave the command "Fall Out!" it was first come, first served-the first ones there got their pick of jobs.
I was lucky as I was in direct line with the door and was one of the first on the landing and in the door. There were several tables set up around the room in a crescent starting at the door. The first table had Headquarters Section, supply, clerks and the like which I flunked typing in high school so I figured I'd better pass. Went to the next table and it was Service Section; heaters, carburetor/ignition, machinist, etc. and I almost took one of them. The "Technical Supply Section" (all ordnance parts in our command) was in there somewhere. Not sure but I think the next table was Wheel & Track Maintenance and I did not want that as I had seen some of it and remembering "the beast" shied away from it.
I had gone through all the tables there except the last one and I was standing there thinking about trying to go back to the Service Section- Carburetor/Ignition table when the guy at the Wheel & Track table, Sgt. Truslow, said "better make up your mind kid, you're running out of tables. Just what kind of job do you want, anyway?" Having come from a coal mining area where even that was petering out, I blurted out "I don't know, I'll work at about anything as long as it's clean and not too heavy work!"
And to my
astonishment and later delight, the guy at the very
last table, Sgt. Mullett, said "Come on over here son,
I think I have just what you are looking for" and
signed me up for Fire Control Instrument Repair in his
I then went TDY to
school in Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland and was
given MOS 403.20 Fire Control Instrument Repairman and
worked on artillery, tank, etc. gun sights and other
optical equipment like binoculars and telescopes - I
really loved and appreciated the job.
Anyway, they cut orders on me and away I went TDY to Fire Control Instruments School in Aberdeen Proving Grounds for about three months. I arrived there last of September 1955 and started schooling in first part of October.
While there, I ate my first pizza in the town of Aberdeen, I saw the army's 280mm "atomic" cannon there, and got to listen to them testing the new "gatling guns".
Also, I became friends with a detachment of Territory of Hawaii soldiers going to school there and they had their own distinct uniforms, blue, I think they were. They were billeted in same barracks as I was but went to different school than me. I partook of a Christmas package they received while we were there and got to eat poi but passed on the squid.
The weather there was more mild than I was accustomed to for the time of the year. We had to pull K.P., guard, fireman to stoke stoves in boiler rooms, etc as a whole class. A complete class would take a day or two off from the school and then they selected who they wanted for all those duties. Then back to school - that way no one was forced to miss training.
One time when I was on K.P., someone started hollering "Come quick and see this!"
So we all ran over to look out the window ....... And there was this big garbage truck (painted all white and we called them "white elephants") picking up garbage at our messhall. These trucks were operated by army drivers but the garbage loaders were Prisoners from the army stockade and a guard armed with a pump shotgun rode in a seat on right front fender facing the rear of the truck guarding the prisoners.
Well, the guard had to go answer nature's call so just leaned his shotgun against the truck and came in and used the mess hall's facility. That's when our guy started yelling.
When we looked out, there was this prisoner with the shotgun acting like he was shooting the other prisoner and the other guy, of course falling over dead. They were playing "cops and robbers" with the loaded shotgun.
The mess sgt. took one look and called the M.P.s. By the time they got there, the guard had returned to the truck got his shotgun back and the truck was going on about their rounds with the guard in his seat and the prisoners on the back of the truck.
Never did find out exactly what happened to the guys involved but I wouldn't want to be them.
That's me to left and the school buildings are in the background. The map shows the general area of the APG.
The training we were given included the electro-magnetic spectrum, properties of light, how light works with optics, etc. Pretty neat training, actually. Then, of course, the way mechanical devices could utilize the theoretical principals involved. The training I got in this regard really helped me over the years. The way to dis-assemble and re-assemble mechanical components and clean the optics, etc. all in an organized way.
Heh, there was one thing about the training and the work I did in the military - when working on the small mechanisms you almost never used any degree of force! Doing so almost every time would damage whatever it was you were working on. We had only a small brass hammer that only weighed 2-3 ounces and a small mallet made of wrapped rawhide. You just never applied very much force.
Having done this type work for 7 years caused me some problems later in civilian life. When we would be working on something, not instrument, and it wasn't going right, my buddy would immediately reach for his hammer and just knock Hell out of it. I'd just cringe, we NEVER used that amount of force! It was a little while before I, too, started reaching for a BFH if you guys know what I mean. That's BIG dirty-word HAMMER!
Well, they don't make them big ones for nothing I found out and sometimes I looked for and was glad when I found a big one.
Normally, watches fell within our area of expertise but the military had just adopted the cheap timepieces of the day - use'm until they fail and throw'm away and issue a new one, no repair involved so we didn't get to work on watches.
I remember standing guard there a couple of times, always at night, and was kind of spooky. First, we were issued M1 Carbines and given live Ammo to walk guard with and were cautioned about the bad guys wanting to penetrate the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. They took us out to some buildings, out away from everything else. They were steel buildings and where I was there was an electric wire of some kind hanging down side of the building and that damn thing would make some weird slap sounds on the side of it. Like to drove me nuts.
Then, oh, a couple times a week, you'd hear a couple rounds go off in that area. They had a lot of deer moving around there at night and it was isolated and I generally never saw anyone else around so you were by yourself and it WAS kind of spooky. You give some green kid live ammo and then scare him with the Russians and, yeah, you'll get a round every now and then.
I made some friends there at the school and since we would be there over the holidays, accepted invite to visit their home in Jewett City, Connecticut. One of them had a car and we drove there over the New Year holiday. I saw New York City, lots of countryside and got to visit a town just across the border in southern Massachusetts, just so I could say I had been to the state.
While I was at Aberdeen, we went to neighboring town of Bel Aire where we had heard there was a roller skating rink.There was one there, a big one and fairly nice. We started going over there when we could and I had a heck of a time learning to skate. I bought a pair of skates and tried to learn and was just getting to the point I was spending more time in the rink on them than my butt and ended the school and had to leave. Sold the skates 'cause figured they'd be no good where I was going.
About this time, winter, we had a parade for some reason. They gave us weapons and I was given a M1 Carbine and we formed up on a cold, gray day in Class A uniforms and overcoats, scarves and proceeded to the parade ground and I remember we were on the parade field at attention and at "sling arms" and the ceremonies were going on and a guy in the front rank, just in front of me, started wobbling from side to side and my buddy whispered to me asking if I noticed him and I said yes, "..... when he falls I'll catch him on my left between me and you and you can help me get him out of here."
Not more than said and down the poor guy went and I caught him and turned to left and buddy helped me get good hold on him and we took him out of the formation to the left and they closed ranks behind us and we then fell in on the end of the formation. Problem was, when he fell backwards and I caught him, the front sight of the weapon hanging on his shoulder caught me right in the mouth. Just a little blood, hardly any, but hurt like hell in that dismal weather.
It was something we had to deal with in the military ........ tensing up when standing at attention. If you weren't careful, you'd just "lock up" and feint. I don't think I saw anyone in the army ridiculed for it. I had fainted a time or two before I went into the army and even some afterwards but for some reason, I never had a problem while I was in there and for 6 years, too.
But it was pretty good duty there at A.P.G. as it is in center of the cities of Washington DC in one direction and Philadelphia going the other and Baltimore just a few miles. A little farther NE of Philadelphia was New York City and all were within the limits of a 3-day pass. So, if you were so inclined, there were plenty of sights there.
Overall though, I had good experiences there at the Proving Grounds.
I graduated with the rest of the class and started back to Ft Knox in early Jan 1956.
When I got back to Ft Knox the company had been re-organized from generic platoons into the working sections so I moved back into the Armaments Platoon, Instrument Section, Sgt Dancy as leader. I got along with him very well for some reason, serving under him for over 2 1/2 years and had no problems there.
Now, our platoon, The Armaments Platoon, had three sections; The Artillery Section, The Small Arms Section and my Fire Control Instruments Section. They are fairly self-explanatory as to what it was they did but in the army, you don't "shoot a weapon, you "fire" it and Fire Control implies the aiming of especially the big guns. So we worked on the "sights" of the mortars, anti-aircraft, tank and artillery guns. Sniper scopes, too.
Above is a picture of the chow-line outside our mess hall. Not much to look at but not as bad as it looked. Yet today I can name almost everybody in that chow-line.
We did some shop work but not much. We were issued brand new rifles made by International Harvester after basic and I kept same one the rest of the time I was in the unit.
January kind of was a forgotten month for me, I can't remember much of it. But I do remember the barracks being cold, especially at night. We actually had ice form in some of the "butt cans" hanging on the center isle posts (Just a coffee can half filled with water and nailed to the posts for cigarette butts). There were some cracks you could see right through the walls which were bare and had no insulation of any kind.
Actually the barracks Ordnance was assigned to were the poorest on the post. The barracks Bob Hudson's 36th Infantry was in were the old wooden barracks but had been remodeled and were elegant compared to ours. The Tankers had the new modern concrete buildings where a whole battalion could be billeted. Very nice.
Then, in January even, came Operation Hercules. I don't know why they chose to have the maneuver in January unless they thought it would be Representative of German weather but it was really a mess. Cold, drizzling rain, snow, and mud unbelievable. Just Kentucky fighting off an Iowa winter. The ground would've been frozen in Iowa.
I remember a couple good ones about the thing.
We were taught to dig a "Division Trains" foxhole (support element thinking, I reckon). This was a regular foxhole with an elongated dugout adjunct to it that served as a sleeping area and over which you set up your pup tent. This area under the pup tent was dug down into the ground about 1-2 feet the idea being that in the dark nights a tank wouldn't run over you as they might if you were on top of the ground.
The other thing about this maneuver was that wheeled vehicles had a hard time moving around in the mud and communications were repeatedly cut and finally we ran out of commo wire as all of ours was wrapped around the truck axles! We wound up parking everything excepting one 3/4 ton that had a wench on the front bumper. All transport was to be done on just that vehicle. Then the maneuver ended.
Man was we glad to get back to the barracks, cracked board walls and all. That's Mitchell on the left and me on the right below.
We survived the maneuver and had another later on in the spring during good weather. It was just a company exercise but I learned about slit trenches, "engineering tape", night fighting and all of that. Wasn't too bad.
We got some infiltration training on that one, too.
As spring was advancing, we started mothballing all of our old equipment and we as Ordnance became involved. I remember greasing, wrapping exposed steel, etc on some of the older self-propelled 105mm howitzers. And on some of the crew-served weapons and readying them for storage.
We would draw new stuff when we got over there.
Overall, our activities started winding down and leaves were given to personnel in preparation for our May-June departures for Germany.
I took one 15 day leave during this period and visited my family at home. We also went to Louisville, Kentucky 2-3 times along about then and I also went on pass to Lebanon Kentucky with a hometown high school classmate, Jerry Eddy, who had an old Studebaker car.
During this time I got to visit with Bob Hudson, Clyde Wood and some of the guys several times. I remember there was a movie theater over by Bob that was showing the movie "To Hell and Back" with Audie Murphy and we went to see that. I don't know whether everyone realizes it or not but that movie was first shown in select army theaters before it was released to the public and ours was one of those selected.
I pulled K.P. a few times and like everybody else, didn't like it. Depending on the unit, your workday generally starts at about 5 o'clock in the morning and in some places was 3 o'clock in the morning when they came got you in the barracks. You'd take a white towel and loop it around your bunk's frame by the aisle so the runner could find you in the darkened room. The day lasted to between 6 and 11 o'clock that night.
They had modern appliances in the mess hall such as potato peelers, huge mixers and whatnot. I remember seeing the name FMC on the brass ID tags on some of the stuff. It didn't mean much to me then but years later, I actually wound up working with the outfit!
It was a long day and there were times when I came back to the barracks and would have that grease film from the steaming sinks all over me. And it was not easily got rid of. Anyway, it wasn't a good job. And the cooks had to get everything done with a less than enthusiastic crew. Sooo .......
Our Mess Sgt Orr came up with a novel solution I thought.
He'd bribe us ....... That's right, the first time I ran across the guy was when I was on K.P. he approached us about noon and said "If you guys hurry and get this place cleaned up after the noon meal, I'll fix you some Spanish Rice and some Light Rolls! Well, I sure knew what light rolls were but hadn't ate "Spanish rice" before.
The guys quickly talked it over and were of course, game. So they told him sure will and then did it and he did what he said and by golly it was pretty good and a break from the un-spiced food we generally got. Another time he made us some cinnamon rolls and boy they were good too.
I never understood how a good cook like Sgt Orr could put out the regular, old army chow they did. Then when we got to Germany and got into the C-Rations, Orr had a real challenge.
The division kept getting organized and they are starting to mature by the time of our nearing departure date.
I remember one instance about this time when our 1st Sgt Harris took a short leave and for some reason battalion sent their pet Master Sgt, a crude asshole named Carpenter, a big fat guy who chewed tobacco and who was apparently highly thought of by our Lt Colonel, down to run our company while Harris was gone.
We never knew for sure what the deal was and we had a raft of SFCs and another Master Sgt right in our company who easily could have done the job. Why send Carpenter in?
But that's what they did. And he apparently came in with a mission. Right away he starts hassling us and is "going to straighten us out" etc, etc. Now our guys were an ornery bunch but not mean. They had spirit, so what? I never understood battalion's objections to our unit being the way we were, heck we were leaders in the battalion every time!
So this went on for a few days, not many or we would have put the skids to him ourselves. Then Harris got wind of what was going on and decided to check it out. I imagine some of the NCOs told him?
So one day Carpenter was on the platform by the orderly room chewing us up one side and down the other and I was at the end almost of the formation and the guy next to me nudged my elbow and mumbled "look at the corner of the building" and I did and there was the bill of a cap showing and the toe of a boot!
We kept watching, Carpenter is still going at it and Harris, having heard what he wanted to, eased around the corner of the building and up behind Carpenter who was in such a state of ecstasy and so involved in his degradation of us that he didn't notice him. Some of the guys couldn't contain themselves and snickered and Carpenter knew something was up but not sure what, just tried that much harder to demean us.
So Harris had to take his foot and scrape it in the gravel to get Carpenter's attention and get him to turn around. And when he did and saw Harris, he almost shit his self (maybe even did). And then Harris unloaded on the poor dumb asshole. And if anybody could do it, Harris could. I can't remember what all he said but it included the Lt. Colonel.
And Harris just flat-assed ran him out of the company and told him to get his ..... back up to battalion, etc etc. I honestly believe that had he not gone Harris would've started swinging.
As far as I know all the other NCOs got along fine with Harris - I never heard anybody gripe about him. So there had to be something there that we just didn't know about. He probably got the better of the Battalion Commander at one time or another and it just escalated from there.
Maybe he was just too much of a "B Co." man ...... who knows?
Then we had a Division parade on Armed Forces Day of only personnel - no vehicles, excepting air.
Boy was that something ....... We had a practice parade a day or two prior to the real thing. During this parade, they tried to have the soldiers sing "My Old Kentucky Home" but had to give up on it. I think because of the speed of sound! Our division was kept at certain percent over-strength and was really big, at one time we had nearly 18,000 men in it. The normal complement was about 15,000. When they got every one on the field, it was so long from one end to the other that everyone had trouble staying in time and even with same words. It didn't sound very good at all.
Well, they dropped the song and we went ahead with the real thing on a beautiful warm day. We formed up at company at regular work call about 7:30AM, marched to battalion and formed up there and about 8:00AM headed for the parade field. We swung into line there and I think was one of the first units to arrive and they kept coming until field filled completely. We probably had close to the 15,000 man complement on the field.
Medics and ambulances were posted along the back of the formation and every now and then, not many but a few, passed out and you could hear the rattle of their equipment as they went down. The G.I. helmet especially makes a distinct sound when it hits the ground (one of the saddest I've ever heard). The medics would retrieve the guy, maybe put him in an ambulance and you could hear the ambulance drive off. Couldn't see anything because we couldn't turn around.
The ceremonies on the reviewing stand and the grounds then started.
I remember command being given to "Present The Colors" and all the color guards of the division, all shined up, came to the front of the reviewing stand and dipped all Command Flags, not the national flags, just the command banners. Boy, what a gorgeous sight in that beautiful sunlight. One of the grandest things I've ever seen.
Soon after this came one of the darnedest things I've ever seen. There were 4 of those little Bell Helicopters with the glass bubble domes came around and they were made up like people, 2 men and 2 women and they did a square dance! Someone on the reviewing stand did the calling on the speaker system and the helicopters docey-doed and the whole bit. They were on our end of the field and we got a really good look at them and they were just great.
I was scared to death they might bump one another and we'd have a mess on our hands but they performed flawlessly. Just did a great job ..........
All in all, a very impressive show, I thought, and I was proud to be part of it (regardless of our failure to sing "My Old Kentucky Home").
We marched back to our company area, and having been on our feet for about 5-6 hours, put away our weapons and sometime after 1:00PM went to mess hall for our steak dinner. And as usual, it was tougher'n .....!
Just to the left is a pretty sharp kid who was the company commander's driver. As far as I know everyone liked him. His name was Watson and he was from Texas.
Along about this time I acquired a 3rd Armored Division yearbook that had the picture of everyone in the division in it. There were probably a few guys who didn't get their picture in it for one reason or another but couldn't have been very many. I've included our company B here.
We were winding down there in FT Knox and were about ready for the move to Germany and we had one of our regular Saturday Inspections coming up and some of the guys asked if the company cared if they painted the latrine Friday night just before the inspection and they were told to go ahead "if they had the paint" so they did.
They started on it and some one came upstairs and said come look at what they are doing so we went down to the latrine and those guys were painting it Pastel Pink and Blue! Made you horny just to look at it! So, we all figured it was a superb joke and pitched in and made sure they had it done by the NCO check about 9:30 - 10:00 pm that night.
The junior NCOs came in and saw it and I swear, there were looks of admiration on their faces! Then they sent someone to get Sgt King and when he saw it, he was practically speechless but when he finally captured his voice no one had trouble hearing him! We were told to re-paint that sucker right away, that he didn't care where or what about the paint but we better find some somewhere and by work call Saturday morning that latrine better be Green and White "like it otter be, he didn't care if it took all night!"
The guys just laughed, they got a big kick out of it, then they broke out the Green/White paint they already had and we finished it up by maybe 1:00 am.
Saturday, the officers checked and no problems at all, heck they were proud of us.
I suppose stuff like that was what pissed the Lt. Colonel off ......
Along in here somewhere the boys decided they had to have a beer party before they shipped to Germany. They all talked it over and Lt Avey helped organize it and 1st Sgt Harris OK'd it and they proceeded with the party. It was nice warm weather so they decided to have it in our parking lot which was a good deal, being close to the barracks.
For some reason, I did not partake of the festivities. I went there, had a beer and went back to the barracks, I believe. Anyway, some of the guys got pretty well loaded up, among them was 1st Sgt Harris.
Well, the next morning after "work call" we went to the shop and the 1st Sgt went over to the barracks and lay down on a bunk to heal a little.
And here comes the Battalion Commander, who apparently hated 1st Sgt. Harris, on a "surprise" inspection of his problem B Co after their "beer party" of the night before. Lt. Avey was our Platoon Leader and was well liked by everybody and when the colonel went to the barracks Lt. Avey went along.
Now when inspections start, it's generally with No 1 and then on down the line. So the colonel goes to the first barrack, walks in and there on the first floor, in the first bunk on the right, lays someone with the dust-cover blanket drawn over his head and he asks who is this at this time of day? And 1st Lt Avey says "it's one of the guards who was on the 3rd relief and we give them the morning off next day to recuperate before they go to work" (which is customary in army).
And 1st Sgt Harris, not fully asleep, throws the blanket off, ready for battle and loudly says "Guard Hell, I'm the 1st Sgt." in effect letting the Lt. Colonel know what he thought of his "surprise" inspection. He was leaving the company anyway so don't really know what happened over the deal.
All I know is that the men in the company liked the Company Commander, Capt Miller and they liked 1 Sgt Harris, too. Personally, I thought he was a Hell of a NCO, one of the best I saw in 6 years service.
I'm not sure what happened after that deal. I am pretty sure Harris was not scheduled to go to Germany with us and that 1st Sgt King was to take us to Germany. He wasn't as good as Harris but he was a good man, fair, and competent, and we liked him. And I never saw Harris after we shipped out (until Alaska on my second enlistment).
Like I said, I don't know why, but I thought we had good NCOs and Officers. Well ...... there was one NCO I didn't care much for but I'd try to get along with him.
It may do to relate a particular little story here about the men of "B" co. getting perhaps a little too cocky and proud of themselves, so to speak. The company was leaning on the men because they felt they were not recruits anymore and they could have long hair if they wanted it. The company posted on the bulletin board what they thought was a good description of a haircut, etc.
Well, things just kept rolling on until there was a clash between some of the men and the cadre. If I remember right Sgt King had taken over the company and he finally addressed the problem at one of the day's formations by describing the haircut desired and even took his hat off and pointed his head to the formation and said, "before the day is over, I want you people to all have a haircut just like mine!"
Well, the poor guy forgot about the wound he had in his head where a steel plate was inserted in his skull and no hair grew there. When retreat came and he had the men there in formation, he gave the command "open ranks, march" then when everybody was positioned for inspection, he gave command "uncover" and all the men removed their hats and all Hell broke loose! The men, almost to a man, had all gone to the barbershop, yes, but all had a bare spot cut into the sides of their hair just like King's.
When Sgt King saw it, he threw his clipboard into the air and took off for the orderly room (one of the clerks later said he seemed to be crying when he came in) and went into C.O.'s office, Capt. Miller and told him what had happened and the men had ridiculed his Korean Wound and the Captain merely said, "Well, you know what to do then?" and Sgt King said, "Yes,sir" went back out to the formation and marched them all to the barbershop and cut all of their hair off.
So the B Co. men didn't always get their way. But they all went and got it re-done, perhaps realizing they had gone "a haircut too far?"
Maybe if you have a particularly gifted officer running it he somehow is able to percolate his attributes down through the ranks. That's what real leadership is all about anyway.
Then ....... QUARANTINE!
We were quarantined to the post for 1-2 weeks, can't remember how long, just before we went overseas. Sgt Dancy who was fairly conversant in German language went over on the advanced party. They were to ensure billeting and so forth for us when we got there. I don't know whether anyone realizes it or not but we actually had diagrams of post, etc before we even went over there. I knew pretty much where my bunk was BEFORE I got on the boat!
And this last one, taken the day we departed for New York via troop train. The gear Joe Miller, Dean Mitchell and Jim Dowell are wearing is what we made the move in. I took the picture.
So we were put on a troop train and taken to New York City harbor and loaded onto a troopship, The USS Rose. The ship was named for Gen Rose who was Commanding General of the 3rd Armored Division from St Lo to Paderborn and was KIA there during the drive to close the Ruhr Pocket in the closing days of WWII. The drive was one day and the division covered 101 miles in that day, the longest military land advance ever made until that time.
It was a nice ship as far as that kind of ship went. It was carrying the 3rd AD back to Europe in Operation Gyroscope.
We had no more than boarded the ship and were getting settled and one guy got seasick, believe it or not. If you paid close attention, you might be able to feel some movement in the ship, kind of up and down but was nothing really. But the guy sure claimed sea sickness and was spitting up.
We sat there overnight at the dock and departed the next morning. Nice weather and we got good look at the Statue of Liberty on the way out of the harbor. As a matter of fact, we had great weather all the way to Bremerhaven, our destination.
The chow was passable, I reckon and sure nothing to brag about. We ate in shifts in a kind of small mess hall the Navy called a "Galley" and sat at tables which had rails that you could lift up in rough weather.
The ship was pretty clean and was well painted, looked good and the Navy seemed to take good care of it. We got along fine with the crew who was generally helpful.
Eating the bean soup was kind of fun as it was moving in your bowl all the time. We had no trouble going over but we sure did coming back and had to use the rails on the mess tables to keep the dishes on it. It was a little on the rough side coming out of Bremerhaven and in the channel but got better when we got to the open sea.
Going over, there were a couple situations caused us some heartburn. One was kind of humorous in that we were all landlubbers, of course, and knew nothing of working with the sea. The very first day I was put on a detail to clean up our "bay" area which we did that morning and we had all the trash and stuff collected in 3-4 garbage cans (mostly paper) and were told to take the cans to the fantail and dump the contents into the ocean.
Well, we did. Of course when we got to the fantail the wind was in the wrong direction and blowing like it does where there are no hills to slow it down and when we dumped the stuff, the wind blew it right back into our compartment which was located below deck and right under the fantail. Since it was really nice weather we had the windows open under the fantail and half the stuff wound up right back in our area.
We cleaned it up again and closed the windows and re-dumped the stuff and got rid of it that time then opened the windows back up. It seems to me like the sides of the ship had portholes but there were windows just under the fantail.
One thing I didn't care for was the latrine. The one we used was in the rear of the ship, too. It spanned the width there inside the rear part of the ship. There was a metal trough cross ways of the ship and had the center somewhat lower that the ends connected to the sides of the ship. There were seats setting on a top to the "trough" and was where you sat to do your business.
There was a pretty good stream of running water fed into the ends of the "trough" and it drained towards the center and carried all the waste out of the ship. The problem was that when the ship got into some waves it started rolling from side to side and the water would take off down the trough and when it hit the ends it would splash up sometimes higher than the seats.
You really had to pay attention or you might wind up with some of the stuff splashed on you. I didn't have too much trouble (didn't go unless absolutely had to) but some of the guys were just terrified of the thing.
We saw flying fishes and some porpoises that caused an argument as to whether they were whales or not and the Navy had to be called over to settle the argument. It was just great weather.
I believe we had a shower or two but there was only salt water for bathing, etc. for the troops. I think the navy had fresh water.
So, we got to see the chalk cliffs there in the channel on the French side. I knew England had them but looked to me like the French had their fair share, too!
The Navy did OK, they got us to Bremerhaven all together and in one piece which is all that really matters, anyway.
Ernest E Conger 6/14/2013
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