My year staying in Europe with the group was just about to come to an end. Orders had been issued for me to be transported to the Port of Embarkation to catch a boat to the United States. On the day designated, I was loaded on a truck with quite a few other personnel from our base, and taken to the railway station in Augsberg, Germany. We disembarked the trucks and boarded a German train for the trip to Le Havre, France. From the outside, the railroad car appeared to be quite ancient. With peeling paint-awful green colored painting and the bars on the windows, it resembled a moveable jail more than a means of transportation. On entering the car, we found that our first impression of the car was not mistaken. It looked like a 1930, country school bus, in the United States. It had the wonderful wooden, unpadded seats that were perpendicular to the center axis of the car. Very narrow spacing between the seats that were divided by an aisle down the center of the coach. Of course, the seats had no adjustments. They could neither be laid back nor moved for any type of comfort and were so close to the seat in front, that your knees and feet were cramped, no matter which way you tried to sit. All in all, it was a very comfortable riding experience. (Joke!) The interior decor, of course, was magnificent. One thing in particular I noticed was the attempt at some decoration of the ceiling. At first, we thought perhaps it was some type of artistic decor, but on examination it proved to be .50 cal. machine gun bullet holes all down this ceiling, as a result of an obvious strafing by some Allied plane. The holes had been patched but they didn’t do a very good job of it. We didn’t encounter any rain on our trip, so that was not a matter of discomfort. Ventilation was more than adequate. Of all the windows, one or two would actually open. Naturally, there was an inside toilet, but unfortunately, it would not flush! The commode had not been used for such a long time that it had started to create an aroma and a situation all its own. It had been used some months or weeks prior but, had not been flushed or cleaned. However, if you closed the door you would not notice the aroma. The toilet could not be used in any form or fashion. Food? Oh. Four Star! My recollection is that the food that we had on this trip was certainly wonderful - it was C-rations all the way. Our train would stop several times a day for toilet use and drinking water. There was no water on the train that I ever remember. With this wonderful conveyance, we made the trip in about three days, to the Embarkation Port of Le Havre, France.
On arriving at Le Havre, we disembarked from this wonderful carriage and again boarded trucks to be taken to the staging area, where we were to reside, until we were to board ship. My staging area was known as “Camp Lucky Strike”. Camp Lucky Strike was a tent city that was on a high plateau not too far from the harbor. The accommodations were tents. Nearby were buildings having showers, an Officers’ Club, mess hall and other buildings for supplies. When we checked into Camp Lucky Strike, the first thing they did was issue us blankets and a pillow. With these in tow, we went to our designated tent. The tents were a two-man unit in which there were two cots, one for each man and a wooden type cabinet in the form of a cupboard or a dresser. After settling in, we went to the Officers’ Club. We could get beer - I think it was 3/2 beer - and we sat there for quite some time until they announced that the Officers’ Mess was open. Supper was OK. It was not anything great, but it was certainly better than what we’d had on the train. After having supper, we went back to the Officers’ Club and drank beer until about 10 or 10:30 that evening. After several more beers, my tent companion and I went to our tent to go to bed. Fortunately, I took off all my clothes and was nude when I crawled into my blankets and bed. Being about half drunk, sleep came rather quickly, particularly, after the long trip in that wonderful cattle car. Soon I was fast asleep. About 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, however, I awakened, rather suddenly, with the realization that I was on fire and that something was eating me alive! Hastily, grabbing a big towel and slipping on my shoes, I ran to the shower building, which was lighted and went inside. Once inside, I went before a rather bright light, took off that towel and noted that my underarms and my crotch were full of lice. Big ol’ gray back lice! Apparently, the blankets that I had been issued had not been deloused from a former user. I was lousy! In the shower, was one of those old hand pump spray guns full of some type of insect killer. With judicious spraying of my crotch, under my arms and other places on my body, I was able to stop being devoured. Taking a shower several times, I removed what was irritating me. The rest of the night I stayed in the showers. I did not go back into my tent nor try to sleep in that bed. When morning came, I came out of the showers and into my tent and dressed. Fortunately, I had not gotten into that bed or those blankets with my clothes on. My clothes were still free of any infestation of lice. I gathered up the blankets and proceeded to the supply or equipment building. Producing the blankets and pillow, I explained to the sergeant what had happened. He was apologetic and I got different blankets and pillows. I used these new items for the remainder of my time at Camp Lucky Strike, without any further problems.
I stayed there at Camp Lucky Strike for two or three days and, finally, the orders came for us to proceed to the boat for the trip to New York.
We were picked up by trucks and taken to the dock. As you can imagine, rank has its privileges, I was a First Lieutenant and really expected to have some degree of consideration in boarding the boat. Everything I had was in a B4 bag, which is a great big fold-up, like a two-suiter bag that we now have. Everything I owned was in this bag and, of course, I had to carry it my self. The bag weighed around forty pounds or more. When we got off the truck; to show you how considerate they were of us officers, I was given the privilege of being the last man in a line leading down to the boat that must have been three hundred to four hundred yards long. From that point on, you’d move one or two steps, put down the bag and wait. Then two or three more steps, put down the bag, and wait. Finally, we did get to the boat. But, there was quite a lot of benefit to being an officer at that point.
Another interesting thing, about rank having its privileges, was when I had to check out back in Germany. I had been issued a number of items, particularly navigation items and a .45 automatic and some other miscellaneous things. I had to turn in all items that were issued before I could be permitted to leave. The morning that I was to turn in my items, I went down to a hangar where these items were being collected. In this hanger, was a counter and behind it, were several men working with boxes. They had a check sheet and they checked me out. As we came to certain items, I turned them in. I had everything on the list, but the one thing that I really wanted was my navigator’s master watch. A master watch was about the size of a man’s large pocket watch, but instead of having twelve numerals it had twenty-four. It was a twenty-one jewel watch. The unique thing about it was that it was enclosed in a steel case; about four or five inches in diameter. Inside this steel case was a platform, suspended within this case by springs. The master watch would snap onto this platform and was protected by the springs from any vibration or damage. On top of this steel case was another unit, like a face powder box. It fit on top. This second top had a glass- covered hole, in the top, where you could look through and see the watch without opening the case. Over this hole was a sliding steel circular wafer. This was a marvelous watch and I wanted it very badly. I asked the sergeant, “I want this watch?” He said, “You can’t keep it.” I said, “Well, why?” He said, “Well, you gotta turn it in. We’ve got to account for it.” I said, “Ok. Report that I’ve lost it and let me pay for it.” He said, “Nah, we can’t do that.” I said, “Ok.” So I turned in my wrist- watch and this watch and my sextant and all my navigational equipment and my .45. And, incidentally, I had three .45 automatics. People, during combat, would be shot down and not come back. They had left their guns in my building, so I had several .45 automatics that weren’t even checked out to me. I turned them all in because I was afraid that, if I did not and got caught, I might be delayed. I wanted to go home and I didn’t care about the guns.
NOTE: When I turned in my master watch (after I was told that I could not buy it) the sergeant took the watch out of its steel case and threw it across the room into a box of watches! Splat!
Getting back to our story. This shows how rank was so important. There I was getting ready to get on board a ship and I didn’t have a watch of any kind. I didn’t know what time it was. When I finally boarded the boat, I was on one of the upper levels. I wouldn’t say it’s a deck, because it didn’t have any portholes. This room was filled with double-decker beds that were welded to the floor. There was just enough space between them to move around and get in and out. Since I had been late getting on board, I was one of the last ones to get into this collection of beds. The only one left was an upper bed. When I got in my bed to check it out, it had SAFETY BELT-belts that you could strap yourself in bed to keep from falling out. During the trip with the storms we encountered, it was necessary that we strap ourselves in bed! But, it was strange to climb up into this bed and then strap yourself in.
On the journey to New York we hit two storms, bad storms, and it took us nine days to go from LaHavre, France, to New York. The name of the ship was the USS Mexico Victory. I think it ran on tortillas and nachos. It was not uncomfortable, except for the storm when we were tossed and turned around. Most of the time we were about half-sick because of the rolling and tossing of the boat.
One afternoon orders came down that I was appointed as a guard, or an observer, or a marshal, or whatever the hell I was supposed to be. I reported to the deck and received my orders. My post was to be a guard inside the front of the bottom of the boat! If you can imagine and put yourself down in an empty boat that has the V-shaped front or prow. Go down to the bottom where the V starts and the only thing between you and the water is the hull of the boat. You are right at the beginning of the prow or the V part of the boat---that’s where I was! In fact, I was actually under sea level. After entering this area, bulkheads were closed in back of me. I spent twelve hours, one night, in this “gawd awful place”, during a terrible, North Atlantic storms! As I said, I was on the bottom of the hull. When that boat would hit those ocean swells, the front end would rise up maybe twenty or thirty feet and then with a sickening wiggle, it would fall - CRAASSHHHH! - and hit the water and the swells would run over the top of the boat. This kept up all night long - rise up twenty or thirty feet and shudder, then BAM! it would fall. What I was supposed to do? If the hull had broken, or split, or water had come in, I would have been the first to drown - there would not have been anything I could do about it. What I was doing down there I have no idea. Perhaps, somebody was being funny and said, “Hell, I’ll get that fly boy and stick him down there and see how he likes that!” I survived, needless to say, but that was one of the most terrifying evenings I have ever spent this side of combat.
After nine days we arrived in New York. We were certainly glad to see the Statue of Liberty and get off that boat. One of the nice things that happened there: when we got off the boat we had to walk up a long incline to go to a train that would take us to our staging area. We passed a group of buildings and residences. A lot of people were outside and they were yelling at us and applauding and saying “thank you”. It was a heartwarming experience.
My next stop was a camp right outside of New York. I was stuck there until they could put me on a train to go to Camp Chaffee, Arkansas.
Camp Chaffee, Arkansas. My stay here was very short, probably not more than two or three days. This camp was the processing center for separation from service. One of the things that I had to do was take a physical before they’d let me out. The day that I took the physical, I had a very fast heartbeat. I’m sure it was anxiety, but I had to lie on a bed for about an hour before they would approve me to be released from service. The doctors gave me the option of either going to the hospital or going home - you can imagine what I selected? It was funny because the only other person who was lying in bed waiting to be finally checked out, was an old Colonel about sixty-five years old. This “heart beat” business was a problem when I was called back (1950) into the service. After the physical and being processed, I was put on train and next thing I knew I was in Dallas, Texas. My father picked me up at Union Station, and we went home to 7012 Clayton Avenue, Dallas, Texas.