I boarded the USS Lejeune on June 1, 1945 at Cherbourg, France, carrying the meager souvenirs of my stay in Europe. You may recall my unit had pulled guard duty at Cherbourg just eleven months ago following D-Day. The Lejeune was formerly the German ship ,Windhuk, interned in Brazil and bought by the United States. It was commissioned as a 17-knot naval transport, was over 500 feet long, and weighed more than 19,000 tons.
Aboard the Lejeune, it was evident we were back in the U.S. Army, ex-Prisoners of War, or not! Much to our chagrin, many of us pulled KP duty on the ship and some actually served as waiters in the officers' mess... officers who had begged to trade places with us in the POW camp. Needless to say, they were not willing to trade with us now. I, unfortunately, spent several very sea-sick days on the USS Lejeune.
We arrived in New York on approximately June 10. The Statue of Liberty was a wonderful sight to us, representing, not only our first glimpse of the States, but the global freedom we had gone to Germany to defend. Saying good-bye to many of my POW buddies, I transferred to a train that took me to Fort Sheridan in Chicago, where I immediately called my folks in Gridley. It was a wonderful telephone reunion. Mom and Dad filled me in on a lot of the family details - including the big new barn they were putting up. It seemed as if I had certainly gone out of my way to avoid helping with the construction.
I was given a six-week furlough in Chicago and, within 24 hours, was back home at the farm with my family. I can't tell you how great it was to be back in the house of my childhood and sit down to that first home-cooked meal prepared by my mother and sisters. I also lost no time in calling Kay Eigsti, still working at the hospital in Bloomington, and then getting down there the first night to see her. She had just returned from taking a post-graduate nursing course in Texas. She had jokingly told me in the past that if I came back from the war all crippled up, she would have to have a way to support us.
The U.S. Army has a way of making us focus on our priorities to accommodate its schedule, so Kathryn and I were married in Bloomington on July 12 and honeymooned in Chicago.
I had kept a list of names of some fellow prisoners at Stalag VII-A. Kay Horiba, from Chicago, was Japanese, and he wrote in my "autograph book" that he and I would someday eat together in Chicago. Coincidentally, when my wife and I were on our honeymoon in Chicago, having lunch at the Forum Cafeteria, we ran into Kay Horiba just as he had predicted!
In August, I reported to a military base in Miami, Florida where I spent about a month before shipping out to Camp Lee, Virginia. Kathryn joined me at Camp Lee and we lived in a rented room for a month before moving again to Camp Shanks in New York. Camp Shanks, as you may recall, had been my departure point when I left the States for the first time on my way to England.
At Camp Shanks, I was discharged from the U.S. Army as a Corporal (a result of the automatic one-rank advancement awarded to all POWs), and sent home to pick up my civilian life where it had left off. The back pay I had not received was given to me in the lump sum of $980...a tidy amount of money in those days! From Camp Shanks, I took the Abe Lincoln train to Bloomington on October 28, 1945, completing my full circle of army life. I had returned to, after having left from, Bloomington, Illinois after serving two years, eight months, and fifteen days in the Army of the United States of America.