|Shipping Out of the States
On September 4th of 1943, after a short stay at Camp Shanks in New York, I was shipped overseas with the 101st Airborne in a huge convoy. I was on a British ship, the HMS Samaria, where the food was awful. We lived on the cookies and crackers we bought from the PX. We opted to sleep on deck most of the time because of the foul odor and filth down below where the bunks were. One of our ships developed trouble and had to return to port. For security reasons, we couldn't tell anyone where we were headed until the disabled ship was repaired and the rest of my outfit rejoined us. While en route to the British Isles, we kept the German submarines busy by dropping "ash can" depth charges from our long convoy.
We disembarked in Liverpool, England on September 15, and were put on trains to our destination at Whatcombe Farms near Reading, where we lived in Quonset huts and horse stables. We were subjected to rigorous training - including many overnight compass exercises. I was to become grateful for the relentless marching and deprivation training I received at Whatcombe when it later became necessary to fall back on it for my very survival. I also remember a lot of boring guard duty and calisthenics in the fog at Whatcombe Farms. In contrast, it seemed as if the American Red Cross wagon was always around somewhere with coffee and doughnuts. I spent many weekends in Reading, and even used two of my passes to visit London, where I saw considerable damage caused by the German buzz bombs. The Red Cross was very visible in London too, providing rooms and food for the Americans.
I got in touch with my brother, Tom, through our signing of the registration book at the Red Cross. By coincidence, he was temporarily stationed at Aldermaston Field - about five miles from Whatcombe Farms. We arranged to see each other by writing notes in the Red Cross book after our names. His group had built a recreation hall from the wooden packing crates of our combat gliders that were shipped in for assembly. I even took training flights from Aldermaston airfield.
Louie Meiers from El Paso was our PX Corporal, which turned out to be a break for me as he supplied me with extra candy, gum, and cigarettes. I didn't smoke, but cigarettes proved to be a valuable resource to me later - far from the safety of England. Incidentally, Cpl. Meiers and his wife, Ruth, attended my wedding in 1945 and I was saddened, but honored, to be a pall bearer at his funeral some forty years later.
At Whatcombe Farms I was in the machine gun section, going on several gun- firing training missions at Bournemouth (on the south coast of England), firing at targets towed by planes. Also, I was in a forward advance party of four men: Lt. Hank Kowalczyk, Sgt. Vance Hartley, myself, and a driver. We were assigned to move ahead of our unit and arrange for our section's bivouac areas. I'm sorry to say Lt. Kowalczyk was later killed in France during combat. A portion of our training included how gliders could be snatched from the ground after landing during battle. A rope was looped between two "goal posts", and a plane would fly over, hooking into the loop, snatch a glider loaded with personnel (supposedly the glider pilots who flew us into battle), and return them to England. Since we were destined to land behind enemy lines, the army had devised this method to retrieve the highly-trained pilots. The system worked in theory better than practice however. I witnessed a large British bomber attempt to snatch an English Horsa glider from the ground, but when the Horsa proved to be too heavy, the bomber belly flopped and crashed.
Guard duty at Whatcombe was cold, wet, and scary. There was always the danger of an enemy invasion - large or small - with German bombers flying overhead often. We were stationed at strategic points on the hills around our camp. One of my friends, John Smith, was caught sleeping while on guard duty, and served time in the brig for his negligence. Smith was another of my compatriots who was later killed in action in France.
The Red Cross doughnut wagon (with American girls as hostesses) was always at our camp when we would return at about 3:00am after a compass exercise. We were usually given the morning off to rest up after one of those all night excursions.