Part Seven - Joining the Army

In1938 and ‘39 Dad was laying rock on the county courthouse, the depression was ending and the drought and dust storms were behind us. I could not find a regular job but was able to find short periods of employment here and there.

     The law was passed to draft everyone of a certain age for one year of military service. Slim and I volunteered before our numbers were called. We were sworn in to the Army at Fort Leavenworth in February 1940. As we were both farm boys, we were assigned to the horse cavalry and sent to a camp called Cavalry Replacement Training Center near Junction City, Kansas. We arrived at Fort Leavenworth in the evening and were issued blankets and assigned a bunk, where we slept that night. The next morning we were herded into the mess hall and then to the parade ground with hundreds of other recruits, where we were sworn into the Army. Then we went to a large supply room and were issued clothes, etc., and told to return to our barracks until further instructions. Soon a sergeant came into the barracks, pointed out about twelve men, including Slim and I, and took us to the mess hall for K.P. We ate lunch and helped to serve the noon meal. After the meal was finished, we cleaned the dining room and set the table for supper. About 2 o’clock we were finished, and the sergeant told us to take off. We went back to the barracks and sat around for awhile. Being bored and thinking we were done for the day, we dressed and caught a bus into town, where we spent the afternoon and evening. When we returned to the barracks, several people told us that the sergeant had been hunting for us all afternoon and that we were supposed to have shipped out. The next morning we were escorted to the company commander’s office. He didn’t ask us any questions or give us any chance to explain but told us we had been AWOL for about fourteen hours. Then he told us he was taking two-thirds of our pay and confining us to quarters for three months and sent us back to our quarters. Before noon, our names were called over the public address system, and we were told to “fall out” on the parade ground with all our gear. Then we were marched to the depot and put on the train for C.R.T.C. at Junction City. I guess the C.O. forgot to put the AWOL on our records, as we were not confined or fined for our absence. We remained at C.R.T.C. for six weeks’ basic training, which was mostly spent polishing brass, garbage cans and horses. We fired on the rifle and pistol ranges, ran the obstacle course many times, did a lot of close-order drill and mounted drill and learned a lot about the Army.

     Our company was made up of New Yorkers, who had never seen a horse before, and Kansans, who were quite familiar with horses. We were each issued a remount. These horses had been through basic training many times and knew much more about executing mounted drill than the people riding them. The Kansans soon realized that, if given its way, the horse would do the right thing on the sergeant’s command. But there was one big fellow named Wise from New York, who felt that he knew more than his horse. One morning the sergeant mounted us up and took us out onto the prairie about three miles from the quarters. We came to a nice, level patch of grass, where he stopped us and lined us up for mounted drill. In his instructions, he told us to concentrate on staying on the horse and let the horse execute the drill until we understood how it was to be done. For about an hour, Mr. Wise fought his horse and kept his horse and the horses around him in confusion. Finally, the horse lost his temper and started to “crow hop” and throw his head up and down to fight the bit. Mr. Wise was scared and fell off but managed to hold onto the bridle reins. The sergeant rode over to Mr. Wise and told him to mount up. Mr. Wise told the sergeant that the horse was a killer and that he was not going to ride it again. So the sergeant apparently agreed to this and told Mr. Wise to take his horse over by the tree about one hundred yards from where we were and hold it in the shade until we finished drilling. So Mr. Wise went and sat in the shade and held his horse while the rest of us drilled in the sun and dust. Soon the sergeant took the company over by the tree, where he informed Mr. Wise that a soldier always removed the saddle from a horse while resting it. So Mr. Wise removed the saddle. We continued to drill some more, while everyone of us was deciding that next time we would be the one to refuse to get on our horse and so be allowed to sit in the shade. When the drill was finished, the sergeant formed us into a column of fours and led us over by the tree to get Mr. Wise. The sergeant told Mr. Wise to fall into his place, which was about in the center of one of the inside columns. Mr. Wise got up and put his saddle on the horse. The sergeant informed him that the Army did not lead a horse with the saddle on unless it was to be ridden later. Mr. Wise said he intended to ride the horse back to quarters. So the incident ended with Mr. Wise on foot, carrying the saddle and leading the horse in formation. The order of march was trot five minutes and walk ten. By the time we reached quarters, everyone, including Mr. Wise, had decided that refusing to ride a cavalry horse was not a good idea.

     During the six weeks of basic training, we were not allowed passes, so nothing very exciting happened.

     After basic training we moved the few miles over near Fort Riley to a World War I camp called Whiteside. Whiteside consisted of rows of cement platforms of the proper size to be floors for eight-man tents. At one end of each row of tents was a tar paper building with a coal stove to serve as a mess hall. At the other end was another tar paper shack which served as company headquarters and supply. About a hundred yards beyond headquarters was a canvas enclosure with no roof, which was the latrine.

     We spent several months at this camp, drilling and maneuvering around camp.

     Our year would be up and we were expecting to be discharged in February. We had arranged for furloughs to start December 22 and return January 22 to get our discharges and be out of the Army. But all of that changed rather abruptly on December 7. Slim and I had gotten up late on that Sunday morning and went to the mess hall for breakfast and had just returned to our bunks to store our mess gear. We both had passes and were discussing our plans for the day in Junction City. The boy in the bunk next to mine was a short-wave radio operator and had his radio set up in the tent. He broke into our conversation to say, “Did you hear that?” The news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor was coming over the radio. Soon the bugle summoned us to the parade ground, where the first sergeant informed us that all passes were canceled and everyone on furlough was being recalled. Everyone was confined to camp until further notice. About December 15, we were all told the outfit was being broken up to form two cadres. One was to go to Fort Bliss, Texas, with the Second Cavalry from Dakota to form a cavalry regiment. The other was to form an anti-tank unit to be attached to the 9th Armored Division at Fort Riley. Slim thought it best we separate, so I went to Fort Bliss and he stayed in Whiteside. I left Fort Riley by train on December 20 and arrived in Fort Bliss on Christmas Eve. This was my first Christmas away from home, and I was scared and miserable. If I ever became a man, Fort Bliss was where it happened.

     After several months of close-order drill, guard duty, mounted drill, guard duty, calisthenics, guard duty, rifle range and guard duty, I was bored with the Army. I had become very close friends with William Schauffler. One night we went to El Paso and had a few drinks too many. When we came back to camp, we went to the recreation hall to shoot pool. Somebody started an argument, and I threw a pool ball through a window. Somebody called the officer of the day, and he put us all under arrest to our quarters. The next day, the company commander gave us all a lecture, assigned each of us extra duty and extended our confinement to camp until he saw fit to lift it. Schauffler and I were reduced to private from Pfc. and were assigned to two months K.P.

     Each person is different. The sergeant thought he was punishing us by putting us on K.P., but we didn’t have to pull guard duty while on K.P., so we thought he was doing us a favor. At that time a private drew twenty-one dollars a month, while a private first class drew twenty-six dollars a month, so the reduction in rank hurt as did the confinement. The confinement was lifted after two weeks, and we got our Pfc. back after two months. When it came time for our extra duty to end, we went to the C.O. and requested K.P. as a regular assignment. Little did I realize that I was to spend the remainder of my working life in the kitchen. When I think of this incident in my life, I am reminded of Br’er Rabbit and the briar patch.

     One night the company had a beer party, and all the cooks got drunk. The next morning, when I got to the kitchen, no one was there. I went and tried to wake the cooks, but they wouldn’t get up. About thirty minutes before time to serve breakfast, the first sergeant came to the kitchen for coffee. He asked me where the cooks were. I told him I could not wake them. He left the kitchen and returned a few minutes later. He said he would make me a T5 (equivalent to corporal) cook if I could serve breakfast on time. I asked him if I could get Schauffier to help me. He said it would be OK, and if we served breakfast on time he would make us both T5’s. We did and he did, and my career was launched.

     The C.O. busted that shift of cooks, and Schauffier and I became the second shift of cooks. Each mess had two shifts of cooks. Each shift was on duty twenty-four hours and off duty twenty-four hours. The shifts changed after the noon meal was served. We liked that, as we were off every other night and could sleep until noon the next day.

     Sergeant Marler was mess sergeant. We got along very well with him and became great buddies. One night the three of us went across the Mexican border to Juarez. Cavalry wore yellow braid, and field artillery wore red braid. We were in a “dime-a-dance” bar and had had several drinks when we noticed a lot of red braid around us. Sergeant Marler decided we should throw the field artillery out, so we undertook the job. Before we finished, the rurales were called, and the bartender set them on us. They locked us up. They pretended they couldn’t understand English and we couldn’t understand Mexican, so we had no idea what was going on or what they planned. We were arrested on Saturday night, and by Monday noon I was sort of worried about what might be happening.

     Our C.O. was a West Point graduate and in his mid-fifties. About noon on Monday he came to our cell door with the Mexican police and they were all speaking English. We were released in his custody. He neither looked at nor spoke to us on the trip back to camp. The three of us were on the rear seat of his command car, and he and his driver were in the front. When we reached our area, he told us that because of our absence the other cooks had had to pull a double shift, and for this he had promised them three-day passes. We pulled four shifts in a line. C.O. Westbrook never mentioned the incident to us again directly. The next Friday at troop inspection he gave the whole company a short pep talk. He said that, as he saw it, the whole reason for joining the Army was to fight. He said he hoped every man in his company was a fighter, but that he would like to point out that the cavalry and the field artillery were on the same side and that we could recognize our enemy by their slanted eyes.

     About this time, Schauffler and I heard of an outfit called paratroopers, which was being formed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. We decided to try for a transfer to the outfit. We were told that they were only accepting people who could fly a plane. So we went to a private school in El Paso for pilots, where we were told we would have to study books and attend lectures for several weeks before we would even be allowed in a plane. This discouraged us considerably, but we applied for the paratroopers training anyway. But we were not accepted.

     The Army phased out the horse cavalry and made us a motorized anti-tank troop. After we received the weapons and special equipment for anti-tank operations, we were sent to the swamps and forests of Louisiana for maneuvers. We all thought the heat and dusty sand of semi-arid West Texas was as bad as anything this side of Hell. But Louisiana soon showed us her stinking mud and semi-tropical heat and mosquitoes made West Texas seem like Heaven. We stayed in Louisiana through the fall and winter. We were constantly on the move -- that is, the command post was on the move. Most of the trucks and weapons were stuck in the swamp mud and remained stationary for days.

     Our mess sergeant went home on a three-day pass and didn’t come back, so I was promoted to mess sergeant while we were on maneuvers. We spent the winter on maneuvers in Louisiana. I always thought of Louisiana as a hot state, but some of the worst ice storms of my life were experienced during the December and January in Louisiana. While we were on maneuvers, we received some new recruits. Two of them were assigned to my kitchen. One, named Brose from Michigan, was the ugliest man I have ever seen, and the other, David Brown, [27] was from Virginia. About all David talked about during the remainder of the maneuvers was his mother. Every day he would get a letter from his mother and would talk about what she had said and done until he got his mail the next day and another letter from his mother. Everything we cooked was wrong because we didn’t do it like his mother. One day I asked him to make brown gravy for roast beef. He made the gravy, but it was white as flour paste. He said he didn’t know how. I told him to color it like his mother did, to make some “monkey” by burning sugar in water to color it like his mother did. He got real upset and assured me that his mother was a good cook and never burned anything she cooked! We all had a good laugh while one of the other cooks made “monkey” to color the gravy.

small blue divider line

We finally moved into Camp Claibome in the early spring. We were well settled in and enjoyed the boredom of camp life. David was still giving us daily reports from his mother’s letters. One day I was called to the orderly room for a non-com meeting, where we were told of a group of girls who were working the camp. They gained admission to the camp as magazine sales people. They did sell magazines, but they also sold something else more attractive to the average soldier. We were told to not let them enter any building where we were responsible. When I got back to the mess hall, David had received his daily letter, and he told me his mother and his late brother’s [28] wife were coming to visit him on a certain day in the near future. By “late” brother, I thought David meant his brother was slower than himself. When people died in Kansas, we spoke of them as “dead” or “passed on.”

     Well, the night before Mrs. Brown and David’s late brother’s wife were to arrive, we took David to town to have a few drinks to settle his nerves. He didn’t drink much, so I drank for him, and I awoke the next morning about 10:30 feeling like someone had stabled their camel in my mouth the night before and moved a Pittsburgh steel mill into my head and stomach. I got out of bed and pulled on my dirty, ragged fatigues and jacket and made my way carefully to the kitchen. As I was in no mood for company, I drew myself a cup of coffee and found a quiet seat on the potato bin just outside the back door. The first swallow of coffee was still sizzling on the hot steel in my stomach when someone knocked on the back door. Thinking it was the magazine sales people, as no one ever knocked on the mess hall door, I hollered, “Go away!” David said that it was probably his mother and his late brother’s wife, so he opened the door and asked them to come in. He took them on in to show them the kitchen and dining room. I remained sitting on the potato bin with my ragged fatigue jacket open and my bare chest and belly hanging out. After some time, David brought Mrs. Brown [29] and Margaret over to introduce them. Then they went over to the cooks’ barracks. At this time, my full attention was required to keep my head and stomach in their proper locations, but I did notice that Margaret was a mighty good-looking girl!

     After I had consumed more coffee and had moved around a little, I began to feel like I might live a few more hours, so I could spare a few thoughts on the young lady. Margaret and Mrs. Brown stayed at the Bentley Hotel in Alexandria, Louisiana, for three days, and I saw them a couple of times before they left to go to California to visit David’s brother. David said that they were to be about three weeks in California and would stop in Alexandria again on their way back to Virginia. In order to serve my own plans, I started to encourage David to make reservations for them at the post guesthouse, so that they would stay on post during their visit. During their second visit, I spent all my off-duty time with them, and we got better acquainted. After they returned to Virginia, Margaret and I continued our acquaintance by letter.

     I got a furlough and went home the first of July. Margaret had her vacation that week and was disappointed when she had to cancel her trip to visit me. Later that summer Kathleen [30] went to Little Rock, Arkansas, to visit Rex [31] at Camp Robinson. Margaret got leave from her job at the Blue Buckle and came to Little Rock with her and then on to Alexandria, Louisiana, to visit me for three days. In October I got a furlough and went to Lynchburg.

     After I returned to camp, I had a disagreement with the mess officer and was busted back to private and was assigned to Battalion Supply, where I broke my ankle while trying to cany a quarter of beef. [32] While I was in the hospital in Claiborne, my outfit, the Tank Destroyer Battalion, moved out to a staging camp preparatory to going overseas. When I was discharged from the hospital with a screw in my ankle bone, I was sent to Camp Polk to the Casualty Replacement Center, where I was assigned as a cook. At Christmas time, Mrs. Brown and Margaret came to visit us, Mrs. Brown staying at Claiborne and Margaret coming on to Camp Polk at Leesville, Louisiana.

     Margaret was on a train that broke down and caused her to miss her connections. She sent a wire to camp to inform me, but I had already gotten a pass and was at Slim’s trailer house in Leesville. So I was trying to meet every bus that came in. When she finally came in, I was late meeting the bus. We went out one night and took a taxi home, and Margaret found a ten-dollar bill in the taxi.

     We became engaged during this visit. Soon after Margaret left, my ankle started swelling and causing me trouble. The doctors at Camp Polk sent me to Harmon General Hospital at Longview, Texas, where they removed the screw and a piece of bone from my ankle.

     During my convalescence, Margaret came to Longview, and we were married on March 28, 1944. A preacher performed the ceremony in his living room. We had a two-room apartment over a garage at 408 1/2 East Cotton Street, Longview, Texas, and we walked from the parsonage back to the apartment. On the way we stopped at a steak house and had our wedding supper.

     When I was discharged from the hospital two months later, I was sent to Camp Robinson to a field artillery battalion.

     We rented an apartment at 1012 Garland Street in Little Rock. Margaret went to work for a Mr. Rice at Double Dip Ice Cream Store and Plant. Soon after we moved there, Margaret realized that she was pregnant. I was commuting to camp daily. Then I was transferred with my outfit to Fort Sill, Lawton, Oklahoma. Margaret stayed on in Little Rock. In October I got a furlough. Margaret came to Lawton by train, where I joined her, and we went on to Mankato. This was her first visit to Kansas and her first meeting with Dad. On our return home, we were to take separate trains at Oklahoma City — Margaret on to Little Rock and I to Lawton. We had an apple and less than three dollars between us. Margaret insisted we divide the money equally between us, so I divided the apple, also. Margaret worried all the way home that she wouldn’t have enough money for the taxi from the station in Little Rock to home. She had to get up the next morning and go to the Double Dip to get her check before she had money for breakfast. The railroad had made a mistake and sold two tickets for the same seat, and the fellow in the seat would not relinquish it to Margaret. So she had to stand up until another seat was vacated. Soon after this, my outfit was moved to Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, to be equipped for overseas duty. I got a furlough to take Margaret back to Virginia. She was about six months pregnant. On the train, her feet hurt, so she removed her shoes. When she tried to put them on again, her feet had swollen, and we had a very bard time getting her shoes on. When I was boarding the train to return to camp, I discovered I had lost my furlough papers. Margaret was scared I would be charged with desertion before I got back to camp. I was worried also because I had to go through Little Rock on my way back to camp and I knew that the MP always checked the trains there. Sure enough, when I got to Little Rock they took me off the train and contacted my C.O. at Chaffee before they let me go on, which made me one day late getting back to camp.

     From Camp Chaffee, we were sent to a P.O.E. in New York City, where we boarded the “Sea Owl” for Europe. We spent fourteen days on the boat before we landed at Le Harve, France. We traveled across France, Belgium and the Netherlands, then came back and entered Germany through Luxembourg. After the peace was signed, we stayed in Germany a few months guarding displaced persons’ camps. Then we went back to Le Harve and came home on the “Sea Hawk.” We disembarked in New York City and were given a thirty-day leave with instructions to report back to Fort Mead, Maryland.

     Kerry [33] was born while I was overseas. He was between three and four months old before I saw him. The war in Europe was over, but we were still at war with Japan. While I was on furlough, on August 13 the radio reported that the war with Japan had ended. A few minutes later it was announced that the report was a mistake. The last part of August, I reported to Fort Mead and the outfit was sent to San Luis Obispo, California, to be outfitted and sent to the Japanese theatre of war. As our train passed through El Paso, Texas, the paperboys came aboard with the announcement that the war had ended. We went on to San Luis Obispo, where I was discharged in October 1945.

     When I went into the Army a private drew twenty-one dollars a month. When I was discharged it had gone up to thirty-three dollars a month. After I was discharged from the service, on my way back to Virginia I stopped in Mankato for a couple of days.

thin black line

27. David Sherwood Brown (1920-    ) born Feb. 8, 1920 in Lynchburg, Va., the son of Thomas Leonard Brown and Sallie Virginia McBrayer. Return
28. Thomas Leonard Brown Jr. (1911-1941) born Nov. 8, 1911, in Lynchburg, Va., the son of Thomas Leonard Brown and Sallie Virginia McBrayer; died Aug. 13, 1941, in Lynchburg, Va.; buried in Fort Hill Memorial Park, Lynchburg, Va. Return
29. Sallie Virginia McBrayer Brown (1890-    ) born July 16, 1890, in Lynchburg, Va., the daughter of Bailey Merritt McBrayer and Susan Virginia Brown. Return
30. Kathleen May Trent Tweedy (1919-    ) born March 2, 1919, in Appomattox County, Va., the daughter of Charles Faulconer Trent and Rose Milo Eller. Return
31. Rector Wilbur Tweedy (1917-    ) born Aug. 29, 1917 in Appomattox County, Va., the son of Robert William Tweedy and Veda May Wilkerson. Return
32. Army medical records of the incident read: "Fracture, simple, complete, medial malleolus, ankle, left, accidentally incurred when a quarter of beef fell on soldier's left knee, causing him to jar part to the ground, injuring same, while on duty in Supply Area, of the 691st Tank Des. Bn., Camp Claiborne, La. 1000, September 4, 1943." Return
33. Kerry Winton Sipe (1945-    ) born March 30, 1945, in Lynchburg, Va. Return

small blue divider line

Previous section     Next section     Return to Contents