History of the 300th Combat Engineers, 1943 to 1945
On To Europe
The following was issued to the troops upon their arrival in England in 1943:
To each American soldier who has left home to join the great forces now gathering in this island, I send a message of greeting and welcome. Wherever you may go in our country you will be among friends. Our fighting men look upon you as comrades and brothers in arms. Welcome to you while you are with us: and when the time comes we will all go forward together and carry the good cause to final victory.
This message was included in a poster with a picture of Winston Churchill in his top hat and bow tie showing the V for victory sign.
Dale Williams, Staff Sgt. H&S Company, took a different route from Camp White to New York and then to England on a different ship than the rest of the 300thBattalion itself. This was because he and a few others were a Forward Echelon of the 300thto prepare for the later arrival of the unit in England. The Forward Echelon departed Camp White on 7 November, arrived at Camp Shanks 19 November, departed New York 23 November and arrived in England 30 November. These few men were listed as AWOL at Camp White for security reasons. The following is his personal diary for the month of November 1943:
During November 1943 we traveled all the way from Oregon to New York via Chicago and went through Central Station with full field packet and weapon. At that time it was unusual to see anyone traveling that way except in troop trains as we were wearing blouses and neck ties. We landed in New York City and went down to the Manhattan Hotel to get a room to clean up and the clerk thought that we were there for a parade and presumed that we would leave right after it. We did not, however, and as we say we blew the city. That was where I saw the Ice Follies and the big shows like "Claudia." We ended up at Fort Hamilton and stayed there until we sailed.
We ended up at Fort Hamilton and stayed there until we sailed. I had already gotten all new clothes at Oregon but checked again to make sure and we were issued new light weight gas masks as well as several other items. So we sailed and on the tugboat as we went through Brooklyn I met Hudson from home and we had a nice long chat. We landed and were getting ready to load and the Red Cross came with doughnuts and coffee. As we went up the gangplank the Army Band played good old “God Bless America” and many others which made a big lump come into my throat.
Anyway, I had the privilege to be one of the riders on the largest ship afloat, the "Queen Elizabeth," and had a bunk in with five very nice boys. I got a little seasick which was not surprising as we zigzagged all the way and once we almost turned around to get away from some submarines. We left Fort Hamilton on 20 November so that put us afloat on Thanksgiving Day and we had kidney stew for dinner which we could not eat as very few meals we were able to eat that week. We had a good USO show and enjoyed it.
After seven days afloat we were given physicals. We landed at Clyde, Scotland on 29 November got on trains and rolled two days before we even saw a conductor, went through Bristol and, of course, Liverpool. The first scenes of the war were as we rode through England as churches were bombed and houses flattened. We drew English money in pounds and shillings at Tideworth as we were staying there until we move to our home for the battalion. I had a shower in a limey barracks and like to have frozen and swore that would be the last but later had to change my mind.
We went to London and saw it in a day but we had to see things and then go. We saw Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and had supper in a very nice hotel that had an orchestra complete, even more deluxe than in New York. We always went to the Trocadero as we had a waitress that would see us come in and regardless of the crowd she always pointed immediately for us and would say, “two soldiers this way.” We were big shots.
We started drawing supplies to be ready for the battalion and drove on the wrong side of the road all the time. Just enough work to stay busy and finally the bunch is all together again. That was work as everyone wanted everything, especially things that we could not get as there were lots of them.
Dec. 15th– this was a day to well remember anyway, but I was the lucky one and got my first letter overseas and I do mean it was appreciated as I had gone since Camp White in November to now with only one phone call I sneaked in while in New York so you see I was hurting for mail. Who could be happy away from their sweet on an anniversary.
Note: Official report of 300thassignments:
Will transfer from Camp White, Oreg to New York or Boston Port of Embarkation enroute to permanent overseas station. Adv det …..departed Cp White, Oreg 7 Nov 1943 …..departed NYPOE 23 Nov 1943 on Queen Elizabeth ….Arrived in England 29 Nov 1943—Water Transportation Report, 28 Dec 1943.
Toward the end of training at Camp White, the men of the 300thEngineer Combat Battalion understood that an invasion of Europe was inevitable. Germans occupied almost all of Europe. The occupation included 58 German divisions, half of which were somewhat weak coastal defenses, while the remaining ten armored and 17 infantry divisions were ill-equipped and under-manned.
Not knowing where or when, the 300thsuspected the time was close when they left Camp White by troop train. There was some good spirit among the men. Although they knew little of where they were headed, they did know they were headed east which told them they were not headed to the South Pacific but instead they were likely to be heading to Europe. They could not have imagined the grueling and dangerous times ahead.
The train trip was long and tedious. Under threat of court-martial, they rode with the window curtains closed most of the time. The troop train traveled from Camp White to Portland, Oregon and then through Washington, Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas, Iowa to Chicago, IL. On the outskirts of major cities, the train would stop long enough for the men to detrain for simple calisthenics and a few moments to loosen up. Contact with civilians was forbidden except the simple courtesies of hello, thank you and goodbye as German spies were believed to be in the States and looking for any intelligence they could gather. The train then went into Canada at Detroit and down the Hudson River to Camp Shanks, New York where the 300thstayed more than a week before shipping out. Camp Shanks was on the Hudson River just a few miles north of New York City.
They boarded a ship at Pier #92 that they later learned to be the Queen Mary on December 3, 1943 bound for England. Captain Bisset was the Ship Commander with a British crew of 1,087 and 11,907 troops aboard. Hitler offered a one million Reichs-Mark reward to the U-Boat commander that sank the Queen Mary. Obviously, the reward was never collected. There was a coin toss aboard the Queen Mary between Major John Burfening, the commanding officer of the 207thEngineers, and Major Riel Crandall, commanding officer of the 300thEngineers deciding who would have MP (military police) or KP (kitchen police) duty. Crandall won and chose MP duty which mostly involved keeping the troops moving toward the chow line and then returning to their bunks or sleeping location. With nearly 12,000 troops aboard, kidney stew, brussel sprouts and bitter marmalade was standard fare. The Queen Mary zigzagged her way across the Atlantic Ocean changing course every seven miles. She averaged 26.98 knots and covered the 3,540 mile trip in five and a half days arriving on December 9, 1943 in Gourock, Scotland near Glasgow. The 300thboarded troop trains for an all night trip to Reading, England and finally moved by truck convoy to Devises, England, a town about 50 miles southwest of London, arriving on December 12.
Going to Europe; from a presentation by Colonel Riel Crandall at a 300thReunion in 1996:
We got on a train [at Camp White] and when the train pulled out I told the men we were headed for Camp Shanks, New York and probably that means we would be going to North Africa or Europe. We got to Camp Shanks and all of you got promoted from Engineers to MP's and we got on the Queen Mary. We were to be the MP's for the trip. We got to Scotland and after everyone got off the ship we stayed on another day until a bunch of British pilots came on board and took over our duties. They were going to be taken to the U.S. for special pilot training.
George Garrison and his trip across to England:
We went over on the Queen Mary. Our Battalion was the first to go over on that ship. They were still making repairs two or three days before it sailed. My first job was down in the hold. I was sent down to watch a man who was watching a man who was welding in the engine room. I didn't know why I was doing that. I guess it was protection against sabotage. Somehow I got with some Englishmen and went out with them to get some food at noontime. We were in the chow line and there was this meat in one of the cans. It looked like real nice red meat. So I took a look at the pot and then I knew it was kidney stew. It just smelled like hot pee. It almost made me sick and I can tell you that I didn't eat that kidney stew. Those English sailors were eating it like a hog eating slop. I didn't eat anything. I missed a meal.
300thEngineer Warren Chancellor describes the trip to England:
We took a short train trip from Camp Shanks to the docks in N. Y. Under complete secrecy, we boarded our ship. We were not able to see the ship until we were on board and then we discovered it was the Queen Mary which had been converted into a troop ship.
Our unit was selected to serve as Military Police for the voyage. Food was terrible (British), lots of kidney stew and a very bitter orange marmalade. We were given only two meals a day. There were over 11,000 troops on the ship and it took all day to serve two meals to that many troops. When we went over on the Queen Mary, I was a little concerned about German subs. I thought we were being attacked one time. We were not too far from Scotland one morning fairly early and they started firing all of the antiaircraft guns. It turned out it was just a test, they were just practicing but they were actually shooting real bullets. The ship went unescorted and five days and nights later we dropped anchor just off the coast of Grennock, Scotland. We went ashore on "tenders" and boarded a train. Some 24 hours later, we arrived at Devizes, England, not far from London. We were there for only a short period of time and spent Christmas there, however I think that most of us did not even realize that it was Christmas .
Frederick A. Wild, Jr on the Queen Mary:
We arrived at Yonkers, New York via Chicago and I got the chance to call Mary [wife] and asked her to meet me in New York. I got the opportunity to go to the Music Box Theatre one night and see and hear Guy Lombardo's Orchestra. I remember they played Speak Low. I think Mary Martin was appearing in One Touch of Venus at the time. By the time Mary got to New York, we had embarked on the Queen Mary and I couldn't get off to see her. By special permission, I was allowed to call her at her hotel, with an intelligence officer, a major, monitoring our conversation, and that was the last time I got to talk to her for two years. She still remembers that she had to stand up in the day coach all the way to Meridian, Mississippi, on the trip back to New Orleans.
I didn't even get a look at the New York harbor or the Statue of Liberty as we sailed because I was ordered immediately to check out the immunization records of every soldier and remedy any deficiencies at once; I got a twinge of mal de mer running up and down the spiral staircase tween decks. The Queen Mary was believed to be capable of outrunning any submarine so we crossed unescorted to Grennock, Scotland. The staterooms were fitted with pipe frame racks to serve as tiered bunks, three or four stacked above each other and some men really had to climb into bed. I remember on the way over, while on deck, I saw a squall to starboard and the vessel heeled over to get into it at once, for the cloak of invisibility it afforded. Another morning, a whole fusillade let go from the deck and I could see the tracer bullets through a porthole. I thought we were under attack but later learned that this was practice for the crew. We made it over in four and a half days.
Don Richter describes his not so pleasant introduction to England:
The train kept the southerly route throughout the day and through the night, stopping sporadically on sidings to allow trains of higher priority to pass, until the next day it came to a stop in dingy town. On the station was a sign saying "Devizes." We were not sure that it was the name of our destination until we received the order to dismount the train with all of our belongings. We fell into formation beside the train and were marched through cobblestone streets to a military compound at the edge of town where we were told to fall out and occupy one of the barracks. The building contained crude beds with straw filled mattresses and little else.
From nowhere appeared a tousled kid in ragged clothes and with the foulest of mouths even to this group of soldiers. He immediately got around to his mission of offering his sister's favors to all of us that would at the price of a shilling. He was informed that we were confined to the barrack for the present and would have to decline.
After being called to the mess hall for limey rations, we returned to the barrack where Sgt. Parker lectured us on proper behavior in this land of England as we were guests. Some time later Lt. Orville Lutz came in wearing his trench coat telling us of going into the blackout and foggy town of Devizes for a while during which, he said, that he had been raped while standing in the doorway of a building. We of the Third Platoon thought surely that the lieutenant was spinning a yarn but just maybe he was telling the truth. Taps sounded and we went to bed in this strange town in a strange land wondering just what was ahead for us.
Later in the night I was awakened by the mournful wail of air raid sirens followed by the distant drone of aircraft engines and then the thump, thump of bombs exploding in the distance. Search lights plied the sky toward the east as I stepped outside the barrack and occasionally caught a plane in the beam as well as Ack Ack exploding in efforts to knock the attackers out of the air. The activity moved away and soon subsided to stillness. Surely there was no doubt that we were in the war already.
Reveille sounded while it was still very dark and all was in blackout. We moved quietly to the mess hall for breakfast after which our mess kits were inspected by an officer to make sure that no food was wasted. Here in England food was a rare commodity and was considered a war supply not to be wasted at all. After breakfast we went to the building marked "Ablutions" which we learned meant latrine and showers. It was barely light when the order to fall in was issued and we departed the camp for a hike through the streets of the town of Devizes and out into the countryside.
Don Richter describes Christmas 1943:
I recall Christmas 1943 we were in Devizes for Christmas and I served on a KP with Kirksey Putnam. In the morning while we were helping the cooks prepare the holiday meal, Lieut. Orville Lutz, platoon commander of third platoon of Company B, a real fine gentleman and leader, came into the kitchen and picked up a couple of big spoons and started beating out a tune on all of the big pans and pots. Before coming into the U.S. Army, Lt. Lutz had been a drummer in the Phil Harris Orchestra and he was trying to use his profession to cheer up we poor guys who had to be on KP Christmas day. We did serve turkey, dressing and all the trimmings we would have had at home, but later many of the men, including myself, became very sick as some of the turkeys were spoiled. Anyway we all survived that Christmas away from home.
Juke Burnham on the Queen Mary:
When we went over on the Queen Mary, they said there was no way you would get seasick on such a big ship but I did. I think the way they converted this ship to a troop transport was a real achievement. I was glad to get on the Queen Mary because it was the fastest ship that they had at that time. We did not have a convoy because a convoy could not keep up with the ship. It had a specified period of time going straight and then it would zigzagged left to right and right to left so a submarine could not get you sighted in. So the submarine would be useless because it couldn't get sighted in for a torpedo. We never had that happen.
James Kennedy remembers the food on the Queen Mary:
I don't remember much except the kidney stew. The food was atrocious. We had the run of the ship because we were the MPs and I'm afraid I took every advantage of it because I enjoyed the heck out of it. I'd never been on a ship. There were very rare occasions that I did not enjoy being in the service. I had never been out of town much from my little community except maybe a football game, two miles. Occasionally my family would carry me to Natach, Mississippi - 150 miles. I enjoyed what I did in the service even when it got bad. Most of the bad things were attitude that you could overcome.
Norman Webb on the Queen Mary:
The trip over to England was quite fast and not unpleasant. I can remember standing at the rear of the ship and seeing the wake of the Queen Mary. You could tell by the wake that it was zig-zagging and the wake was long enough so you could see that we were shifting course. We made it in about six days and we were unescorted. Presumably there was a price out by the Germans to torpedo the ship. But by this zigzag course we avoided any U-boats.
Billy Byers describes the trip to England and training while he was there:
We went over to England on the Queen Mary. There were maybe 16,000 men on that boat. We were the MPs for the trip. We slept in shifts in rooms about 8 feet square with bunks all up on each side. You could just barely move to get in and out of there. The food, they called it kidney stew, you couldn't believe how bad that was. It was terrible. We finally landed in Scotland and then wound up in Bristol, England where we trained night and day for two or three weeks. We really did get good at it. We were training in building bridges. It may have saved some of us because we were supposed to be the first to go over. But, the 299thcouldn't compare with us building bridges so they went over first and they saved us for later to go in and build bridges. Many of the 299thdidn't make it.
Combat engineers had high moral. They considered themselves, rightly so, specialists. But they also could, and later did, act as infantry; especially in the Battle of the Bulge. Engineer special service regiments had skilled construction personnel and assigned heavy equipment. They also were specialists in topography, water supply and railway.
Juke Burnham wounded training in England:
[Roy] Hodgood and I were training in England laying mines. There was a booby-trap device and it was a pressure release device and it had a cap on it. We had two dummy mines. The land mine had about 6 pounds of TNT in it and we would put them in there on top of the fuse rack. We had live fuses in those mines. I don't think the mine's weight was enough to hold the pressure on the device. So we pulled the safety plan and the thing exploded. And that threw the mines out and detonated the fuses that were in there. There was a lot of black smoke and I got second and third degree burns to the face and my eye. The spider came off and hit Hodgood in the face and cut him. He got out of the hospital pretty quick and got back with the unit. But he went down on the LST. I was quite a while in the hospital and that's why I was not on the LST. The English people didn't like us much. They had a saying: "You Yanks are overpaid, oversexed, and over here." We would go to the dances and dance with those English ladies and the English men seemed to resent that.
Domingo Muniz describes his trip to England:
I went over on that big cruise ship. We loaded up on December 1 and sailed for England on December 3. It was a big ship, carrying thousands of man. We went to Reading, England for training in steel bridges. We took three hours and 45 minutes to build one bridge and to break the bridge down it took only two hours and 45 minutes. But we were running all the time. It was hard work but we made it. We had only two days training in heavy ponton bridges. That's all the training we had but it was really easy to build them.
The 300thwas attached to the 1110thEngineer Combat Group while in England. Other units attached to the 1110thwere: 148th& 207thCombat Engineer Battalions; 631st Engineer Light Equipment Company; and the 989th Engineer Treadway Bridge Company. The 1110th, under the command of Lt. Col. Daniel Spengler, was headquartered at Sonning, Berkshire, England.
The 1110th, including the 300th, had specialized training in building Treadway and Bailey bridges and erection and removal of bridges in all kinds of weather conditions during the day and at night. They also had training in road construction and maintenance, use and maintenance of power equipment and in laying and removing minefields.
The 300thmoved to various locations in England constructing a camp at Bristol, a gasoline station at Westbury and a railhead at Sparkford. They also built and maintained roads for a station hospital at Haydens Park.
In May of 1944, the men and equipment of the 300thwere divided into three groups. Each group was made up of men from Company A, B and C along with Headquarters and Service Company. They were divided up in the event that if an LST was lost, no one company would be incapacitated. Thus began the wait for the journey across the English Channel and the inevitable invasion of the German-occupied territories in Europe.
We built bridges; from a presentation by Colonel Riel Crandall at a 300thReunion in 1996:
We moved out to some real delightful, plush surroundings - some nice tents in Swindon, England, to enjoy the rest of the English winter. We were training at the Thames River. We built so many bridges over the Thames to where I don't know how much steel is still on the bottom of the river, particularly those pins from the Treadways that we dropped.
Warren Chancellor works on a bridge in England:
We were doing bridge training on the Thames. We'd build the pieces on shore and shove them out into the river. Daryl Adams, we called him Big Daddy, fell into the water and we found out he couldn't swim. I reached into the river and pulled him out. He was just where I could reach to him.
George Garrison training in England:
When we were in England, I guess it was February, we were there at the Thames River in tents and it was cold. We built that bridge and put it across and then we would take it out. Then we would put it in again and take it out again. We stayed out there about a week. We had to inflate the pontons and then push them out. Some of us would be in the water waist deep. At night you would use those radium buttons so you could align up those pins that held those treadways together. And we would do that at night until we could put in that bridge across the river in 50 minutes. We stayed in pup tents. I mean two-man pup tents and you would go back over there and pull off your shoes. But the thing that bothered me the most is that we had revelry in the morning and very early and your shoes would be frozen solid and coated with ice. And you would hit the shoes to break the ice and get the shoe to bend enough so that you could put it on.
Then we would head to the shore and stand inspection while we were out there. One morning Col. [Daniel] Spangler came by to see how things were going and to see how we were progressing. When he drove up we were all in formation for roll call. We had all shaved but our officers had not shaved. So the Colonel asked the officers if all the enlisted men were shaved and they said yes. So he said, "I worry about you. All the men are shaven but not one of you officers is cleanly shaven and you have not shaved since you have been out here. I want every officer up here and to double time to their tents and get your razor only and come back." And so they came back with just a razor and he had them dry shave in 30° weather right in front of us. I liked Col. Spangler. He was tough, he was military. If he had lived I wouldn't be here to talk to you today. He volunteered us for everything that came along. The worse it would be the more he liked it. That's why he was killed and that's why Major Tucker was killed.
Donald Richter, 300thveteran, recalled his memories of the days before the Normandy invasion. The battalion was quartered in a tent camp near Swindon, England where they had trained primarily in bridge building and laying and clearing mine fields:
It was good to be active again and the old English structures dating to the 15thand 16thcentury were most impressive. Back at camp each squad was issued a truck with full equipment and we went about familiarizing ourselves with it. Drivers were trained to stay on the left side of the road which was quite difficult for some. It was quite a terrifying experience at first to whiz along in the left lane of two lane roads and meet oncoming traffic on the right side.
After a few days, Lt. Orville Lutz announced to the men of the third platoon that we would be moving to a small camp called Shootend near the city of Salisbury. We loaded all of our possessions and equipment onto our new truck and off we went on the left side of the road over hill and dale toward our new home. Soon I noticed off to the side of the road a strange arrangement of very large stones in a sort of circular design. I recalled something like this from world history - this must be Stonehenge. Surely it was. We moved on to Salisbury and some three miles on South to Camp Shootend. This was our home for several weeks during which we built enough duckboard for the whole U.S. Army.
Evenings and weekends we were free to go into Salisbury and visit its finer points such as the great cathedral and the lively pubs. One day we went south to Southampton, the large seaport, to pick up materials. I suffered a severe attack of dysentery while we were at Camp Shootend and Lt. Lutz recognized my plight and allowed me to stay in bed for several days. I fear that the after effects of this illness stayed with me much of my life.
We returned to the rest of the battalion and constructed a tent city near Swindon. Here we continue training on the Salisbury Plain. We went to the Thames River near Reading for training in the construction of the Floating Bailey Bridge and other training missions to shape us up for the war in Europe. During this time our Commanding Officer Maj. Riel Crandall was replaced as our commanding officer by Maj. John Tucker, the protégé of group commander, Col. Daniel Spangler. This was a very unhappy time for the men of the 300thand almost resulted in the death of all of us. Actually those two thought they could win the war alone with the lives of their men. It really cost them their lives as Maj. Tucker was killed by an 88 shell and Col. Spangler by machine gun fire in Normandy. Maj. Crandall then resumed command of 300thand all was better again.
We could see that training activities of all units were reaching a high point in May 1944. Surely the invasion would come soon. We heard rumors that we would be involved very early in the landings in France. Such was the mission of combat engineers.
In mid-May, I believe, we were assembled with all of our trucks loaded with men and equipment. We were told that we would receive assault landing training in preparation for an invasion somewhere in Europe. We waited and waited and finally were ordered to dismount since we would not be receiving assault training as the assignment had gone to our sister outfit, the 299th. We were relieved but somewhat disappointed.
Each night we witnessed aircraft taking off pulling large gliders and later returning. We assumed that this was training for an invasion on the continent. The number of aircraft towing gliders was much greater on the night of June 5thand the aircraft returned without their tows [of gliders]. This was a sign to us that the invasion had begun without us. Later in the morning, radios in the company area carried the address of General Eisenhower telling his troops in England that D-Day was indeed at hand and that a huge armada of ships along with airborne troops had begun to invade France. He said that all of us would soon be joining in the battle to free Europe from the control of Nazi Germany.
Most of us, I believe, had mixed feelings. While we were relieved at not having to participate in the initial landing on D-Day, we were also just a bit let down for not being called upon to participate in the greatest military assault in the history of mankind.
Frederick A. Wild, Jr in England:
We were bundled into a train in Scotland and taken to an old Roman townsite and British barracks at Devizes, Wiltshire, in England. We stayed there pretty much until D-Day and I often wonder why I didn't arrange a trip to Stonehenge which was quite close by. Shortly before D-Day, we moved to an area near the Thames, where the battalion practiced assembling Treadway bridges. Here, I had to treat our dental officer, Dr. Carl E. Binger, with some intravenous aminophylline for asthma. He asked me anxiously if I was killing him, because this drug causes tachycardia, a sensation of heat and nervousness. I assured him that I had done this many times for asthmatics in the Emergency Room at Touro. We had to send him back to California and I still have an autographed copy of a book on anesthesia that he sent me after the war, since I had often discussed local and regional anesthesia with him during our military service together. Dentists generally are quite adept at this sort of anesthesia.
We used to have a Coleman lantern as part of our equipment, with which Dr. Binger was quite impressed, so he went out and bought himself one to read by. One night when we were in the desert, I had to suture a laceration; knowing that Carl had this lantern and, being less than satisfied with the illumination of the GI one we had, I ordered one of the aid men to get Carl's for the additional light it would afford. I don't know the circumstances under which the soldier got the lantern but Dr. Binger got so mad, he cried. He complained to me and I understand that he went to see Major Crandall about it. I don't know why he got so hot under the collar and I was embarrassed and sorry for commandeering his damned lantern but I learned that some people are rather touchy about their possessions and I never did that again. We never had words over the incident, however. It's kinda like the principle that one should never reprimand a person in the presence of others. Dr. Binger was promptly replaced by Dr. Leonard Burke, a red-faced Irishman from Scranton Pennsylvania, who was several years older than I was and a barrel of laughs. The men loved him and used to bring their complaints to him; he would usually respond with the irony, "Look, you can be replaced, you know!" They would have liked nothing better!
Competition; from a presentation by Colonel Riel Crandall at a 300thReunion in 1996:
In England, that's when we really got into this bridge building training for the invasion. I remember competitions between company commanders on how long it took to get a bridge built and take it back down. There were some sizable bets. I wasn't supposed to know about it but you would be amazed what you learn if you just listen. You would find out things that it might be better if you didn't know.
Chuck Bice at the Half Moon Bar and Hotel:
We were in Reading, England. There was the Half Moon Bar and Hotel in town and we were billeted outside of town a few miles. I was squad sergeant and I would usually take about five guys and we would go into town. Well, we'd get a little happy and start telling stories. One night we were there and maybe a little bit louder and the girl called the MPs. Two of them came in and we said just join the party - have fun with us and they sat there for a little while and they left. They saw we weren't really that bad.
So, I guess we got a little worse and the old gal slapped Jack Northcott who was just a real easy going boy. Man, he drawed back and he was going to hit her with one lick. Our buddy, J. D. Walton grabbed his fist and it throwed him right around. So, the gal ran and called the MPs and said, "Don't send two or three, send a truckload." So, I said, "OK boys, let's go out the back and we will count them as they come in. Gosh all mighty, a truckload come bailing off of there and come in there. We didn't stay to see anything and took off across the pastures back to camp.
The next morning, little old Lt. Mellenkamp, a nice little ole guy, younger than me came up and said, "Did you guys go in town last night?" I said, "Yes sir." He said, "Have a big time?" I said, "We had a pretty good time." He said, "You all tear anything up?" I said, "Oh no, we just had a good time." He said, "I knew that you had because the MPs come out looking for five big men and a little buck sergeant. I knew exactly who he was talking about. I told them all my men were in bed." The five big guys were Jack Northcott, J.D. Walton, W.W. Jones, Norman Webb and John Rekich. Rekich was a great big ole Russian, a really good guy.
Chuck Bice was tempted:
At the Half Moon Bar and Hotel, we were there one night and John Rekich was with us. He was my buddy. I was his squad leader and had befriended him when he to the company in Oregon as a replacement and a Yankee. He was my assistant squad leader because he was there for me for anything. We were in there one night and I told him, "I'm married and I do not want to go home with any of these gals. So you listen to me now. It would be bad for you if you let me go off with any of these little old girls. I'm telling you while I'm sober."
We were in there later and boy a little ole doll, sixteen years old, latched on to me and was going to take me home with her. Well, I wasn't going to put up too much resistance because I was already feeling pretty good. John says, "No, he can't go because he's married." She said, "That's good." John said, "He can't go, he's married." We almost got into a fight. They had to separate us. They had to separate us and take me outside. The next morning he said, "Sarge, please don't do that to me again. Those people thought there was something wrong with us.
Kenneth "Cowboy" Morris remembers several incidents in England with his friend Joe Oliver:
Well, I'll tell you. I was supposed to be hauling cinders building a road in Bristol, England. Joe Oliver was with me so I said, "Joe, let's just take off and go out and visit some of these friendly people." This horse and wagon was delivering milk in this little ole town. This lady would stop and deliver a pitcher of milk to a house and then go to the next house. So we watched for awhile and we had to go back. So we started up the truck and BOOM - the truck backfired. Well, this horse jumped and took off spilling milk all over the road.
We were in England and Joe was on guard duty. When he got back he was quite drunk. I said, "You go get into my pup tent." So he goes in there and I heard all this hollering and he tore the tent apart. He went in the tent and there was a porcupine in there. He tore that tent all to pieces.
We had a real long stretch of bridge way up there so I said to Joe, "Let's go across that bridge." There was a guard on there and he said, "That load's too heavy." So I said, "No it ain't. Just stores and stuff so get out of the way and we're going over." And Joe was backing me up. So we got out there in the middle of that bridge and it was way down there and the bridge kind of bouncing and swinging. We were scared to death and ole Joe said, "I'm going to make a deal with you. If I don't make it back, you go see my mother and if you don't make it back, I'll go see your mother." Joe didn't make it back and I never did get to see his mother. It bothered me but I didn't even know where he was from. He was killed on the LST .
Hoyt Neill's leggings as told by Warren Chancellor:
Hoyt Neill had seen a lot of the GIs with bleached leggings and he decided they looked good so he thought he would try them himself. He thought they would look smart with the dress uniform. So he got a large bucket and filled it with water and got some very strong bleach, powdered bleach, and put an excessive amount in the water. Then he put his leggings in and left them overnight. Well, the next morning he reached in there to the bucket to get his leggings out. They literally fell into pieces. The bleach had completely destroyed all of the thread that sewed them together. He was forced to buy a new set of leggings for himself. That was something we had to do. If we destroyed something we had to replace it.
James Kennedy remembers Thanksgiving in England in 1943:
The day before Thanksgiving another soldier and I by the name of Scottie went to the USO. I don't know if he was in the engineers are not. We took control of the ping-pong table. He was a lot better player than I was. We kept one table occupied with one of us on it all the time. We just beat everyone that came in. By one o'clock in the morning everyone quit. So here comes the lady in charge and we said to her we don't have a place to stay and can we please sleep on the ping-pong tables and she said ok.
We slept longer than we should have and we woke up smelling that turkey being cooked. When the lady came back in to get us we said we were hungry. So she cut us off two huge turkey legs and when we opened the door to leave there must've been a half-mile of soldiers lined up there for their Thanksgiving dinner. So we walked down eating the turkey. They cheered us at first but the longer we went the more they cursed us. That was one of my highlights of the war. And then we went down and talked someone out of a bottle of Portuguese rum, which we shouldn't have. We ate that turkey leg and drank that rum and really got soused.
Randy Hanes describes a cool reception in England:
One Sunday evening, a couple of the guys and I decided to attend church services at the local church in Devises, England. We put on our dress uniforms and walked about a quarter mile to the church. I'm not sure but I think it was an Episcopal church. We felt that attending a real church instead of the services held on base by an Army chaplain would be more spiritually uplifting. When we arrived for the evening services, we sought pews at the back of the church.
I will never forget the cold reaction from the church members and the look of disbelief on their faces. They glowered at us as if we were invading their sacred space and wearing Nazi uniforms. This was very un-nerving to us and them - the feeling that we did not belong. I approached the vicar after the service telling him that we felt that the members resented our being there and that all we were seeking was some religious comforting. He apologized for our feeling and asked us to come back whenever we felt like it. We never went back.
George Garrison gets his motorcycle:
In March, in England, it was on a Saturday and they showed up and said they wanted me at the motor pool right away. So I went up to the motor pool and there sat three brand-new motorcycles. Capt. [Gene] Falvey was my company commander and I walked up, saluted and reported to him. He said, "Can you ride one of these motorcycles?" I said, "I don't know." So he said, "Let's see." Well, I knew a little bit about it so I choked it and cranked and rode off. He said, "Go back and get your bedroll and all of your belongings and report to the Message Center and headquarters." And I did and I wrote that motorcycle until we got to Belgium.
George Garrison's motorcycle:
I had my motorcycle and when we went over to France I kept the shield on it cause I didn't know what kind of bugs there would be over there. Charles Olive was in the Third Platoon and he was from Texas so one evening we were fooling around and he said, "I will paint you a little design on that windshield." So I said, "Okay." He was going to school to be an artist. So he put TEXAS in big block letters at the top and then on the skirt down below on one side he drew a pair of spurs and on the other side a six shooter. Maj. [John] Tucker, Commanding Officer, was from Houston, Texas and every time he was going somewhere to do something he would come by and get my motorcycle. If he was reporting to Battalion Headquarters he would ride my motorcycle.
Warren Chancellor knows he is going in:
We were not far from Plymouth, England which was on the coast when we woke up one morning and there was a constant drone of hundreds of B17s, 24s, 25s, 26s. And there were a lot of B47s pulling gliders. I think it started about 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning because it gets daylight about that time in England. We knew that we would be going in so they had us prepared for it. They issued special clothing which was impregnated with a chemical in case of mustard gas. We had gas masks. We had waterproofed our vehicles. We had the exhaust going up so that they would not get underwater. So we thought we would be driving off the LSTs.
We went over on the LST on the 11ththat night and we beached it and waited until the tide went out and it got light. We were the first LST to unload on the beach that day. We, the medics, had a weapons carrier and I was in the back of that. It was quite a jolt when we hit the beach from the LST. It was still semi dark so we couldn't see much.
Alfred Stein was a replacement engineer joining the 300thin Europe after the Normandy Invasion:
I was inducted into the Army on January 21, 1942 and served stateside at Fort Sill, Oklahoma training in field artillery. On February 29, 1944, I departed for the ETO aboard the H.M.S. Arawa docked in New York. We were the first troops to board and were assigned to guard duty and defense. We were fed British food. Terrible stuff - few ate it. We lived on PX rations until they sold out. Worst of all, the coffee was like weak tea. The British crew was probably hoarding the U.S. rations for the black market in England. The few officers on board in the main deck rooms were getting eggs and bacon though I never saw an officer or even another non-com. We could buy a sandwich or a piece of fruit for $5.00. When the PX rations were gone in a few days, most of the G.I.'s were getting hard to control. Some wound up in the brig after it was cleaned out of the Enfield rifles and ammo.
Men were losing weight. By the time we reached England, one man in my group could put his helmet within the waist of his pants. The gangway to the upper deck was puke from stem to stern. Once the crew spread sawdust, I could brace myself and slide the full length to exit. My supply of lemon drops kept me puke free. The convoy was attacked one night. There was a huge explosion and you could feel the surge of power combined with the zigzag course. Come morning the Arawa was alone. Nothing was in sight.
By the time we arrived in Wales all the troops were pretty well showing the loss of weight. We arrived March 19, 1944. Two and a half weeks to cross the north Atlantic. We were settled in a camp of barracks with homemade double bunks that were too short for G.I.'s. At night the anti-aircraft fire and cordite fumes left us to spend the night further west to be more distant from London.
We were moved to a field area living in pyramidal tents not far from the Channel. Ilfracome and Wilacome were two of the nearby towns. From there we could make a trip to London. The last week in May we packed up, received rifles and ammo and ran three nights of live fire courses followed by days of running up and down sand dunes some place. We had been assigned to LSI 711 but that ship did not show up. Eventually, around 20 June, we boarded the Isle of Mann ferry boat to land in France. The ship had the promenade decks boarded up and a large iron caldron of hot water a mid-ship.
We laid parallel to the beach for three days due to rough seas from a lingering storm. After our three days of rations were gone, a large tank barge drew up to our shore side and as we surged up and down, we, one at a time, jumped to a pile of barrack bags in the center of the landing craft. Our hopes of making the beach without getting our feet wet did not happen. Another failed expectation. A day or two later, 26 June, 1944 many of us were assigned to the 300thcombat engineers. I joined the 300thas a replacement in Co. A, 1st squad, 3rd platoon. This platoon was all replacements except Alton Smith and Pablo Hernandez due to the loss of the men on LST 523.
Kal Lutsky Drafted:
I was drafted, I never enlisted. I was drafted right off the stage of my graduation. I graduated in June of 1943 on June 21 and by June 23 I am in Camp Wood, Texas. I am now 18 years old. I went through the school of hard knocks. Have you heard of Tom McAnn shoe stores? All through New England were Tom McAnn shoe stores. That was my first job when I was only 13 years old. I lost my mother when I was 10 years old and I grew up during the hard knocks of The Depression and I was on my own from age 13 to 18. I worked in the shoe store Thursday night, Friday night and all day Saturday and I made four dollars. Pretty good actually.
Norman Webb and the Lieutenant:
Before the invasion, I had just recently been reduced from corporal to private because of some trouble that I got into. I was a rather immature young man. The Commander had the First Sergant say that Private Webb would report to the Commanding Officer at 7 PM that evening. He was a Captain or a First Lt. named Goldenthal. He was tough and when I reported to him he took me out behind the tents where we were staying and in private he put me at ease and chatted with me a bit. He said, "It would be ironic if I transferred you over to the platoon as a private when you had the opportunity to be a sergeant." And I said, "Yes sir that would be ironic." So then he said, "Where do you think the invasion is going to take place?" I said, "I have no idea, no idea at all." He said, "I didn't ask you if you knew, I asked you where do you think the invasion is going to take place." I still did not recognize my responsibilities so again I said, "I don't know sir." And his face clouded up and he obviously was going to get angry. And he said, "I will ask you one more time, where do you think the invasion will take place?" The third time was a charm. I said, "Sir, I've been giving that a lot of thought and I am convinced it is going to take place in Norway." It was one of the few geographic names I could recall. He got in a better mood. I said, "All the Germans are going to be prepared for the invasion to be the coast of France. There is no reason we can't go into Normandy." I acted like I knew what I was talking about. He got friendly and let me go. I did not have any idea what he was thinking.
The following is from the journal of Sgt. Dale Williams for January and February 1944:
Work on barracks and warehouse at Bristol and have a battle of the one and a half ton Chevy trucks as well as the battle of the barracks and the keyhole inspection that kept us up all night. During this time we had built Nisson Huts and started to make preparation for training. Later we moved into tents beside the railroad tracks at Chisleton near Swindon. We enlarged and improved tent city and learned how to dock air raids as they came plenty often, even had trenches around tents.
The rains came and the snow fell and time marches on and we do to. Plenty of exercise and, in fact, D-Day caught me on a 25-mile hike and I made it too. Long before D-Day I had already had the information so I had to work nights to have requisitions out and had as high as three typists and a clerk going some nights. One requestion edition was over 50 pages on the D7 cat spare parts. Requisition from pines to rubber bands and household accessories. Also, extra oil and gas. All the requisitions made trip all over England. On one trip I made it carried me up to Cambridge where I first met Joe Ed.
Wendell Plastridge, 3rd Class Petty Officer, US Navy trained in England:
We trained in England on the English Channel. We moved from town to town I guess to keep the Germans confused. We had LCMs or landing crafts mechanized. They were 50-foot boats and made so the front laid down on the beach. We had a crew of five for each LCM and I was the coxswain and in charge of the crew.
We had a mock invasion in England. You probably never heard about that. It was in April of 1944 about six weeks before the invasion. They had the LST's all loaded up. It was April 22. The Admiral was on the radio and the Germans picked it up. It was about 100 miles across the Channel so it didn't take long for the Germans to get in their U-Boats. They sunk three of our boats right away. The men on the boats had a life ring. It was like a tire that had a capsule to squeeze and a valve to blow it up. It went around your waist. And when they got in the water what do you think happened? It turned them upside down because the weight was in their shoulders. It was in about 20 to 30 feet of water. Our boat had gone in 15 or 20 miles below them and then they told us to go back so it wouldn't get any worse. They had 859 man who were drowned. They didn't even want us to talk about it to anybody. So we didn't say a word. About 20 years later it came out. They were all originally listed as KIA, killed in action.
We were in England training for five or six months. We would move every couple of weeks or so. We stayed sometimes in hotels and sometimes in regular barracks. They were Quonset huts that we stayed in. We trained in our landing crafts and they had numbers but they would change the number every so often. You would go up to clean your boat and they would have changed the number maybe from 82 to 84. We had five men on the LCM and I was the driver, the coxswain. We had a gun on her, a 50 caliber on the boat.