Looking Back

This blog features poems by a native New Englander and octogenarian, as he looks back on the stomping grounds of his youth -- Chaffee's Woods, Kent Heights, Beach Pond, Escoheag, Wood River -- and his army days in Europe towards the end of WWII.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

MY ARMY DAYS: World War II (1-10)

I was a lad of seventeen
I had just lost my dad
My mother would be in dire straits
My pay was not enough
And so I thought to help her out
I’d join the service soon
So she’d get my allotment check
And get back on her feet.

As I was only seventeen
There was nowhere to join
Except United States Marines
Who’d take me at my age
So up to Boston did I go
To take a physical
But when the doctor saw my spine
He said I wasn’t fit.

And so I waited ‘til eighteen
Then joined the army and
Became one of the few who were
Induction volunteers
This meant the army now could send
Me anywhere they chose
And that is how I did become
Another G.I. Joe.

They sent me to Fort Devans first
Along with other men
And there we got our army clothes
Along with shots galore
Then after spending a few days
In getting used to camp
We boarded a westbound troop train
That wound up in Camp Howze.

This camp is in the Lone Star State
Up in the northern part
And here we joined Love Company
Of the Three Forty Three.
And all three regiments did make
The Eighty Sixth Black Hawks.
We were the last of the recruits
To fill our company.

Our first three months consisted of
All basic training stuff
We learned to drill, and hiked a lot
And always had full packs.
We learned to shoot our rifles well
Out on the rifle range
And with our basic training done
We thought we were the best.

I’ve left out much of these three months
Of details that do make
A soldier’s life so miserable
But take a lot of space
The early hours of getting up
Before the sun does rise
Inspections on just everything
Barracks, clothes, beds and men.

Sometimes the smallest speck of dust
Would cause a great furor
And cause the entire group of men
To sacrifice a pass
Or pushups done as punishment
For some imagined sin.
And then of course the sergeants love
The K.P. punishment.

But all in all these punishments
Did have a purpose, for
They did eventually instill
A rigid discipline.
This is a must, especially
Now that a war is fought
And so we took our punishment
And from it discipline.

But now with basic training done
It was our furlough time
Each soldier is supposed to get
Some thirty days a year.
This time we got only ten days
Including travel time.
I had to get from Texas to
Rhode Island and return.

It would be difficult I knew
To make it there and back.
The travel time by those old trains
Would take at least five days
But off I went, spent sleepless nights
Before I got back home.
I kissed my mom, then called Paula
To set up times to meet.

I had five days before I left
I made the most of them.
We first went down to Moonstone Beach
There were a lot of us
My sister Sue, my cousin Dot,
Both with their own boyfriends
All went with Paula and myself
We could not be alone.

Then two days later we did go
Back up to old Beach Pond
We six did manage to fit in
To my Old Town canoe.
We started paddling up the lake
Until we reached the rocks
Where on that day a year ago
Paula and I had met.

The others dropped us at the rocks
We stayed there for a while
Then swam to shore and climbed the rocks
Where Larry and I once dived.
We lay there in a shady spot
Paula across my lap
We talked about the things we’d done
While we were far apart.’

And after that we said not much
Just held each other close
For that short time we were alone
We made the most of it.
We kissed a lot, ‘til passion rose
Affecting both of us
And so to calm our ardor down
We dove into the pond.

Then when we swam back to the rocks
The others did appear.
They picked us up and home we went
To end another day.
I saw Paula the next two days
Before I had to leave
Then back I went to old Camp Howze
To join my company.

When I got back, no one was there
The company had gone
I went to see the first sergeant
To see what I should do.
“Go get your full field pack,” he said,
“And bring your rifle too.
I’ll drive you out to their bivouac
And you can join them there.”

I got there, found my own platoon
And then we went to chow.
I told them all I thought I should
About my trip back home.
They told me that I’d missed the hike
Twenty-five miles or more
And said I’d have to make it up
But then I never did.

While we were in advanced training
With landing boats and such
The Army Air Corp opened up
An opportunity
For any who could pass their tests
To join their ranks and be
A pilot, if he qualified
And that was right for me.

I took the tests, and passed them all
Then packed up all my gear
And so I left the infantry
Was sent to Shephard Field
And there I spent three weeks or more
Just taking further tests.
At last I passed, climbed on a bus
And was sent off to school.

We were a group that made a flight
No longer a platoon
We now must think in Air Corp terms
Of flights, squadrons, and wings.
The bus arrived and we debarked
At the Buffalo Court
Of West Texas Teachers’ College
And Canyon was the town.

We now became the members of
350 CTD (College Training Detachment)
We were assigned to Marsden Hall
And that became our home.
The bunks were good, the food was great
The studies difficult.
There was no let up in our work
All day and into night.

The grind was tough, we studied long
For now we had to cram
Two years into just six short months
These made for long, long days
Two hours each evening did we spend
In doing our homework
We studied all the types of math
Including calculus.

Our other studies did include
English and history
Geography and physics too
In these I did excel.
It was quite a difference now
From my old high school days
For now I had a great desire
To do my very best.

My hard work in my studying
Really paid off for me
For when we got close to the end
I headed up the class.
It was then we finally flew
Ten hours was the norm
So we could get some flying time
Before our pre-flight came.

I still remember that first day
When my instructor wrote
“This student is scared stiff in flight,”
And he was mostly right.
But by my third time in the air
I changed that all around.
I got my air legs and went on
To be the best of class.

We had just one more week to go
And I was feeling good
I’d tied for tops in every class
Was best in flying too.
It was then we got the word, our
Program was breaking up
It seems the Army Air Corp had
Too many aircrews now.

We all were shocked, had never thought
That we would not go on,
To pre-flight, basic, and advanced
And finally to fly,
The Mustangs or the Thunderbirds,
Or the two-tailed Lightning.
This was a broken- hearted bunch,
For now we'd never fly

And so we packed up once again
To go from whence we came.
We said goodbye to girls we’d met
And climbed onto the train.
It was an all night ride until
We reached Camp Gruber which
Was just outside of Muskogee
In Oklahoma State.

No time was lost as we detrained
They called out each man’s name
We were assigned, then boarded trucks
That took us to our bunks.
My outfit was the Two Four Two
Infantry Regiment,
Part of the Forty Second, or
The Rainbow Division.

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